Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
We are in for a treat today! Returning to the blog is Adam Borba, who has a new book out, Outside Nowhere!
It’s a great read, and I’m thrilled Adam has agreed to come back.
JR: Welcome back to Mixed-Up Files!
Outside Nowhere was so much fun. Tell us a little bit about it, and where the idea came from.
AB: Thanks so much! It’s about a funny, charming kid named Parker Kelbrook who has a problem taking things seriously (the book gets into why, but I don’t want to spoil too much). Parker is a slacker who constantly gets into trouble. Think of him like a young Ferris Bueller. He loves pulling pranks, and in the opening sequence he’s 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 halfway across the country to work on a farm in the middle of nowhere. The farm has three rules:
- Do your chores
- Stay out of the farmhouse
- Don’t eat the crops
Parker’s fellow co-workers are a bunch of kids that are roll-up-your-sleeves, get-the-work-done types. So Parker doesn’t fit in and the other kids don’t find him charming or funny because he’s not pulling his weight and he’s making more work for them. 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 start happening on that farm – like one morning he wakes up to find a seventeen-hundred-pound dairy cow on the roof of the barn. And that’s when Parker discovers that things on this farm aren’t as they appear.
The idea was somewhat inspired by an organization called WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It’s a network of thousands of farmers in dozens of countries that offers young adults (or WWOOFers) the chance to do agricultural 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 wondering what secrets or magic might be growing in the fields of one of these farms.
The other important idea for this story came as a reaction to writing my first book, THE MIDNIGHT BRIGADE. That book is about an introvert kid 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 popped into his mind, and used to being able to talk himself out of any problem. And then I wanted to put that character into a situation that couldn’t be talked out of.
JR: I was just about to bring that up. Just like with your first book, The Midnight Brigade, Pittsburgh is featured. In your mind, what is it about the city that lends itself to these types of magical stories?
AB: I love Pittsburgh. It’s where my wife grew up and most of her family lives. It’s big and strong, and filled with great food and wonderful people. The city is an absolute character with charm. 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 – which makes it the ideal place for a troll to hide. And it was the perfect starting place for OUTSIDE NOWHERE because it’s such a fun, comforting, and lively place to call home—the opposite of the farm where Parker is sent to work.
JR: Let’s talk about your main character, Parker. (By the way, my dog is named Parker, so I liked him immediately) He’s funny, (Your character, not my dog, though my dog is funny too) and also a bit of a prankster. I loved his character. How much of you is in Parker?
AB: Ha! I wish I was more like Parker. First off, he’s a much better dresser. He shows up to work on the farm in a blue and white striped seersucker suit (which, admittedly, isn’t very practical). As a kid I was more like Carl from my first book—quiet. And though I may have been able to come up with as many jokes as Parker, more often than not I kept them to myself.
JR: What’s the best prank you’ve ever done? (That you’re willing to share 😊)
AB: Well, nothing on Parker’s level. I mean, that kid is a legend. He threw a surprise semi-formal dance at his vice principal’s house, and once he snuck a pony into a movie theater.
I think the thing for me as kid was toilet-papering houses. Like Parker, there wasn’t anything malicious about it and I took pride in my art!
JR: I never got to do that as a kid. Maybe, there’s still time? With Parker, I love characters who are sarcastic or slightly obnoxious, but in a well-meaning way. When writing a character like that, do you have to sometimes force yourself to soften them a little?
AB: One of the great things about Parker is the kid has a good heart. Sometimes he goes a little too far for a joke, but he never does anything to be mean. That said, he has a lot to learn and room to grow, and that’s one of the bigger journeys in this story.
JR: Again, I feel like you do a great job of balancing the 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 huge believer in outlines. But a stronger believer in keeping those outlines loose. The characters need to have the space to make decisions and discoveries and share secrets. But it’s important to my process to outline to keep things structurally sound so I don’t get lost along the way and to keep the story moving. My outline is a document that grows and changes as I work through 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 placeholder beats like, “something bad happens” followed by “and then something happens that makes that bad thing worse” and the closer I get to those points in the story, the higher the likelihood will be that I’ll know what those things are. In addition to story beats, I’ll track how my protagonist(s) will change in the outline and manuscript. And as early as possible in my process, I’ll attempt to establish a universal theme (or lesson) that connects my character’s growth to the overall story.
JR: There’s great camaraderie among the friends in the book. Do your own friends ever reach out to you and say, “Hey, that kid is definitely me!”
AB: A handful of folks are convinced they were the inspiration for the grumpy troll, Frank, in THE MIDNIGHT BRIGADE. They’re all kind of right.
JR: You also work in a capacity for Disney. You ever go into 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 movies take much longer to come together for me than books, so the adaptations are going to take more time.
JR: Will we see Parker in another book?
AB: As of now, I’m thrilled with the way things end in OUTSIDE NOWHERE. But in the off-chance I get an idea in the future that I just can’t shake—who knows?—I just might revisit Parker. He was a lot of fun to spend time with.
JR: What are you working on next?
I’ve been working with my editor, Alexandra Hightower, at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on a new novel about the dangers of time travel and middle 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’ll be out in the world this spring.
JR: Adam, thanks so much for joining us today!
Thanks for having me! I hope everyone gets a chance to check out 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-Up Filers, hope you enjoyed! A special thanks to Adam Borba for joining us, and please make sure to go out and get OUTSIDE NOWHERE!
Until next time . . .