Love, Labels, and YA Literature for Queer Kids: Annameekee Hesik and Jeremy Jordan King Sound Off

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com October 19 2012 3:00 AM ET

Annameekee Hesik and Jeremy Jordan King probably would have gotten along as kids. Hesik has been obsessed with rainbows since she came out at 15, and a young King’s primary life goal was to become a mermaid. Although the two authors reside on opposite coasts today — Hesik in California and King in New York — both have new young adult books for queer youth hitting bookstores in the next month, and both publish under Bold Strokes Books. 

King’s In Stone is his first novel, a fantasy about a 22-year-old recent college grad and his interactions with a stone-faced monster. In Stone kicks off the forthcoming fantasy series Immortal Testimonies and arrives November 2012. 

Hesik teaches high school English and mentors new teachers in Santa Cruz, Calif., likely collecting inspiration for the first book in her forthcoming series, The You Know Who Girls. The first installment of that series, The You Know Who Girls: Freshman Year hit bookstores on October 16. In this exclusive conversation, the two authors talk about love, labels, and LGBT literature.

Jeremy Jordan King: OK, Annameekee, we both have young adult titles coming out this fall from Soliloquy, the young adult imprint of Bold Strokes Books. Exciting, right?

Annameekee Hesik: I'm so excited that gay and lesbian presses are seeing the importance of providing novels to YA readers. What makes me doubly excited is that I get to be a part of it.

King: Totally.

Hesik: Where did you find good gay lit when you were growing up?

King: Honestly, I didn't read my first gay lit until I was a freshman in college. Back then, I think the age to start reading this kind of literature was older. Now, kids are identifying as LGBT earlier, and eager to start reading about themselves at a younger age.

Hesik: My first lesbian book was something terrible like Lesbians and Homosexuality — a sort of brain study on how lesbians became so lesbian-esque.

King: Ah... cringe. But I'm sure it was super exciting.

Hesik: I bought it at a used bookstore, hid it under my bed for a few weeks and then tried to read it — looking for answers — while in the bath. 

King: Haha!

Hesik: I got through three pages and realized, "This is so not going to help me get a girlfriend." I tossed it in the garbage because that's where I felt it belonged.

King: So can your book help with getting a girlfriend?

Hesik: Totally! At least, I hope so. Maybe not, but the feedback I'm getting is that Abbey's experiences of coming out and falling for girls is realistic, but not typical; sexy, but also sweet. She's a total dork, so I don't know about the sexy part.

King: But she could get sexy in future installments, right?

Hesik: Oh, Abbey is definitely going to grow up. I mean she's got three more years of high school. A lot can happen in three years.

King: That’s code for sex, right? It’s an interesting challenge for a young adult author to make books appropriate for a traditional YA crowd, but also appealing to everyone.

Hesik: Appropriate — that's going to be tough for me as Abbey gets older. I mean, come on, she's a bona fide "You Know Who Girl" now. But how do I make it "appropriate," yet realistic and not pervy?

King: It’s open for interpretation. A lot of teens are very sex-positive. It’s in their lives so they naturally want to see it reflected in what they read. Basically, let Abbey get some in future books. 

Hesik: Note to self: Abbey gets some. So, when you drafted In Stone, did you have it in your mind that you were writing it for YA readers? How did that decision get made?

King: I didn't originally have that in mind. I just wanted to write a fantasy novel. But because it’s about a human character getting mixed up in the supernatural, it obviously gets compared to existing popular YA tiles. So I started to experiment with the genre — see where I could take it. For instance, I acknowledge that more than just young adults read young adult novels. My protagonist is on the older spectrum of YA. He's 22, so maybe he’ll draw more adults to the Soliloquy imprint.

Hesik: So true. Some of the most enthusiastic responses I’ve received are from my adult fans. They are like, "You nailed it," and "That was totally me!" One reader compared The You Know Who Girls to a favorite straight-girl-centric contemporary novel, but better because it's got lesbians. That was my hope — that lesbian readers could read a novel about a girl falling for a girl, and neither girl is addicted to drugs, or dies, or has something terribly tragic and horrible happen to her. Sometimes gay and lesbian books (and movies) are so depressing. And warped. Abbey's life if pretty ordinary, but she's a unique girl having her own experiences.

King: Same here. My protagonist is just a unique guy having his own experiences… With a monster… Made of stone. Totally normal. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jeremy Jordan King grew up in South Jersey, where his primary life goal was to become a mermaid. When that proved impossible, he decided the next best thing would be to move to New York City and study theater at Marymount Manhattan College. He lived an actor’s life for several years before he realized he’d be more satisfied as a writer. And he was. Besides fiction, he dabbles in essays, screenwriting, and illustration. He shares an apartment in Manhattan with his best friends and a strange little dog. In Stone is his first novel.

Annameekee Hesik came out when she was fifteen and has since been obsessed with rainbows.  After successfully surviving high school in Tucson, AZ, she went to college for six years and changed her major five times. She earned her BA in English Lit from UC Davis and her MA in Education from UC Santa Cruz. She now lives in Santa Cruz, CA, and when she isn’t mentoring new teachers or teaching high school English, she writes books that she hopes will help lesbian and questioning teens feel like they’re not the only you-know-who girls in the world. To learn more about Annameekee and her work, read her blog, and find out what she likes to mix into her macaroni and cheese, visit her website.