You still read that?

Bullet points are taken from Samantha Craft’s website and post on Females with Asperger’s Syndrome, which can be found here. 

Section C: Escape and Friendship

  • Escapes regularly through fixations, obsessions, and over-interest in subjects

When I get interested in something, you can bet I devote 100% of my attention to it. I always have been like this. Some interests last for a few weeks, some a few months, others for years. Books have always been an obsession of mine, as they were one of my escapes, but other things have managed to work their way into that slot as well. Most of my obsessions, however, did revolve around books or series.

For example, when I was in sixth grade, my school, St. Matthew’s School, had a Scholastic book fair. There I discovered the Animorphs series. I was obsessed with it for years. I stuck with it until the very end. I would spend my allowance money on the book every month. When it first came out, it was $3.99, or $4.23 with tax. After a few years, however, the price of the book went up one month to $4.99, or $5.25 after tax. I was devastated because I always brought the exact right amount of money with me to the store. I was lucky because the cashiers knew me and let me bring the extra money back with me next time I visited, which was frequently.

I loved that series. I loved the short-lived TV series, too. I was convinced the characters were real and lived in my area. Every time I saw a red-tailed hawk in my area, I was convinced it was Tobias. I thought that I, too, could turn into an animal if I concentrated hard enough. In fact, I spent a good deal of time in the garage focusing on changing into my cat. I would stare at my arms and will myself to change.

The series ended in 2001. I was finishing up my sophomore year. When I was still in eighth grade, I had a friend, also named Jen, who was reading the series. We briefly remained friend in high school, and when I talked about the series and what had happened to Tobias—my favorite character—she stared at me in shock.

“You still read that?”

“Yes. Why?”

“We’re a little old for that,” she laughed.

I was horrified. Yeah, the series may have started when we were younger, but the characters were aging as well, and more mature themes had been introduced. And didn’t she want to know what was going to happen with the Yeerk invasion? Didn’t she want to know if Tobias ever gave up his hawk form?

Turns out admitting to reading Animorphs still was pretty much social suicide, and she stopped talking to me shortly after that.

I was obsessed with Sailor Moon, too. I recorded every single episode of the anime and watched it all the time. The one episode that never fails (still) to make me cry, is when Serena—in the dubs—finds out she is the Princess and Darien dies. I bawl every single time. It was the one episode that for whatever reason never recorded, and I was so upset because it meant weeks before I could watch it again.

That’s about the time I began writing fanfiction as well. I wrote about Sailor Moon and Animorphs. Sometimes I crossed them over. Sometimes I made my own characters. I did that a lot, inserting myself into the stories. I created my own Sailor Moon character, Sailor Sun, who was not based on me and I wrote fiction about her as well. Somewhere around here I still have drawings of her as well. I had the soundtrack for the English show as well, at every single night for two years I would put the CD on when I went to bed to help me fall asleep. It was half an hour long and I usually fell asleep towards the end, although sometimes I needed it twice. (This later changed to me putting on To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar every single night before I went to bed. This also went on for at least two years.)

  • Obsessively collects and organizes objects

My collection of books is ridiculous. I have several thousand. I’m not exaggerating either. If you take into account the books I had in my classroom library, there were two thousand there alone. I also own over 600 hundred volumes of manga. That’s only a portion of the books I own.

Categorizing books and organizing them brings me peace. I love putting them in alphabetical order. I think maybe that’s why I enjoyed working at the bookstore so much. My favorite thing to do was fix the shelves and make sure they were completely alphabetical. I found a sense of peace in it, and whenever a customer or staff member messed it up, I would get so angry. I felt it was disrespectful to the books. But seeing the books in the right order felt so calming. It gave me a sense of accomplishment.

When I had my own apartment, Dad liked to come over and sometimes tried to mess up my books without me knowing. He would switch a volume of the manga or two around so that they were out of order. It drove me crazy!

Sometimes I like to reorder my books, but for the most part I have found a system that works for me. What made my students laugh was how well I knew my classroom set up. They would ask if I had a book and I could tell them not only whether or not I had it, but exactly where on the shelf it was, without even looking.

I also had quite a large collection of unicorns. I loved the creatures, and had many statues. I collected them in snow globes at every swap meet my dad went to. Eventually I got rid of those, however, when the water inside the globe became filthy and, although I was a hoarder, I realized they were beyond salvaging.

Barbie also made it onto my list. I collected them in boxes, especially the different nationalities and Christmas editions. I don’t remember what year I stopped collecting them, but it went on for a long time. When I let it slip to friends in middle school that I collected Barbie…well…that didn’t go over too well.

As an adult, I continue to collect books, some Sailor Moon figures, teapots, and for a while any Poe Dameron figure I could find. Oh, and we can’t forget Bumblebee! I have dozens of Bumblebee Transformer figures that I bought or were given to me by friends and family. Hey, what can I saw? They go with the car.

 

How to choose the perfect seat in class

The first of a series of posts about my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, written during National Novel Writing Month. Bullet points are taken from Samantha Craft’s website and post on Females with Asperger’s Syndrome, which can be found here. 

Escape and Friendship

  • Survives overwhelming emotions and senses by escaping in thought or action

When I was younger, if I was overwhelmed, I would often retreat into myself or flee to my room. My room was my sanctuary. I still retreat now, and I have found that after a long day at work, sometimes I need a bit of downtime. This was more the case when I was teaching in a physical school. Now that I teach at home a majority of the time, I have less of a need for downtime. However, before this, I would come home exhausted and not want to talk to anyone. Andrew and I worked out that if I went into my library or the spare bedroom and shut the door, it meant that I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone yet. I didn’t always use it, but it felt good to have that option.

Back to when I was younger. I remember at least one time where I moved my toy chest to block the door to prevent anyone from coming in and bothering me. Of course this didn’t work because the bedroom had no doors that I can recall, and there were two ways to get into the room: off the kitchen, and off the hallway. We live in a small two family home above my great-grandmother, so the floor plan was almost entirely open. Sure, there were walls, but the only doors I remember were to the pantry, the downstairs, the porch, the bathroom, and the front door. There was no real way to get away unless I crawled into a closet. That didn’t occur to me at first.

I did have a safe space outside, too. In the backyard there were bushes that had the perfect space for me to crawl into. I would play in there often. What made it even better was the natural seat I had. The bushes had grown around an old stone wall or something, and I had a space to sit. I could see out into the yard and people could see me if they looked, but I felt protected in there. It was a great place to read, and we all know how much I love reading.

In Maine, where we went to our grandparents’ cottage every summer for three weeks, I loved to play in the closet. I would bring my toys in there—mostly Barbie and My Little Pony—and set up little villages for them. I would spread out a blanket and play for hours, either with my sister or without.

At our new home, once my parents bought a house and we moved out of my great-grandmother’s place, I made a space for myself in my closet. It was tough because the floor was sloped and had maybe four inches for my feet, but I enjoyed going in there sometimes and closing the door. I would bring a flashlight in and either read or just relax. I didn’t realize what I was doing then, but it was refreshing to me. With the door shut, it was so quiet I couldn’t hear much, and I could recharge.

Once I was diagnosed with anxiety as a freshman in high school, I started escaping mentally. When class got difficult or my anxiety popped up, my body went into fight or flight mode. I would often flee, but sometimes the idea of fleeing and drawing attention to myself made the anxiety even worse, so I would mentally retreat. I began plotting escape routes from every single room I am in. I made plans for how long it would take me to cross the floor and get out. I would think of strategic places to sit that would afford me the best possible scenario. The seat closest from the door was not, actually ideal. In fact, let me share with you some of my strategies.

The first seat is not ideal because it is so close, everyone is looking there. Whenever someone passes by in the hallway, everyone turns to look. The back seat in that row is also not ideal for the same reason. Any front row seat is absolutely OUT of the question. People sit behind you, and therefore when they look at the board, they will be looking at you, and I can feel them watching. So nope. No way. Middle row seats are also unacceptable because it’s too claustrophobic. One person ahead of you, one behind you, and likely surrounded on all sides. Nope, no chance. Back row is ideal, however, which row? Depending on how the classroom is set up, if the room is split so that some seats are facing the door rather than the board, then the seat furthest from the door is actually ideal. It sounds crazy, but there is logic to this. First, by sitting in the back row, no one is behind you. By sitting in the corner away from the door, you are also away from the clock. So people who stare will likely look to the clock. Also, the teacher rarely walks over there. If you need to get out quick, you can stand and make a beeline for the door very quickly. Any other rows on the back part of the room require you to walk up the row, turn, and then exit. This draws more attention.

 

If the room does not have a side section, then the ideal row is actually the third row from the door. Less people will be looking at you, and it’s a shorter distance to the door from the last row. This can be tolerated.

That might sound crazy to most people, but those are thoughts I had every single class. If we were allowed to choose our seats, BLISS! If not, well, God help me. Because my last name was M or L (depending on the year, freshman year it was M), I was likely in the middle row in the middle seat. Absolute hell. And of course I was usually too afraid to ask for a seat change, as that would draw even more attention to myself, so I just suffered in silence. Usually by daydreaming, doodling in my notebook, writing stories in the back of notebooks, reading the textbook or any book, and staring out the window. The only classes I didn’t have anxiety was English, Art, and Mythology. In Mythology I came out of my shell and volunteered to answer every single question. Why? Because I read the entire textbook the first week class started and had it memorized. I loved it. My team loved me when we played Jeopardy because they knew I had the answers and let me answer everything.  And we always won.

  • Escapes routinely through imagination, fantasy, and daydreaming
  • Had imaginary friends in youth

Oh how my imagination ran. I’m sure it’s common for many children, but I’m pretty sure mine was on overdrive. At one point I had an imaginary friend that I shared with a girl at school. It was Yoshi. Yes, that Yoshi. From Mario. I’m not sure why we decided on him, but we did. Anyway, he would travel between our houses at night to keep us both safe. We shared a bus to and from school, so he often rode the bus with us. We would talk about him, but not to him there. I had vivid dreams about Yoshi many nights, and he did protect me from my nightmares. I hated ghosts and whenever I had a ghost dream, Yoshi would pop into my dream and rescue me and vanquish the ghosts. I was always excited to tell my friend that.

I’m not sure when it happened, but one day she stopped believing in Yoshi. Said she never really had and it was just a game. To me it wasn’t, though. I was upset, but I held onto Yoshi for myself for a while after that. I don’t know when I lost him, I don’t remember it ever happening, but I must have stopped one day. I do remember him, though.

I also remember intense role-playing. Oh man. I loved the game Tales of the Crystals from Milton Bradley. I don’t know where my copy went, but if I ever find it again, in a store, you can bet I’ll buy it! I loved that you had different things to role play and create. One time we had to turn my bedroom in a forest or something, so we hung sheets up on the bottom bunk to create a cave. I always wanted to play it, and would have for hours. Tiffany got bored quickly, so I would often play it by myself. While it might not sound as fun to people, and the game calls for 2-4 players, I was perfectly content playing all of the roles myself if I had to.

My role-playing days were not limited to childhood. When we got a computer with slow dial-up, I discovered the Yahoo forums, back when they were popular. I would role-play as characters I created based on Digimon or Sailor Moon. I also had some original characters in an original role playing game that I loved. I was about twelve then. I made some great friends online and felt like I had truly made friends that would last. As the Yahoo forums changed, the groups ended, and I lost contact with those people. However, I then discovered Prince of Tennis in 2003 and well…of course I started role playing. Never original characters, though. I would always play as Kaidou Kaoru. I discovered the website Livejournal and we did all of our playing there and on AIM. We would buddy up and play, and then create logs from the chats and post them. I loved it. I don’t really talk to anyone from that fandom anymore except for my best friend, Alley. Even when the games ended online and fandom cooled off, we continued to chat and play on our own, and became friends well beyond the fandom. We still talk about it, of course, because I never let anything go.

I think it’s important to note that this point in my life, my teenage years and even well into college, my only friends were online. I knew people at work, and I talked to some people at school, but a majority of the people I knew and liked were online. I felt a deeper connection to them than anyone else. It’s probably because they couldn’t judge me, or if they did, I didn’t know about it. Also because we definitely had the same interests, and they wouldn’t judge me over liking an anime about kids that play tennis, or watching musicals about kids who play tennis with grown men playing the kids. No one I knew in real life liked that stuff, but online, all bets were off.

Prologue: NaNoWriMo is here, and I’m going to write!

Before I start with anything, I wanted to give you, readers, a little bit of background on what I am doing, to hopefully shed a little more light on this project.

As many of you are probably aware—if you are writers, at least—November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. While I have not always been able to participate for various reasons, my first time doing NaNo was eleven years ago. Over the course of the years, I failed some and won some. Two of my novels written during NaNo are now published with Bold Strokes books! (Andy Squared and Meeting Chance) Due to grad school the last few years, on top of my already full teaching schedule, I was unable to really participate in the festivities. I tried, but I failed, and failed hard. I am proud to say that many of my students participated, and some of them continue to do so!

This year, however, I am getting back into it. I have the opportunity. With two different jobs that afford me plenty of time, even though I also have grad school, I feel that I can successfully complete NaNoWriMo and emerge on the other side relatively unscathed.

Most of you know that for the last several years, since The First Twenty was published, I have had a case of crippling writer’s block. It’s been dreadful. Not only do I not know what to write (despite having thousands of ideas), I just can’t sit down and focus long enough to do so. Peyton and Nixie are at a standstill with just over five thousand words in their next story. Colby and Enash are chomping at the bit, ready to go. But I just can’t do it.

This is year is going to be a game changer. Instead of doing fiction, I’ve decided to try my hand at nonfiction. A memoir of sorts, if you will. There are several reasons I decided to do this, which I’ve highlighted below:

  1. Maybe something different that isn’t related to school or novels will cancel my block and open the floodgates.
  2. Nonfiction will allow me to play with words without really worrying about structure of plot. I can say what I want and ramble if I need to, in a stream of consciousness style.
  3. I can change methods every day if need be.
  4. My recent diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome has been an eye-opening experience, one which has led me to fill a Moleskine journal with my thoughts and recollections. As a writer, I want to share what I’ve written, even if some of it is personal. I figure if I share it, maybe people will understand me more.

 

Over the course of this month I will be sharing my posts on a—hopefully—daily basis. Of course I might slack a bit, but my goal is to get out of this rut and share with everyone. To help me focus, I have decided to adapt the list written by Samantha Craft, which can be found on her website here: https://everydayaspie.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/females-with-aspergers-syndrome-checklist-by-samantha-craft/

I like having lists and checking things off. This list is particularly exciting because it pretty much describes my entire experience. Reading over it triggers so many “aha!” moments that I spent hours writing in my journal. Since then, I’ve had even more, which I intend to share over the course of November.

Please join me my journey of self-discovery. These posts will be as true as I know them to be. If at any point you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment on here or wherever this is cross-posted. You can also email me at writerjenlavoie at gmail dot com. I would be happy to answer your questions.

A Journey of Self-Discovery

I posted this on my Facebook page the other day, and I’ve decided that I’m going to continue to document my journey on my blog. It’s not my usual writing, to be sure, but I feel that it is important–at least to me–and if it helps at least one person, then great!

Over the course of several days, maybe weeks, maybe even months if I like how it’s going, I will be discussing my journey through anxiety and depression as well as my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. I am doing this to help end the stigma against mental illness as well as ASD. I want more people to be aware of what Asperger’s is like for a woman who is diagnosed later in life.

There are many wonderful resources already available about there, including the books Aspergirls by Rudy Simone and Everday Aspergers by Samantha Craft. If you are interested in women and Asperger’s I highly recommend you check out those books.


 

The other day I made a cryptic post on Facebook about myself and people sticking with me no matter what. I had wanted to say something about myself that I have learned in the last few months, however, I was unable to figure out how to say it. After speaking to my therapist and Andy, I decided I’m going to say it and share my experience so people can understand me better.

Yes, I have been seeing a therapist again for my anxiety and depression. Many of you are already probably aware of that, which is fine. That’s not the revelation. While going to my awesome new therapist, we started working through some things and I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which—if you don’t know—is part of the Autism spectrum.

Before you write or say anything, please let me say a few things.

There is no need to say you’re sorry. Don’t be! There is nothing wrong with having Asperger’s or being on the spectrum. It’s something that surprised me a bit at first, but now that I’ve had time to think about it, it makes complete sense to me and now I understand myself better than before. It’s been a wonderful revelation that has allowed me to understand how my brain works and why I do things differently from other people. I know can process why my teen years were so difficult, and why I felt like I never fit in with anyone.

Please do not also say “There’s no way! You must be mistaken!” or “But that doesn’t sound like you!” I assure you, this is not something that happened over night. I started this process many months ago, so it’s not something I decided in twenty-four hours.

For anyone who doesn’t know what it is, Asperger’s has a wide range of characteristics that may or may not all be present in a single person, and the degrees all very. Some of the characteristics include:

  • limited or inappropriate social skills,
  • tendency to discuss self rather than others,
  • lack of eye contact,
  • awkward movements,
  • and obsession with specific topics.

There are of course many more indicators, and these indicators are different for men and women. After reading the book Aspergirls by Rudy Simone, Everyday Aspergers by Samantha Craft along with other books, I discovered that my experiences are nearly identical to theirs.

Some examples of my experiences:

  • I have always had a hard time looking people in the eyes. It is actually physically painful for me to maintain eye contact, and during a conversation, my inner dialogue sounds something like this: “Look them in the eye. Hold it. Hold it. Okay, don’t stare! That’s creepy. Look around. Look back at them. At the eyes, not the nose, oh they have nice eyebrows why aren’t mine that nice, look away. Look back! Smile. Don’t smile too big, it seems fake.” I actually credit my cooperating teacher when I was student teaching in instructing me on how to maintain proper eye contact. She saw I struggled with it and gave me some tips. She called it acting class.
  • I struggle with conversations in social situations. I often say weird things, or interject at strange times. This has caused seriously uncomfortable situations where everyone will pause and stair at me, or they laugh awkwardly and ignore me for the remainder of the time. It hurts. A lot, actually. I’m trying to fit in and have friends, but it’s so difficult.
  • I also have to remind myself not to talk only about me, but to turn around and ask other people how they are. I might be an introvert, but when I get on a subject I’m passionate about, forget about it. I will steamroll over anyone. I have to consciously reign myself in and remind myself other people are present.

A great list of other attributes can be found on the Everyday Aspergers maintained by Samantha Craft here: https://everydayaspie.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/females-with-aspergers-syndrome-checklist-by-samantha-craft/

If you’re looking for books to understand, I highly recommend Everyday Aspergers by Samantha Craft and Aspergirls by Rudy Simone. They were wonderful books that helped me process my diagnosis.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them in the comments below or in a private message. And again, I’m not ashamed of my diagnosis, nor am I embarrassed by it. Rather, it’s been liberating for me. I now understand that my brain processes things differently from most people, and that’s why I do what I do. It has helped me cope with things that bother me and come up with strategies that actually work! I am no different from the Jennifer I was before, we just now have a name for why I’m a quirky, socially awkward person!

This has been a long time coming.

It’s been far too long since I’ve updated my website, and I have a lot I need to get off my chest. So please, hear me out.

I am a teacher. Specifically, I am an English teacher. I teach students how to read and write, how to critically analyze a text, and how to put those thoughts and opinions into words. Sometimes, however, it is difficult for me to say what I need to say. But here goes.

My students can read. 

Simple, right? Of course.

I can read. 

Also simple, right? Obviously.

Have I said anything negative about my students by stating the fact that I can read? Nope. That’s insane, right? To think that? Where in my sentence do I say anything negative? I simply said “I can read.” It follows after the statement “My students can read,” which implies that my sentence means also, in addition, as well. Those words are not necessary because it is understood that I can read as well. If you’d like a simpler word to use, you can use “too.” Example: I can read, too.

So what does this mean? It means that not only are my students able to read, but I am also able to read. No one can argue this, correct?

Thought so.

Now let’s move on to another statement.

Black lives matter.

WHOA, HOLD UP. No, Jennifer! ALL LIVES MATTER!

Yes, I understand all lives matter. I’m just saying black lives matter. I didn’t say anything against every other life. I simply said black lives matter. I did not say anything against any other life. I just said that they matter.

But doesn’t that statement mean only black lives matter?

NO. No more than my statement “I can read” means “Only I can read and my students cannot read.” Just as with my first example, black lives matter has the implied meaning of black lives matter, too.

But Jennifer, the Black Lives Matter movement is violent. Look at the riots! They are horrible people and violent criminals, all of them!

It sure seems that way with the way the media covers some of these events doesn’t it? Guess who else is incredibly violent and have proven themselves to be horrible people, all of them!

Cops. 

No they aren’t! They are not all horrible people! Just because a few cops are bad does not mean all cops are bad.

But all of Black Lives Matter is bad. You said it yourself. You saw the riots. I’ve seen the police footage. All police officers are bad.

That’s not it at all!

Know who else is bad? Who is horrible? Sports fans. When their team wins, damn. I’ve seen those riots. Flipping cars, setting shit on fire. Those are some bad people.

No they aren’t! Some of them got out of control. They aren’t all bad, you sound ridiculous!

I know. I do, don’t I? And guess what, that’s how you sound. Black Lives Matter is not a violent movement because you’ve seen the select footage media shows you about riots. You haven’t seen the peaceful protests because guess what? That makes for boring news coverage. But I have. There was a BLM demonstration on my campus and you know why no one has heard about it? Because it was calm.

Cops are not all bad. I am well aware of this, just as you are. So why can’t that belief be extended to the BLM movement as well?

Similarly, black lives matter. The implied statement is too because let’s face it, no one means only black lives matter. I mean come on. Do you mean only white lives matter? Or only blue lives matter when you say it? If you don’t, then you understand that the word “too” is implied, and therefore you should have no problem saying yes, I understand black lives matter. End story. No need to bring up any other lives because it’s already understood. And if you have a problem saying that, then guess what? Your problem is not with lives itself but with the color of those lives that matter.

Poetry – A New Venture

Last week I submitted a poem to HIV Here and Now, a wonderful project run by poet Michael Broder, the creator of Indolent Books. When I first started following the project, I thought I would love to contribute something for consideration, but didn’t know how. However, this semester, my graduate course on Illness Narratives really opened my eyes to the importance of writing about illness in all forms of literature, and the first four books of the semester dealt directly with AIDS.

Dr. Pozorski at Central Connecticut State University has always been a source of inspiration to me, and reading these books have opened my eyes. When we had Ira Fischer come to speak on campus, I had the opportunity to see him speak. Listening him opened me to the beauty of poetry, and I jotted down several verses while he spoke.

Upon coming home, I was struck with an idea, and so I wrote. Over the course of the next three days I drafted a poem, edited, rewrote, made several changes. When I was finished, I felt satisfied with what I had to offer. I’m not a professional, but I wanted to share my thoughts.

I am extremely honored to be poem 297 for March 25, 2016 on HIV Here and Now. “Between Generations” is my first published poem. I would love for you to check it out, and while you’re on the site, read the other amazing poetry that has been selected to help countdown 35 years of AIDS, on June 5, 2016.

ALA Booklist Starred Review

Booklist starred reviewThe First Twenty has made the August 2015 print issue of Booklist, and I couldn’t be happier! It received a starred review from Michael Cart. Check out what he has to say!

In the wake of the Collapse, billions have died and society has fractured into small communities of survivors. Two such are called Settlers and Scavengers. Their natural antagonism heats up when the Scavengers kill Enrique, the leader of the Settlers. His daughter, Peyton, assumes his role and captures one of the Scavengers, a young woman named Nixie. The two quickly fall in love, a relationship that is forbidden given their circumstances. Subsequently hoping to establish radio communication with other surviving outposts, Peyton, Nixie, and a handful of others make a potentially perilous quest to the ruined city of Hartford. In the process, a closely guarded secret of Nixie’s is revealed, one that can change all of their lives. But will it be for better or worse? There is nothing terribly original about Lavoie’s somewhat tame dystopian novel, but the relationship between Peyton and Nixie is well realized and heartfelt, and there is enough action to hold readers’ attentions to the end.

— Michael Cart

Questions #2

I love the questions you’re asking, so keep them coming! Today we have two questions from ‘Nathan, who asks:

Okay, I have a two-part question: Have you bumped into much negative feedback for writing LGBTQ characters? (and, the second part, to make it a less negative topic) What have been the best moments of having written LGBTQ characters?

Writing LGBTQ characters has been fantastic. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve honestly not had much negative feedback from the writing portion. I did have some issues with starting a GSA at the first school I worked at, but it was concerns on the part of an administration that wasn’t sure just how the GSA would benefit the school or students.

My biggest concern was with how my family–mostly my grandparents–would react. They come from a generation where being gay is just unheard of. Growing up, I found myself butting heads with my grandfather on many issues…a lot. It’s just who I am and it’s how he was raised. But even my grandfather has done me proud.

Book signing other viewWhen Andy Squared first came out, I had to explain what it was about. Of course my grandparents wanted to read it, but I did worry. I didn’t know how they would take it. I didn’t write it for them, obviously, but as my grandparents, I still wanted their approval. But I wasn’t sure if it would happen. When I had my book release party at the Bristol Public Library, they came. I couldn’t have been more nervous when I was standing at the podium reading from the book. At my feet I had my former students, and my grandfather sat right in front of me. When I opened the floor to questions and his hand went up, I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. But he surprised me. Rather than asking about Ryder and Andy’s sexuality and some, ahem, scenes, he commented on the style of writing and how he could picture being with the boys as they rode horses.

Book Singing with students at my feetAfterwards, he admitted he hadn’t finished the book yet, but that he was enjoying it. And when he finally did finish it, he told me how it had changed his mind on LGBT people.

I cried.

Then he surprised me again. He and my grandmother read the newspaper, and they enjoy columns like Ask Amy and such. In one, a mother had asked about her teenager being gay, and what books to read to help her understand, etc.

My grandfather wrote to the columnist and explained how his opinion had changed after reading Andy Squared, and how he realized how difficult LGBT teens have it when their family doesn’t accept them. I still have the email he sent me somewhere.

I cried again.

I guess you could say that was also one of the best moments of having written LGBTQ characters. Even though my books are primarily for teens, having a 70+ year old man read the book and change his opinion was pretty spectacular.

Readers have also contacted me from all over. My first ever reader email was from a young man in Costa Rica who had to order the book from the US and have it shipped to him. Another was from a young fan who reached out to me on Facebook, telling me he was going to come out to his family. I kept in touch with him for several months after that, checking in to see how he was doing. I also recently had a reader FROM upstate New York contact me, thrilled to see his part of the state represented with gay teens!

So the best moments are definitely when readers reach out to me to talk. I love that. I will always respond to readers, so please, don’t be afraid to reach out!

Your burning questions answered!

Do you ever wonder how an author gets their ideas? What inspired certain stories or scenes? What their favorite spot to write looks like? I know I have wondered that many times for my favorite authors! It’s interesting to find out about the people we read and what inspires them.

So I’m asking you, dear readers, to submit your questions! What do you want to know about me? What burning questions do you have that you just need answered? Feel free to post a question on my blog, the Facebook page, or send me an email!

The first question comes from Shelley, who asks:

What got you started writing? Why young adult specifically? Why GLBT themed?

 

All great questions! And it’s a long answer. Sort of. So sit back, folks, and listen up!

I’ve always considered myself a writer because I enjoy crafting stories. I was imaginative as a child, and would play with dolls and toys like a normal child did and create stories for them. I have a very specific memory of my first grade class. The teacher would post the lessons we had to get through for the day on the board, and some of them were at our own pace. At the very end of the list was free-writing. I loved to rush through my work to get to that because free-writing involved a box of pictures cut out of magazines pasted to card-stock. We had to pull a picture out of the box at random and write a story around it. It wasn’t often that I got to the end of my lessons, but by the end of the year I had a thick folder of stories I had written.

After that, I continued writing. I would keep composition notebooks full of stories. First I started with writing fanfiction. In sixth grade I started reading the Animorphs series, which had just come out, and I was obsessed. I wrote stories with those characters in new situations. Then I discovered Sailor Moon. I wrote crossover stories featuring the Animorphs kids and the Sailor Scouts. (I think I might still have one of those notebooks somewhere…)

Once my family got on the internet, things took over. I discovered fandoms and connected with people who wrote fanfiction. I read fanfic, I wrote fanfic, I posted it on different websites and started getting feedback. Then one day I had this brilliant idea to do a crossover with Final Fantasy characters…and original characters. I had written OCs before, but usually they were Mary Sues… ahem. This new crossover had dozens of original characters, and eventually I started writing it on my own, taking the Final Fantasy characters out and creating my own mythology. I started that when I was 18, and 12 years later I’m still tweaking that world. Eventually I will finish it.

About that same time I fell into other fandoms and discovered the magical world of online RP (role-play) writing. I was hooked yet again. I made some great friends, some of whom I still talk to today. I wrote with them, interacted with other writers, created complex stories and worlds that started with characters from a series, but evolved to becomes its own world.

By now I’m in college. I know I’m going to be an English teacher. There are certain courses that you must take. The one that truly started all of this was Literature for Young Adults with Dr. Cappella. In that course we had to read between 2-3 YA books a week and write about them. But we also had to write our own book. He said, “The only way to really know how to teach and understand young adult literature is to write it.”

Back up a semester. I was hanging out with a group of friends in the student center, eating a chicken ceasar wrap, and we were talking about TV shows. I had recently discovered Queer as Folk and I was extolling its virtues, when one of my male friends told me how much he loved the show. I didn’t think anything of it. We started talking about Justin and Brian, and it never clicked to me exactly why this conversation was significant until my friend pulled me aside after and came out to me. Talk about a “duh” moment. He had been giving me signals the entire conversation, and I was just completely oblivious! After, we became close and often wandered away from our group of friends. I introduced him to my favorite place on campus: Stack 2.

The library on campus at the time had LGBT books in a separate stack. I thought it was great because I could just wander down there, grab a book, and read. I visited almost every day and I only saw another person there once. It was warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and had a couch. Basically, heaven. I had discovered I enjoyed reading about LGBT protagonists much earlier when I was about fifteen and had read Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams and had been reading it since.

So, going back to the YA class, when Cappy told us we had to write a novel, I talked to my friend about the assignment. I had no idea what to write. And he said, “Why don’t you write a book about a gay teen? I wish there had been books like that when I was younger.” And I thought…. huh. Why not?

Andy Squared was born. The first draft was incredibly rough and it took my seven years from start to finish to get it where I wanted it, but I kept going because my professor encourage me to keep going because he saw something important in the pages, and my friend read it and loved it.

I could have stopped there, but I had always wanted to be published. So I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote some more. I eventually found a home for Andy and Ryder with Bold Strokes Books.

By the time Andy was accepted for publication I was teaching. I had students I worked with come out to me, and it meant so much to me that they would trust me with that information about them. When that first student honored me with that trust, it reminded me of my friend from college and I thought, “This. This is why I teach, and this is why I write. I need to keep writing these stories. These kids need voices. They need to see more characters like them so they know they’re not alone.”

It’s getting better out there. From the time I started writing in college until now, hundreds of LGBT books have been published for teens by small publishers and the big houses. But we can still do more. Stories need to be about more than just coming out. I keep writing because I want my students to see queer teens in the same positions as their straight counterparts. I want them to be the heroes and heroines of dystopias, fantasies, and scifi novels. So I’ll keep writing until the ideas run out. And that doesn’t seem to be anytime soon.

Boston Pride 2015

Until yesterday, I had never been to a Pride event. I had always wanted to go, but they were either too far away from me, or I forgot about it/didn’t know about it until it was too late. This year I had the opportunity not only to go to Boston Pride, but to help represent my publisher and sell copies of my YA titles.

WHAT A BLAST!

Boston is only about an hour and half from where I live right now, so it was really exciting to be able to make the trip for the day. I left early in the morning, had a heart attack navigating the tunnels into the city, but found a parking garage close to where I needed to be.

Just some of the books we had to offer. And me posing in the background.

Just some of the books we had to offer. And me posing in the background.

I was early. But it was still nice to see everything as it was being set up with so few people around. Because when eleven o’clock hit, it started to get busier. And when the parade reached us at around one, oh my GOD it was wall-to-wall bodies.

Since Boston is the home of my favorite drag queen, JuJubee, I had been hoping to meet her. She responded to my facebook post about being there, but sadly that wasn’t the case. However I sold out of all my YA titles, and fast! By an hour into the festival I was worried I wouldn’t have any left! With a little over three hours to go, I did sell out, but that just meant helping the other authors!

I was happy to have been able to bring Julie Blair and ‘Nathan Burgoine’s books as well. It was nice to have a good selection for festival goers!

I got to hang out with great authors from my group. I knew Cathy Frizzell from the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC, and Dena Hankins from the retreat last summer, but I also got to meet Jean Copeland and Holly Stratimore and their respective partners. Fun times!

Jennifer Lavoie, Jean Copeland, Holly Stratimore, CF Frizzell, and Dena Hankins

Jennifer Lavoie, Jean Copeland, Holly Stratimore, CF Frizzell, and Dena Hankins

But what was even better was the opportunity to connect with the readers. That was amazing. There were a lot of young adults there, and I had a blast talking with them. Some readers had no idea we existed and eagerly snatched up books. Some didn’t realize we were the authors until we asked if they wanted the books signed. Some readers were young – like one girl who bought Meeting Chance with her two dads and her little sister near – or older who had read a lost of LGBT fiction in their lives. Either way, I appreciated them all.

Dena looks on while Jean signs her novel and I...stare at something.

Dena looks on while Jean signs her novel and I…stare at something.

I can’t wait to do it again. I know all of us want to go back next year, and I hope I get to do more Pride events. I was originally going to do Providence Pride next weekend, but that had to be cancelled since no other authors were interested. And it’s a bit late for NYC Pride. But hey, maybe next year?

What do you think? Would you like to see Bold Strokes Books and NYC Pride next year? If you would, leave a message here! I’ll let my publisher know you want to see us! Any other Pride suggestions or events? Let me know! I’ll pass it along!