What has it been like for you, because I know with this audience, when you reach out to them, the amount of feedback and support you get can really be phenomenal, and overwhelming. What's it like putting something out there and having the audience interacting with you afterward?
It's been absolutely amazing. It's something I never expected. As soon as Ranbow Boys came out, the e-mails just started coming in. And they have kept coming in book after book after book. It's just tremendously emotionally gratifying to hear from young people how inspiring and empowering these books are for them. And, at first, it was a little scary because I'd get these e-mails from young people saying, "I read your book and came out to my parents" or "I came out to my friends." And I'm like, "Omigosh, tell me what happened." And some of them have been stories in which, you know, it takes their parents time to accept it.
But there have never been any really negative stories where parents through them out afterward or anything. I think what happens is that I think young people come out when they're ready to. I get the e-mails, too, where it's like "Your books have helped me accept who I am, but I'm not ready to tell other people yet. At least I can accept myself now." So, I'm much less fearful now where I just accept that these books are going to have the effect they have, and I can't control that. But it's so gratifying to hear and it becomes sort of this circle of inspiration where, originally, I was so inspired by hearing the stories of young people, and now the books inspire other young people, and then they write me their stories, and they inspire me to write new books.
That sounds like a good cycle.
Oh, it's been wonderful. It's given a meaning and purpose to my life that I never imagined. And I talk with other young adult authors and, you know, they don't get this. The other gay and lesbian authors, they get it from their books, but usually young adult authors don't get this sort of feedback where you hear 'your books have really changed my life.'
Even though these gloss over the mechanics of sex, there are certainly a lot of issues tackled in these books, moreso than I was expecting. There are alcoholic fathers, and talking about HIV, so it doesn't seem all that much gets skirted in the name of it being a young adult novel. It's not candy-coated.
No, my publisher is very supportive of that. A lot of young adult fiction today is what's considered edgy. The books really do take on serious issues and realistic issues. Because that's what young people are trying to deal with and figure out, so that's what they want to read about. They don't want to read after school specials, because that's not their life. They want something they can escape in, or something that is going to help them understand what's going on, help them understand this world that's changing so fast and oftentimes adults aren't helping them deal with the change.
Is there restriction on you in the young adult world, similar to movie ratings or anything?
Fortunately, there's no rating system and that idea surfaces occasionally. I think the publishers and librarians have all avoided that. That being said, there are certain categories... like my book, So Hard To Say, they considered a middle grade novel and it's about a group of 13-year-olds. And what the publisher will do is recommend it for ages 10 and up. Or, for my other books, they'll consider them for ages 12 and up. And then the professional journals, because there are about a half dozen librarian- and teacher-oriented journals that review books, and they will have their own categories whether it's appropriate for high school or for more mature high schoolers. And I can't remember how they put it in terms of language, but there's a code for 'this book uses fuck.' 'Shit' they don't really care about. But 'fuck' and maybe 'cocksucker' they're more concerned about.
I guess one thing I notice is that I grew up in the John Hughes time, when the kids had their stories going on, but the adult world was entirely invisible. Reading you and Brent Hartinger, I don't know if it's a cultural thing, but it seems the parental stories are very much integrated into the lives of the kids. It's not a separate thing like it used to be.
I think what happened with the books I've written so far has been that, especially with the Rainbow books, as the boys are sorting out their identity, and because the Rainbow books are so much more about coming out, parents are such a big part of that. A bit part of our fears around coming out is 'what will our parents think?' and 'how will this change our relationship?' For Getting It, it was more about him figuring himself out and who he was, why he was, and what he needed to say, and what that meant in terms of being himself.
Is there any plan for a Rainbow Boys movie?
We've gotten lots of interest from Hollywood, and nothing has become concrete so far. I'd love for them to be a movie or a TV series, and my agent keeps telling me it will happen someday.
So, let's talk about the new book, Getting It. I just seemed like a really fun premise. It's very of-the-moment, with the Queer Eye entry point, but all of the characters seemed to be very much where they're coming from a place where they're trying to do the right thing for one another, even though with their different perspectives, it's not always as good as they might hope. There is definitely a positive thread throughout all the books I've read. You don't paint people with broad strokes as just being negative.
I think that just reflects my personality and my outlook on life. That's the way I usually see people. Most of us aren't either all bad or all good. We all have strengths and weaknesses, things we feel good about, things we feel bad about. I'm generally an optimistic person and certainly when I'm around young people... I know from experience, one day I'll get this e-mail from someone and they're just so depressed, and I'll write them back some encouraging words and, not because of my words, but I'll get an e-mail a few days later with 'Oh yeah, well, I'm doing this now, I'm doing that now' And I'm like, wait a minute! You were in such a crisis. I was worried. What happened? I have to remember that for so many young people, that's it. One minute, life's a tragedy, and he won't talk to me, and then he finally talked to me, I'm so happy.
Well, that I've definitely experienced enough to not get sucked into that whole vortex at this point...
But, yeah, in general I'm very positive and optimistic, both about my life and other people's lives. There are things that get me down, and make me angry and frustrated, but overall, yeah...
What was your own coming out like?
Well, what happened with me is, you know, like a lot of people I knew from when I was young that I liked guys, that I was attracted to guys. I had a hard time accepting myself as gay, and it wasn't actually until after college that I finally came out to my parents. Their response was that they were all accepting, but they didn't want me to tell other family members. My brother didn't want me to tell my mom or my dad. My mom didn't want me to tell my brother or my dad. My dad wished I hadn't told my mom and hoped I didn't tell my brother. It was like, this is nuts! Everyone is trying to protect each other. And I found that's pretty common in families, not just around gay issues, but a lot of issues families don't want to talk about. Everyone's trying to protect everyone else. It's like, deal with it. And, afterwards, like I said they accepted me, but they still didn't want me to talk about it. So, I finally just came to terms with OK, that's how they are.
And this was in Mexico?
I was born in Mexico, but we moved to the United States when I was five years old. My dad came to the US to study at a university, so we moved originally to Texas and then after that to Virginia, then to Washington D.C., where I lived most of my adult years. I lived 14 years in Washington D.C.
And are you still doing the six months in Thailand, six months here?
No, I go back and forth. I'll go back for when I speak at schools, universities, libraries or conferences, so it's not really half and half. When I'm not speaking in the U.S., I'm writing here in Thailand.