by Brent Hartinger
My latest book is called Shadow Walkers (out in February), and it’s the story of a gay teenager who’s drawn to astral projection, or out-of-body travel, because he’s lonely and desperate to escape the remote island where he lives (and later, he uses astral projection to solve a mystery involving his little brother, and he also meets another lonely gay teenager!).
Why a novel about astral projection?
I’ve always been intrigued by the whole phenomenon. (Is it real? I can say definitively that it is. But is it “real” or just something we experience in our minds, like dreaming? That I can’t answer.)
The way I work as a writer, I sort of “collect” ideas that I think are interesting — things I read or hear about. But writing a novel is a lot of work and I’d like to think I have high expectations for my books, so no matter how cool something is, there needs to be more to it than that.
Basically, it needs to feel like a “story.” It needs to be an idea that I can use to say something interesting about the world.
What was it that turned astral projection from a cool idea into an actual story?
My very first book, Geography Club, was about a group of teenagers who start a secret gay-straight alliance at their high school. Two of them first meet each other (and realize they’re both gay) online.
This is how a lot of gay teens discover each other, so when I was writing the book, I didn’t think much about it. But it ended up being pretty controversial when the book was published in 2003, because a lot of parents thought I was “encouraging” teenagers to meet up with people they met online. (Not true! Russel, the character in the book, is fully aware of the risks of meeting people from online, and he goes to great lengths to make sure the other guy is another student as his high school. Besides, people do inadvisable, but realistic things in books all the time.)
But I remember I was giving a speech about the book a few years ago, and someone asked about the internet. I set out explaining that I understood that the internet can be really dangerous (because there are a lot of nasty, evil people in the world), but also why it’s so important to gay teens (because it gives them freedom to explore, and to connect with other like-minded people, all from the safety of their bedrooms).
“It’s almost like astral projection,” I said at the time.
And that’s when I knew: my “idea” had become a “story.” I could write about astral projection, which is totally cool in and of itself, but in a way that was relevant to teenagers, especially gay ones.
Mostly, I intend the book to be a really fun, entertaining read, but if it “says” anything serious at all, it says that there are things in this world that are really cool and that can feel really liberating, especially to lonely, closeted teens — but that can also be pretty dangerous if you’re not careful.
Like astral projection — and also like the internet.
See how this all fits together?
Incidentally, what did I mean when I said I knew for a fact that astral projection is “real”? Because I did it, of course!
But that’ll have to be the subject of another blog post!