Wednesday, October 13, 2004

National Book Award Finalists Announced

The newly announced National Book Award finalists are:

Deb Caletti for Honey, Baby, Sweetheart
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Pete Hautman for Godless
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Laban Carrick Hill for Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance
(Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown & Company)

Shelia P. Moses for The Legend of Buddy Bush
(Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster Children's
Publishing Division)

Julie Anne Peters for Luna: A Novel
(Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown & Company)

Congratulations to my husband's publisher (Little Brown) for their double coup as well as S&S for their triple, and all the authors, especially Julie Anne Peters whose work I've admired for some time.

Here is an interview from my site with Julie Anne Peters from earlier this year.

LUNA by Julie Anne Peters (Little Brown, 2004). It seems like forever that Regan has been keeping the secret that her brother Liam is really Luna, is really a girl instead. After years of struggle, Luna's ready to start taking steps--small then tremendous--to make her inside reality an outside reality. But will Regan lose herself in trying to be the best confidante, the best sibling she can? A breakthrough book about two siblings, one transgendered and one sacrificing much of herself out of love. Read also Her Humor Hits Home: An Interview With Julie Anne Peters by Peggy Tibbetts from Writing-World.com (focusing on Julie's middle grade fiction).

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I had a visitation. In February 2001 I’d just completed two novels without a break: KEEPING YOU A SECRET (a YA lesbian love story) and BETWEEN MOM AND JO (which may forever remain a secret if we keep pushing back the pub date). I was catching up on sleep. I’m a terrible insomniac anyway, and most of my head work for a book is done in bed, lying awake, working through nuances in character and plot, dialogue, language, transitions. This particular morning, I remember so vividly, a strong presence woke me. She was a girl, sixteen or so, with shoulder-length blonde hair and bangs. Characters don’t usually come to me so visually distinct and fully formed. She said, “Write about me.”

I said, "No. Go away. Come back later."

She did, the next night. "Write about me."

“No,” I said. “But who are you?”

She replied, “I’m Luna.”

I remember thinking, That would make a great title for a YA novel. But I wasn’t ready to start a new book. I fended Luna off, for weeks and weeks. Finally, I just got so irritated with her waking me up at three A.M., I sniped, “What? Write what? What’s your story?”

She smiled, demurely, and said, “I’m transsexual.”

Whoa.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

After my initial resistance (and I was resistant to writing this book; I didn’t feel I could tell Luna’s story authentically), I began to research transsexualism. I knew zip, zero, zilch about being transgender or gender-variant. I should’ve known, but gender identity and sexual orientation are two different animals. Beyond case studies and psychology texts there’s a dearth of mainstream fiction dealing with the subject. After six months my knowledge of their lives only scratched the surface, and to write a novel I need to know my characters intimately, to get under their skin. I called the Gender Identity Center of Colorado and cried, "Help!"

I asked if they could hook me up with a person who’d be willing to talk to me about growing up transgender. They invited me to a support group meeting.

To demonstrate the extent of my ignorance, I thought I’d be walking into a roomful of Ru Pauls. I’d be the most underdressed girl there. Stupid. They were just a group of ordinary people, in different stages of transition, gathering together to share their trials and triumphs.

I explained that I was working on this novel and asked if anyone was willing to sit down and share their story with me. Were they willing? They were desperate. Desperate for people to know and understand them. Almost every person in that room volunteered to help. Somehow word got out that I was doing this book and my e-mail box began to fill with letters from transgender people who wanted to participate in the project.

The book was two years in the writing and revising. My agent, Wendy Schmalz, and my editor at Little, Brown, Megan Tingley, are both enlightened, progressive, and intrepid people and industry professionals. They embraced the book with enthusiasm.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

About halfway through the novel, I abandoned the project altogether. I felt that fictionalizing the lives of these people was trivializing their struggle. The next day – it’s so weird to think back on this – an article appeared in the Rocky Mountain News about the brutal murder of a gay teen in Cortez, Colorado, Fred Martinez, Jr. As I was reading the testimonials from his friends, I realized Fred wasn’t gay. He was transgender. His life, his journey of self-discovery, had been denied him by an ignorant and violent society. I felt it was a sign that I should finish Luna; that it could serve as a way to educate people. I knew if the book ever came to publication, I’d dedicate it to Fred.

There were, in fact, literary challenges to pulling this thing off. The major one was my stubborn bias in favor of authentic voices in LGBTQI literature. I’m not trans. I never will be. My authenticity bias couldn’t be compromised. To be authentic and honest, the narrator, the main character, would need to act in the role of observer. I decided to create a sister for Luna, Regan. Regan would be Luna’s confidante throughout life and in that way she could see, and relate to the reader, the childhood manifestations of being born transgender.

Of course Regan would need her own story. What could she possibly want or need that could equal the ferocity of Luna’s survival instinct to transition to another sex? When I figured out the answer, it seemed obvious. Young readers will no doubt get there faster than I did.

The challenge of exploring Luna’s childhood with flashbacks was a new writing experience for me. I’m always battling my own biases. I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks in novels, since they tend to pull readers out of the central storyline. Too often flashbacks are a lazy way for the writer to fill in backstory. But in the writing process, as I was recreating Luna’s past, my subconscious writer kicked in and switched the narrative from past to present tense. Yikes. I didn’t know if that had ever been done before. Young adult literature is all about experimentation and risk-taking. There are no rules, no limitations, no literary expectations to overcome. I liked the immediacy of reliving Luna and Regan’s childhood in the present. It gave the reader (and writer) a feeling of being there.

It was also a challenge to strike a balance between educating and entertaining readers. To honor Fred, and every person struggling with gender identity issues, it was imperative for me that the story transcend the whole “difference and diversity” theme. I believe Regan and Luna speak to the power of love between siblings.

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