Don’t you just love when authors buddy up to talk about their work? I certainly do! So I’m thrilled to have the authors of two new queer YAs chatting on the site today about their books, experiences, and character choices.
Amber Smith’s Something Like Gravity releases today, and you can find out more about it here. If you’re a follower of the blog, you’re already well familiar with Mason Deaver’s I Wish You All the Best, which was our May New Release Spotlight! Get to know both authors and books by reading on!
AMBER: I’m so excited to have the chance to chat with you, Mason (and by the way, we are here together in person at one of our favorite local coffee shops right now, so caffeine is definitely fueling this conversation!)
I first remember seeing tons of buzz about your debut, I Wish You All the Best last year, and I was so interested, especially because our books had some similarities (both are first love stories that feature a gender nonconforming protagonist). And when I looked you up, I couldn’t believe we both lived in Charlotte, North Carolina! So I promptly sent you a DM on Twitter to ask if we could meet up – I love connecting with other authors, and you were so gracious to meet me for coffee – we talked about lots of things that first time we met: books and writing, LGBTQ stuff, life in general, being in the South.
I moved to NC about ten years ago after having lived my whole life up North. But you’ve lived in NC your whole life… So I’m curious, what was your experience like growing up queer in the South?
MASON: Very weird, growing up there weren’t a lot of openly queer people at my schools, and those that were, were considered the ‘weird kids’ and so part of me always repressed that sort of thing. The South definitely has a reputation when it comes to queer people, especially queer teens, I think. What was it like for you? I know you grew up in New York, so that must’ve been a big departure from what you knew.
AMBER: Yes, it was a pretty big culture shock for me at first (not to mention the humidity down here!). It’s strange, even though I grew up in a more liberal environment in New York, I had a similar experience with there not being any queer people who were out at my high school (I am also, eh-hmm, a bit older than you, so I was in high school a lot longer ago than you were). But I still didn’t feel comfortable coming out to my family until years later as an adult. When I finally did come out to my mom, she was so supportive and accepting, but I remember her telling me that had I come out to her when I was a teenager (a decade or so earlier), she wasn’t sure she would’ve taken it so well. I think people’s perspectives can evolve and change with time.
What about you, Mason? What was your coming out experience like?
MASON: Whew boy, you know, speaking to the liberal environment for just a second. It’s been funny moving to a city in the South that is considered more ‘liberal’ and ‘open-minded’ but still being afraid to really be who I am. Which I think may just be the fear for any queer person no matter where they live or what environment they grew up in. But coming out is still a weird thing for me. I have friends who know, and people in my life who I’m comfortable telling, but it’s still very much a new thing. I’ve never officially come out to any of my family, and when it comes to introducing myself to strangers, I’m still in a place where I don’t tell them right away, like a defense mechanism of sort, which is feel is a very familiar feeling for loads of trans people.
AMBER: Oh yes, I totally get that! For so many years, I didn’t feel safe being out to anyone except a very close circle of friends, and while I will be forever grateful for their love and support, it made my world feel very small. I think you’re right, we still live in a time where so many queer people (especially when you live in the South, like you and I) have to be really mindful of our surroundings. I hate that I still have to check in on my own safety before holding my partner’s hand in public or simply saying “I love you” or calling her “honey” if I know people might overhear. But this is still a reality for so many of us.
Which makes me think of I Wish You All the Best – you chose to have your main character, Ben, not come out to their new classmates. What was it that influenced your decision to have Ben go back in the closet?
MASON: That was a very tough decision to make, because you want the best for your characters, right? And you don’t want them to have to go through anything harsh, but a character going back into the closet was something I’d never seen in any book before. But I’ve been there before, basically feeling like I have an arm or a leg out there, but still mostly firmly being in the closet or totally going back in around certain people or places. It all goes back to that defense mechanism thing, this way we have to protect ourselves. Which sucks because this is such a vital part of who we are, but for a lot of queer people, it comes down to either being ourselves, or surviving.
AMBER: Such a good point, Mason. I feel like “coming out” is often perceived as like this monumental before and after divide in a queer person’s life, but the reality is, we have to come out over and over again, when we meet new people, or making the decision to correct someone when they make a wrong assumption about our identities. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been asked about my husband or boyfriend, and sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it (or wise) to correct them.
I had to make a similar decision with my main character, Chris, in Something Like Gravity, who is struggling with whether or not he will come out to his love interest, Maia. He wants to be honest and show his true self, but is also afraid of losing the relationship, or something even worse happening if he reveals himself. While I’m not transgender, I’ve had to weigh similar options over and over in my life. And you’re right, it does suck!
If you had to say what you think the most important step/things that we can all be doing to move the needle towards all queer people being safe and accepted, what would it be?
MASON: Oh, I feel that ‘constantly coming out’ thing. It’s never a one and done kind of thing. When you’re queer (visibly or otherwise) you’re constantly weighing in your head, picking your battles and deciding whether or not it’s worth it.
That’s something I loved about Something Like Gravity, was Chris’ decisions. Because it’s hard to trust people, even the people you think you can assume the best of, or even love. There are so many moments where Ben wants to come out to Nathan, but doesn’t. Because there are so many alarms going off in your head like do you really know this person? Will they really react the way you want?
As for moving the needle? I think we’re already doing so much. Publishing is at the height of queer inclusion, I think. Not to say there isn’t more work to do, there are still so many chances that haven’t been given to queer authors of color, or disabled queer authors (or any intersection of the three), but I also feel that we’re steadily moving towards the right place. It’s just taking us a long time to get there unfortunately.
AMBER: Yes, I couldn’t agree more! When I look at where things were when I was a teenager (some twenty years ago now!) there were practically zero queer books out there, and I mean, YA was barely a genre yet, so there has been so much progress. It is very encouraging to see so many new and diverse voices being embraced. There is truly nothing more powerful than sharing our stories and experiences.
And that’s one of the things I loved so much about I Wish You All the Best – that it isn’t just a coming out story, but it’s also a love story. Ben and Nathan’s relationship was so beautiful and felt so real; the way they each gradually opened up to one another and earned each other’s trust was so natural. Was the love story thread always such a prominent part of the book, or was it something that developed as you were writing?
MASON: Well Ben and Nathan have always been Ben and Nathan (or BeNathan, which was a happy accident). In my head they’ve always been destined to be there for one another, it’s always been Ben and Nathan for me. I think it’s so important that we showcase queer teens living and thriving. Getting their love interest, accomplishing their goals, getting the chance to live happy lives.
And for me, there’s no doubt that Ben and Nathan live a happy life together. They’re meant for each other, and I don’t like the idea of them ever being separated from one another. I see a lot of tweets about how it’s more realistic to show people breaking up, that high school relationships hardly last past graduation. And while I think those stories are definitely needed and wanted, with Ben and Nathan I want them to have a happily ever after. I think they deserve it.
What about you? What inspired this love thread through Something Like Gravity? Your other books have handled pretty heavy topics, so was it tough to find a balance between the two in this latest book?
AMBER: BeNathan – I love that (you totally need to start a hashtag!) I agree, I think it’s just as important to show both sides of experience as a queer person: the challenges and hardships, but also the joys and triumphs. I actually started writing Chris and Maia’s stories as two separate books at first. Chris’s story was primarily about his journey with coming out as trans (and a lot of the problems and heartache he was going through because of it). Maia’s story was all about her grief over her sister’s death and trying to rediscover who she was going to be.
I was working on their stories at the same time, but at a certain point they just became too bleak, and I thought about giving each of them a love interest as a way to lighten things up a bit…but then it hit me: Chris and Maia would be perfect for each other! And so, I started re-writing their stories as one book, and I’m so glad that I did. Writing SLG was good for my soul. I loved being able to show a more positive aspect of a queer life through a respectful, loving, romantic relationship.
So, on that note, what’s next for you? Do you plan to continue writing queer characters and storylines?
MASON: Definitely, I remember times even when I was in high school not having a lot of queer books to pick from. And even the ones that were there weren’t… we’ll say the best. I’ve got a second book in the works, and I’d love to venture into middle grade at some point with a few ideas. More queer stories all around, I really can’t imagine writing a book with a non-queer main character haha.
What about you? Any future plans you can talk about with us here or is everything hush hush?
AMBER: Ha, yes I know exactly what you mean! Now that I’m finally out in both my life and in my writing, I have no intention of going back into the closet! It’s still a little hush hush, but I can say that I plan on continuing queer representation in my books – I’m toying with some different genres and formats myself, including (fingers crossed) a middle grade novel, as well.
Okay, my last question for you is a fun one: Since we love getting together for coffee, what do you think Ben and Nathan’s favorite drinks on the menu here would be?
MASON: Oh I like this, unfortunately it won’t be some super fancy coffee drink, Ben would definitely go for a Limonade Classique (can you tell we’re in a French inspired café?) I guess there’s just something about the color yellow that calls to them, I don’t know.
As for Nathan, he’d be the most extra. Like more sugar that actual caffeine or coffee. So he’d pick a Salted Caramel Brownie Café Mocha. That kid’s dentist is going to have a field day. What about Chris and Maia? What are their drinks of choice?
AMBER: Ah yes, very good choices, Ben and Nathan! I think Chris (being a Northerner like me) would love the Café Fouetté – a fancy French iced espresso drink – he would need the caffeine to keep up with all of the overthinking and over planning and worrying he likes to do on the long drives he takes in his old clunker of a car. But Maia (who is a North Carolinian) is a bit more low-key than Chris, a little more laid back, so I think she’d go for something more subtle and sweet, like Lavender + Honey Soda.
Well, that’s it for our coffee talk – thank you Mason, and HUGE thanks to Dahlia Adler and LGBTQ Reads for having us!
Mason Deaver is a non-binary author and librarian in a small town in North Carolina where the word ‘y’all’ is used in abundance.
When they aren’t writing or working, they’re typically found in their kitchen baking something that’s bad for them, or out in their garden complaining about the toad that likes to dig holes around their hydrangeas.
Amber Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of the young adult novels The Way I Used to Be, The Last to Let Go, and Something Like Gravity. An advocate for increased awareness of gendered violence, as well as LGBTQ equality, she writes in the hope that her books can help to foster change and spark dialogue surrounding these issues. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her partner and their ever-growing family of rescued dogs and cats. You can find her online at AmberSmithAuthor.com.