Since 2000, Brian Sweany has been the Director of Acquisitions for Recorded Books, one of the world’s largest audiobook publishers. Brian has a BS in English from Eastern Michigan University, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1995. Making Out with Blowfish is the sequel to his debut novel, Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer. For more details, check out the author’s website at: www.briansweany.com.
1. Making Out With Blowfish is about midlife crisis and tragedy. Did you use your own experiences to inspire your writing?
Much of my first book, Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer, was inspired and informed by my own teen hijinks. There was a shameless precociousness to my cast of characters. They were vain, self-absorbed, and melodramatic. In other words, they were teenagers. In the second book, we see these characters not as prom royalty or captains of their sports teams, but as mothers and wives, husbands and fathers. Their mistakes matter more. Their impulsiveness hurts people. Curfews are replaced by accountability. I tried to take cues from the book Little Children by Tom Perotta, which in turn was inspired by Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Suburbia rendered as art, as a familiar but uncomfortable canvas for humanity. Not that my protagonist, Hank Fitzpatrick, doesn’t do his best to rage against the dying of the light. Rest assured he continues to struggle with a serious case of arrested development. But then again, if our 30s and 40s were so awesome, we wouldn't call it a midlife crisis. Much like the first book, I tried to take cues from my own experiences. I'm in my early 40s now, married almost 19 years, with a beautiful wife and three great kids. That being said, my wife and I don't spend our days drinking champagne, popping bonbons in each other's mouths, and toasting to our evolved awesomeness. Couplehood, parenthood and adulthood can all be just as frustrating as childhood, if not more so. Only now, we don't have any excuses. We have all the tools, and yet we still screw up. That's what really sucks. But it's the struggle and the occasional ugliness that makes the joy and the beauty so much more fulfilling. If you can filter out all the white noise on any given day and tell yourself that there's no place you'd rather be than where you are, you and hopefully everyone around you are going to be okay.
2. You have worked in publishing for quite some time, what is your publishing world like? How has working in the publishing world helped you to be an author?
For the last 15 years, I’ve worked as Director of Acquisitions for Recorded Books, one of the world’s largest audiobooks publishers, and before that as a book editor right out of college. It’s been an interesting business, especially more recently with the evolution of digital technology. E-books and e-audio have changed the game, changed the rules.
Gone is the bookstore on every corner, and in its place is the “Buy Now” button. It’s the golden age of the impulse buyer. Five years ago, your average reader would never walk out of a Barnes & Noble or Borders (RIP) with 10 books under her arm. Last month, I looked at my credit card bill and saw ten Kindle purchases I don’t even remember making. It’s a double-edged sword; at no point in the history of publishing have more readers had more access to more books, and yet you could argue that because of this accessibility, at no point in the history of publishing has it been harder for an author to make a living wage.
My work has allowed me to gauge reading tastes in the general public and given me access to the eyes and ears of editors, agents and authors at the highest level, but the most fundamental way it’s helped me is through reading. For me, it’s a compulsory activity. I don’t have the option not to read books. In any given week, I review maybe 15-20 manuscripts for recordability and commercial appeal. I’ve heard some writers say that they don’t like to read other people’s work because they feel it taints their voice or unduly influences their writing style. I’m here to tell you that those writers are idiots.
To quote Stephen King, “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
3. Making Out With Blowfish reference music and pop-culture, discuss the music and pop-culture form your teens-thirties. What influenced you the most?
I will say the music and pop culture references are not quite as pervasive in the second book as they are the first book, and that was by design. When you’re in your teens, seemingly everything you do is some kind of milestone, some kind of best-ever or worst-ever moment that raises you up or knocks you down. And invariably, there’s a song or pop culture event you associate with those moments.
To this day, when I hear a certain song, I get a little lightheaded and swear I can smell my high school sweetheart's perfume. While these moments still exist as you get older, they’re fewer and farther between. If being young is about emotionally investing yourself too much in even the most mundane of moments, getting older is about chronically taking what matters most for granted. As for what influenced me, I’m like any Generation X’er.
My influences changed as society changed. When the optimism and debauchery of the 80s faded into the rearview mirror, our rockers put away their hairspray and spandex and replaced it with facial hair and flannel. The Sunset Strip deferred to Seattle. The unbridled cockiness of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” became the fearful, post-AIDs acclamation, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” This transformation spoke to me, and I think we see the characters in Making Out with Blowfish acting as microcosms of these changes.
Beth, Hank’s wife, is more serious and somber in this new book. And much of the time it’s not by choice, it’s because Hank is too afraid to take the wheel. Too afraid to be the patriarch the world has wanted him to be since midway through the first book, and way too excited whenever he hears an 80s hairband song come on the radio.