Fiction, Platonic Relationships, and Common Bonds: an Aromantic Roundtable

Aromantic Awareness Week may be over for 2019, but that doesn’t mean your Aromantic Awareness (or enjoyment of Aromantic fiction) has to be! I’m psyched to welcome to the site today an aromantic roundtable headed by Claudie Arseneault, author of books including City of Strife and Baker Thief and the brains/work behind the incredible Aro Ace Database. Claudie is also one of the editors of Common Bonds, a crowdfunded aromantic spec fic anthology, you definitely don’t wanna miss!

And now, I’ll let Claudie and her roundtable take it away…

Common Bonds is an anthology of speculative fiction with aromantic characters and platonic relationships at its heart. Finding this sort of fiction is a desire I’ve often seen other aromantic people express, and I absolutely share it. There’s an entire genre dedicated to romance, but when it comes to the other forms of bonding like friendships, you often have to rely on your detective skills to find stories centering them. So I teamed up with other awesome editors (C.T. Callahan, B. R. Sanders, and RoAnna Sylver) and we decided to make this a reality.

I obviously have a lot of things to say on the topic, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to say them, but I wanted to pass the mic to other aromantic bookish people not directly involved in the anthology and hear their thoughts on aromanticism, fiction, and platonic relationships. Turns out they had a lot to say, too, and it was awesome! So here we go.

Claudie : Hello and welcome to this aromantic roundtable! Before we get to the meaty discussions, please introduce yourselves a little!

Fadwa: Hi, everyone! My name’s Fadwa (she/her) and I’m a bisexual grayromantic Moroccan Muslim girl. It’s a mouthful haha. I’m a 22 years old perpetually exhausted medical student.

Lynn: Hello! I’m Lynn (she/they) and I’m a demiromantic demisexual author who is very bad at humour. (I was going for something humorous and failed.) Like Fadwa, I’m perpetually exhausted, though not a medical student. I was literature through and through. Also I ramble. You have been warned.

Rosiee: *Waves* I’m Rosiee (she/her), an aromantic grayasexual author, and I’m proposing we all take a nap.

Claudie: Proposition accepted, Rosiee. Let’s start with something fun. What are your favourite platonic relationships in fiction? Do you have any specific examples in mind? Why did those resonate?

Lynn : It’s cheating to say “Anything Cal-from-Isandor-related”, isn’t it? Honestly, these are my fave relationships just because Cal is a cinnamon roll darling. More so, he gets to be a cinnamon roll darling who learns he does not have to sacrifice his happiness for his friends. Like… The first time I saw a platonic relationship in fiction was in M.C.A. Hogarth’s Mindtouch and I love those books very much and I will love Vasiht’h forever, but the further along the setting goes, the more Vasiht’h seems to sacrifice everything he wants to the happiness of his partner and just… Well, with Cal’s narrative we actually have the opposite to some extent because Cal is in a friendship that is abusive, and one of the things he has to learn is that he matters too. I mean, he knows that, but he has some trouble applying it to his friendships. And that resonated a lot with me.

Claudie: Your cheating is accepted, even if it’s a bit awkward that you immediately jumped to my writing. ^^;

Rosiee: I had to think about this question for a whole day, to be honest. I kept trying to narrow my search parameters and think of platonic relationships that weren’t sibling relationships. But the thing is, sibling relationships are some of my favorites. I tend to gravitate toward relationships that I know from the get-go won’t turn romantic, and sibling relationships generally have the smallest chance of turning. Relationships like Anna and Elsa from Frozen, Katara and Sokka from Avatar the Last Airbender, Lada and Radu from And I Darken have always called to me. Maybe it’s because I never had any siblings, myself, but there’s just so much to explore within familial relationships like that, especially when the characters are growing as individuals.

Fadwa: Like Rosiee, I had to give this one a lot of thought looking for platonic relationships other than siblings because sibling dynamics have always been my favorites too see explored in media. In my case, it’s because I have a little sister I’m very close with and love to see my experiences with her mirrored. And even when the dynamic isn’t the same as the one I have with her, I love to see how different those relationships can be from one pair of siblings to another. I actually love Katara and Sokka’s relationship, it’s just so spot on, they get on each others’ nerves but at the end of the day love each other and would do anything for each others happiness and safety.

Rosiee:  I’ve also always had a soft spot for platonic relationships–and really, all types of relationships–that stem from a place of mutual respect. There’s really nothing that keeps my attention more than two nerds recognizing a pieces of themselves in each other and then working together to achieve great things. For example, Zuko and Aang from Avatar the last Airbender come together after a looooong time fighting, and their understanding of each other’s strengths is touching, and ultimately results in powerful friendship! The relationship between Luna Lovegood and Harry Potter, while not without its problems, also shows two people who have experienced great pain in life recognizing it in each other, and feeling less alone. I always felt that relationship was a lot stronger than anyone gave it credit for.

Fadwa: I also have a soft spot for people who bond over similar experiences (generally traumatic) and help each other through them, whether they live said experiences together or meet after the fact. I loved Rin and Kitay from The Poppy War, who become friends very quickly after realizing that both are the outliers at the academy and are each others’ emotional support through their brutal training at the academy and later on a brutal war.

Lynn: Ooooh, yeeees. Rin and Kitay were wonderful! I like how you both picked up on sibling relationships in fiction. I guess I’m the opposite of Rosiee in that. Not that I don’t love familial relationships – I do – but I don’t feel like I was ever drawn to siblings specifically. For me it’s largely cousins. There’s a real difference in relationships between the characters in the Famous Five by Enid Blyton when it comes to the sibling relationships and the cousin ones. I was drawn to those books so much when I was a child and, yeah, the lack of romance was probably a real factor in it.

Claudie: Something really prevalent in both of your answers (Cal learning that he matters too, mutual respect, bonding through similar trauma) is that sense of people treating each other as equals. Any thoughts on platonic relationships that have an inherent power differential, such as mentor/student and parent/child? Do those tend to work less for you, or do they need something different to capture your heart?

Rosiee: Mentor/student relationships can be so powerful and really touching. Jumping off Avatar again, the relationship between Zuko and his uncle, Iroh, always shines for me. Obviously there’s a familial relationship there as well, but the mentorship itself takes on such an important role in Zuko’s personal growth—it’s as much about learning to use his bending power as it is about learning to be a person. Other examples that come to mind are Harry Potter and Remus Lupin, who share so much in terms of grief and history, and Sallot Leon from Mask of Shadows and the other members of the Left Hand–especially in the second book. Sal’s relationships with the other members of the Left Hand are particularly fascinating from the perspective of age, since Sal is much younger than the rest of them, but they all have a shared responsibility.

Lynn: Hmmm… You know, I don’t think I do? But then I think most mentor/student relationships end up with the mentor dead, so… Yeah. (I like my relationships to survive the end of at least the first book. T_T)

Rosiee: One last example, which I’m actually uncertain about, is the teacher/student relationship between Numair and Daine in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet. I found this relationship really interesting and touching for the first few books, but it does take a romantic turn that I hadn’t expected. I’m still very iffy on how much this impacts my feelings about that relationship. The mentor/student relationship, especially when one of them is a teen, should be a promise of a platonic relationship. When they end up turning romantic or sexual, it feels like a betrayal of that promise.

Claudie: I’m with you on that one, Rosiee. There are some mentor relationships I’d really like to see submitted to an always-platonic reader contract. One of the reasons Common Bonds has a platonic focus was the ubiquity of romance within queer lit circles, through call for submissions, lists by romantic pairings, etc., and how little space it left for aromantic people and for the stories surrounding other types of relationships. Can you share your experiences navigating those spaces, both positive and negative? Are there things you’d love to see more of?

Fadwa: I am huge romance reader and fan, which means that for a long time, even if some romances in books didn’t sit well with me, I didn’t really know why or have any negative experiences with the lack of platonic relationships. Then, a couple years back, I came out to myself as aromantic, and that’s when I started truly realizing why certain romances irked me. Sometimes I just did not feel like reading at all, because I knew I was going to be confronted with a romance I did not care for. And my biggest issue is with *forced* romance, meaning romance with no kind of chemistry whatsoever, and that’s there just to fill some kind of quota. I realized that the reason I consume romance books so much is because at least then I am making the conscious choice to read about romantic relationships and that they weren’t just thrown without having a point in the story, because a lot of the time, reading outside of the romance genre, I like the characters that are pushed together a lot better in strictly platonic relationships.

Claudie: Loving characters better in strictly in platonic relationships is the story of my life, honestly.

Lynn: I admit the prevalence of romance wasn’t something I paid much attention to until I started learning more about aromanticism and realised this could be questioned or challenged. Once you notice it you start to see how prevalent those romantic relationships are even, at times, in shows that are explicitly touted as being about friendship.

I’d want to see more awareness of aromanticism in general. Where do we go to tell our stories? The way queer publishers handle it makes it sound like there’s no room for us. There’s always the pressure to add romance. It may not always be the publisher itself, but the general sense of society. Like editors expect it because the audience expects it, which then means the audience expects it because editors do and tada! A vicious cycle has been created and it ends up shutting aros out.

Rosiee: I agree with everything Lynn said–it’s really disheartening and feels exclusionary to see those calls for submissions. Even when they don’t specify a pairing type, if it’s a call for queer submissions or “LGBT+” submissions, I often wonder if the “A” is included in that plus sign. Even organizations like Lambda Literary, who are supposed to be advocates for the community, don’t put the “A” in their acronym.

It’s the same with calls for submission, or even MSWL tweets from agents. It’s the reason why it took me nearly a dozen revisions of my debut to finally put the words “aromantic” and “asexual” on the page. I didn’t feel comfortable doing it until I was given express permission from my editor, who was absolutely wonderful about it. I think gatekeepers honestly don’t realize how much power they have to shape who submits to them. Self-rejection gets easier and easier the longer the world rejects you, and that’s tough to combat sometimes.

Fadwa: There’s also the micro-agressions that are so prevalent and normalized in books. They range from the classic “Just friends” or “More than friends” that I can mostly just ignore to the “What normal person has never experienced romantic attraction” that make me put the book down and never look back. Sometimes navigating media as an aro person can feel like a battlefield and it forces you to “grow a thick skin”. We shouldn’t have to grow a thick skin, we shouldn’t accommodate to things than can be potentially hurtful to us. Publishing and media as a whole should make a greater effort to create a safe space that we can navigate without that fear at the back of our minds of being dehumanized.

Lynn: Oh goodness yes the microaggressions. I honestly find that they bother me more the more I learn, especially when some of the classic ones you mentioned are so easily avoided with the only meaning lost being “friendship is a lesser type of relationship” which… firstly, no, it isn’t. Secondly, why wouldn’t you want to learn how to be more accurate with your language?

Fadwa: And exactly, those sentences not being there never changes anything to the story itself which makes them easily removable so why not just… listen to us for once and remove them?

Claudie: So, beyond publishers and authors making an effort to watch their language, are there any other steps you’d like to see taken? Resources you’d love to have? I’ve had a few publishers change their call for subs to explicitly include deep, meaningful relationships beyond romance in their calls after I pointed out the problem for aro people, but that’s only one element.

Rosiee: Publishers changing the way they describe their calls for submissions is a great step, but it’s very common to see gatekeepers–editors, agents etc.–use exclusive language in their calls for submission, even when they’re attempting to be inclusive. I’ve seen agents and editors call for subs by singling out m/m or f/f as if those two designations encompass all queer experiences. I’d like to see more gatekeepers make an effort to educate themselves about the identities they want to boost.

Lynn: Those are some really good points, Rosiee. I think there’s still a ton of awareness that needs to be raised in general. It’s easy to try to be inclusive of the most visible groups, but that just leaves the less-visible ones in the dust.

Rosiee: It isn’t allyship unless it uplifts us all. I actually recently saw this happen with an agent during a Q&A session. The agent was asked about writing f/f as a non-queer person and–trigger warning for aphobia and bi/panphobia here–the agent said that unless the author has had sex with a woman, she cannot write f/f. The agent’s statement was acephobic to begin with, but it also erases so many other experiences and identities that do not require actions to be valid, since sexuality is about feelings and attraction, not about actions.

Fadwa: That…was kind of jarring to read so thank you for the TW!  at the end of the day, we’re all bound to mess up sometimes, you can’t get it right from the first try but things like this are just… a given. This is basically 101 allyship and at this point we should be past that, we should have the basics nailed down and be working towards how to be better and make publishing (and other industries) a safe space for everyone. So it’s kind of disheartening when we’re still working on the very basics of allyship. Take as an example Valentine’s Day. Being on social media was hard, because everything was so amatonormative and aggressively romance centric. There was so much emphasis on having a romantic partner and the fact that your life is lacking and that “you shouldn’t despair” if you don’t have one. Every other tweet was erasing or invalidating aro people. I wish more people were aware of the fact that there is more to love than romantic love.

Rosiee: That’s a really good point, Fadwa! Valentine’s Day is such a tough day because of the romance centric language used basically everywhere. I also saw a fair bit of arophobia disguised as ace-inclusion.

Claudie: Valentine’s Day is always such a mess. I’m glad we have Aromantic Awareness Week right after to wash some of the aftertaste away.  Do you think your aromanticism impacts the way you develop platonic relationships? How so? In your priorities, the ways you choose to engage or not?

Lynn: Probably? I think it’s more that society’s view impacts it, though. You know that whole thing about how men and women can’t be ‘just friends’? That’s been really strong with some of the friendships I’ve had and I have moments where I’m just not sure if people will misinterpret the fact that I’m a touch-oriented cuddly person. That does not mean I’m into someone romantically (or sexually). It just means I like hugs and show affection through hugs. I can end up with anxiety because I don’t know how people interpret my actions and I worry about them thinking I’ve somehow tried to lead them on. And it sucks when you can’t tell people you love them platonically because the moment they reach ‘love’, they’re already misinterpreting your meaning and nothing else matters. Or possibly that’s just some people getting hung up on failing to understand aromanticism, but it still hurts.

Rosiee: Oof. That’s rough, Lynn. There’s so much communication that can happen through touch, and that anxiety is something I’ve definitely felt before. It’s so hard to know how someone else is reading your actions. I’ve also had a very opposite experience with regard to showing affection, since I’m not generally a very touchy person. I used to be a competitive swing dancer, and that community enforces an extremely allo culture, but also a very touch-centric culture (often conflating physical touch with physical attraction and gosh I could talk about that for paaages). People used to get offended or weirded out if I didn’t want to hug them after we had a fun dance or if I didn’t want to join the big cuddle pile, or didn’t want to go back to someone’s room alone with them for a “drink”. This has often resulted in some… not great insults used against me, and a general impression that I’m not fun. On the contrary, I’m actually a very friendly and outgoing person.

Fadwa: I saw a lot of myself in what Rosiee said, I am naturally a very outgoing and flirty person and not gonna lie, I enjoy flirting but I have been numbered a tease because with that comes the expectation of something either romantic or sexual, whereas to me, nothing means that I want something non-platonic unless I state that’s what I want. I detest the “mixed signals” culture because why would you interpret my words as more than what they are when they mean nothing more than what I actually say. This all has made for some pretty unpleasant, and sometimes traumatizing experiences that turned me into a person who always keeps people at arms’ length out of fear and anxiety that people would get the wrong impression, which goes against my nature of being an outgoing person. I especially love sarcasm and teasing people but that’s like the number one thing that always gets taken the wrong way. I’m always hyper aware of what I say and what I do and go out of my way to tone down my personality, because I’d rather that than live in constant anxiety.

Rosiee: I also find that a lot of people enter into conversations or try to get to know me with a romantic or sexual agenda, and that’s really difficult for me to navigate. I enjoy flirting sometimes, and since I am outgoing, I worry that can be misread. This means I often don’t engage with people, or I’ll sometimes bring up my identities in conversation as a buffer. I want to get better about asserting my boundaries without those qualifications, though, and I hope I can get more comfortable saying what I want and don’t want without feeling like I have to out myself to strangers.

Lynn: Those are both such rough experiences to deal with. I think it’s incredibly telling that I’m neither very flirty nor very outgoing and I still see a lot of myself in what you’re both saying. I actually spend a lot of time online curbing my tendency to sarcasm and personality for the same reason.

Claudie: It seems that it’s not so much how you form relationships that leads to tension or unfortunate experiences, but other people’s expectations of the relationship. That’s part of what I wanted to discuss, after a fashion? I’ve seen a lot of heterosexual colleagues decide whether to spend time with someone based on whether there was potential for a romantic and/or sexual relationship there. I always find it super jarring and demeaning.

Rosiee : Ohhhh yes, Claudie! That’s happened to me and it’s awful! The whole “friendzone” nonsense of people choosing to spend time only on romantic interests is really disheartening, and I’ve lost a lot of so-called friends after they discover I’m not interested in that kind of relationship with them.

Lynn: I’m so sorry you’ve had that happen to you, Rosiee. I think for me it’s why I seem drawn to friendships with people who generally aren’t attracted to people like me? That takes some of the pressure off because we’re both clear on where the relationship can go.

Claudie: The world is an alloromantic mess™. More seriously, and in an hopefully more uplifting topic, what are some real-life platonic relationships that were/are major for you? How do you think fiction could do a better job reflecting those? Or is it doing well?

Lynn: I’d like more friendship break-up stories. Sometimes those are bad and we have very little, if any, tools on how to deal with that compared with romantic break-ups. Fiction could do a much better job reflecting platonic relationships if it just… let them be as powerful and impactful as romantic ones. Ideally, I’d like it to happen without the relationship being likened to that of siblings too. We could do with more sibling relationships in fiction too, but not all platonic relationships are like that and I’d love to see fiction reflect a range of relationship types.

Fadwa: THANK YOU! Not all platonic relationships have to be likened to siblings. It’s not either romance or siblings, there’s such a wide variety of platonic relationships that just *are* and don’t need to be either.

Rosiee: THIS!!! We often treat anyone who isn’t related as potential romantic partners in fiction, and that’s just… not how it works. Friendships are so valuable, and so so powerful, and… I don’t know about the rest of you, but most of my good friends aren’t related to me.

Fadwa: Also, YES to more friendship break-ups!! I went through some very painful ones in my life, and I always felt like my pain was an overreaction because in all the media I consumed (and I consumed a lot), they were never given importance and romantic break-ups were just “the worst kind” whereas in my experience, friendship break-ups can hurt just as much, and more in some cases.

One relationship that has been major and somewhat pivotal in my life is my relationship with my best friend of nine years now. We were inseparable in high school, now life and school have taken us our separate ways -physically- but we’re still as close. There’s one thing to know about me, I’m touch-averse because of trauma, a lot less now than when i was in High school, but when I say that this friendship has been pivotal for me, it’s because this person is the one person I was okay touching me unsolicited for the longest time and we were very tactile at school, always hugging or holding hands or just having our arms around each other and not once has that relationship crossed into romantic or sexual territory and yet a lot of people sexualized it, asking us if we were secretly together, just because we were very affectionate towards each other and didn’t see a point in hiding it. And this is something I want to see more more: normalized affectionate touch in platonic relationships.

Claudie: The sexualization is awful, Fadwa. I get this with my best friend, too. He’s gay, but since we’re a man and a woman hanging out together and obviously very close, we keep getting called a couple.

Rosiee: I would love to see fiction reflect more relationships that aren’t treated like possible romances. There’s so much “shipping” that happens in fiction, where everyone is a possible love-interest, but I would love to see strong friendship-interests as well. And, similarly to Lynn, I’d love to see more friendship break-up stories… and then I’d love to see stories that also tackle repairing a broken friendship. In fiction, we see so many friendships that are just easy and require no work or effort, and those are often eclipsed by new romantic relationships.

One of the most impactful platonic relationships in my life is with a man, and what made this relationship so powerful was a combination of two things: 1. It was clear from the start, in no uncertain terms, that our relationship would never turn sexual or romantic because we had very different worldviews that would never be compatible in a relationship, and 2. We started our relationship off with what I thought was an irreconcilable disagreement, and then worked very hard to repair the wounds from that argument.

Claudie: Thank you so much everyone. This has been an amazing in-depth discussion, and I’m glad you joined us for it. If you haven’t done so at the start, please give us any social media, blogs, book buying links and etc. so we can link back to you properly!

Lynn: Ah, the age-old linking practice. XD [waves] I have a Patreon where I discuss academic papers about asexuality – send me your papers on aromanticism because I will pounce on them so fast lightning looks slow! – and my own writing, which features predominantly ace and aro characters.

Rosiee: Everyone should check out Lynn’s very good novel in verse, THE ICE PRINCESS’S FAIR ILLUSION! I loved it 😉 You can find me over on twitter @rosieethor or check out my work on rosieethor.com. If you like science fantasy featuring an aro/ace protagonist (and some sapphic lady romance too) you can pre-order my debut TARNISHED ARE THE STARS

Fadwa: I blog over on Word Wonders where I advocate for all things diversity in publishing, and am very active on my twitter and bookish instagram.

Claudie: Thank you everyone. And thanks to everyone who read through the roundtable, too! If you find yourself wishing to have more platonic fiction with aromantic characters, don’t forget to back our awesome kickstarter for Common Bonds!

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Fave Five: Aromantic MCs in SFF

Baker Thief by Claudie Arseneault

The Last 8 by Laura Pohl

Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie

The Lifeline Signal by RoAnna Sylver

Seafoam and Silence by Lynn O’Connacht

Black History Month 2019

Last year, I posted this on the last day of Black History Month as part of the Around the Blogosqueer feature. This year, I thought it’d be nice to start a tradition of just adding to it every year as a BHM staple, keeping the old stuff but continuously providing new content, and posting it in th middle of February. Living history FTW.

Sites

Sistahs on the ShelfSotS is run by Rena, a Black lesbian who reviews Black lesbian books. You can also follow on Twitter at @SotS!

WoC in Romance – this is a site highlighting all Romance written by WoC, but there’s a page just for LGBTQ Romances. It’s run by Rebekah Weatherspoon, whose name you may recognize as being a prolific author of LGBTQ lit herself! You can follow on Twitter at @WOCInRomance, and make sure you check out their Patreon; link is in the pinned tweet!

Black Lesbian Literary Collective – To nab from their site, “The Black Lesbian Literary Collective creates a nurturing and sustainable environment for Black lesbian and queer women of color writers.” Looking for more reviews of Black lesbian fic? Ta da! The site is new, so it’s not packed with posts just yet, but there is already an active radio show linked to it. Find them on Twitter at @LezWriters.

The Brown Bookshelf – this is a site dedicated to Black kidlit; here are the posts that come up if you search LGBT.

Books

*=new additions this year

Middle-Grade

Young Adult

NA/Adult Contemporary

NA/Adult (Speculative)

Comics

Featured Authors

Posts and Featured Authors

Have more to share? Add them in the comments!

 

Mental Illness and Treatment in Urban Fantasy: a Guest Post by Power Surge Author Sara Codair

Today on the site we’re welcoming Sara Codair, author of Power Surge, the first book in the Evanstar Chronicles, starring a non-binary character who has Depression and ADHD. Here are some details on the book:

PowerSurge-fErin has just realized that for the entirety of their life, their family has lied to them. Their Sight has been masked for years, so Erin thought the Pixies and Mermaids were hallucinations. Not only are the supernatural creatures they see daily real, but their grandmother is an Elf, meaning Erin isn’t fully human. On top of that, the dreams Erin thought were nightmares are actually prophecies.

While dealing with the anger they have over all of the lies, they are getting used to their new boyfriend, their boyfriend’s bullying ex, and the fact that they come from a family of Demon Hunters. As Erin struggles through everything weighing on them, they uncover a Demon plot to take over the world.

Erin just wants some time to work through it all on their own terms, but that’s going to have to wait until after they help save the world.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * Ninestar Press * Smashwords 

And here’s the post!

***

One thing readers might no get from reading the blurb of my recent release, Power Surge, is that for the main character, Erin, finding a way to manage their mental illness is as a key to their survival as defeating the demon that is hunting them.

When I started writing Power Surge, I didn’t set out to write a book about anxiety, depression, and ADHD. At eighteen, when I first dreamed up the characters, I didn’t know half of what I now. I certainly didn’t expect this book to be one of the things that lead me to actually get treatment for my own mental illness.

I worked on Power Surge on and off for more than a decade. With each revision, it evolved, growing into something more complex until it wasn’t just a book about saving the world from a demon apocalypse, but it was the kind of book I wish I read during the worst of my teenage years.

As a teenager, I never wanted to admit I could be influenced by anything whether it be friends, parents, teachers or fictional characters. However, as an adult, I can see that in spite of my drive resist all influence, my favorite characters had a huge impact on me. It’s no coincidence that I was constantly buying the longest sweaters I could find because they looked like Jedi robes while I was reading my way through the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

In addition to falsely claiming I was above the influence of everything, teenage me was also in deniable experiencing my first real depression.

During my sophomore year of high school, I was a mess.

My mom had cancer. I’d broken up with my first disaster of a boyfriend. My brain chemistry was probably disastrous. I was just as bad at fitting in and socializing with the students at a big high school as I had been in a tiny catholic middle school.

I hated myself as much as I loved myself. Loathing and arrogance ripped me apart. I ran knives over my skin, gently at first, then harder and harder until one day, I sliced my hand open and liked how it felt. I remember being happy people realized how much I was hurting, and then being terrified about what that would mean.

I needed help. I refused to get it because I fully believed in the stigmas around mental illness and its treatment. I was convinced antidepressants would change my personality. I thought counselors or anyone who practiced psychology would try to stuff me in boxes and give me advice that didn’t apply to me. I saw getting professional help as a sign of weakness. Friends and family tried to tell me none of those things were true, but I didn’t believe them. I didn’t listen to them. I should’ve.

This was also the time of my life when I fell in love with reading. It was a temporary escape from the darkness of my own mind, and far more influential than television, friends, and family.

Books made me listen in a way that no person ever could, so I often think that if I read enough books where my favorite, magic-wielding characters had positive experiences at therapy, I might have been more open to trying it. Unfortunately, I never came across a book with the message that inspired me to seek treatment.

I never saw my favorite characters seeking treatment for mental illness. The few counselors or therapist that did appear in my favorite urban fantasies were often obstacles people had to get around after saying something to the wrong person about the existence of the supernatural. Other times, the counselor was someone the main character visited when they were in the process of figuring out if some supernatural thing was real or not. It was never because the characters actually thought they needed to be there.

It’s hard for me to say how much better the rep is now than it was when I was a teen. When I think about what I’ve read in the past few years, very little stands out as having great rep of both mental illness and its treatments, but last year, I only read twenty-nine books.

Whether they are already out in the world or not, we need books that will fight those stigmas, especially for teens like the one I used to be.

I never found the messages I needed about mental health in my favorite books, but I did find it through writing.

Like me, many of my characters struggle with things like anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Like me at the time, those characters weren’t in therapy and they weren’t on meds, and it wasn’t working out well for them. Seeing how hard anxiety was making life for my character helped me see how hard it was making life for me.

However, there was more at play than that. Heavily influenced by the plot devices and stigmas I grew up seeing, I found myself using them in my own stories. In Power Surge, medication for ADHD and depression prevented Erin from seeing through glamours supernatural beings used to hide themselves from humans.

Yet, writing these tropes is what lead me to challenge them. I spent a lot of time researching medications for depression and ADHD so I could explain how and why they blocked Erin’s True Sight. That research is what made me first realize that medication might actually help me manage my yet to be diagnosed mental illness. It gave me the courage to talk to my doctor about what I was going through, ask for references for therapists and psychiatrists.

After finally seeing how helpful treatment could be, I revisited how it was portrayed in Power Surge. I chose not to remove it as plot device but to change the way it was viewed. Instead of narrative viewing medication as an obstacle, the lack of it becomes one of the things standing between Erin and their goals.

Erin is aware that they need therapy and the right medications to properly manage their symptoms. Not being able to take them because of dangerous side effects is a major obstacle – one that makes it harder for Erin to cope with everything else that is going on.

For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t say how this plays out in book one However, I don’t think it gives too much away to say that in the sequel, Erin finally gets to experience being on the medication that is right for them, and it has no negative impact on their Sight or any of the powers they developed in book one.

I wonder if as a teenager, if I had seen a character I admired wanting help and wanting medication, could it have broken through my wall of stubbornness. Would seeing how hard it was for that character to cope in book one and then how much better they coped in book two on the right medication have made a crack in the ice that no friend or family member could break?

I’ll never have the answer to that question, but I hope that if a young, mentally ill person does read Power Surge it helps them in some way, whether it is by showing them that it is okay to need medication, or just by showing them that they are not alone.

***

winter headshot bwSara Codair teaches and tutors writing at a community college and has published over fifty short stories and poems. Their cat, Goose, edits their work by deleting entire pages. Sara’s stories appear in Broadswords and Blasters, Vulture Bones, Alternative Truths, and Drabbledark.  Sara’s first novel, Power Surge, was published on Oct. 1, 2018.

Find Sara online at https://saracodair.com/ or @shatteredsmooth.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Temper: Deference by Lila Mina

Today on the site we have the cover reveal of Temper: Deference by Lila Mina, the first book in an adult polyam paranormal romance series with BDSM themes.

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Short-tempered Lana Martin is a workaholic consultant based in Tokyo. Not one to turn down a challenge, she accepts the indecent proposal of her abrasive martial arts’ instructor to become his submissive in a dynamic that tests her resilience.

Spreading like wildfire, their affair lights up another blaze, this time between Lana and Honda’s wife, the sophisticated socialite Yuki. Fearless, Lana embraces what her two masters offer her.

Yet, unbeknown to her, their powerful desire rouses dark powers who waited for decades to claim their prizes. Lana must confront the enemy eating her from within, while pulling back Honda from the edge of madness. Yuki’s unwavering strength keeps them sane – but for how long?

On to the cover, designed by Giulia Natsumi!

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Preorder now: Amazon * Kobo * Smashwords 

And now an excerpt!

Yuki stopped by the reading room on their way out. “Goshujin sama, we are leaving. We will be at Chicago’s Soul, have a nice evening.”

Lana was already in the genkan and didn’t hear his reply. “Will there be any gig tonight?” she asked as they climbed into the taxi.

“There are always several live acts. At this hour, we might still catch a couple. Afterward, DJs take over the place.” Yuki took Lana’s hand and squeezed it. “Now, let’s make good use of tonight to get to know each other better. I intend to make you drink enough champagne to have you spill out your life story, sweetling,” she chuckled.

Lana’s smile turned forced. She would have to control her intake because she wasn’t ready for this. “Hm, I’ll make sure you don’t spike my drink, then. Who knows what would happen to me? I could wake up in your bed and not remember anything, or something just as terrible,” she smirked.

Yuki’s laugh sent new butterflies to Lana’s stomach, but nice one this time. Honda sama, you idiot, why can’t you be content with such a queen at your side…

Yuki leaned toward her ear, warm breath sending shivers along her spine. “Now I regret not having ordered a limousine with a privacy screen. It would be bad press to give this grandpa a good show; and we wouldn’t hear the end of it.”

Lana closed her eyes and stifled a moan. “Let’s wait a bit longer,” she whispered.

“Don’t worry, neko chan, our VIP lounge is a separate room with full privacy.” Both women shared a steamy look filled with promises before falling back into a comfortable silence while their taxi brought them to Shibuya district.

The exclusive nightclub Chicago’s Soul occupied a four-stories high building. Hundreds of patrons waited in line, but Yuki brought them without hesitation to the VIP entrance. She didn’t even have to show her member card for the doors to open wide. Two hostesses brought them to their lounge. Lana discovered a spacious room, all in burgundy, red, and black tones, with large sofas. A bay window offered a perfect view of the dance-floor and scene, two floors below.

“Champagne?” Yuki asked, offering Lana a flute.

After a toast, Lana pointed at the jazz band performing. “Do you mind if we go downstairs to listen? It’s been ages since I had the chance to enjoy live jazz and I’d love to be closer than this.”

“Of course! There’s a table booked for us. This band is so good, they come back every year from Chicago, and the crowds love them. Come on, let’s go.” Yuki grabbed Lana’s hand and led them to the flight of stairs.

As soon as they sat at the table, only a few meters away from the scene, Lana found herself lost in the amazing performance of the band. The saxophonist was gifted, and his music stirred a whirlpool of emotions flushing her cheeks and making her hands shake. Warm fingers squeezed her wrist.

“I wish you could see the look on your face and those sparkles in your eyes, sweetling. I am so happy we came here tonight. It was high time you enjoyed something pleasurable and easy,” Yuki said in her ear.

Tears blurred Lana’s sight, and she pressed her companion’s hand back. “I didn’t think I needed it, but it seems like I truly did. Thank you, Yuki sama.”

They remained at their table for about one hour, savoring a fresh bottle of champagne until the concert came to an end. Like everyone else, they jumped on their feet for a standing ovation.

“Dancing time!” Yuki exclaimed. “Do you want to go back to our lounge, or shall we stay here and join the crowd when there is some movement going on?”

“Why don’t we remain here for a while? I’m dying to hear how, you, the eldest daughter of a fearsome industry tycoon, get to open the doors of the most exclusive nightclubs in stride?”

Yuki laughed; she massaged Lana’s thigh under the table, and let her fingers crawl up, sending electric shocks to her companion’s core. “Well, you see, while my father has given me the same education as my brothers, to his eternal frustration, he’s never been able to curb my endless search for personal freedom. My desire to explore my drives and be truthful to myself. My mother understood it and helped me, enabling many of my wildest choices–including my love for partying. My father was mad at us, but he never knew how to hold a grudge against her for long.” She caressed Lana’s cheek and took a shaky breath. “You would have loved her, and she would have definitely loved you.” Emotions thickened her voice.

Not caring about the crowd surrounding them, Lana leaned forward to kiss Yuki’s neck. Her lover cupped her cheek, pressed her lips and swept her tongue against hers, demanding entrance. Their deep kiss left them panting.

“Come on, let’s dance,” Yuki said huskily. “Show me what all this extra harsh training is about, sweetling.”

Lana gave her a dazzling smile and led her by the hand to the center of the dance floor. Soon, they were lost to the outside world, letting the fast beat and loud music take over their bodies, sweat drenching their backs. Lana’s desire for her companion built up fast, and she had to remind herself they weren’t alone. The fire in Yuki’s eyes told her a similar story when she grabbed Lana’s waist for a highly charged sensual dance.

“So neko chan, do you see anyone here who catches your eyes, whom you find… interesting?” Yuki purred in Lana’s ear.

Lana squeezed Yuki’s arm around her waist. “Yes, indeed. Lucky me, I’m in her arms,” she replied, beaming.

“So smooth and sweet.” Yuki replied with a large smile. “Now, don’t forget, you’re allowed to look… and more.”

Lana chuckled and shook her head. “As if I could have the energy or even the need to search for someone else with the two of you in my life. Right now, I am quite complete and content, oku sama.”

Yuki remained silent for a while, continuing her complex dance moves, and leading Lana through them. “Intimacy is such a serious thing for you. Why not try the fun side of it? How about finding out if any of those beautiful young ladies wants to come upstairs with us?”

Lana smiled against the smooth and damp skin of her lover, cupping her cheek. “I envy you so much for knowing who you are and for this freedom you’ve found. Please oku sama. Go ahead, ask one of them out, don’t mind me, you don’t need my blessing. Maybe one day I’ll get there, but right now, this is impossible.”

Yuki’s eyes flashed. They stopped dancing and found themselves in a bubble, surrounded by hundreds of dancers. Lana didn’t blink under the searching gaze of her companion.

“Of course not, I’m not ditching you! Hm… don’t take me wrong, but the two of you are so similar. All these years, goshujin sama gave me complete leeway, but when he met you, only then did he grant himself some self-indulgence. He chose you.”

Lana winced. “Ah, this must be hard for you–” A slender finger on her lips cut her off.

“No, it’s not. I’ve already told you why. And it’s such a blessing it’s you, and that I find myself drowning in your personality, care and your other delicious skills. He couldn’t have chosen better,” Yuki added with a warm smile before resuming dancing.

Lana followed suit but had to look away to hide her trouble. Chosen… always this word.

She exhaled to let go of her tension; her eyes found the VIP area on the second floor and fell on the last man she’d expected to see. Honda.

“Oh!” She came again to a stop, shocked. “I can’t believe it. He’s here, just outside the VIP room, by the stairs!”

Yuki didn’t even glance up or lose a beat. “Yes, he’s been there for fifteen minutes or so, watching us.”

“Did you expect him?”

“No, it’s the second or third time in the past ten years he’s come here. He dislikes the noise and such crowds. Maybe the picture of you in this amazing dress I sent him earlier did the trick,” Yuki teased.

Lana burst out laughing, her unease evaporating, replaced by the wicked pleasure to make jokes at his expense with the only other person who would get it.

“Oh my, this and the video of your incredible hip move I sent him!” Both women whooped in laughter. “All right, it’s nasty of us to give him such a nosebleed.”

Yuki snorted. “A nosebleed and something else, which must be bothering him a lot right now. We can always blame it on the alcohol, and if he complains, the door of my bedroom will be locked next week.”

Lana chuckled. “This is your prerogative.”

Something serious flickered again in Yuki’s eyes, and the older woman grabbed both hands of her companion. “Lana san, it’s yours as well. Let me be clear here. If you don’t want to join him when he asks you to, you don’t have to. You’re in his service, yes, but not at his service. Whatever role we play, whatever pledge of obedience you made. Your limits aren’t only there for when you’re already in action. They also apply before starting anything. If you want to give him the cold shoulder for one week or one month, it’s fine, as long as you are clear and forthcoming.”

Lana inhaled deeply. “My problem is not having to go to him when I don’t want to. Rather, the issue is, I always want to. Even now, even though we’re together, and I want you and would like to do so many naughty things to you on the spot…” They shared a knowing smile. “Knowing he’s here, I…” She blushed and looked away.

“You want to climb the stairs and join him,” Yuki purred in her ear, once again against Lana’s hip and chest.

“Yes!” Lana exclaimed, exasperated. “I’m mad at myself for being so weak when it comes to him, in particular when this is supposed to be our night.”

Yuki grabbed her neck and pulled her in for another deep kiss. “It is, sweetling. But this is also supposed to be a fun and relaxing time. The choice is yours: you can go up to him, stay with me, take me up with you, or leave us here and get back home.”

Lana groaned, tugged by many contradictions, and threw another look at the VIP space. What she saw made her frown and burst her self-pity bubble. “Yuki sama, there are several women around goshujin sama, vying for his attention.”

Yuki gave her a voracious smile but still, didn’t glance upstairs. “Oh, I’m sure there are, glittering moths drawn to a dark, brooding flame leaving them panting and all kinds of bothered. Don’t fret. He’s not going to spare them one glance.”

“Really? They’re so beautiful. It would be hard not to react, at least a little bit.”

Yuki went behind Lana and molded herself against her back. “Oh yes, they’re so lovely they make my eyes hurt and my mouth water, but he doesn’t work like this. They could be Miss Japan and jump him straight naked, he wouldn’t touch them. None of them would last even one minute with him, and he can’t even be bothered. Even I can’t always follow. Only you seem able to manage him at his highest degree. But perhaps it’s because this is not about fun but fight for the two of you, isn’t it?”

Once again, Lana turned silent and squeezed Yuki’s hand. Her words hit their marks with frightening accuracy, but it was also a relief to hear this truth expressed so plainly. Yuki nibbled her lover’s sweaty neck. “Come on now, let’s go upstairs, and rescue him from such unbearable harassment.”

***

An avid reader of thrillers, science-fiction, horror and romance, I have been writing for nearly 25 years. Lila Mina is one of my pen names.
I live in Japan. The rich and beautiful traditions, the amazing nature and the long history of this country are a constant source of creative inspiration.
I am a firm believer in cross-genre literature. Life is too complex, too rich and surprising to limit stories to one genre. I love blending them to create powerful characters, emotional plots and exciting stories that hopefully will stay a long time with my readers. My stories feature multiracial couples and sometimes menage who come together, bound by love and passion, to fight against forces bent on taking them apart.  

Help Wanted: LGBTQIA+ Magazine for Youth of Color

inQluded d00a_08a.pnginQluded, a digital magazine for LGBTQIA+ Youth of Color is currently looking for submissions and donations!

Who They Are

An online magazine, featuring:
Personal Essays
Poetry
Visual Art
Race
Culture
Politics
Pop Culture
Health
Short Stories
YA Fiction
Artist Interviews (video/written)
Monthly Playlists and more

What They Do

With a mission to create a safe space that honors and celebrates the voices of LGBTQIA+ Youth of Color, inQluded offers members of the LGBTQIA+ community a platform and literary community within which to tell stories that are about more than just their identities that will also exist beyond the online magazine through open mic nights, interactive panels, writing workshops, and mentorship and fellowship programs led by people of color.

What They’re Looking For 

Potential team members / editorial team staff, help circulating our gofundme campaign in order to reach our goal and professionals in the literary world who may be interested in supporting our programming.

Follow on social media: @inQluded

Better Know an Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia

Aaaaah! I’m so excited to have Tehlor Kay Mejia on the site today to discuss her upcoming debut, We Set the Dark on Fire, as well as her short stories, her upcoming work, and her general takeover of the publishing world. (Plus some really, really great books she loves.)

You are so wildly busy these days, I don’t even know where to begin, except that I obviously do: please tell readers all about your upcoming fantasy out this month, We Set the Dark on Fire!

Yes! We Set the Dark on Fire is a feminist, dystopian YA fantasy set in a Latin-American inspired country called Medio where upper class men are assigned two wives when they come of age. The book’s main character, Dani Vargas, is assigned to a very high profile political family along with a second wife – her longtime school rival Carmen Santos.

The government itself is very patriarchal and restrictive for women, and their husband is a nightmare, and on top of that Dani is hiding a major secret about her citizenship status in Medio – namely that it’s all a lie, and one that comes with deadly consequences if she’s found out. She’s approached early in the book to spy for a rebel organization fighting to bring equality to the two warring sides of the country, and it begins a book-long internal struggle for her about who she is and what her place is in this world.

Also there’s some f/f enemies-to-lovers going on and hopefully enough kissing to balance out some of the darker political vibes!

Before your first novel even released, you were already getting tapped for anthology work. Can you share a little bit about your stories in All Out and Toil & Trouble, and what it was like getting published in short-form first?

I had actually only ever written one short story when I was approached to do All Out, so I was really nervous. But Saundra Mitchell is an amazing editor, and even though the path to my story “Healing Rosa” wasn’t exactly straightforward I always felt really supported and free to explore what I needed to there. It was a really great experience for my first time ever being published, and I’m still really proud of the story (a queer historical tale of a teen curandera healing the girl she loves) and grateful to everyone who’s enjoyed it.

In Toil & Trouble I wanted to do something really contemporary and modern, the anthology is about witchcraft, and for most people that seems like a fantasy or paranormal theme. For me though, magic is culturally sort of ordinary in this beautiful way, and I wanted to take the opportunity to remind people that while “witches” are a very fantastical pop culture thing, witchcraft and a lot of the things we associate with it are actually daily occurrences in a lot of cultures.

Getting published in short form first was interesting, mostly because the themes both called for stories that are very different from We Set the Dark on Fire’s style, so I’ll be interested to see how people who loved those stories will respond to the novel.

In addition to your fantasy series, you’ve also got a (non-queer, I assume?) Middle Grade series coming up with Rick Riordan presents, but you’ve also got a co-authored novel coming up with LGBTQReads Fave Anna-Marie McLemore. What can you share about Meteor, and does it fall under the rainbow along with both of your other YA work?

There will definitely be queer characters in my Middle Grade, but no, not the main characters this time. And yes, we’ve been a little tight-lipped about Meteor so far! That will change as the release date gets closer, I promise.

For now I can say it’s a small-town book that really explores what it’s like being different when you’re under that kind of social and cultural microscope. The thing I love most about the book is that while there are two very swoony love interests, it’s primarily a story about how strong female friendship is, and how much it can overcome even when the friendship itself is complicated. Also yes, it’s very queer!

What was the experience of co-authoring like, and what kind of writers and friends would you recommend it for?

From my perspective I can say that it’s sort of unnerving at first to work with one of your heroes! I was such a fan of Anna-Marie’s work long before we were ever friends, let alone considering working together, so there was some definite anxiety when we actually got down to the process of getting words on the page.

Luckily for me, Anna-Marie isn’t only absurdly talented, but also one of the most gracious, kind people I know, so once we got into our groove the writing process was actually wonderful. We both have very distinctive styles, but I think we’re inspired by so many of the same feelings and experiences that it really grew from a place that felt organic. I believe to this day that there was something alchemical or magical happening during the process of our first draft, and we’re both really proud of the book and so excited to share it with the world next year.

As far as cowriting in general and who should do it, the only thing I’ll say is that communication is so important. It’s intense to allow someone into your creative space, not to mention the business aspect of things. I think you have to be willing to be so honest about what you each expect and/or want out of the experience at every stage. And that’s just the beginning, really. But if you feel like you can expect that from each other, it can really be beautiful.

You’re very heavily and wonderfully into promoting your Latinx author sibs, so here’s another shot to do that: any queer Latinx lit you’d like to give a shout?

Yes! Thank you! My favorite question! I’m so deeply grateful for Zoraida Cordova’s Labyrinth Lost for depicting a bi Latina in a fantasy setting. It was the first time I’d ever seen that identity intersection on the page, and it’s so, so well done. Then Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera, who is such a powerhouse, is a book I will never stop screaming about. It’s so unapologetically queer and such a handbook for finding your way to self-love as you embrace your identity and find your community.

In terms of upcoming books, I’m literally losing my cool over Adam Silvera writing a fantasy – Infinity Son is out in January, though I’m really gonna try to snag a copy before then let’s be real. And last but for sure not least is All of Us With Wings by Michelle Ruíz Keil, which might actually be my favorite book, ever. Post-punk San Francisco, a healthy dose of magical realism, a rockstar family, and a bi Mexican-American character that is the closest I’ve come to seeing my own experience reflected in a book. It’s out in June and you don’t want to miss it, trust me.

And speaking of recommendations, queer fantasy has been majorly on the rise, which is just delightful. Once readers have read and loved We Set the Dark on Fire, where do you recommend they go next?

Okay, right? There’s still so far to go in terms of reflecting more intersections but I’m so here for how much queer fantasy is happening right now. Of course, Audrey Coulthurst’s Of Fire and Stars (how excited are we all for a sequel this year?) Basically anything and everything by Malinda Lo, who is one of my forever heroes. I just finished Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan which was breathtaking. Current read is Black Wings Beating by Alex London, which I’m loving so far. And then Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is out the same day as my book and I think I might actually be more excited for her book than my own, so there’s a start!

What’s your first recollection of LGBTQAP rep in media, for better or for worse? How about queer Latinx rep in particular?

Ricky Vasquez from My So-Called Life was probably the first ever in both categories, and he will always have a very special place in my heart, even though he didn’t have much to do with my own personal queer awakening. Probably the first time I saw something I related to was in Empress of the World by Sara Ryan which I read in its entirety in a library chair my freshman year of high school just freaking out. It’s so heartening how much more queer content is out there in the media right now though, I really hope that makes it easier for teens today than it was for us growing up – although I’m sure this age of hyper-visibility has its own unique struggles, too.

It seems a little silly to ask what’s up next for you when we can see your dance card is full up until 2021 or so, so I’ll ask this instead: what writing opportunity would you still squeeze into your hectic schedule if it arose?

My answer to this has been the same since before she won the National Book Award, but I would absolutely lose my cool to collaborate with Elizabeth Acevedo in any way shape or form. I’m also very casually between-deadlines working on my very first adult project, which may never see the light of day, but is really exciting in a this-is-the-book-I-pretentiously-yearned-to-write-in-high-school kind of way. Lastly I’d really love to do more anthologies! Especially culturally inspired ones, but also just anything with an odd or super-specific theme.

We Set the Dark on Fire releases on February 26th. Preorder it now!

***

Tehlor Kay Mejia is an author of Young Adult and Middle Grade fantasy at home in the wild woods and alpine meadows of Southern Oregon. When she’s not writing, you can find her plucking at her guitar, stealing rosemary sprigs from overgrown gardens, or trying to make the perfect vegan tamale. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.

Queer Identity: a Guest Post by A Fall in Autumn Author Michael Williams

Please welcome to the site today Michael Williams, author of gay sci-fi detective novel A Fall in Autumn, which just released in January. He’s here today discussing Queer Identity vs. Queer Behavior, and how that conversation is relevant to his work. So before we get to the post, here’s the book info:

WELCOME TO THE LAST OF THE GREAT FLYING CITIES

It’s 9172, YE (Year of the Empire), and the future has forgotten its past.

Soaring miles over the Earth, Autumn, the sole surviving flying city, is filled to the brim with the manifold forms of humankind: from Human Plus “floor models” to the oppressed and disfranchised underclasses doing their dirty work and every imaginable variation between.

Valerius Bakhoum is a washed-up private eye and street hustler scraping by in Autumn. Late on his rent, fetishized and reviled for his imperfect genetics, stuck in the quicksand of his own heritage, Valerius is trying desperately to wrap up his too-short life when a mythical relic of humanity’s fog-shrouded past walks in and hires him to do one last job. What starts out as Valerius just taking a stranger’s money quickly turns into the biggest and most dangerous mystery he’s ever tried to crack – and Valerius is running out of time to solve it.

Now Autumn’s abandoned history – and the monsters and heroes that adorn it – are emerging from the shadows to threaten the few remaining things Valerius holds dear. Can the burned-out detective navigate the labyrinth of lies and maze of blind faith around him to save the City of Autumn from its greatest myth and deadliest threat as he navigates his feelings for his newest client, the handsome golem Alejandro?

Buy it on Amazon

And here’s the post!

Valerius Bakhoum, the narrator and protagonist of my new far-future sci fi detective novel A Fall in Autumn, is what’s called an Artie: an Artisanal Human. His mom and dad made him the old-fashioned way, which is unusual in the far-future world I strive to depict. Most people are some sort of “plus,” designed to be perfect from the start and given the benefit of routine genetic tuneups and treatments to stay that way, or they’re uplifted animals, given just enough sentience and a purpose-built design to do a specific set of tasks. Unlike them, Valerius grew up on a reservation for unmodified humanity. Kept away from specific technologies, constantly told they were special and important in a way others were not, they were treated like the Svalbard seed bank for human DNA. Their culture keeps them there just in case the geneticists of that time manage to royally screw things up and, like a writer after a bad cut and paste job, need to restore from an earlier backup.

Valerius is also gay, and disreputable, and a former street hustler, and a runaway, but I really wanted his experience as an Artie to speak to that first one. I wanted to depict the queer experience as an identity and not necessarily as a set of behaviors.

They say “write what you know,” right? They’re wrong, but they say it, and I certainly drew on some aspects of my own experience when working on this novel. I grew up in a remote part of Appalachia surrounded by real instances of all the bad stereotypes.  Racism, misogyny, and homophobia abounded. From a very early age I knew I would have to get out and go elsewhere to make a life, and I did just that. It didn’t matter that they told me it was about what queer people do. I knew I had already transgressed by virtue of who I was. I wanted to talk in a very explicit way about that sense of being the semi-invisible other. I wanted that alienation – and the drive to find a place he can call home – literally written into his DNA.

That’s the thing about our culture’s growing awareness of identity, right? Queerness isn’t something we do, though it may light the path to one or another set of actions. There’s no sexual activity threshold we have to meet or exceed to be queer, as the aces among us have been trying to tell us for years. Being queer isn’t like getting a driver’s license or sitting the bar: no study guide, no test to pass, no lab results to confirm. I have friends who are bisexual and have only had experiences with a single gender. Their bisexuality is still valid because it’s who they are, not a curriculum vitae. We just are queer, and we know it deep in ourselves, and in my experience that has shaped absolutely every interaction and relationship I’ve had in my life.

The society of A Fall in Autumn is in theory an egalitarian one offering full citizenship and equality under the law to all the many forms humanity has come to take. In practice, though, it’s plagued with the same inequalities in privilege, access, political clout, and financial resources as ours. Mannies – human-animal hybrids – are kept essentially as slaves. Plusses get all the goodies. And everyone can spot Valerius as an Artie the second they see him. He has laugh lines. His hair is starting to gray. He has an old scar on his face. In Valerius’ world, normal people never have those problems. Everything about him pisses someone else off, and everywhere Valerius goes he is fetishized or reviled – or both. It doesn’t matter to them who he is. It matters to them what he is. The ones who love him have pigeonholed Arties as admirably quaint, like the genetic equivalent of evangelical virgins, with purity rings and chastity pledges and the sort of doe-eyed wholesomeness that describes the butt of a gag out of an old Looney Tunes cartoon. They’d like to freeze him in amber, like Jurassic Park in reverse, to keep him pure forever. The ones who hate him think Valerius is less than they are and way too big for his britches. Why do Arties get to live in their own place and have religious types coo and fawn over them? And why is Valerius wasting all that privilege and goodwill by running around out in the regular world with the rest of the herd? What’s a living religious relic doing working cheating-boyfriend cases for the sorts of clients who can afford to pay but not much?

As queer people, I firmly believe we’re in the same position. Look at the way our society treats us: they pass transphobic “bathroom bills” while they revive Queer Eye and Will & Grace. They have an idea of what we’re about, what our experiences may be, but that idea is something they received from a source other than us and is entirely about our outer lives rather than our inner ones. They pick up these opinions and pass them around, often without the benefit of actually knowing any of us. When they find out about us – when we share with them this most basic element of who we are, of our outlook on the world, the medium by which we receive ever relationship of ever type for the rest of our lives from the moment we realize it about ourselves – it changes us in their minds. Sometimes that change is welcome, sometimes not. Some of them would sentence us to literal death for the sin of tempting them to freedom; others to a life behind the bars of social expectation in a prison of forever being the Gay Best Friend & Neighbor. Neither take has a lot of room in it for the social and spiritual clutter of being a person who’s alive.

The ‘phobes will always try to emphasize that dichotomy between identity and action, of course, to justify themselves, but they’ll do so on the other side of it. From the Briggs Initiative to HB2, they’ll say they hate us because they believe we’re predators. I have a theory, though, and it explains why we don’t have to do anything at all other than make a cameo in their fevered imaginations.

They’re scared of our willingness to question the script we were given, to assert that who we are is something different from what we were told we could be. It points out their own failure to do the same. We and they all heard the same stories growing up, that there was one acceptable identity, one pre-approved future, and we waved that off and decided we could do better for ourselves.

What if things could have been better for them, too?

That is what they really fear. Our existence confirms other paths were available to them all along – other ways of living, other ways of thinking about themselves, other ways of relating to their own desires, their own bodies, their own presentation – and some of them will never forgive us for that.

That freedom and power of spirit is our greatest strength, though, and we should never forget that. Those bisexual friends who’ve always and only had relations and encounters with a single sex? By coming out, even if only to a few friends, even if only to themselves, they have made the world a little bit freer. Their queer children will thank them. Their queer hearts will beat longer and stronger unchained from fear.

By being true to ourselves we become beacons in the darkness leading others to their own truths about their own identities. And there are people for whom Valerius has been that, too. One of my publisher’s editors referred to Valerius as “tragic,” but to me his story is uplifting. Valerius knew who he was and what he wanted to be, and he took all the risks in the world to chase it.

Is there any better standard for success?

Does any other form of victory really matter?

***

Michael G. Williams writes wry horror: stories of monsters, macabre humor, and subverted expectations. He is the author of two series for Falstaff Books: The Withrow Chronicles, including Perishables (2012 Laine Cunningham Award), Tooth & Nail, Deal with the Devil, Attempted Immortality, and Nobody Gets Out Alive; a new series in The Shadow Council Archives featuring one of San Francisco’s most beloved figures, SERVANT/SOVEREIGN; and the science fiction noir A Fall in Autumn. Michael also writes short stories and contributes to tabletop RPG development. Michael strives to present the humor and humanity at the heart of horror and mystery.

Michael is also an avid podcaster, activist, reader, runner, and gaymer, and is a brother in St. Anthony Hall and Mu Beta Psi. He lives in Durham, NC, with his husband, two cats, two dogs, and more and better friends than he probably deserves.

New Releases: February 2019

What Makes You Beautiful by Bridget Liang (5th)

Logan Osborne knows he likes boys, but has not come out to his family or at school, and no one knows that he likes to sometimes wear girls’ clothes and makeup. When he starts at a school for the arts he finds a wider range of gender and orientation being accepted. Logan is attracted to Kyle, who has gay dads. But Kyle is straight. Logan finds he doesn’t like the way gay boys treat him, and a disturbing hookup with a boy who is fetishistic about Logan’s half-Asian background makes Logan even more confused about what he wants and who he is.

Encouraged and supported by his friends at school, Logan experiments with nail polish and more feminine clothes in public. Logan begins questioning his gender and decides to use they pronouns while trying to figure things out. Logan meets a classmate’s chosen mother, who is a transgender Chinese woman, and begins to come to terms with their gender identity. Realizing they are not a gay boy, but a transgender girl, Logan asks for people to call them Veronica. As a girl, does Veronica stand a chance with Kyle?

Buy it: Amazon

Poisoned in Light by Ben Alderson (11th)

This is the third and final book in the Dragori series.

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Zacriah is imprisoned within the city of Lilioira which is firmly under the control of Gordex. Separated from Hadrian and his allies, he tries to deal with a darkness that grows within him. A new, deadly power. Heart Magick.
The Druid will stop at nothing to retrieve the final Dragori to complete his ultimate plan of raising his kin once again. And all it takes is one failed rescue mission to set the wheels of doom in motion.

Time is not on the side of light.

War brews upon the horizon.

Buy it: Amazon

Robbergirl by S.T. Gibson (14th)

In a Sweden wracked by war and haunted by folk stories so dark they can only be spoken of in whispers, Helvig has been raised by her brigand father to steal whatever treasure catches her eye. When her men ambush a girl on the road with hair pale as death and a raven perched on her shoulder, Helvig cannot resist bringing home a truly unique prize: a genuine witch.

Drawn irresistibly into the other woman’s web, Helvig soon learns of Gerda’s reason for walking the icy border roads alone: to find the Queen who lives at the top of the world and kill her. Anyone else would be smart enough not to believe a children’s story, but Helvig is plagued by enchantments of her own, and she struggles to guard the sins of her past while growing closer to Gerda.

As Christmastide gives way to the thin-veiled days when ghosts are at their most vengeful, the two women find themselves on a journey through forest and Samiland to a final confrontation that will either redeem them or destroy them entirely.

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The Past and Other Things that Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson (19th)

38116996A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N 

Immoral Code by Lillian Clark (19th)

40062683For Nari, aka Narioka Diane, aka hacker digital alter ego “d0l0s,” it’s college and then a career at “one of the big ones,” like Google or Apple. Keagan, her sweet, sensitive boyfriend, is happy to follow her wherever she may lead. Reese is an ace/aro visual artist with plans to travel the world. Santiago is off to Stanford on a diving scholarship, with very real Olympic hopes. And Bellamy? Physics genius Bellamy is admitted to MIT—but the student loan she’d been counting on is denied when it turns out her estranged father—one Robert Foster—is loaded.

Nari isn’t about to let her friend’s dreams be squashed by a deadbeat billionaire, so she hatches a plan to steal just enough from Foster to allow Bellamy to achieve her goals.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

The Afterward by E.K. Johnston (19th)

36998181It has been a year since the mysterious godsgem cured Cadrium’s king and ushered in what promised to be a new golden age. The heroes who brought the gem home are renowned in story and song, but for two fellows on the quest, peace and prosperity do not come easily.

Apprentice Knight Kalanthe Ironheart wasn’t meant for heroism this early in life, and while she has no intention of giving up the notoriety she has earned, her reputation does not pay her bills. With time running out, Kalanthe may be forced to betray not her kingdom or her friends, but her own heart as she seeks a stable future for herself and those she loves.

Olsa Rhetsdaughter was never meant for heroism at all. Beggar, pick pocket, thief, she lived hand to mouth on the city streets until fortune–or fate–pulled her into Kalanthe’s orbit. And now she’s quite reluctant to leave it. Even more alarmingly, her fame has made her recognizable, which makes her profession difficult, and a choice between poverty and the noose isn’t much of a choice at all.

Both girls think their paths are laid out, but the godsgem isn’t quite done with them and that new golden age isn’t a sure thing yet.

In a tale both sweepingly epic and intensely personal, Kalanthe and Olsa fight to maintain their newfound independence and to find their way back to each other.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia (26th)

37868569At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg (26th)

Max: Chill. Sports. Video games. Gay and not a big deal, not to him, not to his mom, not to his buddies. And a secret: An encounter with an older kid that makes it hard to breathe, one that he doesn’t want to think about, ever.

Jordan: The opposite of chill. Poetry. His “wives” and the Chandler Mall. Never been kissed and searching for Mr. Right, who probably won’t like him anyway. And a secret: A spiraling out of control mother, and the knowledge that he’s the only one who can keep the family from falling apart.

Throw in a rickety, 1980s-era food truck called Coq Au Vinny. Add in prickly pears, cloud eggs, and a murky idea of what’s considered locally sourced and organic. Place it all in Mesa, Arizona, in June, where the temp regularly hits 114. And top it off with a touch of undeniable chemistry between utter opposites.

Over the course of one summer, two boys will have to face their biggest fears and decide what they’re willing to risk — to get the thing they want the most.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (26th)

29774026A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N 

Fave Five: Queer YAs About Grieving

37 Things I Love (in No Particular Order) by Kekla Magoon

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

I Felt a Funeral in My Brain by Will Walton

Coming up in 2019: The Meaning of Birds by Jaye Robin Brown

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