Robbie Couch talks to YEM about the importance of inter-generational queer mentorships and friendships in his new book “The Sky Blues”

Robbie Couch is the author of the book The Sky Blues. His novel follows Sky Baker, an openly gay high school senior. Sky’s secret promposal plans get leaked by an anonymous hacker to the entire school, and he has to fight back. This book explores the power of chosen family, as well as the importance of friendship and mentorship. YEM was able to speak with Robbie about how he got into writing, his writing process, and the importance of making inclusive stories.

Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first know that writing was something you wanted to do?

Robbie Couch: In 4th grade, I wrote my first “book” — a very, very short story — about my fear of the seaweed in the lake by my aunt’s house. I had such a fun time creating the story and my teacher gave me an A+. I realized storytelling was something that I wanted to do, and apparently, I wasn’t too terrible at it either!

YEM: What was the inspiration for your book The Sky Blues?

Robbie: I wanted to write a story that centered a young marginalized person. Because I had also been a gay kid growing up in Michigan, I knew I could tell Sky’s story from a thoughtful and authentic place.

YEM: How long was the process of writing this book?

Robbie: I started writing it in 2016 and finished the first draft in 2019. A young-adult novel can be written much faster than that, of course, but I was a slow poke!

YEM: What is something you would like your readers to take away after they finish reading The Sky Blues?

Robbie: Highlighting the power of chosen family was very intentional for me. I want young LGBTQ+ readers to know that, even if they can’t escape their toxic families or communities right now, that day will come. They’ll be able to surround themselves with people who love and value them just the way they are, and it’ll be the best.

YEM: Did you learn anything new about yourself during the writing process of this book?

Robbie: I love this question. Yes! I unpacked a lot of body image issues crafting the arc for Sky’s burn scar (dubbed “Mars” in the book). I also realized how important platonic inter-generational queer mentorships and friendships truly are, and how much I wish I’d had them as a young gay kid.

YEM: Is representation an important thing for you when you’re creating characters?

Robbie: Definitely. It’s so important to have inclusive stories that represent the real world, and to get it right. Although I relied upon my own experiences as a gay person to create Sky Baker, I worked closely with my editor and sensitivity readers while crafting characters from marginalized groups outside my lived experience (for Sky’s best friend Marshall, for example, who is Black).

YEM: If you could give your younger writing self any advice, what would it be?

Robbie: Outline, outline, outline! Sure, that may be the most boring answer ever, but it’s the truth! Now, before writing even a single word of a book, I like to have the entire story thoroughly laid out, chapter-by-chapter. It avoids a million headaches down the road.

YEM: What are some books that have had an everlasting impression on you?

Robbie: Auntie Mame, originally published in 1954, immediately comes to mind. It was the first book that truly swept me away. I couldn’t put it down. It had so many queer undertones without being explicitly queer (it was the 1950s, after all), and I could see myself in the story in this energizing way that I’d never experienced before.

YEM: What is your favorite part about writing, and the most difficult?

Robbie: My favorite part is whenever I get an “aha” moment with my story. When a premise, plot, or character suddenly clicks into place? That’s the best. The most difficult part is fighting through writer’s block. For me, the biggest hurdle in writing a novel is actually holding yourself accountable and putting in the work, even when you don’t feel like writing (which is a lot of the time!).

YEM: What does your writing process look like?

Robbie: Well, as you know from my answer to question seven, first, I outline, outline, outline! Usually, I write in the story’s chronological order, except if there’s a scene or two that I’m anxious to get on the page. I’m a night owl, too, so my best, most productive writing periods often come between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m., I’d say.  

YEM: How autobiographical is The Sky Blues, if at all?

Robbie: It’s autobiographical…ish! I allowed my own upbringing in rural Michigan to inform the world around Sky, but Sky’s story is his own, and our high school experiences deviate in many ways.

YEM: Do you have a specific part of the book that was your favorite to write and why?

Robbie: I loved writing the party scene at Ali’s house. It was such a fun and consequential chapter to get on paper right before a major wrench gets thrown into Sky’s promposal plans!

YEM: What’s your most quotable quote from the book?

Robbie: “The blues are bluer up here.” I think it encompasses both the beauty and the heartache of Sky’s lived experiences in Rock Ledge. Small towns are messy, magical places, and I think that quote — originally said by Sky’s teacher, Ms. Winter — nails it.

Please find Robbie’s The Sky Blues at any online or local book seller. (Amazon)