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Ok…brace yourselves. We’ve got a REAL treat. (Sara and I (Susan) are hyperventilating a little bit here…this is EXCITING!). Boys in our Books welcomes…TJ KLUNE!!!! *glitter cannon* *trumpets* *pomp & circumstance*
Having both just read “The Art of Breathing”, TJ’s new book (#3 in the Bear, Otter, and the Kid series), we could not be happier to host TJ here today!
BioB: WELCOME TJ!
TJ: Hi! Thanks for having me.
BioB: So, let’s jump right in! When you wrote BOATK, did you know Tyson would grow up and have his own story?
TJ: I did not. It wasn’t until I was planning BOATK2, Who We Are, that I thought there could be something there when the character of Dominic was introduced. I wrestled with it quite a bit, especially since I didn’t want to make Tyson gay just for the sake of doing so for a story. It needed to come organically, or else it would have felt forced. Who We Are focused on Bear and Otter, but I think Ty and Dom made up much of the story too, so it felt right to continue it.
BioB: I think it’s been said that Bear is…well, you, in a sense. In this book, Tyson felt a bit like you as well. How much of YOU is actually in these characters?
TJ: Much of what I write are bits and pieces of myself to make up a whole. I never had the angst of coming to terms with who I was (woke up one day and decided penises were great, and that was pretty much then end of the heterosexual road for me), but I did go through the issues of coming out and not having it go so well. Some family was supportive, and many were not.
At the same time, I am well aware that Bear, Ty and Paul from Tell Me It’s Real are essentially me. I am manic. I am crass. I don’t have a filter and sometimes, I say things right at the moment when I should be saying absolutely nothing. In writing Tyson with Panic Disorder, it’s the closest I think I’ve ever actually come to putting my whole self down on paper. I was diagnosed with a disorder akin to panic disorder at a young age, and I know what it feels like to be in the grips of panic attacks. Thankfully, they are far and few between as I’ve gotten older, but they are a part of me, and I knew they’d eventually be a part of Tyson as well.
BioB: You put Tyson through the ringer the last four years. Why do you feel he needed to go through this? And, was it odd at any point to go from writing an adolescent Ty/Kid to a Tyson who goes through real adult challenges and who *gasp* thinks about and has sex? :)
TJ: The “sexual” aspect of it was the most difficult part of writing The Art Of Breathing. For all intents and purposes, readers have known Tyson for years as a child. I had a few readers write me and tell me their concerns with thinking of Tyson as a sexually active adult. But again, it comes back to telling an organic story. If Tyson could be seen as a consenting adult, it means I did my job with making him a fully realized character.
And Tyson did need to go through what he did to become the man I always knew he’d be. Childhood is rough. Being a teenager sucks. But it helps shape you to be who you are as an adult. Tyson, in my opinion, came out a strong, confident man. He may not be all the way okay, but he will be. Of that I have no doubt.
BioB: Let’s talk (*swoon*) about Dominic. When we last saw him he was this big lug of a kid, shy, awkward. And boy did he grow up (ahummina hummina). Was it intentional to make Dominic into the next great alpha romance hero? :) And will we ever get anything from his POV? (pretty pleeeeease?)
TJ: It was intentional for him to become a great big giant of a man. Tyson needed someone larger than life to be able to match him, and I think Dominic fits the bill quite nicely.
And a point of view from Dominic? Well… let’s just say I may have told a bit of a lie when I said there was only one more BOATK book. DON’T FREAK OUT QUITE YET. After I finished TAoB, I couldn’t stop thinking about the road trip Dom, Ben, and Ty were going to be taking at the end of the book. I still can’t. What happened on this trip? What did they do? How did Ty interact with Ben? And more importantly, what was Dom’s perspective on how his life had turned out? It’s these thoughts that won’t leave. I may end up writing a novella about this road trip. From Dom’s perspective. Especially knowing what waits for them at the end. Think of it as BOATK3.5. And yes, I think this will become a very real thing.
BioB: Yup, sorry but…we are freaking out! BOATK 3.5…DOMINIC…this is us…FREAKING OUT!
BioB: And can you tell us a little bit about the intention/reason behind Dom having a son (Ben) with autism? Did you do much research in this area?
TJ: I needed Dom to be challenged since Ty was gone. Before I had started working on BOATK3, I received a lovely email from a reader where she discussed her autistic son. It was heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting because of the adversity she and her son had overcome. I thought Ben could add certain dynamic to Dom, a facet to the character we had not seen before. And I didn’t do this lightly. I researched the hell out of it, because I could not do a disservice to people living with autism. My main editor of this book has an autistic child and I was able to have her correct any mistakes. Anything I got right is thanks to her. Anything wrong is on me.
BioB: The character of Corey/Kori was FANTASTIC and a really great addition to the ‘family’. Tell us the a bit about the genesis and the evolution of this character. And where are you going to go with him/her?
TJ: Corey/Kori is my FAVORITE part of BOATK3. I knew he would be in the book even before I started writing. Bi-genderism is beautiful and fascinating, and I wanted to let my transgendered readers know that there will be a hero/heroine for them someday soon because YES, Corey/Kori WILL have his own book, and it will be the third book in the Tell Me It’s Real series. Corey will also play a large role in the second TMIR book about Sandy and Darren. He fits in perfect with my Tucson crowd. He could easily be swallowed up by angst like Bear and the boys, but I don’t think that’s what I want him to go through, which is why he’s moving to the Tucson universe. I think he’ll be very happy there.
BioB: Be honest. You HAVE to have a real Creed in your life. He’s too nutty not to be based on someone real. Who is it? (god that guy cracks me up!)
TJ: I do. Creed is based on my little brother. When shit got tough in our younger years, I could always count on him to be the one to make me smile, even when I thought I’d never smile again. He’s my rock.
BioB: Dear TJ’s younger brother…call me! *wink*
BioB: In this book, you broke the 4th wall…commenting on people who complain about stuff on the internet. You did this as well in “Who We Are”, poking fun at some of the early controversy surrounding the original book. This is risky, right? Do you worry the reaction from the readers? And…just to throw it in there…do you read the reviews of your books?
TJ: I did! And I did the same in Who We Are, I gladly admit. And it wasn’t done with any sort of revenge or meanness. I don’t have a mean bone in my body. I know there are certain people out there who don’t like what I do, and are frankly baffled that I have any amount of readers at all. This was just a way of poking gentle fun back to say I hear you, but aren’t there bigger things to worry about?
That’s not to say I don’t respect criticism, nor do I take it lightly. I may not always agree with your opinion, but I respect like hell your right to have it. That being said, no, I don’t really read reviews. I love that people take the time to write them, and without any kind of word of mouth, I wouldn’t be where I am at today, but I think that reviews are for the readers. Once the book leaves my hands and goes up for sale, it no longer belongs to me. People spend their hard earned money on what I write and can have any opinion about the stories they want.
BioB: THE ENDING of this book! What the heck???? Did you plan this? Or did it suddenly creep into your head? And at what point did you decide you’d be writing ONE (or ten maybe?) more book(s) (<-see what we did here? Subtle we are not.)? And WHAT WILL HAPPEN in the next one? TELL US!!!!! (And can we convince you to write a hot tub scene with bare-chested Dominic and Otter…ya know…just hanging out like guys do? :) )
TJ: Haha!! Nope, the ending was planned from the beginning. I knew people wanted to see Bear and Otter as parents, but I also knew it would not completely coincide with Ty and Dom’s story. It needs a whole book unto itself. I have so many ideas for the last book, but I need to wait to put them into order before I can consider writing it. I can definitively say the last book will be from Bear’s perspective, to come back full circle to how the story began. And you want to know a little secret? I already know the last scene in the series. The last words that will be spoken. There will not be a single dry eye by the time I’m finished.
At the same time, I need to end this while I still can, while the stories haven’t gotten stale. I want to make sure they have the ending they deserve, because they’ve given me everything that I have today.
BioB: Do you get as emotional writing your characters as readers do when we read them?
TJ: I do. ***Spoilers*** The death of Mrs. Paquinn destroyed me. To the point where I didn’t think I could actually do it. It was necessary for the growth of the characters overall, but I still can’t go back and read that tiny scene where she passes away in the hospital without completely losing my shit.
There is also one scene in particular that slays me every time I read it in BOATK3: the bad poem at the end of the book. It took me DAYS to write it because every time I’d start it, my hands would start shaking and I’d get a bit overwhelmed. It doesn’t help that my emotions are all over the place these days. But that last line…we are brothers until the very end… may be the one that I am most proud of having written. As Ty says, these stories are about grand adventures and great loves, but it always comes back to these two brothers who are finally finding their way. It’s about damn time.
BioB: TJ, if we may (because we care), can we ask how Eric’s doing? And did you ever imagine the overwhelming amount of support the two of you would get during the difficult times? Did you realize how much love people had for you guys?
TJ: Eric is good. We have our good days, and we have our bad days.
Most people don’t know that Eric has been actually back in the hospital twice since his three month stay. Once for a period of a few days in May and then again this last week. He was actually just released today as I write this. Nothing major, just some minor complications with the traech in his throat that needed to be monitored.
We did receive some potentially life-altering news this past week, though, of the good variety. As many of you know, Eric is attached to a ventilator as his phrenic nerve (the part of the body that sends the message from the brain to the diaphragm that tells it to fire, thus allowing him to breathe) is inactive, meaning he can’t breathe on his own. He has been accepted into a program for a cutting edge surgical procedure that will put in a device that acts as a sort of pacemaker for his phrenic nerve. If successful, there is a chance he may be rid of the vent once and for all. As I said, we have good days and bad days, but hearing that news was a good day.
I wish I could say I did imagine the support we’d get, that I completely knew that people would have our back as they did. But honestly, I didn’t. Not to the extent that it was. To say I was (and still am) overwhelmed is an understatement. It put it bluntly: we would not have survived mentally, financially, and emotionally without all our readers and fans have done for us. You have kept my family together, and for that, I will always be grateful. I love you guys very much.
BioB: We (all of us!) love you both! Sending all our love & support to you and Eric!
BioB: Lastly (gah! We don’t want you to gooooo…), what’s next in the pipeline for you? What books are you currently writing and what can we expect in the coming months?
TJ: On July 25th, I will be releasing the novella John and Jackie from Dreamspinner Press.
John and Jack first laid eyes on each other when they were twelve years old. Now, seventy-one years later, Jack prepares to give his beloved husband the ultimate gift. But before he does, they’ll relive five key moments from their lives together over the course of a single afternoon. From a first meeting and a first kiss, to the violence of an abusive father and the heartache of growing up, these moments have defined who they are. As sunset approaches, John will show the depths of his love for the one man who has made him whole: his Jackie. In the end, they’ll learn there is no force more powerful than their devotion to each other.
After that, I’ve got nothing set in stone in terms of release dates. I’m almost finished with my post-apocalyptic dark romance called To Darkly Shine. At least the first part of it.
After that, Sandy and Darren are up next. They’re starting to speak to me quite loudly and I can’t ignore them for much longer.
BioB: Ok, I guess this is it (*grabs on tightly to TJ*) You’re free to go if you must (*locks the door from the inside & throws away the key*). Thanks so much for stopping by (*you’re never leaving*).
TJ: Thank you for having me! And I wonder how long it’ll take for the Stockholm Syndrome to kick in….
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
When TJ Klune was eight, he picked up a pen and paper and began to write his first story (which turned out to be his own sweeping epic version of the video game Super Metroid—he didn’t think the game ended very well and wanted to offer his own take on it. He never heard back from the video game company, much to his chagrin). Now, two decades later, the cast of characters in his head have only gotten louder, wondering why he has to go to work as a claims examiner for an insurance company during the day when he could just stay home and write.