I’m not gonna lie, dear readers. I did tear up at this post. It’s 2017 and it has been a literal hell of a year, and I know that for so many creators, it’s really hard to answer the question “Why keep going?” I think and hope this guest post from Chase Night, celebrating the revamped re-release of his gay YA, Chicken, helps answer that for many.
Starting December 19, a self-published version of Chicken will be available with a gorgeous new cover and several deleted scenes and other bonus material. And tonight, catch an exciting dramatization of the first chapter in “Welcome to Hickory Ditch, 2012” an episode of NPR’s Arts & Letters with J. Bradley Minnick, featuring music from some amazing artists like Daniel Martin Moore and Humming House. (Podcast link here.)
For sixteen-year-old Casper Quinn, there’s only one good thing about attending a fire-and-brimstone Pentecostal church in Hickory Ditch, Arkansas, and that’s Brant Mitchell, the pot-smoking, worship-leading golden boy he’s gone and fallen in love with. But just as the sparks between them finally start to fly, a political firestorm erupts over everyone’s favorite fast food chicken chain, Wings of Glory. Caught in the middle of the cultural crossfire, Casper and Brant will do whatever it takes to protect their secret. But feelings aren’t the only thing Brant has been hiding in this magical Southern Gothic romance, and when the truth comes out, Casper’s faith in him will be put to an unimaginable test.
Fans of Jeff Zentner, John Corey Whaley, and Patrick Ness will devour this timely yet timeless tale of first love, fried chicken, and the things we give ourselves permission to believe in. Chicken will keep teens and adults alike swooning and swearing ’til the very last bite.
Buy it now with the original cover at Amazon, or revisit that link on December 19th to buy the brand-new one!
And now, the guest post:
At some point during the three very long years I spent writing Chicken, after I had finally let the editor who has agreed to publish it sight-unseen read a partial draft, he told me he was worried that it was going to be dated by the time I finished. He suggested cutting down on pop culture references from 2012 and setting the book in the vague future, “maybe 2017” instead.
I refused. For several story-related reasons, but also because the state of Arkansas, where I live and the book takes place, had just begun issuing same-sex marriage licenses in May 2014, becoming the first Bible Belt state to do so. That had seemed impossible on August 1, 2012 when I started writing Chicken after driving by a local Chick-Fil-A that required police presence to direct all the traffic our former governor Mike Huckabee had sent their way. So I told my editor that 2012 was non-negotiable because if things had already changed this much in two years then there was no telling how much better things would be by 2017.
*pause for everyone to look deadpan into the camera like Jim from The Office, another increasingly dated reference from a simpler time*
After the election, like so many others, I had a crisis of faith. Stories are the closest thing I have to a religion, but it seemed they didn’t have quite the power I’d imagined. How does one read Harry Potter and still vote for Donald Trump? How do you vote for Donald Trump and then un-ironically cry during Rogue One (and not out of crushing guilt)? If some of the most heavy-handed warnings written since WWII couldn’t reach people, why bother writing stories at all?
After eighteen months of publication, I stopped trying to promote Chicken. And when its publisher announced this summer that they were closing and all rights would be reverted, there was even a moment when I thought, “Good. I can just take it down and get out of this business entirely.”
There’s this kid. I won’t tell you how I know them, or what their gender is, because I won’t take even a tiny risk of outing them, and actually, it’s more than one kid anyway. And these kids watch the news and they hear their parents praise the President and they go to churches that blame them for everything that President hasn’t “fixed” and they sit through in-class “debates” moderated by the likes of Matt Lauer and they get shoved into lockers by teenagers already sporting Trump/Pence stickers on their bumpers and these kids are angry and they are afraid, but they wear pride buttons on their backpacks and hold hands in the hallways and there was even that time one of them punched a church girl in the stomach for saying something rude about an elderly transwoman in our town, which doesn’t make punching her okay, but you have to admit, it’s still a pretty heart-warming story.
And I’ve realized no matter how dark this thing gets, there will always be this: the first time a brush of someone’s hand turns your world upside down, the first time a friend calls you by the name you’ve picked out, the first time you kiss someone that matters, the first time they break your heart, the first time a stranger reads you with the right pronoun, or the first time someone doesn’t make you feel broken when you tell them you’re really not that interested in sex at all. I think about how many of those firsts are happening here, even in this hostile place, and I think about how many millions more are happening elsewhere, how they’re adding up, gathering strength, gaining speed, all of these kids hurtling toward that one really big first, the one that maybe matters the most.
You know the one I mean. It starts with a V.
The first time they vote in 2018.
God forbid my own despair, my own feelings of futility, convince even one of them that doesn’t matter! And so, I adjust my thinking. Let go of delusions of grandeur. Perhaps the purpose of a YA novel isn’t to win the battle for them; perhaps it’s to keep the soldiers on the front line from losing heart.
Look, here you are! Right here, pages 1 through 370. Beautiful. Brave. Beloved. Bad ass. You can do this.
Walking through a bookstore, one of these kids tells me they wish there were more books about people like them, and I say, “I know. But there’s more than you think, and I promise you a lot of people are trying to fix it.” And then I look down and spot A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. I hand it to the kid, feeling like a very magical adult-type person. “Look, here’s one now!”
Chase Night is an author, editor, and bookhat model, living in Arkansas with his wife and their animals. Chicken is his first novel.