“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.


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 , , | 6 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.

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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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Rubber(s) and the road

a man wearing a body-covering condom wrapper

an interesting job to explain to others, yes?

He comes up next to me, opens his arms and says, “Give me a hug.”

Because I am his mom, I do.

And he shoves my head in his armpit, which makes both of us laugh until we can’t talk.

Thank god he uses a lot of Axe, and thank god he’s not too smelly yet, or it would be torture, which he still thinks it is.  I jab him in his ribs, and he lets me go, but we’re both still laughing.

I can see any of my guy narrators doing this same thing to their mothers, and I like that my kid is as random and quirky as they are.  But as a writer, I also put those narrators into funky situations—they drink, have sex, are shitty to people—and I don’t want my kid to go there.  I’m a complete hypocrite.

So far, my kid’s worst teenage problems are bad grades, rude behavior, and shutting out his parents, which are less serious things than STIs or recreational Adderall.   But things get confounding very quickly, no matter what’s going on.  More than once recently, I have stared at my kid while my brain skipped like a 45:  der der der what now der der der oh shit der der der.  It is not comfortable to be clueless.  It makes me feel like a fraud as a mom and a double fraud as a writer.  Shouldn’t I know what to do?  I’m supposed to understand teenagers, aren’t I?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

YA writers tend to include a lot of overreaction in their books, because it really happens and it’s also good writing.  We blow things out of proportion so the resolution is that much more satisfying.  But that kind of overreaction and tension sucks righteously in regular life.  I am guessing the stress with my kid will not wrap up as a book might, with a little relief in the negativity, a little hope in the darkness.   And what happens if there’s jail, addiction, or suicide?  It’s one thing to write it.  It’s another to live it.

It’s such a weird double life, to be the kid in the writing and the parent in real life.   And my kid and I are at the point where the rubber(s) meets the road–it’s his time to start behaving like the characters in my books, whether I like it or not.  When things are dark, I hope I’ll be strong and steady despite the anger and frustration, just like I want the parents in my books to be.  I’m 105% sure I’ll fall short of that ideal.  We get to revise book people, and life doesn’t have an edit button.

I also keep wondering if I’m taking his side enough.  Maybe not.  My son’s success at being obstinate is a biological trait he inherited from both sides (I especially see my dad in him), so it’s not like I didn’t expect him to Stick It To the Man.  It just sucks when I have to be The Man.

Really, I should have been a fantasy writer.  Maggie Stiefvater will never have to worry about her kids becoming Celtic water horses.  My kid was always going to become a teenager.


(Side note: we have condoms at our house, for him and any of his friends.  I may be a hypocrite, but I’m realistic, and very much into safety.)

Posted in adolescence | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Morrissey and graveyards: guest post by Rachael Hanel

photo of author Rachael Hanel

Photo by Nicole Helget

I met Rachael Hanel way back when–like WAY back when–when I was new to Mankato and she was new to my husband’s forensics team.  As soon as I met her, I thought, “This woman is a force to be reckoned with” (Rachael has no idea I thought that).  After she left the team, we didn’t have contact for many years–we were both busy doing our thing, which for her included journalism and an MA, and for me included a Ph.D. and a kid.  Then, in 2004, we were brought together as part of the same writing group, and I thought, “Wow, this woman is even more powerful!”  That statement has been proven true a zillion times over the last nine years, and her new memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down, is proof positive of her tenacity, her spirit, and her ability to tell a really fantastic story.  I’ve learned so much from her!  I’m glad she’s here today.

I asked her to guest post about her musical muse (who also appears in BMUC), and why he matters to her.  I love her reasoning.


One of the many pleasures I got from reading Kirstin’s Beautiful Music for Ugly Children was the many mentions of music. Not only is BMUC a great story, but it also offers that little “extra” bonus for music fans. I’d imagine many of her readers latch onto and identify with the great songs Gabe plays during his radio show.

For this guest post, I thought a natural topic would be the writer’s use of music. My book, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, does not mention any music per se. Well, there are references to the piano and organ, but my family did not listen to popular music. We didn’t have anything against it: we were just more TV and talk radio people, with the CBS Evening News and WCCO-AM broadcasting into our southern Minnesota house in the 1970s and 1980s.

It wasn’t until I was in high school in the early 1990s that I entered the world of pop music. My best friend, Heather, and I listened regularly to KJ104 out of Minneapolis, which was an alternative music station. Through KJ and MTV’s 120 Minutes, I discovered Morrissey.

My book doesn’t even mention Morrissey, but I consider him an influence upon my writing nonetheless. If you don’t know much about Morrissey, music critics like to refer to him as the “pope of mope.” I disagree with that statement because I think it’s a surface proclamation, but that can be saved for another blog post. Morrissey—a member of The Smiths in the 1980s and who later launched a successful solo career—is known for singing about misery, heartbreak, and rejection. From him we get song titles such as “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “The Last of the Gang to Die,” and lyrics such as “My one true love is under the ground” and “Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head.” What people see as dark and mopey, I see as based in reality.

It makes sense that I latched onto Morrissey’s music in 1993 and haven’t looked back since. My attraction to him wasn’t conscious—I didn’t think, “Wow, I love how much he sings about death.” But for a girl who grew up in cemeteries, whose dad was a gravedigger, who wandered graveyards and wondered about the people buried there, Morrissey’s music is a natural fit.

It took me 13 years to write my memoir. Morrissey was a constant companion during that time. I can’t help but to think that his musical sensibilities filtered into my writing. His lyrics settled into me, soaked through my skin, became an integral part of me.

I wanted to use these lines from The Smiths’ “Cemetry Gates” as an epigraph for my book, but Warner Bros. denied permission. (Boo, hiss!). I can’t think of anything better that perfectly captures the spirit of my book:

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones

All those people, all those lives

Where are they now?

With loves, and hates

And passions just like mine

They were born

And then they lived

And then they died

It seems so unfair

I want to cry  

* * *

We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter, is now available from the University of Minnesota Press.

Rachael Hanel blogs at www.rachaelhanel.me. Find more information at her website, www.rachaelhanel.com

Posted in books, epic-ness, literary greats, music, readers, writing community | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Guest blog post: Shelley Tougas on shifts between genres

photo of author Shelley Tougas

The smart, hilarious, wise Shelley Tougas


Friends, you need to make the acquaintance of Shelley Tougas.  She is wonderful in many ways, also very wise, and she writes in many genres, which contributes to her wiseness.  She is also the award-winning author of Little Rock Girl (when you see the photo, you’ll know who I mean) and Birmingham 1963 (same link as above), plus several other nonfiction texts.  Check out her thoughts about transitioning between genres, specifically edgy YA and middle grade.  Wise, I tell you.


Thanks, Kirstin, for the invitation to guest blog about leaping from writing for young adults to writing for middle grade kids.

The age of characters – as well as the readers – isn’t the only difference between YA adult and MG. Edgy is the four-letter word. The YA market has room for edgy books. MG is far more complicated.

I’ve written both genres, but so far, I’ve only published middle grade books. When editors read my YA novel, Unbecoming Grace, this was a typical response: Loved the book, but it’s too dark. One of the editors who called Unbecoming Grace too edgy was a panelist at a childrens book conference. During the panel, I raised my hand and asked how she felt about edgy, dark YA novels. She said, “Bring it on!”

So I brought it on. Apparently I brought it on too hard. Over and over, I heard it: Too edgy, too dark. Too dark, too edgy.

Now I’m writing for the middle grade market. I’ve published two MG nonfiction books involving the civil rights movement, Little Rock Girl and Birmingham 1963. The official level of interest for these books is grades 5-9. Civil rights obviously is a topic with plenty of darkness. While the editor didn’t want overly horrific descriptions, she wanted kids to understand it was horrific treatment. I think the books accomplish that goal.

Editors and librarians don’t expect – or want – MG to be a bunch of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. Tween readers have diverse lives and a solid sense of the world’s problems. They like stories with characters facing real challenges. They have friends facing real challenges.

But the exploration of those issues requires a lighter touch. My new (still unpublished) MG novel deals with single parents, prison, kids in trouble, and poverty. There’s a lot of humor, though, and the issues are sketched instead of fully drawn. Bad things happen in the book, but, if you think about it like a movie, they mostly happen off screen. The scenes played candidly in the novel are the characters’ reaction and their journey.

Every rule has its exceptions. I’m certain readers could identify many MG novels with edgy characters and dark stories. Bridge to Terabithia deals with death. Coraline gave my daughter nightmares—for weeks. I just stared reading When You Reach Me. The first pages, and the marketing copy, suggest it’s a dark plot. Just how dark? I’m about to find out.

The point, I think, is to respect the age group and not burden it. For those middle-grade kids, the world is smaller while their minds are wide open. Write your story without limitations. Then go back through it with your finger on the delete key.

Posted in adolescence, audience, readers | Tagged , , | 4 Comments