The following conversation is part of our Beyond The Bio series, featuring conversations with authors we love. If you're a teen who'd like to interview an author, please click here to find out how we can connect you with your favorite YA authors. Today's guests include StoryTimeTeen creator James Tilton and Camryn Garrett, whose new book Full Disclosure came out earlier this year.
James: Camryn, I’m so excited to interview you today! Your debut novel, Full Disclosure, was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and it was even better than I had hoped. Can you tell our readers a bit about what they can expect?
Camryn: Thank you so much! I’m super glad that you liked it. FULL DISCLOSURE is basically about a teen girl named Simone who is starting over at a new school. When she starts to get close to a boy she likes, she starts receiving mysterious messages from someone who knows she has HIV and threatens to reveal her status if she doesn’t stop hanging out with her love interest, Miles.
James: Why was it important for you to tell a story about a character with HIV?
Camryn: I think it became more important to me as the process of writing the book went on. At first, it was just something I was really interested in, which led me to do more research. I really don’t know how to articulate how devastating the AIDS Crisis of the 80s and 90s —and even today — is to me. It’s sort of impossible to imagine all of the lives lost to AIDS, and it hurts me even more because I know many of them were Black and queer or both, like me. I read a book called HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL by Alexander Chee where he describes being in San Francisco during this time and it really struck me that so many of the people who died were young people, trying to create their own found families within the queer community. We know a lot of big names of those who have passed because of it, but there are just so so many and it makes my heart break. I really wanted to honor that in some way.
That was super long. Sorry.
I also realized that I didn’t know a lot about how the treatment for HIV has evolved, or how I play a role in maintaining the stigma. A lot of my friends were the same. We let these really old, outdated and ignorant ideas govern how we thought of people with HIV or AIDS and I think a big part of the stigma is the fact that people aren’t educated about it in school or health class; I know I wasn’t. So it’s also really tied up in sexual health and the stigma against teaching that to teenagers accurately.
James: I’ve been lucky enough to interview a lot of young adult authors, but never one who actually wrote their book as a teenager. You’re a college student, but you wrote Full Disclosure in high school. What was that like?
Camryn: People keep asking this and it was honestly a lot easier in high school than it is writing in college. I think because, in high school, even though I was trying to pursue publication, it was still primarily for me. I didn’t know the reality of publishing or publicity or the market or anything. I wrote stuff I wanted to read. And writing in general was just something I really enjoyed doing.
I also think writing as a teen was a privilege, in a weird way. I mean, it combines privileges I grew up with; I didn’t have to work a job or worry about helping anyone with money. I think that’s another added aspect that changes writing for people. It would’ve been different if I had been depending on this for money.
Writing was just my *thing.* That sounds corny, but everyone knew me as this kid who liked to write. My school was big on sports and I didn’t play any, so I decided to practice writing every day like my friends who played sports did. I think that was a great way to look at it.
James: Simone’s story really got me. One page, I’d be laughing out loud. The next, I’d be blinking back tears. What’s one scene that really hit you in the feels when you were writing?
Camryn: I don’t want to spoil, but there’s a scene at the end where Simone is confronting a bunch of adults that made me super emotional. I also felt emotional while writing the more serious scenes with her and her parents, especially now that my dad has passed away. One of my dad’s friends said he can see him in the parents and that really meant a lot.
James: Which of your characters is the most like you?
Camryn: Ha! I was talking to people about this. I think all of the characters I write have some of me in them — at least, the main characters do. When I first wrote the book, I was sixteen, and I was very much like Simone in terms of wanting to know more about sex (and wanting to have it.) I also make lots of inappropriate jokes like her. One of my friends read the book and said some of the things Simone said sounded just like I said it.
James: So you and Simone are both big theater nerds. You even mentioned a Cats movie in your book, long before it was announced to us mere mortals. I’m like 99% sure you somehow made that happen. But I’ve got to know… what’s one musical that you think is criminally under-rated?
Camryn: EVERYONE KEEPS TAGGING ME IN PICTURES ABOUT THE CATS MOVIE AND I TRULY REGRET BRINGING IT TO US! Anyway. This is a hard one! My answer might sound silly, but I feel like people don’t really take LEGALLY BLONDE: THE MUSICAL seriously because of its subject matter. I never saw it on Broadway, but I actually really liked it. We did it at my school. I thought it was tons of fun.
James: And what about an overrated musical?
Camryn: Cats. Ha. I’m only halfway kidding. I personally feel like Lion King is overrated. People rave about it and I went and was just…not really that impressed. Which makes me feel bad, since it’s an all Black cast.
James: And, while I’m getting you in trouble, your book made a passing comment about the TV show Friends that I could not agree with more wholeheartedly. Finish the sentence for me: Rachel should have ended up with…
Camryn: OMG, you’re getting me in so much trouble. I think Rachel low-key could’ve just been alone. She should’ve gone to Paris with Emma and started her life in that new city and lived her best life. I think Joey and Chandler should’ve been together, even though I love Chandler and Monica. Anyway.
James: What’s next for you, Camryn? Got any other exciting projects in the works?
Camryn: I’m working on revisions for my second book! And finishing out this semester. Wish me luck!