Welcome to the wide crazy world of TJ Klune

As you can see, this is a blog (a blog, you say? You're like the only person in the world that has one!). Here are my promises to you: I promise to up date this as much as I can. I promise that at some point, you will most likely be offended. I promise you may suffer from the affliction the Klunatics know as Wookie Cry Face. I also promise to make this some place where you can see how my mind works.

You've been warned.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thoughts On Grief And Drowing In A River

Given a choice between grief and nothing, I’d choose grief.
--William Faulkner

Today is my father’s birthday.
Whether or not other people realize it, my father was the greatest man in the world.  Most certainly the tallest, if we’re speaking honestly. But he could also lay claim to being the smartest, the fastest, the biggest, and the funniest man alive.  There’s times I was sure he was a superhero, whose role as a family man was really just a secret identity to cover up his crime-fighting ways.  There was nothing my father couldn’t do, especially in the eyes of his first born, his only son.
My first memory in life is of being probably three years old, and sitting on his lap on a merry-go-round.  He had an orange and white cup in his hand, which held a milkshake.  He let me have a drink.  I got a brain freeze.  The pain was bright.  I remember it completely.
He taught me how to hunt, though as most of you know me here now would probably find that hard to believe.  I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere Oregon.  I held a hunting rifle in my hand by the time I was four or five.  He took me with him on those trips off to Steamboat Falls, those trips that would start early morning in September or October.  Sometimes it would be me and him, other times it would be us and my mom’s brother Mark, who I believe to be his best friend. 
He gave me my first sip of beer: Bud, out of a can when I was six.  I wasn’t supposed to have it but since he had it, of course I wanted it too.  And so he did.  It was disgusting.  But since he gave it to me, I told him it was the best thing ever.
I think I was an accident baby, though no one will really tell me now.  The pictures I have from that time certainly don’t seem to show myself as an accident.  There’s no forced smiles, no angry faces.  Shiny, happy people, one and all.  But photographs can be a lie too.
My mom’s parents weren’t happy.  They didn’t like him.  He was older by a few years than my mother.  He got her pregnant with me at the impossibly young age of 19.  But they married and my grandparents grudgingly accepted him, and I like to think it turned into love, though I cannot say that for fact.
What I can say is fact is this: we never had money, and were probably crossing that invisible line into being trailer trash.  Most people were in the place where I grew up.  He was a logger, as were others in his family, as were others in my mother’s family.  When you were young in the eighties in Oregon and had no plans for college, most likely you ended up in the forestry service.  It was not a safe profession by any stretch of the imagination.  Before I was born in 1982, my mother’s older brother Mitch died in an accident with a chainsaw, when the chain itself snapped.  I remember seeing his pictures and asking who he was, why he was never around.  I remember the looks that were shared before the subject was brusquely changed.  It was not safe, but then life never really is.
Today is my father’s birthday and you should know this:
His name is John Edward Irwin.  I’m named after him, partially.  My first name is Travis, my middle name John.  Klune came much later, in a time that I don’t want to remember right now.  That is to say, it’s not important to the story I’m telling you.
Know this:
My father was the greatest man alive.  I know this because I am his son.  It doesn’t matter that most boys probably think that about their fathers.  I know it to be true.
He died when I was six years old.
I was at my grandmother’s house down on Valley View Road in Melrose, Oregon.  I was in the back yard, sitting on the concrete porch, trying to whittle a piece of wood into something recognizable.  I think it’s a fair thing to say that my future was not in wood carving, given the amount of nicks and cuts on my hands, and the fact that the piece of wood was still just a piece of wood.
I remember my mother coming around the corner of the house, down a little stone pathway.  She’s blonde, like me, and in those days, the bigger the hair, the better.  She looked like a great big sail coming around the corner.  But that wasn’t on my mind right then.  It wasn’t on my mind because she was sobbing, her eyes swollen, her cheeks wet.  I thought she was mad at me for having the knife that I wasn’t supposed to have.  I thought I’d done something wrong and I remember feeling immediately guilty.  It wasn’t me, though.  I don’t remember the exact words, or how it was relayed to me, but eventually I understood that my dad was gone.  To compound the situation, my Uncle Mark, dad’s best friend, my mother’s brother, had died too.  At the same time.  Both of them had left.
With a clinical, detached eye, I can tell you this:  my father and uncle had gone left early to go hunting in an old beat up truck.  I don’t know why I didn’t go with them this time.  Maybe I was sick; maybe I was in trouble.  Maybe I just hadn’t felt like going, though that seems to ring false because I was his shadow.  To this day, no one can tell me why I didn’t go.  I can’t even remember the last time I saw him, or what the last thing he said to me was.
I don’t know if it would have made a difference.
            They’d left before the sun rose.  Good old boy hunting trips always involve a few simple things: guns, a beat up old truck, sandwiches, binoculars, and beer.  It’s the same, no matter what.  The beer is drunk on the way there, it’s drunk on the way back.  It’s not drunk while you are actually hunting, of course, because it’s irresponsible to hunt and drink at the same time.  Understand that what I just said is not it supposed to be any kind of justification or blanket statement as to how hunting actually goes.  This was just how my family did it.
            The accident happened this way:  they’d made it up into the mountains on an old logging trail.  My dad was driving, my uncle in the bench seat next to him.  I don’t know how fast they were going.  I don’t know if there was an open container in the truck.  All I know is that they rounded a blind corner and drove into the rear of a large flatbed trailer used for hauling away logs.  The trailer had apparently been abandoned there for years. 
            To this day, I still wonder about the circumstances that led to that moment.  Hadn’t they been up there before on that same road?  Hadn’t we all?  Shouldn’t my father have known about this trailer?  Was he distracted?  Was he drunk?  Did he fly around that corner at high speeds?  Who found them?  How long did it take?
            And of course, the darker questions: were they still alive after it happened?  If so, for how long?  When did they die?  And why didn’t I know it the instant it happened?  I was told they died instantly.  I suppose I could believe that, too.  But there’s always the nagging doubt: what if, what if, what if? 
            And these are questions I will never get the answer to.
            Why am I telling you all this?  TJ, you’re probably thinking.  You have just completely ruined my day!  This was a beautiful, sunny Sunday and now it’s just ruined.
            I’m sorry, though I can’t say completely.  Today is my father’s birthday.  He would have been 56 years old.  I can’t help but to wonder every single goddamn day what life would have been like had he not died.  Every single day, I wonder if the shitstorm of my teenage years would have been avoided, because then my mother would not have remarried the man who became the devil incarnate, ironically also named John.  I wonder if my dad would have accepted me when I came out at, though I think he would have hands down.  Immediately.  Without question.  He may have been a redneck, but he was my fucking father.
            If you follow me on Facebook, you’d know that after a three month hiatus, I started writing again.  The story came out of nowhere, though its roots are firmly cemented in my past.  Today is the 21st day since I’ve starting writing this new book and already it’s approaching 100K words.  I’ve never written anything that quickly before.  Ever.  I’ve only released the title on FB and this post is the first time I’ve discussed what it’s about.  There are no spoilers.
            The book is called Into This River I Drown and while it is still a romance (for some reason, I love love), its love story goes further than that.  It is about one man’s love for another, but it’s also one man’s love for his father.   Big Eddie is the father’s name.  Benji is his son and the narrator.  Benji finds a man named Cal in a unique set of circumstances and Cal is…. well, to say any more about Cal wouldn’t be fair at this point.  It takes place in small town in Oregon called Roseland.  The denizens there are a quirky bunch, but my favorite character so far has to be one of Benji’s aunts: a woman with Down’s-Syndrome named Nina.  I adore her.
 I hope this book will be finished in the next few weeks and unlike my previous books, I really think this will be a one-time story, no sequels or prequels.  Granted, I thought the same thing about BOATK and we all know how that turned out. 
Just know that the new book is my most personal yet, because it deals with one thing I am desperately familiar with: the loss of a father.  This is not going to be a humorous book along the lines of Who We Are, though I still do enjoy finding humor in the little things in life that I have attempted to add into Drown.  Part of me wonders if the reason I’m writing it so quickly is because I just want it to be over with.  It’s never fun to reopen old wounds.  And that’s exactly what I’m doing.  I’m asking questions to family about my dad.  I’m writing a story that I almost wish I didn’t have to write.  But even then, I want people to know Big Eddie, and in turn my own father, so badly that I keep writing.  It’s weird, these little layers that keep getting pulled back.  I’m learning things about these characters that I didn’t know when I set out on this completely random story.  I’ve laughed, I’ve cried.  I’ve gotten so fucking angry that I wanted to knock the laptop across the room.  I’ve learned things about my own father that I never knew.
In the end, though, Into This River I Drown is my exploration of grief, both the bad and the good.  Sometimes, I think we grieve only because we don’t know what else to do.
            It’s a ghost story, though not in the traditional sense. Memories can be haunting too
            If you’ve followed me this far, you’ll know that my three previous works have incorporated the idea of what makes a family.  I think I may always include that because I am still trying to find what family means.  I’ve written my own definitions, to be sure, but it feels like I’m still trying to find it.  I don’t know.  I made a promise early in my writing career that I would never write the same story twice, and I plan on keeping that promise.  Drown may very well turn out to be my complete thoughts about what it means to be family.  I think that maybe BOATK and Burn have led to this.
I’m sorry if I’ve rambled a bit here, and I hope you’ll forgive me.  I just wanted you to meet a man that I still think was the greatest man alive.  How could he not be?
He was my father, after all.
Happy birthday, Pops. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

WWA Post Release Thoughts and the Future Of BOATK

You know what sucks?

Saying goodbye.

I can’t speak for other authors, but when you spend as much time with characters as I have with Bear, Otter, and the Kid (and Anna, and Creed, and Mrs. P), they almost take on a life of their own. The boys are a part of me, and I won’t ever be rid of them as long as I live, not even if I wanted to be. I’ve spent the better part of four years with them, in one version or another, and when I finished writing Who We Are, it was very difficult to believe that it was over. I wrote the last words, and while it was a time for celebration, I wanted frantically to continue the story and just write and write and write some more so I wouldn’t have to say good-bye to them. I love them for everything they are, warts and all. They’re not real, of course. But that in itself is a lie because they are real to me. In my head I know how they sound, how they walk, how they laugh, and how they cry. I know the clothes they wear, what their likes and dislikes are. What they fear. What they cherish.

Sometimes, I wonder if I know them better than anyone else.

I wanted to discuss a few things about the book, so obviously there will be spoilers. If you haven’t read Who We Are, its best you go there first before reading any further. For the rest of you, here’s a little taste of why certain things happened.


Okay, here’s the deal. While I was initially writing Who We Are, Chapter One: Where Bear Goes To War was initially the prologue, an introduction back again to the boys. I was doing the first round edits for Elementally Evolved Book I: Burn and reading an m/m shifter book, when a realization hit me. One, it seems that a lot of m/m shifter books have collapsed in on themselves, becoming nothing more than the same story over and over and over again. Alpha Werewolf (or were-duck or were-penguin) is leader of his pack/almost leader of his pack/should be leading his pack and does not have a mate (and has never considered that his mate might just be a man! GASP! SHOCKING). Enter in said mate, most likely tinier in stature, but may also be… wait for it… A CHOSEN ONE!!!!!!! ZOMG!!!! Angst and strife ensue, but they always end up together. And then I realized that for all intents and purposes, I’d sort of done the same thing with Burn. Oh sure, there’s no shifters in the Elemental world, but essentially, it’s the same thing. It seemed I could escape certain clichés even though I tried, so I wanted to poke fun at myself and the shifter genre as a whole. Thus, the prologue to WWA was born. I tried to pile on every single cliché I could think of when writing it and had a blast doing so. This prologue was written back in September and was submitted with the finished manuscript to WWA.

However, certain… events… conspired earlier this year, as have already been discussed to death. I was asked repeatedly if the Kid would ever have any kind of response to these… events. Hence a certain snarky response about how shifter stories all seem the same and how people on the internet need to find things to do. That’s the only change I made to the prologue. Obviously, it was not born of any kind of malicious intent. Some people seem to find it funny, others seem to be pissed off that I wrote that specific line. Look: the whole prologue was me making fun of myself, and I really don’t have a mean bone in my body for it to be some kind of angry statement. I’ve learned it’s easier to laugh at something than to get angry. A little self-deprecation never hurt anyone. Lighten up!


The dinner scene. Most of the major players in the BOATK world together for the first time. Many of the responses I have received about WWA have mentioned this scene in one way or another. Before I began writing WWA, I made a conscious decision that I wanted the sequel to be funnier. I felt that certain parts of BOATK were dragged down by unnecessary melodrama and really, hadn’t Bear and the boys suffered enough? (And, already knowing how the last quarter of the book was going to go, I also wanted to lure the reader into a sort of false sense of safety as they read, only to get to the last section and have that ripped away. Yes, I am somewhat of a sadistic bastard.) For the dinner scene, I wanted the dialogue to snap, and be continuous, with multiple conversations running over each other, in a way that would initially be confusing, but would melt together into Creed’s revelation of his anger/weirdness at the end of BOATK. It was probably the most technically difficult scene that I had to write in WWA. It went through several revisions until I was satisfied. I think Bear’s drunken coming out stream of consciousness speech to Otter and Anna’s parents is probably my favorite part of the whole book. Bear is a light weight mess and I adore him. From the Kid inadvertently spilling that Anna and Creed are doing the baby-making floor tango, to Creed’s realization that he has to let Bear go (and that maybe, just maybe, he’s in good hands regardless), I wanted to show that families can be just big, drunken clusterfucks. I hope you got that from it too.


Is Bear gay? Straight? Bisexual? Gay for Otter? Gay for Otter’s penis? To answer this question, I’ll refer you to one of the last lines in Bear’s narrative, where I think I quietly put that question to rest: “I’m a gay bug zapper, remember?” It can be read two different ways.


People who follow my posts know that I alluded to a scene in WWA where even I couldn’t keep from breaking down. Did you figure it out? No, it wasn’t when the Kid and Bear were lying in the bed after Otter and Bear returned from the gay bar (though, I will admit, the line the Kid says to the effect that without Bear, he’d lie down and die got me a bit choked up.) No it wasn’t when Otter came home to find Bear in the bathtub. It wasn’t Bear at the beach in his Tux waiting for Otter to show, knowing he wouldn’t and the reason why. It wasn’t the poem that followed (Bear! Bear! Bear!), or the rings, or the hospital, or Julie Mckenna returning. It wasn’t even Otter waking up.

It was the transition, you see, between Otter waking up and Mrs. Paquinn passing away.

Holy fuck me sideways was I a mess writing that.

I knew the whole last quarter of the book was going to happen before I started writing the book itself. I needed Bear to get knocked on his ass so he could finally open his eyes to see just how strong he really is. And I knew the only way he could see that is if everything happened at once. Otter. Mrs. Paquinn. Anna and Creed’s pregnancy. Julie returning with the truth of it all. I needed him to be the strong one, but of course, being Bear, it would be somewhat misguided (it is Bear, after all).

But what I did not expect was how much it would hurt getting to Mrs. P.

It’s a relatively short scene, her passing. Bear and the Kid in her room by themselves, knowing how their future is now awake in another room, watching part of their past slip away in front of them. It’s relatively short because I could not write more about it. I’ll admit to having a Wookiee cry face while I wrote that scene, and when Bear said, “Go on, old girl”? Gaaaaaaaaaaaah. I took a break for a few days after that to make sure it’s what was right for the story, that it was right for the characters.

And I found that it was.

I needed Bear to find his strength. And he did.

And I needed the Kid to hold his head tall, because well... I'm not done with him just yet.


So. The Kid is in love with Dominic. And Dominic is…what? Gay? Bi? Straight? He told Bear he was fucking hot in the car. At the end, he’s dating some big-boobed woman named Stacey. And a separation is looming between Tyson and Dom, the Kid graduating early and going to school across the country, Dominic staying in Seafare where he's a cop.

Out of everything I’ve received as a response to WWA, the majority of it surrounds the epilogue and basically boils down to this: “TJ, you aren’t going to leave them like this, right? There’s going to be another book, right? RIGHT?!?!?!?!?!”

Come on, folks. What kind of an asshole do you take me for? If I didn’t feel that I could continue the story, I would not have left the epilogue as it was. That’d be a big ol’ downer, wouldn’t you say? So, while it may not be today, or tomorrow, or even in the next couple of months, you should know by now as well as I do that the Kid will start chattering in my ear again one day and I’ll feel the need to open up a new word doc and start a new story about Ty and Dom (and, just between you and me, I already have some of the story worked out in my head, and already know the first line and what the first chapter (prologue??) is going to look like). So yes, definitively yes, saying right here and now: BOATK3 will happen.

So that’s it. For now. I have to say goodbye and let them go, at least for a little while. The boys will go do their thing and I will go do mine. We’ll meet up again, down the road. And who knows what will happen then?

But… but… if I close my eyes, there are times that I think I can hear the ocean, that I can smell the salt in the air. There are times I’m on a little section of beach that no one really seems to know about. One eye is trained to the sky, to watch out for a certain seagull. In the distance, I can see three guys. One of them is big. One is just a little guy. The last is somewhere in between.

They all raise their hands and wave and it’s like they’ve been waiting for me.

I wave back.

And my God does it feel like coming home.