“It really is a story about what it takes to love another person well”
BY NIC CROSARA, IMAGE BY KRISTYN STROBLE
Over her career, award-winning and bestselling author, Nina LaCour, has penned an array of young-adult novels such as, Everything Leads To You, We Are Okay and Watch Over Me, which allow LGBTQI readers to feel seen. This month, she’s making her debut into adult fiction with Yerba Buena. The story follows Sara and Emilie, two very different young women who we get to see through their teen years and 20s. They’ve both endured traumas and have to find ways to create meaning in their lives and discover who they want to be. When their paths collide, the connection is immediate but will they be able to offer the love that each woman truly deserves? You’ll have to read this exquisite book to find out.
I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Nina ahead of the release date to find out more about Yerba Buena, centring LGBTQI characters in fiction and her hopes for the future of the publishing industry.
DIVA: I’m wishing you a very happy publication day ahead of time. How are you feeling in the lead up to the release of your upcoming novel?
NINA: It changes every day. The book means so much to me and feels like a very vulnerable piece of work to put out into the world. Sometimes I feel quite nervous about it. But also, I’ve been so excited and just gratified to hear people’s responses. It seems to already be touching a lot of people. So that just makes me very excited for it to be in more people’s hands and share the story with them.
A lot of your novels centre sapphic characters. Did you always know that you wanted to centre these types of characters in your stories?
In my first novel, it’s her best friend that is queer but the main character isn’t. After writing that I kept thinking: “Why didn’t I make the main character queer?” I do feel so influenced by the dominant culture, especially when I was younger, growing up. I felt like, “I know who this teen story is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about this straight white girl in the suburbs.” And that’s what I wrote. I don’t want to be unfair to myself, I have a wonderfully diverse cast in that book. But for my first two books, I didn’t centre queer characters. And then I finally did in my third book, and ever since then, I have, and that has felt great. It just feels like it’s getting closer and closer to some truth about myself or some facet of my identity that I feel like exploring.
In Yerba Buena, not only are they queer, but for the first time I got to write about my family heritage as well. I’m Creole on my dad’s side of the family. So Emily’s journey looks at her grandparents and how they came to be in Los Angeles from New Orleans as part of the Great Migration. That was something that has been a huge part of my life. But that has never found its way into my work before.
What do you hope is the key thing readers will take away from Yerba Buena?
Life can be terrible. But life can be incredibly beautiful too. And that as we get older, I think it benefits all of us to really look at the self protective tendencies that we had to develop when we were younger, and ask ourselves if they’re still serving us anymore. To me, the most important journey of the novel is these two characters having to think really hard about why they do the things they do and what’s holding them back. It really is a story about what it takes to love another person well, and I think the answer to that is a lot of self exploration and work.
And are you working on any other projects that you’re able to tell DIVA readers about?
I am currently working on my second adult novel. It goes a little bit back in history to focus on the 50s and 60s in Los Angeles. I get to go even deeper into my family history, there, it’s very, very fictionalised, but I get to draw from, from some of my family’s real experiences. It also has a queer narrator, and so it’s been very fascinating for me to think about what life would have been like, for her at that time. How she would find her community, even in the times where it was more difficult to find it. I’m really enjoying it and excited to be working more in that genre.
I have a really delightful queer chapter book series that is going to be coming out for younger readers, It’s called The Apartment House On Poppy Hill, and the main character is nine. She has two mums and there are all sorts of other characters in the book who are queer, and it’s just about their daily lives and explorations.
Am I right in believing that you’ve been married to your lovely wife for over 10 years?
This month it will be our 20 year anniversary of being together because I met her when I was 19. So even though we’ve been married for a shorter time, we’ve really been together my entire adult life. That’s been a really incredible experience to love someone so wonderful for so long and grow together. I think a lot of what I was exploring in Yerba Buena, in a very fictionalised way, echoes the experience of being with someone and continuing to learn who you are and trying to become better yourself so that you can be better with them.
I also just wanted to say, I love the pictures you share on Instagram. It’s so nice to see your beautiful rainbow family.
Oh, thank you. That’s so nice. I feel very fortunate at this time in my career that Yerba Buena came out at the same time as my picture book that’s called Mama And Mommy And Me In The Middle. It’s very exciting to me that these books that both have a tonne of support from the publishers and are just finding a lot of love.
And talking about the support from your publishers, the publishing industry has become a lot more diverse in our lifetimes. I was wondering if there’s anything else that you’re keen to see improve?
They certainly have become more diverse, but I know there’s so much more work that we have to do. My hope is that there can be real good structures and mentorship programmes that are put into place. Publishing has been, at least in the US, notorious for being only for privileged people. Because the entry level positions, and the internships pay so little, that people need to have other sources of income in order to make that work. I really hope that there can be some really meaningful structural change so that it fosters an environment where anybody who is passionate about books and publishing can enter and have mentorship and be able to pay their bills while they work their way up in an industry that is just such an incredible industry to be a part of and so influential.
Yerba Buena will be published by Flatiron Books in the US and by Coronet in the UK on 31 May
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