Better Know an Author: Candice Montgomery

You may have already heard me hype Candice Montgomery a million times, but honestly, it’ll never be enough. Their voice in YA is like nothing else out there, and if you haven’t yet read their work, I hope this’ll convince you to dive in! (If not, just read the acknowledgements of By Any Means Necessary, which just released on October 8 and is basically a master class in voice all on its own.) Especially if you’ve been looking for more queer and/or nonbinary Black voices and/or Muslim voices, have I got some wonderful news for you. So please welcome the utterly fabulous Candice Montgomery!
New book! New book! It’s well documented that I’m obsessed with Torrey and By Any Means Necessary, but could you please share a little about your sophomore novel and how it came to be for those who didn’t get an early read?
HAAA! It is absolutely well documented that you run my literary (and personal) life better than I do.
So, By Any Means Necessary is a story about a newly minted college freshman. He’s hyped and ready to take on his new town up in San Francisco, and nervousness—though present!—takes a backseat. That is, until he gets news that the apiary he owns back home, by way of his late uncle, is being seized.
So he’s torn between taking on this new thing that’s only about Torrey himself (and also maybe a little about a certain dancer boy named Gabriel) and going home to a place that’s chewed him up raw, all to save his uncle’s legacy.
The idea for BAMN came to me when a friend and I were on the phone talking about gentrification and how it was affecting us directly, as individuals. And then, common to our conversational flow, we segued into talking about weird hobbies for main characters. She talked about her characters operating a vineyard and I suddenly had the idea for a character to run a bee farm where his struggle (getting stung constantly) and his desire to be free (flying away from the hive he knows) would mirror his hobby. In Torrey’s case, his passion.
Queerness (and specifically queer characters of color) also feature in your debut Home and Away, which has a kickass female football-playing protag and a wonderful male love interest who happens to be bi. What would you say draws Tasia and Kai together, and in your mind, where are they now?
I think Taze and Kai are opposite sides of the same very big coin. And that’s what works for them. Kai brings out Tasia’s looser side and she not only lets Kai just be who he is, but she actively enjoys it. It’s basically just two teens who don’t feel they fit in finding out that they actually DO. With each other.
In my mind, Taze and Kai are still very much together but also attending separate colleges about an hour from one another. Taze is playing ball for Cal and studying Pan African Studies and Kai is over at the San Francisco Art Institute taking the art world by storm. And making Taze laugh while he does it.
For readers looking for even more of your published work, you’ve got a fabulous story in Habibi, the all-Muslim anthology edited by Hadeel Al-Massari and Nyala Ali, starring a Muslim girl who’s managing both depression and her feelings for her best friend, a trans guy named Aaron. What made this the story you wanted to tell in this collection in particular?
Oof! Thank you! I love that story and that anthology so much. Don’t forget about that one by the way. It’s got big plans for the future.
But my story in Habibi is called “Love God Herself.” And it’s a story I wanted to tell because a muslimah (now) friend of mine tweeted on a trending about wanting to see hijabis who are questioning their faith, who are bucking back against traditional Islamic partnerships, who are depressed and not instantly healed, all—MASHALLAH!!!
I reached out to her. Asked her if she’d write it. And then she turned around and asked ME if I would.
And speaking of anthologies, we’ll get even more Cam goodness in 2020 when you feature in the upcoming all-queer anthology Out Now: Queer We Go Again!, the contemporary followup to All Out, once again edited by Saundra Mitchell. What can you tell us about your story for that collection?
My story for Out Now was honestly one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written. I’m so in love with it. I struggled for months with it and then one night it all just poured out of me, start to finish. I didn’t even read it through before I sent it off to Saundra; I was already so past deadline. Twice. And from there, I didn’t get asked to make any structural changes to the story, either. Just a few grammatical things. It’s a raw story and probably the best thing I’ll ever write. It’s about a skateboarding enby who has a crush on a girl whom they think will NEVER notice them. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t. But the main character will take you all the way through it.
Cam Anthology Goodness of 2020 Part II has you breaking into MG in Once Upon an Eid! What was it like to write for a younger audience, and is it something you could see yourself doing in longer form?
First—CAM ANTHOLOGY GOODNESS OF 2020! YESSSS. ONCE has been such a fun process. It was just happy-making anytime I worked on it. This was my first time writing ANYTHING MG. And immediately after my story was submitted, I started drafting an MG novel of my own. It’s on hold for a moment, but I’m 12K words deep and still sooo excited about it.
You’re such a great advocate for more midlist authors and especially for other queer/trans Black authors, and QTAoC in general. What books and authors would you love to see get more attention, and what queer books have meant a lot to you as a both an author and a reader?
Oooh! I love this question. There are a few key QTAoC that I’d undoubtedly return to religiously, one of whom being Rivers Solomon (they), author of An Unkindness of Ghosts. It is the queer Afro-futurist fic of my marshmallow heart. And I wish I’d written it myself. Also entirely jealous of this human’s 12-ton talent: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (they). I should say that these are some pretty heavy novels, though. But I think anybody who reads them will be made better for them. My heart needed ’em.
And if we’re talking books that formed me as both an author and a reader—it’s not fiction, it’s a memoir. But my favorite book in the world, the reason I was able to tell my family I’m queer, the path through which I found my label as a Pansexual person—it’s Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir. Yes, it’s a memoir. Yes, it’s horrifically heartbreaking. Yes, it ends in a way that will ruin your entire week (lololo). But also… it’s romantic in ways I’ve never seen expressed on the page before.
What’s your first memory of LGBTQIAP+ representation in the media, for better or for worse?
Glee. It was, unfortunately, when Glee introduced Kurt and… the kid with the chin and the hair? Blaine? My mom and my little sister and I would watch it together every week and I remember sitting in strained, awkward silence with them, while such an explicit and open GAY display moved across the television. We never talked about it. I just wanted it to be over, not for my discomfort, but for theirs. My mom and sister’s. I wanted to tone down my relationship to queerness in order to make others more comfortable.
And as far as I knew, out of the 3 of us, I was the only one who connected to it. (spoiler: my little sister is out and openly panromantic polyamorous).
As someone contributing to a couple of great collections next year, what would be a dream project for you specifically to helm? 
I absolutely have an answer to this… but that’s all I can say for now. Stay tuned! 😉
What can you share about what you’re working on right now?
Right now, I’m pulling my own teeth out trying to draft a new YA romance about two Black teens who explore their ancestry through Hoodoo and Voodoo. It’s difficult. And it’s unlike anything I’ve written before.
***
Candice “Cam” Montgomery is an LA transplant now living in the woods of Seattle, where they write Young Adult novels. Their debut novel, featured on the 2018 Kirkus Best list, HOME AND AWAY can be found online and in stores now, and their sophomore novel, BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY was released earlier this October. By day, Cam writes about Black teens across all their intersections. By night, they bartend at a tiny place nestled inside one of Washington’s greenest trees. They’re an avid Studio Ghibli fan and will make you watch at least one episode of Sailor Moon and listen to one Beyoncé record before they’ll call you “friend.”

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