Danny Freeman is a former mathematics educator and school district administrator. He was born in Dallas and grew up in Houston. He has since lived in Arkansas, England, Vermont, California, Louisiana, and Utah. He now lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with his partner. He has written a second gay-themed young adult novel and is busy editing it for potential publication.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
The title for my book, The You I See, came straight from the mouth of one of the characters. I had already written about three-quarters of the book and I had no ideas regarding any potential titles. I was writing the dialogue between the two main characters, Alex and Brandon, as they exchanged Christmas/going-away presents. Brandon gave Alex one of his sketchbooks with various drawings of Alex, and he said, “I thought maybe this was a way I could show you what I see in you. Like this is the you I see through my eyes.”
I knew in an instant that was the title I wanted. One of the major themes of the novel is the fact that Alex and Brandon have to keep their sexual orientation and attraction to one another secret from most of the people in their lives. So there is a sense in which how they see one another is key to the book. They see in each other what few others can see or are willing to see, and even though they are only teenagers, they both find liberation and acceptance through one another’s imperfect but clear-eyed gaze.
How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?
I truly wept with joy when I saw the cover for the first time. The cover design team at Atmosphere was wonderful. They worked with me so closely and made the whole process very rewarding. After much consultation and consideration, they sent me six possible covers to choose from. I remember scrolling through the first four and being pleasantly surprised. Then I scrolled to the fifth one—the one that became the final cover—and I started crying. It was such a simple image but it captured everything I had hoped for. It was perfect. I still love it, and I get so many compliments on the image, the colors, and the overall style.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
The You I See is set between 1987 and 1993, so the imaginary soundtrack in my mind is obviously filled with songs from the period. Here are a few:
I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) – Whitney Houston
(Everything I Do) I Do It For You – Bryan Adams
I Want to Know What Love Is – Foreigner
All Out of Love – Air Supply
The Glory of Love – Peter Cetera
Happy to Be Stuck With You – Huey Lewis and the New
Borderline – Madonna
Black or White – Michael Jackson
Baby, Baby – Amy Grant
Something to Talk About – Bonnie Raitt
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
Oddly enough, I envision my perfect reader as someone who is almost—but not quite—a gay ally! One of the things I wanted to accomplish with my novel was to “normalize” gay attraction and young gay relationships. I know that some people in the gay/queer community object to this—they don’t think we should try to “normalize” anything that is outside the heterosexual mainstream. The whole point of being queer is, well, being queer! I get that perspective, and I am not opposed to it. At the same time, I tend to be pretty nuanced in my thinking, and I find more comfort in the middle than in some extreme, non-negotiable stances.
So I had it in mind to portray two ostensibly average American teens who just happened to be gay and attracted to one another. I wanted to portray them so compellingly and sympathetically that someone who was perhaps “on the fence” about gay relationships would find themselves rooting for these boys almost against their initial inclination.
I believe so strongly in the power of good storytelling, and I think an emotionally resonant narrative arc can do as much to change hearts and minds as the most rigorous logical argument. I hope my novel might play a small part in normalizing gay love between teenagers and helping straight readers realize that even boys want storybook love.
What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?
I’ve completed two different drafts of a second gay-themed novel. It’s much darker and much more intense than The You I See. It’s a tale of friendship, perseverance, and found family set at a “conversion therapy” Bible camp in Arkansas in the early 2000s. Unlike the sprawling timeline of The You I See, this second book takes place over the course of two weeks. I revisit some of the same themes—religion, family, friendship, self-understanding, and self-acceptance—yet it is a very different book.
How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?
Working with Atmosphere was a true pleasure. The entire staff was helpful, knowledgeable, and very responsive. They took the very mysterious process of publishing a book and made it straightforward and relatively painless and stress-free. I felt supported and respected at every step. They all believed in my book as much as I did.