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.
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