I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year. Except not really.

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow, and, as happens every year at this time, the writing world is all abuzz.

I did NaNoWriMo once, a few years ago. It was pretty awesome. I didn’t actually sign up for it at the site the way you’re supposed to, because I didn’t think I’d actually be able to do it and I didn’t want to set myself up to fail (this is, sadly, a recurring theme throughout my writing life) so I didn’t get any of the support from other Nanoers that is really the reason a lot of people do it.

But it was the same year that I’d first decided to try this whole writing thing. All I’d managed to do up until then was write a lot of random scenes that I couldn’t figure out how to fit together. I’d read books on writing, I’d tried to learn more about my chosen genre (which at the time was adult chick lit), but the prospect of actually writing and finishing an entire book seemed a million years away. I had nothing to lose. So I tried it.

And I did it! I wrote an entire sequential 50,000 words that comprised a connected story arc and had an actual ending. They were terrible words, and it was an even worse story arc, but I did it. I knew within that first week that the book I was writing was going to be terrible — not something I’d ever want to consider submitting, or even revising — but I was determined to finish it, because I’d made a commitment to myself. And I did finish it. It was the biggest confidence boost I’d ever had in my writing up to that point, because for the first time, I felt like maybe I really could make a real go at this whole writing-books thing.

And as terrible as the finished product was, I learned stuff in the process of churning out those words. A lot of what I did with that book is still the same stuff that I’m doing now. Just like with my NaNo book, most of the novels I’ve written and planned since then have had two protagonists, who come from very different worlds. And, just as happened then, I often start out writing secondary characters who I start out planning to have serve as obstacles for my protagonists to overcome but who wind up being my favorite characters and threatening to take over the whole story with their awesomeness.

Since that first year, I haven’t done NaNo again. I’ve always been in the middle of a project when November rolls around, and I’m mired in my outline and to-do list.

This year, again, I won’t be doing NaNo, at least not in the traditional sense. But I did just embark on a new project, which I’m calling the Historical Novel.It involves a lot of research, which I’m still very much mired in, and which I need to do a lot more of before I can really start writing. But in addition to the research, I also have all the usual stuff I always do before I start writing — outlining, character development, etc. I have spreadsheets to fill in and plot points to figure out. And it would be awesome if I was done with all that and ready to hunker down and start writing by December 1st.

And so I have decided to do what I’m calling NaNoPreMo — National Novel Pre-Writing Month. Oh, I kill me.

So, while everyone else is pounding out words over the next 30 days, I’ll be reading memoirs and watching newsreel footage and spending still more hours at the library. Which will probably be more fun, albeit slightly less satisfying in the end.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? If not what’s on your plate for November?

In Defense of Brittany and Santana

[ETA: My updated take on Brittany/Santana as of exciting new developments in March 2011 is here.]

It’s been almost two weeks now since this episode of Glee aired, so I’m late to the party here. But I feel like I keep reading more and more columns (and hearing more and more people talk) about how “inappropriate” it was for Glee to show two girls making out.

This is the clip in question:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/35weD7Pc4Io]

Most people, aside from the “family” groups, aren’t phrasing it quite like I did above. Most of them are complaining that the scene is just too “explicit” or “exploitative” for “a show about high school kids.”

I’ve said before that I think it’s important for visibility purposes for the show to not shy away from showing scenes like this ― because there are so few images out there for teenage (or preteen) girls who are gay, or bi, or questioning, or whatever else, that represent them.

But I also think the storyline itself in which this scene played a part is good.

Some people seem to think this scene was put in the show just to boost its ratings, because poor poor Glee is obviously in danger of cancellation, or something (um, it’s not, not at all), or to stir up “controversy” (like this didn’t already take care of that for the week) or just to seem “edgy” (because up until now Glee has always been thoroughly pure).

I’ve also heard quite a few people say they felt like it came totally out of left field. These are people who either didn’t remember the split-screen phone scene from last season or assumed it was in jest: Continue reading

Why the ‘It Gets Better’ Movement Matters

There has been much discussion today, what with it being “Spirit Day,”[1] about the “It Gets Better” campaign. Most of it, of course, has been overwhelmingly positive, aside from a few crazy anti-gay people who aren’t worth listening to (for those of us who have the luxury of being able to shut out those kinds of voices, and sadly those of us with that option tend not to be the targets of it in the first place).

But there have been adults who’ve questioned how helpful the videos really are to kids.[2] I will admit that I kind of wondered that a little at first. I found the videos moving when I watched them ― the one with the Texas city council member in particular ― but I wondered a little bit if the project was more about adults trying to deal  with the gut-wrenching series of suicides themselves.[3]

But then I thought about it some more. And I realized that the It Gets Better videos would totally have helped me when I was a kid.

Last weekend I got into an argument with gay male friends about the latest episode of Glee because (spoiler alert) a scene showed Brittany and Santana kissing in their cheerleader outfits. My friends thought it was exploitative because it was fulfilling a stereotypical straight male fantasy about cheerleaders, and because it was sexualizing children. But as for me, all I could think when I was watching it was, “Damn, I wish this show had been on when I was seventeen.”

Because kids need role models. I started watching Buffy purely because I knew it featured a young lesbian couple. I used to comb through AfterEllen.com obsessively looking for other shows with gay women characters that I could watch. When I was in high school I would sneak off to the video store to rent bad movies like Go Fish and, even worse, Chasing Amy (don’t get me started on Chasing Amy) because I needed to see myself represented in whatever way I possibly could.

But the “It Gets Better” videos have real, live, nonfictional role models. Real men and women (yeah, mostly men) looking right at you and telling their life stories. People from all parts of life — celebrities, sort-of celebrities, and lots and lots of regular people. People just like the ones the kids watching the video could grow up to be.

There were nonfictional lesbian role models available to me as when I was a teenager, but they didn’t help me much. Back then, people like Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell and even Melissa Etheridge seemed so different from me. (And I very clearly remember when Ellen first came out, when I was in high school, and how all anyone wanted to talk about that week was how gross it was. Ellen’s coming out made a big impression on me, and it was not a positive one.) If there had been women just a few years older than me telling me ― even through video (although obviously YouTube did not exist back then) ― about their lives, and what I had to look forward to… I can’t even imagine the impact it could’ve had. I didn’t suffer from bullying or depression in high school, but I spent a lot of time struggling with my identity on several levels, and I had very little help in working my way through that.

There are no easy solutions to any of this stuff. There never will be. I don’t think society as a whole will ever eradicate bullying. It’s human nature to pick on each other, and it’s in some individuals’ natures, especially some kids’, to keep going past the point when you know you really should stop. Will we ever get to a point where bullying someone for being LGBT, or for being possibly LGBT, is taboo, the way bullying someone for their race is (theoretically) taboo now? Maybe. It’s tough to imagine, but you never know. Ten years ago it was tough to imagine the U.S. having a black president.

But the reason I think the It Gets Better project is so important ― besides the selfish reasons I mentioned about how it would’ve helped me personally ― is that it’s an inherently positive message. It’s people telling kids that life is good. That they’re having problems now, but they will be loved and accepted. I feel like so much of the dialogue around LGBT issues is argumentative and negative ― “Stop taking away our rights!” etc. When you start an argument, even if you’re on the right side, you automatically give the other side a platform to argue back with you. Which leads to more gay kids having to listen to people on the news, people in their schools, people in their churches, and sometimes people in their homes talking about why gay people are bad. And often, when that’s happening, it doesn’t matter what “your” side is saying, because all you hear is the other side telling you you’re evil.

So positive messages are essential. And that’s why I think regardless of any criticisms, the It Gets Better project is a freaking amazing thing, and I hope it continues to be in the public consciousness for years and years to come.

And now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go reread the opening scene of Boy Meets Boy (speaking of positive messages, and things that I wish had been around when I was seventeen…)


[1] By the way, yes, I wore purple today, even though I have mixed feelings about that sort of campaign (I’ve been in nonprofit activism for my entire adult life and have been through many, many, many “Wear _____ on ______ day” and “Post ______ to your Facebook status” and “Give a dollar to ______ cause every time you shop at ______” campaigns).

[2] And also about the fact that the videos also aren’t as diverse as they could be. Which is a problem. But I agree with those who have pointed out that, since the recent suicides have all been carried out by boys, it makes sense that a lot of those immediately inclined to respond were the gay men who saw their past selves in those kids.

[3] Which, by the way, is also important, because the last thing we need is for the LGBT community as a whole to slide into a mass depression the way we did after the 2004 election. Man, that still gives me PTSD every time I think back on it.

History is Scary

I’m currently trying to write a historical novel. Everything I’ve ever written has been firmly contemporary, and for that reason and others, I’m terrified of this undertaking and not at all sure that I’ll be able to make it work. But I’m resolved to try.

That means I’ll be writing from the point of view of characters whose lives take place in an era pre-women’s lib and pre-civil rights. Every time I’ve tried, it’s been nearly impossible for me to imagine what the world was actually like before those things. That’s really why I’m so nervous about this ― because I just don’t know if I’ll be able to accurately capture that consciousness.

And because my protagonists are always LGBT (it just happens that way, even when I don’t plan for it to), I also have to think about what it would’ve been like to be queer in a time where not only were 99.9% of all queer people closeted, but where the fact that queer people existed wasn’t even acknowledged, and so kids growing up weren’t even aware that there was such an option available in life.

I love love love the idea that I have for this historical novel, which has as its working title “Historical Novel” (because I am a Creative Writer!), and that’s why I’m so determined to give it a fair shot. But up until now, history has simply never seemed that appealing to me as a writer. It’s largely that I think American teenagers now live in such an interesting time and place. I was first inspired to write LGBT YA several years ago when I was volunteering at D.C.’s annual Youth Pride festival, when I found myself talking to high school student after high school student who had stories about school-endorsed Gay-Straight Alliances, walking down the halls holding hands with their girlfriends, wearing T-shirts that say “Challenge Your Gender!” ― all stuff that would’ve been unthinkable at my high school when I was there in the mid-90s. But even when I was in high school, stuff was happening there that would’ve been unthinkable a couple of decades earlier ― interracial dating, reading The Outsiders in English class, wearing flip-flops to the prom. I think 2010 is a fascinating year to be sixteen, and I’m glad that I at least got to be sixteen in 1995 instead of, say, 1945. Or worse ― much, much worse ― 1895.

But at the same time I’ve always wondered how different my life would’ve been if I’d been born just a few decades earlier. I mean, the life I have now ― I’m 31, I’ve never been married, I live alone in a condo that I paid for out of my own money, I support myself through a full-time professional office job, and I never managed to learn to cook ― would’ve been unthinkable to both of my grandmothers. (And that’s even aside from the gay thing.) So it’s interesting to try to view the world from the eyes of an earlier generation. Especially knowing that every generation before now thought they were the cutting-edge ones. That their times were new and shocking. I wonder what my grandmothers thought of their grandmothers’ lives.

So the other night, I was out having dinner with my awesome writer friends, and talking to them about how I had this historical fiction idea that I loved but that I didn’t feel qualified to write because I didn’t understand the era well enough, and they were (very nicely) like, “Uh, have you tried, you know, going to the library?” And then they proceeded to give me lots of helpful advice about why libraries are good. And then they went home and looked up resources and emailed them to me, and one of them, who in addition to being a fabulous YA paranormal writer is also a far better Googler than me, found and sent me a link to a library exhibit just a metro ride away that was on the exact topic of the Historical Novel.

So that’s what I did yesterday. I spent all day hanging out in the library being helped by extremely helpful librarians. (Seriously, I don’t remember librarians ever being like this when I was in high school and college and doing research for papers and science projects and the like, but these librarians were very “You just sit here at this nice comfortable table with your laptop and we will bring you some stuff to read! And it will be exactly what you’re looking for! No, no, don’t get up, I am going to go look on the computer for some more stuff for you and then I will go find it in the secret back room! NO WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T TRY TO RESHELVE THAT BOOK, YOU WILL JUST DO IT WRONG, LET US DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU!” I kept waiting for them to offer to run out to the Starbucks for me, but sadly even the extremely helpful librarians have their limits.)

So since apparently everyone, from writer friends to mysteriously generous librarians, is determined to help me write this book, I am going to try really hard to write this book. I’m now sketching out my first notes on the protagonists and their families. I’m going through my notes from the library and doing more web research. I currently have 13 Firefox tabs open with potentially useful research info on them, waiting to be read. (This is in addition to the 8 Firefox tabs I always have open regardless of what else I’m doing. The fact that I ever managed to survive prior to the invention of Firefox is in retrospect astonishing.)

(Another life benefit the teens of today have that I just bet they don’t appreciate!)