Brutal Youth takes place in high school and is about navigating through these years with the least amount of scarring--bullying, loss, love. What compelled you to write this kind of story and why did you choose to have it set over 20 years ago?
I wanted to write a war story. This one is about the friendships you make when you're fighting through your teenage years, when everything seems more intense and terrifying and awesome than it really is. I set it in 1991 because I feel like that was a time when it was easier to lead a secret life. The same conflicts happen today, but they are easier to see because social media makes a record of it, and we are more attuned to the damage. People who were kids 20 years ago are now raising their own kids, so I hoped a tale like this could resonate with both generations.
The characters in your novel cover a wide range of personalities (damaged, jaded, insecure...). Were any of these characters pulled from real life experiences?
Some of the crazier incidents in the book are taken from real life. For instance, we had a priest who was caught stealing from the church and blaming the school for the shortfall. But this is fiction, and I definitely didn't want to depict any real people because I was dialing up the weirdness and bad behavior. If any pieces of my true-life friends are represented in the story, it's because I love them--but I hid those parts, so only we would know.
You recently attended BEA for the first time. What was your favorite moment?
Two highlights: One was getting the chance to meet and greet booksellers as they are a vital part of getting books into people's hands. Another highlight was BookCon on Saturday. Copies of Brutal Youth were given away, and I went in the hope of just trying to get passersby to accept the book. I was stunned to see a huge line form for a signed copy, which is a new one for me. It was nice to know there was that kind of interest in a new author's story.