The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer

Terry J. Benton-Walker - Alex Wise vs. the End of the World

October 30, 2023 Marissa Meyer Season 2023 Episode 176
The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer
Terry J. Benton-Walker - Alex Wise vs. the End of the World
Show Notes Transcript
In this week’s episode, Marissa chats with Terry J. Benton-Walker about his middle grade fantasy, ALEX WISE VS THE END OF THE WORLD. Also discussed: how a varied background that seems to not be related to writing can still inform a writer’s career, on being a super-plotter, exploring how people react in stressful situations (like an apocalypse!), creating real-life superhero characters, being thoughtful about writing characters and their arcs, curating an extensive resource to help writers, the importance of writing books that let kids see themselves, showing that representation matters, and so much more!

Download Terry’s Novel Planning Kit: https://tjbentonwalker.com/writing-resources

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[00:10] Marissa: Hello, and welcome to the Happy Writer. This is a podcast that aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and to help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Meyer. Thanks so much for joining me. Just as a reminder, we are currently looking for our first official podcast sponsors. If you're interested in advertising here on the Happy Writer podcast, please let us know. You can find contact information@marissamyer.com slash podcast. And NaNoWriMo is coming up, of course. That is every November National Novel Writing Month and every year we try to work in some fun writing sprints on our Instagram to help inspire and motivate you to tackle those word count goals. And I honestly don't know if we're going to do them again this year because I have had a lot going on lately and have not hardly had time to even wrap my head around the fact that Nano is less than as of this recording. What are we? I think about a week and a half out. But we love Nano. You know that? I love nano. So we will definitely try to do something to celebrate and encourage you during this month long writing extravaganza. So stay tuned as we try to figure out what exactly that's going to look like. Make sure that you are following us on Instagram at Happy Writer podcast. All right, what is making me happy this week? Sloan and Delaney are about to perform in their very first play. I was in drama when I was growing up. I loved it, loved being on stage, loved the music, the dancing, the acting, being behind stage, getting the makeup, all of it. I think it's so fun. And I was really excited that the girls wanted to give it a try this year. So they've been in a home school drama camp for a couple of months and this week they are going to be performing. Their characters are they play both gargoyles and werewolves in the show we are Monsters. So they've been loving it and I am super excited to go see it. I am also so happy to be talking to today's guest. He holds a bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering and a Master's degree in Business Administration and somehow those degrees turned into being a novelist. He is the bestselling author of the young adult contemporary fantasy series Blood Debts and his middle grade debut, Alex Wise versus the End of the World came out last month. Please welcome Carrie J. Benton Walker.

[03:01] Terry: Hi, Marissa. How are you?

[03:02] Marissa: I am fantastic. How are you?

[03:05] Terry: I am great. I'm so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

[03:09] Marissa: Thank you so much for joining me. And I'll just let our listeners know that I have been reading this book with the girls for about a week, week and a half. We're about halfway into it and we are all loving it. It is so action packed.

[03:27] Terry: Yes, lots of action.

[03:30] Marissa: So the first thing I love to ask my guests is, I want to hear your origin story, especially because your degrees seem not at all like becoming a writer was the plan back then. So how did you go about becoming a novelist?

[03:51] Terry: Yeah, so I have been on a bit of a gnarly path, though I will say that I appreciate my varied background, because a lot of my different experiences through college and different jobs have informed a lot of what I write about today. And you can also tell maybe you can or maybe you can't, but I'm an engineer. I love science, and so science and math also kind of shows up sometimes in my stories too. But I went to Georgia Tech and I graduated as an industrial engineer in 2007. And then I got my MBA, and I spent about 17 plus years working in consulting and industry and manufacturing and operations. And it was really cool because I like to call industrial engineers professional problem solvers. That's what I did for 17 plus years. I went into manufacturing operations and just figured out how to solve problems and optimize the processes and make everything flow more efficiently and make everybody happy, in which that has actually, surprisingly, been directly applicable to writing. Because I end up in a lot of places at times when I'm writing stories where I have to become a problem solver through by way of my characters. And so that's always very helpful. But not to get off on a tangent, about ten years ago, I started writing seriously, professionally, and I worked on my first novel, and it was a contemporary for adults. And I remember I queried about, I want to say, 200 agents. Oh, wow. And all of them gave me form rejections.

[05:52] Marissa: Ouch.

[05:56] Terry: It was very devastating. But it was something that it needed to happen, because that book certainly was not ready to query. It wasn't ready to publish. I feel like a lot of us go through that at first. When we write our first book, we're super excited about it, and we type the end, and we're like, we're ready. And we immediately go out to querying agents, and they're like, oh, no, sweetie.

[06:23] Marissa: In hindsight, maybe I wasn't ready.

[06:27] Terry: Yeah, I've talked a lot to up and coming authors, especially authors who are querying, and I let them know that it takes a lot of trial and error to get there. And one thing that I'm happy about is I didn't give up on myself. And so, yes, of course, ten years later, I can look back and say, hindsight is 2020, and that I was not ready when I was querying. I know a lot of people don't want to hear that when they're in the heat of the moment and they're getting rejections, but I do honestly believe that when you are ready, when the time is right, that is when you'll move forward to the next phase. And unfortunately for me, it took ten years. But I ended up finding I code queried my agent, Patrice Caldwell, for actually a story that we have not sold yet. It was an adult high fantasy that we actually are planning to sell soon. And so I queried her with that. And so we had to call and she said she liked it. And then she asked what else I had in the pipeline, and I told her about Blood debts, which at the time was called Queen. And I was like, I have this story. And I had gotten a lot of attention in the query trenches from it. I'd gotten a bunch of requests, but ultimately, no one felt confident to take it on, even though they liked it and they liked the concept, but they just didn't know where to take it. And I let her read it, and she was like, I love it, but it's going to take a complete rewrite for us to get this ready to submit. And I was like, yes, please God, I have been waiting a decade for someone professional to give me direction and guidance and help me. And I was so hungry and I was so excited that she was willing to work with me on that. And so I signed with her and we spent the next year rewriting and completely reimagining Blood debts, which at the time it was called Queen. And we changed the name. We changed and expanded the magic system because the original magic system was based on Voodoo. And when we went back to edits and revisions, I completely erased the wipe the slate clean and created my own magical system. And so now in Blood, that's different forms of magic or different branches of magic and generational magic is the one branch of magic that's inspired by Voodoo. So that's a little piece that remained from the old version into the updated version. And so we sold that, and that was great. And that was a project that had been Shelved. And also coincidentally, Alex Wise versus the End of the World was also another project that had been shelved. It was a project that I had worked on several years ago through author, mentor match with my mentor, Brie Barton. She is the author of the Heart of Thorns trilogy. It's the young adult fantasy trilogy, and she's also the author of the middle grade contemporary well, it's contemporary a little bit of fantasy. Zia erases the world. And I worked with her on a story called before and after that Time. It was a young adult, and it was the same premise. It was about that story. It was a 16 year old boy who was going on summer vacation with his little sister to visit with his estranged dad and his new family and accidentally along the way unleashed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and death possessed his little sister. These things just happen on typical summer vacation.

[10:25] Marissa: I hate that.

[10:29] Terry: And so my mentor actually advised me that the voice of that young adult version of the story was kind of young, and she said, if this doesn't go anywhere in querying, you should consider making it middle grade. And of course, when I had to shelve it, and then when I signed with Patrice and we sold blood dates, I went back to before and after, and I was like, I think Brie was right. I really want to try my hand at making this in middle grade. And I talked to Patrice about it, and I rewrote it just the beginning. I reimagined it. I rewrote the beginning, and we sold it on proposal to Lisa Abrams at Labyrinth Road, who I absolutely adore and is like, the perfect editor for Alex Wise, and Labyrinth Road is the perfect imprint for Alex Wise to be at. And I tell Lisa this often, and I hope she's listening, but I truly, truly enjoy and love and am honored to be a Labyrinth Road author. And I think that Alex Wise fits perfectly into what Lisa is trying to do with building this imprint. And so Labyrinth Road and the reason it's called Labyrinth is a bit of a play on words, but she wants to focus on stories that help children navigate the labyrinth of life and find themselves and figure out where they fit into the world. And so that's perfect for Alice Wise. And it's like, yeah, perfectly fits with the story and the core of who I am as an author and an artist. And they've just been such a really great publishing partner for the series, and I'm really glad that it's publishing with Labyrinth Road.

[12:11] Marissa: Yeah, it's like it's meant to be. There are so many things in your origin story that I want to talk to you about.

[12:23] Terry: Yes.

[12:24] Marissa: So first of all, where do I even start? So you talked about how being an industrial engineer has actually been really helpful with novel writing because we are so frequently having to solve problems. We write ourselves into corners or our characters don't do what they're supposed to do and they end up in trouble. And you're like, well, now, how are you going to get out of this? I mean, it really is very much a challenge to just problem solve all the time. And I also love this about writing. To me, I think of writing as, like, putting a jigsaw puzzle together, trying to see how all the pieces fit. So, yeah, I think that's a really cool point to make, that even though industrial engineering seems so far from art and creativity, it clearly sounds like it's been really helpful for you.

[13:22] Terry: Yes, it has. When it comes to planning stories, I was talking about this on a panel a while back. My characters probably do not love this, but I personally love to whenever I'm plotting out a story, if I'm like a super plotter. I have to know every single detail of the story of the characters of the world, where we're going, how we're going to get there. I got to know everything before I draft a single word. And so one thing that I enjoy doing is when I put my characters in a situation where they're making decisions and something's getting ready to happen, right? And I'm like, okay, well, any number of things could happen. And the way that I choose what's going to happen is I'm like, what is the worst thing that could happen to this person, knowing what I know about them? And then I choose that. And I don't always have an answer for how they're going to get out of that.

[14:19] Marissa: It's like, well, this seems awful.

[14:23] Terry: This seems awful. It's perfect. Yeah.

[14:27] Marissa: It's so great, though, because then as a reader, like I said, I'm about halfway through this book, and there have already been a number of times where I'm like, well, now what, Alex? Now what's your plan? So I can tell that you are always like, yeah, let's just throw them into hot water and see what happens.

[14:48] Terry: Yeah. Also alex, what's the plan? That's also, like, a running thing throughout the story, and Alex is so sick of people asking him, what's the plan? And he's like, Listen, it is the apocalypse. I'm twelve. I don't know.

[15:05] Marissa: I do not have a plan. I love that. I think he is such a relatable character in part because he is so willing to admit that he has absolutely no idea what he's doing. He's just making it up as he goes along.

[15:18] Terry: It's very endearing, as are all of us.

[15:23] Marissa: Seriously, if it was the end of the world right now, I wouldn't know what I was doing. I'm prepared for this.

[15:30] Terry: Right.

[15:32] Marissa: And then I also wanted to ask, so it sounds like you kind of have a pattern of having books and projects get shelved, and then years later, voila, book deal, and now it's getting published. Do you have any more shelved projects that you're planning to bring back to life at some point?

[15:51] Terry: Actually, I'm all out of shelved projects.

[15:54] Marissa: Okay.

[15:55] Terry: I'm tapped out.

[15:57] Marissa: Now we have to write something new.

[16:00] Terry: Yeah. So I do still have that story that I signed that Patrice signed me for. So we have that one. We will be going out with that one soon. I'm also working on an adult psychological horror. That one's brand new, and I'm working on that now. And it's so much fun. It's so sinister. I feel so bad writing this book and knowing what the plot twists are, but I'm very excited about it.

[16:26] Marissa: Interesting. So this one has not yet been outlined to within an inch of its life.

[16:30] Terry: Oh, it has. It's been outlined. Yeah, I'm writing it now. So we're at the end stages of the beginning of the first draft.

[16:40] Marissa: Okay. All right, so I had one more question about Alex Wise and what you were saying about how it changed. But before we get there, let's catch up the listeners. Would you tell everyone what exactly is Alex Wise versus the End of the World about?

[16:56] Terry: Yes. So I got a lot of practice doing, like, pitching this book over the past couple of weeks. I've been doing school visits, which are absolutely amazing. Kids are so great. I love them so much, especially, like, kids in this age range. But the way that I pitch this book to them is I say, what if you were on summer vacation with your little sister and you accidentally unleashed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Death possessed your little sister and kicked off a global apocalypse? And then also, what if another ancient god chose you and gave you very special powers to help save your sister and the rest of the world? But to unlock their full potential, you had to learn to love and accept yourself. And that's essentially the quiet of Alex Wise versus the End of the World.

[17:52] Marissa: All right, so we've got the Four Horsemen, we've got poor Mags baby sister being possessed by the Horseman of Death.

[18:03] Terry: We've got a ten year old villain is so scandalous.

[18:09] Marissa: There's, like, an actual cruise ship sinks, which to me, seems very bold in a middle grade. Like, people die on this boat. There's a lot of bad stuff happening. You mentioned that it had started out as a ya, and then you ended up changing it to a middle grade to better fit the voice. Did changing it from ya to middle grade have any other big effects other than just the voice of the characters? How much did it change from that original story?

[18:42] Terry: It's like a lot of the plot changed in the original draft. When Alex and Mags were older, they were in a plane crash. And actually, Alex was not best friends with Lauren in that previous version. He actually met her on the plane. She was his seat partner on his same row, and that's how they met. And so the plane crashed, and Lauren was there with him from the beginning of when they first got to the island. So it's similar, but it's also very different. I don't know. It's weird.

[19:18] Marissa: Yeah. Okay, so I have to first of all, is it her dress, like, similar, like, plane crash, cruise ship? Either way, horrible, horrible things happening to these poor kids.

[19:35] Terry: Yeah. I actually traumatized an agent when I was querying before and after when it was young adult and there was a plane crash. Bless her heart. We're cool. I didn't seriously do psychic damage, but she reached out to me afterwards, and she was like, Terry, I love you, but I'm so sorry I had to pass on that because the plane crash was just too much. She was like, I have a phobia of plane crashes. And she was like, you triggered me and I was like, oh, my God, I'm so.

[20:09] Marissa: It'S funny. One of my girls, we went on a Disney cruise here about a year ago, and one of them, once we were on the boat, she was fine and had a great time, but leading up to it, she did not want to go. She was very afraid of being out on a boat in the middle of the ocean. And so as we're reading the book, I was like, well, that's the last family cruise we ever get to do.

[20:32] Terry: Oh, no, I'm so sorry. I'm like, triggering people left and no, it's fine.

[20:40] Marissa: It's fine. I'm sure she won't remember that part. Anyway, so speaking of Sloan, she actually did have a question for you, and I'm glad that you mentioned in your pitch that Mags the baby sister. The little sister, she's not really baby, but the little sister does get possessed by the Horseman of Death and essentially becomes, like, the main villain. I'm glad you mentioned it because I wasn't sure if we were allowed to talk about that or if it would be too spoilery. But since it's already come up, sloan wanted to know, why did it have to be the little sister?

[21:20] Terry: So I cannot answer that question without spoiling the story, but let's long know that you do find out towards the end so she will get an answer to that. Okay.

[21:36] Marissa: Okay. Yeah. She was very attached to Mags. She always gets attached to little she doesn't have they're twins, my girls. And so she's the one that desperately wants to be a big sister. Yeah. She was very attached to Mags, and so far she's very upset. We have our fingers crossed for a good outcome from.

[22:00] Terry: I. You don't need to worry. You and Sloan don't need to worry about Mags. Mags is going to be fine. This experience is definitely going to change her, but she's going to be okay.

[22:12] Marissa: All right, good to know. I'll tell her. Just stick with it, Sloan. Stick with the story. Tell me about writing the end of the world, because I love how many various perspectives we're getting on how people might react were this actually going on. We've got the people who are fighting in the streets, the people who are looting stores, the rich folks who are paying workers to put up barbed wire around their house. And I'm like, Why are these workers still here? What exactly are they bribing them with? So, yeah, just what was your thought process? Figuring out what the world would actually look like as this is happening?

[22:58] Terry: Yeah, we have been digesting recently a lot of Dystopian stories and a lot of post apocalyptic stuff, but we've never really engaged with what happens before everything goes down. Right. And so I wanted to explore what happens just before the apocalypse, like when things are going down from normal to apocalyptic. And within that, I also wanted to show all of the different ways that people react and all of the different because it's very interesting to me, right? Like, seeing how different people would react and what they would do in an apocalypse. And I honestly believe that everything I wrote are things that we would see take place in real life. I joke all the time, too, that I don't know how people have the wherewithal to continue to fight and live in the apocalypse when there's like, zombies chasing you and food is limited and I'm like, Honey, I need my anxiety medication, I need my contacts, I need my coffee. I just don't have that much will to fight in the apocalypse. I will see you in the next life fair.

[24:25] Marissa: I'm with you. Like, no, I'm out.

[24:32] Terry: What happens in the apocalypse and how people respond to that, and then also how that informs Alex's viewpoint on the world and the decisions that he makes and the risks that he takes on and the things that he does to save the like, he's processing all of this. And there is a line in there that I really love where he's questioning what's going on and the way that people are behaving. And he reminisces which word I'm looking for. He ponders the fact that people have not wasted any time just being completely out of control. And so he's kind of like, well, now that I see how truly awful people can behave to one another, why is the world worth saving? Do I actually want to put my life online to save these people who are doing these awful things to each other? And it's throughout the first book, you can see him doing different things to try to find little pockets of joy and reasons to hang on and to keep fighting. And one very special character is Mr. Freddy. And that's one of my favorite scenes from the first book when Alex and Lauren meet Mr. Freddy at his grocery store that is being attacked by writers. And that's a really character defining moment for Alex because that is like almost the first well, I don't want to say the first time, but it's one of the few times since the apocalypse started that he really got to reconnect with the humanity of the world and the people around. Also, I carry that theme into the second book as well, which it's written, and we're in copy edits now, but in the second book, there's a constant theme of are you sure you want to save the world? Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you're a superhero? And I had a really good time presenting those questions to Alex and having him explore it from different perspectives, from different characters at different points in his journey in the second book. So we really get into it in book two. And overall for this whole series, which Alex Weiss versus the end of the world, the series is a trilogy. And his emotional arc over the entire trilogy is his journey to becoming real life superhero. But it's not just like the physical stuff of having muscles and being strong and having superpowers. His journey to superhero dumb is mostly internal. So in the first book, for him to unlock the full range and power of Orange magic, alex has to learn how to accept himself first. And that's just the first step in becoming a superhero. And so in book two, his internal arc and his internal journey is all about well, now that I've loved myself and I've unlocked my powers, how do I continue loving myself while also managing the very complex relationships with the people around me who may or may not understand who I am and how I've grown over the past couple months of this adventure. So it's been really fun exploring this and teasing out the different layers and being super nuanced with Alex's story and how him being a superhero sort of relates to what's going on societally around him in the apocalypse and how he wants to respond and react to that.

[28:30] Marissa: No, I love that you talk about that, because even though this is a very action packed, fast paced, nonstop book where things are exploding and the apocalypse and Horsemen and all of these things, you also give us a lot of great character moments, wonderful dynamics between friends and family, and various conflicts. And it sounds I'm picking up on that. You clearly think a lot about that, and that sounds like it's a pretty important part of your writing process. Do you factor things like character arc, know how the characters are going to grow and change? And Alex's overall path, does that come into that early outlining process for you?

[29:28] Terry: Oh, absolutely. I am super huge on character development, and it's one of my strengths, is one of my authors. Superpowers is writing engaging characters and also full transparency. It wasn't always so real. Short story on how I got here is when I was talking earlier about how we had to do the complete rewrite of Blood. So I don't know if you've read it or if you've not. There's like, multiple POVs in Blood debts, and the two primary POVs are Christina and Clement Trudeau, who are twin heirs to the magical throne in New Orleans. And when my agent read that first draft, part of her feedback was that Clem's character was so much better developed than Chris's that she suggested that I cut Chris and just focus solely on Clem. And I was like, no, I was.

[30:41] Marissa: A different.

[30:46] Terry: Like, totally agreed that Clem did outshine Chris, and there was a lot of work that I could do, but I was like, let me fix it, because she is an integral part of this story and I cannot tell this story without her, so let me fix it. And I went and I did a lot of studying of craft and different craft books. I Googled and went to different authors websites with posted resources, and I did, like, a crash course on how to develop a rock star character, actually. Now I have a Novel Planning Kit that is available for a free download on my website, and it walks you through all of the different processes that I personally use to plan and develop a complete fiction, a complete work of fiction. And one of the exercises in that Novel Planning kit is a character dossier. And it's a two page worksheet with questions about your characters to help you understand who they are and define their role in the story and their arc in this story. And so that is a collection of all of the best exercises that I cherry picked from all different places while I was in that period of trying to figure out how to improve character. So once I put that dossier together, I did the exercises for not only Chris, but I went back and I did them for every single character in Blood Dead who had a focal POV chapter. And so now that is the basis of how I plan or how I develop my characters for every single story. And, yeah, it worked. And ever since then, meeting that challenge and solving that problem really ignited a love for developing characters in me. And that point was like an inflection point. From that point forward, everything I wrote was character driven. And I love it. I'm not looking back.

[33:03] Marissa: I especially love that you brought up this resource that you have because I noticed it when I was stalking you to get ready for this interview, that you have this novel planning resource on your website, which is so great, because we are, of course, right here on the eve of National Novel Writing Month, and a ton of our listeners are going to be doing nano. So for anyone listening who is feeling like they need a little extra guidance this month, definitely go and check it out, because I flipped through it and it looked great. It looked very well thought out.

[33:42] Terry: Thank you so much. I use it. I know people that use it, and it's been very helpful. And so part of the reason why I did that is because it took me ten years to well, I'm sorry, ten years to be published. It took me eight years and seven manuscripts to sign with my agent. And so that Novel Planning kit is a culmination of all of the knowledge that I gained over those eight years and seven manuscripts. Because every time I would write a novel and I would query it and I would have to shelve it, I would take a little time off in between, and I would study craft, and then I would go back and I would work on my next novel, and I would query it, and then that would fail and I would shelve it. And. I would go back and study craft again. And so I picked my favorite craft materials from that time period, and then I went back through them and pulled together some of my favorite exercises, and not just from craft materials as well. This is also feedback that I've gotten from my mentor, Brie Barton, and another mentor of mine, Anika Reese, who has given me lots of feedback and guidance over the years. So this is, like, the best of the best of information that I have painstakingly collected over nearly a decade for free, because I want to help people, because I don't want it to take anyone else as long as it took me, because it shouldn't have taken that long. And part of the reason that it did was because of the lack of access to resources and information in publishing, especially when it comes to authors of color and traditionally marginalized authors. So that was my way of giving something back to the community for free to help people not struggle as much as I did. Hopefully no one struggles as much as I did.

[35:34] Marissa: Right, well, and you mentioned that you still use it yourself, and I think that's so smart to compile your all time favorite techniques and strategies into one place. Because I also love craft books and am always trying to learn more and get better, improve. But you forget ten plus years into doing this, you forget what you read in Save the Cat eight years ago or 20 master plots. I can't remember any of them. Were there really 20?

[36:11] Terry: Honey, I forget what I read yesterday.

[36:14] Marissa: Right, exactly. Yes. I love that. I think it's really clever for yourself. And then, of course, always so great to share if you've put the time into creating this resource. Yeah. And then hoping that other people will find it useful too.

[36:31] Terry: And thank you.

[36:34] Marissa: One last question before we move on to our bonus round. You have an author's note at the beginning of the book, and we already talked a little bit about how Alex, he's such a great character, he's so relatable. But in the author's note, you write specifically that you wrote this book in part for the black queer kids who are reading it. And of course, I'll just say, like, I am a white, straight, middle aged woman, and I'm very much loving the book. So books speak to everyone on different levels, but for, like, what does Alex as a character mean to oh, my gosh.

[37:18] Terry: I'm gonna try to answer this question without crying.

[37:23] Marissa: Crying is okay. I don't think I've had a crier on this podcast yet, but you could.

[37:27] Terry: Be the first we'll see. First of all, I want to say it means a lot to me that you, being a white, straight woman, have identified with this book, and I enjoying it because as a black queer person growing up, I didn't have books like Alex Wise. And so for me to participate in literature and in stories and in movies and film and media. I always had to do so by way of characters who I didn't initially identify with, who didn't look like me, who didn't talk like me, who almost had nothing in common with. And through empathy, I was able to still form a connection with those characters and with that media. So it means a lot to me now that I am seeing allies like you do, that for our stories and for our characters, and it means so much. Just for starters, thank you for doing that and thank you for being you. And I appreciate that very so Alex Wise is very like every project that I do is special, but Alex Wise is incredibly special because Alex represents a version of myself when I was that age and I was desperately trying to understand who I was, how I fit in the world. At a time when my parents were divorcing, when I felt like my dad didn't love me because I was not the perfect masculine boy that he had always envisioned having. And after they divorced, I had to take on so much responsibility and caring for my youngest siblings and helping out my mom while still at twelve and 13, trying to figure out, am I gay? I don't know. And then I'm going to school and my kids are bullying me and they're calling me gay, and I'm like, Sweetie, I don't even know. Relax. As a twelve year old like Alex, I wasn't always loved and celebrated and appreciated. And it was very hard to write this story because I had to go into a lot of my very heavy personal trauma archives to dig up the emotion necessary to tell Alex's story. But I'm so glad I did for multiple reasons. The primary reason being that I want kids, especially black queer kids, especially black gay boys, to see themselves in Alex and to understand that it's okay for them to be who they are and that that is enough, and that they can be superheroes, too. And then even the kids who don't share Alex's identity, I want them to be able to see Alex and understand that there are other people who don't share their identity that they can still empathize with, that they can still go on an adventure with and still love and understand. And the second part of it that makes me really emotional is being an adult, a 38 year old, 39 year old adult who didn't always feel loved, didn't always love himself, and then write this book that's like a love letter to my younger self and then put it out in the world. And to have people just accept Alex and love him and repost him and talk about him, it warms my heart and it makes me feel really good and it makes all the pain and trauma worth it. And not just with Alex Wise. With Blood Death and all of my work, I hope my ultimate goal is that I teach queer people of color that you matter, that you deserve to be here. You are deserving to take up space. You are deserving of love in all the different ways that we can get that through partnership, through our regular family or our blood family, through our found family, through friendships, whatever you matter. And I'm glad that you are here. And I'm extremely honored and proud to be able to have the privilege to provide stories as a vehicle for my community to see themselves. It's not something that I take lightly. I take it very seriously.

[42:26] Marissa: Thank you so much for sharing that. I particularly love you calling it a love letter to your younger self. I think that's pretty powerful. I know the book has been out for just a couple of weeks now. Have you heard from any readers that you know of yet that this really spoke to young black queer boys?

[42:50] Terry: Yes, I have friends who have been sending me pictures of their kids reading these stories. I have a friend whose niece is an avid reader and I think she's ten or eleven. And so I was like, Listen, do you want to be a cool uncle? Because I'm going to send you an autographed copy of this book. I'm going to send it to you and you're going to give it to her as if you personally went and fought me out to get this book signed for her. So I am all for making everybody look good with the kids. And then also, alternatively, a lot of adults have been reading and connecting with Alex, and it's very interesting, too. It's not just been with Alex, it's also been with Blood Decks as well. I've been finding that a lot of adults are reading it and liking it because it transports them back to a time in their youth when they would have devoured something like this, but we just didn't have it. So it's kind of weird, though, saying, like, middle grade has adult crossover picture.

[44:03] Marissa: No, I get it. I totally get it. Yeah. No, for me, I mean, different story, but I was always the really chubby, plump kid when I was growing up, and so for me, now that we have stories like Know or various Ya books that have curvy girls as the hero, I just love them. I can't get enough of them. And I do think it's because those were the books that young Marissa was craving.

[44:33] Terry: Yeah.

[44:33] Marissa: And we need no, I that makes a lot of sense to me. Okay, are you ready for our bonus round?

[44:42] Terry: Yes, let's do it. I'm so ready.

[44:45] Marissa: What book makes you happy?

[44:48] Terry: What book makes me happy? Your lonely nights are over by Adam Sass. That book makes me very happy. Adam Saz, if you do not know, is my best friend, and it's very cool being an author and then having your best friend being author as well, because I am on the ground floor of everything that he's working on and I get to see all of the ideas from concept to fruition. And this book is very special. It's the first book that I ever blurbed as a published author and he partially dedicated it to me and one of his other very good friends, your Lonely Nights Are Over is a queer slasher. It's a young adult queer slasher and he pitches it as Scream meets Clueless. And it's absolutely phenomenal. It's a story, it's a slasher and it's a horror. But at the end of the day, it is a best friend story. And so that makes me very happy to talk about that story and to know that it exists.

[45:58] Marissa: What are you working on next?

[46:02] Terry: I'm working on multiple things. Right. I'm working on the last entry in the Alex Wise series, where in this first trilogy, it is the end of this story. And I'm very excited about that. It's going to be very interesting. I can't talk too much about it without spoiling book two because book two is not even out yet.

[46:29] Marissa: Sure.

[46:29] Terry: But yeah, we're going some very interesting and exciting places in book three, so get ready. We're also wrapping up edits on The White Guy Dies First, which is a young adult horror anthology that I am editing and also contributing to. That comes out on August 15 next year and I'm drafting a super secret adult psychological horror project.

[46:55] Marissa: Did I hear that the title was The White Guy Dies First?

[46:59] Terry: Yes.

[46:59] Marissa: That is so funny.

[47:05] Terry: I love that project so much. It's been so amazing. So there's 13 contributors, including me. And when I tell you I told everyone from the beginning, I was like, I am going to push you, so I hope you're prepared to meet the challenge. And when I tell you that everyone killed it, it is so good. I'm so excited. Not just the white guy dies first, but everything that's coming out next year. I'm so excited about Blood Justice, the sequel to blood debts that's coming in April. We have the white guy dies first. It's coming in August. And Alex Wyatt Two is coming sometime in the fall, probably around September. We don't have a firm release date yet because book one just came out. But 2024 is going to be a lot of fun. If you enjoy the TJ first, you.

[47:57] Marissa: Are going to be busy.

[48:01] Terry: It should be fun, though.

[48:02] Marissa: It will be fun. It will be. Lastly, where can people find you?

[48:07] Terry: So you can check out my website, www.tjbentonwalker.com. Also, my novel planning kit is there. So if you are a writer, published, unpublished querying, indie, whatever, if you are writing something, my novel planning kit will be helpful for you. I am on TikTok and Instagram at Ice Cream Vice Lord and I am on Twitter and I refuse to say X at TJ bitten Walker.

[48:39] Marissa: Awesome. Terry, thank you so much for joining me today.

[48:43] Terry: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. This has been amazing, readers.

[48:47] Marissa: I hope you will check out Alex Wise versus the End of the World. It is out now. Of course, we encourage you to support your local indie bookstore. But if you don't have a local indie, you can also check out our affiliate store@bookshop.org slash shop slash marissamyer. And don't forget to check out our merchandise on Etsy, instagram and T Public. You can find the links in our Instagram profile. Next week, I will be talking with Leanne Schwartz about her new fantasy, a Prayer for Vengeance. If you're enjoying these conversations, please subscribe and follow us on Instagram at Marissa Meyer, author and at Happy Writer Podcast. Until next time, stay inspired, keep writing and whatever life throws at you today, I hope that now you're feeling a little bit happier. Subscribe.