A little while ago i was lucky enough to interview Simon James Green, author of Noah Can’t Even and Noah Could Never, and also L. C. Rosen (Lev), author of Jack Of Hearts (and Other Parts). It was one of the most wonderful interviews i’ve had the pleasure of holding. It was really interesting to talk to two fellow LGBTQ+ community members and their opinions of YA and where they think LGBTQ+ is going in YA. I absolutely loved doing this interview and i hope you enjoy reading it!
Sarah : Both of your books have been quite brave in context and topic. I wondered if you were ever nervous about writing and releasing books with those topics?
Simon: Yeah i mean i think it’s always terrifying releasing any book anyway because once it’s out there it’s just waiting to see what people think. But i think perhaps when a book is a little bit personal or you know contains stuff that you went through or based on yourself a little bit then i suppose there’s an extra layer to that. I suppose for me there was that worry that yeah, some elements of the book might get some negative reaction that was a bit scary. I don’t know what you do about that, it’s a part of it really.
Lev: I definitely Google’d my name for the months before the book came out, and the word ‘address’ to make sure no-one could find it.
Simon: That’s a good idea.
Lev: Just in case, and the phone number, just in case.
Simon: In case someone came round to give you a piece of their mind.
Lev: In case someone decided to mail me something. Just in case. So this book, I have a rule where i write 100 pages of something i have to finish it. End of story. It keeps me honest. So i wrote 99 pages of this in sort of a mad fury. Very quickly in like two weeks i had 99 pages. Then i took a step back and thought ‘this might be the dumbest idea i’ve ever had.’ What i did is that i’m lucky that one of my middle-grade books, one of the editors of that in the states and i are close. We’ve become close friends. I went to her and i said, ‘alright, as a friend for the love of God will you read these 99 pages in your own time. And tell me if this is in fact the worst idea ever of if it’s worth finishing.’ And she read it and said submit it to me professionally so she could buy it. So it worked out really well. But at 99 pages i was prepared to abandon the idea. So i was definitely nervous about it.
Sarah: Because there’s never different sex lives in both of your protagonists, how important do you think it is to portray different teens sex lives in YA.
Lev: It’s so important.
Simon: Yeah, hugely.
Lev: Like in my book, there are the letters from the ace kid and the kid who’s in BDSM, and so i think it’s really important to make sure that you hit every sort of place on the spectrum of sexuality. So like virgins, virgins who want to stay virgins for the foreseeable future, virgins anxious to lose their virginity. Sluts, people in monogomous relationships. You know romantics. There are teen versions of all of these, like there are adult versions of all of these and i think that it’s so important to make sure that you represent all of those, and it gets back to that idea of isolation and you don’t want a kid to be isolated by what they want. Whether that be a dreamy romance and not having sex until after marriage or you know a full on orgy.
Sarah: Love that in YA. Why did you both choose to write LGBTQ+ protagonists? Instead of side characters for instance.
Simon: I wanted to see the queer kids take centre stage really. I think that was really important. I was reading more stuff that had that but particularly coming out of the U.K. there wasn’t a huge amount, a lot of it was from the U.S. So i think the U.K. seems really lacking in particular. So that was my main motivation for doing it, i wanted to see more out there. And like Lev said, just getting that variety of different types of protagonist and what they’re like and what they want sexually is also really important and i hadn’t really seen many characters like Noah in that sort of way. So i wanted to write that as well really.
Lev: As a queer person who was a queer teenager, just a few years ago, i think that obviously there’s a desire for you to see stories about people like you. So that is definitely a huge part of it. Especially stories written by people like you. I think that’s very important too.
Sarah: Are you seeing a change in YA regarding gender and sexuality, and where do you want it to go in the future?
Lev: [Sinister voice] I can go first on that one. I will be happy when there are just as many young adult books with queer protagonists as there are straight ones in the entire history of literature. That is where i would like to see it going. There are plenty of books about straight people out there, i think there should be just as many about queer teenagers. I think that’s only fair.
Sarah: So we either need to get everyone to write a queer book right now or wait 2,000 years.
Lev: Whatever it takes! But i think that right now we are seeing /more/ queer books but for obvious reasons it’s not moving as quickly as i’d like it to, and i think we are seeing a lot of attention given to very particular types of queer books. Either sweet romances or generally books where the target audience doesn’t always feel like a queer person. I feel like those tend to be the books that are getting more attention. And i think that, that is something we need to work on. And i’m not saying every book about a queer person needs to be written by a queer person. But i do think when it comes to queer stories queer story tellers go to the front of the line. Like absolutely. And queer story tellers should be getting the support that straight story tellers who are telling queer stories do, and you don’t always see that. And i think that there are thankfully straight story tellers who are writing queer stories who understand this and are using their power, like Becky Albertalli, is like so good at using her power to advance actual queer authors. She is the perfect example of an ally who has written a queer story and who knows what she’s doing. And i think that that is what i’d like to see more of going forward. I’d like to see straight people and queer people working to make sure the queer stories are being told by queer people. And that’s the front of the line, that’s where the intention is.
Simon: Total, second all that obviously. Like i mentioned just before actually i would like to see a bit more pushing from the U.K. side of stuff. It feels like we’re a bit behind in the U.K in terms of getting queer YA out there.
Sarah: Especially diverse queer.
Simon: Yes, for sure. Definitely. I can’t remember for sure how many titles the U.S. has coming out of queer YA this year, there’s just one list and it was like over 91 or something for the year.
Lev: So they have the American Library Association Rainbow List, they evaluate every book with queer characters from child’s to 18’s. So we’re counting picture books here. And that was over four hundred. And then they narrow it down to the one they think are actually worth reading, and that’s just over one hundred, and then they pick the top ten, of which Jack was one.
Simon: Obviously we’re a smaller country, we’re not going to have that level of output. But i do think it would be nice to find some more out of the U.K. as well, so that side of the experience is also out there and explored. Because our experience as teens growing up is in the U.K. is different from the [exaggerated voice] glamorous U.S. And their high school experience.
Lev: I’ll find pictures of me in high school and i’ll show you glamour guys. I’ll show you bad fashion and bad hair. Glamour.
Simon: But yeah, that’s what i’d like to see, yes.
Lev: I think not just the U.K. i’d like to see more international queer stories too. Is there like queer YA coming out of Australia?
Simon: I was thinking about Australia in general actually and i was thinking about the last one i read out of Australia, but you’re absolutely right.
Lev: Or South Africa, and that’s just English speaking countries we can certainly translate stuff.
Simon: But in the U.S. are there many queer U.K. titles that have visibilty over there? I can’t think of many that are actually published in the U.S. to be honest.
Lev: I’m not sure. I mean here’s the thing, it’s the question of ‘have they been officially published there’? or is it just, because of the online community that gets a little blurry. Yeah when i’m trying to think of famous British books the only one that comes to mind is Harry Potter.
Simon: That’s definitely the impression i get as well. Just from social media that that’s the case. Of course that translates to over here because the amount of buzz those U.S. titles get, don’t get me wrong, quite rightly, they’re brilliant. But that then trickles down to the U.K. and they take place here as well quite often. So i think we need to work harder to get some U.K. titles hopefully over the U.S. too.
Lev: I mean i got no power there but i’ll do my best. And more genres too. We just had what felt like the first YA epic fantasy with a queer protagonist. I felt like i hadn’t really, by Alex London, Black Wings Beating. I feel like i hadn’t actually seen real epic fantasy YA with a queer main character. You sort of see them as side characters a lot. You see more less epic fantasy more Malinda Lo who does these beautiful fairy-tale sort of things. I would love to see more genre stuff. More mysteries, it feels like there’s one each genre wise.
Sarah: Last question, do you each have a recommendation for LGBTQ+ YA books? Can’t be each others.
Lev: That would be the nice thing. I did enjoy Black Wings Beating (Alex London). That’s the one i just mentioned, epic fantasy. In a world of birds… which sounds very strange and i won’t lie it kind of is but Alex London is a brilliant world builder in that regard and it’s sort of a wonderful story of two protagonists and a kid who keeps throwing himself at not terrible ideas, but he wants this thing and he’s got to prove himself no matter how many times he’s short down over and over again. And his long suffering sister is going ‘oh God why is he doing this? I will help, i will help’, so that’s a great book. Especially if you’re looking for some epic fantasy, or you, like birds.
Simon: Which who doesn’t? Cheating slightly, but Stripes Proud book is out in March. Although i do have a short story in it…
Lev: I guess technically she didn’t say you could recommend your own books.
Simon: But i’m not saying it for that, i’m saying it because there’s a whole plethora of lovely and brilliant short stories in it that do actually cover a whole range on the spectrum of sexualities which is fantastic. There’s a bit of everything that’s covered in there which is lovely. And there’s lots of illustrations. [Brief pause where me and Lev fangirl over Alice Oseman]. And actually there’s lots of U.K. Based authors in it as well which is really nice. Not entirely but you know there is and that’s another nice reason for it. So Proud from Stripes.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Simon and Lev for being two of the best people i’ve interviewed and giving such a wonderful and insightful LGBTQ+ interview. I absolutely loved this interview and if you’ve made it to the end of this fifteen minute transcription, well done you. It was full of laughs this interview, and i really appreciate both Lev and Simon for being great.