Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: LGBTQ YA Genre Fiction

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One of the standout differences in the LGBTQ offerings in 2016, as opposed to previous years, is a boost in genre fiction.

While I love reading LGBTQ books of all kinds, in my truest and nerdiest heart, I’m a lifelong reader and devoted writer of genre fiction.

Stories with marginalized main characters tend to take a particular route through the publishing world--starting with “issue” books, expanding into a broader range of contemporary fiction, and finally arriving at genre fiction.

My first two published novels--Entangled (2013) and Unmade (2016)(both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt--are space opera and feature a f/f romance between two secondary characters.

The farther into the series I got, the more I knew that my heart was completely wound up in the story of those girls. I knew what I wanted to do--what I needed to do--write about queer characters in the kind of stories I love best.

Unfortunately, I could think of few traditionally published YA novels that fit into the categories I wanted to write.

I threw myself into the work, focused on crafting the best stories I could, and tried to cloak my worries in stubborn optimism. I’m beyond happy to say that my 2017 novel coming out from Candlewick is a mystery novel with a queer love story at its heart.

I know that I’ve been lucky. I have so many other stories to tell, as do so many LGBTQ authors. But the readers are what I keep coming back to.

Every time I find a new, beautifully crafted world with LGBTQ characters in it, that world changes mine a little bit. And if I’d had those books as a young reader--it would have changed everything.

One of the authors I looked up to as proof that LGBTQ YA genre fiction was possible is Malinda Lo.

Her science fiction fantasy (SFF) books featuring queer girls are among the handful published before 2016, including Ash (Little, Brown, 2009), a lush and lyrical retelling of Cinderella.

When I asked Malinda about her own favorites of new and upcoming books, she said:

"In November, Audrey Coulthurst's fantasy novel Of Fire and Stars (Balzer + Bray) [came] out.
"An early version of this book was Audrey's submission to Lambda*, and when I first read it I honestly wasn't sure if I trusted my own assessment of it because it checked so many of my personal reading faves. I was almost afraid it wasn't real!
"It's a high fantasy about two princesses who fall in love with each other against the backdrop of political intrigue and one girl's growing knowledge of her own magical talents.
"It also involves (to my eternal delight) plenty of romantic horseback riding lessons. Ever since reading Robin McKinley's novels as a teen, this has been one of my absolutely most favorite tropes in fantasy.
"And Of Fire and Stars is also such a delicious, slow-burning romance. Anyone who enjoys romances should love this book."

I had the opportunity to talk to Audrey Coulthurst as well, and ask her what she loves about writing genre fiction.

Audrey Coulthurst
"Perhaps the best thing about writing genre fiction is how boundless the opportunities are; writers of SFF are not obligated to create worlds that have the same social structures or prejudices that are present in ours.
"As a teen it would have been very meaningful to me to find a fantasy book that felt familiar in the ways I loved—the medievalesque setting, magic, and political intrigue—but also showed me that it was possible for a girl to fall for another girl in that imaginary world.
"Desire for that kind of book is what inspired me to write Of Fire and Stars.

"There still are not a ton of LGBTQ books in YA SFF, but that means a lot of opportunity exists for writers. I can’t wait to see what new releases arrive in the coming years.
"What I would love is not necessarily to focus on creating a SFF LGBTQ YA category, or expanding LGBTQ YA to include SFF, but for characters of all gender identities and sexual orientations to be present on the page in many different kinds of stories and for those to be accepted as part of the broader canon."

In the spirit of adding LGBTQ books to the broader canon, here are some excellent reads that will be at home in any collection.

Readers who loves high fantasy will no doubt embrace Of Fire and Stars, while those who enjoy high-paced adventures with pirates and sea monsters will delight in The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (Flux, 2016). Fans of myth retellings in contemporary settings, should run out and immediately read About a Girl by Sarah McCarry (St. Martin's Griffin, 2015).

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016) is a rich fantasy starring a bisexual Latina bruja. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow (McElderry, 2015, 2016) features deftly written dystopian politics and a beautiful queer romance. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet) is an exciting new addition to the YA superhero genre. Christopher Barzak’s Wonders of the Invisible World (Knopf, 2015, 2016) is a beautifully written contemporary novel that weaves in fantastical elements. Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick) is a fantastic sci-fi novel with a nonbinary main character.

While these novels will appeal to anyone who loves great storytelling, for queer readers, the expansion into genre fiction is positive for so many reasons.

As Corinne Duyvis, the author of the excellent YA fantasy novel Otherbound (Amulet, 2014), puts it:

"The delight of these books is that queer readers can see themselves in the same adventures that cishet readers can. Too often, queer characters only get stories about being queer, and aren't allowed much of an identity or adventures beyond that.
"While we need issue books, we also need more. Some readers want an escape from the real world. Some want to be empowered in a supernatural fashion. Some just love reading about dragons and are tired of being excluded from all the exciting dragon stories, damn it.

"You can't say it's 'representation' when it only exists within a very narrow kind of narrative, often dictated by cishet people. Representation means representation everywhere."

And she points out that queer readers aren’t the only ones who benefit.

"Queer genre books are also essential for cishet readers. Many who might not pick up a 'queer book' will still be exposed to queer characters that way. It helps normalize our existence.
"It's been proven in studies that exposure to positive representation of queer characters/people can actively increase acceptance, so it's important that books of all kinds accurately reflect our reality and the queer people in it.

"Finally, because these books often aren't about being queer, the flap copy often doesn't mention this aspect of the characters.
"This can be negative, since it makes the books harder for queer readers to find, but also positive, since it makes the books safer to read for teens whose parents who might not want them reading queer books."

It’s important to remember that just because a book has an LGBTQ main character, that shouldn’t be seen as limiting its readership to queer readers--any more than a book with a straight main character would be limited to straight readers. LGBTQ books shouldn’t be treated as “niche” or special interest.

When I asked Alex London, the author of dystopian YA novel Proxy (Speak, 2015), what he was most excited about in LGBTQ YA, he said:

"For me, I thought the most exciting part of publishing LGBTQ YA would be connecting with the young LGBTQ readers who were hungry for the kinds of adventure stories I write, where traditionally LGBTQ characters have been lacking.
"And the response has been touching and uplifting and inspiring (and sometimes, although rarely, heartbreaking--a book can provide some armor but it can't rescue a kid from homophobia and bigotry, especially when it comes from their parents and community).
"However, the LGBTQ response has not been the most exciting part for me. I have really delighted in the response from cis het kids and teens who are mostly willing to engage with queer heroes like they engage with any other character. They want someone they can root for and thrill with and if that character is queer, so be it.
"I've loved the anxious emails from straight readers pleading for one of the gay boys I've written to find a boyfriend. I love the emails from straight readers asking how to be better allies to their queer friends.
"Essentially, I've been thrilled that my books have acted as mirrors and windows, but most thrilled that, for some, the books have been, as [YA Goddess] Teri Lesesne puts it, '...doors books that offer them a sense of how to be powerful change agents.'"

Another highlight of my talk with Alex was his explanation of the delights of writing genre fiction.

"Writing genre, I think, frees up a part of my imagination to imagine sexual and gender identity politics beyond what our society currently can.
"I think sci fi and fantasy are freeing in that way, although I think we could all push these boundaries farther than we do.
"I love what Ursula K. Le Guin writes about the power of fantasy and sci fi not to offer prescriptions or predictions, but to dislodge the imagination from thinking that the way things are is the way they have to be. Imagining other possible realities, from our relationship to economics, our understanding of the natural world, or the bonds that connect us to each other and to our bodies--those are the joys of genre.
"I think genre fiction has the unique ability of queering our minds anyway, so it seemed natural to me to write queer characters within it."

This is one of my favorite elements of genre fiction--the expansion of possibility. The inclusion of a wider range of stories, worlds, people, and the ways they might live.

Seeing beyond our own time, place, and circumstances can be truly mind-expanding and life-changing.

As Lindsay Smith, author of the forthcoming A Darkly Beating Heart (Roaring Brook, 2016), reminds us, historical fiction is another genre we can look to for stories of LGBTQ characters who have grappled with different realities.

"My first published LGBTQ stories have been historical (“City of Angels,” in the A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls, edited by Jessica Spotswood (Candlewick, 2016)) and time-travel-y (A Darkly Beating Heart).
"I’ve always loved historical fiction, and taking into account the social pressures and situations LGBTQ characters faced in different places and periods provides an interesting challenge.
"I think across the board people assume things were always worse in the past, but there are so many more stories to be told."

Even with the recent increase in genre fiction, there are still relatively few LGBTQ YA historical fiction titles. A recently announced anthology, All Out, edited by Saundra Mitchell (Harlequin Teen, 2018) features LGBTQ historical fiction short stories from a number of incredible authors. This is a good one to pre-order and put on the to-be-read list now.

I’d like to share some closing thoughts from Tristina Wright, author of the forthcoming 27 Hours, a thrilling sci-fi novel which features a main cast of queer characters that span many identities.

When I asked her what she values most about writing genre fiction, she said:

Tristina Wright
"Giving us the spotlight to be the hero, to solve the puzzle, to slay the monster, to get the romance, to do and to be instead of furthering a straight character's journey.
"Genre can reflect the hope and optimism for the future. It can reflect the universe we want. It can contain the people around us, but in better versions.
"We can write a world where horrible things happen, but homophobia isn't one of them. Some will laugh and insist that's not realistic but, then again, neither are dragons."

Thank you for checking out this post--it’s part three of a four-part series.

Check back for the final installment, about the future of LGBTQ YA, challenges that still need to be met, and where we go from here!

Notes from Amy Rose

*Lambda Literary holds a yearly retreat for emerging LGBTQ writers, where they are mentored by experienced professionals in the field.

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (out now from HMH), and Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

(See New Voice Amy Rose Capetta on Entangled from Cynsations.)

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Intersectionality in LGBTQ YA

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Rainbow Boxes is a charitable initiative to connect LGBTQIA fiction with readers across the United States.

When Cori McCarthy and I did our research for Rainbow Boxes (AKA the most fun research--it mainly consisted of reading every LGBTQ YA book we could find), we were able to assemble a box of books that featured characters with a range of identities.

But if we’d tried to fill another box…it would have been much more difficult. And we were only looking for fifteen titles!

That was in 2015, and there are many exciting new additions to the list of titles this year, but this is one of the biggest places where LGBTQ YA needs to grow. The authors and LGBTQ YA advocates I interviewed seemed to be on the same page--almost every single one mentioned it.

Dahlia Adler, who runs the website LGBTQ Reads and keeps track of the books coming out, said:

"Most of all, I really, really want to see more intersectionality - more queer kids of color and more disabled queer kids. The numbers on these are still really sadly low."

Her book, Under the Lights: A Daylight Falls Novel (Spencer Hill, 2015), features a Korean-American lesbian main character, and is one of a small number of f/f books that fall in the category of delightful fluffy reads featuring queer girls.

When I spoke with Anna-Marie McLemore, author of When the Moon Was Ours (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Griffin, 2016), she gave a similar answer--with an exclamation point.

"More intersectional stories! I’m excited to see all stories with respectful representation of LGBTQ characters, but especially ones that have queer characters who are also of color, who also have disabilities, and so many more intersecting identities."

When I asked her about the exciting parts and the challenges of writing LGBTQ YA, Anna-Marie said:

"My agent, editor, and publishing house have been tremendously supportive of me writing When the Moon Was Ours. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared to write queer and transgender main characters. I was already writing characters of color, and I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do both.
"I’m queer, and I’m married to a transguy, but I felt like I had to keep that part of my identity off the page.
"But I’m glad I had people around me who encouraged me to write the story that was in me, to write characters who are of color and also LGBTQ.

"I have heard authors talk about pressure to limit themselves to one marginalization per character. Hopefully that is changing, but wherever it remains the case, it creates a situation where queer characters must always be white, neurotypical, and able-bodied, among other things.
"It also limits the potential for multiple LGBTQIA identities (eg queer intersex people, gay or bisexual people on the asexuality spectrum.)
"This is not a question of 'checking boxes' when it comes to diversity, but rather reflecting a wider range of lived experience."

As author Tristina Wright puts it:

Tristina Wright
"Intersections exist.
"Someone can be Black, bisexual, have anxiety, and come from a single parent home.
"Someone can be Muslim, gay, OCD, and a twin.
"Someone can be Latinx, genderfluid, depressed, and stutter.
"Someone can be Biracial, pansexual, use a wheelchair, and Deaf.
"There are intersections upon intersections and when people protest this point, they reinforce the idea that there's a default setting of white/straight/cisgender/abled and anything away from that is Other."

Tristina’s debut novel, 27 Hours, coming Fall 2017 from Entangled Teen, features characters of many backgrounds and identities. Here’s how Tristina describes the intersectional identities of her characters:

4 alternating POVs
1. Male, biracial (Indian/Nigerian), bisexual, PTSD
2. Female, biracial (Cuban/Greek), pansexual, Deaf
3. Male, white, gay, adopted
4. Male, white, asexual, has two moms
+ 2 ensemble characters
5. Female, transgender, Latinx, bisexual
6. Male, gay, Caribbean, missing two fingers (from birth)

Sometimes, in the case of fantasy and sci-fi novels, intersections don’t have exact real-world correlation.

In the authors’ own words, here are the identities in Malinda Lo’s Huntress (Little, Brown, 2011):

"Huntress is set in a Chinese-inspired world, so the characters are both non-white and queer. I wouldn't describe them as Chinese, because it's a secondary fantasy world. 'Non-white' is probably best."

And Corinne DuyvisOtherbound (Amulet, 2014):

"Nolan is Mexican-American and disabled. Amara is bisexual, disabled, and a woman of color. As she lives in a fantasy world, the bisexuality is unlabeled and her ethnicity has no real-world analog."


Recent titles that include main characters with intersectional identities are More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015), which features a gay male Puerto Rican main character, Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion, 2015), which has a disabled bisexual girl protagonist, Proxy by Alex London (Philomel, 2013), with a gay male person-of-color protagonist, Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet) with Chinese-Vietnamese American bisexual girl protagonist, and Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016) about a bisexual Latina protagonist.

I spoke with Kekla Magoon, author of 37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order)(Henry Holt, 2012), about the intersectionality in her book.

"I didn't make a big point about identity in 37 Things I Love, but I pictured the cast of that book as relatively diverse.
"Ellis is biracial (black dad/white mom) and Cara is also biracial (white/Asian). Ellis will likely identify as bisexual when she is older, though at the moment she is at the beginning of her journey to discover her sexual self. Cara identifies as a lesbian and is more secure in her identity on a lot of levels.
"The text contains a couple of hints toward Ellis's racial identity, but fewer to indicate Cara's, and while it's clear from the novel action that the girls are interested in each other romantically, they don't fully name their respective identities.
"For me as a writer, the important thing at the time was to write a story that included a biracial, bisexual protagonist without drawing too much attention to the fact. I hoped that leaving it less clearly defined would allow space for readers to draw the characters however they see fit.

Kekla Magoon
"I'm not sure if I would make the same choices about representing the identities in that book if I was writing and publishing it today. [37 Things was sold in 2010 and published in 2012.]
"I've changed as a writer, and the industry has evolved in what it is ready to accept.
"At the time, I felt a little bit subversive in sliding this book out, and it flew largely under the radar.
"People had come to expect 'black' books from me, based on my previous work, so to write a 'gay' book felt a bit sneaky. Which, I suppose, parallels my interest in being more subtle about the characters' identities too.
"On the one hand, maybe I could've served the need for 'diverse YA' better if I had landed harder on those descriptions. On the other hand, it didn't feel as germane to the story I was trying to tell at the time, and in the long run don't want any book to have to stand alone as one or the other ('black' vs. 'gay').
"Just as much, I don't want my book to be labeled as even more narrowly as a 'black LGBTQ' book, either. I would like to be able to stop pressing the point that it's okay for a single book to cover lots of identity territory without being pigeonholed or assumed to be directed to a limited audience."

It’s extremely important that books that deal with characters of intersecting identities are treated as part of YA literature as a whole, and not a special interest category.

These books are part of what makes YA exciting, truthful, and worthwhile to readers whose real lives encompass so many identities.

For a parting thought, here’s Vee Signorelli, co-founder of The Gay YA, on what they’re excited about:

"There's this amazing energy about LGBTQIA+ right now. I don't know how else to explain it. It's really new and current and vibrant. Like… it’s really beginning to feel like anything is possible.

"That said, we have a long way to go, especially in terms of intersectional representation.
"Sometimes it’s easy to think we’ve come super far, only to get a tumblr ask for an autistic queer character, or a black gay teen, or a trans girl who ends up in a happy relationship with another girl, and you’re like… that... doesn’t exist."

As writers, readers, publishers, booksellers, educators, librarians, and lovers of books, let’s all do what we can so that in a few years, we can look back and see a vast improvement in the number of intersectional books--so many that we can’t possibly list all of the titles, so many that no book request goes unfilled.

This post is part two in a four-part series. Tomorrow, we'll reflect on genre fiction.

Amy Rose Notes


Check out Diversity in YA from Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon. Peek: "We celebrate young adult books about all kinds of diversity, from race to sexual orientation to gender identity and disability. Our goal is to bring attention to books and authors that might fall outside the mainstream, and to bring the margin to the center."

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (out now from HMH), and Echo After Echo, a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway (coming in 2017 from Candlewick).

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Celebrating LGBTQ YA

Rainbow Boxes co-founders Cori & Amy Rose
By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In 2015, it seemed like there was a slowly growing list of excellent YA books with central LGBTQ main characters--but there were clearly still barriers making it difficult for readers, especially teen readers, to find them.

Fellow YA author Cori McCarthy* and I created Rainbow Boxes to help bridge that gap, to directly connect LGBTQ YA to young readers.

We raised funds that allowed us to send a box of fifteen YA titles to LGBTQ centers and community libraries in all 50 states.

Rainbow Boxes co-founder Cori McCarthy in our living room--with hundreds of LGBTQ books!

Then 2016 happened.

Looking forward at the beginning of this year, I saw new LGBTQ YA titles everywhere--seemingly more in a single year than we had seen in the past five put together.

Looking back now, while the publishing landscape has indeed changed in 2016, so has the world.**

Amy Rose, Cynthia & Sara Kocek
When I first talked to Cynthia Leitich Smith about this blog series, I hoped it would be a celebration of great LGBTQ YA: a call to uplift the excellent books that are being published while we continue to work for a wider range of stories and representation.

Now this series feels more urgently important than ever. In the coming years, LGBTQ people, especially young ones, will need stories. They will need adventure and friendship and truth and love, messiness and beauty, fluff and darkness, a place to see their humanity fully explored, even as other people seek to deny it.

Straight and cisgendered people need these stories, too. Without them, there will be no truthful narratives that push against the limited, distorted, and stereotyped portrayals of the past.

Amy Rose, Adam & Cori
The work is underway. Minds and hearts are changing. LGBTQ teenagers are brave and amazing. But there is still so much we can do. I’d like to start by waving my rainbow flag as hard as I can to celebrate some of the wonderful successes in LGBTQ YA.

Books about gay teenage boys have increasingly been enjoying mainstream success levels. Some of the breakouts include New York Times bestselling More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015), named as “mandatory reading” and selected as an Editor’s Choice by the NYT.

David Levithan’s many books about gay teenagers, which have been published for over a decade, are considered a YA staple.

Wildly popular Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray, 2015) won the coveted Morris Award for debut authors.

Books about queer girls have not enjoyed the same levels of visibility, but there are signs that might be changing. In 2016, Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Griffin, 2016) was long-listed for National Book Award, Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Balzer + Bray, 2012) was announced as an upcoming movie adaptation, and Marieke Nijkamp’s This is Where it Ends (Sourcebooks, 2016) hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list--and stayed on the list week after week.

I asked Marieke: how does it feel to have a #1 NYT bestselling title featuring queer girl main characters? What does it mean for you as a writer? As a queer person? She said:

"It means the world to me. One of the reasons why I started writing was to give a voice and stories to readers who struggled to find themselves in books.
"Like I did, growing up. And as it is, nothing fills my heart more than hearing from those exact readers, who recognize themselves--if only a little--in TIWIE.

"Of course I hoped and dreamed my stories would resonate, but to hear those reactions and to see this queer book of mine do so well...
"It's far beyond even my wildest dreams. It's out of this world. I'm so incredibly grateful for it, and I hope I can pay it forward."

I talked to Anna-Marie McLemore about how she sees the field changing. Her first book, The Weight of Feathers, came out last fall. Her second book, When The Moon Was Ours, features a queer girl and trans boy as main characters, and people of color compose the main casts of both books. She said:

"I have a lot of hope for the future of inclusive literature. We still have a long way to go, but thanks to the conversations taking place, many of them fostered by leaders like those of We Need Diverse Books, we’re moving forward."

I asked the same question to Malinda Lo, a well-known author in the LGBTQ community, whose books include Huntress (Little, Brown, 2011) and Adaptation (Little, Brown, 2012). She said:

"When my first novel, Ash (Little, Brown), was published in 2009, very little YA was published that included queer characters who did not have to struggle with coming out. This has changed significantly in the last seven years.
"This change certainly wasn't driven only by my books, because other authors had also been moving in this direction, but I think my books did contribute to the growing normalization of queer characters in YA.
"In other words, you can have a queer character in a book, but it doesn't always have to be about being queer. It can be about falling in love, or saving a kingdom, or simply coming of age, with sexual orientation one issue of many that a character engages with.
"I am really encouraged by this, because the struggle for LGBT rights and acceptance does not end with coming out; it begins there. We can only be full human beings when the whole of our lives and experiences count."

This was a common refrain when I talked to authors. There will always be a place for coming out stories, and a need for excellent books that struggle with the varied and changing realities of coming out. (I’d love to see more books that deal with the fact that coming out isn’t always a binary experience dividing life neatly into “before” and “after”.)

But focusing on coming out as the only important narrative results in a limited literature that reduces LGBTQ people to a single experience.

I asked Kekla Magoon, author of 37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order)(Henry Holt, 2012) what she’s excited about in the field and how she sees it changing.

"It's exciting to contribute to the growing offering of books that deal with sexuality in big and small ways while intersecting with other storylines and multiple layers of character development.
"Around the time I sold 37 Things I Love (2010) and the time it came out (2012), people had begun talking about the need for more books that dealt with LGBTQ characters doing things other than coming out, and the need for books that showed LGBTQ characters of color.
"The need still exists for those books, but it seems as though the conversation has intensified, and is beginning to result in changes. There are more LGBTQ books now than there used to be, and that the door to the industry is cracking open even further now, as we collectively deepen our understanding of identity and intersectionality."

When I asked Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound (Amulet, 2014), what she’s excited about in LGBTQ YA, she said:

"I'm very excited to be seeing more #ownvoices*** books hit the shelves. The more the better!
"After all, no two people's experiences are the same. The more different voices we have, the more we can show the wealth and breadth of experiences of queer characters--and the less pressure there is on individual authors to 'speak for' queer YA.
"They can just be honest about that one character's experiences instead of being put into the position of representing an entire group.

"I would very much like to see more trans representation both on the pages and behind the scenes. There are still a lot of experiences out there that aren't being written about very much, whether in terms of trans identity or the various angles of intersectionality.
"It's essential that we listen, that we actively seek out and welcome trans voices, and that we do whatever we can to make the industry--and the world--more trans-friendly."

2015-16 saw the publication of a small number of #ownvoices books about trans characters--such as If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (Flatrion) and George by Alex Gino (Scholastic) in the middle grade category.

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick) is an excellent sci-fi novel about a nonbinary character.

There is still such a long way to go. Trans characters are consistently underrepresented in LGBTQ fiction.

While celebrating how far LGBTQ YA has come, it’s important that we pay attention to areas where representation is seriously lagging. Almost every single person I interviewed for this blog series cited the need for more #ownvoices trans YA.

Vee Signorelli, the co-founder of The Gay YA, is currently running Trans Awareness Week. Please check out their work, starting with this post.

When I asked Vee about the delights and challenges of running a site that covers LGBTQ YA, they said:

"I’ve gotten to connect with other literary trans people. That… has meant so much to me. The literary community loves to herald any one trans person as the one and only, when in fact, there are many of us here, and that is unhelpfully isolating.
"There is something amazing about creating, theorizing, and working things through in community. Especially when you’re all part of such a marginalized identity that has been used and misrepresented, in culture, and in YA. There’s so much you’re able to reclaim.

"One of the absolute delights is how wonderful, strong, and vibrant the entire community is. Sometimes I get up in my head about the administration work, and I start freaking out about everything I have to do… and then I put something out to the community, like a call for submissions or volunteers, or opinions on a certain book, or anything and they are just there.
"I’m repeatedly amazed by everything the community does to keep this going."

Community is one of the most important words we can keep in mind, and foster moving forward.

Whether you’re a reader, a librarian, a teacher, a writer, a member of the publishing industry, a bookseller, there are things that all of us can do to keep this surge in LGBTQ YA going strong. And we can all work to make the YA book community a truly inclusive space.

One of the most obvious and wonderful is to enjoy and share the great books that are being published, so I want to leave you today with recommendations for new and upcoming books from Dahlia Adler, who runs LGBTQ Reads, and Vee Signorelli of The Gay YA.

These two websites are some of the most helpful resources and positive spaces for LGBTQ fiction, and I would greatly encourage anyone who doesn’t already check them out regularly to do so. (After adding these books to your TBR, of course.)

Dahlia said:
"I’m really, really into Jaye Robin Brown's Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit (HarperTeen, 2016). I think it does a really beautiful job with queerness and religion, and it's also just fun and cute and sexy and everything you want f/f YA to be.
"Anna-Marie McLemore's When the Moon Was Ours is not only remarkably beautiful in itself and its style, but in its representations of sexual orientation and gender identity and intersectionality.
"And for some books I think are just great that center queer characters but not queerness, check out Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016), A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (Roaring Brook, 2016), As I Descended by Robin Talley (HarperTeen, 2016), and Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig  (Feiwel & Friends, 2016).
"One I haven't read but am super excited about is Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet, 2016) - it sounds like so much fun.

"Beyond 2016, I can already definitely recommend History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen), How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Katherine Tegen, 2017) -- I loved all of them and I'm positive many readers will too!"
Vee said:
"Queens of Geek by Jenn Wilde (Swoon) and Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinksi (Swoon) are two of my new all time favorite books. I’m also psyched to read Dreadnought by April Daniels (Diversion)(an #ownvoices YA featuring a trans girl), Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (Little, Brown), 27 Hours by Tristina Wright (Entangled Teen), and It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (HarperTeen)."

This post is the first in a four-part series. Please come back for part two--I’ll be talking about LGBTQ YA genre fiction!

Notes from Amy Rose

Rainbow Boxes co-founders and YA authors Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta
*Yes, Cori McCarthy is also my girlfriend. Thank you for scrolling all the way down here to confirm this happy fact.

**Please note that all interviews were given before November, which means all answers are reflective of a pre-election cultural landscape.

***If you’re not familiar with the term/hashtag "#ownvoices," please check out #ownvoices, where Corinne Duyvis, who coined the term, explains what it means. 

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Guest Post: Danica Davidson on Writing Merchandise Tie-In Children's Books

New Voice Danica Davidson on Attack on the Overworld
By Danica Davidson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Writing books that tie in with an already-known franchise offers both its rewards and its own sets of challenges, but ultimately it’s something I’ve enjoyed doing.

I’m the author of the Overworld Adventure series (Skyhorse, 2015-)(also known as books for Minecrafters) and the Barbie comic book Barbie: Puppy Party (Papercutz, 2016). I’m getting started on an Overworld Adventure spinoff series (same main characters but different villains) and I have a short story that will be included in a new graphic novel volume of Tales from the Crypt.

I knew I wanted to be an author from a young age, and began submitting novels regularly to agents in middle school. What I wasn’t prepared for was how hard it is to break into publishing, and sometimes you have to find creative ways to get in.

In high school I began working as a journalist, and after a few years, I was writing for MTV, CNN, The Onion and other publications. During my twenties I got an agent, and while he was shopping a YA series of mine, I sold a book on how to draw manga (Japanese comics). Skyhorse, the publisher, then asked me if I had any ideas that might involve the video game Minecraft.

I took a brief look at other books Skyhorse was publishing to get a feel for what they wanted but to also make sure I pitched them something different.

After brainstorming for a while and asking friends (who were also Minecraft fans) what they thought of my ideas, I wrote a proposal that was several paragraphs long and built down the framework for the first book. Skyhorse wanted it and the result was Escape from the Overworld.

The first book sold well, and now I’ve written six books in this series: Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrine and Battle with the Wither. I wrote them as adventure novels that happen to take place as if Minecraft were real, because I want them to be enjoyable to both Minecraft players and nongamers who just like a good action story.

With Barbie, I was submitting my resume to different comic book publishers. Papercutz, a publisher that does kids’ comics, wrote back with some interest. I sent them a spec script for Tales from the Crypt that I’d written, since they publish that franchise.

I didn’t sell Tales from the Crypt right away, but they liked it enough they told me to hold tight and they’d contact me when they had a property I could work on. A few months later, they asked if I could do Barbie! (Yes, you heard right — from Tales to the Crypt to Barbie.)

Mattel was watching over the project, because this is an official book, so when Papercutz asked me to write a proposal involving Barbie and puppies, that meant both Papercutz and Mattel would have to approve. I watched the new movie "Barbie and Her Sisters in the Great Puppy Adventure" (2015) and read some Barbie books to get a feel of what Mattel might like.

Puppies made me think of my love for animal welfare, so I pitched a proposal that Barbie and her sisters would put on a puppy party to get all the local shelter pets adopted. Mattel liked the proposal, so then I wrote the script, which then went to both Papercutz and Mattel to look over. (And, yes, I did end up selling the Tales from the Crypt script, and that will be out in 2017 from Papercutz!)

I never anticipated writing tie-ins, but I’ve had a lot of fun doing them.

You have to find the right companies to do them with, and the fact I already had a professional resume helped get attention on me. It’s kind of like a challenge to plug yourself into these different worlds and see what you come up with. You also never know what sort of adventures you’ll find yourself in!

Friday, December 02, 2016

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Amber Fang: Self-Publishing a Book from Arthur Slade. Peek: "...there it is. The breakdown of income and expenses. As you can see Amazon (and Createspace and affiliate money) amounted to most of my income. I put the expenses chart there, too." Notes: (a) post includes charts breaking down sales figures; (b) Arthur is a popular and acclaimed author of numerous successful traditionally published trade books as well.

Making a Difference Booklist from The Horn Book. Peek: "The books below — both fiction and nonfiction titles for a wide range of ages — portray many kinds of social justice work. Many specifically highlight what children can do to contribute this work, helping empower them to fight the good fight."

How Character Attributes and Flaws Work Within Character Arc by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Flaws exist because of a deep fear: that an emotionally traumatic event will happen again, and all that awful vulnerability one felt before will come crashing down." See also Angela on Writing Emotion: Does Your Hero Shrug, Smile & Frown Too Much?

Transgender Awareness Month 2016 Resources from Out of the Box at The Horn Book." Peek: "November is Transgender Awareness Month, a time to celebrate the lives of trans people, remember those lost to anti-trans hate crimes, and renew our commitment to fight for trans rights.

Heavy-Handed Imagery & Theme by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "That belongs on a classroom poster. Not at the heart of a story. Now, if you show a character’s life being enriched by sharing, that’s another thing. That lets the reader see the benefits of sharing for himself, and to make the connection that sharing is probably great on his own."

Good Men & Bad Men: On Latino Masculinities in Joe Jiménez’s Bloodline by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD; from Latinx in Kidlit. Peek: "...polarizing possibilities of what it means to be a Latino man are harmful and we need more complex images of Latino men and Latino masculinities that give us a broad spectrum." See also Creating a Diverse Books Legacy: Interview with Culture Chest Founder Rose Espiritu.

Interview: Author Latisha Redding on Immigration, Grief & The Healing Power of Art from Lee & Low. Peek: "Certainly a six-year old doesn’t have the vocabulary to say, “I’m depressed because this happened to me.” So I wanted to know how could this child, Henri, express the trauma that he has experienced. I explored that question with the story."

What It Takes to Open a Bookstore by Jonah Engel Bromwich from The New York Times. Peek: "In the last several years, though, there are signs that independent bookstores are making a comeback in New York and other cities, in part through innovative financing that gives neighborhoods a stake in the businesses."

How to Write When Life Sucks by Cathy Yardly from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...study yourself: your process, your boosts, your triggers. You’re not going to cure all your stressors at once. What you want is to halt the downward spiral, and slowly build your reserves."

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Donna Janell Bowman's Step Right Up is an Orbis Pictus Recommended Book.
Thank you to The Girls' School of Austin for the welcoming hospitality at my school visit on Thursday. Thank you for the welcome signs. Thank you for your enthusiasm and terrific questions. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! I had such an amazing time.

Personal Links


Honored to join the SCBWI winter conference faculty!
Honored to join the SCBWI winter conference faculty!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Trailer: Wing & Claw: Forest of Wonders (Book 1) by Linda Sue Park

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Wing & Claw: Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park (HarperChildren's, 2016). From the promotional copy:

From Newbery Medal–winning author Linda Sue Park comes a captivating fantasy-adventure about a boy, a bat, and an amazing transformation.

Raffa Santana has always loved the mysterious Forest of Wonders. For a gifted young apothecary like him, every leaf could unleash a kind of magic. 

When an injured bat crashes into his life, Raffa invents a cure from a rare crimson vine that he finds deep in the Forest. His remedy saves the animal but also transforms it into something much more than an ordinary bat, with far-reaching consequences. 

Raffa’s experiments lead him away from home to the forbidding city of Gilden, where troubling discoveries make him question whether exciting botanical inventions—including his own—might actually threaten the very creatures of the Forest he wants to protect.

The first book in an enchanting trilogy, Forest of Wonders richly explores the links between magic and botany, family and duty, environment and home.

Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on Life, Writing & A Word In Praise of Emotional Safety

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

This morning I see a child on the early side of toddler, snuggled like a well-placed puzzle piece in his daddy’s arms.

He smiles at me, reaches out with one arm, as if I will be a wonderful new discovery. I reach back…

But, no. The minute I do, he pulls his hand away, squishing himself into the soft corners of a neck, shoulder, chest.

He’ll reach back when he’s ready. Right now I’m too new, too scary.

He’ll begin devoting a great proportion of his time to toddling out into the world, crawling or leaping into courageous experiences, taking risks, feeling exhilarated, yet vulnerable, and then scooting back into the safe spaces of his life for a rest, reassurance, and renewal.

Are we adults really much different?

For me, I’d say the answer is "no" – certainly not when it comes to needing a calm, comfortable, even neutral emotional space between encouraging myself to be courageous, vulnerable, emotionally and intellectually risk-taking in relationships and art.

A Culture of Courage

The concepts of finding the courage to make yourself vulnerable, break out of comfortable patterns and take risks, and create resilience and strength after failure, are not new – but have become increasingly familiar.

When I first heard this kind of language many decades ago in New York psychoanalytic circles, the concept of safety – AKA “comfortable” – was a pejorative term. Safety was a place to challenge, leave behind with other neurotic behaviors, cast aside as one leaped into learning to be vulnerable, take emotional, intellectual, job- and relationship-related risks.

I’d hear things like, You’re in a ‘safe’ job (not challenging yourself) and You’re in a ‘safe’ relationship (too comfortable) – as if there was something cowardly (or neurotic) about being in a certain kind of situation.

At the time, I didn’t have the courage to question this. But inside, I didn’t understand how the need for safety was “bad”. It puzzled me. I certainly understood it intellectually. But emotionally?

Not so much. I’d longed for a sense of safety as a child, and was even more aware of the need for it as an adult…That is, the feeling that I was protected, safe, comfortable – who could ask for more?

Upside/Downside

As I matured (and learned to trust my own beliefs, capacities, and strengths), I found and tried to sustain the courage to be vulnerable, take emotional and intellectual risks, and use disappointments and failures, in relationships and in my writing life, to grow stronger and clearer about myself and my work.

There’s no question that having the courage to experience vulnerability, take emotional and intellectual risks, work hard to find and maintain resilience after disappointments and failures, can be exhilarating, nourishing, deeply meaningful, and exquisitely rewarding.

It can also be terrifying, discouraging, and occasionally even depleting.

So in between the leaps into experiences that may frighten – but ultimately reward – us, I like to think that seeking safety or comfort is important, too.

I believe equally in the benefits of courageous vulnerability and risk-taking in our work and our lives, and the need for emotional safety. I try not to judge one as better than the other, but instead view them as a unit, better together than they are apart.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve worked hard to be courageous and to be a risk-taker in my life and my work. I just don’t want to disregard, dismiss, or disparage, the need for safety, for comfort – between the minutes or days or months of being courageous.

Between "Over" and "Next"

I love those times of safety, during which I often focus on nourishing my spirit and intellect. I heard a replay of an NPR interview with the magnificent Norman Lear. Many of you may have heard or read the original interview.

“I think what I’m saying – and it’s something I’ve come to over a number of years – is I do enjoy the moment,” he continues. “There are two little words that couldn’t be more true – ‘over’ and ‘next.’

"When something is over, you gotta get used to knowing that it is over. Nothing is going to bring it back. It is just a memory. What about ‘next’?

If there’s a hammock in the middle, then that’s what they mean about living in the moment.

I think of that hammock as a safe, comforting place. A place to rock in between periods of intense, deep, vulnerable, and risk-taking work.

Not a place of denial of or defense against being courageous, but a place between.

And, like the little one I saw this morning, cuddling into his parent’s body, I embrace it.

I hold on as long as I need to, gazing out at what might be “next” – then, leap.

Cynsational Notes

More on Carol Coven Grannick
Carol Coven Grannick has been a writer since before her fourth grade teacher told her she was one. Her poetry, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous print and online venues.

She began writing for children in 1999, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Cricket and Hunger Mountain. Her picture book manuscripts have won several awards, and her middle grade novel in verse manuscript, "Reeni’s Turn," was named a finalist in the 2014 Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children's Writing at Hunger Mountain.

Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, "The Inside Story," appears regularly in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and work at an extraordinary early childhood center.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Guest Post: Melanie J. Fishbane, author of Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery, on Earning & Celebrating Success

By Melanie Fishbane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Confession. I have a difficult time celebrating my success. When it comes to my accomplishments there is a little voice in my head that suggests, as the Kirsty MacColl song goes, “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby.”

Perhaps it is also because my path to publication is a bit unconventional. I couldn’t believe it when I was approached by Lynne Missen of Penguin Canada (now Penguin Random House of Canada) with the possibility of writing a YA novel about my favourite author, L.M. Montgomery.

I hadn’t finished my MFA yet at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I didn’t have an agent (and still don’t), and was still deep in another book that had a mind of its own.

Melanie delivers her graduate lecture at VCFA

What had Lynne seen in my writing that made her think I could do this? Sure, I had been lecturing on L.M. Montgomery at conferences, and had wanted to write historical fiction for kids ever since I learned it was a thing you could do…but there had to be other, way more established authors, who could do this better than I.

Lynne asked me to put together a proposal with an outline and a few sample chapters that would demonstrate my vision for the novel. Three months later, I sent a ten-page proposal and the first forty pages and waited. And waited.

After about a month or so (see, didn’t wait all that long!) I was asked to revise those chapters; I suspect to see how well I took editorial feedback. I went home and worked on the revisions, seeking to prove to Lynne that she hadn’t put her faith in the wrong person, and to myself that this was possible. About a month after that I sent her the revisions. And waited.

After about a month or so (see patience is a practice!) I was given an offer. As I didn’t have an agent, and I think too new to understand that I could have found one to help me negotiate the deal, I hired an entertainment lawyer, who helped me navigate all of those non-writerly things that can make us uncomfortable.

Over the next four and a half years I devoted myself to the book.

I also learned how to trust the process and see the editor as a partner who wanted what was best for me and the book. Lynne allowed me to explore characters and scenes that ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor, but also asked the right (sometimes annoying) questions, encouraging me to go deeper, find Maud’s character, as well as craft the world in which she would live.

I kept wondering if I was taking too long writing the book, but Lynne assured me that we wanted it to be the best book it could be. So, I trusted her and kept writing.

When the ARC of Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery, arrived on my doorstep a few months ago, there was a little postcard from Lynne congratulating me. And while I couldn’t quite believe that this was my success, I trusted (again) she knew something I didn’t.

Wrapping it in a plastic bag and then a padded computer case (because it was my only copy) I carried it around with me, showing it to people, and stepping into the idea that this was something to be celebrated. That whatever our path to publication is, honor it, hold it close, and then set it free.


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