WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A WRITER?
From a very young age, I loved the touch and smell of books. The promise of a good story. I too liked to tell stories. I loved the challenge of the blank page. I used to staple together blank scratch paper my father brought home from work and create my own “books.” I then filled in the pages, hand-writing stories until I reached the end. It was very empowering and gave me a purpose. It also helped me connect with people who would read my material. To this day, I feel the most complete version of myself is when I’m writing.
WAS THERE A TEACHER OR OTHER MENTOR WHO INFLUENCED YOUR WRITING?
My third-grade teacher – Mrs. Bienlein, at West Hollywood Elementary – was the first teacher to see a sliver of talent in my writing. She liked poetry and encouraged me to write more.
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
The book is inspired by true events that happened to me as a 13-year-old at sleepaway camp in the late 1970s. I experienced relentless bullying and never resolved it. I channeled those feelings into this book. The protagonist/victim is able to rise above his tormentor in ways that I never did. It was very cathartic!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LINE FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK AND WHY?
"Sitting there in my oxygen-depleted state, I cursed myself for not learning how to water-breathe."
This is a first-person observation from the 13-year-old protagonist, Adam. The reason I like it is because it encapsulates the way a young person often looks to mythical characters for answers. Sitting at the bottom of a pool – into which the camp bully just pushed him – Adam thinks the answer to all his problems could be solved if he was more like Aquaman. This sentence is also emblematic of my book’s tone. Though it deals with a dark subject matter (bullying), the book is punctuated by dry humor, which also helps Adam survive his ordeal.
WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING TITLE DO YOU BELIEVE ARE MOST LIKE YOU AND WHY?
Adam, the 13-year-old protagonist. My experience of being bullied at that age left a deep imprint on me and inspired this story.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL GLEAN FROM YOUR AWARD-WINNING BOOK?
You can overcome almost anything in life depending on how you look at it. In Adam’s case, he is ceaselessly bullied at summer camp. But he eventually learns that the best way to not be a victim is to refuse to let one’s identify be defined by one’s tormentor. With this change in mindset, he comes to see the bully as a troubled kid with his own problems. In so doing, Adam replaces fear with courage, cynicism with empathy, and low self-esteem with self-acceptance.
TELL US SOMETHING RANDOM/INTERESTING/FUNNY ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WRITER:
From the age of 5 to 16, I stapled together blank pages and wrote over 100 books of all kinds. They still exist in a giant footlocker in my garage -- story books, comic books, maze books, even a world atlas about countries that existed only in my head, in that same space where I imagined a wide expanse of readers beyond my own parents. It took awhile, but now, as an adult, I have finally reached those readers!
IF YOU COULD BE COMPARED TO A WELL-KNOWN AUTHOR WHO WOULD YOU MOST WANT THIS TO BE AND WHY?
Carl Hiaasen. He strikes the perfect balance of humor and pathos, with interesting characters. His books also have strong environmental messages, which resonates with me.
WHAT BOOK / PERSON / INCIDENT HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE?
George Lucas and John Irving. When I was 11 years old, I saw “Star Wars” for the first time. Its thrilling, fantastical world set in outer space promised limitless possibilities of storytelling; it changed my life. But the movie/book that made me want to be a writer was “The World According to Garp.” I saw the movie three times and read John Irving’s book twice when I was 16. I liked that it was about a daydreaming, aspiring author who yearned to touch people with his words. It was the first time I thought that perhaps I could truly write for a living.
IF A CLOSE FRIEND OR LOVED ONE WANTED TO WRITE A BOOK, WHAT GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM?
Follow that old axiom – know thyself. Embrace your voice – it is unique and it’s the one thing you can offer that no one else can. It took me years to realize this. Early on, many people seek to emulate what works for others, but the words come across as hollow and derivative.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ACCOMPLISHMENT?
I would have to say this book -- "Skinny White Freak". In addition to receiving various literary awards, I have used it to reach out to middle-schoolers at Los Angeles schools as a cautionary tale about bullying. Also, I drew the book's 60+ illustrations, so it's really cool to see my drawings accompanying the text!
TELL US SOMETHING PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU THAT THEY MIGHT FIND INTERESTING:
My “day job” is as a documentary writer and director for networks like Discovery, National Geographic Channel and Science Channel. Recently, I took a job overseeing AMC’s “Walking Dead” after-show, “Talking Dead.” So, yes, zombies are part of my life, too.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR ASPIRING AUTHORS?
You will never find the “perfect” writing environment. Even if you do, it’s unrealistic to expect that you can always access it in your busy life. So learn to write anywhere. On a plane, on a train, on a bus, in a noisy restaurant, in a beanbag in your kid’s room as they’re reading a book. I’ve even written on my iPhone while waiting at the DMV. If I didn’t block out distractions, nothing would get done!
WHAT OTHER BOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED?
I have published three other books. One of them is a YA novel called "Aramid", about a humanistic girl robot whose high school creators remove her “morality” chip in order to fulfill their own agendas. The other two are non-fiction books. All are available on Amazon. To find out more or to purchase: www.paulhaddadbooks.com
DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW BOOKS IN THE WORKS?
Yes! I have a five-part book series I would like to write and get published, along the lines of “The Da Vinci Code” saga. It deals with the greatest conspiracy in the history of the United States – perhaps the world. How’s that for a tease?
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?
Reading is divine. Writing is divinity.
“Divine” is a word that also means “excellent, delightful.” For example, a mouthwatering brownie can be called “divine.” Reading can be divine. But writing has a spiritual element to it. Because you are creating the words (and worlds) that readers will read and inhabit, you assume a God-like role. But more than that, writing consumes my soul. For me, it’s the closest I can feel to the highest form of self, achieving an inner-peace akin to experiencing divinity.