Inside an Anthology: Being Ace ed. by Madeline Dyer

Today on the site I’m delighted to kick off Asexual Awareness Week with a peek inside the new anthology Being Ace, ed. by Madeline Dyer! The collection released earlier this month from Page Street, and we’re about to dig into the contributions. But first! A little more about the anthology:

Discover the infinite realms of asexual love across sci-fi, fantasy, and contemporary stories

From a wheelchair user racing to save her kidnapped girlfriend and a little mermaid who loves her sisters more than suitors, to a slayer whose virgin blood keeps attracting monsters, the stories of this anthology are anything but conventional. Whether adventuring through space, outsmarting a vengeful water spirit, or surviving haunted cemeteries, no two aces are the same in these 14 unique works that highlight asexual romance, aromantic love, and identities across the asexual spectrum.

Forward by Cody Daigle-Orians
With Stories by: Linsey Miller, Rosiee Thor, Moniza Hossain, Akemi Dawn Bowman, Emily Victoria S.J. Taylor, RoAnna Sylver, Kat Yuen, K. Hart, Jas Brown, Lara Ameen, S.E. Anderson, Anju Imura, and Madeline Dyer

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon

And here’s a glimpse inside the stories!

“No Such Thing As Just” by K. Hart

“No Such Thing As Just” follows Halcion, a nonbinary ace who despite their flamboyant public persona is not out as ace to anyone in their life, and the mysterious threatening letters they begin to receive that seem to be chasing them away from their best friend. The story features examples of emotional abuse from a partner, mentions of drug use, and clear instances of manipulation. It was important for me to write this because as a writer and a person I don’t think that we can ignore the dark parts of the world. However, as with the story and its hopeful end, I want to show people that you don’t have to remove the pain or the darkness, or hide it. Light is there, even if that light looks far different than expected. People who have lived through abuse and trauma rarely see their darkness and light co-exist. I wanted to show, for all of us dark creatures out there, that it can and does, and for every other ace regardless of background to know that we don’t have to squeeze ourselves into a specific mould of love just because we think we should.

“Moonspirited” by Anju Imura

“Moonspirited” has a lot of Ghibli-esque charm to it that I didn’t quite intentionally write into, but I think was needed to balance out the rawness of its core: Grief and alienation from an aroace gaze. There is a scene in Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) that stuck with me since the first time I watched it. Kaguya, a mystical foundling child taken in by a humble old couple who turns out to be from the Moon, is embraced intimately by the Emperor himself—and she rejects him. You see her revulsion, something visceral crosses her face, causing her to call for the Moon to come take her back. To me, it was asexual repulsion, the first representation of that feeling, coded and synthesised from one of Japan’s oldest science fiction stories. Are we, asexuals and aromantics, Moon People? It’s the fascination that started me into imagining deep space worlds ruled by spirits and gods, and where an aroace might be able to reflect, bravely despite all the grievance held in, who she is in a world that divides itself so easily into negative spaces of absence and want. Moonspirited has shifted and transformed since its first iteration, but I hope these ideas can still be found in spirit if not in name.

“Give up the Ghost” by Linsey Miller

“Give up the Ghost” is a story for the aces who made every plant, robot, and ghost joke before anyone else had a chance to. It features Cassandra, an ace girl who has repurposed the assumptions her town has made about her into a job only she can do—ferrying people through a haunted forest to speak to their dead loved ones in the town’s cemetery. The pay is more than good, but what she’s really after are their secrets. Someone murdered her best friend, the friend she never confessed to due to her fear of being rejected for being ace, and she’s determined to find out who before she leaves for college. This story is spooky and hopeful, and it allowed me to explore ace tropes in media. We aren’t ghosts, but sometimes we cling to what haunts us for protection. We’re self-deprecating. We say the jokes first. We force ourselves into uncomfortable situations to prove our worth or our aceness or both. This is a story about laying those ghosts to rest.

“Well Suited” by Rosiee Thor

In “Well Suited,” compulsory allonormativity takes form as a belligerent suit of armor. I was inspired by what the personification of compulsory allonormativity and compulsory heteronormativity  might look like in a fantasy world where something like a human construct can really come alive. It was especially compelling to me within the context of the antagonist being of the characters’ own making. Sir Guy, the suit of armor, is created for the sole purpose of being a fake fiancé for Brindle, a young lady who must find a suitable male escort to her coming out ball. When her best friend, nonbinary wizard Fig, brings Sir Guy to life, they’re left to question whether armor is really a shield or more of a cage. This double edged sword is something that has popped up in my own experience of being ace time and time again, and I loved having the opportunity to explore it within a fantasy setting.

“The Witch of Fest Falls” by S. J. Taylor

“The Witch of Festa Falls” is a historical fantasy steeped in Norwegian folklore. Seventeen-year-old Birga is out to avenge the death of her beloved cousin Rúna. A monster in the woods took Rúna… and now it’s after other girls. Birga vows to end the creature. But there may be more than one way to mend her broken heart, and more than one heart that needs healing. I’ve become fascinated with working traditional folklore into modern fiction, playing with old tales we’ve created to explain the world to ourselves–and, ourselves to the world. Birga is able to use the traits her neighbors fear and despise most about her to fight back against a monster terrorizing her home. Bonus: Revenge via fiber arts! Come and visit the Norwegian forest with me.

“Sealights” by Emily Victoria

When I was a teen, the relationships that really defined me were those of my friends and my family. So, that’s what I wanted to write about in this story. “Sealights” is all about  a young ace woman who’s been doing her best to keep her father’s legacy alive by skimming sea magic to power her town’s lighthouse. However, the sea magic is failing, and it’s not until she meets an industrious earth magic girl that she realizes the answer to all of her problems might have been there all along. I hope my stories connect with all teens who are figuring out who they are and who their friends are. And I hope everyone enjoys my little cinnamon roll characters!

“The Hazards of Pressing Play” by Lara Ameen

This story was first conceptualized in 2019 as I worked on a pitch of it with author Dana Mele for an anthology she was putting together about queer authors writing sci-fi thrillers. So, originally, this story was a sci-fi thriller. That anthology died on submission and by the time it did, I hadn’t written much of the story anyway. When I decided to use the story for Being Ace, it became a contemporary thriller and the technological/sci-fi aspects of the story were removed. The main character’s name also changed. I was also inspired by a TV drama pilot I had written and shelved in 2019, a contemporary thriller about disabled vigilantes taking down a eugenics institution. While I didn’t end up using that storyline, the main character, Violet, in “The Hazards of Pressing Play” gets her name from the main character, Violet, of that TV pilot script. As a speculative fiction writer, writing this YA thriller story for Being Ace was a new experience for me. I loved writing Violet’s determination to save her girlfriend as well as her friendship with Felix. When writing disabled characters, asexuality is usually portrayed as a negative stereotype implying that disabled people are denied bodily agency and cannot or do not experience romantic or sexual attraction. However, it is Violet’s love for her girlfriend Nova that drives the heart of the story as well as the external and internalized ableism she fights against. I view Violet’s relationship with Nova as one that is built on trust, consent, and romantic rather than sexual attraction. I wanted to show that disabled characters who are asexual can be the heroes of their own stories. I hope disabled ace readers can see a piece of themselves in Violet and in this story as a whole.

“The Mermaid’s Sister” by Moniza Hossain

I chose to do a fairytale retelling for this anthology because I’ve always wanted to do one. I chose The Little Mermaid because despite its overt heterosexuality, it is inherently a queer tale. It’s a story about doomed and illicit love, a painful reflection of Andersen’s own life as a closeted gay man. I have always found it very difficult to relate to the little mermaid. There’s just something so ridiculous about how romantic love is portrayed in the story (maybe deliberately so, since romantic love as Andersen knew it was extremely heteronormative and exclusionary). According to the sea witch, the little mermaid would only have successfully won over the prince if “he is willing to forget his father and mother” for her sake. And the mermaid on her part is more than happy to leave behind her father, her grandmother, and her five sisters for someone she has never even spoken to. When I was a kid reading the unabridged story for the first time (complete with a horrific illustration of the little mermaid turning to sea foam when she dies at the end), my sympathies lay entirely with her family. Her poor sisters gave up their hair to save her only to have her kill herself for a random man. Absolutely not! So I did a retelling with the focus firmly back where it should be — on the love between sisters — because there is more than one type of love in the world. And all love is equally important. And my little mermaid is not going to kill herself for a man, no thank you.

“No Cure for Doubt” by Jas Brown

It’s hard to be brave enough to make your own decisions when it feels like your entire life has never belonged to you. I think a lot of the time we can feel like prisoners of our trauma or disabilities, and sometimes we need somebody else to tell us that we’re allowed to choose something else. So is this story about grief or is it about forgiving yourself for the wrong you’ve done in the past and choosing to do something different going forward? Really, it’s about how love might not always be the answer (but it is the reason), and that we are all worthy of it no matter who we are or what we’ve done. Also that we deserve happy endings!

“The Third Star” by RoAnna Sylver

My story is a weird, cosmic, very queer expression of so many raw, blazing, blistering feelings at once – and it all kind of came out in a howl.

It’s about breakdowns in communication, especially from a very neurodivergent POV. Loneliness, listening, figuring out relationships (romantic, queerplatonic, polyamory, family) and their infinite beautiful varieties. Environmentalism, honoring the universe as a living thing even as we struggle to live in it. Norse myth, galactic disaster, prophecy, and gigantic-ass space wolves in all their cosmic-horror and glory. And it’s about monsters: chasing them, fearing them, becoming them – and what makes a “monsterat all.

“Nylon Bed Socks” by Madeline Dyer

In my story “Nylon Bed Socks,” Amelia is desperate to escape—both the psychiatric hospital she’s found herself in and life itself. I wanted to write an emotional examination of the inner conflict and trauma that follows acephobic violence and the disassociation this can lead to—but it was important for me to also include positive messages about healing and my main character finding those who are accepting of her asexuality too. I also chose to write this story in verse and employ a spiral plot pattern; this narrative mode allowed me to examine the rawness of emotion in a way that mirrored how Amelia’s unprocessed trauma was growing, unchecked, in her mind, and how at the end of the story, community with other ace-spec individuals helps her feel less alone. It’s ultimately a story about the power one finds in being believed and accepted—both in terms of finding others like yourself and in healing from acephobic violence.

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