Swanky Seventeener Amy Giles chats with Peter Brown Hoffmeister, author of the YA contemporary novel THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU LAUGH, which has been published by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
Fans of Andrew Smith and Matt de la Pena will be captivated by this summer-in-the-life of a teenage guy growing up in a trailer park in Eugene, Oregon.
Travis plans to spend the summer as follows:
Working on his basketball game with his friend, Creature.
Reading excerpts from Creature’s novel-in-progress: The Pervert’s Guide to Russian Princesses.
Canoeing around the lake, trying to catch a glimpse of the beautiful girl who just moved in.
Not getting into trouble, not going back to juvie . .
Searching the homeless camps for his mother, with a jar full of cash to help her get back on her feet.
From a powerful new voice in YA literature comes an unforgettable account of growing up, making mistakes, and growing out of the shadow of drug abuse.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Brown Hoffmeister is the author of the critically acclaimed adult novel Graphic the Valley, and the memoir The End Of Boys. A former troubled teen, Hoffmeister now runs the Integrated Outdoor Program, serving teens of all backgrounds, taking them into wilderness areas to backpack, climb, spelunk, orienteer, and whitewater raft. He lives with his wife and daughters in Eugene, Oregon. You can find him at peterbrownhoffmeister.wordpress.com or on Twitter @peterbrownhoff.
Amy: This is the part where I try to ask you intelligent questions when really all I want to do is ramble on and on about how much I loved your book.
In the opening chapter, Travis releases caimans into the lake. His grandmother has cancer and he just wants to stir up some excitement, something to talk about with his grandmother over the summer. The caimans are an extreme way to stir up some fun, though, especially when they start devouring the local cats and dogs. It’s a powerful opening scene because it has us questioning Travis a bit: Is this an act of love, an act of anger, or something in between?
Peter: In this book, I was always trying to ride that line between anger and love. It’s so difficult to be a teenage boy, especially in a dysfunctional family, and we don’t always deal with loss or frustration in healthy ways. So – to answer your question – Travis loves his grandmother fiercely and doesn’t know how to say it. He doesn’t know what to do. Releasing five-foot crocodiles on an Oregon lake isn’t the best way to say, “I love you, and I don’t want you to die,” but that’s what Travis decided to do. He’s extreme, and he makes a lot of mistakes.
Amy: The book is so lush and cinematic; I felt as if I were camping out by the lake with Travis. How did your experience running the Integrated Outdoor Program help you write this story?
Peter: Thank you for saying that. I’m always hoping to evoke emotion when I write, but I often fail. So I’m thankful any time it works. I’m also grateful to work with teenagers, and to work outside. The outdoor program puts our group out in the natural world daily, in the sun and rain and sleet and snow. We read under the cover of redwoods. We raft rivers through desert canyons. We rock climb basalt columns. And a lot of my writing draws from those experiences, especially the feelings I have while doing those activities with my students.
Amy: In your bio, you mention that you are a former troubled teen. How did that experience help shape This Is the Part Where You Laugh?
Peter: I was arrested in high school. Expelled from three schools. Homeless for big portions of my sophomore and senior years. I lived for a short while in a Greyhound bus station in Dallas, Texas. And I was also incredibly angry. So there was a lot about Travis that I understood when I started to write this story. I also set the book in my Great Aunt Ruth’s manufactured home in her real retirement trailer park in Eugene, Oregon. The characteristics of the lake – with the wealthy houses on the other side – are all true. I’ve canoed and fished that lake. And in the book trailer on Facebook and Youtube, that’s me paddling the lake. So my experiences are definitely in the book.
Amy: What was your revision process for this book? Did the book drastically change from the first draft to the finished product?
Peter: I wrote a failed novel right before writing the first draft of this book. That novel took two years, and it wasn’t any good. It was terrible, in fact. I buried that book, and started This Is The Part Where You Laugh while my family and I were living for a short time in a town of 200 people in Congrejal de Samara, Costa Rica. Right away, I was hopeful that this new book could become something important to me and – hopefully, maybe – to readers. But all first drafts are, as the writer Annie Lamott says, “shitty first drafts,” so I wrote four more drafts before I felt comfortable sending the book to my agent, Adriann Ranta. Then – working with my editor at Knopf, Katherine Harrison – I reordered some of the book and cut more than 100 pages to get it to current length. Revision for me is important because my first drafts are especially shitty.
Writing jet fuel: coffee or tea?
P: Coffee first. Then tea? Any hot drink while I write.
Favorite place to write?
P: On the couch in my den.
When writing, do you prefer silence or music?
P: Silence for sure. No sounds, except me talking to myself.
Are you a night owl or an early bird writer?
P: Definitely an early bird writer. I read at night, but my night writing is usually no good.
Pantser, plotter, or somewhere in between?
P: Somewhere in between. I usually write a draft until it’s a complete mess of random scenes in almost any time order. That part of the process is wide open. Then I start to organize, to outline, and eventually start to figure out how to clean it up.
Favorite author as a teen?
P: Anything my mom set down, I picked up. So I don’t know about a single author. But The Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kosinski, was the most important book I read as a teenager. I kept coming back to that story.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Amy Giles is an author and copywriter, having written everything from cereal commercials to animated webisodes to print ads to commercial fishing catalogs. Her debut novel, NOW IS EVERYTHING, comes out from Harper Teen in Fall 2017. You can follow her on Twitter @AmySGiles.