Interview & Review: scary, man by Jeffrey Hickey

Posted: October 17, 2013 in New Adult, Reviews
Tags: , , ,

This is going to be a rather long post, but I implore you to stick with it as I think this book is worth it.  Below you will find my review of scary, man by Jeffrey Hickey followed by an interview with the author himself.   Through my correspondence with him, I find him to be very insightful, gracious and an asset to the literary world.  Enjoy!

scary

Author:  Jeffrey Hickey

Paperback, 447 pages

Published in 2013 by CreatSpace Independent Publishing Platform.  The audio book just went live audible.com.  It should be available iTunes soon.  Here is the link.

Reader Category:  Adult

Disclaimer:  I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review

Synopsis:  Droll and dead-on in its sizing up of contemporary culture scary, man is author Jeffrey Hickey’s wry and singular story of one man, his wife, and their daughter. Together, they embrace a new normal at the turn of the twenty-first century in America, while trying their hardest in the land of the free, and the home of the afraid. As Griffin shuffles from one appearance to the next as a man working in the world of children, he becomes increasingly vulnerable to the fears and suspicions of others. He also has plenty of his own well-earned, obvious flaws that feed into the small-town gum-flapping. At the same time, his wife Samantha, who runs a home day care, is on the brink of her own existential malaise. This propels her to follow her calling as a teacher, going back to school to do so and creating some distance between herself and her family. To add further complexity to family life, their canny, candid daughter Clare is nursing her own identity crisis that’s just about ready to bubble to the surface.

scary, man is an absorbing work of literary fiction peppered with gay themes and social commentary, this humor-inflected take on small towns, small minds, rumor mills, and rampant paranoia will strike an all-too-familiar chord with readers trying to make their way through the shaky American landscape, while keeping marriage and morals intact, and mayhem at bay. It will leave readers nodding in queasy recognition, while at the same time scratching their heads at the plight of the protagonist who is plenty bright, but who just can’t seem to get it right.

My Review:  I can honestly say that this is one of the most relate-able books that I have read in a long time.  Set in small towns in Northern California, scary, man explores the pitfalls of living where everyone knows your business, and they are all too happy to pass it along to others.  If you have not been the direct target of rumors or bullying, you may at least know someone who has.  Or have you been the perpetrator of such rumors?  If so, watch out, Griffin Donnelley has had enough.  It may have taken him most of this story to get up the courage to face his foes, but when he does, be prepared to grab a tissue.

I really enjoyed the whole book, but I must say that my favorite part of the book is where Griffin rediscovers his voice.  It was written so well that I felt like it was my moment as well as his.  Yes, I have read books that have moved me and brought me to tears, no doubt.  But this book caused me to actually weep.  I am not talking about one tear at-a-time trickle.  I am talking about a flow of tears that couldn’t be stopped.  My eyes seemed to have sprung leaks and it actually felt really good.

If you are looking for a well-written book that is pulled right out of modern times, then scary, man is for you.  It will make you laugh, make you cry, and most of all make you think about how gossip and rumors can bring out the worst and sometimes the best in people.

Interview:

Question #1.  Are Griffin’s experiences based on someone you know or events in your own life?

Response:  One of my favorite writing axioms over the years has been, “Write what you know, and turn it into something new.” In all three of my novels, I can point to a specific chapter, or sequence and say that it is at least somewhat autobiographical. In the case of Scary, Man, I was a traveling story teller and teacher, and I also spent many years (13 in fact) working on a non-fiction project called My Blood, that was to chronicle the meetings I had with recipients of my blood donations. Sadly, that project had the plug pulled and I was left with a lot of material, but no book. I wanted to do something with what I’d done, but while I was working on that project, I was also planning a novel about someone trying to find a unique career in these challenging contemporary times. I’ve never seen times this difficult for someone who wants to do original artistic work, or work that doesn’t follow corporate or traditional guidelines. Once the My Blood project collapsed, I saw the opportunity to adapt it and incorporate it into Scary, Man. It was fun writing sections of that story from Griffin’s perspective, and not mine. It allowed for a level of creativity and latitude that would not have been there in a non-fiction book. Beyond that, whatever experiences I had that I chose to utilize for this text, have been changed to fit this story.

Question #2.   How are you the same/different from Griffin?

Response:  Griffin and I are both writers, and we’ve both been teachers, and we’ve worked with, and performed for children. Beyond that, he is darker in mood than I am.  We have different personal issues.  Griffin was probably clinically depressed, and I, while certainly capable of a bad mood, am pretty upbeat. He has an only child, a daughter, and we have fraternal twin sons. He is not close to his parents, and I was. His marriage, while happy, has some issues. I am ridiculously in love and have been for 31 years. My wife is not an orphan. Griffin and Samantha’s problems are not what my wife and I have experienced. My wife is not a teacher.

Question #3.  I became very emotional during the town hall meeting.  Was that part difficult to write?

Response:  I was so nervous writing the town hall meeting. I knew what that scene would mean for everyone on the stage. I’d been writing a novel with one shattered dream after another, and I wanted Griffin, and everyone, to finally have some healing, meaning, and at least partial resolution. As I wrote it, I also became very emotional. Like many of us, I’ve had moments with people who treated me with something less than respect. So for Griffin to finally “find his voice” again was deeply moving and satisfying. I felt healing throughout that room. It was a wonderful scene to write, and rewarding that a simple gesture from earlier in the story would return with such kindness and validation for Griffin. I wish I could read it live, but it would give too much away for those who haven’t read the novel.

Question #4.  When you are writing, do you read other fiction?  Or do you find this distracting?

Response:  Sadly, my days of pleasure reading are probably over, at least until this creative roll I’m on decides to vacate for a bit. I have read very little fiction in the last ten years. I’ve tried, but I feel guilty almost immediately because I’m not working. Everything I read now is research for either the novel I’m writing, or the novel I’m writing next. I am driven by a distinct goal–I want my wife to retire from her job and be home with me all the time. I’m working for the Karen Hickey retirement fund.

Question #5.  Where do you get your ideas for your books?  Do your ideas come to you quickly, or do you think them over for a long period of time?

Response:  My ideas usually come to me quickly, but brew for a long time, and I have a wonderful, serendipitous litmus test for a project. In all three of my novels to date, (The Coach’s Son, Morehead, and Scary, Man) I knew the last line of the story before I wrote the first line. I knew exactly where the story ended. I already know the last line in the next novel. Ideas come from everywhere and help develop plot and details, but up to this point, I start with something I know, or have experienced, and go from there. I always work from inspiration, not a marketing plan. I spend time with a project, finish it and let it go. The next novel will be my first large scale piece of historical fiction, starting over 400 years ago, so obviously, I’m veering from my formula. But the idea is good, and the research I’ve done to date is compelling. The ideas are already becoming clear and the story is taking shape. Of the three novels, and the fourth I’ve begun, all the ideas have taken a period of years before that final line has come to me and the process of writing the novel has begun. However, once I’ve begun writing the book, I work without pause until it is finished, and it usually doesn’t take too long. For example, Scary, Man is my longest novel so far, and it took the shortest amount of time to write, just under six months until I turned it over to an editor. One tip some of your readers and writers might find interesting, is how much editing I do based on reading the work aloud. It comes from the story telling. I also do all my own audio books, recording them in my home studio. If a text doesn’t sound right being read aloud, it gets changed. I still work with a professional editor (a different one for every project) but before I turn it over to them, I read the work aloud over and over. This is not only good for editing, it’s great rehearsal for when I record the audio book. I get inside every character by knowing their voices.

Question #6.  If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in scary, man?

Response:  I see you saved the hardest question for last . . . Boy, this is a tough one. Even though I knew the last line of the story, I wrestled with the ending. Not the town meeting, but what happens after. I can’t really write about it, because it gives too much away. Let’s just say it was difficult for me to do what I felt I had to do. I’d been setting it up, as discretely as possible, from early in the book. Even so, as I wrote the story, the ending I knew I needed to write became increasingly difficult for me. Again, without giving too much away, I will say that it changed after working with my editor. Not the last line, but what happens before.  I hope I haven’t said too much here. Maybe I’ve created a great teaser. But readers, DON’T YOU DARE READ THE ENDING FIRST!

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Comments
  1. toni d. says:

    Sounds very intriguing. He kind of sounds like Jonathan Franzen? Great review, Deanna 🙂

  2. […] Interview & Review: scary, man by Jeffrey Hickey […]

  3. I clicked from the www link to read your review and interview. You have written a fantastic and insightful post. I MUST read this book now. I may or may not do a review after I read. I may just reblog your great review and interview but I will read the book. Thank you!

  4. […] was scary, man by Jeffrey Hickey (see my review of scary, man and interview with Jeffrey Hickey here).   If you read my review, you would know that I loved it.  During my interactions with Mr. […]

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