After reading Sic, the debut novel by Brin Friesen, I had a couple of questions for the author, which he kindly (and promptly!) answered. Below you will find my interview with him. You can also find a review of his book here and more of his writing here.
First, I'm curious about the name of the book. How did you come up with it and what does it mean?
The name of the book referred to the idea of Jasper Finch telling his story, an admittedly disturbing one, and knowing most adults don't have any clue what their kids are doing (despite their own childhoods) and most likely would blame anybody who told/exposed the truth about it. Galileo and Rosa Parks weren't thanked for their efforts in revealing the truth about an ugly situation: they were thrown in jail. With the subject matter of school shootings looming over this story, the aftermath nearly always leads to the knee jerk reaction of blame and attribution of fault. However, the profile of a school shooter is that there is no profile for a school shooter. There's poetry in that fact. My protagonist is willing to tell his story but he doesn't want to be blamed for the telling the truth.
And yet, not too many people know what "sic" even refers to, so it was probably a lousy choice. They assume I'm talking about calling for a dog to attack someone. Sic is about fault. Blame. If you talk about troubled kids you blame long before anyone attempts understanding. All the killings at schools and universities are called "senseless" at one point or another. Any rudimentary examination of the facts and invariably they immediately start making a whole lot of sense. They only way they don't is through cognitive dissonance and negligence.
You mentioned in one of your TNB posts that the first part of the book is based on a similar experience you had in elementary school. Did you stay friends with your afterward? And, how did the fight effect your later school years?
I was lured out to watch a fight and swarmed once I was out there by everyone in attendance to one degree or another. I did patch things up with the real Norman Apple. I think the fight served me the way any traumatic event serves an artist: they're unable to cope with their given reality and find the necessity to create for themselves a new one. Fiction has to make sense where real life doesn't. So you're obliged to make the details in the story something which for yourself and the reader can have more traction than real life. The impetuous for this is of course an attempt to rewrite your own history. I gave myself a fictional first kiss on the same day as the worst day of my real life. The details of the story have in many ways overtaken the real details of my life. Which is good, because that was an ugly space to occupy. People often forget that the three most popular kids authors for kids are Roald Dahl, Lewis Carrol, and . The three most banned books FOR kids are by Roald Dahl, Lewis Carrol, and JD Salinger. Innocence isn't Disney. It's complicated.
How much of the book is autobiographical? Please tell me there was no real-life Fresa.
There was indeed a Fresa; though I took from another incident that actually happened and combined the person with the event that killed him. The curbing happened while I was in 8th grade and the perpetrators were never found while 100's of kids knew exactly who they were. It was a scary time. The real life Fresa went on to become a paramedic, which seems entirely appropriate. A great deal of the book is autobiographical, however I used an extensive amount of composites. Once I had my finger on the pulse of the story much of it wrote itself.
What inspired you to write a book like this? Did you set out to write a book that focused so much on the state of mind of a bullied teenager?
High school is very attractive to me as subject matter since most people who leave it spend a tremendous amount of energy either clinging to or running from who they felt they were perceived to be during that time in their lives. I'm interested in a time where the events that mark people mark them for life. First kiss, first beating, heartbreak, etc.
That's where I started with this story: give a kid his worst day and best day on the *same* day.
Bullying was obviously a major theme also, but also examining bullying not just from the main bullies but those complicit and rooting it on. The German's were fairly recently allowed to join in on the VE Day celebration which was very interesting when they expressed the argument that they were "liberated too" from Hitler. Finally the legacy of what happened during WWII will be Hitler bullied everyone into it. The real lesson, in my view, is how regular, decent, law abiding, family loving people were persuaded of the legitimacy of genocide. In schools suicide is one the major leading causes of mortality, especially among boys. And naturally it's an under reported statistic also. Newspapers print murder stories but not suicides.
In a society that holds the "pureness" and "innocence" of children above all else, I don't have a sense that society even *likes* kids. They can be tried as an adult for a crime but can't vote. They can be legally assaulted.
Growing up the kid of a child protection lawyer a lot of this stuff has been discussed at length.
How did things end up with your Marie? Or are they still in the happenings?
Ten years later she contacted me about whether or not I became a writer and asked if I'd written anything. I said yes. She asked what it was about. I said, YOU. She read it in a night and flew from Scotland to move with me the week after that. I'm not going to spoil the ending. I
think without ever having a meaningful conversation with the real girl I didn't come up with such a misguided stand-in. But I never wrote the book to find her. It just ended up that I did.
Lastly, can you tell me a little more about And/Or Press?
And/Or Press was started by my friend Dan Starling. D.R Haney's book Banned For Life is the latest book with the And/Or stamp of approval. We're both crazy about D.R Haney.
(I'm crazy about D.R. Haney too!)
Again, to read more by Brin Friesen (or D.R. Haney), you can visit www.thenervousbreakdown.com. And, no, I don't get paid to promote the website (nor to write for it), I just love the authors and their stories there.
Best to you all,