Interview: Emery Lee wants to give queer readers what they deserve

Meet Cute Diary author Emery Lee. Image courtesy Spark Point Studio, Emery Lee
Meet Cute Diary author Emery Lee. Image courtesy Spark Point Studio, Emery Lee /

In Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee, every trans teen gets the happy ending they have never seen before, thanks to Noah Ramirez, author of the eponymous blog. While Noah just wants to inspire hope and happy-ever-afters, his world soon comes crashing down when some trolls discover the Meet Cute diary is fake.

Thankfully, Noah meets Drew, a dreamy bookseller who is more than happy to pretend to be Noah’s boyfriend to appease the Internet and get the Diary back on track.

But as their relationship begins to blur the lines between real and fake, Noah meets someone else, a trans teen from his past with whom he shares a deep connection, and things are more confusing than ever, including the future of the Diary.

You can read our full review of Meet Cute Diary here, but in the meantime, Culturess sat down with Lee to discuss fanfiction tropes, meet-cutes, and the magic of making happiness. You can get your copy of Meet Cute Diary now wherever books are sold.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Culturess:  The Meet Cute Diary (both within the novel, and the novel itself) is such a fun and clever concept. How did you come up with the premise?

Emery Lee:  Thank you! It all started with an ice cream shop, actually. A friend and I were on a road trip where we stopped in Colorado, and while we were there, we went to this super cute ice cream shop, and she bumped into this guy, and all I could think was “if this were a story, that would’ve been the perfect meet-cute”.

Then it all just spiraled into this idea of a teenager who would look around at all these real-life moments that were almost meet-cutes and turn them into full stories.

Culturess:  By virtue of the book’s structure, there are several meet-cutes throughout the novel. Was it hard to come up with them? Which was your favorite and why?

Lee:  They were all actually pretty easy to come up with, and I think that was largely because, like Noah, I have an over-active imagination and come up with fake stories out of day-to-day occurrences all the time.

My personal favorite is probably still the ice cream shop meet cute though just because it was so blatantly based on my real-life experience that it has a special place in my heart.

Culturess:  Meet Cute Diary seems to be in conversation with tropes and fanfiction. What were you wanting to convey by utilizing such well-known and beloved beats?

Lee:  As an ex-fan fiction writer, part of it was just me thinking about what gets me excited about a story and wanting to play around with all of that.

I used to dig through looking for as many stories as I could find that utilized my favorite tropes, and I think tropes are just a really good and easy way to get invested in a story when you don’t know why you should care about the characters yet.

But I also wanted to play around with the way tropes are both super fun in fiction but also not something we can really hope for in real life. I wanted to take some of the clichés out of some popular tropes and kind of give a more realistic twist on them while still giving readers the fun journey of a trope-y romcom.

Culturess:  Noah, the protagonist, seems to be idealistic and naïve to a fault, while also somewhat closed off to the world around him. How did you settle on his character and why?

Lee:  That’s who I was in high school! I’ve always been a big dreamer and a huge lover of happily-ever-afters, but I think a lot of marginalized teens tend to get really jaded when it comes to romance because it’s so hard to feel accepted in our little corners of the world.

When you spend all day at a school where you’re an outsider and nobody looks like you and you’re seen as “undateable” because you don’t match up to the beauty standards there, it becomes really hard to open yourself up to love and friendship even when that’s all you really want.

So I basically knew I wanted Noah to be a dreamer and a hopeless romantic and that element of him was really necessary to drive the story, but I also wanted it to feel realistic for me, so that meant showing the contrast between wanting something so strongly but also being afraid or insecure that you’ll never have it.

Culturess:  Like many romance-obsessed teens, Noah thinks he’s an expert on love but soon finds out why that isn’t the case. What do you want readers to take away from Noah’s experiences and mistakes?

Lee:  Noah’s story is all about surrendering control, and I think that’s something I want readers, especially teens, to kind of keep in mind.

We get all these messages that romance should happen in a certain way, by a certain age, with a certain person, and then when we miss those marks, we start to feel dejected or think that we’re running out of time or we’re never going to have this thing that we want so badly.

Noah’s story is about realizing that trying to steer every element of your story isn’t really possible and that the best things happen to come when you take a step back and let things happen naturally.

So I want readers to know that they have the ability to build their own happiness, but that sometimes means letting go a little and letting life guide you.

Culturess:  This is one of the first books I’ve read that handles identity regarding changing pronouns so thoughtfully and deftly. What led you to include this and what do you want young readers to take away from this part of the story?

Lee:  I included it because it happens. If all you know about queerness or identity or gender is what you find in books or learn from media, there are typically two really common narratives—I always knew or I don’t like labels. And while both of these are fine, in my experience, they’re relatively rare.

Most people I know start with one label and jump through so many before they finally feel comfortable, and even then, they might change them later, and I just never really see that in fiction.

I wanted to just lay it out there, like, yes, you can totally have known who you were since you were three, but also, you might not, and that’s also totally normal and totally okay, and you can change as much as you want or need to.

Life is all about change, and queerness is all about not conforming to rules of rigidity, so if that means you want to change pronouns or identities or any of the above, you are absolutely allowed to do that, and people should treat you with respect and love as you navigate that.

I want young readers to know that they’re not weird or a burden for doing any of that. Just like Noah easily bounces from pronoun to pronoun to help Devin feel comfortable, the people in your life should do that for you. That’s what you deserve.

Next. Meet Cute Diary is a sweet and fun champion for trans love stories. dark

Meet Cute Diary is available now wherever books are sold. Let us know if you add it to your TBR pile.