With a passion for writing that dates all the way back to the 6th grade (when he attempted his first novel on a typewriter), Chad Lucas has used his craft as a journalist, columnist, instructor, and more. Yet, his lifelong desire to publish a novel is finally coming to fruition this spring (May 2021). His debut release, “Thanks A Lot, Universe” is a young adult novel that engages questions of family, identity, and what it means to be your best and truest self.
Chad is a proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville. His interests extend from youth basketball coaching to being a musician, having played on the 2008 East Coast Music Award-winning album New Beginnings from artist Chelsea Amber. I had the chance to connect with Chad to learn about this exciting new work:
Jamie Arpin-Ricci: So you get in an elevator and someone asks you the age old question, "What's your book about?" Give us your elevator pitch.
Chad Lucas: I’m learning to get better with my answer to this question, now that people are asking it a lot! Here’s my short pitch for THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE:
Brian has always been anxious, but things get worse when he and his brother are placed in foster care. Ezra notices Brian pulling away and wants to help, but he worries his friends might figure out he has a crush on Brian. But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra takes the leap and reaches out. Both boys must decide if they're willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they'd rather hide. If they can be brave, they might find the best in themselves—and each other.
JAR: Why did you write this book? Who do you most hope reads it?
CL: I’ve always wanted to write fiction. I wrote my first “novel” on a typewriter in the sixth grade. The character of Brian came to me a long time ago, and it took me a while to figure out the right way to tell his story. It’s a middle grade book, so my main audience is kids aged 10-14, though I think older teens and adults can enjoy it too. But I really hope it finds its way to kids who struggle with impostor syndrome—they feel like they don’t fit, or they have to fake it till they make it.
Maybe that’s all of us, to some degree. But I’m especially thinking of boys who feel pressured to act a certain way. Brian and Ezra are both on their school basketball team, and Brian’s struggling with anxiety while Ezra’s coming to terms with his queerness—not necessarily traits we associate with “jocks” in books and movies, or in society. I hope that in some small way, this book helps kids embrace the ways they don’t fit the mold. The book’s tagline, which I love, is Be Brave. Be Real. Be Weird.
JAR: How did your own journey inform this book and its characters?
CL: I mentioned that I had Brian’s character and story in mind for years, but the book really came to life when I brought in Ezra as the second narrator. This book isn’t autobiographical, but there are pieces of me in both main characters, and more of me in Ezra—he’s biracial and queer, like me, and he wrestles with those identities in the story.
To be honest, it took me a while to let Ezra be fully queer on the page. I sort of hinted at it in early drafts, but the story didn’t take off until I let him be his full self. Having grown up in conservative evangelical culture, I had to do a lot of work in myself and let go of some unhealthy remnants before I was ready to write Ezra the way he needed to be written. And ultimately it was a freeing experience to write a kid who embraces who he is in ways that I couldn’t at his age.
I also had to accept that some people from that part of my life won’t support this book because it’s so queer-positive. Some folks whom I’ve known for a very long time, who know how hard I’ve worked to make it as an author, have never said so much as “congrats” to me. That still makes me a little sad, though I’m sadder for them than for me. But I’ve had so much support from other friends, including new friends I’ve met in the writing community, that I don’t sweat it anymore.
JAR: Was there anything that didn't make it into the book that you hoped would?
CL: I tend to be an over-writer in my early drafts, so I end up cutting a lot. In a much earlier version, I had more backstory for Gabe, an older teenage character who has experienced his own tragedy and ends up being a supportive mentor to Brian. I don’t regret cutting anything that came out—I’m so happy with the final version of THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE and I owe huge credit to my editor, Emily Daluga, who really helped me enhance this story. But I also save all my deleted bits in case I find a way to repurpose them somewhere else in the future.
JAR: Are you working (or planning) on any new books?
CL: Yes! I’m under contract for two books, and I recently got the green light from my editor on my proposed second book. It’s another middle grade, about a Black boy who moves to a mostly white small town and stumbles across shady things happening behind the scenes. It has some spooky elements, and my working title is LET THE MONSTER OUT. It’s also one I’ve had in the works for a while, so I’m excited that I’ll finally get to publish it sometime in 2022. And I have some ideas bubbling for future projects too.
JAR: Thanks, Chad!