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.

 

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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)

5 SFF Stories Similar to Every Heart A Doorway, Featuring Asexual characters: a Guest Post by Claudie Arseneault & Lynn O’Connacht

I am so psyched today to bring you this guest post by asexuality authors and advocates Claudie Arseneault and Lynn O’Connacht, bringing some stellar recs for ace SFF. They’ve got plenty of wisdom on the subject between the two of them, so I’m just gonna tiptoe off and let them take it away! (But not before reminding you that you can obviously also find great ace stories by supporting these two authors; links to their websites are in their bios at the end of the post!)

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On August 11, 2017, Every Heart a Doorway, the most visible traditionally published story with explicit asexual representation won the Hugo Awards for Best Novella and, with it, a clean sweep of SFF’s most prestigious awards. Yet the discussions we’ve seen surrounding asexual representation in fiction since Every Heart a Doorway was published usually seem to ignore many great stories with asexual representation. There is so much more out there, and a lot of what’s out there is ownvoices.

Asexual indie and short story writers have been producing a wealth of stories involving ace spectrum characters for years now, and it’s always a pleasure to share their work. These are talented folks who tend to go unnoticed, but their stories are varied and gut-wrenching. We can only hope that the light shined on asexual representation by Every Heart a Doorway will reach other deserving authors.

As ace spectrum readers and indie author the idea that there are only a handful of books that include characters on the asexual spectrum out there hurts so much. True, there aren’t anywhere near as many as we would like, but there’s so much more out there than these discussions suggest. We’ve selected just five stories that we feel are similar to Every Heart a Doorway not just because they feature ace-spec characters, but also because we feel that the story has some overlap with narrative elements in McGuire’s novella. All of the authors on this list are ownvoices and somewhere on the asexual spectrum. We hope you’ll enjoy the books!

Nkásht íí by Darcie Little Badger is a short story rather than a novel or a novella, but if you’re looking for something that captures that sense of eeriness and creepiness that’s at the core of Every Heart a Doorway‘s mystery plot, you’ll love this. The story follows two Lipan Apache friends as they try to unravel the mystery behind a car crash, and the family a man lost in it. Josie, the narrator, is aromantic and asexual. If you wanted a more in-depth look at a ‘death world’ like Nancy visited, Nkásht íí also has you covered. It’s deliciously scary and invites rereading to gather more of what’s happening in the text.

The Traitor’s Tunnel by C.M. Spivey may seem like a strange book to recommend to readers of Every Heart a Doorway, as its heart is more caper-heist than gruesome mystery, but readers will find that the mystery Theo gets drawn into by his sister has some very dark undertones. Together, he and Bridget will have to discover who is the traitor who’s been abducting orphan children from the streets and why. Readers looking for a panromantic asexual lead in an established and adorable relationship will love the representation in this book. (Blogger’s Note: You can read an excerpt of The Traitor’s Tunnel here!)

Good Angel by A.M. Blaushild is a great pick if you were disappointed by the way Every Heart a Doorway stopped following Nancy’s attempts to adapt to life in our realm and make friends at school. In Good Angel, Iofiel is a newly created angel who goes off to university to become a guardian angel, but after deciding to help an imp with his studies, she finds herself unsure of her place in the world. Good Angel is the first novel in a humorous duology, and features a curious angel who isn’t quite sure where she fits onto the spectrums of asexuality and aromanticism. It features classes, studying and making friends with people who the environment of the school finds… a little less than ideal.

Stake Sauce by RoAnna Sylver is an urban fantasy webserial/novel and will appeal to readers of McGuire’s work in general. Like, Every Heart a Doorway it’s got several unexpected twists (which we won’t spoil, of course!). Jude is a demiromantic asexual former firefighter with PTSD, and no one believes him when he insists there are vampires about until he meets Pixie, an adorable punk vampire who needs help with bigger, meaner vampires. In turns weird, dark, and delightfully hopeful, Stake Sauce contains one secret ingredient… love. No, really!

The Stake Sauce webserial runs on Patreon and the full story will be released as an ebook on October 31, 2017.

Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari is a YA science fiction novel with two protagonists on the asexual spectrum. Nadin is asexual and sex-repulsed and Isaak is demisexual. We recommend this one for its at-times punch-in-the-gut representation of asexuality, and because much like Every Heart a Doorway it features teens trying to solve a mystery (a Mars archeology one!) and two distinct worlds, so if you enjoyed the idea of portal fantasy set forth this explores such a narrative in more depth. Nadin and Isaak are worlds and years apart, but when Isaak finds an ancient coin, they’ll have to work together to save both their planets.

And there you have it. Five stories that feature asexual characters just as prominently as Every Heart a Doorway does and that also have narrative overlap for you to enjoy. These aren’t all the asexual stories out there by a long shot. If you’d like a larger range of options or more detailed information on the representation in the stories we mentioned, check out Claudie’s database of asexual and aromantic characters in SFF. If you’d like non-SFF recommendations (or recs for games and tv/film as well) as well, there’s also Fuck Yeah Asexual’s database here. Happy reading!

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Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic-spectrum writer hailing from the very-French Québec City. Her stories focus on non-romantic relationships and often feature large queer casts. The latest, City of Strife, is the first of a political fantasy trilogy released in February. Find out more on her website!

Lynn O’Connacht has an MA in English literature and creative writing, but wouldn’t call herself an authority on either. She currently resides on the European continent and her idiom and spelling are, despite her best efforts, geographically confused, poor things. Her latest book is a companion collection to her asexual retelling of The Little Mermaid, Sea Foam and Silence. Find out more on her website!

Venturess Author Betsy Cornwell Talks Polyamory and Inspiration

In honor of her new release, Venturess, the sequel to Mechanica, Betsy Cornwell is on the blog today to talk about what inspired its polyamory!

My new book, Venturess, is about three friends who are in love with each other, whose love makes them a family. It was important to me not to define that love in an explicitly romantic or sexual way, because those particular elements aren’t part of every intense, loving relationship, or of every family unit.

Someone asked me in a recent interview if I based any of my characters on people from my life, and I said no – the people I know definitely inform my characters, but I don’t tend to base them on one single source.

But there was a time when I fell in love with three people at once . . .

I spent the summer I turned seventeen living with a host family in the south of France.

Life was good.

I mean, life in Royan was good, with the language immersion and the food and the sunflower fields and a cooking class taught by an actual giant-mustachioed French chef and . . . OK, yes, all of that was really great. But it’s not what makes that summer stand out with so much warmth and affection in my memory.

During orientation, I met three other students named Olivia, Sasha, and Hannah, and we were best friends by the end of the day. It was probably the closest thing to love at first sight that I’ve ever felt – maybe love at first conversation?

We were all very different people. Olivia was fiery and sarcastic, lived in Manhattan when she wasn’t at boarding school, and wanted to be a filmmaker. Sasha, the only boy, was obsessed with economics and lived in Hong Kong, where he attended a glamorous-sounding international school. Hannah was from Texas and had spent probably the most time travelling of any of us, and she was a devout Christian who loved to read. I loved books too, I’d been  Christian most of my life but was recently and bitterly disillusioned, and I’d lived what suddenly seemed like a very sheltered and boring existence in rural New England.

I don’t really remember what we talked about that first day, only that it made us all laugh so much our sides hurt. We quickly absconded to a nearby cafe to continue reveling in our enjoyment of each other. Every moment that we weren’t in class or with our host families, we spent together. We went to French movies that we struggled to understand and American ones with subtitles. We ordered ice cream dishes with liqueur toppings that made us feel madly rebellious (maybe we were all a little sheltered). We wandered the Royan boardwalk and sat on the beach late into the night, talking about anything and everything.

I loved these people. I adored them.

By the end of the program we had a collective nickname: KOSH, for each of our initials. (I hated being called Betsy when I was younger, and I’d rebranded myself as Kat for the summer because I thought it would make me cooler. Shockingly, I was still the same person – although through O,S, and H’s eyes, I started to like myself a little more.)

When the summer ended, we left France and went back to our respective corners of the world.

I didn’t see them again for ten years.

In 2015, we decided to reunite in New York City on 4th of July weekend. I was teaching writing at a summer camp in Pennsylvania that year, and I remember feeling slightly terrified as I took the train up to Penn Station. We’d been some kind of soul mates when we were teenagers, but would we be able to connect again now?

I didn’t need to worry. Whatever magic was there before lit right up again when one of us asked if anyone still spoke French – and everyone burst out laughing. We roamed around the city all weekend finding bookstores and French food and semi-affordable Broadway tickets, and once more talking later into the night than was really wise, especially since we were now grown-ups with jobs and things to get back to.

Olivia works for a production company in L.A. Sasha is an economist in Ontario.  Hannah is a teacher and librarian in Texas. I live in Ireland and write books. Three of us are married (not to each other).

Maybe it’s a cop-out to claim this intense friendship as inspiration for the intentionally queer family dynamics in Venturess. I’m a bisexual cis woman married to a cis man, and I don’t consider myself polyamorous. I don’t want to lay claim to something that isn’t mine – and yet that’s a kind of self-shaming that I’ve often felt as a bisexual person, worrying that I’m “not queer enough” for the community. I write a lot about liminality, partly because so much of the love that I’ve experienced falls into those funny in-between places that are not easy to describe.

Still, the relationships in Venturess felt very close to home, close to my heart, as I wrote them. When Nick begins sleeping in the same bed with her friends Fin and Caro, and wakes up feeling more at home than she ever has before, I know that feeling. The four of us slept together (in the same-bed sense) in France. We all carried with us the acute loneliness that I think only teenagers feel, and in our love for each other we were able to alleviate it, for a little while. We were each other’s family that summer, and our love will always be part of who I am.

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Buy Venturess: Amazon * B&N * Books-a-Million * Hudson * IndieBound * Powell’s * Target

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Betsy Cornwell is the New York Times best-selling author of Tides,
Mechanica, and Venturess. She graduated from Smith College and was a columnist and editor at Teen Ink before receiving an MFA in creative writing from Notre Dame, where she also taught fiction. After grad school, she ran away to Ireland to live with the fairies, and she now resides in a small cottage on the west coast with her horse-trainer spouse. To learn more, visit her at www.betsycornwell.com, on Twitter at @Betsy_Cornwell, and on Instagram at @BetsyCornwell.

New Releases in Manga Featuring Queer Women: an Ongoing Yuri Series by Jaylee James

It’s no secret to anyone who reads this site that while I aim to have recommendations for all readers of LGBTQIAP+ lit, I, like I’d venture to guess all readers, only a few areas I’d consider to be my expertise. Thankfully, every now and again, someone steps up to fill in the gaps and share their knowledge on an area that’s essentially a black hole for me, and today I’m grateful to have Jaylee James doing just that on Yuri! (And yes, as the title indicates, this will not be er only post on the subject!) 

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Yuri is anime, manga, and other Japanese media involving a romantic or sexual relationship between two women. It’s the female version of yaoi, which depicts relationships between men.

In the past year, there has been an influx of yuri manga being translated into English. Whereas before, yuri recommendation lists included basically the same four series, or stretched the idea of yuri to include series like Lucky Star and K-On that focus on the relationships between female friends, or was included in the list because of heavy subtext but no actual canonical romantic relationship between the characters (such as Madoka).

But recently, there is a much wider variety of stories to choose from, and the series are ongoing, with books coming out every couple of months. We’re currently being spoiled with yuri manga, and it’s amazing.

Here are five ongoing manga series that center the experiences of queer women (and one bonus standalone)!

Bloom Into You by Nakatani Nio

First two volumes available in English from Seven Seas, with volume three coming out September 2017.

Yuu is a first-year student who is roped into volunteering for the student council. While there, she meets Nanami, an older student who possesses a lot of traits Yuu admires, especially the ability to turn down potential suitors with ease. She tells Yuu that “no one’s love confession has ever made her heart-pound.” Yuu sees a kindred spirit in Nanami, since Yuu has never experienced romantic feelings for someone, and is worried she never will, though she desperately wants to.

However, as soon as Yuu confesses this, Nanami shares her own confession – Yuu is the only person she’s ever met who does give her romantic feelings.

The two work to navigate their friendship and Nanami’s one-sided romantic feelings. The story is told with beautiful art, in an almost cinematic style. The mood of the story is slow, languid, and gives you a chance to feel deeply what the characters are going through amid lovely, detailed background settings.

Content warning: A character “steal kisses” against the others’ wishes, and later apologizes and they talk about it. Yuu’s feelings about her lack of romantic feelings tend to dip negatively, with insecurity, worry, and a desire to change, though the tone of the story was not (to me, an alloromantic person) forcing a judgment call on her.

Note: Since this is manga, identity labels are never used (and it’s important to remember not all cultures share Western identity labels) but a number of things Yuu says in the series sound very similar to feelings expressed by my aromantic friends, and aro-spec readers might relate to this story.

Kiss and White Lily for my Dearest Girl by Canno

First two volumes available in English from Yen Press, with volume three coming out August 2017.

This series is about a group of classmates at an all-girl’s school who all have feelings for each other. There are many different pairings with a wide variety of dynamics, and no one questions it. (This series reminds me of Strawberry Panic, in that way – a sort of utopia where all the girls are into other girls.)

Because of the number of characters and couples, it reads more like a series of interconnected short stories. Each couple has their own relationship troubles and dynamic. There’s a pair of rivals who develop romantic feelings for each other, a track star and the girl she works hard for, and an older student about to graduate high school and the two younger students who love her. There are single-page one shots between the chapters focusing on background characters and their own attractions and relationships.

The scope of this series means there will be something for everyone, though it can be difficult to tell the characters apart or remember them all, since they all wear the same uniform, have similar faces, and only their hair distinguishes the characters from one another.

Content warning: The first volume depicts a “stolen kiss” without the other girl’s consent, and many of the relationships have elements of manipulation or emotionally dependent dynamics.

Citrus by Saburouta

Five volumes available in English from Seven Seas, with the next one available August 2017.

Citrus is the story of two girls whose parents just married each other, and they are suddenly stepsisters. The bulk of this series is tropey porn, putting the girls into situations that strain the reader’s ability to suspend belief (Mom asking two teenage girls who met last week to share a bath because they’re “sisters” now, for instance).

But amidst the fanservice and overdone sexual scenes is a story about Mei, a closed-off girl in a lot of pain, and her new step-sister Yuzu, the only person who has made an effort to understand her. This series is nonstop drama, tropes, stereotypes, and steamy scenes.

Content warning: Constant consent issues, with Mei pushing Yuzu’s boundaries and taking out her painful feelings on Yuzu by forcing sexual situations on her – kissing, groping, and removing clothing.

After Hours by Yuhta Nishio

First volume available from Viz Media. Since the second volume was just released in Japan July 2017, details about when it will be released in English are still to come.

Unlike the rest of the manga on this list, After Hours is not about high school students. It’s such a refreshing change to read yuri about adult women (in this case, one is in her twenties, the other her thirties). A lot of common manga tropes are left out of this story – shame about sex, excessive bashfulness, internalized homophobia (“but we’re both girls!!”). There’s not even any fan service, and the kissing is vocally consented to.

While the two characters have a sexual relationship, the story focuses on everything else going on in their lives. Emi just got out of college but has no idea what she’s doing in life or what she wants. Kei is finding a way to pursue her passions as hard as she can, and inviting Emi to join in.

The art is cinematic and the story is well-done, with funny moments and characters you can get behind. This is a unique addition to the current yuri offerings in English, and it deserves a lot more attention than I’ve seen it given.

Content warning: Depictions of alcohol and drunkenness in club scenes, as well as a friendship that could be read as emotionally abusive.

Kase-San Series by Hiromi Takashima

First two volumes available in English from Seven Seas, beginning with “Kase-San and Morning Glories,” with volume three coming out September 2017.

In one word, the Kase-San series is adorable. It follows the relationship between Yamada, a sweet, clumsy girl in the gardening club, and Kase, a popular track star who Yamada describes repeatedly as “much cooler than any boy.” They meet when Yamada catches Kase watering the flowers she’s planted, and from then on, Yamada is head-over-heels for the sports star.

The tagline for the second volume is “We’re girlfriends… now what?” and it’s the perfect descriptor for the series, as the two work out the details of how they fit together when they’re such different people. Riddled with lighthearted humor, honest feelings, and sweet moments between the girls, the series is nonstop fluff. Takashima allows her characters to be shy and innocent in their affections while also acknowledging they’re sexually attracted to each other.

Overall, Kase-San is tooth-rotting fluff that will have you full of warm fuzzies, giggling the whole way through the series.

Content warning: None 😊

BONUS: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata

A short standalone volume available in English from Seven Seas, released June 2017.

While not strictly yuri, My Lesbian Experience is a graphic memoir about the author’s mental health struggles and recovery, her discovery and acceptance that she was a lesbian, and her experience hiring a female escort for her first sexual experience.

This is a raw, honest look at the author’s personal life. Nagata is open about her binge eating, wanting to die, and being so depressed she couldn’t leave her bed. It’s also a great portrayal of recovery – finding the few things in life you enjoy and letting them save you from drowning. For the author, those things were manga… and seeing a female sex worker.

My Lesbian Experience is very real, and also really funny. The author lets us laugh with her at how awkward she was, how frustrated life made her, and eventually, how healthy and stable she got to be.

Content warning: eating disorders, trichotillomania, self-harm, suicidal ideation, depression, and possibly also dissociation and emotional abuse by parents. Also touches on outdated psychological theories about the causes of homosexuality.

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Jaylee James is a demi-bisexual, bigender writer and editor from Kansas City with purple hair. Er main projects are Spectrum Lit, which publishes LGBTQ+ flash fiction, and Polycule, a true story blog about er polyamorous dating adventures. When not writing, e spends far too much time on twitter (@thewritingj), cuddling er dogs, and dating the entire metro area. More of er work can be found at JayleeJames.com.

 

Backlist Book of the Month: First Impressions by Christopher Koehler

Something you may have picked up about me is that I’m super intrigued by retellings, so I talk about them a lot. This book was actually the very first queer one I ever read, and one of my first m/m books ever, too! It’s a super fun, modern Pride and Prejudice, so if gaying up Jane Austen is your jam, make sure you check this one out!

13554984The first time Henry Hughes and Cameron Jameson meet, it’s an unmitigated disaster. Cameron reminds Henry of all he left behind when he stopped making adult films, and he cruelly rejects Cameron. When Cameron discovers Henry’s porno-thespian past, he assumes he’s dodged a bullet.

But circumstances continue to throw the two together. Though the physical attraction between them grows, they cling to first impressions, even as a slow dance reveals just how good they could be.

Henry finally realizes how wrong he was, but Cameron can’t cope with “sleeping with the enemy.” It will take a confrontation for Cameron to realize just how wrong he’s been, but unfortunately, he may have lost his chance.

Buy it: Dreampinner * Amazon * B&N * iBooks

New Releases: August 2017

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (8th)

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When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

Buy it: Amazon B&N IndieBound

Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell (15th)

34346381New York Barons tight end Gavin Brawley is suspended from the team and on house arrest after a video of him brawling goes viral. Gavin already has a reputation as a jerk with a temper on and off the field—which doesn’t help him once he finds himself on the wrong side of the law. And while he’s been successful professionally, he’s never been lucky when it comes to love.

Noah Monroe is a recent college grad looking for a job—any job—to pay off his mounting student debt. Working as Gavin’s personal assistant/babysitter seems like easy money. But Noah isn’t prepared for the electrifying tension between him and the football player. He’s not sure if he’d rather argue with Gavin or tackle him to the floor. But both men know the score, and neither is sure what will happen once Gavin’s timeout is over…

Buy it:  Penguin | Amazon | BNkobo | iBooks | Goodreads | Google Play

Team Phison by Chace Verity (15th)

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 couldn’t possibly want a fossil like him. If his brain doesn’t stop being so damn insecure, it might be game over for his heart.

Buy it: Amazon | Smashwords | Kobo | Nook

The Tiger’s Watch by Julia Ember (22nd)

Tashi is a spy and killer—an elite warrior known as an inhabitor—taught from a young age to use their bond with the tiger Katala. When an enemy force captures the city, Tashi has no option but to escape. Their safety doesn’t last long, however. Soon the conquering army arrives at the secluded monastery where Tashi is hiding, needing a place to treat their wounded. It’s not long before their leader, Xian, takes an interest in Tashi.

Xian is cold, ambitious, and even cruel—at least at first glance. But Tashi is skilled at watching and reading people, and they find a softer side to the young commander—one that intrigues them.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (29th)

As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Always considered “one of the guys,” Billie doesn’t want anyone slapping a label on her sexuality before she can understand it herself. So she keeps her conflicting feelings to herself, for fear of ruining the group dynamic. Except it’s not just about keeping the peace, it’s about understanding love on her terms—this thing that has always been defined as a boy and a girl falling in love and living happily ever after. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple.

Buy it : Amazon * B&N * IndieBound

Fave Five: Queer Boarding School YAs

 Without Annette by Jane B. Mason

Openly Straight and Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsburg

The Scholars and Sorcery series by Eleanor Beresford

As I Descended by Robin Talley

Girlhood by Cat Clarke

Bonus: Complementary and Acute by Ella Lyons is another one, separated out simply because it’s a novella under 50 pages

Double bonus: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert isn’t set at boarding school, but does flash back to the bisexual MC’s relationship with her roommate there

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