Mason Deaver brings Nonbinary representation to the YA literary world

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Mason Deaver — Photo by Trinh Hong Huong
Mason Deaver — Photo by Trinh Hong Huong

Over the past year, our book club has had the opportunity to explore Queer and Trans voices from across the globe, in stories that span different genres and periods. However, up until now, we have yet to read a Nonbinary romance.

Pushed by a desire to create a unique story featuring a Nonbinary (or "Enby") lead, author Mason Deaver produced their first novel, I Wish You All the Best. It tells the story of Ben, a Nonbinary senior in high school. After being forced to come out to their parents, they are kicked out of their home. The book received praise from New York Times best-selling author Becky Albertalli (of Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda), who called it "quietly groundbreaking."

Deaver describes their second novel, The Ghosts We Keep, which came out in early 2021, as "the most personal book I'll ever write." It explores many heavy topics, and might be triggering to some readers. "It came from my personal experiences with grief and depression and PTSD," they said. "It was a tough book to write, and an even tougher book to sit there and listen to the critique of. But I'm proud of it."

An Enby pioneer
Deaver decided to write I Wish You All the Best "because there were no Nonbinary characters in YA at the time. Trans representation as a whole left a lot to be desired. Lots of cis writers creating harmful — or downright offensive — ways."

For Deaver, writing a Nonbinary character was different than writing a cis character. Using their own experiences and feelings when creating Ben was essential. "There are intricacies that go into writing a Nonbinary character, things that cis characters won't experience or can't understand," they said. Writing a Nonbinary character as a Nonbinary person was essential for providing accurate representation.

Once they began drafting the novel, the rest of the writing process moved quickly. Within four months, the first draft was complete.

They learned a lot about the writing process along the way. "Since first writing I Wish You All the Best, I've learned the benefits of planning out the entire novel before I start drafting," they said.

After a few more months of editing, Deaver was ready to find a publisher. Unfortunately, many in the industry felt they weren't ready to take on a book about a Nonbinary person. "During my querying stage, I was told by two agents that a book about a Nonbinary protagonist would never sell and that there was no readership," Deaver said. "And around a year after publishing, a friend of mine who used to be an editor told me they wanted to acquire my book but were told they 'already have a Trans book on the schedule.' Honestly, it was expected."

Image courtesy of PUSH  

A novel of hope
Despite these setbacks, Deaver eventually found a publisher, and the feedback from readers proved that the world was not only ready for a nonbinary book but desperately needed one. The messages of love and acceptance in I Wish You All the Best inspired readers to not only accept themselves but understand that there is no right way to be nonbinary.

Deaver says, above all, that they hope their readers take away a message of hope. "I always want my books to end on a hopeful note. With I Wish You All the Best, I wanted readers to understand that blood-related family isn't everything, that you can find and make a home for yourself with the people around you."

Writing the book was also helpful in pushing back against stereotypes and expectations that some may have about being nonbinary. "I hope that others understand that there is no one single way to be nonbinary. There's no way you're supposed to look, or act, and this idea that nonbinary people must be androgynous and thin and white with dyed hair [is not always accurate]."

Rom-com tropes
While I Wish You All the Best can be heartbreaking and raw, it is still a rom-com. Deaver included their favorite tropes in the novel, such as a sunshine/grump dynamic and a height difference. "One I find myself (accidentally) going back to all the time is a height difference. It's great, especially with kissing scenes," they said.

When it comes to rom-com tropes, they believe there is no such thing as an "overdone cliché." However, Deaver said, "the clichés and tropes we know today have been explored to death by cis-het, white, able-bodied writers, and that's one of the reasons we're tired of them — because they end up being the same stories over and over again. [But] I think there's originality inherent to giving these tropes to marginalized voices... I believe that clichés and tropes still have the space to be explored by Queer, BIPOC, and disabled readers."

What's next?
Deaver has a busy 2022 planned. They contributed to the rom-com anthology Fools in Love, a celebration of all the best cheesy tropes with cleverly reimagined twists, which is available for preorder now. They are also currently working on short stories for Transmogrify!, an anthology created by Trans authors about Trans characters.

Their other upcoming projects remain mostly secret. "I prefer to keep my cards close to my chest," they said. (But they were willing to spill exclusively to us that one revisits a character from a previous novel!)

Since publishing I Wish You All the Best, Deaver has explored several other genres, including horror in their book Another Name for the Devil. They admit this book was the most challenging to write. "Another Name for the Devil was a tough one to write. I had to figure out my main characters and their dynamics and where they fit into the spectrum of what I wanted to write."

Yet rom-com still calls to Deaver. Their latest book, The Feeling of Falling in Love, is one of 2022's most highly anticipated romance novels. "Now, this one is a romance," they said of their latest release. "I think it's a lot closer to I Wish You All the Best in tone, so much so that I've been worried at points during the drafting that I'm plagiarizing myself. I think readers will appreciate that it's more of a blend of I Wish You All the Best and The Ghosts We Keep. It has the heavier emotional moments, it has the romance, but it also has things that are specific to it, that makes it special in its way."

While their next few novels remain a secret, there's one thing readers can take certainty in. "I only plan on writing Queer characters, actually," Deaver said. "I think I want to stay with Trans characters, but beyond that, I'd love to explore sexuality."

Deaver also said they will continue to feature diversity in their novels. "I think it's ridiculous to have an all-white cast in a book, especially in contemporary [times,] where the book is meant to represent reality (though the same can be said for fantasy, where the author is creating a world from the ground up and just decides that this robust fantasy world similar to Earth only has white people)."

Fans of Mason Deaver have a lot to look forward to, with several books scheduled to be released in 2022 and 2023, as well as a possible movie adaptation for I Wish You All the Best. As readers cozy up with their novels, Deaver remains hard at work, drafting, editing, and plotting their latest ideas, all while surviving the bitter North Carolina winter.

I Wish You All the Best will be this week's book club feature! Grab a copy, read along with us, and let us know your thoughts on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/sgn_books/.