If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Iran)
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (Japan)
Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley (Mexico)
Another Word for Happy by Agay Llanera (Philippines)
Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell (South Africa)
Why There’s No Sex in my Book
(It’s not the reason you think)
by Dianna Gunn
When a lesbian romance emerged partway through Keeper of the Dawn I found myself faced with a difficult decision: do I include sex?
This was a tough decision for many reasons, but none of them were fear of censorship. I have always believed my fiction should challenge boundaries and that having your book banned is a great marketing tool (seriously, there are entire banned book reading challenges). I also come from a fairly liberal family who won’t disown me if they find out there are lesbians or sex or even lesbian sex in my book.
I also believe it’s important to have sex in YA fiction, and not just the fumbling first time or the regrettable one night stand induced by underage drinking. As a preteen, I learned almost as much about sex from fanfiction as I have learned from sex in the intervening years. This fanfiction—primarily written by older women, at least on the archives I frequented—taught me about enthusiastic consent, about how to please different lovers, and even about various fetishes. I believe YA fiction is an opportunity for us to teach these same lessons to the people who need them most, because they certainly won’t learn it from mainstream porn.
What bothered me was the idea of writing a sex scene between these two specific characters. At first I thought it was mainly because I personally have no interest in sex with women, and the technicalities of writing a lesbian sex scene are rather daunting from my angle. I prepared myself to go out and read more (probably fanfiction, let’s face it) sex scenes between two women, even started looking at lists—
And then I realized it wasn’t about the technicalities at all. It was about my characters, specifically the main character, Lai. I already knew Lai had never been attracted to anyone but Tara (yes, she is named after a Buffy character), but as I continued writing I realized Lai wasn’t attracted to Tara in a sexual way. In fact, Lai is asexual.
I knew Lai for years before I came to this realization, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise. The only reason it took me so long to discover Lai’s asexuality is that when I originally wrote Keeper of the Dawn, I had no idea what asexuality was. It’s a concept that only came into my awareness about two years ago, which is crazy considering that I’ve been hanging out in queer communities since I was 15.
The world Tara and Lai live in has no word for asexuality, but I have worked hard to make it clear that Lai is asexual. I’ve been lucky enough to have a publisher who insisted I make it even clearer instead of trying to suppress this part of her personality.
With or without the label, I hope Keeper of the Dawn will show readers that romantic relationships can be powerful without sex.
Sometimes failure is just the beginning.
All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.
From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.
Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.
Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.
Keeper of the Dawn is a tale of new beginnings, second chances, and the endurance of hope.
Lai practiced until well after dark, ignoring the call for supper. She tore a massive hole into one of the dummies with a training sword in her rage, but it didn’t make her feel better. She had spent most of her life training for this day, and Kaiden ruined it with a few words about their father.
Eventually she gave up and collapsed in a heap on the ground, pulling her knees up to her chest so she could rest her chin on them. She forced herself to breathe deeply, using all her willpower to push the rage into the ground. Bit by bit it drained into the soil around her, dispersing harmlessly.
She sat like that in the clearing until clouds engulfed the stars and rain started pouring, one of the last rains before the dry weeks of summer. Lifting the hood of her robes to cover her head, she rose and hurried towards the temple.
Her left foot caught on something and Lai flew through the air, losing her grip on her sword and landing face first in a puddle. Her nose shattered when it smashed into the tough ground, and when she grabbed it to feel the damage her hand came away covered in equal parts mud and blood. Her stomach churned as she picked herself back up, her whole body aching.
Something sharp pierced her back, tearing into her skin and muscles like sharp fire. She screamed and fell face first to the ground. She caught herself on her forearms, avoiding bashing her head against the rocky path.
Lai’s attacker pulled the knife out of her shoulder. She screamed as warm blood flowed freely down her back, mixing with the rain. Fiery agony filled her body, blurring her vision. She gritted her teeth and flipped over to face her attacker.
She froze at the familiar sight of white robes with golden cuffs. Another initiate. Her hood hid her face completely.
Lai gathered her strength with a deep, ragged breath and reached for her training sword. The initiate kicked Lai in the back then stomped on her wrist, grinding bone under her boot, sending sharp waves of pain up Lai’s arm.
“You understand, it has to be me.”
Lai knew that voice, but she couldn’t focus on it through the pain, couldn’t remember who it was.
The initiate seized a clump of Lai’s hair and yanked her head backwards. She knelt and raised her knife towards Lai’s exposed throat.
Something knocked the initiate into Lai’s back. Black spots appeared at the edges of her vision as agony surged outward from her wound. The other initiate didn’t move, suffocating Lai with her weight. Lai tried to lift herself up with her elbows, but a fresh wave of pain knocked the wind out of her. She collapsed onto her stomach and closed her eyes, willing her body to die quickly.
Dianna Gunn is a freelance writer by day and a fantasy author by night. She blogs about writing, creativity and books athttp://www.thedabbler.ca. You can also follow her on Twitter @DiannaLGunn or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dlgunnauthor/.
BUY KEEPER OF THE DAWN
Cover reveals are already one of my favorite things to do on this site, and they’re extra fun when I know they’re drawing eyes to some seriously underrepresented characters in lit. The Traitor’s Tunnel is a novella by Cal Spivey that stands alone but takes place prior to his NA High Fantasy, From Under the Mountain. The Traitor’s Tunnel focuses on estranged siblings Theodor and Bridget, who must reunite after more than a decade apart in order to thwart a corrupt nobleman’s conspiracy. Theodor is a panromantic asexual and Bridget is bisexual, and in this novella, both of them are in same-sex relationships. Sooo, it’s already pretty must-read right there, isn’t it?
Buuut just wait until you check out the cover 😉
First, though, a little more on the novella itself:
Witch-blooded robber Bridget has made a reputation for herself in the capital city, but she’s not interested in the attention of the Thieves’ Guild–and she’s not bothered by the rumors of urchin kidnappings, either. With winter coming, she’s looking out for herself and no one else.
Until she picks the wrong pocket, and recognizes her estranged brother Teddy.
Young craftsman Theodor arrives in the capital ready to take the final step toward his dream career as Lord Engineer of Arido. His apprenticeship with a renowned city engineer comes with new rules and challenges, but it’s worth it for the exposure to the Imperial Council.
While spying on her brother, Bridget overhears a secret meeting that reveals a cruel plot. After more than a decade apart, Theodor and Bridget must reunite to stop a traitor whose plan threatens not only their city, but the whole empire.
Set seven years before the events of From Under the Mountain, The Traitor’s Tunnel is the story of two young people presented with a choice–to protect themselves, or to protect others–the consequences of which will change their lives forever.
And now, check out this awesomeness…
(Cover illustration and design by Jess Taylor)
But wait, there’s more! Check out this excerpt!
Though the lord couldn’t see him, Theodor forced a smile over his clenched teeth. “If it please you, Master Roald, I’d like to begin my work as soon as possible.”
Master Roald ceased writing, turned half toward Theodor, and regarded him silently. After several heartbeats of silence, Theodor felt perspiration on his brow. He had misjudged his new master. He had encountered a type of casual artisan before, of course, one who thought relaxation just as important as work; and how rude it was of Theodor to refuse an opportunity to explore Del, which was after all the most beautiful city in Arido, home to some of the greatest and most innovative constructions ever conceived. A groundbreaking city, and here he was, suggesting that a tour of it would be worthless to him. It was crass, and foolish.
At last, Master Roald set down his pencil and stood. Theodor braced himself for chastisement—but Master Roald said, “Then we shall begin. Come with me.”
Theodor followed him downstairs, almost holding his breath, hesitant to relax. Master Roald’s voice was so low, and mild; it would take time before Theodor came to understand his subtleties, and in the meantime, his stomach would remain knotted up. Ogun intercepted their path to the door and, at a word from Master Roald, retrieved a cap and cloak for him. Fastening the cloak beneath his chin, Master Roald said, “Do you require an outer garment, Warren?”
It was already snowing in Javan. Del was balmy by comparison. “I’m quite comfortable, thank you,” Theodor said.
“As you wish.” Master Roald gave him a small, paternal smile. “Let us see where we stand.”
He gestured for Theodor to exit the house first, and he understood. He was not being chastised or given a lecture; not yet, at least. Master Roald planned to test him, out in the streets of a city to which Theodor had never been. It would mark his knowledge and experience; perhaps it would influence whether he was allowed to remain in Master Roald’s service at all. Theodor took a deep breath. He did not know what kind of man his new master was, but he knew stone and wood and metal. He knew the benefits and failings of common building structures; he had an eye for design. The rules of construction were the only ones of which he was sure—and he would prove it.
Thrice damn the Frost Owl. Bridget had nicked an extra coat off a laundress in the Second Neighborhood, but even that weren’t doing much to keep her warm. She wished she still had that bearskin she’d had last year, but someone had found her hidey-hole in the Vale forest outside of Del, and taken it. She didn’t hold a grudge; damn if she wasn’t jealous though. She stamped her feet a bit. It was early winter yet, and it’d warm up enough during the day. It looked to be sunny, too, a perfect day to climb up on some slate roof and soak it up.
She scowled and sank against the hot wall of the tannery. She hated winter, hated having to make plans. The cold meant less food to steal, which meant less energy for her little trick of going invisible, which meant stealing got more dangerous. Her stashes of supplies were more crucial than ever, but checking them or even using them too frequently made it easier for others to find them. She had money enough stored that she could take a room on the worst days and nights, but that was visibility she wanted to avoid. She had survived by being unknown to all but a few, ever since she was too old to make use of the orphan houses. Otherwise she’d be too involved in other people’s business, which just created too many chances for things to go bad in ways that had nothing to do with her but would ruin her anyway. She’d learned that lesson. Now she had three friends she just couldn’t shake, and she wasn’t about to make nice to anyone else.
So what be the plan for this winter? she asked herself. She’d gone south a few times—that was what most of Del’s homeless did when the weather got cold; they went downriver. Bridget didn’t much care for that. She didn’t like to lug all her food about, was shit at fishing, and the city of Neva was too damn far. Two years ago, she’d worked in a brothel for the season; that had been alright, but her thieving had taken a hit and it took months to reestablish her under-market connections. They all thought she’d been jailed, thought the Guild of Guards kept tabs on her—what a laugh.
There was a baker in the Third Neighborhood who swapped room and board for work sometimes; she could disguise herself, pretend to be a child. Wouldn’t work on the orphan houses because she’d already been in most of ’em when she was truly a whelp, but it’d be enough to turn away serious questions.
C.M. Spivey is a speculative fiction writer, author of high fantasy From Under the Mountain and the paranormal series, “The Unliving.” His enduring love of fantasy started young. Now, he explores the rules and ramifications of magic in his own works—and as a trans-masculine panromantic asexual, he’s committed to queering his favorite genres. In his spare time, he plans his next tattoo (there will always be a next tattoo) and watches too much Netflix. Anything left over is devoted to his tireless quest to make America read more. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his darling husband Matt and adorable dog Jay.
(Author photo by Redhawk Photography)
When the emperor of Eveinia is murdered alongside his heir, the kingdom’s twelve nations are thrown into chaos. A fortnight later, a young woman wakes up with no memories, having been unwittingly selected for an impossible mission—to track down the chosen successor from each nation and appoint one as the emperor. If she fails, she may never be able to return to her old life.
But a dark order is emerging. Hunted by assassins and escorted by a stableboy, Lia sets out on a journey to uncover the truth about who she is and why she was chosen.
Her first target is Jade, the beautiful but mischievous princess of Sperath. Disguised as her maidservant, Lia must navigate the treacherous waters of the court, her daunting task, and a growing closeness with Jade. When suspicious poisonings begin to plague the castle, it’s up to Lia to find the culprit, or else risk failing her mission—and losing Jade entirely.
Buy it: Amazon
Months after saving Jamie and Deanna from crywolf, Kiara and her brother Cole have moved into the city. While clubbing one night, Kiara is stunned to see her ex, Taryn, on stage. But before she can react, Jamie notices a distinctive tattoo in the crowd: an axe rumored to be the mark of the Huntsmen, a group of werewolf-tracking humans. The girls need to leave immediately—and since Taryn is also a werewolf, they need to take her with them.
The Huntsmen are more than a myth, and they’re scouring the city for lone wolves just like Taryn. Until the General North American Assembly of Werewolves lends a plan of action, Kiara’s small pack is on lockdown in Nathan’s apartment building, where she and Taryn must face the differences that drove them apart. Furthermore, the longer the group waits, the more it seems the Huntsmen haven’t been acting entirely on their own.
Buy it: Amazon
Can friendship, Star Trek, drama club, and a whole lot of coffee get two nerdy best friends through the beginning of their senior year of high school?
Meg and Linus are best friends bound by a shared love of school, a coffee obsession, and being queer. It’s not always easy to be the nerdy lesbian or gay kid in a suburban town. But they have each other. And a few Star Trek boxed sets. They’re pretty happy.
But then Sophia, Meg’s longtime girlfriend, breaks up with Meg. Linus starts tutoring the totally dreamy new kid, Danny—and Meg thinks setting them up is the perfect project to distract herself from her own heartbreak. But Linus isn’t so sure Danny even likes guys, and maybe Sophia isn’t quite as out of the picture as Meg thought she was. . . .
Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.
But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?
Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?
Abigail is content with her quiet life as a librarian. But when she’s invited to a high-profile charity auction, she finds herself dancing with one of the most beautiful women she’s ever met. Abby’s sure she’ll never see her again, but then Gabrielle calls and asks her on a date. And soon after, another.
Supermodel Gabrielle Levesque has a reputation as the Ice Queen—cold and untouchable—except she warms up whenever she’s with Abby. Only Abby isn’t interested in the heat between them; she’s asexual, and she’s worried that admitting as much to Gabrielle might spell the end of their blooming romance.
They’re two different women from two very different worlds, but Abby knows she can love Gabrielle. Her passion for books, travel, and theater prove there’s more to the Ice Queen than meets the eye. But they’ll have to overcome Abby’s fears—and Gabrielle’s own threatening secrets—in order to find their way to love.
Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace
37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order) by Kekla Magoon
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert*
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
*Having read this since initially posting, I see I was misinformed, and the MC is not in fact biracial; she’s in a mixed-race family. (She and her mother are Black, her stepbrother and stepfather are white.) However, the book does have her dealing with being Black and Jewish, so perhaps bicultural would be a better adjective here.
(Yes, there’s already a Fave Five dedicated to queer YAs with East Asian female leads, but those are largely by non-Asian/Hapa authors, because it predated the announcements of a few of these books. There’s no overlap in titles, so make sure you check out both posts!)
A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo (Thriller)
Noteworthy by Riley Redgate (Contemp)
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (Sci-Fi)
Seven Tears at High Tide by C.B. Lee (Fantasy)
Bonus: In NA, check out Hold Me by Courtney Milan (Contemp Romance)
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (YA Magical Realism, Latina/Desi, m/f)
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (YA Contemporary, Chinese Australian/Black, f/f)
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (YA Contemporary, Japanese/Latina, f/f)
Wander This World by G.L. Tomas (NA Paranormal, Afro-Latina/Filipino, m/f)
Hold Me by Courtney Milan (NA Contemporary, Latina/Chinese-Thai, m/f)