Posts Tagged Queer

Interview with Editor Jonah Heller – Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

We are delighted to have with us, Jonah Heller, associate editor at Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

Welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Jonah!

Hey, thanks for having me!


Could you share your editorial journey at Peachtree with us?

My editorial journey with Peachtree started shortly after I graduated with my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. I was fortunate enough to have a network of peers connected to Peachtree who helped advocate my intern application, and I did my internship with Peachtree in the summer of 2016. Through hard work, careful attention to detail, and routinely showering everyone with baked goods, I left enough of a positive impression that I was hired on as a publisher’s assistant on January 1, 2017.

From there, I was entering orders for sales, organizing mailings, proofing our catalog, and doing just about anything that needed an extra pair of hands while also training into editorial assistant work. As my supervisor left for other horizons—I eventually did take on more editorial work and started dipping into acquisitions by examining imports from Frankfurt and Bologna. It was great exposure to literature abroad and an excellent opportunity to develop my own taste and direction. Of course, the reward for work done well is—more work! So lots of paperbacks and reprints and editorial outreach as an assistant editor. And now I’ve been upgraded to an associate editor, so I’ve been set loose into the wilderness to go find exciting things and build my list. Woo!


What are some books you’ve worked on?

Peachtree is very well established in the picture book arena, so plenty of those!

In terms of middle grade: Peachtree is a smaller house, so that means it’s an all-hands-on-deck environment and everyone’s got their hand in the cookie jar at some point. I’ve helped proof various stages of our Charlie Bumpers and Nina Soni series. I’ve also overseen the paperback adaptation process for quite a number of our middle grade titles, which can involve anything from a new cover and revised back matter to substantial text edits and updates with the author.


Working on imports as an assistant, I adapted The Bookshop Girl from Scholastic UK and oversaw the illustration process from sketches to final art and cover. It’s a fun mystery about a girl who can’t read and has to save her family’s recently acquired bookstore from a shady con man. A good choice if you love whimsy and the idea of a mechanical wonder bookstore with rooms dedicated to rocket ships or pirate treasure aquariums.

What are some subjects you’d like to see authors tackle in middle grade?

Ultimately, I’d like to see them tackle whatever interests them. That’s the best place to start. But as far as my wish list for this group…

Themes: adventure, animal points of view, comedy, coming of age, contemporary, magical realism, mystery, wilderness survival,

Craft: character driven; compelling voice; page-turning digestible plot; 3-dimensional protagonist & antagonist

It’s one of those things, where I’ll know it when I see it and get into the first ten pages. So I try to keep a wide net cast. I would, however, especially LOVE ownvoices LGBTQ+ stories.

Could you share with us your ideas and goals when it comes to the representation of diversity in the books you publish?

Everyone should be able to reach out to literature and see themselves. That’s critical not only to a sense of belonging but also to establishing empathy for other walks of life outside of our own experience. I strive to be mindful and thoughtful in my acquisitions, because I don’t want a one-note list. I’d be very bored and disappointed with that and, ultimately, so would my publisher and our readers.

Putting that into practice: I don’t ever actively look to check off a box and then move on to something else. I don’t think that’s a good approach, nor a sincere one. My goal is to ultimately acquire talent from all walks of life, who can deliver an excellently crafted story while also offering authentic mirrors and varied experiences. I don’t want to just acquire you and your one book and then be done with it:  I want to build a long-lasting relationship with you and work on lots of cool things for years to come.

What are some common reasons for a manuscript to make it to acquisitions at Peachtree Publishing?

For middle grade fiction, it’s usually character- or voice-driven. You can really latch onto someone’s journey and empathize with their trials and triumphs if the writing lets you step close enough. It’s not really theme or topic that drives fiction for us; it’s a fully satisfying story and arc of growth. You walk away from the book, having had some sort of raw emotional experience that sticks to you and you carry around for a while.

Nonfiction: it’s not my area of expertise, admittedly. But this can be topic or theme driven at first and then develop into something that will ultimately be more for the institutional market. So, we’ll ask: how can this be used in the classroom? What makes it different and specialized from everything else already out there? How can we grow it further from this one book? Etc.

What advice do you have for writers who want to query you?

So if you’re unagented, I’m on snail mail at the moment. It’s not everyone’s favorite method, but it’s mine and it keeps me organized! You can find Peachtree’s address and submissions guidelines on our website, and if you were dutiful enough to read this then you’ll now discover that if you don’t put my name on the envelope, it won’t ever come to my desk.

My general wish list is above, but it’s always a good idea to check out a publisher’s catalog and see what kind of stuff they’ve done. That’s always step one. Ask yourself: does it feel like they’re a good fit for my work, or am I going to be an odd duck out here? Or, if they’ve done something similar: how is my work going to stand out?

As I’ve said, nonfiction isn’t generally my cup of tea. But maybe I’ll surprise myself one day.

I’m also probably not the right editor for a divorce or abuse story, unless it culminates in healing and/or some type of cathartic and triumphant resolution. Additionally, fantasy and science fiction haven’t been as prominent at Peachtree, so the pacing, world building, and character work has to be top-of-the-line.

Other tips:

  • Spelling the editor’s name right is cool
  • Showing up at their office in-person is not cool
  • Neither are frequent phone calls
  • Explore resources on writing query letters

What’s going on in Middle Grade at Peachtree right now?

I’ve been Americanizing an illustrated adventure from the UK, called Mr. Penguin. It’s Indiana Jones meets Sherlock, but with a penguin and a kung fu spider. So basically loads of fun.



Our Nina Soni series continues, and upcoming for 2020: we’ve bought the US text rights to Lavie Tidhar’s Candy from Scholastic UK. It’s an awesome film noir-like mystery following young detective Nelle Faulkner as she uncovers the shady underworld of candy smuggling in a town that’s outlawed sugar. We will be re-illustrating, so expect a fun story and a fresh American package!

Domestically, I’m on the verge of some exciting things I can’t share just yet. So stay tuned and be on the lookout for Peachtree’s middle grade!


Jonah Heller is an Associate Editor at Peachtree Publishing Company Inc. in Atlanta, GA. He graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and earned his BFA in Dramatic Writing for Film and TV at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His editorial focus ranges from board book to young adult. Say hello on Twitter @jrheller87



LGBTQ+ History Month: Interview with Sarah Prager

Not only is October LGBTQ+ History Month, but October 11 is National Coming Out Day.

To mark these two events today, we’re featuring Sarah Prager, author of the award-winning Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World (2017), illustrated by Zoe More O’Ferrall, as well as her forthcoming book, Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History (2020, illustrated by Sarah Papworth). Sarah has also developed the Quist mobile app (, a free resource that teaches LGBTQ+ history in youth-friendly ways.


Let’s welcome Sarah to the Mixed-Up Files blog today to discuss a topic that’s important to her.

Hi, Sarah! We’re celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month, so your books are the perfect lead-in to this topic. Can you tell us a bit about this celebration and how it ties to your books?

LGBTQ+ History Month has been celebrated in the U.S. every October for 25 years, and we owe its foundation to a high school teacher. LGBTQ+ history education has the power to save and improve lives, and I’ve loved being an educator on it for the last six years. Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History is an illustrated collection of biographies that celebrate some of the most amazing folks our history books forgot to mention.

What made you choose this topic?

When I came out at the age of 14, I found a sense of community in teaching myself about my LGBTQ+ ancestors. Figures like Sappho let me know that I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t the first one to feel this way. That was incredibly powerful for me, and I wanted to bring that same representation to the next generation. Of course, this topic is important not just for LGBTQ+ youth but for everyone of all identities to understand that LGBTQ+ people have always been here, are not some fad, and have shaped the world as we know it.

What historical periods will your forthcoming book, Rainbow Revolutionaries, address?

This book has stories from as early as the 300s BC! We go all the way up through the present day, featuring people from ancient China (200s BC Han Dynasty), al-Andalus (Muslim-ruled Spain in the 900s), turn-of-the-century Paris, the U.S. civil rights movement, and the Soviet Union. All in all, there are ten different centuries represented.

Who are some of the people you researched and what did you discover about them?

It was hard to narrow it down to the fifty who ended up being featured, but the ones who made the cut all have gripping stories. There’s Chevaliere d’Eon (1728-1810, France), the spy who transitioned while serving abroad; there’s Frieda Belinfante (1904-1995, the Netherlands), the lesbian who forged identity documents for Jews during World War II; and there’s Navtej Johar (1959-present, India), the gay Bharatanatyam dancer who brought a case against the Indian Supreme Court to decrimanalize homosexuality…and won!

What was the most interesting or surprising fact you found?

One story I had never heard of before researching this book was about Maryam Khatoon Molkara (1950-2012, Iran). In 1987, she single-handedly got a powerful ayatollah to publicly approve of gender affirmation surgery for trans people!

Can you share a favorite anecdote?

Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002, U.S.) and Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992, U.S.) have always been favorite LGBTQ+ historical figures for me. Sylvia had this “I’m gonna say it even if you’re uncomfortable hearing it” attitude that is so admirable and Marsha was known for being incredibly kind to everyone who came across her path. They were best friends and together created a movement against all odds. They both experienced a lot of violence and oppression (including from within the gay community) but they persevered.

How have views of LGBTQ+ identity changed over time?

A common misconception is that we’ve gone in a straight (no pun intended) line from hate and discrimination for centuries towards the fight for liberation in the last 50 years. Actually, there was an incredible diversity of queerness around the world, oftentimes accepted and celebrated and normalized, for centuries before the arrival of European invaders. It was the colonial era that made worldwide hatred of queerness the norm. Apart from that influence, we see societies with three or more genders or with bisexuality as the norm, as a couple examples. Every time and place has had totally different ways of understanding and labeling what we’d today call LGBTQ+ identities, way too many to name. While words like “gay” and “trans” are new, the concepts are not.

Why is this topic important for middle graders?

This topic is important for all ages, but I think middle graders are in a place where they are ready to start re-examining what they learned in elementary school, like was Christopher Columbus really as heroic as they were told. They’re also becoming ready to look at historical figures as real people who had full lives including crushes and dates and questioning themselves. I think it is the perfect time to introduce a book like this that may complicate the way they look at history.

Thank you for being with us. We appreciate sharing your insights, and we’re looking forward to your new release.

Blurb for Rainbow Revolutionaries

Take a journey through the lives of fifty revolutionary queer figures who made history in this groundbreaking illustrated biography collection from the author of Queer, There, and Everywhere.

Did you ever wonder who invented the computer? Or who advised Martin Luther King Jr. on his nonviolent activism?

Author Sarah Prager and illustrator Sarah Papworth bring to life the vibrant histories of fifty pioneering LGBTQ+ people our history books forgot to mention. Delve into the lives of Wen of Han, a Chinese emperor who loved his boyfriend as much as his people; Martine Rothblatt, a trans woman who’s helping engineer the robots of tomorrow; and so many more.

From athletes (Billie Jean King) to doctors (Magnus Hirschfeld) and activists (Marsha P. Johnson) to painters (Frida Kahlo), LGBTQ+ people have made their mark on every century of human existence. This book is a celebration of the many ways these hidden heroes have made a difference and will inspire young readers to make a difference, too.

About Sarah Prager

Sarah Prager is the author of Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World (2017, YA, HarperCollins) and the forthcoming Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ People Who Made History (2020, MG, HarperCollins). Queer, There, and Everywhere received numerous accolades including three starred reviews and being named a 2017 Best Book for Teens by New York Public Library and Chicago Public Library. Prager also created the Quist mobile app in 2013, a free resource that teaches LGBTQ+ history to thousands around the world ( Her writing has been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost, and many other publications, and she has spoken to over 125 audiences across five countries on the topic of LGBTQ+ history. Prager lives in Massachusetts with her wife and their two young children.

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