Fave Five: Gay YA Fantasy Series

All series are listed by first book.

Black Wings Beating by Alex London

Cloaked in Shadow by Ben Alderson

Timekeeper by Tara Sim

Runebinder by Alex R. Kahler

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

Bonus: Coming in 2020, Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

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Write What You Know (as Someone Else): a Guest Post by Lissa Reed, Author of the Sucre Coeur Series

Today on the site I’m delighted to welcome Lissa Reed, author of the Sucre Coeur series (which you can see from the cover of the digital box set that releases February 12 I  happen to be quite the fan of), to talk about one of queer lit’s hottest topics: writing from a male POV when you yourself are not male. It’s a complicated question, and one that doesn’t have easy answers, and here to discuss it with honesty and nuance is Lissa Reed:

“Write what you know.”

A common mantra. Writers hear it all the time.

“Write what you know.”

I know baking. I know anxiety. I know emotional post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Write what you know.”

I know that I don’t want to write about these things from a female perspective.

When I first began writing what would become the Sucre Coeur trilogy, I identified—however reluctantly—as female, and one who had a lot to process. I was a few years out of a very toxic relationship and still coping with the damage it had inflicted on me. And I was ready to be done with it, or as done as I could be, at least; some things, I knew, would be with me for way longer than I would want them to be, and there was nothing I could do about that.

But all the imaginary confrontations? The emotional conflict? My reconciling myself with my anxiety? I could do something with those, I could cough them up and out and try to make sense of them: I could write them. All of them. Get them all out.

As long as I didn’t write them from a female perspective.

I’d been drawn to writing from a male perspective for years, and truly enjoyed doing so, even as it baffled many of my friends. “But… why?” they would ask, perplexed. “You’re not a guy.”

I know now, of course, what I didn’t know then, that I identify as non-binary, that I do not adhere to labels at either end of the gender spectrum. And I think subconsciously, that had at least a little something to do with it, the voice of that stifled part of me trying to speak up. But that wasn’t all of it, or even most of it.

As someone then identifying as a woman, I could not write about being an abused, traumatized woman. I would never have been able to get all of my anger and distress out if the form it was taking wasn’t at least slightly removed from my own. I needed that step back, that distance. The character who was going to carry my issues couldn’t be me, or anything that resembled me, and at the time, the sharpest line I could draw between myself and my fictional counterpart was to make them male.

Alex Scheff, the romantic interest in Sucre Coeur 1: Definitely, Maybe, Yours, is not like me in a dozen other ways that go beyond gender—I’m not a professional photographer. I am not a college graduate. My parents are not lawyers. I’m not from Seattle. I’m not a lanky, freckled, skinny-jeans-wearing hipster with an unruly shock of hair and a frighteningly boisterous Russian-German-American family.

But Alex carries my emotional trauma, the way I flailed through an abusive relationship without knowing I was also dealing with a severe case of undiagnosed anxiety. Every panicked thing he does, every bad decision he makes in Definitely, Maybe, Yours, every time he takes two steps forward only to hustle one step ass-over-teakettle back – all of these were things I knew, so I wrote about them, and because this character was not me, I was able to write my way out of them.

If I had been writing a female character, she would have become me, and I would have just been mired in all of the darkness once again. Instead, Alex became a movie screen for me, a way to view everything that had happened through someone else’s eyes. And as I was writing him through his darkness, he was guiding me through the last stretch of mine.

So Definitely is of course an extremely personal book for me, even though I’ve otherwise never lived anything like it. No hot British baker has ever wooed me with cookies, my own closest cousin is not a thing like the dizzy, meddling mess that is Samantha. I’m not as close with any of my exes as Craig is with his. I am definitely not a dog person, no matter how adorable Yorkies are. And all of the people in that book are in and out of each other’s houses without so much as texting beforehand! In my circle of friends, that’s punishable by death.

But in every other way, I wrote what I knew – in a roundabout way.

***

Lissa Reed is a queer, non-binary (she/they) writer of fiction, blogs, and bawdy Renaissance song parodies. She traces her early interest in writing back to elementary school, when a teacher gifted her with her first composition book and told her to fill it with words. After experimenting with print journalism, Reed shifted her writing focus to romance and literary fiction and never looked back. She lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Sucre Coeur, her culinary romance trilogy about a circle of friends and lovers in a Seattle bakery, will be released as a digital boxed set on February 12.

LissaReed.com

Sucre Coeur on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43383568-sucre-coeur

Exclusive Cover Reveal: New Ink on Life by Jennie Davids

Today on the site today we have a new cover reveal: New Ink on Life by Jennie Davids, a contemporary f/f romance releasing on May 27, 2019, from Carina Press! Come check it out!

***

Quiet does not equal weak…

Leaving a dependable job to apprentice as a tattoo artist was a drastic step after surviving breast cancer, but Cassie Fletcher is nearly five years cancer-free. Nearly. She’s not ready to go out on her own until she clears that all-important hurdle. Also off-limits are relationships and sex—something Cassie is sure she’ll never want again.

Struggling tattoo shop owner MJ Flores doesn’t give a damn what people think, but losing Thorn & Thistle would mean losing everything. When her former mentor’s protégé arrives at her door, MJ hires her out of obligation…at first. Cross-stitching goody-goodies are not her type, but Cassie’s business background might just get the shop back on solid footing. They strike a bargain: Cassie will enact new marketing plans and MJ will teach her to find her inner bitch.

Only when clients request to see Cassie—having learned of the beautiful, compassionate tattoos she creates for survivors and their families—does MJ realize all Cassie has endured. And as Cassie’s fears fade, she finds it harder to keep her admiration for her bad-girl boss from reawakening all she’d feared was lost.

***

And now, the cover!

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New Ink On Life is out May 27, 2019 from Carina Press

Preorder: Amazon | BN | Google Play | Harlequin 

Jennie Davids bio photo.jpgJennie Davids fell in love with romance when she was twelve and snuck her mother’s books. For her it wasn’t the handsome, dashing heroes that captivated her but the heroines. She is thrilled to be writing what she longed to see then—two heroines falling in love. 

She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her rescue animals that somehow never end up as well-behaved as their bio promise. The sound of the rain inspires her as she writes or maybe it’s the gallons of hot chocolate she consumes to stay warm in the damp climate. 

When not writing Jennie is reading, watching reality TV, or bemoaning how quickly weeds grow back and keep her from reading.

Backlist Book of the Month: Ascension by Jacqueline Konayagi

I know, I know, I’m terrible about putting SFF titles in this space, especially ones that aren’t YA, because the truth is, it’s just out of my genre reading zone. But, it’s obviously in many readers’, so I’m just gonna go ahead and put this one out there since A) I see it recommended all the time by people I trust, B) I constantly end up recommending it to people asking for polyam rep, and C) it’s really hard to argue with the greatness of a Black lesbian MC in space who also happens to have a chronic illness and is a sky surgeon. Tick your reading boxes? Then check out Ascension by Jacqueline Konayagi!

Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego . . . and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything–even destroying planets–to get their hands on her.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Empire of Light by Alex Harrow

I’m very excited to have Alex Harrow on the site today, revealing the cover of their upcoming adult sci-fi best described as “gay Firefly with magic,” Empire of Light! (See tags for more information on rep and content warnings.)

Check it out:

Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As the revolution gains traction, Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one moment and kiss him the next. But Aris slips further away from Damian, and as Aris’ control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.

And here’s the cover, designed by  rock star Natasha Snow!

Gorgeous, isn’t it?? But wait, there’s more! Stay tuned (for another .03 seconds for an exclusive excerpt from Empire of Light by Alex Harrow) that begins…now!

ONE

SHOOTINGS WITH A CHANCE OF EXPLOSIONS

Funny how I always had to be the guy who ended up with a gun to his head.

“I thought you said this was going to be easy,” Aris said somewhere to my right. His voice was thick, the words choked out past the gun shoved underneath his jaw. The two Reds who kept us pinned were all broad shoulders and raw muscle. Huge white guys. Buzz cuts. Built like fucking tanks. In the low light of a fading sunset spilling into the empty warehouse, their leather coats gleamed like congealing blood.

The run had started out simple enough: get in, dump the cargo—a couple dozen barrels of diesel and some tech we’d snatched off a derailed train—and get the hell out. The place’d been abandoned for years, just another slouching ruin on the outskirts of Low Side. The perfect hiding spot to stash away things you didn’t want the Watch to find, while waiting for the highest bidder to jump the gun. A surefire way to some quick and easy cash and still get to my real job for the night.

Standing there with my face mashed against the crumbling brick wall, a gun barrel against my skull, it looked more like a surefire way straight to a cell in the Finger of Light.

If we were lucky.

The guy above me looked more than happy to put a bullet into my brain pan and chalk both Aris and I up as “casualties, resisting arrest.” The Watch, safeguards of the Empire, the Consolidated Nations at their best. To protect and serve. Right.

Not like I could just tell our dear upstanding Reds to go ahead and stick their guns and handcuffs up their asses, because we kind of were on the same team. I might be running the Empire’s off-the-books hits for extra cash, but officially, I didn’t exist.

Blurting out that I was on their boss’ payroll wouldn’t get me anything but a bullet to the head and my body dumped into the East River. Talk about employment perks.

That’s what I got for double-booking myself. Fucking Murphy’s Law.

And worse, I’d dragged Aris into it.

“Guess Jay was sugarcoating it just a little bit when she said there might be slight complications.”

Someone ratted us out. No way the Watch had just shown up here, far from their usual patrol routes, without any reason. The whole thing’d been a sting from the get-go, and once I found out who’d set us up—

My fingers twitched for my Colt. My Colt that lay cold and useless about five feet away from me. Slim chance I’d be able to shoot both Reds before one of them got to either Aris or me, but I might get lucky and get the drop on one of them. Especially if I could piss him off enough he got stupid. At the very least I could distract them from Aris.

“You know, I kind of need to be somewhere. And I’d really appreciate a little more leg room here,” I said and squirmed under the Red’s grip.

Honestly, by now I probably should’ve memorized some of the regulars’ names or something. To me they all looked the same. All fists ready to punch and guns ready to fire; neatly wrapped in black uniforms and their trademark red coats. Not like this was the first time either. By now, the Watch should really issue us a punch card for frequent visits, maybe something with a rewards program.

***

Alex Harrow is a genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual author of queer science fiction and fantasy. Alex’ pronouns are they/them. When not writing queerness with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices, misused apostrophes, and anyone under the delusion that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.

A German immigrant, Alex has always been drawn to language and stories. They began to write when they realized that the best guarantee to see more books with queer characters was to create them. Alex cares deeply about social justice and wants to see diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists, in more than the stereotypical coming out story.

Alex currently lives in Utah with their equally geeky wife, outnumbered by three adorable feline overlords, and what could not possibly be too many books.

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexHarrowSFF

Also, find them on Facebook, Instagram or Goodreads.

How Secondary Characters Earn Their Own Stories: a Guest Post by Annabeth Albert

I’m very excited to have Annabeth Albert on the site today to celebrate the release of her newest m/m Romance, Rough Terrain, and to discuss secondary characters and how you know when they’re ready to get their own books! First off, let’s check out the new book, which is the final title in the Out of Uniform series:

Navy SEAL Renzo Bianchi has a soft spot for Canaan Finley, and not only because the man makes a mean smoothie. He’s the first guy to get Renzo’s motor revving in a long time. But when he agrees to Canaan’s insane charade—one all-access fake boyfriend, coming right up—he never expects more than a fling.

Creating a hot Italian SEAL boyfriend to save face seemed like a good idea…until his friends called Canaan’s bluff. Now he’s setting off into the woods with the very man who inspired his deception, and Canaan is not the outdoorsy type. The sparks are already flying when a flash flood separates them from their group, leaving Renzo and Canaan very much trapped…very much alone in the wilderness.

Working together to come up with a plan for survival is sexier than either of them expects. But back in the real world, being a couple is bringing its own set of hazards…

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks | GooglePlay | Audible | Harlequin

And here’s the post!

Hi! I’m so delighted to be here as I celebrate the release of Rough Terrain, my latest Out of Uniform book, which stars a sexy navy SEAL  and a smoothie place barista in need a fake boyfriend fast.  In this book, both main characters made brief appearances in earlier book, Renzo, the SEAL, in Tight Quarters, and Canaan in On Point.  One question I get a lot from readers is “Will X get a book?” And as a reader, I know this urge because I ask it too! A great secondary character almost seems to demand a story of their own.

So, how do you know if a secondary character is ripe for their own book?

  • Are they single? This isn’t always a firm requirement as reunion romances, rekindling the spark, and post-breakup/tragedy romances are all possibilities, but it helps if your potential main character has a need for romance in their life (even if they don’t see it themselves yet!). Readers generally don’t like to see happy-ish couples split up, so one thing to keep in mind is reader expectations. If you show your secondary character in love with someone or crushing on someone, a certain segment of the readership will expect that pairing to get a book. (My example here is On Point—no way could I pair Ben and Maddox with anyone other than each other!)
  • Do they have a distinctive “voice?” Sometimes it only takes a line or two for a character to come alive. That was the case with Apollo from At Attention for me and Renzo in Rough Terrain—as soon as they opened their mouths in other books, I wanted to know more.  Sometimes, like with Apollo, you can just tell a juicy backstory is lurking, and you can’t wait to know more. As a writer, this is the best feeling in the world, when you start to see the potential for going deeper with a character, when they transition from supporting cast member to potential star.
  • Do they fit the tone of the series? This is always a really hard question for me to ask potential secondary character plot bunnies, but it’s necessary. With Off Base, which starts the Out of Uniform series, Pike and Zack both started talking in Connection Error, but I could tell that their book wasn’t going to fit the #Gaymer universe—not in LA, not as much nerdy culture, way heavier on the military romance tropes, and so I spun their story off to start a new series rather than try to shoehorn a book in. With Wheels Up, Dustin started talking to me in At Attention (he’s one hero’s brother and the other’s best friend) and said, “I get a book.” And my initial reaction was “Uh…” and then he revealed that he was bisexual and really, really wanted the last guy he should have, and I was all, “We’re in business” because I knew I could give him a military romance that fit the tone of the series and that would be the HEA he deserved. Likewise, Canaan started talking in his brief appearance in On Point, but I had to figure out how to give him the SEAL of his dreams—I didn’t want to do another spin-off.
  • Are readers asking about them? I tend to plot in terms of trilogies, so a lot of times, I know which secondary characters will eventually get books. But other times, a well-placed reader question can yield amazing plot bunnies. Reviewer Becky Condit asked me, “What about Wizard?” after she read On Point, and I immediately wanted a book for him and started plotting. (Message to eager readers—writers aren’t mind readers! If you’re desperate for a secondary character to get a HEA, tell us!)
  • Are they already “talking” to the muse? This is probably the hardest factor, but sometimes, you can love a secondary character, but no plot is really jumping out that would fit them. The plot bunny stable is empty and the muse is silent. As a writer, this sucks, and there are things you can do to coax a quiet character into talking—brainstorming, free-writing, character worksheets etc, but sometimes it simply takes time before a story presents itself for that character or until the muse cooperates. As a reader, it can be hard when I learn that a book isn’t planned for a secondary character I loved, but as a writer, I know how it important it is to feed and follow the muse. You simply can’t write a story that doesn’t want to be told (yet).

And thus, as writers consider all these factors, some secondary characters are indeed ripe for their own book and do amazing in a starring role. And series really come to life this way. No way could I have done seven books in Out of Uniform without some incredible secondary characters to work with!

How about you? Do you have a favorite secondary character in any series by any author that you’d like a book for? Share in the comments, and I do hope you check out Rough Terrain! Thanks for having me!

***

Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer. Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Her critically acclaimed and fan-favorite LGBTQ romance series include the #OutOfUniform, #Gaymers, #PortlandHeat, #RainbowCove and #PerfectHarmony series.

To find out what she’s working on next and other fun extras, check out her website: annabethalbert.com or connect with Annabeth on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify! Also, be sure to sign up for her newsletter for free ficlets, bonus reads, and contests. The fan group, Annabeth’s Angels, on Facebook is also a great place for bonus content and exclusive contests.

 

LGBTQ Romances for Under $2

Welcome back to another edition of Shopper’s Delight! Today’s are all about as cheap as it gets: a great collection of titles that are all $1.99 or less! Enjoy! (All links are Amazon affiliate, purchases through which help support the site.

$0.99

A Lady’s Desire by Lily Maxton (historical f/f)

Nine of Swords, Reversed by Xan West (fantasy gf/gf)

From Scratch by Katrina Jackson (contemporary m/m/f)

Small Town Secrets by Katrina Jackson (contemporary f/f)

Team Phison by Chace Verity (contemporary m/m)

The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles (historical m/m)

Hexbreaker by Jordan L. Hawk (paranormal m/m)

My Lady’s Lover by Nicola Griffith (historical f/f)

My Lord, Lady, and Gentleman by Nicola Griffith (historical m/m/f)

Wet Nails by Shira Glassman (historical f/f)

$1.99

The Craft of Love by E.E. Ottoman (historical m/f, T)

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (contemporary f/f)

My Heart is Yours by Chace Verity (fantasy m/m)

Cinnamon Blade by Shira Glassman (superhero f/f)

Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman (contemporary f/f)

Single Malt by Layla Reyne (romantic suspense m/m)

The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian (historical m/m)

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian (historical m/m)

The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian (historical m/m)

Moon-Bright Tides by RoAnna Sylver (fantasy f/f)

Ripped Pages by M. Hollis (retelling f/f)

 

Exclusive Cover Reveal: An Unexpected Invitation by Ceillie Simkiss

Back on the site with another cover reveal today is Ceilie Simkiss, author of An Unexpected Invitation, which releases on January 31 and stars the aroace Beatrice! Here’s the blurb:

Beatrice has always struggled with motion sickness in any form of travel. That’s why she made sure that she lived on the island of Maredudd, where she only rarely needs to get anywhere using anything other than her own two feet. However, it doesn’t make it easy for her to get anywhere in a hurry.

She gets called away for urgent help healing a friend who got bitten by an unknown creature and gets surprised by an unexpected invitation to a childhood friend’s wedding. She’s almost positive she won’t be able to get there in time, or in good shape enough to be able to attend the wedding.

However, with the help of two unusual friends and a little bit of magic, she’s going to try everything in her power to get there, even if it will be an unusual journey

***

And here’s the cover, designed by the author herself!

AnUnexpectedInvitationCover.png

An Unexpected Invitation is out January 31, 2019. Preorder now

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Ceillie Simkiss is an author from southern Virginia. She started writing fiction as an escape from her day job as a small town journalist, and has been at it ever since, with the support of her partner, her dog and her cats.

R.M. Sayan Interviews Lin Darrow, Writer Of Webcomic Shaderunners

Today we welcome two LGBTQReads newbies to the site: R.M. Sayan, author of the upcoming historical slow-burn m/m fantasy novella Silenci with Less Than Three Press, and their interview subject, Lin Darrow, author of LGBTQ+ webcomics Shaderunners and Captain Imani, as well as the novella Pyre at the Eyreholme Trust!

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SILENCI by R. M. Sayan promotional art by Paula Wong

First of all, the clichéd questions: how did you start writing?

Oh, that’s an interesting question, actually, because I don’t really remember when I started writing. I feel like I’ve always really liked to jot down stories and draw, and the different types of storytelling. I think that I read the Hobbit when I was in sixth grade in school, and that was the first time I discovered fantasy literature, and I think that that was my niche, that was the genre that I was really drawn to. So I think that reading The Hobbit was the first time I thought ‘oh I could write a story’, specifically in novel form, so I started out writing little myths and short stories and novel-oriented thing and moved on to comics later. It’s funny, I feel like I always have written, but The Hobbit was the first time I thought ‘I could write a book’, or ‘I could write a story that looks like this’, that isn’t just my scribblings or making up stories for my sister as we played or something like that.

That’s so cool! When I read The Hobbit, I was honestly a little intimidated by it. It didn’t happen with you?

No, I mean, I understand why you would feel that way because it’s really… intense, and Tolkien is dense in general. I remember trying to read Lord of the Rings in sixth grade and I struggled through it, it’s quite the challenge, but I think it was more that this was the first fantasy thing that I had ever read. It was the genre that got me excited, because there’s so much possibility with fantasy, we keep discovering more and more and there’s so many great fantasy writers today.

That’s true, I feel like fantasy is reaching a new peak. So, aside from Tolkien, who do you think are your top influences?

That’s a really great question! When I was younger I read a lot of Clamp manga, so I feel like even if I don’t read them anymore I can still feel their influence, mainly because they were the first creators that I followed that were publishing content that could be called queer content and queer fantasy comics. It was a really big revelation to me, the idea that you could have things like normalized queerness in stories, that queer fiction didn’t just have to be about the coming out narrative, that it could be like a post-apocalyptic drama or a fluffy fantasy story, and that was really influential for me. I read a lot of Frank L. Baum, Wizard of Oz, I read a lot of the Oz books, so a lot of my fantasy growing up was kind of older fantasy. I really love Peter S. Beagle, and then I got into a lot of Victorian fiction, because it’s like fiction from another era.

Like gothic stuff?

Yes! Any gothic stuff I really got into in a big way, like Northanger Abbey, Ann Radcliffe, who I love, I think she’s so fun; Mary Shelley I love, Frankenstein is such a great book. So I kinda fell into all this historical fantasy that I really loved, and I remember —I don’t remember the name of this series— but I remember really loving this one series called something like The Jewel Princess Saga? It was like, every book was a different Jewel Princess, and you got like a little necklace with the book, and I just remember liking that specifically because it was very feminine, very girly fantasy, as opposed to like… Tolkien is very male-oriented, something that I don’t love about him, there’s not too many girls or not-men in general in Tolkien. That was kind of like finding fantasy that was unabashedly girly that was really fun.

So, this is another clichéd question, but, why do you write so many LGBT characters? Not because I’m not LGBT or anything, but because every author has different motivation. What’s yours?

Huh, you know what, it’s funny because it’s not something that I really think about, it’s just something I do naturally. I think my motivation is just that I like it! I think that there’s so many missed opportunities and so many genres that queer people still don’t really exist in in a big way? And if we do, we’re like side characters or we’re… I always really hate in stories where there’s a queer character and they give them a generic partner, who is like perfect and isn’t really involved in the plot in a main way? I feel like we don’t really get those epic romances or those epic stories that really center around us. And I feel like every time I start to write a character, it’s always just more interesting to me, what would it be like if this person was queer? Because I feel like we’re just in these stories a lot, I write a lot of noir fiction and it’s traditionally been a very straight dude genre. I think for me what’s kind of exciting about fantasy mashups and genre mashups is like taking those things back and reclaiming them and saying I’m gonna take what I like from this genre, but I’m gonna leave out these ‘straight dude vibes’ or the aggressively masculine stereotypical-macho vibes, and I’m gonna remake it into something that fits my world a little better. So I don’t know that I have a singular motivation, it’s basically just that I like writing about queer people, it’s what comes naturally to me.

That’s fair, because it’s like they’re trying to portray one world and they don’t realize that world involves our world, so it’s like… hey, what’s up?

Yeah! I think it’s a fair question in a lot of ways, because we’re always in this tradition like, the queer story has to justify itself, or there needs to be a reason. I think I like writing things where there’s no reason, they just are!

I get you! So how do you sit down and write these things? Do you actually sit down, or do you write standing up or running around or… [laughs] What’s your creative process, basically?

Oh, that’s a fun question! I find that I have a really simple trick, which is when I’m writing something and I need to finish it, I just have a file open on my computer and I never close it. So wherever I am, if I’m at work, or if I’m home lying on the couch, or if I’m out at a café, I always have it with me so I’m writing a little bit at a time. Unless I have a really firm deadline for something —which is usually for comic stuff, not for book stuff— I kind of write everywhere. My main trick is just not closing the document so it’s there and I keep pressure on myself to finish it. And that’s been a really little trick but it’s helped me a lot to finish stuff, which I think it’s always the biggest challenge for any writer.

I completely understand— I actually do the same thing!

Yeah! Do you find it useful to do that?

I do, actually! I have several desktops for different projects, so like this desktop is for my comic, this one is for my novel, et cetera

Oh great! It’s a trick that’s helped me a lot, I stole it from a friend who told me to do that.

It carries from writer to writer, I see! So—Pyre! Wow. I really liked the universe, how did you come up with it?

The first time I came up with this universe was for a comic for an anthology called Tabula Idem, which was a queer tarot card anthology that was really fun. I wanted to do something with magic, because Shaderunners doesn’t have magic in it really, there are elements that are fantastical but magic isn’t a thing. So I wanted to kind of take— I really like noir fiction, and I feel like it’s this genre that is not super popular, which sucks because it’s so much fun. I feel like it’s not that popular because nobody has updated it in a while. So I really wanted to do something that had that noir style, because I’m really used to writing in that style now for Shaderunners, it has a very noir style and language. I really like that gritty, weird linguistic style that the 1920s has. I think Pyre is a lot more 1940s, but the language doesn’t change that much, also because I throw a lot of my own idioms in when I write. So I really wanted to do something noir but that was a little more magic than Shaderunners. My comic artist Alex [Assan], I just said ‘can I do a noir and make it just magic gangsters?’ And she was like ‘do whatever you want, man!’ So that was the first time we did it, and we were pitching to a comic anthology that wanted us to pitch for particular cards, so we pitched for the Temperance card (that’s why the city is called Temperance city). I thought it would be funny to have this story about all of these gangsters that cannot chill at all being a part of a city called Temperance! [laughs] So that first one was about characters that actually get named in Pyre: Ursula Heart and Constance Merino, or ‘Conman’. So that was about their kind of romance, about fixing a turf war that had been riled up by this fire gang that was trying to get in on their turf. I wrote Pyre about that fire gang, so the Temperance comic is kind of a little prequel.

Where can I find that anthology?

I’m sure it’s around! Well, I wrote Pyre in response for another call for an anthology that Less Than Three was putting on, about tricksters. I was like, ‘I don’t know how well this fits, but I’m having so much fun with this universe!’ So I wrote a short story—that eventually became Pyre—and they got back to me and said ‘this doesn’t really fit the anthology, but we wanna publish it as a book’. They gave me some time to expand it a little, so technically Pyre is still a novella —if I was gonna write another full-length romance novel, it would be a lot longer— but that was the story of how that happened. They said—rightly, I think— that it did not fit the anthology, but they were very interested in publishing as a book, and that was very fun for me too.

So, I was reading Pyre, and I saw that some magics seemed to be deemed more lethal, or more dangerous, or more heavily regulated. Is there a hierarchy?

It’s funny, I think I have some pages written that are like a follow-up to Pyre that I don’t know if I’ll ever pursue, it depends on how fast I’m able to finish it because I have my day job too. There’s a hierarchy in terms of— one thing that really interests me that doesn’t sound super exciting but is for me, is the infrastructure, how a world that had magic that was normalized would deal with the fact that magic is potentially really destructive. I’m always really interested in stories where the antagonists or the people in power have logical motivations for the way that they exert their power, but the actual reality of them exerting that power is actually not fair, or it ends up being oppressive or prejudiced in some way. So I really thought that it was an interesting conflict where you had a world where you have to do something to regulate magic that can burn down a building, but in doing so, what’s the effect on the humans for whom this is a part of who they are. I really like conflicts where you can see both sides, or they’re irresolvable in some way, I think that the characters in Pyre don’t want there to be any laws, but for me personally, I don’t know if that’s ever gonna be achievable in the world, because that’s also ignoring the fact that no, you need to regulate people with extreme power. So I think the hierarchy tends to be, first magic that can cause death or great bodily harm, then the second is magic that can enable people to commit white-collar crimes— I think the ink magic is strictly regulated because there’s so much opportunity to commit things like fraud or counterfeit, which they do in the story [laughs]. So I think that definitely goes, 1) bodily harm, 2) things that would allow you to enrich yourself illegally, and then— I think about things in terms of series even if I don’t complete them, and the second book in the series if I do pursue it is going to be water and lightning, with a different set of characters falling in love and having adventures.

Those two would have an interesting dynamic!

Yeah! I thought so too, and I also really like playing with the expectations of what people with these elemental powers would have in terms of like… Ink magic isn’t necessarily something that’s super exciting on paper but I just thought there was so much I could do with it. So yeah, the next one is gonna be water and lightning and I think water would also be pretty intense, because you can flood things with it.

A little bit like waterbending? By any chance, was this influenced by Avatar: The Last Airbender or Avatar: The Legend of Korra?

Yes! Very much so, in the sense that I really like magic where it’s not just snapping your fingers and something happens, I really love the idea that in Avatar you’re seeing what they’re doing, and it’s very built into the fabric of that show, the idea that it’s the motion of your body that it’s allowing you to move and manipulate these things. I really wanted the magic to feel grounded, and not just “snap your fingers and it’s done”! I wanted it to be like a relationship that these people have with the elements. I think Eli has a relationship with ink where he can feel it moving and he moves with it. I do feel like that was an influence in the sense that I really like magic that is grounded and connected to the person and not just this things that happens independently that they’re controlling, I wanted it to feel like a relationship between element and person.

It does feel like that, because Eli is very… attached? To ink, and you can feel it! So, anyways, the big project… Shaderunners! How did you come up with it? Was it collaborative, or did you come up with it yourself?

shaderunners a2 ch1 p7It wasn’t collaborative initially, because the way that Shaderunners got started initially was, I wrote a book, which was the first book that I ever finished, called Fenton’s Red. I wrote it and Alex read it because we were friends, we had met online through various fandoms, and she really liked it and started drawing fan art for it, so eventually we became close enough, and we both loved the same comics, and we wanted to do a comic, and so it felt like a natural progression to do something from the Fenton’s Red universe, because we both knew it really well. She was so generous with her time, in terms of drawing me fan art and talking to me about the characters… It was really our first collaboration in the sense that she was kind of an editor where I would be like “oh I’m working on this scene and trying to figure this out” and she would know the characters so well that she could be like, “well, Ezra would do this, don’t you think? And this feels out of character for him”. It was really great to have someone motivating me who knew the characters well and who I could talk things out with and the characters became so much more full and complex after having to throw ideas at her and having her push me back on them. So I finished the book, and that’s sitting on a shelf still, I really want to go back and rewrite it and send it out to some agents, but it’s all about finding the time. But in the meantime we wanted to do a comic because we really like working together, and I love her art so I really wanted to do something that could make the most out of both of our talents instead of just her always being involved in mine, and so it just made sense to make something in that universe, so we ended up doing what I guess is kind of a prequel to Fenton’s Red, because Fenton’s Red takes place after the fallout at the end of Shaderunners, with a female main character and a different set. Dom and Ezra are in it!

Oh! Older, I guess.

Yes, older, and some of the other characters are as well, but Dom and Ezra were the two first ones that… Alex really likes them, so I ended up giving them a lot more to do in the story because Alex likes them so much, and so it made sense that we would do a story about them and the other characters who were involved in their part of the book. So it kind of came out of that; her being a great friend and reading my book and having thoughts about it and being a naturally good editor, and me loving her art I guess and wanting to do something that would give her… it’s not totally accurate to say that I was giving her something because, she gives me so much, but I really wanted to work together with her and not have it be one way anymore, which was really great.

So, I really like the Shaderunners universe, I saw some of Alex’s tweets that said, basically (I’m gonna paraphrase) that pansexuality is the norm and gender fluidity is widely accepted. I’m a bit of a sociology fan, so, how does that work? Because it’s really different from our world. So how do gender and sex work in Shaderunners?

I think that, when I was thinking about how the world would function, in terms of infrastructure, I think the world generally operates on a “no questions asked” policy, in the sense that nobody really asks, “what are you?” or “what’s your label?” And I don’t think that’s necessarily a perfect system either, I really don’t want to depict Shaderunners as a utopia. I think that there’s labels in our world that have their function, but I think in the Shaderunners world, it’s more like, in this culture nobody has ever asked what you are in terms of gender or interest, you’re assumed pansexual by default and if you have preferences within that then it’s just called having preferences in the same way that you might have a preference for dark hair. In terms of gender, there’s a system that I had that I’ve never really articulated in the universe where, if someone doesn’t use he or she, if they use a different pronoun—which some people do in the universe too—if you’re not sure of someone’s pronouns you just default to your own when talking about them. In that sense, what I was hoping to do with that—and it’s really not something I’ve articulated in the universe, so it’s originally from the book, really— what I was hoping to do with that was to say, as a gesture of sympathy, “whatever your pronouns is or whatever your identity is, I’m connecting to you through mine”. I think that the way that it works is that nobody really cares too much about the particulars, they just assume that you are what you are and you’ll tell them if it matters. Again, I don’t think it’s a perfect system and I’m not trying to represent a utopian society in Shaderunners with respect to gender, but I mainly just wanted to depict a society that didn’t have to relegate its queer characters to the “queer struggle” narrative. Like, I can have a genderfluid or a bigender character in a story and I don’t have to justify how they came to that realization about themselves, I don’t have to justify how they bumped up against the status quo, they just are who they are and people don’t question it and just adapt, once they get to know them better and they take a route, once Ivo says like, this is who I am, it’s kind of not a conversation. I think the way that it works really is that people don’t expect you to identify one way or another and in doing so people muddle along, if that makes sense.

Of course! It kind of reminds me of when I took Art History and they told me that in Ancient Greece there was no term for “art” so if it was like that, art wasn’t art as we know it, it was just another job. It reminds me of what you’re telling me; if there’s no labels, it’s not necessarily a thing that deserves to be labeled.

If you look at the idea of who you are, who you are interested in romantically or sexually, the idea that that’s a part of your identity, it’s kind of a new idea, historically! I’m a Victorianist by day, so you’re getting some of my day job background here. We just have to say that queer people have always existed, but the way that we talk about sexual identity, as something that is a part of who you are and not just something that you feel or do, it’s kind of a new idea still. It’s something that they articulated really strongly for the first time in the Victorian era, which is still eh compared to other time periods, so it is kind of a newer idea. For me, thinking about the Shaderunners universe, it was just, “well okay what if we never really had a society that placed the heterosexual relationship at the core of it?” What if just evolved so that it was kind of equal in that sense, and in doing so, because it has always been a part of their society, they don’t need to ask for labels because it doesn’t matter. In the same way that it doesn’t matter like… why street you were born on, it’s never really gonna matter. I feel like I’ve said this like three times already, but I’m really not necessarily trying to say that that’s better, I’m just trying to imagine a world where nobody has ever had to think about whether or not they need labels, because it’s not something that makes sense to label the world, because everyone has grown up with it being “normal”. So that was the universe that I was trying to create.

I really like how it turned out! So, Shaderunners, do you consider it your main project? 

Yeah, right now I think it’s definitely the most public-facing project. I think it’s the one that has been running the longest, and it’s probably the main one that I would point to. I feel like I always have other projects on the go, like I always want to finish the rewrite of Fenton’s Red, and there’s a sci-fi book that I really want to write, about an alien and a jazz pianist. I really want to finish it one day, it’s a sci-fi noir, because I can’t write anything but noir. [laughs] So yeah, there are a lot of things I want to do, but I think Shaderunners is my main for now.

The couples you write—in Shaderunners, in Pyre, in everything, actually—they have really good chemistry, both the developing couples and the established ones. What are your rules or tips for writing great romance?

For me, it comes down to characters that are lacking something and find it in the other person; not in the sense that they’re defined by the other person, but I think that, writing Eli and Duke, I really like moments where it’s characters realizing that they love the same thing, or that there is something about this person that articulates something that they’ve never heard before but they felt. Some kind of recognition that “this person have what I have been longing for”, and I really like tying that into plot and world. Thinking about Eli and Duke, I think the reason they are so in love is because they both have the same kind of passion for what they do, but in Eli it’s so locked away and in Duke it’s so overt and all over the place and it’s not locked away at all, and I really liked having that kind of combination; they are so different on paper but there’s this one thing that they are absolutely on the same page about, which is that they both love being magic. They’re both passionate about being allowed to be who they are. It’s the combination of feeling like they are so different on paper, but realizing that at heart there is this key thing they both have in common. I really like that contrast of outward differences but internal similarity, I think that’s always something that I’m drawn to. Characters that really badly want things—really I think it’s the key to making good characters—and then the romance comes with what characters so badly want, they’re either at odds with the other or are exactly in alignment with the other. So I think the key to writing good romance is writing good characters with complex wants and needs, and then throwing them into interesting conflicts or alignments with the other characters.

When we were talking about Shaderunners you were telling me about how in tune you were with Alex, and I kind of envy that, because I’ve never been one for teamwork myself! How do you do it? How do you work in team so smoothly and so productively?

I think I’m very lucky to have found someone like Alex, who I found I have a really good working chemistry with. I think it’s nice for us because we both have our own lanes, like sometimes I’ll comment on the art if I feel like an emotional scene could be different or something like that, but ultimately she has the final say over the art, and I have the final say over the writing. Sometimes she’ll say “oh I think this line could be stronger”, and I think we know each other well enough now that sometimes she’ll send me back a chapter and she’ll be like “you could write this better”, and I’ll be like, “I know!” [laughs] But I think the way that we have found that works really well is that we both recognize and appreciate the other’s authority on the other side of the fence, where she’s in charge of the art and I know that, and I’m in charge of the writing and she knows that. But we’re both also very invested in the other side. I’m not an artist, but I draw a little, so I have some language about art, and she edits me all the time, she’s such a great editor. She has a lot of thoughts on things like story structure. I think that what works really well for us is that we both work on things kind of independently but we’re always talking about and getting feedback on our stuff, we’re very aware that we have a common goal, so it never feels like criticism, it’s more like “what about this, or this”, and we talk and say “this instead of this”. So I think that having that mutual passion but also respecting each other’s authority over the individual parts is really the key to our partnership, and it has been working really well for over ten years now.

Ten years? That’s a long time! I think this is the last question I’m gonna make, it’s a bit of a whim… What’s the image on your twitter cover? I recognize Alex’s style, but did I miss an important announcement? Is it a secret?

Actually, that’s from Fenton’s Red! Alex used to draw me fan art for it all the time, and so for my birthday —I think last year?— she drew me a mock cover for Fenton’s Red! That’s the main character from Fenton’s Red. The main plot of that story is that —I don’t wanna spoil Shaderunners too much, this is post-Shaderunners— it’s about a girl who lives in the country and she finds the color red for the first time in a bottle, and it accidentally stains her hand red, because she pours it out on her hand like “what is this?” It’s about her trying to hide it but also discover where it came from, and so her story intersects with the history of the Shaderunners and that way she’s trying to figure out “what is this? I’ve never seen color before!” So yeah, that’s the mock cover for Fenton’s red that I just put up because I loved it.

I am so looking forward to whenever you publish it!

I’m gonna publish it in some form somehow! If it doesn’t get published traditionally I’m just gonna build a website and publish it digitally. We’ll see, it’ll make itself known eventually, I’m in the process of rewriting it, but in the meantime it’s really fun to explore, I feel like Fenton’s Red has made me able to explore Dom and Ezra and Easton and Ivo and Satinder in the Shaderunners universe, so I think it’ll be a better book than it was when I finished it because of that. We’ll see!

That’s gonna be great! Well, that’s all my questions for now. Thank you for the interview!

Thank you so much for thinking of me!

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R. M. Sayan is a writer, sometimes illustrator, amateur photographer, avid tabletop gamer, studious filmmaker, tattoo aficionado, and a constant work in progress. Often referred to as just ‘Robb’, they can often be found ranting about assorted fandoms on twitter, swooning over their beautiful partner, and being overdramatic. They like to dabble in many genres, from historical fiction to urban fantasy, from dystopian sci-fi to weird west, but always sneaking queerness somewhere in there. Robb’s debut novella, Silenci, is coming soon in May 2019!