For close to a decade, Warwick author A. Oliver Noel, 25, has been working on his debut young adult novel, Hidebound. The dystopian adventure, which hit shelves earlier this year, explores themes of self-discovery and trust, with LGBTQ representation that is often missing from young adult novels.
In an interview last Thursday, Noel described his long writing process. “I’ve spent a lot of time building it. And then I took a break for a while, and tried writing it, but that didn’t work so I took another break, and tried writing it two more times. But the third time was when it stuck and I was able to just power through and I actually finished it all within the span of two and a half months. And then after that, I was just editing and editing”
Hidebound is a fictional tale, following the story of Artem, a young woman juggling caring for her younger brother and training as a mechanic’s apprentice. But when she loses her job after saving a mysterious young woman from arrest, she is launched into a world of danger, lies, and rebellion. While navigating her complicated feelings for her new position and new allies, especially the beautiful spy Hiero, Artem is unwittingly drawn into deeper and deeper danger, asking, how can you keep your family safe when you don’t know who to trust?
“Basically, I was just looking up weird, interesting names. And that one jumped out to me,” said Noel of the book’s title. “It means to be set in one’s ways. It’s usually meant in more of a political sense, which is what’s going on in the book. I really liked the idea of taking that focus of the idea of being set in one’s ways and showing character growth throughout the book with that concept in mind.”
Noel has always loved the art of storytelling, with a deep fascination with complex characters and realistic dialogue. He grew up in Rhode Island, moving from Cranston to Warwick, and attended The Greene School, a charter school, before pursuing a creative writing BA at Rhode Island College.
Currently working towards an MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, Noel has written plays and been published for non-fiction pieces covering his journey as a transgender man finding his voice. He has a passion for fantasy and science fiction, and his interest has always been one to lend a voice to those whose representation is often overlooked in fictional settings.
Noel was inspired to write Hidebound from his own personal reading experience.
“What most kids are looking for when they read a book, I find, if an escape of sorts. That’s how I always saw it,” he said. “I think the real hook with YA novels is just having a story that is immersive and something relatable, to give readers a chance to say ‘Oh, I see myself in this character or situation.’”
Noel’s main character is “no one special”, he said in an interview. “She’s not really special or amazing in any way, not like your typical protagonist. She’s not looking to get into an adventure. I wanted to take someone who fits in as a normal citizen in this world, a regular everyday person.”
Creating a character that was ordinary was important to Noel, who pointed out that other leading characters in YA books are sometimes “too special” or “fancy” to be believable or relatable.
“I wanted to write a story where she’s thrust repeatedly into these situations she has no control over, and she doesn’t know what she’s doing, and she’s kind of floundering about. There’s something really human about that, that doesn’t get explored a lot in books.”
Noel continues to defy typical YA tropes by writing an inclusive novel with LGBTQ representation. Noel explained that he loves stories of adventures and heroes, but grew tired of not seeing the representation he wanted as a trans reader. “I’ve always been disappointed by what was available in LGBT literature. Most of the time, the books focus on romance or tragedy or a combination of the two. It’s the same story over and over again.”
Making LGBTQ themes in novels should be more normalized, says Noel. “I have LGBT themes in here, but it’s not like hitting people over the head with that story. The main story is about finding yourself through the rebellion. There just happens to be a really pretty girl.”
While Noel wrote Hidebound for young adults at the high school or college level, he says the book is for everyone.
Hidebound includes illustrations from Heather Staradumsky, a RISD grad and close friend of the author.
In between working as a data processor and taking classes for his MFA, Noel is currently planning the rest of the Hidebound series, with a draft of the second book in the works.
“The second book is going to be focusing on what happens after the revolution either fails or succeeds,” he said. “I’ve plotted it all out, and tampered with making a chapter or two, but it’s not quite solid yet. It’s actually part of my MFA program to write an entire book, so I figure that’ll be the perfect time to really sit down and hash it out.”
Hidebound is now available for $13.99 at Barnes and Noble, $3.99 for the Kindle version on Amazon, and at www.hideboundseries.com.