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    Entries in James Howe (7)


    Don't miss YA titles

    I'm very excited about two YA books that will hit the shelves soon.

    July 26 watch for James Howe's newest book Addie on the Inside. While Addie is listed as Young Adult, I see this as a book that will really appeal to girls in grades 6-8. This is a novel about knowing yourself and loving yourself just as you are; it's about refusing to accept the labels that others assign to you. And I don't know any group of girls who suffer identify crises like girls in intermediate school. Addie tells her story in verse using a variety of forms. I handed this book to an eight grader at my school, a cheerleader, and asked what she thought. She confirmed that Addie speaks the truth. This is a must-have book for school libraries and a great purchase if you have a pre-teen or younger teenage daughter. And it's a fitting companion to Howe's The Misfits and Totally Joe.

     October 11 is the release date for Andrew Smith's fourth novel, Stick. I don't know what to say about this novel, except . . . wow. This is one of those raw books that stays with you long after you finish that last page and close the cover. I believe all four of Smith's books explore the bond between brothers and best friends. You won't be able to put this one down. And if you haven't read any of Smith's earlier works, you are missing out. Visit his website,, for blurbs on The Marbury Lens, In the Path of Falling Objects, and Ghost Medicine, as well as his newest novel.


    Never before seen footage--Jordan Sonnenblick on the drums!

    Yesterday, the amazing Jordan Sonnenblick spoke to kids at my school. The kids adored him! The teachers adored him! The, um, librarian adored him! Before he left, he graciously granted me a video interview. And he played a snare drum for us between presentations. So, here it is! Jordan Sonnenblick on writing and playing the drums. (And Jordan, please forgive my amateur videography skills.)  I hope you all enjoy it.

    Librarians, if you are looking for a great author visit for your kiddos, pick Jordan. You can email him at [email protected]. And buy his books!

    Buy them all for your library or even for someone you love this Christmas, especially a kid who's going through a rough time--an illness, a mistake, a new school. That kid will find new hope in the pages of these amazing books. And if that kid is lucky enough to be trouble free, then he'll (she'll) see those kids who are troubled in a new way. Seriously, go shopping.

    [tweetmeme source="JanetTrumble" only_single=false][A quick note to author James Howe: Jim, you know you're my number one! But Jordan played the freaking drums. And he wore an awesome purple shirt to bring attention to the problem of bullying in our schools and as a tribute to those kids who succumbed to it. But he didn't have an earring, so you know, I still love you best. xxxooo]


    James Howe dishes on Adam Lambert, Barack Obama, and gay rights, and reveals why author Libba Bray might want to watch her back!

    In Parts I and II of my interview with author James Howe (The Misfits, Totally Joe), Jim graciously and freely discusses everything from gay stereotypes to his connection to character Joe Bunch. In Part III, Jim gets even more personal, sharing his feelings on a wide variety of topics.

    Jim in Vermont (notice the one blue egg in the carton)


    Barack Obama. Complicated.  I read both his books before and right after he was elected and was amazed to think we could have such a brilliant and deep thinker, writer, and philosopher as president.  Now I look at him more as a politician and I don’t know whether to be disappointed in him personally or just heave a big sigh for politics in general.  I haven’t given up hope, though.  I think he may still go down in history as one of our great presidents.  I do wish he was more sensitive to LGBT issues, however, and would be more mindful of us as full human beings with the same rights as everyone else.  Ironic that his election is the major civil rights breakthrough that it is, and yet here we LGBT people are, still fighting for full citizenship.

    Twitter. Well, it’s fun to say.  (Although I can never remember which is the verb and which is the noun – “twitter” and “tweet”.)  (Personally, I don’t twitter.)  (Or is it tweet?)

    Writing or acting? Writing.

    Parentheses or Em-dashes? I’m such a parentheses guy.  (Seriously.)

    Libba Bray sings for the first ever YA-author rock band Tiger Beat, which includes Daniel Ehrenhaft, Barney Miller, and Natalie Standiford.  Assuming they’re a Gang of Five just waiting for a 5th (a plot element in The Misfits and Totally Joe) what talents could you offer the band? Not to knock Libba out of the spotlight, but I’m a good singer and love to perform.  Harmony?  Back-up?

    Edward or Jacob? Who?

    New York or Austin? New York, but I love to visit Austin.  In the future, I hope to answer: Vermont, but I love to visit New York and Austin.

    Cats or dogs? I have both.  Please don’t make me choose.

    Left to right - Otis, Mark, Zoey and Jim (Christmas 2009)


    Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Don’t get me started!

    Reparative Therapy. When it’s suggested for heterosexuals we can talk.

    On good natured teasing. I’m all for good-natured teasing.  I think one of the rights LGBT people are fighting for is the right to take ourselves lightly!  When I talk about teasing and name-calling in middle schools, I always try to make the distinction between good-natured teasing and the mean-spirited kind.  One thing that’s very important is that when people banter and tease they have an understanding (usually unspoken) that they’re playing by the same rules and it’s okay to play with each other this way.  I also think it’s important that when someone crosses the line from good-natured to mean (even unintentionally) that the person on the receiving end let the other person know that what they said or did hurt or upset them.

    Neil Patrick Harris, when asked by a teen on Twitter for advice on coming out, said this:  “Stand tall.  Be proud of who you are.  Don’t break promises.  Want to learn.  Represent well.  But more than anything, be safe.”  In 144 characters (the max length of a Tweet), what advice would you give kids who are struggling with authenticity? Speak your truth and open your heart to those who can be trusted to hear your truth and be tender with your heart.  Be strong and kind and be with those who are good for your being. [Note: We’ll forgive him for not knowing that Twitter counts spaces!)

    Adam Lambert has spoken about his theater days and how he was told by his bosses to tone down the gay.  Colin says a similar thing to Joe.  How do you feel about that? I don’t think anyone should have to tone down who they are just so other people can feel comfortable.   I spent years of my early life “toning down” the parts of myself that others read as girly or “queer” (we didn’t use the word “gay” when I was young).  When I came out, one of the things I noticed right away was how my body began to relax, how I was no longer afraid that my gestures or ways of talking would “give me away” or make others laugh or be uncomfortable.  It’s a terrible waste of time and energy to tone down or change who you are just because other people have a problem with it.  He’s so out there, being who he is.  I’ve got to love that.  Maybe he was a lot like Joe when he was a boy! I say:  Go, Adam Lambert, and Go, Joe Bunch!

    I is for Instant Message:  The IM between Joe and Colin following the Halloween hand-holding incident is so touching.  The life lesson (or question) is “There’s a song (not the Beatles) that says we’re “born free,” so how come we have to wait?”  How can straight people best support gays in their struggle for equal rights? First, by putting yourselves in our shoes.  Imagine what it would be like not to be able to marry the person you love, not to feel you can display a photo of your significant other on your desk at work, or talk with your colleagues about what you did over the weekend.  Become aware of your own unconscious heterosexism.  One of my favorite quotes (I saw on a T-shirt) is: “Heterosexuality isn’t normal, it’s just common.”  Think of all the ways you assume that it’s “normal” for a man and a woman to hold hands or a girl and a boy to have crushes on each other, how heterosexuals never have to “come out,” while this process can be a huge and painful struggle for someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.  Imagine what it would be like to be a gay student hearing “that’s so gay” everyday in school.  I have a little poem in the book I’m writing about Addie that goes like this:

    “That’s so gay”
    is an expression I hate.
    Do you mind if I change it
    to “that’s so straight?”

    Being conscious is an important step toward becoming conscientious and acting from what you believe as a result of becoming aware.  At the point of acting, do whatever you can to help your LGBT friends and family (or LGBT people as a class of people, if you don’t happen to know anyone), and think about how you want to deal with the rights you have that are denied to others.  I know of two young straight couples that recently married.  Neither would marry in a state that denied the rights of LGBT people to marry, and one made a point of seeking out a minister who would marry LGBT people.  These acts mean a lot to those of us who are still second-class citizens.

    The other thing I’d say is to not be silent or stand by when you hear antigay slurs or jokes.

    Jima nd Mark in Paris

    Your dedication in Totally JoeM is for Mark.  And so is this book.  Totally.  How has finding your Zachary changed you? [Note: Zachary is a boy that Joe Bunch meets in the novel.) My background is so complicated it often confuses people.  I was married twice to women.  I wrote Bunnicula with my first wife and had a daughter with my second wife.  And now my partner is a man.  Mark and I have been together for nine very happy years.  I loved both women I married, but there was always a part of me that was missing in the relationship – a significant part that couldn’t be there because my partner, through no fault of her own, was simply the wrong gender.  Having found the person I was really meant to be with has enabled me to be fully present, to be fully relaxed and at peace with myself and in my relationship at last.  To describe this feeling as joyful or content doesn’t begin to cover it.  It’s a feeling of being whole.  As time that goes on, I get angrier at people who are so willfully ignorant and hateful that they would deny us our rights and in doing so attempt to deny our very existence and our full capacity to love ourselves and one another.  Having “found my Zachary,” as you put it, means that I can balance this anger with a deeper grounding of love and gratitude.  It means that as frustrated as I may be at injustice and the snail’s pace of progress, I can still wake each morning next to the person I was born to love.

    Jim’s new book, Addie on the Inside, is scheduled for publication Summer 2011, along with a 10th anniversary edition of The Misfits. I can’t wait to see the Gang of Five again, this time through the eyes of the political powerhouse Addie.

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    James (aka Jadon) Howe fesses up to autobiographical elements in Totally Joe

    In Part I of my interview with author James Howe (The Misfits, Totally Joe), Jim acknowledges that character Joe Bunch (Totally Joe) is, in fact, a rewritten version of himself (only, he insists, "[I was] nowhere near as outrageous or brave”). So I had to ask: "Just how much of Joe’s experience is drawn from your own adolescence?" I presented him with a list. His responses are honest, funny, poignant, and Totally Jim! Here's Part II of my interview:

    Easy-Bake Oven phase? Not.  I got the idea of the Easy-Bake Oven from a book I read called Born Gay: Mom should have known when … I couldn’t believe how many gay men had Easy-Bake Ovens when they were little.  It was almost a rite of passage.  So of course Joe had to have one.

    Dresses and heels? Do I have to tell?  Okay, fine, I was a bit of a cross-dresser.  My mother let me have her hand-me-downs, just the way Joe’s mother does.  I think I had a dress-up trunk, but it was not called a “mannaba.”  I have no idea where I came up with that!

    Barbies? Like G.I. Joes, Barbies were a little after my time, though I would have undoubtedly been into them big-time if they’d be around.  I did play with dolls.  I had a favorite (whose name I can’t recall) (told you I love parentheses) who wore a beautiful wedding dress.  Which leads us into …

    Wedding obsession? My oldest brother was married when I was seven.  I fell head over heels in love with my new sister-in-law and the whole idea of getting married.  I insisted my favorite doll had to have a wedding dress.  Since there were no store-bought wedding dresses available, my mother had one made.  The wedding dress story in Totally Joe is totally autobiographical.

    Bert & Ernie? I love Bert and Ernie.  This comes from when my daughter Zoey was a child, not my own childhood.  I can do both voices, which I did as a regular part of entertaining Zoey and her friends – in puppet shows and just goofing around.  My interpretation of  the Q game was much in demand!  Zoey graciously allowed me to keep her two old Bert and Ernie dolls.  They sit atop a bookcase in my office.  Her old Bert hand puppet sits on a shelf.  Sadly, the Ernie hand puppet was lost.  For the record, my favorite of the two (and of all the Muppet characters) is Bert.

    Earring? Yes.  I got an earring when I was in my late forties, which means I’ve had it for some time.  I wanted one for a long time before I got up the nerve to go get my ear pierced.  Zoey, who was seven at the time, went with me to hold my hand.

    Streaked hair? Never did it.  If I were growing up today, I have no doubt I’d go through a streaked hair phase.  As it is, I’d be happy just to have hair!

    Painted pinky? Nope.  I just came up with that out of the blue for Joe.

    Moonet and Pigasso? Well, I love to draw, but I never pretended to be Monet or Picasso – although the kind of goofing around Joe and Colin are doing when they play at being “Moonet” and “Pigasso” in art class is very typical of what I did with my friends growing up.  (And still do with my partner, but that’s our little secret.)

    Kissing rumors? Never had to endure them.

    Tofurky? I did have to endure Tofurky one Thanksgiving.  My niece Julie thought she was being nice by cooking one for my partner Mark, my daughter Zoey, and me.  We’re all vegetarians.  She even tried to make it look nice, surrounding it with roasted vegetables and greens.  It still looked like a cross between a giant cold sore and a football.  I won’t even attempt to describe the taste.  Let’s just say it wouldn’t have made a vegetarian out of even the weakest-willed carnivore.  I do eat lots of other meat substitutes, though, and for the most part they’re yummy.

    JoDan? Autobiographical.  I played with my name a lot when I was young.  I decided I wanted to be an actor at the age of ten and majored in acting in college.  I thought “James Howe” was too boring a name, and besides I grew up at a time when most movie stars were given names by the studios (Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter).  I spent an embarrassing amount of time coming up with names for myself.  My favorites were Sir Reginald Windsor when I wanted to be a serious Shakespearean actor like my hero Sir (later: Lord) Laurence Olivier, and Gordon Windsor when I wanted to be square-jawed Hollywood star like my favorite Western star (and first crush) Clint Walker.  In college, I seriously considered combining my first and middle names – James Donald – into Jadon, and that’s where JoDan came from!  I was an acting major in college.  Somewhere I still have a program for a play I was in where my name is listed as Jadon Howe.

    Cher? Not a fan.  That’s one thing I would change if I were writing the book now.  I don’t imagine a 12-year-old boy today would be enamored of Cher the way Joe is.  I’m afraid I fell back on a cliché – and an outdated one at that – on that point.

    The dump truck with the rainbow bumper sticker? Just made that up.  I love imagining Joe’s grandfather coming up with that idea and giving it as a gift to Joe!

    The bully Kevin Hennessey? He’s not based on any one person in my life, but believe me I knew a number of Kevin Hennesseys growing up.

    Bright green hi-tops? I’d wear them if they made them in my size (13, since I know you’re going to ask), but no, not autobiographical.

    Coming out at age 12? Not remotely.  I came out at the age of 51, after both my parents had died.  I was married, with a daughter who turned 10 a few weeks later.  It was a liberating and very happy moment in my life – to be able to be myself fully, finally – but at the same time a sad and devastating one, because it meant the end of my marriage and my family as we knew it.  I was worried about what would happen to my friendships.  For the most part, my friendships only deepened (now that I could be fully myself), and there were a number of people who reacted like Joe’s family:  “We’ve known all along.”

    Your parents? I was very lucky.  My parents were very much like Joe’s.  When I was in my forties, I asked my mother, “How did you and Dad feel about having a little boy who played with dolls?”  My mother said, “We thought that’s who you were, that’s all.”  That kind of simple acceptance and unconditional love was what I experienced growing up.  I was Joe’s age in the late 1950s, a time when homosexuality was considered immoral, criminal, and a form of mental illness.  Even though my parents were fine with me being a somewhat “girly boy,” I don’t know that they could have as easily accepted my being gay then as they would now, only because of the times in which they lived and the context we all had for grappling with the idea of sexual identity.  But my parents – my dad, especially – were civil rights activists.  I have no doubt that if I were growing up today my parents would be my greatest allies and would be on the frontlines of the gay rights movement.

    In Part III of my interview, Jim dishes on Adam Lambert, Barack Obama, and gay rights, and reveals why author Libba Bray might want to watch her back!

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    James Howe on censorship, stereotypes, catharsis and why kids giggle over character Joe Bunch

    Recently I had the honor of spending the day with James Howe, author of more than 80 books, including the middle grade novels The Misfits (which inspired No Name-Calling Week) and Totally Joe, an alphabiography of a 12-year-old gay boy and one of my favorite books ever! This is the first of my multi-part interview with Jim. I learned three things about Jim that day--he's tall, vegetarian, and one of the most open, honest, and passionate people I've ever met.

    How have schools responded to Joe?
    I never expected Totally Joe to be carried in every school or school library in the country.  I know there are parts of the country where that is very unlikely to happen.  But The Misfits is widely read and taught in schools, and many more schools than I would have thought have Totally Joe in circulation as well.  For the most part, the responses I’ve heard have been very positive.  I do know of a few censorship battles over The Misfits and Totally Joe, and I’m sure there are cases of “silent censorship” that I don’t know about.  As for the students themselves, what I hear mostly is that they love the character of Joe.  Often, when I speak in schools, the students get all giggly and self-conscious about Joe – and some are completely grossed out by the idea of anyone being gay – and that is very much the reason I came to write Totally Joe in the first place.  I wanted kids to get to know – and maybe even like – the kind of person who embodies an idea that makes them giggly, uncomfortable, or grossed out.  My hope is that once they get past the idea to the person they’ll be able to change their attitudes.

    What are your thoughts on gay stereotypes in fiction?
    This is something I struggled with in writing the character of Joe Bunch. I’ve been accused of writing him as a stereotype, but my thinking is this: First, there is a reason stereotypes exist, and that is that many people fit them! Also, it was important to me in creating Joe that I write about just the kind of boy who is so often targeted for gay name-calling and bullying: the boy “who acts like a girl more than a boy much of the time,” as Bobby says about Joe in The Misfits. As I said earlier, I think having Joe like Cher and perhaps a few other choices I made about him tipped the balance too far in the direction of the stereotype, but for the most part I’m very happy with the way Joe is drawn. As writers, we can sometimes go too far in the other direction – trying to make our characters “mainstream” so they’ll be seen as normal and “acceptable” to the majority of readers. The greatest danger I see in writing LGBT characters is in attributing their dysfunction or hardships solely to their sexual identity. The suffering gay person who comes to a tragic end was a staple of early young adult fiction. I would hope those days are well behind us.

    Is there added weight on authors to create gay characters who represent well?
    I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I believe it was the case once upon a time, just as it was with other minorities trying to be recognized as full and equal human beings.

    Why do you think there are more gay characters than lesbian characters in YA and MG lit?
    I really don’t know. I have heard that teen girls love to read about gay boys, especially gay boys in romantic relationships. Since teen girls make a large percentage of YA readers, that may be one reason that more books about gay boys are being published. I’d like to see more books with lesbian and bisexual characters.

    You blurb a lot for gay-themed YA and MG novels. Can you name three you wish you could have read as a teenager?
    Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez. Absolutely, Positively Not, by David LaRochelle. May I add a fourth? Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter Cameron, which not only has a main character who is gay but is also one of the best YA novels (or any novel, period) I’ve read in years.

    In David Levithan’s Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, David uses little hearts and emoticons and other images in his text. You do a little of the same in Totally Joe, especially in "J is for Joe." I know you and David are friends. Did he steal that idea from you?
    No way! David is Mr. Cutting Edge in his books. But he didn’t create the idea any more than I did. Ellen Wittlinger has written an entire book in emails called Heart on my Sleeve and Lauren Myracle has that whole TTFN series written in online chats and emails. I’m sure there are others. Of course, Totally Joe was published in 2001, so I like to think maybe I was the cutting-edge guy in this case.

    Coming out stories – still relevant or yesterday’s drama?
    Still relevant, but can’t wait to see the day (soon!) when they’re not.

    Was writing Joe a cathartic experience for you?
    Absolutely!  After I came out at the age of 51, one of the first emotions I experienced was anger.  I was angry that I had wasted so much of my life being fearful and ashamed over something that was just one part of who I am and should never have been a big deal in the first place.  I was determined to write a character – a rewritten version of myself, if you will – who was growing up gay and feeling good about it.  But I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to write a book entirely devoted to that character while my anger was still so fresh.  I didn’t want to write a diatribe.  So Joe first appeared as one of the four main characters in The Misfits, then was given center stage in Totally Joe. He’s back in Addie on the Inside, the third book with these characters.  I don’t know how long it took me to write him.  As with all the main characters in The Misfits, once I had them in mind they were so alive to me they almost wrote themselves.

    In Part II, James Howe fesses up to the autobiographical parts of Totally Joe. You don't want to miss it!

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