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Timothy Janovsky gives LGBTQ+ readers the cozy holiday novel they deserve

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Timothy Janovsky — Photo by Rebecca Phillips
Timothy Janovsky — Photo by Rebecca Phillips

The holidays are here, and as snow falls over Seattle, there's nothing better than cozying up by the Christmas tree and indulging in a seasonal Queer story.

This week, the SGN Book Club is reading You're a Mean, One Matthew Prince, a Gay Christmas romance inspired by the hilarious and cozy vibes of classic ABC Family holiday rom-coms.

Meeting a demanding deadline
You're a Mean One is the latest novel from new author Timothy Janovsky. His debut book, Never Been Kissed, came out earlier this year. Releasing two books in less than two months would be pretty hectic for most authors, but Janovsky took the challenge in stride. "It was wild, but it was a lot of fun," he said.

Janovsky wrote Matthew Prince first, but his publisher suggested releasing a non-holiday book ahead of it, setting the challenge to draft, edit, and release it before the holiday novel could reach the shelves.

"Funnily enough, during COVID, I lost my job, like a lot of people did. I was home and looking for a project, and I just for fun was writing what became You're a Mean One, Matthew Prince, for my enjoyment," Janovsky explained. "That's the book that my agent sold on submission, but my publisher came back and was like, 'We love it, [but] we want another book to be your debut novel, so that it reaches more people that might not read Christmas or holiday romances. Do you have any ideas?'

"And that's when I pitched them Never Been Kissed, so I went ahead and wrote that one, and we just kind of flip-flopped the order, and the stars just aligned so that they could come out in the same year."

Image courtesy of Sourcebooks Casablanca  

Inspired by ABC Family
While COVID gave Janovsky the perfect excuse to sit down and write his first novel, the idea for Matthew Prince had been stewing in the back of his mind for years.

"Aside from being homebound during the COVID pandemic and needing a fun, wintry escape, [I remembered] when I was a sophomore in high school [that] my best friend invited a group of us to go tubing in the Berkshires, and we stayed at her grandmother's ...rustic, beautiful, charming little cabin," he said. "[It was] very remote, on the side of the hill, overlooking the water. Snow was on the ground. It was wonderful.

"And I had a really deep obsession with ABC Family Christmas movies when I was in high school. I don't know why ABC Family in particular, but I just really did. And when I got out of the car, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, they should set an ABC Christmas movie here,' and I immediately got this idea of a rich guy that gets sent there, and they're housing a local college student for Christmas and they butt heads."

Janovsky couldn't let his idea for a perfect ABC Family movie go. "I think I annoyed my friends for the whole weekend. Like, everywhere we went I was like, 'Oh my gosh, and they go to the movies. Oh my gosh, they go tubing!'

"...So, during COVID I remembered that and I was like, that would be such a fun thing to put to paper for the first time, and so I just put on a playlist of Christmas music and I just started writing."

Fans of the cheesy holiday romances of the mid-aughts may recognize some scenes in Matthew Prince. "[Holiday in Handcuffs] is one of the big inspirations for the book, because I loved how wild and bananas those movies were, like they were just off the walls hysterical...

"There's this great romance trope called 'only one bed,' [wherein] the couple finds out there's only one bed in the room... In this book we had 'there's only one bunk bed,' which was inspired by the scene in Holiday in Handcuffs, where Melissa Joan Hart and Mario Lopez are in their little bunks just bantering with each other," he said with a laugh.

"Don't I deserve a love story at Christmastime, too?"
From the moment Janovsky first thought of Matthew Prince, he knew the novel had to be Queer. "When I was a sophomore in high school, I had recently come out of the closet... I watched a lot of those ABC Family movies and never really saw a lot of Queer people in them. I was always like, 'Why is that? Don't I deserve a love story at Christmastime, too?'

"So [this book was always going to be] a male/male romance. When I sat down to write it, I was super duper excited to explore a story about people who love the way that I do, but still getting [to experience] all that ooey-gooey Christmas magic, like baking together and putting up the ornaments, all those really fun, exciting Christmas traditions."

For Janovsky, writing a Queer romance takes extra consideration. He can't just take a heterosexual love story or trope and change the genders of the protagonists. "The main difference between [heterosexual and homosexual] stories is that there is no one way to fall in love," he said.

Image courtesy of Sourcebooks Casablanca  

He got the chance to explore more of what makes Queer relationships unique when writing his debut novel, Never Been Kissed. "I mean, we have all internalized this universal truth that love looks like this, or love ends like this... In my first book, Never Been Kissed, Wren comes to the conclusion that he grew up on Nora Ephron movies and he's like, 'Oh, well, the man and the woman have a meet-cute, and the man and the woman get together, and the man and the woman get married,' and he had internalized that for so long that he needed to realize that life doesn't always work out like the movies."

He took the lessons he discovered from Never Been Kissed into the editing phase of Matthew Prince. "When I went to revise Matthew Prince, I was also thinking that Queer folk have extra hurdles to go over. You could be attracted to someone, and that person could not be Queer. You could be wanting different relationship styles: you could be wanting an open relationship or a monogamous relationship. Certain things make a Queer relationship timeline fundamentally different than a heterosexual relationship."

Queering up classic tropes
Despite the many differences between Queer relationships and straight ones, Janovsky wanted to make sure that he wrote a story that would give LGBTQ+ readers the same happy feelings ABC Family holiday movies provide.

"So, in the book, I wanted to bring in all the same enjoyable tropes, like [that] Queer people can bake cookies just as well as heterosexual people can, but their love stories are going to look a little bit different," he said.

"I would just say that Queer folk exist on a completely different relationship timeline than our heterosexual friends do. Sometimes our firsts are different. Sometimes our communication styles are different. I got to explore that, and I also got to reflect on some of my own life experiences in the love stories I write, which I think is great, because I love the way people can see themselves reflected in them."

Despite some of the struggles that may come with writing a Queer rom-com, Janovsky also found some freedom in the fact that the genre has yet to become as diluted as straight versions have. "I feel like one of the things that comes up a lot when I'm working on new stories is that Queer romance is still a very emerging genre. With the volume of them being published, more and more we get a chance to play with tropes that have historically been reserved only for heterosexual fictional couples," he said.

"What's fun is being able to crack open those tropes and explore them in a way that feels authentic to the Queer experience, because Queer folk have a different sense of time, so when we evolve or we connect with another person, a lot of times we get those same butterflies, but maybe in a different way."

Exploring what makes Queer relationships unique has also allowed Janovsky to revisit classic rom-com tropes and give them new life. "I would say that second-chance romance seems like a really good one for Queer folk, because we all come into our identities at different times in our lives. So, you could have those really strong connections with someone, but maybe one of them doesn't know they're Queer yet, and then you meet again somewhere four years down the line, and now you're both in your identities and ...can connect. If I had to pick one, I think I'd pick second-chance romance."

"I will make the very bold statement and say that pretty much everything I write ever will probably be Queer," he added, "because my writing is influenced by my day-to-day life, and navigating the world as a Queer person is so integral to how I see the world and how I interact with others.

"I could even make the bolder statement that as time goes on, I will probably only exclusively write Queer people in my books, because [they] tend to travel in packs and support each other. I love to color my books with that kind of rainbow community."

Writing a modern-day Grinch
Writing Matthew Prince was also fun for Janovsky because he had the chance to develop a seemingly "unlikeable" protagonist. "In Matthew Prince, we have Matthew, who's a spoiled-heir kind of guy, and he's just bought an island ...That's like the end of the line for him with his parents, [so] he's getting shipped off to a small town in Massachusetts for the holidays where he's not going to have any cell service, and his cards have been cut up and he's not happy," he said with a laugh.

"I hope readers will come to the book with an open mind, because we meet Matthew at a super low point. I mean, he has reached the maximum level of privilege that you can have. He has swiped his parents' credit card to buy an entire [piece] of land to throw a music festival on, and that's just like a big old no-no.

"I hope readers take away that Queer folks, especially if they're unlikeable or messy or they've done bad things or made mistakes, they are just as worthy of love as other people," he said.

While Matthew Prince is surely a fun romp, the novel also covers some more serious topics. "The book also touches on mental health, and it has a content warning for depictions and discussions of generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks. I hope readers ...take away that mental health is a really important thing to talk about, and the holiday time can be a pressurized experience, especially for Queer folk who may have to be around a family who aren't necessarily accepting or understanding. I hope people also take [away] that while the holidays are a time of immense joy, people can be struggling. There are different colors to the emotions we can feel at [this] time, and they're all valid."

Christmas with the Janovkys
The holidays can be very stressful, but they also bring great joy, especially to Janovsky, who looks forward to celebrating Christmas and his birthday with his loved ones. "I'm a December baby. I love everything about Christmas," he said with a smile. "My favorite holiday tradition is when I go home... my parents set aside my ...ornaments for the Christmas tree. Those ornaments date back to my first Christmas as a baby [and up] to when I graduated college. And what I like about that tradition is that they will never put them up for me. They always leave space on the tree for me to put them up, and it's kind of like a little walk down memory lane. I mean, they even have pipe cleaner candy canes that I made in kindergarten that are falling apart, and they're like, 'No, no, it has to go on the tree.' So, that's my favorite tradition."

This tradition became a personal Easter egg in the book. "Of course, it wouldn't be a Christmas novel without a... decorating scene," he said. "Matthew has a kind of contentious relationship with his parents, but when he goes to his grandparents' house and he starts decorating the tree with them, he notices that they've kept all these clay creations and... painted pictures that he used to make as a kid that his parents never wanted to hang up.... So Matthew's like, 'Why do you have these?' and they're like, 'Because you made them and you loved them, and [when] we put them on the tree, it reminds us of you,' and Matthew's like, 'Oh, I didn't know that meant so much to you.'

"...It's sort of a sweet moment where he realizes, oh, I have connections, I have these really beautiful emotional bonds, and so I got to give him that."

Janovsky is brilliant at concocting the perfect cozy Christmas vibes, but there's one classic holiday experience he has yet to have. "I think it would be super duper cute if a community got together with a group of carolers who went door to door and two of the carolers in the group had a meet-cute because they were singing different parts in the harmony. I just think that's beautiful.

"One of the things I love most about Christmas movies is groups of carolers, and I have never gotten to experience that in real life. That's like one of the Christmas traditions that has always escaped me. No one's come to my door to sing, and I've never gone to someone's door to sing. I would love to gift that to fictional characters, because I think that would be so cute."

What's next from Janovsky?
This holiday, Janovsky is the author that keeps on giving! Fans of Never Been Kissed and You're a Mean One, Matthew Prince will be excited to know that his third novel will hit shelves in 2023, and he's got several more on the way.

"My third novel is called New Adult and it comes out in August of 2023. It is a Queer time-travel romance loosely based on 13 Going on 30. It tells the story of a struggling stand-up comedian who makes a really big mistake: he goes to bed at 23 and wakes up at 30, with, like, everything he's ever dreamed he's ever wanted his entire life, except for his best friend, who he's been in love with for the last couple of years. Not only does he have to try to figure out what has happened to him and how to get back to his real timeline, but he also has to regain his best friend's trust, and maybe, ultimately, they fall in love?"

Looking to heat up your new year? Janovsky is too. "Immediately after that, I will be working with Harlequin, the publisher, on a new series of high-heat diverse romances. The first one I have coming out is called The Fake Dating Game... a fake dating romance on the set of a Supermarket Sweeps—style game show. So, I'm excited about that one," he continued.

In the future, Janovsky also hopes to explore other genres and sees a Scream-inspired horror thriller somewhere down the line. Until then, he will keep bringing joy to his LGBTQ+ readers, hoping for carolers, and bingeing classic ABC Family Christmas flicks.