My debut novel, Cemetery Boys
, is the first fiction book about a trans character written by a trans author to ever hit the New York Times
bestseller list. It’s taken far too long for that to happen, and it’s certainly not going to be the last.
A common question I got asked when I entered publishing was, “When was the first time you saw yourself in a book?” There was always a moment of panic where I’d race to think of a book that had one aspect of my identity that I could use as an answer.
The sad truth is that according to media, people like me (Latinx, transgender, and
queer) didn’t exist. When I was growing up, I thought there wasn’t a place for me in publishing. I never saw Latinx characters in books, let alone ones that were queer, and certainly not trans. While there’s still a huge need for more diverse stories in the world, finally having books that reflected parts of my identity (Labyrinth Lost
by Zoraida Córdova being a huge one) is what made me think I could finally write a book like Cemetery Boys
, and people would want to read it.
was inspired by a writing prompt I saw on Tumblr. I follow a bunch of writing prompt blogs and one day as I was mindlessly scrolling, I saw one that said, “What would you do if you summoned a ghost and you couldn’t get rid of it?” A lot of folks replied with scary story ideas with lots of Paranormal Activity
-type events, but my brain went, “Yes, and what if he was cute
Having a story about a Latinx boy who can see ghosts aligned perfectly with my all-time favorite holiday, Día de Muertos. The whole magic system in Cemetery Boys
is inspired by Dia de Muertos and how we celebrate. I wanted to take all of those traditions and practices and make them literal. We make ornate, colorful ofrendas
and use marigolds to summon our ancestors, and in Cemetery Boys
, that’s exactly how the magic system works. Latinx culture and mythos are so nuanced and vibrant, and I wanted to share that with readers, both for readers who had never seen that part of their lives represented, and for those who are completely unfamiliar. From marigolds, to food, even gritos
, it was a pure joy to play with and give power to these little details from my own culture. It’s a love letter to my community.
I was essentially asking permission: Could I write this book that was so much about my identity?
I really wanted to write a book where trans and Latinx kids could see themselves being powerful heroes who are also supported and loved for who they are. Queer kids and brown kids have it really rough right now, and I wanted to write a fun book with good representation that they could escape into.
While I was in copy-edits for Lost in the Never Woods
(the first book I wrote and sold, but the second book I published), I started bugging my editor about my option book. I sent her five different story ideas and Cemetery Boys
was the shortest pitch. It was just a paragraph that started with, "This is a very VAGUE idea with a trans main character." Most of the sentences ended in question marks because I was really unsure that anyone would want this very queer and unapologetically Latinx story I had in my head. I was essentially asking permission: Could I write this book that was so much about my identity? One that I had never seen in media?
I thought there was no way I could ever sell a book with a trans main character, let alone one that was Latinx or gay on top of it. Maybe one, but not all three. That in itself is so wild — that I thought my marginalizations were so un-marketable that it would be impossible to successfully pitch.
The funny part was that my incredible editor at Macmillan, Holly West, was absolutely thrilled and immediately said that was the book she wanted out of all my ideas. I was genuinely shocked when this tiny blip of an idea was what they wanted. My editor loved it so much and everyone on my team was so excited. We realized that, while Lost in the Never Woods
is an incredibly personal story for me, Cemetery Boys
was really special because it would reach marginalized readers in a really important way. So, that’s why we swapped the two and decided Cemetery Boys
should be my debut.
I actually wrote Cemetery Boys
in six weeks. I was on a tight deadline and got very little sleep. But being able to create a story with a gay, transgender, Latinx boy who could communicate with ghosts was such a joy to write, the words came quickly and easily.
A big part of the story that pulled from my personal experiences were the family dynamics. I feel like in most stories about trans kids, either their families fully support them without so much as a blink, or they completely reject them. I wanted to show how it can be more nuanced than that. I wanted Yadriel’s relationships with his family to reflect more of my personal experience — a family that isn’t intrinsically transphobic, just uninformed. There’s a learning curve. Yadriel’s family is not aggressively or purposefully trying to be hurtful. These aren’t bad people; they don’t hate Yadriel or those parts of him, they just don’t understand.
When it came to Julian, the love interest in Cemetery Boys
, I wanted to challenge people's perceptions. Julian Diaz isn’t your standard love interest, especially in fantasy. He’s not dark, broody, or mysterious. I wanted him to be an authentic teenage boy, and Julian acts how 16-year-old boys act. He’s chaotic and goofy, and he takes up space. I also wanted to have a romance between two brown boys, which I rarely see in books. I wanted Julian to be attractive IN his brownness and his very Latinx features (which Mars Lauderbaugh beautifully recreated on the cover).
When Julian is introduced, he’s this school bad boy running the block with his friends and getting into trouble. I think if someone randomly saw him on the street, they wouldn’t think, “Ah, yes, there is a boy who is part of the queer community and understands and accepts the nuance of gender identities.” Yadriel doesn’t have to teach Julian how to understand him or love him. When Yadriel tells Julian he’s trans, it takes about two seconds for Julian to take in the information, process it, and act accordingly. Julian is gay and he falls for and is attracted to Yadriel without any hang-ups or crisis over his own sexual identity because Yadriel is a boy
. Meanwhile, Yadriel has spent YEARS trying to teach his family to do the same. It catches Yadriel completely off guard. The only thing he has to explain about himself to Julian is this magic system of the brujx that Julian just found existed. I wanted to have a love interest that showed trans kids they are worthy of being loved just as they are and without turmoil.
It’s been nine months since I released Cemetery Boys
. It came out in the middle of the pandemic, and I still haven’t been able to do an in-person book event. I can’t wait to finally meet some readers in person, hopefully at Powell’s! But it’s been so amazing watching readers talk about finding a connection and feeling seen when they read Cemetery Boys
I wanted to create a story for readers to connect with Yadriel on universal truths that are basic to the human experience, things like struggling to fit in, feeling accepted for who you are, and being loved. A lot of queer teens experience their first sense of belonging or affirmation with queer bloggers, YouTubers, TikTokers and, of course, characters in books. Even if they can’t talk to them personally, seeing people with their identities, seeing themselves reflected in books, or Internet stars telling them they’re valid gives them a sense of community and comfort. That’s why I wrote Cemetery Boys
. Every time a young queer reader says they see a reflection of themselves in Yadriel, I’m so grateful I got to be a part of it.
÷ ÷ ÷
, author of Cemetery Boys
, received their MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Born in Oakland, California, Aiden often haunted Mountain View Cemetery like a second home during their misspent youth. As a queer, trans Latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden is notorious among their friends for always being surprised by twist endings to books/movies and organizing their bookshelves by color. When not writing, Aiden enjoys exploring the outdoors with their dog, Ronan. Their cat, Figaro, prefers to support their indoor hobbies, like reading and drinking too much coffee. Lost in the Never Woods
is their latest book.