Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Interview With Annameekee Hesik, Debut Author of "The You Know Who Girls: Freshman Year"

A shot of Annameekee from her website.  Here's the caption, which will give you an idea of how much fun her book is: "Totally faking being on a real cable car. This one is stationary at AT&T Park where we watched the giants play ball."
It was a real pleasure to interview Annameekee...

Lee:  Hi Annameekee - congratulations on your Debut novel, "The You Know Who Girls: Freshman Year!"

Annameekee:  Thank you so much!  It is a HUGE honor to talk to you and your fans about it!

Lee: Can you tell me about the journey to get it published?

Annameekee: Do you have ten hours? Ha. Getting it published was a long journey, but my perseverance finally paid off.  At first I tried to find a publisher without an agent.  I was actually pretty successful- got interest from Houghtin Mifflin and Scholastic.  But in the publishing world, things change very quickly.  Editors move, have babies, or quit and you never hear from them again.  Or, they liked it and then others didn't think it was right or it wasn't the right time.  I did land an agent, but he disappeared, too. Then I landed a publishing contract with a publishing company that I really admired (I used to read their lesbian books when I was in high school!) All was going well until they went bankrupt! Seriously. So I got another agent, he was great, we were in the middle of the "great recession" and I don't think publishers wanted to take any risks on a new author writing for LGBT teens. FINALLY, I found a home at Bold Strokes Books.  They are expanding their Solioquy YA line and I think I'm a good fit there! Whew!

Lee:  I met you at a SCBWI conference - has that community been part of your journey?

Annameekee:  Yes, especially when I met you!  My first SCBWI conference in LA was so overwhelming and kind of disheartening.  I was so desperate to find another publisher or agent that I didn't feel like I could relax and meet people and take in the learning.  However, when I went to the LA conference the second time, and the LGBT author lunch and panel was included, I felt like part of a community of writers that understood the special circumstances of being an LGBT writer writing about LGBT characters for teens. Thank you so much for being there for all of us!

Lee:  Awww... Thanks for that.  I love hosting those LGBTQ chats at the LA and New York conferences!  On your author website you have a student’s note “Ms. Hesik’s Gay But she’s a great teacher, and we have fun in her class.  I don’t care if she’s gay, she’s not any different than other teachers. (exept she’s not boring).”  Wow – you must have loved getting that student review!

Annameekee:  I absolutely love my students.  That post, it was written for an activity we were doing that focused on acceptance of others.  I asked students to write down experiences they had throughout the week regarding ways they have reached out to new people or how they have already felt acceptance towards different groups.  Then they would post it on this "ladder of acceptance" in the room.  I honestly have no idea who wrote that, but it is, hands down, one of the best student notes ever!  It confirmed everything I wanted to be for my students.  Yes, I am gay and they know it, but bottom line is, I'm a good "unboring" teacher.  When I can teach them acceptance of LGBT people AND that grammar is fun...well, I've met my goals in life! My students amaze me in so many ways. I wrote "The You Know Who Girls" for them - for every wonderful student out there!

Lee:  It's always so surprising to me how the very specifics of a character's story can make it so universal.  I'm reading about Abbey, and she's into girls, and I'm a guy and not into girls, but I'm really feeling what she's feeling.  It's that books are a window and a mirror thing, and so powerful.

Annameekee:  I know what you mean!  When I teach Night, a Holocaust survivor's story, or Chinese Cinderella, a horrific tale of a young girl who is abused, but perseveres and becomes a success, my students are so touched by the stories and also connect to the universal experiences of things like the importance of family, friendship, and love.  A favorite YA author of mine is Sarah Dessen.  Her books are totally not about girls liking girls, but I get so into them!  They are very well written and the characters' emotions and experiences capivate my attention.  One surprising thing that has happened with my book is the response from non-LGBT teen readers.  Not only are lesbian teens liking it, but straight guys like it, straight women like it, and my gay male students are enjoying it, too.  I'm really glad that Abbey's journey has touched so many different people.  I guess there is something very universal about first kisses, crushes, friendship, telling lies, recovering from it all, and forgiveness.

Lee:  Well said!  I love how you're so out and proud as a writer for teens.  As a teen, was your journey similar to Abbey’s?

Annameekee:  Haha! You and all my students and readers want to know...just how much was I like Abbey??  Well, in high school, I had a lot of similar experiences.  I came out at 15, I played basketball, and I lived in Tucson.  I dated girls in high school and I was out in a sense, but it wasn't like it is now for some teens. We were very hidden.  People knew about us, but no one actually talked to us about having girlfriends.  We were ignored or faked being straight in a lot of situations.  When I wrote "The You Know Who Girls," and as I write the sequel, I am definitely drawing on so many emotions that I experienced in high school (I was a mess- Abbey is in better shape than I was!)  The memories are still so fresh to me.  I think teaching high school has helped me continue to understand that teenage thought process, humor, and emotional state of mind.  Teenagers are insanely funny. I hope that my readers get a good laugh out of Abbey's story, too.

Lee:  The book is very funny and also very touching.  J.K. Rowling famously plotted out all seven books before starting to write the first Harry Potter book…  Is Abbey’s story going to take her through senior year, and if so, have you plotted it all out already?

Annameekee:  If only I could be like Ms. Rowling!  I have a good sense of where I want Abbey's story to go, but honestly, the most enjoyable part of this writing process is letting my characters tell their own stories.  When I sit down to write, I let myself walk in their shoes and they end up going places that surprise the heck out of me! There were several twists in Abbey's freshman year that I did not plan on happening.  I like it that way!

Lee:  Wow!  Cool to know.

Annameekee:  However, JK Rowling did influence me to write Abbey's story over four years.  When I started, there had never been a lesbian YA series written.  I wanted to give my LGBT students a series, too!  They deserve one!

Lee:  I'm so glad it's a series!

Annameekee:  I am glad it's a series, too, but of course, as I write the second one, I am freaking out a little. Like, oh god, what have I done?  I should have just written the one book and went on with my life!  It's very challenging working full time and writing a new book and trying to publicize the first one.  I love all the things I am doing, but it's hard to juggle them all.  Right now I am mentoring new teachers, so I don't have essays to grade or lesson plans to write. That helps!  But, I REALLY miss teaching those insane teenagers.

Lee:  As a writer, I loved your idea of figuring out what your character’s list of five amazing things would be (inspired by your personal list of five amazing things – right there with you on watching musicals and hummingbirds - we have some here, too. Hummingbirds, not musicals.  Well, not like in NY.)  It’s a great writing exercise.  But as a reader, I want to know: did you do it for Abbey?  And if so, what were they?

Annameekee:  Funny you should ask me that...as I gave that prompt to my readers, I said to myself, "Hey self, you should do that for Abbey!"  Here's what I came up with- the shortened version:
1. pants that are long enough,
2. Backseats that she can comfortably sit in,
3. the sound of a basketball shot being rejected by her hand,
4. beating Kate at...anything,
5. Knowing a gay reference that Garrett doesn't know.
And what is your fav musical so far?  Also, I can't believe Book of Mormon tickets are almost $100 less expensive in LA!  What is up with that?!

Lee:  Avenue Q and Book of Mormon were great - funny and good entertainment... though definitely YA.

Annameekee:  I took my GSA to see Avenue Q.  Seriously, the puppet sex scene was UNBEARABLE to watch with students!  I didn't see that coming!

Lee:  (Laughing)

Annameekee:  My face turned redder that Abbey could ever dream of.  PLUS- a parent was there to chaparone!  Eegads!!!! But, I covered my tracks, everyone had permission forms and the permission form was very clear about the plot!  My experience with my GSA students has given me some of the best memories of my life.  I feel so happy to be surrounded by such brave and strong and hilarious young people.

Lee:  come to think of it, that could totally be a scene in Abbey's life...

Annameekee:  Right!!  Thanks for the idea!  Book 3!!

Lee:  Oh, and the photo of your cat reading your book is hysterical. So funny, and so your voice.

Annameekee:  My animals, along with my wonderful wife, make for a great family.  The animals are all big fans of Abbey, but the cat was severely disappointed about the lack of felines in the story.

Lee:  Thanks, Annameekee – I hope a lot more readers get to enjoy Abbey’s story.  And we’ll be waiting to find out what happens Sophomore year!  And beyond...

This dog knows a good book when it reads one!


The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Wonderful interview. Thank you both. These capcha things are getting harder to read. Since you moderate your comments anyway, won't you please consider removing them. They really make it hard to comment. I am on my second try.

Lisa Jenn Bigelow said...

Great interview! I look forward to reading the book. :-D

Anonymous said...

I loved the book and I found Ms. Hesik's blog site pretty interesting and informative. One correction, though- there was a series written before, the Erik and Isabelle books from Kim Wallace (who sadly seems to have disappeared).


Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Hi Dana5140,
Good call on the Erik and Isabelle series - they're about both a gay male teen and a lesbian teen girl, with one book for each of the four years of high school. Here's the link to my post on the first one: