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Writing queer lit for young adults

September 27th, 2012 by Kendra Martin

We asked SideStreets author Michael Harris about his inspiration for his debut YA novel, Homo.

 "I grew up in a sleepy suburb and, when I was 17, took myself to the local library in search of some answers. When no one was looking, I searched for “homosexual” in the card catalogue and found listings for two books: a psychiatric guide to mental illness and a memoir by Stan Persky that detailed his adventures with male prostitutes. They were both interesting but hardly seemed like a reflection of the life I was living, or the one I wanted to lead. So, when it came to writing a queer novel for today’s teenager, I couldn’t help feeling some responsibility to my younger self, who so desperately wanted to read about people like him. The subject matter and tone I arrived at do come pretty close to what my 17-year-old self would have asked for: a troubled hero who’s seriously at odds with the “gay culture” he’s beginning to inherit, and yet who would sacrifice almost anything to enter into the secret lives of men in the city.

Another major influence has been the reporting I’ve done on young gay guys and HIV. Because, like me, a lot of young guys are coming of age thinking that the old gay world has nothing to do with them, including the HIV crisis. They end up ignoring those old messages about safe sex and condom use. HIV seems so passé. As a result, rates of infection among young gay guys have been rising. I guess that’s part of the argument behind this novel—that we ignore our history at our peril."

Homo cover art

Michael Harris's new SideStreets novel, Homo, follows Will Johnson, who, after being outed by his friend on Facebook, learns that he can be an individual while still connected to others.

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