Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guest Blog+ Giveaway- Nora Olsen on Dystopian GLBT Literature

I’m so pleased to be a guest blogger on Book Chic! When I begged James for a topic, he asked me a great question. He wanted to know how did I come to write dystopian YA featuring LGBTQ characters. He very correctly pointed out that YA books with gay main characters tend to be in the contemporary vein.

First of all, for those of you who love your YA but don’t waste a lot of time thinking about categorization, the word “contemporary” has come to mean recent realistic fiction, books about our real world and the problems/delights that ordinary teenagers encounter. Contemporary YA often centers on a romance and/or a terrible problem (cutting, suicide, death in the family, you get the idea. . .) Think Sarah Dessen, Gayle Forman, Kody Keplinger, Susanne Colasanti, Justina Chen Headley, Robin Benway. So basically, no wizards, vampires, mermaids, apocalypses, terrifying future worlds, or any other speculative elements.

So what are some examples of these contemporary YA novels with LGBTQ main characters?
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
I Am J by Cris Beam
Andy Squared by Jennifer Lavoie
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Sister Mischief by Laura Goode
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
Without Sin by J. Tomas

Those books are all awesome! Nora, you dumb fool, why don’t you try to write novels like those? If less than 1% of YA novels have LGBTQ characters (as writer Malinda Lo did the research to establish) [link: http://www.malindalo.com/2011/09/i-have-numbers-stats-on-lgbt-young-adult-books-published-in-the-u-s/] , than why be so perverse as to write a subcategory of a subcategory? Aren’t I just shooting myself in the foot?

The truth is, I am very inspired by Toni Morrison’s quotation, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” Picture a reader who loves dystopian YA but is bummed because there are hardly ever any LGBTQ characters in such novels. This reader never gets to see herself reflected in her favorite kind of book. All the other kids get to battle each other to the death or learn that they live in a giant maze/prison/clockwork world, just not the queer kids. It seems like all the characters who have to run for their lives, fight for freedom, and battle tyrannical rulers are straight. Why? That’s just the way it is. I was that sad reader.
That’s why I decided to write Swans & Klons, a dystopian novel about two girls in love named Rubric and Salmon Jo who are forced to flee when they discover the truth about their society. They end up helping slaves escape, but that’s all I’m going to give away about the plot. I really wanted the fact that the main characters were lesbians not to be a problem or anything that they had to overcome. So it turns out that they live in an all-female world where everyone is cloned. And that opened up all kinds of fun possibilities about how that came to pass and what life is like in that world.

My previous book, The End: Five Queer Kids Save The World, was a post-apocalyptic story about a group of teens who travel through time to avert nuclear war. It featured an ensemble cast who, it so happens, were bisexual, lesbian, and genderqueer.

I’m not the first person to note that there’s a particularly notable lack of diversity of all kinds in dystopian YA. You’ll also find that there are very few main characters who are people of color in dystopian YA.

It turns out that my novel Swans & Klons has a soulmate. Obviously a novel’s soulmate would be another novel, and that novel is The Culling by Steven Dos Santos. That book was published just two months before Swans & Klons, so it’s kind of a March-May romance, if you will. The Culling is a dystopian novel with a gay main character and a delightful element of romance amidst all the spattered blood and agony. I think people who love Swans & Klons will love The Culling, and vice versa.

There is going to be a sequel to Swans & Klons in which Rubric and Salmon Jo have further adventures and continue their struggle against the Doctors who control their society. But you know what? My next book actually will be a “contemporary”! So stay tuned in 2014 for the simple story of two girls who hate each other with the red-hot passion of a thousand suns. . . until they fall in love.

I’m offering a giveaway of one print copy of Swans & Klons plus a matching magnet and bookmark. Open to US addresses only. (Sorry, the entire rest of the world.) Just leave a comment on here by August 14 at 9pm EST and you're entered!


  1. Hey, Nora! Thanks for mentioning my novel, THE CULLING! It's great to have SWANS & KLONS as a book soulmate! ;-)

  2. I like that there are more LGBTQ dystopians coming out! (There's also Proxy by Alex London and Coda by Emma Trevayne.)

    1. Yeah, it's nice to see! I loved Proxy, and Coda is on my TBR list.

  3. Swans & Klons sounds like a great read!!
    Thanks for the chance to win!
    natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

  4. Looking forward to the sequel of Swans and Klons!