Happy Monday, fellow readers. I hope the weather is as nice by you as it is here along Lake Michigan. I am really excited today, because I have a special PRIDE month treat for you (and, well, for me if we're being completely honest). Nora Olsen, author of the lesbian YA dystopian novel Swans & Klons stopped by to do an interview. Though I previously reviewed this title, it's included once more after the interview. To say that I loved the story of this book is an understatement, and I am fangirlishly happy to bring you this interview. Be sure to give her some thanks for her time!
What was your inspiration for writing Swans & Klons?
In 2009 I was on the local commuter train with my girlfriend, asking her, “How can I make a YA lesbian storyline most palatable to mainstream agents and editors?” We came up with the idea that the story should be set in an all-female future, which immediately made me think of cloning, which immediately made me think of how unscrupulous leaders would exploit clones. This just shows that even a dumb question can lead you to something fruitful.
I learned that you're currently in a relationship. In S&K, Salmon Jo is more of a logical girl, while Rubric is more of an artist. Do these descriptions work for you and your partner as well?
My girlfriend is the Salmon Jo because she’s more into theorizing and building models. I’m very similar to Rubric. When we go hiking, I’m the one who gets tired like Rubric did.
In your opinion, is it harder to get published when you are the writer of LGBT themed books?
The short answer is no. :)
Not to be a Debbie Downer, but it’s incredibly hard for anyone to get published. I do not think there is much homophobia in publishing, and many agents and editors say they would like to have more LGBTQ-themed manuscripts come their way. But I do think there is a heteronormative bias (which is just a fancy way of saying a mindset in which being straight is the default norm, and anything else is weird or different.) With fiction, being weird or different can work for you or it can work against you. Nowadays an agent or an editor has to feel overwhelming mad passion for a book to want to take it on. If there’s anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or they can’t relate to the story, that is a reason to pass on a book. I think that happens a lot with books with queer content.
The good news is that there are some really amazing presses, like my publisher Bold Strokes Books, that specialize in LGBTQ-themed books. Swans & Klons was published under Bold Strokes Books’ Soliloquy imprint, which exclusively publishes LGBTQ-themed YA novels. Small presses like these now publish the lion’s share (a clear plurality, anyway) of all YA novels with LGBTQ themes. So in a way I think it’s easier to sell an LGBTQ-themed book, as long as you know where to send it.
In S&K, a lot of German slang and phrases are used (which I loved, by the way). Are you German? If not, what made you pick German?
I am not German. But my grandmother came from a part of Moravia where at that time everyone spoke German, including Jews. When she moved to the USA, she learned English and also Yiddish. When I was writing Swans & Klons, I made it take place in a country that closely borders another extremely different country. It made me think of the city my grandmother was from, Mahrisch Ostrau, which she always told me was right across the bridge from Polnisch Ostrau, which was in another country. (Today they are one city in the Czech Republic, called Ostrava.) So I based the setting on that, and that’s where the German came from. There are also some Polish names and words, like Panna.
Some authors need to be in a certain spot or be drinking a certain flavor of coffee when they write. Do you have any quirky things that you do while you write?
I rest my hand on a little jack o’lantern-shaped stress ball.
Choose a side: Is one M&M flavor better than the rest?
All M&Ms are good, EXCEPT for the blue ones! No food should be blue, unless it is natural, like a blueberry. Blue is for drain cleaner and anti-freeze and other stuff you shouldn’t ingest. Sometimes I pick out the blue ones and put them in the compost, but sometimes I just eat them even though they are WRONG. :)
Personally, I like the brown ones the best! Speaking of candy, my girlfriend and I were just recently discussing our coming out stories over some late night chocolates. When did you "know" that you were LGBT? How did you come out?
I was a late bloomer. I was not really interested in females until I was 26, and then I fell for this intelligent, funny, beautiful, kind woman. Who is now my girlfriend. Score! So it’s kind of funny that I write about queer teens, since I actually never was one. There’s a lot of talk about “born this way,” and it’s often true, but sexuality can be very fluid, especially if you fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. What was great is that I was raised with complete respect and acceptance for queer people, so when I realized I was one, I didn’t have a moment’s heartache about it, and I got to come out without too much anxiety. I also attribute my halcyon coming out experience to the influence of all the queer books I read as a teen, so I’m trying to pass the torch.
My girlfriend and I were also very fortunate, in that our families were accepting and kind about the matter. If you could extend a dinner invitation to one person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
That is such a great question! It’s hard to choose just one. Right now, I’d choose Morrissey, just because I adore him so much. I’d probably make him mac and cheese.
Oh, that is definitely a good choice. Now, it's a rainy, stay-in kind of night. What movie are you most likely to pop into the DVD player?
Well, on Monday it was a rainy, stay-in kind of night, and I chose “The Thing,” the 1982 John Carpenter remake. That movie is unbelievably scary, and I love a movie where the stakes are not the characters’ lives, but the survival of the human race.
I'll have to check it out! As much as I hate to admit it, I'm kind of a passive person. Do you think that if you were in the story of S&K that you would be able to act as Rubric and Salmon Jo did? (I wish I could say that I knew I could in that situation!)
I think I’m like Rubric and Salmon Jo in that I would take action even though the injustices don’t affect me personally that much. But I think I would very quickly get discouraged and quit when I didn’t get immediate results. I don’t think I have what it takes. That’s my assessment based on my dwindling involvement with real-life activism. I have read a couple reviews in which the reviewers said they thought Rubric was whiny or lacked conviction. I thought that was spot on and it made me feel like I’d written stark realism. I think that’s exactly how a lot of people, myself included, would be if we had to flee our comfortable lives and fight slavery.
Are there any plans to continue the story of Salmon Jo and Rubric beyond Swans & Klons? Do you have any other writing projects currently in the works?
Yes, I have plans of writing sequels to Swans & Klons and relating Rubric and Salmon Jo’s later adventures. But my next book, coming in 2014 from Bold Strokes Books/Soliloquy and currently titled “Frenemy of the People,” is set in our ordinary world and is about two high school girls who hate each other with the passion of a thouand suns. . . until they fall in love. It will have the same kind of tone but is not science fictional.
If you could offer one piece of advice out there to young members of LGBT community, what would it be?
They’re awesome, so they probably don’t need my advice. Carry on as you are! But to anyone in a crisis or struggling with coming out or having suicidal thoughts, I would recommend calling the Trevor Helpline, where they’re eager to help you out. It’s 866-488-7386.
I have to agree. The Trevor Helpline is an amazing source. I've called it myself. Nora, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today...
...But before you go, just for fun, I have a few word associations. Just say the first thing that comes to mind.
Now here's my review!
Title: Swans and Klons
Editor: Nora Olsen
Format: egalley edition
Pub. Date: May 14th 2013
Source: NetGalley & Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
In the future of the planet Earth, there is no longer a need for males. No longer are women subjected to the disgusting man creatures, and they don't have to go through the awful, painful, barbaric ritual of child birth. There are only women, chosen to be descendants of 300 superior females, and only from those 300. And then there are the Klons- the lesser minded, not-quite-humans that serve the Society and do the jobs that no one else wants to, like cleaning and driving. Light on rules and fairly peaceful, Rubric wasn't one to question the ways of Society, until together with her girlfriend, Salmon Jo, they uncover a disturbing truth- Klons may not be different from humans at all. The girls must decide where they stand, what they will risk, and how to unravel the knitted lies that they have been fed all of their lives.
I have to say, I'm quite impressed by this book. It falls in two of my favorite book genres- dystopian and LGBT. Though this book isn't without faults, I would definitely recommend it.
+ I love the combination of blending the two aforementioned themes. I am a huge fan of dystopian fiction, and this is the first book I have ever encountered with such a strong queer theme. It gave the novel a very unique plot line, and will make it stand out in my mind.
+Because of the lesbian motif of Swans and Klons, I found it more relatable than most other books of the same genre. I was able to more vividly experience Rubric's emotions- from love to separation and grief- since they were emotions directed at a female. I often thought of my own girlfriend and myself in their place. Like Salmon Jo and Rubric, one of us is very practical and no nonsense, and the other is artistic and almost too imaginative.... I won't divulge which of us is which!
+As with other dystopian novels, I like this book because it was disturbing. Books with futures that are almost utopias scare me more than horror books ever could, and this one was no exception. The unique twist of genetically identical people being created only to be slaves is creepy, at the very least, though I mean it in the best way possible.
-My faults with the book were few, but still hindered my reading experience. The first was the lack of romance and affection between Salmon Jo and Rubric. Often times they seemed blatantly cold and plastic towards one another. I wish there would have been more sweetness, so that I could dive deeper emotionally into the plot.
-The only other problem that I had with this book was a few word redundancies that got old really quick. The words "thicko" and "veruckt" were used with an alarming abundance. I'd definitely switch up those words now and then.
I sincerely hope that Swans and Klons is the first book in a series, or at least a two-parter. Nora Olsen has made a new fan in me with her new, queer-friendly take on dystopian fiction. Fans of books such as Beta or Uglies should check this book out. If gay themes or relationships offend you, than this is NOT a book for you!
Thank you to NetGalley and Bold Strokes Books, Inc. for my e-copy
About the AuthorNora Olsen's debut novel, The End: Five Queer Kids Save The World, was published by Prizm Books in December 2010. It's the story of five LGBT teens who must travel through time to avert a nuclear war. Her next YA novel, SWANS & KLONS, is forthcoming from Bold Strokes Books' Soliloquy imprint.
Be sure to check out Nora's Goodreads page to stalk her publications including her YA dystopian book, Swans and Klons. Click the picture below for the Goodreads pages. Swans and Klons is available now on Amazon. Buy your copy right here.
Images provided by the author and Goodreads.com