Q&A with Featured Contributor Aiden Thomas
If you like YA novels; paranormal romances; gay, trans, and latinx protagonists; #ownvoices books; and/or authors who are breaking new ground in an industry that’s been been around for centuries, you’re going to want to make time in your GeekGirlCon’19 schedule to see, hear from, and maybe even meet Aiden Thomas (@aidenschmaiden on Twitter and Instagram).
Aiden is the author of two upcoming novels: Cemetery Boys, a Dia de Muertos paranormal romance about Yadriel (a gay, trans brujo) who accidentally summons the wrong ghost (July 2020), and Lost in the Never Woods, a dark sequel to, and reimagining of, the classic Peter Pan story (January 2021).
Keep reading to learn more about Aiden, their books, and what superpower they’d pick if they had the option to!
What first got you into writing?
Honestly? It was Harry Potter fan fiction! I think that’s how a lot of folks start out, but not everyone wants to admit it! I hated reading when I was little because it felt like a punishment, not something to enjoy, which is a pretty common experience for kids (one I know teachers and librarians are working to subvert!). But then my grandparents bought me the first Harry Potter book when I was 11.
I didn’t find out what fan fiction was until I was a Sophomore in high school, and then I got FULLY obsessed! I would write by hand during any and all of my classes, go home and type it up on the computer. From there, I started writing more and more and fan fiction branched out into my own stories. Though, I’d argue that all my books, on one level or another, are a form of glorified fan fiction! I’m always inspired to write by certain characters or scenarios, but with a new twist that makes it my own!
How did you go from that initial interest to publishing your first novel?
My journey into publishing has been kind of a weird one. I majored in English and got my MFA in Creative Writing. I wrote LOST IN THE NEVER WOODS as my thesis and spent a couple years editing it. I sent it off to about 40 agents, got requests for fulls, but nothing ever came of it.
I had pretty much given up and moved on to different interests when I heard about Swoon Reads. On a total whim, I submitted LOST IN THE NEVER WOODS, figuring it didn’t hurt to try! I was in a meeting when I got an email from my now editor, Holly West, asking if we could get on a call. I was totally freaking out in the middle of this stupid meeting and slid my phone to my friend to show her.
Macmillan ended up making an offer for LOST IN THE NEVER WOODS and that was how I sold my first book! BUT, as you know, my first book being published is actually CEMETERY BOYS. While I was in copyedits for LOST IN THE NEVER WOODS, I started bugging my editor about my option book. I sent her five different story ideas. Cemetery Boys was the shortest pitch. It was just a paragraph that started with, “This is a very VAGUE idea with a trans main character.” Most of the sentences ended in question marks because I really wasn’t sure what the whole plot would be.
I was genuinely shocked when this tiny blip of an idea was what Macmillan wanted! Everyone loved it so much, in fact, they decided CEMETERY BOYS should be my debut, which is why it’s coming out before LOST IN THE NEVER WOODS!
Are there any authors or books that have impacted your writing in a significant way? If so, who/which and how?
There are SO MANY! Of course, there’s the Harry Potter books, but Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES had a really profound affect on me as a reader and writer. That series really sparked my interest in character development and nuance, especially when it comes to internal struggles. THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater made me crave books with dark and fantastical elements.
More recently, LABYRINTH LOST by Zoraida Córdova was the first time I saw my culture reflected and represented in a book! At the fact that it has a queer main character AND features Latinx-based magic? It showed me that our stories and mythos CAN and SHOULD be in books!
Cemetery Boys sounds like a everything I could ask for in a YA novel. Without giving too much away, could you share a bit about the characters and plot? What inspired you to write it?
CEMETERY BOYS is about Yadriel, a trans boy in a community of brujx. In an attempt to prove to his people that he’s a true brujo, he enlists the help of his best friend, Maritza to secretly perform the coming-of-age ritual. He then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
Unfortunately, he ends up accidentally summoning the ghost of Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. Yadriel agrees to help Julian and, in return, Julian will let him release his spirit to the afterlife. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
It’s a story about love, loss and fighting for your identity. My own experiences as a transgender Latinx person definitely influenced the story, but mixed with a bunch of Mesoamerican mythos, gods and cultural practices! I really wanted to share those things with readers, but I also really wanted to write a book in which the main character is trans without it being solely ABOUT being trans. I wanted trans kids to be able to read CEMETERY BOYS and see a character like them being powerful, going on adventures, and falling in love!
I know its release date is still a ways off, but I’d also love to hear anything you can share about Lost in the Never Woods. What was it like retelling such a well-known story in a unique way?
CEMETERY BOYS is my heart, but LOST IN THE NEVER WOODS is an incredibly important story for me that really explores all the messy, dark parts inside of people. What fascinated me about the original story by J.M. Barrie was Peter, of course, but instead of the magic, I was more interested in his mental state and what it takes — what he has to sacrifice — in order to be THE Peter Pan.
LOST IN THE NEVER WOODS is a very dark reimagining, takes place after the original story, and explores what happens to Wendy and Peter after Neverland. It’s a contemporary retelling set in a small, coastal town where children are going missing — again — and everyone is looking to Wendy for answers. It’s dark, creepy and explores a lot of themes of loss and isolation. There’s haunted woods, malevolent shadows, and, of course, the intense relationship between Wendy and Peter.
I REALLY love this book and can’t wait to start talking about it more as we get closer to its release in January 2021!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors, especially those who don’t often see themselves represented in the literary world?
KEEP WRITING! The world needs our stories, and especially our youths. Right now, marginalized kids are being put through the damn wringer. Write for your younger self, because I guarantee you there’s plenty of kids out there right now who need exactly that. We’re finally starting to make some traction — we’ve got incredible writers of color starting to break through and get their stories out there.
In 2020, CEMETERY BOYS will be among some of the VERY FIRST books written BY trans authors to be published by Big 5 publishers (shout out to indie and small press writers who have been leading the way for YEARS). Keep fighting the good fight, and reach out to your community, find your people. We’re out here and we want each other to succeed. We’re rooting for you!
What do you look for in the books and stories you read? What are a few of your favorites, and what are you reading currently?
My taste in books is SUPER varied, which is reflected in my TBR shelf and my own writing. THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller is my favorite book of all time, closely followed by THE DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater and LABYRINTH LOST by Zoraida Córdova.
Lately, I’ve been reading almost entirely stories with main characters that are queer and/or people of color. Right now, I’ve got UNDEAD GIRL GANG by Lily Anderson and WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE by Tehlor Kay Mejia on my nightstand. I’ve also been DEVOURING graphic novels and manga! TAPROOT by Keezy Young is incredible!
I HEAR THE SUNSPOT is a recent find that I am desperately in love with. It’s probably the sweetest love story I’ve ever read, and (speaking as someone who is deaf in one ear) has healthy representation for folks with hearing disabilities! That’s the series I currently keep demanding all my friends read!
Finally, if you could give yourself any superpower, what would you pick and why?
Definitely super strength! Those superheroes — like Captain America and Spider-Man — always get the coolest outfits and, honestly, I’d really enjoy peacocking around in spandex. It would also help me achieve my lifelong goal of being strong enough to carry ANY dog, so there’s that!
Now that you’re as excited to see Aiden as I am, you can learn more about some of our other Featured Contributors through their Q&As. And make sure to buy your passes if you haven’t done so already—GGC’19 is right around the corner!