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Interviews

Interviews

Meet Kasey LeBlanc, Author of Flyboy

Join GrubStreet and Porter Square Books: Boston Edititon on Tuesday, May 21, at 7pm ET for the latest installment of the Grubbie Debut event series, featuring debut author Kasey LeBlanc for the release of Flyboy. Author Jennie Wood will join LeBlanc in conversation, and the author talk will be followed by a signing line. Learn more and register for this free event here.

This interview, moderated and written by John McClure, was originally published on Dead Darlings, a blog about novel writing run by alumni of GrubStreet's Novel Incubator program.

“No one knows where the Midnight Circus comes from—when it began or how…It comes for those who need it.”

So opens Kasey LeBlanc’s debut novel, Flyboy, beckoning those who need a magical refuge as much as does the novel’s fierce and funny protagonist, Asher, a closeted trans high schooler entering his senior year. Following an incident at his previous school that sent Asher to the hospital, Asher’s mother is convinced that Catholic school is the safer place for her son, even if it also comes with heinous uniforms and Bathroom Jesus. Lucky for Asher, the Midnight Circus arrives in his sleep to offer him a world where everyone sees him for the boy he is. But when living only for his dreams threatens to turn Asher’s daytime into a nightmare, Asher must save the circus and his waking life by performing his most daring feat—coming out.

This novel took me by surprise. A lifelong curmudgeon, I’m not the target audience for YA fiction, I wrinkle my nose at anything coming-of-age, and circuses are not my jam. What won my heart wasn’t just the playfulness of the dream circus or the novel’s deep friendships, but the raw urgency of Asher’s voice. LeBlanc writes as if he is offering up his character’s unguarded journals, and I was hooked on feeling confided in.

John McClure: From his first words, Asher’s character and attitude reverberate, and it is the authenticity of his voice that drives this novel. Asher is just so real and easy to identify with. How do you do that?

Kasey LeBlanc: I think that a strong voice comes primarily from knowing your character, and being willing to adjust your idea of who a character is through the writing process. Outwardly Asher isn’t always able or ready to express himself and his desires, but they’re very much there, bubbling under the surface. And I think that the more clearly I can feel those desires from Asher, or from any other character, the more clearly the character’s voice comes through.

The voice carries us through Flyboy’s two worlds: an ordinary Catholic high school and a lush magical dream circus. Asher doesn’t ever want to leave the circus, and sometimes I didn’t either. How did you go about balancing these two settings?

One of my goals in structuring Flyboy was always to allow the reader to experience Asher’s life right alongside him. Just as Asher is yanked from the refuge of the circus each morning, the reader is as well. You can never get too comfortable at the circus or forget what Asher is facing outside of it because he can’t either. I tried to set up that back and forth right from the start of the book with Chapter 1 opening to Asher in church with his grandparents, and Chapter 2 opening to Asher visiting the Midnight Circus for the first time.

Where I did run into some difficulty with the balancing of the two settings was when I felt like I needed to skip further ahead in the daytime world compared to the nighttime world, or vice versa. There was one point during my last round of copyedits when I had a completely fresh read from someone and they pointed out to me that I had skipped forward in time about 6 weeks without saying very much about it! Oops!

Why a circus? Did one come to you in a dream?

Because writing a book about a circus was easier than running away to join one!

But in all seriousness (or as serious as one can get when discussing the circus!), I think that circuses have a rich history of being seen as places where people who didn’t fit into mainstream society could find acceptance, and it felt like it made perfect sense to make a circus a place of refuge for people like Asher who don’t feel like they can be themselves anywhere else.

When I was in high school a local radio station held a contest to win two tickets to see Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria, and I entered every morning. I remember coming home from school to a message on our answering machine telling my father that he had won two tickets to see the show and I just screamed. I wasn’t eighteen yet, so I had entered using his name and forgotten to mention that to him, so he was a little surprised when he won. Fortunately, he was game and we went and had a great time. Whatever interest I had in the circus before then definitely exploded afterward, and I can almost certainly trace Asher’s future on the flying trapeze to that performance!

You’ve had a clear sense, from the start, of why you’re writing this book and who it’s for. Can you talk about that and how you think it helped bring Flyboy over the finish line?

I started writing Flyboy after I came out as trans in 2017 and struggled to find books that felt like they were written for trans people rather than about us. The publishing landscape is so different in 2024 than it was six or seven years ago, and there are so many incredible books by trans authors being published every year now, but I could truly count them on one hand when I started writing this book.

So in some ways that growth has made things much easier. No one story can represent an entire group of people, and no one should feel the pressure for their story to do that. But as much as I want this story to appeal broadly to many people, and to hopefully help people understand trans people better, it’s for the trans community that I wrote this book for, particularly young trans people and trans people just starting on their journey to better understand themselves and live authentically.

Let’s talk more about feedback. You got notes from plenty of people who were not your intended audience. How did you filter out what was helpful from an outsider’s perspective and what wasn’t the point of your project?

It definitely involved some trial and error, especially early on when I didn’t have other trans books to read and compare mine too. I remember in early drafts, I used Asher’s given name in some of the daytime scenes of the book. I never wanted to, but I didn’t think I could avoid it given that he isn’t out as trans to most people in his life, and more than that, I didn’t think I was “allowed” to. Then in workshops, no matter how clear it seemed to me that Asher should only ever be referred to by his chosen name, people would still use his deadname to refer to him when discussing certain scenes.

I decided at that moment that in my next draft, the reader would never once read Asher’s deadname on the page. I didn’t ever want to hear someone use it to refer to him, and I didn’t ever want another trans reader to read a review of my book or hear someone talking about it and using his deadname.

Sometimes the choices I make can be jarring to a cis reader. When Asher has to put on a skirt for school, or when someone refers to him as she, I want that to feel jarring, because it means that the reader is so connected to Asher and so deep in his point of view that they can’t see him as anything other than a boy.

Early in your revision process, I remember we talked about what flaw Asher has to overcome, and I wondered about framing it as dishonesty. That doesn’t feel exactly fair given the hateful tropes around trans people and trickery, not to mention the real dangers of coming out of the closet; being open can make a person vulnerable. But for you, Asher does have to come out of the closet in the end. Why can’t he stay in the circus forever?

There are so many ways to be trans, and when or how much to reveal of that aspect of yourself to other people is such a personal decision and there is no one right answer. Certainly, for many people, especially many young people, staying in the closet is the safest decision and possibly the only decision that can be made. One of the things I try to acknowledge in my book is that you can do the right thing for yourself, but that doesn’t mean it always comes without costs. For Asher, I think what he struggles with is taking control of his life and learning what he is or isn’t willing to risk in doing so.

By the end of the book, I think Asher has realized the cost of trying to live entirely in a dream, and only by confronting some of his fears is he finally able to move forward.

Like all the best authors, you’re a big reader. What books are on your can’t-wait-to-read list?

So many! For books that are currently on my shelf, I’m excited to dig into A.J. Sass’s newest middle grade book, Just Shy of Ordinary, as well as finally finding time to read Deke Moulton’s MG debut from 2023, Don’t Want to Be Your Monster.

I’m also greatly looking forward to some upcoming Young Adult books by my fellow 2024 debuts including Adi Denner’s The Kiss of the Nightingale (which has one of the absolutely most gorgeous covers I’ve ever seen), Madeline Claire Franklin’s The Wilderness of Girls, and A.R. Vishny’s Night Owls.

And then of course, I need to shout out some fantastic upcoming releases from fellow Novel Incubator alums, including Sara Shukla’s Pink Whales, Desmond Hall’s Better Must Come, and Hesse Phillip’s Lightborne.

Kasey LeBlanc was an Alice Hoffman fellow with GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program and a finalist for the Boston Public Library Writer-in-Residence program. He has since been published by WBUR’s Cognoscenti, Writer Unboxed, and Them. When not writing, he can be found learning to unicycle and mourning the loss of Boston’s only flying trapeze school. You can visit him online at kaseyleblanc.com.

Keep reading in this series