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INTERVIEW: C.J. Farley Shares How BTS Inspired His Latest Novel Zero O’Clock And Capturing The Pandemic From A Youth P.O.V

INTERVIEW: C.J. Farley Shares How BTS Inspired His Latest Novel Zero O’Clock And Capturing The Pandemic From A Youth P.O.V

Being stans, we are so used to the conversation about our favorite artists being limited to fellow stans in the correlating fandom, so when we saw that C.J. Farley’s latest novel was inspired by BTS, we were intrigued. As a music journalist, critic, and author of several books, C.J Farley has written from a relatable P.O.V of young people experiencing the pandemic and found a muse in one of the songs by the Bangtan Boys. From feeling the world come to a halt, our lives being turned upside down with utmost uncertainty, a mental health incline, and global movements, many of us have found escape through our favorites, and BTS has been a comfort for many during these trying times. Zero O’Clock captures a familiar moment in life for many and describes how, like the song proclaims, if you’re going through a bad time, when the clock hits midnight, you can begin again.

We spoke to C.J Farley to discuss how he became a BTS ARMY, the impact they’ve had, and how current events of the pandemic inspired his latest book.

INTERVIEW: C.J. Farley Shares How BTS Inspired His Latest Novel Zero O'Clock And Capturing The Pandemic From A Youth P.O.V The Honey POP
Image Source: C.J Farley

Summary: Geth Montego only has three friends. There’s her best friend Tovah, who’s been acting weird ever since they started applying to the same colleges. Then there’s Diego, who she wants to ask to prom, but if she does it could ruin everything. And there’s the K-POP band BTS, who she’s never seen up close but she’s certain she’d be BFFs with every member of the group if she ever met them for real.

Then Geth’s small town of New Rochelle, New York, becomes the center of a virus sweeping the world. Schools are closed, jobs are lost, and the only human contact she has is over Zoom. After a confrontation with cops, Geth gets caught up in the Black Lives Matter movement and finds herself having to brave the dangers she’s spent months in quarantine trying to avoid.

Geth’s friends, family, and hometown are upended by the pandemic and the protests. Geth faces a choice: Is she willing to risk everything to fight for her beliefs? And what exactly does she believe in, anyway?

INTERVIEW: C.J. Farley Shares How BTS Inspired His Latest Novel Zero O'Clock And Capturing The Pandemic From A Youth P.O.V The Honey POP
Image Source: Akashic Books

Hey, C.J.! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! So to introduce yourself, what three songs would you recommend for people to get to know you better?
If people listen to these songs, I think they’ll have a better sense of what I’m about.
1. BTS, ’00:00 (Zero O’Clock).’ I named my new book, Zero O’Clock, after this BTS song because I think it gets across the idea that every day, just like the clocks, we have an opportunity to start over again and make things even better.

2. Kendrick Lamar, SZA, ‘All The Stars.’ Kendrick Lamar is a musical maverick who helped revitalize the artistic possibilities of hip-hop; SZA is one of my favorite singer-songwriters right now, and her music is on repeat on my playlists. I love artists who push the boundaries of their art forms.

3. Peter Tosh, ‘Equal Rights.’ I grew up in Brockport, New York, but I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, so I had to put a reggae song on this list! Tosh was one of Bob Marley’s bandmates in the Wailers, and this song (from his solo album of the same name) is one of the most powerful musical calls for social justice ever recorded. The album it comes from, also titled Equal Rights, is a must-listen!

4. The Strokes, ‘Selfless.’ Okay, I know you said to pick three, but I had to include a song from the Strokes, one of my favorite rock bands.

5. BTS & Juice WRLD, ‘All Night.’ I had to add one more. The biggest band in the world meets one of the most creative forces in hip-hop. Juice WRLD was taken from this world too soon, but he left behind this incredible collaboration. Songs from BTS and Juice WRLD also pop up in my book Zero O’Clock!

Honestly, we’d struggle with just three, too. You are quite an experienced music journalist, and music undoubtedly plays a significant part in your life. Why do you think so many of us turn to music, especially during times of need?
When times are really bad, when you’re really feeling down, it can be hard to find the words to express what you’re going through. Musicians capture the feelings we can’t always express, and when we hear their songs, we’re able to understand our own pain better, and we’re better positioned to move beyond our suffering. It’s also cathartic to hear that someone else has gone through something that we may have felt was an experience we were going through alone. Music provides empathy, understanding, and an emotional release. Sometimes it’s just great to turn up a song loud and drive around. I recommend playing Agust D’s ‘Daechwita’ or Lauryn Hill’s ‘Ex-Factor’ at the loudest possible volume.

Writing a book that’s related to the harsh realities of today must be very hard, but it is amazing that you were able to find inspiration from these. What is the source of this inspiration?
One of my favorite short stories is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. It’s about a magical town where, when kids come of age, they find out the community’s prosperity is based on a single child being imprisoned in misery. If you watch BTS’s video for their song ‘Spring Day,’ there’s a reference to Le Guin’s story in a scene where a building has a sign reading “Omelas.” When I saw that, I realized that BTS had themes running through their songs that were deeper than many critics gave them credit for and that their music could serve as an inspiration for Geth, the heroine of my book Zero O’Clock.

Every ARMY remembers the moment they were first introduced to BTS. What’s your story when it comes to first discovering the boys?
One of my college roommates is from Seoul, Korea, and he invited me and my teenage daughter to go to a BTS concert some years ago before the group became a global phenomenon. As a music critic, I’ve interviewed some of the greatest musicians in history–Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Adele, Lauryn Hill, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, etc.–and so my standards are high. So we missed the BTS concert, and I paid the price for being a musical snob! My daughter started getting into BTS and told me I needed to give them a chance, and I realized she was right–the group was better and deeper than I had first realized. I especially appreciated the references to Carl Jung’s philosophy in their work. I wish I had taken my daughter to that BTS concert! Anyway, that’s part of the reason why I decided to weave BTS’s music and message into my new novel Zero O’Clock. Much of the climax of ‘Zero O’Clock’ is a kind of journey through Jung’s Map of the Soul–and I have BTS to thank for the inspiration.

Honestly, we feel inspired by them every day! Are there any elements of Zero O’Clock or Geth’s experiences that mirror what you and your teenagers have experienced, especially during the pandemic?
When the pandemic began, both my kids were in high school. I saw that teens, because of the pandemic, were losing out on so much–basketball seasons, cross-country seasons, Model UN trips, in-person classes, proms, dates, friendship, and more. I wrote Zero O’Clock because I wanted to document that loss–and show how people can move beyond it and have even more meaningful and rewarding lives. I want the book to be both comforting and illuminating–and a bit of instant nostalgia for the resilience many kids displayed in getting through these tough times.

INTERVIEW: C.J. Farley Shares How BTS Inspired His Latest Novel Zero O'Clock And Capturing The Pandemic From A Youth P.O.V The Honey POP
Image Source: BIGHIT MUSIC

Your novel touches a lot of important topics, from the pandemic, Black Lives Matter Movement to mental issues. How was the process of writing this book? Can you give tips to new writers who want to write about such important issues?
Writing this book was incredibly difficult. I began it at the start of the pandemic when all of us were going through tumultuous times, politically, socially, medically. The advice I have for writers is to write about the things you care about the most. Write about the things you fear the most. Write about the things you want to change, in the world and in yourself. It will be tough, it may be almost impossible, but if you dare it, if you do it, the book you create will be worth the trouble.

What challenged you the most about writing a neurodivergent character with OCD who has been going through a pandemic, which is a situation she gets affected by differently from others?
I wanted to make sure I got it right, so I consulted a psychiatrist who read through the manuscript and gave me comments and corrections. I wanted to get across the message that having mental, physical, or emotional challenges isn’t something to be ashamed of–in fact, we need to honor people who are confronting such issues. It’s vitally important that we talk about mental health issues openly and remove any trace of stigma or shame. Jack Kerouac, the author of On the Road, once wrote, “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles…” I wanted, in Zero O’Clock, to celebrate the people who others shun and shame.

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It’s no secret that so many of us find comfort in BTS. And they’re not just like any other boyband we’ve seen in music history. Why do you think that is?
One of my former college professors, philosopher Michael Sandel, gave a talk once in which he said the pandemic had given rise to two cultural messages—”social distancing” and the idea that “We’re all in this together”—and it was difficult for many people to reconcile the two concepts. I think BTS manages to bring those two ideas together–without contradiction. They’ve modeled good behavior by getting vaccinated and wearing masks. And even with limited touring, they’ve managed to keep their fans connected and unified. Really great bands like BTS can serve as symbols of how partnerships can create something greater than anyone could have done on their own–if members are willing to set aside their egos. The band is about more than music–they are about positive messages too. BTS’s UN address highlighted the need for action on climate change, the importance of vaccines, and the necessity of sustainable development. BTS also spoke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion of Korean pop culture on the world stage, in part fueled by BTS’s breakthrough. BTS is seven people, but they’re a singular band.

We could talk forever about our love for BTS and our favorite songs. What songs of theirs would you recommend to someone who doesn’t quite believe that they’re more than just pretty faces with nice voices?
Here are ten BTS songs I’d recommend: 1. ’00:00 (Zero O’Clock)’ 2. ‘Spring Day’ 3. ‘Life Goes On’ 4. ‘Euphoria’ 5. ‘Trivia 承: Love’ 6. ‘Daechwita’ (Agust D) 7. ‘All Night’ (BTS & Juice WRLD) 8. ‘Telepathy’ 9) ‘Eight’ (IU feat. SUGA) 10. ‘Fake Love.’

Honestly, those are some solid choices! It’s no surprise that Zero O’Clock is relatable for Gen-Z, who have been living through these very real and difficult times. But what do you hope that older generations who read the book take away from it?
Older generations–fueled by conservative, corporate greed–have screwed up the planet. They’ve failed to combat climate change, they’ve racked up enormous financial debt, and they’ve been unable to fully contain the raging global pandemic. I hope older readers who read Zero O’Clock see how completely previous generations have betrayed young people and, in turn, I hope they are inspired by how young people have responded with passion, hope, and ingenuity as they’ve gone about trying to fix the broken world their parents and grandparents have left them.

I’m totally inspired by people like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, and I wanted to capture some of that activist energy in my novel. I’m also inspired by the new generation of researchers who helped develop a COVID vaccine, like Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, and there’s a part of the novel that pays tribute to her as well. Zero O’Clock is also just a fun book that I hope people–young, old and middle-aged–have a good time reading!

We’ve really enjoyed reading Zero O’Clock! What’s next for you? Do you have any more books planned?
Yes–I’m already hard at work on my next novel!

We’ll be adding that to our TBR list, for sure. Thanks, C.J! We’ve really enjoyed chatting with you.

Zero O’Clock by C.J. Farley is out now!

Will you be reading Zero O’Clock? How has BTS inspired you? Let us know down in the comments below or by tweeting us @TheHoneyPOP!


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