Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fresh New Voice of YA- Interview with Cris Beam

1) How did you get the idea for I Am J?

I had this character kicking around in my head for a few years before I ever got the chance to write him. I interviewed a lot of transboys for my first book, Transparent, and they ended up falling out of the manuscript, and I wanted to go back and write about them—I think several coalesced into this one character named J. I also have a transgender partner, so I’m often thinking about gender and the way adolescent experiences affect adult relationships…and I wanted to write my way through an imagined adolescent experience as a kind of love letter to my partner.

2) Tell us all about The Call/The Email for I Am J's publication! Where were you when you got it? Did you do anything to celebrate the sale?

I always celebrate every milestone in a book—the call, the first complete chapter, the copyedits. A book is such a long process, you have to celebrate to break it up, and usually I celebrate with food. So I don’t actually remember what I did when I got the email saying Little, Brown was interested (except to jump around the apartment with my dog) but I’m pretty sure I went out for a delicious feast with my partner.

3) Your previous book was a nonfiction work also featuring transgender teens. What brings you back to this issue? How did you make the leap from nonfiction to YA? Had you been a fan of YA before starting I Am J?

Like I said in my first answer, I had been wanting to write about boys since the completion of my first book, but also Transparent was also about kids and I wanted to write something for kids. The leap into fiction wasn’t such a big one; I think there are closet novelists inside a lot of nonfiction writers. At the bottom of it, we all just like a good story. And honestly, I hadn’t read a lot of young adult fiction before I set out to write this; I sort of skipped that step when I was a young adult. But I read a lot of it in preparation for I Am J, and was so impressed with the range and the quality of work being published right now. Pretty daunted, actually.

4) What is your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor (or flavors, if you're so inclined)?

Whoa, jelly bellies! Haven’t thought of those for a long time! Where can you even get them anymore? I remember they used to have these little “recipes” where you’d drop several beans into your mouth at once. My favorite, I think, was chocolate-banana-coconut. I think it was supposed to taste like German chocolate cake.

5) Your next book is another nonfiction work, due to be released in 2012. Tell us a little about that, and do you think you'll return to YA after this?

For the last five years I’ve been working on a book about foster care in New York City, and I’m really excited about that book. I’ve been following around several kids and families, tracking what happens to them and, through their stories, trying to figure out how and why the system got so broken. If I have a pattern going here, I may well return to YA—and write a YA book about foster kids. You don’t see many of those!

6) You teach Creative Writing at a few different places. Is teaching something you always wanted to go into? What do you enjoy the most about it?

I love teaching, and yeah, I did always want to teach. I love it because it keeps me fresh; my students are always asking me the “how” or “why” questions that I wouldn’t have to articulate if I were just sitting home alone all day facing the empty screen. And their enthusiasm for writing can be infectious whenever I’m in a slump, so that’s a bonus too.

7) What book(s) are you reading right now, or are about to start?

I just read David Grossman’s To the End of the Land which was fabulous in its mix of hope and devastation. I love writers who can work so deeply with contradictory emotions like that. And I’ve just been re-reading Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury, because I’m trying to figure out how to write a book where the main character is missing, where she’s a big hole in the middle of the story. But that’s another project.


  1. Wow, I love that this book is sort of dedicated to your partner. How sweet!
    It's so cool that you incorporated a bunch of people's stories into one character.
    I'm really excited to read I am J--it sounds so unique!

    Thanks for the interview! :)

  2. Great interview, great book, great writer! Well done. And I think Cris's idea for a novel about foster kids is another winner!