Photo by Kevin Kerdash


Interview - 01/15/02

alexsanchez.com


Books by
Alex Sanchez

RAINBOW HIGH

RAINBOW BOYS
Excerpt



Alex Sanchez

WHO IS ALEX?

That's me, Alex Sanchez, with my mom. I was born in Mexico City to parents of Cuban and German heritage. My family moved to the United States when I was five.

Mom claimed she never suspected I was gay. Yeah, right, Mom.

Even though Mom couldn't see it, I sensed I was different from other boys--though I couldn't identify exactly how.

In junior high words like "faggot" and "homo" began to take meaning, and my world crashed in.

High school totally hurt. I hated how I looked and who I was.

If you're in school now and having a hard time, know that you can get through it. I did, though there were times I didn't think I'd be able to.

The pressures on gay teens can be overwhelming--to keep secrets, tell lies, deny who you are, and try to be who you're not. Remember: you are special and worth being cared about, loved, and accepted just as you are. Never, ever let anyone convince you otherwise. If you need to be reminded of that, check out the Youth Links for someone to connect with.

In college I wrote my first children's book. Later I received a master's degree in Guidance and Counseling. I went on to work with youth and families in the U.S. and overseas. The story of RAINBOW BOYS came to me at a time when I was struggling with my own coming out issues. It's my first novel. I hope you like it.

Thank you. Peace, Alex


INTERVIEW

January, 15 2002

In RAINBOW BOYS, debut author Alex Sanchez deftly chronicles the senior year of three teenage boys: Nelson, Kyle and Jason. In addition to all the pressures of school, family and friends, these boys must also deal with the complex issues of being gay/bisexual in a largely heterosexist world. Written with humor, passion and understanding, RAINBOW BOYS is a must-read for ALL teens. Teenreads writer extraordinaire recently got the chance to discuss with Alex Sanchez the issues surrounding teen sexuality, as well as the writing process. Read on for the scoop.

TRC: Where did the characters come from in RAINBOW BOYS? Do you think you are more of a Jason, Kyle or a Nelson? Did you base any of the characters on people in your life?

AS: The characters in RAINBOW BOYS sprang from someplace deep inside me. Are you familiar with the concept of an "inner child?" I think in my case I have a very loud and vocal "inner teenager." It's hard to say that I identify with any one boy more than the others. Some aspect of each character's experiences mirror my own, whether it's Jason's struggle with self-acceptance, Kyle's dreamy romanticism, or Nelson's longing to find love. Rather than base characters on particular individuals in my life, when I write I try to breathe life into a character by giving him or her something of myself. That makes the character "real" to me and hopefully to others.

TRC: RAINBOW BOYS is about a lot of things, but at its core is the story of the love that grows between Kyle and Jason. Why did you decide to write a love story about two teenaged boys?

AS: As the book took shape, it became apparent I was writing the book I desperately wanted and needed to read when I was a teenager --- one that would have told me: "It's okay to be who you are. You don't have to hate yourself for it. If you feel love for another boy, it's okay." My vision was to write an upbeat and affirming book that would inspire, help create empathy, and promote understanding in readers.

TRC: The boys run the gamut of sexual experience --- from Jason who has had girlfriends, to Kyle who has only dreamt about other guys to Nelson who is dealing with issues of promiscuity and HIV. How and why did you decide to paint crushes and high school romance from so many different angles?

AS: I wanted to provide a panorama of experiences of what it's like to be a gay or bisexual teen, so that different readers (both gay and not) could access the story through various avenues. I tried to depict characters that both embraced and challenged stereotypes of what gay teens are like. Through the alternating points of view I hoped to show the diversity among their experiences.

TRC: Why did you decide to make RAINBOW BOYS about two boys who fall in love, even though Jason identified (up to that point) as heterosexual and Kyle was deep in the closet? Are you worried that people reading the book might see being gay as a fad or a choice in Jason or Kyle's lives?

AS: Sexuality and identity are important issues for teens to grapple with, but also difficult issues because they're complex. Unfortunately, rather than help teens walk through that complexity, our society often tries to simplify human experience into labels such as "gay" or "straight" or categories like "in the closet" or "out." The reality is that those terms can mean vastly different things to different individuals. Even the argument about whether sexuality is "natural" or "a choice" is hugely simplistic. In RAINBOW BOYS I wanted to show characters challenging and wrestling with that complexity as they try to sort out their feelings, sexuality, and identities.

TRC: How long did it take you to write RAINBOW BOYS? Did you have problems with publishers due to its possibly controversial themes?

AS: RAINBOW BOYS took five years to write. The publisher (Simon & Schuster) at no time shied away from it. On the contrary, the book's themes and characters deeply interested them. They thought a book for teens that dealt with the issues tackled by RAINBOW BOYS was long overdue.

TRC: The teens in RAINBOW BOYS come off as very real and also as very worldly. Did you study teen slang and speech patterns before writing the book? Do you have any teens you use as guinea pig readers?

AS: For many years I worked as a counselor with teens and their families, and I guess I picked up a lot from that experience. As a writer, one of my responsibilities is to observe how people talk, look, behave. That's true whether they're teens, children, older people, whatever. I did ask a teen to read an early draft of the book. His feedback was great.

TRC: I am dying to know what happens after the book ends. Is there a sequel in the works?

AS: Gauging from reader response, the boys of the story have definitely taken on a life of their own. I'm happy to report they'll continue to grow and develop in at least one other book. Maybe even more!

TRC: Did you have any teacher who particularly encouraged you?

AS: Too many to choose just one. I've been extremely fortunate in that respect.

TRC: Did you journal or keep a diary as a teenager?

AS: No way! When I was a teen, my own secret crushes on other boys left me far too scared to keep a diary.

TRC: What advice would you give to budding writers?

AS: Have you ever been to a museum and seen an art student with an easel copying a painting hanging on the wall? It's a great way to learn from the masters. The equivalent applies to writing. Take a book that moves you and actually copy your favorite parts in longhand. It will reveal so much to you about what makes good writing. That's largely how I learned to write.

TRC: Who was your favorite author when you were a teen? Who are some of your writing influences?

AS: I stopped reading fiction when I was a teen, largely because I couldn't find any books that portrayed people like me --- gays or lesbians --- in a positive light. I remember liking THE CATCHER IN THE RYE because I could identify with Holden Caulfield's alienation and not fitting in . . . until I got to his homophobia. Abruptly, the book made me feel ashamed of who I was. While everyone else was excitedly discussing Holden in class, I sat silent, unable to communicate my anger and confusion. I stopped reading books unless I had to. It was too painful. Fortunately, when I went to college I discovered writers like Christopher Isherwood and Patricia Nell Warren, who spoke to my experience. I no longer felt alone. Like someone starved, I began to devour the books my high school would never have allowed because of their themes. I remember weeping over Mary Renault's story of Alexander the Great's romantic love, THE PERSIAN BOY. In terms of how to write, I learn so much each time I read Shakespeare, Tolstoy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Larry McMurtry.

TRC: If we looked at your bedside table, what books would we find there?

AS: Depending on the day, either WALKING ON ALLIGATORS (Meditations for Writers), a "young adult" or an "adult" novel (I hate those marketing terms), or a spiritual book.

TRC: What projects are you working on right now?

AS: Three projects: a screenplay, a short story about a thirteen-year-old boy, and the sequel to RAINBOW BOYS.

For more information on Alex Sanchez, please go to his website: Alex Sanchez & Rainbow Boys Home Page

For more books about growing up gay, lesbian and bisexual, check out our Gay Pride roundup:
OUT, PROUD AND IN PRINT

Also, please read our interview with Sara Ryan, author of EMPRESS OF THE WORLD: Author Profile: Sara Ryan


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