'Honey Girl' Offers Vegas Shenanigans and Sapphic RomancePosted by Sharon on February 1, 2021
Honey Girl, a queer romance and coming-of-age novel by debut author Morgan Rogers, explores what it means to depart from expectations, follow your heart, and learn to make space in places never meant for you.
Grace, the protagonist, and her found family visit Vegas to celebrate her PhD in astronomy, but the next morning, she realizes she drunkenly married a woman whose name she doesn’t remember. An atypical move for this high achiever, Grace doesn’t call it off and instead flees Portland to stay with her wife and dodge her ex-military father’s expectations, her struggles with her career in astronomy, and an extreme case of burnout.
But Grace can’t escape those problems for long and has to learn to navigate adulthood despite the mess of it all. A novel that doesn’t shy away from mental health struggles or racial bias in career fields, Honey Girl is both romantic and realistic. Rogers talked to Goodreads contributor Arriel Vinson about her first novel. Their conversation has been edited.
Goodreads: I often hear stories about people getting married in Vegas randomly, but I've never seen it as a premise for a novel. What was the inspiration for Honey Girl?
Morgan Rogers: Honestly, it's just because I came from a foundation of fan fiction and a lot of romantic tropes. I've seen that premise a lot in different fics. And I was like, How would this apply to real people? How would this apply to the real world if you were in a situation like that and that happens? What do you do? And I also wanted to explore what would make someone actually go through with the marriage.
GR: I wondered about that—to get married in Vegas and not call it off immediately was an interesting choice. Can you tell me more about that?
MR: This is something I discovered much later in revisions, but when I thought about why anyone would go to Vegas and get married accidentally, and then not immediately be at the courthouse—or wherever you go in Vegas to annul it—I think you have to have a very deep sense of loneliness, but also a deep sense of not really feeling in control of other things in your life. You have this girl that married you, you have this secret, a relationship that needs to be nurtured. That's something that is in your control. It's a testimony to how out of control Grace feels with everything else. And how even when she's in the midst of her family and friends who love her very much, she still feels alone.
GR: Who would you say your writing influences are?
MR: This is very difficult because there are so many. Toni Morrison obviously is the GOAT. But more recently, I’m thinking of a lot of romance authors. I really admire how people can write romance and plot and make these characters have such incredible arcs. So Christina Lauren, incredible. Rebekah Weatherspoon, Alyssa Cole, Beverly Jenkins. Even though Honey Girl isn't specifically a romance, I draw a lot from that genre because it's what I read the most of. And I think the romance can be applied to so many different aspects of a book.
Honey Girl isn't specifically a romance. How would you categorize it, and what are some of your favorite books in that category?
MR: I would consider Honey Girl a contemporary coming-of-age. So I would say it mirrors a lot of the themes in Queenie. One of the comps was Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, which I definitely see because Casey creates a very wonderful cast, like an ensemble of queer characters and they're similar age ranges. Then I'm going to say One Last Stop is going to be in the same vein. So, I definitely think that, too.
GR: You mentioned Grace's sense of loneliness, and I think the novel really explores what loneliness means for different people and how lonely people gravitate toward one another. How was loneliness a guide for both Grace and her wife/the love interest, Yuki?
MR: For Grace, it was her guide to find Yuki. It's good that she found Yuki, because Yuki's background is in history and Japanese monster folklore. The creatures that Yuki talks about on her radio show are very lonely. Their stories are about creatures or people who are outcasts from mainstream society. They are solitary and have been pushed into the shadows.
So, it was interesting for [Grace and Yuki] to come together and explore loneliness, how loneliness connects them to these stories from different cultures, and how loneliness manifests.
GR: The romance was so mesmerizing. Even though they only spent one night together initially, their connection was palpable. Why did you write two characters who understood each other so much?
MR: Yuki makes a point about how someone's singing a song for you and you hear it. She’s a character who's very open, and that's because of her radio show. So, she's come to recognize these things in different people. Whereas Grace is a person who has become very closed off and a person who pushes things down. It's almost like an opposites attract [scenario]. Yuki draws all of those things out of Grace, whether they be good or bad. She makes them come to the surface.
And Grace is like, Now I have to actually confront these things that I've been pushing down for so long. Because Yuki's not a person who does that or a person who tolerates that in someone else. That's what made me want to connect them—Grace needed that. You can't really have a relationship where one person's baring their soul to faceless listeners and the other person's just like, "Nope, I'm fine. I'm going to keep my head down. I'm going to keep going. I'm going to push through this." It doesn't work.
GR: Between Grace and Yuki, who was more difficult to write? Who did you identify with the most?
MR: I would say Grace was definitely the most difficult to write. I didn't really understand her as a character until maybe the fourth revision, or understand her motivations and what she wanted. And it's strange because, as a Black, queer person, I understand her struggle. That's what I'm writing about. I work in academia. I understand those predominantly white spaces. And I understand getting to this age (me and Grace are the same age), so I understand that lost feeling.
But at the same time, I'm definitely more like Yuki in that I want to explore creative ways to navigate those problems. Yuki and I are both Aquariuses, so we express most things similarly. Yuki is very much a no-bullshit type of person. She wants to look at the things people deem as bad as monstrous, because those words get applied very liberally to many different populations. It's interesting deconstructing what a monster is, who gets that label, and why they get that label. So for me, Yuki was very, very easy to write because [the things she's interested in] are things I'm also interested in. I think that monster label—and I talked with my editor about this when we first started revising—is tied to the queer experience of feeling like you're wrong, feeling like you're doing something wrong, or you don't fit in, or your feelings aren't right.
GR: There’s a romance, not just between Grace and Yuki, but also between Grace and astronomy. Why were both of these relationships so important to the novel?
MR: For Grace, space is a mirror for how she feels about life. She mentions that in the book, when she's talking to her therapist about how things don't break down in space. Space is this glorified, almost romanticized, thing that she got from her mentor. So she sees space as an escape almost. The things up there are so far away, and they don't seem to have the same frustrating problems that people deal with. Even though we're descended from, or made up, of this universe that is so close, it's also so, so, so far away.
I think it's fascinating for her to have that escape and be able to look away from what pulls her down. Because in space, those problems don’t exist. She can be anything, she can do anything. When you're looking at stars and planets and galaxies, they're not wondering who the Black queer woman is. They're just chilling.
GR: So Grace aspires to have a career in astronomy and struggles with having to work even harder because she’s Black. Even though this dynamic tends to be true in most industries, we don’t often see it in novels. What went into your decision to include this conflict?
MR: Like you said, it's a realistic struggle. I'm a person whose workplace is predominantly white, and a lot of Black women are working in fields that are predominantly white. So, it's not a premise I had to think a lot about. It was more of just applying reality to a character.
And I like space a lot. It’s always been one of those hyper-fixations. So I was like, What does it look like when you're a Black woman trying to get into this field? I know how academia works, especially in universities and in higher-ed programs. So what does it look like beyond that? If academia is white, and that's the network you have, what does it look like when you're trying to actually get a job where everyone's white, everyone's cisgender, everyone's straight, and you're not? What does it look like when you're trying to navigate these relationships and get your foot in the door?
GR: Honey Girl is also about Grace battling with the difference between her expectations and her father's, who was in the military. Tell me more about this struggle.
MR: I was thinking a lot about the military’s relationship with Black people, and Black men specifically, who come from low-income neighborhoods and don't have the money to escape these neighborhoods to go to these big colleges and get these high-paying jobs. We've seen evidence that the military preys on people who feel like they have no other options, or have so many debts to pay, or want to take care of their family. These are the people who get recruited aggressively into the military.
So, her dad is a product of this. He came from a very low-income childhood and he didn't have any other options. Unlike Grace, he didn't have parents who could afford to send him to undergrad, help with their master's, help with their PhD. That's a real privilege that Grace has that he didn't. So for him, he's battling that knowledge of “I don't want this for my kid,” but also, he's been in war. He's been disabled by war. He has PTSD from war. He's dealing with all of this while trying to make the best life for his kid.
And it's very difficult. Even for a parent who’s not in the military, it's very difficult. So, you have someone who’s been preyed on, and who’s seen a lot of trauma and violence, and he wants to keep his child very far away from that. Sometimes the actions he takes aren't always the healthiest. And I think Grace realizes that. She thinks her dad is invincible, but he's not. This is a man who is battling his own demons, and he comes down very hard on Grace because he doesn't want what happened to him—and the things that he's going through—to happen to her. He wants her to have a high-paying job and the job and financial security that he didn't have.
GR: Honey Girl also follows Grace's mental health journey. We see self-harm as well as her support system encouraging her to seek professional support. Why was mental health a theme you wanted to tackle in this novel?
MR: It's something that's personal to me and to my friend groups. And it's important that people talk about it because it affects so many people in so many different ways. There are so many different ways to be mentally ill, and so many different ways that it manifests physically and emotionally. There are so many different ways that you can be neurodivergent. So, I wanted it to be very normalized in this book, but also have readers recognize that it's a battle, and that everyone's going through them in their own ways. And the characters don't always win these battles, like Agnes. Sometimes your brain really turns against you, but you don't get to stop. You just have to keep going every single day.
Then also, I wanted to get into the perspective of the Black community and Black women, specifically, not really getting the chance to go to therapy and figure out what's going on. Because we have to be strong all the time. We have to be Black queens and Black excellence, and all these things. We don't get to be depressed. We don't get to be anxious. We don't get to have these nervous tics that cause us to scratch and bleed and recover. We don't get that luxury because we feel like so many people are depending on us.
GR: I love the friendships in this novel. Grace thinks of some of her friends as her siblings, and she’s surrounded by support. Why are platonic friendships just as important as the romantic relationship in Honey Girl?
MR: I’ve always considered chosen or found family to be such an integral part of the queer experience. Because for a lot of us, even if we do have our family, our parents that support us (and a lot of times we don't [have that]), they don't really understand. They're not your age. They're not going out with you in social situations. They can't help you navigate romantic relationships. That community happens with friends. You have to find a community that you can learn from, that welcomes you, that tells you when you're doing things wrong because you can still be toxic and be marginalized.
It's important to find people who understand your experience but who can also show you different ways. Because queerness is so broad and so big and there’s such a varied community. And for Grace, she has these people who are safe. She needs that safe space where she can just be messy, she can be herself, she can cry, she can lean on them. She can mess up, she can make them angry and be angry at them, but they won't leave. It's really important that you have those people. And for her, it's really important as a queer person, and for me as a queer person, to have those relationships. They become your family because these are the people who understand your most intricate experience.
MR: Hopefully my pandemic brain will allow me to read them! The Other Black Girl is one of my top ones. This Close to Okay, which I think is coming out on February 2. I’m definitely looking forward to that.
Elise Bryant's Happily Ever Afters just came out on January 5th, and that's a YA rom-com. I started that, and I have the ARC because we have the same agent. It's just so sweet and charming and such an escape from just the bleak reality that we live in.
Also, The Unbroken by C.L. Clark because I love fantasy and political intrigue.
Last year, I think I read a lot more novellas because they're just so much shorter, and you don't have to get the world explained to you. So, last year I read The Monster of Elendhaven, which I loved.
GR: Is there a book you return to, that you just love?
MR: This is not like Honey Girl in any way, but I try to apply the way these characters are written and the relationships to how I write: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. The way Muir writes fully realized characters who are so strange and weird, and I feel like I have these people in my friend groups, but also I would hate them at the same time. They come off the page. And I try to apply that to how I write characters. I want you to be like, “You know what? I could see this character in my life, and I would hate them, or I would love them, or they will be my friend, or I'd go for a drink with them.” Writing relationships, whether romantic, or rivals, or friendships that feel really, really real. I think that book does a great job of that. I aspire to be able to write like that.