You’ve written a large number of LGBTQ books for young adults, as well as an LGBTQ book aimed at more adult readers. What makes you, a straight woman, inclined to write for an LGBTQ audience? What does your perspective allow you to do with the fiction that an LGBTQ author might not?
It’s really a lot less to do with sexual orientation than with age. My earliest experiences in writing focused on young people – teens or children – and their process of maturation. I’ve always found it cathartic writing about characters who undergo the same processes of discovery that I’ve already undergone, but they do so in ways that are consistent with their lives and personalities and are wholly foreign to me. It’s very much the idea of possibilities and endless “what if?” scenarios and looking at the world through the eyes of a kid whose life is so far removed from mine.
I suppose my contributions to LGBT YA fiction have a lot to do with being an outsider looking in – a bit of a role reversal, really, given how the LGBT community tends to be regarded as the outsiders by way too many people. While I can’t fully empathize with the too-real fears of growing up gay (bullying, rejection, threats of physical harm, etc.), I do enjoy exploring stories that place LGBT kids front and center for no other reason than that THEY CAN AND SHOULD BE heroes of fantasy adventures or historical dramas because I rarely ever see them in those roles. It’s the classic theme of the resilient underdog overcoming obstacles and emerging a stronger and wiser person in the end.
LGBT writers of LGBT YA fiction do a fantastic job exploring real issues pertaining to daily struggles and fears that their audience might be suffering and need guidance in. As a straight woman who’s never gone through the process of coming out, etc., I prefer to focus on genre fiction and the conspicuous absence of young LGBT protagonists. I’ve been asked why by well-meaning friends and family, and my answer is why even question it? No one questions the fact that 99% of YA fiction involves straight teens in main roles in every genre and sub-genre that’s out there. Why not LGBT teens? I might not offer much by way of wisdom in the process of coming out, but at the very least, I can offer an escape that’s both fun and, I hope, a source of some insight or inspiration for the reader.
All of your works are genre fiction – the bulk of them historical, historical fantasy, and contemporary fantasy. What makes you attracted to writing fantasy and historical stories for teenagers, and why do you enjoy putting LGBTQ protagonists into the genre mold? What about genre fiction helps LGBTQ characters and teenagers that coming-out/literary fiction ignores?
I prefer to offer LGBT teens an escape, and I suppose I’d like to write them in a way as to normalize them through genre fiction because the focus is on individual growth regardless of their sexual orientation. My first love is classic literature and historical fiction, and even before I got into gay literature, I was attuned to “romantic friendships” between same-sex characters such as James Steerforth and David Copperfield. Those relationships in the 19th century were purely platonic and were widely accepted by society, but there were relationships that developed into something more, however short-lived they might’ve turned out, no thanks to social conventions and the law in that time period. And that’s just scratching the surface. So at least as far as history goes, it wasn’t as if gay people never existed, and I’d like to acknowledge that and show that we don’t live in a bubble that’s limited to just the 21st century.
Historical fantasy is my current baby in the sense that I love writing my own original fairy tales / alternate history for LGBT teens. Again, the point here is why not? We’ve got a rich treasury of fairy tales from all over the world since the dawn of time, really, with most of them focusing on romantic themes between heterosexual partners. We live in a different age now, and I think that it’s high time that LGBT teens are given fairy tales that they can call their own. Whether or not these fairy tales come from straight writers or LGBT writers isn’t the issue; rather, it’s all about getting these books out to teens who need or want them and would like to see themselves in stories that are uniquely theirs.
Recently, you’ve shifted over to writing more contemporary fantasy. What do you think attracts readers to contemporary fantasy stories these days? What about your historical works would be appealing to today’s readers, considering they are more overlooked than your contemporary fantasy books?
Even in the bigger, more mainstream picture, historical fiction enjoys far less popularity than contemporary fiction. It’s simply the audience’s taste, and I don’t have any control over it. The most obvious attraction for contemporary fiction – whether realistic or steeped in magical realism – is familiarity. Setting, language, behavior, popular culture – we live in it now, and by and large, it’s great to see ourselves reflected in fiction in a way that we can easily relate to. Historical fiction is – perhaps in non-historical-fiction-readers’ eyes – too far removed from current reality for us to fully appreciate.
Human nature is universal, though, and pretty consistent through time. What changes are beliefs and laws, and I do believe that in order to fully appreciate the strides we’ve made today as far as LGBT rights go, we shouldn’t ignore history and the struggles that LGBT people went through, especially since countless suffered in silence, while others were subjected to exile, execution, or prison sentences, etc.
I can understand, though, the reluctance to embrace historical fiction, especially where LGBT characters are concerned. It’s largely because, yes, the past was cruel, and happily-ever-after was quite unusual. But what I tried to do – at least in my historical novels – was to emphasize HOPE, no matter what choice the young gay character ends up making down the line in the course of his maturation. My goal in each novel is to show the main character’s growth against obstacles that are unique to his time period and to show how much stronger he is in the end – both as an individual as well as the beneficiary of a loving friendship or relationship with an unlikely ally. True, this kind of story can easily be explored in a contemporary setting, but a historical novel offers a different challenge to the writer, and his success in tackling his subject can translate into an enjoyable reading experience for the audience.
That said, historical fiction shouldn’t be limited to just drama. Classic literature’s rich in satire and humor, and I tried to take advantage of that with DESMOND AND GARRICK, a historical paranormal series that’s also a satire on modern paranormal romances. You can do anything with historical fiction, even if the balancing act – you do have to make sure to stick to historical fact as much as possible – can drive you crazy sometimes. On the whole, though, historical fiction can be a good diversion from what’s modern and familiar.
What do you consider to be the most rewarding part of writing LGBTQ fiction for teens? What do you hope to accomplish as a writer who writes this type of fiction? Do you like your position as an indie author? Why or why not?
Just the idea that somewhere out there, someone for whom I’m writing these books might be enjoying any given novel and that, perhaps, s/he is gaining something from the experience, even if it’s just as simple as forgetting the world for X number of hours. I know that I’m currently focusing on contemporary fantasy, but my real love is historical fantasy, and I’d love to have a large enough backlist of original folktales for LGBT teens – either in novel or short story anthology forms. I’d love to be an active contributor to a small niche and watch that market expand and grow before age takes over, and I run out of ideas and am forced to bow out and make room for the next generation of writers.
I’ve been urged before to seek out an agent, but it’s not in the cards for me. My fiction writing preferences are strictly niche, which really means working with small presses who’re more open to taking chances on unpopular novels than mainstream presses can ever be. On the whole, I love the freedom to write whatever pleases me and not worry about being dropped from my contract because of lack of sales. Seriously, if the opposite were the case, I’d have been dropped from my contract after my first novel was released! Writing unpopular fiction for a small niche is a very, VERY lonely place to be, and finding people willing to help with marketing through word-of-mouth promo can be exasperating at best. However, I really enjoy writing stories that I love to read and that I hope are making some kind of difference in the market in very small ways because they’re still pretty much “uncharted territory” on the whole.
What are your favorite LGBTQ books that are aimed at teens or would crossover well to teens? What about non-LGBTQ books that would still appeal to LGBTQ teens? What, to you, defines these books as favorites? What books do you wish more LGBTQ teens would discover?
My favorite LGBT YA books are Perry Moore’s HERO (for obvious reasons) and Julie Anne Peters’ LUNA, which broke my heart twenty different ways. On one hand, you’ve got genre fiction (superhero fantasy) that also works as a coming-out novel, and on the other hand, you’ve got a heart-breaking account of a transgender teen’s difficult process of coming to terms with her identity. The fact that Luna’s story is told from her sympathetic sister’s POV makes the story all the more gut-wrenching. Those two novels are prime examples of just how broadly we can expand the LGBT YA market, and it’s good to see more and more writers taking genre fiction and running away with it in their novels, placing LGBT teens front and center.
As for non-LGBT books, I’m a huge fan of classic short fiction. HUGE. Some of my desert island keepers are M.R. James’ CASTING THE RUNES AND OTHER GHOST STORIES, Oscar Wilde’s COMPLETE SHORT FICTION, and Chris Baldrick’s THE OXFORD BOOK OF GOTHIC TALES. While most of them deal with the fantastical and supernatural, some of Wilde’s short stories also tackle some pretty complex social issues even if they were written for children (“The Happy Prince” comes to mind). Those books are my biggest literary sources of inspiration. I love classic ghost fiction, and I don't particularly care for contemporary horror films because of the shift in focus toward violence and gore. Victorian ghost fiction is my favorite genre to read; despite some of the clichés or hackneyed plots, 19th century writers like M.R. James were masters of atmosphere and foreboding. It would be great if young readers, regardless of sexual orientation, were to try them out and discover some really well-crafted, spine-tingling stories that are more psychological than visceral.
What are the realities of being a writer of LGBTQ fiction? What are the rewards and the risks involved in writing this type of fiction alone? Do you think the market is becoming more or less receptive to it – especially the genre portions of it? Do you think more writers should write genre fiction with LGBTQ characters in mind?
Like I’ve noted in a previous answer, writing niche fiction is incredibly lonely and brutal to one’s confidence. There’s always that shadow hanging over you as you spend hour after hour slaving away at a novel that you know only a handful of people will be reading or that could very well slip through the cracks, regardless of your marketing efforts. It not only takes a lot of patience to put your baby together and to release it in the big bad world, but also a lot of faith in your own ability to tell a good enough story that people would be willing to spend money on. And for that faith, you really have to dig deep in order to sustain the madness of repeating the cycle with every new book.
That said, the rewards are incredible. Knowing that you’re contributing something unique to a market that’s necessary for an underrepresented audience makes up half of the fuel that keeps you going (the other half is dark chocolate). Every once in a while, you’ll be lucky enough to receive a message from a complete stranger thanking you for writing something s/he has never read before and that s/he has enjoyed. Royalty checks be damned; those messages, however few and far between, are worth their weight in gold.
The LGBT YA market is definitely expanding, and I’m seeing more and more writers tackle genre fiction with LGBT teens for their main characters, though it appears that it’s mostly small presses and self-published authors who’re more consistent in supplying the market with these titles. But it’s a great start, and I hope to see it blossom even more. Writers approach their craft differently. There are those who write genre fiction with LGBT characters in mind, and there are those who allow their characters to determine their sexual orientation once they begin writing. It really depends on how the author does things. But if you’re talking about writing genre fiction in which LGBT characters’ stories revolve around things outside their sexual orientation, then yes – I’d love to see more of that happen. I still see pockets of resistance – for lack of a better term – in certain groups I’m a member of or used to be a part of, toward stories outside coming-out fiction. There seems to be this odd fear that genre fiction will push realistic fiction aside and make it unpopular or unnecessary.
It’s not a zero-sum game. It never was, and it never will be. There’ll always be a need for coming-out fiction, but there’s also enough room for stories that go beyond that. Both work together as complements, and both are important and necessary for LGBT kids everywhere.