Lyndsey D’Arcangelo, a 34-year-old award-winning author and journalist from Buffalo, N.Y., has taken up the mantle of LGBT stories. Her latest young adult novel, The Education of Queenie McBride, tackles the issue of LGBT youth homelessness through the eyes of Queenie and JJ, two lesbian college freshmen in Boston. D’Arcangelo is currently working on My Story Is Out, a nonfiction anthology made up of true stories from young people about surviving high school as LGBT teenagers. She lives in Buffalo with her wife, Melissa, and their newborn daughter, Maggie.
D’Arcangelo spoke to The Advocate about her latest novel, her work with LGBT teens, and what she’s learned along the way.
The Advocate: LGBT teen homelessness is a very specific issue. What made you want to write about this problem in particular?
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: I know that it's an issue that isn’t readily discussed in the mainstream media. Sure, many teens come out and their parents support them. But just as many are kicked out of their homes for being gay and they have nowhere to go but the streets. It's something I wanted to explore a bit more and see if I could open up a can of worms a bit.
Do you have a target audience in mind for this novel?
My target audience is young adults. The book and its prequel [The Trouble With Emily Dickinson] are marketed as young adult LGBT fiction. But I think the themes in both books cross sexuality boundaries, so any teen could get something out of reading them.
Are there LGBT writers who have inspired you?
I think Alex Sanchez really has his ear to the ground when it comes to writing popular young adult LGBT books. But my inspiration will always be Judy Blume. She wasn't afraid to talk about real issues that young adults faced and she wrote stories with memorable characters and blunt plots. I aspired to do the same.
Can you describe the research you did for this novel?
The research was pretty simple. I spoke with friends of mine who are social workers to get the legality issues correct regarding homeless teens. And I relied on PFLAG and other youth organizations for statistical information. As for the setting, I used to live in Boston, so I know the lay of the land well.
You’ve said before that you try to write characters based on people you’ve met in real life. Is Pudge, the homeless gay teen in the book, based on someone you know?
Pudge is mixture of a bunch of teens I've met throughout the years. I often visit local high school gay-straight alliance groups or attend youth events in the Buffalo area, and I take time to talk to teens. Many of the teens that I’ve met were scared to talk to their parents because of a fear of being kicked out of the house. I imagined what it would be like for them had that actually happened.
I wouldn’t call it "activism," but I do take time to meet with teens whenever possible. GSA advisers often ask me to stop by and speak with their high school group. I let them ask me anything they want because I believe that honesty goes a long way with youth. I often felt out of place and abnormal as a closeted teen. So my biggest goal is to make teens feel as normal and comfortable as possible being who they are.
How has feedback about the book been so far?
The reviews have been positive overall. I think that the book itself stands on its own. It's just a matter of getting people to pick it up and read it. Once they do, I hear the same thing: "What a great book!" As I said before, it crosses sexual boundaries, so even straight readers have wonderful things to say about it.
What do you hope people will learn from this book?
That not all LGBT teens are blessed with an understanding family. Being a gay teen is more difficult than most people realize, which is one of the reasons I wrote this book. I hope it opens some eyes and releases some compassion.
Did you learn anything about yourself or about the topic while writing this book?
Yes, I realized that I often take my parents for granted. I was afraid to come out to them, but not because I thought they would kick me out. I was afraid to disappoint them. Not once was I ever afraid that they would stop loving me — and that’s something that happens to so many teens all over the country. Their parents stop loving them. I can’t even imagine what that is like.
What advice would you give to aspiring LGBT writers?
Write what you know and without apology. We have our stories and it’s important to share them.
Can we expect a third book following Queenie and JJ?
Yes, I think there needs to be a third book. I’m tossing around some ideas in my head about what is going to happen next. I think the third book will be the perfect culmination.