Today is the day that my LGBT Contemporary YA novel, Before I Break, re-releases through Booktrope. Many of you know the story behind the creation of this book, and many of you do not.
For starters, let’s take a look at the book.
“Alec John Belle’s bold debut novel, Before I Break, introduces a courageous new author with a voice unafraid to tackle tough social issues.” -Alex Sanchez, author of Rainbow Boys and The God Box.
When religiously raised Cyril Hayes begins his junior year at East Hill High School, every choice he makes suffers a greater consequence. While facing challenges of friends, family, and love, he learns that hate and intolerance are also a very large part of our world today.
Cyril Hayes is seemingly just like any other male his age. He has the perfect girlfriend, Melissa Summers, his best friend, Jake Rivers, and a lawyer father who brings home enough money to support his family and then some. When Cyril begins his junior year, he doesn’t expect his life to spiral out of control when he meets Avery Branson, the new kid in school who has a big secret: he’s gay. At first, Cyril doesn’t handle this truth well, due to the way he was raised, but as the story progresses, he ventures deep into the reality of homosexuality and begins to accept Avery for who he is.
Not everyone is happy with Cyril’s new friend, including Jake, who believes that homosexuality is a sin and is refusing to budge his beliefs. But Avery isn’t the only one at East Hill with secrets. Soon a tragedy will strike, knocking Cyril’s world completely off balance and leaving a scar on his heart that will change his view of humanity all together.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
The idea for Before I Break came very organically. In fact, I never planned on writing a contemporary YA novel of this nature. Because of my own struggles with sexuality, and my distrust toward many straight males my age and older, I never would have thought this would come about. In fact, this book broke my rule I set for myself when I decided I wanted to be a writer.
I would never write a book from a straight male’s POV.
There were quite a few reasons for this, and one of which was that straight males always treated me badly when I was younger. All my friends were females (minus, shockingly, my best friend). This was because homosexuality isn’t well accepted by younger guys. I didn’t know why some straight guys think being friends with a gay man is the worst thing that could ever happen to them.
One day I was sitting in Spanish during my sophomore year, and a thought suddenly crept into my mind. What would happen is a homophobic straight male become friends with a gay male unknowingly? What if the gay friend was not what the straight friend thought gay people would be like?
It was as if I see a movie right before my very eyes. Seriously. It flashed in my mind so fast, I could hardly believe I what I was thinking. The title, story, and characters just fell into my head. How does that happen? Of course, because of my rule, I said, “This idea is SO not going to happen, brain. Goodbye.”
I tried to ignore the idea as long as possible.
As you can imagine, it didn’t work.
The story continued to grow in my head. The thing that made it worse was that I hated Cyril. I hated my idea for an ending. Avery was like an exact replica of me, which felt so extremely personal I wanted to puke. But something kept sticking out to me. The ending. I couldn’t get the ending out of my mind. I couldn’t get Cyril and Avery out of my mind, either, so finally, I had to tell someone. Someone who I thought would hate the idea.
So one night we were sitting on my grandma’s porch and I said, “Hey, Mom. I wanted to tell you about this idea for a book I have. It’s called Before I Break and is about a straight guy named Cyril who becomes friends with a gay guy named Avery. Cyril is religious, homophobic, and doesn’t like gay people. Except Avery, because Avery isn’t what he expects. Oh, and by the way, the ending is __________.”
I expected her to tell me that she hated the idea. I really did. You want to know what she said to me?
“You need to write this book.”
And I asked, “You really want me to write this?”
She shook her head. “I don’t want you to write this book. You need to write it.”
So it was settled. I was going to write this book. Well, it took me about a year before I actually decided to write it, because I was still cautious. I’d never seen a book like this before. Was it because it was a bad idea? Was it because it’d be breaking so many stigmas? Was it because of the fact religious affiliations would go absolutely berserk over an idea like this? I kept trying to tell myself it was a bad idea, but there was this nudge.
Many of you know I’m a Christian, so this was also hard for me. Would God really want me to write this book? I think so.
Finally, I sat down to write the book. Wrote it in two months. I sent out queries to agents, got rejected a gazillion times, but knew in my heart this was a good idea. It was a good story. It would touch so many lives, and I knew that.
I self-published it in September of last year. It got such good reviews. Everyone was extremely supportive. GLAAD event did an interview with me. I felt like I’d accomplished something huge.
Finally, Booktrope accepted my submission to them. This re-release is so important to me. This book tackles tough issues like being gay, suicide, self-harm, hate crimes, depression, and the challenges of friendships with different beliefs. Two different lives collide in this book, and the ending is something you don’t want to miss.
This is not a “gay” novel. Straight men can read it. Gay men can read it. Woman can read it. Teens can read it. These are things some teens face every day, and it’s important to raise awareness. It’s a story that needs to be told. I put so much blood and sweat into this story and these characters. I’ve laughed and cried while writing this book.
And you know what? It touched me. It changed me. Someone who was so scared for so long finally broke free from his shell. I hope it touches and changes lives just as much as it’s changed mine.
Words are powerful. And so are yours. Be the voice that needs to be heard.
-Alec John Belle