Interview by Rob Bittner
Here is the third of four interviews and story excerpts as part of our Youth Spotlight project. For details on this series, see our original post.
Rhyan St. Louis’s “To Be the Moon” utilizes a somewhat claustrophobic timeline along with earnest dialogue to create a palpable sense of urgency. The story is poetic and engaging, and I have to say, I had a difficult time reducing the length of the piece for the excerpt.
Although Rhyan’s urgent prose seems to want readers to rush, I urge everyone to take their time and savour the emotionally complex narrative. “To Be the Moon” is semi-autobiographical, and I had a chance to ask Rhyan a bit about the inspiration for the piece. So, without further ado, let’s get to the interview!
Tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to start writing?
I started writing when I was in the second grade. I had just switched schools, and we had to do weekly story entries in a journal. I quickly found that I enjoyed it, and often asked to stay late in class to finish them. There were a few occasions in which I missed recess entirely just to write. I didn’t write as often going into later grades, but coming into junior high and high school I started again and never really stopped.
Where did the idea for this particular piece come from?
It started as a small section of a novel that I was working on that ended up getting cut. It didn’t quite fit into the narrative anymore, but it was a piece of writing I was too fond of to part with entirely, so I decided to see what would become of it as a short story. It’s inspired largely from real-life events, scenes from my own life that have been altered or displaced to fit into the specific narrative.
What have you been working on since this piece?
I write a lot of fan fiction. It’s what keeps me motivated when I’m feeling stuck on my original works, it’s fun and pressure free, and it’s also a community of people that is really friendly and encouraging. In terms of original works, I have a couple “in-progress” novels that I’ve been working on for years, I have no idea if they’ll ever reach a place of completion, but I’ve put a lot of time and love into them nonetheless. I also write poetry.
Have you ever come across a book that made you rethink how you approach writing?
I don’t know that there is a published novel that’s ever made me rethink how I approach writing. There’s a lot of really poignant works that have made my heart race and my breath hitch, but in terms of works that have made me rethink or change how I write, the honest answer is fan fiction. There are a fair few fan works that have completely changed my perspective on writing, and much of my style is inspired by fan based creations.
What motivates you to write?
I have a lot of stories to tell. I have things I want to say, about love, about sadness, about politics, about hate, and I think the best way to say them is to tell stories that are going to touch people. I want to write a story that touches someone’s heart, something that people relate to and also something that makes people rethink their views about something. It’s a lofty ambition, and one without clear boundaries or goals, but it’s something I can think about that motivates me to keep going when I feel like giving up.
What is the first book that made you cry?
I don’t cry easily at all, I don’t remember crying while reading anything before the age of 16, even though I’d read probably well over 200 books by that point. I think it was The Kite Runner by Kahled Hosseini. It was an assigned reading for my grade 11 English Lit class and I openly sobbed whilst reading on a public bus, it was one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read, and has stayed with me still to this day.
Excerpt from “To Be the Moon” (fiction)
I’m 15 the first time the words pass my lips and it leaves me frozen and staring into flashing brown eyes that don’t seem surprised at all.
I don’t say who or how or where but somehow she seems to know without my having to and only wraps arms tight around my shoulders and tells me to breathe, breathe.
It’s late and everyone else is asleep and somehow the two of us manage to open creaky doors and sneak downstairs without waking friends or parents or siblings and now we’re sat on the front porch swing of a house neither of us lives in and the friend I am not in love with isn’t at all surprised by the news that I’m gay. I wonder how many other people know and how many other people have seen my heart bared so blatantly on my sleeve that they don’t even need to ask.
I certainly hope it isn’t a lot.
I breathe out a shaky question that she doesn’t answer for a long time.
“How long have you known?”
Is met with a silent head tilt and then, “Awhile.”
By the time I am tired enough to sleep it’s nearing two AM and neither of us has said another word, just watched as night owl cars sidle past the house and the stars that wink at us from above as if they know everything we do not, and I suppose they probably do and I think that’s probably not hard to achieve.
There’s something about three-AM illicit outings in late August that makes happiness bubble in your chest. The gleam of street lights on blond hair and flashing brown eyes, summer scented breeze washing away stifling heat and promising cool September afternoons, the stars pulsing with the laughter you’re too afraid to let out for fear of someone hearing but that pushes its way past your throat in blunt smiles and squeezed palms anyway; because it just seems so loud in the pitch-black silence that stretches down the street. Like the world can hear your every breath, and your footfalls on the pavement are as loud as thunder, your laughter feels like a secret. No one else but the two of you are supposed to hear it.
We’re in a tree-surrounded park and she’s lain out on the swing next to me, arms stretched taut and fists curled tight around rusting metal chains, hair swaying gently and head tipped back, the swing creaks loudly but neither of us really notice. She’s focused on the sky and I’m focused on her, it’s dark enough that I have to squint.
“Do you ever think about the stars?” She asks, and it takes me a moment to even realize she’s asking me a question. I tear my eyes away from her to glance up at the sky. The moon is barely there, and the stars are only just bright enough in the city-light-polluted sky to make out the shape of the big dipper. I’m not sure I really understand what she’s asking me, but I answer her anyway.
“All the time.”
“I think I just came out to my best friend.”
We’re sitting outside, and I have half a blanket stolen off a couch draped across my shoulders because it’s fall and five AM isn’t exactly the warmest time to be sitting in damp grass watching the stars.
I look down to find she’s already looking at me and that strikes me as odd for a moment before I realize why. I’ve never had anyone already looking before.
I break out in a grin, and her smile back wrinkles the freckles across her nose and I can’t do anything but lean down to kiss her.
This isn’t my first kiss, but it’s the first one with a girl, and it’s the first time I’ve really imagined kissing anyone but her and now it’s actually happening and somehow it manages to feel like the first time anyway. I wonder if it’s always like this.
When we break away she’s grinning and I can’t help the hysterical laugh that’s bubbled up into my throat, and we grin at each other for another moment before I lean down to kiss her again just because I can.
I’d been trying too hard to get over it, and I thought I’d made progress but suddenly she seems a million miles away because I have a girl right here and her lips are pressed to mine.
When I find my own friends, she doesn’t say anything, only smiles at me and squeezes my hand where she’s grabbed it and I smile back and don’t bother to tell her any of what happened. It’s mine for now, and I want to keep it that way.
It’s definitely too early for this and yet I’m still somehow late. The sun is barely up, in that just-barely-past-seven AM type of way, and the October wind is howling and you’d think at 19 I would know to check the weather before leaving the house, but planning has never been my strong suit.
The sky is slate grey, not a speck of blue showing, and the air smells like dust and concrete and rotting leaves and it’s one of those mornings where the joy to be alive keeps warring with the desire to be asleep in bed, but I promised I would meet everyone and I know already that I’m going to be the last one there.
When I finally step through the door the smell of coffee and fresh pastry and airy light streaming through a full wall window greet me and so does a chorus of hellos and waving hands and smiling faces but the first pair of eyes I meet are green and warm and I greet them with a kiss before greeting everyone else with a hug and sit down between the girl I love, and the girl I used to like. It’s never awkward.
I never came out to anyone besides my parents, only introduced her as “my girlfriend” and was met with smiling faces and various stages of surprise. Hands were shaken, introductions made, and nobody questioned me, only a knowing pair of dark brown eyes that made me remember one-AM conversations, and a smiling pair of caramel ones, a flick of blonde hair, followed by a squeezing hug that left me breathless and beaming.
Somehow, I think maybe the joy will win out, just for today, or maybe for the rest of my life.
Rhyan St. Louis is a 20-year-old queer student working towards obtaining a Bachelor in Fine Arts, with minors in both Art History and English, but writing has always been her first love. From early on she loved writing stories, and in her teen years her efforts shifted to include poetry, often focusing on her sexuality.