Intern Insight: LGBT Spotlight Interview with Honey St. Claire

Honey St. Claire, photograph by Kadaver

By Kate Pentecost
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’m sure everyone has seen the buzz that the movie “Love, Simon” has gotten and is still getting from audiences across America.

As part of the LGBT community myself, I can tell you from experience that representation for LGBT kids can be and frequently is absolutely life-changing as they grow into confident, valued adults.

The children’s book community has been doing a great job as of late telling the stories of LGBT kids, whether it be realism or fantasy.

Authors like David Levithan, Cori McCarthy, Malinda Lo, and Amy Rose Capetta come to mind, as well as a score of others who are out there writing for and about LGBT kids.

I also think it’s important for kids to see actual real-life LGBT folks who are out there being their best, most authentic selves. And I believe that we as authors can learn a lot from them as well, so every month, I’m going to be interviewing a different LGBT activist, author or artist about life, art, and children’s books.

I’m delighted to start this project with an LGBT artist and fellow Texan I’ve known for over 10 years, drag performer Honey St. Claire, the hostess of Drag Queen StoryTime at BookPeople in Austin.

Kate: So, Honey, tell us a little about you and your art. 

Honey: Well, I am a Drag Queen/Performance Artist living in Austin, Texas. I’m Transfemme (which means that I’m somewhere between male and female but much much closer to female).

When I’m not performing or hosting shows I like to read, play video games, and take long baths. I have a background in theatre going all the way back to my youth and then acted and performed frequently in both high school and college.

I have a degree from the University of Texas where I studied ancient history and classics, specifically Egyptology, which has been a huge passion of mine as well as an enormous artistic inspiration. Oh! And if I had to choose an animal to have for a pet, it would be a capybara.

K: Tell us a little bit about what you do and your current projects. 

H: I’m the hostess of Geeks on Fleek, Austin’s only recurring cosplay drag show. I’m a cast member of Die Felicia! Austin’s drag horror review. I am also the hostess of Drag Queen StoryTime at BookPeople in Austin.

Drag queens Moana Lisa, Honey and Zane Zena at BookPeople

K: What is Drag Queen Storytime? It sounds delightful!

H: It’s exactly what it sounds like. A few Drag performers reading books to children in full, colorful drag—sometimes with props. Sometimes we have a theme, sometimes not.

Other cities have had drag queen storytimes, and they’ve been great tools for outreach, so I thought, why not try to bring that to Austin?

The first one in February was themed around “Loving You” So it was very Valentine’s themed with hearts and pink and red etc. But instead of being focused on giving your love away to another person it was focused on loving yourself, which I feel is a valuable thing that you can’t learn too early.

We try to have treats, which is enjoyed by the kids and the adults! Also, I looked like a walking disco ball, whats not to love?

K: And how did it go over?

H: The kids had a blast! Not only were there cookies and fun stories, but the stories were read to them by these gigantic colorful creatures. They were shy at first but all quickly warmed up and had a great time!

The community reaction was fantastic! It was a little surprising to be honest because I was expecting a smaller turnout and mostly for it to be LGBTQIA families that were showing up, but I saw a ton of cisgender heterosexual couples bring their kids to the reading because they wanted their kids to experience different kinds of people and to grow up with an open mind which was, honestly, very heartwarming.

K: That’s amazing! Though it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’d be the one to get this started in Austin. I know that books were a very important part of your life growing up. How did books affect you in your youth? 

H: Books were my escape. Since I was bullied often I didn’t really like to stay too long in the realm of reality. I used books to run away.

I got lost in far off worlds and other universes where everything seemed so much better than where I was.

K: What were some of the books you escaped into?

H: As a kid (and now, actually) I was a big fan of Cornelia Funke. I loved Imogene’s Antlers by David Small  (Crown, 1985) which, while not queer, is a great book to talk about diversity within a family.

I also loved Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp by Mercer Mayer (Parents Magazine Press, 1976), The Magic Shop Books by Bruce Coville (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and in high school, Freak Show by James St. James (Dutton, 2007) was a queer favorite.

K: What books for kids exist now that you wish you’d had growing up? 

H: One particular book for children, Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton, illustrated by Dougal MacPherson (Bloomsbury, 2016), is so wonderful! It’s a great way to introduce smaller children to gender and trans issues.

I also loved Libba Bray’s inclusion of a transgirl in the book Beauty Queens (Scholastic, 2011). I wish that would have been out back when I was a kid.

These are just a couple that come to mind.

K: What books for LGBT kids would you like to see written?

H: I want to see more LGBTQIA people take starring roles in different genres rather than mainly realism. I want to see more LGBTQIA characters in sci-fi. I want to see more of them in fantasy. I want to see more of them in horror (but horror that doesn’t rely on their identities as a source of fright or a reason they’re being targeted. We have enough bashing stories already, both in literature and on the news.)

And, more specifically, I want portal fiction like C.S. Lewis’s books and Neil Gaiman’s books, where portals open up to different dimensions when this dimension gets too rough for queer kids.

I mainly just want more LGBTQIA protagonists, period!

K: More! I definitely feel you there. Though recently Simon–Simon Vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli (HarperCollins, 2015)(and the film version, “Love, Simon“)–has been a huge hit, as have notable other YA books with LGBT themes. 


This is a big deal! Yet, the book and others like it are still frequently banned and challenged. What would you say to people who think that LGBT content in children’s books isn’t appropriate? 

H: That is only because of their misconceptions of LGBT people. For years, all we have had are bars and places of secrecy—because for so long even loving someone would have been a crime that was legally punishable. But as time is moving forward, we are coming out of the shadows and more people are starting to see that being LGBT is not only about sex.

We aren’t deviants. We aren’t predators. We are everyday people. A lot of us love kids and want families. A lot of us already have families. And for queer kids, its important to have events and activities that they can take part in.

When you have to wait as a queer kid until you are 18 to really be able to go to a “Queer Space” well…that can do a number on you psychologically. These kids are already queer. They shouldn’t have to wait to be able to express it. And we shouldn’t make them wait to feel accepted.

K: Do you think that public consciousness is changing toward LGBT issues? 

H: I do. I think its changing slowly. But I do think its changing.

More and more people are seeing LGBTQIA individuals as fully fledged human beings. I think the rise of technology is helping with that a lot.

Thanks to Youtube and Tumblr and any other number of websites, kids and young adults are able to experience and to interact with LGBTQIA people in a way that would have been impossible 20 years ago.

Back then, it was you either knew someone or you didn’t. But now they can interact with other queer individuals all over the world.

Whether that means straight kids being introduced to the culture and meeting queer friends, or queer kids reaching out to queer adults with their questions and concerns, the increase in communication is a great thing.

K: So what can we as authors do to support LGBT kids in our lives?

H: The most important thing to do is listen. To hear them out and listen to their thoughts and their feelings. Don’t put too much pressure on them to fit into a mold. Don’t write off their emotions and their feelings as just hormonal and meaningless.

Yes, hormones play a big part, but the things they are going through are valid. We should know, because we all went through them too.

K: Do your research, use LGBTQIA sensitivity readers, and above all, keep writing!

Cynsational Notes


The next Drag Queen Storytime at BookPeople is scheduled for May 29.

Honey will be reading books that celebrate all things fierce and fabulous, including I Am Famous by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Albert Whitman, 2018).

Kate Pentecost holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

She is obsessed with the Romantic Poets and can be identified by the enormous tattoo of Percy Bysshe Shelley on her arm.

She lives in Houston with her husband.

Kate is the YA author of Elysium Girls (Hyperion, winter 2020). 

She is represented by Sara Crowe of Pippin Properties.

New Voice: Nic Stone on Dear Martin

William C. Morris Award Finalist

By Robin Galbraith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Nic Stone is the debut author of Dear Martin (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017). From the promotional copy:

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?


Reading books written for young readers! I didn’t pick up a YA book until I was 26. That first foray was The Hunger Games  by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008), and I read the entire trilogy over the course of five days.

That then started a dystopia kick for me, and I read the first two books of the Divergent  series by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books, 2011) and the Delirium series by Lauren Oliver (HarperCollins, 2011). Then I picked up my first John Green book, and that was that.

There was something about the Young Adult category that spoke to me in ways literary fiction hadn’t, and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that YA wasn’t a thing when I was a teen, so there was this hole in my reading life.

Now I write for the kids like me—specifically the African American ones—who are still underrepresented in the YA sphere.

What was the funniest moment of your publishing journey?

The first time I went through professional copyedits, there was a note about the spelling of a particular curse word. I’d spelled the first part of it (because of course it was a compound curse word) “motha” and the note said something to the effect of “I think this should be ‘mutha*****’ because this way it looks like ‘MOTHa*****’. Okay?” I will never ever forget this note.

What model books were most useful to you and how?

The answer to this changes depending on the book I’m working on, but for Dear Martin  there were five specific ones:

1. A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan (Anchor, 2011), which is the book that helped me to see that I could play with various storytelling formats in one single novel;

2. When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, 2014), which helped me settle into my black boy character’s voice;

3. Grasshopper Jungle  by Andrew Smith (Dutton, 2014), which loosened me up a bit and made it clear that irreverence is an okay thing in books written for teens;

4. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (Atheneum, 2011), which was so beautiful and lyrical and helped me find my prose rhythm; and

5. Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Delacorte, 2009) which showed me the power of reaching into the heart of a story and keeping the plot from taking over.

These books will always hold a special place on my shelf.

How are you approaching the transition from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?

For me, this part of the journey has been the most surprising part and it’s largely because of the way the world is changing with regard to author visibility and accessibility. It’s weird to me that people want to see me and hear from me and connect with me as a person above and outside of the work I create.

Right now, I’m in the process of connecting my writer self with my selfie-taking self and connecting two of my creative outlets: books and makeup. Working on a concept for a Youtube channel, actually. Stay tuned!



Cynsational Notes

In a starred review of Dear Martin, Booklist says, “Teens, librarians, and teachers alike will find this book a godsend in assisting discussions about dealing with police, as well as the philosophical underpinnings of King’s work. Vivid and powerful.”

Dear Martin was named a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award by the American Library Association.

Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one.

After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to  the U.S. to write full-time.

Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work.

You can find her goofing off and/or fangirling over her husband and sons on most social media platforms as @getnicced.

Guest Post: Alan Cumyn on Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend

Find Alan on Facebook and @acumyn

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome, Alan Cumyn! What was your initial inspiration for Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend (Atheneum, 2016)?

There’s a short answer and a long one. The short: in January 2012, popular YA author Libba Bray gave a speech to over a hundred writers at Vermont College of Fine Arts in which she brought us through the ups and downs of her writing career.

Three times in the course of an hour she said, “Don’t go writing your hot pterodactyl boyfriend novel.” She meant that we shouldn’t slavishly follow the trends. But I was struck by the phrase.

When I approached her afterwards and said that I was getting an idea, she encouraged me to follow up, and a little later the whole first chapter, in which the pterodactyl, Pyke, arrives at Vista View High in a calamitous fashion – by landing unceremoniously on the cross-country running champion, Jocelyne Legault – more or less fell out on the page for me.

The longer answer takes me back more than ten years when I was riding a train from Toronto to Ottawa. I had been at some publishing event or other, and was full of the possibility of new stories.

The train rounded a bend and Lake Ontario came into sight. On a rock by the shore a great blue heron, which looked like an ancient creature, pierced me with his gaze. It was the oddest feeling – I felt locked in direct communication with an intelligence not only from another species, but from a vastly different time.

Seconds later the landscape changed, the heron was gone, but I pulled out my pad and scribbled furiously for several pages about a heron who is able to change into a man at will, and who wanders into the big city from time to time almost as a vacation from his usual existence.

After a time I stopped writing because I realized I didn’t know enough about herons to proceed. Over the years, I worked on several versions of this story, and got sidetracked with an interest in Kafka, whose “The Metamorphosis” (1915) famously envisioned a man who wakes up one morning transformed into a bug. I was drawn to the idea of introducing something startlingly unreal and fantastical, but continuing the rest of the story in as realistic a fashion as possible. I was also, like so many others, attracted by the dreamlike nature of Kafka’s writing.

The story morphed and became at least two entirely different novel-length manuscripts that sputtered for various reasons and never quite worked. And then: “Don’t go writing your hot pterodactyl boyfriend novel.” I was seized with yet another possibility to work with some of the same ideas and influences, and perhaps not take it so seriously this time.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

U.S. cover art

That first chapter poured out of me within a day or two of hearing Libba Bray speak in January 2012. I sent a full draft to my agent, Ellen Levine, in late December 2013, so it took me about two years to write much of the manuscript.

During most of that time I told nobody what I was working on. I like the freedom to go wherever I want on the page and to fail privately in ridiculous ways if need be.

After that strong opening chapter fell out, I slowly went over that material again and again for clues about how the story must proceed with these characters in the situation they find themselves in.

Before showing the draft to Ellen, of course, I got feedback from my wife Suzanne, and from friends and family, and made it as strong as I could.

Ellen contacted me enthusiastically in February 2014 and I worked on some more revisions for her. She sent it out to publishers in March and, although a lot of editors passed on it, we did get offers in April, with Caitlyn Dlouhy at Atheneum winning out.

I was way up north in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada at the time as writer-in-residence at Berton House when the phone line to New York started to burn up. It was exciting and strange, to be so far away and yet to have such interest suddenly welling up about my unusual pterodactyl novel. (Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend, it turns out, is the first novel of mine to be published simultaneously in Canada, the United States, the U.K. and elsewhere.)

U.K. cover art

I got a chance to meet Caitlyn in New York in July 2014, and U.K. editors in September. When I was in New York I also spent time at the Museum of Natural History which just happened to be showing a major exhibit on pterodactyls!

Some of the latest research changed the way I thought about the physicality of Pyke, and made it into the book. A lot of the revisions for Caitlyn involved strengthening middle parts of the story and ending it in a way that stayed true to the characters, and to the strangeness of the whole telling.

Again – I kept going back to the beginning for inspiration. The manuscript was pretty well finalized by April 2015, and I was reviewing galleys in October.

There wasn’t a major crisis or anything, no pitched battles, but Caitlyn and I did have strong discussions about all the characters and themes.

I take it for granted that my creations will feel real to me, but it’s lovely when an editor so fully immerses herself as well.

What were the challenges (literary, research, emotional, logistical) in bringing the story to life?

Nothing about this story was straightforward. On the opening page, Pyke appears as a speck in the sky, and by the end of that chapter he is the first inter-species transfer student in the history of Vista View High.

The initial challenge – how do the students accept him as anything but a monster come to eat the school? – I skirted in my first draft by summarizing the changes in a paragraph or two. It was only fairly late in revision that I realized I needed to show in scene those crucial minutes after Pyke has landed on Jocelyne and then carried her to the school nurse for attention.

Pyke is not the main character, of course – the story actually belongs to the student body chair, Shiels Krane, an A-type leader whose well-ordered plans for her graduation year have nothing to do with dealing with a pterodactyl who steals everyone’s heart, including her own.

In that way I was able to shift the question about believability – if Shiels buys into it, then it’s easier for the reader to believe, too. I did do a lot of background reading on pterodactyls, but in my mind I was treating Pyke as the ultimate bad-boy boyfriend, and that’s part of the fun of the story, watching characters adapt to a ridiculous situation that turns normal and then actually seems familiar.

We do it all the time in real life, just not with pterodactyls! So often writing fiction convincingly is a matter of taking care of the tiny details, making those seem lifelike, so that the huge lies one tells hardly stand out at all.

What made you commit to the writing life? What did you sacrifice for it?

I was very lucky to attend a graduate writing program when I was young, only 24, at the University of Windsor, where my mentor, Alistair MacLeod, happened to be a brilliant writer and terrific teacher. Without that early formation, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck with it, given all the difficulties I had initially in publishing anything at all.

It took me seven years of strong effort after graduation to get a single short story accepted in a literary journal (for which I was paid $50). My first three novel manuscripts were rejected before the fourth was accepted, and even that one sat in the publisher’s office for over a year before I got a yes.

Along the way I decided I was not going to be the sort of writer who lives in a tiny room in the YMCA, turning his back on life so that he might have time to write. I have worked at a number of full-time jobs that, fortunately, also fed my sense of life and society, and so nurtured my writing as well.

But if I hadn’t married and had children, I doubt I would have written for younger audiences. I faced a really tough decision at around age 40 when the excellent government job I had (as a writer and researcher on international human rights for the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) seemed to be too much to handle on top of novel writing as well.

Some of my adult novels were suddenly doing well, and I had to make a choice. It was a big gulp – our children were young, Suzanne had just started a doctorate program, and there was no extra money in case things went badly. So with family support I sacrificed the security of a regular paycheck, but was fortunate enough to have waited until my art was strong enough to withstand the pressures of such a decision.

It was the right thing to do, and I haven’t really looked back, especially since part-time teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts allows me to use my skills, and helps keep the wolf from the door during the inevitable down times in a writing and publishing life.

What about the business of publishing do you wish you could change?

I would love it if editors were not so extraordinarily busy, if they could somehow always keep a sense of the leisure of reading while opening up a new manuscript.

Editors often have crushing workloads and it means “quiet” stories often don’t have a chance to get their attention, they’ve got too many submissions to wade through before going back to their email backlog etc.

I know, it’ll never happen, and the really good editors do find ways to let themselves fall into a story when they read, no matter what their to-do list looks like. But I do think a lot of fine writing is overlooked because of the craziness of today’s schedules.

Cynsational Notes

Alan is the faculty chair of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. See also Video Interview with Alan Cumyn from Indigo Teeen.

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith is Now Available

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, Feb. 13, 2007) is now available. Here’s a peek:

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Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her hybrid-werewolf first love threatens to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. And just as she and her uncle are about to debut Austin’s red hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef.

Can Quincie transform the new hire into a culinary dark lord before opening night? Will Henry Johnson be able to wow the crowd in fake fangs, a cheap cape, and red contact lenses? Or is there more to this earnest fresh face than meets the eye?

As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything?

Tantalize marks Cynthia Leitich Smith’s delicious debut as an author of dark fantasy.

Here are the official blurbs:

“Looking for something to read that will make your TV jealous? Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize has it all—hot vampires and wolf-boys, a super-cool heroine in cowboy boots, nail-biting suspense, romance, chills ‘n’ thrills, and Austin, Texas. What more could you want?”

Libba Bray, author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels

“Full of unexpected, delicious delights that kept me guessing and turning the pages, Tantalize creates a froth of danger, suspense, and wit. This original book tantalizes the senses indeed, as it explores the border between attraction and disgust, and makes us question our perceptions. Who are you? Predator or prey?”

Annette Curtis Klause, author of Blood and Chocolate, The Silver Kiss, and Freaks! Alive on the Inside

In breaking news, we have new reviews:

“If Joan Bauer took a crack at dark fantasy, the result would probably be something like this gothic-horror comedy…” and goes on “…the immersion in food culture–including an overhauled menu, as grisly as it is gourmet–successfully builds on the sensual aspects of vampire mythology.”

–Booklist

“An intoxicating romantic thriller… Quincie’s longing for a physical relationship with her boy-wolf is as palpable as the taste of the food… Smith adds a light touch of humor to the soup, but the main course is a dark romance with all the gory trimmings.”

The Horn Book Magazine

“Quincie must make a terrifying choice in a heart-pounding climax that will have teen readers weeping with both lust and sorrow.”

–Kirkus Reviews

Check out all the buzz!