Hi guys! We have Julie Aitcheson stopping by today with her debut queer-spectrum release Being Roy, we have a fantastic guest post where Julie chats about Being Roy and we have a great excerpt, so check out the post and enjoy! <3 ~Pixie~
The greatest trial Roy Watkins faces isn’t deciding whether she’s gay or straight, male or female, West Virginia country mouse or prep school artistic prodigy. It isn’t even leaving behind her childhood sweetheart Oscar to attend uppity Winchester Academy in the hunt country of Virginia, or acclimating to a circle of friends that now includes privileged Imogen, her sharp but self-conscious sidekick Bugsy, and the tortured Hadley. No, the hardest thing for Roy to face is the world’s expectations about who and what she should be.
As Roy’s journey of self-discovery forces her to cross one hurdle after another, her identity closes in fast. Sooner than she could have ever predicted, she’ll have to decide what that means for her, the people she’s coming to care about, and the life that lies ahead.
Release date: 3rd October 2017
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Living the Question: What’s In a Name?
by Julie Aitcheson
Anyone who knows me well would not be surprised to hear that the original title for my debut YA novel, Being Roy, was Cross. I was, after all, raised as a good Catholic girl and, before I “lapsed”, actually had aspirations of becoming a nun (I mostly blame Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music for this). I have been rabidly curious about all expressions of spirituality ever since I turned eighteen, when I skipped my first Catholic mass without parental guilt ruining the heady rush of freedom. The first three books I wrote, once I decided that writing books would be my thing, were all non-fiction pieces about spirituality and religion. But in the case of my young adult fiction, religious iconography had nothing to do with the title.
I chose Cross because the book first took shape around a vague plot in which high school students were challenged by a history teacher to explore the idea of boundaries as both powerful and illusory. Borders, boundaries, and how we choose to interact with them would be the theme. Teenagers being teenagers, and my setting of choice being the bubble of an exclusive boarding school in the early nineties, this would lead to all manner of misadventures and botched experiments in testing limits. Then, Roy Watkins showed up.
Roy stepped forward as my main character straight away, but as I attempted to get to know her in order to capture her in detail, she steadfastly refused definition. You see, Roy is an artist, but not only an artist. She has ambitions beyond her hometown of Benbow, West Virginia, but is also staunchly proud of her humble upbringing, and loyal as the day is long to those friends and family who compose her small world. Roy refused to fall into either the male or female category, though she did permit me to use female pronouns, since her story takes place in 1992, when non-binary alternatives were not yet in common use. Roy was and is a cross between the many identities, places, and people who shape her, all mixed in with her own untouchable essence. The result is someone utterly unique and unperturbed by being a living, breathing, open-ended question. But maybe I should just let her speak for herself. (from Being Roy)
“Reenie named me Aurora after the Northern Lights she’s going to take me to see one day when we’ve got the trailer paid off and something with enough horsepower to hitch it to. “Aurora” helps her remember her dreams, she says, and what really matters in life. For Reenie, it’s freedom, but for me it’s about what happens when an eye lands on something that creates a spark in the brain. There’s the right word for that somewhere, besides “art”. That word always reminds me of some sad sack used car salesman at his fifty-year high school reunion, drinking a white Russian and making eyes at the former head cheerleader with her new realtor’s license and her bad boob job. Not exactly what I’m going for.
Our neighbor Mama Dot insists I’m named after the princess in Sleeping Beauty, on account of how “pretty” I am and what a good sleeper I was from Day One. Even now I can put my head down on one of the old café tables at the charity shop where she works and fall dead asleep. Reenie can call me what she wants, but my real name is Roy and always will be. I never could pronounce Aurora as a baby, and ‘Roy’ stuck with everyone but Reenie. I guess that’s her prerogative as my mom. She still gets ticked off when people call me ‘Roy’, though she never could get anyone to call her by her real name, either, which is Irene. Mama Dot tries to use ‘Aurora’ in front of her when she’s around, which isn’t much. “Born without a sit-still” as Dot says. No matter how much Reenie complains about her back and the long hours, we all know she wouldn’t give up trucking for anything but a topped-up retirement fund, and only then so she could hit the road on her own terms.
Dot doesn’t believe the sky could look any better than it does here in the Shenandoah, and she prefers her Sleeping Beauty story about my name to Reenie’s anyhow. But I knew it then, and I know it now. If I’m anyone in that dumbass fairytale, it’s the prince.”
Roy plants her flag in the grey areas, and rejects any attempt to relocate her into a black and white box. This is why I love her, and why I love writing young adult novels. In high school, people might get a little uncomfortable with a teen who lives at the intersection of so many identities, but no one is really surprised. Being a young adult is all about trying things on and casting them off in the search of something that fits like the truth. As adults, we are expected to pick a lane and stay in it for the sake of order. Adult characters that refuse to do so have been written, but it takes a lot more to make their stubborn individuality believable, and to get the reader to go along with a story full of questions that never quite get answered.
Ultimately, I changed the title of my book to Being Roy because, as I wrote, the story became less about boundaries and identity and more about Roy and her world. Cross may encapsulate the nature of the issues she and her friends face as they navigate their lives, but Being Roy is what happens on each and every page. Right or wrong and come what may, Roy remains true to herself with every challenge that rises in front of her, as she learns that simply Being Roy is enough, at least for now.
THE FIRST time I knew about Oscar—I mean, knew that he was solid gold and not just some shy kid waiting for all the bullying to turn him into one himself, was down in the gulley. I was seven, he was nine, and even taking him down into that big, litter-strewn ditch bordering the back end of the trailer park was risky business. What if he made fun of the idea that a muddy stream gushing through a culvert could be a kid-ruled kingdom of its own, or what if he decided he was the king, and claimed it as his? Among other things, I liked to go down to the gulley after school to rinse out the bottles and cans to redeem at the liquor store. I could make five bucks a week that way, when I could get Leon to take them to the redemption center for me. Os had been trailing me for weeks since his folks moved into the double-wide on the dirt lot a few over from mine. He didn’t talk much, just slipped into my shadow like that was the very thing that brought him to Wayside, marking my trail and giving me an audience for all of my secret missions and make-believe. After a few weeks I figured that if he was gonna be lurking around like that, I might as well put him to work with the bottles and cans.
I’d found a mossy green glass Rolling Rock bottle and rinsed it out in the post-storm surge of water coming through the culvert while I told Oscar about Cassie Bickerman, an eighth grader rumored to be pregnant. Getting knocked up young happened regularly in Benbow, like every girl in town got a bull’s eye stamped on her back on her thirteenth birthday. Mama Dot cried when she heard the news from her church lady friend Mae—a kitchen phone call I wasn’t supposed to overhear from the depths of the recliner in Dot’s living room, but of course I did. The walls were thin as fly strips. I lounged there half listening, half watching Saturday morning cartoons, trying to figure out how something like that could happen. I didn’t even know how sex worked. I imagined Cassie caught a baby from sitting on some boy’s lap while his pants were dirty. I pictured Dot in the kitchen, flapping her hands in front of her face until the loose flesh on her arms that she called “bat wings” stirred the air.
“Sad,” I tsked in my best imitation of Dot and her church lady friends, shaking the water in the Rolling Rock bottle to rinse out the sludge.
“This happens here,” Oscar observed, picking up a mud-caked Miller Lite bottle from the pile. “But not where I am from in Mexico. There would be too much trouble for everybody.”
“What kind of trouble?” I asked. All I could picture was Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner duking it out in the desert, or Jerry from Tom and Jerry in a sombrero and curly mustache. “Like a shoot-out?” Oscar looked up at me in alarm, then laughed for the first time since I’d known him. It was a machine gun kk kk kk sound, and it made me smile, even though I thought that maybe he was laughing at me.
“No, not like a shoot-out,” he protested. “I’m not from a city where there is drugs and guns. It’s small, like here, only people aren’t so separate in their own houses and doing things just three or four together. If a young girl got a baby from someone, the whole town would punish the boy. It would be shame for him and his family.” Oscar dunked his bottle into the rain-swollen stream, shook it with a thumb over the mouth, and poured the gritty water out onto the ground at his feet, just missing his sneakers. “Here it’s hard to know what is shame,” he murmured, making an imprint in the mud with the sole of his shoe. The brim of Oscar’s Goodwill Orioles ball cap hid his face, and I saw that the button on top was hanging by a thread. The cap was a little too big and pushed his ears out.
“‘Shame,’ like, what are the rules you mean?” I asked. Oscar’s English was better than that of his parents and brothers, but it was still hard to catch his drift sometimes. He turned the clear glass Miller Lite bottle over in his hand and scraped some caked mud off the neck with his thumbnail.
“Yes, rules, but what to feel bad about also. Like my father and my mother who came here to work so hard in the fields and help your farmers and our family in Mexico but that is shame here. People get mad.” I knew he was talking about the blue spray paint on the Jimenezes’ trailer, fresh and drippy this morning, that said “Dirty Spics Go B—” The rest had already been scrubbed into a blue cloud by Oscar’s dad, Miguel, whose eyes must have been burning from the paint stripper, judging from the tears running down his face. Oscar rubbed his thumb across that bottle so hard, just like his dad, though there wasn’t any mud left.
“Some people are just stupidheads,” I said, flinging down my Rolling Rock bottle for emphasis. “It’s not a rule that you can’t be here! Dot said, and she knows everything, so….” I trailed off. Oscar was still looking at his bottle, blinking fast.
“What means ‘Dirty Spics’?” he asked quietly. “Papi wouldn’t say, and my brothers told me it’s nothing for me to know.”
I shrugged and stomped on a Coors can so that the edges wrapped up over my muddy sneaker.
“Danged if I know. Maybe it’s like ‘spit’? Like how someone spits on you when they’re being mean?”
Oscar nodded mutely, wiping a trail of snot inching toward the creased border of his upper lip with the back of his hand. “Is this normal here, to do like that with the paint if you’re mad?” he asked, looking at me with swimmy eyes.
I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t used to older kids asking me stuff—wasn’t really used to talking to other kids much at all. No, it wasn’t normal to mess up somebody’s new house with ugly words as far as I knew. Just seeing it made me feel all scared, and it wasn’t even my trailer. One thing I’d learned about my new friend in the few weeks I’d known him was that Oscar had a thing about “normal.” It was probably because that was the last thing he ever got called. “Harelip” and “wetback”—that’s what he got stuck with instead. Nobody even knew what “wetback” meant, and the harelip part wasn’t even accurate. A surgeon in Nogales repaired Oscar’s cleft palate on his family’s way north. He just didn’t do a very good job.
“It’s just some dumb kids being bored,” I said, prying the Coors can off my sneaker. “Don’t kids get bored in Mexico?” Oscar just stared at me, waiting for me to say something that made sense. “Hey, let’s swim!” I yelled, spurred by a crazy urge to keep him from crying. From the very beginning, something about that boy made me want to throw myself between him and all the sharp edges. We couldn’t really swim. The water was running fast, so we’d have to hold on to the top edge of the culvert and dangle, but it was close enough.
“We don’t have swimming clothes,” Oscar pointed out, biting his lip as he glanced at the churning mud.
“You mean suits? Mine’s hanging up at Dot’s,” I said. “If we go back, she’ll know what we’re doing and stop us. Let’s just go in our underwear.” I whipped off my T-shirt and threw it on the ground.
“You should keep your T-shirt on,” Oscar said, frowning at my smooth torso as he shucked off his own shirt. “Girls are supposed to cover on top.” I planted my fists on my hips, my little kid belly sticking far out beyond my flat chest.
“Well, I told you I don’t have my suit, and I’m not going back for it,” I said. “Besides, I look the same as you on top. Why should I have to wear a dumb shirt and you don’t?”
“Because I’m a boy and you’re a girl,” Oscar said. “This is normal.”
“It’s not my fault!” I shouted, stomping my foot into the tangle of discarded clothes on the ground. I didn’t even know what I meant by that. It just came out.
Oscar looked baffled. “This is a silly thing to say.” Tears boiled behind my eyes and stung the back of my nose as I wrestled my shirt back on. Oscar followed me as I flailed back up the slope to the trailer park, blinded by tears. “Wait! Roy!” he cried, grabbing at my heels. I tried to haul myself up by some exposed roots, but upset made me uncoordinated and I kept sliding back. I pounded a fist into the embankment and pressed my forehead into the rock-strewn soil.
“It’s not silly,” I gasped.
“No, no, okay,” Oscar said. “It’s not silly, okay?” He laid his hand on my back and rubbed small circles like a little mother. That kind of sweet, unthinking gesture was what got me about him, though no one but me saw it once the boys at school starting parroting their older siblings by calling him “homo” and “fag.” After Oscar’s brother explained what the bullies meant, Os stopped being his whole self around anyone outside of the trailer park. Those names just clammed him right up.
“Let’s do swimming, okay?” Oscar urged, tugging at the hem of my T-shirt to coax me off the slope. “You can go however you want. How you do, I’ll do too, so we’re the same.” I turned my shoulder into the slope and looked at him, the hem of my T-shirt still pinched between his grubby fingers. Oscar’s wide-open beauty struck me. He probably had a ton of friends back home, boys he could laugh and run around with whose skin and accents matched his own. But in Benbow, all Oscar had was me.
Julie Aitcheson began her pursuit of writing as a screenwriter, then realized that a little exposition never hurt anyone and switched to books. She has had articles published in Echo Quarterly, Communities Magazine (formerly Talking Leaves Magazine), Isabella, and All Things Girl. Most recently, she received a full fellowship to the 2013 Stowe StoryLabs and won second place in the 2014 San Miguel Writers’ Conference nonfiction writing competition.
Julie lives wherever her bohemian heart takes her, and wherever she can hit the hiking trails when her muse decides to take a personal day. She has worked extensively with young adults as an experiential educator, both across the United States and in India. After spearheading an initiative to assist at-risk youth in becoming trained for green jobs, Julie threw herself into writing stories for young adults that do justice to their intelligence and complex emotional lives. Her childhood growing up in West Virginia, subsequent matriculation at an exclusive all-girls boarding school in Virginia, and former incarnation as a truck driver inspired her to write Being Roy. Her next YA novel, First Girl, is a dystopian piece due out from Harmony Ink in Spring 2018.
Julie continues to seek out unique life experiences to provide grist for the mill of her imagination, including her work as a medical actress at a simulation laboratory. There, she indulged her love of the dramatic arts and her passion for health education while amassing enough writing material to sink a barge.