Say Yes To Gay YA

From Publishers Weekly. Mirrored in full here because Neil Gaiman mentioned it and it got slashdotted.

Link to original post

Authors Say Agents Try to “Straighten” Gay Characters in YA

Rose Fox — September 12th, 2011

Editor’s note: The text of this post was written by Rachel Manija Brown, author of All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, and Sherwood Smith, author of Crown Duel and a great many other novels for adults and young adults. I am posting it in order to provide a pseudonymity-friendly space for comments from authors who have had similar experiences to the ones that Rachel and Sherwood describe. I strongly encourage all authors, agents, editors, publishers, and readers to contribute to a serious and honest conversation on the value and drawbacks of gatekeeping with regard to minority characters, authors, and readers, and to continue that conversation in all areas of the industry. –Rose

Say Yes To Gay YA

By Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

We are published authors who co-wrote a post-apocalyptic young adult novel. When we set out to find an agent for it, we expected to get some rejections. But we never expected to be offered representation… on the condition that we make a gay character straight, or cut him out altogether.

Our novel, Stranger, has five viewpoint characters; one, Yuki Nakamura, is gay and has a boyfriend. Yuki’s romance, like the heterosexual ones in the novel, involves nothing more explicit than kissing.

An agent from a major agency, one which represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series.

We knew this was a pie-in-the-sky offer—who knew if there would even be sequels?—and didn’t solve the moral issue. When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.

LGBTQ teenagers already get told this. They are four times more likely than straight teenagers to attempt suicide. We’re not saying that the absence of LGBTQ teens in YA sf and fantasy novels is the reason for that. But it’s part of the overall social prejudice that does cause that killing despair.

We wrote this novel so that the teenagers we know—some of whom are gay, and many of whom are not white—would be able, for once, to read a fun post-apocalyptic adventure in which they are the heroes. And we were told that such a thing could not be allowed.

After we thanked the agent for their time, declined the offer, and hung up, Sherwood broke the silence. “Do you think the agent missed that Becky and Brisa [supporting characters] are a couple, too? Do they ever actually kiss on-page? No? I’M ADDING A LESBIAN KISS NOW!”

This Is Not About One Bad Apple

This isn’t about that specific agent; we’d gotten other rewrite requests before this one. Previous agents had also offered to take a second look if we did rewrites… including cutting the viewpoint of Yuki, the gay character. We wondered if that was because of his sexual orientation, but since the agents didn’t say it out loud, we could only wonder. (We were also told that it is absolutely unacceptable in YA for a boy to consensually date two girls, but that it would be okay if he was cheating and lying. And we wonder if some agents were put off because none of our POV characters are white.)

We absolutely do not believe that all our rejections were due to prejudice. We know for a fact that some of them weren’t. (An agent did offer us representation, but we ended up passing due to creative differences that had nothing to do with the identities of the characters.)

This isn’t about one agent’s personal feelings about gay people. We don’t know their feelings; they may well be sympathetic in their private life, but regard the removal of gay characters as a marketing issue. The conversation made it clear that the agent thought our book would be an easy sale if we just made that change. But it doesn’t matter if the agent rejected the character because of personal feelings or because of assumptions about the market. What matters is that a gay character would be quite literally written out of his own story.

We are avoiding names because we don’t want this story to be about one agent who spoke more bluntly than others whose objections were more indirectly expressed. Naming names can make it too easy to target a lone “villain,” who can be blamed and scolded until everyone feels that the matter has been satisfactorily dealt with.

Forcing all major characters in YA novels into a straight white mold is a widespread, systemic problem which requires long-term, consistent action.

When we privately discussed our encounter with the agent, we heard from other writers whose prospective agents made altering a character’s minority identity—sexual orientation, race, disability—a condition of representation. But other than Jessica Verday, who refused to change a character’s gender in a short story on an editor’s request, few writers have come forward for fear of being blacklisted.

We sympathize with that fear. But we believe that silence, however well-motivated and reasonable from a marketing point of view, allows the problem to flourish. We hope that others will speak up as well, in whatever manner is safe and comfortable for them.

The overwhelming white straightness of the YA sf and fantasy sections may have little to do with what authors are writing, or even with what editors accept. Perhaps solid manuscripts with LGBTQ protagonists rarely get into mainstream editors’ hands at all, because they are been rejected by agents before the editors see them. How many published novels with a straight white heroine and a lesbian or black or disabled best friend once had those roles reversed, before an agent demanded a change?

This does not make for better novels. Nor does it make for a better world.

Let’s make a better world.

What You Can Do

If You’re An Editor: Some agents are turning down manuscripts or requesting rewrites because they think that the identities of the characters will make the book unsalable. That means that you, who might love those characters, never even get to see them.

If you are open to novels featuring LGBTQ protagonists or major characters, you can help by saying so explicitly. When agents realize that LGBTQ content does not lead to a lost sale, they will be less likely to demand that it be removed.

The same goes for other identity issues. If you are interested in YA fantasy/sf with protagonists who are disabled, or aren’t white, or otherwise don’t fit the usual mold, please explicitly say so. General statements of being pro-diversity don’t seem to get the point across. We ask you to issue a clear, unmistakable statement that you would like to see books with protagonists or major characters who are LGBTQ, people of color, disabled, or any combination of the above.

If You’re An Agent: If you are open to manuscripts with major or main LGBTQ characters, please explicitly say so in your listings and websites. Just as with editors, simply saying “we appreciate diversity” could mean anything. (In fact, the agent who asked us to make our gay character straight had made such mentions.) You can throw the gates open by making a clear and unmistakable statement with details. For instance: “I would love to see books whose characters are diverse in all or any respects, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and national origin.”

If You’re A Reader: Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs by buying, reading, reviewing, and asking libraries to buy existing YA fantasy/sf with LGBTQ protagonists or major characters. If those books succeed financially, more like them will be written, represented, and sold. Your reviews don’t have to be positive; any publicity is good publicity. Review on blogs, Amazon, Goodreads, anywhere you yourself read reviews.

An annotated list of YA sf/fantasy with main or major LGBTQ characters is available here, with links to Amazon. Please bookmark this list for reference. It will continue to be updated as new books are released.

Characters of color/non-white characters are often also relegated to the status of sidekicks in YA sff, and are depicted as white on the covers of the few books in which they do star. Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs to support novels in which they are protagonists.

An annotated list of YA sf/fantasy with protagonists of color is available here, with links to Amazon. Part I: Author surnames from A – L. Part II: Author surnames from M – Z. Please bookmark these lists for reference. They will continue to be updated as new books are released.

The usual protagonist of a YA sf/fantasy novel is a heterosexual white girl or boy with no disabilities or mental/neurological issues, no stated religion, and no specific ethnicity. Reading and reviewing novels whose characters break that mold in other ways would also be a step forward.

If You’re A Writer: If you have had a manuscript rejected because of the identity of the characters, or had an agent or editor request that you alter the identity of a character, please tell your story. Comment here, or leave a link to your own blog post. If you would prefer to use a pseudonym, feel free to do so; see this post for more information on Genreville’s pseudonymous comments policy and credibility verification option.

If You’re Anyone At All: Please link to this article. (If you link on Twitter, please use the #YesGayYA hashtag.) If enough people read it and take the suggestions, enormous and wonderful changes could take place.

Who We Are

This article was written by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith. Rachel Manija Brown is a TV writer, poet, and author of the memoir All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India. Sherwood Smith has published more than thirty fantasy and science fiction novels, including the adult fantasies Inda and Coronets and Steel, and the YA fantasy Crown Duel. Together, we created an animated TV series, Game World, which we sold to the Jim Henson Company.

Our YA post-apocalyptic novel, Stranger, remains unagented and unsold.


A tweeter’s guide to taming Google+

Google’s new toy, Google+, is in beta test, invitation only, but is predictably getting a lot of attention. I received an invitation on Friday 8th July, 2011, joined up and immediately went about the task of making contact with people I follow on blogs or on Twitter.

If you’re familiar with Facebook (which I used until two years ago) or Twitter, the basic ideas are all there. Rather than a Friend model, Google+ uses a Twitter-like Follow model. Unlike Twitter, you have fairly precise control over the visibility of something you share, from public posts right down to private communication to one or more people. One of the tools for this is known as “Circles”. A circle is a grouping of people you follow. You can put people in more than one circle, and you follow someone by moving their name into one or more circles and unfollow by removing them from all circles.

One thing I found at first was that, because Google+ came with canned circles called “Family”, “Friends”, “Acquaintances” and so on, I added lots of family members, friends and whatnot even though I have perfectly valid alternative ways of communicating with them. I love my friends and family but by and large I have no interest in the kind of interaction that takes place on Facebook and they undoubtedly have no wish to duplicate their Facebook accounts (if they have them) on yet another service. One Facebook ought to be enough for anybody.

There are people whose doings and opinions I do find very interesting, though. I follow them on Twitter, or on their various blogs using Google Reader. These are the people who are likely to produce and share content that is interesting to me. If Google+ is any use at all, it will be for providing a slightly more natural environment for discussion than Twitter, Facebook or blog threads. So here’s a posting that started out as a comment to a post by Ed Yong on Google+ .

I use Twitter in a very one-dimensional way. If you’re on my follow list, I’m interested in what you say. You can do this with Circles by just adding all interesting people to your “Following” circle.

In fact now I look at it I notice that I had added people to my “Family” and “Friends” circles who I’m pretty sure will either never join Google+ or, even if they do, will never say anything I will want to follow here. They can say and do all the interesting things in real life or using telephones and email and stuff.

So I just cleared out those two. This will leave me with a very sparsely populated “Acquaintances” circle and a comparatively large and Twitter-like “Following” circle. The next step is to merge these into “Following”–the fact that I’ve actually met somebody and pressed the flesh is fairly irrelevant to my experience on Google+. Okay that’s now done. So I delete the “Friends”, “Family” and “Acquaintances” circles, never used and not needed.

This is looking much more Twitter-like. But still there are some things that I like to talk about that some users would find boring or annoying. So far I have 9 circles that seem to follow the ontology (thank you, +William Gunn ) of my interests. Some people I’m following are in as many as five of those circles, while others are in just 1. Where I’ve posted here, I’ve tended to limit distribution so you won’t have seen my post unless you’re in the relevant circle. I think that’s appropriate for the kind of post I’ve made here so far.

But wait, I’ve still got a “Following” circle. The problem with that circle is that it’s intended to be a superset of the others, but that superset is artificially maintained (I manually add people there). I’m quite likely to make mistakes and forget to add people to it, and in any case Google+ provides me with the ability to share a post with all those I follow (“your circles”), and even with a much broader range (“extended circles”), which is a more elegant way of sharing with all followers. So I now trim the “Following” circle, removing everybody who is already a member of another circle. I now give that circle a more appropriate name: “+Miscellaneous” (actually I chose to copy all members to a new circle and delete the original, because otherwise it retained the “People you don’t know personally, but…” tooltip).

I’m new to Google+, but if I had been around for a bit the process above might have been a bit more painful, involving sharing previously posted material to newly created circles prior to deleting the old ones, and so on

So what have I done? Well I’ve not gone for the “flat” Twitter-like system because I do value being able to keep my interests reasonably separate. I’ve also created, as somebody suggested, a “+Inbox” group, whose membership will vary over time, but which basically corresponds to +Ed Yong ‘s “Really interesting” circle. That’s the one I’ll check most regularly for new stuff unless I’m looking for material on a particular topic.

Out went all the canned circles which are apparently based on a Facebook model I don’t have any use for. I’ve taken ownership of my Google+ experience. It’s got its own unique privacy features which I can use to avoid boring or annoying people (I sometimes wonder what my British Twitter followers make of my many excursions into US politics) but it’s got some familiar features so I’m no longer scratching my head and wondering what it’s actually for.

Kissing and maturity

Nearly all of us have been in love, or at least felt a sexual attraction for somebody, so we know what it’s like. A rrecent display of such affection caused a bit of a fuss and I’ve been watching, and participating in, the response.

Firstly although the people concerned were men I don’t think this is really restricted to attitudes to homosexuality. There seems to be a much broader discomfort, which puzzles and fascinates me.

The idea seems to have been got about that if some other people are minding their own business and, for whatever reason, I feel uncomfortable about it, I only have to complain and they have to drop whatever they were doing and stop it. Where did that come from and where is it going? Don’t like sitting next to a bloke who is reading the Daily Mail? Complain about it! Don’t like sitting next to a chap who is eating a packet of pub crisps? Complain! Don’t like the smell of cider? Complain and have the scrumpy-drinking perve moved to another part of the pub, or if necessary thrown out!

It’s hard enough to avoid tensions in London where we’re all on top of one another. If everybody who saw a couple kissing complained and had them moved on there would be more than just the odd pub kiss-in protest.

So I’d just like to put in my plea for sanity and commonsense. If somebody is doing something you don’t like looking at, look the other way. If you’re in Soho you can look out of the window at all the prostitutes and their customers. Oh hang on, perhaps that’s not to your taste. Oh well, perhaps you could try looking inwards and ask yourself: why does this display of genuine affection and love so upset me, in this district of London so notorious for its counterfeit?

A sign of maturity is to accept that we don’t have to throw our toys out of the pram just because somebody else is doing something that, inadvertently, makes us feel uncomfortable. Are these people a hazard to traffic, or to anybody’s personal safety, or are they making more noise than the droning of the passing traffic or the noise of the jukebox? If not, try looking at something else. Because making them personally responsible for your own equanimity is not on.

My complaint to Channel4 about the loss of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

My complaint is about Channel4’s apparent decision to scale back showings of Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Late last year a friendly and satirical rally organized by Comedy Central and headlined by Jon Stewart, Steve Colbert and other Daily Show performers drew tens of thousands of people in bitterly cold weather. More recently Stewart’s intervention during the lame duck session of Congress was credited with securing virtually unanimous agreement for a bill covering the exceptional healthcare needs of 9/11 First Responders–people who dug in the rubble of the World Trade Centre in their country’s time of need.

The Daily Show has become an essential key to understanding US politics and popular culture, and for that reason I admire Channel4 for bringing it to us in the UK.

It also happens to be the best political satire programme in the world.

Please restore daily broadcasts.


This is an open thread for the discussiion of problems with Wikipedia.

There’s a catch: you aren’t permitted to attack anybody. You have to explain what you think is wrong with Wikipedia, but you have to follow Wikipedia’s policy of not harming anybody.

But if Wikipedia is harming somebody, name the article and it will be zapped.


(Also you can say whatever you want about me. I won’t remove it)

The problem with the death penalty

I have probably been a bit complacent about capital punishment in recent decades, mainly because it’s not happening much except in a few countries that have an established history of barbarism…and the United States, which I don’t think is barbaric overall.

So, you spend a bit of time trying a suspect, the jury looks at the evidence and finds him guilty, and by subsidiary processes depending on the jurisdiction he’s sentenced to death. Eventually he’s killed–the methods are often rather nasty in themselves, but the point is that he doesn’t walk away, no matter how humane the process might be.

And then you find out that he was probably innocent. Now what?

Arctic sea ice III: it’s not through melting

NSIDC arctic sea ice extent graph for September 18, 2010

NSIDC Arctic sea ice extent graph for September 18, 2010

On September 15 the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced a provisional Arctic sea ice minimum extent of 4.76 million square kilometers, for September 10, based on the five-day-average calculation it uses for that purpose.   However it appears that while sea ice is beginning to grow in the East Siberian Sea, just about everywhere else the ice is still melting or consolidating.  This has led to a “double dip” in the past few days, which is currently visible in the NSIDC’s chart.

At this point we don’t know what will happen to the sea ice extent. Of course it’s bound to grow back rapidly pretty soon because so much of it melted during the summer season and there’s nothing much left that is likely to melt or consolidate. This is bringing the 2010 melt season to an interesting close.

Arctic sea ice II: thousands of walruses beached off the Chukchi sea (updated)

[Update September 26: See this video from the ever-excellent greenman3610 which gives a good overview of the topic]

The Associated Press reported on Monday that thousands of walrus cows have beached in North West Alaska because of the rapid loss of ice this summer in the Chukchi Sea. This is a very rare event but it has been recorded twice before, in 2007 and 2009. Beaching has also been reported on the Siberian side of the sea.

Joseph Romm has a more in-depth posting about this in which he discusses the implications for the regional walrus populations.  Of particular concern is the fate of walrus pups, which rely on their mothers’ milk for the first two years of life and cannot fend for themselves.  There are reliable reports of pups being stranded in open water where they could not possibly survive, after being separated from their mothers during the rapid thaw.

The walrus populations are also potentially endangered by oil exploration in the area, and the US government is considering adding the walrus to the endangered species list. The USGS maintains a web page where you can find out about the Alaska Science Center’s work on tracking the walrus populations.

Arctic sea ice I

I’m on a sea ice binge, and here’s what I’ve found.  I’ll probably follow this up at least once as the melt season closes and the figures are added up, so I’ve named it “Arctic sea ice I”.

Joe Romm is crowing over the collapse of yet more Watts/Goddard nonsense about the “rebound” of arctic sea ice and even says

My big $1000 bet with James Annan, William Connolley, and Brian Schmidt still looks pretty good, which is to say I would definitely not switch sides.

Bold, considering what he’s betting against:

“At no time between now and the end of the year 2020 will the minimum total Arctic Sea ice extent be less than 10% of the 1979-2000 average minimum annual Arctic Sea ice extent, as measured by NSIDC data or any other measurement mutually agreed-upon; provided, however, that if two or more volcanic eruptions with the energy level equal to or greater than the 1991 Mount Pinatubo shall occur between now and the end of 2020, then all bets are voided.”

As Joe Romm is quick to admit, William M. Connolley and James Annan are published climate scientists (Connolley was, I should say.  He now works in software engineering.)  Joe is betting against some pretty clever money.

Joe Romm in a December, 2007 posting makes it plain that he’s betting on accelerating sea ice summer melt rates. Intuitively I’d say that seems reasonable, though Joe’s timescale still seems implausibly ambitious. Of course, unlike William Connolley, I haven’t done any modeling, and I certainly don’t have a sophisticated understanding of arctic sea ice dynamics. At best my hunches (and that’s all they are) are simplistic extrapolations of what happens when I defrost my freezer. When the surface area to volume ratio increases the ice melts faster. This is true whether the overall volume decreases or the volume remains the same and I smash the ice up into smaller pieces. A lot more is going on in the arctic during the melt season, of course.

By way of data, NSIDC gives the following figures for September average sea ice extent in millions of square kilometres. Links are to the standard NSIDC sea ice minimum press release for each year.

Or you can see them all collected together in a table where they are also conveniently expressed as sea ice anomaly (baseline 1979-2000). The table also shows the quite noticeable apparent acceleration in the annual and decadal trend that has taken place in the past seven or eight years.  At  -7.3 million square kilometres per decade in 2002, it has risen year on year and after the 2009 season it stood at -11.2.  I’ll be interested to see if the trend drops back in the next few years; that’s to be expected if 2007 was simply an outlier on a linear trend.

How not to sell a television set

So I’m watching television.  We used, oh twenty years ago now, to have a nice little Sony Trinitron 21″. it was a cute as pie, but it started to get a bit elderly. Then we had a big old horrible second hand thing my American boss sold me before he was shipped back home.  Then it died and we now have a cheap crappy television somebody bought new about three years ago.  It’s a CRT telly, but it works and we have a gadget that kills all power when we put it on standby.  Whch is most of the time.

It’s that weird bit between television programs, where they sometimes try to sell you stuff.  The sound level goes up so I reflexively hit the mute button on the remote control. There ought to be a gadget that does that automatically, don’t you think?  As I understand it the advertising companies use compression techniques to make more noise while staying technically within the noise limits set for broadcast television audio by the regulator.  Well whatever that means, when there is a program break on commercial television in the UK the noise level goes through the roof until you hit the mute button.

I like to watch the pretty pictures.  So I stare vacantly, smiling pleasantly as silent cats, silent cars, silent washing machines, silent pretty girls, silent hunky men, and silent insane cartoon characters gambol on the screen trying to make me want to buy stuff.  I know how this part of the game is played.  “No”, my brain says, while I smile in guileful concupiscence at the gorgeous, seducative maidens who, by the magic of television, seem to say “yes.”  And my body says “yes”, of course, which is nice because at my age “yes” is no longer a word your body says five or six times a night.  The motor is still throbbing away under the bonnet, but I miss the constant purr of my younger years. So I get a bit of a buzz from the insanely pretty girls who are paid to try to sell me stuff on the television.

Sometimes a really funny advert appears.  These are ads that could have been deliberately calculated to make me laugh like a drain for weeks.  This bloke jumps out of an aeroplane, the ground whizzes up and you can see every blade of grass.  The grass stalks turn into a forest and a male mandrill, baring his frightening teeth, stands princely on the forest floor while the camera dives over his shoulder to a stream, down the stream at huge speed until it opens into rapids, where human maniacs in brightly colored lifejackets shoot the white water.  Suddenly the camera zooms to the river bank, where a praying mantis stares in that fixated manner peculiar to their type.  The camera somehow catches a glint in one of the optics of the mantis’ eye and expands it to a sumptuous cloudscape.  An aeroplane can be seen laboring through the clouds, and the camera again zooms, this time getting into the cockpit, barging past a pretty flight attendant who accidentally scalds the pilot with tea, shouldering through the cabin door to the back of the plane where, equipped with the latest Stupefikon 90 digital camera, a skydiver is waiting to jump.

Now about five seconds into that ad I’m already sure that this absolutely gorgeous  sequence is intended to persuade me to buy a new television.  The rest of the ad, of course, is wasted, because the visuals are so good that they convince me that my crappy cheap television is really incredibly good, thank you.

There’s a variant on this, involving George Takei.  Incidentally George is looking amazing for his age.  I recently went on a long bus journey with my daughter and we giggled like schoolgirls when a young Japanese man got on the bus.  He bore a certain familiar resemblance, and was drop-dead gorgeous so I said “don’t look now, but that young Japanese bloke looks exactly like a young Sulu.”   Of course I manages to turn my whisper into a hoarse shout which I was convinced Sulu heard all the way from the back of the bus, but he maintained his legendary helmsman cool and piloted the bus all the way back home without doing much more than sitting there at the front and blushing a bit.

Ah, okay, well this one involves George, the real one, not the lovely cutie on our London bus, showing us all kinds of television pictures that look wrong, and saying “aha, if only you had four types of LCD in your television this sea wouldn’t look green, it would be blue.”  But of course, I haven’t got any type of LCD in my television set and I have never had a problem seeing blue things before.  Could it possibly be a doctored picture designed to look green?  Well, it’s an idea.

In my earliest childhood years I had no television.  When we visited my grandmother’s house I would see her television and being a child I would go back behind the television where I would see the wonderful mysterious controls marked “Horiz. hold”, “Vert. hold”, “Grid pot.” and the like.   It was amazing in those days because I was a child I could really perceive that Cliff Michelmore, the round-faced bald news presenter, was squatting inside the massive box that enclosed the tiny cathode ray tube.  When we finally got a television set, of course it was 405 lines and monochrome, as were all sets of the time until the introduction of the PAL system and color TV in the late 1960s. By 1971 or so my family had a color television which could render Mister Sulu’s face in a way that made him look reasonably human.

The Sony trinitron is still up there in my son’s room and he never uses it.  Perhaps I ought to get it going again.