I’d like to introduce you to the ninety-first interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. He is Brian Katcher.
Hi, Brian! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?
It’s funny, but growing up, it never once occurred to me that I’d enjoy writing. It wasn’t until I was 25, broke and living in Puebla, Mexico, that I decided to give it a shot. Much to my surprise, I loved it!
Your latest novel, Everyone Dies in the End, was published by Dark Continents Publishing in March 2014. Can you tell us about the new book?
Sherman Andrews is a kid who’s had a vision statement since he was four. At seventeen, he’s joined the Missouri Scholars Academy on the MU campus, determined to make connections and win scholarships. During the course of his studies, he comes across a photograph of four men, dated 1935. He quickly discovers that at least three of these men were murdered within a year of each other, and that the organization that killed them is still around. They’re willint to take drastic measures to shut Sherman up. The only two people who believe him are Charlie, the cute, chubby student librarian, and Denton, who’s out on a day pass from the Fulton mental home. Interspersed with flashbacks of the original 1935 adventurers, EVERYONE DIES is a story of love, life, and what it’s like to be buried alive.
You have two Young Adult novels—Almost Perfect and Playing With Matches—both published by Delacort Press for Young Readers. Can you tell us about them?
PLAYING WITH MATCHES is about a high school junior named Leon. Leon’s a bit of a nerd (and very much based on my teenage self). He’ll do anything to get a girlfriend. That’s when he gets to know Melody, a girl whose face was badly scarred in a childhood fire. As their friendship develops into something more, Leon has to decide if he’s interested in Melody romantically, especially when his long time cheerleader crush starts showing an interest in him as well. MATCHES won the 2011 North Carolina Young Adult Book Award.
ALMOST PERFECT is about Logan, a high school track star from a rural school. When his long time girl friend dumps him, he’s at a loss as to what to do with his life. That’s when he meets Sage, a tall, beautiful new girl who quickly becomes his friend. But as he pushes for a deeper relationship, she tells him her secret: Sage is transgender. She was born male, but identifies as female. Logan must decide if he can continue to be friends with her…and possibly more. ALMOST PERFECT won the 2011 Stonewall Award for YA Literature.
Are you working on a new book?
THE IMPROBABLE THEORY OF ANA AND ZAK, Katherine Tegan Books, summer 2015.
Ana Watson is the captain of her school quiz bowl team, an archery chapion, and a straight A student. She doesn’t exactly enjoy this lifestyle, but her parents allow no errors from her or from her younger brother, Clayton. At least she’s more on track than that moron Zak…
Zak ‘Duke’ Duquett is smart but has better things to do than study. He lives for the yearly Comic Book Convetion. Only this year, thanks to his failing a class, he’s forced to join the quiz bowl team to make up for lost credit. The very weekend of the con. At least he’s not as uptight boring as that girl Ana…
As Zak rants to his teammates about how much fun he’s missing at the con, Ana’s freshman brother Clayton is listening. And that night, Clayton sneaks off to see this event himself. Ana and Zak are forced to chase after him in a chaotic world of filkers, cosplayers, Bronies, furries, Trekkies and weirdos, desperately trying to retrieve Clayton before the morning meeting. And over the course of the night, maybe they learn a little about themselves…and each other.
How much input do you have in the design of your book covers?
Not a lot. I’m not an artistic person, and the covers are sent to me after they’re completed. I suppose I could raise a ruckus if I didn’t like a cover, but so far I’ve been pretty pleased.
Can you describe your writing process for us?
I come up with an idea (or my editor comes up with one). I toss it around a bit, crank out a first draft. I show it my writers’ group. They point out the many, many problems. I crank out a second draft. I show it to my editor. The accepts or rejects it, and gives me directions for the rewrite. I rewrite, then there’s usualy a second rewrite for more minor points. They the copyeditor finds my thousands of typos. Then the cover art is approved and my part is over.
Then I come up with another idea…
How does the editing process work with your publishers? Do you work with the same editor each time, when you publish with the same publisher?
I’ve worked with the same editor, Claudia Gabel, on PLAYING WITH MATCHES, ALMOST PERFECT, and ZAK AND ANA (also with editor Melissa Miller). She’s great. She plays on my strengths and shows me my weaknesses. It’s not always easy to change a manuscript to suit an editor, but it results in a much better product.
Do you have a literary agent?
No. I kind of stumbled backward into being published when I entered a contest. I’d love an agent, but haven’t had much luck in that department.
Do you have a favorite review of one of your books? If so, will you share it with us?
I once got a great review of ALMOST PERFECT at foreveryoungadult.com It was the start of a long friendship with the people who run that site. I review YA books there now!
Will you give us a brief excerpt (up to 1500 words) of one of your books?
The sun hung like a gigantic ball of super-dense hydrogen on the western horizon as L.J. and I sped north on Highway VV. Highway 54 would have taken us home quicker, but L.J. must have wanted to drive the scenic route. The windows were down and the evening breeze swirled through the car, a refreshing mixture of autumn leaves, fast food and tobacco. L.J. attempted to light a cigarette with a match. It took him several tries, during which he never touched the steering wheel.
“Did you find who you were looking for at the convention?” L.J. puffed on his smoke and groped around on the seat for a CD.
“Yeah.” I didn’t feel like conversation.
He crammed a random disk into the radio. “So what happened?”
“The dude was a mental patient. End of story.” I pretended to be perusing a road map.
“Mental patient? Oh, I thought you were sneaking off to see that redhead John told me about.” The functioning speaker blared to life. Apparently we were listening to L.J.’s CD of Dr. Demento’s Greatest Novelty Songs. Steve Martin’s King Tut pumped out of the speakers.
“What did John say about her?” I asked, not taking my eyes off the map. It was so old it featured a picture of John Ashcroft from his days as governor of Missouri. Someone had written ‘I’m watching you’ in a balloon over his head.
L.J. coughed a plume of smoke in my direction. “He says she was kind of cute, though you didn’t stay long. You finally getting some, buddy?”
“Not exactly,” I said, right before we were rammed from behind.
Its lights were off so we never saw the black vehicle coming. There was no telling how long it had followed us. Now that we were on a deserted stretch of winding two-lane road, the driver made his move. Accelerating rapidly, he had smashed into our rear bumper.
L.J, who had not been wearing a seatbelt, banged his forehead on the wheel. His cigarette popped out of his mouth and began smoldering on the dash. “What the hell!” he bellowed.
We’d been doing over sixty. The assailant hadn’t been driving much faster than that, but it still took L.J. a few seconds to regain total control of his car.
I spun in the seat. The outline of the dark car was fast approaching again in the fading light, and I could just make out the bulk of the driver.
“That son of a bitch hit us on purpose!” howled L.J, purple with rage. “He’s trying to do it again! Jesus!”
My testicles retreated inside my body. I had a pretty fair idea of who was in the car behind us and why he was trying to run us off the road.
“It’s the Northern Synod,” I babbled. “I know about what they did to Reverend Gowen. They don’t want me finding out more about Saberhagen.”
Despite the emergency driving conditions, L.J. managed to shoot me a baffled look. “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin to do.” He hit the gas.
Highway VV was almost completely empty. There were no streetlights and the road made a series of sharp turns and curves as it wandered its way north. This was hardly the place to engage in a high-speed chase, but we didn’t have much of a choice.
Steve Martin serenaded us as the speedometer climbed to eighty. L.J’s tires, all of which he’d bought used, squealed like the damned as we careened between the solid yellow stripes and the gravel shoulder.
Fifty yards behind us, the pursuant flipped on the brights and floored it. His car must have been ten years newer than ours and had probably known the occasional tune up. He was going to catch up with us and this was not a situation covered in the AAA driving guide.
L.J. released the wheel to retrieve his still-smoking cigarette. If a car had come from the other direction at that moment, the state troopers would be calling our mothers in the morning. In the rearview mirror, the other car was slowly gaining.
“Five more miles,” hissed L.J, his teeth pulled back in a rictus around his smoke. “Then we hit Kingdom City. He won’t follow us into town.”
My sweaty hand touched the cracked vinyl of the dashboard and wondered what it would be like to smash my face into it. The speedometer now said ninety. One tap at that speed and both cars would probably roll over.
As the last rays of sunshine disappeared beyond the horizon, we found ourselves on a straight and narrow stretch of road. Suddenly, L.J. smacked the brakes so hard we almost turned sideways before coming to rest on the shoulder.
“What the hell are you doing?” I screamed. Behind us, our pursuer screeched to a halt, about sixty feet south.
L.J. wore an expression that would have made even Aaron step back. “I’m going to bash that bitch’s face in, that’s what.” He groped behind him on the floorboard until he came up with his tire iron.
He stepped out of his car and stood in the glow of the dark car’s high beams, tapping the weapon in his palm. I couldn’t see anything but the dim form of the car behind its blinding headlights. For a few seconds the scene froze, with the highly inappropriate strains of ‘May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose’ streaming from the speakers.
I didn’t hear the gunshot over the radio, but when the side mirror exploded about half a foot from L.J’s gut, it wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened. L.J. somehow managed to get the car moving before he was all the way back inside. “Change of plans,” he said calmly, slamming his door and spitting his cigarette out the window.
The lights behind us were fast approaching and our car wasn’t much for acceleration. Pretending not to notice the Christmasy display of red lights blinking on the instrument panel, I looked over at my friend. Maybe he knew some way to get out of the mess I’d gotten us into.
I was surprised to see he wore a smile. “Route 6 is just up the way. Little pissant town of Homestead is through there. Their police station is right on the main drag.”
“You think we’ll have time to get inside?” I doubted this maniac could shoot anyone from a moving car, but once we stopped…
“I’ll park in the goddamn holding cell to get this psycho off my ass. He ain’t dicking around.”
I thought L.J. was going to miss Route 6, but at the last second he made an impressive bootlegger’s turn and careened onto the eastbound road. The tires found no purchase and we fishtailed helplessly toward the wooded shoulder. I was bracing for the roll when L.J. managed to wrench the car out of the spin and fly forward.
Off to the right, a green sign riddled with bullet holes announced ‘Homestead—1.’ Already disappearing in the distance, our tormentor had missed the exit completely and was doing a high speed U-turn to catch us. We were home free.
We both heard it at the same time. The mournful howling, the long, morbid cry from the darkness ahead. Through the blackness, we saw two widely spaced red lights, blinking opposite each other.
A goddamned train.
I could see it now, chugging along from the left, its spotlight illuminating the crossing. The two bars had already lowered as red warning lights flashed mockingly at us. No exit in that direction.
L.J. began to slow. In the remaining mirrors I could see the black car pull onto Route 6. We were trapped. No going back, no going forward.
“Stop the car,” I squeaked. “We’ll get out and run off into the dark.”
L.J’s face was as blank as a zombie’s. Just as the CD skipped and began playing a Looney Toons song, did I realize we were accelerating again.
“L.J., Jesus Christ, no!”
The speedometer needle shot up like an erection. We were barreling down the country road, heading towards the place where the train would be in a few seconds. The blinding headlights behind us made me realize we hadn’t shaken our tail.
‘Overture, curtain, lights…’ sang the radio.
L.J. bared his teeth and hunkered down over the wheel. “Hang on, buddy.”
The engineer must have seen us. His whistle was no longer blasting long, solemn cries, but an incessant, warning alarm. The gates that stood across our path rushed towards us.
‘This is it, we’ll hit the heights’
Our car mounted the slight rise that led to the crossing. I could feel the rumble of the train’s wheels through the floorboards.
The gate didn’t break off when we hit it, it bounced over the hood. L.J’s car was filled with the white light of the train’s spotlight. I may have been screaming, but it was hard to tell over the deafening whistle.
‘And oh, what heights we’ll hit!’
Then it was over. The second barrier whammed off our car, the body scraped against the street, and we were through.
‘On with the show, this is it!’
I never expected the other driver to follow us over the track, but he didn’t even slow down. Almost made it, too. Two more feet forward and the mysterious shooter would have cleared the locomotive. As it happened, the engine just clipped our pursuer’s rear bumper. That was all it took.
It was strangely silent in our car as the black sedan rolled twice, losing its hood and the passenger door, before landing on its wheels in the railroad ditch. L.J. immediately braked.
Already a quarter mile away, the engineer let out an impotent, angry blast on the air whistle. He wouldn’t be able to stop for miles. I pitied the guilt he must have felt.
I started to open my door.
“What the hell are you doing!” gasped L.J.
I gestured vaguely at the wreck.
“Why? He just tried to kill me! Kill us!”
I shrugged. This was my fault. I had to see what was in that car. I had to know.
What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?
Favorite: Hearing from readers
Least favorite: editing
Do you have a writing routine?
I wait until my wife and daughter go to bed, brew a pot of coffee, sit myself down in front of the computer. Then I cruise the internet for an hour before writing for ten minutes and going to bed.
Seriously, I’m lucky that I have a family who understands my madness and doesn’t freak out when I wander the house talking to myself. And I’m a teacher, so I have summers off to write.
Who are your favorite authors? Did any of them inspire you to write?
I’ve always been a big admirer of John Green, Brent Hartinger, Holly Schindler, and Antony John.
Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!