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Brett Axel opens up about his gritty new novel ‘Not Okay’ (Includes interview)

Axel started writing when he was nine years old. “I started getting published when I was 13. I’d always written and occasionally submitted but I didn’t take it very seriously until I was in college and had a professor take a special interest in my work. While I was in college two of my plays were put on by the school drama department, which lead to a third play being put on in the community,” he said.

Not Okay has been considered and rejected so many times it’s not even funny,” he said. “I’ve been told it is too traumatizing to read. But Jeanne liked it and believed in it. You know what I could really use, I said, not expecting anything at all, is a good job. The Vinals took that very seriously and brought me out to Buffalo twice more to meet and discuss what sort of role I might be able to have at Vinal. Ultimately, I was offered the top position. The Vinals Incorporated Vinal Publishing, paid to move my family and I to Buffalo, and on August 4, 2019, I sat behind my desk for the first time.”

“I had met thousands of authors in my years on the road and was now assigned with the task of reaching out to the best of them and coming up with exceptional books for Vinal to publish. Vinal signed wonderful books by Sparrow and Wang Ping in the first weeks. We didn’t only want to see work by established authors. We put ads out and calls for submissions and I started reading 750 manuscripts a month looking for the true gems,” he said.

A year and a month after his first day at work Vinal’s first two books are due to be released. Mine and Sparrow’s The Princeton Diary. In November our first two children’s books are coming out and in the spring of 2021, four more titles will follow. “Every single one is something very special,” he said.

In your book, ‘Not Okay,’ an epic read, your protagonist Peter Wilson has been through it and then some, having been kidnapped, and trafficked. What inspired you to tell this story?

“I lived through that much of the story. I didn’t want to tell the story of my abduction and abuse itself, stories like that have been told and retold, I wanted to tell the story that hasn’t been told before: The aftermath. Trying to become a person after spending years being an object. Objects don’t have a story to tell. You aren’t self determined when you are an object. It’s only after you are free that you can try to be a person. I wanted to tell the story of how the world does not allow for damaged people to find their way. How much broken people are thrown away rather than allowed to repair.”

“The first version of the first half of the book was non-fiction. I wrote it and it was horrible. Too painful to read. In order to ever get this story out I had to fictionalize it. It’s not a fictional story but the character’s back story is similar to mine.”

In this novel, Peter Wilson reads ‘I’m OK You’re OK,’ why was it important to include that book in this story?

“Peter narrates the story. Yes, that’s important because what goes on inside the character is as much the story as what goes on outside. If you knew what Peter does without knowing the thought process behind what he does I don’t think it would make sense. You don’t need to do that with normal people. Their thought process is recognizable. People who have had very different life experiences do not interpret the world around them the same way.”

While writing ‘Not Okay’ did you learn anything new about yourself throughout the process that you would like to share with your fans?

“I don’t like the word ‘fan’ that means fanatic. I like appreciators. I don’t know that this is very important, but if I learned anything it is that I am willing to sacrifice a lot of life to write the book I wanted to read. I put more hours into that book than I put into raising my children. I know a lot of writers and writing is one of the things they do with their time. In the time they knocked out 10 books I was still working on the one. I wanted everything in it to be deliberate.”

“What I didn’t know was if anyone else was going to appreciate it. I really wrote the book I most wanted to read. How many people wanted to read what I wanted to read I didn’t know. I am starting to get a sense that yes, there are some. But when the book comes out and people react to it that is when I’ll really know.”

Can you talk to us about pop psychology in relation to ‘Not Okay’ and how it all ties in together from your perspective?

“As well as a story, the book is a criticism of how the world responds to the damaged–be it oblivious self help books, oblivious psychologists, or oblivious people. People like Peter don’t get much help from normal people. Damaged people find each other and some do their best to help each other.”

I know it’s a bit soon to ask but I’m sure your fans will want to know. Are you working on another book?

“I come up with ideas all the time. Most of them I write out a few thousand words of, and sometimes I realize two of these fit together. I don’t throw them away. If something is intriguing enough to get to 40,000 world chances are I will finish it, but I am not trying to find new inspiration. I’m trying to sift through the inspirations I get and decide which ones demand to be written.”

“Most often, I am thinking about a funny line. I like what I write to be sprinkled with humor. I write about things that are difficult to deal with. Without a little comedy to lessen the blow it’d be like getting punched in the face. I want the humor in my books to be funny, but I want to be organic. I don’t ever want someone to say something that isn’t in character for them to say just because it is funny. I want the characters and situations to be real.”

Not Okay by Brett Axel is available on Amazon.

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 19,000 original articles over the past 16 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a seven-time consecutive "Best of Long Island" winner, and in the past three years, he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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