Girl Mans Up – Advanced Reader Copies!

Last week, I received my batch of advanced reader copies of the little book I wrote—the book that’s going to be a real, published book in 6 months!

I got to pick up this paperback-looking version of my story, sandwiched between the amazing back and front cover art. My words are on actual pages. I’ve been impatiently-but-actually-patiently awaiting this moment!

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The ARC and me.

It was a ridiculous experience.

I say ridiculous because at first, I opened the box and I felt like it was a regular day of receiving a hefty book order from Amazon. It was that excitement of pulling each book out, holding it, and being like “I can’t wait to read you all!” Except it was my book. My brain just couldn’t comprehend this. It was like “Wow! That cover is so nice. I can’t wait to read this!” And then I’d answer it: “You’ve already read it a million times! This is YOUR book. Look—your name!” But again, Brain would be like, “I’ll just read the first chapter. It sounds so good.” So I was like “Okay, fine. Read it and then you’ll realize what this is.”

I still felt like it was just a book I was reading—a book I might’ve read before, but that I was just as excited about reading yet another time. It felt like this thing I have a connection with, yes, but it wasn’t reflective of the actual super personal, deep connection I have with it. I couldn’t get my mind to realize what was going on. Let me be clear: it wasn’t disappointment at having hyped up this feeling. It’s this big freaking problem understanding reality.

Authors: Do you know what I’m talking about?

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The ARC being read by my girlfriend.

I was staring at it, going “Dude, you wrote a book and the advanced copy of it is right here in your hands. It’s a real thing.” But it didn’t make sense. I feel like I can imagine exactly what another author would feel as they first lay eyes on one of their ARCs, but when it came to me, I couldn’t deal with this totally foreign concept.

I have a copy in my hands right now. It’s like…I know it’s a book, and I know it’s my story—it just doesn’t come together in my mind. So I keep staring at it, and reading it, and going “Is this real? Nah… Wait—is this really real?”

I have ARC angst! What an awesome problem to have. Ha!

I’m just going to keep reading my ARC, and telling myself it’s really happening.

Now I’m also wondering who else might want to read it… Do you want a copy of Girl Mans Up to read and (possibly) review? Please don’t hesitate to send me an email (or use my website contact form) and I will submit the requests to my publisher!

Sexism et al: Being Called Out as a Writer

Some stuff happened in the world of YA last week involving a critically acclaimed cis male author and an interview answer that many found to be sexist in nature—or more specifically, found to illustrate the pervasive nature of sexism in our society.

I’m not going to directly speak on that, because I’m not really qualified to do that. And there’s also the fact that many book bloggers, critics, and writers have already done it, and quite well. If you’d like to read more about it, check out Stacked Books’ recent post “Thoughts on Sexism, Feminism, YA, Reading, and the Publishing Industry,” and be sure to follow the links provided at the bottom.

Catching up on all the tweets, I had some thoughts.

I thought about how scary social media can be, especially Twitter. I’m not on there that much, but I’ve learned that having real discussions often leads to harassment and bullying at worse, and to generally being made to feel stupid at best. One has to be very careful if one is going to make a statement, because people are ready to pick them apart. And fair enough, it’s a lesson to not talk out of one’s butt, and to be open to criticism. But if one is a man getting social media backlash, one will get harsh words; if one is a woman, one risks getting rape and death threats. I find for my fragile little soul (and ego), it’s best for me to stick to the benign stuff (what video game I’m playing, what’s happening at the laundromat, what book I’m reading, what I’m watching).

After those surface thoughts, I started thinking about these other discussions I’ve seen go down on my private Facebook feed. Sexism has been a hot topic these last few days. Here’s what I came up with, reading people’s comments, thinking about my own thoughts:

Language is a problematic dink. The English language is so full of words, and we can say so many things with just the perfect words arranged a certain way. But man, does it get us in trouble. It’s a privilege to possess the right words to express oneself.

Whenever something that’s said or done is qualified as sexist/ableist/homophobic/misogynistic/homophobic/transphobic/racist, there’s this immediate understanding that the person who said or did the thing is a sexist/ableist/misogynist/homophobe/transphobe/racist. Along the way, these adjectives took on the connotation that they’re great, big slurs meant to brand the person they’re attached to as ignorant douches.

On my Facebook feed, there was a discussion surrounding the act of men opening doors for women and how that action is sexist (when the man only opens doors for women, as opposed to politely opening doors for all, even other men). The men who opened doors for women, it seemed to me, felt as though they were being accused of being sexists (I can’t be sure that’s what was happening, but the tone indicated that, at least).

The thing is, calling out a statement or action as sexist et al is only characterizing that particular statement or action—not the person who did/said the thing. It’s as though people believe a person can’t say something that’s sexist without being a sexist pig, that a person can’t say something completely transphobic without it automatically meaning that person’s a transphobe. I can’t even count the number of sexist et al things that come out of my mouth or sprout in my mind in a single day. I would never suggest these words would characterize me as a person, the same way I might say several stupid things in a day, but I don’t consider myself a stupid person.

When we call a statement or action out as being sexist et al, we’re not automatically saying “the person is a sexist douche, so let’s bully them”—or on the flip side, “let’s gang up on the critic who called them out.” What we’re actually doing is pointing the finger as sexism itself, showing the person and everyone else witnessing the call-out that sexism is pervasive, that it’s a characterization of our culture, that it’s internalized, that we can’t let it go on unchecked anymore. We’re inviting people to think more deeply. It’s a call to the person who said or did the thing to stop and think about what was said or done, to examine what it means. It’s a big call for the person (and all those witnessing the exchange) to examine their privilege, to try and understand what this means to those who don’t benefit from that privilege.

My book isn’t even out, but I know I’ll be called out for things. I try to prepare for this (I’ve written myself my very own “Hostile Q&A” where some fake interviewer tries to rip me and my book apart for a variety of reasons), but I know it’s futile. If we writers could hold our own work up to our unbiased criticism, then we’d all be writing perfect books, and the legion of amazingly thorough, educated, critical readers out there making their living—or doing it for free—assessing and reviewing literature wouldn’t exist.

We’re humans. Not only that, but we’re not all working with the same lived experience, the same level of language, the same experience participating in formal discourse. As writers, we have things we want to say. We have messages we’re trying to share through our stories, and I’d like to think we get better at doing this the more books we write. But we don’t know how the work is received by others—there’s no control there. We might not be aware of things we said (or didn’t say) that need to be called out for closer examination. And I don’t think being called out for one thing invalidates the entire work, just like being called out for a statement or action doesn’t blemish our whole being.

I know I set out to write YA stories from my intersectional feminist perspective, but ultimately, I followed my characters along their journey, and I admit that I don’t always have control over what happens. My writing process has me surprised at every turn because I don’t plan all that much. I revise like a fiend, though. I try to analyze my story and ask myself what I’m saying with this and that, to look deeper than the sequence of events unfolding and the drama and tension that goes with that. I’m sure in trying to make this one thing clear and prominent, I ended up stepping on other things in a way that’s going to reflect badly on me. And when it’s my turn to give interviews, to articulate my thoughts intelligently and honestly, it’s entirely possible that I’ll end up saying some sexist et al things—more than possible, it’s probable.

All I hope is that when I’m being called out publicly for something I missed or didn’t do right (and by that, I mean respectfully called out by a thoughtful, critical voice), I’ll be able to step back and take the criticism and use it to up my game as a writer, and as a person.

My Favorite New Book Blog: Stacked

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About six weeks ago, someone shared a blog link on Twitter on the topic of fatness in YA. This is where I learned all about book blogger Kelly Jensen. She blogs over at Book Riot (a book blog that covers all genres and markets) and also at Stacked (a book blog that tends to favor YA). I ended up going crazy, digging through Stacked’s new and past posts. This blog is an amazing resource, not only for readers of YA fiction but also for YA writers. On it, you’ll find posts on so many relevant topics such as book cover trends, upcoming releases to keep an eye out for, YA book stats. You’ll also find posts that explore diversity, feminism, gender in relation to YA literature.

I’d like to direct your attention to some of my favorite posts—if you’re into young adult literature, you will likely find these posts as compelling as I did:

I just love this blog. The posts are so interesting and so informative. Plus I end up adding 3-4 titles to my “To Read” list every time I drop by.

Follow Kelly Jensen on Twitter: @catagator

I plan to check out Book Riot more in depth in the near future, but this recent post of Kelly’s is a must-read: 2015 Is the Year of the Feminist YA Novel. It made me add another 10 novels to my “To Read” list.

UPDATE (a few hours after original publish time) : The reason I’m promoting this blog is because I can only imagine the hours that go into preparing a quality blog post (even this current blog post of mine took a few hours and I’m not even providing any new info!), yet I get to access these terrific posts for free. I think it’s important to recognize that. As a rule, I only promote things I absolutely, stupidly love, and this blog definitely fits that criteria.

Stacked and I are new best friends!

Girl: My YA Manuscript is Going to be a Novel!

Update (July 9, 2015): My novel title has been changed from GIRL to GIRL MANS UP!

On January 8th, the news hit: My debut YA novel is set to hit shelves in 2016!

confettiI’ve known for a few months now, and it’s been really hard to keep it all inside. Girl, a young adult novel, will be published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins.

Here’s the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement: Lambda Literary Retreat fellow M-E Girard’s debut, GIRL, about a queer girl who looks and dresses like a boy, whose guy friend bullies her, whose parents attempt to change her, and who falls in love for the first time, challenging our ideas about the words we use to describe people, and who has the right to judge or define us based on what they see, to Jill Davis at Katherine Tegen Books, for publication in 2016, by Linda Epstein at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency (World English).

the-story-1440526-mI thought I might write a little about how the story was born, how it turned into a novel.

In 2010, I was taking a fiction-writing class through the continuing ed program at a Toronto college. I was working on a draft of something (that probably sucked since I don’t even remember what it is). A fellow classmate sent me this link for the 2010 Young Adult Novel Discovery contest, thinking I might be interested. Contest requirements were to enter a novel title and the first 250 words of it. I definitely wanted to enter, but I had maybe 3 days left until contest closing, and I didn’t have a novel manuscript written. But I had this little idea that had recently turned into a Chapter 1, so I decided to send that. The title was Bois Can’t Have Babies, and the 250-word paragraph was about a boyish-looking teen girl peeing on a pregnancy stick and it coming back positive.

Totally unexpected, but I ended up being a finalist, which won me a 15-minute telephone pitch with an agent, and from that phone call, I got a request for the full manuscript…which wasn’t written. Between entering the contest and finding out I was a finalist, I’d added maybe…3 chapters. It took a while, but I did get the entire thing written and polished, however things just sort of fizzled with that agent. It was fine, though, because I had a story I felt good about, and I was ready to start querying.

I sent out 6 query letters to my Top Tier agents (I wanted to start small to see what kind of response I’d get). Two never responded, and 3 sent form rejections. The 6th one to respond was my agent, Linda Epstein. (She responded the day after I’d decided my query letter sucked and needed revamping, which I’d done, along with preparing all the emails to my 2nd Tier agent batch. Ha!)

Until last spring, the story was very much following the path of my main character Pen’s queer pregnancy. Then I attended the 2013 Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices, and it was there that I started to figure out what I was really trying to say with this novel, what themes I wanted to explore. The pregnancy thing was so big, and it didn’t allow me time and freedom to explore within the story. I remember author Malinda Lo (my workshop facilitator) saying “Does she really need to be pregnant?” After ruminating on that one, I realized, no, she doesn’t need to be pregnant. Yeah, it made for a flashy one-line pitch, but ultimately, it wasn’t letting me tell the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to explore gender norms and gender identity. I wanted to explore the complicated dynamics of friendships and other close relationships as experienced by a girl who presents more like a boy to those around her, and who sometimes feels like she’s way more of a boy than she is a girl—even though, to be clear, my character is cisgender and doesn’t experience any kind of inner conflict about her birth-assigned gender; her conflict is in relation to the way society dictates what being a girl has to look like, has to feel like.

After that realization came the major rewrite from scratch (not my first, but by far my most extensive with this story), with a heads up to my agent that I was changing everything, including the entire premise for the plot. Maybe my agent was panicking inside, but if she was, she didn’t tell me that. She said she trusted me to do whatever I needed to.

Last spring, the current version of Girl was written.

Obviously, in this case, starting over with a completely different story was the right move. Once the constraints of the original plot were removed, I found I could actually preserve what was good about the initial version and make it shine. I don’t remember hitting a point of worry while writing the new version (like “Oh man, I am making a huge mistake?!”), but I have to say, it’s really really difficult to rewrite a story that you’ve already written before. All the versions were melding in my mind, and keeping track of what I’d actually done versus what I remember doing in an old draft was dizzying. The experience changed my writing process a bit, teaching me to consider my themes and think about what I’d like to say with a particular story before I set off on this path of blindly following the plot as it unfolds. Having a clear vision of the point of the story allows me to make sure every scene works for it.

If I were to describe the story in one sentence, it would go like this: Girl is a YA novel about a 16-year-old named Pen who struggles to own her identity as a girl when she looks and acts like a boy and everyone around her expects her to be one or the other.

There you have the journey of the novel, thus far. (The title had to change, for obvious reasons.)

I am so very grateful for my agent being so kickass in letting me do my thing, but also for providing me some great insights into revising the story, and then, of course, for finding me a great publisher and editor to work with.

Now that it’s official, I guess I’m entering an exciting new phase in my career as a writer. To celebrate that, I decided to revamp my formerly tacky website (check it out!).

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