I’ve long admired Bill Konigsberg, and I got a chance to meet him at the IReadYA booth at this year’s YallWest. I was particularly inspired by the speech he gave at last year’s NCTE conference. His newest book, THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS, explores facing fears–and how we can grow when we let go of denial.

Max: Chill. Sports. Video games. Gay and not a big deal, not to him, not to his mom, not to his buddies. And a secret: An encounter with an older kid that makes it hard to breathe, one that he doesn’t want to think about, ever.

Jordan: The opposite of chill. Poetry. His “wives” and the Chandler Mall. Never been kissed and searching for Mr. Right, who probably won’t like him anyway. And a secret: A spiraling out of control mother, and the knowledge that he’s the only one who can keep the family from falling apart.

Throw in a rickety, 1980s-era food truck called Coq Au Vinny. Add in prickly pears, cloud eggs, and a murky idea of what’s considered locally sourced and organic. Place it all in Mesa, Arizona, in June, where the temp regularly hits 114. And top it off with a touch of undeniable chemistry between utter opposites.

Over the course of one summer, two boys will have to face their biggest fears and decide what they’re willing to risk — to get the thing they want the most.

I love the unique detail you have in your stories, especially regarding your characters. How do you decide which details to include and which to leave out? 

Good question. A lot of the choices I make are instinctual, but I suppose if there are ground rules, it would be something like this: include it if the detail evokes character, or if it makes the setting come to life in and of itself. Leave out if it feels generic or uninteresting. I think of Jordan’s 80s bordello bedroom. I am not the kind of writer who is going to overload readers with detail, so I want each detail to do a lot of work. They have to land.

Finding that “best” word or phrase that makes all the difference. In THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS, both characters are confronted with their fears. What do you hope readers can glean from their journey?

I think a lot of what I’ve been learning in my own life is how important it is to move away from denial. And by that I mean all sorts of denial: denial of reality, of feelings… I was really focused on how Max has been told to ignore his emotions, and how much I was told that in my life, too, and the impact of that. On boys and also on society. That which we resist does tend to persist, at least in my experience. I’ve been really enjoying a TV show called The Bold Type, about three 20-something women working in the fashion industry in New York City. What I notice is how often the plot tends to come down to the characters having to dig down and deal with what is, and what they are feeling. It begins to feel like the most important thing in life, in some ways.

It certainly is. You gave a very poignant speech about the dangers of marginalization and what it does to teens. What do you wish more people knew about these teens and their experiences?  

I wish people–and I guess I mean non-allies here–understood that this isn’t about sex or sexuality. I think a lot of the “queasiness” some people feel about LGBTQIA issues is that it seems like it’s about something private, but really it isn’t. Not any more than someone acknowledging their heterosexuality is about sex, and we seem to do that with great ease. This is about identity, and being open and honest with ourselves and others, and most importantly it’s a health and safety issue. We simply must work harder to lower the horrifying numbers of LGBTQIA teens who attempt and die by suicide. Particularly trans youth. It’s not acceptable, and it shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.

Indeed. We live in a heartbreaking world, and I’m thankful that teens (and others) have access to your books within it. What are some of your current projects?

I’m finishing up edits on my next novel, THE BRIDGE, which will come out next fall. THE BRIDGE is about two teens, a boy and a girl, who meet atop the George Washington Bridge in New York City. They are both there to jump, and they interrupt each other. Then, based on what happens as the two teens sit, facing each other, 100 feet apart, with one leg each over the ledge, the world splits into four separate realities: one in which the girl jumps, one in which the boy jumps, one in which they both jump, and one in which they both decide not to. It’s a book about the huge impact of our choices in those moments when we are depressed and we think no one would care if we died, and how we impact the world around us greatly, each of us. Not just our families and friends, but those who we would not expect to be impacted. I’m so excited to have this book out in the world!

Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound

For Bill Konigsberg’s other books, click here.

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