No, that’s not a typo: emily m. danforth does not capitalize her name. “But not for interesting theoretical or political reasons,” she says. “I just like the way that it looks, and I’ve done it ever since high school.” She’s happy to see her name any way people want to style it, though, most especially on the cover of her debut novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post (HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray).
It’s not a coming-out novel, danforth says. “A big part of the book is about my protagonist Cameron figuring out her sexuality, but I wanted to write a coming-of-age novel—those are the books that made me want to be a novelist. Or as I call it, a coming of gayge novel,” danforth adds with a laugh. A writer friend of danforth’s came up with the term.
The book was the dissertation for danforth’s Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Nebraska, where she spent five years toiling away at short stories and piecing together what would eventually become her first published novel. During this time, danforth read a lot of sentimentalist women’s literature from the 19th century, like Suzanne Warner’s The Wide, Wide World, which helped inspire Cameron Post.
Her biggest influence was probably Zach Stark. “The parents of this teenage boy sent him to de-gaying boot camp and he was writing about it on his MySpace page,” she says. “He wasn’t necessarily claiming a gay identity, but didn’t want to be in this place, and considered himself a Christian, too. His story made me start doing research into conversion therapy.”
danforth knew the book would be informed by her childhood, too. “Cameron wasn’t originally conceived as a YA novel, but it wasn’t not either,” she says. “In general, any thought of publication was so far away when I was writing it.”
Once it was time, the road to publication was fairly short. “I met my agent, Jessica Regel, at the Nebraska Summer Writer’s conference,” danforth says. “I was so naïve at that point. I really didn’t know anything about publishing. If she hadn’t stayed in touch with me, I still might be writing the book. Originally it was much longer and Jessica helped me figure out where to end it.”
Regel sent it to 15 adult literary editors, who wrote positive responses, but all of them rejections. Then the possibility of sending it to YA editors came up—some of the rejection letters even suggested this. “Jessica asked, ‘What do you think of YA?’ and I was open to it,” danforth says. “It went to six editors, and we had an offer within two weeks from Alessandra Balzer.”
danforth is thrilled with the YA publishing experience so far—the editorial process, doing interviews, the other writers she’s met, and reading other YA novels, too. (John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back is a favorite—“It deserves the acclaim it’s gotten,” she says.) “I’ve felt really embraced by the YA community,” danforth says.
danforth says she’s now working on a new YA. “In my dream world it would be titled: Celesbian!—the exclamation point being essential. It centers around two teenagers working on the set of a controversial film, and it’s about what it means to be a lesbian celebrity.” (Ellen DeGeneres is the ultimate celesbian, according to danforth.) Right now she’s reading The Last Nude by Ellis Avery. “I decided to read only gay fiction for Gay Pride Month,” danforth said. “I’m such a dork like that.”
Last year danforth moved to Providence, R.I., with her wife—they got married four years ago in Massachusetts—and she just finished her first year as an assistant professor of creative writing at Rhode Island College. The biggest surprise of danforth’s spring semester has been the response from readers to her novel. “People have been willing to share their own stories,” danforth says. “I get letters from a lot of 16-year-olds from those square states. I’m so happy teens are reading my novel.”