Q&A with Robbie Michaels: Author of Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover
My guest this week is Robbie Michaels author of The Most Popular Guy in the School Trilogy. He’s joined me to talk about how Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover the first novel in the series, was inspired by real events, and why he feels so much compassion towards those suffering from domestic abuse.
Welcome to The Boys on the Brink Blog, Robbie. To start with, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
The first time I thought about being a writer was probably when I was 5 years old. That idea didn’t go very far. I played at it off and on for years but it didn’t go anywhere. As an adult I discovered slash fiction and tried my hand at that – and I loved it. I wrote a few stories, people read them, and I began to get feedback. With that experience I felt that I could try writing a book with my own characters, my own settings, my own everything. I told myself that when I turned x years old I was going to stop making excuses and would actually take the time and write a book. When that magic age hit me I realized that it was time. I tried writing a book, and much to my surprise others liked it. It has been a wonderful experience.
Describe the moment when you received that first acceptance and knew your novel was going to be published.
I’ll never forget it. It was a Monday morning in January and I was riding the subway to work. As I usually do, I was checking my email on my iPhone. And then I saw the message. Someone wanted to publish my book! I was so shocked – and excited! I remember that I hugged the person sitting next to me on the train, shouting, “They’re going to publish my book!” I was so happy I wanted to tell the whole world.
The thing I liked most about Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover was how real the story felt. Nothing is exaggerated or overdone. How much of the plot is based on your own life, and how much is pure fiction?
This is the best thing for me to hear because the first book in the trilogy is largely based on real events, things that happened to me and to my family. I was worried that my mother would never speak to me again when she saw how much of her life experience I had included in the book. All of the information about the mother and her abuse at her father’s hand is real – it all happened pretty much as I described it. What she went through was horrible but it helped to form her character and her behavior as an adult. I was so relieved when she read the book and loved it. I remember my grandfather. When he was sober he was a wonderful man, but when he drank he became a monster. My mother is 75 years old now and she has never been comfortable talking about what happened. But she liked the way it was revealed in my book. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I am pleased to hear that what I wrote came across as I intended it. So much of this story is real that I was terrified that people I grew up with would read it and say, “That’s so and so! I saw her do that.” Fortunately that has not happened – yet. I have a big high school reunion coming up in a few months and I’m starting to prepare myself for people doing that. Wish me well.
So there really was a Mark and a Bill who met and fell in love in high school?
There really was a Mark (me) and there really was a Bill. I will never forget how fast my heart started to beat when super star Mr. Popular Bill sat down next to me that morning while we waited for the truck – and he knew who I was. I was speechless. Unfortunately the relationship didn’t last. But I am pleased to report that I dropped in on Bill earlier this year and he looks fantastic. We had a great conversation and I’m glad I went to see him. I was terrified during the whole two-hour drive to his house that he wouldn’t want to reopen that part of his life, but I just went ahead and did it and the visit was wonderful. He had a special role in my life and I needed to make sure he was doing ok and was happy.
I’ve never written a novel inspired by real events before, so I’m curious. Does it make it easier to write because you already know what happens, or harder because you’re more emotionally involved?
For me, writing a book inspired by real events was more difficult than writing something that is pure fiction. I haven’t told anyone this, but there were times when I was writing the book that I remembered with unbelievable intensity some of the more difficult episodes and I found myself crying like it was happening all over again. For me it was emotionally draining to write this book. The next two books in the trilogy are purely fictional and they were much easier.
What were your favorite novels to read as a teenager? Did you find much in the way of gay young adult fiction?
Growing up I read everything I could get my hands on. I remember that I read all of the kids’ books and the very few books for teenagers that I could find in my rural library. So I started to read books that were for adults because I wanted something to read. I desperately wanted to read stories about people like me, people who were gay and wanted to shout it from the rooftop, but instead had to be an actor playing a role, pretending to be something and someone that I was not. There were no stories with gay characters of any sort. I was determined that I wanted to provide a story about real people who happened to be gay. Gay folks have been part of the human family for as long as there have been people, and we will continue to be part of the world and should be a part of fiction just as much as anyone else.
Couldn’t agree more! There are so many young people out there, who, like Bill, are forced to suffer domestic abuse on a daily basis. What message do you have for them?
I desperately want to tell everyone in a situation like Bill was trapped in to never give up. I told him and told him and told him – the only person who gets to define who you are is you. Others may beat you down and criticize your every move, but to me you are an awesome person. I wish I could talk with everyone in such a situation just simply to hug them and tell them, “You are an awesome person. Where you are now sucks, but where you are now is not the end. There is more. And while it is a terrible cliché, it really can get better. There are great people out there waiting to get to know you and to wrap you in their loving care and to help you make a new family that is based on love and respect.” I guess I react so strongly to this because I’ve seen the toll that is taken on people who are forced to live in an abusive situation.
Thanks so much for giving me this interview, Robbie. Where can readers find out more about you and your novels?
Thank you so much for asking me, Jamie. You’ve made me a very happy person! The Most Popular Guy in the School trilogy can be purchased through Harmony Ink Press as well as from Amazon and other online book retailers.
I can see myself writing other stories in this series, and in fact I already have a half dozen ideas for further adventures. They may not all be book length but I think I want to write them up, regardless of length, so there may well be a series of free stories in the offing. Check in periodically with my website to see where things stand.