Author TJ Klune is here to talk about Heat Wave, his latest book which wraps up the YA Extraordinaries trilogy. TJ discusses wrapping up this trilogy, the mix of drama and humor he brought to the series, and the found family that battles against evil. We also chat about getting back out into the world to talk about books, and what’s coming up next for TJ. He’s also got a couple of book recommendations to share.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
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. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- TJ Klune Interview
- Heat Wave by TJ Klune
- The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune
- Flash Fire by TJ Klune
- Heartsong (Green Greek Book 3) by TJ Klune
- Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
- “Virginia Politicians Sue Oni Press and Maia Kobabe Over Gender Queer” on Book Riot
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
- Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
- In The Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune (pre-order until March 28, 2023)
- Revealing TJ Klune’s In the Lives of Puppets on Tor.com
- UK Wolfsong Cover Reveal on TJ Klune’s Instagram
- The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
- Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White
- Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie
- Find Selected Books from this episode at Bookshop.org and support a local bookstore
- Book Bans and Censorship Information and Resources
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, author TJ Klune joins us to talk about teen romance and superheroes saving the world as we discuss the final installment in the “Extraordinaries” trilogy.
Will: Welcome to episode 391 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will, and with me as always is my cohost and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, rainbow romance reader. It’s great to have you here for another episode of the podcast. We hope if you’re in the areas around the world, having a scorching hot summer that you’ve got somewhere comfortable staked out for your reading, whether it’s the beach, maybe it’s poolside, or, like us, inside with the air conditioner blasting.
Will: Now, before we get to our conversation with TJ, I know you’re gonna give us your take on his new book.
Book Review: Heat Wave by TJ Klune
Jeff: Yes. I need to spend a few minutes raving about “Heat Wave.” Long time listeners know I’ve been excited since news first came out a few years back that TJ planned to write YA. I eagerly dove into “The Extraordinaries” in 2020 and fell in love with Nick Bell as he pined for a boy, desperately tried to make himself into a superhero, and surrounded himself with the best friends a teenager could ever want with Seth, Jazz and Gibby. TJ did what TJ does best, offered up a wonderful, but not always easy, romance between Nick and Seth, gave us an amazing found family with Nick’s dad, friends, and ultimately the families of the friends.
TJ also gave us a fantastic superhero story, that just happened to be rooted in some of the very struggles our real world faces today. We saw in Nick, Seth, Jazz and Gibby, the importance of trying to make your community better–even if it happens that there are very loud voices in the community against you. Plus how trying to make your community better resonates in some cases one person at a time–and how revolutionary it can be for that one person in the moment. Perhaps most of all, the trilogy clearly showed that we are stronger together than trying to work alone. As you can tell, I’m huge fan of this trilogy and I imagine I’ll revisit it from time to time, just as I do with TJ’s “Green Greek” series.
There’s not a lot I can say about “Heat Wave.” As with the later books in the “Green Greek” series, it’s hard to talk about much because there are spoilers everywhere. One thing is a fact, TJ ones again shows what an incredible storyteller he is. Coming off the massive cliffhanger at the end of “Flash Fire,” we dive right in to find that life for Nick, Seth and the Lighthouse team are crazy as they try to figure out how to stop the evil Simon Burke.
A few things I can say here, and some of these points you’ll hear me talk with TJ about in just a moment. I absolutely love the romance between Nick and Seth. These two have had to grow up fast, and a lot of things aren’t simple for them because of that, but they navigate it about as well as two teenagers can. These two ground each other, even if they don’t always realize it. They are a great team in every way and I love the story TJ’s given them in “Heat Wave” and throughout the series, especially the quiet moments they get.
If you’ve read “Flash Fire,” you know that Nick and Seth got some important, and hilarious, sex education from the adults in their life. There’s more of that in “Heat Wave” and somehow TJ managed to bring even more humor to the page while dealing with a topic that every young gay boy has to figure out eventually.
TJ knows how to write battle scenes too. We saw that throughout “Green Creek” and we’ve seen it in the first two books of “The Extraordinaries.” We get a few battles, small and large and even huge in “Heat Wave.” They are very cinematic, they’re very superhero centric, and they are also very much Nick, Seth, Gibby, Jazz and the Lighthouse crew doing everything they can to make the right decisions.
There’s so much wonderful character stuff that has come for these four friends throughout the series that just makes it extraordinary. It’s Nick’s story. But all of them combined have such an amazing trajectory through this trilogy. Best of all, if not most importantly, “Heat Wave” ends by putting a big, sparkly bow as the story draws to a close. I couldn’t be happier with the way the series ends. The closing chapters brought a few tears to my eyes for all the right reasons. Yes, I absolutely loved “Heat Wave” and the complete “Extraordinaries” trilogy that TJ Klune delivered. As always, I can’t wait to see what TJ brings to the world next.
And now with that outta the way, let’s get into my chat with TJ. Not only do we talk about “Heat Wave,” but also what it’s been like for him to get back out into the world and talk to readers in person. Plus we get just a bit of detail about “In the Lives of Puppets,” which comes out next year. And there’s a couple of great book recommendations coming from him as well.
TJ Klune Interview
Jeff: TJ welcome back to the podcast. It’s your ninth time here. Congratulations on that.
TJ: That’s insane. That’s insane.
Jeff: We’ve got so much good stuff to talk about. You blew my mind with “Heat Wave,” which is the third and final in “The Extraordinaries.” We won’t go into why you blew my mind, other people need to have their minds appropriately blown.
TJ: Like for real, I don’t know how I’m going to talk about this book.
Jeff: Better you than me, cause in the review that I did before this interview, it’s I love this book. Here’s a couple things I loved about this book and that’s all I can say.
TJ: For real. I knew when I started writing “Heat Wave” where I was going with, I was like, oh man, this is gonna be a pain in the ass to try to talk about. But that’s future TJ’s problem. And now here I am future TJ.
Jeff: And you’re about to be there. For people who haven’t read “The Extraordinaries” yet, set us up a little bit on the first two books before I make you talk about the impossible book to talk about.
TJ: Yeah. So “The Extraordinaries” series started with “The Extraordinaries” in 2020, and it’s followed by “Flash Fire” that came out last summer and then “Heat Wave” the finale this summer. And it is essentially about a queer boy named Nick with ADHD, who is a fanboy and loves the superheroes that protect his city so much that he writes self-insert fan fiction, about them with him as the main character. And of course, Nick being Nick, he is a I’ve described him many a time as a chaos twink in human form. And he decides in his infinite wisdom that he too wants to become a superhero. He too wants to become an Extraordinary, mostly because he has a crush on a superhero that protects his city and he wants to find a way to be able to meet him. As the series goes on, Nick really begins to understand that there is so much more at play than what he first understood.
“Extraordinaries” was about… it was a coming of age story about the sidekick who never gets to be the hero, who never gets to be the main character finally getting to be the main character. Then “Flash Fire” continued their adventures and up the ante quite a bit because Nick started coming into his own and discovering what it meant to be a hero. That everything wasn’t in black and white. That there’s infinite shades of gray, not only with the villains that he and his friends face, but with also parents and the guardians who protect them, who love them, but who are also keeping secrets.
The secret keeping is a significant part of this series, because frankly, if I was in this world I would sit there and I would say, “Why don’t we just sit down and have a conversation and just talk about what’s going on. Everybody can be on the same page and nobody has to worry about anything.” But that’s not how fiction works.
So It leads to a climax in “Flash Fire” that I will not spoil here. The showdown in “Flash Fire” culminates in an attack on a school, which is something that we think about a lot lately because of what’s going on. Nick and his friends are at their prom and evil super villains come to take them. And it’s something that, that I think about a lot, especially now when I was writing that particular scene and thinking of school violence and what that means and how schools are meant to be protected and children should be able to feel safe.
But that’s unfortunately not how the real world works. And as we’ve learned quite a bit over the past few weeks and how we’ve known since 1999, basically with Columbine. But it all a masses into this huge big finale in “Flash Fire.” And of course, because I’m a complete and utter masochist, I ended on the cliff hanger of all cliff hangers in an after credit scene, that sets up “Heat Wave,” because “Heat Wave” starts right where that cliffhanger ends. And we immediately get to see what we think is the fallout, how I’m gonna say that. I have to be very careful with how I talk about “Heat Wave” from here on out, because it is a book full of surprises, full of mystery. And since it is the finale very big explosions.
Jeff: We’ve talked about a lot of your books on this show.
Jeff: And I feel like “Heat Wave” is actually more difficult to talk about than the “Green Creek” books as you kept going forward and notching through those.
TJ: Even “Heartsong” I could talk about in a lot of detail because there’s a huge part of the story that I could talk about freely without it being, spoilery. Even the blurb for “Heartsong,” gave you an idea about what the book was going to be, even though I was gonna pull the rug out from under you. And so I have to think very carefully about how I wanna speak about “Heat Wave.” Everybody’s read the blurb. Everybody knows what the story is supposed to be about, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
That doesn’t even begin to tell you everything that happens in this story, because there are… I worked my butt off on this book. I knew how “Heat Wave” was gonna go as soon as I reached the latter half of writing “Flash Fire,” I knew how that was gonna go. I knew what the “Heat Wave” was gonna be about.
And I, the joy, I felt being able to write “Heat Wave” the way I did gave me the same joy I got from writing “Heartsong” and it’s because I know that I’m about to piss off a lot of people
Jeff: I was never pissed off. I will tell you that.
TJ: Good, good, good, good, good, good, good.
Jeff: Other people’s mileage may vary. I was not pissed off at least.
TJ: Yes. Yes. I know I’m thinking of there’s one scene in particular I’m thinking of that might not make some people very happy. But trust me, everything in this book happens for a reason.
Jeff: And as I said in the review, it ends with a nice big bow on top.
Jeff: You almost treated it in that sense like a romance novel where everybody got their HEA…
Jeff: …over here, which was like, awww, yay. Cause it didn’t have to be that way in a superhero book.
TJ: It doesn’t have to be that way. But at its heart, these stories were about Nick and Seth, and Jazz and Gibby. These stories have been about their parents or their guardians. It’s been about platonic love, friendship love, and romantic love. It’s been about all of these things. So of course I’d want to include that at the end.
I think a big thing that YA young adult literature sometimes struggles with is the idea of an HEA in YA because you know, when you’re talking about a happily ever after, you’re still talking about 16, 17 year old kids. And we know how the real world works. We know that might not always be the case and people who get together in high school don’t always stay together, as a matter of fact, for the most part they don’t.
But one big thing, which is why I wanted to talk about that throughout “The Extraordinaries” and “Flash Fire” and “Heat Wave,” Is these people, this friend group, this core friend group, Nick, Seth, Jazz and Gibby they have conversations about the future. They have conversations about how it’s normal for people to grow up and grow apart. And Nick is very hesitant about talking about such things, because it scares him deeply that these three people who he’s grown up with might not be significant, huge parts of his life forever.
But what I love about Nick is that he may be a little, let’s be frank, he may be a little stupid sometimes. I think we all are. We all make dumb decisions. But what I love about Nick is that even if it takes him a little bit of time, he eventually will come around and see. He understands when Jazz tells him that even if something happens in the future, it doesn’t make what we went through any less. It doesn’t make that matter any less. It doesn’t mean I love you any less, then I will, then I do right now. It just means that sometimes stuff happens.
So I thought about that a lot, how I wanted to end this. If I wanted to hint at maybe some kind of realism. But then I thought, you know what? There are people in these books that fly, there are people in these books that, that shoot fire out of their hands. So why can’t I give my queer characters the happy ending that they deserve?
I’ve always done that. In every book I’ve written, I’ve given queer characters some form of a happy ending and that’s something I’m going to continue to do, because if we don’t give ourselves these happy endings then no one else will.
Plot wise this book is hard. Let’s see if we could approach things a little bit in this direction. So you said that originally the book one the theme of it was about bringing Nick and Seth together.
Jeff: And that you were even, you know, talking about when “Flash Fire” came out, that was not gonna change. They were together.
Jeff: And then in that second book, Nick and his dad were the theme and figuring out that the adults aren’t perfect. And the secrets and things like that, that you hinted at a moment ago. What do you think the theme of “Heat Wave” is?
TJ: So if we go back and look at what you just said, yes, there was bigger stories happening around these, but yes, the first book was essentially about Nick and Seth and them finding their way to each other.
The second book was about, keeping everything that came in “The Extraordinaries,” put more focus on Nick and his father for obvious reasons. If you’ve read the stories, you know why that was necessary. So we could see who Aaron Bell was as a person.
With this book, I like to think of its Nick, and maybe the entire world. Or Nick and the… let’s bring it back a little bit. Nick and the city. Nick and Nova City, Nick and his home. He has lived in this city his entire life, born and raised. This is his home. These are his people. This is where he feels alive because as he says, sometimes the city is like his head. It’s like having ADHD. It’s chaotic, it’s loud, it’s noisy. Everything is happening no matter what time of day it is, it’s big. That’s how he is. He is the exact opposite of me. I would die in a place like that. Living in a large city is my own personal hell. I would never be able to do that.
But that’s who Nick is. That’s what Nick loves. And so with this book, you’re seeing more and more of how the population is reacting to the ideas of the Extraordinaries. Reacting to the ideas of propaganda coming from people like Simon Burke, the villain of the series, because Simon Burke is doing something very interesting, which is something that we’re seeing now, which is something that we saw in the seventies, which is save the children.
I wrote “Heat Wave” last year. This year we’ve seen a push about the quote unquote saving the children, from what the right wing is claiming is indoctrination. That queer people are infiltrating schools and giving books to children to teach them how to be gay and turning kids queer and all of this. These same arguments happened in the 1970s with a woman named Anita Bryant. Anita Bryant was a former beauty queen who found some moderate success singing in the fifties and sixties. And then in Florida, in the 1970s, she decided that her thing was going to be talking about the dangers of homosexuality. So in Dade County, Florida, she came out with the Save Our Children campaign because she said that homosexuals were indoctrinating kids through books and teaching them and all of this kind of stuff. Sound familiar? Yes! Because the exact same argument is happening right now. This is not new.
The arguments against the queer community are circular because the same arguments happen again and again, just in different times. What’s so funny to me, is that looking back now, people like Anita Bryant are universally considered ridiculous and evil and homophobic bigots, are considered gross. She is still alive by the way, right now, Anita Bryant is still alive. So we know about Anita Bryant and we think, okay, she’s disgusting. So 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now? What is society going to think of the people now doing the same thing in Florida to save our children? They’re gonna think they’re fucking gross, disgusting evil people like we already do right now.
So Simon Burke wanting to save our children was directly pulled from Anita Bryant, but you know what? How could I have known that six months later, after I finished writing the book that Florida would be doing the same thing that they had done 50 years ago that I had pulled from, to put into my book. So when you see save the children, it’s not a direct response as to what’s going on in Florida. It’s a direct response to what happened 50 years ago, that just so happens to be happening again.
So that’s what it boils down to for me, it is Nick and the entire city, the entire Nova City, because frankly, the stories “The Extraordinaries” and “Flash Fire” building up to this point have been increasing intensity, increasing in the scope and “Heat Wave” is the finale of that scope. It is pulling in all of these elements and seeing just how much propaganda can infect the minds of people who frankly should know better. And unfortunately there are some who are much more susceptible to that propaganda and don’t know better and get sucked in and pulled in. And those are the type of people that Simon Burke and any other right wing politician in the real world, love. They love those people because frankly they’re sheep and that’s what Simon Burke calls them. He calls them sheep.
Jeff: Did you expect when you started the series that, it would end up and so closely mimic where we are.
TJ: Oh, of course not. When I first set out to write “The Extraordinaries,” my goal was to write about a queer kid with ADHD who likes superheroes. That was that first little inkling because that’s who I was as a kid. I was a queer kid with ADHD who was obsessed with comics and I never got to see myself in any form of media. So that’s what I wanted to do. But here we are three books later and we’re touching on stuff like institutionalized bigotry. We’re talking on police brutality and racism and homophobia and the idea that people in power, especially rich white men in power, have the world at their fingertips because everybody bows before them, because either A they’re scared or B, they don’t have the resources to fight back.
And yes the real world that we live in now, we don’t have superheroes who can fly. We don’t have superheroes who wear costumes and can shoot fire or are telekinetic. We have superheroes who are holding up signs right now in Washington, DC. Women who are fighting for the right to control the choices over their own bodies. Those are the true superheroes that we have now. And I could not predict that we would be where we are right now, and God, I wish we weren’t. I wish we were not, but you know what? Even if the book “Heat Wave” is accidentally a little bit prescient, it ends with… the point of it is that good will always win over evil.
Jeff: And that’s certainly shown in the entire series and that’s an overarching theme for sure.
You talk about Florida and before we get into some of the other coolness around “Heat Wave,” you’ve got, you know, insanity happening right in your own state of Virginia.
TJ: Yeah. Oh yeah.
Jeff: Barnes and Noble being sued and a publisher being sued and author being over “Gender Queer.”
TJ: Yeah. For “Gender Queer.” It’s a memoir. And a failed Republican candidate in Virginia Beach, Virginia decided first to sue Barnes and Noble that sold the book, “Gender Queer” in Virginia. And then he last week or earlier this week, news came out that he is now suing the publisher, Oni Press, and the author directly for this.
Now, everybody listening to this is most likely thinking these lawsuits are frivolous. They won’t go anywhere, and yeah 99% of you, that’s probably right. What if there’s that 1% chance that it does go somewhere? What if it gets in front of a judge. I’m not talking about who appointed the judge. I’m not talking about what the judge’s politics are. What if it gets put in front of a judge who has this little thought that says maybe there’s something here. Maybe I can set precedent. Maybe this will become huge and become… that’s all it takes. That’s all it takes is one person to decide that there’s merit to something like this. And we’re all fucked. Frankly, that’s how it is. You have eight people on the Supreme court who basically are kings who control the rights over women’s bodies. Who control the rights over you and your husband’s marriage. Because if people think that Roe versus Wade going down isn’t just a first step, then you really need to open your eyes because the Supreme court themselves have said in their rulings that, oh, now that we’ve considered Roe versus Wade, maybe we should start considering other things like contraception, or gay marriage. Or I’ve just read in Texas that they’re trying to outlaw anal sex again, that they’re trying to bring that back up onto the books. That the art of buggery is something that they have Republicans, politicians in office, talking about maybe we should make that illegal again. That’s on the books in Texas right now.
The world is a mad place, but that’s why I will continue to do what I do. And that’s why I know queer authors who can continue to do what they do. The author of “Gender Queer,” they are probably scared out of their minds. They’re probably furious. But if they’re anything like me, then the one of their first thoughts would be, oh, I’m not going down without a fight. What’s the point? Do you think we should step aside and let these people win? No, absolutely not. If you are going to come from us, then you will have to reap the repercussions of that.
TJ: I’m a little mad. I’m a little spicy when it comes all this stuff as of late. There was a kerfuffle on author Facebook earlier this week, where an author came out online and said, no author should ever talk politics. They should never ever talk, cause you, you scare away readers. You know what fuck that because my entire life is a political talking point. I am a queer person, in the United States, and there are people who think I should not have the right to exist. So yes, my entire life is a political talking point. And unfortunately, do you think I wanna talk about stuff like this all the time? No, I don’t. I wanna talk about the joy and happiness of books.
When you hear your favorite author talking about politics, it’s not because they’re wanting to try to change your mind. For me, it’s about me wanting to make sure people are aware of what is going on in the world, which is what I try to do with the series, like “The Extraordinaries,” because I talk about the facets of queerness and the facets of queer sex, because queer kids don’t get sex ed in schools, they don’t get to see, they don’t get to know what sex will be like for them while they’re straight, peers are getting a entire curriculum built directly towards them.
So when I talk about stuff like PrEP and enemas and condom uses and dental dam, it’s not because it’s funny to me, even though I try to make it comedic to make it less awkward. I’m actually trying to give people real world information because YA can be read by anyone, but it is geared towards young adults. And I just, I wanna do my part, man. I wanna do my part to make sure that the queer kids coming up today have every resource at their fingertips. Even if they have to go through it, go to it by different means by this way, if they have to learn about sex ed from “The Extraordinaries” series, then hell yes, I’m gonna do my best to make sure it’s as accurate as possible. So they understand.
We have to help our community. We have to protect the children. We have to protect our kids.
Jeff: The way that you handled sex, particularly in “Flash Fire” and “Heat Wave,” which is where it touched on the most…
Jeff: …was hilarious because Nick was also so tender and sweet with how it interacted with the parents and everything, and it just made me go, oh, that is so nice.
TJ: Well, yeah, because as with death and money and stuff like that, there’s a taboo when it comes around with discussions of sex and safe sex practices and stuff like that. But the thing is though we can’t have that because if you want to protect children, if you want to… teenagers, 16, 17 years old, 15, 16, 17, who are hormonal as all hell and coming into their sexuality, you wanna make sure that they understand consent. You wanna make sure that they understand boundaries. You wanna make sure that they understand that even if your partner or partners say yes, that doesn’t give you carte blanche over anything and everything because as soon as they take back, yes, if they say no, that stops immediately. That is consent. That is boundaries. Those are important.
And the fact that queer kids don’t get to have stuff catered to them specifically to show them, this is how it’s gonna be for you. We won’t know everything. It’s gonna be trial and error. You’re gonna have to learn this stuff as you go, but here’s how to make sure you’re protected.
Why don’t we have these conversations with kids? Because where are they learning? If they don’t learn it from their peer groups, if they don’t learn it from their parents, if they don’t learn it from teachers or anything like that, they learn it from the internet. They learn it from pornography and that’s not real life. That’s not real.
Jeff: Are you able to talk about a favorite scene in “Heat Wave?” I know you must have one, but can you talk about one?
TJ: I do. And it is having to do with sex and talking about sex and safe practices. Something that I tried to do in each of these books is outdo myself in making the most awkward cringe inducing scene between Nick and his father when it comes to talking about safe sex.
In “Flash Fire,” it involved dental dams and Aaron Bell, Nick’s father, discovering dental dams, and deciding that he and Nick and Seth’s aunt and uncle need to know about this and how they can do this. And he also has some very real concerns because Seth can do things. What if he hurts Nick while they are doing things and stuff like that?
In “Heat Wave,” I turned that up all the way to 11. There is a scene in “Heat Wave” involving Nick and his father, and Aaron Bell has found a new thing that he needs his son to know about. That he believes will help his son when it comes to having sex. And he wants to make sure that his son is safe and protected, and of course this involves enemas.
I’m not gonna say much more beyond that, but this scene that happens early on in the book is one of my favorite, because a, it shows the ridiculousness of queer sex first and foremost. So ridiculousness of queer sex. But it also shows, and Nick discusses this, I won’t go too much into it, but Nick discusses this, it shows how much his father loves him. Because Nick starts to complain about this and say, “Oh, my dad is such a weirdo.” And then he stops himself and says, “No, wait, you know what. How many other queer kids have a parent that would do this for them? My dad is fucking awesome.” And that’s what I wanted to show with this, that, yes, it’s embarrassing and cringeworthy, and most likely people are gonna be reading this entire scene through one eye as they’re holding their reader, the book away from them, trying to believe that I’m not actually going where I’m going with this. But at the very end, they’re gonna realize that, oh my God, Aaron Bell is, regardless of how he’s been in the past, regardless of what his, some of his actions might be suspect, and the secrets he’s kept, he loves his kid. He loves his kid. And I wish all queer kids could have that.
Jeff: It was a good scene. And I will say the way you ended that scene. Oh my gosh. Read the book, people you’ll know what we’re talking about.
TJ: Yeah. That whole scene is just… I loved that scene because there’s so many little details for people to think about, such as Nick trying to move something when he very obviously has powers that can make him move something, but he doesn’t remember that he has powers to move something. So he’s trying to grunt and push to keep his father out of it. And it’s just it’s so Nick, it’s so Nick, and I just love it. I love it.
Jeff: What are you gonna miss about writing these characters?
TJ: Just being with them. Being with the core four, Nick, Seth, and Jazz and Gibby has just been one of the greatest thrills of my writing career because when I first set out with these books, I wanted to tell not a coming out book. I wanted to tell a book where the queer group was already out, was already proud and they already had the support that everybody needs, they have that support. What I didn’t realize, and what I should have realized, is that just being able to write about them across three books, I was able to see their growth. I was able to see their hopes and their dreams and their fears and their failures. I was able to see it all play out and it’s remarkable. It’s humbling that I’ve been given this opportunity to be able to tell these stories the way I wanted to tell them. And I’m gonna miss the time I spent with them.
But, I’ve ended series before, and I know when it needs to end, because I don’t want to be the author that writes a 30 book series with following the same characters because by book, what like 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, you’re like how much more shit can these people get into without going insane?
And so like with “Green Creek,” I knew I had to end that one when I did, because why would I wanna put these characters through more trauma? Because if I was gonna write another book, it couldn’t be a happy, sunny, happy book where everything is wonderful. And it’s just a slice of life about werewolves going about their day.
I couldn’t do that. So if I was gonna write another the book, it would be to, it would bring more darkness upon the characters. And I just I didn’t wanna do that. And with this, knowing how the book ends and keep in mind, there is an after credit scene in this book too. That after credit scene is my love letter, my goodbye to these characters.
And that’s how I wanted it to be. And I left them knowing that they will go on without me and anybody can go on with them and write all the fan fiction they want about these characters. But I have told the story I wanted to tell.
Jeff: Like I said big bow on top.
Jeff: Exactly what it is.
You have finally been able to get out into the world and see your readers again.
Jeff: “Cerulean” came out right at the beginning of the pandemic, so you didn’t get to go anywhere. What’s it been like now that you’re out in the world meeting readers, who have gotten to know you because of the Tor books, maybe? You even did a ribbon cutting at Barnes and Noble with giant scissors. I mean,
TJ: Yeah! That I still have in my house. Yes.
Okay. So, the past two years have been extraordinarily difficult for everybody. I wanna make sure I recognize that because I’m about to talk about how the past few years have been great for me. It feels weird to talk about good things, right? It feels weird to talk about good things when there’s so much horror going on in the world. It feels gross to talk about good things.
So let’s talk about good things anyway. The past few years have been insane, have been extraordinary, have been humbling, cathartic, mesmerizing, horrifying, wonderful, and scary all at the same time.
But this year in March, I got to actually go out into the world again, to talk to readers. I went to… I spoke to an entire community who chose “The House in the Cerulean Sea” as their one book, one community read. So I got to go to a theater and filled with 400 people and just talk to them about books. And then from there I got to go to Seattle Public Library fundraiser to talk to people about books. And then from there I went to the Los Angeles Book Fair, the Tucson Book Festival. I got to open up a Barnes and Noble.
The one thing that I’ve noticed through all of these things, I’ve been, there was a period in March where I was in like eight different cities in two weeks.
Jeff: Oh my gosh.
TJ: And the one thing I’ve noticed, oh, by the way, flying still sucks in case it wondering airports are terrible and yuck. But the one thing I’ve noticed was, one thing that all of these things have in common was just so how happy people were to be out into the world again and talking about books, because look, there’s what, something that has been great about us being having to force to do everything online is that people from all over the world who might not have had a chance to hear their authors, their favorite authors talk before, have now gotten to do that and I think that’s gonna continue on. I’m hoping that most places will now continue on with a hybrid focus in person and for those who can’t attend live, stream it online.
But there’s just something about being face to face with people and talking about books. Sitting behind a really shitty desk in a hundred degree heat in Tucson, sweating my ass off with a line of people in front of me who are just standing there, clutching their books, so excited to be able to talk about books. That it’s just the greatest feeling in the world. You don’t know what the past two years have done to us until we go out into the world and reminded of everything that we’ve lost. So I am taking it one day at a time, but I’ve just been so overjoyed being able to be in the world again.
” Under the Whispering Door” came out last September, and I was able to do one in person event for the launch of that book. And it was the best, it was the best event ever, because I was able to talk to people again, face to face.
And then two weeks from now, because we’re recording this two weeks before “Heat Wave” comes out. In two weeks, I’ll be going across the country on a tour for this book and I’m so excited about that because I’ve missed being able to talk to people about books, face to face, where you can actually see each other and talk to each other and see their reactions on their faces and everything. It’s wonderful and I’ve missed that terribly.
Jeff: We’ve got a couple questions from one of our patrons.
Jeff: Regencyfan93’s got this question for you.
They’re curious about what in your writing process may have changed as you move from specialty publisher, to self-publishing for a little bit, to mainstream publisher. Is it mostly moving from like romance into other genres like YA? Or is there something about the publisher or just how’s that all changed for you over the last couple years.
TJ: I know it’s gonna seem strange for some people to hear this because I am with much bigger publisher, so it seemed like it would be more, more restrictive, but I actually have more freedom than I’ve ever had. And look part of that, yes, I have to be honest, part of that is the fact that books like “The Extraordinaries” and “The House in the Cerulean Sea” and “Under the Whispering Door” have sold well for this publisher. I wanna make sure that’s clear because I don’t want it seem like I walked in and was like, I’m running this place now. This is how I do things. Yes. I had years of history, years of selling books behind me but I was starting at basically ground zero when I came in.
And now that, that I’ve proven myself, I feel like I am getting more freedom to tell the stories that I want to tell. It’s not that I am moving away from romance as a genre. It’s that I’m finding different ways to tell romantic stories. I’m finding different ways to explain bonds between people that don’t always have to be romantic. I’m known for found family. I’m known for that. But I’m trying to push that even further to take different ideas of what found family can mean for people. Hell, next year I have a book coming out where found family means the majority of the people are robots. Made up of spare parts. That’s what this found family is gonna look like.
So it’s not that I am leaving anything behind or losing anything. It’s the fact that I am still learning every day how to be a better writer and how to tell stories. I’m a good writer. I will never be the best writer. All I can hope for is that I can keep becoming a better writer each and every day and figure out ways to tell the stories that I want to tell.
There is no one, no editor, no president, no anybody with Macmillan and Tor who tells me what to write. If that was the case, I would not be here because no one tells me what to write. I write what I wanna write and, I have a publisher who respects that and encourages that and loves that. And I am very blessed to be with them right now. So no nothing really has changed for me. Just how I want to tell stories, just trying to find different ways to tell stories that still feel like a TJ Klune book.
Ew. And also just to, as a caveat, I hate talking about myself in third person. So if you cringe while listening to that, I did too. So just know.
Jeff: So the robots and spare parts that you mentioned, that’s “In the Lives of Puppets.”
Jeff: Stunning cover that got revealed recently for that.
TJ: Done by Red Nose studios and Chris Sickels of Red Nose studios, who did the covers for the new “Wolfsong” cover, who did the cover for “The House in the Cerulean Sea,” who did the cover “Under the Whispering Door,” who if I had my way would do my covers to the rest of my life, because he is that talented.
Jeff: They are stunning covers. Absolutely. We’ll link in the show notes to the covers of these two so that people can find them if they haven’t seen them yet.
The tagline on, “In The Lives of Puppets” is “a real boy at his wooden heart, no strings attached,” which I just love. What more can you tease us about this book that’s coming next spring?
TJ: So “In the Lives of Puppets” is the conclusion of my unofficial kindness trilogy, which follows “The House in the Cerulean Sea” and “Under the Whispering Door” concluding with “In The Lives of Puppets.” They are not connected by world, character, anything like that. They’re mostly connected by theme.
“The House in the Cerulean Sea” was about showing kindness to others. “Under the Whispering Door” was about something much more difficult, which was showing kindness to yourself. “In the Lives of Puppets” does something else entirely. It asks the question, is it possible to show kindness to somebody who does not deserve it, who arguably did things that nobody should be forgiven for, or shown kindness for.
“In the Lives of Puppets” is a queer retelling of Carlo Collodi’s “The Adventures of Pinocchio” and follows a human inventor named Victor. Victor is asexual. He is a person with autism and he lives with a father figure, an android named Giovanni and his two best friends. One is a pleasantly sadistic nursing machine named Nurse RATCHED, which stands for Nurse Registered Automaton to Care, Heal, Educate, and Drill. And then you have, who is probably gonna be everybody’s favorite character when this book comes out, Rambo, who is a Roomba vacuum, a sentient Roomba vacuum who has anxiety and separation anxiety disorder, and just basically wants to be loved. And this story is a grand adventure.
“The House in the Cerulean Sea,” the majority of that book, all took place on one island. I went even smaller in “Under the Whispering Door” where 95% of that book took place in a single tea shop. “In the Lives of Puppets” goes in the opposite direction and is a huge country crossing adventure, and it is a road trip novel. It is a romance. It is again, a retelling of Collodi’s “Pinocchio” and it is, arguably the most ambitious novel I’ve ever written. And I am so extraordinarily proud of this book because it is huge. Not just in terms of length, but also in terms of scope and ideas and the idea of what is humanity? What if one day, someday far to the future, humanity was no longer as present as we are now. What would we be remembered as? What do you think humans would be remembered as? Would we be remembered for our goodness or would we be remembered for every terrible thing that we’ve done? And I happen to think it would be the latter.
There are so many good and shining lights in the world, but when those are interrupted by violence and death or chaos or destruction, that’s what people tend to focus on. And I think that for all the beauty that humanity has, we are an extraordinarily destructive species. We are not only destructive to others, and to our planet. We are self-destructive. And that’s something that I wanted to explore “In The Lives Of Puppets.”
What does it mean to be human? Victor is human, but he is the only human in his family. So what does that mean for him? So that’s what this book is about. There is so much more that goes on that I can’t talk about because it would spoil, but this book is, it feels like a culmination almost. It feels like the ending of one thing. And the beginning of something else.
Jeff: You teased this a little more than I thought you would. So I’m more excited now than I was before
TJ: Yeah, it is. It is a ambitious novel, and I am so excited for it to come out.
Jeff: And looking into the future. RegencyFan set up a great question for this. What’s the next way you wanna expand your creativity? Is it storylines for video games or another genre completely or what’s it look like beyond “Puppets?”
TJ: Yeah, so I will be vague about this, and what I can and cannot say. There are going to be some different experiences coming up that will be outside of books. That I will, that that we’ll be able to see.
But in addition, there’s gonna be books, many more books in that some point this summer. How can I put this at some point this summer, there will be an announcement of what the future is going to look like for me. What is coming next? We’re gonna wait, I believe until after “Heat Wave” comes out so we can put our focus on that, where it deserves. But let me put it this way. By the end of this year, readers will have a very clear indication of what’s coming next from me.
I will say that there is… I just finished writing a new book this week. Very excited about.
TJ: I have, as of right now, I think four or five books written that have not yet been released. So I have plenty of stuff for people for a very long time to come, but I’m always, as I said, like with, “In the Lives of Puppets,” I tried something different. I tried something new. I tried a different way of telling a story. And as I said earlier, that’s something that I’m always fascinated by, curious in.
I am planning on writing a Western that is related to “Green Creek” in a different direction. I think I’ve hinted at that before.
Jeff: I think so this sounds familiar.
TJ: Yeah, and I have an idea for a horror novel. That I want to write because horror is my favorite genre. Whether it be in movies or film, TV show, I love horror. Books, horror novels is essentially what I read. And for a very long time, I never wanted to do anything with horror because it’s so sacrosanct to me. I love it that much, and I worried that I would not be able to measure up to everybody who I love in horror. But I’ll never know unless I try. So I may end up one day actually doing something that I’ve always wanted to do, which is to write a horror novel.
I don’t know. Right now I’m happy writing the stories that I’m writing that are queer, that are positive, that while the road to the ending may be a little bit rocky, that these people are going to get the ending that they deserve. And that’s where I am right now.
Jeff: And we like you there. I have to say, would you say experiences I think, Ooh, TJ Klune theme park.
TJ: Or TJ Klune Escape Room.
Jeff: I don’t know that I could do the escape room.
TJ: I couldn’t either, because it would just be me in the background going you find the key yet? Find the way out? Hey. Hey. Hey Jeff, did you find the way? You’re looking in the wrong spot. Jeff. Jeff. Jeff. That’s how it would be.
Jeff: I for sure will not be doing an escape room with you then.
TJ: I would not want to do that either. Yeah. Holy God. That sounds like hell on earth.
Jeff: So as we wrap up, what kind of book recommendations might you have for our listeners these days?
TJ: Oh my God. I’m so glad you asked this question because there is a book right now, I’m reading right now that everybody needs to read. Everybody needs to read this book, especially if you like queer horror. I think it’s positioned as a YA book, but I’m not sure. It is called “Hell Followed With Us.” It is by Andrew Joseph White. The main character is a trans boy. The other lead, the romantic interest, is a queer boy with autism. And it is one of the most unique, beautifully written postapocalyptic zombie stories that I’d ever read. The prose is gorgeous. The representation is wonderful.
And the horror… why I said, I don’t know if it’s positioned as YA because while the main characters are 16, 17 years old, and the book is about a queer youth center, the people in a queer youth center surviving a postapocalyptic zombie thing like that. So you have this entire queer spectrum of queer youth in this LGBTQ center. But the reason, I don’t know if it’s YA is because the horror is very horror. It is very visceral. It is very… the descriptions of the zombies and everything like that is gorgeous. It is a religion based horror because people who are… there’s a cult on one side who believes that these zombies, these demons are sent from God or from hell and everything like that.
And, I’m taking my time with this book because I am soaking up every single word. Like I was, I first started reading it and I looked down like an hour later and I was already at 20% and I was like, no, I need to make this last. It is gorgeous. And once again, that it’s “Hell Followed With Us” by Andrew Joseph White. And if it’s sticks the landing, man, it is not gonna be just one of my favorite books of the year but one of my favorite books of many years. It just came out and needs, infinitely more people reading this book so I can talk about it. It is so good. It is that good.
And I just recently also read a book that came out a while ago, that was popular when it came out. And I just avoided it for a little bit. I shouldn’t have “Bonds of Brass” by Emily Skrutskie, is a queer book that is just… it’s queer… it’s space gays. It is space gays. I absolutely love the space gays.
Jeff: I’m super intrigued about the zombies. The queer youth center sounds great, but I’m also a massive scaredy cat and I don’t know.
TJ: Yeah. It’s not… it’s more… it’s not like spooky horror, it is more violent horror that kind of. But the fact that… just the idea of a postapocalyptic world and the people who have survived and are fighting back are from the LGBTQ youth center. That is so awesome. That is such a cool idea. It’s so cool. It’s so cool. I love this book.
Jeff: TJ, it has been wonderful having you here. Thank you for “The Extraordinaries.” I certainly just loved it. I can’t wait for everybody to get to read and see what they think about it. I hope you have a great book tour.
TJ: Oh man. It’s gonna be so exciting. And I am already planning on how many people are gonna yell at me for the events that happen in “Heat Wave.” And I say, bring it on, bring it on .
Jeff: Well, Thank you so much for being here. Hope you have a fantastic summer.
TJ: Thank you, you guys too. And just as a reminder, the next time I come onto this will be my 10th time being on this podcast. \And anybody thinking that they can overtake me as the leader of the amount of time’s been on this podcast, you should have another thing coming, cuz that ain’t gonna happen. Byeeeeee.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. The show notes page also has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
And if you’d also like to keep up to date with the show and any recent releases in our genre, check out the rainbow romance reader report our weekly dispatch that delivers the latest news right into your inbox every single Friday. Go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/report for more info.
Jeff: And thanks again to TJ for joining us. I absolutely love how invested he is in having the record for the most visits to the show. And in case you’re wondering who is currently in second place, that’s narrator Joel Leslie, who has been on the show seven times.
And I’m so glad that we got to talk a little bit about the crazy things going on with book banning and censorship where TJ lives. These are issues that all of us need to stay informed about. And I’m also glad he addressed the chatter that was on Facebook recently about authors being told that they shouldn’t be political and express their views. I 100% agree with TJ, our lives are a political statement at this point, and we need to speak up and make sure people are aware, and that we can educate a little bit where we can. While this show will always be a place to talk about awesome books, don’t be surprised if you see us weaving in some information from time to time about the topics that concern us as well.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next in episode 392, we’re kicking off our paranormal summer as we spend the next few weeks recapping our favorite sexy supernatural soap “Dante’s Cove.”
Jeff: Yes, it is the perfect time to hang out beach side in Dante’s Cove and take in all the bonkers stuff that’s gonna go down.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening, and we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kind of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.