Category Archives: LGBT

Coming Out In A Novel

When I finished writing my first novel, I was ambivalent — should I put it up as an indie book, or try to find an agent and publisher? I liked the autonomy of self-publishing, but the validation of an established literary endorsement was undeniable. So I sent the manuscript to a few people, who passed on it. Then I struck gold: someone in the publishing world was interested. I had not sent a formal query, and our connection was tenuous at best, along the lines of a-friend-of-a cousin-of-an-acquaintance. Still, he had taken a look at my novel, and thought the book had “great potential”. He would, however, require “just one change”.

Just one change? No problem.

I wrote the book in reaction to seeing gay boys bullied in high school. As terrible as the bullying was, the indifference of most students was just as upsetting. At fifteen years old, I knew I’d write about it some day.

The novel tracks a group of friends through one year of high school. As I wrote, I wanted several characters to begin with different brands of homophobia – some subtle, some overt, some violent. I wanted to model many paths to acceptance — some extremely rocky and some relatively smooth. I decided that the story would hold two key LGBT characters – one lesbian girl and one gay boy, both in high school.

I chose to make the girl’s character easy for readers to identify with. She would defy every stereotype, and readers would like her for several chapters before finding out she was gay. Her family’s struggle would model how fine people can make hurtful mistakes, and then get back on a supportive track, stronger than before.

I decided to portray the gay boy from a different angle. I wanted to challenge readers, to paint this boy in a way that was tougher to identify with. My goal was to get my readers behind that character, guiding them to like him and by the end, to respect and admire him. On the surface, he looks like a stereotype, which sets him up as a target for other characters in the story. But as the reader gets to know him, he shatters one stereotype after another.

When I finished the manuscript and received that glimmer of interest from the publishing world, I was extremely ready to make “just one change”. Our email exchange took place toward the end of the gargantuan success of the Twilight movies, and our messages were zooming back and forth with growing enthusiasm. Then he revealed the “just one change”: instead of coming out as a lesbian, my character needed to “come out as a vampire”.

My first thought was that he was joking. (I was wrong.) My second thought was that this would be a great dinner-party-story. (I was right.) My third thought was narcissistic outrage – how rude to boil my writing down to a cost-benefit analysis, to conclude that a key-character-vampire was a better financial bet than a key-character-lesbian. (Get over it; cost-benefit analysis is his job.) My fourth thought was healthy outrage: does this person view himself as respectful of LGBTQIA issues? (I’ll never know.)

I sent a polite message, thanking him for his interest, explaining that I’d take my chances as an indie author and stand by my character — my entirely and imperfectly human character. My writing crosses gay/straight lines, not human/vampire lines.

Did I miss an opportunity when I chose to stick by my original character? Yeah, possibly.

Am I okay with that? Yeah, definitely.

____

Novels by Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to witnessing gay students bullied in high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, brilliant and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of therapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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Filed under indie publishing, LGBT, writing

Spectrum Of Normal

LGBTQIA.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (Queer), Intersexual, Asexual (Ally). Pansexual, as well. More words will follow, and I’m ready to learn them all. Each letter, each word, is important, deserving respect, opening our minds to the full spectrum of sex and sexuality.

Yet, it’s not the “full” spectrum. When people talk about sexuality, Straight seems to have its own separate “spectrum” – more accurately, its own separate throne. There are The Heterosexuals and there are The Others.

My perspective is different. I was raised by a straight mother and father (born in 1922 and 1917) who were absolutely comfortable with gay men and lesbian women. My earliest memories include my parents’ closest friends, couples comprised of a woman and a man, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. This was a part of my life from the cradle. This was, is, and always will be my Spectrum of Normal.

I was eight years old when I learned there were separate words for “straight”, “gay” and “lesbian” couples. I also learned that none of the gay and lesbian couples I knew were married, because they weren’t allowed. I knew the ban on same-sex marriage was just plain wrong, but my reaction to the separate words was mixed. I was comfortable with the words as descriptive language, but extremely uncomfortable with the words as a divisive force. Couples were couples, love was love, people were people. I didn’t have a gay/straight litmus test, and I still don’t.

I hope to see the day when there’s just one sexual spectrum, which will include “S” for “Straight”. This new spectrum will give each letter and each word equal emphasis, equal respect, equal everything. This will be a spectrum of acceptance of the many shades of normal. I don’t categorize Straight Sexuality as separate from Other Sexuality. All of us are individuals on the Spectrum of Normal.

____

Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, and follows one family’s journey after their daughter comes out. Her second novel, Tightwire, includes a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight — as well as a same-sex couple (two women), raising a daughter and a son, who become role model parents to the main character. Amy’s blog has several posts in strong support of LGBTQ+. Check out Amy’s Author Page on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

 

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Filed under Ally Support, Equality, LGBT, sexuality

Reading Guides for Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire

Dear Readers,

I’ve received emails from members of book clubs who are reading my novels. Some asked for a reading guide, so I created one for each novel.

When I give talks, my favorite part is opening the floor to questions. Your ideas always kick-start new ways of thinking within me – and I’m grateful. If you want to respond to the reading guides, feel free to contact me through my website. I love hearing from readers, and I try to respond to every message. http://amykaufmanburk.com

For those of you who are including my novel in your book club, in your classroom, on your  personal list of books to read – thank you so much.

Best,

Amy

READING GUIDES

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

1. As the book opens, Caroline has just transferred from a private school to her local public high school and she is terrified.  But from the start, she shows signs of being much more than scared and intimidated. What are the first signs that Caroline has hidden strengths? Have you ever felt strong inside in ways nobody could see?

2. This novel has lesbian and gay characters, as well as straight characters. Each character adds a vital piece to the story. Yet, unlike many books in the “Gay And Lesbian Literary Fiction” category, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable does not offer explicit details of sex. In writing the story, this was a careful choice I made. What do you think of this decision?

3. A theme of my novel is defying stereotypes. Some of the stereotypes in the story are racial, sexual and gender based. Some are about other kinds of assumptions. For instance, what does it say about a person if he/she is a prostitute, the leader of a gang, a cheerleader, extremely academic? Have you ever felt that others stereotyped you?

4. I wrote my book in reaction to the bullying of gay boys that I witnessed in high school. Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever acted as a bully? Have you ever seen another bullied? How did you handle it? Will you handle it differently next time?

5. A subplot in the book is based on growing up in the film industry. Have you ever been in an environment that was a mismatch for your true self? How did you navigate the situation?

6. From the first chapter, Caroline begins to find friends in her new high school. She builds a friendship group that is racially, sexually and economically diverse. Is that sort of diversity important to you?

7. Several high school characters have secrets – Caroline, The Duke, Valerie. Have you ever held a secret inside, that you were afraid to speak out loud? How does it feel to have a secret?

8. Sexual assault should happen to nobody, but it can happen to anybody. This is a subplot in Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. Have you ever been assaulted? Have you known someone who has been assaulted? Do you have the support you need to heal? (If not, please contact a rape crisis center near you, or talk to a therapist.)

9. When I speak to gay/straight alliances, I often hear stories of adolescents coming out to their families, and getting unsupportive, hurtful responses. I decided to include in my novel one family’s journey to support and acceptance. Have you ever felt unsupported by your family when you most needed support?

I wrote the following blog posts to help families stay supportive and bonded.

“They Came Out And Gay Fills The Room” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/they-came-out-and-gay-fills-the-room/

“When Your Daughter Or Son Comes Out” https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/when-your-daughter-or-son-comes-out/

“If My Child Came Out As Trans”     https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/if-my-child-came-out-as-trans/

10. Homophobia can show itself in many forms. It can be subtle, damaging, hurtful, deadly. Through different characters, I decided to demonstrate different kinds of homophobia, and model different paths to support and acceptance. Have you ever seen someone move from homophobia to support and acceptance? Have you taken that journey to becoming an ally?

11. Readers often tell me they have picked a favorite character in Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable. Do you have a favorite character from the book? What draws you to that character?

12. Do you have an idea to add to this study guide? I’d love to hear from you! http://hollywoodhighbook.com/?page_id=70

Tightwire

1. Tightwire tracks Caroline Black through her first year as a psychology intern, working with her first patient, Collier. As the book opens, Collier feels hopeless. As the book progresses, he discovers his capacity to heal. Have you ever felt hopeless? Have you found a way to heal? (If you need help, please reach out to the resources in your community.)

2. People have all sorts of ideas about therapy and therapists, and their ideas sometimes include a stigma. I hope this novel shows how helpful a “talking therapy” can be, and helps to diminish the stigma. Did the story make the idea of therapy less “strange,” possibly more comfortable?

3. Sexuality can feel confusing, even terrifying. At one point in the story, Collier (the patient) questions his sexuality. Have you ever questioned your sexuality or your sexual identity? How did you resolve your questions? Are your questions still ongoing? (If you need support, please contact an LGBTQIA center near your home. The Trevor Project is also an excellent organization to offer support. http://www.thetrevorproject.org)

4. Two important characters in Tightwire are Jeanne and Tracy, a lesbian couple with two children, who become role-model-parents for Collier. Have you met a same-sex couple with children? Are you comfortable with that family constellation? Why or why not? (If you’re open to growing more comfortable, maybe Jeanne and Tracy can help!)

5. One theme of this book is that if you’re motivated, it’s never too late to change. Do you have parts of yourself that you’d like to change?

6. Sexual assault can happen in many forms. People can feel a wide range of emotions including violated, betrayed, contaminated, frightened…also guilty, confused, depressed, doubting the validity of their own experience. Sexual assault is a part of this novel, and the survivor’s healing is a central theme. Have you ever had a sexual experience which left you feeling assaulted? Were you able to trust the validity of your experience, even if the assault fell outside the legal definition of “rape”? Have you ever felt safe enough to tell another person? (If you need help healing, please reach out to a rape crisis center or a therapist.)

7. In one session with Collier, Caroline (the therapist) has no idea how to handle the situation, and she makes several mistakes. She is certain that she has torpedoed both the treatment and her career. She expects her supervisor to kick her out of her psych internship, and her patient to quit. But to her surprise, her supervisor is supportive and helpful, and her patient comes back to continue working. What does Caroline do that earns the respect of her supervisor, and allows Collier to return to his treatment? Have you ever made a big mistake, and then been given a second chance?

8. Tightwire is structured with chapters that alternate between Caroline’s sessions with Collier, and Caroline’s life as she grows up. Did you find the structure engaging? Why or why not?

9. Do you have an idea to add to this study guide? I’d love to hear from you! http://amykaufmanburk.com

____

Novels By Amy Kaufman Burk

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Caroline Black, 15 years old, leaves her college prep academy for the local public high school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to the bullying of gay students I witnessed in high school.

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now a rookie psychology intern, goes through one year of training, working with her first patient – a young man who is stormy, seductive, complex and troubled. Written in support of healthy sex and sexuality, in support of same-sex parents, and as a voice against the stigma of psychotherapy.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

 

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Filed under Ally Support, bullying, LGBT, Marriage Equality, NoMore, psychological, Stereotypes, therapy, writing