Author Conversation: Jennifer Lavoie and Del Darcy Talk Gay Boys in Sports
Jennifer Lavoie and Del Darcy are both first-time authors, with sports-related debut novels featuring young, gay male athletes. Lavoie's book, Andy Squared, features a pair of twin siblings, both soccer stars, whose ideal lives get complicated when a handsome new boy comes to town. Darcy's Fair Catch features two rival high school football stars who fall for one another when they're off the field. While the two authors had different upbringings, they came together to chat about sports, books, and happy endings.
Del Darcy: It's great to be talking to another author who wrote about young male athletes. Your book is about soccer; mine is about football. Although of course in most of world the sport in your book would be known as football — and then I would have to note that I'm talking U.S.-style football, I guess, to avoid confusion. In Fair Catch, one of my characters notes that he doesn't know of anyone who's out in the world of high school or college football in his part of the U.S. And, there has been some media attention this year to former pro players who have revealed their orientation. Were issues about gays in sports central to your planning process for Andy Squared? Because I have to admit they weren't on the front burner for me. My book kind of grew out of the characters, once I'd settled that they were both high-school players.
Jennifer Lavoie: That’s a fantastic question, and while I wish I could say yes, it was in my planning process, it actually wasn’t. The character of Andrew came first, and then I thought about what I wanted from him. I decided to make him a soccer player —or football for the rest of the world, like you said — because of stereotypes I had seen in a lot of young adult literature. So I suppose in a way I wanted to address that, but it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind entirely. Playing soccer was just a part of who he was, and it also helped give the twins a stronger connection since they both play. I did know that whatever sport the twins played, it had to be the same one. Before writing, I also hadn't played soccer in years and had to do some research. Thankfully I have family members that play, as well as family members who went to school on sports scholarships. They were very gracious in explaining the process for me. That helped a little bit with why I chose soccer in the end. Football wasn’t even an option for me because of Andrea [the female twin]. How did you come up with football?
Darcy: The idea for Fair Catch came to me as I sat in the bleachers, watching one of my nephews play football. At first I was thinking of a heterosexual romance, but almost immediately, that was replaced in my mind by the idea of what would happen if two of the players fell in love. From that, it was definitely a seat-of-the-pants exploration of the characters and their lives. I've blogged about this — I was very concerned that conflicts and plot points in my book come organically out of the relationship between the protagonists. I didn't want the story to feel that I was looking at headlines, like the offensive political positions of Chick-fil-A or Target, and then consciously ripping out those headlines and tacking them onto a story. I wanted to start with the characters and let the characters lead me where they felt they were going. That sounds a little weird, I guess, but when I write, I don't plan ahead so much as keep typing and see what happens. It's very much like the story is spooling out ahead of me and I am writing to catch up. I feel, obviously, very strongly about normalizing GLBT relationships, whatever that ends up looking like in the culture, but I didn't want Fair Catch to feel as if the writer was imposing an agenda from above. I wanted the characters to run the story.
Lavoie: I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I may have wanted to run the story, but my characters completely took over. In the end, I think the strongest relationship in my book is between the twins, Andrew and Andrea. Both are starting to struggle with the fact that it is their last year before college and they have an uncertain future. Andrea is very hesitant towards change, yet Andrew is starting to embrace it. And while I knew I wanted an ending that was happy or at least hopeful for Andrew, I didn’t want everything to be perfect. Because let’s face it, life rarely is for any of us, as much as we want it to be.
Lavoie: When I write, I don’t consciously put people I know into books. For Andy Squared, the only real person that makes some sort of presence is me. I did put a little bit of myself in Ryder. For example, his crammed bookcase: I definitely took that from me. I also love horses and wanted him to ride as well. I guess I lived a little vicariously through him. Most of the locations, though, are based on real places I know. I chose the setting to be upstate New York because that is where my family lives and it is absolutely beautiful. The property the twins live on is based on my grandparents’ land before they passed. In other books, however, this isn’t the case. One that I hope to work on in the future is taken a lot from my life and the lives of those around me. So I guess for me the location has to be personal and I can create characters to fit into those settings. I feel that it helps me keep the characters from being stereotypes if I can get a sense of where they live and what shapes them.
Darcy: Stereotypes — being aware of them — is so important. As young adult stories and all types of stories about GLBT people become more mainstream and more accepted in all media, I am really hoping to see more and more characters who aren't stereotypes, as Stephen Harper blogged about recently. Beyond that, and this is what I tried to do in Fair Catch, I want stories where the characters' queerness isn't the problem in the story. Instead it's a facet of the characters' lives, of their identities. Of course orientation informs and affects a lot of things, and I do actually love stories that are mostly about coming out, or coming out to yourself, but that doesn't have to be the chief problem of the plot, every time. And finally, I am so invested in stories about GLBT people that have happy endings. That's a motto of my publisher, actually. Fiction and memoir should, must, show crisis and tragedy sometimes, in order to be realistic, but that's not the kind of book Fair Catch is. Some bad things happen to Blake and Alex and Dakota, but everyone in the story gets a happy ending. At the end of the day, I really think it's so important to write three-dimensional characters with families and lives and jobs and etc., who are also GLBT. And I'm so happy to see more non-straight characters showing up in all kinds of books and movies as time goes on — and not being the perky sidekick and not being the villain. Soon, I hope, GLBT characters won't be controversial any more. It'll just be life.
Lavoie: I couldn’t agree with you more!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jennifer Lavoie lives in Connecticut in the same city she grew up in. While growing up, she always wanted to be a writer or a teacher and briefly debated a career in marine biology. The only problem with that was she’s deathly afraid of deep water. Starting during a holiday season as temporary help, she worked in a bookstore for six years and made it all the way up to assistant manager before she left to take a job teaching. Lavoie has a bachelor’s degree in secondary English education and teaches middle school students. Along with another teacher and a handful of students, Lavoie started the first Gay-Straight Alliance at the school. She is also active in other student clubs and enjoys pairing students with books that make them love to read. Andy Squared is her first novel, and is published by Bold Strokes Books.
Del Darcy, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, native, has been a radio announcer, a newspaper reporter, and a jazz DJ. She loves campy science fiction, fencing, bridge, and dark chocolate, and hates cell phones and boredom. She lives in Oklahoma with her family and a large collection of dust bunnies. Fair Catch, published by Prizm/Torquere, is her first novel.