'Small Stories That Feel Huge'

'Veronica Mars' creator Rob Thomas shares his youthful energy

Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas (Photo by John Anderson)

"That green screen? That'll be a plane," says Rob Thomas, pointing at his computer screen.

I nod absently. I'm watching scenes from the new Veronica Mars movie, squinting at the screen over Rob's shoulder to catch the precise moment when Veronica and Logan see each other for the first time after nearly a decade. Suddenly, Veronica catches her breath. So do I.

The comedy-noir television series Veronica Mars may have been canceled by the CW in 2007, but fans who loved the ferociously smart and tough-talking teen detective played by Kristen Bell donated almost $6 million in April to resurrect her on the big screen. Now, after years of trying unsuccessfully to get the movie made, Rob is finally wrapping up post-production on the first ever fan-funded studio film.

That's a lot of pressure. As we watch the nearly finished movie, set to release in January 2014, Rob keeps the running commentary going. We are in his Austin office, a garage apartment with framed Veronica Mars posters leaning against the walls and a solitary, browning houseplant sitting on the coffee table. Rob picks it up and shudders. "This is depressing. Why are we keeping a houseplant here when I'm only here on weekends? It's not good for the plant."

Neither is it good for Rob, who lives in Austin with his wife and child but currently spends his weekdays rushing from meeting to meeting in Los Angeles. He'd like nothing better than to work on his next project in the city he has loved ever since transferring in the mid-Eighties to the University of Texas from Texas Christian University, where he was attending college on a football scholarship.

To illustrate that pivotal moment in his life, he shows me a pair of pictures on his iPhone taken less than two years apart.

"There I am at 18, a college freshman at TCU." A stadium shot of a wholesome, blue-jerseyed football player with tidy hair and an all-American grin. "And this is my first UT student ID, taken 18 months later." He flashes a dingy scan of an orange-tinted ID, the cocky, bleary-eyed hipster staring out from the corner, mugshot-style. Only the smile is the same.

"Wow," I say. "Mullet and flannel shirt and everything."

"How quickly I slid into the abyss."

In those before-and-after shots, Veronica Mars fans might see shades of straight-edge nice guy Duncan Kane (played by Teddy Dunn) and disaffected rebel Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring). I, having just read Rob's 1996 young adult novel Rats Saw God, considered something of a classic by YA librarians, am more inclined to see Steve York, its earringed, pot-smoking protagonist. Simon & Schuster reissued Rats Saw God in the spring with a new cover, and Rob is stealing a Saturday from his hectic schedule to appear at the upcoming Austin Teen Book Festival, where he will share a stage with bestselling young adult authors Sarah Dessen and Lauren Myracle.

Although Rob says he did not originally intend to write Rats Saw God as YA, it's easy to see the theme of adolescent experience that runs through his work. Rob, who taught high school journalism in San Antonio before his writing career launched, admits to having a soft spot for stories from the teen years. "It's a period in your life where everything is high drama. You look back as an adult, and those moments don't feel like they should have been huge, but they're so automatically huge when you're 15, 16, 17. There's something I like about telling these small stories that feel huge."

Rob laughs. "I don't know. I hear there's a good teen movie out, I'm excited about it. I'm a couple years from 50, and I still want to see it."

So do we, Rob. So do we.

Rob Thomas will speak at the Austin Teen Book Festival at 12:15pm on Sept. 28 (Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez, free). To read the Chronicle's full-length interview with Rob Thomas about the upcoming Veronica Mars film, his own adolescence, and why he loves to write about teenagers, see the Books blog: austinchronicle.com/books.

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