Interview by: Xander
Xander Christou: Hello, I’m here with Bill Konigsberg. The first question is who do you write for? Why do you write?
Bill Konigsberg: The nice answer is that I write for LGBTQ youth, and and that’s a nice side perk of what I do. But really, I can’t write for anybody, I have to just write for myself. I try to write the truth and whoever gets it, that’s a good thing. I write because I am always trying to figure stuff out about my life and about life in general. The way that I do it is through writing. For me, the topic is almost always about figuring out how to be myself or how a person is themselves, so it’s always about authenticity; that’s my thing. Every book, it seems, one way or another is about that.
XC: So like an exploration of yourself.
BK: Yeah. And going back to the teen years because I think that was the time that was most confusing, so I like to write about that time period.
XC: Why is LGBTQ+ representation important for you?
BK: It’s everything to me. You know, when I was a kid, and I was beginning to understand that I was gay, I had just about nothing to go by. This was an era in which there were no gay characters on TV or in movies, almost ever. And book-wise, just wasn’t a thing. And so, when I finally heard that there was such a as a gay bookstore called the Oscar Wilde bookstore in New York City where I grew up, and I walked in there and saw a whole room full of books about people like me, it was one of the most powerful moments of my life. I really do think those first books I read saved my life, just beginning to understand that I wasn’t alone because I was sure I was the only person like me, and I wasn’t. I want to give that gift to other people; that has been a life goal and it’s been a beautiful thing.
XC: What book have you read recently that you loved?
BK: I’ve read a bunch of books that I love. I’ve read Darius the Great is Not Okay, that was a great book. I Wish You All the Best was a really great book. It’s funny because I always think I better remember the books I read recently so I don’t forget when somebody asks me live. This is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kacen Callender, that was good one, and James Brandon’s book, Ziggy, Stardust and Me, was a really terrific one.
XC: What would you say are your biggest strengths and weaknesses when writing?
BK: My biggest strength is that I’m very good with voice. I’m somebody who hears well, so I hear dialogue. I actually hear voices sometimes, so I’m very good at catching how things should sound. But the flip side of that is what I’m probably least good at, and I have to work really hard to mask it so that people don’t know. I’m not very good at setting. I’m not very good at seeing things, so when I right a scene I have to work really, really hard to make sure that I spend the adequate time on setting so that nobody knows my flaw. Oops, cat’s out of the bag!
XC: How did you come up with the title for The Music of What Happens?
BK: The Music of What Happens is actually the last line of a Seamus Heaney poem called “Song.” I had never heard of that poem, and my husband and I had a pastor and his wife over for dinner, a liberal pastor. Over dinner he just happened to say, I’d really like to share a poem with you. And he just started to recite a poem. I’ve never had anybody recite a poem to me before at dinner. I was like, “What is this?” but the poem really grabbed me, and when he said that line about the music of what happens… I’m a scavenger as a writer. I’m always looking for things and in some ways, I’m looking to take things from my life and organically find the right things. At that moment, I thought, “okay, that’s the title of the book. I don’t know why, but I bet I’ll figure it out.” And I did. It was exactly what I needed to hear.
XC: That’s amazing. Does he know?
BK: Yes, he does.
XC: Has he read the book?
BK: He has read the book.
XC: Were you always planning on writing Honestly, Ben or did the fans kind of push you?
BK: The fans made me. Openly Straight was just a one-off book. It was just a standalone book. I was trying to figure out what my next book would be, and I was actually in the office of my editor in New York at Scholastic, pitching something I wanted to write. And she was okay with it, she was listening and I just interrupted myself and I just said, not even having thought about it, “You don’t want a second Openly Straight from Ben’s perspective…” and she jumped out of her chair. She was like, “Yes! Write that!” This was early enough in my career that I just wanted to sell a book, so this was a moment where I just nodded my head and I said “yes.” I just sort of backed out of the room. I walked away thinking “how am I going to do that? I have to create a whole new story.” So that was a different kind of process.
XC: Did the novella come before or after that?
BK: “Openly, Honestly” was something they asked me to write after I finished writing Honestly Ben, they wanted something that would be like a teaser to remind people about Openly Straight, and to get people excited about Honestly Ben. I just wanted to write something that happens right before Honestly Ben. It’s funny because people now say, “Oh, that’s a book.” It’s not, It’s like a little chapter. But I guess people consider it a novella or whatever. I like that story. Sometimes people read it on their own, and they’re like, “There’s nothing that happens in this book.” I’m like, “Well, no, not supposed to.
XC: What kind of music do you listen to?
BK: My favorite music is 80s music, because that’s when I was a teenager. And there’s a lot of 80s music in The Music of What Happens and that’s really just directly from my life. In fact, one of the characters Jordan, his room is decorated as an 80s bordello, which I don’t even think that’s really a thing, I don’t think there is such a thing as an 80s bordello. But I made it up and I was just like, that was how he’s going to design his room, it’s sort of tacky and has all of these 80s records all over the place. But that is my generation. I will say, for a guy who’s about to be 49, I am not that out of it. There is new music I love. I could not be any more in love with Lizzo than I am right now. And I listen to all sorts of stuff, but when I’m wanting to rock out, it’s always 80s.
XC: Are you going to see her on Sunday? She’s going to be in town!
BK: No, I had a chance to buy tickets before she was really big. She was coming to Phoenix and there were available tickets. I already liked her and I was like, maybe I should buy tickets. I’m so mad at myself. Because now she’s a huge success.
XC: What is one of your hidden talents?
BK: I’m a very good parallel parker. Even if my husband is driving and we have to do a parallel park, he will get out of the car and I will do it in one take. It’s always one take, that’s one thing I’m good at.
XC: That’s a good talent to have.
BK: It’s a good talent. Yeah, I mean except now they’re making those cars that are automated that will do it for you. It’s fake and it’s taking away my one talent.
XC: I read about your many interesting jobs that you had before you became a writer. Can you tell me what was an interesting experience from that time and what made you become a writer?
BK: I always wanted to be a writer. And in high school and college, especially college, I was studying writing and I just wanted to write and I wanted to write books. But somebody told me that you can’t make money writing books, so I just kind of dropped it and just tried to find other things to do. And I found some jobs where I could write in journalism, but I’m not a journalist, that’s not really what I’m supposed to be doing. A lot of times I was just finding things to do because I didn’t know what else to do. I worked at a truck driving school as a recruiter for truck drivers, I worked for the phone company, I worked for Otis elevators, it was just me searching for myself and missing, like a huge swing and miss, I wasn’t even close. But those are good experiences because I think that the more a writer does stuff, the more they’ll be able to pull on later. At some point I’ll be able to write a book in which I talk a lot about trucks, and people will be like “How do you know that?”
XC: I think you should write a book about elevators.
BK: I think that would be a great book. Everybody loves elevators.
XC: What is one of the most important things you’ve learned along the way as a writer?
BK: I would say to write through the dry spells, which means just because I can’t write, like nothing’s coming, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write. I actually have to keep writing in order to get unstuck, so that that means keep sitting in the chair, even when I want to go out and do something else because I’m stuck, and not be afraid to write poorly, and not be afraid that it’s garbage and just keep going.
XC: If you go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
BK: Georgetown, Texas. *laughs* I would probably go to New Zealand, I’d really like to go to New Zealand. That would be the coolest. It’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and it just sounds so different than anything I’ve ever seen, so I would like to do that.
XC: What’s your favorite Halloween candy?
BK: It would either be Whoppers, Sweet Tarts or Sour Patch Kids. I love those things. By the way, not a good idea to be an adult who loves candy.
XC: Are they a good writing snack?
BK: Unfortunately. I could put a bowl of candy an write, and the bowl would be empty in 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter how big the bowl is.
XC: Wow. That’s another talent! You could do that while you’re parallel parking. Every time you parallel park perfectly: Whoppers.
BK: That’s a really good idea.
XC: Awesome, thank you so much.
BK: You’re so welcome, thank you, that was fun.