I didn’t consciously decide to write about LGBT teenagers. Not in the beginning, anyway.
Eren Anderson strolled into my head so many years ago I can’t really remember my life without him. He was funny, charming, sarcastic as hell and gloriously, unapologetically, bisexual. Eren was originally destined to be a secondary character in what I’m sure would have been a boring contemporary romance novel, until he started hanging out in a darkened forest and casting spells. Yup, Eren had other plans – he wanted to lead his own YA paranormal romance series.
He got his wish, and along the way, he got Corbijn – a boy who became so much more than Eren’s boyfriend. They first appeared in my debut novel, The Red Sun Rises, and were nominated for the Young Adult and Teen Readers Book Couple of the year award in 2013. They were the only gay couple to be featured.
The thing is, Eren started off with a girlfriend, but the more I got to know him, the more I realised that he wasn’t going to go down the straight and narrow – pun totally intended. When I was growing up, in a spectacularly rough high school, the only friends I had were gay. Some of them were in the closet, some of them weren’t. All of them were bullied, at some point, as was I. We fit together, a bunch of outcasts. It was really rare for my friends to open a book, or put on a TV show and find themselves represented fairly or accurately. Without realising it, they set me on this path.
Less than a decade later, I found myself working on The Red Sun Rises. Times had changed, right? Alec and Magnus had already popped up in The Mortal Instruments. Patrick was everyone’s favourite in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I had a friend who was working in publishing at the time, and he was very supportive of my writing even though he hated YA as a genre. He was the first person to tell me that there was no place for a YA paranormal romance series led by a male character who was in love with another boy. He didn’t say it to be cruel, or because he was homophobic (he remains one of the coolest, most accepting, open minded people I’ve ever met). He said it because he believed it to be true. He was the first to tell me this. He wasn’t the last.
Eren and Corbijn went on to become the heart of a well-received (shout out to Cianna!) three novel series that ended last March. I loved them. My readers loved them. We proved those suckers wrong.
I could have stopped writing about gay kids, having firmly made my point. There is a place for YA novels led by LGBT characters. I didn’t create it, but I knew it was there and I’m so glad I found it.
I didn’t stop writing about LGBT kids. From vampires to wannabe rockstars, I moved on to Fake It, my coming-of-age, rock’n’roll YA romance novel. I had an absolute blast writing it and I know there are a couple of people out there who had an absolute blast reading it. Sexuality is less complicated in Fake It, which takes place in the “real” world. In The Red Sun Rises, bisexual Eren had to deal with being raised in – and going on to save – a religious group that believes homosexuality is unnatural. Jack and JJ, the protagonists of Fake It, only have to contend with the small minds of their classmates.
I worried that writing another book about LGBT teenagers would make people think I’m a one trick pony. It’s a thought I quickly discarded. I don’t write about LGBT characters because it’s seen as being edgy and different. I don’t write about LGBT teenagers because their sexualities can be used as a metaphor for being an outsider. I don’t even write about LGBT teenagers because I remember how my friends would watch teen movies and sigh, wishing they could see themselves on the screen just once.
I write about LGBT teenagers because in North Carolina and Mississippi, there are kids being told by their local governments that their comfort and security is worth less than that of their heterosexual peers. I write about LGBT teenagers because they are four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teenagers. I write about LGBT teenagers because it’s 2016 and people like Kim Davies not only exist, they are celebrated in scarily wide circles. I write about LGBT teenagers because until very recently, there was a “clean reads” publishing company that specifically and openly prohibited submissions featuring LGBT characters.
Yeah, I write fiction. I write about magic and vampires and battles to save the world. I write about brilliantly talented guitarists and beautifully bisexual frontmen and a band that’ll change your life. Now I find myself writing about a group of teenage superheroes – three of them gay, one of them non-binary – who find themselves tasked with protecting a country that includes states that openly and viciously discriminate against them.
My stories and characters and wild tales are fiction, but the kids they aim to represent are real. They’re out there, some of them living proudly, some of them living in fear. They’re being told, by states like North Carolina and Mississippi that they don’t deserve the same rights their straight friends enjoy, that they don’t deserve a happy ending.
Eren, Corbijn, Andy, Jasper, Jack, JJ, Ethan, Adam, Esther and K may not shout as loudly as the Kim Davies’ of the world. They sure as hell don’t get the same sort of news coverage. But hopefully, there are kids out there who are going to open my books and hear them.
I didn’t consciously decide to write about LGBT kids. Now I can’t imagine writing about anything else.
Where are you from? Does the area you live in influence you writing?
I was born in Munster, Germany. My family moved to Glasgow, Scotland, when I was six! I love my city, but unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to feature it in my writing yet.
Tell us your latest news!
Well, I’m keeping busy! The audiobook version of my latest release, Fake It, is currently in production and should be released soon. I’m hard at work on Struck, the first book in my LGBT YA superhero series. Oh, and I’m working on a The Red Sun Rises screenplay too, alongside a top secret/super awesome anthology with some of my favourite writers. If I’m not busy, I’m not happy!
When and why did you begin writing? What inspired you to write your first book?
I started taking writing seriously when I was 15. My inspiration for my first book, The Red Sun Rises, actually came from Eren, the protagonist. After he showed up, the whole series just kind of fell into place around him.
What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
I’ve got really diverse tastes, so my favourite writers include but aren’t limited to: Anne Rice, Joe Hill, J R R Tolkien, J K Rowling, Cassandra Clare and Stephen Chboksy. I find them all epic and inspiring in different ways.
Tell us about your characters and how they came to be? Have they been in your head for a long time?
They’re all a little different – Eren showed up fully formed. Corbijn was a bit more mysterious, I had to sort of draw him out from the shadows. I started writing The Red Sun Rises in 2008, so those guys have been with me for a long time. Jack and JJ from Fake It are loosely based on a weird mashup of my favourite rock stars. They’re the new kids on the block, but they’re quite demanding when it comes to my time and attention! Adam and Ethan from my work in progress are still a little rough around the edges but they’re definitely coming into their own.
What motivates you to write?
My characters and their stories, to be honest. Oh, and now I have people out there who actually look forward to reading my books, which is super awesome and really keeps me going on the harder days!
What is the hardest part of writing?
Finding the time! When I’m in front of my laptop, with my current playlist on, I’m in a whole other world and it just comes easy. Getting the time to sit down with my laptop is the hard part!
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
The most important thing I learned while writing The Red Sun Rises is that you can’t give up. I gave up on that book so many times but I always came back to it, and after a while, I realised there was a reason I couldn’t let it go. So if you find something you can’t let go of, then you owe it to yourself to push through whatever gets in your way until you’re finished.
With Fake It, I learned not to doubt myself as much. It’s a big change from The Red Sun Rises Series, and I was terrified about releasing it. I shouldn’t have been – everyone has been super kind about it, and I’ll definitely be more open to taking risks in the future!
Where do you get your ideas?
I really don’t know. I just write about stuff I find interesting in the hopes that other people will find it interesting too.
What does your family think of your writing?
My family have been incredibly supportive about my writing. They’re always my loudest cheerleaders!
What is the best advice you would give to inspiring authors?
Never, ever, ever give up. Real life and writer’s block and insecurity and haters are inevitably going to get in the way – but writing is the cure for all of those things.
What book are you reading now?
Well, I’m attempting to read Cassandra Clare’s Lady Midnight but I’m just too busy to make any sort of progress!
Taken from Fake It.
JJ Keswick was even more gorgeous up close, in a completely unfair kind of way. Everything about him was exactly like the fairy tales, teen rom-coms and auto-tuned pop songs promised it would be, right down to the halo of light from the window on the stairs that made his fashionably messy blond hair glitter like freshly polished gold.
“Hi,” he said, his cupid’s bow mouth tilting into an annoyingly alluring crooked smile.
“Are you lost?” Jessica asked him, her dinner plate eyes betraying the careful coolness of her tone.
“Maybe,” he replied, his smile flickering into a full-blown wicked grin as he pushed his sunglasses up into his hair.
His eyes gave him away, as they do with most people. Up close, I could see that they were a couple of shades darker than I had expected. They were not summer sky blue. Instead, they were like the last gasp of a winter afternoon, inky, conflicted and streaked with darkness. The bags under his eyes looked like bruises, and he seemed paler, smaller somehow as he stepped into the room.
“Can we help you?” I asked him, forcing my politest smile onto my face.
“I’m here to audition,” he said, shoving his hands into the pockets of his never-gonna-have-kids skinny jeans.
“You?” Ash laughed, shaking her head. “But you’re JJ Keswick!”
“At least ninety percent of the time,” he replied, his shrug indicating that her surprise was not unexpected.
“No offence, JJ, but this isn’t a joke,” Jessica began as she put her bass down. “We’re a real band, we’re good and we’re looking for someone who will take this seriously.”
“How do you know I won’t take this seriously?” he asked her, something like fire stirring in his steady gaze.
“Because you never take anything seriously,” I pointed out, unease battling with curiosity right in the pit of my stomach.
“Well, looking this good doesn’t happen by accident,” he said, turning to me with a small, knowing smile on his face.
He did look perfect for the part he seemed so intent on playing. Those jeans could have been stolen from the wardrobe of a dozen different rock stars, the kind of musicians that caused extreme adoration in all who saw them. They hung low, exposing a strip of skin across his stomach and hinting at what looked like a tattoo across his hipbone. The spindly, delicate lines dipped below his waistband in an inescapably tantalizing way. The tee shirt he was wearing was surprisingly simple, a white v-neck with the sleeves rolled up to display his lightly muscled, tanned arms.
I could feel his eyes on me, watching me watching him. Something about his presence made my stomach twist, as if the radiance of his appearance did nothing but illuminate everything that was just average about me.
Jessica crossed the room, pinching me as she did. I glanced down at her, the curiosity in her expression matching my own. We had nothing to lose by letting him embarrass himself, I supposed.
“Fine,” I sighed, shrugging out of my guitar. “Give it your best shot.”
Victoria Kinnaird is 28 years old and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. She graduated from the University of Strathclyde in 2009 with a Bachelor of the Arts degree in Journalism, Creative Writing and English Lit. Victoria has been writing since she was 15 years old. She loves rock music, and 11 of her tattoos are related to bands that she loves!
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