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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Mini Rant: The Coming Out Novel and Queer Characters in YA Lit

Malinda Lo’s latest blog Coming Out 2.0 makes me think of the larger conversation surrounding “coming out” stories and queer characters in YA novels–a convo that’s been going on for…well, a while now. Mainly, it has to do with the evolution of the LGBT young adult story: this need to move away from storytelling focused largely on the negative, and to also move away from the Problem Novel. There’s also this: “Let’s put queer teens in stories and not have it be about them being queer.” Yes, I’m all over this–let’s do it!

But, I read a lot about this topic and I have to admit that a lot of the times, I’m kind of hesitant to accept all the arguments for updating LGBT YA literature.

First off, I think that putting queer teens in stories where you don’t have to address their queerness seems to lend itself better to genre stories: a gay Hunger Games, a bisexual Harry Potter, why not? There’s no good reason not to. These stories allow you freedom with worldbuilding, which means you don’t have to play by the rules of today’s realities.

rainbow m-eBut when you take realistic, contemporary teens—character-driven stories—how can coming out not have anything to do with most of those stories? The teen years = forming identity. Stage 5 of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, anyone? All young people come out in their teens—they come out as different things and it’s a big jumbled mess and they try to figure out who they are, where they fit in society, and what life’s about. But in today’s world, being queer makes you pretty different from the bulk of teens—even if you’re totally OK with being gay, even if no one gives you a hard time about it—you’re probably not living in a town that’s 90% queer, and your classroom likely doesn’t have 23 queer kids to 2 straight ones (I’m making up statistics here, but only to make a point). You’re probably going to wonder about community and where you fit, in relation to your queer identity. How can it not be a significant part of any realistic, contemporary novel?

I understand what people mean about needing to move beyond the traditional “coming out” stories, the ones that make the queerness the big problem of the entire story. I don’t feel we even need those stories anymore, because we know that writing stories about people is better than writing stories about problems.

But, I’m sort of tired of people looking at LGBT YA lit and saying a lot of it is so 2003 and we need to reinvent it. Here’s my reality: I’m concerned that anytime a teen protagonist in a realistic, contemporary novel has hurdles even slightly related to their queerness, readers are going to make these sweeping comments like “Oh, I’m so sick of queer kids only being in books to struggle with their big gay problem!” Storytelling is about exploring the character’s reality—all of it. The “coming out” isn’t the only element to base a story on—definitely—but it isn’t gone. It just looks different.

So, I love Malinda’s term Coming Out 2.0, because I really hate to think of the whole “coming out” aspect of queer teens’ lives as becoming stigmatized in YA lit. That would just…suck.