WRITING ABOUT TRANSGENDER FOR YOUNG ADULT READERS

One never knows what subject may arise when writing a biography, even a biography for young adut readers. The recent controversy making national news over transgender issues, whether it be bathroom use or equal rights, reminded me of the time I wrote People in The News: Hilary Swank for Lucent Books back in 2007. When Swank made the film Boys Don’t Cry (2000), I was faced with the obvious controversy of the film’s subject matter. At the time, I was not sure how far to take it, how to write it in specifics, or even how casual the langauge should be, when considering I was writing for middle school and high school readers.  My previous titles in the series, such as Adam Sandler and the first Hillary Clinton bio, was of course work, but nothing as controversial as the subject of Boys Don’t Cry. It was a challenge to say the least.
The publisher had let me read some previous titles in the series, and I was quite taken aback by some of the frankness in the writing. Madonna’s overt sexuality on stage, Tim Allen’s drug bust, and other controversies were treated quite straighforward and had me realize young adult bios had changed considerably since I was kid. With no further requirements from the editor, I took a deep breath and went ahead and reseached and wrote it as straightforward as I thought possible.
I’m glad I did. Years later, when working on Lee Marvin Point Blank, I was able to utilize the same technique in dealing with the subject’s obvious PTSD when it came to my attention that he suffered from it. I’ve been called out by some for my armchair diagnosis, but research has shown it to be quite obvious that he suffered from it his entire adult life. So, when writing about the tragedy of the real Teena Brandon, how actress Hilary Swank won the role, prepared for it, and the effect it had on her personal life, a valuable writing lesson was learned. No need to dance around the subject. Straightforward always works best. When I submitted the manuscript, all of it was left intact with nary a word spoken about it from the publisher. And so, with transgender issues again very much in the news, I present below the way in which I dealt with it for young adults nearly ten years ago. Sad to think the issue itself is still having to be dealt with in 2016 but at least it’s being dealt with at all in this climate of fear, hatred and homophobia….
-Dwayne Epstein

How I dealt with transgender issues for young adult readers, from the beginning.

How I dealt with transgender issues for young adult readers, from the beginning.

Hilary Swank rises to the challenge of playing Teena Brandon.

Hilary Swank rises to the challenge of playing Teena Brandon.

Yeah, they let me use the phrase 'Strap & Pack.'

Yeah, they let me use the phrase ‘Strap & Pack.’

Hilary Swank's transformation.

Hilary Swank’s transformation.

Specifically written for possible transgender readers.

Specifically written for possible transgender readers.

Conclusion.

Conclusion.

 

 

 

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PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: DENZEL WASHINGTON & THE OSCAR CONTROVERSY

The recent controversy surrounding this year’s Oscar nominations lack of color got me to thinking about another of my older writing assignments. I didn’t take to the assignment right away, but once I got into the research of the subject, I certainly did.
Denzel Washington’s career, in my opinion, is one of the most fascinating in film history. Successes and failures abound, like all leading actors, but the work itself is an amazing exploration of our changing times. His body of work recently earned The Golden Globes’ prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award (are you listening American FIlm Institute?) and in watching his highlight reel, I was once again struck by how impressive his films were and still are.
Beleive it or not, writing about his life and work for Lucent Books’ People in the News Series helped me immeasurably when it came to actually writing LEE MARVIN : POINT BLANK. How did it help? It made me more fully aware that one of the most important aspects of an actor’s work that lives on long after the actor, is a theme or themes that permeates the work for audiences decades to come. It was certainly true in Lee Marvin’s case as it is Denzel Washington’s. Long live the truly great actors!
As to the Oscar controversy, while I often agree with the concept of boycotts, I think boycotting such an award show is self-defeating. Do the organizers really think such a move will result in future nominations for people of color? Seems doubtful. Lots of heat with very little light. If they really want to see more Oscar diversity, they should take it upon themselves to make better films with actors of color in which the character’s color, really doesn’t matter. In other words, take a tip from the films of two-time Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington, especially in the section on how Spike Lee was able to complete Malcolm X. It’s called putting words into action…..

The cover of my 2010 People in the News young adult biography on Denzel Washington.

The cover of my 2010 People in the News young adult biography on Denzel Washington.

The book's Table of Contents, in which the need for clever titles and several bibliographies, also helped in my writing of LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK.

The book’s Table of Contents, in which the need for clever titles and several bibliographies, also helped in my writing of LEE MARVIN POINT BLANK.

The introduction taught me to write the intro last as you never know where the research will take you. Oh, and by the way, he did go back to school and the lady with the vision, was a church elder.

The introduction taught me to write the intro last, as you never know where the research will take you. Oh, and by the way, he did go back to school and the lady with the vision, was a church elder.

Two sidebars per chapter are a requirement for each title so it allowed me to delve into The Boys & Girls Club of America's interesting history. Opposite page shows Denzel in front of a photo of himself as a youngster as he himself is surrounded by current Club members.

Two sidebars per chapter are a requirement for each title so it allowed me to delve into The Boys & Girls Club of America’s interesting history. Opposite page shows Denzel in front of a photo of himself as a youngster as he himself is surrounded by current Club members.

Denzel Washingtons performance in MALCOLM X, alog with TRAINING DAY remain two of all time favorites and writing about them is one of the joys of what I do for a living.

Denzel Washington’s performance in MALCOLM X, along with TRAINING DAY, remain two of my all time favorites and writing about them is one of the joys of what I do for a living.

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