On NOT writing an LGBT book…

Out in the streets (and all over Facebook) people are wearing purple today. In support of LGBT teens in general, and specifically in memory of the six kids who died this year (that we know of) after experiencing severe anti-LGBT bullying. Which is so sad and difficult even to think about…

Not unrelated, Kirkus has a great link to  some notable gay/lesbian books, some great books, and that got me thinking… about my own book, Penny Dreadful, and the decision that I made to include a certain family in it.  There’s a character, a small boy named Twent, who has two mommies–Willa and Jenny.  Readers don’t get to know Jenny much (she’s mostly at work) but Willa stays home with Twent, and she’s massively pregnant, and she has long hair, and Penny thinks she’s wonderful!

But here’s the thing– Penny Dreadful isn’t, I don’t think, an LGBT book. Though I’m honored to have it included in lists that suggest it is. It isn’t about anyone being gay, or about anyone being straight (I can’t think of many middle grade books that are about hetero identity, really, despite all the randy straight parents who are surely boffing all night long, in the pages that never got written. Naughty Marmie!).  Penny Dreadful is just about people who happen to be lots of things. There are characters who are gay and straight, white and black, hearing-impaired and not-so-much, timid and brave, rich and poor, old and young. Simply because I challenge you to find a town that isn’t all of those things.  I didn’t write Willa and Jenny into the book to make it a gay book. I wrote them  to make it a real book, an honest book. A book about the world, which is full of all kinds of people.

I think we need this–books not about things–as much as we need books about things.  I talk about this a lot, with regards to Judaism, that we need to read about Jews in picture books that aren’t clobbering us with a big Jewish educational hammer.  Because I think it helps kids, to see themselves  and their families, in a book, just being human , living in the world, finding magic or having adventures, or eating spaghetti, or doing chores, or whatever…

This is something I’m learning about right now, a step I’m taking with my writing.  I’m trying to engage with reality a little more than I have in the past, and part of that is engaging with diversity.  And I want to think that if more books represented diversity this way, simply, without it being a big issue all the time, more kids would understand that it isn‘t always a big issue.  I’d like to think that children’s books are a wonderful way to begin the process of educating people about how varied human experience is, and about how all of it, all of it, is normal.

Kids do  a lot of things. They struggle with their homework, eat peanut butter, kill dragons, fight with their parents.  Some of the parents are Jewish and some of the kids are Asian and some are gay and some are Mormon and so on and so on…  that’s not really the story, at least not all the time.

Though the dragons… well, when the dragons are gay Mormons, that changes things a little.

But I can’t tell you about that today. You’ll have to wait for my next book for that tale.

11 Responses to “On NOT writing an LGBT book…”

  1. Kaethe Says:

    Gay Mormon dragons? I’d read it in a heartbeat.

  2. Alice Says:

    I’m so glad you did include them. I’m trying to write my own young adult book (I’m shooting for ‘terrible’ to take the pressure off)and I have included some gay couples. I wanted it to reflect our son’s life and this kid has A LOT of ‘uncles’. I wasn’t sure if it would make it unpublishable. Of course what will make it unpublishable will be that I’ll probably be the only one who likes it in the end. : )

  3. Amy Says:

    You know, I think books like Penny Dreadful are as important, or more, as books that are just about being gay. We need more characters who just are GLBTQ, rather than the whole issue being resolved in the book being that they are gay. Maybe should be a second list, but still important to list them and get them out there more so that more authors start being more inclusive with their writing.

  4. librarymama Says:

    This is one of the things that I really appreciate about Penny Dreadful — it just IS and it’s not the issue. I have been trying to find books where there are kids of different races but that’s not the point of the story (i.e. Jennifer Hecate Macbeth William McKinley and Me Elizabeth) because that’s real to kids too.

    Now, I am with Kaethe — please please write a book about gay mormon dragons!

  5. Anjali Says:

    I couldn’t agree more.

    The same goes for multicultural books. Multicultural characters can be in a book that’s NOT about one’s culture or race. I love the How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight series for including so many multicultural parents– even though the book is about dinosaurs’ bedtime!

  6. Barry Deutsch Says:

    I so agree! Even though my own book may seem to be wielding a big Jew-ed hammer. One of the things I loved about Buffy is that Willow was Jewish, and it wasn’t a big deal, it was just part of her character.

    I think nearly all books are political. Deciding to write a world in which there are same-sex-couples having children and that’s just normal is political — it’s not a big preachy hammer political, but it’s still political. So is deciding to write a world in which everyone is apparently heterosexual. But we tend to forget that the latter is just as political a statement as the former.

  7. laurel Says:

    Thanks, everyone!

    I guess I’ll add the gay dragons to the list with “the very naughty unicorn.” The list of “books I’ve pretended I’m writing and now need to write.

    Barry, Mirka is NOT a hammer. Not remotely. “How to have fun lighting candles” is a hammer. “Jews all like to plant trees for Israel” is a hammer. Edutainment is the hammer.

    Mirka is a delight. A character. A STORY.

  8. Sam Says:

    I think books like PENNY (and POPULARITY PAPERS,another great MG that has main character with two dads) are almost more important that the ones that are decidedly LGBT for a majority of America. In small towns like where we are we can put books like PENNY into the hands of a child that may have never met a LGBT person (knowingly) or go to a church where LGBT is a “sin”. They can then fall in love with the story and see a LGBT character leading a “normal” life. Because, as Laurel so eloquently said, THOSE are the people that make up a town (even in rural PA!).

    Sam :)

  9. Paul Boat Says:

    I love that books can now carry gay characters without putting emphasis on the idea that they are different. This is the world that most city people live in and it is how the world really should be; however, it is not the reality that most kids enjoy. By what you are doing, you are opening up the world to a whole bunch of people.

    I do think, however, you might be off about the lack of books about hetero identity. Nearly every book that includes relationships is about hetero identity without having to point anything out simply because it is the norm. Unfortunatley, because kids who have a different experience growing up might need to understand what it is that is happening to them, there is a need for books that specifically talk about this issue. Of course, as soon as it is a matter of course for mommies, daddies, uncles, aunts, boyfriends, girlfriends, and crushes to be mixed up in books as a matter of course, there will still be that odd need to point things out which is really just another form of separation.

    I love reading about your work on FB and Twitter. I am thrilled to see your blog and look forward to reading your books.


  10. laurel Says:

    You’re right, Paul! Totally.

    I think I meant that the books are good book precisely because they aren’t “about.”

    And that nobody discusses the sex life of the average parents in a children’s book. Like, “Mom is a nurse and daddy works in an office and they both like picnics!” The fact that they’re (dafualt) straight doesn’t cause people to ponder how they do (or don’t) “do it.”

  11. How Should We Then Respond? | Whispers of Dawn Says:

    [...] Snyder confirmed this motivation on her website. “I want to think that if more books represented diversity this way, simply, without it being a big issue all the time, more kids would understand that it isn‘t always a big issue.  I’d like to think that children’s books are a wonderful way to begin the process of educating people about how varied human experience is, and about how all of it, all of it, is normal.” [...]

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