Author Interview With Bryant Loney || Social Commentary in Fiction, Navigating Criticism, and Author Advice

Hi everyone! Today, I’m honored to bring you something I’ve never done before and am quite frankly super happy about. After I reviewed Bryant Loney’s Sea Breeze Academy, Verona Booksellers also provided me with an opportunity to interview Bryant. Kindly, he obliged and here’s how it went!

Cierra: I’ve noticed that there is a common theme throughout your works, and I like to say in my reviews that it is your “touch on contemporary social issues,” such as feminism, religion, sexuality, etc. If so, is it intentional? What messages are you hoping to cast from these topics?

Bryant: It’s so easy to not talk about feminism, religion, or sexuality in an attempt to separate ourselves from the world. But I believe there can be a healthy addition of social commentary into the narrative of a novel, and it’s always my goal to achieve this mix. Some of the most revered stories for children and young adults—whether in books, films, television, or video games—are the ones that approach the audience with enough respect to recognize today’s societal conflicts and present these issues in a meaningful way. As a writer, you have to focus on what bothers you and use your words to create answers for the questions you have.

Consider Take Me to the Cat: I am not an Otherkin, and I don’t believe I am or was an animal, and yet it was so important for me to have one of the main characters be a member of this group to highlight the intricacies of such an overlooked circle. It’s all about curiosity and being willing to explore unfamiliar territories with an open mind. If you’re genuine with your search, your readers will notice, and they will appreciate the effort.

C: When you write your characters, do you add elements of your own personality into them or their lives? If so, which character from any of your books is most similar to you?

B: I am the protagonist, and I am the villain. I am the best friend, the love interest, the comic relief, and the major conflict in all my stories. They are each a part of me, and I think that’s what makes the books so personal. Emotional diaries of sorts. Jay Murchison from To Hear the Ocean Sigh is admittedly my high school self. Michael Jackson from Take Me to the Cat is me right before college, and Matthew Flynn from Sea Breeze Academy is who I am today. Each is a succession. Hopefully in the right direction.

C: What is your favorite and most obscure adjective?

B: Vermicious! Something vicious, nasty, and wormlike, as in the Vermicious Knid aliens that invade Space Hotel USA in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

We invent words when we don’t have ones that fit. They are attempts to capture the orality of the language—the spoken nest of the language—and Dahl was a genius at that. If a writer tends to make a mistake with vernacular, especially when adult authors try to write teen characters, it’s going too far. If the standard English language is mangled to the point where it’s unreadable, then you’re serving neither the spoken vernacular nor the words on the page that the reader encounters, let alone the group you want to represent honestly.

The trick is to be as subtle as you can and to only change the language when it needs to be changed. I try to be particularly consistent, with a set of rules to exactly which grammatical structures and words I may alter, and then I stick to those rules. There are writers who would do otherwise, of course, and it’s becoming increasingly more popular to handle the vernacular differently in every sentence. To me, that can get overly burdensome to the reader, which is why I value a set of rules. In To Hear the Ocean Sigh, in the space of a couple of sentences, I needed the reader to be clear as to which character they were reading, even without tags. So I was careful to make those multimodal languages distinct, whether it be through the emoticons, the utilization of Caps Lock to convey excitement, variational spellings, and the use of punctuation—or lack thereof—to indicate irony, emphasis, apathy. All of these groups of teens are there, and I wanted to give each of them their own language.

Also, I forgot what the question was.

C: Did you have a favorite book or book series as a child? If so, did the book(s) ever inspire ideas for your own?

B: Great question. There’s a wonderful 1996 novel by the late Ruth White called Belle Prater’s Boy that I read in the sixth grade. The story is that when Belle Prater goes missing, her twelve-year-old son Woodrow is sent to stay with his cousin Gypsy in a small Virginia mining town. Cross-eyed and wearing hand-me-down clothes, Woodrow is haunted by his mother’s disappearance and struggles to fit in with the rest of Gypsy’s classmates. Gypsy, meanwhile, is dealing with her own mother’s remarriage and the problems that arise with creating a blended family. Belle Prater’s Boy is surprising, endearing, and full of 1950s references to American politics, music, and culture. It’s a tender story—one about familial love and loss—and I knew that if I ever wrote a book, I would want to approach my depiction of life in a similar manner: truthfully, with simple, imagistic writing. I can’t recommend it enough.

C: I’ve noticed that you’re currently a college student. How do you balance your school work and obligations with your writing? Do you have any advice for people in the same situation?

B: I believe it’s important to understand that there can be more to writing than typing words on a screen. As long as you’re jotting down fun phrases you read and snippets of overheard conversations—if you’re thinking about the story and the characters or even taking online quizzes with your protagonist in mind—even if all you’re doing is watching TV shows or playing video games with a similar setting to your work, then you are crafting your novel. There’s no shame in preparation and gathering inspiration. You can take one month or ten years to write your novel, but so long as you’re entertaining the tales in your head with mindfulness in addition to the actual writing, then all is well, and there’s nothing to worry about. There will always be time to write. Just make sure you have something to write about.

C: As an add-on to the previous question, do you consider your writing to be an escape from your student responsibilities when things get tough, or are they equally as challenging?

B: Writing might be an escape for some, but escapism, especially at a young age, can only take you so far. It can also be incredibly isolating. No one understands your detailed imaginary world like you do, so I suggest being open with people in all other areas of your life to make up for the deficit. When you’re honest with people about your struggles—student responsibilities or otherwise—improving your craft becomes easier, and your mental health is much more important, anyway.

C: Have you ever faced backlash for being an author? What advice do you have for people who are afraid to pursue a writing career due to peer negativity?

B: When I was an education major, my peers and I were all on the same page regarding the foundations of and philosophies behind education policies. When I switched to creative writing, however, we were all at different levels—some were still learning about subject/verb agreement, parallel constructions, wordiness, and collocations, whereas others had already been published. Some writers are easily suspicious and jealous of other writers who have found some degree of success, and that’s a shame. It’s really not a competition. We’re all working on bettering each other as much as we are ourselves. So my advice would be to face negativity with heart, and as much as you can, be at peace with everyone. Save the drama for the writing.”

C: Finally, how do you usually respond to criticism/bad reviews of your work?

B: Criticism, no matter how painful, is essential. There is no other way to learn. Yet I’ve seen writers at workshops retreat in the face of even the mildest of criticism. Let this be understood: one-star reviews are inevitable, and readers come to any medium with their own self-imposed standards. If a reviewer feels it’s best to discontinue a relationship with me, then that’s fine. I respect that. As an author, you can’t win everybody. But for every bad review, there’s also a piece of fan art of my characters, or there’s an email saying, “Hey. You helped me through a tough time. Thanks for that.” You cannot define yourself in a world of grades, whether they be harassment or incentive. Always reach to do better, and always soldier through.”

So that’s it! I again just want to thank both Verona Booksellers and Bryant Loney for making this possible! I really enjoyed this experience and I appreciate Bryant’s thoughtful answers and advice, especially about the social commentary that he includes his books. (That’s something I touched on in my review of his book Take Me to the Cat if you’re interested.) Hopefully you did too!

Until next time!

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