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Where Stories Come From, a guest post by Jaye Robin Brown

It’s hard for me to believe that my fourth novel, THE KEY TO YOU AND ME, is releasing on April 20th. It seems like only a few weeks ago I was waking up before the dawn to get in an hour or so of writing before heading off to my job as a teacher, not yet agented and publishing a thing only in my daydreams. Those days are gone and now I write full-time but some things are unchanged. I still need to find the stories within me to put on the page.

This got me thinking about where these stories come from. How does an idea that starts as some shadowy notion become a fully-fledged novel? For me, each book’s inspiration and start has been a little different. But what they all have in common is a key element of internal exploration or some issue I’ve grappled with in my life.

In my first novel, NO PLACE TO FALL, I was exploring place and home. It was not only a look at the beauty and pitfalls of life in a small rural town, but also a love song to Appalachia. Though the South, in general, tends to get bad press, there are hierarchies within the South and Southern Appalachia gets, perhaps, the worst press of all. And though I didn’t grow up here, it became my chosen home. It’s a place where family ties go deep, secrets are held close, but people are loved right where they are. It’s also a place steeped in music. I wanted to share this in a novel that explores all of those things along with the beauty of the land.

My second book, GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, is an exploration of queerness and faith. As someone who is both queer and Southern, it was so important for me to write Jo and her journey. Though the book is a sweet romance, it’s also a look at the ways in which religion and queerness can exist hand-in-hand when people allow it.

At Pride in Boston in 2019 sporting sticker swag from my books

One reason why it took me into my 20s to come out was this Southern upbringing. One of the first questions people often ask is “where do you attend church?” And as a gay person, there’s always this underlying drumbeat of feeling somehow wrong or that you’re going to be struck down because of who you love. This book was the way I dealt with this for myself, along with being, I hope, a ray of light for teens who desire to have faith and an honest existence.

THE MEANING OF BIRDS, my third novel, is my most personal novel of the lot. It delves into loss, grief, and how we heal. In 2015, I lost my partner to cancer. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to write again. But when I did, what came out was grief. But this story contained so much more, as stories often do. There’s a nod to my grandmother who loved watching birds, the lake house setting was inspired by a yearly retreat I do with several writer friends, and there are cameos of artist friends in some of the later scenes. Mostly though, this book is about the healing power of art and creativity. For years, as an art teacher, I watched the transformative nature of creation. And it turns out that this novel, heavy with my own emotional relationship to grief, provided a way for me to crawl forward and recapture my ability to weave words onto the page.

On my friend’s horse, Fonty

And now here we are, my fourth book, THE KEY TO YOU AND ME. After writing about religion and grief, I needed to write something lighter in tone. This book is about the joy of falling for someone and overcoming obstacles either put in our path or self-created. Though the main premise is the burgeoning romance between main characters—local girl, Kat, and visiting equestrian, Piper—I still found deeper issues I wanted to explore. With Piper, it’s unfounded fear. Though she’s confident riding horses, she’s been terrified to learn how to drive a vehicle. Having gone through my own great fear (mine did have to do with horses) I knew it was something I wanted to explore in fiction. I think there are these moments for all of us where something is overwhelming even if it’s something the rest of the world does easily. For Piper, it’s driving, and I loved being able to navigate her character through this.

With Kat, I wanted to delve into what it means to come out as queer in your own time frame. Kat knows she’s not straight. But she’s unsure how to classify her sexuality. Though plenty of people around her have questioned her, she’s still privately exploring and not ready to label herself. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, how once you’ve put on a certain label, people want to hold you to that. Or they won’t stop until you’ve chosen a label. And as a teenager, there needs to be room to explore and shift and try things on until you find the thing that suits you. And it’s really no one’s right but your own to name it.

But now I should come clean, none of these themes start out in an intentional way. More often, I hear a voice, or something on the news, or imagine a setting that sets the creative wheels in motion. But those trigger points are more like keys for unlocking the psyche. And as I write, themes develop for each book. I often don’t even know what they are until I get into my editorial draft and have another pair of eyes on the work. Then it’s like the proverbial light bulb going off and, “of course that’s what it’s about.”

With each novel, it becomes easier for me to point to the places where they intersect with my lived experience and exploratory thoughts and say “A-ha, so that’s where this story came from.”

Meet the author

Jaye Robin Brown, or JRo to her friends, has been many things in her life–jeweler, mediator, high school art teacher–but is now living the full-time writer life. She lives with her wife, dogs, cats, and horses in a sweet house in the NC woods where she hopes to live happily ever after. She is the author of NO PLACE TO FALL, WILL’S STORY, GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, THE MEANING OF BIRDS, and the forthcoming THE KEY TO YOU AND ME.

Her debut young adult novel, NO PLACE TO FALL, came out in the fall of 2014 from Harper Teen. It’s a love song to small town girls and mountain music. In April 2016, a companion novella, WILL’S STORY: A NO PLACE TO FALL NOVELLA, released from Epic Reads Impulse, a digital only imprint. GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, released August 30, 2016, also from Harper Teen, and is the story of Jo Gordon, the out lesbian daughter of a moderate evangelical minister. It’s a love story and a look at the sometimes conundrum of having faith and being queer. It was named to the ALA Rainbow List for 2017 as well as being a Kirkus Best Teen Book of 2017.  THE MEANING OF BIRDS, April 2019, is a story about loss, love, and the healing power of art. It was named a Lambda Literary Award Finalist in the Children’s/Young Adult Category. THE KEY TO YOU AND ME, releasing April 2021, is a dual POV romance between one girl chasing her dream while escaping a broken heart, and another girl trying to figure out her heart’s desire and what happens when they collide.

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About The Key to You and Me

A sweet and funny ownvoices LGBTQ+ romance perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Julie Murphy, from the critically acclaimed author of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit!

Piper Kitts is spending the summer living with her grandmother, training at the barn of a former Olympic horseback rider, and trying to get over her ex-girlfriend. Much to Piper’s dismay, her grandmother is making her face her fear of driving by taking lessons from a girl in town.

Kat Pearson has always suspected that she likes girls but fears her North Carolina town is too small to color outside the lines. But when Piper’s grandmother hires Kat to give her driving lessons, everything changes.

Piper’s not sure if she’s ready to let go of her ex. Kat’s navigating uncharted territory with her new crush. With the summer running out, will they be able to unlock a future together?

ISBN-13: 9780062824585
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/20/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years