Monday, September 12, 2011

YA Authors Told to "Straighten" Gay Characters by Agent

Apparently I should be reading Rose Fox's work over at Publishers Weekly more often, because she keeps coming out with really interesting articles. This time she's using her column to relate the difficulty YA authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith encountered when their (unnamed) literary agent attempted to force them to alter a gay character's orientation in their upcoming post-apocalyptic YA novel. In their own words:

"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!” "

You can read the full article over at the PW website.

This is just really sad. I'm used to hearing about religious groups or parents complaining about content in books, and I've read about librarians censoring materials when making ordering decisions, but I never really considered how much censorship can (and apparently does) happen so close to the source: the publishing companies. This makes me wonder how many books that have been altered by authors willing to make concessions to their works to get them published. Then again, I know tons of authors who are anti-censorship advocates, so it's hopefully really rare that an author caves.

What do you think?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tempest Rising

Tempest Rising by Tracy Deebs

Tempest Maguire wants nothing more than to surf the killer waves near her California home; continue her steady relationship with her boyfriend, Mark; and take care of her brothers and surfer dad. But Tempest is half mermaid, and as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she will have to decide whether to remain on land or give herself to the ocean like her mother. The pull of the water becomes as insistent as her attraction to Kai, a gorgeous surfer whose uncanny abilities hint at an otherworldly identity as well. And when Tempest does finally give in to the water's temptation and enters a fantastical underwater world, she finds that a larger destiny awaits her-and that the entire ocean's future hangs in the balance. -Plot summary borrowed from Good Reads

When I started with the mermaids theme for the summer, I really had expected more of them to be Paranormal Romances a la Twilight (love triangle, dark mysterious stranger, etc etc etc) and this has been the first to actually fit that mold. And that's not a bad thing.

While Tempest Rising reminded me a lot of Twilight (which as a reader I loathe but as a librarian, I grudgingly acknowledge that it does get teens reading, so, all grumbling aside it does do a lot of good) in the setup, Deebs does a lot of things Meyers did not. Tempest has a loving family that she is an active part of, she has a supportive network of friends, she has hobbies, an emotional life beyond her romantic life- I could go on. I did almost give up on the book when Kona, the requisite Mysterious Dark Stranger is introduced and Tempest is immediately and inexplicably drawn to him despite her misgivings blah blah see previous post. BUT, Deebs almost immediately fleshes out his character and makes it clear that there are reasons to trust and like him. 

Best of all, this novel talks a great deal about choices. Tempest has a choice whether to be human or mer, it will just be a difficult one. She can choose which, if either, boy she loves and will be the best for her. She makes one choice that has terrible consequences, which she must then face.

This was also a good read, an definitely interesting in terms of the mermaid theme. Tempest despises the idea of becoming mer (this happened a bit in Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings, but it wasn't clear why, other than the idea of having a fish tail weirded out the protagonist). For Tempest, becoming mer means becoming more like the mother she was abandoned by, and will mean leaving her family forever if she cannot resist the lure of the ocean. To me, this is much more meaningful. The mer world is not a sparkly, happy place like in Forgive My Fins, because this is a much darker book all around. Despite that, there are light moments and I enjoyed the relationship between Kona and Tempest as being much more realistic and likable than many other paranormal pairings. 

If you like paranormal romance but are looking for a heroine with a bit more of a backbone, this is a solid bet. (If you're looking for an even tougher heroine, check out Rampant by Diana Peterfreund).

It hasn't been announced yet, but I'd be surprised if a sequel is not in the works.