Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bisexuality in YA Fiction

Of course, questioning lesbian or bi teenagers can always head over to the gay and lesbian section at their local bookstore if they live in an urban or suburban area, since most of the massive chain stores like Barnes and Noble and Borders now carry these sections...

This option also doesn't help the large number of young teenage girls who don't yet know they're lesbian or bisexual - kids like me, who manage to make it all the way through high school feeling a little different but not yet able to put a finger on what it is. A YA book about well-adjusted lesbian teens might help them name it sooner - and begin to build a foundation for understanding that lesbians/bi women can be happy, too.


Let's talk for a minute about life imitating art. I'm sure everyone can point to a book that affected them so strongly that they remember their exact reaction to it years after. For me, I remember reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and being completely blown away. I cried for hours after I read the last chapter -- mostly because I had fallen in love with Sydney Carton. I had similar reactions to The Phantom Tollbooth and Animal Farm.

I would have liked to have realized that I am bisexual because of a book. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for me. I discovered bisexuality through a GLBT awareness site, which I was exposed to during my brief time running the concession stand for the GSA dance in sophomore year. I mean, Jessica Alba helped. (I LOVE YOU JESSICA.) But for the most part, the only information I received about sexuality tended on the extremes of the spectrum -- homosexual or heterosexual. There was no middle ground.

At fifteen, I'd discovered many of the authors who I feel have influenced my 'coming-of-age.' I read Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Garth Nix, Terry Pratchett, Tamora Pierce, and reread Norton Juster and C.S. Lewis. Besides the less-than-palatable revelations about Carroll's personal life, the majority of these authors had, unconsciously or not, maintained heteronormativity in their novels. When other sexualities were mentioned, they were kept to the fringes.

I found GLBT themes in webcomics and fanfiction. (The trend I noticed was, webcomics were generally f/f and fanfiction was generally m/m.) The first mention of an openly bisexual character I'd ever seen was in the webcomic Khaos Komix. Later, I found that Scrubs, a show from which I draw many life lessons, thank you very much, addressed GLBT themes with the same aplomb they did everything else, and that helped the inner Sophie rally against heteronormativity.

However, I would have preferred to have read it in a book.

The fact is, that although homosexual characters are becoming more and more common in YA fiction, there are still comparatively few bisexual characters. stated, in a more recent article, that "books about gay male teens continue to outnumber those about lesbian and bisexual girls, and books about bisexual girls and queer girls of color number in the single digits." (See here.) I think this phenomenon has direct roots in our society's continued difficulty in outwardly addressing and talking about female sexuality. (A boy who has many sexual partners is a player, a girl who has many sexual partners is a slut. She is a double-triple-quadruple slut if she has sex with male and female partners.) I think we've come to a point where male sexuality can be openly discussed, however, female sexuality is still repressed. (Brief side note here: I can't remember the last time I read about a bisexual male character in a YA novel! Obviously male sexuality is repressed in other ways, but honestly, we're all being repressed all over the place, and I don't particularly want to get into that now.)

So here is my question for all of you: What are some YA novels featuring bisexual characters that you have read? If you want to suggest novels with homosexual characters as well, I'm not going to stop you - but I want to read about bis. :P The suggested books are going to be placed in a sidebar list on this page for future reference.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Smaller Beasts Aren't Easier to Tame

Everyone’s gotta start somewhere.

“You have to start with short stories!” cry the influx of People in Publishing. At least, that’s what I’ve heard and read numerous times. Writers are “supposed” to shimmy in short stories before they even think about writing a novel…right?

Well, yes and no. Novels and short stories are completely different beasts. It’s like learning a primary language (elementary writing), becoming bilingual, (writing short stories), and becoming trilingual--writing novels. You think you know what you’re doing (because it’s all writing, how hard could it be?) but the words churn and the cursor flashes and you’re not quite sure what you stumbled into. Wait—that would be me.

I wrote novels before I wrote short stories. Short stories, in my experience, have tight story arcs, a short time for character development, short time frame, and a whap-boom ending. It’s difficult, and most agents aren’t interested in short story collections. So why bother?

It’s simple--I love contests. I’m a competitive person, and since writing is primarily a solo activity, this is the only way I can fulfill the craving to push myself past my limits. Last fall, I entered The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards of 2009 with a short story. I thought I had no chance at winning—but I did. In March, I received a Gold Key in the NYC Regional category for “Found in Lost.” Clutching my large envelope, I hollered and boogied all night. Shameless plug: The Strand Bookstore will be holding a reading of NYC Regional Gold Key winners’ work (including mine!) on May 5th from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

This award won’t help me impress agents, as it’s for teens and I’m competing with adults in the querying process. It won’t make my friends acknowledge my hobby the way a shiny trophy would. However, it does make me thrilled and glad to be a teen writer.

So would I recommend starting with short stories if you’re thinking of writing novels? No. Write what you want to write regardless, and learn from it. If you want to write short stories, by all means, enjoy yourself and best of luck. Just don’t write shorts expecting to have tea with the editor of the anthology. Write them for the story that needs to be told, and who knows? The story might just need a bigger home in a novel.

What about you? Do you think short stories or novels are easier to write? Have contests helped you network with agents and editors?
For more information on The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, please visit

The Strand Bookstore reading will be at 828 Broadway (at 12th St.), New York, NY. For more information, please visit under Events.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Snafu, with Emphasis on the FU


*steps on a soapbox*

Due to the recent fuckwittery at regarding "adult content" and sales ranks, I can point you, dear reader, towards several resources, in addition to Hannah's post below this one,to learn about what the feckity feck has been happening. A very concise and colorful summary has been posted at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (Which reminds me: Amazon Rank.), and there are concurrent discussions happening over Twitter (search #amazonfail for the fallout), Live Journal, and the Absolute Write Water Cooler.

While many of these places encourage boycotts, letters to Amazon managers, and signing petitions (again, see Hannah's post below this one), we at YAYA have decided on a different way of approaching this issue. And we are doing it in typical YAYA fashion.

When we come across censorship of any kind - especially the kind that makes us physically ill - we promptly engage in the kind of behavior that the censors would frown upon. (We also tend to run naked through the streets with streamers and ribbons in our hair and around our limbs, throwing confetti at homophobic passers-by.) So! We're starting our very own celebration of GLBTQ YA literature. It's called (well, I've decided I'd like to call it) The Happy Hour, and I fully expect it to take us two months to wind down.

Yes, I'm Blue: Amazon Discriminates Against YA Queer Literature

Something fishy is going on at Search for "homosexuality," for instance, and here are some of the first books that pop up:

A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality
Can Homosexuality Be Healed?
You Don't Have to Be Gay: Hope and Freedom for Males Struggling With Homosexuality or for Those Who Know of Someone Who Is

Specify that you're looking for the most popular books featuring homosexuality, and you still won't find literary classics such as Brokeback Mountain, or even non-fiction books like the biography of Harvey Milk.

Amazon recently released the following statement:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Since their "entire customer base" is apparently offended by homosexual content (it's not as if any of these excluded books could be made into, say, Oscar-nominated movies or something), it's necessary to disable the sales rank functions for these books. The ability for a customer to determine their popularity disappears.

Never fear--you can still find Playboy on their sales rankings, along with all the other straight erotica you could ever want.

You can still search for vibrators, though I'm surprised they don't require a contract that you'll only use them for heterosexual fantasizing.

Lest you think this only affects erotica, meta_writer on livejournal is compiling a list of all the books affected. A few of the YAs include the Rainbow Boys trilogy by Alex Sanchez and the Am I Blue? book of essays and short stories by Marion Dane Bauer.

Just after my older sister came out of the closet, she used Am I Blue? as the subject of her ninth grade book report.

The teen years are a confusing time for sexuality. Books like Alex Sanchez's and anthologies like Am I Blue? help show teens questioning their place in a heteronormative society that it's okay to be different, that they're fine how they are, that they don't have to change.

Now they'll find books asking if they can be cured and telling them how their parents could have prevented them.

EDIT: Here is a petition against Amazon's new policy.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Agent Win!

I’ve never been on twitter, but things like #queryfail make me want to. I’ve read blogs where agents posted amusing queries, and it’s amusing and inspiring to read them. You know you’re not that dumb at least, right?

Then there was a big deal about #agentfail this week.

Well, in the spirit of some great agent experiences I’ve personally had the last two weeks, I think it’s time to celebrate those awesome agents that are out there. So go Operation #AgentWin!

For example:

The agent (my agent? tee hee) who requested the full novel from me within two hours of my querying him last Tuesday. But it was a snail mail full. I wasn’t expecting to hear back any time soon. After all, I had been waiting 3-6 months on my other full requests. So imagine my surprise Saturday morning when I received a phone call from him requesting representation. When you consider that it had to go through the mail before he could even open it, that’s a pretty great turn around time. He also responded to my next e-mail to him in nine minutes, which I hear is basically an instant in the publishing world.

Another agent I had contact with this week had my full novel and asked for time to finish reading it when I informed her of my offer. She spent part of her vacation reading it. She decided not to offer me representation without revisions, however, even though she knew I’d be likely going with someone else, she took an hour out of her day yesterday to talk to me on the phone (her e-mail was acting up) about the novel. She had many suggestions for revisions--most of which I felt would indeed make the novel stronger--as well as sharing with me the strengths she found in my writing. In the end, she told me she understood why I would go with the agent who had actually offered representation when she hadn’t done so, but she also told me that if I felt anything she said would make the book stronger, go ahead and use it. I thought this was really gracious of her to spend her time on this author and novel she saw promise in, even though she knew I probably wouldn’t say no to the other agent in the end.

So what about you guys? Share your stories about the agents who have gone above and beyond the call of duty! Celebrate an agent today!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Book of Nonsense by David Slater

I love it when novels start out by gushing about books. I know I'm a nerd that way, but when I started to read The Book of Nonsense by David Slater, I had to stop reading immediately and jot down a note: "Starts off talking about a huge, ancient used book store of awesome. Plz to be discussing in review, kthx."

The rest of the book was just as delightful. Daphna is a lovely, believable and fully realized character who's offset nicely by her fraternal twin, Dexter. While Daphna finds her "place" in books and bibliophilia, Dexter hasn't found where he belongs quite yet. Needless to say, this does cause some clashes of personality. Daphna's father is a book scout (more win!) who returns from a foray into the land of book-buying with a strange tome in tow: the outside of the book is battered, and the inside is filled with page upon page of language piled together in a seemingly nonsensical form.

Hence the title, you see.

Of course, the aforementioned Huge, Ancient Used Book Store of Awesome had to figure into the plot in more than just a throw-away line at the end (this novel is also impeccably plotted, let me tell you). Daphna's father wants to sell the nonsense book to the owner of the ABC (Antiquarian Book Center), Asterius Rash. And what is Asterius Rash going to do with the book for which Slater's novel is named?

He is going to use it to take over the world. Obviously.

Okay. I might be getting a little over excited here.

Objectively, I would have to give The Book of Nonsense four stars out of five, if only because there are some loose ends that are left flapping by the end of the novel, and overall, I was hoping for more development between the children and their father. I would recommend The Book of Nonsense to fellow bibliophiles and folks who like their MG/YA fiction dark but with heart.

David Slater has written several picture books. His website can be found here.