Steve Brezenoff Author Interview + Giveaway
Steve is the Minnesota Author in the Spotlight for June and his new Young Adult book, Guy In Real Life was just released this month to rave reviews. I decided to ask him some questions about his life, his writing, his new book and online gaming. Read on to find out all the juicy details.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well, I’m a writer. And I’m a stay-at-home-dad to an almost-six-year-old boy and a seven-month-old girl. I live in Minneapolis now, but I was born on Long Island and spent most of my first thirty years in and around New York City. Though I consider myself a YA author, the overwhelming majority of my published work are chapter books for 8- to 12-year-olds, including the Field Trip Mysteries series.
2. What inspired you to write Guy in Real Life?
My wife. Well, sort of. I’m a gamer myself, and for several years my primary game of choice was World of Warcraft, the most popular MMORPG ever (I think). Anyway, I’d talked to my wife about my experiences in-game, playing both a male avatar and a female avatar, and how differently I’d been treated. I didn’t think there was a story there, but my wife insisted there was. So I pulled from my own experience and invented quite a bit, and wrote a short synopsis. It was years before I found the right voice for Lesh, and then thousands and thousands of words before I realized Lana would need a voice as well.
3. Can you tell us why or when you decided to become a writer?
I’m not sure I know. That is, I’ve been writing in one capacity or another for most of my life, I think. But it was in tenth grade (I think) that I signed up for an independent study class to write a novel under the guidance of a member of the English department faculty. I did this for two semesters, eventually finishing a terrible rip off of the Hobbit. In high school I also edited the literary journal and contributed several short stories. In college and after, much of my writing was music journalism, but it was a short story that I wrote in college and the novel it became—over the next fourteen years—that became my first YA novel, The Absolute Value of -1.
4. Usually an author puts some of his own life experiences in the book. Did you do that?
I think it’s impossible not to include some of one’s own life experience in a story of any length. Even if writers don’t draw directly—like I did for some of the online interactions in Guy in Real
Life—they almost necessarily pull from their experience in one way or another: they might recall a conversation they had or even overheard, and use little bits of it totally out of context, or use some instance of body language that stuck with them, or the way a friend or stranger wears his hat, or the way an old woman they see at the grocery store licks her lips or drums her fingers when she picks out a frozen pizza. It’s all fair game, and it all goes into a story.
5. Do you have anything in common with your characters?
This is kind of related to the previous question, because I think I have something—even if it’s some tiny little thing—in common with every character I’ve ever created. In order for a character to have depth and an absorbing voice, he or she needs a twinkle of realism, and the best way to make that happen as a writer (at least this writer) is to step right into the character’s skin. I can’t do that if everything about the character is entirely foreign to me. So while I game like Lesh (and Greg), I also suffer from vasovagal episodes like Svetlana, and like her I get a big kick out of the dreams I have in that 3 or 4 seconds I’m unconscious. When I was a teen, I drove like an idiot, doing my best to get all four wheels of my car off the ground at the same time by taking a little hill WAY too fast, like Lesh’s older friends do. Even Henny, Lana’s little sister, has a little bit of me in her. She has a tendency to cut to the quick, pull no punches, say what’s true with a straight face and let the chips fall where they may. Though I don’t do that as a matter of habit, I think we’d all like to do that sometimes.
6. Tell us a little bit about the other books you have written.
My first YA novel, The Absolute Value of -1, is the story of three high school friends as they enter their sophomore year. Their friendships are tested by dissolving families and developing feelings among the trio, and the attempts by one of them to leave the trio. It’s full of cursing and pot smoking, too. My second YA novel is Brooklyn, Burning, and is a love story without gender. Aside from those, I’ve written dozens of chapter books for younger readers, including the Field Trip Mysteries and the Ravens Pass series of thrillers.
7. Do you like to read? What authors or books influence you?
Of course I like to read! My favorite books (and the ones that probably influenced me the most) include Rumble Fish and The Outsiders (SE Hinton masterpieces), The Catcher in the Rye (by far the biggest influence on my voice as a writer), Weetzie Bat (a huge influence particularly on Brooklyn, Burning), The Sunlight Dialogues (not remotely young adult), the Narnia books, the Prydain books, and the Dark Is Rising books (I still hope to write a middle-grade fantasy series eventually).
8. How do you carve time out of your busy day to write? Are you a full time writer or do you have a day job?
My day job is taking care of my kids, and with a new baby in the house, finding time to write is getting harder and harder. I find an hour here and there when she’s napping, and sometimes—like one night a week—I’ll go out after bedtime to a coffee shop and get some work done.
9. Are you a Role Playing gamer or an online gamer? If so, what games do you play? And what game did you model your story after? (note: I thought it was similar to World of Warcraft)
As I mentioned, I played WoW for several years. I’ll almost definitely get back to it when the next expansion comes out this Christmas. I’ve also played several other RPGs on my computer, several of them MMOs as well. I have not, however, played any table-top RPGs. I’d like to. (The game in G.I.R.L. certainly bears the most similarities to WoW.)
Are you a musician?
Typically, my characters will be very into whatever music I’m most into when I’m writing. In GIRL, Svetlana took on my recent re-obsession with Bjork, an artist who I felt suited her personality so well, and my love for Berlioz. Lesh, however, as an online gamer with online gamer friends, felt like a metalhead to me. I was not a metalhead at all going into this manuscript, though I liked quite a lot of heavy music. Gradually, I came to enjoy the music I thought Lesh would listen to.
I was a musician. I played trumpet (like Fry) in school, starting when I was ten years old. I’ve also played guitar and bass guitar and sung lead in a handful of bands since college, mostly back in New York City.
11. Tell us in one sentence why we should read: Guy in Real Life.
Because Kirkus said “This is not the teen love story you’ve read a thousand times before”!
If you would like to win a copy of Steve's latest book, Guy In Real Life please enter here: Guy In Real Life Giveaway