Guest Post: A Journey of Words
by A.M. Johnson
It was 1988. The classroom was small, Bach filling in the spaces between us from an old dingy looking record player. My teacher, Dr. Levine, a very eclectic man with a British accent who sort of resembled the KFC guy, with a white beard and mustache, wanted our third-grade class to turn a classic story into something contemporary, something that was “in” and “trendy.” Of course, as nine-year-old’s, we chose Sleeping Beauty and decided to turn it into a rap musical. Creative writing was new to us. We were used to book reports and essays on “why I love my mom,” and “the life and habitat of tree frogs.” But this… the idea of getting to create something new and fun, to create a world of our own, it was at that moment I realized writing was my happy place. In a humid Florida classroom, at Oak Park Elementary, with thirty other kids, I found my writing bug. For many of us, Dr. Levine had been an amplifier. He was this older guy, but had these new ideas, and for a poorly funded inner-city school, he was this magical unicorn who taught us chess and Shakespeare like we were adults at Oxford University instead of little kids with chocolate milk mustaches, waiting for the recess bell.
From that day forward, I never stopped writing. Short stories, bad teenage angsty-as-fuck poetry, the beginning of several novels, and even a memoir — because at twenty-three who doesn’t need a memoir? Writing was a coping mechanism, a way to deal with my dysfunctional family, my abusive father, and my own insecurities. Writing was an escape from the forced reality I lived in every day. The written word had become my antidepressant in all its forms. Reading and writing became a part of my soul. Pretty dramatic, right? I thought, for sure, I would go to college and major in English with a creative writing emphasis. I’d become a teacher like Dr. Levine and write as many books as I could. One page at a time, I was going to change the world. But life happens. And now I’m an English Major dropout, working as a nurse and indie author who writes love stories on Kindle Unlimited, not too shabby in my opinion. I may not be revolutionizing the publishing world like my naive twenty-something self once thought, but I’m creating, I’m writing, and hell if that doesn’t feel damn good.
“I was and still am stuck living this half-reality, knowing that my plight is nothing compared to others.”
It took twenty-seven years after leaving that soggy classroom for me to publish my first novel, but the journey there wasn’t an easy road. It was around the end of 2013 when that bug, that need started to rise up again, started to prick at the tips of my fingers. Write. Write. I had whispers and stories and lines and little ideas I’d write on Post Its and old journals and grocery store receipts. But I had three kids, a husband, and a full-time job. I didn’t have time to sit down and write a novel. I had dinner and laundry and homework and scraped knees. Writing a book felt like a fantasy but, over time, I made room in my life for my old friend. It wasn’t ideal and probably took about three years or so off of my life. It was late nights and no sleep and caffeine and dry eyes and Oreos, and it took me eighteen months to finish, but finish I did. When I had an actual book in my hand, not a journal filled with mad ramblings, or purple prose poetry, but an actual fucking book, my life completely changed.
And as much as I’d loved what I was doing, the words I’d put to paper, it would take another few years before I found my true love and purpose. After writing several romance books, I found myself utterly blocked. It wasn’t until 2019 when a character named Camden whispered in my ear and told me his story. He told me about his struggle with his sexuality, his crippling social anxiety, his fear of his parents’ rejection. Most of these themes were whispers I’d heard in my day job as a pediatric psych nurse, working with gay teens who weren’t accepted by their families, as well as the own confusion I’d had about my bisexuality. My own issues with being half in and half out of the closet were there, and my insecurities on not fitting in — because from outside appearances, I looked like a het woman married to a het man. How would I ever be able to be my true authentic self without repercussions in my personal life? I was and still am stuck living this half-reality, knowing that my plight is nothing compared to others. Writing Let There Be Light, my first queer novel, was a catharsis. Camden’s and Royal’s story wasn’t unique. It was a mirror to so many of the youths I was privileged to work with, a mirror into some of the aspects of my own life. But their story was one that needed to be told.
Queer fiction wasn’t something readily available to me as a kid, and though it has come a long way with mainstream breakouts like Becky Albertalli’s Simon and the Homosapien’s Agenda, and Adam Silvera’s They Both Die in the End, LGBTQ+ characters and stories still find extreme pushback. Finding a home in the Male/Male sub-genre in Romancelandia gave me a platform to tell stories that diversify the narrative as well as help normalize the ideal that love is truly love, which was my ultimate goal. As a woman, I was nervous, at first, writing two male characters. I definitely ran the risk of being criticized, especially since I’m not fully open about being LGBTQ myself on social media. Though, most of my stories focus on love, acceptance, and the struggle to find yourself as well as second chances. In my opinion, these themes are genderless.
As of right now, I haven’t written beyond the Male/Male spectrum, but plan on releasing a Female/Female novel later this year, or early 2022 , and hopefully more after that. There are so many stories and subjects I want to immerse myself in, and with research and sensitivity readers, I’m planning to write about many different types of queer characters. My hope, in writing queer fiction, is that one day, my kids or someone else’s kids or an adult will pick up the book and relate somehow and know they are not alone. Or maybe just have laugh or a good cry. I’m a small fish in a very big pond, but I found a home in the LGBTQ writing community. The readers are my family and I’m extremely grateful every day that I’m lucky enough to put my passion on paper, and actually have people who care enough to read it.
The normalization of queer characters and their stories is something I hope to see in the future. I want to open a book, and turn on a TV, and see queer moms and dads, kids and adults, cops and firefighters, doctors and nurses. Being queer is not a sub-genre, it’s human, and our literature should reflect that in all its genres. If I could, I’d go back to third grade, and whisper into Dr. Levine’s ear, “Maybe this time the prince falls in love with Aurora’s best friend Alex.”
“Being queer is not a sub-genre, it’s human, and our literature should reflect that in all its genres.”
Queer Fiction by A.M. Johnson
About A.M. Johnson
A. M. Johnson lives in Utah with her family where she works as a full-time nurse and LGBTQ ally and advocate. If she’s not busy with her three kiddos, you’ll find her buried in a book or behind the keyboard. She loves romance and all things passionate. Amanda enjoys exploring all genres and writing about the human experience.
Learn more about A.M. Johnson and her books at https://www.amjohnsonauthor.com/
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