Queer Book List Interview

A little while ago, I came across the Queer Book List website, https://queerbooklist.com/. This is a website that provides educational resources about queer literature as well as a list of queer young adult novels arranged by date, so you can look back over the history of queer literature. There is also a section for queer adult books, marked as “coming soon”.

I thought it would be nice to talk to the creator of the site, Chris Morabito, about this project.

Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself.

I’m currently in my second year of grad school, where I am pursuing a Ph.D in English. My research is largely concerned with queer literacy, the ways in which queer characters, particularly adolescents, use reading and writing as a means of both discovering and expressing their gender and sexual identities. The motivation for this research stems from my own coming out experience in high school, where I did not really feel that I had people to turn to, so I turned to books instead.

I’m a certified high school English teacher in the state of New York, but I’m currently teaching introductory English classes at my local public university. Ultimately, my goal is to obtain my Ph.D and teach a variety of queer lit courses. I would also love to find a way to get involved in schools, holding professional development workshops for teachers, events for students, and working on curriculum design. All of these areas combine on my website.

And please introduce your Queer Book List project.

Queer Book List is a lot of different things, and it is constantly evolving. At its core, it is exactly as the name indicates — a list of books that contain queer content. The largest part of the project is a list of queer young adult books organized by year of publication. As I read the books, I also post reviews where I provide a brief overview of the book and reflect on the way in which it reflects queer life. Since I started the project last January, I have expanded it in a number of ways. The first major expansion took the form of a resources tab, where I post anything that I think might be of use to people — such as sample lesson plans, how-to guides, and workshops (More on this below). More recently, I have also included a blog page so that I can share more experiential content, such as reflections on my own queer adolescence and on my teaching practices. Ultimately, I really just want Queer Book List to be a resource for queer adolescents, educators, and anyone else really, to turn to in order to learn more about queer literature and maybe even queerness more generally.

What sort of educational resources are available on your site?

If you visit the resources tab of queerbooklist.com, you will find a variety of resources for all kinds of educators. I have created a number of high school lesson plans for various queer young adult books. The lesson plans incorporate common core standards and include text analysis as well as writing prompts. Accompanying the lesson plans is also a rationale that will hopefully help convince teachers to use these or other similar texts, or that teachers can show to principals to justify teaching these texts. I have also created a sample syllabus for a college course using the same young adult texts that I wrote the lesson plans for. There are How-to guides, where I offer suggestions for how to make a classroom more inclusive and some criteria that I think are important in selecting a queer book to teach if you are only going to teach one. The final type of resource that I have on Queer Book List is a workshop that I recommend teachers use before going into any unit with queer content, as it serves as an introduction to terminology and sociopolitical issues. All of these resources are open for anyone to use and modify to better fit their specific needs.

What made you decide to start this project?

During the first semester of my Ph.D. program, I took a course on children’s and young adult literature. It was during this course that I began to do the research that started Queer Book List. While doing research for an assignment, I realized just how few resources there are out there cataloging queer young adult literature. Knowing that I would need to know a lot about these books for my dissertation, I started trying to read and take notes on as many books as I could find. The idea for Queer Book List simply came from the realization that, since I was already doing this work, I should share it with other people who might benefit from it. Since then, I have continually tried to think of other resources that I believe would be useful for people to find.

Why does queer representation matter to you?

On a personal level, queer representation matters to me because I had very little of it to turn to when I was working towards understanding my sexual identity and coming out. I remember desperately seeking out queer representation wherever I could find it. I began reading queer subplots into everything that I read because I was so desperate to find myself reflected in the books I was reading — even before I knew that was what I was doing and/or looking for. It was not that these resources did not exist, the young adult page on Queer Book List proves that they did, but that I could not find them. That’s why, when I did find them, I was compelled to share what I found.

I know, however, that I was lucky. I had teachers that I could open up to and friends and family to support me — even if they couldn’t understand exactly what it was that I was going through. It is true that there are more mainstream representations of queerness than ever before, but it also remains true that these are not accessible to all, especially for those who cannot access these resources openly. Moreover, queer representation is not only something for queer people. It is something that everyone should be exposed to, because queer people exist everywhere, if not always openly, and this is something that everyone should be aware of. Queer representation is about exposure; it is both about learning of the self and learning of others, and that is why it is so important.

Do you have any criteria for deciding what books should go on your young adult book list?

This is a really interesting question, because it is something that I am still struggling to figure out. What makes a queer young adult book a queer young adult book? Does the character have to be openly queer (at least to themselves)? Does the queer character (open or otherwise) have to be the main protagonist? If you compare the second half of the 20th century to this current first half of the 21st century, the difference between the number of QYA publications is quite stark. During the three decades from 1969 to 1999, no more than thirteen books with any form of queer content were published in a single year, and in fact, the number was often quite lower. Because these numbers were so small, and the need for these books was so great, excluding texts for any reason would have been counterproductive.

Now, however, with more QYA books published in 2018 than the first two decades of QYA combined, narrowing down seems to make more sense. I try to select books where queerness is important to the narrative, either because the protagonist or another main character is queer, or if queerness seems to drive the plot in some way. A gay background character would not be enough of a reason to include a book on my list. Typically books make the list when I find some mention of them being queer. Once I get around to reading the book, I will better gauge if it belongs on the list and review it. I know that this is not a perfect system, but it is a place to start while I work on creating a better one.

What are your plans for the project moving forward?

Moving forward, my main goal is to just keep doing what I’m already doing. As a grad student who is also teaching and tutoring part time, I never feel like I have enough time to even keep up with what is already on the site. I have a pile of books that I have already read but still need to review and post. As of writing this, it is 2019, but my list of queer young adult books is still in 2018, and there are many years where information is incomplete or missing entirely.

One thing that I would really like to work on is the adult literature page. Right now, my biggest problem with it is trying to figure out how to structure it and what books to include, because it would be impossible to create an entirely inclusive list, especially one that is arranged chronologically. The page has been “coming soon” for over a year now, and I would really like to change that

My ideal next step for Queer Book List would be to create some sort of online book club. I would love to, for example, select a book each month and create a space where people can come together and share their ideas about the book or anything else. I don’t think Queer Book List has enough of a following quite yet to make this idea work, but I am hopeful for the future. Other than that, who knows.(?) The project has already expanded in a number of ways that I could not have predicted a year ago, so I’m excited to see what the future brings to the site.

Is there anything people can do to assist this project?

Right now, the biggest way people can help out is by providing me with feedback: what is working well, what can I improve, what would you like to see. I would also greatly appreciate book recommendations, since it is incredibly difficult to track them all down. Of course, the easiest way to assist this project is simply to share it with everyone you know, especially educators.

This is a large project and one that I never feel like I have enough time to fully work on, so I have considered bringing on other people to assist with the site, but I’m not really sure how I would go about this and if I am ready to relinquish complete control over the project. That being said, if you are interested in getting involved or assisting in any way that I mentioned or any way that I have not, please feel free to contact me at Queerbooklist@outlook.com and we can discuss the possibility further.

How can people find out more?

The easiest way to find out more is to follow me on social media. You can find my Facebook page by searching for Queer Book List. My Twitter handle is @Queerbooklist and Instagram is @Queer_Booklist. My Instagram seems to have the most interaction, and therefore I am most active on it, but I try to share on all three whenever there is an update on the website. If there is something specific that you are interested in finding out or learning more about, please feel free to email me at queerbooklist@outlook.com.

Author Interview: Mina Kelly

tease coverPlease start by telling us a little bit about yourself. 

Start with the hardest question, why don’t you! I’m a writer, a reader, a knitter (I’ve made actual clothes now, so I feel I can say this even if I still don’t bother with tension squares!), an adoptive Northerner, a geek and a little overwhelmed by life 🙂
Now tell us a little about your writing. 

Most of my published work is romance, erotic romance, or erotica. A lot of readers who don’t read any of the genres might assume there was a large overlap between the genres, but they are more distinct that outsiders realise. It’s not just about how much sex there is, it’s about what drives the plot and where it ends. I’m happy writing most pairings – my work ranges from f/f to m/m/m and does include the occasional m/f for variety! – though I usually come back to m/m in the end.

You have just had a new short story published. What’s this one about?never before touched by cupid
So Never Before Touched by Cupid isn’t new, exactly, but was published a few years ago by Forbidden Fiction as a standalone short, and is now being republished by them in a classical themed anthology: Timeless Lust. It’s an approach they take with a lot of their works, allowing them to offer a subscription model for readers that want it while also making stories available to purchase. Never Before is a little piece of real person fanfic, essentially, but with real people that most readers only know as vague and distant names: Horace, Virgil and Propertius. I’m a latin geek, and started shipping Virgil and Horace some years ago. I was inspired to include Propertius thanks to the introduction to a volume of his poetry that waxed lyrical about how attractive and manly he was and how the other poets would have been filled with a mix of jealous admiration and fatherly pride when he entered the scene. I was… skeptical. So I wrote out my scepticism.

How did you pick your nom de plume? 

My online handle since my teens was been Minerva Solo – Solo for Han Solo, and Minerva from a time a friend assigned our group goddesses. I didn’t want to use it for my original fiction, but I took Mina from Minerva, and Kelly from Grace Kelly, because I’d recently watched Rear Window.
inescapable

Do you have a favourite character in your stories? 
Probably Jared from Inescapable. He’s a risk taker with a strong survival instinct, someone who loves easily and lets go even more so. He’s currently a smuggler who specialises in biological material, but he’s turned his hand to a lot of things over the years, and has trouble admitting to himself that maybe he actually wants something a bit more stable, and legal, as he gets older.

How about a favourite moment? 
I don’t know that I can pick one. Jared’s escape from prison in Escapable. Toby chasing a car on foot in Flirt. Barnabas finding a naked man on the beach in Tease. Moments that change the direction of their stories or push their plots towards the conclusions.

Is there anything that’s surprised you since you got published? 
I think the speed with which the small ePress bubble burst caught me out, and not just me. Amazon took self-epublishing from a labour-intensive niche to the push of a button almost overnight, and it did strange things to the market in all directions. Competition splintered into millions of individual authors, instead of a handful of publishers, and once price stopped being dictated by retailers readers diversified in terms of what price they were willing to pay for what quality. I’ve loved working with small presses, but even the most established ones are closing down or collapsing under the weight of the competition, and I think it’s going to take some new and impressive tactics to stay ahead of the new market.

Are there any authors who particularly inspire you? 
I’m really into Courtney Milan’s historicals right now. She writes such a great, diverse range of heroes and heroines and uses them to explore pieces of history that often get overlooked in the genre. She makes me want to write one, but I’m still looking for the right plot (one which mostly plays to the historical knowledge I already have, so I don’t disappear down the research rabbit hole and forget to actually write the thing!)

What advice would you give to someone just getting started writing books?never before touched by cupid
Think about the career you want to have with them: where you want them to be available, what kind of control you want over them, how long you’re willing to keep going if no one reads them. It’s like snog, marry, avoid, except it’s art, career or hobby. You can do all three, write different books for different reasons, but remember to wear the right hat for the right book.

What are you working on at the moment?
Mostly knitting! I have various nieces and nephews on the way, so that’s taken precedence recently. My ‘to finish’ manuscripts folder at the moment includes an m/m football romance, an m/f holiday romance, and a third selkie book.

If you want to know more about Mina Kelly’s books, you can find them on her Amazon page. She also has a website at http://solelyfictional.org

Author Interview: Paul Stephenson

Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself.

Hi Jess, thanks for having me over. I’m Paul, I’m a writer of horror, sci-fi and music related books and internet things. I’m in my thirties, and I live in Yorkshire with my wife, two children and slightly batty puppy. Oh, and my Spotify account, which I kind of feel as strongly about as I do my children.

Now please share a little bit about your new book.

Blood on the Motorway front coverBlood on the Motorway is an apocalyptic horror set in the north of England. It’s set after a series of mysterious storms decimate the population, and its about how the survivors try to deal with things like running out of bread and serial killers. It’s a bit of a dark comedy, but there’s also a crime novel lurking in there somewhere, as well as some dollops of sci-fi. That probably makes it sound like a bit of a mess but it isn’t. I heard someone describe it as ‘a mystery wrapped in an apocalypse’ which I liked.

You’ve got another couple of books coming up later this year. Are they related to Blood on the Motorway?

Blood on the Motorway is a trilogy, and books two and three should be available this year, all going well. There’s also Welcome to Discovery Park, which is a non-fiction story about my attempts to listen to all 500 albums on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time list, which is hopefully both a cutting look at music journalism in general, but also quite funny.

You describe yourself as a punk publisher. Where did this term come from?

Music and writing have always been twin passions. I’ve always been involved in the music world, either as a musician, an event organiser or as a writer, and when I found out about self-publishing it just really clicked with the punk ethos that I’ve always held dear. The idea of doing it yourself, building your own fanbase, and not letting other people compromise the art that you want to put out in the world was very appealing to me. As I got deeper into the ‘indie author’ community I found that there’s a weird identity crisis at the heart of it, which I think stems from a slight sense of inferiority that comes from the way it began, that this publishing revolution is entirely beholden to a corporate behemoth, and the fact that trad publishing can be very dismissive of it. I thought by reclaiming it as Punk Publishing we could get over that stigma a little.

What was the most challenging thing about publishing Blood on the Motorway?

Going back to the DIY ethos, if you’re doing everything yourself then you have to make sure it’s the best representation of what you can do. When it’s your first book, doubly so, because it has to be a statement you can be proud to stand by to all the people who have inevitably doubted you can do it over the years. So I think that process of revision, beta reading, editing, revision, it’s a hard thing to do, but ultimately I hope it was worth it.

Do you have a favourite moment in your books?

I’m a terrible one for getting really invested in my characters and then doing terrible things to them. In Blood on the Motorway there are a couple of moments that I really hope will make the reader put the book down and have to walk around the room a few times before they pick it back up again. Those are my favourite moments.

Are there any authors who particularly inspire you?

I wouldn’t be the writer I am if I hadn’t read five authors: Stephen King, Hunter S Thomson, Douglas Coupland, Nick Hornby and J.K Rowling. All completely different writers, but those are the five whose books I go back to again and again.

If you could sit down for a chat with any author, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Probably Hunter, because he was just so out there in everything he did. Stylistically he was so influential to me, as a person he seemed kind of terrible, but if the worst came to it we could talk about music.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started writing books?

I would say that whatever you do, go write a first draft. All the way through. Don’t get caught in the trap I did for a long time of endlessly rewriting three or four chapters to make them perfect. They can’t be, because you don’t really know what the book is until you’ve written the story from start to finish. And try to read a wide range of authors, genres and styles, then steal from the people you like, with impunity.

What are you working on at the moment?

The main task at the moment is to finish the second draft of the third Blood on the Motorway novel, then work on Welcome to Discovery Park. After that I’ve got a sci-fi that’s been bouncing around my head for nearly three years, begging to get out, which I can’t wait to get to. I’m teaming up with a nuclear astrophysicist and a biologist to research it, so that’s going to be a lot of fun. And I’ll be continuing my Musical Waffle on my blog.

To find out more about Paul Stephenson, check out his website at http://paulstephensonbooks.com