Friday, March 13, 2015

Q & A with, Patrick Szabo, author of, Nine Months Abroad


Patrick Szabo, author of Nine Months Abroad, has been so gracious and kind enough to agree to be featured on the blog for a short Q & A. Below are some of the questions I asked him based on my reading experience of the book and what I was curious to know. Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below!

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

Patrick Szabo: I’ve had the story in my head for a long time. We’re talking decades here. Nine Months Abroad is based very loosely on my time in Germany. It was originally planned as a stand-alone novel but while writing Glory Days I decided to tweak the main character a bit and make him a younger version of Matt from Glory Days. Originally, I covered the extreme basics in a few paragraphs and figured that was enough. The Germany Story (as I always referred to it) was told. Sort of. By the time I finished GD I knew that those few paragraphs most definitely were not enough. A few months later, while prepping for the sequel to Glory Days, I kept thinking about The Germany Story. I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I wanted to show a ten year-old boy completely out of his element, making new friends, new enemies. Most important, though, I wanted to write the Dachau chapter. I NEEDED to write the Dachau chapter because that visit has haunted me for thirty years.

Q: How did you come up with Matthew's character?

Patrick Szabo: Here comes a shocking answer that isn’t shocking in the slightest to fans of this type of book: Matt is basically me. But Hollywoodized a bit. I was a fairly boring kid, just an average American 10 year-old, and was a borderline Marty Stu type. And we all know that they aren’t any fun to read about. So I took my own character traits and twisted or spun them slightly. I had a foul mouth at that age ( as did most of my friends) but, even in moments of anger, I NEVER would have cursed at my mom like Matt does in the third act. Never in a million years. Basically, I just tried to create a Joe Average American but make him a little rougher around the edges.


Q: Why did you tell his story in the 70s and 80s as opposed to giving him a more recent upbringing?

Patrick Szabo: That’s when I lived there so it was comfortable writing from a place of knowledge. More importantly, I didn’t want cell phones and email to exist in the book. When Matt feels isolated or home sick I didn’t want his feelings soothed by just jumping on Skype and talking to his grandma or Facetimeing with his cousins. When everything starts to go downhill with the German kids I wanted him to feel desperate and know that his only real comfort, aside from his parents, was the small band of friends who were going through the same things.

Q: Whatever happened to Matthew's real father?

Patrick Szabo: Perhaps he vanished into the US government’s spy apparatus. Or maybe he died in a war. Or maybe the writer didn’t think that one out far enough. If I were a betting man I would go with the third option. :)

Q: There is a lot of bullying in your book, what message did you want to send to your readers, if any, in regards to bullying and the "boys just being boys" mentality?

Patrick Szabo: No real message. Bullying is becoming less and less tolerated with each generation. My step dad was in a gang before getting old enough to escape to the military (and even then he lied about his age to get in). He was a POA at the end Korea and did three tours in Vietnam. He was, if you’ll pardon the expression, a Man’s Man. He was the embodiment of “boys will be boys” and I tried to convey that in the book. When Matt gets beat up that first time his dad knows what happened but doesn’t offer to lift a finger to help, because that just wasn’t done, not with that generation. Have a problem with some kid at school? Kill or be killed, kid. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Things are different now. Like I said, it’s becoming tolerated less. I just wanted to show what it was like two generations ago.

Q: How do you think the clash of the cultures makes this coming of age story even more intense?

Patrick Szabo: The story takes place less than forty years after the end of WWII. That’s really not a lot of time. And Germany was basically an occupied nation for those decades, though it was never put that way. The American kids were puffed up with the arrogance of what their grand-father’s helped accomplish, and the German kids were a little bitter over their country being so dependent on the occupying force. Put those two groups into close quarters and there are going to be flare ups.

Now, let me just say, I met lots of great people and kids when I lived there and then a lot more that were not-so-nice. For the purposes of the story I went used the Lucas/Spielberg Indiana Jones method. Or even the Stephen King method of dealing with villainous kids. Not a whole lot of grey area, mainly just black and white.

Q: What is one message you would like your readers to take away from this book?

Stand up for yourself. Don’t let the creeps get the best of you. My dad told me the best way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. And, in most situations, what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll get beat up. Sure it’s embarrassing and it hurts but in the grand scheme of things no one will remember it six months down the line. And you can take pride and comfort in the fact that you faced down your fear and came out on the other side okay.

Q: What can we expect from you next?

Patrick Szabo: Well I’m currently working on two projects. One is an Urban Fantasy series that I’ll be launching under a pen-name. I figured I’d go that route because it’s going to be so completely different from my current novels. I’m also working on the sequel to Glory Days, titled Class of ’89. I’m having so much fun with it. I’m listening to late 80s music, watching late 80s movies and television and commercials (of all things!) to get back into that headspace again. I really like Matt and his friends and their world and writing about them is the next best thing to having a Flux Capacitor. I’m looking at a late-spring of 2015 release.