Friday, February 5, 2016

Vivaldi In The Dark - Jayden Falls In Love With Darren, A Troubled Violinist



Vivaldi In The Dark by Matthew J. Metzger

Sixteen-year-old Jayden falls in love with Darren Peace, a troubled violinist who is both everything Jayden wants, and everything he doesn’t: his brilliance is tempered by severe depression that gets worse the more he is forced to play. Jayden is torn between knowing he can’t help, and desperately wanting to regardless – until a mugging that goes wrong gives him the chance to change everything.

Add your review of "Vivaldi In The Dark" in comments!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! - Nate's Broadway Dreams Are Coming True (And this Middle Grade Book Won the Lambda Literary Award!)



Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

It's the sequel to "Better Nate Than Ever," and this time...
Nate Foster's Broadway Dreams are FINALLY coming true. Armed with a one-way ticket to New York City, small-town theater geek Nate is off to start rehearsals for E.T.: The Musical. It's everything he ever practiced his autograph for! But as thrilling as Broadway is, rehearsals--full of intimidating child stars, cutthroat understudies, and a director who can't even remember Nate's name--are nothing like Nate expects.

Now, as the countdown to opening night is starting to feel more like a ticking time bomb, Nate is going to need more than his lucky rabbit's foot if he ever wants to see his name in lights. He may even need a show-biz miracle.

Check out the fun 'behind the story' video with Tim here:

 


Add your review of "Five, Six, Seven, Nate!" in comments!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Thao Le (Sandra Dijkstra & Associates 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 Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra & Associates Literary Agency.

Agent Thao Le

Thao's bio:
THAO LE handles the financials and select contracts at the Dijkstra Agency. She is also an agent.
She is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego with a double major in Econ-Management Science and Chinese Studies. While interning at the agency during college, she realized where her true love lies — books — and joined the agency full-time in the spring of 2011.

Thao is currently looking for: Adult Sci-fi/Fantasy, Young Adult, Middle Grade, and is selectively open to Romance/New Adult, and Picture Books by authors who are also illustrators.
For Adult and YA SF/F, she enjoys stories rooted in mythology, fairytales, and legends with atmospheric settings and strong world building. For contemporary YA, she’s seeking witty, heartfelt writing with an authentic teen voice. Think Stephanie Perkins, Jenny Han, or Sarah Dessen. For Middle Grade, she’s looking for fantastic adventures and clever heroes/heroines the likes of Lemon Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, and Soman Chainani’s School of Good and Evil. She’s a fan of picture books by Jon Klassen, Kate Beaton, Cale Atkinson, and Liz Climo and would like to add picture books in the same vein to her list. For Romance and New Adult, she’s drawn to strong, memorable characters whose individual journeys brings them together. She’s particularly seeking unique historical romance and speculative romance similar to Gail Carrier’s Parasol Protectorate series. She also loves magic realism and beautiful literary writing with a commercial hook. She is always on the lookout for more diversity and LGBTQ stories.


And our interview:

Lee: Hi Thao!

Thao: Hi Lee!

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

Thao: I’m excited to be chatting with you! Diversity is an important and personal topic for me so I’m glad it’s gaining more attention.

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?

Thao: This is really difficult to accurately answer since I get so many submissions it’s hard to keep track of what is what and at what percentage. That said, I do believe that the number of submissions featuring diverse characters and themes are slowly rising. I think a lot of that is thanks to movements like #DiversityInYA and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. It also helps that I am getting more vocal about saying I want to see diverse stories, specifically making it one of my MSWL items, and I think being a POC myself makes me more approachable with these types of queries.

Lee: Interesting. Let's unpack that a bit: Are you seeing many stories featuring protagonists of color?

Thao: I am seeing a few, though I’m finding that the stories are often written by non-POC writers. Which is fine, but I’d love to see more from writers who come from different cultures. A lot of the stories I get that feature POC have a plot that deals with racism or discrimination directly. This can be done well, but I want POC writers and readers to know that they can have stories about romance, adventure, and magic too. I think it is important that POC authors feel like they can write stories beyond about being POC or POC issues and POC readers can see themselves reflected in all sorts of stories. I particularly want to see more SFF stories featuring diverse protagonists.

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

Thao: I’m definitely seeing more LGBTQ characters. This is probably the fastest growing group of diversity in fiction from what I can see. I get quite a few lesbian and gay submissions, but I notice very few bi or trans stories. Similar to what I said earlier about the POC topic, I’d like to see more stories featuring LGBTQ characters who go beyond dealing with their sexuality, beyond coming out or being confused. I want to see them go into space, I want to see them fight monsters, I want to see them compete in intense debate competitions and everything in between.

Lee: Oh, Space monsters! Awesome, yeah. I want to read that.

How about characters with disabilities?

Thao: Of the three, I’ve gotten this the least. I’ve received a small handful of queries about characters with mental disabilities, but not many about physical disabilities. One of the things I really like about the How To Train Your Dragon movies was that they dealt with physical disability in such a candid way. Does it affect the way the character lives his life? Sure, but I never felt like the character’s disability controlled the story. I’m always looking for stories that present new insight and new perspectives. Also Furiosa from the new Mad Max movie is my favorite. Bring on more badass ladies like her (prosthetic limbs and all)!

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

Thao: I’m seeing more combinations of diversity which is awesome. It’s great to see more than one diversity being represented in a character because that’s how it is in real life. People aren’t just one thing and no one thing defines them.

Lee: Wait! That's so important I have to call that out, so everyone hears that again:

"People aren't just one thing and no one thing defines them."

Thao: I want to see more characters who are POC, who are LGBTQ, who are disabled, who are a combination of all these things without the story being a big red arrow pointing at all these issues. I’m also seeing more stories featuring heroines who are plus size and stories that feel more feminist which makes me really happy.

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

Thao: Not enough! For picture books, I actually chase illustrators whose work I’ve discovered through etsy, tumblr, etc. Many of whom are from cultural diverse backgrounds or based overseas. My agency works with a lot of international authors. On the novel side of things, I think diverse writers should feel they can write about things beyond their own culture. For instance, a Hispanic author should feel okay writing about non-Hispanic people and not feel pigeon-holed into just writing just Hispanic stories. I think the important thing is when writing about a culture that is not your own, do it respectfully. Don’t just add a flat token character in there to call your book diverse.

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?

Thao: I don’t think there is one “right” way to tell any story. No group of people have a single formulaic cookie-cutter type of experience. To say there is only one right way to experience something would be to stereotype it. I identify as Vietnamese-American, but I was born in Vietnam before I became a citizen of the United States. That makes my experience immediately different from another Vietnamese-American who was born in the United States. Furthermore, the fact that I live in California makes my experience different from someone who lives in say… Texas or New York. Everyone’s experience is different and yet authentic and genuine to themselves. I think it’s important to keep an open mind and accept these different experiences. That’s the definition of diversity after all. If someone is writing about characters outside of their experience then again, be respectful, research, do it right. Don’t fall prey to the stereotypes just because it’s easy. People are always going to have their opinions, but I think it’s better to try and include diversity rather than not doing anything about it at all because you’re afraid of the backlash. If everyone was afraid then we would get nowhere.

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

Thao: With book editors, I feel like a lot of them are becoming much more open to diverse stories. I have several who, knowing my list, have explicitly told me they want diversity. With Hollywood, however, I am still hearing things from our film agents or scouts saying, “Oh this story has a lesbian romance? That’ll be a hard sell.” Or things like, “The cast in this story is too Asian, no one is going to do an all Asian cast.” Which is definitely disheartening, but I’m hoping it’ll change as more people clamor for more diversity.

Lee: We'll keep working towards that!

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?

Thao: It’s personal for me. I know first-hand how it feels to grow up never seeing someone like myself in books or TV. I recall being really jealous of my classmate’s long blonde hair and blue eyes when I was in the 2nd grade and I remember wishing I could look like her because she was so popular and everyone wanted to be her friend. It made me want to turn against my own culture. I remember telling my mom I wanted to eat hamburger instead rice and crying about it because Vietnamese food was lame. Thinking back on this now I regret feeling ashamed about my own culture and I don’t want future generations to feel that way. I do believe that books can change the world. That they can shape our society. So if I am in a position to help more diverse books come to life, to get into the right hands, then it’s my duty to do it.

Lee: 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?

Thao: I really love Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony. It’s hilarious, charming, and totally blows all the stereotypes about warriors and princesses (and ponies) out of the water.

Lee: Middle Grade?

Thao: Wonder by R.J. Palacio broke my heart. I’m also super excited to represent Kathryn Tanquary’s The Night Parade, which stars a Japanese heroine in a Miyazaki-esque fantasy.

Lee: Young Adult?

Thao: To shamelessly plug more of my authors… I’m super stoked for Roshani Chokshi’s The Star Touched Queen which is an epic Indian fantasy, and Emily Skrutskie’s The Abyss Surrounds Us because POC queer girls and sea monsters are AWESOME. Plugging done, I’m also very much in love with The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh and Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed.

Lee: Queer girls and sea monsters??? Very cool.

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

Thao: I have so many! Jenny Han style contemporary YA with diverse cast of characters. More POC and diverse fantasy and science fiction. Queer romances. Stories with disabled characters that go beyond the disability. I could go on and on. I would highly suggest you follow me on twitter for more wish list items (I use the #mswl tag).

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?

Thao: Definitely follow me on twitter (@thaole8) for updates. I’m also on tumblr (agentthao.tumblr.com). I post my #mswl’s on both of these sites fairly often. To submit, email your query letter, short synopsis, bio, and the first 10-15 pages of your manuscript (all copy-and-pasted in the body of the email) to thao (at) dijkstraagency (dot) com. Here’s a tip, if you are emailing and your manuscript matches one of my #mswl items please put MSWL somewhere in your subject line.

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

Thao: I think my biggest advice to those who want to see more diverse stories is to write it, to read it, to spread the word. Remember to support diverse authors. Buy more diverse books, tell your friends about it. If more people clamor for it then change will happen. We’re gaining traction, but don’t stop yet. We have to keep it up because in the end it’s all business. Supply and demand. So demand more diversity!

Lee: Yes! 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!

Thao: Thanks so much for interviewing me! 

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

Illustrate and Write On!
Lee

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ouch! Moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways - A Picture Book About Microaggressions. For Kids. That Works.



Ouch! moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways by Michael Genhart, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli


"What a loser!"

"Move on fatso"

"He's so gay"

"hurry up lame-o"

"reading is for nerds"
When kids feel hurt by the ugly words, other kids who see and hear what is going on often do not know what to do. Ouch moments happen quickly.
That's part of what makes it hard to know what to do.
When Ouch moments happen, who needs help?
Everyone.
The kid who is saying mean or ugly things needs help,
the kid who is getting hurt needs help, and all of the
kids who saw or heard what happened need help.

And then the book goes on to empower kids to try to make a difference themselves, while still offering the idea of approaching an adult for extra help if needed.

The text is strong and kid-friendly, and the real-life mean and ugly words make it come alive. The illustrations are very expressive, adding the narrative flow of a diverse group of kids at school and play, experiencing and witnessing these Ouch! moments and learning what they can do.

Here's an interior spread, where kids can read the pictures as much as the adult sharing the book with them can read the words.



Put out by Magination Press, the publishing arm of the American Psychological Association, the book includes a "Note to Parents and Caregivers" that gives advice on what adults can do when their child is the target of a microaggression or the enactor of the microaggression. What feels truly powerful about the book is that it makes the point that everyone who witnesses an Ouch! moment is involved, too. And, as the book tells us,

"...saying nothing is like saying it is okay to say mean things or use ugly words."

This is definitely a picture book I wish had been read to me when I was a little kid. Frankly, I wish it had been read to all the OTHER kids I went to school with, too.

A note: I met this book's author, Michael Genhart, because he also wrote the upcoming Little Pickle Press picture book, "Yes We Are!" -- which stars a young boy with two dads. That book will be out Spring of 2017. Michael shared Ouch! moments with me, and I'm grateful he did.

Add your review of "Ouch! moments" in comments!


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dive – A Teen Girl, Dealing With Her Father's Illness, Comes Out And Begins A Relationship With Another Girl



Dive by Stacey Donovan

Virginia “V” Dunn is alone when her dog is hit by a car. Lucky’s back leg is shattered, and when she comforts him, his blood is wet on her hands. Suddenly, the monotony of V’s suburban life dissolves: Lucky is in a cast; her best friend, Eileen, is avoiding her; her mother’s drinking is getting worse; and her father is sick with a mysterious illness. Although V is surrounded by family, she is the loneliest girl in town.

As V begins to question everything—death, friendship, family, betrayal—she finds there are few easy answers. The people she thought she knew are strangers, and life’s meaning eludes her. Into this mystery walks the captivating Jane, and V soon realizes that the only way forward seems to break every rule, and go beyond all limitations.

Add your review of "Dive" in comments!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Cub - 17-year-old Travis Comes Out And Discovers His Community Within Gay Culture



Cub by Jeff Mann

Not every gay teen yearns for fashion and popular culture. Some boys are pure country folk and like the feel of flannel and the smell of the farm. And they’re neither lithe nor muscle-bound but stocky boys, the ones who develop hairy chests, arms, and faces years earlier than their peers.

One such seventeen-year-old is Travis Ferrell, shy among most of the other kids at school, but proud of his West Virginia roots. He has not yet admitted his passion for handsome guys–and his idea of what handsome is and what handsome does is not much different from him. Soon he’ll learn that he’s not unique; gay culture has a name for young men like him.

Cubs.

Add your review of "Cub" in comments!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ignorance Is Bliss – Andy is a Trans Teen Dealing With Their Mother's Mental Illness. Then Andy Makes A Friend Who's Also Trans*...



Ignorance Is Bliss by Karin Bishop

Life is complicated when you’re not the right gender, but what if your parent is not exactly in her right mind? Andy McDonald is transgender, but Andy’s mother has a condition that prevents her from dealing with reality—including the reality that her son is her daughter. Fortunately, Andy has met a girl transitioning to life as a male, and the two help each other deal with the difficulties of life as transgender teenagers. But Andy must also deal with the difficulties of his mother's precarious mental state.

Add your review of "Ignorance Is Bliss" in comments!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Megan Tingley: The Pre-#NY16SCBWI Faculty Interview

I'm delighted to share with you this exclusive interview with Megan Tingley, Executive Vice President and Publisher at Little, Brown and Company Books For Young Readers. Megan will be on faculty at the upcoming 17th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, participating in Saturday morning's main-stage panel: The Big Picture-Children’s Publishing Now and in the Near Future.

Publisher Megan Tingley

Here's our interview...

Lee: You edited “Luna,” the first YA novel about a transgender teen! (And thank you for that.) What’s your take on the increasing visibility of trans and other LGBTQ stories in children’s literature?

Megan: It’s about time! It’s amazing to me just how long it takes to break these barriers down. You know, it took Julie herself many years to feel ready to explore sexual orientation and gender identity in her work. Her first book was a chapter book called The Stinky Sneakers Contest and she wrote several middle grade novels and a YA (Define “Normal”) after that, none of which addressed sexual orientation or gender identity. When I broached the idea of her writing a lesbian love story, she was adamantly opposed. She was afraid such a novel might be a career ender and also expose her personal life in a way she wasn’t comfortable with. Keep in mind this was the 1990’s and she was living in Colorado during the time of Amendment 2. But eventually she did write Keeping You a Secret (2003) and it was really well received. I think that experience liberated her to write Luna, her 8th novel, which was published in 2004. 



There were just a handful of LGBTQ YA novels then and it still took another decade for the there to be a critical mass. Historically, I think the children’s book community (writers, editors, teachers, librarians, educators) has been ahead of its time and editors have always been open to diverse points of view. But in order for that kind of publishing to thrive, there also needs to be a ready market for it. In the last couple of years with all the media coverage of gender identity on college campuses and the emergence of Caitlyn Jenner as well as shows like Glee, Transparent, and Modern Family, LGBTQ characters and stories have become more part of the mainstream. So what I see now is that society is finally ready for these stories, even eager for them, and that is what creates a healthy publishing ecosystem in which these voices can flourish. I’m very grateful to Julie for reminding me how fragile a writer’s life can be and what a vital role editors and publishers play in providing a safe environment in which authors can be free to express their minds. And I’m proud of publishing Luna and helping to pave the way for all the great new voices we’re hearing now.

Lee: Yes, hurray for LGBTQ characters and stories in kid and teen lit! Can you define what it is about a manuscript that makes you say not only, "YES, this is a Little Brown Book," but "I want this for MY list!”

Megan: These days in my dual role as Publisher of LBYR and editor of my own list, I have to be extremely selective. I am approaching submissions as an editor and publisher simultaneously. I have to not just love the writing and story, but I have to be able to “see” it as a book. This is a mysterious process to describe. If, as I am reading, the characters and setting are so vivid that it’s almost as if I am watching the story unfold on a screen in my head, that is a good sign. Then, usually pretty quickly, I will start to imagine covers, illustrators, even fonts and page designs. Marketing copy will pop into my head. Basically, the finished book is actually taking shape right before my eyes. If that doesn’t happen, then the book isn’t for me. It doesn’t mean it isn’t good, it just means I am not the right person to edit it. Another light bulb moment is when a writer gets me interested in a subject or storyline that isn’t an obvious fit for me. For example, years ago, Donna Jackson pitched me a nonfiction book about a forensic anthropologist. Was I interested in forensic anthropology at the time? Nope! But her way of telling the story drew me in and we published The Bone Detectives together. 



If someone had asked me if I ever envisioned publishing a vampire love story, I would have said “not likely,” but then I read Twilight and the rest is history. 



So, if a writer is able to turn me on against my will, then I know I’m onto something special.

Lee: I love that description! What’s your favorite piece of advice for authors?

Megan: Read your work aloud. And have someone else read it to you. Whether you are writing a picture book, a novel or nonfiction, there is no better way to figure out what is working and what’s not. Passages that should be trimmed, phrases that are convoluted, jokes that aren’t funny, dialogue that isn’t natural — all will be revealed. It might be painful, but it’s worth it.

Great advice! Thank you, Megan.

There are still a few spaces available to join us for all the inspiration, opportunity, business, craft and community of #NY16SCBWI. Find out all the details here.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Willful Machines - A Science Fiction Action Thriller, starring a gay closeted son of a U.S. President and a sentient Internet program out to kill him



Willful Machines by Tim Floreen

In the near future, scientists create what may be a new form of life: an artificial human named Charlotte. All goes well until Charlotte escapes, transfers her consciousness to the Internet, and begins terrorizing the American public.

Charlotte's attacks have everyone on high alert everyone except Lee Fisher, the closeted son of the US president. Lee has other things to worry about, like keeping his Secret Service detail from finding out about his crush on Nico, the eccentric, Shakespeare-obsessed new boy at school. And keeping Nico from finding out about his recent suicide attempt. And keeping himself from freaking out about all his secrets.

But when attacks start happening at his school, Lee realizes he's Charlotte's next target. Even worse, Nico may be part of Charlotte's plan too.

As Lee races to save himself, uncover Charlotte's plan, and figure out if he can trust Nico, he comes to a whole new understanding of what it means to be alive and what makes life worth living.

My thanks to Jim for the heads-up on this title. Add your review of "Willful Machines" in comments! 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Not Broken, Just Bent - Ben And Timmy Are Two Guys In High School. Childhood Friends. But Timmy Is In Love With Ben...



Not Broken, Just Bent by Mia Kerick

Braving the start of high school, longtime childhood friends Benjamin Wells and Timmy Norton quickly realize they are entering a whole new world colored by their family responsibilities. Ben is trying to please his strict father; Timmy is taking care of his younger sisters. While their easy camaraderie is still comfortable, Ben notices Timmy growing distant and evasive, but Ben has his own problems. It’s easier to let concerns about Timmy’s home life slide, especially when Timmy changes directions and starts to get a little too close. Ben doesn’t know how to handle the new feelings Timmy’s desire for love inspires, and his continuing denial wounds Timmy deeply.

But what Timmy perceives as Ben’s greatest betrayal is yet to come, and the fallout threatens to break them apart forever. Over the next four years, the push and pull between them and the outside world twists and tears at Ben and Timmy, and they are haunted by fear and regret. However, sometimes what seems broken is just a little bent, and if they can find forgiveness within themselves, Ben and Timmy may be able to move forward together.

Add your review of "Not Broken, Just Bent" in comments!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

And The 2016 ALA Awards of Special Note for Queer Kid and Teen Readers and Their Allies

Stonewall Book Award - Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience:


George,” written by Alex Gino and published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., wins the  2016 Stonewall Children’s Literature Award
.


 and “The Porcupine of Truth,” written by Bill Konigsberg and published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., wins the 2016 Stonewall Young Adult Literature Award.

Two honor books were selected: “Wonders of the Invisible World,” written by Christopher Barzak and published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC; and “Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and YOU,” written by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth, illustrated by Fiona Smyth and published by Seven Stories Press.

Another notable award of LGBTQ-interest was the William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens:

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” written by Becky Albertalli is the 2016 Morris Award winner. The book is published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publisher.
Congratulations to all the winners and honorees.

Now we have more great books to read!


Monday, January 11, 2016

Kaleidoscope - An anthology of diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy stories (with about half the stories featuring QUILTBAG characters) where diversity isn't the main issue



Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios.


Here are the stories with LGBTQ characters and themes:

“Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu is set in China during a lovers’ festival, and features a lesbian couple who share one last magical night before one of them goes to boarding school overseas.

“The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams is set in a future when teleportation is an everyday thing. Three teen friends (one is the son of two dads, and the other two are a lesbian couple) discover a portal to a parallel universe.

“The Day the God Died” by Alena McNamara shows us a genderqueer/genderquestioning teen who meets a dying god.

“Signature” by Faith Mudge features a gay supporting character who works in a bookstore with our disabled Desi protagonist—unfortunately that bookstore is in a lot of trouble due to a magical contract that the workers have signed.

“The Lovely Duckling” by Tim Susman is about a transgendered teen who wants to go to shapeshifting school to learn how to take the form of a Condor.

“Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell” by E.C. Myers has a bisexual protagonist who can see the future when she kisses people.

“Celebration” by Sean Eads sends one gay teen to a conversion therapy camp, but things turn out to be even more sinister than they first appear when aliens turn up on the scene.

“Every Little Thing” by Holly Kench has a protagonist who is disabled and queer, and also a spellcaster.

“Happy Go Lucky” by Garth Nix is set in a dystopian future where everyone is tested for their luck value and placed in a rigid class system. Jean has always assumed she’d be lucky for life, but when one of her fathers displeases the government and the family’s class is reassigned, she has to find a way to turn her bad luck around.

“Ordinary Things” by Vylar Kaftan has a bi protagonist who is reeling from a bad breakup and finds strength in small rituals.



The editors wrote this about the project:
We wanted to fill a book with stories about all kinds of teens who don’t often get the spotlight in stories. Roughly half of the stories feature QUILTBAG characters, but intersectionality is important to us, too, so in several cases the characters might be diverse in other ways, too. Most of all we wanted to have a book of stories where the race, gender, sexuality, and ability of the characters wasn’t the main issue, though. In Kaleidoscope, some of the stories are happy and some of the stories are sad, but all of them are about more than just the labels we might be able to apply to the main characters.

Add your review of "Kaleidoscope" in comments!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Learning To Kiss Girls (Short Story) - A 14-year Old Sets Herself A Goal



Learning To Kiss Girls by Elizabeth Andre

It’s 1984, and there are lots of things the family of Helen Blumenstein, age 14, doesn’t talk about. Her cousin is gay. Helen’s best female friend may have a crush on her. Helen wants to learn about kissing girls, but she’s scared of being different. Helen will have to find her own voice and decide if she is brave enough to be exactly who she is supposed to be, even if that means being a little bit queer.

Note that while the author usually writes erotica, she wrote to tell me that short story "is G-rated." Add your review of "Learning To Kiss Girls" in comments!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

I'm Interviewed Over At "Miss Marple's Musings!"

What a nice way to start the new year!



Check out this fun interview I did with Joanna Marple at her children's and YA-diversity focused blog. We talk influences, "writing in blood," SCBWI, Little Pickle Press, and some recent stand-out LGBTQ kid and teen titles. You'll even get to see a piece of artwork hanging in my home...

My thanks to Joanna for the opportunity.

Here's to an amazing 2016 ahead!
Lee

Monday, January 4, 2016

Sara Megibow (KT Literary): 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 Sara Megibow of KT Literary.

Agent Sara Megibow (photo by Kate Testerman)

Here's Sara's bio:

Sara Megibow is a literary agent with almost 10 years experience in publishing. She represents novels in these genres: middle grade, young adult, romance, science fiction and fantasy. Her authors include New York Times bestsellers Roni Loren and Jason Hough and USA Today and international bestsellers Ashlyn Macnamara, Juliana Stone, Stefan Bachmann and Tiffany Reisz. Please follow her on twitter @SaraMegibow where she will try her best to answer further questions.

And here's our interview:

Lee: Hi Sara!

Sara: Hi Lee!

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

Sara: My pleasure - thank you for posting these wonderful interviews and for promoting diversity in Children’s and Teen Literature! This is a very important topic! And thanks for having me here today!

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?

Sara: I represent middle grade, young adult, romance, science fiction and fantasy but since this blog post is addressing children’s books specifically I will limit my answers to those submissions.

In 2015 I will read roughly 15,000 query letters for middle grade and young adult novels. Of those submissions the vast majority of writers don’t disclose their race, religion, sexual orientation, age, background or gender. So, I can’t solidly answer this question in regards to the authors themselves.

However, roughly one third of these 15,000 submissions will clearly identify the book's characters or themes as those with some kind of diversity.

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

Sara: Great question! I feel like there aren’t enough protagonists of color in my slush pile yet. I’m always on the lookout but only 10% of the queries I read clearly mention protagonists of color.

Two of my favorite reads of 2015 have been BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson and LISTEN, SLOWLY by Thanhhà Lai - these are the kinds of books I’m looking for and these two titles (two of many!) are great examples of superior storytelling featuring protagonists of color. Buy them, read them and spread the word.

Lee: I loved Brown Girl Dreaming!  And I just added Listen, Slowly to my holds list at my local library. Thanks for the recommendation!

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

Sara: 15-20% of the middle grade and young adult queries I read feature gay, lesbian, bi and transgender protagonists both in fantasy stories (like ASH by Malinda Lo) and in contemporary stories (like OPENLY STRAIGHT by Bill Konigsberg). This 15-20% represents slightly more stories about gay young men and slightly fewer stories about transgender or bi characters. Also, this breakdown skews more heavily toward the young adult novels than the middle grade novels.

Lee: How about characters with disabilities?

Sara: BREAKING BEAUTIFUL by Jennifer Shaw Wolf is a contemporary young adult novel from 2012 starring twins - one of whom has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. This book ended up on tons of state reading lists, won several awards and is a great example of a successful book starring characters with disabilities. Characters with disabilities show up in about 5-10% of the queries I see although many times these characters are the best friend or sibling. I would love to see more characters with disabilities who are the lead protagonist.

A great success story for lead protagonists with disabilities is the upcoming THE WEIGHT OF ZERO by Karen Fortunati (Fall 2016, Delacorte/ Penguin Random House). THE WEIGHT OF ZERO is the story of a teenager with bipolar disorder who is contemplating suicide, and her march towards - and struggle to recognize - better mental health, supported by a network of family, doctors and friends. This is the book librarians and teachers have been begging for - a story that shows the potential when effective treatment and support networks work together. Karen is a debut author and this sale made a huge splash when it sold to Delacorte on an exclusive submission just a few months ago.

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

Sara: I’d love to see more religiously-observant protagonists. Our family is made up of observant Jews and I feel it’s rare to see a hero who wears a yarmulke or a heroine whose family keeps kosher. And I think I’d fall flat out of my chair if I read a protagonist who studied Talmud or had friends over for a Sukkot dinner.

I’d love to see more observant Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Catholics - you name it, I think we need more representation of religious diversity.

I’d also like to see more protagonists from different socio-economic backgrounds. Miranda Kenneally’s contemporary young adult novels show wonderful socio-economic diversity. Her novel RACING SAVANNAH is a great example of an upstairs/downstairs theme set on a horse farm and CATCHING JORDAN accurately portrays the broad range of wealth at a public school in Tennessee.

In general, when a query letter clearly identifies its characters that letter most often talks about race, gender or sexual orientation. All forms of diversity are important! We need religious diversity, socio-economic diversity, protagonists with a disability, protagonists from diverse cultures. We need all these voices to accurately represent our colorful, wonderful world! That may sound like a bumper sticker but it’s true.

Lee: Yes! I completely agree!

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

Sara: Lee, this is another great question and one that’s very tough to answer.

Rarely does a writer identify herself in a query letter. Also, identifying oneself won’t increase or decrease that person’s chances of receiving an offer of representation from me. I read all queries equally and am looking for superior writing combined with a unique story. I actively pitch diverse books but I don’t necessarily identify the writer when I pitch their book to a publishing house. For me, a person’s background, gender, sexual orientation, culture, socio-economic status, ability, race, religion, age, country of origin, etc. won’t make or break whether I will be their agent.

I am seeing under-represented writers submitting to me and I am offering representation to under-represented writers. As always, I am looking for more more more! More authors from diverse backgrounds! More stories starring diverse protagonists! My door is never closed to any author and no rejection letter has ever been sent (by me) to an author because of who they are or who the characters in their stories are.

A side note - I feel it’s naive to assume that Quality Is Everything is the only answer here. Under-represented authors haven’t had the attention they deserve for their books or for themselves. I wish I had a more complete and effective answer besides just “Quality! Quality!” Also, I acknowledge that we see bad books on the shelves by mainstream authors and amazing books that never get published by under-represented authors. I acknowledge the hypocrisy in the system and I’m working on it. Tweet me if you have questions or comments!

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?

Sara: I want more diverse books to recommend AND I want more books written by diverse authors. Both are important.

I’d love to see more observant Jews in children’s books but I don’t necessarily need those books to be written by observant Jews. I’m bisexual and I’d love to see more bisexual heroines in middle grade and young adult books - especially starring in stories that aren’t necessarily coming-out stories. But again, I don’t necessarily need those books to be written by bisexual women.

But to the point above about under representation I ALSO want to see authors of diverse backgrounds. So I guess my take on it is…both! I want to see more diverse books written by anyone and more diverse books written by authors of diverse backgrounds!

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

Sara: Personally? No - in my experience under-represented characters don’t take more “selling”. I have an excellent reputation at publishing houses and editors know I only shop quality material. If I shop a book with an under-represented character it will be taken seriously.

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?

Sara: In 2010, Matisyahu was interviewed on David Letterman and asked, “what can’t you do as a musician because of your religious observance?” and I felt so let down by that question. I remember wondering, "when is someone going to ask what does religious observance BRING to your life? or what CAN you do because of your religious observance?”

Also in 2010 I heard Mitali Perkins (author of BAMBOO PEOPLE and others) speak beautifully on mirror books and door books. She described mirror books as ones in which kids see themselves in a book and door books as ones in which kids are introduced to a world new to them. That was an a-HA moment for me. My curriculum as a child-reader was made up entirely of door books - specifically door books with an agenda. At Ms. Perkins's presentation I realized that part of my goal as an agent in children's publishing was to work on door books that were more authentic (not agenda-driven) and mirror books in which kids could relate to the protagonists. In addition, I identified that my own personal agenda had been influenced by that Matisyahi interview. I wanted to help authors bring books to the market that answer the question, “what does my diverse background bring to my life and my books?”

Those two moments were the one-two punch for me and I’ve been actively searching for diverse books ever since.

Lee: I love knowing that. And I like Mitali's mirror/door metaphor a lot. I've been using mirror/window, but 'door' is much more accurate - it's not just looking at that world, books are inviting us into those worlds different than our own. I think I'll change how I speak about mirror books and door books from now on...

Can you tell us about other 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?

Sara: My niece and nephews are African American and our local indie bookstores have been wonderful resources for helping me buy picture books with heroines and heroes of color. Our favorite picture book is I GOT THE RHYTHM by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison (this book is an absolutely perfect match for my niece - talk about a mirror book! YES YES!)

Another family favorite is FIREBIRD written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers.

Lee: Middle Grade?

Sara: For me, WONDER by R.J. Palacio was the most important and memorable read of a decade. I laughed, I cried and then I bought 13 copies of the book for my son’s classrooms, libraries and teachers. We successfully had WONDER added to the reading lists for all elementary classes at his school. Such a powerful and amazing book. Just…WOW.

Lee: Young Adult?

Sara: FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe stars one of the best bisexual heroines I’ve ever read - she reminded me so much of me as a teen. I couldn’t put this book down and I recommend it constantly.

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

Sara: I am looking for absolutely anything as long as the book is:

1) 100% complete
2) expertly crafted
3) never previously published
4) middle grade (any sub-genre), young adult (any sub-genre), romance (any sub-genre), science fiction or fantasy (for the MG, YA or adult market)

I don’t offer representation by concept but rather based on quality of writing. So, if someone asks, “I wrote a book about giraffes in space, are you interested?” my response will always be, “it depends on the quality of writing.” I’m looking for superior craft plus a unique story. The door is always always always open for diverse protagonists and diverse authors. I care passionately about these things and it’s always beneficial to mention diversity in a query. Then, to get past the query stage, make sure the manuscript demonstrates a superior mastery of craft.

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?

Sara: Thanks! The first step is to make sure that manuscript is 110% complete, fully edited and really, really, really ready to go.

Then, I recommend reading a few books in your genre to make sure you have a high-level grasp of the market. Are you preparing to submit a contemporary middle grade novel? Then read 2-3 contemporary middle grade novels published recently by major publishing houses.

Write, edit, read. Then…

Prepare a one page query letter and email it to me along with the first 3 pages of the manuscript right there in the body of the email. Please include, “I saw your interview with Lee about diversity” in the first sentence of the query letter.

My query email address is saraquery (at) ktliterary (dot) com

The KT Literary website is:
www.ktliterary.com

The submission guidelines for KT Literary are listed in full here:
http://ktliterary.com/submissions/

Lots and lots and lots of help for writing that query letter is posted here:
http://ktliterary.com/category/ask-daphne/about-my-query/

My client info, books, conference schedule and sales info is updated here:
http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/SaraMegibow/

I am on twitter @SaraMegibow

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

Sara: Yes, thanks Lee. One more thing to add.

A mantra: FIND + BUY + READ + TALK ABOUT

Let me break it down…

There are four steps to commercial success in publishing. First, a reader must FIND a diverse book (discoverability), then that reader must BUY the diverse book (conversion), then the reader must READ the diverse book (consumption) and then the reader must TALK ABOUT that diverse book (word of mouth). Yes we need more diverse books and more diverse authors! While Lee and I (and all the other amazing agents and editors on Lee’s blog) are on that hunt, please please please please help promote the wonderful diverse books that are already out there!

Want more books with queer protagonists? Buy, read and talk about the ones already out there! Want more books with protagonists of color? Same thing = buy, read, talk about! Want more protagonists with disabilities? Buy, read and talk about the books that are on shelves right now.

We Need Diverse Books hosts a wonderful website with oodles of resources for finding diverse books. Booksellers and librarians are excellent resources (or should be - if they are not, direct them politely to the We Need Diverse Books website). Want more diverse books in the libraries of your kids' schools? Buy them or run a fundraiser to earn the money to buy them.

There are gatekeepers in publishing but at the end of the day the biggest gatekeeper is the consumer. Vote with your dollars!! Reminder = YES! Authors make money when you borrow books from the library! Asking for a book at the library is furthering our agenda as much as buying from a bookstore.

FIND + BUY + READ + TALK ABOUT

Lee: Great advice! 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!

Sara: And thank you Lee for all your hard work and for bringing more conversation to the topic of diversity in children’s literature!

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

Illustrate and Write On!
Lee