We had the good fortune of connecting with Brad Neaton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brad, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
At the risk of sounding a little grandiose, I write for more than myself. I write for the people who need it most, in the ways that are needed most; I write so that others might look upon my work and know they are seen; I write to console and to guide, to challenge and to remind.
And I write, primarily, contemporary fiction intended to make people feel something, the goal of which is to help my readers more easily empathize with people whose experiences they’ve never shared. I most often try to accomplish this by affording readers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the psyches of the marginalized, as I’m a firm believer that nothing so effortlessly opens our eyes quite like fiction—the world as we see it tends to dull in our perceptions, but when seen through a stranger’s vantage, it can still take our breath away.
My creative compass generally points me toward social issues that demand a certain gravitas—not necessarily because I’ve been impacted by them, but because I believe they matter. And though it’s a lofty goal, my hope is that my writing becomes an agent of social change by giving voice to these issues and making them more personal and human.
Why is all this important, and how does it relate? Well, for starters, the hard truth is that arguments very rarely change someone’s mind, but a story can. Stories that resonate aren’t constrained by pages; they’re capable of having real-world influence, and our relationship with them often goes beyond the text and into our daily lives. In fact, there are tons of neurocognitive studies that back this assertion. Reading fiction enhances what’s known as “theory of mind,” which is the capacity to understand and appreciate perspectives different from your own. Being able to mentally place yourself in a character’s shoes, even when that character is profoundly alien to you, fosters cognitive empathy and emotional intelligence—qualities sorely lacking in today’s world. With an open heart and an open mind, a story can end up serving as a kind of sense-making mechanism that helps to bridge the chasms created by discrimination and dehumanization. We better understand things by listening, reading, and watching stories because narratives promote empathy—which in its most revelatory and transformative capacity, is the sentiment that enables connection with people who’ve experienced things we ourselves haven’t. Empathy has little to do with what you see and everything to do with how you see it. When we can relate to others, even in the smallest of ways, it becomes that much harder to hate them.
What’s more, reading fiction is an ideal way to combat the toxic and often dehumanizing effects of the internet content we gorge on, much of which is specifically engineered to incite emotion conducive to virality—like synthetic indignation, now seemingly de rigueur on social media. It’s not a stretch to say that many of us subconsciously revel in the sadomasochistic pleasure of outrage, an impulse indulged because it spares us from the impotent pain of empathy, and the harder, uncomfortable work of understanding. But the best stories don’t allow for that kind of willful ignorance; they don’t allow us to minimize the complexities at the root of social issues or negate any self-imposed moral pressure to empathize. Which is why I always strive to not only incorporate narrative details and facts to render an accurate portrayal, but also a seriousness and fidelity to emotional consciousness.
If nothing else, I hope that my writing will impress upon people the truth that each person we come across on any given day is someone who has lived an entire life up to that point in time, someone who has been forged by an infinite number of experiential particulars. Think about that; think about all the things that have taken place in your own life, regardless of your age. Just like you, every stranger out there has followed a unique continuum of events and dealt with the kinds of issues and problems that have an impact on one’s development. Whether you realize it or not, these events and issues and problems have shaped who you are and influence the interpretative frame through which you see the world. And if you were able to read the life story of every person you ever interact with, you’d probably treat that person with a lot more kindness and respect than you would otherwise.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My brand is my name.
Nobody comes out of the womb a writer. I believe each of us is defined in large part by the environment we immerse ourselves in and the choices we make. Growing up I was an avid reader, the kind of person who was always reading multiple books at once, and I’m sure that sparked my interest in writing, but more so than anything else it was the encouragement of others that got me started, mainly teachers. It’s always easier to pursue something that people tell you you’re good at, and my interest in writing just sort of slowly evolved over the years in tandem with my love for books and support from some really great teachers.
I write, primarily, contemporary fiction because I want my stories to feel real. People gravitate to the real, and I want my readers to remember what they’ve absorbed in the hope that it forever changes such time as remains to them on earth, bleeding into their thoughts and actions as their subsequent perception of the world is refracted through this narrative lens.
My “pride and joy” is the book I wrote, Because of Jenny. It’s a novel that dives into the opioid epidemic and addiction and mental illness and how so many of us often go out of our way to simplify incredibly complex, involved issues as a means to rationalize anything personally inapplicable into irrelevance. Below is a short summary:
“Eric is an 18-year-old struggling with depression and teetering on the brink of suicide when he encounters a gorgeous, utterly fascinating plot twist named Jenny. They meet in an unlikely way, but soon discover they’re kindred souls. A heroin addict, Jenny is also caught between wanting to escape life and wanting to live. Despite circumstances conspiring against them, Eric takes a leap of faith and decides to try and help Jenny. The two become an endearing pair, connecting through shared struggles and a mutual desire to overcome life’s myriad challenges, and they embark upon an adventure that seems destined to fail.
Funny, irreverent, insightful, tragic, and raw, Because of Jenny explores many of life’s deepest questions while shedding light on what remains a little known epidemic. An unflinching portrayal of addiction, love, and resilience, it’s a book you’ll never forget.”
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
First up on my list would be The Last Bookstore. Even if you’re not much of a book person, it’s still worth a visit if only to walk around and take some cool pictures. And the Natural History Museum is really interesting, as is the L.A. County Museum of Art. That’s a great trifecta to check out.
Santa Monica Pier is a favorite spot of mine. Walking the 3 miles of shoreline and checking out the great restaurants and nightlife attractions is something I’d highly recommend.
I’d definitely hit up the Griffith Observatory, too. It’s such an awesome place to take in all of Los Angeles, and if you go on a clear night you’ll be able to marvel at the stars as well.
As far as food goes, Grand Central Market is a must; that, or the Original Farmers Market at the Grove. You’re sure to find something you’ll like. I’ve always loved walking around and perusing all the different kinds of food. If you have a sweet tooth, the Donut Factory is hard to beat. Probably the best donuts you’ll ever have. Also, there are tons of food trucks in L.A. I’ve seen everything from pizza, tacos, and Chinese, to grilled cheese, grain bowls, and sushi. I’ve yet to be disappointed.
And if you’re looking for a tough workout to burn off all those calories, try one that rewards you with a great view: Baldwin Hills Scenic Overview. Trust me, you’ll be sore after you climb those stairs.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The truth is that space doesn’t permit a comprehensive list of all the people who deserve to be mentioned, but that list would include: My parents, Professors Jennifer Floto and Burghardt Tenderich, Matt McGuire, John Maginot, Eric Gallagher, Matt Wesche, Brian Solmonson, Kevin Roberts, and Christian Reeves, among many others.