I am so happy to share with you today a guest post from Steven dos Santos, YA author of the dystopian Torch Keeper series! Steven is stopping by today to discuss the sexuality in his debut novel, The Culling.
As Gay Pride celebrations take place around the globe, it’s inspiring and motivating to see the great strides the LGBTQ community and its allies continue to make in the world. More and more countries are recognizing marriage equality and taking measures to ensure that all their citizens are treated with the same dignity and respect we all deserve. In the United States, where I’m from, the number of states moving forward with marriage equality is steadily increasing, and, with Supreme Court decisions soon to be decided (or already decided by the time this is posted), the balance could forever tip in favor of equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation. It is truly an exciting time to live in, and I consider myself so fortunate to have my debut novel, THE CULLING, released during such a period of increased acceptance, even after all the challenges I faced in trying to find a mainstream publisher that was interested in publishing a dark, science-fiction novel with a gay male protagonist.
When I first wrote THE CULLING several years ago, I didn’t set out to write an issue novel. I wanted to write a suspenseful, action-adventure story that just happened to have a gay male protagonist, but could be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, the same way the LGBTQ community has enjoyed heterosexual characters in literature, television, film, etc. for ages. But when I began to hear rumblings from various sources in the publishing community that novels featuring LGBTQ protagonists were too much of a sales risk, combined with the dearth of Young Adult genre novels featuring them, I realized how important it was to do my small part to help change that perception.
During the few months that THE CULLING has been released, I received a very touching email from a teenager who, not only shared how much he loved the novel, but also the fact that he was facing some struggles with his mother, because of the fact that he is gay and he knows she would not approve. This young man said I had inspired him through THE CULLING to try and come out, and also that the experience of reading the book had relieved some of the pressure he’s been dealing with. Words can’t describe how this made me feel. The fact that I could somehow reach just one other person through my novel and help them, even in a small way, was tremendously rewarding. In that moment, all the frustrations of writing a book and the years of trying to get published were eclipsed by this young man’s heartfelt note of thanks. It was all worth it!
Of course, since THE CULLING’s release, there have been sobering reminders of the adversity that LGBTQ community still faces. I recently happened upon a review of THE CULLING which had obviously been written by a teacher or librarian, as she referenced having students. She actually gave the book a great review, and made references to some of the more gruesome aspects of the story (Yes, it is dark, and there is violence). But what struck a nerve was when she concluded her review by saying that, although she really enjoyed the book, she couldn’t recommend it to her students because of the controversial homosexual aspects of the story. So basically, it wasn’t a problem to recommend a book to students that was violent, or gory. But having a romance that happens to be between two male teens amidst all that bleakness was unacceptable. Basically, the message is that LGBTQ love is worse than carnage and death. How truly sad that there are people out there who feel this way. I’m not saying the reviewer does, but the fear that her position as an educator could be jeopardized simply for recommending a book with an LGBTQ romance is very disturbing, and emphasizes just how many more hurdles need to be overcome.
And I can’t help thinking of the one student in that classroom and many others like it, who, because of irrational fear and bigotry, won’t ever get to read a book where someone like them is the hero or heroine, and how they’ll miss out on an experience that could have helped them cope just a little better, make just a little difference in their lives, like it did to the teen who wrote me to express his gratitude.
During this Pride Celebration, we should all give thanks to the many obstacles that have been overcome by the LGBTQ community, even as we acknowledge all the hard work there is yet to be done.
Steven dos Santos is the Author of THE CULLING, now available from Flux Books. Book Two in The Torch Keeper series will be available in March of 2014.
Thank you, Steven, for such an awesome guest post! Be sure to check out Steven's website, and my review of The Culling. You can also find Steven on Twitter, Facebook, and on The Torch Keeper series' Facebook Page. You can order The Culling on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Barnes and Noble and Indie Bound.