Saturday, December 17, 2016

Happy Holidays & Winter Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Happy Holidays!

That's my R2D2 Christmas tree.

I love R2. I love Christmas trees.

Together, they equal out-of-this-world holiday awesomeness!

I'm off on winter hiatus, and when Cynsations returns in early 2017, intern Gayleen Rabakukk will be taking the helm for a while. Exciting, yes?

Many blessings to you and yours!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

I Wasn't Dreaming of a White Christmas: Representation in YA Holiday Books by Tirzah Price. Peek: "...this year I noticed something that does bother me: The authors of my favorites are predominantly white. In fact, the authors of most of the available YA holiday reads are white."

Rushing Through Revision by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "I’ve been discussing submission strategies with several clients and I’m recommending that they fire work off to agents and editors in mid-January at the very earliest."

Sibert Children's-YA Nonfiction Smackdown by Melissa Stewart from Celebrate Science.

Recommendation: The Wool of Jonesy by Jonathan Nelson from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "...a wordless comic. Readers use the images to create the story, themselves."

Six Editors Remember Their First YA Manuscript Acquisitions by Sarah Hannah Gomez from Barnes & Noble. Peek: "YA editors play a pivotal role in making manuscripts into amazing books we all get to read, so I decided to ask some of the most interesting, successful people I know (or follow on Twitter) about their memories from their days as baby editors."

National Latino Children's Literature Conference: Connecting Cultures & Celebrating Cuentos: "co-sponsored by The University of Alabama School of Library and Information Studies and The University of Texas at San Antonio. The next conference will take place in San Antonio, Texas on March 23rd-25th, 2017. If you are interested in sponsoring authors or events...."

Give Your Book a Second Life: Get It Into Foreign Markets by Marleen Seegers from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...in Poland a smashing 46% of books published are works in translation, in Germany over 12%, in Spain around 24%, and in France about 15%."

19 books to help children find hope and strength in stressful times: A librarian’s list by Karen MacPherson from The Washington Post. Peek: "My idea was to choose books for younger readers that focus on kindness, peace and feeling good — and proud — about who you are. For older readers, I looked for books about diverse people, including kids who have overcome sometimes overwhelming odds to make a difference in the world."

Little, Brown Emerging Artist Award: "The award will be given to the entrant who submits the most accomplished picture book submission in the form of a mock-up. One prize is available and consists of American Express® gift cards totaling $2,500, round trip travel to New York City, and the honor of a one-day mentorship with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers' professional children’s book design and editorial team, and distinguished Artist Mentor Jerry Pinkney."

How to Make Readers Deeply Connect to Your Characters by Jeff Gerke from Jane Friedman. Peek: "The Greek philosopher Aristotle said the definition of a friend is a single soul dwelling in two bodies. When it comes to fiction, we’re shooting for that sort of relationship between the reader and the hero."

An Author's Survival Kit for Tough Times by Broadside PR at LitHub. Peek: "...we suggest flipping the question to ask: How can I support literature, reading, and authors universally?"

Educators' Roundtable, compiled by Allie Jane Bruce from We Need Diverse Books. See also part 2. Peek from Kara Stewart: "I have not met a single teacher who is hostile or disagrees with my intent. They are enthusiastic and genuinely want to do the right thing. So why had they taught into the tsunami of harmful stereotypes?"

Link of the Week

Finding Yourself in a Book: Why I Wrote Blind Spot by Laura Ellen from Disability in Kidlit. Peek:

"...with an acquired disability will tell you, you go through a process similar to the grieving process ...experience denial and anger and depression long before you ever reach self-awareness and are able to accept yourself...push away the right people while clinging to the wrong ones.... In a nutshell, having a disability can mess you up emotionally – so where were all the books about that?"

This Week at Cynsations




More Personally

Many blessings of the season!

I've finished critiquing for fall 2016 and sent in the end-of-semester materials to the VCFA office.

This weekend, I begin translating my editorial letter into revision notes and preparing for the January residency.

What else? Look for me and Rain Is Not My Indian Name in the We Need Diverse Books insert of this month's Scholastic Reading Fair!

See also Rain Is Not My Indian Name recommended among 6 Indigenous YA Novels by Women Authors, compiled and annotated by Casey Stepanuik from Book Riot.

Reminder! Feral Nights (Book One in the Feral Trilogy) is on sale for $1.99 from Evolt.

Check out NPR's Book Concierge Best Books of 2016, including my recommendation for Thunder Boy, Jr., by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown), and congratulations to the NAACP Children's-YA Literature Awards nominees!


Personal Links

AICL Recommended!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Guest Post: Brian Anderson Collaborating with His Daughter Amy on Space Dictionary for Kids

By Brian Anderson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Have you ever wondered why the spacecraft that carried the first U.S. astronaut into space in 1961 was named the Freedom 7? Was George Lucas already planning six prequels, or what?

When my daughter Amy turned 21 years old in July 2014, she was doing summer research in astrophysics at Baylor University. Her birthday coincided with a stargazing party at Meyer Observatory, so I offered to make a piñata and have the star party double as a birthday party.

I started making custom piñatas when Amy was five years old, and over the years her birthday party piñatas had grown increasingly elaborate.

"How about a black hole piñata," I joked. I imagined one round balloon, decorated all black. She would never agree to that.

"That'd be fantastic!"

I knew right away something was wrong. I told her nothing escapes the gravity of a black hole, not even light. It's just a black dot in space. That's when she told me about accretion disks and X-ray emissions and Hawking radiation. Apparently, I had a lot to learn about black holes, and now I also had a challenging piñata to make.


The following summer my friend and fellow Austin children's book author Christina Soontornvat told me that Prufrock Press was looking for an author to write an astronomy dictionary for kids.

Christina and I are both science educators as well as children's book authors, and she thought I'd be perfect for the job. But after the way that black hole piñata joke backfired on me the summer before, I knew I didn't know enough astronomy to write a book about it.

But I knew someone who did.

Brian & Amy--back in the day.
Amy had just graduated from college and was taking the summer off before starting graduate school in the fall.

When I suggested we write it together, her first question was the same as mine – isn't there something like this already available online for free?

Her search turned up the same thing mine had: some highly technical glossaries that were clearly not intended for kids, and a scattered collection of incomplete and sometimes incorrect astronomy glossaries for students.

My nine-year-old self was screaming at me that space-loving kids needed this book. Amy felt the same way, and agreed to help write it. We have liftoff!

We compiled a word list of about 450 terms, grouped them into five subject areas, then dived into researching and writing.

The fact that Amy understood the science content much better than I did is part of the reason our collaboration on Space Dictionary for Kids (Sourcebooks, 2016) worked so well. She brought content mastery and I brought a learner's perspective.

Together we were able to create an astronomy dictionary that's both scientifically accurate and understandable to young readers.

Collaborating with my daughter will always be one of the highlights of my writing career, and Amy taught me a lot of astronomy along the way. I finally understand retrograde motion!

I already knew quasars were the brightest objects in the universe, brighter than an entire galaxy of stars, but until I started working with Amy I never knew exactly what a quasar was. And I also learned (a little too late) that I should have offered to make Amy a black dwarf piñata instead of a black hole piñata.

Cynsational Notes

To answer the opening question, each of the Project Mercury astronauts, known collectively as the Mercury 7, was allowed to name the ship that would carry him into space, and each ship's name would end with the number 7. In addition to Freedom 7, the other Mercury spacecraft were Liberty Bell 7, Friendship 7, Aurora 7, Sigma 7, and Faith 7. If you're keeping score, you probably noticed that that was only six. To find out what happened to the seventh Mercury astronaut, flip to page 144.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Guest Post: Cyndy Etler on Joining the Sorority

By Cyndy Etler
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I’m not a fangirl. I don’t know celebrity names. I don’t ask the hairdresser to make me look Kardashian. Also I don’t diet, buy $30 lip gloss, or wear Lululemon to the organic grocery store.

I read; I write. That’s what I do; that’s what I think about. Reading and writing.

In today’s YouTube-tutorial, boutique-fitness-studio, must-have eyebrow-mascara culture, being a reader/writer can make a girl feel almost…like she’s not that much of a girl, you know? Funny, then, that I’m being embraced by a sorority.

Rush began 30 years ago, in elementary school. With Blubber. Poor girl, going to school knowing the others were laughing at her! God, could I relate. In our beach games, my sister was Bo Derek. I was Sea Cow.

And then Deenie—are you kidding me? She had to wear a brace to school and have everyone stare, same way everyone stared at me, with my step-brother in his clacking leg brace? Judy Blume was my first real sister, tapping my soul with her magic pen, letting me know that I wasn’t the only one.

Next it was Sweet Valley High, that literary candy that spilled from the pen of Francine Pascal. Peeling back the macaroon-colored cover of a SVH book, I was a new girl. A thin, blond, convertible-driving California girl. Mini-skirts and pom-poms! SVH was my first, my best drug. Francine Pascal was sister #2.

Then I found salvation: Alice Walker. Maya Angelou. Toni Morrison. Women writing characters with the honesty, humor, and heart that was missing from my life. Their worlds were my nirvana. In my reader’s mind, at least, I had a place where everything made sense. And I had people: my three newest sisters, and their heavenly cast of characters.

When I got older it was Dangerous Minds. First the movie, showing me my future: a take-no-prisoners high school teacher finding kin in her alternative-class students. Which led me to the books. And the author, the teacher, the revolutionary: LouAnne Johnson.

Then I was on to Crank: part fiction, part poetry, part muscle-car, all real. Like its author, Ellen Hopkins: badass, trailblazer, and modern day Anat, goddess of love and war.

LouAnne and Ellen were the sisters who gave me the key. They invited me into the House of YA Lady Lit; they showed me my seat at the table. Looking around and pinching myself, I noticed I’d started to glow. Like, from the inside.

And it dawned on me: it wasn’t the blubber. It wasn’t the skin color. It wasn’t the pom-poms, or the street cred, or the eyebrow mascara. It was—it is—the words.

It’s the words and the beating heart behind them.

As I settle into my purple satin seat cushion here in the House of YALL, trading books and tweets with award-winning authors, I am stunned and elated and almost unbearably grateful.

To Ellen Hopkins. To LouAnne Johnson. To Jenni Fagan and Cynthia Leitich Smith and Marieke Nijcamp.

To all of my sisters in heart and word, as we work to save kids’ souls, one book at a time.

Cynsational Notes

Cyndy Etler is the author of The Dead Inside (Sourcebooks Fire, April 2017), a YA memoir about the sixteen months she spent, as a teen, in a “tough love” facility described by the ACLU as “a concentration camp for throwaway teens.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

New Voice: David A. Robertson on When We Were Alone

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

David A. Robertson is the first-time children's author of When We Were Alone, illustrated by Julie Flett (Portage & Main Press, Jan. 6, 2017)(available for pre-order). From the promotional copy:

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things about her grandmother that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and wear beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family?

As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where everything was taken away.

When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, a story of empowerment and strength.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

So much of my writing is aimed at creating social change, especially in the area of relations between First Nations people and non-First Nations people.

I believe that change comes through education; what we learn from history, and its impact on contemporary society. In Canada, we have a long history of mistreatment concerning the First Nations people. As Canadians, we need to learn about this history. So, my work tries to educate in this way.

In terms of young readers, I believe that change comes from our youth. These are the people who shape our tomorrows, and they need to walk into tomorrow informed on the important issues and histories. If they do, we’ll be in a pretty good place.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

graphic novelist-writer of Irish-Scottish-English-Cree heritage
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada looked at the history of the residential school system, and its impact, and from that research, including residential school survivor testimony and documentation, it came up with a list of recommendations.

One of those recommendations was that the residential school system’s history needed to be taught in school as early as kindergarten.

When I saw this, I recognized that there weren’t many resources for teachers (i.e. books) that addressed the residential school system for younger learners.

So, I set out to write one, and that’s how When We Were Alone came about.

I wanted kids at that young age to learn about the system in a way that they could understand and engage with.

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

For me the challenges mostly involved sensitivity and appropriateness. This is a difficult history to tell, especially to younger learners. So, I needed to tell the story in a good way.

It took a lot of research and consultation, it took finding the right rhythm in the passages to connect with readers, and we needed to find the right illustrator, too, which we did in Julie Flett.

Of course, writing these stories always has a psychological effect on you as the writer, too. Understanding that the kids you are writing about really went through these things is tough. But knowing that kids will be learning and growing and sharing makes it worth it.

What model books were most useful to you and how?

Also illustrated by Julie Flett
I have the benefit of having five children. So, I’ve read my share of children’s books. This helped in terms of finding a good structure for When We Were Alone, and rhythm.

These two things are very important, and there are certainly some commonalities in books that really work in terms of how they are told, not just what is told in them.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

Read a lot of children’s books, or YA books. Figure out styles, structures, approaches from the best. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to write a good story that really connects with your reader.

It always comes down to reading first, and then hard work and a bit of skill.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Guest Post: Carolyn Dee Flores on Achieving Deeper Color in Illustration Using Oil on Cardboard

By Carolyn Dee Flores
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Illustrators bear witness.


Nothing could be more important.

One hundred years from now, when someone wants to know what it was like to be a seven-year-old girl in New York City on her birthday – or what it was like to be a Mexican-American child growing up in Texas – they won’t go to a reference book and look it up. They will look at a picture.

Illustrators, we must:

See with our fingers.
See with our hands.
See with our pencils.
So much depends upon it.

The world “literally” depends upon it!

The process for the bilingual picture book – A Surprise for Teresita/Una Sorpresa Para Teresita, written by Virginia Sánchez-Korrol (Arte Publico, 2016) – I knew I needed to concentrate on community. I looked at 10, 000 photographs of New York City. I’ve been to New York City before – so I tried to remember it and “breathe” it in. A Surprise for Teresita is about a little girl in a Nuyorican (Puerto-Rican/New York) neighborhood.

I loved the idea of the tropical Puerto Rican culture splashed against the New York City buildings and brownstones.

I got to work immediately.

I made models from foamboard.



I ordered a snow cone machine.

I studied the difference between “snow cones”, “raspas”, and “piraguas.” Delicious!

It became obvious to me that my color palette was going to be “snow cones.”

But … there was a dilemma.

How to capture the intense color I needed, using only the mediums of pencil and watercolor?

The answer: I couldn’t.

I needed oil paint - the brilliant color of oil paint!

So … encouraged by my mentors - Caldecott winner Denise Fleming and Caldecott winner E.B. Lewis – I set out to create a new illustration process.

And, thankfully, it worked!

Here is what I did:

The Problem:

1. Oil paint takes five months to a year and a half to dry.

2. Oil paint on a “raw” surface, such as untreated cloth or cardboard, tends to bleed and is very difficult to control.


The Solution:

1. Liquin medium. “One stroke” at a time. I squeeze each tube of oil paint separately onto my palette. I dip my brush into each color. Then I dip it into the Liquin. I mix the colors as I paint, directly on the cardboard.


2. After each application, I clean the brush, and start again.

3. Similar to “watercolor technique,” I use the “cardboard” as my “white.” In the close-up of Teresita (below) – the highlights in Teresita’s hair are cardboard showing through.


4. As I paint, the oil seeps deep into the cardboard.

5. The cardboard remains wet for weeks “on the inside” - but the “skin” of the painting dries within four and a half hours! It is ready to scan immediately!

This process enabled me to paint A Surprise for Teresita without bleed, quickly, and using the saturated colors that I desperately wanted! All the difference in the world!


Friday, December 09, 2016

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Where Do We Go From Here? from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "We may sign on to petitions and open declarations, forward emails, RT, and 'like', and these can all be good and powerful things. But we believe that it’s important to reflect on how we will hold ourselves accountable, how we will act, and reflect...."

18 Middle Grade Authors on Writing Girl Characters After the Election by Karina Glaser from BookRiot. Peek: "For many of us, the hardest part of the election was waking up the morning after and realizing that we would have to explain to children that a man who belittled women throughout his campaign had just been elected to the highest office in the nation."

Editors at the Top! Interviews with Anne Schwartz, Neal Porter, and Allyn Johnston from Picture Book Builders. Peek from Allyn: "The text of a picture book is more like poetry than prose. It needs rhythm and succinctness and not a bunch of description and dialog. ...it needs 'perfect words in perfect places.' And not too many of them."

The Dreaded Editorial Letter by Densie Webb from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "It was like someone telling me I’m beautiful, while punching me in the gut, knocking the air out of my lungs." See also How to Use Fiverr to Create a Book Trailer by Therese Walsh.

Why Does Your Character Do That? A New Look at Backstory by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "The function of the origin scene is establish firmly the Misbelief that will plague the character throughout the story."

10 Books for Children About Kindness by Jalissa Corrie from Lee & Low. Peek: "...books can change a reader’s perspective and open a reader’s mind to a different world, a different culture, and a different way of life. In celebration of empathy and kindness, we’ve collected a list of recommended books that encourage kindness, giving, and open-mindedness."

Page Time for Adult Villains in YA Fiction? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "...don’t fall into the trap of thinking backstory will deepen your antagonists. In fact, being stingy with info about motivations and circumstances can enhance the mystery of your bad guys and their nefarious deeds, making us wonder about them."

10 Native Titles for Gifting by Jessica Fleck from Kidliterati. Peek: "...here's the perfect list for you to support Native titles this holiday season while also spreading knowledge and awareness."

How Novelists Can Infuse Their Scenes with Color from C.S. Lakin. Peek: "Filmmakers sometimes tone everything down except for one or two objects in the frame to make them stand out. A POV character can also perceive something similarly when one object appears to be brighter than anything else around it, or a glare of light shines on it, highlighting it in a symbolic way."

Creating Thunder Boy, Jr. -- It Takes a Village by Alvina Ling from Design of the Picture Book. Peek: "Sherman and I continued to work on the ending—we felt that the resolution was happening too quickly. Here’s the previous ending text...."

2016 Favorites List: Libros Latinxs from Latinx in Kidlit. Peek: "...this year’s releases offered picture books that we found irresistible, early reader/chapter books that charmed us to the core, and works of fiction and nonfiction sure to thrill middle-grade and YA readers. Librarians, parents, and teachers, please consider adding these selections to your bookshelves."

Cynsational Screening Room

Author Mitali Perkins's acceptance speech for the 2016 South Asia Younger Readers Book Award for Tiger Boy (Charlesbridge, 2015).



This Week at Cynsations
Amy Rose Capetta


Amy Rose Capetta: Something Good Happened in 2016


More Personally

Jingle Dancer art by The Girls' School of Austin
Feeling the holiday spirit? I am!

It's been quiet here, as I've been grading the last round of packets from my Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA students and writing end-of-the-semester evaluations.

Teacher Cyn is in charge.

But I'll start writing again soon, even as I continue teaching and public speaking.

I received my editorial letter from Candlewick this past week (huzzah!), and I'm so excited to dive into revisions.

My editor's biggest-picture concern is that, while the A and B plots run parallel and compliment thematically, they don't seem sufficiently linked.

Reflecting on what's already in the manuscript, I already see a solution. I'm going to bullet point out that part of the arc and then look at how to merge it into the whole. Yay!

My new deadline is the end of March, and I have a lot going on between now and then--the winter holidays, the VCFA residency and Kindling Words East in Vermont, an Open Book event and Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Washington, D.C., and the SCBWI National Winter Conference in New York City. (I hope to see many of you during my time in the northeast U.S.!) And there's of course preparation to be done--manuscripts reviewed, speeches written and delivered, for those events, too. Whew!

But here's the thing. Once I have a toehold into a revision, I can quickly make notes and sketch out scenes as inspiration strikes. And in the midst of that creative whirlwind, the fresh ideas will come. So, while it won't be all sustained focus, I'll still benefit from ah-ha! moments and heightened energy.

Special thanks to Amy Rose Capetta for her series this week, Something Good Happened in 2016: LGBTQ YA Lit. Spend a little time learning from her posts, signal boost if you're inclined and support the highlighted books and authors. Like all diverse books, LGBTQ lit benefits most from word of mouth. You can make a positive difference!

Great news! This month Feral Nights (Book One in the Feral Trilogy) is on sale for $1.99 at Evolt.

Personal Links



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

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.

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.

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