Eighteen-year-old Alex Kazemi didn’t grow up in the 1990s (unless you count, you know, pre-school), but that didn’t stop him from capturing the experience of what it means to be a lost and lonely teen circa 1999. Kazemi’s novella, Yours Truly, Brad Sela, tells the story of three iniquitous boys on the brink of both adulthood and the new millenium. The first 50 pages of Yours Truly, Brad Sela are available online now for free.
Can you talk a bit about the cover? What kind of shock where you trying to illicit?
The main purpose of the cover was to give the book a chance to get attention because people are easily bored because “we have seen it all”, it had to be immediate and sharp. The whole entire point of this project is to push young people to think and feel as much as possible.
What separates this book from other teen lit or other bildungsromans?
It’s not an idea of what teenagers are , it is what teenagers are. Actual teenage boys are malicious, lonely, horny, afraid, sadistic and self obsessed with the lack of any form of empathy unless it is something that effects themselves. This is the way we have been since the beginning of time. I’m not afraid of the truth.
What made you decide to make this an epistolary story? What did you want to convey through the intimacy of a diary that you felt you couldn’t with a straight narrative?
Today everyone feels the right to broadcast anything they desire without consequences. I thought it would be more scary to write like a video camera following the lives of an actual human being. How many moms do you think are aware of their kid slitting their wrist, snapping a picture on photo booth and tagging “self harm” on Tumblr in 2013? How many mom’s do you think were unaware of their teen writing about disturbing daily adventures in a diary hidden underneath their bed in 1999?
In 1999, when the book is set, you were about five. What made you want to set the story in the nineties and how do you think the experience of being a teenager in 1999 was different than it is now?
In order to create the future, you have to go back to the past. Why do you think Dazed and Confused was such a big cult hit, a coming-of-age movie placed in the 1970s but cut so deep for ’90s teens because everyone, everywhere, always want to return to an era they weren’t apart of. I find the late ’90s and 2000s nostalgia explosion right now both fascinating and creepy. Dozens of grown adults in New York wanting to dress up like themselves as children. It’s like infantilizing yourself.
Writing the book set in 1999/2000 gave me a chance to write about realistic situations where boredom can push you, now when people are bored kids can just kill time on Snapchat but back then you would have more of an imagination and want to cause more ruckus in real life.
To show off your individuality, you would dress a certain way, but now you dress up your social media profile to perfection as a way of “expressing yourself”. I know people who have bought books, just so they could post about it. It’s constantly about taking bits of art to accessorize how you “cool” you want to appear to people.
You write, “I learned the hard way that life is a never ending hunt for substitutes of the things that once made us happy.” What do you feel people — both now and in 1999 — are/were using as substitutes?
That quote isn’t era specific, it’s about being abused and looking back at the past as fog and trying to remember everything that made you happy before it all happened. Instead of recreating the delightful situations, you search more and more for new things that will match up to whatever it is that once made you happy. I think people in 1999 probably would consume and buy a lot to satisfy themselves but that has probably happened since the beginning of time.
I do think that people now use self gratification via social media as a way to find quick happiness and intimacy. If you have a shitty day or you are self loathing, just post a picture of yourself and watch the “likes” go up and everything will be okay but it’s temporary. It’s like a high that you want to keep getting over and over again, and it makes humans seem the same “pathetic” most people think drug addicts are.