This week Jeff interviews TJ Klune and Kirt Graves. Ravensong, the sequel to TJ’s best selling Wolfsong, releases on Tuesday, July 31. TJ discusses what readers can look forward to in Ravensong, which takes place before, during and after the events in the first book. TJ also discusses what’s still to come in the Green Greek series.
Kirt relates how he got into audiobook narration, how he got the Wolfsong job (which was his first) and the recording of that book. Kirt and TJ also discuss how their collaboration works.
Other topics include what draws readers to Joe and Ox, the length of books and why TJ likes long stories. Both of them discuss what’s in their futures as well, including TJ’s upcoming The Extraordinaries series and October’s The Bones Beneath My Skin.
Here are the things we talk about in this episode:
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- TJ Klune & Kirt Graves Interview
- TJ Klune: Website | Facebook Group | Twitter | Instagram | Amazon
- Kirt Graves: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Audible
- Ravensong by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Wolfsong by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Bear, Otter and The Kid by TJ Klune on Amazon
- The Long and Winding Road by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Michael Lesely on Audible
- Tell Me It’s Real by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Derrick McClain on Audible
- Greg Tremblay on Audible
- Tales from Verania series by TJ Klune on Amazon
- The Raven by Edger Allan Poe on Amazon
- Forensics Faces Podcast Hosted by Kirt Graves website
- Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Murmuration by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Olive Juice by TJ Klune on Amazon
Interview Transcript – TJ Klune & Kirt Graves
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: I’m thrilled to welcome back to the show bestselling author, T.J. Klune, along with first-time guest audiobook narrator, Kirt Graves. They first worked together on the audiobooks for “Wolfsong” and “Murmuration.” TJ’s new book, “Ravensong” arrives July 31st at Ebook and Paperback. And Kirt will once again, give voice to the characters of Green Creek. Thank you both for being here.
T.J.: My pleasure.
Kirt: Thank you for having us.
Jeff: So, of course, what we’re all gathered here to talk about is “Ravensong.” T.J., you don’t like to give up spoilers, which is great, but what can you tell us about “Ravensong” and what readers can expect on this trip to Green Creek?
T.J.: I want to be like when people talk about sequels in their movies, it’s all like bigger and it’s better and it’s darker and shit blows up, but that’s kind of true. So, I’m going to be a cliche is that it is bigger and more hardcore and darker and shit blows up this time around too, which is fun. But it is a book that I wanted to write more than “Wolfsong,” I think. Like when I was writing “Wolfsong” and I got this idea of continuing it, I really wanted to get to “Ravensong” for Mark and Gordo. And what made that suck though is by the time I did get to it and started writing, this book kicked my ass to write. It is one of the if not the hardest books I’ve ever had to write only because I kept screwing up.
Every time I got further and further into the story, I was trying to make it something that it wasn’t, i.e., it was trying to be too much like “Wolfsong,” which can never work, given how there’s two different narrators and they’re so completely different. And it pained me to get like 60,000, 70,000 words in realizing that this thing is a hard thing. So, then I had to go back and basically cut everything. I kept the basic structure of the story, but I cut probably 50,000, 60,000 words, and basically had to start over from the beginning. So, this book is a labor of love, and it was a hard delivery. So, I gave it my all for this one, and I can’t wait for people to read it. I think it takes all the themes of “Wolfsong” and just amplifies them just as loud as it can possibly be. I’m excited about it.
Jeff: Now, for those who are unfamiliar, and we don’t know who you are, but I’m sure there are some, kind of lay out what “Wolfsong” and the starting of the whole Green Creek series was.
T.J.: “Wolfsong” was a coming of age for the narrator Ox Mathison. And he grew up in a tiny little town in Oregon called Green Creek. And he was not understood even beginning as a child. He thought a different way. He saw things differently. And, unfortunately, people around him took him to be one way when he was something completely different. I don’t like to use the term or the word slow. I don’t like how that’s coded. But he just had a different way of thinking, and I loved being able to write and see the world through his eyes, going from thinking that the world was one way and then having this family move next door that showed it to be something completely different. And people that read my books know that a big common thread through them is the idea of like found family and people that are your friends or your loved ones that aren’t necessarily related by blood. And I do that theme a lot in different ways in different books. But I think “Wolfsong” is one that probably exemplifies that the most, just because of the idea of wolves in a pack and what that would mean to humans and wolves and witches and all these different characters coming together that aren’t necessarily related but depend upon one another and need each other to survive. And then a whole bunch of other shit happens in the book.
Jeff: A whole bunch.
T.J.: A whole bunch of shit.
Jeff: Because “Wolfsong,” I was trying to think about this today because it’s been a while, but, I mean, that book takes place over years if not, maybe decades.
T.J.: A decade I think because it starts when Ox is like, what, 11 or 12?
Kirt: I think 11.
TJ.: Okay. And it ends when he’s in his early 20s, mid-20s. But I knew that when I was writing that book, it was going to be kind of like a generational type of story with characters from different generations. You have the kids, and you have the older people in the pack and whatnot. And I just like the interplay between them and the dynamic that they have with everything that they bring to the table young versus old. And this is why I’m enjoying moving on to “Ravensong” because I’m writing about characters once again that are my age, and I get them a little bit easier than I could say the characters in “Wolfsong.”
Jeff: What’s our timeline in “Ravensong?” Is it after? Is it significantly after?
T.J:: It’s before, during, and after.
Jeff: Oh, wow. Okay.
T.J.: Yeah. I think I could talk about this. The first six chapters, first six or so chapters alternate between Gordo’s and Marcus’ kids and the missing three years,1 month and 26 days where Gordo and Carter and Kelly and Joe were going after the big, bad Richard Collins. When I was writing “Wolfsong” I was so curious about what happened to them while they were gone because we don’t really know. We don’t know really anything aside from the one little part where you have the hunter David King coming back to Green Creek and telling Ox those two words, “Not yet,” that Joe sent to him. And I always wondered, how did it get to that point? How did it get that far? What were they doing that entire time that they were gone and how would that play upon…?
Because once they returned, everything happened so quickly towards the end of the book. And basically, they came back, and then wham, bam, bam, bam, everything blew up and all that kind of crap. But I was so curious about how Gordo would relate to these kids, essentially that he has to watch over, and especially a 17-year-old kid that just turned into an alpha. So, I was really curious about what it would be like for him as an asshole adult to turn around and have to be in charge of three teenagers and what they did and how their trip was like. And it was, so the first six chapters I think jump between the ’80s and 2013 when that all happened. And then the rest of the book covers only a period of two weeks. And it’s set a year after “Wolfsong.”
So, the opening chapters were meant to give you a sense of who Gordo was but also to make you feel like you have whiplash because you’re jumping from the past to a closer past. You know, in my head, it’s this neat literary little trick to do to show you that the kid that he was and the man he’s become, and this weird…the dissonance between both of them because the kid you’ll see, he starts out being almost like Ox, bright-eyed and all this shit is really super cool.
But as you know, as an adult, he hates everybody, hates everything, especially the Bennetts. And I wanted to figure out why he did, and the answer sucks. I’m an asshole, whatever, in this book, man. And I don’t regret it. Obviously, I don’t regret it at all. I’m a dick when it comes to what happened to him. And that’s all I’ll say.
Kirt: I think the depth of the history though, is so important. I guess as somebody who just enjoyed reading “Wolfsong” and then getting to read “Ravensong,” it was just really enjoyable to understand Gordo more. And it is a really neat literary trick to have the whiplash of jumping back and forth. But as a narrator, I was also reading that and thinking, “God damn you, T.J. Klune.”
T.J.: Yeah. It’s kind of hard right?
Kirt: All those people also have to be kids? God damn you, T.J. Klune.
Jeff: But you kind of faced that in “Wolfsong” too because when we first meet, I mean, Joe grows so much in “Wolfsong” that you had that same, he’s a kid, he’s an adult, and now he’s an alpha.
T.J.: Yeah. That was a fun challenge. And that was actually one of the few things that, going into the audiobook, I knew to even be worried about. There was so much I had no idea I should have been worried about but wasn’t, and that was one of the things that I thought, “How do I progress this voice from child to adult?” So, I did think about that. Everything else, basically, I got lucky on, but that I thought about.
Jeff: What’s it like to revisit these characters? I mean, some time has passed since both the book and the audiobook of “Wolf song.” So, what’s that like for both of you?
T.J.: It was good because I knew…I’ve essentially plotted out the remaining three books in this series. So, I know what’s going to happen in the future, what’s going to happen in the next few books, but being able to come back to this, even though, like I said earlier, it kicked my ass, right? I love these characters a lot. I mean, they’re really different than what I’m usually known for in terms of, I mean, I can write angst like a motherfucker, but I, you know, usually see me more in the comedic realm. And I liked being able to come back to this because it gives me a chance to be able to get out my own anger. I get out my anger through writing and all my feelings and stuff like that. And I’d be able to take it out on the characters even though they sometimes don’t deserve it. So…
Kirt: And for me, it was a pure joy. I just really loved coming back to this place and these people. You know, I’ve done about 10 other books in between “Wolfsong” and this, it’s not always the case that you just fall for the people that are there, but in “Wolfsong,” I did. And I thought maybe that was just because it was like first love, like the first thing I ever did, and I just had such a great experience with it. But as soon as I picked up “Ravensong,” those people were there. And their voices were back in my head and it was so effortless and beautiful. So, I think anybody who loved “Wolfsong” is going to love “Ravensong” as much, if not more. Is it okay to say that I liked “Ravensong” even more?
T.J.: I liked “Ravensong” more too just not… No, this is going to be sacrilegious to some people… You should hear it. I don’t talk crap about my own books, obviously, because that’s, you know, counterproductive. But when people tend to get upset, when you say you like something better or less or something, like when I talk about “Bear, Otter, and The Kid,” my very first book, that book to me is a very obvious first novel. You know, I think it has its flaws. And I cringe when I go back. And especially when I had to write the last book, I went back and looked through the first three. I cringed with some of the stuff that I was writing. And I’m like, it’s not my favorite. You know, I would have done things differently now.
And people are like, “You can’t say that. You have to leave it exactly how it is.” And it makes me feel like when George Lucas and Steven Spielberg went back in and like in “ET,” they took out the guns from the kids or from the adults or whatever. And then they…I love my readers, and I’m glad they love my books, but I like “Ravensong” better than I like “Wolfsong” just because a big part of it has to do with the fact that I’m 36 years old now and writing about characters in their 40s, like Gordo is 40. Mark is 43. I that just feels so easy to me because I can relate being closer in age to them than I am to 20-somethings these days. My God, I’m so old.
Kirt: Oh gosh, stop.
T.J.: I’m pretty still. So, thank you.
Kirt: I mean, I still love both, but I mean, it’s relating to that. I am sure I will like the audiobook of “Ravensong” more than I liked the audiobook of “Wolfsong” because this time I have an idea of what I’m doing. It’s not to take anything away from [crosstalk 00:14:06.885] but…
T.J.: It was between Kirt and one other person. And I spent hours flipping between their auditions and the thing that clinched… And I’ve told Kirt this before. The thing that clinched, it was his Gordo voice because the other guy, he was good. He was really good, but his Gordo voice wasn’t… I mean, obviously, you can give notes to say, “Hey, I want this to change.” But Kirt had exactly what I was looking for. And I was already starting to think ahead to, you know, he’s going to have to do that voice for an entire 16-hour, 17-hour sequel that I’m going to write, that’s going to be like 8 million words long. So, you know, that’s the reason he got it was because of his Gordo voice. And it was that close, but I liked his Gordo voice better. And now I like him.
Kirt: Thank you.
Jeff: So it’s kind of a win-win there.
T.J.: It is. It is.
Kirt: Mostly for me.
T.J.: I like it when people I work with are assholes, and he’s a good, good guy. And obviously, I have a very small stable of narrators that I work with. And, you know, I want to use them on different books. I don’t know how that’s going to work now on the future. But for right now, with what I have, I like to be able to have the people that I know and trust working on my books, and their talent is obscene. And so, I’m very lucky to be able to have found like Michael Leslie, that was his first book too, when he started doing “Tell Me it’s Real” and Derek McLean, he’s just amazing. And now I have Greg Tremblay doing my self-pub later this year.
Jeff: Oh, very cool. That’s very cool. Do you hear Kirt’s characterizations now when you were writing “Ravensong?”
T.J.: No, I don’t because I don’t want to take away from his art and, you know, I don’t listen to my own audiobooks because it’s really super weird for me. I’ll listen to his voices and, you know, just to make sure that, you know, everything’s on the up and up. Like, certain sections when he sends him in for review, there are certain sections I want to make sure I got right and everything like that. So, I’ll listen to those, but I have never… And it’s not him. I’ve never listened to any one of my audiobooks that I’ve done on any of my books all the way through because it’s weird. It is super weird to hear my own words read. When I’m writing, I tend to get blinders on, and I don’t focus on anything else but what I think that the character should sound like because I don’t want to…
You know, with Michael, obviously, I mean, his range is obscene with what he does for the Lightening series. But when I started writing the last three books of that, I la, la, la, la, la, I didn’t think it had anything to do with them, aside from the fact of how hysterical it was writing certain scenes that I knew he was going to have to try to work his way around, figure out how to do. I wrote a song in the last book specifically, so he would have to sing it again. I tried to think of something like that for Kirt, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. So, instead, the book opens with a quote from Kirt’s favorite poem, “The Raven.” And when I first sent him the book, he emailed me back going, “Do you know what you’ve done? Why don’t you go ahead and fill people in?”
Kirt: So, I’m a speech coach or a forensics coach, depending on what particular country you’re in. And so, for years, since I’m 14 years old, I have been listening to people perform “The Raven.” And for years, I have been tearing them apart because so many people just do it poorly. Like it’s not a bad poem, but like it’s been done badly in front of me so many times that all I hear are those terrible interpretations of this actually really great poem. So, I open up the first page of “Ravensong” and it’s fucking crap. And I’m like, “Damn it,” I’m sorry. I’m swearing so much. But this fucker is going to make me put on record my interpretation of this poem that I have yelled at people for picking for 15 years.
T.J.: And I’m going to say, you’d perform it on your podcast, your speech podcast. I’m going to insist that you read the entire poem on the podcast. That should have been a fucking stanza as well.
Kirt: It’s long. So yeah, so that’ll be fun for me. Yeah.
Jeff: Did you know what you were doing T.J. when you did that or was it just a fluke?
Kirt: No, it just happened. I didn’t know that he was so bitchy about Edgar Allen Poe.
T.J.: He’s naturally that much of an asshole.
Kirt: Like, yeah. I’m sure, you know, a normal person would have responded with empathy, and been like, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” I cackled. I laughed. I said, “What you’re going to do it anyway, motherfucker?”
T.J.: So, that’s good. And I will, and you know what? I’m going to kill it.
Kirt: Yeah, I bet you’re going to do it so good.
Jeff: You’re going to trot this out to your future students site. This is how you do this poem.
Kirt: And I’m going to make them buy it too because I’m not giving it away for free. He’ll buy my audiobook.
T.J.: That’s some good threats.
Jeff: That’s awesome.
Kirt: Skip whatever chapter the gay sex happens in.
T.J.: Oh, you can learn stuff. I mean, come on.
Kirt: That’s true. Half of them are on their way to that anyway.
T.J.: I know how straight sex works kind of. So, I mean…
Kirt: Do you want to explain it to us because…?
Jeff: This is not the podcast for that.
T.J.: I don’t want to offend anybody by having you like eat watermelon to show how I’m sure it works, but it’s fine. We’ll move on.
Jeff: So, you kind of mentioned in an earlier question that “Wolfsong” wasn’t necessarily a series to begin with. When did you decide you needed to go further with that story?
T.J.: Yeah. Like I’d been on a kick where, and maybe not going back to “Wolfsong” days, but when I’m sitting down and starting work, I’m realizing that I’m working on, you know, “Oh, look, I’m writing a sequel to this book. I’m writing a sequel to that book.” I wrote a sequel about how to be a normal person. And I swore up and down for years, I was never going to do something like that. And I like having one-off books, one-off stories that you can just be one and done. And you might think it’s just because, “Oh, you know, yeah, you can have just a single story, and it moves on.” But no, the reason I like it is because I hate having to research continuity. I hate it so much. And my editors will tell you that they can tell I hate it so much because I suck at it.
And anytime that I’m writing a sequel or a third or a fourth book, they’re like, “Oh, well, this is going to not make any sense at all.” So, one of my editors, Erica, she actually constructs these huge spread pages, spreadsheets of timelines for every series that I’ve written. Like right now, I have the one of “Ravensong” that I look, at and it’s combined with “Wolfsong.” And, I mean, it has birthdays for every single character. It has events that are going on, and it’s pages and pages and pages. And I knew if I was going to continue with “Wolfsong” that I’d have to contend with that. And, I mean, I like learning new stuff, but I’m lazy when it comes to rehashing having to relearn some old stuff that I wrote. But by the time I finished “Wolfsong,” I knew that there was a bigger story there, especially since I left so much unresolved. And when I sat down to start “Ravensong,” I actually did, like I said earlier, plot out the next, all the rest of the series, which is four books total to make sure that what I was going to be building upon from “Wolfsong” and “Ravensong” could actually go even further with the next two books. I almost just said the titles of the next two books. I shouldn’t have done that.
Jeff: That could have been an exclusive we almost had.
T.J.: Well, everybody knows the third book is called “Heartsong.” I have already know it’s that, but I have not talked about the fourth and final book, but I totally know the title to that.
Jeff: You’ve mentioned on social media, and we should tell people just for contextual purposes that we’re actually recording this in early June ahead of the airing in July. of a short story that’s going to happen too called “Lovesong.”
T.J.: Yes. I wrote a 6,000-word short story to follow “Ravensong” and that will come out September 1st. It’s Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective because I wanted to… I don’t want to say that she gets short-changed in “Ravensong,” but I wanted to do more, but the point of view wouldn’t necessarily allow for it without getting kind of wonky. So, I’m not giving too much away in “Ravensong,” but there’s not as much healing for her that I wanted there to be. So, instead of trying to shoehorn in something that would have sounded disingenuous in like a conversation between her and Gordo, who is the narrator, I decided to write a story just for her. And that was hard. That was hard to write, not because of the writing it from Elizabeth’s perspective, just because it’s basically 6,000 words on dealing with grief and overcoming that. And I’ve touched upon that before in another book I wrote “Into This River, I Drown,” which is just like a huge thing about grief. And I wanted to kind of do it from a different perspective here and to show what she’s doing on her own to come to terms with all that’s happened to her in “Wolfsong” and the events of “Ravensong.” So yeah.
Jeff: Six thousand words. I didn’t know you could write that short really.
T.J.: Well, let me tell you something. I said, “T.J., it’s going to be 5,000 words.” And I got to 5,000 words, and I was like, “Motherfucker,” because I still had so much to say. So then, I allowed myself to get to 5,500, and that wasn’t going to do. So then, I put 6,000 in the cap and I could have kept on going, man. I could have. I like words. I love them a lot. I could have kept on going, but I curbed it and went back and deleted a bunch of extraneous crap and then moved sections around. And I think it reads really pretty. So, it’s lyrical like Ox’s books was. So…
Jeff: Oh, okay. And then I think you’ve said, was it “Heartsong” is late 2019.
T.J.: Yes. I am 30,000 words into that as of this week. I plan on finishing it by the end of summer. And it’s Robbie and Kelly, and you will know whose perspective it’s going to be from, who’s going to be telling the story because that person’s name is one of the very last names mentioned in “Ravensong.” It’s actually the very last name on the very last page, one of the very last words. Kirt knows.
Kirt: Oh, that’s exciting. I’m happy. And I was hoping that would be him.
T.J.: Yeah. The person that narrates “Heartsong,” his name is the very last name mentioned on the very last page, one of the very last sentences. You’ll know who it is when you say it, but yeah, he’s going to be the one narrating the book. And that’s all I’m going to say on it because it’s obviously still a work-in-progress, but “Wolfsong” and “Ravensong,” they are two sides of the same coin, and they end a specific arc. And “Heartsong,” first and foremost, it’s the first time that I’m telling a book from beginning to end from the point of view of an actual wolf is in “Wolfsong,” Ox, spoilers if you ever read it, didn’t get turned into a wolf at the very end. Gordo narrates “Ravensong,” and he’s a witch. He’s a human. So, “Heartsong” is the first time you’re actually getting the point of view of a wolf for the entire book. And it’s allowing me to play with language a lot, and I’m having fun with it. Some of it’s working. Some of it’s not. But I’m having a lot of fun with it, and it’s going to be a completely different kind of a story than “Wolfsong” was and a completely different kind of story than “Ravensong” is. And the last book, Carter’s book, is going to be a completely different story too, a different type of story, but “Wolfsong,” “Ravensong” bookend each other. “Heartsong” is a start of something new, but builds upon what came before, and the last book will be the bookend for “Heartsong.” So two and two.
Jeff: Very good. Are you comfortable with the fact that you just said that Carter’s got the last book?
T.J.: Yeah. Oh, yeah because we definitely talked about him doing that. Yeah. Totally.
Jeff: Just making sure. I was hoping you might fill the cuddle out there, but that didn’t happen. Oh, well.
T.J.: He’s going to be in the last book. Yes. The last book is going to be his book and nevermind. I can’t say anymore. I won’t say any more. Kirt knows.
Jeff: We will just make Kirt talk now for a moment so you don’t end up saying something.
Jeff: So, as we talked about Kirt, “Wolfsong” was your first audiobook. How did you end up with the gig and decide to start doing audiobooks?
Kirt: Well, I decided to start doing audiobooks because a friend of mine had started, and like most people who get into this on the independent side, you hear about somebody who’s done it and you think, “I can do that,” having no concept of what that actually means or entails. And then, you know, I threw… I don’t know. I think I had maybe 20 auditions out there before I auditioned for “Wolfsong.” I didn’t get any of them, which I think is probably a pretty normal track record. For anybody who’s in acting, you know, you audition for way more work than you actually get. You have to get comfortable with the no. And I had gotten very comfortable with the no. And then I got really lucky. I had reached a point in my career, at that point, I was working for a small business in an office and it wasn’t utilizing my creativity or the parts of myself that I wanted to really put into the world. It was also just a really toxic environment. And I had decided I needed to quit that job. And I had no idea what that meant for my life moving forward. But I went upstairs, and I typed my letter of resignation, and I closed that screen after printing the letter.
And there was the email saying that I had been chosen to narrate “Wolfsong.” So, I mean, I’m not exaggerating. Like that would be such a great story to tell if it was like almost true, but that is literally what happened. I closed the screen, and there was the email waiting for me. So, and as far as like how I got it, I auditioned for it. And I submitted what I look back on now as a really terrible quality audition because I learned most of what I needed to about the sound quality portion of creating an audiobook while I was making “Wolfsong,” which I recorded, you know, in a closet surrounded by coats. And I started over four times to get the sound quality that I wanted.
T.J.: But at the same time, this dude got that book turned around, in what? What was it? Six, five weeks, six weeks?
Kirt: It was about 40 days.
T.J.: Yeah, he got it turned around like 5, 6 weeks, like 160,000 words that entire audiobook he did in 5 weeks.
Jeff: That’s amazing.
T.J.: When I got the email back from Dream Spinner that he had finished, honestly, my first reaction was, “Oh my God, what did I do? How did he finish that so fast?”
Jeff: How much is it going to cost to buy this guy out?
T.J.: I was like, “Okay.” But obviously, he’s a consummate professional.
Jeff: “Wolfsong” is hard, I remember writing…
Kit: Thank you, friends.
Jeff: It’s what? Sixteen hours? Fifteen, 16 hours?
Kirt: It’s just shy of 19 hours.
Jeff: Eighteen hours in 40 days? That’s amazing.
Kirt: Forensics, man. It teaches you how to…it gives you good reading comprehension skills and good on-the-fly interp skills. So, and plus it’s just a good book, like, you know, credit where credit is due. It’s written well, which always makes it easier.
T.J.: Have you had to audition for books where it wasn’t written well and you’re like, “Why am I doing this?”
Kirt: Well, probably. But that would have been before “Ravensong,” you know, or before “Wolfsong” because the audition scripts are often so short that you don’t really get a sense of whether it’s going to be a good story. Some of them are just outright bad. So, you do know to avoid those. And the problem I had with having T.J. Klune and “Wolfsong” as my very first audiobook was, am I willing to work with something that isn’t at the same level and quality and, you know, because there were certainly lots of jobs I could have auditioned for and chose not to because I was like, “Nah, if I have this,” you know, for the podcast audience, I’m holding my hand up high, why would I try to do something that’s …?
T.J.: Listen to this guy. He’s like, “I got one book. Oh, I’m better than ever all of these now.”
Jeff: What was it about “Wolfsong” that made you want to audition for it? Because I imagined you only saw like a small piece of the manuscript.
Kirt: I don’t know that I was being that discerning back then. It was just available. It was a job. No, you know, what attracted me to “Wolfsong” was the fact that it was like a fantasy story. You know, that’s the genre I enjoy reading SciFi fantasy I loved growing up. I loved different mythologies. And so, any story that creates its own mythology, I’m attracted to. And so, you know, knowing that shifters were a part of this world was something that I was like, “Okay, and it’s gay. Great.”
Jeff: Which obviously then made “Murmuration” kind of right down the same path as well because there are the SciFi elements to “Murmuration” too.
Kirt: Yeah. It wasn’t at all the LGBTQIA angle that drew me to “Wolfsong.” It was just that it was a fantasy story. And I was like, “That sounds fun.”
T.J. And it happened to have all the gay.
Kirt: And it happened to have all the gay, which, you know, I wasn’t afraid of. So, I may as well. And, you know, T.J.’s tone is always so clear in whatever book you’re reading of his. And I could tell that the tone was a little more introspective. You know, he’s used the word dark, and it was a little dark. So, I was like, “I can do that. I like that.”
Jeff: Was it all daunting as you got into it to see this relatively huge cast and such a, you know, the decade spending timeframe? We talked a little bit about that before about having to, you know, get the growth of the children to the teens, to the young adult range. Was that more than you expected in your first book?
Kirt: I had no expectations. So, I think that was the greatest gift going into it is I didn’t know I couldn’t do that. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal. I didn’t know that having your first audiobook be 19 hours long was kind of weird. I was just like, “I guess this is how long books are. All right. This is what it is.” And I just didn’t know. If I were to try to do “Wolfsong” now 10 books in, I would be terrified. I would still try to do it, and I would still take on the challenge, but I would be a lot more scared. Having “Wolfsong” be my first book taught me what I could do so much more than I probably would have learned if I had started somewhere else. So, I think this happens all the time. I was too naive to know what I was getting myself into, and that ended up being the best thing.
Jeff: How much collaboration do you two have in these audiobooks? I imagine the first one, possibly not too much, but now that you’ve kind of gotten to know each other and…
T.J.: Aside from giving him some information about certain characters… And being such a big asshole, I’m not sorry. Aside from giving him information on certain characters and couple of plot points, I let him run free in how he wants to do it because obviously with “Wolfsong” and, you know, there, I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. He turned in this excellent, excellent work. So, when I had just started to think about doing the audiobook for “Murmuration,” I was like, “Oh, I just want to give it to Kirt.” And then with “Ravensong,” like I said, aside from giving him a couple of notes on a few things, I fully trusted him to be able to do his own interpretation of it. And that’s how it kind of is with… The only time I’ve ever had to give notes or extensive notes to a narrator was not because of the narrator’s quality. It was Derrick McClendon in “Olive Juice” just because “Olive Juice” is such a different type of story. It’s told differently. There’s no pauses, no breaks. It’s one story without any texts or chapter breaks through the whole thing. So, I did give him a lot of notes about what I thought he should do, blah, blah, blah, here, here, and here. But otherwise, I just let the narrators do what they want to do with it, you know, trusting them that they won’t destroy it somehow.
Jeff: What do you think it is about Ox and Joe that grabbed people so much and just sucked people right into this other place or this other world?
T.J.: I think that there’s something every man about Ox, but at the same time, he has such a unique perspective on how he sees things. And, I mean, obviously coming in from the romance angle, whether it’s realistic or not, there’s always something special about the first love that you have then and growing up together. And then they become these people and whatnot. And I think that Ox, in particular though, he is different than any other character I’ve written. And I think that the way he speaks, the way he moves, the way he reacts, there’s just something so unique about him as a character. And I think that a lot of people are drawn to that. I have a plan for him obviously going forward. He’s shit. You haven’t read “Ravensong” and nobody has.
Jeff: Only Kirt knows to seek… Whatever that was going to become, only Kurt knows right now,
T.J.: Ox has a very masonic kind of a path that he’s going on, which is such an awesome juxtaposition with how Gordo is just as down in the dirt grimy, you know, will do anything, kill anybody, and all that kind of stuff. But I liked the idea of Ox, and like I said before, Ox and Gordo two sides of the same coin because they were on the same path. They were on the exact same path until both of them took completely different routes. And it’s really interesting for me to be able to kind of like with the whole opening chapters in the whiplash that we were talking about earlier, there is a very definitive moment when you realize that Ox and Joe or Oxen Gordo are no longer going to be the same people. There’s just this hard right. Turn that it takes. And I can’t wait for people to get to there.
Jeff: Kirt gives the knowing laugh.
Kirt: I do. No. I mean, for me, Ox and Joe, what attracted me to them was their innocence and their goodness. You know, we live in a time of antihero stories being so much more prevalent that there was the fact that they both… The story starts with them both so young before they have to start making difficult decisions and making the mistakes that we understand as adults are a part of growing up and learning and living. They had this goodness and things were happening to them, but they still held onto that trait, I felt. And that’s what I loved about those two and their relationship.
Jeff: Yeah. From my reader perspective, it was those early chapters in the book as they’re meeting each other and everything that was just like, “I have to go with their story now,” because you’re just like, boom.
T.J.: When I first started writing “Wolfsong” too, I knew it was going to be a long, long book. And because, you know, I wanted to take my time to get to these because I think it’s really important. It’s the same with “Ravensong.” It’s really important for me to be able to give the reader a sense of who these people are and a sense of place. I mean, obviously, not knocking any author whatsoever, whatever length that they write. But to me, there’s just something about being able to get into a long book, being able to take my time with these characters to make them actually independent and like they could almost be real. And the fact that, you know, each person, because it’s a large cast and each person has their own specific characterization.
They are different. They all have their own specific voice. And I needed to take my time getting through all of them. And, I mean, the book, I think that a book that this book “Wolfsong” and “Ravensong,” if they had been half the length that they are, if they had been the typical MM Romance, 60,000, 70,000 words, they would have been crap. They would have been an absolute utter crap because it’s not… You don’t get enough time. And I think to get to know the characters, and I think that’s a big issue in MM and romance as a genre today is that people are writing specifically getting to 60,000 words and saying, “Oh, that’s the book. That’s how many words it takes for a publisher to publish the book at 200 pages.” And that just blows my mind that you’re limiting yourself. Give your character some room to breathe. Let them be. And, you know, of course, you’ll have the detractors say, “Oh, his books are too long. They’re too long.” That’s fine. Whatever. I mean, it’s cool. But I like reading long stories.
Kirt: I’m sure around hour 16, I’ll be like, “This book is too long,” but I’ll get to the end, and then I’ll be glad it was as long as it was. I’m sure there will be a moment somewhere in there where I’ll be like, “Come on.”
T.J.: “Ravensong” is about the same length.
Kirt: Yeah. Almost exactly the same.
T.J.: I think almost like within a thousand words of each other.
Jeff: The whole thing over length is strange to me because I feel like the story needs to be however long the story needs to be, whether it’s the length of “Olive Juice,” which is short.
T.J.: Yes. Like 30,000 words, like 35,000.
Jeff: And you told that story, and it was what it needed to be, and that’s the end of it. And if “Wolfsong” and “Ravensong” need to be 160,000 words, then that’s the story. But I know that there are publishers who won’t agree.
T.J.: My editors don’t think so.
Jeff: Yeah. I know that there are publishers who don’t want to publish either something too short or it needs to be 50 or 60 or, and even readers who are like, “Well, I won’t read anything that’s over 60.” It’s like, why?
T.J.: Yeah. A long, long time ago, back when I was young and wide-eyed, and first was published in 2011, I thought, “You know what? I wonder what readers want. I wonder what they want to read and stuff like that.” And no one reader wants the same thing. You’ll have readers that they’re like, “Oh my God, there’s this awesome first book. And I love it. Oh, there’s three more books and it follows the same couple. Well, I won’t read those because I don’t like it when there’s more one book about the same couple.” And I’m just sitting there like, “Why? You liked the first one, here’s further adventures of the same people. That’s totally cool.” They’re going, “No, no, thank you. Goodbye.” And, you know, I stopped very quickly after I was published worrying about that kind of thing because there’s no point. Readers want to read what they want to read, and there’s no rhyme or reason.
Jeff: So, you just have to hope that it continues to be what you’re writing.
T.J.: Yes, exactly. Exactly. You have to hope, and I continue to do that.
Jeff: And you do it across so many genres. That’s really always been one of the things that I like, having watched your career, is that you pop around between the “Wolfsong” kind of book and the “Olive Juice” kind of book. And the “Tell Me It’s Real” kind of book. And it’s just…
T.J.: Yeah because I would get bored if I had to write… I mean, God love the authors that can write the same genre and do well and do it over and over and over again. But that would just drive me up the wall, trying to do something like that because, like, when I write a funny book, cool. It’s super cool. And super funny. Now, I want to write something where everybody dies and it’s soul-crushing.
Jeff: So, let’s talk about the future for a little bit because both of you are very active in what you’re doing. Kirt, obviously, “Ravensong” comes up sometime, hopefully by the end of the year because as we record this, we don’t quite know when it’s going to come out. What else is coming for you in the near term and in the future as you know it?
Kirt: Well, I just made the decision to pick up my whole life and move it about an hour away. My husband’s job changed. So, now we’re in a new city. So, I am giving it a go as an audiobook narrator full-time. So, I don’t know what that means.
Jeff: That’s very cool.
Kir: Because I’m just figuring it out. I mean, as I showed you at the beginning of the podcast, this is my new office. Behind me is the door to what will be my new sound booth. So, once that’s done, I need work. So, if anybody would like to hire me to narrate their audiobook, please contact me.
T.J.: He’s so good. Everybody should hire him to do all of the books except this other book.
Kirt: So, I mean, obviously one of the very first things I’ll do in there will be “Ravensong.” And then after that, it’s…
T.J.: Is that going to be the first book you record in your new booth?
Kirt: Depending on when the contract comes in, I might sneak one other one in there. It’ll be the first one.
T.J.: Thank you.
Kirt: It’ll be the first one. Yeah. So, the future for me is wide open and unknown. But, you know, I’m going to, I think at least give this a try for about a year and see if we can make it work. So, like I’m not joking guys. If you have a book for me to do, please get in touch.
Jeff: And you’re covering the GRL this year, so that’s going to be your first time to do that too.
Kirt: I am. My very first GRL, and I don’t know what to say about that other than I’ll be there because I literally don’t know what’s going to happen.
Jeff: Everything will happen there.
Kirt: Yeah. I hear it’s a good time.
T.J.: It is. And you’ll get lots of questions about wolves. Just ask Michael Leslie how he feels about unicorn questions.
Kirt: I will do that.
Jeff: And TJ, you’ve had tons of news coming out earlier this year. Your deal with Tor and “The Extraordinary” is pretty epic.
T.J.: That is pretty epic. And I am super freaking proud of that, man. Let me tell you because Tor, I just need to give a shout out to Tor and to my agent and to Elliot Tor who are just awesome people. Elliot Tor is just, she’s wonderful. I love her, and I barely even know her, but she is the one that was like, “Everybody at Tord needs to read “The Extraordinary,” So, she was the one telling everybody to read it. And for those not in the know, “The Extraordinary,” this is my YAMM super quero romance, comedy spectacular. It’s the first of a three-book deal that I got with them. The second two books are going to be the second and third, oh, more sequels of “The Extraordinary” series.
But the first few months of 2020 is when that book is going to come out, the first book because Tor has decided that they want to make it a priority, and they’re going to do everything in their damnedest to build this book up and hype it up. And it’s a whole different ball game than Indie Publishing. Let me tell you. Let’s just, for example, my Indie contracts when they’re assigned a book, you know, that my friggin one book is like that. I’m like, “Holy God.” So, it’s wonderful and exciting. And I can’t wait for Tor to publish this book. It’s going to be wonderful.
Jeff: Where did this come from to have teen superheroes? Because, again, it’s a different thing than you’ve done before.
T.J.: It is. But it’s okay. At first, it came about because I was being a dick. And the reason I was being a dick kind of goes back to “Wolfsong” when I told myself a long time ago that I was never, ever going to write “Gay Werewolves.” This stupid. I’m not going to write shifter books. It’s stupid, whatever. And then I started writing it and I was like, “Oh, well I’m a liar and a fat mouth. So, here we go,” for writing those. And then the YA came about because I was like, “I’m never going to write YA romance.” I mean, who the hell falls in love at 15 or 16 years old? And has it be believable and has a long-lasting relationship for the rest of their lives? That’s stupid. Nobody does that. That’s stupid.
But what if I did do it? So, I had to get over my own stupid chip on my shoulder because I wanted to always write a story because, you know, like superhero movies, like “Spiderman” and whatnot, you always have the bumbling sidekick that doesn’t know their best friend is a superhero. And there’s all these times when they walk in on something that they should be able to figure out, but they don’t know. And it’s that close to being able to figure out their best friend’s super identity. I wanted to write a book from the point of view of the best bumbling friend, the one that always stumbles in on situations not knowing that the people around him are these big, you know, famous superheroes and whatnot. And he writes fan fiction about them, self-insert fan fiction about them and their scenes in the book, that are me being able to write fan fiction about the book that I’m actually writing.
And I purpled all over that prose, man, because I had to write like a 16-year-old boy writing himself into a story about being in love with a superhero who also loves him back. So, man, that stuff is awesome. It’s so ridiculous. But, yeah. I don’t want to say too much about it because there’s this whole big world that I’ve built, this whole plot and everything, but first and foremost, it’s gay, queer. The lead character, he’s out. Everybody in this book is out. This is not a coming-out story. I didn’t want to do that because I wanted a world because in this day and age, 2018 kids come out, and everybody’s cool with it. Nobody gives a damn about, you know, their sexuality. Their parents are fine. Their friends are fine. They have the gay-straight alliance in their school. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want this to be a coming-out book. I wanted these kids to be here. They’re queer. Nobody gives a shit. There’s no homophobia, no anything in these books. Everybody’s onboard. Everybody’s on the same page. They don’t give a damn, gay, straight whatever. And that was a big, big, big thing for me. It’s the lead character is gay. His love interest is bisexual. There’s two girls. They’re best friends that are also in a relationship with each other and it’s just…I’m having fun with it. I’m having fun.
Jeff: It’s fantastic. Obviously, I take it the first one’s written and the other two are just off on your schedule, or did you do all three?
T.J.: No. I have to write them, which is fine. I mean, you know, another thing I learned about traditional publishing is that there is deadlines, and they are really sticklers about deadlines. So, I will work on them when I can, when it splits. So, I’ll get to it someday.
Jeff: Okay. And then beyond “he Extraordinary” is you’ve got another book that’s happening with Tor also.
T.J.: Ah, yeah. So, out of the blue, I wrote a book about a man named Linus who is in his 40s, he’s overweight, and he’s in a dead-end job working for the department in charge of magical youth. And he is sent to an orphanage on an island to investigate children and their caretaker on this island. It is a queer romance, and it’s not YA. Both lead characters are in their 40s. And so, I thought to myself, “Oh, okay, well, let’s just see what happens with this book. I’ll just give this to my agent.” She’s like, “Oh, I love it. Let’s give it to touring. So, give them an exclusive 10 days to be able to look at it and see if they like it. See if they want to publish it.” I said, “Sure. Why not? I already got a fucking big deal from them. Let’s see if they like to maybe buy this one and whatnot.”
No, Tor was like, “Hey, let’s give you the same three-book contract.” So, now I’m contracted for six books, and I could not be happier about it. So, I will be publishing with the Tor team for a YA and also for three books and also Tor for three adult books. And all of them are going to be queer. All of them going to be gay romances. I’m going to make Tor so fucking gay, and it’s going to be amazing. But Tor understands how important that queer characters are. And with what they offered me, they obviously want me to make a home with them, and I’m going to fucking move right in. I’m totally fine with that. That’s totally cool. I already have an idea for what I’m going to do for the second book in my adult contract with them. I already know what I’m going to do with that one. I’m going to do something cool.
Jeff: Is that going to be a series from that first adult book or is that one just similar?
T.J: No. That first adult book, that book was initially or originally called “Don’t You Wish You Were Here?” Tor wanted the title to be more Torish because Tor is paranormal science fiction, and they’re the arm of McMillan that publishes like the science fiction and whatnot. So, now the title is “The House in the Cerulean Sea.” Cerulean, the color blue. Cerulean, so that’s the title, and that is a standalone book. So, my plan with the adult contract is to do three standalone books. So, I don’t have to worry about sequels to anything. So…
Kirt: I mean, he says that now.
T.J.: Shut up.
Jeff: I was thinking the same thing, but thank you for saying it.
T.J.: No. Yeah. Probably. I don’t know. I don’t know that. I mean, what the plan is now is I have books set to come out with Tor starting in 2020, and then going into 2021 and 2022 and 2023. I mean, I’m not thinking… I don’t know what I’m doing next week, man. So, having them plan that far ahead is crazy to me.
Jeff: Well, you’re already into 2019 with Dream Spinner, I mean.
T.J.: Yes, I have three books next year.
Jeff: And you’ve got a self-pub coming as well.
T.J.: Yes. In October 26th. Thank you for reminding me. Yes, please. Everybody, buy my self-pub book because this is the first time I’m self-publishing and I don’t want to be like, “Oh, this is a bad idea.” So, you don’t want me to feel bad. So, please buy the book. It’s called “The Bones Beneath My Skin,” and it comes out on October 26th.
Jeff: You want to give us a little tease on what that one’s about?
T.J.: That book is about… I wanted to write a book that was a Steven Spielberg from the ’80s, kind of like Goonies kind of vibe. And then that didn’t work out at all. So, I got really interested in the ’90s, how weird the ’90s were. I mean, the ’90s were just a weird time for everybody, talking about like leading up to like Y2K and going back further when you have like David Koresh when you have Waco and all that happened. The reason I bring that up is because “The Bones Beneath My Skin” part of it is sort of my take on the Heaven’s Gate cult where they thought aliens were coming in a comet and the Halbach comet, they thought that there was going to be a spaceship, and they ended up committing suicide and killing themselves. And I thought, “What if there was aliens?” So, that’s kind of where the book came from, and it is a queer romance. And it is basically me writing an action movie with feelings, and shit blows up, and there’s gay sex. So, not really like what you see normally.
Jeff: Yeah. The blowing up stuff is. The gay sex is not so much.
T.J.: Yeah. But think about how much better, like a Michael Bay movie would be if like all of a sudden he was like, “You know what? It’s gay sex break time.” And then they’re just like, and then stuff went back to blowing up after that. I would be able to sit through a Michael Bay movie if that happened.
Jeff: Yeah, I would too.
Kirt: Yeah, absolutely.
T.J.: I would just fast forward to that part.
Jeff: That’s excellent. Anything else you want to throw in there that’s coming up?
T.J: No, man. I’m tired. I’m tired of thinking about my future. I’m tired about thinking of what I have to work on next week. So, I think I’m okay for right now.
Jeff: All right. Good deal. So, what’s the best way to keep up with you guys online? We’ll start with Kirt. How do we find what’s going on with you as you get the new studio up and running?
Kirt: Yeah. You can find me online at kirtreads.com. I’m on Facebook at Kirt Graves, Twitter Kirt Graves. Kirt is K-I-R-T for those who haven’t seen it in writing before. And then Instagram is Kirt Reads.
Jeff: Fantastic. And T.J., what’s all your addresses?
T.J.: Tjklunebooks.com is my website. T.J. Klune Books, Instagram, T.J. Klune, Facebook, Twitter, all that kind of stuff. Oh, and if you’re on Facebook, you can be in the Klunatics Facebook group where they typically get to see stuff before I actually tell everybody else. So, if you want to join that group, just click to join. And one of the admins will approve you. We’ve got a real community there. It’s really awesome.
Jeff: I can’t recommend that group highly enough because I like getting those little extra like, “Oh, wait to go T.J.” moments.
T.J: Yeah, stuff we can’t talk about yet.
Jeff: That’s right.
Kirt: I know.
T.J.: Big, big stuffing.
Jeff: T.J., Kurt, thank you so much for joining us talking about this “Ravensong” that comes out on July 31st and everything else that’s coming up as well. I very much appreciate it.
T.J.: Thank you for having us.
Kirt: Thanks for having us.