Flying Starts
Six first-time authors and illustrators talk about their fall debuts

Alex Sanchez

Rainbow BoysThough Alex Sanchez wrote a picture book while in college, he says he didn't have an audience in mind when he started writing Rainbow Boys (S&S, Oct.), his novel about three gay teens who deal with everything from coming out to parents to an AIDS scare and even hate crimes.

"It came about when I was dealing with some of my own coming-out issues, and writing," he says, "and I kept coming across, either in the news or in my work as a counselor, young people who were coming out. I was just so inspired by their courage and their stories that as I was writing the book it sort of took form in terms of teenagers. And then the more I worked on it, my vision, or goal, I guess you could say, was to write the book I wanted to read when I was a teenager."

There definitely is a need for stories like his for young adults, Sanchez says, citing a study by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network that found that 80% of gay and lesbian youth said they were without any positive images of homosexual people. "There's a void, and there are so many fascinating stories waiting to be told," he says. In his view, the edges of the mainstream are often where the most exciting stories are, "because of the struggles that more marginalized groups have to go through."

Born in Mexico City, Sanchez came to the U.S. when he was five, and has lived in Arlington, Va., for the past dozen years. He earned a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences from Virginia Tech University and a master's in guidance and counseling from Old Dominion University. He began Rainbow Boys the year he left counseling, and worked on it for five years. Finally, he sent it to Miriam Altshuler at the Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency, who was recommended to him by a writing instructor. "She kept telling me we have to find the publisher who's really going to love it and get behind it," he says. "And the interesting thing is that she's not gay. She always says that for her, this is a novel about tolerance and acceptance, and that she hopes her kids read it when they get a little older."

Sanchez calls the editing process "very, very fun." He clicked immediately with Kevin Lewis at Simon & Schuster, whom he says was very in synch with the characters and did a wonderful job keeping the story realistic. When they would discuss a scene or character, Lewis would point out if he thought something didn't ring true, and suggest what he thought should have happened. "You're absolutely right," Sanchez remembers saying. "That's it, that's it. That's perfect."

Currently working in human resources for a trade association in Washington, D.C., Sanchez says writing is "probably the thing in my life that gives me the most joy." Ideally, he says, he would write full time, and continue to do something he's done since the publication of Rainbow Boys: visit high schools and colleges to lecture or discuss topics like creative writing or tolerance. "I like the time with myself to write, but sometimes it can be lonely."

He's working on a short story for an anthology about being 13, as well as the sequel to Rainbow Boys, again for Simon & Schuster, which he says is in the "drafting stages." This book follows the same boys through the second half of their senior year. "One of the things we're being very mindful of in terms of the sequel," he says, "is coming up with fresh original stories for the boys, so it's not just more of the same."

Since the publication of his book, he says, and he finds it very rewarding to receive e-mails from both adult and teen fans through his Web site ( "It's been a time of great happiness for me," he says. "Having had a dream that I worked so long for, to have it come to fruition has been tremendously exciting."
--Kate Pavao