About the book:
In 2003, Hartinger made a big splash documenting the lives of gay teens with his humorous young adult novel Geography Club. It spawned three sequels, one of which won the Lambda Award. Geography Club was eventually adapted as a feature film, released in 2013, co-starring Scott Bakula.
In The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know, Hartinger turns his attention to the lives of gay twentysomethings. The result is a book with plenty of Hartinger's trademark humor, but with a sexier, more contemporary edge, exploring topical issues like online hook-ups, FWBs, and PrEP HIV prevention.
Russel Middlebrook, the protagonist of The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know, is also the lead in Geography Club and its sequels, making him the rare literary character to jump genres (from young adult to adult books). This latest book is also the start of a new series, Russel Middlebrook: the Futon Years.
Like Armistead Maupin's classic Tales of the City books, The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know is set in a very specific place and time—in this case, Seattle in the summer of 2014.
In the book, Russel is twenty-three years old and living in this trendy and completely pro-gay city. But Russel's life isn't keeping up with the hype. Most of his friends have a direction in life—either ruthlessly pursuing their careers or passionately embracing their own aimlessness. But Russel is stuck in place. The only thing he knows for sure is that crappy jobs, horrible dates, and pointless hook-ups just aren't cutting it anymore.
What's the secret? What does everyone else know that he doesn't?
Enter Kevin, Russel's perfect high school boyfriend. Could rekindling an old flame be the thing he needs to get his life back on track? Or maybe the answer lies in a new friend, an eccentric screenwriter named Vernie Rose, who seems to possess more than a bit of the wisdom of the universe. Or what the hell? Maybe Russell will find some answers by joining his best friend Gunnar's crazy search for the legendary Bigfoot!
One way or another, Russel is determined to learn the all-important secret to life, even if it's a thing he doesn't even know he doesn't know.
Brent Hartinger Answers the Dirty Dozen1. What’s one thing that drives you crazy?
Self-centered people. I run into people all the time who seem completely oblivious to the fact there are other people in the world. Either that, or they're aware and they just don't care. I'm not sure which is worse.
2. What is your guiltiest guilty pleasure?
My secret shame is . . . all-you-can-eat sushi bars! In the case of sushi, I sometimes will choose quantity over quality. Maybe even often!
3. What is your most embarrassing moment?
This may not be the most embarrassing, but I got home from Christmas shopping at the mall yesterday, and I realized that I'd had my fly down the whole time. And not just a little bit down -- it was wide open. Yikes! At least I was wearing underwear.
4. At least! What is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?
Let's just say I've accidentally thrown more than one iPhone into the washing machine and leave it at that, okay?
5. Yikes. What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
In all seriousness, it might be deciding to become a writer -- although I didn't think of it as "daring" at the time. I was absolutely determined, and I never really had a back-up plan. If I'd known how incredibly impractical it is, I'm not sure I would've done it!
6. On what life choices would you like to have a re-do?
Yes, yes, if we redo things, then we wouldn't be the person we are, blah, blah, blah. Let's get real. If I had a choice, there's one two-year relationship that never would've happened and an entire website, now defunct, that I wouldn't have founded. Both were complete wastes of my time.
7. What makes you nervous?
I just produced a music video (for a song based on my latest book, The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know). I had absolutely no idea how much work it would be -- all for a three-minute video.
For days before, I was a complete wreck. But mostly I was nervous that I would disappoint all the people who had put their faith in me, that they would feel like they wasted their time.
Interestingly, it all worked out pretty well!
8. What makes you scared?
I'm often scared I'll fail as a writer. I've been doing this long enough that I now know that not everything I do works. And I've also been at it long enough to know that my own judgment of my work is sometimes very skewed. Then, of course, everything is complicated by the fact that sometimes the work really is good, but not everyone can see it.
It's the hardest thing in the world, knowing when to stick to your vision in the face of criticism and when to say, "Hold on, wait, I think my vision sucks."
9. What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told?
Whenever I teach creative writing, I act like I know what I'm talking about. Sometimes I even feel that way at the time.
But the truth is, I'm not sure writing can be taught, and even if I can, I'm not sure I'm smart enough to do it. Good storytelling is the hardest thing in the world, which is why it's so incredibly rare.
Still, I always do the best I can, so maybe it's not really a lie.
10. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
Other than that two-year relationship?
Yes, other than that!
Honestly, there was a girl in my Catholic high school who was once berated for getting pregnant by a teacher in front of the whole class. It's one my huge regrets in life that I didn't stand up and say to that teacher, "Shut your pie-hole, you miserable, small-minded, pathetic excuse for a human being!"
Even now, it still makes me furious. That might be the exact moment I became a liberal.
11. When was the last time you did something for the first time?
Wow, good question. Lately, I've been learning type-setting (of books?). There are certain "rules" that aren't supposed to be violated. At the same time, the manuscript itself can't (usually) be altered. So how do you set the type in such a way that you don't violate these "rules"?
Compromises, compromises. In type-setting, as in life, sometimes there simply are no good choices.
12. One of your main characters has to die. Which one would you kill off?
In my next book, I just killed off all the main characters except one. Which makes sense since it's a thriller. But even so, it was really hard. You spend all this time creating characters, and in some sense you "like" them (or you wouldn't have written them).
Needless to say, there won't be a sequel.
Check out the video: The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know
About the author:
In 1990, Brent helped found one of the world's first LGBT teen support groups in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington. In 2005, he co-founded the entertainment website AfterElton.com, which was sold to MTV/Viacom in 2006. He currently co-hosts a podcast called Media Carnivores from his home in Seattle, where he lives with his husband, writer Michael Jensen. Read more by and about Brent, or contact him at brenthartinger.com.
Brent Hartinger is available for podcast, blog, newspaper, and other media interviews.
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