By Niamh Mccraenor.
We are thrilled to welcome Jenna Miller to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release Out of Character, out February 7th!
If you asked seventeen-year-old Cass Williams to describe herself, she’d happily tell you she’s a fat lesbian obsessed with the Tide Wars books. What she won’t tell you—or anyone in her life—is that she’s part of an online Tide Wars roleplay community. Sure, it’s nerdy as hell, but when she’s behind the screen writing scenes as Captain Aresha, she doesn’t have to think about her mother who walked out or how unexpectedly stressful it is dating resident cool girl Taylor Cooper.
But secretly retreating to her online life is starting to catch up with Cass. For one, no one in her real life knows her secret roleplay addiction is the reason her grades have taken a big hit. Also? Cass has started catching feelings for Rowan Davies, her internet bestie…and Taylor might be catching on.
As Cass’s lies continue to build, so does her anxiety. Roleplaying used to be the one place she could escape to, but this double life and offline-online love triangle have only made things worse. Cass must decide what to do—be honest and risk losing her safe space or keep it a secret and put everything else on the line.
Is roleplaying online something you’re interested in or have done before? If not, what inspired you to include this in the plot?
Roleplaying has a very special place in my heart. I started roleplaying in high school and continued it off and on for almost 15 years. A few of my closest friends come from online RP world, so in many ways this book is a love letter to that time in my life, especially my younger years.
I really loved the relationship between Cass and Rowan. I liked seeing a friendship online as I feel like this really resonates with today’s generation as it is super common to form friendships through social media. Was it important to you to show this relationship in a different way from Cass and Tate’s friendship?
Thank you! I think both are equally strong friendships, but there’s a different dynamic between online vs. IRL. With online, you can talk off and on all day and get into these really deep conversations, but you don’t get to physically be in the same space as with IRL friendships. You’re talking about things together rather than experiencing them together (unless you’re doing something like gaming), so even though you’re bonding and getting close, again, it’s in a different way. I think that’s why it’s so powerful when Cass and Rowan meet for the first time—they’re crossing a barrier into a different type of friendship. As someone who has met MANY friends from the internet in person, it’s such a magical experience.
There are some really heart-wrenching moments with Cass and her dad after her mother left them, and I really enjoyed seeing them work together and re-discovering their relationship together. Was it important for you to show a daughter-father relationship rather than a daughter-mother relationship?
It was! From a personal standpoint (though very different from what Cass went through), I went from being around my mom to being around my dad more while in high school. My dad and I had always been fairly close, but that change brought us even closer, and he’d helped me through a lot. From a fiction standpoint, you see a lot more mother-daughter and father-son relationships than the reverse, so I had a lot of fun playing with that. I also have a soft spot for Cool Dads who aren’t caught up in being overly masculine and stern, as we see a lot in books and in society. (Those characters have purpose/value, I just didn’t want to write that kind of character.)
What inspired you to write Out of Character?
As mentioned above, I was inspired by my own online roleplaying days. I also wanted to write a story about a fat, nerdy lesbian who didn’t suffer because of those identifiers. We’re living in a unique time where steps are being taken backward instead of forward in many ways, and I want this story to serve as a reminder that there’s nothing wrong with being who you are. You deserve to feel seen and have your voice heard.
You’ve included some tricky characters such as Grandma Roxanne, and most of Taylor’s family really, and the judgement that can come with coming out. Is this something you have experienced yourself or seen through other people?
I’ve been very fortunate for the most part that my sexuality (lesbian) hasn’t been a big conversation within my family and friend group. The main reason I included that as a small aside is to recognize that not everything is sunshine for everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community. A lot of people struggle in big and small ways, and I have no doubt I’ll be met with resistance once my book comes out, especially with the book bans happening across the country right now. But what I love about Taylor is that she doesn’t let those family members keep her from being who she is, and she still has great support in her life to offset that negativity.
Romance is one of my favourite genres to read so I loved this book. Is it your favourite genre to write and if so, why?
This is actually the first romance book I’ve written, and it has me absolutely hooked! My previous books always had some kind of nod to romance, but they weren’t romance stories. But I have a feeling I’ll stay in romance for a while because it’s so much fun to write. I love the big dramatic moments and the swoony lines and the will-they-won’t-they moments. And then the end-game happiness… sign me up!
Are there any books like Out of Character you could recommend to readers? Are there any authors you took inspiration from?
I don’t know of any books that are specifically about online roleplaying, but there are quite a few nerdy romance books out recently and come out that I recommend: Nerd Crush by Alisha Emrich, Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters, Take A Bow, Noah Mitchell by Tobias Madden, Shipped by Meredith Tate, The Wrong Kind of Weird by James Ramos, and Geekerella by Ashley Poston.
I didn’t draw anything specific from other authors, but there are several I admire like Ashley Poston, Becky Albertalli, Julie Murphy, Julian Winters, Rachael Lippincott, and Rachel Lynn Solomon.
And lastly, where will readers be able to access Out of Character?
Out of Character is available in hardcover, e-book, and audio formats through major retailers and indie bookstores. I highly recommend either checking it out from your library if it’s available or ordering from an indie like Red Balloon Bookshop.
Jenna Miller (she/her) writes Young Adult books about fat, queer, nerdy girls who deserve to be seen and have their voices heard. When she’s not obsessing over words, she can be found making charcuterie boards, befriending people online, cross stitching, or adventuring in the Minneapolis area.
Jenna’s debut novel, OUT OF CHARACTER, will be published February 7, 2023 by Quill Tree Books (HarperCollins). She is represented by Mike Whatnall at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.
Jenna’s Instagram: @jmillwrites
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