Hey, all! Just a quick note to wish everyone a very happy new year full of rainbow-y reading and all the joy and good things.
I also wanted to extend some thanks to the people who help keep this place running, especially the people who’ve generously donated ko-fis that allow for the hiring of assistants to do a lot of the formatting work when I’m overwhelmed (hats off to the two of you in particular who donated way more ko-fis than one could ever drink in a day), and to those assistants, Lily and Angie, who save the day when I can barely breathe.
As you may have noticed, the site has grown a lot this year, not just in the content of the posts but in the sub-pages; while they’re all majorly works-in-progress, there are about twenty more ways to search for books now than there were at this time last year, and I hope people are making good use of them! Thank you to every who writes the reviews and gives me the nudges that help fill them out.
Aaand that’s it for now! If you’re inclined to throw a few bucks the site’s way, I will always appreciate it, but word-of-mouth is truly the other best gift you can give. The number of librarians, teachers, parents, and friends who’ve been in touch about using this site as a resource is really remarkable, and it works because people get the word out and help make it so.
Thank you for almost three great years; looking forward to many more!
I’m so wildly psyched to have Xan West’s newest cover on the blog today for so many reasons. First of all, dual enby representation FTW. Second of all, Xan’s recs and reviews have helped provide so many titles to this blog, and if you’re not familiar with their bookish website (including the dedicated section of #ownvoices trans reviews), you should be. And third of all, the artist, Laya Rose, happens to be the mastermind behind one of the best Twitter threads ever, which is entirely fanart of wlw books.
So with that said, let’s get to the book, Nine of Swords, Reversed! It’s a speculative romance with a genderfluid/genderfluid pairing (including neopronouns) and includes fat, Jewish, queer, spoonie, and autistic representation, as well as characters who are trauma survivors with chronic pain and depression. Here’s the blurb:
Dev has been with xyr service submissive Noam for seven years and xe loves them very much. Dev and Noam have built a good life together in Noam’s family home in Oakland, where they both can practice their magecraft, celebrate the high holidays in comfort, support each other as their disabilities flare, and where Noam can spend Shabbos with their beloved family ghost.
But Dev’s got a problem: xe has been in so much arthritis pain recently that xe has not been able to shield properly. As an empath, no shielding means Dev cannot safely touch Noam. That has put a strain on their relationship, and it feels like Noam is pulling away from xym. To top it off, Dev has just had an upsetting dream-vision about xyrself and Noam that caused one of the biggest meltdowns xe has had in a while. It’s only with a timely tarot reading and the help of another genderfluid mage that Dev is able to unpack the situation. Can xe figure out how to address the issues in xyr relationship with Noam before everything falls apart?
And here’s the cover, done by the fabulous Laya Rose!
It was good to be out of the house, sitting down with Ezra in one of our places, a feast spread before us. Comforting to see our canes leaning against the booth next to each other, to know Ezra wouldn’t let lunch pass without pushing me to tell zir what was going on. Ze had already indicated that in the car, clucking zir tongue over my low maintenance outfit—just a deep purple maxi dress and my sapphire boots—and how tired I looked, demanding I say what would taste the best for lunch, and driving us all the way to Berkeley for it.
A magical herbalist, Ezra favored floral colors. It had started as a joke ze pulled on one of zir first magic teachers, but had evolved into zir signature style. Today, Ezra was of course dressed impeccably, curly dark hair flowing over zir shoulders, nails pale peach and sparkly to match both zir lipstick and zir hat, in a gorgeous white suit with a dark peach dress shirt. It was Shabbos, and Ezra always dressed up for shul. Besides, ze had this image in zir head of our Friday lunches, our own genderfluid brand of Ladies who Lunch, which absolutely included dressing impeccably. Ze even insisted on singing the Sondheim tune at least once on the way, every time.
As we ate, I concentrated on getting my hands to hold things while Ezra entertained me with a story about teaching zir new boy how to weed the garden properly and not throw away any of the good stuff. Then ze said it was time to tell zir about it.
“I don’t know where to start.”
“Start with why you look so tired, of course.”
“Oh, that. I woke up too damn early because of this dream-vision.”
“That sounds like where to start. Written it down yet?”
“No,” I said quietly. “My hands hurt too much.”
Ezra clucked zir tongue in empathy, and went rooting through zir bag, taking out a notebook, a pen, and a jar of zir salve, which ze opened and gently rubbed into my hands, humming all the while. It felt like ze was rubbing soft sunlight into my skin and the sensation was so much to process that I couldn’t speak, or even look. I closed my eyes, counting my breaths, feeling the pain ebb away. In some ways, its immediate absence was sharper, harder to tolerate.
When ze was done, ze pressed the jar into my hand. “I brought this for you, ‘cause you said you’d run out.”
I took my time putting it away in my bag, getting used to the absence of pain, gathering myself back together. Then I took a long sip of tea, before I started telling zir about being made of ice, surrounded by it, protected by it, in the dream-vision. How at first I felt safe in my ice silo, didn’t even notice the cold until light came and hurt my eyes, and then I was freezing, and able to see the chasm below. A chasm separating me from Noam. How I realized that I couldn’t move, or speak. That they were stuck in their ice silo and me in mine, and Noam was terrified and trapped, just like me. I was helpless to do anything about it. I kept trying, but I could not get to them. How I watched their ice silo shatter, and the dust that was Noam blow away on the wind, waking me into a terrified meltdown.
Ezra didn’t say a word, as ze scribbled down the last details. My heart was a tiny frantic bird beating against my chest, as I remembered. I felt so cold that I took out my tarot deck, put it on the table, and huddled in the scarf I usually wrapped it in, my hands the only thing that felt warm. Ze waited for me to stop trembling before ze spoke.
“What do you think it means?” Ezra asked quietly.
Xan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, an autistic queer fat Jewish genderqueer writer and community activist with multiple disabilities who spends a lot of time on Twitter.
Xan’s erotica has been published widely, including in the Best S/M Erotica series, the Best Gay Erotica series, and the Best Lesbian Erotica series. Xan’s story “First Time Since”, won honorable mention for the 2008 National Leather Association John Preston Short Fiction Award. Their collection of queer kink erotica, Show Yourself to Me, is out from Go Deeper Press.
After over 15 years of writing and publishing queer kink erotica short stories, Xan has begun to also write longer form queer kink romance. Their recent work still centers kinky, trans and non-binary, fat, disabled, queer trauma survivors. It leans more towards centering Jewish characters, ace and aro spec characters, autistic characters, and polyamorous networks. Xan has been working on a queer kinky polyamorous romance novel, Shocking Violet, for the last four years, and hopes to finish a draft very soon! You can find details and excerpts on their website, and sign up for their newsletter to get updates. Their Troublesome Crush, a polyamorous kinky queer m/f romance novella about metamours realizing they have a mutual crush on each other as they plan their shared partner’s birthday celebration, is due out in March 2019.
Today I’m happy to bring to the site Alan Semrow, whose memoir, Ripe: Letters, just released in October! He’s here to share a little about the journey up to writing that memoir and how the current political stage has affected writing in general. Here’s the info on the book, and then I’ll let Alan take it away!
Funny, sexy, evocative, and brutally honest, Ripe is Alan Semrow’s ode to relationships with men. In this epistolary book, Semrow writes to the men who have impacted his outlook, reminded him of basic life lessons, surprised him in more ways than one, and left him reeling for days. Writing to one-night-flings, men he has never met, and men he’ll never stop running into, Semrow touches on some of the most constant human themes—love, lust, desire, and the yearning for connection. All the while, the book details a man’s journey navigating and blooming by way of the modern gay scene. Readers will find familiarity and hard truths in Semrow’s statements about the intricacy and explosiveness of the intimate moments we share.
The journey leading up to my new book, Ripe: Letters, was a hell of a long one. My first book, a collection of short stories called Briefs, came out in November 2016—a time when the world as I (and we) knew it seemed to turn upside down—a period paved with an onslaught of social and political upheaval. All the chaos made me turn inward. I was fearful, I wondered who I could really trust, I considered the things that truly mattered to me, the things I held most dear—ultimately, it was my relationships—romantic, platonic, etc., etc.
The stories in Briefs were incredibly dark, which seemed timely since it was such a murky period in American history. But the book was actually completed about a year and a half before its release—a darker period in my own personal life. While the characters in the book had next to nothing in common with me, virtually all of the relationships in that book were falling apart, as mine at the time of writing was doing just about the same. I didn’t realize it while putting together Briefs, but what I was doing with that book was masking how I felt, what I feared most, how distrustful I was, veiling things in the lives of these characters—these dark stories. I was trying to figure things out and come to terms by living vicariously through the characters. Once the book was finished, I got myself out of a bad situation. A year later, I moved to a new city with an open heart—a blank slate paved with possibility and more opportunity than I’d ever known before.
Because of the substantial period of time that had gone by between the initial writing phase and the ultimate release, I felt a discernible distance toward Briefs on debut day. While I was proud to have it published through a reputable publisher (Lethe Press) and remain adamant that the book contains some of my best fiction, I wasn’t putting it on a pedestal by any means and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of promoting it the way I needed to. What I was mostly doing was looking at book two—what I wanted the follow-up to be. What I knew for sure was that I wanted it to be nothing like Briefs. I was now living in a new city and navigating, experiencing, having some very real, powerful moments with very different and beautiful people. I wanted to get introspective, which to me meant writing something more autobiographical—a concept I wouldn’t have even pondered while writing Briefs. Believe it or not, I once considered myself a private person. But that person was gone. I wanted to let it spill. I wanted to write something that was reflective of what it was truly like to be a gay man in 2016, 2017, 2018, with all the turmoil, with technology ruling the day and ruling our lives. At a time of uncertainty, I wanted to put something out that promoted positivity, that put a little sunshine in our worlds and could remind people that there are still good, tender, potent moments that happen to us in the relationships we find ourselves in and the moments we share.
About three or four books were written between the release of Briefs and Ripe. A lot of people don’t realize the hell that authors put themselves through to really figure out the follow-up. I’ll be the first to admit that I struggled with it. I’d finish a first draft, set it aside, return to it, and say, “No. There’s no way I’m putting this out. This has been done before. This is too negative. It’s not what I want to say.”
And then it was back to the drawing board. While the first drafts leading up to Ripe were much more autobiographical than my first book, they remained only semi-autobiographical. I was still doing a little bit of the veiling that I’d attempted with the first book, masking what I wanted to say in another main character who shared traits with me, but wasn’t me.
Ultimately, in order to tell my truth, to convey what I wanted to say, I felt my only option was to dive in head first and write in the memoir format. And while doing so, I wanted to celebrate my relationships with people—specifically, men—who had come into my life over the last two and a half years and made an impact on me—some in larger ways than others. Ultimately, I came up with the concept of writing letters to these men. It was a way for me to reflect on the power and complexity of relationships, while also telling a (hopefully) relatable story about my own growth and coming of age. The concept seemed much less pretentious than writing a full-blown memoir (my life is really not that exciting). So, that’s how Ripe happened.
Since it’s release, I’ve heard from people, strangers, from different parts of the country who have messaged me to let me know that the book meant something to them, that I put things into words that they didn’t even realize there were words for. Strangers, of all ages and sizes and orientations, were telling me that they could relate. And that’s how I knew I’d accomplished what I set out to do with my follow-up. To bridge the divide. To say it’s OK to feel this way, to be affected, to allow yourself to be impacted. To be truly vulnerable. To love. And it makes me so happy.
Alan Semrow’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has been featured in over 30 publications. Apart from writing fiction and nonfiction, he is a professional copywriter, a monthly contributor at Chosen Magazine, and a singer-songwriter. Previously, he was the Fiction Editor for Black Heart Magazine and a Guest Fiction Editor for the Summer Issue of Five Quarterly. Semrow’s debut short story collection, Briefs, was published in 2016. Ripe is his second book. Semrow lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
thI’m so pleased to welcome Effie Calvin, author of The Queen of Ieflaria, to the site today to discuss wish fulfillment in queer lit! I know it’s a topic that garners lots of discussion, so once you’ve checked out her novel, check out the post below it!
Princess Esofi of Rhodia and Crown Prince Albion of Ieflaria have been betrothed since they were children but have never met. At age seventeen, Esofi’s journey to Ieflaria is not for the wedding she always expected but instead to offer condolences on the death of her would-be husband.
But Ieflaria is desperately in need of help from Rhodia for their dragon problem, so Esofi is offered a new betrothal to Prince Albion’s younger sister, the new Crown Princess Adale. But Adale has no plans of taking the throne, leaving Esofi with more to battle than fire-breathing beasts.
I live for wish fulfillment. Specifically, I live for queer wish fulfillment. This isn’t a guilty pleasure thing, this is something I am honestly and openly passionate about. I think wish fulfillment is a positive thing that we should embrace! And I believe that there are so many unique possibilities for inclusive world-building in speculative fiction.
I love to see writers proudly inserting their own identities into stories where there’s often a kneejerk reaction of “but people like you don’t belong here!” Minorities of all kinds have been made to feel unwelcome in sci fi and fantasy. Ironically, these genres are the best places for authors to easily build worlds that reject bigotry at a fundamental level.
When I was a kid, I used books to escape into worlds better than the one around me. Adventure, prophesy, evil empires, magical beasts; all those things appealed to who I am. And yet, I was never fortunate enough to stumble upon one of those rare few where the main character wasn’t heterosexual. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken me until college to come out!
When I finally did begin to embrace my identity, I told myself that I needed to come to terms with the fact that people like me were never the heroes of the stories I loved. At best, they were quirky sidekicks probably destined for an early death. At worst they were monsters, Hays Code throwbacks that embodied every negative stereotype about queer people. But usually they just plain didn’t exist.
I knew I wanted to be an author, so I wrote a couple of books, always about heterosexual girls having adventures and getting the boy at the end. None of them sold. Exhausted and frustrated, I decided I was going to write something for me, something unashamedly gay. I remembered playing Skyrim, how I’d married Ysolda and adopted two girls and lived in a giant house and nobody cared. I knew there were games that opted not to implement homophobia in their fantasy worlds. Why not do the same in a book?
I’d only been reading traditionally published novels up until that point, so I didn’t know of any books that treated queer relationships as unremarkable. But I had read fantasy novels that didn’t have sexism, where women could own their own property or be warriors or mages or whatever. If worlds without sexism could exist, why not worlds without homophobia?
At the time, I’d only been reading traditionally published novels, so this was not a concept I’d ever encountered in the wild. Nevertheless, in February 2015, I began a story about a princess betrothed to another princess. I didn’t care if it didn’t make sense. I didn’t care if it was stupid. It was the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to see myself in a fairy tale setting.
And yet, as I began to design the world, I realized just how much of my preconceived notions of what “normalcy” was were influencing my writing. My concept wasn’t nonsensical. It was just…different. New. I was subverting every toxic trope I’d ever internalized about queer people and, by extension, about myself. It was freeing. I was letting myself exist without excuse or explanation, just as I do in the real world.
And that’s the wonderful thing about speculative fiction. We can design worlds where taboos against different sexualities or gender identities (or any other sort of identity) simply do not exist. And there’s countless ways to do it. Millions of worlds, millions of possibilities. We can be ourselves without suffering.
When creating a setting like this, one will inevitably come across readers whose suspension of disbelief stops short at the inclusion of minorities. Dragons, fairies, elves, space aliens, faster-than-light travel, sleeping off gut wounds = okay. Queer people or women or people of color living free of any traces of oppression? Now that’s a bridge too far.
The argument, in this case, tends to be that dragons, fairies, etc, belong in these genres, whereas queer people stick out as anachronistic. I’ve even seen this argued in non-earth settings. I’ve even seen it argued for my own work, which was designed specifically to be a queer utopia with no connection to our real world!
For the sake of argument, let’s say that queer people in fantasy settings is anachronistic. It’s not, but let’s just pretend that it is. The thing is, a lot of what we think of as ‘historical’ or staples of the genre is anachronistic. The reason that we fail to recognize the anachronisms is because we have grown up with them. Even if we know intellectually that Vikings never wore horned helmets, we don’t balk at the sight of them in fiction because we’re accustomed to them. In that vein, I see the objection to any kind of minorities in fiction as nothing more than an appeal to tradition. Just because we’ve always done it a certain way doesn’t mean we have to carry on like that.
But honestly, I’m not terribly invested in arguing with people who think I don’t deserve to exist in my own fantasy. I have things to do and chocolate to eat. It is my belief that people who don’t want to see queer characters in fiction don’t object to it for any scientific or historical reasons, regardless of what they claim. They don’t want to see queer characters in fiction because they do not want to see queer characters, period. Why should I waste my time trying to connect with someone like that when I could be spending it making my readers happy?
Is bigotry a fundamental and inescapable aspect of humanity? There’s no real way to know for certain, but I’d like to think it’s not. And even if it is, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with occasionally wanting to slip into a world where that isn’t the case. In a time where the world seems bleaker than ever, I like my storytelling to be optimistic.
Stories where queer characters have to struggle to overcome bigotry are extremely important and valuable, and I definitely don’t think authors should stop writing them. But I’m so glad to see so many writers coming forward with queer genre fiction. These were the stories I needed when I was younger. By writing them, I hope I can make the world a better place for those who come after me.
Effie Calvin is a lesbian librarian from the Philadelphia area. Her favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy of all kinds. When she isn’t writing books, she can usually be found taking pictures of her extremely spoiled cat. Her debut novel was released in February 2018 from Nine Star Press, and the sequel was released in November 2018. Her third book, The Queen of Rhodia, has an expected publication date of May 2019.
OK, so I’m a liiiittle slow this month to get up the New Release Spotlight, but actually, it’s kind of perfect timing, since this wildly fun YA space romp actually releases today! The Disasters is about a ragtag team of space academy rejects forced to team up to stop attacks and expose some major shadiness, and if you love fun and banter-y friend groups, I can pretty much guarantee this bi MC-helmed debut will be your jam.
Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours.
But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.
On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.
They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.
After so many years of LGBTQIAP+ lit struggling for recognition, it’s been pretty killer to watch literary news this year, and to watch it get more mainstream multimedia recognition than ever. And since I think at any given time, we could all use some good news about the progress of LGBTQIAP+ books in publishing, here’s to highlighting some (but not even all!) of this year’s biggest successes in mainstream media:
The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in LA) by Amy Spalding was named a Best Book of 2018 by NPR, a Best YA Romance of 2018 by Kirkus, and among the Best YAs of 2018 by The Boston Globe and Paste
The Spy With the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by Paste and B&N Teen Blog and among the Best Jewish Children’s Books of 2018 by Tablet
A Blade so Black by L.L. McKinney was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by Paste
Home and Away by Candice Montgomery was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog and Paste and among the Best YA Mysteries and Thrillers of 2018 by Kirkus
Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by Paste
For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by Paste
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro was named among the Best YAs of 2018 by B&N Teen Blog and Paste and among the Best YA Books of 2018 About Speaking Your Truth by Kirkus
Vengeful by V.E. Schwab was named Best Science Fiction by Goodreads voters
Garrard Conley’s memoir, Boy Erased, was released as a feature film and hit the New York Times bestseller list
I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya was named among the Best YA Books of 2018 About Speaking Your Truth by Kirkus
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee was named a Best Book by TIME, Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Wired, Esquire, Buzzfeed, New York Public Library, The A.V. Club, Book Riot, PopSugar, The Rumpus, My Republica, Paste, Bitch,Library Journal,Bustle, Christian Science Monitor,Shelf Awareness, Tor.com, Chicago Public Library, Entropy Magazine,The Chicago Review of Books, The Coil, iBooks, and Washington Independent Review of Books, and was longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
Historical Romance fans rejoice, as the perfect Valentine’s Day present has arrived. Today on the site we’re revealing the cover for How to Talk to Nice English Girls by Gretchen Evans, which releases from Carnation Books on February 14, 2019!
Here’s the blurb:
In the aftermath of The Great War, everything is changing. But not for Marian Fielding.
Marian’s life is quiet and predictable in the solitude of the English countryside, where she plans to remain and care for her parents.
But Marian’s world is turned upside down when she meets brash, confident Katherine Fuller. Katherine arrives at the Fieldings’ estate for the wedding of Marian’s sister and immediately shakes things up. Instead of keeping an eye on the ill-mannered American girl and keeping her out of trouble, Marian finds herself magnetically drawn to Katherine’s vivacious nature, and they are swept into a whirlwind romance that will change both of their lives.
But will Katherine’s unconventional behavior ruin their chance at happiness? Can Marian leave her old life behind? Will two women from different worlds find a way to be together against all odds and expectations?
And here’s the cover, compliments of Crowglass Design!
Gretchen Evans is a married, bisexual, cis woman living in North Carolina. Her day job involves figuring out the best way to ask people questions they don’t want to answer. In the evenings, she does hot yoga and watches any TV show that can be read as queer-coded. She only drinks beer disguised as root beer and her perfect Sunday involves half-listening to an NFL game as she reads a book. Though she has been writing fan fiction for more than a decade, her upcoming novel How to Talk to Nice English Girls is her first original work. She plans to continue writing queer romance with engaging characters, sexy times, and feelings.
Today’s the release date of The Stars May Rise & Fall, a queer retelling of ThePhantom of the Opera set in Tokyo, written by the lovely Estella Mirai. But this is a book that almost didn’t happen, and after years of publishing hardship, it’s a day of bittersweet triumph that it did, so check out the story behind the story, and of course, the story itself!
Teru came to Tokyo with dreams of making it big in the glam-metal visual kei scene, but three years later, all he has to show for it is a head of hot pink hair and some skill with an eyeliner pencil. He may look the part, but he doesn’t sound it, and constant bickering among his bandmates has him worried about his future. When he finds a mysterious business card in his bag, he’s willing to take any help he can get.
Help comes in the form of Rei, a crippled, disfigured composer whose own career was ended by an accident before it had really begun. With Teru’s voice and looks, and Rei’s money and songwriting skills, both of their dreams seem about to come true – but a forbidden kiss and a late-night confession threaten to tear it all apart. Now Teru, who has spent most of his life denying his attraction to men, and Rei, who vowed long ago never to love again, must reconcile their feelings with their careers – and with their carefully constructed ideas of themselves. THE STARS MAY RISE AND FALL is an M/M retelling of Phantom of the Opera, set in Tokyo at the turn of the millennium. It comes with a healthy dose of angst and a dollop of nostalgia, as well as an age-difference romance, a physically disabled love interest, and memorable characters who will stay with you long after the pages are closed.
Today is the day I become a published author. Today is the day the book of my heart is officially out in the world.
That is 100% a cause for celebration, and I’m definitely going to pop open the champagne tonight. But a part of me will probably always feel a little sad for this book, for not coming into the world the way it almost did.
I’m not ashamed to admit that self-publishing wasn’t my first choice. It wasn’t really my second choice either. It is, however a choice that ultimately feels right, and maybe somewhat fated. So I’d like to talk a little bit about the story behind the story… how my book fought its way through a string of bad luck and the author’s anxiety to find a place (I hope!) on your Kindle.
I actually started writing The Stars May Rise and Fall with the intent to publish it as fanfiction in 2005. I’d been a fan of Phantom of the Opera in its various incarnations for over a decade, but when the movie version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical came out, my fandom, along with many other people’s, was rekindled, and I found a little group of fans, many of whom wrote and read fanfiction. The idea, and early versions of the first few chapters, were born.
I ended up putting the story aside, unfinished. There were a couple of reasons for this—pregnancy brain (it’s a thing!), for one, and the fact that I’d started writing with no idea what the ending would be, or even if it would be a happy one or not. Every once in awhile I’d remember the characters and wish I’d been able to give them the story they deserved. But I was busy with family and work and paying bills, and didn’t really come back to it until 2013. At that point, I was pretty sure that what I had wasn’t really a fanfic anymore. The people who had been the most enthusiastic about those early chapters had been a very specific section of our little fandom group (namely, the queer one), and I didn’t really think that the target audience was necessarily limited only to people who already liked other, very different, versions of the Phantom story. So I came back to it with a more general audience in mind, came up with an ending that finally felt right, and found a beta reader.
She loved it.
That remains one of the biggest validations I have EVER had as a writer. This total stranger, whose own book was so awesome it had me as nervous over her feedback as I was excited about doing my half of the swap, loved it and GOT it and… suggested that I query literary agents, as she was about to do. She also became one of my very best friends, but that’s a different story. 😉
I really hadn’t considered getting this book PUBLISHED published until that point. I thought I’d put it on Amazon or Wattpad, send the link to my little group of Phantom fans from eight years earlier, and hope other people stumbled upon it, too. But this total stranger had LOVED it. And while I knew it was a hard sell, I thought it might have a chance. So I sent out my first ten queries to agents, and got my very first request less than 24 hours later.
I got lots of requests. I also got lots of rejections. Eventually I cut the unwieldy 102,000 word draft I started querying with down to about 78,000 (it stands at around 88,000 now), and completely rewrote the beginning. But it was still a gay love story that wasn’t YA, but also wasn’t erotic. It was still a book with a 21-year-old main character back when New Adult was still big-ish… but it wasn’t set at college. I queried it as several different genres and categories. A lot of agents said nice things, but it took awhile to find someone who thought she could sell it.
Long story short, I DID eventually find an agent for this book, and we revised it together and were about to send it out to publishers… when my agent announced that she was leaving agenting. I was devastated. She had been one of my biggest allies, and no one else at her agency wanted to take on my book… so I was back in the trenches.
Another long story short, I found ANOTHER agent, and maybe half a year later, we had an offer of publication from a small but reputable press, which had nice covers, returnable paperbacks, and did have at least some bookstore and library distribution. It wasn’t going to make me the next Rowling, but again, I knew my book was a hard sell, and they were offering the most important things I wanted and couldn’t do on my own. All that was left was to alert the other publishers and see if we got any other offers. My agent let the others know that an offer was on the table.
About a week later, I got a text: SUPER HUGE PUBLISHER WHOSE NAME EVEN NON-BOOK PEOPLE KNOW is calling me RIGHT NOW!”
I’m not going to name the publisher, but to analogize another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, it felt very much like poor Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard getting her call from Paramount.
Unlike Norma’s call, this one was actually an offer. Unfortunately, it was not the offer that Googling the editor’s past huge deals (bad choice, past me) had me trying very hard (and failing) not to hope for. Other than name value, they were offering less than the small press was, so we turned them down, and my agent began negotiating the contract with the small press. I was happy, of course, to be selling my book… but in a sense, getting that particular offer from an editor who I knew had gotten life-changing deals for other debut authors hurt more than any form rejection (even though I know the decision was likely not hers, or not hers alone).
Still, I liked the small press, and while my 12-hour-long conviction that I’d Made It Big™ was over, at least I was finally going to be published!
That small press was Samhain. And as you might already know, Samhain shut down, without much notice, with tons of pending titles in the works. My agent texted me “Saw the news about Samhain…” at 6 a.m. I got the details from Twitter. I’m still not sure if I’m glad or devastated that it was before the contract was signed… on the one hand, there were no legal complications, but I never even got to announce my deal.
It’s hard to explain how I felt at that point except to say I was… broken. This book had come so close, so many times, and this was how it was going to end? My agent offered to send it out again, or to see if the other publisher was still interested… but I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I was broken. I asked my agent to officially pull it from any publishers who hadn’t responded, and left the agency (for reasons not addressed here… my agent and I had different ideas about my overall career direction that came out during the submission process, but did not arise because of it), vowing to come back big with book 2.
Book 2 had LOTS of interest from agents… and none from publishers. And I was still broken. I would get feedback from my new agent, and where I had been so excited about revisions with the first book, every semi-major suggestion for the second felt like hitting a wall. I agreed with the feedback, but couldn’t see how to apply it. In the end, the thought of completely rewriting Book 2 (because it really did need a complete rewrite) made me feel sick. Never say never, but at least at the time, I didn’t love that book enough to write it from scratch a second time.
I was also just trapped in a negative spiral. I wanted to be happy for my friends’ successes, to be excited to read new books and to start writing something new, too. But it was getting harder and harder, and I didn’t like the bitter, angry person I was in danger of becoming.
So I stepped back. I cut back on reading. I quit Twitter, kept in touch with only the very closest of my writer friends. It was hard, but I think it was necessary. And it helped. I kept writing, but I stopped trying to get published, and after about a year, I started to enjoy it again.
And a couple of things happened that made me realize I still needed to publish this book.
The first was that I got back into fanfiction, in a different fandom, under a different name. The response I got, even as a total unknown, was positive, and helped me to feel confident about my writing in a way that I hadn’t in years.
A part of it also had to do with general anxiety over the global political climate, climate change, and everything else that’s going on these days. If the world were to end, in whatever sense, tomorrow, and I never got this book into the hands of readers, I’d regret it. I knew that by self-publishing, I’d be immediately pushing some readers and reviewers away. But if I put it out there at a reasonable price, there’s at least a CHANCE that someone will read it and love it. If it sits on my hard drive forever, that number is guaranteed to be zero. I started to think that it was better to take a chance, to reach even one reader, rather than lamenting that it would never reach millions. My gay glam rock Phantom retelling is hardly a masterful political treatise. But it might bring a few hours of enjoyment and escape to even one person who needs it in this messed-up world, and that would make it all worth it.
Then, I came up with a pen name. This probably sounds silly, but one of the biggest reasons I didn’t self-publish ages ago is because I didn’t have a pen name I loved. I’m basically Chidi from The Good Place, and not being able to choose was literally freaking me out. When the perfect name came to me, it felt like a sign.
And then I went back and read the book, and two things struck me. First, I still loved it. Yes, there will always be things I’m not completely happy with… but after thirteen years, I still love these characters. I am immensely proud of certain scenes and lines. I wanted this book to be my debut, and I am glad that it is.
And second… there’s a lot in this book, which I wrote before I ever considered publishing, that has to do with the idea of getting your art out into the world. My characters deal with losing members of their creative team, the way I lost my first agent and then my would-be publisher. They deal with the pride and jealousy and anger and joy that all come crashing in together when someone you love succeeds where you’ve f—not quite succeeded yet. And they debate (or, well, fight over) the pros and cons of a traditional record deal vs. going it alone.
I wrote a good three drafts of this book before I even started to learn about publishing. I had those ideas in me all along.
And one of the biggest themes of this story is that there’s always a way to get your work out there—that things don’t always turn out the way you want or expect, and that you might end up playing a different instrument, on a different stage, with different people to support you. But you can still do it. Your work can still touch people. My book itself was telling me to publish it. So I followed my heart, and I did.
I’d be lying if I said it’s all been easy. Self-publishing is hard work. And I probably should have saved up a little more money to do things like NetGalley, and done a little more research before I dived in. I guess those will just be lessons I’ll have to take on to whatever I publish next.
But the good has been amazingly good. I can’t begin to describe the chills I got when I saw my cover art, or when I saw my book on Amazon and Goodreads. So many people have been encouraging and welcoming—people I knew from my first foray into publishing, and people I’m meeting for the first time. And most importantly, the world is finally getting to meet Teru and Rei.
And that’s really all I ever wanted to do. The story of my heart is in your hands, world. I hope you love it half as much as I do.
Estella Mirai lives just outside of Tokyo with her human family and a very spoiled lap cat. When she isn’t reading or writing, she works in editing and translation—which means that 99% percent of her day is usually words. In her minimal free time, she enjoys watching musicals, cooking (badly), and slaughtering power ballads at karaoke.