Romance for Logistical Headaches, a guest post by Edward Underhill
When I wrote my debut novel, Always the Almost, I had a very clear mission statement for myself as a writer: I wanted to write a book that used joy as a form of resistance, that didn’t ignore the hard parts of being trans and queer, but also celebrated the wonderful, complex, messy, and beautiful parts. I think I did that. I’m still very proud of that book.
But now I’ve gone through a year as a published author. Another year of watching trans rights snatched away, for youth and adults alike. A year of seeing various media where the message seemed to be “queer joy can only exist in the absence of queerphobia” (and if there is a hint of queerphobia, it’s in the form of black-and-white villains who are cartoonish bullies). A year of noting how many trade reviews, professional critics, and awards committees still view “issue books” full of queer pain as the primary ones worthy of accolades.
If I’m being honest, I kind of fell into writing romance (pardon the expression) ass backwards. I wrote all over the genre map, and wrote plenty of stories with no queer characters at all, because it didn’t seem like publishing had room for them. That Always the Almost happened to be my first published book was (as is so often the case) a combination of luck and market and timing. This isn’t to say I don’t love writing romance—I do. Daring to fall in love (romantically or otherwise) is, I think, one of the bravest and hardest and most beautiful things humans can do. Love is also what we, as queer and trans people, so often crave and are not given.
But when I sat down to write my second book, This Day Changes Everything, which comes out today (!), love and joy and hope and all of that “fluffy” stuff was rather hard to access. I felt trapped between two versions of reality: we deserve queer joy and it’s horrible and awful to be a trans teen right now and we shouldn’t lie about that.
Both realities matter. Both realities are true.
This Day Changes Everything is my first dual-POV book. It follows Abby, a cis girl who is pretty sure she’s queer but isn’t really sure how to inhabit that identity, and Leo, a trans boy whose life is a series of microaggressions that make him feel like a logistical headache for everyone around him. Both are from small towns in states that are actively dismantling their rights. Neither of them feels like they have space to exist where they live. Then they travel with their respective marching bands to New York City to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, fate throws them together on the wrong subway train, and they find each other.
If that sounds like wrangling two opposing forces—states dismantling rights vs. a romantic adventure in NYC—well, that’s exactly how it felt, writing it. Abby is anxious. Leo is angry, and he has a lot to be angry about. I didn’t expect either of them to be full of so many thorny feelings, and I spent some time, when I started writing this book, trying to smooth their edges. Trying to fit them in the mold of so many cishet romcom characters that had come before. Abby is a sunshine and Leo is a grump; I tried, for a while, to make them only those things.
It didn’t work. It felt untrue. Because they are not cishet romcom characters. Leo is trans. Abby is queer. All their anxiety and anger and fear—all of that was an integral part of their reality, and therefore an integral part of who they are.
The challenge of writing This Day Changes Everything became how to write what is, through-and-through, an ultimately lighthearted romcom about two characters who are wrestling with a reality that is anything but lighthearted. The answer was to let them be—to let their reality as queer teens in less-than-friendly states bump up against the reality of queer teens in a big blue city like New York. To let them be so full of thorny feelings that they quite literally have to scream their heads off in the middle of Manhattan. To let them build a bubble—over the course of a day—that allows them space to exist, to fall in love, to feel like the center of the universe, and, most importantly, to see and recognize each other for exactly who they are.
The answer, in other words, was both and.
I think queerness and transness have been explored for so long in genre fiction because the conventions of those genres let us, as writers, explore many complicated facets of our own identities. Society calls us monsters, and so we write horror about real monsters. Society calls us unnatural, and so we write science fiction about what “unnatural” means. Society tells us we don’t deserve love, and so we write “issue books” showing the damage that causes, and we write romance to say no, actually, we deserve all the love. We are logistical headaches. We are menaces. We are beautiful. We are just like everybody else and we are also not like anybody else at all. When there are millions of us, there are also millions of realities, and all of them are true.
I feel like I’ve let this get rather heavy for what is (I promise) a very funny, often silly book! But I suppose that sort of proves my point—or the point that Evan (tuba-playing best friend of Leo) attempts to get through Leo’s stubborn head in the book: Life sucks. Make joy anyway.
Some readers want fluffy fantasies of reality where no hate exists. Some readers want the hate laid bare. I think I need to exist somewhere in the middle—the both and. Life sucks. Muscle your way in anyway, take up space where you can, protect yourself where you need to, and make your own joy. We are here, and we are queer, and we can’t reduce our identities to the neat black-and-white that society would like us to. We can’t (and shouldn’t) reduce our stories, either.
We deserve to take up space. To fit the conventions of genre to our selves, rather than the other way around.
Which for me means a somewhat ridiculous romp through New York City for two teens who feel all kinds of real hurt and real fear. And my job, in writing them, is to give them that both and.
Meet the author
EDWARD UNDERHILL (he/him) is a queer trans man who grew up in the suburbs of Wisconsin, where he could not walk to anything, which meant he had to make up his own adventures. He began writing (very bad) stories as a kid and wrote his first (also very bad) novel in his teens. In college, he studied music composition, before earning a master’s degree in film music composition. After a few years living in very tiny apartments in New York, he moved to California, where by day he writes music and by night he writes stories, which aren’t as bad as they used to be. When not doing either of these things, he’s probably gardening or hanging out with his cat. He is the author of Always the Almost, which was an Indie Next pick, and this This Day Changes Everything, which has earned starred reviews from Booklist and Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books.
About This Day Changes Everything
Dash & Lily meets Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in Edward Underhill’s new whirlwind rom-com about two queer teens who spend one life-changing day together in New York City.
Abby Akerman believes in the Universe. After all, her Midwest high school marching band is about to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City—if that’s not proof that magical things can happen, what is? New York also happens to be the setting of her favorite romance novel, making it the perfect place for Abby to finally tell her best friend Kat that she’s in love with her (and, um, gay). She’s carefully annotated a copy of the book as a gift for Kat, and she’s counting on the Universe to provide an Epic Scene worthy of her own rom-com.
Leo Brewer, on the other hand, just wants to get through this trip without falling apart. He doesn’t believe the Universe is magical at all, mostly because he’s about to be outed to his very Southern extended family on national TV as the trans boy he really is. He’s not excited for the parade, and he’s even less excited for an entire day of sightseeing with his band.
But the Universe has other ideas. When fate throws Abby and Leo together on the wrong subway train, they soon find themselves lost in the middle of Manhattan. Even worse, Leo accidentally causes Abby to lose her Epic Gift for Kat. So to salvage the day, they come up with a new mission: find a souvenir from every location mentioned in the book for Abby to give Kat instead. But as Leo and Abby traverse the city, from the streets of Chinatown to the halls of Grand Central Station and the top of the Empire State Building, their initial expectations for the trip—and of each other—begin to shift. Maybe, if they let it, this could be the day that changes everything, for both of them.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/13/2024
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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