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Meet Brad Neaton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brad Neaton.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Brad. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in the shadow of North Detroit and spent the entirety of my childhood there. Even as a young kid I was a bit of a nonconformist. Getting picked on will do that to you – make you different – and I was picked on a lot because of my weight. Circumstances basically relegated me to socializing with older kids, and as the younger fat kid I was an easy target.

I was also kind of an oddball, the sort of loner who liked to be alone but not lonely, popular enough to enjoy being around people. At some point I became an avid reader, and throughout grade school I was always reading at least a few different books simultaneously. I was partial to stories about ordinary people going on adventures and doing extraordinary things – Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc. But it’d be a long while before I seriously considered myself a writer. My interest in the idea was invoked by the encouragement of others, 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.

As a high school student looking toward the future, I had an intense desire to do something for more than myself, a mentality that likely stemmed from experiences as a captain of my football team. I’m not from a military family, but I was old enough when 9/11 happened to understand the gravity of its implications, and when my junior year rolled around, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were really ramping up. The possibility of my friends and family and the people I cared about being put in harm’s way, however remote, didn’t sit well with me, and it wasn’t long before I realized I’d much rather be the one to sacrifice than see any of them have to, which is why I decided to forgo college and enlist in the Marines – a plan I was dead set on until I learned about West Point.

Up until that time, I’d never even heard of West Point before, and the only reason I ended up learning about it was because my high school guidance counselor tossed me an informational packet while I was sitting in the library one day. It didn’t look like a particularly fun place, but West Point appealed to me because of its reputation as the most demanding academic institution in the world, a crucible of sorts. In my eyes it was more than a college, it was an experience – an adventure. They described cadets as being representative of America in the purest sense, people from all walks of life and backgrounds who volunteered to give up a tremendous amount in exchange for the kind of hardship and austerity romanticized only by fools.

Unfortunately, West Point wasn’t nearly as interested in me as I was in going there; my “great” ACT scores and GPA were considered marginal at best by their admissions committee, and they flat out told me I “would not survive,” which of course only served to give me a chip on the shoulder and increase my desire to get in. I tried everything I could. A couple weeks before I was supposed to ship off for boot camp with the Marines, I received a call informing me that someone who’d been slotted to go to the United States Military Academy Prep School (USMAPS) in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey had dropped out at the very last second, and that if I wanted his roster number it was mine, and if I “survived a year there” then they’d let me in with the West Point class of 2014.

Suffice it to say that my trajectory changed dramatically from that point on. I was only 17 then, and it was my first-time leaving home, which meant the first year especially sucked because homesickness hit me like a brick wall. But for the next decade my life would be heavily defined by experiences unique to West Point and the Army, experiences I now know would’ve been impossible to replicate under any other circumstances, and which forced me to take inventory of my life, to identify what I believed to be most important, and to cut out the excess. I also became acutely aware of my own mortality, my own finitude, and I began to value things differently, so much so that most people would probably think my evolved mindset is oddly archaic, if not overwhelmingly anachronistic.

And, it really cannot be emphasized enough how influential this period was in my becoming a more creative soul, someone who now wholeheartedly subscribes to the power of writing and its capacity to grant access to, with an unparalleled degree of intimacy and immediacy, what life looks like through the eyes of someone else. All art instills the same moral lesson that exposure to the greater world does: that you are not the center of the universe. I don’t think it’s a coincidence I started my first novel, Because of Jenny, during this time, a book which dives into the opioid epidemic and addiction and mental illness and how so many of us go out of our way to simplify incredibly complex, involved issues as a means to rationalize anything personally inapplicable into irrelevance.

After being medically retired from the Army, I immediately decided I wanted another adventure, albeit a much different one this time around. Having broadened my personal horizon by pushing myself outside my comfort zone and shirking my once narrow-minded perceptions in favor of opening myself up to new people, places, and lessons, I’d learned firsthand how the richness of life is reserved for those open to new experiences in both heart and mind. I spent some time thinking about where I could go and what I might do to continue down this same sort of “road less traveled,” eventually deciding on graduate school at the University of Southern California. I’d never been to California before, and because my original homestead is the kind of place where people fly Trump flags on their front lawns (which is basically tantamount to murder here in L.A.) and I’m a big believer in the positive relationship between learning and exposure to peers of different backgrounds and life experiences, it seemed fitting. I piled all my things (mainly books and a curiously misguided wardrobe) into a jalopy and drove across the country (slept in the car, somewhat sketchy but pleasantly miserable) so that I could move to Los Angeles. I recently finished grad school and received my master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations.

Has it been a smooth road?
Far from it, though if given the opportunity to go back in time and change anything, I wouldn’t. As mentioned supra, I’ve always been somewhat of a weird dude, but in a good way (I think). If I compiled a complete list of all my idiosyncrasies, I imagine it’d be a matter of abiding fascination for a lot of people. I.e., I don’t drink and never have (and for no other reason than it’s just never really jibed with me), am decidedly apolitical (not that national issues and social matters aren’t important to me, because they are; rather, I’ve just never much cared for partaking in the arguments and epistemological tantrums people try passing off as “discussions” today, and I don’t pledge allegiance to any political party), I’m like a hardcore hopeless romantic, haven’t had a Facebook since 2011 and have never used Twitter, refuse to make a LinkedIn account because I hate contemporary society’s obsession with personal success and climbing the ubiquitous American social ladder in lieu of anything that doesn’t promise individual reward and advancement, I have a peculiar affection for cat shirts (haha), etc. I mention this because although I might generally see normality as a paved road, I’m probably in the minority. In other words, I think people sometimes find it hard to relate to me. It’s not uncommon for people to view “creatives” as the artsy types who self-isolate out of a sense of superiority.

There’s also the fact that today, short of assaulting someone, it’s pretty much impossible to acquire a literary agent and traditionally publish a book that doesn’t include (at a minimum) a not-so-subtle political agenda or at the very least either a passing reference of some sort to vampires or a cover featuring an unclad male with impeccable abdominals and what can only be described as an overtly single-daddy vibe. I care little for fame or fortune, and unless your book is the next Harry Potter or something, you’re not exactly going to get rich from it.

But what I do care about is getting what I write out there, meaning where it’s subjected to mass readership—especially Because of Jenny, because I wrote the book hoping to make a difference for the better, as grandiose as that might sound. Admittedly, I’m not really one for self-promotion; I hate trying to draw the spotlight to myself and honestly believe I’m no better than anyone else in any way, shape, or form. I’m a devout apostle of humility and I like to lead by example. I want my writing to speak for itself. Which is problematic, especially considering that now’s not an ideal time to be a writer for a number of reasons, perhaps the most salient of them being that the past decade has witnessed the evolution of an epidemic of distraction, the logical extreme of our society’s intensifying digital climate, which is host to an ecosystem predicated upon the harvesting of human attention. Most of us can’t even go without our cell phones for more than a few minutes before basically having to be sedated. The point being that attention is as scarce a resource as ever, and when combined with the fact that attention spans are pretty much perpetually stunted by intermittently self-imposed overdoses of Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and what have you, the chances of someone being interested in reading anything I write are slim to none, which doesn’t exactly bode well for my longevity as a writer.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m a writer and strategic creative. Essentially, if it involves writing or critical thinking of any kind, I can do it, and I can do it well. And I’m unique in that I approach each day as an autodidact eager to increase cognitive stimulation through self-exposure to a wider array of experiences, outlooks, and ideas necessary for the type of heterodox thinking today’s complex world demands. When working for or with others, I’m always conscious of maintaining a climate conducive to intellectual humility, where no single approach has a monopoly on planning, and I can employ all my creative skills to include critical thinking, empathy, cultural sensitivity, humor, and imagination.

As a writer and a wordsmith, I’m exceptionally good at assessing and incorporating evidence, communicating complex ideas, articulating concise and persuasive arguments, and crafting compelling narratives; as a critical thinker, I’m equally as good at problem solving, analyzing change and continuities, and evaluating the ways in which material circumstances, behavioral psychology, and cultural diversity combine to influence contemporary issues on both micro and macro levels. With a genuine love for messaging and writing in all its breadth, I can certainly engage in some top-hole composition, and I can do so in a way that’s accessible and not the woefully opaque academic voice that tends to intimidate. Perhaps more importantly, I’m confident I can go above and beyond simply conveying information and content; I take pride in my ability to use imagination and sentiment – the two aspects of creativity that often delimit a person’s ability to invoke and inspire – to transform that which is normally trite and banal into the kind of content that transcends the ordinary.

I’m also a storyteller. Given that today’s world is one in which information is truly limitless and attention radically scarce, successful communication isn’t about what you say, it’s about what people hear, which is why the ability to trigger emotion in addition to facilitating understanding is so indispensable. Nothing so effortlessly opens a person’s eyes quite like stories. The world as we see it often grows dull in our perceptions, but seen from a stranger’s vantage, it can still take our breath away. When I write, I do so with the ultimate goal of helping my readers more easily empathize with people whose experiences they’ve never shared, giving them the opportunity to immerse themselves in the psyches of the marginalized. As a multimedia journalist my focus is on producing strategically crafted narratives via the most appropriate mediums, thereby helping the audience transcend the ordinary constraints of communication by narrowing the gap between what I’m trying to convey and what people actually interpret.

Work ethic and desire – my willingness to go above and beyond what’s expected and give nothing less than 100% – set me apart. Persistence isn’t very glamorous these days, particularly in a culture that tends to lionize people who excel quickly through genius and talent alone, but at West Point I learned just how important intestinal fortitude and perseverance are relative to classroom smarts and personal connections. Today, probably more so than ever before, we’re all programmed to operate under the impression that collecting achievements is how to become “successful,” especially in the writing world where there’s this kind of dumb, tacitly enforced rule that the best writers are those who’ve managed to publish the most, as if your ability to fill a resume with a list of BuzzFeed articles and esoteric pieces for various and often obscure distributions puts you in the running to be the second coming of Christ. This resume stuffing mentality has become standard operating procedure in creative industries woefully in need of a wakeup call (the writing industry chief among them).

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
It’s really hard to say. It seems like frequent change within every industry has become the new norm, and so I’m more focused on improvising, adapting, and overcoming than on trying to anticipate where things are going. The one thing I’m absolutely sure of, though, is that the importance of communication will remain constant. The world is becoming increasingly complex, not less so, and as that degree of complexity continues to amplify the stakes, the ability to use the power of the written word as a means to emphasize value proposition is going to become invaluable.

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