I scheduled this to post yesterday, but instead the interent ate it! Ack! My apologies for the unexpected delay but I’m thrilled to be a stop on the blog tour for Katherine Scott Nelson’s novella “Have You Seen Me” which is a Lambda Literary Award finalist this year. I was thrilled to crack open the beautifully hand bound, signed and numbered collectors edition of the book that CCLaP Publishing sent to me. ‘Have You Seen Me’ follows the adventures of runaway teenager Vyv and her friend Chris who she continues to communicate with in secret from the road. I’m always excited when I see queer authors take on issues of runaways/homelessness so I was excited to sit down with Katherine and talk a little more about hir process for writing the book, what brought hir to writing about these themes and what ze hoped readers would take away from the book
SL: What made you set your novel around the experience of a runaway teenager?
KSN: Growing up queer in a very anti-queer small town, I can remember that the question “At what point would I just leave?” was on my mind a lot. Ultimately, I made Chris’s choice – to cover, pass for straight, and try to hang on until I could get to college.
I started writing Have You Seen Me when I was nineteen, and initially, I set Chris and Vyv against each other as these two tensions in my life – stay and try to make it better, or run away? It wasn’t until I began finding books like Kicked Out and listening to the stories of people who had run away that I began to understand that in most, if not all, cases, it isn’t really a choice – that queer kids who run are leaving violent families, violent communities, and literally sometimes it’s about life and death. So her story began to change, to align itself with that reality.
SL: What do you hope readers will take away from the book ?
KSN: I hope everyone who reads it comes away feeling like they’ve had a powerful experience, that they’ve felt something or learned something new and unique. And I want it to tell a different kind of story to queer people, especially young queer people – that you have the ability to change yourself and the world around you, and that you can do it with your own unique subjectivity.
SL: Can you talk a little bit about your writing process for the book?
KSN: I worked on Have You Seen Me, off and on, for about ten years. Every year or so I’d pull it out, try to stitch it into a cohesive story, make a huge mess, get frustrated, and put all my rewrites away again. A couple of years ago, the story finally “clicked.”
People have started asking me how you get a book published, and I tell them I don’t know – in my case, it was REALLY random. During one of my revision periods, I got a cold-call e-mail from Jason Pettus, the editor/owner/publisher of the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, asking every self-described writer who had ever “liked” CCLaP’s Facebook page whether they were working on anything novella-length and transgressive. Have You Seen Me fit the
description, and I liked the publishing program he was running, so I sent him a draft.
What followed was eight months of the most intense rewriting and editing process I’ve ever been through. We literally took the book apart and put it back together again multiple times, but I think all the blood and sweat we put into the process really shows in the finished product.
One thing I worried about throughout the process was the politics of representing Vyv’s experience when I hadn’t lived it myself, whether I had any right to tell her story. I really didn’t want to be another Margaret B. Jones or JT Leroy, flattening the experiences of queer street kids and twisting them to suit self-aggrandizing purposes while telling myself I was only “trying to help.” I’d love to come to you today with a really good answer to that question, but I don’t have one yet. I hope I did a good job.
If I were revising Have You Seen Me one more time, I’d want to add another layer of complexity to Vyv and her family. I’m an abuse survivor, and I know a lot about the dynamics of living in a violent situation where the people around you suspect that something’s up, but don’t want to make assumptions or pry.
SL: What has the response to the novel been like so far?
KSN: So far, the response has been extremely positive – save for a couple of lukewarm reviews, but you’ll never please everyone. Lots of people are connecting with the characters in ways I hadn’t expected – when the book first came out, I had several people corner me and demand to know whether Vyv would be okay.
It’s a huge rush. And that’s why I started writing fiction in the first place – to create art that would speak to people on a very deep, intimate level, and so I’m very happy.
SL: What’s next for you?
KSN: Haha, I wish I knew! Since I didn’t want to be planning for failure, I never looked that far past getting Have You Seen Me written and published. Now I’m staring at the walls and thinking “Now what?”
There’s always more to write, so at least I know more books are in my future. Jason and I have also talked about selling the reprint rights for Have You Seen Me to a mainstream publishing house, especially if we win something in June. I’m big on access, and this would potentially get Have You Seen Me into libraries, which is huge to me.