Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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

/*{literal}{/literal}*/ a Rafflecopter giveawayYou need javascript enabled to see this giveaway. [Read more…]

Why YA? 2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley tells you why!

Today as part of our ongoing Why YA? series the 2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley talks about a ya title that moved him.  Read on to learn what ya title lingers in the mind and soul of this award winning author.

I’ll make a confession: I read YA books.  You know what else I read?  I read newspaper articles, blogposts, essays, poetry, and . . . . wait for it . . . . adult literary fiction.  It’s possible to read them all and experience them all respectively.  But, to be quite honest, YA books have the most special place in my heart.  They are the titles I remember instantly when asked “What’s your favorite book?” YA books are the ones we keep with us for years and years, lifetimes even.

So I was asked to write about a YA book that means something to me, but there are so many that I’ve had a hard time choosing just one.  I could go with the literary masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which would most assuredly be classified as YA were it to be newly published today.  Or, I could choose a more recent work like Sherman Alexie’s heartfelt, painful, and gorgeous The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. What about Frank Portman’s hilarious King Dork or Stephen Chbosky’s ode to teenage sexual/emotional confusion and angst, The Perks of Being a Wallflower? I could go on and on about these titles and why they transcend the adult-teenager literary divide. But, some of these I read as a teenager and I thought, to play fair, I’d discuss a YA book that I discovered as an adult.

In the few months prior to the release of my own YA book, I decided to read several titles that I’d had on my radar for years.  The one that has stuck with me most from that period of time (and will always stick with me) was David Leviathan’s Love is the Higher Law. This beautiful sincere novel told from the multiple perspectives of New York City teenagers in the wake of the September 11th attacks meant more to me than most books I’ve ever read in my life.  I think there are several reasons why this is true and why I would never be ashamed to be caught reading this title in a public place (thank you, Mr. Stein).

One reason is the beauty and courage with which Levithan approaches his characters as they experience, together and respectively, a rapidly changing world in which they suddenly learn they have very little control.  Their conversations, relationships, and emotions (and lack there of, sometimes) spoke to me on a personal level.

You see, I was seventeen on September 11, 2001.  Mind you, I was all the way down in Louisiana, far away from the actual events of the day, but I felt it just as I think most of us did.  I felt a physical change in the world that I had no idea how to respond to mentally or emotionally.  When I read this book, ten years later, I realized how I wasn’t alone with that feeling as a seventeen year old.  I read about Claire, Peter, and Jasper and how they were just as lost as I was, as a lot of us were, I think.

Levithan found a way to capture something that I think, as a writer of any genre, is nearly impossible.  He captured perfectly that universal haunting feeling that one gets when he or she realizes that nothing in the world makes a damn bit of sense anymore.  And he did this in a YA book. Go figure.

Speaking of “universal experiences,” I want to end by saying this: we were all teenagers.  It’s one of the very few things that every single adult on this planet has in common.  We have different faiths, different careers, different types of families, different geographic locations, and even different eating habits.  But one thing we all have is the memory of being a teenager.  We remember how it felt, how awesome it was sometimes and how much it sucked other times.  We remember discovering things for ourselves and making mistakes we knew better than to make in the first place.  We all share so few things, but being a teenager and knowing what it means to be one is a damn important one.  I write YA books because I choose to tell stories about growing up and about being a teenager and about discovering the world and the way its people work.  I do this not because I am too dumb to write adult books (in fact, I’m working on one now), but because teenagers are just us a few years ago.  They’re just waiting to grow up and become more bruised and cynical by the ways of the world.  I write YA because teenagers read with open eyes and, you know what? Maybe more adults should do the same. Now, excuse me while I go proudly wave my YA books in public places.

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
You can write your own Why YA? post.  We’d love to hear from you.  Have you read Love is the Higher Language?  Share your thoughts with John Corey Whaley in the comments.