Author Guest Post

Behind the Book: Noggin

February 8, 2016
The Riveted Team
YA Fiction Is Our Addiction

John Corey Whaley talks about the inspiration behind Noggin:

Believe me when I tell you this: I never, in a million years, thought I’d end up writing a book about cryonics or head transplants. In fact, after my debut, Where Things Come Back, published in 2011, I wrote a completely different book, and then rewrote it, thinking it would surely be my sophomore effort. But, in the end, the book just didn’t work. So, in the summer of 2012, I was faced with a problem: owing my publisher a second novel and having little to no idea what that novel might look like.

And then one day, as I was working away at a separate project that I would later toss, I started thinking about Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and his book Slaughterhouse-Five. The thing about Vonnegut was this: he could write the most absurd and outlandish stories, filled with time travel and aliens and crude illustrations and the like, but that never stopped any one of his stories or novels from being compelling, relatable, or completely genius. See, despite the absurd premises and often wacky characters and plots, Vonnegut found ways to ground his works in emotional reality—one scene in particular will always stay with me from Slaughterhouse-Five in which the main character Billy Pilgrim, who is unstuck in time, sees bombs dropping on his television screen and then sees them in reverse being sucked back up into their airplanes. I remember tearing up the first time I read it, and being completely surprised that a book about involuntary time travel and aliens could make me feel something so deeply.

So, I was thinking about that and, well, for whatever reason, I immediately saw a frozen head. Why not, right? At first, I was sure the idea wouldn’t stick, that no one, my editor and agent mainly, would take it seriously or let me move forward with it. Then this weird thing happened—I wrote a few chapters, shared them, and suddenly my second book was going to be about a teenager who has his head cryogenically frozen and comes back five years later attached to another teenager’s body. And the biggest challenge, from page one, was to make sure that despite the absurd premise, this story could still be rooted in something universal and relatable and real. Two drafts and a big revision later, I present to you Noggin, my weird little story about time and love and how those two things change one another.