Q: What inspired you to write Spin Me Right Round, and how did you create your character Luis?
A: My daughter and I watched Stranger Things season 3 together and it was fascinating to see her interest in ‘80s culture, from clothes to the mall, as this distant era – to me, that’s my teen years. Somehow it just hit at once that I wanted to write about the ‘80s but with a Cuban-American kid like me—something I never saw when I was her age.
Luis has some of me in him—he’s very out, very chatty—but he’s really more a reflection of a lot of queer kids today: way more confident in their identities than most gay kids in the ‘80s, more progressive and aware, but also a bit underinformed of what being LGBTQ meant to their parents’ generation.
Luis is fun and lovable but not perfect—hopefully the reader can see him grow over the course of the book.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “The narrative explores the impacts of homophobia and being closeted, remaining optimistic without shying away from the more brutal aspects.” What do you think of that description?
A: I like that description a lot. I wanted to write a book that was fun and funny and joyful, but I didn’t want to shy away from the fact that homophobia still exists or erase the history of how constant and pervasive it once was. One of the key themes of the book is how we must actively take care of each other and the power of community.
Q: Some of the book's reviews compare it to the Back to the Future movies. Do you agree?
A: Absolutely. I loved Back to the Future—once of my best friends and I went on more than a few 88mph joyrides listening to “The Power of Love”… I liked the notion of doing my own riff on that rough idea, but more gay and less white.
But I also borrowed the time travel elements from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and Hangin’ Out with Cici, two books I liked as a kid.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: For one thing, I want them to get all the fun of a time-travel and a rom com, but with new characters who are kids of color. I hope they come away seeing how we are connected to and shaped by the past, as well as our ability to impact others. I’m a believer that we need to make the future we want and that’s what Luis ends up doing.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m in revisions on a YA contemporary for Bloomsbury about three teens trying to navigate the gaps between their online and offline selves when they meet in real life and fall in (and out) of love. They wrestle with the tricky nature of identity when you don’t easily fit the boxes society provides and discover how hard it is to be true to yourself, when you’re still working out who that even is.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I hope eventually to write for television as well, bringing more LGBTQ stories and characters of color into the world.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb