So tell me why you're in Thailand.
My first Thailand trip was three years ago, for the launch of the Thai translation of my books. I discovered what a wonderful culture it is to both spend time in and write in. The people, the food and the spirituality constantly feed my creativity.
Why books for young adults?
When I wrote my first novel, Rainbow Boys, I didn't write with a particular audience in mind. I was just writing the story that was in my heart. But as the novel took shape, it became apparent I was writing the book I desperately wanted and needed to read when I was a teen--one that would have told me: "It's OK to be who you are." When my agent read the manuscript, she thought it would be great for teens. She was right. The enthusiasm from young people has been amazing! Their response has made me want to keep writing for and about young adults.
You say on your Web site that you didn't realize Rainbow Boys would be an agent of change. Can you tell me about that?
As soon as my first novel came out, I became deluged with what became thousands of e-mails from teens all across America. Many told me the protagonists had become their role models. Many more expressed gratitude: "It's nice to know I'm not alone." "Your book became the peace-saver at my school." "Thanks for helping me accept myself." "After reading what gay and lesbian teens go through, I've decided to start a gay-straight alliance at my school." "I told my mom to read your book so she could understand me." Until reading these letters, I never imagined my writing could be an agent of social change, able to inspire, empower and change lives. I have come to accept myself as a writer who not only tells stories, but who does so in a way that helps promote social justice. That my books do this ceaselessly amazes me. It has given a purpose and meaning to my life I never imagined.
Tell me about your most recent novel.
Getting It is a fun and funny novel about the struggle and friendship between a gay teen boy and a straight teen boy. Imagine Queer Eye for the straight teen boy! And it has a deeper message underneath, about being true to yourself.
I'm curious about your writing process. Some people prefer to write in the morning, others at night. Do you have a particular time and routine?
I write longhand in the morning, while listening to an endless loop of whale songs, wave sounds and dolphin calls. I love the ocean. In the afternoon, I type up what I've written and revise again longhand. I usually write about a dozen drafts of a manuscript prior to publication. When not writing, I tour the country talking with teens, librarians and educators about the importance of teaching tolerance and self-acceptance. I'm thrilled and grateful to be speaking in Tucson.
Why did you get a master's in guidance and counseling?
It was by happenstance. I originally went to grad school to get a master's in creative writing, but my first instructor completely turned me off. I was fortunate to instead get a scholarship in a counseling curriculum, which turned out great. I learned a lot and loved helping many people over the years in my work as a counselor. Eventually, I transitioned into human resources, which the degree also prepared me for.
Tell me about your travels.
My first trip was from Mexico, my birthplace, to Cuba, my mom's country, to be baptized when I was a baby. I have been traveling ever since. When I was 5, my family immigrated to America. I have since visited 28 states and six continents--most recently Australia for the publication of my books. What most interests me now when I travel is how acceptance of gay and lesbian people is spreading around the world--facilitated in large part by the Internet and led largely by teens. It's tremendously gratifying to be part of that process.