In Jay Coles' book "Things We Couldn't Say," he writes about a queer Black boy coming to terms with his sexuality as he wrestles with the world and his inner self.

What was your inspiration behind "Things We Couldn’t Say?"

Fun fact: I’m a huge James Baldwin fan. I love how Mr. Baldwin masterfully writes about the Black queer experience in ways that resonate. I’ve always wanted to attempt at doing the same. The story of my protagonist, Gio (also named after a James Baldwin book), came to me quite naturally. Right before the pandemic hit and flipped life upside down, Gio’s story came to me as I was sitting at my desk and staring at my computer screen. I knew he was a Black boy wrestling with bisexuality, family, friendship, love, identity, grief, and other complexities of teenagerhood. It didn’t take long for things to come together on the page. It was both painful and fun getting to piece together Gio’s story and I’m so excited for him to be out in the real world in a handful of months!

Please describe the content of "Things We Couldn’t Say" and what can readers expect from it.

This is a really good question. I mentioned some of the themes in the book earlier, but readers can expect to be taken on an emotional journey with Gio from beginning to end as he wrestles with the world and his inner self. He’s navigating parental abandonment, coming to terms with his sexuality, and trying to figure out love in all its ambiguity. Some additional things highlighted in the book include biphobia, internalized homophobia, racism, and all the ways the world tries to force us to hide our true selves. Those are heavy, I know, but I promise you that the book ends on a hopeful note. Maybe. *wink*

Why do you feel YA books with powerful and unique themes are so popular and have such a voice right now?

I believe that teens are not just the future heroes of the world, they’re the current heroes of the world. Books with powerful and unique themes oftentimes are popular among teens because they empower them to be who they are — brave warriors who take stands and speak up. They’re the ones who are often on the frontlines fighting for justice, raising their voices, and demanding to be heard. I remain so inspired by teens, especially my readers!

What's next for you in the bookish world?

This is another really great question, but one I’m not sure I have an answer to quite yet. I’m hard at work on a couple of really fun and exciting projects, but none I can really share publicly yet!

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

Oh myyyyyy! Aside from James Baldwin, I’m currently a huge fan of anything by Renée Watson. I will forever scream about her novel "Piecing Me Together" — HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Renée’s prose is so quiet and beautiful, but her stories always pack a punch and remind me of my childhood and adolescence.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?

Keep at it! Writing is tricky and isn’t easy. What is easy, though, is giving up. My advice is just to never give up your craft. I’m a firm believer that there’s a story or two or 20 hidden in all of us. Be patient with yourself and give yourself the necessary time and space you need to write — there’s no need to rush things, but NEVER. GIVE. UP. YOUR. CRAFT.