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Interview: C.B. Lee & Rachel Davidson Leigh

Bisexual Awareness Week Series Day #3 – Previous Posts: Introduction Duality, YA, and Crumpled Stickers Let’s Push For More Nuanced Bi+ Representation

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee & Hold by Rachel Davidson Leigh are both ALL THE WAY UP on our TBRs! Today, we’re so excited to have BOTH of these authors on GayYA!

Add Not Your Sidekick & Hold to your Goodreads TBR!

Add 'em to your Goodreads TBR!

Add Not Your Sidekick & Hold to your TBR

Buy/Pre-Order Not Your Sidekick & Hold!

Buy/Pre-Order Not Your Sidekick & Hold!

Buy Not Your Sidekick & Pre-Order Hold

CB: Hello! Thank you so much for having me on your blog, I’m very excited to be here. I’m C.B. and from California, with a passion for travel and hiking and the outdoors. My current novel is Not Your Sidekick, set in a post-apocalyptic world populated by superheroes, and Jess is struggling to find her place in it despite not having superpowers.

RDL: Hi! I’ll second that excitement! I’m Rachel, and my hobbies are much more sedentary. Think, reading, Netflix, and having staring contests with my dogs. My debut novel, Hold, is about a young man, Lucas Aday, who discovers he can stop time after his sister’s death.

How do you approach bisexuality in your books? Are your characters out, questioning, or in the closet?

CB: Jess is bi. She just is. I didn’t want to have the focus of the novel on questioning and coming out; I just wanted adventure and fun and romance. She “accidentally” comes out to her classmates when she’s a sophomore, but it isn’t a huge deal in the Not Your Sidekick universe. Sexuality in this particular future is interesting, but just about as interesting as who is crushing on who.

RDL: That’s awesome! Crushes are much more interesting. It’s actually pretty similar in Hold. Eddie, the second most prominent character in the novel, is bi and completely at ease with his sexuality. It’s still an important part of his identity, but it isn’t a part that causes any real angst, at least not over the course of the novel. All of the main characters are theater kids and, at one point, Eddie chooses a monologue because he’s excited to play someone who comes close to how he identifies. For him, bisexuality isn’t just about who he dates; it’s about who he is.

What about queerness more generally? Are there other forms of queer representation in your stories?

CB: Yeah! Well, Jess and her friends– kind of like mine in high school and college, we kind of flock together. Bells is trans and bisexual, Emma is demiromantic and Abby is a lesbian, but we’ll learn more about them and their particular identities as the series goes on. There’s a bit of interesting tension in their high school as we meet Darryl and the kids in the “Rainbow Allies” club. There’s a bit of biphobic microaggressions that come into play and it’s a very small part of the book, but I wanted to have those tidbits in there.

RDL: My book is big on the queer community too. There are four main characters– Luke, Eddie, Marcos, and Dee–and none of them are straight, because that’s often how it works. You find your people, particularly in high school. I know I did. The main character, Luke, is gay and other characters specifically ID as bi, queer, and asexual. Of the four main, one is still very much figuring out which label feels right and allowing him take that journey felt as important as letting all of the other characters be completely secure in their sexual identities.

Why was it important that your characters specifically identify on the page?

RDL: There’s a power in a name and a label, isn’t there? It allows us to find our place and our people, even if that place changes over time. On the flip side, we store a lot of fear in the things we don’t name, even when those absences come with the best intentions. It isn’t the right choice for every story or every author, but for these characters, I didn’t want queerness to be unspeakable.

CB: Yes, I definitely agree with Rachel. While not everyone fits a specific label, I think having those terms as parameters helps immensely, especially when you’re questioning and you don’t know where you are on the spectrum. It’s an immense relief to see someone who you identify with and be like, “Oh, that’s me.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter!

 

Can you see other aspects of yourself in your characters? What does it mean to tell those parts of your own story?

RDL: Yes and, also, absolutely not. On the one hand, I lost an older sibling in high school, and he was a lot like Luke’s older sister. I get that grieving process in a way that never took research. At the same time, Luke is also a seventeen year-old, male, transracial adoptee, which I am not. So, some parts of Hold took oodles of research, empathy, and time reaching outside of my own experience, while other parts started out so close, I could hardly see them clearly. Now, of course, I can see parts of myself in all of them.

CB: Yes, definitely. Like me, Jess is bisexual, and she also has my very specific heritage, albeit a version a hundred years in the future. She’s mixed Chinese and Vietnamese and I gave a lot of my experiences growing up, the disconnect between cultures, not being enough of one or the other, being too American or not American enough. Like Rachel, there are quite a few characters who I identify with on some aspect– being the child of immigrant parents, but of different racial backgrounds. Personality wise I think I gave different parts of myself to plenty of different characters, and it was fun explore that.

Where do you get your inspiration for stories and characters? What comes first?

RDL: I usually start with an image that I can’t shake. In this case, it was the room when Luke first stops time. He’s back at school for the first time, frustrated in ways he can’t explain, and when he throws his backpack at the wall, it doesn’t land. Ever. That’s the image I saw, and I think it’s still my favorite in the whole book. That’s the fear and the magic.

CB: I think the first image I thought of for Not Your Sidekick was the idea of someone interning for a supervillain, and not the glamorous tasks, either. And then the idea of that intern coming from a superhero background just made it even more hilarious, and it spiraled from there. The story and the plot came after as I thought about who these characters were– a lot of them were based off friends and how they interact with each other.

RDL: I definitely have one character whose personality was originally inspired by a friend. Now I have to wait and see if anyone calls me on it . . .

CB: Ahaha! Well, I deliberately told two of my friends that these specific characters are named for them, but personality-wise, they come from other friends, so we’ll see if they pick up on that.

Follow C.B. on Twitter!

 

Both of our upcoming novels have ties to superhero mythology. What is it about Superheroes that you found appealing? How do they feature in your novel?

CB: Superhero mythology is rife with identity and coming-of-age themes, especially when you mix together familiar tropes such as discovering your powers for the first time and defining who you are. As a teenager, I loved the X-Men, and really identified with how they talked about mutant powers. It fit so easily in with themes of coming out, being closeted, how society looks at you. Superhero mythology is amazing for starting conversations about themes like identity and more.  In Not Your Sidekick, Jess struggles with who she with the possibility of being powerless in a superpowered family; it was a way for me to discuss high expectations and familial pressure in a way that was fun and lighthearted.

RDL: In Hold, Luke and his best friends are comics fans so, for them, superhero stories give them a way to understand the inexplicable things that are happening in their lives. As soon as Luke’s power appears, his friends want to him to go be a superhero, because of course they do! Grief and fear and random huge abilities are too big to comprehend, but if they think about Luke as a hero like Miss Marvel or Spiderman, it all starts to make more sense. Like a lot of readers, comics and superheros give them a way to move forward when their actual lives are way too confusing.

There are clear themes that run through both of our novels. How important would you say that those themes are, particularly when you’re writing? Do you design them or discover them as you go?

RDL: Hold weaves in a lot of big themes about moving forward after loss and how we find meaning in relationships, but I had to train myself not to write for them! My background is in teaching, so at first, I had to stop myself from writing from that perspective. I had to make myself be the author, trust the characters, and let readers fill in the gaps. Once I did that, the characters gave me those big beautiful themes all on their own.

CB: A little bit of both. I wanted Not Your Sidekick to open up a conversation about expectations and the concept of defining your own self-worth, but there were more themes that came up as I was writing. Unlike Rachel, my background isn’t in literature at all, but in earth science. Having an academic research initiative is helpful for worldbuilding, but a lot of the social themes came from my own desires to explore how this world played out.

CB, this is your second book and you’re hard at work on your third. Has your process changed since Seven Tears at High Tide?

CB: I like to think that my process has gotten more efficient, but the progress on my current novel says otherwise. I wrote much of Seven Tears in chronological order, start to finish, and then I went back and filled in more and more story. Not Your Sidekick took a dramatically different approach, as I wrote most of it during NanoWrimo. I wrote scenes as they came to me and then played fit-the-puzzle after Nano was over, and wrote in to fill in the gaps. Part of the process was because of the intense writing goals each day for Nano, where I’d just want to get words down. I do think this process works for me a lot, because there’s a lot of stress trying to get the “perfect” story arc from start to finish on the first go. I’m writing much of the second in the NYS series in the same way, in bits and pieces and then linking them all together.

Rachel, before Hold, you were published in the Summer Love short story anthology. Do you have a different writing process when you’re working on a novel as opposed to a short story?

RDL: I honestly don’t know! My writing process has changed so much since I wrote “Beautiful Monsters” and that’s less a factor of the genre and more a factor of time. That, plus the amazing readers who’ve made me better along the way. Now, when I write, I have ten other voices in my head telling me to “get to the action, already” and “knock it off with the gerunds.” You’d think it would be crowded, but it’s actually quite lovely.

Tonally, our books are very different. One is quite light while the other is fairly dark. Why did you make your particular choice, and what do you think your tone allows you to do?

RDL: Hold is NOT a lighthearted romp. I once described the story as an exploration of Luke’s pain. At the same time, the characters themselves are so funny. Luke and Eddie and the others can be goofy, sarcastic, and self-aware, but the book still deals with a heavy time in all of their lives. As anyone who’s lost someone can attest, the grieving process is filled with these bursts of dark, inappropriate humor. The process of reconciling loss with life can be ridiculous, especially when you have friends, like Luke does, who will do anything to bring him back into the world.

CB: I wanted the tone of Not Your Sidekick to be light and fun, primarily because in recent years much of our media that revolves around superheroes has tended to be “dark and gritty” reboots. While there is value in those stories, I don’t want all of my media to be grimdark. I think there’s a value in fun and ridiculousness, and I play up the cheese factor a lot in the novel, poking fun at the genre and at my own story. There are heavier moments, and the characters learn and grow but I think the lighthearted tone allows for a lot of development. One of the things I’m working on as a writer is to get better at the heavier subjects like Rachel; until then, I stick to my strengths.

RDL: And I’d like to get better at just letting the light things be light and delightful! With our powers combined, we will be unstoppable.

CB: Clearly this calls for a collaboration. 😉

 

Let’s Push For More Nuanced Bi+ Representation

Bisexual Awareness Week Series Day #2 – Previous Posts: Introduction Duality, YA, and Crumpled Stickers

by Angélique Gravely

I didn’t start actively reading LGBTQ+ YA until I was almost a college graduate. By that time, I had more or less accepted my bisexual attractions and my desire to be a YA writer so I dove into LGBTQ+ YA in search of inspiration for the queer stories I now felt drawn to write and, in all honesty, in search of reflections of parts of myself and my story I hadn’t been able to acknowledge as a teen. While I did find some inspiration and some pieces of my teenage self in the YA I read, what I found more often was the absence of major pieces of my story.

Where were the Black church kids in LGBTQ+ YA? Where were the Black girls who went to Christian schools and loved God and fell for boys but also fell for girls? Where were the Black Christian kids trying to make sense of their sexuality while surrounded by white Christians who could only half understand their sense of conflict? Where were the kids wondering if Black church had space for bisexuality or if they would be excommunicated from both Christianity and the Black community for their attractions? Where was the intersectionality that had made coming out feel so convoluted to me?

As a bisexual writer who had just started coming out, I was already discouraged by the lack of easy-to-find bi+ representation in YA, but seeing how little of that representation and LGBTQ+ representation in general included Black religious teens made me feel not only discouraged but also unwelcome. Maybe, the types of characters and plots that I wanted to write weren’t wanted in YA. Maybe, my story and stories like mine weren’t wanted.

My dive into LGBTQ+ YA seemed to suggest that if I wanted to write bisexual characters and be published, my characters should more often than not be white, and if they weren’t white, they had to be non-religious. If I wanted to write queer Christian characters, they should also be white, preferably evangelical though possibly Catholic, and also preferably gay not bi. And if I wanted to write Black teenage characters, whether religious or LGBTQ+, they had to fit the stereotypical media mold of Black adolescence rather than reflect parts of my adolescent experiences as a suburban Black bisexual girl who wrestled with her multi-gender attractions while attending predominantly white fundamentalist Christian schools and going to conservative, lightly charismatic Black churches.

As discouraging as these unspoken messages about who is allowed to exist in YA were and are to me as a writer, they can be downright harmful to bi teenagers looking to find themselves in the stories they read. The lack of intersectional bisexual characters in YA contributed to my feeling that I was an anomaly who should be ashamed of experiencing multi-gender attractions because bisexual was a label for people who didn’t look like me or experience the world the way I did. Based on what I read as a teenager, bisexual Black Christians didn’t exist. It was even debatable whether or not any bisexual people really existed. If I was a teenager reading YA today, while I might be more inclined to believe that bisexual people exist, I still would probably not believe that Black bisexual Christians do. Because as much progress as we have made as far as bi representation since I was a teenager, we still have a long way to go.

That’s why my hope is that as we push for more bi+ representation in YA, we not only demand accurate representation but also nuanced representation. I know my experiences as a Black bisexual Christian who attended Christian schools and went to church willingly for most of her adolescence are very unique but I also know I’m not the only bisexual person in the world who has lived parts of that nuanced experience. I know there are black bi teens growing up in churches all over the country. I know there are bi+ teens attending Christian schools who are determined to keep their faith despite their multi-gender attractions but don’t know how they’re going to do it because they haven’t seen it done in fiction or reality. I know there are black bi teens in predominantly white neighborhoods and schools and religious communities who are struggling to express the tension they feel between their faith and race and sexuality. And they deserve to see themselves in YA, too.

I look forward to a day when it’s easy to find Black bi Christian characters in YA. I also look forward to the day when Black bi characters of other faiths are more widely represented in YA because I want all Black religious/spiritual bi teenagers to be able to find themselves in YA the way I still hope to find my teenage self someday.

angelique-gravelyAngélique Gravely is a Philly-based bisexual activist & writer trying to come to terms with all of the labels she’s taken on and find the energy to finish all the YA stories she’s started. You can find her reflections on her intersectional experiences and observations on her blog.

By | September 22nd, 2016|Categories: Guest Blogs, Readers on Reading, Writers on Writing|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

Introduction to Bisexual Awareness Week Series 2016

During Bisexual Awareness Week, we want to use our space on GayYA to support bi, pan, and non-monosexual/romantic voices. Last year, we decided to host Awareness Week Series over the various LGBTQIA+ Awareness Weeks throughout the year. Though we hope to include everyone on the site at all times, we wanted to dedicate a concentrated space to people from a specific community to talk about how they’re represented in YA. The response from the community was phenomenal– we got to feature many fantastic and thought-provoking posts, and watched as the community fostered some nuanced discussions via our identity-centric Twit Chats. I personally remember feeling amazed as I read the posts that were sent in and scrolled through the Twit Chat hashtag. I realized I wasn’t alone in my feelings of discontent regarding the representation of my identities, or my hopes for what that representation could look like in the future. I got to meet and connect with so many smart and passionate people.

So of course, we had to do the Awareness Week Series again.

This week we’ll feature several posts from various bi/pan/non-mono contributors, an interview with two bisexual authors, and a #biweek bookmark printout for libraries and booksellers (and anyone else who wants it!!). We’ll also be discussing Bi YA all week long on the #BiYAChat hashtag. We’ll be posting prompts & questions, but please feel free to use it to talk about anything related to Bi YA Books!

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, tweet us @thegayya or email me at vee@gayya.org

-Vee, admin and co-founder of GayYA

By | September 21st, 2016|Categories: Updates and Announcements|Tags: , |0 Comments

Duality, YA, and Crumpled Stickers

Bisexual Awareness Week Day #1 – Previous Posts: Introduction

by Shelly Z

I’ve begun to see that there is a strange duality when it comes to my pride. I wear it openly online, and in person only to those who I know extremely well. I attended Pride for the second year this summer, and I am struck again and again by the duality upon reflection.

A key highlight of Pride for me is seeing the colourful stickers that attendees wear to ID or to just celebrate. The only day I wear my “Proud” sticker is on Pride. I wear it and share smiles with everyone who passes me, smiling at the different but equally important labels that I see. Of all the different stickers, from “bae” to a sticker with a poop emoji on it, I visibly noticed one missing, no variation of bi or bisexual was in sight. At the end of the day, I saw the only “bi” sticker of the event; on the ground, trampled and forgotten.

If I believed in symbolism, it would make the perfect image for how I feel. But since I do not, I will leave you with this. I am proud of who I am, and I am proud to belong in a community. But I sometimes find it shameful to claim my specific identity, as it seems so binary despite what I know to be true of the complexities gender. It is often hard to reconcile my own thoughts to the label I find describes me so well. I also find it difficult to proclaim this identity, instead of within close whispers among friends. I will never forget the multiple times I was coerced into coming out, and the shame that quickly followed. I am not a secretive person, but I tend to keep my ID hidden. I am contradictory; I am ashamed of how ashamed I am.

The weird duality that I feel towards my sexuality is not as prevalent in YA. In the novels I read, there is a common theme: “am I gay?”, the main character will often question. In a best selling fantasy YA novel, a companion to a contemporary best-seller, the main character sees only two options in his sexuality, gay or straight. The novel was wonderful, and I enjoyed it while reading, but I found myself later questioning why the main character never explored the idea of anything but straight or gay, ignoring the complexity of sexuality.

In another novel wrongly pitched to LGBT teens despite having no intention to fulfill any LGBT romances (an interesting marketing feat), the bisexual love interest is greedy, wanting the main character to be hers exclusively but also wanting to remain in a relationship with another character. While this may not be unusual in polyamorous relationships (disclaimer: I have never been in one and may miss some of the subtleties and nuances of one), the novel framed this relationship as something negative, one of the bi character’s flaws.

Where does this leave bisexual characters in YA? I have no idea. I can only state what I think I’d like to see. More bi characters reclaim their label, specifically open-minded teens that separate their label from the binary it might say about gender. Books that emphasis the beauty of pride, but not excluding the majority of bisexuals who make up the LGBT community. Novels that show teens in healthy polyamorous relationships. Teens that navigate who they are in a world that says they can only be one or the other.

Maybe next year, I will reclaim my label and pick out a new sticker for myself. Maybe I will finally embrace the label I’ve most identified with, but have been too scared to share with the world. Maybe the trampled sticker will no longer be found on the ground, but on my chest instead.

Shelly Z. is a reader, writer and blogger. She schedules interviews and round-ups new releases on Adventures in YA Publishing, a 101 best site for writers selected by Writer’s Digest, and is a blogger at Read.Sleep.Repeat. She rants as much as she reads. You can find her on twitter at @shellysrambles where she rants about fluffy reads, her library job, and other things that she loves.

By | September 21st, 2016|Categories: Guest Blogs, Readers on Reading, Teen Voices|Tags: , |0 Comments

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Today we’re very lucky to have C.B. Lee answering a few questions about Not Your Sidekick for the official blog tour! All of us at GayYA are SO EXCITED for this book!

nys_tour_badgeHi C.B., thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your current book.

Hello there! Thank you for having me here today. I’m C.B., a bisexual woman who grew up on the California coast. I’m a first generation Asian American and am very excited to introduce more characters whose backgrounds are like my own. My current novel is Not Your Sidekick, a story about falling in love and what it means to be extraordinary.

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book or series:

Not Your Sidekick and the whole series takes place in the year 2123, after a series of natural disasters and World War III. An interesting thing about the superpowers in the book is that they manifested in our world after a significant solar flare ignited a dormant gene, and I had a lot of fun with this worldbuilding concept.

How did you come up with the title of your book or series?

Not Your Sidekick comes a lot from the plot and how Jess’ actions drive her forward; it seems like her place in life, especially without superpowers, deems her as only fit to be a sidekick to the main heroes. The title also comes from my long frustration with seeing Asian Americans in media, often times as side or supporting characters and never the protagonist.

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?

Jess is still discovering her strength, but I think she’s incredibly relatable as she’s insecure and stubborn and still figuring herself out. She faces lots of high expectations from her family, with superhero parents, super older sister and genius younger brother. She learns a lot about what it means to be extraordinary in the novel and values her own strengths here.

What does your family think of your writing?

They’re supportive! I’m pretty sure they’re relatively entertained by the fact that I’m pursuing this little “hobby” but my parents are proud nevertheless.

What do you think makes a good story?

Emotion. Any story that moves me is a great one. If I finish a story feeling emotionally exhausted because I have ran the gamut of emotions, from heartache to joy to pain to satisfaction, I think it will have been worth it. When something is written with passion, it shows in the text. Those are the kind of stories that stick with us.

Thanks for having us C.B! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour spots below and enter the giveaway:

nys_tour_dates

About the Book

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
Published September 8th 2016 by Duet Books

Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

Enter the giveaway HERE for a chance to win a Grand Prize $25 IP Gift Card + Multi-format eBook of Not Your Sidekick // Five winners receive NYS eBook

By | September 20th, 2016|Categories: Archive, Author Interview, Book Club, Fun Things, New Releases|Tags: , , |0 Comments