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    Entries in Nick Burd (1)


    The Vast Talent of Nick Burd

    Nick Burd is having a great year! His debut novel, THE VAST FIELDS OF ORDINARY (Dial 2009), has already won an ALA's Stonewall Book Award, and been named to both The New York Time's Notable Books of 2009 and Booklists's Rainbow List 2010. And now the book is up for a Lamda Literary Award May 27. Add to that being honored as a member of the OUT 100 Class of 2009 and, well, Nick has got to be feeling pretty good.

    I, for one, believe he has earned every word of the praise that has been heaped upon him.

    The moment I finished the novel I started digging. And what I found? I am not alone in my admiration of this fabulous new voice in YA lit. I especially love Ned Vizzini's July 2009 NYT review in which he describes Vast Fields as "fascinating and dreamy" and applauds Burd for creating a character who "plays against type in two immensely gratifying ways: he fights when cornered, and he wastes no time talking about what it 'feels like' to be gay."

    Ah, but not all reviewers totally agree. According to YA librarian Jessica Neiweem, "Nick Burd doesn’t describe, depict, or convey what it’s like to be a queer teen in the heteronormative suburbs. Nick Burd nails what it’s like to be a queer teen in the heteronormative suburbs, " adding, "Quite honestly, I haven’t ruled out writing him a drooling fangirl letter."

    Um, I totally get that, Jessica.

    So I set out to interview the incomparable Nick Burd. There were a million questions I wanted to ask him, but I stuck to those his readers raised again and again and again in their comments.

    [Spoiler alert--if you haven't read Vast Fields yet and you don't want to know the ending, STOP HERE!]

    I've read quite a few reviews of Vast Fields, and one comment that pops up again and again is regarding the Jenny Moore thread. One reviewer wrote that it was a distraction in an otherwise brilliant novel. Tell me about that plot line.
    I was always really scared of being kidnapped when I was a kid. It's this phobia of mine that I guess somehow made it into the book. I feel like the eighties were all about Stranger Danger and not talking to weird men at the mall. I also think the amount you heard about it was completely disproportionate to how much it actually happened. In Iowa there was this kid named Johnny Gosch who got kidnapped one morning during his paper route. It happened in 1982 and I think the incident sorta haunted a lot of kids who grew up in there around that time. People were always talking about it. It seemed so scary to me and I felt like putting something like that in the book. As for how that was resolved, I knew when I started the book that I wanted there to be some sort of miracle that happened, and the Jenny thing sorta turned into that. I felt like there had to be some sort of unexplained, good thing that happened in the book that could give Dade faith in something. I feel like he's a kid who doesn't have a lot of faith, at least not at the beginning of the book. Dade doesn't have a lot of faith in the fact that he can be happy. So many parts of his life are crummy and he just sort of accepts them. It takes someone like Alex to make him realize he deserves more.

    Other readers were upset that Pablo died in the end. Why suicide? I get the "Why did you kill Pablo?" thing a lot. Some people actually get pissed off because they're like, "All gay books end with a suicide. It's so negative and outdated." I think that's a valid point, but I also know that gay teen suicide is a real thing and for some reason I kept finding myself wanting it to happen in this book. I'd never make Dade kill himself. That'd be cruel. Same with Alex. But Pablo was a huge mess, and a lot of that was because of how the world made him feel about who he really is and it made him make an unfortunate choice. I think Pablo's end makes a lot of people sad, and it's supposed to. It makes me sad, too.

    Some readers think of Pablo as Dade's hookup buddy. That description seems far too simplistic to me. You write so convincingly about love, even noting how difficult that is to do without becoming too sentimental on p 232. So, how would you describe Dade's complicated relationship with Pablo?
    I think Dade loves Pablo, but for all the wrong reasons. Not all love is good, but that doesn't mean it's not love. I'm not sure if Pablo loves Dade. He's important to him, but I don't think he loves him. He's too messed up. As for how old you have to be to have the ability to fall in love, I think it can happen on every age. Like I said before, the quality of it will vary. It's all about maturity and openness and empathy, and whether or not you have those qualities has little to do with age.

    Readers are also intrigued with the character of Alex. Why do you think this character has struck such a chord with readers? Any chance we'll see a novel from his POV?
    Maybe someday. My next book takes place in Cedarville the winter before Vast Fields takes place. A few characters from VFOO appear in the new book, but Alex is not yet one of them. But who knows. It's not done yet! My goal was to make him someone irresistible, someone so charming that he could be a catalyst for change in Dade. I think he's got the right amount of "bad boy"/"nice guy" qualities that usually make someone irresistible.

    What about the work that went into turning your idea into a finished novel.
    I started it in graduate school and I worked on it on and off for a year. I think after a year I only had about 80 pages or something. After that I got a more serious about it and finished it in 7 months or something. It was a pretty long time. I'll never take that long to write another book. I have eight months to write the next book, which is actually sort of nice. It forces you to write on a consistent schedule and keeps you in the world of the book a bit more, which hopefully makes it a better book.

    In terms of revision, I think it's important to get to the end of the book. I always think of reaching the end of the book as having a diagnosis for it. You know what doesn't work and you go in and fix it. With Vast Fields that involved a lot of cutting. Some scenes were too long. I look at sentences a lot and think about if there's a better, more succinct way to put something. I feel like it's important to be as clear as possible, and an easy way to accomplish that is use fewer words. So lots of cutting.

    Dale Peck was one of my early readers. He was my thesis advisor at the New School, and he was great. He was a really encouraging and positive teacher. I also had two great people in my thesis group who gave me a lot of helpful input. My agent is also a great reader. She helps my writing not be too broody.

    There are so many fresh images in your novel. One that comes to mind is when you compare Alex's emotions to the record sleeves in a jukebox. Does this kind of imagery come naturally to you? Or is this something you have to really work at.
    Some I work hard for, some come to me naturally. Of course, people only see the ones I like. There are always bad ones, and those are either thrown out or made better.

    I am fascinated by the playlist on your blog. How does music inform your novel?
    I am a big music fan. It's always been an important part of my life, so I like to talk about the part in plays in my characters' lives. Like, the fact that Dade's mom is a Fleetwood Mac says something that nothing else can.

    What do you say to that reader who complains that Vas Deferens is a made up band?
    I used real bands at first, but it sounded so stupid. Things go out of style so fast. It seemed like there was no way it couldn't date the book at some point. So I made them up. Plus, making up band names is very fun. It's a fun way of suggesting something big with just a few words. As for the name the Vas Deferens, it just popped into my head. It's funny and sexual and fun to say. What more could you want from a band name? I also sorta liked the fact that it sounds like "vast difference," but what that means, if anything, even I'm not sure.

    What can you tell me about the title?
    Everything started with that. Then came the story. I was sort of like the box I pulled the book from. The words just popped into my head. I decided at some point that I wanted the phrase to make it into the book so I had Fessica mistakenly think that it was a Vas Deferens lyric. Otherwise, it's just a phrase that describes what Dade thinks of the world around him.

    Do you consider yourself a romantic?
    I am a romantic. I'm not naive, but I am a romantic.

    When you write about love, are you writing from personal experience? Is there someone special in your life right now?
    I mean, the feeling is something I draw from real life, things like the physical sensation of it and the crazy things you find yourself doing. But the situations are always fictional. It's funny because so many times personal experience is also universal experience. I just try to be honest about it and if enough people connect with it then it belongs to everyone. As for whether or not there is someone special in my life, yes, there is, but enough about me!

    Earlier you mentioned that you're working on your second novel. Do you have a title yet and a release date?

    Right now book #2 is called ANDREW FRANK, which is the name of the main character. He's a straight, African-American boy who finds himself in a bit of a messy situation. As for early readers, no one has read it yet! My agent and editor read the first 30 or so pages, but that's it. So it's very much under wraps. I've been toying with the idea of changing the title to ANDREW FRANK IS NOT IN LOVE, but we'll see if that happens.[tweetmeme source="JanetTrumble" only_single=false]Indeed we will. You can learn more about Nick, read his blog, and follow him on Twitter by visiting his website.

    Oh, and if you'd like to drool a little, feel free to do so in a comment below. And just for the record, not NEARLY enough about you, Nick, and I vote for ANDREW FRANK IS NOT IN LOVE.