Today, Robin Talley is stopping by to talk about writing as a queer woman. Her novel Lies We Tell Ourselves, which was a finalist for this year’s Lambda Literary Awards, Sarah, the first black student at Jefferson High, and Linda, the daughter of a opponent of integration. They’re forced to work together on a school project and find a relationship that may be more than friendship.
You identify along the LGBTQ spectrum in real life. How does that affect your writing?
This is a tough question to answer, because I’ve never experienced what it’s like to write as someone who’s not on the LGBTQ spectrum. But my protagonists so far have all been LGBTQ, and I’m sure that’s not a coincidence. Those tend to be the stories that I’m drawn to, both due to my personal experience and interests and the fact that I want to try to help rectify the dearth of teen books out there with LGBTQ main characters.
How did you tackle the intersectionality of race and a queer identity in your writing? Especially for Lies We Tell Ourselves, in such a specific historical context? What research did you do to bring that nuance to it?
Research dominated my life during the writing of Lies We Tell Ourselves, mainly because I went into the writing process knowing very little about how school integration had played out, particularly for the students involved. I spent months pouring over memoirs, oral histories, video interviews, and everything else I could get my hands on that gave me these insights. I also read up on what gay and lesbian life was like in the late 1950s, which made for some pretty depressing reading. I needed to know what frame of reference my characters would’ve had for understanding their sexuality. It turns out they would’ve had next to nothing to go by to understand their own identities. So from there I had to extrapolate how the characters would’ve seen themselves based on what I knew about their backgrounds ― being raised in a religious community where sex of any kind wasn’t discussed in polite company ― as well as my personal experience of coming to understand my sexuality as a teen in a community that, while nowhere near as difficult to endure as the one in this book, was nonetheless religious and not exactly embracing of marginalized communities. The writing of this book was a painful process, both because of how much research was required and because of the darkness of the historical period I was delving into.
You work with an editor who is very passionate about LGBTQ lit! What has your experience with him been like?
It’s been fantastic! T.S. [Ferguson, of HarlequinTEEN] really gets my writing, and he always has insightful suggestions about ways to make it better. It’s wonderful to know that he and the rest of the team at my publisher are so supportive of me as an LGBTQ writer. I’ve never, ever had to worry about being asked to “tone down” queer characters or themes. Instead, I’ve always been encouraged to explore them fully and make sure I’m being true to my characters and my story.
What advice would you give to young, aspiring LGBTQ YA writers?
Like all aspiring writers, make sure to read everything you possibly can, both within and outside the genres you write in. And don’t worry about being held back by writing about queer or trans characters. Although discrimination certainly still happens within the publishing community, most publishing professionals welcome books with LGBTQ characters, so don’t feel like you need to reign in your writing due to fears that your work will be rejected for its queerness. Write the story that feels true to you, and then submit that story in all its authenticity. (Not until you’ve revised it until you feel like your fingers are going to fall off, though ― that’s just as true for LGBTQ writers as for the straight, cisgender folks among us.)
This weekend – including this interview – is part of the Queer YA Scrabble, to raise money and awareness for Stonewall. Stonewall is a charity committed to helping queer people (especially teens) navigate adversity and promoting education. The Queer YA Scrabble will run this entire weekend, from to the end of the day on Monday, June 8.
We here at YA Interrobang have partnered with the authors of Clan Hydra to bring you the most awesome prize box imaginable. Laura Lam donated a signed paperback copy of Shadowplay. Tess Sharpe donated a signed paperback copy of Far From You – with a specially written short story accompanying it! Robin Talley donated a signed paperback copy of Lies We Tell Ourselves, along with some swag. Astor Penn donated a signed paperback copy of All the Devils Here. You will also be entered to win a paperback copy of Christopher Hawthorne Moss’ Beloved Pilgrim, a paperback copy of Matthew J. Metzger’s Vivaldi in the Dark and Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun.
To enter the giveaway, you can fill out the form below. You’ll need to find and decode a special phrase in some of the Queer YA Scrabble posts back into its original word to enter, but we promise – it’s not hard. The giveaway is open to the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States of America, Canada, Mexico, and anywhere in continental Europe except Russia. Unfortunately, do to the prohibitive cost of shipping, the giveaway and auctions are not open to countries in Africa, South America, Asia or Australia. (Sorry, Aussies.)
The Queer YA Scrabble giveaway is over; thank you for participating!