Tag Archives: The Porcupine of Truth

Authors on Craft: Bill Konigsberg on Surprises

honestly-benI write for the surprises.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like the moments when it feels like I have some semblance of control over my story, and I know what I want in a scene, and it happens correctly, and the prose feels solid and evocative.

But the best is when something happens as I’m writing that surprises me. Because in my experience, those surprises are where the magic lives.

Here’s an example: In my novel HONESTLY BEN (coming from AAL Books/Scholastic, March 28th) I have two characters who are in love but struggling to admit it. One is a gay boy named Rafe. He has known he’s in love with Ben for a long time, but he also is aware that Ben isn’t gay, or doesn’t consider himself to be gay. They had a fling but it didn’t work for various reasons, and there was a lot of pain for both characters.

Now they’re trying to negotiate their feelings and their relationship, and in a scene I wrote for the middle of the book, I have them beginning to get closer, beginning to regain trust. I had them going for a late night drive to the ocean in frigid February in Massachusetts. I went into writing the scene with no real goal except for them to come away from the scene feeling more in tune with each other.

I thought they might run into the ocean naked together. Yes, that would be chilly! That was just a thought of what might happen.

Instead, as I wrote, I found Ben chasing Rafe in a joking sort of way along the hard sand.

And then: a surprise.

Ben leaps and tackles Rafe. Hard. On the sand. And they wrestle. In a serious way. I was not expecting that! I thought they’d dealt with a lot of their feelings, but it was so, so right, and I knew it as it happened. They quarrel verbally while wrestling, and when it’s done, they’re better.

That there is a surprise! As I was writing, my skin got all shivery.

There was a level, a layer, of passion that I did not understand until the tackle and wrestling appeared, and it carried me, it gave me a sense of momentum that would carry the book to its climax. Without the surprise, I simply don’t know how I would have moved forward.

Sometimes our best plans aren’t good enough, and we don’t know it. Not until a surprise appears.

And I guess my point is that when our novels take an odd turn, we have a choice. We can nix it. We can decide it doesn’t fit into our perceived ideas of what the book is, or what is going to happen. We can steer the ship rather than allowing the ship to turn on its own. That’s my prerogative.

But I tend to think that when a surprise happens, I need to have a little faith that it means something. That I should follow it, and see where it leads. Because to me, surprises are God-or-Whatever’s way of showing up and leading me somewhere.

And I’m going to follow!

konigsberg headshotBill Konigsberg is the award-winning young adult author of four novels. THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH won the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Stonewall Book Award in 2016; OPENLY STRAIGHT won the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor, and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in 2014; His debut novel, OUT OF THE POCKET, won the Lambda Literary Award in 2009. HONESTLY BEN, available in March 2017, has already received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal. Bill is Assistant Professor of Practice at The Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. He lives in Arizona with his husband, Chuck, and their Australian Labradoodles, Mabel and Buford.


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Stonewall Book Award winner for YA Literature

imgresThis morning, my client Bill Konigsberg accepted the Stonewall Book Award for young adult literature for his novel, THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH. Here is the text of his acceptance speech. I am so very proud to represent this man and help his words resound in the world.

Thank you so much. Thank you to those on the Stonewall Award committee. I was blown away to learn about this honor, especially in a year with so many stellar young adult books that depict diverse aspects of the LGBTQ experience. I am honored simply to have my work considered on the same level as some of these incredible novels.

Thank you to my family at Scholastic, whom I happen to love, dearly. Cheryl Klein, my editor, will forever be the person in my life who saved me. Seriously. Before my second novel, Openly Straight, found a home, I thought it was quite possible I’d never be published again. This possibility terrified me, because I had so much more to say. Cheryl gave me a chance, despite not-so-stellar sales numbers for my first book, Out of the Pocket. And I will forever be grateful for that opportunity, and also for her brilliance as an editor.

Thanks to my agent, Linda Epstein. She believed in me when my own belief was faltering.

Thanks to my husband, who is my biggest supporter and fan. When I met Chuck 12 years ago, suffice it to say that relationships were not a part of my skill set. And then I met the perfect person for me, and I had to figure it out really quick. There have been times I haven’t been quite up to the task, but Chuck has been patient with me and I didn’t know it was possible to love someone as much as I love Chuck Cahoy. It just keeps getting better.

I have so many more people to thank, but I could literally spend the next 10 minutes thanking people. I hope that I’ve been good about sharing my gratitude with all of those for whom I am grateful, because, well, I have a lot I want to say and I don’t want to put you to sleep.

I wrote this book because far too often in my experience, LGBTQ people are made to feel as if the religious/spiritual realm is not our place. And I think that’s awful. I believe the cosmic mystery is a gift for all of us, and I wanted to reclaim it for young LGBTQ people. I know… ambitious.

In The Porcupine of Truth, 18-year-old Aisha Stinson is kicked out of her home for being a lesbian. At the end of the journey of the book, she says she’s “scrambled.” When asked what that means, she says, “I’m sad. But also I’m done. Like truly done with them. And I’m done letting them own God. Nobody gets to use God as a weapon against me anymore. I just fucking reject that stuff. Nobody owns my God.”

I can’t tell you how much the mass shooting at Pulse here in Orlando brought this home for me.

I’m done, too. Completely and utterly done, and here’s what I think:

It’s time for a religious revolution. For us all to rise up and say no to those who would use God as a weapon. Whether it’s telling people they cannot love who they love, based on race, or religion, or sexual or gender orientation. Or that they are lesser in the eyes of God. This is for the false prophets who claim to speak for God, yet utter any phrase that contradicts the idea that we should endeavor to love each other, all of us. For those who would pass off their hatred of LGBTQ people to their children, children who may be mentally ill and yet still have unlimited access to weapons of mass destruction because of the absurd power wielded by certain organizations, organizations which seem to own politicians to such a degree that it doesn’t matter that 90% of Americans wish to see stricter gun control laws.

It’s high time for us—all of us, by the way—to embrace progressive spiritual and religious leaders who reject violence, hate, and bigotry. You don’t have to believe to embrace. And the reason to embrace them is that they have the power to influence so many people. And it’s time for us as a society to say NO MORE to those who would have us believe that God hates anything.

In The Porcupine of Truth, an older gay man named Turk tells Carson and Aisha, “Rigidity is dangerous. When someone tells you they know exactly what God is, run from that person.”

Another character, Laurelei, says that whatever a person believes to be true about God is utterly, undeniably true, so long as you add two words: “For me.”

I so want to live in a world where we can all celebrate NOT knowing, together. Where we can all have our own notions of what God is or is not, whether they come from the Bible, the Koran, or any number of amazing sources. To me, that’s what I want written on my gravestone. That in some small way, I helped create a world where we’re all allowed to explore ideas and express them to each other, without someone having to be right. And know they’re right. That’s the danger.

And that’s where we come in, writers and librarians. Toni Morrison, the greatest living American writer, says, “All the books are questions for me. … I write them because I don’t know something.”

We as writers and proponents of literacy would do well to keep this in mind. We can practice not knowing the answer, seeking the elusive Porcupines of Truth that are just out of our grasp, and we can model how literature helps us to understand the minds, actions and perspectives of other people. It doesn’t offer answers, but it offers great questions, and those young people who begin to seek their own answers will become tomorrow’s leaders. If you’re putting good books in the hands of young people, you are helping to create this better world. I believe that to be true.

And beyond that, by displaying titles with LGBTQ protagonists in your library, you send the message to teens who are LGBTQ that they matter, and to those who aren’t that you don’t have to be LGBTQ to read these books. The first is life-saving. The second is world-changing.

In case you don’t believe that books save lives, let me tell you a story. Recently, a teenage fan from Missouri friended me on Facebook. A couple weeks ago, he asked me if I could talk to him about how to come out to his very conservative, religious family. I told him I’d be happy to do so, but that I needed a few days to gather my thoughts. Also, I was on vacation.

The night before I was set to talk to him, I saw he had posted on Facebook that his stepfather had outed him to his mother, and it hadn’t gone well. His mother had told the rest of the family, and they were all screaming at him that he was being possessed by Satan. His mother put him in Christian counseling, restricted his access to friends, and threw out all of his books.

I spoke to him the next day. He said losing his books was the worst part of it. He said books were his “low-key boyfriend.” What a great kid.

Here’s something he said to me by message that day: “I want a boyfriend. I can’t have that. I want my amazing romance novels. I can’t have that. I was to be able to say, ‘hey guys, I’m gay.’ I can’t. I am tired of ‘I can’t.’

“’I can’t’ are literally the worst two words in my life.”

Let’s you and me work to make a world for the millions of kids out there like my friend where they can say, with confidence, “I can.”

Bill Konigsberg won the Lambda Literary Award for his first novel, OUT OF THE POCKET. He won the SCBWI Sid Fleischman Award for humor for his second novel, OPENLY STRAIGHT. He was awarded the Stonewall Book Award for his third novel, THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH. For the rest of this month you can purchase the Kindle version of THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH for just $2.99. 



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GLBTQ Pride Celebration Sale and Give-aways!

3uPR6zVY_400x400It’s no coincidence that a huge double rainbow was seen over New York City yesterday and here in Long Island where I live I saw a gigantic full rainbow, too. Because… June is National LGBT Pride month! Known just as Pride among most of my friends, gay and straight alike, it’s a month of rainbow waving parades, marches, readings, and celebrations.

On June 28, 1969, police raided a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City, called the Stonewall Inn, which kicked off a series of riots. Out of that event, those riots, and a long history of discrimination and persecution, GLBTQ activism and the modern day GLBTQ rights movement was born.

As a GLBTQ ally and the agent of the 2016 Young Adult Stonewall Book Award winning, THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH by Bill Konigsberg, I’m celebrating Pride in my own bookish way. First of all, I want to let you all know that THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH ebook is on sale for just $2.99. If you haven’t read it yet, why not?! Click here to buy it right now! And if you want a hardcover copy of THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH, I’m giving one lucky winner a copy (see below for how to win).

imgresNot only did THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH (AAL Books/Scholastic, 2015 )win the Stonewall Book Award, it also got starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal, was on the 2016 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list, the ALA’s 2016 Rainbow List, and received many other accolades and recognitions. I’m very proud to represent Bill Konigsberg and his work, and I urge everyone, gay or straight, teen or adult, to read this book. It’s about a road trip, finding family,not getting the girl, looking for God, AIDS, bad puns, and the Billings, Montana Zoo. Trust me. You want to read it.

I’m also giving away an advance reader copy of GIRL MANS UP by M-E Girard, which doesn’t even come out until the fall (see below for how to win).

girlmansup (1)GIRL MANS UP (HarperCollins, September 2016) is about a queer teen named Pen who realizes the only way she’ll get people off her back is by standing up for herself–even if that means her relationships with her friends and her family get messed up in the process. It’s also about a gender-nonconforming teen who struggles to own her identity as a girl when she looks and acts like a boy and everyone around her expects her to be one or the other. You can pre-order it now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or at your nearest independent bookseller.


To win a copy of THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH or GIRL MANS UP, let me know in the comments below what National GLBT Pride Month means to you and how you’ll celebrate. Only one entry per person. All comments are moderated, so please don’t submit twice (i.e. give me time to approve it and post it). All comments must be submitted by midnight, June 9th. I’ll announce the winners here on Friday, June 10th.

Congratulations to wcdameron and Zach J. Payne for winning THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH and GIRL MANS UP. Please email me at linda@emeraldcityliterary.com with your mailing address.





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