I first met Lee at in August 2011 at the poolside LGBTQ meeting during the annual SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles. I met several other wonderful kid lit people at thous meeting including Judy Blume and Emma Dryden. I guess these meetings are the in place to be, and they have grown under Lee’s guidance, each year gathering more attendees at the summer and winter conferences. Lee has his finger ins so many different pies in children’s literature, I felt he would be a great contributor to this series. I have been following his personal blog, “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?” for several years and always read his SCBIW blog posts.
[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?
[LW] I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, went to college in West Philly, grad school in Boston, and moved to Los Angeles a few years later. But more important to my journey was that I was closeted until my 20s. Finally living out and proud as a gay man transformed the landscape of my life in ways much richer than I ever dreamed. Then, about eight years ago, allowing myself to write the stories (and blog) that would have changed my life if I’d read them as a young person took my work to that next level. I was “writing in blood,” as a friend and mentor put it—writing about what really matters to me. And that changed everything.
[JM] Lee, as someone who took their time to come out, I can’t tell you how much I relate to “writing in blood.” Tell us a little of your beginnings and evolution as a blogger?
[LW] When I was growing up, there were NO positive portrayals of LGBTQ characters in works for kids or teens. Then, about nine years ago, I realized there were a few. A handful of books. And I was so excited to find them! Reading them for my inner teen made me hungry for more, but I soon discovered there was no safe place online to discover what was out there. Online reviews were full of negative comments, about how any book with gay or lesbian characters was not appropriate for young people, even if it was a lovely picture book all about how love is what makes a family, like “And Tango Makes Three.” (A picture book that was in the top ten most challenged books in America for more than five years!)
So I set out to create that online safe space. In addition to kid and teen books with LGBTQ characters and themes, my social commentaries, cool resources, music videos, Gay-Straight Alliance club conversation starters, and posts about amazing things I’ve learned about LGBTQ history have made it more robust. The blog has done very well, winning awards and just passing 1.6 million visits. It’s called “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?” and at this point lists over 400 books!
[JM] What book(s) do you still have fond memories of from your childhood?
[LW] I was obsessed with Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders series. So much so that my family would tease me when I was off reading somewhere, “Where’s Lee?” “Oh, he’s on Pern.” There was adventure, friendship with dragons!, and a read-between-the-lines gay element that made me yearn for an actual gay character.
I was also a huge fan of Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” reading it nine times in as many years. Problem was that an evil pedophile villain was the only glimpse of non-heteronormative people in that universe.
But I loved Fantasy and Science Fiction. Maybe one day I’ll write it, too…
[JM] Oh, man, I loved The Dragonriders too.What do you write/ are you working on at the moment?
[LW] I’m fascinated by the history I was never taught – men who loved men, women who loved women, and people who lived their lives outside gender boundaries. I’m working on a middle grade nonfiction book about just that, and on a picture book that takes one of those true stories from history as inspiration and makes it an epic love story, like Cinderella. Only this is a love story between two men from more than 2,500 years ago in China!
It’s called “Love of the Half-Eaten Peach,” because the true story of Duke Ling of Wei and Mi Zi Xia was so famous that in Chinese the expression ‘Love of the Half-Eaten Peach’ was used for centuries as we use the word ‘gay’ in English, to describe two men in love. I’m really excited about it.
[JM] How has being a member of SCBWI helped your writing career? (And kudos for being our 2015 SCBWI member of the year!)
[LW] SCBWI helped me go from wanting to write for young people to actually doing it. And having some idea of what the heck I was doing! From wanting an agent to getting the perfect one for me. SCBWI told me my voice matters, and included me in the original group of bloggers that formed Team Blog. They continue to believe in my voice, giving me the honor of blogging for them twice a week at SCBWI: The Blog and of leading Team Blog at their two annual international conferences in New York and Los Angeles. SCBWI gave me a community that’s passionate about supporting each other and believes in the power of stories to make kids’ lives—and our world—a better place. SCBWI is where I found my tribe, and realized I belong.
[JM] You have been an activist in the gay community for many years, what changes have you seen with regards LGBTQIA children’s books and the industry over the last decade or so?
[LW] They exist! And not just off to the side, as a footnote. While the numbers could be more proportional to the population (we’re still not seeing anywhere near 10% of books for kids and teens featuring LGBTQ characters or themes), LGBTQ-inclusive titles are getting more respect, both in terms of buzz (like Alex Gino’s middle grade novel “George”) awards (like Jandy Nelson’s 2015 Printz Award-winning “I’ll Give You The Sun”) and on the best-seller lists (like Rainbow Rowell’s New York Times Bestselling YA “Carry On!”) Along with the increasing focus on diversity and intersectionality (that everyone’s more than one thing, and that identities combine, like you can be Latina and a lesbian), it’s an exciting time to be a writer, a blogger and to work in children’s and teen publishing!
[JM] What is your favorite LGBQTIA kids’ book of the moment?
[LW] I really liked all three of the above, and have to give an additional shout out to the LGBTQ twist in the latest (#12) Captain Underpants, “Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot.” It’s pretty epic. And wonderful!
[JM] Tell us about your new job with Little Pickle Press (a publisher I greatly admire and some of whose books I have reviewed. Look out for my latest LPP review this Friday!)
[LW] Thanks! Becoming Little Pickle Press’s Vice President of Digital, Communications and Community Engagement was an easy decision because their vision is so aligned with mine, “Media for a Better World.” And as a B Corporation, they want to live their make-the-world-better values in everything they do. Every Little Pickle Press story is artisanally crafted, printed on recycled paper with soy inks in the Americas. They even have a gender-neutral intergalactic love story picture book, “Snutt the Ift,” that took me by complete—and wonderful—surprise when I read it!
Every book we (I’ve transitioned to ‘we’!) put out is important and compelling, and underneath the ‘what a great story’ are core values that we hope young people and their adults will talk about. Like Being Green. Being Authentic. Being Kind.
It’s a great place to work, and a great group of people. I feel truly fortunate to be part of the team.
[JM] What does your work space look like?
[LW] Imagine a pile. Of piles. And papers. And books. Now add a computer. A bottle of water. Sticky notes all over the wall. My framed SCBWI 2015 Member of the Year plaque. Some of my daughter’s artwork. And a small cleared space right in front for me to tackle the current project.
[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?
[LW] I did these large canvases with my daughter about 7 years ago. They’re five feet square. Our secret art tool? Empty ketchup bottles from a restaurant supply store. The spray of watered-down black paint was legendary. (So was the mess!) I still love them.
Five Fun Ones to Finish? [JM] What’s your favorite park (state, urban or national) in the world?
[LW] Public beaches. Everywhere, but particularly in Venice, California. And Hawaii.
[JM] Cats or dogs?
[LW] Neither, sorry. Allergic.
[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?
[LW] I’m allergic to cats and dogs.
[JM] I get you. No one seems to believe dog allergies. First paid job after high school?
[LW] My first “real” job was as a researcher for a museum exhibit design firm. We were pitching an interactive science museum that would be housed in an old train station.
[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[LW] I’m all about green smoothies these days. ½ a blender of fruit. ½ of greens (Kale or chard). fill blender 1/3 with coconut water. Add a handful of ice. Some water. Protein powder. Blend. Drink. Feel powered up!
Thanks for this opportunity, Joanna! Lee Wind
Lee, thank you so much for all you do for the children’s literature community and to empower children and young adults to be true to themselves. I look forward to our next meeting. To your continued success!
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
- Lee’s personal blog, “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?”: http://www.leewind.org/
- SCBWI: The Blog: http://scbwi.blogspot.com/
- Little Pickle Press: http://www.littlepicklepress.com/
- Lee on twitter: https://twitter.com/leewind
- Lee on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/leewind