TJ Klune is joining us today to talk about his novel, Under the Whispering Door. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Welcome to Charon’s Crossing.
The tea is hot, the scones are fresh, and the dead are just passing through.
When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead.
And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead.
But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.
Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home.
What’s TJ’s favorite bit?
The world of Under the Whispering Door—where death is not an ending, but the beginning of something else entirely—is populated by characters who all have a different relationship with death. Some are alive, some have died and haunt the tea shop that acts as a way station for the deceased, to give them a chance for rest and come to terms with their death, all while preparing them to go through the eponymous door. All have their strengths, their weaknesses, and I adored every moment I got to spend with them.
However, there is one character in particular that I love and hate in equal measure. Though her page time is minimal, Desdemona Tripplethorne makes her mark when she saunters into the teashop with a mission and an underserved sense of entitlement. Considering herself to be a medium of sorts, she hosts a show called “Desdemona Tripplethorne’s Sexy Seances”, and believes with all her heart that the teashop is haunted. Though she doesn’t have any proof, that doesn’t stop her from trying, bring her two lackies with her, suited men only called The Tall Man and The Squat Man. They act as her employees (read: servants), and help her to run the show.
Desdemona (absolutely not her real name) is, frankly, a grifter. If you’re in the US and are of a certain age, you probably remember Miss Cleo (“CALL ME NOW!!!”) or John Edwards, who somehow finagled an entire talk show where he supposedly helped grieving people speak to their dearly departed loved ones. Mr. Edwards refers to himself a “psychic medium” and his schtick was to say vague things until someone in the audience found some sort of connection to it, and he’d pounce, telling them, “Yes, your father is—uh, no, it’s your grandfather! Wait. Your uncle? I’m getting something with an M. Like an mmm sound. Is that familiar?” You have shows like Long Island Medium (yeesh) or Ghost Hunters (I admit, I was hooked for a long while), all proclaiming to provide evidence that ghosts exist.
Do I believe there are such things as mediums or psychics, those who can speak with the dead? Ask me today, I’ll say no. Ask me tomorrow, I might change my mind. I believe in ghosts. Always have. Always will. But I also I know there are way more people who say they can commune with the dead than can actually do it. Grifters, who prey upon people lost in grief, forcing them to pay up in order to speak with their lost loved ones.
At first blush, Desdemona reads as exactly that, and intentionally so. She’s not necessarily concerned with helping others, more so focused on what evidence of ghosts could do for her and her career. She has a Ouija board, a camera set up to record, and all the tools of the trade that goes along with “ghost hunting.”
And she is so ridiculously awful, and for some reason, I can’t help but begrudgingly adore her. As soon as she makes her first appearance, you absolutely know she’s full of shit. But what I find interesting about her is that she doesn’t necessarily care what people think of her, or her work. She’s in it for herself and makes no excuses for it.
But is she really?
What I love about characters like her is that it’s all about layers. Again, she only appears in a couple of scenes, but by the time she departs, your opinion of her might change. No spoilers, of course, but underneath the made-up exterior, under all the bluster and noise, there just might be a good person somewhere in there.
And that’s, ultimately, what Under the Whispering Door is about: realizing the cost of one’s actions (or inactions) and what it takes to live a better life. Not just for one’s own soul, but for the betterment of everyone in our orbits and the world around us. Desdemona Tripplethorne might not be a good person, but I believe, by the end of her arc, the reader will see that she just might be capable of it. She might not ever get there, but all anyone ever needs is a chance.
(Also, as a bonus favorite bit: Wallace—the main character who dies in the first pages of the book—gets a chance to mess with Desdemona and her Ouija board. And he does so with gusto.)
TJ KLUNE is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling, Lambda Literary Award-winning author of The House in the Cerulean Sea, The Extraordinaries, and more. Being queer himself, Klune believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive queer representation in stories.