1. What is it like being a debut novelist with an LGBTQ book? What challenges do marketing and publicity pose because of the novel’s LGBTQ character and plot-focus?
From a personal standpoint, it's really exciting for me to be publishing my first book, and the fact that it's about a gay teen is almost unbelievable to me. When I was in high school, less than twenty years ago, there were no books available that represented people like me, and the fact that I'm able to contribute to the growing field of books for and about LGBT teens is just fantastic.
2. What did you set out to do you when you wrote Way to Go? What inspired the writing of the novel? Was it your first novel attempt, or had you tried others before? If so, what made this one different?
Like so many debuts, WAY TO GO is (very loosely) semi-autobiographical, and drew on some experiences in my own life. I grew up in the 90s on Cape Breton Island, which is a sparsely populated and incredibly beautiful part of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. I have many wonderful memories of being a young person in that place at that time, but it was also a painful period in my life - I felt very isolated because of my sexuality, and I ended up hiding who I really was for a long time. Basically, the novel began as an attempt to capture some of that, and although it isn't based on real events or characters, it definitely comes from that space in my heart and my memories. I also wanted to tell a story about friendship, and I think I pulled it off.
I've been writing my whole life, and I've got lots of bits and pieces of other novels trunked away, but this is the first book that I wrote from start to finish. Once I began to tell an honest and straightforward story that drew on my own teenage years, things really began to flow, and I discovered that I loved writing for teens. My second book is coming out from Orca next year, and I'm almost done with my third book. Luckily, now that I've proven to myself that I can write a book, I have no shortage of new ideas!
3. Your publisher, Orca, is a smaller publisher of YA in comparison to the bigger publishers. What is it like working with them, and how did working with a small publisher alter how your LGBTQ novel was received and pushed?
Orca has been fantastic to work with. From the get go, it was clear that I would be working with a wonderful group of people, from my editor right through to the marketing and design teams. Everyone's really approachable, and it helps that I'm in the same city as Orca's head office! Orca also has a tradition of publishing some really great books about important and topical subjects. They've been incredibly supportive of Way to Go, and I knew that they'd treat my story with sensitivity, and do everything possible to get it in front of readers.
4. In Way to Go, you choose a small town as the setting for your boy-comes-into-his-sexuality story. What prompted that decision when small towns are often the setting for LGBTQ books? What does Way to Go do with the setting and plotline that differentiates it from other books of its type?
It's funny, Way to Go has been very well received by most readers, but a couple of people have questioned my choice to tell a coming out story that takes place in a small town. All I can really say is that, as I mentioned, a great deal of Way to Go is drawn from authentic experience, and the emotions are heartfelt. It was the story I needed to tell, it really is as simple as that. I also think that the experience of growing up gay in a small town is particularly difficult, and lends itself well to fiction. That said, my next book is totally contemporary, and is set in the burbs, outside an unnamed Canadian city, so I'm already breaking the small town mould - on that book, at least!
I hope that YA novelists continue to explore the coming out theme. It's part of every gay person's journey, and there are as many coming out stories as there are gay people, each of them different in their own way - all of which makes the subject as rich and legitimate a topic for literature as any other important milestone in a young person's life, whether it's first love, the loss of a family member, or the shifting dynamics of friendship. There are countless books about those subjects as well, but we don't expect people to stop writing books about them in fresh and unique ways, so I don't know why we'd somehow decide en masse that coming-out stories have seen their day.
Way to Go is a relatively straightforward story, but it's also unique in that it takes place in a very specific time and place. I also think it has some things to say about the ways in which male friends interact with each other, and how difficult it can be for a closeted gay guy to navigate those relationships and still achieve a comfortable sense of self.
5. What do you hope that readers – both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ – will take away from Way to Go? What does it say to the teen audience that will leave an impression on them?
The most important thing that I'd like people to take away from the story, whether gay or straight, is how important it is to learn to respect yourself. The world is a wonderful place, and every one of us has so much potential, but we also live in a world full of judgement and criticism and ideological polarity, and it can be tough to figure out who you are in the middle of all that pressure. Young people - all people for that matter - need the opportunity to discover their truth, and to live their own journey.
6. Are you working on any other projects at the moment? Do they involve LGBTQ characters or themes?
Yes! My next novel, Tag Along will be published by Orca in September 2013. It's a total departure from WTG and was an absolute blast to write. In a nutshell, it's about four 17 year olds, none of whom are friends, and one wild night that they end up unexpectedly experiencing together. It's written from four POVs - two guys and two girls - in alternating chapters. One of the characters is indeed gay, and for people who've read Way to Go I'll just say that he couldn't be further from Danny if he tried!
I think the future is bright. There have been some horror stories about LGBT themed books not getting picked up because of the subject matter, but despite that, I think we're seeing more great gay teen fiction all the time. I have nothing but great things to say about my publisher, and with the exception of a couple of minor hiccups, response from booksellers and librarians has also been really enthusiastic. The bottom line is that these stories need to be told - it's crucial that gay kids be able to find themselves in books, and I have no doubt that plenty of the enthusiastic young readers out there will end up writing some of their own fabulous stories down the road!