A story about the Atlanta Edgar nominees appears in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal Constitution, and can be read at www.accessatlanta.com/arts.
More information about the Edgar Awards may be found at http://www.theedgars.com/.
I had the opportunity to sit down with author S. A. Harazin this past Saturday and chat with her over coffee about Blood Brothers, her writing career, and her nomination for an Edgar. Let me begin by saying thanks to Shirley for taking the time to meet with me. Also, as I did at the beginning of my conversation with the author, I should note that I do not normally read titles that fall into the mystery or thriller categories.
I do make a real effort to keep up with what is going on the in the book world, and in the Georgia book world in particular. That’s a big job. Just ask the people who get paid to do it. Back in early April I came across a story about Blood Brothers in the Gwinnett Daily Post, my suburban Atlanta county newspaper. The story appeared on April 6th, and can be read at the Post’s website, http://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/. As the story concerned a local author, I went out and bought a copy of the book and started reading it. Because the newspaper story was about the book being nominated for an Edgar, I started reading it with the expectation that it would be, well, a mystery novel.
The elements of a good mystery or thriller are definitely to be found in Blood Brothers (the folks at the Edgars certainly think so). But more importantly, in my humble opinion, is the fact that this book is an example of just plain good storytelling. Other reviewers have called it “gripping and raw” and “gritty”. I have even seen several references comparing it to S. E. Hinton’s young adult classic, The Outsiders.
As I read Blood Brothers, I did want to find out what happens next—I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery in the story. But it was the strong relationships, the very believable characters about whom I wanted to know more, and the realism of the plot, the language, and the setting that really pulled me in to the story.
Blood Brothers is the story of two young men, Clay and Joey, who are just out of high school. The two move in very different social circles, and have very different upbringings. Still, they have been the closest of friends since they were children. As they plan their respective futures, including a planned cross-country bicycle trek, tragedy strikes.
The story’s central figure and narrator is Clay, who works at the local hospital as an orderly and has dreams of one day becoming a doctor. Life has certainly dealt Clay his share of hard knocks. Much of the story takes place in the hospital where Clay is employed. The author’s many years of experience as a nurse (and one-time orderly) give the story in her novel a real sense of authenticity. Some of the detail in the book could only have come from someone with an intimate knowledge of life in a hospital—from the technical aspects to the human drama.
Another central theme of the book is the friendship between Clay and Joey. Joey is the perfect guy—handsome, popular, smart, and with a loving and supportive family. The young men’s friendship is tight, and loyalty is also a big part of the story. The supporting cast of characters in the book is well developed. Finally, the language in the book is dead-on, and suggests that the author has quite an accurate and sympathetic ear for her characters and her audience.
Below are some snippets from my conversation with S. A. Harazin, author of Edgar Award nominee, Blood Brothers:
So, first questions, first—the questions that you have already answered many times before. How did you get started writing?
Well, I always wanted to write. After high school, my mother (who was a nurse) told me that I needed to do something to pay the bills. So I went to nursing school.
You’re, you know, a girl. Why did you choose to make Clay a male character?
He was a combination of two orderlies whom I knew personally.
The language in your book is really authentic. You also deal with some pretty intense themes, some of which are particularly relevant to young people nowadays. Still, there isn’t anything in your book that comes across as preachy, or as a deliberate attempt to tug at the emotions. You don’t seem to be trying to deliver a message. Can you comment on that?
Teens are really savvy. If it’s preachy, they aren’t going to read it. I’m just telling a story. I’ve had teens in my house for years (Harazin is the mother of two sons and a daughter, all college age now). I think that they talked honestly around me. My main purpose is to tell a story. I want the reader to make their own conclusions. You don’t need hokiness to make the generational connection. The book is written for a contemporary audience.
Where did the friendship between Joey and Clay come from?
It’s all fictional. It’s drawn from my nursing experience. But I’ve made every effort to insure it was fictionalized.
You have three children, all within Clay and Joey’s age range. Did they play a role in the shaping of Blood Brothers?
Yes. Especially my two sons. I think that my daughter thinks things through better than my two sons.
Am I going to get you in trouble if I post that last bit?
No. My sons are both really smart.
Yes, so I noticed. I read on your website that all of your children are either in college or university, or just graduated. And all of them are apparently math, physics and chemistry whizzes.
Yes. I don’t know where they got that gene.
One reviewer called your book “gritty”. What do you think?
I was a little surprised. There isn’t anything weird in it. The hospital stuff is pretty accurate.
Another reviewer compared it to Hinton’s The Outsiders. What did you think of that?
I was really taken with some of the supporting characters. In particular, I liked the sheriff. Who was that character based upon?
The sheriff character was completely made-up.
You’re kidding? I really wanted to know more about him. He was just such a surprise.
Well, I’ve actually had people ask me about writing a book just about the sheriff. I don’t think so. You know, not all heroes are good looking or rich or powerful.
Still, he was a great character. What about some of the other supporting characters?
Clay’s father. Joey’s parents and the girlfriend. They were all made up. Some of the hospital staff was drawn from my own experience.
When I first picked up Blood Brothers and started reading, I was expecting a mystery. I kept thinking to myself while I was reading that, yes, there is this mystery that I really want to get to the bottom of. Still, this is just a really good story. What do you think about the book as a mystery?
(Laughing) I didn’t know it was a mystery. I just wanted to tell a story.
What do you think about the Edgar Award nomination?
I’m just so excited. It’s such an honor. On Thursday, Random House is sending a limo to my house to take me to the airport. I mean, I’m a housewife. I normally get excited about finding really good coupons in the newspaper.
How did you find out that you had been nominated for the award?
I had just returned from taking the dog to the vet. A friend sent me an email telling me to go check the website for the Edgar Awards. Then I heard from my editor and agent.
So, finally, what are you reading right now?
(laughs again) The works by the other nominees. Did you know that there are two other nominees from Georgia who are going to be there? I hope to meet some of the other nominees while I’m in New York.
Do you mind if we chat again after you return from New York?
No, not at all. (Big laugh) If I win, I’ll email you first as soon as I get back!
Delacorte Press published Blood Brothers in July 2007. In addition to the nomination for an Edgar Award, both the American Library Association and the New York Public Library have also recognized it as a notable book for young adults. It has also been nominated for a Georgia Peach Award.
S.A. Harazin is working on a new novel about a child afflicted with a rare condition that results in an inability to feel pain.
What a smart, down to earth lady! Thanks again, Shirley, for taking time out to talk about your book. Very best wishes to you and the other Georgia nominees at next week’s Edgar Awards in New York.