Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Kids These Days: Indrani Das

I’ll be the first to admit that science has never really been my thing. Sure, some topics of interest stuck in my brain (hello, grade 9 unit on the reproductive system!), but there’s no guarantee they’ll stay there. I mean, I picked up enough in science classes to know that the body is this complex thing, and that the more complex things are, the more possibilities there are for failure.

Especially with something like the brain, which is kind of the master of the whole shebang. If it fails – due to traumatic injury or something like dementia – its host is in trouble.

But not if Indrani Das has anything to do with it.

Indrani has been studying what’s actually going on in the brain when brain damage occurs in an attempt to discover how the process can be slowed, or even reversed. And the fact that she recently won the top prize of $250,000 in the Regeneron Science Talent Search suggests that she’s doing a heck of a job.

Because the Regeneron Science Talent Search? Yeah, it’s sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize for teens.

Yes, teens.

Seventeen-year-old Indrani has been studying how to improve the lives of people with brain injuries or degenerative brain diseases since she was fourteen. So, at the same age that I was giggling over the similarity between the words orgasm and organism, she was studying the human brain.

And she kept at it for three years, increasing her knowledge, developing her findings, ending up as one of 40 finalists from 1700 applicants to this prestigious science fair. And, after enduring rigorous questioning that forced her to defend her findings, she emerged victorious.

Which, in itself, is pretty darn impressive. I mean, she won $250,000! For studying parts of the human brain that I can't even pronounce! But this research is only one way that Indrani spends her time.

She wants to be a doctor one day, but waiting until after college to start helping people is clearly not her style. She’s already a certified EMT working with the ambulance service in her home state of New Jersey.

And she tutors math.

And plays the trumpet in a jazz ensemble.

All while making discoveries about the human brain that could potentially help thousands to maintain or improve their quality of life.

So, my teenage self will just be in the corner, laughing over funny words and feeling safe  confident in the knowledge that Indrani is out there, and that she's much better at science than I could ever hope to be.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kids These Days: Martina Ortiz Luis

As a Canadian, I love hockey. And as any hockey loving Canadian outside of Toronto, I’ve spent a lot of good years enjoying the Maple Leafs continual failures – both on the ice, and in grammar. I mean, Maple Leafs? Come on.

But when I turned on the TV to watch their home opener for their recently completed season, I didn’t know what to expect. They’d added some really good young players. They have a solid coach. I was prepared to be wowed. And I was – before the game even started.

See, one of the new team members added for the 2016-17 doesn’t play hockey. She sings. And as the Maple Leafs first full-time anthem singer, fifteen year-old Martina Ortiz Luis spent the season putting butts in seats well before puck-drop.

With her range and consistency, she turned what can sometimes be the last call to hit the bathroom or grab a refill into a show in itself. So, her talent and age have garnered more than one headline since the start of the NHL season – but this is hardly the first time Martina has stepped into the spotlight.

YouTube views of her anthem singing are currently pushing three-thousand, and hey, that’s not shabby. But YouTube views of her competing on the Philippines version of The Voice are nearing a million after her participation on the show in 2015.

So, let’s take stock. At fifteen, Martina’s talent has already made national headlines in two separate nations. And she’s not done yet.

As an ambassador for World Vision, Martina acts as a spokesperson to help children around the world, promoting child sponsorship and anti-child labour endeavours. While she may not make national headlines for this charity work, she did beat out tens of thousands of other students in her school district for the Father Andrew Cuschieri Humanitarian Award as a result of her work with World Vision.

In addition to her school work and anthem gig with the Maple Leafs, Martina’s official website teases that she’s been working on original material with none other than Rob Wells – who has produced for Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, among other household names – with the intention to release original songs in 2017.

So I’ll just be over here until that happens. Waiting for the Leafs return next season, butt firmly planted on the couch in time for a teen to blow my mind with the anthems.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Ego Versus the Revision

I write a lot about the topic of revising, because a writer is going to find herself doing 10 times as much revising as actual drafting. Writing a book is the easy part. Coming back and rewriting it, restructuring it, and refining it is the part you'll find yourself doing over, and over, and over again—and is usually the most difficult part of the process of writing a book.

The most challenging part of revising is that it's guided by critique. And critique is always hard to take.

boy looking into mirror

They say that good writers are actually good revisers—that great final products are the result of pointed editing, careful finessing, and an eye for delving into elements we've already created for greater truths.

But I would suggest that good writers are actually good at taking feedback. And then spinning it into something wonderful.

Have you ever worked on a book or story for so long that you can't even see it anymore? This is me whenever I finish a draft of a manuscript: the words are just pixels on a screen. I don't know if they're good words or bad words, if they make sense together or if I've completely botched it. Either everything will seem wonderful and perfect, or I'll be convinced it's all crap.

That's the point at which I need an outside perspective. I need someone I trust, someone with just the right amount of objectivity, to tell me whether those words are good, or actually crap. (It's important in any writer's career to have reliable readers that you trust with your raw work.)

The key to writing a better next draft? Taking that feedback and doing something with it.

Our egos are always getting in the way of writing great books.

When you've labored at a manuscript for weeks, maybe months at a time, it's incredibly difficult to hear that it isn't perfect. But I've poured so much work into it! you might think. It's a masterpiece!

Certainly it will help you in the long run to maintain a healthy pool of self-confidence about yourself and your writing, because that pool will naturally drain as you move through the process of improving a manuscript.

But don't let that natural pool of ego get in the way of hearing helpful, valuable feedback. Even if the feedback contradicts what you believe about your own work—but I'm great at characters! but my descriptions are good, even if a bit long! but but but—it's still important to listen to it with an open mind and an open heart.

The things that are hardest to hear are often the things most critical to improving a piece of work, if you're willing.

Strategies for Taking Feedback, and Preserving Your Ego

1. Listen, but don't internalize.

Whenever someone takes the time to read and critique your work, your very first response (even if you don't genuinely feel it) should be to say, "Thank you! Thank you for taking the time, and thank you for your valuable comments." Because it does take time to read someone's work, to thoughtfully analyze whether what the author is accomplishing what they set out to do, and to prepare helpful comments to address the gaps.

Saying "thank you" doesn't necessarily mean you agree. It doesn't necessarily mean you will do every single thing the person critiquing your work suggests you do. Because somebody says they don't like something, doesn't mean it's bad—everyone has a different subjective taste, and your reader's taste may not align with yours.

Don't take negative feedback as a personal insult. Sometimes it's not about you or your writing, but about what your reader expected to see (and then didn't see).

2. Acknowledge what they have to say.

By that same token, it's dangerous to dismiss any and all negative feedback as a "disagreement of taste." You ought to choose your readers carefully, to make sure what you're giving them to read is within their wheelhouse of experience.

It's natural to have a strong reaction to harsh critique. We're wired that way. The defense mechanism exists to preserve your ego, and to preserve that buoying pool of self-confidence that helps you keep writing even in the face of rejection.

But don't take the bait and react. After receiving harsh critique, or any critique, give yourself a couple of days to digest it. Read what you can of the comments when you can, and take frequent breaks to let that self-confidence shore back up again. It doesn't make you fragile that critique is hard to take—it makes you human.

Once you've gone over all your comments, make a list of important points the reader is making. Acknowledge them. Consider what they would mean, should you implement them.

3. Decide what fits, and what doesn't. 

Before you start accepting or rejecting comments, return to your original work. What is its intention? Do you know your own voice? Do you have a cohesive vision?

Not every suggestion is the right suggestion for accomplishing these things—intention, voice, and vision. Especially if you ask other writers to read for you, they will sometimes give feedback that sounds more like what they would write, rather than what you would write. Other times, a suggestion is pointing out a problem—and the solution isn't always the most targeted or appropriate solution. Try to look at feedback through the lens of "what problem is this pointing out to me?" rather than "how do I fix this?"

Give yourself plenty of time and distance from your work while you consider critiques. Try to have as much emotional objectivity as you can muster. Are you disliking the suggestion because it challenges your ego, or because it doesn't fit your vision for the work?

4. Say yes more often than you say no. (But you can say no.)

Not all feedback is good feedback. But most of it is—so you should read any critique with the mindset that your reader is more often right than wrong.

That said, not every suggestion you get is right for your book. Even in professional relationships (between an author and an editor at a traditional publishing house), it's okay to occasionally say "no." Stick up for what's important to you—your voice, your message, your characters. You don't want your manuscript to become something unrecognizable. You especially don't want it to become something you can't be proud of.

But whenever you want to say no, ask yourself: is this my integrity talking, or my ego? Is this because I'm worried about being imperfect?

You want your final product to be the best that it can be—so don't hamstring yourself by turning away valuable, expert feedback. Sometimes it takes a lot of time and distance to see the wisdom in a suggestion. Allow yourself that time to think, consider, and act.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cover Reveal for Why I Loathe Sterling Lane + Editor Commentary!

We're very excited to be participating in the cover reveal for a hilarious and wonderful YA contemporary that I acquired at Entangled! Why I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid Paulson is "what if Paris Geller fell for Ferris Bueller, and they both stayed horrible people." It's incredibly real, and laugh-out-loud funny, with tons of insight and moments you'll go back to re-read. This is a special book, and if you're anything like me, you'll love seeing a girl like Harper, who's angry and sarcastic and not so great with people but also surprisingly kind and generous, get to have her day as a heroine. Look for it releasing June 6!

Per her 537 rules, Harper Campbell keeps her life tidy—academically and socially. But the moment Sterling Lane transfers into her tiny boarding school, her twin brother gets swept up in Sterling’s pranks and schemes and nearly gets expelled. Harper knows it’s Sterling’s fault, and to protect her brother, she vows to take him down. As she exposes his endless school violations, he keeps striking back, framing her for his own infractions. Worst of all, he’s charmed the administration into thinking he’s harmless, and only Harper sees him for the troublemaker he absolutely is. 

As she breaks rule after precious rule in her battle of wits against Sterling and tension between them hits a boiling point, she’s horrified to discover that perhaps the two of them aren’t so different. And maybe she doesn't entirely hate him after all. Teaming up with Sterling to save her brother might be the only way to keep from breaking the most important rule—protecting Cole.

Scroll down to see the cover!

Author Bio:
Ingrid Paulson does not, in fact, loathe anyone. Although the snarky sense of humor and verbal barbs in Why I Loathe Sterling Lane might suggest otherwise (and shock those who think they know her best). 

Ingrid lives in San Francisco with her husband and children and enjoys long-distance running, eavesdropping, and watching science documentaries. She has always loved books and writing short stories, but was surprised one day to discover the story she was working on wasn't so short any more. Valkyrie Rising, a paranormal girl power story was Ingrid's first novel. Expect another humorous contemporary romance to join the list soon. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Cover reveal for 27 Hours

Today we are thrilled to be participating in the cover reveal for 27 Hours by Tristina Wright! This much-anticipated YA sci-fi had its exclusive cover reveal with Book Riot this morning, as one of their most anticipated releases of 2017.

Title: 27 Hours (The Nightside Saga. #1)
Author: Tristina Wright
Release Date: October 3, 2017

Book Description: 
Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill, and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters, and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them.

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from his mother's shadow, and to unlearn Epsilon's darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

Scroll down to see the cover!

Isn't it so striking? The purple and blue! The texture! That font! The ships! The moon! PS: this is incredibly aligned with the colors the author dyes her hair. Win-win.

Preorder this gorgeous book!

Tristina Wright is a blue-haired bisexual with anxiety and opinions. She’s also possibly a mermaid, but no one can get confirmation. She fell in love with science fiction and fantasy at a young age and frequently got caught writing in class instead of paying attention. She enjoys worlds with monsters and kissing and monsters kissing. She married a nerd who can build computers and make the sun shine with his smile. Most days, she can be found drinking coffee from her favorite chipped mug and making up more stories for her wombfruit, who keep life exciting and unpredictable.
Still trying to figure out the mermaid thing.

Snapchat: @tristinawright

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Internship Opening at Entangled Publishing

I’m looking for 2-3 additional interns to work with me at Entangled Publishing, mostly with YA for Entangled Teen but also with single-title adult romance and category romance. POC, LGBTQ+/MOGAI, neuroatypical, and disabled applicants are encouraged.

Entangled books are distributed by Macmillan Publishers, which means we can reach 120 countries with English versions of our books. Entangled print books reach Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and many other bookstores, and we have a list of 60+ USA Today and New York Times bestsellers as well as RITA award winners. We also have a shared imprint with St. Martin's Press that allows us to showcase titles in mass-market paperback.

This is a remote, unpaid internship. Regular access to the internet will be necessary. Substantial training, mentorship, and copies of the print books from my list are provided. Applicants for the internship should have 8-10 hours per week available, though the internship is somewhat flexible. Prior experience in publishing is not required, but experience in a library or bookstore is a plus.

In addition, applications should be:
  • well-read across the genres in YA especially, as well as adult romance
  • able to appreciate romantic fiction of most sub-genres
  • open to reading explicit adult romance
  • seriously interested in publishing as a career
  • able to critically analyze big-picture elements of fiction

Tasks include reading submissions, writing reader reports, helping to proofread galleys, research comparison titles, edit associated materials for client work, and attend monthly virtual team meetings. Interns will work directly with me and my list of authors, including Lydia Kang, Ingrid Paulson, Kimberly Bell, Tristina Wright, Erica Cameron, and Julie Hammerle.

To apply, please email a resume and cover letter detailing what you'd bring to the team, your reading interests (including top 5 favorite recent reads), and your related experience to katebrauning@entangledpublishing.com

Applications close Dec. 18, 2016. Internship period starts after the holidays in January, though I can be flexible with the start date. Alternate structures for students may be possible.

Kate Brauning is a senior acquiring editor at Entangled Publishing and an author of young adult fiction (How We Fall, Merit Press). Kate acquires YA, NA, and adult fiction across Entangled’s imprints. She’s especially interested in funny/charming or dark YA, and high-concept stories regardless of genre. In adult fiction, she’s looking for small-town or community-driven romances with clever or hilarious meet-cutes, and romance-driven women’s fiction. In her spare time, she makes three-tier cakes, hunts down new music, and reads just about everything. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KateBrauning

Monday, October 31, 2016

On Chasing The Diversity Trend

Someone approached me recently, asking me if I was the “diversity agent.”

She wanted advice on how to make her story “more diverse.” Someone told her to throw a marginalized character into her novel to make it more marketable. So first, I asked her if she thought it was a good idea to “throw” anything into a novel.

Remember: if you can’t justify every writing decision you make beyond citing “market demand”; if you don’t *believe* in your own story or characters—you’ve got a problem. And I encourage you not to play into any kind of perceived trend if it diminishes the veracity of your book’s world.


You might want to contemplate making a thoughtful, thorough change to increase your book’s scope. A change that might, you know, make its world more accurately reflect the world we live in?

Here’s what I think: books are mirrors, and every reader should have the opportunity to find themselves in the books they read. So yes, consider making the world of your book reflect the diversity that exists in our world—if this is something you’re serious and passionate about doing, and not because it's a trend. You shouldn't feel as though you’re not equipped to write a story from a perspective or a cultural background you don’t personally share—but at the same time, I urge you to honor the complexity of that perspective, and to do the work you need to do to make it authentic.

Writing outside of your own experience is a serious responsibility. It isn’t a matter of “throwing” in a token character, or any careless detail that belittles an entire tradition or lifestyle. If you choose to write any kind of stereotype, you are saying to everyone: this representation is sufficient. This person doesn’t need depth. This culture is not multifaceted. You’d be limiting the scope of your book, you’d be doing a disservice to your readers—you’d basically be saying, “I don’t care enough.” You’d be endorsing a reductive view of the world. And I’m sure you’d never want to be accused of that.

Another thing to remember: obtaining one person’s approval of how you represent anything isn’t a free pass. Get more eyes on your work, as many eyes as possible. Seek out readers from different backgrounds, different literary sensibilities. Encourage all kinds of feedback, and prepare to encounter a fair share of negativity. Like I always say: mastering the art of accepting criticism gracefully will serve you well in this industry. Writing requires courage, determination, and a strong stomach. Be prepared to defend what you think is right, but know when to step down and admit that you’ve made a mistake. Know when to listen. And always, always, take steps to make amends.

Readers want stories that feel true. They want characters that are emotionally accessible, feel real, and are fully human. Readers don’t want empty shells for characters. Even if they look like them.

Writing is an art, and art is subjective. So don’t chase trends, any trends. Don’t try to make your story fit someone else’s concept of what’s in vogue with current readers. Don’t feel the need to make your characters be something different for difference’s sake, or speak or behave in way that doesn’t feel right to you. It will almost always backfire, because publishing professionals can sense writing that doesn’t feel genuine, even if it’s competent otherwise.

Write honestly. Honor the process. Give it the respect any art deserves.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When Inadequacy Shouts in Your Face (and other writer struggles)

If I had to encapsulate the sum of my writing and publishing experience in one theme it is this: overcoming fear. There are other themes, of course, but truly in twenty years of writing and trying to get published, and then getting published—this is the overarching element. Face your fears or quit.

Fear of rejection, fear of failing, fear of being inadequate to complete the task, fear of not measuring up to whatever expectations I or the world sets for me. And always, the refrain: face your fears or quit.

This quote lives on the wall above my desk. What fears are you facing right now? What giant stares you down and crowds your vision, until all you see are your inadequacies? I have a few of these lumbering specters filling my creative horizon currently, but I’m going to tell you about the one I crashed into most recently. The one I still wear bruises from. If it had to name this particular giant—it would be Daunting.

Daunting crept up on me (yes, even these largest of giants can slip into our lives and catch us unawares,) when I was drafting the sequel to FLASHFALL. More specifically, Daunting made itself known about the time I realized that writing Book Two was not at all like the experience of writing book one. The words didn’t flow, they trickled through cracks in the barren wasteland of my reluctant imagination. I sat at my computer, days on end staring at all that blank space . .  . and saw Daunting staring back at me.

I tried music, change of location, taking breaks, reading—all the things we are supposed to do to “fill our creative wells”, but all I could hear was a voice, growing louder day by day, “You are not up to this. There’s no magic. You’re more likely to fail than succeed.”

That blank page was my nemesis. It filled me with dread. And so I began to avoid it. (Not good for a writer with a book under contract.) Ignoring Daunting wasn’t going to make my deadline disappear. There it was again: face your fears or quit.

Two things happened.

I went to a YA book festival, desperately hoping for assurance and inspiration--that illusive spark to my creative wick. Instead, I encountered one negative experience after another, and they crushed me. It was like all my fear giants came out to play Let’s Show Jenny How Inadequate She Is. They dogged me for two straight days at the conference, and I can still see some of the scars they left. However, I managed to hear something past my crippling self doubt that weekend. An author on a panel shared about the hardships of writing and the old adage: “You can’t fix a blank page.”

I’d heard the saying before—so often repeated at writers’ conferences that it’s almost trite. But that weekend—on that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, day—I heard it past all the other crap my subconscious was screaming at me. I heard it from a wounded place, a fearful place, the highest peak of Doubt Mountain. It wasn’t a cure, or any kind of silver bullet to knock out Daunting and his pals, but it was . . . a start. To something. A shift of focus. A believing that maybe, I could.

The next day I stared at my computer, determined to at least put down words, even if they sucked. I had created an entire world for FLASHFALL, filled with characters and problems; I had brought Orion and Dram to life and then made their lives horrible with one conflict after another. Why was this time around so. freaking. hard?

I went for a run. I veered from my normal path, aimlessly plodding through neighborhoods, my steps mirroring my chaotic thoughts. I wrestled with plot points—all met with walls. I raked my fingers through the sands of my imagination for anything—one granule of a good scene. I prayed. Where had my muse gone? Was I dried up before my first book had even made its debut?

Suddenly, I was jogging over a child’s art, a design that stretched across the pavement in bold strokes of sidewalk chalk. I smiled, momentarily rescued from my self-absorbtion. Here was something good. Art in its purest form. And then my attention was caught by letters scrawled at the top of the design. One word. Start.

I took it as a Sign From The Universe. A little echo of the author’s words from the conference. Start. Begin. Take the next step. You can’t fix a blank page. So I did what I typically do in these instances, and got out my phone to take a picture and Instagram it.  That’s when I noticed the rest of the picture: a stick figure with a name beside it. Orion. 

My main character’s name. The girl whose story I’d been struggling to find. And yes, ladies and gentlemen—I cried. But these were happy tears. Here was proof of magic. And magic—even a little—trumps fear giants every time. Daunting receded to my periphery, and “I could” became “I would.”

 I would like to say that I sprinted home and words just poured onto my keyboard. They didn’t. That desert still remained. I wrote some sucky scenes. But I STARTED. The next day was only just a tiny bit easier. Daunting wasn’t gone completely, but every step I made took me a step farther from hearing that giant’s voice.

We all have our giants. This life is filled with them, and this artistic, writing life—even more so. What voices are you listening to? Do you have a Daunting of your own? Take a step. A step closer to your goals. We can’t always make our insecurities disappear, but we can choose to shift our attention away from them. Sometimes we just need to start, take the next step. If you’re finding that difficult, imagine my voice, shouting above all the other noise, saying, “You can do this. Your words matter.”

It’s the truth. Even if you have to remind yourself of it every day.

So what goals are you going to conquer?

I’ve waited months for my editor’s revision notes. Truth? I’m nervous. I took some risks writing that draft. Book Two was born from a desert, the words pulled from cracking earth. But I’ve grown some writerly muscles I didn’t have before, and I’ve got the knowledge that—whatever specters I face in the revision cave—I can find the courage to forge my way through.

Jenny Moyer is the author of YA sci-fi/fantasy FLASHFALL (Holt/Macmillan, 11-15-16 ) She studied writing at Seattle Pacific University, and currently lives in Iowa with her filmmaker husband and three boys. She's currently at work on the sequel to FLASHFALL.

Where to find Jenny: Website | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube
Where to find FLASHFALL: Amazon |  Goodreads

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

VOYA's Biphobia and My Response

The following is a guest post from Tristina Wright, author of YA sci-fi 27 Hours (Entangled 2017)

Trigger Warning: The following article contains instances of biphobia, misgendering, transphobia, and gaslighting.

Up until last week, I’d never written a letter to the editor for any reason. Sure, I’ve jumped in on conversations about biphobia and ableism and racism and more. I’ve lent my social media voice to active conversations, which has at times resulted in less than savory responses from people who don’t think these things are a big deal. I’ve learned a lot, become braver, made mistakes, and tried to speak out where I can, as my anxiety disorder allows.

Last week, librarian Angie Manfredi shared a screenshot of the VOYA Magazine review of Kody Keplinger’s RUN.

The review reads: Agnes is legally blind, and leads such a sheltered life that she cannot even take the bus home from school or attend parties. Bo Dickinson has a drug addicted mother, an absent father, and is rumored to be the town slut. Although opposites, they become good friends through their kindness and acceptance of each other. Bo’s cousin Colt is almost a brother to her; they have grown up together and are part of the family “you steer clear of because nothing good can come of getting mixed up with that bunch.” Agnes has a different problem; her parents hover over her and limit her activities so it is impossible for her to be a normal teenager, until she begins sneaking out to go places with Bo. When Bo hatches a plan to leave town to find her father, Agnes decides to go along, thinking she and Bo will live together. They steal a car from Agnes’s family and begin their road trip, along the way visiting Colt, with whom Agnes has a sexual encounter. When Agnes discovers that Bo intends to live with her father, they separate and she gets in touch with her parents, leaving Bo to a disappointing meeting with her father, and an eventual return to the foster care system. The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers. –Rachel Axelrod. 304p. VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES, c2016. 

Many people, including myself, immediately noticed the microaggression in the final sentence. By putting bisexuality and foul language in the same breath as the reasons for the mature content rating, Voya Magazine was effectively rating a character’s sexuality as for mature readers only.
This is a biphobic statement because it equates sexual orientation with the act of sex itself. It says that bisexuality is only appropriate for older teenagers. It places bisexuality in the same column as foul language – something to avoid and watch out for.

Imagine being an elementary-age child or a middle school student and seeing something like this written about who you are. Many children have very strong feelings about their gender and sexuality at a young age. The choice we have to make as parents, teachers, librarians, caregivers, authors, etc. is how we foster those feelings.

Or, in this case, squash them.

The review sparked conversations on social media, namely Twitter, about the inappropriateness of the idea that bisexuality was something to be warned against. How it was telling that a character merely mentioning her sexual orientation warranted a mature content rating, but there was no mention of the actual sex scene between a heterosexual male/female pairing.

I participated in the conversation online for a while, my hurt especially sharp because it was Bisexual Visibility Week. This is a week-long celebration where we educate people about common stereotypes and microaggressions. The publishing community talks about books with respectful and honest bisexual representation. It’s a week to celebrate bisexuality and biromanticism and everything that entails. To see a phobic review from a major literary magazine during that week drove home the continuing need to fight against stereotypes and content warnings.

I decided to write an email to Voya magazine.

I didn’t expect to get a response. They are a major literary publication and I’m a relatively unknown debut author. But I needed to do more than speak up on Twitter. I thought perhaps someone over there would see my email and, at the very least, take it to heart for future reviews.

The editor in chief (EIC), RoseMary Honnold, did respond to me and it was not at all what I was expecting (however, given the events which have transpired since then, I should have expected it).

It’s been long enough that I can address this email without my anxiety taking over, so I want to unpack this response.

“I am sorry that you took offense…” This is the most non-apology statement ever. Celebrities use it. News media uses it. It places the blame of hurt on the person who was hurt instead of the person perpetuating the hurt. Already this email starts out placing the burden of my hurt on my own shoulders.

Then instead of addressing my concerns, she then continues on to talk about how great VOYA magazine is for teens and librarians and how very helpful they have been. That’s…great? But completely irrelevant. You can be an absolute saint and still mess up. That was the case here. Yes, VOYA is a respected magazine – that doesn’t free them from making mistakes. Your good deeds in the past don’t absolve you from missteps in the future.

“Knowing if a book had mature content, which would include sexuality and ‘foul’ language…” There’s that double-down. Sexuality is considered mature content. But, curiously, only queer sexuality. And curiously more (as author Phoebe North discovered with some minor Googling) only queer female sexuality as far as VOYA is concerned.

She’s also insisting sexual orientation is for mature readers only. As if young children wouldn’t be exploring non-straight feelings. Our society is so steeped in heteronormativity that every child is assumed straight at birth. How many babies do you see wearing onesies that say “Ladies’ Man” or “Dad Won’t Let Me Date Til I’m 35” or “I Love Boobs” or how many times do we tell little girls that little boys hit them because they like them? We as a society perpetuated straight as being “normal” and everything else as “mature readers only” and even then there’s a hierarchy. Cis gay men are more favored than lesbians. Bisexuals are seen as stereotypes such as sluts and liars, and if you’re going to write about them, you must prove they’re bisexual. Trans narratives are seen as up and coming trends instead of real people. And any other letters of the queer umbrella exist in a literary desert where good representation is few and far between.

To add another layer, I cringe at the thought of what VOYA thinks about intersections of race and sexuality, how they would’ve reacted to this book if the bisexual character in question had been Black.

“I find it awkward that you feel it is relevant and necessary to announce and label your five-year-old child’s sexuality to me.” This was the most hurtful part of the email. Not only did she get my child’s age wrong, but she conflated sexuality and gender, which are two completely different things. When I say my child is genderqueer, it means that she (she still uses female pronouns) is exploring gender. Some days she asks all about being a boy and how one becomes a boy. Some days she refers to growing up as “when I become a daddy.” Some days she says she’s going to talk like a boy that day. Some days she says she feels like a girl. Some days she says she doesn’t feel like either. She’s exploring. She’s swimming up and down the spectrum, trying to find her place, and I’ll be damned if anyone is going to attack her for that.

Also, note the word “awkward” in that sentence. Here’s the thing about non-straight sexual orientations – people immediately relate them to sexual intercourse.

“How do you even have sex?”
“How can you be bisexual if you’re sleeping with a guy/girl?”
“Men shouldn’t do that.”
“Can I watch?”
“Can I join?”

Anyone queer is assumed to be defined by who they do or do not have in their bed at the time, which is irritating at best and harmful at the very worst. To place this on the shoulders of my six-year-old child is grossly immoral and wrong, and I’m especially uncomfortable this editor immediately considered my elementary child in this manner.

“Our writers and reviewers have various lifestyles and beliefs and that has never been a concern of mine…” That’s nice. Also, being queer is not a lifestyle. Gaming is a lifestyle. Living at a certain level of wealth is a lifestyle. Lifestyle implies choice. Bisexuality is not a choice. It’s how we were born. It’s not something that can be converted or prayed away or cured. Can it change over time? Yes, absolutely. Sexuality is a fluid thing and we evolve and learn more about ourselves as we grow (hopefully). But the only person who can dictate that is the self. No one else. So for the EIC of VOYA to not only label this as a “lifestyle” but to also say it’s of no concern to her makes me very concerned for the environment they foster at VOYA. Are queer people safe to be out of the closet there?

Based on this, my guess would be no.

“…the assumption that I or VOYA magazine might be bi- or any other kind of phobic is just that. Your assumption. A misguided one.” Note that she turns it personal. Even though it was revealed later she didn’t even write the review, she takes the idea of the sentence itself being biphobic and turns it into me accusing her and anyone at VOYA as being biphobic. This is gaslighting. This is, again, shifting the burden of hurt onto my shoulders plus accusing me of attacking her personally. How could you call me biphobic? I’m a good person.”

“Since this is Bi Visibility Week, I understand your need to find and destroy your enemies in a public forum…” Okaaaaaaaaaaaaay. So this statement is a doozy. Not only is it inflated hyperbole and paints me as a super-villain, but it undercuts my entire email by the level of exaggeration. By accusing me of looking for someone to fight during Bisexual Visibility Week, it undermines the validity of my concerns. It also insinuates I was looking to go after a big target to bring attention to Bi Visibility Week. That I was doing nothing more than starting trouble. That this was a marketing ploy. That this was nothing more than a stunt.

In the interests of visibility because the conversation was still ongoing, I posted my email and the reply to my Twitter.

The YA book community immediately responded. They were upset and offended at such a reply. Several people said they would be emailing as well. Many called out VOYA Magazine directly for their callous and offensive reply. Many authors, agents, and editors stated they would be requesting their books not be sent to VOYA anymore for review. Several librarians reached out to VOYA in alarm, asking what steps they would be taking regarding the review in question and to prevent this from happening again. There was talk of ads being pulled from VOYA Magazine entirely.

It has since been removed, but VOYA Magazine did post my email and their response on their website as a letter to the editor and then emailed me to inform me of this fact. I’m not sure if I was supposed to be flattered or what, but after an outcry, the post was deleted.

VOYA Magazine locked their Twitter account and began blocking various authors, editors, agents, and librarians. This serves two purposes. With only a block, the blocked user could simply log out and be able to read the timeline anyway. But with the addition of a locked account, they effectively kept everyone shut out. They continued to block people over the period of about a day and a half. I wasn’t blocked until sometime in the early hours of the next day, which I found amusing.

VOYA Magazine then issued their first apology on their public Facebook Page.
Again with the blame-dodging. This mentions nothing about their response to me and puts the onus on the queer community. They demanded an apology. They took offense as if it was a choice. With this apology, and even with RoseMary’s email to me, VOYA took the defensive. Amanda MacGregor, a book reviewer who’d worked with VOYA for thirteen years, then announced she’d submitted her resignation in light of VOYA’s response.

When the first apology didn’t go over well with the book community, the reviews editor, Lisa Kurdyla, issued an apology as well.

It’s a better attempt, but it still shifts blame and still makes a similar statement in the email to me in the claim that she isn’t –phobic or –ist and is a good ally. Here’s the thing: I do not decide if I’m not –phobic or –ist or a good ally. All I can do is my best and hope that those in the affected communities view me as such. To claim it in this instance is another form of gaslighting. “I’m a great ally! If you can’t see that, that’s your fault.”

Concerned readers, librarians, authors, editors, and agents responded to the two posts, asking polite questions and tackling the issues of gaslighting and blame-shifting. At this point, I still hadn’t heard anything from them. No apology, nothing.

VOYA Magazine then deleted both Facebook posts and all the comments therein and went dark. But people took screenshots of some very unsettling behavior.
I don’t know who for certain is behind the VOYA social media accounts, but in the end it doesn’t matter because they were never reined in, nor did VOYA Magazine ever disavow them or apologize for any of the commentary. A third apology appeared.

I found out about this apology three hours after it had been posted. At that time, I still hadn’t heard anything personally from VOYA. This particular apology mentioned me by name publicly, which was a start, but my inbox remained empty.

This apology, while long, also evolved into gaslighting and blame-shifting. The most egregious example is bringing up the fact that the original review was several months old and my email was the first they’d heard of anything being wrong with it. Since it went months without any push-back, the complaints now, according to them, lost their merit and reinforced VOYA’s belief that I had instigated this to attack them and bring attention to Bi Visibility Week.

They then go on to claim that they have the right to defend their staff against accusations of bigotry and biphobia and, once again, list out how great of a magazine VOYA has been for youth advocacy.
When folks discovered this third apology, many asked if VOYA had emailed a private apology to me. Many asked if VOYA would respond to the disquieting discovery Phoebe North had made about VOYA’s troubling pattern of rating F/F and queer girls as mature content while leaving M/M and M/F books alone, despite many of the latter having far more sex and explicit language than many of the former.

It was only when asked and I made a comment about it (three hours after this third apology was posted), did VOYA publish a fourth apology. This was from RoseMary herself.
RoseMary then copied and pasted the top bit from the Facebook post and emailed it to me.

I didn’t respond. My plan was to let the apology sit for a day and see how I felt about it then. But I spent several hours reading comments on the two Facebook apologies.
As of writing this post, I still haven’t responded to her or to VOYA. I’m going to do so now, here, publicly. I feel it is only fair and in the interest of visibility since they posted all of their attempts publicly as well.

Dear VOYA Magazine,

When I received the copy/paste job, which indicated you’d put it up elsewhere before sending it to me, I considered accepting it. I figured it was the best I’d get from you and maybe, just maybe, you would sit back and take the advice of countless people in the book community who gave their valuable time and words to educate you when none of them were under any obligation to say one word to you.

Then I went on Facebook and saw both apologies and the comments which followed. I saw one of your owners purposefully misgendering an author simply because they had a female-sounding name. I watched in horror as the commentary from VOYA became more and more abusive and hateful, a lot of it along the same lines as the original response to me only a few days ago.

A lot happened in just a few days.

Not once did anyone else at VOYA step in and say something. Not the other owner, no other employees, no one. The words of the owner chillingly mimicked the tone of the editor in chief to me, so how am I supposed to believe any apology is genuine? How am I supposed to think for even a moment you’re actually sorry about the review or your treatment of me or your attitude toward the book community and the queer community as a whole?

And I realized this:

You’re not sorry about the review. You’re sorry you got caught.
You’re not sorry about the email to me. You’re sorry I posted it and exposed you.
You’re not sorry about your attitude. You’re sorry people keep calling you on it.

Your email to me was unprofessional at best. You insulted me. You insulted my child. You insinuated I was out to destroy you and that my email had something to do with Bi Visibility Week. You are a major literary magazine which claims to advocate for the younger generation, yet you call things like genderqueer “Twitter lingo” and still claim it can’t possibly apply to a child. You are woefully out of touch and condescending toward the generation you claim to speak for. You were brutally hateful toward me and other authors who write for the younger generation.

So, no, I don’t accept your apology. I can’t because I don’t trust that you mean it.

Tristina Wright

While my part in the incident seems to have come to a close (I hope), VOYA Magazine continues to insult and belittle nearly anyone who comments on their Facebook posts. The other owner, Edward Kurdyla, put up a short post which basically asks everyone to back off while they sort things in house. It gives no indication anyone – especially Phoebe North or Angi Manfredi or Tess Sharpe – was even heard. They’ve also banned YA author Hannah Moskowitz from their page entirely.

As far as my role in everything…

No, I didn’t write the initial email with the agenda of taking down a literary magazine. No, it had nothing whatsoever to do with Bi Visibility Week. I would’ve reacted the same way no matter what time of year.

Part of me wishes I’d never said anything. Part of me thinks if I’d never written that email, none of this would’ve happened. All the people who’ve been hurt since then wouldn’t have gotten hurt. My oldest child wouldn’t have been insulted. I wouldn’t still be hurting and guilty over everything that’s happened since then.

Yes, I know a lot of that is bullshit and, as my friends have told me several times, I might have prevented teenagers from being hurt in the future. Prevented queer children from being harmed by a magazine that doesn’t respect who they are in the slightest.

Throughout this entire fiasco, VOYA has insisted they are the victim. They’ve apologized for somethings but not others. They’ve dug their heels in on insisting the timing is suspect and intentional. They’ve insulted YA authors and others in the industry over and over with hateful and unprofessional remarks. Every apology they’ve posted thus far has been nullified within mere hours once VOYA starts responding to questions and comments.

I don’t know how this will all end. An overturn of management, perhaps. New owners. The magazine folding. Nothing at all. Maybe they’ll just wait it out until people forget or bank on most of their subscribers not paying attention to social media. I don’t know. I don’t have any idea what I would want to happen beyond children being protected from such hate.

All I know is, for me, I can never trust VOYA Magazine again.

But I do want to address the queer teens out there who may be watching this all unfold.
I’m on your side. These fierce and giving authors are on your side. We stand with you in your high times and your low times. We stand with you in your closet where it’s safe. We stand with you outside of your closet where it might be scary. We walk with you in your halls. We give you our stories so you can see others like you and have an afternoon of pure escape like you deserve. We’re here for you. We understand you. We respect you. We love you.

And we will always defend you.
For more information, please see the following posts:

And for continuous updates, please follow YA Author Saundra Mitchell on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaundraMitchell