Today Hayden Thorne, YA author joins us on the site and she’s talking about her writing and her books.
Welcome Hayden and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. It’s always difficult to interview someone who has been interviewed so many times before. I don’t want to ask the same questions but this is a pretty safe one.
Why don’t you start by telling us something about Hayden, professionally and personally
I started out writing adult M/M fiction under another pseudonym, but it resulted in hardly any success, sale-wise. Curiously, the biggest short fiction sales I made involved teenage characters either in fantasy or contemporary settings.
I used to teach freshman English at a Junior College and a State University, but California’s budget dried up, so I ended up in the same line of work that, before, paid for my graduate education. I currently work in the art field, and I enjoy it a lot, especially since my co-workers are all artists and are pretty fun to be with.
You write Young Adult books, a sub genre that I think is still finding its feet. What made you decide on YA when you started writing? What are some of the challenges of placing yourself in the mind of a teenager? I do understand that writers can write pretty well about anything, even mass murderers, however it’s difficult to write convincingly from a teen’s perspective if you’re an adult. What strategies do you use to make sure the characters do not come across as fakes?
GLBT YA fiction is pretty well-established, but it’s genre GLBT YA fiction that’s still flying under everyone’s radar.
I didn’t really decide on writing YA right off the bat, to be honest with you. When Torquere Press opened their Prizm imprint, they contacted me and asked if I was interested in submitting material for their launch. They’d published a couple of short stories from me before, and I guess something in those stories made them think that I was a good candidate for what they needed (thank you!).
Using the appropriate narrative voice is a little tricky. Since I write both contemporary and historical fiction, I also have to keep period details in mind. Historical fiction characters tend to be a little more mature in behavior since back then, you were regarded as either a child or an adult. Adolescents were an invisible population, and they were off in school. How they were treated at home is really up in the air for me, as no amount of intensive research yielded much information for what I needed.
Contemporary fiction is obviously a lot easier to get into, but at the same time, I try to be careful in making sure that Eric (Masks series) doesn’t sound too immature and forced with the overuse of “like” or “dude” or whatever. I usually “hear” the characters’ voices in my head as I type, and I try to keep to that as much as possible. I usually go ahead and exaggerate the snarkiness or the maturity during the initial writing. It’s in the subsequent rewriting phases where I get to adjust their voices to the way I want them to sound.
What really spurs me on when it comes to writing either a series or a one-shot is the fact that gay teens are sadly underrepresented in genre fiction. Sure, we’ve got a lot of YA titles that have side characters who’re gay, but not main characters. The idea that each new story idea that crosses my mind is another chance at exploring foreign waters really fires me up and gets me very excited about writing.
Some YA series allow the protagonists to grow up and eventually go on to college and evolve into adults (like Josh Aterovis’s Killian Kendall,) at which time they have different problems, over and above coming out in school. What do you think about this trend?
I like that trend, really. Keeping your characters in a kind of stasis throughout a series can paint you in a corner, and you certainly run the risk of losing readers. I mean, sure, you can pull that off successfully, but I know that after a while, some people get tired of reading about the same characters for what feels like forever, and you really need to cut the cord and move on to something else. Or you can create a series in such a way as to show the hero’s development from youth to adulthood and make your main character into a very complex and multi-faceted one.
My Masks series is mainly the trilogy. Its sequels are just one-shots that are episodic and more like fun appendages to Eric’s main story. Unlike the trilogy, which has a beginning, middle, and end, the sequels will stop after the fourth, regardless.
Do you feel that YA books should be more mainstream, focusing on adventures, mysteries etc. as the main plot points rather than just be “coming out” stories? Why?
YA books are technically already mainstream, and they enjoy a huge and devoted readership. What I’d love to see is a broadening of its scope, especially in GLBT YA fiction. What we currently have right now is a much bigger emphasis on contemporary realistic stories, the majority of which are problem novels or coming-out novels. The most established speculative fiction titles Hero by Perry Moore, Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, and Vintage by Steve Berman) expertly weave coming-out themes into their plots, which is a fantastic crossover step in introducing readers to genre GLBT YA fiction. Malinda Lo’s Ash, which is a fantasy lesbian retelling of “Cinderella,” is the most visible genre GLBT YA novel currently published, and the book is strictly a romance. So hooray for one more step forward.
Nowadays, we’re starting to see a hole in the GLBT YA market, where readers want more than just problem novels. I’ve seen some plead, “Please, no more dead gay teenagers!” An online friend of mine, whose college-bound daughter is bisexual, asked me to remember that “not all parents of gay kids are monsters.” I made her and her family my models for Eric Plath’s family.
Non-GLBT YA fiction is incredibly diverse. In addition to paranormal novels, straight kids enjoy a slew of books from historical to fantasy to sci-fi to romance. So my question is, why can’t gay kids have the same? True, their coming of age is a lot rockier than their straight counterparts’, but I’ve always believed that, in addition to the comfort and wisdom that problem novels offer them, putting these same kids front and center and the heroes of all kinds of stories and adventures can help build up their self-confidence and, hopefully, their outlook on life.
You write both contemporary and historical fiction. Which to you is the most satisfying and enjoyable to write about? Why?
Both are satisfying and challenging in their own ways, but you’ll definitely be subjected to a lot of angst from me whenever I’m working on a historical novel. Completing a novel, regardless of sub-genre, is always an incredible euphoric moment. That I was able to write a 70,000-word story without spontaneously combusting is always reason enough to celebrate.
The great thing about writing Masks is that Eric’s the teenager that I never was. Aside from the fact that he’s male and gay, he’s got a lot more confidence, is a lot more reckless and in your face, and he’s a manipulative little shit. I was the kind of kid who didn’t like mingling, didn’t have a large social group, and preferred to lock myself in my room and read. Writing Eric’s incredibly cathartic for me; it’s really like experiencing a second adolescence
Icarus in Flight was actually written as an M/M novel. The “unabridged” version ran around 110,000 words with a few graphic sex scenes between James and Daniel and a number of other side characters. It even had James involved with a rent boy. I was in the process of submitting the novel to other publishers and in fact received a rejection from one, when I got the email from Prizm, asking if I was interested in submitting to them.
I didn’t at first think of sending them the manuscript and wrote Masks: Rise of Heroes first and then finished Banshee (I was also around 2/3 done with Banshee when I was contacted). Then I went back and deleted at least 30,000 words (OUCH!) to fit Prizm’s guidelines and rewrote a few scenes before submitting it.
In the past, I’ve always associated Victorian teens with schoolboy fiction, so writing about a romance between an heir and an orphan was another “restructuring” of my universe. I kept chiding myself with, “Well, why not? Straight teens have their historical romances, so why not gay teens?”
The Twilight Gods, a fantasy, is your latest novel. What can you tell us about the story?
It’s a retelling of a Native American folktale, first and foremost. “The Girl Who Married a Ghost” is a really interesting story that not only delves into themes of pride and punishment, but its elements also explore issues of “the other,” which is one of my favorite subjects.
I figured that the fantasy elements would work well in exploring real issues, which in the novel’s case are a gay teen’s coming-out process, social pressures to conform, the more sobering results of being disowned by the family, and, frankly, the misconceptions that too many of us still hold on to regarding the GLBT community, hence the shadows, the death motifs, and the masks. If that’s still the case in the 21st century (though in a lesser extent, thankfully), what more in Victorian England?
So Norris’s coming of age, while familiar to us because of our understanding of gay issues, is more in line with “what if?” scenarios for a specific pocket of time in history.
Torquere Press has a Prizm line for young adults and other publishers such as Lethe Press are also getting into the game, which means that this sub genre will probably continue to grow. What do you think could be some of the challenges facing both writers and publishers in bringing these books more into the mainstream?
You know, I’ve been publishing genre GLBT YA fiction for two years now, and I still have the worst time marketing my books. The bigger publishers will always have an edge over the little guys. Much of the difficulty, I think, comes from this ingrained idea that gay teens should only read problem novels or contemporary novels. Even adult fans of YA fiction aren’t exposed to a more diverse offering from publishers. The most established books, which I noted in a previous response, are the only genre titles out there that enjoy a certain amount of exposure, and again, they have crossover appeal because of their coming-out themes.
As for genre novels where the characters happen to be gay, the popularity so far is limited to adult fiction. Reviewers I’ve contacted tend to prefer contemporary realistic fiction (or teen girl fiction), with one GLBT YA reviewer specifically saying to me, “The only fantasy YA novel I read is Harry Potter.” Well, there goes about 99% of my backlist. It’s a real hurdle, and, seriously, the only thing I can do right now is to keep writing what I write, create a good backlist, and be an active contributor to a new and still-alien sub-genre.
Many adults don’t read YA books, for different reasons. What approach would you suggest as a marketing strategy to get them to be more accepting of these books and realize what jewels some of them are, for both adults and teens?
The only thing I can tell everyone at the moment is that YA fiction, just like adult fiction, runs the gamut. We don’t all write about paranormal romances. We don’t all write at a certain level of comprehension (it depends on the target audience’s age group). We don’t all write problem novels.
Popular authors aren’t the only options out there, either. Beyond Perry Moore and David Levithan, there’s a group of unknowns who work hard to redefine GLBT YA fiction. In the shadows of the more popular writers, they’re helping break new ground with their novels, which are fantasy, alternate universe, or dystopian urban fantasy. The big New York publishers don’t have a monopoly on genre GLBT YA fiction. If anything, they’re not even leading the charge; it’s the little guys like Prizm and Lethe who are.
In your career as a writer what has been your proudest moment to date?
Doubt. I hate doubt. A voice in the back of my head would always convince me that I didn’t try hard enough or I screwed up in some way or another with each book. That people would read it and that the reason they don’t post reviews is that they can’t stand it. I’ve always been my own worst critic, and it’s something I honestly can’t overcome
What don’t we (the readers) know about Hayden that you think we would find interesting?
None. I’m boring.
What does Hayden for fun?
I cycle. A lot. My husband and I ride close to a hundred miles a week, and we just started bouldering for strength and core training.
Thank you Hayden
Hayden Thorne’s Contact Information