'I wanted to give LGBTQ+ teens their very own adventure' - Darren Charlton on LGBTQ+ inclusion in writing for teens
Published on: 28 February 2020 Author: Darren Charlton
Wranglestone author Darren Charlton explains why he wants to write adventure stories for LGBTQ+ teens.
My young adult debut novel Wranglestone has been a long time coming.
It took a while for the whole story to start coming into my head. I was working full time in social care writing at weekends so as much as it pains me to say, it took me a good three years to get the manuscript in good working shape followed by another eighteen months from book deal to publication. But that time really allowed the world of the book to live and develop inside me in ways that make it so easy to dip back into now I have it there. I can go back whenever I want to.
Wranglestone is a love story between two boys set in the American wilderness fifteen years after the zombie apocalypse. When I was growing up in the 80s, the only way I stood a chance of seeing myself (or future self) reflected in books and film was in the troubled adult worlds of Joe Orton and Edmund White, when all I needed was for Tom Sawyer to fall in love with Huck or Luke Skywalker to swing across that chasm with Han. So, for my debut I wanted to give LGBTQ+ teens not an issue based or coming out story, but their very own adventure and for other readers, a coming of age thriller and mystery that just happens to have a gay relationship at its heart. Inside this, all my loves and preoccupations are on display; the national parks of America I’ve spent so much time exploring, winter and snow, the science fiction as social allegory works of Matheson (I am Legend) and the widescreen worlds of film classics like True Grit.
So, Brokeback Mountain meets The Walking Dead, for teens!
In terms of story topic, the commercial horror hook (that the Dead could cross a lake once it’s frozen) was an idea that enabled me to smuggle through a dystopic science-fiction novel in The Revenant’s clothing, and it was there from the very beginning because dystopia had seemingly peaked in 2015.
What gave me the idea to set Wranglestone in this really creepy atmospheric snowy national park-esque setting? Well, I love snow, winter, pine trees. All that stuff. I’ve spent a fair bit of time hiking and camping the National Parks of America and go hiking every year near Mont Blanc just to be near snow and glaciers. It’s as much a part of my DNA as Star Wars and being gay.
I’ve been asked how hard it was to get Wranglestone published considering my story centres around two gay teenagers, and whether I think it’s harder to get published if a story contains LGBTQ+ topics.
There’s a precedent out there for contemporary LGBTQ+ issue-based stories and romantic dramas. It feels like a comfort zone for publishers to deliver LGBTQ+ voices in this way, but I think that the casual inclusion of LGBTQ+ protagonists in genre fiction where their sexuality is neither the topic or the issue, still causes pause. I remember during submission, one publisher commented on how they could see Wranglestone on awards lists, but passed on it. I still think it’s the case that publishers buy one or two titles a year under the ‘diversity’ umbrella. I expect they’re considered a gamble. I only mention all this to highlight just how difficult it is – I had something like fifteen rejections - and to highlight how wonderful Little Tiger Press were not to see Wranglestone as either a risk or niche.
But I must point out that Wranglestone is keeping good company this year. Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn, Helen Corcoran’s Queen of Coin and Whispers and, of course, Infinity Son by Adam Silvera, all feature LGTBQ+ protagonists in genre. For younger readers there are adventure stories such as LD Lapinski’s The Strangeworlds Travel Agency and detective stories such as Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike books, where young LGBTQ+ characters get to have fun and excitement just as their heterosexual counterpart protagonists would without question.
When it comes to including incidental representation in genre fiction for teens, specifically in Wranglestone, it was really important to me to have two gay boys in love and in charge in their own adventure story but for the story itself to have wide enough appeal that it’s neither here nor there that the romance happens to feature two boys. There was something quite subversive about deliberately writing within certain genres that have been the bastion of ‘boy’s own stories' like the Wilderness adventure, Western and Science Fiction and make them LGBTQ+. Above all, if one young person reads this and it mirrors their own feelings back to them and, by doing so, shows them that there’s a place for them out in the world, then that’d make me very happy.
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