Interview With Stephanie Silberstein
*MH-Meghann Hodges, Gay/Lesbian Relationships Editor
*SS-Stephanie Silberstein, Author of Shades of Gay
*MH What inspired you to write Shades of Gay?
*SS Shades of Gay began in response to my best friend's struggle with suicide
because of her sexual and gender orientation. In the summer of 2008, she
came out to me as bisexual. I was one of the first people to fully accept
her orientation. To make a long story short, she was raised in a Hebrew
Christian environment and thus thought her orientation was sinful and wanted
to die because she thought she could not both be herself and please G-d. In
the course of supporting her, I learned that suicide is very common in the
LGBT community and I wanted to write about her experiences and reach out to
other LGBT people in the same situation. (She survived and wrote the book's
afterword as well as designing the cover.)
*MH How did you come up with the title?
*SS For the longest time, I did not have a title at all. I had a hard time
thinking of a title for it but one day I was reading something that used the
term "shades of gray" and the words "Shades of Gay" came to me. I thought it
was a cute play on words and so did some friends I mentioned it to, so I
went with it. Later I realized that it fit perfectly because I have three
characters who have varying sexuality -- Emily is asexual, Arthur is gay and
Mitch is bisexual -- and that the adults around them have various ways of
reacting to their sexual orientations.
*MH What inspired you to start writing?
*SS I've been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was six I had a
composition book where I wrote my first "novel". I don't remember anything
about it except it was about a parrot. I kept writing all through school. I
wrote my first real (as in coherent story) novel in eighth grade about a
nerdy boy who longed to be popular like his brother, who was friends with a
bunch of kids who bullied him, and all through high school I was continually
working on one idea or another.
*MH What is your routine for writing...morning, afternoon, computer, pencil,
typewriter... I know that everyone has a different way that they write, what
works for you?
*SS I love writing long-hand. Shades of Gay began as an exercise I did in a
writing group I used to run, where I gave a prompt and everyone free-wrote.
I find the words flow better writing longhand and then I transfer them to
the computer later. I like to write in the afternoon, but it's kind of been
that way by default, as I mainly wrote during breaks from work over the past
two to three years. Now I work for myself as a freelance writer, but I still
do novel writing "in between" more steadily paying jobs.
*MH Which came first the characters or the story?
*SS The characters. I wrote the first scene for the exercise I mentioned, and
before I got to the point where Arthur and Mitch met I realized they were
attracted to each other. Emily kind of appeared when I sent the kids to
school. She just got on the bus and I took it from there. The only parent I
really had defined was Arthur's mom. I knew she was going to be supportive
of him from the second I brought her into the story. I had to make up
parents for the other kids and figure out why Arthur's dad and Mitch's mom
were not living with them.
*MH Do you outline?
*SS Yes and no. I usually don't start outlining until I have a few scenes
written and realize I am writing a novel and not a short story. Once I get
to that point, I open my Sticky Notes application and make four notes: the
opening scene, the ending scene, and two important points in between. Then I
make up a bunch of events to fill in the spaces between these points. I may
or may not use everything I listed but it gives me something to refer to
when I get stuck.
*MH What was your favorite part of the book?
*SS Gosh, I have so many parts of the book that I really enjoyed writing. I'm
very fond of Arthur and Mitch's first kiss, their first date at the arcade
and their coming out to Arthur's mom. I also loved writing dialogue for
*MH Is there any part that you don't like?
*SS I'm not totally happy with the Halloween party. I like the tension between
the kids and I think it was a great introduction for Mitch's mom, but I am
not really happy with Emily's plan for her and Mitch to dress like a 50's
*MH If you could, would you change anything about it?
*SS I wish I had included a Transgender character. Transgender people often get
excluded from the LGBT community, which isn't right. I didn't really have
room for any other characters in this particular story. My cover designer is
Transgender and I hope to do more for the Transgender community in future
*MH Is there anything you found particularly challenging about writing Shades
of Gay, or writing in general even?
*SS I had a couple of challenges with Shades of Gay. This was probably the most
complex story I've ever written, and it was hard to keep all the subplots
together. I had to move forward three different storylines: Arthur and
Mitch's relationship, Arthur's fears about leaving home and particularly
about leaving his friends and Arthur's dad being missing in Afghanistan
while also working on the two subplots of Emily's feelings for Arthur and
Mitch's problematic living situation. In addition, this was the first novel
about a teen relationship I had written, so I wrestled with what level of
sexual content was appropriate. The sexual content in the book was difficult
for me to write anyway because I am asexual so I have not experienced sexual
attraction and clearly am not in a male body so I was ignorant of some
aspects of what I was writing.
Writing in general can be difficult only because I sometimes only have a
half-formed idea and things don't always come together in the way I had
planned, but eventually I am able to get something cohesive.
*MH Is there a message in your book that you would like the readers to grasp?
*SS As I mentioned earlier, I wrote Shades of Gay to encourage readers to keep
living. One of the main messages of the book is that life changes and
relationships change, but you're stronger than you think. That it's more
important to be yourself even if you get your heart broken sometimes. I hope
that readers who feel suicidal will get help and not give in to those
feelings. Also I hope that readers realize how difficult high school can be
for kids who feel different for any reason, and that parents will read it
and see how important it is to support their kids, whatever they identify
*MH Will any of the characters be around for a second book?
*SS I am planning a sequel written from Emily's point of view. It will be about
her journey to accept herself as an asexual as she begins college and meets
and falls in love with a "guy"-coming-out-as-transgender-woman. Arthur will
make a cameo appearance I'm sure. I may write more about Mitch someday as
*MH Which character was the hardest for you to create and then part with?
*SS I felt a lot like Arthur did about Mitch. Mitch was an enigma, fascinating
but difficult to get to know. I was very sad to leave him behind. Obviously
I also am attached to the other characters since I am writing a sequel about
Emily. It's harder for me to get into her voice than Arthur's although I
identify with them both. Emily is asexual like I am and has experienced the
heartache of loving a friend in a way that friend could not reciprocate.
*MH Are you working on anything now?
*SS I've written one or two scenes of the new sequel. I'm also editing a couple
of short stories about lesbian and bi women and hope to write some stories
from the point of view of other members of the LGBT community.
*MH What are you currently reading?
*SS I just started The Time Traveler's Wife. I wish I had more time to read :(
*MH Have you ever hated something you wrote?
*SS I haven't ever deleted anything or thrown it away, although there are plenty
of projects that I start on and then find myself moving towards something
*MH Do you critique yourself?
*SS I think it's very difficult to critique myself. Someone once told me that
your inner critic is like a annoying radio station you can't turn off, and I
think that's true. It's too hard to be objective, which is why I rely on
beta readers and other writers to critique my drafts.
*MH Is there anything you would like to say to your readers?
*SS I'd like to thank them for reading, and I hope they identified with the
characters and felt less alone in some way. I love to hear from readers,
especially if I made a difference in their lives.
*MH Any advice for someone who might want to become a published author?
*SS This is a difficult career, especially if you choose the
self-publishing/freelance route like I did. You should definitely follow
your dream, but know that you won't instantly be successful. Make sure you
take advantage of all the resources that are out there: make contacts
through creative writing classes or writing groups and learn the ins and
outs of writing and/or publishing before you begin so that you don't waste a
lot of time or money on activities that don't get you where you want to go.
*MH How has writing this book changed your life?
*SS I became more aware of LGBT issues as I wrote the book and became involved
in LGBT suicide prevention. I have a direction for my career now. I want to
inspire LGBT youth -- all LGBT youth, not just gays or lesbians, not just
ones who are of a particular race or express themselves a particular way.
*MH What was the process of getting Shades of Gay published, from creation to
*SS I wrote the book over the course of two years, submitted chapters to my
online writing group and got feedback and then edited it. That was, believe
it or not, the "easy" part. After the book was completely done to my
satisfaction, I gave it several friends to read and give me feedback. While
they were doing that, I set up my Microsoft Word file with the correct
margins and fonts so that I could convert the inside to PDF. In the mean
time, my cover designer was working on painting the picture you see in the
center of the cover. After she had finished painting, she took a photograph
of it and several photographs of the background and designed the cover in
Adobe Indesign. She also took the back cover photo of me. I ordered a bar
code for my ISBN number (I had already purchased a block of numbers from
bowker.com) so that she could place it on the back cover. I was busy
publishing press releases during this period to get pre-publication buzz
going and posting regularly on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Once everything was
finished, I sent the files to Createspace.com and ordered a proof. I ended
up making changes twice before the proof was done to my satisfaction.
Createspace put the book on Amazon for me, and I am marketing it to
independent bookstores as well.
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