Happy Asexual Awareness Week! As I am out of the country this week, this will be the only post until I return; good thing it’s a weeklong celebrate with lots of books to fill the time! These books contain both asexual and demisexual main characters of varying romantic orientations, so hopefully there’s a little something for everyone, but if not, please check out Claudie Arseneault’s amazing Aro Ace Database to find the perfect match!
Books to Read Now
*Note: books that have been featured as New Release Spotlights on the site are listed separately.
It’s been three years since the Virgil County High School Massacre. Three years since my best friend, Sarah, was killed in a bathroom stall during the mass shooting. Everyone knows Sarah’s story—that she died proclaiming her faith.
But it’s not true.
I know because I was with her when she died. I didn’t say anything then, and people got hurt because of it. Now Sarah’s parents are publishing a book about her, so this might be my last chance to set the record straight . . . but I’m not the only survivor with a story to tell about what did—and didn’t—happen that day.
Except Sarah’s martyrdom is important to a lot of people, people who don’t take kindly to what I’m trying to do. And the more I learn, the less certain I am about what’s right. I don’t know what will be worse: the guilt of staying silent or the consequences of speaking up.
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.
In a nuclear arms race, you’d use anything for an edge. Even magic.
Ilse and Wolf Klein bear many secrets. Genius Ilse is unsure if her parents will ever accept her love of physics. Her brother Wolf strives for a quiet life, though he worries that there’s no place in the world for people like him. But their deepest secret lies within their blood: with it, they can work magic.
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 secret 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?
Loyalties and identities will be tested in this sweeping fantasy and a fast-paced thriller that bravely explores the tensions at the dawn of the nuclear age.
THE RULES ARE SIMPLE: You must be gifted. You must be younger than twenty-five. You must be willing to accept the dangers that you will face if you win.
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Gupta’s entire life has been leading up to this—the opportunity to travel to space. But to secure a spot on this classified mission, she must first compete against the best and brightest people on the planet. People who are as determined as she to win a place on a journey to the farthest reaches of the universe.
Cassie is ready for the toll that the competition will take; the rigorous mental and physical tests designed to push her to the brink of her endurance. But nothing could have prepared her for the bonds she would form with the very people she hopes to beat. Or that with each passing day it would be more and more difficult to ignore the feeling that the true objective of the mission is being kept from her.
As the days until the launch tick down and the stakes rise higher than ever before, only one thing is clear to Cassie: she’ll never back down . . . even if it costs her everything.
Gustavo Tiberius is not normal. He knows this. Everyone in his small town of Abby, Oregon, knows this. He reads encyclopedias every night before bed. He has a pet ferret called Harry S. Truman. He owns a video rental store that no one goes to. His closest friends are a lady named Lottie with drag queen hair and a trio of elderly Vespa riders known as the We Three Queens.
Gus is not normal. And he’s fine with that. All he wants is to be left alone.
Until Casey, an asexual stoner hipster and the newest employee at Lottie’s Lattes, enters his life. For some reason, Casey thinks Gus is the greatest thing ever. And maybe Gus is starting to think the same thing about Casey, even if Casey is obsessive about Instagramming his food.
But Gus isn’t normal and Casey deserves someone who can be. Suddenly wanting to be that someone, Gus steps out of his comfort zone and plans to become the most normal person ever.
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.
Levi Grainger needs a break. As a reality show star, he’s had enough of the spotlight and being edited into a walking stereotype. When he returns home after the last season of Trip League, he expects to spend time with his family, only to learn his sister is coming back from her deployment in a flag-draped casket. Devastated, Levi decides the best way to grieve will be to go off grid and hike the Appalachian Trail—a trip he’d planned to do with his sister.
His solitary existence on the trail is interrupted when he meets Thad, a quiet man with a hard body and intense eyes. Their connection is stronger than anything Levi has ever experienced. But when Levi discovers the truth about what Thad is hiking to escape, their future together looks uncertain, and uncertainty is the last thing Levi needs…
A hundred and thirty years have passed since Arathiel last set foot in his home city. Isandor hasn’t changed—bickering merchant families still vie for power through eccentric shows of wealth—but he has. His family is long dead, a magical trap has dulled his senses, and he returns seeking a sense of belonging now long lost.
Arathiel hides in the Lower City, piecing together a new life among in a shelter dedicated to the homeless and the poor, befriending an uncommon trio: the Shelter’s rageful owner, Larryn, his dark elven friend Hasryan, and Cal the cheese-loving halfling. When Hasryan is accused of Isandor’s most infamous assassination of the last decade, what little peace Arathiel has managed to find for himself is shattered. Hasryan is innocent… he thinks. In order to save him, Arathiel may have to shatter the shreds of home he’d managed to build for himself.
Arathiel could appeal to the Dathirii—a noble elven family who knew him before he disappeared—but he would have to stop hiding, and they have battles of their own to fight. The idealistic Lord Dathirii is waging a battle of honour and justice against the cruel Myrian Empire, objecting to their slavery, their magics, and inhumane treatment of their apprentices. One he could win, if only he could convince Isandor’s rulers to stop courting Myrian’s favours for profit.
In the ripples that follow Diel’s opposition, friendships shatter and alliances crumble. Arathiel, the Dathirii, and everyone in Isandor fights to preserve their homes, even if the struggle changes them irrevocably.
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?
Felicity Montague is through with pretending she prefers society parties to books about bone setting—or that she’s not smarter than most people she knows, or that she cares about anything more than her dream of becoming a doctor.
A year after an accidentally whirlwind tour of Europe, which she spent evading highwaymen and pirates with her brother Monty, Felicity has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of Callum Doyle, a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh; and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.
But then a small window of hope opens. Doctor Alexander Platt, an eccentric physician that Felicity idolizes, is looking for research assistants, and Felicity is sure that someone as forward thinking as her hero would be willing to take her on. However, Platt is in Germany, preparing to wed Felicity’s estranged childhood friend Johanna. Not only is Felicity reluctant to opening old wounds, she also has no money to make the trip.
Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid. In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that will lead her from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.
A growing number of people are identifying as asexual. They aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, and they consider it a sexual orientation—like gay, straight, or bisexual.
Asexuality is the invisible orientation. Most people believe that “everyone” wants sex, that “everyone” understands what it means to be attracted to other people, and that “everyone” wants to date and mate. But that’s where asexual people are left out—they don’t find other people sexually attractive, and if and when they say so, they are very rarely treated as though that’s okay.
When an asexual person comes out, alarming reactions regularly follow; loved ones fear that an asexual person is sick, or psychologically warped, or suffering from abuse. Critics confront asexual people with accusations of following a fad, hiding homosexuality, or making excuses for romantic failures. And all of this contributes to a discouraging master narrative: there is no such thing as “asexual.” Being an asexual person is a lie or an illness, and it needs to be fixed.
In The Invisible Orientation, Julie Sondra Decker outlines what asexuality is, counters misconceptions, provides resources, and puts asexual people’s experiences in context as they move through a very sexualized world. It includes information for asexual people to help understand their orientation and what it means for their relationships, as well as tips and facts for those who want to understand their asexual friends and loved ones.
All Marian wants is for society to accept that she’s just not interested in… whatever society thinks she ought to be interested in. A princess with a reputation for insults and snide remarks, she’s afraid to show anyone who she would be if people would let her. In a fit of temper at her refusal to marry, her father creates her worst nightmare: she is to be wed to the first beggar who arrives at the gates.
Edel was visiting purely for diplomatic reasons, aiming to ensure her daughter inherits a strong and peaceful kingdom. She sees something in Marian that is achingly familiar and when Edel hears the king’s proclamation, only one thing is on her mind: to protect Marian from the fate that had befallen Edel herself.
Their lives threaded together by magic, Edel and Marian will have to find their way in the world in this queerplatonic, sapphic verse novel retelling of King Thrushbeard.
Ashton Hamid knows everything about gaming. His D&D battles are epic; the video game tournaments he organizes, multi-day tests of endurance with players around the world. Real life, however, is a different matter. So when he and his best friend—outspoken “A” student (and social outcast) Vale Shumway—head out on a camping trip to Waterton Lakes National Park with their Phys. Ed. class, Ash figures it’ll be two days of bug bites, bad food, and inside jokes.
Instead, the two friends find themselves in a fight for survival.
An unexpected October snowstorm separates Ash and Vale from the rest of their class. By the time the teens realize they’ve missed the trail, they have wandered deep into the Canadian Rockies. Lost in the wilderness and hunted by deadly predators, their only hope is to work together. But with Vale’s limited supplies and Ash’s inexperience, can the best friends stay alive long enough to find their way back to civilization?
Hey, remember how this past year there was a debut that was actually freaking called Dear Rachel Maddow, and how ridiculously cool that was? Well, excellent news! That very same author is back with her sophomore novel, and it also stars a queer girl…and happens to have an utterly stunning cover, which you can see today! Ta da! But first, here are the details on The Confusion of Laurel Graham by Adrienne Kisner, a contemporary f/f YA releasing on June 4, 2019 from Feiwel & Friends!
Laurel Graham has loved bird watching as long as she can remember, just like her beloved grandmother, who also happens to be a steadying force in her life. One evening Gran drags Laurel out on a birding expedition where the pair hear a mysterious call that even Gran can’t identify. The pair vow to find out what it is as Laurel pursues nature photography dominance over her rival–fellow nature reserve volunteer, Risa. But soon after, Gran is involved in a horrible car accident and the town threatens to seize the nature reserve land. Laurel must then decide to fight for what’s most important to her, if she can figure out what that is.
But wait, there’s more! We’ve also got an exclusive excerpt, so come check it out and meet Laurel Graham!
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
Field Journal Entry
Notable Location: Sarig Pond
Life list entry 3,284: white-winged tern
Never let them see you sweat.
That’s not the Birdscout motto. But it fucking well should be.
“Who can tell me three of the feathered friends we might find on our walk today?” I said.
Sixteen pairs of eyes stared back at me, wide and unblinking.
Homeschoolers. Unschoolers. Some kind of schoolers that meant they weren’t in the overcrowded gray-and-red brick elementary building seven blocks away and were instead standing at the entrance of the Sarig Pond Nature Sanctuary with me. I thought home-non-unschooling would make them wild, free nature lovers . . . but no. Most of them were looking at their smartwatches, secretly texting one another.
“Okay, who can tell me one creature we might find today?” I tried again.
“Um,” a tiny girl with cat-eye glasses said. “A squirrel?”
I sighed. Unfortunately she was right. Squirrels were the bane of birders everywhere. (Well. Except maybe in places where there were no squirrels, which were sadly limited.)
“Good guess!” I said.
She grinned. It’s best to encourage the little ones. They were prone to unpredictable sudden movements that could veer off the path and ruin your day. Best to keep them on your side. “Can anyone guess a creature with wings?”
“Robins?” another boy tried in a bored voice.
“Yes!” My fist shot into the air. “Sweetest of songbirds! Harbingers of spring! Portents of luck and fortune!” Those last two were debatable at best, but sometimes you needed to finesse bird symbolism in order to win a tough audience. A few heads swiveled my way at that, so I felt I’d made the right choice for the greater good.
“Really?” the bored boy asked.
“You bet. Birds bring messages of all sorts to humans. But there are way more interesting things about them than that. They have their own language to communicate. They can fly hundreds of miles and never get lost. They fight for what’s theirs. They are warriors.”
“Cool,” the boy said. “Do you think we’ll see some of those smart ones?”
I smiled to myself. It only takes one to turn a crowd. “Why, yes,” I said, peering at the nametag slapped on his fuzzy lapel, “Isaac. I do. Follow me.”
Six cardinals (two female, four males), two nuthatches, sixteen (give or take) common grackles, three red-bellied woodpeckers, and one red-tailed hawk later, I delivered the kids back to their adults.
“Feel free to take some pamphlets on your way out,” I called. “Nature story time starts May 30!”
I retreated into the tiny, cramped office of the Birdscout Nature Center and sunk into a chair. Birding with the unenthusiastic could fucking wipe a girl out.
“Oh. Hey,” said a voice. I looked up to see a familiar shock of dyed hair shaved into a crest peeking through the door. “If it isn’t the Birdscout-in-chief. Is Jerry in?”
“Out sick today,” I said. “Risa. Your hair . . . ,” I started.
“What about it?” she said. I could hear a warning in her voice.
“It reminds me of a wire-crested thorntail.”
Risa’s face broke into a grin. “You got it! Of course you are the only one who noticed. I love them.”
“They are exquisite,” I agreed.
Risa and I looked at each other for a moment. It was odd that we were having this conversation, since it wouldn’t be precisely accurate to call us friends. We were more . . . what?
We were one hundred percent enemies.
But sometimes, even enemies had great hair.
I watched as Risa’s face changed as she seemingly remembered our actual affiliation at the same time I did. “Okay, well, if you see him sometime soon, tell him I need him to sign my co-op hours sheet.”
She paused, like she almost wasn’t going to speak but then changed her mind. “Have you finalized your entry yet? For the photo contest?”
“No. You?” I said.
“No. I tried to get a picture of the heron but then I tripped on a root,” she said.
“Right? Such a rookie mistake. But I bet everyone around here is going to turn in a fucking heron anyway. Or, god help us all, warblers.”
Heat crept up my back. I had no fewer than twenty-three shots of our four resident herons (male and female) that I was considering entering into Fauna magazine’s annual Junior Nature Photographer competition. Not to mention several dozen shots of a Cape May and one of a male Swainson. That last one turned out blurry, fuck me, because of course the Swainson flitted out of the frame. This was my last shot to win the Fauna competition (since I’d be too old next year), and I wanted to conquer first place so badly I could practically taste it. The money would be nice, and my grandma (a former winner herself) would love the free lifetime subscription (added to the prize since her time).
But because Fauna was the biggest and best birding magazine in the US (possibly the world, save maybe Le Bec in France), the bragging rights alone were worth it.
Particularly if it meant I’d beaten Risa, who I was pretty certain sabotaged my entry last year.
“Yeah. Probably. But the summer birds will be here before you know it. And there are some impressive blooms in Jenkins Wood. There is already a patch of Monotropa uniflora at the base of Elder Oak. It looks like a proper fungus graveyard. Bet it’d be epic in moonlight at the right angle,” I said.
“Are you going for that shot?”
“I tried. It just looks stupid. The flash washes it out and using moonlight through branches isn’t exactly my forte.”
Risa snorted. “I hear you. Okay. Well. Good luck.”
She almost sounded like she meant it. I stared at her absolutely rockin’ hair as she left.
I tidied the desk and took a bunch of Ranger Jerry’s old newspapers to the upcycling bin. The weekend craft people would have a field day Mod Podging on Saturday. I surveyed my work with satisfaction. I was once again reminded how grateful I was for my co-op assignment (even if Risa was there, too). I had always envied the juniors, who were allowed to avoid going to school for all but a few hours on Thursdays during spring term because of their work/volunteer co-ops in years past, but now it was my turn. It had been the best development of my life thus far. Most of my friends were out at the local newspaper or lawyer’s or doctor’s offices and made more money than me. Because my life goal was to be the world’s best nature photographer and take my place aside my hero, master birder Brian Michael Warbley, spending April till August leading nature walks and birding tours was way more my speed. Even if the pay was technically shit.
Like, literally. Jerry gave me a bag of fertilizer for Gran’s garden to compensate me. But it was the best stuff we’d seen and we needed it for her bird-attracting flowers, so I wasn’t too salty about it.
I rounded the pond on trash removal detail, but my phone buzzed in my pocket. Elder Oak. Sixty paces due east! Now! the text from Gran read. I was still technically on the clock, but Jenkins Wood was part of my work space and I could always pick up garbage along the trail to make seeing Gran official business if needed.
Be right there. Don’t leave! I texted back.
You know I’ll always wait for you, Laurel.
I grabbed my camera, locked the Birdscout Center door, and jogged as lightly as I could around the wooden decks surrounding the pond to the woodland paths. I nodded to Elder Oak, oldest tree and guardian of the entrance to Jenkins Wood, and tried to make my way as quietly as possible sixty paces east through a rough path covered in dew-wet leaves. I picked up a few discarded wrappers along the way, darkly noting that they probably came from the awful Birdie Bros (a group of dude birders who had terrible nature manners matched only by their preternatural ability to get rare warbler shots).
I finally found Gran half-hidden in fern fronds about halfway up a hill. I crouched in the grass, rocks crackling underneath my boots.
“Shhh,” whispered Gran.
“I didn’t even say anything,” I whispered back.
Gran glared at me as something rustled in a shrub a few feet away. A beak poked out of glistening leaves, then a head, then downy feathers on spindly legs. Gran gave a tiny yawp, and pointed her high-powered binoculars in the bird’s direction. I pulled out my camera and my shutter clicked like an automatic weapon.
“Did you get it?” said Gran without looking at me. She stared at the bird, and the bird stared back at her. I stared at both of them, wondering at how quickly the feeling had left my crouching legs.
Note: Do more crunches. Strengthen core and calves. A girl does not become Brian Michael Warbley, the King of Birders, with numb appendages.
Then something even worse happened.
This spooked Gran’s avian friend and he took flight into the trees.
“Seriously, Laurel?” Gran said.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry. Fucking pollen. You know that. I couldn’t help it.”
“Language,” Gran said. “Do you know what that was? That was a white-winged tern. A new addition to our life list. I never expected to see one out here, on a random day of all things. But there it was. You’d think I’d have learned by now—birds always surprise you.” She leaned back and looked at her camera. “I heard a rumor there was one around here yesterday, but to actually see it . . .” She trailed off as she pulled out her phone to alert her other bird people.
“His black-and-white head.” I marveled at it. “It was gorgeous.” I tipped toward Gran and stretched out my legs. I held my tiny digital screen out to her. “See him, I got a pretty clear shot. Most of them are blurry from him getting spooked by my seasonal curse. But a few are good.”
None were really good enough to help me be crowned Fauna’s Junior Nature Photographer national champion, fuck it all. But, even so. A new bird for the life list was something. As Brian Michael Warbley says, “A bird that you’ve seen is worth ten in a book.”
“He is stunning.” She slipped her phone back into the pocket of her vest and reached over and gave me a shove. “I’m glad I got to see him with you. I gotta say, he is in the top ten on my life list with the snowy owl and king eider I saw in Greenland. Sisimiut also had the northern lights! Superb. One day, kid. Just you wait. We’ll go and the aurora will knock your socks off. No winter allergies in Greenland.” She grinned. “Want to go to Eat N’ Park?” she said.
“I’m at work.”
“But Jerry isn’t here.” Gran grinned.
“How do you know that?” I said.
“I have my ways. Come on. You know you do way more hours here than you are required anyway. What’s thirty mere minutes with your old grandma?”
“I guess I could go for a cinnamon bun.”
“That’s my girl,” Gran said.
Gran’s house sat conveniently at the edge of Jenkins Wood. We slipped into Gran’s tiny hybrid and she drove us to the diner. Since we’d spotted a new life list bird, Gran talked me into fancy chocolate waffles with fruit and let me have bacon to celebrate. Gran was a vegetarian verging on vegan, but she was weak in the face of breakfast.
“How goes school?” she asked.
“Fine,” I said. “I’m hardly there this semester. Academic classes were stacked in the fall and winter, so these last few weeks I’m mostly Birdscouting for co-op.”
“Get any good shots for the contest?” she said.
“Yeah, I guess.” I shifted in my seat. “I had some herons, but . . .” I trailed off.
“Herons are good luck. Messenger birds. They bring good omens.”
“You say that about all birds.”
“Not cormorants. They work for the devil.”
“Stop it.” I laughed.
Gran shrugged. “Tradition. What can I say?”
“Everyone is going to submit herons,” I said, thinking of Risa. “I need something different. Something extraordinary.”
“All birds are extraordinary. Like people. You know that.”
I grunted. I had several memory cards and two extra hard drives full of photographic evidence that some birds were pretty fucking boring. At least when I tried to capture their image.
Gran paid our bill and drove me back to co-op. She dropped me off with barely a goodbye, because her birder friends had caught wind of her find, and they were meeting up again to try to see the elusive white-winged tern.
“Good luck,” I said. “Remember what Warbley says. ‘Birds come not just to those who watch, but those who wait.’”
“Yes, yes. I think I’ve heard you quote him a time or forty. Make great art. You have a Fauna family legacy to protect,” Gran said, holding my camera out of the window of her car. “And text me if you see the tern again.” She sped off, practically leaving me in the dust.
I grinned to myself, looking at my pictures. None were entry-worthy, but the appearance of something rare made me feel that the perfect shot was just around the corner.
Adrienne Kisner has master’s and doctorate degrees in theology from Boston University and was inspired by her work with high school and college students to write Dear Rachel Maddow. She is also a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in writing for children and young adults. Dear Rachel Maddow is her debut.
Today on the site I’m delighted to welcome Aliette de Bodard, whose The Vanishers’ Palace, “A dark Beauty and the Beast retelling, where they are both women and the Beast is a dragon,” releases tomorrow! But before we get to her post, I’m gonna have to show off this book, because it could not look more awesome:
In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…
A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.
A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.
When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.
But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…
In the Vanishers’ Palace didn’t start out as this. It was 2017, and due to rather a lot of stressors in my personal life, writing had stopped being fun or being fulfilling. I was skating pretty close to burnout. To prevent a really ugly crash, I put my contractual obligations on the backburner, and decided to write for fun.
I wanted a book about escape, one I could sink into for comfort: something that would take the Vietnamese legends of my childhood, the awe-inspiring dragons that lived in underwater palaces and the poor scholars who fell in love with them, and merge them with a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that would engage with the problematic issue of lack of consent when one falls in love with one’s jailer. I would write a book in which an impoverished scholar fell in love with the dragon to whom she’d been indentured. I would make it casually, normatively queer, because I was tired of being punched in the face by media in which bi or lesbian characters in a relationship with another woman died as a matter of course. I wanted a fun and fluffy f/f romance with strong supporting female and non-binary characters.
What I wrote instead felt, in many ways, like opening my chest and putting my heart’s blood on the page. I hadn’t expected this to turn out so personal. As I wrote this, I dug into old tales and old images that meant so much to me as a child: a dragon rising from the heart of the river, a scholar piecing together words that turned out to be magical spells, a library that held all the books of the world and one had only to ask… I wrote into my universe the darkness inherent in fairytales, but also that of history: the world of In the Vanishers’ Palace isn’t ruined by climate warming, but by colonial masters who tear it apart for fun and then leave when everything is ashes, never caring what happens to their former servants.
But I also ended up pushing on things that bled: on questions of who is allowed happiness, who is allowed escape and comfort, who is allowed stories. As I wrote, my treacherous brain kept whispering to me that I was wrong, that people like my geeky lesbian Vietnamese scholar or my honourable, duty-bound bi dragon spirit couldn’t possibly be the centre of a decent narration, or have a relationship with a happy ending. That a fantasy book had to be about violence rather than the breaking of the cycle; that discussions of consent were too weighty and too fraught; and that a book set in a post-colonial, ruined world couldn’t possibly hold out hope.
It wasn’t the first time this had happened: when I wrote my Vietnamese domestic space opera On a Red Station, Drifting, I had similar feelings (and a similar root cause of digging deep into personal meaningful things, and pushing back against my brain’s ideas of acceptable narratives). I knew, to some extent, how to fight them, but it left me exhausted and drained. And when In the Vanishers’ Palace was rejected, it felt (for the first time in many, many years) life-shattering in a way that I couldn’t quite articulate: I only realised afterwards that it was because the book was so personal, and the writing of it so challenging.
Fortunately, my friends came to my rescue. They’d read the book (sometimes in multiple versions), and they were sure to remind me of their enthusiasm, and of what it had meant to them. They offered me their support as I navigated through the process of publishing it. And I remembered the lessons I’d learnt as a writer: that there is no correlation between the quality of a book and how I feel about it. That all writing is an act of letting go, and that books go out in the world to be read and become the readers’ as much as the writer’s. That it’s natural to be scared, but that it’s no reason to hide a manuscript.
Once upon a time, I wrote a book and I dug deep into my own self, and it was terrifying. But it’s ok, because I remembered how to write through fear, and because I remembered how to let go–and most of all, because my friends are fabulous and have my back, and that makes it all way less terrifying.
Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is the author of the Dominion of the Fallen series, set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings (2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, Locus Award finalist), and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz, 2017 European Science Fiction Society Achievement Award, Locus award finalist). She lives in Paris.
Flynn’s girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own?
Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.
But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself.
When people look at George, they see a boy. But George knows she’s a girl.
George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.
With the help of her best friend Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.
George is a candid, genuine, and heartwarming middle grade about a transgender girl who is, to use Charlotte’s word, R-A-D-I-A-N-T!
Josh Chester loves being a Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents’ wealth, and the occasional modeling gig. But his laid-back lifestyle is about to change. To help out his best friend, Liam, he joins his hit teen TV show, Daylight Falls…opposite Vanessa Park, the one actor immune to his charms. (Not that he’s trying to charm her, of course.) Meanwhile, his drama-queen mother blackmails him into a new family reality TV show, with Josh in the starring role. Now that he’s in the spotlight—under everyone’s terms but his own—Josh has to decide whether a life as a superstar is the one he really wants.
Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents’ disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she’s painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her best friend, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van’s life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she’ll have to choose between the one thing she’s always loved…and the person she never imagined she could.
If you asked anyone in his small Vermont town, they’d tell you the facts: James Liddell, star athlete, decent student and sort-of boyfriend to cute, peppy Theresa, is a happy, funny, carefree guy.
But whenever James sits down at his desk to write, he tells a different story. As he fills his drawers with letters to the people in his world—letters he never intends to send—he spills the truth: he’s trying hard, but he just isn’t into Theresa. It’s a boy who lingers in his thoughts.
He feels trapped by his parents, his teammates, and the lies they’ve helped him tell, and he has no idea how to escape. Is he destined to live a life of fiction
Kyle Blake likes plans. So far, they’re pretty simple: Finish her senior year of high school, head off to a good college, find a cute boyfriend, graduate, get a good job, get married, the whole heterosexual shebang. Nothing is going to stand in the way of that plan. Not even Stella Lewis.
Stella Lewis also has a plan: Finish her senior year as cheer captain, go to college, finally let herself flirt with (and maybe even date) a girl for the first time and go from there.
Fate has other plans for Kyle and Stella when they’re paired up in their AP English class and something between them ignites. It’s confusing and overwhelming and neither of them know what to do about it. One thing they do know is that their connection can’t be ignored. The timing just isn’t right.
But is there ever a good time for falling in love?
Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.
Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.
Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.
I am such a fangirl of Sara Farizan as both an author and a human that it delights me to bring her to LGBTQReads and pick her brain about her awesome work, queer media, and, most importantly, basketball. Please welcome her to the site!
You’ve been up to so much this year, I don’t even know where to begin. Clearly you’re a go-to get for anthologies, as you’ve got stories in three this year. Can you tell us a little bit about your contributions to The Radical Element, All Out, and, most recently, Fresh Ink?
Being invited to be a part of those anthologies was a blessing and I’m so grateful to have been asked. They really helped me out of a slump when I felt like I couldn’t write anything or I was too bogged down with my novel. All of the editors, Jessica Spotswood, Saundra Mitchell, and Lamar Giles were all incredibly helpful and I was very happy that they thought of me.
My story in All Out (“It’s The End of the World As We Know It”) is set on New Year’s Eve of 1999 and two estranged best friends spend New Year’s Eve together and are anxious about the Y2K bug that was though to wreak havoc at that time. My story for The Radical Element (“Take Me With U”) was set in 1984 and is about a young girl from Tehran who is staying with her uncle’s family in Boston. She bears a striking resemblance to Apollonia from Purple Rain and joins an all-girl band called the Ovarian Cysters. My story in Fresh Ink(“Why I Learned to Cook”) is about a young girl named Yasi who has a close relationship with her grandmother and wants to introduce her to her girlfriend over a meal she has learned to cook from her grandmother.
Last month saw the release of your first novel since Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. Can you tell us a little bit about it, and how it feels to be writing from such a different POV from your other work?
I’ve written about a great kid named Bijan who has had a pretty low-key profile at his prep school. He suddenly finds himself in the spotlight as a basketball star and there are some people who are not happy with all of his newfound stardom so he becomes the target of prejudice. I had a tough go with this book because I knew there would be an audience however large or small whereas my other two books were written in graduate school and may have never seen the light of day. Readers will be able to tell whether Bijan reads as authentic. I think initially I was trying to make him perfect when I had to remind myself that he’s a teenager and should make mistakes.
You broke into YA with books about queer girls at a time when we were seeing so, so little. What was it like publishing it then, and what are your thoughts on it and how the landscape has changed?
I didn’t really have any idea what I was getting into and I still have a lot to learn. I think I was naïve, but that was sometimes a good thing because I just wrote what was in my heart. I am hopeful and encouraged by all the new books and voices we are seeing, especially from own voices authors who can speak to queer experiences. Could there be room for more? Absolutely. I think we’ve seen LGBTQA books get more support, but that doesn’t mean okay well that’s enough. You’ve had your moment.
Another obviously notable aspect of your work is that you write some of the very few queer girls in YA who have culturally intersectional identities. What has the response to your girls been like, particularly from your represented readers?
What has been a wonderful thing in meeting readers of my work is that they are all so different from each other. There have been readers of different ages, gender identities, races and that’s been very gratifying.
There was one time where a reader met me at a conference and she said she had given my book to her friend who was of an Eastern background and struggling with coming out to her family. I asked how old her friend was and she said she was in her forties and still grappling with her sexuality. I started crying.
On the flip side, with cultural context being such an inextricable component of your work, especially in your debut, how have you found connecting with readers who might not grasp all of its implications? I feel like writing “ownvoices realistic fiction” before that phrase was really a thing is perhaps a uniquely difficult thing that doesn’t get enough airtime.
I constantly worry that people may think the one perspective I have in my work is the only perspective because they may not have read other narratives about the characters I write about. I also worry that the characters I do write about who represent real people don’t feel that I am doing it the right way. There is a lot of pressure to represent an under represented group well and to make sure you are doing things perfectly when there is no way to be perfect. My hope is that more own voices books make their way into the world so that people are not always given three dimensional depictions can have some depth, as well as having different perspectives from characters of similar background.
You’re such a strong proponent of supporting films of queer work in addition to the written word. What are some of your favorites and most anticipated, and what’s your dream casting for your own novels/stories?
I loved Miseducation of Cameron Post and feel it should have as much Oscar buzz as Call Me By Your Name. The book is one of my favorite books of all time and I enjoyed the adaptation very much. I’ve been a huge fan of the director Desiree Akhavan since her film Appropriate Behavior and am excited for her show The Bisexual. I’m also a fan of films by Angela Robinson like D.E.B.S. and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Pariah by Dee Rees was a revelation. I was so happy when Moonlight won best picture at the Oscars.
I wouldn’t mind seeing a film or TV version of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. I think it’d be fun. I’ve never let myself think about it for too long but if it were to happen I’d want there to be Persian actors playing Persian parts.
What’s your earliest memory of queer representation in media, for better or for worse?
I think seeing Pedro in the Real World on MTV comes to mind. I remember liking him so much but I had to sneak in episodes at my grandma’s place because my house didn’t have cable. This isn’t the earliest memory, but one storyline/scene that was very emotion for me was Evan Rachel Wood having a secret girlfriend on Once and Again. It had a huge impact on me seeing her character Jessie grapple with her feelings. It was so well acted and I never really tuned into that show until that episode where Jessie kisses Katie was banned in a few states.
Very important, for my own personal curiosity: fave NBA player of all time and why?
Pick one? That’s tough. Reggie Miller appears in my new book as a commentator in the main character’s head, but I know how you feel about Reggie Miller as a Knicks fan. (Blogger’s Note: She does know. It is not positively. *hisses*) I think the best Celtic of all time is Bill Russell but obviously I wasn’t around when he was winning all those championships. When I was a kid I was obsessed with Shaq and Penny Hardaway even though they played for the Magic.
I will highlight one player I liked so much when he was on the Celtics and that’s Brandon Bass. He was not an all-star, but when he played on the Celtics he came to work and he was consistent. He plays in China now, but I wish him all the best.
What can you share about whatever you’re working on now? And do we have any chance at getting a queer-girl basketball player someday? Asking for a friend. Of yours. Who is me 😉
Winky face! I have a story coming out in the anthology Hungry Hearts which is coming out summer of 2019 from Simon Pulse. I think fans of Tell Me Again will like that one as it’s very Sapphic and sweet. I am not sure what’s next after that, but I hope people still want to read my stuff. I’m very grateful to everyone who has read my books and stories. It means a lot.
Sara Farizan, the daughter of Iranian immigrants, was born in Massachusetts. She is an MFA graduate of Lesley University and holds a BA in film and media studies from American University. Sara grew up feeling different in her private high school, not only because of her ethnicity, but also because of her liking girls romantically, her lack of excitement in science and math, and her love of writing plays and short stories. So she came out of the closet in college, realized math and science weren’t so bad (but were not for her), and decided she wanted to be a writer. Sara has been a Hollywood intern, a waitress, a comic book/record store employee, an art magazine blogger, a marketing temp, and an after-school teacher, but above all else she has always been a writer. Sara lives near Boston, loves Kurosawa films, eighties R&B, and graphic novels, and thinks all kids are awesome. She is the acclaimed author of If You Could Be Mine, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, and Here to Stay.
It’s October, which means it’s time for some queer Horror! I’m prepared to fully admit that I’m a big wimp and so I haven’t yet dipped into Lost Souls, the bloody, highly sexual, totally horrific vampire novel by the author formerly known as Poppy Z. Brite, but I do know that if you’re into queer Horror, it’s gotta be your first stop.
At a club in Missing Mile, N.C., the children of the night gather, dressed in black, looking for acceptance. Among them are Ghost, who sees what others do not. Ann, longing for love, and Jason, whose real name is Nothing, newly awakened to an ancient, deathless truth about his father, and himself.
Others are coming to Missing Mile tonight. Three beautiful, hip vagabonds – Molochai, Twig, and the seductive Zillah (whose eyes are as green as limes) are on their own lost journey; slaking their ancient thirst for blood, looking for supple young flesh.
They find it in Nothing and Ann, leading them on a mad, illicit road trip south to New Orleans. Over miles of dark highway, Ghost pursues, his powers guiding him on a journey to reach his destiny, to save Ann from her new companions, to save Nothing from himself…