Interview with author JD Slajchert: from basketball to new novel, plot and characters

Daily / Interview - 13 November 2022 05:00

Darling, You're Not Alone is the new novel

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JD Slajchert (Slack*ert) is a former University of California Santa Barbara basketball star turned novelist who has just completed his second novel,  Darling, You’re Not Alone.  This young adult book is the coming-of-age story of a young man maneuvering the complexities of everyday life when a horrible tragedy strikes leaving him to wonder if light will ever shine again to change his dark perspective of the world.   

Darling, You're Not Alone is your new book. Can you tell us what it's about? 

A) Darling, You're Not Alone is the story about a timid, kind hearted, young boy named Phoenix that's thrusted into the tragic epicenter of a school shooting. He—along with all the surviving residents of the small town of Darling, Colorado—are forced to cope with the aftermath of becoming a global landmark of senseless violence. But out of seemingly nowhere, Phoenix accidentally uncovers something magical. It then becomes his mission to restore the light to Darling and give everyone something to believe in again. I wrote this book because I believe that if unimaginable tragedy can take place anywhere, then so too must unimaginable hope. I dreamt up this story to help illustrate this very point. 

How did the idea of writing about a young boy, Phoenix, from the age of 10 come about? 

A) In the early drafts of the book, I actually began the story with Phoenix being 15 years old. At the time, I wanted to put the reader right into the story where they'd quickly read and experience his complicated emotional state, without learning exactly how he got there. But after sinking my teeth deeper into this story, me, along with the help of my terrific editors, Alison Rolf, Christine Nielson, and Chris Varonos, decided it best for the readers to instead meet Phoenix when he is 10. By doing so, we felt it would help introduce Phoenix by allowing the readers to see him before his problems came about. Then, as the story progresses from there, you're able to read and witness the changes he goes through emotionally as all the events then begin to unfold chronologically. It's also always been an idée fixe of mine that we are our truest and best selves at our youngest age; I wanted the readers to experience Phoenix in that way. 

Phoenix has a special relationship with his father. Do you also have the same relationship with your father? 

It's important to understand that Phoenix deals with severe social anxiety disorder in addition to bouts of depression. Mentally, he's tormented by these paranoid thoughts that bounce back and forth in his head constantly, like a tennis ball flying around a small room. Although, the one person who seems to be able to stop that ball from bouncing around is his father, Herman. I set out to create this strong bond between Phoenix and Herman because I believe this relationship is very similar to how many teenagers that struggle with these prevalent disorders cope. And, these issues are important to discuss because of the growing number of people dealing with them. But it is our parents that are often our stability in life, and I'm lucky to say that my father is certainly that for me. He's my biggest fan, my trusted confidant and best friend. I love him to pieces.

How did your passion for writing develop from basketball?

As an athlete, I was on the road constantly. I spent my youth in sweaty gyms all over Southern California. As I grew both older and taller, I was then recruited by the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I competed as a college basketball player and traveled all over the country. But as I did all this traveling throughout my playing days, I always made sure to keep a book or two by my side. Reading became my meditation while on the road. I read so many different books spanning all sorts of different genres over the years. Until, one day, I was sitting in the terminal of the Denver airport patiently awaiting my connecting flight. As I waited, I started reading a book I'd had with me, when the thought occurred to me that I could write a better book than the bestseller currently in my hands. So, at 21, I started writing. 

What is the game you remember the most?  

A) In my final home game in 2018 at the Thunderdome, our gymnasium at UCSB, I hit a bank shot to give me my one hundredth career point. When I made the shot, it nearly blew the roof off the place. We beat our rival, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and all my close family and friends were there to celebrate. I still, to this day, have people that come up to me and talk about that bank shot.

Is it harder to score a good point or write a good chapter?

I would also say that it's harder to write a good chapter of a book than to score in a game. Basketball is a team sport and your teammates can set you up to score, writing is just you and the daunting blank page.

Who is your favorite author and why? 

My favorite author is John Green. To me, he's at the top of the writing profession. I grew up an incredible fan of his work and find his style so unique. John's mastered the balance between writing the perfect amount of intriguing story, and mixing it with a dash of introspective literature. His stories always leave me thinking about the world differently.

And your favorite basketball player and why?

My favorite basketball player is my good friend, Gabe Vincent of the Miami Heat. Getting to watch one of your closest friends compete in the NBA four nights a week is somehow even cooler than it sounds. I'll never forget watching him play in his first NBA game in what was then the historic Staples Center against the LA Clippers in 2020. It's been nearly three years since I watched him play in that game and I still can hardly believe it. It's inspiring.

What is your next writing project? 

A) I can't say much, but I have two different writing projects currently in the works. One is a stand alone and more traditional novel, and the other is a series that follows two young lovers throughout the world. I don't yet know which will be released first. 

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