Tell us about your new book. What’s it about and why did you write it?
It’s called The Elephant of Surprise, and it’s the latest book in the Russel Middlebrook Series, a series of four books (so far!) about a gay teen and his two best friends (a bisexual girl and a straight guy). The series all started with a YA book called Geography Club, which was first published back in 2003, and which will be released as a feature film adaptation later this year – something that has been pretty surreal.
You can see the trailer for the movie and one of the posters here: http://www.shorelineentertainment.com/movies/GeographyClub.html An embeddable link is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQb2-a685sw
Anyway, Geography Club was one of the first in a wave of gay YA books to really break out. Which is interesting, because NO ONE (except my editor and agent) thought it would be a hit. My agent had spent about four years trying to sell it, and I’d spent about four years before that trying to sell it on my own. A lot of people liked it, but everyone said, “Oh, there’s no market for a book about gay teens. We can’t make any money!”
Obviously, the world has changed a lot since the 1990s. Now you even have gay teens on TV on shows like Glee (although before they got on the air, I’m sure everyone told them, “Oh, there’s no market for TV show about gay teens”!). Same thing with the movie version of Geography Club. It took ten years to get made because everyone said to the producers, “There’s no market for a movie about gay teens!”
The Elephant of Surprise is a “stand-alone” book – meaning you don’t have to have read all the books before it in the series. But obviously, I hope you do!
What’s this about a movie version of Geography Club?
It’s pretty cool, isn’t it? They wrapped last June. It’s got a pretty amazing cast too: Scott Bakula (Star Trek: Enterprise), Marin Hinkle (Two and Half Men), Ana Gasteyer (Suburgatory), Allie Gonino (The Lying Game), Allie Maki (Ten Things I Hate About You), Andrew Caldwell (Transformers), and Nikki Blonsky (Hairspray, Smash). Russel and Kevin are played by two relative unknowns, Cameron Deane Stewart (Pitch Perfect) and Justin Deeley (90210), but they’re both just terrific.
I spent some time on the set, and I was pretty darn impressed. But I have to confess: it was all a little surreal. I watched the filming of one scene that had a thousand extras, and I thought, “You’re kidding! All this for a little book I wrote more than ten years ago?” I imagine it’s a little what the pharaohs felt like when they watched the pyramids being built!
It’s also fascinating how legitimizing a movie version of your book really is. My friends and family have known for years that I make my living writing novels, but I’m not sure most of them really believed it until this movie thing happened.
So is the movie the reason you wrote The Elephant of Surprise?
Well, it didn’t hurt!
But actually, I had always intended to write at least one more book in the series. It didn’t make any sense when HarperCollins controlled the rights to the earlier books. When I finally got the rights back a few years ago, I decided it was time. The Geography Club movie coming out at the same time was really a coincidence.
The movie rights to Geography Club were first optioned just months after it was published in 2003, and it went through lots of different producers – it almost got made a few times, but it always seemed to fall through. So when I learned in 2011 that it was finally really going to happen, I was, like, “Uh huh. Sure.” In fact, even on the plane down to Los Angeles, I was thinking, “I bet this still isn’t going to happen.” And when I got home, after the wrap party and everything, I remember thinking, “Boy, I really hope they back up their files!”
Let’s just say that at this point, I’ve been around the block a few times.
So The Elephant of Surprise is book 4 in a series? Do I need to have read the other books for this one to make sense?
Absolutely not. Like all the books in the series, it’s a stand-alone story. But there’s also an over-arching story, so reading all the books together hopefully makes them more enjoyable.
Since it’s been a few years since the last book came out, I also made a point to include a synopsis of previous events
When is The Elephant of Surprise set?
That sounds like such a simple question, doesn’t it? The truth is, I had to give that a lot of thought. The books are set in the present, and the events of the Russel Middlebrook Series take place over the course of a single year (so far). But the books themselves were written over a twelve-year period. And in those twelve years, things have changed a lot. For example, when I wrote Geography Club in 2000, it was unusual for a school to have a gay-straight alliance, especially outside of the big cities. That’s a lot less true today. Technology has changed a lot too: teenagers didn’t all have cell-phones back then.
In the end, I decided for myself that the books take place around 2007-2008. But that’s just a technical issue for me, the writer. If I did my job right, the reader won’t even notice.
Will there be another entry in the series?
I’d love to write one, and I do have a story outlined (it jumps ahead five years, with Russel in college). I have so many other projects I’m working on these days, but the fact is, I love these characters a lot, so it’s a pretty good bet I’ll write it eventually.
Have you always enjoyed writing?
I love writing, and I hate writing.
I think everyone can write the first three chapters of any project based on excitement and momentum alone. But then you hit that wall. You realize you’ve got a whole story to tell – a whole damn world to create. And for me, that’s intimidating and exhausting.
I always compare writing to getting a boulder rolling. It’s really, really, really hard for me to get it moving – so hard I really have to work myself up to even trying. And it’s so hard that once I get it rolling, I don’t want to stop, not until I’m done with the whole project. I’m sort of manic that way.
But there’s another part of it too. Once I get rolling, once things are really coming, a sort of euphoria takes over. I’m not a religious person, but I gotta say: I find the writing process to be a transcendent experience. You’re at one with the universe. It’s such a rush, pushing harder and harder for that elusive glimpse of infinity — and then, finally, getting it.
Basically, I hate the writing process, and I love it at exactly the same time.
Genre - Young Adult/Gay Lit
Rating – PG13