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Interview With an Author: TJ Klune

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author TJ Kline and his book, The Extraordinaries
Author TJ Kline and his book, The Extraordinaries

TJ Klune is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include, Into this River I Drown and The House in the Cerulean Sea. His latest novel is The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories. He recently agreed to talk about The Extraordinaries with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for The Extraordinaries?

I love comic books, comic movies, games, the whole nine yards. When I was younger, I had an extensive comic book collection, some of which I still have (safely wrapped in plastic). I’ve always had a soft spot for the sidekicks, the characters in stories that didn’t have superpowers but still wanted to help as best they could. And even more than that, I loved when they were a bit clueless as to what was really going on around them.

But going deeper, I wanted to see someone like me—with ADHD—smack dab in the middle of it all: a queer kid who also happens to be neurodiverse. In this case, Nick Bell, the sixteen-year-old narrator of The Extraordinaries, also has ADHD. I wanted to give people like us (overly talkative and a brain that doesn’t know how to slow down) a voice, to allow other people who’re neurodiverse to be able to point to Nick and say, “He’s like me.” For too long when I was growing up, I saw ADHD as a negative, something that like being queer, made me different than most everyone else. It’s not a negative. In a way, it’s my own personal superpower. The Extraordinaries is a celebration of our differences that make us unique as individuals. The last letter in ADHD means disorder. We’re not disordered. We just have a little extra.

Are Nick, Seth, Gibby, Jazz, Owen or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Aside from Nick taking some of my traits, the others are a product of my imagination, along with a healthy dose of comic-book logic and sensibility. The world of The Extraordinaries is grounded, even if there are people who can do things like create fire or manipulate shadows. Even though the characters face the fantastic, it was important to me that they seem like they could exist in the here and now. Relatability is important in crafting characters, because if one can’t relate, at least partially to the characters, then it could potentially create a gulf between the reader and the book. Jazz and Gibby, Seth and Nick, and Owen (in all his glory), all needed to seem real, even if they’re nothing but fiction.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

Though Nick’s romantic entanglements are a big focus of the book, it’s a secondary relationship between Nick and his father that came out more through rewrites. I’m thankful it did so, because they love each other fiercely, even if they don’t always understand each other. I might even go as far as to say that theirs is the most important relationship in the book, at least out of the non-romantic ones.

And there were quite a few other things I held back on, mostly related to the superheroes. Thankfully, especially during edits, I knew I had a safety net, seeing as how The Extraordinaries was the start of a trilogy. Anything that I couldn’t quite fit in, I kept considering for the second book, which I’ve already written. Even then, though, some stuff still didn’t fit, so I’ve kept it separate to see if it’ll make its way into the third and final novel.

Are you a DC or Marvel fan (or some other publisher)? Do you have a favorite comic book character?

I really don’t discriminate when it comes to comics. I know there’s the weird DC vs. Marvel thing that some fanboys have, but I’m always of the mind that the more, the merrier. I’ll read it all, so long as the story and artwork do something interesting. The movies, on the other hand, are another story entirely. To me, Marvel has done something amazing with the MCU. I don’t think DC is quite there yet. Their last few films (especially Justice League or anything having to do with Superman) haven’t been my favorites. That being said, Wonder Woman was an amazing film, and I’m stoked for the sequel.

The less said about Aquaman, the better.

Ever since I was a kid, my favorite has always been Wolverine of the X-Men. He was a badass, didn’t take crap from anyone, and had adamantium claws that shot from his hands. That did—and still does—put him far beyond any other superhero. He was my favorite part of the movies, and there will never be another Wolverine for me aside from Hugh Jackman. The final film, Logan, is my favorite comic book movie outside of the last two Avengers movies.

If you could be an Extraordinary, what would your superpower be?

Weirdly, probably the power of flight. Who wouldn’t want that? It’s weird, though, seeing as how I’m terrified of heights. So I probably wouldn’t fly, exactly, so much as I would hover. Hover Man, here to reach things off the top shelf in the safety of the indoors.

The Extraordinaries ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, which is a convention of comic books and comic-inspired literature/media. Do you have plans to write a sequel/series to follow this book?

I do! In fact, I already did. As I mentioned previously, I’ve already written the second book. It was such a blast returning to these characters after some time away, to try and find out what they’d been up to. While I won’t spoil anything, I will say in the grand tradition of comic book sequels, the stakes are bigger, the action more intense, and everything Nick thought he knew is going to change…

What’s currently on your nightstand?

A weird lamp with an Edison bulb, a stack of books that I promise I’ll get through, Erik Larson and Diana Wynne Jones, and Neil Gaiman, lip balm, a cup of water that I really need to dump out, and a copy of Game Informer.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Because I’m a masochist, Where the Red Fern Grows. I’ve read that book more times than I can count, and make a point to reread it at least once a year. And no matter how much I prepare myself, I’m always sobbing by the end. The book has a timeless quality to it, and I always seem to discover something new when I read it, even though it destroys me.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Anything by Stephen King. I loved him. Still do, in fact, and have read his entire catalog repeatedly. However, my parents were of the mind that a ten-year-old shouldn’t be reading It or The Dead Zone, so I had to hide those under my bed.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Stephen King
Wilson Rawls
Patricia Nell Warren
Robert McCammon
Terry Pratchett

What is a book you've faked reading?

Oof. That’s a tough one. The first that comes to mind is Wuthering Heights. We had to read it for tenth grade English, and I hated it, so much so that I barely made it a couple of chapters before deciding to go the "Cliff’s Notes" route. To this day, I’ve never gone back to the book. Heathcliff can suck it.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. The cover is simple and yet somehow, manages to speak volumes. The story itself is wonderful, but those who’ve read it know about Jasper, and that’s all I’ll say.

Is there a book that changed your life?

The Stand, specifically the uncut edition. The sheer scope of that novel is mind-boggling with dozens of characters, most of whom are convinced they’re doing the right thing. The book is a brick, but I’d never before experienced something so big, and not just in terms of the story. Though it loses a bit of steam by the end, the journey to get there was one I’ve taken at least a dozen times since I first read it. Unfortunately, current events are hitting a little too close to home for me to want to reread it now, but there’s a bitter truth to the idea of Captain Trips. Only now, it’s called COVID-19.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

David Grann’s The Lost City of Z. It’s non-fiction, and deals with two timelines: one follows Commander Percy Fawcett, a doomed explorer. The other is Mr. Grann’s journey to find out what happened to Fawcett in his search for a mythical city of gold. It’s a breathtaking work, and the descriptions of Mr. Grann’s descent into the jungles and what he finds there still raise the hairs on the back of my necks. Two words: skin worms.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

The Adventurer’s Son by Roman Dial. It’s a non-fiction book about the author’s search for his son, who disappeared in the rainforests of Costa Rica. I loved this book to pieces, and tell everyone who reads it to go into it blind, without looking up anything about the author or the son. It’s a beautiful, tragic story about the love between father and son, and the lengths we go to in order to find the truth.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

Honestly? It’s taken me a long time to take care of myself: physically, and my mental health. Some years ago, I lost someone very close to me, and for a while after, I was in a destructive and toxic place. Fortunately, I was able to turn myself around and get back on the right path.

And through that, I’ve learned to live as best I can. I’m fortunate in that I get to write fulltime now, something not many authors get to say. My perfect day is sitting down at my desk and the words coming easy, my mind sharp. It doesn’t always happen; I still have days when things are hard, but I don’t take things for granted anymore. I try and make each day count because that’s how I’ve decided is the best way for me to live.

What is the question that you're always hoping you'll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

I get the usual questions: Where do your ideas come from? How do you write? What’s your writing process like? But the one I don’t hear much is: why do you write?

Writing, in its own way, is sort of like some of the medication I take: it helps me to focus, it helps me to put my thoughts in order to form a coherent narrative. I write because I’m so full of ideas, I sometimes think I might burst. Even though this is my full-time job, I still have days when I don’t feel like I’ll have enough time to get all the stories down I want to tell. I’m happiest when I’m writing because my focus is narrowed onto one specific thing, and I can go hours without realizing it.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m in the middle of edits for a book I have out with Tor next year. It’s a comedy about grief (yes, I know how that sounds) involving ghosts in a tea shop in the middle of the woods. It’s funny, it’s sad, and it’s helped me to process my own feelings on death and grieving. Also, there’s a ghost dog named Apollo, which automatically makes the story rad.

Book cover for The Extraordinaries
The Extraordinaries
Klune, TJ