#WeHaveDiverseBooks: 5 Questions [in this instance 3 Questions] is a spotlight on OOM dedicated to exploring Scholastic’s amazing distinct voices. We’ll take a deep dive into the backgrounds, inspiration and works of these authors and illustrators.
As a companion to last week’s “#WeHaveDiverseBooks: Discover Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg” post, author Bill Konigsberg talks with a #WeHaveDiverseBooks OOM blog contributor about the book and what he discovered along his way to writing it.
In Openly Straight, Rafe is the main character and Ben is his friend and love interest. The companion novel, Honestly Ben, which takes place during the following school year, shifts to Ben’s POV. Bill, you said you did a lot of research on Ben Carver for this companion novel to get to know him better, including visiting his small hometown of Alton! What is the most surprising thing you learned about him?
The most surprising thing I learned in the process of writing Ben wasn't about where he was from, but about what motivates him to be how he is. He's an introvert, and what I learned about writing Ben was that when you come from a family like he does, with an introvert father who gives away almost nothing, that information is power. He doesn't give his emotions/feelings away freely, because giving them away saps him of his power. That was not what I thought writing the first novel at all. It's amazing how the layers come together when you write a companion book like this.
If you were suddenly dropped back in time to your desk (or coffee shop, bat cave… wherever it is you write) with the first draft of Openly Straight still a work in progress, is there anything you would have done differently, knowing Ben the way you do now?
I would have made him from the Midwest, actually. Had I known that there was going to be a second book in which I'd unpack the wonder that is Ben, I would have had him come from South Dakota or Minnesota, because he's such a Midwesterner at heart. I believe in his father as a New Englander, but Ben's particular rhythm to me is very Midwest. I hope that is something that only I, the author, noticed.
Hannah and Toby are incredibly fun characters who also have moments of deep exploration and introspection—they feel fully fleshed out and real—can you tell me a little bit about what it was like getting into their heads to write their parts?
Both were so much fun! Hannah really fleshed out for me when I found her father, and that distant relationship with him, and I learned that she had been in therapy early in her life. I had both of those experience too, and there's something about being in a therapist's office at age eight, playing with baseball cards (or whatever she played with) that makes you pretty darn aware that there may be something "wrong" with you. I felt that connection with her for sure.
As for Toby? Toby was a joy for me. He's my own silliness, but he's also dead serious. I started with the physical frame of a boy I knew in high school, a kid who was effeminate but also had very masculine interests (archery, anyone?) and from there, I just let my own silliness fly. His lines out in Walden Pond are pure, unadulterated Bill Konigsberg at age 17. The fact that he's gender fluid came later, but it really resonated for me. I've met a lot of gender fluid kids who find themselves feeling very involved in what parts of them are female and what parts are male. I find that super interesting, so I went as deep as I could in trying to understand what it would be like to be in Toby's body.