Interview with Hayden Thorne

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.

hayden rise of the heroes 2You 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.

 Your Masks series is very successful, garnering lots of fans and accolades. Have you decided if you will write another series? What would tip the scales, other thanhayden masks evolution 2 inspiration?

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

 hayden icarus 2Icarus in Flight is one of your most popular books. Why did you decide to write a Victorian YA romance?

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,hayden the twilight gods 2 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.

hayden banshee 2As 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?

Writing and finishing The Glass Minstrel, which will be released by Cheyenne Publishing late 2010.

Creatively, what is your biggest challenge? How do you manage to overcome it?hayden masks ordinary champion 2

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

email:   haydenthorne@gmail.com
Blog:  http://www.haydenthorne.net/

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

12 comments

  • Wonderful interview Wave and Hayden. I am very interested in GLBT YA books. There’s just something about that time in one’s life that has so much…feeling and discovery and angst. I’ve so far only really read the “problems” or romance stories, so my goal for 2010 is to expand into other parts of the genre. Thanks for the insight.

    Reply
    • Oh, I *love* reliving the craziness of adolescence. I know that a lot of people would rather forget their pasts (high school sucks for a lot of us – yeah, even for me), but the negative stuff aside, it’s such a thrill looking at things as though they’re bright and shiny all over again.

      I don’t know if you’ve read this essay, but it really sums up my passion for YA: Nature’s Daredevils.

      Reply
  • Thanks for this interesting interview, Hayden.

    I think one of the challenges with YA books is figuring out when readers are in the YA phase. For example, my son (and he mirrors my reading experience) was reading YA when he was about 9-10 years old. He’d pretty much graduated to adult books by the time he was 13. He never seemed to have much interest in books with any sex or discussions of sexuality in them — he was a boy all the way and wanted action and adventure. I am not sure gay characters would have made a blip on his radar screen. My daughter, who is now 18, is still reading YA books (although she has read many, many adult books, too — but she has “phases”). She doesn’t like books with sex, though, even when chastely presented, and will ask me about that when I make recommendations to her. Since kids are all over the map, I can understand how marketing to them is a real challenge. Adults who read YA (and I do, on occasion,) know who they are so for them it is just a question of making sure they are aware of the books.

    As for big publishers vs. little? It seems to me that the big guys pour tons of money into the marketing campaigns of a handful of their authors and leave the rest to fend for themselves. I become more disillusioned every day with the big publishers. I am happy to support small publishers who are doing a good job, such as Lethe, with my book buying dollars, and leave the others behind. There was a recent news article that 4 major publishers will be delaying the release of ebooks by 4 months (after the hardcover) — as if we ebook readers are second class citizens. One more reason for me not to bother with buying their books.

    L

    Reply
    • Boys are really hard to market to. I’m sure that most readers (maybe all?) of my books are above 18. I read somewhere a while back that boys usually don’t go for books marketed as YA (or resent being given that label) and jump to adult fiction (if they’re inclined to read, given the distractions of video games and so on), so it looks like your son’s on the right track. 😀

      Girls tend to be bigger readers than boys, but marketing to teen girls is a bit of a challenge. Their preferences at that age tend to be “girl fiction” or books that are heavy on the romance. So no chance for a boy-meets-boy book to catch their eye.

      I submitted books once to Book Divas, which is this HUGE review site for YA fiction, with the reviews posted by teen readers. When the second book of my MASKS trilogy came out, they changed their policy to YA books for *girls* only. That’s one more door shut in my face right there. But I gotta keep pushing ahead.

      Big publishers have been getting a lot of bad press for their snobbery toward e-books. Took them this long to add them, and even then, I think at least one of them charges an insane amount for an e-book. Can’t remember who right off the bat, but the price was something over $20 at one point. Crazy.

      Yeah, I’ve been happily getting my fix through small presses.

      Reply
  • Hi Hayden. Thanks for this insight into YA GLBTQ fiction from an author’s perspective.
    *
    This might sound a little silly *who cares!* but I have a deep love for the YA genre as a whole and, during the past year, have fallen head over heels for GLBTQ YA after discovering it through such publishers as Lethe Press, Prizm (with which I’ve been very impressed) and more recently Lee Wind’s terrific blog. In fact, I have insisted on pimping the genre to everyone I meet including Wave, Jenre and Tam. I think they might get a little sick of me. LOL.
    *
    I’m a big fan of your ‘Masks’ series – I’m kicking myself that I’ve somehow missed knowing about the one-shots – and have ‘The Twilight Gods’ sitting at the very top of my tbr pile.
    *
    I was very interested to read your views about YA GLBTQ fiction needing to reflect a whole range of stories. I absolutely agree because, as much as sharing and exploring coming out stories is very important, there is danger, I think anyway, in emphasising this moment in time/turning point to what might come later in life.
    *
    That actually highlights what I think is one of the most wonderful aspects of YA teen fiction, which is their potential to inspire without being light and fluffy.
    *
    Thanks for the interview, Wave and Hayden!

    Reply
    • Hey, I’m an old fart who LOVES gay YA. Be out and proud with it! 😀 And no worries about the MASKS sequels. I’ve just finished and submitted the first one-shot to Prizm, and I’m waiting for their “yea” or “nay” email. Hopefully it’s the former. If it does get picked up, you’ll be on my list for review copies.

      It’s definitely good to emphasize to kids that their sexual orientation is only one part of the whole, that their lives are just as affected by the decisions they make and the values they hold on to and fight for.

      The best thing about the internet is that gay kids are able to connect with others who’re going through similar experiences, and they can really off each other’s energy. I’ve seen that happen a lot at gay teen forums I visit from time to time, and the fierceness of these kids’ protectiveness of each other is mind-boggling. Not to mention very inspiring.

      It’s no small surprise then that gay kids nowadays are more confident than those in the past. I hope to see that trend continue, if not improve even more.

      Reply
  • Great interview, ladies :).
    *
    I don’t read much YA now (as I’ve mentioned to Kris, it makes me pine for my long lost youth :)), but I used to read a lot when I was a secondary school teacher because I needed to be able to recommend books to my students. It’s great that there’s a small but growing market for GBLT YA books as 5-6 years ago there was little or nothing for a gay teen and at least now they can read books about teenagers who are facing the same problems that they do.
    *
    Having said that, I agree that not all YA GBLT books should focus on the problems of being gay. There needs to be books which also focus on the positives or that just accept that being gay is just one part of your personality – as you say Hayden, it’s the talent and personality which defines a person. Or at least it should be.

    Reply
    • “There needs to be books which also focus on the positives or that just accept that being gay is just one part of your personality – as you say Hayden, it’s the talent and personality which defines a person. Or at least it should be.”

      Sorry, I *was* going to use codes for italics but remembered that they don’t work. Hopefully the teeny little quotation marks aren’t problematic. ^^;;;

      You know what saddens me? When I see reviewers of GLBT YA books (I’m looking at bookstores like Amazon here) say that gay kids being accepted by their families when they come out is NOT realistic. I know for a fact – and there’s been not only articles written on this, but also individual stories shared online – that not EVERYONE’S coming-out process turns out badly. With each new generation of kids, there’s a growing acceptance of homosexuality, and I know that a lot of parents work hard to instill values of fairness in their kids.

      But those dismissive comments to books with positive coming-out stories make it nearly impossible for those of us who write genre fiction to get our stories accepted. It’s really sad that many adult readers automatically generalize young gay experiences as purely negative, when the spectrum’s so, so broad.

      Reply
  • Hi Tam,

    Yeah, problem novels will always have a place in the YA market. In fact, I think they’re essential, especially for each new generation of GLBT kids.

    The “character who happens to be gay” angle helps by showing kids that they’re no different from other amateur sleuths or superheroes or magicians. Their identities aren’t the issue anymore, and it’s what they do with their individual talents and their minds that counts. Love that idea. 🙂

    Reply
  • Excellent review Hayden, you are a great ambassador to the genre–and never lose faith – five years ago no-one had heard of m/m either! Quality will out and that’s something you have in spades.

    Reply
    • @ Erastes:

      Hey, check this out. I’ve got a timer going after I posted my response to Tam. That’s cool. 😀 God, I’m easy to amuse.

      You know, sometimes it really bites being an ambassador. Hardly anyone wants to listen, let alone agree to review stuff from unknown publishers and unknown writers who enjoy an unknown sub-genre. I mean, I’ve even had doors slammed in my face because I write for a small press, my emails completely ignored, while reviewers chase after “the big guns” of YA fiction.

      How long does it take before we finally find a foothold in the market, anyway?

      Actually, don’t answer that. It’ll only depress me. XD

      Reply
  • I’ll comment on the “problem novel” vs the “he happens to be gay and solving a mystery” point. I think that these YA novels can be a means to sensitise youth about the gay issue as well. So much of the teasing and bullying that happens to young gay kids happens in high school (and below). If kids like my daughter (14.5) are reading interesting stories about characters they love (who happen to be gay) I think it can open their eyes to them not as “gay” kids but just as peers. So while I definitely think there is a place for “coming out” novels that can help gay kids relate to the struggles, I know my daughter would not be interested in that, it’s not her life. While it might be “good for her” to read that, teenagers don’t read books that are good for them. 🙂 They read books to be entertained. I’m not saying there should never be any difficulties faced by these heros with regard to being gay and a teen, but that’s not the thrust of the book.
    *
    I am not a huge YA fan but I have read some and I kind of like that I can share it with my daughter because really, there is no way she’s getting near my other m/m books. 🙂 I bought Josh Aterovis’ books for her for Christmas and I know they are a bit of a gift for me too because I will read them as well.
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    I’ll definitely be checking out Masks, perhaps another sharing moment for us. 🙂 Great interview guys.

    Reply

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