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Trans author Elliot Wake on new book, 'Bad Boy'
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2016-12-20

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USA Today best-selling author Elliot Wake has written a new book Bad Boy, which will be available for purchase on Tuesday, Dec. 6. This is the fourth book Wake has written over the past two years.

"Bad Boy is a story about a transgender man struggling to define his masculinity in an underworld full of toxic men and toxic women," said Wake. "Renard's [Ren] transition from female to male is depicted in full detail. Nothing is left out. This is not the glossed-over, 30 minute makeover transition narrative that the mainstream media puts forward. This is gritty, raw and real."

In terms of how Ren dovetails with his own life, Wake said the character was a guinea pig because he wrote it before he began taking testosterone.

"I channeled all my fears and hopes about hormone replacement therapy ( HRT ) into him," said Wake. "In a way I visualized him as my 'trial run' on testosterone. I lived vicariously through Ren, forcing myself to confront the most terrifying and exhilarating aspects of HRT. When I finished the first draft, I still wanted testosterone. So I started my physical transition as I began working on draft two. Funny thing, my educated guesses about how T would change me—physically, emotionally, socially—were mostly spot-on."

"I can promise you that [this novel] is unlike any you've read before," said Wake's editor Sarah Cantin in her letter at the beginning of the book. "Elliot wrote the first draft of Bad Boy before coming out to me as a trans man, and before he began hormone replacement therapy. I was immediately bowled over by Ren. I had never encountered a character quite like him and I was amazed by the psychological and emotional acuity with which he was drawn. When Elliot share his news with me, Ren made even more sense. As Elliot began his transition, I watched as the novel, and his writing, evolve in surprising and beautiful ways.

"I'm incredibly proud of Elliot for breaking new ground with this story. More importantly, I'm grateful to him for pushing me, as his editor, to constantly question my own internalized assumptions about gender and sexuality, and to read, and live, with an open mind and heart."

Wake's previous books—Unteachable, Black Iris and Cam Girl—were written under his former name: Leah Rader.

"My first novel, Unteachable, is a forbidden romance between a high school teacher and an 18-year-old film student," said Wake. "Black Iris is about a queer girl who takes elaborate, painstaking revenge on everyone who bullied and wronged her in high school and Cam Girl is about a queer artist who deals with a life-changing disability, and how that forces her to see the world afresh, including her sometimes-girlfriend/sometimes-BFF."

When asked if he plans on changing the name on his other books to his chosen name, Wake explained that he doesn't consider his birth name a "dead name."

"Leah Raeder is who I was for 33 years," said Wake. "I respect and honor that part of my life. It made me who I am today."

Wake was born in 1982 and grew up on the South Side of Chicago.

"My parents divorced when I was young and I was raised by a single mother on welfare," said Wake. "Since we were broke, my main form of entertainment was the library."

Wake worked in graphic design for a number of years but his childhood dream was to become an author.

"My love for books started when I was little," said Wake. "I could read by age 3 and when I began school, they double-promoted me from first to third grade because my reading level was far beyond my age. I devoured any book I got my hands on. My favorites were big, meaty fantasy epics brimming with new words to look up in the dictionary. Sometimes I read the dictionary for fun. I was that kind of kid. I remember sitting at my mom's desk and signing my name on sheets of loose leaf notebook paper, practicing for the author signings I dreamed of doing someday. Thirty years later, that dream is a reality. It's pretty wild."

Wake said that becoming a best-selling author for Unteachable changed his life and enabled him to pursue writing full-time as well as attract the notice of agents and publishers. In addition to his best-selling author status, Wake's two other books were recognized with starred reviews in Publisher's Weekly. Recently, Bad Boy got starred reviews from both Kirkus and Booklist.

"I'd written other novels before, but never sold a manuscript," said Wake. "Publishing folks said they loved my writing but couldn't find a home for my work. So I gave up and self-published Unteachable. It went viral, was picked up by a traditional publisher, and suddenly I was part of the industry that had rejected me so thoroughly for so many years. Getting picked up by a traditional publisher has opened many doors for me. Now I'm able to write risky, daring books about LGBTQ+ characters with the backing of an editor who believes in my work and my voice. These books may not hit bestseller lists so easily, but they're making a difference out in the real world. Every time I get a letter from a queer reader who says, 'your book changed my life,' I know this labor is worth it."

When Wake isn't writing he likes to play video games and calls himself a Minecraft fiend. He also does weightlifting and being dapper.

"Minecraft is like digital Lego for grown-ups," said Wake. "Games like Minecraft teach you to solve problems creatively. There is no single solution to any issue; it's limited only by your imagination. Often I'll sit down to play and incidentally solve plot problems once my creativity has limbered up."

Wake noted that in order to understand his fashion sense, one must visit his instagram page at www.instagram.com/elliotzero. He said that part of his transition involves educating himself about menswear. Wake explained that men's fashion has helped him see himself as a man and the world see him that way as well.

In terms of the wider world, Wake noted that transgender issues are all over the news of late.

"Trans people are fighting for basic human rights at the highest levels of the law," said Wake. "We're painted as heroes or monsters, depending on which narrative we need to fit. But we're really just ordinary people who happen to have an extraordinary condition. Being transgender is a huge part of my life, especially this early in my transition, but it's not the most interesting thing about me. I'd like to think my writing, my voice and my service to others are the things I'll be remembered for. I'm just another human struggling to make sense of this brutal, beautiful planet. In the end, I'm not so different from anyone else."

Wake will be holding a reading and book signing for Bad Boy Jan. 19 at the DePaul University Barnes and Noble store, 6-8 p.m. See LeahRaeder.com and twitter.com/ElliotWake for more information.


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