PHOTO BY L.G. PATTERSON
School librarian, husband, father and award-winning YA novelist, Brian Katcher hides well behind a bushy beard — until his exuberance catches up with him, and he launches into gesticulated conversations. Like his characters, who always have more to offer than meets the eye, it is in those lively moments that the author reveals himself.
“I’m not someone who can sit at a desk and work for hours,” Katcher says. “Writing happens in my mind, and I can’t sit still during the process. I wander around the house talking to myself. It’s a good thing I’m a writer, otherwise I’d just be a crazy person.”
Playing with Matches, Almost Perfect and Everyone Dies in the End are all set in or near Columbia. The three titles are thick with recognizable places: the University of Missouri campus, The District and other teen hangouts. Katcher, who lives in nearby Moberly, did not start writing until he was 25 and had some concerns about being relatable to his younger readers.
“The hardest thing about being a YA author is that you want to write like a teenager, not like an adult remembering what things were like back in ‘the day,’ ” he says. “You have to keep things fresh, but a lot of things never change. I was talking to a group once. I said, ‘When I was a teenager we used to hang out at the mall, watch MTV and try to meet girls. I don’t know what you do these days.’ A kid said, ‘Well, we hang out at the mall, watch MTV and try to meet girls.’ ”
Katherine Tegen Books (a HarperCollins imprint) released Katcher’s latest title, The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak, in May. Dueling narrators, Ana and Zak, begin their love story at a high school Quiz Bowl. Katcher quickly releases them into an unpredictable Seattle sci-fi convention. Zak relates his aimless adventures with slacker apathy while Ana persistently strives for new levels of perfection, desperately afraid of failure. Together, they tackle absurd situations, learning from their pointedly different lives. Katcher highlights the tendency of youths to judge themselves and others, allowing them to reach acceptance and wisdom. Parents reading this novel will find insights into communication failures and the difficulty of expectations.
Fans will also enjoy Playing with Matches, one of the American Library Association’s 2009 Best Books for YAs and winner of the 2010-2011 North Carolina YA Book Award. This debut title places geeky Leon in an unlikely love triangle with Melody, an outcast due to a disfiguring burn, and Amy, a physical beauty.
Katcher’s second title, Almost Perfect, made the American Library Association’s 2010 list of Best Books for Young Adults; it was also the 2011 winner of the Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award. In this groundbreaking novel, recently single but naïve Logan falls for new girl Sage. After he kisses her, Sage reveals that she is transgender, born a boy. The book handles the progression of their friendship — through anger, confusion, and fear — with elegance. “When writing Almost Perfect, I was terrified that transgender people would tell me I got things wrong, that it’s not like that,” Katcher says.
Instead, Katcher’s book hit home with many readers and gave him two of his most touching moments as an author. “One reader said Almost Perfect gave her the courage to come out as transgender to her mother,” he says. “Another transgender reader, when choosing a female name, selected ‘Sage’ for her middle name. Wow. Just, wow.”
Katcher’s third title, Everyone Dies in the End, was originally an adult horror novel. With this work, Katcher learned that writing YA fiction is his strength. “My agent told me that what I had done was take teenage characters and shoe-horned them into an adult situation. I was told to re-write it as a YA novel.” This title is set primarily at MU during the Missouri Scholars’ Academy, a camp for gifted high school students, where Katcher happens to teach occasionally.
Along with rewarding local readers with bits of home and placing geek fandom Easter eggs throughout each novel, Katcher also admits to a Hitchcock-style cameo in each book.
Learn more at www.briankatcher.com and www.yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com.