‘Brave Face’: An Interview With Shaun David Hutchinson

Reading Time: 6 minutes
Brave Face cover and author photo
Image By Simon Pulse

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson

The first page of Shaun David Hutchinson’s memoir, Brave Face, is a letter from the publisher letting the reader know there are triggers in this book related to depression, self-harm, and attempted suicide, along with a list of resources for anyone struggling with these issues. The next page is an introduction from Shaun saying basically the same thing: warning of not just those triggers, but plenty of behavior that is questionable, dangerous, and hurtful, not just towards Shaun, but from Shaun, much related to how homosexuality was viewed in the 1990s, the time of this memoir, when he was a teenager:

“As you’re reading, it’s okay to put the book down if it becomes too much or if you need a break. I took lots of breaks while writing. Just remember that no matter how dark it gets along the way, I’m working on this from the light at the other end of the tunnel, and I’ll be waiting for you there.”

Hutchinson is a YA fiction writer and Brave Face is his first memoir. Reading this, I was brought back to a time when calling someone “gay” was a serious insult that could result in violence. Shaun grew up in that time slowly realizing the truth about his own sexuality while trying desperately to find love. Depression is the black wash that covers his stories, leading up to his attempted suicide. While it is certainly a difficult book to read, knowing a real soul had to experience it first hand, it is a compelling book, filled with social commentary, amusing and/or tragic relationships, and watching a writer discover his voice:

“…I was doomed to rot there forever, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to change the eventual outcome. Except in stories. When I wrote, I built the whole world. I was creator and destroyer, and that sense of control kept me from completely melting down.”

Shaun agreed to an interview about Brave Face and I’m so glad he did.

GeekMom Rebecca Angel:
Hi Shaun! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions about Brave Face. I also was in high school in the ’90s, am a writer, have suffered from depression myself, my one child has mental health issues, and my other child is gay, so your memoir hit home in many ways.

Shaun David Hutchinson:
Thank you for having me! And thank you for this opportunity!

GM Rebecca:
You are known for fiction writing. Why a memoir? Why now?

Shaun:
Honestly, “why a memoir” is a question I was asking myself right up until publication. The “why now” is a bit easier, so I’ll start with that. March 2018 marked 20 years since my attempted suicide. I felt that 20 years had given me the distance to understand myself a little better and to be able to write about my experiences safely. If I waited much longer, I thought I would be too far removed from the experiences to write about it well. As for the why… I don’t know. I think people must assume there’s a bit of ego involved. A desire to be known. But that’s not true for me. I’m actually a pretty reserved and private person. The idea of putting my life out there was (and still is) terrifying. But part of the narrative in Brave Face is about how the negative and lacking queer representation fostered an environment where I felt that being gay meant I had no future, and my hope is that by telling my story, teens will read it and not feel as isolated as I did.

The hopeful part has been the number of people who have reached out already to tell me how similar their experiences were, which says to me that so many of us were out there feeling like we were the only ones going through this. But we weren’t. And if we’d known and could have reached out to one another, our lives could have been so different. And I hope that’s a message today’s teens receive and that they’re able to reach out to one another and not feel so alone.

And the truth is that if only one teen reads Brave Face and gets what they need from it, then it will have been worth it.

GM Rebecca:
What has been the reaction from fans?

Shaun:
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I think there’s obviously a bit of voyeuristic interest, and anyone who reads my fiction will immediately see just how much my real life influenced my work. But there’s been a lot of interest outside of people who read my fiction, and that has been so heartening to me. It tells me that people are open and willing to engage with these topics in a way I don’t think they would have been five or ten years ago.

GM Rebecca:
You were a geek in high school (fantasy books, D&D). My husband played D&D in high school in the ’90s and once had a teacher say, “Why do you want to kill yourself?” because they saw his books. Today, being a geek is more “normal,” as is coming out as gay, and talking about mental illness. Do you think kids these days have it easier?

Shaun:
I think in some ways it might be easier. I do love how much this generation seems more willing to embrace their passions openly. I also think their openness about sexuality and gender and mental illness is going to be beneficial to them. At the same time, there are still huge pockets of our country and of the world where it seems progress is coming much more slowly, and I think we have to be careful not to leave those teens behind as we all race into the future. Additionally, while I think it might be getting somewhat easier for some parts of the LGBTQIA community, for some the fight is just beginning. Transgender teens still face massively high rates of bullying and abuse. And when it comes to mental illness, I think there’s still enormous stigma surrounding it. We might be talking about it more, but it remains difficult to get treatment and to find compassion from members of the community who don’t understand mental illness.

So, I guess that’s the long way of saying that I think there are still a lot of challenges. They might not be the same as the ones we faced as teens, but they’re no less difficult.

GM Rebecca:
What person mentioned in Brave Face do you hope reads the book? Who do you hope does not read the book?

Shaun:
The only real person I hoped would read it was my best friend, and she was the first person who did read it. Then again, she’s the first person who reads all of my books. I don’t think there’s anyone I hope doesn’t read it. There’s still part of me that’s embarrassed that total strangers are going to know I lost my virginity in the back seat of a car at the airport, but for the most part I’ve come to terms with everything I wrote.

GM Rebecca:
What advice would you give parents who have a struggling teen or one who has been diagnosed with a mental illness?

Shaun:
The first thing would be to seek treatment and to know that there’s no single solution. Finding the right treatment will take time and effort. The second would be to just be present. However scary it is for you as a parent, it’s ten times scarier for the teen who’s going through it because not only are they dealing with this mental illness, but they’re also dealing with being a teen. Patience and compassion will go a long way.

GM Rebecca:
What advice would you give parents whose child has come out as part of the LGBTQIA community?

Shaun:
In addition to similar advice from the second part of my answer to the previous question regarding patience and compassion, I would just remind them that the coming out process isn’t about them. It’s about the child. Parents will absolutely have feelings they need to process, and they should seek out counseling and PFLAG for that, but they shouldn’t put that burden on their child. Coming out is a tough process already.

GM Rebecca:
In Brave Face, the art of writing gave you a sense of self-worth, helped you realize your own feelings and desires, and helped you express your need for help. Is this still true?

Shaun:
It’s definitely still true. In fact, it’s probably more true today than it was back then. The difference between now and then is that writing offers me a place to share my experiences, both through this memoir and through fiction, so that maybe teens won’t suffer for a lack of representation the way I did.

GM Rebecca:
What are you working on now?

Shaun:
I’m putting the finishing touches on a romantic comedy called The State of Us. It’s about the sons of the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates who meet and fall in love in the months before the election. It will be out sometime in the summer of 2020. It’s been nice to work on a story that focuses solely on the joys of being queer instead of having to reckon with the pain of it. And I think people are absolutely going to fall in love with Dean and Dre.

GM Rebecca:
Oh, wow. That is a fantastic premise! Thank you for writing Brave Face and putting yourself out there to give a voice to struggling teens, and of course, taking the time to answer my questions. Good luck on your upcoming novel!

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