In author Steven Manchester’s latest novel Goodnight, Brian, a Massachusetts family’s faith is put to the test after their infant son contracts metabolic alkalosis, a blood disorder that affects his ability to digest food and gain weight, as a direct result of an infant formula manufacturer’s decision to value cost over quality.
They’re told that the child will never walk or talk, but his grandmother vows that he’ll defy the doctor’s prognosis. The two form a powerful, moving bond over the ensuing years as “Mama” chooses to put her faith in God, not medicine, and relies on the power of unconditional love to make the seemingly impossible, possible. You can read our full review of the novel by clicking here.
What follows below is a mostly spoiler-free discussion about Mr. Manchester’s background and the inspiration behind his new novel Goodnight, Brian.
Steven Manchester’s work has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning and BET’s Nightly News. Recently, three of Manchester’s short stories were selected “101 Best” for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Manchester writes deeply moving, intensely relatable novels that readers tend to remember and discuss for a long time. (from the publisher’s website)
TE: Who is Steven Manchester?
SM: I am the published author of Twelve Months (#1 best seller, Amazon Kindle), as well as A Christmas Wish (the holiday prequel to Goodnight, Brian). I am also the author of Pressed Pennies, The Unexpected Storm: The Gulf War Legacy and Jacob Evans, as well as several books under the pseudonym, Steven Herberts. My work has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning and BET’s Nightly News. Recently, three of my short stories were selected “101 Best” for Chicken Soup for the Soul series. More importantly, I have a wonderful wife and four great kids who complete my world.
TE: How did you first get started with writing?
SM: I’d just returned home from Operation Desert Storm, and was working as a prison investigator in Massachusetts. Needless to say, there was great negativity in my life at that time. I decided to return to college to finish my degree in Criminal Justice. During one of the classes, the professor talked about police work but nothing else. I finally raised my hand and asked, “The criminal justice system is vast. What about the courts, probation, parole – corrections?” He smiled and told me to see him after class. I thought I’d finally done it! In his office, he explained, “There’s no written material out there on corrections or prisons, except from the slanted perspective of inmates.” He smiled again and dropped the bomb. “If you’re so smart,” he said, “why don’t you write it?” Nine months later, I dropped the first draft of 6-5; A Different Shade of Blue on his desk. From then on, I was hooked. I was a writer.
TE: Where did the idea to write Goodnight, Brian originally come from? Do you have someone close to you that was affected by the Syntex infant formula tragedy?
SM: This novel was inspired by a true story; I have a dear friend whose cousin has suffered from the Sytex tragedy. The vast majority of the story, however, is fiction. In fact, Mama (the protagonist and central point of the story) is a combination of my grandmother, my mother, my mother-in-law, as well as a few other women I’ve met in my life who have inspired me.
TE: How much did time did you need to spend researching medical conditions such as metabolic alkalosis and Bartter’s Syndrome as well as the legal history that lead to the passing of The Infant Formula Act of 1980 in order to write this particular novel?
SM: I spent several weeks doing the research and gathering the information I needed. There were many case studies to pull from. With today’s information at our fingertips, the research has gotten much easier to conduct.
TE: Mama is defiant when Brian is first diagnosed with metabolic alkalosis and vows to make her life’s work to prove the doctor wrong when he informs the family that their infant will never be able to walk or talk. Later though, when she receives a potentially devastating piece of news about her own health, she seems instantly resigned to her fate and begins following her own doctor’s treatment instructions immediately. Why does she possess a wildly different attitude when it comes to her own health and well-being?
SM: That’s an easy one. One of my main goals within this novel was to make Mama a completely selfless character. The main theme of the novel is unconditional love, and Mama showers it on those she loves.
TE: Brian’s father Frank is an interestingly flawed individual that never quite manages to earn as much focus as the rest of the family. Was it a conscious decision from the get-go to write Frank as a less sympathetic character? Why not delve into how his personal life evolved in later years?
SM: This was an intentional decision, as the publisher and I decided that it was most important to focus on Mama and her efforts in helping to instill independence. If a secondary storyline didn’t directly speak to this, then it received much less attention. Frank’s storyline was one of those.
TE: The powerful bond between young Brian and his elderly grandmother is one that readers will not easily forget. Did you struggle with finding just the right moment at which to end this particular tale?
SM: Oh yeah—in fact, the final version was rewritten several times until we came to the right ending. This wasn’t easy and required several discussions between me and my publisher. Fortunately, he’s a really smart guy who has a keen sense of when to say when.
TE: What are you currently working on? Are there any details you can share with us about your next project?
SM: The Rockin’ Chair (due out summer 2013) is mainstream fiction, written from a male perspective to a female audience. A la Nicholas Sparks, the novel is based on three generations of Montana men who struggle with their very different roles. Intended as spiritually heart-warming, this tear-jerker was written to feel like a leisurely walk through high grass on a lazy summer Sunday. On the way, however, there are lessons to be learned: that the same truths have many perceptions, while attitude shall dictate life’s memories.
TE: Who influences you as a writer?
SM: My family; any other writer I’ve ever read; Lou Aronica (my publisher)
TE: What was the last great book you read?
SM: Leaves by Michael Baron