The Road to Amazing, the third book the Futon Years series (and the seventh Russel Middlebrook book in all), is officially released!
(A reminder that if you like the book, please don’t forget to review it on Amazon and/or Goodreads.com. It’s the single most important thing you can do to support an author.)
I first wrote about the character of Russel Middlebrook in my 2003 novel, Geography Club. The story of a gay teenager, Geography Club was subsequently adapted for both stage and screen (co-starring Scott Bakula and Ana Gasteyer) and spawned a successful four-book series, the Russel Middlebrook Series.
Last year, I “rebooted” the character in a new trilogy, Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years, about Russel in his twenties. The first book, The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know, featured 23-year-old Russel living in Seattle, trying to make sense out of life and love. In Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams, Russel and his boyfriend moved to Los Angeles. Now in The Road to Amazing, he’s getting married.
This feels like an ending to a character you’ve been writing about for a long time. Is it?
Yes and no. It’s definitely the end of the Futon Years, the latest series featuring Russel Middlebrook [in his 20s]. I did try to really wrap things up.
But is it the end of the character? Honestly, when I finished the first series [about Russel as a teenager], I never thought I would keep writing him.
This time around, I’m pretty sure I will revisit him in the future, in whatever I decide is the next stage of his life. First, I think it’s a really interesting experiment, following a character as he grows up over the course of his life, especially given all the changes that have happened to gay people over this same period of time.
But it’s also incredibly gratifying to write books that people really seem to enjoy reading. So many people have told me they grew up with Russel!
Why a wedding?
It has something to do with all the attention that same-sex weddings have gotten these past few years. But it mostly had to do with the character. It seemed like a natural progression to the story.
But it goes back to what I said before, about how I’ve been able to explore all the really interesting stuff that’s going on in the world through the eyes of this particular character and his friends.
Is Russel’s wedding anything like you’re own?
Ha! Not surprisingly, yes. My husband and I did exactly what Russel and Kevin do: back in 1997, we rented a big old house on Vashon Island, very much like the Amazing Inn in the book. And we invited all our friends to spend the whole weekend with us, then had the wedding itself on Sunday.
Of course that was only the first of our four weddings. We also got “domestic partnered” in West Hollywood in 1998, then “civil partnershiped” in Washington State in 2009, then finally legally married in 2013.
Talk about living history, right?
But those last three things are just pieces of paper. Michael and I were married on Vashon Island back in 1997, whether the rest of the world wanted to acknowledge it or not.
Is the town of Amazing, Washington, real? Did the dead killer whale happen? Is Vashon Island that funky?
Amazing, and the whole mystery behind it, is entirely from my imagination. And we didn’t have a dead killer whale wash up, but there was a dead seal, which also smelled pretty bad.
As for Vashon Island, it’s all true, especially the part about how they want to become the Napa Valley of legalized marijuana.
Russel’s friends are all back for the book, and most of them have storylines of their own.
That was important to me. I used to say that the most important relationship in the books isn’t between Russel and his fiancé Kevin, it’s between Russel and his friends Min and Gunnar. That’s still true of the earlier books, but these later ones have become a bit more about Russel and Kevin, which I think is true to the character: when you’re in your mid-twenties, you’re looking for potential life-partners.
But that doesn’t mean Min and Gunnar aren’t still really, really important to Russel! I definitely wanted to bring them back, especially after they didn’t appear in Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams [when Russel moved to Los Angeles]. I wanted to give their storylines a kind of closure too, especially Min, who has had the worst time with relationships.
As for Vernie Rose, she’s always a fun character to write! Plus, I love the idea that Russel, at age 25, considers Vernie one his best friends, even though she’s 74.
Otto is a famous TV star now, but he’s also dealing with some pretty heavy stuff: a negative online reaction to the fact that he’s a burn survivor. What’s that based on?
Well, I love writing anything about Otto. I first wrote him in 2005, as a love interest for Russel, but even now, there just haven’t been very many disabled gay characters, in really any media. I also like the fact that a lot of gay guys become really good friends with their exes—more than straight people do, I think. So I wanted to explore that too.
Why the online cyber-bullying? Because I think that is literally one of the most important issues facing the country and the world right now. I love the Internet—I really really do!—but it’s opened a Pandora’s Box in a way that simply has to be dealt with in some way. I loved Monica Lewinsky’s Ted Talk on the issue.
But cyber-bullying is only part of the issue. The Internet, as great as it is, has also created a de-personalization that pervades everything, even though a lot of us aren’t really even aware anymore that it’s doing it.
What’s the answer? I think Otto stumbles upon it in the book.
Anyway, I hate to keep harping on this, but this is what’s been so great about writing these books—that I’ve been able to explore the ideas and issues that interest me, the things that are happening in the world today.