Guest Post: Amy Rose Capetta on Something Good Happened in 2016: Celebrating LGBTQ YA

Rainbow Boxes co-founders Cori & Amy Rose

By Amy Rose Capetta
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

In 2015, it seemed like there was a slowly growing list of excellent YA books with central LGBTQ main characters–but there were clearly still barriers making it difficult for readers, especially teen readers, to find them.

Fellow YA author Cori McCarthy* and I created Rainbow Boxes to help bridge that gap, to directly connect LGBTQ YA to young readers.

We raised funds that allowed us to send a box of fifteen YA titles to LGBTQ centers and community libraries in all 50 states.

Rainbow Boxes co-founder Cori McCarthy in our living room–with hundreds of LGBTQ books!

Then 2016 happened.

Looking forward at the beginning of this year, I saw new LGBTQ YA titles everywhere–seemingly more in a single year than we had seen in the past five put together.

Looking back now, while the publishing landscape has indeed changed in 2016, so has the world.**

Amy Rose, Cynthia & Sara Kocek

When I first talked to Cynthia Leitich Smith about this blog series, I hoped it would be a celebration of great LGBTQ YA: a call to uplift the excellent books that are being published while we continue to work for a wider range of stories and representation.

Now this series feels more urgently important than ever. In the coming years, LGBTQ people, especially young ones, will need stories. They will need adventure and friendship and truth and love, messiness and beauty, fluff and darkness, a place to see their humanity fully explored, even as other people seek to deny it.

Straight and cisgendered people need these stories, too. Without them, there will be no truthful narratives that push against the limited, distorted, and stereotyped portrayals of the past.

Amy Rose, Adam & Cori

The work is underway. Minds and hearts are changing. LGBTQ teenagers are brave and amazing. But there is still so much we can do. I’d like to start by waving my rainbow flag as hard as I can to celebrate some of the wonderful successes in LGBTQ YA.

Books about gay teenage boys have increasingly been enjoying mainstream success levels. Some of the breakouts include New York Times bestselling More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015), named as “mandatory reading” and selected as an Editor’s Choice by the NYT.

David Levithan’s many books about gay teenagers, which have been published for over a decade, are considered a YA staple.

Wildly popular Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray, 2015) won the coveted Morris Award for debut authors.

Books about queer girls have not enjoyed the same levels of visibility, but there are signs that might be changing. In 2016, Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016) was long-listed for National Book Award, Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Balzer + Bray, 2012) was announced as an upcoming movie adaptation, and Marieke Nijkamp’s This is Where it Ends (Sourcebooks, 2016) hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list–and stayed on the list week after week.

I asked Marieke: how does it feel to have a #1 NYT bestselling title featuring queer girl main characters? What does it mean for you as a writer? As a queer person? She said:

“It means the world to me. One of the reasons why I started writing was to give a voice and stories to readers who struggled to find themselves in books.

“Like I did, growing up. And as it is, nothing fills my heart more than hearing from those exact readers, who recognize themselves–if only a little–in TIWIE.


“Of course I hoped and dreamed my stories would resonate, but to hear those reactions and to see this queer book of mine do so well…

“It’s far beyond even my wildest dreams. It’s out of this world. I’m so incredibly grateful for it, and I hope I can pay it forward.”

I talked to Anna-Marie McLemore about how she sees the field changing. Her first book, The Weight of Feathers, came out last fall. Her second book, When The Moon Was Ours, features a queer girl and trans boy as main characters, and people of color compose the main casts of both books. She said:

“I have a lot of hope for the future of inclusive literature. We still have a long way to go, but thanks to the conversations taking place, many of them fostered by leaders like those of We Need Diverse Books, we’re moving forward.”

I asked the same question to Malinda Lo, a well-known author in the LGBTQ community, whose books include Huntress (Little, Brown, 2011) and Adaptation (Little, Brown, 2012). She said:

“When my first novel, Ash (Little, Brown), was published in 2009, very little YA was published that included queer characters who did not have to struggle with coming out. This has changed significantly in the last seven years.

“This change certainly wasn’t driven only by my books, because other authors had also been moving in this direction, but I think my books did contribute to the growing normalization of queer characters in YA.

“In other words, you can have a queer character in a book, but it doesn’t always have to be about being queer. It can be about falling in love, or saving a kingdom, or simply coming of age, with sexual orientation one issue of many that a character engages with.

“I am really encouraged by this, because the struggle for LGBT rights and acceptance does not end with coming out; it begins there. We can only be full human beings when the whole of our lives and experiences count.”

This was a common refrain when I talked to authors. There will always be a place for coming out stories, and a need for excellent books that struggle with the varied and changing realities of coming out. (I’d love to see more books that deal with the fact that coming out isn’t always a binary experience dividing life neatly into “before” and “after”.)

But focusing on coming out as the only important narrative results in a limited literature that reduces LGBTQ people to a single experience.

I asked Kekla Magoon, author of 37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order)(Henry Holt, 2012) what she’s excited about in the field and how she sees it changing.

“It’s exciting to contribute to the growing offering of books that deal with sexuality in big and small ways while intersecting with other storylines and multiple layers of character development.

“Around the time I sold 37 Things I Love (2010) and the time it came out (2012), people had begun talking about the need for more books that dealt with LGBTQ characters doing things other than coming out, and the need for books that showed LGBTQ characters of color.

“The need still exists for those books, but it seems as though the conversation has intensified, and is beginning to result in changes. There are more LGBTQ books now than there used to be, and that the door to the industry is cracking open even further now, as we collectively deepen our understanding of identity and intersectionality.”

When I asked Corinne Duyvis, author of Otherbound (Amulet, 2014), what she’s excited about in LGBTQ YA, she said:

“I’m very excited to be seeing more #ownvoices*** books hit the shelves. The more the better!

“After all, no two people’s experiences are the same. The more different voices we have, the more we can show the wealth and breadth of experiences of queer characters–and the less pressure there is on individual authors to ‘speak for’ queer YA.

“They can just be honest about that one character’s experiences instead of being put into the position of representing an entire group.

“I would very much like to see more trans representation both on the pages and behind the scenes. There are still a lot of experiences out there that aren’t being written about very much, whether in terms of trans identity or the various angles of intersectionality.

“It’s essential that we listen, that we actively seek out and welcome trans voices, and that we do whatever we can to make the industry–and the world–more trans-friendly.”

2015-16 saw the publication of a small number of #ownvoices books about trans characters–such as If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (Flatrion) and George by Alex Gino (Scholastic) in the middle grade category.

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick) is an excellent sci-fi novel about a nonbinary character.

There is still such a long way to go. Trans characters are consistently underrepresented in LGBTQ fiction.

While celebrating how far LGBTQ YA has come, it’s important that we pay attention to areas where representation is seriously lagging. Almost every single person I interviewed for this blog series cited the need for more #ownvoices trans YA.

Vee Signorelli, the co-founder of The Gay YA, is currently running Trans Awareness Week. Please check out their work, starting with this post.

When I asked Vee about the delights and challenges of running a site that covers LGBTQ YA, they said:

“I’ve gotten to connect with other literary trans people. That… has meant so much to me. The literary community loves to herald any one trans person as the one and only, when in fact, there are many of us here, and that is unhelpfully isolating.

“There is something amazing about creating, theorizing, and working things through in community. Especially when you’re all part of such a marginalized identity that has been used and misrepresented, in culture, and in YA. There’s so much you’re able to reclaim.

“One of the absolute delights is how wonderful, strong, and vibrant the entire community is. Sometimes I get up in my head about the administration work, and I start freaking out about everything I have to do… and then I put something out to the community, like a call for submissions or volunteers, or opinions on a certain book, or anything and they are just there.

“I’m repeatedly amazed by everything the community does to keep this going.”

Community is one of the most important words we can keep in mind, and foster moving forward.

Whether you’re a reader, a librarian, a teacher, a writer, a member of the publishing industry, a bookseller, there are things that all of us can do to keep this surge in LGBTQ YA going strong. And we can all work to make the YA book community a truly inclusive space.

One of the most obvious and wonderful is to enjoy and share the great books that are being published, so I want to leave you today with recommendations for new and upcoming books from Dahlia Adler, who runs LGBTQ Reads, and Vee Signorelli of The Gay YA.

These two websites are some of the most helpful resources and positive spaces for LGBTQ fiction, and I would greatly encourage anyone who doesn’t already check them out regularly to do so. (After adding these books to your TBR, of course.)

Dahlia said:

“I’m really, really into Jaye Robin Brown‘s Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit (HarperTeen, 2016). I think it does a really beautiful job with queerness and religion, and it’s also just fun and cute and sexy and everything you want f/f YA to be.

“Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours is not only remarkably beautiful in itself and its style, but in its representations of sexual orientation and gender identity and intersectionality.

“And for some books I think are just great that center queer characters but not queerness, check out Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks, 2016), A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (Roaring Brook, 2016), As I Descended by Robin Talley (HarperTeen, 2016), and Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig  (Feiwel & Friends, 2016).

“One I haven’t read but am super excited about is Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Duet, 2016) – it sounds like so much fun.

“Beyond 2016, I can already definitely recommend History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen), How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Katherine Tegen, 2017) — I loved all of them and I’m positive many readers will too!”

Vee said:

“Queens of Geek by Jenn Wilde (Swoon) and Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinksi (Swoon) are two of my new all time favorite books. I’m also psyched to read Dreadnought by April Daniels (Diversion)(an #ownvoices YA featuring a trans girl), Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (Little, Brown), 27 Hours by Tristina Wright (Entangled Teen), and It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (HarperTeen).”

This post is the first in a four-part series. Please come back for part two–I’ll be talking about LGBTQ YA genre fiction!

Notes from Amy Rose

Rainbow Boxes co-founders and YA authors Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta

*Yes, Cori McCarthy is also my girlfriend. Thank you for scrolling all the way down here to confirm this happy fact.

**Please note that all interviews were given before November, which means all answers are reflective of a pre-election cultural landscape.

***If you’re not familiar with the term/hashtag “#ownvoices,” please check out #ownvoices, where Corinne Duyvis, who coined the term, explains what it means. 

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta is the author of three YA novels: Entangled and Unmade, a space duet (both Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and Echo After Echo (Candlewick, 2017), a queer love story wrapped in a murder mystery and set on Broadway.

She is on the writing team for the second season of Remade, a YA sci-fi thriller from SerialBox, and works with writers on their novels through Yellow Bird Editors (with a special interest in genre fiction and LGBTQ fiction of all kinds!)

She is the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes (@rainbowboxesya), and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Amy Rose lives and writes in Michigan with her girlfriend Cori McCarthy, who is also a YA author, and their five-year-old, who wants to be a wizard.

Guest Post: Danica Davidson on Writing Merchandise Tie-In Children’s Books

New Voice Danica Davidson on Attack on the Overworld

By Danica Davidson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Writing books that tie in with an already-known franchise offers both its rewards and its own sets of challenges, but ultimately it’s something I’ve enjoyed doing.

I’m the author of the Overworld Adventure series (Skyhorse, 2015-)(also known as books for Minecrafters) and the Barbie comic book Barbie: Puppy Party (Papercutz, 2016). I’m getting started on an Overworld Adventure spinoff series (same main characters but different villains) and I have a short story that will be included in a new graphic novel volume of Tales from the Crypt.

I knew I wanted to be an author from a young age, and began submitting novels regularly to agents in middle school. What I wasn’t prepared for was how hard it is to break into publishing, and sometimes you have to find creative ways to get in.

In high school I began working as a journalist, and after a few years, I was writing for MTV, CNN, The Onion and other publications. During my twenties I got an agent, and while he was shopping a YA series of mine, I sold a book on how to draw manga (Japanese comics). Skyhorse, the publisher, then asked me if I had any ideas that might involve the video game Minecraft.

I took a brief look at other books Skyhorse was publishing to get a feel for what they wanted but to also make sure I pitched them something different.

After brainstorming for a while and asking friends (who were also Minecraft fans) what they thought of my ideas, I wrote a proposal that was several paragraphs long and built down the framework for the first book. Skyhorse wanted it and the result was Escape from the Overworld.

The first book sold well, and now I’ve written six books in this series: Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrine and Battle with the Wither. I wrote them as adventure novels that happen to take place as if Minecraft were real, because I want them to be enjoyable to both Minecraft players and nongamers who just like a good action story.

With Barbie, I was submitting my resume to different comic book publishers. Papercutz, a publisher that does kids’ comics, wrote back with some interest. I sent them a spec script for Tales from the Crypt that I’d written, since they publish that franchise.

I didn’t sell Tales from the Crypt right away, but they liked it enough they told me to hold tight and they’d contact me when they had a property I could work on. A few months later, they asked if I could do Barbie! (Yes, you heard right — from Tales to the Crypt to Barbie.)

Mattel was watching over the project, because this is an official book, so when Papercutz asked me to write a proposal involving Barbie and puppies, that meant both Papercutz and Mattel would have to approve. I watched the new movie “Barbie and Her Sisters in the Great Puppy Adventure” (2015) and read some Barbie books to get a feel of what Mattel might like.

Puppies made me think of my love for animal welfare, so I pitched a proposal that Barbie and her sisters would put on a puppy party to get all the local shelter pets adopted. Mattel liked the proposal, so then I wrote the script, which then went to both Papercutz and Mattel to look over. (And, yes, I did end up selling the Tales from the Crypt script, and that will be out in 2017 from Papercutz!)

I never anticipated writing tie-ins, but I’ve had a lot of fun doing them.

You have to find the right companies to do them with, and the fact I already had a professional resume helped get attention on me. It’s kind of like a challenge to plug yourself into these different worlds and see what you come up with. You also never know what sort of adventures you’ll find yourself in!

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Amber Fang: Self-Publishing a Book from Arthur Slade. Peek: “…there it is. The breakdown of income and expenses. As you can see Amazon (and Createspace and affiliate money) amounted to most of my income. I put the expenses chart there, too.” Notes: (a) post includes charts breaking down sales figures; (b) Arthur is a popular and acclaimed author of numerous successful traditionally published trade books as well.

Making a Difference Booklist from The Horn Book. Peek: “The books below — both fiction and nonfiction titles for a wide range of ages — portray many kinds of social justice work. Many specifically highlight what children can do to contribute this work, helping empower them to fight the good fight.”

How Character Attributes and Flaws Work Within Character Arc by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “Flaws exist because of a deep fear: that an emotionally traumatic event will happen again, and all that awful vulnerability one felt before will come crashing down.” See also Angela on Writing Emotion: Does Your Hero Shrug, Smile & Frown Too Much?

Transgender Awareness Month 2016 Resources from Out of the Box at The Horn Book.” Peek: “November is Transgender Awareness Month, a time to celebrate the lives of trans people, remember those lost to anti-trans hate crimes, and renew our commitment to fight for trans rights.

Heavy-Handed Imagery & Theme by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “That belongs on a classroom poster. Not at the heart of a story. Now, if you show a character’s life being enriched by sharing, that’s another thing. That lets the reader see the benefits of sharing for himself, and to make the connection that sharing is probably great on his own.”

Good Men & Bad Men: On Latino Masculinities in Joe Jiménez’s Bloodline by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD; from Latinx in Kidlit. Peek: “…polarizing possibilities of what it means to be a Latino man are harmful and we need more complex images of Latino men and Latino masculinities that give us a broad spectrum.” See also Creating a Diverse Books Legacy: Interview with Culture Chest Founder Rose Espiritu.

Interview: Author Latisha Redding on Immigration, Grief & The Healing Power of Art from Lee & Low. Peek: “Certainly a six-year old doesn’t have the vocabulary to say, “I’m depressed because this happened to me.” So I wanted to know how could this child, Henri, express the trauma that he has experienced. I explored that question with the story.”

What It Takes to Open a Bookstore by Jonah Engel Bromwich from The New York Times. Peek: “In the last several years, though, there are signs that independent bookstores are making a comeback in New York and other cities, in part through innovative financing that gives neighborhoods a stake in the businesses.”

How to Write When Life Sucks by Cathy Yardly from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…study yourself: your process, your boosts, your triggers. You’re not going to cure all your stressors at once. What you want is to halt the downward spiral, and slowly build your reserves.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Donna Janell Bowman‘s Step Right Up is an Orbis Pictus Recommended Book.

Thank you to The Girls’ School of Austin for the welcoming hospitality at my school visit on Thursday. Thank you for the welcome signs. Thank you for your enthusiasm and terrific questions. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! I had such an amazing time.

Personal Links

Honored to join the SCBWI winter conference faculty!
Honored to join the SCBWI winter conference faculty!

Book Trailer: Wing & Claw: Forest of Wonders (Book 1) by Linda Sue Park

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Wing & Claw: Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park (HarperChildren’s, 2016). From the promotional copy:


From Newbery Medal–winning author Linda Sue Park comes a captivating fantasy-adventure about a boy, a bat, and an amazing transformation.



Raffa Santana has always loved the mysterious Forest of Wonders. For a gifted young apothecary like him, every leaf could unleash a kind of magic. 

When an injured bat crashes into his life, Raffa invents a cure from a rare crimson vine that he finds deep in the Forest. His remedy saves the animal but also transforms it into something much more than an ordinary bat, with far-reaching consequences. 

Raffa’s experiments lead him away from home to the forbidding city of Gilden, where troubling discoveries make him question whether exciting botanical inventions—including his own—might actually threaten the very creatures of the Forest he wants to protect.



The first book in an enchanting trilogy, Forest of Wonders richly explores the links between magic and botany, family and duty, environment and home.