Last week the gay blogs were all over the story of Brent Hartinger’s book Geography Club being banned in Tacoma, Washington. Bradford Shellhammer recently caught up with Brent to discuss his book, Oprah, and how Queerty readers can help.
What happened with your book being banned?
Well, for a few days, I wasn’t exactly sure. But now I’ve talked to a lot of the people involved and started to piece it all together–a little bit like Woodward and Bernstein investigating Watergate!
Basically, some parents complained to the library of a high school in University Place, Washington. They had learned the that library carried my book and that it was “gay.” They hadn’t read it, but that was enough to make them furious. The library referred them to the PTA, who basically said, “Sorry, we can’t ban a book for being gay.” So the parents read the book and made a long list of “objections,” none of which were the gay thing exactly. Then they presented that list to the superintendent of the school district. One of their objections was the fact that my main characters first meet through an Internet chat room (though, while there, they chat until they know for a fact that they are definitely both students going to the same high school, so we’re not talking about an “anonymous” hookup here!). Anyway, the superintendent had just seen a special on Internet predators, and I guess the school had had a problem with that in the past. So she zeroed in on that, and decided to ban the book–in part, I’m sure, to appease the angry parents.
Here’s where it gets interesting. No one was supposed to find out about what had happened. But an anonymous person–let’s call them “Deep Throat”! –went to the local newspaper. They wrote about it, then the AP picked it up, and all the local news broadcasts, and then it went nationwide on the blogs and in USA Today. Needless to say, it’s been CRAZY on my end!
There will be a school board meeting in December where they will consider overturning the ban. I will try to be there to speak, but I’ve been getting these emails from this Leviticus-spouting whack-job, so I’m a little worried about someone slashing my tires.
Do you think the ban has anything to do with the mayor Spokane, Jim West?
Nah. Same state, but different city. Spokane’s on the other side of the state.
We hope the sudden attention causes sales to skyrocket. Are you expecting that?
Yeah, that’s the ironic part. I’ve gotten more press for this than I ever did for, you know, writing a pretty good book! I’ve been hearing from the sales reps at HarperCollins, and they all say, “Break out the champagne–this will be GREAT for the book.” It still feels weird to have a government agency declare me “unfit,” especially as a gay person. But if there’s a silver lining, it’s that a lot more people will hear about me and my books.
Let’s talk movies. This book seems perfect for one. Who would you love to play the main characters if your books are made into movies?
There’s actually a feature film in the works. It’s still very early in the process, but I’m actually cautiously optimistic that this book will actually end up on screen. Trust me, I’m not naive–I know all about how Hollywood works. But the timing is just so right on this project, and all the right pieces seem to be falling miraculously into place.
As for casting, people ask me that a lot, but the problem with teen characters is that teen actors grow up too fast to do the role. Any suggestions?
Your follow-up, The Order of the Poison Oak, is now out. Will this soon be banned too?
Ha! Probably! But don’t give anyone any ideas. Honestly, I do worry, because The Order of the Poison Oak has a pretty steamy cover, and let’s face it, the people who ban books aren’t the kind of people who are out there actually reading a lot of books. So I suspect they’d be perfectly happy judging my book by its cover.
I’ve actually been really pleased by the response to The Order of the Poison Oak. When you write a book that a lot of people are passionate about, the danger is that they’ll be disappointed by the sequel. But I’d say nine of ten people prefer the sequel to the original.
Do you read blogs?? If so, which ones?
Yeah, I’m a DailyKos junky, and I also like Americablog. My partner and I actually just started our own gay political blog called The Big Gay Picture. After one week, we’re already the 42,000th most popular website on the net, which is actually pretty impressive, so we must be doing something right!
What are you currently working on?
I have a fantasy novel coming out in 2007 that I’m putting the finishing touches on. I have a teen mystery-thriller coming out in January 2006, called Grand & Humble. It’s got a twist ending that I’m pretty proud of. And I just turned the third book in the Russel Middlebrook series into my publisher. It’s called Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies. It’s about Russel and his friends working as extras on a horror film, but it’s really more about Russel coming out to his parents–they’re the “soul-sucking brain zombies.” Hmmm, insulting parents–yeah, that one’ will probably be banned too!
Tell us your favorite books and authors.
Well, right now I’m dying to read A Feast For Crows, the new George R. R. Martin fantasy novel. And I recently finished a fantastic fantasy book Kushiel’s Dart by Jaceline Carey, that has a couple of queer twists.
Can you tell I like fantasy? That’s why I’m so happy to finally be writing it.
This is a perfect story for Oprah. Are your PR people pitching her?? They should be.
No, but they’ve gotten me a number of good interviews. The thing about Oprah is that she doesn’t take recommendations from publicists. She’s proud of the fact that she picks the books based on her own interests. And hey, it’s her show, right? That said, I wouldn’t OBJECT if someone sent her a copy….
Lastly, any way Queerty readers can help you defending your book?
I’ve got lots of folks supporting me locally, so a better way to devote your energy is to try to get my books and books like mine into your local public and school libraries. Consider donating a copy to the libraries in your area, or to a GSA, or a GLBTQ youth drop-center. Make a call or stop by and ask if they’re interested.