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Brent Hartinger Interview with Brent Hartinger, April 2004
The Last Chance Texaco
YOUNG ADULT
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Fifteen years old and parentless, Lucy Pitt has spent the last eight years being shifted from one foster home to another. Now she’s ended up at Kindle Home, a place for foster kids who aren‘t wanted anywhere else. Among the residents, Kindle Home is known as the Last Chance Texaco, because it’s the last stop before being shipped off to the high-security juvenile detention center on nearby Rabbit Island--better known as Eat-Their-Young Island to anyone who knows what it‘s really like.

But Lucy finds that Kindle Home is different from past group homes, and she soon decides she wants to stay. Problem is, someone is starting a series of car-fires in the neighborhood in an effort to get the house shut down. Could it be Joy, a spiteful Kindle Home resident? Or maybe it's Alicia, the bony blond supermodel-wannabe from the local high school who thinks Lucy has stolen her boyfriend. Lucy suspects it might even be Emil, the Kindle Home therapist, who clearly has a low opinion of the kids he counsels. Whoever it is, Lucy must expose the criminal, or she'll lose not just her new home, but her one last chance for happiness.

In the tradition of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders and Louis Sachar's Holes, Hartinger writes about a subculture of teenagers many people would like to forget, in a novel as fast-paced and provocative as his first book, Geography Club.

Geography Club
YOUNG ADULT
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Russel Middlebrook is convinced he's the only gay kid at Robert L. Goodkind High School. Then his online gay-chat buddy turns out to be none other than Kevin, the popular but closeted star of the school's baseball team. Soon Russel meets other gay students too. There’s his best friend, Min, who reveals she‘s bisexual; Min’s soccer-playing girlfriend, Terese; and Terese’s politically active friend, Ike.

But how can kids this diverse get together without drawing attention to themselves?

"We just choose a club that's so boring nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it. We could call in the Geography Club!"

Geography Club is for anyone, gay or straight, who's ever felt like an outsider--a fast-paced and funny tale of teenagers who may not learn any actual geography in their latest club, but who discover plenty about the treacherous social terrain of high school, and the even more dangerous landscape of the human heart.

The Order of the Poison Oak
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Geography Club's Russel Middlebrook is back, and he and his friends are off to work as counselors at a summer camp. Brent Hartinger's third novel is the story of Indian legends, skinny-dipping in moonlit coves, and passionate summer romance. It's also the story of Russel's latest club, the Order of the Poison Oak, a secret society dedicated to helping its members see life's hidden beauty and accept its sometimes painful sting.

Grand & Humble
YOUNG ADULT
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Harlan's a popular kid and Manny's a geek But something strange is happening to both of them. Harlan is slowly losing his grip because he's plagued by panic attacks he can't control. And Manny has started having nerve-racking nightmares that leave him exhausted and terrified.
In this complex and original novel, popular author Brent Hartinger takes us on an intense psychological journey as Harlan and Manny struggle with a fear they can't name. It's a journey that eventually leads downtown, where a secret lies at the intersection of Grand and Humble.

Brent Hartinger

ETC: First things first. Tell us about THE LAST CHANCE TEXACO.

Brent Hartinger: It's the story of 15 year-old Lucy Pitt, whose parents were killed when she was seven, and who's been in foster care ever since. But she's screwed up again and again, and now she's finally ended up at Kindle Home, the group home where they send all the kids to give them one "last chance" before they ship them off to juvenile detention (the kids call Kindle Home the "Last Chance Texaco," because it's like one of those "last chance" gas stations right before a big barren desert). To Lucy's surprise, she finds she actually likes it at this new group home, and even begins to turn her life around. But in an effort to get the home shut down, someone starts setting car fires in the neighborhood, so Lucy has to expose the criminal, or lose her one last chance for happiness!

ETC: So it's a bit of a mystery then?

Brent Hartinger: More than a bit. And one of the things I'm discovering is that everyone really does love a mystery. And this is the kind of mystery where you can guess the culprit if you're really, really smart--the clues are all there. But be forewarned: so far, no one has guessed correctly!

ETC: A mystery set in a group home? Interesting.

Brent Hartinger: One of things I try to do in all my books is make them page-turners. That's the comment I get most often from readers--"I couldn't put it down!"--and it's the compliment I most like to receive. I don't think reading should be a chore. I want my books to be dessert, not broccoli. Hopefully, I have a pretty appealing main character too--smart, resourceful, and sensitive (even if no one else knows it!). I really didn't want to write another "woe is me" book about kids in foster care, or one of those "quiet" books where nothing happens. But maybe by reading an exciting, fast-paced story about kids in foster care, people who have never been in that world will learn something too.

ETC: I hear this book was based on some personal experiences.

Brent Hartinger: Yeah, years ago, I worked as a counselor in a group home. It was one of the most interesting experiences of my life. And I knew the first day I walked in there that it would make a great setting for a book. Who doesn't love an underdog? And man, there is nobody more of an underdog than the kids in group homes.

ETC: What's been the response so far?

Brent Hartinger: Well, I was pretty nervous before the book came out. We writers are an insecure bunch! But in the case of THE LAST CHANCE TEXACO, I didn't want the people working and living in foster care to be offended, or to feel that I'd gotten things wrong. So I can tell you I was very relieved when I started hearing from foster kids and foster care workers, and they told me they loved the book.

ETC: I understand you have lots of other projects in the works?

Brent Hartinger: It's amazing. For fifteen years, I could've written a ransom note and no one would've read it. But since I sold my first book, GEOGRAPHY CLUB, in 2001, my phone has been ringing off the hook. GEOGRAPHY CLUB, which is about some teenagers who start a gay-straight alliance, is just out in paperback (a mere $6.99!), I've adapted it for the stage, and it looks like it might soon be a movie too. I have a sequel to GEOGRAPHY CLUB out next year. And I have at least three other books "in the works"! And that doesn't even count all the public speaking I've been doing--something like forty events in the last year. It's incredible, but exhausting, I have to admit.

ETC: What's the best part of being a writer?

Brent Hartinger: Once you start making money as a writer, there is no "bad" part. Are you kidding? A publisher is paying me to do something I love to do--something that I'd do for free! (Don't tell them that.) And then my books come out, and people write me emails and come to my readings to tell me how my books have touched them, or somehow changed their lives. I have an incredible, amazing life. All I can say is that it took me fifteen years to get published, and I had plenty of trauma and lousy luck along the way, so maybe I paid my dues.

ETC: How can people contact you?

Brent Hartinger: I maintain a pretty thorough web-site: and if that doesn't answer people's questions, they can send me emails through that. For the record, I love hearing from aspiring writers, because when I was trying to break in, hardly anyone even gave me the time of day.

Oh, and thanks for choosing me as Book of the Month! Writing books is hard, but it's nothing compared to trying to get the word out about them. So this is quite an honor, and I really appreciate it!

BIOGRAPHY

Brent Hartinger's latest book, THE LAST CHANCE TEXACO, is a Nominee to be an ALA 2005 "Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers." His first novel, GEOGRAPHY CLUB, is a Book Sense 76 Pick and a Lambda Literary Award Nominee; he has also adapted it for the stage and may soon be adapting it for the movies. His sequel to GEOGRAPHY CLUB, called THE ORDER OF THE POISON OAK, will be released in February 2005. He now lives near Seattle with Michael Jensen, his partner of thirteen years. Explore "Brent's Brain," his web-site, at http://www.brenthartinger.com

MORE FROM HARTINGER

Project Sweet Life - For most kids, fifteen is the year of the optional summer job: Sure, you can get a job if you really want one, but it isn't required or anything. Too bad Dave's dad doesn't agree! Instead of enjoying long days of biking, swimming, and sitting around, Dave and his two best friends are being forced by their fathers into a summer of hard labor.

The friends have something else in mind, though: Not only will they not work over the summer, but they're determined to trick everyone into believing they really do have jobs. So what if the lifeguard doesn't have a tan or the fast-food worker isn't bringing home buckets of free chicken? There's only one problem: Dave's dad wants evidence that his son is actually bringing in money. And that means Dave, Curtis, and Victor will have to get some . . . without breaking the law and without doing any work!

Project Sweet Life is designed for the funny and lazy bone in all of us—a true comedy of errors (without any effort!) from seasoned storyteller Brent Hartinger.
Ages 12 and up (2009)