Monday, November 8, 2021

Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman Interview - Roxy

Photo Content from Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times best-selling author of over thirty novels for children, teens, and adults. He won the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Challenger Deep-and his novel, Scythe, was a 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor book-and is in development with Universal Studios as a feature film. His novel, Unwind, has become part of the literary canon in many school districts across the country-and has won more than thirty domestic and international awards. He co-wrote his most recent novel, Dry, with his son Jarrod, and in addition to being on numerous award lists, Dry is currently in development with Paramount Pictures. His upcoming novel, Game Changer, is in development with Netflix as a TV series, and he is co-writing the pilot episode.

Shusterman has also received awards from organizations such as the International Reading Association, and the American Library Association, and has garnered a myriad of state and local awards across the country. His talents range from film directing, to writing music and stage plays, and has even tried his hand at creating games.

Shusterman has earned a reputation as a storyteller and dynamic speaker. As a speaker, he is in constant demand at schools and conferences. Degrees in both psychology and drama give him a unique approach to writing, and his novels always deal with topics that appeal to adults as well as teens, weaving true-to-life characters into sensitive and riveting issues, and binding it all together with a unique and entertaining sense of humor. Neal lives in Jacksonville, Florida, but spends much of his time travelling the world speaking, and signing books for readers.

Jarrod Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling coauthor of Dry. He has a passion for storytelling across many mediums, with love and multiculturalism as an ethos. Jarrod writes and directs with his partner Sofia, under their company Dos Lobos Entertainment. Together they enjoy traveling the world and learning new languages, living between Los Angeles and Spain. They can be found on Instagram and TikTok @DosLobosMedia.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Storytelling is the closest we have to mindreading and time travel. I can project my thoughts to you, and to anyone in the distant future, just by a combination of symbols on a page. When you look at that objectively, it’s pretty amazing. Stories—narratives—are how we learn. Studies have shown that memory is accessed through our internal narrative, and without language, we have no access to the things we’ve learned and experienced. It’s why we have no memories of being infants; we didn’t have language, so we have no way to retrieve those memories. So storytelling is one of the most important things we do as human beings.

Jarrod: Story is a metaphor for life, and there’s so much benefit to living a life in someone else’s shoes. To experience something relevant from a different perspective is a gift that storytelling gives, that you can only get by empathizing with other people in real life. It’s why we empathize with characters in stories. It’s why we love them. And sometimes it can be profound.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
A fan who came up to me at a booksigning in tears, and told me that my book Challenger Deep saved her life. There have been several similar events, for different books. Writing can be a solitary profession. You put your thoughts down, and they go out like ripples in a pool. Most of the time you never see the lives that are touched, but every once in a while, one of those ripples comes back to you.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Gleanings, -- the Scythe short story anthology, which is due out in Fall, 2022, and Courage to Dream – a Holocaust-themed a graphic novel I’ve been working on for over ten years, with illustrations by AndrĂ©s Vera Martinez. Also, Scythe, Challenger Deep, Game Changer, Scorpion Shards and Unwind are in development as either films or for episodic TV/streaming.

Jarrod: RETRO! A new S&S book coming in 2022 that I’m writing with my partner Sofi, which we are so excited for! Going through edits now, and we already have our sights set on the next writing project! We are so excited about the ROXY release, and what comes next!

Can you tell us when you started ROXY, how that came about?
My dad and I had gotten together to brainstorm ideas for our next book—and we got to talking about unique storytelling perspectives.

Neal: For instance, there was a story I had co-written with Jarrod’s brother, Brendan, for Shaun David Hutchinson’s Violent Ends story anthology. Our story, “Presumed Destroyed,” was about a school shooter, as were all the stories in the collection—but ours took the point of view of the weapon itself. We thought how powerful it would be to tell a story about drug addiction from the point of view of the drugs, personified.

Jarrod: And then my dad came with the idea of, what if they were like Greek Gods? And that’s when ROXY took off. We had the story worked out within a few weeks, and got to work writing.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
When I was thirteen, I read, and saw JAWS. That story left me terrified of the ocean for years. Well, there are things more dangerous than sharks. We want readers to be as worried, and wary about these drugs as I used to be when the water started to get over my waist. To seriously consider what might be lurking in the murky waters of their future if they take that pill…

Jarrod: I want readers to understand that prescription drugs have real consequences. Not necessarily for everyone. But for many. And know that when it comes to habit forming drugs you could be gambling with your life, even when you listen to a doctor. When medical systems are incentivized by a winner takes all capitalist ethos, don’t trust your pills blindly. Question. Research. Decide. Make your own intelligent decisions. Drugs save lives, and they can also take them. Your fate is in your own hands.

What part of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?
The drugs, Roxy, and Addison aren’t human. They see themselves as above humanity… but I most liked writing those moments where they found humanity in themselves. I also particularly enjoyed writing the “interludes,” which are side stories written as first-person monologues from other drugs’ points of view—how they see themselves in the world—both helpful medications, and dangerous ones.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I only have three stories published, so I would say it would be fun to introduce Jacqui from DRY to Roxy, because I think Jackie would whoop her ass. And I wouldn’t exactly feel bad about it.

Neal: Jarrod, that literally made me laugh out loud!

Tell me about a favorite event of your childhood.
When I was nine, I lived in Brooklyn, NY, but my father took business trips to Florida—his company was involved with the last moon launches. One day my mom and I went to see him off at the airport, and he asked me if I wanted to come see what the plane looks like inside, because I had never been in one before. He told me to sit down, look out of the window. But after all the people had boarded, they weren’t making me and my mom leave. So I ask my dad “Why are we still sitting here?” Then he shows me his ticket… then fans it out to reveal it’s actually three tickets! My parents surprised me with a trip to Disney World, just one month after it opened!

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I think everyone should learn a new language—because much like storytelling, it’s an experience that allows you to empathize in a new way. For me there’s nothing more exciting than communicating with others, and when it comes to speaking Spanish with my partner Sofi, or our international friends I feel so rewarded… I can’t express it enough!

Best date you've ever had?
My partner Sofi surprised me for my birthday and took me to Denia (a beachside town in Spain across from Ibiza) and I’ve spent many of my birthdays there in these past years. I was drowned in presents, Paella, and Mediterranean sunlight. Just thinking about it is like a dream. Can I get older and go back please!? SO DOWN! I CAN’T WAIT!

Neal: When I was dating Jarrod’s mom in college (in California), I was going to spend the holidays in New York City, with my parents. Elaine wanted to come, but neither of us could afford an extra ticket. Then she called into a radio contest. You had to be caller nine, and the contest was to name the last five songs that played, and for each song you named, you got $100. She ended up being caller nine, named all five songs, and off we went to New York!

What was the first job you had?
When I was sixteen, I worked as a summer lifeguard at a community center. I never actually got to save anyone’s life, but I learned how to say “no running!” and “stop splashing!” with great authority.

Jarrod: I sold memberships at a gym, and not necessarily to people who really needed them. Though most everyone deserves a good work out. I guess my job was just to sell sell sell. I learned a lot about people and had a lot of fun in the process. I love sales.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
I never really had an incident that changed my life. I think life changes with circumstances. And sometimes it’s gradual. My life really changed when DRY came out, when it sold as a screenplay in Hollywood. When I met my partner—you learn a lot about life when you realize just how much some people care about you.

What were you doing the last time you really had a good laugh?
We have family friends that vacation with us, and one of our regular things to do is play “Cards Against Humanity,” but we don’t use the actual game. We make up our own cards. Hundreds of them. Then we play. The first time we did it, I actually laughed so hard, I lost consciousness for a second. We played again on vacation this summer. Didn’t lose consciousness, but my gut hurt from laughing so much!

Jarrod: I think I laugh every day with Sofi, so the last time was probably today or yesterday. She says hilarious things, sometimes without realizing it, and I just die laughing. My favorite is when she mistakes the words “napkin” for “kidnap.”

First Heartbreak?
Shari Resnikoff in 9th grade. I had a long-time crush on her and asked her out. She said no, and when I asked her why, she said “I can’t tell you because it would hurt you too much.” Which was, of course, worse than telling me, because to this day, I can’t forget it, and still wonder.

Jarrod: I’ve never been heartbroken.

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional. with whom would it be?
I would not trade places with anyone that wasn’t me. But I guess if I could be someone for one day it would be Howard Hughes or Elon Musk (though I don’t think I’d like being in his brain. Too much going on in there)

  • I would have done an exchange program in high school and lived in a different country.
  • I would have studied more and read more and chased fun a little bit less.
  • I would have chosen a second sport that was more practical for my adult life (I LOVED wrestling, but now that life is so fast paced I don’t have any time to wrestle) and spraining a leg as an adult comes with real consequences for my family. So a sport like tennis maybe would have been more practical.
  • I would have definitely prepared myself to meet the love of my life (who I would eventually meet at 26) She’s from Spain, so I deeeefinitely would have studied more in Spanish class.
  • If I could change something I think I would have worried a little less about what people thought. I didn’t exactly care that much. But it’s even less of a big deal than you think, because in high school your whole world is high school, but when you get to the next phase in your life, high school is really not that cool. And the memories fade into the past.
  • In high school the currency is being cool, in college it’s being smart, in the real world it’s being successful. But not just in terms of money, success is more importantly defined by happiness and fulfilment. That’s something I didn’t quite grasp back then.
  • I also would have chosen friends according to my values now, instead of what made sense in that fleeting moment. Sure, hindsight is twenty-twenty… but I would’ve asked myself…. Who is loyal? Who is going to be successful in life-- in happiness and spirit? Who will I connect with, not just now, but in years to come? Who is there for me, just as much as I am there for them?
  • I would talk less and listen more…
  • I would realize that one year really isn’t a big deal. It feels like a lot now, sure, but when you look back in your late twenties, one year of travelling, studying, living, or relaxing, isn’t going to make or break your life… (I was told that -- and I didn’t listen… surprise!)
  • I would have developed more close friendships with the opposite sex. Having your “bros” is cool and all, but there is a perspective and maturity that girls have that is just a few years ahead.
  • And lastly, I think I would respect myself more, and know that you only are worth what you demand to be worth. And how others treat you is just a reflection of how much you truly love yourself. So love yourself a lot, without pretention or arrogance. Truly.
  • I’d learn to count better, because this was more than ten things!
  • I was on the UC Irvine Swim Team. My best events were the 50 freestyle, and 100 backstroke.
  • I began college as a Biological Science major, with the idea of becoming a doctor.
  • I changed my major my sophomore year to Psychology and Theater.
  • I wrote a humor column for the school paper.
  • I flunked Calculus the first time I took it.
  • I studied writing with Oakley Hall, one of the greatest writing teachers ever!
  • A one act play that I wrote was performed for famed Playwright Edward Albee.
  • I spent my summers working as a counselor at a summer camp, where I became the camp storyteller. Some of my early books are based on stories that I told.
  • I met Jarrod’s mother in college. Ours was a dorm romance.
  • I didn’t learn to drive until right after I graduated.
Journey to writing ROXY
My favorite scene is when Lucy (LSD) takes Roxy (Oxycontin) to the roof, and they climb up to see if the rumors are true, and that ‘Lude’ (Quaalude) is forever imprisoned on the rooftop, doomed to suffer for all eternity. They find him trapped in the iron grip of the two snakes of the medical caduceus. He’s deeply creepy—very Hannibal Lecter-like. It’s a turning point for Roxy in the story. I also love the “interludes” which are short pieces from the point of view of different drugs—both helpful ones, and deadly ones.

Writing: Behind the Scenes
I am kind of simple. Put me in a room with no windows and I’ll craft you a story. To me it’s really a process that starts and ends in the mind. But I will always write better if I’m in a more inspired moment in life. But it’s not like I can choose that. I love to write in places that are orderly. With a tea. (I gave up coffee years ago because my partner said it makes me a nervous wreck) I LOVE a nice view. Something comfortable. And I NEED MUSIC -- like at all times. Something spacy, ambient. Sometimes intense movie scores.

From the team that brought you the New York Times bestselling Dry comes a riveting new thriller that proves when gods play games, even love is a lie.

The freeway is coming.

It will cut the neighborhood in two. Construction has already started, pushing toward this corridor of condemned houses and cracked concrete with the momentum of the inevitable. Yet there you are, in the fifth house on the left, fighting for your life.

Ramey, I.

The victim of the bet between two manufactured gods: the seductive and lethal Roxy (Oxycontin), who is at the top of her game, and the smart, high-achieving Addison (Adderall), who is tired of being the helpful one, and longs for a more dangerous, less wholesome image. The wager—a contest to see who can bring their mark to “the Party” first—is a race to the bottom of a rave that has raged since the beginning of time. And you are only human, dazzled by the lights and music. Drawn by what the drugs offer—tempted to take that step past helpful to harmful…and the troubled places that lie beyond.

But there are two I. Rameys—Isaac, a soccer player thrown into Roxy’s orbit by a bad fall and a bad doctor and Ivy, his older sister, whose increasing frustration with her untreated ADHD leads her to renew her acquaintance with Addy.

Which one are you?
You can purchase Roxy at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you NEAL AND JARROD for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Roxy by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.


  1. Not possible - a family get-together including the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents I have known in my lifetime.
    Possible - Sailing down the Rhine and the Danube Rivers.

  2. A certain type of feeling this book might have something to do with.

  3. "What would you like to experience again?" Youth.