Drawing on personal experiences and hoping to start conversations, UTM student Justin Singh is set to publish his first novel next month. Out All Night is the product of his semester-long work in the Professional Writing and Communication course called Making a Book. The Medium sat down with Singh to discuss his novel, the importance of comedy in writing, and exploring identity for LGBT youth.
The Medium: This is your debut novel! How was your experience in Making a Book?
Justin Singh: It feels unreal actually—Making a Book was probably the easiest and hardest course I’ve ever taken. From a glance on the outside, it might seem difficult because you have a whole book to publish. But because you’re supposed to have finished writing the book before, once you get through the process of editing, typesetting, and designing the cover, the publishing is literally a few clicks. Everything happens so quickly and took forever at the same time.
TM: Can you tell me the concept and overall plot of Out All Night?
JS: When writing it, I wanted to do something different. In the PWC program, the focus is mostly on portfolio-based work, but I decided to pick one story that I wrote a few years ago and extend it because I had so much to say. I added components from different parts of my life which turned it into one giant thing, instead of separate short stories.
The book is about a character named Bentley who lives in Toronto with a roommate. His roommate tells him that if he doesn’t get a boyfriend by the time he turns twenty, he’s going to be cursed with bad relationships, bad everything. So, he really tries to go out and find a relationship, but he struggles with internalized homophobia. It’s hard for him to date other guys until he meets someone who really cracks through his shell.
TM: What’s your writing process like?
JS: When I first sit down to write, I try to tell the story as a whole—I get everything down, all the details, everything I can remember. From there, I try to see the holes where I can add things that need more focus and where I can subtract things that aren’t necessary. Then I’ll edit and include a little fluff, like what can sound more beautiful. I find that I can’t write unless I’m enclosed. Writing is like a little private moment for me.
TM: Why did you decide to weave comedic undertones in your book?
JS: I find that the best way for me to express myself is through humour because a lot of people, especially in the writing program, tend to speak dramatically and I wanted something to relieve that tension. I think the significance of comedy is that it’s a way to express certain ideas and have a conversation about them, rather than everything being serious. The fact that we can laugh about these things means that they’re real and happening. I think that humour is important in everything.
TM: One of the prominent themes in Out All Night is discovering identity, specifically for the LGBT community—how does this manifest throughout the story?
JS: I’m hoping young adults and the LGBT community relate to the difficulty of dating portrayed in the story because they’re the ones trying to discover who they are. I personally feel, growing up as a gay kid, it’s harder to understand yourself because you don’t have many resources. When you’re in school or out in public, what you see are hetero-relationships. Specifically, in the book, there’s a moment that takes place within drag queen culture, where the character puts down drag to bring himself up because he sees the culture as being more gay. That kind of mentality is obviously not good and brings to light that we all need more perspective. There aren’t many stories of gay protagonists, so I hope this is one that brings about many.
TM: What does literary success look like for you?
JS: For me, literary success is love for your own writing because that’s the hardest thing. Once you get past that and you write something that you love and love showing people, I think that’s what success is because you’ll feel happy on the inside. Once you exude that confidence and love for your own work, other people will grow to love it too.
TM: Do you have any advice for aspiring student authors?
JS: The best advice I could give is to write about what you would want to teach other people, because I believe that books and stories should have lessons and meanings embedded within them. I think whatever you’ve learned in your life that could help someone else in the future, that’s what you should write about because you lived through it.
The book launch for Out All Night takes place at the Gladstone on June 4th.