Interview by RJ McDaniel
Kyle Lukoff writes books for kids and other people.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Kyle worked at five bookstores, in four libraries, for three schools, as two genders, through one intersection: people, and books.
Kyle is represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. Find him on Twitter at @KyleLukoff, Instagram at @kylelukoffwrites and Facebook at fb.me/kylelukoffwrites. All purchasing links are through his affiliate page at Bookshop.org.
Your author bio emphasizes your work as a librarian, a bookseller, and an educator prior to the beginning of your writing career. (And in your Twitter bio, you describe yourself as “a librarian at heart”.) What was your path to writing like from these roles, and how did they affect your approach to writing for young readers?
I began my first major writing project the summer before I started my job. It was a young adult novel, despite the fact that I had very little experience working with teenagers, and after a lot of rejection I decided to try my hand at picture books. I realized very quickly that my day-to-day experience of reading lots of different books to hundreds of children meant that I had unique, on-the-ground experience of what kids liked and didn’t like, and started treating my job like a writers workshop. Highly recommend, and I don’t know where I’d be without it.
Your first picture book, A Storytelling of Ravens, came out in 2018; Too Bright to See, your first novel, came out in 2021, and you have a novel and two picture books forthcoming this year. Did you find anything surprising or challenging about the transition between writing picture books and writing novels for young readers?
One of the biggest differences between picture books and middle grade is that you can keep an entire picture book in your head at once, but a full-length novel (even a short one) is far more unwieldy. Revisions are much harder when you can’t read an entire draft in two minutes, and it’s tougher for the book in your head to match the one on the page when it’s impossible to have the whole thing memorized.
Too Bright to See was a really unique, powerful read for me — there’s often a didactic tenor to books about trans kids, for obvious reasons, but Bug’s story had this beautiful layer of complexity added by his grief and the fact that the driving force in the narrative is the fact that he’s being haunted. There were some passages that resonated so strongly with my own childhood that it almost felt like I was being haunted — like a past version of me was being conjured in those moments, passing through and creating a chill. How did you develop the idea for a ghost story about a trans kid? What was the process of revisiting the experiences of trans childhood like for you in the context of a haunting?
First: thank you! Writing this book required that I dredge up the experiences of isolation, loneliness, and physical discomfort I had mostly left in the ‘90s, and it’s a strange kind of reward to know that it was worth it. I felt so isolated and different as a young person, and sometimes I wish I could tell myself that other people feel this way too. Anyway, the ghost story + trans came as a sudden brainstorm. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to write first, a trans boy middle grade or a ghost story where I plagiarized a sentence that my dad wrote when he was younger (“It was strange living in the old house, now that Uncle Roderick was dead”). I decided to combine the two, and the whole story unfurled in my mind from there.
Trans kids have been the targets of an unprecedented level of legal attack in the United States, where you live. Books for kids have been an increasingly prominent front for this battle, with LGBTQ-themed picture books — including some of your own — being publicly challenged, threatened, and removed from shelves. As both a writer and a librarian, how do you think we can help support kids and their freedom to read and be during this period of hostility and censorship?
I think it’s important to not let the other side control the narrative, and to steadfastedly affirm the value of books by and about queer, Black, immigrant, Indigenous, Muslim, and/or other marginalized categories of human beings as good. Not just because they reflect the experiences of other human beings, but because those are all good things to be, and they are good things to learn about, and attempting to remove those narratives, and by extension those people, is exterminationist and genocidal and should be countenanced without compromise.
One of my favorite things about your books is that they have such a palpable sense of joy running through them, even when they’re dealing with heavy issues. What are your favorite ways to find joy these days?
I’ve started to feel restless of late. I have tried-and-true activities that have kept me going throughout the pandemic (jigsaw puzzles, complicated recipes, deep-cleaning), but I’ve started to need new things. I just rediscovered the joy of video games, there are some rickety old pieces of furniture in my boyfriend’s basement that I want to learn how to restore, and I’m going to finally follow through on my dream of a container garden in his backyard (my backyard, once I move there in April). And I always, always, always find joy in my friendships.
RJ is an MFA student at UBC and an editor at Young Adulting. They have worked as a writer and editor since 2017, and they are currently at work on their debut novel. A recovering sports journalist, they still watch more baseball than any well-adjusted person should. Other passions include bird-spotting, cat-bothering, knitting, and Succession.