When’s the last time a book reminded you how important your own dreams are? That’s how we felt with the Blacktop series: the first book follows Justin, and the second book follows Janae, who both face life on and off the basketball court one summer in Oakland, California. Here to tell us more about the mind behind the masterpiece is author LJ Alonge!
Name: LJ Alonge
Novel: Blacktop (Justin #1 and Janae #2)
Available: June 7th
Who’s your favorite author, living or dead? I tried to narrow this down to one, but I couldn’t! I have eight or ten writers who changed my life, who I really love, but I love each of them differently. I can’t really compare them; any ranking I think of falls apart immediately.
When I want to be inspired by beautiful writing and language, I read Toni Morrison or Stephanie Vaughn or John Steinbeck. When I want to read a story that makes me feel like my best and funniest friend is telling it, I read Junot Diaz or Mark Twain or Zadie Smith. When I want to read strange stories that weird me out long after I’ve put them down, I read George Saunders or Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
What’s your favorite thing about your book? What I like most about this book is that it gets at a lot of the questions I had growing up. Who am I? How far will I go to be accepted? Will I know a real friend when I see one? What do I do when I’ve wronged someone? Is it wrong to feel angry or embarrassed about family members dealing with addiction?
As a teenager, I think I got a lot of answers to these questions wrong. Back then, I felt like the worst person in the world; now I know that making mistakes is as much a part of life as eating or breathing. What I love about this book is that the characters get things wrong, really wrong, but they keep trying to be better.
If you could spend one year on a deserted island with one character from literature, who would you choose Yossarian, the protagonist of Catch -22. True, he’s a paranoid hypochondriac. I can see how that might get annoying. But he’s also a fighter pilot, so he probably knows how to start fires and tie sturdy knots. And most importantly, he’s very afraid of dying. That’s what I want: someone who wants to live really, really badly.
Where do you write? Any comfortable couch will do. I try not to be picky. I’m writing this while laying on my back on my mom’s couch. It’s not my favorite couch – it gets sticky when the weather’s hot – but it gets the job done.
Who is your favorite hero or heroine of history? Sojourner Truth. She escaped from slavery. She became an abolitionist and women’s rights activist and preached across the country. She spoke Dutch and English. She wrote a book and a song. During the civil war, she recruited troops for the Union Army. She met with President Lincoln and Grant to advocate for rights for previously enslaved people. Amazing.
Do you tweet? What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever tweeted? “Did I used to go to Starbucks and make fun of that guy staring solemnly at his laptop? Yup. Ami I now that guy? yup.”
What is your favorite season? I grew up in the Bay Area, where there are two basic seasons: hot or not-that-hot. Sometimes it rains, so let’s count that as a third season. I like it when it’s not-that-hot, somewhere in the 60’s, cool enough that you can walk around in a hoodie and not sweat.
If you could teleport anywhere in the known universe right now, where would you go? The Situation Room at the White House. Where are you keeping the aliens President Obama???
Do you have any writing rituals? I like to read a little poetry before I start writing. Ross Gay, Claudia Rankine, Roger Reeves, Renia White. They help me remember how much magic one can find in the smallest detail.
What is your idea of earthly happiness? I’d be happy if no one sucked anywhere. Knowing that no one sucks anywhere – for any reason – would make me very, very happy. Among the things I would like to stop sucking: all forms of racism, sexism and homophobia, economic exploitation, and environmental degradation. If these things sucked less – or, better yet, if we created a world in which we stopped them from sucking – I think I’d be happy.
What is the best concert you’ve ever been to? I went to a Chance the Rapper show last spring. I’ve been a fan of his for years, but up close I could feel the joy in his music. He spread happiness and love and compassion out to the entire crowd; I’ve never seen so many people smiling so hard after a concert. It may have been the closest I’ve ever come to an out-of-body experience. Just thinking about it makes me smile. Everybody should see him at least once.
What are you currently working on? I’m currently working on the third book in the Blacktop series. Frank Torres is the narrator. He’s a playboy who’s always got his hands in some moneymaking scheme, but for the first time in his life he’s heartbroken. Plus, he gets hustled by someone close to him and doesn’t see a way out. Everything he thinks he knows about girls, basketball and life no longer makes sense. This book is about him trying to figure out what to do.