Blog Tour ~ Making Out With Blowfish by Brian Sweany
When we last saw Hank Fitzpatrick in Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer, he seemed to be finally figuring things out. He had a girlfriend. He had a life. But his secrets were yet to be discovered, his demons yet to be exorcised, and soon he would have no choice but to face them both. Gone is the boy we came to love, replaced by a man we struggle to like. Welcome back to Empire Ridge. Making Out with Blowfish is fear and loathing in the suburbs as told in Brian Sweany’s uniquely uninhibited voice.
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Brian has spent most of his life in the Midwest and now lives near Indianapolis with his wife, three kids, and two rescue dogs. For more details, check out the author’s website at: http://www.briansweany.com.
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1. MAKING OUT WITH BLOWFISH is about midlife crisis and tragedy. Did you use your own experiences to inspire your writing?
Much of my first book, EXOTIC MUSIC OF THE BELLY DANCER, was inspired and informed by my own teen hijinks. There was a shameless precociousness to my cast of characters. They were vain, self-absorbed, and melodramatic. In other words, they were teenagers. In the second book, we see these characters not as prom royalty or captains of their sports teams, but as mothers and wives, husbands and fathers. Their mistakes matter more. Their impulsiveness hurts people. Curfews are replaced by accountability. I tried to take cues from the book LITTLE CHILDREN by Tom Perotta, which in turn was inspired by Gustave Flaubert’s MADAME BOVARY. Suburbia rendered as art, as a familiar but uncomfortable canvas for humanity. Not that my protagonist, Hank Fitzpatrick, doesn’t do his best to rage against the dying of the light. Rest assured he continues to struggle with a serious case of arrested development. But then again, if our 30s and 40s were so awesome, we wouldn’t call it a midlife crisis.
Much like the first book, I tried to take cues from my own experiences. I’m in my early 40s now, married almost 19 years, with a beautiful wife and three great kids. That being said, my wife and I don’t spend our days drinking champagne, popping bonbons in each other’s mouths, and toasting to our evolved awesomeness. Couplehood, parenthood and adulthood can all be just as frustrating as childhood, if not more so. Only now, we don’t have any excuses. We have all the tools, and yet we still screw up. That’s what really sucks. But it’s the struggle and the occasional ugliness that makes the joy and the beauty so much more fulfilling. If you can filter out all the white noise on any given day and tell yourself that there’s no place you’d rather be than where you are, you and hopefully everyone around you are going to be okay.
2. You have worked in publishing for quite some time, what is your publishing world like? How has working in the publishing world helped you to be an author?
For the last 15 years, I’ve worked as Director of Acquisitions for Recorded Books, one of the world’s largest audiobooks publishers, and before that as a book editor right out of college. It’s been an interesting business, especially more recently with the evolution of digital technology. E-books and e-audio have changed the game, changed the rules. Gone is the bookstore on every corner, and in its place is the “Buy Now” button. It’s the golden age of the impulse buyer. Five years ago, your average reader would never walk out of a Barnes & Noble or Borders (RIP) with 10 books under her arm. Last month, I looked at my credit card bill and saw ten Kindle purchases I don’t even remember making. It’s a double-edged sword; at no point in the history of publishing have more readers had more access to more books, and yet you could argue that because of this accessibility, at no point in the history of publishing has it been harder for an author to make a living wage.
My work has allowed me to gauge reading tastes in the general public and given me access to the eyes and ears of editors, agents and authors at the highest level, but the most fundamental way it’s helped me is through reading. For me, it’s a compulsory activity. I don’t have the option not to read books. In any given week, I review maybe 15-20 manuscripts for recordability and commercial appeal. I’ve heard some writers say that they don’t like to read other people’s work because they feel it taints their voice or unduly influences their writing style. I’m here to tell you that those writers are idiots. To quote Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
3. MAKING OUT WITH BLOWFISH reference music and pop-culture, discuss the music and pop-culture form your teens-thirties. What influenced you the most?
I will say the music and pop culture references are not quite as pervasive in the second book as they are the first book, and that was by design. When you’re in your teens, seemingly everything you do is some kind of milestone, some kind of best-ever or worst-ever moment that raises you up or knocks you down. And invariably, there’s a song or pop culture event you associate with those moments. To this day, when I hear a certain song, I get a little lightheaded and swear I can smell my high school sweetheart’s perfume. While these moments still exist as you get older, they’re fewer and farther between. If being young is about emotionally investing yourself too much in even the most mundane of moments, getting older is about chronically taking what matters most for granted. As for what influenced me, I’m like any Generation X’er. My influences changed as society changed. When the optimism and debauchery of the 80s faded into the rearview mirror, our rockers put away their hairspray and spandex and replaced it with facial hair and flannel. The Sunset Strip deferred to Seattle. The unbridled cockiness of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” became the fearful, post-AIDs acclamation, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” This transformation spoke to me, and I think we see the characters in Making Out with Blowfish acting as microcosms of these changes. Beth, Hank’s wife, is more serious and somber in this new book. And much of the time it’s not by choice, it’s because Hank is too afraid to take the wheel. Too afraid to be the patriarch the world has wanted him to be since midway through the first book, and way too excited whenever he hears an 80s hairband song come on the radio.
“What’s the point of loving something only for it to be taken away?”
“The point is in the loving,” Beth says. “Our willingness to endure the heartbreak and to still travel down the road together hand in hand even though we know how it’s going to end is exactly what makes life worth living and people worth loving.”
And with those words, seemingly on cue, Darius Rucker stands in front of a microphone on The Late Show. He settles into the chorus of a country song I’ve never heard: “Don’t think I don’t think about it, don’t think I don’t have regrets, don’t think it don’t get to me, between the work and the hurt and the whiskey.”
I try not to smile.
Beth stands up, pulls me out of bed with her.
“One more dance?” she says.
I take her hand in mine. “How about we keep that number a little more open-ended?”
“Forever it is,” I say.
“What I’m telling you is not for you to believe or disbelieve. It’s a fact. There will be a couple douche bags who give you a hard time, but high school is like an all-you-can-eat douche bag buffet. And sure, maybe a few sluts will no longer look your way at a party. But is empty validation and a sexually transmitted disease really something to lose sleep over? Trust me when I say there will be a lot of girls who are going to respect you more for doing what you did, and out of those girls you’re going to find one who will run through fire for you. Maybe you don’t find her tomorrow, or even next year. Maybe you don’t find her until college. Or maybe you find her, and for whatever reason the timing just isn’t right for you two. But when you do find her, and when the timing is right, hold on to her. A real man only needs one tube of lipstick.”
“Why would I need a tube of lipstick?” Jack asks. “I’m not gay.”
“You know, little brother, you really suck at metaphors.”
“And you, big brother, seem to think everything in life needs one.”
What are the best and worst things about writing?
The best thing about writing is that feeling you get after a satisfying day of good, quality storytelling. The worst thing about writing is the reality that those days aren’t as frequent as you’d like them to be.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Much of my fiction is inspired by my own life growing up in the Midwest in the 1980s and 90s. I’m also heavily influenced by the authors I like to read: Chuck Palahniuk, Jonathan Tropper, Hunter S. Thompson, Dave Eggers, Chuck Klosterman, Pete Dexter, Brady Udall, Frank Bill, Joe Meno, I could go on and on.
Are you a disciplined writer? Tell us a little bit about how you write your books.
I feel like I could be a disciplined writer if I had the time. Between my full-time job in publishing and my family—my wife of 19 years, three kids, two dogs, and an enormous goldfish I won at a carnival five years ago who just refuses to die—I write when the muse hits me. Usually the muse is rather inconsiderate, strikes me at around 11 PM, and I pull an all-night writing marathon. I’ve sometimes gone days without sleeping. I’ve heard it said that the difference between a good writer and a great writer is the capacity to write when you have nothing to say. If that’s the case, I’m a long way from being great.
How do you measure success as an author?
I would measure success by critical acclaim tempered with at least a little commercial recognition. I’m not in this for financial gain, but as a wise stand-up comedian once said, “This ain’t no soup kitchen.” I already have a good job, and writing is pretty much just my hobby at this point in my life, but from 2015 through 2027, I will have at least one kid in college at all times. That’s a fairly sobering reality, and a little extra spending money wouldn’t bother me.
Tell us a little about this current book – what was your favorite part about writing it?
My new novel, Making Out with Blowfish, is a sequel to my previous novel Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer. Whereas the first book was a more straightforward warts-and-all coming of age story of a boy growing up (and screwing up) in the Midwest, the new book shows our boy, Hank Fitzpatrick, now as a man. Instead of finding the next party or girl, Hank is faced with real-world decisions and realizing his actions and mistakes impact more than just his own life. Basically, the first book was Breakfast Club meets Fight Club, while the new book is more Fear and Loathing in the burbs. My favorite part about writing the new book was just revisiting the characters and stories of the first book. It was like sitting down with old friends and helping them find (and lose) their way again. When I finished the first book, I’d like to think I had the same reaction that some of my readers had: “What happens next, Sweany?” And rest assured, all the major unresolved storylines from the first book are resolved in some ways that will surprise and hopefully shock readers.
What’s next for your writing?
“What happens, next Sweany?” Didn’t I just answer that? All kidding aside, the two novels I have written were originally planned to be the first two books in a trilogy. However, I feel like I’ve adequately told that story in two books. The end of Making Out with Blowfish feels like…well, the end. Last fall, I found myself rewatching old Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes—I have all seven seasons on DVD—and modeling my writing after Joss Whedon, and before I knew it, I had about 175 pages of a YA fantasy novel written down, and another six books outlined. I’m not ready to show that material to anyone just yet, but I will say my 15-year-old daughter loves it. And she usually hates reading.
What genre other than “Coming of Age” would you like to attempt?
A New York editor recently told me, and I quote, “Minus the pop culture references and the endless barrage of sex and profanity in your books, you have the heart of a YA writer beating in you.” As I alluded to in the previous question, I think I’d like to mine that vein and see where it takes me.
If you could put your book in the hands of any author–living or dead–who would it be and what would like to hear him or her say?
I would put my book in the hands of Kurt Vonnegut. Being from Indiana, I think it’s in our state constitution that I’m required to worship him as a writer. I’d also like to think I emulate some of his qualities in my writing in that behind my sarcasm and nihilism, I have a deep-seeded humanist streak. Although the protagonist in my novels does a bad job of showing it, he’s always rooting for himself and for the world to see another day. Otherwise, he’d have quit this gig a long time ago.
In all the fiction available to you, which character is your favorite?
My favorite character in all of fiction has to be T.S. Garp in John Irving’s The World According to Garp. If not him, then Tyler Durden from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Or maybe Mac in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Come to think of it, Raoul Duke in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is pretty freaking awesome. Tough for me to play favorites. Huck Finn, Santiago, Dr. Zhivago, Stephen Sutpen, Sal Paradise: If I really started thinking about it, we’d be here all day.