That's why the 35-year-old writer was half-prepared for some mocking with the release of his new YA novel "Firecracker," out from Razorbill this month. He'll be reading and signing "Firecracker" at Skylight Books at 5 p.m. June 2.
"Nobody has really made fun of me in a world where everybody makes fun of everybody," he said with a tinge of astonishment when we spoke by phone. "I mean, the cover is basically a woman's legs in colorful tights -- you'd think that'd get me some teasing. Perhaps behind my back..."
Instead, a troupe of TV comedy actors -- including Jack McBrayer ("30 Rock"), Max Greenfield ("New Girl") and Jeff Garlin ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") -- participated in impromptu readings of the book that were bundled into the book trailer (below).
The book centers on Astrid Kreiger, a spunky (and incredibly wealthy) 17-year-old who reluctantly finds herself attending public school after a cheating scandal gets her kicked out of her posh boarding school digs. In her quest to find the culprit, the sassy teenager must adjust to the banal new environment while attempting to do some good in the world -- a punishment, in her eyes initially. Oh, and she lives in a rocket ship, is the ultimate granddaddy's girl and meets an awkward boy with potential along the way.
How does a married thirtysomething male find himself writing a young adult novel?
Ha! I thought you were going to ask how does a thirtysomething married man end up writing a novel about a girl.
That was where I was heading next.
Um, I like young adults. Wait. That sounds weird. But, no, I feel like in most of the stuff that I write, I’m sort of in some way reliving high school all the time. I like to write about adolescence. I feel like that is probably the only part of my life where I have enough distance and perspective on it that I have a sense of it. I feel like, whatever your insecurities or whatever weird stuff everybody was going through in high school just constantly manifests for the rest of life.
I feel like teenagers are still very similar to me, except that I think when you’re 16 or 17, everything feels like the end of the world. Everything feels so much more important. It’s exciting to write something where every single thing in your day-to-day life feels like it epically important.
Had you considered making the protagonist a male? The genre seems to be overrun with female protagonists. Is that just a symptom of who the genre appeals to in general? Do female protagonists make for more compelling characters?
I kind of started working on it and then asked myself that very question. I really like writing female characters. In the TV work that I’ve had, I’ve mostly written on very female-driven shows. For me, it becomes much more exciting to write people who exist outside myself and outside my own experience. I wanted to write someone who was fearless, full of confidence and not really hindered by insecurities. I think if I took a character that was more loosely based on myself, I would just have all of my baggage going into it. This character felt like the statesperson that existed so far outside myself, and making it female underlines how different she is from me. I’m sure there are hints of me there, but mostly as I was working on it, it felt like I was exploring something that was different from myself.
I never really thought of making this character a male. When I was a kid, the books for teenagers my age were also very girl-heavy. And so, I had no issue with that. Most of the books I read had girl protagonists because most of the books out there were by girl authors. Most of the boy books, at the time, were mostly about people who are good at baseball, or something like that. In a pre-Harry Potter era, publishers probably felt boys didn’t read a lot of books. The stuff that I read then had girl protagonist, so it was sort of a wheelhouse I understood.
I think when most people hear the term "YA novel" they assume it’s dealing with some sort of mystery or fantastical characters or the lifestyles of the rich and young. Talk about what you wanted to achieve with “Firecracker,” and how it sort of sets itself apart.
I don’t currently read a ton of young adult stuff, and I wasn’t really trying to figure out what was out there in the world before I set out with this. Just from what I saw, there was a lack of books that had a point of view that was funny and played with perspective and language -- just be funny. I was just trying to put myself in my own head of what I would want to read as a teenager. I loved reading funny books then, and books with a strong voice. I’m still not 100% up on what’s out there in the YA world. I know that my book is not totally what every other book is -- I would probably prefer that anyway. I’m just trying to appeal to the young reader who has a similar sensibility as me.
In reading it, it almost felt like parts could be broken up into different episodes. Was that intentional?
The TV writer brain of mine was probably working a little bit in that way. I also write screenplays sometimes. I was just trying to do something different -- not think as plot-heavy, not think in terms of what the movie story is. And so I didn’t outline very vigorously, I just kind of wrote and sought where it went. The voice rambles a bit and goes back and forth. That was sort of freeing to not know where she’s going. It does feel a little bit episodic, but it all coalesces in the end, and it’s all very specifically filtered through her point of view.
Did you have anyone in this demo to get feedback from -- like, "How long do you prefer chapters to be?" or "Do you prefer hunky love interests or nerdy ones?"
I did, but not for guidance on that. When I finished my first or second draft, I had my wife’s then-13-year-old cousin read it. She said she got in trouble in class for reading it and laughing out loud while reading it. And I was like, “OK, I’m on the right track.” I assume that most people, including me, don’t care how long their chapters are.