Today on the site, we’re looking inside an anthology that’s edited by none other than yours truly! At Midnightis a collection of reimagined YA fairy tales (with the original source material in the back) authored by some of the category’s best and queerest, and it released today from Flatiron Books! Check out more about the volume and some of the queer stories within it below:
Fairy tales have been spun for thousands of years and remain among our most treasured stories. Weaving fresh tales with unexpected reimaginings, At Midnight brings together a diverse group of acclaimed YA writers to breathe new life into a storied tradition.
Fifteen celebrated authors reclaim classic fairy tales for a new generation:
Dahlia Adler, “Rumplestiltskin”
Tracy Deonn, “The Nightingale”
H.E. Edgmon, “Snow White”
Hafsah Faizal, “Little Red Riding Hood”
Stacey Lee, “The Little Matchstick Girl”
Roselle Lim, “Hansel and Gretel”
Darcie Little Badger, “Puss in Boots”
Malinda Lo, “Frau Trude”
Alex London, “Cinderella”
Anna-Marie McLemore, “The Nutcracker”
Rebecca Podos, “The Robber Bridegroom”
Rory Power, “Sleeping Beauty”
Meredith Russo, “The Little Mermaid”
Gita Trelease, “Fitcher’s Bird”
and an all-new fairy tale by Melissa Albert
Sugarplums. Glittering snow. Really snappy uniforms. Fabulous shoes used as weapons. It’s not like I had to make a huge leap (grand jeté?) to make The Nutcracker gay. But while my story got real gay, it also got real about what it means to have to perform for the audiences in our lives. A Latina dancer feels wound up like a music box ballerina. A soft butch girl with a chip on her shoulder and a spectacular curling throw can’t say what she really wants to say about the Christmas party going on downstairs. Two queer girls who always have the perfect insult for each other are quiet for once, leaving space for the conversations they’ve never had. And cake. Because sometimes enemies to lovers starts with cake.
“Say My Name” by Dahlia Adler
What if Rumpelstiltskin were a cruel Sapphic coding genius in love with her best friend? That’s the heart of “Say My Name,” which is actually a semi-repurposing of an idea I had for a different anthology to which I was asked to contribute but unfortunately didn’t sell. My main character in that story was a catfish who kept the game going a little too long when she got feelings, and naturally when I think catfish I think of the ultimate identity-hider of yore! And so Rumpelstiltskin became [redacted], and this became the story of a girl who would do anything to impress the girl she loves, even if it kind of turns her into a monster.
“HEA” by Alex London
HEA is a modern m|m reimagining of Cinderella, turned on its head. Asher (as in Aschenputtel–the little ash girl of the Grimm tale) is a teen social media star, who lives in service to his brand. Constant balls and parties and opportunities to create content. He longs for one night not to be a brand, but just to be a boy. So he disguises himself in sweatpants, ditches the Met Gala, and hides out at a coffee shop. Of course, it’s there that he meets his prince, the barista, and has to flee, back to his fabulous life and the endless churn of content. But he’s left something behind, more than his heart, and his prince is going to track him down…
“Mother’s Mirror” by H.E. Edgmon
When Dahlia asked me to join a fairytale retelling anthology, it was a no-brainer. I’ve been compelled by fairytales since my earliest days—I currently own three copies of the exact same Grimm Brothers collection, with different covers. My only question was which fairytale to make my own. And when I remembered that the original Snow White featured the protagonist’s own mother, not an evil step-mother, as the villain, I had my answer.
The often-fraught nature of mother/daughter relationships is one many of us are already familiar with. But what happens when the eldest daughter, the one expected to twist herself until she becomes a reflection of the mother, comes out as trans, instead? That’s the story I explore in “Mother’s Mirror.” The contemporary retelling features a narcissistic single mom as the evil queen, a main character who’s more huntsman than Snow, and the choice to cut out one’s own heart rather than face the slow poison of living a lie.
“A Flame So Bright” by Malinda Lo
I first encountered the little-known story of “Frau Trude” in an academic book called Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimms, which includes an essay by Kay Turner titled “Playing with Fire: Transgression as Truth in Grimms’ ‘Frau Trude.” I was inspired by Turner’s queer reading of the very short tale of “Frau Trude,” and I loved the metaphorical possibilities of fire, especially because it has been connected closely with witchcraft. I lived in Salem, MA, for about a year and a half, and I’ve been fascinated by beliefs about witches since I was very young, so retelling “Frau Trude” gave me the opportunity to over-research witchcraft in colonial America and bring some local Salem-inspired flair to my story. I also loved this chance to return to what I call “fairy tale voice,” since I haven’t written fantasy in quite a while.
Today on the site I’m delighted to welcome the one and only Natalie C. Parker, w ho’s revealing the cover of The Nameless Witch, “the wickedly exciting and queer sequel” to last year’s Middle Grade fantasy adventure The Devouring Wolf! The Nameless Witchis coming from Razorbill/Penguin on August 8, 2023, and here’s the story:
For fans of Soman Chainani, Anne Ursu, and stories with lots of magic, action and a big heart.
If you give your witch your name… …she’ll steal your magic and grind your bones…
After defeating the Devouring Wolf, Riley and her friends hoped they could leave scary legends behind and focus on being the best werewolves they can be. Nicknamed the Winter Pack because of when they turned, they’ve got a unique bond thanks to how different they are as a prime, and some of the other pups think they get special treatment. It’s all Riley and her friends can do to practice their magic skills, get all their homework done, and not let the other young wolves pick fights.
Suddenly their bond leads them to a new threat—a young witch on the run. She isn’t just any runaway, though. She’s the next in line to become the magic-hungry Nameless Witch and even being in her presence is dangerous for werewolves. They say the Nameless Witch can take anything she wants from you if she knows your name.
But this runaway doesn’t want to be Nameless, she wants to choose for herself. The Winter Pack understands better than other wolves what that feels like, and they pledge to help her. Too bad the terrible power of the Nameless Witch has already marked the runaway, and Riley and her pack have no time before their new friend will turn, steal their magic and bones, and possibly even destroy all of Clawroot…
And here’s the magical cover, illustrated by Tyler Champion and designed by Jessica Jenkins!
Alt text: Five 13-year-olds stand in the middle of a magical orb surrounded by an ominous green mist. Outside of the orb a hooded figure is just visible in the darkness, their hands hover to either side of the orb as though they are spying on the children. A candle burns on one side and a mortar and pestle sit on the other. The title at the top of the page reads The Nameless Witch.
Natalie C. Parker is an author, editor, and community organizer. She has written several award winning books for teens and young readers and has edited multiple anthologies including the Indie Bestselling anthology Vampires Never Get Old. Her work has been included on the NPR Best Books list, the Indie Next List, and the TAYSHAS Reading List, and in Junior Library Guild selections. In addition to writing, Natalie also runs Madcap Retreats, which has partnered with We Need Diverse Books and Reese’s Book Club to host the writers workshops for their new internship Lit Up. She grew up in a navy family finding home in coastal cities from Virginia to Japan and currently lives with her wife on the Kansas prairie.
What’s that? One of your favorite queer YA novelists is now writing adult f/f romance? She sure is! Love at First Set by Jennifer Dugan releases from Avon on May 23, 2023, and we’ve got the first look! Here’s the story:
This irresistible adult debut from beloved YA author Jennifer Dugan is a queer romcom for fans of Delilah Green Doesn’t Care and Written in the Stars, in which a woman gives a drunken bathroom pep talk to a hot stranger, only to find out it’s the bride-to-be she has convinced to leave her fiancé the night before the wedding.
The gym is Lizzie’s life—it’s her passion, her job, and the only place that’s ever felt like home. Unfortunately, her bosses consider her a glorified check-in girl at best, and the gym punching bag at worst.
When their son, Lizzie’s best friend James, begs her to be his plus one at his perfect sister Cara’s wedding, things go wrong immediately, culminating in Lizzie giving a drunken pep talk to a hot stranger in the women’s bathroom—except that stranger is actually the bride-to-be, and Lizzie has accidentally convinced her to ditch her groom.
Now, newly directionless Cara is on a quest to find herself, and Lizzie—desperate to make sure her bosses never find out her role in this disaster—gets strong-armed by James into “entertaining” her. Cara doesn’t have to know it’s a setup; it’ll just be a quick fling before she sobers up and goes back to her real life. After all, how could someone like Cara fall for someone like Lizzie, with no career and no future?
But the more Lizzie gets to know Cara, the more she likes her, and the more is on the line if any of her rapidly multiplying secrets get out. Because now it’s not just Lizzie’s job and entire future on the line, but also the girl of her dreams.
And here’s the delightfully flirty cover by Monika Roe!
Jennifer Dugan is the author of the young adult novels Some Girls Do, Melt With You, Verona Comics, and Hot Dog Girl, as well as the graphic novel Coven. She lives in upstate New York with her family and two beloved, yet terrible, cats. Love at First Set is her first adult novel.
Love light Sapphic YA romance? Love queer holiday romance? Excited to see a book mesh the two and be resplendent with nerdery? It’s got enemies-to-lovers! It’s got Jewish rep! It’s cozy and funny and basically exactly what you want to read as the fall turns to winter, and I loved it so much I blurbed it, so I’ll throw that in here too, because why not: “With wit and chemistry that crackle like a roaring fire, the warmth and sweetness of gourmet hot cocoa, and the surprising softness of a gentle snowfall, How to Excavate a Heart truly gave me the romantic winter break of my dreams. You’ll want to savor every word, and then run and recommend it to everyone you know.” (Let the record show I am not usually so annoyingly flowery with blurbs, but like, the perfect winter vibes are so strong, it was beyond my control!) Anyway, it’s out now from HarperTeen, so go get it!
It all starts when Shani runs into May. Like, literally. With her mom’s Subaru.
Attempted vehicular manslaughter was not part of Shani’s plan. She was supposed to be focusing on her monthlong paleoichthyology internship. She was going to spend all her time thinking about dead fish and not at all about how she was unceremoniously dumped days before winter break.
It could be going better.
But when a dog-walking gig puts her back in May’s path, the fossils she’s meant to be diligently studying are pushed to the side—along with the breakup.
Then they’re snowed in together on Christmas Eve. As things start to feel more serious, though, Shani’s hurt over her ex-girlfriend’s rejection comes rushing back. Is she ready to try a committed relationship again, or is she okay with this just being a passing winter fling?
Today on the site we have Honeymoon for One author Rachel Bowdler, talking about the importance of queer characters in festive romance fiction! But before we get to the post, here’s a little more info on Honeymoon for One, which released yesterday from Embla/Bonnier Books UK in ebook and audio!
A cancelled engagement. A non-refundable honeymoon. A Christmas Robin will never forget.
Robin Ellis has had a year she’d like to forget. She’s tired, overworked and most definitely not ready to spend the holidays with her rowdy family in Manchester. So when she discovers she forgot to cancel her honeymoon she sees this as the perfect opportunity to get away; it’s time to relax and embrace adventure!
The last thing she expects is to clash with standoffish ski instructor Neve. But despite their rocky start these two unlikely people can’t help but fall for each other under the starry Canadian skies.
They know that holiday romances don’t last, and Robin has had her heart broken one too many times before, but can they overcome the distance between them and find a happily ever after together?
Despite the growing number of LGBTQ+ books being published in recent years, it’s sometimes difficult to find the words ‘queer’ and ‘festive romance’ in the same sentence — or ‘inclusive’ in general. You only have to browse holiday romance titles to see many variations of similar books and movies, most of which entail a romance between a city woman and a small-town man, or vice versa, who find a love of Christmas (and each other — insert ‘awws’ here) together. I enjoy cosy Hallmark-esque stories as much as anyone (you’ll find the Christmas24 channel turned on from November 1st in my house) but, as a queer person, I can’t pretend as though it isn’t a little bit disheartening to see the lack of diversity in this genre. Before we get into it, let’s talk about why we love festive romance.
My favourite thing about the genre is the sense of magic that comes with the winter season. Both the magical, snowy, fairy-lit backdrop of the setting and the sense of togetherness that comes with celebrating only bolsters the already uplifting romance. We get a happy ending, but now there are pretty lights everywhere, lots of cinnamon-spiced baked goods, and there is white stuff falling from the sky too! What more could you ask for?
Really, then, when it comes down to it, what makes the genre special is the added sense of joy: the joy of community and family, the joy of decorating, the joy of getting to wear big coats and jumpers, the possibility of a ‘Christmas miracle’ and of course, presents!
So why is it important to go beyond the average white heterosexual cisgender couple who are always very cute but never very queer? Because, to put it simply, queer people deserve to feel the same joy that straight people have always been granted without question. I read the Vintage anthology 100 Queer Poems by Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan recently, and McMillan’s introduction, which discusses his own experience with queer works, included a line I can’t get out of my head: ‘I saw for the first time that who I was might be worthy of poetry, worthy of literature.’ This is important for queer readers of any genre — that sense of seeing yourself in another character, another book, another piece of art. Being told ‘this is for you, because you deserve to be seen and heard!’
With romance especially, when we are given queer characters, we’re told that we’re worthy of our happy endings. We’re worthy of love. We’re worthy of cheerful stories, not just the traumatic ones that are usually spotlighted in mass media. Even now, when you search for sapphic films, the majority of the ones you’ll find are historical pieces — as though we still exist in that hidden, restricted, uncomfortable space, unable to break into the open. When you think of more recent times, Happiest Season (2020) featuring Kristen Stewart comes to mind: a wonderful, hilarious movie, but the main character is outed without consent and the entire plot focuses on Harper being in the closet, not yet comfortable to be herself or be romantic with her partner in front of her family. Which, of course, will always be an important story to tell, but when are we allowed to just be?
That’s why I wrote Honeymoon For One, and that’s why we desperately need even more queer festive romance books, now and always. Because straight couples have never needed to earn the right to a happy ending, and neither should we. Our holidays should be joyful. We should feel included in the most wonderful time of the year — yet in so many subtle ways, we aren’t, and that lack of representation only causes more confusion and loneliness for those still figuring themselves out. Our sexuality does not have to be an obstacle or a cause for conflict. It can, and should, be celebrated.
The queer festive romance genre is one big ‘hi, you deserve to be kissed under the mistletoe, too!’ to our community. A warm hug. A sign that our stories don’t always have to be sad ones, and that we’re entitled to the same wonderful romance and joy that straight people have always been allowed freely. The power of a happy ending should never be exclusive to one group of people. I truly hope that we get more of that in the coming years, and I’m so grateful to authors who have already spread that message to their readers.
Rachel Bowdler is a freelance writer, editor, and sometimes photographer from the UK. She spends most of her time away with the faeries. When she is not putting off writing by scrolling through Twitter and binge-watching sitcoms, you can find her walking her dog, painting, and passionately crying about her favourite fictional characters. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @RachelBowdler.