Excerpt Reveal: The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake

Exciting times on the site today! We’ve got an exclusive excerpt from Melissa Eastlake’s upcoming m/m YA Rapunzel retelling, The Uncrossing, which releases from Entangled Teen on October 2nd! Check this out:

Luke can uncross almost any curse—they unravel themselves for him like no one else. So working for the Kovrovs, one of the families controlling all the magic in New York, is exciting and dangerous, especially when he encounters the first curse he can’t break. And it involves Jeremy, the beloved, sheltered prince of the Kovrov family—the one boy he absolutely shouldn’t be falling for.

Jeremy’s been in love with cocky, talented Luke since they were kids. But from their first kiss, something’s missing. Jeremy’s family keeps generations of deadly secrets, forcing him to choose between love and loyalty. As Luke fights to break the curse, a magical, citywide war starts crackling, and it’s tied to Jeremy.

This might be the one curse Luke can’t uncross. If true love’s kiss fails, what’s left for him and Jeremy?

TBR it * Buy it

And now, the excerpt!

*****

Finally, feeling like a human tornado, he pulled out his phone and texted Jeremy: What a day

The reply took no time at all. Tired of talking about it. Tell me another joke?

He replied with the dumbest thing he could think of: Where did the general put his armies?

He waited, looking out the window at the piles of ash they’d left in the alley. The bird beat dumbly against the wall near Luke’s arm—he couldn’t control it, but it stayed close to him anyway.

The phone rang.

Luke thought, Fuck. He answered. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” He waited for Jeremy to say no. Just once, for someone else to show some sense.

“Where?” There was already laughter in Jeremy’s voice.

Luke touched the window. In the room’s weak air conditioning, the glass was warm. “In his sleevies.”

Jeremy laughed and groaned at once. “Oh, no.”

Oh, no. “Oh, yes.”

“Nope. No, no, nope.”

Stop it right now. “Yes. Say it. Say, ‘Oh, yes.’”

Jeremy was quiet for a long time. Luke opened his hand against the glass. Good, he thought. Hang up on me.

“Oh.” Jeremy paused. “Yes.”

Luke squeezed his eyes shut. “I changed my mind. Don’t ever say that to me again.”

“Yes?”

“Stop it right now. You will hang up your phone if you know what’s good for you, Kovrov.”

Jeremy didn’t hang up. “Can you not call me that?”

Luke put his forehead against the back of his hand on the window. There were lots of things he could have said, but the one he picked was, “Jeremy.”

Jeremy’s breath caught, a click through the phone. “You should hang up on me. I’m the one who, you know. All this. My family. Everything.”

“I don’t think I’m going to do that.” It had been a long day, but Luke hadn’t forgotten the beginning of it: that smile in the car. He’d known what he’d wanted before his vision and the attack, and he knew what he wanted now. “I think I’m going to kiss you.”

Jeremy was quiet. Luke could see him: gaze sliding everywhere, stretching his fingers out to tap his palm against whatever was near. His bed. Luke rolled his face up, putting his lips on the back of his hand.

“Yes,” Jeremy said.

*****

Melissa Eastlake’s debut novel, The Uncrossing, is coming in 2017 from Entangled Teen. She is a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow and lives in Athens, Georgia with her partner and their dogs.

 

 

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Mental Illness and Happily Ever After: a Guest Post by Taylor Brooke

My name is Taylor Brooke and I have Dissociative Dysthymia.

I sound like I’m standing in front of an empty chair at a narcotics anonymous meeting and I’m about to share my story. Granted, I’ve done that before, too. But this is much different and there isn’t really another way to begin. I’m a twenty-six-year-old Queer girl living in Central Oregon. I write books about magic and heartache, blurred lines and wanting. Recently, I wrote a book about all these things stirred up like cake batter, sprinkled with parts of me that I hadn’t fully realized until the story finished baking, was topped with icing and ready to eat.

Fortitude Smashed is a contemporary romance. It’s a little bit science fiction, and a little bit literary. Underneath the contemporary romance, science fiction and literary, there’s a quiet, selfish sub-plot that showed itself after I piled a piece onto a plate. I didn’t realize that the sprinkles of me that I’d tossed into the book would present themselves as brightly as they did.

I have Dissociative Dysthymia, and so does the main character, Aiden Maar.

But this is Contemporary Romance. Queer, mentally ill main characters don’t get to fall in love, and if they do, they don’t get to keep it.

Except they do. We do.

After years of exposure to eerily distinct, boxed-in narratives describing mentally ill, Queer characters as problems to be solved, riddles to be answered, and ugly wounds to be healed, I anticipated that this book would never be published. It wasn’t neat. Aiden wasn’t miraculously healed after he fell in love, his anxiety didn’t vanish, his depression wasn’t erased, but he was loved. He got to love back, too.

It was inconceivable. A character, like me, that I had written into a book about soulmates, was given a messy, deserved, heartfelt happy ending. He was given a chance.

Fortitude Smashed 900px FRONTBecause we deserve to be given a chance. I hadn’t written Fortitude Smashed as a how-to or a fantasy, because it’s neither. It’s a contemporary romance – realistic, raw, a little bruised. It’s the happy ever after most Queer, mentally ill folks don’t get to see in their favorite romance books.

Aiden doesn’t get better, because there isn’t anything wrong with him.

Honestly, coming to that realization after I finished my first read through of the book was jarring to say the least. I didn’t set out to dismantle my own thought process, but I did, somehow. It’s easy to discredit ourselves, to say we don’t deserve this or that when it comes to dating, love, friendship and so on. But we do.

Happy ever after doesn’t equal the eradication of mental illness, it simply involves the communication, patience and understanding that comes with loving a mentally ill person.

We deserve love. We deserve soulmate tropes and coffee shop meet-cutes, college fling storylines and fake dating clichés. There’s room for mentally ill characters to be front and center, and to be given the same beautiful, funny, heart wrenching, warm love stories that neurotypical characters are repeatedly gifted.

Fortitude Smashed did get picked up by an amazing publisher, even though I thought it wouldn’t. No one asked me to change Aiden. He got to be himself, flawed, wonderful, manic, wanted and scarred. He got to fall in love and keep it.

We all do. We just have to be brave enough to know it, or strong enough to allow ourselves the chance to believe in it. Fate, soulmates, romance, cute dates and lifelong friendship – we get it all. Even us.

Especially us.

Buy Fortitude Smashed at:

Barnes & Noble * Interlude PressAmazon * Book Depository

Add it on Goodreads

After fleshing out a multitude of fantastical creatures as a special effects makeup artist, Taylor Brooke turned her imagination back to her true love—books. When she’s not nestled in a blanket typing away on her laptop, she’s traveling, hiking or reading. She writes Queer books for teens and adults. Her debut, Fortitude Smashed, will be published by Interlude Press in September 2017. Follow her on Twitter at @taysalion.

Excerpt Reveal: Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale

Queer Fantasy fans, rejoice! In honor of Ginn Hale’s upcoming release of The Long Past, out on October 3rd, she’s rebooting her Lord of the White Hell series today, and we’ve got an excerpt! Best of all? The book is on sale for just $2.99 this week only! (Buy links below.)

Kiram Kir-Zaki may be considered a mechanist prodigy among his own people, but when he becomes the first Haldiim ever admitted to the prestigious Sagrada Academy, he is thrown into a world where power, superstition and swordplay outweigh even the most scholarly of achievements.

But when the intimidation from his Cadeleonian classmates turns bloody, Kiram unexpectedly finds himself befriended by Javier Tornesal, the leader of a group of cardsharps, duelists and lotharios who call themselves Hellions.

However Javier is a dangerous friend to have. Wielder of the White Hell and sole heir of a Dukedom, he is surrounded by rumors of forbidden seductions, murder and damnation. His enemies are many and any one of his secrets could not only end his life but Kiram’s as well.

Buy It: Amazon * Smashwords

And now, here’s the excerpt!

“The White Tree is here.” Javier strode to the center of the circle of gnarled trees and dropped to his knees.

“But there’s nothing there.” Kiram frowned at grassy clearing.

“I’m here.” Javier smiled up at him and then lifted his hand to Kiram. His fingers were gashed. Streaks of his blood stood out like dark strokes against his pale skin. “You’re here.”

Kiram came forward and laced his fingers with Javier’s.

“Don’t let go,” Javier told him.

“I won’t.”

Then Javier placed his free hand on the ground and bowed his head. He whispered a Bahiim word again and again. White sparks flared over his fingers. Where they struck Kiram’s skin a hot, pulsing sensation flared up but then faded at once to a dead cold. Javier’s entire body tensed and his voice grew rough with the force he pushed into each word.

Above them the jays shrieked and swirled and then, as a mass, they dived. Kiram hunched over Javier, shielding his face. If Javier noticed he gave no sign.

Kiram felt the wind of hundreds of wings descending and steeled for their impact. A single sweep of talons clawed across his bowed neck and then an explosion of white fire ripped up from Javier. A wave of intense heat washed through Kiram. The jays screamed and then went suddenly silent. All around Kiram the world burned away and strange forms rose from the waves of power emanating from the white hell.

A curling gray smoke hung where brambles had once formed dark walls. Where twisted oaks had stood, now thirteen tangled black knots loomed up. Like crooked fingers opening from huge fists they unfurled the way the simple letters of Calixto’s diary had opened. But these trees were far more complex. Every twig and branch twisted into forms of script. Roots erupted and surged forward like black eels, all of them swimming straight for Javier’s extended hand.

A blinding white symbol glowed from beneath Javier’s fingers. As Kiram watched it grew more intense, turning Javier’s flesh luminous as a paper lantern and casting shadows of the bones of his hand. A trembling, electric sensation shot up from Javier through Kiram’s arm. The sensation grew painfully hot but Kiram hung on.

Cold, black roots slithered over Kiram’s feet and ankles as they swarmed up over Javier’s outstretched hand. They writhed up his arm and for a horrifying moment Kiram thought they would engulf Javier, but as they touched his skin, light scorched along their tangled lengths and shot up into the surrounding trees.

In moments all thirteen trees were ablaze with light. Their writhing branches traced glowing golden script into the air and the symbols seemed to take flight, spreading over the brambles and woods, then filling the sky. The symbols shone like stars and then fell like snowflakes.

One drifted down to Kiram’s arm. It looked like the symbol for protection. It felt like the lightest kiss against his skin, and then it melted away leaving Kiram feeling somehow safer and stronger, despite the fierce heat rolling over him.

All around the symbols settled, illuminating the surrounding wilderness, and suddenly Kiram realized that this was the White Tree: the entire glade, lit and luminous with blessings.

Still kneeling at his side, Javier didn’t seem to see anything. Kiram felt tremors of exhaustion rocking his muscles.

“Javier, I think it’s done. We should go.” Kiram tugged at Javier’s hand. “You can stop now.”

Javier raised his head. The black shadows of his skull and teeth showed through his luminous, pale skin. Blinding white fire filled the hollows of his eyes. It was as if the face of death leered up at him.

Kiram jumped and almost lost his hold on Javier’s hand.

“Javier!” Terror lifted the pitch of Kiram’s voice. “Close the white hell! Close it!”

The jaw of the skull dropped as if to speak but only white vapor rose from the gaping mouth.

*****

Award-winning author Ginn Hale lives in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and their ancient, evil cat. She spends the rainy days admiring local fungi. The stormy nights, she spends writing science-fiction and fantasy stories featuring LGBT protagonists. (Attempts to convince the cat to be less evil have been largely abandoned.)

Connect with Ginn: Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Instagram  |  Author Site

New Releases: September 2017

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (5th)

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: they’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news is: there’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—an unforgettable day that will change both their lives forever.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * Indiebound

I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin (5th)

Dear Best Friend,
I can already tell that I will hate everyone but you.
Sincerely,
Ava Helmer
(that brunette who won’t leave you alone)

We’re still in the same room, you weirdo.
Stop crying.
G

So begins a series of texts and emails sent between two best friends, Ava and Gen, as they head off to their first semesters of college on opposite sides of the country. From first loves to weird roommates, heartbreak, self-discovery, coming out and mental health, the two best friends will document every moment to each other. But as each changes and grows into her new life, will their friendship be able to survive the distance?

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * IndieBound

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic by F.T. Lukens (7th)

Desperate to pay for college, Bridger Whitt is willing to overlook the peculiarities of his new job—entering via the roof, the weird stacks of old books and even older scrolls, the seemingly incorporeal voices he hears from time to time—but it’s pretty hard to ignore being pulled under Lake Michigan by… mermaids? Worse yet, this happens in front of his new crush, Leo, the dreamy football star who just moved to town.

Fantastic.

When he discovers his eccentric employer Pavel Chudinov is an intermediary between the human world and its myths, Bridger is plunged into a world of pixies, werewolves, and Sasquatch. The realm of myths and magic is growing increasingly unstable, and it is up to Bridger to ascertain the cause of the chaos, eliminate the problem, and help his boss keep the real world from finding the world of myths.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N

Spinning by Tillie Walden (12th)

Poignant and captivating, Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden’s powerful graphic memoir, Spinning, captures what it’s like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point?The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she’d outgrown her passion–and she finally needed to find her own voice.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N

Autoboyography by Christina Lauren (12th)

Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.

But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.

It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * Target * The Ripped Bodice * Audible 

Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story by Sonia Patel (12th)

Seventeen-year-old Jaya Mehta detests wealth, secrets, and privilege, though he has them all. His family is Indian, originally from Gujarat. Rasa Santos, like many in Hawaii, is of mixed ethnicity. All she has are siblings, three of them, plus a mother who controls men like a black widow spider and leaves her children whenever she wants to. Neither Jaya nor Rasa have ever known real love or close family―not until their chance meeting one sunny day on a mountain in Hau’ula.

The unlikely love that blooms between them must survive the stranglehold their respective pasts have on them. Each of their present identities has been shaped by years of extreme family struggles. By the time they cross paths, Jaya is a transgender outsider with depressive tendencies and the stunningly beautiful Rasa thinks sex is her only power until a violent pimp takes over her life. Will their love transcend and pull them forward, or will they remain stuck and separate in the chaos of their pasts?

Buy it: Amazon * B&N

Initiates of the Blood by Cecilia Tan (18th)

Mira, a dom in New York City, is delighted when Clive, a one-time playmate, turns up at a BDSM party. When a fire breaks out, Mira frees Clive from captivity; they are rescued by a group of magic-workers calling themselves the Circle of Light. Skeptical, Mira must accept that magic is real when a ritual saves Clive’s life and ties his soul to hers.

Erotic play strengthens their bond and deepens their love for each other…a love they share freely with the Circle, save those who must hold themselves apart from the pleasures of the flesh. Mira’s idyll is shattered when the Circle is attacked by the Partisans of Fire, who want control over the Circle’s ancient knowledge.

Set in contemporary New York, Initiates of the Blood combines sex, blood magic, and romance into a stimulating, sensual, satisfying tale.

Buy it: Indiebound| Powell’s | Chapters/Indigo | Amazon | Google Books | Tor Books

Release by Patrick Ness (19th)

Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life.

Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart.  At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela.

But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * Books of Wonder

Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell (19th)

South Africa is loud. Listen. Do you hear the song and dance of it? The chorus of Khayelitsha life? Every voice is different, its pitch and tone and intonation as distinct as the words we choose and how we wrap our mouths around them. But everybody has a voice, and everybody sings…

Fifteen year old Neo loves music, it punctuates her life and shapes the way she views the world. A life in radio is all she’s ever wanted.
When Umzi Radio broadcasts live in a nearby bar Neo can’t resist. She sneaks out to see them, and she falls in love, with music, and the night, but also with a girl: Tale has a voice like coffee poured into a bright steel mug, and she commands the stage.

It isn’t normal. Isn’t right. Neo knows that she’s supposed to go to school and get a real job and find a nice young boy to settle down with. It’s written everywhere – in childhood games, and playground questions, in the textbooks, in her parents’ faces. But Tale and music are underneath her skin, and try as she might, she can’t stop thinking about them.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * IndieBound

Fortitude Smashed by Taylor Brooke (21st)

Fortitude Smashed 900px FRONTAfter scientists stumbled across an anomalous human hormone present during moments of emotional intimacy, further research created the ability to harness the direction of living energy and pinpoint when two lines will merge. Personalized chips are now implanted beneath the thumbnails of every infant, where glowing numbers count down to the moment they will meet their soul mate.

Fate is now a calculation.

But loving someone isn’t.

When Shannon Wurther, the youngest detective in Southern California, finds himself face-to-face with Aiden Maar, the reckless art thief Shannon’s precinct has been chasing for months, they are both stunned. Their Camellia Clocks have timed out, and the men are left with a choice—love one another or defy fate.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N 

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell by Avon Gale (25th)

Victoria “Vix” Vincent has only two weeks to find a replacement fiddle player for her band’s summer tour. When classically trained violinist Sawyer Bell shows up for an audition, Vix is thrilled. Sawyer is talented, gorgeous, funny, and excited about playing indie rock instead of Beethoven. Their friendship soon blossoms into romance, even though Vix tries to remember that Sawyer’s presence is only temporary.

Sawyer’s parents think she’s spending the summer months touring Europe with a chamber ensemble. But Sawyer is in dire need of a break from the competitiveness of Juilliard, and desperately wants to rediscover her love of music. Going on tour with her secret high school crush is just an added bonus. Especially when Vix kisses her one night after a show, and they discover that the stage isn’t the only place they have chemistry.

But the tour won’t last forever, and as the summer winds down, Sawyer has to make a tough decision about her future—and what it means to follow her heart.

Buy it: Riptide

In Her Court by Tamsen Parker (29th)

Newly minted professor Evangeline “Van” Thompson’s academic dreams have turned into nightmares. She can’t wait to escape the pressure cooker of the university to spend the summer at Camp Firefly Falls with her bestie, Nate.

Unfortunately, Nate breaks his leg halfway through the season, and his little sister Willa fills in for him as resident tennis instructor. Van has fond memories of the blonde moppet, but when Willa shows up at camp, she’s not so little anymore. She’s grown into a bombshell and a menace on the tennis court—why do those skirts have to be so short, anyway?

Willa Carter has had a crush on Van Thompson since the third grade but Van’s always been more interested in hanging out with Willa’s older brother. Not much seems to have changed—Van’s managing the camp’s web presence while Willa rocks her tennis whites.

Camp will be closing in a few weeks, and Van’s barely spoken to Willa despite sharing a cabin. But when the two get thrown together to plan the last session of camp, s’mores might not be the only thing getting sticky and sweet before the season’s out…

Buy it: Amazon * iBooks * Kobo

 

Where is the Queer Black Male Voice in YA?

It doesn’t take a lot of in-depth knowledge to know that intersectionality is lacking in the current LGBTQIAP YA market, but there’s perhaps no gaping hole in it quite as glaring as that of the queer Black teen boy perspective. In the past five* years, to the best of my knowledge, there has only been one YA novel released by a major mainstream publisher with an explicitly** Black male narrator, and if you guessed it was by a white woman, you are correct.

Wanna find one by a Black male author by a major mainstream publisher***? You have to go back to Sunday You Learn How to Box by Bil Wright.

Which was published in the year 2000.

Yes, you read that right: the last YA released by a major mainstream publisher with a queer Black male narrator and written by a Black male author is itself already a teenager.

So, hey, that’s pretty messed up! It might almost make you wonder about the queer Black male authors trying to get their #ownvoices stories published, wouldn’t it.

Good news! Here are four such authors with a whole lot of wisdom, thoughts, and experiences to share.

Ryan Douglass

Ryan WilliamsI’m a 23-year-old writer from Atlanta, Georgia. I went to high school in Geneva, Switzerland, as my mom worked for the UN. I was one of two African-American students in my grade there. There were two or three others in different grades, and that includes my brother. I’ve been to nine countries, six of them in Europe. I went to college at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY where I studied theatre and creative writing. I’m a freelance writer, graphic designer and actor. I’ve worked professionally in journalism and marketing. I’ve also been a security guard and a professional dog walker. I contribute thought pieces on social politics as well as arts & culture to The Huffington Post. I’m an award-winning spoken word poet (and regular poet). I occasionally perform in the poetry cafes in Atlanta. I’m very into fitness and health. I also love rock climbing, camping, and music festivals. I’m obsessed with creepy horror moviesmy favorites are Oculus, The Conjuring, and Insidious but NOT The Conjuring 2 and definitely not any of the chapters following the original Insidious. I’m an amateur ukulele player and really into music in general.

A. Leon Walker

Isom_Anthony_ (12)A. Leon Walker spends his days assisting library patrons in his small, Midwest town by soothing their daily woes or satisfying their curious appetites. By night, he takes the stage at the historic Croswell Opera House, where he fulfills his personal frustrations and delights. Meanwhile, he’s always conjuring up some new tale for readers of all ages in hopes of someday being shelved among his favorite writers.

Brandon Goode

BrandonBrandon Goode grew up in the small beach town of Melbourne, Florida. He attended Eastern Florida State College and Florida International University. He loves to motivate and inspire others, enjoys traveling, and eats an insanely amount of sushi. Oh, and he is obsessed with all things on the Bravo network.

Kosoko Jackson

KosokoKosoko Jackson is the Digital Media Associate for Rock The Vote and manages social media accounts totaling 270K followers. He also moonlights as a paid sensitivity reader for big 5 publishers. Kosoko has taught elementary kids how to read, educated millennials about the power of voting, and held various communications positions in political organizations. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BS in Public Health with a minor in new media communications. He lives in Washington D.C and is represented by Louise Fury at The Bent Agency.

Please introduce yourselves! Who are you, what do you write, and where are you in the publishing journey?  

A. Leon: Hello, everyone! Dahlia, thank you so much for this exciting opportunity. This is truly a dream come true. My name is A. Leon Walker (A stands for Anthony), I write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, and am currently unpublished.

Kosoko: Hi! I’m Kosoko Jackson. I write YA novels in every genre, but my bread-and-butter is historical fiction with POC main characters and contemporary novels. I’m currently agented and working with my agent on my debut novel.

Ryan:  I’m Ryan Douglass, I write YA horror and thriller and I’m represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency. We’re still working on my manuscript.  

Brandon: Hello! My name is Brandon Goode. I’m from Orlando and I write YA Fantasy and poetry. I’m currently working on my second novel and two books of poetry. Outside of writing I can be found eating sushi while watching Degrassi reruns, shopping at the local thrift stores in Orlando, and popping into the Disney Parks when I can.

Between querying, subbing, and self-pubbing, what are you finding to be the greatest obstacles so far? Any constant refrain in responses?

Kosoko: I think querying was the hardest, but that’s more from a personal level. Agents are the first level of gatekeepers and in many situations, you have to, in your writing, query, etc, prove that your story is something that can make it through all the further gauntlets. Sometimes, it’s the real first time you have someone independently say “This is good” or “this is crap” (hopefully no one says THAT). But nonetheless, that’s hard. Many great stories don’t get published, or even get agents because of thisand sometimes you get little feedback from agents you query. Agenting, to me, is harder because it’s very cut-and-dry, with little insight, and felt, often, like stabs in the dark. I do think that sort of diligence builds a good first skin you need to be a creative POC LGBT person, though.

Ryan: Querying was definitely my biggest hurdle. I wrote three manuscripts before writing the one that landed me my agent! But I needed to write the failures to learn who I was as a writer. My rejections were varied while sending out my last manuscript but for the ones before that, I often heard the stories lacked originality (which they did).

Brandon: I think the one thing I have found to be the greatest obstacle so far was spreading the word about my novel. The Secrets of Eden was released in March of this year and I had to do everything on my own since I self-published this novel. So take that and add in the disaster of a year that 2017 has been so far with social issues, and that’s why it’s been a great obstacle. Twitter has been a great tool in spreading the word and getting my novel out there, but of course I feel like more could’ve been done.

A. Leon: Querying used to be my biggest hurdle. These days, drafting seems to be the beast to conquer. It’s one of the reasons I’ve committed to writing a short story collection; for one thing, I’ve dreamed since I was 20 years old and first read Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things of composing my own cohesive collection but it has also proven rather useful in keeping me writing. Due to my day job, the one that pays the bills, I’m blessed to afford a four-day weekend every other week, which I spend writing my stories. I’ve a novel building in the subconscious, which will hit the page when I come to it.

So far, two of my shorts have been rejected. I’ve a third on submission. Fingers daily crossed until I hear back.

Even as we start to see more intersectional YA on shelves, the intersection of Blackness, queerness, and masculinity is probably the rarest in the category, especially by queer Black men. Why do you think that is?

Brandon: I think it’s rare first of all because of the stereotypes to be honest. Black men have so many stereotypes about us, that sometimes the truth is rarely given the time of day by a proper audience. Growing up, I couldn’t really identify with many novels that were on the shelves because the characters weren’t black or gay, and I wish there were more novels. I can only speak for myself, but growing up I was taught to never cry. To always “man up” and be tough.

Masculinity is something that was shoved down my throat by my mother and father. My dad was never really in the picture, but the times I did see him it was the same masculinity hype over and over. Being black and gay and trying to be “masculine” in the eyes of my family was tough and was something that I have shut away in the past. I’ve evolved into the person I’m supposed to be through all of those experiences, but for those who don’t know what it’s like they can’t try to fake it in literature. I honestly think that even within certain corners of the black community, queerness is still a taboo topic. I always found it hypocritical for those within all communities, especially the black community, to turn their nose up at queerness. Everyone in this country, one way or the other, has faced some sort of inequality a time in their life. The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Suffrage, etc. all happened in American history and someone on the other side had to believe in those movements in order for equality to blossom. That same support needs to be given to the LGBTQIAP community. Until these conversations start happening more frequently, allowing those who are growing up or surrounded by it the proper push to share their voice, then those types of YA won’t exist. Even for those who are adults now, until they feel that their voice will be received then those books won’t come.

There’s a moment I remember breaking out of what I thought was a hold on me from being myself, but not everyone is surrounded with love and support being Black and queer. That’s why YA is important to share those stories. That’s why we have to cultivate this platform and provide the necessary support to those who aren’t receiving it.

Ryan: It’s hard to get Black stories in the mainstream publishing sphere and for queer, Black stories it’s even harder. Maybe the industry doesn’t think the stories will sell. On the writers’ side, there’s a strong possibility Black, queer writers are afraid to tell their own stories because they have no examples of their stories on shelves yet. It can feel like compromising your chances of success as a writer to write something there’s no precedent for. I used to think I had to write about straight, white people or I couldn’t be an author. But we won’t know if the stories will sell until we give them a chance, will we? There is also still a lot of pressure on Black men in the community to be masculine and heterosexual. Some Black writers could be closeted and writing about straight characters, which is okay and how I wrote my first two books.

Kosoko: I think, honestly, it’s because of the number of intersections. It’s easy to say “no” in the publishing world. The data is just starting to back the statement that “POC/LGBT stories have a place in our canon”. That’s because of successes like Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, and Nic Stoneand people like Adam Silvera. For each success, it’ll get easier, but there are still many reasons to say no from the publishing side. The whole conversation has to be shifted from “what sold before” to “what is needed now.” YA literature should reflect the times and the need of the youth who read it and as our society becomes more and more intersectional, we need more intersectional literature. That should, in my opinion, be reason enough.

A. Leon: My thoughts on this subject are too voluminous to sum up here; I’ll do my best to keep things brief. While masculinity, in and of itself, bears great privilege in all of society, therefore dominates the literary landscape despite the overwhelming female presence of the YA category and the romance genre (both outsell every single genre in the business, including thrillersa male-driven genre), add anything to that algorithm other than white or hetero and issues abound. Black male, queer male, black queer maleeach requires some deterioration to the male ego before your audience even begins engagement. Because we’ve all met black men, right? We’ve all met queer men? We’ve all met queer black men? Okay, then: we know how they act. There they must stay. Black men, you get to be Native Son and Invisible Man. Queer men, you get to be Boy Meets Boy and A Little Life. Black queer men, you get to be Giovanni’s Room. So when people read, unless you happen to disturb the male algorithm in some way, you don’t really ask yourself questions such as: Where all the black folks at? Where all the black queers at? This, of course, is just the beginning; to ask such questions means you’ve done little more than left the tarmac. Action, particularly on the part of writers and reviewers and critics, is due. Overdue, in my opinion.

Obviously, we’re seeing a tremendous push for diversity from advocates. How much do you feel like that’s making a difference? What actions do you feel would make a difference, and like to see more people engaging in?

Ryan: I feel like it’s making a difference in the types of books the community is paying attention to. For a long time black stories were relegated to the “black section” and gay ones to the “gay section”, et cetera, as if those stories could onIy be appreciated by those groups. I see these stories being normalized now and more people are open to reading them. I would love to see more people engaging in conversations about the content of books by marginalized authors and what is being taught through these narratives. In the YA community it can feel dangerous to admit you don’t know or understand something about an experience outside of your own because you risk being called problematic. But I think what we’re doing in writing books about our experiences is teaching, so it’s normal to learn and discuss a changed perspective. I think we should approach these conversations in open ways.

A. Leon: A greater sense of urgency, in terms of lacking queer voices, couldn’t hurt. Not only black queerness but Muslim queerness & Latin@ queerness & Biracial queerness & Asian queerness & international queerness. More & more & more & more. Variety, depth, nuance. This isn’t just dependent upon writers. It begins with critics & reviewers. We need thinkpieces, Op-Eds, reviews pointing out the absolute absence of diverse queer representation, even (or especially) within books written by white gays. Let’s look at the greater culture for a moment here as an example: Moonlight was the first-ever QUILTBAG+ film to win Best Film at the Academy Awards, although Brokeback Mountain got snubbed. This is significant. But why aren’t we hearing about it in droves? How many more people preferred La La Land because it was the one they saw as opposed to genuinely believing it the superior film? Writers of all forms need to take a closer probing glimpse at this lack, question and force others to question why we’re still stuck on white maleness as the paradigm within an already oppressed community.

Brandon: I think it’s great to have diversity! This world is one giant melting pot, and if there isn’t representation then people are excluded which isn’t right. I think that it’s a great idea, but I want to see more authors of color getting their recognition and their works published and publicized. I feel that authors who aren’t of color get more recognized for “diverse” stories as opposed to those who really should. There should be more LGBTQIAP authors and authors of color getting their moments in the spotlight as well. I think in order to further make a difference, pushing diversity needs to be championed more. I love things like #DVPit, Diverse Book Bloggers, etc. that are opening the doors for diversity, but there should be resources for diverse authors. Diversity isn’t a gimmick and people need to remember that.

Kosoko: Overall, the trends are slowly moving towards more representative societal reflections in literature, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean it’s happening fast enough. Outspoken advocates like Justina Ireland, Dhonielle Clayton &  L.L. McKinney have really helped us push the conversation and narrative forward, but I think sometimes that get’s lost in the mix. We think because the conversations are happening on Twitter, and the likes/retweets are high, there’s actual change going on, and there isn’t…not in the way we need.

Nicole Brinkley has a great thread on twitter where she shows the Publisher’s Weekly sales and compares the POC sales to the POC percentage of the US. It’s usually about 66% lower than the percentage of POCs in the US.

If you asked me one way to change that? I’d say we need more POC/LGBT people in publishing. Not just more agents, we need more editors and more POC/LGBT people in all positions. We need these people in the room where it happens (ha, Hamilton), and our presence to be reflective of society. I’d also like to see more POC LGBT writers, writing their own stories. I struggled with that for years–about 3–and though I’m not saying they HAVE TO, or should be forced to, I certainly think there should be a bigger push to have those stories. But that’ll only happen when there is a safety feeling in the YA community…

…and safety in YA is a COMPLETELY different topic.

What’s really important to you in the publishing staff that works with you and your books, especially you work that features queer Black boys?

A. Leon:  First and foremost: all my work features queer Black boys. It’s the one subject I cannot avoid, despite how hard (in the early days, especially) I’ve tried. That being said, a deep understanding of the great necessity for wider, deeper, more nuanced representation within queer literature is something publishing staff working with my oeuvre must understand. Otherwise, they’re not going to get it. Most beta readers who’ve not addressed these questions within themselves tend not to sit well with my work. They say things like, “This is good. Really good, in some places. But can’t you write about something other than gay sex?” Or they’ll say, “You don’t believe in writing stories with white guys or straight guys in them, do you?” I need desperately NOT to work with publishing staff who even consider questions like this as valid.

Kosoko: To me, it’s important to find like-minded individuals in the publishing world who understand that the single narrative of POCs, Queers, and that intersection isn’t the only story…and continuing to perpetuate that single story, does more harm than good. It’s important queers of color see a wide range of authentic stories that reflect a wealth of backgrounds. Personally, I’m a queer POC who hasn’t faced the disownment of my family that is so commonly associated with the story of queer POCs. I don’t relate as strongly to that sense of story, but I identify stronger with stories where the character has to struggle with the split identity of self. Someone else will say the reverse. Having publishers and those in the industry who understand, champion, and advocate this is important.

I think it’s also important POCs, and queer POCs, are given the same leeway as our white, straight counterparts. Think about the “quiet” YA novels. That same freedom isn’t often given to queer POCs, and that’s a disservice to the community as a whole.

Brandon: I think allowing the authenticity of an experience or story that you want to incorporate into your novel to stay intact. Being a gay Black male, I have experienced many things from pitfalls to triumphs, heartbreaks and falling in love, and anything else of the like that I can morph into a plot line for a novel to motivate someone is very important to me. I want my voice to be a voice that they can trust, and that comes from being real and vulnerable with my work.

Ryan: It’s so important to me that my work is not sanitized to push an agenda for what queer Black boys (or just Black boys or queer boys) should look like. I think there’s pressure when writing marginalized characters to make them paragons of nobility because a lot of people think victimhood makes someone inherently noble and likable. My characters are imperfect because they’re human. They’re also victims. I don’t want my work censored. The harshness of what happens to my characters is very important to me because it’s realistic, and my work usually has elements of horror to it, so it’s supposed to be uncomfortable. I really don’t want to see that damaged.

There’s been some really incredible success for authors of color in the past couple of years, including Black authors Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, Tomi Adeyemi, and Nicola Yoon. Is there a deal or award or other event that really stuck out to you as being an inspirational kick in the butt?

A. Leon: Two things: N.K. Jemisin winning the Hugo Award two years in a row for her best work to date. She’s the first black author to do so, despite the current wealth of black SF out there right now. So that’s been hugely inspiring! Also, encountering the work of Kai Ashante Wilson, whom everyone should read. Like, right now.

imagesRyan: Angie Thomas’s 13-house action and Tomi Adeyemi’s 7-figure movie deal were inspirational for me because it appeared publishers were looking for black stories. I also loved seeing Everything, Everything on the big screen because we don’t get to see black teens leading movies very often. I’ve been reading and admiring Jason Reynolds for some time now.

Kosoko: This is small, but being Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything as a movie meant a lot to me. Seeing a black girl on a poster, was something I never really saw before unless it was about some gang movie or some violent movie. To see black kids having that kind of inspiration; to be happy, to live their authentic lives, and to take chances and risks for their own happiness? That mean’s a lot to me. When I was younger, seeing something like that on the big screen would have influenced my writing, and been pivotal to becoming an author. I have a feeling it’ll do the same for other kids, and movies like The Hate U Give and Children of Blood and Bone will have similar results. And I’m so excited for that.

I mean, hellthey inspire ME.

What’s the first book you ever remember reading with a queer Black character? What about other media?

Laf1Kosoko: This was the question that took me the longest to answer. I don’t think I ever remember reading a queer black character (that may be on me, but also another reflection of the society we live in). TV wise, that’s not the same. I’d like to say Lafayette Reynolds from True Blood was the first I ever saw. And that really meant a lot to me because of how bad ass and genderfluid in some senses he was, which is something I’ve grasped with in some aspects of my life.

Ryan: I think it was Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda! The first one I saw on TV was Lafayette from True Blood. I was obsessed with that show back in the day.

A. Leon: The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin. The book with the most significant impact on me was Sorcerer of the Wildeeps and A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson. Sorcerer of the Wildeeps stars a gay black wizard in probably the deepest read about masculinity I’ve ever read; A Taste of Honey is a fantasy romance of epic proportions, addressing queerness of all types and including women in the conversation of masculinity. Obviously, Moonlight was an impactful film; my best friend from high school refers to me as Titus Andromedon (from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt); and there’s a great gay black cop with a beautifully complex perspective in HBO’s Six Feet Under.

Brandon: The first book I read with a queer Black character was If This World Were Mine by E. Lynn Harris.  Mr. Harris has many books on my bookshelf because growing up, there really weren’t any other books featuring Black queer characters that I could find or have access to. Thinking back to other media, the one show that sticks out for me is Noah’s Arc from creator Patrik-Ian Polk. It was like the black and gay version of Sex and the City. This show provided me with some of the inspiration I needed to become comfortable in my own skin and to live life to the fullest!

Of the LGBTQIAP YA that exists right now, what book(s) is closest to your heart?

Ryan: More Happy Than Not changed my life and what I thought was possible in LGBTQ fiction. It felt like receiving an undeserved present to have a gay character who was also a character of color and from a lower class background. But it is deserved. Everyone should be able to see themselves. I think that’s the first time I experienced that feeling of immediate connection that straight white people are getting when they read the majority of books.

Brandon: The book that is closest to my heart is Hero by Perry Moore. I read this book my senior year of high school and I have a tradition now of reading it once a year. This book really showed me that we could have YA novels where a gay character was the main character and not supporting. This novel also tackled topics of acceptance, family, loss and it touched me so much that I actually reached out to Perry Moore and had the honor and privilege of interviewing him before he passed away. Because of this experience, this novel became a part of me.

A. Leon: What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson. There’s a beautiful relationship at the center of that novel between the main white gay character and his PoC boyfriend. That shower scene makes me want to have sex in the shower, even though I hate sex in the shower. I read that book every year. (Not just for the sexy shower scene.)

Kosoko: The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich, Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy, If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan, and Looking for Group by Rory Harrison. Each of them has things I love in books and things I can identify with in my own life. I also won a preorder give away of They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, so I’m pretty excited for that!

What’s your dream conference panel to sit in on? To be on?

Brandon: I would LOVE to sit on a #BlackBoyJoy panel for YA literature. I think it would be neat to sit alongside other black male authors, whether LGBTQIAP or not, and share our stories and successes to inspire the next generation of authors and readers. Adversity is an obstacle that many may feel that they can’t overcome, but showing them that light always triumphs over the darkness will help push them  forward in their individual journeys.

Kosoko: I’d LOVE to be on a panel at FlameCon or World Con, especially since World Con 2019 is in Dublin, Irelandone of my favorite cities in the worldand speaks heavily to my desire to make more LGBT POC YA stories international. It kills 2 birds with one stone. FlameCon would be amazing because it’s so many awesome LGBT creators in one space of all types.

A. Leon: I want to play the 92Y. Roomful of deeply thinking people waiting to hear my deep thoughts. Yeah, that.

Ryan: I’d love to be on a panel with other queer writers of color, any of the wonderful authors I’ve connected with on Twitter, or any of my influences. Neal Shusterman is my biggest influence but if I shared a panel with him I would not be able to talk or breathe.

What’s on your bookish bucket list, i.e. something book/publishing-related you dream of achieving at some point?

Kosoko: I don’t know if one exists but I’d love to sit on a panel/be on the steering committee devoted to POC creators in the creative arts (if there is onetell me if not; I’d love to work with someone to create it). Conversations and topics are different when they center around POCslike the POC version of Sirensand I think that space really is needed. So I’d love to be a part of that, steering committee, etc.

A. Leon: Bestseller. And a whole shelf of books written by me that readers adore, whether they sold well or not. Some prize-winners in there, or at least nominated. Prize of choice: Michael Printz Award. Also, I just want to keep writing and publishing. I wish to leave behind shelves of books across all ages, platforms, techniques.

Ryan: International book tours because I love to travel and talk about myself.

Brandon: One day I hope to have one of my works produced for either television or film. I understand that not everyone enjoys reading, and some prefer watching great stories instead of reading them. So in order to reach that audience, a show or movie would do just that.

Got any words of inspiration for aspiring queer Black authors out there, and/or for your future readers?

Ryan: To queer, Black authors: write your stories. Don’t be afraid to write them. Write boldly and without fear. Include the ugly, the sexy, the awkward, the scary, the honest. We need your vulnerability! Things are changing and people are starting to listen. If you’re not ready to be open about your sexuality, write whatever you want.

To readers: I write what I know and do my best to make a narrative compelling and characters relatable. Everyone’s experience is different but marginalized people are often treated as a monolith and a lot of pressure is put on us to write for the whole community. I hope we can all give writers space to write their individual stories without having to speak for everyone at once.  I hope you like my creepy work because it’ll only get creepier.

Brandon: If I could give any words of inspiration it would be, “Love yourself more than anyone else. YOU are the most important person in your life and you and your dreams DO matter. Never give up until you reach the finish line, and even when you do that, drink more water and keep going!”

Kosoko: As a POC you have to work twice as hard as your white counterparts. As someone LGBT, you have to work twice as hard as your straight counterparts. As both? You need to work four times as hard. Don’t let that deter you. The harder the opposition, the more reason for you to keep sweating, keep shedding blood, and most of allcontinuing to write.

A. Leon: Read others’ work. Write your work. Be relentless.

***

*It was actually more than five years ago, as the Stonewall Honored Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz was published in April 2012.

**Proxy and Guardian by Alex London feature a dark-skinned male character one who might absolutely be read as Black, but it is not explicitly stated as such. Ditto Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. And yes, still white authors.

***Of course, it always behooves to support authors who are publishing through other means, so while you wait for these authors to grace your shelves, note that you can already buy The Secrets of Eden by Brandon Goode and check out the work of Craig Laurance Gidney.

 

Shopper’s Delight: New LGBTQ YA Sales

Guessing at least most of these sales will only last until the end of the month, so get ’em while you can! (All links are Amazon affiliate.)

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Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler ($1.99)

Marian by Ella Lyons ($1.99)

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown ($1.99)

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson ($1.99)

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie ($1.99)

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate ($2.99)

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate ($2.99)

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake ($3.99)

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger ($3.99)

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore ($8.25, hardcover)

Queering up your shelf, one rec at a time!