Author Interview: Phil Stamper

The Gravity of Us tells the story of teen boys who find love when their parents’ NASA mission uproots their lives. This sweet debut is perfect for Adam Silvera fans. We spoke with author Phil Stamper about what inspired him to write The Gravity of Us, the wide cast of his audiobook’s narrators, and more.

I cannot get over how thoroughly I enjoyed this book. So much so, that I accidentally took a 45 minute detour on a route I know like the back of my hand because I was so utterly engrossed in it (It’s true, ask my family who were wondering why I was so delayed). Stamper has perfectly captured the space race of the 50s & 60s and brought it into our modern social media ethos. And that just barely scratches the surface. You’ve got one of the sweetest romances I’ve ever read between Cal & Leon, a super believable bad guy (screw you, Josh), and convincing & ever-evolving family dynamics. But most striking to me was the conversation surrounding mental health (depression in particular) and how incredibly relatable Cal’s need to fix things was. His mother’s words “Don’t aim to fix people. Fixing seems so permanent, so absolute. Like there’s no room for error. Aim to make things better.” continue to stick with me long after the last page (or minute rather, since I listened on I could go on, but you’re better off just reading it yourself.

Britt, bookseller at Second Star to the Right

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.

Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch.

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

The Gravity of Us was inspired by my admiration for the 60s space race and the missions that followed. Over the last decade, 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 always called out to me in the background of every memoir or documentary. 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.

In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

The Gravity of Us follows teenage social media journalist Cal, but the main narration is broken up by clips from the nefarious reality show StarWatch, which is read by a full cast. In the story, the space program hinges on public interest—StarWatch definitely makes things interesting, but they rarely have NASA’s best interests at heart, and that conflict will keep your heart pounding through the whole book!

Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?

I listened to the full audiobook the day I got it, which was such an amazing experience. I knew Michael Crouch from his work on books like Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, and Reverie by Ryan La Sala, so I was honored to have such an icon voicing my main character Cal. He did such a great job, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

I was also amazed by how well the StarWatch chapters worked with the full cast. With different actors in different studios, I wasn’t sure it would click. But my audio team has this down to an art. Gravity’s producer Diane McKiernan cast these roles perfectly, while Simone Barros, the director, really got to know each of these characters and coached the actors on how to react and respond during their scenes. There are some tense moments in the book that escalate through back-and-forth conversations, and you’d never know these actors weren’t in the same room or even recording on the same day. Just fantastic.

Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?

I’m absolutely an audiobook listener! My all-time favorite audiobook is Sadie by Courtney Summers, which is a great YA mystery/thriller novel with a true crime podcast element that’s read by a full cast. I’m currently enjoying Ghost Squad, an adorable middle grade fantasy by Claribel A. Ortega, and R. Eric Thomas’s phenomenal essay collection Here for It.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

The Gravity of Us has had so much support from indie booksellers. It’s a top ten Indie Next pick for spring, it debuted on the indie bestsellers list, and I constantly get kind messages from booksellers who are proud to put the book in the hands of queer teens, which all means the world to me. Personally, I’ve been in self-isolation for nearly a month so far, and one of the activities I miss the most is browsing some of my favorite local Brooklyn bookshops, Greenlight Bookstore and Books Are Magic.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

At the NYC book launch for The Gravity of Us at McNally Jackson, we were able to do something really special. I love speaking to a crowd, but I hate doing my own live readings—it brings me back to getting called on to read aloud in class, which was always an awful experience! But I still wanted to do a reading at my launch event, so my audio team came up with a great idea. We got Michael Crouch to attend the event and perform a live reading of one of my favorite scenes from the book. It was such a memorable experience to hear my words performed live like that, and best of all, it spared the audience from having to listen to me read it!

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