Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Anything Could Happen - A Teen guy is in love with his straight best friend



Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

When you re in love with the wrong person for the right reasons, anything could happen.
Tretch lives in a very small town where everybody's in everybody else's business. Which makes it hard for him to be in love with his straight best friend. For his part, Matt is completely oblivious to the way Tretch feels and Tretch can t tell whether that makes it better or worse.
The problem with living a lie is that the lie can slowly become your life. For Tretch, the problem isn t just with Matt. His family has no idea who he really is and what he's really thinking. The girl at the local bookstore has no clue how off-base her crush on him is. And the guy at school who's a thorn in Tretch's side doesn t realize how close to the truth he's hitting.
Tretch has spent a lot of time dancing alone in his room, but now he's got to step outside his comfort zone and into the wider world. Because like love, a true self can rarely be contained.

This book is a 2016 Lambda Literary Award Finalist. Add your review of "Anything Could Happen" in comments!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Linda Camacho (Prospect Agency): Agent Looking For Diversity

AGENTS AND EDITORS
NEED TO ADVERTISE THEIR INTEREST IN DIVERSITY

That's the idea. And this series is an effort to do just that.

For now we're focusing on agents, and today's post features agent Linda Camacho of the Prospect Agency.

Agent Linda Camacho


Linda's bio:

Linda Camacho joined Prospect Agency in 2015 after nearly a decade in publishing. After graduating from Cornell University, Linda interned at Simon & Schuster and Writers House literary agency, and worked at Penguin before happily settling into children's marketing at Random House. She has an MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

In terms of submissions, she's pretty omnivorous. She enjoys a variety of categories and genres, ranging from picture book to adult, from clean and lighthearted contemporary to edgy and dark fantasy. Her Twitter handle is @LindaRandom.

Our interview:

Lee: Hi Linda! Thanks so much for agreeing to talk about your interest in Diversity in Children's and Teen Literature!

Linda: Thank you for inviting me, Lee! I’ve been a fan for quite sometime, so I’m excited to be included in your amazing lineup of people involved in the discussion.

Lee: Aww, thanks. There's been growing discussion about how the 5,000 or so traditionally published books a year don't reflect the actual diversity of our world, including the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and the stunningly low numbers of representation revealed in "Children's Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States," put out by the CCBC (The Cooperative Children's Book Center.)

To start us off, of the submissions you get, let's say in the past year, how many of those projects included some kind of diversity of characters or theme?

Linda: I get way too many to count, but proportion-wise, I get quite a few submissions featuring diversity of some kind. In my unscientific deduction, I’d say it’s a 60/40 ratio of diverse vs non-diverse, so to speak. I credit that to the fact that I’m a POC (though sadly, not related to Macho Camacho) and that we’ve had a big spike in the diversity conversation the past year or so.

Lee: I love hearing that! Let's unpack that a bit: Are you seeing many stories featuring protagonists of color?

Linda: I am! It tends to be mentioned in query letters, so I do take note of it. The quality of those submissions, I will admit, can vary. Since diversity is a big trend now, I do get the occasional submission where I can tell that a character has been made “diverse” to garner interest. It reads as inauthentic and that’s very disappointing. Token characters are not what I’m looking for. On the flipside, I’ve received more authentic portrayals than not, so I can’t complain too much.

Lee: How about LGBTQ characters, and please break that down - are you seeing lesbian characters? gay? bi? trans? questioning? queer or gender non-conforming?

Linda: I definitely get LGBTQ characters as well. The most diverse submissions I see fall into this category, with a close second being ones featuring protagonists of color. With regards to LGBTQ, if I had to list in descending order of categorical quantity that I receive, it would be: Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Queer/Gender Non-conforming, Questioning, and Trans. These submissions tend to fall into the realistic genre. I’d also really, really like to see them branch into other genres as well, particularly fantasy and horror—and not just as side characters, but as protagonists.

Lee: I'm all for LGBTQ protagonists! How about characters with disabilities?

Linda: Sadly, these are the fewest I receive. One of my clients, a POC with a disability, recently lamented that there just aren’t enough books with disabled characters out in the world. That, of course, is something she and I will certainly be working on. And to other writers whose work features disabled characters, know that your voices are being sought by me and plenty of other agents, so please do submit.

Lee: Everyone reading, take note! Back to Linda, are you seeing other types of diversity in the works submitted? - And please share any specific categories that spring to mind.

Linda: I’m sure I’m missing something, seeing as how diversity can encompass so many things, but occasionally I do get plus-size protagonists. I’m a fat girl who’s always excited when I see a protagonist looks like me, without the plot necessarily revolving around weight loss. I’d love to see more of them across all genres.

Oh, and I recently got a few submissions with religious diversity, so that’s exciting!

Lee: How about the creators? Are you seeing under-represented writers and illustrators submitting to you?

Linda: I’m seeing more under-represented writers submit to me, so that’s promising. Would I love to see that number increase? Yes, absolutely. I’m still building my list, but so far, half of that list includes diverse writers across the board (one of them is Mary Cronin, actually, who was featured on your blog last May for her workshop on Gay (LGBT) & Questioning characters in Middle Grade).

Lee: Mary's workshop sounded amazing! (Here's that link.)

Linda: I’m focusing on my MG, YA, and adult fiction list at this stage, but if a special writer-illustrator catches my eye, I’m game. I have been trying to keep an eye out for under-represented illustrators, which I know editors are hungry for.

Lee: There's a lot of discussion about who has the 'right' to tell the story of an under-represented type of character. What's your take?

Linda: I have clients writing outside of their experience in terms of diversity, and I do like to ensure that they really do their research and to do the best they possibly can. I warn them to expect criticism and to learn from any mistakes they made. Yes, non-diverse (for lack of a better word) writers can certainly write about diversity, but I ask that they be humble and improve with each effort. I’m a Latina, but even though I’m a “diverse” person, I don’t speak for every POC and I certainly don’t get it right all the time. I’m learning as I go, too.

As someone in the publishing industry, I try to remain as open-minded and pragmatic as possible, since I’m all about inclusivity and, well, good business. However, there are times that my Latina side groans when I get yet another border crossing story written by a white person. Reflecting on that, however, I realize that it’s not so much that a white writer can’t write that border crossing story, but if that’s the only story they can think to tell with a latino character, I wonder why, when there are so many stories out there to tell. Therein lies the danger of only one story.

Maybe a better question a non-diverse writer should ask himself when writing that perspective is not can he write that particular story, but should he. If he really feels the answer is yes, since it’s adding to the canon, then they should. I’ve read some tremendous stories written by people who are not necessarily of that experience.

What I would really love to see more of is non-diverse people being allies in not only writing the subject matter, but also in helping those disenfranchised voices tell their own stories. That’s the true need, getting more diverse people access to create their narratives.

Lee: Nicely said. When you're submitting projects to editors, do you think stories with under-represented characters take more 'selling' on your part?

Linda: The diverse market is in an upswing right now, so I’ve seen things sell that wouldn’t have sold a year ago. It’s a trend, what can I say? I have a love/hate relationship with the word “trend,” but there you have it. I feel I can sell a story with an under-represented character more easily in this market. I only hope that it’s a trend that’s here to stay. The idea that it could be a passing fad is a scary prospect and I wonder where we’ll be even a year from now.

Lee: Here's hoping it's a trend like cooked food. That's really caught on. (Apologies to my raw food friends, but it was the best metaphor I could come up with...)

More seriously, I often feel the sense of ‘otherness’ is transferable. That from my own experiences being marginalized (for being Gay, being ill as a teen, being Jewish, being an Atheist, etc…) I feel tremendous empathy for people who are marginalized for other kinds of ‘otherness’ as well.

Can you share what’s driving your desire to see more diversity in Children’s and Teen books?

Linda: I’ve been in publishing ten years now and hadn’t really realized the lack of diversity until a few years ago. It’s a funny thing, how what can seem completely normal can be problematic. I’m a Puerto Rican from the Bronx who went to prep school, then the Ivy League, and eventually, moved into publishing, all the while not questioning being the rare person of color in the room.

When I was working at Random House, I was getting my MFA in children’s writing, so my first semester, I introduced myself to writing instructor Matt de la Peña (whom we published). We had a lovely chat, during which he said it was important to write POC characters and to not be afraid to do so. I hadn’t really thought about it before and considered it for a long time afterward. I’d thought of POC characters as a bonus, not something that we really needed. I’ve learned so much since then. I’m still learning every day. I have to say, it is pretty nice to feel like I exist in books.

Beyond the authors, I’m well aware of how few diverse people are on the publishing side, which is something that I would like to see change over time as well. If you thought it was bad in the publishing houses, it’s even worse on the agenting side. I’ve really come to notice it now that I’m an agent. Also, as a POC writer who’s looking for diverse agents to query, that list is pathetically short. There are some people working to change that, folks like Michael Mejias at Writers House, who makes a concerted effort to recruit diverse candidates for the internship program (he’d recruited me way back when!). At Prospect Agency, I recently noticed that about half of us are POC, which is thrilling. We need more diverse recruitment across the board, so when I see more instances of that, I’ll be very glad.

Lee: Here, Here! Tell us about some books that highlighted or included diversity that you loved and that inspired you (maybe even ones you wish you represented). What’s a Picture Book favorite?

Linda: I really love Lauren Castillo’s Nana in the City, Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson’s Last Stop on Market Street, and Meg Medina’s Mango, Abuela, and Me because they harken back to my Bronx days when my abuela lived with us and would take my sister and me around.

Lee: Middle Grade?

Linda: So many!

· Cece Bell’s El Deafo
· Paolo Bacigalupi’s Zombi Baseball Beatdown
· Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
· Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist
· Alex Gino’s George
· Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.

Lee: Young Adult?

Linda: Yet again, quite a few to choose from!

· Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints
· Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
· Malinda Lo’s Ash
· Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns
· Justine Larbalestier’s Liar
· Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
· Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not
· Sarai Walker’s Dietland

Lee: Okay, here’s your wish list moment. What are you looking for? Put out the call...

Linda: I love so many things. What I can say is that I’m especially looking for stellar middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction across all genres and all aspects of diversity (socio-economic, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, etc.). Like everyone else, I’m looking for a great story that resonates, really. More specifically, though, I’d love a fantasy set in a non-European setting and, of course, a story featuring a plus-size protagonist (contemporary is fine, but bonus points for another genre!)

While I’m only choosing to work on select illustrator projects, if you’re a diverse writer-illustrator, do reach out!

Lee: And for writers and/or illustrators reading this who feel a resonance with what you’ve shared and who want to submit to you, how should they go about that?

Linda: You can query me via the electronic form on Prospect Agency’s submission page (http://www.prospectagency.com/boathouse.html).

Lee: Anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to add?

Linda: Even with the state of diversity of the industry, things are slowly starting to shift. We have some terrific allies, “diverse” and “non-diverse” alike, who are fighting together to change things. I remain hopeful that given more time and more sweat, we can all effect a long-lasting change in publishing.

Lee: Getting the world of Children’s literature to better reflect the diversity of our world -- the world kids today are growing up in -- is so important. Thank you so much for working to make things better!

Linda: It’s something that hits close to home for me, so it’s definitely a pleasure. And thank you for the work you do on your end as well!

Thanks Linda! Look for another AGENT LOOKING FOR DIVERSITY interview on the first Monday of next month. Until then,

Illustrate and Write On!
Lee

Friday, April 29, 2016

Double Exposure - Raised as a boy, Alyx knows she's a girl... But with a body that's ambiguous, every fresh start is a struggle



Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall

Fifteen-year-old Alyx Atlas was raised as a boy, yet she knows something others don’t. She’s a girl. And after her dad dies, it becomes painfully obvious that she must prove it now—to herself and to the world. Born with ambiguous genitalia, Alyx has always felt a little different. But it’s after she sustains a terrible beating behind a 7-Eleven that she and her mother pack up their belongings and move from California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to start a new life—and Alyx begins over again, this time as a girl.

Alyx quickly makes new friends, earns a spot on the girls’ varsity basketball team, and for the first time in her life feels like she fits in. That is, until her prowess on the court proves too much for the jealous, hotheaded Pepper Pitmani, who sets out to uncover Alyx’s secret. A dangerous game of Truth or Dare exposes Alyx’s difference and will disqualify her entire basketball team from competing in the state championships unless Alyx can prove, once and for all, that she is a girl. But will Alyx find the courage to stand up for the truth of her personhood, or will she do what she’s always done—run away? Whatever she decides, she knows there’s much more at stake than a championship win.

This book was a 2015 Lambda Literary Award Finalist. Add your review of "Double Exposure" in comments!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

About A Girl - 'Astronomy Meets Mythology' in this Teen Novel Where Love and Identity Transcend Gender


About A Girl by Sarah McCarry

Eighteen-year-old Tally is absolutely sure of everything: her genius, the love of her adoptive family, the loyalty of her best friend, Shane, and her future career as a Nobel prize-winning astronomer. There's no room in her tidy world for heartbreak or uncertainty or the charismatic, troubled mother who abandoned her soon after she was born. But when a sudden discovery upends her fiercely ordered world, Tally sets out on an unexpected quest to seek out the reclusive musician who may hold the key to her past and instead finds Maddy, an enigmatic and beautiful girl who will unlock the door to her future. The deeper she falls in love with Maddy, the more Tally begins to realize that the universe is bigger and more complicated than she ever imagined. Can Tally face the truth about her family and find her way home in time to save herself from its consequences?


This YA novel, the final book in the author's Metamorphoses trilogy, has been nominated for the 2016 Lambda Literary Award. It's also on the 2016 Rainbow List put out by the ALA, which is where the 'Astronomy meets mythology' quote comes from. 

Add your review of "About A Girl" in comments!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Lizard Radio - It's the future, and 15-year-old Kivali doesn't fit into her gender-rigid culture



Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz

Abandoned as a baby and raised by Sheila, an ardent nonconformist, Kivali has always been surrounded by uncertainty. Where did she come from? Is it true what Sheila says, that she was deposited on Earth by the mysterious saurians? "What are you? "people ask, and Kivali isn t sure. Boy/girl? Human/lizard? Both/neither? Now she's in CropCamp, with all of its schedules and regs, and the first real friends she's ever had. Strange occurrences and complicated relationships raise questions Kivali has never before had to consider. But she has a gift - the power to enter a trancelike state to harness the "knowings" inside her. She has Lizard Radio. Will it be enough to save her?

Parrish Turner's Lambda Literary review called the novel, "...a love letter to genderqueer and gender nonconforming youth." 

Add your review of "Lizard Radio" in comments!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Grace Lin's brilliant TEDx talk: The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child's Bookshelf

I loved this.

As a parent, as a reader, as an adult who had also been a child with no books to mirror who I was back to me.

It turns out the reason Grace writes books for young people, is the same as mine...

Enjoy!




With thanks to my husband and Yapha for the recommendation!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Moving Essay by Alexander London on School Visits and Being A Gay Children's Book Author

This article on BuzzFeed Books,  Alexander London's "Why I Came Out As A Gay Children's Book Author," really resonated. The fear of exposure. The worst-case scenario-ing. The rush of risking honesty. The triumph of being your authentic self, 24/7.





Well worth reading.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Charm School Graphique Vol 1 - A YA Paranormal With a Lesbian Fairy and a Vampire Biker Competing for Good Teen Witch Bunny's Affections



Charm School Graphique Vol 1. by Elizabeth Watasin

On the very edges of the unknown lies the Twilight World, where monsters and magical people wickedly meet.

Little Salem teems with hotrods, malt shops, ghouls, and devil girls. Good, teen witch Bunny has a perfectly bad girlfriend in vampire biker Dean, until a dark, and very insistent lesbian fairy comes along. Can Bunny resist Fairer Than's charms? And when she does, what will Fairer Than (and Dean), do about it?

This book was self-published by the author, whose indy comic "Charm School" was published by SLG Publishing. Elizabeth is now bringing the series back under her own label, with new illustrations and materials. 

Add your review of "Charm School Graphique Vol 1" in comments!

Friday, April 15, 2016

So Many Flowers, and Dragonflies - Thoughts on the Day of Silence

Yesterday I went for a short hike.

Some of the flowers I've been seeing

It's been raining a bit more than usual, and the Santa Monica Mountains where I normally go are blooming with Spring. I've been noticing all the flowers, and taking lots of photos, but this time, what I noticed were how many different kinds and colors of butterflies and dragonflies were enjoying all the flowers, too.

In less than a half-hour I saw three different kinds of dragonflies: some were orange-rust, others electric blue, and one seemed like liquid silver.

And it reminded me of this great point Jennifer Bryan made:

We celebrate diversity in nature so easily.

We need to get to where we're doing that same thing with other human beings, too.

So today, let's be thoughtful. Let's use the power of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. And then, every other day of the year, let's raise our voices to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior!

You can find our more about the Day of Silence here.

Thanks for joining with me,
Lee

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Highlights from the 2016 LA Times Festival of Books

It's always a great festival, and I was thrilled to be part of it again this year! Some of my highlights:

arriving Saturday monring!




How teens can "feel everything too much," like the character Rachel said in the TV show Glee. - Aaron Hartzler

The Young Adult Fiction: Putting the Story in HISTORY panel, with (left to right) Aaron Hartzler, Monica Hesse, Laura Amy Schlitz and Ruta Sepetys
 

What determines why certain stories of history get preserved?" - Ruta Sepetys

My Saturday Picture Book panel, Children's Books: Pictures On The Page with, (left to right) Jose Lozano, Eliza Wheeler, Me (Standing), Dan Santat and Nikki McClure.

For his picture books, Dan Santat illustrates the entire book without words, and only then, once the story is working, does he add text, making sure the text isn't duplicating what the images have already said.

On the pressure of creating after winning the Caldecott, "You have to get the good ones out, and you have to get the bad ones out." - Dan Santat

José Lozano talking about his art in galleries and decorating a new subway station and now in two picture books.

Her strategy after landing on the New York Times Best-seller list: "Get Better. Grow." - Eliza Wheeler

"Don't wait for the call. Make it. Shape it." - Nikki McClure, on self-pubbing her first picture book at the copy machine at Kinkos.

Joel Arquillos (left) interviewing Kwame Alexander


A 14-year-old boy telling Kwame Alexander, "Man, I don't even like books, but I couldn't put yours down." was like winning another Newbery Award. As Kwame said, "The real award for this book is how it's connecting with young people."

"I don't write for kids... I write for me... I write for all of us." - Kwame Alexander

On how the book "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" influenced him, the idea that as educators, we're "Not filling empty heads, but helping kids find their voices." - Joel Arquillos

"Sometimes saying no to someone else is saying yes to yourself." - Kwame Alexander

"Students will take risks when they see us take risks as educators." - Kwame Alexander

My Sunday debut picture book panel, Picture This: Silly Stories and the Art of Children's Books with (left to right) Dev Petty, Greg Danylyshyn, Joey Chou and Ruth Chan

Debut picture book author Dev Petty on her passion for writing "books with animals with existential crises."

Debut picture book illustrator Joey Chou on how he got his big break (and his agent) - Well, I was at ComicCon...

Debut picture book author Greg Danylyshyn speaking of the many drafts of his rhyming picture book before he got it right.

Check out SCBWI - Debut author/illustrator Ruth Chan's advice to an aspiring picture book creator.


The SCBWI booth with local authors and illustrators signing




and hey, even the USC marching band!

Hurray for Book Festivals!

And thanks to the organizers --and over 1,100 volunteers -- of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books!


Monday, April 11, 2016

This Friday April 15, 2016 is the DAY OF SILENCE - What Will YOU Do To End The Silence?



"The GLSEN Day of Silence is a student-led national event that brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. Students from middle school to college take a vow of silence in an effort to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior by illustrating the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT."

GLSEN offers some great resources, like their "Tips for the Last-Minute Organizer"

Three ideas that were really good:

Wear Your Support
Wear a Day of Silence button, shirt or sticker if your school allows it. If need be, you can make and wear your own Day of Silence t-shirt, make a rainbow ribbon pin, or just wear the color red. Each person who learns about the Day of Silence may be a supportive ally in organizing the project next year...

Have a Silent Lunch
Ask some friends or school groups to join you and gather at a table or area for a silent lunch to recognize the Day of Silence. The next day, spend some time discussing how you feel LGBT students and their allies are silenced because of harassment, discrimination and abuse, and brainstorm ways you can help end the silence.

Get Creative
Use the Day of Silence as a topic for your schoolwork. For example, you can write a paper on non-violent protest for your civics class, about the impact of social justice movements for American government, or a story about bullying for creative writing.

Find out more at the GLSEN Day of Silence Website here.

How about you? What will you do to help end the silence about anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools?


Friday, April 8, 2016

Jacob, King of Portalia - Middle Grade Gay Fantasy



Jacob, King of Portalia by Casey Clubb

Jacob is the only one who can protect us all from a vengeful lunatic. But Jacob’s a tiny sixth grader who’s scared of his own shadow. And his only known talent is hiding. A misfit in his own home, a boy out of place in his own skin, Jacob has been hiding all his life—in his head, or behind his only friend. His kind of different just isn’t accepted. He thought hiding would keep him safe. But he was wrong. For Jacob’s hiding has buried more than one truth, more than one secret. Including a destiny and a duty that are his to fulfill. And a powerful talent. One that could doom his people. Or save them…if he can find the courage to stop hiding from the thing that terrifies him the most—the truth about who he is: A boy who likes boys. A boy with a destiny foretold in an ancient legend. A boy whose love could save us all.

Add your review of "Jacob, King of Portalia" in comments!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Come To My Window – Two Teen Girls Start A Secret Relationship Across A Narrow Alley In New York City



Come To My Window by Mia Kerick

Justine Laraby and Kemina Lopez are intimate acquaintances yet they have never exchanged so much as a single word. For months, high school senior Justine, and famed model, “Kemina, the Baby Vixen” of Nightingale Lingerie, have been peering at each other across a narrow alley between brownstones in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This mutual observation soon turns into the exchange of handwritten messages on signs they hold up whenever they come to their bedroom windows. Via this “sign language,” a friendship grows, and Justine learns that Kemina is, like her, a high school senior, but with a controlling mother and a modeling career that requires her to maintain an unnaturally thin physique. And through the window, she also witnesses her new friend exercising fanatically, hoarding food, and being physically and emotionally abused by her ambitious mother.

Window messages evolve into clandestine meetings and soon a tentative romance blooms. But Justine must come to terms with her own “mommy issues,” as well as accept her gender identity and sexual orientation, before she can provide Kemina with the support she needs to survive a family life that resembles a ruthless business transaction.

Will Justine be strong enough to throw open the window so Kemina can escape society’s suffocating expectations?

This book was self-published by the author, who has had many gay male teen novels traditionally published. 

Add your review of "Come To My Window" in comments!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Linda Epstein (Emerald City Literary Agency): Agent Looking For Diversity

AGENTS AND EDITORS
NEED TO ADVERTISE THEIR INTEREST IN DIVERSITY

That's the idea. And this series is an effort to do just that.

For now, we're focusing on agents, and today's post features agent Linda P. Epstein of Emerald City Literary Agency.


Agent Linda Epstein


Here's Linda's bio:
Linda Epstein has been a literary agent since 2011. She joined Emerald City Literary Agency in 2016, representing picture books, and middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction. Prior to that she was at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency for 4 ½ years. Linda speaks at writing conferences throughout North America and you can find her all over the Internet, at her agency website EmeraldCityLiterary.com on Facebook, on Twitter @LindaEpstein, and talking about writing and publishing on her blog theblabbermouthblog.com.


And here's our interview:

Lee: Hi Linda! Thanks so much for agreeing to talk about your interest in Diversity in Children's and Teen Literature!

Linda: Hey there, Lee! Thank you so much for the opportunity. It’s truly my pleasure.

Lee: There's been growing discussion about how the 5,000 or so traditionally published books a year don't reflect the actual diversity of our world, including the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and the stunningly low numbers of representation revealed in "Children's Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States," put out by the CCBC (The Cooperative Children's Book Center.)

To start us off, of the submissions you get, let's say in the past year, how many of those projects included some kind of diversity of characters or theme?

Linda: First of all, can we have some applause for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement?! I’m hopeful that this focus of attention on the lack of diversity in traditional publishing will make a difference. I think it’s important to make sure forward movement occurs, and that it’s not just talk and hashtags. As agents are the first “gatekeeper” in the traditional publishing world, I’m trying to do my part to attract and encourage projects with diversity of characters or theme, and written by diverse authors. But to answer your question, I think only about 3 or 4% of the new projects that come my way could be categorized as “diverse.” Which is frustrating, given my commitments.

Lee: Let's unpack that more: Are you seeing many stories featuring protagonists of color?

Linda: Not so much. In the last year I probably only got a handful of submissions that included Hispanic or Latino characters, and then maybe another handful of submissions with Asian characters. I rarely get any submissions with African American main characters. Mostly I see people of color cast as peripheral characters, like my black best friend, that Chinese girl in class, or the Puerto Rican kid down the block.

I’ve tried to let writers know I want to see more stories in my inbox where the protagonist is a person of color, that this is something important to me, but I haven’t been very successful. I’ll have to figure out some other ways to attract those kinds of submissions.

Lee: Here's hoping this interview will help! How about LGBTQ characters, and please break that down - are you seeing lesbian characters? gay? bi? trans*? questioning? queer or gender non-conforming?

Linda: I’m more successful in this area. Perhaps this is because LGBTQ writers know I represent Lambda and Stonewall book award winning author Bill Konigsberg? Of the submissions that can be put in this category, in the past year I’d say I get mostly stuff by and about gay males. After that would be lesbian and bi girls, in about equal numbers. I can’t recall if I’ve gotten any submissions with a trans, questioning, or gender non-conforming character, which shows how few of these have ever come my way. I currently represent three clients who specifically write about LGBTQ characters, and who identify as one of those letters. That’s not the reason I initially took any of them on as clients though. For me, it always always always comes down to the story. These are authors who are writing great stories, and who know their craft.

Lee: I was so happy for Bill and his recent win! Congrats to you both. How about characters with disabilities?

Linda: I get very few submissions about characters with things that could be labeled a disability. I get so uncomfortable with the “disability” label. For example, say you’ve lost your leg. You have a prosthetic limb that you’re comfortable with. You do all the things that you like to do, and are even on the track team at school. I mean, you might think it sucks that you need to use a prosthetic, but you also might not consider yourself disabled. To me, disabled implies not working at full capacity or in some way handicapped. And perhaps some people with a prosthetic limb would fall into that category, but certainly not everyone. I’ve heard the term “differently abled” used, but that sounds so clunky. I think we’ve got to come up with a better moniker for this.

Lee: Are you seeing other types of diversity in the works submitted? - And please share any specific categories that spring to mind.

Linda: Not so much. I do get some submissions of stories that either touch upon or include characters on the autistic spectrum.

Lee: How about the creators? Are you seeing under-represented writers and illustrators submitting to you?

Linda: I don’t think so. Or, if I am, they aren’t identifying themselves as such. I mean, how would I know? I really want my list to be more diverse but it seems like I get very few under-represented writers or illustrators submitting to me. I think.

Lee:There's a lot of discussion about who has the 'right' to tell the story of an under-represented type of character. What's your take?

Linda: I believe that writers, as artists, are free to write about whatever they’d like. I don’t think one has to live a particular experience, or be labeled a particular thing (whether that’s based on gender, sexual orientation, race, lived experience, or something else…) to tell the story of a traditionally under-represented type of character. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to do one’s best at getting it “right.” That, of course, can be the difficult part.

Lee: When you're submitting projects to editors, do you think stories with under-represented characters take more 'selling' on your part?

Linda: Most of my experience with this has been in submitting LGBTQ projects, and I’d have to say no, it doesn’t take more selling. This has changed though. I’ve only been in the publishing industry for seven years, but when I first got into the business LGBTQ projects were still considered “niche.” That’s not the case any longer, which I’m so happy about.

Lee: Here I have to interject with a "YAY!"

Linda: It’s also been a positive selling point when I’ve had the opportunity to pitch some of my client’s projects and say something like, “This story includes ethnically and racially diverse characters.” The editors that I know are looking to publish books that more accurately reflect the diversity of our world.

Lee: I often feel the sense of ‘otherness’ is transferable. That from my own experiences being marginalized (for being Gay, being ill as a teen, being Jewish, being an Atheist, etc…) I feel tremendous empathy for people who are marginalized for other kinds of ‘otherness’ as well.
Can you share what’s driving your desire to see more diversity in Children’s and Teen books?

Linda: This is kind of a funny question. I mean, I get it… I really do. I guess I’ve felt like an outsider in some ways, and at times I’ve felt marginalized for various reasons, but I’m not sure that those feelings have anything to do with why I’m committed to diversity in literature. Someone once said to me, “You’re not black, you’re not gay. Why do you care so much?” I had to laugh. I don’t really need a reason to be committed to diversity in literature, or a reason why I care, do I? I just care. Maybe what drives my desire to see more diversity in Children’s and Teen books is my personal commitment to do my part to make the world a better place. I know the world will be a better place when all different kinds of voices can be heard, telling all different kinds of stories. It’s way more interesting that way, don’t you think?

Lee: Yes, I do. Well said.

Tell us about some books that highlighted or included diversity that you loved and that inspired you (maybe even ones you wish you represented). What’s a Picture Book favorite?

Linda: I don’t know if this would traditionally be considered a “diverse” book, but Munro Leaf’s FERDINAND is an all time favorite of mine. I find it inspiring because it’s about a character who lives his life true to who he is. It’s not specifically about what we're talking about when we talk about diversity, and yet… Also it’s about being peaceful. I must have read Mem Fox’s WHOEVER YOU ARE to my own children about a thousand times when they were little. I loved reading it because it goes for a global perspective of humanity, uniting us as a human family. Another favorite picture book is Chris Raschka’s CHARLIE PARKER PLAYED BE BOP, because I love the pictures and the musicality of the text.

Lee: Middle Grade?

Linda: I was blown away by Holly Goldberg Sloan’s COUNTING BY 7’s. That’s one I wish I’d repped. And like so many other people, I really loved Cece Bell’s graphic memoir, EL DEAFO.

Lee: Young Adult?

Linda: Well, I’m lucky enough to be able to brag that I represent Bill Konigsberg, and quite honestly I’m one of his biggest fans! If you haven’t read THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH, get on it. For me, it hits all the right notes: friendship, family, spirituality, history. It’s SO good. A couple of YA books that I’ve particularly enjoyed, by people I don’t represent, are Jandy Nelson’s I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN and Malinda Lo’s ASH. Both were terrific.

Lee: Okay, here’s your wish list moment. What are you looking for? Put out the call...

Linda: Like many other agents and editors, I find this such a difficult question to answer, because I really just want to say, “Something different!” And how do I know what that is, until it comes to my in-box? That being said, I can specifically say that I’d like to rep more racially and culturally diverse stories and I’d like to rep racially and culturally diverse authors. I’m on the lookout for diversity, in general. My client list is currently full of extraordinary writers, writing quirky, interesting, funny, challenging, entertaining, sometimes even important stories. I guess my wish list is for more of that!

Lee: And for writers and/or illustrators reading this who feel a resonance with what you’ve shared and who want to submit to you, how should they go about that?

Linda: They should follow the submission guidelines on my agency’s website (Emerald City Literary agency) or my blog (theblabbermouthblog.com), and send queries to QueryLinda (at) EmeraldCityLiterary.com. I suppose it would be helpful if they want to mention in their query if they identify themselves as part of an under-represented community. Of course that won’t guarantee that I’ll take them on as a client, but I’ll be honest, I will give their work a closer look. 

Lee: Getting the world of Children’s literature to better reflect the diversity of our world -- the world kids today are growing up in -- is so important. Thank you so much for working to make things better!

Linda: Thank you, Lee, for giving me the opportunity to let people know I want to see more submissions by and about all kinds of people. Bring ‘em on!


Thanks again, Linda! Look for another AGENT LOOKING FOR DIVERSITY interview on the first Monday of next month. Until then,

Illustrate and Write On!
Lee

Friday, April 1, 2016

"George" is Really Melissa - but how can she be herself? A Young and Very Well Done Middle Grade Trans Story



George by Alex Gino
When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl.
George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be "Charlotte's Web." George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part . . . because she's a boy.
With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte -- but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

This middle grade novel won the Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children’s STONEWALL Award! Now you can add your review of "George" in comments!