Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.
One of the joys of being a reader is getting the opportunity to read so many stories that are different and unique from one another. In particular, reading queer books, by and about queer authors, is often a validating experience to me – because the more queer stories I read, the more it reifies the fact that there is no singular queer experience and that what ‘being queer means’ looks different for everyone.
This, I believe, is why intersectionality is so important. Not only do stories that celebrate the intersections and diversity of identities so much fun and so wonderful to read, I love reading stories where authors get to tell their truths and share stories that are meaningful and fun to them with readers.
I am so honoured and delighted, then, to have Aiden Thomas, author of Cemetery Boys, visiting us at the Pond today for Pride Month! Cemetery Boys is his upcoming YA debut that is unapologetically queer about a Latinx, gay, and trans boy who goes through a journey of carving his own path, growing, and falling in love. Cemetery Boys is one of my most anticipated YA books of 2020, so you can imagine how excited and honoured I felt when I had the opportunity to interview Aiden! He visits us as a golden retriever (as voted by you!) wearing an Adidas t-shirt, a red snapback, and Julian’s necklace from Cemetery Boys!
But, before I share with you all the wonderful interview I did with Aiden, I am delighted to formally introduce you all to Cemetery Boys!
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
When Aiden first announced his YA debut Cemetery Boys back in April 2019 – I was thrilled. A story that takes place on Día de Muertos, pitched as a ‘The Outsiders meets The Road to El Dorado and Coco’ and that it is an ownvoices story with Latinx, gay, and trans boy representation? Explores family, has magic, and an unexpected romance? Cemetery Boys has everything that I love and it is easily one of my most anticipated YA books of 2020 – and September cannot come soon enough.
Author Interview with Aiden Thomas
Xiaolong: Hello Aiden, and a big big welcome to The Quiet Pond! We are so honoured that you are visiting us today. For our friends out there who may only be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Aiden: Hello! I am so stoked to be here! I’m Aiden and I’m a queer, trans Latinx YA author. I’m a weeb jock and dog enthusiast. I was born and raised in Oakland, CA but moved to Portland, OR a few years ago. I’ve sold two books so far — CEMETERY BOYS, which comes out 9/1/20, and LOST IN THE NEVER WOODS, which is currently slated for 3/23/21!
Xiaolong: Words cannot describe how excited I am to read Cemetery Boys; September 1st cannot come soon enough! For those who may only be learning about Cemetery Boys for the first time, what is it about – and what is something that readers can look forward to when they read it?
Aiden: CEMETERY BOYS is a really fun paranormal fantasy set in East Los Angeles! My main character, Yadriel, is a trans boy in a community of brujx who can see and communicate with ghosts. Traditionally, the women have the power to heal the living, while the men can summon and release the spirits of the dead to the afterlife. In an effort to prove his gender to his family, Yadriel tries to summon and release the spirit of his dead cousin to the afterlife. However, things backfire and he summons Julian Diaz, resident Bad Boy of his high school. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
The whole book takes place around Día de Muertos and all of the magic is based on Latinx culture and mythos. There’s action, adventure, mystery and a heavy dose of queer romance!
Xiaolong: When I first heard of the book announcement for Cemetery Boys, I think what hooked me in was how – for lack of better words – ‘cool’ and exciting the story sounds! What inspired the story for Cemetery Boys?
Aiden: Cemetery Boys was inspired by a writing prompt I saw on Tumblr — “What happened if you summoned a ghost and couldn’t get rid of it?” My main character, Yadriel came to life first. He’s transgender, Cuban/Mexican, and gay. Having a story about a Latinx boy who can see ghosts aligned perfectly with Día de Muertos and the plot grew from there! I really wanted to explore and showcase how vibrant Latinx culture, and the love and magic that’s involved with Día de Muertos. It isn’t celebrated the same way in every country, but it has a recognizable core. There’s characters from Mexico, Cuba, Haiti, Colombia and they all bring parts of their respective cultures to the Día de Muertos celebrations and that’s reflected in CEMETERY BOYS.
It was also really important for me to write a book where queer, trans and Latinx kids could see themselves being powerful heroes. Right now, these kids are living in a world where a lot of hate and suffering is zeroed in on them. I wanted them to see themselves being supported and loved for who they are. I wanted to write a fun book with good representation that they could escape into and have a happy ending.
Xiaolong: The main character of Cemetery Boys, Yadriel, is trans, Latinx, gay, and a brujo – and I’m really looking forward to meeting him! When you write Yadriel’s character and his story, what is the ‘place’ that you write from?
Aiden: Honestly, I’m coming from a place of wanting readers of any background to find ways to relate to Yadriel’s experience, even if they aren’t exactly like him. Writing Yadriel’s story was important to me because it explores identities and struggles we don’t often see in mainstream media, especially when it comes to transgender folks. Representation can be life-saving, and we get so little trans representation (let alone queer and Latinx rep). I really wanted Yadriel and his story to have a positive impact on kids like him, but also on people who aren’t at all like him. I wanted to create a story where readers connect with Yadriel on universal truths that are basic to the human experience, things like struggling to fit in, feeling accepted for who you are, and being loved.
Xiaolong: From the inclusion of brujx to the story taking place during Dia de Muertos, I love how unapologetically Latinx Cemetery Boys sounds! What was it like to write about characters, a story, and a setting that is integral to your own identity?
Aiden: It was SO cathartic! Everything about this book — the magic system, the personal dynamics and mythos — is Latinx. Latinx culture and mythos are so nuanced and vibrant, and I wanted to share that with readers, especially those who are completely unfamiliar. A lot of our history was wiped out by colonization, so I wanted to pull those stories and artefacts out of where they’re locked up behind glass in museums and build a whole magic system and history for CEMETERY BOYS. From marigolds, to food, even gritos, it was a pure joy to play with and give power to these little details from my own culture. CEMETERY BOYS is about a lot of things, and a big one is celebrating how rich and colorful our cultures are. It’s basically a love letter to my community.
Xiaolong: In Cemetery Boys, Yadriel has to navigate Latinx familial challenges and has to prove that he is a brujo. This conflict pretty much brings together two aspects of your identity – being Latinx and being trans. What was your experience of exploring the intersection of these identities like for you?
Aiden: Being gay and trans within the Latinx community can be incredibly difficult. We have a lot of traditions and beliefs that are so deeply ingrained, sometimes folks will blindly follow them without questioning or challenging them simply because “that’s just how it is.” I wanted to present readers with a family that isn’t intrinsically transphobic or homophobic. Yadriel’s family is not aggressively or purposefully trying to be hurtful. There’s a learning curve. These aren’t bad people; they don’t hate Yadriel or those parts of him, they just don’t understand. Very often, that teaching falls onto the shoulders of queer/trans kids, which can be exhausting. That’s exactly what Yadriel is dealing with throughout CEMETERY BOYS.
Another big element of the book is how multiple marginalizations come into play and how complicated that can be. Being queer, transgender and Latinx are complicated on their own, but when you’re trying to juggle all three of those at once? It can be really difficult, because each one has its own joys and challenges and they impact one another. There’s this sense of being “enough” that makes kids with multiple marginalizations feel like they’re stuck in between spaces and it can turn into them trying to “prove” themselves. That’s something I’ve felt my whole life and will continue to feel for the rest of it, I’m sure. For Yadriel, he’s trying to prove himself within his multiple identities and grappling with the idea of who exactly he’s trying to prove himself to, and why.
Xiaolong: What do you hope readers of Cemetery Boys will take away from the story? And what do you hope fellow our queer trans friends will take away from the book?
Aiden: I am really hoping readers will find connection and feel seen. I wanted to create a story for readers to connect with Yadriel on universal truths that are basic to the human experience, things like struggling to fit in, feeling accepted for who you are, and being loved. I think a lot of queer folks experience people in their “real” lives who let them down or don’t understand them, while the people who do make them feel seen aren’t tangible or within reach. A lot of queer teens experience their first sense of belonging or affirmation with queer bloggers, YouTubers, Tiktokers and, of course, characters in books — like Yadriel. Even if they can’t talk to them personally, seeing people with their identities, seeing themselves reflected in books, or internet stars telling them they’re valid gives them a sense of community and comfort. Sometimes our sense of closeness and connection to people has nothing to do with proximity.
Xiaolong: Last question, and this is a question I love to ask all my guests! What is a food that reminds you of home – whoever or wherever that may be?
Aiden: Oh gosh, this question immediately made my stomach growl! Mexican hot chocolate has always been my #1 comfort food (or drink, I guess!). I LOVE making it during cold weather, it’s just so cozy and delicious. But a very close second is Tacos Sinaloa back home in Oakland/Fruitvale! Their cabeza tacos are my favorite — they’re super juicy and have like no fat. Me and my friends would go there all the time and just thinking about it makes my mouth water!
About the Author
Aiden Thomas is a YA author with an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. As a queer, trans Latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, Harry Potter trivia, Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color. Aiden’s debut novel, CEMETERY BOYS, is a Dia de Muertos paranormal romance about Yadriel (a gay, trans brujo) who accidentally summons the wrong ghost (Swoon Reads/Macmillan, June 9th, 2020).
My biggest and warmest thank you to Aiden for visiting us today for Pride Month at the Pond! I loved this interview so much, and – I don’t know about you! – but I feel even more excited to read Cemetery Boys! Don’t forget to add Cemetery Boys to your Goodreads, or maybe even pre-order it – let’s read it together in September, friends!