I first reached out to TJ a couple of weeks ago, in large part to tell him about how excited I was about his upcoming book, How To Be A Normal Person. I wanted to let him know how much it meant to me, because being ace often feels like being invisible in the romance genre. When he offered to do an interview for Just Love, I pretty much fell out of my chair in excitement!
How To Be A Normal Person is a brilliant, hilarious, and witty novel about stepping outside your comfort zone to figure out who you really are. It’s an asexual romance that follows Gus, an introvert who’s quite content to be not-normal, and Casey, an asexual stoner hipster who moves to town. You can check out my FIVE STAR review of How To Be A Normal Person here.
Keep reading for my interview with TJ Klune, talking about his upcoming release, asexuality in fiction and real life, and much more!
But first, because I’m so excited about this upcoming release, I’m giving away an ebook copy of How To Be A Normal Person via All Romance eBooks (or a $5 ARe gift certificate)!
Click on the image below for your chance to win, and come back over the next week for additional entries! The contest is now closed, thank you to everyone who entered! Congrats to Sarah S. on winning the ebook!
Just Love: Okay, without further ado, let me welcome TJ Klune to Just Love!!
TJ: Hi, and thank you for having me!
Just Love: To start, tell us a little about yourself and your new book, How To Be A Normal Person.
TJ: My name is TJ Klune, and I am an author best known for the Bear, Otter and the Kid Chronicles. I’ve been published since 2011 with BOATK and have released seven novels to date, with How to Be a Normal Person as my next and newest release.
Normal came about in a desire to expand upon what people see as M/M romance. There aren’t many ace characters that have top billing in the gay romance genre these days, and I wanted to do my part in trying to change that. I thought it would be interesting to see how people would respond to an asexual lead while still having him part of a romantic pairing.
Just Love: Did you run into any challenges when you first decided to write a romance with an ace main character?
TJ: You know what? Not really. Once I’d made a decision on actually having an ace main character, the story flowed easier than almost any other story I’d written. I suppose if there were any challenges to the story, it would be to maintain the integrity of an asexual relationship.
I had recently read a book where one of the main characters was described as asexual, but abruptly changed course half-way through the story because of the magical dick cure. It turned out he just needed sex to show him he wasn’t actually asexual at all, he just needed the right man to show him the error of his ways.
To say I was horrified was an understatement. It felt like a copout, and even worse, an insult to asexual people.
My main goal with this book is to show that it’s not only okay to be ace, but it’s also okay to be who you are without expecting people to give you shit for it, or to try and change you, to make you into something you are not. I think ace characters are severely underrated in any kind of fiction, but romantic fiction the most. Ace people can love just like everyone else. They might just show it a different way.
Just Love: You recently came out as asexual on your blog. What are some of the common (or not so common!) questions you’ve gotten about asexuality?
TJ: The biggest question I’ve gotten so far is how my own experiences could help others figure out if they are ace or not, and how did I know that about myself? I’m by no means an expert and any response I’ve given I have cautioned others with deciding on a label for themselves without actually understanding what it meant. Just because you’re not sexually active or interested in sex doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ace. It could by physiological. It could be psychological. Or it could be that they do fit on the ace spectrum somewhere. I think the best thing for anyone to do questioning if they are in fact asexual or not is to take time and research what being asexual means. Also, talking to other ace people about their own experiences can help others figure out a part of themselves. There is no right or wrong way to be ace, but it shouldn’t be something that is decided on a whim.
Just Love: Your characters are generally very quirky and neurotic (in a good way!). In the past, you’ve mentioned that Bear (from the Bear, Otter, and the Kid series) is like you in a lot of ways. How much of yourself do you write into your characters?
TJ: I think most authors write bits and pieces of themselves into their stories. For me, it helps me to inject a dose of realism, even if I’m writing about the fantastic. I don’t want to put myself completely into a character, because I want them to live and breathe on their own, and not be a carbon copy of myself.
Just Love: Would you say you relate to Gus more, or Casey?
TJ: Gus, definitely. I am not the best with people, at least face to face. He’s grumpy, sarcastic, and has a biting tongue, even if he doesn’t necessarily mean what he’s saying.
Just Love: In How To Be A Normal Person, Casey shows that asexuality is perfectly normal, and Gus doesn’t even bat an eye when Casey tells him about it. But most people I’ve met don’t understand asexuality and what it means. Why do you think asexuality is such a difficult concept for some people to grasp?
TJ: The biggest issue I think comes from a sexual perspective. Most people equate sex with love an intimacy, and that is perfectly okay to do so. It’s ingrained in us at a very early age that sex is part of a relationship, and it’s almost necessary to maintain a connection.
The idea that there could be a healthy and loving relationship that doesn’t necessarily revolve, or include, sex can be difficult for people at the other end of the spectrum to understand. There are so many ways to show love and closeness that don’t include sex. And just because a person is ace, doesn’t mean they aren’t sexual people. I have sex. I am okay with having sex. I’d prefer not to, but even I can understand how a sexual relationship can bring people closer together. However, sex isn’t the only thing to do so.
Just Love: One of my favorite weird quirks about Casey is his obsession with documenting everything on Instagram. Do you Instagram, and if so have you ever Instagrammed your food?
TJ: Oh, god, I do have an Instagram, but I am absolutely terrible with updating it. Months will go by before I think to update it, and unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I have never Instagrammed my food. I would be a terrible hipster.
Just Love: You’ve mentioned that you’re currently working on follow-ups in the “Tell Me It’s Real” and “BOATK” series. Can you talk about either/both of those projects?
TJ: The sequel to Tell Me It’s Real is called The Queen & the Homo Jock King. Where TMIR was a love-at-first-sight sort of story, Queen is going to be the exact opposite. I love antagonistic relationships, and there is just something about Sandy and Darren that rubs them both the wrong way. But I really believe it’s a sort of juvenile pigtail pulling, and they are forced together in a way they didn’t think they’d ever have to be. This book is complete and should be out in January.
BOATK4 is going to be the hardest book I’ve had to write. Not because of the subject matter, or the direction of the story, just because it will be finally closing the door on a story that has been with me for years. Bear, Otter and the Kid have given me so much and have really made my career what it is today, and the ending will be bittersweet. But it’ll be worth it, when all is said and done.
Just Love: On that note… any chance that we’ll see more of Corey/Kori soon? And do you have any plans to write more asexual characters?
TJ: Corey/Kori plays a big role in The Queen & the Homo Jock King, given that they are Sandy’s roommate throughout the book. Corey/Kori will get their own book in the last of the Tell Me It’s Real Trilogy, and will most likely pop up in some capacity in BOATK4, which will come first. I can’t wait to get to their story, because I love the idea of a gender-fluid, or bi-gendered character as a lead. I don’t think it’s something we get often enough, and I want to do my part to show readers that people in M/M romance don’t always need to be big and burly men with an eight pack and a ten inch dick.
And yes, I will include more asexual characters, if the story calls for it. Morgan, the King’s Wizard in The Lightning-Struck Heart is asexual, and talks about a platonic relationship he had with a woman many years before. I hope to delve more into that in the sequels.
Just Love: Thank you so much for joining us today!
TJ: Thank you for having me!
About TJ Klune:
When TJ Klune was eight, he picked up a pen and paper and began to write his first story (which turned out to be his own sweeping epic version of the video game Super Metroid—he didn’t think the game ended very well and wanted to offer his own take on it. He never heard back from the video game company, much to his chagrin). Now, two decades later, the cast of characters in his head have only gotten louder, wondering why he has to go to work as a claims examiner for an insurance company during the day when he could just stay home and write.
He lives with a neurotic cat in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. It’s hot there, but he doesn’t mind. He dreams about one day standing at Stonehenge, just so he can say he did.
How To Be A Normal Person will be released on October 16, 2015.
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