I last featured T. Michael Martin with the debut of his zombie novel The End Games. His newest book, MR. FAHRENHEIT, takes an interesting look at moments, and how they unfold in unexpected ways. I was fortunate to read a small excerpt of MR. FAHRENHEIT in its beginning stages, and I’m happy to announce that the book debuted yesterday!
Benji’s lived his whole life in the same sleepy midwestern town—the same town his father grew up in, and his grandfather. But he wants nothing more than to put his past in the rearview mirror as soon as he graduates high school. Benji yearns for a Moment—the Moment that will redeem and transform his ordinary life. The Moment that will propel him into a new, star-bright future.
Then one night, the Moment happens: Benji and his tight group of friends—CR, Ellie, and Zeeko—accidentally shoot down a flying saucer in the local quarry. At Benji’s urging, they decide to keep it a secret and solve its mysteries on their own. But as they face threats both earthly and alien, and old tensions among the friends surface, Benji begins to question whether this Moment is the miracle he’s always dreamed of—or a curse that could destroy them all.
In your interview with Booklist, you mentioned that WarGames was one of your favorite films. I loved your depiction of Matthew Broderick’s character as a “light man,” and its relation to your own protagonist, Benji Lightman. Did Benji come to you fully formed, or did he develop as you wrote him?
The most important part of Benji — his emotional motivation — was definitely there from the beginning. I knew I wanted to tell a story about a teenager on the verge of adulthood who desperately wants something wondrous to happen to his dull life. It took a long time, though, for the quirks of Benji’s personality to emerge. Indeed, even though I knew he wanted to keep the fallen saucer a secret, at first I didn’t know how he would do so, and of course all the different scenarios considered would shade his character in different ways.
I have a theory that I’m sure other writers subscribe to as well: Your protagonist should be, in some ways, the darker mirror image of your antagonist. Remember the scene in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke goes under that tree on Dagobah, defeats a hallucination of Darth Vader, and then finds his own face hidden behind Vader’s mask? That’s because, in Empire, Luke (impatient, headstrong) had the potential to become the villainous Vader.
All of this to say, Mr. Fahrenheit’s antagonist and protagonist developed together, in a kind of dance: I built up one a bit, realized what that meant to the other, and so on, until I finally felt the characters’ three-dimensional shapes in my mind.
And so there is my very long answer to your very short question. :]
Definitely worth it, especially for a Star Wars reference! I first heard about MR. FAHRENHEIT in 2012, when you were still drafting it. How has the plot developed since, and did it expand in ways you didn’t expect?
Oh gosh, the plot back in 2012 was SO different! The premise (high schoolers shoot down flying saucer, try to keep it a secret, to deadly consequences) was there, as were a few key scenes; in fact, the scene we workshopped together is in the published version, with much of the 2012 writing intact. But aside from that, I really had little notion of where the plot was headed. From 2012-2015, particularly in 2014, the plot developed through a slow series of revelations on my part, primarily having to do with the motivation and methods of the antagonist of the book. Similarly, as I grew to understand the antagonist, the themes of the book — particularly having to do with ideas of memory and time — came together, and definitely did so in ways I didn’t expect.
My favorite antagonists are the ones that drive themes in the way you describe, and it makes me excited to read more. In our last interview, your vlog series, How to Adult, was just getting started–since then, the channel has grown to 159,000 followers. What do you find most rewarding about How to Adult, and in what ways do you think it will continue to develop?
By far the most rewarding part of doing How to Adult is knowing that the show genuinely helps people. For instance, we once received an email from a young man who had been trying for months to find work in a women’s shelter, which he described as his dream job. His efforts had yet to bear fruit until he watched our “employment series” of videos on resumes and job interviews. He then tweaked his approach according to our advice, and within a couple weeks he had landed exactly the kind of work he wanted. It makes me feel wonderful to know that not only did we improve his life, but he is also now going to go on to improve other people’s lives, too.
The future, both short-term and long, of How to Adult should be really interesting, I think. Our growth rate has accelerated this year, which is exciting, and there’s a ton of work going on behind the scenes make the show even better. Change can be hard, even good change, but I feel great about what’s coming down the pike for How to Adult, and we hope that it will enable us to help as many people as we possibly can.
I have no doubt you will! Thanks again for such wonderfully thought-out answers.