Hartinger, Brent 1964-
HARTINGER, Brent 1964-
Born 1964, in Olympia, WA; son of Harold (an attorney) and Mary Anne (a homemaker) Hartinger; partner of Michael Jensen (a writer). Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Gonzaga University, B.S., 1986. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, playing computer games, traveling, attending movies and plays.
Freelance writer. Guest columnist, News Tribune (Tacoma, WA). Cofounder of Oasis (support group for gay and lesbian young people). South Sound Playwriting Festival, vice president.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Dramatists' Guild.
Audience Award, Dayton Playhouse Futurefest Festival of New Plays, and runner-up, Festival of Emerging American Theatre Award, both for The Starfish Scream; Fort Lauderdale Film Festival Screenwriting-in-the-Sun Award; Judy Blume grant for best young-adult novel, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators; Seattle Arts Commission Tacoma Artists Initiative grant and Development of a New Work grant; University of Southwestern Louisiana Young-Adult Fiction Prize.
Geography Club, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2003.
The Last Chance Texaco, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of over four hundred essays, articles, cartoons, and stories to periodicals, including Omni, Boy's Life, Plays, Emmy, Seattle Weekly, Genre, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Noise, and Advocate. Also author of plays, including The Starfish Scream (for young adults, produced at Dayton Playhouse Futurefest Festival of New Plays; other plays produced at Heartland Theatre Company, Tacoma Little Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory, and Wings Theatre, New York, NY.
WORK IN PROGRESS:
The novels Grand and Humble, publication expected 2005, and The Order of the Poison Oak (a sequel to Geography Club), publication expected 2006, both for HarperCollins (New York, NY); several middle-grade fantasy projects; an adaptation of Geography Club for the stage in both young-adult and commercial theater versions.
Although for over a decade Brent Hartinger had been successfully writing articles, plays, and screenplays, it was not until he had wracked up eight unpublished novels, nine thousand query letters, and seventeen rejections of his then-current manuscript that his young-adult novel Geography Club found a home at HarperCollins in 2001. In this novel, Hartinger tells the story of high school student Russel Middlebrook, who is convinced that he is the only homosexual person in his high school. When Russel discovers differently, he and his friends form the Geography Club, a secret support group. Unlike other publishers, HarperCollins decided to take a gamble on a book with possibly limited appeal, and the gamble paid off. "At the time, everyone claimed there was no market for a gay teen novel," Hartinger recalled in a press release posted on his Web site. "Of course, now that the book has gotten all these great reviews and is selling strongly, all these editors are coming to my agent and saying she didn't send the manuscript to them!"
Hartinger based his first-person novel on many of his personal experiences, and many of the characters also reflect his friends and acquaintances. The novel "gave me a chance to rewrite my teenage years but give it a little more of a happy ending," he wrote at his Web site. Another influence was ancient mythology. "I always saw Russel's journey as epic," he continued. "I think of him as a classic hero who, like Odysseus and so many other Greek and Norse champions, must experience being both prince and outcast before he can claim his rightful 'crown' of true belonging." Despite the serious subject matter—acceptance—Hartinger wanted to use a light touch, as he told Amanda Laughtland of the Tacoma News Tribune: "I wanted my book to be fun and funny—a fast read. Not broccoli, but dessert."
When it appeared in 2003, Geography Club attracted a readership among teens and adults alike, earning good reviews from a number of critics, despite what some people might find objectionable. For his part, Hartinger told Publishers Weekly Online interviewer Kevin Howell, "Tempest is known for edgier teen fiction. I was never encouraged to tone anything down. It's not for younger readers but there's not anything that teenagers today would find too threatening."
Several reviewers commented on the work's verisimilitude, among them Horn Book's Roger Sutton, who ranked the work highly among books portraying gay characters and noted that Russel's "agonies of ostracism (and first love) are truly conveyed." A Publishers Weekly contributor also commented that GeographyClub "does a fine job of presenting many of the complex realities of gay teen life." Writing in the School Library Journal, Robert Gray praised the characterizations, calling them "excellent," and predicting that teens of all sexual preferences would "find this novel intriguing." Several critics were a little less generous in their appraisals, such as Booklist's Hazel Rochman and a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Both reviewers thought the plot flawed, with Rochman finding the plot strands "settled a little too neatly in the end." Even so she considered the first-person narrative voice, dialogue, and portrayal of prejudice accurate. Despite imperfections in the plot, the Kirkus Reviews writer found the book "provocative, insightful, and …comforting." As Hartinger noted on his Web site, "Many gay men like to read these books to relive their teenage years."
The editors at HarperCollins were so pleased with the success of Geography Club that they signed Hartinger on for three more titles, including The Order of the Poison Oak, a sequel to Geography Club. In 2003, Hartinger was also busy adapting Geography Club for the stage, with versions for both professional and amateur performers. He is gratified about the success of the novel; when asked about the best aspects of being a writer, Hartinger wrote on his Web site: "Having people say they liked or were somehow touched by your work. It just never gets old."
On his Web site, Hartinger answers many readers' questions about Geography Club and offers advice about writing. Becoming a writer means being an avid reader, he explained: "I read constantly—hundreds of books a year, and several newspapers a day. And when I'm not reading, I go to movies and plays, and play computer games," all activities that involve a creative activity. Along with reading widely, Hartinger recommends that writers outline their works-to-be. "I know that while character and beautiful language are important, story is what keeps readers turning the pages. But story is all about structure, and structure almost never just 'happens.'"
"Finally," Hartinger wrote, "don't get discouraged. Because good writing is personal, it's hard not to take rejections personally. But being a sane writer means having an ego of granite with a Teflon coating. And being a successful writer means being very, very, very, very persistent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Geography Club, p. 1387.
Horn Book, March-April, 2003, Roger Sutton, review of Geography Club, pp. 209-211.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of Geography Club, p. 1850.
Publishers Weekly, February 3, 2003, review of Geography Club, pp. 76-77.
School Library Journal, February, 2003, Robert Gray, review of Geography Club, pp. 141-142.
Brent's Brain: The Brent Hartinger Home Page,http://www.brenthartinger.com (June 25, 2003).
News Tribune Online (Tacoma, WA), http://www.Tribnet.com/ (March 2, 2003), Amanda Laughtland, "Gay Teen Novel Fills a Void."
Publishers Weekly Online,http://www.publishersweekly.com/ (March 21, 2003), Kevin Howell, "Gay YA Novel, Geography Club, Goes to the Head of the Class."