Last week, Aiden Thomas made book publishing history by being the first out trans author to have a book about trans characters debut on The New York Times Fiction Bestsellers list. The incredible accomplishment proves that we are in a golden age for LGBTQ Young Adult fiction, and readers are hungry for diverse stories—even if they deal with the undead.
Thomas’ book, Cemetery Boys, tells the story of Yadriel, a trans Latinx teen who sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin only to accidentally summon the ghost of his school’s “resident bad boy” Julian Diaz. The two set out to solve what led to Julian’s death, and feelings develop between the two over the course of the quest.
Thomas spoke with NewNowNext about the NYT news, where the idea for Cemetery Boys came from, if he’s thought about casting for the series’ inevitable onscreen adaptation, and if he would ever return to the world of Yadriel and Julian.
Hi, Aiden. Congratulations! You’re the first trans author with a trans fiction book to make The New York Times Bestsellers list. How does that feel?
Totally wild and unexpected. I didn’t think it was possible, so it wasn’t even on my radar. So then when it happened it totally caught me off guard. And then I have a lot of people who were like, “Oh, I knew it was going to happen but we didn’t want to jinx it so we just didn’t say anything.” I was completely shocked.
That’s crazy. And I’ve seen people on Twitter reaching out to you. It must feel so nice.
Yeah. It’s really incredible. I feel I’m so very lucky and honored to be in this really incredible situation. My mind is absolutely blown.
HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/hfa7rRUcB6
— Aiden Thomas (on hiatus ) (@aidenschmaiden) September 9, 2020
In case our readers aren’t aware of Cemetery Boys, can you give a short synopsis of the plot?
So Cemetery Boys—a reviewer called it “a ghost story turned rom-com.” It features Yadriel who is a trans brujo, he’s also gay. And he sets out to prove his gender to his community to show them that he’s a brujo by summoning the spirit of his cousin Miguel, who was recently killed. And when he goes and does that, he accidentally summons the wrong ghost and then ends up being the bad boy from his high school, Julian Diaz. They become entrenched in solving these mysteries together and start developing feelings for each other, and things get very complicated.
I love it. What inspired the book? Parts of it reminded me of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
So the real premise of the plot actually came from a Tumblr post that I saw because I followed a lot of writing prompts, blogs, just to help be creative. It was just one sentence: “What would happen if you summoned a ghost and you couldn’t get rid of it?” And it’s funny because a lot of the replies had these really scary, creepy situations. But when I read it, the first thought I had was like, Okay, but what if he was really cute? That was like the basis for it, and then I really wanted to feature a Latinx cast. So from there I was like, all right, if we’re talking about death and ghosts, this aligns perfectly with Día de los Muertos. So then I just based my whole magic system around that, and it was so much fun.
Have any young trans readers reached out to you? I would think that for some, this may be the first time they’re reading a book with a trans lead character.
Yeah. I’ve had quite a few reach-outs through my contact form on my website. And man—I mean, it’s the whole reason that I wanted to get into writing and why I wanted to write Cemetery Boys, because I had never seen myself represented in media, including books. And so I wanted to be able to have that representation, not only for me but for readers. I’ve always said that the most important part to me for writing this book is to be able to connect with readers who need to see themselves in a book. So having them reach out and just tell me their stories, their experiences and how important Cemetery Boys, specifically Yadriel, has been to them has been incredible and life-changing. And I feel so honored to be able to provide that for them.
Have you given any thought to your dream casting if Cemetery Boys were adapted for the screen?
Yeah. I think about that pretty regularly. [Laughs] So the dream casting is difficult especially for Yad because as far as I know, there’s no trans Latinx—especially dark-skinned—actors who have been given any opportunities within acting. The one person that I know for sure because they were the visual inspiration for Julian is Danny Ramirez, who was in On My Block. The tone of that show was a big inspiration for Cemetery Boys—heavy topics but also really fun and kind of ridiculous. So Danny Ramirez, definitely. That’s the only solid fan cast I have in my hand, and even now he’s probably too old, but yeah.
Would you be open to returning to the world of Cemetery Boys? Do you have any sequels or follow-ups in mind?
I definitely have. I feel like I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Cemetery Boys world in my brain. So there’s definitely more to the story that I could turn into something if that’s what ends up working out in the future. I am particularly interested in exploring what Julian’s experience is going to be like after the end of this book. There was a lot of things I wanted to include in Cemetery Boys, but it was too much. I didn’t have the time or space for it. It’s a 350-page book, but I could’ve made it 600 pages.
And judging from the bestsellers list, people are excited for these stories. If someone wanted to start reading more YA books featuring Latinx characters, aside from Cemetery Boys, do you have a recommendation?
Yes! So the one I always scream about that’s my absolute favorite—it’s the book where I was like, Oh, we’re allowed to write about our culture, people will buy that? Publishing houses will publish it? I was shocked—was the Brooklyn Brujas series by Zoraida Córdova. The first one specifically is called Labyrinth Lost, and that’s really the book that changed it for me. It’s about a community of brujos. The main character Alex is bisexual and she’s a bruja, and it’s just steeped in brujería and Latinx culture. For me it was totally life-changing. And it’s a trilogy now. The third book was just published on September 1, along with Cemetery Boys, which was really poetic. As that one comes to a close, now mine is able to come out into the world, which is really neat. That’s one of my favorite books of all time. It’s so good. Zoraida is so talented.
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HAPPY PRIDE MONTH! enjoy this gay af art of Yadriel and Julian from my debut, CEMETERY BOYS (9/1/20). it's got: ️⚧️a trans MC a ghost LI GAY romance latinx magic ☠️set during Día de Muertos you can enter the preorder campaign through the link in my bio! WHICH IS OPEN INTERNATIONALLY! art, as always, done by the incredible @yaboykeiji!
What’s next for you? You have another book coming out in March, right?
Yeah. So March 23, 2021, my second book is coming out. It’s called Lost in the Never Woods, and it’s a dark fantasy reimagining of the Peter Pan cannon. It’s kind of like what happens after the events of the first book takes place, but it’s contemporary. And it’s set in a small coastal town in Oregon, and it centers around when Wendy went missing with her brothers. She was found again, but her brothers never came back and she doesn’t remember what happened. Suddenly the kids in Wendy’s town are going missing, so everyone’s kind of looking at her like, “Well, is it related to what happened to her and her brothers?” And she runs into a boy named Peter who tells her that he knows what happened to her and her brothers and the missing kids—and that he knows how to get them back. It turns into a lot of creepy woods and a really dark, shadowy villain. It’s really fun and a lot darker than Cemetery Boys.
Cemetery Boys is available now from Macmillan.