Thoughts about Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass

This isn’t a review so much as it is an essay response to the fantastic book Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass. 

In June 1977, Dade County, Florida voters voted to repeal the county’s gay rights ordinance after a successful smear campaign by anti-gay activist Anita Bryant. Bryant then took her group, called Save Our Children, to other communities to repeal gay rights laws and to pass oppressive legislation against LGBTQ+ rights. 

In June 1977, Harvey Milk announced his campaign for Board Supervisor in San Francisco. That night, he gave the first version of his Hope speech. He said, “And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant on television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right” (Milk, 1977).

And that’s what Surrender Your Sons is all about. Hope. 

After Connor’s boyfriend pressures him into coming out to his very religious mom, a cold war begins between him and his mom. She confiscates his phone and restricts access to any Internet source. He’s allowed to continue his Meals on Wheels job until his client Ricky Hannigan dies. 

And then his mom gives him back his phone. He immediately senses something is wrong and texts his boyfriend that he thinks she’s going to kick him out. His boyfriend doesn’t answer. And that night, Connor is kidnapped from his bed (with his mom’s permission) and taken to a religious conversion therapy camp on an island off the coast of Costa Rica. 

But Connor is ready to fight like hell. And in doing so, he discovers a decades-old mystery that might be the one to finally take down the camp. 

Although a novel that involves conversion therapy, especially one at a camp that is running off the grid and uses physical punishment and isolation practices, seems like it would be a dark novel, I found it full of light despite the dark moments—or perhaps because of the dark moments. 

Why? Because there’s hope. 

Through Surrender Your Sons, Sass writes a compelling thriller that infuses hope onto every single page. No doubt the circumstances these characters are in are bleak. But it’s so filled with hope. 

We don’t live in a post-homophobic United States. Although some LGBTQ+ persons find immediate acceptance, this is not the reality for everyone. And even with immediate acceptance, there’s still the reality that homophobia exists and sneaks up in unexpected ways at times. Once again, “Save Our Children” trends on Facebook and Twitter. Under the guise of human trafficking and pedophilia, many using the hashtag equate LGBTQ+ individuals to pedophiles in attempts to strip away hard-fought for rights and in attempts to sow hatred against LGBTQ+ individuals. In 2018, 1 in 5 hate crimes reported in the U.S. were related to anti-LGBTQ+ crimes. As of writing, 20 states ban conversion therapy. 30 states still allow it. And in those 20 states that ban it, there are some with religious exemptions; as long as someone isn’t acting as a psychologist, this is allowed in some states such as Utah which has a conversion therapy ban. And as Sass points out, conversion therapy does NOT have to be a formal practice to still be considered conversion therapy.  And it can still be just as psychologically damaging, even when a person does it to themselves.

But yet there’s hope. 

People carve out places where they are accepted and loved for who they are. They experience found families. That doesn’t mean the pain goes away, but there’s still joy. 

And that’s what Surrender Your Sons is all about. Sass says in the author note that the book is not about queer pain; it’s about what queers do with pain. 

It’s about fighting back against those who hate who you are. 

It’s about finding reasons to keep going when those who are supposed to love and fully accept you reject you and harm you instead. 

It’s about finding those who love you for who you are. 

It’s about finally loving yourself for who you are after you were made to hate yourself.

It’s about hope.

References

https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/milkhopespeech.html 

https://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/conversion_therapy 

https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/nearly-1-5-hate-crimes-motivated-anti-lgbtq-bias-fbi-n1080891 

Resources

https://www.thetrevorproject.org/ 

http://bornperfect.org/ 

https://www.crisistextline.org/

Book/Author Links: 

Add to Goodreads

Buy 

Follow Adam Sass on Twitter

Adam Sass Website

Blog Tour for Music From Another World by Robin Talley: A Historical Perspective

After having previously read Pulp by Robin Talley (partly historical set in the 1950s), Ziggy, Stardust, & Me by James Brandon (queer historical set in 1973), Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (published in 1982), Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian (queer historical set in 1989), I eagerly jumped at the chance to read Music From Another World which is set from June 1977 to November 1978. My review for the book can be found here. 

However, I didn’t stop at just reading this book. I was hungry to know more so I decided to read When We Rise by Cleve Jones and The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts, both of which are mentioned in the acknowledgment sections. I also watched the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. When the opportunity arose for me to do a post for the blog tour, I decided to do something atypical and talk more about some of the important moments that are included in the book as well as more of what happens after the book ends.

Who was Harvey Milk?

Harvey Milk was born in New York, and he served in the military until he was honorably discharged. He ended up San Francisco while he was in the military where he first became familiar with the city’s emerging gay community in the 1950s. During this time, however, he was not publicly out because being gay was illegal. Public displays of affection and private intercourse could all be prosecuted. It was also illegal to be gay and to serve in the military. 

Milk ended up back in New York before leaving for Dallas. Eventually, he ended up back in New York before making the decision to move to San Francisco. Once in San Francisco, Milk became an asset to the Castro District, using his camera shop as a way to meet with neighbors and begin to organize his political campaigns. He first ran for the Board of Supervisors in 1973. It was not until the Board of Supervisors were reorganized into neighborhoods that Milk successfully won his bid for Supervisor in November 1977. 

While Milk only held the position of Supervisor for 11 months, during his tenure, he worked to create a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment in San Francisco. Milk was shot and killed by former Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978. 

Who was Dan White?

Dan White also served in the military, although he was discharged in 1971 because he was considerably younger than Milk. He briefly was a San Francisco police officer before quitting and joining the fire department instead. He ran for Supervisor of District 8 and won. 

Although Dan White murdered Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, he and Milk actually worked well together for a time. However, after Milk changed his mind and voted to approve a juvenile offender facility in White’s District, White turned on him. White refused to speak to Milk for months, began spending less time at City Hall, and was noticeably different at board meetings. 

But the biggest change in attitude was towards gay rights. White originally stated that “the sooner we leave discrimination in any form behind, the better off we’ll all be” (Shilts, 1982, p. 198) However, after Milk changed his vote on the juvenile facility, White voted no on the gay rights ordinance, telling Dick Pabich, a campaign manager for Milk, that he voted against Milk’s ordinance because Milk voted against him on the juvenile center. 

White’s behavior became more erratic in the following months, and he ultimately resigned from the Board of Supervisors. Less than a week later, however, he wanted his position back. Mayor George Moscone considered this before ultimately deciding against reinstating Dan White as Supervisor. 

Who was Anita Bryant?

Some who read Music From Another World may say to themselves, “Anita Bryant sounds too much like a villain to be true.” However, she is one-hundred percent real (and still alive). 

During the 1970s, gay rights experienced a sudden progression. Across the nation, several cities were passing ordinances similar to the one passed in San Francisco, protecting LGBT people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, this came to screeching halt when Anita Bryant launched a very overt anti-gay campaign. Anita Bryant was a pop singer, a Miss Oklahoma winner, and a spokesperson for orange juice. But she’s most known for her work against gay rights. 

Bryant launched the Save Our Children group after Dade County passed their ordinance to protect gay rights. Save Our Children collected 65,000 signatures to repeal the ordinance, and when put to a vote, the voters repealed the gay rights law on June 7, 1977. 

But she wasn’t satisfied with one county. Across the nation, other towns and counties faced similar repeals–some worked in Save Our Children’s favor by repealing gay rights while some voters shut down the repeals or new initatives. 

 

What happened historically after the novel ended?

On November 27, 1978, Dan White sneaked into City Hall through a basement (now the ground floor) window, knowing that he could bypass the newly installed metal detectors if he did so. He went first to Mayor George Moscone’s office where he shot Moscone multiple times and killed him. He then went across City Hall, found Harvey Milk, and shot and killed him. White fled from City Hall, met his wife inside of St. Mary’s Cathedral and confessed what he had done. They went together to the Northern Station of the San Francisco Police, where White had once worked. White was treated exceptionally well by his former colleagues as he confessed to the crime. Ultimately, White’s lawyer managed to stack the jury full of sympathetic white conservatives, and they found him guilty on only the charge of voluntary manslaughter. White served only five years for the murders of Moscone and Milk. 

After Milk was assassinated, a spontaneous candle light march drew up to 40,000 people who marched from the Castro District to City Hall. Friends of Harvey Milk had to fight to allow Milk to lie in state next to Mayor Moscone in the rotunda, and officials eventually agreed. 

In 1979, after White was found guilty of only voluntary manslaughter, pandemonium erupted in the Castro District. They marched to City Hall, but they were no longer peaceful protestors as what had happened many times in the past. Instead, a riot ensued. Several police cars were burned, and protestors broke doors and windows at City Hall. 

While it was too late for justice for Milk and Moscone, their murders and the subsequent trial changed the California judicial system, making it extremely more difficult to claim diminished capacity as White had done in order to get away with murder. 

What if I Want to Learn More?

You should check out: 

When We Rise by Cleve Jones

The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984 documentary)

Meet San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9iYasWREzE

25th Anniversary of Moscone-Milk killings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_K0moovYM8

Harvey Milk interview 1978: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVlxq7wqgeU

Links to Music from Another World

Add to Goodreads

Buy from IndieBound

 

ARC Review of When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cousins Mark and Talia used to spend summers together at the family cottage, but when a fight happened between their parents, those happy summer days ended, and they no longer talked with each other. When their grandpa dies, Mark and Talia are reunited for the funeral.

Although Mark is sad about his grandfather, he’s more interested in trying to go to Pride in Toronto while they are there for the funeral. He’s grown up in Halifax, and while they have a Pride event there, it’s nothing compared to what happens in Toronto.

And while Talia is sad about his grandfather, she’s more interested in trying to meet up with Erin, her partner, who recently left Victoria and moved to school early—which just happens to be in Toronto.

But their parents have other plans. Instead of either of them staying in Toronto, the families decide to go to the family cabin to begin to decide what to do with it because Mark and Talia’s grandmother’s health is also declining.

But when their grandmother’s health calls their parents away, they decide to unleash a plot to get them both what they want: Mark to Pride and Talia to Erin in Toronto. Can you say roadtrip time?

When You Get the Chance is a beautiful look at family secrets, dealing with the past, and the messiness of teen life. These are not perfect characters; they are not written to be that way! Their personalities are very nuanced, and it was honestly refreshing to see how messy they were at times. They are incredibly realistic and act like some people I know in real life. This very realistic messiness was dealt with in such a careful way by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson, and I loved how much the characters grew throughout the novel.

I absolutely loved this read, and it’s one that I definitely recommend!

Preorder here: 

IndieBound

Barnes & Noble

 

 

DRC Review of The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig

Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Auggie lives in Fulton Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. It’s a decaying suburb, and unfortunately, it’s known to be a hub for vampires. Yes, vampires. An average of three people die each year in Fulton Heights of vampire attacks, and public places in town are equipped with emergency kits to handle vampire attacks.

So why should Auggie care about Algebra when he lives in a vampire town? Why does he have to get tutored in Algebra so he can hopefully actually pass it this time around when there are bigger issues to worry about?

And then Auggie finds out from Jude, a vampire, that the world as he knows it is coming to an end—and he may be the only one to stop that from happening.

The Fell of Dark is Roehrig’s fifth novel, but it is fourth original novel. (He has an intellectual property work titled A Werewolf in Riverdale which releases April 7) . While Roehrig became known for his twisty whodunit thrillers, Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit, he has also expanded his range of thrillers to include Death Prefers Blondes and now The Fell of Dark which might best be called a paranormal thriller.

Roehrig has carefully crafted a world where vampires are known to walk among us and carefully crafted two cults of vampires: the League of Dark Star and the Syndicates. The amount of careful world building Roehrig did was outstanding, but it never once feels like an info dump on the reader. As Auggie comes to know elements of the vampire world that he didn’t know prior, the reader learns along with him in ways that fully immerse the reader into the story.

As Roehrig is also known for, The Fell of Dark includes a multitude of queer characters including queer vampires. And within this, Roehrig also manages to sneak in a bit of mid-twentieth century queer history.

Roehrig’s The Fell of Dark is a novel that you can really sink your teeth into and rejoice in delight, and it’s an absolute must read.

The Fell of Dark releases July 14.

Preorder here: 

IndieBound

Barnes & Noble

 

ARC Review of Music From Another World by Robin Talley

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summer 1977, and Tammy and Sharon have been paired up together for a pen pal project for their high schools. The purpose of the pen pal project is to strengthen students’ faith over the summer and into the first term of their junior year of high school.

Both are reluctant about this project, and both keep a journal outside of the letter writing project. Tammy writes to Harvey Milk, an elected supervisor for San Francisco Board of Supervisors (the first openly gay man to be elected in California). Tammy is a lesbian, but her family is very much anti-gay and is working with Anita Bryant’s campaign (another historical figure and real historical campaign) to repeal any gay rights laws as well as prevent any more from passing.

Sharon writes to her journal, keeping her brother’s secret: her brother is gay, but her mom doesn’t know this. Both are fearful for what could happen if their mom finds out.

As they begin to write to each other, an unlikely friendship blossoms between the two of them. As Sharon discovers Castro Street and punk music and Tammy tries to find ways to fight back against her aunt without outing herself, the two quickly find that it takes great bravery to be yourself when people are actively working against your very existence.

Running from 1977 to 1978, Talley’s Music From Another World is an atmospheric book, steeped in rich historical world building, putting these characters right there in real life events. Most of those who read this won’t know the history, but hopefully, this book will encourage them (like it did for me) to find out more.

Robin Talley’s book releases on March 31, 2020. Add to Goodreads here

ARC Review of A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

While choosing an invention for a class project, Silas decides to do his report on Glenn Burke, the first person to give a high five.

Silas very purposely chose Glenn Burke. Like Silas, Glenn Burke was a baseball player. Also like Silas, Glenn Burke was gay.

Silas has just figured this out for himself, and he hasn’t yet shared this with anyone. He decides to share it with his best friend Zoey, but when Zoey doesn’t respond quite as enthusiastically as Silas hoped, their friendship becomes strained.

Add to this homophobic remarks from some of his baseball teammates, and Silas feels more alone than ever before. In a moment of desperation, Silas lies to his teammates and tells him that he’s dating Zoey, and disastrous consequences follow.

Silas fears that what happened to Glenn Burke will happen to him too, and he becomes more and more withdrawn from the sport he loves and those he loves. It’ll take someone to get him out of this spiral.

A High Five for Glenn Burke is incredible. Silas is desperate for acceptance, and he seeks that out in any way that he can, even through a historical figure who died before he was born. Often times, I felt the desire to just hug Silas and tell him that things are going to eventually be okay. Bildner writes this story so well, and it’s one that everyone ages 9 and up should read.

A High Five for Glenn Burke releases on February 25, 2020.

DRC Review of Camp by L. C. Rosen

Disclaimer: I received a DRC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

For the last few summers, Randy has come to Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. He was free to be himself more fully, even being the lead in the musical there last summer. But this year, Randy is gone, and Del is here instead. Del doesn’t wear nail polish. Dell doesn’t do musical. Del does sports instead. Del wears different clothes.

Why? So Randy aka Del can attract Hudson, a guy who is only into “straight-acting” guys. He has a plan. He will get Hudson to fall in love with Del and reveal himself as Randy, hoping that Hudson has fallen in love him enough that he won’t have any problems being himself around Hudson.

At first, Del’s plans goes better than he expects. Turns out, Hudson was so oblivious to Randy in the past that Del is able to fully pass himself off as a new camper. Hudson takes advantage, eschewing his former reputation as a playboy at the camp, to quickly begin a romance with Del.

But as the summer unravels, pieces of the past find ways to pierce into the relationship, and Del finds himself wondering, is a relationship worth it if he has to change who he is to be in it?

Camp is an important look at toxic masculinity as well as some of the issues that are very real in the queer community, from problems with those that won’t accept you outside of the community to problems with those that won’t accept you from inside the community. It is a very worthwhile read.

Camp releases May 26, 2020.

Add to Goodreads

Preorder

Author Interview with Shaun David Hutchinson

Today, I am totally freaking out over the fact that I got to interview Shaun David Hutchinson.

First a little bit about Shaun:

Shaun is a major geek and all about nerdy shenanigans. He is the author of many queer books for young adults. Find out more information at shaundavidhutchinson.com. He currently lives in Seattle and watches way too much Doctor Who.

And here’s a little bit about his most recent fiction work, The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried:

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

And now for the interview!

In the past, you have referenced The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley as being your relaunch/rebrand as an author. Can you speak more about this?

Sometimes 2008 doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but when I wrote and sold my first novel, The Deathday Letter, the YA landscape was so very different than it is now.  I honestly wasn’t sure that anyone would be willing to take a chance on me if I wrote books with queer narrators or focused on the things I cared about, like mental health.  I have a special place in my heart for my first two books, but they also aren’t totally representative of me.  They’re more representative of who I believed readers wanted me to be.

The irony is that neither Deathday or FML did particularly well, and they certainly weren’t reviewed positively.  It wasn’t until I had nothing to lose that I wrote The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley.  With Five Stages, I wrote a book that I believed was one-hundred percent representative of who I wanted to be as a writer, and I figured that if publishing rejected it that it was a sign I wasn’t meant to be writing.  It was kind of a fatalistic attitude because we all know that one book doesn’t decide a writer’s future, but I found an agent who believed in Drew’s story, an editor who believed, and readers who were hungry for more stories about people like Drew.

In that way, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley really was a bit of a rebirth for me as an author.  I had put myself out there, fully embracing my weirdness and queerness and honesty about mental health, and readers had welcomed me into their lives.  The Deathday Letter and FML will always be part of my history, but I sort of think of them as the books I wrote before I found the courage be myself.

In addition to your full length novels, you have been an editor to some unique anthologies (Violent Ends and Feral Youth) which tell an entire story through multiple short stories by different authors. What were the challenges and rewards of undertaking such an ambitious project (twice!)? 

I loved working on those anthologies, but they definitely were challenging.  The major challenge was wrangling all of the stories together and drawing the connections between them.  Violent Ends was more difficult than Feral Youth, but I was extremely fortunate that the authors in both anthologies were so passionate and supportive about what I was trying to do.  They often worked together to create those connections and to build the shared world the stories existed in. I guess in that respect, the challenges were the same as the rewards.  Because while it may have been a tough job to build that shared world, getting to stand back and see how it all came together remains one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.

Several of your recent works dealt with the end of the world in some way while your upcoming 2020 work The State of Us seems to be a departure from that thematic element. What drove this decision?

I remember being a teen and feeling how everything kind of felt like the end of the world, which is probably why I’m so drawn to it as a plot device.  It’s such a great way to explore problems that might otherwise feel mundane to readers.  But you can only end the world so many times before you begin to bore readers. At the same time, the last couple of years have exposed the hateful underbelly that exists in our world.  It was always there, but much of that nastiness was confined to the shadows. And now, unfortunately, it’s felt emboldened to step into the light.  With the world as dark as it is, I began gravitating toward stories that feel a little lighter.  Stories that envision the world I want to live in rather than the world we actually live in.

That said, explorations of sexuality and mental health will always be important to me.  In The State of Us, Dean is struggling to find his place in the queer world as he explores being demisexual, and both boys struggle with how to square their feelings for each other with the differences that divide them.  I’m just approaching those topics from a different angle these days.  One that lets a little more light in.

You transitioned from writing while maintaining another job to full-time writing. How has your writing process changed since this transition happened?

Oddly enough, my process hasn’t changed much.  When I had a day job, I did the majority of my writing in the morning before work.  I still do that.  And I still generally get up between five and six in the morning to do it.  The major difference is that I just do more of it.  I’m able to work longer.  Instead of finishing and then going to work in an office, I finish my morning writing and then go to a coffee shop to do more writing.

The biggest change has honestly been in my approach to future projects.  When I had a day job I was able to spend a couple of months working on a project that might go nowhere because I knew if it didn’t sell, I still had a paycheck coming in.  Writing full time means that I don’t always have that luxury.  If I’m going to commit my time to a project, I have to at least believe there is a good probability that I’m going to be able to make money off of it or I could find myself unable to pay my bills. It’s forced me to be a little more pragmatic about the projects I take on.

But I do make sure to set aside time for those weird passion projects because you never know what’s going to come out of them.  The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley began as a passion project.  As have other books, including one I recently sold that I can’t talk about yet but that I think my readers are really going to enjoy.

Brave Face is an absolutely stunning memoir that deals with a lot of tougher topics, including some very intense mental health challenges. What made you decide to relive these moments and write about them?

Thank you.  That really means a lot.  Even now, months after it came out, I still worry whether I should have published it. But I think that kind of fear is probably pretty natural when putting something so personal out into the world.

The idea actually came about because I was nearing the 20th anniversary of surviving my suicide attempt.  A lot of me goes into my books, but I wondered if it might be helpful for teens to have an account of that time—what I went through with coming out and depression—to both help them see that they aren’t alone and to help those who might not have experience with coming out or mental illness gain some understanding of what others might be going through.  I emailed my editor at Simon Pulse about the idea, and the more we talked about it, the more I thought I might have something worth saying.

The idea of writing a memoir was terrifying, and the only way I got through it was by telling myself that if only one person read it, and it helped them, then that was enough. That would make it worth it. The response has been overwhelming to say the least.

On Twitter, you post about baking a lot. How and why did this hobby come about?

Sorry!  I have a tendency to jump from one obsession to another.  Sometimes those obsessions stick around and become full-blown hobbies. Sometimes they turn into a career. I started baking last winter when my mom came to visit. It was my first winter in Seattle, and it was a cold, wet one.  My mom didn’t want to spent much time outside, so we spent a lot of time at my brother’s apartment where he was watching The Great British Baking Show.  I’d heard about it before, but I’d never sat down to watch an episode.  That show hooked me and reeled me in with its big heart and joyfulness, and I remain a fan of the show despite three-quarters of the original hosts leaving.

After my mom went back home, I found myself spending more time inside due to the weather, and I was looking for something to do. Inspired by The Great British Baking Show, I decided to give baking a try.  My mom baked quite frequently when I was growing up, but it was never something I thought I’d enjoy.  Much to my surprise, I instantly fell in love with it.  I think, for me, baking is a creative outlet that’s stress-free.  I enjoy the process of baking immensely because it helps calm my hyper-active and over-imaginative mind while also keeping me physically moving.  Plus, the end results make people smile.  Show up to a gathering with even the ugliest cake, and people will still smile.  Right now, baking is an oasis for me in this messy, messed up world.

Finally, what are some books that need to be on our radar? (This can be already released books and/or upcoming releases.)

Definitely The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper and How To Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters.  I’m about to get started on Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass, and the first page has already got me hooked.  Ryan La Sala’s Reverie is out soon, and I’m dying to get my hands on it.  Camryn Garret’s Full Disclosure and Saundra Mitchell’s All the Things We Do in the Dark are both out October 29th, and they’re at the very top of my reading list.  I also had the opportunity to hear Ryan Douglass read from his horror/thriller Jake in the Box, and he was amazing. I can’t wait to read the whole book.

There are always so many more books that I want to read than I have time for—the curse of every reader!—but we’re lucky that there are so many outstanding and diverse books out there now with more headed our way.


Thank you so much to Shaun for his time!

And always, here’s some links for you to check out:

Shaun David Hutchinson Links
Check Out Shaun on Goodreads
Make Shaun supremely rich and buy his books/enhance your own life too
Follow Shaun on Twitter

The Books Shaun Mentioned
Add The Gravity of Us to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add How to Be Remy Cameron to Goodreads
Add Surrender Your Sons to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add Reverie to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add Full Disclosure to Goodreads
Add All The Things We Do in the Dark to Goodreads
Add Jake in the Box to Goodreads

Author Interview with James Brandon

Today, I have the honor of interviewing James Brandon, author of Ziggy, Stardust, & Me which released in August of this year. The book is absolutely incredible.

Here’s a bit about James from Penguin’s Website:

James Brandon produced and played the central role of Joshua in the international tour of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi for a decade, and is codirector of the documentary film based on their journey, Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption. He’s the cofounder of the I AM Love Campaign, an arts-based initiative bridging the faith-based and LGBTQ2+ communities, and serves on the Powwow Steering Committee for Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS) in San Francisco. Brandon is a contributing writer for Huffington PostBelieve Out Loud, and Spirituality and Health MagazineZiggy, Stardust and Me is his first novel.

You can visit James Brandon at justbejb.com

Here’s a bit about his book from his website:

The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal–at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.

Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.

A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA.

And now for the interview!

Ziggy, Stardust, & Me is set at a pivotal point in LGBT+ history. What drove your decision to set the book in 1973 and deal with some (terrifying) history?

On December 15, 1973, the life of every human who identified on the LGBTQ+ spectrum changed when the American Psychiatric Association officially removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (otherwise known as the DSM; otherwise known as the “Big Book of Mental Illnesses”) and suddenly all those people being “treated” for their “sickness” were “cured.” This was a pivotal moment in our history and one that–coming on the heels of the Stonewall Riots–marked the beginning of the modern-day LGBTQ+ movement. I knew nothing of this time, and having been out for over half of my life, I was ashamed to realize I didn’t know my history. So I started researching this moment, and subsequently started learning what that generation of LGBTQ+ peoples had to endure on a daily basis just to survive. It changed my life. This was the initial seed of Ziggy.

What did your research process look like?

Intense. I proudly deem myself a Research Geek. I spent a solid year researching this novel. Some of my time was spent in the basement of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco excavating materials through their vast archives. Most of my time was spent at every library in Los Angeles (and I mean almost that quite literally) digging through books and magazines and movies and newspapers for every topic I cover in the novel. Research is the key to unlocking your story’s mysteries. Even if you aren’t writing historical, any issue you explore or character you’re writing outside of your own lane, needs to be throughly and viscerally researched for true authenticity. YA readers, to me, are some of the smartest humans out there; they can see through anything that even slightly resonates a sense of falsehood. I always wanted a reader of Ziggy to feel fully immersed in the story, to not even think they’re reading a historical novel, but to feel like they’re actually living it. I hope that comes through in the narrative.

When you write heavier scenes, how do you take care of yourself?

An excellent question. Self-care comes in many forms, but here’s what it looks like for me when I’m writing “heavier scenes.” I first let myself feel everything I’m writing. There were many times along the way I was writing a scene through tears, but kept pushing forward. I had to get the words out, even if I knew they weren’t going to end up in the final manuscript, even if I knew only one of those words would stay. Allowing myself to fully feel these emotions through any one of my character’s eyes, gave me a deeper connection to their being, and ultimately to my self. But the minute I felt like I was finished with the scene, I saved my draft, closed my computer, and stopped working for the day. Even if it was only after writing an intense few paragraphs with one hundred words. I’d take a long walk, shake it all off, and wouldn’t think about it again until the next day or week or month or whenever it was time to get back to it. It’s important, I think, to separate your “self” from your “work” at the end of each writing session to keep your identity in check and to continue living a healthy life along the journey

Do you have any interest in visiting some of the other pivotal years in LGBT+ history in your writing? Why or why not? (And if you do, what years would you consider?)

Yes! My next book, and in fact, the next couple of books I have in mind, will all focus on a lost or forgotten moment in LGBTQ+ history. Queer history isn’t taught, and the importance of our generational stories being shared today can no longer be ignored. Queer peoples have obviously existed since the beginning of time, and they’ve contributed innumerable gifts for the betterment of society. We just don’t know about them and it’s time we do. I obviously can’t write about every historical moment, and I’m not particular about any specific year or decade, but I do have some stories in mind that may interweave with Ziggy. I’m focusing on the moments that create a spark within me, because I know that spark will eventually turn into a beacon of light to carry me forward through the hundreds of drafts and rewrites.

What has been the best moment of your debut year?

I’m currently experiencing this at the moment: Being on tour. I’ve spent the better part of the past few years hunkered down in my rabbit hole of writing, interwoven with some major life changes, lost in my own world without too much socializing. The original idea of touring was a little daunting for me, to say the least. And then I was asked to do school presentations in front of 500 students! (Even as an actor, I’d never performed to that size of an audience at once!) But instead of letting my anxiety get the best of me, I pushed through. And I’m so glad I did. Meeting people from every age and walk of life has been so inspiring. To share stories, to laugh, to cry, to connect through this imagined (and some parts unimagined) world I created has been nothing short of pure magic. I didn’t realize how rewarding it would be to meet readers who’d fall in love with these characters that I care about so deeply. And to be able to share my personal journey along the way, to hopefully help those who might be questioning their own, has been the biggest gift I could ever receive.

What books do you recommend that would pair well with Ziggy, Stardust, & Me?

1- Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian — another queer historical set in the 80s that has a beautiful story with gorgeous prose.
2- The Grief Keeper by Alex Villasante– a queer speculative story that interweaves immigration and f/f love in a delicate and lush narrative.
3- The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold– for any Bowie fans out there who love Ziggy, this story had a Vonnegut-esque twist and was such fun to get lost in the mind-bending narrative.
4- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz– THE classic queer love story…enough said.

Author Interview with Adib Khorram

Today, I have the great honor of doing an interview with Adib Khorram, author of the award-winning (and life-changing) Darius the Great is Not Okay.

First, here’s a bit about Adib (from his website)

ADIB KHORRAM is the author of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY. If he’s not writing (or at his day job as a graphic designer), you can probably find him trying to get his 100-yard Freestyle under a minute, learning to do a Lutz Jump, or steeping a cup of oolong. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don’t usually talk about themselves in the third person. You can find him on Twitter (@adibkhorram), Instagram (@adibkhorram), or on the web at adibkhorram.com.

And here’s a bit of Darius the Great is Not Okay (again from his website):

Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran. 

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian–half, his mom’s side–and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.

Darius has never really fit in at home in Portland, and he just knows things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Sohrab introduces Darius to all of his favorite things–mint syrup and the soccer field and a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, friends don’t have to talk. Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough–then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.

And now for the interview!
Darius the Great is Not Okay is frequently included on lists for LGBT+ books, but in the book itself, Darius’ sexuality is never overtly stated. Was this an intentional decision/what drove that decision?

It was quite intentional. For me Darius’s story was always, always about friendship; I didn’t even realize he was queer until I was deep in revisions. I think it’s important to show pre-coming out queer narratives, and I think it’s important to show that queer identity is only one small part of people.

Darius has won quite a few literary awards which is incredible. What has been your most personally rewarding moment in the year since the book first released? (Doesn’t have to be literary award related!) 

It’s hard to pick a rewarding moment—there have been so many—but I will share a trend that’s stuck with me. I do a lot of school visits and I talk about my own growing up as a queer kid, and a diaspora kid, and I love the conversations that spurs. Sometimes it’ll be a big discussion and the students will get to see their friends and classmates with greater empathy than before. And sometimes it’s a quiet moment of connection where a student is struggling with something and asks me for advice. Making life better for young readers is why I do this.

Darius portrays the quiet struggles of mental illness so well. After I made my mom read it, she told me, “now I understand you and your dad a little better.” Why was it important to you to include this mental health representation?  

When I first started writing Darius back in 2015, it felt like there was a huge crop of books about mental illness that all dealt with suicide. While that’s certainly a possible outcome of living with depression, it’s not the only one, and I wanted to push back on that narrative.

You work a job outside of writing. Because of that, what does your typical writing day look like?

I don’t know that I really have a typical writing day! Sometimes my dayjob will be kind of slow and I’ll take time off to write. Sometimes it’ll be busy and get no writing in. Sometimes I’ll be on a job site but waiting for someone else to finish before I can do my work, and then I might squeeze in some writing there. My favorite writing days are when I can gather with some other local YA authors and we write, talk, and get lunch!

Your next sold book is a picture book. How has this process been different than the process for Darius?

With a novel, I’m in charge of describing everything in words. But with a picture book, I have to leave room for the illustrator. So much gets to go unsaid. It’s been so cool to work on something and know it’s going to be transformed into something even more amazing.

If you had the opportunity to co-write a YA novel with any author (living or dead), who would you pick and why? (And if you wouldn’t want to do a co-write, explain why.)

I met Lana Wood Johnson back in 2014 when we were both querying bad novels. We posted our queries for critique, ripped each others’ to shreds, and have been friends ever since. Her debut, TECHNICALLY, YOU STARTED IT came out this year, and it shares a lot of themes with Darius: nerds, queerness, mental health, parent relationships. I think we’d have a blast working on something fun and nerdy together!


Thank you so much to Adib for doing this interview with me! I’m still in shock that so many authors said yes, and I’m still shocked that Adib said yes.

Darius the Great is Not Okay is such an incredible book. You can read what I had to say about it here, and I included links below to check out.

Add Darius the Great is Not Okay on Goodreads

Buy Darius the Great is Not Okay

Add Seven Special Somethings (the forthcoming picture book) to Goodreads