Lex Thomas is the pen name for the writing team of Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies. Their first novel, Quarantine: The Loners, earned a starred review from Booklist, and Huffington Post Books called it “one of the best books that I have ever read.” Check out the interview below to learn more about this writing team and Quarantine, their first novel.
Tell us 5 random facts about yourself.
I drive a Volvo station wagon with two car seats in the back, but I make it look good because I wear driving gloves.
I like soft rock.
If it wouldn’t kill me, I’d eat a cheeseburger every day.
In high school, I was student body president, like Dickie Bellman, McKinley High’s resident lunatic, so draw whatever conclusions you want from that.
I used to live in a box factory.
I drink coffee and strong British tea all day.
I once got surrounded by a moped gang in Tokyo.
There are often cookie crumbs on my shirt.
I write in the dark.
I don’t like acrylic paint and I don’t get why anyone paints with it.
What are the challenges you face writing together? How do you decide who writes what parts?
When we did screenwriting, we were almost always in the same room, figuring it out together, with one of us on the keyboard. That works pretty well for screenwriting, where there aren’t that many words on the page to fight over. If you tried to write a novel that way, I don’t know how you’d ever get anything done. Although, come to think of it, we’ve never tried. You never know.
But we don’t do that, we write separately, and it changes as to who is doing the rough draft of a given chapter, or section of the story, and who’s revising. But it is hard either way. It’s hard to take a hatchet to the other’s chapter, and it’s hard to be revised on something you just wrote, even when you think the revisions are sound. All that aside, this approach has worked well for us.
To answer the last question first…. we both write all parts. In the second step of the writing process, after we’ve read the raw, rough draft and taken notes, we execute those notes together, in the same room, with a lot of discussion.
The challenge is that there never seems to be enough time. A lot of people assume that the challenge of two people writing a novel is unifying our voices. I was worried about that very thing when we decided to write the first book. And while marrying two styles is not always an easy process, we’ve been working together long enough to see when something works and when it doesn’t. If we had all the time in the world, we’d use it to make each chapter as tight and effective as possible. Unfortunately, we’ve got deadlines. The best way we’ve found to manage the time crunch is to trust your gut and try to think at least two or three steps ahead.
Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
If we hadn’t, we might not still be writing. We had everything riding on this story. We’ll talk about this on occasion with a sort of wonder at how things worked out, but the truth is, before we started working on Quarantine, we were both at the respective ends of our ropes. We’d been working as a screenwriting team since 2005, and struggling separately as screenwriters before that. Right before Quarantine, we had worked hard for a year and a half on a project that just sort of fizzled out. It was really disappointing, and at that point, you start thinking about your plan B, and if you really even have one. We had this idea about gangs in high school, and a lot of people around us really thought it would be fantastic as a book. We were both wary of starting up a new project, especially in a new medium for us, but in our guts, we knew how cool we could make it. That’s all you really need to start a story. The potential for it to be awesome. This one just happened to be infused with our own life-or-death stakes. Thankfully, it was the best decision we’d ever made as a team.
I didn’t feel I had to, I wanted to. The idea sounded fun — a heightened version of high school that you’re trapped inside, where you have to fight the other social groups to the death to survive. I didn’t feel that it’s message had to be heard, or that it was timely or anything. It was just that the idea made my mind light up with fun possibilities.
What was your favorite chapter/scene to write and why?
I have a personal connection to a lot of the scenes, but most weren’t fun to write. I remember writing the first book in an anxiety haze, where there was never enough time, and feeling that writing a novel was an impossible feat, that we didn’t know what we were doing, and that we’d certainly never finish on time.
That said, my favorite is probably Chapter 33. It’s dense, so much crazy stuff happens in it, and I remember really enjoying writing the descriptions of a mind-bending battle scene in a hallway full of trash.
Chapter 20 comes to mind. It’s Sam’s first chapter of three in the book. He’s the villain of the story. It comes about halfway through, and I think it gives a nice jolt to the story. It reminds the reader that Sam’s not licked yet and there’s big trouble on the horizon. I don’t think it was in our first draft, but I think our editor had the idea to give the reader a window into what motivates Sam to do the awful things he does. We liked that idea a lot. I remember, when I wrote the first pass of it, I was reading Stephen King, so I was in the mood to really go dark. I had a lot of fun shaping Sam’s internal monologue and delving into his childhood. It gets gnarly, and I love the first line of the chapter — “They think I’m weak.”