Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wednesday Wisdom - Does Straight Fiction Sell?

It’s time for Wednesday Wisdom, where I pretend to be an expert and you pretend to care about what I have to say!

This week, I may be treading controversial water. I stumbled upon an article at Io9 detailing the sentiments of agents and publishers regarding gay characters in fiction.

You can head over to Io9 or Publisher’s Weekly for the complete story.  One incident reports that an unnamed agent requested that two authors of a post-apocalyptic YA novel either change a POV character’s sexuality or get rid of the character and POV references altogether. The agent offered one other option: if the series became successful, the character could come out later on.

It’s hard to tell if this agent was truly working out of prejudice or if he was simply trying to make a business decision. But either way, the whole thing is depressing. This agent is essentially sending the message that homosexuality is so atrocious that it can’t even exist in the fictional world.

As you might have noticed from a few of my previous posts, I’m not a fan of censorship. I also consider myself a gay ally, willing and ready to support GLBT culture wherever and whenever I can. And I feel that YA literature is an opportunity to present young readers with a variety of viewpoints, crumbling the divisive walls of prejudice and misunderstanding that have existed in previous generations. When YA literature is censored, we’re simply building walls and denying our own youth the diversity that the world offers.

The incident with the agent, as well as another incident where a publisher literally edited away the homosexual POV without the author’s knowledge, gives a whole new meaning to the term Gatekeeper. They are perpetuating a narrow minded standard by essentially telling GLBT youth that their worldviews don’t matter. This is the kind of devastating message that can cripple a child’s psyche.

Indie authors have an opportunity to thumb their noses at these Gatekeepers by being able to write without someone standing over their shoulders and saying, “That gay kid is ruining your book. We don’t sell to minorities. Make it straighter. And whiter.” The indie author is an outlet for alternative social perspectives, even if they are planted in the middle of an otherwise socially mainstream story.

I recently published my debut novel “Children of Aerthwheel.” There is a character in that book who, for the longest time, seemed quite straight and traditional to me as I wrote and revised. Then one evening, as I was making some final changes to the last draft of the story, something happened quite unexpectedly.

That character came out of the closet.

 It didn’t happen in the book, at least not in a straight forward manner. But I saw clues. There were hints here and there, pieces of a puzzle that I hadn’t yet put together. And on that night, I decided that this character had a new story to tell, a tale of desperate loneliness that would probably inform a great portion of the next book.

What’s important is that I let that character grow and express the emotions inherent in having been part of an intolerant society for so long. They were not a POV character in the first novel, but that will change in book two, which will find this character’s story arc going in surprising new directions.

 Do I wish the character had been gay from the beginning? That’s a silly question. The character was always gay. I’m just happy that this character might help a reader or two understand that they are not alone and, more importantly, that there is always hope.

Despite the efforts of Gatekeepers who might disguise their prejudices as business decisions, indie authors can make a difference and change some minds.

Love is love, in fiction and in life.  

Your Wisdom

What are your thoughts on GLBT characters in YA fiction? Does “straight” sell or is that just an excuse to perpetuate homophobia?


  1. I really don't want to claim what goes on in the minds of those agents/editors/publishers. I'd like to believe it was just for marketing, but even then, that doesn't make what happened any better. It doesn't change that youths (both straight and gay) needs these books. Since this story hit the net, I've seen way too many adults say they wished they had books like that in their youth. Kids these days are also wanting books like that. My writing partner in crime pointed out the books are good cuz the books don't talk back or judge.

    It just makes me glad I decided to self pub because I have some MCs that aren't straight and no one is going to tell me to change them.

  2. I agree, Patricia. It's therapeutic when GLBT youth can identify clearly with realistic characters in a book. Sometimes the real world doesn't offer much; being able to jump into a book that DOES offer hope is a precious gift.