Friday, August 31, 2018

I have a new literary agent... Marietta Zacker!

Marietta Zacker, Amazing Agent

Back in March of 2015, Marietta Zacker was one of the first agents to request to be interviewed for my series on diversity (agents looking for more diversity, that is).

In the middle of the interview, she said,

“If you’re marginalized and reading this, I can assure you … I want to see your work. I know I’m not the only one and I recognize that each of us can only represent a small number of clients to begin with, but don’t let the hurdles and barriers stop you. If you have a story to tell and you do so from the heart, you will find your champions.”

I was so taken by that last line that I responded,

“I want that on a T-shirt:

‘If you have a story to tell and you do so from the heart, you will find your champions.’


About a week later, I got a package in the mail from Marietta. It was a T-shirt, with that amazing quote on the front, and the url for this blog on the back!

Here's a close up:

I'm proud, and humbled, and so excited to announce that Marietta Zacker, of the Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency,  is now MY champion. Officially.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The 57 Bus - A True Story of Two Teenagers [one who identifies as Agender] and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

"The 57 Bus" won the Stonewall Book Award—Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children's & Young Adult Literature Award and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. 

The motivating questions for author Dashka Slater? “What does it mean to be agender and how should we think about a teenager who commits a bias crime?” Read the full article about Dashka and this nonfiction book for teens at Kirkus Reviews here.

Add your review of "The 57 Bus" in comments!

Monday, August 27, 2018

The BookLife Prize gives "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill" an AMAZING Assessment, calling it "engaging, utterly enjoyable" and "riveting" and scoring it 9.75 out of 10!

Here's a link, and the full text of the assessment:

Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill
Lee Wind, author

BookLife Prize - 2018
Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.75 out of 10

Plot: Wind's engaging, utterly enjoyable tale of teen self-discovery is riveting both for its well-structured, historically-based plot and its emotional honesty. Snappily paced and filled with insightful details, the story turns heteronormative culture on its head as Wyatt, the thoroughly likable protagonist, takes on a battle for historical truth that leaves his small-town neighbors clutching their pearls.

Prose: Wind’s polished prose is filled with laugh-out-loud moments, often thanks to the author’s ability to zero in on the perfect descriptive detail. But it is the dialogue that shines brightest, capturing both the insult-laden banter of teens and the awkward sincerity of the adults struggling to manage them.

Originality: In taking on this slice of Civil War-era history, Wind brings historical material into contemporary relevance in a unique and original way. The use of social media posts and transcriptions provides even more freshness and present-day appeal to the story.

Character Development: Wind provides an accurate portrayal of the coping mechanisms, unwieldy emotions, and ultimately the inner triumph of a teen struggling to make the world ready for him to come out of the closet. A resonant and admirably crafted work.

Date Submitted: August 02, 2018

I'm so pleased about this, and hope it will help my book reach—and empower—more LGBTQ and Allied Teens!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Not Your Villain - The Superhero Series Starring a Bi Main Character Continues with Book Two!

Not Your Villain (Sidekick Squad #2) by C.B. Lee

Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants and, if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he's got it covered. But that was before he became the country's most wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes' League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess [the bi star of Book One, Not Your Sidekick], Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges.

Add your review of "Not Your Villain" in comments!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

This Week In Texas Gives "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill" 4.5 out of 5 Stars, calling it "thought-provoking," "well-written," and "heartfelt"

It's exciting to see this first consumer website review from Steve Pardue, publisher of the adult-audience LGBTQ website "This Week In Texas."

A screen shot from my phone of the review!

The full review text reads:

I enjoyed this book very much. Every young LGBT person should read this thought-provoking, heartfelt, informative novel, as well as any adult who enjoys a well-written story that mixes interesting historical facts with coming of age innocence. Lee Wind has done a terrific job with his first novel and I look forward to reading many more.

That's a rave!

You can see the full review on the This Week In Texas website. Be aware that it's a site for adults, with ads that are not intended for young people.

Feeling grateful that this will help more people find out about "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill," and be empowered by it!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Jim Averbeck on his new picture book, "TREVOR" - In which a canary befriends a lemon, and how that friendship changes everything.

Trevor by Jim Averbeck, Illustrated by Amy Hevron

Trevor is a lonely yellow canary looking for a friend.

He stretches his wings the width of his boring cage and notices the tree outside stretching its branch. And on the end of that branch? Another canary! But he’s so shy and quiet.

Trevor knows just how to make him feel comfortable.

Reading Trevor I found myself really moved. Goosebumps, people. Goosebumps. I reached out to my friend Jim, the author, to find out more about this remarkably resonant combination of his words, Amy's pictures, and every reader's emotions.

Here's our interview:

Lee: One thing I found very moving was that Trevor has the power to open his cage all along, and when he decides to leave his cage he just pecks and the gate pops open. Reading that, as a Gay man, it felt like a powerful coming out metaphor. Was it?

Jim: That’s very insightful, Lee. I teach a class at Storyteller Academy on writing picture books. One of the things I emphasize above all others is making sure your work has an emotional core. I suggest that there are two components to this core. One is a connection to the emotional world of children. The other is a connection to your own adult feelings. You connect to the child’s world because the story is about and for them. You connect to your adult feelings because they are more immediately memorable and accessible to you and can infuse the story with the authenticity and drive you want it to have. It’s like childhood emotion is the engine and adult emotion is the fuel.

That’s what happened in the case of TREVOR. I set out to write a story about a lonely canary who makes overtures of friendship to a lemon he believes is another bird. I connected it to the child’s world by thinking of Trevor as that socially isolated child on the playground who takes a chance at making a friend. When I went to connect to my adult emotions to fuel the story, I realized the most analogous and recent experience I had to this little bird’s was when I was in the Peace Corps in Cameroon and knew it was time I "came out". I was thousands of miles from my home and my support network, among people I hadn’t known for long, in an environment that was foreign to me. I was desperate to find someone to talk to about what I was feeling. Fortunately, I found many new friends with willing ears and open hearts. So as I developed the story of Trevor, I realized that my experience of coming out was metaphorically showing up in the story.

When I discussed the emotional underpinning of the story with the book's editor, Neal Porter, I think he was genuinely moved by it and saw the connection immediately. I think the resulting editorial direction made a book that is deeper and more poignant for it. We wondered if the underlying experience that fueled the story should be brought more to the forefront. It was an interesting question because, in the end, the gay experience is both unique and universal. We opted to focus on the universal emotions - loneliness, friendship, trust - but I gave a nod to the unique experience in the wording of the dedication.

Lee: That duality, of a child’s and adult’s emotions, brings up another lovely piece of the story: how even the child reader knows that Trevor’s first, very quiet friend isn’t another canary, but actually a lemon. I imagine it’s one of the things children having the story read to them love best, especially as Trevor is so sweet about it. Their duet, where “"the lemon sang the silences.” is such a lovingly told, charming, and poignant note. Tell us about the decision to have children know more than Trevor.

Jim: I do a lot of school visits and in one of them I teach how to write a suspenseful scene. I put an emphasis on dramatic irony, where the reader knows something that the characters in the scene do not. So I guess it is just one of the tools in my writing toolkit. I never really made an active decision to have the reader know that Trevor’s friend is a lemon when Trevor does not. All the comedy in the story stems from that fact though. I guess the tragedy does too, since the relationship is doomed from the start. I think maybe the one-sided nature of the relationship is what some people identify with and find so moving. We’ve all been there.

Lee: You've packed a lot of emotion into a modest word count. Can you tell us about your writing/revision process for this picture book text?

Jim: At Christmas time, my critique group The Revisionaries, sets aside all the work we have been doing during the year and does something we call “The Assignment.” Basically we take a short, vague phrase and use it as a story prompt. We have two weeks to write the story. TREVOR was the result of this tradition. If this sounds familiar it’s because I’ve had a lot of luck selling stories created during The Assignment. I think this is the fourth one. In the case of TREVOR, the prompt was “sour fruit.” Part of my method for The Assignment is a process I call Inquiry and Synthesis, where I ask questions and look for connections in the answers. In this way I connected lemons to canaries and had the idea for a canary mistaking a lemon for another canary. The story came out pretty much the same as the published story. However, the first draft had a girl character, Trevor’s owner. When the lemon fell from the nest, Trevor followed. The text read “but the lemon had found a new friend.” That new friend was the girl. So the first draft had an element of betrayal to it. The last scene was Trevor flying away with new friends and the girl opening a lemonade stand. Punishment for the lemon's betrayal, I guess. Fortunately I found the true heart of the story and the lemon now enjoys a finer fate.

Lee: You’ve also created picture books where you’ve done both the words and the illustrations. Are there insights from the illustration side of the creative process that you bring to the table on a project like this where you’re the writer and not the illustrator?

Jim: Probably the biggest insight I apply when someone else is illustrating is “the illustrator brings enormous skills to the visual side of the storytelling, so trust them and give them plenty of space to tell their own story.” I try to just stay out of the illustrator’s way. That said, if there are visual aspects that are essential to the story, I am sure to discuss them with the editor. Working with Amy Hevron (the illustrator) and Neal Porter (the editor) was a dream, in this case. There was one essential aspect of the story that I did talk to Neal about: that Trevor was a canary! It isn’t obvious from the text and the initial art sample was a beautiful cobalt budgie that Amy had created at Neal’s request. The blue bird and yellow lemon were such a beautiful combination that I offered to change the text, which contained onomatopoeic canary song, to align with the blue parakeet in the sample art. Neal suddenly understood that Trevor was a canary and took that back to Amy. Turns out Amy is sort of a bird fan and had thought, based on the birdsong in the text, that Trevor was a canary. So she was happy to create a new, yellow character.

Lee: What advice do you have for other writers who are working on their picture book manuscripts?

Jim: Spend most of your time developing the character’s emotional story, rather than on language or rhyme or, god forbid, “teaching a lesson.” Emotion is what will make people love your book.

Lee: Thanks so much for sharing about this beautiful picture book, Jim! And congratulations.

Jim: Thanks Lee. I am very grateful for this opportunity to talk about an aspect of TREVOR that is likely to be overlooked, but that was so important to me as I wrote it.

Add your review of "Trevor" in comments!

Friday, August 17, 2018

My Seventh Grade Life In Tights - A Boy Wants To Dance (and the real-world fuss is about the openly Gay secondary character on his dance crew.)

My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor
This is the book that I wrote about on Wednesday, that has "LGBT content," and for that content had a lot of drama at the author's school (Brooks is also a teacher), with "My Seventh Grade Life In Tights" being pulled from the school library and then, subsequently, only provided to students on the down-low.

I reached out to Brooks to find out more about the queer content of this middle grade book. Here's part of our correspondence:

Brooks: Hi, Lee!

This is something--especially with all the junk going on in today's world--that we need to be talking about. Thank you for being willing to share it. I know (as a teacher and as an author) that there are more books out there that have been challenged simply because of the characters (Alan Cole is Not a Coward, George, Star Crossed). In my book, Carson (who dances on the main character's dance crew) is openly gay. Sometimes I wonder if that's what has so many people all in a fix. The fact that he's not "confused or concerned" about his sexuality, but out and proud with friends and parents who love him.

Lee: wow - a happy, out and proud secondary character? Is his being Gay an issue in the book?

Brooks: He gets teased by some kids and made fun of a couple of times (it is set in east TN after all) and he acknowledges how it never doesn’t hurt to hear it, but his story isn’t about him crushing on another boy. His story is about his desire to compete because he wants to dance professionally one day.

So there you have it. A secondary gay character in a middle grade book is too scary for some adults to handle. What can we do? Help get the word out about this title!

Oh, I'm going to share one more tweet from Brooks' twitter account, from Aug 11, 2018, because it sums it up perfectly:

There are times we need to be silent. Times when we need to stop talking and listen. But silence when we’re seeing the silencing of others? That is always wrong. That’s when we need to find our voices. That’s when we must be our loudest. —Brooks Benjamin

Add your review of "My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights" in comments!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Teacher and Author Brooks Benjamin Opens Up About His Book for Kids Being Pulled From His School's Library Because of it Having "LGBTQ Content"

Read this thread, and then the very powerful responses.

This ongoing issue of adults trying to "protect" children from knowing that LGBTQ people exist doesn't actually help kids. At all.

It just makes queer kids feel more isolated than ever. (It doesn't prevent us from being LGBTQ. It just ensures we don't feel safe being our authentic selves.)

And it reinforces, for straight kids, that there's something bad about their peers being LGBTQ, that those human beings are "othered" in a way that their school agrees should be seen as less than.

I'm so glad the librarian at Brooks' school came around (two years later), and that now they're working together with other allies to help empower students by giving them access to books that really can help.

And I'm grateful Brooks shared this story. The more we know this sort of thing still happens, the more we can fight it.

Follow Brooks online (his twitter handle is @brooksbenjamin), and check out his book, "MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS." I'll post about it on Friday.

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

Monday, August 13, 2018

Does every rainbow say pride? Maybe not. And then again...

So recently my teenage daughter and I were at a party supply store and we came upon this "Pride" display:

The wonky "rainbow" piñata
Check out how it was topped with a piñata—a rainbow piñata.

And I just couldn't get past the idea of people at some party to celebrate Gay Pride smashing the rainbow to get it to "rain" down candy. Destroying the symbol of something you love seems like an odd way to celebrate.

And then, my teen pointed out that they'd gotten the color order of the rainbow wrong, completely wrong. Red is supposed to be on top. Then orange, then yellow, then green, then blue, then purple on the bottom. She was right. This piñata was a mess.

Everything even remotely rainbow-ish was included in this store's "Pride" display, and we looked at it all: ridiculous hand-held pride flags that had the full rainbow twice—twelve stripes in all, one on top of the other; a sequined rainbow dress for $16 (a good deal?);  a hideous rainbow romper outfit (and hideous is being kind); packs of rainbow striped napkins with 10 different colors, and on and on.... Until my daughter pointed out that at least they had a Pride section in the store.

And that, I had to admit, was true. It was cool.

They even had a single hand-held transgender pride flag where they'd gotten the colors right, and we both cheered!

And despite the silly mix of rainbow colors and stripes, in that moment, seeing what an Ally my daughter has become was the real moment of Pride for me. And for that, I'm so grateful.

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

Friday, August 10, 2018

An Act of Creative Defiance and LGBTQ Pride in Russia

check out this very cool Pride visibility action:


The text reads:

"in Russia, the act of displaying the LGBT flag in public can get you arrested, so these 6 activists from latin america resorted to creativity: wearing uniforms from their countries' football teams, they turned themselves into the flag and walked around Moscow with pride."

My thanks to the activists who put themselves out there to stand up for what's right, to Gabi (@harleivy) for sharing this, and to everyone for helping get the word out.

The idea that showing a Gay Pride flag is illegal is ridiculous, and alarming, and we shouldn't stop talking about it and protesting this kind of institutional homophobia whenever and wherever it festers.

You can find out more about The Hidden Flag project here.

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Highlights (and some choice photos) from #LA18SCBWI


My pal Tomie DePaola (a.k.a. Laurent Linn)
Margaret Atwood makes an impression on Jim Averbeck (or was Jim doing the impression?)
I've always wanted to meet Chimamanda Adichie (nice to meet you, Nadia Hohn!)
Seeing double - Lin Oliver as Picasso's cubist period, Lin Oliver, and Henry Winkler


One thing you write, one piece of art you create, can enter a young person's heart and change it forever. And then they'll go forth... and change the world, in ways that are impossible for us to imagine. -@brucecoville keynote finale to #LA18SCBWI #Inspiration

"Word of mouth works. So please talk up the books you love." -@brandycolbert at #LA18SCBWI

"Reading is the best and safest place to practice life." -@LindaSuePark at #LA18SCBWI

Best career advice ever: "Write the best, most honest book you can. A book you're proud of. Repeat." -@libbabray at #LA18SBWI #writingtips

"We are facing the sorts of monsters we read about in fiction. So now we have to be the kinds of heroes we read about in books." - @libbabray at #LA18SCBWI

"Votes will help. But stories—it's what will save us." - @djolder opening keynote at #la18scbwi

"The stuff that we are ashamed of can make for very good storytelling..." And learning our vulnerability can help children makes it worth it. -Linda Mullaly Hunt at #LA18SCBWI

"Kids need us to care more about them then about our careers or ourselves." - Linda Mullaly Hunt at #LA18SCBWI

Great suggestion from @LynMullalyHunt Don't call it a "rejection" letter. Call it a "not yet" letter. Yes! #LA18SCBWI

"Whiteness is not a culture. Whiteness is a power structure." -@ArthurALevine1 at #LA18SCBWI

"Miscommunication is a big story tool" that we can use as writers. - Deborah Halverson at #LA18SCBWI

"Write the thing that scares you. The thing that makes you uncomfortable." - @ElanaKArnold at #LA18SCBWI

"Focus on the writing." There's so much noise, but focus on the writing. -@brandycolbert at #LA18SCBWI

Writing nonfiction: how do you know if your idea is going to be a PB, MG, or YA? "We'll figure it out. Just do you." -@AndreaDavisPink at #LA18SCBWI

"Every book is its own universe." -@imaroxburygirl at #LA18SCBWI Wisdom, and such beautiful art!

"Write the story that you were meant to write... the story of your heart." -Erin Entrada Kelly at #LA18SCBWI

Team Blog:

Giant thanks to my fellow SCBWI Team Bloggers for #LA18SCBWI! (from left, me, Jaime Temairik, Jolie Stekly, Martha Brockenbrough, Adria Quiñones, and Don Tate

And overall,

I leave the SCBWI 2018 Summer Conference so grateful to be part of this Children's and Teen literature Community!

Monday, August 6, 2018

One True Way - It's the 1970s in the American South, and Two Middle School Girls Are Falling For Each Other

One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

Welcome to Daniel Boone Middle School in the 1970s, where teachers and coaches must hide who they are, and girls who like girls are forced to question their own choices.

Allie and Sam are classmates. Allie and Sam are friends. Allie and Sam are girls. Allie and Sam are falling for each other.

Add your review of "One True Way" in comments!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Attending #LA18SCBWI? Join Me (and Faculty Guests) Tonight For The LGBTQ & Allies Social

It's my favorite event at my favorite event...

Some photos from past years:



You can read the roundups and inspiring highlights of previous LGBTQ Q&A events at the SCBWI International Conferences in New York and Los Angeles here.

This year's LGBTQ & Allies social is Friday Aug 3, 2018 from 7:30pm - 9:00pm. If you're attending the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Summer Conference in Los Angeles, I hope you'll join us!

The light in me recognizes and acknowledges the light in you,

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Fire Song - an Anishinaabe teen is torn between home and dreams of college, and between the girl everyone knows he's dating and the boy no one knows he loves

Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones

How can Shane reconcile his feelings for David with his desire for a better life? Shane is still reeling from the suicide of his kid sister, Destiny. How could he have missed the fact that she was so sad? He tries to share his grief with his girlfriend, Tara, but she's too concerned with her own needs to offer him much comfort. What he really wants is to be able to turn to the one person on the rez whom he loves--his friend, David. Things go from bad to worse as Shane's dream of going to university is shattered and his grieving mother withdraws from the world. Worst of all, he and David have to hide their relationship from everyone. Shane feels that his only chance of a better life is moving to Toronto, but David refuses to join him. When yet another tragedy strikes, the two boys have to make difficult choices about their future together.

Add your review of "Fire Song" in comments!