Friday, July 29, 2011

Los Angeles Kid Lit Drink Night - Take Two! Come Join Us During the SCBWI Summer Conference, Sunday Aug 7, 2011 from 6-8pm

Our first Los Angeles Kid Lit Drink Night was a HUGE success with over 50 folks attending! Now we're doing it again, and Jill Corcoran, Greg Pincus, Rita Crayon Huang, Sara Wilson Etienne and myself hope you'll join us for the second ever Los Angeles Kid Lit Drink night!

Who?: Writers, Illustrators, Agents, Editors, Art Directors, (spouses and partners welcome...) anyone and everyone in the world of children's literature. And while it's in L.A., it's not just for us locals - no matter where you're from, you're welcome!

What?: Meet up for drinks and food and hanging out. (It's a pay-as-you-order event, very informal, and so much fun!)

When?: Sunday evening right after the SCBWI conference day's events have concluded. (Some folks will get there around 6pm, others closer to 7, depending on who's autograph you're trying to get at the giant autograph party...)

Where?: Across the street from the conference hotel, we'll be meeting up at Pink Taco in the Century City Mall, on the patio.

Why?: Because hanging out with our tribe ROCKS!

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Unnatural - A Gay Teen Vampire Story!

By Michael Griffo

Gay American teen Michael escapes his life of bullying when he's sent to an all-boys English boarding school. Full of vampires!

"There, he meets the enigmatic, sexy Ronan, and the two boys discover an immediate, mutual attraction. But their newfound relationship is threatened by Michael's disapproving father; Ronan's malevolent ex-boyfriend, Nakamo; and the inscrutable machinations of the vampires who use Archangel Academy for their own ends.

As Michael becomes a pawn between two different vampire clans, as represented by Ronan and Nakamo, he has to choose his destiny, if it's not chosen for him first."

Add your review of "Unnatural" in comments!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss And Gain by Portia De Rossi

I’ll start this review with an anecdote. I went to an unnamed bookstore in search of this book, and I had no clue where to look. It wasn’t in the memoir section, and even though I hate asking for help, I decided to ask the sales associate to help me find it. She searched in the computer, and said that the book was in the “Gay and Lesbian” section, which she had never seen before. And she also said that in most cases if this particular bookstore chain didn’t have a “Gay and Lesbian” section, those books were always found in the “Self-Improvement” section. I found that really discouraging. Why would people who want to learn from these stories have to look in a section of the bookstore that tells them they’re not good enough? Luckily I found this book in the “Gay and Lesbian” section, but I was once again saddened by the fact that it was only the size of two small shelves. At least I came out of that bookstore with my copy of Portia de Rossi’s memoir, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect of this memoir. I had only known Portia de Rossi for her role on the TV show “Ally McBeal” and her marriage to Ellen DeGeneres. I will definitely say that I learned a lot from her memoir, and I enjoyed it. She talked very candidly about her battle with anorexia and her struggle to fit into Hollywood, which I appreciated hearing about. I also had no idea that she was initially married to a man, or even that her mother raised her, single-handedly, in Australia. And I definitely enjoyed hearing that she was more comfortable in black jeans, an Iggy Pop shirt, and boots because that’s basically my uniform.

de Rossi’s style is really interesting. I like how she jumps around a lot in timing, as opposed to following the normal, point A to B format of a memoir. The tangents she goes on make sense perfectly with the stories she’s telling. As I read the book, I felt like I was watching a movie where the protagonist has flashbacks to explain her current life and more recent events. Her flow is very natural, and her metaphors and descriptions work very well. I particularly loved her comparison of stale cigarette smoke to “a party guest who’d passed out on the living room sofa after everybody else went home.” It’s the perfect combination of being both artistic and relatable.

I’d have been able to read this book at any point from the eighth grade onward, because the subject matter wasn’t too coarse. Also, I think every child from the age of 13, especially girls, should learn about eating disorders so that they can avoid them and learn to love themselves.

The thing I loved most about this book was de Rossi’s candid discussion of insecurity in general. Her insecurity stemmed from both her sexuality and her body consciousness. She writes of the drill sergeant in her head, constantly asking her what she ate for dinner. She writes of her marriage to a man to cover up her sexuality to both herself and the general public. As a child, she modeled to gain confidence but only ended up sinking lower than ever before. But the important thing is that she was able to pick herself back up again. She didn’t let her insecurities beat her into submission. She now owns her sexuality, and is in a wonderful marriage to Ellen DeGeneres. She also has an extremely successful career right now. The most important thing I can hope to take away from her memoir is that confidence really helps to gain success. Success not only materialistically, but intrinsically. Believing in yourself is honestly one of the most important things you can do.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss And Gain" in comments!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Travels Through Love And Time: Three Stories Of Lesbian Love

By Christine Hall Volkoff

"From the rocky coves of a small island in the South of France in her teenage years, the glamour of the Cannes Film Festival in the 60's to a café in Paris in the 80's as a middle aged woman, Christine doesn't really know if she is looking for love, or if love is looking for her.

As a teenager, she encounters love in the person of her parents' unwelcome guest, a thirty year old Italian actress.

Later on in her life, at the terrace of a small outdoor café, she discusses French literature with an unknown woman, and enters into a whirlwind of anxiety and desire only mitigated by good food and the magic of the city. Has Christine learned anything about love in her travels?

In Venice Beach, California, now mature, she becomes smitten with a woman 30 years her junior. As she tries to give Bethany some comfort, she will let herself descend once again into the mysteries of infatuation. Will she be able to follow the advice of her teenage years, finally be able to enjoy the good life, and recover her peace of mind?"

Add your review of "Travels Through Love And Time" in comments!

Monday, July 25, 2011

NEVADA NUGGETS OF GOLD From the Mentee/Mentor Mines (and Minds)

The mentors and mentees of the Nevada SCBWI 2010-2011 Mentor Program

Do you know about Nevada SCBWI’s amazing Mentor Program? Created by Ellen Hopkins (current RA - Nevada and SCBWI Board Member) and Suzy Williams (RA Emeritus - Nevada), the idea is to match on-the-cusp-of-being-published writers and illustrators with at-the-top-of-their-game authors, illustrators and freelance editors for a six month mentorship.

Six months of revising, polishing and getting your work up to that next level to help you break in, break through, and break out (and acne reference aside, it’s not only for YA writers, but for writers of all genres and children’s literature age categories – and illustrators as well!)

The 2010-2011 Mentor Program had eight mentors and twenty-four mentees from all over the country (and in the past they’ve had international members participate, too.) Applicants selected their top two choices for mentors, and the mentors chose who they would select in a blind process based on the work alone – which made everyone participating feel hand-picked based on the strength of our writing and/or illustrating rather than the popularity or lack of our blogs and the popularity or lack of our, err... charm. (No worries - we were all charming, even during karaoke!)

Personally, I was fortunate to be matched with mentor Emma Dryden (drydenbks founder and SCBWI Board member.) Emma treated my Middle Grade novel, OVER GOD, as if it was a book she had acquired back when she was a publisher and editor at Simon & Schuster. From her editorial letter to her line edits, revising my novel under her guidance was a craft and career changer.

Bracketed by an opening weekend that corresponded with SCBWI Nevada’s Conference on the Comstock and gave us the opportunity to meet and learn from all the mentors plus visiting luminaries including Cheryl Klein and Tracey Adams, and a finale weekend where we shared our polished work with guest editor Alvina Ling, it was six months that yielded so many wonderful take-aways for me, so many nuggets of gold.

On a macro level, I learned that persistence pays off. At the start of 2010 I was determined that I was going to apply for every program and grant that I thought might help me move my writing career in children’s literature forward. I only got one yes – and that was for the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program! The “no”s were disappointing, but the YES turns out to have changed everything.

On a micro level, I learned great things about my own craft. I need to be careful how many times I use the word “smile.” (Turns out 84 times in 200 pages is too much!) I need to trust my readers and not feel like I have to explain things (200 pages went down to 177.) And I need to make sure that the middle of the story not just moves the characters along plot-wise, bridging the beginning and the end, but that the moments of the middle are essential to the main character’s internal arc. (That lesson made my story so much better!)

Overall, my experience being mentored was incredible, and I completed the program with a stronger-than-ever manuscript ready to submit to agents. And I’ll tell you, the confidence I now have about my writing is true gold! But don’t just take my word for it – I asked my fellow mentees from the class of 2010-2011 to share their nuggets of gold:

Amy Allgeyer Cook, Writer
Idaho, USA
Mentee of Susan Hart Lindquist

Not to sound all Oprah, but I had a true ‘ah-ha’ moment during my first meeting with Susan when she asked what my central dramatic question was. The CDQ is the question readers will ask themselves throughout the book. It’s what keeps them reading. And it was pretty telling that I had no idea what mine was. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets the CDQ is “Will Harry find the chamber before someone gets killed?” Defining my central dramatic question allowed me to see which plot line should come to the forefront. It kept me focused and kept my book from rambling off on a minor thread. It also helped me answer that other ticklish question people like to ask: So…what’s your book about?

Debbie Larson, Writer
Mentee of Terri Farley

My nugget of gold:
Things happen for people who set goals. I realized the importance of goal setting in my writing career as I sat among the fine writers and illustrators at the Virginia City Mentor Program conference. Setting goals and slowly but methodically chipping away at them had left me with a strong manuscript and waiting opportunities. Moving on, goals continue to be part of my process as I explore possibilities and further hone my craft.

Hazel Mitchell, Writer and Illustrator
Maine, USA via Yorkshire, England. and
Mentee of Priscilla Burris

My nugget of gold:
This program has been a reminder to me of how important a network of like minded people are. In a business where for the most part an individual works in isolation having friends and colleagues to reach out to might be just be the most important resource available. For advice, for sharing successes, for commiserating, for sounding off. Just knowing you are part of a 'tribe' can make the difference on the journey. And it is a journey - getting published is just the start and then the really hard work begins. Therefore I will treasure the friends and associates I am making along the way. Being part of this SCBWI program brought me in contact with people I will always remember and I know they are now part of my tribe.

Heather Ross, Writer
Mentee of Harold Underdown

My nugget of gold:
With many sticks (and a few carrots) my mentor prodded me to realize I am not a one trick pony.
I CAN revise an entire manuscript top to bottom.
Go ahead, kill your darlings. More live in your head.
Write plots in a straight line.
Write well-rounded, fully-drawn characters then move them about like players on a chess board.
If your story has no humor, why bother?

Heidi Woodward Sheffield, Writer and Illustrator
Mentee of Teri Sloat

My nugget of gold:
To free up the writer within, sometimes you have to draw a picture, first. I was stumped with my first attempts at writing this picture book manuscript. As an artist, sometimes it's easier to "see" something in my head before I "hear" it. My mentor suggested using the storyboard to create the story visually, which helped me as I wrote various versions of the manuscript. I thought that was putting the cart before the horse, but I put faith in Teri's suggestion and was astounded how well this method worked. My agent Rubin Pfeffer of East West Literary is now submitting the polished manuscript to publishers, which is truly exciting.

Lisa Trimble Actor, Writer
Mentee of Ellen Hopkins.

My nugget of gold:
No matter how clever, gripping or totally engrossing the plot, a good story ultimately depends on fully formed characters to bring it alive. Readers have to care about your characters and understand their motivations and relationships or your plot will feel hollow and contrived.

Lisa Hallett, Writer
Boulder City, NV
Mentor: Suzanne Morgan Williams

My nugget of gold:
The entire program is amazing; everything from the learning experience to the dedication the mentors have to their mentees, and to the wonderful group of supportive authors/illustrators that are in the program. Working with professionals who care about you, and encourage your success by sharing their knowledge is invaluable. After working with Suzy, I realized that there is so much more to writing than simply sitting down and typing away at the keyboard. It’s about working very hard and sharing in a story – a world of words created from where you are, where you’ve been, and the people in your life along the way; make every word matter. At least I think that’s what the many red pen marks and recommended re-writes that decorated my manuscripts after every time Suzy read them meant : )

Phyllis Mignard, Writer and Illustrator
Mentee of Priscilla Burris

My nugget of gold:
Working with my mentor helped me find my creative mojo by discovering and working on the traits and habits that had kept me in a creative limbo. Not only did I hone my skills but the illustration challenges helped me to trust and follow my intuition. Now, when comparing my work to others' (something I think most of us do) I recognize my strengths and am more focused on my goals.

And mentoring, it turns out, is a two-way street. Uh, a two-way mine. Clunky metaphors aside, heck, they got gold, too:

Priscilla Burris, Author/Illustrator, Illustrator Coordinator and Board Member of SCBWI
California, USA
My website:

Gold Nugget:
From Emma and Harold’s Social Media & Marketing talk, I share this ~
On developing and growing your online presence and connections, it’s wise to ‘generate audience’ by sharing and networking, such as commenting on other’s blogs and being a guest blogger, rather than to shout, pitch, and always make your tweets/comments/posts only and always just about you. Also, your website is your professional, majorly important ‘go-to’ place!

Emma D Dryden, Founder & Principal, drydenbks llc, a children’s book editorial consulting firm
New York, USA

Gold Nugget:
In mentoring three first-time novelists, I worked on three vastly different middle grade novels. Over the course of the program, I identified an exciting connection among the three books that reminded me of the very important role literature can play in the life and identity of young readers. Whether humorous fantasy, contemporary boy story, or mystical girl story, all three stories were about one thing: Home. Each of the protagonists in these three stories is on a journey to find themselves and to figure out where they fit in the world, within whatever definition they have of “home.” Middle graders are experiencing their first taste of independence and autonomy, stretching their wings to explore just how far they might one day be able to fly, while also trying to keep the promise of the safety of home in their sights. So, too, are the protagonists in these three novels, but traveling on such remarkably different roads to reach their goals. What I was reminded of over the course of this program was the significance of the journey on which we all embark when we’re middle graders—and the significance of the stories we can give to young people through the books we write, to offer them support, to help them feel less alone, and to encourage them to reach farther and higher than they ever thought possible—all for the sake of finding their place in the world.

The universal sense of “Oh my gosh, I’ve learned so much from this mentorship” was so strong that when it came time for we mentees to plan a thank you gift for our mentors, all twenty-four of us decided to do something to show how much we appreciated the impact of this program on our craft and our careers. We each donated $36.-, and together created a scholarship for someone else to win – for free tuition to be a mentee in the 2012 Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program.

We’re excited to spread the word about this most amazing regional program, and hope you, too, will participate, find gold, and be able to say, “Do you know about Nevada SCBWI’s amazing Mentor Program?”

You can find out more info on the Nevada Mentor Program at

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Boys On The Rock - A Teen Jock's Coming Out As Gay

By John Fox

Billy goes to high school in the Bronx. He's sixteen, on the swim team, and is an all-around regular guy.

He's sort of going steady with a girl.

He's kind of popular at school.

But he's always worried that the secret fantasies he has about men would set him apart and make him "different," if anyone knew about them.

And now Billy faces up to himself - and his friends - as he discovers the complexities of life, the exuberance of sex, and what it means to be an adult in our imperfect world.

My thanks to blog reader (and author) Jon Wilson for recommending this, his favorite book from when he was a young gay man.

Add your review of "The Boys On The Rock" in comments!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk" by Randy Shilts

I still feel embarrassed by the fact that I haven’t seen the movie "Milk" yet. I heard great things about it and I really wanted to see it, not to mention it has some of my favorite actors. Sadly, it was just one of those movies that I never got around to seeing, though I’ll probably watch it in the next few weeks since I’ve got the time. However, I have to get to the point now. Randy Shilts’ biography, "The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk" tells the story of Harvey Milk, as does the movie I missed out on. In fact, some have argued that this book is better because it’s more realistic.

Milk’s early life seems to ring true to the closeted teen archetype. Though a rather well built, strong athlete, he had to hide his love of opera from all of his school friends. He rode the train into New York City once a week to see the opera at the Met, yet not one of his high school friends knew about it. He didn’t seem too tortured by his secret (outwardly); people would make fun of his large nose and he’d chime in and make a joke better than everyone else’s. After spending time on the East Coast with some lovers on the way, he moved to San Francisco. There he experienced the Counterculture movement of the 60’s and was changed forever. While people were trying to remain happy, the laws against homosexuality were causing over 2,000 gay men to be arrested in one year. He finally decided to get involved in politics once the authorities came to his camera store to demand money for sales tax. The rest is history.

I really like Randy Shilts’ writing style. He writes as if he was a personal friend of Milk’s, and he is unapologetic in everything he says. His use of commonly known swear words and lack of real censorship would lead me to believe that this book would better suit a mature audience, rather than a middle school student. I personally really enjoy a more personal writing style, as it draws me more into the story and feels more inviting. And honestly, Harvey Milk’s story is an extremely inviting one. The fact that he was so successful and so well liked in his community is truly inspiring. It takes a lot to be christened the unofficial “mayor” in any community, much less one so large as Castro Street in San Francisco. I believe that Milk is generally regarded as a beacon of hope to all people, especially the gay and lesbian community. He did so much and got so far in his short life. And though his life was cut short, that doesn’t make it any less important or valid. Every political figure has a naysayer or two, no matter how well liked he or she may seem. Each person will have someone who tries to bring him or her down, but it’s the accomplishments we make in spite of our non-believers that truly make us rise. Shilts ends his Author’s Note with a really inspirational quote from the historian John Boswell. It reads, “What will strike some readers as a partisan point of view is chiefly the absence of negative attitudes on this subject ubiquitous in the modern West; after a long, loud noise, a sudden silence may seem deafening.” More people are probably with you than against you, and that’s a very important thing to remember.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "The Mayor Of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk" by Randy Shilts in comments!

[A note from Lee: Dustin Lance Black won an Oscar for his screenplay for "Milk" and his acceptance speech was really inspiring. Check it out here!]

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Obsidian Man - A Gay Teen High Fantasy Adventure

by Jon Wilson

"All his life, Holt has dreamed of leaving his life of drudgery to join the legendary Danann, a mysterious race of rangers and magicians. When trolls threaten his village, he sees his chance in the arrival of Kawika, a handsome ranger sent for protection. But things take a deadly turn when a demon appears, leading an army of horrible creatures. The village goes up in flames, Kawika vanishes, and Holt finds himself wandering lost and alone in the wilderness.

Rescued by the Danann, Holt suffers both physical and psychic scars. However, Kawika’s lover, Keone, hopes to use that connection to track and destroy the demon responsible for the attack.

Unfortunately, the link works both ways -- Keone can track through it, and the demon can use it to invade Holt’s mind. As the pursuit continues, Holt’s sanity begins to slip away. Gradually the realization dawns that instead of helping Keone defeat the demon, he may be leading them both into the demon’s deadly trap."

Add your review of "The Obsidian Man" in comments!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Naked" by David Sedaris

I say this a lot, but David Sedaris is honestly one of my favorite authors. His stories are always slightly off in the social sense, which is a quality that brings me a lot of joy. If something is weird even in the slightest, it piques my interest. I remember first falling in love with his stories when I read “The Santaland Diaries,” the story of his days working as an elf in Macy’s in New York. And there was a wealth of similar stories in Naked, a memoir of sorts.
In first reading some of the stories, I thought there was no way he wasn’t making these things up. In “A Plague of Tics,” he talks about all the nervous tics he had as a child. But these were no ordinary tics, these required him to lick doorknobs and fondle his neighbors’ lawn decorations. If one of my friends had told me this story, I definitely would not have believed it. But there’s something about Sedaris that convinced me that every idiosyncrasy of his is real. I also found in his memoir one of my personal favorites from Holidays On Ice, “Dinah the Christmas Whore.” The story recounts a winter night in his teenage years when he went with his sister to rescue one of her coworkers, a friendly ex-prostitute named Dinah. And I was pleased to find a story that kind of related to me, in that I have an ethnic family and so does Sedaris. “Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out!” is the story of the Sedaris family taking care of their elderly Greek grandmother. She seemed nothing short of zany, and the only relative to mourn her death was really her son, Sedaris’ father. In a sadly comical way, it reminds me of the time when my great-grandmother died and most of my family was pleased because she was a bit crazy.

Something I was surprised to see though, were stories where Sedaris took a second to be serious about his life and his homosexuality. I’ll admit that I was expecting a mostly comical memoir, full of more stories about alcohol, nudists, and Vietnamese prostitute half-sisters. But he also makes important points about the importance of family and being open.

I’d say this book is definitely for a more mature audience because of the references to sex, prostitutes, alcohol, and other such concepts. The way he openly discusses his and his siblings’ recreational drug use as if it were just another detail in the background might have confused me had I been a younger reader.

Sedaris’ story “I Like Guys” talks about his first homosexual experience at summer camp in Greece. A friendship turns sexual for a second, and then the friends turn into mortal enemies. This story touches upon the tough time he and others possibly have coming to terms with their sexualities. He talks about his self-hatred, and his hypocrisy in laughing at the use of the word “faggot.” This story makes a really important point in showing people that they are not alone in the way they feel about their homosexuality, and that somehow society makes it tough to accept yourself as you are. What I took from the story is the message that it’s simply easier to accept yourself and others as they are instead of hating others for possessing the same qualities you hate about yourself. We all have our nervous tics and qualities that make us different, like Sedaris’ odd habit of speaking in Elizabethan English for a few months. But those differences are what make us so awesome as people, and all the variance in society makes for a better, more diverse world. Hating the differences between us serves no purpose, so let’s just cut to the chase and enjoy each others’ company.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Naked" in comments!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A New Law (The FAIR Education Act) In California Requires Schools To Teach LGBT History!

Senate bill 48 was signed just last week into law by our new Governor, Jerry Brown.

"History should be honest," the Democratic governor said in a written statement. "This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books.

The bill (which requires public instruction in social science to include the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, as well as people with disabilities and members of other cultural groups, was authored by state senator Mark Leno. It also prohibits teaching from textbooks or other instructional materials that reflect adversely on people because of their sexual orientation.

"Today we are making history in California by ensuring that our textbooks and instructional materials no longer exclude the contributions of LGBT Americans," Leno said in a written statement.

"Denying LGBT people their rightful place in history gives our young people an inaccurate and incomplete view of the world around them,"

This is so important, and such a significant step forwards.

Imagine, learning in school that Shakespeare was bisexual. That Alexander the Great was in love (and not just best friends) with Hephaestion. That President Lincoln was in love with Joshua Fry Speed. I could go on and on... There's so much GLBTQ history that's been suppressed - and now we have a tool towards unveiling and teaching real, queer-inclusive history!



Friday, July 15, 2011

Kid Lit Authors and Illustrators' "It Gets Better!"

My thanks to the wonderful Lisa Yee who told me about this, and to my friends Bruce Coville, Ellen Hopkins and Jay Asher and all the authors and illustrators featured!

And hey, if you're wondering about your summer reading, this video's a great starting place for your list - look at all these amazing authors and illustrators who want to help make things better!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A New Blog I'm liking: Diversity In YA Fiction

Good articles and links, and an important mission to celebrate diverse stories in Young Adult literature!



Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

I had heard the name of Gertrude Stein thrown around a bunch previously, in conjunction with Ernest Hemingway’s and Pablo Picasso’s. The only things I had read by her before were some of her “tender buttons.” But those in no way prepared me for the literary journey I was about to embark on with "The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas." Stein, though writing in the style of her lover Alice, writes like a combination of Ernest Hemingway and Edward Albee.

The story itself was really intriguing. There are always time periods with certain places that completely entice me and France in the early 20th century is one of those. Toklas and Stein would spend time with greats such as Picasso, Hemingway, Matisse, and Apollinaire. They got French lessons from Picasso’s ex-mistress, Fernande. For an art and literature geek like myself, that kind of life sounds incredible.

Though at 252 pages the book may seem like a short, quick read, I’d assure you that it’s not (at least for me). The style is confusing and repetitive, so it took a lot longer to finish each page than I’d have liked it to. I’d recommend this book to probably anybody in college or older, not because of anything inappropriate, but because of the confusing nature of the book itself. The writing style was difficult for me to understand, and I’m an AP English student at school. However, don’t let that turn you away from reading it because it’s a great book with a good message in the way it’s written.

The point that Stein makes without even realizing it is that there’s nothing abnormal about gay and lesbian relationships. Most people would have expected an autobiography about a homosexual couple to include lovey-dovey thoughts, or sex scenes. But nothing overt is really needed to get the point across. The fact that Stein and Toklas were lovers is just a fact, and it’s not something that should change the way the world should look at them or the way they should act in public. They can act however they choose to because they’re completely normal. There is absolutely no reason for the two of them to act overtly in love if they are.

What I think she means is that whenever you meet someone, you shouldn’t have to give a disclaimer on yourself, such as, “I’m warning you, I’m an atheist,” or “I need to let you know before we become friends, I’m a lesbian.” A straight, white man would never do that. Why should other people have to? Just because they’re not in the so-called “majority” doesn’t mean they’re at all lesser human beings. Nobody should ever have to give warnings to people just because they are who they are. Everyone is an individual, and we should never have to treat our own qualities as a potential problem for somebody else. People should be putting themselves first in that respect, because they’re the ones who matter most.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" in comments!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer by Chely Wright

Once again, I’ll be blunt. I’ve never really liked country music. I always felt as if the whole scene was too fake and too traditional. But reading Chely Wright’s memoir "Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer" definitely changed my opinion in a way. Wright actually feels the same about the country music scene and she hopes to change it.

Wright starts with stories from her childhood in Kansas where she grew up chopping wood, getting teased, and having a massive crush on her third grade teacher, Miss Smilie. Having grown up a religious girl in a religious town, she struggled with accepting her own sexuality. She describes a prayer that she said since she was a kid to have God take “the gay” out of her. She dated boys but was bitterly detached from them, leaving them all heartbroken in her wake. Her self-hatred turned into hypocrisy when she started telling people that she thought homosexuality was a sin. In fact, her self-hatred also destroyed the great relationships she was having with females. Her refusal to accept and love herself brought her to the brink of death.

The book starts with a detailed short chapter about Wright’s near suicide attempt. She starts the book with the intense image of her crying with a gun in her mouth. Ordinarily, memoirs follow a linear storyline, but I actually enjoyed her using her nadir as the preface. It infuses the story with a sense of urgency, as if telling her story was a matter of life or death. I’m a firm supporter of the whole “if you don’t believe in yourself then who will?” mantra, so I’m glad that Wright gave her story more importance than most writers would choose to.

Another thing I’d like to commend Wright on is her unapologetic questioning of the Bush Administration’s and the Republican Party’s stance on homosexuality. She was invited by Dick Cheney to perform at a party of his, but after realizing how hypocritical he was about his views (his daughter is a lesbian), she donated her entire check to a non-profit organization. She almost walked out of a gig that was for the Boy Scouts of America because they openly proclaim that they don’t accept women and they don’t accept “the gays.” A common misconception of country singers (one that I believed to be true until I read this book) is that they are all extremely religious and extremely right wing. Chely Wright is not a Republican, and though she does believe in God, it is not the fire and brimstone God I would have expected of someone who grew up like she did.

I would recommend this book for anybody over the age of 14 due to some sexual references and hate speech that is used contextually. I probably wouldn’t have understood certain parts of the book if I hadn’t grown up in a time where I could remember George Bush and Dick Cheney and the role they’ve played in American society.

All in all, I think this book is a great coming out guide and companion. Chely leaves the book open-ended, having received support and love from the family members she did come out to before the book was published. In the edition with the new afterword, she touches on some of the other reactions she received. Not every person in her life was as supportive. Sadly, that’s the reality a lot of GLBTQ teenagers and adults face today. At the same time, it’s good to be realistic about certain hardships and to know that other people experience the same ones. We are never alone in what we experience, and that’s the beauty of being human. We can share our experiences, good or bad. We can talk about them. And we can heal, slowly but surely.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer" in comments!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Do It Yourself Inspiration: Let's Make A Scholarship for GLBTQ & Allied Teens

So check out what Lauren from Shooting Stars magazine is cooking up - an auction to raise funds for a new scholarship for 15-19 year olds, about Living Beyond Tolerance.

It's a great idea, and I for one can't wait to see what's up for auction (and hey, if you wanna donate stuff for the auction, or just donate $ for the scholarship, more info is here.)

After all, it's a great thing to get each us of to answer the question:
What am I doing towards making sure everyone is more than tolerated, but accepted?

And the teen with the best essay answering that question will get a scholarship to help pay for their education. Sounds sweet! But how sweet will depend on how many people join in the auctions and the donations.

And for all you teens out there - start writing those essays!


Friday, July 8, 2011

A cool opportunity for young writers: A new ficitonal short story anthology is looking for tales of "Being Queer"

Hey, teen and young adult writers!

Check out this call for submissions from Bold Strokes books for a new anthology, OMGQueer.

They're looking for fictional short stories about "being queer" from 14-24 year olds across the USA.
"Use the power of fiction to tell us about coming out (or not), about dating, about sex, about what "family means to you, etc."

Their deadline for submissions is October 15, so now you have a great goal for your summer writing. Good luck!


ps - My thanks to fellow writer Emily Jiang for sharing this with me so I could share it with you!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Dark Wife: A Lesbian Revisionist Re-Telling of the Persephone and Hades Myth, where Hades is a Goddess!

by Sarah Diemer

"Persephone has everything a daughter of Zeus could want - except for freedom. She lives on the green earth with her mother, Demeter, growing up beneath the ever-watchful eyes of the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. But when Persephone meets the enigmatic Hades, she experiences something new: choice.

Zeus calls Hades "lord" of the dead as a joke. In truth, Hades is the goddess of the underworld, and no friend of Zeus. She offers Persephone sanctuary in her land of the dead, so the young goddess may escape her Olympian destiny.

But Persephone finds more than freedom in the underworld. She finds love, and herself."

"The Dark Wife" was published by the author, who wrote this beautiful blog post about why she was re-telling this Greek myth with a Lesbian twist.

Add your review of "The Dark Wife" in comments!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith

There are very few instances when I have no idea where to begin. This would be one of them. Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids is absolutely phenomenal. Though she’s not a lesbian, she writes just as much about herself as she does about Robert Mapplethorpe, first her lover and later her other half.

In writing about her relationship with Robert, she brings up the idea of the Kinsey Scale a few times, (possibly without noticing it). Her relationship with Robert throughout her life was complex to say the least. They were madly in love but broke up because he was actually gay. They stayed together throughout their lives as roommates and best friends still, and Robert would sometimes proposition Patti for casual sex after that point. Smith talks about getting her inspiration for her art at points by observing many beautiful women; and though she points out that she had a strange attraction to them, she also says that she was not a homosexual. I see both as examples of the way certain people lean on the Kinsey Scale, something I believe in.

I just have to mention point-blank that Patti Smith is an incredible storyteller. Being a poet, she makes sure to pack each word with enough electricity to power an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. What I mean to say is, the language she uses is simply beautiful. I found myself looking at every sentence a little longer than I normally would, as if each one was a piece of art in a gallery. Not to mention, she lived the perfect rock and roll lifestyle in the 60’s and 70’s. She ran around New York dressed like a beatnik and almost homeless, lived at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, and even had conversations with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. The amazing part is that she accomplished all of this while completely sober, save for a few dances with marijuana and an accidental acid trip. I can honestly say that I would kill to have lived that life for even a week.

One of my favorite things about her memoir though, is the lack of didacticism. She doesn’t preach any sort of spirituality or mindset; she just talks about how she lived her life. She leaves the message of her life and art up to the reader. I could interpret her stories any way I wanted to, to draw out some personal meaning for my own life. I believe that’s what makes the book so universal. So often in life, we have to figure things out for ourselves, which is often really difficult. Finding meaning in a book that doesn’t explicitly spell it out is great practice.

Just Kids has a lot of mature subject matter like S&M and hard drugs, so I would say that a very mature high school student could read it. The story flows nicely and the words themselves are artfully selected.

Patti Smith is one of those authors that I’m going to keep thinking about. There are certain books that I’ve read where I haven’t understood the meaning right as I read it, but I could feel the change they brought to me. I feel so much more enlightened by her novel, even though I’m not sure how. As I continue to grow and mature, the things she’s experienced will have more relevance to my life and I can draw upon her memoir to navigate through my own life at that point. Hers is one of those books that I know I won’t forget about. The optimism I feel after having read it is too important to forget about.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Just Kids" in comments!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cursebusters! A Kick-Butt Queer-Inclusive Time-Traveling Adventure

by Julie Smith

"Budding-psychic Reeno is the most accomplished teenage burglar in California, but one tiny screw-up and poof!—she's sentenced to Bad Girl School. And that isn’t even her worst problem. Her sister Haley’s dying of an illness no one can diagnose, and now she can’t even help.

But wait, maybe she can! The school psychics have found each other and formed their own club. With the help of her gay friend Carlos and the other Ozone Rangers, Reeno finds out Haley’s disease is the result of an ancient Mayan curse. And A.B., the group's sinister non-faculty adviser, claims he knows how to break it.

All Reeno has to do is time-travel to an ancient Mayan city and steal a little item A.B. needs to save the world. Since she’s an ace thief, he has complete confidence she can execute the task before the outraged Mayans can execute her.

But can she trust A.B.? Despite his cuddly appearance, she knows he’s a merciless predator and ruthless assassin.

And he's not even human."

Add your review of "Cursebusters!" in comments!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Have You Read "Am I Blue?" By Bruce Coville? You MUST!

Okay, one of the good-problem challenges is that I can't read everything, which is why this blog is set up to highlight your reviews. I work to make my lists of GLBTQ teen books comprehensive, and give good info about what they're about with links to the author's sites and to get a copy.

So it's not unusual for me to finally get to a book after it's been blogged about, and in this case, last summer's intern Hannah wrote up the "Am I Blue? Coming Out From The Silence" post, as Bruce's story provided the name for the anthology edited by Marion Dane Bauer.

But I just sat down and read Bruce's 13 page story that starts off the collection, and all I can say is, WOW!

You have to read this!

What if a fairy godfather told you that one of the three great gay fantasies was to imagine what it would be like if every gay person in the country turned blue for a day?

Well Vincent (who isn't really sure if he's gay or not, but keeps getting beat up because the bully in his school thinks he is) just met his fairy godfather, and he's going to get his wish...

It's an amazing story, and I'm so glad I read it.

I hope you read it, too.

And for those of you in the U.S.A., it's a great way to celebrate our Independence Day, the 4th of July!


Friday, July 1, 2011

30 Days of Gay T-Shirts: Results (and a video montage!)

Okay, so as a challenge I spent 30 days in a row – every day of June 2011, wearing gay t-shirts – and no, it wasn’t a FASHION challenge, to come up with 30 different shirts that proclaimed that I’m gay and proud.

Instead, what I was going for was a social experiment.

I wanted to see what would happen, both externally and internally, if I refused the default white-straight-man privilege I walk around with and put it out there, on my shirt for everyone to see that I’m a member of a minority group.

Now my friend Jacqueline Woodson, who is a brilliant author and African American, doesn’t like the word “minority” and wants people to stop using it. She asks, “minority to whom? To what?” And in many ways she’s right. Perhaps the term “minority” has taken the place of "disenfranchised." We use "minority" to cover women, who are actually a majority numbers-wise, when we really mean a group denied access to social and economic power and equality for being who they are.

For most straight people, my being gay is not a visible characteristic, unless I’m holding my husband’s hand. And being a Dad, when I’m out in the world with our kid, most everyone assumes I’m straight (I get a lot of “mom’s day off?”)

So for a solid month I wanted to be OUT there, and just see how the world reacted. Here's what happened:

The Real World
Being a ‘hidden’ minority has this horribly awkward moment that I’ve experienced a number of times in my life where someone’s being really nice and then they reveal their prejudice to you, thinking that you share their feelings, not knowing you belong to the group they’re disparaging.

It’s happened with people not knowing I was Jewish, but most of all it’s happened with people not knowing I’m gay.

June 1, 2011 - Day One

On day one, There was a fifth grade boy who scowled at me when he read my “smile if you’re gay” shirt, but I think he just wanted to make sure I knew he wasn’t gay. Interestingly, the shirt didn’t say “smile only if you’re gay.” It was definitely the shirt that got the most reaction throughout the month.

And because of the t-shirts, it was a month of no accidental gay slurs, and no accidental oh-I-thought-you-were-straight moments. (The only meanness came from a tiny (less than 15) group of protesters at the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade, and I (and most of the other hundreds of thousands of celebrants of Gay Pride) ignored them behind their fence, caged not just by police-erected steel wire but by their own hate.

Otherwise in the month, there were some socially awkward moments in conversations with straight adult acquaintances – who know I’m gay - when they would be talking with me and then notice my shirt, and then they’d sort of verbally stumble. But generally, people were gracious – and if they had any issues, they had the good grace to keep it to themselves.

And once I explained my "It's Okay To Be Takei" shirt, it was a big hit at the teacher and staff "Empowering Diversity" training session I did for an elementary school on day 14!

June 14, 2011 - Day fourteen

And on day 17, at the zoo with my kid, a woman come up to me, with her two kids just behind her, and asked about my Trevor project t-shirt since her nephew was also named "Trevor."

June 17, 2011 - Day seventeen

I was very self-conscious as I explained to her that the Trevor Project was a 24 hour a day crisis intervention hotline to help gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. How would she react? Would she be homophobic in front of my kid? I felt myself tensing up, but all she said was, "Oh, that's great." And then she walked away. A minute later she was back, wanting to introduce me to her friend that she was there at the zoo with, a man with a child the same age as hers. And it turns out he was another gay dad! A bit of serendipity, and a lesson about making assumptions, that I wouldn't have had if not for wearing that shirt!

And throughout the month, my friends were awesome, sending me t-shirts to add to my growing repertoire, and cheering me on. You all ROCK!

The Online World

I posted a photo of myself every day in each day’s shirt on twitter and facebook, and had lots of “likes’ and a few hundred comments – all supportive. Sure, these were from among my over 2,000 friends and followers, but that level of interest and encouragement was really surprising and gratifying. So thanks, everyone.

The Interior World of Me
I think this is where the most profound shift happened.

June 30, 2011 - Day thirty, and the final day of the challenge

I used to grab for my “legalize gay” shirt and hesitate, wondering if it would be awkward or too in-your-face-gay for what I might be doing that day. Where I might be going. And that self-censorship was troubling to me. Doing this project and wearing the out gay shirts every day became a habit. (Yes, just like MotherReader's and my annual Kidlitosphere Comment Challenge – 21 days of commenting more on blogs to make a new habit).

As the month went on, I stopped being so self-conscious and stopped thinking about what my shirts were saying as I went about my day, so that when my husband and kid and I went out to the movies on day 26 and I was wearing my “closets are for clothes” t-shirt and the usher kept smiling at us, and was extra-nice and chatty, I didn’t even connect it to my shirt until later.

But when I talked to my husband about it, I realized it was definitely the t-shirt.

June 26, 2011 - Day twenty-six

I think wearing the gay t-shirts on the outside helped me own who I am more on the inside, and helped me be more okay inside my own skin.

It made me more proud, and more confident as a Gay man.

And going forward, I’ll wear that every day of my life.

Thanks for sharing the journey,