What inspired you to write Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly? Will you tell us more about it and how the decision to write it came about?
PT: Compressed timeline: I read Stephen’s amazing novel DEMON THEORY and loved it. I sent him an email telling him my feelings. About the book, that is. He seemed to like my writing as well (who knew?). Plus, we both Hate (capital H is so purposeful the purposeful should have a capital P) pickles so we got along swimmingly via email, and then we got to hang out at conventions and talk horror and basketball. At some point I thought it might be fun to try collaborating on a YA novel with no pressure or expectations. I had a very roughly sketched out the first chapter with a boy climbing up a tree and floating away at a birthday party and pitched it to Stephen. He was game and we took our time passing chapters and sections back and forth for a few years until we arrived at the end.
What makes Mary special? Why do you think readers will connect with her?
PT: What makes Mary special: her voice, her outlook, her snark and pessimism and humor, her struggles, too, and how important her friends are to her, how everything they do and say can be life changing in any moment.
She’s still a surly, frustrating teen, but hopefully, a real one.
SGJ: What I dig about Mary is what I dig about all characters—about all people, really. It’s that their outsides don’t quite match their insides. Like, Mary, she’s got this kind of prickly exterior, complete with smart mouth and cynical outlook. But inside, man, inside she’s a dreamer, she’s still halfway planning on some happily ever after.
Now she’s just got to figure out how to navigate her world while keeping her mask in place, and never let go of that pure part of her either. It’s a struggle, but it’s so completely worth it, I think.
You each have very unique writing styles. What was your collaboration like? Will you tell us a little about the writing process?
PT: I think our styles are similar, or at least similar enough that splicing the styles together wasn’t a problem. I can’t fully explain the similarity beyond we like us some first-person-present-tense, and I think we’re broth drawn to the interior life of that kind of narrator/character. We complemented each other well, I think. Stephen would fix my crappy syntax and I chipped in by cutting out most of his ‘yeah’s. Heh.
Seriously, Stephen is so talented and he is an absolute pleasure to work with. I had a lot of fun. How could I have not had fun? I mean, here I was, writing this wacky SF or F (depending on how shoddy you think our science is) adventure story with one of my favorite writers and people.
My only complaint is that he writes so damn fast. I’d spend like two weeks on a chapter and send it to him, and then he’d send me back that chapter edited and with the next chapter twenty-nine minutes later. That’s probably not true, but maybe it is.
SGJ: I always felt like Paul’s chapters came at me as this clockwork that was already ticking, if that makes sense. Like, the tolerance of the gears had been checked, the spring wound, and the all the little checks and chocks were doing their job, keeping things from running backwards. I learned a lot from that. Each movement of the story needs its own little internal dynamo, its own arc, while still handing the story off to the next movement. The way Paul puts a story together, I could cue into that shape starting to surface. And it was cool, both because that’s efficient and effective and because I’d never considered doing a thing that way. What I’ve always done is just spill out the bag of goodies on the table, the characters and setting and events all jumbled together, and then, instead of seeing which fits to what, I just carve the end of this one to notch over there, if that makes sense. Never mind the big picture. I think I’m a stronger writer, now, having written this novel with Paul. It taught me that a novel is a mechanism for triggering emotion. And that that mechanism can be endlessly tuned.
You both have quite a few titles under your collective belt aimed at adult readers. Was it a challenge writing for a younger audience?
PT: It was for me. I like to swear a lot, and awful, adult things tend to happen in my stories. I have no idea if it was the correct approach, but I feel like we thought less about the YA market and really tried to make the characters do and say what real teens at that age and in those circumstances would, if that makes sense. I’ve been teaching teens for longer than I care to admit, and I’m still under fourteen years old in my head. In the end it was fun to have a completed book that my kids could read now instead of having to wait x-amount of years.
Stephen, solve for x.
SGJ: Paul’s complimenting my mathing ability, there. Perhaps overestimating it, even. Or else he’s directing readers to a story of mine about terrible, terrible things happening. Anyway, no, it wasn’t at all difficult targeting the YA market. Just because the YA market has about everything going on already. It’s not about content or sophistication or syntax or any of that. If you write ‘down’ to the audience, then you’re just insulting that audience, be they kids or cat lovers or Barry Manilow listeners or whoever. One characteristic that I think applies to YA that you have to kind of use as a guideline, though, it’s one all fiction should pay a lot more attention to: no boring parts. The story’s got to Always Be Moving. A crazy concept, I know. I think that was the easiest part for each of us to do, too. Not so much because we come to it naturally, but because, writing together, it’s a collaboration, sure, but it’s kind of a contest as well. Like, Paul would write a killer chapter with all this cool stuff happening, and I’d think wow, I really got to bring my A-game these next twenty pages. That kind of persistent escalation in a story, it’s fun. It makes the story more engaging. Readers dig the up-down, the reversals, the surprises. Working with and in reaction to each other, we came up with plenty of those.
PT: Reading: I love every part of reading, all genres, but the lift or the what-if of a horror/speculative fiction story is something that moves me. It might just boil down to I really dig monsters and I can’t tell you why.
Writing: I enjoy having the initial rush of an idea for a story, of the possibilities of what it could be. And then I love when the story is finished and then I bug my family and friends to read it (Pay attention to me! Validate me!). All the stuff in between (the actual writing) is hard, frustrating, pride-swallowing work that often leaves me questioning who the hell (oops, sorry, YA interview) heck do I think I am. Still, the stories and books get written somehow, and I try not to think about the how and why too much, for fear of mucking it all up.
SGJ: What I enjoy best about writing is maybe the between parts, like, between novels, that little saddle of ten or twelve days where my brain’s finally for the moment empty, my fingers not jittery, and I don’t have to dream these characters and this world when I’m awake, which always makes me lose the thread of what’s real. When I’m not writing a novel, I can keep a good grasp on what’s real. When I’m writing, though, not only does that slip away, but all my priorities go with it, and there’s people stranded at the airport, my truck’s got a flat but I’d rather write than get the jack out, I haven’t washed my hair in days, and still I’m staying up until two living in this story, then waking at four with another idea. But now I’m remembering the first part of that question, the SF/F/H part—to which I guess there should be a “WF” too, for weird fiction. What I love about them is the imagination, the way these ideas, they make my world that much bigger. These stories make me believe in places that aren’t real, and I think that’s one of the most vital of human activities, trying to exist in something like a subjunctive state.
Really, I think it’s specifically that act that grew our brains up, made us start using language, drawing on cave walls, all of it. And, yeah, when a SF/F/H/WF story fails—and no genre is immune to somebody coming in, trashing the place up—then, you know, at least I saw a werewolf with a chrome body, right? At least I saw a demon fighting a priest and both of them were wearing a bear suit. At least I saw Jupiter. Stories without fun stuff going on in them, when they fail I’m just left with a wasted half-hour, or a wasted week—at best I’ve got some cautionary tales to use as guideposts, now. As warning signs. But I want more than that from my reading time. What I want is for a werewolf with a chromolly exoskeleton to be in a story so engaging I can’t look away, a story so fulfilling that I wonder why I even try to write at all. In lieu of that, though, at least give me that shiny werewolf.
What, or who, have been some of the biggest influences on your writing, and in life?
PT: That list is way too long, especially the biggest-influence-on life one. Jeeze. I’ve been so fortunate to have such a loving and supportive family and friends. I lean on them all, all the time, sometimes when they don’t know it. Writing-wise, there’s a small group of people I secretly write for. Meaning: they are the people I think about when writing and who I most want to like the story/book. They probably know who they are by now.
Fine, a partial list of influences: Shirley Jackson, the original Spider-Man cartoon, Kurt Vonnegut, Quint from JAWS, Joyce Carol Oates, the band Husker Du, Stephen King, Stewart O’Nan, the novel HOUSE OF LEAVES, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Larry Bird, Hawkeye Pierce, X-Files, breakfast cereal.
Have you read any good books lately? Anything you’d recommend without reservation?
PT: Stephen’s collection AFTER THE PEOPLE LIGHTS HAVE GONE OFF is, of course, fantastic. Another new collection I really enjoyed is Diane Cook’s MAN V. NATURE. Both collections are dark, slightly off-kilter, and with imagination to spare. And, a trio of ghostly gothic novels that are excellent reads as well; ROOMS by Lauren Oliver, WILD FELL by Michael Rowe, and ECHO LAKE by Letitia Trent.
SGJ: Paul’s soon-book A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS is hopefully made-up, as if it’s not, I think I’ll be checking out for some place safer. Most recent couple of quality books I read? Both by John Scalzi. Of them, REDSHIRTS, man. That’s a serious, very quality novel there. My novel LEDFEATHER, had I read REDSHIRTS, I’d have had no reason to write it. Too, Cherie Priest’s MAPLECROFT is some solid writing, and a very cool story. And I’m digging Jason Aaron’s SOUTHERN BASTARDS more than I expected, it being more about football than I usually deal with.
But it’s really about people.
What’s next for each of you?
PT: My next novel A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS is being published by William Morrow in early June of 2015. I’m very excited about it. It’s a post-modern, secular, exorcism novel, if I’m allowed to be obnoxious. Tor.com just posted the cover reveal and an excerpt. Check it out here.
Otherwise, I’m hard at work on the next novel for WM. I’m currently in that who-the-heck-do-I-think-I-am stage as described above.
SGJ: My new agent’s got all my new novels locked away right now, so she can focus on selling the werewolf one, MONGRELS. Meaning, the only things I have out in 2015 right now are THE FASTER, REDDER ROAD: THE BEST UNAMERICAN STORIES OF STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES—not ‘collected,’ ‘collected’ means you’re dead, just ‘selected,’ and just ‘volume 1.’ It’s edited by Theo Van Alst out of Montana, is being published by New Mexico University Press, who’s also doing A CRITICAL COMPANION TO THE WORKS OF STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES, edited by Billy Stratton, which doesn’t count as ‘mine’ at all, I don’t suppose, except my name’s in there a time or two. Anyway, just because my new stuff’s all lounging in the drawer—and there’s a slasher there I so, so want to share with the world, as it’s a thing that’s never been done—that doesn’t mean I’m lounging around. Started a new novel right at the end of September, and, though I’ve been constantly on the road since then, I think, I just hit fifty-thousand words today, and it’s feeling like it’s maybe half-ish done? Not sure. My plan’s to have it wrapped by January 1st. Right now it’s called THE WRONG END OF THE NIGHT. It’s a cop novel out of West Texas. Having so much fun writing it. For once, I think, I’m not looking forward to after it’s done, so much. I just want to crawl inside it, keep pushing the walls out farther and farther, until the story’s bigger than the world.
About THE FLOATING BOY AND THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T FLY:
Things Mary doesn’t want to fall into: the river, high school, her mother’s life.
Things Mary does kind of want to fall into: love, the sky.
This is the story of a girl who sees a boy float away one fine day. This is the story of the girl who reaches up for that boy with her hand and with her heart. This is the story of a girl who takes on the army to save a town, who goes toe-to-toe with a mad scientist, who has to fight a plague to save her family. This is the story of a girl who would give anything to get to babysit her baby brother one more time. If she could just find him.
It’s all up in the air for now, though, and falling fast. . . .
Fun, breathlessly exciting, and full of heart, Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly is an unforgettable ride.
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