This week marks the official release date for Changers Book One: Drew, the first of a four-volume series co-authored by T Cooper and Allison Glock-Cooper, published by Akashic Books. Changers is about a high school freshman named Ethan Miller who awakens one morning as a Drew Bohner, a girl. Ethan is a Changer, a member of a race who spends each year of high school as a different person.
T Cooper is the author of four novels for adults as well as the nonfiction Real Man Adventures. Allison Glock-Cooper is a journalist and the author of Beauty Before Comfort. We invited them to interview each other about writing their first young adult novel together.
T COOPER: Just to establish, I am your husband.
ALLISON GLOCK-COOPER: And I am your wife.
TC: And we wrote this book together.
AGC: Yes, we did.
TC: How would you say that went?
AGC: On the whole? Great. But it was not without challenges.
TC: I think I thought it went better than you did.
AGC: We are both passionate people, and we both had firm ideas about what our characters should and shouldn’t do. It was a little weird to have heated arguments over the dining table about whether or not our heroine Drew would want to go to prom and what might she wear to it, but it also felt good to work on something we both cared about deeply, exploring issues we believe are vital to insert into the current cultural conversation.
TC: You mean like issues around gender identity, sexual identity, tolerance, and empathy?
AGC: Yes! Also, the menace that is cheerleading.
TC: Weren’t you a cheerleader?
AGC: I was. But only for a year. And I was captain of the basketball team the same year. Clearly, I had some identity issues of my own. What about you?
TC: I was never a cheerleader.
AGC: I can’t really see you rocking the pleated skirt. Shouldn’t we talk more about the book? Like, what it’s about and why we wanted to write it in the first place?
TC: Yes, of course. I was distracted by thinking about you as a spirited, bouncing cheerleader. Moving on… Well, seeing as we have two young adult daughters of our own sharing a house and a life with us, I suppose we can’t help but come right up against how different it is growing up these days from when we were teens. How everything is on blast all the time, how hard it is for young people to navigate relationships when so much “relating” is conducted online, instead of face to face.
AGC: We were also interested in having a real dialogue about identity. We believe everybody is (or can be) everything. That each person contains multitudes, and it is in high school, especially, when we wrestle most acutely with which identity is going to surface and dominate. We thought it would make a fun read to take that psychological process and make it literal. Hence, our characters wake up each year of high school as someone completely different—gender-wise, race-wise, body-wise, etc. They are forced to “walk in another person’s shoes” for the year. To deal with how their outside appearances change the way they are treated and mistreated in the world. And they either grow—or don’t—from the experience. When you were in high school, did you want to be someone else?
TC: I think I must’ve, but I didn’t know that I could actually BE somebody else until at least a decade later. I have a question: do you think we would’ve fallen in love if we had met in high school?
AGC: I do, actually. Do you? (I’m guessing no.)
TC: Why would you guess No?! Just like our protagonist Drew (née Ethan), and who s/he’s going to turn into in the next three books, I believe I was the same person I am inside, just younger and dumber and decidedly less sure of who I was. But that wouldn’t change the almost magical, inexplicable and entirely inevitable thing that would’ve happened the minute I intersected with you in life. Whether 20 years ago or 5 years ago, I would’ve loved who you are, your “soul” or what-have-you, and I would know that I needed to spend my life with you no matter what. Duh.
AGC: I’m with you. I really do believe love and connection is about the soul, the interior. That the exterior can really muck things up sometimes. Not that I don’t like your exterior.
TC: Well, I am irresistibly handsome.
AGC: Indeed. But one of the things we play with in the book series is how love and friendship and those authentic soul connections transcend the physical. Which makes it sound really woo-woo, which it isn’t. It’s basically a love story where the main characters learn to love each other as several different people. Which, incidentally, is everyone’s story. I mean, over a lifetime, we all change so much. Do you agree?
TC: I do, and with teenagers, sometimes it’s that to the extreme, trying on different identities and running them up the flag pole with friends at school. This week I’m a nerd, this week a goth, next week I’m a break-dancer…
AGC: They don’t call them that anymore.
TC: You know what I mean. Like, a beat-boxer or something.
AGC: I don’t think that’s what it’s called either.
TC: [beat-boxing] Bouncing cats, bouncing cats, bouncing cats…
AGC: It seems like you are trying on a new identity right now.
TC: Why not?
AGC: Why not, indeed? You ready to go watch American Idol with the kids?
TC: I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by how many hours we have DVR-ed; I mean, how many years of alternately surprising or wacky auditions can we sit there and watch without wanting all of those hours of our lives back?
AGC: You love it. Don’t front. Last question: what would you say you learned from writing this book? And what do want readers to know most about the series?
TC: That’s two questions.
TC: I think I learned a thing or two about completely letting go of gender when conceiving of a narrator’s voice and developing it throughout the story. Ironically, I don’t think I’d thought of voice in those terms before—at least not so literally in terms of, This is for all intents and purposes a boy who is suddenly living in the body of a girl, and what would that transition look, sound and feel like? As for what I want readers to know about the series? I suppose if it makes even a few people think about love and gender in a different way, or makes someone think about things from other people’s perspectives before acting, then that’ll feel like a success. That sounds overly earnest, doesn’t it? Because I also want people to laugh at the book, because it’s supposed to be funny. What did you learn?
AGC: How good it feels to write something I’d want my kids to read. And how attached you can become to your characters. As a non-fiction writer, that was new for me. Inventing people and then bringing them to life was exhilarating. And they come to life so quickly. Before you know it, they are telling you what to say. (I realize now after typing that it makes me look slightly crazy.)
TC: No comment.
AGC: And that’s why we are still happily married.
Allison Glock-Cooper and T Cooper are the authors of Changers, a four-part YA book series debuting February 4, as well as the founders of Wearechangers.org, an Empathy Project aimed at teens and those who love them. More info can be found here: www.t-cooper.com and www.allisonglock.com.