Imagine that your high school has turned into a gladiator arena. Not only is every day a fight for survival...but it's a fight to maintain humanity, too. This is the fictional world that Lex Thomas has built, beginning with Quarantine: The Loners, the first installment in a series of post-apocalyptic thrillers for young adult readers. Lex Thomas is actually a writing team comprised of two men, Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies. The Huffington Post says that Quarantine is "one of the best books I've ever read." Quarantine has been a top 10 contender in BookLists's sci-fi and fantasy books for teens. I was so excited to talk with the two men about their writing and upcoming projects; they have some interesting insight into the realm of survivalist fiction, as well as what it takes to co-write an entire book, and by extension...an entire series.
First of all, I love the idea of your book, a "modern day Lord of the Flies," as it says on the back cover. Where did the idea come from, originally?
Tom had the seed of the idea when he thought what if, instead of cliques in high school, there were gangs that fought to the death, so just walking down the hall would be an adventure. It kept developing and the more we talked about scenes and characters, the more we realized we could really make something fresh in the teen rebellion genre.
I remember the initial excitement of the idea occurring to me, but I’m not sure what the inspiration was. My best guess is that I watched a high school movie I really liked and a horror movie I really I liked in the same week, and they mated in my head and popped out a kid. Wherever the spark came from, the idea of taking the world of high school, that everyone can relate to and has strong feelings toward, and making it into a nightmare, with life or death stakes, and no adult supervision-- that sounded really fun.
How did you decide to co-write this novel? Did you think, at the time, that it would be a series (or is it a trilogy?)?
We’d been screenwriting partners for years before selling Quarantine as a series of novels. Initially, we thought of Quarantine as a single story, but as the world developed, so did its potential for more books. By pre-selling the trilogy, that really locked us in to seeing these characters through their initial arcs and into their series arcs. Try as you might, there’s really no predicting what your characters will become when you’re still two books away from the end. It’s such a different style of storytelling than what we’d been accustomed to because it requires you to leave strands of the story open-ended — and you need to find a way to repeat the premise while reinvigorating it. That took some getting used to, but now it’s become a big part of the way we conceive stories. The biggest reward of writing a series is that the characters and the world gain more dimension with every installment. They become real, and at a certain point those elements are guiding the story, not us.
When we first started working together, we were writing screenplays, and we were almost always in the same room, figuring it out together, with one of us on the keyboard. When there aren’t that many words on the page to fight over, that works pretty well. If you tried to write a novel that way, I don’t know how you’d ever get anything done. And we have deadlines.
So, for novels, we outline together and then write chapters separately. It can change as to who is doing the rough draft of a given chapter, or section of the story, and who’s revising. But either way, it’s a challenge. It’s hard to take a hatchet to the other person’s chapter, and it’s hard to be revised on something you just wrote, even when you think the revisions are sound. All that aside, working with someone else closely on a story allows you to problem-solve more effectively when you’re confronted with a problem (or millions of them) that feels un-crackable.
I know firsthand that creative endeavors can be difficult! If you guys disagree on a plot point for your stories, how do you work it out?
Like Tom said, we have deadlines, and if we want to see our books published, we have to find a way to keep moving. That’s usually enough incentive to find common ground, but generally the person who’s most passionate about a particular issue gets his way.
What books or stories inspire you to write?
When I was a kid, my dad would read me high adventure books like Treasure Island and The Hobbit. Both of those editions had tremendous illustrations that captivated my imagination, the first by NC Wyeth and the second by Michael Hague. I must have ranked books with amazing illustrators high, because one of the books I remember first reading on my own and carrying around with me everywhere was Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark by Alvin Schwartz. The black and white drawings by Stephen Gammell were nightmarish and gruesome, and I would study them intently as I read and re-read every short story inside. The book was a collection of horror-based folklore, ghost stories and urban legends that, I can see now, was a gateway to reading all the Stephen King and Ray Bradbury that followed.
Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison. That was the first novel I remember reading for pleasure. My brother told me about the story and I had to read it. Bill was a space marine who had two left arms. He was tricked into enlisting, was always trying to get laid, and always making me laugh. I thought the book was fun and hilarious, and until then I had no idea that a book could take me into such an odd, funny, imaginative world like that.
What is each of your guys' favorite character from Quarantine (Book 1)?
I think I’d say David. I relate to his sense of responsibility. I have a family, and I can’t help but evaluate every decision I make with my wife and kids in mind. Life is a fine balance between selfish and selfless, and that’s the essence of David’s struggle. What I’m proud of is that characters in this book aren’t always awarded for doing the right thing (in fact, often they’re punished) but they still keep fighting.
I’m more into Will. He isn’t necessarily heroic, but I have a soft spot for characters that are a little broken, the ones who try their best but can’t seem to stop making the wrong choices, and can’t seem to think before they act. I’m not like that, I tend to over-think things, so maybe that’s why I gravitate toward the misguided impulsive one.
What's next for your series? Any more books planned?
QUARANTINE: THE GIANT hits bookstorelex-thomas.com.th. It’s a spin-off featuring one of our favorite characters from Book 1 — Gonzalo, the ax-wielding Loner — on an epic journey outside McKinley High to find the girl he loves. You can find out more at
Lex Hrabe received a BA in Drama and English from the University of Virginia. On the path to being a novelist, he’s been a farmhand, a bartender, a library assistant, an executive assistant, a personal assistant, an unwitting assistant at a thinly-veiled criminal enterprise, a very nervous waiter, a pizza delivery guy, a furniture mover, an actor in commercials you can YouTube, and a screenwriter. He lives in Virginia with his wife and two daughters.
Thomas Voorhies received a BFA in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he paces around in a loft downtown, writing, painting, watching movies, and listening to comedy. He spends the rest of his time silently watching people or joking around.