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Brian D. Kennedy, author of "A Little Bit Country," didn't want to just write a "opposites attract" love trope: Kennedy also wanted to write about two boys finding their authentic selves.

What was your inspiration behind your most recent book?

Dolly Parton, without a doubt. She was my introduction to country music. As a fan, I’ve always felt a pull toward the classic female singers of the genre, women who sang bold songs and defied expectations to find success in a male-dominated industry. I knew that Dolly—or in my book, the fictional country music legend Wanda Jean Stubbs—would serve as a great inspiration for my main characters, two boys who are trying to follow their own dreams in a world that isn’t always ready to accept them.

What does "Reading with Pride" mean to you?

When I was a teenager, the first book with queer characters I that recall reading was Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City.” I was embarrassed to check it out from the library, and then promptly hid it in my closet (of all places!) when I got home. Thankfully, we have a greater volume of queer books available for all ages today, and my reading experience is no longer wrapped in shame. For me, Reading with Pride means reading a wide range of queer experiences and expanding my idea of what it means to be queer, both within and outside of my identity. It also means supporting other queer authors, so our stories can continue to be told.

Why do you feel representation of a variety of people is so important when it comes to writing books?

It’s important to try to reflect the world we live in. Humans are not a monolith. People who identify as queer are not a monolith. Not every character is going to occupy the same space when it comes to race, gender, sexuality, economic status, religion, etc. Books have the power to make a reader feel seen, which is especially important for marginalized groups. And reading about experiences outside of your own identity can help foster empathy and understanding.

Tell us a little more about the book and why you decided to write it.

“A Little Bit Country” is about two boys who are working at a country music theme park for the summer. Emmett, an aspiring musician from Chicago, wants to be country music’s biggest, gayest superstar. Luke, an aspiring chef from Tennessee, hates country music. So of course the two meet and fall in love. I knew “opposites attract” would be a fun trope to write. But on a deeper level, I also wanted to tell a story about two boys who were still struggling to find their authentic selves. Luke is still closeted when he meets Emmett. And although Emmett is secure in his sexuality, he feels like an imposter for trying to break into the country music industry when he comes from a big city in the Midwest.

What can fans expect from your book?

Original lyrics! Just don’t expect to hear them on the radio anytime soon. I had fun coming up with them, though. And while my book does touch on heavier themes, I hope my book will also act as a fun, escapist read. Wanda World is my version of Dollywood, and I want readers to feel like they’re enjoying a theme park on a hot summer day. Complete with roller coasters, stage shows, and lots of food. As

Emmett says in the book, “Even the air smells sweeter. A mixture of funnel cakes, kettle corn, and happiness.”

What's up next for you in the bookish world?

I have a second young adult rom-com coming out with my publisher in 2023. I’m not allowed to say much yet, but I can tell you that it’s a new story with new characters. It will still involve a setting with music, though not country music this time.