Q & A With Robin Talley!

Hey guys! I know it’s been a while. I just haven’t been reading much, so I haven’t had any new content. However, I do have quite a few reviews coming your way soon, so be on the lookout for those!

While I don’t have a review for you today, I do have something else that’s pretty exciting. A while back, I reviewed What We Left Behind by Robin Talley (you can read that review here), and I recently got the chance to ask her a few questions about her book, what she’s up to, and her thoughts on LGBTQIA+ YA.

Q: Are you currently reading anything?

A: Right now I’m reading Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz and I’m more than a little obsessed with it. It’s got a dystopian-ish setting and focuses on a character named Kivali (better known as Lizard) who’s a bender living in a culture with strict rules about everything from gender to drugs to job training, who’s spending the summer at a government-run camp full of teenagers who are being taught, in equal measure, how to grow crops, bond with comrades, and get married. Also, there’s a lizard radio network. I could talk about this book for hours, but for real, everyone should just read it, now.

Q: Are you currently writing anything that you’re allowed to tell us about?

A: I’m currently putting the finishing touches on my next book, As I Descended. It’s a lesbian retelling of Macbeth set at a haunted boarding school. It’s totally different than anything I’ve ever written before, but it’s been so much fun.

Q: Is there any real life basis to What We Left Behind?

A: Not directly. My college experience was very different from either of the main characters in WWLB, Toni and Gretchen. The elements that I drew from my own life, though, were the overall vibe of what that first semester at college was like ― things like forming immediate and very complicated friendships with people you’ve just met, and exploring independence in a way that you’ve never fathomed before.

Q: How long did it take you to complete What We Left Behind?

A: The first draft took about three months, but then I revised it so many times I lost count. There was probably at least a year, total, spent on revision.

Q: Did you find the writing process to be similar to when you were writing Lies We Tell Ourselves, or was it different?

A: It was pretty different. Both books required a lot of research, but that research took very different forms, since Lies We Tell Ourselves was historical fiction and therefore required a lot of old-school library research, compared to What We Left Behind where I was mostly talking to people and doing online research (though for both books I also read memoirs, watched documentaries, etc.). The two stories have pretty different structures, too. Lies We Tell Ourselves follows two characters who are mostly operating in totally separate spheres from each other, whereas in What We Left Behind, the two narrators are very in tune and talking constantly. So that meant the outlining process was also very different for the two books.

Q: What are some of your favorite YA LGBTQIA+ reads?

A: I mentioned Lizard Radio earlier ― I’ve not even done with that one but it’s already a favorite! Some other favorite 2015 releases are The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson, a masterful and devastating story about grief and coming of age, and Simon v. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, which I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I put it down.

Q: What would you like to see happen in the future in terms of LGBTQIA+ YA?

A: I’d like to see more of it! The numbers of these books are increasing, but they’re still way below where they should be in terms of demographics, so I’m eager to see more LGBTQIA+ lead characters in all genres ― contemporary, SF/F, historical, romance, everything. We also need more intersectional lead characters, who are LGBTQIA+ in addition to being disabled, or characters of color, or characters who belong to marginalized religions or socioeconomic classes.

Q: Toni and Gretchen go through a lot of growth in the story in terms of their identity and sexuality. Can you recommend some helpful resources for anyone who might be going through the same thing? Also, resources for friends and family members?

A: Here are two great resources that have a lot of information on gender and sexuality as well as how students can make sure their schools are safe spaces for everyone:

There’s also a lot of great information targeted at students and youth from GLSEN and The Trevor Project.

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