Author of I THINK I LOVE YOU Auriane Desombre‘s debut THE SISTER SPLIT, pitched as a reverse Parent Trap, in which a young girl teams up with her future step sister to create a plan full of hijinks that will stop their parents from getting married, so she doesn’t have to move away from the city and leave her best friend – a girl – she’s starting to develop feelings for behind, to Kelsey Horton at Delacorte, in an exclusive submission, for publication in spring 2023, by Penny Moore at Aevitas Creative Management (world).
Alex Kahler writing as K.R. Alexander’s GALLOWGATE, set in a school for banishing wayward ghosts, where a haunted boy finds forbidden magic, otherworldly foes, fierce friends, and queer romance, to David Levithan at Scholastic, for publication in spring 2023, by Brent Taylor at TriadaUS Literary Agency (world).
Hayden Stone’s AN UNEXPECTED KIND OF LOVE, pitched as Notting Hill but queer, in which an uptight bookseller stumbles headlong into a relationship with the actor whose movie is filming in his family’s struggling shop, to Heather Howland at Entangled Embrace, in a two-book deal, for publication in fall 2021 (world).
Booker winner for SHUGGIE BAIN Douglas Stuart’s YOUNG MUNGO, a portrayal of working-class life and a suspenseful story of the dangerous first love of two young men born under different stars—a Protestant and a Catholic—who should be sworn enemies if they’re to be seen as men at all, again to Peter Blackstock at Grove/Atlantic, for publication on April 5, 2022, by Anna Stein at ICM (NA).
Author of SEVEN SUSPECTS and A KIND OF JUSTICE Renee James’s BEATNIKKI’S CAFE, in which a middle-aged transgender business woman tries to keep a low profile, but when a goon assaults her business partner, she reduces him to a bloody mess—and suddenly, she and everyone close to her are targets of a revenge-minded thug who is ruthless, clever, and unbound by any moral code, to Michael Nava at Amble, in a nice deal, for publication in March 2022, by Tina Schwartz at The Purcell Agency (world English).
Bronwyn Fischer’s THE RED FERN POEM, pitched as a queer CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS or a modern THE PRICE OF SALT, following a first-year university student and an older woman whose unexpected interest in her sparks an all-consuming and insidious love affair, exploring youthful self-consciousness, self-delusion, and self-definition, to Abby Muller at Algonquin, for publication in spring 2023, by Sam Hiyate at The Rights Factory (world, excl. Canada and UK).
Lambda Literary Award Finalist, GLAAD Media Award winner, and author of REAL QUEER AMERICA Samantha Allen’s PATRICIA WANTS TO CUDDLE, a contemporary horror comedy novel pitched as queer Grendel for the Instagram era, following a group of contestants on a reality television dating competition as they compete for love, and their lives, while on a remote island that’s home to an elusive and woefully misunderstood creature, to Sareena Kamath at Zando, at auction, by Leila Campoli at Stonesong (world English).
Author of HOW TO LIVE IN DETROIT WITHOUT BEING A JACKASS Aaron Foley’s BOYS COME FIRST, about the lives of 30-something Black gay men navigating love, life, and career in Detroit as they confront their evolving friendship and individual hiccups, including workplace micro-aggressions, bad Tinder dates, situationships and frenemies, while attempting to maintain their Blackness in America’s comeback city and the ever-changing expectations of homosexuality in structures largely architected by white gay men, to Anne Trubek at Belt, in a nice deal, for publication in May 2022 (US).
Young Adult Fiction
AJ Mason’s KLOUD 9, a queer space opera graphic novel about a lonely orphan trying to keep himself afloat with odd jobs, and an extraterrestrial star soldier who, after falling in love, are forced to go on the run and flee the solar system, joined by a motley crew, illustrated by Dominic Bustamante, to Erika Turner at IDW Publishing, in a three-book deal, for publication in 2023, by Britt Siess at Britt Siess Creative Management (world).
Author of THE CAMINO CLUB Kevin Craig’s BOOK OF DREAMS, in which a young man is given a book by a mysterious bookseller and falls into its pages, and must find an escape before he becomes a chapter in its horrific narrative; and WHERE IS ETHAN SINCLAIR, in which two young men try to solve the puzzling disappearance of a friend by studying his blog, only to unravel a mystery that sets them on a path to fight for justice for their missing friend—and hopefully bring him home safe, to Annie Harper at Duet, in a nice deal, in an exclusive submission, in a two-book deal, for publication in summer 2022 (world). Rights: MJ Courchesne at Gryphon Publishing Consulting
Rose Szabo’s WE ALL FALL DOWN, the first book in the River City duology, about a city where magic used to thrive and four queer young people are cast as archetypal figures—the maiden, the hero, the monster, and the witch—in an age-old ritual that will revive the flow of magic, even though none of them quite fit the roles thrust upon them and in the end discover that they can only stay true to themselves, to Trisha de Guzman at Farrar, Straus Children’s, in a very nice deal, in an exclusive submission, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2022, by Jennifer Azantian at Azantian Literary Agency (world English).
Author of ENTER TITLE HERE (as Rahul Kanakia) and WE ARE TOTALLY NORMAL Naomi Kanakia’s JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE, about an Indian American trans girl who transfers from her prestigious all-boys’ school to the sister school that she’s always idealized, and has to decide whether she’s content to be treated like a second-class citizen or whether to risk her place by demanding that her school live up to its own principles, to Stephanie Guerdan at Harper Teen, for publication in spring 2023, by Christopher Schelling at Selectric Artists (world).
Amanda DeWitt’s ACES WILD, in which a character pitched as a modern asexual Kaz Brekker assembles a crew of ace teens he met through fandom forums and leads them on a Las Vegas heist to prove his incarcerated mother was set up by a rival casino owner, to Ashley Hearn at Peachtree Teen, in a nice deal, for publication in fall 2022, by Cate Hart at Harvey Klinger (world).
Lambda Literary Award finalist and author of RUNNING WILD Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s NO STOPPING US NOW, pitched as Mrs. America meets A League of Their Own, where a 17-year-old girl whose chance encounter with Gloria Steinem inspires her to fight for her public school to actually follow the new Title IX law, facing a menacing coach and navigating her feelings for a fellow teammate in the process; a story about the joy of sports and the power of sisterhood based on the author’s own activism as a champion athlete in 1970s Portland, Oregon, to Kat Georges at Three Rooms Press, for publication in spring 2022 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passage, by Reiko Davis at DeFiore and Company (world).
Editor of KINDRED Michael Earp, ed.’s fully illustrated untitled YA queer fairy tales anthology, which interprets original fairy tales with a queered ideology, questioning the heteronormative culture from which these traditional stories come and how that is perpetuated when left unexamined; contributors include Amie Kaufman, Mackenzi Lee, Dean Atta, Will Kostakis, Lily Wilkinson, Sophie Gonzales, Alison Evans, Alexandra Villasante, Abdi Nazemian, Gary Lonesborough, and James Brandon, to Meg Whelan at Affirm Press, by Ben Fowler at Abner Stein, on behalf of Taryn Fagerness Agency and Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency (world).
Journalist, critic, and host of Crooked Media’s podcast Keep It Ira Madison III’s PURE INNOCENT FUN, a collection of essays that explores popular culture of the 1990s and earlier through the author’s perspective and lived experience as a Black, gay TV writer and cultural critic, to Jamia Wilson at Random House, at auction, by Erin Malone at William Morris Endeavor (NA).
National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, Yaddo, and Michener Center for Writers fellow Greg Marshall‘s LEG: THE STORY OF A LIMB AND THE BOY WHO GREW FROM IT, a memoir that grapples with family, disability, illness, and coming of age in two closets–as a gay man and as a man living with cerebral palsy–while exploring with trenchant humor what it means to “transform” when there are parts of yourself you cannot change, pitched in the vein of Ryan O’Connell meets David Sedaris, to Zachary Knoll at Simon & Schuster, in a pre-empt, by Hannah Brattesani at Friedrich Agency (NA).
Slate journalist June Thomas’s WHERE ARE ALL THE LESBIANS?, a cultural history, celebration, and critical look at queer women’s communities in the second half of the 20th century, to Seal Press, at auction.
Today on the site, we’ve got the cover for Maria Romasco-Moore’s upcoming bi contemporary YA fantasy I am the Ghost in Your House, which releases April 19, 2022 from Underlined/Random House! Here’s the story:
Pie is the ghost in your house.
She is not dead, she is invisible.
The way she looks changes depending on what is behind her. A girl of glass. A girl who is a window. If she stands in front of floral wallpaper she is full of roses.
For Pie’s entire life it’s been Pie and her mother. Just the two of them, traveling across America. They have slept in trains, in mattress stores, and on the bare ground. They have probably slept in your house.
But Pie is lonely. And now, at seventeen, her mother’s given her a gift. The choice of the next city they will go to. And Pie knows exactly where she wants to go. Pittsburgh—where she fell in love with a girl who she plans to find once again. And this time she will reveal herself.
Only how can anyone love an invisible girl?
A magnificent story of love, and friendship, and learning to see yourself in a world based on appearances, I Am the Ghost in Your House is a brilliant reflection on the importance of how much more there is to our world than what meets the eye.
And here’s the marvelously unsettling cover, with art by Alex Garant!
Maria Romasco Moore is the author of Some Kind of Animal, a novel, and Ghostographs, an interconnected collection of flash fiction inspired by vintage photographs. She teaches writing at Columbus College of Art and Design.
Today on the site we welcome Becca Spence Dobias, author of On Home (releasing August 24th), to talk about writing queer lit against the backdrop of a hometown you fear won’t accept it and weighing the claim of #ownvoices against the potential resulting hostility. First, here’s a little more about On Home:
When tragedy strikes, Cassidy, a cam girl living in Southern California, must return to the small West Virginia town she left behind. Cassidy likes her job getting naked for men on camera, though she prefers sex with women. She never came out to her family or friends back in her home state―not about her sexuality and certainly not about her sex work. Now, she must figure out how to hold on to the life she’s built for herself while picking up the pieces of her fractured family.
As Cassidy’s story unfolds, we glimpse into the lives of the strong, complicated women who came before her: Jane, the sheltered daughter of farmers, escapes West Virginia for Washington, DC to work as a Government Girl for the FBI during World War II, until a fateful mistake threatens her future. Paloma, a Fulbright Scholar, journeys to newly Westernized Prague―only to fall for an idealistic but safe man from West Virginia.
Though worlds and generations apart, all three search for meaning as they face impending motherhood and the pull to return home to rural Appalachia.
In the first draft of my novel, On Home, my character’s sexuality was ambiguous. I left her relationship open-ended, telling myself it could be read as a very close friendship, though early readers all told me they read it as romantic. I didn’t mention this aspect of the book at all when I crowdfunded it through Inkshares, as I didn’t want to turn off potential supporters. Now I’m preparing to launch a full-on #ownvoices queer book and am reflecting on the journey.
I grew up in a small town in rural West Virginia where very few queer people were out. In my high school, there was a token lesbian and a token gay guy, but everyone else was closeted—and with good reason—the two out teens were harassed constantly. Even without being out, anyone “weird” was called “faggot”—beaten up, made fun of, attacked in the hallways. It made sense, that as someone who was unsure of her sexuality, it was safer to follow what felt like the dominant part of it and pursue guys. A girlfriend and I flirted, talking about our fantasies, but it never felt like something we would actually pursue. It really didn’t even feel within the realm of possibility in the place and time where we grew up.
When I moved to North Carolina for college, my eyes began to open as I met more queer folks. I was so naive that when I found out a friend was a lesbian, I stared at her stunned for a moment and asked, “Like a full lesbian?”
“A full lesbian,” she confirmed, laughing at me. I was both impressed and intimidated.
Though I still only dated men, I experimented with women. My first time with a woman, I reflected that it was like “cake frosting”—almost too sweet and good. I hadn’t experienced sex purely for the physical pleasure of it before; I’d always been too wrapped up in my own head about what the sex meant.
I couldn’t shake my internalized homophobia though. I was fine with other people being queer, but it still felt embarrassing when I was thinking or talking about myself. It didn’t help that my first experiment with coming out went poorly.
I’d graduated college and signed on as an AmeriCorps VISTA. At our end of the year celebration, I was enjoying dinner and drinks with other VISTA volunteers from across California, where I’d moved. We were in California, we were all progressive. I felt comfortable and tipsy enough to share that I “wasn’t exactly straight.” The supervisor, a man in his fifties, was also tipsy. “Yeah!” He exclaimed, and gave me a high five. It felt gross and objectifying. He liked the idea of hot lesbians. I didn’t want anyone else to think of me as a sexual person, so I didn’t talk about it for a long time, especially not with people from home, who I wanted to see me as a successful hometown girl—accomplished, smart, definitely not sexual.
Still, at the suggestion of my editors, I made the next drafts’ relationship explicitly romantic. It felt truer this way—less wishy washy. Literature is often a kind of wish fullfilment. If we don’t have things in real life, it can be nice to read about them and in a way, live them vicariously. Writing is like this sometimes, too. I don’t wish for my life to be different. I am happy I ended up with the partner I have and in the place where I am. I have a happy marriage, friends, a wonderful community, and a beautiful loving home. But by writing On Home, and fully embracing West Virginia and a sapphic relationship, I’m able to have those too, in a different way—a way that will forever be precious to me. Once I embraced my book’s queerness, it became more than a book; it was a different way my life could have gone, wrapped into a neat package that I can keep with me, like a stone in my pocket.
Still, I was determined it not be marketed or labeled a “queer book.” I told myself this was about keeping my audience broad, but looking back, it was about my own insecurities about my sexuality. I would keep my distance from it—I’d be an ally, but certainly not someone who had sexual desires or preferences myself. As an adult—a bi woman in a heterosexual marriage—it was easy to continue to pass as straight. I still had work to do—external and internal.
Soon after, writers began to come under scrutiny for writing queer literature without being visibly queer, and I wondered again if I should come out. I fretted about what calling it an #ownvoices book would mean for my hometown in West Virginia, who had rallied around me to crowdfund the book without knowing it was queer at all. The decision felt like a pull between authenticity in the book community or scandalizing the people I grew up with. I hemmed. I hawed. I chose authenticity.
Finally, I came out in a book launch video for Pride month. No one seemed shocked or surprised. I was nervous it might alienate some of my audience, and perhaps it still will, when the book comes out, but I’m no longer hindered by this fear.
Now my book’s queerness is one of its main marketing points. My hometown has been supportive, or at least quiet about this move. Though I’ve received homophobic comments on Facebook ads, they’ve been from strangers.
Though the #OwnVoices movement is (rightly) under scrutiny for this exact reason—it’s intrusive, sometimes harmfully so, in my case, and my novel’s, it was a gift. The book’s story is the one it was meant to be, and I’m more my authentic self too. We will both find our people.
Becca Spence Dobias grew up in West Virginia and now lives in Southern California with her husband and two children. On Home is her first novel.
ICYMI, Shakespeare reimaginings are my jam, so I’m thrilled to be revealing the cover for Lauren Emily Whalen’s Take Her Down, a queer YA Julius Caesar retelling set at a cutthroat magnet school that releases on the Ides of March! (That’s March 15, 2022, although if you preorder from Bold Strokes Books, you can get it in your hands two weeks early!)
In this queer YA retelling of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, stakes at Augustus Magnet School are cutthroat, scheming is creative, and loyalty is ever-changing.
Overnight, Bronwyn St. James goes from junior class queen to daughter of an imprisoned felon, and she lands in the care of her aunt and younger cousin Cass, a competitive cheerleader who Bronwyn barely knows. Life gets worse when her ex-best friend, the always-cool Jude Cuthbert, ostracizes Bronwyn from the queer social elite for dating a boy, Porter Kendrick.
Bronwyn and Jude are both running for student body president, and that means war. But after Bronwyn, Porter, and Cass share a video of Jude in a compromising position, Jude suddenly goes missing. No one has seen her for weeks and it might be all Bronwyn’s fault.
Will Jude ever be found? Or will Bronwyn finally have to reckon with what she’s won―and what she’s lost?
Content Advisory: Depictions of sexual assault.
And here’s the on-point cover, done by Inkspiral Design!
Lauren Emily Whalen is the author of three books for young adults, including TWO WINTERS, a queer YA reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, available everywhere September 14. Lauren is a freelance writer, professional performer, and very amateur aerialist who is an unabashed devotee of the Bard. She lives in Chicago with her cat, Versace, and an apartment full of books. Say hello at laurenemilywrites.com.
Today on the site I’m thrilled to introduce two brilliant authors in conversation: Ada Hoffmann, author of The Outside and The Fallen (the latter of which just released last month from Angry Robot), and RB Lemberg, author of the Birdverse series. They’re here to chat about their work and the worldbuiliding, representation, and themes within it, so pull up a chair and listen in!
RB: I love how in the world of your novels The Outside and The Fallen, issues of faith and ethics take central place. One of the things that made me root for Yasira is seeing her grapple with ethical issues at every step. She constantly makes calculations related to fairness and right and wrong as she perceives them; I found this very relatable, and I think this is relatable to other autistic people as well. I would love to hear how you went about creating this aspect of Yasira’s character, and how this may connect to your larger worldbuilding around issues of divinity, godhood, and justice.
Ada: Thank you, RB! Ruminating and calculating about what’s right or wrong is relatable to me, too. It’s something I can paralyze myself with if I’m not careful. I wouldn’t say that autistic people are any more moral than others, overall, but I do think that this specific kind of rumination is something I see a lot.
I created Yasira some time after creating my main villains, so from the get-go I knew she needed to be someone who’d be caught between them in their machinations and would eventually need to decide for herself what side she was on. (And whenever there’s a plot dilemma like that, I almost always root for the character to come up with their own, third option!) It takes a lot of thinking things over in order to be able to make a decision like that. It was almost a plot requirement more than a character requirement, but I think it fits Yasira’s other traits well and formed a substantial part of who she is.
The worldbuilding of the Outside series is very much one that presents two bad options. I had some fun with the idea of religion being presented mechanistically, as a set of rules to follow that will have a set of well-defined spiritual outcomes–this is highlighted by the Gods of Yasira’s galaxy literally being machines. Someone like Yasira has a desire to be good and follow rules–when she accuses Tiv of doing things just to be good, and not because she really means them, it’s almost a bit of projection. It takes her time and some bad experiences before she really understands that the rules she’s been raised to follow are not just and that she cannot continue to follow them. But on the other side of the equation, the polar opposite of a mechanistic religion is Outside, which is just this wild, utterly unknowable mystical force with no regard for human lives or suffering whatsoever, and that doesn’t seem to be a good option either.
I talk about Yasira finding a third option, but in the end I suppose it’s not fully a third option–she doesn’t go off on her own and create a completely different, third religion. Instead she really does come to revere Outside in some ways, but she has to reconcile that with her own very human belief in justice and human dignity and that it’s worth saving as many human lives as she possibly can. A lot of Yasira’s heroism lies in the ability to do that reconciliation, at great cost to herself. Meanwhile Dr. Talirr is a villain because she discards that belief – her own very human tendency is to sacrifice other people, mostly people she doesn’t know, to advance her own aims.
Or at least that’s my own moral take on what’s going on in this series –I do find it rewarding when readers come up with their own nuanced interpretations that are a bit different from mine. That tells me that I’ve given them enough to chew on, philosophically, that they’re really thinking about it and concluding things on their own, and I like when that happens.
RB, you write a lot about divinity and mysticism as well in your Birdverse series, which I love. In The Four Profound Weaves, I was really struck by the depth of meaning in the four weaves of the title, with characters who can weave carpets out of substances as abstract as songs, bones, sand, and wind. They are a counter-intuitive set of things to build carpets out of at first glance, but each one has a very particular emotional meaning, and the end of the novella combines these meanings and shows them as being intertwined, in a kind of cycle or a weave consisting of all four threads. What led you to choose these four particular substances, these four particular meanings? Did you consider many possible ones, or did you always know deep down it would be these four?
RB: Thank you so much for those thoughtful answers, Ada, lots to chew on! I want to talk more about Dr. Talirr, if that’s OK–I loved seeing two autistic women in a mentoring relationship. I rarely see women mentors and mentees, and I rarely see an autistic mentor/autistic mentee relationship, even though I feel this happens frequently in life, so the complicated relationship between Dr. Talirr and Yasira felt exciting to me. I love how central this relationship is to the world of the Outside, and how deep their conflict is. I think that from a normative human perspective, the value of human lives outweighs most other concerns, but that, too, can be broken – if the fundamental relationship to reality itself is altered, ethics are altered as well, and with them the value of human lives; that is, perhaps, what makes Dr. Talirr a heretic rather than straightforwardly a villain. I guess that’s those other interpretations you mentioned 🙂
As for the four weaves, I was always deeply interested in the relationship between hope and death. Years before I was a published writer, I envisioned hope and death as sibling birds, circling around each other as they descend towards a person on the ground. The imagery of hope and death as birds appears in print for the first time in one of my early poems, “Twin-Born,” in Goblin Fruit.
Hope and death are intertwined in paradoxical yet intuitively familiar ways. I see both hope and death as properties of humanity as a whole, its defining characteristics, if you will. As for change and wanderlust, I envisioned those as properties of individuals, and both are very important to me. In The Four Profound Weaves and elsewhere, I interpreted change as it relates to transness, to coming out; change is both frightening and necessary in order to embrace one’s fullest self. As for wanderlust, it is also a property of an individual, and specifically my own need as an autistic person–to roam both physically and intellectually, to explore and wander. I often think about the absence of wanderlust as stagnation, being stuck in one place that neither hope nor death can reach. Change and wanderlust are weaves that represent the protagonists nen-sasaïr and Uiziya, both of whom are trans, both of whom have been feeling stuck in their lives for a very long time. Embracing both change and wanderlust leads them to the two other, more collective, weaves of hope and death. Readers sometimes ask me which is my favorite weave. Right now I will have say wanderlust; the best ending for me always leads to new adventures. The thing I desire most in my own life right now is to be free to wander, as a person who exists in a physical world, as a writer, as a scholar. I think that in 2021, many people would agree with me. As for how I chose these particular weaves: my process is always organic and almost dreamlike. I endlessly ruminate on imagery, turn things this way and that in my mind, and write poems until the structure solidifies.
Speaking about divinity and worldbuilding process, would you mind talking about how you came up with the individual AI gods in the world of The Outside? Is there any god or gods that you wanted to explore more, but did not have a chance yet?
ADA: I did love writing the complicated relationship between Yasira and Dr. Talirr, so I’m glad that comes off compellingly. They share a neurotype and a kind of mystical experience that almost no one else does, but they’re so different in the ways they’ve been brought up and rewarded or punished for their neurotype, and in the attitudes they take. It leads to a kind of intense ambivalence that was really rewarding to explore. We definitely haven’t seen the last of Dr. Talirr.
For the AI Gods, I knew immediately that I wanted each of them to represent a human tendency, something that’s present in everyone, but drives some people more than others. And from very early on I knew a few of the Gods that I wanted to include–Nemesis, of course, and a God of creativity (who eventually became Techne), and Gods of the pursuit of knowledge (Aletheia) and of love (Philophrosyne), as well as a fallen, demonized figure to play the role of the Keres. But the full list of Gods wasn’t finalized right away. Eventually, an early collaborator suggested that I should name the Gods after ancient Greek personifications of concepts, because my initial attempts at naming Them did not sound God-like enough. So I actually found a list of these and went through them one name at a time, jotting down the ones that seemed compelling to me and sufficiently different from the others to play a role in this cosmology. Not all of the concepts are very flattering – there is a God of conformity, for instance, and a God of laziness! But these are human tendencies that play an important role. Without something that could be labeled as laziness, for instance, we would never know when we need to take a break and rest. I wasn’t dead set on having a specific number of Gods, but the number that I eventually settled on (eleven “proper” gods, with the Keres making a ghostly and implicit twelfth) felt good.
We definitely don’t get a lot of time on the page, in these books, exploring other Gods besides Nemesis, but I would love to do that exploration some day, maybe in side stories. Nemesis is pretty unambiguously terrible, but there are Gods who play much more joyful, gentler roles and I have headcanons about several of Them. I think Philophrosyne’s priests do beautiful wedding ceremonies as well as having ways of honoring other, non-romantic forms of love. I think Gelos, the God of pleasure, has angels who are elusive but who suddenly pop up on a planet every once in a while with some fascinating God-built art installation or theme park-like attraction that’s like nothing the local mortals have ever seen.
The Fallen does contain hints of the complex relationship between Nemesis and Arete, the God of heroism. The two of Them often find themselves working together for the same goals but with very different methods, which leads to Nemesis’ harsh methods being softened a bit, but also Arete’s helpful intentions getting very morally compromised.
Let’s talk more about those trans themes in The Four Profound Weaves. It’s not the first time you’ve written trans characters, but I was struck by the complexity of nen-sasaïr’s arc, with regards to gender. We so often think of physical transition as an endpoint, an end goal, especially in a medical system that often reserves affirming medical care for people who can prove they have already socially transitioned. But nen-sasaïr’s story is almost the opposite of that. He has fully transitioned and is living his life as a man, but he is not in his home culture, and he experiences intense ambivalence as to whether he can ever return to that culture, whether the men of his culture would ever accept him as one of them, whether or not that’s even what he wants. Can you say more about this kind of ambivalence?
RB: I come to my stories from an international perspective, as a migrant and a person who has lived in different parts of the world, so the social norms around transitioning in the US are not where my worldbuilding originates. I always assume that trans and queer identities differ between various cultures and time periods. We can find a variety of attitudes even within a single culture – this is true for our world, and for Birdverse. As a migrant, I am always interested in exploring how trans and queer people navigate intersections of cultures, with all the different cultural norms and expectations. Throughout his life, nen-sasaïr experienced his society as trans-rejecting even as it embraces queerness. There are a lot of what we would call TERFy attitudes among his loved ones and in his home culture. In his twenties, nen-sasaïr accompanies his lover Bashri-nai-Leylit on a trading venture to the great Burri desert. Their journey is motivated by desperation – they are trying to acquire the greatest treasure ever woven, to buy back the life of their third lover, Bashri-nai-Divrah.
In the desert, among the snake-Surun’ people, nen-sasaïr witnesses a very different reality–trans people are affirmed, transition is a communal event; everyone who loves a trans person are invited to assist their transition through the act of weaving. This is shocking to nen-sasaïr. Among the snake-Surun’ he meets Benesret, a famous weaver who is ready to assist him with his physical transition. But he feels that transitioning will take him away from his home culture, and from his lover Bashri-nai-Leylit, who is not accepting of his transness; that would also mean giving up on rescuing Bashri-nai-Divrah. He cannot go through with his transition then, but he always wants to come back, and it takes him forty years to do so. His story cannot end with finally transitioning in his sixties; in fact, it barely begins there. Once he physically transitions, he is still left with those same old traumas and dilemmas – Bashri-nai-Leylit died without affirming him, his culture is still rejecting, the story of Bashri-nai-Divrah is unfinished, and he feels that while he is a man, he has no place among Khana men. His eventual journey does not end on a single triumphant note – he cannot completely change his society, and he is also not willing to leave his friends behind to join the world of the Khana men. But he is able to become more deeply and truly himself without erasing any part of his journey.
This is a story of older people, and older, complex lives in which transness is a huge part of the story, but not the totality of the story. My hope for him is that in his travels, he will find a different pocket of the Khana culture which is more affirming. The Khana people are diasporic, and there are other groups scattered around the landmass. Most are quite similar culturally to nen-sasaïr’s home in Iyar, but a few are a bit different. A certain bird whispered in my ear that he might just be headed that way.
So let’s talk about transness a bit, and villains, although I am honestly reluctant to use this word with many of the Outside villains. I am fascinated by Akavi, who is a shape-shifter and a (eventually, fallen) angel of Nemesis in the world of The Outside. He is a shape-changer who enjoys taking a female form from time to time, and he also assumes female pronouns when he does so – I would love to hear more about how this character came about, whether or not you view him as trans (he seems to identify as a man?), and I would also love to hear you talk about the relationship between shapechange and transness in your work and in general. While we are talking about Akavi, I would also love to hear more about the relationship between Akavi and Elu. Elu is obviously in love with Akavi and he comes across as a gentle, caring person – how come he is an angel of Nemesis? Without spoilers, what does the future hold for these two?
ADA: Oh my goodness, transness and shapeshifting and villains, yes! The first thing I want to say about Akavi and gender is that he’s a character I started wanting to write about long before I realized that I might be genderfluid myself. When I look at him from a queer perspective I see a lot about my early self kind of hesitantly poking my toe into questions and fantasies about gender, about what gender means and what form it can take, but without quite admitting to myself that I was doing it, or that it had anything to do with being trans. There’s an additional layer here in that the person who first came up with Akavi, as a D&D character, is not me – I write the science fiction version of Akavi with that person’s enthusiastic consent, and he is also not completely binary gendered himself. So when I look at Akavi he’s not necessarily the kind of character I would create if I were starting from scratch, trying to write a story about gender today, but he’s still a character who is very important to me.
I think that Akavi does identify as male, but with some caveats. I think that the Vaurian idea of gender is a bit more fluid and flexible than we are used to (and as you point out, I am being a bit North America-centric here). I think it would be relatively uncommon, though certainly not unknown, for a Vaurian to be so attached to a single gender that they won’t want to present as another one sometimes when it fits the situation. Vaurians are not exactly a culture – they are an engineered human variant that has spread through several mortal cultures – but what they have in the way of culture places a high value on blending in and committing to a role. And that includes using pronouns that fit the presentation they are using at the time. So Akavi thinks of himself as a man, but he has a very expansive idea of what it means to be a man, which includes presenting as or referring to himself as though he’s a woman at times. My friend who created the character referred to it as magical cross-dressing, which I think is still accurate.
Shapeshifting is an extremely common trans fantasy but I’ve also seen a lot of non-binary readers complaining that they are tired of shapeshifting characters, especially when that is so often the only trans or non-binary representation that a work will offer. In The Outside the only characters that really invite a trans or non-binary reading are Akavi and his supervisor Irimiru, who is also a Vaurian, and who uses a mix of pronouns including they/them. Needless to say it’s not ideal for the only non-binary characters in a work to be manipulative, untrustworthy shapeshifters! When I wrote The Outside I wasn’t really thinking very hard about this, but by the time I came to The Fallen I was more aware of it. I’m still attached to the Vaurians and I don’t think there is anything wrong with having written them, but there was room in the plot for several new characters, so I have added various characters who are also somewhere on the trans spectrum, and who are not shapeshifters, or manipulative or untrustworthy at all. I hope that goes some ways towards balancing it out.
And then, Elu. Elu! Elu is a character very dear to my heart, and I would also call him a problematic character – not in the sense of being offensive or bad, but in the sense of calling attention to problems and inviting difficult questions. Elu talks about his backstory a little bit in The Outside, and this is expanded on a little more in The Fallen. Nemesis presents Herself as someone who uses ruthless methods in order to protect humanity, to save them from even worse things. Elu had an intense experience as a child where Nemesis’ forces saved his planet from a violent attack by the Keres. He is idealistic, and he grew up wanting to help save other people in that same way. But when he became an angel in order to do this, he discovered that it was not really what he thought, and it was also too late to take it back. Elu’s attachment to Akavi – to an individual in the system who is important to him, rather than necessarily the system itself – is one of his ways of coping with this reality, I think.
I have to say I have a lot of feelings about Akavi and Elu’s relationship. I’m someone who is very attracted to villains, which is not at all uncommon – you can look into any given fandom and see it happening. I have also had, shall we say, not the easiest romantic history ever, and when a person behaves abusively it is very easy to turn it back on myself and imagine I must have invited that behavior somehow; maybe if I am drawn to bad people, even if I don’t fully realize they are bad, then whatever happens next is my own fault for being drawn to them. That feeling is bullshit and victim-blaming but it can feel very emotionally true, and frankly I feel complicit in a lot of the worst things that have happened to me in relationships. So, I often catch myself projecting those feelings onto Elu, too. He is kind and gentle, but he is still a cog in a very harmful machine and he became that way because of his own choices. He is not free from responsibility, and deep down he knows that, and while he is on the run from the Gods with Akavi he continues to be complicit in what Akavi is doing.
It’s very easy to construct an arc for Elu that is all about punishing him for the choices he’s made, either out of naive, misplaced idealism or in a bid to survive. But I hope that the arc I have actually constructed for him in The Fallen manages to avoid this. It’s not an easy arc for him, because he is, after all, on the run with Akavi, and Akavi is not a person who is very interested or capable of maintaining a healthy relationship. But I also found that in the process of writing the book, as I wrote how Elu adapts and survives in a situation that’s increasingly unpleasant for him, I was able to find a lot more compassion for him than when I started.
RB, I find myself thinking of what you said about wanderlust as I look at the impressive variety of things you’ve done in your creative life. You have the Birdverse fantasy setting, which is sprawling and complex enough to include many kinds of stories in many cultures, but you also have other settings, and you write poetry, and you have been a poetry editor putting many projects together; you have written essays and are writing a scholarly volume about Ursula K. LeGuin, and now your memoir, Everything Thaws, is coming out in 2022! I want to know, what challenges have you encountered in a creative life that includes so many diverse things? Do you find that writing in a certain genre helps enrich the writing you do in another?
RB: Thanks for this question! My biggest challenges involve juggling my overwhelming day job in academia, my family obligations, and the fact that I am on the spectrum, and overwhelm and burnout are never far from me. I have diverse interests, and my creativity takes different forms – I write fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and I do scholarship of different kinds; I do art, and I love editing. This diversity can be viewed as a strength, but it can also easily be spun as a weakness. I often think that under capitalism, we tend to view anything which is not “one brand, one push” as a detriment, and it’s certainly much less easy to monetize a creative career which takes so many forms, but that’s me, and I do not want to undo myself. I keep reminding myself that Ursula K. Le Guin, who is in many ways my lodestar, also worked across many genres. She wrote poetry and prose, she edited, she translated, she wrote endless incredible pieces of creative nonfiction, she published with a variety of presses big and small – and can I just say, her doodles are phenomenal! There is more than one way to be a creator in this world. All of my pieces work together – my scholarship enriches my fiction and vice versa, and the art I do comes from my worlds as well; everything is interconnected.
Speaking of which, you too have produced work in different genres and areas! I love your poetry, and I would love to hear more about your recent poetry book Million-Year Elegies. Do you see these poems connected – thematically, philosophically – to the ideas and inspirations of the Outside books? I would also love to talk to you about The Autistic Book Party, your long-running review column highlighting works with autistic characters and/or works by autistic
creators. How does your reviewing inspire or support your fiction?
ADA: I hadn’t thought about connections between Million-Year Elegies and the Outside series until you asked! They’re two very different things, but now that I think of it, they do have several big themes in common – trauma, subjectivity, and upheaval. Both works contain characters dealing with the effects of both personal and collective trauma. Million-Year Elegies really ruminates on the topic of trauma – it writes from the perspective of ancient creatures who have survived (or failed to survive) mass extinctions, as well as creatures dealing with predators and injuries and other shattering events on a more personal level. It talks about loss and grief and how cycles of abuse replicate themselves, and it also talks about growth and flourishing and rebirth and how life springs up again in a new form after devastation.
The Outside series has a lot of individually traumatized characters, and The Fallen in particular does a lot to show how they are coping with trauma and what the longer-term effects are. Maybe it does too much with that; my writing is a little too introspective for some readers’ tastes, even when there are things blowing up, cosmic horrors stalking the earth, and cool cyborg angels swooping around in big spaceships. But that’s just me and how I think. And it deals with massive changes to a particular planet that fundamentally and traumatically alter what life is like there, and how the whole society of that world has adjusted in a bid to survive.
We are, of course, in the middle of a mass extinction right now, as well as a pandemic, a resurgence of fascism, and various other global emergencies, and I think that’s beginning to bubble up through everyone’s creative work in more and more obvious ways. And I’ve never really been interested in writing calls to action about these things – I sort of think that everyone in my reach who can act, already knows they should act, and is probably beating themselves up for not doing more! But I suppose what does interest me as a writer is understanding what these crises do to people’s minds and to the ways they connect or fail to connect with one another. So that shows up in a big way in both works.
The other theme I mentioned is subjectivity. Dr. Talirr likes to say that reality is a lie – that there’s something about our perception that inherently fails to grasp some of the deepest truths. Million-Year Elegies plays with that idea in its own way; there are a lot of poems about humans finding dinosaur bones and inherently interpreting them in a human, culturally specific way, failing to grasp something about them. Filling in the gaps in what’s known with their own human concerns, I suppose, as one would with frog DNA. And my own take on what dinosaurs mean to me or what I imagine them saying and experiencing, in the poems, is just as human and just as subjective. A human point of view is something you can’t ever really escape from, and I’m not even sure the effects would be desirable if we did, but I think about it a lot.
Autistic Book Party is something I started over a decade ago, when I was much less established as a writer than I am now, and the publishing landscape for autistic people was also a bit different. It’s definitely been a project I’ve learned a lot from as a writer – I had to teach myself wider knowledge about autistic community and self-advocacy as I went, and I started noticing all sorts of patterns I hadn’t noticed before. I’ve learned a lot about autism representation, what’s out there, what the common problems are, where the gaps are, and also about the good work that many autistic authors are already doing. It’s enriched how I write about autism but it’s also been something that I feel a need to step away from at times. When you think so intensely about representing a particular thing it gets easy to overthink it, and to stop writing projects before they begin because you’re so worried about getting it wrong. When you see the viciousness on social media towards authors who do get it wrong – which doesn’t just mean writing something bigoted by accident, or phrasing something carelessly but also just writing representation in a way that isn’t what some portion of the audience was hoping for – it’s easy for this worry to be magnified. Sometimes I have to step out of my critical reviewer’s mind and just shamelessly follow some other creative impulse and see what happens, because otherwise I just won’t write anything at all. And sometimes that conflict makes me angst about whether this kind of reviewing is even a good idea. But the reviews series is so important to so many autistic readers, I always end up resolving to keep it going in some form.
Tell me more about Everything Thaws, your upcoming poetry memoir. In this memoir you’ve promised to cover a wide range of topics – Soviet Jews, climate change, queerness, multigenerational trauma. It sounds like heavy and fascinating work. What can Birdverse readers expect from you when they come to this book?
RB: Awesome! I felt there was a connection to be made between Million-Year Elegies and The Outside, and I love how you articulated it. As for being “too introspective”, that’s what I especially love about your writing. I think introspection is necessary with the themes you are dealing with – examining the very nature of reality demands a fair amount of introspection, I think! Of course, this reflects my own preferences – I am always on the lookout for stories that deal with the impact of action – all too often fast-paced books do not stop to consider the impact of these fast-paced, often traumatic experiences on the protagonists, and I find this difficult to relate to. The attention to trauma and neurodiversity is something I really appreciate about your fiction, in-between the cool cosmic horror!
Everything Thaws is about multigenerational trauma and memory, it is a very migrant, diasporic text. It’s my first fully-fledged foray into non-speculative writing, and it’s something I felt compelled to write and worked on for three years after my father passed away. I am glad this book found a good home, and I’m looking forward to what people think about it – people beyond the speculative realm, actually. I have no idea what Birdverse readers might get from this – beyond that it is something I wrote and it deals with my usual themes – identity, migration, queerness, history, art, materiality – in a realistic setting that includes an ice dragon. The dragon existed.
Reading The Outside, I couldn’t stop thinking about the punitive “corrective” treatments Dr. Talirr underwent as a child. The treatments were designed to wean her off the Outside heresy, but given that Dr. Talirr is also autistic, I felt that this evoked a discussion of ABA and similar terrible treatments so often inflicted upon autistic children. This treatment has a traumatizing impact upon Dr. Talirr as a child, and her parents decide to pull her out of treatment despite the wishes of the agents of Nemesis. I would love to hear your thoughts about the “cure” narratives we encounter so often in stories with neurodiverse and/or disabled protagonists – as a field, we have been pushing against these narratives for quite some time, but I feel that we still have quite a ways to go, both as a society and in publishing. Do you intend to continueexploring these themes in the future?
ADA: Thank you for this question! I think we see this less often nowadays in speculative fiction than we did even ten years ago, the idea that a happy ending for an autistic character is to cure their autism and make them neurotypical. People are becoming more aware that this isn’t what an autistic person would consider a happy ending, that it involves essentially destroying the person the character was until that point, and remaking them into a new shape, and autistic people generally do not want to go through that process. Even from the people providing ABA-like therapies, I see slightly more awareness these days. Ivor Lovaas, who invented this therapy, famously said that the autistic child was not a person and that the person needed to be built through conditioning. Nowadays we do not see providers using this language – they talk more about building skills and getting the child to be ready to face the world.
Yet, the therapies are still abusive. The Judge Rotenberg Center is still using electric shocks as an aversive! Even the softest, most outwardly positive, punishment-free versions of ABA are coercive in nature. The child’s expressions of distress or attempts to withdraw consent are ignored. And the aim of the therapy, the skills being built, are skills of conformity and acting as a neurotypical adult expects, even if it compounds the autistic person’s distress. There is an assumption that if the autistic person is outwardly remade and begins to look neurotypical, from the outside, then this will make it easier for them to live a fulfilling life in neurotypical society. When, actually, the opposite is true – the skill of masking, looking neurotypical, has significant negative effects on mental health and even on life skills. This is borne out by the data, when people bother to collect the data on autistic adults. It’s a constant, exhausting, dehumanizing effort. And the impulse to teach autistic people this skill, I think, comes from the same place as the impulse to cure them. The underlying aim is not to make the autistic person happy, but to free neurotypical people from having to think about autism.
I should note that when I talk about this, I am not speaking from lived experience – I am not an ABA survivor myself. ABA is generally done to young children and I was not diagnosed until my teens. But I am speaking based on what I have consistently heard from many different ABA survivors in the autistic community. And I think that even for autistic people who did not go through therapy, we are taught through more informal means that we need to mask in order to survive or be worthy of existing among other people. And at some point in our lives we have to actively unlearn that, often in the wake of burnout when it becomes impossible to do anymore.
As for returning to these themes, it’s really hard to say. My writing process is that I start with a character or scene idea that seems very shiny and exciting to me, and I construct the scaffolding of a plot around that; many of the deeper themes of the work don’t become apparent until later, when I’ve worked on it more and seen the shape it takes on the page. I didn’t know that Dr. Talirr was going to have something ABA-like in her backstory until I was midway through the draft. So, I have no specific plans, but that doesn’t mean I won’t return to it at some point!
Definitely the theme of masking, if not of therapy or cures exactly, is one that I have been thinking about almost obsessively for the past couple of years. Not just in terms of autism, but also in terms of how queer people mask some part of themselves in order to pass or stay closeted, how all sorts of marginalized people have to mask as a part of respectability politics – even if their marginalization as such, in terms of what label applies to them, is not kept secret. It is a survival strategy; I do not want to call it morally wrong. But it takes such a toll on us as humans and on our relationships with each other as humans. I feel like I am actively searching for ways to unmask more, and I am also wrestling with how to balance that need with the need for privacy and safety. So I would be shocked if that search isn’t reflected in my future fiction at some point, but I don’t know yet exactly where it will be, or what it will look like. It will find a place to situate itself, I am sure.
You mentioned that you see Ursula K. Le Guin as your lodestar. You edited a poetry collection, Climbing Lightly Through Forests, in honor of Le Guin, which included your own literary overview of Le Guin’s poetry. (Spoiler alert: a poem of mine appears in Climbing Lightly Through Forests as well.) I heard you have now received a grant to produce an academic book about this topic. Can you tell me more about this project? What draws you to Le Guin’s poetry in particular? What have you learned so far by looking at it, and what are you hoping to learn in the archives?
RB: I’m very excited about any future work you might do that explores masking, both as a survival strategy and something that can be toxic and erasing – it’s something I struggle with in my own life, and I am sure anything you write about it will be meaningful.
As for Climbing Lightly Through Forests, I co-edited this collection with Lisa M.Bradley, whose work in both prose and poetry should definitely be more widely known! When I originally pitched the book to Aqueduct, I promised to write a Le Guin poetry retrospective to round out the volume of poetic tributes. I knew Ursula’s poetry well and read many of her collections, but I did not realize just how much poetry she’s written, and how deeply she cared about her poetry throughout her life – the first thing she’s written, at age five, was a poem, and she worked on her poetry until the very last. The vast majority of her poetry is not speculative, but it reflects her inner rich life, her recurrent and evolving perspectives on dying, and on the nature of the Pacific Northwest. Early in 2020, I was named the 2020 Le Guin Feminist Fellow by the University of Oregon Libraries, but the library closed to outside researchers during the pandemic, and I could not do my archival research. I am finally getting my chance to go this August. I am hoping to find correspondence, any journal entries, and other archival material that could shed light on her process as a poet. I’m also hoping to find unpublished poems! I am tentatively calling my academic manuscript in process My Old Tongue Breaks in Two: The Poetry of Ursula K. Le Guin. I hope to report more on my findings later this summer, mostly on Patreon – this is where I’m mostly at, these days.
What’s next for you as an author? What are you working on right now?
ADA: Right now I am working on Book Three in the Outside series (which has yet to be named, although in my notes I am calling it simply, Nemesis.) I am really struggling with this one and I’m not quite sure yet what form it will take by the time it has been finished and revised and sent to readers, but it is going to happen! My hope for it is that it goes even further – in one direction or another! to be determined! – than the books before it.
And to wrap up, I will ask the same question back to you – what are you working on now? What future project, or projects, are you most excited about?
RB: I am finishing the big revision on my new Birdverse novel The Unbalancing, which is a book about a group of queer and nonbinary magic keepers who are trying to prevent an environmental and magical disaster. The book started out as a novella, but it has been expanded into a short(ish) novel now, and I am looking forward to share these people, and these themes, with my readers. After that, I’ll go back to work on my big Birdverse novel Bridgers, which I keep talking about. It’s about revolution and linguistics and deeply explored Jewish themes, and I need to get this right.
Thank you for a chance to ask and answer these questions! I am very excited for the launch of The Fallen – looking forward to finishing the book, it’s great so far!! I hope more and more people will find your work.
ADA: You’re very welcome, RB, and thank you too for these wonderful questions and answers! It’s been a pleasure and I hope your future projects go very well.
Ada Hoffmann is the author of the space opera novel THE OUTSIDE, its sequel THE FALLEN, the collection MONSTERS IN MY MIND, and dozens of speculative short stories and poems. Ada’s work has been a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award (2020, THE OUTSIDE), the Compton Crook Award (2020, THE OUTSIDE), and the WSFA Small Press Award (2020, “Fairest of All”).
Ada was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 13, and is passionate about autistic self-advocacy. Her Autistic Book Party review series is devoted to in-depth discussions of autism representation in speculative fiction. Much of her own work also features autistic characters.
Ada is an adjunct professor of computer science at a major Canadian university, and she did her PhD thesis (in 2018) on teaching computers to write poetry. She is a former semi-professional soprano, tabletop gaming enthusiast, and LARPer. She lives in eastern Ontario.
R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe to the US. R.B.’s novella The Four Profound Weaves (Tachyon, 2020) is a finalist for the Nebula, Ignyte, and Locus awards. R.B.’s novel The Unbalancing is forthcoming from Tachyon in 2022, and their poetry memoir Everything Thaws will be published by Ben Yehuda Press, also in 2022. You can find R.B. on Twitter at @rb_lemberg, on Patreon at http://patreon.com/rblemberg, and at their website rblemberg.net
Today on the site we’re welcoming Honni van Rijswijk, author of dystopian thriller Breeder, which just released on Tuesday from Blackstone publishing! Honni’s here to talk about the writing process for their novel, the “dark/bleak” elements that dominate it, and why such fiction can be kinda cheering, actually, regarding both their queer sexuality and nonbinary identity. But before we get to that, here’s a little more on the book:
Will Meadows is a seemingly average fifteen-year-old Westie, who lives and works in Zone F, the run-down outermost ring of the Corporation. In the future state of the Corp, a person’s value comes down to productivity: the right actions win units, the wrong ones lose them. If Will is unlucky and goes into unit debt, there’s only one place to go: the Rator. But for Zone F Breeders, things are much worse–they’re born into debt and can only accrue units through reproduction.
Every day in Zone F is a struggle, especially for Will who is fighting against time for access to an illegal medical drug, Crystal 8. Under the cover of night, Will travels to the Gray Zone, where life is less regulated and drugs–and people–are exchanged for gold. There, Will meets Rob, a corrupt member of the Corporation running a Breeder smuggling operation. Will also meets Alex, another teen whom he quickly recognizes as a Breeder in disguise.
Suddenly, Will has an illicit job and money, access to Crystal, and a real friend. As the pair grows closer, Alex shares her secret: she is part of the Response, an uprising to overthrow the Corporation. Caught up in the new friendship, Will and Alex become careless as the two covertly travel into Zone B for a day of adventure. Nothing goes as planned and Will’s greatest fear is realized. Will his true identity be revealed?
My novel Breeder is set in a bleak world. It takes place after a catastrophic environmental apocalypse, where an avaricious corporation has taken control of all resources, and treats all people (except its shareholders) as resources to be used and then discarded. Part of its violence involves the ways it controls people through rigid gender norms–boys/men are only used for labor, and girls/women are only used for reproduction. The main character, a 15-year-old called Will, has to navigate this extreme world and readers witness Will doing so in ways that are often ethically problematic. Why did I want to set up this world, as an author, and what do we gain, as readers, from bleak possibilities and morally gray characters?
I’ve always been drawn to “dark” novels and films–horror, sci-fi, and extreme realism. As readers, we gain a lot from these bleak worlds. Samara Morgan, the vengeful ghost/demon in the horror story THE RING helps us understand the brutal possibilities of the mother/daughter relationship. Serena Joy’s callous upholding of religious and gender norms in The Handmaid’s Tale reveals white women’s complicity in historical oppression. The devastating realist trauma represented in Stone Butch Blues brings home the violence experienced by gender queer people. As a nonbinary person brought up as a girl, I’ve experienced violence based on gender identity and sexuality, and I needed these dark tales as catharsis, recognition and articulation. It has always been a relief to me to see violence I’ve experienced told back to me as stories. Why is this the case? Because these bleak tales offer frameworks of recognition from places that sometimes haven’t been recognised before. They provide us a language of trauma, and also languages of responsibility and accountability–once we have these languages, we can recognise and speak to each other, we can speak back to power. These stories provide ways to call for justice, through the frameworks of revenge, tragedy and revolution.
In Breeder, the main character, Will, is nonbinary, trying to navigate a world that refuses any possibility of gender fluidity and, indeed, any lived experience outside that of being a productive cog within the Corporation. I wanted to explore this extreme world as a way to explore our current world–where we’re absolutely facing environmental collapse, hyper-capitalism and conservative backlash on reproductive freedom as well as LGBTQI rights. Through the character of Will, I wanted to explore what a young person at the intersections of these crisis might do. Will is at the bottom of the class order in the Corp; they are nonbinary, assigned AFAB, and they have no legacy Units. Structurally, everything is against them. I wanted to explore what moral choices a character might make in that situation–will they conform or will they rebel? Will they create alliances with other excluded people, or will they try to make the best of their difficult situation? In Breeder, I set up extreme versions of choices that I, and many LGBTQI people, have had to make throughout our lives. We might not always agree with the choices that Will makes, but hopefully people can empathise with why Will might make these choices. For me, as both a reader and a writer, it’s only in these extreme and bleak worlds that I see versions of my own experience reflected and so I will always seek them out!
Want your own copy of Breeder? The author is giving away two copies, and yes, this giveaway is international! Just comment below with what kind of fiction you gravitate toward for comfort and/or catharsis and we’ll pick two winners on Friday, July 23rd!
Honni van Rijswijk is a writer, lawyer, and academic. Breeder is their debut novel. Their fiction has appeared in Southerly and was short-listed for Zoetrope: All-Story. They are a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney, where their research focuses on intersections between law, technology, and culture. They live in Sydney, Australia, with their partner and daughter.
Today is International Nonbinary Day, so here’s a post to help you celebrate in traditional bookish fashion! This post only includes books that were not previously featured in International Nonbinary People’s Day posts, so for more, click here!
Whenever Ari’s Uncle Lior comes to visit, they ask Ari one question: “What are your words?” Some days Ari uses she/her. Other days Ari uses he/him. But on the day of the neighborhood’s big summer bash, Ari doesn’t know what words to use. On the way to the party, Ari and Lior meet lots of neighbors and learn the words each of them use to describe themselves, including pronouns like she/her, he/him, they/them, ey/em, and ze/zir. As Ari tries on different pronouns, they discover that it’s okay to not know your words right away–sometimes you have to wait for your words to find you.
Filled with bright, graphic illustrations, this simple and poignant story about finding yourself is the perfect introduction to gender-inclusive pronouns for readers of all ages.
Text: Gayle E. Pitman and
Illustration: Anne Passchier
My Maddy has hazel eyes which are not brown or green. And my Maddy likes sporks because they are not quite a spoon or a fork.
Some of the best things in the world are not one thing or the other. They are something in between and entirely their own.
Randall Ehrbar, PsyD, offers an insightful note with more information about parents who are members of gender minority communities, including transgender, gender non-binary, or otherwise gender diverse people.
The worry kept growing day by day, until… one morning Small Knight woke up to see a huge inky black monster in their room.
When Small Knight feels pressure from their parents to be a perfect princess, an anxiety monster shows up. No one else can see the monster, so Small Knight and their best friend Tiny Bear, decide that it is up to them to save themselves. They set off on a magical quest, only to discover that the answer was inside themselves all along. Turning to face the Anxiety Monster, they learn how to keep it under control.
Personal and whimsical, Manka Kasha’s debut picture book is a beautiful story about understanding your anxiety and finding the courage to face it.
Ash is no stranger to feeling like an outcast. For someone who cycles through genders, it’s a daily struggle to feel in control of how people perceive you. Some days Ash is undoubtedly girl, but other times, 100 percent guy. Daniel lacks control too—of his emotions. He’s been told he’s overly sensitive more times than he can count. He can’t help the way he is, and he sure wishes someone would accept him for it.
So when Daniel’s big heart leads him to rescue a dog that’s about to be euthanized, he’s relieved to find Ash willing to help. The two bond over their four-legged secret. When they start catching feelings for each other, however, things go from cute to complicated. Daniel thinks Ash is all girl . . . what happens when he finds out there’s more to Ash’s story?
With so much on the line—truth, identity, acceptance, and the life of an adorable pup named Chewbarka—will Ash and Daniel forever feel at war with themselves because they don’t fit into the world’s binaries? Or will their friendship help them embrace the beauty of living in between?
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.
Essie is a thirteen-year-old girl feeling glum about starting a new school after her professor dad takes a temporary teaching position in a different town. She has 110 days here and can’t wait for them to end. Then she meets Ollie: delicate, blue eyes, short hair, easy smile. At first, Essie thinks she has a typical crush on a beautiful boy. But as her crush blossoms, she soon realizes that Ollie is not a boy or a girl, but gender non-binary.
Meanwhile, Ollie is experiencing a crush of their own . . . on Essie. As Ollie struggles to balance their passion for queer advocacy with their other interests, they slowly find themselves falling for a girl whose stay is about to come to an end. Can the two unwind their merry-go-round of feelings before it’s too late?
She can pry into folks’ memories with just a touch of their belongings. It’s something she’s always kept hidden — especially from her big, chaotic family. Their lives are already chock-full of worries about Daddy’s job and Mama’s blues without Tennie rocking the boat.
But when the Lancasters move to the mountains for a fresh start, Tennie’s gift does something new. Instead of just memories, her touch releases a ghost with a terrifying message: Trouble is coming. Tennie wants to ignore it. Except her new friend Fox — scratch that, her only friend, Fox — is desperate to go ghost hunting deep in the forest. And when Tennie frees even more of the spirits, trouble is exactly what she gets… and it hits close to home. The ghosts will be heard, and now Tennie must choose between keeping secrets or naming an ugly truth that could tear her family apart.
Magic and mayhem abound in this spooky story about family legacies, first friendships, and how facing the ghosts inside can sometimes mean stirring up a little bit of ruckus.
The first LGBTQ+ anthology for middle-graders featuring stories for every letter of the acronym, including realistic, fantasy, and sci-fi stories by authors like Justina Ireland, Marieke Nijkamp, Alex Gino, and more!
A boyband fandom becomes a conduit to coming out. A former bully becomes a first-kiss prospect. One nonbinary kid searches for an inclusive athletic community after quitting gymnastics. Another nonbinary kid, who happens to be a pirate, makes a wish that comes true–but not how they thought it would. A tween girl navigates a crush on her friend’s mom. A young witch turns herself into a puppy to win over a new neighbor. A trans girl empowers her online bestie to come out.
From wind-breathing dragons to first crushes, This Is Our Rainbow features story after story of joyful, proud LGBTQIA+ representation. You will fall in love with this insightful, poignant anthology of queer fantasy, historical, and contemporary stories from authors including: Eric Bell, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Ashley Herring Blake, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Justina Ireland, Shing Yin Khor, Katherine Locke, Mariama J. Lockington, Nicole Melleby, Marieke Nijkamp, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, Molly Knox Ostertag, Aida Salazar, and AJ Sass.
In this #OwnVoices LGBTQ young adult debut, Alex comes to realize his true identity as a young woman named Sasha Masha.
Alex feels like he is in the wrong body. His skin feels strange against his bones. And then comes Tracy, who thinks he’s adorably awkward, who wants to kiss him, who makes him feel like a Real Boy. But it is not quite enough. Something is missing. Is the missing piece a part of Alex himself?
As Alex grapples with his identity, he finds himself trying on dresses and swiping on lipstick in the quiet of his bedroom. He meets Andre, a gay boy who is beautiful and unafraid to be who he is. Slowly, Alex begins to realize: Maybe his name isn’t Alex at all. Maybe it’s Sasha Masha.
The Hazards of Love follows the story of a queer teen from Queens who makes some mistakes, gets dragged into a fantastical place, and tries to hustle their way back home.
Amparo’s deal with the talking cat was simple: a drop of blood and Amparo’s name to become a better person. Their mother and abuela would never worry about them again, and they’d finally be worthy of dating straight-A student Iolanthe. But when the cat steals their body, becoming the better person they were promised, Amparo’s spirit is imprisoned in a land of terrifying, flesh-hungry creatures known as Bright World.
With cruel and manipulative masters and a society that feeds on memories, Amparo must use their cleverness to escape, without turning into a monster like the rest. On “the other side,” Iolanthe begins to suspect the new Amparo has a secret, and after the cat in disguise vanishes, she’s left searching for answers with a no-nonsense medium from the lesbian mafia and the only person who might know the truth about Bright World.
Noah Ramirez thinks he’s an expert on romance. He has to be for his popular blog, the Meet Cute Diary, a collection of trans happily ever afters. There’s just one problem—all the stories are fake. What started as the fantasies of a trans boy afraid to step out of the closet has grown into a beacon of hope for trans readers across the globe.
When a troll exposes the blog as fiction, Noah’s world unravels. The only way to save the Diary is to convince everyone that the stories are true, but he doesn’t have any proof. Then Drew walks into Noah’s life, and the pieces fall into place: Drew is willing to fake-date Noah to save the Diary. But when Noah’s feelings grow beyond their staged romance, he realizes that dating in real life isn’t quite the same as finding love on the page.
Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph used to think their friendship was unbreakable. After all, they’ve been though a lot together, including the astronomical rise of Moonlight Overthrow, the world-famous queer pop band they formed in middle school, never expecting to headline anything bigger than the county fair.
But after a sudden falling out leads to the dissolution of the teens’ band, their friendship, and Eva and Celeste’s starry-eyed romance, nothing is the same. Gina and Celeste step further into the spotlight, Steph disappears completely, and Eva, heartbroken, takes refuge as a songwriter and secret online fangirl…of her own band. That is, until a storm devastates their hometown, bringing the four ex-best-friends back together. As they prepare for one last show, they’ll discover whether growing up always means growing apart.
Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice.
Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights–and they refuse to be silenced.
When Liam Cooper’s older brother Ethan is killed in a hit-and-run, Liam has to not only learn to face the world without one of the people he loved the most, but also face the fading relationship with his two best friends.
Feeling more alone and isolated than ever, Liam finds themself sharing time with Marcus, Ethan’s best friend, and through Marcus, Liam finds the one person that seems to know exactly what they’re going through, for the better, and the worse.
This book is about grief. But it’s also about why we live. Why we have to keep moving on, and why we should.
Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.
Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.
After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.
But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.
For five friends, it was supposed to be one last getaway before they went their separate ways—a time to say goodbye to each other, and to the game they’ve been playing for the past 3 years. But they all have their own demons to deal with and they’re all hiding secrets.
Finn hasn’t been able to trust anyone since he was attacked a few months ago. Popular girl Liva saw it happen and did nothing to stop it. Maddy was in an accident that destroyed her sports career. Carter is drowning under the weight of his family’s expectations. Ever wants to keep the game going for as long as they can, at all costs.
And things take a deadly twist when the game turns against them.
Three different worlds. Three different Quinns. Who decides which one is real?
The first Brume is a waking nightmare, overrun by literal monsters and cutthroat survivors. For Quinn, who is openly genderqueer, the only bright side is their friendship with Lia—and the hope that there might still be a safe place to live beyond the fog.
The second Brume is a prison with no bars. Forced by her conservative parents to “sort out” their sexuality at Camp Redemption, Quinn must also, secretly, figure out why presenting as female has never felt quite right.
The third Brume is a war zone. For Quinn, who presents as male, leading the Resistance against an authoritarian government is hard, since even the Resistance might not accept them if they knew Quinn’s truth.
As Quinn starts to realize that they might be one person alternating among these three worlds and identities, they wonder: Which world is the real one? Or do they all contain some deeper truth?
Syd (no pronouns, please) has always dealt with big, hard-to-talk-about things by baking. Being dumped is no different, except now Syd is baking at the Proud Muffin, a queer bakery and community space in Austin. And everyone who eats Syd’s breakup brownies . . . breaks up. Even Vin and Alec, who own the Proud Muffin. And their breakup might take the bakery down with it. Being dumped is one thing; causing ripples of queer heartbreak through the community is another. But the cute bike delivery person, Harley (he or they, check the pronoun pin, it’s probably on the messenger bag), believes Syd about the magic baking. And Harley believes Syd’s magical baking can fix things, too—one recipe at a time.
The Hope Juvenile Treatment Center is ironically named. No one has hope for the delinquent teenagers who have been exiled there; the world barely acknowledges that they exist.
Then the guards at Hope start acting strange. And one day…they don’t show up. But when the teens band together to make a break from the facility, they encounter soldiers outside the gates. There’s a rapidly spreading infectious disease outside, and no one can leave their houses or travel without a permit. Which means that they’re stuck at Hope. And this time, no one is watching out for them at all.
As supplies quickly dwindle and a deadly plague tears through their ranks, the group has to decide whom among them they can trust and figure out how they can survive in a world that has never wanted them in the first place.
Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.
Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it, and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide.
The Fountains of Silence meets Spinning Silver in this rollicking tale set amid the 1956 Hungarian revolution in post-WWII Communist Budapest from Sydney Taylor Honor winner Katherine Locke.
In the middle of Budapest, there is a river. Csilla knows the river is magic. During WWII, the river kept her family safe when they needed it most–safe from the Holocaust. But that was before the Communists seized power. Before her parents were murdered by the Soviet police. Before Csilla knew things about her father’s legacy that she wishes she could forget.
Now Csilla keeps her head down, planning her escape from this country that has never loved her the way she loves it. But her carefully laid plans fall to pieces when her parents are unexpectedly, publicly exonerated. As the protests in other countries spur talk of a larger revolution in Hungary, Csilla must decide if she believes in the promise and magic of her deeply flawed country enough to risk her life to help save it, or if she should let it burn to the ground.
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.
When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.
After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
Alani Baum, a non-binary photographer and teacher, hasn’t seen their mother since they ran away with their girlfriend when they were seventeen — almost thirty years ago. But when Alani gets a call from a doctor at the assisted living facility where their mother has been for the last five years, they learn that their mother’s dementia has worsened and appears to have taken away her ability to speak. As a result, Alani suddenly find themselves running away again — only this time, they’re running back to their mother.
Staying at their mother’s empty home, Alani attempts to tie up the loose ends of their mother’s life while grappling with the painful memories that—in the face of their mother’s disease — they’re terrified to lose. Meanwhile, the memories inhabiting the house slowly grow animate, and the longer Alani is there, the longer they’re forced to confront the fact that any closure they hope to get from this homecoming will have to be manufactured.
Dev has been with xyr service submissive Noam for seven years and xe loves them very much. Dev and Noam have built a good life together in Noam’s family home in Oakland, where they both can practice their magecraft, celebrate the high holidays in comfort, support each other as their disabilities flare, and where Noam can spend Shabbos with their beloved family ghost.
But Dev’s got a problem: xe has been in so much arthritis pain recently that xe has not been able to shield properly. As an empath, no shielding means Dev cannot safely touch Noam. That has put a strain on their relationship, and it feels like Noam is pulling away from xym. To top it off, Dev has just had an upsetting dream-vision about xyrself and Noam that caused one of the biggest meltdowns xe has had in a while. It’s only with a timely tarot reading and the help of another genderfluid mage that Dev is able to unpack the situation. Can xe figure out how to address the issues in xyr relationship with Noam before everything falls apart?
After a lifetime of failed relationships, non-binary history professor Sam Bell is committed to a new (non)romantic strategy: Thirst Only. It’s the actual drinking where things get too complicated, where Sam inevitably gets hurt.
Sam is good at being thirsty, though, especially when it’s karaoke night at The Moonlight Café, otherwise known as Moonie’s to its largely queer regulars. Moonie’s is fun. Comfortable. Safe. Except for tonight, when one by one, all of Sam’s friends abandon them. Disappointed, they prepare to leave—until their #1 karaoke crush catches their eye…
For Lily Fischer, karaoke at Moonie’s is the only time she can step outside of her quiet shell. When there’s a mic in her hand, she’s no longer merely a receptionist harboring big dreams. At Moonie’s, Lily can pretend to be someone else: someone bold, who takes what she wants. And tonight, what Lily wants is the way Sam looks at her across the room as she sings her signature opening song, like they see her exactly as she wants to be seen. Like Moonie’s Lily is real.
As the night progresses, both Sam’s and Lily’s personal fears are tested, and the real world outside of Moonie’s looms. But maybe sometimes, the real world should be a little more like karaoke. It’s not always about knowing all the right words or having the perfect voice. Maybe all Sam and Lily need is a little courage to pick up the mic, and sing anyway.
What would the future look like if we weren’t so hung up on putting people into boxes and instead empowered each other to reach for the stars? Take a ride with us as we explore a future where trans and nonbinary people are the heroes.
In worlds where bicycle rides bring luck, a minotaur needs a bicycle, and werewolves stalk the post-apocalyptic landscape, nobody has time to question gender. Whatever your identity, you’ll enjoy these stories that are both thought-provoking and fun adventures.
Featuring brand-new stories from Hugo, Nebula, and Lambda Literary Award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders, Ava Kelly, Juliet Kemp, Rafi Kleiman, Tucker Lieberman, Nathan Alling Long, Ether Nepenthes, and Nebula-nominated M. Darusha Wehm. Also featuring debut stories from Diana Lane and Marcus Woodman.
Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.
Claire owns the Croissant-toi, but while her days are filled with pastries and customers, her nights are dedicated to stealing exocores. These new red gems are heralded as the energy of the future, but she knows the truth: they are made of witches’ souls.
When her twin—a powerful witch and prime exocore material—disappears, Claire redoubles in her efforts to investigate. She keeps running into Adèle, however, and whether or not she can save her sister might depend on their conflicted, unstable, but deepening relationship.
Parole is still burning. And now the day everyone has been waiting for is finally here: it’s collapsed. A lucky few managed to escape with their lives. But while their city burned, the world outside suffered its own devastating disaster. The Tartarus Zone is a deadly wasteland a thousand miles wide, filled with toxic storms, ghostly horrors, and just as many Eyes in the Sky as ever. Somehow, this new nightmare is connected to Parole. And it’s spreading.
Now Parole’s only hope lies in the hands of three teenagers reunited by their long-lost friend Gabriel – in their dreams. Growing up outside Parole, Shiloh Cole always had to keep xir energetic powers a secret, except from xir parents, Parole’s strategist-hero Garrett, and Tartarus expert Maureen. When Parole collapsed, all contact was lost. Now, connected by Gabriel and their colliding pasts, xie joins collapse survivor Annie and the enigmatic, charismatic Chance on a desperate cross-country race, carrying a disc of xir mother’s vital plans, whose encrypted contents may be Parole’s salvation. First they’ll board the FireRunner, a ship full of familiar faces that now sails through Tartarus’ poison storms. Together, they’ll survive Tartarus’ hazards, send a lifeline to lost Parole – and uncover the mystery connecting every one of them.
The world outside Parole isn’t the one they remember, and it didn’t want them back. But they’ll save it just the same. It’s what heroes do.
In this queer polyamorous m/f romance novella, two metamours realize they have crushes on each other while planning their shared partner’s birthday party together.
Ernest, a Jewish autistic demiromantic queer fat trans man submissive, and Nora, a Jewish disabled queer fat femme cis woman switch, have to contend with an age gap, a desire not to mess up their lovely polyamorous dynamic as metamours, the fact that Ernest has never been attracted to a cis person before, and the reality that they are romantically attracted to each other, all while planning their dominant’s birthday party and trying to do a really good job.
Sohmeng Par is sick of being treated like a child. Ever since a tragic accident brought her mountain community’s coming-of-age ritual to a halt, she’s caused nothing but trouble in her impatience to become an adult. But when she finally has the chance to prove herself, she’s thrown from her life in the mountains and into the terror of the jungle below.
Cornered by a colony of reptilian predators known as the sãoni, Sohmeng is rescued by Hei, an eccentric exile with no shortage of secrets. As likely to bite Sohmeng as they are to cook her breakfast, this stranger and their family of lizards are like nothing she’s ever seen before. If she wants to survive, she must find a way to adapt to the vibrant, deadly world of the rainforest and the creatures that inhabit it—including Hei themself. But Sohmeng has secrets of her own, and sharing them could mean losing everything a second time.
The first openly nonbinary contestant on America’s favorite cooking show falls for their clumsy competitor in this delicious romantic comedy debut “that is both fantastically fun and crack your heart wide open vulnerable.” (Rosie Danan, author of The Roommate)
Recently divorced and on the verge of bankruptcy, Dahlia Woodson is ready to reinvent herself on the popular reality competition show Chef’s Special. Too bad the first memorable move she makes is falling flat on her face, sending fish tacos flying—not quite the fresh start she was hoping for. Still, she’s focused on winning, until she meets someone she might want a future with more than she needs the prize money.
After announcing their pronouns on national television, London Parker has enough on their mind without worrying about the klutzy competitor stationed in front of them. They’re there to prove the trolls—including a fellow contestant and their dad—wrong, and falling in love was never part of the plan.
As London and Dahlia get closer, reality starts to fall away. Goodbye, guilt about divorce, anxiety about uncertain futures, and stress from transphobia. Hello, hilarious shenanigans on set, wedding crashing, and spontaneous dips into the Pacific. But as the finale draws near, Dahlia and London’s steamy relationship starts to feel the heat both in and outside the kitchen—and they must figure out if they have the right ingredients for a happily ever after.
Fabulous news for fans of You First by J.C. Lillis (or fans of superhero stories, second chance romance, found family, and general adorableness): sequel The Forever Place releases on August 18th, and we’ve got the cover reveal right here, so come check it out!
Since his breakup with his longtime boyfriend, small-town superhero Levon Ludlow has undergone an extreme life makeover. He’s got two new jobs, a remodeled house, custom-tailored trousers, and the power to talk to an even wider array of snarky and cantankerous animals. He swears he’s too busy with his new life to miss his old love—so when Jay calls with a problem only Levon can help with, he’s sure he can keep it professional and drama-free. Even if it DOES involve two weeks at a honeymoon resort with his ex.
Pairing up as a makeshift team, Levon and Jay head for the Valentines island resort in the Florida Keys, where an outbreak of scandalous guest behavior is linked to a flock of red birds and their strange and alluring song. Levon’s mission: use his animal-talking expertise to decode the birds’ song, uncover their goal, and send them back where they came from. Jay’s mission: use his water-moving skills to protect the island from a storm that’s brewing on the horizon. As Levon and Jay work together and reminisce in this land of heart-shaped tubs and vibrating beds, a flood of old feeling pulls them under—but unresolved issues and guilty secrets could kill their second chance before it gets off the ground. Can they come back together, once and for all, and find a new forever place that works for them both?
The sun-drenched sequel to the bittersweet YOU FIRST, this adult romcom is a funny valentine to superhero stories, found families, and love of all kinds, the old and the new.
Here’s the absolutely lovely cover designed in collaboration between the author and Mindy Dunn!
J.C. Lillis is the author of contemporary YA novels HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART, WE WON’T FEEL A THING, and A&B, plus various other stories about fandom, friendship, love, and art. She lives in Baltimore with her patient family, a possibly haunted dollhouse, and a cat who intends to eat her someday. YOU FIRST and THE FOREVER PLACE are her first adult novels.