The B-Side of Daniel Garneau (Guernica Editions) is the final instalment in David Kingston Yeh's iconic trilogy exploring queer love in Toronto, which started with A Boy at the Edge of the World (2018) and Tales from the Bottom of My Sole (2020).
Boyfriends Daniel and David return to the pages, delighting readers with their adventures in love, family, queer identity, urban living, and young adult life. We meet the two again as David begins the process to donate sperm so his brother can have a baby, and as Daniel, just about to graduate from medical school, decides to propose. Then, a publicity-magnet of a new exhibit from Daniel's celebrity ex creates tension in an already chaotic time.
Smart, funny, and incisive, Yeh's newest novel shines with his ability to create rollicking stories even while he explores urgent and essential themes of selfhood and chosen families.
We spoke to David about the bittersweet wrap up of such a massive creative undertaking and what it means to be writing queer literature in a time of increasing book bans and censorship. He told us about how humour can be a powerful tool for disruption, why he wants to do for Toronto "what John Hughes did for Chicago", and how a quote from Cézanne informed both his writing the novel and his outlook on life.
Do you remember how your first started this novel or the very first bit of writing you did for it?
David Kingston Yeh:
The B-Side of Daniel Garneau is the final, stand-alone novel in a three-book series, the Boy at the Edge Trilogy – exploring queer sex, love, and relationships in Toronto. I started this third novel wanting to explore the intersections of masculinity, intimacy, and fatherhood (and also non-traditional families). The “B-Side” in the title refers to the everyday “behind-the-scenes” moments of our lives – this includes male vulnerability. Different characters challenge conventions or stereotypes of what it means to be a man. I remember writing the very first line: “Gay love is so punk rock.” Although I keep a light tone, I am still writing to disrupt. Using humour can disarm people, and then they are more open to receiving more serious messages. At a time when LGBTQ+ books are being banned in libraries and schools, promoting queer literature (especially for a New Adult readership where themes of sex and sexuality may be addressed in a more mature and explicit manner) is both an act of defiance and hope. I’m grateful for my publisher Guernica Editions for supporting marginalized voices from all walks of life – publishing “books that push limits and tear down borders.”
Did the ending of your novel change at all through your drafts? If so, how?
I knew that the ending would need to resolve the major trauma in Daniel’s life: the death of his parents when he was ten. Daniel Garneau celebrates his 26th birthday halfway through the novel – for sixteen years this family tragedy has haunted him. Our memories are constantly fragmenting and reforming themselves. Our identities are always in flux as we reintegrate our past in new ways. Our brains only finish developing and maturing by our mid-to-late twenties. My ending needed Daniel to reach this point – when he is finally able to fully grasp the meaning of the life that he has lived. Initially, working towards this resolution, I wrote a great number of flashback scenes. But I only kept two of them fully intact in the end. The rest I disassembled and scattered in bits and pieces across the narrative in the present time. I felt this was a more realistic depiction of how we engage the past. Ironically, near the end of the novel, it is a visit to his parents’ gravesite that propels Daniel into the future. The philosopher Heidegger asserts that only by being-towards-death may we achieve genuine freedom and resolve in life. Only when we stop running from our mortality, do we become truly alive. I don’t think this is a spoiler if I say that Daniel achieves this in the end.
If you had to describe your book in one sentence, what would you say?
The B-Side of Daniel Garneau is a carnival ride. :)
Your CanLit News
Subscribe to Open Book’s newsletter to get local book events, literary content, writing tips, and more in your inbox
What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?
I wrote this novel during the COVID-19 pandemic; during this time, I was also packing up my parents’ home for sale. Every morning I would wake up and write for a few hours before beginning my chores for the day. This process was more than a pleasant escape. Even as I was closing down one real part of my life, I was opening up the lives of my characters to new possibilities. All my major characters are drawn backwards towards their past (whether by defiance, nostalgia or grief). But what anchors them in the present is their connection with each other, their friendships and family bonds. There’s a favorite moment of mine when Daniel and company are canoeing down the Don River through the heart of Toronto – and the whole world is in motion, alive and bright. Near the end of the novel, I write a scene where they’re dancing together. It is all that they are doing. And it is everything. Being in the moment is what allows us to step forward. Packing up and saying goodbye to my childhood home might have been a painful passage – but because I was writing through it all, it was also a time of connection, hope and joy. During this intense period of isolation and personal loss, writing B-Side was a bridge to the real world for me. It allowed me to connect with the future.
Who did you dedicate your novel to, and why?
I dedicated this novel to city of Toronto. I grew up in Kingston, Ontario; it’s where I spent my childhood and went to university. I’ll always have fond memories of Kingston – but as a queer racialized person I also always felt detached from it. I arrived in Toronto in my early twenties to attend theatre school, and never left. Toronto is where I found community, came out, met my partner, built a career. For the better part of my life, Toronto has been my muse, my mentor and my home. This is the most multicultural city in the world. In my books, I’ve tried to capture the richness of Toronto’s diversity, its colourful neighbourhoods and beloved locales, its tumultuous arts and cultural scene. I wanted to do for Toronto what Armistead Maupin did for San Francisco, or what John Hughes did for Chicago. Daniel’s story is my love letter to this city.
Did you include an epigraph in your book? If so, how did you choose it and how does it relate to the narrative?
My epigraph is a quote by Paul Cézanne: “We live in a rainbow of chaos.” Cézanne was heavily influenced by Romanticism, a movement that celebrated intense emotions, imagination, and the aesthetic experience; he also lived during the Belle Époque, a time of tremendous optimism and faith in humanity. Daniel Garneau’s boyfriend David has Cézanne’s words tattooed over his heart. How do we begin to make sense of a postmodern world today fractured by social media, identity politics and culture wars? We can shutter our windows and entrench ourselves. Or we can open up our bodies, identities, and relations to new ways of being, and embrace the fullness of the horizon. Komorebi is the Japanese word for “sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees” – it is the ephemeral interplay of darkness and light. When life becomes ephemeral, it becomes precious. Then life’s beauty in all its colours shines forth.
What if, anything, did you learn from writing this novel?
I’ve learned that writing well means letting go of expectations – that creating strong characters means stepping aside to let them breathe and come alive. At the same time, the writer has an aesthetic responsibility to shape what emerges. So I’ve learned to be a companion to my characters, and sometimes a guide. Kirkus Reviews categorizes The B-Side of Daniel Garneau as literary fiction, which is a departure from how my writing has been labeled in the past – and speaks to how I’ve leaned into more introspective, character-driven story-telling. After three novels, I’ve learned that writing is as much a discipline as it is an art – and that freedom lies on the other side.
David Kingston Yeh has worked twenty years as a counsellor and educator in Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community. He holds his MA in sociology from Queen’s University, is an alumnus of George Brown Theatre School, and attended Advanced Graduate Studies in Expressive Arts in Saas Fee, Switzerland. David lives in downtown Toronto up the street from a circus academy, along with his husband and a family of racoons. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines. David is the author of three novels exploring queer identities and relationships.