Please welcome Caitlin Alise Donovan to the site today to talk about In the Way of All Flesh, a paranormal f/f YA releasing on September 1, and how a book that didn’t begin queer sure ended up that way! First up, here’s a little more on the book:
Gloomy teenager Manee Srikwan wears long sleeves and keeps her hands to herself for a good reason–whenever she touches a person for the first time, she sees a vision of how they will die. Manee’s weird powers cause those around her nothing but misery and she’s long resigned herself to a life of loneliness. But her vivacious classmate, Stephanie Pierce, changes all that. She smashes through every wall Manee puts up and overturns every expectation. Much to Manee’s shock, Stephanie believes her about her powers. What’s more, she insists they can stop the deaths Manee sees from happening. When the two of them are together, it feels like they can do anything.
As the girls grow closer, Manee’s feelings for Stephanie blossom into love. She yearns to be more intimate but is anxious about breaking her all-important “hands-off ” rule. When she finally gives in to temptation, she sees a terrifying future where Stephanie is murdered—and Manee is her killer! Now Manee has a choice to make—will she fight this fate or let it rule her?
Buy It: RegalCrest
And here’s the post by author Caitlin Alise Donovan!
When talking about my book, In the Way of All Flesh, it often gives me a start to recall this was not originally a love story. Queer desire is the beating heart of the narrative and I can’t imagine the book without it, yet that story does exist. Its unfinished and clumsily scribbled in a beat-up journal, but it’s out there somewhere. A part of me longs to lay eyes on this strange, hollow shell of a story, but it’s unlikely I ever will. I wrote that draft when I was in high school, more than a decade ago. That scrappy little journal is lost to the ages.
When I look at things I wrote when I was younger, it jumps out to me that I always told queer stories. My stories were always centered on relationships between women and the token boyfriend for the protagonist was perfunctory at best. So when I got the idea “what if someone could see people’s future deaths and saw they would kill someone they loved?” I just automatically defaulted to the main character being a girl and her loved one being her female “best friend”. I would never for a second have thought to make her loved one a guy.
It never occurred to me to examine why I was so interested in writing intense relationships between women. It never occurred to me to make these characters anything but “best friends”. I was very removed from my own queerness and queerness in general in high school. If you had asked me about “gay subtext” in my stories back then, I would have goggled at you in confusion.
I revisited the idea for In the Way of All Flesh in college years later. By then, I had started to question my orientation and gotten more involved with the queer community. Now I looked at this story of a girl and her best friend and saw something I hadn’t before.
The relationship between the two girls, now called Stephanie and Manee, is intense and fraught. The main conflict of the story is that Manee can’t touch her friend for fear of seeing a gruesome vision of her death. And looking at this, I realized: Stephanie and Manee are obviously in love, aren’t they?
It blew my mind how much this simple idea improved the story; how much everything make sense now. I mean, doesn’t being in love make not being able to touch Stephanie way harder for Manee? Isn’t that more of a conflict, doesn’t her yearning make more sense that way? It was a very “duh” moment, this obviously always needed to be an element in a story, it was the story. You don’t really agonize over not being to touch a “friend”! But I didn’t see this at all when I was fourteen. That’s what heteronormativity will do to you. I’m glad I grew out of it.
Beta readers pointed out to me that there’s also a lot of queer subtext in the fantastical premise. Manee’s issues with physicality and her terror at the thought of touching the girl she loves parallel a young queer woman’s struggle with her sexuality. And even though I didn’t do it consciously, there’s lots of queer anxiety wrapped into the dramatic hook of the story. After all, isn’t the idea that entering a queer relationship is a death sentence (or at the very least a ticket to unhappiness) deeply ingrained in our media and culture? There’s entire lists dedicated to keeping track of all the gratuitous lesbian deaths in media. And Manee finds out a nebulous fate has decreed she’ll literally deliver death to the girl she loves if she crosses that line into a physical relationship. Can she fight that? That’s the question that drives the whole narrative.
It’s wild how this was clearly a queer story from the very beginning, but it took years for that to emerge. And once it did, so many things about the story made sense, retroactively.
But, hey, I guess you could say the same thing about the story’s author.
Caitlin Alise Donovan is a writer, teacher, blogger, poet and, above all, a huge geek for fiction (especially fantasy). Her dream of being an author began in the third grade when she started scribbling down stories about twin detectives and murderous ghosts in stray notebooks. Her passion only grew with age. Now she has a MFA in writing from Queens University in Charlotte and she has been published in several literary journals, including The Great Smokies Review. She has written professionally about fantasy, sci-fi and pop culture for several online companies, such as Epicstream.
When not creating novels, Caitlin works as an online ESL teacher and does freelance writing through her Patreon. She currently resides in North Carolina with her trouble-making cat.