Author Interview: Laura Nowlin

“This Song is (Not) For You” is about three music loving teens and the way they manage their affection for each other.  This novel is notable for featuring both asexual and polyamorous rep, both of which are dramatically underrepresented in the YA scene.
Laura Nowlin is herself polyamorous, and chose to include an asexual character after being surprised that people would even question that asexuality was a real identity.

What inspired you to write this novel?  How much did it change along the way? 
My original plan had been to write a novel about polyamory and experimental music. Even though I had a personal experience with polyamory, I am a big believer in research. While researching polyamory, I came across an essay that said, “Like the asexual community, polyamory has had difficulty finding its place under the LGBT+ umbrella,” and I thought, “Wait, I can see why there’s an argument about polyamory but of course asexuality is a real sexuality!” I had just assumed everyone knew that there were asexual people; it seemed so obvious to me that such people existed. I started researching the asexuality community after that; I learned about the issues and discrimination faced by people who identified as Ace, and my mind was blown. I realised that the Ace community needed representation even more than the poly community and decided to incorporate asexuality into the character of Tom.

What kind of research did you do for this novel?

I did a lot of internet research on asexuality; it was extremely important to me to get the representation right. I spent a lot of time lurking on AVEN’s message boards reading personal narratives of people who identified as Ace, and I watched David Jay’s documentary (A)Sexual.

Do you feel this was more difficult to get published than a non-ace book would have been?  Did you ever have any pressure to have the ace plotlines removed/changed?

I didn’t add in the asexual element to the story until the project had been well underway and the contracts had long been signed. I don’t know what would have happened if it had been an original part of the pitch, it might have been too much “alternative lifestyle” for the publication board. Luckily, my editor was also shocked to learn about the lack of support for the Ace community and thought it added to the overall story.

Did you have any concerns about how people would respond to the book?

Oh goodness, yes. I was terrified. My first novel, If He had Been with Me is a pretty standard coming-of-age love story, and sharing that book with the world was scary. With This Song is (Not) for You I knew that there would be people out there who hated the book not because of my writing or storytelling ability, but simply because they didn’t like non-monogamy and/or mistakenly thought there was something unhealthy about asexuality. What got me through it was the hope that somewhere out there, there was a teen who needed to see themselves represented.

Have you had any negative feedback?

Of course there are people who dislike the book simply because it portrays nonstandard romantic relationships. What really makes me sad though is when a reviewer says, “It’s fine that Tom is asexual, but why does Ramona want to stay with him if he doesn’t want to give her sex?” Personally, I love sex, but it’s not the defining element of my relationship with my husband or our partner. The fact that some people can’t imagine someone loving someone without sex makes me sad for their sake. I firmly believe friendship is the most important element of any romantic relationship.

Is there anything you would change or wish you’d done but didn’t?

Because terms change meaning so quickly in our society, I chose not to use the words “Ace” or “asexual” within the book. I worried that someday they would not longer be the preferred term, or perhaps “Ace” would come to mean someone who was asexual but not aromantic etc. I wish that I have put something in my Author’s note thanking or other resources that I used for research, just in case in wasn’t 100% clear for a reader my intentions for Tom’s character.

Has there been any positive feedback that was particularly meaningful to you?

A friend who is a high school teacher gave the book to one of her students. A week later, he came back to her raving about the book, and after talking with her for a few minutes he added casually, “Oh, and I think I might be asexual.” He didn’t say it like it was a big deal; it was just something that the book had helped him realize, and it was a perfectly normal thing. I’m glad that the revelation was for him without angst or worry. I hope that for future generations all sexualities will be seen as just another ordinary facet of our personalities.

Laura is currently looking for a publisher for her upcoming adult novel Gravity, about mysogny and ptsd, and just had a new baby 🙂

You can see her books on Goodreads or follow her on Twitter.

About astarlia

Astarlia is proud of herself for only having volunteered for..... okay if you have to stop and count it's probably too many things isn't it? She is passionate about nerd culture, disability and mental health, alternative relationships, sexuality, and young adult fiction.
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8 Responses to Author Interview: Laura Nowlin

  1. Joshua Oliver says:

    “perhaps “Ace” would come to mean someone who was asexual but not aromantic etc”


    • Rivers says:

      I actually missed that the first time I read through the post. Yeah, that’s awkward.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      I noticed it the first time. I am really uncomfortable by that phrasing but I’m assuming charitably that maybe this author means in this hypothetical future Ace ONLY works for alloromantic aces, and a new word replaces ace (and also replaces asexual??) for aroaces/aromantic asexuals?? Of course that seems EXTREMELY unlikely… Idk the whole thing seems really bad. If she read a handful of the specific pleas and blog posts and articles written on what we need in ace representation in fiction, she would know her stance of not including the word is the opposite of what most of us want, and indeed using the words ace and asexual are REALLY IMPORTANT. Without it, it basically can’t necessarily count as ace representation.

      After reading the whole interview, she seems to imply that Tom is aromantic and what he has with the character Ramona is just “friendship” BECAUSE there is no sex? Ignoring the existence of non-sexual romances for aces and…. and she very likely avoided the word “aromantic” too which is beyond frustrating?

      This interview puts this book as not a priority for me to read for ace representation, and makes me feel like the author doesn’t get way too much still, even after she herself felt like she did a lot of research.

      A man/woman ace/allo relationship does probably make it pretty unique, I guess I would give it kudos for addressing a rare need there, though, as many of the books with asexuality featured within romances are more on the same-gender relationship side of things.

      The first paragraph of this post should be fixed to have the title of the book have first letters capitalized and the whole title be italicized, and then… “Laura Nowlin is herself polyamory” – um, I think you must’ve either missed a word like “into” polyamory, or more likely should just change the noun to the adjective, that she is herself “polyamorous”.

  2. Sara K. says:

    The fact that the word ‘asexual’ is not used is definitely the most controversial part of this novel among ace readers. I personally don’t think it ruins the ace representation in this novel – heck, this is actually one of my favorite ace novels – but it would have been even better if the word ‘asexual’ had been slipped in somewhere. And I think the writer’s concern is misplaced – even if the meaning of the word does drift in the community (which probably will happen given enough time), the story is set in contemporary times, not in the future, so it would continue to reflect ace discourse at the time it was written/published.

    • astarlia says:

      this is pretty much my take on it. I agree that not using the word was a poor choice – but at least she knows that.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        “I wish that I have put something in my Author’s note thanking or other resources that I used for research, just in case in wasn’t 100% clear for a reader my intentions for Tom’s character.” That doesn’t mean she knows she should’ve, or regrets not, using the words in the actual text, not exactly. I was more negative about it than maybe is fair though. I guess I should probably give the book a chance before I write it off…

        • astarlia says:

          yeah true. I took it to mean that she regretted not using the words as well. Honestly I like it for rep, but I also think that it’s because we are so desperate for any kind of rep at the moment, and as more book with ace protagonists and by own voices ace authors happen we can afford to be fussier about what is considered good rep.

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