Author Interview: Ron Koertge on Boy Girl Boy

Boy Girl Boy by Ron Koertge (Harcourt, 2005). From the catalog copy: “Larry, Teresa, and Elliot are so tight, there’s no room in their circle for any more than three: boy, girl, boy. That’s just how it is. And when they graduate in a few months, they’re moving to California to begin their real lives–together. Or that’s the plan, anyway. But who are they fooling? Larry is gay and still trying to coming to terms with his sexuality. Teresa is tired of hanging out with two boys she loves who aren’t interested in being her boyfriend. And Elliot–sweet, handsome, but not the brightest–is finally considering the idea that he may in fact like himself more when he’s not in the shadow of his two best friends.” Ages 12-up.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I go to a lot of movies (50 a year is nothing for me), and I always admired the Japanese film “Rashoman,” where the gimmick is to tell/see the same thing from various points of view. BGB is the final version of a book called “Arrowhead Canyon, The Book of Love,” and – probably – “Moby Dick 2.”

I’d write a version, nobody would like it; I’d put it aside, then go back and write another version which nobody would like. Finally I hit on the three-points-of-view angle and everything came together. I’ve put things aside before and never gone back to them. And I’ve given up on projects. But I just kept plugging away at this one.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Seems like about a hundred years. A version of BGB was set in the past, e.g., the 50s because that’s when I was a kid. One editor said to me – wisely, I believe – that she couldn’t see kids getting interested in the 50s and that 40 years in the past for them would be like me reading a book set in 1920 or so when I was living the 50s. True or not, her comment made sense to me, maybe because historical fiction of any sort has never been my cup of tea. I don’t like research; I like to make stuff up.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

I have a hunch BGB is more autobiographical than I know, though (and this is interesting now that I think about it) I never actually knew a gay kid until I was at the University of Illinois. My hometown was pretty small and very parochial. It still is really, and I know because I go back now and again since my very old mother is in a nursing home there. On the other hand, there is still a pasture near where I used to live, and my friends and I did play there, and I made out with girls in an abandoned car, just like Elliot. But – as I said above – any gay kids in my small high school class were so deep in the closet they were right next to being entombed.

I’ve had gay characters in books before, especially Wes in The Arizona Kid* and that makes people ask me how a straight man can write a gay character. No one ever asks how a straight man can write a fifteen year old girl. The answer to both is the same — I make it up. I write and then read out loud what I’ve written until it sounds right to me just like composers fiddle with a score until the dissonance is in the right place.

*note: The Arizona Kid is now back in print (Candlewick, 2005).

Cynsational News & Links

The Art of Writing for Kids by Judy Alter from The Dallas Morning News. Learn more about Judy Alter from Texas Christian University Press.

Ethiopian Books for Children and Educational Foundation (EBCEF): a grassroots non profit/non government organization geared toward bringing literacy and literacy related resources to Ethiopia. Its mission is to develop a reading culture in Ethiopia by connecting children with books. Noted U.S. (Kansas) children’s author Jane Kurtz is on the board of this important organization. Find out more and help if you can.

Ron Koertge’s Summer Reading List from