Vlad snuck The Tommyknockers by Stephen King out of the library on his sister’s library card when he was eleven years old. Despite the nightmares, he’d stay up all night reading it, partly because he was discovering that there was pleasure in terror, and partly because he was too scared to go to bed before the sun came up. It took him all summer and some of the fall to finish it, but when he did, he immediately dug up another King book. His love affair with the creepy, bizarre, and thought-provoking had officially begun.
Vlad was raised in Groton, Massachusetts and now resides in Lowell, Massachusetts with his wife, Jordana. He received an Associates Degree in Journalism from Middlesex Community College, and after a few years of freelance writing, he decided to go back to school. He’s now a proud member of the National Honor Society at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, where he’s studying History and English.
He’s a voracious reader, avid hiker, and can’t watch enough documentaries. Seriously, he has a problem.
1. Can you please tell us a little about Brachman's Underworld?
Brachman's Underworld is like seeing Alice in her dreams of Wonderland, but also seeing her awake and at home in the real world - her two distinct existences rely upon one another. In my novel, you experience Delilah Brachman's real life as she faces devastating challenges, and you step into her psyche as she navigates the strange and deadly world of Other Lowell, where demons jockey for position and power. Will Delilah's struggle against an idealist tyrant, a demon intent on supplanting God, and a disease that infects the food supply win her salvation, or will the life she led condemn her forever?
2. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Some of the domestic situations in my book are pretty gritty, and are rooted in my childhood, in things I experienced, or things that my friends experienced. I had to dig deep to bring them to life, and it wasn't always easy. I think it made me a tad neurotic at times, since I was forced to relive memories that I had locked away long ago. Not only was I dredging them up, but now I was preparing to share them with the world, albeit in a considerably different form. Those memories really informed my characters though. I've received emails from readers that talk about how genuine my characters feel, and that makes it all worth it.
3. Do you have a favorite excerpt from the book? If so, could you please share it with us?
Kevin is living in Lowell in his eighth foster home, and he’s become friends with a dark-haired, pimple-faced boy from down the street named Can-Can.
Can-Can’s real name is Carl Brodsky, a name that does little to instill the type of fear and respect for which many boys yearn. Carl’s father, Walter “The Can” Brodsky, is a former boxer, a huge man with huge arms and a huge gut, the type of gut that is almost perfectly round and deceptively solid.
Two winos once tried to mug Mr. Brodsky in the alley behind the Broadway Street Market Basket when he was fourteen years old. Walter had been toting a bag of groceries with him – hot dogs, ketchup, buns, and a can of baked beans – and when the guys jumped him he instinctively grabbed for the only weapon he had…the beans. Walter knew that an unopened can of beans, an unopened can of anything really, makes a handy weapon if you hit a guy right, and that’s exactly what he did.
A bum lunged out from behind a dumpster. Walter backpedaled, grabbing for the beans (they had some fuckin’ weight to ‘em) and swung blindly at the guy’s face. The rim of the can ripped his forehead open and drenched his face in a sheet of blood. Nothing bleeds like a head wound, and this promptly ended the bum’s attack. A second man grabbed him from behind, they tussled, ended up on the ground with Walter on top, and then Walter went to work on the man’s face until he was howling for help in shrill, animal screams and hugging his face with his arms. The can burst open and baked beans splattered all over the guy’s head, Walter’s chest, the pavement, and the dumpster like larvae in little pools of brown syrup. The cops showed up, arrested the men, and a reporter who happened to be swinging by the store was drawn in by the flashing lights. He snapped a picture of a stunned and wide-eyed Walter Brodsky clutching an armful of groceries. Two days later, the following headline announced, ‘Young Man Defeats Muggers.’
And so “The Can” was born.
Like hundreds of other people clustered in the neighborhoods around Route 3A in Lowell at the time, Walter Brodsky began working in the warehouse at the Prince Spaghetti Factory as a teenager, at first for a little running money, then to support a budding boxing career, and finally to support Carl when his boxing dreams came to an unspectacular end. Alice had run off with his agent and left him to raise Carl alone. And that was the end of that.
Mr. Brodsky is a rough sort, but a loving sort too, and he takes to Kevin immediately. He is real. He tells it how it is and doesn’t care if anyone agrees. Two hundred and sixty pounds and a vicious uppercut gives him that right. He works long shifts hauling crates and then comes home with a case of beer and finishes it in a few hours. Then, like some Dionysian god, he’s up at the crack of dawn yelling for Can-Can to get his lazy ass out of bed and get to school. Can-Can is not going to work in some pissy factory witha’ buncha’ otha’ morons. Can-Can is not going to box because the fuckin’ rats will always get ya fuckin’ paycheck one way or the otha’. Can-Can is going to college.
Kevin envies him.
With “The Can” as a father, Kevin supposes it is natural that Carl Brodsky, upon his first fight in elementary school, is soon nicknamed Can-Can by the guys at the factory. The name sticks and Can-Can maintains, strutting proudly whenever the subject arises, that “only pussies have to make up their own nicknames.” Kevin is inclined to agree and wishes he had one too. Maybe “King Kevin.” Or “Killer Kevin.” Or just plain old “Killer.”
Kevin often imagines how the scene at Mr. Brodsky’s warehouse went down, hears the big man’s deep baritone booming over a labyrinth of dusty warehouse shelving, a voice that can carry to every street in the city if he really has a mind to yell.
“So I come home yestahday and Carl looks like he’s got the shit beat out of ‘em. Black eye, blood in his nostrils, fat lip, the whole shebang. I look him in the eye and Carl looks right back at me. He smiles. Fuck! A smile. That’s my boy! I don’t let on. I can’t. What kind of fuckin’ example would that be? I ask him what happened. He says this other kid, Bobby Somethin’, has been pushin’ him around. So Carl finally gets pissed and whacks the fucka’. They have it out in the hallway until some teacher breaks it up. Did he win? Of course he fuckin’ won, dipshit!” At this point Mr. Brodsky jabs at the air with deceptive quickness, swelling with pride. “Guess he remembered what his old man taught him. Apple don’t fall far from the tree!”
Kevin wishes Walter “The Can” Brodsky is his father. Maybe they can adopt him. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Kevin is sitting on the front porch with Mr. Brodsky and Can-Can one afternoon – it must be spring because some of the trees are just starting to show green – when two hard-looking men saunter into view. They glance at this duo with little interest and continue their conversation about the Mets and the Red Sox, something about a trade deal. Kevin doesn’t care much for baseball, but since “The Can” loves the game as much as his beer, Kevin pretends that he loves it too.
Enter the skinny guy. He comes walking down the sidewalk toward this shifty dynamic duo, distracted by some inner contemplation and focused on his feet. The duo shares a knowing look and stalk toward the skinny guy like dogs on the hunt.
“Pay attention to this,” Mr. Brodsky whispers.
The boys are suddenly aware of the tension they’ve missed, the way the two men eye the skinny guy, glancing around to see who might be watching. They shoot Walter, Carl and Kevin a contemptuous, challenging look and then promptly forget about them. They’re hardasses and they want the skinny guy. He’s alone, and he’s a target.
“Fuckin' street punks. Pussies,” Mr. Brodsky whispers with disgust, then guzzles his beer, his Adam’s apple bobbing in time to each audible glug. He finishes it and then suppresses the legendary burp that might spook the show.
By then the skinny guy has realized that something bad is about to happen. The men clash at the end of the Brodsky’s walkway. The boys lean forward, ready to spring off their seats.
“Easy, ladies. Ain’t our fight,” Mr. Brodsky coos.
The skinny guy tries to go around them, but the duo blocks his way. So he starts to back away instead. One of the punks makes a grab for him but the skinny guy socks him hard in the gut. The gush of air that pours out of his lungs carries across the crispy brown lawn as the punk folds, his knees suddenly weak. It’s a sound like air being squeezed out of a plastic bag. The punk stumbles back several feet and sort of crumbles against Mr. Brodsky’s ‘67 AMC Ambassador station wagon. He slips to the pavement.
This enrages the other punk, who tackles the skinny guy. They roll in a tangle of arms and legs, but in a moment the skinny guy is on top. This tickles “The Can’s” memory and he slaps his thigh and brays donkey-like laughter. Skinny Guy is not a softie. Skinny Guy is one mean son of a bitch, as “The Can” immediately suspected through some street-wise intellect that the boys are only just developing. Skinny Guy doesn’t punch, flail or try to strangle the punk, oh no. He grabs his greasy hair and slams his skull on the sidewalk until the punk’s body goes limp. It sounds a bit like a coconut. Kevin wants to vomit, but he holds it down because then the Brodskys might think he’s weak.
Skinny Guy jumps off the thug. The other punk has regained some of his wind and is straightening, one hand still on the station wagon.
“Do you want some more of this, muthafucka?” Skinny Guy rages.
The punk does not want some more of this. The punk suddenly discovers his feet and leaves his buddy bleeding on the sidewalk.
“Fuckin’ pussy!” Mr. Brodsky howls laughter, crushing his empty beer can into a twisted ball of aluminum.
Skinny Guy sees them then, his eyes as big as headlights, and smiles sheepishly, like he’s been caught doing something wrong. Mr. Brodsky nods to him, grabs another beer from the cooler beside his chair, and cracks it. Mr. Brodsky tips the first sip to the skinny guy before he takes off in the opposite direction.
“That, my boys, is an appropriate badass,” Mr. Brodsky says confidently. “See, ya gotta’ be an appropriate badass, not some street punk, some lowlife. Ya know what I mean by that, right?” Can-Can shrugs. Kevin looks away. They want to know because they want to be men, but they have only the vaguest idea what he’s talking about. Mr. Brodsky sighs heavily. “Fuckin’ idiots. Okay, what I mean is that you gotta’ carry yourself a certain way. Don’t go around eyein’ people for no good reason, but don’t look away when they eye you neither. If they fuck with ya, then POW!” He gives the air a mock jab. “Ya lay the fucka’ out hawd. Hawd.” He glares at them like some junkyard dog. “That’s appropriate. What that skinny guy just did was right. Fuckin’ biblical. That’s a man to look up to. He didn’t want no trouble. He was mindin’ his own business. Ya don’t let people push you around and if they do, ya go at ‘em with all ya got, ya know? Ya get it?”
This is wisdom and “The Can” is a learned man.
They nod. He ruffles Kevin’s hair. “Good kids. Ya gotta’ be ready, ‘specially a kid like you, Kevvy-Kev.”
A kid like Kevin.
An appropriate badass. They like the sound of it. They like the concept. They say it to themselves. Appropriate badass. They’re united by The Can’s world-altering realization and it becomes their private mantra because you have to carry yourself a certain way if ya don’t want to get fucked. Ya gotta’ be an appropriate badass.
4. What do you hope readers will take away after reading the book?
My book is a fast-paced Horror/Fantasy experience, but it also has a philosophical edge. Using self-reflection as a vehicle for self-realization is the heart of Delilah's story. I want the narrative to encourage readers to look at themselves and analyze their reactions, both positive and negative, to things that have happened to them in their lives. Delilah is an "In-Betweener" precisely because she was incapable of such reflection during her life. She's like most of us, with flaws and blind spots that hobble her perspective. We all need a reminder at times to reflect on our own shortcomings, and to work to overcome them. My hope is that my readers will do just that.
5. What was your writing process while writing this book?
Brachman's Underworld in its original form was a "cutting-edge," online interactive book, so its development process was totally unique. The premise was simple: write a chapter each week, present the audience with a few choices, and then use those votes to shape the flow of the story, thus providing readers with an interactive experience. "Story Tokens" such as the Deus Ex Machina Token (overturn the majority vote) or the Sudden Death Token (kill off a character) would add dimension to the experience.
It didn't work, and halfway through, I canned the voting and wrote the story as I saw fit. My "brilliant" idea had some pretty obvious flaws. You see, when I pick up a book, I'm expecting to go for a ride. I don't want to do the driving, I want to take in the scenery. Voting negated that ability and brought readers in on the process of creation, thereby hindering their experience. People were interested in reading the story, but they weren't interested in shaping it in any real way. After all, it's a novel, not a video game. If only I'd realized that sooner!
The schedule I'd set up was to write a chapter a week, and I wanted to stick to that. Chapters ranged from 10,000 to 20,000 words, a tall order considering I have a full-time job. Due to this rigorous schedule, the writing was in second draft form when I posted it, at best. It wasn't until I'd finished the online story and sought out a professional editor that the novel really began to evolve. Massive sections were rewritten or deleted, and the second half of the novel changed completely. The manuscript went through a dozen drafts between the online experiment, and its eventual publication. The process was hard, but it was well worth it.
6. Who or what was the inspiration for the book?
The premise for my novel is rooted in my interest in what happens after we die, and by the fact that certain common elements concerning the afterlife have emerged throughout the ages from so many different cultures. The concept of judgment has been of particular interest to me. Do you deserve to move on to a better place after you die, wherever that might be, or do you deserve some sort of punishment?
But what if you were to end up in a moral gray area instead, a sort of Purgatory, somewhere "In-Between?" I wanted to write about those people in the middle, how they got there, and who they were. When I added in their individual moral codes, or lack thereof, I knew I had some interesting dynamics to work with.
7. Have you had a mentor? If so, can you talk about them a little?
I've been fortunate to have several teachers and professors take an interest in my writing over the years, and each one of them has taught me something valuable. In recent years, my developmental editor has really guided me the most. I’ve learned so much from her about story creation and structure, and the quality of my storytelling would not be of the same caliber without her insights. Still, I believe that learning the craft of writing is an infinite process, so I'll always have just a little bit farther to go.
8. I have heard it said in order to be a good writer, you have to be a reader as well? Do you find this to be true? And if you are a reader, do you have a favorite genre and/or author?
Absolutely! Reading is probably the most painless way to figure out what works and what doesn't, and analyzing literature allows for a greater understanding of story structure. Reading instructs authors in how they can approach their own writing. Every piece of writing, good, bad or otherwise, lends insight into the craft and the psychology that shaped it. Plus, if you want to be an effective writer, you have to know what's out there.
I'll read anything that's well-written, so the genre largely depends on my mood. I have mystery, horror, science fiction, academic books, and literary fiction titles on my "to-read" list at the moment. I think literary fiction is especially valuable for genre writers however, because character development and relationship dynamics figure so prominently in them. Those stories don't have the explosions, ghosts, robots or the like to help carry the plot, so they pay special attention to the human condition. To me, the best genre writers out there are writing literary fiction in this sense, and they just happen to be writing stories that fit into a specific genre as well.
9. Is there anything else you would like to share?
I'd like to thank you for having me here today, and I'd like to humbly ask your readers for the opportunity to entertain them. I have free sample chapters of my work at: www.TheVlad.net. Please stop by if you have a moment.