Interview with Nathaniel Brehmer, author of “Bully”
Nathaniel Brehmer is the award winning author of the American Vampires trilogy, the novels Requiem and the Pumpkin Patch, Bully, and the short story collection In the Dark. His latest novel, Nightmaria, is the first in a five-volume dark fantasy series. He currently lives in Maine.
He has had fiction published in Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine and Sanitarium Magazine, among others. He is a graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington.
When Aaron sees Joshua come to school bearing his own bruises, he tries to befriend the bully and from there things only get much worse.
He is sent to a clinic for boys who have suffered extreme trauma, where he examines the lives of everyone around him in order to prove to himself that everyone is afraid of something, and that he is not alone.
Q. Your latest book, “Bully,” is about Aaron, a kid who is being bullied in school. Bullying is a popular topic in juvenile and young adult fiction – would you consider your book to occupy either of those realms?
A. Actually, Bully was originally intended as young adult fiction, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted it to be an honest depiction of youth in our current culture (in which bullying is almost promoted) and take a look at the sort of things bullying can truly entail, and so the book I have now is not young adult fiction by any means. It is a coming of age story, but in it I am looking at coming of age through the dirtiest lens I’ve ever used, if that makes sense. There’s nothing held back in Bully for the sake of a younger audience. To do so would, I think, be a disservice to the story.
Q. “Bully” is not strictly speaking, traditional horror, but it does seem to have the some suggestion of psychological horror. Do you think it’s connected at all to that genre?
A. I would not call Bully horror, really, but it is at its core a book about fear. Aaron is afraid. Joshua, the bully, is afraid. He’s afraid of everything. The children are afraid and the adults are afraid, so horror has a presence in the book as it does in honest, every day working-class life. But it does not define the book like it has for some of my other works that I would certainly say are horror through-and-through. As for psychological, well, Aaron spends the majority of the novel in a treatment center for boys who have suffered a severe trauma. A trauma that Aaron refers to as his death, even though he did not actually die.
Q. Are all of the monsters in “Bully” the human kind?
A. Yes, all of the monsters in Bully are humanand none of them are clearly defined. It’s weird to say, and I wasn’t overly expecting it, but I’m happy to look at it now and be able to say that Bully is a very adult book about youth. Joshua Burroughs does some of the most horrible things I’ve ever written, even compared to vampires and ghouls and whatnot, and yet I think there’s a tremendous amount of sympathy for him. Abuse is a never-ending cycle. The bully is never at the top of the food chainand we see that very clearly through Joshua. The abuser is always abused, in some form or another.
Q. What made you choose to write it from the first person perspective, in your protagonist’s voice?
A. Truth be told, one of the major reasons for telling Bully in the first person was the fact that I’d never done it before in a longer piece. It’s my first first-person novel. I’d used it in a lot of short stories, and I do enjoy it, but it had never felt right for any of the books before this. With Bully, though, I wanted to experience everything Aaron experienced, to have the reader go through it with him and understand everything that he felt. It simply made perfect sense to live inside of this character for the duration of a book. Even though he does do some third-person narration of his own.
A. The Pumpkin Patch was an idea I had about two or three years before I wrote it down. I’d always clung to certain beliefs and rituals and otherwise regarding Halloween as a child. It was and still is my favorite time of year. It was actually kind of sacred to me, so I guess it makes sense that Pumpkin Patch is also my book about religion. But then I got to college and, well, things are different there. Halloween takes on entirely new meaning. And it sort of forced me to look at what Halloween had actually become instead of looking at it through these nostalgia goggles. Yes, there are the slutty costumes, but the pranks aren’t in good fun anymore, none of it is. I realized at some point I couldn’t determine, the treat had been taken outand trick was all that was left, and it began to eat at me, this notion of, “what if Halloween was a thing? What if it was alive? What would it think about all of this?” I figured it wouldn’t be very happy, but then I thought, “What if it made people answer for this?” and that is truly where the book began to form.
Q. You’ve also been quite prolific in writing a vampire trilogy and several short stories. What would you say keeps you inspired?
A. I’ll keep writing the ideas as long as they keep coming, and they hopefully will for some time. Luckily, the ideas seem to pace themselves out. If I’ve just come off a couple of novels or screenplays, I’ll write through a few short stories. American Vampires seems to be the well I always go back to, maybe because it was the first long work I ever finished. That world and those characters have grown a lot and continue to be very important to me. As for ideas, writing has always been what I do to keep myself sane, so I guess some of it comes from the things that drive me crazy. I read a lot of articles about resurgence in bullying in school and teenage suicide before Bully wound up pouring out of me. And American Vampires is at its core about both morality and intolerance, because these are things I’ve always been interested in exploring. Sometimes I just see a character, or draw them. Very frequently I’ll have a scene come to me, and I’ll become curious about it, need to know the rest, so that’s a common starting point as well.
Q. Can you tell us a little about “Kane,” the novel you are currently working on?
A. Kane is a return to the world of the American Vampires trilogy. Even though I brought that to a close, I had always planned on taking the character of Roland Kane out on his own and really exploring him in a way I hadn’t had as much a chance to do in the large ensemble cast of the American Vampires books. It’s been a few years since the end of the trilogyand a lot has changed. Over the course of those books, America was driven into a corner and forced to announce the existence of vampires, and a war followed, and now vampires are sort of trying to integrate into a society that just wants them to be movie monsters. People don’t want vampires around and just wish they never had to know about it. Nobody hates vampires more than Roland Kane. They killed his wife, he thinks they killed his unborn daughter, and for years he killed vampires for money, back before they were outed. Now he can’t really do that anymore. More than that, in the third book of the trilogy, he let a vampire live for the first time in his life, and that’s our jumping off point for the character in this book. The world’s changed, and the question is, has Kane changed? Will he ever? And it’s been fun to explore. I’m tweaking the final edits on it now, but I would look for the book to be published in June.
Q. Is there anything you would like to tell our readers that we haven’t covered yet?
A. I always have a thousand things going on if I can help it, but to be brief… let’s see. The first big thing is that I am developing American Vampires as a web-series. Very low budget, but the story is thereand I have confidence that it can be something pretty special. It loosely follows the story of the first book, with some changes made for story and format. The first exteriors have been shot for the first episode, and I’m currently finalizing the crew and beginning work on casting. The teaser trailer has just been released and can be viewed on YouTube, at the American Vampires Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/American-Vampires) and my Goodreads author page. On top of that, I’m developing a comic book titled BITCHFIGHT, which is about an all-girl Catholic school that is secretly a training facility for girls with supernatural powers. I’m very passionate about this and excited to deliver a group of kick-ass young ladies whose costumes don’t consist entirely of strategically placed armor and a thong. I’ve written much of it, I only need to find an artist for the first issue so I can get that rolling. So, any artists out there, not to sound needy, but I love you dearly, help me please. And other than that, there’s Cities of Ash: Nightmaria Book Two on the way later this year,second part of a five-book epic fantasy series.
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~ by Sumiko Saulson on June 1, 2013.