Hey, you know Chameleon Moon, that amazing and wild genre mashup with wonderful relationships and rep that’s kind of a Must Read for SFF and/or Dystopia fans? What if I told you there’s a new volume coming out that contains ten short stories in that world? And that it was coming out soon? And that we have the cover reveal happening today?
(I mean, come on, you’re not that slow. You can guess.)
ALL OF THAT IS REAL. Life Within Parole: Volume 2 by RoAnna Sylver is coming your way October 11th, but first, we’ve got the cover! And before that we’ve got the blurb! So check it out!
Parole is full of danger—and secrets.
The deepest of them make up intricately interconnected stories. Damaged survivors finding each other, stitching their lives together in the harshest of places, forging precious bonds amidst the flames. Gradually growing trust, love, and understanding between found families. But there’s no escaping this place, its deadly realities, or its predators. A brutal capture. A hellish withdrawal and fragile recovery. A harrowing escape. A breakneck sprint across a haunted, poisoned wasteland.
Life and death, trust and betrayal, choking smoke and breaths of fresh air—all of these are just part of life within Parole.
And here’s the fabulous cover, designed by none other than RoAnna Sylver!
RoAnna Sylver writes unusually hopeful dystopian stories about marginalized heroes actually surviving, triumphing, and rocking really hard. RoAnna is also a singer, blogger, voice actor and artist who lives with family and a small snorking dog, and probably spends too much time playing videogames. The next amazing adventure RoAnna would like is a nap in a pile of bunnies. You can support more books and art directly on Patreon!
I’m thrilled to once again have Anna Zabo on the site to celebrate their newest release, Counterpoint, the second book in the Twisted Wishes series, which came out on September 24! (For more on the first, see here.) They’re here to talk about writing kink, and while I’m sure everyone’s eager to get to that, let’s check out their new release first 😉
Twisted Wishes lead guitarist Dominic “Domino” Bradley is an animal onstage. But behind his tight leather pants and skull-crusher boots lies a different man entirely, one who needs his stage persona not only to perform, but to have the anonymity he craves. A self-imposed exile makes it impossible to get close to anyone outside the band, so he’s forced to get his sexual fix through a few hot nights with a stranger.
When computer programmer Adrian Doran meets Dominic, he’s drawn to the other man’s quiet voice and shy smile. But after a few dirty, demanding nights exploring Dominic’s need to be dominated, Adrian wants more than a casual distraction. He has no idea he’s fallen for Domino Grinder—the outlandish, larger-than-life rock god.
Dominic is reluctant to trust Adrian with his true identity. But when the truth is revealed prematurely, Dominic is forced to reevaluate both his need for Adrian and everything he believes about himself.
CW: Quirks and Warnings: Contains D/s and bondage. Also discusses anxiety and depicts a panic attack.
I do have to admit that at one point in my career, I worried that I would become labeled as only a BDSM romance author. I have written romance without BDSM, but even in those, there are moments of kinkiness or explorations of power dynamics, so after a while I realized I was just going to have to embrace the kink and the label, to some extent. Not every novel I write is going to have kink, but it’s probably safe to assume that many will.
There’s just something about kink that I find fascinating, especially when paired with romance. Kink doesn’t have to be paired with romance. In real-life settings, it often isn’t. Heck, kink doesn’t have to be paired with sex. It’s a pleasure in its own right and doesn’t have to be anything but that.
However, I think one of the reasons I enjoy exploring kink in novels is that it take a certain amount of trust and understanding between partners. It’s a deep experience—for all parties involved. And that trust, that understanding—for me—ties into the kind of trust and understanding I like to see in romantic partners (or platonic partners in the case of aromantic folks). The caution, care, consent, and thoughtfulness that goes into good kink is the same sort of caution, care, consent, and thoughtfulness I want to see in—well all relationships, really.
There’s also a vulnerability in kink that feeds well into the vulnerability of opening your heart or soul to another human being. Again, it’s that deep trust that the other person (or persons) will not harm you as you pursue this mutual attraction to see where it leads. And then there’s the comfort of finding someone compatible with you, whether it’s because they finish your sentences, love rollercoasters, or the beach, are really great, or happen to love tying you up. It’s cherishing those moments of intense connection—the ones that take your breath away.
Kink also is its own kind of privacy and intimate connection, even if there are other people watching, because at a certain point, all that exists for the participants is each other and that connection. Could be pain, could be submission, could be bondage. But it exists because of the people involved and is this strong focus between them and to them. Its a little hard to describe in abstract.
And maybe that’s why I enjoy writing kink so much, because it gives me a chance to describe those feelings and emotions and connections to people. And in a romance novel, you’re already describing the intense connection between partners. Kink is just another element of that. And if it provides a little understanding as to why people might choose kink in their life, all the better.
Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow. They live and work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which isn’t nearly as boring as most people think.
Anna grew up in the wilds of suburban Philadelphia before returning to their ancestral homelands in Western Pennsylvania. As a child they were heartily disappointed to discover that they couldn’t grow up to be what they wanted (a boy, a cat, a dragon), so they settled on being themself whenever possible, which may be a combination of a boy, a cat, and a dragon. Or perhaps a girl, a knight, and a writer. Depends on whom you ask. They do have a penchant for colorful ties and may be hording a small collection of cufflinks.They can be easily plied with coffee.
Anna has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where they fell in with a roving band of romance writers and never looked back. They also have a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University.
Anna uses they/them pronouns and prefers Mx. Zabo as an honorific.
It’s fabulous to have Alex London back on the site today, talking about the rise of queer YA SFF to celebrate the launch of his incredible new gay YA fantasy, Black Wings Beating!
I don’t write portal fantasy, but I know that every book is a doorway to another world, and for queer teens, for a long time, the other worlds our fantasy books took us into were shockingly straight places. Fantasy authors—with a few exceptions—it seemed, could imagine vast histories and geographies, monsters and magic that defied the real world’s paltry science, yet could not imagine a place for queer people.
When I published my first sci-fi YA novel (Proxy, 2013), the imaginative fiction space in mainstream YA didn’t have a lot of queer heroes in it. There was Perry Moore’s superhero coming-out story, Hero, and there was Malinda Lo’s f/f Cinderella retelling in Ash and Huntress. Coda by Emma Trevayne came out around the same time as Proxy, but the bi main character’s identity slipped ‘under the gaydar’ in a lot of descriptions of the book. At that point you also had some amazing secondary characters in Cassandra Claire’s Mortal Instruments series, and in Holly Black’s Tithe; but main characters were still in short supply. Mercedes Lackey had written The Last Herald Mage series in the late 80s, which had a gay male lead, but I hadn’t heard of it at the time. It wasn’t enough for the books to exist; they were very rarely promoted and discovering them was deeply difficult.
And yet the same barriers to discovery exist as have always existed. Some schools and libraries are reluctant to promote books that have overt queer content. Some libraries are forbidden from promoting the books, as a recent decision by the library system in Washington County, Utah showed. Queer books exist and keep getting better, but unless they find champions in their communities, they will not find the readers who need them. Most queer teens aren’t following KirkusReviews or Buzzfeed booklists.
I’ve been lucky. Librarians championed my first queer YA novel and placed it on a few state lists and my publisher promoted it the same way they would have promoted most other books at the time. They didn’t advertise the queer aspect very much, because they wanted the book to find its way into the mainstream sci-fi readership. In 2013, that was a gamble. In 2018, the queer hero of my first fantasy novel is being touted in every press release from the publisher because, in five short years, the publishing business has come to see that a gay hero does not limit a book to just a gay audience. The book is receiving the kind of publisher support I couldn’t have dreamed of in the past. The comp titles they’ve told me for Black Wings Beatingaren’t just queer novels. They are the mainstream epic fantasies that I love, that I’ve always longed to see queer characters star in. And readers of all kinds have shown that they will judge an imaginative novel by the depth of its world-building, by the pacing of its plot, and the richness of its storytelling. A book can’t survive on queer readers alone, and straight readers are showing themselves more than happy to root for a wide array of queer heroes in their fantasy reads, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
There are still challenges, of course. We’re still at the point where the success or failure of every queer fantasy novel impacts the chances of every other, where the hits open the door wider for those that come next, but the books that fail to find their audience make it a little harder for the next ones to get the marketing budgets they might need. But the trends are going in the right direction.
Readers have more queers heroes in fantasy than ever before and doors are opening for authors and for stories that weren’t open in the past. As those doors open, we’re finding amazing new worlds on the other side and those worlds are queer indeed.
Alex London is the beloved author of the middle-grade series, Tides of War, Dog Tags, and The Wild Ones and the young adult novel Proxy, which was an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and was included in their 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the TAYSHAS Reading List selection, among many other state reading lists. His upcoming novel, Black Wings Beating, is an LGBTQ+ epic fantasy about legendary birds, first love, and family ties. Connect with him on Twitter @ca_london.
Happy Bi Visibility Day! Of course, the best part of this day is that you don’t really need to choose a single book to read; you can think all of them are damn fine! (I’m sorry, I cannot let a single BVD go without making a horrible joke. Anyway, here are some great bi things.)
“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”
Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie.
As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.
Seventeen-year-old Sebastian Hughes should be excited about his senior year. He’s the Lions’ star goalie, his best friends are amazing, and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask any team members to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah ends up on the team, Sebastian realizes his future is in the hands of the one guy who hates him. He’s determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the team. Sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than friendship between them. How can Sebastian convince Emir he can trust him again without wrecking the team’s future?
On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: they’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news is: there’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—an unforgettable day that will change both their lives forever.
Orphan Black meets Inception: Two formerly conjoined sisters are ensnared in a murderous plot involving psychoactive drugs, shared dreaming, organized crime, and a sinister cult.
Raised in the closed cult of Mana’s Hearth and denied access to modern technology, conjoined sisters Taema and Tila dream of a life beyond the walls of the compound. When the heart they share begins to fail, the twins escape to San Francisco, where they are surgically separated and given new artificial hearts. From then on they pursue lives beyond anything they could have previously imagined.
Ten years later, Tila returns one night to the twins’ home in the city, terrified and covered in blood, just before the police arrive and arrest her for murder—the first homicide by a civilian in decades. Tila is suspected of involvement with the Ratel, a powerful crime syndicate that deals in the flow of Zeal, a drug that allows violent minds to enact their darkest desires in a terrifying dreamscape. Taema is given a proposition: go undercover as her sister and perhaps save her twin’s life. But during her investigation Taema discovers disturbing links between the twins’ past and their present. Once unable to keep anything from each other, the sisters now discover the true cost of secrets.
Asra is a demigod with a dangerous gift: the ability to dictate the future by writing with her blood. To keep her power secret, she leads a quiet life as a healer on a remote mountain, content to help the people in her care and spend time with Ina, the mortal girl she loves.
But Asra’s peaceful life is upended when bandits threaten Ina’s village and the king does nothing to help. Desperate to protect her people, Ina begs Asra for assistance in finding her manifest—the animal she’ll be able to change into as her rite of passage to adulthood. Asra uses her blood magic to help Ina, but her spell goes horribly wrong and the bandits destroy the village, killing Ina’s family.
Unaware that Asra is at fault, Ina swears revenge on the king and takes a savage dragon as her manifest. To stop her, Asra must embark on a journey across the kingdom, becoming a player in lethal games of power among assassins, gods, and even the king himself.
Most frightening of all, she discovers the dark secrets of her own mysterious history—and the terrible, powerful legacy she carries in her blood.
As one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, Xandri Corelel has faced a lot of hardship, and she’s earned her place as the head of Xeno-Liaisons aboard the first contact ship Carpathia. But her skill at negotiating with alien species is about to be put to the ultimate test.
The Anmerilli, a notoriously reticent and xenophobic people, have invented a powerful weapon that will irrevocably change the face of space combat. Now the Starsystems Alliance has called in Xandri and the crew of the Carpathia to mediate. The Alliance won’t risk the weapon falling into enemy hands, and if Xandri can’t bring the Anmerilli into the fold, the consequences will be dire.
Amidst sabotage, assassination attempts, and rampant cronyism, Xandri struggles to convince the doubtful and ornery Anmerilli. Worse, she’s beginning to suspect that not everyone on her side is really working to make the alliance a success. As tensions rise and tempers threaten to boil over, Xandri must focus all her energy into understanding the one species that has always been beyond her: her own.
Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.
But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.
It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.
Hotel chain mogul Sol DuMont is about to learn that some of life’s biggest surprises come in deceptively small packages—namely a petite heiress named Rain who’s hell-bent on upsetting her family’s expectations—in this first book in the all new series by Thea de Salle, set against the sultry backdrop of New Orleans.
Thirty-seven-year-old Sol DuMont is a divorcee and the owner of a mid-sized hotel chain in New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina, his father’s death, and the decision that he and his ex-wife Maddy are far better off friends than lovers, he’s lost interest in almost everything he held dear—parties, people, and pushing limits.
All his limits.
Then Arianna Barrington checks into his hotel.
Twenty-four-year-old Arianna “Rain” Barrington could have been society’s sweetheart. Her family is moneyed, connected press darlings, and make sweeping headlines from coast to coast for reasons both good and bad. But when her mother shoves her at Charles Harwood—the obnoxious, entitled heir of Harwood Corp—to cement a billion-dollar business merger, Rain does the only thing she can think of to escape: she creates a scandal so big Harwood doesn’t want her anymore before fleeing to New Orleans for much-needed rest and relaxation.
All she wants is jazz piano, beignets, and to sail the Mississippi. What she gets is Sol DuMont, a whirlwind affair, and a hands-on education in sex, power play, and pushing limits.
Ginger Holtzman has fought for everything she’s ever had—the success of her tattoo shop, respect in the industry, her upcoming art show. Tough and independent, she has taking-no-crap down to an art form. Good thing too, since keeping her shop afloat, taking care of her friends, and scrambling to finish her paintings doesn’t leave time for anything else. Which … is for the best, because then she doesn’t notice how lonely she is. She’ll get through it all on her own, just like she always does.
Christopher Lucen opened a coffee and sandwich joint in South Philly because he wanted to be part of a community after years of running from place to place, searching for something he could never quite name. Now, he relishes the familiarity of knowing what his customers want, and giving it to them. But what he really wants now is love.
When they meet, Christopher is smitten, but Ginger … isn’t quite so sure. Christopher’s gorgeous, and kind, and their opposites-attract chemistry is off the charts. But hot sex is one thing—truly falling for someone? Terrifying. When her world starts to crumble around her, Ginger has to face the fact that this fight can only be won by being vulnerable—this fight, she can’t win on her own.
And desperate is the only way to describe Kayla Davis’s current situation. Out of work and almost out of money to cover her bills, Kayla finally caves to her roommate’s nagging and follows her to Arrangements, an online dating site that matches pretty young women with older men of a certain tax bracket.
Convinced this “make-rent-quick” scheme will surely fail – or saddle her with an 80 year old boyfriend – Kayla is shocked when Michael Bradbury, Internet billionaire and stone-cold salt and pepper fox, offers her a solution to all her financial troubles. It’s hard enough for Kayla to accept his generosity, but what’s a girl to do when the wealthiest man she’s ever met is a dream in and outside of the bedroom?
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?
Debuting on the New York stage, Zara is unprepared—for Eli, the girl who makes the world glow; for Leopold, the director who wants perfection; and for death in the theater.
Zara Evans has come to the Aurelia Theater, home to the visionary director Leopold Henneman, to play her dream role in Echo and Ariston, the Greek tragedy that taught her everything she knows about love. When the director asks Zara to promise that she will have no outside commitments, no distractions, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s hard not to be distracted when there’s a death at the theater—and then another—especially when Zara doesn’t know if they’re accidents, or murder, or a curse that always comes in threes. It’s hard not to be distracted when assistant lighting director Eli Vasquez, a girl made of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light, looks at Zara. It’s hard not to fall in love. In heart-achingly beautiful prose, Amy Rose Capetta has spun a mystery and a love story into an impossible, inevitable whole—and cast lantern light on two girls, finding each other on a stage set for tragedy.
For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.
The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.
Siblings Ilse and Wolf hide a deep secret in their blood: with it, they can work magic. And the government just found out.Blackmailed into service during World War II, Ilse lends her magic to America’s newest weapon, the atom bomb, while Wolf goes behind enemy lines to sabotage Germany’s nuclear program. It’s a dangerous mission, but if Hitler were to create the bomb first, the results would be catastrophic.
When Wolf’s plane is shot down, his entire mission is thrown into jeopardy. Wolf needs Ilse’s help to develop the magic that will keep him alive, but with a spy afoot in Ilse’s laboratory, the letters she sends to Wolf begin to look treasonous. Can Ilse prove her loyalty—and find a way to help her brother—before their time runs out?
In the city of Eldra, people are ruled by ancient prophecies. For centuries, the high council has stayed in power by virtue of the prophecies of the elder seers. After the last infallible prophecy came to pass, growing unrest led to murders and an eventual rebellion that raged for more than a decade.
In the present day, Cassa, the orphaned daughter of rebels, is determined to fight back against the high council, which governs Eldra from behind the walls of the citadel. Her only allies are no-nonsense Alys, easygoing Evander, and perpetually underestimated Newt, and Cassa struggles to come to terms with the legacy of rebellion her dead parents have left her — and the fear that she may be inadequate to shoulder the burden. But by the time Cassa and her friends uncover the mystery of the final infallible prophecy, it may be too late to save the city — or themselves.
Note: Bi character in this book is the love interest, not the narrator
Tasia Quirk is young, Black, and fabulous. She’s a senior, she’s got great friends, and a supportive and wealthy family. She even plays football as the only girl on her private high school’s team.
But when she catches her mamma trying to stuff a mysterious box in the closet, her identity is suddenly called into question. Now Tasia’s determined to unravel the lies that have overtaken her life. Along the way, she discovers what family and forgiveness really mean, and that her answers don’t come without a fee. An artsy bisexual boy from the Valley could help her find them—but only if she stops fighting who she is, beyond the color of her skin.
New Years are for fresh starts, but Jess just wants everything to go back to the way it was.
From hiking trips, to four-person birthday parties, to never-ending group texts, Jess, Lee, Ryan, and Nora have always been inseparable—and unstoppable. But now, with senior year on the horizon, they’ve been splintering off and growing apart. And so, as always, Jess makes a plan.
Reinstating their usual tradition of making resolutions together on New Year’s Eve, Jess adds a new twist: instead of making their own resolutions, the four friends assign them for each other—dares like kiss someone you know is wrong for you, show your paintings, learn Spanish, say yes to everything.
But not even the best laid plans can take into account the uncertainties of life. As the year unfolds, Jess, Ryan, Nora, and Lee each test the bonds that hold them together. And amid first loves, heart breaks, and life-changing decisions, beginning again is never as simple as it seems.
Aspiring choreographer Sophie Orenstein would do anything for Peter Rosenthal-Porter, who’s been on the kidney transplant list as long as she’s known him. Peter, a gifted pianist, is everything to Sophie: best friend, musical collaborator, secret crush. When she learns she’s a match, donating a kidney is an easy, obvious choice. She can’t help wondering if after the transplant, he’ll love her back the way she’s always wanted.
But Peter’s life post-transplant isn’t what either of them expected. Though he once had feelings for Sophie too, he’s now drawn to Chase, the guitarist in a band that happens to be looking for a keyboardist. And while neglected parts of Sophie’s world are calling to her—dance opportunities, new friends, a sister and niece she barely knows—she longs for a now-distant Peter more than ever, growing increasingly bitter he doesn’t seem to feel the same connection.
Peter fears he’ll forever be indebted to her. Sophie isn’t sure who she is without him. Then one blurry, heartbreaking night twists their relationship into something neither of them recognizes, leading them to question their past, their future, and whether their friendship is even worth fighting for.
Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.
And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had – to never fall for a summer boy?
Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. Heartbroken and ready for a change of pace, Millie decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools . . . the farther from Houston the better.
Soon, Millie is accepted into one of the world’s most exclusive schools, located in the rolling highlands of Scotland. Here, the country is dreamy and green; the school is covered in ivy, and the students think her American-ness is adorable.
The only problem: Millie’s roommate Flora is a total princess.
She’s also an actual princess. Of Scotland.
At first, the girls can’t stand each other, but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Princess Flora could be a new chapter in her love life, but Millie knows the chances of happily-ever-afters are slim . . . after all, real life isn’t a fairy tale . . . or is it?
When Ben DeBacker tries to come out to their parents as non-binary, their life comes to a screeching halt as they’re thrown out of their home. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they find a new home with their estranged sister Hannah, and a new school.
But attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic fellow student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, feelings begin to change, and what starts as a disaster looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life, and find first love.
First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides―namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.
The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.
As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?
New month, new author to meet! And today is a very special day to meet Fox Benwell, because he has a story in the all-#ownvoices disability anthology, Unbroken, edited by Marieke Nijkamp, which releases today! So let’s get right to it!
It’s September 2018, and that means two things: 1) you have a new short story out and 2) it’s been a year since your incredibly unique f/f YA novel set in South Africa, Kaleidoscope Song, released. Newest things first: What can you share with us about your contribution to Unbroken?
“A Play in Many Parts” is…sort of a Faustus retelling. Or a number of retellings all tangled together and on the page at onceIt’s a love letter to (Marlowe’s version of) the play, and to theatre itself…a tale of bargaining for one more curtain call, whoever you are.
And your narrator is a cane-using enby with chronic pain, dodgy joints, fatigue, and wild love for crafting stories that change people.
For those who aren’t familiar with Kaleidoscope Song, can you tell us a little about it?
Set in Khayelitsha, Kaleidoscope Songis a tale of first loves (both musical and human), of growing up queer in a sometimes-hostile environment, and of the power that lies in figuring out how to use your voice.
Both of your YA novels, The Last Leaves Falling and Kaleidoscope Song, are set in foreign countries (Japan and South Africa respectively). What draws you to writing about locations beyond your home nation of the UK, and what are your favorite ways to research them?
Honestly, while I’m intensely proud of those books in and of themselves, the world – and publishing – has shifted since I wrote those stories. Everything I’m working on at the moment is much closer to home, and I’d rather concede the floor to own-voices representation, for now.
That said, if you’re going to write other places (or experiences) than your own, research and respect in equal measure are the key. And not just for obvious facts: seeking out the stories and art and food and music and film (and hey, did I mention stories?) of those places and people is a good start to understanding someone else’s perspective, in addition to where your story might lie.
Music is really at the heart of Kaleidoscope Song, which of course means I must ask: what are you listening to and loving right now, and what are your forever favorites?
Oh my godddd, have you heard Grace Petrie’s new album, Queer as Folk? The entire thing is a roller coaster of queer feels. But I’ve had Black Tie on loop for a fortnight and it’s still making me cry. It’s big and hopeful and a little bit heartbreaking, and I love it.
And I’m working on a winter-and-music story right now, which means lots of not-so-Christmassy Christmas music is sneaking its way into my work playlists. Stuff like In Terra Pax, and old, obscure carols and folk songs.
Both The Last Leaves Falling and obviously Unbroken center around disability, as does your academic research. What are your thoughts on the state of disability rep in YA right now, both queer and otherwise?
How long have you got? No, seriously, my academic thesis will be 80k, and it’s not nearly enough. 😉
We have a tendency to use disability as a (tragic and/or inspirational) plot point, and to fall back on notions of intelligence, ability and beauty of measures of worth or humanity. Sometimes this is big and obvious. Sometimes it’s subtle, in subplots and casual language, but it’s nearly always there.
There are, of course, some excellent books with equally excellent representation! But on the whole we need, quite simply, to do better.
There are some excellent people working on that, and it takes time, and changing societal perceptions of us isn’t always going to be an easy sell. But we must, because right now we’re doing a massive disservice to readers, disabled or otherwise: they deserve better. Consistently. Emphatically. Better.
What are your favorite representations of disability in queer YA, and what would you still love to see?
Everyone should read Unbroken, obviously: so much intersectional fabulousness in those pages.
And I know this is sort of sidestepping the YA thing, but if you’re interested in the intersection of queerness and disability, you should read everything that Kayla Whaley ever writes.
As for what I’d love to see: I had to go back to my shelves to answer this, because my first instinctive answers were all one or the other – queer, or disabled – which clearly means there’s not enough of us multiply-marginalised folks on the shelves yet. We shouldn’t have to think for answers.
You transitioned between books 1 and 2, which came complete with a name change to the fantastic Fox. What was the process of changing your authorial name like, and what advice would you give to authors pondering doing the same?
It was terrifying. And then not nearly as terrifying as I had imagined: I’d somehow expected more pushback than I got. And sure, sometimes there’s a disconnect between books under one name and the next (which eventually will fade, if books go into the next reprints) but it’s worth it. It’s worth it for that first time you see your real name right there on a cover (I did not get that feeling the first time around, under my old name, at all). It’s worth it for not wincing every time somebody talks to you, or every time you sign a book. It’s worth it, because somewhere out there is another kid just like us, for whom it means everything to see that they could live that out-and-proud life, too.
What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ representation you remember seeing in media, for better or for worse?
Uhhh. I think I discovered Boys don’t Cry and Priscilla in the same week O_o.
And 13-year-old me accidentally found the gay erotica shelves in his Borders bookstore and somehow found the guts to buy (and hide) an anthology of ‘fairies and fantasy beasts’ stories. I don’t remember story details, but I do remember the magically right feeling of gender and attraction not being fixed points.
What are you working on these days?
I just finished copyedits for another geeky (D&D/ bathroom rights) story, coming soon, in Stripes’ anthology, Proud.
And amongst my current WIPs you’ll find a pregnant trans boy building his kid a new, better world, a story of winter-song and deep dark voices, ace-spectrum rep and QPRs, transitioning, anxiety, neurodivergence, and chronic pain. And also pirates. Because we will populate your shelves with our adventures.
Fox Benwell is a perpetual student of the world, a writer, adventurer, and wannabe-knight, who holds degrees in international education and writing for young people, and believes in the power of both to change the world. His in-progress PhD research examines disability in current YA fiction.
He is the author of the critically acclaimed The Last Leaves Falling, and Kaleidoscope Song.
As you probably know from following this site, Erin Ptah has been a wonderful friend of LGBTQReads, providing us with killer webcomic recommendations. And so today, we’re here to support her, and specifically her Kickstarter for Leif & Thorn!
Hey everyone — I’m taking a quick break from recommending other people’s webcomics to talk about one of mine. The strip is Leif & Thorn, and it’s on Kickstarter right now raising funds for a full-color print collection of Volume 1.
After Thorn Estragon killed a dragon, he and his team of knights expected to be put on a low-stress assignment to recover. Instead they’re sent to guard the embassy of neighboring Sønheim. (There’s a prophecy involved. He doesn’t know that part.)
As foreign countries go, Sønheim is extremely foreign. Different magic, strange food, everyone has pale skin (especially the vampires), and a lot of the labor is handled by indentured servants. Like Leif. He’s a gardener at the Embassy when Thorn arrives.
Thorn doesn’t speak Leif’s language too well at first, but he’s about to find a lot of reasons to learn.
These two are the heart of a broad ensemble of lovable characters, all facing their own struggles to communicate across cultural boundaries, deal with traumas and scars, use magic for practical solutions, and pick the perfect song for karaoke night.
In this volume: the party with the vampires, the hostage situation at the aquarium, the multi-species rescue effort after the mine collapse, and that incident with the tentacles.
For teens and up. (Don’t give it to small children — it includes adult topics like graphic violence, PTSD flashbacks, stalking, and health insurance.)
Leif & Thorn takes place on a non-Earth fantasy planet, so there’s no 1:1 portrayal of real-world ethnicities. Even the culturally-constructed concepts of identity don’t exactly map to ours. (Because I’m the kind of nerd who enjoys working out these things.)
But here’s an approximate summary:
Leif is bi/pan (his language doesn’t have separate words for the two). He comes from a snowy pole-spanning empire, with a culture heavily influenced by Sweden and Norway. He’s bilingual in sign language. And he’s internalized a lot of rhetoric about his country being the greatest in the world…in spite of economic inequality so bad that he’s become an indentured servant, working off a mysterious debt.
Thorn prefers men (that’s a translation of the appropriate word in his language). His native country is a temperate superpower, with influences from all kinds of cultures that aren’t “medieval or Renaissance Western Europe”, and his specific ethnic group reads as fantasy-Jewish. He deals with dragon-related PTSD throughout the story, plus some mobility issues from magical burn scars that will never fully heal.
For a snapshot of the diversity of the rest of the cast in this volume, check out the funding page.
But as you might’ve picked up in my webcomic reviews, I feel strongly about representation being visible in the story. So I’m only selling you Volume 1 based on things that explicitly come up within its pages.
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website, where people can band together to fund the production of things they like.
It’s widely used by comic creators who want to bring their work to print. A serious print run of a big fancy full-color book can cost a lot — but if you offer pre-orders on Kickstarter, you can raise all the funding upfront.
Backer options for Leif & Thorn Volume 1 include not just the book, but a whole range of tiers, each one with more incentives than the last. There’s something for every level of interest, from to “can’t afford the whole book, but I want to help make this happen” to “do you accept firstborn children??” (Answer: no, I don’t think PayPal can convert those.)
But here’s the important thing: Kickstarter fundraising is all-or-nothing.
If we reach our predetermined funding goal by the deadline — in this case, when the clock strikes midnight on October 17 — everyone gets their rewards! If not, all the backers keep their money, and the creator has to try again.
I’ve set a modest goal, covering a short print run. We shouldn’t have any trouble getting that far. And if you happen to drop by later in the campaign and see that it’s fully-funded, that’s the perfect time to jump in — because once we’re covered for the minimum run of books, all the extra funding can go into printing even more.
The story of Mona and her unusual friends, who must work together to defend humanity from countless horrific monstrosities! Perhaps they will succeed, and humanity will prevail as it always has. Or perhaps this will be… The Last Halloween.
Horror with funny parts, ongoing. There’s a parallel world of monsters, one for every human, and the Phagocyte — the figure who normally keeps the worlds in balance — just died without a replacement. On Halloween, naturally.
Separately, there are a bunch of your typical horror-movie creatures secretly hanging out on Earth. Vampires, mummies, that sort of thing. A group of kids from this team meets up with Mona, a ten-year-old human who is 100% done with everything, and they set out (very unwillingly, in Mona’s case) on a quest to find a replacement Phagocyte before the whole human race goes extinct.
As of the beginning of the story, Mona is being raised by a single nonbinary Parent. They get separated from Mona pretty early on, and end up forming their own mini-team-up with another parent, one of the monster kids’ vampire dad. (Also, there’s definitely a spark between them.)
The art style is perfectly fitted to the story. Expressive characters, creepy detailed backgrounds, classy monster designs, lots of areas of solid black that frequently close in around the panels. The black-and-white lineart also mutes the ick factor when things get bloody — which does happen, but this series is much more interested in being Gorey than gory.
There’s not much that goes on in the village of Lefthand Goat Way and the surrounding areas – unless you count some wholly accidental necromancy, a wizard who came by their powers thanks to a clerical error, a depressed villain with a chinchilla…
Fantasy comedy, ongoing. This one resists summaries — it jumps around between a bunch of groups, showcasing characters from different species, magic levels, social classes, moral alignments, mortality, and so on.
It’s in this rec post on account of Flea, the wizard-due-to-clerical-error, who we meet on the way to a magical Consortium with their pet teacup manticore. (They explain that, in the big city, tiny designer manticores are bred as pets for rich people who eventually get bored and dump the animals in the sewers.) They get help from Alta, a renowned dragonslayer with an anxiety disorder who speaks in high-fantasy argot when she’s nervous, and Marigold, the squire whose duties include translating for her and whose hobbies apparently include magical Candy Crush.
And all that happens after several chapters with Ru, who accidentally summoned a revenant — turns out his own blood counted as “virgin” by necromancy standards, because none of his sexual experiences, with men or women, involved PIV. His housemate Mica asks for help from the local evil wizard, who she made friends with, because she ran out of books to read when she’s bedridden with a flare-up and he’s the only local with a library.
With this much good stuff you’d think a comic would have to run out of steam at some point, right? But this one just…keeps going. It keeps dropping into new scenes and character groups, in between building up ongoing conflicts with the familiar ones, and the writing is funny and entertaining enough that you can roll with it.
Bonus notes: The artist has a great eye for expressions and body language. I’m very into the developing f/f romance. And the various critters are adorable.
broken is about a fairie general and his army struggling to protect their city-state after an alchemical anomaly brought eldritch monsters into their dimension. Warning: this comic contains graphic violence, horror, and flashing images.
Horror-drama, ongoing. To fight off a set of encroaching horrors, this high-tech fairie society has basically gone in the military-dystopia direction. Their tactics include using homunculi, genderless artificial lifeforms that do whatever task they’re assigned; and constructs, the dead bodies of corrupted citizens of neighboring countries, which can be puppeted into dangerous situations while all the living people stay at a safe distance.
Lots of scenes make great use of animated gifs to enhance the fear, tension, and creepiness. There’s a wonderful use of color overall, too — the details of fairie wings alone add so much worldbuilding and atmosphere.
Our main character is Huvrye (hoov-rai), a homunculus general who never aspired to lead murderous offense-as-the-best-defense campaigns, but he’s really good at it so it’s what he’s stuck with. Things get weird when his construct starts behaving unusually in the middle of a battle. It’s supposed to be corrupted past the point of recovery — it’s not supposed to have reactions.
In the middle of the post-apocalyptic worldbuilding, the emotional hook here is the story of a heartwarming friendship growing between two people, in a society that really doesn’t want them to be people…and will enforce that with military-grade weaponry if it has to.
Meet the members of the (someday) legendary bardic troupe, the Court of Roses!
Fantasy comedy, ongoing. Merlow the Rose is a half-elf bard traveling the world. The good news: he has both musical and magical talent, including the power to charm his way out of tense situations. The bad news: he plays the bagpipes.
In spite of this drawback, he spends the first couple of chapters picking up new friends: Diana the friendly human, Nocturne the unnerving infernal, Sven the goliath who plays war drums, and Feliks the energetic one-gnome band. (Feliks is nonbinary. Also, though so far everybody’s single, Diana has mentioned being into the ladies, while Merlow is into anyone.)
Great expressions in the art, snappy one-liners in the writing, and building shenanigans in the plot. This is laying all the right groundwork to be one of those series that starts out funny, and will eventually build to being epic-without-ever-ceasing-to-be-funny.
The escapades of a house-spirit in an old apartment building.
Fantasy fluff, ongoing. Adorable domestic adventures with the itty-bitty Alasdair (about the size of a Borrower, also magic). Doing little repairs! Shooing away spirits of corruption! Tidying up giant objects! Reading books taller than they are!
Some of the mini spirits go by “they,” inclusing Alasdair and an unnamed houseplant spirit. Others include Malcolm, who uses “he”, and Plish, a tiny aquarium mermaid who gets referred to as both “they” and “she” depending on the post.
Early on Alasdair makes friends with Alicia, the human resident of one of the apartments, who shares her books with them. She’s also the one who warns them that the building is slated to be torn down. So there’s a bit of ongoing plot, but don’t expect it to move fast — this comic is mostly a vehicle for lovingly-rendered cute scenes with tiny people.
Erin Ptah likes cats, magical girls, time travel, crossdressing, and webcomics. She’s the artist behind But I’m A Cat Person (where Timothy/Camellia is finally out of the bigender work closet) and Leif & Thorn (featuring nonbinary knights, guards, and secret agents). Say hi on Twitter at @ErinPtah.