Debut 2020 Author Interview: Phil Stamper & The Gravity of Us!

In 2019, we made it our goal is to work with as many debut authors as possible and spread the word about their debut novels. It was such a success last year that we decided to continue the fun this year as well! Follow us this year as we pick the minds of the 2020 debuts and chat with them. Also stay tuned for news of giveaways, Twitter chats and more!
At the end of 2019, we Tweeted about wanting to discover more debut authors and their books. We ended up finding Phil Stamper and his novel THE GRAVITY OF US, and we have been interested in it ever since. We are so excited to have Phil on the blog today to answer some of our questions! 
Phil Stamper
 Phil Stamper grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. He has a B.A. in Music and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of student debt. He works for a major book publisher in New York City and lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their dog.

Keep up with Phil: Website / Twitter / Goodreads / Facebook / Instagram 

The Book Bratz: First of all, congratulations! How does it feel to be a debut author?
Phil: Thank you so much! I've been writing with the goal of publication since 2012, and I got my book deal in 2017. So, until recently, I'd have said my experience as a debut author was mostly... a lot of waiting. But then I got to see my cover, which was one of the most exciting moments of my career. Soon after, I got to hold the first ARC of my book at Book Expo, where I then signed 100 copies for a never-ending line of enthusiastic readers. And it’s really just snowballed from there. Meeting with booksellers, seeing reviews from teens, getting trade reviews (including a STAR from Booklist! Is this real life???), learning my book would be translated to Spanish, getting to hear our amazing narrator record the audiobook… there’s been so much to enjoy. Honestly, though? You have to work hard to enjoy it. It’s so easy to brush something exciting off and move on to the next interview or the next round of edits. It’s a skill I hope to perfect in the coming years, so stay tuned. :-)
The Book Bratz: What's your favorite part of the writing process? What's the hardest?
Phil: My favorite part of the process is drafting. I think. Or, maybe it’s just that my favorite part of the writing process is whatever stage I’m not currently at! I’m finishing edits on my sophomore novel now, so I’d love nothing more than to dig back into drafting right now. Going on submission is, by far, the hardest part of the writing process. (Or, similarly, querying agents!) I received 92 total rejections from agents between two books, and 84 rejections from editors between three books. But I think you grow so much with each rejection and with each new story, that as long as you listen and keep trying, one day it will turn around. Just know that for every supposed “overnight success” there’s usually years of frustration leading up to it that we never hear much about.
The Book Bratz: Where did you get the idea for THE GRAVITY OF US?
Phil: I've always been captivated by accounts of the 60s space race and the missions that followed. I've read dozens of astronaut/engineer memoirs, watched every documentary I could find, and I've even been known to raid antique shops in my search for LIFE magazines from the era. While I've always been fascinated by the science and technology behind these missions, one thing called out to me in the background of every astronaut memoir. The astronaut families essentially became the celebrities of this era, frequently gracing the covers of magazines and giving interviews for national news outlets. This meant the astronauts' spouses and children had to be immaculately dressed, polished, and ready to entertain, all while not knowing if their husbands or fathers would come home alive that night. In The Gravity of Us, I wanted to capture this brilliant tension while also showcasing a contemporary queer love story.

The Book Bratz: Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the hardest?
Phil: My main character’s best friend Deb was my favorite character to write. Their friendship was based in some of the amazing friendships I had as a teen. Those two have a partnership that really jumps off the page. Deb stays in Brooklyn, while Cal moves to Houston, and in that move I really got to explore how best friends take each other for granted, and how hard it can be to be there for someone when you’re not physically there. Truthfully, I could have written a whole book about her. Alas, this is not her book. So I did my best to give her a full storyline in NYC that we see glimpses of as Cal gets distracted and caught up in the media circus around him, and I was able to give her a sweet resolution to her own story near the end. CAL WAS THE HARDEST. I’m just… not like him! I know everyone assumes an author’s main character is just a teen version of them, but he really came into his own from the very first draft. He’s honest and vulnerable, but he’s also bold and strong. He’s so fully in the present with his social media fame, but he’s also got a cassette collection and a strange nostalgia for decades he (and I) never witnessed. He took a lot of refining. And it took many drafts to really understand his motivations. He’s messy, he’s clumsy, he’s so fully imperfect (ok we have that in common!) but he’s trying really hard, and he’s learning.

The Book Bratz: Your book contains social media influencers, NASA missions, and more -- how did you keep track of everything? Are you more of a plotter or a panster, as NaNoWriMo would say?
Phil: I am a HUGE fan of beat sheets, which makes me a plotter. But I really end up writing with my gut and using the beat sheets as a rough guide, which makes me a pantser. So, both! There’s a lot happening in this book, like you said, so to keep everything clear I made sure that each character has a full character arc, and that each plotline has its own arc, and the magic happens when you start layering these together to build one cohesive story. I actually draft pretty thin—the first draft of The Gravity of Us was 50,000 words, but the book’s final word count is closer to 75,000. I use the first draft to figure out what the story is (what’s sticking out? Where are the gaps? Etc.) and then spend a lot of time expanding on the plotlines and character arcs. My editor is great at pointing out places where I can take a breath, and really expand the moment or give the characters a chance to shine, which is really helpful!

The Book Bratz: What do you hope readers will take away from reading THE GRAVITY OF US?
Phil:One wonderful thing I’ve noticed is that 100 people can read this book, and each reader will take something different away from it—believe me, I’ve read the reviews, and it still blows my mind! But I guess my answer to this is that I drafted The Gravity of Us during the 2016 election in the U.S., and I knew so many people (especially queer teens) who just felt hopeless… and still do. My hope is that my main character proves, even if you screw up from time to time, anyone can change the world. I want anyone who reads The Gravity of Us to take with them the fact they can make a change and, when they use their voice, people will listen.

The Book Bratz: Do you plan on returning to the world of THE GRAVITY OF US in the future, or do you have other projects in mind? Can you tell us anything about them?
Phil: My next book is planned for Winter 2021, and I can’t say a lot about it just yet. It’s another YA contemporary story, and this one is about a teen who moves to London and gets in over his head as he reconnects with old family, makes new friends, and falls for the wrong boy, but who—through some massive trial and error—finds a way to push his comfort zone and realize what he needs to be happy. Sorry, I know that was SUPER vague, but I’m so excited to announce more about it in the coming months! And to answer your question, I would love to return to the world of The Gravity of Us someday. But we’ll just have to see if the, uh, planets align for that one. ;)

Title: The Gravity of Us
Author: Phil Stamper
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Publication Date: February 4th, 2020

Summary: As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus. Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Thank you so much to Phil for stopping by and answering our questions! We are super excited about THE GRAVITY OF US and can't wait for it to be out in the world on February 4th

Celebrate So Excited GIF by Hey Violet

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