If you’re a boyband enthusiast and love to get your nose stuck in a book, then we’ve got the next read for you! Kiss & Tell is the latest YA Novel from Adib Khorram that gives us an Access All Areas pass to the life of teen-heartthrob Hunter Drake, a member of the major Canadian boyband Kiss & Tell. Full of behind-the-scenes secrets, fan culture, and exploration of identity, this is one book that truly had us hooked with every page. We had a chat with Adim ahead of the book’s release to talk about his inspiration for the story, the boybands who influenced it, and what led him to become an author.
Summary: Hunter never expected to be a boy band star, but, well, here he is. He and his band Kiss & Tell are on their first major tour of North America, playing arenas all over the United States and Canada (and getting covered by the gossipy press all over North America as well). Hunter is the only gay member of the band, and he just had a very painful breakup with his first boyfriend–leaked sexts, public heartbreak, and all–and now everyone expects him to play the perfect queer role model for teens.
But Hunter isn’t really sure what being the perfect queer kid even means. Does it mean dressing up in whatever The Label tells him to wear for photo shoots and pretending never to have sex? (Unfortunately, yes.) Does it mean finding community among the queer kids at the meet-and-greets after K&T’s shows? (Fortunately, yes.) Does it include a new relationship with Kaivan, the star of the band opening for K&T on tour? (He hopes so.) But when The Label finds out about Hunter and Kaivan, it spells trouble—for their relationship, for the perfect gay boy Hunter plays for the cameras, and, most importantly, for Hunter himself.
Hi Adib! Congrats on the release of your new book! We’re so excited to talk to you! Which three songs would you use as a way to introduce yourself as a person?
That’s a tough one! Maybe ‘Time’ by Pink Floyd, ‘THAT’S WHAT I WANT’ by Lil Nas X, and ‘Rainbow Connection‘ by Kermit the Frog.
Okay, love those choices! Almost everyone remembers the moment they were inspired to pursue their passion. What’s your story about becoming an author?
It’s weird, but I never actually set out to be an author. I got my BA in Theatrical Lighting Design, found a job that kind of let me use it (though it was more corporate-facing), and was pretty content. I had enjoyed writing since I was little, but I mostly did it for fun. As the job came with a lot of “hurry up and wait” time, I found myself writing on breaks or over lunch. At first, it was screenplays – I thought it would be cool to get a movie produced – but then I pivoted to novels. It still kind of surprises me that I get to do this for a living now – full-time since my other job went away during the pandemic.
Kiss & Tell is your latest release and is based on Hunter, a member of a boyband of the same name. What inspired the concept for this story?
This story has been germinating since 2014 or so when I was watching an awards show and wondering about the bands and what sorts of shenanigans might be going on backstage. I’d recently done an event where some people got food poisoning, and it was total chaos. And, on top of that, I was pondering what it meant to be queer in my professional life, the pressures that go along with it. But by the time I started seriously writing K&T, in early 2020, I had different concerns: about how we consume identity, about the pressures of fame, and about how we take advantage of young celebrity.
Identity is a very strong focus in Kiss & Tell; from sexuality and ethnicity to Hunter having to differentiate who he is to the public vs in private. With the majority of your audience being at a stage in their life questioning their own identity in different aspects, what are you hoping they take from Kiss & Tell and the journey Hunter goes on?
Teen readers are at a place in their lives where they’re forming their own boundaries, and I hope Kiss & Tell inspires them to take a close look at how and when to set boundaries, when to lower them, and how to choose who you let in.
We are fans of a number of boybands and while we could feel elements of different bands in both Kiss & Tell and PAR-K, they still felt very original in their own rights. Were there any specific bands or band members you drew inspiration from?
I grew up with New Kids on the Block, and I was a teen during the Backstreet Boys/*NSYNC era, so the classic five-piece was on my mind, especially with One Direction being so huge while I was first conceiving of the story. And three-piece brother boy bands, like Hanson and the Jonas Brothers, influenced PAR-K for sure! But as far as individual members, I didn’t consciously draw from any real band members; there are archetypes in boybands that have existed since the inception of the art form, and I was tapping into those. (Maria Sherman’s Larger than Life: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS was crucial research on this front.)
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We have to say as fans immersed in the stan culture ourselves, the way you portrayed that element to the story felt pretty accurate. There was fair inclusion of both the positive and negative sides to fandom. Why was it important for you to give a more truthful depiction of fandom as opposite to the often-negative stereotype the media gives?
As someone who has loved media very deeply, I wanted to honor that love: how pure and powerful it is when you connect with a song, a story, a TV show, a character. To see parts of your own self reflected back at you in a way that’s bigger than you are. But at the same time, I’ve seen the ways that people can lose track of their own better natures when love trips into obsession, and when we dehumanize our idols, demand perfection, and refuse to forgive people for being messy humans. I think that’s something we all have to learn to balance for ourselves.
I also think that our society constantly undervalues things that are popular with teen girls, and I wanted to push back against that. Teen girls shape so much of pop culture!
Honestly, we can’t agree more! You write some lyrics in Kiss & Tell for the band’s songs. Is songwriting something you dabble in? What was the process like working on the lyrics?
Every April, which is National Poetry Month in the US, I write a poem every day. This felt like putting those skills to the test. I don’t really consider myself a dabbler in songwriting, though I am a (lackluster) musician and had fun doing it! As far as the process, a lot of it came from staring at my rhyming dictionary, getting a word or a phrase in my head, and trying to figure out how to write a song around it. I also studied lyrics to lots of other boy band songs. There’s so much clever wordplay and virtuosity that goes into them.
Okay but lowkey, we can see some of those songs charting well in the real world. When you envision Hunter, Kaivan, and the characters, is there anyone, in particular, you imagine in their place? Perhaps who you’d even cast in a movie or Netflix series adaptation?
Honestly, they all exist in my head; there aren’t any real-life people I pictured when writing them. Especially since they’re all teens – pretty much all the actors and musicians I know are adults.
We know that your first book Darius The Great Is Not Okay was pretty successful and you wrote the sequel Darius The Great Deserves Better. Was there any pressure in terms of writing Kiss & Tell, such as having to beat your own achievements with the Darius The Great books?
I suppose I probably did put pressure on myself to make sure that Kiss & Tell was my best book yet; or at least, the best book I was capable of writing at the time. But the greater pressure came from trying to create during the pandemic. That was rough, especially during the early months of it.
That’s totally understandable, it’s definitely been a hurdle we’ve had to overcome, too. If you could spend a day with any of the characters from Kiss & Tell, who would it be and why?
The older I get the more I identify with long-suffering adults in books and movies, so I’d probably want to hang out with Janet, Kiss & Tell’s manager, and listen to all her amazing stories of life in the music industry.
Honestly, Janet is such a great manager and we loved her in the book! Finally, Can we expect more from the Kiss & Tell universe?
Hmm, I don’t have anything planned, but I never say never! I’m happy with where I left Hunter and his friends, though.
We definitely think you left him in the right place! Thanks, Adib. We loved Kiss & Tell and look forward to your future work!
Kiss & Tell is out March 22nd and is available for pre-order now.
Will you be reading Kiss & Tell? Which boyband will be on your reading playlist? Let us know down in the comments below or by tweeting us @TheHoneyPOP!
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Creative Director of The Honey POP. Disney and pop culture enthusiast.