Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed author Brant Vickers about his writing and his recently released, Culver City, an enthralling coming-of-age tale of boyhood shenanigans, identity, and self-discovery. (Read the review here.)
Brant Vickers started out as a caddy and then delivered flowers before going into the military, living in three foreign countries and seven states. He later found his true profession and vocation teaching students with special needs, some of the most endearing, sweet, loving people on the planet. He is the author of Chucky’s in Tucson and Fedor. Brant lives in Arizona with his wife, Cheryl Ann, and their pampered cats. His favorite thing now is writing stories for Young Adults.
Culver City explores the strange world of movie sets and backlots in the eponymous California city. What were the inspirations behind the story you’ve created here?
Growing up strictly middle class in Southern California during this time period was an extraordinary luck of the draw. When we first discovered Backlot 2, close to our homes, we truly felt it was a private wonderland. Explaining the adventure to people over the years has always been successful as an interesting tale. As a labouring English major for far too many years to count, I harboured zero desires to write. I also knew I wasn’t a literary author. I always laughed and asked, “After F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, and Harper Lee, what exactly was I going to contribute to the canon?” But after my son began to grow up I wanted to share the escapades. I’ve been told I’m a decent storyteller so I thought I’d put it to paper for him to understand the wonderful craziness. The thought occurred to me to do more than just describe the basic details of the exploration and it slowly turned into a ghost story as at times the experience was, in fact, shockingly spooky. As I stated in the Acknowledgements: It invokes a lost period of time that could have only happened in one place in the entire world: Culver City, California.
Did you have to do a lot of research before diving into writing Culver City, considering the references to real-life actors, movies, and history? What was that process like?
Not unlike my last book, Fedor, in which I researched the history of the purely American experience of the railroad traveling Circus of the 1800s. I explored the lives of the actors and attempted to remain close to their personalities in the story to make the interactions both fascinating and attractive. But Culver City was truer to the fictional needs to support the plot. I enjoyed making the people fit the time period, although that brings up names that aren’t familiar to many young people. The adventure of the story glosses over the unfamiliar and makes it even more interesting.
I justify it by remembering when the school librarian gave the working manuscript anonymously to students (her acknowledged readers) to peruse. Their enjoyment of the story gave me the incentive to continue the effort. A young 11th grader loved the story and immediately asked if she could check out Gone with the Wind. I considered that a success.
If you were Cassady and Kyle, what one set would you absolutely need to visit, that they didn’t already see in Culver City?
Actually, there were a dozen more sets and sites within the Backlot that I considered including but with the limitations of the novel had to forgo writing about. I tried to present that in their introduction and first sojourn into the
Backlot. A huge mansion; what MGM called the Williamsburg-styled Girls School, overlooking the Formal Garden and Cohn Park, was one I really struggled with cutting out but in the interest of space had to let it go. It has been used in many well-known movies, and it was marvellous to stumble across. Its last time on film was in Logan’s Run in 1976. Many of Cassady and Kyle’s drug and home turf adventures are gritty and rough, but for the time period, absolutely realistic.
What’s your favorite thing about writing a supernatural story?
The freedom to go anywhere I want with the story. I can’t explain my interest in the paranormal aspect other than it was needed to drive the story. I hope I caught the right path to presenting a ghost story without a definite obvious explanation as to what the boys encountered. That was a challenge. I always feel in ghost stories, once you see or are told what is exactly happening, the mystery plus the terror is lost. As Ken Kesey said: What’s really interesting is the mystery… The need for the mystery is greater than the need for an answer.
Culver City is your third book. How has your writing process changed from writing your first ever publication to your third full-length work?
What’s interesting was Culver City was the first novel I planned to write. It sat on the back burner for several years of creative writing workshops for memoir stories. I wrote my memoir of almost twenty years of teaching special education and called it Chucky’s in Tucson. That led to Fedor, to further understand and shine a light on working with some of the wonderful students I was honoured to come to know. I felt the time was right to undertake the effort to tell the tale. Culver City was a story I’ve waited my whole life to write. I hope people enjoy it.
Your bio mentions that your “favorite thing now is writing stories for young adults.” What do you love about the young adult genre that you don’t necessarily find or experience in other genres?
I was always a reader. I read and loved so many books and never appreciated if a book was a YA or categorically literature. A life-long friend and I shared the pleasures, hopes, and dreams of the gift of books. They still do! I loved the YA book by Glendon Swarthout, Bless the Beasts and Children. I remember riding my bike to Papa Bach’s bookstore in Santa Monica to buy it about the same time the events in Culver City take place. I’ve never forgotten that. I only realized a few years later it wasn’t ‘literature,’ but adored it anyway. A kid’s story can be as important and sustaining to a reader as Moby Dick. All I hoped for was that something I wrote or a story I told could reach someone at the same level as Bless the Beasts and Children did for me.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel? What about the most gratifying thing?
Not aspiring to write Moby Dick, I feel free to see myself as more of a storyteller. It’s hard at times, when it’s not working, and exceptional when it seems to come together. I’ve had some really hard jobs in my life, which I’m happy to have experienced. Going to work at a job everyday is much more exhausting and in many regards, much more rewarding. I’ve already, with my first two books, experienced favourable feedback, congratulations, and compliments that have made the effort worthwhile. I am eternally grateful for the kudos from family, friends, and strangers.
What’s next for you?
I might have one or two more stories in me!
Categories: BookView Review Interview