Am I Blue with Ricardo Galaviz and Bruce Coville

Hello!

Today we meet Ricardo Galaviz and we’re talking about the book that saved his life: Am I Blue by Bruce Coville. And Bruce joins us for the conversation!

Ricardo (all pronouns) is the Associate Director of the Milwaukee LGBT Center.

Bruce (he/him) is the author of over 100 books including My Teacher is an Alien, Into the Land of Unicorns, and Jeremy Hatcher, Dragon Hatcher.

Am I Blue? Coming Out From The Silence is an anthology of short stories edited by Marion Dane Bauer. The title comes from the Bruce’s short story Am I Blue?

Read more!

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote a fantastic article about this episode. Many thanks to Amy Schwabe!

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Connect with Ricardo and Bruce

Ricardo’s website: mkelgbt.org
Bruce’s website: brucecoville.com

Our Bookshop

Visit our Bookshop for  new releases, current bestsellers, banned books, critically acclaimed LGBTQ books, or peruse the books featured on our podcasts: bookshop.org/shop/thisqueerbook

To purchase Am I Blue? visit Bruce’s website: brucecoville.com

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Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Stephen D., Stephen Flamm, Ida Göteburg, Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.
Creative and Accounting support provided by: Gordy Erickson
Permission to use clips from the audio book Am I Blue? provided by Bruce Coville.
Music and SFX credits: visit thiqueerbook.com/music

Quatrefoil Library

Quatrefoil has created a curated lending library made up of the books featured on our podcast! If you can’t buy these books, then borrow them! Link: https://libbyapp.com/library/quatrefoil/curated-1404336/page-1

Transcript

J.P. Der Boghossian
Friends! I’d like you to support This Queer Book Saved My Life – a GLAAD Media Award nominated podcast, through Patreon at the $5 month level. So, we will be giving away a $15 Bookshop.org gift card to one lucky winner who signs up this week to be a $5/month Patreon supporter. Now, I’ve been told I need to say that I don’t want you to sign-up, be the lucky winner, and then just bail on us. So if you win, we will award the gift card to you for PRIDE month. And I’ve also been told to mention that those folks who sign-up at $10/month are guaranteed to get a $15 Bookshop.org gift card this December for the holidays. So, sign-up at Patreon: links in the shows notes and on our website. And may the odds, be in your literary favor.

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian
Hey everyone. For folks who are new to this space, we say gay here. This is the podcast where LGBTQ guests share with us the queer books that saved their lives. And we do it in conversation with the authors who wrote those books to see what it took to write them and get them out into the world.

So, the folks trying to harm queer kids through LGBTQ books bans have a laser focus on school libraries.

And if you go to The Banned Book Club dot info, they map out current book bans across the country. And it’s an interactive map so you can see that the majority of those efforts are in school libraries.

If you’re listening to this podcast, I’m hoping that you already know that book bans are wrong. But, what were going to talk about today is, what does it look like, what does it feel like, when queer kids have affirming LGBTQ books to read?

My name is J.P. Der Boghossian. I’m an essayist, LAMBDA Literary fellow, and founder of the Queer Armenian Library. And you’re listening to This Queer Book Saved My Life – a 2024 GLAAD media award nominee for Outstanding Podcast.

[theme music ends]

[jazzy piano music]

Narrator
Full cast audio presents Am I Blue by Bruce Coville.

Vince
It started the day Butch Carrigan decided I was interested in jumping his bones. “You little fruit,” he snarled. “I’ll teach you to look at me!”

A moment or two later he had given me my lesson. I was still lying face down in the puddle into which
Butch had slammed me as the culminating exercise of my learning experience, when I heard a clear voice exclaim, “Oh, my dear! That was nasty. Are you all right, Vince?”

Turning my head to my left, I saw a pair of brown top siders, topped by khaki pants.

“Who are you?”

“Your fairy godfather. My name is Melvin.”

[lighthearted curious music]

J.P. Der Boghossian
That was an edited clip from the audio book of Am I Blue by Bruce Coville. This is the book that our guest will be sharing with us today.

Ricardo Galaviz
My name is Ricardo Galavis. I use any and all pronouns, and I’m the Associate Director for the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

J.P. Der Boghossian
And if you’re wondering what a day in the life of an Associate Director of an LGBTQ center looks like, well, it’s a lot. Ricardo oversees all external and internal operations that has to do with the center’s events, website, social media, volunteers, members, fundraising, not to mention keeping the building running. But Ricardo’s history with the center goes way back.

Ricardo Galaviz
We opened our doors in 1998 and I’ve only been on board since last March, but I came to the youth program that’s called Project Q. And I came to the youth program when I was a kid, when I was a youth, when, when I was reading, you know, like the book and the story that we’re going to talk about today, you know, I was figuring out who I was and how I identified. So I came to the center as a teen, as a youth to find that community. And it’s still around today, 25 years later. So I’m really proud of that full circle moment of having walked in to the doors as, you know, a confused, you know, just lonely, lost, you know, teen. And now I’m there as one of the top directors. It feels pretty good.

[80s electronic pop music]

Bruce Coville
My name is Bruce Colville. I just stick with the pronouns I grew up with. I don’t mind being called anything, but that’s just what I do. And I’ve been writing for kids from picture books up to teen books.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Bruce has had a remarkable career in that 40 years. He’s written well over 100 books. He’s won three Golden Duck awards for excellence in Children’s science fiction.

The New York Library Association awarded him the Empire State Award for Excellence in Literature for Young People. And he also won the Skylark award for his lifetime contributions to science fiction. His bestsellers include the My Teacher Is An Alien series, The Land of the Unicorns series, and the Jeremy Thatcher Dragon Hatcher series.

And what makes Bruce special is how he has been queering science fiction and fantasy throughout his career.

Bruce Coville
Because I was writing, for the most part, light fantasy and science fiction, I could get away with a lot of stuff because people weren’t paying attention in terms of the reviewing hierarchy. So I’ve been squeezing gender affirming or gender expanding ideas.

into books since about 1989. And I loved being able to do that. And I loved the letters I get from kids saying, oh, this helped me. This is the first time I imagined that everything didn’t have to be binary. So to speak to somebody like Ricardo, really, it’s what a writer wants most. You start as a writer, you’re desperate to get published. And then you’re desperate to sell.

And then you’re just desperate for people to like this stuff. But when you get through all that, what you really want is for the books and stories to make a difference. So when you hear a story like Ricardo’s, and I’m hoping to hear more of it, that’s the real heart reward from all these decades of work.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Here’s my conversation with Ricardo and Bruce.

[music swells then fades]

J.P. Der Boghossian
So Ricardo, what is the book slash story that saved your life?

Ricardo Galaviz
The book is called Am I Blue? Coming out from the silence. It was edited by Marion Dane Bauer. But it’s a collection of short stories from many different authors. And the story that really hit me emotionally and spiritually is the story called Am I Blue?

And really how, so how I found the book was there’s this, you know, the neighborhood library that I was going to and figuring out my, my sexuality, you know, this was, this was the nineties. This book was published, um, in 1994. And I probably found it in about 1996, maybe. So I was about eighth grade freshman year. Um, this is pre-internet, right? This is pre, you know, like, just being able to go and Google, you know, like, gay authors or anything. And I remember going to the library and just typing in, like, homosexuality, right? Because I was desperate to find anything that I could connect to. Well, when you type homosexuality in the library card catalog, not a lot of interesting stuff pops up.

JP Der Boghossian
Mm-hmm.

Ricardo Galaviz
You know, it was a lot of like the science the history You know literary journal scholarly journals about like homosexuality as a as a you know 1982 is when the you know doctors finally stopped saying it was a disease So it wasn’t very you’re talking only about like 10 12 years later So, yeah, so somehow and when you look. I have the book here and when you look at the way they describe it here it says, Am I Blue? Coming out from the silence. Summary. A collection of short stories about homosexuality. So I was like, oh, okay, maybe this will be something interesting. Short stories about homosexuality. It’s got to be good, right?

I check it out from the library. I take it home and this had to be done totally discreetly. My, I was not out to my parents nor were they cool about anything like this.

JP Der Boghossian
I was gonna ask.

Ricardo Galaviz
Um, and because the book was called, am I blue? I figure, well, let me see who, what this is about. Right. And one of the first stories is am I blue? But I remember also just looking at the authors. And there’s, there’s wonderful authors. I’m just saying their first names, but you see Fran Jessica and Jacqueline and Ellen and Nancy, and I was like, all right, but where are the guys? Right? Like I’m a young guy. I want to read a story. Not that, you know, authors of other genders can’t write and connect with that audience, but at that time, that’s what I was looking for. So I’m like, Bruce sounds like a masculine name. Let me read Bruce’s story. Right. And it’s the title of the, of the book.

Um, so I read that story and it was really powerful, right? It was really powerful, um, to kind of summarize it like this little gay boy meets a fairy godfather. And he, through conversation, decide that like through one of the wishes, he’s going to wish to turn everyone in the world who is gay or kind of gay blue or a shade of blue. And then this boy gets to see that everyone, you know, there’s people who are different shades of blue and dark blue and navy blue and sky blue, like all different shades of blue all over the world. And it helped that little boy realize that he wasn’t alone.

[optimistic music]

Narrator
“Close your eyes,” said Melvin.

After I did as he requested, I felt him touch each of my eyelids lightly. My cheeks began to
burn as I wondered if anyone else had seen.

“Okay,” he said. “Open up, big boy, and see what the world is really like.”

I opened my eyes and gasped.

About a third of the people in the cafe—including the guy Melvin had winked at—were
blue. Some were bright blue, some were deep blue, some just had bluish tint to them.

“Are you telling all those people are gay?” I whispered.

“To some degree or other.”

“But so many of them?”

“What about all the different shades?” I asked.

“It’s an indicator of degree. The dark blues are pretty much excluding queer, while the
lighter ones are less committed—or maybe like you, trying to make up their minds. I set it
up so that you’ll see at least a hint of blue on anyone who has had a gay experience.
Come on, let’s go for a walk.”

[music swells then fades]

Ricardo Galaviz
And at that time in my life, that’s all I wanted to know. That’s, that’s all I needed to know. That I wasn’t alone. That somebody named Bruce wrote this story and knew that, that that’s kind of what we all wanted at a certain point in our life. We just wanted that connection. We wanted a community. When I read that story that the boy’s bully, the boy had a bully and his bully turned blue.

Right now, like find a gay kid who doesn’t have a bully, you know, we all did. So it just again, it like realized it. It put a reality to every two things that I was going through. And then what happened was my parents found this book that I had rented from the library. They got all upset. They were all pissed, marched me down to the library, made me, you know, like.

JP Der Boghossian (09:42.88)
Mm-hmm.

Ricardo Galaviz
Take it back and that was really sad, right? I remember I would go to the library often and I would reread that story Usually just that story I would just reread it and reread it and there was Lots of like little jokes and the way Bruce wrote the fairy godfather Like he was so funny and I didn’t even realize how funny he was and how humorous he was until like I had been looking for this book, so I’m getting ahead of myself. I never really saw the book again. I don’t know if it’s still at the library or maybe they sent it down to the downtown library because somebody found out. I couldn’t find it. As an adult, every now and then that story would pop up in my head. I retold that story in my own words to younger people.

Queer kids that I’ve come across and I used to tell them, find that story, find that story, I promise that it’ll impact you. And so in March of last year, I went in for an interview for the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center where I work and we have a library. We have a really awesome queer library. On the shelf, one of the books that was there was Am I Blue? And my eyes just welled up with tears. I was like, this is a sign I’m supposed to be here. And the copy that I have is stolen from my own workplace. I stole it.

[everyone laughs]

J.P. Der Boghossian
JP Der Boghossian (23:05.678)
I’m curious about were you commissioned to write this piece by the editor and that like they said the theme and then you decided to write this or was this a story that you had prior to being included in the in the anthology?

Bruce Coville (23:19.038)
Now, this was written on request. Marion Dane Bower put the book together, and it was absolutely the first of its kind. So I was a little surprised she contacted me about it. The list of the other writers that Ricardo was talking about.

were tended to be more on the literary side, whereas, as I said, I wrote light fantasy and science fiction and humorous stuff. And so when Marion requested me to write a story for it, I was quite jazzed about the idea, felt honored to be invited. And so next thing is, I’ve got to figure out what I’m gonna write about. And I recalled reading an article in the Village Voice.

maybe 10 years earlier than when I wrote the story, where somewhere buried in it was a comment about the gay fantasy that everybody who was gay would turn blue for a day so people would know it’s not all that rare. And I thought, well, that’s a seed for a story. So I wrote this story, which I think is pretty funny. And Melvin, the Three Godfathers, is based on a handful, I can’t give you the number, but so many.

very wonderfully funny and brave gay men that I know. His everything about the way he moves and talks and his sense of humor is loving homage to those folks. And I finished it and I thought, well, I don’t know how this is gonna go over because I knew the book was gonna be very literary and I’d written a light fantasy as I’m prone to do. So I sent it in and Marion embraced it. I was really…

quite chuffed when they decided they would make it. The title story and the lead story, I’ve done a lot of anthologies and you put your strongest stories first and last. So it was really a wonderful thing to have them say, yeah, we’re gonna lead off with this. And the response I’ve had since then has been just really affirming stories like Ricardo’s, which by the way, you know, Ricardo, I get.

Bruce Coville
There were moments I could barely breathe. I was so moved by what you were saying. So we’ve had this, I’ve had other occurrences of this. I run an audio book company and my associate was auditioning a young man one day and there was some signs up around the office and the young man looked up and said, oh, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, Bruce Covel, did he write Am I Blue? And my artistic director said, yeah, that’s Bruce, he runs this company.

And the young man just burst into tears right in the spot and said, that story saved my life. So the story has had a life, a life, life saving life far beyond what I initially thought might be possible for it. So it’s been a very fulfilling ride where it’s been staged twice. The one, a, it was actually a church group in Denver. And then,

JP Der Boghossian
Oh wow.

Bruce Coville
a young man named Deshaun Jenkins wrote a really, a wonderfully expanded version of it, which was done as part of the New York Theater Fest. They did three performances just before the pandemic. And he’s still working on turning it into a musical now. He’s stretching out in all kinds of strange and interesting science fiction ways, but he’s a genius. His musical stuff is just absolutely extraordinary. So I’m just waiting for him to…

JP Der Boghossian
Wow.

Bruce Coville
burst forth with this extravaganza eventually.

So let me talk a little bit more about the ending of the story, if you will. This is important to think, but just let’s set this up now. I am bisexual and I’ve known that since I was in my teens. I’ve known it since the gay community would even admit that people like me existed. Back then it was either you haven’t finished coming out or you’re going through a phase. I put the B in LGTBQ before L and G even would admit that I existed. But I knew that, I knew that all my life. And I can honestly say I have never discriminated on the basis of gender. But the ending of the story is he has, the boy has one wish left. And he says, what about that wish? I am standing in front of you, the native. When I meet the girl of my dreams or Prince Charming, whichever. And what his point is that it can go either way, but I’m good with it, I’m cool with who I am.

Ricardo Galaviz
You know, I always, I always wondered that I was wondered what, you know, because to me, I was almost thinking like, Oh, is it because he’s trying to say that like, no, I’m not gay or whatever. Or was he trying to keep himself open? But what you talk about, you know, too, it is so important to continue to have even by representation. There’s a lot of by invisibility and by erasure in the world. And I’m even happier to know that that’s how you identify. And even now, this character really just kind of keeping it open to whatever it may be, the girl of my dreams or Prince Charming. I love that.

Bruce Coville
I’m glad that doesn’t deflate the story for you. That’s good.

Ricardo Galaviz
No, it makes it better.

JP Der Boghossian
Where did the idea of a fairy godfather character come from?

Bruce Coville
Clearly, this was not a story that needed a fairy godmother. A fairy godfather made much more sense for it. And it just allowed me to. There were so many men that I knew loved in the gay community that had that sass that Melvin has. And but I was really just trying to do is do honor to them by trying to recreate the joy they took in being themselves.

But the way Melvin became a fairy godfather was he was gay bashed. So even though it’s a light fantasy, it has its dark side to it. And it was one of the very few, maybe the first story for teens to actually talk about gay bashing and how it happens. He met his fate through a tire iron to his head.

[mournful music]

Narrator
Melvin: The point is, you’re getting picked on because people think you are—which is why I’ve been sent to work with you. Gaybashing is a special issue for me.”

“How come?”

“It’s how I met my maker, so to speak. I was walking down the street one day last year,
minding my own business, when three bruisers dragged me into an alley, shouting, ‘We’ll
teach you, faggot!’ They never did explain exactly what it was they were going to teach
me. Last thing I remember from life on earth was coming face to face with a tire iron. Next
thing I knew, I was knocking at the Pearly Gates.”

We were both silent for a moment. Then he shrugged and took another sip of his coffee.

“You’re taking this awfully casually,” I said, still stunned by the awfulness of what he had
told me.

“Honey, I did a lot of screaming and shouting while it was happening. Afterwards too, for
that matter. Didn’t do me a bit of good—I was still dead. Once you’ve been on the other
side for a while, you get a little more zen about this kind of thing.”

“But you don’t want to go get one of those guys or something?”

He shook his head. “I prefer reform to vengeance. Besides, it’s against the rules. Why
don’t we just concentrate on your case for the time being?”

[music swells and then fades]

So and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. Mix something very powerful and maybe powerfully dark, but leaven it with humor. I really have a feeling that a theory that you can only go so far in creating any one emotion, fear, desire as a writer, fear, desire, intensity before the reader runs out.

But if you are creating, because I’ve written a lot of scary stories, creating the fear and then you give a joke and people laugh and they fall out of the spirit, but they don’t fall all the way back to the beginning. They reenter the spell of these scary stuff at a higher level. And then you take them farther and then crack a joke. They fall out, but they don’t fall way back. Then you start to crank up the fear again and you can take them farther.

JP Der Boghossian
Oh, that’s interesting.

Bruce Coville
That has always been a tool of writing anything that I write, whether I’m trying to do a story that’s simply funny or a story that has real darkness to it. I’ve written a number of teen thrillers. And I think that’s an important part of the writer’s tool bag is humor. And if you start a story, yeah, I write for kids, mostly the eight to 12 group. So I need to grab them right away. If you’re writing something that has…

Oh, a grandiose scheme. If I want to give kids a story that talks about the meaning of life in your place in the universe. And you say to kids, the teacher, sister, kids, you know, here’s a lovely warm story about the meaning of life in your place in the universe. They’re going to go, yeah, I got a video in the play. But if the teacher could say, here’s a, there’s a great fart joke on page two of this story, you get them to laugh and the, and the child would follow you anywhere. Um, I mean, I’m citing a story I literally wrote called the I Earthling.

which is a lengthy short story about a young person who’s taken to another planet by his father. He was a diplomat in outer space, and it really is literally about him finding his place in the universe. But it has the first group fart in the history of children’s literature. And by starting there, I can take the young reader someplace they never expect to go.

Ricardo Galaviz
I love that.

JP Der Boghossian
In writing for that age range, how have you found, and having authored over a hundred books, weaving in queer themes into those books over your career? Was that easy to do? Was it something you had to be subversive about? What was that experience like for you?

Bruce Coville
Okay, well, I want to start by saying I chose to write for children because it was the most politically effective thing I could think of to do. It’s too late for adults. They’re messed up. If you want to make a change in the world, you write for kids and can open their hearts. I mean, look what this did for Ricardo. So it was a completely political decision, or that was one part of the decision to write for kids, was: to have an impact on the world by people who were not too late to say from what becoming an adult does to you. So, there’s not something I go back to over and over again as a theme, but I have, especially in the science fiction books, from my teachers in Alien On, introduced the theory of, the idea of multiple genders being possible.

in, I think it’s in My Teacher’s an Alien. I actually made notes of what I’ve done here. They talk about, oh yeah, there’s one planet where it takes six genders to get an egg and three more genders to hatch it. And these are not big things in the stories, but they’re just little, almost, we didn’t have the term Easter eggs back then, but they’re little things to plant in people’s

Um, the, uh, Todd Gibbons in Aliens Ate My Homework says, my pronoun is “it.” And the kid says, well, Rod Albright says, it’s kind of rude calling you an it. He says, well, it’s not as rude as calling me he or she, cause I’m neither of those. And he says, well, what are you? He says, I’m a farfall. Rod says, well, what’s, is a farfall more like a he or she? And he says.

No, a firefly is more like a pimpick. That’s what I’m close to do.

Ricardo Galaviz
[laughs]

JP Der Boghossian
Ha ha ha!

Bruce Coville
So, and it’s not there, it’s not preaching when you do that. And preaching’s the death of a good story. It’s not preaching, it’s just tossing stuff in the hopper for kids to think about.

Ricardo Galaviz
And you know what’s interesting is when I give, so through the community center, we give these trainings and we talk about pronouns or we talk about gender. And that’s one of the things too, right, is that language is completely made up. This is all made up. Gender roles are made up. Gender, the idea, you know, is completely made up. So, you know, going on to that The Alien Ate My Homework and he’s talking about his pronouns. That’s like almost a beautiful example to continue to use with children at about pronouns is that like.

Why, you know, the, how you said that there’s, um, he, that I don’t, he’s a falafel. Is that what you said?

Bruce Coville
A far-ful. Far-ful.

Ricardo Galaviz
A farfal. You know, he’s a farfal. That’s made up, right? Bruce made that up. But that’s just as logical as men and women and those being the only options. Somebody, yeah, somebody made that up. Don’t know who, don’t know when, don’t know why, you know, society. But it’s all just made up, right? And we just kind of like start to just go with these things and roll with it. So

Bruce Coville
And those being the only ones, yeah.

Ricardo Galaviz
when people want to get so upset saying, oh, I can’t use they, them because that’s plural. Well, first of all, it’s not plural, but not just plural. But language is completely made up. Sometimes people ask me the community center where I work. It’s the Milwaukee LGBT community center. Why isn’t it the LGBTQ community center? Why isn’t it the LGBT plus? Well,

In 1998, that’s what the acronym was, right? It was LGBT. That’s about it. Now we’ve got more awareness and we’ve got more understanding and we’re, you know, able to be more inclusive of other identities. And now you’ve got the full acronym, which is still constantly changing. But the last time I checked it’s 2S-LGBT-TQQIAAP. So.

Bruce Coville
Oh, I’m behind the times. I had no idea.

Ricardo Galaviz
Yeah, I mean, and that’s just, it’s because it evolves. Language evolves, right? This is all… Unless you’re the politics in the United States, you devolve, but…

Bruce Coville
Hahaha!

JP Der Boghossian
[laughs] What I like telling folks about that, because for a stint, I was working in LGBTQ health equity and people would complain to me, queer and non-queer alike, about, oh, the acronym is just way too long and I can’t keep up with all of that. And I’m like, yeah, let’s reframe that a bit to say our idea of sexuality and gender has expanded so much that we really can’t fit in these boxes. We’ve basically broke the boxes and we should take that as a sign of pride as opposed to saying, well, it’s so hard to keep up with these.

It’s actually doing us a favor.

Bruce Coville
Broke the boxes I love that. It’s excellent.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Um, but yeah, we broke them. We, we absolutely did. When we were setting up this interview and Ricardo, you told us the, the book and the, and the story and the author. And at the time I was like, I know that name. How do I know Bruce’s name?

 

And of course, I then went over to my, you know, library and I was like scanning all of the, and at the point I was like, why don’t I organize this alphabetically? But I literally went through all of them and then found the, My Teacher is an Alien series and about fell over because that series was so special to me as a child because I was reading it as queer.

And so I’m going to ask you to lie to me, Bruce, if this is not true, but I’m going to ask you. So I’m basically going to get the answer I want because you’re going to lie to me if it’s not about the character of Peter because I can. And I looked at it again last night because the image of it is so burned into my brain about this character, Peter, who is a supporting character in the series. But your introduction to him is he’s sitting outside of the playground. He’s sitting down. He’s reading a princess from Mars.

if I recall correctly. And he’s so ingratiated in the book and the main character Susan’s like, I gotta talk to him, but he’s one of those kids that it takes him a moment to come back even to this planet when he’s reading, because he’s so in depth into it. But she starts to tell him about how she’s found out that this teacher is an alien, and he just starts to cry. And he’s like, why are you making fun of me? I thought that you were on my side, and for whatever reason.

Bruce Coville
Yeah

JP Der Boghossian
Then I was like, I read like that, and he’s reading a Princess from Mars. And I’ve had kind of that same moment. And for whatever reason, I just read him as queer, whether he was identified as, you know, gay or bisexual or pan or, you know, however. So, and then when he left the planet, I was like, oh my God, I would totally like leave the planet and go live amongst the stars with the aliens. Like, please give me that option. But when you wrote Peter, did you see, did you have…

Bruce Coville
Hahaha

JP Der Boghossian
queer themes in that character, even though it wasn’t explicitly stated, did you write Peter to be a queer character?

Bruce Coville
So you want me to lie to you, is that it?

JP Der Boghossian
Lie to me Bruce.

Bruce Coville
Totally, you’re totally queer from page one.

JP Der Boghossian
Okay, great! Thank you! All right. Next question. [laughs] No, but tell me more about that.

Bruce Coville
More about that is I taught elementary school for seven years. And by the way, my teachers in alien is another book I was invited to write. There’s a long backstory to that. Excuse me. The short version is I was working for a packager and the short version of that is packagers hired people to write books for them. Then quick references Nancy drew in the Hardy Boys. Those are all done by people hired to write those books.

I was working with this packaging company. They found out I was fast and reliable. This had started early in my career. And we had a contract that broke down. And they asked me, well, we’ve worked this out. We can save the contract if you write two standalone books instead of the series that we’d sold. What do you want to write? And I said, look, guys, if it’s my idea, I’ll write it and keep all the money. If you want to keep half the money, which is what you’re planning on doing, you give me the idea.

So they called me in the New York and I was sitting across the table from Byron, the guy who worked with two guys around the company. He started having story ideas. And the first two I said, no. Then he had me one, really, it’s just 10 lines, 10 tight lines, my teacher’s nailing. And it was all I could do to keep from launching myself across the table and choke him because it was the best title I’d ever heard. And I hadn’t thought of myself. What he did not know was that I was…

oddly appropriate to write the book. Because when I was in fourth or fifth or sixth grade, a rumor went around our school that aliens were gonna land on a certain day, let’s say it was April 23rd, and take away all the kids. Now, nobody totally believed this, of course, but nobody totally disbelieved it either. Because when you say something over and over again, no matter how weird it is, it takes on a strange kind of reality. It’s called the Fox News Principle. So,

I knew it was like to be in school where all the kids were terrified the aliens were going to come and take us. And I crafted that right into the book. My whole memory of that experience becomes part of what goes on in that book. So the book, that book literally changed my life. I’d written about, I don’t know, 15, 20 books before that. And that one did, it took off like, you should pardon the expression, a rocket. It sold more copies in one year than the previous 20 books it sold in 15 years all put together. It just, it changed my life quite literally.

But let me go on.

JP Der Boghossian
I thought for a second you were going to say I was uniquely primed to write this book because my teacher was an alien. And I was like, this interview is going to take a turn. I’m going to have a whole different set of questions.

Bruce Coville
[laughs] But they did then put me in a place because it gave me the power. Because the books are selling so well, they gave me a lot more freedom to write. So and because there were science fiction, paperback originals for kids, nobody in the in the critical universe, the gatekeepers was paying much attention, which I could get away with this stuff in there about all these genders and the incredibly political stuff that’s in the last book.

I think it’s probably the most political book written for 8 to 12 year olds ever. It’s a secret between me and about a million and a half kids. But it’s because I was being ignored and I could just cut loose and put in all the philosophy and politics that I wanted to and still make it a funny and scary book, hopefully.

JP Der Boghossian
It is. I remember when I came back to it as an adult, because there’s a reissued series from when I was reading it in the 90s. I was like, oh my gosh, I was reading this? He was writing that? This was so intense. These are things I was dealing with in grad school when I was reading it at that age. I did want to ask you though about the character of the bully. It came up again when I was reading Am I Blue prepping for this conversation of how you deal with the idea of a bully, which is very traditional. You’re, you know, this is the bully character, but then you always seem to find a way of not subverting that. And I don’t want to say rehabilitating, but you know, it was Duncan in the, I have that name right. And then my teacher is an alien series, a series. And then in, I am blue. I am blanking on his name at the beginning there, but then there, there we go. Uh, and at the end you have him a shade of blue.

Ricardo Galaviz
Butch.

Bruce Coville
It was Butch Kerrigan. Which is, I think of that name Butch Kerrigan. It’s just…the perfect name for a bully.

JP Der Boghossian
It does. It does. But tell me about the writing of the bully, like how you go about then like bringing some humanity and depth to them and in an eye in blue you bring him in as part of the community.

Bruce Coville
Okay. Duncan is based on, most of the kids were amalgamas. I had a Peter in my class every year, a kid like that, the isolated, very bright science fiction geek who just didn’t interact with the other kids.

JP Der Boghossian
Who’s gay.

Bruce Coville
[laughs] I see what you did there. I had two, three Susans every year. Saw what you did there. Saw what you did there. But there was only one Duncan. And for a variety of reasons, I had him four years in a row.

Bruce Coville
And he was, when I came to that school as a student teacher at the first grade level, they hired me to second grade and we got the second grade two or three years later, I’d have again went to third grade, but came back to me for a special reading program. I moved to fourth grade, they got him again. I knew him very well. And he was not a bad kid, but he got in trouble all the time. And when I, my teachers’ nailing is supposed to be a standalone book, no sequels were planned. The ending where Peter goes off to the stars, was a trick that I learned from Eleanor Cameron, who I never met, but I consider one of my teachers, because all the writers that I read were my teachers. She used that tactic of wrapping up a story. She wrote the Mushroom Planet books, the only science fiction available when I was 10 or 12, about the only science fiction available. She’d wrap up a story and then give you an image you couldn’t stop thinking about. When Peter goes off to the stars,

And Susan talks about, I go outside at night, look at the stars and wonder what he was doing. That’s an invitation to never stop thinking about the book. And it worked. But it also meant literally thousands and thousands of letters demanding to know what happened next. So when the, and the publisher was jumping off their wedgies going, oh my God, we’re making so much money. You got to do another one. And I got, I should have done a much better deal, which was cool.

But then to keep myself interested, I just been, and we go back to the politics here, I just been at a reading conference and the closing speaker was Jonathan Kozol, a very political writer. And he just wrote a book called Savage Inequalities about how poor communities have such abysmal schools. And as I was driving the rest of the way in New York for this meeting, I thought, okay, the only reason to write more books, it’s a-

do what the first book let me do in Spades, which is to have the reason to write alien stories for me is to look at us from the outside and say, why do people do this stuff? We’re stuck in our own mishegoss, but aliens can look at us from the outside and go, this doesn’t make any sense and start to explain stuff. But also to keep it interesting for me, I decided to change narrators. And I went to Duncan next. And the one thing I can tell you about that is it was an incredible learning experience.

Because this kid had been, I was quite fond of it, but it was also thrown on my side for four years. To write the book, I had to imaginatively reject myself into him and say, why did he act this way? And I wish I had done it when I was still a teacher, because I would have been a far better teacher as a result of trying to put myself empathetically in his shoes. And one of the things that when I’m teaching adult writing,

I say, especially if you’re a teacher. If you’ve got a kid who’s giving you a problem, write a story from this point of view. If you do it honestly and empathetically, you gotta learn stuff you need to know.

JP Der Boghossian
That’s amazing. You said that there’s a colleague who’s adapting Am I Blue into a musical and kind of, and there’s others who have kind of expanded the story. If you were writing it today yourself, given everything that’s happening in the world and how it does kind of feel like things are.

worse today than they were in the late 80s and early 90s. Is there something that you would write differently of how you would write that story today for kids today?

Bruce Coville
That’s a great question. And it’s the kind of thing that was, if I tried to answer it as an essay, it’s probably spent three days trying to figure it out. Thanks, JP.

JP Der Boghossian
You have three seconds. Hahaha.

Bruce Coville
Yeah. It would have to be different because there is so much more awareness of the fact that there’s a lot of queer kids out there. And so many schools have, you know, the Gay Straight Alliance now. The story is to some extent a project of its time. I think it still plays, but I would have to, if I was writing it for now, it would have to be against an entirely different social backdrop because despite the fact that things are getting worse in some ways, we have come a long way since I wrote that story in support for LGBTQ kids.

JP Der Boghossian
Absolutely. Ricardo, given your role as an associate director at an LGBT center, and also given this amazing history that you’ve had with this particular book and story, and its impact on you as an eighth grader, and then coming back to it, and then recommending it to folks as well to read, what is your recommendation now for teachers, principals,

teachers’ aids right now in the schools for how to support queer kids.

Ricardo Galaviz
I think a lot of it just has to do with representation and also letting kids just be. There’s a lot of those phrases of like the boys don’t cry and man up that get even at that educational t-shirt level. I also taught not for very long, for about nine years in elementary and special ed, but I saw a lot of teachers like reinforcing those types of stereotypes of, you know, female gender roles and male gender roles and those types of things. But I think in general now, you are seeing a lot of teachers stepping up into more of supportive roles of… I hear a lot of questions being asked like…and a lot of teachers, and certainly about the financial arts and the foreign language as well. And you must have a question for me during this time. But I think it’s important that we have a good understanding of the language and the culture.

How can we support our queer students? Well, for starters, use the name they want to be called. Use the pronouns they want to be called, right? My name is Ricardo, but my preferred name as a child was Ricky, right? Nobody had any problems with that. So what if a, you know, John wants to be called Michelle, or, you know, it shouldn’t matter? And then the same thing with the pronouns. There are so many things that happen at those elementary school years that you remember forever. You know, I mean, hello, like the story, am I blue? I mean, it’s something that I’ve carried around with me for almost 30 years now. So it’s, it’s those little things that happen that you take with you forever. It’s those little teachers that are allowing you to express yourself the way you want to express.

And even knowing that maybe at home, you’re not allowed to be this free. But here at school, the school can be the safe space because not all children, not all, even adults go home to a safe space, go home to a warm, healthy, humane space. And I don’t just mean like, because of the material things that are in their surroundings, but also the people.

Sometimes as a teacher your positive words are the only positive words that child hears that day that week That month right so just knowing how important we our impressions are on these generations coming up and It’s so beautiful now because I feel like the generations now, you know this Gen Z and Jen and the younger ones.

They’re really teaching us a whole lot because they don’t care about gender. They don’t care about any of that stuff. Right. And they’re teaching us. Like they get, I think they’re going to rewrite a lot of these systems that we have followed so blindly for so long.

[jazzy music]

Narrator
It didn’t take much longer for people to start figuring out what the blue stood for. The reaction ranged from panic to hysterical denial to dancing in the streets. National Public Radio quickly summoned a panel of experts to discuss what was going to happen when people had to go to work the next day.

“Or school,” I muttered to myself, which was when I got my next idea.

“Melvin!” I shouted.

“You rang?” he asked, shimmering into sight at the foot of my bed.

“I just figured out my third wish.” I took a deep breath. “I want you to turn Butch Carrigan blue.”

He looked at me for a moment. Then his eyes went wide. “Vincent,” he said, “I like the way you think. I’ll be back in a flash.”

When he returned he was grinning like a cat.

“You’ve still got one wish left, kiddo,” he said with a chuckle. “Butch Carrigan was already blue as a summer sky when I got there.”

If I caused you any trouble with “Blue Day,” I’m sorry. But not much. Because things are never going to be the same now that it happened. Never.

And my third wish?

I’ve decided to save it for when I really need it—maybe when I meet the girl of my dreams.

Or Prince Charming.

Whichever.

J.P. Der Boghossian
[contented sigh] Isn’t it great? You can get a copy of Am I Blue from Bruce’s website as an e-book or audio book. For the full anthology, you can find it at Abebooks, Thrift Books, you can ask your local indie bookstore to order it for you, and if you must, Amazon has it too. Unfortunately, it’s not available through Bookshop.org.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just published a great article on…this very episode! You can read more from Ricardo and Bruce. I’ve put a link for you in the show notes.

You can connect with Ricardo at the Milwaukee LGBT Center. You can find all their contact info there. The website is m k e lgbt dot org. I looked at their calendar, and the Center has a Creative Circle Queer Community meeting this week, which is a creative space for queer minds to come together. They have Bi+ afternoon this Friday.

They have Thoughtful Gay Man which is a soul-searching support group with a changing topic every month – to find healing, meaning, and deeper connection with likeminded gay men. They have All Colors Are Beautiful A Queer BIPOC discussion group coming up on February 26th and on the same day a LGBTQ+ disability support group.

There is also the lending library, clothing closet, cyber center, Project Q youth program, Older Adult program, and Transgender and Gender non-conforming program.

M K E L G B T dot org.

Bruce is currently working on the book and lyrics for a science fiction rock opera! For details on when you can see it go to his website bruce coville dot com. C O V I L L E. Links in the show notes and on our website. While you’re there you can buy his books and watch the trailer to the movie adaptation to his book Aliens Ate My Homework. Bruce makes a cameo appearance! It is available on Amazon PRIME, Apple TV+, VUDU, and on DVD.

[theme music]

That’s our show for today. I’ll see you back here in two weeks for our next new episode. Remember, we are offering a $15 gift card to Bookshop.org to one lucky winner who signs-up this week to be a Patreon supporter at the $5/month level.

Our podcast is executive produced by Jim Pounds, accounting and creative support provided by Gordy Erickson. Our associate producers are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olilla, Joe Perrazo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith. Our Patreon subscribers are Steven D, Steven Flam, Ida Gotëberg, Thomas Mckna, and Gary Nygaard.

Permission to use clips from the audio book “Am I Blue” provided by Bruce Coville.

Our soundtrack and sound effects were provided through royalty free licenses. Please visit thisqueerbook.com/music for track names and artists.

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And until our next episode, see you queers and allies in the bookstores.

[theme music ends]