Interview & Giveaway: Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin, authors of A Really Awesome Mess


Kicking off the Fall Festival, I have authors Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin here at The Hiding Spot to chat about their new book, A Really Awesome Mess! Both Cook & Halpin are incredibly funny and charming… and these qualities definitely flavor their co-authored novels. Also, don’t forget to enter to win your own copy of this fantastic title via the form below!

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The Interview


Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?

Trish: The scene where Emmy and Justin are running through the cornfield trying to get to the Farm Sanctuary was difficult for me to write because I’ve never lived in the country, only suburbs and cities. I kept asking my friends who grew up in rural areas, “How is corn planted? In rows? Are they even? Wide enough to run through? If you were really short, would the stalks hit you as you went by? In the face, shoulders, what? How high would corn have grown by August?” They were like, enough with the corn questions already.

Brendan: It was difficult for me at times to articulate the way Justin was feeling. I’ve had issues with depression myself (though not as severe as Justin’s) so I was able to call on my own memories, but I did find it challenging to translate the feelings into words.

 Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?

Trish: Ha! The whole time we were writing it, Brendan and I intended the title to be Escape from Assland, and generally referred to it as Assland for short. We were really bummed—but probably not all that surprised—when the marketing people told us to change it. So then we went around and around, trying to figure out a new title we liked as much. It was NOT easy, and I think in the end, we both still wish it had been named EFA. But here’s a little secret: On the back cover, you can faintly make out the word Assland in the faded school crest. I love the cover designer for adding that in there.

Brendan: I don’t really have anything to add to Trish’s Assland story except to say that I still think that’s an awesome title.

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general?

Trish: I would have to say Judy Blume. I was always so blown away by her honesty and handling of sensitive subjects. I love the way she takes kids’ and teens’ problems seriously, and never talks down to her readers.

Brendan: Probably Stephen King. When I was a teenager, I read everything he’d written up to that point.  I’ve always really admired the way he sells the supernatural stuff with his keen observations of human behavior.  That’s true even in his lesser works: there’s a part in Dreamcatcher where an alcoholic literally risks his life for the beers in the trunk of his car that is probably the most devastating indictment of alcoholism I’ve ever read.

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?

Trish: I worked for a long time writing insurance brochures. If you think that sounds like the world’s most boring writing job, you’re right. However, it was also an excellent training ground for learning to write clearly, succinctly, and sometimes, creatively when I had a particularly cool client. My mentors at the consulting firm where I worked taught me so many valuable lessons about what good writing is, as well as how to effectively edit my work and graciously accept a critique.

Brendan:  I was a high school teacher for ten years, which definitely influenced my YA work.  I have also sorted mail, delivered airline tickets (back when there was such a thing), and worked as a caddy.Caddying was the worst job I’ve ever had. I attended private school on a scholarship, so I used to come off 4 hours hauling a heavy bag across the golf course and see my classmates cavorting in the country club pool. It was seriously like something out of a movie.

 If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?

Trish: It’s a tie between JOY and GRATITUDE. Joy, because I think it’s the ultimate goal. And gratitude, because I think we sometimes fail to recognize the joy that already exists in so many little moments every day, and should try to become more aware and grateful for these.

Brendan:  Today I was talking to my students about the word “cesspool,” so that’s kind of in my brain right now. I like that one a lot.  I’m sure there are more, but cesspool is taking up all the great word space right now.

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?

Trish: WHO: My family
              WHAT: The beach
              WHERE: Surf City, Long Beach Island every August

Brendan:  When I’m writing, I can totally get in the zone when I get lost in the story and completely forget everything else.  It’s really one of the main reasons I write.

Find out more about Trish and her books here!
Find out more about Brendan and his books here!
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More About the Book:
A hint of Recovery Road, a sample of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and a cut of Juno. A Really Awesome Mess is a laugh-out-loud, gut-wrenching/heart-warming story of two teenagers struggling to find love and themselves. 


Two teenagers. Two very bumpy roads taken that lead to Heartland Academy. 


Justin was just having fun, but when his dad walked in on him with a girl in a very compromising position, Justin’s summer took a quick turn for the worse. His parents’ divorce put Justin on rocky mental ground, and after a handful of Tylenol lands him in the hospital, he has really hit rock bottom.


Emmy never felt like part of her family. She was adopted from China. Her parents and sister tower over her and look like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog– and Emmy definitely doesn’t. After a scandalous photo of Emmy leads to vicious rumors around school, she threatens the boy who started it all on Facebook.


Justin and Emmy arrive at Heartland Academy, a reform school that will force them to deal with their issues, damaged souls with little patience for authority. But along the way they will find a ragtag group of teens who are just as broken, stubborn, and full of sarcasm as themselves. In the end, they might even call each other friends. 

A funny, sad, and remarkable story, A Really Awesome Mess is a journey of friendship and self-discovery that teen readers will surely sign up for.

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Earn extra entries by following the Fall Festival blogs listed here!

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