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Posts Tagged ‘ya’

Say Yes to Telekinetic Squirrels!

A while back there was a furor over a YA novel with gay characters, whose authors faced pressure from a potential agent to make him straight (or at least not reveal his orientation until later in the series).

Now, at long last, Stranger (by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith) is out in the world. Since this is fixed in everybody’s mind as the “Yes to Gay YA” book, I feel I should quote from Rachel’s post announcing the book’s release:

But you could just as easily call it “The one with the telekinetic squirrels,” or “The X-Men in the post-apocalyptic Wild West,” or “The one where the sheriff is super-strong, the doctor can speed up time, and the plant life is out to get you.”


Other points of possible interest: Psychic powers. Luscious food descriptions. Detailed world-building. Hurt-comfort- lots of hurt-comfort. Thrilling battle sequences. Cute animals. Killer crystal trees. Romance in every configuration: gay, straight, lesbian, and poly. Illusion-casting rabbits. Flying cats. And, of course, telekinetic squirrels.

If one or more of those things appeals to you, various buy links are here, and Sherwood discusses their writing process here. I’m going to be ordering it from my local B&N, to help keep it on the shelves — because quite apart from the aforementioned furor, things like this don’t get enough attention in book publishing.

And, y’know: who can pass up telekinetic squirrels?

Followup on “Say Yes to Gay YA”

A few days ago, I linked to a piece by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith about an agent’s request that they remove or straighten a gay protagonist from their book.

Their article didn’t name the agent or the agency, but today Joanna Stampfel-Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation came forward (on a site hosted by agent Colleen Lindsay [edit: former agent]) to say that she is the one in question, and furthermore, that “there is nothing in that article concerning our response to their manuscript that is true.”

[Another edit: Joanna Stampfel-Volpe is speaking on behalf of the agency, but herself is not the agent involved in the incident. I apologize for the misreading, which managed to persist through me reading not only her post, but a vast number of comments on both rachelmanija and sartorias‘s journals. Ironically, I’d have less editing to do if I’d stuck with my original draft, where I started out referring to “the agent,” without a name. But then I decided that if I was doing the authors the courtesy of calling them by name, I should do the same for the agent. My error, and I am editing the remainder of this entry to fix it.]

Brown and Smith stand by their original article.

So this has just turned into a case of “they said, she said.” Which has, naturally, made many people leap to conclusions on one side or the other: “Oh, I knew that story sounded fishy from the start; clearly the agent is telling the truth” or “the agent is a lying homophobic liar.” Since it’s doubtful anybody has a recording of the phone call where all of this went down, actual proof is hard to come by. I do think, however, that it’s possible to apply logic and draw at least a few tentative conclusions.

First of all, Brown and Smith didn’t name the agent or agency, and specifically said they didn’t want this to be a witch-hunt against one person; lots of other people have come forward with stories of similar things happening to them, and the statistics on queer representation in YA support the idea that publishing has a problem with non-straight characters (and non-“mainstream” characters in other respects, too: non-white, disabled, etc). The overwhelming focus of their post was to call out for agents, editors, readers, and writers to try and reduce the barriers against diversity in the genre.

Stampfel-Volpe chose — presumably with the permission of The Agent In Question (hereafter TAIQ) — to identify the agency publicly, and both she and Lindsay spend most of their focus on TAIQ and the writers, rather than the larger issue; they accuse Brown and Smith of “exploiting” her. They do call for general diversity as well, but in the end, you can kind of play bingo with that post; for example, Lindsay says TAIQ is a friend of hers, and not a homophobe. Note that the post on Genreville explicitly said TAIQ may or may not entertain personal feelings of homophobia; Brown and Smith don’t have any basis for judging that. You don’t have to hate gay people to contribute to the ways in which they get silenced. It can happen even if you like them, because that’s how institutionalized prejudice works.

Second, there’s the question of why the agency responded publicly. Apparently rumours have been flying behind the scenes, people asking whether TAIQ was the one. There was nothing in the original post, or any public follow-up that I’ve seen, which could possibly have produced those rumours. This creates two immediate possibilities: first, either Brown or Smith gossiped privately before Stampfel-Volpe took it public, or second, that other people have had similar experiences with TAIQ, and speculated based on those experiences.

We can’t answer this one; tracing those rumours to their origin is a lost cause. But as a data point, I offer up this: nowhere, publicly or privately, have I seen Brown and Smith provide a single detail, other than that it was a female agent at an agency that has repped a bestselling YA dystopia, that could have given away TAIQ’s identity. (And yes, I have plenty of evidence to back up both those claims.) This doesn’t disprove the gossip theory, but it does give a data point against it. As for the other, I have no evidence either way. I’m open to other possibilities as well.

Finally — as some people have noted on Stampfel-Volpe’s post — there may be a middle ground here. As I said before, institutionalized prejudice works in less-than-obvious ways. It’s possible the conversation could have been phrased in a way that TAIQ did not see as reinforcing homophobia, which nevertheless could be heard that way. Without the exact words, we can’t judge for ourselves. But I will say, for my own part, that I have a hard time believing this was, from the agent’s side, purely an issue of craft, and not of the marketability of queerness. If the pov in question “didn’t contribute to the actual plot” (Stampfel-Volpe’s words), then how could that be solved by making him straight? If she didn’t actually suggest making him straight — if that’s a misinterpretation — then how could Brown and Smith have subsequently heard anything that could be misconstrued as “if this turns into a series, later on you can show that he’s gay”? And how could the misunderstanding have persisted past Brown saying his sexuality was a moral issue she would not back down from?

Looking at it logically . . . the only thing I can conclude is that either Brown and Smith are outright lying — maybe as a publicity stunt, because they haven’t yet found representation for the book (as various people have begun to accuse them of, over on the agent’s rebuttal post) — or the agency is trying to do very inept damage control for an incident that was, in its outlines if not every detail, more or less like the Genreville post describes. As you can probably guess from my analysis above, my money is on the latter. Is that based partly on personal knowledge of one side and not the other? Sure. I know the authors; I don’t know the agent. I judge them to both be experienced professionals unlikely to manufacture a hissy fit because one particular book hasn’t sold yet. But even without the evidence I’ve seen and you haven’t: one side was careful not to make this personal, and the other side was not. One side offered summaries of what both parties said in the conversation; the other omitted the authors’ responses from their summary. Heck, one side had two people involved, and the other had only one. I know people’s opinions can reinforce each other, but there had to have been a moment where Brown and Smith spoke to each other after the phone call to share their opinions. I’ve heard nothing to suggest either of them started off by saying “I’m not sure that’s what she meant,” and was eventually talked around to the other’s interpretation. If their interpretations matched up from the start, that’s at least a minor form of fact-checking.

When all’s said and done, though, my real conclusion: go read the Genreville post again. Skip the parts about the agent; read the parts about the difficulty in getting non-straight, non-white, non-“mainstream” characters through the filter of authors’ brains, agents’ judgement calls, editors’ purchasing power, bookstores’ support, and readers’ inclinations, all the way to the public eye. That, more than any one book or agent or incident, is the part that matters.

Due to ridiculous amounts of spam (months after and unrelated to this incident), I have locked comments on this post.

Yes to Gay YA

Rachel Manija Brown (rachelmanija) and Sherwood Smith (sartorias) have an important essay up at Publishers Weekly, Say Yes to Gay YA, where they recount how an agent offered them representation for a YA novel on the condition that they either straighten a gay point-of-view character, or remove him from the book entirely.

You can read the details there, as well as suggestions for how to put an end to this kind of thing. You can do the same on Rachel’s journal, if you prefer LJ, but the PW post includes a mechanism for posting anonymously, if you’d prefer that. They’re particularly interested in hearing from any authors who have experienced similar pushback from agents or editors, so as to explore just how widespread the problem is. The reader-side viewpoint is also valuable, to help prove there is an audience for these books.

If you’re on Twitter, the hashtag is #YesGayYA.

The List (mostly)

For those who have been following the Adventure of the Book I’m Totally Not Working On, I Swear, here is the present list of knightly names:

  • Audacia (Courage)
  • Castimonia (Purity)
  • Justitia (Justice)
  • Misericordia (Mercy)
  • Obedentia (Obedience)
  • Patientia (Patience)
  • Reverentia (Reverence)
  • Sollertia (Skill)
  • Sophia (Wisdom)
  • Temperantia (Temperance)
  • Valentia (Strength)
  • Vigilantia (Vigilance)

I may end up tweaking it, but for now, that’s the set.

Now I’m off to see if I can convince myself to do my Victorian writing now, making my evening simpler, and also leaving me time to play with this . . . .

Okay, new question

My brain is blurring out from staring at lists of Latin nouns, so I’m going to throw this a bit wider open and see what the commentariat can suggest.

In this totally hypothetical story that I’m totally not working on, there is a group of female knights under holy orders, in a secondary-world setting modeled on medieval Europe, serving the Queen of a place that will probably look like France. I want their names to form a list of the virtues they are supposed to uphold. (There is room for irony here, as they will not always live up to those names.)

What virtues would you expect to see on that list?

I need a total of twelve; suggest as many as you like. Bonus points if you can provide me with Latin nouns matching your suggestions, ending in either -tas or -ia — I’m trying to see if I can get a satisfactory set without having to rejigger any of the Latin. (I can put together twelve on either pattern, but not without leaving out some concepts I think I’d like to include.)

a question for the Latin geeks in my readership

Imagine you are reading a story wherein members of a particular group are all named with Latin nouns for virtues or good qualities. (This is not simply a meta trick on the author’s part; the meaning of those names is acknowledged in-story. The setting is, however, a secondary world, wherein Latin is being used to fulfill a role more or less like it does in reality.) Most of the names are genuine third-declension nouns following the -tas, -tatis model — e.g. Pietas, Honestas — but a few are clearly adapted from first declension nouns so as to make for a consistent pattern — e.g. Justitas from justitia. The rest of the Latin in the story is grammatically correct.

Feel free to elaborate on your perspective in comments.


Dear Brain,

No. No, no, no, no, NO.

There are many things we need right now — an answer to the question the stranger just asked Dead Rick, a precise outline for how Eliza and Miss Kittering are going to achieve a state of conflict-balance, some sense of what’s going on with the Society — but NONE of them are the premise for a random secondary-world YA fantasy series.

Even if it involves an order of holy lady knights who run around spying for the Queen they’re sworn to protect.

You know perfectly well what this is. We’ve entered into the Stage of Oooh Shiny, where everything looks enticing except the book we’re supposed to be writing. Put the shiny down, and get back to Victorian England.

(After all, I’ve already written half a page of notes for the YA-knights idea. Maybe we can do more later tonight.)

Er, I mean, NO! No new shiny. Work on old shiny instead. I promise, there’s plenty of fun to be had there.

Not nearly as cross as she should be,
Your Writer

for the WIN

We’ve been joking for a while that I should come up with some book idea that would allow me to write off the upcoming Mediterranean cruise as research, and therefore a business expense. (We aren’t paying for the cruise itself, but y’know, the expenses that go with it.)

On the way to Boston for VeriCon, my subconscious coughed up just such an idea.

The best part is, I wasn’t trying to think of any such thing. I’ve been toying with some YA ideas lately, trying to think of what else I could do to ensure an ongoing YA publishing career, and one of my ideas (archaeological in nature) hopped from Mesoamerica to Egypt to the classical world, and then did a neat little do-si-do and came back out as a story about archaeological looting, the black market in antiquities, and supernatural happenings on board . . . you guessed it . . . a cruise ship.

Right now, my subconscious appears to be made of win.