'Hot Boy Summer' - Trying to Live Your Best Life

"Hot Boy Summer" by Joe Jiménez.

Joe Jiménez wanted to write relatable characters who struggle with figuring out who their true friends are, and what to do with their lives, so he wrote, "Hot Boy Summer."

What was the inspiration behind your most recent book?

For me, belonging is the heart of "Hot Boy Summer" — Mac, Mikey, Flor, and Cammy all joining together the summer before Senior Year to bond over breakfast tacos, pop music remixes, and their mutual love of the iconic Ariana Grande and international drag superstar Valentina. With Mac and his three bffs, I aimed to create characters on a journey some of us may find familiar — trying to live your best life while also trying to figure out who your true friends are, who’s fake, and what you want to do with the rest of your life. It’s giving very high school friends group drama, with group chats, excessive hashtags, family conflict, and a character fluent in the art of keeping receipts. 

In this, I’m 110 inspired when people close to me persevere and overcome and find joy, and I wanted this for Mac, the point-of-view character in Hot Boy Summer. I wanted to write about conflicts Mac faces as he becomes more confident and learns to stand up for himself both at home and in his friends group — this includes everyday drama like friends talking about each other, jealousies when new energy comes into the group, and trying to keep the peace in your group when some of your friends don’t like each other. As much as I was inspired by writing Mac to deal with life’s tensions, I also very much needed these chapters to fill Mac, Mikey, Flor, and Cammy with pride, joy, and hopefulness. Especially hopefulness. With this, the authorial choice I am most proud of is offering to people like and unlike me a glimpse at queer joy, at brown joy, at Mac’s very human joy of journeying to self-acceptance and the understanding that sometimes the people who love you most are those connected to you by choice.  

You know, growing up in a little cotton town in South Texas, I didn’t have many friends, so I adore my friendships now. Perhaps because I know loneliness, I can more deeply appreciate connection, even if my bffs and I all live in different parts of the country and only see each other a few times a year. In this way, I think writing "Hot Boy Summer" is my response to all the hatred and loneliness I experienced at school and at home as a young person.

When it comes to the literary world, why do you think supporting diverse stories and featuring different types of characters with different backgrounds in novels is so important?

I think that in many ways books give people hope. And I believe also that books so many times help us see parts of the world and parts of ourselves that we might have otherwise been taught to overlook or not value, to not look at too often or even at all. Here, more specifically, I’m thinking of characters, and to some degree conflicts and tensions, too, because they help shape characters and thus help us learn about life around us and life within ourselves. 

A book that comes to mind that I almost didn’t read is Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel-memoir Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Because I prefer paragraphs and stanzas, I held a ton of prejudgments about graphic novels and of course because I’d failed, at first, to see how a book about a young woman’s coming-of-age during the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran would connect to my own life, I thought the book wasn’t for me. I was wrong. Sooo wrong. What helped me take a chance on a book I’d initially dismissed and then ended up 110 absolutely loving? A vouch. A personal vouch from someone I value, whom I also believe has great taste in shoes, music, food, and drag queens, said, “Joe, it’s good. You should read it.”

And so, I trusted the perspective of someone I knew who encouraged me to take a reading risk, and I’m so glad I listened. And more than this, the point-of-view character in Persepolis told me her story, and I listened. I think vouching for books and listening to people when they talk about books and characters and ideas is one way we can support diverse stories with different types of characters with different backgrounds, and here, perhaps problems that may seem way different from our lives in reality end up being conflicts and tensions that may not be all that different from the human concerns we encounter in our daily experiences. 

In this way, I think some of the great lessons in life come from acknowledging that there is so much in the world still to learn and then just listening, being open to seeing possibilities. For this to happen, though, of course, we have to acknowledge that we are not the centers of the universe and that we don’t know everything. I think, too, that there are other ways to support diverse stories and characters like buying books and talking about stories that challenge us and asking people what they’re reading and supporting libraries and librarians and recommending books, too, even when we don’t think a person will particularly like a story or character, but just engaging in a conversation about humanness, because that’s pretty much what books and poems do for us, isn’t it? I mean, engage us in conversations about humanness. 

What does representation in books mean to you?

For me, the easy answer is that representation in books means all different kinds of people get to see themselves and people like them, their families and friends, and their home lives reflected. We get to see ourselves, which doesn’t always happen in pop culture, and sometimes when it does happen, those representations, especially on television, might be limiting or even stereotype-driven, but in books and poems, we can often find a much broader array of who we are and how we can be. 

Representation in books matters because stories and poems can affirm us and how we live and how we think and how we want in life, and so, representation in books can give us a look at how we might make our way through difficulties and how we might view ourselves, our communities, our sense of tomorrow. On this level, I think representation gives people possibilities, and possibilities give us hope. And as humans, we need hope and we need joy. Hope has carried us this far for centuries. 

One of the first pieces of literature where I saw myself represented was Luis Alfaro’s “Pico Union,” which appeared in an anthology of gay men’s fiction back in the 1990s. I read it during my first year at Pomona College in Claremont, California, which is a really fabulous school and where I earned my undergraduate degree, and in Alfaro’s piece, I saw references and language and sensibilities I recognized, which made me hunger for more readings like this and also made me want to talk about these texts to participate in the great conversation and eventually write my own texts so that I could participate in the conversation in that way, too. 

As a younger person, I’d visited the library in my small town and even the library in the nearest city, hoping to find anything I could read about being gay. Remember, this was before the internet was what it is now. I found a few science books and learned about the Kinsey Scale, but what I was really looking for was representation, and so, characters like the ones in Alfaro’s story or in Satrapi’s memoir and like the ones in "Hot Boy Summer," I hope, offer these possibilities, these affirmations, these insights and hopes to readers.    

Tell us a little more about the book and why you decided to write it, or how the story came to you?

I have the great fortune of having as a mentor the incomparable, the iconic, the incredibly generous Sandra Cisneros, who invited me out to dinner at the Liberty Bar in San Antonio. She’d read my first young adult novel "Bloodline," which is a Chicanx retelling of Hamlet, and over dinner, she complimented my use of language and noted my background in poetry, and then, it became Mothering and Mothering hard. She read me. Literally. Like in the fiercest, most constructive and affectionate way, Sandra asked me why I wasn’t writing about my real stuff, the gay stuff. 

Instantaneous gagging, right? Naturally, I took the note, and I took it to heart because I still have so much to learn about storytelling, and Sandra was teaching. The answer was simple — I was afraid. As a high school teacher, especially in Texas, even though I live and work in a larger city, the fear of being fired has been real, and so, while I’d included queer characters in Bloodline, the point-of-view character was not queer, and this had to change. Sandra shared, as she has with others, that I needed to write about “My 10,” or the 10 things I know about life that I can uniquely and profoundly write about. 

And when I got home, I sat at my husband’s desk and made my list of 10. I included things like breakfast tacos, fake friends, Shakespeare, working out, basketball shorts, Ariana Grande, and "Drag Race." And so, the next morning with Sandra lighting a gorgeous and brave fire beneath me, I decided not just to write a gay book, but to write a really, really, really gay book. Sitting at my computer, I imagined what my three best friends and I would’ve been like in high school today, and the first lines I wrote were, “Okay, girls. Here are the rules. #1 Ariana Grande is everything. #2 Valentina is queen. And #3 Loyalty is love and love is forever.” It was the start of "Hot Boy Summer."

What can fans expect from your book and its story?

From "Hot Boy Summer," fans can expect to meet Mac, Mikey, Flor, and Cammy, four bffs from San Antonio, Texas, who are just trying to live their French Vanilla Summer Fantasy before senior year of high school. I’ll start with Cammy because she’s the messy one and on many days my favorite character, the one I most want to sit down and lovingly say, Mijo, for reals, what are you doing? As a queer person, I’m often drawn to villain characters, which isn’t to say that Cam is the villain of "Hot Boy Summer," though in many of these chapters she def serves up Mess Town villain energy all realness. As Mac’s first-ever gay friend and his go-to confidante when it comes to conflicts with his dad, Cam holds a special place in Mac’s life. Cam also waaaay loves attention, loves reading people, loves Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, and generally just loves boss bitch energy. 

Cammy absolutely wants to run the show, which creates major tension with Flor, who so very a lot gives high school fashionista and brings her good girl vibes and appetite for keeping receipts to Mac’s summer before Senior Year. Flor does all her homework, serves heavy gloss and a very bouncy bang, and 110 lives for Ariana Grande and Valentina from "RuPaul’s Drag Race." To say Cammy and Flor are frenemies is not an understatement. They go at each other, and Mac frequently finds himself in the middle of their friends group drama, which is hard on him, because Mac genuinely wants everybody in the group to get along. He doesn’t think it’s too much to ask for, is it?

And then, #swoon! There’s Michaelangelo Villanueva, who moves to San Antonio from LA and gives Mac a new look at life. As an aspiring circuit DJ, a Filipino-American muscleboy, and Mac’s love interest, Mikey is Mac’s first kiss, his first love, his first everything. They connect over gym life and music. Mikey also has great style and is a super-major flirt, and he builds Mac’s confidence, encouraging Mac to stand up for himself and to embrace who he is.

And finally, there’s Mac, who was a little bit a lot lonely and not very proud to be gay until the summer when he forges this friendship with Cam, Mikey, and Flor. Mac’s home life is hard, he has a red-nosed pittie named Kimber, does lotsa push ups, relishes breakfast tacos, and prepares for his big sister B to move off to play college basketball. Mac’s a fairly basic guy, and as he builds a connection with his first gay friends, his first real friends, his confidence builds, too. Mac’s story is a lot about belonging and belonging on one’s own terms, not faking it to fit in, not overdoing it to try and get respect.     

While Mac, Mikey, Flor, and Cammy are not exact reflections of my close friends group, my friendships certainly inspired me to make these characters. While Mac’s character is not 110 autobiographical-me, I did draw on my emotional autobiography to shape his character.

In "Hot Boy Summer," I look at issues that have impacted my friendships over the years — when working-class Mac and Cammy begin a friendship with affluent fashionista Flor and aspiring DJ Mikey as well as the difficulties of realizing a close friend may in fact be toxic, hindering your growth, as happens between Mac and his first-ever gay best friend forever, the ambitious, attention-loving Camilo. There’s also loads of San Anto drama and clack fans, jealousy, friendly and not-so-friendly reading, fashions, love, and two epic encounters with icons. 

What's up next for you in the bookish world?

I’m currently working on "Falling Out," a follow-up to "Hot Boy Summer." The story follows Mac as he makes his way in the world, facing situations that test his beliefs and also his friendships while helping him grow with all the possibilities that life has to offer a guy like him. All the main characters from "Hot Boy Summer" return with a few new faces bringing new conflicts, new hopes, and new vibes to the mix. 


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