The life of an author is incredibly glamorous. The night before the annual Rainbow Book List- created by the American Library Association to honor recommended LGBTQ books for youth had released I was cleaning up puke and diarrhea from my very old and incredibly beloved little dog (who may or may not be the visual inspiration for the dog on the cover of Roving Pack). I was up again with him at 4am and so was somewhat groggy when morning actually came and I turned on my computer. I had to rub my eyes a few times when I saw that the annual Rainbow Book List was up….and Roving Pack was on it.
When I first saw the list was up, I was sure that my book wouldn’t be on it. I say that not out of some kind of self-deprecating lack of confidence in myself, or my writing, but simply because of what sort of list it is, and what kind of book Roving Pack became. Very early in the writing process I was told Roving Pack would not a book for youth. As I was writing I thought a lot about the kind of books I so desperately needed as a queer youth struggling with homelessness, community, gender, and creating family etc. Staying present in that space I endeavored in part, to write the book I would have wanted and needed then. At the same time, I understood that the rules that govern appropriate content for YA fiction and knew they likely could not be bent enough to include a book like this… until they were.
When I was approaching publishers I didn’t pitch Roving Pack as a YA book – both because I wanted to market Roving Pack to an adult readership, and in part because its content especially around gender and leather is more than a little edgy. Thus perhaps you can imagine my surprise when about 5 months ago I was notified that Roving Pack had been nominated by a librarian, for inclusion on The Rainbow Book List. Even as I sent off the requested number of books to the review, I was certain it was for nothing. I think I’m still in shock that we made the list.
A couple of years ago Sherman Alexi wrote an essay Why The Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood and I found myself so drawn to as I was working on finishing Roving Pack. I was thinking a lot at that time about the need for tender brutality in the story, and how important that gritty palpable pain was to the characters I was writing into being, and how important it was to me too. My favorite line from his essay was:
“I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.”
Goddamn if that line didn’t slay me. I write because I have to because there are stories that won’t let me do anything but write them. But I also write in an attempt at creating the books I needed when I was a messy youth trying to make sense of myself and the world I found myself in. it’s fucking hard to be a youth. Roving Pack isn’t a sweet community of age book– it’s brutal and raw, and everything I remember about being a teenager. I write raw and dirty stories with messy protagonists, because that’s the reality of the worlds that raised me up. Youth don’t need us as queer adults, as queer authors to sugar coat the brutality of the world that they try to survive in. Never once have I told a youth “it gets better.” That now popular line makes me think back to being a seventeen-year-old homeless queer teenager who on top of loosing my family was verbally and physical assaulted in my high school on a regular basis. It was the “It will get better once you graduate’ messages that made me want to kill myself. I was working on trying to figure out how I was going to get through that day, then I would go to sleep, wake up and try to figure out how I was going to get through the next day. Tell me that months, or years down the line ‘it would get better’ hit every one of my bullshit detectors. For me, and every other queer kid I knew, seeing that far into the future was a privilege we didn’t have.
I would never call myself a YA author in that I don’t write only for youth, however as I write it is my hope that somehow something I write will help hope is that somehow something I write will help at least one queer youth or adult to feel less alone. I write the stories that I needed, the stories that reflect the worlds that as a youth I called home. Me and my people, weren’t clean, polite, or pretty to look at and * that’s * the world I want to bring to life on the page.
When the news hit yesterday that Roving Pack had made the rainbow book list an old friend (who I’ve known since I was a teenager) shared the exciting news in her facebook and said:
“I can’t imagine how different things might have been if a book like Roving Pack had been in my HS’ library… I wish we could send copies back to younger selves and be like “there will even be literature that is both recognized AND honest about all of this”
Roving Pack is my gift back. A kind of memorial to a gutter punk queer youth world that in some way comes live every time someone opens one of its 358 pages. When I was in high school started my high schools first GSA and was threatened with violence daily in the halls of my hs. I was kicked out of home; I lost my family and community and read a hidden battered copy of Am I Blue? hiding it under my mattress and them shoved it into my backpack when I left home that final time. That book was important to me simply because it existed and was the first time I’d seen anything “gay” in print, but still I couldn’t see myself or the queer world I was starting to find in those pages. Kicked Out and now Roving Pack are my attempt at giving back- to reflect the world I knew in hopes that somehow these stories get into the hands of folks who need them most.
Three days after I was kicked out I went to my public library looking at every book shelved under “homosexual ” looking for advice on how to live through the experience of loosing home/family/everything in order to be queer. I didn’t find the answers I was looking for, what I left that day with was a commitment to make those answers for those that would follow. To have Roving Pack appear on the Rainbow Book list means so much to me in part because I know that it will help it get onto the shelves of libraries and somewhere someone