Hello there, friends!
Today is a VERY special day for me because one of my most anticipated releases of the year, Felix Ever After, finally comes out! And also, I have the privilege to be bringing you my second-ever author interview on the blog!
All these things are causing me way too much joy and I feel the urge to just go jumping around my patio like an over-enthusiastic kangaroo, I’m not even kidding.
I’ve been holding in this secret for a little over a week now, and I’m shook at the self-restraint I held that I didn’t let it slip to a SINGLE person, so SURPRISE!
In honor of Felix Ever After‘s release today, I had the amazing privilege to interview author Kacen Callender, and I still can’t believe it actually happened. Ever since reading Felix in February, I haven’t shut up about it for a single second, so getting to talk to one of my new favorite authors about a book that means so much to me? Absolutely mindblowing.
Kacen’s latest impacted me so deeply that, three months later, I still haven’t been able to write a proper review for it because I’m afraid I won’t do it justice. But just know this is one my favorite reads of 2020, and in this interview, Kacen talks about their writing process for the novel, they give out advice to up-and-coming writers of color, discuss ways in which the publishing industry can be more inclusive for POC, and more!
Enough chatter, folks! On to the interview! ✨
Felix Ever After is your sophomore YA novel. Are there any obstacles that you faced in comparison to writing your debut, This is Kind of an Epic Love Story?
Honestly, there really weren’t! Felix Ever After was an easier experience in every aspect: the book was a part of a two-book contract, so I didn’t have to go on submission with it. I wasn’t sure what to expect of my YA author experience with Epic Love Story, but with Felix Ever After, I had a better sense of what I could do to help promote the book.
The only difficulty I’ve faced is transphobia in reviews.
Which of the side characters did you find most challenging to write?
Marisol was the most challenging character to write. She’s based on people I’ve known in my life: people who would rather hide behind a mask of perfection, at times becoming a bit of a caricature in real life. The issue is that, as a character in a book, readers can think her portrayal of a caricature is a mistake instead of intentional. I also didn’t want to fully show her background for why she became the antagonist that she is—as Felix says, he doesn’t need to know more about Marisol. All he knows is that she’s hurt him, and this is enough. This was important to me, because sometimes I think we tend to try to explain someone’s racism or transphobia by using their hardships as an excuse. I needed to figure out a way to show that Marisol was a two-dimensional personal intentionally, instead of just a flat character.
How does Felix’s self-discovery journey about his gender identity compare to yours?
It’s pretty similar! Like Felix, I had a “sun comes out from eternal clouds”-lightbulb moment because of another trans character: mine was Adam from Degrassi. I also decided that I was a specific label—nonbinary—and later began to question my identity again when there were times I’d feel like a binary guy, which Felix does when he decides he’s a trans guy but starts to think he might be more nonbinary than he thought. We’ve both decided that the label demiboy fits us perfectly. It was important to me to show that questioning can continue, and that it’s also okay to never land on a label.
The love triangle is one of the most polarizing tropes in YA. What inspired you to write one in the book?
I honestly didn’t even realize love triangles were so polarizing! I was a little sad at times to see people say they weren’t excited for Felix because of there’s a love triangle—I personally love love triangles, and often seek out books with love triangles, but I think that might also be because I identify as polyamorous, and I feel love triangles best encapsulate the very real experience of loving multiple people at once, but that love also being unrequited at times, or painful and confusing and messy. The love triangle was important for Felix Ever After because it fit into the book’s theme and Felix’s lesson of needing to choose healthy love, and self-love, over the destructive love he’d been seeking… But I’m also excited to potentially explore polyamory in future books.
Felix is Black, queer, and trans. What was your favorite part about tackling his intersectionality?
My favorite part was being able to take the power to declare that my and Felix’s identities are powerful and beautiful, and to have the last word against the racism, transphobia, and anti-queerness I’ve had to face in my life. It was empowering and healing to create Felix’s character.
What song do you think best represents Felix as a character?
Ha, great question! The self-love in “Soulmate” by Lizzo is perfect for the theme Felix has to learn.
Did any particular pieces of media inspire you during the writing process?
Well, I’m a huge fan of MTV’s Catfish, which was definitely a jumping-off point for the book. I didn’t want to glamorize the act of catfishing—it’s hurtful and painful, and I wanted to make sure to hold Felix accountable also—but I also wanted to look at the complicated feelings that come with falling for someone, and them not even realizing you’re the one they’re in love with, along with the fear that they might not accept the real you… something Felix struggles with throughout his journey.
What is your #1 tid-bit of advice to aspiring queer writers of color?
Keep going! I 1,000% believe that every aspiring queer writer of color that keeps going and keeps trying will have their story told, because our stories need to be told. The world needs more of our voices, and young readers need to continue seeing themselves reflected, so it becomes a matter of the universe making sure something so important will always fall into place.
What steps do you think the publishing industry has to make to create a welcoming safe-space for people of color?
There are many, many steps, from ensuring there are more POC working in publishing, to giving marginalized authors more of a bump in marketing. The pandemic has been incredibly difficult, but I do think one silver lining is seeing a lot of marginalized authors take matters into their own hands, creating their own opportunities with virtual panels and conferences, when they might not have gotten a lot of the same attention from publishers before. I hope this will be a permanent change.
What has been your favorite read of 2020 so far?
My ADD has me jumping back and forth between several books at the moment, but the last book I finished and enjoyed was Story Genius by Lisa Cron, which is a craft book and really revolutionized the way I think about writing novels.
Do you have any other upcoming YA projects?
So many! Too many! I have ADD, so I’ve been jumping around a few different projects. Nothing is currently under contract, though, so fingers crossed I manage to sell these next few books, too.
Finally, how do you think Felix would be coping during the pandemic? What is the first thing he would do when quarantine is over?
Felix would’ve invited Ezra to isolate with him and his dad in Harlem, so Ezra wouldn’t be alone in Bed-Stuy. I think he’d be having a tough time, scared about the future and everything, especially college—but Ezra would be his rock, and remind him that it’s okay if plans keep shifting. As soon as quarantine is over, he and Ezra would celebrate in a park in Bed-Stuy with Leah. 😃
From Stonewall and Lambda Award–winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time.
Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.
Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.
Born and raised in St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, Kacen Callender is the award-winning author of the middle-grade novels, Hurricane Child and King and the Dragonflies, the young-adult novels, This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story and Felix Ever After, and the adult novel, Queen of the Conquered.
Kacen was previously an Associate Editor of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, where they acquired and edited novels including Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, the New York Times best-seller Internment by Samira Ahmed, and the Stonewall Honor award-winning novel Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake.
They enjoy playing RPG video games in their free time. Kacen currently resides in Philadelphia, PA.