In this bonus episode from GayRomLit 2018 in Portsmouth, Virginia, Jeff talks with TJ Klune about The Bones Beneath My Skin (which releases October 26). TJ also gives details on the new Lovesong podcast and some other Green Creek goings on. In addition to the interview, this episode features the readings Kirt Graves did earlier in the day with an excerpt from Ravensong as well as a sneak peek at next year’s Heartsong.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode:

Interview Transcript – TJ Klune

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Jeff: For today’s GRL Bonus episode, I’m happy to welcome back TJ Klune to the podcast.

TJ: Hello.

Jeff: Thanks for joining us.

TJ: Thank you for having me.

Jeff: You’ve just unleashed a whole bunch of awesome for people who are downstairs. We got to hear Kirt Graves do a little “Ravensong” for the first time.

TJ: Correct.

Jeff: A little bit of “Heartsong” for the first time.

TJ: “Heartsong.” The next book that comes out next September in the Green Creek series.

Jeff: Which, as you said, is the first time anybody has heard that really, as like, the Klunatic group.

TJ: Right. Well not even the Klunatic group has gotten to hear that yet. This book is actually kept under wraps by my request. So, only a couple of people have actually read it in Dreamspinner too. So, it’s actually very, very hush, hush and secretive. So, that was, yeah, the first time anybody has actually heard anything about “Heartsong.” So, it was a little nerve-racking because I’m very protective of this book. And not just for the content of it, but because of the characters in it, too.

Jeff: Before we get to the real…the reason for this, why so protective of those characters?

TJ: Because I’ve put them through so much shit in “Wolfsong” and in “Ravensong” and then “Lovesong,” the short story follow up. I mean, I’ve hurt this family repeatedly, over and over again and it’s not gonna get any easier. It’s gonna get worse. It’s gonna get a little harder. So, we’ll have to hope that there’s a happy ending at the very, very end which I promise there will be.

Jeff: There will be. I have every faith. Now what we’re really here to talk about is the nice thing you’re holding in your hand, which is The Bones Beneath My Skin coming out October 26th.

TJ: Yep, next Friday.

Jeff: Next Friday. I’ve read the book. I’ve mentioned on the podcast once already that it’s awesome, go preorder it, and I’ll be reviewing it the week of the 29th. But, tell people in your non-spoiler way that you have what this books about.

TJ: This book was me wanting to write… It started out as something completely different. It started out as me wanting to emulate some of my favorite stories that I read as a kid in the ’80s, movies, Goonies, you have “Firestarter,” you have “It,” and “Stand By Me” which is one of my absolute favorite movies. I wanted to write about a group of kids that came together to face something extraordinary. And then as I was writing with this idea in the summer of 2016, “Stranger Things” came out on Netflix and it was already what I planned. They did it better, so I kind of shoved it to the side. And I kept wanting to come back to it, though, because the girl who was going to be the focal point, one of the three main characters of the book, she kept talking, she kept saying, you know, “This is what I want the story to be about.” I tend to listen to when I hear these kinds of characters. So, I went back to it because I knew I had a good story there. I knew I had the bones of a good story. So, I went and studied a decade later. It was supposed to be originally set in the ’80s, but then I moved it to the ’90s. If you think about it, if you look back on how the 80s were, we think back on the ’80s with this weird nostalgia that I don’t know that it necessarily deserves. But, then, when you think about the ’90s, the ’90s were fucking weird for everybody. The ’90s, they were just… It was a crazy time. Like, I don’t know that people look back on the ’90s with any kind of real fondness because it was just such a strange time for everyone. And, so, I figured out that that’s where I wanted to set the book because I started researching events that occurred in the ’90s and once I started formulating the story more, getting away from my original idea, started formulating it more, I decided I wanted to write a ’90s action movie, so that’s what I went and did.

Jeff: And those action sequences at times made me so freaking tense.

TJ: And those were a bitch to write, too. I mean, I can write funny. I can write dialogue. I can write rip-your-heart-out inks, but action is hard to write. It is actually, you know, a lot more difficult than I expected it to be. I’ve written big action set pieces before, but this book is basically once it gets going, one continual action scene after another and it doesn’t really let up until the very big, explosive climax. And it’s meant to be that way. I often think of this book, when I think about it, I think it as my weird ’90s action movie, queer romance book, but I also think of it as a theme park ride because it’s essentially, you know, you start reading this book and it’s just a roller coaster.

Jeff: You can see it as one of those motion things through the 3D screen.

TJ: Right, right, right, exactly, exactly.

Jeff: And you talk about the action. You’ve written action, obviously, and the Verania books have action and the Green Creek books have action. This is very different action.

TJ: It is, it is. Because I went to it… I actually studied… It’s, kind of, funny thinking, even though it’s not necessarily a ’90s action movie itself because it just came out recently, but the “John Wick” movies with Keanu Reeves, those are hardcore action movies. And I watched those over and over and over again because I wanted to get the same kind of feel that those movies have. Those movies are very kinetic. Those movies, the plot is very small and minimal, and it goes from basically one action set piece to another. And I, kind of, wanted to go that direction while still including an overarching plot of redemption, of family, of faith and believing in the impossible. But, yeah, John Wicks, those movies I took a big look at those and how I wanted to actually write the action scenes. So, a lot of credit can go to that, too.

Jeff: I would have never thought of a Keanu Reeves movie, but…

TJ: Right, I know, right. I mean, it has nothing to do with anything like that. Just the way that the action moves, I find it enthralling. It’s just absolutely kinetic and that’s what I wanted for this book. I wanted this book to once you finished one scene right before the next one picks up, I want you to have to, like, set the book down for a second and take a deep breath and unclench your toes and then move onto the next.

Jeff: But even with that, it’s like, oh but what’s going to happen now?

TJ: Yeah. Right, right.

Jeff: Because those moments, too, oh don’t do that. No, no, no.

TJ: Yeah. See those are my favorite kinds of books though. I mean, you read, you know, books that you just have to read the next page no matter what time it is. Those are my favorite kind of books to read, because, you know, it shows that the author has taken care with their words and that’s what I did with this book. I knew right soon after I finished it that I was gonna be self-publishing it. So, I wanted to make sure that when I first decided to self-publish that it was going to be a story that could stand on its own. I didn’t want to do a launch for a series. So, when I decided to use this story as my first self-publish, I knew it was going to be, kind of, a weird fit because it is different than what people normally see for me. But, I think that this still has the bones of a TJ Klune book in it just amped up to an 11.

Jeff: But, to me at least, you reinvent yourself often. Green Creek is different than Verania is, different than Normal Person, is different than “Bear, Otter, and the Kid,” so this just, kind of, connects to that in the same way.

TJ: Yeah, it is. And it’s basically because I…I mean God love the authors that can write the same subgenre over and over and over and over again. I would just lose my mind. I would be so bored. And I think that would show in my writing, too. If I get bored the reader is going to know I’m bored with the story and that’s not going to do any of us any good. So, the reason I jump around so much is because I want to tell as many types of stories as I can while still having it be a TJ Klune book, whatever, you know, that may be to certain people. But, yeah, I like being able to try different things, because stuff like this, it allows me to stretch my writing capabilities to try something new. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. I mean, authors know that when you write a story you can tell when it’s not working and it sucks, but you, kind of, either have to gut it or set it aside and come back to it. But this story, as soon as I actually sat down to write it, it took me 5 weeks to write 120,000-some odd words, 5 weeks. And I was writing, like, 5, 6, 7, 8 hour days, 7 days a week. By the time I finished with it I was super proud of the story that I was able to tell.

Jeff: What was the plotting process like? Because there’s a lot of detail here, but then also, you as the author, at least for this book you have to know a lot of backstory, too, to make it all work.

TJ: Right. And the outline for this book rivaled the outline for say the Verania series.

Jeff: The series.

TJ: Yeah, the four books. Because, “The Bones Beneath My Skin” has a lot of moving parts, a lot of moving parts. Many things are happening. Like you said, though, there’s these little details that something may not make sense say on page 4 but will pay off on page 200. And I had a lot of ideas, some of them good, some of them bad, but my outline for this, for “The Bones Beneath My Skin,” was, I think, 20,000 words itself. And that was an outline I wrote even before I started actually writing any part of the book. And the outline was very scene specific. And while it had the overarching themes that I would want running through the book, there were certain specific scenes that I detailed. Because writing a good action scene is like writing a good sex scene. You have to know where certain body parts are. You have to know where certain limbs are. You can’t just all of a sudden be doing one thing when you were just doing something, like, two seconds ago. So, I had to make sure that everything was immaculately plotted so I could pull it all together. Because if it doesn’t pull together, then it all just falls apart, and the pay off won’t be worth it. It’ll just be like I don’t know what the hell happened, and I don’t want people to have that. I want them to know, oh my God this just happened.

Jeff: Do you get ideas like Bones and you’re like, “Can I write that?”

TJ: Yes, specifically Bones. I mean, because, when I had to move away from the “Stranger Things” idea, I thought about, you know, moving it to the ’90s and the weird time it was for everybody. And plus, you have to… You know, 2018 is not 1995 when the book was set, you know. It’s the time of don’t ask, don’t tell. It’s the time of we’re still dealing with the AIDS crisis as it was. And it is a very different time for me because I grew up knowing I was queer, coming out queer in the ’90s and it wasn’t a good time for me. So, having to go back to that time was a little rough at first. But, I knew that I wanted to tell this story and thankfully I found the voice to be able to do it. It’s not all just action, not all stuff blowing up. There’s so really big themes in the book, which is something that they’ll see in a lot of my books about found family and doing what you can to protect those who can’t protect themselves, and that’s important to me no matter what I’m writing to show a group of people that may not be related by blood can come together and find each other and be together and fuck all there is.

Jeff: How did you come up with the name for your lead character, the little girl?

TJ: Artemis Darth Vader?

Jeff: Yeah.

TJ: Everybody, most likely, who follows me for a long time knows that I will love Star Wars to the end of the earth. I love Star Wars, everything about it. Even the horrid prequel trilogy. I can sit down and enjoy it.

Jeff: Wow, we have to talk later about Star Wars.

TJ: But, Star Wars is just one of my biggest touchstones of my youth. I knew going into it when I first started writing… When I first started writing her name was always Artemis because of the deity. Her last name was something different entirely. Then I started writing, I was like, “Oh crap, wait a minute. What if her name was Darth Vader?” For reasons that will be explained, obviously. But it just came out of nowhere that that was going to be her name.

Jeff: With the out of nowhere, because, you know, we’re not telling you what that is, podcast folks, would it have worked if her name wasn’t Darth Vader from the original?

TJ: Yeah, but it wouldn’t have worked as well. I think that having it be as it is now, it’s… I like the story it became versus the story it was initially going to be. I think it’s a better story that what I…because I think that I had tried to go the whole emulation of my favorites from the ’80s it would have been too much like cribbing from what was already there. So, I wanted to mine something different, try to find new ground, and I think that the story what it became is better than the story it ever would have been had I stuck with my original idea. Which is something that is surprising because you never really expect that as an author. You think, oh, I have this great idea and it’s going to be the best thing I can write, but looking back on it now in hindsight, I know that the book that Bones became is the best book it was going to be.

Jeff: I like that.

TJ: Thank you.

Jeff: Boom. Star Wars as a touchstone, is there a space fantasy story that lurks in this [crosstalk 00:14:55.047] writing somewhere?

TJ: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I have an idea for a big space opera that I want to write, but that’s gonna be…

Jeff: Later.

TJ: …years down the road. Yeah…

Jeff: Your little book in the near future.

TJ: My plate is full right now, but yes, I do have a space opera fantasy thing that I want to do someday that’s going to be, of course, a queer romance, so look for that in 2037, I don’t know.

Jeff: You heard it here first, in 2037. First self-publish for Bones.

TJ: Yes.

Jeff: Would you do it again?

TJ: Yes, oh man. Like, okay, let me put it this way first. I’ve had a great team of people backing me up, helping me do this, put this together, through my editors, through the beta readers, through everybody that has formatted and worked to put this together for me because I had no idea how to do any of this stuff. But, it has been so enlightening for me to see how it works like this. Because typically with the backing of a publisher they’re just…you know, they send me it when I need to work on it. But, no, with the self-publishing you do the art. You have to hire your own artist. You have to hire the editors. You have to hire people putting the format together. You have to learn how to upload everything because I had no idea how to do any of that stuff. So, when I finished writing a book last year, I took two weeks off and spent my days learning everything there was to learn about self-publishing and what I needed to do. And, the only downside of it is that I wish I had done it sooner on certain parts. But, yeah. I will be definitely doing it again in the future, most likely in the end of 2020 because I have 2 big, huge books coming out the first month of 2020 and then summer of 2020. And, I’ll be doing, most likely, a self-publish in 2020 the fall.

Jeff: Three books in 2020?

TJ: Yeah. Because they’re gonna be the two big Tor books and the adult book comes out in the first few months and then my big YA book comes out that summer. They’re launching it summer of 2020 and so, it will, kind of, leave my backend a little empty, so I want to make sure that I have something to put there. Oh, that sounded sexual. Holy crap.

Jeff: It really did. I wasn’t going to say anything.

TJ: Homosexual writers, all right. But, yeah, so it’s gonna be something I will definitely do again because I feel more in control of…. I mean, granted… Don’t get me wrong. I want to make sure everybody’s clear, Dreamspinner’s been awesome, they’ve been great, and they’ve probably given me more allowances than they typically do with other other authors because I’m, kind of, a control freak when it comes to certain things. But, I’ve been just stunned by the process of self-publishing and I wish I had thought of trying to do something like that sooner.

Jeff: If nothing else, because there is as you mentioned that team, it does let you put it out when you want to put it out as opposed to, like, working into somebody else’s schedule.

TJ: Right, exactly. I mean, this book was written, I mean, beginning of… I mean, in indie world you write a book, chances are it’s probably going to be out in the next six months. And even Dreamspinner now is pushing it back to a year between when they get the book to when they actually publish it. But this book was finished beginning of 2017 and it’s coming out at the end of 2018 which is more in line of traditional publishing, I’m learning that now, with Macmillan and Tor that they’re planning me through 2023, so it is, it’s being able to set my own schedule, my own pricing. All of that kind of stuff has just been eye-opening and I’m ready to do it again.

Jeff: Cool. And, Bones is going to audio.

TJ: Yes, Bones is going to audio. It’s actually done from what I heard. Greg Tremblay is doing the audio for it. He’s doing a reading on Saturday from it at the audio panel and that will come out in December. I have three audio books coming out in the next three months. So, yeah, we have Wish from Michael Lesley, “A Wish Upon a Star,” “Ravensong” from Kirt and then Bones Beneath My Skin on top of the Lovesong podcast that we just announced.

Jeff: Let’s talk about that. Beyond Kirt giving us those two readings, Kirt’s been a busy boy generating a podcast as well.

TJ: He did. We announced Lovesong: The Podcast. It’s a six-episode podcast. All the details are up on my website for where you can download it. But, I released a short-story following “Ravensong” called Lovesong for Elizabeth and he came to me wanting to record it and I said, “Sure, that sounds fine to me.” Then he was like, “But what if we did something more with it?” I said, “Okay. How much work do I have to do?” He was like, “No, I’ll do it. I’ll do it.” I was like, “Okay, that’s cool. Do all you want. I don’t care.” But then he got Derrick McClain together. He got Michael Lesley, Greg Tremblay, and myself, and he did each separate interviews. So, it’ll be six episodes total. The first two are the actual “Lovesong” story and then the last four episodes are the interviews that he did with us. And that launches today for free so you can download it. If you have a podcast app, you can download it by searching for “Lovesong” or TJ Klune or Kirt Graves or you can find it on my website and download it from there. But, yeah, that’s another big project that we just announced today for the first time.

Jeff: We’ll have all that in our show notes as well, so people can link up to all that, too. We’ve talked about 2020 a little bit. What’s next for you either towards the end of this year or 2019 for folks?

TJ: I have… Buy this, please.

Jeff: Buy that. It’s really good.

TJ: It comes out next Friday the 26th and then I’m done for the year. I’ll be taking a 4-month break before I launch the first of 4 books in 2019. I have the sequel to “How to Be a Normal Person.” That comes out February 12th and that is “How to Be a Movie Star.” Next summer is the last book in the At First Sight series and it’s called “Why We Fight.” And it’s my bigender, biracial hero, Corey/Kori that people have been wanting for years and that finally comes out. Next September is “Heartsong,” the third book in the Green Creek series. And then next December is a book I can’t talk about that will come out and it will be a surprise. And you will learn more about that next year, probably much, much closer to the release date. And I’m not going to even be talking about it as I’m leading up to the release. It’s gonna be a big surprise for people.

Jeff: The big TJ Klune secret project.

TJ: Yes, it is. It’s my big secret project. I’ve been working on it for the last two months and I’m about done with it. And it’ll be launching December and then that’ll be my last big hurrah before I sell out and go to Tor.

Jeff: It’s so not a sellout.

TJ: I know. It’s gonna be fun.

Jeff: It’s the next phase.

TJ: Right, the next phase. It’s gonna be the next step for me and it’s been building to this and I’m so grateful that people have allowed me to get to this moment.

Jeff: How do people keep up with everything? What’s the website?

TJ: I’m on Twitter, @tjklune. Facebook, the Klunatic Facebook group. Everybody should go on that. That’s where you get to read and hear stuff first. And, on Instagram and all that fun stuff, too. But, yeah, is the best place to keep up with all that’s going on.

Jeff: All right. TJ thank you so much for hanging out.

TJ: Thank you for having me. Thank you for having me.

Jeff: Stay tuned for a little bit more, because right after we fade out from here we’re going to have Kirt’s reading from both “Ravensong” and from “Lovesong” or “Heartsong,” rather.

TJ: “Heartsong.”

Jeff: “Heartsong.” I keep getting those confused, so sorry. So, stay tuned for those and they’ll be right after this.