A Q&A with Peter Brown Hoffmeister
Author of This is the Part Where You Laugh
May 2016, Knopf BFYR
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about This Is the Part Where You Laugh – we’ve been reading some lovely reviews of the book!
Q: So first things first: since we live in the instant communication, could you please summarize This is the Part Where You Laugh in one hundred forty characters or less?
Q: The idea of writing what you know is pretty much universally acknowledge when it comes to writing fiction.
So what is it about Travis and Creature that you know? Are there any moments from their lives, that are a direct or indirect reflection of what you’ve undergone in your own life?
I also know how it feels to work hard at a sport and believe that a scholarship is your way to a better life.
Then there’s the whole romance side as well. I remember meeting a new girl, hoping to impress her by jumping off of a bridge into a river, feeling like there were so many ways that I didn’t fit in, so many flaws that she’d be able to see right away. So all of that is real.
I also coach soccer and teach high school, and I’m always listening to the teenagers around me so that my dialogue will be more realistic.
Q: In almost every review I’ve read of This Is the Part Where You Laugh, reviewers have appreciated the fact that Travis’s definitely having a rough go of it, but his problems aren’t construed in a way that are overblown or melodramatic.
How did you approach crafting Travis’s problems? Did you have any kind of yard stick –if you will – to ensure that what you were writing did feel relatable and believable?
From there, I ask, “What would this character be thinking about? What are his or her dreams? What is he or she struggling with, and what would their everyday lives be like?” I never decide to randomly add a problem to create tension or something like that. I try to make each action, each event, true to the book, true to the reality that the story has created.
Also, I focus on emotional honesty. Even if I haven’t had the experience myself, I can understand how someone feels. I can empathize. Since my characters are very real to me, I experience their pains and joys with them.
Q: Prior to TitPWYL, you’ve developed a burgeoning reputation for writing adult non-fiction/fiction books and non-fiction pieces, particularly about your own life.
What motivated you to make the transition to young adult fiction? Was there a specific eureka! moment that you realized you had a story to tell, or that you had experiences that you felt like needed to be shared with young adult readers?
My first novel – Graphic The Valley – is very similar to This Is The Part except that my first narrator was twenty years old, not sixteen like in the new novel. So I’m not sure if there’s as big of a distinction between young adult and adult literature as people think.
Q: On a related note, I would imagine that you have developed a specific way of researching and writing, especially when working on your non-fiction work.
Did you have to amend that methodology at all, when writing young adult fiction?
Novels are fiction, so they’re more about being true to the characters that the writer has created. Again, emotional truth is key.
As far as researching goes, I always research. There are so many things I don’t know, and I love to learn as I go. For example: With “The Pervert’s Guide” entries, I read a lot of Russian history. Although the letters are second-person fiction written by one of my main characters (Malik), I wanted all of the historical facts about the princesses to be true. From there, Malik could write anything he wanted.
Q: You’ve always been very candid about your background, sharing details on how you chose to live your life when you were young, and how you choose to live your life now.
I know you’ve touched on this briefly before in your written pieces, but why do you think it’s important for readers – especially young people – to see the changes that you’ve made in your life?
If you don’t like where you are, then make different choices. I think adults are sometimes too fatalistic and we teach young people to think the way that we do. In a sense, we tell them, “This is who you are…forever.” Or, “This is the type of person you are. “ But what does that even mean?
I dealt drugs as a seventeen-year-old. Does that mean that I’m a drug dealer now? Of course not. My life is completely different because I make different choices now.
Q: Additionally, are you ever concerned that sharing those changes will reflect negatively on you? E.g. you mentioned in a Vice piece that your editor was concerned you’d be fired, when your autobiography was released.
Though you mentioned that it’s not really a thought that has crossed your mind, has there ever been a moment where you’ve paused, and thought: “Well, maybe I shouldn’t put that”, either when writing non-fiction or fiction?
Hopefully readers will relate to the characters or stories, or – if not – maybe recognize something meaningful?Also, novels are meant to entertain. If a reader’s engrossed in a story, that’s wonderful. I’ve done my job.
Q: When I’ve read your non-fiction pieces, I was moved – and I’ll be frank, even humbled – by how candid and honest you are in your writing.
Your honesty is refreshing; e.g. your piece re: questioning why you were treated certain ways as a teen, and wondering if you would have been treated differently had you been African-American – but oddly, it also left me feeling hopeful, since you’re clearly viewing problems and societal challenges in a way that shows that they can be addressed and fixed.
How did you translate that honesty and candidness into TitPWYL?
Travis – in This Is The Part – has a best friend who is African-American. I never say that outright but it becomes clear to the reader pretty quickly. That best friend (Malik) has to deal with racism, and the boys react to the racism in a funny way. They react like teens do. Like I did.
I’m not trying to teach a lesson in my books. I’m trying to show truth. I’m trying to depict reality. Unfortunately, racism is still very real in this country so the books we write have to sometimes include that.
Q: And finally, what’s next for you?
Too Shattered centers around a love triangle: Little (the main character) is in love with a girl named Rowan, but Rowan had been dating Little’s older brother JT before he went to jail. Now that JT’s in jail, Little and Rowan have more time together.
The novel also includes the mysterious disappearance of Little’s grandfather (Big) a kingpin in the local meth trade.
About the book:
• Working on his basketball game with his friend, Creature.
• Reading excerpts from Creature’s novel-in-progress: The Pervert’s Guide to Russian Princesses.
• Canoeing around the lake, trying to catch a glimpse of the beautiful girl who just moved in.
• Not getting into trouble, not going back to juvie…
• Searching the homeless camps for his mother, with a jar full of cash to help her get back on her feet.
From a powerful new voice in YA literature comes an unforgettable account of growing up, making mistakes, and growing out of the shadow of drug abuse.
Amazon | Indiebound | Book Depository | Goodreads
This is the Part Where You Laugh is the type of book that we need, especially for young teens who are struggling. It's the type of book where things can go very wrong for the main characters, but there's always hope at the end of the tunnel.
This is the type of book that I'm going to be giving to every young teen I meet, and I think the impact of this lovely book will be immeasurable.
Read it. Full stop.
About the author: