My first experience with Brent was a simple one. He sent me an email, asking if he could review my forthcoming (at the time) Young Adult novel Jumpstart the World for his blog, The Naughty Book Kitties. I contacted my Knopf publicist, had a copy mailed to him, and that was that.
Except it wasn’t.
Just days later, a Facebook friend left a post on my wall. It was about a teen book blogger who’d gone viral with his criticism of school and public librarians and their handling of LGBT literature. For those who haven’t read the post, I’ll offer the short version. When Bent was in middle school, he asked his school librarian where all the LGBT titles were hiding. She told him: “This is a school library. If you are looking to read inappropriate titles, go to a book store.”
(Or better yet, read the whole post HERE.)
Suffice it to say this riled me. Still does, every time I think about it. Imagine telling a gay teenager that it’s inappropriate to read about someone like himself. Don’t get me started on the message that sends.
It was the basis for an essay I wrote for Red Room called Liberty and Justice…for Who? It was also the basis for a valued friendship, despite a rather (ahem) dramatic difference in our ages.
So. Brent. Let’s start with the blog itself. Naughty Book Kitties. It’s plural. Kitties. I know you started the blog with a best friend. Is it all yours now? Is there only one “Kitty” at this point, and do you see it staying that way? Any regrets?
Brent: Yes, the blog is solely mine. As far as the name goes…I’m kind of a hardcore strategist, and I knew before I even created the blog that I had to be unique, and I had to make heads turn. I think I accomplished that with these three oh-so-iconic words: naughty book kitties.
Me: You describe yourself on your blog as: “Reader, Cheerleader, Gay Boy, Shopaholic, Book Addict, Aspiring Literary Agent.” That’s pretty out. Rather admirably out, in fact. And once your post went viral, that exposed you to a wide cross-section of people. And we all know the Internet can be a ruthless place. Can you talk a little about what it means to be so open about your gayness? Have you gotten negative feedback to your post and blog? Does the support far outweigh it (I hope)?
Brent: I began blogging on Naughty Book Kitties when I was 14 years old. I’m rather embarrassed by that little description of myself, as I’ve realized over the past couple years that the absolute worst thing a person can do is bury his or herself in a mound of labels. That’s why on things like my Twitter bio, etc., I don’t say “gay boy” anymore. One does not “white” or “blue-eyed” or “type-x blood” in a self-description.
But that’s not to say I cover up my sexuality. If I’m reviewing a book and I find a particular male character, hmm, APPEALING, I won’t hesitate to mention it. If I’m on the bus and a hot guy sits down next to me, you’re damn sure I’m going to immediately tweet about it. (Ask my fellow Twitterers. They know ALL THE THINGS.)
Me: Jon Stewart once announced a vote against gay marriage in Missouri (more or less, I’m doing this from memory) this way: “If you’re gay, and live in Missouri, two pieces of bad news: first, you’re gay, and you live in Missouri…” Now. Brent. You’re gay. And you live in Kentucky. I know that has to be hard. Can you talk a little about how books helped you find a sense of belonging? And then, once books led you into the world of book blogging, can you speak to how that new world of contacts helped you feel more connected?
Brent: Oh, books. I must say that I am one-hundred percent sure that I would not be doing this interview, I would not be blogging, I would not be friends with you, if not for the highly influential LGBT-themed books I found when I was young.
There’s this book that is one of my absolute favorites. It’s always hard for me to determine if I love a book enough for it to be considered a favorite, but of this one I am certain; there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of a quote from it, or a character. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd completely changed my life. There are a billion things I took away from that book, but there’s one that really stuck, and I’m going to share it with you.
There is always more to do. When you fuck up, there is always someplace else to go. Even when you don’t fuck up, there is always someplace else to go and many more things to do.
Me: You mention you are an aspiring literary agent. Didn’t you find yourself with a literary internship? Is that still going on? Will you tell us a little about your experience assessing unpublished manuscripts?
Brent: I am, and I have, and it is! I was with one agency in 2010-2011, and since then I’ve moved on to a different one, and things are going great.
Actually, it depends on the day you ask me. On Mondays, I hate the world and I REFUSE to do absolutely any work for free. And then on Tuesdays I’ve gone to the grocery and restocked on coffee and candy and all is well AND WHY, YES. I WOULD BE DELIGHTED TO DO ALL THE WORK IN THE WORLD.
Me: There’s been a great deal of controversy in the blogosphere regarding negative reviews. I notice that you are a blogger who has chosen to write reviews only of the books you love. Will you speak to that decision?
Brent: Finding time to blog is very hard for me. I have to really love a book and feel a desire to get it out there in order to blog about it.
Me: Most people I know have experienced the wrath of Internet criticism. I know I have. And I know that, when it was going on, you were outspoken in my defense. Which confirms my suspicion that you are a brave soul. Then again, we’re all human. Without any need to go into specifics, will you talk about how you deal with online criticism? How does it affect you, and for how long? How do you get beyond it?
Brent: I can identify with the criticism well, Catherine, since I’ve been the victim of it too. There’s a lot of it in the YA blogging community, which is a big reason why I’ve gravitated away from it in the past few years. It’s tasteless, and I’m sorry, but who the hell has time? I have emails to answer and queries to read and manuscripts to critique and coffee to brew and turtles to feed and shoes to buy and homework to do and essays to write and books to read. I have things I have to do. I don’t carve out time in my schedule for that unprofessionalism. If you have to cry, go outside. (That’s a quote from my beloved Kelly Cutrone.)
Me: You’ve been featured in School Library Journal. And Lambda Literary online. And had an article about you in the New York Times. All before age 16. And I expect I’m leaving out some big honors. Brag on yourself a bit. Tell us what you’ve achieved through your blog and your love for—and knowledge of—books.
Brent: My blog has been really great to me. First of all, it’s put me in touch with all of the fabulous kidlit people out there (yourself included). And, of course, the New York Times and HuffPo articles were a plus. Really, though, the best thing it’s done for me is forged friendships.
Me: What are your literary pet peeves? I know run-on sentences and missing commas factor in there somewhere…
Brent: Sentences that repeatedly start with conjoining conjunctions.
Me: What are your plans for the future? Does blogging still factor in?
Brent: I’m very obsessive compulsive about my future. I do plan on attending college in New York, and my decision to work with books required no hard thought; there’s nothing else in the world I can imagine myself doing. Except, of course, getting paid to eat ice cream and watch Bad Girls Club reruns. Oh boy.
Me: Will you recommend a few other book blogs that you think are worth visiting?
Thank you, Catherine, for the wonderful questions.
Me: And thank you, Brent, for visiting my blog, and for the wonderful answers.
I promised last week that Brent had news. Well...drum roll please...here it is. On June 4th, in his dream city (New York, of course) Brent will be appearing as a presenter at the Lambda Literary Awards. He will be giving out the award for the Children's/YA category. How's that for celebrity?
Next week my Blogger Wednesday interview will be Danielle of There's a Book, so please do make it a habit to drop in on Wednesdays. (Especially the next one!)