My introduction to the writing of John Goode came by way of his debut novella Maybe With A Chance of Certainty, the first book in the Tales From Foster High Series published in October 2011 by Dreamspinner Press. While reading the story I quickly fell in love with Mr. Goode’s writing and in particular his characterisation. The compilation of the first three books in the series, entitled Tales From Foster High, made the list of my Best in LGBTQ Literature for 2012. Since then, the author has been quite busy with over ten published works under his belt, to date, in the realms of gay young adult and adult-themed contemporary fiction, science fiction, fantasy and romance. On the occasion of the release of the latest instalment in the Foster High books, Taking Chances, I invited John to participate in an Author Question & Answer at Indie Reviews.
Indie Reviews: Hi John, welcome and thank you for agreeing to participate in an author Q & A. Also, congratulations on the release of your latest Foster High story Taking Chances.
Over the last few years you’ve been quite prolific with now five books in the Foster High series, a compilation of the first three books in the series and several short stories, two books as part of the Lords of Arcadia series and the single title Last Dance with Mary Jane. What’s your creative process like? What parts of the writing process do you find easier and which parts more difficult, or frustrating?
John Goode: My mind is always running, which is a good and bad thing at times. It is always writing something in the back of my head even if I am not consciously thinking about it and from time to time it will drag a fully formed story to me and go “Look what we did!” Other times it is just setting up the characters and letting the scenario play out to its logical conclusion. An old friend of mine said it was like my brain was constantly running holodeck programs of these characters and I just pop in from time to time to write down what they are doing.
I write mainly at night, I am a night owl and find 4:00 a.m. to be a very conductive time to commune with my imagination. The easiest is dialogue for me, letting the characters just talk to each other is very tempting for me while the hardest part would be trying to write real negative emotion like someone hurt or crying because to do so I have to go into my mind and find that place inside me and bring it out and at times it is difficult to explain to my brain this isn’t real sadness, just fictional sadness.
Indie Reviews: As you know I’m a big fan of the Foster High series. What or who was the inspiration behind the series? How did the characters of Kyle Stilleno and Brad Greymark first come to you?
John Goode: Both were characters from a role-playing game called Champions. Kyle has always been a superhero to me and Brad was always his boyfriend. In almost every story I’ve told since high school there has been a Kyle and Brad walking around somewhere, it’s just a matter of finding out what their names are this time.
Indie Reviews: An aspect of your writing that clearly stands out in respect of the Foster High books is the deference with which you write Kyle and Brad. I’ve previously remarked that you don’t manufacture contrived teenage angst, but treat your characters with honesty and respect. What’s your process for character development? What’s important for you when writing your characters?
John Goode: Well first thank you, that’s a great compliment. I suppose it comes from that everything that happened in those books really happened to someone. From my life, friends lives, stories on the Internet, I will scour and search for these moments and examine them not only from the outside but look at how they affect from the inside. First love is always more powerful because it is the template in which you will judge everything else after it on. With time it is easy to look back at that first love and shake your head at how wrong and naive you were but I assure you at the time, you thought you were making the best choice possible.
It’s important to me to respect the fact that teenagers aren’t stupid and ignorant, they have thought processes and they have a way of doing things that works for them, which is why they have such a hard time dealing with adult rules. If you read my books and see honesty it is because in the past you have had that same struggle and know when you were there at that moment, it is the most important thing in the world no matter who tells you different.
Indie Reviews: In End of The Innocence, the fourth book in the series, you throw the doors of Foster High wide open and grow Kyle and Brad’s world by focusing on not only what is happening to them but also on what is happening all around them, further developing secondary characters and introducing new ones. In doing so you examine the issues of homophobia, marginalisation and bullying from all angles and blur the lines between bully and victim. You also deal with the issue of gay teen suicide head on. As a reader I found this particular instalment in the series the most powerful to date, and the events that transpire in the story are transformative for both Kyle and Brad and perhaps even a turning point for the series as a whole.
Can you speak a little about your experience while writing this book? Any revelations that you feel comfortable in sharing are most welcome.
John Goode: Well I like to look at writing like directing a film. You place your camera somewhere and start to film and what you describe is what the reader sees. Sometimes a writer can fill the frame with so much imagery that the focus of the scene and therefore the movie is lost on others. So with the first book it was all about Brad and Kyle and how they interact with each other and the world around them. It is just their voices and their thoughts and through them you are grounded in the town completely.
In End of The Innocence then I could pull the camera back some and show you that this isn’t happening in a vacuum and that there are things that the boys have no idea are going on around them. If I had started here the series would have come off more like a soap opera and the tale of a torrid little town keeping it’s own secrets. Instead you get the sense that the boys realize this is larger than just the two of them, a fact Robbie tries to tell Kyle early on but Kyle ignores it. By the end they all know this is more than just a couple dating and that something has to be done. In 151 Days, the last Foster High book, you see how wide the effects of what Kyle and Brad are and how long this has been going on in the town. Characters you’ve never met before narrate some parts, which gives the reader the ability to be in some rooms the boys would never have access to, therefore gleaning even more of the story than before. I grew up in a small little town like Foster and when I was a teenager had NO idea how vast or deep the politics of the town were and how much it affected me. It was only as I got older that I realized how much I had missed growing up and how it had changed my life. I wanted the Foster series to have that same feeling.
As for the theme, as I said in the author’s note I tried to kill myself three times in my youth and have personally looked down the barrel of the gun Kelly held and wondered if I should pull the trigger. At the time no one knew, no one guessed, no one had an inkling how close I got. I wanted to write a book for those kids going through the same thing, I wanted to give them a mirror of what it looks like if you make the wrong choice and actually kill yourself. I just hope that it helps at least one kid out there.
Indie Reviews: Taking Chances, which released yesterday, is the most recent Foster High story that features Tyler Parker, a secondary character first introduced in The End of The Beginning, Book 2 in the series and his love interest Matt Wallace. What prompted you to write Tyler and Matt’s story? Can we expect other secondary characters from the series getting their own book? Robbie perhaps?
John Goode: I had written a short story for a Dreamspinner anthology about Christmas called The Boy Behind the Red Door, which was about Matt’s character. I remember as I was writing it that the muse for the story was a picture I had of the actor Jensen Ackles sitting in front of a red door relaxing and it hit me that in my mind, Tyler Parker was an older Jensen Ackles and the moment I realized that was the moment I realized they should be the same person. After that their story began to write itself and I think it adds a very adult layer of Foster that the other books were unable to bring because of Brad and Kyle.
Robbie is getting his own book, tentatively called Twice Upon a Time and is going to be written by the man who inspired Robbie. I can see another Matt and Tyler book at some point and there is a Brad and Kyle story that takes place in college but it isn’t set in Foster, Texas.
Indie Reviews: Of all your works, I’m least familiar with the Lords of Arcadia series, although both Distant Rumblings and Eye of The Storm are on my list to read. My understanding is that it is a young adult science fiction/fantasy series that was inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Can you tell us a little about the series?
John Goode: I love sci fi and fantasy and really wanted to try a stab at my own. It is based on the nine realms of existence that are held together by The Great Tree of Life. Hawk, who is the prince of Arcadia, is forced to flee his home world and meets Kane, a perfectly normal human boy and the two hit it off. With the help of friends they have to find a way to overthrow the shape shifter Puck who has taken control of the throne and wants the secret to ascension so he can rule the realms.
Indie Reviews: I recently read Last Dance with Mary Jane and found it to be quite a poignant love story, but also a journey of forgiveness, letting go and healing for the main character Peter. There are also some interesting plot twists with paranormal elements. What inspired this story? Is the writing experience different for you when writing adult-themed fiction? Do you plan on writing more adult-themed stories in the future?
John Goode: I would love to write a whole series about the paranormal elements that are in Last Dance, being vague as not to spoil it. I like writing good stories, I am never sure if they are adult or young adult until they are done. The next two books I have after Foster are both adult-themed, so yeah I plan on a lot more.
Indie Reviews: Who are your favourite authors?
John Goode: Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Christopher Moore, Jasper Fforde, Sue Brown, Peter David, should I go on?
Indie Reviews: In preparation for this Q & A I re-read the excerpt you posted of your upcoming Foster High release, entitled 151 Days, and it was just as powerful the second time around. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little about the upcoming book and when it releases? What else is on the horizon in terms of your works in progress?
John Goode: 151 Days is how many days left before Kyle and Brad graduate high school, 151 days to make good on the promise Kyle made at the end of End of The Innocence. The effects of Kelly’s death and how it has shaken the town to it’s core along with the events of Tyler in Taking Chances all come to a boiling point, which should shock more than a few readers. Each section is told in three different ways. One by Brad, one by Kyle and then one by someone new who hasn’t narrated the book before.
For example the first part is called:
January 14th: Waiting On The World To Change
It’s not that we don’t care, we just know that the fight ain’t fair.
151 days left
It starts with Kyle’s part, goes to Brad and ends with Dorthy Aimes, Kelly’s mother. And through each scene you see the events unfold and how it looks from each person’s point of view and how the perspective changes. It’s time consuming but I think worth it because you learn something new with each person’s re-telling. Things the first person missed or didn’t see get covered by the others and you end up with this tapestry of a story that paints, for the first time, a complete picture of Foster as a town. It is about three-quarters of the way done and then will go through edits and re-writes, but fingers crossed by the end of the year. So far the people who have seen the rough drafts like it at least.
After that I am finishing The Invisible Tempest, the third Lords of Arcadia book and then I want to start work on Virtual Inheritance which is the story about a the son of a Bill Gates type inventor who stumbles on a secret that his father kept from him for his entire life and will change the world as he knows it.
Indie Reviews: At the end of the day, what would you like readers to take away from your stories?
John Goode: That we all have the same stories. We all have the same experiences, and that one story isn’t better than the other. We are all Kyles and we are all Brads and we all are human. People don’t need to walk alone in this world, not with today’s technology. We can be closer than ever before and still we drift apart. These stories are about people coming together and at the end of the day I hope they do just that. Bring us all closer together.
Indie Reviews: John, your last answer pretty much says it all. Thank you so much for taking the time to take part in this Author Q & A, and most of all for sharing your thoughts on writing and your stories with openness and honesty. I wish you all the best with your writing, may the words always flow, and look forward to reading more of your stories.
John Goode’s books from the Foster High and the Lords of Arcadia series are available in both ebook and print formats from Dreamspinner Press and its young adult imprint Harmony Ink Press. The single title Last Dance with Mary Jane is available at Silver Publishing.
You can visit John Goode on Twitter (@Fosterhigh) and Facebook.