By Ashley Wells Ajinkya
Today we’re pleased to welcome Remi K. England to the WNDB blog to discuss The One True Me and You, available on March 1, 2022.
One small fandom convention. One teen beauty pageant.
One meet cute waiting to happen.
Up and coming fanfic author Kaylee Beaumont is internally screaming at the chance to finally meet her fandom friends in real life and spend a weekend at GreatCon. She also has a side quest for the weekend:
· Try out they/them pronouns to see how it feels
· Wear more masculine-presenting cosplay
· Kiss a girl for the first time
It’s…a lot, and Kay mostly wants to lie face down on the hotel floor. Especially when her hometown bully, Miss North Carolina, shows up in the very same hotel. But there’s this con-sponsored publishing contest, and the chance to meet her fandom idols…and then, there’s Teagan.
Pageant queen Teagan Miller (Miss Virginia) has her eye on the much-needed prize: the $25,000 scholarship awarded to the winner of the Miss Cosmic Teen USA pageant. She also has secrets:
· She loves the dresses but hates the tiaras
· She’s a giant nerd for everything GreatCon
· She’s gay af
If Teagan can just keep herself wrapped up tight for one more weekend, she can claim the scholarship and go off to college out and proud. If she’s caught, she could lose everything she’s worked for. If her rival, Miss North Carolina, has anything to do with it, that’s exactly how it’ll go down.
When Teagan and Kay bump into one another the first night, sparks fly. Their connection is intense—as is their shared enemy. If they’re spotted, the safe space of the con will be shattered, and all their secrets will follow them home. The risks are great…but could the reward of embracing their true selves be worth it?
The One True Me and You is your fourth published book and first in the YA Contemporary Fiction genre. What compelled you to cross into contemporary fiction from sci-fi/fantasy (SFF), and what was the writing experience like?
This book is such a fluke for me! Even now, my ideas folder is 90% SFF. The book was based on a real situation that demanded to be written, though; my friends and I showed up at a small fan con in 2015 and found the lobby full of people in sparkly dresses… because there was a pageant happening. We instantly looked at each other and said, “So who’s gonna write the fic?” I didn’t go home and write it immediately, but when I needed a project while waiting on an edit letter for The Disasters in 2016, there it was!
I really struggled with the writing experience at the start with no big action beats to hang the story on. I remember going to my critique partners and asking, “What even HAPPENS in a book when nothing blows up?” I’d read tons of contemporary, but just hadn’t internalized how it was put together in the same way I had with SFF. It was a big learning experience, but so much fun.
Being present at GreatCon has different implications for the main characters Kaylee (Kay) and Teagan. For Kay it’s a safe space to further explore being nonbinary, but it’s restrictive for Teagan, who must continue pretending to be straight. Did you include this juxtaposition to highlight the varying experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals?
Yes, it was important to me to include as big a variety of queer experiences as possible, and to show the complexities in both the pageant and con environments. Neither is completely good or bad, and no environment is easy or comfortable for every queer person. Even being in a (mostly, imperfectly) welcoming space such as the con, everyone’s bringing their own history, privilege, and identity. Queer men, trans folks, and BIPOC folks have very different experiences in queer fandom than, say, a queer cis white woman. There is no universal safe space, and no universal queer experience.
I wanted to keep this book very light and make queer joy the ultimate focus, but also wanted to make sure I included constant nods to the different experiences people have. Kay’s friend Cakes comes from a very open and supportive town and high school, so the con seems normal to her in a way it never could to Kay. Teagan finds being at the con almost painful because she knows it’s her place and her people, but she can’t fully be there. There are tons of tiny moments throughout—trans and nonbinary people in cosplay, gay men on fanfic panels, interactions with the pageant crowd—that are small reminders of the varying experiences beyond the otherwise very tight focus on the two main characters.
Kay and Tegan are such believable teens full of so. much. emotion. Did you lean on anything to develop them, like your time as a Teen Librarian, or people in your life? Did the characters come first, or the plot?
Oh, I’m so glad you think so! I was an extremely angsty and mostly-closeted teen, so it’s not too much of a reach for me to access that, ha. The situation came first: a con and a beauty pageant in the same hotel, totally a meet cute waiting to happen! From there, I had a list of things that happen at cons I wanted to include, and I knew I wanted a big joyful queer ending, but I had a lot of blanks to fill in. The fandom came next; I chose to create a fictional Sherlock Holmes fandom because there’s been a Holmes fandom since the late 1800s and there’s always a new movie or TV show coming out, so it would feel familiar without having to spend too much time explaining it to the reader. Many of the characters are named or modeled in part after real fandom friends of mine, and loving, supportive friend groups are something I constantly return to as a writer. Actually… friends who love, protect, and support each other might be my favorite thing to write, when I look over my entire body of work!
Conventions like GreatCon provide teens (and adults!) like Kay with an opportunity to safely express their true selves and try things they might feel unsafe doing at home. Why do you think this is? Are there other safe spaces for this sort of exploration?
It’s the temporary nature of a space like a con that inspires that sort of safe feeling, very similar to something like pride festivals, trips out of town, or defined queer spaces like clubs or support groups. Anything that takes you outside of the structures and influences of your daily life and lets you be more flexible and exploratory, but that also holds the promise of a return to the predictable at the end—like a safety net in case things don’t work out.
Fandom and fan spaces in general have a Wonderland feel to them—a space outside reality where “we’re all mad here,” you know? We’re all a bit weird or different or outside the mainstream to begin with, being so intense in our fandom. So when we’re all in a space together, there’s a solidarity and automatic kinship, and an ease to finding your people that many of us struggle with in the real world. Some fandoms also make space for queer folks (imperfectly, as mentioned above) in a way that we just don’t find in everyday life, so that can make fan conventions a particularly appealing choice.
Giant caveats to all of the above, of course—fan spaces at their worst can be very exclusionary and toxic, and that “we’re all outsiders” perspective can breed a weird sort of hostility to marginalized folks. If someone dares suggest they are on the outside of even the outsiders, then they’re somehow… not letting people have their cake or something. It’s a confusing and strange phenomenon that’s very troubling.
In the acknowledgements you mention how personal this book is for you, having grown up as a nonbinary, fandom-obsessed teen in the 1990s and early 2000s. What was your experience like, and how are things different or the same for teens today?
Oh, thank you for actually reading the acknowledgements! The One True Me and You is very much a wish fulfillment book for me. As a teen, I didn’t have the language for nonbinary identity, so I was just angry and uncomfortable all the time. I knew I hated being lumped in with girls and referred to as one, but I just thought it was because I didn’t like “girly things” and couldn’t relate. My understanding was so limited at the time. I didn’t land on useful words that made me light up with recognition and relief—nonbinary, agender—until age 30 or so. These days, teens have access to so much more information about gender, sexuality, mental health, and so on. I can’t even imagine what a different person I would have been with that.
I ended up with a lot of terrible misogynistic attitudes because I hated being shoved in a feminine box and I didn’t react to it well. I was constantly judged and berated for the fact that all my interests (Star Wars novels, video games, sci-fi TV shows) were “for boys” at that time—thank goodness the world has changed in that respect—and because I wore mostly clothes from the boys’ department. I became that girl who only hung out with boys or other less feminine girls, and I cast judgement on girls wearing dresses and makeup. In some ways, TOTMY is me working through that and trying to atone. I wanted to give Kay a nonbinary awakening that was positive and healthy, and I wanted to write a female character in Teagan who embodied all the things I was judgy and hateful about as a teen and young adult. I hope I managed it, but I acknowledge that I probably have a lifetime’s worth of unlearning to do.
Since you were previously a librarian, we’re eager to know what other YA books with nonbinary characters you would recommend to readers?
Oh gosh, it’s almost easier to just rec an author’s entire catalog rather than going through the pain and injustice of having to choose just one of their books. I’d tell readers to scroll through the catalogs of Anna-Marie McLemore, A.R. Capetta, Mason Deaver, and my ultimate favorite Kacen Callender, and see what appeals to them most. But also, I have an enormous place of honor in my heart reserved for graphic novels, so I’m obligated to force Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu on everyone. It ticks every box for me!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors, especially those interested in writing in the LGBTQIA+ space? Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you first began writing?
Stomp out that voice telling you that writing queer characters or books with major queer themes will damage your chances at getting published or being successful! There’s plenty of room for you and your stories. The joy of seeing your queer book children out in the world having their adventures is worth it.
It looks like you have another book releasing this year–Player vs. Player! How is it similar or different from your other books? Can you give us any hints about what’s coming next?
It’s so different on the surface. For one, it’s my middle grade debut, which is very exciting. It’s also four POVs, which I’ve never done before, and I had a blast with it. There’s an element of geekiness that runs through all my books, though, and I got to pour all my love of video games and finding your people through gaming into this trilogy. I also got to design my own MMO battle royale game for it, which was so fun. It’s technically contemporary like TOTMY, but since there are a good number of scenes written in-game it almost feels like a sci-fi/fantasy/contemporary blend in some ways.
As for a hint for what’s next: I actually have a third book out this year, too, where I got to put a little bit of a queer and feminist stamp on a big sci-fi IP! It’s technically unannounced, but it’s out there for preorder if you look. Other than that, I have three (!) books going on submission this year, all in different genres and age categories, so fingers crossed that all my queer babes find homes.
Remi K. England grew up on the Space Coast of Florida watching shuttle launches from the backyard. These days, they call rural Virginia home, where there are many more cows but a tragic lack of rockets. In between marathon writing sessions, Remi can be found drowning in fandom, rolling critical hits at the gaming table, digging in the garden, or feeding their video game addiction. They probably love Star Wars more than you do. Remi is the author of The Disasters (2018), Spellhacker (2020), and other forthcoming novels under the name M. K. England.
Ashley Wells Ajinkya is a relationship manager in the publishing industry, a We Need Diverse Books blog contributor, and an Ambassador for The Pad Project. She’s also a mental health advocate and public speaker, sharing relatable personal experiences to break down damaging stigmas surrounding disability and mental illness. Ashley loves to travel and enjoys planning trips just as much as hopping on a plane. She can almost always be found with an iced coffee in one hand and a book in the other. You can find her online at entirelyashley.com.