Emi Louise Croucher Talks The Butterfly on Fire, a Novel of Being Transgender Before Transitioning

Here at LGBTQReads, we aim to provide a spot where authors of books that rarely get promo space can discuss their books, whether already published or upcoming. The Butterfly on Fire by E.L. Croucher is a case of the former, having been self-published on May 2, 2017, and to talk about it, she’s written a guest post in the form of a self-interview.

Before we get to that, here’s some more on the book:

The Butterfly on Fire is the story of three different lives, each linked together by a tragic, unchanging truth.

Eric is growing up and realising how different he is to those around him. How much longer can he hide from himself?

Beam is trying to balance work and romance like everyone else living in London. When embarking on such a journey, anything could happen.

Fubuki is Queen of a magnificent world known as Macha Land, but finds herself struggling to maintain the peace after an innocent man mysteriously dies at one of her Songshows. Will her utopia last with death at her doorstep?

Buy it: Amazon US * Amazon UK

And now, the interview!

Tell us a little bit about the book to start with.

 I describe it as a fantasy / contemporary fiction novel, because there is a clearly defined fantasy narrative, whilst the others are a modern-day, fiction narrative. It follows three lives through certain challenges, like most novels, but it all comes together in a twist that (hopefully) the reader won’t expect.

Now tell us a bit about yourself.

 I’m a 25 year old woman working in London. I grew up in here, but also worked and studied in Japan for a while. I’m actually a Japanese translator by day, indie novelist by night. I started writing The Butterfly on Fire because I had something important to say, and I wanted to write about it. I am a part of the LGBT community, and so the main theme of the novel is about that, basically. At first I never even imagined I would finish a complete draft, but step by step I kept at it, and here I am.

So, is the book basically just about you?

Yes and no. Certain scenes and parts of the storyline are based on what has happened in my life. Even some characters are based on real people. But it is no way just an auto-biographical novel. Thanks also to my editor, it’s developed into its very own little world. Literally in the fantasy chapters. Each character has been developed to how I wanted them, so it’s not as simple as it being ‘about me’.

What made you think of the three narrative based structure?

Without giving too much away, it kind of developed itself. I had three ‘voices’ that I wanted to represent. Each one of those affiliates to a part of a person. One being the body, one about the mind and the fantasy chapters are the soul. It all just grew from there, really

Who is your favourite character within the novel?

Really? Am I allowed to even choose as the author? Although, I can imagine most authors would choose their protagonist, but for me that would be slightly strange as it’s based on me. So in fact, I would go with the love interest of the fantasy chapters. Prince Hikaru. Hikaru means light in Japanese, so he’s a real stereotypical, male ‘hero’ character. What I’ve also tried to do though, is modernise the out-dated hero / heroine narrative, and play with what it means to be a ‘hero’ when your lover is a powerful, magical Queen.

Would you have done anything differently, now it’s all finished?

I think anyone would. But generally in life I try and live in the moment and not look back on what I could have done. Sure, some chapters are probably more exciting than others. Some characters could have been developed more. All I am confident in is that the novel tells the message that I want to tell extremely clearly. You wouldn’t be able to read it fully and not see what I’m trying to bring to the table. For me, that is the most important thing. I’m happy with that.

What was the most difficult part of creating the novel?

I think finishing the first draft is where most people give up. Once I had a full blown draft with chapters and everything I felt like half the battle was done. Going into editing with E Goulding was such an exciting step, and it made it all so much more real. It began to come alive with each chapter we went through together. It was so worth completing the first draft to get to that stage.

Who do you feel the book is meant for?

It’s an LGBT novel, so the community and all of its lovely people. As an extension to that, I think the parents and siblings of an LGBT person would be able to relate to it as well. To be honest, any person that loves an empowering story and a bit of a tear jerky would love The Butterfly on Fire. That is parallel to a wonderfully different fantasy narrative that really bounces off of the modern fiction element. Anyone that likes LGBT stories and fantasy then, perhaps?

What other influences helped towards writing TBOF?

Japan was a huge one. There are elements of the Japanese culture and language scattered neatly throughout The Butterfly on Fire. Queen Fubuki does some of her spells in Japanese. The main characters of the modern-day, fictional narrative go for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Japan has been a powerful and consistent part of my life, so it would naturally be the same in a novel that I create.

Wiccanism is another one. I have always been a spiritual person, since I was young. I have tried to stay faithful to the lore and add a sense of realism to the fantasy side of things by having real Wiccan terminology and acts.

Lastly, I would be a liar if I said my previous boyfriends and fiancés didn’t play their part as well! Lol!

How is the publishing process going so far?

So far it’s been a whirlwind of excitement! We are getting some fantastic reviews on our Amazon page, as people are starting to naturally finish the book now. It’s early days because its only been two months since self-publishing The Butterfly on Fire, but we are off to a great start! I couldn’t be happier!

Tell us in 10 words why you think people should read this novel?

It will change how you view a certain minority (hopefully).

*****

E L Croucher is a 25 year old YA novel writer. She is currently living in London, England. The Butterfly on Fire was inspired by her LGBT background and love of the Japanese language and culture. She always dreamt of becoming an author and started working on publishable material since taking A level English.

After starting to learn Japanese when she was 16 she entered SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) and attended Waseda in Tokyo, Japan on her year abroad. Eventually, after returning home to Kent, England, she started The Butterfly on Fire.

Cover Reveal: Team Phison by Chace Verity

Today on the site we’ve got a brand-new cover reveal: Team Phison by Chace Verity! And not only are we exclusively revealing the cover, but we’ve got an excerpt, too! First, of course, some info on the book:

For 55-year-old Phil Hutton, finding a new boyfriend is tough, especially since he’s still hurting from his ex leaving him for a younger man. Online dating has been a soul-crushing experience for the restaurant owner. Too many meat-haters interested in microbreweries or something called geocaching. His matches in the multiplayer for his favorite video game have been equally sucky too.

One night, he encounters a newbie who is so helpless, Phil can’t help showing him the ropes. It doesn’t take long for Phil to become interested in his enthusiastic teammate. 28-year-old Tyson Falls from Georgia loves working as a server in a rinky pizza joint and sees the best in everything. As Phil’s online dating matches get worse and his in-game matches with Tyson get better, he finds himself wanting to pursue the easygoing chatterbox with a thick, sexy drawl.

But Phil can’t get past the fear that Tyson could possibly want a fossil like him. If his brain doesn’t being so damn insecure, it might be game over for his heart.

And now, the cover!

But wait, there’s more! Check out this adorable excerpt!

Tyson’s the sort of guy who needs to talk all the time with everyone about everything. It’s a quality I don’t think anyone should have, but his genuine affection tickles my ribcage. He keeps trying to bring our various team members into our discussion, and he pouts when they don’t respond to his question.

Sometime in the middle of a “Defend The Flag Holder” mission, while Tyson takes the scenic route to our base, curiosity consumes me. Probably because I’m two drinks deep and pleasantly buzzed for once instead of annoyed. But it couldn’t possibly hurt to learn more about him.

“Say, Tyson, where’re you from? Georgia?”

He chuckles. “Did my accent give it away? You’re right. Athens. What about you, Phil?”

“Massachusetts.”

The screen flashes green after Tyson plants the flag in our base, causing him to erupt in a high-pitched cheer. The screeching doesn’t bother me though. I’m distracted by the memory of our last conversation. Are his eyes as green as our victory screen?

“Hey, Tyson. Did you ever figure out what color your eyes are?”

“Huh? Oh. No, I didn’t.”

Good grief. He’s pretty hopeless.

“Send me a pic, and I’ll tell you.”

A long and painful pause ensues. My cheeks burn, surely because of the alcohol. I shift in my chair and rub the back of my neck.

“Is there a camera on the system? I don’t see one.”

Oh, God, he looked. He wants to send me a picture. This isn’t the whisky making my head spin. I’m experiencing, uh, what’s that emotion called?

Embarrassment.

He exits the game, pushing me to new levels of uncomfortable. We’re still in a party so we can keep talking to each other.

“Message me your phone number,” Tyson says. “I’ll text it to you.”

My brain says no, but my traitorous fingers send him my number in no time flat. What’s the worst that could happen? He can’t steal my identity with it or anything. I think.

I’m not doing a lot of thinking right now, am I?

I exit the game as well and glance down at my iPhone. Waiting. Waiting.

My phone lights up, alerting me to a new text from an unknown number. Hardly a second passes before I open it.

He has small, beautiful brown eyes.

Tyson’s definitely in his late 20’s. Can’t quite gauge his height since it’s an awkward bathroom selfie, but he’s a bit soft around the edges. Probably has a beer belly. Sun-kissed skin. Dark, shaggy hair. Hasn’t shaved in a few days. Didn’t bother taking off his headset.

Goofiest fucking smile ever. And I kind of like it.

***

Is that not the most adorable?? Here’s where you can preorder it!

Smashwords | Kobo | Nook

(Amazon coming soon!)

***

 Chace Verity (she/they) is publishing queer as heck stories with a strong romantic focus, although queer 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.”

If you think Chace Verity and Chasia Lloyd look suspiciously alike, you might be onto something.

Fave Five: Gay and Bi YA with Jewish MCs

(Note: there was already a cross-category post of Jewish MCs in LGBTQ lit, a couple of which were YA titles, so check there too. That was published before most of these were available.)

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsburg (G)

Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta (B)

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (B)

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller (G)

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson (B)

5 Queer Romance Novels that Center on Art: a Guest Post by Roan Parrish

Today on the site we have Roan Parrish with her own Fave Five of sorts, recommending queer romance novels that center on art to celebrate the release of her own such novel, Heart of the Steal, which is out today!

Responsible, disciplined William Fox channeled his love for art and his faith in the rules into being an FBI Art Crimes agent. Right and wrong, justice and injustice—the differences are clear, and Will has spent his career drawing a line between them. Maybe his convictions have cost him relationships, but he’s not willing to compromise what he knows is right. Until the night he meets Amory Vaughn.

As the head of his family’s philanthropic foundation, Vaughn knows very well that being rich and powerful can get him almost anything he wants. And when he meets endearingly grumpy and slightly awkward William Fox, he wants him more than he’s wanted anything. Vaughn is used to being desired for his name and his money, but Will doesn’t care about either.

When Vaughn falls back on old habits and attempts to impress Will by stealing a painting Will admires, their nascent bond blows up in his face. But Vaughn isn’t willing to give up on the glimpse of passion he saw the night he took Will apart. Before Will knows it, he’s falling for the man he should have arrested, and Vaughn has to realize that some things can’t be bought or stolen. Love has to be given freely. But can a man who lives by the rules, and a man who thinks the rules don’t apply to him, ever see eye to eye?

Heart of the Steal is a standalone romance with a happy ending. It features a Southern gentleman who thinks he’s always right, a buttoned-up FBI agent who secretly likes his buttons unbuttoned, and wall sex. And desk sex. And picnic blanket sex.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * iBooks

Will Fox and Amory Vaughn might be on opposite sides of the law—Will stops art thieves, and Vaughn is one. But they share a deep love of art, even if they appreciate in different ways.

I love books that focus on art, music, dance—using one medium (writing) to describe other types of art always fascinates me. Here are my top five recs for queer romance novels that center on art.

  1. Shatterproof, by Xen Sanders

Grey Jean-Marcelin paints vibrant scenes of Haitian life and portrayals of his vodou faith, but now the color has been drained from everything and Grey wants to die. When EMT Saint saves Grey from a suicide attempt, their lives become linked together by more than coincidence. Saint is a fae, who survives by draining the life from his lovers, and since Grey wants to die anyway, it seems like a perfect arrangement. Grey can paint his last works and Saint can gain power. But when they’re finally faced with the reality of losing each other, they both have to reevaluate what they need. Shatterproof is a sad, gorgeous book, and Sanders’ prose is a perfect fit for the subject matter: lyrical, lush, and elegiac.

  1. Roads series, Garrett Leigh

Ash is a tattoo artist, newly arrived in Chicago from Philadelphia, where he lived on the streets—the same place he created huge chalk drawings. He spends most of his time drawing in his sketchbook—memories, dreams, tattoo ideas, his roommate, Pete. Pete is an EMT who is slowly drawn to the mystery of shy Ash. As they become close friends, and then lovers and partners, the secrets to Ash’s past (and Ash and Pete’s future) emerge from the drawings of Ash’s memories. This is one of my favorite series, period. Leigh renders Ash’s mental landscape with such dreamy, elliptical prose that he remains mysterious even as we get to know him through Pete’s more down-to-earth observations.

  1. The Glass House, Suki Fleet

Teenager Sasha is lonely, self-destructive, and has a wall around him that’s fairy tale high. He collects broken glass and uses it to make sculptures that are as beautiful as they are made to cut. Shy Thomas is drawn to Sasha, and little by little the two begin to trust one another, each seeing complementary qualities in the other. I love Fleet’s prose and the way it echoes the way she uses glass in The Glass House as something broken and full of potential, fragile and strong. This is a quiet, beautiful book about the ways that people speak to us sometimes in languages we didn’t know we knew.

  1. Rough Canvas, Joey W. Hill (Rough Canvas is technically the sixth book in Hill’s otherwise m/f Nature of Desire series, but can be read as a standalone.)

Rough canvas begins in media res, with the backstory of rural North Carolina painter Thomas and flashy New York City art agent Marcus unfolding slowly. When his father dies, Thomas was forced to move home to North Carolina to help his mother and siblings run the family store, leaving behind his burgeoning art career, and his lover Marcus. Thomas is miserable there, his guts twisted up without Marcus, his art, or feeling like he can be himself. When Marcus comes to North Carolina to find him, and try to begin their relationship again, Thomas falls easily back under Marcus’ spell. But while he knows what he wants, his sense of duty is stronger than his desire, and they both have to fight to start over again. Rough Canvas is an uncompromising book, and I love that about it. Neither character is easy to like all the time—Marcus is brittle and exacting; Thomas is longsuffering with a bit of a martyr complex—and yet through art, they worship one another, and the relationship that grows out of the ashes of those imperfections is beautiful.

  1. Bellingham Mysteries, Nicole Kimberling

This series of six mystery novellas features Peter Fontaine, a newspaper reporter in Bellingham, Washington, who finds himself at the center of the murder investigation of a local artist. Also caught up in the investigation is reclusive artist Nick Olson, with whom Peter begins a relationship. Each novella features a different art-related mystery. I haven’t read these yet, but they come highly recommended by a friend with excellent taste, so I cannot wait to dive in. Art-related mysteries, amateur sleuthing, the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive artist? It’s all my favorite things.

Exclusive Excerpt: When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola

Today on the site we have an exclusive excerpt from When We Speak of Nothing, a newly released novel by Nigerian German author Olumide Popoola about being Black, male, and queer in London that commemorates 50 years since the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK: 

Best mates Karl and Abu are both 17 and live near Kings Cross. Its 2011 and racial tensions are set to explode across London. Abu is infatuated with gorgeous classmate Nalini but dares not speak to her. Meanwhile, Karl is the target of the local “wannabe” thugs just for being different.

When Karl finds out his father lives in Nigeria, he decides that Port Harcourt is the best place to escape the sound and fury of London, and connect with a Dad he’s never known. Rejected on arrival, Karl befriends Nakale, an activist who wants to expose the ecocide in the Niger Delta to the world, and falls headlong for his feisty cousin Janoma. Meanwhile, the murder of Mark Duggan triggers a full-scale riot in London. Abu finds himself in its midst, leading to a near-tragedy that forces Karl to race back home.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * Book Depository 

Excerpt:

It was hard enough to stay level with this much newness. The sounds, the smells, the colourful outfits interspersed with sports and business wear. He felt lost. And scared. How to fit in here? How to even try?

But this part, immigration, produced even more dizziness. This was only sweat. Nothing else. No question mark, no slow trying to catch your feet. Just bare panic. He closed his eyes for a second. Breathe man, just breathe. He could hear Abu. The visa was approved, the Port Harcourt address verified. All he needed was for it to go quick. No overzealous immigration officer, aka gender police in the making.

Karl took out the mobile again.

heat man!!! no rain in site. @ passport control. Im here. Cant believ it. All gud so far. wish me luck

An officer in a beige uniform walked along the queue that was forming. What his role was supposed to be was a bit difficult to see. The foreigners from the plane were lining up with Karl. It was easy to spot the lot of them, either white or light-skinned, like Karl, almost as if they were carrying signs: really not from here. They were all older than Karl, mostly male, travelling by themselves with little luggage. Their faces were getting sweaty, like Karl’s, but theirs were changing to much deeper red tones. There was a general wiping going on, a couple of chequered handkerchiefs, back of the hand wipe – that sort of thing.

Uncle T had disappeared to the other end of the small hall.

Karl’s eyes followed the officer who stood next to a burly bloke with one large bag hanging over his shoulder. They were shaking hands and a few notes were slipped from one palm to the other. The officer caught Karl staring and Karl focused on his trainers instead. The burly man proceeded to the raised immigration booth and exchanged a few words with the officer behind the glass before leaving the queue and the airport altogether.

‘You have something for me?’ The man in beige appeared next to Karl.

Karl shook his head. ‘Sorry?’

The line was moving faster than he had thought. A lot of the white men in the queue had someone waiting for them, someone in uniform who would fast track them down the line, past the raised booth and out.

The officer looked at Karl. ‘What did you bring for me?’ ‘I’m sorry.’ Karl swivelled around. Where was Uncle T when you needed him?

‘Anything.’

‘I’m sorry? I don’t understand. It’s my first time. My uncle …’

The officer didn’t hide his pity and waved him forward. He had arrived at the raised booth and the man took his passport from his shaking hand and gave it to the man inside the booth. Another officer. He took the passport, looked at the picture, looked at Karl. Karl made himself scarce, pulled himself away from his skin, disappearing inside his bloodstream so that nothing on the outside could touch him. But the guy was still looking. Staring. No bloody subtleness at all, just full-on fixation. Curious and shit but unmoved, no smile, no softening, no invitation to exchange a few pleasantries. Nothing. Then waved to the supervisor behind him, who disengaged from the guy he was chatting with, in slow motion. Before he could make it to them, officer number three arrived, a guy who had been inside the building, further down, closer to the exit. Number three placed his folded arms on the rim of the small cubicle. He was about to tell officers number one and two, the one walking Karl over and the one in the box, something funny. You could see that because he was already smiling about it, like he knew this was a real good one. When he opened his mouth officer two shoved the passport in his face.

‘Ah ah, they no know how to dress demselves. Dis one, no be woman …’

Officer number three, unimpressed, still smiling, licked his lips. Looked at the picture, but didn’t really. Didn’t care one single bit.

‘My friend, leave am now. No be our problem.’

Karl smiled. That shy, I’m so damn unaware of my charm but I’m throwing everything your way smile. Because right now I need it to work, I need that charm to charm you out of asking me too many questions, out of extending this, making it obvious for everyone around. Embarrassing me. Hurting me. Making this unbearable.

And dangerous.

That’s it. Someone had sense, he would be moving on in no time, just like most of the white dudes who had been in the queue before him. All he had to do was get some damn oxygen into his body so he wouldn’t collapse right here. Before he had officially made it to Nigeria. Breathing in, breathing out, one two, one two. Focus on pairs instead of the throng of officials shuffling around the little cubicle. Officer number two was flipping through the passport pages, thumb cinema-like. Officer one was casually looking at it and then at Karl again. Only Spain, otherwise no other country had ever seen this gathering of well-stitched pages.

The supervisor arrived.

Four of them now; officer number three still shrugging his shoulders, ready to move on, finally drop that story. Who cared about whatever it was; it was a long time until they were off; why make life harder by winding yourself up like that? And right at the start of their shift?

‘Wetin worry you? Leave am now. De family will tell am.’

Karl looked at Uncle T, who had walked through the Nigerian citizens’ line and was now far ahead. A questioning look. Karl quickly shaking his head, vigorously. Number four, the supervisor, followed his glance.

‘Your father?’

‘Uncle.’

The officer looked back and forth between them.

‘But my father is waiting for me,’ Karl added, the word unfamiliar, almost sideways in his mouth. The puddle of sweat on his lower back was descending, trickling between his cheeks into his underwear. Father. Even more foreign than his first experience of the country. ‘He is outside.’

Number four’s face stopped doing what it was doing midway, the expression frozen. And like his face, time was now freezing over, sucking out all movement until everything became unreal, dangerously flat, a wall that would collapse and bury you in its debris.

Number three was looking around, trying to find someone else to chat with because this was defo no chatting whatsoever. Not what he had in mind when he had come over. Number two was still staring at Karl. At the long T-shirt that was hanging over his jeans. The trainers that were holding the jeans up, as it seemed. Number one? Had nowhere else to be, nothing else to do.

It was a bit much. The attention. The waiting. The not saying much. A whole group of people, yet again focus on Karl.

‘Your father is outside?’

Number four seemed to have recovered. Karl nodded, eyes sending nothing cute and charming any more just good old please. Pleading. But number four was already reaching inside the booth. Fumbled around. Then a quick stamp. Officer two shook his head. Supervisor handed the passport to Karl, ‘Welcome to Nigeria’, ignored everyone else and walked off.

Officer two annoyed. Disapproving. ‘Na crazy, dis one.’

But there was nothing else to be done. The group dispersed.

Karl was through and out the other side.

*****

London-based Nigerian-German Olumide Popoola is a writer, speaker and performer. Her publications include essays, poetry, the novella This is not about Sadness (Unrast, 2010), the play Also by Mail (edition assemblage, 2013), the short collection Breach, which she co-authored with Annie Holmes (Peirene Press, 2016), as well as recordings in collaboration with musicians. In 2004 she won the May Ayim Award in the category Poetry, the first Black German Literary Award. Olumide has a PhD in Creative Writing and has lectured in creative writing at various universities. She is available for live studio interview.

Backlist Book of the Month: One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

I pretty often get requests for cute gay YA romances, and this is one I think kinda slipped under the radar after its initial release, despite being funny and charming and having strong #ownvoices Armenian representation. And so, ta da! 

Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.

Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.

Buy it:  B&N * Amazon * Indiebound

Fave Five: Canon Demisexual Characters

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (YA)*

Overexposed by Megan Erickson (m/m)

Far From Home by Lorelie Brown (f/f)

Concourse by Santino Hassell (m/m)

Empty Net by Avon Gale (m/m)

*The demisexual character in Radio Silence is not the narrator, but he’s the second biggest character in the book, and as far as I know, the only character with this label in mainstream YA, so I opted to include it here

 

Better Know an Author: Laura Lam

This month’s featured author is the lovely Laura Lam, the brilliant mind behind several SFF series with queer main characters, spanning both YA and Adult categories. If you haven’t already read her work, now’s the time to learn more about it and pick it up!

It’s been quite the busy year for you! Multiple releases, loads of events across Europe… If you stand back for a second and take a breath to think about it, what’s been your favorite bookish moment of the year so far?

It has been an uncommonly busy year! I’ll never have this many releases in so short a space of time, I don’t think, as a few were due to delays as a result of changing publishers. I think my favourite bookish moment was going to Dutch Comic Con in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It was my first convention as an invited guest, and I also got to meet Gates McFadden (Doctor Beverly Crusher from Star Trek TNG). I gave her a copy of False Hearts and she ended up reading it, liking it, and now she follows me on Twitter. Win! It was also just a nice, friendly con and me, Zen Cho, and Vic James were all really well treated by The American Book Center, who helped organize our events.

You got your start with your Micah Grey trilogy, which was pretty unlike anything publishing had seen at the time, and also had a bit of a bumpy publication process. For those who don’t know about the process of getting all three books into the world, can you share that experience? And what was the reception to the series like from readers?

Micah Grey stars an intersex, bisexual, genderfluid lead. Back in 2012, there was fewer books that investigated the gender binary—in just a few years we now have so much more, and that’s brilliant! Most of them are still in contemporary YA, whereas the Micah Grey books are gaslight fantasy in a secondary world. I wrote it, not really thinking about how it might be hard to get published. I was very lucky in that it sold to the first and only publisher who saw it—Angry Robot Books, who were just about to start Strange Chemistry, the YA imprint. Pantomime came out a year later in 2013, and it had really nice reviews and a decent amount of buzz. I wrote the second book, Shadowplay, which came out in 2014, but a few weeks after it was released, my trilogy was cancelled and I was pretty devastated.

I’d always thought that the hardest part of writing was finishing the book, then getting a book out there. But actually, staying published and being able to have regular releases is a much greater challenge. I’d wondered if that was it. If I’d wasted my shot. I kept getting lovely messages from readers, many of whom were queer and/or investigating their own gender identity, and each one made me burst into tears as I was so sad because I didn’t know if the series would be finished. I kept trying to write it, but I was still heartbroken. I figured at some point I’d self-publish.

So I wrote something else—False Hearts. And I threw everything I had into it. It’s more violent so I channelled that frustration. It sold, and then my agent was like “well before you self-publish, let’s see if Tor UK want your trilogy too.” Turns out they did. I cried so, so many tears when I found out. It’d been like I’d been holding my breath for almost two years at that point. Now all three books are out and I’m just very grateful. I had to fight for it, but it was worth fighting for.

You’ve since jumped from YA to Adult, and fantasy to sci-fi, with your Pacifica series, beginning with False Hearts. Do you find your heart is in any one category and/or genre, or do you see yourself continuing to jump around, and why?

False Hearts was freeing because it was so very different to what I’d written before. I used to think I’d be rubbish at writing science fiction and thought my heart would always be with fantasy, but it turns out I was wrong and I love both equally. They each have different rewards and challenges. I don’t think I’ll ever write the same genre forever. I have ideas for more science fiction, a science fantasy duology, a time travel historical fantasy, and a book that’s not science fiction or fantasy at all. I like to keep trying new things.

Bisexual representation is something I think we can all agree is lacking in genre fiction, but definitely not in your books! Can you share a little bit about your bisexual characters, and how their sexuality fits into their worlds?

Pretty much all of my protagonists are bi. Micah Grey is bi, and so is his love interest, Drystan. Taema and Tila from False Hearts are bi. Carina’s love interest in Shattered Minds is a trans man, and though I don’t state her sexuality outright, I don’t think she’s straight. I am not sure if I know how to write a 100% straight protagonist. *shrug*

In Micah Grey, the world is very repressed and Victorian-inspired, so there is more hesitation and secrecy around sexuality there. In Pacifica, the world of False Hearts and Shattered Minds, it’s about 100 years in the future, and I made the deliberate choice to have all forms of sexuality and gender identity be no big deal whatsoever. There’s still some bigoted people, sure, but they’re fairly few and far between. It was nice write that. While there’s many things about that world I wouldn’t want to actually come true, I do hope that does.

You publish in both the US and UK, which means different pub dates, different covers…it almost looks like two totally different experiences. How do you balance doing promo and having publishers on both sides of the pond?

Only False Hearts and Shattered Minds have two different publishers. Micah Grey at the moment, only has a UK publisher but they distribute copies to the US, hence the slight delayed release of them (so there was time to ship). Balancing the promotion is definitely hard. Usually I end up doing two blog tours. I’m not able to get out to the states very often, though I’m going out this August and will be doing at least one event at Borderlands. I’m glad I have a presence on both sides of the pond, both where I grew up and where I live now.

In addition to your full-length novels, you’ve also published short fiction. What can you share about it?

I wrote the Vestigial Tales, which are prequel short stories and novellas in the same world, to teach myself how to self-publish back when I thought that was the way it was going to go. Writing them also helped me keep the love for that series alive as I recovered and wasn’t sure what the heck was going on with my career. They’re all prequels set in the same world. “The Snake Charm” is about one of the secondary characters, Drystan, in the Circus of Magic before Micah joins. “The Fisherman’s Net” is a short fable about a mermaid and the dangers of greed. “The Tarot Reader” is another character, Cyan’s, story in the circus she worked in before she’s introduced in Shadowplay, book two. “The Card Sharp” is another story about Drystan, about him being a Lerium drug addict and card sharp before joining the Circus of Magic. “The Mechanical Minotaur” I released this year, and it’s sort of like a non-racist Indian in the Cupboard meets Boy Cinderella, and doesn’t really feature any characters from the main series (but is still best read after Masquerade as a cap to the series).

Friends helped me edit, another friend made the covers (Dianna Walla, who was my childhood pen pal!), and I formatted them myself. The first Vestigial Tale is permanently free if anyone wants to check it out and it can be read before Pantomime.

On your blog, you share monthly posts about what books you’ve just read. What have your favorites been so far this year, and what are you really looking forward to for the remainder of 2017?

I try to read about 100 books a year, though I don’t always make it. I feel like reading a lot is a valuable part of market research. Plus it’s just really good for my soul.

Some of my favourites this year:

  • Duke of Shadows – Meredith Duran
  • Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Tiny Pretty Things – Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra
  • The Seafarer’s Kiss – Julia Ember
  • Nasty Women – edited by 404 ink (disclaimer: I do have a story in this)
  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  • A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal – Meredith Duran
  • Parable of the Talents & Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler
  • The Space Between the Stars – Anne Corlett
  • Assassin’s Fate – Robin Hobb
  • The Radium Girls – Kate Moore

I’m very bad at planning what I’m going to read over the rest of the year. I know I really want to read Want by Cindy Pon! I’m also searching for a first person past tense book with an unreliable narrator to use for my First Person Module I teach at Napier, so next I’m reading His Bloody Murder by Graeme Macrae Burnet and The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ media that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

I internalised a lot of the biphobic things I saw in media. I thought I couldn’t be bi because I’ve only dated my boyfriend/now husband. The number one thing that annoys me is when they dance around saying bisexual. Certain people don’t want to put labels, and that’s fine, but every time I see a character who is clearly by say “oh I don’t like labels,” I do grind my teeth a little. I put “I’m bi” in False Hearts and have had almost 20 people email me thanking me for putting those two letters of B and I in a book, so I don’t think I’m the only one who feels the frustration. I want to see bi characters who are just as awesome and interesting as any other character.

What’s up next for you?

Who knows? That sounds flippant, but I’m in that awkward in between stage where I’ve finished my current contract but can’t quite pitch for more just yet as they’re waiting for False Hearts paperbacks sales (so buying a copy would be loooovely if the premise interests you!). I’m editing two books and hoping I can sell them in autumn.

*****

Photo credit: Elizabeth May

Originally from sunny California, Laura Lam now lives in cloudy Scotland. Lam is the author of BBC Radio 2 Book Club section False Hearts, the companion novel Shattered Minds, as well as the award-winning Micah Grey series PantomimeShadowplay, and Masquerade. Her short fiction and essays have also appeared in anthologies such as Nasty WomenSolaris Rising 3, Cranky Ladies of History, and more.  She lectures part-time at Napier University in Edinburgh on the Creative Writing MA.

New Releases: July 2017

When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola (3rd)

Best mates Karl and Abu are both 17 and live near Kings Cross. Its 2011 and racial tensions are set to explode across London. Abu is infatuated with gorgeous classmate Nalini but dares not speak to her. Meanwhile, Karl is the target of the local “wannabe” thugs just for being different.

When Karl finds out his father lives in Nigeria, he decides that Port Harcourt is the best place to escape the sound and fury of London, and connect with a Dad he’s never known. Rejected on arrival, Karl befriends Nakale, an activist who wants to expose the ecocide in the Niger Delta to the world, and falls headlong for his feisty cousin Janoma. Meanwhile, the murder of Mark Duggan triggers a full-scale riot in London. Abu finds himself in its midst, leading to a near-tragedy that forces Karl to race back home.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * Book Depository

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller (11th)

theartofstarvingMatt hasn’t eaten in days.

His stomach stabs and twists inside, pleading for a meal. But Matt won’t give in. The hunger clears his mind, keeps him sharp—and he needs to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.

Matt’s hardworking mom keeps the kitchen crammed with food, but Matt can resist the siren call of casseroles and cookies because he has discovered something: the less he eats the more he seems to have . . . powers. The ability to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. The knack of tuning in to thoughts right out of people’s heads. Maybe even the authority to bend time and space.

So what is lunch, really, compared to the secrets of the universe?

Matt decides to infiltrate Tariq’s life, then use his powers to uncover what happened to Maya. All he needs to do is keep the hunger and longing at bay. No problem. But Matt doesn’t realize there are many kinds of hunger… and he isn’t in control of all of them.

Buy it: Amazon B&N IndieBound

The Gallery of Unfinished Girls, by Lauren Karcz (25th)

thegalleryofunfinishedgirlsMercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile since her award-winning piece Food Poisoning #1 last year.

Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is lying comatose in faraway Puerto Rico after suffering a stroke. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings.

Despite Mercedes’s creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Red Mangrove Estate.

At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she never has before. She can share her deepest secrets and feel safe. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. As her life continues to crumble around her, the Estate offers more solace than she could hope for. But Mercedes can’t live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality.

Buy it: Amazon B&N

Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw (18th)

Zelda McCartney (almost) has it all: a badass superhero name, an awesome vampire roommate, and her dream job at a glossy fashion magazine (plus the clothes to prove it). The only issue in Zelda’s almost-perfect life? The uncontrollable need to transform into a werebear once a month. Just when Zelda thinks things are finally turning around and she lands a hot date with Jake, her high school crush and alpha werewolf of Kensington, life gets complicated. Zelda receives an unusual work assignment from her fashionable boss: play bodyguard for devilishly charming fae nobleman Benedict (incidentally, her boss’s nephew) for two weeks. Will Zelda be able to resist his charms long enough to get together with Jake? And will she want to? Because true love might have been waiting around the corner the whole time in the form of Janine, Zelda’s long-time crush and colleague. What’s a werebear to do?

Buy it: Amazon * B&N 

Walking on Knives by Maya Chhabra (26th)

30077662The little mermaid has no idea that as she makes her way on land, she’s being watched over by the sister of the very witch with whom she made her bargain. She has no idea that the witch’s sister is falling in love with her.

When the prince decides to marry another woman, the little mermaid’s secret helper offers her a chance to live. But the price may be too high…

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Heat Wave by Elyse Springer (31st)

32673616Sara Walker’s life is going nowhere fast: she has a job she enjoys but doesn’t love, friends who are too busy to hang out with her, and no boyfriend in sight. Then a phone call on a lonely Friday night changes everything, and suddenly she’s spending her weekends with Laura. Newly single and openly bisexual, Laura makes Sara think decidedly not-straight thoughts.

Laura Murphy, with her red hair, freckles, and killer curves, is any guy’s wet dream. But Laura’s done with guys for now, and it’s Sara who can’t stop dreaming about her. When Sara finally gives in to the curiosity, Laura blows her mind and pushes her further than she’s ever gone before.

But Laura makes it very clear that this is only a rebound fling, and she’s still planning to move to California. She’s more than happy to tie Sara up, but she’s not ready to be tied down. If Sara wants to keep her, she’s going to have to work hard to convince Laura that New York is worth staying for . . . and so is she.

Buy it: Riptide