After two successful vampire series (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod and The Slayer Chronicles, for Dutton and Dial), bestselling author Heather Brewer (“Auntie Heather” to her loyal legion of “Minions”) is charting a new course. She has brought her signature blend of horror and humor to her first-ever stand-alone novel, The Cemetery Boys, released in March, the initial volume in a two-book deal with new publisher HarperTeen. In April, Brewer supported the book as part of the four-author/four-city Epic Reads Spring 2015 Book Tour, named for HarperTeen’s digital community reading site. Back at home, Brewer has a bit of down time in between various projects, and spoke with PW about several forthcoming titles, and some very personal news.
In the next few months, Brewer will transition from female to male. “Nothing in the media sparked my decision to come out,” Brewer said, noting, “I realized about nine years ago that I was transgender.” The author continued, “I’ve been in therapy for a little while now and have learned that my depression, anxiety, and suicidal urges largely stem from an inability to live as my true self. I am so big on authenticity. I always say to my Minions, ‘Own your weird. Embrace who you are, and whoever you are, you are special.’ It’s been weighing on me that I’m not taking my own advice. How can you tell the world to do it and not do it yourself?”
Though the transgender community seems to be having a moment, Brewer elaborates, “All the media surrounding Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox is coincidental. This was a save-my-life moment. I know that if I don’t do this, I’m concerned what my future will be. I need to be true to myself and come out to the world.” Brewer came out to her husband three years ago. “We’ve been together for over 20 years. I was terrified of his reaction,” said Brewer. “But he said, ‘I fell in love with the person you are, not your body.” Brewer’s children, to whom the author came out about a year ago, have been equally supportive. “My kids were completely wonderful,” Brewer added.
But making such a personal announcement on a more public stage can be tricky in the age of information and opinion flowing via lightning-fast social media. Brewer feels ready to weather the storm of taking center stage in this manner. “We all know there is a dark side to the Internet and that there are people who are not going to be supportive for whatever reason,” Brewer said. “I know it’s coming, but I truly believe that good will always outshine the bad, especially if you pay the bad no mind. I focus on the light.” On the flipside, the author said, “The Internet has been wonderful as far as spreading education goes. It’s changed the world in such an incredible way. You can find people with like minds, and people who share their experiences. You can form a sense of community and find safe places. When you are transgender having a safe place is the most important thing.”
Among those safe places are Brewer’s Facebook page and website. “Anyone who posts mean or hurtful things gets deleted and blocked,” Brewer said. “Don’t feed the trolls. I have a firm rule about that.” Brewer cited Leelah Alcorn, a teen trans girl who took her own life last December as a “driving force.” Alcorn’s suicide note, which went viral, made a plea to people to help “fix society” so that transgender youth can feel accepted and safe. “I want to do what I can to fix society,” Brewer said.
The author encourages anyone with questions about the transgender community to “educate yourself before you jump to conclusions,” and recommends GLAAD’s Transgender FAQ as an excellent information resource.
The author is not concerned about fans’ reactions, saying, “I don’t worry about losing my Minions. We are a special band of misfits and they have been accepting and supportive all along.” Brewer feels fortunate for that back-up. “Most people don’t have the money or resources to go away and come back like ‘ta da!’ and present as the gender they are transitioning to. It often takes many years. I am lucky that I can share my transition with the Minions and have them along for the ride as I go through my second puberty and develop into the man I am inside.”
Very soon, the author will initiate a legal name change to Zac Brewer, which will appear on all future books. Next up is The Blood Between Us, another stand-alone novel set for summer 2016 release from HarperTeen. The book explores “what it means to be a family,” Brewer said. “It’s not always blood that makes a family and sometimes you don’t like the family you’re given. It’s about dealing with all those complex emotions.” Aside from the theme, this book’s style is different from Brewer’s other works as well. “It’s contemporary realism, which I’ve never done before. And it’s really exciting because this will be the first book under my new name.”
Brewer plans to return to the series format at some point in the future, but has been enjoying working on stand-alones. “I love series, and I often think of stories that way. But with a stand-alone it’s such a relief to say ‘the end’ and have it really be the end!” Another project in the pipeline is SoulBroken, the second installment of the Legacy of Tril series that was launched by Dial in 2012 with the title SoulBound and subsequently canceled. HarperTeen will also publish SoulBroken, which will conclude that series, as an e-book original; a pub date has not yet been scheduled. And further out, Brewer said, “I’m writing something a bit darker, about depression and what it’s like when you survive a suicide attempt.” This last project is still very new, and not yet under contract.
Considering all the changes ahead, Brewer said, “This is the happiest I have ever been in my entire life. It’s an incredible thing to live as your authentic self.”