An Open Letter to LGBTQIA Youth

I’ve been writing novels for young LGBTQIA folk for more than a decade now. I started when I was 32, which may sound old to some of you but is MUCH closer to 17 than I am now, more than a decade later.

One thing I’ve learned is that some things are universal, and some things aren’t. Some parts of the teenage experience come very naturally to me, because, yes, I was one once. In case you don’t believe me, here I am with my best friend from high school on graduation day. In, um, 1989.

bill and rhonda graduation silly

So yes, I was your age once. Which sounds pretty Captain Obvious, but in some ways it isn’t. I just read a novel in which a character explains that people who meet you later in life will never REALLY be able to imagine you before that age. It’s just not possible with our brains. So I guess you imagining me as a teen would be a little bit like me imagining Judy Blume as a teen. Only I’m much, much, MUCH less famous. 🙂

So I was once a gay youth. That’s the term we used back in the 1980s. Much less inclusive, no? I absolutely do know what it feels like to feel alone, to feel like the only one, or one of the only ones, who understands what it feels like to be different. I don’t know, however, what it must be like to grow up TODAY, which is different in so many vital ways. Social media. The Internet. Increasing visibility of LGBTQIA people. Gay marriage.

With all that in mind, I wanted to write you a letter to tell you some things about you, in case on a certain day you will have forgotten them. If you are like me, there will be MANY days when you forget who you are. And I don’t mean forget like you might lose your phone or your keys. I mean in a more elemental way, sometimes we “forget” how fabulous/wonderful/flawed/human/fill in the blank we are.

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The Bill Konigsberg Award

I don’t know if I’m the WORST in the world at blog upkeep, but I’m certainly in the top 5%. I apologize. Life comes so fast these days and I’m so busy.

Which is why I never posted about The Bill Konigsberg Award, even though it was established five months ago. Mea Culpa.

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (ALAN) has established the Bill Konigsberg Award for Acts and Activism for Equity and Inclusion through Young Adult Literature.

The award will be presented each year to “an individual who has acted in selfless advocacy of marginalized youth through the creation, teaching, funding or other form of promotion of young adult literature.”

This all happened because of something that occurred last November at the NCTE Conference in Houston, Texas. I was on a panel about banned books and another panelist began making racist and homophobic remarks. The other panelists countered these remarks, and two days later, in a keynote address, I spoke about it. The text of the speech can be read here. Here’s a photo from moments after that speech.

after alan speech

During the speech, I called myself a “fierce papa bear.” That moniker has stuck. I’m not sure it fits, a hundred percent; after all I’M VERY YOUNG. (silence. crickets.)

Thank you for not saying anything.

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Max’s Drawing

In Chapter 17 of my newest novel, THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS, Max, my dude bro character, draws his new friend and food truck-mate, Jordan.

The thing is, I don’t draw. Unlike Max, who is a closet artist, I am notably deficient when it comes to visual art. I am not a visual learner. My hearing is my super power; I hear everything. But drawing? I’m a stick-figure guy at best.

So when it came time for Max to draw, I enlisted the help of an artist friend, Staci Edwards. When I was artist-in-residence years ago at the Mesa Library, I helped Staci with her (extremely impressive) writing. She was more than happy to help me in return.

So Staci read the scene and came over with her art supplies. She then verbally walked me through her process as she did what Max was doing, which was to draw Jordan’s poem, in which he talks about being underground and trying to dig his way out, with the oxygen running out.

This is what Staci drew:

IMG_7172And how she did this was loosely translated into Ch. 17, although of course I had to take into account Max’s voice and situation.

The coolest thing about this was that she wound up drawing a boy under the earth, trying to scratch his way out, and then another boy on the earth, trying to help. This wasn’t in the poem; it was just where Staci went as an artist. The result is so compelling to me, and as these things tend to do, it impacted my writing AND the story.

Staci noticed that the boy on top looks more like Jordan than the boy underground. And Max is amazed to notice that unwittingly, he’s put himself under ground, with Jordan trying to help him. Which leads to the last line:

“Am I actually the boy on the bottom? Am I digging up and out of oxygen? Is Jordan digging down to save me?”

That, to me, is the sort of insight that can happen when I open up to the writing process and stop trying to control the story. I didn’t see this at the time, but Max, who is in his own mind a super-hero and thinks he’s saving Jordan, is also being saved, in a way. And later, when the two exhausted boys lie together on the gym carpet, “waiting for the next thing to happen,” the image recurs.

This time Max is on top of Jordan, which makes sense at this point in the novel. When my husband read it, he said the mirror of that earlier image was a really smart touch.

And here’s the thing: I DIDN’T DO THAT!

I had no intention of a recurring image or motif. And that’s how writing works for me. By stepping into the book, giving up control, and seeing what can happen, these kinds of cool things come to life.

Just so you see it, Staci later painted the boy underground and gave it to me as a present. I love it so much! Thank you, Staci, for sharing your genius with me and letting it change my book for the better!

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The Music of What Happens – The Reviews!

TMOWH cover

The release date for  THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS is less than two weeks away!

That’s right: my fifth novel will be introduced to the world on Tuesday, Feb. 26, and I’m so, so excited. I’m dying to talk to readers about Max and Jordan and their relationship, and about Jordan’s poems, and what happened to Max the night before the book, and about cloud eggs, and organic, locally sourced frozen lemonade. and what it feels like to be in a hot food truck on a 120-degree day in Mesa, Arizona.

For now, I want to share a couple things with you. The first are the reviews! So far, THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS has received two starred reviews, from Booklist and School Library Journal. And some of my absolute favorite authors have sounded off on the book, too!

Advance Praise for The Music of What Happens:

* “Konigsberg demonstrates once again why he is one of the major voices in LGBTQ literature.” — Booklist, starred review

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Happy New Year!

The end of 2018 is here. It’s been a good year for me. My important relationships are all stronger at the end of this year than they were at the beginning, and I’m as happy as I’ve ever been.

Bill Nov 2018
Much gratitude for my friends and family. For my career. For those who help me in my mission to make this world a better place for at-risk kids. My hope for 2019 is to give more than I get in all those arenas.

TMOWH cover
I’m thrilled for the world to see THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS in February, and I’m excited to finalize THE BRIDGE, to be published in 2020. The hope is to start a new project this spring, a novel set in New York City in the 1980s, called DESTINATION UNKNOWN (yes, that’s a Missing Persons allusion). And also to finish my first adult literary novel, SCRAMBLED (yes, that’s an egg phobia allusion).

To be improved in 2019: my diet. I want to find a healthy, moderate way to eat and stick with it. Exercise was good in 2018, and I plan to continue that in 2019.

And for this world of ours: I pray for the planet’s health. I hope for more kindness and interconnection on a global level. For those who suffer to be comforted, and for those who create suffering to find better outlets for their pain.

Happy New Year!

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“Proud Fierce Papa Bear” – The Speech

Following is the text of my talk at ALAN on Nov 19, 2018. It touches on an event that happened at a panel at NCTE on Saturday. Video is available here.

Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 1.06.51 PM

Thank you. I am honored to be here with you today.

I feel a strong need to start off by talking about an experience I had just this weekend at NCTE. Since we’re talking about acting up and speaking out in YA literature, I would be remiss to not start by talking about an experience in which I had to act up and speak out at a major YA literature conference.

As some of you may know and some of you may not, I I had a challenging experience on Saturday at a panel that was supposed to be about disproportionately banned and challenged books. Most of the panelists came to talk about that topic, but one of the panelists did not.

I’m not going to name this panelist. I don’t care enough about her to elevate her by doing so. If you want or need to know, you can probably look it up. Later. It was section L.06, and she wasn’t me, she wasn’t Michael Cart, she wasn’t Sabina Kahn, she wasn’t Joan Kaywell, and she wasn’t Tillie Walden.

She was allegedly there to talk about challenges to Latino texts for young adults, but when asked she passed on that, claiming that Latinos were not disproportionately challenged at all, that in fact the major concerns she had were for the marginalized groups in this country: straight people, Catholics, and the police.

Her comments included the following:

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Rafe, Ben, and Labels

I get questions. Sometimes they appear on Goodreads, where I am definitely NOT supposed to go, and I try not to go there almost ever, as it almost always hurts my feelings when I go there.

But I get a notification via email and I do try to answer those questions when I have the time.

Here’s one that I thought was a smart and important questions about OPENLY STRAIGHT and HONESTLY BEN. My answer follows.

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