I’ve written this before, but the coolest thing about author interviews is that I get to meet interesting, thoughtful individuals who dare to risk opening up an artery to let it bleed over the written page. For me, that’s the definition of what an author does.
It is highly personal and highly risky. Personal, because we dare to share what is in our head and what is in our heart with you, the reader. Risky, because there will be those readers who don’t like what we show them.
After interviewing Andrew Brandt, I came away with a sense of peace. Peace, in that he writes to please himself and is comfortable with that. As you will find, he trusts his group of beta readers and, most importantly, he trusts himself.
Andrew writes in my genre- thriller/mystery, and from what I’ve been able to glean from the interview, he approaches characters in the same way I do- make them real, make them living, and make them unforgettable. He tends to have a similar philosophy of writing that I do.
Here, see for yourself. Meet Andrew Brandt!
What was it that made you decide you had a story to tell and to become an author?
When I was a young boy, I fell in love with books. I read anything and everything I could find at the library. Books about ghosts and witches and the supernatural. I was (and am) a serial obsessive, and anything that caught my attention, I would read everything I could on the subject. In doing that, I found I had stories of my own that I wanted to tell. I tried to write a few novels in my early twenties, but I wasn’t mature enough as a person or a writer to make it happen. In 2018, I published my first novel, The Treehouse.
As an author or writer, what sets you apart from others?
For me, I think every writer is different. The way we see the world is shaped by our own experiences, and as a writer, I can take those experiences and mold stories through the way I see the world.
What genre do you write, and why?
I write mainly thriller/mystery, but I think I enjoy character-driven stories more than anything. Though in Mixtape for the End of the World, there’s a sense that the world is going to end (due to Y2k), it’s really a high school love story. Palo Duro is a missing person mystery, but it’s also about learning to work past your insecurities.
If you were to name one or two books that you deem unforgettable and that had a major impact on you, what would they be, and why?
First, is Treasure Island. It’s the first book I remember reading in middle school that was more than the 100+ page Goosebumps books that I regularly devoured. It was weighty, with gorgeous language.
Most recently, I have been obsessed with Ethan Hawke’s A Bright Ray of Darkness. It’s beautiful in its anger and despair. It came out in February and I’ve read it twice this year.
What authors do you read regularly? Why?
I have been a fan of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman since I was a teenager, and their works are still regarded highly in my mind. I love the nonfiction works of Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven) and Reza Aslan (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth). I also read a ton of romance, with Abby Jimenez at the top of the list for me. She can make me laugh uncontrollably and ugly-cry within the confines of 300 pages.
If you were to have dinner with 5 individuals living or dead, who would they be and why?
Anthony Bourdain is always and will always be at the top of that list. I loved the way he explored the world. I loved his zest for food and for culture. The rest of my list are all alive (thankfully): Ethan Hawke, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Stephen Colbert. Let’s have a dinner party, get drunk on cheap bourbon, and discuss art.
What is your writing routine? When you write, are you a planner/outliner or are you a “pantser”?
I used to strictly be a pantser, mainly because I didn’t know what I was doing. But as I’ve matured as a writer, I find myself relying on a roadmap more and more, mainly to help me hit the specific beats I want to hit with a story. I don’t necessarily outline the entire thing, but I generally have something written down to help guide my way.
When writing, how much do you read? Do you read in or out of your genre?
I read constantly. I always have a book or two with me. I give myself the goal of reading two books/month but I generally read double that. I read a ton of mystery, a ton of thrillers, and a ton of romance on the regular.
Is there something you set out to do, but somehow, it didn’t work out for you? (In terms of writing, or something else you felt was important to you at the time?)
I have a book I’ve been trying to write for a few years now and I’m just not there yet. It’s called American Atonement, and it’s a love story set in the aftermath of a school shooting. It’s about a town that is reeling from this tragedy. It’s a heavy, heavy subject and I want to do it justice. I’ll get it out, eventually.
What tips would you give to new or even experienced writers?
In order to be a writer, you have to be a reader. There’s no way around it. There are no shortcuts. You can’t become a writer by watching movies. You have to understand how the language works, how words communicate, how to weave inference and allusion into plot. The only way to learn that is to study the people who do it already. If you say you don’t have time to read, then you certainly don’t have time to write.
As far as learning the craft, the two books for me that have been monumental are Save the Cat! and Writes a Novel and Romancing the Beat. They teach you story structure, plot, character development and little things like how to create circular plot structures.
For instance, in Mixtape for the End of the World, I play a lot with the “rule of 3s”. There are three interactions with the bully character. Three interactions with the mentor. There are three rooftop scenes that build the budding romance. All of those layers work together to weave the story. It’s a technique I would have never been able to do on my own without studying writing and by reading.
How do you handle a negative critique?
There’s no way to please every reader, because every reader goes into a story with different expectations. That said, I don’t read reviews. I have a circle of beta readers that I trust, and outside of that, the only person I try to please is myself. If I’m happy with how the story is, if I feel like I conveyed the message I was trying to tell, then I’m good with that.
How important are the elements of character, setting, and atmosphere to a story, and why?
You just listed everything that is important to a story! If your story is all plot (hello, The Rise of Skywalker), with no character development, you have a beautiful but static mess. Good writers know how to weave character and setting to create atmosphere. Great writers do it flawlessly. Read The Ocean at the End of the Lane for a perfect example.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters you create? How/Why?
All characters an author creates are a fraction of who that author is. But, of all the characters I’ve created, the one that is most “me” is Cameron from The Abduction of Sarah Phillips. At least, the “me” that was sixteen years old. He was lonely, kind of bullied, and reeling from his parents’ divorce.
Is there an unforgettable or memorable character that will not leave your head, either of your own creation or from a book you’ve read?
William Harding from Ethan Hawke’s A Bright Ray of Darkness is self-destructive in every way, and let me tell you, I am here for it. As Alanis Morrissette sang in “Front Row” — I’m in the front row with popcorn.
Tell us about your most recent book.
How did you come up with the concept? How did you come up with the title? From your book, who is your favorite character? Who is your least favorite character? Why?
My most recent novel, Mixtape for the End of the World, is a book idea I started while I was still in high school, but abandoned because I knew I wasn’t mature enough or removed enough from high school to do it justice. During the COVID pandemic, though, I started thinking about it again for some reason. Maybe because the world was ending? And it reminded me of Y2k? I don’t know. However, I had a very vivid image in my head of two teenagers — a boy and a girl — sitting on the roof watching the fireworks on New Year’s Eve 1999, thinking the world was about to end. And they share that final moment together. As the clock strikes midnight, they kiss, and…
When that scene popped into my head, the rest of the book fell into place. It was a quick write — I completed the first draft in four months — and it was really the first time a novel came to my brain whole like that.
Derrick and AJ’s friendship in the book is based on my best friend in high school. We played in garage bands and just knew that we were destined for rock stardom.
As you can see, Andrew is someone worth getting to know and worth someone you might want to read. For your convenience, here are links to Andrew’s world and his writing.