GLAAD has teamed up with audio entertainment leader Audible to co-curate and produce the second season of a written interview series featuring LGBTQIA+ talent from the Audible family.
Our second interview features Edward Underhill, author of Always the Almost, and Logan Rozos, narrator of the novel.
A trans pianist makes a New Year’s resolution on a frozen Wisconsin night to win regionals and win back his ex, but a new boy complicates things in Edward Underhill’s heartfelt debut YA rom-dram, Always the Almost.
Check out GLAAD’s interview with Edward and Logan below:
Anthony Allen Ramos (GLAAD)
Okay, here we go. But first up, Logan, I was remembering 2020. You were one of GLAAD’s “20 under 20” and here you are! Now narrating this! I Congrats! We knew then! How old are you now?
You are over 20, that’s great! Well listen, I’m so excited to talk to both of you. We’ve been so happy to partner with Audible. As we sit here and talk about this before we get into the specifics about “Always The Almost”.
The first question I would like to start with: For many LGBTQ people inspiration often comes from role models idols within the community who have changed the way that we are seeing her represented in society.
Obviously it’s the core of what we’re doing at GLAAD, so curious, for both of you, if there’s someone in the community, whether they’re famous or not, that has inspired you and your path?
Sure, I can go first. I’m Edward by the way, so you can tell what my voice sounds like. I think for me, honestly, it was more about the authors who were working to make space in publishing for queer stories and particularly for queer young adult stories.
So people like Melinda Lo and David Levithan and then more recently Kacen Callender with “Felix Ever After”, which when narrated by Logan. So yeah, publishing is taking its time to realize that more queer stories need to be told. And I super appreciate the people who have worked hard to make room for those stories and make me feel like there is room for those stories.
And so when I started writing “Always The Almost” I was like, “Okay – there might actually be a space on the shelves for this book now!” And that was really exciting!
Logan for you? Any sort of you know, role models, people in the community that have inspired you?
Yeah! Always a hard question to get because there’s gonna be a million I’m thinking about! I also said this in the 2020 interview but I feel the need to mention James Baldwin every time I’m asked about great, great queer foreparents. And I was talking to someone about this recently and they brought up Harvey Feirstein. And I thought about the fact that he’s a queer actor, a multidisciplinary kind of artist. Yeah, I feel like that’s a big sort of progenitor. And the filmmaker Chase Joint, who’s a trans maker – recently I’ve been just really obsessed with their work. So I’ll leave it at those three for now, those are great choices.
I completely agree. This is me – I’m not just saying this – but I really have become obsessed with Audible. I think it’s just so great, especially for me living in LA being constantly in traffic. I find I can’t be reading a book unfortunately while driving in traffic but I can be listening and I love that so much. It just means there’s so much more access to great LGBTQ stories and content is now easier than ever. On that – and I want to talk specifically about “Always The Almost” after this – what is the story that we still need to have out there for people to listen to, would both of you say?
I think for me, thinking about the books that are being written in this – like the books that are being turned into audiobooks – it’s been really exciting to see. I feel like there’s been an explosion of queer literature recently, more mainstream. It’s been around in indie spaces obviously for a really long time, but there’s been such an explosion – more mainstream stuff, traditionally published stuff – and there’s been a rise in trans stories as well.
I think we’re still missing a lot of transfem voices and we’re still missing bipoc voices kind of across the board. Like really, we just need more of those voices.
And I was talking to a friend about this recently and they said something that I love the way they put it! They were talking about reviews of their book and the funniest one-star review they’ve ever gotten was, “this book is as bad as any straight book!”
You know, it’s just a bad book but that’s great! What you really want is for there to be so many different stories that you as a queer person can be like, “This story is bad. I don’t want it. I’m gonna find another one that I do want.” And just having that choice out there to be able to see and to find the story that you want and to find the representation that you feel seen by. I think it’s like that’s what we need. Just all about all the stories.
That’s right. Logan, do you want to add anything to that?
Yeah, I don’t know if I can put it any better than that! Having enough stories. There is no one “This is THE story” and you can choose whatever you feel drawn to. That’s the goal.
So let’s talk about “Always The Almost” because listen – I live for a YA story but a queer YA story obviously is even better! I’m also a piano player and I had a lovely but intimidating piano teacher from like age 7 to 20. So I get it. but I love that this came out on Valentine’s Day. I think we’re in this moment when I know how important it is that kids have access. They see these queer joy stories that they’re going connect with. But set it up a little bit because I think it’s such a great story and I know that, like I said, kids and adults are going love it and fall in love with the whole story.
Yeah, so I can talk a little bit about what it’s about.
So “Always The Almost” is, like you said, a young adult trans- I call it sort of “rom-dram” rather than a “rom-com” because it has some coming-of-age themes to it as well. But it’s basically about a trans boy who makes two New Year’s resolutions: One’s to win back his ex-boyfriend and the other to beat his arch nemesis at a big piano competition – until a new boy moves to town and makes a play for his heart. That’s sort of usually the elevator pitch that I run with.
And yeah, it has some coming-of-age themes. It has some stuff about identity but it’s not really a coming out story. It’s sort of about what happens after and it was really important to me to write a book that had trans joy in it. Just to let a trans teenager kind of exist in the rest of their life in this book. So a lot of it is just about trying to be, trying to figure out what kind of friend and boyfriend and person you want to be in all these ways that are sometimes about trans identity. And are also often about the wonderful parts about trans identity, like finding your first suit and the times that you really feel fully like yourself. But are also just about growing up, all the messy things that happen as you grow up.
Logan, you are narrating this, which is so great. You’re 22 – what would it have been like for you to have been able to listen to or read a book like this back when you were a little bit younger?
Yeah, I mean, it would have been so great. I loved the YA books and the existing sort of early queer representation. And you mentioned David Levithan. I loved Will Grayson and stuff like that.
But yeah, I never read any trans stories when I was a young teen/preteen and there’s so many moments in the book that are so, like, “cringe” familiar but where I’m like, “Oh gosh! Teenage me really was like that!” But some of them are just really “lovely” familiar – like getting fitted for a suit and being like, “Wow, this is something I get to do!” and it brings so much more joy than it might for other people.
But also – Yeah, just the complexities of having a crush, going through a relationship and you’re a newly out trans person. Like, how do I establish boundaries in the parts of my body that I feel dysphoria about? Feeling really embarrassed about the possibility of being misgendered in front of your crush. Things that are really specific experiences. As lovely as other YA books might be and as universal as they might be, they don’t capture that nuance.
I know and you said crush and, I’m like, “Oh, the young crushes were the best!” What was it like Edward? Not only is the world going get to listen to it but they’re gonna get to read it all at the same time. What was it like for you, the first time you got to hear Logan as the narrator of the story?
Oh my goodness! I mean – so I when I started working with Audible for the audio book, I asked, “I really, really want a trans narrator for this!” and they were just, “Yep, yep – we got you!” And all of the auditions that I heard for narrators, they were all trans narrators which is overwhelming for me as a trans person to be like, “Oh my God! There’s this many!” That was wonderful that there were so many people out there who could read this book. And I think when I heard Logan narrate, it was just like, “That was just Miles! That was just the main character!” Miles is sort of snarky but he’s a little bit unsure of himself. He’s very conversational, it’s a very conversational voice and the way that Logan did it was like, “Yeah, that’s like the narration in Miles’s head!” And I think what really sealed the deal for me was the way that Logan read the love interest, Eric. There’s a sort of earnestness about him, in a very, not self-conscious way that Logan just got completely right away. So yeah, it was amazing!
It’s wonderful to read a physical book but to listen to someone read your words? It’s like the story becomes a different thing. It becomes different, a different way of taking it in. And yeah, that was kind of surreal and the best way!
I love that! And like I said, Audible has been something that I have been really falling in love with, I would say in the last couple of years. And it’s funny, like you said you were talking about access to the good and the “not great”. And sometimes the narration is amazing and other times I’m like, “Eh…” But Logan – you are so amazing! I don’t think people fully get that when you are the narrator of this, you’re doing all of the characters, all of them different. You have to do it still in a way that people are gonna follow along without. Like it’s a whole different art form!
How did you get yourself into the mode for narrating this story in particular?
Well, first of all, thank you both! That’s so lovely.
I would say it was, first of all, a complete blast to work on. Our engineer in the studio was like, “What is gonna happen with Shane?” Like we were all so invested in the story – those of us who have read and those of us who hadn’t. I think so much of the character information that’s there is so vibrant and so distinct that it was really easy to shape the voice and the characters. I mentioned Eric the love interest is so soft-spoken and earnest and Miles is so snarky and quick. And then you have a laid-back punk girl character and you’ve like an earnest, very politically active character. And those have great contrast! And there’s accent work, there was just so much fun variety of stuff to try. It didn’t feel like a struggle ever. And I got to try some different stuff – some Russian accents, Midwestern accents. We’ll see how those play with listeners. I read it and so much of it sort of popped into my head fully born because it was all right there on the page.
Speaking about access with Audible and people, there’s also a real opportunity for people to stumble upon this. It made us want a really great story that happens to be trans-inclusive, happens to be LGBTQ+. But what do you want people that listen to this story to take away after they’re done listening to it?
Yeah, I mean – I think that was a big part of what I was trying to write, was a story that didn’t shy away from. It wasn’t inserting transness into a story that could easily just exist with a straight protagonist. It [the transness of the main character] is absolutely integral to the story of who the character is because it is integral who you are when you’re a trans person.
I think like I did really want it to also just be a story about all these sorts of other aspects – about falling in love, about trying to figure out who you are through this art that you’re creating. So I think I would say I wrote it for trans kids first. And I wasn’t interested in writing something where I was gonna explain what being trans is like to a cis audience because I think often as a trans person, I can see when someone is doing that and then it doesn’t feel like it’s speaking to me as much. At the same time, when you just when you tell a story – it’s gonna sound so cheesy – but when you tell the story from the heart and you’re really just trying to get into those characters, who they are in all their complexities, I think that’s something that anybody can take in, no matter what the other identity aspects are, even if they take something extra from that.
I feel like I just want people to just have fun. I just want people to have fun listening to it and enjoy it as a story – and hopefully get some joy out of seeing this character figure himself out and find himself and even in all the messy ways that he goes about it.
I love that. Anything you wanna add, Logan? I mean, I think more queer joy is just so important and I think anyone that listens to this is gonna feel that for sure.
Yeah, I think everyone’s going to have a fun time with it and it’s a really romantic story. I think something I did want to make sure that I mentioned something I really loved is at the beginning in the author’s note: along with content warnings, there’s a “content promise”, which I thought was just such a lovely inventive way of telling people and letting the reader know that this is was intended to be a space for joy.
With the romance, you hope that you end up with happily ever after, but it’s a good load off your mind to know that’s what you’re gonna get.
I mean happily ever after of course! The next question, could there be a sequel? Is there more? The story isn’t over, maybe? What do we think?
I mean, you know, most contemporary young adult books are generally done as stand-alones and it’s not usually a space where there’s a ton of sequels.
I definitely left the door open – never say no – but I think something I really like – I like writing “happy endings” but I almost think of them as “happy middles” that it really is like this is these characters realizing that there is more to come and that they can make and they can find their own joy. They can make their own joy. and that is really just a wonderful, wonderful middle.
Whether I get to write another sequel or not, I hope that readers and listeners can have fun thinking about what “would be”, what would be down the road for the characters.
Absolutely! I love that. This has been so good, thank you! Anything else you want to add in there?
I feel good. I want to say thank you (Edward) for writing this! Thank you for being here! Just yeah – thank you all!
Yeah. Thank you! Thank you for asking me to do the interview! Thank you!