Book Riot contributor and writer of their monthly horoscopes and book recommendations column Susie Dumond‘s QUEERLY BELOVED, a queer debut rom-com set in Tulsa, Oklahoma that follows semi-closeted baker and bridesmaid-for-hire Amy’s search for Happily Ever After — with the new mysterious lesbian in town, of course, but most importantly, with herself, to Katy Nishimoto at Dial Press, in an exclusive submission, by Jamie Carr at The Book Group (world).
Liz Bowery’s COVER STORY, a hate-to-love queer rom-com pitched as The West Wing meets RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE by way of THE HATING GAME, in which a viral photo forces two ruthless political staffers to fake a relationship to save their presidential candidate’s campaign, to Emily Ohanjanians at Mira, by Laura Zats at Headwater Literary Management (world English).
NYU MFA graduate Lillian Fishman‘s ACTS OF SERVICE, following a young queer woman’s consuming affair with a straight couple, a dangerous arrangement that forces her to interrogate her own desire and complicity; an examination that cuts to the heart of modern sexuality, power, politics and moral responsibility, to Parisa Ebrahimi at Hogarth, in a pre-empt, by Dan Kirschen at ICM (NA).
Griffin Prize-winning poet and scholar Billy-Ray Belcourt‘s A MINOR CHORUS, about an unnamed narrator who abandons his unfinished thesis to return to his hometown, where he has a series of intimate encounters with friends, lovers, and elders that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief, to David Ross at Hamish Hamilton Canada, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in fall 2022, by Stephanie Sinclair at CookeMcDermid (Canada).
2019 Lambda Fellow J K Chukwu‘s THE UNFORTUNATES, pitched in the vein of LUSTER, QUEENIE, and MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION, about a queer, half-Nigerian college student enraged and exhausted by the racism, tokenism, and indifference to the Black experience at her elite college, who pens a no-holds barred thesis (“to my advisors: Mr. White Supremacy, Mr. Capitalism, Ms. Racism”) documenting her search for the truth about The Unfortunates, an unlucky subset of her Black classmates who keep dying at the hands of white supremacy, to Millicent Bennett at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in a pre-empt, for publication in spring 2022, by Larissa Melo Pienkowski at Jill Grinberg Literary Management (world, excl. UK).
Zoe Sivak’s SEASON OF ASHES, about a biracial woman who flees to Paris following the start of the Haitian Revolution and into the inner circle of Robespierre and his mistress, where she must contend with her place in both uprisings, to Jen Monroe at Berkley, in a pre-empt, by Amy Elizabeth Bishop at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (world).
Young Adult Fiction
McDuffie Diversity Award-winning author of M.F.K.Nilah Magruder‘s REEL LOVE, based on the author’s experiences embracing being asexual, the graphic novel follows a young woman who goes on a summer trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains where she develops a passion for fishing, meets a boy, and learns there’s no getting away from growing up and from facing her questions about identity and love, to Polo Orozco at Random House Children’s, in a major deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in fall 2023, by Patrice Caldwell at New Leaf Literary & Media (world English).
Editor at ACC Art Books B.L. Radley’s STRICTLY NO HEROICS, a queer adventure love story pitched as Dumplin’ meets Deadpool, about a teen without powers trying to survive and find justice and love in a world filled with superheroes and villains, to Holly West at Feiwel and Friends, at auction, for publication in winter 2023, by Beth Marshea at Ladderbird Literary Agency.
Ciera Burch’s THE INEVITABILITY OF HOME, in which a Black girl is forced to meet her estranged, dying grandmother all while grappling with ancestral ghosts, a girl who wants to be more than friends, and a trove of secrets; pitched as perfect for fans of Nina LaCour and Jesmyn Ward, to Elizabeth Lee at Farrar, Straus Children’s, in a good deal, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, for publication in winter 2023, by Patrice Caldwell at New Leaf Literary & Media (world English).
Author of RULES FOR VANISHING Kate Alice Marshall’s THESE FLEETING SHADOWS, a queer supernatural in which a girl inherits her ancestral home, only to discover that a dark presence lurks within it—and within herself; with the help of the young woman, she must unlock the house’s secrets and her own if she wants to survive, to Maggie Rosenthal at Viking Children’s, in a good deal, in a two-book deal, for publication in 2022, by Lauren Spieller at TriadaUS Literary Agency (NA).
Brian Kennedy’s debut A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY, in which two boys—one who wants to be the biggest openly gay country music superstar, and one who, as the grandson of a faded Nashville star, hates country music more than anything—fall for each other while working at a Dollywood-esque theme park, to Kristin Daly Rens at Balzer & Bray, in a good deal, at auction, by Lauren Spieller at TriadaUS Literary Agency (world English).
Author of HOT DOG GIRL and VERONA COMICS Jennifer Dugan’s COVEN, in which a young witch must leave sunny California for dreary upstate New York after members of her coven are murdered under mysterious circumstances, illustrated by Kit Seaton, to Stephanie Pitts at Putnam Children’s, for publication in the fall of 2022, by Brooks Sherman at Janklow & Nesbit for the author, and by Ben Grange at L. Perkins Agency for the illustrator (world).
Author of WHO I WAS WITH HER and Lambda Literary Writer’s Retreat fellow Nita Tyndall‘s THE SONG I SANG UNCARING, set during the Swingjugend movement in 1930s and 1940s Berlin, centering around a girl who finds herself swept up in the culture and the resistance while falling for another girl in the middle of it all, again to Catherine Wallace at Harper Teen, for publication in summer 2022, by Eric Smith at P.S. Literary Agency (world English).
Patrice Caldwell’s WHERE SHADOWS REIGN, set in the aftermath of a war between vampires, humans, and the gods that created them, in which a vampire princess teams up with a seer, who only has visions of death, to journey to the island of the dead—a mythical place where all souls go at their end—to save her kidnapped best friend, to Vicki Lame at Wednesday Books, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in fall 2022, by Sara Megibow at kt literary (NA).
Author of the forthcoming IN DEEPER WATERS F.T. Lukens’s HOW TO SURVIVE EVER AFTER, pitched as Dungeons & Dragons meets CARRY ON, in which a group of teenagers, having just completed a quest to save their kingdom, now need to figure out what comes next while their de facto leader is accidentally crowned king and is caught up in a curse that requires him to find his soulmate before he turns 18, to Kate Prosswimmer at Margaret K. McElderry Books, in a nice deal, in an exclusive submission, for publication in spring 2022, by Eva Scalzo at Speilburg Literary Agency.
Activist, artist, filmmaker, and scholar Tourmaline‘s MARSHA: THE BEAUTY AND DEVIANCE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON, a biography of the legendary Black trans activist whose role in the 1969 Stonewall riots sparked the gay liberation movement, and whose fabulous, fearless life as a colorful trans woman still inspires the current wave of LGBTQ protests, to Amber Oliver at Tiny Reparations Books, at auction, for publication in fall 2022, by Georgia Frances King and Bridget Wagner Matzie at Aevitas Creative Management (world).
Culture columnist at Longreads Jeanna Kadlec’s HERETIC, a memoir in essays on life after leaving the evangelical church, queerness, and what faith looks like in the face of millennial loneliness and desire for community and meaning—all in light of the hold evangelicalism has on American politics, power structures, and pop culture, to Jenny Xu at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, at auction, by Dana Murphy at The Book Group (world).
Former senior editor at Out Lester Fabian Brathwaite’s RAGE: THE EVOLUTION OF A BLACK QUEER BODY IN AMERICA, a collection of essays about how his search for love thrust him into the crosshairs of a potent and specific brand of racism, converting his trauma into a weapon and critiquing the evolution of his Black queer consciousness, to Amber Oliver at Tiny Reparations Books, by Robert Guinsler at Sterling Lord Literistic (world).
Today we have an excerpt from Erin Moynihan’s upcoming Laurel Everywhere, a lesbian romance releasing November 10th from Ooligan Press! Here’s the story:
Laurel was named after the laurel bush, a nondescript plant that is found everywhere outside of Seattle, where she lives. Her siblings were also named for flora: Tansy after a pretty yellow flower that Laurel refuses to believe is a weed, and Rowan after a tree native to the Scottish Highlands. As the middle child, Laurel always felt boring compared to her outgoing siblings, like an outsider in her own family because of her idiosyncrasies.
But Laurel’s mom and siblings were killed in a car accident a month ago, and Laurel has begun to feel guilty about her sibling envy, her anger, and all she said and did when they were alive. As she and her dad work to figure out life without the rest of their family, Laurel is thankful for her two best friends, Hanna and Lyssa, whom she needs now more than ever. But since Hanna kissed Laurel, things have been weird between them.
Written from Laurel’s perspective, the story is sympathetic to first loves and heartbreaking loss.
Hanna, with her soft brown eyes and perfect olive skin and voice that sounds both frantic and calming at the same time. I’m lucky Hanna is a worrier and Lyssa is usually lost or getting kidnapped (it happened once). I’m also lucky Hanna made the two of us turn on Find My Friends a few years back. I told her Dad was taking me on a hike and she asked where and I didn’t respond. Then hours passed and her worry got the best of her.
She finds me in a laurel bush, with leaves framing my face and the smell of early-summer raindrops surrounding me. We’re somewhere east of Seattle—I remember Dad getting on the highway. I remember the city disappearing behind us and the mountains and trees appearing as the highway seemed to expand, lane after lane.
I’m somewhere near Snoqualmie Pass, I guess. I’m not sure if Hanna can see the irony of it all (she looks too frantic to even recognize that it’s a laurel bush)—not many people other than my mom regularly identify plants, but if anyone could, it would be Hanna. Hanna is a walking encyclopedia.
“Your face,” she says. I wipe my hand across my cheek and feel blood, as if the branches dared me to a duel, and I just sat there taking the punches. She grabs my hand and holds on so tightly her blood pumps against mine—pumping the life back into me. I’m being reborn from the bushes: a family-less Laurel Summers with raindrops on her forehead and dirt on her cheeks.
Two weeks ago I would have laughed if anyone told me the predicament I’d end up in. But in two weeks, I’ve gone from being part of a family of five to being part of a family of only two; I planned a funeral, and now I’ve gotten left behind in my namesake bush.
My first thought should be Dad. He’s not here. I’m not sure where he’s gone. Hanna looks worried and her mom is here too, standing a few feet away with the same expression on her face. A mirror image of Hanna herself, except with lighter skin and blonde hair. But my first thought isn’t Dad because maybe I’m not a very good daughter and in general not a very good person. Dad is all I have left and I should be looking for him, but instead my heart is melting and breaking into a million pieces because Hanna is holding my hand so tightly. I don’t want to let go because if I do, all the life she’s pumped back into me might spill out and I’ll end up a deflated balloon in the dirt.
“Where’s your dad?” Hanna asks me.
I open my mouth but the words don’t come out, which makes me wonder how long I’ve been underneath this bush, because my throat is dry and my lips feel like they’re glued together. It’s still light outside, so at least there’s that—the sun peeking through the rain clouds from earlier today. Instead of answering her, I point up the trail in the direction where I remember him stumbling away from me.
“You take her back to the car,” says Mrs. Jackson to Hanna. “I’ll look farther up. Hanna, call your father and tell him to get some people up here to search.” Hanna’s dad is a policeman. Hanna hates that he’s a policeman because she thinks the justice system is messed up, but Mr. Jackson says he became a policeman because he wanted to be a good one and show boys with dark skin like him they can become policemen too.
Hanna puts her arm around me and doesn’t even flinch when my damp clothes touch her dry ones. She composes a short message to Lyssa: “Found her. She’s fine.” The fact that they’re talking about me sprouts a warmth inside my chest. It’s nice to feel worried for sometimes, and it’s especially nice to think Hanna was paying attention to me and tracking my location. Even though it’s mostly because my family just died and I’m a loose cannon, lost in the woods near the pass on a trail to some unknown destination that nobody but Dad seems to know.
A loose cannon. That’s how I’d describe myself at the funeral. Dad cried the whole time: a steady, controlled flow of tears. I didn’t cry until the very end when they started a slide- show and I saw this one picture of Rowan, Tansy, and me. I realized I was the only one left alive in that picture and the realization made tears explode from my eyes. Hanna and Lyssa practically had to hold me down so I wouldn’t run away. Dad didn’t look at me; I don’t think he could bear it. If he’d seen me, he would’ve burst into tears too. Together, we would have drowned the whole funeral home—maybe the whole neighborhood—with so many tears even our rainy city of Seattle would be swallowed whole.
That was the last time I saw Hanna and Lyssa, as they were wrestling me down at the funeral. It was like the time in seventh grade when Daphne Peters threatened to report Lyssa for bringing alcohol to school and I nearly punched her in the face to stop her. Lyssa and Hanna held me back and lectured me about how if I’d punched her, we would’ve gotten into even more trouble, and how she was just talking herself up and didn’t really want to tell anyways. The funeral was like that, but much, much sadder.
Daphne Peters never did tell on Lyssa. I’d like to take credit for that because I scared her with my menacing twelve-year-old fist-swinging. (I’m not violent, I swear. Only when people are mean to my friends.)
Except at the funeral when they were wrestling me, I didn’t have anyone in front of me to punch. I wanted to punch the guy who was driving the truck but why would he dare be at the funeral? He probably can’t sleep at night. I can’t sleep at night. I wonder what the man who drove that truck looks like. I wonder if he feels bad about it all or if he couldn’t care less. I imagine him as a villain, large and intimidating, laughing in my face and at my mom’s little car, broken and smashed to pieces while his giant truck remained intact.
We slide into the backseat of Mrs. Jackson’s car. Hanna dusts off my pants and grabs my hands to stop them from shaking. The sun shines in through the windows and warms me up. Normally I’d be excited at the first sign of the season truly transitioning to summer, but instead I can’t stop shivering. My hands won’t stop shaking. They’ve been shaking almost nonstop for the past week, so I think it might just be one of those things that comes intertwined with death that nobody warns you about.
Hanna’s hands are warm against mine. Before the funeral, we hadn’t really spoken for a few weeks. She says it’s because she was busy, but I know it’s because we kissed and things got messy between us. But then my family died and I guess that made us forget about everything else, at least for a bit.
“I’m gonna call my dad,” she says.
Her voice sounds like it’s underwater. Like I can hear it but I can’t totally understand what she’s trying to say. She hands me a half-empty water bottle while she talks to her dad on the phone. I chug the water and it burns against my throat, which tells me I was lying underneath the laurel bush for longer than I thought. Long enough to become parched and for the sun to move across the sky.
“My dad is on his way,” she says. Hanna often talks to fill awkward silence, but lately she’s been running out of things to say to me. I stare out the window at the trees and shrubs sur- rounding the trailhead. Laurel bushes are scattered all over the ground. They’re everywhere. They make my chest tighten and a lump rise up in my throat.
She hesitates before asking, “Where—where do you think your dad went?”
I don’t know the answer. There’s a voice in my head that tells me he probably flung himself from the mountaintop, and another voice wonders if he was mauled by a bear. Yet another wonders why in the world Dad would leave me lying there in my namesake bush all alone.
He’d suggested we go hiking. The two of us hadn’t left the house in a few days and he’d said, “Why don’t we go on an adventure?” I should have known then. He sounded far too chipper to be serious, but I hopped into the car and went along with it anyways.
I mean, he did take us hiking. We pulled over at an un-marked trail and before I even zipped up my jacket, he was powering up the hill. “Laurel bushes,” he kept saying, pointing to the ground every time we passed a bush. “Look Laurel, you’re everywhere.”
I said something like “They’re everywhere,” and we both knew I wasn’t talking about bushes. Mom was always the one who loved to point out our namesake flowers. Mom was a gardener, and she named us after flowers because of course she did. Rowan, Laurel, and Tansy.
Now: just Laurel.
After I said and thought all of that, my legs turned wobbly and I needed to rest. I lay down in a laurel bush and listened to Dad’s footsteps slowly disappear into the distance. I thought he would come back for me.
Dad and I were always close. Mom and I were close too. I didn’t have a favorite. I lapped up Mom’s stories about astrology and herbal supplements and listened to Dad drone on about the difficulty of teaching English courses to freshmen who aren’t majoring in English.
But now that Dad left me alone in a laurel bush, Mom should probably be my favorite.
I didn’t have a favorite sibling either. Tansy and I would play games in the backyard, and I went to Rowan’s soccer games and cheered for him with all my heart. I’ve always been neutral in matters of family. Mom said it was because I am a Pisces. “You’re agreeable. You feel for others.” Mom blamed most of our actions on our star charts, like the time Rowan got caught hooking up with a girl in a school janitor closet and Mom blamed it on him being a wild Gemini rather than the fact that he was an idiot.
Maybe it’s too soon to call my dead brother an idiot, but he was. I didn’t—don’t—have a favorite sibling but objectively I can say Rowan is the least agreeable of the three of us. Was—is—I don’t know.
“We’ll take you back to your house,” Hanna says, filling the silence again. “I can see if Lyssa wants to come over. Or do you want to come to my house? We can do that too. That might be better. And then my mom can feed all three of us and we can watch old TV shows on Netflix.”
I don’t say anything and she decides that we’re going to her house. I would’ve picked that anyways, even if her voice didn’t sound underwater and I had the ability to speak again. Despite chugging the remains of the water bottle, my throat is still on fire.
“I’ll ask Lyssa to come over. Do you want Lyssa to come over?”
I nod. Lyssa helps—she gets it. Her mom is dead and she doesn’t know her dad because she’s been in the foster system since she was ten. She just tells people both her parents are dead because it’s easier than telling them that her dad was just really messed up. Right after the accident, Lyssa and Hanna came over. Hanna tried to help by cleaning the house, cooking food in the kitchen, and offering to help my dad with planning the funeral. Lyssa just sat on my bed and talked to me about things that weren’t my dead family, like music and the most recent season of The Bachelorette. Both were helpful in their own ways, but Lyssa feels calmer and less frantic. It’s less like she’s trying so hard to help and more like she just helps by being there.
Mr. Jackson pulls up in his police car, jumps right out, and meets Mrs. Jackson at the trailhead. They talk for a few minutes and then he disappears into the woods alongside a few more men and women in uniform. Mrs. Jackson makes her way back to the car, without my dad.
Did he leave me? Would he leave me? My parents left me one time in a Walmart. Mom said it was because I was the quiet one. Tansy was a baby and so she was attached to my mom in a backpack and Rowan was always talking and making noise. I got lost among the aisles of games and art supplies, and I didn’t even notice they’d left until Mom came frantically running around the corner and wrapped her arms around me. I sometimes wish she hadn’t told me they left and hadn’t made a big deal about it, because I often think about how they left me. I think about it a lot. If she’d just grabbed my hand and said, “Laurel, it’s time to go,” I would’ve had no idea they’d ever left.
Being left behind seems to be the plight of the middle child. Even without my brother and sister standing beside me, living and breathing and taking up space, I’ve still managed to be forgotten somewhere.
“John is looking for your dad,” Mrs. Jackson says. Her voice is calm but underneath I can tell she’s a storm. She sounds just like Hanna when Hanna tries to hide that she’s afraid.
“Thanks for picking me up.”
“You don’t have to thank me, honey.”
The trees pass by my window like we’re in a race and they’re trying to beat me home. The sun continues to dip, turning the sky above us dark. I should be back there in the woods, looking for Dad, but my legs are tired and my face is covered in cuts and scrapes. I feel as though I’m running low on gas, and if I stay and look for Dad, my engine might give out. Maybe it’s already given out.
What if they don’t find him? Or worse, what if they do and he’s…I can’t think about that. So, I watch the trees and I imagine how it would feel to get squished by a car and how I’m going to ask Tansy how it felt to die when I see her in heaven—if there is a heaven. I wouldn’t ask Mom or Rowan because both of them would lie. They’d try to tell me it felt like falling asleep. But Tansy, she’d be honest with me.
The trees pass by the farther we get from wherever Dad disappeared to. My phone lights up with a message from Lyssa linking to a Tumblr post full of Stranger Things theories. Hanna’s foot taps nervously against the floor of the car so loudly I can hear it over Mrs. Jackson’s music. I breathe in the air and wonder if ghosts are following me around now. If I breathe hard enough maybe I’ll consume them and I’ll be able to hear Mom and Tansy and Rowan inside of me.
Mom always told us ghosts were real.
Erin Moynihan is a debut novelist from Seattle, Washington, where she spends many rainy days typing away in coffee shops. Her editorial work has appeared on Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, The Mighty, and various other outlets. She has a background in social work, which informs the subject matter of her writing. She is passionate about elevating young female voices and breaking the stigma around mental health. When she’s not working, she’s likely spending time cuddling with her dog or adventuring around the Pacific Northwest. You can see what she’s up to at www.erinmoynihan.com
Today on the site I am so excited to be welcoming A.J. Sass, author of the groundbreaking middle grade contemporary Ana on the Edge, which releases today from Little, Brown Young Readers. Here’s a little more about the book:
For fans of George and Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, a heartfelt coming of age story about a nonbinary character navigating a binary world.
Twelve-year-old Ana-Marie Jin, the reigning US Juvenile figure skating champion, is not a frilly dress kind of kid. So, when Ana learns that next season’s program will be princess themed, doubt forms fast. Still, Ana tries to focus on training and putting together a stellar routine worthy of national success.
Once Ana meets Hayden, a transgender boy new to the rink, thoughts about the princess program and gender identity begin to take center stage. And when Hayden mistakes Ana for a boy, Ana doesn’t correct him and finds comfort in this boyish identity when he’s around. As their friendship develops, Ana realizes that it’s tricky juggling two different identities on one slippery sheet of ice. And with a major competition approaching, Ana must decide whether telling everyone the truth is worth risking years of hard work and sacrifice.
A month after I started hormone replacement therapy, my friends threw me a “T-party” in San Francisco’s Dolores Park. I’d recently come out as trans and chosen a name that has stayed with me to this day: Andrew. And pronouns? He, him, and his, because I’m a guy, obviously.
Hold that thought.
I remember that afternoon well. It was unusually warm for a July in San Francisco, and the outing felt festive, reminiscent of a Pride Month weekend just a few weeks earlier. I was surrounded by friends who’d supported me as I navigated both my social and medical transition. My world felt full of potential. Finally, I could focus on living my life rather than on coming out to everyone and the emotional labor that entailed.
Just the same, I found myself shrugging when a friend jokingly asked if, two injections into my transition, I’d noticed any physical changes yet.
“Not yet,” I’d said. Then, a slight hesitation before I admitted, “honestly, I’m not even sure I feel like a man at this point.”
“Give it time,” my friends who’d been on testosterone (T) longer encouraged me. “It’ll happen, especially when strangers stop misgendering you.”
Their advice was well-meaning and, I suspect, a truth for many folks who’ve pursued this particular avenue of transition. So I waited, and I hoped my feelings would change on a similar trajectory with my body.
I can’t remember the first time I heard the word nonbinary. Maybe I read an interview online or it came up in a casual conversation. What I do remember is the immediate connection I felt to its definition:
Nonbinary: not relating to, composed of, or involving just two things.
That’s me. I knew instantly.
So why did it take me another four years to decide to discontinue T and even longer to publicly announce my identity? Simple: I didn’t want to be a burden. I’d just come out as a trans man to my friends and family, then had to approach my workplace’s HR department to change my name and pronouns. There was a nagging concern that I’d be inconveniencing people after I’d already asked them to use one new name and set of pronouns.
And what if I realized that different pronouns worked better for me later on? How many times could I come out to people before they got fed up?
By the time I wrote Ana on the Edge, I was more or less comfortable being seen as a man in my public life, even if it didn’t perfectly describe who I am. But, as writing often does when you’re delving into something personal, Ana’s journey to discovering her nonbinary identity brought to the surface feelings and thoughts about my own.
I created an ending to Ana’s story that left things open, one that sent readers the message that, “hey, this kid now knows she’s nonbinary, but she doesn’t have everything figured out yet, and that’s okay.” But it wasn’t until relatively late in the drafting process—after I’d revised the story enough to begin querying agents—that I realized the same logic could be applied to myself.
It was a revelation that allowed me to critically evaluate how I wanted to be seen as an author who plans to continue exploring queer themes in the kidlit space. In a way, Ana, my fictional ‘enby bean’ ice skater, taught me that not knowing everything about myself all at once is not only acceptable but something to embrace. And the individuals who might not be so enthusiastic about having to learn a new set of pronouns? They’re not people worth being concerned about. My identity—an inherent part of who I am as a living, breathing, feeling human being—is not up for debate no matter how often it happens to evolve, nor is it an inconvenience.
Near the end of Ana’s story, she reflects on the decision not to change her pronouns yet: “Uncertainty feels like less of a burden and more of an opportunity.”
I’ve held that line close to me on the lead-up to publication. Because some people know who they are when they’re young, and that’s entirely valid. But for a long time, the only trans narratives I could find in the media exclusively reflected the experience that you either know you’re trans at a young age or else you’re not really trans.
People aren’t static. Our tastes, interests, and even appearances change as we learn more about ourselves over time. Why not the understanding of our internal sense of self, as well? Instead of the shame I’m tempted to feel for inconveniencing people when I learn something new about myself, Ana helped me acknowledge that my identity is my own, even at times when I’ve been uncertain about some aspect of it.
Maybe you were twelve like Ana when you discovered your identity or well into adulthood like I was. Maybe you’re still trying to figure it out now; that’s also perfectly fine. The wonderful thing about identity is it has no expiration date. Sit back, enjoy the journey, and celebrate every new discovery.
Parties (T, tea, or otherwise) are also highly recommended.
A. J. Sass is a writer, editor, and occasional mentor. A long-time figure skater, he has passed his U.S. Figure Skating Senior Moves in the Field and Free Skate tests, medaled twice at the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, and currently dabbles in ice dance. When he’s not exploring the world as much as possible, A. J. lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs. Ana on the Edge is his first novel.
Kathleen Jowitt is back on the site today, revealing an excerpt of her upcoming contemporary f/f litfic novel The Real World, which releases on November 2nd! Here’s the story:
Colette is trying to finish her PhD and trying not to think about what happens next. Her girlfriend wants to get married – but she also wants to become a vicar, and she can’t do both. Her ex-girlfriend never wanted to get married, but apparently she does now. Her supervisor is more interested in his TV career than in what she’s up to, and, of the two people she could talk to about any of this, one’s two hundred miles away, and the other one’s dead.
‘So,’ Lydia said when Rowan had left and they were standing out on the pavement, ‘since you brought up the subject of whatever God has lined up for us in 2017, bring it on, I thought I should let you know. I’ve decided.’
Colette had been expecting this, but it still landed hard. She took a breath in. ‘You’re going to do it. You’re going to do the whole “become a vicar” thing.’
Lydia smiled, and then tamed the smile. ‘I’m going to see how far I get, at least.’
‘OK,’ Colette said, very carefully. ‘So tell me what happens next.’
‘I talk to Marcus.’
Colette tucked her hand into Lydia’s elbow, with an obscure sense of having yielded ground. ‘Haven’t you been talking to him for the last year?’
Lydia nodded, smiling once again. ‘Yes. I mean, I follow up on that conversation we had before Christmas. I tell him that he’s right, it’s time to go for it.’
That seemed logical enough. ‘And then what does Marcus do about it?’
‘He passes me on to the DDO, who’ll probably give me another very long reading list.’
They turned right at the bottom of the hill to walk north-east along the riverbank. The water glittered in the thin sunlight. There was nothing between them and the breeze now. ‘Remind me who the DDO is?’
‘Diocesan Director of Ordinands. And then, if I’ve successfully jumped through all the hoops in between, they send me on a BAP.’
‘That’s the residential thing with all the interviews,’ Colette said triumphantly. ‘I remember Peter doing it.’ Twice. She added, ‘I don’t remember what it stands for, though.’
‘Bishop’s Advisory Panel.’
‘Nothing to do with bread products, then.’
‘In one sense.’ Lydia’s voice was brittle. ‘In another, it has everything to do with them.’
‘I suppose it does.’
They walked on in silence for a little while. Colette allowed herself to think that if it all went to plan and Lydia ended up in a vicarage then at least that would solve the problem of rent. Underneath that she was aware of mingled exhilaration and apprehension, and was not sure whether they belonged to herself or to Lydia.
‘If I get through that, then there’s three years of theological college, then there’s a curacy.’ Colette knew all this, but she let Lydia run through it once again. ‘One year as a deacon, then two as a priest. On the ground, serving people, loving people.’
‘Six years, then.’ It felt like a lifetime.
‘The next few months will be like what I’ve just done, but more so, going deeper. Talking more. Then I get to the BAP and it’s going to be hell.’
Colette nodded. ‘I told you the same thing when I started my PhD.’ She meant it as a warning, and she suspected that Lydia knew this. It was all very well to talk about following your passion (she had never used those words herself, but plenty of other people had used them on her behalf), but the cost had been more than she had anticipated; more, perhaps, than she had had at her disposal.
Lydia said, ‘And you were right.’ Her tone was gracefully neutral.
Colette considered how best to put it into words. ‘I said that, and I didn’t know what hell was like. Now I do.’
Lydia elaborated: ‘It might or might not be hell, and I have to do it either way.’
‘I know.’ She bit her lip. ‘I wish you didn’t.’
‘I think that’s how I would have felt about your PhD, if I’d known what it was going to be like for you.’
Colette tried not to let her surprise show. Lydia had never been anything other than supportive, up until now. ‘Fair’s fair, then?’ She raised her eyebrows.
‘I’ve been enjoying it up to now. I still am. It’s just… all got real. And the further I get into it, the more of myself I invest. And what if I’m wrong? What if they don’t want me? What if I’m not wrong and they still don’t want me?’
‘What indeed?’ It was probably not the most helpful response.
Lydia answered her own question. ‘I suppose I just keep on at the council until I work out what else to do.’
She found herself wishing that they had talked about it before. It was not really Lydia’s fault that they had not: Colette had, out of a combination of delicacy and cowardice, evaded the subject except insofar as it affected their lives on an immediate and practical level. ‘And what about me? Doesn’t my presence in your life throw a very large spanner into the works before you’ve even started?’
‘Marcus says no.’ Lydia did not sound convinced. ‘They’ll see past you.’
Colette said, with all the sarcasm that she could muster, ‘How gracious of them. I can hear Peter singing Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God at this very minute. Have you talked to him about it?’
‘Kind of. Bits of it.’ Lydia frowned. ‘He sort of gets it, and he sort of doesn’t.’
Colette wished that she had been more specific. ‘Because he’s already got through the process? Or because you’re gay, and he’s not?’
‘Yes. He gets the deep-down existential worry about, you know, who are you, if it turns out that you aren’t who you thought you were.’
‘Well, I would hope so,’ Colette said, remembering the fallout from the first time Peter had gone for selection, and been turned down.
Lydia nodded. ‘Yes. More than I hope I ever will, though I think he might be beginning to forget what that feels like. Because of course that is who he is. But… OK, he knows that I might be turned down for the wrong reasons, and he’s very ready to get angry about it on my behalf, but I don’t think he quite understands how much it’s been weighing me down even up to this point. How often I’ve said to myself that I won’t do it after all because of that.’
‘Well, yes, but the whole process…?’
‘Oh, yes, that.’ Lydia laughed. ‘He knows about that.’
‘And the… wanting to do it at all?’ Which was, Colette thought, the hardest thing of all to understand. She took her hand back, suddenly needing space.
Lydia nodded. ‘He wouldn’t have gone through the whole thing twice if he didn’t, would he?’
Children’s shrieks and laughter drifted across the river from the public gardens. ‘Where did it start?’ Colette asked, hurrying to get the words out before she lost her nerve. ‘When did you know?’
Lydia met Colette’s eye, and glanced away again. ‘The answer to that one changes every time I talk to Marcus.’
‘As far back as your church in Hastings?’
A self-deprecating smile. ‘Looking back that far, I can see it coming. Well, there was Sunday school, and holiday club, and the band. But no, that obviously wasn’t going to go anywhere. I was a bit too female.’
‘What about when you were a hall officer for Fellowship? Same thing?’
‘Yes, same thing. Still too female. And too gay.’ Lydia hesitated. ‘I think that I really began to understand when Becky died.’
Colette was silent: shocked, and impatient with herself for being shocked.
After a little while, Lydia said quietly, ‘There was nothing I could do. Nothing that anybody could do. Nothing that I could say to make anything better. Nothing that I could say that wouldn’t have been offensively trite. And yet there we all were, having to live in that house where she wasn’t any more. You and Will and Georgia, all devastated in your own different ways. And all I could do was to be there. Which in itself sounds offensively trite, now.’
‘You were there,’ Colette said, low, not entirely trusting herself.
Lydia glanced at her, judging, Colette supposed, how much further it was safe to go. ‘I think that up until that point I’d always thought, you know, it wasn’t as bad as all that, you could pray harder and things would look better. That God would give you strength. But when Becky… well, that was when I realised that no, it was exactly as awful as it looked, and I was still called to be there. At the foot of the cross, you know? I was more use to you than I was to Will or Georgia, I expect, but at least I was some use to somebody.’
Colette was not sure that she could bear much more of this line of thinking. She returned to the present. ‘What does it feel like?’ she asked.
‘Sometimes it feels like restlessness, like I know I’m not doing what I’m meant to be doing.’ She broke into a smile. ‘And sometimes it’s like this certainty at the back of my mind that this is what I’m going to do next, and when I’m not thinking about it then that’s what I think I’m going to do. Like, if I get asked the where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years question, then the answer that first comes to mind is well of course I’ll be a minister.’
‘The way your parents assume that of course you’re going to university, and so you do, too?’
‘Your parents, maybe. But yes, a bit like that. But more –’ She broke off, thought for a moment, and continued: ‘Did you ever have a moment of revelation, when it occurred to you that no straight person would worry as much as you were worrying about whether they might be queer?’
‘Oh. Yes. About three weeks after I started going out with Jess, actually.’ After two terms’ worth of a miserable crush on the Head Boy followed by the world-expanding experience of that unlikely relationship, it had been a liberating realisation for her. Judging by Lydia’s face, her feelings were more mixed. ‘So is that what it’s like?’
‘I think that’s what’s going on. Like, if God wasn’t calling me – to something,’ she added hastily – ‘then I wouldn’t spend so much time thinking about whether or not I was being called. Unless it’s, what’s it called when you think so much about something that you keep seeing it everywhere?’
‘Yes. That. But it doesn’t feel… I mean, it does feel…’ She shook her head. ‘Well, I did turn out to be gay. And so I think there probably is something going on, and it feels just as huge and important and impossible.’ Her face changed. ‘And then I think about it and I remember all the reasons why it might not be going to happen, and there’s this immense sadness about the whole thing. And – this is going to sound weird –’
‘It doesn’t feel like it’s all my sadness. Because I’m not sad at all, really. I like my job and I love you and I have a church where I feel like myself, and things are honestly really good. It’s like someone’s sad on my behalf, and sometimes I can hardly bear it.’
Colette looked behind them, then ahead, and put her right hand into Lydia’s pocket to take her left one. ‘And yet you keep going with it.’
Lydia’s expression was heartbreakingly earnest. ‘Of course I do. Because it’s an active kind of sadness; it’s quite close to anger; it keeps bubbling up through the cracks, and I know that if the answer is no then it’ll find something else to do, but I’ve got to follow it as far as it’s… navigable, I suppose.’ She laughed. ‘Good grief. What a tortured metaphor.’
‘I think I get the idea.’
‘And then, sometimes, when I think, yes, this is going to happen, I just get this amazing sense of peace, of rightness. The first time I spoke to Benjy about it. The time I admitted to Felicity that yes, she was onto something.’ She paused for a moment. ‘And today.’
Kathleen Jowitt writes contemporary literary fiction exploring themes of identity, redemption, integrity, and politics. Her work has been shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize and the Selfies Award, and her debut novel, Speak Its Name, was the first ever self-published book to receive a Betty Trask Award. She lives in Ely, UK.
Today on the site we’re checking out a snippet from After Elias by Eddy Boudel Tan, a contemporary adult novel that just released from Dundurn about an engaged gay couple ripped apart by a tragic plane crash right before their wedding. In the words of the author, “The story takes place in a mature phase of queerness, one in which the protagonist’s identity as a queer man is neither an issue nor a secret. It examines what we strive for now that we’ve achieved the current level of normality — one that previous generations fought for — while recognizing the reality that the suffering endured is never far from reach.” You can read the official blurb here:
When the airplane piloted by Elias Santos crashes one week before their wedding day, Coen Caraway loses the man he loves and the illusion of happiness he has worked so hard to create. The only thing Elias leaves behind is a recording of his final words, and even Coen is baffled by the cryptic message.
Numb with grief, he takes refuge on the Mexican island that was meant to host their wedding. But as fragments of the past come to the surface in the aftermath of the tragedy, Coen is forced to question everything he thought he knew about Elias and their life together. Beneath his flawed memory lies the truth about Elias — and himself.
From the damp concrete of Vancouver to the spoiled shores of Mexico, After Elias braids the past with the present to tell a story of doubt, regret, and the fear of losing everything.
I was nine years old when I discovered that I wasn’t afraid of death.
The heat of the sun on my bare shoulders and the chill of the wet concrete under my feet was a troubling combination for me that day.
The other children, all wild eyes and unpredictable limbs, howled like apes around a watering hole. They bared their teeth as they chased each other. They banded together to lay claim to their territories. I was careful to stay out of the path of the other boys, my eyes averted from theirs and my fists clenched by my side.
It was a relief to pull my head beneath the surface of the water. The noise from above became a muffled hum. The sting of the sun softened. I felt the grip on my mind loosen as I submerged myself in stillness.
My senses awoke as another body collided into mine. My feet stretched down toward the floor, expecting to feel the reassurance of its tiles. There was only empty space.
My hands reached up and grabbed fistfuls of water. I managed to reach the surface for a gasp of air before I was pulled underneath again by an invisible hand. Every kick of my legs and stroke of my arms reeled me farther down. I held my breath for as long as I could, then let it all out in a swarm of bubbles. My limbs went still as I closed my eyes.
I didn’t feel fear. I felt a deep and wonderful calm. I wonder what happens now, I remember thinking.
My breath returned in violent coughs and purged chlorine as I lay on the wet concrete of the pool’s edge. There was a look of wonder in the eyes that stared down at me, as though I had risen from the dead. The first thought that came to me was I must have been Aztec.
Come to think of it now, I’d always been a different kind of boy.
You see, the Aztecs didn’t fear death. They believed it was glorious. Death perpetuated creation. Without it, there would be no life. Their bones were the seeds from which new life grew. Their blood watered the dry earth. Both humans and gods sacrificed their lives so this wheel of conclusion and creation would continue to spin on and on.
After that final breath, Aztecs travelled to one of three places. Those with honourable endings, like warriors in battle, would transform into hummingbirds to follow the sun. Those who met their end by water would find themselves in a paradise of eternal spring. The majority would not be so lucky. Their journey would take them to the underworld of Mictlan, a hellish place guarded by jaguars in a river of blood.
Reading about this as a boy, it seemed unfair to me how the most terrible human beings could so easily escape an eternity of bloody jaguars. Had things ended differently that summer day at the pool, I would have found myself in paradise by simply drifting too far into the deep end. However flawed it may be, it’s a beguiling idea. Your life is irrelevant. Your death is what counts.
Eddy Boudel Tan is the author of After Elias and The Rebellious Tide (forthcoming 2021). His work depicts a world much like our own — the heroes are flawed, truth is distorted, and there is as much hope as there is heartbreak. Besides having professional experience in communications strategy and brand design, he serves home-cooked meals to the homeless as cofounder of a community initiative called the Sidewalk Supper Project. He lives with his husband in Vancouver.
Welcome to another edition of Inside the Anthology! Today we’re celebrating Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America, ed. by Nora Shalaway Carpenter, which, as you may have guessed, contains rural YA fiction, some of which is queer! It releases today from Candlewick, and here’s some more info:
Gracie sees a chance of fitting in at her South Carolina private school, until a “white trash”-themed Halloween party has her steering clear of the rich kids. Samuel’s Tejano family has both stood up to oppression and been a source of it, but now he’s ready to own his true sexual identity. A Puerto Rican teen in Utah discovers that being a rodeo queen means embracing her heritage, not shedding it. . . .
For most of America’s history, rural people and culture have been casually mocked, stereotyped, and, in general, deeply misunderstood. Now an array of short stories, poetry, graphic short stories, and personal essays, along with anecdotes from the authors’ real lives, dives deep into the complexity and diversity of rural America and the people who call it home. Fifteen extraordinary authors – diverse in ethnic background, sexual orientation, geographic location, and socioeconomic status – explore the challenges, beauty, and nuances of growing up in rural America. From a mountain town in New Mexico to the gorges of New York to the arctic tundra of Alaska, you’ll find yourself visiting parts of this country you might not know existed – and meet characters whose lives might be surprisingly similar to your own.
And here are the authors of the queer stories, talking about their work!
“The Hole of Dark Kill Hollow” by Rob Costello
Dark speculative fiction with a queer bent is my creative wheelhouse. So, when Nora Shalaway Carpenter gave me free rein to contribute any kind of story I wanted to an anthology that would celebrate the rich diversity of teen life in rural America, I knew my piece had to be creepy. “The Hole of Dark Kill Hollow” is the result.
I came up with the idea shortly after a visit my husband and I paid to the Shawangunk Mountains of upstate New York. I’d never been to that corner of my home state before, and something in the air of those thickly wooded peaks and valleys spoke to me. Something mysterious, magical, and perhaps a little bit sinister. Soon, that something had evoked the image of two best friends—one gay, one not, each with secret hurts and desires—as well as the malevolent presence in the woods that offers much but could take everything away from them both.
Yet, the real trick with the story for me lay not in the concept but in getting the characters right. Above all, I wanted to depict a friendship between two teenage boys whose sexuality is irrelevant to their bond. I love queer romance as much as the next gay guy, but I don’t think we see enough portrayals of purely platonic male love in YA. Jesse, my gay protagonist, has an awful lot of problems in his life—really thorny, wrenching, heavy stuff. But his best friend Tyler is his rock. Over the course of the story, as they draw closer and closer to making a terrible mistake, it becomes clear to them (and to the reader) just how precious their friendship truly is.
Life saving, in fact. Together, I hope these two boys will challenge some of the toxic stereotypes about queerness, masculinity, and love that still poison our culture today.
“A Border Kid Comes of Age” by David Bowles
When writing my award-winning MG novel-in-verse They Call Me Güero, I did a lot of digging into my own childhood, growing up in a small community on the Mexican-US border in deep South Texas. Most of what I pulled into the fictional narrative were happy memories, beloved traditions, humorous incidents that I knew would draw readers into the complex and beautiful lives of border folks.
But I stopped short of one of the darker aspects of my adolescence in this Mexican American enclave called the Rio Grande Valley: the fear I felt when I considered the deep-seated homophobia of so many local men. As I realized I was attracted as much by boys as by girls, panic set in. My youngest uncle had just been run out of town, taking refuge at last in Austin, when he was caught outside one of the Valley’s clandestine gay clubs.
Like other queer Chicanx folks of the 80s, I managed to make a sort of peace with myself and those I cared about. Married an incredible queer woman. Eventually became a teacher and a mentor to students who, in slightly more enlightened times, found themselves in similar straits.
At the intersection of their lives and mine, I have crafted “A Border Kid Comes of Age,” a verse short story about the protagonist of They Call Me Güero, four years after the events of that book. I’ve given him the courage and family support I only wish I had enjoyed.
That’s the joy of being an author. You can craft the world you want to see.
All queer teens deserve a happy ending.
So I wrote him one.
“Best in Show” by Tirzah Price
When Nora approached me with the idea for this anthology, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about, and Molly sprang to life almost immediately. Like many of the contributors, I borrowed heavily from my own life when writing “Best in Show,” but I struggled to put into words my experience of growing up queer and rural, and the complicated feelings that arise in me even now.
Like Molly, I showed pigs in 4-H, lived on a farm, and picked up my first date in a farm truck that was older than us both. Like Molly, I’ve felt torn between the excitement of a new crush and the fear that acting on said crush means being visibly different in my town. I enjoy a certain amount of privilege even today—some people are surprised to find that my spouse is not a man—and as I’ve grown older, I’ve gained more confidence in myself and my relationships. But too often growing up rural and queer oftentimes means making a choice between leaving, or sticking around and finding the courage to challenge perceptions in your community, and face questions, discrimination, and even bigotry as they come up. That’s not always easy, and sometimes it’s downright exhausting. And yet, I’ve never wanted to define my hometown by the worst interactions I’ve had with others over who I love, because it discounts all of the fantastic people I know—and many times, some people I thought for sure would write me off have surprised me with their support and acceptance. Overall, I remain optimistic. Not because I want to present an unrealistic view of rural living, but because I want readers, especially teens, who are queer and live in small towns to feel seen, and to feel as though they don’t have to follow the narrative prescribed to them.
Shae Carys, “Black Nail Polish”
When I started “Black Nail Polish,” I had a rough idea of what the story would be about. It’s a bit autobiographical, although I didn’t find out about my Ehlers-Danlos until I was much older than Maddie and our motivations were a little different. I was miserable in high school until I decided to express myself, to dress like I wanted to, wearing black nail polish and lipstick and fishnets and vinyl. It had the added benefit of people making way for me in the halls who had previously tormented me. I later found out that my popular friends envied me for not caring what others thought. I will admit, it was heady.
Maddie’s embrace of the gothic comes from a place of frustration – it’s less about the desire to stand out, since she’ll never fit in. Dealing with the news of a disability is a multilayered process, much like grief. There is a grief to it, certainly some anger. It was important to me that Maddie wasn’t alone in the process of dealing with it, since it can be one of the loneliest things in the world. I will say that in the original version, Maddie’s crush on her best friend was explicit, but in the end, we decided that it didn’t need to be. The crush is still there; it’s just not the focus of the story. I’m sure Maddie will figure herself out later, just like I did.