Friday Author SPOTLIGHT! We will feature a Young Adult, New Adult or Adult Author. These post will contain interviews, author posts, book blasts, fill in the blanks, etc... This is just our way to get authors noticed and out there as much as possible. So we hope you enjoy and stay tuned Fridays to see who we have on and what they shared. To see previous posts click here.
Today OUaT is thrilled to feature Author Shaun David Hutchinson. He is the author of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, set to be released January 20th, 2015 by Simon Pulse.
Author Shaun David Hutchinson
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Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night. His parents did, and so did his sister, but he survived.
Now he lives in the hospital. He serves food in the cafeteria, he hangs out with the nurses, and he sleeps in a forgotten supply closet. Drew blends in to near invisibility, hiding from his past, his guilt, and those who are trying to find him.
Then one night Rusty is wheeled into the ER, burned on half his body by hateful classmates. His agony calls out to Drew like a beacon, pulling them both together through all their pain and grief. In Rusty, Drew sees hope, happiness, and a future for both of them. A future outside the hospital, and away from their pasts.
But Drew knows that life is never that simple. Death roams the hospital, searching for Drew, and now Rusty. Drew lost his family, but he refuses to lose Rusty, too, so he’s determined to make things right. He’s determined to bargain, and to settle his debts once and for all.
But Death is not easily placated, and Drew’s life will have to get worse before there is any chance for things to get better.
The inspiration for The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley came from some really weird places. I happened to be watching an episode of Private Practice, and there was a throwaway scene where a man who’d recently lost his wife was sitting in the hospital waiting room. He’d been sitting there for hours. When one of the doctors asked him why, he told her that if he left it would mean his wife was really dead. That got me thinking about what would happen if a young man lost his whole family and then never left the hospital they died in. From that, Drew was born. At the same time, there was a story about a young kid in Florida who was set on fire by boys his age because he owed them money. That planted the seeds for the character that eventually became Rusty. Most of the events that happen in the hospital—especially the scene where Drew performs CPR on the little boy—came from my own experiences during my EMT training. I did a couple of shifts in hospitals and a couple of shifts with the local fire departments, riding with paramedics, and those experiences really stuck with me.
2. You really have multiple storylines weaving throughout the novel...was that hard to keep track of? How did you make sure that each character got the right amount of space to tell their story?
Was it ever! The first draft of Five Stages probably had twice the number of characters, many of which I cut or combined. Those secondary characters were so important to me. I often worried that their stories were going to overshadow Drew’s. But throughout the story Drew is essentially assembling his own makeshift family, whether he knows it or not, and it felt important to me to show Drew, through those characters, that he wasn’t alone. That everyone has their own story, their own grief. Not all of them get to tell their whole tale, but I tried to make sure they got to tell the parts that mattered…the parts that would help Drew see that he had a life outside of the hospital.
3. Where did you get the idea of Patient F and including parts of the graphic novel throughout the story?
Patient F had a long evolution. In the first couple of drafts he was known as either The Traveler or Kid Chaos (depending on how I was feeling at the moment), both of which were terrible, horrible names. I’d actually been reading a lot of comic books around that time—Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Locke & Key, and Kick-Ass specifically—and I loved the idea of Drew sort of breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to readers through this comic book character. In the first few drafts, Patient F was a small part of the book. Eventually, I gave him a whole chapter devoted to his story. But it wasn’t until I was querying Five Stages (my first agent and I had parted ways, so I needed to find a new one) that I got a wonderful note from Suzie Townsend, whom I’d queried, suggesting that Patient F needed to have his own comic book. Her suggestion made perfect sense and I felt like an idiot for not seeing it sooner, so I sat down and wrote a comic book script for Patient F. Even when I found my amazing agent, Amy Boggs, I wasn’t sure if publishers were going to respond well to a book with a comic book inside of it and I was prepared to take it out if necessary. However, when I got the call from Michael Strother at Simon Pulse, one of the first things he told me was that they wanted to hire an artist to draw the comic book. I’d never been happier.
4. Where you worried about how fans would react to Andrew being gay?
I’d love to say no…but the truth is that I was terrified. Being gay myself, I’ve always tried to include LGBTQ character in my book but, with The Deathday Letter and FML, I was scared that a gay narrator would limit my chances of being published. When I wrote Five Stages, I was even more scared since Drew’s sexuality isn’t the main conflict within the book. I’m still worried about how readers and fans will react to Drew. I saw a review of FML where the reader felt like I’d made Ben and Coop gay just to tick off some diversity checkboxes. I worry that readers will think I have an agenda or that I’m trying to cash in on the diversity trend. But I first wrote Drew's story back in 2010—it’s been a long process to get to this point—and all I can do is trust my readers. YA has the most amazing readers. They’re so diverse and thoughtful, and I think if anyone’s going to understand Drew it’s going to be them.
5. What message do you want your readers to get from this story?
I never go into a book with the idea of delivering a message. However, I think Drew and Rusty and Lexi and Trevor and Father Mike and Arnold and Miss Michelle are all characters with a lot of things to say, and I hope that readers will find the message they need to find.
6. This book is different than the others you have written, was it easier or harder to write?
Harder in some ways, easier in others. The Deathday Letter was sort of an anomaly, a product of who I was and where I was in my life at the time. I tried, at the urging of my first agent, to write a second book that was funny in the way Deathday was funny, but it felt too forced. I spun my wheels for months trying to be funny, and it wasn’t working. The books I did write between Deathday and FML were much more serious. There was still humor, but the stories were more grounded and sober. When I gave my first agent a draft of Five Stages, I told him that it represented the direction my writing was headed in. I think it was the direction my writing was always going to head toward. So, in that way, it was a much easier book to write. And the books you’ll see from me in the future (like the anthology, Violent Ends, and my next book, We Are the Ants) have much more in common with The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley than with The Deathday Letter or FML.
7. Who is your favorite character in the book and why?
I really do love them all…but I think I have a special affinity for Father Mike. I don’t see a lot of talk in YA books about religion or spirituality, but I do think it’s something that people think about. To me, Father Mike represents the kind of priest who understands that religion is the question and not the answer. There’s a lot of talk in Five Stages about guilt and consequences and punishment, and I sort of love Father Mike for being there for Drew while also admitting that no one has all the answers. Faith doesn’t belong solely to religion. Friendship and love and family all require faith, and Father Mike is the character who helps Drew realize that.
Also, I love my nurses. Jo and Emma and Steven…I just want to hug them all.
Something you should know about Shaun:
I grew up in South Florida and have spent most of my life here. I’m a massive geek. I studied English in college, with a focus on medieval and renaissance literature. I’m a sucker for superheroes, sci-fi, and stories with magic. And I live with my partner and my fat dog, wasting my days writing, reading, and obsessing over Doctor Who.