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Q&A: Meet the 2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley

Last year, a debut author from a small town in Louisiana (WOOT!  LOUISIANA PRIDE!) proudly/nervously anticipated the day that his book would hit store shelves.  And when that magical day came, little did John Corey Whaley know that his days as an English teacher were numbered and his life as an award-winning author would soon begin.  From becoming the first young adult author to ever receive the National Book Foundations ‘5 Under 35’ Honor, to winning the William C. Morris Debut Author Award AND the 2012 Michael L. Printz winner for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.   

Today at TLT, we are honored to host an author interview with Corey Whaley and signed copy of his book as a giveaway! 

Stephanie Wilkes of TLT and Printz Winner John Corey Whaley

Can you describeWhere Things Come Back in 140 characters or less?

Teen boy in small town tries to grow up despite a dead cousin, a missing brother, a thought-to-be-extinct woodpecker, and dangerous crushes. 

What was your motivation behind writing this novel?

Initially, I wanted to write a simple coming-of-age story set in a small, Southern town.  However, after certain events and after hearing a particular story about the Ivory-billed woodpecker, I set out to write a story about growing up, faith, and second chances—and that any of these things are possible in an impossible world.  

What kind of a role did music play in the creation of this book? 

Music played a healthy role in this story.  Sufjan Stevens’ “The Lord God Bird” is hat introduced me to the idea of the bird in the story in the first place, so I owe it much.  There are also several song lyrics in the novel, which have meaning to the respective characters.

 Now, there are cover lovers (I’m one!) and cover haters…what was your reaction when you first saw the cover of the hardback and do you still feel the same way?

I fell in love with the hardback cover the minute I saw it.  I knew it was perfect (despite the fact that some would “hate” as you put it.)  For this story, for something to personal and meaningful that I’d lived with for so many years, the image of the cover sealed the deal….I finally had a physical image to put with my first book. It was so great.

If you could give Cullen one piece of advice, what would it be?

I’d probably tell Cullen not to be so cynical, despite everything going on around him.  Cullen’s cynicism is based on my own teenage attitude and I know now that I missed out on a lot of things when I was in high school and college just because my cynicism was so powerful and debilitating.  I can still be cynical sometimes, but when it keeps you from experiencing the world and people, it’s dangerous.  

 It’s been stated several times around the blogsophere that you write for intelligent teens and that your books surpass the teen ‘genre’ and are also enjoyable for adults to read.  When you started writing WTCB, did you write with an intended audience?

I didn’t.  My life-long mission had been to write a novel and I’ll readily admit that I hadn’t studied up on genres and whatnot before setting out to finally do so.  I will say this, though: I don’t think we have to pigeonhole books anymore.  We don’t tell people that Van Gogh is for adults or that Dr. Seuss can just be enjoyed by kids.  Reading is personal, just like any art form, and I know plenty of teens (of varying intellects) that have enjoyed WTCB and many other books with crossover potential. 

Winning the Printz Award must have completely blown your mind!  Where were you when you got the call?

Well, I was driving when I got the call (on my way to Dallas to accept the Morris Award) and, to be quite frank, I went into complete shock.  I don’t remember parking my car as the Printz committee shouted their congratulations over the phone.  It was epic and awesome and potentially dangerous.  I’ll never forget it. 

That’s so awesome!  Has life changed for you since?

Since the Printz, I’ve been touring like crazy and am about to do several events with Printz honorees Maggie Stiefvater and Daniel Handler, which I’m really excited about.  Things have sort of been crazy, in the best of ways. 

 Are you working on any new projects?

I am.  I’m currently working on two more YA novels.  One is a dark murder mystery set in South Louisiana and the other is more of a light-hearted comedy that takes place all over the country.

What are you reading right now?

Currently, I’m reading a couple of great books.  I just started Catching Fire(don’t judge, I’m late to the game, okay?). I’m also reading The Scorpio Races by my pal Maggie Stiefvater. 

 What are three weird facts that your readers may not know about you?

1.)   I do not eat lettuce.  People find this weird, though, to me, it’s normal.
2.)   I never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until I was 24 years old.
3.)   Despite being a writer (and a rather quick one), I am a terribly slow reader-always have been. It sometimes takes me weeks to get through a book.

Today is the one year anniversary of the publication of the multiple award winning book Where Things Come Back.  How are we celebrating? With a signed book giveaway of course.  Follow the Rafflecopter instructions to enter to win.  And be sure to read this Why YA? post to learn how grad student Callie Ann feels about Where Things Come Back.

John Corey Whaley is the 2012 Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris Award winner for his debut novel, Where Things Come Back. He was also named a 2011 5 Under 35 Author by the National Book Foundation. Find out more at his webpage and follow him on Twitter (@corey_whaley). Where Things Comes Back is the moving tale of Cullen Witter and his life in a small town with a missing brother, a missionary who is lost in other ways, and the strange reappearance of the extinct Lazarus Woodpecker. “Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It’s about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances.” – from Goodreads.com “This extraordinary tale from a rare literary voice finds wonder in the ordinary and illuminates the hope of second chances.” – Amazon.com

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  1. I got the ARC and I let is sit for a bit, and then I picked it up one day. I was hooked early on, and I have to say at first slightly confused by the shift in story line from Cullen's family to the missionary student, but amazingly it all comes together and wow! WOW. I will add that for me the ending was 'did it really happened' and 'am I being completely hopeful and want it to end well?', or did it not. It is one of those books that I want to ask Mr. Whaley — is it true? Could be that satisfying to know… I am disappointed that I won't be going to ALA/Printz Reception, because if I were, I would ask him. Too, throughout the story, there is the preface of 'if this..' or something like that, and it made me really start to pay more attention to how the scene was going to play out when those couple of words showed up. Which at the end, I poured through the text and really tried to determine 'if this..' I gave the ARC away immediately to another youth librarian to read, and since then, I'm sure its passed onto others, so I don't have a copy to reference about the exact words, anyway, for me this story is about hope, and do recommend this book to others as a must read. Thanks.

  2. Aw… I love this interview. AND I love a guy who can wear a cardigan!

  3. Right? I love a good cardigan on a guy. And I love v-necked shirts. Both of which my husband refuses to wear. ::sigh:: (I had to repost b/c my picture wasn't showing up and I couldn't figure out why…problem solved. I'm a dork.)

  4. This was one of my favorite books last year, and I wasn't a bit surprised when it won the Printz. I would love to have a signed copy to give to one of our lucky Library teens!

  5. I saw John Corey Whaley speak at ALA in Dallas right after the winners were announced, and he was adorable! So heartfelt and excited! I can't imagine what it must feel like to win so many awards at once as a first time author. Can't wait to read his forthcoming books. This was a great interview!

  6. Anonymous says:

    One of my favorite books from the past year. And that's saying a lot since I'm a teen librarian and spend vast amounts of time reading. I'm still thinking about WTCB and keep making my colleagues check it out so that I can talk to them about the book.

  7. I happen to know the Callie Ann mentioned at the bottom of this post and I want to read whatever she recommends. And as she HIGHLY recommends this book, I need a copy!

  8. Several months ago, I noticed this book while shelving. The cover really stuck with me and I ended up going back out to the stacks to pick it up a few hours later. I'm glad I did!

  9. I saw WTCB while doing some reader's advisory in the teen section of the library I work at, but I just haven't gotten to that point in my summer reading list yet! Two of the other librarians spoke very highly of it, so I'm really looking forward to reading it!

  10. Travis H. says:

    I saw Corey speak at Neville High School in Monroe, Louisiana, and I really enjoyed his presentation. His book sounds amazing and I can't wait to read it!

  11. Anonymous says:

    At the top of my summer list – the chatter about the ending has me intrigued!

  12. I first picked up the book because of the postcard that had a Zombie and a Woodpecker. I was intrigued… not at all what I was expecting, but a great read! I'll be talking it up to teens this summer! Thanks for sharing the great interview.

  13. I haven't read it yet! Love coming of age stories!

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