Today I am beyond excited to welcome author J.C. Lillis to the blog. Those of you who are regular readers know I went freaking insane for her book, How to Repair a Mechanical Heart, and insisted that everyone go out and read it immediately. It was totally amazing and I immediately went all drooly and slobbery over J.C. who in turn was nice enough to offer to come visit the blog and talk about the book. Plus, she has brought a copy to give away to one supremely lucky commenter.
So please join me in giving J.C. a big welcome! Hello J.C.!
Thank you so much! It’s an honor to be here.
So my regular readers probably know I went totally insane over your book, How to Repair a Mechanical Heart (see review). But for those who aren’t familiar with it, can you tell us a little about the story?
Hee! You do such an awesome job summing it up in your review that I should probably just hire you to write the marketing copy. I’m actually working on revising the book description for B&N, so let’s see if I can sum it up in a couple sentences: Two cute sci-fi fanboys hit the road in an RV the summer after high school graduation to attend six fan conventions dedicated to their favorite TV show. Along the way, they spar with a community of slash fiction writers, meet their TV idols, play with their action figures, uncover big secrets, dabble in cosplay, slowly fall in love, and confront the tough obstacles keeping them apart.
I could get into the MAJOR thing they find out midway through the book, but that would spoil the fun, I think!
Ok, so let’s start off by talking about the fandom aspects of the story. Abel and Brandon are obsessed with a show called Castaway Planet, and we get a lot of details on both the show and the characters during your book. Did you have any inspiration for the show? How did you come up with the details?
Creating the show-within-the-book was one of my favorite parts of writing HTRAMH. I adapted bits and pieces from a bunch of different shows and movies; it’s kind of Lost meets Star Trek meets Labyrinth. People can probably play spot-the-influence pretty easily—Sim was inspired by Data from Star Trek and Xaarg is kind of like Q with an even glammier wardrobe. I’ve been involved in many fandoms myself, so thinking up the show and the subculture around it—the shippers and slashfic, the infighting in the online community, the details of the fan convention—was just pure fun.
The boys meet a different cast member at each stop at the Q&A sessions, and I especially loved figuring out who they were going to meet next and how that cast member would reflect or advance the story. I cast the show with real actors in my head. I won’t list them all because that would be boring, but Cadmus is Nathan Fillion, Xaarg is John Slattery from Mad Men, and Lenny Bray (the showrunner) is Paul Giamatti. I made little dossiers with the actors’ pictures and facts about the characters, because I am a dork. In case you couldn’t already tell.
I loved the excitement of all the show super fans – the bloggers, the shippers, the folks going to the conventions (and especially the guys with their little Plastic Sim and Plastic Cadmus). I loved their dedication and passion and how it all plays out over the story.
Thanks! Yeah, fandom has meant so much to me over the years, and it’s such a huge part of life for a lot of young people. I’ve always wondered why there weren’t more YA books about online fandoms and the way they shape and complicate relationships.
It was a little tricky trying to figure out how much of the lingo to use—like, can I get away with using “OTP” and “hurt/comfort fic”? My mom was like, you should put a glossary in the back. (Though she totally knows what a shipper is, because she’s a Castle fangirl.) I tried to stick with the terms and concepts that are pretty widely known (shipper, slash), with just a few insidery things that I figured people would get from context. I’m happy the fandom aspect’s gotten such a positive response.
A big part of the story is the use of fan fiction, both by the Cadsim shippers and by the Abandon folks. Fan fiction tends to be a bit polarizing – some people love it as a way to extend their favorite characters, and others seem to deride it for being unoriginal writing. What do you think about fan fiction? Is it something you read? Write? What about its role in m/m romance?
I love fanfic. I don’t understand authors/showrunners who dislike it, because I think it’s the highest possible compliment—the idea that someone would want to keep playing with your characters after the book is closed or the show is over. I’ve read a lot of it, yeah. The good and the bad. I’ve written some, too, but most of the fanfic I write stays inside my brain and never makes it to paper. I create my own deleted scenes for shows I love, revise and extend storylines in my head, write new dialogue for my favorite characters while I’m trying to fall asleep. I’ve done that since I was a kid.
Since I’m personally very pro-fanfic, I was actually a little nervous that fic writers would get pissed off at Brandon and Abel, because they’re so anti-slash when the book starts and spend a lot of time snarking on Cadsim fanfic (some of which, in their defense, is pretty snarkworthy). It’s not at all meant as a general slam; I just thought it would be funny and interesting to have them start out all “oh God, this is horrifying” and then change their minds a little as their feelings evolve. Hopefully it’s clear that their initial discomfort with the Cadsim slash stems from their unwillingness to confront their VAST AND UNRELENTING SECRET CRUSHES on each other. And also their discomfort with adverb abuse.
One of the things I mentioned in my review was the moment Brandon first walks into the convention and the instant acceptance he feels because everyone there is just as fanatical as he is. I said it reminded me of going to GayRomLit and that instant acceptance of being with people who all like and enjoy the same things as you and where no one will judge you for your reading tastes, your sexual orientation, etc. Was this an intentional parallel? Or am I reading my experiences into it?
I’m happy that scene felt familiar to you! I think I was just trying to get across the appeal of fandom in general—I mean, anyone who’s been to a fan convention or participated in an online community knows how freeing it is to find people who share your obsessions. ‘Cause it’s not easy talking about that stuff in the real world, sometimes. You feel like you’re undercover—like, fanfic just doesn’t come up over someone’s birthday cupcakes at the office.
I always think it’s kind of funny that rabid football fandom is widely accepted and encouraged, but if you’re equally devoted to a band or book series or TV show, it’s somehow weird and you’re probably some creepo stalker who doesn’t get out much. I wanted to present Brandon and Abel as a counterpoint to all those dumb stereotypes, because those old ideas just muddy up the truth. Passionate fandom is the ultimate rejection of cynicism and too-cool-to-care posturing, and it should always be celebrated.
Ok, so the other big element in the story is the role of family and religion. I liked that here we see both sides of the coin. On one hand, it is clear that his religious upbringing is leading to a lot of guilt on Brandon’s part and clearly negatively impacting his parents’ ability to accept him as gay. It also tore apart a relationship Abel had with a previous boyfriend. But at the same time, we see how important his church life was to Brandon, and how much he is losing by his rejection by the church.
Yeah, I really wanted to play fair—I didn’t want Father Mike to be this fire-and-brimstone, John-Lithgow-in-Footloose kind of figure, and I thought it was important to emphasize the positives that made it tough for Brandon to cut ties. I mean, he was a Father Mike “fanboy” as a kid—he loved and trusted the guy, and totally believed that his sermons were truth. He’s definitely losing a part of his identity by saying “nope, I don’t believe this” and walking away from the church. That’s something Abel doesn’t fully get, since he didn’t grow up in that kind of environment, and I thought it made for some interesting conflicts between them.
I know no one’s clamoring for books about cute boys with Catholic guilt. (OR ARE THEY?) This just felt like such a natural part of Brandon’s character, and it’s something I have a lot of first-hand experience with. I tried not to go too dark or heavy with it—the book’s pretty much a romcom, and I wanted to keep it fast-paced and funny. I did feel that adding that extra layer to the story gave it a little more depth and dimension and helped explain Brandon’s fixation on the android Sim.
BTW, I totally had a giggle at the church book the priest gives Brandon, Put on the Brakes! The Cool Kid’s Guide to Mastering Sexual Temptation, and the ridiculous inspirational quotes about how gay men have a “special calling to chastity.” But at the same time, it is disturbing because stuff like this is really out there.
Oh, I know! I researched that literature while I was writing the first draft of HTRAMH, and it’s terrifying. I wish I could say that the Put on the Brakes book is a gross exaggeration, but it’s really similar to some of the actual pamphlets for teens I came across. It just seemed like something Father Mike would have in his arsenal—like, “hey, dude, here’s a chirpy book about abstinence that’ll totally change your life.”
It’s sad and scary that guys like Brandon have to contend with stuff like this. I went to Catholic high school and had “human sexuality classes,” so I’ve been there (though my specific struggles obviously weren’t the same). I can laugh about it now, and hopefully that comes through in the book. I wanted it to be funny first, because the more you laugh about something, the less power it has over you.
I realize I am making this book sound super serious, but one of my favorite parts is how funny it is and the witty banter between Abel and Brandon. They are so fun and clever, but at the same time felt so real to their age. Was it hard putting your mind inside an 18-year-old boy to imagine how he might think or react?
Yes and no. I mean, in a lot of ways Brandon is me—his fears, his insecurities, his quirks. His struggles with religion and sexuality are very familiar and personal for me, so I had no trouble imagining how his background shaped his thoughts and actions. But I’ve obviously never been a gay man, either, so there were moments of uncertainty for sure—like, will this ring true? Am I being presumptuous?
I just tried to focus on this specific character and what felt right for him rather than agonizing about “authenticity” in a broader sense. Because even if you’re writing about something intensely personal (like the Catholic-guilt angle, for me), you’ll always have some readers who’ll say “I can’t relate to that” or “that wasn’t my experience at all.” You just have to do your best to create a character and tell the truth the way you see it, because if you try to anticipate all criticisms and write your way around them, you’ll drive yourself batty and your character will lock himself in his room and refuse to come out unless you apologize and put on some Chaka Khan.
Also, thank you for the compliment. I edited and reread the book so many times that nothing felt funny anymore, and I was 100% convinced no one would even crack a smile. Glad you had fun with the boys!
So the book gives us a nice resolution to Brandon and Abel’s story, but I am just curious if you have an idea in your head of what the future might hold for them.
Oh, I have LOTS of ideas, and I document them at my blog in extremely nerdy photo essays. So far they’ve had Thanksgiving and Christmas adventures, and there may be a Valentine’s Day post on the horizon. The long-distance thing is holding up surprisingly well, though there have been one or two custody fights over Plastic Sim and Plastic Cadmus. [Oh yeah, running right over to look at nerdy photo essays!]
Now that this book is done, can you tell us what else you are working on and what we can look forward to from you?
Yes! The book I’m editing now is actually a rewrite of a YA novel I finished before I started HTRAMH. It’s about a teen boy and girl who are in love and miserable about it, because his parents are her guardians and they’ve lived as sort-of-siblings for 8 years. So they try to “deprogram” themselves with this crackpot self-help program that keeps backfiring on them. It’s a comedy. It’s not cynical enough to be a black comedy, so I call it a gray comedy.
I love that HTRAMH’s taken off within the m/m romance community, and I hope readers will enjoy this one too, even though it’s really different. I’m pretty dedicated to YA, and I hope to write a lot more books that explore all kinds of relationships—gay, straight, bi, everything.
If my readers want to know more about you or your work, how can they find you?
I love talking to readers and writers. Say hi on Twitter (I’m @jclillis), talk to me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jclillisbooks), and follow my blog at www.jclillis.com. Warning: I post a lot about weird things I find in thrift stores and 80s teen pop culture, so avert your eyes if you don’t like creepy ceramic clowns and neon suspenders.
Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by the blog today!
Anytime! Thank you for having me. It’s great to meet you, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the book.
As I mentioned, J.C. has brought along a copy of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart for one super lucky reader to win. Just leave a comment at the end of the post by Saturday, February 2nd at 11:59 pm EST to enter.
- By entering the contest, you’re confirming that you are at least 18 years old.
- Winners will be selected by random number.
- If you win, you must respond to my email within 48 hours or another winner will be chosen. Please make sure that your spam filter allows email from Joyfully Jay.