Guest Post: Jess Walton on Introducing Teddy!

I’m excited to introduce Jess Walton on the site today, to talk about her new picture book, Introducing Teddy, inspired by her transgender dad. You can see more about the book (and buy it!) here. Please welcome Jess!

Today, my book is being released in the United States. As a first time author from Melbourne, Australia, that first sentence is utterly thrilling and still quite hard to take in. I can’t imagine what it will be like for this book to exist in another country, on the shelf of a bookstore somewhere, where people can pick it up and look at it, and maybe even buy it. Over the next few days, it will also be released in the UK and Australia. Eventually, Introducing Teddy will be translated into nine other languages, something I never would have imagined being possible at the beginning of this journey.

I wrote Introducing Teddy a little less than twelve months ago, so it’s been a whirlwind of a year, but this story really started about five years ago when my dad came out as transgender. We were all surprised but accepting, though our family went through a period of adjustment as the family home was sold, Tina transitioned and my parents split up in fairly quick succession. I had come out as gay years before, and we were always a very open-minded, progressive sort of family, so my initial response to Tina’s revelation was just love and a desire to help in any way I could. As Tina’s transition progressed, all of us adult kids experienced feelings of grief, which seems completely irrational to me now. I’m told it’s a common feeling for adult kids with parents who come out as transgender later in life, but now I look back and think, ‘What was I afraid of? What did I think I’d lost? The way my dad dressed? Her old name? The sound of her voice? What on earth does this have to do with our relationship, with who she really is?’ If anything, Tina’s transition has meant I get to see my dad as she really is, and that’s deepened and strengthened our relationship. I’ve gained so much, not that it’s about me. It’s about Tina being her whole and happy self.

At some point during Tina’s transition, my siblings and I asked her about alternative names to “Dad.” We talked about “Mum” but it didn’t feel right. I looked up the word “mum” in other languages and we tried one of them for a few weeks, but that didn’t feel right either. We’d all called her Dad for our entire lives, and while the switch to the name “Tina” and the pronouns “she/her” felt right, we all agreed on keeping “dad.” It feels like a term of endearment instead of a gendered word meaning ‘male parent’. When people refer to my dad as my “father,” I correct them. She’s not my father, she’s my dad. If there’s a gendered word for parent that fits, it’s mother. I have two mothers: one I call mum, the other I call dad. Got it? Good.

Anyway, it’s not confusing to me. It’s just my family. We have mum and dad (nanna and grandma to the kids), then the four of us adult children and our partners. There are two grandkids, and one more on the way (my wife is due in August). We are a very happy rainbow family. I wanted to read my children books that reflect my family, including transgender characters. It was really hard to find anything, especially for a very young age group. I started to think the only way to get the books I wanted on to my son’s bookshelf would be to write them. I had three months off work to look after my son, and I thought, it’s now or never.

I had an idea for a picture book about a transgender teddy. My son was obsessed with a book called Teddy Took the Train by Nicki Greenberg, so I knew he’d love a book with a teddy bear as the main character. I also thought it was interesting, the way we all have teddies we love as children and give them a name and a gender even though many teddies look totally gender neutral. What if one of our beloved teddies spoke to us and said, “actually, you thought I was this gender and you gave me this name, but deep down I know I’m a girl teddy not a boy teddy, and I wish you’d call me Wendy instead of Peter.” I imagined the way that young children would react to news like that. I think they’d say, “sure, no worries! Let’s keep playing!” This story idea would allow me to focus on identity, on what we know to be true in our hearts, instead of thinking too much about gender presentation.

Once I had an illustrator on board, we decided to put the book on Kickstarter. I figured there were other families out there like mine – families with transgender grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, mums and dads, kids – who needed picture books with transgender characters. What was genuinely surprising and delightful was how many of our backers did not have a trans family member, but wanted this book for their kids anyway. They could see the diversity in the world, and wanted it reflected and celebrated in the books they read their children.

The Kickstarter really took off when Neil Gaiman tweeted about it. Suddenly backers started pouring in, and international media began getting in touch. In the end it took six days for us to hit our funding target, and by the end of the campaign we had doubled it. An amazing agent from Writers House in New York contacted us via Kickstarter. We signed up and before we knew it, our book had been picked up by Bloomsbury Publishing. I still remember the moment I got the news. It was the middle of the night when the email came from our agent. I was so happy and excited, I woke my wife up. (“BLOOMSBURY are publishing Introducing Teddy, Charlotte! Is this real?! Can this really be real?!”) There wasn’t a lot of sleep in our household that night.

So now, a year after I wrote a little story for my son Errol and my dad Tina, my book is about to be released into the world. I couldn’t be happier, and I couldn’t be more determined to keep writing into the gaps, and celebrating others who write into the gaps. I hope that Introducing Teddy will eventually be one of many picture books for young kids with transgender and gender diverse characters, and that kids will know right from the very beginning that there is nothing wrong with being yourself, and that there is everything right with being open minded, kind, and accepting of our friends and family.

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Jessica Walton lives with her wife, son, and cats in Melbourne. A former secondary teacher, Jess is passionate about literature, board games, the ukulele, and funky prosthetic legs (her current one features green dragon scales). Introducing Teddy is her first book. To find out more visit http://www.jessicawalton.com.au.

 

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Fave Five: LGBTQ YA Retellings of Classics

Using “classics” fairly loosely here, but whatevs!

Great by Sara J. Benincasa (Contemporary The Great Gatsby)

As I Descended by Robin Talley (Paranormal Macbeth)

Marian by Ella Lyons (Fantasy Robin Hood)

Beast by Brie Spangler (Contemporary Beauty and the Beast)

Ash by Malinda Lo (Fantasy Cinderella)

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Under the Gaydar: YA Fantasy Worlds

While most of books you’ll see on this site are strictly LGBTQIAP+ MC, I’m going a little outside that box for this post. (Not to worry; there’ll be plenty of posts on that too.) Most of these books do have at least one queer primary character too, but this is sort of a bigger-picture look, because these are the series that wouldn’t necessarily come up if you searched for LGBTQIAP+ YA fantasy, and, well, this is Under the Gaydar; what else do you think we do here but build your TBR list with stuff you didn’t know was actually bleeding rainbows?

(N.B.: every book listed is the first in the series, but that’s not necessarily the book with the greatest amount of Rainbow Rep.)

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The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine Not only is the premise of this book, about a girl who’s supposed to become a queen with massive powers and then just kinda…doesn’t, pretty epic on its own, but the main character is also quite besotted with her handmaiden. As per usual in Fantasy, the word “bisexual” isn’t used, but the differentiation of her feelings from simply being friendly is done clearly, and the guy she ends up with never feels like a romance she settled for. Next year will bring the sequel, The Cursed Queen, which according to the author similarly has a bi MC, this time with f/f endgame.

And I Darken by Kiersten White – This historical fantasy is one of my biggest obsessions of the year, and features two narrators: a bloodthirsty girl named Lada and her brother, a softer, more beautiful boy named Radu. Oh, and both are in love with Mehmed, the son of the sultan of the Ottoman Empire in which they’re effectively being held captive.

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – The voice in this one alone could kill me, but one of the best things outside of the main character, macaron references, and NYC love is the amazing haters-to-lovers banter between Jasper and Dorian, two of the guys in her gang, who bring yet more wittiness to the series, along with some gayness and pansexuality.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu – One of my favorite fantasy series so far (two books down, one to come this fall) is all about villainy origins, but I’ll take a spin off on the queer romance that edges in through the cracks any day.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – I have to cop to that this is the one series on the list I haven’t started yet, but the absolutely glowing comments on varied representation in Shadow Scale, the second book in the duology, won’t allow me to leave it off the list until I do, especially since it’s the only mainstream-published fantasy I know of with trans representation.

Fave Five: Contemp f/f NA

Black Iris and Cam Girl by Elliot Wake w/a Leah Raeder

Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon

The Good Girls by Teresa Mummert

Take Them by Storm by Marie Landry

Out on Good Behavior and Under the Lights (YA/NA) by Dahlia Adler

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TBRainbow Alert #1

For those of you who feel like you’ve already read every LGBTQIAP+ book in existence, not to worry – there’s plenty still to come! Every TBRainbow Alert will have a mix of five LGBTQIAP+ titles to make sure are on your radar, along with three reasons why you should know them. Here are a few coming up in 2016! (Title links to Goodreads; Author links to book pages for preorder.)

Title: Roller Girl (July 25)
Author: Vanessa North
Genre/Category: Contemporary Romance
Rainbow details: f/f, trans woman and cis woman
Why put it on your radar?
1. Ummm roller derby? Did you not catch that?
2. This is actually gonna be my first Vanessa North read, but far as I can tell she’s pretty great!
3. Mainstream f/f Romance is still reasonably rare, and including at least one trans woman even more so.

Title: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit (August 30)
Author: Jaye Robin Brown
Genre/Category: Contemporary YA
Rainbow details: f/f, both MC and LI are lesbian and cis
Why put it on your radar?
1. Super fun, cute, and hot f/f YA with an HEA; all the things I almost never find together in one space.
2. Really great exploration of the intersection between queerness and religion.
3. It’s set in the south, where queer teens could especially stand to see their stories in happy contexts right now.

Title: As I Descended (September 6)
Author: Robin Talley
Genre/Category: Paranormal YA
Rainbow details: f/f, bi MC
Why put it on your radar?
1. This is a freaking Macbeth retelling. In boarding school. With ghosts. I MEAN.
2. I haven’t read this one yet but I’ve heard rumblings of a much A+ representation in this book, in addition to queerness.
3. Robin Talley is maybe the author most frequently and consistently publishing LGBTQ YA with a big house right now, and always does so with an eye on intersectionality; she’s just generally a fabulous person to support.

Title: Last Seen Leaving (October 4)
Author: Caleb Roehrig
Genre/Category: YA Thriller
Rainbow details: Questioning/Gay boy
Why put it on your radar?      1. Thrillers are my crack. Willing to bet I’m not alone there.
2. Debut author! Love getting in on the ground floor of a potential great new voice in LGBTQIAP+ YA, and all signs (and reviews)(and, if I’m being honest, his tweets) point to him being someone to watch
3. It’s just so…interesting. And resonant. And the representation is every bit as beautiful as the writing.

Title: When the Moon Was Ours (October 4)
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genre/Category: Magical Realism YA
Rainbow details: m/f, queer cis girl and straight trans boy
Why put it on your radar?
1. The writing is melt-your-brain beautiful.
2. QPoC are incredibly rare in YA, as are romances between PoC (and especially interracial romances between PoC), and this is between a Latina girl and a Desi boy.
3. It’s just so…interesting. And resonant. And the representation is every bit as beautiful as the writing.

Stay tuned for the next TBR Alert, coming soon; in the meantime, please spread the word about these!

Quick LGBTQ Reads News Roundup!

There’s a lot happening today in the world of LGBTQ Reads, so a quick catchup for anyone getting overwhelmed by it all!

First, there’s some new stuff on the site: in addition to a brand-new Fave Five post, the SFF section has been updated to include YA as well, so that SFF for all ages can be found in one spot. There’s also a new page that is very much in progress, so that you can now find LGBTQIAP+ Manga, comics, and graphic novels as well. Thanks to everyone who’s been helping provide recommendations!

Second, two new gay Contemporary YA releases today, both dealing with mental health:

Jerkbait by Mia Siegert

Keywords: gay, hockey, twins, tw: suicide, online predators, GAY ATHLETE in case you didn’t catch that

Rec to: I mean, there’s almost no gay sports anything in YA, so.

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Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Keywords: gay, agoraphobia, friendship, literal LOLs

Rec to: Fans of mental health YA and Everything, Everything and also just funny, feelsy YA in general

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Aaaaand finally, a cover reveal for an upcoming YA that is an f/f Robin Hood. Yes, you read that correctly:

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 Marian by Ella Lyons releases on November 3rd, and you can add it on Goodreads here!

Quick reminder that LGBTQ Reads is also on Tumblr, and if you need a rec or twelve, you can always Ask!

Fave Five: Dystopian LGBTQ YA

Dystopian can be a tough genre to track down these days, especially because it’s usually mashed up with another genre. But for those who’ve been on the hunt, here are five to get you started!

The Culling by Steven dos Santos (G)

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow (B, f/f)

Willful Machines by Tim Floreen (G)

Coda by Emma Trevayne (B, m/f)

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (GQ)

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Fave Five: Mental Health LGBTQ YAs

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, check out these excellent LGBTQ YAs featuring main characters dealing with mental health issues:

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz (B, Eating Disorder)

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley (G, Agoraphobia)

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (G, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (GF, Anxiety)

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield (L, Depression w/suicidal ideation and self-harm)

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Better Know an Author: Rebekah Weatherspoon

A002_C005_0514C7.0001771FIf you read f/f NA/Romance, it’s pretty impossible not to know Rebekah Weatherspoon, but how well do you really know Rebekah Weatherspoon? (Also, not to brag, but I just got to see her on several panels at RT and she was freaking fantastic; if you ever get the opportunity to hear her panel somewhere, DO IT.) How could I not beg to pick the brain behind not only a seriously epic collection of diverse romance, but the entire #WoCInRomance site? (PS she also had a new release just this past weekend: check out So Right, the sequel to So Sweet, which share a bi heroine in an m/f relationship!)

I usually avoid asking authors about their inspiration because I know it gets asked to death, but you have a paranormal lesbian sorority series, and I’m sorry but I must know where the idea for that came from. Must. 

Ha! I don’t know where the idea came from, I remember exactly where I was when the idea came to me. I was driving down Wilshire Blvd and I hit the intersection at New Hampshire Ave (I’m from New Hampshire, you see). The idea popped into my head and I remember thinking this is so ridiculous and over the top I’ll be kicking myself if I don’t run with it. So I did.

You’re one of very few writers of f/f NA, and bless you for it. What have been the biggest challenges and awesome moments of publishing it?

Honestly, I don’t see any challenges. I think a lot of my work is outside of the mainstream. I write a lot of women of color and being a woman of color I face the same challenges walking down the street or going to the bank. It’s just another day.

What’s a particularly conscious choice you’ve made in your representation?

I’ve made the choice to write women of color, particularly young black women. I feel like young women of color (tween-25) almost NEVER seen themselves on screen or in literature. And if they are screen they are sometimes played by an adult. I love Arden Cho something fierce, but she was like 28 when she started playing a 17-year-old on Teen Wolf. I know that sort of thing messes with the teen mind. In writing NA, I wanted to give younger women a most realistic portrayal of themselves. Even if there are vampires involved.

What’s the first queer representation you saw in any medium that really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

Oh man, I really have to think. When I was growing up none of the LGBTQ terms were in my vocabulary. My parents just had friends that were married to other women, but they didn’t tell me they were lesbians so I didn’t have the words for it. BUT I think Ricky on My So-Called Life stuck with me. Ricky was gay and out and Latino and living in a mostly white town, but he was also so cool. I remember really wishing that Ricky could find his own happiness outside of Angela and her family. I’m sure he’d have it by now.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

Uh, there’s a lot of racism. That kinda sucks. Also a lot of different flavors of misogyny and transmisogny and transphobia that sneak in. When I came out I remember being really excited and then extra bummed that a lot of what I was seeing in the straight/cis community was presenting in every aspect of the LGBTQIAP+  community as well including our literature.

Which of your books has queer representation?

Main characters? So Sweet, So Right, The Fling, Treasure, SATED, At Her Feet, Better Off Red, Blacker Than Blue, and Soul to Keep

What’s your favorite of your covers, and why?

You can’t make me choose. I won’t choose. (Blogger’s note: This is legit; her covers are fanfreakingtastic. You can scroll through them all here.)

What are some of your favorite queer-centric things on the Internet?

Tumblr. Aint nothing queerer than my tumblr feed.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Watching TV. I’m super boring, but I’m also kind of obsessed with consuming media. To be a writer or to work in entertainment you have to know what’s going on. I watch a ton of TV and a lot of movies.

What are your favorite LGBTQIAP+ reads?

What would you still love to see in LGBTQIAP+ lit?

A lot less of the crud I mentioned before with the bigotry, etc. and I NEED more queer New Adult reads, and I would sell my grandma for more erotic queer lit of every kind. Queer erotic fairy tales, queer erotic sports romances, queer erotic romantic comedies. Make ’em queer, and sweet, and extra porny.

What’s up next for you?

Self-pub wise, after I wrap up the Sugar Baby series in the fall I’ll be working on some space lesbian erotic romance. There’s not enough erotic romance in space, featuring lesbians.

Ain’t that the truth. You can buy any and all (preferably all) of Rebekah’s books here! (If you’re a Kindle person like I am, I’ll make that even easier here.)

Under the Gaydar: Heartbreaker Edition

“Under the Gaydar” features books you might not realize have queer content but do! And definitely belong on your radar.

This week we’re looking at some f/f YA heartbreakers – books that will totally kill your soul, but are so good, you need to read each and every one anyway.

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Far From You by Tess Sharpe Part murder mystery, part tragic love story, and a whole lotta excellence in Sharpe’s debut. Not only does main character Sophie possess one of the only (very well-done) examples of invisible disability in YA, but she was also the first character many current readers had ever seen self-ID as bisexual in a YA novel. (Also one of very few examples of an on-page sex scene in YA between girls. Basically, this book broke a lot of molds, and we’re very grateful for it!)

This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp – Plenty of people are aware of This is Where it Ends; after all, it is a New York Times bestseller, and it’s kiiiinda hard to ignore that cover. That tagline. That premise. That…everything. But not everyone knows that two of the four POVs present in the book belong to two halves of a lesbian couple, Sylv and Autumn, and they’re at the center of the hunt.

Paperweight by Meg Haston – When people argue about sexuality being a spoiler, this is the kind of story I imagine they mean, but at this point, if you haven’t picked this one up, then allow me to use this to steer you in its direction, because I also know it to be one of the best representations of an Eating Disorder in YA.

Beautiful by Amy Reed – Cassie is in a major downward spiral, shifting into a life of popularity and beauty in her new town that’s as alien to her as her new skin, her new friends, her new capacity for adventure. And in that journey, Cassie only truly gets close to one person, but Sarah is every bit as full of pain and not quite as thoroughly numbed.