“Find your voice.” It’s the advice oft dealt out to aspiring writers, but for Stacey Malacari, founder of queer young adult (YA) literature resource website Get YA Words Out, it took on an even greater meaning.
Having recently won both first and second prize in this year’s Outstanding Short Story Competition for her entries He/Him and Regular Boring Sex, it was while working on her first full length manuscript that Malacari spotted the need for a queer-focused YA writers’ site.
“The resources were very scattered, so I thought as the ultimate procrastination I’d build a site to house it all,” she says. “There’s a lot of disconnect between the people who are writing, reading and publishing [queer YA] and it’s so vital that we can talk when issues come up or share each other’s successes and help each other out.”
The tyranny of distance also played a part in Malacari setting up the Get YA Words Out website, based as she is in Perth, WA, and with much of the industry centred in Sydney or Melbourne. This way, it doesn’t matter where a queer writer is located, they can stay connected. That makes it the ideal subject for a session at this year’s Digital Writers’ Festival (DWF) – a live-streamed online festival celebrating the work of Australian and international writers.
Malacari will take part in an event also going by the name Get YA Words Out that focuses on how online forums can help queer writers get their voices heard in the wider YA literary community. Malacari will be joined by colleagues including fellow aspiring writer and children’s book buyer/seller Michael Earp, Ida author Alison Evans, non-binary poet Rae White and LGBTIQ youth support worker and editor/writer Jordi Kerr.
They’ll also discuss the importance of getting the voices of LGBTIQ characters right, particularly if authors don’t identify as queer themselves. “I’m super for non-queer writers writing queer characters,” Malacari says. “I’d love to see a queer character in every single YA book. You ask anybody, they have a queer friend, aunt or neighbour, whoever - we are everywhere. But what I want to see is them being written authentically.”
And that comes down to doing the research, Malacari says. “The same way you wouldn’t write about a person of colour, or a different religion or even profession without doing your research. You can’t write a detective novel if you know nothing about police work. I want people to take writing queer characters seriously because a lot of things that come out are problematic.”
That includes queer authors writing across the LGBTIQ spectrum. “I identify as queer and female, so when writing a transgender character, or a gay male character, I would expect that same standard from myself,” Malacari adds.
Queer authors can encounter obstacles getting their work out there, Malacari suggests, which isn’t hard to imagine given the furore surrounding the Safe Schools program. “When you are writing young adult fiction, a lot of your income and your marketing is in school talks and having your books in school libraries, and there can be a problem that comes up if you are an out writer. Your personal sexuality becomes controversial, in a way.”
Malacari’s looking forward to tackling some of these big issues during the DWF panel discussion. “We’ve got a few different parts of the industry coming together to talk about how we are connecting with the stories, which is exciting. DWF and the internet in general have allowed me to push this kind of thing and make stuff happen.”
“Any opportunity you get to support other people in telling their own stories or stories that are important to other queer people is a good thing to be a part of,” he says. “I’ve always felt when I read a book that even if there is a minor, fleeting part for a queer character, I have this moment where I’m like, ‘I exist in this universe,’ and that’s a really important thing to grab onto.”
He argues digital resources have a much wider reach than a school library and that they are easier to access for LGBTIQ readers who may not be out as yet or are but don’t have queer friends to share information with. That’s reality for many teenagers is close to Earp’s heart, growing up as he did in a very religious family on NSW’s Central Coast.
With several short stories published, Earp’s currently working on a YA novel manuscript loosely based on his teenaged experiences and the intersection of religion and sexuality. “I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to about it and so a lot of that I kept hidden. I had to rely on TV shows and movies with their tiny glimpses of gay people to work out how I fitted into that world. I feel like it’s a crusade at times, but that’s why I’m so passionate about this.”
The Digital Writers Festival runs from Oct 24 – Nov 3. Get YA Words Out streams on Saturday, Oct 28. For more info or to catch sessions online, click here.