Interview with James Klise
Teen members of the Teen Advisory Council and Teen Volume Book Discussions asked author James Klise some questions about his 2010 novel Love Drugged and his life as an author writing about GLBTQ teens.
Many writers have admitted to “cannibalizing” their real life—and those of their friends and relations—when composing their stories. How much of that happens in Love Drugged? Have you ever had any complaints (positive or negative) from friends or family who have recognized themselves or something that happened to them? (P.S. The story about returning the girl’s ID that was left in the backyard was priceless.)
It’s so weird you mention the funny business with the bracelet and ID, because that actually happened. When I was in high school, my friends and I stumbled upon the evidence of a sexual tryst—including a left-behind college ID—in my family’s backyard. Oh man, we were shocked and fascinated. We carried the items around with us like they were magic beans or something. The astounding thing is, later we did encounter the young woman when we were driving down the street—we spotted her from our car! We slammed on the brakes, so we could return the items to her. I’m not sure what we were thinking. As in the book, we lied and said we found the items on the sidewalk, because we didn’t want to embarrass her. Anyway, I knew my high school friends would be amused by those scenes in the book.
Nearly everything else in Love Drugged is made u—everything from the pathetic bookstore-cafe in Lincoln Square to the high school, Maxwell Tech, which does not exist. The only bit I truly “cannibalized” from life was the trip that Jamie and Celia make to Mexico. The romantic resort they visit on the Yucatán Peninsula is based on the beautiful property where my sister and her husband got married. The memory of that trip was still fresh when I happened to write that part of the book. It was a gift to be able to borrow that amazing, perfect place from my sister’s real life story for my invented story.
GLBTQ characters are still a minority. How does it feel to be an author of a book that represents them, and is also, hopefully, helping to eradicate homophobia (or racism, or sexism, etc.)?
The good news is, there are many fantastic books with GLBTQ characters, new ones each year. With so much competition, I mostly feel lucky and proud that my GLBTQ novel got published and found its way into bookstores and libraries. The way I see it, authors can combat homophobia and any kind of prejudice simply by sending minority characters out into the world, where readers can meet them and maybe discover some of the ordinary, essential things that all of us share in common.
Who are some of your favorite GLBTQ authors for teens?
Alex Sanchez, Julie Anne Peters, Malinda Lo, Martin Wilson, David Levithan, Mayra Lazara Dole, Brian Farrey, Brent Hartinger, Nick Burd, Perry Moore, P.E. Ryan, Michael Cart (an author and editor) and too many others to name. I also love the anthology of short essays called It Gets Better, edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller.
Feng Dan, 17, inquired: If there existed a kind of drug that can really change sexuality, like in the story, do you think you would have taken it as a teen? Does the publication of Love Drugged make it easier for you to reveal your sexual orientation?
Sadly yes! I would have gobbled up any pill that promised to make me more like everyone else. Lots of teens want to “fit in,” right? Plus, when I was a teen in Peoria, Ill., in the 1980s, gay and lesbian people were invisible to me. So the notion of being gay, and heading off to explore a hidden territory that I knew literally nothing about—this felt terrifying. I never told anyone about my secret, not one single person, all during high school or college. And that experience was common, too, where I came from. It’s still common for many GLBTQ teenagers.
In retrospect, the endless secrecy was a big waste of time and anxiety. Nobody was too surprised when I came out. But being in the closet made it feel like a gigantic deal. That’s the awful thing about the closet. You can’t see very much from that dark place.
As for the second question: I have been out to family, friends and co-workers for a long time, so it’s already fairly easy for me to reveal my sexual orientation. However, publishing this book does give me a reason to come out, especially to strangers I meet at events where I’m talking about the book. It gives me an excuse to talk to young people about being gay, and to answer questions, and that’s actually fun.
Jia Jia, 17, wants to know: Does being a high school librarian, and working in a high school, help you present the setting of the story?
My job helps me remember to include the ordinary details: bell schedules, cafeteria maps, those tucked-away places at school where students go to fart. More important, before I became a high school librarian, I had forgotten about the emotional landscape of teenagers—those giddy highs and the low-lows, all that wondering, fear and dreaming about what life might be like in the future. My students remind me of this material every day, so that’s very valuable.
Araceli, 16, asked: You’ve published a few short stories in the past. Which would you say that you enjoy writing more: short stories or novels, like Love Drugged?
Great question! I like them both equally, even though they are very different experiences. Writing a short story might take an evening, or a week, or even a month or two to get the full story down on paper. But a novel requires many months to write, or years even, and you’re constantly rethinking the story (and your purpose) as you work. You may spend a year or more worrying about whether your story will turn out well for your hero. Both forms require a lot of revision to make them good enough to publish.
For many years, I only wrote stories. And yet now that I’ve written two novels and am working on a third, I feel totally comfortable with the longer form. Working on a novel means that each time I sit down to write, I meet up with these characters who have begun to feel like friends. Not just friends, but friends in trouble! It’s a very strange, exciting experience.
James Klise is the author of Love Drugged, a Stonewall Honor book, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and an ALA Rainbow List selection. Booklist called it “an excellent novel for classroom and GSA [gay-straight alliance] discussion” and Voice of Youth Advocates recommended the book as “a great choice for teens who like a little twist in their mystery.” Klise’s short stories and journalism have appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, Story Quarterly, Ascent, New Orleans Review and many other places. In addition to being a writer, Klise is a high school librarian in Chicago, where he advises the book club, literary journal and the gay-straight alliance.