Posts Tagged Queer

WNDMG Wednesday – M. K. England Guest Post

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Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

WNDMG Wednesday is thrilled to host author M.K. England this month. M.K. wrote a fantastic post for us exploring themes central to their writing–themes that consistently create connection and validation, which is the connective tissue of what diverse kidlit is all about. Thank you so much, M.K.! And congratulations on Player vs. Player — so excited for this book!

Guest Post, by M.K. England

My work as an author is a bit all over the place. I started out in YA sci-fi/fantasy with The Disasters and Spellhacker, skipped to adult sci-fi with Guardians of the Galaxy: No Guts, No Glory, then hopped to YA contemporary with The One True Me and You, which just came out on March 1st. Now, after all that, I’ve finally found my way to middle grade—and what a joy it is to be writing the Player vs. Player trilogy.

Two Consistent Features

What in the world could possibly connect all of those very different books, other than the fact that they all lived in my brain? There are two consistent features of everything I write:

  • Strong, loving, supportive friend groups that treat each other like family, and,
  • A reading experience that I, the queer nerdy Star Wars loving gamer child, would have felt validated by.

It’s dangerous to go alone!*

In the Player vs. Player trilogy, both of those features are fundamental to the story. We get to see the formation of my hallmark friends-as-family group in action as four kids come together to bond over their shared love of a video game called Affinity. Book one, Ultimate Gaming Showdown, is like a video game version of Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, where four kids team up in a virtual tournament to do battle for an amazing prize package. They play well together… but there are whole heaps of loneliness and isolation (and maybe a few secrets) keeping them from playing their best and coming together as a team—and as true friends.

  • Josh’s family moves around a lot for his mom’s job and just wants some friends to game with.
  • Hannah struggles in school and plays alone at the public library every evening while her mom works a second job.
  • Gaming is banned altogether in Larkin’s household, and she’s got a million other things going on in her life—but her heart and dreams are filled with video games.
  • Wheatley struggles to relate to other kids and has an overbearing father… and a secret that could wreck the whole team.

Player v Player cover art

I loved getting to design the video game these kids play together, and writing the action of the tournament was a blast. It’s the process of getting these kids together as a team, as friends who trust and care about each other, that ultimately propels the book forward though. There is such incredible power in finding the people who see you and validate the things you care about, something all of these kids desperately needed. To many people, video games are a waste of time, something shameful that kids should avoid. To these kids, gaming is a critical lifeline, a source of purpose and pride… and maybe even a future career.

Of course, as we’ll find out in PvP book two, it’s not all smooth sailing once you’ve found your people. Staying friends, especially when you’re on a team together? There are… challenges.

* – A classic Zelda reference that the kids in this book would totally not get. I embrace my status as an Elder Millennial Nerd.

Gamers are cool now, right?

The second constant in my writing, a reading experience that validates my queer nerdy young self, is baked right into the core concept. I loved video games a lot as a child. It’s the earliest thing I remember being very into, starting with button mashing on our old original Nintendo as soon as I could get my hands around the controller.

However, when I was the same age as the kids in PvP, it was the late 90s. Being a gamer at that time wasn’t especially cool for anyone, but definitely not if you weren’t a boy. Things have improved, but gaming is still a boy’s club in a lot of ways. For example, the vast majority of the top streamers on Twitch are straight cis white guys. Meanwhile women, BIPOC folks, and queer people get harassed right off the site. We clearly still have a long way to go.

For adult me, a queer non-binary person who grew up as that weirdo “gamer girl,” the opportunity to write this story is healing. The gaming team in PvP includes two girls competing at the highest level in eSports—and as a kid, I would have been obsessed. PvP is a book I would have read until the paperback had gone soft and fuzzy, full of creases and little torn off chunks missing from too much time spent in a backpack or wedged between the bed and the wall. Though there weren’t books for kids and teens back then that mentioned the word nonbinary (that I knew of), I gobbled up anything where I saw kids like me—girls who didn’t fit, who dared to ferociously love unexpected things, who chafed against their boxes. If there’d been a book series about girls in video games? Game over.

((Also into gaming? Read this archive STEM Tuesday interview with Janet Slingerland, who wrote VIDE GAME CODING))

Press start

 It’s been fascinating to me, writing characters who are just beginning to discover who they are. Characters in YA are doing the same thing, but they’re much further down the path. In middle grade, kids are just starting to take those first steps to differentiate from their families and embrace who they’ll become.

For some queer, trans, and gender-expansive kids, by the time they hit that 8-12 range, they’re already well aware of their identities. For others, like me, it takes longer. Maybe it was just the lack of representation in media and the “tomboy” label I was saddled with as a kid, but it wasn’t until high school that I really started to understand and embrace some aspects of who I was, and the full picture didn’t come into focus until my early 30s. Before that, it was much more subtle. Blushing glances, that awkward blend of curiosity and embarrassment, experimenting with clothes to see what felt right. While I’m sure I’ll write a more overt middle-grade story later, for right now I’m enjoying writing this subtle growth into queerness that so reflects my own experiences while the characters put 99% of their brainpower into their gaming goals.

It’s an honor to be writing directly to and for the next generation of gamers, who I hope will create a much more open and welcoming gaming culture in the years to come. I’ll still be here, controller in hand.

 

Headshot of MK England - background stars and galaxies

M. K. England grew up on the Space Coast of Florida watching shuttle launches from the backyard. These days, they call rural Virginia home, where their house is full of video games, dogs, plants, Star Wars memorabilia, and one baby human. MK is the author of THE DISASTERS (2018), SPELLHACKER (2020), THE ONE TRUE ME & YOU (2022), and other forthcoming novels. Follow them at www.mkengland.com.

Stay connected:

Twitter: mk_england

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WNDMG Wednesday – Author Shing Yin Khor

We Need Diverse MG
We Need Diverse MG

Artwork by Aixa Perez-Prado

WNDMG Author Interview with Shing Yin Khor

Featured in today’s WNDMG Wednesday, a WNDMG author interview with Shing Yin Khor about their graphic novel, THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO. (Penguin Random House, June 2021)

Shing Yin Khor Interview

About THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO

Part historical fiction, part magical realism, and 100 percent adventure. Thirteen-year-old Mei reimagines the myths of Paul Bunyan as starring a Chinese heroine while she works in a Sierra Nevada logging camp in 1885.

Shing Yin Khor Interview

MUF: Thanks so much for doing this interview with me – I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO. And I have to tell you, both my 9-year-old daughter and I enjoyed it immensely – she’s already reading it again! We’re grateful to you for bringing such a vibrant, creative book into the world.

What is the origin story for THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO? What is the significance of your decision to incorporate the Blue Ox?

SYK: My interest in the Paul Bunyan mythos goes back many years – it started with a fairly straightforward interest in logging history and this American myth, but as I learned more about early American history, especially in the Wild West, I realised how much history I didn’t know, or that was left deliberately untaught to me. A lot of these histories are glossed over in the popular American narrative. The popular conception of early American history, and especially that of Old West heroism is one full of white heroes and white individualism, which is more a matter of myth-building than historical fact. Often, marginalized groups are spoken of as a monolith, as a people rather than a collection of individual people, living a diversity of lives. This is not true now, and it wasn’t then either.

Shing Yin Khor Illustration

Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox

SYK: The evolution of the Paul Bunyan myth feels like a microcosm of this history to me – it has become a story of individual strength, while the stories in the oral tradition are often far more about collective labor. Including Pei Pei(as the stand-in for Babe the Blue Ox) felt pretty compulsory to me, he’s just such a signifier of the Paul Bunyan myth, and I also just wanted a big goofy ox in the book.

I find American myth-building extremely compelling, and Paul Bunyan is probably the biggest American mythological figure, although probably a less generally destructive one than the myth we have made our “founding fathers” out to be. The American mythology dehumanizes and caricatures us. It tells us that indigenous people were “savages,” or healers, with no nuance for the individual, it tells us that enslaved people were “treated well,” it ignores the labor and death that this entire country was predicated on, and yes, some of the early Paul Bunyan stories are racist.

Shing Yin Khor Illustration

And to also know that these logging camps were filled with immigrants, and Black and Indigenous workers, that they had tons of Chinese and Japanese workers in them – at the center of this book is the simple question – what were the stories that we lost, because of the person that told them?

MUF: Why did you decide to set this story in a logging camp?

SYK: I am specifically interested in logging and forest history, and in the evolution of the Paul Bunyan mythos – a logging camp was the obvious choice.

The Power of Myth

MUF: A major theme of your book is the reclaiming of the power of myth and who gets to own it. How do you hope to empower your readers with this message?

SYK: I’m writing quite indulgently here – the reader I’m trying to write for is the 12 year old version for myself, not anyone else. I wrote this book to restore something to the young version of me, who only found books about brave imaginative kind white girls. I hope that young readers today won’t need to have that futile search because my fellow authors have already been writing them into history. I hope there are more books like this, especially those that center Black and Indigenous perspectives, but I am heartened that this book is coming out at a time where marginalized voices are centered more, even though I think the traditional publishing industry still has a very long way to go. I hope that this book assures young readers from marginalized communities that they can tell their own stories too, and I hope that the collective work of my elders and my peers and the work that I try my best to do now and in the coming years, will help to ease the path for them to center their own voices as storytellers and be their own protagonists.

The Chinese Story in Logging Camp History

MUF: One of the most painful moments in the book is drawn from the racial tension that followed the Chinese Exclusion Act—can you describe the experience of writing and researching that period?

SYK: The thing about doing research about any marginalized peoples, and especially if you are from the same group, is that you often get bogged down by the grief and trauma of the research. It is difficult, because a lot of the history is not well documented, and what is documented is often the violence of the time period against Chinese workers. 

Part of my impetus for writing Auntie Po was actually learning how Chinese people were, in some ways, valued by the world beyond their own Chinese communities. The plot point where Ah Hao finds out that he was paid more than the white cook is a historical fact, that I encountered in Sue Fawn Chung’s Chinese in the Woods, which is just about the only academic book about working-class Chinese in the lumber industry in this era. This story of logging camp cooks sprang basically fully formed into my head when I read it – I already knew a lot about the Paul Bunyan mythos, and I knew a lot about the early American logging industry, but this book so clearly placed Chinese people in this history I was already interested in and made it feel like it was something I deserved to claim.

((Enjoying this WNDMG interview? Read this guest post from author Christina Li))

Today’s Bias

MUF: How do you feel that history connects to today’s awful bias against the Asian

community?

SYK: I don’t really feel like I have the ability to form complete thoughts about this yet. But it is clear to me that the only way we move forward is in solidarity with other marginalized peoples, especially Black and Indigenous people, and other people of color. Anti-Asian racism is not just a current issue, it is an ongoing pattern of institutional racism that this country has engaged in, rooted in white supremacy, that seeks to pit marginalized people against each other, which does not ever benefit any marginalized group, and only benefits white supremacy. A large part of my book is about Chinese people forced into navigating whiteness for their survival and comfort, and realizing the limits of what white-adjacency can bring them. Our histories are much more intertwined with other marginalized groups than the stereotypical Asian-American narratives suggest, and solidarity backed by solidarity action is our only way out of the model minority myth. 

Personal Resonance

MUF: What is the most meaningful part of the book for you personally?

SYK: Mei’s relationship with her dad is really important to me, because it’s really similar to my relationship with my own dad. We immigrated to the United States when I was 16, and even though we are a much more privileged family than a logging camp cook, it is so clear to me the sacrifices he made to give me a life where I could make art for a living. He was the first person in his family to go to college, his brothers and sisters pooled their money so he could go, being an artist was never an option for him. 

I also loved being able to write a queer character while not necessarily needing to make it a major part of the book! Mei is a queer character that exists in many intersections of experiences, just like many other queer people. Not every experience foregrounds queerness, it is just part of who she is as a person. 

Publishing Team of Color

MUF: As a creator of color in the graphic novel space, what was your experience on your path to publication? In your Acknowledgements page, you note that this book was finished in collaboration with a team that was entirely made up of people of color. Can you talk a little bit about what that means to you? 

SYK: I was already doing a lot of my own work, both self published and shorter works with online publishers, so the path to publication for this book was fairly straightforward. I had some early experiences in my early days as a writer, where I was often made to feel that the stories that were wanted from me in traditional publishing were about trauma, or confessional memoirs about even more trauma, and I was unenthusiastic about that. But because I was doing my own work, and had established enough of my own voice, my entire publication journey for The Legend of Auntie Po was with a team that was always on the same page about the sort of story that I was going to be telling. And of course, my book is coming out after so many other incredible marginalized authors and bloggers and editors have done the work of making publishing a more inclusive and welcoming space for a range of voices. I am extremely lucky, I am writing books about parts of the Asian American experience ten years after I first read MariNaomi Kiss and Tell, after Gene Luen Yang’s been making graphic novels for decades, after Kazu Kibushi’s Avatar series is wildly beloved. 

 Working with a team that is entirely composed of people of color(my agent, editor, art director – all of Kokila, my publisher), meant that while I had a lot of work to do on this book, the work that I did not have to do included things like “explaining racism” or “being nicer to the white characters.” Authors of color deserve to work with publishers and editors who understand their lived experiences. Working on this book has been a dream with them – the editorial team at Kokila is staffed with the most brilliant women of color, all of whom are thoughtful and incisive and philosophically devoted to centering stories like these in publishing.

MUF: What do you hope readers will take away from THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO?

I hope they will feel even more agency and urgency to tell their own stories.

Chickens and Cats

MUF: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share with our readers?

Every time I was stressed when drawing the book, I added a drawing of a cat or chicken to it. I think there are seven cats and four chickens, if you’d like to take a stab at finding them all.

MUF: I love that. Headed now to look for the cats and chickens. Thanks again, Shing, and congratulations!

Shing Yin Khor Bio PIcture

Photo Credit: Shing Yin Khor

Shing Yin Khor is a cartoonist and installation artist exploring the Americana mythos and new human rituals. A Malaysian-Chinese immigrant, and an American citizen since 2011, they are also the author of The American Dream?, a graphic novel about travelling Route 66.

Connect with Shing:

Website

 

 

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