Jeff talks about the Netflix film The Old Guard and then shares a book recommendation from a listener. Will’s “Christmas in July” reading concludes with Three Dates of Christmas by KC Burn, Temporary Santa by Dev Bentham and An Everyday Hero by E.J. Russell.
Jeff reviews Camp by L.C. Rosen and then discusses the book with the author. Lev talks about why he wrote the rom-com style story of Randy and Hudson and what he hopes readers take away from the story. Lev also shares a little bit of info on the forthcoming movie adaptation, what got him into writing and why queer YA stories are so important.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- The Mermaid The Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Favorite Guest Entry Form
- The Old Guard on Netflix
- Ziggy Stardust and Me by James Brandon on Amazon
- Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall on Amazon
- Hemingway’s Notebook by Jackie North on Amazon
- Love Across Time series by Jackie North on Amazon
- Three Dates of Christmas by KC Burn on Amazon
- Temporary Santa by Dev Bentham on Amazon
- An Everyday Hero by E.J. Russell on Amazon
- Joyfully Jay website
- L.C. Rosen Interview
- L.C. Rosen: website | Twitter | Instagram
- Camp by L.C. Rosen on Amazon (audiobook also available on Libro.fm)
- Camp Brave Trails website
- Camp Lightbulb website
- Jack of Hearts (and other parts) by L.C. Rosen on Amazon
- “You’ve Gotta Be Sincere” from Bye Bye Birdie on YouTube
- Eastsiders on Netflix
- All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen on Amazon
- Heartbreak Boys by Simon James Green on Amazon
- Noah Could Never by Simon James Green on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
This episode of the podcast is brought to you by Candlewick Press, publisher of The Mermaid The Witch and the Sea, the new YA fantasy novel by Maggie Tokuda-Hall.
Are you ready for a book that features Pirates, mermaids, witchcraft, Japanese-inspired cultural and folkloric themes… and best of all, two strong, queer, BIPOC protagonists.
In a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic, a desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial lady find a connection on the high seas.
The pirate Florian, born Flora, has always done whatever it takes to survive–including sailing under false flag on the Dove as a marauder, thief, and worse. Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, a highborn Imperial daughter, is on board as well–accompanied by her own casket. But Evelyn’s one-way voyage to an arranged marriage in the Floating Islands is interrupted when the captain and crew show their true colors and enslave their wealthy passengers.
Both Florian and Evelyn have lived their lives by the rules, and whims, of others. But when they fall in love, they decide to take fate into their own hands–no matter the cost.
Maggie tah-KOO-dah Hall’s sweeping fantasy debut, full of stolen memories, illicit mermaid’s blood, double agents, and haunting mythical creatures conjures an extraordinary cast of characters and the unforgettable story of a couple striving to stay together in the face of myriad forces wishing to control their identities and destinies.
In a round up of books for this summer, NPR said “Queer, diverse pirate romance with mermaids and magic is pretty much everything you could want from a summer read in 2020. It is full of violence and double-crosses and kissing. It’s an imaginative and adventurous debut.”
Definitely a book to add to the TBR.
The Mermaid The Witch and the Sea, by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and published by Candlewick Press, is available now wherever books are sold.
Interview Transcript – L.C. Rosen
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Lev, welcome to the podcast. It is so wonderful to have you here.
Lev: Hi, thank you. Thank you so much for having me. This is very exciting. This is a deep honor. This is everything.
Jeff: So right before we got into the interview, I reviewed “Camp” so everybody’s heard about this wonderful book from my point of view, which I love so much. It’s really the perfect summertime read for obvious reasons, but tell everybody in your own words, what this book is about.
Lev: So “Camp” is a YA romantic comedy that takes place at a queer summer camp and it follows Randy who’s been going to this queer summer camp for four years and he’s a theatre kid, he wears nail polish, he’s got a unicorn sheets and he loves every summer there. He also loves for every summer there, Hudson, but he has loved Hudson from afar because while randy loves participating in the theater every summer. Hudson is a jock guy. He is masc for masc, which if you don’t know what that means, essentially he considers himself straight acting it’s in quotes and is only interested in other straight acting guys. Randy is, distinctfully not that, but he is a theater kid. So this year he has a plan. He has remade himself as Del, the ultimate masc fantasy, and he is going to win Hudson’s heart and then gradually reveal to him who he actually is once they’re in love, this is of course a terrible, terrible idea.
And it does not go quite how he thinks it will.
Jeff: From the very beginning, the adult in me is going, this is terrible. This is going to be so, so bad. Why are you doing this? But we’ll talk more about that as we kind of go through. What inspired this story for you?
Lev: The original inspiration actually is, I really wanted to do a Rock Hudson, Doris Day book, you know, those old sixties sex comedies, battle of the sexes, sort of like where she is a feminist and he wants to prove that, like, she really just wants to find a man. So he dresses up , even though, you know, he’s a Playboy, he pretends to be a nerd to win her heart.
And he falls in love with her while he’s doing it. And then she finds out, and this idea of like playing with gender conceptions, pretending to be different versions of your gender. I wanted to bring that to a contemporary, queer YA setting. And part of that is because.
You know, we as queer people, even though we’ve been around forever and we’ve always had stories, those stories often didn’t get to get told. And so to me, the 60 sex comedy is a very sort of. Distinct point in time, genre wise, even though we have screwball comedies now, romantic comedies. Now they’re not the same.
It doesn’t play with the same ideas. And I wanted to sort of reach back and take that historical genre and do something modern with it because you know, if I’m going to tell a queer story, I want to be invading straight spaces, a little.
Jeff: And it’s interesting how you categorize it because I’ll admit that didn’t click in my brain when I read it. And yet hearing you say it, it makes total sense. And to set it in the queer camp, as you have not only are Randy/Dell and Hudson kind of playing with those, but you’ve got everybody else around them at the same time, all having their own… however they’re expressing themselves, and in this environment, not having to restrict that at all.
Lev: Yeah. I knew that if I wanted to have these queer kids, having conversations about this and playing with these ideas of masc and fem and what’s expected, and what’s desirable, I knew if I was going to have these queer kids doing that it had to be in a queer space because otherwise if you’re in a straight space and you’re playing with this stuff, people around you, straight people around you are not going to understand it as much.
They’re going to find it sort of off putting or they’re just not going to be able to engage in the same way. In the book, there are these history lessons that they have to attend at the queer camp. And one of the ones that they could do, they talk about the Mattachine society a lot and the Daughter of Bilitis.
And, I’ve been fascinated with them forever because they’re this pre Stonewall queer rights organization and their whole thing was that if we just act like everyone else, aside from being queer, they will accept us. Like we have to show everyone we’re just like everyone else. I mean, these people are responsible for the first gay protest outside the white house.
And no one really talks about them that much because this protest was about them wearing suits, and dresses for the ladies, and sunglasses to hide their identities, because they had to like show everyone they were just like everybody else. And I think that that idea of how much do we perform what the patriarchy wants us to perform? How much do we let ourselves be whoever we want to be? And maybe who we want to be is something of the patriarchy wants, or maybe it isn’t, or maybe it goes back and forth, but that’s conversation that queer people have been having for decades, centuries even, and I wanted queer teens, to be aware that conversation, that sort of feeling of wondering like, you know, how much is too much? Shouldn’t I try to fit in what is fitting in that they are feeling when they come out? Is something that all queer people have been feeling for as long as there have been queer people, essentially.
And I wanted to link them to that sense of the history of queerness too. So that’s another reason to put it in this queer space.
Jeff: And I absolutely love that you integrated the history into this book. It’s, I think important for the younger generation to not just pick up on some of the broader strokes of history that are easier to get at like Stonewall, and things like that. But the Mattachine society too, which is very much a part of history that doesn’t get brought up.
Lev: Yeah, no, I didn’t learn about it. So I took a queer history class in college and like, to me that should be something that’s taught in high school. Same as Stonewall.
Jeff: And I like too, how you had the counselors being very forthcoming with some of these kids, they were talking too about, you’re not necessarily going to be able to be this way when you leave here depending on where you are. It’s a sad message that we’re still that way, but it’s an important one, nonetheless.
Lev: We’re getting close to spoiler territory here. It was important to me that it not just be like this happy, simple ending of rainbows and little like floaty hearts and stuff like that. If they have this queer utopic space, this space where they get to play with their identity and be whoever they want to be and figure out what and who they are essentially, that that space is not the world at large.
And it’s interesting because originally my editors were like, this ending is too depressing. It feels like this is a story about accepting yourself and loving yourself. And I’m like, well it is, but it’s more nuanced than that because it’s also for kids and kids have to stay safe.
If accepting yourself and like being out and proud means your dad’s gonna beat you. Don’t do that. Like, I am much more concerned with kid’s safety than I am with that kid being essentially like an amazing poster boy for being queer. Like they can love themselves and know who they are on the inside and protect themselves too.
And I think that that sort of code switching is something that all queer people do all the time anyway. And we all learned to do it. I mean, my parents are perfectly accepting, but to say that I behave the same way around them as I do around my queer friends would be ridiculous.
Jeff: Is this camp based on a real place? I know of drama camps that had, you know, have vibes of this from what I know of them, but is this a real utopia place that we could send their teenagers to?
Lev: So the physical space is very influenced by the conservative Jewish camp I went to in my youth, where I experienced most of my homophobia growing up, actually. When I wanted to write this, I came up with this idea of the queer camp and I was like, is that too out there? And I researched it. And actually there are many queer summer camps for teenagers all around the country. Sadly, not this summer, but there’s Camp Brave Trails and Camp Lightbulb, just to name a few.
And there are even more specialized, like I think there are camps exclusively for trans kids. The only real difference is that most of these camps are one or two weeks as opposed to the four weeks in the book. I didn’t actually research a lot of them cause I knew what I wanted my camp to be. So I created it from scratch, but what’s really fun too, since then, I’ve had a chance to sort of talk to these camp directors. And, hopefully I I’ll be talking to some kids soon too, where they’re doing sort of virtual camps. And, they’ve been very, like, we’re so thrilled to see someone acknowledge us and put us out there so that queer kids know we exist If you have a queer kid, then you should send them to a queer summer camp. If they want to go, I would have, Oh man, that would have been so great.
Jeff: I can’t even imagine.
So what about the nuances that you’ve got in this book? And the thing that surprised me and that I was so happy to see is that there’s Del, you know, putting up this facade of who he wants to be for Hudson. And yet through that, he finds out so much more about himself and I’ll continue to try and avoid spoiler territory here, but he discovers that he kind of likes some stuff that he didn’t expect to like.
Lev: Yeah. That was important for me to show, because I feel like when you come out as a teenager, you become the ‘gay kid’, you know what I mean? You suddenly, you’re the queer kid , whereas your straight peers get to sort of play with identity and they get to try stuff on and take the bits and pieces of them that they want. So, you know, maybe there’s sort of a jock, maybe there’s sort of a band geek, maybe sort of goth, whatever. They become a goth kid, the band geek kid, et cetera. If you’re queer and you’re always the queer kid, like maybe people will think of you as like the queer goth kid, which is what I was, but, generally you’re just sort of the queer kid.
That’s how people think of you. But within this queer space where everyone’s queer, that no longer becomes a factor. And suddenly you get to try on identities, the way that your straight peers do. And so when Randy does that, when he essentially puts on this identity, he gets to learn stuff about himself from doing it and all the various other characters get to sort of watch him learn.
And also, you know, Hudson sort of is always putting on a character too, but Hudson gets to put on other characteristics, Brad gets to play. They all get to sort of experiment with their identity as it doesn’t relate to their queerness, as well as how it does relate to their queerness.
And that lets them sort of figure out more about who they are and who they want to be.
Jeff: It made me wonder a little bit, as you were talking about that the straight kids can dabble and they – you’d be the jock who also might be a little goth. It might be a little of this and they’ll just keep pulling it all in.
I think Randy thought he had to be in was the theater kid. And now trying to fall in love with Hudson, he finds these other pieces. Do you think it’s harder for the queer kids to piece together multiple identities? Like that, where they could be the theater kid who likes sports or, you know, the craft kid who also likes this other thing?
Lev: I think so because whatever they’re doing, whatever they’re sort of showing to the world, especially like it’s different with close friends or something, obviously the close friends sort of understanding the complexities, but within sort of this strata of high school within the ecosystem of high school, I think that you’re always sort of going to be – no matter what you do, no matter how you behave, if you’re queer you. Yes. I still sort of get that thrown on to you. So if it’s like I’m queer, but I like sports. It becomes, but I like sports. I just said it right there. As opposed to I’m queer, I like sports. It becomes, Oh, well, your queer identity is supposed to mean in this like little box, according to all us straight people who don’t really know you and sports doesn’t I usually go in that box.
And no matter how many other labels you put on, they’re always just sort of. Accessories to the central label of queer.
Jeff: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
Lev: You know, I hope especially teenagers, cause that’s obviously who I’m thinking of when I’m writing, I really hope they take away this idea that they’re part of a community, they’re part of a greater community that is having these conversations all the time and they are not alone in trying to sort of figure out who they are in relation to their queerness and not in relation to their queerness. And then I hope, you know, the big message I always hope people take away from my YA is essentially, there’s no wrong way to be queer. And in Jack of hearts, it was about, you know, how straight people will tell you there’s a right way to be queer and trying to make you into that and you should ignore them because they don’t know what they’re doing. And they’re just psycho bullies. And here it’s more about the way that the queer community polices itself. And what I wanted to say was, you know, if another queer person is telling you, you’re not this enough, you’re not that enough. Then that’s not the real queer community, that person is a schmuck and you should ignore them and find your real friends in the queer community. I don’t want to say that’s not really the queer community cause queer community has a lot to deal with internally, but I think that that usually comes from this place of sort of the patriarchy.
I always, I always say gay is a gift. You know, I think that when we come out to ourselves, not necessarily to the world at large, but when we realize that we’re queer, We’re given this opportunity to sort of be like, Oh, I don’t conform to what the patriarchy wants from me.
I am not of that world. That means I get to sort of step outside it entirely and start hammering on it from the outside. I think that some people, instead of doing that, instead of embracing that gift, become very scared and they become, Oh, if I don’t conform to the patriarchy in this way, then that’s my one way and I have to conform in every other way. And that to me is essentially turning down a gift. It’s turning down one of the greatest opportunities, your life, and that’s really what I want queer kids to come away with. By acknowledging your queerness by being out, you get to embrace that identity and, you know, defy what ever anyone wants you to be.
Jeff: So the musical theater geek in me, we have to discuss , the musical in the book just a little bit. Let’s just start with the basic idea of why “Bye Bye Birdie,” amongst the cannon of musical theater?
Lev: It has to do with the song. “You’ve Gotta Be Sincere.” So in the movie, which, you know, I watched many times growing up and I come from a musical theater family.
My parents were big musical theater people. But in the movie of Bye Bye Birdie, there’s that song, You Gotta Be Sincere, which is when Birdie who’s like this, Elvis figure is in the town square and he starts singing and he like, strums his guitar and all his fan club girls faint immediately.
Cause he’s just so sexy and then the song is about him dancing around and singing people will, all these people, all the women faint in the background, but as it goes on, the men start fainting. Yeah. Well, and that, to me, especially as a young queer person was always really interesting. I was always like, Oh, the men are fanting.
Jeff: Especially in the 1960s movie, too.
Lev: Yeah. Yeah. And like, you can tell it’s not necessarily supposed to be this, like they don’t make a thing out of it. And it seems to be more of a choreography thing than a, his sexuality is so intense that even these men are attracted to them. Like they’re not playing with that. They’re not making it explicit, but it was one of those details that as a young queer person, it really spoke to me and it felt really important in a way I couldn’t vocalize at the time. And, yeah, since then, I’ve always, always, I directed musicals in college, but I didn’t direct “Bye Bye Birdie’ but I really wanted to do essentially a version of Birdie with david Bowie as Birdie. Like that was always my idea. There’s sort of non binary, gender queer, bisexual, pansexual, Birdie figure to me and the birdie fan club. Wasn’t, you know, all girls to me that always felt the most natural way to do it.
Like if Birdie’s thing is that he is so sexy that he makes everyone just faint with the music, that it should apply to everyone. And that was essentially the beginning of why the production in this book of Bye Bye Birdie, which I would totally direct. And then the other aspect of course, is that since I was playing with these 1960s romcoms and Doris Day, I wanted it to be a 1960s kind of show.
And I wanted to have a reason to get a lot of 1960s music in there and stuff. So that was the other big driving force.
Jeff: I so badly want to see this version of the musical. I was totally like very into those scenes in rehearsal and the little snippet of like, you know, final performance that we kind of get a hint that. As you plotted the book, how did you decide who was going to get cast in the musical and what role? It seems like you had this extra layer, as you were creating your story and your cast and your plot. Now you’ve got a cast this musical with everybody as well.
Lev: I work backwards, obviously, like I knew I had my three sort of main characters and I knew Brandy wasn’t going to be in the musical this year and Ashley was going to be my techie. So then I just had George and I knew George wanted to be Kim, but wasn’t going to get Kim.
So immediately the question becomes, who gets Kim and the obvious answer is like this red headed twink. So that’s where Montgomery came from because he was sort of antagonistic, kind of, bitchy and exactly the person you don’t want to lose a role too. So bam, there’s Montgomery. I wanted a nonbinary Birdie so that’s where Jordan comes from. Obviously for Rosie, I wanted a Latinx character, to be able to play that. And I feel like Afro Latinx people are usually, for some reason, sort of kept out of playing Latinx roles in musical theater. I went with an Afro Latinx character, and once I knew that she was going to be playing Rosie, you know, everything sort of fell in place.
Those are the characters who have roles in the show who are also characters. Jen plays Albert and Albert is like the main role, but we don’t really talk to Jen very much in the book.
Jeff: Yeah. But, Montgomery certainly has a good role in the book outside of the play. I enjoyed every time Montgomery showed up.
Lev: When there was going to be this red headed Twinkie got Kim when George wanted it, I was like, Who is this? The character description is essentially redheaded twink from LA who refers to himself as ‘that bitch’ all the time. And like, that was it. That’s all I do to go from there.
Jeff: This is a good segue question into talking about “Camp” the movie, which has been optioned by HBO max. Do you have any idea if they’re going to try and get license clearance for “Birdie?”
Lev: I am not allowed to talk about that.
Jeff: That’s quite all right. It’s really wonderful to see another queer YA tale coming to the screen. These stories are cropping up more and more now, which is incredible. Great to see HBO Max taking it, after some of the great queer content they’ve already been having on that channel. I’m in love with the fact that Kit Williamson is writing it. We are big fans of “Eastsiders” on this show.
Lev: It’s funny. I hadn’t seen “Eastsiders” until the producer, Dan James, who did “Milk” and did “American Beauty” approached me essentially with Kit already attached. He was like, this is what I want here. Here’s who I want to write it. And I hadn’t seen “Eastsiders” and we talked on the phone and then I had like a weekend and I watched all of Eastsiders. And I remember thinking like the first season was kind of dark for my like sweet YA, but the second season, I think it’s in the threesome montage when the guy goes ” I feel really close to you. So I feel like I can tell you, I killed a man.” I was like, yes, he can write whatever he wants. I’m fine with this. I am onboard. So that was, I’m really happy that they came to me cause I hadn’t watched it before. I was like, I dunno, that sounds like a California show. I’m in New York boy born and raised.
Jeff: I have to admit when I first heard Kit was attached I’m like hmmm to a YA story. And then I read the book. I’m like, I totally get it.
Lev: We’ve had some amazing conversations about what the book is trying to do. And yeah, he’s such a great choice. And Dan, the producer is just so on top of everything and has such a smart vision for it and like where he was going to pitch it and how he was going to do it and bring Kit on.
It’s just been a real pleasure to work with both of them and hear about what they’re like. I say work with as though I’m like participating, but really it’s sort of like watching and like, they listened to me, don’t get me wrong, but they’ve made it so easy and fun, which is not how I think a lot of these go. So, it’s been amazing.
Jeff: I’m looking forward to see them bring this very queer story to the screen.
Lev: That’s what’s really excited me, the queer producer, queer screenwriter based on a book by a queer author. I believe they’re searching for a queer director. Like yeah. To me, this would be a truly fantastic thing to have on the screen because it’s a very queer story that’s not trying to talk to straight people necessarily, which isn’t to say straight people wouldn’t enjoy reading this book. I think straight people should absolutely read this book, watch the movie, whatever. But I think that it’s about the queer world and straight people who do read the book this is like a gift to you. You got to sort of look and see some of what we deal with and how we think on a regular basis. I don’t know if, if there are stories that feel catered to queer people in film that much about queer teenagers.
Jeff: Now you don’t just write YA books. We talked a little bit about “Jack of Hearts” and about “Camp” of course, but you also have a couple of books for adults and a couple books for below graders as well. So you’re really kind of spreading the gambit and they all don’t have queer characters at the forefront either.
Lev: Yeah, I know my YA really has the sort of queer characters at the forefront but there are always queer characters in my books, each and every one, including the middle grades has a queer character somewhere in it who is not just sort of a passer-by, but has something to do with the main story. And, you know, it’s funny because when I first started writing, my first book, “All Men of Genius,” which is a, also a romantic comedy, sort of a steampunk/sex comedy, based on “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Twelevth Night.”
There’s a lot of stuff going into that. It’s a long book too, but there’s a lot of stuff going into that plot. I remember when I first wrote it, which is a while ago now I don’t want to date myself, but it was a while ago. And there’s a secondary queer character and it’s rotating perspective.
So we get a lot of stuff from his point of view, and then we get his love story. And, I remember, even though it’s adult, it is very much a YA crossover. It’s about a girl, essentially a freshman in college. So it’s got that crossover age thing going on. But I remember reviews that were like really pushing the envelope. There’s a gay character. Oh my goodness. And I remember because of that, I really felt like I couldn’t embrace the idea of a like a central gay male character for awhile.
And “Jack of Hearts” I did not expect to sell at all. That was a weird situation. ” Jack of Hearts” came out of a place of rage in many ways. I really felt like I was seeing a lot of books about young queer men in which there was just one type of gay man over and over and over again. We had one story and that story was to be adorable and romantic and like just sort of like pine over a guy and get the guy. And I felt like there are all these queer teenagers out there looking for themselves. And this is the only story that they’re seeing.
This is what they’re seeing and the books that they have to be, he was like gentle, like sweet kind of chaste. I was like, what about the slutty ones? Like they’re allowed to be slutty. Where are my slutty gay teens at? And so I wrote this book essentially about a bad kid. Who’s also queer. It’s not even bad exactly. I mean, he smokes, he, sleeps with a bunch of different guys. He has no interest in a relationship, but he’s not bad guy. He’s like a really good guy underneath it all. And I wanted to write a story about this slutty, like queer kid essentially being forced by someone to become the character in the books that I was seeing out there and how that’s something that straight people are constantly trying to do to us as queer people is tell us the right way to be queer.
And so I wrote this. And obviously there are significantly more types of queer stories now. And part of that was just my own sort of tunnel vision and seeing the things that made me angry more than the things that made me happy. That moment of being able to be like, yeah, you’re allowed to write this slutty gay kid.
Let’s go for it. Let’s have some fun. I’m going to do whatever I want. I’m going to tell my queer stories and that’s been great.
Jeff: Let’s talk about your writing origin story a little bit. How did you become a writer or what got you enthused to tell story?
Lev: I’m one of those people who’s like always been doing it and there’s no fixed point that I can remember.
I read so much as a kid and I read everything, and then I just started writing because it made sense. And because I wanted to tell a story about this thing I wasn’t seeing, so I wrote, and I remember I wrote a lot of fantasy as a kid. My sixth grade teacher when she gave out, Creative writing assignments, she specifically forbade me from writing fantasy. So I wrote what was essentially urban fantasy and she was kind of annoyed about it. But like when I graduated from eighth grade, I went to a very small experimental private school for K through eight. There were 18 kids in my graduating class. And when we graduated, the teacher got up and said something nice about each student and gave them a little gift.
And mine was, he’s a wizard with words. And I was given by the sixth grade teacher, a little wizard statue, which I still have I just always have been writing, there was never any point or question that I was really gonna do much else. I went to Oberlin cause they have one of the best undergraduate creative writing class, courses, majors in the country.
And I got my MFA like that. That was always what I was going to do. Right. Was destiny
Jeff: and now you’re doing it, which is terrific because not everybody gets to do that destiny.
Lev: It’s exciting. And I’m very lucky in that regard as well.
Jeff: What’s a recent book that you’ve read that you would recommend to everybody.
Lev: I just finished “Heartbreak Boys” by, Simon James Green. He wrote, “Noah Could Never” with a banana on the cover and I really loved it. It’s about these two boys, these two queer boys and one of them is like very, they used to be friends, but then one of them came out and the other was still in the closet and was afraid essentially of being seen the same way.
And so they just sort of broke off contact. And since then one has been secretly dating someone and is about to come out at prom and the other has been dating someone and he’s out and proud. And then at prom, very publicly comes out that their respective boyfriends have been cheating on them with each other.
And they, the respective boyfriends immediately get together and have this joint couple Instagram account where they show their summer vacation. And it’s so perfect. And so as a sort of form of vengeance, for one of them, and an attempt to win his love back for the other. They decided to do a road trip, Instagram account together as well.
And along the way, discover many things about themselves and their relationship.
Jeff: Well, that sounds awesome.
Lev: It’s very, very good. Yeah.
Jeff: Add that to my TBR.
Jeff: So what’s coming up next for you.
Lev: I don’t like talking about stuff that hasn’t been announced. I think it’s bad of luck, but, I’m working on young adult and adult stuf f . That’s all I’m gonna say… cause I’m mysterious.
Jeff: Mystery is good. So how can people keep up with you online to see all the announcements as they come out?
Lev: On Twitter I’m @LevACRosen. and I’m also that on Instagram where you’ll mostly see photos of my cats, cat, singular, that’s really the best place for it. Honestly, I have a website, levacrosen.com. but best place to keep up with me is just Twitter. I’m not even on it that much. I’m not a giant fan of social media, as I imagine most people aren’t. But when I announce stuff it’s on there.
Jeff: You know, I have to say going back to “Camp” ever so quickly before we wrap up, it’s one of the things I love that you did to the kids was take their phones away.
Lev: Oh God. That was such a joy.
Jeff: And remove social media from any discussion or anything they could do. It really kind of leveled the playing field there.
Lev: And I love it. Oh my God. It was so much fun when I realized I could do that when I was like, Oh man, if he looks up Randy on social media, and I was like, wait a second. They’re at a camp, maybe there is no such, Oh my God. I felt like a God.
I felt so powerful, but it’s funny because Jack of Hearts, you know, there’s all this texting back and forth and social media stuff. And I had fun writing that too. But for some reason for Camp, I was like, so thrilled to take away their social media.
Jeff: Yeah, everybody needs their social media detox. Even if it’s a camp.
Lev, it’s been so great talking to you. Wish you much continued success with “Camp.”
Lev: Thank you so much. And thank you so much for having me. It’s been a real delight.
Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:
Three Dates of Christmas by KC Burn. Reviewed by Will.
I’ve got three terrific books that are sure to put you in the Christmas spirit. The first one I want to talk about is Three Dates of Christmas by KC Burn. Dean is a manager at a local pharmacy. He isn’t exactly a Grinch per se, but the holidays are not his favorite time of year. That is until Tony walks into his store one day. He definitely catches Dean’s eye. And when they get to talking, Tony learns of his displeasure of the season and decides that if he gives them a chance, it’ll only take him three dates to wish Dean the merriest of Christmases.
So just like the title says, they do go on three different dates. The first one is to a local historical site, a pioneer village that is tastefully ducked out for the holidays. Tony is slowly walking Dean towards festivness. So it’s sort of like low key Christmas. It’s really charming and really lovely. A nice start to get to know each other during these different activities.
He also takes them ice skating downtown. In between all of these dates, they’re also spending time together, including a particularly hot Netflix and chill session. For the final date, Tony takes Dean to his family’s house for the feast of seven fishes.
So far, Dean has managed to endure the seasonal festivities. But, when it comes to hardcore family time, he’s having a lot of problems. As we learn. Dean grew up in foster care and had a very difficult time. As a result of his childhood, he doesn’t feel like he needs anyone and he can’t depend on anyone, which is why he’s sort of a man unto himself.
But because this is a Christmas romance, Tony helps Dean realize that they’ll be stronger and happier together.
Temporary Santa by Dev Bentham. Reviewed by Will.
The next book I want to recommend is Temporary Santa by Dev Bentham.
Finn is a Baker who has a very successful patisserie and he takes his pastries very seriously, which is why he’s pissed off when he learns that his ex-fiancé and current business partner has hired a singing Santa to deliver cakes to his various customers. That is until that particular Santo walks into the shop, the incredibly handsome and charismatic singer actor, Andy. Andy is immediately drawn to Finn’s no nonsense demeanor and quickly makes it his mission to find out what his deal is.
What was really interesting about this story is that it’s a relatively short novella. So that means when it comes to the romance itself, that happens pretty quickly. Once Andy has broken down some of Finn’s walls, they realize that they’re perfect for one another. But what was different is that each of them have their own lives and career goals.
Finn’s busy dealing with his ex who is trying to broker a big business deal, which will take his shops into a national chain. Andy, on the other hand has dreams of Broadway and actually has a shot at a national tour. So at one point when our two heroes find their happiness, they’re actually pulled in opposite directions by their career goals and actually spend some time apart.
But it’s during that time that they realize what they really want. Finn finding a way to work around this terrible deal that his ex has made and Andy who realizes that life on the road ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. They eventually find their way back to one another. It’s really sweet and I liked it an awful lot.
An Everyday Hero by E.J. Russell. Reviewed by Will.
Last, but not least, I want to recommend An Everyday Hero by E.J. Russell. Adam is new to the Phoenix area. He has moved there just a few days before Christmas and he finds an unwelcome gift in his master bedroom. There’s a scorpion and he freaks out. He calls an exterminator, but because of the time of year, everyone is booked except for Garrett, the hunky exterminator who comes to lend a helping holiday hand.
Adam and Garrett are immediately attracted to one another. Once Garrett has taken care of the scorpion and a rattlesnake, that’s made its home in his garage. Our heroes find happiness. On the surface, they may seem like opposites, but they find that they have a shared love for superhero geek culture and meatball subs.
What’s really sweet is that these two are essentially in a case of insta-love, but they’re struggling with how much they’re willing to admit so quickly. They end up doing nice things for one another behind each other’s backs, it’s really adorable and very charming.
It’s essentially a case of nice guys being nice… and you know, that is what I love.
So I highly recommend these three books An Everyday Hero by E.J. Russell, Temporary Santa by Dev Bentham and Three Dates of Christmas by KC Burn.
Camp by L.C. Rosen. Reviewed by Jeff.
Such an amazing summer for YA reading this year. L.C. Rosen’s Camp struck all the right notes for me with a compelling, rom-com-esque tale featuring a very queer and very diverse cast of characters spending a month at a summer camp for LGBTQ+ teens.
Randy’s returned to camp, but now he wants to be known as Del, short for Randall. He’s had a crush for years on Hudson and he’s determined to get a shot with Hudson this year–and with the intention of being more than just the hook up. Randy’s shed his theater kid persona, even though he really wants to be in the summer production of Bye, Bye Birdie, to become sporty since that’s the crew Hudson hangs out with.
If you just said to yourself that becoming someone else just to win the guy is a terrible idea, you’d be right. Randy’s friends are quick to point out the myriad of ways this can go terribly wrong. Del charges forward though and his friends, because they are friends go along with this. Even Hudson’s best friend Brad goes along. Brad recognzies Randy and questions what’s up. Hudson however, doesn’t catch on… mostly because he doesn’t pay attention to the theatre kids so he things Randy as Del is someone new.
What unfolds is YA rom-com gold as Randy works to keep up appearances, and even along the way discovering there just might be a sporty kid alongside the theatre lover (it’s a nice reverse from the High School Musical scenario where the jock discovers his love of musicals). Along the way Del shows parts of Randy to get Hudson used to the idea of his alter ego. Things do not always go well…and at times go really badly, but L.C. wraps it up in that wonderful rom-com package that it’s brilliantly great to read with equal parts loves, groans, tears and all the other feels. At the same time, it’s injected with the reality that for some of these camp kids they only get to be their authentic selves, and maybe get to try out different labels while at camp.
The other campers L.C. populates camp with are all incredible. George, easily Randy’s best friend, is always there for Randy but doesn’t pull punches either when he thinks Randy is messing up but he’s also there to pick up the pieces too. The romance that brews between Brad and George is also a great addition to the story that L.C. manages to give us enough of so we get a good look at what happens between them–another great story for queer teens to see–without overshadowing our main couple.
And that production of Bye, Bye Birdie, I would give anything to see it and I hope that queer camps actually do productions just like this to allow teens to try out, and play, any role they want. The casting, rehearsals and ultimately the performance are some of my favorite parts of the book, and especially how the show impacts Randy, Hudson and everyone else.
Beyond the fun of the camp experience, the book delves into some very real things teens, and especially queer teens, deal with, including the labels we put on ourselves as well as those society does, what it can do to you to not be able to express your true self and the importance of having friends (or if you prefer to consider it found family) where you can–even if it’s discreetly.
This is my first L.C. Rosen work and I look forward to reading more. I’ve got his first book, Jack of Hearts on my TBR–it’s been there for a while–and I definitely need to move it up. I love this book and from talking to him for the interview coming up, I know I’m going to love Jack too. So for a great summer time read, I highly recommend a trip to L.C. Rosen’s Camp.