So when I came across FreakBoy back in June, I went ahead and wrote my review, even though it wouldn't be published until October. I just couldn't risk forgetting how awesome it was. Author Kristin Clark stops by and talks about her hero, Brendan, and how the T in LGBTQ is often the forgotten letter.
THE BOOK-RELATED QUESTIONS
Freakboy is the story of a young man who doesn't completely feel comfortable in the role of a young man. What made you decide to write a book about a transgender teen?
I’ve worked with kids for a long time. I’ve been a child advocate, a tae kwon do teacher, and a children’s theatre producer. Over the years, different kids have confided in me about different things. A few years ago, one with whom I had a very close relationship came out to me as trans. I thought I knew what that meant, but the more we talked and researched resources and support for her, the more I realized how many incorrect assumptions I’d made about something I actually knew very little about.
I've often heard that the T is the forgotten letter in the LGBT alphabet. While acceptance of gay people is at record highs, transpeople are often marginalized. How did you research what it's like to be a young man questioning his gender identity?
I agree with you that trans people tend to be marginalized and misunderstood. I have high hopes that books like yours and mine will allow readers to gain a little understanding of what life might be like for someone who’s gender queer. It’s harder to marginalize, mock, or bully someone once you understand them.
As for research, once the above-mentioned kid came out to me as trans and I realized how little I actually knew, I did a LOT of reading and I talked in depth with several transpeople, most of them teens or young adults. People were great about sharing their stories with me.
Brendan is not entirely sure of who he is or what he wants to be. Rather than making Brendan someone who identifies as female, you made him someone who's still questioning. And his attraction to his girlfriend Vanessa is unflagging. Why did you choose to make Brendan sexually ambiguous, rather than a transwoman?
Ah ha! This is the question, the very issue that sparked the whole book for me. I chose to make Brendan gender fluid in order to specifically point out something that’s very misunderstood. Something I myself didn’t get until after asking some... unenlightened questions.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely different things.
The person who first came out to me as trans was someone whose birth-sex assignment was male. When we first talked, this kid was still presenting as male and even had a girlfriend.
She confided that she was a girl inside; in her soul and in her spirit. One of my first questions (other than “how can I support you?” and variations on that, of course) was about her girlfriend. She said, "Think of me as a lesbian."
It's a line I used (with her permission, of course) in FreakBoy.
At any rate, that discussion sparked the story, and later, when I got to know more people who identify as gender non-conforming, I got to know someone who identifies as gender fluid. The back and forth of that can be painful and confusing, as it is for my protagonist.
Angel, Brendan's counselor, truly lives up to her name.
I know! I love her! (shhhhh – don’t tell the others, but she might be my favorite.) She actually reminds me a little of a kid I advocated for in the juvenile justice system. It’s a funny thing writers do - a pinch of that situation, a dose of that person… it all goes into the story stew.
Why did you choose to write this book in free verse, rather than as a regular story?
I’ve read and written poetry for much of my life but never intended to write a verse novel. I was all about the prose.
This story started screaming to be told in verse for some reason. Any time I tried to shift away from that, the story refused to cooperate.
I freaked out and called my friend Ellen Hopkins, the Queen of Verse Novels. There are descriptions of the conversation we had at that point elsewhere on the interwebs, but to sum up, she helped me to see that verse was the best medium for the kind of story I was telling, because the struggles of my characters are such internal ones. She told me to relax and go with it, so I did.
Finally I just let it be what it was going to be. Kind of like a parent who needs to just let his or her kid be who they're going to be.
THE YA QUESTIONS
If your real life adolescence was a YA book ...
What would you, the main character, be like?
The bookish nerd with the weird hair and beat-up cowboy boots.
Who is your secret crush?
The artistic badboy, who sprays graffiti - but it’s beautiful graffiti.
So not the Monty Python quoting nerd who writes the F word in all the bathroom stalls? Just checking.
What is your number #1 source of angst?
That my best friend is going out with the artistic badboy. Guys ALWAYS like her better than they do me. It’s okay… I’ve made my peace with it.
Meanwhile, graffiti guy's awkward friend is wishing he had the nerve to talk to the girl in the cowboy boots.
At what point would the reader pump his/her fist in victory?
The moment I realize I don’t NEED the badboy to like me back. When I choose to do my own thing.
And who would play you in the film adaptation?
Ummm... I’m bad at this. Instead of having a live actor play me could we just sew some little cowboy boots onto a sock puppet?
THE SLUMBER PARTY QUESTIONS
What is your #1 favorite food?
Homemade peppermint ice cream
Tell me about your area of expertise.
Really, REALLY good at making peppermint ice cream!
If you could assemble your own Ocean's 11 of fictional characters, who would you pick?
Jolu from Little Brother, for hacking ability.
Sheeni Saunders from Youth in Revolt. She’s clever and manipulative.
Isaac the bartender from Loveboat. (I should think my reasoning here is fairly obvious.)
The Invisible Man. (ditto.)
Hermione Granger. A smart witch! Just call her twofer.
Sterling Archer from the FX series Archer. So Isaac can stay busy before the wrap party.
Buffy Summers. Ass -kicker with superhuman strength.
Mystique from X-Men! Hot, deadly, brilliant strategist.
The Scarlett Pimpernel. Because I like saying “Pimpernel”.
Smart as he is, I don’t think I’d invite Sherlock Holmes. I get the feeling he’d be a prima donna. Hm… could we just do Ocean’s 9? This is haaaaaarrrrddddd
Tell me something scandalous!
Mystique is pouting because I refuse to let Sherlock on the team. She’s hot for him.
What is your favorite adult beverage?
Campari and soda.
What book have you read the most number of times?
Probably Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery. It’s my little chicken-soup book when life is just too much to handle. Nothing very bad ever happens in it.
Who is your 'freebie'?
YA authors are so cool. Who would you give a BFF charm to?
Wow. That’s hard, because they ARE so cool and there are several whom I adore, but Ellen Hopkins would definitely be a recipient. She’s super fun, and smart, and talented, and SUPER big-hearted.
Out of all of the characters you’ve written, which one do you most wish you could be?
I think I’d be Angel – despite the challenges she’s faced in her life she’s come out of things with a sunny, life-loving disposition. I envision the happiest of lives for her because of her attitude.
If you were invited to the FYA slumber party (and of course, you ARE), what is the most crucial snack food and/or movie/or anything you'd bring?
Candy corn, Dr. Pepper and a season of 24
And now it's time for MASH! Kristin provided the first three options, and the fourth was chosen for her. I forgot how I was supposed to do this for real, so I used a four-sided die.
The Amalfi Coast
New York City
Number of kids
Three Very Lovely Girls
Psychic to the Stars
A gajillion dollars
a bazillion dollars
I get paid in dead rats and paper clips
$19.95! And if you act now....
New York City
Well, you and Strider won't be the only ones driving around Pachuca in a Volkswagen, but at least there will be room for your eight kids.