Hey everyone! I am so so so excited to share this interview I had with Leah Thomas (through email). I loved Because You’ll Never Meet Me so much that I had to ask Leah some questions and she agreed to them! YAY!
I’ll share the Goodreads summary real quick for those who don’t know what this is about.
In a stunning literary debut, two boys on opposite ends of the world begin an unlikely friendship that will change their lives forever.
Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie is allergic to electricity. Contact with it causes debilitating seizures. Moritz’s weak heart is kept pumping by an electronic pacemaker. If they ever did meet, Ollie would seize. But Moritz would die without his pacemaker. Both hermits from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times—as Ollie loses his only friend, Liz, to the normalcy of high school and Moritz deals with a bully set on destroying him.
A story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances, this debut is powerful, dark and humorous in equal measure. These extraordinary voices bring readers into the hearts and minds of two special boys who, like many teens, are just waiting for their moment to shine.
I have been pushing this book so hard, which if you’re on Twitter, you probably know because I went total fangirl over it. Unsurprisingly! I loved all of her answers, especially two of them! So thank you Leah for the amazing answers!! I will be putting my “commentary” in parenthesis and blue below the answers. 🙂
Here’s the interview!
As someone who’s always had long distance friendships, I really loved the aspect of two teenagers becoming such great friends through letters, despite or in spite of their own illnesses. What was your inspiration for that particular aspect?
This has always been an aspect of my life, too. It’s often great, isn’t it?
A lot of that comes from traveling, but also from really enjoying the camaraderie forged within online fandoms, but if I’m trying to find the real root of my inspiration? It’s got to be having family overseas. My mother’s from Ohio, but my dad’s from Manchester, England, and throughout my childhood my siblings and I received a lot of written correspondence from relatives. Letters, parcels, cards. Love in paper form!
As the world’s changed and technology has grown up (I still like to pretend that Skype is really Star Trek brought to life), friendships abroad have become a whole lot easier to maintain. The very fact that you can interview me right now is evidence of how small the world is. Do you ever stop to just wonder at it? How close the world is? You can almost reach out and hold it.
(Yes! It is so great. I can’t imagine life without some of my long distance friends. I’m so jealous of all the traveling! Especially with England<3)
How did you ‘meet’ Oliver and Moritz? Did they come fully formed in your mind from the beginning?
You know, I think I met them much as the readers do! Ollie came very easy, basically fully-formed and so desperate to exist that you could hardly say no to him. He demands to be heard. It’s like he’s always been there, shouting himself hoarse in the woods.
Moritz was harder to pin down – in earlier drafts, he was somehow – believe it or not – even more pompous, by Jove. But over time he was reined in, and now if I’m asked to pick between my boys –sometimes I prefer Moritz precisely because he made it so difficult to love him. He hid from me like he hides from everyone else, and I got to know him as I was writing. Slowly, in increments, seeing small pieces of who he was until he became whole.
(Oh Mortitz. I could definitely relate to him with his hard to love attributes that he showed at times. Ollie definitely seems like the type of character that would show himself until he was heard.)
There’s a definite science fiction element throughout the entire book I found that was really fascinating. Was this, along with the superhero aspect of the two characters, always intentional? Did you ever think of it as a regular contemporary?
Oh, this question. I feel like this question is becoming the question for this book. So I may give you too much of a response, here. Apologies in advance!
I never saw the book as anything other than speculative fiction.
If I’m being frank, when I first heard that some readers were interpreting the book as contemporary, I felt a bit mind-boggled. Not because I don’t understand that perspective– when I step outside of my process and try to see the book as if I didn’t know it was written by someone who’d written almost exclusively science fiction, fantasy and horror for years, I can totally see how people come to that conclusion, especially with the way it’s marketed.
I made a false assumption, too, thinking that any book that began by introducing a character as allergic to electricity would automatically be seen as be science fiction. (I mean, there’s electricity in our bones! In our socks! How could you be allergic to yourself?) I see now that Ollie sells it pretty well at first.
Sometimes I think I shot myself in the foot with Ollie and Mo – some readers find them so authentic that when things get stranger and more blatantly science fictional, they feel almost betrayed. I thought I was leading people gradually down the rabbit hole, but I understand some feel they’ve been shoved from behind and forced into wonderland, which isn’t necessarily pleasant. Not my intention, but a very fascinating phenomenon!
The thing is, people who see the book as contemporary aren’t wrong, either. Once you put a book into the world, it doesn’t belong to you. That’s part of the infinite wonder of books. People bring their expectations and interpretations into the reading experience, and that’s what makes stories worthwhile. Nobody is wrong in thinking anything they think about BYNMM, even if it’s not what I thought. (Am I making sense?)
As for the comic book aspects: I will say that while the Daredevil references were always in the book, and I did want to play on the idea that it’s hard to be heroic in high school, my editor suggested playing up the superhero angle even more. And I think that was a really cool decision, and it plays really well as contrast to the reality of the characters’ lives. And it is something that really speaks to our current culture. (So..many…Marvel…movies!)
(Oh no, I asked “the” question for the book. 😉 I LOVE IT SO MUCH. “Speculative fiction” that’s exactly what this is! I love that you say that both views of your book are correct.)
I think Because You’ll Never Meet Me was so interesting to me because of all the different elements, the letters, the long distance friendship, the science fiction genre and the superhero aspect. What are some aspects you would like to see more in fiction?
We need diverse books.
And I think we’re finally getting some of them! Which is really, really nice. People want to see characters whose perspectives haven’t been seen a dozen times.
Personally and specifically, I want to see real, human relationships that are not forced into a clunky romances (how many people marry high school sweethearts? Let’s be a bit realistic, here, about the expectations we’re putting on modern teens). I want to see some failed relationships and doomed friendships, too. I want to see people make mistakes and then recuperate, because that’s life.
We need books that don’t fit easily into preset categories, because people don’t, either. Along these lines, if I have any agenda at all: I want to see a continuing shift in the general mindset about genre fiction. I truly believe that big issues can be tackled just as well from a genre standpoint as from contemporary one. Science fiction and fantasy give us a fresh lens through which to see the world and reevaluate the real issues within it. Look at Feed. Look at More Than This and House of the Scorpion. These stories tackle real, relevant questions of identity and culture within a science fiction framework. (There’s a reason that Mad Max is the best film in years: it does the same thing.)
(Yes yes yes to everything you said! I want these books! Give me these books, Leah. 😉 I want to see all of these subjects so much, the broken relationships, the messed up friendships, THAT IS LIFE. *adds books to TBR)
What song would you use to describe Ollie and Moritz and what song would you choose as the book’s theme song?
Oh gosh I love this question. I can’t write without music. And I’ve thought about describing why I chose the following songs, but no, no. Just listen to them! They speak for themselves.
For Ollie: Seventeen by Youth Lagoon.
For Moritz: Dark Parts by Perfume Genius.
Theme song: The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us! by Sufjan Stevens.
(Seventeen is perfect! I have to listen to the other two but I love Sufjan Stevens!)
After completing BYNMM, did you always plan for a sequel? Did you have a different ending in mind?
Oooh, ooh! Can I tell you a not-secret?
I wrote the sequel before I sold the first book, way back in 2013. No lie. The sequel has been in existence for more than two years, tucked away in my computer, waiting for its moment to break out into the world. For a long time, I wasn’t sure it would get to see the light of day. Until last month, I didn’t know that it would! I’m so glad those interested will get to see more of Ollie and Moritz trying to navigate their strange lives.
The ending to BYNMM has always been as it is now, with a few changes: In the earlier drafts, the book ended on Moritz’s perspective. But the events were the same, almost exactly.
(I love not-secrets! LEAH, LEAH, WHERE IS THE SECOND BOOK THEN? MAKE THEM COME OUT WITH IT. Just kidding. Kind of! Oh, can I just “borrow” your computer? It would have been interested to see it end with Mortiz’s perspective!)
(If you haven’t read BYNMM, now would be time to skip to the end of my post)
Can you tell us just a little of what to expect from your sequel?
I think so! No one’s told me I can’t, anyhow. The title’s currently unofficial, but at the moment it’s Nowhere Near You. And I think it’s fair to say that it’s weirder than book one, deeper into wonderland, for better or worse!
I guess the following snippet of synopsis needs a spoiler warning for people who haven’t read book one, though.
HERE BE SPOILERS
Nowhere Near You finds Ollie and Mo almost exactly where we left them at the end of Because You’ll Never Meet Me: chronicling their lives in letters to each other. Ollie is headed to Ohio on the first road trip of his life (no easy feat for a boy allergic to electricity), and Moritz is trying to decide which school in Kreiszig, Germany, would best suit a depressed, eyeless boy. Things are never easy for either of them: Ollie grieves the loss of his mother, and is constantly at risk of either succumbing to his allergies and seizing and/or sending out electromagnetic pulses that could cause power outages or traffic accidents; Moritz grapples with the idea that his feelings are projected when he echolocates, perhaps manipulating those around him, killing his privacy.
Both boys meet other children like them –
(LEAH, LEAH WAIT, YOU FORGOT TO EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENS. WHO ARE THESE KIDS? WHAT IS THIS ECHOLOCATING? TELL ME MORE)
Nope, that’s as much as I’m saying. But the kids they meet are kids I love to write about, with their own stories to tell. I hope people will want to meet them, too.
~End of Spoilers~
(YES, A SYNOPSIS. I’VE GOT THE SYNOPSIS. I KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW! I CAN’T WAIT TO READ IT. MORE LETTERS, MORE EMOTIONS, MORE STRUGGLES, I WANT IT ALL!)
Aw, you mean I have to wait to read the sequel to find out all my answers? Aw! It’s okay, I will wait forever! Please don’t be forever!
Thank you Leah, once again for answering my questions and being so incredibly lovely in all your answers!
If you haven’t read Because You’ll Never Meet Me, here’s a link to Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble so that you may purchase it!