An open letter to Voya Magazine

Context: VOYA recently published a book review that ended on a line containing a biphobic message. Upon receiving complaints, they responded with a poorly constructed, insensitive email (which they later made public, together with a signed, rather personal letter of complaint) and eventually published an apology on their public facebook page, which many (us included) find lacking. This is a public letter from Ink & Locket to VOYA. This letter has also been posted as a comment on their facebook apology.

Dear editor in chief,

It is with the deepest respect for VOYA magazine, and what you are trying to do and are doing for YA librarians and young readers, that I am sincerely asking you to do better.

You have been called out for perpetuating the idea that bisexuality is something dirty; something young children shouldn’t be exposed to the existence of. You have been asked to consider that saying “the story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers” is the same as saying that mentions of a bisexual identity are unsuitable for children.

If we take a step back from this specific review, and imagine a character called Matthew who falls in love with Lisa, would it be natural for VOYA to say “there are mentions of Matthew being straight, and therefore the book is recommended for mature readers”? Probably not. And that is why this is problematic: you have equated bisexuality with something other than a term for who you fall in love with. You have made it inherently sexual. We are sure there were plenty of good reasons to recommend the book to mature readers – swearing and actual descriptions of sex and sexuality, perhaps – but being bisexual is not such a reason.

Now, you seem to partially address this in your apology, as you admit the bisexuality should have been mentioned separately from the age guidance. We are happy you understand and agree with this point. We think it’s great that you want to point out bisexual characters to make it easier for YA librarians to present them to young readers.

However, your apology does not take responsibility for your actions – this being a clumsy wording or mistake, at best, and directly harmful, at worst. In fact, you apologise only that anyone was insulted and/or read the review as biphobic, not for the fact that your reviewer wrote something biphobic. The intention behind it was probably 100% innocent, but the message is not, and the subconscious attitude beneath it is something worth giving a thought.

What was expected was an apology for a harmful sentence and that this sentence was reworded or changed. What you gave was an insulting and hurtful response (which you have even made public on your webpage), and then an apology without an apology.

I sincerely believe this to be a problem caused by a lack of understanding, and not done in any ill-will. But I am asking you to reconsider, reword and do better.

Best regards,

M. Amelia Eikli
Managing director
Ink & Locket Press

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Dear readers and writers,

This week, I am heartbroken.

I am standing in the UK, watching our brothers and sisters in the US tear each other apart. I am watching a country whose police are so high-strung and terrified that fear and prejudice are pulling triggers. A country whose deep-rooted discrimination and gun-control laws put everyone in danger, but especially those in the minorities.

A few weeks ago, after the massacre of our fellow LGBTQIA people in Orlando, we saw suggestions that if the victims had been carrying guns, the casualties would be fewer. Now, again, we see black men shot for carrying guns, or for looking like they’re carrying guns. Not for threatening anyone with them, not for using them: no, they are shot for carrying guns, the very way members of the white conservative Right keep telling us should make us feel safer.

We at Ink & Locket Press want you all to know that we will keep shouting BLACK LIVES MATTER, as a company and as individuals, for as long as it takes to enact change. We will cry out with you for police reform, equality, better gun control, and everyone’s right to feel safe in their own skin.

We will call out people who say “all lives matter” and point out that for that to be true, black lives must matter the same amount – and that right now, we treat them as if they don’t. We will call out people who talk about guns making people feel safer, and show them how lucky and privileged they are to believe that is true.

Most of all, because it’s what we can do, we will keep seeking out great diverse fiction, publishing children’s and YA literature that can make a difference: for the cops and politicians of the future, and for all the children growing up feeling that their skin paints a target on their back.

We will keep striving to amplify your voices and not mute them with our own.

Be safe and love each other,

Amelia, managing director

On representative writing, and an update

It’s time for an update on what’s been going on at Ink & Locket Press.

Next week, we will be announcing our upcoming short-story collection, which is all about warriors and has an LGBTQ+ focus! You’ll start to see some author profiles of our contributors popping up on the blog, and we’ll be sharing some of the experiences we’ve had throughout the project.

We will also be announcing our two upcoming picture books. Both of them feature children with queer parents, but the stories could not be more different. We can’t wait to share them with you!

On top of this, our next call for submissions is right around the corner. Our next short-story collection and picture books will have a focus on disability, and we are excited to see where your stories take you! Own-voices narratives are, as always, strongly sought after. Just remember our motto: diversity shouldn’t be plot, just reality.

And on to a task of ‘representative writing’ that many seem to forget…

The way we see it, if you’re writing representatively, you have a job to do. Your job starts out like this: take an inventory of the stereotypes and presumptions you hold. You might not know you have some of them before the inventory, and most probably, you won’t know about all of them afterwards. Inventorying sucks like that: even after you think you’ve caught them all, there are probably stacks more hidden away in closets that you’ve missed. You might not be trying hard enough to find them, or you might not want to find them—hell, if someone points to the closet and says “you have a ton more in there, man”, you might be offended at the insinuation that you’re hiding them away!—but the fact is, that closet probably exists, and it’s just going to make your job harder. So open the door now, and round up what you can.

Your next task for the day is to file those stereotypes and assumptions away somewhere with a big ‘warning’ sign hanging over the cabinet. The next time you’re writing representatively—or, in fact, writing at all—interrogate the contents of that filing cabinet. If your main character is of colour but she’s been tokenised, turned into the “sassy, big-bootied African queen” without agency while the rest of your characters have more fully developed personalities: you’re not doing your job.

You are not doing your job if the only underrepresented character in your story is a gay woman who gets killed off in the first scene, while the straight people go on fighting. You are not doing your job if all your successful characters have some form of disability but at the same time, you describe all of them as skinny, beautiful and fair-skinned, while all your bad guys are described as overweight and grotesque-looking. That’s not what representative fiction is about for us!

"If you're writing representatively, you have a job to do." Blog post: On representative writing, and an update

[Image: Text reads, “If you’re writing representatively, you have a job to do.”]

At Ink & Locket Press, we want exciting, engaging stories in which the good guys can be fat and fine with that. We want non-magical black women rescuing the damsels in distress. We want bad guys that aren’t the only characters of colour in the whole story, and mentally ill bad guys who are bad not because they’re ‘broken’, but because they’re, well, bad.

We want you to actively examine your writing to see your own subconscious bias. Of course, we do not mean that every character should represent some sort of minority or underrepresented group—not unless that’s what you’re going for. But as a representative writer, whatever that means to you, it’s part of your job to make sure your work is not negatively contributing to dominant cultural presumptions. We know you can do better than that!

This is just one small part of our job as representative writers (or editors, or artists, or filmmakers…), but we believe it’s a part that can’t be overlooked.

Antonica Jones, head editor