About Today’s Show
Queer representation in stories and literature is starting to make its way into the mainstream market and big publishing houses. It’s still a long road before we see LGBTQ+ books being promoted by big publishing houses as the new norm but with the help of today’s guest, we’re on track to getting there!
On today’s show, Calan Breckon has a sit-down with author Robbie Couch to talk about why queer representation is so important in literature and how he managed to find success going the traditional publishing house route with Simon & Schuster.
Get “The Sky Blues” by Robbie Couch
Follow Robbie on Instagram and Twitter
Books and Authors mentioned in today’s episode:
SoulBound/Metahuman by Hailey Turner, The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles, Forsaken Fae by R.A. Steffan, Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Running with Lions by Julian Winters, Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera.
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Hello. Hello everybody. Welcome to another episode of gay men going deeper today. I’m your host Calan Breckon, and I have the amazing Robbie Couch with me. We are going to be talking about all things, queer literature and representation, why it’s important. Why do we need to have queer representation in books, all of that good stuff. So to introduce you a little bit to Robbie,
he is the author of the young adult novel, the sky blues, which is his first novel, as well as his forthcoming book Blaine For The Win. His work has been published in HuffPost, Upworthy and and O, The Oprah Magazine, just to name a few. Now let’s dive in and just let Robbie tell you a bit about himself some more.
Hey, welcome to the show, Robbie, how’s it going? It’s going really, really well. I’m so stoked to be here Calan. Thank you for having me. I am a huge fan of the podcast as I was just mentioning before we started, I I’ve clicked around in a few other episodes and y’all are doing some awesome stuff. So I’m,
I’m super honored to be on this episode. Thanks. Awesome. Well, thank you. Well, I’m so happy to have you because gay books and literature, and like queer reading is kind of my jam. I’ve made it like a promise to myself this year to mostly if I can only read like gay lead or queer representation books. So I’ve been going crazy.
I have tons of them. There’s so many more than I would have ever thought, but that’s why I was like, I want to do this episode. And so I found you and I found your books since like, if this let’s do an interview with this guy. So tell us more about yourself. How did you get started in writing young adults,
you know, queer based books and tell us a little bit about that story. Yeah, well, I think it goes back. I, I first sort of knew I wanted to be a writer and a storyteller all the way back in fourth grade. I remember I had a homework assignment where we had to write a book and I’ll, I’ll put book in air quotes because,
you know, I was what 10, but, and I really enjoyed the process of, of coming up with the story. And it was kind of this, this kind of crazy story about how this seaweed and my aunt’s lake in Michigan, like pulled me down and killed me. And then it turned out to be just a nightmare I was having, but I loved the project so much.
I got an a on it. And I remember in my little 10 year old brain, something clicked where I realized, Hey, this is something that I’m apparently not bad at. And I really enjoy doing this. So that kind of kicked off a lot of the little writing projects that I did. I was always starting books and I never finished them.
I probably started a hundred bucks in middle school and never got past like chapter one, usually. But so I’ve always loved storytelling and writing. I went into journalism at first, sort of, I wanted to go a bit more in the investigative journalism down that path, but then the older I got, the more I realized that I really wanted to tell stories that I thought could really make an impact on communities that I cared about and being queer myself,
that kind of led me to, to writing gay centered stories. And yeah, I finally committed to writing the sky blues and my late twenties. Yeah, it was, it was 2016 when I started. So yeah, it’s been a bumpy, but fun route a road to get here and yeah, the second book comes out soon. So here I am Wild.
Okay. So first I was going to say true crime podcasts. If you had gone down that road, like those are the biggest things in the world these days. Right. But I’m very glad you stuck to your queer representation one, but you said, did you say 2016? And it’s now 2021. And the sky blues just came out in April last April in April.
So that’s been a journey. So I can only imagine that queer leading books, isn’t the easiest sale even now. And like, how did you navigate that world? Because obviously we need the representation in the world, but is it still difficult to a, get a book published, but get a book published that is, you know, LGBTQ plus inclusive.
Yeah, that’s a really good question. And back in, well, actually 2015 when I was first kind of swaying around with like actually committing to writing a queer book and a really, really, really early version of the sky blues actually had a straight girl character. And this character that kind of evolved into sky baker was actually like her best friend. And I had a conversation with a fellow author who’s also queer and he just sort of asked me point blank.
Like, why don’t you have a queer lead like this, something that you care about? We need war stories like this. Like why, why aren’t you doing that? And it, it actually made me stop and really think about that creative decision that I had made. And I think I was sort of scared to write a book that I had deemed,
you know, not marketable or that it would turn publishers away to have a gay lead, but I’m glad I decided not to do that and write a story that I actually wanted to write with a gay lead. And we’ve really seen such big shifts kind of to answer your question even in the past like five years or so. There’s been a lot more hunger from both readers and publishers to respond to stories that really reflects the full experience of being human.
And that of course includes more stories centering the LGBTQ experience. So I think we’ve made really big steps forward. I, I do feel like we’re still at a place where the stories of queer stories that tend to get published more, can kind of be categorized into a smaller niche group. They’re sometimes overly sanitized or overly whites and cisgender, right? So we still need a lot of more stories reflecting what it’s like to be trans what it’s like to be a person of color BiPAP in the queer community.
So I think we have a ways to go and truly being inclusive across the queer spectrum and, and telling all different kinds of stories, but we’ve definitely made big steps for it, I would say in the past few years, for sure. Nice. So in saying that and getting your stories to the finish line, what was kind of the hardest part about doing that?
Was it the fact that you wanted to go the traditional publishing route? Because I believe you were published with Simon and Schuster, correct. Which is amazing. Cause that’s a real publishing house because so many of the books that I have read have been self-published and I know that it is much easier to self publish these days. People don’t look at it. Like they used to,
it used to be very Studi like, oh, self-published sure Jan, but now it’s, you know, it’s kind of like, oh yeah, sure. As long as it’s a good book and a lot of the queer based books that I read are self-published so how was that road going down to get like traditionally published? And why did you choose to do that?
Go down that road and set up self-publish For sure. Yeah. And to your point. Yeah. A lot of books nowadays are self-published and it’s great to see cause I, I love the idea of authors really being able to have full creative control over their work and being able to, you know, every I is dotted and every T is crossed like the way they want it.
And I think that’s a really empowering, great thing about self publishing. There’s obviously a lot of perks to working with the publisher, just to access to the market, having a team behind you with helping with publicity and all of editing. And, and so there’s of course, many advantages to going the more conventional route. But I think especially with so many more ways of telling stories and with audio books and streaming services and like all of these expansive ways to sell stories,
I think the book industry has also been one to kind of reflect changes where there’s yeah. A lot more people going the self-publishing route, which is great for me. I think I wanted to try to go the more conventional route at first. And then I probably spent, I want to say like six to nine months in total of going through the process of,
and I don’t know how familiar you are with the, the nuts and bolts of the process, but like you submit to agents first, typically kind of the conventional way you want representation through like a literary agency and you have to write query letters, kind of pitching your book. And then if a publisher is interested, then you have to write a full synopsis and submit the manuscript.
So there’s definitely lots of steps to the whole process and it can be really discouraging to hear no a million times, which I absolutely did. I think if anyone at home as a sniffing and wants to be a writer, no, that you’re going to hear a lot of nos, but that’s okay. Even the best writers, you’re a ton of nos.
And I think for me, at some point I would have maybe navigated or wanted to take the next step into potentially going the self-publishing route. But fortunately, within those first few months there was interest and I got an agent and she’s been wonderful Mo shout out to Mo if you’re listening and, and then it worked out with Simon and Schuster. So it didn’t,
it didn’t get to a point where I, I was thinking about self publishing, but if it had, I think that could have also been a great option for the sky blues too. Nice. Awesome. Well, that’s, I’m just, I’m so happy that it actually got there because like you were saying, like, I was nodding my head yes.
Along because like I’m writing, like I’m just putting the finishing touches on a book proposal for myself for like, like non-fiction, it’s like self-help and all this kind of stuff. So it’s like, it’s a very different, you do. The proposals is all that very different. You have to have a manuscript for yourself for writing, you know, fiction.
They kind of want to see what the whole story is going to be, where it’s nonfiction. It’s that like, we want to know what it is so that we can then help you work towards it. So it’s different, but same, same, like it’s a a hundred million knows all the things you’re kind of like please somebody. Yeah. So you breads,
that’s really exciting though. You’re in the, you said you’re in the final stages of Yeah. Yeah. That, that in and of itself is one thing. But yeah. So anyways, moving into more of this, so thanks Mo for taking a chance on you, how did you manage to find mode? Because I know that that’s kind of the first step in putting together your,
you know, you send them your book proposal and like your query letters and all this, and be like, pick me. So how did that go? Because you’re trying to obviously pitch, you know, queer books being like, Hey girl, Hey. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, no, it’s I, I guess my pieces of advice and something that I heard from other authors who had gotten published that told me the same thing.
When you’re looking for agents to pitch the more specific and niche they are aligned with what, with what you have in mind for your book, the better. So for me, I was of course looking for agents who wanted to represent a of course, but then beyond that agents that very specifically said, look, I want diverse stories. I want queer stories.
And as I kind of alluded to earlier, like in the past few years, there has been such a big push for diverse story. So I was able to, you know, I had my spreadsheet open and had all the names of different agents that I was interested in working with. And yeah, I think overall the process was three to four months of,
of reaching out to different agents, maybe a little bit shorter than that before things worked out with Mo. But yeah, I would just recommend to like, look as specific and granular as you can, when it comes to agents in terms of what they’re looking for and if they would be a good fit for you, because it’s not just, you know,
am I going to find an agent you should be asking yourself, like, does this agent, is this an agent I actually want to work with? Is this someone who I can really see as a good partner? Who, who gets me, who gets the stories I want to tell. And so I think it’s important for artists and writers to really ask them,
ask themselves that question as well. And yeah, it’s worked out great with about Nice. And this is leading into the next part because obviously as an author now, maybe not all of your books are going to be queer based, but I can only imagine a lot of your books are going to be queer based books. And so you obviously want to find an agent who wanted to go on that journey with you,
who wanted to take those stories to the large publishing publishing houses and then have them go out into the world so that more people could see them. So how was that working on that journey together being like, I think an evict me, I mean, you said now people are looking for that. So the market is opening up a little bit more. Do you think you kind of just hit at that sweet spot where it’s like the world’s kind of ready for it and they’re like you were going to pick you?
Yeah. I mean, I, I w I wouldn’t flatter myself that much, but I, I do feel like, yeah, there’s been a big shift in what sorts of stories are being told and have access to a larger market. I do think, especially in the Y a space there’s been even more of a push just because we know that gen Z and younger readers are just more open to LGBTQ people.
They kind of approach LGBTQ issues in different ways than even my generation. I’m 32 now. And so I think Younger than me. Alright, I’ll take it. So I do think that that is a reflection of the actual reader base, right? Because they’re kind of in a more open-minded generation already, it’s, it makes more sense that publishers would be willing to kind of work with authors and work with stories that maybe they wouldn’t try to,
you know, sell to 65 plus year olds, but for high schoolers, it, it works well. So, yeah, I, I think it was definitely a conversation that I had with my agent and, and wanting to make sure that the story still stayed true to its queer roots and sky, his identity as a gay kid is so important to the story and the end and his experiences.
And I didn’t want to lose that in the process. And Mo was such a good partner to have, because we were completely on the same page in that way. I mean, wanted to find a publisher that really wanted to celebrate the queerness of the story, as opposed to try to standardize it or work it in a way that, you know, straight people could appreciate more.
Right. Which I do think straight people can, can like this guy blues, of course, but we wanted to make sure that the, the queerness of the story was really still present. And I think we did that. So I’m really happy with how it turned out. Yeah. And you obviously did because you have a second book coming out as well,
which is blamed for the wind. So is this also a Simon and Schuster book? It is. Yep. This one is also Simon and Schuster. And I have a third book that I just submitted last week or two weeks ago that I’m also really excited about that is also working with Simon and Schuster. So they’ve been a really great publishing partner for sure.
So the ball is rolling and you are doing it for the queers out there, getting those stories out there for those young young readers, which is so great. I’m, I’m really grateful, you know, being the age we are now, I didn’t have these, we didn’t have these books, you know, growing up specifically kind of like the fantasy or like,
you know, those kinds of books where you’re like, oh, I could lose myself in this. It was, they just didn’t exist. So now that they are starting to exist, not just in the self-published world, but also in the, you know, the publishing, the big publishing houses world that makes me as a consumer so happy and so excited for all of these forthcoming books to be bringing out into the world.
So obviously you’re sticking with queer themes cause I’m, I know blamed for the winners is also what kind of stories have you thrown out into these books that you see yourself in? Like maybe for, let’s talk about the sky blues that obviously was such a journey from starting at till now and now it seems like things are speeding up. So you’re obviously you’re starting to put those stories out a little bit more.
What, like, what was it in those like so many years of writing the sky blues that it finally came together and what part of you is in that story? Oh, that’s a good question. I I’ve sort of described the sky blues as a little bit autobiographical English because his story is I, I’m not sky baker and we’re, we’re very different in many ways.
And our experiences were very different, but the world around him that really informed his experiences in high school, I really drew from my own experiences. I grew up in a rural small town in the rust belt in Michigan sky, sort of in a really similar situation, although he’s from Northern Michigan and I grew up like an hour and a half north of Detroit.
So it’s slightly different areas of the state, but so I definitely relied on my own upbringing in that area to kind of inform the sorts of characters he would run into the attitudes. People might have finding allyship and really surprising places. That was a part of my experience growing up in a small town where sometimes it felt like no one understood you and no one would have your back.
And then you would have people kind of pop up in surprising, wonderful ways as allies, even though I wasn’t out in high school, I could still recognize that in various teachers or people in the community or coaches. And that was really cool. And if you read this guy blues, you’ll notice that that sort of a theme of the book as well.
It kind of shows both the very dark sides of small town America, but also the really beautiful, amazing affirming sides of small town America. So there’s lots of themes that kind of got built up from my own experiences, but sky, the character is certainly different than me. So I wouldn’t call it an autobiography and autopilot crappy. You know what I’m trying to say,
Autobiography. Thank you. Thank you. I’m on like flu medication right now. So I’m just going to blame it on that. It’s for all the listeners we discussed this beforehand, you were like, if I start dying in the middle of the interview, I apologize. Yes, that’s it. But it’s ultimately is, is reflective of my experiences up growing up in Michigan for sure.
Sorry. Yeah. Nice. Do you have a lot of like young people or even adults reaching out to, you know, and being like, oh my goodness, like I read this, like, this is amazing or this changed my life or like secretly coming out. And are you starting to get those stories now? Yeah, it is so cute.
And I like, I should, I shouldn’t say cute, but it sounds sort of infant realizing it’s. It’s awesome. It’s so, so cool. And whenever I get a message on like Instagram or someone’s yummy on Twitter, sort of saying they read the book, especially if it’s a queer teen and especially if they’re from Michigan, I’ve had a number of young queer people from Michigan reach out to me.
And that especially like tugs at the heartstrings, for sure. Especially, you know, I’ve gotten messages about this is the first time that they’ve seen their own experiences reflected back in a book. And that’s really why I wanted to write this guy. Blues is to have a book that queer kids across the country, across the world could look to and sort of see themselves in the story and in some ways,
big or small. So getting those sorts of responses from readers, especially younger readers is way, way cool. Oh, that makes me feel so good. I’m like doing it for the younger generations. It makes me feel like they’re like we are making progress is wild. Is the world’s can get that. Like there is progress being made and things are shifting and changing.
And I’m in the, from below, like from belief that like everything happens kind of 1% at a time, like one generation changes, one thing, another generation changes another. We are kind of speeding things up now with technology and all that things are quickly changing, but it’s nice to see that like big publishing houses are starting to be more open to inclusion and diversity in the literature because we need it.
Yeah. I think it’s also because I know you mentioned earlier, like you making kind of a concerted effort to read queer stories. I think that’s so smart and really important for listeners to also maybe consider doing the same because the market responds to what people are buying and what they’re responding. So if more queer people and of course, straight people as well,
what want more of these stories? Like you got a bio and you have to get out there and make sure you’re supporting these writers and artists so that the industry knows that there’s a readership base out there. And, and we’ve seen that happen with a number of big, best sellers that have super queer themes. So yeah, the industry is changing. The world is changing,
but yeah, we gotta put our money where our mouths are and keep supporting where artists for sure. Oh, 100%. It’s like when you go on Amazon, a literary house is going to see if that book or that series is getting hundreds. If not thousands of stars and likes. And they’re like a self published, like one of my favorite series and the last book just came out of not finished yet is the soul bound series by Haley Turner.
And it’s like, oh my God, it’s just, it gets me in all the fields. It’s so good. It’s not young adult. Cause there’s definitely like sex scenes in there. So if people are listening, they want a little bit more hot and spicy definitely has that. But like seeing her success, like she just had a giant launch party and she’s so niche and doesn’t have a giant Facebook group,
but like the support in that group is wild. It’s so wild. How people are like flocking to it and thrive. Like they’re thriving. So it’s like, we do have to sport, like all these, you know, authors, because if we want to see more of this, we need to tell the world like, Hey, we want to see this.
We Like this. Give them a chance. Yeah. And that’s so awesome to know that she’s had that success. I think that really goes to show you that if you can tell a good story, even if you keep running into different walls and bottlenecks, it’s, there’s ways to get it out there. And I think now more than ever folks have access to lots of different digital tools to get their story in front of people.
So don’t be discouraged if you’re a writer out there kind of going, going through some, some tough times because there’s a ways to get your story out there. And there’s, yeah, sometimes it’s not the most conventional route, but you can find the people who want to support you. Oh totally. I know people who have like a Patrion and they released like a chapter a month and then the readers support them through that.
It’s, there’s tons of options, but I want to dive in a little bit more because obviously there was such a gap between you starting the sky blues and actually it getting published. And in traditional publishing, we know it does take a year or two years to, from like getting the contract to like things happening. But I want to talk a little bit about,
you know, what helps you stay committed and to commit to following through on the project finally, because you know, we do do all the personal development and stuff on this podcast. So diving a little bit more to that area of things, what actually helps you push through or helps you actually finish and commit to finishing your first novel, because now it’s kind of like a snowball effect.
The first one’s done and now it’s kind of like continuing on faster, but it’s always the first one. That’s the, so tell us more about that story. Yeah. It’s, it’s interesting. I wrote this guy blues as mentioned earlier, I started in 2016 and I wrote it over the course of the next three ish years, which is now I look back and I’m like,
oh, that was so wonderful to have that, that much time to really make the book what I wanted and with Blaine, for the win. I love this book so much and I’m so excited to get it out there, but I wrote it in eight weeks or so like a far, far, far shorter window of time. And I think part of it for me,
and it was kind of a similar ish timeframe for book three that I just finished as well. And for me, I’ve gotten more efficient as a writer in knowing how I take and what sorts of, I don’t want to label it productivity hacks, but I guess you could productivity hacks, like the ways that my mind works, the ways that I’m most productive.
And I try to sort of adhere to those things. I’m a really big outliner. I spend probably just as much time, really like granularly going through and outlining the book as I do actually writing the book, which sounds a little nuts, but I’ve found that if I have a really, really clean, specific, detailed outline of not just like the plot structure of the story,
but like the emotional beats and the character arcs, it makes actually writing it so much faster and the whole process much more efficient. So there’s things like that, that I’ve kind of picked up along the way to make sure that I’m giving myself the best, the best chance of, of telling a great story. And I’ve also had to learn that like,
there’s, there’s never going to be the absolute perfect story. There’s always ways to improve it or things to think through, to, you know, fix things that don’t feel completely right. But at some point you just have to move forward and, and, and get it out there and work on it. And I think sometimes, especially with artistic people,
we can kind of have very, very, very high standards for ourselves, which we should, but hopefully it doesn’t prevent you from ever actually putting in the working and getting it done. So that’s been a lesson that I’ve had to kind of teach myself through this process as well. Oh yeah. We’ve, we’ve actually had podcasts episodes about perfectionism and how it can hinder you so much from actually making progress in your life because you’re so focused on getting it perfect that you’re not actually putting anything out there.
And they’re like the only way you can prove yourself as if you put something out there and yes, you’re going to get critique back, but you will have done it. And then you can learn from the critique and that’ll help you move forward as opposed to being like, no, it’s going to be perfect, but like nobody seeing it. So nothing’s happening with it.
What were the biggest factors in driving that, driving you to the finish line of being like I’m actually going to do it this time? Ooh, that’s a good question. I’m yeah. Let me, let me put myself in the shoes of, of 20 Rabih. I think I, I knew how much time and effort like blood, sweat, and tears.
I put into the book in 2019, in 2019, when I finally could see the finish line in front of me and I kind of made a commitment, just thinking, you know, I, I really poured myself into this creative project for so long. I really loved how the story was coming together. And I guess I just didn’t want to think about it as a waste.
I didn’t want to just finish it and then let it sit in my drafts folder for years and be too scared to start sending it out to agents. And so, yeah, I think it was just sort of getting to the point of talking myself up enough to, to go, okay, it’s, it’s ready to get out there. And I was terrified to show anyone because I think even though I had,
you know, I have by-lines for a lot of big websites where millions of people have read my work. That sounded like I’m bragging, but, but with this, it felt so much more vulnerable to have a piece of fiction that I have really, that was so personal to me that I spent so long on that it was really scary, kind of overcoming that hump and getting to the point where I could get it out there into the world and start submitting it to agents.
But I’m glad I committed to doing that and really following through, because I didn’t want to see the, that those three years of work kind of be wasted. So, yeah. Nice. Awesome. You actually just like something just came to mind as you were talking about all that other stuff of like how cause with all the success there’s going also competitors.
Right. So how have you experienced that? Have there been any, and if there have, how do you navigate that kind of experience? Yeah. Well, I, it’s a good question. I think with, with any sort of like artistic endeavor, you’re always of course going to have people who don’t like your work for whatever reason. And I think criticism is a totally healthy part of being a writer and,
and kind of being open to criticism when it’s in good faith, but there’s such a huge difference between someone, you know, maybe disagreeing on a creative level with some of your choices. And then someone just being really mean-spirited about the way that they’re attacking your work, especially if you’re a marginalized person and, you know, they start kind of, they maybe are saying racist things or homophobic things or transphobic things.
I think that kind of takes it to another place where you really have to protect yourself from those sorts of comments. So fortunately is the sky blues has been pretty well received and the overwhelming majority of the feedback that I’ve gotten from book people and readers has have been positive. So I’m really lucky in that sense. I definitely have had people tag me in bad reviews of the book and I’m like,
you don’t really need to tap me in this. Oh, but that is a thing that happens sometimes. So that has happened. I kind of avoid comment sections in general. I, I, it’s so funny and cute. My dad, who’s been such a big supporter of, of this whole process. He’ll like have these daily checks on Amazon to be like,
all right, you got, you got this review and you’re up to this many stars and you’re at this ranking and I’m like, dad, I need, I need to like remove myself from this a little bit, but he’s really excited for me, but he’ll, he’ll even tell me about comments and stuff that he reads. And although it’s nice. I tried to kind of have a little bit of a boundary between myself and,
and reading and reading too many comments because yeah, you can, it can kind of fuel those negative voices in your head if you read too many mean ones. And I think I’m like a lot of people where I could read 10 glowing reviews of the sky blues and then forget about all of them. But it’s the one negative review that sticks with me for like weeks.
So knowing that about myself, I also have to kind of put some self care boundaries on how I engage with different platforms, but I’m yeah, I’m fortunate enough that the vast, vast majority of the feedback that I’ve gotten has been positive, which is so cool. Nice. That’s good. Do you have like a mantra when you do come across those negative ones that you’re like,
okay, just remember the mantra. I wish I, yeah, I should probably get one. I think my, my mantra is just clicking out of the tab as quickly as possible and trying to forget about it. It’s not there, Right. The delegates that there, or like a mean tweet, just like block done. Right? Exactly. I don’t need you in my life anymore.
Yeah. Awesome. I love that. And I also love that your dad is so cute and it’s just like, Hey, you got this reviewed, oh, you got this reviewed. You have this many stars. Yeah. It really is. It’s been so awesome to see my parents like fired up and my sister has been such a huge supporter like her.
She has a book club back in Michigan and all of her neighbors read the book. And the last time I was home, I was like signing copies. Like they they’ve just been the best, biggest cheerleaders for me. And I, I know a lot of authors, especially queer authors don’t have that sort of family support. So I truly, truly lucky in that way.
That’s amazing. Did you, were you able, because obviously the book came out, but then it was like COVID land. Were you able to have some sort of book launch or like, how did that look for you and navigating that new world and being like, can we have a book launch? Can we do in person signings? Like, and,
and what was the first time like actually seeing your book on a shelf where wasn’t at like a book signing or a party and you’re just like, oh my God, I wrote that. Yeah. Oh my gosh. The first time I saw the sky blue is out in the real world was a very, very surreal, surreal moment. And especially kind of like you mentioned when it’s not at a book event for me or anything like that,
it’s just kind of just existing on the real world was very cool. Yeah. It was very strange launching a book in the middle of COVID because especially with it being my debut, I have nothing I hadn’t known normal to compare it to. I was just, I was just experiencing all of it for the first time. So for blame, for the win,
hopefully knock on wood. We will have some more in-person events and be able to do some actual in the real world things where I’ll actually be able to engage readers. But yeah, 99% of all the promotion and events that went into the sky blues was virtual, which definitely had its own pros. You know, the fact that it’s on zoom, anyone can attend.
And so there was certainly aspects of it that were positive, but it definitely sucked not to be able to interact with readers face to face. I did have one event in Michigan in may that we were able to mask up and go into the bookstore and I actually got to interact with people. And it was so funny cause I would be on zoom events with like a hundred readers and I wouldn’t be too nervous cause everyone was just like a speck on my screen.
And that I was in a bookstore with like 20 people. And it was terrifying to be like speaking in front of a crowd and like having to read from the book in, in like a real bookstore. So that’s something I’m going to have to get used to. But, but yeah, no, it was definitely a weird time. I mean the whole world has just been so weird the past two years,
I think launching a book was just another thing that felt very surreal, amid like a global pandemic. You’re like, this is weird, but the past couple years has been weird. So whatever let’s just go Weird. Have you had any young kids at like any in-person events that have come up and been like, I read this book and this is life changing to me.
Yeah. Oh my gosh. At the, well, yeah, it was at the event that I would just mention it back in Michigan. There was a GSA group from a local high school gay straight Alliance group that came out and I think there was 10 or so students and they all had copies and a few of them were really excited to talk to me.
And it was a very, a very surreal moment to engage with readers in that way. And it’s, it’s so strange to have these characters live only in your brain. And you feel like they’re, you feel a little bit crazy having to come up with like, you know, a full human being that doesn’t really exist and you kind of like fall in love with these characters that only exist in to you and then to be able to share them with the world and have other readers come up and talk to me about how Bri was their favorite character or they love that scene with Marshall.
And so-and-so, it’s just the coolest feeling in the world to be able to have that shared experience around characters that meant so much both to you, but also to readers, it’s truly a gift that is like unparalleled. So yeah, I had a few of those moments and hopefully hopefully more to come, so yeah. Yes, please. Lots more. That’s why we’re doing this because I want more people to read queer literature and support all the amazing book writers.
So let’s dive into that a little bit more about, you know, Sharman, Simon and Schuster obviously are doing their part to kind of like up the ante on their representation. Are you seeing more of a turn? Are you seeing more publishing houses actually bringing out books that you’re like, oh, Hey, this isn’t just like a gay best friend in the book.
This is like the lead and his like boyfriend are in the book. Are you starting to see those tides shifting? And as like somebody who’s maybe on insider, you get more of that knowledge as to like what books are out and about in the world. For sure. Yeah. I, I’ve definitely seen many steps forward where especially in the way that they are presented to the public and the way they’re marketed.
They’re not necessarily these, you know, really kind of low budget books for a really small niche audience. They’re going, they’re being published by big publishers and accessible to mainstream audiences, which I think is wonderful. And again, I think because young adults, the young adult demographic, which is, you know, teenagers and folks in there, a lot of folks who are not teenagers read young adult as well,
of course, but having teenagers kind of be the exactly yes and myself too, but having a younger reader base, I think being way more accepting of queer people in general, I think gives publishers more of an incentive to tell those sorts of stories. And so I’ve, I’ve definitely seen a shift and I think especially in the past year or two, so even more recently,
there’s been a bigger push to not just tell queer stories, but kind of more intersectional stories of, you know, what it’s like to be a black queer man or to be trans and, and BiPAP. Right. So stories that kind of highlight intersectional identities in ways that we haven’t seen before. I, I think we’ve seen publishers try to tell more of those sorts of stories too.
And there’s a few authors doing great work in those spaces. So yeah, I think it’s a really exciting time to, to tell stories that aren’t getting told. And if you’re listening at home thinking like, yeah, no one has ever told this, you know, specific perspective of what it’s like to be me or, or my identity. You should be the person to tell that story.
You should go write that book. So I think we are living at a time when the world is changing and really sometimes scary, but also really beautiful ways. And I think we are becoming more inclusive. So the stories we’re telling and the books that are getting bought kind of reflect that. Nice. Good. Well, it definitely sounds like, you know,
being gay and being part of the queer queer community definitely helped your book come into the world. But I’m curious, what was the biggest roadblock in getting this book published your first one? Like the biggest, what was the biggest thing that you’re like? Ugh. Yeah. Oh my gosh. I would say, oh man, that’s tough. Cause there’s so there’s so many roadblocks aspect Of it.
Yeah. I think for me it was so daunting and I know other authors kind of have a similar experience. It can be really daunting, like writing those initial like query letters because you’re writing agents that have some, many of them have so many submissions coming to them every week. And if you can’t really catch their attention in the first few seconds of them reading your email,
it’s so easy for them to click through and go to the next manuscript for the next author. And so I felt a lot of pressure to really make my query letter shine and sparkle and to really, to be hitting agents like that. I know we’re really interested in this sort of story I was being told. So that was a very like high, high pressure,
a few months from me in, in crafting my query letter and tweaking it and trying to make sure that it was as best as I can make it. But yeah, there was a lot of, a lot of bottlenecks and, and it’s also hard once you kind of get into the revision stage, working with an editor and my editor, Amanda Ramirez at Simon and Schuster is amazing and I would trust her with my life,
but it’s always hard to get revisions. I ended up on a piece of work that you’ve been working on for so long and to see, you know, where they maybe want to change things here or there. So that sort of can be a difficult pill to swallow sometimes to kind of see the different creative ways that the story can get told. But I think having worked with her,
I’m so happy I did because the ways that we were able to mesh our visions for the book together, I think made it that much better. And I’m so happy with how it turned out in the end. So yeah, there was lots of lots of pain points, but here I am, I made it Nice. And they inevitably became your growing points as well.
Right? For sure. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. At the beginning of those query letters you used to write, I’m a gay just work with, and that evolved into a little bit of a Jewish. Yeah. I, the first queer letter was just like memes and gifs and then it slowly evolved with, Well, I’ve seen your Twitter. So I can only imagine that that’s what it was.
You’re like just submitting their Twitter page or just like, this is my book. Here you go. Take it. I love it. Okay. So we’ve been talking a lot about obviously gays queer has all of that in books now to wrap things up in a nice little bow, I want to talk about some of your favorite not to put pressure on,
but do you have some favorite books or book series that are LGBTQ plus inclusive that you want to give shout outs to and let people know, because if we’re going to promote people reading, you know, queer books, we should give them some directions to go in For sure. Yeah. Oh my gosh. So many, I would say Julian winters is one of my favorite.
Why authors running with lions is one, right? If that’s his first book or one of his first books, but he has a handful of books out. So definitely check out Julian winters, Jason June just wrote such a cute Yia novel Jay’s gay agenda that I highly recommend. It’s it’s super queer and also very sex positive, which is something that having a queer sex positive Y book is something that we definitely need more of.
So if that’s anyone’s particular alley, I would definitely check out Navigate that because I was thinking about that because the books that I’m about to suggest some of them are not young and some of them are very adult. How do, how does a young adult author like yourself navigate wanting to have sex positiveness in it and maybe even a sex scene, but still have it be classified as a why a book.
Yeah, it’s very, I think it’s tricky and you have to approach it very sensitively and that’s especially why I’m so thankful to have a team of editors who can, who I can bounce ideas off of and kind of work with on, on these sorts of maybe tougher scenes to tell. But I do think that, I mean, look, teenagers are having sex.
They are having thoughts about potentially having sex. So I think that any queer story or any story that reflects reality is something that people should be striving towards. So I don’t think we should be trying to shy away from that reality of, of the experiences of being a teenager. But I think you do have to approach it in a way that steals sensitive to the age.
And, you know, it’s, it’s really easy to have it kind of, especially if you’re trying to make it a really romantic char sexually charged scene, it can, it can be easy to kind of let that devolve into something. You’re not meaning for it to come across to us. So I don’t think there’s a specific one way to do it,
but just yeah. Handling it with care and making sure that the messaging that’s sort of baked into that scene is something that you also want to be cognizant of like thinking about consent and thinking about the way bodies are being portrayed. You know, those are all questions. You kind of have to ask yourself as a storyteller. And, but yeah, I,
I think sex positivity is something that we need more of Nya, which is why I was so excited for Jason June’s book because Jay’s gay agenda is it’s certainly one that fits the fits the bill. But yeah. So, and there’s, there’s other plenty of other officers like it’s big about too. Yeah. I just got, I just sidetracked you, so let’s keep going a couple more,
let’s get a couple more offers. Yeah. Yeah. Leah Johnson is like wonderful. You should see me in the crown was the first, I believe people should fact check me on this, but I believe it was the first young adult book that was highlighted in Reese Witherspoon’s book club, which was awesome. I was so happy to see that for Leah Johnson,
but beyond you should see me in a crown. She has a number of other books that have been published and are getting published soon. Becky Albert Holly, who’s the author of Simon vs. The homeless sapiens agendas has many books out that are kind of in the queer genre of why books. And they’re all amazing. I’m a huge fan of hers. Adam Silvera is someone I’m lucky enough to call a friend and he’s written so many wonderful books in the queer Yia space,
especially elevating queer kids of color. They are always centered in his, in his work as well. So yeah, there’s so many good options for people to, to discover books that are reflective of, of the queer experience nowadays, which is great. Yeah. Nice. Yes. And one of the, one of those younger books that I’ve read, most of the ones that I read are kind of adult adult ones.
Cause that’s just that’s me. I need more saucy in there. But one of the ones that I did read is Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin Allier says in, I don’t know if I’m saying that correctly, but that was like, that was a great book, but not until I got to the end and I’m not going to give any spoilers,
but like the whole book drove me. Absolutely fucking crazy until I got to the end. I was just like, huh, that snuck up on me. Yeah. 100%. Yes. I should have recommended that book as well, which is also Simon and Schuster. But yeah, I won a ton of awards too, For sure. And it in my book truly deserved it.
I think it, yeah, he’s an amazing storyteller and that was such a beautiful book. So yeah. And the second one just came out cause it just got delivered to my Kindle like yesterday. I know I have a, I have a copy of it somewhere in my room that I have not opened the app. And I’m so excited once I can finally get to get to that book on my,
on my list. Yeah. Right. I know reading is so crazy. A couple of other ones, if you look, if somebody is listening and wants to read more adult ones, the soul bound series, like I said by Haley Turner is one of my favorite series. There is like, you know, fun sexual things in there, but it’s mostly,
story-based her other series though. Metahuman can go on for chapters and chapters and chapters of just like a great sexy. So it’s like if you’re looking for like real intense, like military and sex scene and like in the future, very futuristic metahuman bite. Haley Turner is very good. I really liked the make pie Lord by KJ Charles, that one was really good.
It’s like old British days, you know, they can’t be gay, but they are in some magic mixed up in there. I love magic. Oh, forsaken Fe are a Stefan. I enjoyed that one. Not my top tier, but definitely an enjoyable story. There’s like a douchey, you know, the douchey douchebag character that you’re like, ah,
but then you’re like, oh, okay. I get it. It’s just right here. And he’s really soft. He secretly read. No. Yeah. And then, and then my, probably the last one on the list is the widdershins by Jordan L Hawk. And there’s like, I think like 14 of those and that’s very like olden day British or no olden day us.
Like, Boston-Y kind of like really good, like stories of like mystery. So it’s like mystery stories. So they’re like solving like mystery stories and it’s a bit scifi, but like very much a great storytelling. That’s like a sexy new to hearing there. So those would be my personal suggestions on that list. And if you want any of those, I can send them over to you.
Yeah. I was about to say, well, now I have to listen to this episode, even though I hear, I hate hearing myself talk just because I need to remember all the, all the recommendations you had. So I literally just message them over to you. I have a list. Let’s just say, here you go. Here’s the box That works too Well.
Robbie, it has been absolutely fantastic. Having you on the show. I’m so grateful to have you here and be able to talk about something that I’m really passionate about. Something I’m really excited about. Just cause I’m a giant nerd. I love reading. Although I didn’t start until I was like 27, 28 is when I really started to read. So I was kind of a late bloomer,
but now it’s like hours and hours before bed and it’s like 2:00 AM. I’m like must rage one much after. Yeah. I think that’s such a good lesson too. I think a lot of us like hated reading the classics and like high school literate in our high school English classes. And then we think we’re not into reading, but a lot of times just because we haven’t found the sorts of stories that resonate with us.
So no matter how old you are, you can still get into reading. Oh, 110%. So in saying that, where can people find you if maybe they want to read your book or they want to follow you? Where’s all that good stuff. Yeah. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter primarily. I’m just at Robbie couch share on Twitter.
There’s a, there’s a, a, what do you call it? Underscore or whatever between my first and last name, but you should be able to find me a few Google Ravi couch and yeah. And I’m all over the internet. So if you search for Ravi couch, the sky blues or blamed for the, when you’ll be able to find some pre-order pre-order links there also in my bios on Twitter and Instagram as well.
So yeah, come say hi and I would love to see on Instagram or Twitter. Awesome. Well, thank you very much for joining us. Robbie have the best day ever. Everybody peace, love, rainbows, and we will catch you next time. Thank you so much.