Interview with author Brin Friesen

After reading Sic, the debut novel by Brin Friesen, I had a couple of questions for the author, which he kindly (and promptly!) answered. Below you will find my interview with him. You can also find a review of his book here and more of his writing here.

First, I’m curious about the name of the book. How did you come up with it and what does it mean?

The name of the book referred to the idea of Jasper Finch telling his story, an admittedly disturbing one, and knowing most adults don’t have any clue what their kids are doing (despite their own childhoods) and most likely would blame anybody who told/exposed the truth about it. Galileo and Rosa Parks weren’t thanked for their efforts in revealing the truth about an ugly situation: they were thrown in jail. With the subject matter of school shootings looming over this story, the aftermath nearly always leads to the knee jerk reaction of blame and attribution of fault. However, the profile of a school shooter is that there is no profile for a school shooter. There’s poetry in that fact. My protagonist is willing to tell his story but he doesn’t want to be blamed for the telling the truth.

And yet, not too many people know what “sic” even refers to, so it was probably a lousy choice. They assume I’m talking about calling for a dog to attack someone. Sic is about fault. Blame. If you talk about troubled kids you blame long before anyone attempts understanding. All the killings at schools and universities are called “senseless” at one point or another. Any rudimentary examination of the facts and invariably they immediately start making a whole lot of sense. They only way they don’t is through cognitive dissonance and negligence.

You mentioned in one of your TNB posts that the first part of the book is based on a similar experience you had in elementary school. Did you stay friends with your Norman Apple afterward? And, how did the fight effect your later school years?

I was lured out to watch a fight and swarmed once I was out there by everyone in attendance to one degree or another. I did patch things up with the real Norman Apple. I think the fight served me the way any traumatic event serves an artist: they’re unable to cope with their given reality and find the necessity to create for themselves a new one. Fiction has to make sense where real life doesn’t. So you’re obliged to make the details in the story something which for yourself and the reader can have more traction than real life. The impetuous for this is of course an attempt to rewrite your own history. I gave myself a fictional first kiss on the same day as the worst day of my real life. The details of the story have in many ways overtaken the real details of my life. Which is good, because that was an ugly space to occupy. People often forget that the three most popular kids authors for kids are Roald Dahl, Lewis Carrol, and JD Salinger. The three most banned books FOR kids are by Roald Dahl, Lewis Carrol, and JD Salinger. Innocence isn’t Disney. It’s complicated.

How much of the book is autobiographical? Please tell me there was no real-life Fresa.

There was indeed a Fresa; though I took from another incident that actually happened and combined the person with the event that killed him. The curbing happened while I was in 8th grade and the perpetrators were never found while 100’s of kids knew exactly who they were. It was a scary time. The real life Fresa went on to become a paramedic, which seems entirely appropriate. A great deal of the book is autobiographical, however I used an extensive amount of composites. Once I had my finger on the pulse of the story much of it wrote itself.

What inspired you to write a book like this? Did you set out to write a book that focused so much on the state of mind of a bullied teenager?

High school is very attractive to me as subject matter since most people who leave it spend a tremendous amount of energy either clinging to or running from who they felt they were perceived to be during that time in their lives. I’m interested in a time where the events that mark people mark them for life. First kiss, first beating, heartbreak, etc.

That’s where I started with this story: give a kid his worst day and best day on the *same* day.

Bullying was obviously a major theme also, but also examining bullying not just from the main bullies but those complicit and rooting it on. The German’s were fairly recently allowed to join in on the VE Day celebration which was very interesting when they expressed the argument that they were “liberated too” from Hitler. Finally the legacy of what happened during WWII will be Hitler bullied everyone into it. The real lesson, in my view, is how regular, decent, law abiding, family loving people were persuaded of the legitimacy of genocide. In schools suicide is one the major leading causes of mortality, especially among boys. And naturally it’s an under reported statistic also. Newspapers print murder stories but not suicides.

In a society that holds the “pureness” and “innocence” of children above all else, I don’t have a sense that society even *likes* kids. They can be tried as an adult for a crime but can’t vote. They can be legally assaulted.

Growing up the kid of a child protection lawyer a lot of this stuff has been discussed at length.

How did things end up with your Marie? Or are they still in the happenings?

Ten years later she contacted me about whether or not I became a writer and asked if I’d written anything. I said yes. She asked what it was about. I said, YOU. She read it in a night and flew from Scotland to move with me the week after that. I’m not going to spoil the ending. I
think without ever having a meaningful conversation with the real girl I didn’t come up with such a misguided stand-in. But I never wrote the book to find her. It just ended up that I did.

Lastly, can you tell me a little more about And/Or Press?

And/Or Press was started by my friend Dan Starling. D.R Haney’s book Banned For Life is the latest book with the And/Or stamp of approval. We’re both crazy about D.R Haney.

(I’m crazy about D.R. Haney too!)

Again, to read more by Brin Friesen (or D.R. Haney), you can visit www.thenervousbreakdown.com. And, no, I don’t get paid to promote the website (nor to write for it), I just love the authors and their stories there.

Best to you all,

Becca

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Published in: on August 7, 2009 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sic By Brin Friesen

Brin Friesen’s debut novel, Sic, is a harsh look at the reality of the bullying that takes place in schools everywhere. Through the eyes of younger Jasper Finch, one of the bullied, we see the complete desperation and anxiety some children face when going to school each day where they are forced to interact with their tormentors. While I’d like to think that bullying doesn’t ever get as far as it did in this book, I’m sure it really does. Otherwise we wouldn’t have school shootings and teen suicide, both of which are addressed in this novel.

Friesen’s book really made me think, but it was incredibly uncomfortable to read. First, because I was one of the mean girls in elementary school so it pained me to read about the girls (and boys) like me who relentlessly taunted the less popular children. Back then I thought it was hilarious, but now when I think about my behavior between ages 10 and 12 I feel terrible. At one point in the book, Finch is kicked in the shins by one of the mean girls and I literally cringed because I cannot even count the number of times I kicked little boys in the shins back in elementary school.

Later, the book became easier for me to read because I understood Finch’s anxiety upon entering high school. Right before I began middle school my family moved to a new town. And then moved again just before my high school years, so I know longer had the luxury of being one of the mean girls. I didn’t fit in and did my best to be invisible during those years. Unfortunately for Finch, he wasn’t able to be invisible because he moved up to high school with the same people who had beat him up and hated him in elementary school.

This book is very “Lord of the Flies,” only worse, because it’s all happening in a place where children are expected to feel safe and are under the eye of protecting adults. It’s definitely worth reading and will really make you think, but it will also make you cringe and squirm. Some of the fight scenes are particularly brutal and reading about children talking so much about sex was hard for me to read. I want to believe all children are innocent and pure, but I know that’s just not the case. As I’ve mentioned, this book made me think back to my own childhood – many times – and no matter how much I tried to debunk it, saying children don’t do this or children don’t do that, I knew, from my own experience, that this really was how (some) children act. I think often children are worse than adults when it comes to fowl language and talking about sex, and that really comes through in this novel.

I don’t recommend this book if you’re looking for something light and cheery. This is definitely not a pick-me-up type book. It feels like it is at one point toward the end, when you’re cheering for Jasper Finch and you’ll think, “Yes! Let’s end on a high note! I knew this was leading to a happy ending!” But then, just as with real life, Jasper (and the reader) are only able to revel in the glory for a short time before the joy of it fades and we’re plunged back into reality. The last section of the book makes the other two parts worth reading, so definitely keep going even if it feels a little slow in the middle. You won’t regret it.

Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 4:49 pm  Comments (1)  

Just Arrived: Sic by Brin Friesen

So, I just finished reading Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, but I decided not to review it because I figure pretty much everyone on the planet (except me, until now) has already read it and/or seen the movie, yes? I really liked the book though and finished it in only two days despite its length (almost 700 pages!). I’m looking forward to seeing the movie, even though I know it won’t be nearly as good as the book (they never are!). Plus, Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon just doesn’t do it for me, but whatever. I’m not a casting director, am I?

Instead, I wanted to introduce you all to my next book, which is Sic by Brin Friesen. I wasn’t able to find the book on Amazon, but you can get information about ordering it here. The book is a debut novel published by and/or press in 2006. As with many of my recent books, I first heard about this one on The Nervous Breakdown, when Friesen put up a post giving the background of the novel, which is “about the the young boy, Jasper Finch, and his vicious junior high school years.” Friesen’s post gives a more detailed account of what the book is about, saying the book is based on a particularly horrible day he had in junior high where he was jumped by several boys. However, the lead up to that awful day is a story of love and longing, which only came full-circle for the author once he was an adult. Having read several of Friesen’s posts on The Nervous Breakdown, I’m really looking forward to digging into his book.

Published in: on July 17, 2009 at 4:25 pm  Comments (4)