It’s Pride Month, making it an obvious time to showcase some amazing LGBTQ+ books across all sorts of genres. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to speak with author Chris Tebbetts, whose new YA novel Me, Myself & Him comes out July 9th. Not only does his novel feature a gay protagonist, but for every pre-order, Chris will be donating $1.00 to Pride Center of Vermont!
When Chris Schweitzer takes a hit of whippets and passes out face first on the cement, his nose isn't the only thing that changes forever. Instead of staying home with his friends for the last summer after high school, he's shipped off to live with his famous physicist but royal jerk of a father to prove he can "play by the rules" before Dad will pay for college.
Or . . . not.
In an alternate time line, Chris's parents remain blissfully ignorant about the accident, and life at home goes back to normal--until it doesn't. A new spark between his two best (straight) friends quickly turns Chris into a (gay) third wheel, and even worse, the truth about the whippets incident starts to unravel. As his summer explodes into a million messy pieces, Chris wonders how else things might have gone. Is it possible to be jealous of another version of yourself in an alternate reality that doesn't even exist?
With musings on fate, religion, parallel universes, and the best way to eat a cinnamon roll, Me Myself & Him examines how what we consider to be true is really just one part of the much (much) bigger picture.
Your new book, Me, Myself & Him, uses parallel timelines to tell the story. What made you decide to try out this style of writing?
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the multiverse, which posits the existence of infinite realities in as many dimensions. Also, like a lot of storytellers, I’m semi-obsessed with asking “what if?” about pretty much everything and anything. When I apply that to my own life, it brings up questions about what might have happened if I’d made slightly (or majorly) different choices along the way. What if I’d chosen a different college to go to? What if I’d had turkey instead of tuna for lunch yesterday? And in what ways might those choices we all make every day impact (or not impact) where we end up in the long run?
Since I couldn’t write a novel with infinite possibilities, I landed on the idea of exploring two different outcomes that flow from the same inciting incident—which in this case involves my character passing out and breaking his nose while huffing whippets behind the ice cream store where he works.
Lastly, I have to give a nod to the movie Sliding Doors, which was the first time I ever saw someone tackle the idea of parallel narratives in this way. I love the puzzle aspect of putting all those possibilities into one story. It’s like brain candy for me as a writer, and hopefully, for my readers as well.
This book has been described as a hybrid of memoir and fiction. Can you flesh that out a little bit for me?
The prologue of this book—and its inciting incident—are autobiographical. I really did have a drug-fueled accident behind the ice cream store where I worked when I was nineteen. From there, as I spun out my two different realities in the novel, I created a world around my character that is largely fictional, but still based on some of my own experiences. I’m from Yellow Springs, Ohio, and a lot of this book takes place in a very similar town, which I call Green River. My character is gay, as am I, but he’s come out to himself and the world at a far younger age than I ever did. On top of all that, the whole story is filled with what I’d call emotional truths from that time in my life—the last summer before college. And one way I reflect that hybrid is by naming my protagonist Chris Schweitzer, which is to say that I gave him my first name but not my last. All of it reflects one of the motifs in the book, where pretty much every character tells the truth some of the time, and lies at least once, if not many times.
How has your identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community influenced your writing?
I’ve always felt as though I exist in a kind of limnal place. I’m a white, middle class, cis male, with all the privilege that goes with it. I’m also a gay man in a sometimes homophobic world. And without consciously going about it, I think I’ve always been a bit of a fence straddler that way. My writing is relatively commercial and accessible, which is to say, reflective of the mainstream in which I spend a lot of my life. But my work also reflects some knowledge of what it means to be other, to exist outside of some people’s definition of societal norms.
In a way, I’ve never really been an either/or kind of person. I’m a both kind of person. I’m a “yes, and” kind of person. Which, I suppose, jibes perfectly with the idea of writing a novel that doesn’t choose between two realities, but rather, embraces both.
We’ve been fortunate enough to see more and more novels featuring LGBTQ+ protagonists. There’s been a great deal of progress, but representation still has a long way to go. What do you want to see in terms of representation in fiction?
My gay protagonists (in this book, and in my previous YA, “M OR F?” co-authored with Lisa Papademetriou) are what I’d call incidentally queer characters. Which is to say, their sexuality is neither the problem nor the driving issue of the novel itself. We’re seeing more and more of that kind of thing in queer characters these days, with stories that show far more than the historic marginalization by which queer characters have long been defined, or maybe over-defined.
And to be clear—stories that reflect the sometimes ugly realities of what it means to be queer in our society are important. I hope people continue to write those stories for as long as they’re relevant, but I also hope we can continue to make room on the shelf for stories that set aside those issues in favor of the zillion other queer stories waiting to be told.
You’re donating $1.00 for every pre-order of this novel to the Pride Center of Vermont. Do you have a personal connection to this organization?
The feeling here in Vermont, for me, has always been that the state is one big small town. This is a place where you see Bernie Sanders at the grocery store, where everyone seems to have mutual acquaintances, etc. So even though I haven’t been directly involved with the Pride Center up to now, I’ve always supported their work, and have admired the people who help run it, including the folks I’ve known for years, as well as the new guard, leading our state’s queer community into the future. When I was deciding on which organization to benefit with my pre-order campaign, they seemed to me to be the most comprehensive representation of what I wanted to support with a book like this one.
This is your first solo young adult novel. How was it different from writing for middle-grade readers? Do you prefer one over the other?
I’ll be honest here. On the one hand, ME, MYSELF, AND HIM is the most personal thing I’ve ever written, by far, and I wouldn’t trade the writing experience for anything. Writing truly can be therapeutic, and it’s no exaggeration to say I found a bit more of myself by writing this book. There’s a certain freedom in YA, content-wise, and I could really “go there” in a way I’ve never done before.
That said, the bulk of my career has been built on middle grade fiction (including the MIDDLE SCHOOL series with James Patterson and the STRANDED series with Jeff Probst). And while it’s great that I don’t have to choose between one or the other, it’s also true that if I did have to choose, my heart leans toward middle grade. There’s something about the outward-looking, wide-eyed exploration of the world that I’ve gotten to do with my middle grade books that appeals to me in a deep way. That may have something to do with the fact that when I’ve never been a more voracious reader than back in my own middle grade reading days. So it makes sense to me that I’d gravitate in that direction as an author.
If you could take one of your characters in this new novel out for cinnamon rolls, which one would it be?
It would have to be Swift, the romantic interest who appears in one of the story’s two threads. I had to fall in love with him a little in order to write him, so he seems like a good choice to me. Also, as a tangent: that character, Swift is an example of how our subconscious minds can kick in during the writing process. His name came to me in a completely random way. I work a lot with my own first thoughts and impulses when I’m writing, and when it came time to name this love interest of a character, I told myself I’d use whatever came to me first. For whatever reason, at that moment the word “swift” popped into my head. So I made good on my intention, and I went with it. It was months later before I realized that my primary association with the name Swift is the author Jonathan Swift. And as it happens, my husband’s name is Jonathan. I love how he kind of wormed his way into my story like that—and I love the kind of surprises that writing can throw my way, when I let them in.
Me, Myself & Him is available July 9th. Read more about the book and how your pre-order will help the LGBTQ+ community at http://christebbetts.com/.