Q&A: YA Author Shaun David Hutchinson
Shaun David Hutchinson is a young adult novelist, a self-described idiot, and an eater of sandwiches. His new book, FML, tells the story of Simon, an awkward teenager (think Michael Cera in Superbad) who has one night to finally confess his love to the girl of his dreams, the illustrious Cassie. Simon, along with his best friends Ben and Coop, attend Cassie’s party of the year only to find that things never quite go as planned. In two alternating storylines, Simon meets a quirky girl with a blind dog named Stella, gets tricked into dressing in drag, engages in a rather deadly game of beer pong, and falls out of a window. I won’t give too many details away about FML, but I can say that the book is hilarious. Hutchnison has a unique wit to his writing and creates a delightfully awkward hero who you can’t help but root for. I personally loved his best friend Ben (boyfriend to Coop), who reminds me of many gentleman I have had the pleasure of interacting with in West Hollywood. I enjoyed Ben’s sassiness and his own desire to not only help get Simon some action, but himself some too. FML is, in my opinion, the perfect book to read while chilling by the pool. You’ll laugh, maybe cry, and learn about the secret art of Contact Scrabble.
In real life, Hutchinson is as witty as his writing. He has a slight charming southern twang and was more than eager to introduce me to the world of “Doctor Who”. During our interview, he explained to me why second novels are harder to write than first ones, why I need to watch the film Anaconda, and what we can expect to see from him next!
YH: Where did the idea for FML come from?
SH: It actually came from my editor. I had been working on an idea that my agent wasn’t thrilled with but ended up finishing and selling. My editor came to us with this idea for a book that was Sliding Doors-meets-Can’t Hardly Wait and asked if I wanted to write it. At first, I was not too keen on the idea, because it was writing someone else’s idea. She convinced me to write it. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t want it to be too much like Can’t Hardly Wait; I saw that movie, and I was like, "ugh I’m not writing Can’t Hardly Wait." I tried to take ideas from Bridesmaids; I loved the way that they took your expectations and subverted them. There were a lot of scenes where it was like, I know what’s going to happen yet something totally different happened, and I loved that. When I sat down with a revision of FML, I had Post-It Notea over my computer that said "Be more like Bridesmaids." I wanted to meet people’s expectations. You wanted Simon to get with Stella in the end and realize that he’s an idiot, but I didn’t want to be predictable. I loved Sliding Doors. The thing about Can’t Hardly Wait and a lot of movies like that is that he’s chasing after this girl that he’s had a crush on for a long time, but she never becomes a full character. She never becomes real. I hated that. People aren’t just puzzles, they’re not just plot pieces. A lot of those '90s movies did that -- they used the romantic interest (mainly the girl) as a plot point, not as a character.
YH: FML is actually the second novel you’ve written. Did you find it easier or harder to write then the first one?
SH: It was so much harder. [laughs] I got very lucky with my first book. A lot of people talk about how they write for years and it takes them forever to get that first book done. I wrote Deathday in six weeks, got my agent quickly, sold it about eight months later. It was a lot of luck. I found all the right people at the right time. When it came to write FML, I was a bit cocky. I was like, “Oh I know how to do this! This is going to be easy!” I blew right through my first deadline. The first draft was terrible. My editor basically said, “I’m wiping your old deadline away, I’m giving you an open-ended deadline. I just want you to re-do this.” It took another year to write FML. It was a learning experience. And a humbling one at that! Neil Gaiman said he doesn’t know how to write books, he only knows how to write the book he’s writing right now. It is that way. Every single book has been a completely different experience. FML reminded me that I always have to walk into this very humbly. There were times where I wasn’t sure it was going to make it. There are times where you just don’t know what to do anymore. My best friend Rachel, who has been my first reader since high school, read the first draft of FML and said it was so bad she wouldn’t have wanted to spend one party with those people, much less two. [laughs] She read the final draft and said, "Oh thank God, these people are so much better now!"
YH: FML is set in Florida, where you also happen to live. Were any parts of the book based on your own life?
SH: Not specifically. I have a tendency to draw lots of lots things together. I’ve been to parties, played beer pong... I’ve never dressed up in drag and went around the house. Stella’s dog was based off of my dog, Max. My dog died right before I sold the book. He had originally been a little white goat. When Max passed away, I wrote the goat as a little white dog. He was written into the book. I drew from the beaches, houses, etc. There’s never any one person who is based off of one person, they are mixtures of people. It would never be specific. I hope nobody reads this and goes, “That’s me.” [laughs] Stella shares a lot of quirkiness of a friend of mine that I went to high school with. Simon most closely resembles me, not really in the exploits, more in the awkwardness. That high school awkwardness was something I totally related to!
YH: Is there a particular character in the story that you relate to the most?
SH: Simon is the average, awkward Everyperson. I relate most to that because growing up I never felt super special. I wasn’t athletic, I couldn’t get dates, I didn’t come out until my senior year of high school. I was super shy and awkward, and I used humor to cover that awkwardness. I created this “hero” who was just so average. My agent even said, “Why would any girl want to date him, he’s so average/scrawny.” He’s a normal guy. I relate to that. I’d like to think that he’s a little more naive than I was at that age, but I probably was that naive. [laughs] It’s gratifying to me to write someone like that who is a hero. My favorite part is when Asa says you’re the only hero in your story, not in anyone else’s. I like that, because we’re all heroes in our own stories. I like the idea that even geeks like me and Simon get to be the hero in their own life. I relate to him in that aspect. I would never have gotten out and danced. Or gotten involved in that beer pong game. I still want to play a game of Contact Scrabble!
YH: You’re a big “Doctor Who” fan. Any thoughts on the new Doctor [Peter Capaldi]?
SH: I actually think he’s a brilliant choice. I recognized him from “Skins” and “Children of Earth”. I’ve seen him in quite a few British productions. I think he’s a great actor. I think he’ll bring some maturity to the role that Matt Smith missed. Not that that was bad, I loved Matt Smith. Matt Smith had great crazy energy that worked really well for the transition from David Tennant. I’m really ready for a more mature take on “Doctor Who”. The female companions aren’t treated very well. It’s really bothered me. I think bringing an older doctor into the mix will nix the puppy-dog crushes and up the game a little bit. I’m pretty excited!
YH: You also have a deep appreciation for sub-par films (as do I). Do you have any particular favorites?
SH: Anaconda. It has Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, and Angelina Jolie’s father, Jon Voight. It’s them on a boat versus a giant anaconda. It is crazy bad. It is so terrible that I can’t even begin to explain how awesomely bad it is. My other favorite really terrible movie is Con-Air. Pretty much anything with Nicolas Cage is a really bad movie. He has this really terrible southern accent. It’s Nicolas Cage against John Malkovich. You watch it and are like, "Why did they sign on to this? Did they need a new wing to the house?" They give it their everything.
YH: What are you reading right now, and who are some of your favorite authors?
SH: I just finished a Jack the Ripper book by Maureen Johnson that was pretty good. My absolute favorite most recent book is Winger by Andrew Smith. Andrew Smith is my favorite YA author right now. He’s just an amazing author. He wrote The Marbury Lens. It’s about this young man who is kidnapped who escapes with these glasses. When he puts them on, they take him to another world. It’s weird, the way Donnie Darko is. Andrew Smith is probably one of the best contemporary authors out there right now. Marlena Marketa is probably my other favorite author. I really liked Angelico Road. She is an Australian author, and she is just absolutely amazing. I also really liked The September Girls. It is a really subversive look at the little mermaid legend. People have had some very mixed reactions to it, which is what drew me to it. It’s kind of a subversive feminist book. It’s an amazing book. I had never read anything by Bennett Madison, and this just blew me away.
YH: What will you be working on next?
SH: I just turned in the final revisions for my next book, which is called The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. It’s a graphic novel hybrid. It’s my baby. I think it’s the best thing I’ve done yet. It’s about a boy whose family dies when they’re on vacation, and he ends up living in the hospital where they were all taken. He’s hiding in the hospital and nobody knows that he’s the kid they’re looking for. He thinks he’s being chased by Death. In the novel, he draws this comic book character called Patient X. In the first drafts of the book, I had written those sections as a comic book script, but when it went to my editor, they hired an actual comic book artist to draw out those sections into the book. It’s also going to be a milestone for me, because this is going to be my first gay man character. It’s really special to me because it’s not a book about being gay, it’s just that the main character just happens to be gay. There’s really not a lot of that in any fiction. It’s starting to come out a little bit more. The message I wanted to send is, “Hey, gay kids, you’re normal. You can have stories and adventures that have nothing to do with being gay. And that’s cool.” I’m working on three projects that are in various stages. One is a haunted house-esque story. There are some other secret projects I can’t talk about. In the meantime, go buy FML! I hope y’all enjoy it.
(Images via Shaun Hutchinson)
- Sarah Osman, YH Staff