By Shannon Rygg
Today we’re thrilled to welcome David Valdes to the WNDB blog to discuss Spin Me Right Round, out January 4, 2022!
From lauded writer David Valdes, a sharp and funny YA novel that’s Back to the Future with a twist, as a gay teen travels back to his parents’ era to save a closeted classmate’s life.
All Luis Gonzalez wants is to go to prom with his boyfriend, something his “progressive” school still doesn’t allow. Not after what happened with Chaz Wilson. But that was ages ago, when Luis’s parents were in high school; it would never happen today, right? He’s determined to find a way to give his LGBTQ friends the respect they deserve (while also not risking his chance to be prom king, just saying…).
When a hit on the head knocks him back in time to 1985 and he meets the doomed young Chaz himself, Luis concocts a new plan-he’s going to give this guy his first real kiss. Though it turns out a conservative school in the ’80s isn’t the safest place to be a gay kid. Especially with homophobes running the campus, including Gordo (aka Luis’s estranged father). Luis is in over his head, trying not to make things worse-and hoping he makes it back to present day at all.
How would you pitch Spin Me Right Round to potential readers in two sentences or less?
Back to the Future but more gay and less white—a fun, time-travel romp that looks like more like America in the 21st century.
What inspired you to write a book about a gay Cuban teen who gets mixed up with time travel?
I was a gay Cuban-American kid who loved time travel! I never saw characters like me in books when I was growing up but now that I’m a writer, I can make sure those characters appear and are the leads.
The tragedy of Chaz Wilson is the excuse the town and Luis’ mother give as to why he and other teens cannot be fully out while at school. After time traveling and experiencing the prejudice Chaz faced first-hand, Luis grapples with a new perspective on his mother’s choices. Why did you want readers to go through this journey of understanding with Luis?
Kids still face homophobia today but their starting point—legally and culturally—is so far ahead of where it was. I find that a lot of queer kids today have no idea what took place before them, what had to happen to make their starting point so advanced. I want young readers to see the past not just as history but as real life—lived by kids like them.
One of my favorite lines is made by Luis when he is considering his life in comparison to the life of his favorite teacher and confidant Ms. Silverthorn. Why do you believe it was important to show the different and similar hurdles both of these characters face?
Non-majority groups know the shared sting of being outside the power structure in America, and that’s a place of bonding. But sometimes people pretend that all experiences are the same, which they are not. I’ve heard too many gay men, especially white ones, say they understand the Black experience because they too know oppression–but it’s a false equivalence. I want the book to both foster connection but also honor that not every walk is the same. Luis is young, male, and lighter skinned; he has to know his privilege, not just his perils.
Luis is seventeen when he time-trips back to 1985, so his only knowledge of that time came from stories rather than lived experience. As an adult, how did it feel diving back into the past to create this narrative, having experienced all of the ups and downs that the world has gone through since then?
It was fun to revisit my own youth in that way—and amusing to consider what was cool then versus now. But it was also sobering: we’ve made so much progress and yet hate crimes still happen.
Which character was your favorite to create and write, and why?
Tie between Luis, who is a lot like me in voice, except he says out loud the things I think, and Ms. Silverthorn, who is both the teacher I’ve tried to be and the teachers who really kept me going.
What is one message you hope readers can take from SMRR?
The whole idea of the book is that it’s never just about you—you have to honor those who came before and watch out for others who share your world today.
What are some upcoming or new young adult releases that you are excited about?
I’m a little behind in my reading pile but my list includes Brittney Morris’s The Cost of Knowing and Zoraida Cordova’s Inheritance of Orquídea Divina.
If you could write a book about anything, what would that story be? Or do you have a dream project already in the works?
I’m always dreaming of a riff on a Christmas Carol loaded with queer and BIPOC characters who team up to seize the story away from a modern-day Scrooge. I’ve got notes on a high school version and an adult telling – one of them is bound to get written!
Bonus Question: If you could steal one item from Luis’s past or future closet, what would it be?
His 1985 prom ensemble, for sure!
David Valdes is the author of the nonfiction books Homo Domesticus, The Rhinestone Sisterhood, and Today Show pick A Little Fruitcake, as well as a dozen produced plays. A former Boston Globe columnist and HuffPo blogger whose posts have received over a million hits, he currently blogs on Medium, and was recently featured in the New York Times’ Modern Love. He also teaches writing at Boston Conservatory and Tufts. David lives in the Boston area. davidvaldeswrites.com / Twitter: @dvaldestweets
Shannon Rygg is constantly writing everything but what she should be writing. A creative writing graduate from the University of Redlands and a young professional in the publishing industry, in her free time she enjoys reading fantasy and romance, rereading said fantasies and romances, and then getting emotional over aforementioned rereads and tweeting and/or writing fanfiction about it. Expect her novel to drop by 2034. Maybe. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @shannonrygg.