How did you get your start as an author of books for children and young adults?
Writing books was my dream goal since I was a kid. Gordon Korman was my favourite author, and I was always enamoured with the story that he published his first book when he was 14. I thought, “Maybe I can do that too!” Now, I didn’t get published as a teenager, and I ended up making a living through other types of writing, like journalism and public relations. But I was always writing fiction on the side, and eventually, my persistence paid off.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
The short answer is “everywhere.” Sometimes other stories (books, TV shows, movies) spark ideas for me; sometimes I draw from my own life or things happening around me. It could be something that makes me curious, or even something that makes me mad. As a middle-grade writer, I also pay attention to what kids that age talk about and what catches their interest.
How did you come up with the idea for your debut novel, Thanks A Lot, Universe?
I think I drew inspiration for the inciting incident—Brian’s world collapsing on his birthday—from a period of instability I went through when I was around Brian’s age. Money was tight for a while, and we moved a lot and spent part of a year living in another family’s basement. It wasn’t as intense as Brian’s crisis, but those feelings of uncertainty stuck with me. I couldn’t have told you that’s what inspired me when I was first writing Thanks A Lot, Universe, though. It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me, “Oh, that’s probably where that came from."
You Owe Me One, Universe, comes out this fall. Were you always planning on writing a follow-up to the original book and making it a series?
As I drafted Thanks A Lot, Universe, I knew there was more of Brian and Ezra’s story that I could tell. I also knew there are no guarantees in publishing, so I ended the first book in a place that I felt could stand as a natural conclusion, while leaving room to imagine what might happen next. I’m thrilled that Thanks A Lot, Universe received such an enthusiastic reception that I was able to write a sequel, but I also tried to write You Owe Me One, Universe in a way that someone who hasn’t read the first book can enjoy it without feeling lost. So I ultimately hope both books stand on their own merits.
How did your latest book, Let the Monster Out, come about?
I actually wrote this one before Thanks A Lot, Universe sold, which goes to show how publishing works sometimes: You never know which story will break out first. Let the Monster Out is an exploration of fear and how it affects us, and it started with a question: What might a kid who insists he isn’t afraid of anything actually be afraid of? The main character, Quentin “Bones” Malone, was born out of that question, and the rest of the story followed.
How important is it to you to include positive and realistic 2SLGBTQ+ characters in your work, especially given the current climate, when books are being banned and there is so much hostility aimed at queer creators these days?
It’s critically important, especially in this environment. The book banners and fearmongers are not interested in protecting kids, as they claim. Their goal is control. They want to force their narrow, bigoted view of the world on everyone. I grew up in that kind of environment where it took me a long time to embrace my own queerness, so I know first-hand that books can help kids escape that box, and they help kids who already don’t fit in that box feel seen. I’ve had a few kids write to tell me how my books have helped them understand something about themselves in a way they didn’t before, and nothing means more to me than that.
How can children's publishing do better when it comes to representing and including 2SLGBTQ+ characters?
I could spend a lot of time on this one, but I’ll highlight a few main points:
1) Be loud in your support. It feels like authors and librarians have been on the front lines against hate, and there’s more room for publishers and others in the industry to raise their voices and stand strong.
2) Publish a wide variety of experiences, especially more queer joy. Not every story has to be a coming-out story, an “issue” book, or an encounter with bullying and bigotry. Reflecting those realistic experiences are important, but 2SLGBTQ+ characters can solve mysteries, be fantasy heroes, lead romantic comedies… all the things that straight white characters get to do. We’re seeing more of that now, but there’s lots of room to tell more of those stories.
3) Back our books with marketing and awareness year-round, not just in Pride Month. This goes for racialized authors as well. Suddenly everyone wanted to acquire Black stories in 2020 after George Floyd, but once the buzz faded, many of those books didn’t get the marketing they deserved. Now they’re being targeted for censorship too. Both 2SLGBTQ+ and racialized authors and stories need full support.
As a proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville, how do you weave aspects of your ancestry into your books?
In some ways it’s ingrained in who I am and how I experience the world, but I’m also deliberate about writing characters who look like me, because I didn’t see a lot of them growing up. The first time I saw Ezra in the cover sketches for Thanks A Lot, Universe, it affected me in a way I wasn’t expecting—a Black kid from Nova Scotia on the cover of a book!
Can you tell us about any upcoming books?
I’ll put in another plug for You Owe Me One, Universe, which comes out on November 7. It starts about four months after Thanks A Lot, Unvierse ends: Brian is home, coping with the changes in his family, navigating his friendship with Ezra—who’s dealing with some complicated crush feelings of his own—and facing some new challenges. It was recently named a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Section, and I can’t wait to see it out in the world! I also have a short story in an anthology called Today I Am coming out next May. It’s a collection of stories from BIPOC Canadian writers edited by Jael Richardson, and I’m excited and honored to be a part of it.