Hi guys! Today I’m part of the blog tour for Thanks a Lot, John LeClair by Johanna Parkhurst. Johanna’s publicist reached out to me about this book because of my total love for sports YA books. In this YA contemporary, two gay hockey players have to deal with their relationship, secrets and more – all amidst the backdrop of the state championship.
As some of you know, I’m a huge fan of M/M hockey romances by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy, so I was really excited to see a YA version pop up. Thanks a Lot, John LeClair is the companion to Here’s to You, Zeb Pike. The books center on each of the two guys in this relationship, but each book can be read as a standalone.
Read on for more about Thanks a Lot, John LeClair, and find out the story of Emmitt and Dusty came to be.
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A Companion to Here's to You, Zeb Pike
Sixteen-year-old Emmitt LaPoint has secretly been writing letters to his hockey idol, John LeClair, for years. So it’s probably only fitting that Emmitt’s small Vermont town seems desperate to make him the next LeClair. After all, Emmitt is about to lead his high school hockey team to the state championship, he has a near-perfect GPA, and he’s liked by almost everyone.
But even golden boys have problems, and Emmitt has more than his share. His father’s back in town to breathe down his neck. He’s happily dating his coach’s nephew, Dusty, but almost nobody knows he’s gay—and that secret is getting harder and harder to keep.
When Emmitt discovers Dusty is keeping secrets of his own, he’s forced to decide exactly what kind of golden boy he wants to be.
The Thanks a Lot, John LeClair origin story by Johanna Parkhurst
Thanks so much for Mostly YA Lit for hosting me today! I’m thrilled to be here. For this blog post, Tiff asked if I could discuss how the characters in Thanks a Lot, John LeClair first came to me. That’s a great question, considering that I have never been either a gay teenage boy or a hockey player. The answer is on the long side, but I’ll do my best to keep it interesting.
So let’s rewind back to the dark ages when I first started teaching. This was over a decade ago, and there was not a lot of YA lit out there featuring LGBTQ characters. Oh sure, it existed—but as a teacher in Colorado Springs, Colorado (yes, that’s the home of Focus on the Family), I found myself desperately shuffling through bookstore shelves and often only coming up with copies of Rainbow Boys to put in my classroom library. Now, don’t get me wrong—I love me some Alex Sanchez, and that series never stops making me tear up. But as I began to have more and more students show up in my classroom who were questioning their sexuality, it became clearer and clearer to me that they needed more books featuring characters who were also questioning their sexuality. And Rainbow Boys just wasn’t going to be enough.
At the same time I was writing the first draft of Here’s to You, Zeb Pike, which was actually called Three Rivers back then. This book has gone through upwards of 55 drafts from start to publication, and sometimes I can’t even remember what these characters used to be like in the earliest drafts. In the very first writing, though, I can say that Emmitt and Dusty were not a couple. Emmitt was originally written as Dusty’s good friend, and Dusty actually had a girlfriend.
Only she was terrible. Their relationship was terrible. They were boring and trite. Meanwhile, every scene featuring Dusty and Emmitt was lively and fun, and I just wanted the two of them to spend every single chapter together because they had such wonderful chemistry and…well, you can see where this is going.
I have joked in the past that the main characters in Here’s to You, Zeb Pike “came out to me,” but I don’t make that joke often anymore. It makes it sound, I fear, like I gaywashed this book, and that wasn’t the case. What did happen is this: I was tired of seeing so few LGBTQ characters in school libraries, and I had somehow written a main character who was falling in love with his male best friend. I suspect my subconscious was in on this plot shift all along, but who knows. Either way, Dusty fell in love with Emmitt, and the book was forever changed after that.
I went on to write another book with questioning and gay main characters titled Every Inferno. That book came about largely because I wanted to create my dream school, one where I wished to teach: a school where being gay was of no consequence and a character could identify as LGBTQ without fear of bullying or losing friendships. Hey, sometimes it’s a writer’s prerogative to create their ideal world. So in that book I wrote a character named McKinley, who is one of the most popular and well-liked students in his class. And he just happens to be gay.
As for this book? Well, Thanks a Lot, John LeClair was never planned. Emmitt LaPoint, for better or worse, turned out to be a delightful character—one of my favorites in Here’s to You, Zeb Pike. I started writing a book all about him because I couldn’t not write it. I wanted to see what would happen to him. I wanted to see if he ever found a way to balance his love of hockey with his identity. I wanted to see if he and Dusty could survive all of Emmitt’s ambitious career goals…and so Thanks a Lot, John LeClair was born.
The YA market is very different than it was when I wrote the first draft of Here’s to You, Zeb Pike more than ten years ago. More and more LGBTQ characters are appearing on bookstore shelves, and thanks to the #ownvoices movement, many more of them are written by authors penning from experience. I have clearly never been a gay teenage boy, and I will also never be a professional hockey player…though I sure do watch a lot of it. I can only hope that my research and work have ensured I’ve done these characters justice and made them worthy of being on library shelves.
And wherever you are, Alex Sanchez, I can’t thank you enough for publishing Rainbow Boys. Thanks for getting that book out into the world when I had students who needed to read it.
Thanks so much, Johanna, for stopping by and sharing the origins of Dusty and Emmitt. I love it so much! It’s amazing how much characters and stories can change from first draft to publication. I love that it was through the writing that Dusty and Emmitt’s relationship came to be. I’m looking forward to diving into it!
THANKS A LOT, JOHN LECLAIR is out on December 15th! Have you read HERE’S TO YOU, ZEB PIKE? Do you want to read THANKS A LOT, JOHN LECLAIR? Have you read other gay YA books that you’d recommend? What about sports YA? Hit the comments and let us know your thoughts! And don’t forget to stop by the rest of the blog tour to find out more about this YA contemporary!
December 8th — Mostly YA Lit: Author Guest Post <– you’re here!