Navigating PC Pride in Queer YA

(Originally posted on powellsbooks.com blog)

As a gay teen growing up in South Carolina, I’d never heard of gay pride. As far as I knew, I was the only queer kid in the entire state, and I planned to stay safely tucked in the closet where I could pray all that gay away. 

Newsflash: That doesn’t work, so stop it!

Back in those days, finding queer representation in books in the school library was challenging, to say the least. I was so excited to get a glimpse of myself in books like A Separate PeaceBrideshead Revisited, and Of Mice and Men. (George Milton sure notices a lot of details about other men’s physiques, right?) So, naturally, I’m thrilled that LGBTQ teens today have a lot to choose from in young adult literature.

But what I find interesting is that many LGBTQ characters in YA, when not relegated to the background of the story or met with some tragic end, are of the straight-acting, chaste, cute, sweet variety. In queer YA lit, kissing, cuddling, and maybe oral sex is okay, but anything else gets you into questionable territory — especially when the author is a gay man... but that’s a whole other tricky subject for another time. 

Newsflash #2: Queer teens are exploring their sexuality and are just as wonderfully messy as non-queer teens. 

So why shy away from portraying them that way? Are we trying to present the most socially acceptable version of a queer teen to the world in the name of political correctness? Where are all the fabulously effeminate, outlandishly queeny gay boys in YA lit? Oh, that’s a stereotype, some say. 

Newsflash #3: Maybe, but those kids exist too, and they have just as much right to be represented. 

When I first started querying Social Intercourse to agents and editors, most of them said they loved the voice and the writing, but they felt it was too much for YA. Too raunchy, too racy, and too edgy. These responses puzzled me because Social Intercourse is far less racy than many YA romances on the market. Like, a lot less. So, is there a double standard for LGBTQ YA?

Was it maybe because the main character, Beck, is a gay boy cruising a city park looking to lose his virginity in the first chapter? Is that too real? Too honest? Not the kind of queer teen we want representing the LGBTQ youth population of queer YA lit? 

Newsflash #2: Queer teens are...just as wonderfully messy as non-queer teens.

Well, I can tell you that as a gay kid growing up in the deep South — and yes, even today — living out, proud, and loud is still a challenging proposition. With Beck, I wanted to show a somewhat underrepresented gay teen character, one who is unapologetically queer, who knows who he is and isn't afraid of letting his freak flag fly. Beck is a self-proclaimed "femmy choir boy" who wears guyliner and is obsessed with The Golden Girls

Newsflash #4: Beck is a total Dorothy on the outside and a closet Blanche on the inside. 

The point is, that kid exists too, so doesn’t he deserve to be represented? The edginess, raciness, and balls to the walls attitude of Social Intercourse might be what made some of those agents and editors uncomfortable. And it might make a lot of readers uncomfortable, too. But hats off to my agent and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, who never asked me to tone it down or take out any of the naughty bits. I told my agent when I first signed with her that it was important to me not to water the book down to make it more palatable to the masses. I wanted to stay true to the characters, and frankly, true to myself and my experience as a gay teen coming of age in the armpit of the American South. And what I found through talking to queer teens is that it’s still hard for them — better than it was for me, maybe, but still hard. Especially if they don’t blend in.

Look, I’m a sucker for a sweet romance, even one about a straight-acting gay boy coming to terms with his sexuality and ending the story with a chaste kiss with another straight-acting gay boy. (I hate the term straight-acting, but you get my point). And yes, that story probably does have more mass appeal than mine. But my hope is that the amazing success of beautiful books like Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (and the wonderful movie adaptation, Love, Simon) have helped blow the doors down so that characters like Beck can sashay their way right into mainstream hearts as well. I’d venture to bet that readers who give Beck a chance will end up loving him just as much as they love Simon — even if Beck’s flame burns the house down in the process. #SluttySimon!

(Disclaimer: I have Becky Albertalli’s wholehearted blessing to use that hashtag when describing my book!)

In Social Intercourse, Beck isn’t ashamed of who he is, so why should we be? Just like his real-life counterparts, Beck is out, proud, and living loud. I wish I had understood that kind of pride when I was a teen hiding deep in that closet, watching the world pass me by. I would have told myself: Hey you! Get out there! Throw on some guyliner and let your freak flag fly! And let Blanche out for some air. It’s going to be just fine.

Recommended Reading - The Hour Before Dark

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On a recent 10 hour drive to the beach, I started the audiobook of THE HOUR BEFORE DARK by Douglas Clegg, and finished with the e-book once I arrived. This was a really fun ghost story that I enjoyed a lot. There is enough of a mystery to keep you thinking (and guessing) and the thrills and chills are on point. Five stars!

Speed it up, Freedom

Guest blogger today is 9 year-old Violet Thomas-Bush of Charlotte, NC.  Violet wrote this for a school assignment on MLK.  Out of the mouths of babes.... Speed it up Freedom

by Violet Thomas-Bush

Freedom.

I cannot hear you. Ring louder.

Freedom speed it up.

People have been waiting and waiting.

Parents are not accepting their sons and daughters for who they are.

Lesbian and Gay.

Why would they not accept them?

God made these children to be gay and lesbian.

Knowing this would be a good life. A Fabulous, Amazing life.

Parents kicking these children out of their homes because of their sexuality.

Kicking them out because of who they are

It may not be the parents belief. Who cares!

Its about love.

Its about who we are.

Boys and Girls looking for their future love.

Find a better way to handle how you feel when someone of the same gender flirts with you.

This person is having a perfectly good life. Do not hurt them.

Or kill them.

Just say thank you. It’s just nice. Just deal with it.

At some point in our lives, we may like someone who does not like us back.

People just want to get home after a good day at work.

Getting fired for one’s sexuality? It doesn’t have anything to do with your job.

It is about the job, they are not looking for a date. Are you?

The company may have just fired their very best teacher, minister, worker.

For no good reason. Or importance.

Freedom… I can hear your bells ringing a little bit.

When states allow people to marry. Men now can marry men. Women can marry women.

Freedom we can hear you a little bit.

When I see a friend my age just be who they are. And we don’t care.

We are freedom speaking up. We are going to move things faster.

There is hope for these people I love.

Speed it up.

Love is needed here.

SUMMER TV - BEST BETS

Summer is no longer the vast wasteland of little to no quality TV programming. There are shows that have recently launched or about to launch that I couldn't be more excited about.  Here are a few to consider - 

ALREADY WATCHING:

FARGO - Just brilliant.  The writing, the acting...everything.  A perfect show.

PENNY DREADFUL - Though the previews looked promising, I was unsure about this one at first.  It can be a little on the gory side (if you have a problem with that - I don't), but I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far. And that scene between Josh Hartnett's Ethan Chandler and Reeve Carney's Dorian Gray?  Hot!

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK - Have only caught the first episode of the new season, but I can tell it will be as riveting and fun as the first season. It's fun to watch Piper continue her descent down the dark, dark hole of her own making.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES - Based on Robert Rodriquez 1996 movie, starring George Clooney and Quentin Tarrantino as the infamous, bank-robbing, vampire-killing Gecko brothers, this is a helluva fun ride.  Warning: Gore factor is off the charts.  But Don Johnson is awesome! Who knew?

GANG RELATED - A cross between two shows I loved - THE SHIELD and SOUTHLAND, but with an interesting twist.

ORPHAN BLACK - Tatiana Maslany rules and if you are not watching this show, you are an idiot.  Nuff said.

Honorable mention: SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE - I cry at least once every episode. So sue me.  

COMING UP:

THE STRAIN - Can't wait! The book by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro was terrific and read like a fast paced movie. Yes...more vampires. But so good and the previews look just as creepy as the book.

THE LEFTOVERS - I have heard good things about this show from reviewers and previews look enticing. Rapture anyone?

TRUE BLOOD - FINAL SEASON - Yes it has gone off the rails the last couple of season's, but you know they will end it with a bang. And Pam should get her own spin off.  Am I right?

OUTLANDER - Sucker for a time travel romance? This is for you!  And the book series on which the show is based has a rabid legion of fans, so where there's smoke...

THE INTRUDERS - Maybe its the fact that BBC America's teasers are so unsettling and so - unrevealing, that I am so curious about this one.  Might be be a bomb, might be genius. Will report back!

EXTANT - I have been a Sci-Fi fan since birth, and this one has me intrigued. Pros?  Halle Berry, space travel and alien babies. Con? It's on CBS.

Honorable mention: ALMOST ROYAL. If the show is half as hilarious as the previews, this one is going to be a lot of fun.  Remember DAISY DOES AMERICA?

Happy watching!

 

10 THINGS I LEARNED AT RAINBOW CON 2014

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Last week I attended Rainbow Con in Tampa, FL. This was my very first writer's conference and I found it very interesting, informative and friendly. I met some great people - authors, readers, publisher and reviewers - and two strippers young enough to be my sons. (Though we all felt compelled to contribute to their burgeoning college fund.) I actually learned a great deal about the writing process which will be extremely helpful as I continue to edit my first manuscript and prepare for the query process. Thanks so much to the folks at Dreamspinner Press for inviting me to send them my manuscript when I am finished. I am the only one they invited to do that right???

But, here is a short list of some of the other fun things I learned.

  1. I learned more about BDSM than I will ever need to know. (for the uninitiated, as I was, that's Bondage, Domination, and Sadomasochism). And whatever you don't know, Brenda Cothern is more than willing to demonstrate.
  2. Don’t assume your new sweetheart of a con wife from Alabama is as snarky and jaded as you are just because she writes tentacle porn.  Find a snarky con husband to round out the trio. (Meet my ménage partners in crime at http://www.aideeladnier.com and http://www.gryphonandtiger.com)
  3. If you sit down in a panel or workshop and the moderator gives you a hand out, accept it, gracefully slip out and go to that other panel you really wanted to attend.  Kill two birds, and all that.
  4. Stop staring at Brandon Shire. Yes, he’s very handsome and a fantastic writer, but now you’re just embarrassing yourself. Seriously. Stop staring.
  5. Male strippers dancing in Embassy Suites ballroom lighting. Really? There are no dimmers on any switch in this room? (see above image) #straightpeoplelighting
  6. It might be a good idea for the hotel manager to let the church group praying in the   atrium know with whom they are sharing the floor.  Oh – wait. That’s why they’re praying. (Poor things never thought about having to watch every one of us descend in the glass elevators - in all our prismatic glory - right into the middle of their prayer meeting).
  7. (My rookie mistake #1) - Printing the wrong twitter handle on your business card. Well that’s one way to go. (For the record, its @ghowardauthor)
  8. (My rookie mistake #2) - Putting a non-existent email address on your business card.  (see above). It exists now, so email away.
  9. Shae Connor has lived a much gayer life than I have and I hate her for it. I'm talkin' dancing to all hours with gay porn stars, getting felt up in the gay bars by the breast appreciation brigade - just the tip of the iceberg, I am sure.
  10. Bottom shame – bad.  Bossy twink bottoms – good. If you know, you know. If you don’t, I believe Kade Boehme will be doing some live tweeting on the subject soon.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say that we all had a great time. Kudos to all of the organizers on their first con!

Oh – one last thing.  I would like to thank the DJ from the opening night event for being so thoughtful and inclusive with his playlist by including such sacred anthems as "Dancing Queen”, “YMCA” and “It’s Raining Men”, but next time can we please hear some Pharrell Williams, Jason Derulo, and Bruno Mars?

So there you have it. I am no longer a con virgin. And boy am I sore.

(check out @AideeLadnier for her feed of live tweets from the panels - you know, the real serious info)

 

They say getting old sucks...

They say getting old sucks...but does it?  We want to believe that it doesn't. We say we love getting older. We embrace it! We thumb our noses at society's predilection for dismissing aging as something to be feared. But when I visited my 88 year-old grandfather in a small nursing home in rural South Carolina today, I have to admit, I shared the fear. Here is a man, James Dimery, who spent his entire life working himself nearly to death for the International Paper Company Box Plant in Georgetown, SC for more than 40 years, to provide a modest but very decent and happy life for his family. He was a tall, handsome man that everyone in Georgetown knew and loved. He adored his children, his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

I didn't see if first hand, but I understand he was a pretty seasoned drinker and a hellcat before my mother died in 1971. I understand that shook him to his core and "settled" him.

I talk about him in the past tense, not because he has passed, but because for the last few years, this solid, steady-handed presence from my youth through adulthood has been relegated to a hospital bed in the clinical atmosphere of a depressing nursing home.  The place is eerily similar to the nursing home Granddaddy used to take me and my older brother to, to visit his father in final years of his life.

I remember Granddaddy saying to us... "Whatever you do, please don't leave me in a place like this when I get old."  I remember the statement struck me as odd, because he himself had put his father in that place. But, we came to understand and accept that it was the best solution Granddaddy had at the time.

Now my granddaddy is ending his life in the exact same kind of place he feared all those years ago.

I don't blame anyone. Hard choices were made. End of life care is immensely expensive. I am thankful that I will not have to make those hard choices for my parents since they are both deceased. I get it. But as I visited him today with my brother, my Aunt and my Uncle, I couldn't help but wonder what was going through his mind.

He has a hard time remembering faces, but today was a relatively good day.  Even though I had not seen him in several months, after only a few seconds of a scrunched up brow he seemed to recognize me. He even pointed to my picture on his TV to confirm it – proud of the small but significant accomplishment.

We sat around his bed getting caught up. We were loud and obnoxious and though we talked for almost two hours, we only spoke directly to Granddaddy maybe 10 minutes total. Granted, he doesn't have a lot to say these days. So as we sat and talked and laughed, as if he wasn't even in the room – as if his roommate, the sweet Mr. Keith, wasn't in the bed two feet away trying to watch The Price Is Right – I wondered. Was Granddaddy glad we were there? Was he annoyed by the racket we caused? Did he feel left out of the conversation? Even ignored?

Near the end of our two hour visit, my Aunt - his daughter-in-law - asked him, "Granddaddy, what are you thinking about?"

He mumbled something inaudible. She and I leaned in.

"What's that Granddaddy?" she asked again.

"Just listening," he said in a meager voice.

"Oh. Just listening?" she repeated to be certain.

"Yes," he said. "When you're in a place like this, its just nice to have visitors."

Did my heart break?  Yes. Did I feel guilty for not seeing him more often? Of course.

Did I feel guilty for the noise and chaos we caused while sitting a foot away from his bed while he faded in and out? Not as much.

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Location, location, location.

It was a great idea to spend a week, alone, writing in the locale where my story is set. 

Everything around me not only sends me right back to my childhood here, but inspires new characters and stories which live here in a world of their own - just out of reach. Its not the same world I new as a child, but the one of my overactive imagination. Its a world of misunderstood spirits, conflicted vampires and young witches who can't control the darkness inside them.

Staying at the beach doesn't hurt! Every morning when I walk on the sand that was the playground of my youth during yet another perfect sunrise, I am transported to my new world by the sound of crashing waves, the breeze that whistles over my ears and makes the seagrass wave at me as I pass by. So inspiring.

If only one of those misunderstood spirits could write my 5k words today so I could lay by the pool, life would be perfect.

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Letting go...

Its so hard to let go of something you wrote and loved a while back, even though you know now that it doesn't hold up.  I am learning - the hard way - that when I am struggling to "re-write" something I crafted a long time ago, the best course of action is the just to start over.  The idea is still in my head, but now I can write it utilizing everything I have learned since. Still hard to let go, but I know it will be better if I do.

Here we go....

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I wrote stories of fantasy and adventure to escape from the constant anxiety of growing up as a gay kid in the deep South.  In high school I wrote articles for the school newspaper and a sexy-soapy serial to entertain my friends.

As an adult it was always a dream of mine to write (and complete) a novel.  I started and stopped several times over the years, but after the encouragement and inspiration of another writer friend, I finally sat down and wrote the damn thing. It has been a long journey down a wonderfully dark and twisted road. Now there are only traces of the book I originally started two years ago. And it will likely change even more before I am finished.

I am in the home stretch now. I am pretty sure that I would never have even started this book if not for my awesome critique partner (and writing wife), Melissa Chambers (www.melissachambers.com), the friend who pushed me to get off my ass and do it.

Over the next 3-4 months, I will be fine tuning and editing this frustrating labor of love with the guidance of my new editor, Charissa Weaks (www.charissaweaks.com). I am excited and scared to have her on board.  But its good to be scared sometimes.  So here we go!