Here is a blog I wrote for YA writer Jill MacKenzie’s webpage:
I never seem to do what I’m supposed to. I like short guys, natural body hair, and usually find jeans and a t-shirt sexier than a suit. I could go on, but I’ve probably already said too much.
How does this apply to writing YA fiction, like my novel MY FAIRY GODMOTHER IS A DRAG QUEEN? Well, while most of the books I read for research were heavy on angst and drama and moodiness, what I really wanted to do was write something joyful and fun. Yeah, in YA. See, I never do what I’m supposed to.
When I was coming out at the dawn of the 1990s, I immediately fell in love with the six books of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series (all that existed at the time), laughed at Stephen McCauley’s Object of My Affection, enjoyed the drama of Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner, and, not going to lie, was captivated by the frank sexuality in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library. But then it seemed like every gay-themed novel I picked up had only two stories to tell: I’m sleeping around but can’t find love, or someone’s dying of AIDS. Obviously, those are two very story-worthy narratives from the gay experience, but did it have to be all of them?
So I quit reading gay fiction. Sure, there were occasional exceptions, but they were rare exceptions.
Around this time, I went to grad school to study Screenwriting at USC, and while there I sort of became a rom-com specialist. (Sure, there were exceptions, but they were rare exceptions.) But the thing was, they were straight rom-coms. I usually had some gay characters in them, but never the main love story.
I wanted to change that. Tossing aside commercial considerations, I decided I’d write one for myself, write the gay rom-com I’d most love to see. Since arguably the most famous rom-com story was Cinderella, that would be my jumping off point. I wanted to combine the archetypal characters from that with some of the tropes of urban gay life. Although I’d always disliked the term fairy for gay, it struck me as particularly unfair that we should have to put up with that, but not have any of our own fairy tales. I really couldn’t even think of any gay romantic iconography at all. Sexual, sure, but not romantic. So I wrote a screenplay called Himderella, and it had a lot of fans.
Chris, the stepson of a once socially prominent family messed up his stepmother’s plan to have his beautiful stepsister land the Most Eligible Man in America. Because a drag queen named Coco Chanel Jones snuck him into the ball, and J.J., the Most Eligible Man in America, fell immediately in love with Chris, not his stepsister. But that was only the first act. Complications had to ensue! The Most Eligible Man in America couldn’t be gay! That wasn’t how the fairy tale went! So the two guys had to figure out a way to be together without the world knowing. Eventually, there was a happy ending.
But it never got made.
In 2011 I read and loved Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, and, at the suggestion of Morgan Matson, I decided to pull out that old script and see if maybe the story’s time had finally come. It was my first attempt at YA, but I finally decided that even if it was different than the YA books I was reading, I would have to be okay with that. Because what I really wanted to do was write the book I wished had existed when I was a closeted gay high school student. A book that would be fun, and funny, and romantic, and hopeful, and joyful.
I didn’t come out until I was twenty-three. Fun and joyful aren’t words I would use to describe the experience. Now, with greater gay visibility in the media and the advent of marriage equality, I sometimes get the sense that a lot of people believe it’s a lot easier to do. I’d like to think it’s at least a little bit so, but there’s a passage in the book that actually came from my own life.
The idea of it had taken a few years to solidify in my mind, and in the last year or so I would even experiment with saying the words out loud—always when I was in the house alone—just to see if anything cataclysmic would happen in the world, mine or at large. “I’m gay. I am gay. I like guys.” Little one syllable words that changed everything. But no lightning, no thunder, no turning into ash and dissolving into the ground. Nothing really, except for the feeling that somehow I’d done something wrong.
One of the first young readers I asked for feedback on the manuscript wrote to me that he had done the exact same thing, but much more recently. Then, only a few weeks ago, a nineteen year-old young woman was talking to me about the tough period she’s been going through in the last year, and how she hasn’t yet figured out how to change it. She spoke particularly about how she couldn’t let her parents down, how she was the child who was never a problem, and it wasn’t an option to fail them. I have no idea if sexuality is at the root of her discontent, but I do know that for Chris and J.J., and many real teenagers like them, the fear of disappointing their family weighs heavily. If those kids don’t deserve a wisecracking drag queen to liven things up, I don’t know who does.
A lot of the story changed as Himderella became MY FAIRY GODMOTHER IS A DRAG QUEEN, but the essence of Chris and J.J.’s relationship stayed the same. Because, while a lot has changed in the world in the last twenty years, the timelessness of a nice person meeting his or her Prince or Princess Charming will hopefully never go out of style. I know when I meet someone the gives me that certain spark, I still pretty much feel like I’m seventeen.
I guess, we all need a few fairy tales to hold onto.
(For the record, I’m still waiting for Prince Charming. See, there I go saying too much, again.)