People always want to know where authors get their ideas. Ask Margaret Broucek, author of the 2018 novel, The Futility Experts — and recent winner of the of the 2019 Maine Literary Awards in fiction — how she came up with her characters and plot and she'll tell you it all derived from a one interesting news article.
"I read this article about this middle-aged guy who was just living this boring life,” said Broucek. “He had a wife and a kid and never really did anything with his life, but he also liked playing online games. He started impersonating a much young younger soldier that was his avatar and got into all kinds of trouble. Then he got into an online romance with a young woman, and then his co-worker got into an online romance with the same woman."
If the old phrase, truth is stranger than fiction is starting to come into play here, you're not off base.
"In the real-life situation, the colleague was a much younger man and the middle-aged man ended up murdering his colleague over this woman,” she said. “But in my book, which is a comedy, when my character got to the part where he could murder the coworker, he declined."
The Futility Experts
"Most people long to be great at something. I think we all do and many of us try in one area or another. But, I think for the most part when we get to middle age, the only thing we really become an expert in is the futility of trying.”—Margaret Broucek
The Futility Experts features character Tim Turner, a guy in a stagnant marriage and dead-end job who takes on the persona of a 21-year-old marine online. At the same time, Davis Beardsley, a professor of zoology with an unhealthy obsession for imaginary creatures, helplessly watches his chances for tenure circle the drain when a new department head takes a less-than-favorable view of his teaching methods.
"This book has all the elements of middle age and how people try to deal with it,” said Broucek. “What I love to do is populate this real story with characters from my imagination; that's been a lot of fun for me."
"The Futility Experts is my pick this year for fans of A Confederacy of Dunces,” —reads the review from The Book Maven, Lit Hub. “I loved this book and hope others will, too."
"Like Confederacy of Dunces this book is what some people would call an absurdist comedy,” said Broucek. “I love those kind of stories and I actually think they are truest to life."
Broucek also wrote the novel in primarily the male point of view, something she said was fairly easy for her.
"The way the story is structured it has to be told that way, told with alternating points of view but when you get to the end, you realize it's not just a male middle-aged story," she said.
A Baby Boomer herself, Broucek grew up in the age before the internet and has insights on the way it has affected people's communication skills particularly online.
"This novel has a lot of texts interspersed into the narrative, and descriptions of Snapchat videos, which was a lot of fun," she said. When asked about the enigmatic title of the book, she explained that "most people long to be great at something. Many of us try in one area or another. But I think for the most part when we get to middle age, the only thing we really become an expert in is the futility of trying.
Broucek is currently working on a new novel called Baby Queen set in her childhood hometown of Topeka. Having been raised in Kansas, she moved to Portland 14 years ago and was able to submit her first novel as a Maine Literary Awards contender. The novel, which had already won the Nicholas Schaffner Award for Music in Literature, to her great surprise snagged the top category of fiction for the 2019 awards.
The book published by Schaffner Press, can be found here.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org