It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Chad Lucas, the author of
THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE
Brian has always been anxious, whether at home, or in class, or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again . . . Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team—even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize that he has a crush on him . . .
But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves—and each other.
Let’s talk to this fantastic author about his wonderful book!
This is Chad. Everyone say, “Hi, Chad!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Chad! Tell us about yourself!
Hi, and thanks for having me! I’ve been writing in one form or another for most of my life, including a decade as a newspaper reporter, but I’ve always been passionate about writing for kids. My debut middle grade novel, THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE, came out in May. I live in beautiful Nova Scotia with my family, I love the ocean, and I drink an awful lot of tea while I’m writing.
Ah, yes – I often measure how much writing had been done by how much tea has been had. 😂
What was the inspiration behind THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE?
I can’t really point to one defining moment or source. I borrowed loosely—very loosely—from some of my own experiences as a kid, but it’s not an autobiographical book. I drew mostly on the scary questions that most of us ask ourselves at different points: “Should I let anyone know what’s really going on inside my brain? Is it safe? Will it make things better or worse?” Brian and Ezra both wrestle with different versions of this same dilemma, and the story evolved as I got to know them both.
What are your favourite ways to infuse a character’s voice into a novel?
This book is written in alternating first-person chapters, so I incorporated some of Brian and Ezra’s personalities into how I wrote their chapters to make them sound distinct. Brian tends to second-guess himself and jump to worst-case scenarios, so some of his chapters have sections called Brian versus Brian where he argues with himself, or lists with increasingly catastrophic possibilities. Ezra’s more outgoing, so I included some text conversations with his friends in his chapters. For me, playing with format is a fun way to reflect a character’s voice and how they experience the world.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE?
– I learned where books on beekeeping are shelved in the library. (638.1!)
– I listened to several songs about werewolves to consider what would make Ezra’s all-werewolf playlist. (My favourite—and Ezra’s too—is “Wolf Like Me” by TV on the Radio.)
– I rewatched highlights from Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals. (Kevin Durant was the hero or the villain, depending on your perspective. Ezra’s friend Ty is sure he’s the villain.)
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I love so many great middle grade books that this was a surprisingly hard question to choose one answer. But I think Brian and Ezra would both find their place in Culeco Academy of the Arts, the delightfully odd school in Carlos Hernandez’s SAL AND GABI BREAK THE UNIVERSE. It’s a wonderfully accepting environment for weirdos.
That’s a great choice!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I really like this age. I get to hang out with middle graders often, as a parent and a basketball coach, and they’re always cracking me up. It’s also an age when they’re beginning to think about big topics like who they are, what they care about, and what they believe about the world. The possibilities of writing for this age are endless.
Any hints about your next book project?
Thankfully I can do more than hint! My next middle grade book is called LET THE MONSTER OUT and it releases in May 2022. It’s the story of a Black boy named Quentin “Bones” Malone who moves to a small town where strange things start happening: his mom and other adults go through zombie-like personality changes, and kids experience each other’s nightmares. Bones and his new friends have to figure out what’s going on—and confront their own fears—before something sinister takes over the whole town. This was a very different book to write and I’m looking forward to having it out in the world.
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
It probably sounds corny to say that the best surprise has been the friends I’ve made along the way, but it’s true! Getting to know other writers has made a big difference. Publishing can be such a roller coaster, and it’s been so helpful to have people who understand the journey. And cheering on each other’s successes is just the best feeling.
What are you reading right now?
My youngest son and I are reading BLACK BOY JOY, edited by Kwame Mbalia, and it’s a delightful anthology that makes me wish (again) that we had more short story collections for middle graders. And I just finished the audiobook of WEIRD KID by Greg Van Eekhout, about a seventh grader who’s secretly a blob of interstellar goo. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve read all year.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
I think one of the most important skills for any writer to learn is the fine art of receiving feedback. Taking good advice is essential—you won’t go far if you’re convinced your prose is flawless and above editing. But not all advice is good advice, and so much in publishing is subjective. In my querying years, I once got two rejections on the same day from two agents who gave completely opposite feedback. One said I was over-explaining in my dialogue, and the other insisted I was leaving too much unsaid! So my kick-butt advice is: seek out feedback, and hone your instincts. Both are important in helping you make your stories stronger.
Thank you for joining us, Chad!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE!
It’s on shelves now!
Click here to enter to win a copy of THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE!
Contest closes Friday, November 26th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!