Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Interview: Josh Berk
Josh Berk is the author of the debut novel, The Dark Days of Halpin, which debuted yesterday!
1. How did you come up with the idea for The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin?
The truth is that it came to me in a dream. This is one of the thousands of similarities between myself and Stephanie Meyer. I am, for example, also married to a man named "Pancho." Just kidding! About the second part, that is. The first part is true! (Also her husband is really named Pancho.) I really did have a dream that got me started off on this project. It wasn't quite as simple as dreaming up the whole plot -- it was just a dream about a kid reading lips on a school bus. It felt like a cool scene for a book, a little spooky maybe, and because I had been watching a "Law and Order" marathon, I decided maybe the book could be a mystery. I thought maybe the kid was lip-reading something about a mystery, a disappearance maybe, and then I remembered a field trip I took to an abandoned coal mine when I was a kid. Wouldn't that be a cool place for a student to go missing? I started writing ideas down and it took off from there!
2. The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin is about a deaf boy. Why did you choose to have a main character who was deaf?
It really was inspired by that dream, and the plot I spun out of it. Also, after that dream I remembered a deaf boy I went to elementary school with. He was always pretty chipper, but I wondered if maybe he'd develop a saucy edge by the time high school started. This sardonic voice developed and it became very fun to write. I've always liked outsider tales, and even though I am not hearing impaired, I think the experience of feeling like an outsider is something most of us can all relate to for one reason or another. Plus, once I had the idea for the book, I did a ton of research into Deaf culture and found it very rich and fascinating and something unique to explore in my novel.
3. How has your road to publication been different than you thought it would be?
The main thing that comes to mind is that publishing a book is less of a solitary experience than I thought it would be. In my case, I did a lot of revisions with my agent before selling the book, and then a LOT of revisions with my editor afterwards. I guess I thought an editor would do things like fix your grammar or maybe tweak a few things, but my editor was so much more. We brainstormed plot points together, made a huge change to the ending, even added a character at her suggestion! It's been much more collaborative than I ever would have guessed. Also, I thought other authors would be competitive and even fierce, but oh man, the other authors have been so awesome. Ever single author I've met has been incredibly awesome. They've never viewed me as competition, but have just wished me the best and helped me in so many ways.
4. Was it hard working on your novel and it's publication while you just had the birth of your (soo cute) daughter in August?
This is also something I could have mentioned in "how has your road been different than you thought" -- publishing is slow! I did most of the work on DARK DAYS when my wife was pregnant with our first child. He is now a sophomore at Princeton... OK, slight exaggeration. He's is almost three though. I wrote the book in 2006-2007 (before I had kids), then I signed with an agent soon after my son was born in early 2007 and worked on it with him for a while. Then the book deal happened (the day before Thanksgiving) in November 2007. And it comes out in February 2010! So slow. So most of it was done long before our daughter was born in August of 2009, although her existence has made working on book #2 a bit, um, interesting ...
5. Do you outline when you write or do you just go with the flow?
I used to be a staunch go-with-the-flower, but once I dreamed up an idea for a mystery I realized that outlining is key. You're dealing with clues and motives and foreshadowing and lots of things that can't quite happen on the fly. DARK DAYS was the first thing I ever wrote with an outline, and now I can't even think about going back even if I write future books that won't be mysteries. I'm not too strict with the outline though, if some interesting digression presents itself as I'm writing I definitely follow it and sees where it leads me.
6. Do you have a certain time and/or place where you write?
Even before I had kids I was pretty much erratic with this -- just whenever the mood strikes me. Now that I have a young family my life is pretty much chaos so I just grab a few minutes of writing time whenever/wherever I can!
7. Are you working on another novel? If no, do you plan on writing another YA novel in the future?
Yes! I'm just about ready to turn in my second YA novel, another funny sort of mystery, due out in 2011. It's not a sequel or anything -- totally different characters and setting and everything, but I think (hope!) that people who like DARK DAYS will enjoy it too. It's about a high school forensics team who finds a real dead body and also about a kid dealing with the loss of his father. I realize that it doesn't really sound "funny" from that description, but it's got lots of jokes and a narrator with a saucy mouth and a ridiculous sense of humor. I just realized I used the word "saucy" twice in this interview, which is sort of weird.
8. Do you listen to music when you write? If yes, what kind. If no, why not?
I get distracted easily so I either just like it quiet or I like to listen to songs I've heard so many times that they don't distract me. Mainly this would be The Ramones.
9. What's the weirdest time you've ever had inspiration?
I really do get a lot of good ideas while sleeping. I in fact call napping "researching," which was the most brilliant thing I ever came up with... Also, obviously I was inspired by that "Law & Order" marathon and a major plot point came from MTV's "My Super Sweet Sixteen." So you can see that I have a rigorous research routine of napping and watching TV. Also once I got a really good idea while driving and quite possibly almost caused a massive pile-up while looking for a pencil. No one was hurt though!
10. Ask yourself a question and answer it. =)
Hey Berk: why do you keep using the word "saucy" all the time?
Good question, Berk. I guess I just like to keep things saucy, you know?
I have no idea what you're talking about.
Check out The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, which was released yesterday! I know I can't wait until I get it. :)