Hartinger, Brent 1964–

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HARTINGER, Brent 1964–

PERSONAL:

Born 1964, in 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.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Tacoma, WA. Agent—Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, 254 Park Ave. S., Ste. 2L, New York, NY 10010. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER:

Freelance writer. Guest columnist, News Tribune, Tacoma, WA. Vermont College, Montpelier, writing instructor in M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults. Cofounder of Oasis (support group for gay and lesbian young people).

MEMBER:

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Dramatists' Guild, Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom (co-founder).

AWARDS, HONORS:

Audience Award, Dayton Playhouse Futurefest Festival of New Plays, and runner-up, Festival of Emerging American Theatre Award, both for The Starfish Scream; Popular Paperback selection, American Library Association (ALA), and Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, both for Geography Club; Popular Paperback selection and Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers selection, both ALA, both for The Last Chance Texaco; 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.

WRITINGS:

Geography Club, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2003.

The Last Chance Texaco, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2004.

The Order of the Poison Oak, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2005.

Grand & Humble, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2006.

Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies [and] Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2007.

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, a stage adaptation of Geography Club, produced in Seattle, WA, a stage adaptation of Grand & Humble, and others.

SIDELIGHTS:

Although for over a decade Brent Hartinger had been successfully writing articles, plays, and screenplays, it was not until he had racked up eight unpublished novels, thousands of 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 new 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 on his home page. "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 [complaining that] … she didn't send the manuscript to them!"

Hartinger based his first-person novel on many of his own experiences growing up, and many of the characters also reflect his friends and acquaintances. Geography Club "gave me a chance to rewrite my teenage years but give it a little more of a happy ending," he wrote at his home page. 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 employ a light touch, as he told Amanda Laughtland for the Tacoma, Washington 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 sparking objections from others. For his part, Hartinger told Publishers Weekly Online interviewer Kevin Howell that the novel's publisher, "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 verisimilitude in Geography Club, among them Horn Book reviewer 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 the novel "does a fine job of presenting many of the complex realities of gay teen life." Writing in the School Library Journal, Robert Gray praised Hartinger's 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, among them Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman and a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Both reviewers cited the novel's plot as flawed, Rochman writing that the plot strands are "settled a little too neatly in the end." Even so, the critic considered Hartinger's 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 home page, "many gay men like to read these books to relive their teenage years."

Hoping to escape his image as the "gay kid," Russel Middlebrook takes a job at a summer camp for childhood burn survivors in The Order of the Poison Oak, a sequel to Geography Club. Along with friends Gunnar and Min, Russel heads to Camp Serenity, where he takes charge of a group of restless ten year olds. To bond with his charges, he forms the Order of the Poison Oak, a secret group for outsiders of all types. Working past "his initial sense of discomfort around the burn survivors, with their visible scars and disabilities," as Kliatt reviewer Kathryn Kulpa noted, "Russel, with his less-obvious scars, gains an understanding of the common ground they occupy." He also finds himself involved in an awkward love triangle with Min and another counselor and comes to rely on the steadying influence of Otto, a burn survivor who now works at the camp. In her review for Booklist, Rochman praised Hartinger for spinning an "honest, tender, funny, first-person narrative that brings close what it's like to have a crush and hate a friend," while a Kirkus Reviews critic stated that Hartinger "creates a … touching and realistic portrait of gay teens."

Hartinger's novel The Last Chance Texaco is based on his experiences working as a counselor in a group home for troubled adolescents. The work concerns fifteen-year-old Lucy Pitt, a foster child whose parents were killed in a car accident when Lucy was seven years old. After being shuttled from one foster family to another, Lucy arrives at Kindle Home, an aging mansion known to its residents as "The Last Chance Texaco." Lucy knows that if she fails at Kindle Home, she will be sent to a high-security facility nicknamed Eat-Their-Young Island. Though Lucy is tested early and often by the other teen residents, she finds Kindle Home unlike any other place she has lived and she is determined to stay. After a series of car fires in the neighborhood cast suspicion on the residents of the foster home, Lucy decides to investigate with the help of a new friend. "Hartinger clearly knows the culture, and Lucy speaks movingly (if occasionally too therapeutically) about her anger and grief," observed Booklist critic Hazel Rochman. Faith Brautigan, reviewing the novel in School Library Journal, similarly noted that "Hartinger excels at giving readers an insider's view of the subculture, with its myriad unspoken rules created by the kids, not the system."

A pair of seventeen-year-old boys from disparate backgrounds are haunted by strange premonitions in Grand & Humble, Hartinger's fourth novel. Told in alternating chapters, the work focuses on Harlan, a popular athlete whose father is a U.S. senator, and Manny, a sensitive theater geek whose father works hard to make ends meet. As both teens struggle to make sense of their terrifying nightmares, frequently containing visions connected to the intersection of Grand and Humble streets in their town, they begin to question their pasts and discover that a tragic event that occurred fourteen years earlier will forever link their fates. "Parallels and double meanings abound in this tricky, but satisfying, double narrative," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic, while Paula Rohrlick wrote in Kliatt, that Hartinger's "taut and clever thriller … will appeal to mystery and suspense fans."

Becoming a writer means being an avid reader, Hartinger maintained on his home page. "I read constantly—hundreds of books a year, and several newspapers a day," he noted. "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:

periodicals

Booklist, April 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Geography Club, p. 1387; January 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of The Last Chance Texaco, p. 844; January 1, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of The Order of the Poison Oak, p. 845; January 1, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of Grand & Humble, pp. 83-84.

Childhood Education, winter, 2004, Ann Pohl, review of The Last Chance Texaco, p. 107.

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; March 1, 2004, review of The Last Chance Texaco, p. 223; January 15, 2005, review of The Order of the Poison Oak, p. 120; December 15, 2005, review of Grand & Humble, p. 1322.

Kliatt, March, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of The Last Chance Texaco, p. 11; January, 2006, Paula Rohrlick, review of Grand & Humble, p. 8; March, 2006, Kathryn Kulpa, review of The Order of the Poison Oak, p. 22.

Public Libraries, July-August, 2006, "Geography of a Writer," p. 27.

Publishers Weekly, February 3, 2003, review of Geography Club, pp. 76-77; January 26, 2004, review of The Last Chance Texaco, p. 255; February 13, 2006, review of Grand & Humble, p. 90.

School Library Journal, February, 2003, Robert Gray, review of Geography Club, pp. 141-142; March, 2004, Faith Brautigan, review of The Last Chance Texaco, pp. 212-213; April, 2005, Hillias J. Martin, review of The Order of the Poison Oak, p. 134; February, 2006, Suzanne Gordon, review of Grand & Humble, p. 132; April, 2006, Brent Hartinger, Nancy Reeder, and Trev Jones, "Censorship or Information?," pp. 13-14.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2006, Melissa Potter, review of Grand & Humble, pp. 485-486.

online

Brent's Brain: The Brent Hartinger Home Page,http://www.brenthartinger.com (October 15, 2006).

Debbi Michiko Florence Web site,http://debbimichikoflorence.com/ (October 2, 2006), interview with Hartinger.

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."

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