It is not an exaggeration to say that reading Deposing Nathan changed my life this year, because not only was it a life-affirming book, but it also brought me to befriend its writer, Zack Smedley. Zack is simply good people and I am so excited to welcome him to the blog today to chat about pride, queer books, faith and more. You can find Zack on his website and Twitter. You can find his book on Goodreads here.
Taylor: 30 Days of Pride is all about creating a sense of queer community during Pride Month by giving writers, bloggers, etc. a platform to share their voices and identities. Can you talk a bit about what queer identity means to you and what pride means to you?
Zack Smedley: I’m going to be honest: while I had no issue or reservations coming out, I spent the next few months lacking a strong opinion on what it means to express LGBTQ+ pride. That all changed in the summer of 2016, when two things happened: I went to my first Pride festival, and I started meeting other LGBTQ+ folks my age. At that point, I experienced that blissful, brand-new feeling of, “oh…this is like…nice! We’re all like…part of the same group!” It’s just such a simple but warm feeling–the inherent permission you feel to be yourself with unrelenting exuberance. It’s a feeling I chase every year during Pride month, and I hope to always help create that same sense of community for others.
Taylor: So we were introduced through my other project, Mental Health Reads, because DEPOSING NATHAN has (great!) anxiety representation in a side character as well as grief and emotional abuse representation more centrally. Can you talk a little bit about the intersection between queerness and mental/emotional health in your book and how that evolved as you were writing?
Zack: It’s interesting, because when I sat down to write the book, I didn’t say to myself, “I want to create a story with comprehensive mental health rep!” It was more like, “I want to explore internalized religious guilt and the effect of psychological/emotional abuse on teenagers–particularly boys, who are typically stereotyped as “tougher.” Of course, all of this is mental health rep, but that’s not how I thought of it at the time. A lot of LGBT folks are often stereotyped as being “angsty,” or “full of issues.” My priority in writing DEPOSING NATHAN was to bring the reader along for Nate’s difficult journey…and in doing so, shed light on some of the obstacles LGBT youth still face today.
Taylor: DEPOSING NATHAN is one of favorite books about coming to terms with, processing, and understanding bisexuality in a main character. Can you discuss how you came to write an incredibly messy bi book like this? How did that representation evolve as you wrote the book?
Zack: I try to abstain from bragging, but one point I am very proud of here is that the first draft of the NATHAN manuscript bears an eerie resemblance to the published book. Most of the arguments between Nate and Cam (where they both lay out their points about bisexuality vs religion) are almost word-for-word identical to when I first wrote those parts. So I think it’s fair to say this book was really a product of everything I’d been wanting to say–and see–with bi rep. It was driven by a message that had been bottled up inside me for years, and it just exploded onto the page as I finally wrote it all out.
Taylor: Your book unflinchingly deals with the uneasy relationship between being Christian (specifically Catholic) and being Queer. Can you explain a bit about what made you want to write about this intersection and how it developed in the writing of the story?
Zack: A lot of readers are surprised to learn this, but I’ve never gone through anything like what Nate deals with. I was raised Christian, and to me, it’s always made all the sense in the world that being who you are, and loving who you love, goes hand-in-hand with becoming closer to God. And yet, I wasn’t seeing this representation in books like SIMON VS. (as important as those types of stories are as well). So I wanted to write a book that argues for the coexistence of religion and sexuality, without discounting the challenges that that can bring.
Taylor: Your book shows two queer guys experimenting with their sexuality in a way that isn’t necessarily graphic, but also to an extent that I haven’t seen very often in YA. Yet, it feels like part of this move in YA to represent queer sex in real, honest ways. Can you talk a bit about what led you to write the exploration of sexuality in the way you did?
Zack: Hm. Well, similar to my answer above, I didn’t exactly sit down and say to myself, “I MUST contribute to this representation!” But those scenes became necessary to the story, because the emotional fallout between Nate and Cam only feels meaningful if the reader was “there” for the inciting incident(s). That’s the whole point of representation, though, isn’t it? To show people (LGBT and straight readers alike) that this stuff happens, and it’s complicated, and that’s okay.
Taylor: What are some queer identities, stories, themes, etc. you want to see in YA that you haven’t seen yet? Did you write DEPOSING NATHAN to fill any of these gaps?
Zack: I’m thrilled to say that, with so many LGBT YA books coming out (particularly this year), it almost feels like there’s a little of everything. Intersectionality is crucial to explore and represent, and I think YA is really starting to cover that. I wrote NATHAN with the intent of representing queer Christians, which I hadn’t seen much (any?) of in YA, and I’m so thrilled at the way readers have already told me it’s helped them.
Taylor: What are some of your favorite queer YA recommendations?
Zack: MORE HAPPY THAN NOT is one of the best-written, in my opinion. I also love OPENLY STRAIGHT & HONESTLY BEN by Bill Konigsberg; and of course, ARI AND DANTE by Benjamin Alire Saenz.
Taylor: What other pieces of media (so books, movies, TV, theater, music, etc.) have been fundamental to your experience as a queer person or are your favorite examples of queer representation?
Zack: Ohhh boy…story time. So. I’ve mentioned this in other interviews, but my coming out experience was basically a two week process where I 1) First heard the word “bisexual,” 2) Thought “that sounds like me” and mulled it over for a bit, and 3) Concluded that was the case, and told everyone.
The place where I first heard the word was on the Freeform Show “The Fosters.” The Jude and Connor subplot in season 2 (which is a much tamer version of Nate and Cam’s drama) explored a lot of things that had been simmering in the back of my mind for years, and to this day, I credit it for helping me come out. If you even sort of liked DEPOSING NATHAN and want to see a beautiful, more PG-rated portrayal of similar themes, I highly recommend looking up the “Jonnor” story on YouTube and binging it.
Taylor: If you could give advice or a message to the LGBTQPIA+ identifying folks who maybe don’t have a sense of community, feel alone, aren’t out, etc. this month, what would you say?
Zack: Do not ever feel pressured–especially by your own community–to come out before you’re ready, or to have everything figured out. You may feel left out this pride month and maybe even the next two or three pride months, but there are so many folks out there in the exact same boat as you, all feeling alone the same way you do. One day you’ll find each other, and I promise it’ll have been worth the wait.