The Half-Life of Planets switches between two points of view: Liana, a scientific girl studying the planets who is determined to live down her reputation, and Hank, a talented guitarist who happens to have Asperger syndrome along with an encyclopedic knowledge of music.
Here, coauthors Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin interview each other:
Brendan Halpin (BH): What’s the biggest challenge in collaborating on a novel?
Emily Franklin (EF): The plusses far outweigh the challenges. That said, two minds work differently, so pacing was a challenge—get too far ahead with one plot and the other lags. Waiting is also a challenge. Brendan and I are both fast writers, but it was exciting to write this story and waiting for his next chapter to arrive was tricky sometimes.
BH: Where do you think Liana is now?
EF: She's a scientist, I think, maybe living with Hank back in the States after a stint in Sweden or Argentina studying and working. Wherever she is, I bet she can't hear KISS without smiling. I know I can't.
BH: Which writers, (other than me, obviously) do you most admire?
EF: Where to begin? Stranded on a tiny plane in Kansas? 4:00 a.m. flight… Probably that night of incredible Cuban food in Miami with you, Daniel Waters, and Elizabeth Rudnick.
BH: When are you going to write a YA novel that involves your encyclopedic knowledge of great spots to eat?
EF: I am happy to pitch Literary Appetites: Writers and Their Favorite Food Haunts to any book or magazine editor who is interested.
BH: What's your favorite beach town?
EF: Any place with a sad, days-gone-by boardwalk that reeks of 1970s music and has a faded-glory pulse—a kind of cotton candy creepy feeling (but only for an afternoon because—creepy).
BH: Name 3 albums that got you through high school.
The Smiths: Louder Than Bombs
Cat Stevens: Tea for the Tillerman
(really tempted to put Milli Vanilli or something here but won't)
The Pixies: Surfer Rosa (Boston band!)
EF: Brendan, have you ever serenaded anyone? If so, name the circumstance and song, please.
BH: I used to sing to my daughter when she was a baby a lot. A mix of Elvis and Beatles tunes. But in terms of like, romantically, outside someone's window or something...no. Great idea, though. Probably would have worked like magic. I wrote a song for my friend once and played it at his birthday party. It was about his love of baggy sweaters. But I was not romantically interested in him.
EF: Name a song that sums up:
a) your first relationship
b) your worst breakup
c) your best date
BH: I'm gonna cheat on a) and use Billy Bragg's "The Saturday Boy," which captures the agony of unrequited middle school love perfectly. So perfectly that it's almost painful. At least for me.
b) Well, I suppose the good thing about having had far fewer romantic relationships than most people, and certainly fewer than I wanted in high school and college, is that I never really had any bad breakups. Just like, amicably parting when life took us in different directions. Or, you know, one partner dying. Is that too dark? Probably. Um. Let's see...I think pretty much every straight guy of a certain age has listened to "Under My Thumb" after a breakup, but that's more of a revenge fantasy. I'll go with that one.
c) On my way to my first date with my wife, I was listening to Belle & Sebastian's "I'm a Cuckoo," and even though that song doesn't lyrically connect in any way, I always associate it with the excitement and thrilling terror of new love.
EF: What is your go-to for mopey music?
BH: I like that first R.E.M. record for a rainy day. And the Smiths of course, although the older I get, the more I just find myself giggling at the cleverness of the lyrics. You really can't beat some symphonic black metal for a really dark mood. I enjoy Dimmu Borgir's “Death Cult Armageddon”.
EF: Do you write in silence or with a soundtrack? Do you vary your music
depending on what you are writing?
BH: I almost always have music on when I'm writing. And I totally choose the music based on what I'm writing. So for some big heart-rending moment, I'm not playing
"Walking on Sunshine." Actually, I never listen to that song. Although
Kimberley Rew, who is a man, wrote both that song and "Going Down to Liverpool,"
which is also on the first Bangles album. Did I mention that I did almost no research
when writing Hank’s obsessive musical tangents? Kimberley Rew was also a member
of the Soft Boys, who did the original version of "I Wanna Destroy You," which has been
covered a lot of times, most memorably, for me, by the Circle Jerks featuring Debbie
EF: What’s your favorite penny candy?
BH: Blecch. Penny candy is gross. I mean, unless something like Tootsie Rolls count. My candy rule is: If it's not chocolate, I'm not interested. So those candy sticks with the stripes that spiral up the sides, the gross sugar dots on pieces of paper... No, thank you.
BH: I think our book would be friends with some mopey dystopia, and that our book would be like the happy friend that balances the mopey friend out. Hopefully it would be a dystopia with a nice car and excellent snacks in the fridge. Like The Hunger Games. You know The Hunger Games has a pantry full of awesome chips and cookies.
EF: Do you think Hank thinks back on Liana as his first big love—or that they are
BH: I’d like to think they stayed together. We plotted out a sequel that had them breaking up for college, but then maybe getting back together at the end. So yeah, that's what I think happened: brief breakup in college that led them to realize what a terrible mistake they'd made in breaking up.
EF: What is one outstanding memory from the colossal cross-country book tour we did?
BH: Well, I got to see Graceland, which was a fantastic life goal achieved. I remember a great dinner at that Cuban restaurant in Miami that you found for us. I gorged myself on fried yucca. And fried plantains. And fried something else I can't remember. And people coming in to eat dinner with their kids at 10:00 p.m. You also found us that great breakfast spot in Miami. And when we did the event at Books and Books in Coral Gables and that band of teenagers played Fleetwood Mac covers and we were all sitting outside listening to them play— that was pretty awesome.
So, yeah. Miami, I guess was the big highlight. Also I saw Salman Rushdie on the street in Washington, DC. Not a huge fan, but still, he's kind of a big deal.
BH: Heck, yeah. I would very much enjoy hearing a whole bunch of their songs live. I just hope they don't play "Hourglass." I hate that song.
Emily Franklin is the author of Liner Notes and a story collection The Girls’ Almanac. Her most recent YA book, Last Night at the Circle Cinema, is a Junior Library Guild Selection. She has also authored or coauthored ore than a dozen young adult books, including Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom (named to the 2013 Rainbow List) and The Half-Life of Planets (nominated for YALSA’s Best Book of the Year).
Brendan Halpin is a teacher and the author of books for adults and young adults, including the Alex Award–winning Donorboy, Forever Changes, and the Junior Library Guild Selection Shutout. He is also the coauthor, with Emily Franklin, of Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom.