Psychomilk had this amazing opportunity to interview Lambda Literary Award-winning Author T J Klune and we are beyond ecstatic! Our questions are never easy, and the replies resonate with his honesty as well as a realistic approach. Read our interview where T J Klune answers relevant questions related to his best-selling novels and also gives us possible spoilers that might make you scream with excitement!
—Edited by TheFNGee
A Q&A with T. J. Klune
1) Your novels always have a central character that might seem undeniably weak or flimsy, yet they display unknown innate strength. It could be Ox from Green Creek Series, Paul Auster from At First Sight Series, or Sam from Tales of Verania Series. What did you have in mind when you wrote these characters?
My main goal has always been to write realistic characters, regardless if they were in contemporary stories or in science fiction and fantasy. Relatability is important, even in the face of the fantastical. In addition, it’s important to me to have queer characters who leap off the page, who breathe and laugh and cry and dance. I like the idea of the unexpected, of heroes that people might not see coming. Strength isn’t always about physicality; it can also be about what comes from within.
2) “Bear, Otter, and the Kid Series” is one of your most popular book series focusing on familial relationships. How loud were these characters in your head? Describe the feeling?
Loud, loud, loud. Tyson (AKA the Kid), especially. His was one of the first voices I heard, and he all but demanded I sit down and actually write a book, something I’d wanted to do for years. The book itself is imperfect, as most first novels are. Knowing what I know now, I would have gone about it much differently, but I’m grateful I didn’t. The story is far from my best, but there’s a rough charm that I can’t deny. This funny little family of mine was my first, and therefore, I can’t ever forget the lessons they taught me as a writer and as a person.
I never expected that first book to turn into a four-book series. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to tell further stories, following the same group of people over the years of their lives: the good, the bad, and everything in between. I was lucky that people read the first book as much as they did, allowing me to continue. Without the readers, I wouldn’t have been able to write The Art of Breathing, the third book in the series, and the one I consider to be the best out of the four books.
3) Tales of Verania is one of my favorite Gay Romances. Sam is indeed an indescribable character. Talk to us about the variable universe that you have created and also the other main characters, Morgan & Ryan.
The first book in the series—The Lightning Struck Heart—came at a dark time for me. I was losing someone I loved dearly to health issues, and I hadn’t written anything in close to eight months. My depression and anxiety were all I knew, and I didn’t know how to make it stop. Writing had always been a safe space for me, and I was desperate to find that sort of peace again.
So I sat down to write something that could make me happy, something I could laugh over. The story that followed was ridiculous, and it was exactly what I needed. The first day I began to write the book, I wrote almost fifteen thousand words over the space of a day. When I finally stopped, I felt a bit better, even though I knew there was no way in hell this book would ever be published. It was……a lot. But I continued with it regardless. I was taken aback when the book came out, and people seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. It was because of the love the book got that I was able to write three more books following Sam and Ryan, Tiggy, Kevin, and Gary, Justin and Morgan, and Randall and Anthony. These characters gave me a reason to hope again, and I’ve never forgotten that.
4) Moving onto the most important question. You promised us a book on Prince Justin. Are you working on it? What will the premise for his story?
I am! Justin’s story is finished at least the first draft. I’m working on rewrites now. It took me a bit to get back into this universe, given how……out there it is, but once I got in my groove, it was like coming home.
As hinted at in the last book, A Wish Upon the Stars, Justin’s book (still untitled for now) is about a pact made between kingdoms regarding the firstborn sons of Verania and another country called Yennbridge. Justin—unbeknownst to him—has been promised to the future King of Yennbridge. As you might suspect, this news isn’t greeted with open arms. His love interest—a delightful himbo named Dylan—is going to do everything in his power to win Justin over, much to the Prince’s dismay.
The previous four books were big adventures that crossed a large portion of the country of Verania. I wanted to switch it up a bit here, so the entirety of Justin’s story takes place in the City of Lockes and covers the aftermath of the final battle against the Dark Wizard Myrin. In addition to the love story between Justin and Dylan, the book is also about Justin’s relationship with his future wizard, the man now known as Sam of Dragons. Sam made great sacrifices to do what he did, and I wanted to explore what kind of fallout there’d be if someone like Sam were filled with so much magic, it practically leaked from his pores. It’s epic, funny, sad, and above all else, unexpected.
Also, this might not be the only Verania book people get in the near future. Stay tuned!
5) “Green Creek Series” was your unusual take on paranormal romances. How did you discover Ox, Gordon Livingstone, and Robbie Fontaine? What made you bring them to life and portray their love stories?
Many readers of the series probably know that Wolfsong wasn’t supposed to be about anything supernatural, much less about werewolves. When I sat down to write, I wanted to tell a story about two boys growing up together, and the pain and angst of adolescence. But when I was writing the first couple of chapters, I randomly had the thought: Okay, but what if they were werewolves? It was ridiculous, this thought, but one I couldn’t shake. The more I got into the story, the more I realized that I could make it work if only I could get over myself and the idea of werewolves.
I’m glad I did because the series turned into something so much bigger than I could’ve predicted. Wolfsong was just the beginning, and once I finished that first book, I knew it would be a four-book series. I had so many stories I wanted to tell in this universe, and I’m grateful readers love this pack as much as I do, giving me the opportunity to continue the story across multiple books and a great many characters. No matter what I write in the future, I know the wolves will always be one of the first things readers ask me about, and I love that. To know people care about these fictional people as if they were real is something I never expected, but I am eternally grateful.
6) Brothersong releasing on October 13th, 2020, is clearly one of the most anticipated books this year. What kind of twists and turns should the fans expect in this novel?
Brothersong is the final book. It should have come out already. In fact, it was supposed to be out in December 2019, but…well. Life got in the way, and the original publisher of the series chose to walk down a path I was no longer comfortable in following. It sucked, but I am still trying to make the most of it.
Brothersong is the culmination of years of work. I put everything I had into this ending, knowing that I needed to give Carter and Gavin and the rest of the pack the finale they so deserve. I’ve put this family of mine through the wringer and wanted to give them the happy ending they’ve fought for so long. The book is my love letter to the fandom around the books, and I’m so excited for everyone to see how it all ends.
And because I’m me, a little teaser: Gavin’s history with the Bennett Pack goes back further than the pack knows. Thomas Bennett—the wonderful, complicated patriarch of the pack—had secrets that not even his wife or sons knew about.
7) Your first novel from publisher Tor releases on March 17th and is titled The House in the Cerulean Sea. While reading the book, I often wondered why you created the character of Lucy-Anti-Christ.
I wanted to create an “extreme,” a child who could create fear above all others, while still being a child. The Antichrist is a dark thing in our culture, something to be terrified of. With Lucy, I wanted to flip the idea of the “Antichrist” on its head, and have a child that—while capable of a great many scary things—was still a child, with childlike dreams and wishes. He is, perhaps, the most dangerous resident on Marsyas Island, and I am fascinated by the idea of nature versus nurture. I wanted to tackle the question of if a boy like Lucy is raised in a loving home where he is cared for and is allowed to grow, what kind of person would he become? Would nature or nurture win over?
8) “In the House of Cerulean Sea,” you built this alternate universe on the Marsyas Island, where the six children and the main lead MC Linus found a new home and family. Why is “Found Family” such a prudent concept in most of your books?
It stems from the queer experience. My family is mostly made up of people who aren’t related to me. Queer people sometimes find themselves in friend/family groups with people who aren’t relatives because their blood families can’t accept them for who they are. We choose to surround ourselves with people who love us for who we are instead of being angry at who we aren’t. ‘Found families’ is probably my favorite trope to write about because I love the idea of people coming together and proving that blood isn’t everything.
9) The Extraordinaries is your debut YA novel, about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes he loves. How does a fanfiction reader turn into an extraordinary personality?
Fanfiction gets a bad rap, and unfairly so. Some people seem to think it’s all bad writing by kids who don’t know what they’re talking about. Is there bad fanfiction? Yes, but then there are bad books published by traditional publishers as well. What most detractors of fanfiction don’t seem to get is that fics can be a place where burgeoning writers get the tools to hone their voices. Besides, fandom and fanfic can be a safe space for queer writers who don’t always get to see themselves written into canon. Instead of taking the scraps they’re offered, they shape the fictional universe into something they can recognize. This process is so, so important.
In researching fandom and fanfiction for The Extraordinaries, I read some fics that had such wonderful writing, it sent shivers down my spine. Good writing makes me smile. Fantastic writing gives me goosebumps, and I read many fics that stunned me with how lovely they were.
Also, where the hell else can you find people writing 100K (or longer!) word epics and giving them away for free? Most of the people writing fics do so out of the sheer love of their fandom and writing. We need to celebrate these writers instead of denigrating them. You never know if the next great author got their start in fandom, cutting their teeth on a ship they love.
10) Being queer yourself, you have always advocated the need to have accurate queer representation in stories. What is your opinion about the current status of LGBTQ representation in books?
I’m of the mind that anyone can write whatever they want. But if they step outside their lane to do so, then they need to make sure they are doing so with the utmost care. It can be disheartening to see someone write badly about the queer experience when they themselves aren’t queer. Again, anyone can write the stories they want to, but I would hope they respect the people they write about enough to talk to groups of people who live the lives the authors are trying to put down into fiction.
YA is at the forefront of diversity—in queer stories, stories about characters of color, and other experiences outside of our own little bubbles. And that’s a good thing because younger readers deserve to see people like them in fiction. I wish that which is considered adult fiction were as progressive, but it hasn’t quite gotten there yet. Ownvoices (refers to an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective) stories matter, now more than ever.
11) What do you want to share about your upcoming novel, The Tremendous Death of Wallace Price?
The Tremendous Death of Wallace Price has since been renamed Under the Whispering Door. It’s an exploration of grief through comedy, which can be a tricky line to walk. I’ve already written about grief before, in the much darker Into This River I Drown. That was an ode to my father, who passed when I was young. With Whispering Door, I wanted to explore a different facet of grief. Instead of grieving for someone lost, Whispering Door poses the question of if you can grieve for yourself after you die? This book follows Wallace, who isn’t the best person before he dies. In fact, he’s a jerk. But it’s after his death that he begins to realize the value of life, and want it means to be a good person. He’s a ghost in a teashop, owned by a man named Hugo, who also acts as a ferryman for people moving from this life to the next. The book itself is meant to mirror therapy sessions, with Hugo acting as the therapist and Wallace, his patient. But once Wallace begins to understand the point of living, he also finds himself falling for Hugo. But Wallace is dead. Hugo is not. How can two people fall in love with each other when they can’t even touch?
And with that, I’m just getting started. I have multiple other projects in the works, some of which are fully written that I can’t wait to reveal further down the road!
Psychomilk would like to thank TJ for sitting down with us today.