Friday, September 30, 2011

Banned Books Week 2011 - Ways To Celebrate

I went to this wonderful event at my local high school this week, a "Banned Books Week Reading."

The school's GSA and their poetry publication club teamed up with the librarians and put on a lunchtime event where students and faculty took turns getting up and reading a few lines from their favorite banned books.  The very clever librarians brought a stack of additional banned books from the library for students to grab as they felt inspired.

It was a powerful and inspiring event (I got a few new titles added to my to-read pile!) but the moment that really stood out for me was when one young woman got up and read the first few lines of her favorite banned book from her cellphone screen.

I think in all the noise and worry about losing physical books as e-books and technology advance, we can lose sight of the fact that if they resonate, the words - the stories - will continue to be read.

And now with technology, it's even easier to find these stories that others would ban.

So to celebrate our freedom to read, I thought I'd share the first few lines from each of the top 10 most challenged books of 2010. Because as was said by one of the faculty members who read from "The Diary Of Anne Frank," which had been challenged by a parent who didn't want their child to have to read it out loud in class:

"I'm going to challenge that challenge by reading the book out loud right now."

The 10 most challenged titles of 2010 were:

And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

First lines:

In the middle of New York City there is a great big park called Central Park.  Children love to play there.  It has a toy-boat pond where they can sail their boats.  It has a carousel to ride on in the summer and an ice rink to skate on in winter.  Best of all, it has its very own zoo.  Every day families of all kinds go to visit the animals that live there. ...

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language, racism, religious viewpoint, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group

First lines:

The Black-Eye-Of-The-Month Club

I was born with water on the brain.
Okay, so that's not exactly true. I was actually born with too much cerebral spinal fluid inside my skull.  But cerebral spinal fluid is just the doctors’ fancy was of saying brain grease. ...

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

First lines:

Chapter One

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.  Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.  ...

Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

For these first lines, since Ellen writes novels in verse, I've scanned the first poem, since layout is so important in her work:

The Hunger Games (series), by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group

First lines:

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.  My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress.  She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother.  Of course, she did.  This is the day of the reaping. ...

Lush, by Natasha Friend
Reasons: drugs, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group

Chapter One

Well, my father is at it again.
Saturday, 2:35 A.M., while all normal fathers are sleeping, mine stumbles through the door, breaks a vase, then proceeds to eat a plate of cold lasagna face-first.
From my post at the top of the stairs, I watch him.  Still face-planting the lasagna.  Still face-planting the lasagna.
If you ever catch your dad in this position, some advice:  ...

What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group


Most people just call me Sophie
(which is the name
on my birth certificate),
or Sof
or sometimes Sofa.
Zak and Danny think it's cute
to call me Couch,
as in:
"How're your cushions doing today, Couch?"
Or sometimes they call me Syphilis,
which I don't find one bit funny.
My parents usually call me
Sophie Dophie or Soso.
And Rachel and Grace call me Fifi,
or sometimes just Fee.

But Dylan calls me Sapphire.


Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint

Serving in Florida

Mostly out of laziness, I decide to start my low-wage life in the town nearest to where I actually live, Key West, Florida, which with a population of about 25,000 is elbowing its way up to the status of a genuine city.  The downside of familiarity, I soon realize, is that it’s not easy to go from being a consumer, thoughtlessly throwing money around in exchange for groceries and movies and gas, to being a worker in the very same place.  ...
Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit

Speaking for Ourselves:
A Note From the Editor

Thank you for picking up Revolutionary Voices, a creative resource collection by and for queer and questioning youth.  A first-of-its-kind anthology, this book was created as a forum for today’s queer youth movement to address the issues that shape our lives.
As youth who have “grown up” during the ‘80s and ‘90s, we are the product of a unique historic moment in which queer youth are increasingly visible and coming out at younger and younger ages.   ...
Twilight (series), by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group

1.  First Sight

My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down.  it was seventy-five degrees in Pheonix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue.  I was wearing my favorite shirt – sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture.  My carry-on item was a parka.

Don't those openings make you want to read on?

If so, you can join my Banned Books Reading Challenge, where I'm aiming to read all ten of these by the end of the year!

A few more things to share:

You can check out a very cool interactive map of book challenges in the USA here.

And here's the incredible Judy Blume (whose books have faced numerous challenges) with a Banned Books Week message:

So read a banned book - even if it's on your cell phone!

And with every word, you'll join me in celebrating our freedom to read.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Cool Way To Celebrate Rosh HaShana - The Jewish New Year: Check Out These GLBTQ Jewish Heroes!

So there's this campaign by Keshet (Working for the full inclusion of LGBT Jews in Jewish life) to highlight the contributions of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jewish heroes.

Their first three they're celebrating are Harvey Milk, Kate Bornstein, and Leslea Newman. There are timelines and photos and ways to get involved - they even have posters!

I appreciate the project, but the part I found most fascinating was the page on their website asking for people to share their own personal queer Jewish heroes. That made for some great reading.

So on this Jewish New Year, let's take a moment to recognize the light of these people who are GLBTQ and Jewish!

Namaste and Shana Tova (which means Happy New Year!),


My thanks to Barbara for the heads-up about this project, so I could share it with you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gender 101, Episode #12: Gender-Neutral Restaurant Etiquette (and socks!)

Our gender-variant friend Lucy continues their discussion with me about gender - how should wait staff address someone gender queer? (And check out the metaphor we worked with Lucy's socks!)

Thanks, Lucy!


ps - Yes, on editing this I did notice that I said "waiter" rather than "wait-person" or "wait-staff,' or "server" (the last is the one I think sounds best.) It's a reminder that this is a process and a journey, and it's okay to occasionally mis-speak. Being aware of the gender-bias in our language is a huge step... and the more we discuss this, the better we'll all get at it. Thanks for watching!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An inside look at my Smashing Stereotypes Workshops

It's a new school year and I'm booking school and library visits to do both my SAFE SPACE: Ending Anti-Gay bullying in our culture... and in YOUR School Assemblies and my Smashing Stereotypes Workshops. I've been getting requests for an inside look at my workshop sessions, so I've put together a nine minute highlights video of a workshop I gave in the Spring for ninth graders at Brentwood School in Los Angeles, CA.

So if you'd like to see what one of my Smashing Stereotypes workshops is like, watch this:

You can find out lots more info (and some lovely testimonials!) about my speaker visits here. To inquire about scheduling a workshop or assembly, please email me at iamleewind (at) gmail (dot) com

Thanks for letting me share!


Monday, September 26, 2011

Jamey Rodemeyer, bullied to death

This story made me so sad.

Jamey was 14 and a Freshman in high school in Buffalo, NY.

He came out as bisexual last May, and endured enormous bullying. But in the face of that, he made his own "It Gets Better" video.

Online, anonymous commenters cyber-bullied Jamey, writing horrible things about how he should die for being queer.

He wrote this on Sept 8:

“No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you’re the ones calling me [gay slur] and tearing me down,” he wrote on Sept. 8. He said the next day: “I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens. ... What do I have to do so people will listen to me?”

Jamey killed himself on Monday Sept 19, 2011.

Here's his "It Gets Better" video:

Dan Savage, the amazing activist who started the "It Gets Better" Project, wrote about this, saying:

The point of the "It Gets Better" project is to give kids like Jamey Rodemeyer hope for their futures. But sometimes hope isn't enough. Sometimes the damage done by hate and by haters is simply too great. Sometimes the future seems too remote. And those are the times our hearts break.

It needs to get better NOW.

The bullying must stop, both in person and on-line.

We all need to mobilize today, to make things better in our schools, in our towns, in our states... and together, we can change our country and our world for the better, so that kids like Jamey - every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and gender-non-conforming kid - and for that matter, every kid who is "different" - will know in their bones that it IS GETTING BETTER!

It's up to us.

And if you need to talk to someone, please call the Trevor Project crisis hotline, 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386). Things can and will get better, but you have to stay here to experience all the joy and love that life has in store for you. 

We can make it better, together.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's Banned Books Week... How Are You Going To Celebrate The Freedom To Read?

"Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States." (from the ALA website)
Let me know how YOU'RE honoring our Freedom To Read this week, and I'll share your inspirations and lots of other ideas on Friday!


Friday, September 23, 2011

The end of a shameful era: Don't Ask Don't Tell is OVER!

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the go-to place for GLBTQ military issues

I really enjoyed this Huffington Post article by Major Casey Moes, especially her acknowledgement of how now she can be the authentic, honest soldier she teaches others to be:

"Personally, I will be able to serve as that mentor and example that was previously so difficult to find, with all my Army values intact. Being out and honest about my partner and my life will allow me to look inwardly and know that I can fulfill what I have taught to cadets and soldiers. Now, I have finished with the compromising of self and the half-truths. I will be building that stronger stock and character again in myself."
Members of the military who are queer can now come out without fear of being discharged, and those who have been discharged for being GLBTQ can re-enlist.  (And Lt. Dan Choi already has this on his blog: 
"Arabic Linguist.
Iraq Veteran.
West Point Graduate.
Infantry Officer.
Gay... Fired... and Re-Enlisting!

There's also a nice video here with another gay army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Burton (isn't it amazing how no one needs to be anonymous anymore?), speaking about the end of DADT, and what that means to him.

And while there are still inequities to fight (spouses / partners of gay and lesbian military personnel are not yet acknowledged nor legally included in the benefits/coverage/responsibilities that straight spouses receive, and we still need an executive order prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, it is definitely cause for celebration!

You can help by signing this petition to encourage President Obama to issue that order!

Here's the Obama campaign's video about the end of DADT:

And one more piece of good news: Melvin Dwork, a gay WWII veteran, has had his Navy discharge changed from "Undesirable" to "Honorable."

Melvin Dwork gets some justice at last

**Addendum 9/23/11 7:56 AM**

Sadly, there is some backlash to our new right to be equal to heterosexual members of the military - check out this article (and video) of a gay soldier being booed at the Florida Republican debate yesterday - and Rick Santorum's complete lie about the current policy being "special rights" for gay people, and that no one should be talking about sex in the military, gay or straight.  (Um, Rick - soldiers were fired for being honest about who they are and who they loved.  Not for talking about sex while they worked.  And more than 14,000 service members have been fired under the law since 1993.)  And shame as well on the other eight Republican Presidential hopefuls (Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney) for not one of them calling the audience on booing a gay soldier serving in Iraq, and for not one of them acknowledging that soldier and the sacrifices and risks he's taken to be part of our military.  

I'm so glad DADT is over, but clearly we have to be vigilant moving forward, because there are those who want to move us backwards.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kit Lit Con 2011 Wrap Up!

KitLitCon was amazing! With about 100 attendees, many of the sessions included comments and questions from the audience, so the experience became one of colleagues joining together in a fascinating dialog over the day and a half conference. And the time between sessions and in the evenings buzzed with ideas and talk about books and blogging!

I met bloggers whom I both knew (meeting many in person for the first time) and lots who were new to me, and had so many great conversations!

It was engaging and inspiring, and I thought I’d share with you all a few highlights from my KidLitCon 2011 experience:

I got there on Friday just in time for Chris Singer of Book Dads' talk about Building a Better World, and I loved two of the quotes he shared:

“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are the engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time.” – Barbara W. Tuchman

“A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance.” – Lyndon B. Johnson

There was a really good discussion with the attendees of what to do with ARCs once we bloggers are done with them (ideas suggested included: shelters, emergency foster homes, migrant camps, and the arcs float on project.)

Chris also shared a list of wonderful non-profits bloggers might consider promoting/teaming up with, including RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) which was the non-profit beneficiary of KidLitCon (including 10% of the books purchased at the conference, donated by the lovely people at Seattle’s Secret Garden Books!)

I liked Chris’ call to use our position as bloggers to make a better world – it’s a passion I share!

Saturday morning started with Scott Westerfeld’s incredible keynote, and it was so interesting when he was speaking of the old Sears and Roebucks catalogs that were hand-drawn, and said:
“The Sears and Roebucks catalog was the internet”
(It had all the things that were available at the time in one large book.)

Scott's books like "Uglies" and "Leviathan" are amazing, and it was fascinating to hear the story behind his bringing back illustrated novels in our age of the internet. His "Leviathan" trilogy is heavily (and beautifully) illustrated, with between 50-60 plates in each book.
And stay tuned, because I did two videos with Scott about the gender-non-conforming main character in that series, plus his lesbian main characters in the short story he did for the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology!

As a writer, I was really wowed when Scott shared that because he was writing his "Leviathan" trilogy as illustrated books, he had to be aware of not having scenes in the same space again – thinking about what his illustrator would draw. So instead of having a particular dialog scene in a stateroom, he varied it up and had it in the gunner’s turret instead (and having detailed deck plans of his airship helped him with this!) Even though my current work in progress isn’t an illustrated novel, this idea has inspired me to map out the locations in my work in progress (not just a map of the town but also of the houses and the school), and aim to vary up where my scenes happen!

And the fan art on Scott's site is so cool – you have to check out his Fan Art Friday posts!

Next I went to Suzanne Young and Sara Gundell’s talk on “Teaming Up: How Authors and Bloggers Can Work Together For Successful Promotion”

Suzanne and Sara talked about the impact of unique content, and shared their joint projects that both promoted Suzanne’s books (like “Team Get Some” and “Random Acts of Kindness”) and Sara’s blog.

There was also a great discussion of how author interview book tours can be overwhelming on both sides – for an author, agreeing to 57 interviews (like Suzanne did at one point) can be too much, and for bloggers, the challenge becomes how is your author interview covering fresh ground?

These women are clearly masters of unique ideas and they had my mind spinning with possibilities.  (You wanna see creative?  Check out this wacky and hysterical trailer they did for the release of Suzanne's "So Many Boys!") There was even a chat about swag (like bookmarks and buttons) and the pros and cons of that for both authors and bloggers!

They were charming and enthusiastic, and Sara is such a booster of literacy. A quote I loved:
“I have nothing but good things to say about ‘Twilight’ because it got kids to read.”

The next session blew me away. And get the elegant segue: Holly Cupala and her husband Shiraz Cupala presented “Tears, Sweat and True Blood: DIY Marketing in a Post-Twilight World.”

Cautioning us that most books get $5,000 or less to promote them, they reviewed all the different things (so inspiring!) that they did for Holly’s debut novel, “Tell me a Secret” before it’s publication and then once the book launched. My favorite? The two chapter preview booklet with hand-written notes that Holly sent to over 250 independent bookstores! Wow!

Shiraz then gave us a marketing basics talk, explaining in more detail some of their strategies, like the trailer launch party (where they got 3,000 views in 48 hours!) and their decision to do a free audio book podcast of the novel!

They covered concepts like "loss leader," giving Amanda Hocking’s price structure for her e-book trilogy, where the first book is 99 cents, and then (once you’re hooked) the next two books in the series are priced at $2.99

Next I attended a wonderful session "Teaming Up with S in SCBWI" where my fellow SCBWI volunteers (Joni Sensel, Laurie Thompson, Kim Baker, and my Team Blog friends Alice Pope, Martha Brockenbrough and Jaime Temairik) were on a panel about how bloggers and SCBWI can help each other synergistically.  Best brainstorm from the panel?

Contact your local SCBWI region's RAs and see if you can help them out by blogging their events!

Then I had the pleasure of attending author/illustrator Richard Jesse Watson's "Finessing Your Inner Zoo," where he challenged us with exercises and inspired us with his wisdom.  Here are some of my favorites:

"The internet is about finding kindred spirits"

"Nourish your roots"

"Blogging is great practice "

"A wounded poet bleeds poetry."

Jen Robinson and Carol Rasco talked about "Moving Beyond Google Reader: Taking Your Blog To Where Your Readers Are" and their presentation sparked something pretty exciting that I'll be launching here in next few weeks... so stay tuned for that!

And then, it was time for the final panel of the conference... mine!

Called "Blogging Diversity: Prejudice and Pride" I led a rollicking and far-ranging discussion with Justina Chen, Brent Hartinger, Sara Ryan and Sarah Stevenson.

We covered so much ground with humor and insight, talking about:

Who has the right to tell a minority story?

What's the best way to review a book that has non-majority secondary content - include it and possibly turn off some readers who might be exposed to it and learn, or don't include it (since it's not the focus of the book) and risk losing the readers that inclusion of diversity might have attracted?

Sara Ryan's vectors of identification post and Chimamanda Adichie's idea of the danger of stereotypes is that they are a single story.

Paying attention to the choice of books you review - a blogger's choices are powerful, and if every teen book you read has a white straight female protagonist, that's sending a message to your readers.

The dual position of author/bloggers and the attendant challenge of being an advocate/watchdog of publishing mis-steps.

Whether as authors the panelists read their book reviews.

and of course, the evolving #YesGayYA story.

Here are some of the best quotes that I jotted down as I was moderating:

"What we're doing is art, not sociology" - Brent Hartinger

In response to my sharing the maxim I'd been taught, 'write what you know,'

"What do I know in my heart - that's what my story's about.  Then I figure out what character could best tell that story." - Justina Chen

"I am a big proponent of rabble rousing" - Sara Ryan

And Sarah Stevenson was charming and brilliant when she shared how it was very intentional, having two mixed-race characters in her debut novel, "The Latte Rebellion" - in part to make sure there was more than 'one story' she was telling about being of mixed heritage.  I didn't get the actual quote, but she made the whole room laugh at the idea that if she only told HER story, she wouldn't be able to write a second book.

Oh, and I saw that someone tweeted something I had said during the session, and I frankly think it's pretty good, so I'll share that here as well:

“You’re trying to write a character, not an archetype” - Lee Wind

There was lots of interaction, questions and comments from the attendees, and at the end of our panel, enthusiastic applause.  (And check out Brent's wonderful post about our panel "Some Thoughts On Diversity: Wow, It's Complicated."  Sara Ryan also posted links to the two books she referenced during the panel on her blog.)

And that was the official wrap of the conference's day - but there was still a lovely dinner (where I got to chat with the remarkable Elizabeth Burns (librarian and blogger for SLJ) and powerhouse for literacy Carol Rasco (from RIF) and we all cheered the amazing Colleen Mondor and Jackie Parker, the conference co-chairs, for pulling it off so wonderfully!

Thank you Colleen and Jackie!

KitLitCon 2011 was wonderful.

And they announced at the Saturday night dinner that next year, KidLitCon 2012 will be in New York City.  And the organizer?  The wonderful librarian and School Library Journal Fuse #8 blogger and author Betsy Bird!

A giant thanks to my Team Blog buddies Martha, Alice and Jaime for sharing a Sunday in Seattle and making the trip perfect!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gender 101, Episode #11: Gendered Vitamins & Toys

Gender 101 is back with a new season of videos, every Wednesday!

From the rigid gender constructions of advertising to the blending of gender norms that my gender-queer friend Lucy found natural as a child, here are two stories that will make you think about gender:

Thanks, Lucy!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Emperor's Library: A Gay Teen High Fantasy Adventure Trilogy

By Frederick Kirchhoff

The Flight From Kar (The Emperor's Library: Book One)

Expelled from the Valley of Women, 17 year-old Jon finds friendship with the Forester Zoë and love with her brother John. But disaster strikes, and Jon leads Zoë and his companions to Kar, the imperial capital, where they save the Emperor and his library from religious fanatics who menace the city and commence a journey of challenge and discovery.

The Tritargon (The Emperor's Library: Book Two)

Jon finds himself entangled in the military affairs of the Chosen, while Zoë's relationship with the Emperor deepens. Meanwhile, Alf grapples with the problems of building the Emperor's capital-in-exile, and Klei embraces the life of the Rand, an ancient people with remarkable powers.

The Game (The Emperor's Library: Book Three)

20 years after the events of The Tritargon, Jon and his partner Dan are living quietly in Kar, as dealers in antiquities, until a mysterious book leads to a series of unforeseen events, culminating in the re-creation of an ancient, multidimensional game that has the potential to obliterate the planet. This game reunites Jon with Zoë, Klei and other figures from his past.

Add your review of the self-published "The Emperor's Library" trilogy in comments!

Monday, September 19, 2011

CWIM 2012: The 2012 edition of The Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market (with TWO interviews by me!) is out!

I just got my contributor copy of CWIM 2012!

And right there on the cover, where they highlight three of the twenty-two interviews and articles inside, are blurbs of BOTH of my interviews, with Ally Carter and M.T. Anderson!

And the interviews themselves are, if I do say so myself, wonderful.

Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series books ("I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have To Kill You," "Cross My Heart And Hope To Spy," "Don't Judge A Girl By Her Cover," and "Only The Good Spy Young") keep hitting the New York Times Bestseller lists and her novel "Heist Society" was a 2010 YALSA Teens Top Ten Book!

My interview with Ally is titled "On creating likeable characters and hooking your readers early." It's loaded with great stuff she shares, like:

"...characters and plot are always interconnected. Always. If you take two different characters and present them with the same conflict, you will certainly get two different stories."

her take on writing series

"My characters are very different people book to book because the events of each book do change them."

and even her top five revision tips!

they're all great, but I'll share one of them here:

"Murdering your darlings" is easier when you don't delete them altogether. Open a "scraps" file that you can cut and paste those things into. That way, you have them if you decide to use them later. (Hint: You probably never will, but it still makes cutting them far easier.)

M.T. Anderson won the National Book award and Michael L. Printz Honor for his historical YA fiction novel, "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor To The Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party." His YA science fiction novel "Feed" was a finalist for the National Book Award, and he's also written wacky middle grade fantasy adventure like "Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware." He's even published three picture books!

M.T. did a session on experimentation in fiction at a SCBWI Summer Conference that was beyond capacity and blew my mind, and I took the opportunity to expand upon that in our discussion, "On experimentation in fiction."

The interview with M.T. is packed with insights and ideas and he is so funny! Here's just a taste:

"Five hundred years of one format are coming to an end, and we're moving into a new world. You can either find this depressing, demoralizing and even irritating, or you can embrace these new possibilities and see that they will yield new forms of narrative, the like of which have hardly yet been known. I choose the former path. It all makes me want to stay in bed with the covers over my head, eating Cap'n Crunch and reading Herodotus."

and this one

"What I've tried to do in many of my books is to stick the readers someplace they think they know and estrange them from that place. So yes, the Delaware in my Pals in Peril novels is a world of exotic fantasy adventure, rich in wizards, pterodactyls, ancient cities and spies. And yet, as you say, it's my hope that after a while, the place in my books becomes so real that kids driving along Delaware Route 1 will feel kind of disappointed they aren't attacked by ogres."

And he shares nine "experimental" elements that often appear in books for young people (and even some books for older people!) They're all great to know about, but I'll share one of them here:

"Typographical Play and Intrusion. Instead of taking the form of the book for granted, some books actually play with the typeface they're written in, using that to change the meaning of the words. For example, Lauren Child's Clarice Bean (and sequels), Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka's True Story of the Three Little Pigs (and others), Emily Gravett's Wolves, etc."

CWIM 2012 is a resource packed with wonderful information, including articles interviewing agents, on writing for magazines and writing a synopsis, and more interviews including Editor Cheryl Klein, Superstar Author Meg Cabot (70 novels published, 50 of which are New York Times best sellers), and eight debut authors! Of course, there are also the lists of book publishers, agents and art reps, contests and conferences, advice on how to treat your writing as a business and lots more.

I'm really honored and proud to have my interviews with Ally Carter and M.T. Anderson included in this latest CWIM 2012, and I hope you'll take a look!

And get this: One random commenter to this post will win a free copy of CWIM 2012! - So add your thoughts below and I'll be choosing the winner this Friday (September 23, 2011)!


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Agents ask writers to eliminate their gay character (or make him straight) in their Science Fiction Young Adult Manuscript

So there's this blog post over at Publisher's Weekly from Monday of this week where two published YA authors (Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith) discuss their experience trying to find an agent to represent their collaborative post-apocalyptic young adult novel, and they say:

"The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.."
Based on the facts they present, I was proud of the authors for saying "no" to that agent, and for continuing their search.

And I was also pleased that they decided to come out about the experience - because it's only by calling the industry on this kind of homophobia (and let's be clear, if that's the offer they got, that's what's going on here) that we will have a chance to make things better.

The authors talk about what I know in my heart is true, from my own adolescence:

"When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction."

That's how I felt.  And trying to change that is one of the main drivers behind my being a writer and creating this blog.

I especially appreciated the action section of their article directed at agents and editors, calling for them to explicitly state if they are open to and looking for more works with GLBTQ characters, rather than just saying they are open to 'diversity.'

I know I have had a discussion with an editor who had just spoken about how much they wanted to encourage diversity in the genre they focused in... and when I asked them about GLBTQ characters in that genre, their whole body language changed.  Queer characters seemed too diverse for them.

I agree with the authors' decision to not name the agent.  (Similar to how I'm not naming the editor above.)  I think there are three good reasons for this.

1.  Naming them would potentially villainize and polarize that person and make it very hard for them to learn and grow to a different understanding and position in the future.  The idea is not to make enemies but to change minds and create allies.

To that point, I recently read that that same editor is now explicitly open to GLBTQ main characters - including queer characters in their vision of 'diversity' - so things can and do change!

2..  The authors also write about how when they shared what happened in private conversations with other authors, "we heard from other writers whose prospective agents made altering a character's minority identity - sexual orientation, race, disability - a condition of representation... But...  few writers have come forward for fear of being blacklisted."

They go on to say that
 "We sympathize with that fear. But we believe that silence, however well-motivated and reasonable from a marketing point of view, allows the problem to flourish. We hope that others will speak up as well, in whatever manner is safe and comfortable for them."

3.  Naming them would create a witch-hunt get-the-one-bad-apple atmosphere, which wouldn't address how:
"Forcing all major characters in YA novels into a straight white mold is a widespread, systemic problem which requires long-term, consistent action."

The comments section of the post is fascinating as well.  As of Thursday there were well over two hundred and fifty comments, including a number of agents who say they're changing their guidelines to be more explicitly welcoming of queer characters, authors who have also had similar experiences with the de-gaying requests/actions by agents and/or editors, and a number of authors who shared that their books with GLBTQ main characters did not hit any resistance from either agents or editors.  

There was also a comment from an agent currently repping two YA books by different authors with gay main characters, who wrote:

"I did not commit to these two authors because they wrote gay teen protagonists. I committed to them because they are FANTASTIC writers!"
Additionally, there was an interesting back-and-forth in the comments about e-publishing as a way around this prejudice, and whether or not that's caving in to the problem.

A twitter hashtag for discussion of the topic launched at: #YesGayYA

And Brent Hartinger, who will be on today's diversity panel, wrote a really interesting response article on this here.

Malinda Lo (author of the YA lesbian retelling of Cinderella, "Ash") posted two great articles on her blog, one called How Hard Is It To Sell A LGBT YA Novel? and the other  I have Numbers on LGBT YA Books published in the U.S.! (In which she finds that "Less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters." They are both well worth reading.

In another fascinating angle on the story, Michael Bourret posted on his agency blog his perspective as one of the agents who passed on the manuscript - though he certainly doesn't say he was one of the agents who asked the authors to de-gay their character!
The article seemed to be a must-read, and a great launching point for discussion. 

Okay, but here's where things get really interesting:  On Thursday, in a guest post over at Colleen Lindsay's blog The Swivet, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation, said that she has learned that one of her agents was the agent the authors were talking about, and that it did NOT happen in the way the authors portray.  She denies that they offered representation on the condition of de-gaying the character, and goes into detail about the editorial comments they did make - that had nothing to do with homophobia or de-gaying the book.  From her perspective, the authors are using the issue to the disadvantage of her agency's reputation and to gain attention to their project. 

Nancy does acknowledge that "There are not enough mainstream books that depict characters of diverse race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and physical and/or mental disabilities," and that it is an important discussion, but feels that basing the discussion on this instance is an unstable foundation.

The writers responded to Joanna on PW's Rose Fox blog (where the original article ran), saying that yes, it was that agency and that despite what Joanna wrote, they stand by their version of events.

I don't know what happened. 

I don't know if we'll ever know exactly how things were said or interpreted or misinterpreted between these writers and this agency, but I'm still glad this larger discussion is happening - I don't want agents or editors or marketing departments or anyone in publishing to feel that it's okay to request the de-gaying or other de-minority-ing of characters.

My hope is that the blow-up about this and the ensuing discussion about this issue will:

1.  Make everyone a bit more sensitive to how important it is to include GLBTQ characters in kid lit.
2.  Give pause to publishing professionals who might otherwise have suggested the censoring of queer and/or minority characters.
3.  Encourage readers to go out and buy the queer YA and MG that is being published to build the market for these books.

We'll definitely be talking about this at our KidLitCon panel on diversity today.  What do you think?


My thanks to C. Zampa, Nora Olsen, Curtis Taylor and Greg Pincus for making sure I knew about this story and its many twists and turns, so I could share it with all of you!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Diversity Countdown: Sarah Stevenson's "The Latte Rebellion"

Sarah Stevenson is the fourth and final panelist I'm highlighting in preparation for my panel discussion on diversity at the upcoming KidLitCon 2011 tomorrow Saturday September 17, 2011 - "Blogging Diversity: "Prejudice and Pride!"

Sarah Stevenson

Sarah's debut book is "The Latte Rebellion," about Asha, a senior in high school. When she gets called a "towel head" at a pool party,

"...the racist insult gives Asha and her best friend Carey a great money-making idea for a post-graduation trip. They'll sell T-shirts promoting the Latte Rebellion, a club that raises awareness of mixed-race students.

Seemingly overnight, their "cause" goes viral and the T-shirts become a nationwide fad. As new chapters spring up from coast to coast, Asha realizes that her simple marketing plan has taken on a life of its own-and it's starting to ruin hers. Asha's once-stellar grades begin to slip, threatening her Ivy League dreams, and her friendship with Carey is hanging by a thread. And when the peaceful underground movement turns militant, Asha's school launches a disciplinary hearing. Facing expulsion, Asha must decide how much she's willing to risk for something she truly believes in."

I really enjoyed reading about Asha's journey, and how at first the Latte Rebellion was just a way for her to make money, but then as she sees it touch a nerve in so many others, it starts to hit a nerve for her as well.

Sarah is also known as 'Aquafortis' (a regular commenter here!) and blogs about YA at Finding Wonderland, sharing her comics on writing (I particularly loved this one on plot) author interviews, and excellent (and detailed) book reviews. She also writes a more personal blog, Aqua Fortis.

An artist as well as a writer, Sarah is a huge force (the designer and webmaster and one of the reviewers as well) over at Guys Lit Wire, an incredible blog (for which I am also an occasional contributor) highlighting great books for teen guys.

I am so excited to have Sarah on the Diversity Panel!

And now you know more about her and her books, too - and with all four of these authors on tomorrow's panel, we all win!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Diversity Countdown: Sara Ryan's "Rules For Hearts"

Sara Ryan is the third panelist I'm highlighting in preparation for my panel discussion on diversity at the upcoming KidLitCon 2011 this upcoming Saturday September 17, 2011 - "Blogging Diversity: "Prejudice and Pride!"

Sara Ryan

She's the author of "Empress of the World" and "The Rules for Hearts" (both of which have places of honor on the book lists of this blog!) and a number of short stories and comics. (Her comic "Me and Edith Head" was an Eisner Award Finalist for Best Short Story!) She's a librarian (I LOVE librarians!) and she blogs at, sharing visual inspirations and moments of her author journey.

In "Empress of the World," Nicola, who goes by "Nic," spends the summer off at a program for gifted Teens. She thinks she's going to figure out her future - will she really choose to be an archaeologist? But what she is actually faced with figuring out turns out to be way more important: who she might be falling for (a girl named "Battle"), and what that means about who she is.

In "The Rules for Hearts," It's the summer before college, and Battle (who just broke up with Nicola from "Empress of the World") joins her newly found runaway older brother in a Portland co-op full of artsy, broke, theatrical and sexy gals and guys who are on their way to becoming Adults. Her roommate Meryl is alluring, her brother is frustrating, and there's a lot for Battle to discover about who she is and who her brother might be.

I love that Sara's characters and their relationships are at times playful, at times intense and always so deliciously complex.

And check this out - her comic book series "Flytrap" which she writes and other artists illustrate, are available for download from her website on the honor system:
"If you like the stories, donate via paypal."
Which is a pretty cool twist on using technology to get our stories out there.

I am delighted to have Sara on the Diversity Panel!

And now you know more about her and her books, too - and with three authors featured so far, it's a win-win-win!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Diversity Countdown: Brent Hartinger's "Shadow Walkers"

Brent Hartinger is the second panelist I'm highlighting in preparation for my panel discussion on diversity at the upcoming KidLitCon 2011 this upcoming Saturday September 17, 2011 - "Blogging Diversity: "Prejudice and Pride!"

Brent Hartinger

He's the author of eight books, most of which I've featured here on this blog because he often writes books with gay teen characters. In fact, I've been a fan ever since Brent's ground-breaking "The Geography Club," where the queer teens at Robert L. Goodkind High School decide that there's only one way they can form a Gay Straight Alliance without their fellow students becoming suspicious:

"We just choose a club that's so boring nobody in their right mind would ever in a million years join it. We could call it the Geography Club!"

How genius is that?

His latest title is "Shadow Walkers," a gay teen supernatural romance thriller - with a fascinating parallel between the internet and online relationships and astral projection!

In it,

Zach lives with his grandparents on a remote island in Puget Sound in Washington State. With only his little brother, Gilbert, to keep him company, Zach feels cut off from the world. But when Gilbert is kidnapped, Zach tries the only thing he can think of to find him: astral projection. Soon, his spirit is soaring through the strange and boundless astral realm — a shadow place. While searching for his brother, Zach meets a boy named Emory, another astral traveler who's intriguing (and cute).

As Zach and Emory track the kidnappers from the astral realm, their bond grows, but each moment could be Gilbert's last. Even worse, there's a menacing, centuries-old creature in their midst that devours souls and possesses physical bodies. And it's hungry for Zach.

Brent also does great (and funny) videos online (dare I call it "vlogging?"), including this one - "Seven reasons you should read Shadow Walkers":

He also does a cool thing on his website, where you can read the first chapter of all of his books for free. (That's to get you hooked. And watch out - you will be!)

He's been a mainstay of as the Associate Editor over there, holding forth on queer content on TV and in our culture. One of my favorite articles he wrote was "Why Can't You Just Butch Up?" which speaks to why high school students tell me every year 'it's harder to be an effeminate straight boy than a masculine gay boy.' Brent did just step down from his Associate Editor gig to focus more on his writing, but he's still going to be contributing posts at, and heck, that means we'll get more great books...

I am delighted to have Brent on the Diversity Panel!

And now you know more about him and his books, too - so once again, it's a win-win!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Diversity Countdown: Justina Chen's "Nothing But The Truth (and a few white lies)"

I'm honored to be moderating a panel discussion on diversity at the upcoming KidLitCon 2011 this upcoming Saturday September 17, 2011 - we're calling it "Prejudice and Pride!"

My panelists are amazing:

Justina Chen (formerly Justina Chen Headley), Brent Hartinger, Sara Ryan and Sarah Stevenson! (And yes, to not show favoritism, that order is alphabetical!)

So since I have four incredible authors on the panel, I thought I'd do a countdown this week, highlighting one of each of their books and their blog presence, to help all of you do your homework as I do mine.

It's all in preparation for a great discussion, and even if you can't be at the conference and panel, it's a wonderful opportunity to talk about these authors and their work.

So to kick off our Diversity Countdown, let's explore the work of author Justina Chen!

Justina Chen

I'd previously read (and loved) the gorgeously written "North of Beautiful," Justina's third book, when it was a finalist for the Cybils Award. Justina's second book is "Girl Overboard," and last week I picked up her debut book "Nothing But The Truth (and a few white lies)."

I was surprised at how much I felt in common with Nothing But The Truth (and a few white lies)'s main character, Patty. She's a half-white-half-Taiwanese-American girl in high school, and though my life experience is worlds away from hers, I felt for Patty so deeply! And the book, especially Patty's snarky voice, is really funny. It opens with a scene where Patty's missing her Freshman dance because her mother dragged her to a fortune-teller... who is digging into Patty's bellybutton with her finger to divine her future!

Her single mother will only admit to one mistake, marrying Patty's white father, who abandoned them. And Patty's older brother, Abe, is the 'perfect one' (he even looks all-Asian, while Patty is a mix. And he just got into Harvard.) Patty's 15 and subjected to lectures and Chinese herbal tonics to make sure she doesn't fall in love with a white boy, but all the while she's thinking she'd be better off if she were all white... Then she goes to summer math camp at Stanford, and everything starts to change!

It's a great book.

Justina is also a co-founder of the incredible "Readergirlz" - an online virtual author visit and book club community for teens which was awarded the National Book Award for Innovations in Reading. The project is endlessly inspiring, and has done so much for promoting literacy, highlighting great books for teen girls, and building community!

Justina also blogs at Wordlings by Justina Chen, where she shares visual collages and brief windows into her writing process.

I am delighted to have Justina on the Diversity Panel!

And now you know more about her and her books, too - so it's a win-win!


Monday, September 12, 2011

GSA Monday: Manhasset High School's Gay-Straight Alliance "It Gets Better"

This was wonderful!

Now I want EVERY school's GSA to do a video!


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

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's Suicide Prevention Week... How To Help Someone In Crisis

Watch this.  It gave me goosebumps:

And here's more info:

There's an interesting back and forth in the youtube comments on that second video, about how they didn't include the "T" in GLBT when giving the statistical data on suicide risks - the explanation given is that they didn't intend to exclude transgender teens or to minimize the importance of stopping transgender teen suicide, it's just that there isn't enough research on transgender teens to include them in the statements about being at additional risk.

The Trevor Project's website has lots more about Suicide Prevention Week and what you can do to help here.

And if you need to talk to someone, anytime, call the Trevor Lifeline: 866-4-U-TREVOR (that's 866-488-7386)

There's a fear that by mentioning suicide in a GLBTQ environment, that maybe we're reinforcing stereotypes that all queer youth are unhappy and suicidal... Which of course isn't true. But it is true that queer youth are harassed and targeted more than non-queer youth in schools, and that our culture is awash with many homophobic currents. And it's critical to talk about that - and to be responsible to those in our community who are suffering and let them know about the resources available.

Let them know that life gets better.

Let them know that so many of us are working to make things better.

Which of course, makes me want to share MY "It Gets Better Video" with you all. So if you haven't seen it yet, check it out here.

Namaste, know it gets better, and be good to yourselves!


ps - a big hug to my husband for letting me know about the Trevor Project Flash Mob video!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sleeping Angel - A Gay Teen Murder Mystery

by Greg Herren

Eric wakes up in the hospital with no memory of how he wound up there - only he quickly finds out it's vital he remember.

Apparently, he was in a car accident, and the body of his classmate Sean was found in the car, shot to death.

Nothing makes sense - he wasn't friends with Sean. (Sean was gay, and as for Eric, well, he's not sure of much right now.) But he didn't kill anybody! As his memory starts to slowly return, Eric becomes certain that not only is he innocent, but that the real murderer is out there... and wants to shut him up permanently.

Add your review of "Sleeping Angel" in comments!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The 2011 Fall Season of Gender 101, and a great resource: A Map Of Gender-Diverse Cultures Across The World

School's back in session, and in a couple of weeks we'll be starting our Fall run of Gender 101, continuing our series of video episodes where we discuss gender with our Gender-Queer friend Benji! (To catch up on episodes #1 through #10, check out the links in the right-hand column of this blog. Or go here.)

This week, check out this cool resource, a map of Gender-Diverse Cultures across the world. It's inspiring to see how challenging the binary vision of gender that is predominant in our Western culture has a rich and varied history! There are SO many that I didn't know about.... like the Chuckchi of Siberia, the Femminiello of Italy and even the Bugi people of southern Sulawesi (Indonesia), who

"...recognize three sexes (male, female, intersex) and five genders: men, women, calabai, calalai, and bissu. Calabai are biological males who embody a feminine gender identity. Calalai are biological females who embody a male gender identity. Bissu are considered a "transcendent gender," either encompassing all genders or none at all. The bissu serve ritual roles in Bugi culture and are sometimes equated with priests."

It's a fascinating resource, and a great starting point for learning more about gender. Thanks to Benji for sharing this with me, so I could share it with you.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2011 Short Lists Are Announced... And My Blog Is There!

So the awesome folks over at BBAW just put out their short lists of the blogs up for awards in all their different categories. And I'm really happy to say that my blog is one of three up for best GLBT Book Blog!

I won the Best GLBT Review Blog for BBAW 2009 (at the time the category had a slightly different wording) and it was a wonderful endorsement and recognition of what I'm doing here - so much so that I put that cool blue ribbon up at the top of the left-hand column of my book lists!

I'm thrilled to be up for the award again this year. And I was super-excited to check out the other two blogs in my category, Bibary Book Lust (love the rainbow lipstick in the blog graphic! And the range of books reviewed there - including a lot of adult books - is fun!) The other blog in our category is Bonjour, Cass (you can really lose yourself here, with reviews that made me laugh out loud, and posts I really loved, like this one about great queer couples in literature!)

There are lots of other categories with more amazing blogs up for the BBAW awards this year, so go check 'em out and feel free to vote for your favorites! BBAW is Sept 12-16, 2011 and no matter who wins, just knowing about all these blogs makes us all winners, you know?

And to BBAW and my fellow nominees, let me say, with a wink to the Oscars...

"It's truly an honor, just to be short-listed. Thank you!"


***addendum Wed Sept 7, 2011***

Just got this cool badge from Amy over at BBAW!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Blue Boy - An Indian American First Generation Gay Boy Comes Of Age

By Rakesh Satyal

Kiran is the only son of immigrants. He's a social outcast, among other Indian Americans and among the other sixth graders at his school in Cincinnati in the early 1990s.

He loves music, dance, playing with his mother's makeup, and is attracted to other boys. The things that make Kiran who he is also make him the star of his own personal freak show.

And then one fateful day, a revelation: perhaps his desires aren't too earthly, but too divine.

Maybe, he's a god.

Add your review of "Blue Boy" in comments!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hazing In Pro Baseball: Wear The Pink Schoolgirl Backpack. Why don't we just call it: "Major League Baseball Teaches Kids How To Bully"

The Phillies' Michael Schwimer

So there's this article this week in the New York Times, "Humility By The Pack" about this new hazing ritual going on in baseball - making the rookie relief pitcher wear a "girly" backpack while they walk across the field to the bullpen.

“It’s just one more way to get at your rookie,” said Mets pitcher Tim Byrdak, 37. “You have to walk all the way across the field to get to the bullpen, so you make the rookie carry this pink bag, and you can kind of humiliate him.”

The Phillies added a pink boa to their Rookie's bag:

For much of this season, Michael Stutes of the Philadelphia Phillies was forced to wear a Hello Kitty backpack and a pink feather boa purchased by Brad Lidge, a 10-year veteran, during a road trip to San Francisco. “I thought it wasn’t right for Stutes to be carrying a plain black bag,” Lidge said. “I was in Macy’s shopping for my kids. I just knew we wanted something pink.”
and there's a they-did-it-to-me-so-I'll-do-it-to-the-next-guy thing going on:

Last month, for instance, Stutes was able to rid himself of the Hello Kitty and boa ensemble when the Phillies called up Michael Schwimer, 25, a 6-foot-8 right-hander.

“He was very happy to hand it over to me,” Schwimer said. “I’ll just wear it with pride.”

It's nice that Schwimer (and some of the other relief pitchers) have a good attitude about this and laugh it off. And there are a bunch of non-pink backpacks used by other teams for the same hazing purposes, Yoda and Cookie Monster among them. But the general pink-as-punishment tone of the practice, and the article, reveal some really disturbing messaging in our culture and in the sport of baseball:

Namely, that being seen wearing (and possibly liking) a pink / girly / frilly item, as a man, makes you LESS of a man, and LESS of an athlete to be reckoned with.

That having to wear something pink and girly and frilly, as a man, should humiliate you.

That liking pink, or being effeminate, is bad.

That being like a girl is bad.

I hear it all the time in high schools, that it's harder to be an effeminate straight boy than a macho gay boy.

What's going on in Major League Baseball with this 'pink' hazing is dangerous territory. It's misogynistic and sets children up for the lock-step of "boys can't like pink." It reinforces the stereotypes about which gender is allowed to do what, and is toxic.

And while Trevor Hoffman, baseball’s career leader in saves, may think the bags are harmless,
“I think it’s amusing for the fans to see. It’s kind of a way of pointing out who’s the low man on the totem pole.”
this feeds a culture of hate.

This feeds our culture, where Jaheem Herrera, who was 11 years old, got taunted as 'gay' for carrying a pink backpack to his Dunaire Elementary School in Georgia.

After months of anti-gay taunts and violence, Jaheem killed himself in 2009.

So while it's nice to see the Phillies doing an It Gets Better Video,

You gotta wonder what Mike Stutes was thinking about while he read his lines in the video, having been made to wear the most stereotypically girly backpack/boa combination this season, and then passing that same getup along to the next rookie.

Right now, Major League Baseball is teaching bullying.

Putting aside the issue of why professional sports players are trying to humiliate their own team members (sportsmanship, anyone?), there is something the Phillies (and the rest of the teams engaged in this 'pink' hazing) can do right now to help make things better:

uncouple their rookie relief pitcher hazing from the message that pink is girly is bad.

What about it, Phillies?