Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Author Interview - Brian Sweany

Since 2000, Brian Sweany has been the Director of Acquisitions for Recorded Books, one of the world's largest audiobook publishers. Prior to that he edited cookbooks and computer manuals and claims to have saved a major pharmaceutical company from being crippled by the Y2K bug. Brian has a BS in English from Eastern Michigan University, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1995. He's a retired semi-professional student, with stopovers at Wabash College—the all-male school that reputedly fired Ezra Pound from its faculty for having sex with a prostitute, Marian University—the former all-female school founded by Franciscan nuns that, if you don't count Brian's expulsion, has fired no one of consequence and is relatively prostitute-free, and Indiana University via a high school honors course he has no recollection of ever attending.
Brian has spent most of his life in the Midwest and now lives near Indianapolis with his wife, three children, and a neurotic Husky/Border mix named Hank. He’s currently working on his next project, Making Out with Blowfish, which is the sequel to Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer and the second book in a planned trilogy. For future details, check out the author’s website at :
- Twitter ID  @briansweany
- Tumbler

1.  Have you always wanted to be a writer? How did you get started writing romance?
I have been a speed reader since I was 11 years old, but I only started writing at the tail-end of college when I discovered I had a knack for sappy, romantic poetry. One of my English teachers, a Catholic nun by the name of Sister Stella, read some of my poetry in a class note she confiscated from a girl. Rather than scold me, she took me aside and said there was a real writer in me trying to get out. She said that I should think about writing prose instead of poetry. I enrolled in Sister Stella's class a business major, and by the end of the semester was an English major, so Sister basically changed my life. 

Full disclosure, I write coming of age fiction that has some romantic elements in it, but I'll never be accused of being a romance author. If anything, I consciously juxtapose the romance genre by presenting what I call "intimacy with an unvarnished eye". I think romance, but sex especially, is awkward, gross and awesome, sometimes all at the same time. I understand romance novels fulfill an escapist need with writers and readers, and I want to escape too. But my writing challenges readers to escape not from reality, but from their fears--to look at mistakes they might have made in their past and acknowledge them as just bumps in the road as opposed to character flaws you fear and/or allow to define you.

2. Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline, or are you more of a seat of your pants type of a writer?
I'm a little of both. At the beginning of a book, I just let the story guide me. It's a very frenetic process in which I mostly binge write. I'll write for 12 hours straight, then I won't write anything for a month. Once I'm about two-thirds of the way into the book is when I settle down. I outline the last 15 or so chapters just to give me a road map to the finish. I think it's just human nature. At the beginning of your journey, you try not to think about finishing, or you'll go insane. But at the end of the journey, it's all you think about, or else you won't finish.

3. Are there any romance novel cliché that make you cringe when you read them?
Again, I'm speaking as a non-romance writer and largely a non-romance reader--although I do have a weakness for paranormal romance--so take my comments for what they're worth. The naive virginal heroine annoys the hell out of me. I want more Sookies, less Bellas. Better yet, give me a naive virginal dude! One of my favorite books of all time is THE SOT-WEED FACTOR by John Barth. It is this under-appreciated post-modern satirical novel in which the protagonist is a feckless London poet in love with his own virginity and virtue. The author describes him as "a morsel for the wide world’s lions." How great is that? Forget the doe-eyed virginal woman, show me THAT guy! I think he would make for a hilarious hero.
4. What is the hardest scene you’ve had to write, and what made it so difficult?
This question is hard to answer without giving away spoilers in my new novel, EXOTIC MUSIC OF THE BELLY DANCER. I will say only that two of the key events in the book actually happened to me--minus the name changes, almost word for word--and that I cried the entire time I was writing the scenes.
5. Which of your heroines would you say is most like you, and why?
My protagonist in BELLY DANCER, Hank Fitzpatrick, is very much informed and inspired by me to the point where I sometimes find us indistinguishable. Granted, Hank is an exaggerated character who exists largely as a sort of  "hyper-metaphor" to challenge the readers' preconceptions about masculine archetypes. But stripped of all that, Hank and I are both just two southern Indiana boys who grew up in the 80s with serious daddy issues.

6. What are you working on now?
I have almost finished MAKING OUT WITH BLOWFISH, the sequel to EXOTIC MUSIC OF THE BELLY DANCER. Whereas BELLY DANCER is more of a straight coming-of-age story, BLOWFISH is closer to being a kind of "Fear and Loathing in the Burbs" novel like Tom Perrotta's LITTLE CHILDREN or maybe Jonathan Tropper's THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU. It's a natural progression in tone for the story, as BELLY DANCER recounts Hank's life up to his early 20s, while BLOWFISH takes Hank from his 20s into his late 30s.

Summary of Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer:
Hank Fitzpatrick’s life is what you might expect from a man-child stumbling his way through and beyond adolescence in the late 1980s in small town Indiana: hypersexual, drunk, stoned, prone to fits of spontaneous masturbation, occasionally Catholic, and accidentally well-intentioned. His life is in perpetual conflict as he confuses sex for love, heartache for passion, desperation for honesty, and abuse for affection.
Caught in the crossfire of raging hormones, bad decisions and family tragedy, Hank is just a boy not yet ready to be a man. And like many boys growing up, Hank is desperate to impress his father. The impossibly perfect patriarch of the family, John Fitzpatrick decides at age forty-two he wants to have a vasectomy reversal. Is Hank ready to be a brother again at age seventeen? What about his mother’s narcotics and gimlet-soaked uterus? A child will come of this, but not without consequences.
Laura is Hank’s first true love. From their stolen nights together as high-school sweethearts to their final encounter as twentysomething adults, they never figure out how to stop hurting one another. Beth, the girl who loves Hank unconditionally, can only wait for so long before longing turns to regret. But everything will be okay as long as Hank’s best friend Hatch is there to help him exorcise his demons with a half-gallon of bourbon and a bottle of cough syrup.
Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer is more than just a tribute to the last uninhibited pre-9/11, pre-Facebook generation. It’s a comedy. It’s a tragedy. It’s a love story. It’s a subversive yet empathetic, warts-and-all portrait rooted in real-life that kids will read behind their parents’ backs. And if somewhere along the way we can all share in the redemptive power of a belly dancer’s love…well, that’s okay, too.
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