The World is Ours: A Conversation with Author Abby Elise

As a writer myself, I’ve always admired fellow authors and musers who incorporate real-life themes and struggles into their fictional stories. The World is Ours, the debut work by undergrad student Abby Elise, explores a young man’s journey to discovering and embracing his gay identity through heartbreak, mishap, and tons of self discovery along the way. Today, I had the pleasure of interviewing Abby, who had much to say about books, queer advocacy, and her own journey of self-discovery.

The World is Ours: Elise, Abby: 9780359867370: Amazon.com: Books

Analog Magazine: How long have you been a writer and when did you realize that it was something you wanted to pursue professionally?

Abby Elise: I have always been fascinated by fiction and storytelling since I was child. I was in the fifth grade when I attempted my first novel just to see if writing stories was something I could possibly consider a career path. I kept at writing, attempting different genres, and in high school, I discovered it was something I wanted to pursue. I was writing all the time, doing research, and learning more about what path I should go down to be successful. It wasn’t until halfway through my second year of my undergraduate program that I decided I wanted to get a degree in creative writing and English, which I think was the best decision I could have made for myself.

AM: Who were your favorite authors growing up and how did they influence your style as a writer?

AE: I think the most influential authors of my youth were the ones I read in middle school, which is one of the biggest periods of transformation and growth anyone goes through generally. I think Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower were two of the more influential books I read during this time. Both of these authors, specifically citing the works of their I mentioned, use real-world struggles and themes through a young adult lens. These were some of my first experiences with YA fiction, which really sparked my love of reading. Divergent taught me that there is always a fight to be fought and that I can use fiction to do that and The Perks of Being a Wallflower was my first experience with queer characters and queer struggles in fiction, which was extremely eye-opening to me as a young writer.

AM: What other passions and hobbies are you interested in?

AE: I used to take music lessons throughout middle and high school, but I have lost a bit of that spark since moving onto college. I am also extremely passionate about activism and I do what I can to use my platform to promote change and to amplify the voices that need to be heard.

AM: What inspired you to write your debut novel, The World is Ours?

AE: I have been writing for a long time now and it took me years to write something that felt right to me. I spent a long time convinced that fiction had to feel distanced from me. Then, I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, which weren’t my stories, but they felt close to me. I went to see Love, Simon in theaters twice, and when I was walking back to my dorm after the second time, I couldn’t help but thinking that I wanted to try writing a story that felt close to my own experiences. I ended up taking three major events from my own life at the time, created a boy named Riley, and wrote a story that felt authentic to me. It was a search for personal authenticity that inspired The World is Ours, which I found while writing it.

AM: How does queerness and the LGBT+ community lend itself to The World is Ours?

AE: The main character, Riley, is a questioning/closeted gay boy. Over the course of the novel, Riley goes on a major journey of self-discovery, which I worked hard to make it authentic to a general queer experience as much as I could. Riley experiences compulsory heterosexuality, internalized homophobia, heteronormativity, questioning, dating, heartbreak, coming out, being outed, homophobia, and learning how to accept himself over the course of the novel.

AM: What was the ultimate writing process like for you? Did you go through periods of ‘writer’s block’ while penning the story?

AE: The first time writing this story was the easiest writing has ever been for me. I had the full first draft complete after three months of writing it. I did zero planning or outline. I just had an end goal in mind and wrote every day until I got there. It was the most fun I ever had. I did experience some writer’s block because I had no real plan for the novel so there were a few stops, but nothing big enough to cause me trouble.

AM: How would you describe the feeling of finishing an entire book and watching it go out into the world?

AE: Finishing it was relieving and gratifying. I was proud of myself. Watching it go out into the world was scary. While I was excited to have the first book that felt authentic to me available to whoever, there was a sense of vulnerability with this one. Because of how close to home this book is for me, I was scared of how people would take that or how people would view me afterward. I try not to be specific about what parts, themes, and topics of this book I’m referring to when I say this book is personal because I would like for this book to be viewed as separate from me despite how close it is.

AM: What types of books are you interested in reading? Do you have a favorite book?

AE: I am most interested in reading young adult and new adult fiction novels that feature queer characters and their struggles. I try not to limit genre and I like to read books about queer people who have experiences different from mine, like transgender and nonbinary characters by trans and nonbinary writers and/or queer characters of color writter by queer authors of color. I like learning about different experiences through the lenses of these characters because I think it is important to have somewhat of an understanding of what other people have to face so I can be a better person and ally moving forward.

My favorite novel currently is Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. This novel helped me find my love of romantic comedies and my love of new adult fiction. I think it is well-crafted, well-written, and well-thought-out. It was fully entertaining from beginning to end and I learned a lot from it that I didn’t know before. This is the first book I list when people ask me for recommendations always.

AM: Have your friends and family been supportive of you along this journey?

AE: Very much so! My friends and family always help me out by advocating for me, sharing my posts, and buying copies from me. My friends have been endlessly supportive of me. They are always willing to read what I write, give feedback, or give me support when I need it. My sister, Meaghan, was consistently reading this project, providing feedback, and doing a bunch of work to help this book succeed.

I do worry that while everyone has been supportive of me and my publishing journey, I do not think they have all been supportive of the story itself. I had one member of my family try to convince me to have Riley go through all his questioning but find out he is straight in the end because they did not want me writing a happy ending for a gay character. This happened years ago and has lived with me since. While sexuality is fluid and people do question their sexuality just to realize they are straight, that is not Riley’s story. I will never write a straight character. Straight people have plenty of books to choose from where they can see themselves, they just won’t find themselves leading my books. I took this as a very clear sign that people only support the concept of me writing my books, not the actual books themselves.


“Because of how close to home this book is for me, I was scared of how people would take that or how people would view me afterward.”


AM: What is something you wish everybody knew about you?

AE: I listen to girl in red.

AM: Do you feel like you’re living a meaningful life?

AE: I do. Lately, the concept of life has been troubling me, and I realized that it is not because I’m afraid of death or because I have a desire to live, but I want to be alive and feel alive. It’s hard to feel like I am living a meaningful life while staying at home and social distancing, but in the grand scheme of things, I am living a meaningful life. In a year from now, I will have my undergraduate degree completed and I will be on track to my next step whatever it might be. What makes life meaningful is different for everyone. For me, it is hard work and dedication, which I hope I will see pay off one day. Either way, I believe I’m living a meaningful life.

AM: What are your dreams and aspirations for the future?

AE: Right now, I’m uncertain. I do intend on going directly into a graduate program after I graduate next year. It is hard to know exactly what the world is going to look like in a year from now with all that is going on. I don’t know what will be available to me then, but I do intend to work hard to find a career somewhere in the publishing industry.

AM: Do you have another book to publish in mind?

AE: I am currently working on a project that I am thoroughly excited about. I’m having a lot of fun working on it. I don’t know when it will be published, but I do intend on one day publishing it. I’m planning on taking my time with this one. The main character is a lesbian, which has made this story so much fun to tell. I’m looking forward to sharing it with people one day.

AM: Lastly, what advice do you have for other young writers?

AE: Don’t be afraid to tell the story that feels true to you and don’t let anyone tell you how to tell your story. It can be scary to tell an authentic story, but it is so gratifying. ★

 

You can keep up with Abby by following her on Instagram @abbyelisewrites

The Lesbian Tomboy Sidekick™

Ah…. the early 2000s tween television shows. Some of the more popular in my day (I’m 23, born in 1997 for your reference) being Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, Lizzie McGuire, The Suite Life, and of course, iCarly. These shows captured our 10 year old hearts with seemingly random comedy, eccentric characters and interesting living environments. All of these shows have a very specific cast of characters that make them successful- a general perfect formula of 3 lead teen characters. This group of three was always led by an extroverted idea-sparking leader of the group, the generally intelligent but hopelessly socially awkward boy, and my personal favorite- the edgy tomboy girl sidekick. All together this creates a fantastic chemistry that forged the many amazingly successful trios of my childhood.

The one thing that always bothered 10 year old me though, is that nine times out of ten, two people of these groups almost always ended up dating at some point in the series. Ned and Moze, Lilly and Oliver, Justin and Harper, Lizzie and Gordo, Cody and Bailey, and… Freddie with both Carly and Sam (scandalous!). Even though I didn’t exactly know about the concept of human sexuality as a kid, it gnawed at the back of my head that there was something unnaturally fabricated about these pairings.

As I got older and wiser, something dawned on me. The edgy tomboy gay girl sidekicks were always that ones forced into these random relationships. Oh no- I said what I said, you read that right. In a world of YouTube highlight clips and Disney+ resurrecting my childhood favs, I’ve had time to reflect. There was absolutely no way these iconic sidekick characters were not even a little bit on the queer spectrum. Obviously, as “family friendly” shows, these characters could not be blatantly portrayed as such in the early 2000s, but come on. The character traits, personalities and aesthetics alone basically wrote in gay characters without saying they were gay. (I am very aware that just presenting stereotypically gay or acting a certain way does not make you a lesbian, what makes you a lesbian is liking women. Just go with me here).

Disclaimers: 1. I’m going to focus on 3 characters for this article because if I included all of them in one you’d be reading a novel honey. 2. These are all my personal opinions and these characters are just that- characters. Just my comedic interpretation, proceed. 🙂

MOZE from Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide

Let’s kick off with a classic- Moze from Ned’s Declassified. Starting off with simply her name- “Moze”’s real name is Jennifer Mosely. First, the fact that she goes by not only a nickname or her last name, but a nickname of her last name… suspicious. Second, I have never in my life met a Jennifer who was not gay (sorry to the “straight” Jennifers out there, your time will come). Being the perpetually taller of the group by a landslide, Moze expressed her incredible 2000s fashion sense à la LBH (long haired butch): long, straight, brown hair that she never did anything to and consistently androgynous outfits of jeans, t-shirts, headbands, and sweaters. She has an effortless talent for a variety of sports (volleyball, cross-country and cheerleading) and an undying passion for woodshop. She has a distinct hatred for a one Ms. Susie Crabgrass for seemingly no reason, (internalized homophobia rerouted into anger as not to admit feelings to herself or Susie), and crushes on men who are “too unattainable” i.e. Seth, the basketball jock, and Faymen, the foreign exchange student (unconscious ability to deny ever dating someone because of social differences). She eventually ends up dating Ned, her best friend of many years and inferior in every way imaginable, I believe out of comfort and convenience.

P.S., the next major role the actor who played Moze played was Paige McCullers in Pretty Little Liars, who is…. a closeted lesbian who expresses her feelings for her love interest by hating her instead… interesting. 

Post-Show Life Diagnosis: Jennifer Ann Mosely is an athletic LBH who realizes she is a lesbian midway through her college years, when a girl on her D-1 volleyball team makes a move on her. She stays closeted to her high school friends until she and that same girl send out invites to their hand-crafted rustic wedding in Napa Valley. You can bet that she did in fact build the archway her and her wife say their vows under in her fully equipped woodshop in their cottage outside San Francisco.

LILLY from Hannah Montana

She’s got the best of both worlds… or does she? Lilly Truscott of Hannah Montana is the quirky, funny, ultimate tomboy of the group. Growing up in California her entire life, she is an avid skateboarder, surfer, hockey player and cheerleader. For the vast majority of the seasons of Hannah Montana, Lilly solely wears polo shirts over long sleeved striped shirts, baggy cargo pants, and sneakers, with the addition of accessories like every hat in the world, random braids or streaks of color in her hair, and those fuzzy sports wristbands??? on the daily. She has an alter ego for when she goes out with Hannah known as Lola Luftnagle, who is the polar opposite to Lilly in personality and looks. Lola wears bright short wigs, generally very bright, girly outfits and obnoxious accessories. I believe Lola acts as a foil to show Lilly’s perception of who she thinks she should be. She constantly fights Miley’s advances to make her “girly” which would make her “more attractive to the boys,” which Lilly goes along with because of peer pressure. She does love fashion; her outfits transform as the series goes on and she is always attempting to raid Hannah’s closet.

She exudes a general confidence outwardly while feeling very insecure about her pitfalls in private with her best friend. This gives her an external swagger and an internal anxiousness. She does have quite a few crushes throughout the series, but never one that sticks. By the end of the series, she is dating her best childhood guy friend, Oliver. I believe it’s the same circumstance as it is with Moze, easing into a relationship because of a comfortability with a mediocre guy she has a few common interests with and has known for years without having to confront her true feelings. She also has a huge enemy in one Joanie Plumbo, whose head she shaves as the punishment for losing a bet in gym class. (Beginning to see a theme here?) 

Post-Show Life Diagnosis: Lilly Truscott is a classic in-the-closet tomboy lesbian who ends the series of Hannah Montana living in a dorm with her best friend Miley and eventually realizes she is ridiculously in love with her. She will keep it inside for decades, graduating college and end up marrying Oliver. She will have two kids with him before finally serendipitously reuniting with Joanie Plumbo in a bar at the age of 40, and after discovering her lost long love for her, she will ask Oliver for an open relationship. Eventually, she leaves Oliver for Joanie. She gains custody of the kids, as he is a huge stoner who has not been able to land a job in years, and she is a lesbian, and her and Joanie live a happy life together. 

 SAM from iCarly

And finally- iCarly. Oh boy I have wanted to talk about this for years. Ms. Sam Puckett is the most iconic non-lesbian lesbian I have ever had the pleasure of coming across in my entire life. From the most gender neutral first name to a last name that’s one letter away from sounding like an expletive, she is a legend. She constantly refuses feminine presenting stereotypes of “looking girly” and “acting dainty”. Although I didn’t identify with Sam’s general chaotic evil ways as a kid, I did find myself intrigued and inspired by her non-feminine characteristics. She’s superhumanly strong, always taking the opportunity to prove her physical strength and wrestling abilities. She takes absolutely no shit from anyone, especially men. Although, I will admit, more sardonic than sarcastic at times, her humor is whiplike and poignant, verging on the edge of as sexual as you can get in a “kid’s” show. She dresses exactly like Lilly Truscott minus the wristbands (were the Nickelodeon and Disney producers trying to tell us something via the wardrobe choices of the 2000s tween sitcom girls? Conspiracy theory). She has bangs which you can bet she cuts herself, she wears little to no makeup, her favorite activity in the world is consuming more food than humanly possible in one sitting. She consistently bags on her guy friends more than she ever does to Carly. She is eternally full of rage- again I believe from a crazy repressed case of internalized homophobia. Repressing who you are for that long takes its toll on your mood and behavior, leading me to believe there is some trauma there that she needs to unpack and might explain her tendency to act out.

The cherry on top is her relationship with Freddie. Her and her ultimate frenemy Freddie are more enemies than friends for the vast majority of the show. Sam is not shy about how much she cannot stand him, and how upset she is by how outwardly he adores Carly. A couple seasons in, she and Freddie share their mutual first kiss to “get it over with”. I watched this back recently because the video was on my YouTube recommended feed, and this is what rejuvenated my thoughts about Ms. Puckett in the first place. If you haven’t watched it, please, click this link right now.

Absolutely the cringiest thing I’ve ever rewatched. She never closes her eyes, never leans in, looks around and looks like she would rather be literally anywhere else in the world. I burst out laughing when I saw it again. Both of them looked understandably confused. Freddie just experienced his first moment of intimacy with someone who continually berates him, which blurs the lines of love and hate, and Sam has just figured out she is a lesbian. She continues on in the series to have a short flame of a relationship with Freddie, again I believe for the same reasons as Moze and Lilly. Familiarity, safety, confusion. In this case though, I do believe Freddie deserves better and Sam deserves a woman. 

Post-Show Life Diagnosis: Sam moves to L.A. after high school, like she does in Sam and Cat, the spinoff series of iCarly’s Sam and Victorious’s Cat, where she embraces her motorcycle lesbian aesthetic and starts going out on Tinder dates with every single queer person in L.A. After her hookup phase, she moves to Colorado on her hog to focus on her professional fighting career  and hobby of metalworking. She becomes the incredibly cool gay aunt to Carly and Freddie’s children, and ends up living in an all women’s comune where she meets her wife and her girlfriend. 

From an early age I was very drawn to these characters and I never quite understood why. They are very strong, not stereotypically “feminine” presenting female characters and I think as a tween I thought that was because I was like “Yay Go Women.” As an adult, I agree, but also I would like to add just a very hearty “Yay Women!!!” Although not the queer representation gay youth across the globe should have, these character do exhibit qualities that can be identified as queer characteristics, and for me, that was enough to kickstart my thought process in thinking that I didn’t have to “be like other the girls” to be cool or liked or to be accepted in society. Again, although I would love to see more openly queer representation specifically in kid’s media, 10 year old me very much so appreciated the presence of these ambiguously “not typical” female “tomboy” characters…. who were most definitely gay.

Always a non gay tomboy sidekick, never an out main character. Sigh. One day.

Stay tuned for Part 2 with Harper from Wizards of Waverly Place, Miranda from Lizzie McGuire, and Bailey, from The Suite Life on Deck.