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Allyship, LGBTQ+ community, and focusing on positives: Interview with Paul Coccia, I GOT YOU BABE (Orca)

Paul Coccia is the author of Cub, The Player, I Got You Babe, the upcoming Leon Levels Up,and is co-author of On The Line with Eric Walters. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and is often found baking in his Toronto kitchen with his nephew, dogs, and a parrot when he isn’t writing glitterature. You can find out more at Paul’s website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Author: Paul Coccia
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Themes:friendship, fun fair, teamwork, drag queen, cooperation
Publisher book page

Q. How was I Got You Babe created? 

The story idea began with my younger brother and his oldest friend who met just before starting kindergarten. In eighth grade, they decided to perform Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” for the talent show in their Catholic school where he was Cher and she was Sonny. There wasn’t any drama or opposition to the gender-swap performance and they both still love the spotlight.

When I was pitching ideas to my editor, two stuck out to her. One was about two kids doing a Sonny and Cher routine for their school’s fair. That became I Got You Babe. The other was about two kids playing a cutting edge virtual reality video game with nanobots. (The latter became Leon Levels Up coming out in 2024.) With these two projects, I got the chance to try different things out from my other books. I Got You Babe is a joyous friendship story and Leon Levels Up is sci-fi with plenty of action. 

I Got You Babe stars Mac who knows he is an icon (like his idol, Cher) but his peers don’t quite get it yet. Along with his best friend, Amy Lim, Mac convinces the parent council to give the school’s Fun Fair a Pride-themed facelift. Mac is determined to be the star of the fair performing as Cher in the iconic “I Got You Babe” duet. Except his always supportive best friend doesn’t want to play Sonny. It’s a fast, fun, read with a retro vibe and lots of Cher Easter eggs for fans and lots to discover for those who aren’t as gaga about Cher.

To update on the original inspiring duo: my younger brother is an artist who performs in drag and his best friend had her first child earlier this year. The beat goes on, the beat goes on.

Q. What do you hope young readers will take away from your book?

I hope readers walk away with an appreciation of Cher, the Goddess of Pop, while humming any one of her six decades of hits. I also hope I Got You Babe sparks conversations about how allyship works best as a two-way street. The LGBTQ+ community has such a powerful, unique and mutually-beneficial relationship with its allies. There are a lot of positives to be considered regarding supporting one another and working collaboratively. Friendship can be one of the strongest parts of allyship although it can be easy to overlook or dismiss.

Q. What advice do you have for young creators?

I was fortunate enough to visit Debbie’s blog as a newly published author and I mentioned not being afraid of trying new things as important for personal growth. I stand by that even though I have learned a lot since.

Big picture advice is to focus on your positives rather than spending your time and energy on negatives like comparison with others, disappointments, lists you didn’t make, awards you didn’t win, rejections you received, etc. The business side of trying to get and remaining published can be disheartening. Actively choosing to fill your time with fulfilling, positive endeavors and people will leave you happier especially since all negatives can’t be avoided.

Some practical nuts-and-bolts advice that Eric Walters shared with me specific to improving plot and timelines: Grab a calendar so you know when events of the story occurred. It’s useful so you don’t have, say, seven Saturdays in one month, or to figure out when characters are at work or in school. You get a good sense of pacing as an added benefit. Do days or weeks go by where nothing happens in your story? Background details become clearer such as what time of year it is or what the weather is likely to be. You’ll end up with a tighter end product because those fine details will be hammered out.

Not that anyone asked, but my agenda is super cute, pink, and has cupcakes. It even came with stickers. If that’s not a reason to use a calendar, I don’t know what is. Add a selection of coloured pens (glitter gel is a great option) for that extra pizzazz.

Q. What are you excited about now?

Book-related: Eric Walters and I are nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Red Maple Award which is one of Canada’s kid choice awards.

I’ve attended the Forest ceremonies for years as an (unpublished) audience member. The excitement of the young readers is like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I’m so excited to get to go as an author but also to be there for my author and illustrator friends to cheer them on. Most of all, I’m thrilled to meet readers.

Non-book stuff I’m excited about: Dolly Parton is releasing new boxed baking mixes. Biscuits and cornbread. I’m all over that. I’ve fallen even more in love with Dolly since the last time I was on Debbie’s blog. I didn’t think it was possible, but it is. Her philanthropy is inspiring. I heard a rumor that Cher and Dolly are collaborating on new music and hope that’s true. Dream duo! There is always room for two divas especially when they’re both legendary icons!

Also see other Interviews with Book Creators and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators.