Jeff Garvin, author of Symptoms of Being Human,spends a majority of his time being creative, both writing books and performing music. He is passionate about the arts, sharing the experiences of teenagers, and encouraging readers to read what they love. I had the chance to speak with Jeff at the Ontario Teen Book Festival this year and ask him about his writing process, his adolescent years growing up in Orange County, and his love for the arts, specifically YA literature. Check out highlights from our conversation below, going in depth about his passions, his book, and his strong addition to the inclusive nature of the YA community.
What first inspired you to tell Riley’s story?
I was in a car with a group of friends; two of them I had met and two of them were new to me. We were driving along, and the driver brought up a court case that was pending in San Bernardino County. [The case involved] a transgender girl; she and her parents were suing the school district for the right to use the locker room that aligned with her gender identity instead of her birth assigned sex. She brought up this court case, and I was thinking, “Awesome, we are going to have this conversation about love and acceptance and progressive politics.” And then she said, “Isn’t that gross? It’s probably some pervy boy who wants to see boobs in the locker room.” The idea that another human being who grew up in the same place I did could imagine that a boy in high school would pretend to be a girl was so astounding to me. This person obviously has no idea what it’s like to be queer.
That conversation stuck with me, and the next morning I was still pissed off. I found the article and read it and thought, “That girl is so courageous.” To me, that person is the protagonist of a YA novel. I started looking for that book, and I couldn’t find it.
As a debut author, what are the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of the job?
I’ve always wanted to be a creative person for a living. I also love hearing from readers and meeting people and seeing the ripples of what you write causes. I just love the pure art of creating something out of nothing. I love telling stories. I was a lyricist first, and then I wrote short stories and then film and music; storytelling has always been at the core of what I do.
The most challenging parts for me is the psychological challenge of waiting response, managing my expectations.
What ideas or messages do you hope the LGBTQ community and readers can take away from Symptoms of Being Human?
I like the reader to decide what the message of the story is and what they take from it. If there is one thing I hope readers get out of the book, it would be compassion and the idea that human beings aren’t really that different from one another. We all have the same range of emotions; there’s no reason to draw these border lines between us. That’s why the title has human in it; it’s not called Symptoms of Being Genderqueer. It’s about the human experience.
How long did it take you to complete the book? How would you describe the writing/publishing process?
I had gone out with a previous manuscript with my agent, and we had gone out with it to [various] publishers, and six months later there was no response. I was so crushed. I was getting ready to write the sequel to this book, and my friends [said], “Don’t write a sequel for a book you haven’t sold. Write something new.” I didn’t have any ideas, and then [the conversation I mentioned previously] happened. I wrote Symptoms of Being Human very quickly; I wrote the first fifty to one-hundred pages in a couple of weeks and then revised them and tweaked them over a month. I sent my agent one-hundred pages, and she replied and said, “I’ll read this tonight and call you tomorrow.” She called me the next day and told me she wanted to go out on [my book] as a partial. [Symptoms of Being Human] sold in nine days. It happened really fast.
You previously worked in television and the music industry. What inspired you to start writing?
I think writing books appeals to me because I have more control. When you’re an actor in television, you have to wait for an audition or a part to come along; it’s a lot of waiting and trying to find your pigeonhole. In music, it’s a collaborative process. Even if you’re the main singer or songwriter, you still have band members and have to meet their needs musically. Writing is more solitary, and I have more control; I think that’s easier for me.
From your author bio it says you are from Orange County. Also growing up in Orange County, I’m interested as to where your favorite OC spot is?
When I was a teenager, there was a cafe in Fullerton called The Hub, and it was the joint. That was where you saw live bands, that was where you had coffee dates, that’s where we hung out. My memories of Orange County are in The Hub cafe.
Are you currently working on another book? If so, what details, if any, can you share with readers?
Yes, I just turned in a first draft of another book. It’s contemporary YA, and it’s very different from Symptoms of Being Human. Readers of Symptoms will enjoy it, and it [features] an interesting, offbeat protagonist with a weird life. I’m excited.
What advice do you have for aspiring teen writers?
Write incessantly, write a lot, and finish things. Practice your finishing muscles even if you’re not completely satisfied with the end product, because you can always go back and fix something you’ve written, but you can’t edit a blank page.
The other thing is to be shameless with what you read; read what you love, and write what you love to read. If you’re a dude and you love cheesy romance, read the heck out of that and write it. Don’t let anyone’s taste stop you from doing what you dig.