Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Don't Ask: Ten years in the making

I'm so excited! Today is the day my first novel ever, Don't Ask, is released here at Prizm Books. It's also my first time hosting the Prizm blog. I'm thrilled to be part of this community.

I've wanted to write LGBT stories for young readers since I was the target audience. When I entered high school in 1999, there weren't a lot of options for queer kids who wanted to read or watch TV about kids like us. What little there was tended to be deeply grim: stories where gay kids were introduced only to be driven out, beaten up, killed, or all of the above. This didn't match my experience at all. I knew that I was lucky, and that not everyone came out at 13 and enjoyed almost complete family and peer support and a middle-school relationship with a same-sex best friend. But surely there were others like me who wanted see their lives dramatized; surely there were gay kids in bad situations who'd be inspired by TV where non-straight sexuality wasn't the end of the world; surely there were straight people who'd enjoy a window into gay teen dating drama?

So I came up with a great solution. I would write a sitcom.

I never came up with a final title for my show, but I privately called it LHS for "Lesbian in High School." It would center on a spunky lesbian named Cat and her friends who existed at various points on the queer spectrum. I envisioned something like Boy Meets World or Lizzie McGuire, the low-key, hijinksy, sitcom adventures of a girl who just happens to be a lesbian.

I got to work. I installed Final Draft on my computer and wrote scripts for several episodes. I wrote outlines of episode and season arcs. While watching TV, I drew crayon pictures of the characters.

Cat and Windy, in crayon: circa 2002

I didn't have any illusions that this show would get produced. I didn't know anyone in the television industry and I didn't know how to become a TV writer. Anyway, I still had to get through high school myself. I was fifteen years old. But a girl can dream, right?

At some point, the character design was so strong in my head that I figured the casting and teamwork required in television production would essentially change my idea into a different animal. (Also, I still had no inroads into the TV industry, and had decided that I didn't want to live in L.A.) I was drawing a lot in those days, writing what would become my webcomic Lance and Eskimo, so I decided to draw a comic of the first "episode" of LHS.

Cat and Windy in illustrator, circa 2005

The plot was simple. Cat is the new kid in school. She had bad experiences coming out as a lesbian at her old school, and she decides she isn't going to tell anyone this time.

All alone in the cafeteria

She makes friends with tomboyish outcast Penny and they agree to go to a party together. Penny is anxious to spend time with her crush, Windy Donovan. Before the party, Cat enjoys nonsexual girly bonding time with Penny, and gives Penny a makeover.


At the party, the kids play "Spin the Bottle," and Penny is mortified to land on pretty sophomore Calliope Henderson. Calliope is angry when the other kids announce that girl-girl kisses are outlawed; she's bisexual, she argues, like it's old news. Cat is intrigued, but nervous.

Calliope's outrage

Cat slips out of the party to think. On the porch, she finds Windy. They chat and bond, and he tries to kiss her. Cat backs away, and the words burst out of her mouth: "I'm a lesbian!"

Windy's kiss attempt

Windy surprises her by being cool with it! Inspired, Cat comes out to Penny, who feels trapped and cornered: everyone thinks she's a lesbian, and in retrospect, it seems like Cat has been flirting, inviting her to the party and making her over. In an effort to distance herself, Penny yells at Cat, "You're sick!"

Penny's outburst

Windy comforts Cat, sealing their friendship.

Cat and Windy's friendship

That's the end of the episode, but the beginning of the series.

Ten years later, after rediscovering the joys of writing through fanfic, I decided to adapt the characters in LHS for a series of young adult novels. The characters of Cat, Windy, and Calliope are pretty much wholesale from the original; I dropped Penny, added Mike, and created an all-new plotline, adding guy stuff: the military, car racing, training, fighting. But there is still a makeover, a game of Spin the Bottle, and plenty of joyful, girly spirit.

Don't Ask is truly a collaboration between me at 16 and me at 26. It's for and by both of us. I hope readers of all ages will enjoy it.

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