An Interview with Colleen AF Veneable and Ellen T. Crenshaw, creators of Kiss Number 8

March 5, 2019 | 3:00 PM

An Interview with Colleen AF Veneable and Ellen T. Crenshaw, creators of Kiss Number 8

By Team Fierce Reads

Kiss Number 8 is almost here!

We love this layered, funny, sharp graphic novel about coming out and family secrets and can’t wait for EVERYONE to read it. While we wait, here’s an interview between its creators, Colleen AF Veneable and Ellen T. Crenshaw. When was your first kiss? Ellen: I was a freshman in college before I had my first kiss! He was an RA for my dorm network, so we were very secretive (or at least we thought we were—of course we weren’t AT ALL stealthy). It was in his dorm room, he was a perfect gentleman, and it was a very good kiss! Colleen: Aw. My first was with my pillow, and if you ask me, that pillow needed a LOT of pointers. Luckily my first kiss with a HUMAN (now my kissing preference) was a lot better. I was fourteen and hanging upside down on the playground. My boyfriend of three months Spider-Manned me with a lovely sweet, short kiss. E: He Spider-Manned you before Spider-Manning was even a thing??!? Dang, that’s romantic! What was your worst kiss? E: Okay, so maybe my first kiss was in high school, but I don’t like to count it because I wasn’t a willing participant. Senior year, a friend confessed his feelings for me in a note in my yearbook, and at our graduation he planted a big wet one on me and scampered away. I don’t remember if we ever spoke again. C: Nope. Definitely doesn’t count. Let me guess, he’s a “nice guy” who is always stuck in “the friend zone”? Excuse me while I scream into my old pillow boyfriend. Describe your high school best friend. C: My middle school best friend, Brandy, moved back to Texas in eighth grade. She was super creative, wildly goofy, and brilliant. When high school started I became the sort of person who had lots of close friends but no real best friend. I jumped from social groups easily and didn’t quite let anyone get to know me all that well. I focused on schoolwork, art, and making out with anything that moved. I dated a LOT in high school. E: Aw, sweet Colleen! My high school BFF was Shanon (with one n). We went to elementary, middle, and high school together. She was a lot cooler and more popular at school than I was, but she never made me feel like I wasn’t cool. Art connected us, and she introduced me to music that wasn’t my mom’s oldies cassettes or Disney musicals (which are still awesome, but that’s all I knew!). We’re still friends to this day, but she’s not my BFF—she’s my family. C: Okay, that just made me tear up. If this was an episode of Full House, the music would totally be playing. With whom in Kiss Number 8 do you relate the most? C: Personality-wise and in terms of making bad decisions, I’m very Amanda. In terms of sexuality, I’m totally a Dina—not into defining myself, with a preference for fellas or very masculine ladies (Hello, JD from Le Tigre). In my mind, Dina didn’t think twice about falling in love with Sam. If the right person comes along, no matter who they are, I’d like to think I wouldn’t either. Also, I could live in diners. What inspired you (Colleen) to begin writing this story? C: My older sister coming out in our very, very Catholic family. Suddenly I went from the bad kid (reminder: Jell-O vodka face) to the good kid just because I went on dates with guys. The other thing was that I started writing Kiss Number 8 in 2004 and at that time the number of YA works that had any trans characters I could count on one hand. Hell, I probably only needed one finger! (Luna by Julie Anne Peters came out in 2004.) I wanted to write something for the teens trying to figure out who they were. And while I’m not religious anymore, I wanted to write a story of coming out where religion wasn’t the bad guy. (I’ve got two amazing aunts who are nuns and they are the most caring, welcoming humans on Earth.) Also, in 2004, there was a lot of backlash online for anyone who had come out as gay, but then realized they were bi. One web cartoonist in particular, received such unkindness that I decided I wanted Amanda to not just come out of the closet, but I wanted her to keep exploring all sides of her sexuality once she was out. How long did it take you (Ellen) to draw Kiss Number 8? E: Just under two years. But I know the book had quite a history before I was attached to it. How long did it take you to write? C: It took me three years of writing… then six months of submitting to publishers/peeing my pants with every email, then... let’s just say graphic novels take a LONG time to make. E: Preach! C: Kiss Number 8 went from being a contemporary novel to a period piece, but I think it is more timeless that way. 2004 was a crazy rough time to come out as queer. Gay marriage wasn’t even legal in 2004! It feels like a century ago... we’ve come a long way, baby! Wait, that’s a cigarette slogan? Can we claim it back? “We’ve come a long way, don’t-call-me-baby.” There. Much better. E: I actually love that this book has become a time capsule. There’s the internet, but smartphones were not common. AOL Instant Messenger was the rage. It was equally likely that a person could have a portable cassette player, CD player, or MP3 player. It’s like a major transition period: politically, socially, and technologically. There’s a specificity to how the teens in Kiss Number 8 communicate—Mads uses IMs and texts with Cat and Laura, but calls her grandparents on the landline and encounters their answering machine. Mr. Orham can take away Mads’s computer and cell phone and not render her completely unable to do her homework. If you were sixteen again, which character in Kiss Number 8 would you have a crush on? E: I mean, Nate, obviously! There’s a reason he’s designed like that! He’s basically an amalgam of every boy I ever crushed on. C: I’d love to think I would have chosen Nate, but sadly I think I would have been all about K. I liked the moody punks. Just ask my mom about the guy with the dog collar and foot-long green Mohawk. She loved him! E: To be fair, I think the whole Zipper crowd is worth crushing on.

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable & Ellen T. Crenshaw

Mads is pretty happy with her life. She goes to church with her family, and minor league baseball games with her dad. She goofs off with her best friend Cat, and has thus far managed to avoid getting kissed by Adam, the boy next door. It's everything she hoped high school would be… until all of a sudden, it's not. Her dad is hiding something big—so big it could tear her family apart. And that’s just the beginning of her problems: Mads is starting to figure out that she doesn't want to kiss Adam… because the only person she wants to kiss is Cat. Just like that, Mads's tidy little life has gotten epically messy—and epically heartbreaking. And when your heart is broken, it takes more than an awkward, uncomfortable, tooth-clashing, friendship-ending kiss to put things right again. It takes a whole bunch of them.