Thank you so much for sharing your book with me and agreeing to do a Q&A for my readers.
Of course! I’m delighted to be here. I appreciate your time and your readers attention.
Give us a quick summary of your book, There Goes Sunday School?
There Goes Sunday School is the story of Michael Hernandez, a closeted sixteen-year-old boy that attends a private Christian school outside Atlanta. Michael translates his complicated emotions into sketches which skew toward the risqué and never see the light of day. When Michael’s sketchbook goes missing in the middle of Sunday school, Michael’s convinced his happy days are numbered. On top of the swiped sketches, Chris—son of the vocally intolerant pastor Myers—is suddenly hellbent on adopting Michael and his friends. When a confrontation with Chris ends with an unexpected kiss, Michael is forced to deal with the reality of his situation. As friendship between the two boys grows, Michael may be forced to choose between the comfortable life he’s always known and a chance of the love he never believed he deserved.
As your first published novel, did you have any challenges in getting your book published?
Absolutely! Who doesn’t? This was actually the third manuscript I’ve written, even though it was the first to sell. The biggest challenge with There Goes Sunday School was finding an agent/publisher that was going to champion this story that is so close to my heart. I submitted to over one hundred agents/editors over the course of a year, and it was so nerve wrecking! I was a constant anxious mess and checked my phone waaay too often. But my perseverance paid off, and finally I found a home for my work.
Can you share with us why you decided to sell this book as a Young Adult novel? What advantages does this book have being told through the eyes of a teenager?
I’ve always known that I wanted to write YA stories. For this book, I wanted to explore the internal conflict that so many LGBTQ+ kids face when raised in a conservative Christian setting. I grew up attending a conservative church, just like Michael, so a lot of his questions and internal struggles are pulled from my own experience and struggle to find self-love.
In There Goes Sunday School, Michael uses art to express feelings he can’t express to those he loves. What role has art played in your life?
Great question! When I was ten, my parents signed me up for a fine arts program for homeschoolers. It was in this glorious new world that I quickly discovered I lacked talent in the traditional mediums of art—drawing, painting, or anything else that requires a steady hand—but I did excel in being very dramatic, so theater class was naturally my favorite. It bloomed into a life-long love of performing that’s landed me on several local theater stages around Atlanta.
What is your writing process like? Do you plan everything out in advance or let yourself discover the story as you go along?
My writing style is a hot mess. Kind of like me. *laughs* I consider myself to be a doubt-liner. By that I mean that I doubt that I’ll ever stick to my outline. Typically, my projects start with a general arc, but I leave most of the details to be fleshed out in the moment. Organic stories just come easier to me. Plus, crafting in the moment one of the most exciting parts of being a writer.
There Goes Sunday School is published through 7 Sisters Publishing, a small press. Can you share why you decide to work with 7 Sisters and what the benefits of a small press have been for you?
Absolutely! The mission of 7 Sisters Publishing is to publish diverse YA books, so that every young person can see themselves reflected on the page. That vision spoke to me on the deepest level, so it was a no-brainer when they offered to publish There Goes Sunday School. I knew that they would stop at nothing to get this book into the hands of people that need to read it.
Working with 7 Sisters has been an absolute delight. They are so personable. I talk to the owner daily. She’s constantly working her butt off to promote her authors and ensure that we’re producing quality work. All that, and she’s a nurse who works full time! Just incredible.
How long did it take you to get this book published, from its initial conception to the release date?
I wrote There Goes Sunday School over the Summer of 2016 after being struck with an idea at my kitchen table: What would happen if a boy fell for the Pastor’s son? 90k words and a couple of revisions later, I started submitting to agents/editors. I received a good number of partial requests, a handful of full requests, and even an offer to revise and resubmit. A year later, I was beyond frustrated and ready to shelve the manuscript when I decided to enter the PitchWars contest on Twitter. 7 Sisters liked my pitch and requested to see the first few chapters. And I didn’t see it. For two weeks. Can you imagine? I almost missed this amazing opportunity because I’m horrible at checking Twitter! I submitted the chapters and they responded about fifteen minutes later requesting the full. Two days passed and I had an offer to purchase There Goes Sunday School.
The team at 7 Sisters worked quickly to get everything in order and I was in edits by January. Once those were completed, it was all floor pacing and stress eating until the release date of June 4th.
What other books and authors inspire you?
Becky Albertalli! She’s is literally goals, both as an author and as a human being. Her book, Simon vs. The Homosapien’s Agenda was the spark that ignited my passion for writing. I could literally gush about her forever, but our time is limited. If you want to know how much of an effect Simon had on me, you can check out a guest post I wrote for LGBT Reads (https://lgbtqreads.com/2018/04/24/the-courage-of-a-single-book-a-guest-post-by-there-goes-sunday-school-author-alexander-c-eberhart/) where I rave about that book for a solid five-hundred words.
Other authors that I admire are Adam Silvera (for making me cry more than I thought possible), Rainbow Rowell (for having the best name ever and fulfilling all my Harry Potter fan-fiction dreams), Shaun David Hutchinson (for perfectly blending queer contemporary and sci-fi) and S. J. Goslee (for making me almost pee on myself while reading: Whatever: or how junior year became totally f@cked)
For Michael, his relationship with his family and the church directly oppose his desires to be open about his sexuality, like many LGBTQ people in our society. What do you hope your readers will learn from his experience?
I hope that readers can not only relate to Michael’s pain, but also the amazing sense of hope that he has as the story comes to a close. For my fellow LGBTQ+ family, I hope this book finds you. If not to validate your own experience, then to help you gain empathy toward another of your brothers or sisters that may struggle with guilt from the pulpit.
Are any characters in your book based on people you know in real life?
Funny story. There’s only one character that’s based on real person, Michael’s best friend Jackie’s mom. As I was working on the concept for There Goes Sunday School, I shared the idea with my roommate and our friend, Melissa. They both loved it, and Melissa being the smart Alec that she is, told me to put her in the book. So I did. Thankfully, she loves her representation and we’re still very good friends.
What project are you working on next?
I’m so excited about my next project with 7 Sisters! It’s a dual-POV narrative exploring mental illness, disgusting school lunches, and just what happens backstage during a high school production of Romeo and Juliet. More info for that project is coming soon to my website and social media and you can expect it released from 7 Sisters late this year.
What is the first book that made you cry?
Oh jeez. Would I be lame if I said it was Twilight? Because I think it was Twilight.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Stress. Especially work-related. Just stops me in my tracks. I think it’s worth mentioning too that I write best when I’m in the middle of loud, crowded coffee shop. No idea why. The chaos feeds my soul. I know, I know. A writer in a coffee shop? I’m a walking cliché, AKA: that guy you hate who hogs the outlet in the corner while drinking his quad iced caramel macchiato.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to publish their first novel?
You poor sweet babes. Give yourself permission to write that first (terrible) manuscript. Maybe it’s not the one that launches your career, but it could be the stepping stone to get you there.
What is your favorite book to recommend to others?
Well, with earlier titles omitted, a few of my favorites are One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva, Fan Art by Sarah Tregay, We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson and History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera.