Author Q&A Exclusive! Tobly McSmith on STAY GOLD
It's no secret that we love YA books around here. They're smart. They're funny. They're thoughtful. They're true. And it's always a joy to share YA books we're excited about with you.
That's why we're here today—to recommend a new book that we just know you'll want to slide to the top of your TBR list: Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith. There are a million reasons we love this book, like its transgender protagonist, amazing rom-com vibes, and its setting in a Texas high school, and we had so much fun chatting with debut author Tobly about all of it. Check it out, then hurry up and read this book so we can talk about it, okay?
First off, congratulations on your debut novel! Can you tell us a bit about the book?
Stay Gold is a love story between Pony—a transgender boy transferring to a new high school and deciding to go stealth (hiding his gender identity), and Georgia—a cheerleader at that school. I love a love story and this one has plenty of ‘will they or won’t they’ tension, but there’s also serious transgender issues. When I started writing Stay Gold two years ago, I didn’t see myself in enough books. I didn’t see a transgender guy getting misgendered, or deadnamed, wearing a chest compression binder, saving up for his top surgery, and dealing with coming out. For me, “Stay Gold” means staying true yourself and that’s what this book is about.
The book starts out on the first day of school. What was your first day of high school like?
What a fun question! I honestly don’t remember. I was probably overwhelmed—my high school had two thousand people. My high school days were fun, but I was lost. I didn’t know any transgender people. Or know much about being transgender. I thought I had to accept the body I was born into and learn to live that way. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was awkward. I used my humor as a sword and shield. Hillcrest High from Stay Gold is much like my school, and I was the mascot (a bulldog) giving me the inspiration for Georgia’s cheerleading team. Don’t want to brag, but I was ranked fifth in the nation at a mascot competition. That’s right, I peaked in high school.
In addition to writing books, you've also had a role creating some hilarious musical parodies. Was writing a book always a goal of yours? And will you continue to work on musicals?
Books have always been a huge part of my life—my stepdad is a bookbinder, so I grew up surrounded by rare books with a book bindery in the garage. My mom was always reading—nearly a book a week for as long as I’ve known her. I worked at the publishing press at my college and sixteen years at HarperCollins. If you would have told me when I was in college getting two degrees in business that I’d someday write a book and co-write eight musicals, I wouldn’t have believed you. I don’t think I allowed myself to dream big. It took me years to find myself and my voice.
We are working on our next musical, a parody about the TV show Parks and Recreation with Leslie Knope running for president. (I’d vote for her, wouldn’t you?)
Can you share a little about the Stay Gold Fund?
Yes please! The Stay Gold Fund will provide financial assistance for gender-affirming health care for transgender and non-binary people in need. Halfway through writing Stay Gold, Trump banned transgender people from serving in the military, pointing to the high price of gender-affirming health care. That night, as I was writing a book about a trans boy saving up for his gender-affirming surgery, I knew I wanted to help and bring awareness to the importance of this health care on the wellbeing of trans people. Studies have shown less depression, anxiety, and suicide rates when people have access to the health care they need. I’m working with the Stonewall Community Foundation, and they're helping every step of the way. Half of my money from the book goes to the fund and we will be doing fundraisers. For more info, check out www.staygoldfund.org.
What would you recommend to readers who are looking for more books like Stay Gold?
It's inspiring to have a growing list of amazing transgender authors. I have tremendous respect for Amateur by Thomas Page McBee, Sorted by Jackson Bird, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, and George by Alex Gino (middle grade).
What’s next for you?
I’m proud to be working on another YA novel with a transgender main character! This book is centered around theater, bringing my two loves together to tell a story about finding yourself and chosen family. It’s also set in New York City—my home for sixteen years. Basically everything I love in eighty thousand words.
Not a question: We follow you on Instagram and love your cats.
Bam-Bam and Bananas are deeply grateful for your love and admiration! I don’t know what I would have done without them during these quarantine days. Also, want to know something funny? Not one cat has been mentioned in my books—maybe I’m saving them all for an epic cat tale.