Hello and welcome to a super exciting cover reveal! Learning Curves by Ceilie Simkiss is an adult contemporary romance with a white cis panromantic asexual woman (ownvoices) and a fat Puerto Rican cis lesbian woman. (It’s got ownvoices ADHD and anxiety rep, too!) It releases on August 16, and you can learn more about it right here!
Elena Mendez has always been career-first; with only two semesters of law school to go, her dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions. She doesn’t have time for love.
And she has no idea how much her life will change, the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin.
A freelance writer and MBA student, Cora is just as career-driven as Elena. But over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other–even a surprise visit from Elena’s family.
From solitude to sweetness, there’s nothing like falling in love. College may be strict…but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.
Ceillie Simkiss is an author from southern Virginia. She started writing fiction as an escape from her day job as a small town journalist, and has been at it ever since, with the support of her partner, her dog and her cats.
Chelsea M. Cameron’s kind of the queen of dropping f/f Romances out of nowhere, and I am personally A-OK with this. But this time, you get at least a couple of days notice, and probably no more than that! Keep an eye out over the next week for the release of Marriage ofUnconvenience, and look out below for the cover! But first, the book details:
Lauren “Lo” Bowman is in a bit of a pickle. She needs money, like ASAP. She lost her job, the rent is due, and her car needs repairs. Problem is, the inheritance left to her by her old-fashioned Granny has one stipulation before she can collect: she has to be married.
Let’s just say suitors (of any gender) are not knocking down her door. And then Cara Simms, her best friend from childhood that she’s recently reconnected with, pours her heart out and confesses that she needs money to pay for grad school. Lo has a completely brilliant idea: they should get hitched.
Not married married. Like, fake married. All they have to do is play the part for the lawyers, get the money, and then get the marriage annulled. Easy as hell.
Well, it starts out that way, but being fake married feels a lot like being real married, and Lo is flipping out. She cannot be falling for her best friend. Can she?
And now, the cover!
Chelsea M. Cameron is a New York Times/USA Today Best Selling author from Maine who now lives and works in Boston. She’s a red velvet cake enthusiast, obsessive tea drinker, vegetarian, former cheerleader and world’s worst video gamer. When not writing, she enjoys watching infomercials, singing in the car, tweeting (this one time, she was tweeted by Neil Gaiman) and playing fetch with her cat, Sassenach. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Maine, Orono that she promptly abandoned to write about the people in her own head. More often than not, these people turn out to be just as weird as she is.
Please welcome back Nicole Brinkley and Spec Shelf!
Welcome to Spec Shelf, the little corner of LGBTQ Reads where I talk to authors about their queer science-fiction and fantasy books. Today, we’re peeking into Audrey Coulthurst’s Inkmistress, a companion novel to her debut Of Fire and Stars that includes a queer angry shapeshifting dragon girl. Yes, you read that right.
Of course, Inkmistress includes other things—a queer girl demi-god, who explores her own bisexuality throughout the narrative; a discussion of what it means to be angry, and what it means to pursue doing good; and, of course, some beautiful worldbuilding.
Take a peek at the beginning of chapter one—and a little snippet of chapter three!—below and keep reading to see Audrey and I chatting about Inkmistress, bisexual representation, and whether Audrey is secretly a Lannister.
When our story began, I thought I knew love.
Love was a mind that moved quickly from one thought to the next, eyes an inimitable blue that lay somewhere between morning glories and glaciers, and a hand that tugged me along as we raced laughing through the woods. Love was the way she buried her hands in my hair and I lost mine in the dark waves of hers, and how she kissed me until we fell in a hot tangle atop the blankets in the back of the cave I called home. Love was the warmth kindled by her touch, lingering in me long after the first snow fell and she had gone for the winter.
Love was what would bring her back to me in spring—and spring had finally begun to wake.
[And later, a peek into chapter three…]
We’d never really talked about boys. Before Ina had entered my life, I’d nursed a hopeless crush or two on handsome hunters who had come to me and Miriel for tinctures—but ever since Ina I’d had no desire for anyone else.
Nicole: We’re gonna do a deep dive on fantasy worldbuilding today. Are you ready to talk about dragons and gods and dragons and magic and dragons?
Audrey: Of course!
Nicole: Incredibly, I will be well-behaved and will not start the conversation with a ramble about how dragons are the best. I want to talk about the idea of demigods in your world without spoiling anything too majorly. Think we can manage?
Audrey: Yes. For a minute there I thought you were going to ask me to run a foot race. That would be very ill-behaved. And if we are being honest, dragons ARE the best.
Nicole: Where I am in New York, it is far too hot for foot races! For those who haven’t read the book yet, can you explain a little bit about how religion and gods work in your world?
Audrey: Sure. Inkmistress takes place approximately 200 years before Of Fire and Stars. In the world of Inkmistress, gods and demigods are much more a part of daily life than they are in the later book. Mortals in Zumorda worship the gods, but only demigods (the half-human offspring of a god and a mortal) and the monarch are able to use magic. The only magical ability most humans have is to take a manifest (an animal form) when they come of age, and they do this by pledging themselves to a certain god.
Nicole: And we learn what magic Asra can do very early on: writing in her blood can dictate the future. Which is both terrifying and badass.
Audrey: Yes, Asra is a demigod. The main problem is that Asra’s gift tends to have repercussions she can’t predict, and it also takes years off her life every time she uses it. So the costs are high and the benefits questionable, which makes her a bit afraid of her own power.
Nicole: But she risks using it for her girlfriend–you don’t use the word explicitly, if I remember, but I’m pretty confident in it–and it utterly backfires. Asra’s power, and her use of it for Ina, brought up feelings for me that I didn’t realize I had: how infrequently we see characters with ties to the gods identifying as queer.
Audrey: Interesting! You’re right–and I wonder if it has to do with the challenges some people have reconciling faith and sexuality. The prejudices and/or social structures we are faced with in the real world tend to bleed over into fiction, even unintentionally. I set out specifically to write a world in which queerness was a non-issue (both in Inkmistress and the Of Fire and Stars series), so that may have made for some unusual twists with regard to the interplay between faith, gods, and sexuality.
Nicole: That’s one of the things I love about your books. Queerness is normal and just comes with the same falling-in-love problems of any YA book regardless of sexual or romantic identity: it’s highly inconvenient and causes extreme angst, not because of the gender of the person you love, but because love is complicated and messy.
Audrey: Yeah, exactly. It’s a mirror of real-life experience as far as I’m concerned. Several bits and pieces of this story are sourced from people I knew and things that happened in my past (minus bloodthirsty dragons).
Nicole: Since you did not explicitly say that you don’t have the power to change the future by writing with your blood, I’m going to assume that’s based on your real-life experiences as well and fear you as the god-creature you are.
Audrey: Ha! Most of the people at my day job would be swift to confirm your fears. *smiles innocently*
Nicole: But one of the things that’s so realistic about the relationships between Ina and Asra, especially at the beginning of the book, is the fear that comes with keeping secrets. Ina from Asra, Asra from Ina–it creates a kind of tumbling, self-fulfilled prophecy situation. What do you think the appeal is, in fiction, of characters keeping secrets from each other–especially when it comes to romantic queer relationships? Do you think it allows us, as writers and readers, to explore the limits we’re willing to go… or is it just really good fodder for Emotional Feels™?
Audrey: Both, I think. And again, it’s true to life. Even when we love someone with our whole hearts, as Asra does Ina, there are pieces of ourselves that we have to keep close or choose to keep secret for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because we don’t understand those pieces completely (as Asra is unsure of the origins of her powers). Other times it is because we need to keep those secrets to get what we want (like Ina choosing not to tell Asra certain things until she feels like it might help her case).
Also, it might be worth noting that part of what inspired Inkmistress was a desire to write about a flawed relationship, one that is fundamentally lopsided, and how a character is able to come to terms with that and move on. It’s something I haven’t seen explored as often in fiction–that sometimes we love people without seeing them clearly, or without understanding that they will never return our feelings in equal measure.
Nicole: With the calls for more queer fiction prevalent in the push for diverse books, do you think that the push for Good and Happy relationships, especially in fantasy stories where anything is possible, can be detrimental to the portrayal of relationships that are more real for queer teens? I see a lot of frustration when representation isn’t Perfect, despite the fact that people–and characters–never are.
Audrey: Ooh, this is such a tricky question, and I might answer it differently as a writer than a reader. Especially when I was a teen reader, I was happy to read books where there were even secondary queer characters regardless of whether they had happy endings or not. Any representation at all was better than none. Now, as the amount of available queer literature grows, I think it’s important for readers of all ages to see that queer people can have happy, fulfilling lives and be the heroes of any story. At the same time, as a writer, writing about happy people is very, very boring. Sorry! Murder and angst is more fun.
As an aside, I do think that it’s also helpful to see toxic relationships in fiction, especially if they are adequately unpacked as such. It might help a reader recognize red flags in their own relationship and get out of a situation before their partner turns into a murderous dragon hell-bent on killing the king.
Nicole: Even though we all love murder dragons. With murder on the mind–as it always is–Inkmistress seems a much angrier story than Of Fire and Stars. I love angry girls in fiction. Is that a side-effect of the characters and time period of the world that you’re writing about? Did the real world influence that writing and worldbuilding?
Audrey: I think it was some of both. At the outset, I knew I wanted to tell a story about a character who was fundamentally kind and empathetic, and truly wanted the best for her people and her world. Asra starts out the story rather naive and once she gets out into her kingdom beyond the mountain where she grew up, the world starts kicking her in the face without mercy. To me, the story is about how she managed to take ownership of her powers and stay true to her own beliefs in kindness and goodness in spite of everything that is taken from her.
As far as the real world, I wrote Inkmistress when I had moved to Los Angeles after ten years in Austin, TX. It was a hard, lonely transition, as I’d left behind all my closest friends. So every time I was grumpy or sad, I just murdered more people in the book to cheer myself up.
Nicole: Murder solves all problems–well, fictional murder, at any rate. I think people–fictional or real–choosing to be kind and care in a world that doesn’t want them to is the bravest thing they can do. Is that an ideology you carry next to your own heart?
Audrey: Right now it’s an especially timely ideology to share and promote, I think. Some hard things are happening in the real world that are forcing people to take stock of who they are, who they support, and how they work to influence change. I thought about that a lot while writing the book, and how important it was to share the message that the cruelty of the world doesn’t have to defeat us, even when it seems like everything is impossible.
Nicole: Speaking of impossible things: there’s no way to please every reader. There have been a couple books that come under fire in the past year for portraying bisexual ladies ending up in relationships with dudes. Without spoiling too much of the book, Inkmistress is one of the titles. Bisexuality seems to be a difficult line to walk in fiction: ladies ending up with ladies is blanketed as lesbian, while ladies ending up with dudes is considered queer erasure. What do you think of the situation? How can we improve the discussion of bisexuality in fiction?
Audrey: I think you nailed it with “there’s no way to please every reader.” That’s so true on so many levels and for so many reasons. Even very beloved books have readers who didn’t enjoy them or weren’t able to connect with the characters. I am a passionate believer that we need to see a lot of different kinds of bisexual representation to start breaking down the negative stereotypes and/or erasure that are so common in both the queer community and more broadly.
At the same time, I recognize that there are a lot of readers out there who really want f/f content because they can find m/f content so much more easily. It’s a tough line to walk between accurate representation, because bisexuals do sometimes end up with male-identifying people and it doesn’t invalidate their sexuality, and helping expand the kinds of stories available to readers. It has meant a lot to me to hear from the bi readers who were so enthusiastic to read Inkmistress and who wrote to tell me that they finally felt seen and validated. To improve the discussion of bisexuality in fiction, I think we just need to see more and more stories. The conversation will keep growing and expanding as the diversity of bisexual representation increases. I’d love to live in a world where the gender of one’s partner isn’t taken as an indication of a person’s sexuality, so I strive to create that world in fiction and hope that open-mindedness slowly makes its way into reality.
Nicole: Before we go, I want to talk about manifests! We learn what they are really in the book: they’re animals that bond with humans in a way that allows the human to take their form. That’s why Ina is a murder dragon: her manifest was a dragon. We obviously know my manifest would be a kind, plant-loving dragon. It definitely exists. Somewhere. What do you think yours would be?
Audrey: Honestly, probably a cat. Much like my feline friends, I’m fundamentally lazy, aloof with strangers, and bitey-scratchy if touched without permission.
Nicole: Fundamentally lazy, says the writer of three incredible queer fantasies with more on the horizon. Maybe you’re a mountain lion: totally adorable, bitey-scratchy, able to take on way more than you think and destroy your enemies in the process.
Audrey: Ha, at my day job I have been known to use Cersei gifs to represent myself once in a while. And mountain lions are awesome. I’m down with that.
Nicole: If I’m a dragon and you’re a lion… what an unexpected Targaryen / Lannister alliance for this interview! Thank you so much for chatting with me, Audrey. Is there anything else you want people to know about Inkmistress and your work generally?
Audrey: Haha! I’m pretty sure if I lived in the world of Game of Thrones, I’d be the fantasy equivalent of a Red Shirt–doomed to an unceremonious death. As for my own books, readers might be comforted to know that while I’m always going to include queer female characters in my work, they will be free from my murderous tendencies. ‘Bury your gays’ and ‘the promiscuous bisexual’ are two tropes I’d like to see as infrequently as possible, so I do my best to avoid them in my work. Thank you so much for interviewing me today and for your wonderful questions!
Inkmistress is available now. Buy the book from Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Book Depository. To learn more about the book, visit Audrey’s website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
Today on the site we’ve got a gorgeous new cover, this time for Birthing Orion by Dax Murray, which is a queer (f/f) space fantasy poetry collection releasing on October 9! Here’s a little more info on the book:
The relationship between two goddesses, one the embodiment of a galactic creation and the other of cosmic destruction, is tempestuous at best. They create and they destroy and then they do it all over again. Seya and Mia use their divine magic to make pulsars and nebula, to set planets spinning around stars and bind a galaxy together with a central black hole.
But when one of Seya’s favorite stars goes missing, she blames Mia. What was once a symbiotic cycle of life and death becomes a game of broken hearts and promises betrayed. These tensions and insecurities are explored in sonnets and villanelles; the arc of their love tracked in meter and verse. These poems touch on queer love, betrayal, trust, acceptance, and forgiveness cast against a backdrop of stardust and celestial detritus.
Dax Murray is a software engineer by day but fights demons by moonlight. Dax writes worlds where being queer is not remarkable, and futures are held in the hands of the many instead of the few. Dax can often be found listening to the same seven songs on repeat, watching Revolutionary Girl Utena, reading Howl’s Moving Castle (again), or playing Rachmoninoff on feir flute. Dax is owned by three cats, two ball pythons, and one Brazilian rainbow boa. Dax studied political science, music, and creative writing at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. Fey currently resides in Washington, DC with feir spouse. You can find them on the web at daxmurray.com, on Twitter @DaxAeterna, or sign up for feir newsletter.
Today on the site we have guest post from Naomi Tajedler, author of the recently released Concerto in Chroma Major. Naomi’s here to talk about her book’s being #ownvoices, which, for those who don’t know, is a term that was coined by author Corinne Duyvis to refer to work written by an author who shares the marginalized identity (or identities) of their main character.
Before we get to the post, here’s some info on the book:
Alexandra Graff, a Californian living in Paris, is a stained-glass artist whose synesthesia gifts her with the ability to see sounds in the form of colors. When she is commissioned to create glass panels for the new Philharmonie, she forms a special bond with the intriguing Halina Piotrowski, a famous Polish pianist. As their relationship develops, Alexandra shows Halina the beautiful images her music inspires. But when it comes to a lasting future together, will Halina’s fear of roots and commitment stand in the way?
Like many xennial authors, my first creative writing came in the form of fanfiction. This medium turned out to be exactly what I needed to figure out what I wanted to read, what I wanted to write, and how to create my own characters. More importantly, it gave me the courage to write the stories I felt needed to be told, to express the voices I needed to be heard.
It’s at this starting point in my career as an author that I turned to YA. Not only did an opportunity to take this leap into original fiction came in the shape of an anthology (at Duet Books, Interlude Press’ YA imprint), but I felt like the very first time I wanted to write a story all of my own, I needed to write it for Past Me. For the teenager I used to be. For her insecurities, for her doubts, for her pains, for what she didn’t know but unconsciously set her apart from her peers.
Fourteen-year old me needed a story telling her that no matter what, if she stayed true to herself, the people around her would still love her. Thus What The Heart Wants was born.
The story of a young girl who discovers that Straight may not be her norm was a story I could have used at Noam’s age. I could also have used the story of someone who doesn’t fit “normal” beauty standards and yet is loved and crushed on. I could also have used, at some point in my development as a woman who is still questioning herself, the story of someone who refuses to date simply because it is “expected” of her.
Writing Noam’s coming of age story came to me pretty naturally, because my teenage self, back when I wrote it, was bursting at the seams to come back into my life, with all the strength, rage and loudmouth adulthood had tamed into silence.
Writing this short story unlocked the door I had unconsciously closed on my plot bunnies. Stories I had told myself, funny and adventurous. Stories I had daydreamed about while studying and / or working.
Then the time came to think about what would be next, and I decided that I needed to write, well, for me now. For the adult I had become in spite of, or thanks to, the heartbreaks and pains.
Writing Concerto in Chroma Major took me a while, because a short story is not a novel, and writing for adults is not the same challenge as writing for young adults, obviously.
Parallelly to writing this story is when I started therapy, and some sessions were dedicated to that process. Unconsciously, a lot of it infused this story, which is why it cannot suit a young adult audience. It’s not that young adults cannot deal with darker themes, not at all. There are challenges, ideas, we face in Life later on and an insight that demands years to step back from the situation and look at it differently to accept someone else’s point of view.
Through the story, I realized that I projected a lot of who I am into my characters: Halina has my independence, my wanderlust, my love for art; Alexandra has my synesthesia, my fatness, my views on Judaism and how to be Jewish, my romantic identity. She also represents the woman I aim to be: more confident in myself and my body, more at ease with herself and her pursuit of romance, more comfortable with confrontations too.
Concerto in Chroma Major is #ownvoices in many ways. Through it, I express my voice as a fat, bisexual, Jewish woman, all communities that need more representation from within.
No one can claim to speak for an entire community, but I do know that my voice is one representation within a more global picture.
Born and raised in Paris, France, Naomi Tajedler learned to love art from the womb when her father played guitar to her pregnant mother. Her love for books led her to a Bachelor of Arts in Book Restoration and Conservation, followed by a Master’s Degree in Art market management. Her first short story, “What The Heart Wants”, was published in Summer Love (2015), an LGBTQ Young Adult collection by Duet Books. When not writing, Naomi can be found sharing body positive tips on social media and trying recipes out on her loved ones.
Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remains of her world.
Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot—if she’s willing to sow the seeds of civil war.
A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny.
From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story.
Fifteen-year-old Kivali has never fit in. As a girl in boys’ clothes, she is accepted by neither tribe, bullied by both. What are you? they ask. Abandoned as a baby wrapped in a T-shirt with an image of a lizard on the front, Kivali found a home with nonconformist artist Sheila. Is it true what Sheila says, that Kivali was left by a mysterious race of saurians and that she’ll one day save the world? Kivali doesn’t think so. But if it is true, why has Sheila sent her off to CropCamp, with its schedules and regs and what feels like indoctrination into a gov-controlled society Kivali isn’t sure has good intentions?
But life at CropCamp isn’t all bad. Kivali loves being outdoors and working in the fields. And for the first time, she has real friends: sweet, innocent Rasta; loyal Emmett; fierce, quiet Nona. And then there’s Sully. The feelings that explode inside Kivali whenever Sully is near—whenever they touch—are unlike anything she’s experienced, exhilarating and terrifying. But does Sully feel the same way?
Between mysterious disappearances, tough questions from camp director Ms. Mischetti, and weekly doses of kickshaw—the strange, druglike morsel that Kivali fears but has come to crave—things get more and more complicated. But Kivali has an escape: her unique ability to channel and explore the power of her animal self. She has Lizard Radio.
If you look for yourself in the past and see nothing, how do you know who you are? How do you know that you’re supposed to be here?
When Wyatt brings an unidentified photograph to the local historical society, he hopes staff historian Grayson will tell him more about the people in the picture. The subjects in the mysterious photograph sit side by side, their hands close but not touching. One is dark, the other fair. Both wear men’s suits.
Were they friends? Lovers? Business partners? Curiosity drives Grayson and Wyatt to dig deep for information, and the more they learn, the more they begin to wonder — about the photograph, and about themselves.
Grayson has lost his way. He misses the family and friends who anchored him before his transition and the confidence that drove him as a high-achieving graduate student. Wyatt lives in a similar limbo, caring for an ill mother, worrying about money, unsure how and when he might be able to express his nonbinary gender publicly. The growing attraction between Wyatt and Grayson is terrifying — and incredibly exciting.
As Grayson and Wyatt discover the power of love to provide them with safety and comfort in the present, they find new ways to write the unwritten history of their own lives and the lives of people like them. With sympathy and cutting insight, Ottoman offers a tour de force exploration of contemporary trans identity.
A teen rockstar has to navigate family, love, coming out, and life in the spotlight after being labeled the latest celebrity trainwreck in Jen Wilde’s quirky and utterly relatable novel.
As a rock star drummer in the hit band The Brightsiders, Emmy King’s life should be perfect. But there’s nothing the paparazzi love more than watching a celebrity crash and burn. When a night of partying lands Emmy in hospital and her girlfriend in jail, she’s branded the latest tabloid train wreck.
Luckily, Emmy has her friends and bandmates, including the super-swoonworthy Alfie, to help her pick up the pieces of her life. She knows hooking up with a band member is exactly the kind of trouble she should be avoiding, and yet Emmy and Alfie Just. Keep. Kissing.
Will the inevitable fallout turn her into a clickbait scandal (again)? Or will she find the strength to stand on her own?
Behrouz Gets Lucky is a romantic, literary, kinky, and political novel about two older San Francisco queers – a butch dyke gardener named Lucky and a genderqueer librarian named Behrouz. A coffee date at Café Flore in the Castro, sparks a fiery trans masculine relationship that ends with the couple eating falafel in bed at 3 am half way around the world in a hotel room in Tehran. Forced gentrification in modern San Francisco goads Behrouz and Lucky to find their own uniquely sexual way of reclaiming the city’s lost queer spaces. Behrouz Gets Lucky is also tenderly sensual – an immersive novel, full of fragrances, delicious food, delirious sexual touch, dandy fashion, and beauty.
For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.
All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas—wielders of magic—are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.
Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son—not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.
Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country—and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.
It’s one thing to debut with a great addition to queer kidlit canon, particularly one that fills a huge gap, and with something beautifully written, no less. It’s another to do it in both Middle Grade and Young Adult in the same damn year. But that’s exactly what this month’s featured author, Kacen Callender, is doing with their 2018, and trust me when I say you wanna be along for the ride.
You, Kacen Callender, have had A Year! I’m gonna be greedy and jump ahead to your next release, because lord knows I am dying for everyone else to read the incredibly cute glory of This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story. What can you share about it, and what’s your absolute favorite thing in it?
Thank you so much, that really means a lot! In Epic Love Story, Nathan Bird is afraid of letting himself fall in love–to him, happy endings only belong in rom-coms, not in real life–but his resolve against romance is tested when a long-lost childhood best friend, Oliver James, returns to town. Lots of cuteness ensues. 🙂
My absolute favorite thing in the novel? I’m pretty proud of the intersectionality, and seeing brown queer people in love and unapologetically happy. It makes my heart soar whenever I re-read the book, and is a love letter to myself and my QPOC sibs in a lot of ways: we absolutely deserve epic love stories, too.
Labels are conspicuously absent in Epic Love Story, which I imagine was a conscious choice. Is shifting away from labels something you’d like to see more of, or was it more of a “right for your characters” situation?
Glad you caught that! It was definitely a purposeful choice to shift away from labels in the book.
Labels are a source of pride for me, personally, and a way to connect with others who are also queer, trans, and/or nonbinary, for example. But when I’m around my community of QPOC friends and self-made family, we never really talk about labels. It’s understood, and generally unsaid, that one person can be into another regardless of gender identity. If we talk about labels, it’s usually for the sake of non-queer folk around us.
This is Kind of an Epic Love Storyis set in a perfect world, where there’s no anti-queer climate for the characters to worry about (or racism, for that matter)—where labels aren’t necessary, because the idea of queer sexuality isn’t groundbreaking. This is what I hope is a perfect escape for QPOC readers, since we already deal with so much homophobia and racism in our every day lives.
Of course, you also released a Middle Grade this year, the wonderful Hurricane Child, which is a standout for so many reasons—a queer girl of color, a Caribbean setting… What has response to the book been like, and who’s your dream reader for it?
The response to Hurricane Childhas been amazing. I really never dreamed that it would receive the level of love and support its gotten, which I’m so incredibly grateful for.
My dream reader is ultimately anyone who feels alone and isolated, and reads and feels empowered by Caroline Murphy and her journey to be herself—that she deserves to exist, and deserves to be happy, no matter what. Whenever I need a reminder of that myself, I just take a look at the cover, and that powerful expression on Caroline’s face.
You also somehow managed to be an editor at Little, Brown among all this, which is just wild to me. What drew you to the queer titles you worked on as an editor, and what would you like to see more of?
Well, the main queer title I worked on during my time at LBYR was Ashley Herring Blake’s Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, which to this day remains one of the most beautiful middle grade novels in existence. Ashley is such a talented author, and I know she’ll blow everyone away with her second MG novel, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, which is out in March 2019 (I know, I know, such a long wait…)
As for what I’d like to see more of, I did want to see more queer MG books, and I do think that there’s still such a large gap to fill, but I’ve also been so uplifted by the number of recent queer MG books (such as Jen Petro-Roy’s P.S. I Miss You, Barbara Dee’s Star Crossed, One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock, and more)…
Right now, my focus is on seeing more intersectionality. I’d love to see more queer people of color as main characters, in all sorts of novels—and especially more rom-coms where the only tension is if the main character and love interest are going to make out or not, and where you know there’s going to be a happy ending. Unfortunately, historically, queer folks, and especially queer people of color, haven’t been guaranteed happy endings; it feels revolutionary to me to see stories where we are guaranteed that happily ever after.
As someone who straddled both author and editor positions, and particularly within the same category, what were the biggest challenges and the biggest perks?
The biggest challenge in the end unfortunately did become juggling a little too much, and spreading myself too thin. I wanted to help diversify the industry, so I tried very hard to continue working in publishing, as one of the few black editors in children’s books (and I believe the only black trans editor)… but the work became a little too overwhelming, sadly, and I started to become curious about other potential opportunities (my position at LBYR was my first out of grad school, and I’ve never explored any other fields!), so I decided to leave my position in the end, though I hope to now help other people of color and queer people of color find positions in publishing.
The most difficult part of leaving has been parting with incredible authors I’ve been honored to work with, but I know I had nothing to do with their talent, and that they’ll continue to flourish!
The biggest perk was definitely humility. Seeing the incredible talent of authors I worked with was very grounding in my own work, and a reminder that there are so many wonderful authors with so much extraordinary talent, and that no one author is more important than another, or that no one story is more important than another. I’m determined to keep this mindset as I move forward, in all of the work that I do.
I ordinarily ask people who the characters are in media who’ve resonated with them, but you already had a fantastic Twitter thread back in May about Adam from Degrassi. What was it about that character that really stuck with you and made a difference in your own life?
Adam not only changed my life, but I’m pretty sure he’s saved my life, too. Adam had a problematic ending on the show, but watching his story and journey allowed me to see similarities in him that I’d thought and experienced, but had never been able to put a name to before.Suddenly, everything shifted into place, and a few years later, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m not sure I was living life before–going through the motions, maybe—but now, as people around me say, I’m “glowing.” 🙂
Adam’s absolutely inspired me, and I hope to have a YA with a trans main character named Felix coming out soon!
1) Third favorite movie? My favorite movies are all Pixar, and my third favorite happens to be Coco. 🙂
2) Favorite movie character? Chiron, for all that he symbolizes.
3) Favorite writing craft book? Definitely Story by Robert McKee. Technically a film/screenwriting craft book, but novelists can absolutely learn a lot from his plotting advice as well.
4) Favorite Pandora station? While writing Epic Love Story, it was Bon Iver! Now, it’s Sia.
And speaking of which, there are some great shoutouts in the book, including ones to authors Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Gabby Rivera. Who are your insta-read authors?
So many! Right now, definitely Sáenz, but also Nina LaCour and David Levithan.
Shifting back to editor life, we’ve spoken before about how you’d love to help more people of color, and specifically Black editors, get involved in publishing. What tips do you have for PoC trying to break into publishing on the business/editorial side?
My biggest piece of advice would be to follow groups like POC in Publishing and We Need Diverse Books on social media for regular tips and job opportunities, and to take advantage of programs like Representation Matters. Reach out to editors for informational interviews, ask questions, be curious and passionate!
What’s something on the topic of queer lit/publishing you wish was talked about more?
I wish intersectionality was discussed a little more. I want to see a lot more queer people of color as main characters, and I want more stories by and featuring queer authors with disabilities, queer authors with different religions, queer authors with different socio-economic statuses, and a mix of all of the above, and more. There’s still a lot of work to be done.
*This article was updated with the author’s chosen name in January 2020. No other changes were made to the content.
Kacen Callender is the author of Hurricane Child and This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, and is committed to expanding diversity in children’s books. Kacen loves playing RPG video games and watching soul-sucking reality TV shows in their free time. They really wish they had a dog.
This is the first episode in a brand-new serial. You can also get it via the author’s Patreon.
ABOUT THIS EPISODE
When a string of young queer men turn up dead in grisly murders, all signs point to the ex-boyfriend—but what should be an open-and-shut case is fraught with tension when BPD homicide detective Malcolm Khalaji joins up with a partner he never wanted. Rigid, ice-cold, and a stickler for the rules, Seong-Jae Yoon is a watchful presence whose obstinacy and unpredictability constantly remind Malcolm why he prefers to work alone. Seong-Jae may be stunningly attractive, a man who moves like a graceful, lethal bird of prey…but he’s as impossible to decipher as this case.
And if Malcolm doesn’t find the key to unravel both in time, another vulnerable young victim may end up dead.
ABOUT THE SERIES
Baltimore homicide detective Malcolm Khalaji has his own way of doing things: quiet, methodical, logical, effective, not always particularly legal. He’s used to working alone—and the last thing he needs is a new partner ten years his junior.
Especially one like Seong-Jae Yoon.
Icy. Willful. Detached. Stubborn. Seong-Jae is all that and more, impossible to work with and headstrong enough to get them both killed…if they don’t kill each other first. Foxlike and sullen, Seong-Jae’s disdainful beauty conceals a smoldering and ferocious temper, and as he and Malcolm clash the sparks between them build until neither can tell the difference between loathing and desire.
But as bodies pile up at their feet a string of strange, seemingly unrelated murders takes a bizarre turn, leading them deeper and deeper into Baltimore’s criminal underworld. Every death carries a dangerous message, another in a trail of breadcrumbs that can only end in blood.
Malcolm and Seong-Jae must combine their wits against an unseen killer and trace the unsettling murders to their source. Together, they’ll descend the darkest pathways of a twisted mind—and discover just how deep the rabbit hole goes. And if they can’t learn to trust each other?
This is the third and final book in the And I Darken series.
Haunted by the sacrifices he made in Constantinople, Radu is called back to the new capital. Mehmed is building an empire, becoming the sultan his people need. But Mehmed has a secret: as emperor, he is more powerful than ever . . . and desperately lonely. Does this mean Radu can finally have more with Mehmed . . . and would he even want it?
Lada’s rule of absolute justice has created a Wallachia free of crime. But Lada won’t rest until everyone knows that her country’s borders are inviolable. Determined to send a message of defiance, she has the bodies of Mehmed’s peace envoy delivered to him, leaving Radu and Mehmed with no choice. If Lada is allowed to continue, only death will prosper. They must go to war against the girl prince.
But Mehmed knows that he loves her. He understands her. She must lose to him so he can keep her safe. Radu alone fears that they are underestimating his sister’s indomitable will. Only by destroying everything that came before–including her relationships–can Lada truly build the country she wants.
Claim the throne. Demand the crown. Rule the world.
Alexandra Graff, a Californian living in Paris, is a stained-glass artist whose synesthesia gives her the ability to see sounds in the form of colors. When she’s commissioned to create glass panels for the new Philharmonie, she forms a special bond with the intriguing Halina Piotrowski, a famous Polish pianist. As their relationship develops, Alexandra shows Halina the beautiful images her music inspires. But when it comes to a lasting future together, will Halina’s fear of roots and commitment stand in the way?
Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor’s salary isn’t enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.
Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she’s from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.
In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha’s and Key’s paths collide, and the two must learn to work together–a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.
With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.
A ring of braided grass. A promise. Ten years of separation.
And memories of an innocent love with the power to last through time.
When Luca Ward was five years old, he swore he would love Imre Claybourne forever. Years later, that promise holds true—and when Luca finds himself shipped off to Imre’s North Yorkshire goat farm in disgrace, long-buried feelings flare back to life when he finds, in Imre, the same patiently stoic gentle giant he’d loved as a boy. The lines around Imre’s eyes may be deeper, the once-black night of his hair silvered to steel and stone…but he’s still the same slow-moving mountain of a man whose quiet-spoken warmth, gentle hands, and deep ties to his Roma heritage have always, to Luca, meant home.
Imre is more than twice Luca’s age.
And Luca’s father’s best friend.
Yet if Imre is everything Luca remembered, for Imre this hot-eyed, fey young man is nothing of the boy he knew. Gone is the child, replaced by a vivid man whose fettered spirit is spinning, searching for north, his heart a thing of wild sweet pure emotion that draws Imre into the compelling fire of Luca’s frustrated passions. That fragile heart means everything to Imre—and he’ll do anything to protect it.
Even if it means distancing himself, when the years between them are a chasm Imre doesn’t know how to cross.
But can he resist the allure in cat-green eyes when Luca places his trembling heart in Imre’s hands…and begs for his love, over and over again?