Hello, everybody! I have recently published a work of YA fiction—of course, with a taste of romance—through Harmony Ink Press called The Princess of Baker Street. It is the story of a trans teen girl told through the eyes of her Baker Street neighbor. I’m extremely excited about this book and have high hopes that it will find its way into the hands of many young adults!
My writing has been a journey and in today’s guest post, I’ll describe for you the direction of this writing trip. I also am going to point out how important sensitivity is to this experience.
I write about topics I don’t actually live. And I strive to do so with sensitivity.
As an ally to the LGBTQ community, I care deeply about its members’ human rights. Family, friends, and readers often ask me why I choose to write stories of LGBTQ people. I reflect on this question often and have realized that my motivation has changed—it has broadened, while in some respects has grown more focused—over the years.
When I started writing about seven years ago, I was moved by the cause of marital equality. Being a romantic, I refused to accept that gender should stand in the way of love relationships, and in particular, of marriage. In my own life, my marriage was viewed with excitement and positivity by family and friends, my employer, and my church. Our growing family was accepted easily into our community. Being married allowed my spouse and I practical gains, as well: health benefits, privileges when we adopted our fourth child, tax and inheritance rights, and so much more. This was, and is, not necessarily so for all couples. I felt passionate that all partnerships and families experienced the same acceptance and rights as I had. And so I wrote stories of loving same sex relationships whose members faced challenges and together overcame them. I still believe that all love is real; it deserves recognition, celebration, and acceptance.
I have moved into writing mainly, although not exclusively, YA LGBTQ fiction and romance for two reasons. First, I believe all teens should be able to find themselves in books. And secondly, books introduce teens to places and people they wouldn’t otherwise know, and what better way to meet a person with a different life experience than through a heartwarming YA romance?
Readers of all ages identify with the pain and conflict of the teenage experience. In my writing, I have come to largely focus on teens who grapple with the understanding and acceptance of their gender identities because this touches the core of a human being’s existence. My newest release from Harmony Ink Press—The Princess of Baker Street—deals with struggle of a transgender girl, Shaylee, to understand and accept herself. It is told in the point of view of her young neighbor, Eric, who is also living through serious, but very different challenges, all the while experiencing complicated feelings for Shaylee.
Last year, I released a novel that told the story of a transgender teenage girl, slightly older than Shaylee, at the point of her transition. I conducted abundant research and interviewed several trans teens to help me get the character’s experience correct, and my trans character is both vivid and real. However, I believe I missed the mark in some of the other language used in the novel, in terms of flawless sensitivity. I deeply regret my inadvertent insensitivity and have vowed to do better. On a positive note, I learned a great deal—some of it the hard way— through this experience, in terms of sensitivity to my readers and to my subject, and I am appreciative to those who reached out to help me improve as a writer of complex issues.
For my current WIP, I have hired several sensitivity readers to help me “get it right,” in a broader sense. Although appropriate language continues to evolve in terms of gender and sexuality, it is my obligation as a writer of sensitive topics to do everything I can to be as careful as possible. My most recent sensitivity reader, a professional in the field who came highly recommended from another respected author of LGBTQ novels, has encouraged me to question the use of terms like feminine and masculine and suicide as a major theme in YA LGBTQ works. She helped me to flesh out my trans character, so she is more than simply her gender identity, and to become aware of clichés too often used with LGBTQ characters. Our experience together was intense—I have since reviewed every single line of my current WIP.
There is nothing more important than being sensitive to my readers; it’s second to no other aspect of the story. But is it reasonable to assume that my story will be perfect in every reader/reviewer’s eyes, in this regard? No. Will some readers find fault with language, plot choices, and characterization? Yes. But I will have done my best to tell a story I believe in with the utmost in honesty and care.
Recently, I was invited to be a guest author at a local book group to discuss The Princess of Baker Street. This experience, too, helped me to expand my commitment to sensitivity when dealing with YA LGBTQ fiction. The members of the group were quite interested in appropriate language, which I found encouraging. They wanted to understand the challenges experienced by my young trans teen character, Shaylee, as well as to express their thoughts about her with sensitivity. By asking pointed questions, they turned to me to help them with this. Once again, my belief that introducing people to others with life experiences different from their own can be accomplished through fiction was reaffirmed. I saw minds opening before me as we discussed Shaylee’s experience at school and in the Baker Street neighborhood where she lives.
At the book group, in the introduction to our discussion of The Princess of Baker Street, I described the prevalence of suicide attempts in the transgender community. I showed pictures of trans teens who succeeded in taking their own lives, and illustrated the circumstances surrounding each tragedy. Members of the group shed tears, as I have. If sensitivity in my writing can do anything at all to help avoid some of the pain that causes the high rate of suicide in the trans community, I will strive to acquire and uphold a higher standard.