Kurt spoke with fellow author Kati Bartkowski about his contemporary YA novel, which has just been published by Sourcebooks Fire. Kurt’s a member of the Sweet Sixteens, an online group for authors debuting in 2016; Kati rolls with the Swanky Seventeens.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
When Max receives a mysterious invite from the untraceable, epic prank-pulling Chaos Club, he has to ask: why him? After all, he’s Mr. 2.5 GPA, Mr. No Social Life. He’s Just Max. And his favorite heist movies have taught him this situation calls for Rule #4: Be suspicious. But it’s also his one shot to leave Just Max in the dust…
Yeah, not so much. Max and four fellow students-who also received invites-are standing on the newly defaced water tower when campus security “catches” them. Definitely a setup. And this time, Max has had enough. It’s time for Rule #7: Always get payback.
Let the prank war begin.
Ocean’s 11 meets The Breakfast Club in this entertaining, fast-paced debut filled with pranks and cons that will keep readers on their toes, never sure who’s pulling the strings or what’s coming next. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kurt Dinan has taught high school English for over twenty-one years, and while he’s never pulled any of the pranks detailed in this novel, he was once almost arrested in college for blizzarding the campus with fliers promoting a fake concert. He lives and works in the suburbs of Cincinnati with his wide and his four children he affectionately refers to as “the Crime Spree.” Don’t Get Caught is his first novel.
You can find him on Twitter @kurtdinan and at kurtdinan.blogspot.com
TALKING ABOUT ‘DON’T GET CAUGHT’
KATI: I know everyone always asks authors where they get their inspiration, but I have to ask, where did you get the idea for this book? And more specifically for the pranks in this book?
KURT: My goal was to write a fun, fast, and funny read. After writing a list of what I like reading about, I zeroed in on heist novels and ensemble casts. I changed the stealing aspect to pranks, then came up with an overall plot. I did do a lot of research on classic pranks, and for some of the pranks in this book I took actual pranks, but then steroided them out, making them as over-the-top as I could. I want a reader to say “No way!” after reading each prank, and to do that, I had to make them as outrageous as possible.
Speaking of inspiration, you mention you’ve never pulled any of the pranks detailed in this novel…which makes me wonder if there are other pranks we should know about? What about these fake concert fliers?
Long ago when email was becoming more and more popular, I figured out how I could send a work email but make it seem like it was coming from someone else. This was great power I wielded as irresponsibility as I could, and would send emails from the principal to people I taught with. My best use of this was in convincing a friend to show up to work the next day in pajamas. One of my greater successes.
As for the fake concert fliers, that was back in 1991, the year the B-52’s, they of “Love Shack” fame, were at their height of popularity. A few friends and I put together a fake flier for an upcoming concert to be held by the band, then littered the campus with them. Unfortunately, we choose to put the fliers up at night, which made us look suspicious, and soon the police had us taking down all 200 fliers. The good news is we missed a few fliers, and the university had to make an official announcement that no, the band wouldn’t be playing on campus. Victory!
One of the things I loved so much about this book was seeing Max’s transformation from Just-Max to Not-Max, and then finally finding his balance between the two. It felt so authentic, that teenage struggle to figure out your own labels for yourself. Has teaching high schoolers for twenty years helped you to write authentic teenagers? How much inspiration do you draw from your students?
Teaching high schoolers definitely gives me an “in” other writers may not have, but I also remember my high school career, and being a teenager more specifically, very clearly. Since I’m around them all of the time I hear their conversations and it helps me to get the dialogue “right.”
You have a number of twists and reveals in this book, including a character who turns out not to be what we initially think. What is your writing process like? Do you outline everything first? And did you have that twist in mind from the start?
I outline as much as possible to get started, but always end up having to revise the outline with each revision. In the eight drafts the novel went through before I sold it, the pranks changed, characters changed, and even the ending changed. I’m not sure when the final twist at the end came into play, but it was fairly early on because I needed to lay the clues to make it work.
The Water Tower Five are such a great group of characters. They are all such different personalities, but they play off each other so well throughout this book. I loved seeing their friendships blossom, and watching them mature and grow. How did you decide which kinds of characters to include? How much were you inspired by movies like The Breakfast Club?
Oh, I was 100% influenced by The Breakfast Club, and all John Hughes movies. I maintain that the opening five minutes of The Breakfast Club is the best lesson in characterization I’ve ever seen. He uses stereotypes to get his characters moving, but then you see that these characters are so much more than that. That’s one of the main themes in my novel, and something the characters all learn about each other along the way.
We are introduced to a potential Super Villain at the end of the book. Does this mean there will be a sequel? Please say there will be a sequel! And if so, what can we expect from this next book? If not, what are you working on now?
I’m hoping to write a sequel, but am waiting on the official word before I really dig into it. I have ideas for the book and know what some of the pranks would be. The reaction to the book so far has been incredibly positive, so this only makes me want to write the sequel even more. I have terrible plans for these characters, and hope I get a chance to share them.
Favorite fictional prankster?
Fred and George Weasley, of course. They’re so serious about pranking that they drop out of Hogwarts to follow their dream of opening a joke shop. How can you not love that?
Favorite heist movie?
Ocean’s 11, the Stephen Soderberg version. This is a no-brainer for me, actually. It’s smart, hip, funny, and I love it every time I see it.
Favorite Breakfast Club character?
Not to cheat, but as I’ve grown older I have to go with Carl the Janitor. He’s another example of not being who you think he is. His scene where he explains all they see is a janitor, but he’s the eyes and ears of the building is one of my favorite scenes in that movie. If you’re making me choose one of the five high schoolers though, I’ll pick Brian, the brain with the demanding mother.
Describe your teenage self in three words.
Sarcastic, nerdy, girlfriend-less.
Most important piece of advice for pulling off a successful prank?
Obviously we have to go with Rule #1 – Don’t get caught.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Kati Bartkowski left her job as an administrative zombie slayer for a vastly more dangerous calling: raising a baby. She has to deal with the same sharp teeth and insatiable hunger, but her “foe” is much cuter. When she’s not busy chasing her little one around, she’s writing or drawing. She co-writes with her sister, Heidi Lang. Their debut MG fantasy, LAILU LOGANBERRY’S MYSTIC COOKING, is scheduled to come out Summer 2017.