Today I welcome Heidi Belleau to my world. She's the author of numerous and rather engaging titles. Go check out her author page at Goodreads.
You’ve got no more than 16 words to tell someone who’s never heard of Wallflower what it’s all about. Go!
Heidi: Shy geek with female online persona discovers being part-time girl interferes with his budding gay relationship.
(Phew! That was hard!)
Wallflower delves into the theme of gender identity. Tell us a little bit more about Robert/Bobby.
Basically, Rob is this shy, awkward guy who’s always been a loner, but online, where he presents as a girl, he’s funny, popular, and outgoing.
Getting a job at a porn store pushes his shyness to the limit, so he decides to try passing as a girl in real life too. Just for his job, at first, but then he discovers that he loves his female persona, loves the freedom and confidence it gives him... but doesn’t love the fact that it complicates his new relationship with an out gay man. Basically from a gender standpoint, it’s all about a genderqueer person figuring out who he is, how he wants to present, how to navigate his sexlife and relationships, and how he can move forward.
Also, you write non-Caucasian characters, do tell us a little more how you give them the ring of authenticity.
I write lots of characters of colour, yes. Especially for Rear Entrance Video, the series of which Wallflower is a part. It’s set in Vancouver and I wanted the cast to represent the diversity of the city. If I’d have had a bunch of white heroes, it just wouldn’t have been right. As to giving them a ring of authenticity, it’s a little bit of everything. I observe the people around me and my friends, I read forums or articles online, I watch videos if need be. And then when I write; I make sure to try and find beta readers with firsthand knowledge who can keep an eye out for glaring mistakes.
Really, the main thing to remember is you’re not writing a race, you’re writing a person... whose race is a part of who they are. So you can’t write “colour-blind”, but you most certainly should make characters of colour just as well-rounded as white characters. And a part of that is giving due care and attention to their identity and ethnicity and how that affects their personality, their self-image, and how they interact with others. That doesn't mean the book has to be about race – so for Rob, being Chinese Canadian is largely in the background to his gender issues, but for Dylan, it’s a much bigger part of who he is and how he relates with people. Basically? Research research research, empathy empathy empathy, complexity complexity complexity.
What was your favourite scene from Wallflower?
There’s a scene early on in the book where Rob rents a straight Asian fetish video and watches it. It was a really challenging but rewarding scene for me to write, because while it’s ostensibly a sex scene, it’s so much more. It’s a big knotty tangle of race and gender and fetish and how we perform race and gender and how watching that kind of media changes our perception and how porn is both harmful and also freeing. For how heavy it is on issues, it’s also just really sexy. In a complicated kind of way.
Was there any that you found particularly tricky?
Yes! The reconciliation between Rob and Dylan at the end of the book was very hard to get the wording right. I actually edited the dialogue somewhat after reading a review, because the reviewer had issues with the same lines I did, so I reworked them. I set up a pretty tricky conflict in Wallflower by having a gay man fall for a genderqueer person who therefore isn’t completely male, and it took a little bit of wrangling to have them talk it out and resolve that conflict in a satisfying way that didn’t compromise either of their identities.
Lastly, what do you love best about your chosen genre(s)?
I love writing about queer people like me. I love telling stories that wouldn’t necessarily be told otherwise. Not only do I enjoy writing what I write, not only do I get a little hot writing what I write, but I feel good about it, too, which is a great feeling.
Heidi Belleau was born and raised in small town New Brunswick, Canada. She now lives in the rugged oil-patch frontier of Northern BC with her husband, an Irish ex-pat, whose long work hours in the trades leave her plenty of quiet time to write.
She has a degree in history from Simon Fraser University with a concentration in British and Irish studies; much of her work centred on popular culture, oral folklore, and sexuality, but she was known to perplex her professors with unironic papers on the historical roots of modern romance novel tropes. (Ask her about Highlanders!)
Connect with Heidi Twitter @HeidiBelleau.