This is just what the name implies: On Fridays, I ask someone interesting a question and request that she/he respond in 50 words or less.
Or somewhere in the ballpark of 50 words. That’s why there’s an “-ish.” I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this site isn’t exactly a bastion of rigidity.
Today, I’m excited to welcome back a friend of the site and 50 Words alum, Anthony Breznican (@Breznican). Anthony was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1998. He has worked as a reporter for The Arizona Republic, Associated Press, and USA Today, and is currently a senior staff writer for Entertainment Weekly.
Last time he was here, Anthony answered a whole string of questions about the Oscars (which he covers for EW), each in exactly 50 words. Now we’re talking his dark coming-of-age novel Brutal Youth, published last month by Thomas Dunne Books.
As some writer you may have heard of named Stephen King put it: “If you thought high school was hell, has Anthony Breznican got a story for you.”
I had several questions about the book, and, true to form, Anthony responded every time in 50 words—no more, and no less.
The three freshmen at the center of Brutal Youth realize “going bad may be the only way to survive.” How would you compare their transformation to that of everybody’s favorite chemistry teacher, Walter White?
I think Mr. White would feel for these kids. They’d understand each other. Both stories are about good people turning hard and cold in order to survive, lashing out at a world that’s indifferent at best and malicious at worst. Breaking Bad‘s oft-overlooked black humor was also a big inspiration.
Is there any connection between Brutal Youth and the Elvis Costello album of the same name?
Definitely. The title comes from the song “Favourite Hour,” which includes the lyric, “Now, there’s a tragic waste of brutal youth …” It’s about not wanting to add damage to the world, but also not counting the good things that happen. It’s a heartbreaking song, and the bittersweet tone fit perfectly.
What made you want to write about high school? Do you have plans to revisit that theme in future projects?
I wanted to tell a story about the unexpected forces that shape us—or warp us—when we’re just starting out. Some might say, “Why don’t the adults step in?” but in reality they often don’t until it’s too late. It’s an age when we realize, “I’m on my own.”
Both my wife, Jenny, and I plan to read Brutal Youth at the beach later this summer, but it’s already a hit with the youngest member of the Fox household:
Huge thanks to Anthony for doing this a second time and for being more committed to the premise of 50 words than even I am. Make sure to show him some love and go buy the book.