Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Man In The Middle" by John Amaechi

Last year, I had the immense pleasure of hearing John Amaechi speak at my school’s “Diversity Day.” He was the very last speaker at the end of a very long day, and most people expected his speech to drag on forever. However, everyone was extremely intrigued by what he had to say. Amaechi ended up being the school favorite, and not just because of his fantastic British accent.

That being said, I loved his biography, Man In The Middle. Amaechi has a distinctive literary voice that’s quite a pleasure to read. His writing style is very British. It is very factual and straightforward, but laced with little witticisms here and there. One of my favorite lines of his is when he says how he’s “experienced plenty of endorphin surges after an intense workout, but [he] must say [he’s] had better highs from a cup of Earl Grey tea.” And of course that line sounds even better when you hear it in your head in a British accent.

I really appreciate the honesty and authenticity that Amaechi brings forth in his stories and feelings. Though he was an NBA player, he admits that he hated sports and anything that made him sweat. And later in the book, he talks about how he felt that the whole locker-room situation in the NBA seemed more “gay” than he himself was. His upbringing also seems like quite a tough ordeal. He dealt with an emotionally abusive father who caused the rest of the Amaechi’s to run away to England. He even followed them there, only to threaten the young John’s mother. Much of his childhood worry is a mystery though, even to him, as his mother never divulged all the facts of her relationship with their father.

This book is definitely a great read for anybody with an interest in sports, or even literature and psychology. It’s an easy, fast read, but there are a few f-bombs thrown about and a bit of sexual imagery. Amaechi’s intelligence really shows in his style of writing, and I also greatly appreciated his use of gender-neutral pronouns.

One of the main messages I picked up from his autobiography was that not everyone fits into their stereotype. Would most people expect a 6’8” NBA player to be gay? Probably not. And in the same way, would somebody guess that the girl in the pink party dress with the bows in her hair is a lesbian? Maybe not. Somebody doesn’t have to look a certain way to be a certain way. And that’s more than okay. Amaechi got his start in basketball because somebody recruited him based on his height. He would have much rather been a psychologist, or even a doctor if he had the stomach for it. The way you are on the outside doesn’t always have something to do with who you are on the inside. It’s important to never judge somebody without getting to know them at first. Everyone should be given a chance to show who they are before somebody else gets to decide who they are.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Man In The Middle" in comments!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Lambda Literary Foundation Changes Their Lammy Award Guidelines to both include Allied writers and highlight GLBTQ writers as Well

It's been an ongoing debate, whether the Lambda Literary Foundation should celebrate, with their annual Lammy Awards, books or authors.

See, two years ago LLF changed their guidelines, saying that only books with great GLBTQ characters written by GLBTQ authors would be eligible.

They wanted to promote GLBTQ writers, and while I think that's a laudable goal, I (and others) felt that the eligibility change was a dis-service to all our allies who write wonderful books with GLBTQ characters and themes. (And many of their past Lammy Winners, like Ellen Wittlinger, author of "Hard Love," are heterosexual Allies to our queer community.)

So it was announced yesterday that LLF has struck a new position moving forward, a compromise which I think answers both needs: celebrate the best GLBTQ books each year, no matter WHO wrote them (or who the authors fall in love with) while adding three new award categories to specifically celebrate GLBTQ authors!

Here's their new policy, taken from yesterday's press release:

LGBT authors will be recognized with three awards marking stages of a writer's career: the Betty Berzon Debut Fiction Award (to one gay man and one lesbian), the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize (to one male-identified and one female-identified author), and the Pioneer Award (to one male-identified and one female-identified individual or group)

Awards for the remaining Lambda Literary Award categories will be based on literary merit and significant content relevant to LGBT lives. These awards will be open to all authors regardless of their sexual identity

All book award judges will be self-identified LGBT

Bravo, Lambda Literary Foundation!


I think Angie's comment below is very right-on. I, too, hope that LLF re-considers the structure of its three categories of awards for LGBTQ authors to include ALL LGBTQ authors!

Thanks, Angie!


Monday, August 29, 2011

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial - The Dedication May Have Been Postponed, But We Can Listen To His Words Now

"With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."

I'm very happy about the new National Memorial to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And while the hurricane back East may have delayed the official dedication that was to have taken place yesterday, I don't want to delay sharing this with you.

It is one of Dr. King's most famous speeches, and every time I hear it, I get goosebumps. I listen to it often, and while I've read the words on the page and on the screen, the impact of hearing and watching Dr. King delivering his speech is so powerful.

So watch and listen along with me, and be inspired to join in and work to change our world to let freedom ring...


Friday, August 26, 2011

Little Willow's Booklists at Bildungsroman - A Resource You HAVE To Know About!


Little Willow has assembled an incredibly useful set of book recommendations over at her website, Bildungsroman.

With picks ranging from baby books to teen novels, and movie-style (G, PG, PG-13, R, etc...) ratings, this is a treasure trove.

Want to read some teen books about Prom? Books covering Orientation and/or Gender Roles, including many titles listed here at this blog? Books with positive and platonic student/teacher relationships? If-thens for middle schoolers? (here's an example: if you like Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, then try Call of the Wild by Jack London.) Curious about the Cybil Award Winners?

Her site is an invaluable resource, and I was so happy when I discovered it. (And I keep going back to it...)

And now I'm delighted to share it with you!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Borrower: A Librarian and a might-be-gay 10 year old boy's Road Trip

By Rebecca Makkai

"Lucy Hull, a young children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes.

Lucy, a rebel at heart beneath her librarian’s exterior, stumbles into a moral dilemma when she finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a knapsack of provisions and an escape plan. Desperate to save him from the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian. The odd pair embarks on an improvised road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets and an inconvenient boyfriend thrown in their path. Along the way, Lucy struggles to make peace with her Russian immigrant father and his fugitive past, and is forced to use his shady connections to escape discovery."

Published as an adult book, since it revolves around Lucy's relationship with might-be-gay Ian - who is ten - I'm including it here. Check out this interview with the author, where she talks about the story behind writing "The Borrower." And add your review in comments!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Deflowered: My Life In Pansy Division" by Jon Ginoli

Being both a musician and a music enthusiast, I actually was not surprised that I hadn’t heard of The Pansy Division. If there’s any genre that has more bands than anyone can keep track of, it would definitely be punk. The name really only stuck out to me because of its closeness to the band name Joy Division, one of my favorite punk/post-punk bands. But I was also intrigued because the only openly gay rock star anyone really hears about is Freddy Mercury. I was definitely excited to delve into Jon Ginoli’s account of his life and music career.

The only thing that really shocked me about his book was his style. Most autobiographies are written in almost the exact same tone. Ginoli writes about whatever he feels like, and is completely unapologetic about the language he decides to use. When I read the book I felt as though I was listening to an audiotape. I could hear every “goddamn” and F bomb he decided to drop into his story. He goes into a little more detail about his sexual encounters than one would expect. Some would say a little too much detail, but it doesn’t really faze me. I, for one, really enjoyed the colloquial style of his memoir.

His story is also something that attracted me. All the bands he started out listening to or cites as his influences, such as Blondie, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith, are all artists that I currently listen to. Not only do I relate to his music tastes, but also in some forms of his teenage rebellion. His parents, being relatively cool with their rules are really similar to mine. Therefore, he had to rebel in small ways. He didn’t want to smile for his senior picture or wear a cap and gown for his graduation. I refuse to wear my retainer because I like my teeth slightly crooked, and I prefer wearing vintage boots to girly sandals. We also both share the same feeling about constantly being forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. It was actually strange how relateable his story is to my own life.

My one criticism of his book is that he occasionally throws around words like “dyke” to just describe people he knew. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with people using words like that, whether they’re gay or not. I don’t believe that being a minority entitles someone to use a hurtful word outside of context just because it’s usually used to describe that person.

This book is once again for the more mature reader, only because the language he uses and the lack of censorship in many of his anecdotes would probably make a young kid uncomfortable to say the least.

What I liked most about his story is that he represents a change. There were very few, if any, openly gay punk musicians when the genre first started. People were afraid of being associated with that label, and the cost that association would bring them. But in starting the Pansy Division, an all-gay punk band, Ginoli and his band mates became the crossover artists for their genre. They proved that setting a precedent is totally doable. And even more so, it’s pretty awesome.

People shouldn’t be afraid to do what they want and be themselves at the same time. You never have to split your personality from your career. You just need to figure out your own way to go about doing it.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Deflowered: My Life In Pansy Division" in comments!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who I Am - A Questioning Teen Novel

By M.L. Rice

Devin is an Air Force brat, band nerd and bookworm. After her father dies, she and her mom move to Los Angeles to start over.

But Jason, an arrogant bully, decides he's going to make her senior year miserable.

But when Devin meets Jason's sister, Melanie, things spark. They become friends, and Devin starts to realize that maybe, she wants them to be more than friends.

Add your review of "Who I Am" in comments!

Monday, August 22, 2011

If they're ugly on the inside, would YOU try to make them pretty on the outside?

So this professional photographer, Jennifer McKendrick, came across a facebook page where some high schoolers were viciously cyber-bullying other students.

She checked the names of the bullies, and it turns out they were the same girls that she had scheduled senior portrait shoots with.

She cancelled the sessions, saying

"I mean how could I spend two hours with someone during our session trying to make beautiful photos of them knowing they could do such UGLY things," McKendrick writes. "Realistically, I know by canceling their shoots it's not going to make them 'nicer people' but I refuse to let people like that represent my business."

Jennifer explains about it on her blog in this post, "I won't photograph ugly people," and here's the line I love best:
"If you are ugly on the inside, I’m sorry but I won’t take your photos to make you look pretty on the outside!"

I really like that there was some consequence for these teens that were cyber bullying their classmates.

What do you think?
Did Jennifer do the right thing?
Will it make a difference in the lives of those four bullies?

What would YOU have done in a similar situation?

My thanks to Karol for sharing this story with me, so I could share it with all of you!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Kid Lit Con teams up with RIF - Reading Is Fundamental to Raise Money and Get Books Into Kids' Hands!

The incredible Colleen Mondor and Jackie Parker-Robinson have forged a partnership between the upcoming kid lit conference of children's literature bloggers and the non profit Reading Is Fundamental, whose mission is to get books into the hands of kids who otherwise wouldn't get books. To create the next generation of passionate readers. To change the world.

I'm pretty excited that this conference which I'm so looking forward to now has a component about helping others and making a change beyond just our community.

If you're convinced, know about how RIF is losing it's government funding, and want to donate to help RIF in conjunction with Kid Lit Con, click here.

If you want to know more, Colleen explains it with such eloquence, I'm just going to send you to her blog to read all about it.

So thanks, Colleen and Jackie.

Books in the hands of Kids.

What a great joint mission!

And thanks to all of you, too!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

"My Two Wives and Three Husbands: A True Love Story" by S. Stanley Gordon

The first thing I will say is that S. Stanley Gordon seems like a much cooler, more fun person than most of my friends (no offense to any of my friends who read these reviews).

I was immediately drawn into the story. Gordon gets straight to the point, saying that though he has many experiences to write about, he’ll stick to the topic of love for this book. His story moves quickly, starting with his Russian upbringing in a large family. As a child, he dealt with a lot of anti-Semitism, so he learned to hide his homosexuality so that he wouldn’t be made fun of. He also dated women and married a woman initially. But he slept with men quite a lot. I won’t give away the rest of his story, but it moves quickly and is really intriguing.

From Gordon’s writing style, you’d assume that he was anywhere from 20-40 years old. With his use of exclamation points and sentences like “Let’s face it: I was a teenage slut!” it’s hard to believe he’s about 88 years old. He writes with much enthusiasm, and it feels as though he’s a good friend, just telling you some stories. His zest and honesty combine to make a great style. Usually I’m all for darker, moodier, quirkier writing styles, but I really enjoyed his fresh tone. His excitement made me excited to read his story.

At 281 pages, the book is a quick read. It goes by swiftly, and is far from complicated. I would only advise that people who can handle certain linguistic elements read the book. Gordon is not afraid to curse, and he is not afraid to talk about sex and masturbation either. However, he never goes into too much detail, probably for the better. Though honestly, I’d recommend this book to just about anyone. His enthusiasm is extremely contagious.

I also really appreciate that all Gordon wants is for everyone to love and be loved. He talks about this in not only the story, but also the preface and very end. Love, in his opinion, makes everyone happy. And all Gordon wants for everyone is happiness.

But I’ve learned that to love someone else, you have to love yourself first. If you can love yourself, your enthusiasm for life, like Gordon’s, can be extremely contagious. I, for one, am glad that somebody else believes that love can save the world. It may sound too idealistic, but Gordon is right. Money and success are really important, but life isn’t much fun without somebody to love who loves you back. So I guess I’d just say that we should be spreading the love, because bringing positivity to the world is bringing the world in the right direction.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "My Two Wives and Three Husbands: A True Love Story" in comments!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen DeGeneres" by Kathleen Tracy

I’ve always liked Ellen DeGeneres. As a kid, "Finding Nemo" was one of the greatest movies ever in my opinion. And of course, I loved watching her dance around on her talk show. Of course, my first impressions of her stuck with me the most. I never really took the time to know more about her though. The only other things I remembered about her were her public relationship with Anne Heche and her happy marriage to Portia de Rossi. I must say, I’m glad I delved into Kathleen Tracy’s biography about DeGeneres.

It was interesting to hear about DeGeneres’ Southern upbringing and the traditional values her family upheld. She wasn’t allowed to get vaccines as a child because her family members were devout Christian Scientists. She wasn’t even allowed to take science classes at school because of her parents’ religious beliefs. I was also incredibly shocked to hear that Ellen was molested by her stepfather as a teenage girl. Of course, Tracy writes about DeGeneres’ television shows, her adult relationships, and her family life. But I was most shocked to hear about Ellen’s first “real love.” I was only surprised because he was her high school boyfriend. Tracy makes the point to say that Ellen was not one of those lesbians who knew of her sexuality at an early age. She struggled with it quite a lot, and really repressed it until she went to college.

Tracy’s style is typical of any other biographer. She writes the story in order, and she writes with clarity. I have to say though, I was a bit confused about chronology because she would often jump forward in time, and then jump right back to where she was. I found it to be a little off-putting when she decided to explain things that seemed like such common knowledge. It felt almost condescending, as if Tracy was the only one who knew of common sense and that the rest of us readers have much to learn. For example, at one point she mentions that DeGeneres’ older brother Vance treated her like a nuisance, “as typical of older brothers.” Maybe I’m just being nitpicky again, but I think it’s a bit obvious that older brothers don’t quite appreciate their younger sisters like they should. Other than that though, I commend Tracy on the book's being so well researched. She makes sure to point out an error in a 1997 issue of People Magazine, which apparently miscounted the number of spouses Ellen DeGeneres’ mother had. This book is pretty appropriate in terms of subject matter. The details are quite tame, so I think that really anybody above the age of 13 can handle it.

What I liked most about the book is that the introduction very clearly spells out the messages Tracy hopes for the reader to walk away with. She wants the reader to understand how dumb it is to define a person by his or her sexuality. Ellen lost a lot of her audience when the media decided to define her by her sexuality. The world really forgot how talented she was because they became so wrapped up in who she is as a person. Tracy makes sure to include a really meaningful quote from DeGeneres that I think really summarizes the whole essence of the book.

“My whole career has been based on making people feel happy. That’s all I ever wanted to do—was make people laugh and make people happy.”

What’s the point of putting somebody down who spreads such a positive message? Having a positive attitude is really the only way to make sure that the world responds positively to you. A little bit of happiness never hurt anyone.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen DeGeneres" in comments!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Twice Bitten - A Gay Teen Gets Bitten By A Vampire and A Werewolf and Has To Choose...

By Dave Ferraro

Jesse Hartwick is a teen celebrity, recently out of the closet, and just beginning to take off as the next big thing in Hollywood.

Everything changes when he meets Kurt, but is Jesse's celebrity status the only thing that Kurt is interested in?

When Lane comes into the picture, it just confuses Jesse more, but he can hardly deny the strong feelings he has for him, especially since Lane didn't even know that Jesse was a celebrity when he met him.

Then Jesse is attacked by a werewolf, and saved from certain death by a vampire, changing him into something altogether new. With his new abilities, he doesn't know who he can trust, let alone how to balance the spotlight with this aspect of himself that he must hide.

But in the end, he must decide the war inside and out: Vampire or werewolf? Kurt or Lane?

"Twice Bitten" was published by the author. Add your review in comments!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Second-Ever Completely Subjective "Best Business Card At A Children's Literature Conference" Award

It's happened once before, and was so much fun I had to do it again.

At this most recent and amazing SCBWI Conference, I collected and gave out business cards as I met and chatted with some of the most fascinating writers, illustrators, agents, editors, art directors and industry professionals.

Here's a pic of all the cards I brought home:

But there was ONE card that really stood out. In fact, once you got one, every ELSE saw that you had it. People asked me about mine. It was the MUST HAVE of the conference...

Which one was it?


The HARBINGER 02.02.2012 Lanyards, promoting my friend Sara Wilson Etienne's debut novel coming out from Putnam/Penguin!

Check out how cool this is!

I wore mine (along with my red RA Lanyard) all weekend as did hundreds of other attendees. In fact, at our Los Angeles Kid Lit Drink Night, there was a sea of the distinctive orange HARBINGER swag on display.

So Sara, for your ComicCon-inspired marketing moment of brilliance in being the first kid lit person I've seen to bring hundreds of customized lanyards promoting their novel to a SCBWI conference, you have won... well, I guess it's really just bragging rights.

So well done!

*cue applause*

Congratulations, and thank you all for playing...

And if you have an entry you think could win, introduce yourself to me at the upcoming New York SCBWI Winter Conference (#NY12SCBWI) and let's swap cards!


Friday, August 12, 2011

Five Highlights of my #LA11SCBWI Experience! (With lots of quotes, and JUDY BLUME!)

There were so many HUGE stand-out moments for me from the three day conference and the full day of intensives, but perhaps the

#1 moment was having Judy Blume come to the LGBTQ Lunchtime Poolside chat and participate!

Me and Judy Blume! (I'm on the left.)

We had 50 attendees, including luminaries from the faculty Bruce Coville, Emma Dryden, Arthur A. Levine, Laurent Linn and, to our collective delight, Judy Blume. We went around the large oval and everyone introduced themselves, and then we had a Q&A.

One of the main questions was voiced by an author who wanted to know if he includes gay characters in his Middle Grade novel, is he hurting his chances of being published? Arthur A. Levine answered that no, in fact, if the story is well done, having GLBTQ characters in it could help it stand out and get published! (He even shared a story about how that was exactly how one very successful author finally got published- by writing the story with gay characters he'd been afraid to write.)

I took the opportunity to ask Judy how she deals with the challenge of knowing there will be people who won't like what she writes (she has faced so many book banning challenges) and asked her how does she avoid self-censoring?

She answered

"that's not what you should be thinking about when you're writing. Be with your characters and don't think about it."

YES - Tell the story that you have to tell! The session was exciting and very gratifying to moderate, and throughout the conference people came up to thank me for it. Awesome! (The official conference blog entry on the LGBTQ Chat is here.)

#2 The two intensives I took, with Bruce Coville and Ellen Hopkins, each provided me with enormous insights and inspiration for two different works in progress. I wrote about my experience in these sessions on the official conference blog, and am so grateful to have attended them both.

#3 Hearing Libba Bray say that in an early draft she'd written in one part of her manuscript: "Gemma is sad here. do you know why she's sad here? 'cause I don't!" I love hearing that even someone as brilliant as Libba has to re-write and revise to get her books to be so awesome. It's encouraging as I re-write and revise!

#4 Marinating in the sense of Tribe and community. I love being part of SCBWI Team Blog, and being a new part of the SCBWI Regional Advisor community, too - and just to be at the conference, surrounded by so many friends, old and new, who appreciate me, meant (and means) so much to me. Writing is a very solitary passionate pursuit, and these conferences are a fantastic counter-point to that. They are my favorite time of the year! And our second ever Los Angeles kid lit drink night was a gigantic success - with over 200 attendees!!!

#5 Throughout the conference there were so many tweetable and great things said. So I've gathered some of my favorites from my notes and share them again here:

"A good book is like other books, a great book is only like itself." - Bruce Coville

"If you get reads and everyone says it's perfect, get new readers." - Tina Wexler

"Story matters most." - Emma Dryden

"Any civilization is built on empathy. If dreadful things happen to you, you learn empathy. ...And for the protected child ...the safest way for them to develop empathy is through a book." - Donna Jo Napoli

"You want to be a different person on the other side of writing this book." - Libba Bray

"You write your stuff and get it out there any way you can." - Jon Scieszka

"One of the important jobs of a writer is to help children understand there is more than one way to look at things, and some of them are strange." - Norton Juster

"By choosing the right details, we can dilate the pores of time and enter time like an oil." - Mary Pope Osborne

"Great writing will always find a home." - Barry Goldblatt

"Beaver is the best meat: 37% protein." - Gary Paulson

"Read like the wolf eats." - Richard Peck

"Voice is personality" - Tracey Adams

"Marketing Survival: you do what you can and then get on with your day." - Susan Raab

"It's determination as much as any kind of talent that's going to get you there." - Judy Blume

"Your muse is you... and she deserves a lot of love and tender care." - Laurie Halse Anderson

It was an unforgettable four days, and I'm so grateful I got to be part of it. And I'm already excited about #NY12SCBWI - SCBWI's Annual Winter Conference in New York City, January 27-29, 2012.

Hope to see you there!

photo by Rita Crayon Huang!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Beauty Queens: A Rollicking Adventure With Transgender, Lesbian and Bisexual main characters

By Libba Bray

"The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

"What's a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program - or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan - or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?"

I loved reading this book.

And when I saw Libba at the 40th Anniversary SCBWI Summer Conference, she agreed to chat on camera about the book and its queer characters. She even does some of the voices of the characters she used when recording the audio version of the book!

So here's Libba Bray, talking about "Beauty Queens," and how it's
"chock full of LGBTQ awesomeness!"

Add your review of "Beauty Queens" in comments!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Putting Makeup On the Fat Boy - A Gay Teen In The Cutthroat World Of Makeup Artists!

by Bil Wright

"Carlos Duarte knows that he's fabulous. He's got a better sense of style than half the fashionistas in New York City, and he can apply makeup like nobody's business. He may only be in high school, but when he lands the job of his dreams - makeup artist at the FeatureFace counter in Macy's - he's sure that he's finally on his way to great things.

But the makeup artist world is competitive and cutthroat, and for Carlos to reach his dreams, he'll have to believe in himself more than ever."

Add your review of "Putting Makeup On The Fat Boy" in comments!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

365 Days - A Questioning, Coming Out, Lesbian Teen Novel

By K.E. Payne

Clemmie's 15, and thinks she's in love with her school friend, J.

But J doesn't even seem to know Clemmie exists, so Clemmie's dating Ben, who kind of bores her.

Now when sexy new-girl Hannah enters the scene, things get even more confusing... and interesting!

Written as a series of first person diary entries, 365 Days is a year in the life of a young lesbian coming out and falling in love.

Add your review of "365 Days" in comments!

Friday, August 5, 2011

My Imagined SCBWI Five Minute Keynote!

The SCBWI Summer Conference is one of my favorite times of the year. I'll be spending four days with my tribe - 1,342 writers, illustrators, editors, art directors, agents, and publishers - everyone passionate about creating creative content (what we used to just call "books") for children and teens.

I've been thinking a lot about what I would say if I were given five minutes on the main stage, in front of all these amazing creative people. If I were given a chance to give a mini-keynote.

And yeah, I totally made this photo up.

Here's what I'd say:

Hi Everyone. I'm Lee Wind, a blogger at "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?" and a member of SCBWI Team Blog. I'm an assistant Regional Advisor for Los Angeles, and I write middle grade novels.

Anne Sibley O’Brien, in a recent series of articles in the SCBWI Bulletin, brought our attention to the phenomenon of “white mind” – how many of us default our characters in our writing and illustrating to be white. I’d argue we also have “heterosexist mind,” where we don’t even realize we’re not including Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning characters in our writing and illustrating. Our princesses end up with princes. Our boy characters are attracted to girls, our girl characters are attracted to boys, the adults in our books are all straight, and we don’t even notice we’re doing it.

I’d like to advocate that we, as children’s content creators, become the engine for a re-education that gets people’s minds to include gay possibilities. That’s no more radical than suggesting that the universes of our books include the diversity of the world in which our children are already growing up.

Just as African-American children and Asian children, disabled children and foreign children, Latino children and Jewish children, fat children and deaf children, and every other group of “other” children do, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning children need that moment of seeing themselves reflected in the books they read.

Without seeing themselves in the stories they grow up with, how can they believe there’s a place for them in our world? Sadly, so many GLBTQ children don’t see a future for themselves. And not believing in a future is one cause of the tragic rash of gay teen suicides.

Before going any further, I need to debunk a devastating stereotype about what it means to be gay. Being attracted to someone of the same gender is NOT a choice. If you’re straight, was there a moment in your life when you CHOSE to be attracted to people of the opposite gender? We can’t convince ourselves to be attracted to Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie if that’s not what we find attractive. We can’t control or choose or change how our bodies are wired.

The dearth of positive portrayals of GLBTQ characters in children’s literature doesn’t keep GLBTQ children and teens from existing. But it does feed a culture where gayness is equated with second-class citizenship. It feeds a lack of self-esteem. It feeds a loss of hope.

You certainly don’t need to be GLBTQ to write a GLBTQ character – any more than you need to be male to write boy characters. Do your homework. Get your details right. And in the words of Jane Yolen: “H.O.P.” - get your Heart On the Page. Because, at the end of the day, GLBTQ characters have emotions and hopes and fears just like every other character. And if we can tap into OUR real emotions when we write them, they’ll ring true.

Ellen Wittlinger famously said (and I’m doing my best to make her famous for saying it) that she includes GLBTQ characters in everything she writes, even the books that aren’t about those characters, because they’re part of the world of her readers, and she wants her books to reflect that.

And for illustrators, there’s an equally important opportunity to open minds and hearts. Look at the amazing work of two-time Caldecott-Honoree Marla Frazee, whose illustrations to Susan Meyer’s words in their board book, "Everywhere Babies," includes an exhausted two mom family, right next to all the other racially diverse, exhausted parents.

I once asked a children’s illustrator if he had any gay content in his portfolio, and he reacted as if I’d asked if he had any pornography among his drawings. Look at Madge and Bernie Wubbington in Peter Brown’s "The Fabulous Bouncing Chowder." They may be heterosexual, but they’re not having sex. They’re sitting on a couch. Similarly, including GLBTQ characters doesn’t necessarily sexualize a book.

When we were talking at one of our GLBTQ Poolside Chats at a previous SCBWI Summer Conference, Arthur A. Levine brought up how simple it would be to include a two mom family in a Middle Grade work. One child character asks their friend if they can stay for dinner, and the friend can respond, "I just need to call my Moms and check." "Moms." As simple as making it plural.

I urge us all to consider including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning characters and themes in our writing and illustrating for children. Include them in our picture books, our chapter books, our middle grade, and our young adult manuscripts. Include them in our magazine articles, our nonfiction, and in our art.

At the very least, we can contribute to a more respectful sense of safe space in our world – and in our literature – by not having characters disparage GLBTQ people with expressions like “that’s so gay” as toss-off moments of dialog – even if it’s what teens today say.

None of us would use the “N-word” carelessly in a children's book. Our culture has shifted to where racism is unacceptable. We haven't eliminated racism, but most of us try to stop it when we see it in action, and we would certainly rise up against its inclusion in books for children. We need to make homophobia unacceptable as well. I'm not arguing for censorship, but we should recognize that carelessly using words like “faggot,” “that’s so lame,” “retard,” and boys calling girls “bitch,” contributes to a culture where kids learn to build their own self esteem by putting others down. We need to change that power dynamic.

The goal is not tolerance. Or even acceptance. The goal is for us to be able to celebrate our differences.

And as creators of content for children, WE can help get our world there. We can make kids’ and teens’ lives better for having read and experienced our stories – all kids. Gay and straight.

We can make a difference. And we should.

If you want to talk more about including LGBTQ characters and themes in your writing and illustrating, join me and some amazing conference faculty members at our LGBTQ Poolside Chat, Friday August 5, 2011 from 12:45pm-2:00pm.

Thanks, and hope to see you there!


Now I want to know: What would YOU talk about if you got 5 minutes on the main stage?

This speech is an updated version of my writer's perspective column that was published in our local southern California SCBWI kitetales (Spring 2011).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ten Things I'm So Excited About (And That You Should Know) For the 40th Anniversary SCBWI Summer Conference (which starts tomorrow!)

1. I'll be blogging about the conference as part of SCBWI Team Blog, and you can follow along at the official conference blog here! We'll be led once again by Team Captain Alice Pope, and the rest of the team is Martha Brockenbrough, Jolie Stekley, Jaime Temairik, and Suzanne Young. They're all amazing, and I'm so honored to be included!

2. You can join in the tweets about the conference with the twitter hashtag #LA11SCBWI!

3. Once again I'll be moderating the conference's LGBTQ Poolside Chat - Friday August 5, 2011, from 12:45pm - 2:00pm. We've got a number of the conference faculty joining in, and it should be a great opportunity to talk about including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning characters and themes in our writing and illustrating for children and teens.

4. I'm going to charge up on INSPIRATION! There are so many Keynotes I can't wait to hear! Like the Friday Keynotes from Bruce Coville, Libba Bray and Emma Dryden! And the Saturday Keynotes from John Green, Jon Scieszka and Mary Pope Osborne! And Laurie Halse Anderson's Keynote on Sunday!

5. I'm going to learn some great focused tools and techniques of CRAFT! How am I ever going to figure out which Friday, Saturday, and Sunday workshops to attend? At least I have two writers intensives for Monday already figured out, with a morning session on writing fantasy taught by Bruce Coville, and an afternoon session on Writing Novels in Verse taught by Ellen Hopkins!

6. I'm going to deepen my understanding about the BUSINESS! From hearing what specific editors and agents are looking for (have you looked at the faculty lineup? Awesome!) to mock sales conferences and editor/author discussions!

7. I'm going to be open to being challenged - Jon Scieszka will be giving a workshop on experimenting with multi-platform storytelling, and I like how dangerous that feels.

8. I'll be co-hosting our Los Angeles Regional meeting (with RAs Sarah Laurenson and Edie Pagliasotti, and RA Emeritus Claudia Harrington) on Sunday Aug 7th from 7:45am-8:15am in the one of the two hospitality rooms (The Malibu or the Bel Air room on the California Level - they're just down the hall from each other and we'll have a sign at both directing you to which one we're in...)

9. Outside the conference (and open to anyone in the world of children's literature) I'm one of the planners of the Los Angeles Kid Lit Drink night - SCBWI Summer Conference Edition across the street from the hotel at Pink Taco on Sunday night after the day's conference events! Join Jill Corcoran, Greg Pincus, Rita Crayon Huang, Sara Wilson Etienne and me for tortilla chips, salsa (the dip, not the dance) and conversation!

10. I'm going to revel in being with my tribe - and knowing I belong - and enjoying the strong sense of COMMUNITY from the first moment I pull up to the conference hotel until it's all over on Monday night. Oh, and did I mention I'm MAKING my pajama pants for the Saturday Night 40 Winks Anniversary Poolside Gala? Yup. I'm learning to sew. And they're going to be sew cool! I love to dance, and this celebration is always such a great time - I can't wait!

And here's my best piece of conference advice:

Remember that so much of the magic of attending the conference happens outside the official sessions - so make a point of hanging out in the lobby in the evenings, and striking up conversations on the escalators... Consider that "networking" is just a fancy word for being friendly, which is easy to do when you're surrounded by others passionate about creating creative content for young people.

And if you see me, say "Hi!"

Here's to a wonderful conference experience for us all!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Monday Is One Day

By Arthur A. Levine, Illustrated by Julian Hector

Billed as "A love note from working parents to their children," this book aimed at parents to read with their pre-schoolers is simple and sweet and celebrates so many kinds of families, including two dad families like mine!

The families with their kids count down the days until the weekend when they can be together, and we see in visual vignettes a single dad with a son, a single mom with a daughter, an African American man and woman couple with twins, an older couple (possibly grandparents) with a young boy, a two dad family with a son, and a man and woman couple with a daughter...

There's a great interview Julian (the illustrator) did with Amy Baskin over at the Euphoria blog where he explains how the decision to have the art be so representative of diverse families came about. How it started out just illustrations of a father and son, and how that changed. I love how he says, "For me, the book sprung to life when this decision was made."

And really, it is the diverse embrace of those many-hued and configured families that make this book shine.

I wish this picture book had been read to me when I was a little kid, and I'm so glad it's out there for today's kids to snuggle into the lap of their adult, and see how the love they feel really is universal.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade" by Justin Spring

I’ve got to say, what initially drove me to read this book was the title. Most authors choose to fluff up the title of a book, which makes this particular one very refreshing. Actually, I’d describe the whole book as refreshing. Everything including Justin Spring’s writing style, his chosen book title, and his subject was like a breath of fresh air. It’s not often that you get to read about someone with several different “identities.”

First of all, it is rare that you see an autobiography of someone so interesting written like a research paper. I know that might sound off-putting, but it’s actually kind of nice. It contrasts nicely with the free-spirited nature of Samuel Steward, and also makes for a much easier read on a more complicated subject. Though it may seem robotic at times, I like the way Spring integrates quotes from both Steward and secondary sources about Steward. That might just be because it’s a familiar style for me, considering I’m a high school student and I often have to write like that.

Secondly, Samuel Steward led a life that was anything but boring. He discovered his homosexuality at an extremely young age, and he came to accept it very shortly thereafter. He did not by any means shy away from the spotlight. One of his childhood hobbies was collecting autographs and letters from celebrities, and he never shied away from an opportunity to do so. As a teenager, he got much more than an autograph from silent film actor, Rudolph Valentino. He walked away from the experience not only with a signature, but also a bit of pubic hair to prove it. By no means is this a book for anybody uncomfortable with the subject of sex. In fact, sex dominated much of Steward’s lifestyle. He worked as a researcher for the Kinsey Institute, documenting every sexual encounter he had for about 20 years. He also went on to become an author of erotic literature, often in the subgenre of sadomasochism. As the title might warn readers, this book is for a very mature crowd. Not everything about his life was purely sexual though. His stint as a tattoo artist by the name of Phil Sparrow was quite the prolific one. He actually helped Don Ed Hardy spiral into his reputation as one of the most famous tattoo artists ever. The anecdotes don’t even stop there, but I don’t want to give away more of the book really.

The most important thing I took away from this book comes from Steward’s attitude. He was so open about all the sexual aspects of his life that most people would be afraid to even share with a close friend. He charged all of his literature (written under the pen name Phil Andros) with sexual energy, splaying phallic imagery across every page and poorly disguised anagrams for sexual words. But even more importantly, he was unafraid of his homosexuality. He was “sensually attracted” to Catholicism, but his religious belief did not affect his perspective on his own sexuality at all. In fact, it empowered him, because he realized that his sexuality is not a choice. Everything would always push him in the direction of his homosexuality, whether he liked it or not. But rather than try to change it, he embraced it. When something about yourself is impossible to change, you might as well just embrace it. There’s no point in trying to fight it because it’s a waste of time. There’s no point in really hating any part of yourself, because it’s a waste of time. If the world can’t handle you for who you are, then that’s someone else’s problem, and not yours.

Review by Soraya. Add your review of "Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade" in comments!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The 2011 Kidlitosphere Conference! I'll be there - and if you blog about Children's Literature, maybe you should be part of it, too!

I'm very excited about the upcoming KidLitCon 2011, September 16-17 at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle, Washington, for a whole bunch of reasons:

1. It's being put together by two incredible people: Colleen Mondor (of the blog Chasing Ray and a powerhouse behind GuysLitWire) AND Jackie Parker (Interactive Reader)!

2. I'll be moderating a Saturday panel on Diversity, and we've already got some illustrious and awesome authors confirmed!

3. Scott Westerfeld (who wrote "Uglies," and "Leviathan", two books I love) will be giving a keynote!

4. I attended KidLitCon once before, in 2008, and I had such a great time. So many synergistic and wonderful things happened from my being there, including:

Creating the annual Comment Challenge with MotherReader,

meeting Alice Pope and which led to amazing opportunities, like being part of SCBWI Team Blog, and having my author interviews published in the 2011 (and the upcoming 2012) Children's Writer's And Illustrator's Market,

getting inspired to do podcasts and videos on my blog, and most of all,

I met and hung out with so many great, passionate, fascinating folks who made me feel part of this community of bloggers of children's literature.

It was a blast, and I can't wait to be part of it this year.

So go here for all the details and to register, and I'll hope to see you there!