Support Big Gay Fiction Podcast on PatreonTo celebrate the upcoming fifth anniversary of the podcast, we have the third Listener Favorite episode. This time the spotlight is on the guest who has appeared on the show more than anyone else, TJ Klune. With the release of Brothersong, the Green Creek series concludes and we look back at our previous discussions about that series. You’ll also hear from Kirt Graves, the narrator of the Green Creek audiobooks. Plus, TJ offers a sneak peek into 2021 and beyond in a newly recorded interview.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Interview Transcript – TJ Klune & Kirt Graves

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Interview from Episode 147
Jeff: Now, for those who are unfamiliar, and we don’t know who you are, but I’m sure there are some, kind of lay out what “Wolfsong” and the starting of the whole “Green Creek” series was.

TJ: “Wolfsong” was a coming of age for the narrator Ox Mathison. And he grew up in a tiny little town in Oregon called Green Creek. And he was not understood even beginning as a child. He thought a different way. He saw things differently. And, unfortunately, people around him took him to be one way when he was something completely different. I don’t like to use the term or the word slow. I don’t like how that’s coded. But he just had a different way of thinking, and I loved being able to write and see the world through his eyes, going from thinking that the world was one way and then having this family move next door that showed it to be something completely different. And people that read my books know that a big common thread through them is the idea of like found family and people that are your friends or your loved ones that aren’t necessarily related by blood. And I do that theme a lot in different ways in different books. But I think “Wolfsong” is one that probably exemplifies that the most, just because of the idea of wolves in a pack and what that would mean to humans and wolves and witches and all these different characters coming together that aren’t necessarily related but depend upon one another and need each other to survive. And then a whole bunch of other shit happens in the book.

Jeff: A whole bunch.

TJ: A whole bunch of shit.

Jeff: Because “Wolfsong,” I was trying to think about this today because it’s been a while, but, I mean, that book takes place over years if not, maybe decades.

TJ: A decade I think because it starts when Ox is like, what, 11 or 12?

Kirt: I think 11.

TJ: Okay. And it ends when he’s in his early 20s, mid-20s. But I knew that when I was writing that book, it was going to be kind of like a generational type of story with characters from different generations. You have the kids, and you have the older people in the pack and whatnot. And I just like the interplay between them and the dynamic that they have with everything that they bring to the table young versus old. And this is why I’m enjoying moving on to “Ravensong” because I’m writing about characters once again that are my age, and I get them a little bit easier than I could say the characters in “Wolfsong.”

Jeff: What can you tell us about “Ravensong” and what readers can expect on this trip to Green Creek?

TJ: I want to be like when people talk about sequels in their movies, it’s all like bigger and it’s better and it’s darker and shit blows up, but that’s kind of true. So, I’m going to be a cliche is that it is bigger and more hardcore and darker and shit blows up this time around too, which is fun. But it is a book that I wanted to write more than “Wolfsong,” I think. Like when I was writing “Wolfsong” and I got this idea of continuing it, I really wanted to get to “Ravensong” for Mark and Gordo. And what made that suck though is by the time I did get to it and started writing, this book kicked my ass to write. It is one of the if not the hardest books I’ve ever had to write only because I kept screwing up.

Every time I got further and further into the story, I was trying to make it something that it wasn’t, i.e., it was trying to be too much like “Wolfsong,” which can never work, given how there’s two different narrators and they’re so completely different. And it pained me to get like 60,000, 70,000 words in realizing that this thing is a hard thing. So, then I had to go back and basically cut everything. I kept the basic structure of the story, but I cut probably 50,000, 60,000 words, and basically had to start over from the beginning. So, this book is a labor of love, and it was a hard delivery. So, I gave it my all for this one, and I can’t wait for people to read it. I think it takes all the themes of “Wolfsong” and just amplifies them just as loud as it can possibly be. I’m excited about it.

Jeff: What’s our timeline in “Ravensong?” Is it after? Is it significantly after?

T.J:: It’s before, during, and after.

Jeff: Oh, wow. Okay.

TJ: Yeah. I think I could talk about this. The first six chapters, first six or so chapters alternate between Gordo’s and Mark as kids and the missing three years,1 month and 26 days where Gordo and Carter and Kelly and Joe were going after the big bad Richard Collins. When I was writing “Wolfsong” I was so curious about what happened to them while they were gone because we don’t really know. We don’t know really anything aside from the one little part where you have the hunter David King coming back to Green Creek and telling Ox those two words, “Not yet,” that Joe sent to him. And I always wondered, how did it get to that point? How did it get that far? What were they doing that entire time that they were gone and how would that play upon…?

Because once they returned, everything happened so quickly towards the end of the book. And basically, they came back, and then wham, bam, bam, bam, everything blew up and all that kind of crap. But I was so curious about how Gordo would relate to these kids, essentially that he has to watch over, and especially a 17-year-old kid that just turned into an alpha. So, I was really curious about what it would be like for him as an asshole adult to turn around and have to be in charge of three teenagers and what they did and how their trip was like. And it was, so the first six chapters I think jump between the ’80s and 2013 when that all happened. And then the rest of the book covers only a period of two weeks. And it’s set a year after “Wolfsong.”

So, the opening chapters were meant to give you a sense of who Gordo was but also to make you feel like you have whiplash because you’re jumping from the past to a closer past. You know, in my head, it’s this neat literary little trick to do to show you that the kid that he was and the man he’s become, and this weird…the dissonance between both of them because the kid you’ll see, he starts out being almost like Ox, bright-eyed and all this shit is really super cool.

But as you know, as an adult, he hates everybody, hates everything, especially the Bennetts. And I wanted to figure out why he did, and the answer sucks. I’m an asshole, whatever, in this book, man. And I don’t regret it. Obviously, I don’t regret it at all. I’m a dick when it comes to what happened to him. And that’s all I’ll say.

Kirt: I think the depth of the history though, is so important. I guess as somebody who just enjoyed reading “Wolfsong” and then getting to read “Ravensong,” it was just really enjoyable to understand Gordo more. And it is a really neat literary trick to have the whiplash of jumping back and forth. But as a narrator, I was also reading that and thinking, “God damn you, TJ Klune.”

TJ: Yeah. It’s kind of hard right?

Kirt: All those people also have to be kids? God damn you, TJ Klune.

Jeff: But you kind of faced that in “Wolfsong” too because when we first meet, I mean, Joe grows so much in “Wolfsong” that you had that same, he’s a kid, he’s an adult, and now he’s an alpha.

TJ: Yeah. That was a fun challenge. And that was actually one of the few things that, going into the audiobook, I knew to even be worried about. There was so much I had no idea I should have been worried about but wasn’t, and that was one of the things that I thought, “How do I progress this voice from child to adult?” So, I did think about that. Everything else, basically, I got lucky on, but that I thought about.

Jeff: What’s it like to revisit these characters? I mean, some time has passed since both the book and the audiobook of “Wolfsong.” So, what’s that like for both of you?

TJ: It was good because I knew…I’ve essentially plotted out the remaining three books in this series. So, I know what’s going to happen in the future, what’s going to happen in the next few books, but being able to come back to this, even though, like I said earlier, it kicked my ass to write it. I love these characters a lot. I mean, they’re really different than what I’m usually known for in terms of, I mean, I can write angst like a motherfucker, but I, you know, usually see me more in the comedic realm. And I liked being able to come back to this because it gives me a chance to be able to get out my own anger. I get out my anger through writing and all my feelings and stuff like that. And I’d be able to take it out on the characters even though they sometimes don’t deserve it. So…

Kirt: And for me, it was a pure joy. I just really loved coming back to this place and these people. You know, I’ve done about 10 other books in between “Wolfsong” and this, it’s not always the case that you just fall for the people that are there, but in “Wolfsong,” I did. And I thought maybe that was just because it was like first love, like the first thing I ever did, and I just had such a great experience with it. But as soon as I picked up “Ravensong,” those people were there. And their voices were back in my head and it was so effortless and beautiful. So, I think anybody who loved “Wolfsong” is going to love “Ravensong” as much, if not more. Is it okay to say that I liked “Ravensong” even more?

TJ: I liked “Ravensong” more too just not… No, this is going to be sacrilegious to some people… You should hear it. I don’t talk crap about my own books, obviously, because that’s, you know, counterproductive. But when people tend to get upset, when you say you like something better or less or something. I love my readers, and I’m glad they love my books, but I like “Ravensong” better than I like “Wolfsong” just because a big part of it has to do with the fact that I’m 36 years old now and writing about characters in their 40s, like Gordo is 40. Mark is 43. I that just feels so easy to me because I can relate being closer in age to them than I am to 20-somethings these days.

My God, I’m so old.

Kirt: Oh gosh, stop.

TJ: I’m pretty still. So, thank you.

Kirt: I mean, I still love both, but I mean, it’s relating to that. I am sure I will like the audiobook of “Ravensong” more than I liked the audiobook of “Wolfsong” because this time I have an idea of what I’m doing. It’s not to take anything away from the first thing but…

TJ: It was between Kirt and one other person. And I spent hours flipping between their auditions and the thing that clinched… And I’ve told Kirt this before. The thing that clinched, it was his Gordo voice because the other guy, he was good. He was really good, but his Gordo voice wasn’t… I mean, obviously, you can give notes to say, “Hey, I want this to change.” But Kirt had exactly what I was looking for. And I was already starting to think ahead to, you know, he’s going to have to do that voice for an entire 16-hour, 17-hour sequel that I’m going to write, that’s going to be like 8 million words long. So, you know, that’s the reason he got it was because of his Gordo voice. And it was that close, but I liked his Gordo voice better. And now I like him.

Kirt: Thank you.

Jeff: So it’s kind of a win-win there.

TJ: It is. It is.

Kirt: Mostly for me.

Jeff: Do you hear Kirt’s characterizations now when you were writing “Ravensong?”

TJ: No, I don’t because I don’t want to take away from his art and, you know, I don’t listen to my own audiobooks because it’s really super weird for me. I’ll listen to his voices and, you know, just to make sure that, you know, everything’s on the up and up. Like, certain sections when he sends him in for review, there are certain sections I want to make sure I got right and everything like that. So, I’ll listen to those, but I have never… And it’s not him. I’ve never listened to any one of my audiobooks that I’ve done on any of my books all the way through because it’s weird. It is super weird to hear my own words read. When I’m writing, I tend to get blinders on, and I don’t focus on anything else but what I think that the character should sound like because I don’t want to…

You know, with Michael, obviously, I mean, his range is obscene with what he does for the “Lightening” series. But when I started writing the last three books of that, I la, la, la, la, la, I didn’t think it had anything to do with them, aside from the fact of how hysterical it was writing certain scenes that I knew he was going to have to try to work his way around, figure out how to do. I wrote a song in the last book specifically, so he would have to sing it again.

I tried to think of something like that for Kirt, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. So, instead, the book opens with a quote from Kirt’s favorite poem, “The Raven.” And when I first sent him the book, he emailed me back going, “Do you know what you’ve done?” Why don’t you go ahead and fill people in?

Kirt: So, I’m a speech coach or a forensics coach, depending on what particular country you’re in. And so, for years, since I’m 14 years old, I have been listening to people perform “The Raven.” And for years, I have been tearing them apart because so many people just do it poorly. Like it’s not a bad poem, but like it’s been done badly in front of me so many times that all I hear are those terrible interpretations of this actually really great poem. So, I open up the first page of “Ravensong” and it’s fucking crap. And I’m like, “Damn it,” I’m sorry. I’m swearing so much. But this fucker is going to make me put on record my interpretation of this poem that I have yelled at people for picking for 15 years.

TJ: And I’m going to say, you’d perform it on your podcast, your speech podcast. I’m going to insist that you read the entire poem on the podcast. That should have been a fucking stanza as well.

Kirt: It’s long. So yeah, so that’ll be fun for me. Yeah.

Jeff: Did you know what you were doing TJ when you did that or was it just a fluke?

Kirt: No, it just happened. I didn’t know that he was so bitchy about Edgar Allen Poe.

Kirt: He’s naturally that much of an asshole.

TJ: Like, yeah. I’m sure, you know, a normal person would have responded with empathy, and been like, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” I cackled. I laughed. I said, “Well, you’re going to do it anyway, motherfucker?”

Kirt: So, that’s good. And I will, and you know what? I’m going to kill it.

TJ: Yeah, I bet you’re going to do it so good.

Jeff: You’re going to trot this out to your future students and say, “This is how you do this poem.”

Kirt: And I’m going to make them buy it too because I’m not giving it away for free. Go buy my audiobook.

TJ: That’s some good threats.

Jeff: That’s awesome.

Kirt: Skip whatever chapter the gay sex happens in.

TJ: Oh, you can learn stuff. I mean, come on.

Kirt: That’s true. Half of them are on their way to that anyway.

TJ: I know how straight sex works kind of. So, I mean…

Kirt: Do you want to explain it to us because…?

TJ: No.

Jeff: This is not the podcast for that.

TJ: I don’t want to offend anybody by having you like eat watermelon to show how I’m sure it works, but it’s fine. We’ll move on.

Jeff: So, you kind of mentioned in an earlier question that “Wolfsong” wasn’t necessarily a series to begin with. When did you decide you needed to go further with that story?

TJ: Yeah. Like I’d been on a kick where, and maybe not going back to “Wolfsong” days, but when I’m sitting down and starting work, I’m realizing that I’m working on, you know, “Oh, look, I’m writing a sequel to this book. I’m writing a sequel to that book.” I wrote a sequel about “How To Be a Normal Person.” And I swore up and down for years, I was never going to do something like that. And I like having one-off books, one-off stories that you can just be one and done. And you might think it’s just because, “Oh, you know, yeah, you can have just a single story, and it moves on.” But no, the reason I like it is because I hate having to research continuity. I hate it so much. And my editors will tell you that they can tell I hate it so much because I suck at it.

And anytime that I’m writing a sequel or a third or a fourth book, they’re like, “Oh, well, this is going to not make any sense at all.” So, one of my editors, Erica, she actually constructs these huge spread pages, spreadsheets of timelines for every series that I’ve written. Like right now, I have the one of “Ravensong” that I look, at and it’s combined with “Wolfsong.” And, I mean, it has birthdays for every single character. It has events that are going on, and it’s pages and pages and pages. And I knew if I was going to continue with “Wolfsong” that I’d have to contend with that. And, I mean, I like learning new stuff, but I’m lazy when it comes to rehashing having to relearn some old stuff that I wrote. But by the time I finished “Wolfsong,” I knew that there was a bigger story there, especially since I left so much unresolved. And when I sat down to start “Ravensong,” I actually did, like I said earlier, plot out the next, all the rest of the series, which is four books total to make sure that what I was going to be building upon from “Wolfsong” and “Ravensong” could actually go even further with the next two books. I almost just said the titles of the next two books. I shouldn’t have done that.

Jeff: That could have been an exclusive we almost had.

TJ: Well, everybody knows the third book is called “Heartsong.” I have already know it’s that, but I have not talked about the fourth and final book, but I totally know the title to that.

Jeff: You’ve mentioned on social media of a short story that’s going to happen too called “Lovesong.”

TJ: Yes. I wrote a 6,000-word short story to follow “Ravensong” and that will come out September 1st. It’s Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective because I wanted to… I don’t want to say that she gets short-changed in “Ravensong,” but I wanted to do more, but the point of view wouldn’t necessarily allow for it without getting kind of wonky. So, I’m not giving too much away in “Ravensong,” but there’s not as much healing for her that I wanted there to be. So, instead of trying to shoehorn in something that would have sounded disingenuous in like a conversation between her and Gordo, who is the narrator, I decided to write a story just for her. And that was hard. That was hard to write, not because of the writing it from Elizabeth’s perspective, just because it’s basically 6,000 words on dealing with grief and overcoming that. And I’ve touched upon that before in another book I wrote “Into This River I Drown,” which is just like a huge thing about grief. And I wanted to kind of do it from a different perspective here and to show what she’s doing on her own to come to terms with all that’s happened to her in “Wolfsong” and the events of “Ravensong.” So yeah.

Jeff: Six thousand words. I didn’t know you could write that short really.

TJ: Well, let me tell you something. I said, “TJ, it’s going to be 5,000 words.” And I got to 5,000 words, and I was like, “Motherfucker,” because I still had so much to say. So then, I allowed myself to get to 5,500, and that wasn’t going to do. So then, I put 6,000 in the cap and I could have kept on going, man. I could have. I like words. I love them a lot. I could have kept on going, but I curbed it and went back and deleted a bunch of extraneous crap and then moved sections around. And I think it reads really pretty. So, it’s lyrical like Ox’s books was. So…

Jeff: Oh, okay. And then I think you’ve said, was it “Heartsong” is late 2019.

TJ: Yes. I am 30,000 words into that as of this week. I plan on finishing it by the end of summer. And it’s Robbie and Kelly, and you will know whose perspective it’s going to be from, who’s going to be telling the story because that person’s name is one of the very last names mentioned in “Ravensong.” It’s actually the very last name on the very last page, one of the very last words. Kirt knows.

Kirt: Oh, that’s exciting. I’m happy. And I was hoping that would be him.

TJ: Yeah. The person that narrates “Heartsong,” his name is the very last name mentioned on the very last page, one of the very last sentences. You’ll know who it is when you say it, but yeah, he’s going to be the one narrating the book. And that’s all I’m going to say on it because it’s obviously still a work-in-progress, but “Wolfsong” and “Ravensong,” they are two sides of the same coin, and they end a specific arc. And “Heartsong,” first and foremost, it’s the first time that I’m telling a book from beginning to end from the point of view of an actual wolf is in “Wolfsong,” Ox, spoilers if you ever read it, didn’t get turned into a wolf at the very end. Gordo narrates “Ravensong,” and he’s a witch. He’s a human.

So, “Heartsong” is the first time you’re actually getting the point of view of a wolf for the entire book. And it’s allowing me to play with language a lot, and I’m having fun with it. Some of it’s working. Some of it’s not. But I’m having a lot of fun with it, and it’s going to be a completely different kind of a story than “Wolfsong” was and a completely different kind of story than “Ravensong” is. And the last book, Carter’s book, is going to be a completely different story too, a different type of story, but “Wolfsong,” “Ravensong” bookend each other. “Heartsong” is a start of something new, but builds upon what came before, and the last book will be the bookend for “Heartsong.” So two and two.

Jeff: What do you think it is about Ox and Joe that grabbed people so much and just sucked people right into this other place or this other world?

TJ: I think that there’s something every man about Ox, but at the same time, he has such a unique perspective on how he sees things. And, I mean, obviously coming in from the romance angle, whether it’s realistic or not, there’s always something special about the first love that you have then and growing up together. And then they become these people and whatnot. And I think that Ox, in particular though, he is different than any other character I’ve written. And I think that the way he speaks, the way he moves, the way he reacts, there’s just something so unique about him as a character. And I think that a lot of people are drawn to that. I have a plan for him obviously going forward. He’s shit. You haven’t read “Ravensong” and nobody has.

Jeff: Only Kirt knows the secret… Whatever that was going to become, only Kurt knows right now,

TJ: Ox has a very masonic kind of a path that he’s going on, which is such an awesome juxtaposition with how Gordo is just as down in the dirt grimy, you know, will do anything, kill anybody, and all that kind of stuff. But I liked the idea of Ox, and like I said before, Ox and Gordo two sides of the same coin because they were on the same path. They were on the exact same path until both of them took completely different routes. And it’s really interesting for me to be able to kind of like with the whole opening chapters in the whiplash that we were talking about earlier, there is a very definitive moment when you realize that Ox and Joe or Ox and Gordo are no longer going to be the same people. There’s just this hard right. Turn that it takes. And I can’t wait for people to get to there.

Jeff: Kirt gives the knowing laugh.

Kirt: I do. No. I mean, for me, Ox and Joe, what attracted me to them was their innocence and their goodness. You know, we live in a time of antihero stories being so much more prevalent that there was the fact that they both… The story starts with them both so young before they have to start making difficult decisions and making the mistakes that we understand as adults are a part of growing up and learning and living. They had this goodness and things were happening to them, but they still held onto that trait, I felt. And that’s what I loved about those two and their relationship.

Jeff: Yeah. From my reader perspective, it was those early chapters in the book as they’re meeting each other and everything that was just like, “I have to go with their story now,” because you’re just like, boom.

TJ: When I first started writing “Wolfsong” too, I knew it was going to be a long, long book. And because, you know, I wanted to take my time to get to these because I think it’s really important. It’s the same with “Ravensong.” It’s really important for me to be able to give the reader a sense of who these people are and a sense of place. I mean, obviously, not knocking any author whatsoever, whatever length that they write. But to me, there’s just something about being able to get into a long book, being able to take my time with these characters to make them actually independent and like they could almost be real. And the fact that, you know, each person, because it’s a large cast and each person has their own specific characterization.

They are different. They all have their own specific voice. And I needed to take my time getting through all of them. And, I mean, the book, I think that a book that this book “Wolfsong” and “Ravensong,” if they had been half the length that they are, if they had been the typical m/m Romance, 60,000, 70,000 words, they would have been crap. They would have been an absolute utter crap because it’s not… You don’t get enough time.

Interview from GRL 2018 Bonus Episode
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.

TJ: This book is actually kept under wraps by my request. 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: 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: 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.

Interview from Episode 232
Jeff: So we would be remiss if we talked, and didn’t talk about “Green Greek” a little bit.

TJ: Yeah. Okay. Right. I’m ready. Oh, I’m ready to tease. All right. Let’s do this. All right,

Jeff: So “Heartsong” and “Feralsong” have been out already. “Heartsong” at the end of end of last year.

TJ: October. Yeah.

Jeff: Boy. Time flies. “Feralsong” came out, just about a week before we recorded this podcast.

What a trip. You know what you did with Robbie in “Heartsong,” you really pulled some fast ones there that were just ultimately really fascinating to to read and see how that unfolded.

TJ: Yeah. And that was planned from when I started plotting out “Ravensong,” because I knew when I decided to, I always knew when I finished “Wolfsong,” I always knew there was going to be three more books. I didn’t know necessarily what they were going to entail, but I knew the order in which the characters were going to have their own book. I knew that almost right away. So when I started sitting down to plot out “Ravensong” back in the end of 2016 I went through and made an outline for all the three remaining books. So I knew exactly where “Heartsong” was going to go.

So in case anybody is wondering, the events of “Heartsong” were planned always from the moment I started planning the “Ravensong.” So, I’ve been an asshole for that long and I regret nothing. I knew how at that point to how the entire series would end. So much so that I wrote the last chapter of “Brothersong” before I wrote “Ravensong.”

I’ve never done that before. But I wanted to, cause I always want to write in order. If there are certain scenes that I want to write, I don’t want to cheat myself and write it and go to it and write it and then go back and lead up to it.

For all I know the narrative could change at some point. But I, I was so firm with how I wanted this series to end that I wrote the last pages of “Brothersong” before I started writing “Ravensong” and I didn’t change a God damn thing. When I, by the time I got to it, it stayed exactly the same.

So I was like, yes, and it is going to it is going to not be the ending that people expect. It’s going to be a good ending. Hooray. But it is. It is going to be, you won’t see it coming. I’ll put it that way,

Jeff: I think because I’ve tried to stop second guessing you, as I said in my review or “Feralsong,” I just want them to end up so they can have a good day. Because in “Feralsong,” Kelly has the quip that why can’t they just have a good day? Although he’s a lot more explicit than that and that’s really what I want for them. Cause there’s no moment so far where they can get maybe more than a week of. And even when they’re having a good day. There’s still the cloud overhanging that there’s still shit left to come.

TJ: Yeah. And it’s intentional… to a point. I don’t want it to be too dour all the time, which is why the comedy in those books helps. But, it’s this is next to the “Tales from Verania” series. This is the biggest series I’ve ever done. In fact, in and the last book, “Brothersong,” Ooh, a little bit of a tease. It has the longest sustained battle scene out of any book that I’ve written, there’s the big, the climax of the book, I should say, is surprising and heartbreaking and sad, and it’s going to make some people angry. It is what it is.

But I will say this, so I am very conscious of the fact that I have put these characters through a lot and I would not have done so if I did not think that they could handle it as characters. And if I could not handle it as a writer. And I will say that I promise that by the end of the book, there will be peace and happiness for people. I tried to, I don’t want to say for everyone, but let’s just say for people, there will be goodness for people.

I leave him in a good place.

Jeff: I’m super intrigued by the battles because the battles as heartrending as they are, when they go down, they escalate from what we saw in “Wolfsong” through, you know, what was in “Ravensong” the battle…

TJ: In Caswell and “Heartsong.”

Jeff: We’ll see. I wasn’t even going to say Caswell cause I was going to go that far, but now you’ve said it so fine, you know, and how everything goes down in the battle that happens there. It’s cinematic. Like did you just see all that in your head? Cause I feel like there should be a playset set up.

TJ: You should see my notes for this. I block out all of those scenes because it’s like a sex scene, you have to know where everybody’s body parts are and you have to know what everybody’s doing. If somebody bends a certain way, you have to make sure that they were standing in a way to begin with that would make that a natural or make a reader go, wait, how are they doing that? It’s the same, you know? Like I said, it’s the same with a sex scene. If somebody does something weird, the reader’s going to be like, wait, I don’t get how that’s humanly possible.

So I block out all of those scenes. I have little toys that I use, my little, my little Star Wars Finn and Poe bobbleheads and I block out these scenes when people are fighting. So I know how the scene is going to look. And it takes a long time, but I have to get those right because if somebody does something stupid or I forget, like in one scene in “Heartsong,” towards the end when there’s the big climactic battle, I forgot one of the characters completely, like they just show up and then I sent it to my beta readers they were like, wait, where’s fill in the blank? And I was like, ah. Fuck. Shit. So I had to go back and include them in and give them some really cool quippy lines.

Jeff: He ran away. He’s just not…

TJ: Right. So he’s hiding, you know, he’s waiting with the cars. It’s fine. Those things are intense. And then “Brothersong,” like I said, it has the biggest battle scene I’ve written, and that took me forever to write because I made it…

With “Brothersong” I knew I was going to have to either go big or go home. So I just, I went big man. It’s a big, huge fricking book where many, many things happens and it also has to end a four book series and close out four books with their storylines while also allowing Carter and the Timberwolf to have their own story while also having to rectify Carter and Joe and Kelly and their relationship. Also needing to wrap up Gordo and his brother and their father and all of the end have to deal with who Ox is or what he is and what he can do.

Jeff: How long is this book?

TJ: It is the shortest out of all the “Green Creek” books.

Jeff: Dang.

TJ: It is the shortest out of those books, but that is not by comparison to most other books short at all. Originally when I furnished the first draft, it was like 200,000 words, and I was like, Jesus Christ. So through the magic of beta reading and editing and, and working on it, we got it down to where it should be, which is still longer, twice as long as most queer books. So yeah, whatever my readers, you used to do it.

Jeff: What’s it like to have finished it.

TJ: Sad. It’s sad. I’m sad. it is, I mean, it was originally supposed to come out in December of 2019 and I’ve been finished with it since October of 2018. So I’ve had a long time to deal with my grief about closing this book, this series.

But it’s good. Probably going to have to, the wounds are going to reopen when we get closer to when it comes out. I’m glad it’s over cause I got to tell the story that I wanted to tell, but I’m sad at the same time because I’ve, these characters, they mean a lot to me. It’s even more so than say like the “Verania” series. The “Verania” series I love that series cause it’s my happy place. The “Green Creek” series is my biggest cast of characters and I love them all. I love them all for who they are and who they’re not. And the fact that I was able to finish their story on my terms is bittersweet. I mean, I’m sure I could have written 10 more books about them, but what would be the point?

It would get boring. I would get bored. Readers would be able to tell that I was bored because the story wouldn’t be good. So I want to be able to tell the story, get in, and get out and finish. There’s authors out there who do fine with telling 12, 13, 20 books series, but that’s not me because as you know, I hop around from genre to genre. And if I got stuck too long in one place, I would end up resenting the story I was trying to tell.

Interview newly recorded for this episode
Jeff: TJ, welcome back.

TJ: Thank you so much for having me again. This is my what now? Seventh time being here. Gotta keep got to keep ahead of everybody else.

Jeff: this firmly puts you ahead on the guests counter.

TJ: Sweet. That’s how we do.

Jeff: And it’s so good to have you back. You’ve had an amazing year, I think by anybody’s count.

TJ: Yeah, it’s been quite a year. I mean, obviously all things considered how 2020 has turned out for many, many people, I’ve been very fortunate to have had the year that I’ve had.

Jeff: I will certainly circle back to that in a second. But the bulk of this episode of course, is paying tribute to “Green Creek” which wraps up this very week as “Brothersong” comes out on Tuesday. The epic series is coming to an end. What are you able to say about this book without giving away spoilers on the finale and what you kind of expect the collective reaction to be of the “Green Creek” fans?

TJ: Let me start with that second part. The “Green Creek” fans obviously are very… dedicated. Let’s put it that way. I’m a screw that euphemisms–they’re hardcore, man. They are hardcore. They have taken these characters and made them their own and I love that very, very much. And I expect that there will be laughter and, of course, many, many tears and possibly even some anger, maybe directed towards me. I don’t know.This book is a culmination of not just the Bennett pack, but of this entire universe because, as I’ve made very clear, this is the last book in this, series. “Green Creek,” as with this Bennett pack, is done when “Brothersong” comes out.

This book was not only just wanting to tie up all those loose ends, but I wanted and needed to bring this full circle, which is why this book is almost a mirror twin of “Wolfsong.” It has more connective tissue with “Wolfsong” than any of the other books. And it was done so intentionally because I love the idea of bringing this full circle to a close and because “Wolfsong” essentially began with Ox and his father and this series will end with fathers. And I wanted that.

“Brothersong” is essentially about Thomas Bennett. While it is also about Carter and Kelly and Gavin and Joe, but Thomas Bennett is probably in this book as much, if not more, than he was in “Wolfsong.” We learn much more about him and it felt right to do it this way because this is the first time that we’re getting the perspective of an actual Bennet. It is the oldest son Carter and the biggest brother.

There are so many loose threads that I had to tie together and some were intentionally left dangling just because I wanted readers to be able to fill in their own color as to what certain things mean or certain themes mean. This book is a labor of love because it allowed me to tell the story that I wanted to tell, to finish it the way I wanted to finish it. Whether or not readers will agree with certain events, that’s entirely, really up to them. I wrote the book and now that it’s going to be out there, opinion is whatever you want to have on it. I wrote it with the ending in mind that I wanted to give these characters and it’s the right ending in my head.

I am very proud of the way this book ends. I am very, very proud because it is thematically what this entire series has been about. And it is, I’m like, I just got goosebumps thinking about it. It’s just stupid, but I’m so pleased with this book in general, but with those final pages, I am so happy that it turned out the way it did

Jeff: From my reader perspective. This goes back to a comment I made about “Feralsong” when it came out that cause there’s this conversation and there that they just want to have a happy day. Do they get a happy day before the end of this book and is it clear that there may be a few happy days, perhaps for the people who are at the end?

TJ: Yes. For those that are there. Yes.

Jeff: Yeah. I phrased it very specifically.

TJ: But “Wolfsong” was a certain level of angst. “Ravensong” kicked that angst up quite a bit. Then “Heartsong” just blew up the first two, I just made it angst city. “Brothersong” doesn’t push it beyond “Heartsong.” “Heartsong” was the darkness before the dawn. “Brothersong” does have heavy angst moments because that’s what this series is about and if I had done something completely different that just wouldn’t have fit. That being said, “Brothersong” is the most hopeful of the books. It is the funniest of the books. It is the most action packed.

Okay, how to phrase that there are… I’ll put it this way, the, the longest battle I’ve written in this series occurs in this book and it’s very significant because aside from my “Immemorial Year” that’s the “Withered + Sere” and “Crisped + Sere.” “Crisped + Sere,” that entire last half of that book was essentially one long extended action, war scene. But “Brothersong,” it’s not quite that involved, but it’s still pretty significant for this series. It allows me to show the characters in a different light. And at the same time, there is hope and there is happiness and there is bright days ahead.

Jeff: Excellent. And I can’t wait to see the battle scene because within this series, the Caswell battle was huge.

TJ: Yeah, it was definitely huge. This is on a more personal scale, but it is just as cinematic, I think.Certain things happen that I can’t wait for readers to read about. And I’ll give you guys a hint. There is one specific line spoken by Carter in one of those battle scenes that is a direct callback to “Wolfsong.” If you know “Wolfsong,” if you know Ox very well, you will know the line right when it happens. That was a hardcore, intentional echo. I’m delighted by it. When I wrote that, I was like, “Oh, is this stupid? Or is this amazing?” It’s stupidly amazing. I’m going to do it.

Jeff: The finale has been a long time coming. You finished writing back, almost exactly two years ago in October 2018. And the release of the book for various reasons has moved a couple of times. What’s it like that it’s here now, finally?

TJ: I honestly could not tell you because it’s still like… Obviously for reasons we don’t need to delve into it did have to be pushed back. The first time it was supposed to come out was in December of 2019, and then that whole business happened. I scheduled for August of 2020, and then my new publisher, Tor, was all, “Hey, we’re going to need to move some stuff around on our end.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. Neat.” And you know, unfortunately it was when the pandemic was hitting and everything was changing and everybody was scrambling to try to keep their heads above water. So I had to move it to October almost exactly a year after “Heartsong” came out and it still doesn’t feel real because it’s…

I mean, when we’re recording this now it’s a few days away. When this comes out, it’ll be one day away. And I don’t know that I will feel the realness of it until I see people start getting into it and Tweeting at me exclamation points and crying emojis and angry emojis and all of that. Then I’ll know it’s real because people are going to be like, “Why didn’t you do this?” or “Why did you do this?” And I’ll be like, “Oh, okay, well enjoy.”

Jeff: The tears are going to come early…

TJ: Let me tell you, I posted the entire first chapter of “Brothersong” for people to read. And I was like, Oh, this is good. This is nothing too heavy. But then, you know, I think, I’m just too close to it because as soon as people started reading it, all I got was it was Tweets and messages and emails about how that first chapter already made people cry. And I was like, “Oh crap, you guys are screwed.”

Jeff: I will admit I didn’t get emotional in the first chapter. I was into all of the cinematicness of that first chapter and how it sets the tone. I had the pleasure of conversing with you about “Wolfsong” yesterday in the Klunatics Group and you read from chapter two.

TJ: Of “Brothersong”

Jeff: I was very happy that I put my phone down to leave the screen so that nobody had to watch me be emotional. And the comments just lit up with people, you know, getting the emotion of that moment.

TJ: And that was literally a page and a half of text that I read and from the second chapter. Anything beyond that, it’s just too much of a spoiler for me to be able to read. But that second chapter is one of my favorites and it’s because of the nature of how that chapter works. I won’t go into too much detail about it, but it’s basically recounting a history that we never got to see because we didn’t have the perspectives. We’ve been with Ox and Gordo and Robbie, so we wouldn’t necessarily get to see what it was like before that. And so I got to go back pretty far and write some things that I’d been thinking about for a long, long time. And to fill in some blank spaces that I hadn’t been able to see because of the points of view from the other books. That second chapter, man, that is a doozy. I may even say it might be even one might be one of, if not the hardest chapter to read. It is very, very hardcore because it basically goes through this history in one chapter.

When you do that you have to laser in on what specific events you want to focus on. You don’t want to retread ground that you’ve already covered. You don’t want to do a scene that’s already happened in a previous book from another perspective because  that can get kind of little too much of retreading ground. At the same time there is certain iconic scenes that happen in “Wolfsong” that I was curious about. Of what it would look like from a different side, that I decided to explore a little bit with that. So it was very neat. Again, this book is very much bringing things full circle.

Jeff: Well, we talked about “Ravensong” back in 2018, you said you liked it better than “Wolfsong” for a number of reasons. Is it still your favorite of the four?

TJ: It is because of Gordo. I guess it depends on any given day if you ask me who my favorite character is, that might change. But, I love the character of Gordo because he, by every right, he could have been a villain and nobody would have blamed him for turning into a villain. The pack, his pack, made very shitty decisions when it came to him and they hurt him and they did not deserve his forgiveness. He did not need to forgive what happened to him. He did not need to forgive Elizabeth. He did not need to forgive Thomas. He did not need to forgive Mark.

But I think that shows that the strength of his character. While he is an asshole and he is a dick by rights, he was also able to be the bigger person and work through his own trauma while not necessarily understanding or accepting why Thomas Bennett made the choices that he did. But understanding that this larger than life character of Thomas Bennett was an alpha wolf and seen through the eyes of Ox in “Wolfsong,” basically a god of sorts. To show that god’s have faults and weaknesses and make terrible, terrible mistakes was one of the better parts of “Ravensong” for me.

I love the idea of building up an idealized version of a character from one perspective, and then shattering that idealization from another character. Thomas is two very different people to Ox and to Gordo. I liked Gordo’s perspective better than the other ones just simply because I understand him as a character the best.

And, I went through the trenches writing that book and I am very proud of how it turned out because that was a war I had to fight to get it what I wanted it to be. That doesn’t mean that, you know, I feel any less about any of the other characters or the other books. I just love them all I guess

Jeff: You love them all, but there’s your favorite child.

Moving away from “Green Creek” a little bit. I alluded to this when we started, you’ve had an amazing year between “The House on the Cerulean Sea” and “The Extraordinaries,” and you’re capping it now with “Brothersong” as the last release of the year. Have there been moments in this year that really stand out for you with all of this awesome that’s happened?

TJ: Yeah. Getting on a “USA Today” bestseller list was just fricking out of this world. Hearing from people who’ve… The amount of people who’ve read “Cerulean” it’s just bonkers. You hope stuff like that happens. You wish every book you write, obviously, would be a success. I guess coming from the indie scene that I was in before and now moving into traditional publishing, it’s just a whole different ball game. Like, like things are so different in this world than it is in the indie publishing world. It’s been such a learning experience for me. I’ve had good things. I’ve had bad things. I’ve stumbled, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned from my mistakes. This year as a whole, obviously, has not been the greatest for pretty much anyone just because of the way the world is right now. So I think that with a book “Cerulean,” it came out at exactly the right time when it was supposed to. It came out on March 17th right when the pandemic was kicking off in the United States, when everybody started freaking out about it.

For a little bit, I worried that it was going to get lost in the shuffle. I think that’s fair to have that fear because again, the book came out on a Tuesday and literally that Monday was when every news channel was only about coronavirus. Everything was about coronavirus right then. Everyone’s tours were canceled and the publishing industry was put at a disarray because nobody knew how to handle this because we’ve never had to be in this position before in modern times.

I applaud Tor and the publicity team and marketing and everybody for making the most of it. Not even just making the most of it, for actually turning this around into a positive and making this as fun and an awesome it could be. They had to come up with all these plans in a matter of weeks, some even days, because my was canceled the Thursday before the book came out. I was supposed to be going all over the country and then they had to set up all these virtual dates and bookstores weren’t used to doing virtual stuff. So everybody had to come together to learn how to use all of these things.

It was heartening to see, that in the face of all the unknown, in the face of the fear of that unknown, that all of these people were coming together to celebrate books. I think the biggest thing I’ve gotten from this year, aside from how cool it is to see my books in bookstores in hardcover, it’s just how tremendous that people really are when they work together to remind people out there that there is still some good. There is still some happiness. There is still some hope, which is what “House in the Cerulean Sea” was all about to begin with. Again, I wish the world was in a different place than when the book came out, but at the same time, this book was the right book for that time.

And it still is. it just got back on the “USA Today” bestseller list a couple of weeks ago. That’s just mind blowing to me that six months later, unfortunately, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, but at the same time, so many new people are still discovering this and “The Extraordinaries” and from there they’ve been working in my back list. Even though it’s kind of like going from “House in the Cerulean Sea” to say “Lightening Struck Heart” is a little bit of a jump.

Jeff: A bit of whiplash.

TJ: Yeah. it’s been a crazy crazy year and we still have three months ago, so who knows what could happen?

Jeff: Looking into 2021, there’s some great things ahead things that I’ve already clicked the preorder button. What’s coming?

TJ: Yeah, we have “Under the Whispering Door,” which is my next book from Tor. It is not a sequel to “The House in the Cerulean Sea,” even though everybody wishes there would be a sequel. Iit is the second book in what I call my unofficial “Kindness” trilogy because it does deal with the same themes of kindness. Instead of kindness to others, “Under the Whispering Door” turns that inward and ask the question of what would it take to be kind to yourself?

It is about a man named Wallace Price who in the very first chapter dies and becomes a ghost who is taken to a tea shop where a man named Hugo, who owns that tea shop and works… but he is also essentially, Charon the Greek God who helped souls cross the river Styx. He’s a ferryman. And that story is what happens between the two of them, because I wanted to write basically a love story, but what if you couldn’t touch the person that you were falling in love with. Touch is so inherent in how we… now more than ever, I think too, because of social distancing, I think we took for granted what touch meant and what touch means. In the middle of the pandemic. I think that we realized just how important hugging is because we can’t really do that. We can’t shake hands. We can’t kiss each other on the cheek. I wanted to write an entire book about two people falling in love, but they can’t touch.

After that is the sequel to “The Extraordinaries” “Flash Fire,” which is just bigger and louder and more chaotic. Nick will return as a big disaster twink and he will go on more adventures that I can’t talk about quite yet, but it is pretty hardcore, man van. It is very cool I think what I’ve done with that book.

After that is the “Verania” books, of which there are two. One is tentatively titled “Fairytales from Verenia,” which is me essentially me writing fan fiction of my own books with my own characters and taking them from the world of Verenia and putting it I’m into fairytales. For instance, the very first one is Gary acting as Rapunzel locked in a tower and needing a man to come save him. And Sam is a weasel, an actual weasel and Tiggy is a bird. Three of them, I rewrote fairytales. The fourth one is a little different and it is the only canonical story out of the bunch. And it is exploring the history of the City of Lockes and of David’s dragon, the dragon that helped Sam at the very end of the last book and the one who brought him, his prophecy of his destiny.

That story is one that is going to gut punch the crap out of people. And I can’t wait for it. It is hardcore. It is a love story. It is a tragedy and it is my favorite out of those. After that is Justin’s book “The Damning Stone.” I’m not going to say much about it right now. Only that Justin’s love interests is a man named Dylan who is a king from another country. He is a himbo and he is a delight. And the fact that I got to pair Justin with  somebody of Dylan’s caliber is just hysterical. It is absolutely hysterical. The book goes at a direction that people will not see coming. And I can’t wait for it.

Jeff: Nice. Sounds like an awesome 2021.

While you’re done with the Bennett pack, there are more wolves in your future.

TJ: Yeah, someday I will be writing about a different pack. exploring the idea of how Green Creek itself got so powerful and why it is essentially a holy place for wolves. It is me wanting to do something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, which is essentially write a western. So it is going to be set in the probably mid- to late-19th century. And, people who read “Brothersong,” you will have a good idea of what that might look like by certain specific scenes. If you’re paying attention, you’ll have a good idea of what that might look like. But that for now is a ways off. I want to give myself time to just enjoy the fact that I got to the end of the Bennett pack. I was able to tell the story that I wanted to, and just live in that moment for a little while.

Jeff: Awesome. Can’t wait for all of it.

TJ: It’s a lot coming. People know by now I do not stop writing.

Jeff: That’s right. Which is good because we all want your books.

Thank you so much for sharing so much “Green Creek” with us over the years. Excited and a little sad to be reading the end and congratulations again on an incredible year.

TJ: Thank you. To everyone who has loved the “Green Creek” characters, as much as I do, thank you for taking them in like you have. Thank you for becoming part of their pack. When I first wrote “Wolfsong” back in the day, I honest to God, never thought it would reach the number [of people that it has]. Queer werewolves,  you know, it’s not something that really captures the zeitgeist all too often. But the fact that I was able to tell a story of this remarkable group of people over a series of four books and have have them be embraced as they have… It’s just been humbling. So I really one hundred percent appreciate each and every one of the readers of the series and know that while I write for myself, because I think that’s what the characters need, this book is for all of you.