Questions #2

I love the questions you’re asking, so keep them coming! Today we have two questions from ‘Nathan, who asks:

Okay, I have a two-part question: Have you bumped into much negative feedback for writing LGBTQ characters? (and, the second part, to make it a less negative topic) What have been the best moments of having written LGBTQ characters?

Writing LGBTQ characters has been fantastic. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve honestly not had much negative feedback from the writing portion. I did have some issues with starting a GSA at the first school I worked at, but it was concerns on the part of an administration that wasn’t sure just how the GSA would benefit the school or students.

My biggest concern was with how my family–mostly my grandparents–would react. They come from a generation where being gay is just unheard of. Growing up, I found myself butting heads with my grandfather on many issues…a lot. It’s just who I am and it’s how he was raised. But even my grandfather has done me proud.

Book signing other viewWhen Andy Squared first came out, I had to explain what it was about. Of course my grandparents wanted to read it, but I did worry. I didn’t know how they would take it. I didn’t write it for them, obviously, but as my grandparents, I still wanted their approval. But I wasn’t sure if it would happen. When I had my book release party at the Bristol Public Library, they came. I couldn’t have been more nervous when I was standing at the podium reading from the book. At my feet I had my former students, and my grandfather sat right in front of me. When I opened the floor to questions and his hand went up, I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. But he surprised me. Rather than asking about Ryder and Andy’s sexuality and some, ahem, scenes, he commented on the style of writing and how he could picture being with the boys as they rode horses.

Book Singing with students at my feetAfterwards, he admitted he hadn’t finished the book yet, but that he was enjoying it. And when he finally did finish it, he told me how it had changed his mind on LGBT people.

I cried.

Then he surprised me again. He and my grandmother read the newspaper, and they enjoy columns like Ask Amy and such. In one, a mother had asked about her teenager being gay, and what books to read to help her understand, etc.

My grandfather wrote to the columnist and explained how his opinion had changed after reading Andy Squared, and how he realized how difficult LGBT teens have it when their family doesn’t accept them. I still have the email he sent me somewhere.

I cried again.

I guess you could say that was also one of the best moments of having written LGBTQ characters. Even though my books are primarily for teens, having a 70+ year old man read the book and change his opinion was pretty spectacular.

Readers have also contacted me from all over. My first ever reader email was from a young man in Costa Rica who had to order the book from the US and have it shipped to him. Another was from a young fan who reached out to me on Facebook, telling me he was going to come out to his family. I kept in touch with him for several months after that, checking in to see how he was doing. I also recently had a reader FROM upstate New York contact me, thrilled to see his part of the state represented with gay teens!

So the best moments are definitely when readers reach out to me to talk. I love that. I will always respond to readers, so please, don’t be afraid to reach out!

Question from a reader

I’m really very fortunate. Either because I have some pretty amazing people reading Andy Squared or… I’m biased because this question came from one of my former students and she felt comfortable asking me because she knows me. Either way, the fact that she thought of something while reading my book and needed to know makes me happy. And it’s such a fantastic question I thought I’d post it and my response here!

The only question I really had was why have Andy be unware of himeself in that way, having Ryder kiss him and then giving Andy a few days to think about it then telling Ryder? What was the point you wanted to make? [some corrections made to question]

Excellent question. Why is Andy unaware that he is gay at seventeen years old? Why didn’t he have an inkling as to his true attractions? I could have made him a teenager who did know he liked guys but struggled to hide it, but that wasn’t what I wanted.

Andy is attracted to Ryder. From the moment they meet Andy is drawn to him in a way he hasn’t been drawn to someone before, and I feel that many of us old enough to have experienced this know that feeling. That is kind of what Andy is going through in that scene. But we’ll back up even more. Not all kids know they’re gay right away. Heck, some adults don’t even always know. They might realize after the fact what has been going on all those years, but it’s like the saying, “hindsight is 20/20.” That’s the case with Andy. He knows things are not working with his girlfriends. He figures it’s because he’s bored and doesn’t like the drama. That’s what he tells himself. He also figures as a popular athlete he has an image or reputation to protect. As sad as it is, there are many, many teenagers out there who go through this exact thing.

When I wrote Andy Squared, I didn’t want to portray your stereotypical gay teenager because I wanted readers to see that there are ALL kinds of gay teens out there. Not everyone is as aware of themselves as Josh and Ryder. Not all gay teens look and act like Josh. Many could play sports like Andy.

My point is this: Gay teenagers are just like straight teenagers. They come in all shapes and sizes, all religions and ethnic backgrounds. They don’t always know what they want in life. They fight with siblings and keep secrets from their parents. They fight with friends. They struggle sometimes when they harbor a crush. They’re not always sure about their relationships.

Thank you former student for asking that question. I’m proud of you for thinking so deeply about the book! And other readers, please feel free to send me your questions as well. I’d be happy to answer.