So here it is: a sales pitch from me to you. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve read at least one of my books. Whether only one or all of them, I want to tell you about my last book of the year, and why it’s important to me. Cool?
(And how nuts is it to think that this is my first non-sequel book since Olive Juice in April of 2017?)
Back in late 2015/early 2016, I had this idea.
I wanted to write an 80s movie, but in book form, a sort of homage to ET, The Goonies, to the Stephens/Stevens: both King and Spielberg. It was going to be about a group of teenagers, facing something paranormally unexpected, and there would be action and the nostalgia would be insane and—
Then Stranger Things came out, and I said “Motherfucker.”
(In case you haven’t seen it, Stranger things is all the things I just described turned up to an eleven—ha, ha, ha, I’ll be here all evening, folks.)
It happens, sometimes. I had a story idea about the afterlife, but then the television show The Good Place came out, and did everything I was thinking of much, much better. I had an idea for a western about a town of outcasts coming together, but then Godless came out on Netflix and did it much, much better (the town in that show was all badass women).
Is there anything new under the sun?
So I shelved my 80s idea, much to my dismay.
But something about it stuck with me for a long time, specifically the girl who was going to be the center of my original story. Oh, it was still going to be a queer romance, but the girl was going to be the third main character.
And for some reason, she just wouldn’t leave me alone.
It wasn’t until I was deep into one of my Wikipedia spirals (I could spend hours on that website, and sometimes do), that I came across something that I hadn’t heard of before, sparking a new idea.
L’appel du vide.
It’s French. It means the call of the void.
It’s not quite suicidal ideation. The idea of l’appel du vide is that we have something hardwired into our lizard brains, something a little… dark. Have you ever been driving down the road and seen a semi coming in the opposite direction and think what if I turned my car into it and hit it head on? Or you’re standing at the edge of a cliff or on the ledge of a building and think what if I took another step? For the most part, it’s just a thought, a flicker, there and gone. We don’t act on it because we want to live.
I was entranced by this notion, because it’s not about wanting to die so much as it is the what if?
And it was that thought, the what if that I couldn’t get out of my head.
When I went back to the story idea, I thought what if?
What if I aged up the two main characters, but left the little girl young, and instead of friendship, the dynamic between the three leads was more father-daughter?
What if I moved the time from the 80s to the 90s?
What if instead of an homage to a period of time that we all remember more fondly than it actually was, I instead turned to that weird ass fucking time a decade later?
What if, what if, what if.
If you think about it, the nineties were fucked up. I came of age in the 90s, discovered I was queer in the nineties. Presidents stuck cigars inside women in the 90s and then talked about it all over TV as they were impeached. We thought computers were all going to shut off or blow up or something at midnight of December 31st, 1999. Death came to Waco and David Koresh in 1993. In March of 1997, a group of people believing there was a UFO in the tail of a comet called Hale-Bopp committed suicide under the direction of Marshall Applewhite. There was no UFO, at least not one that the rest of the world knew of. Satanic panic—started in the late 80s—grew worldwide by the 90s.
Like I said: fucked up.
And I had found a home for the book. Instead of 80s nostalgia, I would write a 90s action movie. Shit would blow up! There would be car chases and gun battles and dastardly villains who want nothing more than to have the little girl returned to them, the little girl capable of a great many things that defy logic. Enemies would become friends and friends would start to love each other, all set against the backdrop of what is essentially one large chase scene stretched over 385 pages.
So that’s what I did.
(and I also made it very, very queer.)
What I didn’t expect was to write a story imbued with so much hope. Even though it’s set in the 90s (1995, to be exact), I live in today’s world. And it’s a world filled with anger and cynicism, vitriol and hate. It’s exhausting. I turn on the news, and I immediately turn it back off. I open Twitter, and immediately click away. Someone is always shouting. Someone is always screaming. People are always dying or being marginalized or being taken away from their families when all they want to do is find a place to be safe. And how privileged am I that I can turn away from it, at least for a little bit? Very, obviously. I know that. I do.
I’m a cynical person by nature. It’s just who I am. I’m not going to make excuses for it. Sometimes, that bleeds into what I write. Which is why I made it a concentrated effort to avoid that with Bones. This little girl, this Artemis Darth Vader, is special to me. She’s not…normal. I won’t tell you exactly why, but she has a perspective that most don’t. She sees the goodness in people, even in the face of evil.
Nate, the main character of the three, is lost. His parents are dead, his father having murdered his mother and then killing himself. His brother wants nothing to do with him, partly blaming Nate for what happened to their parents. Nate’s fired from his job as a journalist because he royally fucked up, crossing an ethical boundary that should not have been crossed. He comes back to Roseland, Oregon (wherein we meet a younger version of an old friend of mine, say hey, Big Eddie) to try and put himself back together.
Only the cabin isn’t empty as it should be. And this sets off a series of events that starts small, but then grows and grows and grows until it potentially affects the entire world. Alex, Artemis Darth Vader’s protector, can’t trust anyone but Artemis. He too has seen the evils of men, and he’s lost much. He’s angry and scared, though he tries to hide it. He’s also desperately lonely, and on a mission that will only end in heartbreak for him. Or so he thinks.
Hope, though. It’s all about hope. Identity and hope. Who we are, what we’re doing, where we’re going. I wonder, sometimes, if we’re getting to a breaking point, where we won’t be able to turn back. If we’re already damned because of what goes on in the world, and all that we’ve done or allowed to happen. Bones is me trying to reconcile with these feelings. I want to believe we can be better than we are now. And it’s this thought I ran with when I wrote this book.
Bones is funny. And sad. And sexy. And weird. And while the bones of a typical (if it can be called that) TJ Klune book are there, it’s unlike anything you’ve read from me before. Go big or go home, I told myself. So I went big. Like, really big (which you’ll soon find out).
I’ll talk more about the book in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll post a little taste below, from the first chapter of The Bones Beneath My Skin. Long time readers of mine? This one is for you. (and for those asking, this is a standalone with no sequel/prequel/sidequel in sight; one and done.)
Pre-Order Bones, out October 26th:
**Note: Paperbacks will be available *exclusively* from Amazon, and will go up closer to the release date.
“Well, look who the cat dragged in,” Big Eddie Green said. “Nate Cartwright, as I live and breathe.”
Nate forced a smile onto his face. “Big Eddie. Good to see you’re still running this dump.”
“You watch your mouth,” Big Eddie said, but he was still smiling, his teeth a little crooked but endearingly so. He held out a large hand streaked with a bit of oil. Nate didn’t mind. He held out his own. Big Eddie’s grip was firm, but he wasn’t trying to be an asshole about it. He wasn’t like that, at least not that Nate knew. He hadn’t seen Big Eddie since he’d turned twenty-one, the last time he’d been up to the cabin. And it wasn’t like they were friends, though Big Eddie could make friends with just about anybody he set his mind to. There was something about the way he smiled that put Nate at ease. It was familiar, this. Heartbreakingly so.
“Heading up the mountain?” Big Eddie was already moving to the pump. “Unleaded okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” Nate said, leaning against the truck. He glanced inside the gas station window. There was a kid inside bent over the counter, scribbling furiously on something, his tongue stuck out between his teeth like he was concentrating really hard. “Jesus, is that Benji?”