We’re thrilled to be talking today with Elliott DeLine, author of the YA/NA books Refuse and I Know Very Well How I Got My Name, and the autobiographical nonfiction book Show Trans! We got to chat with him a bit about his work, transgender YA, and why it’s so important to have transgender authors writing trans YA. We also got some great questions from Elliott’s readers about his writing process and more!
Vee: Hey Elliott! Thank you so much for joining us on GayYA. To start, can you share a little bit about yourself and your books?
Elliott: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me on GayYA. Let’s see, a bit about myself. I’m a 27 year old writer. I am trans. I use he/him/his pronouns. I was born and raised in Syracuse, NY. I like to travel and I live in a motorhome with my partner, his son, and our two cats. I also make art and write songs. I have written and published three books, which I am very bad at summarizing. That’s one of the hard things about self-publishing: you have to do everything, including come up with a sales pitch for your books. And if novelists were good at being brief, they wouldn’t write novels. I will attempt none the less to sum each book up in a sentence. Refuse: a socially awkward, shy, and depressed trans man named Dean is obsessed with Morrissey and music, falls in love with his college roommate, another trans man who has a girlfriend and a band. It’s about being an outsider among outsiders. My second book, a novella, is a coming-of-age story about the same protagonist, Dean, and his experience from like age 3-16. It’s a prequel to Refuse, and it’s mostly his abusive relationship with a girl and bullying by his peers junior high and high school. It’s about and feeling alone and finding your voice. Those two books have both been compared to The Catcher in the Rye, which I take as a big compliment. Lastly, there is Show Trans, which is a memoir I published last October. It’s the hardest one to summarize. It’s about my experiences attempting to date, traveling West, and facing a lot of messed up stuff as a trans young adult.
V: Reading trans YA can have a big impact on trans teens, especially those that were written by authors who are themselves trans. What kind of responses have you gotten from trans teens, and why do you think it is important for trans authors to tell trans stories?
E: I’ve gotten really great feedback from teens about my books. Particularly the first two. People have told me that I expressed things they weren’t seeing talked about anywhere else, or that it’s the first transgender protagonist they actually related to. I’ve had people tell me that my books helped them through really hard times. When people tell me these things, it means the world to me. I could cry about it, honestly. I wish more teens had access to my books, but I’m still a pretty underground artist at this point.
I think it’s important to have trans people writing about their own experiences for fairly obvious reasons. I’m tired of people speaking for us and using us to sensationalize their story and make money. Trans people deserve to speak for themselves, like all people.
V: What are your favorite books starring transgender protagonists (besides your own, of course!)?
E: I’ve struggled to find many books with trans protagonists that I related to or enjoyed. I sat and thought about this question a long time and had trouble coming up with anything. I think that’s telling. I did like Stone Butch Blues. That book was important to me, even if it was different from my own experience. Nothing else jumps to mind. This isn’t to say there aren’t good things out there: just nothing I can think of that I really loved, personally. I wish there were more books and movies where a character were trans, incidentally, instead of that being the whole focus.
Signy asks: Describe your writing process. Do you outline? Do you write every day? Set a schedule for writing? Any habits?
E: My writing process varies greatly, often depending on my mental state and mental health. Sometimes I have a routine, sometimes I do not. It depends on the project and what feels right. I usually write something every day, even if it’s just in a journal, because writing makes me feel good. But I can’t say I commit to working on Official Creative Writing Projects every day. I have other interests and responsibilities and self-care that take up time as well. And sometimes days and even weeks will pass without me writing something significant.
If by outline you mean scribble notes to myself, then yes. It’s not a very organized process, but it works for me. For the most part, I just go with what comes out. It depends on the project.
I’ve tried setting schedules, but usually they only work short term. If I say “I will get up every morning at 7 am and write!” that isn’t likely to happen. But if I say, “Tomorrow, I want to get up at 7 am an write,” then usually I can follow through. I try to stay in the present.
Any habits? Hm. I like to write in coffee houses and other calm, public places. Sometimes that works better for me than working in isolation. Other times I need complete privacy. I also find walking first helps me get into a writing mindset.
Krys asks: On what medium do you usually do your rough drafts? Do you have a special notebook? What do you do when inspiration hits and you don’t have a way of writing immediately?
E: My rough drafts are usually typed, with occasional exceptions. The document is like a living, changing body, all the way up until the finished piece. Sometimes I have a rough draft and then a second document that I copy and paste into, for a final draft, so that I have the outtakes in case I change my mind.
I do have a special notebook! I’ve had many. I’m a pretty avid journaler, outside of my public writing. I have a general notebook where I just write whatever I feel I need to. Again, it’s not that organized. It’s the act of writing that is therapeutic for me. I also usually have notebooks specially for ideas related to my current main project, so that I can write ideas down when inspiration hits and not forget them. I carry that with me most places.
Brad asks: How much time do you spend revising your work? How many people review your writings before you publish them? Can you describe the transformation from the first draft to the published work?
E: I spend a great deal of time revising my work, both as I go along and when I go over the final drafts. For the most part, I have been my own editor. I’ve usually had one or two other people who I trusted read over my final drafts and provide feedback, as well as point out grammatical errors I may have missed. But for the most part, it’s a solo endeavor, right up to when I submit the document to the sef-publishing website and order the printed copies. That’s how I like things, even if it means the occasional imperfections. The readers know that what they are getting is authentically me.
Teylor asks: Things you are sick of seeing in Gay YA? Things you would like to see more of?
E: I don’t read a lot of LGBTQ YA, but I will say that I am sick of stories about transgender characters by cisgender authors. Sometimes they are OK, but I think we really need more transgender young people writing stories from their own perspectives. That would be very powerful. I am interested in helping other young queer writers self-publish, like I did. It doesn’t have to be costly for us. It wasn’t for me. It’s important our voices are heard firsthand and that other people don’t profit off them. I encourage young writers to look into self-publishing, and to not wait for someone to tell them their writing and stories are “good enough.” You can start a blog, make ebooks, print-on-demand websites, zines… You get to decide when you are a writer, not some university degree or agent or publisher. Those things can be OK, but what’s most important is good storytelling. And you can do that all on your own, starting today. If you have the energy, go for it! And be wary of people who want to take your stories without paying you, for anthologies or other things. It’s OK to have boundaries and not feel it is your duty to share your story, just to help others or enhance visibility. You deserve to succeed as well.
Elliott DeLine is a 27 year old transgender writer from Syracuse, NY. He has published three books: Refuse, I Know Very Well How I Got My Name, and Show Trans, as well as numerous essays and short stories. Elliott also makes visual art and music.