Scary Mommy Book Club author Celia Laskey talks about what inspired her to write Under the Rainbow
Picking the first book for a brand new book club is no easy task. But reading Celia Laskey’s Under the Rainbow felt like a glimpse into lives we wanted to know more about. Laskey’s storytelling style is so easy. And when you read about the things her characters are going through, you realize how important empathy really is. So it felt like the perfect first pick for the new Scary Mommy Book Club.
Under the Rainbow is the story of the “most homophobic town in the US,” and what happens when a national nonprofit sends a queer task force into the town to live and work there for two years in an attempt to open the hearts and minds of the people in the community. What ensues is a web of experiences that makes us all question what it really means to belong.
Laskey opened up about her inspiration for writing the book and shared some insight on the whole novel-writing process.
What was your inspiration for Under the Rainbow?
Everyone who knows me considers me to be the biggest lesbian who ever lesbianed, and people are really surprised when they find out that I didn’t realize I was gay until I was 23—they assume I shot out of my mom’s vagina and was like, “no thank you, men.” The reality is that realizing my sexuality was a really long, sad journey and for most of my life I was so closeted, even to myself, that it literally didn’t occur to me that I could be gay. Naturally, it had a lot to do with a lack of queer visibility in my young life. I grew up in a small town in Maine, and while I don’t think it would have earned the title of “most homophobic town in America,” it definitely was lacking in that queer visibility. If a task force had come in—even just to show that queer people exist and that it’s *okay* to be queer—I think I could have realized who I was much sooner. So I suppose in a way, I wrote the book for my younger self who needed a version of the task force.
Each chapter is told from a different POV, did you have a favorite to write?
It was really fun to write David’s chapter, just because he’s so bitchy and that kind of tone comes really naturally to me.
Which character was the hardest to write or relate to?
As you might guess, it was really hard to write Christine. With every character, I’m trying to understand what makes them tick and why, and with Christine, I wanted to understand why this billboard drives her so nuts. I did a lot of reading about homophobia and its root causes and I found one study that said some people’s homophobia is actually rooted in jealousy—not that they want to be queer themselves but that they’re jealous of the freedom queerness can bring to a life: the feeling that you don’t have to get married, or buy a house, or have kids, etc. That it kind of frees you from expectations and conventions. And that’s how I’m able to understand homophobia: they hate us ‘cause they ain’t us (yes, this is a quote from the 2014 movie that no one saw, The Interview, lol). Then I feel able to give a character like Christine humanity and empathy because it’s not that she hates us, it’s that on some level she hates her own life.
How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it?
There was so much that changed over the course of editing the book. I’d say that making the whole feel greater than the sum of its parts was the biggest thing I worked on with my editor after selling the book—we deleted entire stories, wrote new ones, added way more linkages between all the characters, added plot points that would hopefully urge the reader to keep turning pages (like what happens at the end of Zach’s story), and we added Gabe’s final story as a way to bring everyone back together. In the end, I don’t think I miss anything we got rid of—it all served the larger purpose!
Which books have you been reading during quarantine?
THE LEAVERS by Lisa Ko was on my backlist, and I’m so glad I finally read it because it was completely absorbing and just stunning in every way. A new book I read is GODSHOT by Chelsea Bieker and it also sucks you into its world and takes you on a wild ride that’ll help you forget everything else. And if you want to laugh (who wouldn’t right now?), WOW, NO THANK YOU by Samantha Irby will have you LOLing on every single page.
What’s your favorite book, and why?
I think Edinburgh by Alexander Chee is the perfect novel on every level: structure, character, language, etc. I definitely evangelize for it.
If you could share some advice with aspiring writers, what would it be?
This is a three-parter!
1. Learn the craft first. A lot of people ask how to get published and they’ve never even taken a creative writing class! Like, slow down—you need the building blocks before you can actually build something.
2. Figure out what you want to say about the world and find a way to translate that to an interesting, pithy premise for a book. Something that will hook readers within like two sentences. Think about books like The Underground Railroad, Exit West, etc. 3. Be ambitious and don’t listen to the “rules” of publishing. For example, don’t listen to anyone who tells you you have to be published in literary magazines in order to sell a book. That wasn’t true for me—it was actually easier to sell a book than it was to be published in lit mags! At the end of the day, what’s the harm in *trying* to achieve the success you dream of? If you don’t try, you’ll never know.
This article was originally published on