Why I Wrote My Happiest Queer YA Yet, a guest post by Robin Talley
I didn’t actually have happiness in mind when I started writing my new rom-com, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre. But now that I’m looking at that gorgeous candy-colored cover, bedecked with literal hearts and flowers, it’s hitting me that I’ve never written anything quite so cheerful before.
Someone asked me if I set out to write a happy book because I foresaw 2020 and the degree to which we’d need escapism. The answer’s a hard no. If I’d foreseen 2020, I probably would’ve put writing aside and invested all my time in researching bunker-building techniques.
The truth is, I didn’t even know this novel was a rom-com when I first started writing it. All I knew was that a character named Melody McIntyre had shown up in my head, and that she was the stage manager for her high school theater, and that she was very, very good at what she did.
Mel’s world, and the people in it, evolved from there. Before I fully understood what was happening, I was writing about a production of Les Misérables in a high school theater suffering under a decades-old curse. And because many theater people tend to be superstitious (just ask the theater person I’m married to, who grew increasingly impatient with the way I kept saying the real name of the Scottish Play out loud to her while I was writing As I Descended), that wound up being a big part of the story, too — but not because I planned it that way.
The same was true of the central conflict in the story — it just sort of happened. As stage manager, Mel is the leader of her school’s technical theater crew, and when her crew friends realize disaster always seems to strike during their shows when Mel is in a relationship, they ask her to swear off love, just for a couple of months, until they’re done with the spring production of Les Mis. Mel, who’s just suffered a painful breakup, readily agrees, and all is going according to plan — until Odile Rose comes along. Odile, an actor, is just as skilled onstage as Mel is off. She’s already well on her way to Hollywood stardom — and she’s also already fascinated by the efficient, no-nonsense girl who’s always running around backstage with a clipboard, dressed all in black.
It was only when I noticed how deep I was in rom-com tropes that I realized I was writing a rom-com.
Love Curse is my seventh novel, and my seventh to focus on queer characters. I’ve written historical and contemporary, realistic and speculative, retellings and wholly original stories, but until now, I’d never written anything this fun. I’ve never written a book where the characters’ queerness was as incidental to their lives as it is in this story, either.
Don’t get me wrong — Mel’s bisexuality is a big part of who she is. It’s just that nothing about that aspect of her identity is a struggle. She’s part of a wholly accepting family, complete with two dads, and her mentor is a gay man, too. She also has plenty of queer friends — this is the theater crowd, after all — and she goes to school in a liberal suburb of a liberal city where she doesn’t think twice about holding hands with a girl on the street.
Mel’s world isn’t the world I grew up in, not by a long shot. But it was a huge relief to spend time there. To write about a character who’s facing plenty of challenges — but none that stem from her sexual orientation.
For some queer readers, this reflects their reality. For some, it’s escapism. For a lot, it’s somewhere in between.
And again, don’t get me wrong — there’s absolutely still a place on library shelves for books that center coming out, or bullying, or the isolation that comes with being closeted. Sadly, those still reflect the realities of far too many queer teen readers. And up until now, every book I’ve written has centered those things to one degree or another. (Even if, as in my dual-narrative historical/contemporary novel Pulp, they’re literally only half the story.)
Love Curse is different. It was a joy to write, partly because I got to research it by going to a ton of school musicals (I had no idea how much fun Legally Blonde: The Musical could be until I saw the full Wilson High drumline come onstage during the law-school-application-video-essay sequence), but also because of how breezily Mel and her friends treat their own queerness. For them, it’s just a fact of life.
I grew up in the 1990s. There were no out queer kids at my (quite large) high school. Queerness was never just a fact of life, not for anyone I knew.
But I’m writing for teens today. Teens who get to read books about characters like Mel — something it never occurred to me to even dream of doing.
So I guess I wrote my happiest book of all time because, even in the midst of the current state of the world around us, today’s teens and their world make me happy. And I feel so overwhelmingly lucky that I get to write for them.
Meet the author
Robin Talley (she/her) is a queer author who grew up in southwest Virginia and now lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife and their rambunctious kiddos. She is the New York Times-bestselling author of seven novels for teen readers, including The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre, Music From Another World, Pulp, and As I Descended. You can find her at www.robintalley.com.
About The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre
Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Nina LaCour, this #ownvoices romantic comedy from New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley has something for everyone: backstage rendezvous, deadly props, and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to True Love.
Melody McIntyre, stage manager extraordinaire, has a plan for everything.
What she doesn’t have? Success with love. Every time she falls for someone during a school performance, both the romance and the show end in catastrophe. So, Mel swears off any entanglements until their upcoming production of Les Mis is over.
Of course, Mel didn’t count on Odile Rose, rising star in the acting world, auditioning for the spring performance. And she definitely didn’t expect Odile to be sweet and funny, and care as much about the play’s success as Mel.
Which means that Melody McIntyre’s only plan now is trying desperately not to fall in love.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/01/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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