Congratulations to member Gayle Pitman! Gayle’s new book, When You Look Out the Window: How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community (illustrated by Christopher Lyles), was published this month by Magination Press. WOOT!
I asked Gayle to share her inspiration for the new book and a bit about her journey to publication for this manuscript. Take it away, Gayle!
In 2012, I started working on a research project that explored the lives of LGBT/queer people who existed on the edges of their communities in some way—because of their race, their age, their gender status, their disability, or other factors. I interviewed about a dozen people, one of whom was Phyllis Lyon. I don’t think most people know Phyllis’ story, but she and Del Martin were like the goddesses of the San Francisco lesbian community. I got her number out of the phone book (who uses the phone book anymore?), but I put off calling her for weeks. What would I say? It sounds so ridiculous now, but I felt like a groupie who feared rejection from her favorite rock star. Finally I called her. She answered the phone on the first ring, and within two and a half minutes we had an interview scheduled for later that week. Just like that!
Phyllis’ house is located near the top of Castro Street in San Francisco, which
I think is so richly symbolic. But the inside of her home held even more power for me. Her house is tiny—maybe about 700 square feet—but the panoramic view of San Francisco from her living room window is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. During our interview, I learned that Phyllis rarely left her home because getting around was hard for her, and it seemed so Hitchcockian and depressing to think that she spent her days cooped up in her house, looking out her window. But later, my perception of Phyllis’ experience shifted, and it occurred to me that every day, she gets to look out her window and see how she and her partner Del transformed that city. And then, I thought, “Why not write a children’s book about Phyllis and Del?” So I did. There are so few children’s picture books out there that focus on LGBT history, and it seemed like a great opportunity to help fill that need.
Journey to publication:
This is a great SCBWI story! I attended the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles for the first time in 2015, and I submitted When You Look Out the Window for a manuscript critique. I met with a Big-Time Editor (who shall remain unnamed) from one of the Big Four publishing houses (which shall also remain unnamed). She LOVED the story, and wanted my agent to make a formal submission to her! Beyond that, it was clear from the beginning that this editor and I had a lot in common. What should have been a critique session ended up being a great conversation about writing, politics, and building a career in publishing. It was an amazing experience, and a huge confidence booster for a neophyte author like myself.
Postscript: That publishing house didn’t end up buying the manuscript. The editor wanted some significant changes made, and Phyllis wasn’t comfortable with the direction the story would take as a result. Even though publishing with that house would have been a great opportunity, it felt important to me to honor what Phyllis wanted. Meanwhile, my editor at Magination Press (who published my first book, This Day in June) REALLY liked the story, and she offered me a contract! It worked out perfectly, and I learned during this process that it’s not always about getting the big contract right away. It’s about building relationships, exercising patience, and trusting the process. When You Look Out the Window is a gorgeous book, and I’m so grateful that I get to share the story of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin with children.
By day, Gayle E. Pitman teaches Psychology and Women/Gender Studies program at Sacramento City College. By night, Gayle writes children’s books and engages in other forms of subversive creativity. Her debut picture book, This Day in June, won the 2015 ALA Stonewall Award, was a Rainbow List Top Ten pick, and won the IRA’s 2014 Notable Books for a Global Society Award. A frequent speaker at colleges, universities, K-12 schools, and professional conferences on topics related to gender and sexual orientation, she has been featured in publications ranging from School Library Journal to The Advocate. Find more about Gayle at her website, on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.