Apparently these two excellent and accomplished YA authors were approached by an agent who offered to sign a book they had co-authored — provided that they make the one gay character in the story non-gay (or else remove him altogether.)
I won’t repost the full details, as I’m encouraging you to check the post out for yourselves in all its maddening glory, but the bottom line is that it’s so very, very sad to know that this type of thing is still going on in the world of literature. *sigh* I guess maybe I’m spoiled, since Bold Strokes Books is a LGBTQ publisher and I’ve never thought twice about the gay-ness of my characters. Heck, I wrote my first novel long before I even knew there was any such thing as gay and lesbian fiction out there. I wrote it for myself, and for my online friends, because I wanted to create a story that was something I’d want to read myself… and it wasn’t until I’d actually finished the whole monstrous 180,000 word thing that it occurred to me that maybe I could try to get it published.
Honestly, I never even considered the possibility that a mainstream publishing house would want my book. I’d never seen any of my favorite publishers put out a book that was anything remotely like what I’d just written — but I was over the moon when I googled “lesbian publishers” and discovered that there were smaller independent presses out there that actually do publish gay and lesbian romance. Up until that point, I’d had no idea that such books even existed. I sent my monster of a manuscript off and I’ve never looked back since.
Now, though, with the advent of Malinda Lo’s successful mainstream novels Ash and Huntress (both lesbian YA fantasy published by powerhouse Little, Brown) and a steady increase in interest among YA readers and authors alike in diversity in YA stories, I’m starting to think more often of the accessibility, or lack thereof, of LGBTQ fiction in the mainstream.
Why shouldn’t there be gay characters in YA fiction? Or starring (not just placed artfully off to the side to add “color”) in mainstream romance? In mainstream fantasy and sci-fi, for that matter? Occasionally you might find some truly excellent LGBTQ fiction in the mainstream (Sarah Waters is a stellar example) but usually such novels are quite literary/weighty/artsy. And the weighty-artsy stuff IS awesome, but what if you just want something that’s pure and simple fun? Something you can devour easily right alongside the four hundred other equally devourable novels filling your e-reader?
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Bold Strokes Books (and Bella, and Intaglio, and all the other indie LGBTQ publishers out there) and I wouldn’t trade my work with them for all the big-name publishing contracts in the world. I think these companies are doing something truly amazing for the genre by publishing stories that mainstream publishers hesitate to touch for fear that sales will not be high enough to turn the profits they’re accustomed to. And I think they’ve really cultivated the LGBTQ literature market in doing so, which is awesome for readers and writers alike. But it irks me that said big-name publishers seem to have discounted the market for gay and lesbian stories. And not only discounting, but actually attempting to SUPPRESS that market, if Rachel and Sherwood’s story is any indication.
So I tip my hat to these two authors, who would turn down an agent contract for the sake of preserving the diversity of their stories. I tip my hat to all the other authors out there who have encountered this kind of ridiculous censoring in their own attempts to share their stories with the rest of the world. And I extend my deepest gratitude to all the readers who are *dying* to get their hands on such stories, and who snap up copies of every one that does manage to get put out there through the courage of writers, agents, editors and publishers who aren’t cowed by the thought of a GAY BOOK.
Also, I’ve wanted to write a YA novel (or series, perhaps) for quite a long time now. As of today I think this project has just significantly elevated itself in my list of priorities. The world needs more of these stories, folks… so that we can make frustrating encounters like these a thing of the past.