Last Fall, Mark It Proud co-founder Daniel Malen devoured a delightful young adult novel called "Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit." Aside from revelling in a wonderful tale of family, friends, faith and first loves as told through the eyes of a plucky young protagonist named Joanna [Jo], the book sparked an idea. As part of MARK IT PROUD's mandate to spread a message of inclusion and love, why not reach out to fellow artists, authors and activists to highlight their amazing works as well. So we did just that, starting with author Jaye Robin Brown. Who we can't thank enough for being kind enough to answer a few questions for our first — of what we hope will be many editions of — (Book) Mark it Proud!
1. "Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit" takes place in a small American town of Rome Georgia. Was your Alabama upbringing the inspiration for this story, or if not, what inspired you?
Jaye Robin Brown: Certainly living in the South informed this story. There's such a deep connection between church and community and even if you're not a particularly devout teen, you're surrounded by the presence of religion. Often one of the first questions people ask you upon meeting is, "where do you attend church?" and as a teen I was always secure in having an answer to that question. However, Jo's experience with the church in Rome is less akin to my own personal experience—I didn't come out until my twenties—and more of an amalgamation of my Southern experience, the lives of the queer teens I taught, and a wish for creating a book that embraced both faith and sexuality.
2. What advice would you give to LGBTQ young adults who may be struggling in a similar small town such as Rome?
As the organization of the same name says—it gets better. But also, find your people. There are usually teachers who create safe zones within a high school. Even if you're not in their class, get to know them. Having been one myself, I loved that most of the queer teens and allies at the school I taught would stop by to visit, or just hang out in my room during lunch. Surround yourself with true friends, not toxic ones. Trust your instincts of who and when to open up to people. Some faith communities are not accepting and it can be hard to be a part of that. It can make you start to feel very beaten down. I think the Internet has done great things for connecting young LGBTQIA+ youth with others. Online friendships can be a very real, important thing as long as you also pay attention to safety.
3. With such a beautiful story we must imagine readers have been reaching out to you in droves. Have you had one fan interaction that stands out as memorable or touching or emotional?
I have gotten some AMAZING notes from readers filled with such gratitude for Jo's story. There's not one particular story that stands out but they all tend to run along a common thread of happiness that a book about a faithful queer teen exists. The thing that has moved me the most though? I've had a number of friends/colleagues come out to me as bisexual since the book released. These women are, for the most part, married to men, but have this other part of themselves they feel is invisible to the world. I've felt so honored and humbled that after reading PEACHES they felt the urge to share their truths with me. Anytime someone chooses to come out to you, it is a very precious gift.
4. Cast the Dream Leads for "Georgia Peaches" Movie (or Netflix series) we're already counting down the days to!
I am so woefully ignorant of actors and actresses because I watch very little television and only see a handful of movies each year, but I'll give it a shot. (And wouldn't seeing it on screen, be fun???!) She's too short and would need glasses, but Kiernan Shipka who played Sally Draper on Mad Men is definitely growing up into a Mary Carlson. Fresh face, sweet smile, slightly mischievous looking. For Jo, I'm going to go with a combo. She'd combine Brianna Hildebrand's attitude and toughness with Joey King's amazing lips.
5. What are you writing next and when can we read it?!
I'm currently working on a contemporary YA about grief, healing, birds, and first love. In addition I have a few other ideas piling up at the brain door when I get this one done. All will feature LGBTQIA protagonists, most have some bit of romance mixed in with real life stuff. As to when you can read it? I hope in 2018, but my editor and I are still working out the details.
"Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit" can be bought at your local bookstore! It can also be bought online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound and Epic Reads. Author Jaye Robin Brown can be reached on her website jayerobinbrown.com