The Russel Middlebrook Books

Since 2003, I’ve published nine novels featuring a character named Russel Middlebrook and his quirky friends. The books are divided into three different series, as Russel ages. Click on a title or jacket below to jump down to detailed information about each book, including the real story behind its publication. Or simply scroll down to read the story of these books — and my career — in chronological order.

The Russel Middlebrook Series (2003-2013)

The classic YA series about a gay teen and his collection of smart, dorky friends. The first book in the series was adapted as a feature film, and the third book won the Lambda Award.

The Russel Middlebrook Series

Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years (2014-2016)

A stand-alone “new adult” series — for teens and adults — about Russel and his friends in their early twenties, trying to figure out life and love.

Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years

The Otto Digmore Series (2017-2018)

A funny and poignant stand-alone series — also for teens and adults — about Russel Middlebrook’s gay, disfigured friend, Otto Digmore, as he struggles to make it as an actor in Hollywood.


The Russel Middlebrook Series, Book 1


Russel Middlebrook is convinced he’s the only gay kid at Robert L. Goodkind High School.

Then his online gay-chat buddy turns out to be none other than Kevin, the popular but closeted star of the school’s baseball team. Soon Russel meets other gay students too. There’s his best friend, Min, who reveals she‘s bisexual; Min’s soccer-playing girlfriend, Terese; and Terese’s politically active friend, Ike.

But how can kids this diverse get together without drawing attention to themselves?

“We just choose a club that’s so boring nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it. We could call in the Geography Club!”

Geography Club is for anyone, gay or straight, who’s ever felt like an outsider — a fast-paced and funny tale of teenagers who may not learn any actual geography in their latest club, but who discover plenty about the treacherous social terrain of high school, and the even more dangerous landscape of the human heart.

  • An Audio Book on

  • Adapted as a Feature Film (2013)

  • A Two-Time Book Sense 76 Pick

  • A 2003 Lambda Literary Award Finalist

  • Best LGBT YA Books of All Time, GoodReads Poll, #13


“Honest, emotional and funny… [Hartinger’s] books are entertaining for all readers, regardless of their sexuality.”
– USA Today

“Compelling … excellent … This author has something to say here, and his message is potent and effective in its delivery.”
– School Library Journal

“A breath of fresh air — mainly because, with all of his foibles, Russel is such a likable guy, with a wonderful sense of humor.”
– Seattle Times

“Pitch-perfect… This is the most artful and authentic depiction of a gay teen since M.E. Kerr’s groundbreaking Charlie Gilhooly in [1978's] I’ll Love You When You’re More Like Me.”
– Horn Book Magazine





This was the eighth novel I ever wrote, but the first one that was actually published. My first seven novels were terrible and will never see the light of day, but they taught me how to write.

In 1990, I helped co-found one of the world’s first teen gay-straight alliances, and it inspired me to write a young adult novel about it. In 1995, that novel won the Judy Blume Grant for Unpublished Novels, and I got a sweet, very encouraging note from Judy herself. Award in hand, I sent the book to hundreds of agents and editors, and almost everyone loved it, but they all rejected it, saying over and over again: “Sorry, there’s just no market for a book about gay teenagers.”

By 1999, I had finally landed an agent, even if she’d never sold a book before. This time, rather than writing a whole book, we tried to sell a book pitch to editors: Geography Club, another book about a gay teen. Once again, we received dozens of rejections. But one editor, Steve Fraser, fought tooth and nail to get his publisher, HarperCollins, to pay me a paltry $5000 advance to write the book.

Convinced they were going to pull the offer at any second, I wrote the whole book in three weeks — I finished the manuscript before my agent had even received the contract. The day the contract was signed was also the day I turned in the completed manuscript.

It took almost three years before HarperCollins finally published the book, which came out in early 2003, and the published version is almost exactly what I wrote in those three weeks. There was very little editing, which I now find a bit frustrating, because I can see the book’s many flaws.

Incidentally, I’m still kind of annoyed by the book’s now-iconic cover, which used an intern at HarperCollins as a model. He looks like Russel, but I think makes the book seem too serious, and far angstier than it actually is. I meant for the book to be funny!

But the book also has an appealing innocence — maybe my own naïveté as a writer and the book’s lack of any real editing makes Russel seem more honest and engaging. Anyway, there’s no denying the book was a huge hit, going into three printings in its first week of release and eventually selling over 100,000 copies.

In 2013, it was adapted as a feature film, which you can read all about here.

The Russel Middlebrook Series, Book 2


Summer camp is different from high school. Something about spending the night. Things happen.”

Russel Middlebrook is back, in a stand-alone sequel to Geography Club, and he’s off to work as a summer camp counselor with his best friends Min and Gunnar. He’s sick and tired of being openly gay in high school, and a peaceful summer at Camp Serenity is just what he needs to relieve the stress that comes from being an “out” teenager.

But he doesn’t count on sudden new rivalries with Min and Gunnar, or having to chase after a cabin full of unruly campers. And he especially doesn’t count on a fellow counselor as hunky as Web Bastion.

Things do happen at Camp Serenity, especially at night. Brent Hartinger’s third novel is a story about Indian legends, skinny-dipping in moonlit coves, and the mysteries of a secret society called the Order of the Poison Oak. But more than anything, this witty page-turner is about bravery in the face of unexpected danger, the passion of a sizzling summer romance, and, most of all, the courage to be yourself.

  • An Audio Book on

  • A Bookspan Book Club Main Selection

  • A Book Sense 76 Pick


“[I was] moved to tears.’ … Beautifully written, authentic-sounding and smart … all the right traditional values are underscored: honesty, cleverness, generosity, trust.”
– Philadelphia Inquirer

“Touching and realistic … hilarious.”
– Kirkus Reviews

“Hartinger is a master …Russel, Min, Gunnar and all the rest are just great characters … A brave, bold book.”

“A delight … funny, touching … With this third novel from Brent Hartinger, I can see that he is an author who is only becoming more accomplished. (Highest Rating)”
– Midwest Book Review





Geography Club had been an unexpected hit, and I was very eager to write the second book in what I hoped would be a series. In this book, I wanted to explore the idea of what comes after coming out.

But for reasons I didn’t understand, my publisher, HarperCollins, was very negative on the idea of a series — indeed, they didn’t even want to sell it as a sequel. They insisted this only be a “companion book.” I begged them to at least write “sequel” on the jacket, which they did, but I also thought their cover looked amateurish and cheap. And yup, it didn’t look anything like the cover to Geography Club — because it wasn’t really a series or a sequel, remember? Then my editor got fired, and the book was essentially “orphaned” — passed to another editor, someone with no vested interest. This is almost always a terrible thing for a book.

HarperCollins’ original cover, left, and the one I did for my self-published reprint edition.

Even so, I heard through the grapevine that the YA critic at Entertainment Weekly loved the book and was planning to run a rave review a huge deal in the time before social media. But then that critic was fired, and the review never ran. Meanwhile, an important industry review outlet trashed the book — saying, sure, teens might like the cheesy romance, but it was too saccharine to be taken seriously — and suddenly HarperCollins, and my new editor, seemed to lose all interest in the book and, frankly, in me.

The book was finally released, but I was inundated with emails from confused fans saying they couldn’t find the book for sale anywhere. This was before ebooks, so if you couldn’t get your hands on a physical book, you couldn’t read it. I wondered: had bookstores not ordered it? Did they not realize the book was a sequel to Geography Club, which had been a big hit? I know Amazon is supposed to be Ultimate Evil™ — and I definitely have issues with them — but if not for them, I wonder if anyone would have read the book at all.

No one at HarperCollins ever told me a damn thing about any of this — seriously, not a single word — and I got very frustrated and depressed.

The people who could actually find the book seemed to love it, but it sold modestly, and both it and the paperback version quickly went out of print. Years later, I self-published a reprint version with a cover I designed myself.

The Russel Middlebrook Series, Book 3


It’s a horror-movie extravaganza in the second sequel to Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club. Two complete books in one recount the stories of best friends Min and Russel who sign up to be extras on the set of a zombie film — and learn that there’s nothing scarier than high school romance!

In the first book, Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies, Russel must choose between his long-distance boyfriend and a close-to-home ex named Kevin who wants to get back together. In the second book, Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies, Min struggles to accept her cheerleader girlfriend’s decision to stay in the closet.

But beware! Russel and Min’s separate stories affect each other in surprising ways — and you’ll have to read both books together to find out the whole story.

  • An Audio Book on

  • An InsightOut Book Club Bestseller

  • Winner of the National Best Book Award


“I really think this guy could be the next Judy Blume.”
– Pop Candy

“Hartinger has a knack for teen dialogue, and his characters spring to life — even in costume as the undead. At the heart of Zombies is the teen friends’ respect and caring for each other, which, these days, is downright refreshing.”
– USA Today

“Both stories stand alone, yet each compliments the other. To be expected, the action is fast and funny.”
– Kirkus Reviews

“Imaginatively delightful … Hartinger makes clever use of the fact that no two people live through — or recall — shared events the same way.”
– Richard Labonte’s Book Marks

“The best writing of the season … a great read for any dreary afternoon.”
– OutSmart Magazine





The few people who actually got their hands on The Order of the Poison Oak had loved it, but sales had been a fraction of those of Geography Club.

So I wanted to do something really audacious — and fun and funny — to get attention for this second sequel. My idea? Two different books released simultaneously, covering the time Russel and his friends get jobs as extras working on a B-movie zombie flick being shot in their town, and the hijinks and romantic complications that ensue. One book would be told from Russel’s POV (Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies) and the other from his friend Min’s POV (Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies).

I also liked the idea of writing a YA book about lesbians. I kept hearing from readers how there were so few of these books, especially about lesbians of color. I told every lesbian I knew, “Write a lesbian YA book! The market is wide open!” but editors were still all telling me they weren’t getting any decent submissions. So I finally thought, “Well, I’ll just write one myself.”

My new editor rejected the idea of two different books released simultaneously, but she suggested a “flip” book — read one story, then flip it over to read the other story — and you’d still have to read them both to get the “whole” story. I liked this idea, which I still thought would get us lots of attention.

But then the publicity department said, “We need a new title. Kids don’t know what a ‘double feature’ is.” I said, “But ‘Double Feature’ is the whole concept of the book! Plus, it’s supposed to be kind of retro. The plot is that they’re filming a B-movie zombie flick, remember?”

Then they said, “Double Feature is too boring a title.” And I said, “Really? A book with the subtitle Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies is too boring for you?”

They absolutely refused to bend, and we finally compromised on the title Split Screen, which I absolutely hated. I thought it completely muddied my whole two-books-in-one gimmick, not to mention the B-movie theme. I also hated their jacket, which, once again, was completely unlike the first two Russel Middlebrook books — and included no mention of those books. The three books were even all different sizes!

Worse, the jacket only included one of the sub-titles. You had to flip the book over to see the other title, but even back then, most people’s first introduction to a new book wasn’t through a physical book — it was the jpeg, either online or in a magazine. So HarperCollins’ choice confused readers even more. Huh? What’s the title of the book?

Years later, I self-published my own reprint edition with the title and kind of cover I had wanted all along.

Their title and cover, left, and mine.

But it gets worse. The month before this book was released, HarperCollins took the hardcover and paperback versions of The Order of the Poison Oak out of print. Wait, what? Why the hell were they publishing a sequel to a book that was out of print? But in their eyes, it wasn’t a sequel — and it definitely wasn’t a series, no way, no how.

None of this made any sense to me. And sure enough, with a confusing title and cover, Double Feature — er, Split Screen — made no splash at all and didn’t reach anyone except my hard-core fans. HarperCollins never even released it in paperback.

Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this book today. I probably wasn’t the best person to write one of the very first YA books from a major house about a lesbian of color. And I definitely wouldn’t include the recurring joke about Gunnar and Asperger’s — though, at the same time, I am very opposed to retroactively censoring elements like this, because I think the book is a good window into how I (and most of society) was thinking about these issues at the time.

I also think writers like “dual narrative” books more than readers. I tried really hard to make both stories very different, but it’s still hard for it not to feel like a repeat to the reader.

That said, I do love the big, heartbreaking “reveal” at the end of Min’s story — what Kevin is really doing in those woods. And the scene with Russel and the priest? That happened to me, almost word for word.

Oh, and the book did end up winning a Lambda Award. That was nice. It also won something called the National Best Book Award, which I think tries to fool people into thinking they’re the National Book Award, but they’re definitely not.

The edition available today is the reprint that I self-published. And despite that total freak-out by the HarperCollins marketing department, not a single person has ever told me they didn’t know what a “double feature” is.

When I reprinted these books myself, I also wanted to give all the covers a similar look, to communicate that it is a series. But HarperCollins wouldn’t give me the rights to Geography Club, which was still selling well, and I didn’t have the budget to match their original cover.

The Russel Middlebrook Series, Book 4

Geography Club’s Russel Middlebrook and his friends Min and Gunnar are back.

They’re laughing about something they call the Elephant of Surprise—the tendency for life to never turn out the way you expect. Sure enough, Russel soon happens upon a hot, but mysterious guy named Wade—even as he’s also drawn back to an old flame named Kevin. Meanwhile, Min learns her girlfriend Leah is keeping secrets, and Gunnar just wants to be left alone to pursue his latest obsession, documenting his entire life online.

But the elephant is definitely on the move in all three of their lives. Just who is Wade and what are he and his friends planning? What is Leah hiding? And why is Gunnar taking naked pictures of Kevin in the shower?

The Elephant of Surprise, the latest entry in Brent Hartinger’s groundbreaking gay teen Russel Middlebrook Series, is a story of humor, romance, and danger. Before it’s over, Russel and his friends will learn that the Elephant of Surprise really does appear when you least expect him—and that when he stomps on you, it really, really hurts.

  • An Audio Book on

  • Independent Publisher Book Award, Bronze Medalist

  • Rainbow Award, Finalist

  • An Indie Reader Best of 2013


“Fans of the series will revel in this smart, quirky YA novel that’s ripe with substance beyond the surface.”
 Kirkus Reviews

“Like a warm chocolate cookie right out of the oven!”
– Buried in Books

“Unique and special. Hartinger’s storytelling is alive and uplifting.”
– Children’s Literature

“The kind of teen book I absolutely adore. Funny, thought-provoking and entertaining. Read it!”
– Chicklish

“All the charm of the earlier books in the series, but a richer read.”
– Outsmart Magazine





By 2012, I’d long since been dumped by HarperCollins, and my career as a novelist was in the absolute toilet. It’s not like I wanted HarperCollins to keep publishing me; they clearly had no idea what they were doing, constantly firing editors and making creative choices that seemed like they weren’t even reading my books.

But I couldn’t get a deal anywhere. Was it me? Did I just suck? So many of my writer-friends had gone on to great literary success, winning awards or writing bestseller after bestseller. My first book had been a big hit, but I hadn’t had a break-out hit since then. Despite how difficult it was to get my books, they were still selling — but only respectably. A rep once told me, “You’re one of our only authors who is equally strong in both the commercial and library/educational markets.” Librarians and general readers were both buying my books.

Looking back, I think the problem was that I’d never been a critical darling or a bestseller. I can count my “starred” reviews on one hand — almost on one finger! My gay books were too light — not “important” — and my non-gay ones weren’t literary enough. I love thrillers and mysteries, after all. But if you’re going for crowd-appeal, you damn well better attract a big crowd.

Even so, in Double Feature, I had left Russel and Kevin’s relationship on a cliffhanger, and I really wanted to finish that story. Unfortunately, I knew no other publisher would want to publish a book in a series from another publisher — especially since the second two books hadn’t exactly set the world on fire, and no one really knew it was a series anyway.

I knew a feature film version of Geography Club was coming out soon, and my writing buddy Erik Hanberg was telling me about this strange new phenomenon of “e-books” and “self-publishing.”

Could I really do that?

The Order of the Poison Oak and Double Feature were both out of print, so my agent petitioned HarperCollins to get the rights back. I wrote The Elephant of Surprise, the final book in what I was finally able to call an actual “series”: The Russel Middlebrook Series. Then I republished those two books and debuted the third.

My husband Michael was worried when I first told him the plot of The Elephant of Surprise. “Uh, Russel falls in love with a Dumpster-diving social activist?” he said, wary. “He eats roadkill?”

“Trust me!” I said. “It’ll be great! Unlike any other YA novel ever.”

Had I really not yet learned that books can be different, but they shouldn’t be too different?

But for once, I was right to trust my instincts. The new book and the reprints of the old ones sold incredibly well. I’m sure it was mostly just the publicity from the Geography Club movie, and also because I got into the self-publishing game relatively early, but I was suddenly making much more money from my self-published books than I ever had from HarperCollins.

Did I even need a traditional publisher? Maybe I could even write and self-publish an entirely new series about Russel and his quirky friends…


A fun and sexy series about a twentysomething gay guy trying to figure out life and love. A #1 Amazon bestseller. New Adult, stand-alone.

Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years, Book 1


I guess this was what they meant by a loss of innocence. Who knew?

Russel Middlebrook is twenty-three years old, gay, and living in trendy Seattle, but life isn’t keeping up with the hype. Most of his friends have a direction in life—either ruthlessly pursuing their careers or passionately embracing their own aimlessness. But Russel is stuck in place. All he knows is that crappy jobs, horrible dates, and pointless hook-ups just aren’t cutting it anymore.

What’s the secret? What does everyone else know that he doesn’t?

Enter Kevin, Russel’s perfect high school boyfriend. Could rekindling an old flame be the thing Russel needs to get his life back on track? Or maybe the answer lies with a new friend, an eccentric screenwriter named Vernie Rose, who seems plenty wise. Or what the hell? Maybe Russel will find some answers by joining his best friend Gunnar’s crazy search for the legendary Bigfoot!

One way or another, Russel is determined to learn the all-important secret to life, even if it’s a thing he doesn’t even know he doesn’t know.

Author Brent Hartinger first made a splash writing books for teens. The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know, Hartinger’s first book for older readers, is just as much of a page-turner as his earlier works, with plenty of his trademark irreverent humor. But now his books have grown up along with his readers, exploring the issues of new adults, especially the complicated matter of love and sex.

Listen to me discuss this book

  • #1 Amazon Bestseller (Gay Fiction)

  • An Audio Book on


“A great read. Russel’s narrative voice is engaging and unflinchingly honest.  You can’t help but love him … I finished the book smiling.”

“A real page turner and I laughed, I gasped, I cheered for Russel, and everything in between as I read it. Brent hits the nail on the head when describing adulthood for the new generation: how we have dreams, fears, and are lost.”
– Sensible Reason Magazine

”Russel Middlebrook is an extremely engaging character, and I positively adored him…. For as little as Russel seems to think is going on in his life, he certainly kept me captivated with his story.”
– Swept Away by Romance

“A success — and hopefully the first of many books of its genre.”
– Gay City News





With The Elephant of Surprise, I felt like I’d said everything I wanted to say about Russel as a teenager. It was now also more than ten years after the publication of Geography Club — and times had changed, especially on LGBTQ issues. Plus, my fans, many of whom had started reading about Russel when they were teenagers, were now adults.

What if I aged Russel up too, into his early twenties? I could write a new series about Russel and his friends as adults — for adults.

This idea excited me a lot, in part because I could write about completely different issues. But it also seemed like both a good marketing gimmick and a great writing challenge. Had any other author ever done anything like this before: written the same character but had him jump genres, from young adult to new adult?

With the success of The Elephant of Surprise, I knew I wanted to self-publish. That meant a faster turn-around: with these self-published books, I still hired editors, and I also started asking superfans to be beta-readers. Indeed, I was doing much more revising now than I ever had at HarperCollins. But I could still publish the books much faster — six months or less after writing a first draft. That meant I could comment on actual, real-world events and issues as they were happening — like, say, the introduction of PrEP.

I did have the problem of Russel’s age. He was sixteen when Geography Club was released in 2003, but I hadn’t specified an exact year. To make him 23 in 2014, I had retcon those first four books as having taken place in 2008-2009.

I wanted The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know to explore the issues of people in their early twenties — literally, new adults. And I remembered some wisdom I discovered at that age — the “thing” I didn’t know I didn’t know. I’m pretty proud of that reveal, which I think is dramatically satisfying.

To promote the book, I had a musician-friend write a song based on the novel, and I promised a music video for him and the book. You can read that story here.

The book was another big hit, which, frankly, was pretty damn gratifying, especially after my experience at HarperCollins, and in the greater kidlit publishing community, which had pretty much convinced me I was a terrible writer and with nothing whatsoever interesting to say.

Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years, Book 2


"There was no way moving to Los Angeles was going to make me give up my soul. After all, I’d already seen all the movies about Hollywood. I knew how things worked."

Twenty-four year-old Russel Middlebrook and his boyfriend have moved to Los Angeles so Russel can try to make it as a screenwriter.

Almost right away, in a forgotten old house off of Sunset Boulevard, Russel meets Isaac Brander, a once-famous film producer who is convinced he can turn Russel’s screenplay into a movie.

Russel knows that success can’t possibly come this easy. After all, most of Russel’s Los Angeles friends are so desperate to make it that it’s downright scary. His ex-boyfriend, Otto, is trying everything to become an actor, and Daniel, the sexy neighbor, doesn’t even need a casting couch to get naked.

So what’s the catch with Mr. Brander? Could it be that movies about Hollywood don’t tell the whole truth? But what does that mean for Russel’s soul?

Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams, a sequel to Brent Hartinger’s The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know, is a fast-paced, funny story about the price of fame in Hollywood: the hilarious lengths people will go to achieve it, and the touching secret to survival when things don’t work out exactly as planned.

Listen to me discuss this book


"A sharp, canny, and highly engaging tour through a Hollywood of cunning characters and colorful intrigues. I was charmed by every sly, sexy page.”
– Barry Sandler, screenwriter of Making Love and Crimes of Passion

“Simultaneously light-hearted and introspective … my favorite Russel Middlebrook book to date … so good I didn’t want to put it down.”

“Heart and humor … [and] a Hollywood ending that had me grinning from ear to ear.”
– Bookaholism

“With his trademark wit, warmth, and economy, Brent Hartinger brilliantly captures what it’s like to move to L.A. and try and make it in Hollywood: the highs and the lows, the friends and the phonies, the fun and the frustration.”
– Dennis Hensley, co-screenwriter of Testosterone, author of Misadventures in the (213)

“If you liked [the Russel Middlebrook Series], you’re sure to love the slightly older Russel … I can’t wait for the third novel coming out next year!”
– Shooting Stars Magazine





This is the most autobiographical book I’ve ever written — which might be why it’s also my personal favorite of all my books.

In 1999, my husband Michael and I moved to Los Angeles so I could try to make it as a screenwriter. Almost everything that happens in this book actually happened to me — including, I kid you not, the parts about Russel’s hearing ghosts in his apartment.

After almost everything that’s in the book happened to me, I realized, “Wait, did I really just live out the plot to that old movie Sunset Boulevard, almost beat-for-beat?”

In fact, I really did. And as a result, I had no choice but to turn this book about that time in my life an homage to Sunset Boulevard — which, in my opinion, is one of the best movies ever made about Hollywood. If you’ve seen the movie, you might notice all the Easter Eggs (I've listed them all here). I admit these are mostly artistic license.

My personal story also had a happier ending than Sunset Boulevard, and — spoiler alert — this book does too.

The book was another big hit, selling almost as well as The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know, which is pretty rare in a book series. Audible purchased the books for audio editions, and they sold like hotcakes too.

Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years, Book 3


I think gay guys like weddings more than anyone. And it’s not because we want to destroy marriage, like some people say. It’s because we really, really want to get married!

Russel Middlebrook is gettin’ hitched!

The wedding is taking place in a remote lodge on an island in Puget Sound. Russel and his husband-to-be have invited all their close friends to spend the whole weekend together beforehand.

And for the first time in his life, Russel is determined to not be neurotic, and not overthink things.

But that’s before things start going wrong. Who expected a dead killer whale to wash up on the beach below the inn? And what’s this about a windstorm approaching? Then there’s the problem of Russel’s anxious fiancé, who is increasingly convinced the whole thing is going to be a disaster.

Meanwhile, the wedding is taking place near the ruins of a small town, Amazing, where, a hundred years earlier, the people supposedly all disappeared overnight. Why does it feel like the secret at the end of the road to Amazing has something to do with Russel’s own future? Can Russel’s friends Min, Gunnar, Vernie, and Otto somehow help him make it all make sense?

The Road to Amazing, the last book in the Russel Middlebrook Futon Years trilogy, is a story about endings and beginnings, and also about growing up and growing older. But mostly it’s a story about love and friendship—about how it’s not the destination that makes a life amazing, but the people you meet along the way.

Listen to me discuss this book


“A great, introspective story.”
– Rainbow Book Reviews

“Sometimes a book just sucks me in so hard that I almost cannot break away to do anything functional … I felt like I was on a sun-dappled raft floating along a warm vista-filled river while reading this book. I was so engaged … I’m not ready to be done with Russel and Kevin.”
– V’s Reads

“So much truth in it. … It’s not just an unusual cast of characters that include a famous actor, a rich friend, intelligent and brilliant individuals that add to the magic of this series; it’s the truth behind each character. ”
– Sensible Reason Magazine





By this point, I had written six books about Russel and his friends. I had taken him from age sixteen to age twenty-seven. Russel isn’t me exactly, but he’s a lot like me — and the longer I wrote him, the more like me he had become. Wherever the line between me and him is exactly, he had become very real and very important to me — and also to my readers — so I felt a lot of pressure to successfully land the plane that is this series of books.

Meanwhile, I was also writing in real time about important issues, right? Well, after years of activism and political debate, same-sex marriage had recently been legalized in the United States. But despite all the words that had been written and spoken on this issue, they were mostly about the “issue” of marriage — not a personal perspective.

With these two factors in mind, I decided that Russel and Kevin should finally get married. And since, over the years, Kevin had also become a lot like my husband Michael, I figured I would use my own marriage to Michael back in 1996 as inspiration. Like Russel and Kevin, Michael and I rented a house on Vashon Island and invited our closest friends for the weekend. But in the case of this book, that’s where the similarities end.

The music video I’d produced for The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know had sold a lot of books, more than paying for its $1100 production cost, so I decided to do another song for this novel. This time, I wrote and sang it myself, with help from my buddy Jeremy Ward — and I incorporated the actual lyrics into the book as a song Otto sings at Russel and Kevin’s wedding. Yes, I know I’m a mediocre songwriter and a very weak singer — God bless you, Autotune! — but once again, I was proud of myself for doing something so far outside my comfort zone.

More than anything, I was just glad that I could do creative, even audacious things, and unlike my time at HarperCollins, it now seemed like the world was rewarding, not punishing, me.


A funny and poignant series about Russel Middlebrook’s gay, disfigured friend, Otto Digmore, as he struggles to make it as an actor in Hollywood. New Adult, stand-alone.

The Otto Digmore Series, Book 1


"Road trip!"

Otto Digmore is a 26-year-old gay guy with dreams of being a successful actor, and he’s finally getting some attention as a result of his supporting role on a struggling sitcom. But he’s also a burn survivor with scars on half his face, and all indications are that he’s just too different to ever find real Hollywood success.

Now he’s up for an amazing new role that could change everything. Problem is, he and his best friend Russel Middlebrook have to drive all the way across the country in order to get to the audition on time.

It’s hard to say which is worse: the fact that so many things go wrong, or that Russel, an aspiring screenwriter, keeps comparing their experiences to some kind of road trip movie.

There’s also the fact that Otto and Russel were once boyfriends, and Otto is starting to realize that he might still have romantic feelings for his best friend.

Just how far will Otto go to get the role, and maybe the guy, of his dreams?

Author Brent Hartinger first introduced the character of Otto Digmore in 2005, in his Lambda Award-winning books about Russel Middlebrook. Back then, Otto was something pretty unusual for YA literature: a disabled gay character.

Now, more than a decade later, Otto is grown up and finally stepping into the spotlight on his own. The Otto Digmore Difference, the first book in a new stand-alone series for adults, is about much more than the challenges of being “different.” It’s also about the unexpected nature of all of life’s journeys, and the heavy price that must be paid for Hollywood fame.

But more than anything, it’s a different kind of love story, about the frustrating and fantastic power of the love between two friends.

  • A #2 Amazon Bestseller (in “Gay & Lesbian”)

  • An Audio Book on

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“A frank and funny tale. … A fresh take on the theme of achieving self-acceptance in a world that discourages difference, it delivers. A heartwarming story about staying true to yourself whatever others might think.”
– Kirkus Reviews

“It is beautiful and poignant and hits every pitch just right. For polished storytelling, brilliantly drawn characters, and finely crafted subtext, this gets [our highest rating].”
– Divine Magazine

“I loved this book.”
– Jeff and Will’s Big Gay Fiction Podcast

“Thanks, Brent, not just for making Otto’s life better, but for touching my heart and making me feel so deeply.” [Highest Rating]
– Rainbow Book Reviews

“I absolutely adored it.” [Highest Rating]
– Mirrigold





By 2017, I’d written seven books starring Russel Middlebrook, and I’d been incredibly gratified by the response. But I also thought I’d ended the Russel-Kevin romance nicely at the end of The Road to Amazing, and it seemed like I’d said everything I wanted to say about Russel too. I was all set to move on to other projects.

But I couldn’t get Russel’s friend Otto Digmore out of my mind. Over the course of the Futon Years, he, like Russel, had become very real to me. And a gay guy with burn scars on half of his face trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood? How interesting is that set-up?

These days, I might be criticized for not “staying in my lane,” but honestly, I mostly reject this framing. Criticizing a story is fine, at least if it’s fair, but criticizing the author for some perceived characteristic or personal experience you decide they haven’t experienced enough? In my opinion, the world needs much, much less of this. No one else could have written anything remotely like The Otto Digmore Difference, and plenty of disabled folks (including one burn survivor) have told me it’s a very good thing it’s now out in the world. In my opinion, there is always room for another good story.

I love this book’s jacket, which I think is the single best of all my books. It was my idea, but it was designed by Philip Malaczewski. It’s striking to look at, yes, but I think Philip also created the perfect illustration of the theme of this book, which is about both beauty and loneliness.

Is this not beautiful?

The Otto Digmore Series did fine — especially on audio — but it didn’t sell as well as the books in Russel Middle: The Futon Years. I suspect that’s mostly because the self-published market had matured a lot since 2014.

I don’t care. After Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams, this is my second personal favorite.

The Otto Digmore Series, Book 2

Otto Digmore Decision 640.jpg

"If we get caught, they'll throw us in jail. On the other hand, we'll have been involved in one of the craziest Hollywood stories I've ever heard, and maybe someone will want to turn that into a movie!"

Otto Digmore is back, still trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood — despite his facial scars — but frustrated by all the schemers who'll stab you in the back to get ahead. But then Otto's good friend Russel Middlebrook sells a screenplay, a heist movie set in the Middle Ages — and Otto has been cast in an important supporting role! For twelve weeks, Otto and Russel will be on location together in England and Malta.

Problem is, once production is underway, it quickly becomes clear that the director is ruining Russel's script. If the movie ends up being the bomb that both Otto and Russel expect it to be, it could destroy both their Hollywood careers forever.

But Otto and Russel aren't willing to take that chance. Together, they hatch a crazy plan to make a good movie behind the director's back. But how far are they willing to go to save their careers? Are they willing to become exactly the kind of scheming backstabbers they always said they hated?

The Otto Digmore Decision is partly a caper story, partly a humorous Hollywood satire. It’s also an inside look at the struggles of anyone “different,” and it’s even something of a love story, except it’s one between two friends.

More than anything, The Otto Digmore Decision proves the old adage about creative pursuits: the most interesting drama always happens behind the scenes!


“An adventure, a caper-within-a-caper, [and] a Hollywood story about a movie being made.….Wonderfully, and horribly, all of my angst is reflected in the bright, beautiful hearts of Otto and Russel. They make me sad, and they give me hope at the same time.”
This Gay Book I Loved

“I enjoyed every second…I can’t imagine that people won’t fall in love with Otto!”
Bite Into Books

“It was great to see Otto and Russell back together again, continuing their adventures. Their friendship is inspiring; it is clear that it reaches a new, clearer level in this story. I’m looking forward to reading more about this awesome pair.”
Rainbow Book Reviews





In 2018, it seemed like the world was awash in novels about male-male romance. So I, of course, had zero interest in writing any more. For better or for worse, I always want to do the thing that hasn’t been done yet — to write that story that isn’t being written.

But after I started The Otto Digmore Series, I quickly realized that it was still a love story of sorts. It just happened to be a non-sexual love story between two gay friends.

(And can I just say? I feel like stories such as this are much more subversive and “normalizing” than the latest sexually explicit sex scene or in-your-face screed. They hopefully turn abstract or controversial ideas into real human beings, which is always the most powerful argument of all.)

Incidentally, in writing sequels, I believe it’s important to always add a compelling new character. In Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years, I added Vernie Rose. In this series, the character is Mo, and I absolutely love her. I introduced her in The Otto Digmore Difference, but here I got to tell the rest of her story.

Oh, and the movie they’re that they’re making in this book — Blackburn Castle, a heist set in the Dark Ages? When I was writing this novel, it was all fictional, but I ended up liking the idea so much that I turned it into a real screenplay. I even kept in Otto’s infamous nude scene, which I think is one of the best parts of the script.

Read about my Mystery/Thriller books here!

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