Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza! is a fiction project created by lesbian YA authors Sarah Diemer and Jennifer Diemer. It was created because of the obvious lack of lesbian heroines in the Young Adult genre, and the critical need for them.
Project Unicorn, launching tomorrow, August 3rd, is updated twice weekly with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction (Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, Historical, etc.).
So, we’re Jenn and Sarah, married (to each other!) lesbian YA authors, and we’re launching Project Unicorn TOMORROW, and wanted to talk together a little about why we’re doing it, why it’s important, and other sparkly things.
Sarah writes books about courageous young ladies who love other ladies & randomly sparkles.
Jenn eats and breathes words as a writer/editor. She is typically covered in glitter and cats.
Let the dialogue begin!
Sarah: So, I’m here with my amazing wife, author Jennifer Diemer. We’re doing something extra fancy with the technologies–we’re dialoguing together on Google Documents (which allows us both to edit a document at the same time! Sparkle Fancy!) about Project Unicorn. We wanted to talk about the project, our reasons behind why we’re doing it, why it’s important to us to be able to do it.
S: The past few days have been a little hard on both of us. We’re out lesbians, married to one another, writing lesbian YA literature. There’s been a haze of negativity, anger and ignorance these past few days, more than there normally is, toward the gay community, which has been immensely draining to both of us.
Jenn: But it only emphasizes the importance of the stories we want to tell, sharing positive portrayals of LGBT characters in a world that doesn’t always view LGBT people positively.
S: I know I’ve talked before about why we write these stories, and I talk about straight people reading them as being key to building empathy. LGBT kids need stories that reflect themselves because stories that reflect you are crucial to combating invisibility, but straight people need to read these stories, too. Without any tangible idea that gay people are not some scary “other,” homophobic people (or, heck, straight people who just have misconceptions about gay people, or don’t understand us, etc.) can’t build empathy for us, and then it’s all “you don’t deserve equal rights, I want to support a fast food joint that says you’re less than human.”
J: I have learned SO MUCH through stories. I truly believe that I wouldn’t be who I am today without the stories I’ve read, the characters whose experiences I’ve shared. Stories are and have always been *critical* to our understanding of the world and of each other. That’s why I feel passionate about this project, because we have the opportunity to share so many stories with so many people.
S: I think about how much YA literature is published today, how many stories are getting out there, and I think about the ridiculous percentage of them (tiny, tiny, tiny) that have lesbian characters in them at ALL, let ALONE main characters, and I’m beyond saddened by that. It’s not a reflection of the percentage of actual queer girls that are out there, it’s not even close, and I think about what it was like to grow up with so few stories where gay girls were the primary characters, and I remember what that felt like, and it’s changing as slowly as the Titanic veered from the iceberg, and I just want to CHANGE that. Desperately. I want there to be books published every single week with lesbian characters and lesbian main characters, because these girls exist. A LOT of these girls exist, and the few stories that they have that reflect them are just this tiny stack, and what’s available in stores or what’s easily findable is this TINY stack, and that has to change.
J: I am always SO THRILLED to find an LGBT character in a YA book–it feels like Christmas.
S: …And we’re adults who are out, who have dealt with a ton of prejudice, who are firmly entrenched in who we are as people and happy with ourselves and who are proud and courageous in our marriage. Imagine if you’re a girl who just came out, whose family is being shitty to her, who is losing friends (as I lost friends when I first came out when I was a teenager). Imagine finding a character like YOU when you’re having the SHITTIEST time of it. That’s magic. That’s life changing.
J: It is magic, but, really, it shouldn’t be a needle-in-the-haystack sort of thing. There need to be stories kids can turn to, can easily find, when they really, really need them, and right now, they’re hard to find, and far too few.
S: That’s why it’s crucial to have books, stories, available that are not about the coming out experience. When I first came out? It was terrible. Terrible, terrible things happened to me because I came out, and I can see the merit in reading a story where it all works out in the end, if you’re in the middle of that experience, or if you haven’t come out, and you’re not sure how it will go, and you need validation and comfort, but–for me? The stories that changed my life were the stories that were an escapist, wonderful fantasy for me when my times were hardest and darkest. I know we’ve talked about why we write genre fiction, honey, but that’s one of my strongest reasons: that fiction can be a soothing, amazing escape and positive, life-changing thing when you need it the most.
J: For me, personally, high school was a nightmare experience, and if I hadn’t had books, I would have felt even more alone, but the stories I read let me escape if only for a little while into another place, a safer place. And I didn’t have any lesbian books to read when I was a young adult, but if I had, I would have been so, so grateful for them.
S: You know, we weren’t even teenagers at that point, but if it hadn’t been for Isabel Miller’s PATIENCE AND SARAH, I don’t think I could have survived the first few years of our long distance relationship. I missed you SO MUCH, and the pain from that was so sharp, but when we read that book together, it made things better. <3
J: It totally did, and I’d read a lot of lesbian books before I read Patience and Sarah, but the thing that set it apart for me was the HOPE that suffused the entire book. It was a lesbian story with a happy ending!! It shouldn’t have been a surprising thing, but it was, because I’d read so many lesbian novels that ended tragically.
J: It was so revolutionary and life-changing for me to read that book. It truly became a holy book for me, because it re-envisioned the world, made it brighter somehow, and I felt–truly–like anything was possible. I believed with all of my heart that we would be together, that we’d move in together and get the happy-ever-after we dreamed about–and we DID, and I owe so much gratitude to Patience and Sarah (and, of course, Isabel Miller) for sharing her beautiful story and inspiring me to see possibilities where before there had seemed to be only locked doors. And I don’t know if any of the stories I am capable of writing could ever have that sort of impact upon someone, but it is my hope that they might, at least, help someone get through a rough day, or just let them know that they’re NOT alone, that the world is not a dark, unwelcoming place, and that–
S: …that a happily ever after is possible if, SPOILER ALERT: EVEN IF YOU ARE A LESBIAN. ;D <3
J: Exactly. And one of the reasons that I think including LGBT characters in genre fiction is so important is because--well, there’s a normalizing effect. These are horror stories and fantasy stories and science fiction stories, and the main characters just *happen* to be lesbian--just like the characters in most stories just *happen* to be straight.
S: Exactly. In most stories, being straight is something that is NEVER talked about because it’s so normal. But if you’re in a fantasy world with dragons and dungeons and sorcery, or in a zombie-laden world, or on a spaceship filled with aliens, why is it so OUT OF THIS WORLD to assume that one (or more!) of your characters would NOT be straight?
J: I think it also just emphasizes the fact that gay people lead full lives--it’s not all about being gay.
S: ^^^^^^^^^ OMG THIS TIMES A THOUSAND.
J: I want to read about LGBT characters having amazing adventures and saving the world--because I’ve read lots and LOTS of stories about straight people doing those things, and I’ve loved them, but I would *love* to read about people like me, too.
S: We’re just two authors, married to each other, who have lived our lives as lesbians, who are wholly invested in bringing more lesbian stories to literature. And it’s daunting, looking at the whole of literature, thinking that we could possibly make any difference. We’re just two people. But, for me, I can’t stand by and want these stories and not do something to make them a reality, and I know that’s a driving force for you, too.
J: It is. And maybe we can’t change it all on our own, but we can try our best to bring an awareness to the fact that people--many people--want these stories. I can’t even count how many times I’ve left a bookstore disappointed because I couldn’t find the sort of story I was looking for, something that I felt I could relate to, and instead of bemoaning that fact anymore I’m going to write the stories I would love to read and hope that other people will enjoy them, too.
S: I actually want to interject something here, because you brought it up, honey, and it made me think of it. I’ve had people tell me that they don’t feel that they could read a book with a lesbian main character because they don’t believe that they could relate to it. The difference between you walking out of a book store, frustrated at not being able to find a story that you could relate to, and straight people telling me they’re not certain if they could relate to a lesbian main character, however, are two vastly different things. It’s a straight world--almost every story in existence is straight, every myth and fairy tale we’ve been told, growing up, is straight, every movie, every commercial we see (or that gets any play or notoriety) is straight. When people tell me, “I don’t think I could relate” for ONE book, they’re not understanding the fact that we have to not relate ALL the time if we want to read anything. Obviously, there are wonderful straight stories that we both love, but we don’t have the luxury of being able to say “meh, it’s straight, don’t think I can relate to it!” We read straight stories because that’s all there is, but even if it wasn’t, it helps us understand our straight friends more, and here’s the kicker: If we ONLY read books about people EXACTLY LIKE US, the WORLD would be a VERY BORING PLACE.
J: Absolutely. I’m not straight, but I’ve ADORED so many straight stories and so many straight romances, and I just really hope that we can get to the point where everyone (or at least many more people than currently) will say the same thing about LGBT stories. Again, that’s why genre stories are normalizing, because they can present LGBT characters in exciting, newly imagined worlds in which the characters’ sexual orientations are not the central focus of the story--an important part of the story, but not the whole story--just as a straight character’s straightness is never the whole story.
S: I kind of want to touch on that, especially in relation to YA. In Young Adult books, there’s pretty much always a romance, and pretty much always that romance is straight. And they might be star crossed lovers or have some terrible situation where they can’t be together, but it’s usually...oh, I don’t know: DRAGONS. ALIENS. ZOMBIES. Not “I was kicked out of my house because I’m gay.” SO many YA books are genre stories, which is one of the most exciting things about YA as a genre to me--I LOVE what you can do with a genre story, which, of course, makes sense because I’m a genre writer. But marvelous, marvelous things can happen in a story where the normal rules (like gravity and there-actually-being-no-vampires) are written off. In a world where anything is possible, absolutely it’s possible that being gay is no big thing. SO WHERE ARE THE GAY CHARACTERS IN YA? (Probably off having super amazing adventures that just aren’t showing up in books. )
J: Ha, I love the idea of all of these unwritten gay characters just waiting for some author to tell their stories.
S: HMMMMMMMMMMMM...maybe that’s exactly what we’ll do. ;D <3
S: SO, ABOUT PROJECT UNICORN! We want this to be an incredibly interactive experience with our readers, so if you LOVE a story or character or situation, please tell us! A lot of these stories that we’re writing might actually show up in longer situations in the future, like a novel or novella, and we very much listen to our fans--but you know that. So if you love something, TELL US! (Email us! Tell either one of us on Twitter!) And if you didn’t like something, GIVE US CHOCOLATE and then tell us. If you’re moved to make fan art based on any of these stories, send it to us, and it’ll show up here! Just basically know that we’re here, and we’re doing this, and we’re listening. This is important to us, and from the outcry of support, we know it’s important to you, too.
S: Speaking of support, when Project Unicorn launches, and if you love what you see, please consider sharing it in any way you like–you’re free to repost bits or all of our stories if you give proper credit, and you’re certainly free to share the links with any-and-everyone. In order for this to be a success, for this to make a difference, people need to hear about it, and they can only hear about it if it touched you enough to share it. <3 We are so grateful for you guys. Thank you for wanting this. <3
J: We’re so excited to be doing this. Project Unicorn launches tomorrow, August 3rd!
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