Summer Sons is what you get when you blend dark academia, coming-of-age, and hauntings. Andrew Blur just lost his best friend in what looks like a suicide while also starting the graduate program they were supposed to do together. There’s grief, there’s fast cars, there’s big feelings, and softer moments of understanding. This book truly has the full gamut of possible emotions, with a well-earned hopeful ending.
I’m so excited to celebrate the release of this scary, sexy, and heart-wrenching debut. Author Lee Mandelo talks about the vibes, the revisions process, and what they’re working on now.
On Crafting Summer Sons
What aspect of the story came to you first? Was it the characters? The hauntings or something else altogether?
The vibes came first, I think, by which I mean those core themes of queer masculinity, grief, and inheritances. But I knew from the beginning I’d be tackling those through hauntings, because ghost stories are such an awesome way to show how things linger—how we’re affected by people, places, and histories. Then again, from another angle, Andrew might’ve come “first” since big elements of his emotional arc are drawn from semi-autobiographical grounds! So, let’s say a big messy pile of feelings, people, and their relationships kicked off the first draft of Summer Sons.
The story drips with a Southern gothic atmosphere. What inspired you to use Tennessee and Vanderbilt specifically as the setting?
I’m originally from rural Kentucky and spent significant time through childhood in Tennessee and Mississippi, where I had relatives back then–so for me, the setting of Summer Sons is less an inspiration and more a necessity. All of the characters and their ways of being in the world are deeply, deeply shaped by their geographical and cultural locations! I had a real investment in describing, bringing to visceral life on the page, that specific sense of place. Vanderbilt also pinned to the dirt a particular kind of racial and class politics in higher education; both the demographics and the reputation of the school (from which I’ve known a few graduates myself!) open up conversations about how nasty things still are for marginalized students of all sorts.
What was the revisions process like?
Long and involved, truly! Getting the book to its current form involved multiple, in-depth rounds of revision guided by agent and editor, external readers, and critique groups. Whole sections got reorganized or drafted fresh in the first rounds of revision, followed by more than one pass-through of intense line level edits to ensure the themes, narrative, and characters all cohered as much as possible around the heart of the stories I’d been hoping to tell. (And that’s not even getting into the number of times in the copy-editing stage I had to say lines of dialogue to myself and think, “Wait, how do I say that?” to check against dialect and tone!)
Did you have a favorite scene or moment to write?
Oh, man, I’m sure anyone who’s finished the book has a guess where I spent the most emotional and artistic energy.
But in all seriousness, yeah, the sex scene between Andrew and Sam had the most delicate and fiddly revisions as I tried to encompass just how important their fucking was to the book as a whole… while simultaneously making it as scorching hot as possible.
Is Summer Sons your first novel?
Yes, it’s my debut! I’ve had some short fiction published before, and have been a regular critic for Tor.com for the past decade or so, but Summer Sons is the first big book project of my heart.
What are you working on now?
I’ll have a novella coming from Tordotcom in 2022 called Feed Them Silence! It’s about climate catastrophe and conservation, neoliberalism’s effects on the funding of scientific research, and a failing marriage; the vibes are best described as terrible. Otherwise, I’m currently fiddling around with a piece of short fiction about a porn theater ghost, so we’ll see how that goes.
What are you reading? What books are you looking forward to being out?
In the other half of my life I’m an academic, and I just finished the period of comprehensive exams in my doctoral program—so, I’ve been reading nonstop queer and feminist theory, plus some sexy affect and trans studies, for the last four months. Some recommendations from those include José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia, L. H. Stallings’s A Dirty South Manifesto, and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera.
As for recent fiction I’ve been digging, both Sam J. Miller’s The Blade Between and Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun knocked my socks off. I read a lot of books in translation, too, like Chi Ta-wei’s The Membranes as translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich and Izumi Suzuki’s Terminal Boredom—highly recommended! Oh, and I’m also looking forward to finally having the time to dive into Brandon Taylor’s Filthy Animals, which came out recently and is sitting atop my desk, tempting me away from work.
LEE MANDELO is a writer, critic, and occasional editor whose fields of interest include speculative and queer fiction, especially when the two coincide. They have been a past nominee for various awards including the Nebula, Lambda, and Hugo; their work can be found in magazines such as Tor.com, Uncanny Magazine, Clarkesworld, and Nightmare. Aside from a brief stint overseas learning to speak Scouse, Lee has spent their life ranging across Kentucky, currently living in Lexington and pursuing a PhD at the University of Kentucky.
Photo credit: Sarah Jane Webb