Coming Out While Writing: a Guest Post by Names of the Dawn Author C.L. Beaumont

Today on the site we welcome C.L. Beaumont, author of Names of the Dawn, a contemporary m/m romance starring a trans man that released last month from Carnation Books. C.L. discovered his own identity while writing the book, and is here to share more about that experience! But first, the book:

Seasoned Park Ranger Will Avery has found his home in the Denali wilderness, cherishing his solitary routines for the decade leading up to 1991. The trade-off that no one knows of his identity as a transgender man feels worth it for the comforting assurance he finds in the towering glaciers.

Until Will discovers an unexpected passenger in his truck—the visiting wolf biologist everyone in the Park is ecstatic to meet—Nikhil Rajawat.

Nikhil doesn’t return his new colleagues’ fervor. He’s dreamt of Denali for one reason: the pinnacle of his research, and it isn’t anyone’s business that this is the last year he’ll get to chase the wolves. He doesn’t expect to fall for the grisled Ranger who forces him to carry bear spray in the backcountry. Just as Will doesn’t expect to ask Nikhil to share his bed.

But when their dreamlike summer comes to an end, and Nikhil resolutely leaves on a plane bound for India, a devastated Will pretends he didn’t just plead for Nikhil to stay. And one year later, when Nikhil suddenly re-appears in Denali without explanation, Will must decide if Alaska is his solitary refuge—or if perhaps there’s a home somewhere in the world for two.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

Denali was a place of many firsts for me. Almost five years ago, I spent a week there visiting my partner who was working as a seasonal Ranger. Even after years of hiking together, it was the first place I ever backpacked off trail (the mileage of which resulted in me not being able to walk normally for days). It was the first time I encountered a grizzly at close range, and the first (and thankfully, last) time I was ever chased by a moose.

On the train ride back to Fairbanks, trying not to cry over the fact it would be months before I saw my partner again, I leaned hard into the ‘romantic train travel’ aesthetic and started jotting down ideas for a potential story on the back of my park map. Denali had stunned me. I’d always been a nervous person, and yet we had ventured into that bear-infested land with only a compass. I knew it would make an incredible setting for a story: the drama of the changing seasons alongside the comfort of animal migrations, long-traveled routes by the Koyukan people who’d given the mountain its rightful name. The simplicity of life versus death, and the complexity of no certainties once we ventured beyond the sole park road.

And as I wrote, I realized that my Ranger was a trans man.

I had no idea what made me picture my main character in that way. My brief previous experience including a trans character in a story had felt like taking a picture of someone’s life and merely recording it as the writer. This felt like I was in mortal danger of falling into the photograph I was supposed to have taken.

But over the next year, I wrote the entire first draft of Names for the Dawn without even realizing I was transgender. I felt guilt, in fact, for writing from that perspective without it being my own experience. I wondered if I was allowed to write the story of Will Avery, or if I could somehow earn that right. I would have said to anyone who asked that I was a cis woman writing this story of a trans man from the perspective of a queer ally, digging into research so I could do his story justice. What I didn’t admit was that so many of his fears were uncharted whispers I’d been shutting down for twenty-five years, somehow made safer to think about if they were Will’s thoughts instead of my own. How could I have written 100,000 words of a trans man’s inner thoughts and not known?

During my second draft, once I had made the decision to turn the story into a full-on novel, I found myself in an online forum to learn more about what chest binding could have looked like for Will. A week later, my own binder arrived in the mail. Not long after that, I made a spur-of-the-moment appointment after work and cut my hair. Tiny steps that I told myself were aesthetic explorations, nothing more.

By the time I started on my third draft of the novel, I had started seeing a therapist who specialized in gender identity. I had since realized that my confusion was coming from far more than just writing this book, and yet I still feared I had over-identified with my own character, somehow brainwashing myself. It didn’t occur to me then that perhaps this writing process felt so raw and all-consuming because these were thoughts I’d had for long before I ever typed the name Will Avery.

The fourth draft, and I had come out to everyone I knew. I now understood the wave of self-doubt and vulnerability that comes with such a step. After the loneliness of silently questioning, there was now a certain type of loneliness in being seen, even though I was lucky to have supportive people in my life. I found myself thinking back to Denali as I agonized over how to describe the landscape. I had felt that same unique loneliness there among the mountains. Alone, and yet surrounded by vibrant life.

I began my fifth draft just after I started taking testosterone. Again, my entire understanding of the book had shifted. The scenes where Will gives himself his shot didn’t change, but they felt more intimate now, not purely medical. I understood the subtle shame that comes with having to pierce yourself to bring who you are to the surface where everyone can see. I felt I should have been scared of such a seemingly permanent or drastic step, and yet I felt no fear.

A year later, I completed the last major rewrites while recovering from my own top surgery. It was the aspect of Will’s life that had felt the most unbelievable to me when I first wrote it — the fact that someone was allowed to just do that. And there I was, editing passages that I knew were first written by a hand that had absolutely no idea that same operating room was on my own horizon. I added in a scene where Will takes his shirt off outside for the first time. It was perhaps the first detail where it felt like I knew something my own character didn’t, finally allowing myself to be the expert of my own experience.

I struggled for a long time with my decision to continue working on this book. It felt like my earliest drafts were a lie, both to myself and to future readers. Or like maybe I should have moved on from this book a long time ago, treating it as a tool that had helped me when I needed it most. It feels strange now to be in the same category — as the world sees it — as my protagonist.

But as I prepare to send this book out into the world, I look back at the moment I first stepped off the bus into the Denali landscape. That same trust in myself accompanied me to my first therapy session, the first day with my new name tag at work, the day I told the people I love who I really was. It doesn’t feel devastating to recognize that it’s finally time to leave Denali behind. Perhaps these past five years haven’t really been about transitioning while writing a trans character. Rather, they’ve been about how I can write a story of a Ranger in Alaska.

***

C. L. Beaumont received his B.A. in South Asian Linguistics and Art History from the University of California, Berkeley, and now volunteers as a crisis line counselor while he delves into his true love: writing. When he isn’t hiking or checking another National Park off his list, he enjoys devouring crime fiction, cooking new vegetarian recipes, and working on way too many cross stitch projects at once. C. L. Beaumont lives in Montana with his gorgeous partner and their chickens.

 

New Releases: December 2021

Read Between the Lines by Rachel Lacey (1st)

Books are Rosie Taft’s life. And ever since she took over her mother’s beloved Manhattan bookstore, they’ve become her home too. The only thing missing is her own real-life romance like the ones she loves to read about, and Rosie has an idea of who she might like to sweep her off her feet. She’s struck up a flirty online friendship with lesbian romance author Brie, and what could be more romantic than falling in love with her favorite author?

Jane Breslin works hard to keep her professional and personal lives neatly separated. By day, she works for the family property development business. By night, she puts her steamier side on paper under her pen name: Brie. Jane hasn’t had much luck with her own love life, but her online connection with a loyal reader makes Jane wonder if she could be the one.

When Rosie learns that her bookstore’s lease has been terminated by Jane’s company, romance moves to the back burner. Even though they’re at odds, there’s no denying the sparks that fly every time they’re together. When their online identities are revealed, will Jane be able to write her way to a happy ending, or is Rosie’s heart a closed book?

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Dark Tourist by Hasanthika Sirisena (3rd)

Dark tourism—visiting sites of war, violence, and other traumas experienced by others—takes different forms in Hasanthika Sirisena’s stunning excavation of the unexpected places (and ways) in which personal identity and the riptides of history meet. The 1961 plane crash that left a nuclear warhead buried near her North Carolina hometown, juxtaposed with reflections on her father’s stroke. A visit to Jaffna in Sri Lanka—the country of her birth, yet where she is unmistakably a foreigner—to view sites from the recent civil war, already layered over with the narratives of the victors. A fraught memory of her time as a young art student in Chicago that is uneasily foundational to her bisexual, queer identity today. The ways that life-changing impairments following a severe eye injury have shaped her thinking about disability and self-worth.

Deftly blending reportage, cultural criticism, and memoir, Sirisena pieces together facets of her own sometimes-fractured self to find wider resonances with the human universals of love, sex, family, and art—and with language’s ability to both fail and save us. Dark Tourist becomes then about finding a home, if not in the world, at least within the limitless expanse of the page.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

If This Gets Out by Cale Dietrich and Sophie Gonzales (7th)

54738255Eighteen-year-olds Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are two members of the boy-band Saturday, one of the biggest acts in America. Along with their bandmates, Angel Phan and Jon Braxton, the four are teen heartbreakers in front of the cameras and best friends backstage. But privately, cracks are starting to form: their once-easy rapport is straining under the pressures of fame, and Ruben confides in Zach that he’s feeling smothered by management’s pressure to stay in the closet.

On a whirlwind tour through Europe, with both an unrelenting schedule and minimal supervision, Ruben and Zach come to rely on each other more and more, and their already close friendship evolves into a romance. But when they decide they’re ready to tell their fans and live freely, Zach and Ruben start to truly realize that they will never have the support of their management. How can they hold tight to each other when the whole world seems to want to come between them?

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

The Coldest Touch by Isabel Sterling (7th)

53457146Elise Beaumont is cursed. With every touch, she experiences exactly how her loved ones will die. And after her brother’s death—a death she predicted but was unable to prevent—Elise is desperate to get rid of her terrible gift, no matter the cost.

Claire Montgomery also has a unique relationship with death, mostly because she’s already dead. Technically, anyway. Claire is a vampire, and she’s been assigned by the Veil to help Elise master her rare Death Oracle powers.

At first, Elise is reluctant to work with a vampire, but when she predicts a teacher’s imminent murder, she’s determined to stop the violent death, even if it means sacrificing her own future to secure Claire’s help.

The trouble is, Claire and Elise aren’t the only paranormals in town—a killer is stalking the streets, and Claire can’t seem to shake the pull she feels toward Elise, a romance that could upend the Veil’s mission. But as Elise and Claire grow closer, Elise begins to wonder—can she really trust someone tasked with securing her loyalty? Someone who could so easily kill her? Someone who might hold the key to unraveling her brother’s mysterious death?

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel (7th)

49247150Renu Amin always seemed perfect: doting husband, beautiful house, healthy sons. But as the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death approaches, Renu is binge-watching soap operas and simmering with old resentments. She can’t stop wondering if, thirty-five years ago, she chose the wrong life. In Los Angeles, her son, Akash, has everything he ever wanted, but as he tries to kickstart his songwriting career and commit to his boyfriend, he is haunted by the painful memories he fled a decade ago. When his mother tells him she is selling the family home, Akash returns to Illinois, hoping to finally say goodbye and move on.

Together, Renu and Akash pack up the house, retreating further into the secrets that stand between them. Renu sends an innocent Facebook message to the man she almost married, sparking an emotional affair that calls into question everything she thought she knew about herself. Akash slips back into bad habits as he confronts his darkest secrets―including what really happened between him and the first boy who broke his heart. When their pasts catch up to them, Renu and Akash must decide between the lives they left behind and the ones they’ve since created, between making each other happy and setting themselves free.

By turns irreverent and tender, filled with the beats of ’90s R&B, Tell Me How to Be is about our earliest betrayals and the cost of reconciliation. But most of all, it is the love story of a mother and son each trying to figure out how to be in the world.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Fools in Love ed. by Ashley Herring Blake and Rebecca Podos (7th)

Join fifteen bestselling, award-winning, and up-and-coming authors as they reimagine some of the most popular tropes in the romance genre. 

Fake relationships. Enemies to lovers. Love triangles and best friends, mistaken identities and missed connections. This collection of genre-bending and original stories celebrates how love always finds a way, featuring powerful flora, a superhero and his nemesis, a fantastical sled race through snow-capped mountains, a golf tournament, the wrong ride-share, and even the end of the world. With stories written by Rebecca Barrow, Ashley Herring Blake, Gloria Chao, Mason Deaver, Sara Farizan, Claire Kann, Malinda Lo, Hannah Moskowitz, Natasha Ngan, Rebecca Podos, Lilliam Rivera, Laura Silverman, Amy Spalding, Rebecca Kim Wells, and Julian Winters this collection is sure to sweep you off your feet.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Where the Rain Cannot Reach by Adesina Brown (7th)

Read a guest post by the author here.

59159558. sy475 Tair has never known what it means to belong. Abandoned at a young age and raised in the all-Elven valley of Mirte, the young Human defines herself by isolation, confined to her small, seemingly trustworthy family.

Abruptly, that family uproots her from Mirte and leads her on an inevitable but treacherous journey to Doman: the previous site of unspeakable Human atrocities and the current home of Dwarvenkind. Though Doman offers Tair new definitions of family and love, it also reveals to her that her very existence is founded in lies. Now, tasked with an awful responsibility to the Humans of Sossoa, Tair must decide where her loyalties lie and, in the process, discover who she wants to be… And who she has always been.

In their debut fantasy novel Where the Rain Cannot Reach, Adesina Brown constructs a world rich with new languages and nuanced considerations of gender and race, ultimately contemplating how, in freeing ourselves from power, we may find true belonging.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon

Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood (7th)

This is the second book in the Pentecost and Parker mysteries

Murder Under Her Skin by Stephen Spotswood

New York, 1946: The last time Will Parker let a case get personal, she walked away with a broken face, a bruised ego, and the solemn promise never again to let her heart get in the way of her job. But she called Hart and Halloway’s Travelling Circus and Sideshow home for five years, and Ruby Donner, the circus’s tattooed ingenue, was her friend. To make matters worse the prime suspect is Valentin Kalishenko, the man who taught Will everything she knows about putting a knife where it needs to go.
To uncover the real killer and keep Kalishenko from a date with the electric chair, Will and Ms. Pentecost join the circus in sleepy Stoppard, Virginia, where the locals like their cocktails mild, the past buried, and big-city detectives not at all. The two swiftly find themselves lost in a funhouse of lies as Will begins to realize that her former circus compatriots aren’t playing it straight, and that her murdered friend might have been hiding a lot of secrets beneath all that ink.Dodging fistfights, firebombs, and flying lead, Will puts a lot more than her heart on the line in the search of the truth. Can she find it before someone stops her ticker for good?

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

On the Rocks by Georgia Beers (14th)

58516306. sy475 No straight women. No parents of students. Nobody under thirty-five. Vanessa Martini makes no apologies for her dating checklist. She’s been up close to enough messy breakups to know what havoc they wreak in life. Just because people see her as fun and happy, and just because she loves her life in general, that doesn’t mean she can’t be careful. Or discerning. Or, okay, fine, super picky.

Grace Chapman is tired of being judged by her boss, by the husband she’s divorcing, by her parents. All she cares about now is her six-year-old son, Oliver. The divorce is making him act out in school, and she just needs to find a way to help him so they can start again. What she does not need is the silent judgment she gets from his teacher. His wildly attractive, super sexy, annoyingly gorgeous teacher.

Grace ticks all Vanessa’s Do Not Date boxes. Vanessa is yet one more person who disapproves of Grace. Of course, they’re never going to fall in love.

Buy it: Amazon | The Ripped Bodice

The Midnight Girls by Alicia Jasinska (28th)

It’s Karnawa season in the snow-cloaked Kingdom of Lechia, and from now until midnight when the church bells ring an end to Devil’s Tuesday time will be marked with wintry balls and glittery disguises, cavalcades of nightly torch-lit “kuligi” sleigh-parties.

Unbeknownst to the oblivious merrymakers, two monsters join the fun. Newfound friends and polar opposites, Zosia and Marynka seem destined to have a friendship that’s stronger even than magic. But that’s put to the test when they realize they both have their sights set on Lechia’s pure-hearted prince. If a monster consumes a pure heart she’ll gain immeasurable power and Marynka plans to bring the prince’s back to her grandmother in order to prove herself. While Zosia is determined to take his heart and its power for her own.

When neither will sacrifice their ambitions for the other, the festivities spiral into a magical contest with both girls vying to keep the hapless prince out of the other’s wicked grasp. But this isn’t some remote forest village, where a stray enchantment or two might go unnoticed, Warszów is the icy capital of a kingdom that enjoys watching monsters burn, and if Zosia and Marynka’s innocent disguises continue to slip, their escalating rivalry might cost them not just the love they might have for each other, but both their lives.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

If You Love Something by Jayce Ellis (28th)

As executive chef at one of the hottest restaurants in DC, DeShawn Franklin has almost everything he’s ever wanted. He’s well-known, his restaurant is Michelin starred and he can write his own ticket anywhere he wants. Until his grandmother calls him home and drops two bombshells:

1) She has cancer and she’s not seeking treatment.

2) She’s willing half her estate to DeShawn’s ex-husband, Malik.

Make that three bombshells. 

3) That whole divorce thing? It didn’t quite go through. DeShawn and Malik are still married.

And when DeShawn’s shady uncle contests Grandma’s will, there’s only one path back to justice: play it like he and Malik have reconciled. They need to act like a married couple just long enough to dispense with the lawsuit.

Once DeShawn is back in Malik’s orbit, it’s not hard to remember why they parted. All the reasons he walked away remain—but so do all the reasons he fell in love in the first place.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Here’s to Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (28th)

This is the sequel to What if it’s Us?

55424906. sy475 Ben has spent his first year of college working on his fantasy manuscript with his writing partner Mario, who is a great Spanish tutor, and an even better kisser. So why can’t he stop thinking about the fact that Arthur’s back in town two years after they called it quits?

Arthur is in New York for a dream internship on Broadway, with a boyfriend back at home that he couldn’t be happier with. But when he comes upon Ben cuddled up with a mystery boy, he starts to wonder if his feelings for Ben ever truly went away.

Even as the boys try to focus on their futures, they can’t seem to help running into each other in the present. Is the universe forcing them to question if they’re actually meant to be?

Possibly not. After all, things didn’t work the first time around.
Possibly yes. After all, the sparks are still flying.
Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and raise a glass.

Here’s to celebrating old friends!
Here’s to embracing new beginnings!
Here’s to believing in second chances!

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Inside an Anthology: Fools in Love ed. by Ashley Herring Blake and Rebecca Podos

Today’s edition of Inside and Anthology celebrates Fools in Love, ed. by Ashley Herring Blake and Rebecca Podos, and releasing tomorrow from Running Press! Here’s the info:

Join fifteen bestselling, award-winning, and up-and-coming authors as they reimagine some of the most popular tropes in the romance genre. 

Fake relationships. Enemies to lovers. Love triangles and best friends, mistaken identities and missed connections. This collection of genre-bending and original stories celebrates how love always finds a way, featuring powerful flora, a superhero and his nemesis, a fantastical sled race through snow-capped mountains, a golf tournament, the wrong ride-share, and even the end of the world. With stories written by Rebecca Barrow, Ashley Herring Blake, Gloria Chao, Mason Deaver, Sara Farizan, Claire Kann, Malinda Lo, Hannah Moskowitz, Natasha Ngan, Rebecca Podos, Lilliam Rivera, Laura Silverman, Amy Spalding, Rebecca Kim Wells, and Julian Winters this collection is sure to sweep you off your feet.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

And here are the authors of a bunch of the stories, sharing a bit about the story behind the story!

“Edges” by Ashley Herring Blake

“Edges” is an f/f story about a girl who feels everyone has left her behind–including the popular girl she’s currently making out with. Mac can’t believe that Clover–their schoo’s queer queen bee–could possibly actually truly like her. After all, her dad left her family for another one, her mom is hardly ever home, and her twin sister left town altogether for a performing arts boarding school. She’s inherently leavable. So when it becomes clear that Clover wants more than just hooking up, Mac has to decide if she’s willing to soften up her edges a bit for the girl of her dreams.

“Disaster” by Rebecca Podos

I know an homage to 90’s era disaster films might not be the most natural pairing for a romance trope anthology, but setting “Disaster” during a potential apocalypse in 1998 felt perfect for my trope, second-chance romance (and, possibly, a last-chance romance). It also gave me the opportunity to explore a time period before bisexuality was regularly spoken about, even within queer circles. My story about two ex-girlfriends trying to find their way back to one another at the maybe-end of the world takes place the year after America’s first openly bisexual state official came out, a few months before the bisexual pride flag was unveiled, and a year before the first Celebrate Bisexuality Day. Plus, I got to smuggle in Armageddon references (and watch the movie three times in a row, you know, for research).

“Bloom” by Rebecca Barrow

Listen: when it comes to romance, I am all about the yearning. And what kind of yearning is more exquisite than the kind that reaches across worlds, or universes, or time itself? Blame it on me watching too many mind-bending space movies late at night as a kid, or reading The Amber Spyglass and constantly thinking about benches in Oxford, or binge watching 12 Monkeys in distant pre-pandemic times, but when I had to pick a trope to write about, I couldn’t think of anything better. Maybe it’s the idea of exactly how great a love has to be for it to exist outside of the natural boundaries of our world. Maybe it’s just that there is something so deeply romantic about two people pining for something that shouldn’t be possible. Maybe it’s the bittersweet possibility that actually, love can’t conquer all. Except—sometimes it can. And sometimes, in my mind, all it takes is an extra bit of magic for that love to bloom.

“Silver and Gold” by Natasha Ngan

I’ve always loved wintry settings in books, there’s something just so cosy and romantic about them! Of course, being me, the setting in my story is a touch more dangerous than romantic. Rather than a pretty frosting of snow, it’s a life-threatening blizzard – and the two girls sheltering from it are in the midst of a deadly race. But the riskiest of situations can often be the most bonding, and that’s what we see in “Silver and Gold”, as rivals Mila and Ru are forced to confront their romantic past – and whether there’s space in their futures for each other. I had so much fun writing their story, and I hope you have as much fun reading it!

“My Best Friend’s Girl” by Sara Farizan

My story is about Alia who has always been there for her best friend, Hal, especially since she is the only one who knows he is a burgeoning superhero in Gateway City. She finds it increasingly more difficult to keep all of his superpowered secrets, especially from Hal’s new girlfriend Clara. There’s one secret Alia hasn’t told Hal yet either…

“Unfortunately, Blobs Do Not Eat Snacks” by Rebecca Kim Wells

“I knew a lot of authors would be fighting over the more popular romance tropes for this anthology, so I went with one of my favorite under-the-radar tropes, one so under the radar I didn’t even know what it was called! I think when I emailed Becca and Ashley about my trope preferences I called it “gets drunk/drugged/injured/delirious and confesses love, later does not remember/pretends they do not remember.” Which is a mouthful! ‘Kissing Under the Influence” is a lot snappier. I love the awkward interactions after characters accidentally give away things they didn’t intend to reveal, and my young adult fantasy novels are on the serious side, so I really wanted to play around and be goofy with my short story. The result is “Unfortunately, Blobs Do Not Eat Snacks,” which is weird and quirky and not much like my previous work at all. (Also, I love my title so much and still have a hard time believing they actually let me keep it.)”

“What Makes Us Heroes” by Julian Winters

Everyone knows I love writing about superheroes! But when I picked my trope—Hero vs. Villain—for Fools in Love, I honestly didn’t know what kind of romantic story I wanted to tell. Should I go explosive and action-packed like a Marvel movie? Dark and introspective like a DC comic? How could I turn a fresh twist on this epic trope?

And then 2020 happened. Specifically—June 2020.

The news was flooded with videos of violence. Protests. Of people trying to define who the heroes were and purposefully villainizing the ones fighting for a change. All I thought about were the teens ready to take action for their friends, family, themselves and how people were ready to villainize them for having a voice—including the ones who are supposed to love and protect them.

Suddenly, “What Makes Us Heroes” poured out of me. Shai and Kyan’s story came to life. I wanted a story about two superpowered boys navigating a world telling them what a hero should be and letting them define who a hero can be. How we can fall in love with the one person everyone thinks is “wrong” for us but is really the best thing we had all along.

The fact that I got to set it in a coffeeshop with a side of fake dating was a bonus!

As it happens, there are a few stories in the anthology that aren’t queer. (It happens.) A couple of those authors wrote blurbs too:

“Teed Up” by Gloria Chao”

“Teed Up” is loosely inspired by LPGA superstar Michelle Wie West, the first and thus far only female golfer to qualify for a USGA national men’s tournament (among many many other accolades). I myself am a terrible golfer, but I unfortunately have my share of experience dealing with large male egos in other domains. I wanted to explore the idea of being the only woman competing in a field of men in my short story for FOOLS IN LOVE, titled “Teed Up.” Sunny Chang, a star female golfer, is wary of any attention—both positive and negative—coming from a male competitor, which creates the perfect opportunity for an oblivious-to-lovers story. Even though most of the details are fictionalized, I had a lot of fun temporarily putting myself in Michelle’s superstar shoes!

“The Passover Date” by Laura Silverman

“The Passover Date rolls up everything I love into one story – Jewish cooking, fake dating, and nosey family members. I had so much fun writing this Jewish romance. My characters Rachel and Matthew are sweet and funny and adorably bumbling.

I hope readers will enjoy watching them fake date their way into something real.”

Backlist Book of the Month: Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

With the second book in the Pentecost and Parker historical mystery series releasing on December 7th, now’s the perfect time to catch up with book one, Fortune Favors the Dead, which follows  Willowdean “Will” Parker as she finds love, murder, and an unexpected career path in 1940s New York.

50666983It’s 1942 and Willowjean “Will” Parker is a scrappy circus runaway whose knife-throwing skills have just saved the life of New York’s best, and most unorthodox, private investigator, Lillian Pentecost. When the dapper detective summons Will a few days later, she doesn’t expect to be offered a life-changing proposition: Lillian’s multiple sclerosis means she can’t keep up with her old case load alone, so she wants to hire Will to be her right-hand woman. In return, Will will receive a salary, room and board, and training in Lillian’s very particular art of investigation.

Three years later, Will and Lillian are on the Collins case: Abigail Collins was found bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball following a big, boozy Halloween party at her home–her body slumped in the same chair where her steel magnate husband shot himself the year before. With rumors flying that Abigail was bumped off by the vengeful spirit of her husband (who else could have gotten inside the locked room?), the family has tasked the detectives with finding answers where the police have failed. But that’s easier said than done in a case that involves messages from the dead, a seductive spiritualist, and Becca Collins–the beautiful daughter of the deceased, who Will quickly starts falling for. When Will and Becca’s relationship dances beyond the professional, Will finds herself in dangerous territory, and discovers she may have become the murderer’s next target.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

Reader’s Guide: World AIDS Day

Young Adult

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart—and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

17237214New York Times bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

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Skyscraping by Cordelia Jensen

23281788Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he’s kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family’s fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time.

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(And take note of two to preorder that release in May 2022)

Destination Unknown by Bill Konigsberg

58719132. sy475 The first thing I noticed about C.J. Gorman was his plexiglass bra.

So begins Destination Unknown — it’s 1987 in New York City, and Micah is at a dance club, trying to pretend he’s more out and outgoing than he really is. C.J. isn’t just out — he’s completely out there, and Micah can’t help but be both attracted to and afraid of someone who travels so loudly and proudly through the night.

A connection occurs. Is it friendship? Romance? Is C.J. the one with all the answers… or does Micah bring more to the relationship than it first seems? As their lives become more and more entangled in the AIDS epidemic that’s laying waste to their community, and the AIDS activism that will ultimately bring a strong voice to their demands, whatever Micah and C.J. have between them will be tested, strained, pushed, and pulled — but it will also be a lifeline in a time of death, a bond that will determine the course of their futures.

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When You Call My Name by Tucker Shaw

Film fanatic Adam is seventeen and being asked out on his first date―and the guy is cute. Heart racing, Adam accepts, quickly falling in love with Callum like the movies always promised.

Fashion-obsessed Ben is eighteen and has just left his home upstate after his mother discovers his hidden stash of gay magazines. When he comes to New York City, Ben’s sexuality begins to feel less like a secret and more like a badge of honor.

Then Callum disappears, leaving Adam heartbroken, and Ben finds out his new world is more closed-minded than he thought. When Adam finally tracks Callum down, he learns the guy he loves is very ill. And in a chance meeting near the hospital where Callum is being treated, Ben and Adam meet, forever changing each other’s lives. As both begin to open their eyes to the possibilities of queer love and life, they realize sometimes the only people who can help you are the people who can really see you―in all your messy glory.

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Adult Fiction

The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels

You find the Lambda review here.

52196685. sx318 sy475 Small-town Appalachia doesn’t have a lot going for it, but it’s where Brian is from, where his family is, and where he’s chosen to return to die.

At eighteen, Brian, like so many other promising young gay men, arrived in New York City without much more than a love for the freedom and release from his past that it promised. But within six short years, AIDS would claim his lover, his friends, and his future. With nothing left in New York but memories of death, Brian decides to write his mother a letter asking to come back to the place, and family, he was once so desperate to escape.

Set in 1986, a year after Rock Hudson’s death shifted the public consciousness of the epidemic and brought the news of AIDS into living rooms and kitchens across America, The Prettiest Star is part Dog Years by Mark Doty and part Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. But it is also an urgent story now: it a novel about the politics and fragility of the body; it is a novel about sex and shame. And it is a novel that speaks to the question of what home and family means when we try to forge a life for ourselves in a world that can be harsh and unpredictable. It is written at the far reaches of love and understanding, and zeroes in on the moments where those two forces reach for each other, and sometimes touch.

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After Francesco by Brian Malloy

55261405Two years after his partner, Francesco, died, twenty-eight-year-old Kevin Doyle is dusting off his one good suit jacket for yet another funeral, yet another loss in their close-knit group. They had all been young, beautiful, and living the best days of their lives, though they didn’t know it. That was before New York City began to feel like a war zone, its horrors somehow invisible, and ignored by the rest of the world.

Some people might insist that Francesco is in a better place now, but Kevin definitely isn’t. He spends his days in a mind-numbing job and his evenings drunk in Francesco’s old apartment, surrounded by memories. Francesco made everything look easy, and without him, Kevin struggles to keep going. And then one night, he stops trying. When Kevin awakens in a hospital, he knows it’s time to move back home to Minnesota and figure out how to start living again—without Francesco.

With the help of a surviving partners support group and old and new friends, Kevin slowly starts to do just that. But an unthinkable family betrayal, and the news that his best friend is fighting for his life in New York, will force a reckoning and a defining choice.

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Red X by David Demchuk

Red XMen are disappearing from Toronto’s gay village. They’re the marginalized, the vulnerable. One by one, stalked and vanished, they leave behind small circles of baffled, frightened friends. Against the shifting backdrop of homophobia throughout the decades, from the HIV/AIDS crisis and riots against raids to gentrification and police brutality, the survivors face inaction from the law and disinterest from society at large. But as the missing grow in number, those left behind begin to realize that whoever or whatever is taking these men has been doing so for longer than is humanly possible.

Woven into their stories is David Demchuk’s own personal history, a life lived in fear and in thrall to horror, a passion that boils over into obsession. As he tries to make sense of the relationship between queerness and horror, what it means for gay men to disappear, and how the isolation of the LGBTQ+ community has left them profoundly exposed to monsters that move easily among them, fact and fiction collide and reality begins to unravel.

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The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

35068748. sy475 It’s 1980 in New York City, and nowhere is the city’s glamour and energy better reflected than in the burgeoning Harlem ball scene, where seventeen-year-old Angel first comes into her own. Burned by her traumatic past, Angel is new to the drag world, new to ball culture, and has a yearning inside of her to help create family for those without. When she falls in love with Hector, a beautiful young man who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, the two decide to form the House of Xtravaganza, the first-ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit. But when Hector dies of AIDS-related complications, Angel must bear the responsibility of tending to their house alone.

As the mother of the house, Angel recruits Venus, a whip-fast trans girl who dreams of finding a rich man to take care of her; Juanito, a quiet boy who loves fabrics and design; and Daniel, a butch queen who accidentally saves Venus’s life. The Xtravaganzas must learn to navigate sex work, addiction, and persistent abuse, leaning on each other as bulwarks against a world that resists them. All are ambitious, resilient, and determined to control their own fates, even as they hurtle toward devastating consequences.

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Lies With Man by Michael Nava

This is a new title in the Henry Rios series

55922410Los Angeles, 1986.

A group of right-wing Christians has put an initiative on the November ballot to allow health officials to force people with HIV into quarantine camps―and it looks like it’s going to pass. Rios, now living in LA, agrees to be counsel for a group of young activists who call themselves QUEER [Queers United to End Erasure and Repression]. QUEER claims to be committed to peaceful civil disobedience. But when one of its members is implicated in the bombing of an evangelical church that kills its pastor, who publicly supported the quarantine initiative, Rios finds himself with a client suddenly facing the death penalty.

As Rios delves into the case, shocking secrets emerge about the victim, Rios’s client, QUEER, the highest echelons of the Los Angeles Police Department and the young man Rios falls in love with.

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Non-Fiction

How to Survive a Plague by David France

29429295A riveting, powerful telling of the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of them in a life-or-death struggle, who seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and confronted with shame and hatred, this small group of men and women chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts.

Not since the publication of Randy Shilts’s classic And the Band Played On has a book measured the AIDS plague in such brutally human, intimate, and soaring terms.

In dramatic fashion, we witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We watch as these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation s disease-fighting agencies.

With his unparalleled access to this community David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter.

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And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

28212By the time Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 alerted all America to the danger of the AIDS epidemic, the disease had spread across the nation, killing thousands of people and emerging as the greatest health crisis of the 20th century. America faced a troubling question: What happened? How was this epidemic allowed to spread so far before it was taken seriously? In answering these questions, Shilts weaves the disparate threads into a coherent story, pinning down every evasion and contradiction at the highest levels of the medical, political, and media establishments.

Shilts shows that the epidemic spread wildly because the federal government put budget ahead of the nation’s welfare; health authorities placed political expediency before the public health; and scientists were often more concerned with international prestige than saving lives. Against this backdrop, Shilts tells the heroic stories of individuals in science and politics, public health and the gay community, who struggled to alert the nation to the enormity of the danger it faced. And the Band Played On is both a tribute to these heroic people and a stinging indictment of the institutions that failed the nation so badly.

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Between Certain Death and a Possible Future: Queer Writing on Growing Up with the AIDS Crisis by Matilda Bernstein Sycamore

Every queer person lives with the trauma of AIDS, and this plays out intergenerationally. Usually we hear about two generations—the first, coming of age in the era of gay liberation, and then watching entire circles of friends die of a mysterious illness as the government did nothing to intervene. And now we hear about younger people growing up with effective treatment and prevention available, unable to comprehend the magnitude of the loss. But there is another generation between these two, one that came of age in the midst of the epidemic with the belief that desire intrinsically led to death, and internalized this trauma as part of becoming queer.

Between Certain Death and a Possible Future: Queer Writing on Growing up with the AIDS Crisis offers crucial stories from this missing generation in AIDS literature and cultural politics. This wide-ranging collection includes 36 personal essays on the ongoing and persistent impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis in queer lives. Here you will find an expansive range of perspectives on a specific generational story—essays that explore and explode conventional wisdom, while also providing a necessary bridge between experiences. These essays respond, with eloquence and incisiveness, to the question: How do we reckon with the trauma that continues to this day, and imagine a way out?

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Let the Record Show by Sarah Schulman

54785548In just six years, ACT UP, New York, a broad and unlikely coalition of activists from all races, genders, sexualities, and backgrounds, changed the world. Armed with rancor, desperation, intelligence, and creativity, it took on the AIDS crisis with an indefatigable, ingenious, and multifaceted attack on the corporations, institutions, governments, and individuals who stood in the way of AIDS treatment for all. They stormed the FDA and NIH in Washington, DC, and started needle exchange programs in New York; they took over Grand Central Terminal and fought to change the legal definition of AIDS to include women; they transformed the American insurance industry, weaponized art and advertising to push their agenda, and battled–and beat–The New York Times, the Catholic Church, and the pharmaceutical industry. Their activism, in its complex and intersectional power, transformed the lives of people with AIDS and the bigoted society that had abandoned them.

Based on more than two hundred interviews with ACT UP members and rich with lessons for today’s activists, Let the Record Show is a revelatory exploration–and long-overdue reassessment–of the coalition’s inner workings, conflicts, achievements, and ultimate fracture. Schulman, one of the most revered queer writers and thinkers of her generation, explores the how and the why, examining, with her characteristic rigor and bite, how a group of desperate outcasts changed America forever, and in the process created a livable future for generations of people across the world.

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Poetry

A Quilt for David by Steven Reigns

A Quilt for DavidThe hidden history of a vulnerable gay man whose life and death were turned into tabloid fodder.

In the early 1990s, eight people living in a small conservative Florida town alleged that Dr. David Acer, their dentist, infected them with HIV. David’s gayness, along with his sickly appearance from his own AIDS-related illness, made him the perfect scapegoat and victim of mob mentality. In these early years of the AIDS epidemic, when transmission was little understood, and homophobia rampant, people like David were villainized. Accuser Kimberly Bergalis landed a People magazine cover story, while others went on talk shows and made front page news.

With a poet’s eulogistic and psychological intensity, Steven Reigns recovers the life and death of this man who also stands in for so many lives destroyed not only by HIV, but a diseased society that used stigma against the most vulnerable. It’s impossible not to make connections between this story and how the twenty-first century pandemic has also been defined by medical misinformation and cultural bias.

Inspired by years of investigative research into the lives of David and those who denounced him, Reigns has stitched together a hauntingly poetic narrative that retraces an American history, questioning the fervor of his accusers, and recuperating a gay life previously shrouded in secrecy and shame.

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