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.
I think one of the best parts about reading is reading about characters that you come to love and care for be happy. Sure, I know we love a good story that makes us cry and ache and feel pain and stories about pain are valid, but I think more space can be made for stories that makes us feel good because a character feels good and finds and experiences joy. For me, one of the best parts of reading – and also one of the most important parts of reading for me – is reading about marginalised characters who find joy, especially Black queer characters.
Friends, I am incredibly honoured and overjoyed to have Kacen Callender visiting us at the Pond today to talk about their books and why they write! I loved this interview, loved reading Kacen’s insightful and empowering answers, and loved learning more about the thought processes behind their books! Kacen is the author of Felix Ever After, a romantic comedy, recent release and effortless community favourite, and is about a Felix Love, a Black queer demiboy teen. Kacen visits us as a purple and blue wolf, wearing a bowtie!
But, as always, before I share the fun interview that I did with Kace, I’m so excited to introduce to you all Felix Ever After!
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.
How good does this sound? Readers who have already read Felix Ever After have cited how this is such a good book, that it’s a book for queer readers everywhere, especially nonbinary and trans kids of colour. I also feel so much overwhelming love for the cover – I love seeing queer kids of colour front and center, smiling, and being adorned with flowers. Black teens are often painted in negative and racist ways, so seeing a Black queer demiboy teen wearing flowers? I love to see it.
I’m so excited to read this, friends. Better yet, I’m going to be popping by my local indie on the weekend to pick this up because my order finally arrived!
Author Interview with Kacen Callender
Xiaolong: Hello Kacen! The biggest and warmest welcome to The Quiet Pond – we are so excited to have you visit us at the Pond 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?
Kacen: Thanks so much for having me! 😊 I’m Kace, and I’m from St. Thomas of the USVI before I spent a few years in New York City. I’m currently living in Philly with my wonderful cat Captain, and I love watching reality TV and playing RPG games in my free time. I’m an author of MG, YA, and adult, and my latest is a contemporary rom-com called Felix Ever After.
Xiaolong: Something that I want to highlight during Pride Month this year is that queer identity can intersect with other identities, which make our experiences with queerness unique, diverse, and – sometimes – interesting! What was your experience of ‘coming into’ your own identity like?
Kacen: It was a very long and confusing road, and sometimes I’m still not 100% sure of my identity—which is okay! We don’t all have to find the perfect label.
When I was young, I remember drawing characters where no one would be able to make assumptions about their gender identities, and I loved when people would ask “are you a boy or a girl?”, but I didn’t really know what nonbinary was until I was in my twenties, so I went along with the assumption that everyone made about my assigned gender. Strangely enough, I knew that I was queer, so even though I’m not very attracted to women, I forced myself to pretend that I was so that people wouldn’t think that I was straight, because I knew I wasn’t straight. Now, I say that I’m queer, though even that label is constantly evolving.
Being Black has at times made my identities confusing only in the sense that I wish I had icons and idols to look to, to fashion myself after. It’s easier for white, queer, nonbinary folk to see themselves represented in media, fashion, art, etc.—so it’s easier to think “yes, that person reminds me of myself” and feel that validation. Having never seen an example of myself was a huge inspiration and motivation to write Felix Ever After and create the rep I want to see for myself.
Xiaolong: Now moving into the topic of books and storytelling: How has your journey with queerness and your other identities shaped your journey as a writer and the stories that you have told across your career?
Kacen: I answered a little of this question above, but the need to see myself reflected and to have the power to validate myself in my own stories has shaped my motivation to write. I read everything, across all genres and age ranges, and I watch everything, too—but it’s rare to see a Black queer person, and has been almost impossible to find Black, queer, trans masculine people like me, so I want to use this to fuel me: I want to write myself and my identity into more rom-coms for both YA and adult, but I also want to see myself in the dark, badass fantasies with teams of queer found families, to see myself in sci-fi thrillers as the person that has to team up with their enemies-to-lovers adversary to take down a corrupt government… I could go on and on, but you get the point. I also want to write for the child I had been, giving younger readers the stories I’d needed when I was their age, to give me hope and keep me going.
Xiaolong: You’ve written contemporary stories such as This is Kind of an Epic Love Story, and Felix Ever After, and you have also written fantasy stories, specifically your Queen of the Conquered series! In your experience, how did writing contemporary versus fantasy differ? What did you enjoy writing more?
Kacen: The main differences I’ve felt might be a little obvious: the world-building and the stakes. In a contemporary, it’s easier to say that a character went to a Starbucks; and though it might behoove the author to still include enough details that the scene would come to life (and enough character reaction to know how this Starbucks might affect them), for the most part, readers will understand what a Starbucks is. In a fantasy, it isn’t as easy to say that a character walked into a shop where specific sugary drinks are being sold in exchange for coins. Why is that shop there? What does it say about the society they live in? And how does this society directly impact the main character and the plot that surrounds not only their external goal, but their internal need and the story’s theme as well? Suddenly, a coffeeshop is a lot more complicated.
At the same time, in a fantasy, it’s easier to say that the world will literally end if the main character isn’t successful in accomplishing their external goal. This can be tricky, though: a lot of writers tend to assume the higher range of possible stakes means that the book will be exciting, but we still have to figure out why these stakes matter to the main character, and why the reader will care that this particular fantasy world will end. It can still be difficult to make the stakes matter, and to hook the reader into the story. Still, there’s more freedom in fantasies to heighten those stakes. In contemporary, we’re bound to our reality.
It honestly is difficult to say what I enjoy writing more. I do like the freedom of imagination and creativity in fantasies, but my imagination is a dark, bleak, depressing place (as anyone who’s read Queen of the Conquered would be able to co-sign), and I had a lot more fun and joy writing Felix Ever After and This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story. They felt like celebrations of real queer lives, whereas Queen of the Conquered felt like an examination of a lot that’s wrong and painful about our world. While I think this examination is important, I wouldn’t say I had fun writing about it.
Xiaolong: Your latest YA book, Felix Ever After, released in early May – a huge congratulations! You have spoken about how Felix Ever After is a really important book to you, especially because Felix’s story intertwines very closely to your own. What inspired you to write Felix Ever After?
Kacen: Thank you! The very first inspiration was the realization that I’m a demiboy, after questioning my identity even after coming out and starting my physical transition as nonbinary. I’d never heard the term demiboy before, and I was literally so excited to find this perfect label that I wanted to write a whole book about it. 😊 I also wanted to write a book that celebrates and empowers and validates trans and enby teens, but is also fun and dramatic and gives us all the same happy rom-com vibes that we deserve to see ourselves in, too.
Xiaolong: I’ve also had the privilege of reading your latest middle-grade book, King of the Dragonflies, which was such a poignant portrait of grief and what it’s like growing up as a Black gay boy. While reading it, I felt like you successfully wrote a story that felt incredibly personal and tender. Is there a story behind the conception of King of the Dragonflies?
Kacen: Thank you so much! The story felt personal in terms of King’s struggle with his identity. I was also told by a family member that Black people can’t be gay, and there have been subliminal messages all my life that it’s too much to be Black and queer on top of that; that having these two intersecting identities just makes our lives every more difficult. I wanted to untangle those feelings, and show how it hurts more to deny our identities from ourselves. I wanted to speak to different readers: the adults who might struggle with the multiple identities of children in their lives, to show how they might be hurting those children by not accepting them; white readers, who might not understand how being both Black and queer makes our queerness different from theirs; and, most importantly, I was writing for BIPOC queer young readers who might be feeling everything that I have felt, and might be afraid to allow themselves to acknowledge their own queerness, even if only to themselves. It was also important to me to show that no one has to come out if they’re not ready, and especially if they feel like they are not in a safe place to do so.
Xiaolong: A not-bookish but hopefully fun question! I saw that you love playing video games and as a nosey fellow gamer, I must ask two questions: First, what is your favourite video game of all time? Second, what is your favourite video game story of all time?
Kacen: Oh my god! I think my favorite… is probably Dragon Age Inquisition. I’ve played it over and over again and I’m always bowled over by the characters and the gameplay and just everything. But my favorite video game story would probably be Bioshock: Infinite. The ending just… had me pretty shocked, and I’ll leave it at that.
Xiaolong: Lastly, I like to ask all my guests this as a fun question! What is a food that feels like ‘home’ to you – wherever or whoever that may be?
Kacen: My head immediately went to the mangoes that grow on the tree down the street from the house where I grew up, but then I my tastebuds start to bring in the Johnny cakes and guava tarts… Yum. 😊
About the Author
Born and raised in St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, Kacen Callender is the award-winning author of the middle-grade novels Hurricane Child and King and the Dragonflies, the young-adult novels This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story and Felix Ever After, and the adult novel Queen of the Conquered. They enjoy playing RPG video games in their free time. Kacen currently resides in Philadelphia, PA.
How cool was this author interview, friends?! It was such an honour to have Kacen visiting us at The Quiet Pond to talk about Felix Ever After! A big, big thank you to Kacen for taking the time to visit us. We had fun!
And friends, don’t forget to add Felix Ever After to Goodreads and read it! It is undoubtedly an amazing book and I can’t wait to read it come the weekend.