Why Stop at Vengeance? by Richard Stevenson

 

Why Stop at Vengeance

 

Richard Stevenson (Richard Lipez) has tackled a variety of social issues in his mysteries over the years. His new novel, Why Stop at Vengeance? (MLR Press)–fourteenth in the Albany, NY-based Donald Strachey series–takes on an American evangelical missionary’s anti-gay crusade in Uganda.

A young Ugandan man, John Suruma, attempts to hire Strachey to burn down a local evangelical church, International House of Faith (IHOF), that has funded anti-gay bigotry in Uganda, which led to the death of Suruma’s ex-lover and friend. He wants Strachey, who he calls “the gay Dirty Harry” which is a moniker the detective is not comfortable with, to help him exact his revenge. Strachey is sympathetic to the man’s plight, but wants to find a non-violent solution to neutralizing IHOF and its evil trio of villains the smug and hypocritical Pastor Chip Salisbury, the Ugandan political-climber Pastor Isaac Baba, and the phony psychologist Floyd Lapp. The question is: Can Strachey implement his plan before Suruma, who continues to receive news of hate crimes at home, takes action and murders Salisbury and his cronies and, in doing so, sacrifices himself?

Stevenson’s crisp prose and intricate plotting propel the story forward at a quick pace, making Why Stop at Vengeance? a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable read. He throws light on bigotry abroad and, through the fine-tuned machinery of a thriller plot, shows us how evangelical missionaries can harness political backing and propaganda for their hate-mongering in countries with political and economic instability. He reminds us that, as we make significant progress in LGBTQ rights in our country, we need to turn our attention to anti-gay campaigns and laws in other places in the world.

Several times in the novel, Strachey mentions he read Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, a critically acclaimed biography of Jesus. Stevenson has him do this, it seems, to remind the reader that the actual Jesus shouldn’t be confused with the romanticized evangelical Jesus; the evangelical Jesus who, Strachey remarks looks “not at all like an Aramaic-speaking Palestinian Jew but like somebody who knew where to go for a good shampoo and who perhaps spoke Swedish.” It’s true; the iconic Western image of Jesus bears little resemblance to historical truth. Other than mentioning Aslan’s book, however, Strachey seems to have little to say about evangelical Christianity other than its propensity to direct hatred at members of the LGBTQ community. Every Christian character the detective comes across is evil, naive, or a buffoon. I don’t disagree with the overarching message about the duplicity of many Christian evangelicals, but as a reader, I hunger for stereotypes–stereotypes of all kinds–to be challenged. I had hoped to come across a character who straddled the evangelical world and the LGBTQ world in a complicated way, perhaps a Christian character whose faith was authentic, but who was critical of Pastor Chip and IHOF’s evil machinations.

When writers address issues of social injustice in their fiction, it’s usually because they have a message to deliver. Stevenson does in this novel–and it’s an incredibly important message: Look beyond the boundaries of our country and to the harsh inequalities in other corners of the world. However, the challenge comes in balancing the desire to make a point with offering the reader characters whose perspectives don’t neatly align on either side of an issue, but perhaps could be valuable to be heard.

Why Stop at Vengeance?
By Richard Stevenson
MLR Press
Paperback, 9781608209774, 248 pp.
April 2015

 

Author Tyler Curry Wants Kids To 'Love The Feathers' They're Born With

Gay Voices Senior Editor,

The Huffington Post

 

“A Peacock Among Pigeons” is for “anyone who has been made to feel different.”

Journalist Tyler Curry is making his first foray into children’s literature with A Peacock Among Pigeons, a charming picture book with a very mature message.

The book, which arrives in stores next month but is already available for purchase here, follows Peter, a peacock who is ostracized from a flock of pigeons in which he was raised because of his bright feathers and seemingly proud strut. It isn’t until Peter ventures beyond the flock and is introduced to other colorful, unique birds — including a canary, a flamingo and a cardinal — that he learns to “love the feathers” he was born with, even if he doesn’t quite fit in.

Curry, who is the senior editor of the online publication HIV Equal and has written for Out magazine, The Advocate and HuffPost Gay Voices, had dreamt of writing a children’s book that drew on his own coming out for years. Collaborating with illustrator Clarione Gutierrez, Curry began developing A Peacock Among Pigeons after reading an interview with actor Russell Tovey, in which the openly gay “Looking” star made controversial remarksabout “effeminate” men, in The Guardian earlier this year.

“If anyone was raised to be masculine, it was me,” the 32-year-old Texas native told The Huffington Post in an interview. Pointing to his family’s passion for hunting, fishing and athletics, he said, “Some of us are just born peacocks, and it won’t matter how you try to ‘raise’ us, because we can never change our feathers.”

COURTESY PHOTO

While Peter’s path to avian acceptance echoes that of the titular character in Hans Christian Andersen’s 1843 fairy tale, The Ugly Duckling, Curry says there’s a key difference.

“The ugly duckling goes through a physical transformation and changes into a beautiful [swan]. Peter was always beautiful, he just didn’t know it yet,” Curry said. While his character’s colorful feathers can be interpreted as a metaphor for being gay, the author chose not to include any direct references to sexuality, in hopes that A Peacock Among Pigeons will resonate with “anyone who has been made to feel different.”

“I didn’t want to be literal; I didn’t want to be preachy,” Curry, who is currently at work on a second book, said. “I just wanted to create a new kind of character that could be universally loved and serve as a champion for children who sometimes need it the most.”

A Peacock Among Pigeons hits bookstores Nov. 3. Check out a sneak peek below.

  • CLARIONE GUTIERREZ
  • CLARIONE GUTIERREZ
  • CLARIONE GUTIERREZ
  • CLARIONE GUTIERREZ
  • CLARIONE GUTIERREZ
  • CLARIONE GUTIERREZ

    Amazon Link

 

Unicorn Tracks

Unicorn TracksUnicorn Tracks

by Julia Ember (Goodreads Author)

 

After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.

Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study Unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.

 

Paperback
Expected publication: April 21st 2016 by Harmony Ink Press

The Remarkable Journey From Identical Twins To Brother And Sister

 

 

A new book chronicles one family’s extraordinary experience raising a transgender child.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Identical twins Nicole and Jonas Maines, now 18, were both assigned male at birth. <i></i> <i></i></span>
KELLY CAMPBELLIdentical twins Nicole and Jonas Maines, now 18, were both assigned male at birth.

 

When Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin baby boys 18 years ago, they had no idea the trajectory their lives would take. Wayne, an Air Force veteran and rugged outdoorsman, was looking forward to fishing, hunting and playing baseball with his boys. Kelly was just excited to have kids of her own after suffering through years of fertility treatments.

As identical twins, Wyatt and Jonas Maines shared matching DNA. But it was soon clear to their parents that they differed in one monumental way: gender. From a very young age, Wyatt identified as female. When he was two years old, he told his dad he hated his penis. He asked his mom when he would get to be a girl. In fifth grade, Wyatt officially took the name Nicole.

In Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, which came out on Tuesday, Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Ellis Nutt follows the Maineses as they learn to understand their transgender child — and to support each other during the process. In Ellis’ telling, the family’s greatest teacher is Nicole. She knows who she is; it is up to her family to listen.Thenarrative, which takes readers from a rural town in Maine all the way to the White House, includes bullying, family strife and a landmark court case on transgender rights.

It’s a culmination of a story that I’ve personally been following since 2010. I first met Nicole when she was 12 years old and a patient at Children’s Hospital Boston, where I worked as a writer at the time. Her doctor was Norman Spack, a pediatric endocrinologist who co-founded the first clinic in the U.S. dedicated to treating transgender children. At Children’s Hospital Boston, Nicole was given puberty-suppressing drugs — an innovative treatment for transgender kids that essentially pauses their puberty, stopping their bodies from developing unwanted physical changes.

In Nicole’s case, taking puberty-suppressing medication meant she wouldn’t develop an Adam’s apple, facial hair and other male features that could cause extreme anxiety and make it more difficult to transition when she became older.

I was assigned to write a feature on her and on Spack’s work with transgender kids. When I interviewed Nicole and her family, they were going through a rough time. They had recently moved from Orono, Maine, to Portland, uprooting themselves after Nicole was bullied at school for using the girls’ bathroom.

Nicole had been using the girls’ facilities without incident until a male student began following her into the bathroom and claiming that if Nicole could use it, he could too. In response, the school banned Nicole from using the girls’ bathroom, and instead made her use a staff bathroom, isolated from other students.

The Maineses pulled their kids from the school and filed a discrimination lawsuit. In 2014, seven years after the first bathroom incident, the family was finally handed a huge victory: Maine’s Supreme Court ruled that the school violated state anti-discrimination law by not allowing Nicole to use the girls’ bathroom. The decision made history, as it was the first time a state court ruled that transgender students must be allowed access to the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

Nicole underwent gender confirmation surgery this summer. She and her brother are now attending the University of Maine.

I spoke to Nutt about the process of writing Becoming Nicole. An edited, condensed version of our conversation follows.

Why were you drawn to Nicole Maines’ story?

Meeting the Maineses, it’s impossible not to like them. What impressed me is they seemed, on the one hand, like a very ordinary family. And yet their story is quite extraordinary. I think a lot of people can identify with them.

The other part that attracted me is the fact that Jonas and Nicole are identical twins. It presented an opening, as someone who writes about science, to discuss the science of gender.

These are identical twins, they have the exact same DNA, but they are obviously deeply different. What happened to turn some genetic switches on or off in one and not the other one really goes back to what happened in utero.

If we can look at gender identity as something that has to do with the brain, and not with the genitals we were born with, or how we were raised, or how many dolls we were given, I think that is important.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Nicole and Jonas Maines, photographed when they were 14. </span>
SUZANNE KREITER/THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY IMAGESNicole and Jonas Maines, photographed when they were 14. 

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing this story?

The most surprising thing, from the science perspective, is that from what we know, gender identity is a completely separate brain process in prenatal development. By six weeks, our genitals and our reproductive organs have been determined as male or female, but not until six months are our brains either masculinized or feminized by hormones. That was really eye-opening.

From the perspective of the family, the degree to which this was who Nicole was from birth was in some ways surprising. I watched hours of videos [of the twins as children]. It’s impossible to watch all these videos, some of which are very ordinary moments, and not be impressed that this was a child who absolutely, 100 percent knew she was a girl.

At age 2, you barely have a vocabulary to communicate, much less tell someone that the body you are in doesn’t agree with your brain. It’s something so integral to who the child is that it’s impossible to think that this is something that could be influenced by the number of dolls they are given or someone dressing them differently.

What do you want people to take away from this book?

I think that just about anyone who reads this book will find something in it that they can relate to. Even though it’s a book about a transgender child, it speaks to families and how we come to understand each other. It’s a story about four lives, not just one. It’s not a biography of a transgender child — it’s a biography of a family.

I hope that people will read it and get to know this family, and by understanding who they are, they will realize that it is not a terrible fate to have a transgender child.

Nicole isn’t any different from any other young women. She just knew who she was. And she knew her body didn’t agree with that, and her family helped her find an answer

Purchase from Amazon, currently not available on Kindle

Becoming Nicole

Librarian Creates 'Books for Kids in Gay Families' Website

2015-10-02-1443798984-1662825-RumplepimpleGayThemedBooks.png
Patricia Sarles, MA, MLS has put together an extraordinary resource; a virtual library catalog of books for children related to various LGBTQ issues. When I discovered that my book, Rumplepimple, had been included in the Books for Kids in Gay Families list I was first thrilled, and then intrigued. I decided to ask her a few questions about how the whole thing came about. Here are her responses. I think you’ll find her story fascinating.

How did you get started with this effort?

I am a librarian and I became interested in children’s books on the topic of assisted reproductive technology when a social worker colleague, who is a fertility counselor, asked me if I could find her any books on this topic. I thought this would be very easy because of my training in how to find information on basically any subject. My colleague, Patricia Mendell, already had a small library of children’s books on this topic so I started by searching for those titles in the Library of Congress catalog and discovered that very few were available in their catalog. In addition, they had very strange subject headings, like “infertility — juvenile literature” or “test tube babies — juvenile literature” and those subject headings were inaccurate because that’s not what the books were about. They were about children conceived via assisted reproductive technologies and about donor offspring. It became apparent that these books would not be easy to find after all. It was also obvious that there were no appropriate subject headings for books on these topics.

This intrigued me tremendously because I was now on a mission to find books on a topic that had no adequate subject headings. This meant they would be nearly impossible to find. I also knew that there were mothers and fathers out there who needed children’s books like these in order to share with their children how they came into the world. There was a need but no means for a librarian to find these books should a patron walk into a library and ask a librarian to help them. That’s when I started my blog.

How long ago did this take place?

My search began in 2003 when I first met Patricia Mendell, but I did not start my blog until the spring of 2009. I started with Patricia’s small collection and added to it as I unearthed more. What started as a collection of about 15 books in English in 2003 has now turned into a collection of about 240 books in twelve languages so far in 2015! So how did I find these books that were not part of the Library of Congress collection and/or had no appropriate subject headings? I began scouring self-publishing catalogs, and the Web doing Google searches.

I’ve also learned terms in multiple languages, like Spanish, French, Italian, etc. and do regular searches in those languages. And now that my blog has been out there for a while, people who write these books also write to me and I have discovered several this way. Since I have searched for these books in English and in so many other languages, I am safe to say that I am the only person in the world who maintains a collection and since I share these books with Patricia Mendell, together we have the largest private library on these titles in the world. It is my hope one day to donate the books to a university or medical library, catalog them, and add them to WorldCat so that they are findable for librarians around the world. It is also my hope to get the Library of Congress to create adequate and appropriate subject headings.

You obviously find the LOC subjects lacking. What have you done to try to bring about improvements?

In 2009, Patricia Mendell and I started writing an article on these children’s books which in 2010 was published in the journal, Children & Libraries. In it, we talked about the inadequacy of Library of Congress subject headings and the difficulty we had in finding these books. This article was picked up by Sandy Berman, a Library of Congress gadfly who has spent an entire career petitioning the Library of Congress for subject headings on a variety of topics for which there were none. He sent my article to the Library of Congress and petitioned them for a subject heading for “Donor offspring.” I too had written to them asking them for new and more accurate subject headings for children’s books on assisted reproductive technology but they wrote me back that they found their subject headings adequate. But in 2012, the Library of Congress added the new subject heading, “Children of sperm donors.” This was a major accomplishment, which I felt I could take credit for since this was one of the subject headings I suggested they create. It is still not appropriate though because it implies that the books are about the children of people who donated their sperm and not about the resulting offspring of sperm donors. We subsequently published an article about this as well. It is my hope to write and publish more articles on this topic so that the Library of Congress can see that more appropriate terms are needed for donor offspring and other topics related to assisted reproductive technology.

So your work initially focused on assisted reproductive technology, but it branched out to include LGBT issues?

In the fall of 2009, I started my Gay-Themed Picture Books for Kids blog, when my social worker colleague asked for a list of children’s books for her gay clients who used third party reproduction to build their families. Third party reproduction would include the use of sperm donation for lesbian couples and egg donation, surrogacy, and IVF for gay couples. An organization she is involved with, the non-profitPath2Parenthood, formally the American Fertility Association, and an inclusive organization which helps couples, both gay and straight, build their families through third party reproduction, was looking to build a booklist for their gay clients on this topic. I wanted to help, and so I began my gay-themed picture books blog. There I set out to collect a list of gay-themed picture books for children. I started with the lists already in existence, the COLAGE list, the American Library Association GLBT Round Table list, and I began to build my own list. In the case of Library of Congress subject headings, gay-themed books make much more sense:

Children of gay parents
Lesbian mothers
Gay parents
Gay fathers

As with my Books for Donor Offspring blog, I search for books in multiple languages and I believe I have created the most comprehensive list on the Web. I have found over 500 picture books in thirteen languages.

Your websites list your email address as “Tovahsmom”. Do you mind telling us who Tovah is?

In 2003, my partner of 23 years and I went through the process of artificial insemination in order to build our family. This is how we came to visit a fertility counselor and how we met Patricia Mendell. Unfortunately, our attempt did not take and we did not become pregnant so we never had children. Tovah however is the name of one of our dogs who passed away in 2013.

Thanks for sharing this very personal part of your story, Patricia. And thank you for the work you are doing on behalf of all the families who want books for their children which reflect their personal reality. Your donation of time, thought, and effort for the sake of others is inspiring.

New LGBT Booklists

Library bookshelf, shallow DOF

Library bookshelf, shallow DOF

Today’s  I am publishing information from BOOKLIST ONLINE which  offers a spotlight on LGBTQ literature, including a Top Ten list for adults, and a separate Top Ten list for youth, as supplied by

 Today’s  email from BOOKLIST ONLINE – READ ALERT (Newsletter #154, dated August 6, 2015) offers a spotlight on LGBTQ literature, including a Top Ten list for adults, and a separate Top Ten list for youth GARY M KLEIN, Hatfield Library, Willamette University, Salem, Oregon.
     Contents of this Spotlight on LGBTQ Lit includes:

    And the “review of the day” happens to also have an LGBTQ theme:

Buy a book and curl up and read – loose yourself in another world, you wont regret it!

** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE **The interior of Giovanni's Room, a gay and lesbian bookstore, is seen in a gay-friendly section of Philadelphia known as the "gayborhood," Oct. 28, 2003. Philadelphia has become more sophisticated in its effort to attract part of the annual $55 billion gay tourism market, targeting subgroups within the gay and lesbian community. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

rainbow-book

 

Pope Francis shows support for LGBT children's book writer with private letter

By Umberto Bacchi | International Business Times

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has expressed solidarity to an Italian author and LGBT activist whose work was recently banned by the conservative mayor of Venice over its purported seditious content in favour of gay rights. Francesca Pardi said she has received a written reply from the pontiff to a letter she sent earlier this summer, complaining about the continuous attacks she received from hard-line Catholics. The writer had become a target of campaigners against same-sex-marriage, after she created an independent publishing house printing children’s books that also depict gay couples.

Piccolo Uovo

Earlier this summer, several of her titles – including the award-winning book Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg), the tale of a lonely egg who meets straight and gay animal couples in its quest for a family – were listed among 49 publications ordered for removal from public libraries by Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who said they corrupted the local youth. After an international outcry the list was reduced to two books, the subversive Piccolo Uovo being one of them.

In June, Pardi – who has four children with her partner, Maria Silvia Fiengo – wrote to the Pope to denounce what she said was a hate campaign launched against her family by Catholic associations. She also attached a copy of Piccolo Uovo, inviting Francis to read it. The Argentinian pontiff replied with a letter in his named written by Peter B Wells, the assessor for general affairs at the Vatican secretariat of state.

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings that prompted it, hoping for an always more productive activity in the service of young generations and the spread of true human and Christian values,” the letter read. It also contained Francis’ personal blessing to Pardi and her partner. Pardi published its contents on Facebook, causing a stir in Italy.

“I was very touched by it,” Pardi told IBTimes UK. She explained that the letter was not supportive of gay rights but nevertheless marked an important change in the Church attitude towards homosexuals. “Obviously he [Francis] doesn’t agree with homosexuality and if he ever was to make such an opening he would never do so in a private letter to me!” she said. “However, only to consider me as an interlocutor worth respect is a tremendous step forward. I read it as an opening towards people and dialogue, a message of tolerance.”

Later, the Vatican said the Pontiff’s secretariat routinely replied to mail, adding that under no circumstances was the letter received by Pardi intended to endorse behaviours inconsistent with Catholic teachings.

Pope Francis letter to LGBT author

The letter came as the Pope faces a revolt from the conservative fringes of the Catholic Church over his open stance towards gay people. Five cardinals and more than 100 bishops were among the signatories of a worldwide petition urging the pontiff to clearly voice his and the Vatican’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“This prayerful petition asks Pope Francis to clear up the moral confusion that’s been spreading against Natural and Divine Law,”said John Ritchie, director of Tradition Family Property Student Action group which launched the campaign. “If the enemies of the family continue to chip away at holy matrimony, the future of the family and civilization itself will be in even more serious peril.”

Francis has not expressed approval for gay marriage but has steered the Holy See in the direction of a more tolerant position, maintaining that homosexuals should be integrated and not marginalised with his famous “who am I to judge?” quote.

The letter also fuelled Italy’s heated debate over gay rights ignited by a recent government pledge to introduce a law on civil unions. The Mediterranean country is currently the only one in western Europe not to have any such regulation and thus considering same-sex marriage illegal.

Ben Cohen releases book on bullying, 'Do You'

Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Ben Cohen, the former professional rugby player, will release his first book to help young people deal with bullying and educate adults on the issue.

ATLANTA, July 23, 2015 – The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation today announced the publication of DO YOU!, the first book from its founder and chairman, rugby World Cup champion Ben Cohen. The book aims to help young people deal with bullying, and to be a supportive guide for parents and educators alike.

Published by Penguin Random House under the Pam Krauss Books imprint, the book offers inspiration and encouragement for anyone who was ever bullied, left out or pushed aside. The book lifts the spirits and gives practical guidance to anyone struggling with bullying and rejection, doing so in 20 brief, memorable, visually rich sections. Real-world words of encouragement from fans and supporters of StandUp are also included in the book.

“It’s a small book with a big impact,” said Ben Cohen. “Much of it comes from my own experience dealing with the loss of my father, as well as the advice I would give my own daughters. I want readers to know they are not alone, that someone understands, and that they can make it through.”

DO YOU! encourages readers of all ages to embrace their authentic selves and to live the life that is best for them. “I am really trying to let people know that they are absolutely fine just as they are. My goal has been to connect with them as a friend and a supporter, as they have connected with me,” said Cohen.

The book was developed from Ben’s experiences, values, and vision for how to make the world kinder for all, and crafted by the team at StandUp with him. It is on-sale August 4, 2015, in time for back-to-school reading, and available wherever books are sold.

Injured veterans become male models

American Photographer Michael Stokes’ background is based in fitness photography and showcasing the masculine form. Last year he featured a chapter in his book Bare Strength of wounded and amputated Marines.

This year he wants to dedicate an entire book to the men who served in the Gulf and risked their lives in the US military.

While on tour in Afghanistan Alex’s right leg was blown off below the knee.

After the photos of Alex were well received, Michael decided to set up a Kickstarter to fund a coffee table book Always Loyal featuring around 14 former soldiers who had been injuring in the Gulf Wars.

It’s no surprise when looking at these pictures that Michael made his fundraising target in one hour and fifteen minutes.

“We think of them as veterans of war but really they’re guys in their 20s who are ready to start new lives and have a lot of energy and willpower to move forward. When they are in my studio I have to hold the energy back.” Michael toldi100.

“It’s the contrast that- I think moves people. You see all this perfect skin, you see that they are young and then all of a sudden you see their injury. That is emotionally provoking.”

Michael’s next aim is to head to the UK to photograph injured soldiers here.

The book will be available to buy on Amazon in mid November and you can see his Kickstarter campaign here, which also features a video for the campaign.

Images used with permission from: Michael Stokes – See more of Michael’s work here at michaelstokes.net
Words Rhys Mathews @rhysox

James Dawson: 'Young Adult literature should celebrate being gay'

James Dawson and Cassandra Clare, who both appeared at London’s Young Adult Literature Convention last weekend, speak out about LGBT representation in books for teens

jamesdawson_clare

Cassandra Clare; James Dawson

5:48PM BST 23 Jul 2015

“I didn’t want to write a dreary melodrama about coming out, and about how awful it is to find out you like guys,” says author James Dawson, in reference to his forthcoming Young Adult (YA) novel All of the Above.

“When I found out I liked guys, it was a massive weight off my shoulders, because I finally understood myself.”

The author, whose most recent book, the dark teen horror-thriller Under My Skin, was published earlier this year, believes that LGBT representation in YA literature has become more positive in the past decade or so. Books now celebrate gay identity and relationships, rather than focusing exclusively on characters who suffer and struggle with their sexuality.

“There’s that image, that stereotype of the tragic gay person who has to survive being gay. But to actually celebrate that identity, in all its glorious forms – I think that’s where YA is at now,” he says.

The formerly-bearded writer – he says he recently opted for a clean shave, after getting fed up of people describing him as “bearded author James Dawson” – was speaking to the Telegraph at the Young Adult Literature Convention, which took place in London last weekend.

A three-day event, held as part of London’s Comic-Con, it drew a surprisingly mixed crowd – there were plenty of adults in attendance, as well as teens – and featured panels and book-signings from a number of popular YA authors, including Dawson, Judy Blume (the veritable high priestess of teen literature), Patrick Ness, Derek Landy, Malorie Blackman and Holly Smale.

A book stall at London’s 2015 Young Adult Literature Convention

There was also a host of inventive costumes on display. The black-clad, rune-sporting “Shadowhunters” from Cassandra Clare’s bestselling The Mortal Instruments books were a popular fancy dress option, but Dawson himself arguably claimed the crown for the weekend’s best outfit, appearing as Daenerys from HBO’s Games of Thrones (specifically, as the naked, unburnt Daenerys seen at the end of season one).

James Dawson looks stunning at YALC

During the panel, Dawson revealed that All of the Above will contain his first “proper sex scene”. The book, published this September, centres around a 16-year-old girl named Toria who relocates to a sleepy coastal town, and explores themes surrounding bisexuality, examining how it’s possible to be physically attracted to one gender, and emotionally attracted to another, all at the same time.

It was partly inspired, Dawson says, by the “coming out” of Olympic diver Tom Daley and model/actress Cara Delevingne.

YA fans relax next to a wall of books at YALC 2015

“Young people are very reluctant to come out with a label,” he explains. “It’s like they don’t want to pigeonhole themselves. If you look at Tom Daley and Cara Delevingne, when they talk about their sexuality, they never use words like ‘bi’ or ‘gay’. Instead, they say ‘I’m in a relationship with a man’, or ‘I’m in a relationship with a woman’. That inspired me.”

“I wanted to write about characters who were just at that precipice of trying to understand desire and sexual attraction.”

Interestingly, All of the Above, which can be broadly categorised as a “real-life drama”, marks something of a break with tradition for Dawson. While his previous YA titles have featured gay and lesbian characters, the books themselves haven’t been “about” sexuality, per se. 2014’s Cruel Summer, for example, is an addictive mystery-thriller; 2012’s Hollow Pike and Under My Skin (2015) are dark horrors.

Cassandra “Cassie” Clare, the woman behind the phenomenally successful The Mortal Instruments series, and another guest speaker at YALC, agrees that it’s important to see LGBT representation across a range of different genres.

Her six Mortal Instruments fantasy novels are set in a Medieval-inspired world of demons and fallens angels: think Paradise Lost meets modern day New York, with a healthy dose of teen angst and cynicism thrown in for good measure (There’s also a prequel trilogy, set in Victorian London.)

They inspired a 2013 film, starring Lily Collins and Jaime Campbell Bowers, as well as an ABC television series, due to hit TV screens in 2016, and are exciting, pacy, fantastically inventive and wildly popular with young readers.

Cassandra Clare signs copies of her books at London’s YALC 2015

They also feature a romantic relationship between two male characters: a young demon-fighting “Shadowhunter” named Alec, and a warlock named Magnus.

“I’ve talked to lots and lots of gay and lesbian teenagers and, for a lot of them, Alec is the first openly gay character they’ve read about,” Clare says.

“To find a character casually represented in something they might already be reading, in a world that they like, is very meaningful, and so I’ve tried to be mindful of including gay, lesbian and transgendered characters in all of the books that I write.”

Dawson – himself a fan of Clare’s series – thinks that the matter-of-fact way in which Magnus and Alec’s relationship is presented in the books is particularly important.

“People never think to talk about Cassie’s books as part of the [LGBT representation in YA] conversation. Those books have sold to millions and millions of readers, and yet the fact that Alec and Magnus are together is barely spoken about,” he says. “It’s just not an issue – they’re Shadowhunters/warlocks first, and gay/bisexual second.”

It seems that, when it comes to gay and lesbian characters in YA literature (and, to a slightly lesser extent, transgender characters), invisibility is no longer as big a problem as it once was. It has, after all, been 40 years since the publication of Judy Blume’s Forever, which featured a gay/questioning character named Artie.

Instead, perhaps the most important thing for YA authors writing today, is to get across the message that discovering your sexual identity, while always a bit scary, can also be an exciting, positive experience.

Being a young, gay teen (or a transgender teen, or simply a sexually confused teen) is rarely a walk in the park – but books, Dawson believes, can offer a source of hope.

“I’m always wary of saying ‘oh, we’ve come a long way and we’ve now got great representation,” he says. “It is a struggle, and it is a very individual struggle. If you are a 13-year-old [LGBT or questioning] guy or a 13-year-old girl, it’s still the scariest thing in the world to have to tell your parents, and I don’t want to undermine that struggle.”

“But I think that representing the light at the end of the tunnel is what YA is doing really well at the moment. “

YALC Video round-up (in collaboration with BookTube channel The Book Life)

YALC is presented by Book Trust in partnership with Showmasters, with the support of headline sponsor Prudential plc. All of the Above, by James Dawson, is published on September 3 2015 by Hot Key Books.

In a long blonde wig and nude-coloured body suit, complete with toy dragons – including the strategically placed “Drogon the modesty dragon” – he cut a flamboyant figure on stage, discussing everything from asexuality to “the hottest characters in YA literature”, during Sunday’s Bringing Sexy Back panel, alongside authors Non Pratt, Louise O’Neill, Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison.