Jeff reviews TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea and the TJ joins Jeff for a discussion about Cerulean Sea, including the Wikipedia article that sparked the idea, the story’s unique setting, the children that populate the orphanage and the message he hopes the book conveys. They also talk about the May release of The Extraordinaries and the August wrap up of the Green Creek series.
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Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- 33 of the Best Book Podcasts for All Genres on BookRiot.com
- TJ Klune Interview
- TJ Klune: website | Facebook Group | Twitter | Instagram
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Sixties Scoop on Wikipedia
- The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Bones Beneath My Skin by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Stranger Things on Netflix
- Murmuration by TJ Klune on Netflix
- Reese Dante website
- The House in the Cerulean Sea cover video on Twitter
- Red Nose Studios on Instagram
- Green Creek series by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Bear, Otter and the Kid by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Leaving Myself Behind by Bart Yates on Amazon
- Archive of Our Own website
- Heartsong by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Fearlsong by TJ Klune on TJ’s website
- Ravensong by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Tales from Verania series by TJ Klune on Amazon
- The Klunatics Group on Facebook
- Michael Lesley on Audible
- Kirt Graves on Audible
- Klunatics Podcast website
- Barnes & Noble Fredericksburg on Instagram (check this for TJ’s event on Tuesday, March 17)
- Klunatics Podcast Episode 1: How to Be A Klunatic podcast
- Q&A with TJ Klune on Big Gay Author Podcast
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – TJ Klune
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 am so thrilled to welcome TJ Klune back to the podcast. Thanks for being here.
TJ: Thanks for having me again. I really appreciate it. Good to be back.
Jeff: We have so much to talk about. You have so much going on. Amazing stuff.
TJ: It’s crazy. It’s been a wild ride from the past year or so. So, I mean, very excited about what’s coming up.
Jeff: The big thing that’s happening the week of March 16th as this does air is “The House in the Cerulean Sea” comes out, which is your debut with a big five publisher, or at least an imprint of a big five.
Jeff: As somebody who’s watched your career, it’s so thrilling to see you cross into this realm. And with this book, where did this book spring from your head? Because it’s really unlike anything we’ve seen from you so far.
TJ: It is. “The House in the Cerulean Sea” is a, it’s a bit of a quirky fantasy, but it deals with some very real, topical, specific issues. It actually started from a Wikipedia article because I have a tendency to get lost in Wikipedia for a long time and that’s a problem. But I will be in one article and I’ll click on another one, then another one, and then another one until I’m completely off what I was trying to look up to begin with. But I came across something known as the Sixties Scoop, which was in Canada during the fifties and sixties, where indigenous children were taken from their homes and put into government sanctioned orphanages, for lack of a better word.
And the idea stuck with me. It was something that I could not shake. And this was, this was at the end of 2017-ish. I had just finished writing my YA debut, “The Extraordinaires,” and I was looking into wanting to continue along in that vein with something a little bit different. And so when I stumbled upon this article about children being taken because they were different or they didn’t adhere to what standards people thought should be at the time , it was something that I couldn’t get out of my head and, but I didn’t want to co-opt, you know, a history that wasn’t mine. I’m a cis white dude, so I can’t ever really go through something like what those children had to go through.
So I sat down and I was like, I’m just going to write this as a fantasy. I’m going to write about an almost Orwellian society where the government sees everything and watches everything you do, and follow a man who is stuck in a rut. He’s a cog in a bureaucratic machine named Linus. I wanted to follow him.
He’s not necessarily prejudiced at the beginning, but he believes everything everybody has ever told him. His supervisors, the management, superiors, everybody’s told them that things have to be a certain way. So he’s gone that certain way. And when I finished the book, in spring of 2018, It was a couple of months later that all the news came out of everything that goes on at the United States Southern border with children being taken away from their parents and put into government sanctioned camps. And I was like, this is a little too close to home. I don’t know how I feel about this.
So I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. If I thought I should change it or if I should leave it as is because, it’s topical now more than ever. And it’s prescient and it sucks that that has to be the way. But I think that this story will bring the idea that we need to have to speak up.
We have to speak up for those that can’t speak for themselves. And that’s kind of the theme of the whole book is, is to raise your voice for those who don’t have one.
Jeff: One of the many things that struck me as I read it is I couldn’t decide what year it was.
TJ: Yes. That was intentional.
Jeff: Other than that, it was after the day the music died because that’s referenced a few times, cause music plays a big part of this.
TJ: And it’s all, you know, 50s, 60s music too, and there’s, in the book, there is no mention of a television. There was no mention of cell phones. I think in one instance, Linus uses a Diner’s Club credit card, which is something that people don’t use anymore, and that was intentional. Just, I didn’t want it necessarily to be nebulous about the time it was set in, but I wanted it to have an old fashioned feel because this kind of fantasy, it’s a gentle fantasy. It’s low fantasy and it’s not something that you really see a whole lot of anymore. In the 60s, 70s and 80s, there was a lot of gentle fantasy. And that’s something that I’d never written before and I wanted to try it. So that’s why I went that direction. And it’s an homage of sorts, but it’s also, I love, you know, aside from the bigotry and the homophobia and misogyny, I have a thing for the era of the 50s and the 60s. I like the music, the style of clothing, the dress, the way the houses looked, all of that, the aesthetic, I guess we can say of the 50s. And so that’s kind of what I wanted to bring into the book itself.
Jeff: You saying that reminds me before I pushed record, we were talking about how kind of I found the book and I was connecting it most to “Bones Beneath My Skin,” which I think if you take out kind the homage there to “Stranger Things” and kind of some Stephen King work fits this, but hearing just talking about this now, it also connects a little bit to “Murmuration” where you use that time frame a lot too.
TJ: Yeah, it is. And the “Murmuration” was my, was my love letter to “Twilight Zone” cause I love that show more than I should possibly. And this book too, I wanted to still stick with that kind of feel because there’s something I don’t, not necessarily innocent, but there’s something just different about that.
We’re not so far removed from it that it’s alien, but we’re still so beyond it that the idea of that timeframe existing is in a way, it’s an antique and it’s just, people were different back then, both good and bad, and I kind of wanted to explore that timeframe, but not necessarily stick that with a label in the book itself. And in “Cerulean” no year is given, so it can be any year just for the fact, just because I didn’t mention television or just because I didn’t mention cell phones or anything like that, doesn’t mean they exist. It was intentionally given the feel of it being a bit old fashioned and old timey.
Jeff: Tell us about the, the children who populate this orphanage. These six kids.
TJ: Yeah, they are Talia. She is a girl garden gnome with a long flowing beard and a heart of steel that hides a marshmallow center. There is a forest sprite named Phee, who distrusts everyone she doesn’t know. There’s Theodore, who’s a wyvern, which is a small dragon, and he hoards buttons underneath the couch in the living room. My favorite, and it’s probably sacrilegious to say I have a favorite, but I do, is an amorphous green blob named Chauncey, who wants to be a bellhop more than anything in the world, it’s a singular focus for him. Even when I was writing it, he was hands down my favorite.
There is Sal who is the oldest of the bunch and the quietest, and he happens to be a shifter. But as you know, I’ve written shifters before. I’ve written quite a few books on shifters and I didn’t want to do that with this. So I made him were-Pomeranian. I don’t necessarily know how I came to that. I think I thought it was funny at the time, and then when I started running with it, I was like, Oh, maybe this is kind of stupid, but then it just, it fit with him for the kind of character he is and it made me appreciate him, I think a little bit more because the idea of a character like him. He’s a big boy, is a teenager that turns into this tiny little dog. There’s something very sad about that to me, and I think it strikes home to the character.
And the last kid who I bet is probably going to be most people’s favorites. He’s six years old. His name is Lucy, and he is the antichrist.
Jeff: You say the most normal thing in the world.
TJ: I know. I know. And it’s quite a varied spectrum. All six of these children. And that was intentional because I wanted to, I didn’t want to make them the same. They each have their own indistinct or very distinct personality, and that shows through, they all act differently. They all talk differently, but they do have a bit of sameness to them because they’re being raised again, and they’re growing up together and for all intents and purposes, their brothers and sisters, and so, they are all unique, but they all care very much about each other and want to protect each other as much as possible, which is why they don’t necessarily like when Linus shows up on the island to begin with.
Jeff: And I’ll just go against convention. Sal was my favorite.
TJ: Was he? Okay, good.
Jeff: Something about the quiet kid, the one who tries to just, you know, stay in the back. I like the connection that he and Theodore have, you know, that they’re kind of tight with each other and
TJ: buddies. They are, and they’re definitely buddies.
And I think that that Theodore is very protective over Sal.
Jeff: Or vice versa. I wasn’t really sure who protected more there.
TJ: Yeah, it is. Sal is, I think he’s the character that I worked the hardest on because I wanted to give him such a different voice from all the others. Cause one, he is the oldest. And two, I think that through what their backstory comes out, we’ve seen, I think that he probably carries the most trauma and it was important for me to get that right because you can’t gloss over something like this. Not taking away from the fact that this book is, you know, a comedy. It does deal with some very serious issues, and I didn’t want to skate over that with, with each of the children, so I had to make sure that each of them had a proper arc, but Sal gave me the most trouble until I finally sat down and, and it clicked and I got it right.
Jeff: Yeah, you definitely got it right.
TJ: Oh, good. I’m glad to hear somebody else say that.
Jeff: You’ve mentioned it’s comedy and there’s humor there. I didn’t know how to put the book in a genre.
TJ: It’s hard to define right? That’s why I’m comfortable with the term gentle fantasy. And I think that people who read it will understand that. But when you’re reading the blurb on the back of the book and it’s all like, oh, by the way, here’s the antichrist.
Like, well, watch, but it’s not this, but let me, let me put it this way. This book can, and I hope will. Be read by most any age. I’m hoping that parents, with kids who are 11, 12 years old will read this book together and get something from it. Adults will get something on a different level then maybe their kids will, but, kids will get the message that I’m trying to get across just the same.
Going through the editing process, there was some more serious language in there. I mean, let’s just, I can talk about it here. I use the word fuck twice in the book, and my editor was like, what if we took those two F words out and then anybody can read this?
Because people will go into libraries. People go into bookstores and looking for books to be able to read with their kids or to give their kids to read and say, does this book have, you know, any strong language or any strong violence or any sexual situations, and if they hear the book has the F word in it, they may not, they might not give the book to their kid or the book seller might not be able to recommend it.
And so while I was, fuck happens to be my favorite word that I put most often in my books, so to take that out, I was like, Oh, okay, that’s fine. We’ll see what it does. But then I thought about it and if a 12 year old can pick up this book and read it because of that, that minor subtraction, totally okay with that.
Because I want kids to be able to read it. I want anybody who wants to read this book to be able to read this book. It’s meant for everyone. I think that the topic and themes of the book are very timely, unfortunately.
What I hope, I guess is that in the very end that people walk away from this book thinking that there is still kindness in the world, that we can still do good because we’re all mad all the time about everything.
We turn on the news, the world is on fire, the government is a mess. Everybody hates each other. And that’s why I love reading. And that’s why I love writing. It’s an escape. What I want people to do with this book when they finish is just to remember that there’s good out there.
There’s still kind people. And now if we work together, we can, you know, combat all this crap that’s being flung at us right now.
Jeff: It was really like, the best message. I mean, cause even before Linus gets to the Island, he’s got a boatload of crap going on for him.
Jeff: And then he has everybody else’s issues, not realizing that’s what he’s there to do, but that’s where he ends up.
TJ: And I want to make sure that, you know, I’m not going to be getting into spoiler territory, but not everything will be completely 100% solved by the very end of the book, because that’s not how life works. You know, we begin and we start and we work towards something.
And so by the time the book closes, we’re at their beginning for their next step. And though I don’t plan on writing anything more in this world, you know, flash forward two years and I’m like, Oh, by the way, here comes a sequel. But I wanted people to know that when they reached that last page to say, Hey, yeah, I wish I could know what happens next.
But at the same time, sit there and think, well, you know what? I bet they all did good. I bet they all went out there and conquered the world because it would be, it would have been very easy to give very trite pat ending to this and, to tie up everything in a neat little bow. But that’s not the way life is. Life is chaotic. It’s messy and it doesn’t always adhere to what we want it to. I know that they’re on the right path.
Jeff: And we have to give a nod to the love story here too, because Linus and Arthur are so sweet.
TJ: Again, it goes at the idea of it being slightly old fashioned. They, the way that they move around each other, it is almost courting in a way and, but it’s not, it’s not like, you know, they’re giving each other gifts or anything like that. In this case, they sit down and have discussions about philosophy and that to me was, there was a sweetness to that because it was Arthur being in his comfort zone. And Linus not, and having to step outside of what he has, his strict and stringent routine and having to go beyond that was a delight because Linus is a fussy, fussy man and I love that about him. He thinks he knows the way things are and then when he sees that they are not, he’s very resistant to try to change because he likes his rules, he likes his regulations. And to have that taken from him is not something he ever expected to happen, but of course it does through the kids. And especially through Arthur.
Jeff: It was just perfect.
TJ: Thank you. I think so as well.
Jeff: We don’t usually talk about your book covers. Reese Dante has certainly done right by you on many, many occasions.
TJ: Many, many. Yes, she is my go-to. And, Oh, by the way, speaking of Reese Dante, I just want to shout out Reese Dante, because with this whole issue that has gone on with our former publisher.
I didn’t know how to format stuff. I didn’t know what I was going to be doing with, with trying to republish, Reese Dante, stepped up and reformatted most of my books. She did everything she did all, she fixed all the covers, even the covers that she didn’t do for me. She helped redo to make the full cover up. She is an amazing person and I love her and all my books would not be here without her, so I just wanted to shout out restarting.
Jeff: I give a big shout to Reese Dante too. She’s awesome. The work that she does is gorgeous. “Murmuration” still one of my all time favorite covers
TJ: me too.
Jeff: But the “Cerulean Sea” cover. My God.
TJ: Yeah. Like when they first sent me the concept, it was hand drawn and because that’s the second cover, there was another cover that was originally a place that I adored. It was great. It was a beautiful hand drawn cover. And, the big wigs who are paid the billions and billions of dollars to make such decisions, decided they wanted to go to a different direction.
So I was like, Aw, shit. So they sent me a cover concept and I was like, eh, it’s all right. It’s just like, it was just the hand drawn of a house sitting on a Hill with trees blowing, and it looked like something you’d do to like on a cocktail napkin or something like that. So I was like, Oh, okay, well, I guess we’ll have to see what it is.
And then a couple of months later, my editor at Tor, Allie, sent me the cover as, people know it now, and I was just like, Jesus Christ. The fact that it was. I mean, the fact that it looks as it does is just one thing. But when I was looking at it, I thought, okay, I can see where the model is. I could see it on the cliff. I can see that how the creator made the house and everything like that. But all the background, all of that sky and the ocean and the sun, all of that has to be digital. And then the, the creator, an awesome guy who runs Red Nose Studios. Posted the video of the actual model of the cover, and all of that is handmade.
It is mind blowing his, the level of talent he has just blows me away and I am, I am honored to be able to have that cover for this book because it is, it is literally just perfect. It is absolutely perfect. The detail is just exquisite.
Jeff: The video, I mean, if this ever becomes like a movie or lives in that format, I can see that video being in the title sequence.
TJ: Well, you know, it would be awesome if this, if it does become a movie, if it was made stop motion animation, like, “A Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Coraline,” something like that. And then I would hire the hell out of him to oversee all of that because he does stop motion animation and it’s, it’s brilliant.
Go look up Red Nose Studios on Instagram to go watch his, his art in everything he does because. His stuff just out of this world.
Jeff: Yeah, I will. I’ll link to it to that Instagram, but also go back into the archives and find that video of the, of the house. It’s incredible.
TJ: It’s absolutely wonderful. It’s absolutely wonderful.
Jeff: Now you’re headed out on a tour to support this book, which will be a first for you. We’re used to seeing you, you know, show up at GRL and maybe at another event or two here or there, but TJ Klune on tour.
TJ: Yeah. That is frightening, it’s very, very scary because when they first said, yeah, we’re going to send you on a book tour, I was like, Oh, okay. I’ve got like four or five different places. No. They’re sending me everywhere for, I think that “The House in the Cerulean Sea,” I mean by the time this comes out, I’ll be doing the launch here in Virginia. Then I’ll be going to the Charlottesville Book Festival for two days in March, and then from there I’m flying all over the country I think to like 10 or 11 different places for this book tour. Look at me now you’re, you’re seeing January TJ. I’m soft and rested and relaxed. I’m sure by the time that March occurs that I will be completely high-strung and out of my mind.
Jeff: I think that’s why we decided to do this while you were still calm and soft TJ.
TJ: If we, if we had tried to record this in March, I would be shrieking into this microphone right now going, no, everything is fine. Everything is wonderful. I’m having such a good time. Oh, like in, In 10 days. I have to go and give a 10 minute speech in front of a whole bunch of people, of a whole bunch of librarians and booksellers at the ALA convention. And so I’m properly terrified because I don’t do public speaking, but I have to do that a bunch now. So yay.
Jeff: This’ll be your pilot run. Just the ALA will be your pilot run.
TJ: Right. I know. I know. But imagine if that goes bad and then that’s going to be like, Oh shit, you really sure you ought to put me out in front of people.
For some reason, people at TOR seem to think I’m charming, which, okay. You know, people are allowed to have opinions even if they’re wrong, and so I’m just like, okay, you’re putting all this work and money behind me, so I guess I have to go do something.
Jeff: You’re charming.
TJ: Yeah. There’s the, I think the word you probably mean is awkward, which is totally fine. I’ve accepted that, but yeah.
Jeff: Charmingly awkward I guess.
TJ: Yeah, we can do that way. I will accept that
and then I might be going to Comic Con.
I don’t know. If they can get. If they want me, they want me to go to Comic Con and they’re trying to get me to Comic Con. And if they do, I will go there and I will do whatever they want me to do. I will cosplay as like the sexiest ninja maiden there is. If I have to, then I will go and be at Comic Con cause that is my nerd dream.
I’ve never been and I want to go. And even if. Even if I go just to go, just to see everybody, that’s great, but they actually want me to do book stuff at Comic Con too, so I’m like, yes, I will do that. I’ll do whatever you want. Yeah.
Jeff: You’ll, you’ll live through this first book tour to get the Comic Con as the treat at the end.
TJ: Yes, I will. I will do anything that they tell. I will give 10 minute speeches in front of dozens of librarians. That’s totally fine. Get me to freaking Comic Con man. Cause I want to, I want to get to Comic Con, I want to make connections and then all of a sudden, pretty soon there’ll be a Green Creek television series.
That’s my goal. I don’t know how I’m going to work that, but I have it in my head that TJ plus Comic Con equals Green Creek television show. I don’t know the rest of the equation, but I’ll get there.
Jeff: But I think there’s more algebra in there somewhere.
TJ: Yes, but I’m not good at math, so we’ll just pretend there’s not
Jeff: And I’m all for that. Yeah, please find the Green Creek TV series.
TJ: I will do it. I will do it. I’m going to do what I can to make that a reality, but if there’s anything that’s going to come film or television wise, it’s probably going to come with what these next two books are going to be. So yeah. No, it’d be pretty cool if that happens.
Jeff: And let’s talk about the other book. We get into a little more foreign territory here because I have not read “The Extraordinaires” yet, although I’m happy to say that the ARC is sitting waiting for me. We’ve talked a little bit about this at our last GRL conversation cause it was, it was sitting over there on, you know, coming up towards this year. Give us the deep dive here on what you can tell us about “The Extraordinaires.”
TJ: “The Extraordinaires” is my YA debut, which is frightening in and of itself. It comes out May 5th, and it’s the queer coming of age story about a fan boy with ADHD named Nick Bell and the superheroes that he loves who protect his city.
He, Nick, is the most popular fan fiction writer in The Extraordinaires fandom. But he doesn’t think he’s that extraordinary himself. However, after an encounter with what are the heroes he writes about named Shadow Star, and who is his biggest crush that’s probably borderline obsessive. He sets out to try to make himself an extraordinary, a superhero, and he has to go about it with or without the help of Seth Grey, who happens to be his best friend and potentially most likely the love of his life.
But this book is, I don’t know if you could get further from “The House in the Cerulean Sea” then with “The Extraordinaires.” It is wild. It is chaotic. It is a hysterical, at least I think it’s funny. It’s, but the biggest thing, the biggest point for me and the biggest seller for me for this book is the fact that Nick is neurodiverse, he has ADHD. I have ADHD, I am neurodiverse. and I wanted to see someone like me in a story like that.
I, when I was a kid growing up, I never got to see the loud, overly talkative, slightly feminine kids in books. If we were in books, we were either the side kick who was a caricature or we were attacked and beaten because of our sexuality. Or we got sick and died. And that was, that was queer characters in books that I used to read.
And you know, that’s not how it is now, for the most part. And that’s a good thing. YA is at the forefront of that, I think, with queer fiction. But, I wanted to see a kid who everybody thought talked too much because that’s how it was for me with ADHD growing up. I wasn’t taken to doctors to get medicine.
I wasn’t taken to doctors to get diagnosed until I was older and I struggled, man. I had a hard time growing up because my brain was on fire and it never stopped. It never slowed down and it never shut up, which of course made me never stop talking. And It sucked and I wasn’t able to see myself in anybody else.
There was always this weird otherness about me that I, that I wished I didn’t have, but as I got older, I learned to appreciate it a lot more. And because it is part of me and it doesn’t define me, it is in a way my own personal superpower. And that’s what I wanted to be able to do with a book like “The Extraordinaires.”
While it is a comedy, while it is funny and sad and happy and a whole range of emotions, at the center it’s a kid coming to terms with himself, not about his sexuality, because by the time this book opens, Nick and all of his friends are already out and proud. I never wanted to write a coming out story.
I think that there’s people that do that, and do that well. So I didn’t have anything I wanted to add to that. Unfortunately, well maybe not unfortunately, but in YA a lot of queer stories are coming out stories, which is, I mean, there’s a place for that and it’s a necessity. But, I don’t know, man.
I was about to say the line ‘kids these days.’ That’s what makes me feel so old. ‘Younger people’ is not any better, but they are much savvier than we were when, you know, at that age. I didn’t want to write a coming out story, but I did want to write a story about a guy coming to terms with who he is and accepting who he is. So that’s what Nick’s journey is all about, is being okay with not necessarily being the label extraordinary. But, being happy with who he is and it’s a good story. I’m very proud of this book and I can’t wait for it. And it’s actually the beginning of a trilogy and I just finished writing, book two a few weeks ago, so I’m super excited about it.
Jeff: And I can’t wait to read the first YA from you. Knowing how you structure stories that always bring in all of this, you know, cool stuff that you bring. I can’t wait to see how you do it. And I mean, you’ve done kids before, you’ve got kids in “Cerulean Sea” you’ve got the young girl in “Bones Beneath My Skin.” Even “Green Creek” opens when Joe and Ox are both kids.
TJ: Right. And my first book was called “Bear, Otter and The Kid” and the book is about, you know, a guy tried to raise his is his younger brother, but this book is for the most part all about teenagers, there’s four teenagers and they make up the main characters of the book.
So I had to think about that. Writing teenagers I actually, weirdly, had more leeway with what I could get away with in “The Extraordinaires” than I could with “The House in the Cerulean Sea.” I’d never written a YA book before and I didn’t know what you could and could not do in a book like this.
So I kind of, I don’t want to say I made it chaste, because it wasn’t necessarily chaste, but I kind of held myself back a little when I was first writing it because I didn’t, you know, I didn’t say, Oh, fuck this, fuck that stupid piece of shit, whatever. I was like, Oh, t hat can be said in YA, right? That’s totally fine. And then I sent it to, I sent it to my agent. She was like, you can put more of yourself into this book. It doesn’t need to be, you know, innocent. So I went back and was like, you know what? I’m okay. And so I wrote it how I wanted it to be. And it was interesting to see the perspective of TOR wanting “The House in the Cerulean Sea” to be read for all ages, whereas in, so we had to take out certain words, whereas in “The Extraordinaires” they were like, you know, I think Nick would probably cuss right here. Right. He does it. He needs to have some kind of reaction to it. I was like, Oh, okay, I’ll do that. I’ll corrupt minors who are reading my book.
It’s totally fine. Yeah. So it was, it was an experience. And I felt much more comfortable when I wrote the sequel because I knew what I could do and what I couldn’t do. And I’ve learned there’s some, actually pretty graphic, YA books out there. There are some that that really get into to sex and violence and all of that. Kids, let’s face it, teenagers see all that stuff all the time. That’s what it is. They, I, it’s gonna make me sound so old. But the reason I didn’t see stuff like that growing up was because we didn’t have internet until I was like 17 years old. So, and that was dial-up.
But to be able to write a story for the 15, 16 year old me who didn’t have stories like that, that felt good. Because I know there’s kids out there who don’t necessarily get to see themselves yet or still haven’t found a book to find themselves where they can say, Hey, that person is like me and I want “Extraordinaires” is to be that book.
I want it to be that book for them. Because if I’d had a book like that when I was a kid, man, it would have helped me so much more. I really, really think it would have. But instead of reading about sad gay characters, you die alone or who don’t have anything or who just get relegated to the sidekick position.
I want this story to be for the kid who wants to see themselves because they are loud or they do talk too much or they are slightly, or maybe even overtly feminine. I want them to be able to have that character. That’s what I want to do with Nick.
Jeff: Did you read any YA gearing up to write your first YA?
TJ: Hmm. No, not really because I didn’t want to. To have anybody else’s stuff filter into my head when I was starting out to write. The last YA book I read was, and I’ve read it a few times now, I think it came out in like 2008, 2009 it’s “Leaving Myself Behind” by Bart Yates, and it is a tremendous, tremendous book about a kid coming out and dealing with mental health issues that he got from his mother who is also trying to deal with her own mental health issues. And it is a wonderful book, a delightful book. And that is pretty much my extent in YA. I read horror, I read nonfiction, I read true crime stuff, and suspense. And that’s what I read. And I don’t read necessarily YA. I don’t read romance. I don’t read any of that stuff. I just, I write about it, so I wanna kinda keep some distance from it I guess.
Jeff: I should know the answer to this, the number of times that we’ve talked, but I pulled it up on my brain right now. Did you write flash fiction before, or did you just give Nick that characteristic?
TJ: I wanted to give that him that characteristic. I’d never … Okay. Let me back that up. When I was seven years old, six or seven, I used to carry around this notebook with me that I would fill with stories about me and Samus Aran, who is a character from the video game Metroid. In Metroid, you play as a big awesome space Marine who blows up aliens and kills everybody. And then at the very end of the first game, the character takes off their helmet and is revealed to be a woman. And that just blew my mind because the entire time you’re thinking, this is a bad ass guy, he’s killing all these things and it’s a woman. I was like, Holy shit. So seven year old me is like I want to have adventures with her.
So I wrote stories about me and Samus going around killing bad guys, bad aliens. And so for all intents and purposes. I guess you could say I got my start with self insert fanfiction, which is what I did. But other than that, no, I did not. I haven’t written anything like that. And so when I started getting the idea of doing fandom with “The Extraordinaires,” it was because of people building up fandom for the “Green Creek” series.
And I saw how dedicated and devoted those awesome, awesome people were, and I wanted to delve further into what makes fandom. I will tell you, man, on sites like Archive of Our Own, there are some very, very, very good writers out there that are writing fan fiction. To the point of where I was like, Holy shit, why aren’t you writing original fiction? So this is better than I write. What the hell?
It was so good to see these people have a site like Archive of Our Own,” to be able to write their stories. I mean, I wish I could have had something like that when I was a kid, I mean the closest thing I would’ve gotten was one time I saved up a bunch of money and ordered an “X-Files” zine online because I wanted to see more of Mulder and Scully. So I ordered this zine and I think I still have it sitting somewhere that was filled with like fan fiction and fan art of the “X-Files” in the 90s and the way it’s evolved into what it is now is just amazing. I mean, Archive of Our Own, that site is just ridiculous with the, the sheer breadth of content that it has.
Jeff: Given how much it sounds like you enjoyed writing “Extraordinaires,” and when you get past the end of that trilogy, do you see more YA in your future?
TJ: Oh, yeah. I already have another YA trilogy planned after I finish “Extraordinaires” that I can’t talk about yet, but I do like it.
It’s a different world. The coolest thing I think so far about “The Extraordinaires” is that when the book comes out in May, TOR Teen is sending me out to schools to be able to talk to teenagers about the book itself. And that is awesome and also terrifying at the same time because they will most likely be savvier and smarter than I could ever be. And so I just don’t want to be the old guy coming in saying, I wrote a book. Please read it. It’s about gay people… that’s going to be, it’s going to be a trip, man, because for all I know, there’s going to be one kid in there who, who was like I was, and if I can give this kid a book and say, here, I hope this means something to you.
And even if I never hear from that kid again, but that fact that if it does turn out to mean something to them, that’s all I want. That’s all I could want from something like that. When I wrote my very first book, before my very first book came out back in 2011, I told myself that if even one person read it, one person walked away from it happy that they read it, then I would have done my job.
And that’s still true for me to this day. I don’t necessarily think about, I mean, yes, sure. It’s wonderful. Wouldn’t books sell really well and a lot of people like it, but I still go back and think every now and then, if just one person likes this story, then I would have done my job, you know?
Because I don’t write for everybody. I tend to write for myself, but if somebody else can appreciate that, then good. I’m happy. That’s all I need.
Jeff: You’ve certainly made a lot of people happy. I think that’s pretty clear.
TJ: Yeah, that’s good. That’s good.
Jeff: So we would be remiss if we talked, and didn’t talk about “Green Greek” a little bit.
TJ: Yeah. Okay. Right. I’m ready. Oh, I’m ready to tease. All right. Let’s do this. All right,
Jeff: So “Heartsong” and “Feralsong” have been out already. “Heartsong” at the end of end of last year.
TJ: October. Yeah.
Jeff: Boy. Time flies. “Feralsong” came out, just about a week before we recorded this podcast.
What a trip. You know what you did with Robbie in “Heartsong,” you really pulled some fast ones there that were just ultimately really fascinating to to read and see how that unfolded.
TJ: Yeah. And that was planned from when I started plotting out “Ravensong,” because I knew when I decided to, I always knew when I finished “Wolfsong,” I always knew there was going to be three more books. I didn’t know necessarily what they were going to entail, but I knew the order in which the characters were going to have their own book. I knew that almost right away. So when I started sitting down to plot out “Ravensong” back in the end of 2016 I went through and made an outline for all the three remaining books. So I knew exactly where “Heartsong” was going to go.
So in case anybody is wondering, the events of “Heartsong” were planned always from the moment I started planning the “Ravensong.” So, I’ve been an asshole for that long and I regret nothing. I knew how at that point to how the entire series would end. So much so that I wrote the last chapter of “Brothersong” before I wrote “Ravensong.”
I’ve never done that before. But I wanted to, cause I always want to write in order. If there are certain scenes that I want to write, I don’t want to cheat myself and write it and go to it and write it and then go back and lead up to it.
For all I know the narrative could change at some point. But I, I was so firm with how I wanted this series to end that I wrote the last pages of “Brothersong” before I started writing “Ravensong” and I didn’t change a God damn thing. When I, by the time I got to it, it stayed exactly the same.
So I was like, yes, and it is going to it is going to not be the ending that people expect. It’s going to be a good ending. Hooray. But it is. It is going to be, you won’t see it coming. I’ll put it that way,
Jeff: I think because I’ve tried to stop second guessing you, as I said in my review or “Feralsong,” I just want them to end up so they can have a good day. Because in “Feralsong,” Kelly has the quip that why can’t they just have a good day? Although he’s a lot more explicit than that and that’s really what I want for them. Cause there’s no moment so far where they can get maybe more than a week of. And even when they’re having a good day. There’s still the cloud overhanging that there’s still shit left to come.
TJ: Yeah. And it’s intentional… to a point. I don’t want it to be too dour all the time, which is why the comedy in those books helps. But, it’s this is next to the “Tales from Verania” series. This is the biggest series I’ve ever done. In fact, in and the last book, Brothersong,” Ooh, a little bit of a tease. It has the longest sustained battle scene out of any book that I’ve written, there’s the big, the climax of the book, I should say, is surprising and heartbreaking and sad, and it’s going to make some people angry. It is what it is.
But I will say this, so I am very conscious of the fact that I have put these characters through a lot and I would not have done so if I did not think that they could handle it as characters. And if I could not handle it as a writer. And I will say that I promise that by the end of the book, there will be peace and happiness for people. I tried to, I don’t want to say for everyone, but let’s just say for people, there will be goodness for people.
I leave him in a good place.
Jeff: I’m super intrigued by the battles because the battles as heartrending as they are, when they go down, they escalate from what we saw in “Wolfsong” through, you know, what was in “Ravensong” the battle…
TJ: In Caswell and “Heartsong.”
Jeff: We’ll see. I wasn’t even going to say Caswell cause I was going to go that far, but now you’ve said it so fine, you know, and how everything goes down in the battle that happens there. It’s cinematic. Like did you just see all that in your head? Cause I feel like there should be a playset set up.
TJ: You should see my notes for this. I block out all of those scenes because it’s like a sex scene, you have to know where everybody’s body parts are and you have to know what everybody’s doing. If somebody bends a certain way, you have to make sure that they were standing in a way to begin with that would make that a natural or make a reader go, wait, how are they doing that? It’s the same, you know? Like I said, it’s the same with a sex scene. If somebody does something weird, the reader’s going to be like, wait, I don’t get how that’s humanly possible.
So I block out all of those scenes. I have little toys that I use, my little, my little Star Wars Finn and Poe bobbleheads and I block out these scenes when people are fighting. So I know how the scene is going to look. And it takes a long time, but I have to get those right because if somebody does something stupid or I forget, like in one scene in “Heartsong,” towards the end when there’s the big climactic battle, I forgot one of the characters completely, like they just show up and then I sent it to my beta readers they were like, wait, where’s fill in the blank? And I was like, ah. Fuck. Shit. So I had to go back and include them in and give them some really cool quippy lines.
Jeff: He ran away. He’s just not…
TJ: Right. So he’s hiding, you know, he’s waiting with the cars. It’s fine. Those things are intense. And then “Brothersong,” like I said, it has the biggest battle scene I’ve written, and that took me forever to write because I made it…
With “Brothersong” I knew I was going to have to either go big or go home. So I just, I went big man. It’s a big, huge fricking book where many, many things happens and it also has to end a four book series and close out four books with their storylines while also allowing Carter and the Timberwolf to have their own story while also having to rectify Carter and Joe and Kelly and their relationship. Also needing to wrap up Gordo and his brother and their father and all of the end have to deal with who Ox is or what he is and what he can do.
Jeff: How long is this book?
TJ: It is the shortest out of all the “Green Creek” books.
Jeff: Dang. So “Herartsong” stands as the biggest one that I guess?
TJ: “Ravensong” is the longest. ” Wolfsong” is 150 some odd thousand words. “Ravensong” is 163. “Heartsong” is 159 and “Brothersong” is 157
Jeff: So it’s not short. It just the shortest of a long book.
TJ: It’s me you’re talking to you. Come on. Let’s be realistic here. I love words, but yeah, it is the shortest out of those books, but that is not by comparison to most other books short at all.
So people will still get to read it. Originally when I furnished the first draft, it was like 200,000 words, and I was like, Jesus Christ. So through the magic of beta reading and editing and, and working on it, we got it down to where it should be, which is still longer, twice as long as most queer books.
So yeah, whatever my readers, you used to do it.
Jeff: What’s it like to have finished it.
TJ: Sad. It’s sad. I’m sad. it is, I mean, it was originally supposed to come out in December of 2019 and I’ve been finished with it since October of 2018. So I’ve had a long time to deal with my grief about closing this book, this series.
But it’s good. Probably going to have to, the wounds are going to reopen when we get closer to August 2020 when it comes out. I’m glad it’s over cause I got to tell the story that I wanted to tell, but I’m sad at the same time because I’ve, these characters, they mean a lot to me. It’s even more so than say like the “Verania” series. The Verania series I love that series cause it’s my happy place. The “Green Creek” series is my biggest cast of characters and I love them all. I love them all for who they are and who they’re not. And the fact that I was able to finish their story on my terms is bittersweet. I mean, I’m sure I could have written 10 more books about them, but what would be the point?
It would get boring. I would get bored. Readers would be able to tell that I was bored because the story wouldn’t be good. So I want to be able to tell the story, get in, and get out and finish. There’s authors out there who do fine with telling 12, 13, 20 books series, but that’s not me because as you know, I hop around from genre to genre. And if I got stuck too long in one place, I would end up resenting the story I was trying to tell.
Jeff: As the reader of all this, I think it’s the most exciting thing that there’s going to be people who read “Cerulean Sea” or read “The Extraordinaires” and then go to see what else you’ve done and be able to get into the “Green Creek” stories all of a sudden or get into “Verania.” Please be the right age to do that.
TJ: Yeah. That’s another thing. Under the advisement of TOR, I updated my website to show like age levels that book should be, cause I don’t want a kid to read like “The Extraordinaires” and some 15 year old go, Oh, let’s see what this “Lightning Struck Heart” is about, and then be like, Oh my God, you’re scarred for life. There’s things in there that no child should read,
Jeff: but yet people read up all the time like I was in God middle school and reading Stephen King.
TJ: Yeah, me too. Me too. Which is why, which is weird how I’m like protective over 15 year olds that I don’t even know. And you know, I’m not on a good day. I’m like children… Whatever. But, the fact that I have to, you know, protect them from myself, from my books, it’s just because I’m like, you know what, give it a couple of years. Wait till you’re 18 and then read it. That’s totally fine. You can wait a couple of years. I have other books I don’t, aren’t sexually graphic that you can read or have humor that that probably is it appropriate for your age. I mean, I’m sure I would’ve thought it was funny if I was 15 but I don’t want to get an angry email from a parent going, you corrupted my child because of gay unicorn sex.
Jeff: Was there talk when you made the shift of going with another pen name?
TJ: Nope, never. I asked my agent initially if they thought that if she thought that was a good idea. She said, why? So I said, okay, that’s fine. So I just kept it as it is and it just, it makes it easier, I think, because it’s all one umbrella.
So plus if I had gotten a different pen names, say I went by my real name, Travis. And for like the YA I would have to make like a whole other website and whole other social media and all of that, and let’s just, ah, I can be lazy. The idea of keeping up another alter ego is just like, eh.
Jeff: Yeah. And I still like it, frankly, as the person who doesn’t deal with it at all, that again, the people will find these books that are going to be, you know, such mass marketed, big out there books and then find these other gems that you’ve got.
TJ: Yeah, and that’s because they, Oh, what else is he? I’ve got like 20 plus other books for you to read. Come on. And even better, they’re all republished by me, so all the money goes to me and that will be even better. So yeah, I have a big back catalog for people to explore that find me through these two new books.
Jeff: Yeah. Which is awesome. Let’s talk about your amazing readers. The Klunatics has grown so much over the last couple of years, at least, that I’ve been paying attention to it.
TJ: It’s only a couple years old. Started in 2017.
Jeff: Oh, I thought it was longer than that.
It’s an amazing community. It is full of just incredible people, but some of the best stories, you alluded to some of the fan artwork, which is truly incredible.
TJ: Yeah. I mean, the artists, man that put out the fan work are just nuts. And what I love about it is all their different styles. Everybody has a different way of interpreting a character. Everybody has a different way of drawing a character, and what I love about it even more is that people who are nervous that maybe have never drawn something before and they publicly say on their post, I’m nervous about posting this, but I wanted for people to see it. Everybody’s so awesome. Everybody’s so nice. Everybody’s so kind. Everybody’s so generous. I just like that. I like it when people are nice to each other.
I like being, I mean, we, you know, as well that this past year has kind of sucked for us in the writing community and a lot with who we published with and with an organization who was supposed to help protect us.
But, When you take that all away and, and step back from all the crap that’s happening around us and you look in and you see people who are posting their artwork or people in a Facebook group who are having bad days and posting about and everybody else’s commenting how much they want to make them feel better and, and you’re going to be okay, everything is going to work out.
That’s what it’s all about. You know, it’s about, it’s about being nice to each other. It’s about being kind to each other. And, and. Going through it together because whether we like it or not, we’re in this together. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s better to help each other than it is to ignore each other. And I wish that more people would realize that.
And I’m very fortunate with the Klunatics community that, that they understand that and they see that that’s what I like and that’s what, that’s what they, they, a lot of these people are just. Generous giving kind people in the world, and I couldn’t ask for a better readership.
Jeff: What do you think it is in your books that resonated to gather these people together?
TJ: I don’t know. I mean, it’s good. I don’t know. II think that that there’s always a sense of otherness in my books, the certain characters, like we talked about before, they’re not, you know, traditionally handsome people with, with an eight pack and a huge dick and gruff voices and all of that.
And I think that people see what I like to write, even in the most fantastical of scenarios that I write. I like to write real people. I like to write how I think people talk and how I think people should actually act. And I hope that what my readers sees is the realness from it.
Even though you know it’s fiction you, and even if, say you’re in a kingdom of Verania and you’re trotting around with a unicorn and a dragon named Kevin, that you can still think that, you know, these characters are realistic. They’re lifelike, even when they’re doing stupid stuff, especially when they’re doing stupid stuff, because I want people to say, Hey, you know what?
I’ve made that mistake before too. This is what I learned. Oh, and this character is learning from it too. And that’s important. It’s important to me that when people read my books and, and I think that that’s what’s happened with like with the Klunatic community, is that they, they can see themselves in these books.
You know, we’re not perfect. We make mistakes. We struggle with, with mental health issues or things. We’re too loud. We talked too much. We were too feminine or too queer, too gay, whatever. And they can see part of themselves in that. And I like to think that I’ve gathered the biggest group of misfits in the world, and I love each and every one of them because we belong to each other.
Jeff: Well said. You guys got together last October.
TJ: Yeah, like 60 people, man at my friend and beta reader, Lynn’s house. That was nerve wracking for me because, you know, there’s people who are like, yeah, by the way, we’re coming from Australia just to see you.
I was like. What? Do you really want to do that?
Jeff: Hopefully Lynn had a big enough house to support 60.
TJ: Lynn was a gracious host and everybody there was so freaking cool and it was awesome.
And I got to sign a bunch of books and play games and eat and drink and laugh and talking. And Michael Lesley came and Kirt Graves came and did some performances. They’re my narrators for my audio books, and they did some performances and it was just, it was awesome. And it was a lovely, lovely experience with lovely, lovely people.
And we’re hopefully going to be doing it again. You’re trying to make it a yearly thing.
Jeff: That’s awesome.
And I was thrilled to hear that. Kirt is putting together the Klunatics podcast now to more document the stories behind these readers.
TJ: Yeah. That’s going to be super, super cool.
I’m so excited about him. This is all him. This is him. And I think Mia is who ‘ s one of the admins in my Klunatic group and also one of my other beta readers. I think she’s helping him out with it. Kirt approached me with the idea of wanting to do a podcast about the Klunatic community.
And I said, okay, go run with it. And he has man. So whenever that comes out, all the credit goes to him because he is, he works his butt off. He does. He does everything to make it the best it possibly can be. And I’m very, very fortunate to have somebody like him on my team.
Jeff: The podcast, if I remember right from his teaser at the end of “Feralsong,” I believe comes out March 20th. It’ll be right after this.
TJ: Oh yeah. So download that. I think it’s going to be the Klunatics. I think that’s the name of the podcast. So you should be able to find that wherever your feed is. I don’t know how many episodes he’s planning or anything like that, but it’s going to be a trip, man. It’s going to be pretty crazy.
Jeff: Yeah. Looking forward to that, and I did another shout out to him for the work he did on “Fearlsong’ with adding the music score and everything.
TJ: And he did all that for free. Man, he’s such a fricking good guy.
He is such a very good guy. And I adore him and Michael Lesley too. Michael’s joining me on my journey with TOR. He’s going to be doing the narration for “The Extraordinaires” so yeah. Yeah. I asked if he could do it because it fits in perfectly, and they said, is he good? And then they listened to his samples and then they talked to him.
This is all done within 24 hours. I said, I sent them an email, and by the next day at that exact same time he was hired to do it. I said, Holy crap, I have clout. But no he got it based upon his work. And I am very, very excited to have him along with me to have a familiar face while I go play with the big leagues.
Jeff: That’s awesome. So we’ve talked a little bit about some of the stuff we know that’s coming “The Extraordinaires” is a trilogy. What can you tease about what comes once we get past August and “Brothersong.”
TJ: Yes. So 2021 is going to be “The Extraordinaires” two, and a book called “The Tremendous Death of Wallace Price,” which is a comedy about death and dying. I think the best way to describe it is it’s a reversed “Scrooged”. In that the main character isn’t visited by three ghosts before he dies. He dies and goes to see three alive people. And he has to, he’s not a good guy, and he’s actually a bit of a dick, and he has to learn to accept himself and become a better person all while dealing with the feelings he’s has for a man whose tea shop he is technically trapped in because he’s a ghost.
And that’s a big, big story. It’s a rumination on death and one’s place in life while also being an absurdist comedy. In 2022 that’s going to be The Extraordinaires” three and a book I’ve already written called “In the Lives of Puppets,” which, okay, it is a post apocalyptic comedy retelling of Pinocchio.
Jeff: Wow. I don’t even know how to put my head around that.
TJ: It’s wild. It is about an inventor named Victor who finds an android and in a scrap pile, and he basically gives the android a heart. And the romance is between himself and the android and Victor’s sidekicks are robots that he’s built up and given personalities, one of which is a Roomba vacuum named Rambo who has anxiety. And then the other is a nurse, the other nursing machine named Nurse Ratched from “A Clockwork Orange,” except Nurse Ratched is Nurse Registered Automaton To Care Heal Educate and Drill. That’s what Nurse Ratched stands for, and she’s a sociopath.
So this book, it’s as of right now, I mean, plans could change, but that’s going to be the capper for this unofficial trilogy, starting with “Cerulean” because they both, even though they’re not related in plot and they’re not set in the same worlds in any way, shape or form. They all run a through line of kindness and moral philosophy. And so those three books all deal with those themes in various ways. But. Yeah. I’ve already finished the book I was supposed to write for 2022.
Jeff: Good for you.
TJ: That’s what’s going to happen. But there’s going to be a bunch of other surprises in there cause I plan on releasing three books a year, two with TOR one TOR and one TOR Teen and then one that I most likely self-publish on my own. My next book I’m hopefully going to start writing is going to be a return to the Verania series and writing the fifth book in that series.
Jeff: Cool. Where’s the place people go to keep up with you to follow everything that happens in this awesome journey?
TJ: The best place… I’m most active on Twitter, tjklune there. I’m on Instagram, tjklunebooks and Facebook, the Klunatics group. And my website, tjklunebooks.com and I have to update that more. Tor wants me to update that more, but best place, honestly follow me on Twitter cause that’s where I usually am these days.
Jeff: Fantastic. Well TJ, we wish you so much success with everything that’s coming out and it’s wonderful to see this happen.
TJ: I’m so excited. Thank you. It’s going to be a wild and crazy adventure and I cannot wait to show people what’s next.
Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Reviewed by Jeff.
I’m so excited that it’s release week for The House in the Cerulean Sea. TJ Klune continues to blow me away with his books and this one is simply extraordinary. He’s balanced his amazing and crazy sense of humor (think books like the Verania series and How to Be a Normal Person) and his keen sense of storytelling (the epic Green Creek series or the standalone Murmuration) and created a tale of found family, the importance of kindness and the courage to speak up for those who need it most.
The story revolves around Linus Baker, a caseworker with the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He leads a dreary, by-the-book life, checking up on the orphanages under the department’s care and making sure they’re operating by following the extensive guidelines. He’s known for his detailed reports and it’s because of that he’s tasked by Extremely Upper Management to go to the Marsays Island Orphanage to check up on its caretaker, Arthur Parnassus, and the six unique, magical children that live there.
Linus’s life changes just going out to the orphanage. He’s always wanted to go to the sea–and that’s where he ends up on an island surrounded by the sea. As he gets away from the city, he gets out of the gloom and rain and into the sun. It’s really a Wizard of Oz moment as his world goes to color from gray. Linus’s journey of self-discovery is the heart–or one of the hearts–of this story and his progression into the light is part of what makes this story so great. He finds that there’s much more to life than rules and regulations. There’s a need for kindness, compassion and understanding.
The kids at the orphanage are an incredible array of characters that I think could only spring from TJ mind: Lucy–or Lucifer; Talia the gnome; Chauncey, a green blob with eyes on stalks who just wants to be a bellhop; Sal, a shapeshifter who when nervous becomes a tiny dog; Phee a forest sprite and Theodore, a wyvern who hordes buttons. The kids and Arthur have formed an amazing family. The kids have come here from other orphanages for various reasons and Arthur does his best to protect and teach them. Perhaps most importantly that they don’t necessarily have to be who people think they should be–like Lucy doesn’t have to give in to the idea that he’s the destroyer of the world.
Early on Arthur challenges Linus and it really sets Linus off on his journey. “I think if you open your eyes, you’ll see what’s right in front of you rather than what’s listed in a file,” Arthur says. And boy are Linus’s eyes opened. The children are all incredible with their childlike wonder, their massive sense of protection for each other and, even though they’re all young, they are well aware that the world doesn’t really want them–especially the town that is across the sea from the island.
TJ’s created six distinct characters that you can’t help but fall in love with from Theordore’s delight in buttons to Chauncey’s bellhop dreams and his protective urges towards Theodore. And there’s Lucy, he’s wildly funny as he pushes Linus’s buttons sometimes, but as you see his other facets, including a love of classic music from the 50s and that he knows that the could really cause damage you want to wrap him up in a hug and protect him.
As Linus spends his time with Arthur and the kids, he starts to see how messed up Extremely Upper Management is and that made the rules aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And when it comes to that hateful town, he realizes that there are changes needed, changes he needs to speak up for.
Oh, and there’s a super sweet, terrific romance that blooms between Linus and Arthur too. The book isn’t a romance, but the spark between these two is pure romance and it feels like old school courting. That’s not to say they don’t have problems–oh my do they have issues to take care of–but it’s a beautiful part of the story.
Yes, I love everything about House in the Cerulean Sea–Linus self-discovery, his romance with Arthur and the delightful kids living at the Marsays Island Orphanage. There’s something in this book from everyone, as you’ll hear from TJ in the interview, this book can be read by all ages. I’ve got a hardback on pre-order so it can sit on my shelf of all-time favorites, that’s how much this book means to me. I give my highest recommendation to The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.