Welcome back, fellow bibliophiles! Today, we are feeling A Little Bit Country with Brian D. Kennedy!
As you all know, we at The Honey POP love to celebrate diverse books and authors from all over the world. Every month, we bring you an impressive assortment of sweet reads to add to your TBR list. To wrap up Pride Month 2022 in a cheerful, vibrant fashion, we spotlighted some of our new favorites for LGBTQ+ books and authors. One of them is our new fave YA author Brian D. Kennedy, born a Minnesotan and now a fun-loving native New Yorker, who recently published his debut book, A Little Bit Country, via Harper Collins this summer.
Ever since we first heard about A Little Bit Country, we knew we had to get our hands on this sweet-as-honey 2022 debut! This heartwarming, endearing, and emotionally satisfying sweet romantic love story includes all the essential ingredients of a perfect dessert recipe. Naturally, it features a mind-blowing narrative with a compelling twist that will have you on the edge of your couch until the very end.
The overall country-inspired setting with a western theme park weaved together with endearing characters, and Dollywood, was a refreshingly new perspective, perfectly fitting to the plot. The tenderness of young love, the overwhelming naivety of first love, and the fear of coming out were all eloquently captured. Of course, the two characters fall in love with one another, but after all the peaks and troughs, is their romance doomed to end already? Or is it just the beginning? We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to anyone; it is THAT good, and we just loved reading it.
We’ve been eager to talk to Brian D. Kennedy about Emmett and Luke’s tumultuous romance, all things Dolly Parton, and his country music influences… or obsession! We were ecstatic as soon as we sat down with him and talked about his debut novel, creative juices, the inspiration, and much more.
Spoiler alert: we get to dig deep in this one, so keep reading to know all the behind-the-scenes secrets.
Massive congratulations on the release of your debut novel, which is utterly gorgeous. How does it feel to be a young, published author and receive all the appreciation for your first ever published work?
Thank you so much! I can’t lie—it still feels a bit surreal. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and it took me about ten years from when I decided to pursue publication more seriously, to when my first book came out. So I’m definitely not taking any of this for granted!
Where did A Little Bit Country first begin? What sparked the story idea?
Dolly Parton! She was my introduction to country music. The more I listened to her songs, the more I fell in love with the genre. I had also been obsessed with wanting to visit Dollywood (her amusement park in Pigeon Forge, TN) for years. So setting my book in a fictional version of her park seemed like a no-brainer. It was the perfect backdrop for a story that encapsulated everything I loved about country music.
This sounds interesting. What stood out to you the most about A Little Bit Country that made it your debut novel?
At the risk of repeating myself: Dolly Parton! Who doesn’t love Dolly? I always say she’s the best free PR for me. She’s a constant force for good and a savvy businesswoman who’s managed to stay relevant through seven decades of her career now. People just perk up and get excited when they hear her name.
Brian, what was the hardest challenge you had to overcome while writing this book?
To write my own song lyrics. I have the utmost respect for songwriters now that I’ve given it a try. It’s hard to write something that’s both clear and compelling when you have such a limited amount of space and words. And then to have some of those words also rhyme? I can’t guarantee that my lyrics would actually make good songs. But I am proud of the work I put into them.
What do you hope readers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community walk away with after reading ALBC?
That there’s no “right” way to be out. One of the themes I wanted to explore in my book was authenticity. How can you be your true, authentic self when you live in an environment where it’s not always safe to do so? Even Emmett, my character who is proudly out from the beginning of the book, wrestles with how he presents himself—specifically in the world of mainstream country music, which has traditionally been very cis, male, and straight.
Are there any big scenes or subtle moments you decided to leave out of A Little Bit Country? If so, could you mention one?
Wanda Jean Stubbs, my Dolly Parton stand-in, only makes a few appearances in my book. And while I didn’t end up cutting anything with her in it, it was a challenge not to keep adding more scenes with her. She was such a fun character to write about, and I could hear her voice so clearly in my head.
We are loving your fanboy heart for Dolly Parton. C’mon, who doesn’t love her? Which of her songs do you think everyone needs on their Pride playlist?
‘Wildflowers’ (from her Trio album with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt) has garnered a reputation for being a queer anthem. It’s about not fitting in and being strong enough to make your own way in the world. Its lyrics are empowering: “When a flower grows wild/ it can always survive/ wildflowers don’t care where they grow.”
If you’re looking for a fun, danceable Dolly song to add to your Pride playlist, I have to recommend ‘Baby I’m Burnin’,’ one of her singles from the 70s. Disco Dolly? It doesn’t get any gayer than that!
What is a piece of advice you would give to a young person like Emmett or Luke who is trying to find their way in the world?
As Emmett says in the book, “It’s not a contest.” Whether you’re trying to figure out your sexuality or just your life in general, it’s okay to take your time. It’s okay to change your mind. It’s okay to be unsure. You’ll figure things out as you go, and you should always do what works best for you.
That’s a lovely piece of advice that we are sure our readers would resonate with. Which character was most dear to your heart? And which one was the most challenging to bring to life?
Emmett and Luke are both very dear to me. And while I definitely didn’t model them after myself, we do share some personality traits. (When it comes to Emmett’s love of country music, I had a very deep well to draw from.) Luke, however, was probably also the most challenging character for me to write. Luke’s a southern boy through and through. I’m a New Yorker who grew up in Minnesota. I had to be careful not to lean into any misconceptions I might’ve had, or stereotypes. I’m sure I didn’t get everything exactly right, but I tried hard to be close.
Which scene or chapter is your favorite, and which one was the most difficult to write, relatively? And why?
I had a lot of fun writing Emmett and Luke’s first date, which happens relatively early in the book. I took what was my idealized version of the perfect evening in small-town Tennessee, and let them play around in that environment. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the fight between Emmett and Luke was my least favorite to write. Having grown up in the Midwest, I tend to be a bit conflict-averse, to begin with. I just want my characters to be happy and cute!
Outside of your writing world, you also work full-time at an LGBTQ+ non-profit. Could you share with us what you do and how you keep yourself motivated while managing your workload and life as a published author?
My day job mostly deals with numbers and data entry, which always surprises people. I’m a “Billing Specialist,” billing insurance companies for the substance abuse counseling and mental health services my employer offers. I would say fear is a big motivator for me—ha! But seriously, having deadlines, even if I don’t always make them, helps keep me on track most of the time.
Finally, if your book was to be adapted into a movie or series, do you have a dream cast for the characters? And what do you want the soundtrack to be like?
I think I would actually be pretty terrible at casting my book! Because these characters are a product of my imagination, it’s hard for me to imagine someone else stepping into those roles. The soundtrack, however? Let’s talk. Because I have plenty of ideas. Would I want Dolly to do the music? Of course. But I can’t even speak that into existence. Instead, here are some other artists I’d be thrilled to have involved: Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Orville Peck, Lil Nax X, TJ Osborne, Shane McAnally, Brandy Clark, Jennifer Nettles, Lori McKenna, Patty Griffin, Rhiannon Giddens, Hailey Whitters, Kelsey Walden, Reba McEntire, Tanya Tucker, Wanda Jackson, and Loretta Lynn. (To name just a few.)
We had so much fun talking to Brian D. Kennedy about A Little Bit Country! If you were to write an alternative ending to the story, what would that be? Wear your thinking cap and let us know in the comment section below or tweet to us @TheHoneyPOP! You can also be our friends on Facebook and Instagram.
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Khushboo Malhotra works as a freelance journalist, digital marketing & media strategist, and content marketer featured in various global and national media publications and works alongside B2B, B2C, and eCommerce brands. A wide range of her work spans music and entertainment culture, sustainable lifestyle (including sub-niches), and SaaS. She enjoys writing novels and designing screenplays, grooving at concerts, or exploring new fashion and cuisines that tickle her taste buds when she is not working. Have a story? Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org