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.