When I started writing CHICKEN it felt like I was doing something no one else was doing. I browsed the shelves at Barnes & Noble and saw the same few LGBTQ-themed novels I’d been seeing for ages. By the time I finished writing CHICKEN three years later, I couldn’t sign in to Twitter without seeing someone announce that the need for coming out novels was over, that they were sick of seeing novels about characters wrestling with being gay, and that it was time to enter a new era where characters who “just happen to be gay” could star in novels that had nothing to do with being gay.
Twitter is an amazing place to connect with fellow readers and writers, but things like that can make you crazy when you’ve got a WIP that lands within a hundred-yard radius of whatever “trend” has recently fallen out of favor. But after the initial reactionary panic stage—in which I wondered if I should scrap my story about two Arkansas boys falling in love in a Pentecostal church as it gears it up to celebrate National Wings of Glory Appreciation Day, and replace it with a story about a teenage astronaut stranded on Jupiter who gets to be casually gay because he’s on Jupiter, alone, 365 million miles away from Earth’s ever-growing population of evangelical Christians who believe it’s their God-appointed duty to terrorize children into choosing to be straight—I noticed something…
The vast majority of the people declaring themselves over YA novels where kids come to terms with being queer… were not kids struggling to come to terms with being queer. They were adults. They lived in big cities. They could run down to Barnes & Noble and snag a copy of Two Boys Kissing with their own money and leave it sitting face-up on their bedside table when they leave for work the next morning with absolute certainty that they won’t come home and find their mother sobbing and their father throwing their clothes into a trash bag.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, the ability to do that? Is still a privilege.
And until everyone can “just happen to be” reading a book with two boys (or girls) kissing on the cover without fear of repercussions at home or on the street, then there’s going to be a need for novels that tell queer kids, “I see you where you are.”
In the end, I reached a sort of compromise. I backed off In Space, No One Can Hear You Come Out Because You Don’t Have To, You Can Just Casually Be Gay Inside Your Head Until You Die In That Big Red Storm Spot Thingie, but I also decided to make my boy Casper’s coming out secondary to his falling wildly in love… and having that love wildly returned.
Listen, I’m a married-to-a-woman kind of man. I can walk into the bookstore blindfolded and dizzy and still manage to pin the tail on a book about a boy who falls in love (or a middle-aged English professor having inappropriate sex)with a girl. In the YA section, I can choose from dozens of books about boys and girls falling in love in a cancer ward, a dozen more about falling in love in a mental institution. I can choose from books where a boy and girl fall in love while fighting to the death and books where a boy and girl fall in love even though one of them is already dead. Any possible scenario that a boy and a girl could experience, no matter how tragic or disturbing, has been not only tackled but romanticized. But if you’re not a boy and a girl…
CHICKEN is my attempt to romanticize the hell out of kids like Casper and Brant who—to paraphrase Rihanna— “fall in love in a hopeless place.” I wrote it to say I see you. I see your Sunday morning poker face. I see you ripping up love notes instead of tucking them between the pages of your favorite book. I see you dancing with the wrong person at the prom. I see you pretending you’ve never been kissed. I see your heart skip when you realize you forgot to delete that text message. I see you, and as hard as it is, I won’t tell you it gets better, I will tell you it is good right now, however many moments you carve out. The way you laugh, the way you kiss, the way you touch whenever you get the chance is every bit as romantic as Katniss and Peeta or Hazel and Gus.
So listen, you don’t have to read my book, and you don’t have to like it if you do, but if you’re reading this right now, I want you to know that there are plenty of grown-ups out here who understand that no one ever “just happens to be” in love.
Chase Night was born and raised in Arkansas, which he claims is both far better and worse than everything that has been said. He graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a B.A. in Creative Writing, a mere thirteen years after first enrolling. He lives in Arkansas with his wife, three dogs, one cat, and an immortal garden snail. CHICKEN, a YA southern gothic romance, is his first novel.