Vee: Hello there Steven! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. It’s a pleasure to have you on the blog. To start off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Steven: Thanks for having me, Vee! I was born in the Big Apple to Portuguese & Dominican parents, but grew up in sunny South Florida, which I still currently call home (when I’m not calling it some not-so-nice words in the height of our steamy summers). I have a Journalism/Communications degree and also studied Motion Picture and Television production. I thought I’d be making movies one day. Life sort of got in the way and I ended up in the legal field (don’t ask), but my love for film/TV manifested itself in the form of writing books, which I visualize like movies in my head. So I guess my training and love for film hasn’t gone to waste! In addition to movies, I love board games and binge-watching TV series on video or streaming. Oh, and I’m also very passionate, vocal, and opinionated on LGBTQIA issues!
V: How would you describe THE CULLING for someone who hasn’t read it? And what can you tell us about the main character, Lucian Spark?
S: I would say that THE CULLING is like a mix of LORD OF THE FLIES & SOPHIE’S CHOICE, except magnified to the nth degree, bloodier, and starring teenagers in a Post-Apocalyptic world. The main character, Lucian “Lucky” Spark is a sensitive, romantic, somewhat naïve gay young man, who gets a crash course on betrayal and trust issues, and decides to make things happen rather than let them.
V: The series is called THE TORCH KEEPER– can you explain what a Torch Keeper is?
S:Without giving away too much of THE CULLING, a Torch Keeper is someone who keeps hope alive during times of extreme darkness, and becomes a beacon for a brighter future.
V: Diverse books are hard to find, and intersectionally diverse books even more so. Why do you think that is?
S:Unfortunately, I would have to say it’s largely due to fear. Fear on the part of publishers, who are afraid such books won’t sell, and perpetuate the cycle by not publishing these books and giving them the chance to be discovered. And fear on the part of some readers, who dismiss books because the people contained within their pages aren’t like them. The good news is that things are starting to change, and the people who believe in diversity are speaking out loudly and getting their voices heard.
V: What was your path to publication like?
S: Can you say rollercoaster ride? In 2008, I wrote a YA Paranormal/Espionage book called DAGGER, which was the name of the main character, a smooth-talking gay male teen who attends High School by day, and travels the globe at night defending it from all manner of demonic terrorist spies. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Teen Wolf, etc. and you can get an idea of the flavor, a mix of supernatural, spies, and humor. One of the agents who read the book, said she LOVED it, that it really stood out from the crowded Paranormal YA market, and had great series potential. But she crushed me by telling me that as much as she adored the book, she couldn’t take it on because it starred a gay male character, and the YA market was predominantly heterosexual females, so no one would buy the book. I can’t tell you how devastating it was to hear that. Basically, if I wanted to get published, I couldn’t write a book starring people like me. Despite all the frustrations and suggestions that I change the main character’s gender and ditch the ‘gay,” I was determined to prove them wrong and went on to write THE CULLING, which sold in 2011.
V: I’m really curious about how people of different sexualities are perceived in this dystopian world. So far there hasn’t seemed to be any homophobia. What was your thought process in making it that way? How do you feel about futuristic or fantasy worlds that include homophobia?
S: Great question! In the world of THE CULLING, despite all the horrible things that happen, homophobia does not exist. My reasoning was based on the world we live in today. Every day more countries and states embrace marriage equality and LGBTQIA rights. In just a few months (fingers crossed) the United States may codify into law marriage equality across the entire nation. That concept was unheard of not too long ago! LGBTQIA kids being born today in this country will most likely grow up knowing they can marry whomever they fall in love with! That’s HUGE! Since THE CULLING takes plays hundreds of years in the future, it would only seem natural that homophobia would be a long forgotten travesty of the past. That’s what really irks me when I read fantasy/futuristic books that still rely on today’s bigotry or pretend LGBTQIA people don’t exist. Considering the glorious path we are traveling on in the present and the growing acceptance of LGBTQIA people, it doesn’t make any sense to impose present day bigotry on the future!
V: Even though dystopia and post-apocalyptic books are very popular in YA, there are very few that include queer characters. The two that come to my mind immediately are Proxy by Alex London and Adaptation by Malinda Lo. Have you read either? If so, do you have any thoughts on how your work compares to them?
S: I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Malinda Lo’s ADAPTATION yet, but I’ve heard fantastic things and plan to real soon! I did read Alex London’s PROXY and thought it was wonderfully written and very enjoyable! As discussed in the previous question, THE CULLING takes a decidedly different approach to homophobia in the future than PROXY does, but that doesn’t mean booth books can’t be equally enjoyed.
V: I’m only about 50 pages in right now, but I can already see that this world is really well structured. Can you tell us, is there anything about or that happens in this world, that you know is there but haven’t shown in your books?
S: In my best Gia Gunn voice, “Absolutely!” How did the world in THE CULLING come to be? Just WHAT are those pesky Fleshers? Why/How did the Trials come about? In the sequel, THE SOWING, I begin to explore those questions and raise some (hopefully) juicy new ones!
V: What would you like to see more of in queer YA?
S: HORROR! Really scary, keep-you-up-all-night-shivering-under-the-covers-horror! And before you ask, Yes, I want to attempt to write one!
V: Is there anything you hope readers will take from THE TORCH KEEPER SERIES?
S:I hope readers will take a sense of hope for the future, no matter how dark things may seem now. Also, that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation/identity, race or ethnicity, shares the same dreams and fears, and the desire to love and be loved is universal and can be appreciated by all readers. And especially to the LGBTQIA readers out there, YOU can be the hero and make a difference, despite what anyone else tells you.
V: What’s next for you? Is there a third book in The Torch Keeper series? And do you plan to keep writing more queer YA in the future?
S: I’m currently editing/revising the third book in THE TORCK KEEPER series, which will conclude the story. I definitely plan on writing more YA books featuring LGBTQIA characters! The novel I spoke of before, DAGGER, is currently making the rounds to publishers again. Let’s hope 2015 treats him better than 2008 did! And I hope to get around to writing that horror novel this year as well.
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Thanks so much for having me!