Timothy Janovsky is a queer, multidisciplinary storyteller from New Jersey. He holds a degree in theatre and dance from Muhlenberg College. His work as a humor writer has been featured on Points in Case, The Broadway Beat, and Well Mannered Grump, and his fiction short story debut was published by Voyage YA Journal. When he’s not daydreaming about a young Hugh Grant, he’s writing the queer rom-coms he wished he had as a teenager. Never Been Kissed is his first novel, and recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Never Been Kissed ?
Never Been Kissed began with the question: What if the YA protagonist doesn’t get his happy ending in high school? So many LGBTQ romances are set in high school and often they end with an epic kiss and fade to black. With Wren’s story, I wanted to explore the reverberations of coming out, the ramifications of drifting away from people you were close with, and how sometimes time away to grow and change is what can lead to the ultimate happily-ever-after.
Are Wren, Derick, Alice, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?
While Wren and Derick possess some similar qualities to people in my life only Alice Kelly, the reclusive former film director, is directly inspired by real people. To craft Alice, I did research into female film directors who rose to prominence in the 1970s. Alice’s character is an homage to pioneering filmmakers like Barbara Loden, Barbra Streisand, Elaine May, and Claudia Weill.
How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
Never Been Kissed went through many drafts, and the most significant evolution that happened during the revision process was the expansion of Alice Kelly as a mentor figure to Wren. Originally, Alice was only meant to be in a scene or two about getting permission to show her long-lost zombie film at the drive-in, but from the moment Wren showed up on her doorstep, I knew she was going to hold major significance. Getting to craft this The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo-esque subplot really cracked open Wren’s character for me. Through his interactions with Alice, Wren gets to explore topics like sexism in Hollywood and intergenerational queerness which color the overall narrative and lead Wren to a deeper understanding of himself.
Where, when, and with whom did you experience your first kiss?
I’m saving all the juicy details for a tell-all memoir someday. LOL!
Are you a big movie fan? Do you have a favorite film? Favorite genre? Favorite actor/actress?
Yes, I adore movies. My favorite movie is probably 13 Going on 30, which I’m writing my own take on for my third novel, New Adult, which is coming out Fall 2023. My favorite genre is definitely romantic comedy and while I would have a hard time picking a favorite actor/actress, I can say with certainty that Nora Ephron is my favorite filmmaker.
Is Wiley’s Drive-in based on a real location?
Wiley’s Drive-In is an amalgamation of Shankweiler’s Drive-In in Orefield, Pennsylvania, Becky’s Drive-In in Walnutport, Pennsylvania, and the Mahoning Drive-In in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. I visited all three of these locations while researching Never Been Kissed and I was struck by the beautiful sense of community I found at all three. There is something sweetly nostalgic and romantic about these spaces that you just can’t shake.
Have you ever watched a film at a drive-in theatre? If so, where (there are so few of them left)?
I’m lucky enough to have seen many films at drive-in theatres over the years. My most recent experience was seeing The Bob’s Burgers Movie at Becky’s Drive-In which was absolutely delightful, but I think my favorite experience at a drive-in was seeing the original Halloween movie on Halloween night in 2020 at Shankweiler’s. Someone was running around in a Michael Myer’s mask and scaring people. It was wild and so much fun!
What’s currently on your nightstand?
Delia Ephron’s Left on Tenth. It’s a life-affirming memoir that reads as if you’re having a long conversation with an old friend about mortality, illness, hope, and second chances at love. Also, my tablet is loaded up with an ARC of Kosoko Jackson’s upcoming gay rom-com A Dash of Salt and Pepper which is so voicey and enjoyable.
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
As a debut author, what have you learned during the process of getting your novel published that you would like to share with other writers about this experience?
If you write from the heart, the rest will follow.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
I was a huge fan of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events as a child. Those were the first books I remember devouring ravenously, begging my mom to bring me back to the library because I tore through the two I took home in a single day. They really solidified my love of storytelling. I will always love Snicket’s acerbic tone and sense of humor.
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
I don’t know that I hid it exactly, but I do remember checking The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky out from the library in my early teens because I knew there were discussions of sex and queerness in it. Even though the cover was conspicuous, I recall reading that one exclusively in my room before bed so nobody asked me what it was about.
Is there a book you've faked reading?
Not a book per se, but in college I did fake reading quite a few Shakespeare plays. When you’re a theater major, there’s only so much iambic pentameter you can take! (If you’re one of my former professors and reading this, sorry!)
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
Any book the illustrator Leni Kauffman does is an insta-buy for me. Her artwork and character details are so exquisite. Some of my favorites include Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert and the upcoming paperback release for Becky Albertalli’s Kate in Waiting.
Is there a book that changed your life?
Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda was a game-changer for me. Reading a book with a gay male main character that felt like it was speaking directly to my experience and not talking down to me was affirming in many ways. It gave me permission to be complex and messy while still being worthy of love, acceptance, and swoony romance.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
Alison Cochrun’s The Charm Offensive has some of the best mental health representation in a novel that I’ve ever read and I recommend it to everyone. Come for the Bachelor-esque hook and stay for the moving discussions about learning to take care of yourself so you can care for others. Do yourself a favor and add it to your TBR pile!
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
I’d love to read Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material again for the first time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt giddier reading a book. As a huge fan of Richard Curtis’s movie Notting Hill, I couldn’t have been more smitten with Luc, Oliver, and the zany cast of queer side characters that populate that book. It smolders and sings in all the best ways.
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
The TV adaptation of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper really impacted me because it’s the kind of LGBTQ media I wish I had as a high schooler. Its beautiful simplicity mixed with its nuanced portrayals of coming out and first love really struck a chord with me. The chemistry among the young cast is infectious, and I love seeing the fan community that has sprung up around it. I’m really looking forward to two more seasons of it.
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
The perfect day for me would be a stroll down Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts with a cold brew, my partner, and unlimited amounts of money to spend in my favorite bookstores and shops.
What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?
I’m surprised, but nobody has asked me: Who would you cast in a film adaptation of Never Been Kissed? My answer: singer-songwriter Conan Gray as Wren and my favorite actor from Julie and the Phantoms Owen Joyner as Derick.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently drafting my third new adult rom-com, which is titled (simply and aptly) New Adult. It tells the story of Nolan Baker, a struggling stand-up comedian, who goes to bed twenty-three and wakes up thirty with everything he’s ever wanted except the guy of his dreams. It’s very 13 Going on 30 meets One Last Stop. I’m excited for readers to meet Nolan and Drew in 2023!