Stephen Chbosky is well-known for his first novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller for more than a year. Twenty years later, he’s returning with a work of literary horror, Imaginary Friend: a young boy disappears for six days before returning unharmed, but with a voice in his head only he can hear and a mission only he can complete.
We asked Stephen about the inspiration for his new book, his involvement in the making of the audiobook, and what independent bookstores have meant to him.
Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.
Imaginary Friend was born from a moment we all experienced as children. The moment we looked up into the sky and saw the clouds. And we said to ourselves, “That clouds looks like a hammer. A dog. A face” or whatever the shape suggested. So, then I thought, “What would happen if a little boy looked up into the clouds and realized that for the last two weeks, it was ALWAYS THE SAME FACE staring back at him?” Then, I thought of a moment where the little boy is outside of his school. He is waiting for his mother to pick him up. The last of the school busses drive away. And he is alone. Suddenly, a shadow cuts across the page of his book. He looks up. And there it is. The cloud face. As big as the sky. The little boy says, “Hello? Can you hear me?” There is a thunderclap. The little boy says, “If you can hear me, blink your left eye.” And the cloud face blinks. Then, it floats away. The little boy follows the cloud. So, as the author, I followed the little boy following the cloud. And where it took me was one the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. As emotional as it was terrifying.
In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise Libro.fm listeners about your audiobook?
They would be surprised that unlike most authors who have nothing to do with their own audiobooks, I directed mine and wrote the opening and closing musical theme for it.
Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?
I have listened to every second of it. What struck me about the narration was how truly talented and versatile Christine Lakin was. Her ability to balance the heart of the characters with the thrills of the story. It was quite a tight rope walk, and she made that rope feel ten feet wide.
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
I love audiobooks. I listen to 20 – 30 a year. My favorites are The Girl on the Train, The Handmaid’s Tale, Joe Hill’s The Fireman, Dark Matter, and everything by Stephen King. I also love non-fiction like Outliers and autobiographies like Born To Run.
What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?
Personally, some of the greatest reading experiences of my life came directly from the recommendation of a clerk at an independent book store. I’ve been to so many I’ve lost count. Powell’s in Portland, Changing Hands in Phoenix, Book Soup in Los Angeles. The list goes on. Professionally, independent book stores were instrumental in the success of my first novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Because of them and staff pick tables all over the world, my little book that could became a little book that did. I’ll forever be grateful to all of those passionate readers spreading the word.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
At the risk of letting my Pittsburgh show, my foundational belief about art is not about money, fame, or notoriety. It is about respect. The mutual respect between author and reader. Between director and audience. It’s not about money. It’s about time, the only commodity that is truly finite. I worked very hard with my editor Wes Miller on the book and with Christine Lakin on the audiobook because I wanted every single person who who picks up a copy of Imaginary Friend to get more than their money’s worth. I want them to get their TIME’S WORTH.