“When I came to NYC, I didn't know a single person. I wasn't a runaway, but it didn't feel much different.”

Brian James
 
Q: Where did the idea for TOMORROW, MAYBE come from?
A: I moved to NYC in 1994 and so many things here were new to me. I lived in the East Village and there were streetkids around all the time. It became something that was familiar to me. In the last few years, they've almost all disappeared and sometimes I wonder where all those people went. About two years ago, I saw this same girl everyday for a few weeks. She was living on this little street that is only 2 blocks long. She had a few boxes set up that she lived in and something about seeing her everyday and how lonely she looked reminded me of how lonely I was when I came the New York and I sort of combined her story (or what I imagined her story to be) with mine.

Q: PURE SUNSHINE was a very autobiographical work. How much of TOMORROW, MAYBE is based on your own experiences?
A: A lot. When I came to NYC, I didn't know a single person. I wasn't a runaway, but it didn't feel much different. I had left my old life behind and I had no idea what I was going to do here. It was scary. Also like Chan, most of the people I met when I first came here either disappeared or turned out to be different than I thought.
I never knew my biological father growing up, and a lot of Chan's dealing with her feelings about her father come from me. The guilt, the anger, self-blame, and finally the forgiveness and moving on.

Q: What was it like to write a second novel? Were you thinking about PURE SUNSHINE when you wrote it?
A: It was great writing another novel, especially since I never written anything from a girl's point of view before. I didn't think I was thinking about Pure Sunshine. Only a little bit when I was first starting it and sketching out the plot and noticed there were too many things similar so I changed them. But I very much wanted to write a different sort of book than that.

Q: How was it, writing from a girl's perspective? How did you get inside Chan's mind?
A: It was a little strange because after a while, it wasn't even a conscious thing, I was just hearing her voice in my head. I always had a lot of friends that were girls growing up. Most of my best friends were, so I think I'm very in touch with that part of myself. You can really get a sense of how a girl would think differently than a boy by listening. I don't think we are that different, but it's how we express our feelings that is a little different. I learned that the hard thing about creating a character is not whether they are boy or girl, it's getting their thoughts straight and creating a voice that they speak through, and that's hard whether it's a boy or a girl.

Q: New York City is very much a character in TOMORROW, MAYBE? What are some of your thoughts about the city? What are some of your favorite places?
A: I love New York but it's a very tough place. It doesn't slow down for you, it doesn't bend to accommodate you. It's not for everyone. I love it but it can be a very lonely town. Everyone thinks that when they come here they will meet incredible people, but the truth is, the people here are no different really. You're going to find those few people that are special to you, just as you would anywhere else.

Some of my favorite places in New York (in no particular order):
The Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park
The Starbucks in Soho.
Fort Tryon Park which doesn't feel like the city at all.
Thompkins Square Park
The East River walk where you can see Roosevelt Island.

Q: TOMORROW, MAYBE is a lot about running away. Did you ever run away?
A: Once, when I was 5. I lived on a farm and left with a suitcase and wearing only underwear if I remember correctly. I didn't even make it off the property before I went home.
Mentally though, I sort of ran away at 13. I kind of left the family. Spent as much time away from my house as possible and when I was there, I stayed in my room. I had a lot of younger brothers and sisters and my parents were busy with them, which made it easy for me to sort of disappear.

Q: I know you wrote this book in a very short time -- how long did it take you? And what's the writing process like for you -- how do you do it so fast?
A: It took about 3 weeks to write this book. I have no idea how it comes so fast. Just once the story starts going in my head, I have to get it out.
For me, I usually come up with a character and basic situation that they are in. From there, I kind of let the story go where it goes and let the characters say what they want. I see myself as the person who can make their lives miserable or happy and I try to give them a little of both. I try to get everything out and then go back and re-read it and change things or take scenes out. I try not to worry about too much of that as I'm writing though, because then I find that I don't get anywhere.

Q: Since we last did a Q&A, what have you been listening to?
A: Lots of everything, but mostly garage rock, though that cycle seems to winding down. I don't know what's next. There hasn't been a good, really sad album in a long time. I like sad songs.

Q: What do you think of the Cobain Journals?
A: I've only read half of it. I think they are incredibly funny. I think people forget that he had a sense of humor. I don't think it's an invasion of privacy or anything like that. In the early 90's, a lot of people carried around notebooks that you put ideas or jokes or whatever in and you didn't care who read them. That's what this is. It's not a diary. It's not private.

Q: What's next?
A: I'm working on two new novels and a chapter book series about Catkid.

Q: And now for our musical question... Why does it always rain on me?
A: It always rains on me because...I love the rain and I've always been lucky.