Guest Recs From Erin Ptah: LGBQ+ Webcomics With No Romance

Hey everyone, check it out, I managed to finish another webcomic reclist before Pride Month ends. (As a guest-poster, I don’t know if it’ll be published before Pride Month ends, but I want y’all to appreciate the effort anyway.) (Blogger’s Note: WELL, I messed this up tremendously, so in fact, while Erin did turn it in during Pride Month, uhhh…well.)

At this point I’ve recced a lot of strips about wlw/mlm characters who have active romances — some that develop over the course of the series, some that were in place when it started. Which makes sense, since that’s the most obvious way to establish and celebrate a character’s queerness. That said…you don’t stop being queer when you aren’t dating.

So I pulled together a bunch of comics featuring characters without romantic storylines, whose sexual orientations are indicated in other ways. And the rest of the writing makes it clear that it’s not authorial bias against same-sex relationships. These people are just frankly way too busy with other things right now.

Today’s theme: Webcomics with LGBQ+ characters who don’t have romances!

(Note that, if it’s an ongoing series, I’m not guaranteeing they won’t be paired off at some point down the road. Or saying it would be a bad thing if they did! Just reccing the comics based on the current state of the archives.)


sample-sleeplessdomain.png

(1) Sleepless Domain by Mary Cagle

Sleepless Domain is a comic about an isolated city in the middle of a dangerous world filled with monsters. During the day, the city is perfectly safe. At night, however, the populace locks themselves inside as the city streets fill with monsters. The only ones who can combat these creatures are very special girls with the power to transform into Magical Girls!

Dark mahou shoujo, ongoing. In this world magical girls are widely-known (every costume upgrade gets gushed-over in the media), institutionally supported (they have special schools to accommodate the way they’re usually up all night fighting monsters!), and highly marketable (especially if your team has a branding manager).

But the monsters are serious, and can be fatal to a girl who lets her guard down. After a tragedy in the early chapters, the story focuses on the survivors’ struggle to deal with the grief and adapt to their changed lives.

In the face of all the other problems our heroines are dealing with, it’s refreshing that their world is so LGBTQ-friendly. There’s an unselfconsciously cuddly f/f couple in the supporting cast, and nobody finds it confusing or remarkable when a trans girl awakens as a mahou shoujo.

None of the main characters are dating, and most of their orientations could still be anything, but one was finally confirmed to have a fellow magical-girl ex. Plenty of readers already shipped her with her co-star, and that sure didn’t hurt. I do like the ship, and I can see canon going there at some point in the future…but not the near future. At this point I wouldn’t even describe their interactions as shipteasing. It’s all about friendship and recovery.


sample-forward

(2) Forward by Mason “Tailsteak” Williams

Lee lives alone, and spends most of their time watching episodes of Martian cartoons and rating them out of five stars. They have no job, and necessities like food and clothing are delivered to their apartment and prepared by various devices that Lee either rents or owns. Like most people who have been given everything they say they want, Lee is miserable.

Sci-fi, ongoing. Lee is some form of transfeminine — I hesitate to use any specific present-day labels, because this future is a “post-bio-gender setting” in which most people use they/them pronouns anyway. Into their isolated life barges Zoa, a multipurpose companionship-bot (“Legally, I’m a vending machine”) whose primary function involves blowjobs.

Lee isn’t interested in buying sex. (Although they’re not upset or dysphoric at the topic, in case you were worried.) What they really crave is genuine social interaction, which Zoa also turns out to be pretty good at, in its own special way.

So now they’re…friends, sort of? And making plans to do more friendship-things in the future. Maybe even leaving Lee’s apartment and trying to interact with the rest of society. I can’t wait.

The art is solid, but this is one of those strips I would read if it was all done in stick figures, because the writing for the dialogue is great. Clever and snappy, funny and relatable, and every once in a while it’ll punch you in the heart out of nowhere.

I’ll also throw in a qualified rec for the artist’s previous comic, Leftover Soup. There are a lot of elements that I wouldn’t blame anyone for avoiding — most notably, the deaths of two young black men, as well as one pet hamster. But if the rough parts aren’t dealbreakers for you, the good parts are very good. And it has some of the only main-character polyamory webcomic representation I can think of: a five-person unit involving two mostly-gay guys, two bi/pan women, and one straight guy, as written by a poly/pan author.


sample-widdershins.png

(3) Widdershins by Kate Ashwin

Widdershins is a series of Victorian-era adventure stories, set in the fictional town of Widdershins, West Yorkshire- England’s magical epicentre, home to bounty hunters, failed wizards, stage magicians, and more, besides.

Fantasy adventure, ongoing. Powerful and deadly spirits keep getting summoned, causing intricate havoc, and then being desummoned by mismatched groups of lovable oddballs. The first few stories seem like disconnected adventures in the same general universe, but eventually the groups start meeting each other, and have to unravel the villains’ shared backstory in order to bind them all for real.

And if the general description doesn’t hook you, try this: One of the mismatched groups consists of amazing cooks from all throughout history, who got swalloved out of their home eras and transported to the same time period by an evil magical hotel.

The world seems to have period-typical homophobia on a cultural level — all the socially-acknowledged romances, certainly all the marriages, are m/f. Still, on a personal level, none of the main characters seem to bat an eye at same-sex attractions or romances among their friends. The actual couples of all gender combinations are pretty backgrounded; most of the main cast is busy with other things. I won’t spoil you for which of the women (more than one!) turn out to have ex-girlfriends.

Bonus: one of the characters is described as asexual, and nobody has a problem with that either. And in the time travel storyline, the author makes it explicit that full marriage equality is in this world’s future.

…so you can probably guess which arc is my favorite. That said, the writing is funny and engaging across-the-board, all the stories are well-paced, and all the characters are wonderful.


sample-magicalhow

(4) Magical How by Eurika Yusin Gho

Gabe and Booker are just two normal college guys, sharing an apartment and failing spectacularly at love. But one day, a talking golf ball named Hal lands in their lives and offers them magical powers…and despite it being a terrible idea, Gabe signs up immediately! Now he must don the admittedly flattering dress of a Magical and fight for love and justice, while Booker, blinded by the sparkles, wants nothing to do with any of this.

Magical-boy drama, ongoing. At first Gabe is fighting basic monsters-of-the-day, but then he gets taken under the wing of a team of higher-level magical boys with ulterior motives, and the plot starts developing layers. Although the artist never loses sight of her self-professed motivation, “I just want to draw cute boys in skirts.”

The non-magical roommate, Booker, is gay — which we know partly because he has a T-shirt that says so. We’ve gotten hints about a troubled romantic past, which makes it unsurprising that he’s avoided any love interests in the present.

A lot of the fandom ships him with Gabe based on odd-couple chemistry, but the author doesn’t seem to…and frankly, neither do I. In spite of the pink-on-pink aesthetic and overflowing enthusiasm of a standard mahou-shoujo protagonist, Gabe has a surprising amount of unlikeability. I’m hoping the plot will involve him growing and maturing, not even into a worthy boyfriend, just into a better roommate.


sample-suburbanjungle

(5) The Suburban Jungle by John “The Gneech” Robey

The original The Suburban Jungle (Starring Tiffany Tiger) is a furry slice-of-life/romantic-comedy/bad-sf webcomic created by The Gneech, which ran from February 1999 – November 2009.

Furry comedy, complete. Tiffany Tiger is a model/actress who has a small-time career in New San Angeles, and would like to make it bigger. A warmhearted mix of showbiz-industry jokes (minor characters include Jerry Springer-Spaniel and Weird Al Hamstervic), family shenanigans, romantic misadventures, and the occasional interdimensional conspiracy.

Fair warning, this one does spend a lot of time on the straight characters’ love lives — mostly Tiffany’s string of relationships and her half-sister’s dating-to-marriage arc. It’s not a “no time for romance” strip overall. It’s just that there’s only one major gay character — Tiffany’s manager, Drezzer — never gets a serious romantic storyline despite being shamelessly flirty.

But it doesn’t come across like the artist thinks less of queer couples (there’s at least one same-sex romance in the background cast), and Drezzer isn’t portrayed as some kind of lonely tragic cautionary tale. He has a group of friends he cares about, an enjoyable job that he’s good at, and a happy and fulfilling life in general. He just happens not to have a partner at the moment. And that’s okay.

(I do know there are more queer characters, with and without romances, in the ongoing sequel comic, Rough Housing. Haven’t read enough of it to go into detail. It’s set in the same universe, but follows the next generation of characters, and I don’t know if they mention any details on Drezzer’s future in particular.)


Erin Ptah likes cats, magical girls, time travel, crossdressing, and webcomics. She’s the artist behind But I’m A Cat Person and Leif & Thorn, both of which have several unattached queer characters in the main casts. Say hi on Twitter at @ErinPtah.

Advertisements

Fave Five: Queer Autistic Main Characters

The Lifeline Signal by RoAnna Sylver

Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sonderby

An Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles

Whip Stir and Serve by Caitlyn Frost and Henry Drake

The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish

Bonus: For great books with major queer characters that also have autistic main characters (but not queer, autistic MCs), check out On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis and Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde. For a short stories, try Four-Point Affective Calibration” by Bogi Takács and “Tenderness” by Xan West in Queerly Loving 2.

The Colorful Catalog of Chace Verity!

Welcome back to The Colorful Catalog, the LGBTQReads feature that welcomes authors of at least five works of queer fiction (beyond cis m/m) to come on the site and discuss those works with us! Today we’ve got Chace Verity, whose work (or at least covers!) you might be well familiar with by now as a reader of the site! So come check out their work and find a new fave!

***

I’m Chace Verity (she/they, though “they” is preferred over “she”), and as of this writing, I’m 30. For a person who vehemently dreaded turning 30, I’ve been embracing this year and using 30 as an excuse to really explore all the queer parts of me that I’ve been avoiding my whole life. Writing has been the best road for me to take in this particular journey of self-discovery.

As a voracious consumer of media in multiple genres, I find myself branching into all kinds of worlds in my writing. Many authors I respect greatly have a distinct focus in their branding, and maybe I will get there one day when I’m no longer 30. But right now, I’m everywhere. I’m too busy figuring “me” out to worry a whole lot about what kind of platform I’m building.

(I guess I could always make business cards that say “Chace Verity: writes whatever the hell they want.”)

The Panic Before 30

Team Phison, a geeky age-gap long distance m/m contemporary romance, is the novella that I published in the last bit of 20s I had left. I wrote it when I was 28, the same age as grumpy protagonist Phil’s ball of sunshine he finds himself shockingly in love with. I put so much of myself into Tyson, more than anyone knows.

I sat on it for a year, thinking no one had any interest in a low-drama, queer take on people who meet through a video game. Then 3 months before 30 came, and I desperately wanted to say I did something with my twenties.

Everyone around me loved Phil and Tyson. People I admire tell me they reread this novella constantly. Wow, I thought. Maybe I can really be me.

But who am I?

The Rush Of Turning 30

I’ve known I was pansexual for nearly half of my life (ID’d as bi before I discovered pan). Realized I wasn’t cis maybe two years ago, while I was channeling Tyson. Felt validated after publishing Team Phison and seeing the positive feedback. Validation feels good.

Once my birthday rolled around, I started refining older works and making them even queerer before publishing them.

My heart lies in my fantasy series, The Absolutes. This is a world that’s truly for me. Queer characters! Being open and proud! In a fantasy world! If other people enjoy it, then that’s a bonus.

My Heart Is Ready is a prequel novella with f/f and m/f romantic pairings, featuring a bi heroine with secret earth magic and a queer hero who is half-harpy, half-human, and 100% into gossip. They’re exes who are best friends with some serious trust issues. Throw in a heist to steal some rare seeds, and you’ve got a serious test of friendship going on.

The first full-length novel in the Absolutes series, Your Heart Will Grow, focuses more on romance than friendship. A m/f romance with a (mostly) hetero trans soldier hero and a pansexual mermaid heroine, that stakes go up as the unlikely lovers go against a spurned prince and the possible eradication of mermaids.

Flipping back to contemporary, Just Some Things was a tiny collection of f/f shorts I put together as a freebie. It’s truly amazing to me how many people have enjoyed the weird museum cute-(re)meet, my grumpy girl with a predilection for the F word, and the college friends who have suddenly realized they’re in love.

30 isn’t scary, I realized in January. I don’t know who I am, but this number doesn’t define me.

The Calm Of 30

In my new decade, I’ve started writing really weird and queer stuff. Things without the allocishet gaze. Things I absolutely am obsessed with.

Back in February, I was really into the idea of a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel, but f/f and with minotaurs. And rock candy, holy moly, I love rocky candy. The Masked Minotaur came together very quickly as a novelette. It’s a unique work in that I have a version with a super explicit sex scene and a version where the sex scene fades to black. Pick your version; it’s in the same download!

My most recent release veers away from romance and focuses on friendship. The best thing I ever did for myself was find other queer people to be friends with, people who encouraged me to be myself, people who I will forever encourage to be themselves. Hard To Find is a collection of short stories with queer characters making friends with other queer characters. Half of it is contemporary, and the other half is fantasy.

I’m really in a good place now. I’m working on queer stuff and having a good time with it. I can’t wait to show you what 31 will bring. So far, there are couch hunters (enby/f main pairing), disastrous thieves (m/m), a fantasy enby/f/f tale, and more from the Absolutes involving a wishing well and pirates (m/m and m/f). I’m excited for everything beyond 31, too. You can follow me on Twitter or check out my website for all the updates of my thirties.

Will I freak out again around 39? It’s possible. But I hope I will look back at this year and remind myself everything turned out well.

***

Chace Verity (she/they) is turning 31 on September 28 and ready to help anyone else feeling down over arbitrary numbers. They are publishing queer as heck stories with a strong romantic focus, although friendships and found families are important too. Chace prefers to write fantasy but dabbles in contemporary and historical fiction as well. An American citizen & Canadian permanent resident, Chace will probably never be able to call a gallon of milk a “four-liter.”

New Releases: August 2018

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé (7th)

Something is wrong with Marianne.

It’s not just that her parents have finally split up. Or that life hasn’t been the same since she quit dancing. Or even that her mother has checked herself into the hospital.

She’s losing time. Doing things she would never do. And objects around her seem to break whenever she comes close. Something is after her. And the only one who seems to believe her is the daughter of a local psychic.

But their first attempt at an exorcism calls down the full force of the thing’s rage. It demands Marianne give back what she stole. Whatever is haunting her, it wants everything she has—everything it’s convinced she stole. Marianne must uncover the truth that lies beneath it all before the nightmare can take what it thinks it’s owed, leaving Marianne trapped in the darkness of the other side.

Buy it: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Book Depository  | Indigo 

Past Imperfect by Carrie Pack (9th)

This is the second book in the In the Present Tense series.

Now on the run from the corporation that turned him into a lab experiment, Miles finds himself in a fight for his life as he unravels the complicated relationships he shares with ex-boyfriend Adam, whom he still loves, and wife Ana, whose allegiance he cannot trust.

Meanwhile, nineteen-year-old Bethany Carter is on the run from her past and present. Having escaped the same institution that trapped Miles, she must find a way to safely manage the schizophrenia that triggers her time travel while navigating unpredictable bouts of paranoia.

As Miles’ and Bethany’s lives become more intertwined, Dr. Branagan, the man who made their lives a living hell at Longleaf Retreat, will stop at nothing to continue his research, even if it means destroying his subjects in the process.

Buy it: Interlude

Learning Curves by Ceilie Simkiss (16th)

Elena Mendez has always been career-first; with only two semesters of law school to go, her dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions. She doesn’t have time for love.

And she has no idea how much her life will change, the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin.

A freelance writer and MBA student, Cora is just as career-driven as Elena. But over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other–even a surprise visit from Elena’s family.

From solitude to sweetness, there’s nothing like falling in love. College may be strict…but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.

Buy it: Amazon

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (28th)

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understand that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * IndieBound * Rainy Day Books

Ruin of Stars by Linsey Miller (28th)

This is the second book in the Mask of Shadows duology.

As Opal, Sal finally has the power, prestige, and most importantly the ability to hunt the lords who killed their family. But Sal has to figure out who the culprits are before putting them down. Which means trying to ignore the fact that Elise is being kept a virtual prisoner, and that the queen may have ulterior motives.

And the tales coming out of north are baffling. Talk of dark spirits, missing children, and magic abound. As Sal heads north toward their ruined homeland and the lords who destroyed everything, they learn secrets and truths that can’t be ignored.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * IndieBound * Watermark (signed) * Book Depository

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss!

Hello and welcome to a super exciting cover reveal! Learning Curves by Ceilie Simkiss is an adult contemporary romance with a white cis panromantic asexual woman (ownvoices) and a fat Puerto Rican cis lesbian woman. (It’s got ownvoices ADHD and anxiety rep, too!) It releases on August 16, and you can learn more about it right here!

LearningCurvesEdited2

Elena Mendez has always been career-first; with only two semesters of law school to go, her dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions. She doesn’t have time for love.

And she has no idea how much her life will change, the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin.

A freelance writer and MBA student, Cora is just as career-driven as Elena. But over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other–even a surprise visit from Elena’s family.

From solitude to sweetness, there’s nothing like falling in love. College may be strict…but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.

Aaaand here’s the fabulous cover!

Preorder Learning Curves here!

Ceillie Simkiss is an author from southern Virginia. She started writing fiction as an escape from her day job as a small town journalist, and has been at it ever since, with the support of her partner, her dog and her cats.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Marriage of Unconvenience by Chelsea M. Cameron!

Chelsea M. Cameron’s kind of the queen of dropping f/f Romances out of nowhere, and I am personally A-OK with this. But this time, you get at least a couple of days notice, and probably no more than that! Keep an eye out over the next week for the release of Marriage of Unconvenience, and look out below for the cover! But first, the book details:

Lauren “Lo” Bowman is in a bit of a pickle. She needs money, like ASAP. She lost her job, the rent is due, and her car needs repairs. Problem is, the inheritance left to her by her old-fashioned Granny has one stipulation before she can collect: she has to be married.

Let’s just say suitors (of any gender) are not knocking down her door. And then Cara Simms, her best friend from childhood that she’s recently reconnected with, pours her heart out and confesses that she needs money to pay for grad school. Lo has a completely brilliant idea: they should get hitched.

Not married married. Like, fake married. All they have to do is play the part for the lawyers, get the money, and then get the marriage annulled. Easy as hell.

Well, it starts out that way, but being fake married feels a lot like being real married, and Lo is flipping out. She cannot be falling for her best friend. Can she?

And now, the cover!

***

Chelsea M. Cameron is a New York Times/USA Today Best Selling author from Maine who now lives and works in Boston. She’s a red velvet cake enthusiast, obsessive tea drinker, vegetarian, former cheerleader and world’s worst video gamer. When not writing, she enjoys watching infomercials, singing in the car, tweeting (this one time, she was tweeted by Neil Gaiman) and playing fetch with her cat, Sassenach. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Maine, Orono that she promptly abandoned to write about the people in her own head. More often than not, these people turn out to be just as weird as she is.

Website: http://www.chelseamcameron.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Chelsea-M-Cameron-Official-Author-Page-304422529610919/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/chel_c_cam

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chelccam/

Patreon: bit.ly/2orO2TG

Spec Shelf: Nicole Brinkley Takes You Inside Inkmistress by Audrey Coulthurst!

Please welcome back Nicole Brinkley and Spec Shelf!

***

Welcome to Spec Shelf, the little corner of LGBTQ Reads where I talk to authors about their queer science-fiction and fantasy books. Today, we’re peeking into Audrey Coulthurst’s Inkmistress, a companion novel to her debut Of Fire and Stars that includes a queer angry shapeshifting dragon girl. Yes, you read that right.

Of course, Inkmistress includes other things—a queer girl demi-god, who explores her own bisexuality throughout the narrative; a discussion of what it means to be angry, and what it means to pursue doing good; and, of course, some beautiful worldbuilding.

Take a peek at the beginning of chapter one—and a little snippet of chapter three!—below and keep reading to see Audrey and I chatting about Inkmistress, bisexual representation, and whether Audrey is secretly a Lannister.

When our story began, I thought I knew love.

Love was a mind that moved quickly from one thought to the next, eyes an inimitable blue that lay somewhere between morning glories and glaciers, and a hand that tugged me along as we raced laughing through the woods. Love was the way she buried her hands in my hair and I lost mine in the dark waves of hers, and how she kissed me until we fell in a hot tangle atop the blankets in the back of the cave I called home. Love was the warmth kindled by her touch, lingering in me long after the first snow fell and she had gone for the winter.

Love was what would bring her back to me in spring—and spring had finally begun to wake.

[And later, a peek into chapter three…]

We’d never really talked about boys. Before Ina had entered my life, I’d nursed a hopeless crush or two on handsome hunters who had come to me and Miriel for tinctures—but ever since Ina I’d had no desire for anyone else.

***

Nicole: We’re gonna do a deep dive on fantasy worldbuilding today. Are you ready to talk about dragons and gods and dragons and magic and dragons?

Audrey: Of course!

Nicole: Incredibly, I will be well-behaved and will not start the conversation with a ramble about how dragons are the best. I want to talk about the idea of demigods in your world without spoiling anything too majorly. Think we can manage?

Audrey: Yes. For a minute there I thought you were going to ask me to run a foot race. That would be very ill-behaved. And if we are being honest, dragons ARE the best.

Nicole: Where I am in New York, it is far too hot for foot races! For those who haven’t read the book yet, can you explain a little bit about how religion and gods work in your world?

Audrey: Sure. Inkmistress takes place approximately 200 years before Of Fire and Stars. In the world of Inkmistress, gods and demigods are much more a part of daily life than they are in the later book. Mortals in Zumorda worship the gods, but only demigods (the half-human offspring of a god and a mortal) and the monarch are able to use magic. The only magical ability most humans have is to take a manifest (an animal form) when they come of age, and they do this by pledging themselves to a certain god.

Nicole: And we learn what magic Asra can do very early on: writing in her blood can dictate the future. Which is both terrifying and badass.

Audrey: Yes, Asra is a demigod. The main problem is that Asra’s gift tends to have repercussions she can’t predict, and it also takes years off her life every time she uses it. So the costs are high and the benefits questionable, which makes her a bit afraid of her own power.

Nicole: But she risks using it for her girlfriend–you don’t use the word explicitly, if I remember, but I’m pretty confident in it–and it utterly backfires. Asra’s power, and her use of it for Ina, brought up feelings for me that I didn’t realize I had: how infrequently we see characters with ties to the gods identifying as queer.

Audrey: Interesting! You’re right–and I wonder if it has to do with the challenges some people have reconciling faith and sexuality. The prejudices and/or social structures we are faced with in the real world tend to bleed over into fiction, even unintentionally. I set out specifically to write a world in which queerness was a non-issue (both in Inkmistress and the Of Fire and Stars series), so that may have made for some unusual twists with regard to the interplay between faith, gods, and sexuality.

Nicole: That’s one of the things I love about your books. Queerness is normal and just comes with the same falling-in-love problems of any YA book regardless of sexual or romantic identity: it’s highly inconvenient and causes extreme angst, not because of the gender of the person you love, but because love is complicated and messy.

Audrey: Yeah, exactly. It’s a mirror of real-life experience as far as I’m concerned. Several bits and pieces of this story are sourced from people I knew and things that happened in my past (minus bloodthirsty dragons).

Nicole: Since you did not explicitly say that you don’t have the power to change the future by writing with your blood, I’m going to assume that’s based on your real-life experiences as well and fear you as the god-creature you are.

Audrey: Ha! Most of the people at my day job would be swift to confirm your fears. *smiles innocently*

Nicole: But one of the things that’s so realistic about the relationships between Ina and Asra, especially at the beginning of the book, is the fear that comes with keeping secrets. Ina from Asra, Asra from Ina–it creates a kind of tumbling, self-fulfilled prophecy situation. What do you think the appeal is, in fiction, of characters keeping secrets from each other–especially when it comes to romantic queer relationships? Do you think it allows us, as writers and readers, to explore the limits we’re willing to go… or is it just really good fodder for Emotional Feels™?

Audrey: Both, I think. And again, it’s true to life. Even when we love someone with our whole hearts, as Asra does Ina, there are pieces of ourselves that we have to keep close or choose to keep secret for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because we don’t understand those pieces completely (as Asra is unsure of the origins of her powers). Other times it is because we need to keep those secrets to get what we want (like Ina choosing not to tell Asra certain things until she feels like it might help her case).

Also, it might be worth noting that part of what inspired Inkmistress was a desire to write about a flawed relationship, one that is fundamentally lopsided, and how a character is able to come to terms with that and move on. It’s something I haven’t seen explored as often in fiction–that sometimes we love people without seeing them clearly, or without understanding that they will never return our feelings in equal measure.

Nicole: With the calls for more queer fiction prevalent in the push for diverse books, do you think that the push for Good and Happy relationships, especially in fantasy stories where anything is possible, can be detrimental to the portrayal of relationships that are more real for queer teens? I see a lot of frustration when representation isn’t Perfect, despite the fact that people–and characters–never are.

Audrey: Ooh, this is such a tricky question, and I might answer it differently as a writer than a reader. Especially when I was a teen reader, I was happy to read books where there were even secondary queer characters regardless of whether they had happy endings or not. Any representation at all was better than none. Now, as the amount of available queer literature grows, I think it’s important for readers of all ages to see that queer people can have happy, fulfilling lives and be the heroes of any story. At the same time, as a writer, writing about happy people is very, very boring. Sorry! Murder and angst is more fun.

As an aside, I do think that it’s also helpful to see toxic relationships in fiction, especially if they are adequately unpacked as such. It might help a reader recognize red flags in their own relationship and get out of a situation before their partner turns into a murderous dragon hell-bent on killing the king.

Nicole: Even though we all love murder dragons. With murder on the mind–as it always is–Inkmistress seems a much angrier story than Of Fire and Stars. I love angry girls in fiction. Is that a side-effect of the characters and time period of the world that you’re writing about? Did the real world influence that writing and worldbuilding?

Audrey: I think it was some of both. At the outset, I knew I wanted to tell a story about a character who was fundamentally kind and empathetic, and truly wanted the best for her people and her world. Asra starts out the story rather naive and once she gets out into her kingdom beyond the mountain where she grew up, the world starts kicking her in the face without mercy. To me, the story is about how she managed to take ownership of her powers and stay true to her own beliefs in kindness and goodness in spite of everything that is taken from her.

As far as the real world, I wrote Inkmistress when I had moved to Los Angeles after ten years in Austin, TX. It was a hard, lonely transition, as I’d left behind all my closest friends. So every time I was grumpy or sad, I just murdered more people in the book to cheer myself up.

Nicole: Murder solves all problems–well, fictional murder, at any rate. I think people–fictional or real–choosing to be kind and care in a world that doesn’t want them to is the bravest thing they can do. Is that an ideology you carry next to your own heart?

Audrey: Right now it’s an especially timely ideology to share and promote, I think. Some hard things are happening in the real world that are forcing people to take stock of who they are, who they support, and how they work to influence change. I thought about that a lot while writing the book, and how important it was to share the message that the cruelty of the world doesn’t have to defeat us, even when it seems like everything is impossible.

Nicole: Speaking of impossible things: there’s no way to please every reader. There have been a couple books that come under fire in the past year for portraying bisexual ladies ending up in relationships with dudes. Without spoiling too much of the book, Inkmistress is one of the titles. Bisexuality seems to be a difficult line to walk in fiction: ladies ending up with ladies is blanketed as lesbian, while ladies ending up with dudes is considered queer erasure. What do you think of the situation? How can we improve the discussion of bisexuality in fiction?

Audrey: I think you nailed it with “there’s no way to please every reader.” That’s so true on so many levels and for so many reasons. Even very beloved books have readers who didn’t enjoy them or weren’t able to connect with the characters. I am a passionate believer that we need to see a lot of different kinds of bisexual representation to start breaking down the negative stereotypes and/or erasure that are so common in both the queer community and more broadly.

At the same time, I recognize that there are a lot of readers out there who really want f/f content because they can find m/f content so much more easily. It’s a tough line to walk between accurate representation, because bisexuals do sometimes end up with male-identifying people and it doesn’t invalidate their sexuality, and helping expand the kinds of stories available to readers. It has meant a lot to me to hear from the bi readers who were so enthusiastic to read Inkmistress and who wrote to tell me that they finally felt seen and validated. To improve the discussion of bisexuality in fiction, I think we just need to see more and more stories. The conversation will keep growing and expanding as the diversity of bisexual representation increases. I’d love to live in a world where the gender of one’s partner isn’t taken as an indication of a person’s sexuality, so I strive to create that world in fiction and hope that open-mindedness slowly makes its way into reality.

Nicole: Before we go, I want to talk about manifests! We learn what they are really in the book: they’re animals that bond with humans in a way that allows the human to take their form. That’s why Ina is a murder dragon: her manifest was a dragon. We obviously know my manifest would be a kind, plant-loving dragon. It definitely exists. Somewhere. What do you think yours would be?

Audrey: Honestly, probably a cat. Much like my feline friends, I’m fundamentally lazy, aloof with strangers, and bitey-scratchy if touched without permission.

Nicole: Fundamentally lazy, says the writer of three incredible queer fantasies with more on the horizon. Maybe you’re a mountain lion: totally adorable, bitey-scratchy, able to take on way more than you think and destroy your enemies in the process.

Audrey: Ha, at my day job I have been known to use Cersei gifs to represent myself once in a while. And mountain lions are awesome. I’m down with that.

Nicole: If I’m a dragon and you’re a lion… what an unexpected Targaryen / Lannister alliance for this interview! Thank you so much for chatting with me, Audrey. Is there anything else you want people to know about Inkmistress and your work generally?

Audrey: Haha! I’m pretty sure if I lived in the world of Game of Thrones, I’d be the fantasy equivalent of a Red Shirt–doomed to an unceremonious death. As for my own books, readers might be comforted to know that while I’m always going to include queer female characters in my work, they will be free from my murderous tendencies. ‘Bury your gays’ and ‘the promiscuous bisexual’ are two tropes I’d like to see as infrequently as possible, so I do my best to avoid them in my work. Thank you so much for interviewing me today and for your wonderful questions!

Inkmistress is available now. Buy the book from Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Book Depository. To learn more about the book, visit Audrey’s website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

***

Nicole Brinkley has short hair and loves dragons. The rest changes without notice. She is an independent bookseller and blogger found most often at YA Interrobang and the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog. Like what she does? Follow her on Twitter or Instagram and support her on Patreon.

Exclusive Cover and Excerpt Reveal: Birthing Orion by Dax Murray!

Today on the site we’ve got a gorgeous new cover, this time for Birthing Orion by Dax Murray, which is a queer (f/f) space fantasy poetry collection releasing on October 9! Here’s a little more info on the book:

The relationship between two goddesses, one the embodiment of a galactic creation and the other of cosmic destruction, is tempestuous at best. They create and they destroy and then they do it all over again. Seya and Mia use their divine magic to make pulsars and nebula, to set planets spinning around stars and bind a galaxy together with a central black hole.

But when one of Seya’s favorite stars goes missing, she blames Mia. What was once a symbiotic cycle of life and death becomes a game of broken hearts and promises betrayed. These tensions and insecurities are explored in sonnets and villanelles; the arc of their love tracked in meter and verse. These poems touch on queer love, betrayal, trust, acceptance, and forgiveness cast against a backdrop of stardust and celestial detritus.

And here’s the beautiful cover, designed by Merilliza Chan!

But wait, there’s more! Excerpt below!

Proto

We were denser than some of the rest,
we accumulated, we shared gravity –
we were many atoms all compressed.
We collapsed into stars: majesty.

But we burned too brightly, too fast;
we were gone before we could even start.
It was all too good to endlessly last,
but we continued, rather than depart.

Collapsing, dying, globular cluster
and rotating disk; attracting more.
We were not lackluster
repeating all that had happened before

gas, dust and dark matter: a protogalactic cloud
we wore our newness as a shroud

Binary

I made them for you,
they share a common center

just like me and you
two stars, one orbit

always so close
to each other

I had not considered
that these twin stars

would only touch each other when they explode

perhaps this was not the romantic gift I envisioned for you

Journey

I could never figure out if we came
before Time. I could never figure out
how to quantify or count, there was no
unit of measurement that I could find

to calculate how long I spent breathing
you in, vibrating so fast in hopes that
I might cease to be me, and start to be
you. No longer two goddesses; but one

essence. One force on a journey beyond
these boundless stars, so true and deep a bond.

Stars

You told it to collapse
so it did

I told it to churn
hydrogen into helium

we held it between us,
hot and radiative

convective heat transfer
me to you

we made it dense, highly pressurized
to keep it from collapsing further

you and I, we made the stars

Preorder Birthing Orion here!

Dax Murray is a software engineer by day but fights demons writes queer fantasy and science fiction by moonlight. Dax writes worlds where being queer is not remarkable, and futures are held in the hands of the many instead of the few. Dax can often be found listening to the same seven songs on repeat, watching Revolutionary Girl Utena, reading Howl’s Moving Castle (again), or playing Rachmoninoff on feir flute. Dax is owned by three cats, two ball pythons, and one Brazilian rainbow boa. Dax studied political science, music, and creative writing at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. Fey currently resides in Washington, DC with feir spouse. You can find them on the web at daxmurray.com, on Twitter @DaxAeterna, or sign up for feir newsletter.

Why My First Novel Couldn’t Be Anything But #ownvoices: a Guest Post by Naomi Tajedler

Today on the site we have guest post from Naomi Tajedler, author of the recently released Concerto in Chroma Major. Naomi’s here to talk about her book’s being #ownvoices, which, for those who don’t know, is a term that was coined by author Corinne Duyvis to refer to work written by an author who shares the marginalized identity (or identities) of their main character.

Before we get to the post, here’s some info on the book:

Alexandra Graff, a Californian living in Paris, is a stained-glass artist whose synesthesia gifts her with the ability to see sounds in the form of colors. When she is commissioned to create glass panels for the new Philharmonie, she forms a special bond with the intriguing Halina Piotrowski, a famous Polish pianist. As their relationship develops, Alexandra shows Halina the beautiful images her music inspires. But when it comes to a lasting future together, will Halina’s fear of roots and commitment stand in the way?

Buy it!

And here’s the post!

***

Like many xennial authors, my first creative writing came in the form of fanfiction. This medium turned out to be exactly what I needed to figure out what I wanted to read, what I wanted to write, and how to create my own characters. More importantly, it gave me the courage to write the stories I felt needed to be told, to express the voices I needed to be heard.

It’s at this starting point in my career as an author that I turned to YA. Not only did an opportunity to take this leap into original fiction came in the shape of an anthology (at Duet Books, Interlude Press’ YA imprint), but I felt like the very first time I wanted to write a story all of my own, I needed to write it for Past Me. For the teenager I used to be. For her insecurities, for her doubts, for her pains, for what she didn’t know but unconsciously set her apart from her peers.

Fourteen-year old me needed a story telling her that no matter what, if she stayed true to herself, the people around her would still love her. Thus What The Heart Wants was born.

The story of a young girl who discovers that Straight may not be her norm was a story I could have used at Noam’s age. I could also have used the story of someone who doesn’t fit “normal” beauty standards and yet is loved and crushed on. I could also have used, at some point in my development as a woman who is still questioning herself, the story of someone who refuses to date simply because it is “expected” of her.

Writing Noam’s coming of age story came to me pretty naturally, because my teenage self, back when I wrote it, was bursting at the seams to come back into my life, with all the strength, rage and loudmouth adulthood had tamed into silence.

Writing this short story unlocked the door I had unconsciously closed on my plot bunnies. Stories I had told myself, funny and adventurous. Stories I had daydreamed about while studying and / or working.

Then the time came to think about what would be next, and I decided that I needed to write, well, for me now. For the adult I had become in spite of, or thanks to, the heartbreaks and pains.

Writing Concerto in Chroma Major took me a while, because a short story is not a novel, and writing for adults is not the same challenge as writing for young adults, obviously.

Parallelly to writing this story is when I started therapy, and some sessions were dedicated to that process. Unconsciously, a lot of it infused this story, which is why it cannot suit a young adult audience. It’s not that young adults cannot deal with darker themes, not at all. There are challenges, ideas, we face in Life later on and an insight that demands years to step back from the situation and look at it differently to accept someone else’s point of view.

Through the story, I realized that I projected a lot of who I am into my characters: Halina has my independence, my wanderlust, my love for art; Alexandra has my synesthesia, my fatness, my views on Judaism and how to be Jewish, my romantic identity. She also represents the woman I aim to be: more confident in myself and my body, more at ease with herself and her pursuit of romance, more comfortable with confrontations too.

Concerto in Chroma Major is #ownvoices in many ways. Through it, I express my voice as a fat, bisexual, Jewish woman, all communities that need more representation from within.

No one can claim to speak for an entire community, but I do know that my voice is one representation within a more global picture.

***

Born and raised in Paris, France, Naomi Tajedler learned to love art from the womb when her father played guitar to her pregnant mother. Her love for books led her to a Bachelor of Arts in Book Restoration and Conservation, followed by a Master’s Degree in Art market  management. Her first short story, “What The Heart Wants”, was published in Summer Love (2015), an LGBTQ Young Adult collection by Duet Books. When not writing, Naomi can be found sharing body positive tips on social media and trying recipes out on her loved ones.

Twitter handle: @Naomi_Tajedler

Fave Five: LGBTQ Takes on Pride & Prejudice

The Right Thing to Do at the Time by Dov Zeller (trans m/f)

The Story of Lizzy and Darcy by Grace Watson (f/f)

Gay Pride and Prejudice by Kate Christie (f/f)

First Impressions by Christopher Koehler (m/m)

Gay Pride and Prejudice by Ryan Field (m/m)