“When I write, I really try to become the character in a way, to put myself in the situations they’re in so that I can get an honest voice to tell what the character is trying to say.  In that sense, it was very difficult to visit a lot of places that Benji inhabits.” – Brian James

from a conversation with Brian James
 

Q:  Benji, the main character in Dirty Liar, started off as a supporting character in Perfect World.  What made you want to follow him to Portland?
A:  Perfect World  had a lot to do with secrets and about the things we keep hidden from other people.  Lacie, the main character, believes she is different from everybody else because of the things she keeps inside her.  Meeting Benji made her feel different, made her feel like she finally had someone who understood.  As I was writing it, I started to grow interested in what secrets he kept from her.  Part of the inspiration for writing Dirtyu Liar was to somehow complete that idea that we all keep part of ourselves hidden. I also wanted to write about those feelings from a boy’s point of view.  There’s a lot of pressure growing up as a boy to hide your emotions.  I wanted to break that silence in a way, to show how a boy might feel the same sort of inadequacies that Lacie feels.   To show how the experiences might be different, but the feelings are the same.

Q:  What was it like to have Lacie be at such a distance in this book?
A:  At first it was difficult.  In earlier drafts of the book, she was much more involved.  Since Benji first existed to me as a character in relation to her, it wasn’t easy separating them.  Eventually, though, Benji took on his own characteristics in my mind.  As a writer, I had learn to leave her behind in the same way that Benji had to when he left at the end of Perfect World.

Q:  Without giving too much of the story away, you're dealing with some very dark situations and themes in Dirty Liar.  What was it like to write about such a painful experience for a character you so clearly feel closeness towards?
A:  When I write, I really try to become the character in a way, to put myself in the situations they’re in so that I can get an honest voice to tell what the character is trying to say.  In that sense, it was very difficult to visit a lot of places that Benji inhabits.  I had to relive a lot of painful memories to get there.  In that sense, it was the hardest book for me to write.
Characters also become your friends in a lot of ways, and it’s always difficult to have them get hurt in any way.  You want to protect them, but at the same time you have let happen what needs to happen in order to tell the story the right way.

Q:  I know you came up with the title Dirty Liar early in the writing process.  Where did it come from, and how does it relate to the finished book?
A:  I’m not sure where it came from, just that it came to me and it really felt to me how Benji would describe himself and how he thinks about himself.  It ended up applying to the story in two pretty significant ways.  It fits with the secrets that he keeps and how they make him feel, and how it makes him feel not to tell anyone.  It also, again without giving too much away, fits his relationship troubles and how he goes about them.

Q:  The obvious question:  What's the biggest lie you've ever told?  Actually, let me break it into two questions.  First, what's the biggest lie you ever got caught in?

A:  Like most writers, I’m a very good liar since telling a lie is just like telling a story.  So I don’t get caught very much.
Seriously though, there’s no one huge lie that I ever got caught in, so in answer to your question I’d have to say there was a whole string of “I called over there and his mom said you didn’t sleep over there” kind of events in high school.  Each one seemed pretty horrible at the time to get caught in.  Though it never stopped me from doing it again the moment I was off being grounded.

Q:  ...And then, what's the biggest lie you ever got away with?
A:  I could tell you if I weren’t still getting away with it.

Q:  You recently moved from New York City to a more rural town in Upstate
New York.  How has that affected your writing?

A:  The biggest difference is the lack of distractions.  In the city there’s so much to observe and absorb that it gives you a lot of creative energy.  But those same things also keep you from being able to quietly reflect.  Out here I really have time to consider each move a character makes and examine the different possibilities. Other than that it hasn’t changed the way I write at all.  The only other difference would be that I’m happier living in the country and I suppose that can’t help but find it’s way into what I choose to write about.  There’s also a lot more of nature in my writing since then.  Those are the images that dominate my thoughts now rather than the constraining sort of images that I felt in the city.

Q:  Are there any other characters you want to revisit in your writing?
A:  I’m actually working on a book now about Elizabeth from Tomorrow, Maybe.  She’s always been one of my favorite characters that I’ve created and when Tomorrow, Maybe ends, you have no idea what happens to her.  I often get letters from readers telling me how much they hated her at the end of that book and it always frustrates me since I like her so much.  People seem to blame her for a lot of what happens in that book, and I want to let her have her say.

I haven’t thought much past that book, but there are characters in that story that I would maybe explore later.  I always liked how J.D. Salinger and Irvine Welsch have characters that show up in one book to the next.  As a reader, it makes me feel closer to the story somehow.  And as a writer, it allows me to let readers know a little something about characters after their story ends without writing a dreaded “sequel” to their story.  So there will probably tend to be recurring characters in what I write, as long as they make sense to be there.  It may be just an appearance in the way Gretchen from Tomorrow, Maybe shows up in Perfect World, or a more significant connection like having a character from a previous book telling the story, as in Dirty Liar.

Q:  Finally, another musical question:  Do you really want to live forever?
A:  Nope.  I never have either.  I’ve always looked at death as a natural course of life and couldn’t ever understand that idea of wanting to live forever.  If you lived forever you’d never learn the answer to the greatest question we all have…what comes next?  I’m too curious for that.

As for the figurative meaning of the phrase, do I want my words to live forever, I’d say I’d want them to live for as long as they have meaning to somebody.