The Extraordinaries is T. J. Klune’s debut YA novel, T. J. Klune is best known for his Green Creek series and The House in the Cerulean Sea. The Extraordinaries is a queer coming-of-age novel about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes he loves. Through Pride Book Tours I have had the amazing opportunity to interview T. J. Klune himself! Check out his answers to my questions below.
Nick Bell? Not extraordinary. But being the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom is a superpower, right?
After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, Nova City’s mightiest hero (and Nick’s biggest crush), Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’ll do it with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, Nick’s best friend (and maybe the love of his life).
1. What inspired you to write a book about queer superheroes?
When I was a kid, I never got to see someone like me in books or any other form of media. I was the loudmouthed queer kid who didn’t know how to stop moving. My brain was always on, and it created a sense of “otherness” that I thought made me different than everyone else, much to my dismay. Now, looking back, I can see that what I thought were weaknesses were strengths, instead. I just had to reframe what I considered character deficits.
Add to it the fact that we don’t really get to see queer superheroes outside of comic books. Hulkling and Wiccan come to mind–a Marvel power couple who I adore. But why aren’t they on the big screen along with all the other superheroes? I wanted to have the same explosive action and evil villains, but to show it through a queer lens from the perspective of a gay sixteen year old. These types of stories matter, because honest and accurate representation is important.
2. Did you come across any new challenges when writing for a YA audience?
I did, more than I expected. I’ve spent years writing for adults, publishing over twenty books in my career. It took some getting used to, writing YA. Some language that I’m normally fond of (I do love cursing quite a bit) wasn’t exactly appropriate for a younger audience–even if when I was sixteen, I cursed like a sailor. But there are major differences between writing a teenage character versus writing adults. When you’re sixteen, everything seems dialed up to an eleven, and emotions are heightened. That being said, there’s something wonderful about writing teenagers. They can be smart and lovely and fierce and loyal–but they’re also learning how to be. They make mistakes, some bigger than others, because they sometimes don’t think things all the way through. I wanted to run with this, because it felt important to make it as authentic as possible. We all did stupid things when we were younger–hell, I still do stupid things now once in a while. But there’s this almost indescribable joy about watching these characters come into their own, growing up and learning who they are as people. Yes, they make mistakes, and yes, some of their decisions aren’t the best, but they do it because they haven’t quite become mired in the cynicism that can come with adulthood. They still have a bit of innocence to them, and I loved being able to explore that.
3. Is there a favourite quote you can share from The Extraordinaries?
Ever since I wrote the book, my favorite parts haven’t changed: I love the relationship between Nick and his dad. They are both trying to figure each other out in this new normal they find themselves in after the loss of Nick’s mom. They love each other immensely, but they don’t always understand each other. In a scene toward the beginning, Nick’s dad is watching baseball, and the following exchange occurs that really defines their relationship:
“I’m not fragile.”
Dad rolled his eyes. “I know. I figured that out the first time I dropped you on your head and it made a little dent. You didn’t even cry.”
Nick glared up at him. “What do you mean, the first time? There was more than once?”
“Being a parent is hard. Kids are slippery.”
“Baseball is stupid.”
“You were adopted. Didn’t even cost anything. You were in a box filled with free kittens outside of a bodega. We almost went with the calico.”
4. What is the best advice you can give to aspiring writers that would have helped you when you started writing?
Don’t write what you think others want for you to. If you try to please everyone, you’re going to please no one, much less yourself. Write for you. Write the story you want to tell.
5. Was the representation of a main character with ADHD important to you in The Extraordinaries?
It is, and one of the most important things, in fact. I’m neurodiverse. I have ADHD. Even now, in 2020, there’s such a stigma that comes with neurodiversity, and we really don’t get to see much positive representation in that regard. For a long time, I didn’t like that part of myself. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand that it’s part of me. It doesn’t define me, but it’s still something to be celebrated. There’s no one who thinks like I do, and I wanted to instill that in Nick. He struggles with his ADHD, wishing he didn’t have it. But through the novel, he comes to realize that it’s his own personal super power.
6. Have you started writing the sequel to The Extraordinaries yet or are there other books in the works first?
I have! In fact, it’s already done and with the publisher! Book II–the title of which I can’t reveal just yet–follows Nick on a new adventure. While I don’t want to say too much about it to keep the story secret, Nick and Seth and Jazz and Gibby return to face bigger stakes, and are forced to make choices that will affect the rest of their lives. It’s funny, heart-breaking, and ultimately, a story of how to pick up the pieces of shattered trust to try and put them back together. Also, there are drag queens.
7. And lastly, which three LGBTQ+ books would you recommend and why?
Hero by Perry Moore–one of the first queer superhero books that I ever read. Mr. Moore paved the way for authors like me to follow in his footsteps, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
Sidekick Squad by CB Lee–another queer superhero book with wonderful representation across the board. Even better? There are already three books out in the series, and I believe a fourth is on the way.
Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez–I read the first book in this contemporary series back in 2003, when I was twenty-one. At that time, it was still a rarity to see queer kids front and center in their own story, and it was a transformative reading experience that dealt quite frankly with sex, sexuality, and HIV. A wonderful series all around.
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A huge thank you to T. J. Klune for taking the time to answer my questions, I love the responses and bring on The Extraordinaries 2!