Q&A with Nick Burd, The Vast Fields of Ordinary

November 21, 2011

We Are the Youth Book Club: An Interview with Nick Burd, author of The Vast Fields of Ordinary.

For We Are the Youth’s first book club, Brooklyn-based author Nick Burd, 31, talks to us about his award-winning debut novel The Vast Fields of Ordinary, a coming of age young adult book about Dade Hamilton, a gay teenager in Iowa exploring friendship, relationships, and family drama during his “last real summer” before going to college.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary is in the early stages of being turned into a movie to be directed by Bruce Cohen, the producer of American Beauty and Milk. Nick talks to us about sexuality, gay literature, and the to-be-named quasi-sequel.

Did you have any books about young gay people to read when you were growing up?
I really didn’t. I grew up in a religious environment. The things in the library weren’t gay or lesbian oriented. My sexuality was forming in my mind in sixth, seventh, eighth grade, and  I couldn’t find any young adults geared towards gay kids. When I found adult themed gay books that was kind of a big deal.

What made you write this story as your first book?
It was on the tip of my tongue. And to me it feels very natural to write about gay people. And I knew the book I wanted to write. I wanted to do something young. At the time I was writing it, there wasn’t Glee, and there wasn’t a lot of gay pop culture, and I thought there would be an audience for this book.

Quickly in the story we learn of Dade’s tumultuous relationship with Pablo, a closeted student. What was your concept of the character of Pablo?
Everybody knows at least one person who’s struggling with his sexuality. And something every gay boy goes through is being in love with a straight boy.

There are a lot of young, queer characters in your book. Dade’s best friend Lucy is a lesbian. How important was it for you to have a lesbian character in the book?
I knew Dade needed someone to talk to.  And growing up, I always had close girl friends, so I wanted that to be in the book. The minute I came up with her, I thought she would be gay.

How much of the novel is autobiographical?
I get asked that question a lot. I’m gay and I grew up in Iowa, but it’s not really that autobiographical. My parents are very different than Dade’s parents. And there’s not really anything about his personality that is like mine.

What are you working on now?
I’m in the very final stages of finishing a second young adult story. The next book’s a little bit less gay-themed. The title’s up in the air, but it’s about two guys who go to the school Dade went to who are in a rock band. There are some of the same characters, but the main characters appear very fleetingly in Vast Fields of Ordinary.

Is it easier to get queer-themed YA literature published in a post-Glee world?
If it was 10 years ago it would have been different, and harder to get this sort of work out there. I feel like right now there’s definitely an audience for it. People’s attitudes about sexuality is changing. I think it’s a very good moment.

— Diana Scholl


Thanks to Nick for participating in this interview and for Penguin for donating copies of the book for the raffle. To win a copy of the book, tweet @wertheyouth, #ilovefreebooks, or leave a note on We Are the Youth’s Facebook wall by November 25.