My NoVaTEEN 2017 Experience

Let’s be honest here: I suck at blogging. It’s just not my thing. Blog posts take a significant amount of effort and I’d rather be spending that time and effort on other things (like on the clicking involved with navigating Netflix, for example). But seeing as my last post was over 6 months ago, I’m going to drop a little something to make this part of my social presence look alive. Just because my blog is mostly frozen in time doesn’t mean I’m not around. Catch me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

Anyway…

On March 11, 2017 the NoVaTEEN book festival took place in Arlington, Virginia. I had the pleasure of being one of the many YA authors who participated in the festival. Man, did I fangirl at NoVaTEEN. I’m so impressed at the group of authors that were brought together for this one teen-focused day. I got to meet Jaye Robin Brown, Nina Lacour, Zoraida Cordova, Caleb Roehrig, Rafi Mittlefehldt, among many others.

My NoVaTEEN experience started out with an author visit at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria where I met a group of library staff and a couple groups of students. I got to have lunch while chatting with the teens about all kinds of writerly and queer things. This was also my first experience being mic’d up for a presentation I gave that was filmed by the T.C. Williams a/v crew. An Open Book Foundation also got involved by donating copies of GIRL MANS UP for the students in attendance—how awesome is that?

I had another author visit the next day at Marshall High School in Falls Church. Once again, some excellent library people and a couple groups of teens. We talked about so many things. There were such great questions, and I was so pumped to know quite a few of them had read my book! I took home a stack of thank-you notes from the student and a ton of excellent memories.

This is the first time I’ve been able to interact with teens who read my book. It was a pretty massive deal for me. It’s still quite weird to me when I think about the fact that I’ve written a book that strangers have access to.

I felt like time went by way too fast! I could’ve hung out with the teens and librarians at both schools for an entire day and I still would’ve been chatting away. It was such an enriching experience for me, as a writer of teen fiction, to get to hang out in schools and talk to young people. There are only so many times adults can find themselves in high school again, so I definitely was hyperaware of everything that was going on, observing closely, because these were perfect opportunities to do some research!

I am so thankful to both schools and NoVaTEEN for making these visits happen.

NoVaTEEN was such a well-organized, exciting experience. I have never seen so many teens at a book event! I would absolutely recommend attending and/or participating.

Check out some of my photos!

Girl Mans Up Book Launch #1: Toronto

Last night was the official book launch for my debut YA novel Girl Mans Up. It was downtown Toronto, at Glad Day Bookshop’s new location. The space is amazing, and I highly recommend having literary events there. It was the perfect spot for my launch, and I’m sure you’ll see that by looking at the photos.

Glad dayWhat is Glad Day Bookshop? Glad Day is the oldest surviving queer bookstore in the world (established in the ‘70s. It is also Toronto’s oldest bookstore. They have been location on Yonge Street, but are now working toward moving to a new (and accessible!) location on Church Street, reinventing themselves as a café/nightspot/bookstore/literary event venue.

Let me describe the scene and events for you a little (especially for those to whom the photos are useless!): The space is a modern-looking restaurant/bar. The reading/Q&A was set up in the front, with the window wall opened so we could experience the nice September downtown-Toronto night. I had a station set up with a canvas for attendees to sign. That’s going up in my office as a Toronto launch keepsake! I also had a photo area where attendees picked up a sign (that I made myself so it was nothing fancy :P) and posed for photos, which will be turned into a cool photo diary series I’ll be posting separately. For those who read the book, you’ll know why this photo idea was significant. 😉 There were amazing snacks set up (including the world’s best cupcakes), and Glad Day was there to serve beverages. We all just stood or sat around, mingling. I was so freaking pumped to see each face that popped in. I was floored by how many people I didn’t know personally came!

Around 8pm, Michael, one of Glad Day’s owners—the dude who worked his magic to make my launch happen there—came on to quiet the room. He then introduced Suzanne, my editor at HarperCollins Canada. She gave me the best intro ever. I felt like my face was going to split in half from smiling so damn much. I went up to the mic and instantly, I felt like doing karaoke. Instead, I talked a little bit about GMU, then I did a short reading. I was about to walk off when Michael stopped me! Apparently I was about to give up the opportunity for a Q&A. I honestly thought I’d be boring everyone by staying up there talking. Ha! I got some awesome questions, and I really felt like people had a good time, judging by all their engaged, smiling faces. That was an amazing experience.

And now, can we talk about the lineup of people who bought my book and had it signed? What a crazy-cool experience. I just wanted to sit and chat with everybody forever, especially because I hadn’t seen some of these people for a while. I’m blown away by the number of people who turned up, including some of the HarperCollins Canada team (Hi Suzanne, Melissa, Shamin, and Jessica!), and my agent Linda Epstein who flew up from New York. (I wish my HarperTeen editor Jill Davis would’ve been able to attend!)

Linda also brought me a gift: Earlier, she’d sent out one of her GMU ARCs out to her clients who then passed it around and scribbled inside as they read. They then wrote me notes at the back, almost the way we’d sign each other’s yearbooks in high school. This is one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever gotten. Getting to read people’s thoughts as they experienced the story is magical. I am going to find a way to hang this well-worn ARC on my wall to display it.

I’d done my research on book launches, and I tried to plan for a fun evening, but I could never have planned for all the awesomeness that came from having the best venue, the coolest gang of attendees, and for the publishing people who took the time to come celebrate with me. I really think this was the best book launch in the entire world.

And now I get to have another one! Next Wednesday, September 7th 2016, in Ajax (Ontario). I cannot wait!!!

Now for the photos! (And for just the individual photos, check out this post.)

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Girl Mans Up Earns a Kirkus Star!

Okay. So.

A few days ago, I was incredibly thrilled and giddy over the fact that Girl Mans Up was included in Barnes & Noble’s blog list 22 of Our Most Anticipated LGBTQ YA Novels of the Second Half of 2016The blog was written by Dahlia Adler, an influential voice in the queer literary world, and I was completely overjoyed to read her review of GMU.

“I have to admit to not realizing how necessary this book was until I read it, not just for featuring a solid, healthy, romantic relationship between two girls for about the longest stretch I’ve ever seen in a Girl Mans Up CoverYA novel, but as a study of gender and sexuality and how they meet and clash in ways I haven’t seen on the page before.”

It is so humbling and motivating to see your little book—a book that isn’t even out yet!—be included in such a list.

And today…another super exciting thing happened:

Kirkus Reviews has awarded GMU one of its prestigious stars. I mean…what?!

A bit of context here: Kirkus Reviews is a longstanding American book review trade publication. I hear they are regarded as an authoritative voice in the literary world, and notoriously tough on reviews. Their star is said to be awarded to about 10% of the books they review each year, which, according to their website, go to books of “exceptional merit.”

And Girl Mans Up got a star.

I can’t believe I’m typing this.

“A strong genderqueer lesbian character, imperfect, independent, and deserving of every cheer.”

I am totally stuck between “floored” and “giddy.” This is a huge validation. Its a mega motivator. It’s absolutely amazing. I’m super critical of anything I create (aren’t we all), but I worked my ass off on this book, and I’m so proud of what it grew to become. When you’re kind of lost in #AmWriting hell, getting this piece of good news is everything. It makes me think that maybe I could do this again. Maybe even better on the second try? Stay tuned, I guess! 😛

I celebrated this moment by ordering pizza. I’m not a fancy girl at all. 😉

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.

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