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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Musical Fiction

Musical Fiction

Boston author Brendan Halpin, author of Long Way Back and Donorboy, returns to the literary forefront with his newest book, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, an unlikely love story about Mark Norris and Philippa Strange, two people both betrayed and exposed to the world by breakup songs. I had the opportunity to interview Brendan for this week’s issue of The Mass Media.

Mass Media: First things first: what inspired you to write Dear Catastrophe Waitress?

Brendan Halpin: I’ve been interested in the idea of breakup songs for a long time. Who are the poor losers who have breakup songs written about them? They’re completely one-sided. They’re a relationship crammed into three and a half minutes. How does it feel to be the person who the song’s written about? How does it feel to have that one person’s side aired to the whole world? You know, who wants their 19-year-old, drunken experiences aired to an entire country?

MM: You’ve made a literary career out of making uncomfortable things funny. There’s a good deal of macabre things that happen in the course of the book, and you also wrote a memoir, It Takes a Worried Man, about your wife’s battle with cancer. How would you respond to someone who might not see the humor in those situations? How do you keep your sense of humor in the face of these things?

BH: I would always rather laugh than cry. Laughing at the awful things that happened was how I dealt with them. When my wife died, I remember my daughter and I sitting in the hospital room with her body – she’d been dead for a few hours. And the nurse comes in, walks over to the bed, and starts to check her vital signs. (laughs) I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean, she’d been dead for hours, and they’re taking her vital signs. The nurse explained to me that they needed it for paperwork, but it seemed so absurd. The oncologist thought I was insane. Oncologists are very serious and solemn – it’s fun to turn the tables on them.

MM: The story revolves around music, which, if your blog is any indication, is a big part of your life. It also seems to be a big influence on your writing. In It Takes A Worried Man, you confessed to loving Wham’s “Freedom.” There seems to be a trend recently of pop-culture oriented fiction. Do you think this is a response to anything in particular?

BH: I’m not sure. I know I’m musically inspired – I was a teenager when MTV actually still played music videos, and I love musically oriented movies like “High Fidelity.” Music was a very immersive experience when I was growing up. I’m not sure if it’s a trend, but I agree that pop culture has become a hot topic. It seems to me that the lines between “high” culture – you know, literary culture – and “low” culture, pop culture, are getting blurry. I mean you’ve got great, famous authors writing comic books now. But I’m not sure if it’s a trend as opposed to people bringing their own backgrounds into their own writing.

MM: You taught English. Mark, one of the main characters of Dear Catastrophe Waitress, is an English teacher, as well. I have to ask: is Mark at all autobiographical?

BH: God, I hope I’m not that much of a loser! (laughs) I think it’s just easier for me to write him as a teacher as opposed to something else, like a lawyer, because I’ve been there. It also gave me a way for him and another character to get together. But, autobiographical? No. I hope people don’t read too much into it.

MM: Anything else you’d like to say?

BH: Buy, buy, buy! (laughs) I hope people enjoy the novel. It’s the first of my novels that’s not about death. When I started to write it, I asked myself, how does a book suddenly become what everybody is reading on the T? I think it’s a fun book, and it’s entertaining. I hope people enjoy it.

For more information on Dear Catastrophe Waitress or Halpin’s other novels, please visit his official website at www.brendanhaplin.com, or read his blog at brendanhalpin.typepad.com.