Scott Blagden worked in real estate after being shown the exit door when a college prank found the
wrong audience – apparently humor wasn’t in the offering that semester. Today, he lives on Cape Cod, is still in the real estate biz, is the father to two teenagers, and, he has just seen his first book published.
“Dear Life, You Suck” isn’t standard fare in any genre, let alone Young Adult (YA). The main character, Cricket Cherpin, is a young man growing up the hard way; without parents in a Catholic group home where he’s the oldest ward and on the verge of turning eighteen. One way or another, ready or not, Cricket is about to be unleashed into the world. The thing is, Cricket is well aware of the limited choices he’s facing because he’s been engaged in many of the darker activities for some time. And it is the clash of those worlds he lives in that has created Cricket’s unique persona and outlook.
“Dear Life, You Suck” is filled with blunt, creative, often profane, occasionally laughable language as Cricket walks a wobbly balance beam between protecting the younger wards in the home and dealing with the drugs, drug dealers, and many other vices and people he encounters outside the nuns’ umbrella of safety. Cricket isn’t quite like any character readers have encountered before, and that’s what helps transcend this book beyond the YA genre.
This is a book destined to be talked about. The characters and settings Scott has created are not going away. Why? Because they are very real. We’ve met these people, read about them in the news, seen them on the street corners, and maybe raised one or two in our own families. Cricket isn’t foolproof. He doesn’t have all the answers, but needs those answers – right now! He’s seventeen and subject to mood swings and ever changing outlooks as the circumstances around him buzz in and out of his grasp and understanding. “Life sucks” is his mantra, as it is with many teens who find themselves alone and standing on the brink of adulthood, until that one chance, that one person enters their life, and they discover what they thought was their future may come with a fork in the road.
Parents who believe ‘their’ teens would never drink, smoke a joint, curse, or take a dip in the darker side of life won’t like this book. But, their kids are going to love it.
Q) The obvious question: What inspired this book?
A) Actually, the inspiration was the utter failure of my three previous novels. I wrote those novels with the goal of getting published as my main objective. I was trying to write something I thought would be popular, something I thought would sell. Around the time my third novel received its three or four hundredth rejection letter, a profane and hilarious character popped into my head. I started writing down his thoughts, never thinking I could use such outrageous stuff in an actual novel. But the more I wrote about this angry, wounded, distrustful young man, the more I realized there was a story beneath the crassness. A story that might never see the light of day publishing-wise, but a story that needed to be told nonetheless. I basically said “screw it, I’m not getting published anyway” and decided to write Cricket’s story. I was writing it more for myself than anyone else, and looking back on that time now, I realize that’s what made all the difference. My “I don’t care what anyone thinks” attitude enabled me to tell Cricket’s story honestly in his true voice.
Q) You opted to give Cricket a language that is at times all his own. Where did his unique words come from?
A) I’ve heard about actors “getting into character” before performing, but this is the first time it’s happened to me when writing a book. After I really got to know Cricket, I “became him” every time I sat down at my computer. And once I was “in character,” his words flowed out of me like water through a busted dam. Some of the language came naturally and some needed a great deal of editing during the revision process. The finished draft definitely did not just “flow” out. I probably did two or three hundred revisions before finishing the manuscript.
Q) “Dear Life, You Suck” has been likened to “The Catcher in the Rye” in its portrayal of life. I see traces of Mark Twain’s subtle humor that requires a second look to fully comprehend. While the comparisons are complimentary, they do tend to take away from the fact this story is solely the product of your imagination. How do you feel about the comparisons being made so early in the book’s release?
A) Yes, the novel is purely a product of my imagination, but like all stories, deep dark traces of the author leak out onto the pages. It’s overwhelming and surreal to be compared to writers I worship, and I haven’t really been able to get my mind around that yet. I try not to think about it too much because it’s very possible that my unstable, self-esteem-strained brain will trick me into believing I’m something more than a tenacious hack with a twisted imagination. Struggling with my second novel helps keep me grounded. Also, I never forget that I have a genius editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Adah Nuchi, and she’s responsible for much of the book’s success. She’s brilliant, passionate, and stubborn - the perfect combination for a YA book editor. Especially with a client who tends to write a great deal of outrageous nonsense.
Q) What were your teens’ reactions when they learned dad was writing a book about a teenager’s life instead of a murder mystery?
A) I have 17-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. My son’s read the book, and he loved it. He admitted he was nervous about reading it because he was afraid he might not like it, and he knew he’d have to be honest and tell me. He did say it was weird reading Dad’s thoughts about teen life, especially the “romantic stuff.” My daughter hasn’t read it yet because she’s been real busy with school and work, but my guess is she’s just not ready to glimpse dad’s warped mind. And I’m fine with that. She can read it when she’s ready.
Q) This book will be a hard act to follow. So, will your next project be on the same artistic plane, or will you take decidedly different course?
A) The good reviews have definitely heightened my level of anxiety about book two. I don’t want to disappoint readers who like Dear Life. I'm intentionally going in a very different direction, and it’s a challenging story, so I’m taking my time. My editor’s been telling me for the last year and a half not to worry about pub dates for book two and to take as much time as necessary to get the story right, and I finally understand where she’s coming from. I want to make sure it’s as good as it can be (with her assistance) before sending it out into the world. Especially since it’s sure to be compared to Dear Life. My next novel is about a 17-year-old track star with “father-issues” and a full-boat college scholarship who suddenly finds himself caring for a five-month-old infant he’s recently learned is his daughter.
Q) Any parting thoughts for soon-to-be fans?
A) For readers, my hope is that they will give Cricket a chance. It's risky to write a character honestly from page one because a reader might write him off before discovering the real him (just like in real life), but I think it's a writer’s responsibility to present characters as they truly are, not as society thinks they should be. For writers, my advice is “never give up.” It may take five or ten or twenty novels before you get published, but if you concentrate on becoming a better writer instead of becoming a published writer, you’ll get there.
DA Kentner is an award-winning author www.kevad.net