Oct 16, 2015

There's no way you're getting a coherent blog post title out of me right now.

(I command you to listen to The Civil Wars's "Poison and Wine" while reading this. If the song ends before you're done reading, put it on repeat. It has no relevance to anything, but it fits the mood; just do this for me.)

My heart is a kick-drum in my chest right now.

You know those things that happen to you and make you think, "Well, this is going to be the defining aspect of my year"? 2010 is the year I first got psychiatric treatment. 2011 is the year I started coming out. 2012 is the year I was one day from attempting suicide before I told someone. 2013 is the year I expanded my support system with so many amazing relationships I hope to carry on forever. 2014 is the year I became proud of myself.

2015 is the year my difficult high school experience paid off; I got admitted to the honors college at my state university.

2015 is the year I said goodbye to some of my closest friends.

2015 is the year I wrote the second book of my heart, SWEETEST DOWNFALL. (If you're wondering, yes, I did decide to title it that because of the Regina Spektor song "Samson.")

2015 is the year...well. We'll get to that. First, a great deal of backstory:

I started writing in 2011 for National Novel Writing Month (actually, Camp NaNoWriMo in the summer), mainly just to prove to myself that I could do it. My first manuscript was this horrific attempt at YA contemporary—the first of a planned quartet—but I didn't know how horrible it was. I finished it, but I didn't know what editing was or if I needed to do it. I queried it, but I didn't know how to query. No one so much as responded to my "queries." I cried. I got back to work.

In the winter of 2011-2012, I wrote my second manuscript, a dystopian romance with a love triangle. It was kind of like if The Handmaid's Tale had been bad. I queried it. I got two requests. I got two rejections. I cried. I got back to work.

In the spring of 2012, I wrote my third manuscript, a YA contemporary with no romance. It was an Issue Book about suicide, but I didn't know that. I queried it. I got requests, one from the lead agent at a solid, well-respected boutique agency. I never heard back. I cried. I got back to work.

It is worth noting here that around this time, I joined Twitter and met Amy Zhang, Ari Susu-Mago, John Hansen, and Olivia, the four members of my critique group besides me. We spent many, many evenings and weekends in a private chat room discussing portable, satchel-held breasts. We're still friends and critique partners now, and I hope we will be until the bitter end. At the risk of being a corny cob of corn made of cheese and sap: Amy is my first critique partner ever and the subject of literal hours spent bragging to my mom about my critique partner; she also made me cry four separate times at the first draft of Falling into Place and another four times at the finished copy, so she's a little bit dead to me. (KIDDING. I LOVE YOU BEYOND ALL MEASURE, AMY.) Ari is my most trusted confidant when I hate the world and also when I love it, in addition to being literally the most talented, intelligent, and warm person I've never met. I know people use that line a lot, but I mean every word of it. Olivia is objectively the loveliest ever, and though we fall out of contact frequently because of dumb life stuff (what the hell is this "productivity" thing), I can always, always trust her to bring me a smile and a virtual hug, in addition to rocking my socks straight into the stratosphere. John is okay.

[editor's note: John is more than okay; he's an amazing person and a bananapants good writer. He's scarily talented and we poke fun at each other because we genuinely do like and value each other's company.]

Me setting off text in brackets means you can't read it.

Back to the feels: In the summer of 2012, I began working on my fourth manuscript, MAD WORLD. Immediately I noticed this one was different—I was actually proud of my work here, and though the first draft was rough, it's safe to say I cried 50% of the time I was writing it. It's about a boy and a girl in a fairy tale relationship—until he's diagnosed with schizophrenia. It took me nine months to write when my previous record for longest time on a first draft was three months. To borrow some parlance from the first paragraph of the manuscript, there's two kinds of love: the kind that makes your heart race, and the kind that stops it. MAD WORLD will always stop my heart. Taylor, Law: thank you for everything.

I spent a long time on MAD WORLD, because I really believed it was my one shot; if this wasn't The Book, what would be? I queried and got amazing replies and queried and got such lovely rejections and queried and revised and polished according to feedback and queried and nothing came of it. It wasn't meant to be. The book of my heart wasn't getting published.

I cried. And it took me a long time, but I got back to work.

In the fall of 2013, I started my fifth manuscript, FOR THOSE WHO LISTEN. This was my Big Huge Commercial book, the one I thought would propel me to the bestseller lists and also fame. As a result, the writing was shaky at best. I queried, I got into contests, I got requests, I got rejections. I cried. I got back to work.

In 2014, I started my sixth manuscript, SWEETEST DOWNFALL. It was inspired by the Tracy Chapman song "Fast Car." It was an emotional maelstrom for me to write. It was my first gay romance. It was the first time I wrote about people who were like me, doing things like I would, loving how I do.

As a writer, I'd never felt more alive.

I took stylistic risks (the first line: "He pulled up to my house in his fast car in his good mood in his Sunday best despite it being Tuesday with a steady stream of pop rock music blaring from his radio"; a sentence structured like that is on almost every page). I made it about a boy with same-sex attraction, generalized anxiety, and a dead best friend, and he's already out to the world. It's Not A Coming Out Book (though you can kindly fight me if you think those aren't still needed). I made it messy and honest and the best book I could write.

I queried it. I started querying it in the early afternoon of February 16th, sending it out to six agents. Before noon the next day, I had three full requests in my inbox.

I cried. I got back to work.

I got a revise and resubmit situation with a lovely new agent at a well-respected agency, complete with a phone call.

I cried. I got back to work.

I got into Pitch Wars with the fierce, lovely Helene Dunbar as my mentor. We worked on SWEETEST DOWNFALL late at night and early in the morning and we didn't stop because we loved this book and what we were going to make it. Someone loved my book like it was her own.

I cried. I got back to work.

On October 4th, smack in the middle of Pitch Wars, I got an email from an agent, one of those within-24-hour requesting agents from the day I started querying, asking about the status of my manuscript and if we could talk on the phone soon.

I cried.

We talked on October 9th, 2015. She started with a few notes for editing she had, and I quaked in my slippers, thinking it was another R&R and I'd gotten my hopes up too much.

She mentioned some issues she'd had with the manuscript.

Some—most—I'd already addressed in my work with Helene. I told her this, explained how I'd changed the problem areas and what they looked like now.

She said she'd love to see the latest version. She said so many amazing, encouraging things. She said, "I'm offering you representation."

I cried.

I signed the contract.

It is with shaky hands and a kick-drum heart and so many thanks and so much love and an unspeakable amount of happy-tears that I announce I am now represented by Heather Flaherty at The Bent Agency.

I'm crying.

Time to get back to work.

Sep 16, 2015

Why I'm Still Angry

tw: homophobia, transphobia, suicide mentions


Something I see a lot on Twitter is a variation of this: "I don't see why everyone on here has to be so angry about something all the time. Why can't we just talk about the things we like?"

Sometimes it's worded more softly. Sometimes it's more aggressive.

I'm going to endeavor to explain why.

I'm gay. You know why I'm angry? Because people like certain clerks I won't even bother to name would refuse me and my hypothetical husband a marriage license solely because we are the same gender.

You know why I'm angry? Because discrimination based on someone's perceived sexuality or gender is legal in so many states. In employment. In housing. In public accommodations.

You know why I'm angry? Because I'm eighteen years old and I have no choice but to know what the term "public accommodations" means.

You know why I'm angry? Because yesterday in an almost assuredly queer-accepting Youth Identity classroom setting, I was in a group discussing which assignment we'd choose to read, per the professor's instructions. One of them was an article called "Coming Out in Middle School." And I suggested the article about using song in classroom settings instead—not because I wanted to, but because I have to be thinking about my sexuality whenever I am around people, every time I am around people.

You know why I'm angry? Because I carry the weight of every person murdered for their sexuality, their gender, in my bones.

You know why I'm angry? Because songs have to be written to explain to the general public that it's okay for them to treat me like a human being.

You know why I'm angry? Because I aced my high school sex education class and I have no idea how non-heterosexual couples have sex.

You know why I'm angry? Because there are churchfuls of people who want me dead.

You know why I'm angry? Because those people who want me dead want it on principle—they don't know me.

You know why I'm angry? Because there are currently countries where it would be legal to kill me.

You know why I'm angry? Because I hear the word "f*g" every day.

You know why I'm angry? Because Tyler Clementi never got to see gay marriage legalized nationwide.

You know why I'm angry? Because I might've met Tyler Clementi—I go to his former school.

You know why I'm angry? Because I told my mother I was gay, pleading for her not to let anyone know, and she informed two people within the week.

You know why I'm angry? Because I know beyond any doubt my older sibling would assault me if he found out.

You know why I'm angry? Because forty-one percent of trans and gender nonconforming people have attempted suicide.

You know why I'm angry? Because you can compare that to 1.6% of everyone.

You know why I'm angry? Because I was one day away from attempting suicide before I got help because I thought I was hopeless—because I'm gay.

You know why I'm angry? Because not one person knows the reason I wanted to commit suicide was absolutely and irrevocably tied to my sexuality.

Stay angry. Stay furious. Stay protesting injustices. Stay unsatisfied. Stay in "call-out culture." Stay improving. Stay vocal. Stay helpful. Stay open. Stay safe. Stay here with me.


Aug 10, 2015

Social Media for the Socially Anxious

First: I am not a mental health professional. I would have to be very Doogie Howser-esque for that to be the case because I'm eighteen, but I am not Doogie Howser. I'm more of a Leslie Knope, to be real. Also, I am going to be talking about techniques that work for me and which are likely to work for you, but it's entirely possible they won't.


My psychiatrist and I don't know exactly what flavor of anxiety would be the most apt description for me. Here is what we do know:

  • I am an anxious person, to the point where it frequently becomes unhealthy.
  • Going outside can be something between a hassle and an apocalypse, depending on the day.
  • Talking to people scares the living daylights out of me.
Even if I know someone—even if that someone is my best friend, who knows absolutely everything about me—I have to get myself in the right mindset to spend time with them. Like, I prefer making plans to go grab something for lunch days or even a week in advance. When we go to a store or somewhere public, I take pains not to leave the other person's side even for a minute. When my BFF went in a clothing store at the mall two weeks ago with me and wanted to try on a few shirts in the dressing rooms for evaluation, I worked myself up to the point of becoming a sweaty mess. What if someone else comes in the dressing rooms while I'm waiting for her? What if they look at me funny for helping my friend (who's, you know, a young woman) decide what clothes to buy? This is the local mallit could be someone we know. What if they think I'm here with her because I'm gay? I'm going to be outed to the entire town, aren't I. On and on and on.

Despite this, I'm very present on Twitter (hi there, I'm @mobrienbooks). For me, any sort of situation in which I could embarrass myself is anxiety-provoking, but especially public ones like this. Twitter is a cesspool of situations that stress me out, real and likely to occur or otherwise. So I figured I'd throw some tips that work for me out there in case any of you go through a similar thing.

1. CBT, motherfucker.

If you're not familiar, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the bee's knees and the cat's pajamas and meow at the same time together in one cohesive unit. It asks you to change (or at very least challenge) either your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. You can do just one—in fact, that's generally encouraged. Because the therapist who taught me CBT believed thoughts were easiest to challenge—and since that's what I know and have learned—I'm going to start there, but make no mistake: thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all influence each other in profound ways.

A typical cycle when I'm drafting a tweet (because I do draft and hold onto tweets, sometimes for days or weeks, because I don't know how they'll be received) goes a little like this:

I don't know what I'm talking about. —> I'm an idiot and no one wants to hear my advice or opinions on anything. —> I won't post this. —> ...because I don't know what I'm talking about.

Now, there are plenty of things I don't know much of anything about. I don't know about sports or geography or what it's like to be a woman of color. That said, I know the industry-standard font for fiction manuscripts. I know what it's like to be a gay teenager/technical adult living in New Jersey in 2015. I know approximately how much to feed a small or medium-sized dog. But anxiety makes me start to doubt those things, too—and that's when I (usually) implement CBT.

Do I really not know what I'm talking about in regard to the industry-standard font? Let's examine the evidence: I've finished six manuscripts. I'm an editorial intern at a mid-sized publisher. I've been writing seriously with the intent of publication for four years. Therefore, yes, I think I do know that Times New Roman, size 12 is your best (slash only) option. Because of that, I don't think I'm an idiot whose advice no one wants to hear. So, yes, I think it's fine for me to tweet that tip.

I'm not saying CBT always makes anxiety disappear. I'm not saying it even works at all in some situations. But I am saying that it is a godsend a lot of the time, and I'd be in a worse place mentally without it.

2. Rationalize!

This goes hand-in-hand with the first point. Anxiety is oftentimes the blatant ignoring of logic. A great deal of anxious people admit they know their fears are irrational and even silly. We just can't stop the thoughts, which lead to the feelings (and we know our friend cognitive dissonance says we can feel two conflicting things at once), which segue marvelously into the actions, which work along with the thoughts in sometimes surprising ways. An anxious mind can't always be trusted—by which I mean we have to challenge the parts of ourselves that blare false alarms at all times.

Think: Okay, I'm well-versed in this subject I want to talk about online. I've experienced it; talked and listened to a great number of people who have experienced it; or, most frequently, both. I know my shit.

And think that last line over and over again—omit "shit" if you're not of the cursing persuasion. I know my shit. I know my shit. Do I know my shit? Yes. How do I know I know my shit? Because I'm well-versed in this subject I want to talk about. I've experienced it/talked and listened to a great number of people who have experienced it/all of the above. Use logical (or empirical!) evidence to support that point, assuming you have it. Breathe. Post the thing.

3. Value yourself.

This is beyond difficult for many, and I won't sit here and list all the good qualities you, personally, have. But, assuming your self-worth is there (and I so, so, so so so encourage you to reach out to someone to discuss getting help if it isn't), you can probably name a few good qualities about yourself off the top of your head. For example—and admittedly from someone with a very healthy sense of self-worth—I'm empathetic, a good listener, and a strong writer whose skills are only sharpening. Use some of those if you need a starting point.

Now, if you've thought of some (but certainly not all) of your strengths, you might find these are preeeeetty damn good things. You might've said "I'm kind," "I'm strong," even "I'm a good person." If you did—good fucking job, you! I mean that with all of my heart. As a reward, skip a paragraph down.

If your positive qualities were more like "I'm good at coloring" or "One time I did a nice thing for somebody" or anything obscure, isolated, or not genuine, ask a friend or a family member. Hell, ask me if I know you. Chances are they say "better" good things about you, like that you're selfless or brave or the most intelligent person they know. Do you believe these things? Sit with them for as long as you want, and if you find you do agree with them—good fucking job, you!

So you have some good qualities about yourself lined up. Now write them down. Write a poem incorporating the main word (e.g. "open-minded" or "creative"). Look back at the past week and think of three incidents, no matter how small, when you lived up to that description. Write the exact line you thought of or that someone you trust told you into a story, word for word. Get it inside your head that these are truthful however you can. Because—and I take a lot of pleasure in telling you this—they are the truth. They are. I promise.

I've found a lot of my self-doubt correlates with my self-value. In the most general of terms: I don't think I can talk about this because I don't think I'm good enough to talk about this. If I challenge the "I'm not good enough" part, a whole lot of new doors open up to me.


I very much hope this was helpful in some way! What was your favorite part? I liked that, too. And I'm always, always available to talk to you on Twitter (I pretty much live there at this point) or via whichever means of contact is most comfortable for you.


Aug 3, 2015

A Small Dose of News

I'm going to strive to keep this short—you didn't come here to hear all my feelings—but of course I'm going to preface the aforementioned news with a few disclaimers and a little story about myself.

Disclaimer 1: This is not That Blog Post, nor is it That Announcement. If you're a writer, you know what I'm talking about. In fact, most people in my position don't write blog posts about this, but to borrow the parlance of an overused quote in YA, I'm not most people.
Disclaimer 2: I'm so, so excited about this regardless.

I have two career goals. The first is, of course, author. I want to write YA professionally, and I want to make a living off of it. Luckily for me, I also know it's nigh impossible for a debut author to make a sustainable income off their writing in the beginning. And, luckily for me, I have another passion. Another career goal. Editor.

I'm pretty darn excited to say: I'm now an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing, where I will work under senior editor Kate Brauning. This is, I do believe, my first step toward a career in publishing, and I'm so excited to take it with such a lovely house and such a sharp editor.

So. You know. :D

Jul 4, 2015

YA and Teen Girls

For a long period of my adolescence, I was a Nice Guy™. If you don't know what I mean by that: I grew up in an environment where women (and especially teen girls) were the punchline of some joke. And there were jokes about them, about rape and so many more things. There were racial slurs too—literal and overt hatred of every race and culture that was not white and American. The racism I objected to openly, and I was called a "[slur]-lover" in jest more times than I could count. For context, the last time I've spoken to this person was when I was eleven years old. But I was a Nice Guy™ for that, because I did speak up against the racism.

I spent a lot of time and energy unlearning it. I still slip sometimes, make mistakes—never of the overt hatred variety, because I'd like to think I'm not an asshole. But I remember a few months ago when my best friend in the universe, who was born and partially raised in Turkey, told me how she sometimes feels like she doesn't belong with her friends. "Everyone's so white and they were raised here, and I'm..."

I said, "Well, you shouldn't feel like that." I brushed it off. I tried to comfort her, to be sure—but whether I realized it or not, I also said "That's not a legitimate feeling." I also said "No one cares." I also said "Let me, a white male born and raised in this small New Jersey town, tell you how you should think and feel."

That instinct to jump in and police what someone from a marginalized standpoint is feeling, what they're expressing (which is a brave act on their part in and of itself)—that's something I have to stop doing. And I am stopping. I'm listening more. I'm not chiming in with my opinion because I recognize that, frankly, sometimes I don't get to have an opinion. I don't go up to a homeless person sleeping in a shelter in the city my town is near and tell them "You're a disappointment." I don't stop a soldier with PTSD who's saying we should be mindful of veterans when setting off fireworks this Fourth of July and say "You're overreacting." Why, then, should I be to tell a girl of color that her feelings are illegitimate?

Why, then, should anyone be able to tell anyone else their feelings are illegitimate?

(I know you knew I was leading to this, but hey, anecdotal allegories are fun.)

If you're part of the YA community like I'd like to think I am (and you are, and all our Twitter friends are), you've seen what's been going on as of late. A girl says she's uncomfortable with someone's presence. Someone else jumps in. Four thousand other people jump in, and then that original person takes to the social media airwaves. "That's not a legitimate feeling," he says. "No one cares," he says. "Let me, an adult male, tell you how you should think and feel."

To return to my original story: there was a lot of sexism in my environment. Like, a lot. I never said anything about those jokes, that hatred, though. Because I knew, from the other adults in my life and my experiences even as a child, that Racism Is Bad—but I'd never heard that hey, Sexism Is Bad. I didn't even know what sexism was.

But I sure as hell was sexist for a long time in my life. I didn't unlearn that anywhere near as quickly as I did racism. Again, it wasn't overt, but it was still real. I remember being defensive every time women's rights were brought up. I remember being told by a feminist online that I'd made her uncomfortable with my wording and thinking "Ughhhh a feminist." I remember tweeting about two years ago in regards to someone saying she was reading books by women exclusively for a year, and I remember my tweet was along the lines of "I really hope none of my followers choose not to read my book because I'm male."

The feminist movement and the LGBTQ+ rights movement have a lot of overlap. And make no mistake: the reason I was introduced to the fact that sexism is wrong was because I wanted to be able to marry and visit my future husband in the hospital and not encounter housing or workplace discrimination. The reason I became aware of my sexism was because I became aware of and was no longer able to deny my sexuality.

But that has little to do with the reason I became a feminist. There's a distinction between being aware of a problem and working to stop it. The reason I became (and become, every day, in listening and contributing and countering and growing) a feminist has nothing to do with me.

It has everything to do with that girl who is uncomfortable with John Green's presence. It has everything to do with that girl who told me she feels like she didn't belong because she was raised in another country. It has everything to do with those women who are victimized on a daily basis. It has everything to do with my friends, online and off, who publicly trade personal stories of discrimination, assault, and rape like they're nothing.

So yes, I'm a feminist. Anxiety permitting, I will utterly shut down discussions I overhear (or am, by the initiator's mistake, involved in) of how women's rights are a joke. And yes, I support racial equality. I try to bolster and support the voices of people of color in any way I can.

But while this story is about me, this conversation isn't. So I'm going to urge you to keep YA safe for teen girls. Keep this a community of compassion and love toward them, not snap-judgment and denial. Support their voices, feelings, thoughts, experiences. If you disagree with them, make sure to remind yourself to be the adult—because you are the adult. Teen girls are valuable, and they are worthwhile, and they are needed. We do it for them, y'know?

Jun 20, 2015

WIP Update: Summer 2015, Part 1

Hi there! Time for another WIP Update, also known as "Mark tells you everything there is to tell about what he's working on so you're able to interpret his tweets and not go WHAT EVEN IS HE TALKING ABOUT." WIP Update flows a bit better, I think. Anyway, this is Part 1 because I plan on doing a Part 2 updating you all about this same project by the start of fall. As usual, these are more for me than anyone else, but people sometimes like these things, so I post 'em online.

So this WIP (work-in-progress, or the manuscript of which I'm currently writing the first draft) is two weeks old—I got the idea and started writing June 6th—but I've already got 7,000 words down. Considering that I graduated high school this Thursday, the 18th, and was preparing for finals and writing papers and finishing online tests at 11:55 PM when they were due at midnight, I'm pretty proud of this 7k. :) With that out of the way, here's all about it:

Title: Break the World

Category: YA

Genre: Gay contemporary romance

Theme song (song that I play a lot when writing/that reminds me of it)"When You Sleep" by Mary Lambert (link opens to YouTube)

Comp titles (subject to change): WHY WE BROKE UP plus HOW TO LOVE minus heterosexuality. I know in my query I'm going to have to put only the books, not the "minus straight people" part, but LOOK HERE, BUSTER

Structure: Non-linear. The odd chapters tell the story of Jude and Emory's relationship from their first day as freshmen to their breakup the summer before junior year. The even chapters tell the story of Jude and Emory's trip around town over one sleepless night just before graduation.

Original premise, as told in Twitter DMs to @rachelwrites007: "My books always go in a different direction than I intend so right now it's very Jenny Han-y, BUT—15-yo boy writes letters to his 18yo self,
"finds them when he's 18, and tries to adjust his life to be more like the one he wanted. With a queer romance! But it's not a Romance."

Actual new premise (not a pitch because I hate pitching) now that I've written some of it: Fourteen-year-old Jude Oakley is falling fast for his new classmate, Emory, in spite of Jude's homophobic, practically omnipresent older brother Wesley. Eighteen-year-old Jude Oakley drives to Emory's house in the middle of the night, hoping to win him back two years later despite what Wesley did. And sixteen-year-old Jude Oakley knows what happened the night Wesley and Emory met—but he's not talking.

What it's about in these really abstract or otherwise indirect terms: Activism. Active listening. Sexual activity. Hyperbole. Slightly modified classic poetry. Gender. Mental illness. Spoons. Social politics. Political politics. Extroversion. Introversion. Planning marriages at first sight. Imaginary flash-forwards. Hatred—the kind that makes you want to break the world. Love—the kind that does break the world.


“I like your name. Jude.” He tests it on his tongue, smiling still, eyes bright, like someone who’s already decided on the car they want but has to drive it around the block first, just for appearance’s sake. I like Emory. Lots.

Which makes my response complicated. I like your face? Too direct. I like your name too? Too indirect. Will you marry me? “Yeah, I was named after the patron saint of lost causes. My parents are big into metaphors.”

“I know the patron saint of lost causes.”

Well. In my head I am now driving to the local gay-friendly church, wearing a new, carefully ironed tuxedo and a smile that threatens to split my face in two. It’s sunny but not too sunny, and the world is awake but not too awake, and we drive in separate limousines to keep us from making out the entire time. I get up and walk up the church steps, each footfall a resting heartbeat in sharp contrast to the thudding and thunking and screeching and screaming and singing my chest is doing now. I open the doors, and he’s there, and I run—I run past the pews, finely pressed suit be damned, past my broken family and his beautiful one, I reach him, I take his hands in mine, and I kiss him hard and slow, and maybe there’s several dozen doves, too.

“Oh, cool!” I say.

How I like my eggs: I don't like eggs.

May 6, 2015


(YouTube link is here, if you for some reason can't watch the video embedded above)

I am reminded of quite a few things on a daily basis. Perhaps none so much as the fact that I'm not like you because I'm gay.

It's not one thing you do—you, in this case, of course being straight cisgender people, allies or enemies or anything in between. You don't, like, bother me, at least not most of the time. I can't point to one specific thing you do, and I can't say "stop doing these general things" because I don't know what the general things would even be.

But I'm not like you. I know this because I have always known this, like I've always known things fall down, not up. You remind me of it every day, too. Not on purpose 99% of the time.

You remind me out loud that you're trying. You remind me with your implications that you have only good intentions. You remind me with your actions and your facial expressions and your body language that you might be telling me the truth.

I remind myself, as I always have since early September 2014, that I should be appreciative that somebody cares enough to be trying.

You remind me how lucky I am to have a supportive mom. I remind myself it doesn't matter that she told people my sexuality when I told her not to, because she's supportive and some people don't even have that. I am lucky.

I am lucky.

You remind me when you're my best friend in the world and we're driving around nowhere in the low light of spring dusk and you're telling a story and you say "gay" as a slur. You remind me you don't mean anything by it. I am the cool gay friend, so I laugh and shrug it off, maybe even throw in a self-deprecating joke so you know no harm was done.

I remind myself when I'm home alone that it's okay, I can cry now.

You remind me when you're my brother and you say these things about queer people, these things that cut me so deep you can see the knife on the other side of me. You remind me when we're watching the Bruce Jenner interview and I'm an emotional mess behind a mask of calm, cool, collected, concentrated on not showing any emotion, and you're laughing outright at everything he says. You remind me that I can never tell you.

You remind me when you're my mom and you give me a pointed look and you say "He's going to have to know someday."

You remind me again when we're watching the Bruce Jenner interview and you're my brother's girlfriend of six years. You remind me when you say "I can't keep the 'he, she' thing straight. I'm calling this person it."

I remind myself I love her like a sister.

You remind me when you're an acquaintance at school. We're teamed up together for golf in gym class (we both suck at golf and also gym class), and you're telling me a story about your "gay best friend." You remind me with your context that he's great and you genuinely love him. You remind me with your syntax that he is gay first and your best friend second.

I remind myself not to come out to you like I was considering.

You remind me when you're my therapist two weeks ago and I tell you, "I didn't want to say this right now, but it's going to present itself at some point, so might as well." You remind me when you say "Oh!" and make a small face. You remind me that everything I say is confidential unless I'm going to harm myself or others.

I remind myself to make a better effort to notice necklaces with crosses on them.

You remind me when you read this and you think, "There's nothing I can do, then. Being an ally to the best of my ability obviously isn't good enough for him."

You remind me of myself. You remind me of thinking at seven years old, "There's nothing I can do, then. Being straight to the best of my ability obviously isn't possible for me."

You remind me of the times when I wanted to die in large part because of this; when I couldn't bring myself to go to school because of one student who reminds me at all times of his strict devotion to the Christian version of God and his belief that He will send me to hell, all of this in one class for forty-six minutes; when I can't walk from one classroom to another without hearing "gaaaay" or "f*g" or cringing when I see my high school's one gay couple hugging each other before class while other, straight couples are making it somewhere past first base in front of a hundred passing students and no one bats an eye.

This is how you remind me.

Apr 8, 2015

Many Feelings About the LGBTQ+ Section

My latest manuscript, Sweetest Downfall, is a YA contemporary romance about two boys who think the world broke them, who think they don't know how to be strong in the broken places. Obviously it's emotional and, on the surface, heavy—but it's also about hope and the transition from surviving to thriving. There's sexual tension, kissing scenes, cuddling, fighting both verbal and physical. The narrator, Zeke, is a Black gay out upper-middle class valedictorian managing generalized anxiety and also a dead best friend. The love interest, Nick, volunteers at a hospice (which is important for Reasons), is demisexual and Catholic, and made some pretty significant mistakes in his life but still manages to love the people around him crazy amounts.

It's about two boys. It's not about two boys at all.

So Sweetest Downfall is a contemporary realistic young adult novel, which means of course the fact that this romance features two cisgender teen boys is brought up. They encounter homophobia, and Nick's not out to anyone and is still figuring out the ins and outs of his attraction, and Zeke's out to everyone but sometimes wishes he weren't. But they don't gayly hold hands. They don't queer-kiss. At no point when Zeke's tucked under Nick's arm, head resting on his shoulder as they help each other with homework, does Zeke say, "Here's your hourly reminder that I am homosexual and you are demisexual and this action of awkwardly cuddling because we're both nervous and a little shy and new to this makes our budding love affair totally gay. Lo, I do say we are positively gaying up the establishment! I am very much fond of you, my darling demi love-partner."

I love that there's LGBTQ+ sections in libraries and bookstores sometimes. I love that when I want to read about a romance that could, you know, actually happen for me, I can find a book that fits the bill. I don't even want to write a "But" sentence after those two, because I absolutely can't overstate how necessary it is that those things exist, so I'll just say this:

I don't love that LGBTQ+ fiction is a niche.

Not always. I have a great deal of love in my heart for allies (which very well may be because I'm young and haven't been burned as often), and I know a lot of them buy books like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda or None of the Above or The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I also know that those allies are the exception to the rule.

Like, okay. If you're straight and cisgender, answer this to yourself with honesty and no regard to my feelings (which shouldn't matter, because I'm not asking you to comment with your reply): would you buy a book featuring a LGBTQ+ romance, or one about characters with gender identities outside of the binary, or one featuring a polyamorous relationship, because it sounds overall like something you'd enjoy?


Because chances are you wouldn't. I mean, that's okay-ish, because I think I can see where you're coming from. At least in my opinion (which tends to be overly forgiving), it's not an aggression; it's not you saying you hate queer people. It's you saying "Of course I support LGBTQ+ rights, but I want to read about a romance that could happen to me."

And here's the thing: so do I. And here's the other thing: I can't. Please name me the blockbuster YA books with enormous cult followings, with movie franchises, with theme parks and merchandise and the original novel series on the bestseller lists for entire uninterrupted years, about two girls madly in love. Or two guys, one of whom is trans and the other being Latino and disabled. Go on. I'll wait. I'll be waiting a damn long time.

I won't even pretend the vast majority of the reason for this isn't because of queerphobia. It so is. Homophobia, transphobia, and queerphobia are violent, and they're donating five dollars on IndieGoGo to a bakery in Indiana that wouldn't cater a queer wedding, and they're going through my Twitter feed and favoriting literally everything I tweet except the ones where I even mention being queer, and they're just not ever going to the LGBTQ+ section in your local bookstore.

I don't blame you for not browsing there, and that's the truth. If I were allowed to be angry about twenty things straight cis people consciously or unconsciously do to queer people, this wouldn't make the list. But it's also not the ideal situation, and it sure as hell makes me uncomfortable and more than a little sad. Whether you realize it or not, you're saying "These books don't matter." And maybe they don't to you, but they do to me, and there's only so many copies I can buy, y'know?

The other reason for there not being enormous LGBTQ+ YA is because it is LGBTQ+ YA. Because of its name. This category is so inherently other to most people that they can't imagine picking up even one book in that section.

My life is not niche, and neither are stories about people like me in this regard. I'd really love to see the queer section flourish and diversify—and personally, another part of me wants it to go away forever. If it did, if those books were put in Science Fiction, Memoir, or Realistic Young Adult instead, maybe you'd pick them up and be taken away by the premise and notice that it's about two girls and a guy in love or any other possibility, but maybe you wouldn't give it a second thought.

And since I don't know how to end this post, here's some links to books I enjoyed featuring queer main characters or books I think I'll enjoy featuring queer main characters:

  • Goodreads to Hannah Moskowitz's Gone, Gone, Gone and Not Otherwise Specified, which feature (respectively) a gay romance and a bisexual Black narrator; I love these books and also Hannah Moskowitz so much it makes me throw both things and temper tantrums
  • Goodreads to Nina LaCour's Everything Leads to You, a romance about two girls and also much more; I haven't read but have heard it's like Taylor Swift's amazingness meets a unicorn's majesty (I just made that up but this book is supposed to be excellent, okay, deal with it)
  • Amazon to Robin Talley's What We Left Behind, about two main characters, one of whom is a lesbian, the other being genderqueer, because if you haven't preordered this what is even going on with you and whatever it is I am so sorry
  • Amazon to Dahlia Adler's Under the Lights, about a Hollywood romance between two girls, because if you do not worship at the altar of Dahlia Adler I don't want to say you're cursed to live a joyless life full of pain and also spiders, buuuuut
  • Goodreads to Malinda Lo's Ash, a fantasy Cinderella retelling featuring two girls who fall in love, one of whom is a huntress, because though I haven't read it I think readers have collectively used every positive adjective in the English language at least once describing Lo's writing
  • Also, queer-identifying writers/authors you should be following on Twitter since your birth: @Bibliogato, @NitaTyndall, @MissMolliWrites, @Jessie_Devine, @ABoredAuthor, me because I'm pretty great like let's be honest here

Feb 20, 2015

The Sincere Liking of Things and Stuff

As a child I had many passions. Like. A lot. First and perhaps most important, I loved Pokemon above all measure. I watched the TV show(s). I owned and regularly played all of the games. My brother had this binder full of rare or otherwise valuable baseball cards he'd collected, and I had a matching binder for my Pokemon cards. When I was about seven years old, I quite literally got on my knees and begged my mom to drive me from southern New Jersey to New York for a Pokemon convention. We couldn't make it work.

I also loved SpongeBob SquarePants, which is how you know I was born in the late nineties and grew up in a house with a television and cable access. I would lie on my mom's bed (because she'd watch Judge Judy in the living room at the same time and my mother kind of had seniority) with a Capri-Sun juice pouch and a small bowl of Cheeto puff balls, and I'd watch and laugh and laugh, even when I'd seen an episode upward of ten times. This was before smartphones or tablets, I didn't have a laptop, and our only computer was absolutely carbon-dateable and also in the living room. So when I say I watched SpongeBob, I watched SpongeBob.

As I grew older, I loved more things like they belonged to me, like they were crafted specifically for a target audience of me. A Series of Unfortunate Events and then Harry Potter and then Avatar: The Last Airbender and then A Series of Unfortunate Events again and then more recently The Legend of Korra, on and on, books and shows and games.

I wasn't bullied. But I had some friends and family members ask me why I wanted to play Pokemon games all the time when I was nine or ten and should've been into different things. I was asked to please stop talking about Avatar on numerous occasions. No one cares how excited you are about the new season of SpongeBob, seven-year-old Mark.

So not only did I learn that it was wrong to love these things, I learned it was wrong to love.

This is such a wrong thing. Especially for children, for whom the world is bright and new. Kids see New York City at night and the towers scrape the stars out of the sky and into their eyes.

We tell them—kids, pre-teens, teens, each other, ourselves—it is wrong to love things, to be enthusiastic about something unironically. Fandoms are full of twelve-year-old girls who haven't heard real music yet. We tell them to hate, and to be loud about it. Life sucks, and then you die.

But what about making a space for yourself that doesn't suck? But what would happen if you let yourself think and feel about things the way you genuinely think and feel about them, not the way you're supposed to?

I'm of the firm belief that behind every cynical facade, there's someone who is ashamed of their own hobbies or passions or interests. And I'm not saying that being cynical is wrong, either—especially if the world does not exactly treat you equally. (I'm marginalized too, folks.) But there are so many things to be excited about, and "looking cool" is not one of them.

So this is something of a plea, dear reader: when the world feels like it's in love with hatred, anger, or outrage; when no one loves anything for fear that not everyone will love them; when you want to brand someone as lesser for the things or people that bring them joy—remember it doesn't have to be that way. Fall in love with yourself. This is a beautiful world, if you let it be.

Feb 17, 2015


Short post today, but I just wanted to update you all on a couple Things:

1) I got accepted to college! It's a funny story—my grades sucked for the vast majority of my high school years, thanks to my often being not in school for various reasons including but not limited to anxiety and partial hospitalizations. I also didn't have many extracurriculars, by which I mean I did Spanish club for three months in eleventh grade. But I did well on my SATs (even in the math portion!), and I wrote a pretty killer application essay on the subject of how I started writing. I only applied to two schools—my local community college and a well-respected local college. My application got messed up, however, and my guidance counselor had to call the college at least three times to iron things out. Last time he called was last Monday, when they managed to finalize everything and I was good to go—and by early Thursday afternoon, I was accepted! I'm reluctant to say what college this is yet because I still need to finalize everything on my end, but rest assured it's a good school within driving/public transporting distance and I love it and also everything.

2) I've started querying my latest project, Sweetest Downfall, which you can read about elsewhere on my blog—namely, here. I'm saying absolutely nothing about Sweetest Downfall or how querying is going or anything of the sort beyond what it's about on here or on social media for a whole slew of reasons, but yeah, it's out there in the universe, and I feel like this information should be on my blog for future cataloguing when these things happened reasons, so: here it is! That's all.

Jan 27, 2015

I Went to Intensive Therapy for Two Months and All I Got Is This Lousy Happiness

This post is something of an update on this one. You don't have to read that to read this one, though. They're more like companion novels than a series. Also, I'm not kidding about this post's title. Okay, so I am making something of a joke about it, and I (not therapy) gave myself the happiness I feel now. But. Whatever. Story time with a weird rambly narrative that I'm going to moralize and wrap up with a neat little bow at the end GO:

I've been suicidal before. Three years ago I wanted to die, had the whole thing planned out, and was preparing myself to do it. Except I didn't. They sent me to a behavioral health facility. I'd kind of talked myself out of dying, so hospitalization wasn't necessary, but I very much still needed help. In any case, I had a great experience at this particular facility and learned all sorts of things.

So then flash forward to late November 2014, when I could not bring myself to go to school for the life of me. I was in a bad place emotionally and mentally. I couldn't function most of the time, I was absolutely miserable, and nothing was helping. I was presented with something of an ultimatum: go to school regularly or go to behavioral health-land. Both options sucked in my distorted mind, but I chose the lesser of two evils.

But this time the facility had moved a few towns over, and about half of the old staff had jumped ship. None of the patients I'd known from three years ago would be there, and no one could replace them. I'd connected with a girl there over a mega-obscure pop punk band, for God's sake; that would not happen again, nor would anything remotely like it.

I didn't want to go the first morning, but I rode the van there (they provided transportation) regardless. And I walked into the cafeteria and sat by myself for half an hour, staring at my phone and trying to convince myself I was okay.

I got a new therapist who somehow remembered me from my first time there. There's two main therapists in the adolescent psych program, and I had #1 my first time and #2 my second time. #1 didn't remember me my second time there, but #2 did, hilariously. And, against my will, I made new friends. One girl started the same day I did, and she actually became my biggest support in the facility. These new people didn't replace the old ones. They didn't need to. They were amazing, amazing people, and while we didn't connect over the same obscure pop punk band, we did talk about everything else. I cried when they cried, and we laughed and we had bad days and we snitched to the therapists about who had cut the night before but didn't want to talk about it and they taught me to play Bullshit because somehow I was the only one out of six teens who didn't know how to play and I belonged.

People left. New people came in. I told my therapist I'm gay and immediately thereafter said "Wait, holy shit, I can't believe I just told a psychologist that." We talked about giving ourselves permission to feel what we're feeling, which was this completely new concept to me, Mr. Mark O'I-Always-Have-To-Be-Happy-Or-I'm-Wrong-Brien. I graduated from the all-day program. I learned cognitive behavioral therapy. I got new diagnoses that made much more sense. At no point did I regret asking for help.

And it's such a scary thing. Saying "I'm not in a good place and I need a hand to help me pull myself to a better one" can be paralyzing, especially if you've kept up the appearance of normalcy, of functioning. I will never in any situation discredit that feeling.


But I've never heard anyone say "I wish I'd waited longer to get help." But I'm saying I'm glad I asked for it. But I will always carry with me the things I learned both go-arounds at this behavioral health facility. But people bared their souls to me and I did the same to them. But this is so important. Therapy is so important if you need it. The complete and entire shebang: daily check-ins, holding yourself accountable, possible medications, different modes of therapy, learning everything you can, bringing something to the table for yourself and for other people.

There is always a way you can get help. It might not be almost two months at a behavioral health facility, and it might not be treatment from a mental health professional at all. But you can always get help, and when you need it, I beg you to ask.

Jan 2, 2015

Terrible Titles for Sweetest Downfall

So Nita Tyndall tagged me for this thing fivever ago and I wanted to do it but I was lazy and now I'm doing it and yes! It's called the Ten Terrible Titles thing (I may have just made that up), and the premise is that you scroll through a manuscript and stop at random. Whatever phrase you stop on is a new terrible title for your book! I cheated a bit; while I stopped on random pages, I also chose funny phrases on that page. But. Whatever. Hashtag YOLO. Anyway, here we go:

1. Was Stabbing Someone In The Face Considered A Faux Pas?
2. People Can Be Bisexual, You Know
3. Please Do Not Fantasize
4. I'm Just Really Into Equality
5. Bears Had The Right Idea
6. Added "Hey, I'm Totally Straight" Effect
7. We Both Watched A Squirrel
8. The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth
9. Real Like A Hologram
10. Don't Make Out With Girls, 'Cause You'll Regret That In The Morning

What was your favorite part? I liked that too. Oh, and I tag you, dear reader, if you want to do this! GO FOR IT.