Autostraddle Book Club: Emily Answers Your “Cameron Post” Questions and We Throw A Feelings-Fest

There are a lot of pop culture references in the book; did you have to much research, or were you mainly drawing from your own experience or some combination of the two?

I talked a bit about some of this when I answered the autobiography questions, but no, not really research (beyond making sure that my memory of when a particular song or movie was released lined up with Cam’s world— which it didn’t always) so much as considering my many options for those pop cultural touchstones of time and place. For Cam, many of these serve as reflections of her queer self—something she’s so desperate for. Some of the choices—of songs, books—are maybe more obvious and expected than others, but that’s what I was hoping for, a combination of the expected and the unexpected. So much of my adolescent experience was consumed with any and all popular culture available to me, so I wanted to get some of that consumption on the page, in the novel’s texture.

screenshot via “the miseducation of cameron post” trailer

What freedoms and/or limitations did you find writing a YA novel? Did you have a specific audience in mind?

Knowing your target audience, how did you choose which media to incorporate with Cameron’s character development?

This is a question that I get asked a lot, so I’m just gonna plagiarize myself here (I hope you’re cool with that): I would get absolutely zero writing done if I attempted to do any of it with an audience peering over my shoulder. The only audience I’m writing for—for the first couple of drafts, really—is me. I write the fiction I want to read. Really, my “target audience” is an audience of one—emily m. danforth, reader. That sounds a bit vain, for some reason, as I look at those words here on my screen, but it’s absolutely the case.

Certainly I’m open to feedback and criticism and suggestion, critique, a bit later on in the process, but nothing about the choices I made in shaping Cam’s voice or the novel’s situation(s) was dictated by me hoping to eventually reach as broad an audience as possible—or even one specific audience, for that matter. I just never thought like that. Despite the specificity of Cam’s situation—a recent orphan who is just discovering her attraction to girls while being raised by an evangelical aunt in eastern Montana (in the 1990s)—a lot of her experiences are pretty universal to adolescence (or adolescents, if you prefer): first crushes, first loves, first sexual experiences, rebelliousness, ennui, premature nostalgia. I mean, this is the stuff of one’s teen years, right? Some of Cam’s experiences are given more significant weight and importance in the novel because of the cultural, political, and religious climates operating in her small world (and because everything is colored anew for her since her parents’ death), but those experiences do ultimately have universal qualities.

I think Cam’s appeal might come from her near-obsession with sorting through her life, searching for small connections, puzzling things out, asking questions, making sense.

I also think Cam’s appeal might come from her near-obsession with sorting through her life, searching for small connections, puzzling things out, asking questions, making sense. It can be appealing to read from the POV of someone so curious about the world. She’s built of contradictions—overly romantic sometimes, world-weary others—but she’s ultimately, I think, generous and compassionate; she wants to find the good, the redeemable, in those around her, and when she does she recognizes it, even if that recognition doesn’t always last for very long or ultimately hold much sway.

Since the style in which I wrote this novel was, essentially, one of representational realism, I was much more concerned with the believability and accuracy of characters, scenes, and moments—wanting my readers to fall through the page and into the world of the novel—than I was with worrying too much about the relative comfort levels of potential readers (or their parents) in relation to the novel’s content. That sounds a bit more glib than maybe it should, but there were many moments (and fears and longings) from adolescence (my own and others) that I wanted to explore as fully and authentically as possible on the page, and I just couldn’t do that if I was also trying to censor or “leave out” those experiences because I worried about potential reactions to that material.

The book is pretty frank but not—I don’t think, anyway—in an exploitative way. I never “inserted” a scene of drug use or sexuality to be provocative or “risky” or really to do anything other than I want any scene in the novel to do, which is to honestly portray this character’s experiences with as much nuance and depth as possible.

[Do you answer extra-textual questions? If so, then:] When Ruth tells Cameron that Cam’s grandmother said she doesn’t want to see her, is Ruth being honest?

Sure, I’ll answer this (but now, of course, I want to know your thoughts, too). You’re talking about page 250, right, when Ruth and Pastor Crawford are confronting Cam with their news and her “sentencing” to God’s Promise? My answer is: yes, in that moment, Ruth is not lying to Cam—Grandma Post actually said (in some previous scene that isn’t in the book but that you can all imagine—one that takes place before Cam gets home from the lake that day), that she didn’t want to talk to Cameron (or presumably anyone) about this Coley revelation right then.

But, that’s the thing— it’s right then. The grandmother is of a much older generation, and she’s just heard this upsetting, to her, news about her granddaughter, and she needs to go deal with it on her own for a little while. She doesn’t want to think about sexuality in relationship to her granddaughter at all, and certainly not a kind of sexuality that she sees as perverse and strange, bad. It’s upset her, the news, as has her inability to make sense of it, to know what to “do” with it, and while she might not like Ruth’s methods, she doesn’t feel like she has any better ones of her own. So she goes down to her little apartment in the basement for awhile to just drown herself in TV shows about detectives and packages of sugar free wafers and to try not to think about what she’s just learned about her granddaughter.

Lots of people I know who are several generations older than I am—than Cam would have been—wonder why so many of us in younger generations “have to” talk about everything. These people often lived their lives believing that you just didn’t discuss some subjects, ever, not outside the home, but not even in it. Many of us now recognize the damage and implicit shaming this kind of silence can cause, but it makes sense to me that Cam’s grandmother’s reaction, one that would have felt safest to her, would have been just to try to forget it, to “hush up” about it, and certainly not to have confronted all of her unpleasant feelings with a discussion. However, when Ruth says (shouts) “She’s just sick about this, she’s sick about it!” Well, that’s Ruth’s term—sick, I mean. She may well be right, Grandma Post might have used that word herself, had she been there in that scene, but Ruth’s the one who’s putting it that way in that moment, who’s choosing to use that word.

How would Cameron’s parents have reacted to the news of Cameron’s sexuality had they been alive?

Well, I didn’t write that novel, so I haven’t explored all of that enough to give you a very satisfying answer. I don’t even really know how they’d “behave” as characters in a scene, since I strategically allowed for so little of their presence, as characters in this novel. Even when Cam is remembering them, it’s always in fairly brief chunks, not extended scenes. It’s the presence of their absence that I wanted readers to feel— so they aren’t even very vivid in her memories of them.

All of this is to say that I don’t feel like I “know them” as people (characters) well enough to answer this question with much nuance. They wouldn’t have sent her to conversion therapy, of that I’m quite certain. But they wouldn’t have thrown her a pride parade and started a local chapter of P-FLAG, either. Somewhere in the middle, I suppose. It would have taken them a period of adjustment, certainly, possibly a lengthy one, but they would have come around eventually.

Photo from the book about Quake Lake—”The Night the Mountain Fell,” via

If you could write another book from Coley’s perspective, would you? I’m curious about what her future would be like!

I tell you what, you and my wife should write that book together: she asked me the exact same thing not so long ago, but what’s funny is that she’d actually given much more specific thought to where, she thinks, Coley would be “today,” than I have—or than I had, at the point of our discussion, anyway.

She saw her as a well-to-do rancher’s wife living in Billings, MT—couple of kids, SUVs in the driveway, a comfortable “lifestyle”—but a woman who’s discontent, ultimately, and who often finds herself daydreaming about Cam, about those moments from high school, and also experiences these desires for other women in her current life, but hasn’t acted on them. Anyway, that was her (my wife’s) take.

It would be interesting to write from Coley’s perspective, certainly, but I don’t know if I’d want to do a whole book from it. I mean, it would be a fascinating exercise, for me, to just have her tell her story of this novel — but her version, which would be quite different, undoubtedly, from Cam’s.  Every scene would change to reflect her own prejudices and memories and sense of the world. Maybe I would/could someday write a short story from Coley’s POV— the Coley of the future, that is, the grownup version — be she some rancher’s wife or not. No plans, as of right now, for that, but, but: you never know.

screenshot via “the miseducation of cameron post” trailer

What did you read growing up? What novels/poems/essays were influential in your development as a queer young adult?

As a pre-teen reader (and early teen reader) it was a lot of Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and dozens and dozens of those plot-driven paperback slasher/ thriller books by writers like Christopher Pike and Richie Tankersley Cusick— you know, The Lifeguard or Trick or Treat or Teacher’s Pet (that one was about a writer’s retreat, actually, and I completely loved it. Well, murders and a maniac at a writer’s retreat, of course.) I don’t know if any of those books specifically spoke to any queerness in me—though I suppose they must have, in ways I don’t know how to name—but I read them voraciously, and lots and lots of other books, too—I was reading always and with little discrimination, honestly.

Eventually, though, by sophomore year of high school, anyway, I became a bit more discerning a reader, and eventually sought out any lesbian fiction I could locate (secretly). A particular favorite for a long time was Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt. I still think that’s an excellent novel. And I was influenced, early, as well, by Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle. I recorded a little thing about my relationship to that book for NPR’s program All Things Considered. If you’re interested, you can find it here.

screenshot via “the miseducation of cameron post” trailer

Most writers are often advised to write what they know, and yet, so many writers who identify with the queer community still shy away from publishing works that can be labeled as queer or prominently feature a queer protagonist. Your novel deals heavily with queer identity as Cameron searches for reassurance that she is okay being who she is. How much did bringing more positive exposure to the queer community play into your decisions in writing this novel?

I don’t think that I was necessarily motivated to positively reflect one character’s process of queer desire, or, as you say, to bring “positive exposure to the queer community,” so much as I wanted to offer an honest and complete picture of Cam’s experiences, to fully render all of these significant moments from her adolescence, not just choose one or another to get at in the novel. Its power, if it has any, as a narrative, I think, comes from the specificity of its rendering and just how much of Cam’s life is there on the page. I didn’t want the novel to be reducible to one single element or plotline, as many “problem” novels are. It needed to be a much fuller exploration, one that seems to be, to readers, the whole landscape of these years, even though a novel —even a big one, which Miseducation is—can only cover so much ground. Cam is likable, I think, and I hope that she’s compelling, but I wanted, more than anything else, for her characterization to feel real to readers—to feel authentic, like she’s a living, breathing person and not just a heroic character that all queers can get behind. Cam is no spokesperson for all queers, of course, or all lesbians—and certainly neither am I. Neither of us want to carry the flag, that’s an impossible position.

But I agree with Dorothy Allison that the truest way to change someone is to get them to “inhabit the soul of another person who is different from them.” And fiction allows us to do just that. But not didactic fiction, which is necessarily one-dimensional, it has to be fiction that seeks to represent the world more completely, more accurately and fully, than does fiction that leads with its message and uses its characters as props for the message.

NEXT: On Cameron Post’s tumblr, how different things were when Cameron was growing up even though it wasn’t that long ago, what happens after the book ends, Taco John’s, Adam, NARTH vs. Music and more!

Pages: 1 2 3 4See entire article on one page

Riese is the 38-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2842 articles for us.


  1. I just wanted to share something about how I felt about this book. It gave me a chunk of my childhood back. Growing up in a repressed, religious, rural clan, as a safety mechanism, I locked down my true self. After many years I have been able to recognize and take action on my true heart’s desires. Reading The Miseducation of Cameron Post was healing for me because through Cam’s experiences I was able to have many experiences that I thought I’d never have. Thank you so much for writing this book, it is beautiful and magic. This is totally great this whole post. Thanks.

  2. Aww, I wasn’t able to have my AS fix at all this last week, and was pleasantly surprised to see this Q and A today. I bought “Miseducation” after Riese’s (I think? Books I Read?) recommendation and devoured it within hours. Autostraddle publicity really works! It’s so nice to see some insight into the writing process on here.

    Loved the novel, which is a seminal “coming of GAYge” indeed (Bulldykesroman? Stop me now lol). I especially love THE HUMOUR in it, which hasn’t been touched on extensively yet. Really you guys, parts of it were so hysterical I nearly peed. Emily D has a way with comedic phrasing and detail that is very special indeed.

    I’m glad the interview touched on characterization. While reading, I was constantly imagining what I would personally have done with “baddies” like Ruth and the Promise people. The line between stereotyping and being too lenient in portrayal is a fine one. Aunt Ruth was especially begging for some kind of religious wack-job evil stepmother trope, wasn’t she? But this runs the risk of dehumanization and I am GLAD that Emily was aware of those pitfalls. I also think that editorial differences of opinion about “how bad” to make the evangelicals could very well stem from regional and personal experiences. If you have seen “the worst of the worst”, you will be more likely to accept that as an accurate characterization. I would have been very tempted to make Ruth significantly more villainous, but I can see why that wouldn’t have appealed to a more moderate audience.

    The death of the parents at the onset suggested a fairy-tale scenario to me very strongly, with Margot as a sort of fairy godmother come to rescue Cam. I saw subtle lacing of this throughout which made the folklorist in me quite happy :) Incidentally, I wonder why Jane Fonda had a wooden leg? Was that some kind of interesting symbolism? lol.

    I LOVE that there was a Lakota winkte character!!! Especially with the setting in Montana, referencing the (real, longer) history of the land and people, whose attitude toward non-binary genders was so positive, seemed very at home in the story, and was a nice contrast to the senseless Christian pseudoscience of the camp.

    Must stop writing now or will go on forever… Wonderful job Ms Danforth!!

    PS “Virginia Woolf” by Indigo Girls IS awesome and apt, and not even their best song by far. They’ve grown immensely as songwriters in the last decade or so- see anything Emily’s written from “All That We Let In” onwards for evidence. Pure unadulterated genius, swear to god(s).

  3. as a queer teen who lives in NC, this book was amazing to see circulating the local library’s teen book club. I’m impressed by such an honest portrayal of a younger lesbian. most books that we read, aimed for teen audiences are utterly awful. and almost never gay. but anyways, Emily, if you read this, know that this book is being passed around between a bunch of closeted baby gays in the south. this is something that quite a few of my friends really needed, I think. so thank you.

  4. I just downloaded this book on my Kindle and I paid for it. I never do that! I’m excited to read it. I had not heard of it before this article so I look forward to reading it and then reading this article. I haven’t read the interview yet because I don’t want any spoilers! I also haven’t read the comments. I better get to reading!

  5. so happy she answered bunch of questions i had in my mind and so did some ppl. this novel is amazing, i loved it, and read it many times. i love Cameron Post as a character. brilliant ….

    i did have a Lindsey, a girl who teached me many stuff, including kissing and beyond… a Coley who rocked my world in high school, a straight girl who fell in love with me.

    im a big fan of this book

  6. i’m a bit late to the party BUT i finally read this book – in two staying-up-till-4-am sessions – and now i am sad it has ended, i want there to be more pages (although i liked that it ended where it did, coming full circle). i don’t usually read YA, but this book club post and a certain friend’s insistent recommendations made me change my mind, and i have to admit, it was indeed really incredible

    also, it was greatly satisfying to re-read this post after finishing the book

    i totally had an irene klauson as my best friend when i was 12. i was completely infatuated with her and then she ditched me and i never understood why. nothing really ever transpired between us, other than some hand-holding and excessive letter-writing, and it took another full decade for me to realize i was, in fact, really gay, but there was all this tension between us and i was so oblivious. i really needed this book back then, is what i’m saying.

  7. I just finished reading the book and I thought I’d do a search to see if AS had any articles on it – thrilled to discover not only is there one, but it’s basically the greatest thing ever published.

    I can’t get over how brilliant the book is.

  8. Pingback: The Miseducation of Smalltown USA | Libreview YA

  9. My theory has always been that Cam’s mom was queer and her and Margot were totally together and then broke up and then Cam’s mom got with her dad and Margot and Cams mom became best friends with a side of tension.

    Just putting it out there.

  10. I (finally!) just finished reading this book and DESPERATELY want to hack that hard drive and get another few thousand pages of Cameron Post’s life. Great interview! Even if I did find her Coley answer frustrating because I also want a Coley-centered sequal. Sigh.

  11. Oh, I just finished this and it’s going to haunt me.

    It kind of makes me wonder what it would have been like to realize things earlier, all the things Cam knows and feels and does as a teenager instead of trickling into them in my twenties. But I’m also so, so grateful for a softer and gentler coming out and coming into.

    I didn’t cry while I was reading it but I’m crying now and I don’t particularly know why, but thank you and also to echo Katie O above, thank you autostraddle for being my lindsey.

  12. Pingback: Review: ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ (Book) by Emily M. Danforth – The Fairy Dust Book Blog

  13. I cried reading this book, sad tears and angry tears. Then I cried reading this Q&A.

    I am two years younger than Cameron, but I didn’t have these coming of age experiences, because I didn’t kiss (and the rest) a girl until I was nearly 21. I think I am drawn to LGBT coming of age stories because I missed out, obviously I’m glad I didn’t have the God’s Promise experience, but I wish I’d kissed and fallen in love for the first time much younger, I feel like heteronormative/homophobic society kind of stole that from me.

  14. Pingback: let's talk lgbtqia+ entertainment, again - queer voices

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