Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Big Interview with Josh Berk

Hey Bookworms! 

Today I have another interview for you … this one with Josh Berk, the author of “The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin.”  I’ve been following Josh on Twitter for a few months, and I can assure you all that he is hilarious.  Don’t believe me? Follow him yourself at @joshberkbooks or watch this video!  Now that I’ve raved about his hilarity, read on for his interview … 

Carly Reads: As someone who is highly interested in deafness and who is planning a career in working with the deaf and hard of hearing, I’d like to know, what inspired you to write a novel in which the main character is deaf?  
Josh Berk: I was at a place in my writing life where I had already written two books loosely based on myself and my friends. These manuscripts went nowhere, but I did get a bit of encouragement from a literary agent who told me to let her know when I wrote something else. That was exciting! But what to write? I had no idea. Then I had a brief dream about a kid reading lips on a school bus. It felt exciting and sort of scary so I jotted it down in my notebook. I started imagining what this character's life might be like as a deaf teen and from there Will was born! I admittedly was not an expert when I started, but I was fascinated by what I did know about the Deaf community. I also am fascinated by communication (and barriers to communication) in general so the idea appealed to me. Plus, Will immediately came to life as a bright, funny kid in my head and I knew I wanted to spend more time with him.

CR: You yourself are not deaf, so how did you get into the head of a deaf character?  What sort of research did you do (in regards “big D” versus “little d” deafness, Deaf culture, the nature of Deaf schools, etc.)?
JB: Well, getting into the head of a deaf teenage boy isn't that much different than getting into the head of a hearing teenage boy. All teenage boys think about the same things (more or less). But to school myself in the specifics of deafness and Deaf culture, I did indeed do a bunch of research. The Internet has made it amazingly easy to meet all sorts of people – I found deaf bloggers to interview, hung out on deaf message boards, and read tons of articles. If you've never thought about the topic at all, a quick googling of "deaf culture" will open your eyes to a huge range of issues and a fascinating and diverse world.  I also read lots of books on the topic, including memoirs and some scholarly texts. "Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School" by Gallaudet University professor Gina Oliva is a good one. Then I corresponded with some administrators at a Deaf high school who answered a few questions for me and I had some deaf readers look over the manuscript before it went to print. It was a lot of work, but I love research, and the Deaf world is fascinating and full of wonderful people!

CR: “Hamburger Halpin” is both a coming of age story and a mystery – did you start out the writing process knowing that it would be both? Or were you intending on it being one or the other (or neither!)?
JB: I think it had elements of both from the beginning, but I probably thought it would be more of a traditional mystery when I started. Then I got so fascinated by Will, and I wanted to know more about his life and his personal journey, that the coming of age elements grew as the book did. So I worked hard (as did my editor, who was wonderful) to weave together his own self-discovery with the mystery element. I'm happy that it ended up being both! A review or two has described it as "genre-bending," which makes me happy.

CR: What was your favorite book when you were a teenager?
JB: I was a huge Kurt Vonnegut fan in high school, and my favorite was probably his classic “Slaughterhouse-Five.” I met Kurt when I was in high school and he signed my copy. It's still proudly displayed in my living room.

CR: What author are you most looking forward to meeting and/or seeing at the Sixth Annual Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival?
JB: Probably Rachel Hawkins, just so I can tell her how much I hate her to her face. Just kidding, Hawkins! (Sort of. You know what you did.) Ha!

Josh, thanks so much for taking the time to answer these interview questions for us.  We look forward to meeting you in May (and experiencing your sense of humor in person)!


  1. YOU MET KURT VONNEGUT? That's it, Berk. I'm too jealous to ever speak to you again.

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