Category Archives: Guest post

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.

*  * * * *

unnamed

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.

 

Advertisements

Machine Gun Legs and Aromanticism: an 8th Grade Story

So excited to welcome Brooklyn Wallace aka Wes Kennedy to the site today! Her debut novella, To Terminator, With Love, features a fat Asian asexual biromantic male main character and a Black pansexual male love interest, and releases today! In honor of its entrance into the world, I asked the author to write my a post, and voila, she wrote a fabulous one! 

29002965Growing up a bisexual aromantic black girl in a Southern Baptist family in a Texas town with a population of less than 1600 wasn’t easy. Growing up a bisexual aromantic black girl in a Southern Baptist family in a Texas town with a population of less than 1600 and being the weird kid into trading cards and theatrical Japanese heavy rock was definitely not easy.

Needless to say, my formative years were the stuff PSAs were made of.

Despite my weird interests that were out of place in my little southern hole in the wall, I was pretty okay with my differences. Being black, I had a hefty extended family that lived in town so I was never really alone. I didn’t get bullied so much as ignored or asked a ton of probing questions. I made a few white friend (“You don’t even sound black!”), and otherwise ate lunch with my cousins and kept to myself. I liked being alone. I still like being alone. Three cheers for dreading human interaction!

The one area I felt weird in was dating. Everyone was doing it, or talking about doing it, or wish they were doing it. When friends would ask I would make up some excuse, or pick a guy at random and just hope they didn’t ask me anymore questions. In reality, I had zero interest in dating. The more I thought about that, though, the more it got to me. I mean, what was wrong with me? I was a teenage girl. Teenage girls date. If Moesha taught me nothing else, it was that.

I knew I appreciated the aesthetic of boys (I still have a Orlando-Bloom-as-Legolas poster in my childhood bedroom), and I would admit to absolutely no one that I appreciated the aesthetic of girls, too (there may or may not be a Rose-McGowan-in-Planet-Terror on my childhood bedroom wall, too).


But can you blame me?Dating, though? Even the thought sounded ridiculous.

So what was wrong with me?

What got me through the hectic mess that was my middle and high school years was books. We had a tiny public library in town, and a tinier school library with a dismal young adult sections. I was one of those kids that read levels ahead of myself (which gave my parents false expectations of me that fueled my spiral into a bottomless pit of C+ college despair, but that’s a horror story for another time), so I stuck with fantasy and sci-fi for my escapism. The Bartimaeus books, Eragon, and Inkheart were stories I read and re-read. In class, at lunch, and sneakily between the pages of my bible in church. You just couldn’t tear me away from lands far, far away.


The first book I ever fell in love with was Nancy Farmer’s Sea of Trolls, the first book in the Sea of Trolls trilogy. I was thirteen and browsing in section when I grabbed it on a whim. I mean, vikings? Norse mythology? I was all in. I read the whole thing in about three days, making myself stop every now and then just to last longer. The story was amazing, and I loved everything it had to give.

What I loved most, though, was what it didn’t have: romance. There’s no romantic subplot in Sea of Trolls. The protagonist, Jack, meets up with a rude, aspiring berserker named Thorgil, but the two become reluctant friends with no hint of anything more.

I had no idea how much I needed to see that until I picked up that book.

Thorgil had no time for boys. She was a shield maiden with dreams of becoming a powerful berserker and one day going up to Valhalla.

Thorgil doesn’t want a boyfriend, I thought to myself during my second reading. She doesn’t want a boyfriend, just like me. Thorgil was strong and determined and so, so cool, and she had no interest in boys. How could I be weird for not wanting to have a boyfriend when Thorgil only had eyes for her sword?

What I found in that book was a kickass shield maiden with dubious morality (like I said, my formative years were wild). I found validation in that story. I remember picking up the second book in the trilogy, The Land of the Silver Apples, with a gnawing sense of dread. What if Jack and Thorgil started liking each other in this one? What if I was wrong?

But nope. Thorgil and Jack met elves, battled evil, and rescued Jack’s sister all without so much as brushing hands. It had felt like I’d won something, which was a big deal, because roughly 86% of my life is dedicated to losing.

Through the long, long eighteen years in my tiny town I scrounged and found pieces of my identity in books. I expanded into libraries town over, broke my mother’s heart when I discovered online shopping, and took advantage of my libraries’ interloan program. Later that year I read Freak Show by James St. James—and I still have no idea how that got through to our library, by the way—and found LGBTQIA representation. I found Sharon G. Flake and was confronted with my own internalized anti-blackness. I read books about powerful black girls and bisexual heroines and weirdos who loved themselves for being weirdos. I found me, and wondered how I ever got through not seeing me for so long.

Later, when I found words for the way I felt, I mellowed. Now I write queer romance novels (Aromantic Romance Author has a ring to it, eh?) and do my best to include a variety of identities into my stories. It’s an amazing experience to write the stories I needed when I was younger, and stories that I still need now, but not everyone has that chance. So many people are quick to call representation in books and shows pandering, but I call it realism. People are diverse, and stories that reflect our lives should be just as diverse.

Somewhere there’s a dorky 8th grader with an unhealthy Rose McGowan obsession wondering if there’s something wrong with them. The stories you tell could help them, even if it’s just one, feel a lot less alone, and isn’t that kind of power amazing?

biopicBrooklyn Wallace (aka Wes Kennedy) is a queer fiction author and starving graduate student from the great state of Texas. She loves libraries, hot wings, Pepsi, Blaxploitation, the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, and kpop. An anxious perpetual sleeper with a penchant for self-deprecating humor, Brooklyn has a soft spot for writing comedies, forbidden love, and nerdy queers.

When not writing, she enjoys touring various anime and sci-fi conventions across Texas, reading and writing fanfiction, yelling about sports, and watching TV shows religiously. Her debut novella, To Terminator, With Love, releases April 27th.