The Book Pixie: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Brendan Halpin: Well, I've been writing professionally for ten years. I'm also a teacher--I taught high school English for ten years, then wrote full-time for five, and am now teaching again. I live in Boston with my wife and our three children and our dog. We have a blended family--I was widowed in 2003 and brought one child to the marriage, and my wife brought two. This is fun because we have two 13-year-olds who aren't twins, which causes people a lot of confusion.
TBP: Give us a brief description of your YA novel, Forever Changes.
BH: Forever Changes is the story of Brianna Pelletier, a senior in high school who has Cystic Fibrosis. It's about how she finds a mentor in her calculus teacher, but mostly it's about how she figures out how to live with the knowledge that she's going to die. Which of course is everyone's problem, but it's more immediate for Brianna.
TBP: What inspired you to write a book about a teen girl dealing with Cystic Fibrosis?
BH: Well, it all goes back to my late wife Kirsten's death in 2003. I've written about grief before, but I had never written about death from the perspective of the person facing it down. I was and am really in awe of the way Kirsten faced death, and I wanted to write something that honored what was remarkable and heroic in the way she died--not the "battle" against cancer (Kirsten hated that term, and so do I), but the way in which she faced and accepted the inevitable.
So I wanted to write something about someone facing death, but I didn't want to write about cancer because if you're dying of cancer, it's very obvious. Whereas people can be very sick with CF and not be bald and jaundiced and totally emaciated. So I wanted to write something in which the character appeared kind of normal but was dealing with her mortality on the inside.
I was actually quite nervous about it because, apart from knowing a couple of students with CF, I don't have a lot of experience with the disease. I know there have been tremendous advances in treatment and life expectancy, and I didn't want anyone with CF to get mad at me over this book. So far the reaction has been positive, so I feel good about that.
TBP: Did you ever find it difficult writing a book with a female main character?
BH: Not at all, strangely. I tend to overthink and second guess a lot of things in my life, and those are more stereotypically female traits. Anyway, people believe them more in a female character. When I write men and boys, people sometimes complain that they are too reflective, that it's not realistic for a male character to think that much. I don't know if that says more about people's preconceptions about men or about my manliness, but there it is. So no--I'm very comfortable writing girls and women.
TBP: One of the things I loved most about Forever Changes was the incorporation of Brianna's love of math; this is a rare thing in literature these days as a lot of authors seem to express their own dislike for math through their characters. (As pointed out to me by Joelle Anthony.) What inspired the mathematical aspect to Forever Changes and do you, yourself, enjoy math?
BH: Well, since I was an English teacher, and since the inspirational English teacher has kind of been done to death, I wanted to stretch myself and try something different. I'm not really very into math--I stopped taking math after junior year in high school and never took calculus and was generally annoyed and befuddled by things like graphing equations and i, the imaginary square root of negative 1.
But I am really interested in the philosophy of math, and I really appreciate the beauty of it. And when I was researching this book, I found that a lot of the ideas of math provide a pretty interesting description of the universe that seemed to fit right in with Brianna's attempt to understand her life.
TBP: In Forever Changes, Brianna's math teacher, Mr. Eccles, both inspires and challenges her in many ways, having a great impact on her life. Did you have a teacher like that when you were in school?
BH: Well, I didn't have anyone who resembled Mr. Eccles either physically or personality-wise, but I was certainly impacted by a lot of the excellent teachers I had. Not to take anything away from them, but I don't think any of my teachers really shaped my world view in the way Eccles does for Brianna.
TBP: What do you hope for readers to take away from Forever Changes?
BH: I just hope they're touched by Brianna's life and maybe thinking about life and death in a way that might be sort of comforting or inspirational. I mean, that sounds a little high and mighty, but most of what I believe about life and death is in this book, and I hope that some readers will find it challenging or possibly even comforting.
TBP: Is there anything else that you are currently working on at the moment?
BH: I'm always working on something. I actually have 3 YA books coming out this year: THE HALF LIFE OF PLANETS, which I co-wrote with Emily Franklin, is a love story about a boy with Aspergers and a girl with a reputation; SHUTOUT is about two best friends and how one making varsity soccer in the 9th grade changes their friendship and their lives; and NOTES FROM THE BLENDER, which I co-wrote with Trish Cook, is about a popular girl and kind of outcast boy who suddenly find that they're going to be stepsiblings.
I also write horror novels under another name, so I've got stuff cooking in that arena as well.
TBP: Who are a few of your favorite YA authors?
BH: Well, I obviously like Emily Franklin and Trish Cook's work enough to want to work with them. Dana Reinhardt is also a friend of mine and an excellent writer to boot. Her second novel Harmless is really great and hasn't, I think, gotten the attention it deserves. China Mieville and Neil Gaiman have both done great YA books recently; I also loved Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Frank Portman is fantastic too--King Dork is one of my favorite books ever.
TBP: Anything else you'd like to add?
BH: Just this--the world of publishing is changing a lot, and probably more than ever, writers are depending on readers to spread the word about books they like. So I guess I would just encourage all of your readers to let the world know if you've read a book and liked it. Put it on your facebook status or twitter, blog about it, post a review on Amazon or goodreads, join the author's fan page on facebook, or whatever. Only a very few writers have publishers put a lot of money into telling the world about their books. The rest of us depend on you. With all these ways to share your opinions, readers are now more powerful than they've ever been, which is a good thing.
I would like to give a huge thanks to Brendan Halpin for not only allowing me to interview him but also for his great, well thought out answers to my questions. Once again this is probably one of my favorite three author interviews. It's like the authors I interviewed for my celebration were thinking, "This is for her blogoversary celebration so I better make it good." Or maybe I just did an excellent job picking the authors to interview. lol.
Everyone stay tuned because over the next couple of days I will be posting a guest post by Brendan Halpin that you won't want to miss and also a giveaway for Forever Changes.
Thanks so much everyone for stopping by and I hope you all are enjoying the last day of your weekend. If you would like to read my review of Forever Changes simply click HERE.