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.

Rainbow Book Fair

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC. Though I didn’t have a chance to read, I did hang out at the Bold Strokes Books table and met some amazing readers and other authors! I was thrilled to FINALLY meet Jeremy Jordan King, whose book, In Stone I loved. I also met YA author Nora Olsen whose novel Swans & Klons comes out next month.

I was thrilled to sell a copy of Andy Squared to one woman in particular. She is older and her grandson is in the sixth grade. This is my favorite story from the even, and possibly my favorite reader ever. She purchased a copy of my book after deciding she would buy it, and give it to her grandson as her way of coming out to him. She said she had waited too long to do it, and he should know.

I am so honored that she is using my book to do this. I wanted to sit behind the table and cry afterwards. I did not catch her name, as she wanted to personalize the book to him herself, but I wish her the best of luck and if I could meet her grandson, I’d tell him what an amazing grandmother he has.

Stay tuned later this week for a guest post by author Madison Parker whose new books, Play Me, I’m Yours has just come out through Harmony Ink Press!

Question from a reader

I’m really very fortunate. Either because I have some pretty amazing people reading Andy Squared or… I’m biased because this question came from one of my former students and she felt comfortable asking me because she knows me. Either way, the fact that she thought of something while reading my book and needed to know makes me happy. And it’s such a fantastic question I thought I’d post it and my response here!

The only question I really had was why have Andy be unware of himeself in that way, having Ryder kiss him and then giving Andy a few days to think about it then telling Ryder? What was the point you wanted to make? [some corrections made to question]

Excellent question. Why is Andy unaware that he is gay at seventeen years old? Why didn’t he have an inkling as to his true attractions? I could have made him a teenager who did know he liked guys but struggled to hide it, but that wasn’t what I wanted.

Andy is attracted to Ryder. From the moment they meet Andy is drawn to him in a way he hasn’t been drawn to someone before, and I feel that many of us old enough to have experienced this know that feeling. That is kind of what Andy is going through in that scene. But we’ll back up even more. Not all kids know they’re gay right away. Heck, some adults don’t even always know. They might realize after the fact what has been going on all those years, but it’s like the saying, “hindsight is 20/20.” That’s the case with Andy. He knows things are not working with his girlfriends. He figures it’s because he’s bored and doesn’t like the drama. That’s what he tells himself. He also figures as a popular athlete he has an image or reputation to protect. As sad as it is, there are many, many teenagers out there who go through this exact thing.

When I wrote Andy Squared, I didn’t want to portray your stereotypical gay teenager because I wanted readers to see that there are ALL kinds of gay teens out there. Not everyone is as aware of themselves as Josh and Ryder. Not all gay teens look and act like Josh. Many could play sports like Andy.

My point is this: Gay teenagers are just like straight teenagers. They come in all shapes and sizes, all religions and ethnic backgrounds. They don’t always know what they want in life. They fight with siblings and keep secrets from their parents. They fight with friends. They struggle sometimes when they harbor a crush. They’re not always sure about their relationships.

Thank you former student for asking that question. I’m proud of you for thinking so deeply about the book! And other readers, please feel free to send me your questions as well. I’d be happy to answer.

The Next Seven Days…

This week I feel like I’ve been terribly forgetful. In fact, I KNOW I have been. There’s just been so much on my mind that it’s hard to focus on any one thing, and as a result, a lot goes out of my mind!

Yesterday was the final tryout for my Odyssey of the Mind teams and after much deliberation and careful consideration, I was able to narrow down the 18 to my final 14 students. It was hard. All the kids that tried out were great and could bring different things to the program, but I can only have up to 7 students per team, and I’m already insane to take on two teams by myself.

Today we had field day. It was a BLAST. I cannot tell you how much fun I had. At my old school, field day was for some students, while the others and teachers just lounged around and watched. Not so here. At OCS, students are put into buddy groups from grades 5-8. There were 11 stations at a park we went to, and the students got about 10 minutes playing each of the games. I was in charge of the Capture the Flag field. CRAZY! Our section of the field was soaked by yesterdays rain and near the trees. Students from every team slipped in the slick grass and fell into it, but they had so much fun. I laughed so hard and got great pictures for the yearbook. I also nearly lost my voice from yelling and cheering so hard the entire time we were there. Oh, and don’t worry, I got soaked too. The water went up my jeans before I realized what was happening. But the fun was worth it!

My book was chosen as the October read for the YA LGBT Books group on Goodreads.

This weekend I’ll be working at the consignment shop and since it’s a sidewalk sale, my boss is setting me up to sell my books. Exciting! That’s this Saturday and Sunday. Monday we have off and I promised my students I’d go to the Book Barn to get more traditional fantasy books. I agree – not enough.

Tuesday I have a book talk at CCSU after school from 4:30 until 6.

And then Friday I’ll be heading to P-Town for Women’s Week!

So much coming up, it’s really no wonder I’m losing my thoughts!

National Coming OUT Day Book Talk

If you couldn’t join me on September 22nd for my book release, don’t worry! You can still see me talk about Andy Squared. I’ll be at Central Connecticut State University on October 9th from 4:30 to 6:00 PM talking about my book and doing a signing. Stop by!

Release Party Success!!

My former students decided to sit at my feet while I read. Just like old times!

First, a HUGE thank you to everyone who came out for the official Andy Squared release party! It was a ton of fun and I got to see former students and colleagues. I was so happy for the support. One family even sent flowers because they could not be there! It was amazing.

Thank you to the Bristol Public Library for hosting us! I hope I can give a book talk in the future to readers!

Already I’m getting messages from those that went to the event and finished their book already. It thrills me to know they enjoyed it so much. My current students, too! There is a copy in my classroom and I love seeing books – especially Andy Squared – be passed around and recommended to friends after they finish it. Really, there is no greater feeling as a teacher and a writer.

Everyone gather around! I loved seeing everyone there!

But the event! What fun! I signed books for an hour and talked with people, then gave a short reading and answered questions on the book. They were insightful, too. One person, who had started the book prior to the event and brought his own copy to be signed, asked if I had done research on horses prior to writing the book.

The answer: yes and no. I rode horses when I was younger, and I love them, so a lot of what I learned I still maintained. There were some terms I had to look up, mostly in regards to the particulars of the English saddle, and others I checked, but I did remember most of what I had learned while riding.

I also have to thank my parents and my sisters who gave up a few hours of the day to be there. My youngest sister, Cassandra, is an author in the making. She’s currently writing her first novel at the moment, and is about halfway finished! I hope to someday have a dual book signing with her! How awesome would that be?

Cassandra on the left, Tiffany on the right

Happy Birthday to you~

It’s official! Today is the release date of Andy Squared, or as I like to call it, the book birthday! I’m really excited for it to be officially out, but it still seems so surreal to me. I mean, it was just another normal day at work. And yet, my book is now available in bookstores everywhere for readers to enjoy.

And I truely do hope everyone enjoys it or takes something out of the story. Andy and Ryder are such dear characters to me. I lived with them in my head for six years before their tale was finally told. I hope everyone else loves them just as much as I do.

If you’ve read the book and enjoyed it, I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email! I love getting mail.

Official Andy Squared Release Party!

Join me on September 22, 2012 from 2-4 PM at the Bristol Public Library in Bristol, Connecticut. I will be reading from the book and giving a book talk. There will be copies of the book available for purchase, or you can bring a copy you already have.

I’d love to see you there!

People You Should Know

Today I had the amazing opportunity to be interviewed by David-Matthew Barnes (*faints*) and Frankie Hernandez for the blogtalk radio show People You Should Know. It was my first phone interview and it was such an incredible experience! I enjoyed talking to them about my writing and my book, Andy Squared, and I cannot thank them enough for inviting me to be on the show!

The rest of the show was incredible, too. I got to listen in to the end of the first guest while I was waiting, and I ended up going back after work on my drive home to listen to the broadcast. Truly fascinating discussion about working on Broadway and being a dresser. I didn’t know what that was until the interview with Kimberly Faye Greenberg.

If you missed the show, check it out! You can listen to previous broadcasts, but don’t worry! You just missed the first one! Check out the On Demand episodes and look for episode one. I am the second guest!

Also, thanks to my boss at my dayjob for allowing me to have the twenty minutes to myself to take the interview, and thanks to a coworker for taking my students for that time until I was finished!