Joy Interviews Janet Gurtler, editor of You Too?

Article by Joy

One of the greatest things about being both an author of numerous books for young people as well as being the Children’s Programming Director here at Brazos is being able to help support amazing authors whose careers I’ve followed for a while. I’ve known Janet Gurtler for over a decade now, and I’m a huge fan of her work, particularly her contemporary YA novels such as I’M NOT HER. Now, she’s stepping into an editor/author role with the YOU TOO? anthology, out this week from Harper. 25 authors, including Ellen Hopkins, Mackenzi Lee, and Saundra Mitchell, share their #metoo stories in this compilation of personal essays that are in turn thoughtful, painful, powerful, and very necessary.

I was honored that Janet could take the time to discuss the creation of this important new YA book. Here’s what she had to say.

Joy Preble: Beyond the obvious inspiration of this particular moment in time and political history, I’m curious what drew you to edit this specific anthology. Having read your essay, I know it was part personal reflection, but beyond that, what made you decide to create this book as part of our ongoing cultural conversation about the #metoo movement?

Janet Gurtler: I’ve spent a lot of time writing young adult books. When this #metoo thing happened, my only child was a young adult and I knew and cared about many of his friends and co-ed teammates. It made me angry to think that some of those kids were or would go through some of the same things kids of my generation did. I felt a new surge of anger about the things I went through. I felt angry that as a young person I’d let things happen and be said and all I knew was to go along with it. I didn’t know I could have said something, or that my voice could be heard, or that it even mattered. I guess in a way I want it to matter, and the only way I know how to do that is to write about it.  I thought a book about #metoo things that happened to young people might help kids of this generation. And mine too. I think hearing that you’re not alone is a good thing and hearing other people’s stories teaches compassion. As someone who is now a part of the “older generation”, I see change happening in the world, and much of it is wonderful. I want to see positive changes continue. I hope that this book plays a small role in that. I don’t have a teenage daughter, but if I did, I’d want her to read YOU TOO? and learn from those who came before her. I want to talk about the things we need to talk about to create change. I have a teenage son and I have tried to talk to him about things that matter. It doesn’t thrill him. I know that. But I think it’s important that he hear it from me, his mom. Reminders. Questions. “Are you sure you know what consent is? Do you respect girls? Did I teach you about this stuff properly? Hey. Here’s my book. I wish that you would read it so you can learn about what people have been through. And how wrong it is.” Empathy is not a bad thing. 

JP: Yes, to all of this. And as the mom of a boy (well, a man now) myself, I agree. Conversations about consent and respect need to begin early and happen often.

What was your process for reaching out to the various author contributors? Were you looking for any particular themes of essays or balance of contributors? How does that work? Does the publisher also have to sign off on whose essays will be included? I’m curious about that conversation as well.

JG: I asked authors by trial and some error. It was a hard anthology to write for, so I really respect the authors who said yes. Many said no, very diplomatically, and still were encouraging about getting a book like this out there.  Before the book sold I had a couple of bigger names agree to write essays but they didn’t write them until the contract came through. With the help of some YA names, the anthology sold to Harlequin. We left the topics covered up to the contributors. The one thing the publisher and MANY of the authors insisted on was that the book include diverse voices. I thought that was awesome. That people cared enough to ask for it to happen. Diversity and inclusion. It’s a sign of change that THAT was the main ask. I wish I had managed to get a few more voices involved, but like I said, it was a tough thing to write about! As far as the essays went, I was flexible about topics, just something that happened to contributors in their formative years. I knew many people had stories. I worry that they still do. I worry about abuse that still goes on. As for putting together an anthology itself, I couldn’t have done any of it without Saundra Mitchell to be honest. She has edited a few really great anthologies like ALL OUT and she helped so much with my proposal and figuring out how to put it together. I didn’t have much of an idea of what I was doing but Saundra guided me. In the end, the publisher and editor helped shape the book but they were also great about letting the book be what it is. They were and are very respectful of the contributors and for that I am grateful.

JP: Saundra Mitchell is a gem! A brilliant author and editor, and stellar human! And yes, these essays are so deeply personal and honest. Some might not be comfortable revealing so much. Which of course is part of the issue, isn’t it?

In a related question, editing is a related but very different set of skills than writing. What was that process like for YOU TOO? Was it different or perhaps even more difficult given the highly personal nature of the essays and their subject matter of sexual assault, harrassment, sexism, etc?

JG: I quite enjoyed the editing of the essays. I have done a lot of critiquing of others' work, as most authors do on their journey to becoming published, so I felt quite comfortable making some suggestions about how things were put together, etc. Of course I was cognizant of being respectful because of how personal the essays are, but I found the authors were all super professional about it too, and wanted to tell their story the best way, even though it was hard. Because most of the contributors are authors, the quality of work was pretty stellar from the start. The editor for the book, Lauren Smulski, also did some editing after my own and then there were copy edits and proofing.  Lauren was great, and made sure all the authors were doing okay and good with edits. 

JP:  And in another related question, did you have any different set of editorial concerns because the anthology is classified as a YA book, albeit one that is definitely a crossover adult read as well? Or does that question not even need to be asked since we are addressing these issues earlier on in young adults' lives?

JG: I honestly don’t have a lot of editorial concerns. I’m pretty happy with the way this book came out.  Also, Harlequin/Harper Collins put the book through all the regular editing stages and passes, so I feel totally comfortable with that side of the book. My biggest concern is that caregivers or educators will be afraid to give a book like this to teens to read, because  it is a hard read. I’m worried they’ll think it’s too mature for young people. I believe it’s not. As a mom, I know kids can take it. And also that many kids have heard and seen so much more than we, as parents or caregivers, even know. I guess I want kids to be prepared. Or, if necessary, to find a place where they feel safe and not alone. I hope the book does that. And yes. I do think and hope there is crossover to adults. I think this is a book, that many adults NEED to read. Not only for their kids, but for themselves. It’s cathartic to read the stories of things that happened to other people and to be outraged on their behalf, and in doing so, see and learn that maybe, maybe you weren’t to blame either.

JP: Yes, absolutely to that last part. I still remember the cathartic impact when the #metoo hashtag first started making the rounds on social media and general discussion, and how eye-opening it was to see that every single woman I knew had experienced some form of sexual harassment or abuse or worse during their teenage or younger years. Every one.

 Books take a while to come into existence. What have been your thoughts since 2017 until publication in January 2020 about the state of the #metoo movement? Are you hopeful? Something else?

JG: I have hopes that we are making progress and listening and trying to make things better.  I think people are talking more about what is and isn’t acceptable. I see some positive changes in the workplace. I have no idea if that has translated down to schools. I hope so. I do think we still have a lot of work to do. We have to keep talking about #metoo because we want them to become less the norm. I do worry about the backlash I hear sometimes too. That it’s been taken too far. And woah for the poor men trying to navigate the new rules. That makes me pause. And as far as rape and abuse go, I hope we can stop blaming survivors, stop putting the onus on them to prove things. I hope that people who need help can get the help they need. I know we can still do better. 

JP: And the YOU TOO? anthology is part of that, so thank you!

This interview has been edited for clarity.

You Too?: 25 Voices Share Their #Metoo Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9781335929082
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Inkyard Press - January 7th, 2020

I'm Not Her Cover Image
ISBN: 9781402256363
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually Arrives in 4-7 Business Days
Published: Sourcebooks Fire - May 1st, 2011

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