History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
Release by Patrick Ness
White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig
Jack of Hearts (and other parts) by L.C. Rosen
It’s Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender
Please excuse me while I go full fangirl, but if you’ve spent any time asking for recs on the LGBTQReads Tumblr, you know that Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit falls out of my mouth about twelve times a day. So how psyched am I to be revealing the cover of Jaye Robin Brown‘s next f/f YA, The Meaning of Birds, which releases on April 16, 2019?? (Very. Is that not obvious? I’m sorry, I thought it was obvious.) Here’s the story behind the story:
Ever since her father’s death, Jessica has struggled with the anger building inside her. And being one of the only out teens in school hadn’t helped matters. But come sophomore year, all that changes when effervescent Vivi crashes into her life. As their relationship blossoms, Vivi not only helps Jess deal with her pain, she also encourages her to embrace her talent as an artist. Suddenly the future is a blank canvas, filled with possibilities.
And here’s the most excellent cover, designed by Jessie Gang with illustrations by Elliana Esquivel!
The Meaning of Birds releases from Harper on April 16, 2019!
Jaye Robin Brown, or JRo to her friends, has been many things in her life–jeweler, mediator, high school art teacher–but is now living the full-time writer life. She currently lives in New England but is taking her partner, dog, and horses back south to a house in the woods where she hopes to live happily ever after. She is the author of NO PLACE TO FALL, GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT, and the forthcoming, THE MEANING OF BIRDS which releases 4/16/19.
If you’re in even the remotest vicinity of queer book Twitter or literary Twitter or any of the good corners of Twitter, really, this month’s author needs no introduction, but I’m gonna give him one anyway.
Brandon L.G. Taylor is one of those literary citizens who makes you feel like you’re getting a little smarter every time you ingest a single one of his mindgrapes. (You know, I realized that sounded gross as soon as I typed it out, but I’m leaving it.) You can find his incredible essays and short fiction all over the internet, but lucky us, there’s so much more to come (thanks to a two-book deal and the fact that he’s a staff writer at Literary Hub and an Associate Editor at Electric Lit, all while studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and by the way, he also Sciences) and I’m here to ask about alllll of it. Join us!
Q: I’m so excited to pick your brain on things that I barely know where to begin, but oh, I know a good place: YOUR UPCOMING NOVEL. What can you tell us about it?
A: I have been looking forward to this Q&A for a long time! I’m so thrilled to finally get a chance to do it. As for my novel, it’s called Real Life, and it’s about a queer black PhD student in the Midwest who finds himself grappling with the difficulties of relationships and also with what it means to live a real life. I really wanted to write a campus novel because I love them so much, but I also wanted to address the fact that as a genre, that kind of novel tends to exclude black people and queer people.
Q: You’re so well known for your short stories and essays, I have to admit that seeing you sell a full-length novel was the most delightful surprise. How did you find the experience of writing a novel as compared to shorter forms?
A: I was worried that people would feel like I had played a trick on them given all the slander I’ve made about novels over the years. But I’m so glad that wasn’t the case. Writing Real Life was not too different from writing the stories. I was very strict with myself because I can be lazy and unmotivated. So I was in butt-in-the-chair every day for about five weeks. It’s different, of course, in all the ways that writing a longer form is different from a short form. You have more room for character development and the kinds of details you can use are different. Also, the construction of scenes is different. But I think anyone who has read my stories will definitely not be too surprised by the novel in terms of voice or interest or anything like that. It definitely felt to me like I was writing the sort of novel that only I could write, and also the only kind of novel that I was capable of writing. So expect lots of sweaters and great décor!
Q: Speaking of your short-form work, is there a short story of yours you wish got more eyes on it? An essay? Please share any and all!
A: I think maybe like five people read this essay when it came out, but it’s one I love so so much. It’s an essay about masculinity, wounded art men, and queer desire. I was really trying to grapple with a lot of my own complicity in toxic masculinity which all along I thought I had been subverting.
Q: You put a magnificent amount of yourself on the page, which is something even the most privileged of people struggle with, let alone those most frequently silenced by the margins. Does it get less scary with time? Has the reception to your work surprised you? What’s the best thing you’ve heard in response to it?
A: I think because of some of the trauma in my past, I have a very difficult time with secrecy or withholding things. I don’t like to feel like I’m holding things back or like I’m being elusive. I like to just get things out up front and just say them and put them on the page. I think in many ways my honesty in writing is a coping mechanism because if I write it down and if I’m honest, then no one can tell me that I wasn’t honest? Or that something didn’t happen. So I’ve always tried to be really honest and really truthful, even if that means saying that I don’t know something or remember it or understand why something happened. And I think people respond to that. Because of the nature of my work, it would be a little irresponsible to give details about things people have shared with me in private in response to my work. But someone recently wrote me and said that reading an essay of mine in passing had given them the courage they needed to confront someone they hadn’t previously been able to. And that was just incredible. You know. Having that kind of effect on someone, giving them space to do something they felt the need to do. That to me is the best thing. I’m always trying to hold space for myself and by extension, for others.
Q: YA is where I’m most knowledgeable, so I’m particularly grateful that you’re generous with your literary fiction recs. What are some of your favorite titles you’d really love to see more people reading and discussing?
A: I’d love if more people read Donald Windham’s Two People, Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, Darryl Pinckney’s Black Deutschland, Nick White’s How to Survive a Summer and his collection Sweet and Low, No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal, and honestly a book that I think everybody needs to be reading right this very moment is Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh.
Q: You’ve spoken about being from the South, and you’re currently living in the Midwest. How would you say your personal settings inform your work?
A: This is such a fantastic question. I’ve been thinking about it a lot more in the last few months especially. I always struggle to write about the South. It’s really such a difficult place to capture. I’m especially aware of all the different ways people speak there, and as a writer, I feel this tremendous burden to try to capture the breadth of the sonic landscape. It’s just really hard for me because I’m from there and yet have always felt like an outsider so I’m aware of all of the false moves I make when trying to write about the South. And I’m not a born Midwesterner, so I don’t feel comfortable writing about them, but the landscape is so familiar to me now and I don’t have quite the same baggage as with the South. So what I’ve ended up doing is writing about Southern people who find themselves displaced to the Midwest. That to me feels like the one experience I know the most about. It’s always the perspective of the outsider, in a way. And so what I find is that in my work, my characters have a kind of visceral awareness of their surroundings—nature is so important in the South, and also humor and darkness—and yet they’re amongst all of these strange people and their strange Midwestern customs.
Q: I love when your Curious Cat answers pop up on my Twitter timeline. What’s your favorite question you’ve ever gotten over there?
A: Curious Cat is so much fun. It’s WILD. I don’t know if I have a favorite question, but my favorite genre of question is any time someone asks me to dreamcast a Jane Austen adaptation. Because WHAT A TREASURE. There’s one I’ve been sitting for like 6 months about dream casting an adaptation of Middlemarch, and every time I think I’m ready to answer that one, I realize I’m not. It’s quite stressful.
Q: You’re currently a student at Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which I suspect is a great dream of many writers. For those of us who’ve never done any sort of residency, what’s a typical day like?
A: Iowa is…yes, a dream come true, and also kind of boring? Which I know is a tremendous privilege. Essentially, I wake up at noon, drink some coffee, browse Twitter, and then write for a few hours. We don’t have a lot of demands on our time, which is nice. We go to Workshop every Tuesday. And some students have seminars to attend, but really, it’s just hours and hours of you and your own ideas and trying to not bore yourself half to death with your own bad writing. It’s kind of like year-round summer camp. The workshops are sometimes good and sometimes bad, but it’s been a year of really thinking very deeply about what I want to do in my art and how I want to…push it forward or not. It’s a lot of me time. Which isn’t always great.
Q: Swinging back to your book deal, in addition to the novel, you’ve also got a book of short stories coming. What can you share about it? Will it be all new work we’ve never seen before, or are some old favorites creeping in?
A: It’s called Filthy Animals. There will definitely be some old favorites. Expect stories about ballet and open relationships and math nerds and mental illness and caregiving and desire. There are no straight people in any of the stories. And what I hope is that readers feel like they’re finally getting stories about people they’ve always wanted to read about. There are fat queer bodies in the stories. There are black and brown queer people in the stories. They are the center of the stories, not just side characters. I tried to write a book that felt unapologetically interested in the interior lives of people who often aren’t allowed to rise above the level of mere backdrop. And as an artist, I was trying to lay claim to material that is often not seen as the rightful material of black and queer writers. But, at the end of the day, I just wanted to write really elegant stories about the kinds of people I know and love and am curious about.
Q: Where do you feel like queer lit could still strongly use growth? What would you like to see that you haven’t yet?
A: I think that queer lit could stand to be more interested in the lives of black people and fat people and fat black people. I think that queer lit could be more interested in our lives outside of desirability, if that makes sense. So much of the current discourse is around proving queer worth by virtue of our being desired by normative gazes. And I just think, yes, that is an important narrative to tell, but also, there is more to our lives than just desire and sex. There are more problems. And ultimately, our relationships to one another are so complicated and nuanced, and I really think that queer lit could stand to grow in order to accommodate that complexity. It feels like literary queer novels are novels of malaise and sadness or tremendous violence and more genre novels are novels of speculative futures and evolving body discourse. But I wonder if we aren’t missing the everyday mundane lives of queer people. It feels like there’s more work to be done there, in a mode that isn’t just stately and suburban. So, I guess, my answer to this question is that I think queer lit could become a bit more boring. I’d love to read more novels about fat black queer museum docents in cardigans who do not want to be touched and have meaningful relationships with their best friends. I don’t want to see that kind of story replace current queer narratives. I’d just like to see the range of options expand. There’s room for everyone.
Q: What’s the first queer rep you saw or read that really resonated with you?
A: The first queer rep I saw that really resonated with me that I can recall is probably Call Me by Your Name. I read that novel back in 2007 as a recent high school graduate who was just starting to identify as gay, like, in a real, concerted way. It blew me away. It gave me a reason to think that being gay, whatever that meant, could also mean being a person in the world. I hadn’t thought of that before.
Q: What upcoming releases are you most looking forward to?
A: Alexia Arthurs has a short story collection called How to Love a Jamaican which I am very stoked about. David Chariandy’s new novel Brother is also on my list. It’s sure to be beautiful. History of Violence by Édouard Louis, which comes out quite soon. And most of all, Ben Marcus has a new collection of stories called Notes from the Fog this fall which is definitely going to be good and weird.
Brandon Taylor is the associate editor of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading and a staff writer at Literary Hub. His writing has received fellowships from Lambda Literary, Kimbilio Fiction, and the Tin House Summer Writer’s workshop. He currently lives in Iowa City, where he is a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction. His debut novel is forthcoming from Riverhead Books.
Please welcome author-illustrator Airlie Anderson to the site today to discuss how her picture book, Neither, which has a genderfluid main character, came to be!
Growing up, my sisters and I were lucky enough to have picture books all around us. We each had our own little bookshelf with our favorites stacked inside, and sometimes we got them signed at our local bookshop. (I think I was around eleven when Chris Van Allsburg signed my copies of The Polar Express and Jumanji. I told him I wanted to be an author-illustrator, and he told me I could do it, and to keep at it. I was starstruck.) Our parents never took our picture books away or told us they were “too young” as we got older, and I still haven’t stopped reading or collecting them. I’ve been a picture book reader my whole life, and I’ve been scribbling pictures and stories for just as long.
A few years ago, I had a dream about a multi-hued character with several different animal qualities. When I woke up I thought, “that’s a book idea and it’ll be called Neither.” I don’t usually envision a cover or a title before the book is even written, but that’s what happened with this story. I drew a lot of little Neither doodles and words in my sketchbook in a coffee shop to keep the idea going, then sat down in my studio to really work on it. One day I started scribbling in the early afternoon, and when I looked up again, it was dark outside. It was a “flow” experience, a rare one in which I got totally lost. I love those. They can’t be forced or brought on artificially.
It wasn’t until months later, when I thought back on the dream about the multi-hued character, the sketching that came after, and all the other influences that crossed my path while writing Neither, that I realized something important: around the time I had the initial dream, I had been teaching art classes to an inspiring group of middle schoolers. One of them had been identifying as female, and over the course of the next year, transitioned to identifying as male. The idea of questioning something as ingrained in our society as gender made me think of my characters and story in a new light. My student’s fluidity opened my mind to many different modes of representation and expression.
He also happened to be a creative sketcher, freely scribbling beautiful creatures and characters that made the rest of the class say “how did you do that!” with smiles on their faces (and sometimes their heads on desks, playfully flabbergasted). His ability with art was another inspiring piece of the puzzle—self-expression seemed to flow from him in a way that we should all hope to achieve. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, this student has a remarkable effect on the creation of Neither, who seemed to almost spontaneously generate in my mind. All I had to do was stand aside and let the character hatch.
It wasn’t the only thing that hatched during the making of this book, though. Right when my editor, designer, and I were getting into the heart of Neither, I gave birth to my first baby. I’d known the timing of these things would align, and we could have delayed the book process a bit, but I figured I would just power through. Art school had prepared me for everything, right? And when my husband and I first started to settle in at home with the baby, I thought, “Hey! I still feel like myself!” But in retrospect, I was swirling into a mysterious new world. A terrifyingly cute (there needs to be a word for this) being had come into our lives, and his newborn expressions and proportions somehow worked their way into the book. The new parent sleep deprivation haze removed a lot of my inhibitions, especially concerning the weirdness of the characters. There’s one spread that features the creatures of The Land of All, including a skateboarding narwhal wearing a scarf. I can tell you with confidence that this creature would never have popped into my head if I hadn’t been in a hallucinatory state of mind.
Once I finalized the pencil sketches for all the spreads, it was time for my favorite part of the process, the icing on the cake: painting! By that time, the baby was starting to have a regular(ish) sleeping pattern, so I knew I had a certain chunk of time to work on Neither each night. My chef husband would make snacks for me if I was still working when he got home from the restaurant. Much tea was consumed. (Tip: you’re not in the zone until you almost dip your brush in your tea.) I would set up my paints and palette, turn on NPR or my music, and enjoy the feeling of the paint gliding over the paper. The backgrounds of this book are simple but contain a lot of doodly details, which gave me a meditative feeling as I worked to create a world for the characters and for our readers. As author-illustrator James Marshall once said: “A picture book becomes a whole world if it’s done properly.”
In Neither, the world is “The Land of This and That,” a place where every creature fits squarely into one of two distinct teams: Yellow or blue. Bird or bunny. One or the other. But Neither is a green bird-bunny, or bunny-bird. A birdunny? A bunnird? It’s both. It’s neither. This book is about being in between, about not fitting into a typical category. When I wrote it, I hoped that it wouldn’t end up being tied to any single metaphor, but that each reader would interpret it in their own unique way. People have told me they think the story is about race, gender, social weirdness, or being an outsider. The thing they all agree on, however, is that it’s about inclusion and acceptance.
I try to make books for everyone, but particularly for very young readers, children who need a jumping-off place to start talking about being different, feeling awkward, finding a special spot in the world. Someday my son may experience exclusion or pressure to make a choice one way or the other, when it’s his in-betweenness that should be celebrated. My hope is that a little green bird-bunny’s in-betweenness will resonate with him and with others, and that they will each take comfort in knowing that The Land of All is out there.
Neither is available now!
Airlie Anderson is the author and illustrator of Cat’s Colors, Momo and Snap Are Not Friends, and numerous other books for children. She is also the recipient of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, the Independent Publishers Book Award, and the Practical Preschool Award. She grew up in California, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, and now lives in New Jersey.
Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst was one of the first traditionally published f/f YA fantasies, so there’s no question it’s made its mark in queer book world, especially with its heavy emphasis on romance and lightness and a Happily Ever After. But if you’ve been dying for even more Denna and Mare, you are so in luck: today we’re revealing the cover for the sequel, Of Ice and Shadows!
Princesses Denna and Mare are in love and together at last—only to face a new set of dangers.
Mare just wants to settle down with the girl she loves, which would be easier if Denna weren’t gifted with forbidden and volatile fire magic. Denna must learn to control her powers, which means traveling in secret to the kingdom of Zumorda, where she can seek training without fear of persecution. Determined to help, Mare has agreed to serve as an ambassador as a cover for their journey.
But just after Mare and Denna arrive in Zumorda, an attack on a border town changes everything. Mare’s diplomatic mission is now urgent: She must quickly broker an alliance with the Zumordan queen to protect her homeland. However, the queen has no interest in allying with other kingdoms—it’s Denna’s untamed but powerful magic that catches her eye. The queen offers to teach Denna herself, and both girls know it would be dangerous to refuse.
As Denna’s powers grow stronger, Mare does her best to be the ambassador her kingdom needs. Her knowledge of Zumorda and its people grows, and so too do her suspicions about the queen’s intentions. With rising tensions and unexpected betrayals putting Mare and Denna in jeopardy and dangerous enemies emerging on all sides, can they protect their love and save their kingdoms?
And now here’s the cover, designed by Michelle Taormina with art by Jacob Eisinger and guaranteed to look stunning next to the first book!
Audrey Coulthurst writes YA books that tend to involve magic, horses, and kissing the wrong people. When she’s not dreaming up new stories, she can usually be found painting, singing, or on the back of a horse. She lives in Santa Monica, California. http://audreycoulthurst.com/
It’s been a while since the last webcomic-rec roundup…mostly because I started to have trouble coming up with themes where I haven’t recced all my favorite examples already.
But Pride Month means promo posts all over Twitter and Tumblr, which means I’ve had a deluge of new recs to go through, and now you get to enjoy the results. Especially if you like robots, demons, aliens, and/or furries. This set is part fantasy, part sci-fi, and all wlw.
Today’s theme is: Webcomics with interspecies f/f romance!
(1) Poppy O’Possum by I. Everett
Poppy O’Possum is a story about a mother named Poppy Odeletta Possum who lives on a world called Flora and wants nothing more than to retire to a comfortable homemaking life with her daughter, Lily. Unfortunately, living’s especially rough on Flora when you’re an opossum, and Poppy’s a regular trouble magnet. She’s moved to a little town in the Fenneclands called Eggton to try and start a new, low-profile life. This fails immediately.
Fantasy comedy-adventure, ongoing. It’s heartwarming. It’s funny. It also has some of the most engaging and complicated magical worldbuilding I’ve ever read, which gets revealed layer by layer. The main relevant part at first is that opossums are the only animals that nullify magic — which is very inconvenient when magic is the foundation of most of your tech, transportation, healthcare, and society in general.
So Poppy and her daughter are dealing with a lot of prejudice, suspicion, and avoidance. Fortunately, Poppy is ridiculously buff, strong, and durable. As long as she has ways to earn money by punching things, she’ll manage.
The rest of the cast is delightful too. There’s some cool exploration of fantasy-world disability, like the guard who uses a magical-construct prosthetic to replace a missing arm. LGBT+ characters keep popping up in the ensemble, including a fashion-designer Shiba Inu drag queen. And when one of Poppy’s friends suspects her of having a secret romance, it’s scandalous, but not because they’re both women — it’s all “b-but you’re an opossum and she’s the Queen.”
(The Queen is an adorable perky fennec magic chemist, and they are actually dating now, and I ship them like it’s my job.)
(2) Starward Lovers by Miki B.
A piping hot f/f love story about longing and space aliens.
Sci-fi drama, ongoing. Cute shy butch falls for glamorous cool femme…who turns out to be a secret-agent alien fighter. Cute shy butch (Jen) gets drawn into hot space-warrior femme’s (Revonda’s) team of adventurers. (These two are human, but there are other human/alien pairings along the way.) Hot space-warrior appears stoic and closed-off, especially compared to her more gregarious teammates…but could she have more going on under the surface?
The art is slick and clean; the shading is deceptively minimalist, but used to great effect. Jen is cute and likeable, while Revonda’s style is clearly “lesbian femme” as distinct from “conventionally-attractive straight woman”, which is something a lot of artists (self included) have a hard time pulling off.
I should mention that this one sat in my “do I like it enough to rec?” pile for a long time. A few chapters later, it shot up to “rec this to everyone you possibly can.” Without spoiling anything specific, there were things in the writing that were off-putting when it wasn’t clear if they were intentional, and then it turned out yes, yes they were. So even if the early chapters don’t grab you, stick with it. There’s payoff.
(3) Kill 6 Billon Demons by Abaddon (Tom Parkinson-Morgan)
Sorority sister Allison Ruth must travel to Throne, the ancient city at the center of the multiverse, in an epic bid to save her boyfriend from the clutches of the seven evil kings that rule creation.
Fantasy drama, ongoing. When a supernatural event barges through Allison’s dorm room, her boyfriend gets kidnapped and she ends up in a hell-dimension with a world-conquering magic key stuck in her forehead. At first she spends a lot of time getting dragged around and expositioned at by nominally-helpful entities who don’t want the key ending up in the wrong hands.
The amount of detail in the art is breathtaking, both in the characters — even one-off background figures — and in the urban demonic landscapes. They’re full of levels and lights and eerie architecture…frequently incorporating the stony mountain-sized bodies of earlier beings. I don’t even want to think about how long a single page must take to draw.
Eventually our heroine decides to seize the unexpected new power and go save the boyfriend, largely because nobody else is gonna do it. Along the way she ends up with more-substantial feelings for one of her female allies — a group that includes a law-enforcement angel with gender issues and an ex-monster-crimelord demon who writes fanfiction. Bonus: the fact that Allison is a long-time Sailor Moon fan is a reocurring plot element.
Heads-up, this one includes graphic violence/injury. Along with most of the other content you’d expect from a strip about demons being demons.
(4) Circuits and Veins by Jem Yoshioka
Androids and Humans, are we really so different? Navigating chronic illness, prejudice and a new relationship, two awkward dorks are trying to understand each other.
Sci-fi romance, ongoing. Aki is a virtual-reality pet designer, working from home in between flare-ups. Ai is an underemployed android, a model old enough to have experienced the AI rights revolution, who just moved in next door.
There’s some ongoing tension from Aki’s chronic pain and a recent breakup, and Ai’s body starting to show that it’s past its warranty date. But mostly it’s fluff, both women occupied with cute texting, pet-sitting, housewarming gifts, job shenanigans, and getting to know each other.
(5) Patchwork and Lace by Sooz
An adventure/romance about a Lovecraftian Disney Princess mage and her flesh golem partner in monster hunting. It’s about ladies fightin monsters and havin dark pasts and general relationship stuff.
Fantasy adventure, ongoing. Sheol’s a golem with super-strength. Lilika’s a talented human magician with a frilly fashion sense. They travel the world, hunting monsters and adoring each other.
Most of the pages so far involve the first storyline, which wrapped up relatively recently. An entire cave temple was sealed off to protect the town from the results of a summoning gone bad, and our heroines are asked to safely retrieve the bodies. After all, it’s been long enough that no one is still alive in there…right?
(Heads-up for death, PTSD, and discussion of sexual assault.)
Sheol and Lilika refer to each other as “friends” in public — possibly in response to homophobia (we haven’t seen any other open same-sex couples), possibly because a golem being in a relationship with any human would seem weird and threatening to people who don’t know her. Either way, they save the romantic stuff for when nobody else is around.
Erin Ptah likes cats, magical girls, time travel, crossdressing, and webcomics. She’s the artist behind But I’m A Cat Person (including human/battle-monster f/f) and Leif & Thorn (no human/vampire f/f yet, but stick around). Say hi on Twitter at @ErinPtah.
Is there anything more exciting than when a major publisher puts out a queer book and people are actually going to be able to find it on bookshelves in stores?? My God, how sad that that is still so exciting, but let’s be real, it is. In When Katie Met Cassidy, Camille Perri’s sophomore novel, which releases on June 19, 2018, we get an extremely cute, low-angst lesbian romance between a woman who’d thought she was straight and an extremely dapper lifetime lesbian, who go from being professional adversaries to half-reluctant friends to, well. You should read it. Again and again and again.
Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.
But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.
When Katie Met Cassidy is a romantic comedy that explores how, as a culture, while we may have come a long way in terms of gender equality, a woman’s capacity for an entitlement to sexual pleasure still remain entirely taboo. This novel tackles the question: Why, when it comes to female sexuality, are so few women figuring out what they want and then going out and doing it.
Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.
And now, the excerpt!
Sebastian is almost ninety-eight percent certain that teenagers should be banned from making decisions during the summer, especially teens bored out of their skulls at night, like him. Summer should be a thought-free zone. No school. No extra brain usage. He should be on house arrest, not climbing through Emir’s window on a Wednesday night.
Of course, most of this is Willie’s fault. They were in their cabin, marathoning Stranger Things on Netflix. Free-for-all pizza was for dinner, so Willie conked out after the second episode. The guy can put away some Hawaiian pizza.
Sebastian can also blame some of his bad decision-making on the fact that summer is ticking down. Camp is almost over; less than two weeks are left.
The vault inside is almost perfect, but Sebastian smacks his shoulder on the floor. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s embarrassing. “So, so,” he stutters. Blood rushes to his head. His view of Emir perched on his bed is upside-down. He rolls over, laughing. “You weren’t sleeping, right?”
The lamp is still on. An open book sits in Emir’s lap. Ink- dark hair falls around his temples instead of standing in its usual sleep-mussed disaster.
“Nope. Just finished my Isha’a.”
Sebastian stands. He dusts off his ripped jeans, fixes his checkered flannel shirt. “Ish- what, now?”
“Isha’a,” Emir repeats. “It’s the last of the salats, daily prayers we do as Muslims.”
These reminders about Emir’s religion and his life at home light memories that flicker through Sebastian’s brain like tiny paper lanterns in the wind. He remembers the adults in Emir’s family fasting during Ramadan and a small backyard gathering to celebrate a feast day Sebastian can’t remember the name of, but he recalls the beautiful clothing, the music, and Emir’s parents passing out gifts to the children. And he remembers the giant, toothy smile Emir wore while pressed to Sebastian’s side on a sticky June evening.
“Is this a bad time? Should I go?”
“No.” Emir closes the book, carefully placing it on the desk by his bed. “It’s okay.”
Sebastian’s snuck in here every evening lately. After dinner, he crawls in to find a space left for him on Emir’s bed. Sebastian talks nonstop with his head on Emir’s chest. His fingers trace the shape of Emir’s mouth. Sometimes, Emir talks, shedding his shyness. Eventually boring conversations turn into making out.
“Hey!” Tonight Sebastian came with a plan. He tosses Mason’s keys in the air, then catches them. He didn’t steal them; Mason always hands them over during the week so he doesn’t lose them. Being the token “good guy” has its advantages. “You wanna get out of here?”
“Are we allowed to leave?” Emir asks. “Didn’t bother checking the rule book.”
Emir runs a hand through his hair; his fingers catch on the tangles. He says, “You wrote the rule book.”
It’s not an attack on Sebastian, but he still flips Emir off. He blames his lack of a solid comeback on the way the bridge of Emir’s nose crinkles when he snorts.
“Nothing,” Sebastian says. His mind has been drifting lately, more than usual, wondering what this thing with Emir is or isn’t. “I dunno, I just want to get out of here. Just me and you.”
“You’re sure?” Sebastian squeaks in an unnaturally high voice.
Emir shrugs and stands. “Yes, Bastian,” he says. He grabs his beanie, pulls on a pair of slightly wrinkled black skinnies, grips a hoodie—
The sight of Sebastian’s last name in blocky gold letters across Emir’s back is mesmerizing.
Julian Winters is a former management trainer who lives in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia and has been crafting fiction since he was a child, creating communities around his hand-drawn “paper people.” He began writing LGBTQ character-driven stories as a teen and developed a devoted fan fiction following. When he isn’t writing or using his sense of humor to entertain his young nephews, Julian enjoys reading, experimental cooking in the kitchen, and watching the only sports he can keep up with: volleyball and soccer. Running with Lions is his first novel.
I’m extremely excited to welcome author-blogger M. Hollis back to the site today with a very cool post on Brazilian f/f writers. It doesn’t really need any introduction, so I’m gonna shove off and let Maria take it away!
There is something about growing up without seeing yourself on any kind of media that alienates you from the world. It makes you feel like something is wrong with you. One of my most poignant memories from my teenage years was watching my friends just talking to each other and feeling like they were speaking in another language I couldn’t understand. And then being left behind.
It took me until my twenties to understand what was this barrier that existed between me and most of the other teenage girls. I like girls. In a sexual, romantic, any kind of way. I want to kiss women, marry women, have the epic love story with women. When my friends talked about wanting these things with men, I felt uncomfortable, broken, alone.
I didn’t know I could like women when I was as a teenager. Of course I knew gay people existed, but I didn’t know I was allowed to be like them. The first time I’ve heard the full acronym LGBTQIAP+ was in college and I only read my first F/F book a few years ago. So when I started writing my own fiction many years ago they were completely different from the stories I write today.
Brazilian television, books, any kind of media we have, doesn’t treat us LGBTQIAP+ folks in the best way. For many years, we were censored from telenovelas, and until today, any kind of kiss between people of the same gender is received with some rage from part of our society.
But change is happening. In the first days of 2018, Malhação, the biggest teenage TV Show on national TV with more than 20 years of running, had its first kiss between two women. And this change is happening in books too. Authors like Olívia Pilar and Solaine Chioro have been publishing stories with diversity that are finally giving young LGBTQIAP+ Brazilian people a mirror where they can see themselves. Reading their stories made me feel so incredibly happy. It was like finding everything I was looking for all these years. It can be great to read books about other people from other countries, but there is nothing like finding Brazilian characters who are living similar things I live.
There is a call for intersectionality that is clearly growing online to give marginalized readers and creators their own space. It’s a slow change. But it’s a change that I’m happy to be a part of.
I hope that this next Brazilian generation can have all the books they deserve. I hope that it makes them feel less alone. That we can keep fighting to make our media more inclusive and that we can provide every day more forms of representation for all kinds of people.
I talked to some other YA Brazilian writers and I’m glad to have Olívia Pilar and Mareska Cruz sharing a bit about their own journey in writing their stories.
Being a writer wasn’t always a dream or something that I wanted as a kid. I always liked to write, always loved words, but also thought that writing wasn’t for me. And then I graduated in Journalism. I thought that was the career I wanted to pursue. I thought that was what I wanted to write. And it wasn’t until the beginning of 2017 that I realised that what I liked to write weren’t articles or news or notes. It was fiction, that maybe had a little bit of reality — or not. I wanted to write about real people, but not exactly people that exist.
My first adventure into fiction was writing a fanfiction with a friend — it was a Camren story, the most popular ship from the girl band Fifth Harmony. It was my friend’s idea and I dove into it with her. According to her, it was the best way to practice my writing skills. I was a little lost by then, I didn’t know what to do with my life, so at least it was a good way to distract myself. And it worked! Little by little, I was able to get more comfortable, to understand the characters better — fanfic isn’t really easy, because you need to work with something that already exists.
Now our fanfiction — still being written — has more than 137k readings on Wattpad, but the best thing in this story (a fictional universe where Camila Cabello is a Brazilian girl from Rio de Janeiro and Lauren Jauregui is an American girl studying abroad) gave me was the courage to actually write something and show it to another person. The almost immediate feedback that was made possible by the platform was also a way to tell myself that I had potential.
My second work was a short-story created exclusively for a contest. I didn’t win, but I saw the bright side of joining in. It was the beginning of my path as a writer. This first story, “Dia de Domingo” (Sunday’s Day), was published later on Amazon. Before, I published “Entre estantes” (Between Shelves) and “Tempo ao tempo” (Time To Time), also on Amazon, and my first novel on Wattpad, “Dois a Dois” (2×2, a reference to soccer plays).
My path as a writer is still short (it has been almost a year since I first published my short story), not so long as others young writers, but as a bisexual Black woman (it’s important to say that), I can say it’s been amazing. I met a lot of people — from publishing or not —, got a lot of messages and every day, my feeling of belonging grows. It’s what I was looking for, back in 2010 when I started college. Did I find it in Journalism? Yes, but not as much as I feel right now.
I can also say the publishing world has been good to me. I’m still an indie author that doesn’t have a complete novel published, but the reception was so good that, for me, it was already worth it. I didn’t think that writing love stories about other bisexual women (most of them black) would take me to the top of Amazon best-selling list for weeks, but it did. My three short-stories are always on Amazon Top 5 of LGBT YA Fiction. They are there and being read.
But I’m not naïve. I know it’s a long road. I know that, like me, there are other girls that write f/f fiction that will never have courage to share their stories with the world, because our whole lives people tell us that they don’t matter. But they are as important as any other story. And it’s the messages from readers saying, “I saw myself in your short-story” that give me strength to keep going. To see what waits for me in the corner. To take risks. To share my stories. To show my characters to the world.
It started with a fanfiction, but it could have started in any other way. I think the most important is to start. Even though you think no one will read, even if it’s only for you. I don’t think the industry is totally open to some of our stories yet, but we don’t need to hide because of it. We need to put them out in the world and let them be seen.
You can find and support Olívia Pilar here!
I always liked writing and the desire to one day be a Writer (with the uppercase W) was always there, silent, but it used to be satiated with short texts. I never managed to stretch a story beyond the usual 10,000 words that I always wrote on NaNoWriMo before setting the project aside. One day I met the person who told me “let’s do something about this”, and we talked, and suddenly, I had something I never thought I would have: I had a novel. It existed. And then came another novel, which is still in the process of editing, but it was yet another victory. After this came a Christmas short story, my first published work in a collection, and with it came the realization that the desire to be a Writer was slowly becoming real. With it, there also came the notion of responsibility I have in this process: with the story I want to tell, with the people who will read it, and with myself.
It was only in my early twenties that I understood that what I felt wasn’t really a phase, or something that could be pushed aside. It couldn’t be pushed aside, and even I didn’t want to push it. When I was younger, I didn’t care about seeing only a part of me in the protagonists that I loved, because I didn’t know I could have it any other way. The time it took me to understand myself as a bisexual woman coincided with the moment I started to think about what kind of writer I wanted to be, and what kind of stories I wanted to tell. I wanted LGBTQ+ characters, happy with their sexuality and their relationships, living their lives with good and bad moments, but even more than that—I wanted those characters to EXIST. As protagonists, being the center of their stories, and not only being the token gay friend allowed in a sea of straight characters.
When my Christmas story was published I saw a lot of readers happily commenting the fact that my main character is a bisexual girl with a reciprocated crush on her best friend, I knew I was on the right path. Young-adult literature in Brazil and even the editorial market in general is just beginning to be open to more stories with LGBTQ+ main characters, but it’s still very slow, testing its ground. I still long for more main characters who identify as lesbian, bisexual, trans, and ace. I know our path is very long, but I’m excited that I get to be a part of this. It’s my gift to teenage me: “you’ve spent your whole life without seeing yourself. Now you can.”
Find and support Mareska Cruz here!
M. Hollis is a Brazilian writer working on stories about women who love other women while also running Bibliosapphic, a blog dedicated to sapphic literature. In her free time, you will always find her baking, reading fanfiction and binge-watching too many TV shows. Currently, she is living her best gay life in Canada and writing more than she sleeps.
This year adds some particularly wonderful and nuanced books to gay YA, and I’m so excited to have authors of two of them on the site today! When Greg Howard, author of Social Intercourse (which releases today!), contacted me about writing something for the site about sex in gay YA and the disparities and perceptions related to it, I immediately thought of Lev “L.C.” Rosen, whose Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) releases in October and deals with those things a lot. So I asked them to read each other’s books and discuss for the benefit of all of us, and here they are!
Lev: Hi Greg! I’ve been avoiding you on social media because I knew we’d end up talking about one another’s books, and I was trying to save that for this, so now we can let loose. Your book, Social Intercourse, opens with out-and-proud Beck trying to lose his virginity on what is essentially grindr. I loved that opening, and I was totally revving up for a queer American Pie style book (or, something like Not Another Gay Movie), but then you actually went in this sweeter direction—much more John Hughes. And I kept thinking about how Hughes’ films were fairly explicit for the time, while also being really sweet and romantic, and how you captured that spirit. So I guess my first question is—were you inspired by Hughes at all? Do you think that writing queer YA is sometimes about trying to capture those experiences that prior straight generations had, in terms of the stories they told? Hughes was, on some level, revolutionary in how explicit he was, but all his stories were straight. We never got to see ourselves in stories like those—are you trying to fix that?
Greg: Hey, Lev! I’ve been so excited to talk to you. Those are some interesting observations. When I first starting writing Social Intercourse, I did think the story was going to go in a different direction as you describe. But you know how it goes when characters take control of the story. The have a mind of their own! While Beck is out and proud and completely confident with who he is, there’s a vulnerability there that’s undeniable and sweet. And now that you mention it, (and I swear I didn’t realize this before), but I can see the John Hughes-esque similarities, but in a queer way. I grew up watching those movies—The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, et al, and yes, I always wished there was a LGBTQ equivalent. Even though I didn’t set out to accomplish that, I hope I did in some way. LGBTQ kids today need to see themselves represented in books and in movies. All of them, not just one type of queer kid.
What I love about my Beck and your Jack is that they are bold characterizations of gay boys that we don’t see very often taking center stage in YA lit and movies. They don’t blend in. They’re not straight-acting and they’re not afraid of exploring their sexuality. I swear I laughed so many times reading your book, Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), thinking “OMG! Beck and Jack are like twins separated at birth, one sent to live in New York and the other sent to live in South Carolina!” Jack is such a great character, and I love how sex positive he is. But I’ve learned with SI that there’s a bit of a double standard when it comes to het YA and LGBTQ YA as far as how far you can go. Did you get any push-back from your editor or agent to tone it down, or to pull back on some of Jack’s narrative about his sex life? And did you set out to show a queer boy who embraces his feminine side and so confident in his sexuality? Any similarities between Jack and your teenage self?
Lev: So many questions!
It’s funny, though I get what you’re saying about Beck and Jack—they’re both out and don’t mind wearing makeup—to me Beck is such a romantic, and Jack definitely isn’t. Beck might be trying to lose his virginity to some dude on grindr, but he says he wishes he could lose it to a real boyfriend who he has feelings for. Jack is way past the losing his virginity stage and didn’t lose it to a boyfriend—didn’t want to. He’s had plenty of sex, but just one boyfriend, and isn’t in any rush to repeat that. His best friend, Ben, on the other hand, is a total romantic, like Beck. I think Beck and Ben are more the twins. But they’re still really different, too. And that’s important. It’s so important for teens to see a variety of queer men in the world—there’s no wrong way to be gay. That’s why I put in so many queer characters. To show that everyone has their own way of being queer.
As for my editor, I was shocked, but no, she never asked me to pull it back. There’s one sex advice column towards the end that gets into some kinky stuff, and I put that in basically assuming she would be like “nope, too far”—I even had a backup column ready! But she had no problem with it. It was amazing. The whole thing has been kind of amazing. I wrote 99 pages of this in a strange furor, because I really wanted to explore the idea of “the good gay”—the way liberal straight society says they’re okay with queer people, but really they just mean queer people who behave to certain standards. In teens, that usually means sweet, romantic hand holding and a little making out—cute, essentially. Cute couples for straight society to go “awww” over and feel good about because it makes them feel accepting. But put an unapologetically slutty teenage gay boy in front of them, and suddenly it’s like “are you sure you’re making the right decisions?” or “maybe if you weren’t so in-your-face about it.” Queerness is acceptable to cisheteropatriarchal society within a set of limits – but go outside those limits and you become a “bad gay”—somehow who is broken, or self-hating, or just bad, and frowned upon. That’s what I really wanted to talk about.
So I write these 99 pages, in like a week or two, but I have this rule: once I pass the 99 page mark, I have to finish the book. Luckily, I’m friends with Alvina Ling, who edited one of my previous books, and I asked her if she would read these 99 pages and tell me if I should just stop, because it would never get published. I literally said “I think it might be a terrible idea.” So, she read them, and when she finished she said “have your agent send these pages to me officially.” So I didn’t have any pushback, ever. Alvina may have though, because I think that the conversation about sex and YA and queer sex and YA is one that’s happening a lot in the editor/gatekeeper/reader.
There have been more and more YA books with gay sex. Look at Release, by Patrick Ness. That has quite the gay sex scene in it, but, and this is the interesting thing: you don’t hear about it that much. And that’s the thing editors are looking out for. There’s a double-standard about sex and queer sex in YA, but it’s not coming from writers. It’s coming from what books people are talking about. And part of that might be gatekeepers—gay books of any kind (with sex or not) are challenged and banned FAR more often than straight books with sex. And when that happens, publishers see it and go “oh, gay sex doesn’t sell” and then even if they love some queer sex-heavy YA, getting it through acquisitions becomes much more difficult. Queer books have to make up for that banning and pushback by gathering fans elsewhere, which isn’t easy.
I feel like the good fight is happening with editors and publicists, and all we can do is give them the weapons to fight with. Readers need to flock behind books with gay sex to get more of them, need to shout about them from the rooftops and tell everyone they know… but readers, even queer ones, are often nervous about saying “I loved this book with teens having gay sex!” Which I get, adults talking about teens having sex is weird. But with abstinence only education on the rise again, maybe it’s time we start talking more about sex, gay sex, and teenagers having safe, consensual sex. Otherwise, kids won’t be hearing about sex from anywhere except from porn sites.
Personally, I’d love to hear about how it’s going for our editors and publicists, though, the ones who have to push for the books even when these things are harder to talk about. (Perhaps a good followup Dahlia?) (Blogger’s Note: EXTREMELY HERE FOR IT.)
As for me in high school, no, I was not much like Jack. My high school was like Jack’s though: a private school in Manhattan with an emphasis on ethics. It was only like five years ago I was there, of course, but there weren’t as many of us out students (my old teachers who still work there tell me that now over 20% of the student body identifies as some kind of queer). So I don’t know who I’d be were I a student there today, but then, I was way more like Jeremy, Jack’s ex, and president of the GSA. I was GSA co-head, and like Jeremy, I was concerned that anything other queer men did would reflect on me, and so I wanted them all to behave in a way that would make sure people took us (me) seriously.
That was always my big issue—if you acted “too gay,” then I felt like no one took anything you said seriously. I also always felt like people were trying to make me act more “gay,” too—even other queer people—and I don’t respond well to being told what to do (what teenager does?), so I tried to avoid that. I remember there was an article in Vogue or something when I was in high school about how every girl needed a gay BFF, and it talked about us like we were purses, like we were actual accessories for straight women. And after that article came out, girls I hadn’t been friendly at all with suddenly were talking to me and trying to be my friend. That made me so angry. I’m still fucking angry. Anger wrote this book.
How about you? Any pushback from your editor on the sexier stuff in the book? I was most surprised by the masturbation scene. We don’t see a lot of that—much less asshole fingering—in YA, and it was definitely the most graphic moment in your book. Is that because it was the one scene they let you keep? Was there any pushback on it?
And was either Beck or Jax based on your own teenager-hood? You’re from the south, I know, but did you go to a lot of Drag Queen Beauty Parlors as a kid? Did you have a drag name?
Greg: I guess you’re right about Beck having some Ben in him too. (I was crushing on Ben, big time.) In my book, Beck wants to be get his slutty phase out of the way so he can be ready for Mr. Right down the road. And Jax, the closeted bi-sexual football star obviously complicates matters for him. Beck is terribly attracted to Jax but really doesn’t want to be, so he fights it.
And I think that’s so interesting that you identified more as the Jeremy in your book when you were in high school. I like to say, Beck is the kid I wish I had been in high school. I graduated a few years (*ahem*) before you, and honestly I didn’t know of one out gay person in my high public school of 1500 students. I knew of some that were in the closet like me, but I was also busy trying to “pray the gay away.” I came from a very religious home and one of those small Southern towns with a church on every street corner. That’s why religion plays such a prominent role in Social Intercourse. Even so, I had a great high school experience, and was popular—but only because I hid who I really was. I dated girls and fooled around with other closeted guys on the side, and then felt guilty and prayed to God for forgiveness. It was an icky and unhealthy cycle. And newsflash: “Praying the gay away” doesn’t work!
I was unagented when I wrote Social Intercourse, so during the querying process, I received several requests for additional pages and the full manuscript, but I also got several “this is too much for YA” kind of responses, which I found perplexing. I didn’t think my book was very racy at all. Not compared to some cishetero YA romances. Luckily I found the perfect agent who “got it” right away and helped me polish it—but not tone it down. I told her I didn’t want to water it down and she was okay with that. When she started submitting the manuscript to editors, we got a similar response. “Hilarious, love the writing, love the voice, but might be too much for us to publish.” Again—me—perplexed. Other than the one gay masturbation scene and the one het oral sex scene, there’s no sex on the page! Sure there’s a lot for frank discussion about sex, and that anal masturbation scene is kind of graphic, but come on—that’s it!
Fortunately David Gale at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers also “got it” right away and made a pre-empt offer pretty quickly. So props to our publishers Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Little, Brown! And no—David never asked me to tone down the racy bits. I don’t know if he received any pushback internally. If he did, he never told me about it. But we had the discussion and he agreed that yes—there is a double standard when it comes to LGBTQ YA and cishetero YA.
I also learned about yet another double standard. A straight female writer can go “a lot farther” with gay stories in regards to sex than an Own Voices author. Somehow it’s deemed “safer” when a straight woman writes it, and when it comes from a gay male writer, it’s perceived as more “subversive”. I had several professionals and established authors in the publishing industry confirm that to me also. Nobody was saying it was right…just that yes—it’s a thing. But I feel that it’s as much as reader issue as a “gatekeeper” one. Some non-queer readers want safe, sweet, romanticized representations of queer kids like you said. Gay men tend to write more from their own experiences which is a little too raw, real, and authentic for some readers.
I have a very liberal straight female friend who loved Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and was trying to convince her very conservative friend who was leery of the gay content, to let her teen daughter read it—who was dying to. And it was only when my liberal friend told her conservative friend that the book was written by a straight woman, that she let her daughter read it. Ugh! But at least that kid got to read the book. But you’re right, I think it is slowly getting better from the publishing end of things and hopefully readers will love and support characters like Jack and Beck, just as much as they love Becky Albertalli’s Simon if they give them a chance. And I do think writers like Becky Albertalli are opening mainstream doors for us Own Voices writers, which I know is important to Becky, so I say thank you and more power to her and those like her.
And I will be honest, when I was in high school, I didn’t even know what a drag queen was, much less have a drag name! I only “came out to myself” after college when I moved to Nashville and a drag show was my first gay bar experience (at 23 y/o). I remember thinking what the hell is this?! But I felt right at home in that bar, with those other LGBTQ people…something I’d never felt before and that was powerful.
And speaking of feeling right at home, I love that both Beck and Jax have supportive parents in Social Intercourse. That was pure fantasy for me when writing the book. I wish I would have had a relationship with my dad like Beck has with his. And I loved the relationship between Jack and his mom in your book. So real. So easy. So loving. Also, Beck and Jack both have some great, supportive close friends. Beck’s best friend Shelby is amalgamation of my three best friends now. Were Jack’s close relationships inspired by yours with your parent(s) and friends when you were a teen?
Lev: I’m so sorry you had to go through all that. I’m lucky in that I skipped over most of the shame/fear parts of coming out and went right to the angry. I was in a liberal environment, my parents and friends were generally great about it, it was the folks who didn’t really know me—the ones who watched me and assumed things about me – that I had the biggest issue with. I did go to an orthodox temple, where the rabbi told me homosexuality was immature and something people needed to get over (not knowing I was gay), but I was able to give up on going there after my bar-mitzvah. It did fuck up my relationship with Judaism for a while, but I don’t know how that could have been avoided.
When I moved to Ohio for college, that’s when I experienced more of the fear of being openly queer in the world. It’s not like New York is a bubble—I still get people shouting “faggot” on the street at me—but I never feel like I’m entering enemy territory here. Maybe because I grew up here. But Ohio, and other rural places I’ve visited—that’s where I get that fear feeling. I change the way I walk, lower my voice. If it feels like a place that would be unfriendly to Jews, I change my name to Lee, too. Growing up with that must have been really terrible. Especially if you thought prayer was going to help. Being gay is a gift.
But, getting less somber—that story about your friend’s friend only giving her daughter Simon when she found out it was written by a woman is FASCINATING. I just did an interview with i-D about m/m ownvoices in YA and why they’re important. What I said was that when straight people write queer characters, they do so seeing queer people through a “straight gaze”—and they’re pretty much writing them for other straight people. They’re telling our stories for themselves, and we become these adorable little puppets they can project things onto—lust, pity, whatever. It’s objectifying. And then those are the stories that are out there—the ones little queers see, the ones straight people see and use to form their opinions about queer people. We become objects and then no one has a chance to see our humanity. And maybe that humanity, as you say, is too real, too raw, and that’s what straight folks are afraid of. That they’ll see what this world really is like for us, instead of for these symbols of us. Seeing someone else’s humanity when you’re part of a society that crushes that humanity can be a terrible thing.
I don’t mind straight people writing queer characters—that’s diversity, and it can be good when done with love and sensitivity readers. But when they take on specifically queer stories, before any of us have a chance to tell those stories from our POV? It’s cutting in line. It’s usurping our stories for their puppet shows. And it ain’t cool. I hope you can smuggle a copy of your book to that girl who was so eager to read Simon.
I loved how you distinguished between the types of Christianitys (Christianities?)—how there were loving Christians who had no problem with queer folks, but there were also the ones with the signs and the angry faces (we had those in Ohio) who protested a dance. You didn’t just say “Christians are bad”—you said “these Christians are bad.” I feel like that’s a nuance we don’t often see when we talk about religion and queerness. If it’s not too personal, have you found a sort of Christianity that works for you? That doesn’t ask you to pray anything away? Or do you think that upbringing really screwed up your relationship with religion? Do you think there is a way to be happy, Christian and queer?
I’m glad you brought up the parents in your book, though, because Jax’s mom? I was SO angry at her. Beck’s dad was great, and JoJo was amazing, but Jax’s mom was outing her son all over the place! I kept yelling at her “you’re queer! You should know this isn’t cool!” What made you want to write that kind of a character—one who’s perhaps so supportive they end up being harmful? Because I found her fascinating, even as I felt she needed a scolding. You know any moms like that? It’s so interesting, as we get more supportive parents, I’m curious about where the line is between supportive—and too supportive. Where do you think it is?
Jack’s mom in Jack of Hearts isn’t at all inspired by my parents. My parents are supportive (fun fact: they’ve read the book), but I don’t think either of them ever partied at Studio 54. Jack’s mom really came from a desire for a cool mom, who wouldn’t mind her son writing a sex advice column, but not so cool that she’d brush off him hiding a stalker from her. Someone Jack felt a need to protect, on some level. All of Jack’s friends have parts of people I know, but I didn’t consciously think “I shall base this person on that one” or anything. Jeremy was kind of me, like I said, but so is Ben, and so is Jenna… everyone is me. I write from a place of pure narcissism. But I think we all do, to some degree.
Greg: Wow. Sounds like you had your own interesting journey with religion and being gay as well. I did finally reconcile my faith with my sexuality and what a burden lifted that was. If you believe in God talking to you, it was kind of like hearing them say “Well, duh. Of course there’s nothing wrong with you. I made you perfectly.” But alas, the older I get, the more agnostic I become. But I absolutely believe there is a place in the Christian church for LGBTQ people. And I knows lots of happy queer Christians. We have several Christian churches here in Nashville that are open, welcoming, and affirming to the LGBTQ community. And I’m SO glad you didn’t think the message in my book was that all Christians are bad or that Christianity, in general, was bad. That was not my intent at all. But I guess is was important for me to show the “good” Christians, who are truly about love and compassion and core principles of the teachings of Christ. So many queer people were hurt by the church and the “bad” Christians get all the press, so that’s all some queer people see of the church—the hate.
But, getting less religiousy—just like there are all types of queer teens, there are all kinds of parents of queer teens. And like you said, as we get more supportive parents out there, it’s breaking new ground and some are figuring it out as they go. They just know they love and support their kids. So with Beck’s mom and dad, and with Jax’s moms, I wanted to show supportive parents, but different types of support! Beck’s dad, Roger and Jax’s mom, JoJo get it right most all the time, Beck’s mom, Lana is supportive, but she doesn’t always get it right. Poor Tracee, Jax’s other mom, tries a little too hard, but she means well. And she has quite the story arc herself. I get why you had such a strong negative reaction to her and so does Beck in the story.
Okay now, I HAVE to ask you about those letters and columns! WOW. Bravo to you for going balls to the walls on those. (no pun intended). I believe I read in the acknowledgments that you had a little input or got some ideas from friends, right? Did like your friends ask you some questions then you formulated the emails to Jack and his responses? Any first hand experiences sprinkled in those letters or columns? (Okay—that’s probably too personal). But tell me EVERYTHING about that part of the process of writing this book.
Lev: Okay, that’s an amazing happy ending for the Story of the Girl Who Wanted to Read Simon. I am thrilled, please send me photos of you giving her a copy of the book and her subsequent review.
As for the letters and columns, many I came up with on my own, but I did also crowdsource actual questions. Usually, they were short, and I made them into big longer questions. So, the one from the guy who wants to sleep around but keeps developing crushes on his one night stands? That was just someone asking “how can I not fall in love with every guy I fuck?” I switched the sexes around, because I wanted to play with some toxic masculinity tropes, and made it into a longer letter, but the inspiration came from a friend.
Some of my friends’ teen kids asked questions, too. I got the asexuality one from one of them. I didn’t get to every question people asked (some I didn’t think Jack would have the answer to, especially if they were more vaginally focused), but I definitely wanted to reach out and get questions from teens or people who had been teens because I think even as adults these days we have a lot of questions.
One of the things they say in the book is there’s no talk of queer sex in sex-ed classes, and with kids coming out earlier and earlier, that’s an issue. They can figure out the basic premise of giving a blowjob, but if they want to try anal sex? That’s more complicated, and if they’re only getting sex-ed from porn, it is not going to go how they think it will.
Did you see the article in the Times magazine a while back about teens learning so much sex stuff from porn? It’s fascinating and kind of terrifying, too. And that’s for straight porn, which admittedly has different issues, but I think about gay teens going “okay, sex for us MUST be anal, and spit will be a fine lubricant.” So I definitely wanted to cover some of the basics, too, to counteract that idea of easy porn sex. And I brought in a sex-educator to help me make sure nothing Jack said was actively harmful. I didn’t want him to give perfect advice, but I wanted to make sure it was still solid, working advice. But writing the questions was fun. Writing Jack answering the questions was fun, too, because he’s finding his voice there, and he’s really in control of his own narrative for once, instead of being the subject of gossip about how slutty he is.
I really wanted Jack to control the stories of his own sex life, so I fade to black for most sex scenes, but then tell his stories through the column. I wanted to show him really controlling his own sexual narrative. And I’m going to control my own sexual narrative by saying I won’t be talking about my sex life, but I’m sure people will assume Jack’s experiences are based on mine. Which is hilarious, since so much of the book is about not assuming things about peoples sex lives. I did have a bunk-bed, though.
So, I think we should wrap this up before people get bored, But thank you for having us and let us ramble, Dahlia! And as my final question, I know I’m just starting to get ready for Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) coming out at the end of October, and I have some other projects I can’t talk about, but you’re about to launch! You have a launch party you said, anything else coming up? I think I read you sold a middle-grade book, too?
Greg: That is all so fascinating to me. You did a superb job on the both the letters to Jack and his columns. It really was a breath of fresh (and as you said, much needed) air for queer YA.
Well – I call foul on this “some other projects I can’t talk about” business. But I get it, and I look forward to when you can share more. I am SO excited for Jack, Ben, and Jenna to get out into the world and I will be cheering you on every step of the way.
As for me, yes, my launch party for Social Intercourse is fast approaching and I have a few other upcoming events related to that release. And you alluded to my debut middle grade book coming up. It’s called The Whispers and will be published by Putnam/Penguin some time in the Spring of 2019. (Available for pre-order now!) It’s completely different from Social Intercourse, focusing on a queer eleven-year-old boy who’s mother goes missing and he seeks out mythical wood creatures called the Whispers, who he believes can help him find her. It has hints of magical realism and fantasy while also being firmly rooted in the reality of the deep South. It’s the most personal story I’ve ever written, and even so, I can’t wait to share it with the world. Because, yes, Virginia, there ARE queer eleven-year-olds!
Thanks, Lev. It’s been a real pleasure speaking with you. Good luck! And thanks Dahlia for letting us ramble!
Lev: Yes, thanks so much Dahlia! And thank you, Greg! It was a lot of fun!</p>
Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina, or as he fondly refers to it, “the armpit of the American South.” By the time he could afford professional therapy and medication, the damage had already been done. His hometown of Georgetown, South Carolina is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South,” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination.
Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. After running away to the bright lights and big city of Nashville, Tennessee with stars in his eyes and dreams of being the Dianne Warren of Music City, he took a job peddling CDs and has been a cog in the music business machine ever since.
Now an adult with a brain, Greg finds the South Carolina coast to be a perfectly magical place where he vacations yearly and dreams of the day when he can return to write full time in the most tastefully decorated beach house on Pawleys Island.
Greg’s debut adult paranormal novel, BLOOD DIVINE, was released by Wilde City Press in September 2016. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers acquired Greg’s debut young adult novel, SOCIAL INTERCOURSE, which will be released in Spring 2018
LEV AC ROSEN is the author of books for all ages. Two for adults: All Men of Genius (Amazon Best of the Month, Audie Award Finalist) and Depth (Amazon Best of the Year, Shamus Award Finalist, Kirkus Best Science Fiction for April). Two middle-grade books: Woundabout (illustrated by his brother, Ellis Rosen), and The Memory Wall. His first Young Adult Novel, Jack of Hearts (and other parts) is forthcoming in 2018. His books have been sold around the world and translated into different languages as well as being featured on many best of the year lists, and nominated for awards.
Lev attended Oberlin College, where he majored in creative writing, and then Sarah Lawrence College, where he received his MFA in fiction. Just after graduating from Oberlin, his short story Painting was the inaugural piece for the ‘New Voices’ section of the renowned Esopus magazine. He has written articles for numerous blogs, including booklifenow and tor.com, and been interviewed by several magazines and blogs including Clarkesworld and USA Today.
Lev is originally from lower Manhattan and now lives in even lower Manhattan, right at the edge, with his husband and very small cat.