20 Questions With TJ Klune (4/12/23)

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Today we have the absolute pleasure of chatting with author TJ Klune as he answers 20 questions about himself and his new book, IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS.

Before we hear from TJ, let’s take a quick dive into IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS. Set in an apocalyptic future where humanity is extinct and robots rule the world, this story follows Victor Lawson—the last human in existence. He lives in a secluded forest with his father, android and inventor Giovanni Lawson; Rambo, a talkative, anxiety-ridden roomba; and sarcastic, slightly sociopathic Nurse Ratched (aka Nurse Registered Automaton to Care, Heal, Educate, and Drill). Victor passes his days inventing and salvaging materials from a nearby scrapyard. One day he stumbles across a damaged robot named H.A.P. and Vic decides to repair him, a choice that reveals the secret past H.A.P and Gio share—a past spent hunting humans. Repairing H.A.P alerts The Authority to their location and Gio is captured and taken back to his lab in The City of Electric Dreams. Vic and his ragtag team of robots must venture out of the safety of their forest to rescue Gio and try to get back the idyll that was taken from them.

This is an epic story is about kindness, forgiveness, loyalty, and family—the good and the bad that makes up what it means to be human. This is the perfect book for readers who enjoyed TJ’s other works THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA and UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR.


1. How are you doing today?

I’m good! As I write this, it’s a Monday morning and I’m trying to remind myself that going back to bed isn’t in my best interest at the moment. Too many things to do.

2. What are you currently reading?

Right now, I’m reading THE SPITE HOUSE by Johnny Compton, a slim haunted house novel that is wonderful so far.

3. What’s next on your TBR list?

Next is Emily Tesh’s SOME DESPERATE GLORY as I’ll be hosting a tour stop for her upon the release of the novel in April.

4. What’s your go-to writing snack/drink?

Tea and granola.

5. Where do you like to write?

Only in my office. I have it exactly as I want it, meaning minimal distractions. I can’t write anywhere else.

6. What’s something that made you smile today?

An email I got from a reader this morning. It is very, very long, and the reader wrote at the beginning: “It’s your fault this is so long because you made me laugh and cry on the same page.” 

7. Best writing advice you’ve received?

Read as much as you write. An author who doesn’t read will never become a better writer.

8. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?

I love being out in nature with my dog, getting lost on purpose in the woods or on hiking trails.

9. Do you have a favorite bookstore/library? 

The Douglas County Library in Roseburg, Oregon quite literally saved my life when I was a kid. It was one of the few places I felt safe. In a wonderful twist of fate, I’ll be going back to that same library for an upcoming tour stop for my next novel. The little kid I was would have never believed it.

10. What was your favorite book/series as a child?

Anything written by RL Stine or Christopher Pike. I remember when the final book in Pike’s THE LAST VAMPIRE series came out in 1996. I was on a road trip with my family, and found the book at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. I finished it by the time we reached our destination. It was one of the first times I’d read a story where one of the main characters had HIV, and it was eye-opening.

11. What inspired you to reimagine Carlo Collodi’s THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO? 

Most readers will expect a long and involved story about how books came to be. Unfortunately, I can only say this book exists because of capitalism. I wanted a Roomba vacuum so I bought one. And, of course, everyone knows a Roomba vacuum needs googly eyes. Once that was done, I turned it on, and it started mapping out my house. At one point, it got stuck in a corner and made this sad little beeping sound. Out of nowhere, I was hit with an entire universe of a story and started planning out the book almost immediately. 

(Also, you should know I named my Roomba Hank.)

12. How was writing IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS different from writing your other novels?

I’ve been around for quite a while, but most readers know me from my recent books: THE EXTRAORDINARIES trilogy, THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA and UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR. Those books are safe, hopeful, warm, even when things get a little complicated. However, for a long time, I was writing darker works. IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS is me wanting to merge those two sides of my writing: the light and the dark. While there will be moments of levity, this book is a deep and sometimes difficult look at forgiveness and what it means to be human.

13. Whether it’s a magical orphanage on a remote island, a tea shop that helps people pass to the other side, or a treehouse in an apocalyptic future, you’re a pro at creating worlds and scenarios that are entirely unique. How do you come up with the settings of your books? What inspires you? 

I like making locations be as major of a character as the actual characters themselves. Both the house in THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA and the tea shop in UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR are meant to feel lived-in, realistic even in the face of the fantastical. I want readers to hear every creak of the floor boards, every moment the building groans and settles. 

PUPPETS is no different: the tree houses are meant to show safety, security, a place to fit in and belong. I wanted to explore what it would look like if the happy endings of CERULEAN and DOOR were a happy beginning for another family. What would it look like if that was taken away? What would the people who lived there do to get their safety and security back?

14. Your previous books address big topics such as discrimination and prejudice and grief and loss. What made you decide to focus on the heart and soul of humanity this time around?

Humanity baffles me. We can lift others up, we can celebrate, we can be proud and filled with joy. But then there are those of us who want to cause pain, suffering, to take away the rights of marginalized groups simply for being different. I am often disappointed by people, but at the same time, I know that there is nothing like us. Why do people want to knowingly cause harm when others are fighting to make the world a better place?

Humanity is a disease without a cure, and yet we dance. We sing. We live. This duality is at the heart of the novel. 

15. How do you decide on the names for your characters? Do they ever change as you get to know them more? 

Naming of characters usually is an easy thing for me. I knew the vacuum would be Rambo almost immediately. Since this was going to be a story about finding and repairing a mysterious android, Victor felt right for the main character as an ode to another inspiration: Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Nurse Ratched isn’t her namesake, but she’s not too far off. Giovanni is a nod toward the inspiration for the book, a character named Geppetto. And last is Hap, also known as the Hysterically Angry Puppet. I knew him because Rambo told me his name.

16. While reading, I found myself falling in love with all of the characters but particularly with an anxiety-ridden vacuum named Rambo. How do you imbue your characters, which are often not human, with so much personality? 

I knew going into this story that Rambo and Nurse Ratched would be on-page as much as Victor and Hap, so I made it my mission to put as much life into the robotic characters as I did with the human one. A funny little quirk about humanity is that people tend to anthropomorphize their things: plants, objects, pets. Giving them names, personalities, hell, even backstories. I love that about us. I love that our brains want to make these little connections simply because we can. It’s not hard to put humanity into inhuman things when we do it as part of our daily lives. I just happen to turn it up to eleven.

17. Your books often feature tender queer love stories. Do you start writing with the romance and relationships in mind or do you focus more on the narrative of the story first?

Early in my career, I was romance-first, narrative after. But as I’ve gotten older (and, I think, a better writer) I’ve found myself moving away from focusing on romance, and wanting to explore relationship dynamics that aren’t just about romantic love. To me, platonic and/or familial love is just as important, and seeing it come from all sides makes for a better story. But that still doesn’t mean I won’t write about queer relationships, and all that goes with it. 

18. IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS ends with some questions left unanswered; would you ever consider writing a sequel? 

No. Like with WHISPERING DOOR, I know I’ve said all I wanted to say with this story. When I consider sequels, I ask myself: “What would you be trying to say if you continued? What didn’t you say in the first book that you want to talk about now?”

Leaving some questions unanswered was done on purpose. Vic and his family are on a mission: to get something back that was taken from them. At the same time, almost out of sight, there is a much larger story going on in the background, a story about control. Though these two stories eventually intersect, Vic is on a singular path to find what’s his, and nothing else matters. Answering everything would have been impossible as Vic doesn’t know everything. In the end, that’s life, isn’t it?

19. What are you hoping readers take away from IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS?

That even the smallest of us can be brave when called upon. That kindness isn’t always easy to give. That forgiveness is a powerful weapon, but with it comes hard questions: Who has the right to forgive? The person or persons affected? A community? Can you forgive and forget, or does the memory of what happened make that impossible?

20. If you could write about anything in the world next, what would it be?

Honestly? I’d want to write a bunch of shorter books starring Chauncey from THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA where he’s the manager of a hotel, the bellhop, and he’ll also solve mysteries like who stole the diamond necklace from the woman in room 617? No worries, Chauncey’s on the case!

IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS by TJ Klune; 9781250217448; 4/25/23.

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