“Why do YOU care?”

People Really Interested in Diversity Education (PRIDE), Fall 2015, South Central College

People Really Interested in Diversity Education (PRIDE), Fall 2015, South Central College

Before I get started, you need to read this LGBTQIA+ perspective on what you do for your kids, and have Kleenex.  History matters. Read it.

So many LBGTQIA+ folks have spoken out after Orlando and its aftermath, and you should listen to them way before you listen to me.  I just want to add support.

+++

Several years ago, a man I know (someone I was relatively close to) asked me why the LGBTQIA+ community matters so much to me. With a bit of contempt, he said, “Why do YOU care about THEM?”  The implication was, of course, “Straight people don’t need to care about those weirdos, and are you gay too?”

I’ve been thinking about his question in the aftermath of Orlrando, because I literally in the actual dictionary sense don’t understand why everyone isn’t supportive of this community. I literally cannot and do not get it. This statement may make me a prejudiced bigot, but I’m OK with being bigoted for a group of people who did nothing but be born who they are.

The short answer to his question (the one I gave at the time): BECAUSE THEY ARE AWESOME PEOPLE AND I LOVE AND APPRECIATE THEM, so I have their back. Duh. And because I strive to treat people the way I want my kid to be treated—welcomed and appreciated for who he is. The man accepted all of it and went away, but not without a little side eye.

But after Orlando, let’s get specific. That man needs to understand he’s missing out on one of the most welcoming, kind, beautiful communities out there. He needs to know why his heart should ache after murders happened in a safe space (he’d laugh at the idea that a gay club was a safe haven), why BATHROOM BILLS SHOULD NOT BE A THING IN ANY WAY, and why he should cringe when a lawmaker in my home state says “If LGBT people don’t like it here, they can move.”

So . . . my long answer?

*These kind folks can make use of my mega crap-ton of privilege—they can talk when I’m supposed to, so they get heard instead of me. That privilege also requires me to say things like “Hey! Your side-eying, contemptuous, arrogant self needs to grow up and get with the program.  These folks are trying to live their lives, just like you.  Can your bullshit.”

*Who doesn’t want to hang out with the people in that photo up there?  They’re so much fun, and so smart and interesting (and if people want to think I’m LGBTQIA+ too, that’s perfect).

*This community claims their identities (even if they don’t feel they can be open about it), and I admire and respect that in a huge way.  As a culture, we need to get better at supporting the decision to being yourself. Related to that –> we also HAVE to eliminate the narrative of “Being LGBTQIA+ is a choice.”  NO. Identity is inborn, though it can look like choice (and be complicated) if identities shift and change.

And tell me: why would people *choose* identities that get them killed??? Yeah, no.

PRIDE fam outtakes

PRIDE fam outtakes

(Seriously, aren’t they the best? Please please please don’t hurt them.)

*It really sucks to feel alone and unwelcome.

*Internalized hate is dangerous and deadly (see also, possibly: the Orlando shooter), and I don’t want to help perpetuate that shame.

*There are important stories in this community, and it’s my job to create a space where people can tell them. We need their voices desperately.

*My LGBTQIA+ friends have taught me so much, and I need to repay their kindnesses.

*I’ll say it again, really loudly: I LOVE A LOT OF LGBTQIA+ PEOPLE, because they’re strong, smart, and fantastic people, and I love this community.  Love their spirit, their refusal to be dismissed and defeated, their resistance.  Beautiful people. I love them.

*Why WOULDN’T I care?  Why don’t YOU care?

There’s the long answer.

Happy Pride month to the smart, gorgeous, kind, generous LGBTQIA+ individuals in the world, especially to my friends and family members. So glad you’re here.  Thanks a million for sharing yourselves with me. I’m here for you. You’re why I care.

Posted in advocacy, gratitude, LBGT issues, props, screechingly liberal posts, Sticking It To The Man, yawp | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Gabe’s words/my words: losing Prince (1958-2016)

Rock icon Prince as a young man on a MInneapolis street.

A young Prince in Minneapolis.

(This series of Prince photos–at maybe 19?–are complete treasures. Look them up.)

The first time I heard a Prince song, I was 14, and it was probably “1999.”  But the one that hit me most was “Little Red Corvette.”  I knew I was listening to someone unlike any other musician I’d ever heard.  He was one of those people who asks you to lift your head up from the daily grind and pay attention.  And I did.  A lot.  I had no idea how this African American kid from a huge urban area reached inside the head and heart of a rural white girl, but he got me, and I got him, not to mention the fact that I was gobsmacked at how sexy he was, and completely enchanted by the energy in his music.

When I moved to Minnesota, I realized people worship Purple Rain (which isn’t a particular favorite of mine), and fully believe Prince is a personal friend.  Prince sightings are both common and legendary in Minnesota, and I was hoping hoping hoping to be one of those people someday.  Lately, Prince has been giving impromptu concerts and pajama parties (musical ones, of course) at Paisley Park, and I was hoping to snag an invite somehow.  I had hoped he might show up on stage with Stevie Wonder last spring, when he played here (no luck).  And now my chances of being part of the legend are over.

No adequate words can say what Prince’s death means to the music world, or to Minnesota, or to me, so instead I’m going to give you some of what Gabe had to say about Prince.  BEAUTIFUL MUSIC FOR UGLY CHILDREN was my chance to pay a tiny bit of homage to his genius, and I took it.

I want to start with this quotation, from a few pages before the Prince stuff.  When music gets you through, gets you by, makes you strong, makes you less alone, you know what Gabe means when he says this:

When the headphones are tight on my ears, the sounds slide into my bloodstream like little silver fish, racing and flashing.  Music doesn’t hurt me.  It’s love that just loves you, and doesn’t care who you are or what’s between your legs.

Music is life.

That’s what music was for Prince.  That what it is for all his fans, and all music lovers.

Some context for the Prince section: Gabe’s best friend (and secret love) Paige isn’t talking to him, and he’s completely distraught.  He’s also getting all sorts of (suprising) attention from a woman named Heather. He’s thinking a lot about sex (and who’s better to think about sex with than Prince?). He’s also dealing with the violence that’s coming his way.

*****

Friday night.  John almost didn’t let me come [to the radio station] by myself, but I showed him my can of mace and my new pocket knife, and he relented.  I need to be alone, because tonight is a Prince show.  I know some people hate him but his music is timeless, old-school and new all at the same time.  He’s also a Minnesota son, so I think he deserves a show.  But Prince is all about sex, so my imaginary dick is twitching again.  I don’t need John around while my mind is in the gutter.

Paige always admires Prince’s fashion sense, starting with the thigh-high leather stiletto boots and no visible pants of any kind in his “Controversy” video.  When he does wear clothes, he’s quite dashing.  But a few years ago he wore pink pants to the Academy Awards.  Please.

[ . . . ]

“Welcome, welcome, to Beautiful Music for Ugly Children on 90.3 community radio, KZUK, and welcome, dear Ugly Children Brigade.  Thank you for the Elvises last week.  How did you manage to find that many shredded tires–or that many Velvet Elvis paintings?  I want to know who those belong to.  For those of you who are new, I’m Gabe, and today is a Prince show.  First piece of trivia: Prince is the name on his birth certificate.  And here’s ‘I Feel For You,” made popular by Chaka Khan’s remake, but written by the Small Sexy One.”

This is even worse than the seduction show.  I try to keep my brain in useful territory, and I put more songs on and take them off, all the while chatting about Prince trivia.  Then I see Paige, clubbing in the Cities, looking sweaty and adorable.

My phone beeps with another text:  want to hook up?

Sproing.  Imaginary dick in action.  I respond:

On the air.  U r not listening?

Then I almost miss my cue.  “So, Beautiful Children, we can’t deny Prince is amazingly erotic, his looks and his music, and no, saying Prince is erotic doesn’t make me want to have sex with a man.  He’s a pretty small dude–not very noticeable when he’s being a regular guy.  But when he’s onstage and the energy gets going, I know people in the audience look around and say, ‘hey, you’re cure, wanna bone?’ to whoever’s standing next to them.  I’ve never actually seen it happen, but I bet it does.”  Then I decide to throw caution out the studio window.  “Okay, I’m tempting the FCC with this one, ut here’s ‘Sexy MF,’ going out to the texter.”

Hopefully she’s listening now.  The song has enough “motherfuckers” in it to get the station fined seven times over, but I can’t imagine the FCC is listening.

I wish those texts were from Paige.

The song growls onto the air, and I start thinking about body parts mashing together in the dark.  I can’t contemplate having sex, imaginary dick or not.  A guy with breasts can’t have sex.  Can he? Maybe sex is fine between two people who love each other.  Maybe love’s enough.  No matter what body parts you have, or don’t have, or wish you had.

There’s nobody stupid enough on this planet to think those two last statements could be true, and I’ve got to be the only person in Maxfield who graduated from high school as a virgin.

I almost miss my cue again.  “Did you know that Prince actually performed on American Bandstand, that late great musical TV show?  Here’s ‘Soft and Wet,’ definitely not one of the songs he did for Dick Clark.  By the way, Ugly Children, what do you think you could decorate with condoms?  I wouldn’t get the lubricated kind if I were you.”

Lots more music, then a little more talk.  “When you think about it, maybe Prince is sexy because he’s in the middle–those big brown eyes and long lashes, plus he used to have that long wavy hair.  But he’s got plenty of muscles and testosterone.  Let’s call him a birl.  Or a girman.  People still like him, whoever and whatever he is.  He even did the Super Bowl halftime show, and if that’s not the ultimate American endorsement of somebody’s music, I’m clueless.”

I check the CD again.  “To close the show with a ban, no pun intended, let’s do ‘Musicology’ and ‘Black Sweat,’ some of the very modern old-school funk grooves from his more recent disks.  Can’t wait for the pics, Ugly Children.  I’ll see you next week. This is Gabe, and you’ve been listening to Beautiful Music for Ugly Children right here on KZUK, community radio 90.3”

I should become a priest.  That would solve the whole sex issue.  Too bad I’m not Catholic.  Paige is, so maybe she’d know someone I could ask.  But what would they do when they found tampons in my room?

The ache in my crotch has transferred itself to my head.

*****

Oh, Prince.  This is so difficult. Thank you so very, very much for all you’ve given to this state and to the world, and to me.  Thank you for helping me see myself, and be myself.

Posted in adolescence, BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, Midwest, music, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mom IRL, kid on the page

Half of a guy face and half of a woman's face with palm trees and blue sky in the background

Mom and kid, Florida beach

***This post may make no sense to anyone but me. And yes, my kid knows I wrote it.  He’s letting me post it because, and I quote, “No one reads your blog anyway.”  Fair enough.

In real life, I’m the mom to a kid who has one more quarter of high school left, holy frak, what the hell.

On the page (in my WIP), I’m a teenage girl in the last quarter of her junior year. For the last two books, I’ve been a senior boy and a junior boy.

Some days, the brain power it takes to switch between roles is almost impossible.  I have no idea if I’m the only writer who feels weird about it, but I’ve considered chucking my career because the dichotomy feels so extreme. Part of that extremity has to do with fun.  I LOVE BEING A TEENAGER ON THE PAGE, even when it’s hard stuff to write about.  Mostly, it’s pure joy.

But then I have to face how goddamn impossible it feels to be a parent in real life.

My kid’s middle and high school career has been, in some moments, the most heartbreaking experience on the planet–exactly the opposite of what I was hoping for him.  Lots of reasons for the heartbreak and darkness, and we’re mostly out of it now, but WOW. Tough. Really fucking tough, and it’s hard enough being a regular teenage dude without the intense and scary crap he was handed (or created). Every day I ask the Universe to make the rest of his life easier than the last six years, and I mention I will give all of my limbs (or anything else) to make that happen.  But I love my child with the fierceness of a blast furnace, and it’s a complete honor to be his mom.  He’s my favorite person in the universe. Darkness? OK. We’re going together.

I had always hoped the scary stuff would stay in the book(s). The kids in my books are sometimes involved in sad, violent, risky, or just plain shitty behavior. Stuff you don’t want your own kid to do. But then your kid does the book stuff in real life. And you have to be the grown-up, because this isn’t a bookAnd you can’t quit it. You have to help your kid, teach them, love them, care for them, and then they reject you, and your heart busts, but you go at it, every day, 24/7/365.  And you are so tired you cannot believe it, while being hurt and sad and scared at the same time.  But you do whatever it takes.

You can put the book down.  You can’t do that with life.

There were times I couldn’t write. I couldn’t be a joyous teenager on the page when my teenager IRL was in so much pain.  I couldn’t be a helpless mom IRL and a helpful, useful mom in a book.  I’m hoping those times are over, but if not, we understand darkness now, and we’re going in and coming out together.  All will be well.

An engraved brick that says "Shae Cronn-Mills: forever curious."

My kid immortalized

We just got a fantastically cool children’s museum in my town, one my kid would have ADORED if he were tiny enough to use it, so we purchased a brick to support them since he’s not.  His curiosity may be the thing I love most about him (though we are *not* going to North Korea, thanks), and I’m so proud of his resilience and strength.  I’m proud he’s almost finished with stupid freaking high school. I’m proud I get to call him my kid.

I don’t know how  I’m going to feel about writing YA when my YAer is at college. It may take a while to get back in the groove.  I started writing YA before he was a teen (he was 5! holy crap!), so my guess is I’ll be OK without his teen self.  But I don’t know.

Way too soon, this kid-on-the-page, mom-in-real-life split won’t exist, and I will mourn for the days it did.  How lucky am I that it even got to happen?  Too lucky to say.

 

 

Posted in adolescence, BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, emotions, epic fail, funny boys, gratitude, live and learn, love, Original Fake, suckage, teenage boys | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

“Success:” a pep talk

 

 

President Obama riding a unicorn

If this isn’t success, I don’t know what is.

I really dislike the word “success.”  I am super not interested in having people measure my “success,” but it happens ALL THE TIME–it’s a service society offers for free, bless its heart. Of course, when you’re busting your ass for “success,” nobody reminds you there are as many definitions of the word as there are people in the world.

Why am I thinking about this now?  Lots of judgment in my life, from all sides, which is whatev, but it wears on you. And social media wears on you, and makes you compare yourself, though you know it’s poison to your soul.  And there’s a new book soon, and the judgment in that world is stressful in a different way.  I’m also judging myself: kid’s going to college, I’m getting older.  Inevitable, but it invites my chattery brain to say the worst.

So I wrote myself a pep talk. Maybe it’s a justification?  You get to judge and decide if I’m successful (ha!  see what I did there?). I don’t have to listen to all the people who keep talking about my lack of “success.”  But sometimes the judgments are game-changers.

Let’s start small. Am I famous, rich, beautiful, and skinny?  NO. Hell to the no. Since none of that is true, I automatically lose out on “success” as measured by the Internet and most of America. Do I care? No.

Am I a successful teacher?  Dunno.  Do my students seem to learn something? Do they seem to like coming to class? If so, achievement unlocked. Am I a successful mother?  Dunno.  Is my kid kind to others?  Does he have plans to be a useful member of society?  Is he clean and sober?  If so, rock on.

I have an average house, a wacky dog, a 7-year-old car, and too much to do.  But I’m not in debt, my dog is happy, and my kid is too (as happy as any 17-year-old dude can be who thinks his parents are a drag). I think my spouse is happy some of the time, too (please don’t ask if I’m a successful spouse).  So yeah, I have some “success” in my life. Or I keep the bar reeeeeeeeeeeeally low.

Am I a “success” in the book world? Hard to say, if we go by the measurables. And here’s the game-changer.

I’m a part-time writer, at best. I’ve been writing for 12 years, and only have 4.15 novels and 3 nonfiction books to show for it (published and not).  That’s not much, for more than a decade of work, plus one of my novels is out of physical print (though still available on Kindle). I have one sticker and no stars for the published novels (for more on that idea, see this brilliant post by Carrie Mesrobian), which is great, but probably isn’t “successful.” I don’t know what my book sales are.  They might be decent, but I know they don’t put me in the “successful” realm.  HOWEVER, it’s my book sales that will get me my next contract, because publishing is a business.  It needs $ to make it go.  And $ comes from selling books. If Original Fake doesn’t sell well, I’m done for. Understandable, but still sad/depressing to consider.

When I think about this “not-success,” I also like to think about the definition I wrote down a few years ago, when I was first pondering what book success is. Maybe this is the justification part.  But maybe it’s also healthy.

I decided a book is successful (no quotation marks) if

  1.  it gets favorably reviewed by one other person who’s not immediately tied to me or my publisher (doesn’t have to be a national review) (unlike this book);
  2. it contains some element of diversity (potentially problematic, see this post (& excellent comment thread), among others–I am rethinking)
  3. it makes at least one person feel less alone in the world, and they share that fact (isn’t this the purpose of books?);
  4. it makes my agent and its publishing people happy; and
  5. it makes me proud to read it.

My heart feels better when I take out the numbers.

A year from now, I’ll have three novels and three nonfiction books on Amazon, with a couple miscellaneous short stories in anthologies.  Not all writers get to realize their publishing dream, so I’m proud, and a zillion kinds of appreciative that people gave me a chance to begin with.  If I never sell another word, I’m happy with what I’ve done. I’m at peace.

Are happiness and peace a measure of success?  Hell to the yes.

Posted in books, help me, Original Fake, writing life, yawp | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The unwinnable fight, or a long response to “How are you?”

OF cover

The other side of my life

good teacher

A first-day-of-school gift

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear E:

You’re probably going to be sorry you asked how I am, but since I know you have an empathetic heart, I’m going to tell you. Because I took these photos within 48 hours of each other, I’ve been thinking about these sides of my life. And they consume about 75% of the answer to a question like “how are you?”

Before I start, let’s acknowledge my privilege: I can write this post because I’m white (more white people are published than people of color, as we know), I’m employed, and I’m educated.  Also acknowledged: many people would love to have my problem.  Of all the kinds of battles in the world, this one is a blessing of a fight. People may also say this post is just whining, or me feeling sorry for myself.  OK.  But lots of us are in this fight, and since I need to start blogging again, I might as well keep it real.  For better or worse.

Today starts the second week of my semester. As you know, I teach at a community and tech college.  The photo on the left was a gift from a student’s daughter last week–she came with her mom to class, and made it with the markers I shared with her. A total honor from a sweet girl.

You know I love teaching, and I teach at a place where I know I make a difference.  I LOVE my students–love the variety of their life experiences, love helping them be more confident.  I love using words, stories, writing, and speaking to help people make better lives for themselves. Teaching has perks, too–summers and flexible schedules–plus I have smart, interesting, funny co-workers.  What’s not to enjoy? It’s *tons* of work, but a good gig.

Up above on the right, there’s the ARC of Original Fake (equal credit to the book’s amazing illustrator, E. Eero Johnson). It comes out in April, but the galley arrived last week.  SO EXCITING. This week I should be working on publicity, and then I should put down some words on my WIP, which is intense and hard (the story, not just the writing).  It’s going to challenge me in ways I don’t even know yet, but I’m 45 pages gone and in love.  Completely.

And herein lies my unwinnable fight, E.

I spend a lot of time on students because they’re how I make my living.  But focusing on teaching takes away from what I want to be doing, which is writing more books. But I can’t abandon my students, and I can’t suck as a teacher.  I couldn’t respect myself if I did that.

But then my writing suffers, because it’s done in crevices of time, and some days all my creativity goes into my classroom, so there’s none left when I start the second shift (after supper/chatting with my family, and sometimes the second shift is taken up with school work). And sometimes it means there are errors and stupid mistakes, like a HUGE stupid mistake my editor found in June.  Had I not been hurrying to hit her deadline in April, I would have caught the flub.  But her deadlines and school deadlines collided, so I didn’t read my work as closely as I should have. And then I was super embarrassed when she found my plot hole. I’m sure writers with full-time jobs cause all editors to use many curse words. : (

I want SO MUCH to get better at writing. But it’s a challenge to get better when you don’t have sustained time to practice. And I don’t, because the majority of my life is school.

The money is another battle, of course (one all writers know).  Since I started getting paid for my writing in 2008, I’ve made *slightly more than half of one year’s salary*–in *7 years*, *over the course of 5 books* (3 YA novels, 2 nonfiction YAs).  That’s a big “nope” to quitting the day job.

Plus, no matter how good our stories are, if nobody buys them, we’re cut loose.  If I had more time, I’d be a better writer (and marketer), and better writers/marketers sell more books and have more chances of getting new contracts.

How do I find a way to do less homework and more writing without short-changing my students, E?  And if I short my students and write, my work will improve, but my teaching will suffer. I make my money teaching, so I owe my students my best.  But what do I owe my editor? My best, of course.

I also want to do right by me.  I need less stress in my life, and I’d like to get rid of the guilt I feel when I choose one side over the other.  I’d even like to feel OK about taking a break.  And I want to do right by my family. This post is too long already, or I’d tell you about that guilt, too.  It’s enormous. The last time I cried about my family?  This morning.

Many, many writers with day jobs (especially writer-teachers) fight this same battle.  Tons of us look at full-time writers and think, “damn, I want that life.”  Then we look at our students/coworkers and say, “but I love you too!” And the love on both sides of the fight sinks its claws into our hearts and we hurt and feel like assholes, no matter which job we’re doing, because we’re not doing the other one.

I’ll feel less panicked at some point–I’m sure of it–but right now, I’m a paralyzed mess of anxious mush.  That’s how I am. It’s shaping up to be the most conflicted school year yet (which I thought was last year, but whoops, wrong again). Let me say it again: it’s a great blessing to have this fight.  But it’s still an unwinnable battle.

I know you’re out there cheering for me, even when I screw up.  I know you’ll remind me I don’t have to be perfect all the time–or even some of the time.

Sending you and yours a heap of love, E. Thanks for being you, and for asking. Sorry if this was more than you bargained for.

Kirstin

Posted in DON'T MAKE ME DO THIS, Original Fake, school | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Transgender Lives: backstory and new resources

A.Nelson reading TRANS* LIVES

My friend Alex reading TRANSGENDER LIVES, and proving you really can see yourself in the cover.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb for our (this book is a village!) new book Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices, out in September 2014:

Meet Katie, Hayden, Dean, Brooke, David, Julia, and Natasha. Each is transgender, and in this book, they share their personal stories. Through their narratives, you’ll get to know and love each person for their humor, intelligence, perseverance, and passion. You’ll learn how they each came to better understand, accept, and express their gender identities, and you’ll follow them through the sorrows and successes of their personal journeys.

Transgender Lives helps you understand what it means to be transgender in America while learning more about transgender history, the broad spectrum of transgender identities, and the transition process. You’ll explore the challenges transgender Americans face, including discrimination, prejudice, bullying and violence, unequal access to medical care, and limited legal protections. For transgender readers, these stories offer support and encouragement. Transgender Lives is a space for trans* voices to be heard and to express the complexities of gender while focusing on what it means to be human.

Here’s the backstory.

In May 2012, I was contacted by my editor at Twenty-First Century books–would I like to write a book for high school libraries about trans* individuals in America?  I’d been recommended to her because of Beautiful Music, and the trans* authors she’d asked were unavailable.  Sure, I said.  Why not?  And then I thought:  Oh lord. What have I done?  Once again, just like with Beautiful Music, I was plunged into immense, intense work.  So much research, so much information to gather, process and summarize, plus I needed to find people for the interviews.  Lucky for me, I knew some individuals who were willing to be part of the book.  But not everyone I asked was comfortable being in a book.

There were lots of things to think about, of course–what to include, how to be thorough, how to be respectful, how to check my own privilege as a cisgender woman.  I was blessed to find two different individuals who are trans* (who facilitate workshops and develop LGBTQ curricula for their day jobs) who were willing to provide expert reads to help with facts, voice and details.  Because of the individuals who agreed to be in the book, we didn’t have a lot of people of color to include, but we did have age, background, and regional diversity.  In the drafting phase, we had lots of information and seven extensive interviews (with family voices, too) to sort through.  I did a lot of agonizing.  I knew I’d encounter critics no matter what I did or didn’t do, so I kept my goal simple: to create a useful book that didn’t provide false information.

Then, of course, we had to jam it all into 72 pages!  That was the hardest thing.  There wasn’t space to explain all the terms I listed as synonyms for genderqueer, for example, and so the question arose: simplify, or include them and let the reader do the research? I decided (a philosophy I hold in my classroom as well) it’s better to have some inkling about many ideas than to have just one idea.  I decided to trust the reader to further advance their knowledge.

This book is intended to be a solid introduction to a group of individuals who deserve respect, and deserve to be known and accepted for who they are.  This book is for students (and adults) who need some general info, who need to understand that individuals who are trans* have been a part of human culture since someone thought to call us “human culture.”  It’s a book for librarians to pull out when someone says, “I need to know about being trans*,”  for whatever reason they need to know it.  It’s a bridge-builder.  It’s a way to bring the all-too-brief words (#$(* page limits!) of seven generous and kind individuals to a larger audience that needs to hear from them.  If someone reads Transgender Lives and learns something, hopefully they’ll go on to read more in-depth narratives from trans* individuals.   That’s a win-win for everyone.

Of course there are a few new books that didn’t get included in the resources section of Transgender Lives, and you need to know about them, because they’re very exciting.  I can’t wait to read them myself!  Click the link for more, but I’ve included parts of their blurbs here.

Rethinking Normal, Katie Rain Hill (Simon and Schuster, September 2014):  “In this first-person account, Katie reflects on her pain-filled childhood and the events leading up to the life-changing decision to undergo gender reassignment as a teenager. She reveals the unique challenges she faced while unlearning how to be a boy and shares what it was like to navigate the dating world and experience heartbreak for the first time in a body that matched her gender identity. Told in an unwaveringly honest voice, Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of “normalcy” to embody one’s true self.”

Some Assembly Required, Arin Andrews (Simon and Schuster, September 2014):  “In this revolutionary memoir, Arin details the journey that led him to make the life-transforming decision to undergo gender reassignment as a high school junior. In his captivatingly witty, honest voice, Arin reveals the challenges he faced as a girl, the humiliation and anger he felt after getting kicked out of his private school, and all the changes—both mental and physical—he experienced once his transition began. Arin also writes about the thrill of meeting and dating a young transgender woman named Katie Hill…and the heartache that followed after they broke up.

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth (Oxford University Press, June 2014): “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is a revolutionary resource-a comprehensive, reader-friendly guide for transgender people, with each chapter written by transgender or genderqueer authors. Inspired by Our Bodies, Ourselves, the classic and powerful compendium written for and by women, Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is widely accessible to the transgender population, providing authoritative information in an inclusive and respectful way and representing the collective knowledge base of dozens of influential experts. Each chapter takes the reader through an important transgender issue, such as race, religion, employment, medical and surgical transition, mental health topics, relationships, sexuality, parenthood, arts and culture, and many more. ”

I also want to mention Topside Press, since they publish books exclusively by trans-identified authors (their official statement: “Topside Press, founded in 2011, is a new independent press with the intent of publishing authentic transgender narratives”).  The two books I’ve read from them, the novel Nevada (Imogen Binnie) and The Collection (a collection of short stories), are remarkable.  Because the books are edgy and intended for grown-ups, I didn’t include them in the back matter for Transgender Lives, but I’d encourage you to check them out.

To learn, to grow, to support: those are our jobs as human beings.  These new books will help you with all three.  Enjoy!

Posted in BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, transgender info, TRANSGENDER LIVES, yawp | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

#MyWritingProcess blog tour

a green square with a hash tag inside that says #MyWritingProcess

Hooray for the #MyWritingProcess blog tour!

Friends!  This week I’m participating in the #MyWritingProcess blog tour, and my friend and fellow writing group member Rachael Hanel got me involved in it.  Thank you, Rachael!  Side note:  if you haven’t read We’ll Be The Last Ones To Let You Down,  Rachael’s memoir, go get a copy immediately.  Rachael’s up for a Minnesota Book Award in memoir, and I can’t wait to celebrate with her!

First things first:  the blog post questions.  Here’s a pretty accurate drawing of my writing process:

a drawing of a black ink scribble

This is my mind on writing.

1)  What am I working on? I’m working on another YA project, but it’s in the thinking stage, so I can’t really talk about it.  My writing process has changed a bit as I’ve gotten along in my career, and I like to do a LOT of imagining and planning before I ever put words on the page (besides writing a detailed synopsis).  So that book is always simmering on low in the crock pot (cesspool?) of my imagination.

I’m actively writing an adult project, but because of my job, I don’t get much time to work on it.  Until the end of the semester, my goal is 2500 words per week.  It barely sounds like progress, huh?  But by the end of the semester, I’ll have (hopefully) close to 20,000 words.

I’m also getting ready for revisions on ORIGINAL FAKE, an illustrated novel that will be out with Penguin Putnam in early 2016.  Right now we’re working out what will be illustrated and what will remain as text.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?  That’s a great question I don’t know how to answer.  I think my novels are more edgy, maybe, than other YA novels.  I’m not afraid to be honest about tough subjects, in part because I’m living them right now with my own teenager.  I also think my main characters have funky, quirky outlets for their voice, and that might be unusual.  For example, in SKY, Morgan yells in her hills and leaves snarky notes all over.  In BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, Gabe’s radio show (and the music he chooses for it) is his voice.  In ORIGINAL FAKE, the novel that will be out in early 2016, Frankie’s art is his voice.  Not sure what Theo’s outlet is (the protag from my next project).  That knowledge is still to be revealed.

3)     Why do I write what I do? I write YA because I think teenagers are hilarious, interesting, and willing to take risks.  I also write YA because then I can do all the things I wanted to do as a teen—scream at the sky, have a radio show, make crazy art.  I also love that a YA novel generally/kind of/sort of allows us to leave readers with some sense of hope for the future.  I’m all about hope.

4)     How does my writing process work?  I answered part of that in #1, but right now, I try to do a lot of thinking before I ever draft.  That’s very different than before.  When I first started writing fiction, I just threw it all on the page, then scrapped it all if it didn’t work and did a whole new draft.  I can’t even tell you how many times I did that to BEAUTIFUL MUSIC.  Too many!  Now I try to be as efficient as possible.  Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Of course I still revise, but my goal now is to keep most of the book when I improve it, instead of none of the book.   I don’t have time to scrap whole books anymore!  I don’t have any set time or place to write, just because my life is nuts.  I get it done when I can do it.  There’s music, usually, and some lemon water or tea, and my computer–that’s about all I need for my writing process.

Next week this lovely lady will be carrying the blog tour forward with her writing process.  Here’s Juliann:

Minnesota writer Juliann Rich spent her childhood in search of the perfect climbing tree. The taller the better! A branch thirty feet off the ground was a good perch for a young girl to find herself. Seeking truth in nature and finding a unique point of view remain crucial elements in her life as well as her writing.

Juliann is a PFLAG mom who can be found walking Pride parades with her son. CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE is her debut novel and will be available on June 16th, 2014. The sequel, SEARCHING FOR GRACE, hits the shelves September 16th, 2014.

Juliann lives with her husband and their two dogs in the beautiful Minnesota River Valley.

Visit her at juliannrich.com.
Read her blog at therainbowtreeblog.com.

Posted in readers, teenage boys, Uncategorized, writing community, writing life | Tagged , | 1 Comment

love, cispeople, and 41%

a tattoo on a woman's wrist that says "love."

Valentine’s Day is a made-up holiday to get people to buy shit so we can demonstrate we love each other.  Hahahahaha.  Yeah.  No.   The goal of life is to love people for who they are, where they are, as they are, each and every day.  Since that doesn’t happen all that often, and it REALLY doesn’t happen for individuals who are trans*, I’d like to talk about why.  It’s great that Facebook just gave folks some useful gender options (and three sets of pronouns), but there are still serious issues (including violence).  WHY IS THAT?  What’s wrong with us as a culture that gender-nonconforming people freak us out?  How dumb are we?  Dumb.  Why?

Last year, I was stopped in my tracks by an editorial written by a longtime trans* activist.  In the piece, the person made this statement:

“To put it bluntly, there is nothing positive in the cisgender world about trans people.  Not. One. Thing.”  (note: “cisgender” means our brains/bodies agree about who we are)

That statement has echoed in my head since I read it.  The writer claims that us “f*cking cispeople,” as the writer calls us, are hugely unkind and awful, and we ARE.  Piers Morgan is a great example (good lord, what a jerk), and so is Katie Couric (have some sense!).  These two very public individuals had a chance to lay down some positivity about individuals who are trans*, and they didn’t. What the hell?

In my world, obviously, that activist is flat-out wrong, but I don’t think I could get this person to believe me.  That’s OK.  This person has been hurt too much to hear me, and I respect that.  In fact, some individuals who are trans* may read this post and tell me to STFU, I don’t get to talk about the trans* community.  Fair enough.  Yesterday on Facebook, in a discussion about the new gender labels, someone said, “I like that the cispeople can label themselves.  Then I know who to watch out for.”  Lots of likes.  Understandable.

But I don’t want to be a representation of this activist’s statement.  Do you?  Each of us can do something to be sure “f*cking cispeople” don’t act so f*cking awful anymore.  Need ideas?  Ask about and use preferred pronouns. When trans* issues come up, let trans* individuals speak for themselves.   Encourage trans* individuals to share and write their stories.   Be an emotional and intellectual safe space for someone who’s trans*, and create physical safe space as often as you can.  See an individual who’s trans* as an individual, with needs, loves, desires, fears and a life, not as a group, not as a surgery, not as genitals, and definitely NOT as a problem to be dealt with.

OK?  So now you know.  Get going.  If you can do none of that stuff, at least get involved in making sure there are safe bathrooms for all.  Everyone deserves a safe place to pee.

As a culture, we have to reduce the statistic revealed in 2010 (from a 2008 survey of 6540 trans* individuals, done by the National Center for Transgender Equality): of the survey participants, 41% of the of them had attempted suicide.  As comparison, the rate of suicide attempts in the general population is something like 3% (can’t find an exact figure).

41%.  What.  The.  Flip.

41%.  That’s almost half the people in the survey.

41%.  How can that possibly be true??  But it is.

This statistic gets personal for me: who of my friends who are trans* has attempted suicide?  I want to know, because I want to love them harder, so they won’t think they’re alone ever again.  My character, Gabe, did it too, and his friend Paige loved him harder so he wouldn’t feel alone.   And guess what?  People who are trans* don’t attempt suicide because they’re trans*.  They do it because the world treats them like they’re not human.

This statistic is the best representation we have of how bullshit the world is to people who are gender-nonconforming.  What option looks good to you when nobody’s supporting you, when your entire culture treats you like you’re lower than dogshit on someone’s shoe?  Suicide must look like peace.  And I can’t stand that idea.

So let’s be smarter, huh?  Please?  Today is a good day (every day is a good day) to think about how YOU could be a better friend to the trans* community.  Love is for everyone, even those people you can’t fit into a gender box.  So get busy.  Don’t ask invasive questions, don’t say, “but you were born a man,” just shut up and love.  That’s all.  It’s not that hard.  And we are better than this.

(If you want to learn how to be a better ally (to any community), look here, here, here, and here (especially that last link).  These are important posts.  READ THEM.)

Posted in advocacy, BEAUTIFUL MUSIC, equality | Tagged | Leave a comment

Stories that are More

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss

Movie Katniss: 100% better than Book Katniss

a drawing of a monster robot sculpture

Erik’s Donna Russell: 100% better than my description of Donna Russell

When is a story More than itself?  This question intrigues me.  CAN a story be More than itself?  I think so.  A story is always More when someone reads it, since the author and the reader are collaborating to make meaning, but I find it very intriguing to experience a story through more than one medium.  That’s a whole new kind of More.

In early January, I went to see CATCHING FIRE, the second installment of the HUNGER GAMES trilogy. Let it be known: I do NOT like these books.  Too bleak, too sad, too much negativity (I’ve never been a fan of dystopia, though). But, I have to grudgingly admit, I like the movies. A lot. Because the movies make the story More.

I don’t like Book Katniss. She’s cold and harsh (understandably so), and really mean to Peeta. But I like Movie Katniss–she grows and changes, and she can see what she’s doing to Peeta. When you add sensory dimensions (people, emotions, sights, sounds) to the images on the page, you increase the empathy factor about a thousandfold, and the fact that the HUNGER GAMES movies are wildly visual makes things even better. Dare I say I’m glad Suzanne Collins wrote the books, just so the movies could be made?  As an author, I cringe at that statement.  But at the same time, if someone ever made a movie about Gabe or Morgan, the story (in my opinion) could become More, because of the sights/sounds that the filmmaker would add to what already exists.

(This is not to say that movies *always* make books More.  Very often, movies of books are sucky, and reduce the impact of the story (making a story Less, I’d say)).

ORIGINAL FAKE, the novel I wrote last year, is an illustrated YA novel, and the illustrations make the story More. To me, that was the coolest part of working with my illustrator, Erik Johnson.  I’d write a scene or a character description, and Erik would draw what he saw, with his own ideas about the story and his thoughts about what readers did (and didn’t) need in a drawing.   It’s the wildest thing ever, to literally see your story.  I love it immensely.  And, in my opinion, the story is now More.  It’s also not just mine anymore—it’s Erik’s story, too.

Two others stories-made-More that I love: the films for both FIGHT CLUB and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.  Both are excellent books, but the films add layers of meaning that enhance the books.  What about for you?  What are your experiences of stories that are More?  Maybe films, maybe graphic novels, maybe TV?  Please share with us.

Posted in books, help me, writing life | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Virtual reading to celebrate the Lambda Literary Awards–please join us!

Literary Event On Air
Four Minnesota authors who are finalists for the national Lambda Literary Award will be holding their local reading online using Google Hangout’s On Air feature. Readers can tune in from anywhere in the world and attend this live event or choose to watch an archived copy later on YouTube. The live event will be broadcast on Wednesday, May 22 at 6 p.m. For more information or to RSVP, go to Facebook event,  mollybethgriffin.com, or beingemily.com.The Minnesota authors who have made the finalists for a Lambda Literary Award are:

Lambda Literary Finalists

Lambda Literary Finalists

  • Ellen HartRest for the Wicked, Minotaur Books. The latest Jane Lawless mystery has been called by Publishers Weekly, “Absorbing. . .A host of complex characters—all living full, rich, and dangerous lives—bolsters the brisk, suspenseful story.”
  • Kirstin Cronn-MillsBeautiful Music for Ugly Children, Flux Books. From School Library Journal, “Elizabeth Williams knows he has always been a guy, and if he can only get through graduation in a few weeks, he can begin his new life as Gabe.”
  • Molly Beth GriffinSilhouette of a Sparrow, Milkweed Editions. A historical lesbian young adult novel described by Publishers Weekly as, “Laced with evocative period details that give readers a taste of what it was like to come of age during the flapper era.”
  • Rachel GoldBeing Emily, Bella Books. The first young adult novel to tell the story of a transsexual girl from her perspective, described by Kate Bornstein as, “Powerful and empowering, with an optimistic message that we all need more of in our lives.”

Using Google Hangout’s On Air feature, the authors will read live and take questions via YouTube and Twitter.

“We’re delighted to be Lammy finalists with such a diverse offering of fiction and we wanted to make sure as many people could attend this reading as wanted to,” said Rachel Gold. “Holding it live and online means we can reach a greater audience but still keep the feeling that you’re sitting right in front of us as we read from our books and answer your questions.”

The Lambda Literary Awards ceremony will be held in New York City on June 3.  Click here for more information about the ceremony. For the full list of readings around the country, click here.

About the Lambda Literary Foundation

The Foundation nurtures, celebrates, and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility and encourage development of emerging writers. LLF’s programs include the Lambda Literary Awards, the Writers’ Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices, and our web magazine.

# # #

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact  Deb Balzer  at deb@balzerproject.com. You can also contact the authors directly at:

Ellen Hart: ellenhart@earthlink.net
Rachel Gold: rachel@rachelgold.com
Molly Beth Griffin: mollybethgriffin@gmail.com
Kirstin Cronn-Mills: kirstin.cronnmills@gmail.com

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