I met J.C. Lillis at the Wednesday yalit chat on twitter. Not only is she a great writer, she shares my love for TV Guide [i]and 80's reruns. I knew she would come up with great answers to my first Q/A, and she did. Now go buy her ebook after you read this!
Since Brandon and Abel are so fan boys, I've got to ask: do you have any fan girl moments of your own?
Oh yeah, definitely; that's been a part of my personality since I was a kid. I've been involved in a bunch of fandoms over the years (I still fangirl, actually -- I'm already all aquiver for the new Game of Thrones season). Most often I'm more of a lurker. I like to read forums, look at fanart and fanfic, see all the gifs and character analyses people post on tumblr. A few times I've written my own fanfic, though it's hard for me to be completely serious and it usually ends up being a goof (When that show Carnivale was on HBO, my friend and I fell head over heels for it and wrote an 11-song musical version of it. I ran across it the other day and it still makes me giggle.) But yeah, I do have firsthand knowledge of fan culture, and I've always been kind of surprised that more books aren't written about it, especially since fandom is such a huge part of life for a lot of young people. Getting to shine a light on fan culture in HTRAMH was incredibly fun, probably the most fun I've ever had with a story.
Did you have any worries about writing a GLBT-entric love story? (ie censorship, etc)
You know, I didn't worry about that (which is weird, because I worry about everything else--something I have in common with Brandon). I was just thinking of telling a good story in the tradition of writers I really respect, like Brent Hartinger or David Levithan. And if someone in 2013 wants to send me a ridiculous piece of hate mail for writing a sweet boy/boy romance, then I'll just kind of tilt my head and squint at it like it's a painting I don't understand.
I will say that I worried a bit more about making the Catholic-guilt angle so explicit. More for personal reasons -- my parents are still very involved in the church, and I am not, so I was concerned that the book would upset them. I think my mom kind of had a tough time with it. She said she found herself arguing with Brandon while she was reading, because her experience with faith has been so different (and because she knew how closely his struggle with religion mirrored mine). I don't want to diminish anyone who feels secure in faith, but at the same time I really wanted to write a book that made doubting/struggling teens feel a little less alone. I would have loved to read a book like that when I was eighteen.
What books did you love or influence you when you were a teen?
So many! Here are the ones that came to mind right away: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger, and anything and everything by M.E. Kerr, especially Night Kites and Gentlehands. I have a special love for Francesca Lia Block and her Weetzie Bat books; I reread one of those at least once a year. I used to read a lot of plays and poetry as a drama-nerd teenager, too -- I'd memorize pieces by Oscar Wilde and Eugene O'Neill and just walk around acting them out in my head like a dork.
Two books that came to mind reading Heart was The Fault of Our Stars by John Green and Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden; both are unconventional romances like Brandon/Abel. Have you read these novels? Do you think they're unconventional?
Wow, very flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence with those books. I'm probably the only person in North America who hasn't read Fault in Our Stars yet, but I know the story and I'm excited to get my hands on it. (I don't have nearly as much reading time as I'd like these days.) And yeah, I love Annie on My Mind! That's a classic. It was the first lesbian YA novel I'd read, and now that I'm older I recognize how significant it was when it came out in the early 80s. Is it unconventional? Only in the sense that it's kind of an unlikely Felix-and-Oscar pairing and some of the adults engage in old-school pearl-clutching about their adorable romance. Some of the book comes across as a little dated now, but Liza and Annie are still great, vivid characters. In my mind, they're still together; they share a cozy little house in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where Liza is an architect and Annie teaches drama and sings in local dinner-theater productions.
Brandon has a struggle with his religious faith (Catholicism) throughout the novel. Do you think ten years from now he'll be more religious or spiritual?
I think it could go either way. I'm glad he's going away to college, because he'll meet new people and have new experiences that'll help him figure out who he really is and where he stands on the faith issue. I see him experimenting a lot: attending services at more liberal churches, having three-a.m. dorm room discussions with atheists, debating with professors, etc. I'm not sure he'll ever completely reject the possibility of a God, but I also don't see him finding a way back to Catholicism. But we'll see. Maybe in ten years I'll write a sequel, and we'll find out!
I so want a sequel. When Lenny says "When I give the world my characters, it's because I don't want to keep them for myself" First off I love that line; it reminds me of that SNL sketch when Shatner told Trekkies to get a life, but I have to ask is that your perspective as well?
Yeah, absolutely. I loved writing that scene where Brandon meets the showrunner of Castaway Planet and Lenny Bray goes off on that rant, because I've always been so mystified by writers who vocally oppose fanfic. I can see being privately weirded out by it -- like, reading someone's interpretation of your characters and instinctively thinking "omg, no. That's so wrong!" But to hold your characters so close that you actually say in public that others aren't allowed to play with them. . .that just seems stingy and counterproductive, like you're encouraging passivity instead of active engagement with your story. To me, the actual book or TV show is just the beginning -- half the fun is filling in the blanks yourself and continuing your love affair with the characters in your head.
Also, as a writer, I think fanfic is the ultimate compliment. I got a note a couple months ago from a reader who said she wanted to write Brandon/Abel fanfic, and I thought my head was going to explode. I was like, okay, if an anvil falls on my head right now it's totally fine. My dream has officially come true!
What inspired you to go indie?
I felt like I was kind of stuck in a bad cycle. I wrote four YA novels before HTRAMH, and here's what would happen: I'd finish it, edit it, send it out to three or four agents, get maybe a couple rejections and an "almost-but-not-quite," and then I'd get distracted by the shiny new story I was working on and immediately lose interest in querying. I hated querying with a passion. I'd have to work up so much mental energy to do it, and I'd put ridiculous amounts of pressure on myself to make the submissions as "perfect" as possible, and then I'd drive myself nuts waiting for responses. It just sucked the soul out of me.
I never really considered going indie, though, until my husband passed me an article on Amazon's program and was basically like YOU NEED TO DO THIS. I spent some time researching and weighing the pros and cons, and I've never regretted choosing to do it this way. It's true that the marketing it all on you, and there's a lot I still have to learn about promoting myself (I sometimes feel shy about it), but it's great, interesting work. I love meeting people in the indie community, sharing tips and ideas, commiserating with them. I love being able to blog about whatever I want, and I especially love that my next project is totally up to me. I mean, that's terrifying too, but I can take it. I'm a tough girl. (Kinda.)
What are you working on now?
Right now I'm actually editing a YA novel I finished before I started HTRAMH. It’s about a teenage boy and girl who are in love and miserable about it, because his parents are her guardians and they’ve lived as sort-of-siblings for 8 years. So they try to “deprogram” themselves with this crackpot self-help program that keeps backfiring on them. (It’s a comedy.) I hope people will like it! It's a different kind of story than HTRAMH, but hopefully the people who liked the humor in this one and the bond between the main characters will see shades of what they enjoyed in this one, too. I'm hoping to release the new one this summer, and I'm sure I'll be posting all kinds of updates over at jclillis.com.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries