Looking Back on CWIM: The 1995 Edition
An Interview with Sasha Alyson on LGBT Books for Young Readers...
I have to admit that the cover of the 1995 CWIM is my favorite one ever. (I made it large in this post for your enjoyment.) The slightly deranged looking red book, the rather dandy pencil, and the armless floppy disk hopping down the path--I find it pleasingly weird. And it's the first edition of CWIM I edited. Or I should say I co-edited. I really really wanted to edit CWIM and bugged my then boss about it constantly and finally presented him with my editorial plan for the book. So the market books powers that be decided I could share the responsibilities with another editor to see how I'd do in the role. It wasn't ideal with two cooks in the kitchen, but I got to assign articles for the first time which was great fun. (For the next edition I was on my own--and the rest is history.)
One of the pieces I assigned was an interview with Sasha Alyson about his company Alyson Books, publisher of LGBT titles including picture books and YA. Last year Alyson Books published a 20th Anniversary edition of Heather Has Two Mommies. Here Sasha Alyson talks about what they were doing in 1995:
Alyson Publications was one of the first presses to publish a line of book aimed at gay and lesbian teen and young adults, but the Alyson Wonder line for younger children was a very new direction for the publisher. "We've done about 15 children's books at this point and it's definitely been an experiment for us. We're trying to figure out what the best ways are to integrate gay and Lesbian issues into children's books, and we've done books that take quite a range of approaches. What we've found so far is books that focus just on having gay parents don't hold a child's interest. On the other hand, if the gay parents are just there in the background but the book doesn't deal with that at all, it's too slight a theme and parents don't feel the book meets their needs. So it's the books that find a balance--that actively deal with the issue but don't focus on them exclusively--we find most successful.
Alyson is looking for a story that not only portrays a child with gay or Lesbian parents, but one that also has an interesting story line or predicament to hold readers' interest. "It must deal with some of the differences that come up because the child has gay or Lesbian parents without dwelling on them."
Alyson's advice to writers is similar to what he does with his press. "Talk to the kids and talk to some parents--that's the first step. Then try to do an interesting, fun story that's not preachy, that's not trying to get a message across but that does give kids a chance to see others in their situation dealing with some of the real-life issue they face. The setting may be real or fantasy, but the story must at least grapple with some of these. And please don't avoid writing a book because you think it might be controversial."