Thursday, December 08, 2016

Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Where Does LGBTQ YA Go From Here?

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Amy Rose Capetta writing
While the goal of this blog series is to celebrate LGBTQ YA, there’s so much more room for growth.

It might seem like LGBTQ YA books are hitting new heights, when in reality they’re only beginning to find their audience.

In the words of Alex London, author of Proxy (Speak, 2015):

"The challenge remains getting books with overtly queer themes and characters in front of all sorts of readers. I've been lucky to have had my first YA included on many state reading lists, which brings it into schools and I've been lucky with some of my middle grade books to have the support of Scholastic Book Fairs--another route into the schools.
"But for kids without active librarians who seek out and promote LGBTQ books, those books might never find their way into the reading life of young people, straight or queer.
"You can't read a book you've never seen or heard of, so exposure and access remain the greatest challenges...as for all books, really.
"We've a long way yet to go, but it's a positive development that queer books are finally competing in the same marketplace as books without queer elements."

I asked Dahlia Adler, the founder of LGBTQ Reads, about the gap that seems to exist between LGBTQ books and readers.

"I think it's really, really important that people who have access to those readers - parents, teachers, booksellers, librarians - make it their business to have even just a bare bones rec list of LGBTQ YA handy.
"I've seen some people make amazing resources for that, like bookmarks with recommendations printed right on them that can easily be distributed, and that's a huge help. Things like that, that help get the word out, are gonna be hugely important.

"It's also tricky because you have this real divide in LGBTQ YA marketing - some of it is glaringly queer, and sometimes the queerness is completely hidden.
"And the fact is, we need both. If I could give every LGBTQ YA two different covers and blurbs, I totally would. Because it's important for there to be books that are easily identifiable both so kids can find them or, if they can't take any books home, to at least see themselves in the covers and blurbs.
"But there are also kids who really want to read these books but can't safely buy or borrow them if they're obviously queer. And that's a very, very tricky thing."

When I asked Vee Signorelli of The Gay YA the same question, they said:

"There are so many teens desperately seeking representation, and yet somehow, the connection never gets made that those books are out there…

"I think maybe one reason there's so much disconnect is that, even though there are all these amazing #ownvoices books being penned, the ones that still reach peak heights of attention are almost all written by straight, cis authors…
"So I guess I'd love to see those big name authors of LGBTQIA+ YA have a thorough knowledge of other books and use their platforms to promote them.

"…One of the major angles missing right now is TUMBLR. Tumblr is where the teens are that are desperately seeking representation, and taking it in any form they can find.
"I once ran across a post in which someone talked about how they were crossing out the pronouns of one of the characters in a book and replacing them with she/her so that it would make it about an F/F couple. And my heart just broke a little.

"I think there’s also a lot that needs to be done in libraries and schools. The library I work at has kept our LGBTQIA+ display up, and those books are flying in and out like nobody’s business."


I asked authors if they had any messages that they wish could reach readers, publishers, librarians, booksellers and/or educators who want to support LGBTQ YA. Audrey Coulthurst, who wrote Of Fire and Stars (Balzer + Bray, 2016), said:

"It’s heartening to see the growing enthusiasm for LGBTQ YA and the efforts bloggers, publishers, librarians, booksellers, and educators are making to help increase visibility…
"The thing I would love most is for event organizers to try to focus less on putting together 'diversity' panels, and more on creating inclusive panels.
"Why not include SFF LGBTQ books on a broader fantasy panel about worldbuilding? Or LGBTQ romances on sex in YA panels?
"Being inclusive of LGBTQ books allows us to have deeper conversations and showcase broader perspectives, directly furthering the movement for better representation by reaching readers who might not already be aware of the push for that.
"I’d love to see a shift from acknowledging (but compartmentalizing) marginalized groups toward complete inclusivity.

"Also, the YA community is so fantastic and full of passion, which is one of the things I love best about it. One evergreen reminder is that the best way to make sure your favorite authors continue writing is to support them with your dollar. That doesn’t always mean it has to come right out of your pocket either!
"Ways you can support authors:
Audrey Coulthurst
  • Buy their books (for yourself or as a gift). 
  • Request their books at your local library.
  • Discourage people from pirating books or selling ARCs. This makes authors sad (and penniless). 
  • Leave reviews on retail sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
  • Spread the word on social media.
  • Tell your friends about books you love."

The word absolutely needs to spread about the books that are out there.

Not all marketing budgets are created equal, and word of mouth is still one of the biggest factors in how all books, especially LGBTQ ones, reach their audiences.

That means we all have power in the publishing industry--to spread the word, to share books we love as widely as possible. In some ways, it’s a simple equation. The more LGBTQ books we buy, the more there will be.

There are also libraries to consider. Cori McCarthy and I looked for recipients for our Rainbow Boxes (a charitable initiative, connecting LGBTQIA fiction with readers across the U.S.), we chose many small community libraries because we knew that in many cases limited budgets meant they could only afford a handful of titles, the most visible and bestselling YA--which often leaves out #ownvoices LGBTQ books.

In other cases, organizations that raised money for library spending budgets wouldn’t allow the money to be spent on LGBTQ books.

If you don’t see LGBTQ books at your local library, talk to your librarian. Consider requesting titles or even donating books to the collection.

Talking to Becky Albertalli, author of Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (Balzer + Bray, 2015), she pointed out some other factors at work:

"The most exciting part about writing and publishing LGBTQ YA has been, hands down, hearing from readers. I get the most beautiful emails from teens (and adults!) at different stages of the coming out process, and I feel so privileged to be a part of that moment.
"Interestingly, I haven't encountered as many challenges as I anticipated. The one recurring frustration has been with a small subset of middle school librarians who feel that Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is inappropriate for their students.
"I 100% understand this judgment call, if they're concerned about cursing and adult language, but these libraries often feature comparable heterosexual titles. It's deeply upsetting that Simon's (very innocent!) love story is seen as less appropriate for middle school than hetero love stories with equal or more sexual content.

"I think the most important message I'd like to share is for librarians. I've been seeing really wonderful LGBTQ YA collections in so many library systems, but I'm not sure there's enough discussion around the importance of including electronic copies in public library collections.
"Having physical copies of LGBTQ YA on library and bookstore shelves is incredibly important as well, and it sends a powerful message to teens encountering these collections - but digital copies are often safer and more practical for LGBTQ teens, particularly in certain regions of the country."

Malinda Lo, author of Ash (Little, Brown, 2009) and Huntress (Little Brown, 2011), points out that when it comes to YA books that do include sexual content, there are even more barriers:

Guest Post: E.M. Kokie on Radical
"I'm excited that the publishing industry is now more willing to publish these stories, but I also know that the struggle is not over. There are still limitations to the experiences that publishers are supportive of portraying in YA books.
"For example, straightforward representations of sexuality remain taboo for many, which is why I'm also very excited by E.M. Kokie's fall novel, Radical (Candlewick, 2016), which delivers one of the most realistic sex scenes involving two girls I've ever read in YA.
"Teens and sexuality push a lot of buttons in adult gatekeepers, and that's one barrier that is still pretty high for representations of queer teens.
"However, now that so many more people in the industry are talking about representation, and with so many more authors writing these stories, I hope that it's only a matter of time before barriers like this are also overturned."

While some areas of representation are flourishing, others are still barely included in YA. There are a very small number of books about intersex characters and characters on the asexuality spectrum.

There are also strikingly few characters with nonbinary gender identities.

When I asked Bill Konigsberg, author of The Porcupine of Truth (Arthur A. Levine, 2015), what he’s excited about in LGBTQ YA, and what he wants to see more of, he said:

"I went on a road trip last fall to talk to LGBTQ youth across the south and Midwest about suicide and depression. It was an amazing, exhausting trip, and in the end I think I learned more than I taught.
"One thing that was especially valuable to me as a writer and as a human being was to learn about how pervasive gender fluidity is for this youngest generation. I don't think I really understood when I set out on my journey the entire spectrum of the transgender experience, and I got educated!
"I think it's extremely clear that what we are beginning to see on the shelves are books with gender-fluid characters, and that this needs to continue to grow as an area.
"I have a feeling that this young generation is going to change the world with its exploration of gender."

When I asked Marieke Nijkamp, author of This is Where it Ends (Sourcebooks, 2016), the same question, she said:

"I want to see more queer characters of color, disabled queer characters, reliqueer characters.
"I want more ace/aro rep. I want questioning characters. I want explicit rep of all orientations.
"I want to see the entire gender spectrum reflected in YA and I want to see those intersections too. (And all across genres, too!)

"I love seeing how our stories branch out. I love seeing increasingly more support and excitement for queer YA. I think we're making massive steps right now. But I'm a very hungry caterpillar. I want more." 

More seems to be one of the most important words to take from this conversation. We need more books, more representation, more people supporting inclusive fiction in more ways, both old and new.

Before the series ends, I want to share Vee Signorelli ’s story of how they started The Gay YA.

It shows how far LGBTQ YA has come in five years--and how amazingly important these stories really are.

"In May of 2011, Jessica Verday put up a post explaining why she’d pulled out of the Wicked Pretty Things anthology: one of the editors said they would not include her piece unless she changed her m/m pairing to an m/f one.
"Book Twitter exploded with criticism of the straight-washing, and support for LGBTQIA+ characters. A #YesGayYA hashtag was formed, and other authors began sharing similar experiences of straight-washing.
"It became very apparent that there was a huge problem going on behind the scenes in publishing.
"It wasn’t necessarily straight up homophobia fueling it-- it was more the (faulty) belief that it wouldn’t sell.
"My older sister and I both saw the same thing: tons of people calling out for representation, with no way to reach the ears of publishing, and no plans to build any sort of coalition to keep the energy going.
"We were only sixteen and twelve at the time, but it wasn’t even really a question in our minds: we knew how to do websites, and we knew social media.

"We both identified as straight at the time (ha ha), and we really knew nothing about the LGBTQ community. But, we had the time and the passion and the knowledge of websites to be able to do it. Then, due to life and health issues, we had to drop off for awhile. My sister started college, and it sort of looked like it would never get started back up again.

"And then I turned fifteen and entered into what I affectionately refer to as “the year of hell.” (TW for suicidal ideation) I was suicidal, and full of self hatred, and I didn't know why. And then I realized I was queer and trans.
"I went through a lot of therapy, and that was really what stopped me from killing myself.
"But the thing that actually made me start wanting to live, the thing that made me think I might have a possible future ahead of me, was queer and trans fiction. Primarily, Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion, 2014), Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff (Carolrhoda, 2011), and The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan (Knopf, 2004).
"Those books meant so much to me. But, I knew from spending half of my life on tumblr that year, that most teens desperately seeking representation did not know about these kinds of books were out there.
"In a way, these books saved my life. I knew they could save other lives as well."

Vee chose to restart The Gay YA, and it’s become one of the most important sources online for LGBTQ fiction and community. Please take a look at the work being done there, as well as at LGBTQ Reads, Diversity in YA and Lee Wind's blog, I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?

Amy Rose signs Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017) contract
As a queer person, I know that the years ahead are going to be difficult. I have sat with this reality every day, and one of the few things that offer me hope right now are stories.

We will need YA books more than ever, as a source of catharsis and beauty, of comfort and resistance. This moment is more than just a trend in publishing--it’s a rare and necessary chance for LGBTQ people to share their truth with each other, and the rest of the world.

If you believe that these books are important, that LGBTQ young people are important, please do what you can to support these stories. And if you already do--thank you, thank you, thank you.

And keep watching for the next step from Rainbow Boxes! We’ll announce a new way that you can help spread the love for LGBTQ fiction in early 2017.

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.

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.

1 comment:

Erin E. Moulton said...

Ohhh, I can't wait to see what is next for Rainbow Boxes! Go Team!

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