Author-illustrator of LOVE, MAMA Jeanette Bradley’s SOMETHING GREAT, about a nonbinary maker kid who uses their creativity and some recyclable materials to craft a versatile invention that can do all sorts of things—including make a friend, to Arthur Levine at Levine Querido, in a pre-empt, for publication in spring 2023, by Emily Mitchell at Wernick & Pratt Agency (world).
Actor and Stonewall Honor-winning author of THE BEST AT IT Maulik Pancholy’s NIKHIL OUT LOUD, about a gay Indian American boy, the star of a hit animated series, who learns the power of using his own voice after his family relocates to a small town in Ohio, to Alessandra Balzer at Balzer & Bray, in an exclusive submission, for publication in fall 2022, by Jessica Regel at Helm Literary (NA).
Young Adult Fiction
Author of the National Book Award finalist and Printz Honoree EVERY BODY LOOKING and the forthcoming BREAK THIS HOUSE Candice Iloh’s SALT THE WATER, a novel-in-verse about a free-spirited genderfluid teen who drops out of twelfth grade after a confrontation with a teacher, but when a family crisis forces them to suddenly take on immense adult responsibilities, their dreams of living life off the grid with their friends crash into the harsh realities of a world full of roadblocks at every turn, to Andrew Karre at Dutton Children’s, for publication in 2023, by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency (world English).
Rod Pulido’s CHASING PACQUIAO, in which a boy is trying to navigate his way out of the closet when his personal idol, Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, makes a statement denigrating all gay people, forcing him on a journey to self-acceptance as he learns what happens when your heroes let you down, to Jenny Bak at Viking Children’s, for publication in summer 2023, by Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (world English).
Ashley Shuttleworth’s books three and four in the Hollow Star Saga, in which four people will either become legends of the mortal realm, or the villains responsible for its ruin, to Sarah McCabe at Margaret K. McElderry Books, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2022, by Mandy Hubbard at Emerald City Literary Agency.
Author of M.F.K. and the forthcoming REEL LOVE Nilah Magruder’s HEX AND HAVOC, following two girls in a caste-based magical society as they fall in love and spark a revolution, illustrated by Sonia Liao, to Stephanie Guerdan at Harper Children’s, in a two-book deal, for publication in summer 2023, by Tricia Lawrence at Erin Murphy Literary Agency for the author (world).
Fiction editor at The Ana Literary Magazine and author of The Marked Ones: Uprising TreVaughn Malik Roach-Carter‘s THE AZIZA CHRONICLES, a queer Afrocentric YA in which a teenage girl discovers the father she never knew belongs to a race of mythical African warriors, and she must use her newfound powers to battle supernatural evils, to Craig Gibb at Deep Hearts, for publication in the fall of 2022.
Author of CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY and cofounder of the Pride Book Fest Steven Salvatore‘s A SUPERCUT OF US, pitched as Jandy Nelson’s I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN meets Dawson’s Creek, a dual-POV novel about twins who must learn to navigate what’s next after their incarcerated father dies and a half-brother they never knew existed moves to their Adirondack lakeside town, to Allison Moore at Bloomsbury Children’s, for publication in 2023, by Jessica Regel at Helm Literary (NA).
Clive Hawken’s WALKER, in which a transgender teenager hits the road in search of a Sasquatch-esque monster in this debut that explores the complexities of otherness and connection, to Mark Podesta at Holt Children’s, for publication in 2024, by Alexander Slater at Trident Media Group (world).
Senior editor at The Yale Review and NYU MFA graduate Maggie Millner’s COUPLETS, a hybrid novel-in-verse following a writer in her late 20s who leaves her longtime boyfriend for an obsessive, consuming affair with another woman; an exploration of queerness, desire, and mirroring, told in rhyming couplets and prose vignettes, to Molly Walls at Farrar, Straus, in a nice deal, by Marya Spence at Janklow & Nesbit (world).
Author of EVERYBODY (ELSE) IS PERFECT Gabrielle Korn’s THE DAUGHTERS OF INSIDE, a queer dystopian novel of suspense set 30 years in the future that follows a young woman accepted to an exclusive climate change relief program that promises to be humanity’s best hope for survival, but proves to be something else entirely when a reclusive billionaire with an ulterior motive takes control, to Hannah O’Grady at St. Martin’s, by Nicki Richesin at Wendy Sherman Associates (world).
Writer, filmmaker, and animator Marcus Kleiwer’s WE USED TO LIVE HERE, about a queer couple who moves into a new house and is soon visited by a family who used to live there, as seen in the viral story from Reddit’s r/NoSleep, to Emily Bestler Books, in a major deal, in a pre-empt.
Finnish author, Finlandia Prize winner, scriptwriter, and theatre director Pirkko Saisio’s THE RED LETTER OF FAREWELL, a portrayal of the 1970s Finland, the politically turbulent era, as well as finding one’s sexual identity and creative voice, to CJ Evans at Two Lines Press, in a nice deal, in a pre-empt, for publication in fall 2022, by Urpu Strellman and Urte Liepuoniute at Helsinki Literary Agency (US).
Mindi Briar’s ADRIFT IN STARLIGHT, in which a gender-neutral courtesan is hired to seduce an asexual museum archeologist, and both are accidentally caught up in an illegal adventure when one of the museum’s alien artifacts comes to life, to Lisa Green at City Owl Press, in a nice deal, for publication in May 2022.
Author of COTTONMOUTHS Kelly Ford’s BAD AS ALL THAT, a queer suspense in which a woman returns to her Arkansas hometown to face potentially deadly consequences 25 years after her violent stepfather disappeared, to Jessica Tribble Wells at Thomas & Mercer, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in summer 2022, by Chris Bucci at Aevitas Creative Management (world).
Misha Popp‘s MAGIC, LIES, AND MURDER PIES, pitched as Pushing Daisies meets Dexter, about a bisexual baker whose mission to protect wronged women by delivering deadly pies to their abusers is threatened by a blackmailer from her past, to Faith Black Ross at Crooked Lane, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2022, by Rebecca Podos at Rees Literary Agency (world).
Claudia Cravens‘s RED, a genre-bending queer feminist Western pitched as True Grit meets Sarah Waters, following a young woman’s transformation from forlorn orphan to successful prostitute to revenge-seeking gunfighter, exploring desire, loyalty, power, and chosen family, to Kate Ballard at Allen & Unwin UK, at auction, by Jennifer Helinek at Trident Media Group on behalf of Alexa Stark (UK/Commonwealth, excl. Canada).
YA author of The Bone Witch trilogy Rin Chupeco‘s SILVER UNDER NIGHTFALL, a queer Gothic fantasy pitched as inspired by Castlevania, following a troubled bounty hunter who must join forces with a royal vampire couple to stop a terrifying new vampiric breed from destroying the kingdom, to Amara Hoshijo at Saga Press, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2023, by Rebecca Podos at Rees Literary Agency (world English).
Author of DETRANSITION, BABY Torrey Peters’s INFECT YOUR FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES, a quartet of taboo-busting novellas that explore the far edges of trans identities across four genres—dystopian, romance, horror, and historical, to Caitlin McKenna at Random House, by Kent Wolf at Neon Literary. UK rights to Leonora Craig Cohen at Serpent’s Tail, by Caspian Dennis at Abner Stein, on behalf of Neon Literary.
Pioneering feminist sex educator and author of OPENING UP Tristan Taormino’s A PART OF THE HEART CAN’T BE EATEN, a look at the author’s coming of age, revealing how the roots of her radical sexual identity and career grew out of an extraordinary queer father/daughter relationship, to Dean Smith at Duke University Press, with Ken Wissoker editing, for publication in fall 2022, by Andrew Blauner at Blauner Books Literary Agency (world).
Two-time National Book Award Finalist Eliot Schrefer‘s QUEER DUCKS (AND OTHER ANIMALS), a conversational, funny, teen-facing exploration of the recent explosion of scientific research into same-sex sexual behavior in animals, investigating the diversity of sexual expression in nature, arguing along the way that queer behavior in animals is as diverse and complex–and as natural–as it is in our own species, to Ben Rosenthal at Harper Children’s, by Richard Pine at Inkwell Management (NA).
Author of ORPHEUS GIRL and Donald Hall Poetry Prize winner Brynne Rebele-Henry’s PRELUDE, a poetry collection that explores the gay female experience through the girlhood of Saint Catherine of Siena, to Peter Kracht at University of Pittsburgh Press, for publication in spring 2022, by Alexandra Franklin at Vicky Bijur Literary Agency (world English).
I am extremely unsecretly a huge fangirl of K. Ancrum’s , so if you’re a fan of the hit podcast Lethal Lit, you can rest assured you’re in good hands as she tackles this original story starring Tig Torres and her sleuthing friends, which takes place between seasons 1 and 2 of the podcast! Murder of Crows releases January 4, 2022 from Scholastic! Here’s the story:
Tig Torres investigates Hollow Falls’ horrific history in this original novel based on the hit podcast Lethal Lit from Einhorn’s Epic Productions and iHeartRadio!
Lethal Lit follows Tig Torres, a Cuban American teen detective, in her hometown of Hollow Falls. In season one of the hit podcast, Tig used her smarts and fearlessness to track down the infamous “Lit Killer,” a serial killer who staged his murders after death scenes from famous books. But there’s no rest for courageous, mystery-solving teens in a place like Hollow Falls, and though the Lit Killer is now behind bars, his protégé, Tig’s classmate and crush Oly, has disappeared!
And that’s not the only game afoot. Tig has caught the attention of the town’s local armchair detective group, the Murder of Crows. They’re obsessed with Hollow Falls’ dark past and fixated on a dangerous search for the missing body of the town’s founder. There are rumors about what’s buried with the body that could be life-changing for whoever finds it, and with a mission like that underway, it’s not long before a member of the Murder of Crows turns up dead.
Tig, along with her friends Max and Wyn, steps in to help, but the stakes are getting higher and the hunt more deadly. Someone’s willing to kill to keep the town’s secrets buried, and if Tig’s not careful, she’ll be the Murder of Crows’ next victim.
This original Lethal Lit story takes place between Seasons 1 and 2 of the podcast, and features a brand-new, never-before-told story starring Tig Torres and her sleuthing friends!
And here’s the cover, designed by Jessica Meltzer and illustrated by Pascal Campion!
K. Ancrum is the author of the award-winning thriller The Wicker King, the lesbian romance The Weight of the Stars, and the Peter Pan thriller Darling. K. is a Chicago native passionate about diversity and representation in young adult fiction. She currently writes most of her work in the lush gardens of the Chicago Art Institute.
Today on the site, we welcome CT Liotta, who’s revealing the cover of his upcoming novel No Good About Goodbye, releasing November 24, 2021 from St. Ire Press/Rot Gut Pulp! Here’s the story behind this coming-of-age thriller/action-adventure pulp:
Fifteen-year-old Ian Racalmuto’s life implodes when his older brother vanishes and his mother, a vodka-drunk spy, dies in a military uprising in Algiers.
Forced to live with his cantankerous grandfather in Philadelphia, Ian has seven days to find his brother and locate a smartphone that could start a war – all while adjusting to life in a troubled urban school and dodging assassins sent to kill him.
Ian soon meets William Xiang – an undocumented immigrant grappling with poverty, a tough family, and hateful classmates. The boys find they make a formidable team. Together they resist school bullies, thwart sociopathic killers, and design a heist at the State Department to foil World War III.
An even greater problem lurks, however: one of the boys has a crush on the other. Will it ruin their friendship and roll up their mission?
CT Liotta was born and raised in West Virginia before moving to Ohio for college, where he earned a degree in biology. He now uses Philadelphia as his base of operations. You can find him the world over.
A younger member of Generation X, Liotta takes interest in writing, travel, personal finance, and sociology. He likes vintage airlines and aircraft, politics, news, foreign affairs, science, classic film, ’80s pop culture and ’40s pulp and film noir. He can be reached on Twitter @CTLiotta and at www.CTLiotta.com.
Today on the site, authors Sim Kern and Cynthia Zhang are here to talk queer fiction, gender and diaspora identities, and climate change! Sim Kern’s debut, the climate horror novella Depart, Depart!, came out in September 2020; Cynthia Zhang’s debut, the urban fantasy After the Dragons, will be released on August 19th. Both authors are published by Stelliform Press, a small press focused on climate change and culture. Here’s more info about both books:
When an unprecedented hurricane devastates the city of Houston, Noah Mishner finds shelter in the Dallas Mavericks’ basketball arena. Though he finds community among other queer refugees, Noah fears his trans and Jewish identities put him at risk with certain “capital-T” Texans. His fears take form when he starts seeing visions of his great-grandfather Abe, who fled Nazi Germany as a boy. As the climate crisis intensifies and conditions in the shelter deteriorate, Abe’s ghost grows more powerful. Ultimately, Noah must decide whether he can trust his ancestor — and whether he’s willing to sacrifice his identity and community in order to survive.
Dragons were fire and terror to the Western world, but in the East they brought life-giving rain. Now, no longer hailed as gods and struggling in the overheated pollution of Beijing, only the Eastern dragons survive. As drought plagues the aquatic creatures, a mysterious disease—shaolong, or “burnt lung”—afflicts the city’s human inhabitants.
Jaded college student Xiang Kaifei scours Beijing streets for abandoned dragons, distracting himself from his diagnosis. Elijah Ahmed, a biracial American medical researcher, is drawn to Beijing by the memory of his grandmother and her death by shaolong. Interest in Beijing’s dragons leads Kai and Eli into an unlikely partnership. With the resources of Kai’s dragon rescue and Eli’s immunology research, can the pair find a cure for shaolong and safety for the dragons? Eli and Kai must confront old ghosts and hard truths if there is any hope for themselves or the dragons they love.
And here’s the conversation: please welcome Sim Kern and Cynthia Zhang!
SK: I was struck by how there’s a similar scene in both our books, where the queer protagonist is wondering whether their grandmother would accept them as their whole queer self. In your book, I’m thinking of the scene where Eli visits his grandmother’s grave and comes out to her posthumously. He can’t know how she’d react, but he “likes to think [she] would have been kind about it,” because she had seen the impact of bigotry and close-mindedness on other members of her family. In Depart, Depart! Noah also wonders what his grandmother would’ve thought about him coming out as trans, and he chooses to believe she would have understood him. The similarity of these scenes was uncanny to me. I think many queer people feel alienated from our ancestors, and our ancestral cultures and religions, because we assume they wouldn’t have accepted us. But at least for their own well-being, both our protagonists reject that narrative. That desire to reclaim my ancestors from a queer perspective was a major driving factor behind Depart, Depart! I’m wondering if you had similar motivation for writing After the Dragons? Besides the scene at the grave, are there other places you’re reclaiming your ancestors or your ancestral culture with this story?
CZ: Culture’s a tricky concept in general, isn’t it? On the one hand, it’s often evoked to gatekeep people and police individual behaviors—“our ancestors wouldn’t have tolerated this homosexual nonsense,” etc. What I think is missing in these kind of arguments is the fact that our understanding of tradition is limited and that culture is often more fluid and diverse than we give it credit for. There are people the official narratives leave out, stories that get mixed-up between translations and tellings before they eventually reach the present, in which they’re reinterpreted once again, maybe this time accessing some of the meanings other generations have missed. In Depart! Depart! Noah’s research into dybbuks gives him a way to connect with Jewishness, but it’s also a buried route, one that he has to search for. Against conservative narratives of identity, I think it’s important to remember our understandings of the past are always limited and imperfect.
That’s the abstract, theoretical answer. In terms of After the Dragons, before writing the novel, I don’t think I’d worked too closely with Chinese folklore in my fiction. I knew some of it, of course, from cartoons and books, but it wasn’t familiar in the same way werewolves and vampires were. My Chinese-American experience shares a lot of similarities with that of my cousins in mainland China, but there’s still a significant gap between us, bits of pieces of each other that we don’t quite get. In writing and doing research for After the Dragons, I was searching for a way to lessen that gap, to make myself more familiar with the histories and customs that shaped the way I was raised. It’s not a task that can ever be fully accomplished, but it’s one that I think is worth attempting nonetheless.
In addition to existing within specific cultural histories, our books both also exist within specific genre boundaries and expectations. When it comes to speculative fiction, there’s often the idea that it’s removed from reality – spaceships, Middle-Earth, etc. By contrast, with queer fiction, people tend to expect that it’s going to be broadly autobiographical if not a thinly veiled version of the writer’s own life. With both our books, it’s interesting how both the cli-fi and queer elements complicate this script. Noah is written from your experience of being trans, but he’s not trans in quite the same way you are, even if the transmasc and nonbinary experiences overlap in a lot of ways. On the other hand, the devastating hurricane in Depart! Depart! is in many ways all too terrifyingly real.
The length of this question is quickly approaching “I have a question that’s also a comment” levels, so to follow Carly and cut to the feeling, I’m curious how you feel about the expectations placed on your work as both spec fic and queer fiction. When do you feel comfortable sticking more closely to the facts/your own experience (realism), and when do you feel going a little beyond that (speculation)?
SK: I’m going to echo lots of other queer authors here and say that there has to be room for queer authors to write outside the strict limits of your own gender and sexuality–because writing is often an essential act of queer self-discovery. I figured out I was nonbinary while writing a nonbinary character into my YA novel, four years ago. I wrote Noah’s character at a time when I was wrestling with whether I was truly nonbinary or actually transmasc. I was dealing with some intense gender dysphoria at the time, and I needed to explore those feelings. But after living in Noah’s shoes for a while, I realized I didn’t feel the way he did about his gender. I gained more certainty in my nonbinary-ness. Processing my gender-feelings through writing helped me–and a lot of other authors–come to terms with my own queerness. And I want to make sure to hold that door open for future writers.
All that being said, I don’t think someone necessarily has to be exploring their own identity in order to be “allowed” to write a queer book. I have a story coming out this month in the latest issue of Planet Scumm which features a gay, cis male main character, told in first person. That’s obviously not an identity of mine, or one I could conceivably ever claim, but that’s how the character popped in my brain, wanting to tell his story.
I’m curious if it was similar for you–How did you settle on Kai and Eli for the focus of After the Dragons? Was it a conscious choice to make them both male? And do you feel you need to justify or litigate your right to write outside the boundaries of your own gender?
CZ: It’s been so long since I first started writing the novel that it feels like I’m talking about someone else when I talk about “how this came to be,” but I’ll give it a shot! The first answer is the pragmatic/logistical answer: Eli and Kai are men because quite franky, women and femme-presenting people would not be able to wander around Beijing the way they do. Being a guy in a city gives you a certain level of privilege and freedom that women/fems don’t have in the sense that you don’t have to be hyperaware of the people around you in the same way. It doesn’t nullify all danger, sure, but I also don’t hear my cis guy friends talk about clutching their keys in a parking lot so they can have a weapon in case someone decides to attack them. (Apparently, keys are better as stabbing weapons than as punching ones, so make sure the key teeth won’t gouge into your skin when you’re positioning them.)
The second answer—the vaguer one, but also probably the more honest one—is that when it comes to character creation, I’m not terribly hung up on gender. Eli and Kai came to me as cis guys; thus, they’re guys. When I submitted one of the early drafts of the novel for critique, I got some comments back about gender and whether or not the way these characters navigated the world feels masculine or not. Which is valid criticism (see the above notes on living in a city). But I think there’s also an implicit danger in this line of critique in terms of reifying gender stereotypes. Eli and Kai don’t feel like guys because, what, they’re too touchy-feely? Maybe it’s because most of my friends are some flavor of queer/gender non-conforming or maybe it’s because I grew up identifying with the boy hero protagonists of fantasy novels, but unless it’s something egregious—something like “Caroline considered her breasts, which sagged sadly today”—I generally don’t put too much stock in whether a character feels sufficiently like a particular gender. Certainly, as someone who isn’t part of the gay male scene in Beijing, I know my portrayal of the world is going to be imperfect despite my best efforts. But when it comes to gender more generally? Gender is weird, and we all experience and express it differently. Look at how weird Americans get about K-pop stars! So I suppose the answer is that I write characters who are kind of cavalier about gender because I personally am pretty cavalier about gender.
Honestly, I was more stressed about writing Eli as a Black Asian character, as that’s an experience that comes with its own specific difficulties that I haven’t experienced. In a way, that decision was probably influenced by the fact that one of my college friends whom I love dearly is Barbadian-Japanese-Norweigan, but I wasn’t seeing many characters like them in fiction. When a character’s mixed-race Asian, we tend to assume that one parent is white, but that’s not necessarily always true in real-life, so I guess I wanted to challenge those assumptions a little. I did write Eli’s dad out of his life because I wasn’t confident in my ability to tackle some of the specifics of his relationship to Blackness (but also because I don’t really write father/child relationships in general—see Kai, whose dad is also conveniently out of the picture). I have some ideas for awkward father-son bonding between Eli and the dad he totally doesn’t have mixed feelings towards, but if I were to ever write them, I would do so carefully and with the help of as many sensitivity readers as I can. At present though, this is probably also one section of the narrative that is better left to the exploration of others. All of which is to say, if any readers see themselves in Eli’s story and want to write father-son bonding fanfiction, please do! You’ll probably do it better than I can.
Building on this thread of identity and who gets to say what and for whom, there’s been talk about #OwnVoices lately: who gets to use it and what forms of representation are considered ‘authentic’ enough. As someone’s who Chinese, there were some parts of After the Dragons that I felt definitely comfortable writing. However, as someone who’s specifically diaspora Chinese, there were other parts that were less comfortable (especially considering the last time I visited Beijing was five years ago!) For me, diaspora’s always been a process of questioning your own authenticity, your right to ‘speak’ for a population you only feel partially connected to. Given the role of Jewishness in Depart! Depart!, I was wondering whether you felt any similar feelings when writing the novella? If so, how did you manage to navigate them?
SK: Sure. My whole life I’ve felt “Jewish imposter syndrome,” being a patrilineal, non-religious Jew. I’ve encountered a lot of people (mostly non-Jews, actually) who feel comfortable telling me I’m not Jewish because I don’t meet their criteria for Jewishness. With this book, I decided to confront that ambiguity head-on. Noah feels ambivalent about his Jewishness for all the same reasons I do. He wasn’t raised religious, he doesn’t practice, and yet there’s this way that his Jewishness is powerfully interwoven with his identity. So I think because I was speaking about being an outsider-Jew, who doesn’t tick all the boxes, I felt confident in my perspective.
But I have an idea for another novel, that would be a multi-generational thing, partly set in my ancestors’ shtetl. I actually bought some history books to research it. But that’s as far as I’ve gotten, partially because I’m too intimidated. I’m scared I’m just not Jewish enough to write a shtetl-novel, and that any practicing Jews would be able to see right away that I don’t know what I’m talking about. So I admire your courage in going for it with After the Dragons. There’s a great twitter thread from June Hur about being a diaspora writer, where she relates how her mother responded to her fears that she wasn’t “Korean enough” to write about Korea. She said, “When some diaspora Koreans speak in Korean, they speak with an accent. And likewise, when we write about Korea, there will be an “accent” to our Storytelling. But she reminded me that accents are beautiful. Accents tell a story in itself. We bring in a new perspective.”
I think your “accent” in After the Dragons was beautiful, and it was a story only you could tell. A native Chinese person wouldn’t have told that story better, because it’s not theirs, it’s yours! And I guess I need to tell that to myself and write the dang shtetl book, with my own weird, Texas-Jewish accent.
CZ: That sounds super exciting, honestly! Best of luck with writing it, and I’m looking forward to seeing your Texas-Jewish accent shine through.
Moving from the books into the “real world,” I’d like to talk about a dilemma that lot of socially conscious artists and writers often face, which is how much our work really matters. Stories are important, yes, but because it’s hard to quantify the impact of fiction, there’s sometimes a small nagging voice that says, sure, but what if you devoted your life to NGO work instead? Maybe this is also my background as a grad student speaking, where a lot of angst is devoted to whether writing essays on neoliberalism or the Anthropocene actually does anything in terms of fighting these problems. I’m not sure if this is an issue you’ve dealt with before, but since Depart! Depart!’s been out in the world for a while now, I’m wondering if you’ve been able to see any ways in which the book has had a tangible impact on the real world/other people? Basically, I guess, what are the moments that reassure you about the value of the art we make?
SK: I believe in the importance of climate fiction very deeply. In fact, my faith in the power of stories is probably the closest thing I have to a religion. We cannot create a better world if we cannot imagine one, and writers are the drivers of our collective societal imagination. So I’m a believer in the power of the written word.
But in terms of concrete, tangible things–in the first week after Depart, Depart! was published, a Public Health Response Coordinator shared with me that as a result of reading my book, she was working with the Red Cross in her state to ensure that trans people would have access to safe and equal bathrooms and showers in shelters, that emergency shelters would have LGBTQ+ coordinators, and that evacuees would have access to hormonal medications. I was so moved by that, and if my little book can make even one trans person safer in a crisis, then writing it was worthwhile.
And that reminds me of one of the themes in After the Dragons: Kai is constantly hovering on the precipice of being overwhelmed by the enormity of suffering in his world. Like feral cats, there are so many dragons that are starving, discarded, and tormented–but he resists nihilism and finds his purpose in helping those he can, one at a time. At one point, Eli says, “Kai, you can’t expect everyone to be an activist,” to which Kai replies, “Can’t I?” Were either of these characters speaking for you there? Kai’s story teaches us to manage grief through small, tangible acts of good, and I was wondering in what other ways is this book a guide to channeling climate grief?
CZ: Personally, my view of activism has always been tempered by an awareness of the impossibility of perfection. In the early 2010s, there were a lot of posts floating around Tumblr that pretty hostile towards vegans. Or, maybe less vegans in general than a certain stereotype of them—i.e., self-righteous white women ready to set wild animals free regardless of the effect on local ecosystems. As a vegetarian, it was a weird place to be, but it also gave me a lot of food (ha) for thought when it comes to individual actions and morality even as I disagreed with some arguments. In a food desert, it’s hard to be picky, and there’s something deeply uncomfortable about mostly middle- or upper-class crusaders telling lower-income folks how to live. It’s not impossible to be vegan on a budget (and honestly, the relative cheapness of meat feels is a recent phenomenon—my parents recall only eating meat once or twice a year while they were growing up in rural China), but it’s also important to understand people’s situations as they are. That’s Eli’s side of that exchange, then—the willingness to cut people slack, to realize that sometimes simply surviving itself takes an incredible amount of power.
As for Kai’s side of the story—well. The more I get involved with mutual aid and local organizing, the more respect I have for how much people manage to do even when they don’t have much on paper. Homelessness is a major problem in LA, but overwhelmingly the people I’ve seen do the most for unhoused folks are not millionaires, but ordinary people—some of them earning minimum wage, some of them who’ve experienced or who are experiencing being unhoused. I think it’s important to extend empathy to people when limited mobility or a bad mental health day prevents them from, say, participating in a public protest. But I think it’s also important to remember that the billionaires are not going to save us. It’s our job to take care of each other, in the small, seemingly insignificant ways that it takes. Seeking allies in power is important, as Eli does with Dr. Wang, but it’s ultimately collective action that drives change.
Sim Kern is an environmental journalist and speculative fiction writer, exploring intersections of climate change, queerness, and social justice. Their quiet horror novella DEPART, DEPART! debuted from Stelliform Press in 2020. You can find links to all their stories at http://simkern.com.
Cynthia Zhang is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture at the University of Southern California. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kaleidotrope, On Spec, Phantom Drift, and other venues. A 2021 DVdebut mentee, her debut novel, After the Dragons, is out on August 19 with Stelliform Press.
Eddy Boudel Tan is back on the site today, this time to share an excerpt from his new novel, The Rebellious Tide! Here’s the story:
Sebastien has heard only stories about his father, a mysterious sailor who abandoned his pregnant mother thirty years ago. But when his mother dies after a lifetime of struggle, he becomes obsessed with finding an explanation—perhaps even revenge.
The father he’s never met is Kostas, the commanding officer of a luxury liner sailing the Mediterranean. Posing as a member of the ship’s crew, Sebastien stalks his unwitting father in search of answers to why he disappeared so many years ago.
After a public assault triggers outrage among the ship’s crew, Sebastien finds himself entangled in a revolt against the oppressive ruling class of officers. As the clash escalates between the powerful and the powerless, Sebastien uncovers something his father has hidden deep within the belly of the ship—a disturbing secret that will force him to confront everything he’s always wondered and feared about his own identity.
Jérôme St. Germain had just moved back to Petit Géant after several years in Montréal. The people in town remembered him being a bookish boy, peculiar and reserved. They were surprised to see him return as an attractive young man with easy charm and a confident style. The town was happy to welcome an eligible bachelor.
Sebastien was freelancing for the local newspaper at the time, mostly shooting fundraisers and hockey tournaments. Jérôme found him peering through the viewfinder of his camera while on assignment at the local college’s graduation ceremony. The diplomas had been handed out, the mortarboards had been thrown. The young graduates now clustered together in spheres of optimism.
“I hear you’re the town’s star photographer,” Jérôme said with a smile. He appeared tidy and down to earth. His hair was a dense sweep of chestnut. Behind the thin frames of his glasses were two penetrating grey eyes tinged with blue like pools of rainwater.
“That is definitely an overstatement,” Sebastien responded. “I’m just the only guy in town who knows what an aperture is.”
The handsome stranger laughed. He crossed his arms and scanned the gymnasium, which was filled with electric blue gowns and bright faces. “I went to this school almost a decade ago. It hasn’t changed a bit. They still haven’t fixed that.” His head nodded toward a domed lamp hanging from the ceiling that was dark, unlike the others.
“I used to go here too. I remember you.”
Jérôme turned to him, surprised. “Aren’t you a few years younger?”
“You hosted an art show in the café to raise money for the class trip to Europe. You painted sea monsters. There was one that looked like a man with octopus tentacles instead of legs. I loved it.”
“I’m glad someone appreciated it. The genteel denizens of Petit Géant seemed more disturbed than anything else. I suppose that’s what I get for showcasing art in a cultural black hole.” He looked at the floor with a nostalgic expression before his eyes shot up to Sebastien. “No offense!”
He laughed. “None taken. I have no attachment to this place. It’s just a cage to me.”
Jérôme adjusted his wool blazer and looked at Sebastien with his rainwater eyes. “I have an offer for you.”
That afternoon, they went together to the same café that hosted the art show so many years earlier. Jérôme laughed when he stepped through the door, amazed how little it had changed. Sebastien didn’t know what to make of this man as they settled into a corner table, but he soon understood they shared something.
Jérôme explained that it hadn’t been easy leaving Montréal. The bohemian bars filled with artists and students teemed with ideas aching to be explored and expanded. Jérôme had found a place that felt like home. When his father fell ill and his mother became distraught, he knew the occasional weekend visit to Petit Géant would no longer suffice. He told himself it would be temporary.
When it was clear his father’s condition was only going to worsen before it got better, he accepted that his stay in town would be longer than he had hoped. He was a headstrong man, not one to sit on his hands. This was an opportunity for him to leave a positive imprint on his much-maligned hometown.
He decided to open a shop. Part gallery, part portrait studio, part camera store, it would be different from anything the town had ever seen. He wanted Sebastien’s help.
Although he had no wealth to invest, Jérôme treated him like a business partner. From branding to merchandising, all decisions were made together. They decided to name the shop Camera Obscura.
By the time preparations for the grand opening were underway, they were spending nearly every morning, afternoon, and evening together. Their friendship was instantaneous. They shared a feeling of alienation—they were both outsiders in a town that enforced conformity—but Jérôme possessed an optimism that things could change.
It was late one night when they first kissed. It had been an exhausting day of painting the interior walls. Sheets of thick brown paper covered the front windows. Sebastien ran a paint roller down his friend’s back, smearing him from neck to rear with the same mint colour as the newly painted walls. Jérôme retaliated, and it wasn’t long before the two men were rolling across the newspaper-covered floor entangled in each other’s limbs. It was his first taste of a man’s lips, and he liked it. He let Jérôme do things with their bodies he had never done before.
“What got you into photography?” Jérôme asked as they lay on the floor beneath a blanket they had retrieved from the trunk of his car.
“My mother,” Sebastien said, wondering if the answer sounded childish. “We used to have a cheap thirty-five millimetre camera when I was a kid. We took pictures of everything over the years. There must be at least five big boxes full in her closet. Even now, she insists we print every shot to add to the collection.”
“Life passes by so quickly. Photos give us a way to remember it.”
Sebastien rolled onto his side and draped his arm across Jérôme’s stomach. “I love how cameras can freeze time. The shutter opens and the moment solidifies into something that will remain long after we’re gone.”
Jérôme leaned into him until their foreheads touched. “Where did you come from, Sebastien Goh?” he said with a smile.
The grand opening of the shop was a success: people actually showed up. Ruby arrived in her favourite red cheongsam. Jérôme’s mother pushed her husband’s wheelchair. They stayed for only twenty minutes, but he was happy to see them smile.
Half of the room was a gallery space displaying work from artists in the region, including several framed photographs of Sebastien’s. In the centre of one wall was Jérôme’s adolescent painting of the octopus man, which he had gifted to his new friend. Servers holding trays of delicate hors d’oeuvres circulated around the room while a quartet of jazz musicians performed in a corner.
“How fabulous,” Sophie said when she arrived with two friends. Sebastien kissed her on the cheek.
Sophie gushed about his new “project,” as she called it, but behind the smile was worry. Sebastien seemed different. There was something in the way he held himself that hinted at newfound contentment. It was unexpected. The weeks leading up to their latest breakup months earlier had been especially rocky. He was aimless and unfulfilled. She was sure he’d come back to her eventually.
Now, seeing the confident way he spoke to his guests and the smart clothes he wore, she felt the creep of uncertainty. Her eyes scanned the mint-coloured room and his new charismatic friend with suspicion.
Sophie found the photographs a month later. Sebastien had been careless. They were stored loosely in a desk drawer in the back room. He had asked her to watch the shop for thirty minutes while he and Jérôme picked up a set of new shelves. She wouldn’t have found them had she not been snooping, but she sensed something was being hidden from her.
The black-and-white photographs printed on glossy paper displayed the nude bodies of two beautiful men. Sebastien was alone in some of them, a suggestive look in his eyes and hair tousled even more wildly than usual. Both men appeared in most of the images. Foreheads touched. Fingers intertwined. Mouths met skin. They looked happy and in love.
Sophie’s hands shook as she reached for her phone. She didn’t know why she felt the need to capture these images and send them to her closest friend, Chloe. She would say she wasn’t thinking, that she just needed someone’s opinion, but she must have known what Chloe would do.
By the time Sebastien and Jérôme returned to the shop, the images of their secret affair were rushing through town like the torrents of a flood.
Eddy Boudel Tan is the author of two novels, After Elias (fall 2020) and The Rebellious Tide (summer 2021). His work depicts a world much like our own—the heroes are flawed, truth is distorted, and there is as much hope as there is heartbreak. As a queer Asian Canadian, Eddy celebrates diverse voices through his writing, some of which can be found in publications such as Gertrude, yolk literary, and the GL&R. When he isn’t plotting his next story or adventure abroad, he serves home-cooked meals to those living on the streets as cofounder of the Sidewalk Supper Project. He lives with his husband in Vancouver. Follow Eddy on Twitter (@eddyautomatic) or online (eddyboudeltan.com).