Their book F2M tells the story of a girl's transition to become a boy.
This is Ryan's first book whereas Hazel's written tons of children's and teens' books.
Hi Ryan and Hazel! Thanks for being here today!
I’m really happy to have both of you here.
It’s still a couple of months till the release of your book. How are you getting ready to welcome it into the BookStore World?
Hazel: All authors get a bit nervous before the book birth of an idea. And f2m is an unusual idea.
I’m really glad to have Ryan as my co-author since we support each other in different ways. It’s an equal partnership even though we are in different countries and this is Ryan’s first book baby being launched.
Ryan: I’m definitely nervous, though only that it might have errors. I’ve hardly been able to look at the proof copy at all. My wife is reading it and hasn’t found any mistakes in it yet. Also the literary world is new to me, but I’m sure I can handle it!
How did you meet? How did you decide to write a novel together?
Hazel: We’ve known each other as family friends since Ryan was an 11 year old girl. But we met again 18 months ago when Ryan came to Melbourne from New Zealand for an IT conference.
He said, ‘I know what you look like, and I’ll find you, but I’ve changed a bit.’ He was so happy as a male, that I thought it was worth us writing the book together using transitioning as the background to a ‘coming of age’ funny, punk music novel.
We decided to co-write YA fiction, based on the sequence of medical and psychological ftm facts. Transitioning from female to male is more unusual than the reverse.
Ryan: We met years ago through family friends. I knew Hazel as the author of the Hippo books and read as many of her young adult books as our school library had in my teens.
This has been an easy start to writing novels, since it draws from my experience of transitioning gender.
Hazel: If you write about a taboo or controversial subject, the tone must be appropriate and the language was the first challenge. I had to learn a new vocab. Both for punk music and for transitioning. Too easy to unwittingly insult by using inappropriate words. Especially as it is a funny book.
Our novel with the working title of f2m (female to male) is more than sexual anatomy. Ours is the universal theme of ‘coping successfully with being different’, via a ‘coming of age’ story, but with humour and compassion plus punk music. Our character Skye who transitions to Finn is 18, a legally significant age for driver’s licence and hassles about ID etc.
Gender transition is an unusual subject, but luckily Ryan has experienced the medical and psychological process.
Ryan: I’m really glad to be involved in this book at all because mistakes are so easily made by non-trans writers, and it’s so important to get the little things right. It’s taken me several years in the transgender community to notice enough nuances in language to even attempt a book like this. It gives us a voice.
It’s curious that we are even a taboo subject. Transitioning was such a natural and normal thing for me to do. The punk setting is similar in that respect too – it’s also often misunderstood and misrepresented.
How was the writing process for you two? Because I know that Ryan’s from NZ, and Hazel from Australia. Did you meet someplace and write together for some time? How did you manage this?
Hazel: Working together, the pronouns were the first challenge for me. It’s so hard to start saying ‘he’ when you are used to saying ‘she’ or ‘her’. My compromise was to use Ryan’s name more, rather than the pronoun. Now, I have no problem with ‘he’ and ‘his’ and I think of my co-writer as a thoughtful male with keen observation skills from ‘reading’ others in gender roles.
A brief but candid W.I.P. log was my way of keeping track of medical, literary and technical challenges before we forgot the details of genes, dates, sexist terms, fake family history trees , electronic glitches and the embarrassing moments!. Ryan is NZ based so we work electronically, with him e-mailing me a raw, first draft chapter weekly, usually on a Sunday night. Then I would work on this version, before returning it to him later in the week. We used tracking, but also colour coding for bits which needed later fixing. In the last month, we were Skype-editing and exchanging daily on the 70,000 word draft.
f2m is fiction, based on genetic fact.
Although Ryan plotted the original sequence, based on his earlier private online diary kept during treatment, I structured the initial synopsis as part of the book proposal for the publisher. We knew it would be likely to change drastically, before the book was published. - It did.
Ryan: I would write in the evenings and on weekends, then send my first draft chapters to Hazel. It was hard at first to find the time around my full-time job, but I learned how to make the time, writing on the train and typing it up later and writing on the weekends. Then when I got my drafts back with Hazel’s notes and changes, it was like being in school again, except this time I could re-submit! I had to get over my pride and see where I hadn’t done very well and things could be written better. We chatted on Skype about progress and changes a lot. I find that a much better use of time than face-to-face meetings actually. I don’t think being in the same city would really have helped that much anyway. We still would have had to work on one draft at a time and swap files.
Tell us a bit about your novel.
Hazel: Character Skye plays guitar in all female Chronic Cramps punk band but now presenting as a male called Finn. Family find it difficult to accept losing a daughter.Him or her? Getting the pronouns right is hard for friends and family. Then there's photo ID, which toilets or changing rooms and all the legal stuff. And is Great Uncle Al also Alberta? Finn gets online help and counsellor Greer even helps Finn sing ftm lyrics on the TV Current Affairs program.
Ryan: Finn is basically female on the outside, male inside his head. He starts the journey towards his true identity, risking friendships and threatening family relationships. Even his place in his own band isn’t safe: how can an all-female band have a male guitarist? Punk or not, this is a story everyone who has ever questioned gender can relate to.
How Many Drafts?
Hazel: Across a year, possibly 40 drafts. Eighteen months concentrated work.
By tracking only on the constantly updated master, then Skyping the ms for the co-writer to add, we didn’t have so many versions, that updated work was lost. A co-author in another time zone, means you are fresh at different times. Despite this we realised that the birthday cake would be stale before Dad’s 50th party, since extra chapters had intervened since the cooking. Finn suffered fatigue from injections not yet given and we had to monitor who acknowledged Finn’s male name. Getting the medical details & terminology right required lots of checking.
Ryan: I counted at least 65 drafts at my end, not all of them sent ‘across the ditch’ (as they call the Tasman Sea here). Keeping track of continuity was challenging. After some research I realised my experience of the medical system here wasn’t that common, so we switched things around a bit. I use Open Office and Hazel uses MS Word, so the tracked changes would give up after a while and I’d have to reformat the whole thing, just to make sure we had a technically sound draft to work on.
I think it sounds really exciting! I’ve never heard of this concept for a novel before. Kudos to you guys for being the first ones (if I’m not wrong)!
Hazel: Yes, this ftm (female to male) transitioning fiction is a first for a YA novel. There are other novels like ‘Luna’ (great book!) which is about mtf (male to female) transition.
We explored novelisation via e-mail & webcam, how to date label attachments and later how to use Skype keyboarding to record our novel problem-solving. Simultaneously we recorded our typed Q and A on Skype as a legitimate part of our collaborative plotting
I love Skye’s band’s name: The Chronic Cramps! How did you come up with that?
Hazel: Ryan’s choice. He’s a muso.
Ryan: That was the second name I suggested. The first was ‘Unstoppable Freakshow’ as the band was originally going to be more theatre-based than music. I googled it first! There was a real punk band called The Cramps, which I remembered after the final manuscript had been sent to the publisher and had a minor panic about, though the names (and bands) are different enough.
How would you describe Skye, and how Finn? Do they have a lot of similarities or a lot of contrast?
Ryan: Skye is really Finn with a different name and external appearance. The name Skye and female gender are what the world calls Finn at the start of the story. They are the same person, with the same musical tastes. Finn has better ideas about his future that becoming male opens up.
I’d like to think that Finn is a bit bolder and more sure of himself than he was as Skye, as the process of transition is hard and requires you to really draw a line in the sand and say ‘this is my gender and who I am’. It requires some strength of character.
Can’t wait to read this novel! It has one of the most interesting and original plots I’ve ever read.
F2m, the boy within is:
NOT autobiograpical, but co-writer Ryan has experienced the medical sequence of gender reassignment.
ftm means female to male mtf means male to female.
f2m is also our title for creative collaboration via Skype plotting. His first book, Hazel’s 200th.
Compassionate, candid and funny 'coming of age' via punk music and family history genetic clues.
Thanks guys for stopping by! Come back any time!
f2m: the boy within
School-leaver Skye plays guitar in her all-female Chronic Cramps band. Making her name in the competitive punk/indie scene is easier than FTM (female to male) transitioning: from Skye to Finn, from girl to man. Uncovering genetic mysteries about family heritage tear the family apart. Trans gender identity is more than injections and surgery, it’s about acceptance. Going public, Finn sings ftm lyrics on TV. With a little help from bemused mates and family who don’t want to lose a daughter, but who love their teenager, Finn is transitioning.
Pub date: February 2010
Category: Young Adult Fiction
female until his transition to male at twentyseven.
Ryan works in IT and is a passionate
environmentalist and musician.
Melbourne-based Hazel Edwards has written YA novels and adult non-fiction including Difficult Personalities. Family friends, she and Ryan co-wrote online and via Skype webcam. Hazel is a 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nominee and recipient of the 2009 ASA Medal. www.hazeledwards.com
*This was also Ryan's first interview, so give him some love!