Today we bring you an interview with Everett Maroon, author of The Unintentional Time Traveler and Bumbling into Body Hair. In 2011 he was a regular contributor for GayYA— we’re so pleased to have him back for this interview on his books, trans YA, and himself. Hope you enjoy!
Fifteen-year-old Jack Inman has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era. Since his seizures usually give him spazzed out visions, Jack presumes this is a hallucination. Feeling fearless, he steals a horse, expecting that at any moment he’ll wake back up in the clinical trial lab. When that doesn’t happen, Jacqueline falls unexpectedly in love, even as the town in the past becomes swallowed in a fight for its survival. Jack/Jacqueline is caught between two lives and epochs, and must find a way to save everyone around him as well as himself. And all the while, he is losing time, even if he is getting out of algebra class.
Vee: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you identify, to start?
Everett Maroon: I’m boring, that’s why I write books. I have two little kids and a very nice partner, and we live in the middle of nowhere, which lends itself to making up stories and doing things like staring at the clouds to figure out what kind of animal they resemble. I use the term “trans man” to describe myself, so I don’t see myself as at the malest male-y part of the gender binary, but a bit more in the middle. Like a cloud. A big puffy gender cloud.
V: Tell us about your book, The Unintentional Time Traveler (TUTT). What is it about? What should readers expect?
The logline of the book is this: “Jack’s seizures aren’t good for anything, except time travel.” So readers should expect a story that’s well within the boundaries of the time travel genre, but that is trying to pick apart several other things, like imagining disability as something empowering, unpacking gender but not by retelling yet another coming out narrative, trying to play with the idea of family history and how stories get lost between generations of people, and work against the idea of the “hero’s journey,” which is what a lot of YA fantasy and scifi boils down to.
V: Before you wrote TUTT, you wrote a memoir, Bumbling into Body Hair. What was the difference between writing these books for you?
E: Well, everything and nothing. They both are looking to create a new space in their respective genres — I find a lot of trans memoirs are pretty prescriptive, telling trans readers this and only this is the correct way to be a transsexual. That’s baloney. And a lot of YA, even stories that are trying to be more diverse, still center on cis and/or straight and/or white characters. So I wanted to push against the tropes of each genre, but with memoir the writer is trying to pull out the most important story from their own lived experience (or at least the most important for that particular book), and with fiction, well, the whole universe in the book is in play until the pieces make sense and tell the best story possible. I never had to worry about whether something in my life made “sense,” since it was just something I lived. In fact, the stranger a given event in my life, the better for its interestingness in the memoir! Fiction has kind of a stricter boundary with regard to random events.
V: As far as I know, TUTT is currently the only fictional YA book with a trans character that was written by a trans author. For trans readers, that is so important and amazing and validating. So I wanted to say thank you for that. And also wanted to ask what it’s like to be in that position!
E: God, is that really true? That’s pretty depressing. I know s.e. smith is shopping a fantastic novel about a trans teenage girl so hopefully that’s on the market in the next couple of years. I read several of the YA books on Lambda Literary’s long list this year, and I was concerned that some of the ones with trans characters really didn’t have great messages for trans-identified readers, especially young readers. We really need more trans YA out there. It’s kind of shocking there’s not more.
V: I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons there are so few trans authors writing trans YA is that adolescence is a difficult and uncomfortable period of their life to revisit. What do you think about that? What was it like to write this book for you?
E: Well, there are many reasons we don’t see more trans authors writing trans YA, and that may very well be one of them. Right now we’re on the cusp of what I think is going to be an explosion of trans literature, and by that I mean literature in all genres about the trans experience, written by trans-identified writers. But right now, looking at the publishing industry, there aren’t a lot of trans editors, certainly not at traditional large publishers, though there are a few at some small presses. Agents by and large don’t know how to shop trans book projects, so they just decline to represent writers. I know there are agents out there willing to take on trans-themed projects, but then they have to find a house, the house has to have an editor with cultural competency, etc. I’ve got a hybrid publisher that I work with, and I still have to redirect what can go on the covers of my books, for example. So it could be that the YA publishing machine isn’t really ready for trans YA by trans authors, or that trans writers are just telling other stories that some gatekeeper (including the authors themselves) figure aren’t good for a YA readership. Publishing has a lot of moving parts, and they just haven’t quite come together yet for trans YA to be emergent, but I know it’s going to happen at some point. There are too many interested readers, and not enough books. It will shift because it just has to. But for me, I’m much less concerned with my own adolescence and how it was difficult, than my annoyance that there weren’t books that I could relate to when I was a teen reader. So I have an interest in putting trans youth into popular culture, and I want them to have at least a few books that resonate with trans youth, and I hope my work does that.
V: What was your journey to publication like?
E: It was meandering. I got fourteen or fifteen rejections on the memoir, which was the first book I shopped around. Once I started working with my publisher it was easy to sell them on the YA novel, and it was my editor for the memoir (Jennifer Munro) who found the editor for the novel (Danika Dinsmore), and she was terrific. But yeah, I pounded the pavement for two-plus years to find a publisher for the memoir. I had to winnow it down from 104,000 words to 85,000, and then it was much more sellable. I got close to landing an agent three times, and those are now good relationships that I can think about turning to at some point in the future. Publishing, like every other industry, is about relationships. So even when the rejections hurt, the author needs to stay professional and move on. Getting a reputation as a whiner or defensive will only hurt emerging writers later on.
V: Let’s talk a little more about the book itself. How did having epilepsy as a teen affect the portrayal and inclusion of it in TUTT?
E: So just to clarify, I had epilepsy from the time I was a little more than a year old until I was thirteen. It was really a drag, with a lot of searching for the right medication, and then monthly blood tests to make sure I had enough medication in my system as I grew. I felt fuzzy in the head a lot of the time, but I didn’t know any differently, so I didn’t dwell on it at the time. I’ve had a number of grand mal (they don’t call them this anymore) seizures over the years, and strangely enough my brain always created a false memory for them — I have very vivid “memories” of being on The Price Is Right, which I gave a nod to in TUTT, of a burning shed, other things. I’ve always wondered what the relationship is between actual memory, perceived memory, our cognition, and our dreams, so I wanted to get at some of that in the novel. As a child I would pretend I could teleport, because I would go to sleep in my own bed and wake up in the hospital, so it was a coping strategy and an interesting way to deal with my reality, to make up a story about why I’d been moved, even if I knew very well that someone had brought me to the hospital. And just like Jack, I was teased about it pretty mercilessly in grade school but I had a few good friends who would stand up for me, so I muddled through with their help.
V: You said in a post you wrote for GayYA back in 2011 that you were interested in “making orientation and gender so fluid in the narrative that it would even be difficult to assign a pronoun to the protagonist,” which I think you’ve indeed been successful with. How would you go about explaining Jac(k)’s identity?
E: Well like I said earlier I wanted to write against tropes. I also wanted to write against the idea that all trans people see themselves as absolutely the other gender on the far, far end of the spectrum, and blammo, that is all there is to it. I wanted readers to have a conversation with themselves about who the protagonist becomes by the end of the novel. I want it open for debate whether people think Jack transitioned or not, or (SPOILER) is hiding out in Jacqueline’s life or not. I will close down a few of these possibilities with the second installation of the story (or maybe I won’t!), but for now, I want readers to determine what they think has happened with Jack’s gender identity.
V: There is a fair amount of racial diversity in TUTT, like Jac(k)’s best friend Sanjay and the character Darling. Can you talk about the development of those characters?
E: For the logic of the story, I needed the two major time frames to be a certain distance apart, and I got a lot of pushback from agents that no contemporary YA novel can be set not in present time. They really didn’t like that Jack lived in the 1980s. But the historicity of the novel was important to me for plot reasons, but also to say that our country has its own story to tell, and it is a story that involved a lot of people who were cast to the margins for one reason or another. But without the slave trade, without immigrants of all kinds, without women’s labor (hence the chicken catching scene), we wouldn’t have the country we have today. So I wanted to think about who those people have been, at different moments, to push their communities forward, and what their participation looked like. Darling was the daughter of a freed slave, and Sanjay was first generation American, and Jack really takes their presence in his life and country for granted until they show him why their race and ethnic backgrounds are important. Jeannine too, is Cuban-American, and that will play a larger role in the next story. But I didn’t include these characters in order to tokenize them in the narrative—I wanted to be true to the kind of mixed neighborhood I grew up in and that reflects a lot of people’s neighborhoods and relationships. They each have moments where their specific experience has helped them have insight and they bring their intelligence to Jack’s quest, which will eventually work to support them in return.
V: The Unintentional Time Traveler has a sequel in the works. Can you give us a brief peek into what’s going to happen in it?
E: The working title right now is The Intermediate Time Traveler, suggesting that Jack has some more experience and control over his time travel ability. We will pull out a bit more and see more of his family relationships, but the second book is going to involve his buddies more, and Darling will be making a return as well. This one is going to answer many questions about the Travelers and the Guardians, and their complicated relationship, and reach much further back in time…
Thanks so much for these questions, I really enjoyed commiserating with you about them! And if folks have any more questions, they can ask in the comments or over on Goodreads where I allow for such things in their system. Happy reading, everyone!