Our Friend is Here! An Interview with Ray Stoeve, Author of Between Perfect and Real – On Centering Trans Narratives, Theatre as Discovery, and Finding Your Authentic Self

Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.

Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.

One of the overarching themes that emerge from our Pride Month at the Pond features is that being queer and queer experience is not a singular and uniform thing. To me, Pride Month not only represents being proud of being queer and queer identity, but it also means taking pride in who you are, in all of its uniqueness and wonder. If I had to think of a book that encapsulates this theme of Pride Month, then the first book that jumps to mind is Between Perfect and Real, a stunning portrait of a teen who comes out as trans and discovers who he is and the person he can be.

I had the privilege of reading and reviewing Between Perfect and Real, and it remains to be one of the most wondrous reading experiences of queer literature. I absolutely loved Between Perfect and Real, and it’s a book I hope that you can all read during Pride.

I am incredibly delighted to have Ray Stoeve, the author of Between Perfect and Real, visiting us at the Pond today! Ray’s visit has been many months in the making, so it is so wonderful to have them here to talk about their stunning debut. Ray visits us as a reddish-brown tabby cat, wearing round gold glasses and a green sweater! I’m so excited to share the interview that I did with them, and I hope you all enjoy Ray’s answers as much as I did.

But before we share, let’s do a quick introduction of Between Perfect and Real!

Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve

Dean Foster knows he’s a trans guy. He’s watched enough YouTube videos and done enough questioning to be sure. But everyone at his high school thinks he’s a lesbian—including his girlfriend Zoe, and his theater director, who just cast him as a “nontraditional” Romeo. He wonders if maybe it would be easier to wait until college to come out. But as he plays Romeo every day in rehearsals, Dean realizes he wants everyone to see him as he really is now––not just on the stage, but everywhere in his life. Dean knows what he needs to do. Can playing a role help Dean be his true self?

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Author Interview: Ray Stoeve

CW: Hi Ray! A huge welcome to The Quiet Pond! I’m so excited for you to visit us today; I feel like this has been a long time coming, and your book is due to release so soon – congratulations! For our friends out there who might only be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Ray: Thank you so much for having me! I’ve been wanting to visit the Pond for a long time so I’m very happy to be here. I am a writer of primarily young adult fiction (though I have some adult manuscripts in the works!) and my YA debut, BETWEEN PERFECT AND REAL, just came out on April 27th. The book is about Dean, a closeted trans boy whose coming out and transition kicks off when he’s cast as Romeo in the school play. I also contributed to TAKE THE MIC: FICTIONAL STORIES OF EVERYDAY RESISTANCE, which is a wonderful anthology edited by Bethany C. Morrow. My story in that anthology is about a nonbinary teen who mentors a trans child. I’m from Seattle and love to hike, garden, and make other kinds of art (like photography and music) in my non-writing time!

CW: Congratulations on your splendid book, Between Perfect and Real! I absolutely loved everything about it and I really feel like you have written the kind of the story that will stay with so many readers, especially trans and non-binary readers. Can you tell us about the ‘spark’ for Between Perfect and Real, and how it has evolved since its first conception?

Ray: Absolutely! The spark for BPAR very much came from my own personal experience. I was a theatre kid in high school, and when I first started questioning my gender in my late teens, I thought a lot about theatre and specifically how I’d always wanted to play male roles. Like Dean, I was in a production of Romeo and Juliet in my senior year, and wanted to play Mercutio. I didn’t get to, but I wondered what it would have been like for me if I had gotten to play more gender-affirming roles. Dean and his story came out of that wondering. 

The story has changed a lot in some ways! Initially, I imagined it as a multi-POV story of not only Dean but also the people around him reacting to his transition. When I started working on the book in earnest, though, I realized thanks to some key feedback from my writing group at the time that the story was really about Dean and he needed to be the one to tell it. In the book, you do still see a lot of his relationships with other people and how they handle his coming out, but just like it should be for real-life trans people, Dean’s experience is the one that is prioritized. 

CW: Dean’s story feels incredibly personal; the storytelling is tender but also honest in the challenges – whether internal or external. How much of this story was autobiographical to you, and what did it mean to you to portray them through Dean’s story?

Ray: None of the exact events of the story are autobiographical to me, but many of the experiences —the feelings and the basic set-up of certain moments—are very much drawn from my life. I struggled with a lot of uncertainty in my transition because it didn’t match the popularized idea of what it means to be trans, and that’s true of many trans people I know, so it was important to me to show that nuance in Dean’s process. As you can probably guess, the theatre scenes are also based on my own experiences in high school theatre, from the games to the rehearsal process to the feeling of opening night. And Dean’s emotions when he tries on binders and gender-affirming clothes for the first time are pulled from my life as well. 

In portraying things I’ve been through, I’m hoping that BETWEEN PERFECT AND REAL can be a map of sorts, one I didn’t have. I want teens to know that it’s ok to be messy, to not know what you want exactly, to try things out, to have things change, to be uncertain. Authenticity doesn’t come out of total certainty, it comes out of asking yourself questions and being willing to explore and figure out what you want and who you are, not who other people think you should be. 

CW: One of my favourite parts about Between Perfect and Real was Dean’s relationships with his friends, girlfriend, and his parents. I loved that you explored Dean’s identity through these relationships, specifically their expectations of him versus his ‘real’ self. What was the motivation behind the story’s exploration into the expectations people have of trans/non-binary people? 

Ray: It makes me so happy to hear that, because that’s one of my favorite parts of the book too! The motivation definitely came from my own personal experience grappling with my own and other people’s spoken or unspoken ideas about me and my gender. I have learned so much about myself in relationship to other people, not just about my gender but also about my values and my self and how to be a person in the world. And I think that’s true for all of us; we form our senses of self based on who we’re in relationship with and how. Sometimes that’s really good and helpful, and sometimes it becomes harmful, especially when there is great internal or external pressure to conform to those expectations. I think part of figuring out who you are involves figuring out how to filter those expectations and more actively choose how you show up and what you take on in relationships. That’s been my process, and I wanted to explore that theme in Dean’s story as well.

CW: What was your greatest challenge when writing Between Perfect and Real? What is something that you are most proud of in writing Between Perfect and Real? 

Ray: One of my biggest challenges was voice and characterization, which is funny because I think it is now something I am most proud of! It took me many drafts and several complete rewrites to really find Dean’s voice, make all the secondary characters feel like distinct people with their own voices and stories, and incorporate all I was learning about writing on a craft level. This book was very much my learning book. 

CW: I’d love to hear more about your writing journey! When and where in your life did you start writing young adult fiction? And how have your stories grown thematically over the years?

Ray: I started writing YA in my late teens, but not in a very dedicated way. Often I’d come up with a few characters, write a few vignettes, and then forget about it because I was out there living my early-20s life in all its drama. But I always loved writing, and “author” was the first career I ever wanted as a little kid (followed closely by “pop star”), so I always came back. And Dean’s story was the first one that really stuck with me, so when I finally realized I could—and wanted to—commit to writing as my life’s work, it was the first one I picked up again. I mentioned that BPAR was my learning book, and that’s true of themes as well; many of my subsequent ideas, including my second YA novel (which I’m currently working on) revolve around teens figuring out who they are and how to be true to that self, especially when they’re up against social norms. I also love character-driven, relationship-driven stories, and that is another through-line in my upcoming works.

CW: I’m not sure how much you can disclose at this point, but, can you give us a hint of what you are working on next?

Ray: Yes! So that second YA novel I mentioned is another queer YA contemporary. It’s about Arden Grey, a queer cis girl who is reeling from her parents’ sudden separation. And then her best friend, a trans boy, gets his first girlfriend, and it causes a rift in their friendship. Arden has to figure out who she is in the wake of these big changes to some of her most fundamental relationships. Continuing in the tradition of BETWEEN PERFECT AND REAL, it is equal parts emotional and heartwarming, and includes a really sweet f/f romance!

CW: This is a question I love to ask all of our guests at The Quiet Pond. What is a food that reminds you of home – wherever or whoever that may be?

Ray: This paprika-heavy lentil soup recipe from the Post-Punk Kitchen. From age 25-30, I lived in an intentional community house in Seattle, and it was the first place I really felt at home since moving out on my own at age 20. We used to have dinners together every Tuesday, and on my days to cook I would often make this recipe. When I eat it I remember the wonderful feeling of family we built together.

About the Author

Ray Stoeve is a writer. They received a 2016-2017 Made at Hugo House Fellowship for their young adult fiction and were selected to attend the inaugural Tin House YA Workshop in 2019 and the 2020 Tin House Summer Workshop for adult fiction. They created the YA/MG Trans and Nonbinary Voices Masterlist, a database that tracks all books in those age categories written by trans authors about trans characters. 

They contributed to Take The Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic Books). Their first young adult novel, Between Perfect and Real, was published by Amulet Books on April 27, 2021. A second standalone novel is forthcoming.

When they’re not writing, they can be found gardening, making art in other mediums, or hiking their beloved Pacific Northwest. Find them online at raystoeve.com.

Find Ray on: Website | Instagram

One thought on “Our Friend is Here! An Interview with Ray Stoeve, Author of Between Perfect and Real – On Centering Trans Narratives, Theatre as Discovery, and Finding Your Authentic Self

  1. I really like the idea of Dean’s perspective being centered in Between Perfect and Real. Much as I like seeing a story from multiple perspectives, there are some that need more focus, especially those about one person’s journey of discovering and affirming their own identity.

    Liked by 1 person

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