Hello Mixed Taxpayers!
Today we are in luck! Returning to the blog is Adam Borba, who has a new book, Outside Nowhere!
It’s a great read, and I’m delighted that Adam has agreed to come back.
JR: Welcome back to Mixed-Up Files!
Outside of Nowhere it was a lot of fun. Tell us a bit about it and where the idea came from.
AB: Thank you very much! It’s about a funny and charming boy named Parker Kelbrook who has trouble taking things seriously (the book explains why, but I don’t want to spoil it too much). Parker is a slacker who constantly gets into trouble. Think of him as a young Ferris Bueller. He loves to pull pranks, and in the opening sequence, he gets fired from his summer job as a junior lifeguard for pouring 60 gallons of fruit punch mix into a community pool.
After Parker loses his job, his father sends him across the country to work on a farm in the middle of nowhere. The farm has three rules:
- You have your duties
- Stay off the farm
- Don’t eat the crops
Parker’s coworkers are a bunch of guys who roll up their sleeves and get the job done. So Parker doesn’t fit in and the other kids don’t find him charming or funny because he’s not doing his part and giving them more work. Parker is out of his element. A fish out of water. And he needs to figure things out and learn to grow. And when he does, magical and mysterious things begin to happen on that farm, like he wakes up one morning to find a 1,700-pound dairy cow on the roof of the barn. And that’s when Parker discovers that things on this farm are not what they seem.
The idea was somewhat inspired by an organization called WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It is a network of thousands of farmers in dozens of countries that offers young adults (or WWOOFers) the opportunity to do farm work in exchange for food and lodging. So, for a little manual labor, you can “see the world one rutabaga farm at a time”. The concept got me thinking about how something similar might work with younger participants and then I wondered what secrets or magic might be growing in the fields of one of these farms.
The other major idea for this story came as a reaction to writing my first book, THE MIDNIGHT BRIGADE. That book is about an introverted boy named Carl Chesterfield who discovers a troll living under a bridge in Pittsburgh. I loved writing about Carl and being in his head, but I wanted to try something different. I wanted to tell the story of an extrovert. Someone who spoke without a filter, willing to share anything that occurred to him, and used to speaking for himself to solve any problem. And then I wanted to put that character in a situation that you couldn’t talk about.
JR: I was about to mention that. As with the first book of him, the midnight brigade, Pittsburgh is introduced. In your opinion, what does the city have that lends itself to this type of magical stories?
AB: me love Pittsburgh. It is where my wife grew up and most of her family lives. It’s big and strong, and it’s full of great food and wonderful people. The city is an absolute charming character. It was the perfect setting for my first book because that story was an ode to food, but more importantly, Pittsburgh has over 400 bridges, making it the perfect place for a troll to hide. And it was the perfect starting point for OUTSIDE NOWHERE because it’s such a fun, comforting, lively place to call home, as opposed to the farm where Parker is sent to work.
JR: Let’s talk about your main character, Parker. (My dog’s name is Parker by the way, so I liked him right away) He’s funny (your character, not my dog, although my dog is funny too) and also a bit of a jokester. I loved his character. How much of you is in Parker?
AB: Ha! I would like to be more like Parker. First of all, he dresses much better. He shows up to work on the farm in a blue-and-white-striped seersucker suit (which, admittedly, isn’t very practical). When he was a kid, I was more like the Carl from my first book: quiet. And while I may have been able to come up with as many jokes as Parker, most of the time I kept them to myself.
JR: What’s the best prank you’ve ever pulled? (that you are willing to share 😊)
AB: Well, nothing on Parker’s level. I mean, that boy is a legend. He threw a surprise semi-formal dance at his vice principal’s house, and once sneaked a pony into a movie theater.
I think that what I liked the most as a child was to paper the houses with toilet paper. Like Parker, there was nothing malicious about it and I took pride in my art.
JR: I never got around to doing that as a kid. Maybe there is still time? With Parker, I love characters who are sarcastic or a little off-putting, but mean well. When you write a character like that, do you sometimes have to force yourself to tone it down a bit?
AB: One of the best things about Parker is that the boy has a good heart. He sometimes goes a little too far for a joke, but he never does anything to be mean. That being said, he has a lot to learn and room to grow, and that’s one of the biggest journeys in this story.
JR: Once again, I feel like you do a great job of balancing humor with sentiment. Do you outline or do you let the course of the story dictate how it’s going to go?
AB: Thank you! I am a big believer in contours. But a stronger believer in keeping those contours loose. The characters need to have the space to make decisions and discoveries and share secrets. But it’s important to my mapping process to keep things structurally sound so I don’t get lost along the way and keep the story moving. My outline is a document that grows and changes as I work on a draft of a manuscript. It’s not uncommon for my outline to triple in size between writing page 1 and finishing a first draft. When I start writing, there will be placeholders like “something bad happens” followed by “and then something happens that makes the bad worse” and the closer I get to those points in the story, the more likely I’ll know what those things are. . In addition to story beats, I’ll be keeping track of how my leads will change in the outline and manuscript. And as early in my process as possible, I’ll try to establish a universal theme (or lesson) that connects my character growth to the overall story.
JR: There is a great camaraderie among the book friends. Do your own friends ever come up to you and say, “Hey, that kid is definitely me!”
AB: A handful of people are convinced that they were the inspiration for the grumpy troll, Frank, in THE MIDNIGHT BRIGADE. They all have a point.
JR: You also work for Disney. Do you ever go to the office with one of your books and say: I have the perfect story for a movie?
AB: Absolutely! And I love both mediums, but the movies take me a lot longer than the books, so the adaptations will take longer.
JR: Will we see Parker in another book?
AB: As of now, I’m delighted with the way things end on OUTSIDE NOWHERE. But in case I have an idea in the future that I can’t get rid of, who knows, I might visit Parker again. It was a lot of fun spending time with him.
JR: What are you working on right now?
I’ve been working with my editor, Alexandra Hightower, at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on a new novel about the perils of time travel and high school called THIS AGAIN? It should be hitting shelves in the fall of 2023.
And I’m almost done with a live action adaptation of PETER PAN & WENDY for Disney. It will go out into the world this spring.
JR: Adam, thank you so much for joining us today!
Thanks for inviting me! I hope everyone gets a chance to watch OUTSIDE NOWHERE and share it with a kid who believes in magic. You can order it here: www.bit.ly/OutsideNowhere
To follow Adam on Twitter: Adam Borba
Well mixed file cabinets, I hope you enjoyed it! A special thanks to Adam Borba for joining us, and please be sure to get out and get OUT OF NOTHING!
Until next time . . .