Friday, May 29, 2015

Proxy - A Science Fiction Thriller with Two Teen Action Heroes, and One Of Them Is Gay

Proxy by Alex London

Knox was born into one of the City's wealthiest families. A Patron, he has everything a boy could possibly want—the latest tech, the coolest clothes, and a Proxy to take all his punishments. When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death.

Syd is a Proxy. His life is not his own.

Then again, neither is Knox’s. Knox and Syd have more in common than either would guess. So when Knox and Syd realize that the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee. Yet Knox’s father is no ordinary Patron, and Syd is no ordinary Proxy. The ensuing cross-country chase will uncover a secret society of rebels, test both boys’ resolve, and shine a blinding light onto a world of those who owe and those who pay. Some debts, it turns out, cannot be repaid.

What's queer about it? One of the teen boys is gay! You can check out this fun interview with the author here to read more about the book - and check out the first two chapters!

Add your review of "Proxy" in comments!

Oh, and just because I like it more, here's the other cover:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mary E. Cronin's Workshop On Gay (LGBT) & Questioning Characters In Middle Grade: A Guest Post

Mary E. Cronin (left) with her wife and co-presenter, Bonnie Jackman

The recent “Dear Author” appeal on this blog shined a light on the need for more queer and questioning characters in literature for young people. There is a demand for it!

But how do writers go about meeting that need at the middle-grade level? How can we create space in our stories for those characters to be who they are (and for our readers to recognize themselves), before many of them are ready for romantic connections?

That was the heart of the workshop I recently presented with my wife, middle school guidance counselor Bonnie Jackman, at the New England SCBWI conference in Springfield, Mass. It was heartening and exciting to tackle this topic with workshop participants—dedicated writers who are writing queer characters now, or want to do so in future works—and they want to do it well!

First off, I have to admit it was fun to present on this topic as a married couple! Bonnie is a seasoned middle school counselor, and I have been writing for years. It was the perfect overlap of our worlds—professional and personal.

Second, we started the workshop by highlighting the context in which today’s eleven year olds have grown up. Gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts the same year they were born (2004). Since then it has become legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. President Obama was elected when they were age four; and the “It Gets Better” project was launched when they were six, to combat suicides by teens who were gay or suspected of being gay. Their world is very, very different from the world we grew up in.

We then delved into the various layers in a middle-grader’s life, and how those layers are rich territory in which to portray a queer or questioning character:

• What is the character’s perception of themselves at this age? Do they feel different? Have they put a name to that difference? Are they desperately trying to fit in to dominant heterosexual culture, or are they beginning to enjoy being different from the mainstream?

• Family is a dominant force in a middle schooler’s life (for better or worse!). A character’s family might be provincial and traditional, or worldly and wild. There may be GLBT people in the character’s family, or they may have no role models or reference points at all. These factors will have a huge impact on a character’s trajectory.

• School may be a refuge in a time of confusion (think of like-minded peers or super-cool adult role models) … or it could be a major stressor (bullying, fear of being different, peer pressure).

• Peer relationships—so much potential for writers here! Consider characters who develop a crush on a friend; characters who are trying to “blend in” by faking it; questioning/queer kids who find each other and form supportive friendships… the possibilities are rich and endless!

We shared middle-school recollections of some authors in the presentation, such as Steven dos Santos: “It was definitely a chaotic time because, while I wasn’t necessarily aware of the full implications of my orientation at the time, I definitely developed crushes on classmates of the same gender, looked forward to spending time with them, sitting next to them in class… there was no one I could confide in and I really felt like I didn’t fit in, contributing to becoming somewhat introverted.”

For writers who are nervous about getting it right, or thinking they have to write about sex, Lee Wind had words of encouragement to pass on: “…because crushes, crazy-enthusiasm, awkwardness, staring, catching someone's eye and then looking away... only to look back again, there's a bazillion elements to being gay or questioning that are not about sex.”

We touched on wonderful books and resources that shine a light on queer/questioning characters in middle-grade, including Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate; Fun Home by Alison Bechdel; the writings of Huffington Post columnist Nicole Breedlove; and Drama by Raina Telgemeier.

Participants had great questions, and there was general amazement at the uneven patchwork of resources for queer/questioning kids at the middle school level. At Bonnie’s middle school on Cape Cod, for instance, there is a GLBT resource section in the school library; other participants in the conference said their schools had nothing. As we watched the workshop participants leave, excited at the prospect of writing more queer and questioning characters in their middle grade works, we were filled with hope and optimism. And we’ve already been asked to present this workshop in other venues! Stay tuned.

Mary E. Cronin – Writer and educator Mary E. Cronin writes picture books, poetry and middle-grade fiction from her home on Cape Cod. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she teaches English and Early Childhood Education at the college level. You can reach her at

Bonnie Jackman is a middle school guidance counselor in Orleans, Massachusetts. Bonnie has a Master of Social Work degree from Simmons College in Boston. A shameless fan of Broadway show tunes, Bonnie runs both the GSA at her school as well as “Musical Mondays,” an afterschool group for kids who love Broadway musicals.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Coming Out Video You Should See

This video by Jackson Bird brought me back so strongly to when I was struggling to say the words and start to live my authentic life.

So proud of this young person!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Caught In The Crossfire - Two Teen Boys At Bible Camp, and One Forbidden Love (The Crossfire Trilogy)

Caught In The Crossfire by Juliann Rich
16-year-old Jonathan Cooper goes away to Spirit Lake Bible Camp, an oasis for teen believers situated along Minnesota's rugged north shore. He is expecting a summer of mosquito bites, bonfires with S'mores, and photography classes with Simon, his favorite counselor, who always helps Jonathan see his life in perfect focus.

What he isn't expecting is Ian McGuire, a new camper who openly argues against phrases like pray the gay away. Ian is certain of many things, including what could happen between them if only Jonathan could surrender to his feelings. Jonathan, however, tosses in a storm of indecision between his belief in God and his inability to stay away from Ian. When a real storm hits and Ian is lost in it, Jonathan is forced to make a public decision that changes his life.

This is Book One of the author's Crossfire Trilogy. 

Book Two is

Searching For Grace

First it’s a rumor. Then it’s a fact. And then it’s on.

Camp is over and Jonathan Cooper returns home. To life with his mother whose silence is worse than anything she could say…to his varsity soccer teammates at East Bay Christian Academy…to the growing rumors about what he did with a boy last summer at bible camp.

All the important lines blur. Between truth and lies. Between friends and enemies. Between reality and illusion.

Just when Jonathan feels the most alone, help arrives from the unlikeliest of sources: Frances “Sketch” Mallory, the weird girl from his art class, and her equally eccentric friend, Mason. For a short while, thanks to Sketch and Mason, life is almost survivable. Then Ian McGuire comes to town on the night of the homecoming dance and tensions explode. Fists fly, blood flows, and Jonathan—powerless to stop it—does the only thing he believes might save them all: he prays for God’s grace.
Book Three is

Taking The Stand

There’s a time for justice. Then there’s a time for action. And Jonathan Cooper knows exactly what time it is.

It is time to lie. To his parents, who think he’s on a ski trip with Pete Mitchell when he’s really gone to Madison to search for one person willing to testify for his boyfriend, Ian McGuire, who is facing the charge of Assault and Battery. To Ian’s parents, who have erased him from their lives. Even to himself. Because admitting his feelings for Mason Kellerman isn’t an option.

It is also time to face the truth. That Jonathan may have lied for nothing. That he may be powerless to save Ian from a guilty verdict. That whether he likes it or not, it is time for TAKING THE STAND.

Add your review of any or all of the Crossfire Trilogy books in comments!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Judith Marcin: Guest Post on Crafting Queer Characters

From Publishers Weekly, Judith and the other panelists on "Crafting True-To-Life LGBTQ YA Characters -- Writing Beyond Stereotypes"

Ever wonder what it takes to craft great queer characters when writing for children and young adults? This question was explored at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) this April in Minneapolis. I had the privilege of moderating the only queer panel focused on children’s/YA literature at the conference, entitled “Crafting True-to-Life LGBTQ YA Characters--Writing Beyond Stereotypes.”

Along with picture book and YA author Molly Beth Griffin and poet and YA author Kirstin Cronn-Mills, we looked at a variety of ways writers can add more diversity to their works starting with the well-rounded LGBTQAI+ character.

Our goal was to encourage all writers to become inclusive, to not default to a straight main character due to apprehension or fear. We focused on four areas of character development in order to frame our discussion: understanding stereotypes, the role of queer social history, the significance of queer literary history for young people and the importance of understanding queer identity.

We started our discussion with stereotypes.
The key to understanding stereotypes is to explore their historical context, understand why they exist and how they serve the queer community. Stereotypes often grew out of a need for queer people to find a safe space, a place free from judgment about one’s own identity or self-expression. Components of stereotypes can be used as strengths in order to build a familiar character or setting for the reader.
Of course, there are downsides too. A stereotype is harmful when it is used to demean, demoralize or flatten a character. A champion for explaining the pitfalls of stereotypes is author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We highly recommend her TED talk
The Danger of a Single Story.”
Adichie emphasizes that if a stereotype is the only thing one knows about a person or group of people their knowledge is incomplete. Only by fully understanding the impact of stereotypes can a writer explore the struggles their characters face on a daily basis.

So, how does a writer learn empathy and gain understanding?
That is where research comes in.
All writers do some kind of research when developing a character. Whether writing historical or contemporary fiction or conjuring up the most fantastical worlds, our characters have to be real. For writers and readers interested in LGBTQ history this often requires more effort, since queer history is not traditionally taught in American schools. LGBTQ archives in New York and San Francisco, public libraries and the Library of Congress are some examples of electronically accessible LGBTQ collections and often feature oral histories.
Because history gives characters context, reading books by Lillian Faderman, John D’Emilio, Randy Shilts, Kate Borstein, Micheal Bronksi and Leila Rupp, to name a few, writers can learn about the impact that gender, sexual orientation and the LGBTQAI+ community has had in the shaping of history.

Character context is also developed by reading the literary works that frame the LGBTQ experience in children’s/YA writing.
Our panel compiled a recommended reading list of queer middle grade and young adult works as a starting place for understanding this canon of literature.

Where to Start…

Middle Grade Fiction
Federle, Tim. Better Nate than Ever
                       Five, Six, Seven, Nate!
Howe, James. Totally Joe
Moskowitz, Hannah. Marco Impossible
Polonsky, Ami. Gracefully Grayson
Telgemeier, Raina. Drama

Young Adult Fiction
Barakiva, Michael One Man Guy
Beam, Cris. I am J
Block, Francesca Lia. Love in the Time of Global Warming
                                    The Island of Excess Love
Brezenoff, Steve. Brooklyn Burning
Charlton-Trujillo, e.E. Fat Angie
Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Clark, Kristin Elizabeth. Freakboy
Cronn-Mills, Kirstin. The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Mind
                                   Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
danforth, emily. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Duyvis, Corinne. Otherbound
Farizan, Sara. If You Could Be Mine
                       Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel
Griffin, Molly Beth. Silhouette of a Sparrow
Johnson, Alaya Dawn. The Summer Prince
King, A. S. Ask the Passengers
Konigsberg, Bill. Openly Straight
LaCour, Nina. Everything Leads to You
Lam, Laura. Pantomime
Levithan, David. Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story
                            Every day
                            Two Boys Kissing
Lo, Malinda. Ash
London, Alex. Proxy
Magoon, Kekla. 37 Things I Love
Myracle, Lauren. Kissing Kate
Nelson, Jandy. I’ll Give You the Sun
Peters, Julie Anne. Lies My Girlfriend Told Me
Ryan, Sara. Empress of the World
                   The Rules for Hearts
Sáenz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Sharpe, Tess. Far From You
Smith, Andrew. Grasshopper Jungle
Talley, Robin. Lies We Tell Ourselves
Watts, Julia. Secret City

Non Fiction
Alsenas, Linas. Gay America
Andrews, Arin. Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen
Angel, Ann. Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing
Belge, Kathy and Marke Bieschke. Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens Bornstein, Kate. My New Gender Workbook
Cart, Michael and Christine Jenkins. The Heart Has Its Reasons: YA Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content 1969-2004
Cronn-Mills, Kirstin. Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices
Hill, Mel Reiff and Jay Mays. The Gender Book
Hill, Katie Rain. Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition
Kuklin, Susan. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
Setterington, Ken. Branded by the Pink Triangle

Encompassing a variety of genres, these nonfiction works and character-driven novels are excellent examples of diverse queer experiences.

Finally, there is the question of identity.
Often, this is the most challenging component of queer character craft. Human sexuality, gender identity and gender expression all play into how queer characters identify. These concepts are complex and should be approached with empathy and respect. Identity is further complicated by how safe characters feel in revealing themselves to others. Like people, queer characters may be reluctant to express themselves due to homophobia, bullying or a bigoted social climate. Only by crafting a safe space on the page can queer characters be free to explore their full potential.

Ultimately, the LGBTQ experience is not merely an adult experience. Whether discussing young children or young adults, their interpretation of themselves is valid. Their expressions of gender and their understanding of their own bodies need to be respected. Young people deserve to be empowered by our writing, to see their lives on the page and know that they are not alone. When we craft true-to-life LGBTQAI+ characters we are emphasizing to readers that their lives matter and so do their stories.

Judi Marcin is a MFA student in her final semester at Hamline University’s graduate program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Some of her short stories for young people appear in Community Health Narratives: A Reader, which uses fiction to explore health challenges faced by middle grade and high school students. Her passion is to improve queer, gender non-conforming and diverse character visibility within the world of children's/YA literature.

Monday, May 18, 2015

In Which I Interview The Amazing Adam Rex In The Run-Up To The 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference

Author/Illustrator and #LA15SCBWI Faculty Member Adam Rex

Note: Parenthetical Stage Directions are believed at your own risk.

Lee: Hey, Adam. I better start out with the question everyone wants to know… What will you be wearing to the Conference’s Saturday night “Sparkle & Shine Party?”

Adam: Oh. Huh. That’s definitely the theme, is it? (Lee nods.) Well, my kid’s preschool is doing a unit on glitter right now, so I’ll see if he can make a little lapel pin for me. Otherwise, maybe I’ll wear the suit I bought for the premiere of HOME? I have to find some other occasion for it or it’ll be the second most expensive single-use purchase I’ve ever made, after airline tickets.

The suit is Aubergine. That’s the name of the color if you pay enough. The same suit at Marshalls is called Eggplant.

Lee:  Just give me a moment to shake off the image of you dressed as a giant eggplant.

Okay, I can go on now. Your MG novel, The True Meaning Of Smekday, was made into a big Hollywood movie - a successful Hollywood movie. Anything you wish you’d known going into it that you can share with us?

Adam: Hmm. Well, nothing was kept from me. I was not mistreated by DreamWorks in any way. Quite the opposite, in fact—I was kept very much in the loop and consulted all along the way. (Lee looks on, pensively.)

I’m what you could call a reluctant optimist. I can’t help hoping for the best, even if I know it’s unrealistic. So I wouldn’t mind being able to get my 2011 self on the phone to say, “You know how you’re telling everyone that DreamWorks is probably going to change your story a lot, but even as you say it you don’t really believe it? Like, deep in your heart you think they’re going to just film your book like it’s a script, even though you signed a contract saying that they can essentially do whatever they want? They are going to substantially change the story. You’re still going to like their movie, but it IS going to feel like something almost totally different when they’re done with it.”

I’d make that call—because I’m a reluctant optimist—knowing full well that the 2011 me would hang up and think, “That guy seemed nice but he probably doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

(Lee laughs for three minutes.)

Lee: For those who haven’t read it yet, there are comic-style panels and drawings throughout your latest Middle Grade novel, “Smek For President.” As someone who writes and illustrates, you have more tools in your toolbox. But how do you decide which tools to use when? Which parts of your story to describe in words and which to illustrate?

Adam: In the case of The True Meaning of Smekday, I actually backed myself into a corner with the illustrations. That book was ostensibly an overlong school essay written by my middle school-aged protagonist, so I decided that the illustrations therein could only be artwork that looked like it was feasibly done by an average twelve year-old, and photos she’d taken during the invasion. Those photos were really drawings made to look like they were old polaroids, of course. Does that make sense? (Lee nods, takes Adam’s hand.)

So those restrictions led me to establish that my alien J.Lo was a comics artist who helped out with some of the storytelling in places, and that opened up a whole new field in which I could talk about Boovish history and so forth. I was super excited about this, because back in the early 2000s this sort of prose/comics hybrid still seemed like a new idea. I thought the mixture in Smekday was really going to turn a lot of heads, because I didn’t realize that The Invention of Hugo Cabret was also going to come out that year. (Lee bites his lip in Clintonian sympathy.)

Anyway, the comics sections were some of my favorite parts to write, and they wouldn’t have worked as well in prose because half the time there was a real counterpoint between what the captions were saying and what the images were showing. It was an easy way to get through thirty thousand years of alien history in a handful of breezy pages.

By the time I was working on Smek for President, it was just de rigueur that I was going to do this again. I had a “Previously, in The True Meaning of Smekday” sort of recap to write, and that might have been really tedious in straight prose. I also realized, early on, that since this second book takes place on the new Boovish homeworld, I could use Boovish media to provide nice little bumpers that summed up the conflict and provided new information quickly. And why describe what’s happening on TV when I can show it?

I think there are a lot of things comics do better than prose and prose does better than comics. Prose is great for really slowing down and living inside a moment. And comics have always been fantastic when you want to present a ton of information instantly. I’m still figuring it all out.

Lee: Very cool. And I guess this is an expansion of that last question: as a storyteller you craft poems, picture books and novels… when you’re working out an idea, do you know right away what form it will take? Was there ever a Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich novel-in-verse draft? A True Meaning Of Smekday picture book dummy?

Adam: Yes! Actually, there was a version of Smekday that was a picture book manuscript. I was coming off of reading John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s picture book The Rabbits, and I wanted to do my own book about colonialism. Mine didn’t work at all as a picture book. So no, I don’t always know right away.

Lee: When you’re not the author, and you’re illustrating someone else’s words (like Mac Barnett's), I imagine it’s a fascinating process to add your voice, your vision to their story-so-far. How do you go about making it your story, too?

Adam: Well, I’m glad that you mentioned Mac, because he’s one of the greats for realizing that a picture book has to be borne equally on the shoulders of both the author and the illustrator. He does not over-write his manuscripts. I think he’s also in the enviable position to know that he’s going to get an illustrator he trusts, and indeed he even sometimes writes manuscripts with illustrators in mind. Most of us can’t do that, of course. But in a Barnett manuscript there’s plenty of room for the illustrator to stretch his or her legs.

Adam: How exactly do I go about making it my story too, then? I’m not sure how to answer that, except to say that illustrators have to remember that they're not illustrating the words of a story—they're illustrating the world in which the story takes place.

Lee: Wow. That sounded really wise. So wise, I'm gonna call it out in it's own special quote box:

"...illustrators have to remember that they're not illustrating the words of a story—they're illustrating the world in which the story takes place."
-Adam Rex
Lee: Okay, let's talk #LA15SCBWI. You’ll be giving a Friday July 31 Keynote, “How I Make Picture Books.” Can you give us a hint of what to expect?

Adam: Probably a lot of lies of omission. Like: it seems to be important to my process that I watch a lot of movie trailers on the internet, but I doubt I’ll get into that.

(Lee excuses himself, leaves the room, comes back forty-five minutes later wearing a different shirt like it’s no big deal.)

Lee: You’ll also be offering an illustrator workshop on Saturday August 1st, “Characters With Character.” Is that a hands-on session, where illustrators will try out techniques?

Adam: Yes, I’m going to bring along a lot of reference and talk about anatomy and some of my half-baked theories. We’ll draw and design a character together, the ownership of which will then probably have to be settled in arbitration.

Lee: Fun! And your second workshop is on Sunday afternoon, for writers and illustrators, “The 32 Things I’ve Learned Since I Got My First Book Published.” 32? Is that a lucky number? Or were you playing darts when Lin needed the title?

Adam: Darts. It’s still an open question whether I know 32 things. I’ll keep a tally as I work on the presentation—I may have to break up some compound sentences if I’m running short.

Lee: Speed Round!

Is coming up with the titles for your books hard or easy?

Adam: Easy.

Lee: A time machine appears in your backyard and, for one day you get to travel through time to a specific past or future. When is your destination?

Adam: Well, okay—first of all: we’re definitely saying that past-travel is possible in this hypothetical? Because, of course, the current thinking is that it would not be (with only outliers claiming otherwise, and even THEY’LL tell you that you could probably never travel back farther than the point in time at which the machine was originally turned on). No less than Stephen Hawking himself has embraced the notion of travel to the future but dismissed travel to the past as impossible, with the most simple but powerful evidence resting in the fact that we’ve never met anyone from the future.

So then my corollary to this would be to ask if we’re talking about a round-trip or just one way? Even if, by some miracle, I could travel to the past, then the “present” to which I’d return could not possibly the same one I left. We’re into quantum “many worlds” territory here and that’s not really my area but regardless, it’s terrifying. And yet any jump to the future would (again, according to current thinking) be a one way trip, and so the only way in which I could even conceive of taking such a trip is if I no longer had any Earthly concerns anchoring me to this time and place—and that’s more terrifying. No wife, no son; nothing to prevent me from taking a joyless joyride into the careless amnesia of the future.

I’m sorry. Did you just want me to say dinosaurs? (Lee nods.) Okay. Dinosaurs.

Lee: Dinosaurs is a great answer. Favorite Ice Cream Flavor?

Adam: When people ask my three year-old this he says brown, so I’m going to say brown.

(Lee smiles, transforms into a magnificent crimson bird and soars, just soars away until he’s only a red dash; a copyedit; a blemish on the face of God—and then he’s gone.)

And there you have it... Adam Rex. Interviewed. I'm gonna go eat some baba ghanoush now. That's uh... what they call expensive eggplant salad.

Wanna see Adam do his keynote thing and get a chance to take one (or both) of his amazing workshops? Join us at the 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, July 31-Aug 3. Details and registration here.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Giraffe People - A Teenage Girl Comes Of Age... And Comes Out

Giraffe People by Jill Malone
Between God and the army, fifteen-year-old Cole Peters has more than enough to rebel against. But this Chaplain's daughter isn't resorting to drugs or craziness. Truth to tell, she's content with her soccer team and her band and her white bread boyfriend.

And then, of course, there's Meghan.

Meghan is eighteen years old and preparing for entry into West Point. For this she has sponsors: Cole's parents. They're delighted their daughter is finally looking up to someone. Someone who can tutor her and be a friend.

But one night that relationship changes and Cole's world flips.

Add your review of "Giraffe People" in comments!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Writing Queer Characters - Launching A New Occasional Series with "Dear Authors" - A Queer Teen's spoken word poem about LGBTQAI+ Representation

I'm delighted to be launching this new series of posts with this very heartfelt video, "Dear Authors", which I'm sharing with the teen creator's permission:

Writing queer characters for young people is a topic that's been getting more attention and coverage in writing conferences around the USA this past year, and we'll be hearing from some of those presenters.

Stay tuned for some great stuff ahead! And thanks to @JoneMac53 over on twitter for the heads-up on "Dear Authors!"


Monday, May 11, 2015

The Persecution Of Mildred Dunlap - YA Historical Fiction that's been called "a Women's Brokeback Mountain"

The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap by Paulette Mahurin

The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; the United States expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine to cover South America; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for gross indecency under Britain's recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense.

When news of Wilde's conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos - in particular, Mildred and Edra, two women who lived together and loved each other.

As the author says, "This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wilde's imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing."

"The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap" was nominated for the ALA's 2014 Rainbow List, and you can add your review in comments!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Because Of Her - London and Lesbian Teen Love

Because of Her by KE Payne
For seventeen year old Tabitha “Tabby” Morton, life sucks. Big time. Forced to move to London thanks to her father's new job, she has to leave her friends, school and, most importantly, her girlfriend Amy, far behind. To make matters worse, Tabby's parents enrol her in the exclusive Queen Victoria Independent School for Girls, hoping that it will finally make a lady of her.

But Tabby has other ideas.

Loathing her new school,Tabby fights against everything and everyone, causing relations with her parents to hit rock bottom. But when the beautiful and beguiling Eden Palmer walks into her classroom one day and catches her eye, Tabby begins to wonder if life there might not be so bad after all.

When Amy drops a bombshell about their relationship following a disastrous visit, Tabby starts to see the need for new direction in her life. Fighting her own personal battles, Eden brings the possibility of change for them both. Gradually Tabby starts to turn her life around - and it's all because of her.

Add your review of "Because of Her" in comments!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

So You're Straight, And This Gay Guy Has A Crush On You... What Do You Do?

Well maybe you'll consider becoming friends with them.

And then, a couple of years after you've been friends, you might just be as awesome as this...

Now that's heartwarming!

Cheers to Jacob Lescenski and Anthony Martinez, to Ellen for sharing the story, and to Karol for sharing the story with me, so I could share it with all of you!

*** UPDATE ***

You can see a photo of the young men on prom night here!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary): Agent Looking For Diversity


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

For now, we’re focusing on agents, and today's post features agent Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency.

Agent Sarah Davies
Here's Sarah's bio:

Sarah was a senior publisher in London for many years before coming to the USA in 2007 and launching Greenhouse Literary, a transatlantic literary agency specializing in all genres of fiction (and a little non-fiction) for children and teens. As a publisher she worked with and helped to discover many well-known authors from both sides of the Pond, and as an agent she has shepherded many debut authors into deals and writing careers. Sarah is regularly in the top 3 of US agents representing MG and YA on Publishers Marketplace. She represents PBs when by existing clients she’s taken on for older fiction, but doesn’t seek debut PB texts. She loves the internationalism of today’s marketplace, but more than anything is excited to help new writers find their voice and their story. She says, “Everything I’d most like to tell you about Greenhouse is in its name – it’s where writers grow.”

And here's our interview:

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

Sarah: My pleasure, Lee. I’m honored that you want to interview me on this important subject.

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

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

Sarah: I guess you could say there are three kinds of people who send me submissions/projects: 1) Those who’ve had no contact with the industry before 2) Those who are SCBWI-educated and pretty savvy and market-aware 3) Authors who are already clients. From the second two groups I’m seeing a growing number of manuscripts that include an element of diversity. In fact, I’m reading a manuscript right now that includes just about everything – a child with a disability, a lesbian partnership, racial diversity. (Oh, and there are also some quite good goats.) I feel that #WeNeedDiverseBooks has made more serious writers a lot more aware and that is reflected in the material I’ve seen over the last few months in particular.

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

Sarah: I’m definitely seeing some – and more than I used to. More usually they’re not the protagonist, but among the cast of characters. Of course racial diversity isn’t only about color. One of my clients is writing a humorous young novel about a boy who comes from an immigrant Polish family. I really like that.

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

Sarah: I’m certainly seeing characters who are gay and lesbian, and characters who are questioning. I’ve read a middle-grade manuscript recently that deals with a very young boy questioning himself and evidently different to those around him, and I really like that he doesn’t identify as gay – or any other label. He’s not sure what he is or if there’s a name for it; he just likes himself the way he is, though it causes him many problems.

Lee: How about characters with disabilities?

Sarah: I see a lot of stories about sick or depressed girls (and even more sick or depressed mothers; mothers in YA fiction tend to be a sadly bunch!), but not many involving physical disabilities – perhaps because writers don’t feel qualified to get into the head of young people suffering from something they’ve never themselves experienced.

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

Sarah: Not so much, though of course the precise racial background or orientation of submitters isn’t always clear. Occasionally a query does contain information about the author that is quite revealing about their experience, background or reasons for writing the story and I always read that with a lot of interest. It’s great when a story meshes perfectly with the personal experience of the author.
As an afterthought: the diversity issue we don’t always consider is why there are so many more women than men working in the children’s books business at every level (except, I suspect, in the board room). More women than men in publishing (or certainly editorial), and more writing. It would make everything more diverse if we simply had MORE MEN! And that’s true within the query inbox too.

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

Sarah: It’s a tricky one and I’d want to judge every situation, author and story on its own merits. It seems wrong to me that you can only write about characters who are exactly like you. As things stand, won’t that lead us overwhelmingly to a world of white, middle-class, educated characters? Can I even depict a boy character if I’m a female writer? It seems crazy to have that kind of prohibition. But I do think that if you’re going to venture into a sensitive area, you’ve got to do it with the utmost respect and research, and find beta readers who have first-hand experience of what you’re writing. On a much less contentious level, I’ve read manuscripts set in cities or countries I know quite well, and have sometimes winced at how inaccurate or caricatured the portrayal feels. You can’t set in a book in a place you visited for a week’s vacation 20 years ago. Similarly, you can’t write about the profound experience of someone very different to you without a lot of work, insight and assistance.

Lee: Well said.

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

Sarah: I want to say “No”, but the real answer is “Sometimes”. I think editors are not only open but also eager now to see diverse characters and settings, as long as these brilliantly and naturally evolve from the storyline (rather than being grafted on because it’s the “right thing to do”). However, it’s a fine line between something richly diverse and a theme/setting that appears to limit the potential market – for example, perhaps, a story set within a very minority religious tradition. At the moment publishers want to push the envelope in terms of racial, sexual, disability diversity – but maybe not all forms of diversity are quite equal in market terms. However, I do generally believe that a fabulous story, fabulously told, will find its place. It’s just got to be THAT good.

Lee: "A fabulous story, fabulously told, will find its place." I want that on a t-shirt, too!

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

Sarah: For me, the question “Do you want to see more diversity?” could be translated, “Do you want to see more books about people?” To which I can only answer, “Um, obviously yes.” I don’t feel I need a particular driver for this because it seems so self-evidently necessary. As a Londoner for most of my life, I come from one of the most racially diverse cities on earth. My sons went to schools where white kids were often in a minority and there was a huge racial mix. They had friends from all over the world, many were from first or second generation immigrant families, and my sons’ circles included Hindu, Muslim and Jewish children/teens. However, a lot of these children were pushed hard towards sciences rather than arts and sometimes there was a feeling that reading, music, theatre were a bit of a distraction from the main event – getting an education that would give you a solid career in later life. Though understandable, I thought this was quite sad. I volunteered once to take part in a careers evening at school – back when I was a publisher – and not a single teen boy (of any color) came to hear what I had to say about the books industry. It just wasn’t seen as desirable. I think there’s a whole circular thing here about encouragement to read, inspirational teachers, relatable fiction (which is where the hashtag comes in), and education systems that value personal and cultural enrichment not just exam success. We need to get books into children’s hands, and books that reflect their real lives and context – whatever that may be. When you read a book that speaks to you, it is transformative in how you see yourself and your place in the world. Isn’t that what we’re after?

Lee: Yes!

Tell us about some books that highlighted or included diversity that you loved and that inspired you.

Sarah: I’d love to tell you about a few that I represent because they’ll show you some of the stories that I fell in love with.

SKINNY by Donna Cooner is a YA novel about a girl who weighs 300 pounds and can’t escape the viciously negative voice in her head that constantly condemns her. As she moves towards the huge step of gastric-band surgery, she begins to find her own voice (including her singing voice) and to deal with the inner demons that tell her she’s fat, ugly and useless. I love this book because it is so warm, insightful and charming, as well as being extremely poignant.

SAVAGE FORTRESS by Sarwat Chadda could hardly be more different! It’s a thrill-ride of a middle-grade adventure about a London boy who returns to his roots in India and finds himself confronting terrifying demons. The book brilliantly brings India and Hindu mythology to life – and I don’t think anyone’s done that before. You can practically smell the air and the heat it’s all so vividly realized.

FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe is different again. It’s a YA mystery told through a really clever time structure, and about a love triangle that you don’t see coming. The protagonist is a girl disabled from an accident who walks with difficulty, and the reader gradually realizes that this girl was actually in love with her best friend who was murdered – and not that girl’s brother as you expect. It is beautifully written, surprising and yes, you will cry. It’s about love rather than labels.
The hallmark of all these books is terrific writing and a unique hook. You never feel the authors are trying to be “diverse” – they are just telling great stories and telling them very well.

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

Sarah: It’s always all about the concept and crafting of the story, not the “issue”. I love adventurous middle grade (preferably with both girl and boy characters) – maybe fantasy, maybe a quest; perhaps really funny. I also adore that timeless, wonderfully crafted middle grade that is compelling, has a great sense of place and characters, and leaves you richer and wiser after you’ve turned the last page. 

In YA I never tire of a fabulously intense and intriguing premise that keeps me on the edge of my seat as the tension rises. I’d love to find a great YA fantasy novel and a great romantic contemporary – but this has to have a really strong and unique hook. I’d love to find a rich and sumptuous historical novel that nevertheless in its themes speaks to our modern sensibilities. I’m also very interested in stories set in other countries, perhaps touching on world politics, big themes – but this has to feel extremely authentic. Whatever the genre, I’m keen to see diverse characters and settings of all kinds, though every character has to spring naturally from the storyline and sense of place.

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

Sarah: Our submission details are on our website and it’s easiest to point you there as they change from time to time:

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

Sarah: As well as diverse characters, I keep coming back to wanting more diverse authors. And especially, more diverse voices. Where’s the author who could write a contemporary Nordic Noir for me? Or the fabulous epic historical YA set in the French Revolution, which I’ve longed to find for several years. Or the story about a gay kid growing up in Syria that feels so real you can taste the dust. All these stories require a strong voice, particular knowledge as well as fiction-writing craft. Is there anyone out there who can bring them to life? These are specific examples but really, I’m after any new voice that’s authentic and shows me something new about the world. Never feel that your writing has to be cookie-cutter in tone and based on what you see selling or published. Bring what you have that is distinct and unique to you. We’re all hungry to see that.

Lee: Great advice, that I have to repeat: "Bring what you have that is distinct and unique to you."

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

Sarah: Thank you, Lee, for the interview – and for your dedication in highlighting one of the biggest literary issues of our time.

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

Illustrate and Write On!

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Ring & The Crown - An Alternative History/Fantasy World of Magic with a secondary gay male couple

The Ring & The Crown by Melissa De La Cruz

"Magic is power, and power is magic...

Once they were inseparable, just two little girls playing games in a formidable castle. Now Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the mightiest empire in the world, and Aelwyn Myrddyn, a bastard mage, face vastly different futures.

Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second. With the help of her Merlin, Eleanor has maintained a stranglehold on the world's only source of magic. While the enchanters faithfully serve the crown, the sun will never set on the Franco-British Empire.

As the annual London Season begins, the great and noble families across the globe flaunt their wealth and magic at parties, teas, and, of course, the lavish Bal du Drap d'Or, the Ball of the Gold Cloth.

But the talk of the season is Ronan Astor, a social-climbing American with only her dazzling beauty to recommend her. Ronan is determined to make a good match to save her family's position. But when she falls for a handsome rogue on the voyage over, her lofty plans are imperiled by her desires.

Meanwhile, Isabelle of Orleans, daughter of the displaced French royal family, finds herself cast aside by Leopold, heir to the Prussian crown, in favor of a political marriage to Marie-Victoria. Isabelle arrives in the city bent on reclaiming what is hers. But Marie doesn't even want Leopold-she has lost her heart to a boy the future queen would never be allowed to marry.

When Marie comes to Aelwyn, desperate to escape a life without love, the girls form a perilous plan that endangers not only the entire kingdom but the fate of the monarchy."

What's queer about it?

Ronan (the American socialite out to land a wealthy husband to save her nearly bankrupt family's position) becomes friends with a gay male couple who are part of the London social scene - Perry and Archie (Lord Stewart and the Honorable Archibald Fairfax.) They're not main characters, but they play a role, and their inclusion in this fantasy book that mixes magic with a different history for our world was really exciting.

Add your review of "The Ring & The Crown" in comments!