The Italian Word for Kisses
By Matthew J. Metzger
Length of Book: 80,000 words
Genre: young adult, gay romance
Matthew J. Metzger is a British author currently living, working and writing near Bristol in the south-west of England. He is both asexual and transgender, and seeks out the loud characters, rough stories, and quirky personalities that explore the rich diversity of the QUILTBAG world. He writes both adult and young adult novels, covering topics from mental illness to ill-advised crushes, and particularly enjoys writing about universal issues from the QUILTBAG perspective. Matthew can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tsu, or at his website.
When not writing (which is rare), Matthew is usually found crunching numbers at his day job, working out to inappropriately chirpy pop songs, or being owned by his cat. It is important to note that the man does not, naturally, own the cat.
It’s no secret that Tav and Luca are going out. After the accident, it’s also no secret that new kid Jack Collins has a raging case of homophobia, and is not best pleased about having given the kiss of life to a gay guy. Either Luca quits swimming, or Jack is going to make him.
Tav favours the tried-and-true method of knocking Jack’s teeth down his neck, only he can’t really afford another school suspension. Luca favours just ignoring him, only ignoring a penknife being held to your throat at New Year’s Eve is downright stupid.
Thing is, Luca suspects that Jack is a victim of something himself. And time is running out for Luca to get through to Jack, before Jack gets rid of him.
Adults Writing YA
by Matthew J. Metzger
So I had a weird experience a few weeks ago. I got a manuscript back from an editor, and for the first time, I actually had a problem with the edits. Like, a proper, major issue.
Basically, it was pretty obvious that the editor didn’t have a great deal of experience with — or memory of being — teenagers. Certainly not the kind of teenagers I was writing about, anyway. A lot of perfectly standard things that teenagers do and say were flagged — dialogue wasn’t politically correct, they didn’t explain things properly to each other, they didn’t pick up on things that an adult would have done, they wound each other up about things that adults would have gone ‘uh, dude, not cool.’ In short, they were dumb kid characters behaving like dumb kids.
And believe me, they were dumb. I’ve written clever teenagers. I’ve written eloquent, mature, sensible teenagers, and I will do again, because a lot of teenagers can be and are perfectly rational, reasonable people with very mature world views.
And some aren’t. And the manuscript in question fell into the ‘aren’t’ category. These kids were still mentally very young, very much focused on themselves rather than the wider world around them, and prone to messing around…and therein lay the problem. The editor seemed to take exception with every manifestation of it.
At the same time, I was getting The Italian Word for Kisses ready with a different publisher. And in the midst of this brewing clash, I found a lot of humour in it. The Italian Word for Kisses would have horrified that editor. Absolutely horrified them. These kids went drinking in a park and had a drunk fumble in the trees on New Year’s Eve! These kids teased each other for being gay and threatened to turn their straight friends! These kids got into fistfights and reacted to being shoved in the halls by punching back! These kids didn’t tell a teacher!
Because these kids are seventeen-year-old boys from working-class backgrounds without an inkling about — or care for — the LGBT fiction community. They don’t know or care about the sensibilities of queer politics. It’s pretty likely none of them know the distinction between ‘I am’ and ‘I identify as.’ I would bet that none of them have actually heard the phrase ‘I identify as.’
Sometimes, we as authors can get too tangled up in our world, and forget that what is the norm for us wasn’t, and still isn’t, the norm for some kids. There are still schools in the UK that don’t teach LGBT sex education, or LGBT anything else for that matter. There are still kids whose worlds revolve around sports, and have very little exposure to the nuances of queer identity. I was one of them for my entire teenage years, wrapped up in mental health issues and writing bad fanfiction — I didn’t know or care about what words adults thought were okay, or whether or not it was morally okay to carry a knife in my schoolbag. Those kids existed from 2002-2009, when I was in secondary school, and they still exist today.
And yet, those kids can be as queer as anyone else. They don’t talk like us. They don’t behave like us. They don’t view the world the way that we do. But they’re still there. They’re still queer. They still deserve their own stories.
Sometimes, we as adults need to remember what being a teenager was like. And remove some of what adulthood has placed in our heads.
The bang of the changing room door and the amiable greeting from one of the other boys caught Luca’s attention, but the sudden, sharp silence made his blood run cold. All at once, Luca was both afraid, and angry with himself for being afraid. So he squared his shoulders and turned on his heel, folding his arms over his chest and meeting Jack’s scowl with a glower of his own.
“What the f*ck are you doing here?” Jack snarled.
“F*ckin’ swimming. What about you?”
“I told you not to come.”
It was like the rest of the team didn’t exist. Luca didn’t dare break eye contact, and Jack ― although he tossed his bag onto a bench and unzipped his jacket, was zeroed in on Luca in a way that made the hairs on Luca’s arms stand on end.
“Dunno what kinky shit you’re into, Collins, but I don’t follow your orders.” Being both an older and a younger brother had made Luca able to bluff with ease, and despite the impotent anger, the tart tang of shame around the edges of his brain that this moron had somehow gotten one over him and seized some power in this stupid f*cking game, his voice sounded ― even to him ― arrogant and bored.
“I said go,” Jack repeated. The other boys hovered uncertainly, but Aaron and David had both closed ranks to Luca’s shoulders, and Luca took a fortified breath. Aaron looked steely. David looked a little more confused, but determinedly hostile all the same.
“Like hell I’m going,” Luca said. “You got a problem with a pouf on the team, you need to f*ck off and get your head out your arse. I’m here to swim. I’m not going nowhere.”
“What the f*ck is going on?” David asked.
“Jack, mate, leave it,” one of the other boys said. “It’s just Jensen, Jensen’s sound―”
“He’s a f*cking faggot, and I won’t have his kind here ― I warned you, I f*cking told you, and you’re still f*cking here!”
“What’s your problem, mate, he’s taken up wi’ that Chris in Jan Krawczyk’s tutor group…”
“Yeah, Jack, lay off already, who d’you reckon you are anyway, you’re new―”
“I know there’s a f*cking faggot on this f*cking team and I―”
“Don’t f*cking call him a faggot, twat,” one of the other boys ― a lad called Ryan that Luca had never so much as spoken to outside of the club, and was in the year below them anyway ― sneered, and he shot out a hand to shove at Jack’s shoulder.
“I told you to stay away!” Jack bellowed, and his hand vanished into his unzipped jacket. “I told you, I f*cking told you―”
The changing room erupted; the flick-knife flashed under the sickly halogen lights, and Luca’s back slammed into the wall of locker doors as Aaron and David shoved him back as one. Both doors ― one to the foyer and one to the pool ― banged loudly, and the bolshy kid, Ryan, lashed out with a fist, smashing into Jack’s jaw from the side. A couple of men came rampaging over from the showers in their wet trunks, all the noise bouncing off the walls until it was dizzying. Coach arrived with a shrill shriek of the whistle, and the knife had gone somewhere but Luca couldn’t tell where in the ruckus, and then Aaron’s hand was on his shoulder and he was being steered off into one corner of the changing room, and―
A flush of hot, furious shame boiled up Luca’s stomach and into his guts, and he twisted away from Aaron’s hands and grabbed for his kit bag. He didn’t need Aaron to f*cking protect him. He didn’t need anyone to protect him, he wasn’t some pathetic little kid who needed their hand holding. He shouldn’t need defending, he was a Jensen! He should be able to defend himself.
He grabbed his bag and bolted. As he fled up the stairs, a burly security guard and Coach were wrestling the knife out of Jack’s hands in the corridor, both shouting at him, and Jack shouting back, face red and voice hoarse and shrill with fury.
“You f*cking steer clear of me, Jensen!” he bellowed after Luca, who didn’t dare look back. “F’you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay out of here, you f*cking queer!”
Luca reached the top of the stairs, and ran.