Scott Tracey is the author of WITCH EYES, a modern, gay Romeo & Juliet with witches, coming in September. He can be found on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/#!/scott_tracey and his blog at http://www.scott-tracey.com.
When I started fleshing out the idea behind WITCH EYES – back when it was just a concept rather than a story, I knew I wanted it to be different. I read a lot of urban fantasy/paranormal, so I knew that’s what I wanted to write. As a reader, there were a lot of great books, but there weren’t a lot of books that would speak to ME. Me as I am now, or even the me from high school.
So I decided I’d write what I’d want to read. Something that hit all the key elements that would have made a teenage me pick up that book without hesitation.
It had to include:
- magic and/or witches
- manipulation and game-playing (think Cruel Intentions)
- characters who happened to be gay, who were not defined by their sexuality
People have said to me “Oh, I didn’t know this was a gay novel.” And my response is always some form of “That’s because it isn’t. Well it IS, but it isn’t.” The main character is gay, unapologetically, and a relationship starts to form over the course of the book. But at the same time it isn’t, because it’s a book about a feud, and a town full of secrets, and near death experiences, wayward spells, and demons.
One of the most important parts of that, for me, was having the story be about the story, rather than devolve into the character’s angst about their sexuality. There’s this belief that novels about gay characters fall into two categories: the coming out story, or the tragic story. And don’t get me wrong, both of those kinds of stories are incredibly important – if you’re struggling with coming out, reading a book with characters who are going through the same thing can help you. It gives you someone to relate to, when you might not have someone in your real life who can do so. Same with the tragic story – sometimes we want to watch a movie like Brokeback Mountain. Sometimes that’s something that we need.
But what about the rest of the time? One of the things I really wanted, but couldn’t find enough of, was novels that were identical to their straight counterparts – novels featuring gay characters where their sexuality was inconsequential, where the emphasis was still on the story. In the majority of YA that’s out there, straight characters don’t have to struggle to accept their sexuality, and I thought it would be nice to read somewhere where the gay characters didn’t, either.
So where are the books like that for gay kids? If you look at YA as a whole, there is a LOT of representation. Gay characters appear in many bestselling series, or as side characters in beloved books. But there’s a lot fewer novels that focus specifically on the gay characters, in which it’s there story being told.
Especially in the genre of paranormal/urban fantasy, where most gay characters are still on the sidelines. Side characters, rather than the leads. But I think that’s changing. Even in just the past couple of years, we’ve gotten Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo, Shadow Walkers by Brent Hartinger, and Hero by the late Perry Moore.
It’s becoming more normal to read about gay characters in novels. They’re everywhere from Cassie Clare’s Mortal Instrument series, to Sarah Rees Brennan’s Demon Lexicon series; many people even talk about how Alec or Jamie are their favorite characters.
I think we’re coming to a point where we’ll start to see more and more novels that push “gay YA” novels from being “issue oriented” to becoming much like everything else: plot and story focused. Where the character could be straight or gay, and the story would be exactly the same. Because at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter.
Speaking of Malinda Lo, she wrote this fantastic piece on her blog entitled, “How hard is it to sell an LGBT YA novel?” I think it’s still tough, to a certain extent, but getting a book published, period, is tough. This may just be a little more tough, but when you get into this business you know that the odds are against you.
The reason? Publishing is a business. If you go out and buy books featuring LGBT characters (whether they are the focus of the story, or simply part of it), more books like that will get published.
Gay characters in YA are only as normal as we make them. That’s why I think it’s important to HAVE gay characters in novels, but it’s the same issue with not falling into character clichés, whitewashing characters, etc. It’s important to have all kinds of representation, but the trick is to not give in to tokenism.
It’s one of the reasons I think we’ll start seeing more and more novels come out where sexual identity is inconsequential. Because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, it’s all about the story.