Wouldn’t You Like to Know . . . John Corey Whaley
Could it be knowing you were meant to be a writer from the age of eleven or twelve that leads to being named one of the Top Five under Thirty-Five Authors by National Book Foundation? I say our current author, John “Corey” Whaley, is proof of that idea as: 1) he did know, and 2) he was named! Growing up in the small town of Springhill, Louisiana, wasn’t always easy but, according to the author, provided some pretty good material to work with for his first book. Earning his BA and MA in English from Louisiana Tech University, John “Corey” taught English to high school and middle school students for five years. After Where Things Come Back was published in 2011 and he started winning some pretty prestigious awards—like the Michael L. Printz Award and William C. Morris YA Award in 2012—he left teaching behind to become a full-time author. Now living in Los Angeles, the opposite of a small town, and having two published books under his belt, our current author is busy hangin’ with the cool kids while working on his next project—perhaps a film adaptation?
SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: (jock, band geek, popular, goth, other, none?)
JCW: I sort of teeter-tottered between a few of these groups during high school, but I’d say I was a self-described book and movie nerd. Also—my school was tiny, so we didn’t have that many social circle choices.
SH: The best/worst thing that happened to you in high school?
JCW: The best thing that happened to me in high school was winning the talent show my junior year performing an SNL-inspired sketch with my best friend. The worst thing was when this meathead football player tormented me in front of the entire school. One of us is a successful author now. The other is still a meathead.
SH: Favorite childhood book? Favorite food? Favorite band or album? Favorite television show?
JCW: Childhood book: The Giver; Food: Pizza. Always pizza; Band/Musician: Sufjan Stevens; Album: Illinois; TV Show: Game of Thrones.
SH: Is there a story from your childhood that is told most often, either by you *or* about you?
JCW: I’m often reminded by my family that I used to run around the house screaming: “I am She-Ra!!!!”
SH: Was there any class in high school you regret paying too little, or too much, attention? If you could add one class to high schools across the country, what would be the topic?
JCW: I regret not caring more about algebra and geometry when I was in high school. I wrote it all off as useless, but as an adult, I hate to admit that I think it would help me all the time. If I could add one class to every high school across the country, it would probably be one hour of silent reading time. Like, everyone reads a book. Every day. Because every book you read makes you smarter.
SH: Who was the first person who told you should be a writer? Before you knew it yourself.
JCW: I’d like to say I remember, but I don’t. My parents were always supportive, but I can’t pinpoint an exact moment . . . I just remember teachers noticing my writing and always being really good in English class, so it sort of made sense one day that I’d be a writer. I actually went to college to study journalism, but hated it and switched to English.
SH: Is there a book, besides your own, of course, that you think everyone should be reading?
JCW: There are two: More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera and the forthcoming Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. These are beautiful, honest, and brave books.
SH: If you could be a character from any book, including your own, who would you want to be? Why?
JCW: I’d want to be someone not in my books . . . they’re all too introspective and depressive. I want to be a character who swashbuckles or wields a sword. Someone brave. Maybe Bilbo Baggins or Peter Pevensie.
SH: If you had an important secret or story to share, who would be the first person you’d turn to?
JCW: You aren’t supposed to share secrets, are you?
SH: Any epic family vacation stories? Current or from the past?
JCW: One time, my dad took us all to this cave house . . . yep . . . it was a house built into the side of a real cave. It had a waterfall in the living room and bats flew all around the porch and pretty much all vacations from now on are stupid compared to it.
SH: Is there one moment in your life you’d love to live again? To either change it or to enjoy?
JCW: Two words, you know ‘em: cave house.
SH: When you’re done writing for the day, or taking a little “me” time, do you have a hobby or special treat you indulge in?
JCW: I really like TV, but sometimes I get tired of screens, so I play lots of board games and chess with my boyfriend.
SH: What three words would you use to describe yourself? What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?
JCW: Three words I’d use: Brilliant. Humble. Visionary.
Three words others would use: See above.
SH: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
JCW: Egotism. (No, but for real, it’s bad grammar. Drives me crazy).
SH: If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
SH: You are sitting down to dinner with five people, living or dead, who you find fascinating. Who is at the table and what are you eating?
JCW: 1. Harper Lee 2. JD Salinger 3. Kurt Vonnegut 4. Truman Capote 5. Mary Shelley
What’s the most literary food you can think of? That’s what we’re eating.
SH: Do you have a phrase or motto that inspires you?
JCW: Live long and prosper.
SH: What’s been the most surreal experience of being a published author? At least, so far . . . ?
JCW: Hearing from readers, especially teen readers, from all over the world. It’s so overwhelming and meaningful and completely insane every single time.
SH: A series of choices: Comedy or drama? Five star hotel or rustic camping? Cats or dogs?
Phone, email, or text? Sweet or salty? Early morning or late night? Movie, music, or TV?
Elevator, escalator, or stairs? Planes, trains, or automobile?
JCW: Drama. Rustic camping. Dogs. Phone. Sweet. Late night. Movie. Escalator. Trains.
SH: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten, at any age?
JCW: Don’t feed the bad wolf. Put positive energy out into the world and you’ll live a happier
Where Things Come Back
SH: Cullen Witter and his brother Gabriel have an interesting relationship—they both rely on the strength of other but neither seem to know they are strong. Do you think you’re more like Cullen or Gabriel? Did either or both of your siblings inspire this dynamic we see between the brothers?
JCW: I’m definitely a combination of both—and, really, Cullen and Gabriel are me at different ages—one soured by the world and his surroundings and the other unscathed and optimistic, but teetering on discovering the same kind of cynicism his brother has towards life.
I didn’t take much of the relationship between Cullen and Gabriel from my real life. I have an older brother, by five years, who I sometimes got along with and sometimes didn’t, but we were never close until we were older. The Witter brothers’ relationship is more of an idealized version of brotherhood that I think I always wondered about.
SH: How many of Cullen’s potential book titles are you getting ready to use? Do you think you’d be willing to put a short list up for fans to vote for their favorites? (Maybe—This Popcorn Tastes like People or Five A.M. Is for Lovers and for Lawn Ornaments or The Mailman Always Peeps Twice?)
JCW: Haha. Well, unfortunately, those belong to Cullen, so I can’t go stealing them. But, I’d love to see a hypothetical title vote! (My favorite is the lawn ornament one).
SH: Are you interested in birds, or is it just the woodpecker family in particular? Do you go birding? Or was it all research for this one book?
JCW: I think birds are great, sure, but the only research I ever did on them was for this book. I’m sad to say it never really stuck or went beyond that. I’m always searching for new hobbies, so it’s nice to have a new one for each book . . . and call it research.
SH: Have you played the brothers’ “what if” game? What do you think would be your best effort at the game?
JCW: I think this is actually a game I played with a friend of mine and not my actual brother. My best effort? “What if I got to have the coolest job on earth and answer questions about myself and call it work? Oh, wait!”
SH: What brought The Book of Enoch to your attention in the first place? What element do you find most intriguing?
JCW: My good friend Randi told me about it after seeing a documentary or reading an article and I thought its contents (references to zombie-like beasts, the angel Gabriel, etc.) would fit perfectly into the story. The similarities were mind-blowing at the time, so I knew it was destiny.
SH: Would you ever want any part of you put into a state of cryogenic hibernation—and then reanimated—for any reason? Would a time limit to your frozen state help or hurt the chances of your agreement?
JCW: I’ve thought a lot about this. I think if I had loved ones who I could have a good chance of seeing again, and being able to spend many more years with, then I’d consider being frozen and brought back. But, to go any further than that, to some future year where I’d be a thawed out stranger would be a no, for sure.
SH: What do you think would be the strangest thing about suddenly being five years behind your best friend since kindergarten or the girl you’ve loved since middle school? Or do you think it would be harder to be Travis’ best friend or girlfriend from the past?
JCW: I think the strangest (and scariest thing) would be that feeling that I’d missed so much of their lives that I could never catch up. Sometimes it’s hard to talk to friends after a few weeks or months, so I imagine years (with the added trauma of my “death” and cryo-hibernation ordeal) would make communicating pretty weird after my return.
SH: If you had been out of commission for the past five years—for any reason—what one person, place, or thing do you think you would have missed the most?
JCW: It’s too hard to pick a person, so I’ll just go with a thing: Music.
SH: Does “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai have any special meaning to you, or is it special just to Travis? What made you pick this painting in particular? Is there any other artwork especially attracts your interest?
JCW: It’s just a painting that I’ve always loved—and I have tried twice to see it in person with no luck. So, I thought working that into the story would add a nice, personal touch. Another work I considered was “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.
SH: Space Invaders becomes a way for Travis to assert himself physically over Jeremy’s body—it’s the one thing he can’t do better than before. Would losing the ability to achieve high score on an arcade game be one of your deepest fears? Or is there something else you’d be most afraid of losing the physical ability to do?
JCW: To be honest, I’m terrible at video games. So, I’d be happy just to have a score at all. I’m not sure I’d be afraid to lose anything . . . I have no physical talents that aren’t whistling. I whistle like a champ.
SH: What was your first response—either in your head or out loud—when you won the Morris Award? And the Printz?
JCW: The first one had me so excited; I drove four hours the next day to accept the award in person and, on the way, found out I won the Printz, too. So, I pulled my car off the interstate and danced in a convenience store parking lot while I called to tell my mom and dad.
SH: What did you buy with your first paycheck as An Author? Was it a planned or an impulse purchase?
JCW: Hmm . . . it was probably something at Target, and definitely an impulse buy. I’m good at those.
SH: When you sit down to write, what do you need around you? Do you prefer a certain time of day or is it more spontaneous? How do you approach the creative process?
JCW: I like it to be chilly and silent. No music. Nothing. And I usually need some water or, if it’s early in the day, a big cup of coffee. I’m pretty spontaneous lately with my writing times, but I used to prefer nighttime and early morning.
SH: If someone wrote a book about your life, who would you want as the author? What kind of book would it be? What title would you give it?
JCW: I’d want it to be an abstract fictionalized biography written by Patti Smith wherein I’m reimagined as a fixture of 70s New York City rock culture.
SH: Finally, is there a question you wish someone would finally think to ask?
JCW: Are you obsessed with things coming back from the dead? (Yes. The answer is yes.)
Books by John Corey Whaley
Where Things Come Back. Atheneum, 2011. 228p. $16.99. 978-1-442-41333-7. VOYA June 2011. 3Q 3P S
Noggin. Atheneum, 2014. 340p. $17.99. 978-1-442-45872-7. VOYA February 2014. 5Q 3P J S
John Corey Whaley on the Internet
Author website: http://johncoreywhaley.com/