Author Spotlight: Chad Lucas
Feb. 26, 2021
We are excited to feature author Chad Lucas and debut his middle grade novel, THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE! (Amulet Books) out on May 11, 2021.
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Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I was a kid who lived for trips to the library. I always checked out as many books and magazines as I was allowed. My hero was Gordon Korman, who wrote This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall when he was in seventh grade. I figured I could follow that career path, and I attempted my first novel when I was eleven—on a typewriter. (Yes, I’m that old.) I’ve been fortunate enough to make a living as a writer in journalism and communications, but writing the kind of books that hooked me as a kid is something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember.
Congrats on your debut MG novel, Thanks a Lot, Universe. Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
Thanks a Lot, Universe is about two seventh-grade boys: Brian struggles with anxiety that grows worse after a family crisis lands him in foster care, while Ezra notices and wants to help but he’s afraid of his friends finding out he has a crush on Brian. Both boys must decide how much they’re willing to risk being real with each other.
This book isn’t autobiographical by any means, but I did explore some of the things I wrestled with in junior high: anxiety, questioning sexuality, racial identity, wanting to fit in, dealing with instability and changing relationships. Without being preachy about it, I also wanted to challenge toxic masculinity and present a range of male characters. Brian and Ezra are on the basketball team, but neither fit the “jock” stereotype that still pops up in books and media. Sporty kids can also be artsy, or anxious, or queer, or any number of things. I hope kids who carry multiple identities can see parts of themselves in this book.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I’d call it a marathon! I sold my first short story when I was in college, and I thought, This is it, I’m on my way to becoming a Famous Author. Then life happened. I started a journalism career, got married, had kids… lots of wonderful things that pushed fiction to the side for a while. I kept writing whenever I could, and the short version of a long story is that I queried four manuscripts over close to thirteen years before I signed with my agent, Christa Heschke, in April 2019. She sold Thanks a Lot, Universe to Amulet Books/Abrams Kids about six months later, and it releases on May 11. Over those many years, I had some successes and a couple of crushing disappointments, but I was also lucky to find mentors and friends who helped me keep going.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m in revisions on my next MG, about a Black boy who moves to a mostly white small town and discovers it’s a place of nightmares—literally. It has a fun ensemble cast and some spooky Stranger Things vibes, and it’s due out in 2022. Speaking of long roads and perseverance, my second book is a drastically different version of the first book I ever queried. About 90 percent has changed since then, but the main character and his central journey go all the way back to that first manuscript. Some ideas and characters are worth fighting for, even if it takes years to tell the story right.
What are some favorite classic MGs? recent ones?
Along with Gordon Korman, I regularly returned to Judy Blume’s books, and Louis Sachar’s hilarious Wayside School series. Yet as much as I read as a kid, I didn’t encounter many characters who looked like me. There’s still a long way to go in publishing, but I love reading great BIPOC voices in middle grade: books like The Parker Inheritance (Varian Johnson), Look Both Ways (Jason Reynolds), From the Desk of Zoe Washington (Janae Marks), Efren Divided (Ernesto Cisneros), and The Brave (James Bird). And I have to give a shout-out to some fellow 2021 debuts whose books I adore: Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles, Clues to the Universe by Christina Li and Amari and The Night Brothers by B.B. Alston.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you would give to aspiring authors?
Two things I’d tell younger me that might also benefit some aspiring authors out there:
Don’t be afraid to write the stories and the characters that mean the most to you, and don’t let any one thing define your success or become your whole identity. It took me a while to embrace the first idea and give myself permission to be freer in my writing. But the upside of my long, slow journey to publication is it helped me let go of some unrealistic ideas of what it means to be a published author and how it would change my life. I want Thanks a Lot, Universe to do well, of course, and I hope I get to write many more books, but my hopes and dreams don’t rest on that like they did when I was younger. My main hope is my books find their way into the hands of kids who could really use them.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’ve played keyboards in a few bands and recorded on a handful of friends’ albums over the years. The pandemic and other circumstances have limited how much I play with other people these days, but being locked in a groove with other musicians is one of my favorite things.
Where can people find you online?
My website is www.chadlucaswrites.com. Twitter is my main social platform, and you can find me there and on Instagram at @ChadGALucas.
Chad Lucas has been in love with words since he attempted his first novel on a typewriter in the sixth grade. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, communications advisor, part-time journalism instructor, and parenting columnist. A proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville, he lives with his family in Nova Scotia. He enjoys coaching basketball and is rarely far from a cup of tea. Thanks a Lot, Universe is his debut novel.