Category Archives: Better Know an Author

Better Know an Author: Chelsea M. Cameron

Today’s sunny addition to the site is none other than the lovely Chelsea M. Cameron, New York Times and USA Today bestselling Romance author and general f/f enthusiast. Chelsea’s got a lot of different projects going on these days, some a far cry from the cishet allo Romances she broke into the industry with, and she’s letting me pick her brain about all of it, so please welcome her to the site!

You initially made your name with an allo cishet Romance called My Favorite Mistake, which was actually one of my very first NA. Now that you’ve added f/f Romance to your repertoire, beginning with Style, what kinds of differences do you notice in the publishing experience?

30332310Oh, wow, the publishing landscape is SO different now. MFM came out in late 2012, during the “gold rush” of contemporary new adult. I honestly had no idea what I was doing back then. It was SO different. Timing and luck played a lot into the success of that book. I also feel as if there were certain bloggers who, if they promoted a book, that was almost a guarantee of success. It’s not so much like that anymore. Everything is different and I honestly feel like I’m learning every day. Promotion is not what it used to be. Basically I’m saying that I have no idea what I’m doing. The one thing that is great about writing f/f is that the people who read it are SO enthusiastic. I get more messages and emails and so forth on my f/f books. And I feel like they mean more. I know they mean a lot to me when I write them.

The Violet Hill series of novellas is your newest f/f endeavor. What can you tell us about it and how the individual stories link up? Any word on when we can expect the third installment?

33383955That was something I sort of decided to do on a whim, which is usually how most of my favorite projects start. I’d written a series of m/f novellas and really liked the format and the way you can tell a complete story in about 20-25,000 words. The first book, Second Kiss, features two former best friends who crash back into each other and sparks fly. The main way the books are connected is that they’re all centered around the Violet Hill Café, which is a queer-run and owned café in a fictional town in Maine. I wanted to write a series that focused on a place where queer people could feel safe and loved. The second book features one of the waitresses at the café and a traveling photographer. The third book, Second Chance, will feature the cousin of the waitress in the second book who seeks refuge with her for the summer and runs into an ex. I’m hoping to release it in June or July.

I know you’ve got a seriously ambitious to-write list. What are your dream projects?

Right now I’m working very hard on my queer, modern Jane Austen story about Mary Bennet and Georgiana Darcy getting together. I’m LOVING it. My ultimate dream is to write the f/f fantasy that’s been burning a hole in my brain for over a year. I’m sort of stuck in the world-building stage right now. It’s so hard! I’ve been writing contemporary for too long, haha. But I’m going to make it happen because these characters will NOT leave me alone. I just want to write a massive amount of queer books so I have a recommendation for everyone. I joke about wanting to be the Nora Roberts of f/f, but it’s totally what I’m going for.

I love how many authors are embracing Patreon these days, giving readers ways to get more snippets of work while we wait. What kinds of stuff do fans get from yours?

I do a little bit of everything, I think. I post first chapters of my new work, original short stories, writing advice, random awful writing I find that I did in college, essays on queerness, and all kinds of things. I also have a tier that includes a motivational email a month, and one that includes an ebook per month. All kinds of fun stuff!

If I recall correctly, you share my intrigue with anthologies. If you were putting one together, what would the theme be and why? What kind of story would you love to write?

Haha, yes, I am obsessed with them and I want to be in one SO BAD. It’s like not being invited to sit at the cool kids table. I’m also always coming up for ideas for them, but I don’t the organizational skills to actually put one together. I would LOVE to have one with all stories about queer women, by queer women. I’d also love to do one with essays from people who came out later in life (20 or older). I never really thought I could do short stories, but now that I’m doing them on my Patreon, I find that I really like them! I just wanna write a massive amount of queer love stories, basically.

As someone who was relatively late to coming out, what kind of role would you say LGBTQIAP+ books played in figuring out your sexuality, and what would you recommend to someone who’s questioning, especially in their 20s?

That was literally the impetus for me figuring things out. I was reading these books in preparation to write a f/f book (that I didn’t end up writing, actually) and I was COMPLETELY OBESSED with them. As in, I wasn’t eating or sleeping, I was just reading Siera Maley and you, and Kristen Zimmer and I couldn’t figure it out. Fortunately, I was in therapy at the time, and my therapist helped me figure it out. I would highly recommend those authors (you included) as well as Of Fire and Stars, everything by Malinda Lo, The Abyss Surrounds Us, and, if it’s not to gauche to mention my own books, uh, mine. There’s a lot of YA/NA f/f out there and I think those stories focus a lot on coming out and figuring yourself out. I really want to write/read more stories about older queers, and also people who have been out for a while. Basically, I want to write/read as many varied experiences as I can.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ media that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

Something that I have a hard time with is how vagina-centric a lot of f/f media is. As someone questioning their gender (still working on that one, but I think demigirl is working for now), and someone who loves a trans person, I don’t feel included in a lot of it. The first time I was like IT’S ME! IT’S ME! was when I read 27 Hours by Tristina Wright. I cried a lot while reading that book for the first time. It was just so wonderful to see so many queer people in one book. That’s another thing that bugs me about media. Is that there is one “token” queer person and if there’s another queer person, they’re most-likely dating. As if we have so few options, we have to date/marry the closest queer in proximity to us. So annoying.

What are you still dying to see in LGBTQIAP+ lit?

EVERYTHING. I want so many options that I have a rec for every situation. I know things have gotten a LOT better in recent years, and for that I am so grateful. I want rep where everyone can point to it and say YES, THAT’S ME! I want all readers to get that moment. Especially readers who are queer and also marginalized in other ways. I want an ace, biracial, trans teen to be able to pick up a book and see themselves portrayed in a way that isn’t harmful. I want them to have MULTIPLE books to choose from on the bookstore shelves. I would also love to see more f/f where one or both of the women is trans. That’s something very close to my heart and that I want to promote. My biggest dream is for a lush fantasy world with multiple POVs where literally everyone is queer. Like, a trilogy or even more. I’m hoping to write my own, but I want MORE. Always more.

Thanks for stopping by, Chelsea! You can learn more about the author and buy her books at chelseamcameron.com, and/or follow her on Twitter at @chel_c_cam.

Better Know an Author: Amy Jo Cousins

Psyched to have Romance author Amy Jo Cousins on the blog today, who’s not only one of the most prolific, supportive, and delightful people in all the land, but also wrote my #1 recommendation for “I need something short and absurdly hot.” (I’ll give you a minute to buy “Callie, Unwrapped.” You’re welcome in advance.) She’s got a brand-new m/m Romance out called HeartShip (more on that below), and a whole lot of wisdom and recommendations to share, so please welcome Amy Jo!

You’ve pulled off something incredibly rare in having a New Adult series (Bend or Break) with m/m, m/f, and f/f titles. What responses to that have you seen among your readership?
 

The response has been terrific, mixed with a dollop of “Ugh, what?” But that’s okay! New things always get a bit of a side-eye, right? And when the series first came out, very few people were mixing it up with different pairings in their series. It was a philosophical decision for me, though, to include all kinds of relationships in my series under one pen name. I wanted my writing to reflect my life and my community, and in my world, friendships and relationships and social circles are complicated and expansive and full of beautiful and every-changing variety. So yes, I occasionally get protest emails from readers who don’t like that I have a m/f or f/f books included with m/m stories, but this is more than just my writing. It’s my life. So there’s always going to be the full rainbow! The vast majority of readers I speak to are 100% supportive, especially my fans who are gay men. They read it all and love Cash and Steph as much as they love Tom and Reese or Vinnie and Bryan, which just makes me happy beyond all words.

Excitingly, you also just got the rights back to that series, and rereleased it with some beautiful new covers. What’s that process been like?
 
Well, the process of arguing with my publisher was rather exhilarating. We’re all normally so polite and professional that I got a bit of a charge out of going to the mat for myself and my intellectual property rights, not to mention those of my peers who were in the same situation. Not gonna lie. It was exciting. But also supremely frustrating, because of the thirteen months of waiting that passed since the original closing announcement. I have more stories to tell in this series, but everything was on hold! Now I’m back in business and so very excited about everything. Getting the whole series rerelease has been a joy, and I’m so in love with the updated covers Lexi at Romance by the Cover made for me! They’re sharp. 🙂 And getting The Belle vs the BDOC to match the series visually now too was a pure delight. I just started working on a story about a secondary character from Nothing Like Paris for an upcoming anthology, and I’m pretty much always thinking about what comes next for Tom and Reese, because those guys would make awesome foster dads, and I can’t wait to see that…
 
If I recall correctly, you’ve got a gay baseball romance coming up! (And I realllly hope I’m recalling correctly, because that sounds amazing!) Please share absolutely everything about that, sparing zero detail.
 
Ha! I do indeed. All of my Samhain chaos put my writing on hold, as I’ve worked to republish those books and release a bunch of self-pub books I’ve had mostly completed for a while, in order to fill in the gap, earnings-wise. But I should be wrapping up the first book of the series in short order, and I’m in love with this whole team.

I’m writing my idea of a fantastic baseball organization, which is of course heavily influenced by the kindness and sense of play driving Joe Madden and my beloved Cubs, with the added influence of my imaginary team having the owner’s lesbian daughter in a power position in operations. She’s all about acquiring hot talent that other teams have passed up, especially if it’s because the player is queer. So we’ve got two gay rookies in book one coming up from the minors who’ve been best friends and rivals since they were kids, the rebellious rock star pitcher and the not-quite-good-enough for the majors utility player who’s brought up with the rock star to keep him in line. Of course, they start crossing all of their personal friendship boundaries immediately, both publicly and privately and the pressure creates all kinds of chaos for them.

Then I’ve got a center fielder who’s got issues with the journalist breaking stories about the various players’ private lives, the rising star sports agent who can’t stop arguing with the team owner’s daughter even while she’s flirting with her, the near-retirement catcher and the young guy eager to replace him, and a first baseman who’s a total player on the social scene who gets in over his head with a movie star and his brilliant wife. Sooooo, yeah. 🙂 I’ve got some awesomeness coming!

I love how prolific you are, not just with full-length novels, but novellas and short stories, too. How do you decide on the right length for a story, and what are some of your favorite of your contributions to anthologies?

Deciding on the right length for a story is mostly a function of the plot, and also the constraints of whatever I’ve agreed to do. Which has occasionally meant that a story I planned on writing for an anthology doesn’t work out, because it’s just too much story for a short form. Or the short story I write has a very HFN ending, as opposed to a HEA, which is fine, of course! HFNs, especially for stories about younger characters, are frequently what I write. But then I’m always tempted to revisit them down the line and give them a more solid HEA.

When I write about people in their early twenties, I almost always feel as if, when the story ends, I’m giving them the happiest ending I can and hoping they make it in the long run. Because it’s not a given that a relationship that starts at that age lasts forever. I mean, it’s not a given for relationships at any age, right? But especially when people are still exploring themselves, their lives, and their worlds. So I really do enjoy revisiting characters like Tom and Reese, who had 100k+ words in Off Campus to get their relationship settled! But they were still finishing up school, and hadn’t met any challenges of the “real world” yet, so adding a 45k novella to their story (in Real World) and getting them settled for good with a solid HEA was important to me.

I just released a book called HeartShip too, which started as an 18k word short story called “The Christmas Ship” in the Wish Come True charity anthology. That story covered forty-eight hours, and was sweet and lovely, but it was just the jumping off point for those two after their long internet friendship! So turning that beginning into a longer novella that gives them a more solid relationship in HeartShip was fun. Mostly I think I don’t like letting go of my characters. LOL. So I’m always thinking about what’s happening to them now and when readers nudge me to write more, I’m terrible at resisting the temptation.

If you were helming a new anthology or series right now, what would the theme be and who would you love to bring on board as contributors?

As it turns out, I am working on a new story for an anthology that just came together a few days ago via the magic of Twitter. A bunch of us who are pretty passionately into politics started joking around about rogue park rangers/White House tweeters, and who you might confess your love to/bang athletically if you seriously thought the world might be ending soon, and all the romance that could happen in The Resistance. Now we’ve got a cover and a tentative production schedule, so you should keep your eyes peeled this summer! We’re having the most fun.

You’re an avid supporter of LGBTQ Romance, which is so wonderful. What are some authors and titles that are always on your rec lists?

Oh, so many! I’ve been rec’ing Kris Ripper nonstop lately, because I love how ze writes these big, beautiful queer communities with the same mashup of relationships and friendships that I enjoy writing in my own. Zir Queers of La Vista and Scientific Method series are my favorites. KJ Charles is always on my rec list for gorgeous m/m historical and paranormal. EE Ottoman’s steampunk Mechanical Universe series is lovely, as is Alexis Hall’s Prosperity series. Both involved amazing worldbuilding and deeply realized characters. I’m also constantly rec’ing Santino Hassell and Annabeth Albert’s contemporaries, Solace Ames’ kink, Josh Lanyon’s mysteries, Keira Andrews’ Amish series, JA Rock’s everything, and Lyn Gala’s SFR. In 2017, two of the best books I’ve read, Peter Darling by Austin Chant and A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson, are also topping my rec list.

As I may have mentioned a thousand times, I’m a huge fan of Callie, Unwrapped, and I’m delighted to see there’s more coming with those characters! Can you give us some idea of what’s to come in the Play it Again series?

I am finishing up final edits/proofreading on book two as we speak! Or, you know, type. Email. LOL. Callie focuses on some serious kink exploration to avoid feeling how instantly reactivated her attachment to Gabe was by the night she spent with him and Kate. But despite her intentions, Gabe ends up…shall we say…intimately involved in those explorations. And this is going to bring up a lot of conflicting emotions for Callie, who is trying to reconnect with her sexuality and her sense of adventure, not turn around and immediately fall for the guy she couldn’t find a happy ending with all those years ago. And then I meant to wrap up Callie #3, which pulls everything together, but it turns out that I’ve got a Kate story almost complete instead. Because Kate walked away from that night with Gabe and Callie with a serious crush on Callie that made Kate think, for the first time, that maybe she’s more into women, romantically, than she thought. So she takes a Gabe-break and tries to figure that out. My current working title for that ms., with massive subtlety, is: Kate Likes Girls.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

Just the amazingly wide range of stories we have to celebrate these days. I started reading LGBTQIAP+ stories in SFF and mystery, then literary fiction, back in the ’80s and ’90s. Now I also read them in romance and YA, of course. For so many years–for most of my life–almost everything I read that featured queer characters was tragic. Beautiful books, but so unbearably sad, almost always. I remember reading Rita Mae Brown’s Venus Envy in college in 1993 and just being so damn happy that the lesbian lived! And had a new girlfriend, and her family (almost all of them, at least) loved her! That was great. But still, most of my non-romance LGBTQIAP+ reading still featured a lot of unhappy endings. So when I finally found queer romance novels, I was beyond thrilled. Happy endings galore! Thank. God. Because I needed those HEAs, man. Like water, or air, I needed them. Now it gives me constant joy to see the genre expand its boundaries so all kinds of readers can find themselves in stories. We’ve still got plenty of work to do, but I love that we’re seeing a lot more trans and ace/aro and demi and bi characters. Yay for all the stories to come!

What can we hope to see down the line from you that I haven’t covered yet?

I just started reading this fun interactive fiction (The Eagle’s Heir) from Choice of Games after a reader recommended it to me on FB. Then I ran into a lovely representative from CoG at the NECRWA conference and learned a lot about their company (which prioritizes LGBTQ and nonbinary diversity, yay!) and the whole interactive fiction market. So now I’m getting all sorts of ideas about some fun story ideas that might work for that kind of narrative that allows so much reader participation. It’s fascinating! Who knows what could happen…

*****

Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series again.

Better Know an Author: Riley Redgate

I am so excited to have Riley Redgate on the blog this month. If you’re not already familiar with her excellent YAs, rectify that immediately by reading Seven Ways We Lie as you wait for Noteworthy to release on May 2nd! Not only are her books and brain super fun and unique, but she’s got some skills when it comes to getting underrepresented POVs on the page, which is something I think we can alllll appreciate around here. But I’ll let her tell you more about that!

Congrats on the upcoming release of Noteworthy! One of my favorite things in the book is that not only is Jordan figuring out her own sexuality, but she’s also critically examining her actions as they pertain to gender identity. Was that always a planned part of Jordan’s journey, or did that come about as it was unfolding?

Thank you! Yes, I always wanted to address gender identity in Noteworthy. We’ve reached a point where not addressing gender identity in these sorts of narratives feels disingenuous to me (especially in a liberal environment like an arts school). That said, it was critically important to me that I steer clear of using the trans community as a foil or mirror for Jordan (who’s cis), in a way that felt diminishing of the importance of trans kids’ lives, identities, and struggles. I actually did have a draft that omitted examinations of gender for fear of that feeling of exploitation, but it felt off, tonally, so out the door it went. I don’t know. Striking that balance—maintaining a feeling of awareness, but not using the community as, basically, an object for sort of voyeuristic consumption by a cis narrator—was one of the toughest lines to walk in the manuscript.

I also really love that Jordan’s narrative is that of a child of immigrants, which is a glaringly important one in the current political climate, and especially welcome in LGBTQ lit. For those who haven’t gotten to read Noteworthy yet, what would you say about how her background informs her choices and identity?

Jordan’s narrative in many ways is about belonging. There’s no foregrounded struggle where she’s asked to take ownership of her identity as a Chinese girl, but I think the alienation of being a child of immigrants peeks out several times. She acutely feels the distance between her American identity and her parents’ upbringing abroad, but there’s also the usual sense of not being American enough (e.g., to land roles written for white Americans). Those smaller tensions can be unavoidable in the day-to-day.

Your books strongly acknowledge queerness without ever really being “about” it, or about coming out, but as far as I know, you’re the first author to put a pansexual main character on the page in mainstream YA, with your debut, Seven Ways We Lie. Was that a challenge along the way? And what kind of response have you received to that from readers?

The response from the YA community, and more privately from readers, has been wonderful. Writing a pan character in a book with seven perspectives was an interesting experience; I get a lot of “I wish [X character] had their own book,” and the pansexual narrator is at the top of this list. This makes sense to me. Because there’s such a dearth of narratives with pan characters at their centers, I understand why his perspective being limited to 1/7 of the narrative would feel frustrating. That said, I really hoped for him to be a lovable character to readers, because when there’s very little representation of a certain identity, all new representations tend to feel definitive in a way that is sort of overwhelming. Actually, though, the biggest concern for me was that people would take away only the fact that his character is associated with the deadly sin of Greed — the goal was to deconstruct the common tendency to think that pan & bi people are ‘greedy’ and ‘need to choose.’

Seven Ways We Lie also has a narrator working through the process of figuring out he’s aromantic asexual, though he hasn’t quite found those words yet. Or, at least, that’s how I read him. Do you find readers tend to read and respond to him that same way? (I definitely had someone tweet at me that he was the closest she’d ever seen to herself in a book!) Is that an identity you might explore more in future books?

I get a lot of messages about this narrator from people who see themselves in him: asexual readers, aromantic readers, and autistic readers. I think his realization that he’s aromantic asexual is textually explicit enough that acearo readers will recognize that arc, and I’ve seen that response. Still, in retrospect I wish it were on the page, as well as his identity as an autistic boy. I do plan to keep writing characters of all sexualities; I would be very surprised if I didn’t write another acearo character.

You’re not only an author, you’re also a musician. How do you find those two passions intersect, and where can your readers also find your music?

This is true! I do the musics! Folks can find my singer/songwriter stuff at my Bandcamp, and for giggles, here’s me singing with my college a cappella group, the Owl Creeks. I’m also writing a soundtrack for Noteworthy!

I did music long before writing. I’m a classically trained pianist of 19 years (whose training is quickly atrophying now that I don’t have a piano where I live, alas). I’ve also sung in musical theater, choir, & a cappella since high school. Music certainly informs my sense of rhythm when it comes to writing, and…well, honestly, writing prose makes songwriting feel simple and relaxing, because songwriting doesn’t quite have to make sense. My favorite songs don’t quite cohere, lyrically; they make these intricate soundscapes where the tone and style of the music define how you feel upon listening rather than the words. Bon Iver is really good at this in particular, but I’m also thinking about pop music, which I think – when the formula’s executed to perfection – is unparalleled for conveying the emotion of yearning, whether or not the lyrics are, uh, questionable. This is why I will defend to the death the Chainsmokers’ seminal work, “Closer.”

Obviously you’re not new to the world of a capella, either. What are your favorite covers, and what are you still dying to see done?

Oh Lord how do I pick. Okay. My all-time favorite covers are “We Found Love” by Voices in Your Head at UChicago, “Honeymoon Avenue” and “What Now” by the Nor’Easters, and “Move” by the Sons of Pitches. Runner-ups are “Domino” by the Duke’s Men, “Tightrope” by the SoCal VoCals, and—I don’t care if they’re mainstream, lmao, they’re incredible—Pentatonix’s “Dog Days Are Over.”

I’m still waiting for that perfect arrangement of Taylor Swift’s “Style.” And will someone please do a mashup of CeeLo Green’s “F*ck You” and Meghan Trainor’s “Lips Are Movin'” already? Like, good Lord, I’ll do it myself if this doesn’t happen soon. Yes that is a threat.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

In high school, I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson. What stuck with me is Tiny Cooper’s embodiment of archetypically gay characteristics in a way that’s uniquely his own. I feel as if there’s a tendency to write, specifically, gay male characters as cleaving away from typically feminine characteristics, ostensibly to steer clear of stereotyping. But this ends up excluding gay men who are more feminine. Tiny was notable to me in that he reminded me that queer people present themselves the way they do for all sorts of reasons, all equally interesting to examine.

My current favorite authorly pastime is mentally creating anthologies, since YA seems to be springing up with great ones everywhere. If you were helming one, what would you love the subject to be, and who would be among your dream contributors?

SCIENCE FANTASY ANTHOLOGY PLEASE. Oh my God. My favorite genre. Just anything science fantasy. Dream contributors would include: Emily Skrutskie, because we’ve talked about this before; Heidi Heilig, because her brain is beautiful; Leigh Bardugo, because I’m a massive Bardugo fangirl please keep this a closely guarded secret; and Zadie Smith, because look, I know she’s not a YA writer, but I think if she wrote a science fantasy story I would just read it and then drop dead on the spot.

Any chance you can share about what you’re working on now?

Yep! Currently working on my 2018 release. It’s about a girl named Laila who’s a creative writer. (Real stretch there.) Near the end of high school, Laila’s kind, supportive creative writing teacher is replaced with a viciously critical, perpetually unimpressed Pulitzer Prize winner who believes one must suffer to make great art. Laila becomes obsessed with gaining this woman’s approval, and begins walking that ever-fascinating line between sanity and the pursuit of perfection.

I’m also working on this massive four-book epic fantasy project, which I occasionally weep about on Twitter, mostly accompanied with prophecies of my own impending stress-related death. Cheers!

*****

Riley Redgate graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Economics. Her seven-deadly-sins-themed first novel, Seven Ways We Lie, was released last year. Her next, Noteworthy, will be released May 2nd. She currently lives in Brooklyn and wears a lot of gray, and drafts theories on why these two things so often coincide, statistically.

Riley’s Books for Purchase

Better Know an Author: Austin Chant

I am so excited today to welcome to the site Austin Chant, whose books probably get the biggest rec workout in the entirety of the LGBTQReads Tumblr. (That’s what happens when I get asked for trans m/m every day!) His newest release, Peter Darling, is all of two weeks old, and he’s here to share about it, tell us what comes next, and discuss trans lit rep in general!

We have to start with Peter Darling, and as much as I hate asking authors about their inspiration, I have to have to know how the idea of a trans Peter Pan assigned Wendy Darling at birth came to you, and what the process of writing that story was like. (And do you have any plans to retell any other works in the future?)

33358438I wanted to write enemies-to-lovers, and I was really intrigued by the idea of an antagonistic-but-loving relationship between Hook and a grown-up Pan—but obviously at least one of them had to be trans, because that’s how I roll.

So I settled on trans Pan, and I wanted him to have come from a real place rather than being a mythical creature; I’m most interested in trans characters who feel like they live in the same world I do. I’ve always really liked Wendy Darling: the storyteller, the one who longs for family and responsibility but also falls in love with adventure and danger. Traditionally, Wendy balances Pan in an interesting but deeply gender-essentialist way. Having Peter be an amalgamation of them both, rather than having Wendy be Pan’s external conscience and foil, gave Peter a lot to wrestle with and intrigued me more than writing them as separate people.

Since Wendy is a storyteller, it made sense to me for Pan to be a character who Peter invented, who allowed him to take on a different name and identity. Pan is Peter’s fantasy self—a free, badass, cocky little bastard who only has happy thoughts. What made Peter interesting to me was the tension between his two worlds: the violent, toxic catharsis of Neverland versus the extreme repression of living as someone perceived as a woman and as a trans person in the early 1900s. His real personality is somewhere in between, but it’s complicated by the baggage from both sides.

At the time I started writing, I was frustrated with what I saw as a lack of empathy for trans folks newly coming into their identities, especially those who were struggling and not expressing themselves perfectly. I wanted to write a trans character who was in an incredibly difficult stage of coming out—letting go of abusive relationships—and was, as a result, kind of a human disaster. A big part of grounding his pain was making him someone who valued his family as much as the character of Wendy Darling traditionally does, but who was torn between that and his loyalty to himself. I wanted him to lash out and fuck up as Pan would, rather than being a martyr. We all deserve happy endings, and we ought to be allowed to struggle and make mistakes, especially when we’re dealing with intense pain and distress. Ultimately, it was really, really fun (and sometimes exhausting) to write a trans character with that much complexity and rage.

Someday I’m going to figure out a way to write a retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray. There’s a lot of opportunity for queer rage there, too.

I am a totally-not-secret Coffee Boy fangirl, and like other readers, I definitely wanted more! What made you stop it at novella length, and is there any chance we’ll be seeing an extended version and/or more of the characters?

32146161Well, the original version was published in an anthology and had a word count limit (which I still totally went over, oops). I probably won’t expand what’s published now, but I do have tentative plans for a sequel. It would be set significantly after Coffee Boy and be plottier, with more political drama, and look at Kieran and Seth’s relationship after they’ve been together a few years. I like the idea of them growing into a deadly, snarky power couple and fueling each other’s ambitions, and I think it would be fun to see especially Kieran come into his own.

Both Coffee Boy and Peter Darling are m/m Romances with trans main characters, which is probably the #1 thing I get asked to recommend on Tumblr. Do you have any particular favorites to recommend? And is there an aspect to your writing of adding to canon that which we barely see on shelves, or is that just a nice bonus?

My personal favorites are The Burnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz and A Matter of Disagreement by E.E. Ottoman. There really aren’t a lot! As a trans guy who’s primarily attracted to men, I don’t usually see myself, so writing trans m/m is definitely a selfish thing. 😛 But I also want both cis and trans readers to see queer trans folks in loving relationships. Too often I feel there’s a preference for trans characters who are straight and gender-conforming and those characters just don’t reflect my experiences or the full glorious spectrum of my community. Also, trans guys can be queer as hell and it doesn’t undermine who we are. I don’t think that’s acknowledged often enough.

If I recall correctly, you said something about writing trans f/f…? Aaaand I see it there on your #authorlifemonth To Write list, so don’t even think of hiding it! What can you share about what you’re working on?

Hmm, I don’t want to share too much yet (because I’m still working on it!) but the tentative working title is In Starlight. It’s about Hazel, a young trans woman musician who gets tossed into the spotlight very suddenly and winds up meeting her childhood idol, a retired champion figure skater named Miranda, under not-so-ideal circumstances. It’s coming out from Riptide Publishing as part of an F/F series with some really awesome contributors, and I’m super excited to be a part of it.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

The consensus seems to be that us queers are kind of magical and I’m on board with that. I try to live my life as if that’s true.

What’s the first trans rep you ever recall encountering in media? What about the first good trans rep, since I suspect they were not one and the same?

The thing about being a trans man is that when I was growing up, almost all the (very toxic) mainstream representation of trans folks was of trans women, and I a) didn’t realize it related to me and b) didn’t necessarily recognize it as trans because mainstream media didn’t acknowledge that trans folks were a community with a shared identity. My perspective was definitely a privilege in that it kept me from internalizing a lot of the terrible messages that were being broadcast about trans women, though it also left me without any models for who I was. I think the first time I became truly aware of trans people was in fandom, not in mainstream media. The first genuinely good representation I encountered was in queer romance when I started reading EE Ottoman’s work.

While #ownvoices trans lit is growing, it still spent years being dominated by cis authors. What are some clues you’ve seen that the authors writing have not lived the trans experience?

A lot of times it’s the conflicts and the joys. Authors who are imagining what it’s like to be trans tend not to have a great sense of the more nuanced and subtle ways that trans folks experience the world, and when they write transphobia, it generally takes the form of big, explosive incidents—assault, blackmail, etc. Those things do happen in real life, but there are also a million other ways that trans folks encounter a world that isn’t built for us. Gender essentialism is everywhere, and much of it isn’t obvious until you’re trying to navigate society as a trans person.

Trans characters written by cis authors can also fall into the trap of having few defining traits outside of being trans; their central character conflict is that they are trans and the world sucks. That doesn’t make for interesting character growth, and it results in some incredibly repetitive stories. The trans folks I know in real life are a hugely varied group of people who experience transness (and transphobia) in a variety of ways because they move in different circles, have different dreams and ambitions, and have other intersecting identities. A trans farmer is going to have a different set of obstacles and triumphs than a trans marine biologist or a trans schoolteacher, but all that gets flattened when you view transness as a singular experience that creates the same internal and external conflicts every time.

Finally, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a cis-authored description of gender dysphoria (or gender euphoria) that rang quite true. That’s one of the big reasons I’m a proponent of leaving “trans revelation” stories to trans authors; knowing your gender as a trans person is a heavily personal and individual thing, and it’s virtually impossible to write well with only a surface-level understanding of that experience.

I don’t mean to rag on cis authors, though. I fully believe that cis authors are capable of writing wonderful trans characters… so long as they’re capable of writing us like people. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, that’s not always the case.

Going back to #authorlifemonth for a sec, I see you have a dream of opening a Queer Romance bookstore. A) Hell Yes, and B) What books would you say would be absolute musts for your shelves?

I’m going to let out my fanboy self here and say that my #1 necessity is KJ Charles‘s entire backlist. But honestly, I’d want to get my hands on almost anything in print. I love ebooks, but there’s still something really special about print books, and it makes me sad that more LGBT fiction doesn’t get produced that way. I like a book I can hug and/or throw. I can’t think of anything lovelier than being surrounded by bookshelves full of queer romance.

What do you wish you got asked more often, and what’s the answer?

Oh, gosh. Who’s the best Captain Hook? The only acceptable answer is Jason Isaacs.

*****

sfqb1xvoAustin Chant is a bitter millennial and decent chef who grew up along the Puget Sound, ensuring that cold, rainy beaches will forever be part of his #aesthetic. Nowadays, he goes to college in Seattle and lives a double life as a game designer and a queer, trans romance novelist. Austin co-hosts The Hopeless Romantic, a podcast dedicated to LGBTQIA+ love stories and the art of writing romance. He aspires to fill his books with trans characters who get all the love they deserve. His works include Peter Darling, Coffee Boy, and Caroline’s Heart (in the Magic & Mayhem anthology).

Read & Buy Links:

Peter Darling: Amazon | Publisher

Coffee Boy: Amazon | Publisher

Better Know an Author: Robin Talley

Welcome to Better Know an Author, a feature title I stole from Colbert Report because I miss it so, which will introduce you to a fabulous author of LGBTQIAP+ books every month! This month, the spotlight is on Robin Talley, who just released her newest book, Our Own Private Universe! Robin is an extremely prolific author of LGBTQ YA, as well as a huge reader and supporter of it, and I’m thrilled to have her here!

So, new book! I know with Our Own Private Universe, you were aiming for something like a queer-girl version of Judy Blume’s Forever, and you know I think you succeeded there! What was particularly important to you to include in the book, and why?

22082082Thank you! With Our Own Private Universe, I set out to write the book I wished I’d had when I was a teenager and was first starting to figure out I was queer (which took me quite a while). What I wanted then, but wouldn’t have even known to look for, was a story that validated happy endings for queer girls. I wanted someone to tell me that however I wound up identifying, my life would go on, and it would be fun and interesting and with the usual ups and downs, just like it was for my straight friends. At that time, I was also desperate for representations of what it was like to be a girl in a relationship with another girl, complete with flirting and fighting and sex and everything in between. So I set out to cover all that in OOPU.

You’ve had some damn cool experiences in the publishing world, including hitting the NYT bestseller list and getting shortlisted for the Carnegie. What’s been the absolute coolest thing, and how do you usually celebrate?

I was pretty excited about the Carnegie situation. I got to go to London for that, which was awesome. Plus my UK publisher sent me a bottle of fancy champagne as a congratulations gift, which was lovely of them. My wife and I are not very good at finishing bottles of champagne by ourselves so we had some friends over and we made tacos and drank champagne. That might have been my favorite writerly celebration. 🙂

It will probably not shock you to learn that I’m a major fangirl of As I Descended. Have you considered queering up any other retellings, and if so, which ones? And whether or not you’re looking to write more, what kinds would you like to read?

28218948Thank you again! And I might have a queer contemp retelling of Taming of the Shrew coming up, actually. Stay tuned for more on that! There are a bunch of other classic stories I’ve tried to tackle but haven’t been able to make work. Doesn’t someone have an f/f Pride & Prejudice in the works right now? That would probably be my #1 request.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

Right now what I’m most excited about are stories that focus on straight-up friendships between queer characters, like You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan. Those friendships can wind up being much more significant and lasting much longer than romantic relationships do, especially in the teen years. I’m glad we’re seeing that represented more in YA.

What are your favorite LGBTQIAP+ reads, and which ones are you most looking forward to?

My all-time favorite has long been The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth. Other faves include When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, Ask the Passengers by AS King, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, Far From You by Tess Sharpe, Ash by Malinda Lo, and The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson. And coming up I’m really, really, really excited for Ramona Blue by the amazing Julie Murphy.

I’m excited that we’re anthology buddies in All Out, the historical all-LGBTQ antho coming out in 2018. What setting did you pick for your story, and why?

I am SO EXCITED for All Out. I can’t believe I got to be in an anthology with all of these amazing authors!! My story is set in 1726 in Kensington Palace in London, and it focuses on a romance between two servant girls. I chose the Georgian period after finding lots of fascinating tidbits about this era in my research. Now I want to know what the setting of yours is, Dahlia!

(Blogger’s note: I was slightly less ambitious about the “historical” aspect…like, 1994 Seattle less ambitious!)

Speaking of anthologies, you gave us an f/f story in The Tyranny of Petticoats; any chance you’ll be doing the same in Feral Youth?

My character in Feral Youth is definitely a girl who likes girls. And without giving too much away, readers interested in queer characters will find a LOT to like in this book.

And finally, what can you share with us about the awesome-sounding Pulp?

Pulp is my current work-in-progress, slated for 2018. It’s about lesbian pulp fiction, which were these incredible books were published in the 1950s and 1960s and sold very cheaply (think 25 cents) in drugstores and bus stations. They were intended for a male audience and often had lurid covers featuring scantily clad women, but a lot of the books were actually written by lesbians, and the best ones wound up being these really frank portrayals of lesbian life at a time when there were NO mainstream media images of queer people at all. So for a lot of readers, these books, with their lurid covers and all, were an essential lifeline—the only indication they had that there existed a community of other people like them. My own book, Pulp, has two different stories taking place in two timelines. One focuses on an 18-year-old girl in 1955 who’s just realizing she’s a lesbian and is writing a lesbian pulp romance, and the other follows a modern 17-year-old out-and-proud queer girl who comes across the other character’s book in the present day and tries to uncover the author, who wrote under a pseudonym and mysteriously disappeared from the public scene as soon as the book was published.

*****

robin-talley-high-resRobin Talley is the New York Times-bestselling author of four novels for teen readers: Our Own Private Universe, As I Descended, What We Left Behind, and Lies We Tell Ourselves. Her first book, Lies We Tell Ourselves, was the winner of the inaugural Amnesty CILIP Honour. Her work has been short-listed for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Concorde Book Award, and has been included on the American Library Association Rainbow List, the Amelia Bloomer Project List, and the Capitol Choices List. It has been nominated for the Kirkus Prize, the Young Adult Library Services Association Teens’ Top Ten, and the Goodreads Choice Awards, and has been selected for the Junior Library Guild. Robin was a Lambda Literary Foundation fellow, and has contributed short stories to the young adult anthologies A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers and Other Badass Girls, All Out, and Feral Youth.

Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, their daughter, and an antisocial cat. She enjoys reading about queer characters, analyzing Disney movies, and chocolate. You can find her at www.robintalley.com.

Better Know an Author: Shaun David Hutchinson

I’m thrilled to jump into the new year with an author who’s one of today’s most prolific authors of gay YA, in addition to being the mastermind of some killer collaborative projects. His We Are the Ants was a hugely lauded 2016 release, and now he’s back with another speculative fiction title in the upcoming At the Edge of the Universe. But don’t worry, he’s got a full dance card for 2018 too. Please welcome Shaun David Hutchinson to LGBTQReads to tell us all about it!

Let’s jump right into the new release: At the Edge of the Universe, which releases February 7. Something about that book feels so…cathartic. What was the experience of writing it like?

28763240Writing At the Edge of the Universe was actually kind of a struggle.  I had no idea what my follow up to We Are the Ants was going to be, so I just started writing the things that popped into my head (which is how it usually goes). I went through three or four drafts trying to figure out what this book was about, sort of throwing every weird idea I had into it to see what worked and then peeling them back. For me, the “big ideas” are never really what books are about. They’re always about the emotions, and that was what I struggled with most to understand. What was the emotional core of this book? What was it really about?

It wasn’t until earlier this year when my partner and I split up that I realized I’d been subconsciously writing about relationships in various stages of ending. Ozzie’s parents are divorcing, he and all of his friends are graduating high school and moving to the next phases of their lives, his brother is joining the army, his boyfriend, Tommy, has disappeared. And on top of that, the universe is shrinking, forcing Ozzie to figure out how to move on from all of that. Where does he fit in?  Where does his life go from here?  How does he make it through life without all of the people he’s counted on for support?  It’s funny that you mentioned catharsis, because coming to the realization concerning the true emotional center of this book was cathartic for me as well. 2016 has been a great year for me professionally, but a pretty crappy one for me personally, and finishing Ozzie’s story helped me move on from those bad things in a positive way.

I’ve come to think of your books as sharing the theme of “the light at the very end of the loooong, spiky tunnel,” which feels particularly relevant at present. What feeds that theme for you, and what kinds of things work as your “light” at the end of a long writing day of tough stuff?

It’s funny.  I never really thought of myself as an optimist. I’m not really a glass-is-half-full kind of guy.  Or a glass-is-half-empty one.  I’m more “OMG! The glass is full of acid!” I don’t know if it’s a side-effect of my struggles with depression or with the way I deal with it, but for me personally, life feels like 90% struggling through the mud to reach the 10% of stuff that’s awesome. And holding on for that 10% is what keeps me going.  It’s what helps me get through the day. I like the “it gets better” sentiment, but the truth is that sometimes it gets better, and sometimes it gets worse. Sometimes it gets better and then it gets worse before it gets better again. I’m not sure there’s actually a light at the end of the tunnel, but I do believe that life is one long tunnel and there are definitely lights along the way, and we have to take the time to breathe and appreciate them when we find them. For me, those lights can be something big like going to visit my brother and his husband in Seattle or something small like slipping into a great book.  It’s less about what that light is than about recognizing it’s a light and allowing myself to enjoy it. Though, I did buy one of those virtual reality headsets recently, and OMG is it fun.

Similarly, the universe and its potential growth or end are obviously recurring elements for you as well. Is this a lifelong love of science bleeding into your books, or a recent fascination? If the latter, can you pin where it came from?

I can trace my love of science fiction all the way back to my father, who got me into Star Wars and Star Trek and all things sci-fi. I’m not sure if my love of science is an outgrowth of that or just the way my brain is wired. On one hand, I’ve got all the hallmarks of an artistic person, while on the other I’m obsessed with logic and how things work. I love with science and math that you can take all of this data and calculate it and come up with the same answer every time. There’s something soothing about that. It’s like, there’s so much about the universe we don’t know, there are some many bits unexplained and unexplored, but the things we do know, we know with a frightening certainty.

When we predict wrongly the way the universe works, it’s not because we did the math wrong, it’s simple because we lacked some key piece of knowledge necessary for the equation.  For characters like Drew, Henry, and Ozzie (and probably for me as well), the solidity that science and logic offer are a necessary counterbalance to the emotional turmoil they experience. Depression doesn’t play by any rules. Neither does life. Depression hits when you least expect it. People die or drift away. Friendships and relationships end unexpectedly. The day-to-day of life can be frustratingly random in a way science isn’t.  The sun will rise tomorrow. And the day after. You can do the math and determine exactly when then sun is going to rise from any position on the planet to a frighteningly accurate degree because of science and math. It’s comforting to know that.

You’re kind of the king of anthologies right now, with Violent Ends behind you and Feral Youth coming up in 2018. What’s the process of putting together a lineup for those like, and how on earth did you get the idea for a modern Canterbury Tales antho??

Well thank you!  It’s not something I thought I’d wind up doing, but I really love everything about it. Gathering the right authors is a really methodical process.  It’s not just about liking someone’s body of work, they have to be a fit for the tone of the anthology. I had a couple of people question including Beth Revis, who was known for writing science fiction, in Violent Ends, but I knew Beth would be a perfect fit because while her Across the Universe series was indeed sci-fi, her characters and their relationships were always the core of those books.  So every author I work with is one whose works I’m very familiar with.  Once I have a list, it’s all about begging them to be a part of what I hope to do. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have assembled two stellar groups of talented writers so far. They’ve been enthusiastic and supportive and have been immensely wonderful to work with. And even though I thought I knew what to expect from each of them, they all managed to surprise me in the very best ways.

As for Canterbury Tales…I’ve actually been a fan since college. I took a medieval literature class with a professor who inspired in me a lifelong love and study of medieval and renaissance literature. The following semester she taught a course devoted exclusively to Chaucer, and it was the best class I ever took. Since then I’ve been looking for a way to bring my own spin to it, and after my experience with Violent Ends, I thought another atypical anthology was the perfect fit. The thing that’s so brilliant about Canterbury Tales is that it’s not about the tales themselves, but rather what those stories reveal about the storytellers. If you want to really know and understand a person and how they view the world, listen to the stories they tell you.

One of the really fun things about watching your career is seeing how you’ve really grown in audience, especially as your books have gotten gayer. What are the best/most memorable things you’ve heard in response to your more recent work?

20500616Ha!  I’d actually given up when I decided to move forward with The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. Before that, I was terrified of how a gay character whose sexuality didn’t have a narrative purpose would be received. Queer characters in movie, books, and television always seem to have to justify their existence. They’re either there to provide an after-school-special lesson or to die so that the real main character can experience some type of emotional moment. But Drew was just gay. None of his many problems revolved around his sexuality. And I wasn’t exactly sure how readers would respond. I was happily surprised by the reactions. Since then, there’s been a wonderful explosion of queerness in YA lit. We’re definitely still lagging behind in many areas, and I’d like to see us moving away from the queer experience as seen through the eyes of gay cisgender white boys, but we’re pushing forward. I’m a glass-is-full-of-acid guy, remember? So the things that stand out to me are always the “this would have been better without the gays” reviews. But, honestly, I’ve gotten so many emails from young people who read Five Stages or We Are the Ants and wanted to share their own stories and how Henry helped them cope. To me, that’s everything. That something I wrote helped a kid in a way I wish a book had been able to help me as a teen is the very best part of all of this.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

I wouldn’t call it LGBTQIAP+ lit, but Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey was the first time I saw a queer character in a book that I can remember.  It was such a lightbulb moment for me seeing someone who sort of represented me in a genre work by a prominent author.  I wasn’t particularly keen on all the aspects of those books (especially the idea of sex with sentient horses), but even all the way back in the late 90s when I read it, I remember it giving me hope that I could write stories filled with characters who represented me and the people I knew.

What are your favorite LGBTQIAP+ reads, and which ones are you most looking forward to?

My favorites tend to fluctuate. I’m always a fan of everything Hannah Moskowitz writes. Her book Not Otherwise Specified is criminally underrated.  I’m loving everything by Tim Floreen (his most recent is Tattoo Atlas, and it’s SO GOOD), and Simon Curtis’s Boy Robot is the gay sci-fi of my dreams. Delilah Dawson’s (writing as Lila Bowen) series The Shadow, which starts with the book A Wake of Vultures, is a definite standout for me. Robin Talley’s books continue to amaze me. And, of course, I love everything Patrick Ness writes (including his BBC show Class).

I’m really looking forward to both of Adam Silvera’s new books, as well as Becky Albertalli’s latest. I don’t know what they’ve got coming out next, but I’m also eagerly awaiting Alex Gino’s followup to George. And I can’t wait for Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. But mostly I’m looking forward to where  LGBTQIAP+ books go next as we move beyond the typical queer narratives into the wider world of storytelling.  I can’t wait for that gritty sci-fi space pirate series that features a transgender character or the epic fantasy with an asexual character. I can’t wait to see books that feature intersectionality in a non-issue-book way. I can’t wait for the readers who fell in love with George or More Happy Than Not to start writing and publishing their own books. LGBTQIAP+ has such a bright future, and I’m beyond excited to see everything that’s coming.

In addition to Feral Youth, you’ve also got The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza coming up in 2018. What can you share about it with us?

I’m ending the world. Again! So I had this idea about a character who was born of a virgin and starts the apocalypse. And then I had no idea where to go from there.  Luckily, Elena started speaking to me (as most characters do) and I discovered this really flawed and strong and fragile character with a story to tell about struggling to control the world around her. The premise is that Elena Mendoza is the first child to be scientifically proven as born of a virgin. Which, obviously, pisses people off. When she’s sixteen, she begins hearing voices and learns she has the ability to heal people when her mother is shot in the parking lot of a Target. A side-effect of her ability is that it causes holes to open in the sky and lights to “rapture” people, taking them to somewhere unknown, and it kickstarts the end of the world. And though the world actually does end this time (I promise!), the story is really about how Elena navigates a world she wants to control when everything seems so out of control. Her ex-boyfriend is a jerk who keeps trying to prove he’s a “good guy;” she and her best friend, Winifred, are taking their first steps into a romantic relationship; Elena’s mother is battling mental illness; and the voices, which speak to her through stuffed animals and Lego figures, keep trying to force Elena to walk a path she isn’t sure she wants to go down. And all of this is happening while the world tears itself apart, and Elena might be the only person who can save it.

I would say that this book is really a tribute to my mother. She’s disabled and has been since I was very young, but she’s the strongest person in my life.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how badly she’d struggled raising me and my brothers. Knowing that only reinforced my belief in her strength.  She kept on when most people would have given up. Even when everything else was falling apart around her, she kept going and did what needed to be done. And I wanted to bring that to Elena’s story.  If there’s any book I want to make my mother proud, it’s this one.

Got questions or comments for Shaun? Leave them below or check out his website at ShaunDavidHutchinson.com!

Better Know an Author: Alex London

Welcome to Better Know an Author, a feature title I stole from Colbert Report because I miss it so, which will introduce you to a fabulous author of LGBTQIAP+ books every month! This month, the spotlight is on Alex London, aka C. Alexander London, author of YA sci-fi duology Proxy and Guardian, and lots of other books besides! Come say hi!

alex-london-author-photo_photo-credit-sonya-sones

You write adult nonfic, YA fic, and, primarily, books for younger readers. Do any of those categories feel the most like You, or does writing as widely as you do really feel like the best expression of you as an author?

I’ve never been all that into labels, limits, or categories when it comes to story-telling (or to people!), so it never occurred to me not to write across age ranges and genres. I write to the story I want to tell that needs me to tell it. Sometimes that leads to a silly talking animal story for kids or a gritty cyberpunk for teens or a bit of reportage about armed conflict. Each book is a prism, taking some of who I am and refracting it. I guess added up, all the different books would give a person a pretty strong sense of me, but it’s by no means complete. I couldn’t say I know solar thermodynamics just because I’ve felt the sun on my neck, and I couldn’t say I know an author just because I’ve read their books.

Got any tips for other authors who might struggle with jumping genres (or categories)?

Write the most honest story you can, whether it’s humorous or grim, realistic or fantasticalif it fills you with wonder and need and you tell it with clarity and honesty, you’ll find the voice for it and it’ll find the readers who need it. Don’t let the market dictate the stories you tell. I say this, even as it probably drives my publishers crazy that there is no clear “brand” that I adhere to. I’m sure I’d be more successful, commercially, if I was better at staying in one lane, but I’d probably get bored. I guess, in terms of switches genres or age categories, there are no real rules but what works. To quote the great sage of Bravo, just “make it work.”

What was it like publishing Proxy when LGBT YA Sci-Fi was basically nonexistent? (Not that it’s particularly booming now, but.) What’s been your favorite kind of feedback to it?

16101023It’s been quite wild these last few years. When I first turned in Proxy, there were conversations within the publisher (blessedly, all affirmative) about whether they could publish a mainstream sci-fi thriller with a gay lead. It just wasn’t done. And they certainly didn’t advertise that the main character was gay. They didn’t want it to be pigeonholed as a “gay book.”

And shortly after it came out…no one read it. It was, sad to say, a flop. Hollywood decidedly did not come knocking, as, at the time, there was no appetite for queer characters in “genre” stories (that is changing…) and the sales numbers on the book were pitiful.

And then, word started to spread, one reader a time. The publisher repackaged the book, doubled down on it. It found champions in the YA community and then librarians embraced it, putting it on state reading lists, thrusting it into the hands of Hunger Games and Divergent fans, whether they were straight or gay. And all of sudden, nearly two years after it was first published, it found an audience. It does not have millions of readers (yet!), but every week, more eager story-seekers find their way to it, and I’m just beyond thrilled that it keeps going after a rather inauspicious start.

I’m moved when I hear from queer readers, especially queer readers of color, who thought they’d never get to see someone like themselves represented in this kind of story, but I’m just as moved when I hear from straight white readers that they’d never rooted for a gay hero before, let alone a gay PoC, never been waiting with bated breath for him to (spoiler alert) kiss another guy. The diversity of my readership has really been the most inspiring thing for me, from football players in Texas, to juvenile detention centers in Alaska, to Connecticut boarding schools. I love seeing how a book can still be the story we all gather around the campfire to hear, and we all see it from whatever different angle we’re sitting through the blazing embers of our experience. That sounds a bit grandiose. What I mean is, I love how much smarter my readers are than I am, and how much more they bring to the book than I or my publisher could have predicted or hoped.

You’ve got a lot of travel under your belt. What’s a city or country you dream of setting a book in someday, and why?

Right now, I’m working on a new YA fantasy trilogy, and I’m loving inventing cities and countries, so the idea of limiting myself to a real place isn’t all that appealing. That said, I hope to set a book in the neighborhood I just moved to in Philadelphia. It’s a magical little place filled with all kinds of quirks. I don’t know it well yet, but I’m sure there’s a darkness hidden beneath its idyl that is just waiting to be mined for narrative!

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

I’m troubled by the dominance of white cis gay boys in YA, while at the same time, as one myself who was starved for representation until adulthood, I love reading all of them. But I think I can like something while recognizing its cultural dominance is a problem. I’m doing what I can to champion LGBTQ stories that aren’t all the white gay boy story, even while devouring those same stories. There is enough room in our reading culture for a wide range, and the growth of one type of story shouldn’t imperil another…if we don’t let it. Another thing I’ve been thinking about within the gay boy stories is the devaluing of more “femme” boys, especially in genre, and what that says about who gets to be a hero. I’m very interested in Le Guin’s “carrier bag theory of fiction” and want to read more and write more within fantasy and sci-fi that relies less on the “way of the sword” so to speak. I want to see how queer heroes can queer heroism itself.

What are your favorite LGBTQIAP+ reads, and which ones are you most looking forward to?

Right now there are just so many (and I am woefully behind in my  TBR pile), but some recent faves include (for grown-ups) What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell and Christadora by Tim Murphy. In YA, I’m eager to dive in to Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me, and I can’t wait for Katherine Locke’s The Girl with the Red Balloon.

I recently devoured On The Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (there are queer characters and themes in it). Also recently loved John Corey Whaley’s Highly Illogical Behavior. There are so many good books with LGBTQIAP+ characters and perspectives that it’s hard to choose. I’m reading a grown-up fantasy novel right nowPatrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Windand I’m loving it except I find myself wondering: where are all the queer characters?! A gay male couple showed up eventually in the background of a scene and were perfectly fine, but it is a reminder that queer people, though we are everywhere in the world, are still often erased or sidelined in fantasy worlds, even really good fantasy worlds (and I’d say Rothfuss’s is really really good so far…I’m still reading). While not every story in the world is about LGBTQ people or should be, we need to keep speaking up and writing our stories and sharing each other’s until a world without us feels incomplete to any reader, not just the queer readers.

Your next book up is a YA Fantasy called Other Bloods. What can you share about it?

Yes, and I’m super excited to be returning to YA at last! Other Bloods is set in a land of high stakes falconry, where all eyes turn to the sky, even as intrigue and danger pull them to the ground. It’s the story of a brother and sister on a reluctant quest to capture the legendary eagle that they believe killed their father, although of course, there is more afoot than they know. There’s love and longing, mystery and danger, and a matriarchal owl cult that I’m ridiculously giddy about writing. I think Proxy fans will be delighted, and I hope fantasy readers will too. And fans of LGBTQIAP+ lit. And, really all readers…I mean, who doesn’t want a book that can be described as The Scorpio Races meets Lord of the Ringswith falcons (which is how my agent put it…I might have yelped/peed a little with that description)? It won’t be out until 2018, I think, but I’ll certainly be sharing more details as the date approaches.

Better Know an Author: Erica Cameron

Welcome to Better Know an Author, a feature title I stole from Colbert Report because I miss it so, which will introduce you to a fabulous author of LGBTQIAP+ books every month! This month, the spotlight is on Erica Cameron, who’s got a whole lot of books on the shelf and in the pipeline, adding some much-needed rainbow representation to the YA canon. Come say hi!

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Which of your books have LGBTQIAP+ representation, and can you tell us a little about them?

All four of my series have at least some representation. Laguna includes the least, and my upcoming fantasy might arguably include the most—based both on the world and the individual characters.

In Laguna Tides, Kody, one of the secondary characters in the first two books, is demisexual. His orientation is hinted at in the first two books and will be confirmed in book three. He’ll also get his own story told in book four.

In Dream War Saga, though there isn’t any rep in Sing Sweet Nightingale (the one thing I now regret about that book is how straight and white it is, no matter how true that demographic is to the setting), I introduce a lot of queer characters in the second book, Deadly Sweet Lies. Julian and Nadette—my two narrators—are asexual and lesbian respectively, and both of those are confirmed on page. There are other queer spectrum characters in the book, but only Nadette’s love interest has their orientation confirmed.

For the Assassins books, rep is all over the board and—over the course of both books—not confined to orientation. Asexual, bisexual, gay, panromantic demisexual, gender fluid, and intersex. Most of this is confirmed with labels on the page, but some is implied when we’re talking about the minor characters.

In the fantasy series coming in February, The Ryogan Chronicles, the story starts on the island of Shiara and focuses on a culture with a bisexual-as-normal outlook on orientations. I do also have asexual rep in the book as well as an established third gender. Also, as a point of interest, there isn’t a single white character in this series. At all.

Your next book is the first in a series all about assassins—what kind of hands-on research does that entail?

Far less than I wanted to! I did get the chance to go to the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, and that was a lot of fun. It’s unfortunately one of the few museums in DC that isn’t free because it’s privately run, but it has some great interactive features. Like a vent you can actually crawl through! I had hoped to be able to take lessons at a gun range with various weapons (I’d probably be very bad at it, but I still wanted to have the experience), but time and money got in my way. Aside from that, though, a ton of research went into this book, none of it concentrated on any one thing. Hacking, security systems, weapons, spy technology, homemade bombs, the reality behind truth serum—basically, if there is such a thing as a government watch list based on search history alone, I’m on it because of this book.

What’s a particularly conscious choice you’ve made in your representation?

Well, more of it, definitely. I come from a place of privilege, and even though I’ve grown up in an area that forced me to be aware of that privilege in certain ways, I was still ignorant of many aspects of that same privilege when I wrote Sing Sweet Nightingale. Yes, the book is set in a very small town in northern New York that is based loosely on the town my father grew up in, and yes, that town is still to this day predominately white and straight and incredibly insulated from the reality of the world, but I didn’t have to recreate it so exactly. I could have made it a more realistic—more representative—version of the same place. With each book since then, as I learn more and more about respectful inclusion, the representation in the stories expands. Hopefully it will continue to do so.

That being said, incidental diversity is very different from a story about some aspect of the diverse experience. I will do my best to include as many non-white, non-straight, non-cisgender characters as possible—with a somewhat selfish focus on making sure every one of my series includes an asexual-spectrum character—but I will likely never ever tell a story about what it is like to be non-white, non-straight, or non-cisgender. Even if I were to attempt writing a book about what it’s like to be a white, cisgender female, heteromantic asexual, I’d still be nervous. And that’s writing exactly from my experience. I don’t have the gall to try telling someone else’s story. Not in that way.

You’re an ardent advocate for asexual representation in media, and a frequent user of the #DontErasetheAces hashtag. What are some things allosexual people, especially authors, can keep in mind in order not to contribute to ace erasure?

That, just like in the bisexual community, erasure happens. All of the time. The recent uproar over American Apparel’s pride month tote bag is just the most recent example, but it’s a perfect one. And it’s ridiculous that even a full year after GLAAD publicly stated that A is for Asexual, Agender, & Aromantic, we’re still having the same argument.

Erasure is also one of the reasons I prefer MOGAI—marginalized orientations, gender alignments, and intersex—instead of LGBTQIAP+. First, it’s easier to say, but more importantly, it never changes. Letters, and therefore people, don’t get dropped. With an acronym as long as LGBTQIAP+, the end almost always disappears. A lot of people who aren’t deeply involved in the community have a hard time remembering any of the letters past Q, and have an even harder time remembering what those extra letters stand for. The belief that A is for ally is still pretty pervasive. It’s also one of the few letters that stands in for multiple sections of the community—asexual, aromantic, and agender—so even when the A is included in LGBTQIAP+, people don’t always agree on who is being represented.

What can authors do? Incorporate characters who fall on the asexual spectrum, even if they’re secondary characters. Give them full lives and interests outside of sexual relationships and give us the word in black and white. Make readers go look it up if they don’t know what it is, but don’t give them any wiggle room on interpretation. Don’t leave it implied. Find a way to work the word into the text, whether it’s demisexual, graysexual, asexual, or any other orientation under the ace umbrella. The solidity of that kind of representation is so important right now. Awareness is key to changing the way asexuality is viewed by the world.

What’s something you still dream of contributing to YA lit? (Can be as general or as specific as you like!)

At least one book that lives a lot longer than I do. It’s literally impossible for me to know if this will happen, but I sincerely hope that it does.

What’s the first ace representation you saw in any medium that really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

I wish I could remember the name of the book…so I could warn people away from it. Unfortunately, since I returned it right away, and I didn’t write the title down anywhere, I don’t have it. This story, while otherwise interesting, had a main character (we’ll call him Bill) who told the second (let’s call him Ted) that he was asexual. It was the first time I remembered ever seen a character say that in a book, and definitely the first time since I had discovered the orientation for myself. The noise I made upon seeing that in print was basically inhuman. But then the story continued. It was clear very quickly that Bill was not asexual. Bill was afraid of intimacy for various (very real) reasons, a virgin, and mistrustful of Ted. Due to all of those factors, Bill basically lied to Ted about being asexual. He used it as a stalling technique to give himself time to think.

It was the first representation of my orientation I saw, and it was used as a trick to keep someone else at bay. It was a lie. Bill was “fixed” with sex. It was awful.

It also strengthened my resolve to include as many different aces as I could in my own books.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

The way the community rallies. Whether it’s to promote a new story that is exceptional or to protect an author being harassed or to call out discrimination or awful representation when it’s presented as “good enough,” this community—especially in YA—is a beast. In the best way. It’s the dragon in a fantasy story that will curl up with the human who raised it and smilingly burn a would-be assailant to a stick of over-charred meat. I love the support I’ve seen and that I’ve gotten from this community, and I’m so happy to continue contributing to it.

What are your favorite LGBTQIAP+ reads, and which ones are you most looking forward to?

The first I ever remember reading was in Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series. I was thrilled because Daja—who already reminded me of my best friend at the time—became even more of an accurate representation for my friend after she started crushing on girls. Sadly, it took a long time after that before I found any sort of representation that wasn’t a snarky, fashion-conscious Gay Best Friend character.

Recent years have made me so happy. I fell in love with books like Martyr by Alex Kahler (which is being relaunched in brilliant new form soon!) and None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio. I get to be champions of books like 27 Hours by Tristina Wright and bounce in anticipation of books like Timekeeper by Tara Sim, Marion by Ella Lyons, and Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst. This is a very exciting time to be part of the YA community and I can’t wait to see what the next few years will look like!

Where can people find more of your work on asexuality?

The first time I really wrote in detail about my asexuality was on DiversifYA in a great interview I did after meeting Marieke Nijkamp at RT 2015, but the piece I am pointing everyone to right now is the essay I recently wrote. Don’t Erase the Aces is a very personal story about my late discovery of asexuality and what not having access to that label meant in my life. On my site there is also an Asexuality Awareness page with useful links to both things I have written and outside sites with valid and valuable information. I am hoping to do a lot more in the future (I’ve applied for a TED Talk, so here’s hoping that happens). Honestly, I will likely spend the rest of my life talking about this, and I’m very okay with that.

Erica’s next book, Assassins: Discord, releases on September 5!
Buy it from: Riptide/Triton | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book DepositoryBooks-A-Million | IndieBound |

Better Know an Author: Rebekah Weatherspoon

A002_C005_0514C7.0001771FIf you read f/f NA/Romance, it’s pretty impossible not to know Rebekah Weatherspoon, but how well do you really know Rebekah Weatherspoon? (Also, not to brag, but I just got to see her on several panels at RT and she was freaking fantastic; if you ever get the opportunity to hear her panel somewhere, DO IT.) How could I not beg to pick the brain behind not only a seriously epic collection of diverse romance, but the entire #WoCInRomance site? (PS she also had a new release just this past weekend: check out So Right, the sequel to So Sweet, which share a bi heroine in an m/f relationship!)

I usually avoid asking authors about their inspiration because I know it gets asked to death, but you have a paranormal lesbian sorority series, and I’m sorry but I must know where the idea for that came from. Must. 

Ha! I don’t know where the idea came from, I remember exactly where I was when the idea came to me. I was driving down Wilshire Blvd and I hit the intersection at New Hampshire Ave (I’m from New Hampshire, you see). The idea popped into my head and I remember thinking this is so ridiculous and over the top I’ll be kicking myself if I don’t run with it. So I did.

You’re one of very few writers of f/f NA, and bless you for it. What have been the biggest challenges and awesome moments of publishing it?

Honestly, I don’t see any challenges. I think a lot of my work is outside of the mainstream. I write a lot of women of color and being a woman of color I face the same challenges walking down the street or going to the bank. It’s just another day.

What’s a particularly conscious choice you’ve made in your representation?

I’ve made the choice to write women of color, particularly young black women. I feel like young women of color (tween-25) almost NEVER seen themselves on screen or in literature. And if they are screen they are sometimes played by an adult. I love Arden Cho something fierce, but she was like 28 when she started playing a 17-year-old on Teen Wolf. I know that sort of thing messes with the teen mind. In writing NA, I wanted to give younger women a most realistic portrayal of themselves. Even if there are vampires involved.

What’s the first queer representation you saw in any medium that really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

Oh man, I really have to think. When I was growing up none of the LGBTQ terms were in my vocabulary. My parents just had friends that were married to other women, but they didn’t tell me they were lesbians so I didn’t have the words for it. BUT I think Ricky on My So-Called Life stuck with me. Ricky was gay and out and Latino and living in a mostly white town, but he was also so cool. I remember really wishing that Ricky could find his own happiness outside of Angela and her family. I’m sure he’d have it by now.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

Uh, there’s a lot of racism. That kinda sucks. Also a lot of different flavors of misogyny and transmisogny and transphobia that sneak in. When I came out I remember being really excited and then extra bummed that a lot of what I was seeing in the straight/cis community was presenting in every aspect of the LGBTQIAP+  community as well including our literature.

Which of your books has queer representation?

Main characters? So Sweet, So Right, The Fling, Treasure, SATED, At Her Feet, Better Off Red, Blacker Than Blue, and Soul to Keep

What’s your favorite of your covers, and why?

You can’t make me choose. I won’t choose. (Blogger’s note: This is legit; her covers are fanfreakingtastic. You can scroll through them all here.)

What are some of your favorite queer-centric things on the Internet?

Tumblr. Aint nothing queerer than my tumblr feed.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Watching TV. I’m super boring, but I’m also kind of obsessed with consuming media. To be a writer or to work in entertainment you have to know what’s going on. I watch a ton of TV and a lot of movies.

What are your favorite LGBTQIAP+ reads?

What would you still love to see in LGBTQIAP+ lit?

A lot less of the crud I mentioned before with the bigotry, etc. and I NEED more queer New Adult reads, and I would sell my grandma for more erotic queer lit of every kind. Queer erotic fairy tales, queer erotic sports romances, queer erotic romantic comedies. Make ’em queer, and sweet, and extra porny.

What’s up next for you?

Self-pub wise, after I wrap up the Sugar Baby series in the fall I’ll be working on some space lesbian erotic romance. There’s not enough erotic romance in space, featuring lesbians.

Ain’t that the truth. You can buy any and all (preferably all) of Rebekah’s books here! (If you’re a Kindle person like I am, I’ll make that even easier here.)

Better Know an Author: Marieke Nijkamp

Welcome to Better Know an Author, a feature title I stole from Colbert Report because I miss it so, which will introduce you to a fabulous author of LGBTQIAP+ books every month! To kick it off, I am so delighted to present my beloved critique partner, Marieke Nijkamp, whose debut, This is Where it Ends, is a freaking New York Times bestseller for five weeks running!

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How badass is hitting the New York Times bestseller list? Spare no details.

Well you got my super ineloquent texts, so I can hardly pretend I was calm and collected. Truth is, after I got the phone call, I sat on the couch and watched my Twitter explode and my hands were shaking so hard I could barely lift a drink—or respond to the social media outburst. It took me three days just to get caught up on the tweets and the emails. It was, and is, the most surreal and the most wonderful experience and I’m deeply grateful to my publisher and to my fantastic readers for getting the book there. It’s extremely badass, and I love that it means the book will reach even more readers. 

What music do you write to, if any?

It depends! For TIWIE, I had a fairly specific (and super sad) playlist, with a lot of poppy songs. With my current WIP, my playlist is far more classical and instrumental, with an additional and rather eclectic collection of Dutch songs. I’m not entirely sure how that happened either. 

Beyond that, I recently discovered the magic of Noisli. I love writing to the sound of rain and wind and thunder. (I need something vaguely winter-y to get me through these summer months. Ew.) 

What’s your ideal way to spend fifty-four minutes?

Doing something that involves stories. So writing, ideally, but also reading. Or traveling/adventuring. J

What’s a particularly conscious choice you made in your representation in This is Where it Ends?

Gah. There was one very conscious choice I made very, very early on, but sharing it is such a spoiler. That thing that happened. Or didn’t happen, depending on your point of view. That was a very conscious choice. 

Vague answer is vague.

tiwieWhat’s something about one of your leading characters in This is Where it Ends that didn’t make it on to the page?

Most everything I wanted to have on the page is there, but because the time frame is so limited, I had to make choices when it came to showing backstory. Which means there were always more scenes I was aware of or that I wanted to explore. One of those things is how and when Autumn fell in love with Sylv. Slower, more gradual, than the other way around. While Sylv fell for Autumn’s glow and her passion, Autumn fell for Sylv because Sylv steadies her world and makes her feel safe, when she needs it most. (Even if that terrifies Autumn.)

What’s the first queer representation you saw in any medium that really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

Hm, I think the first rep that really stuck with me was seeing Willow and Tara in Buffy. I think it might have been the first time I saw queer characters in any medium, period. And there was so much about it that was incredibly empowering. Badass queer witches? Yes, please. Characters I could identify with? Wow.  

Unfortunately it was also my first introduction to Dead Lesbian Syndrome. Or as TV Tropes so classily calls it, Bury Your Gays. I loved the positive aspects of Willow and Tara’s relationship, but I didn’t realize until much later how pervasive it was to see that “model” relationship come to a bad ending. To see so many queer couples not get their happily ever after (or even a happy for now). It took me a long time to realize queer relationships should not be hidden and deserve a happy ending as much as anyone else.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

The first time I saw queer characters in a story that wasn’t just about being queer was such an eye opener to me. I think that was Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series (gay thieves for the win) and I loved that eureka moment of “we can have adventures too!”

What are your favorite LGBTQIAP+ reads?

I keep finding more and more favorites! So obviously, Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series is still high up there. All of her books, really. I also still love Annie on My Mind for being my first f/f YA. But in terms of recent books, I loved Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not and when Audrey Coulthurst’s Of Fire and Stars comes along, it’ll blow you mind. I would recommend Alex Gino’s George to everyone and Malinda Lo’s Huntress is so gorgeous. Oh, and Robin Talley’s As I Descended is going to terrify you. I’m so excited for Fox Benwell’s Kaleidoscope Song to hit shelves because it’ll tear your heart out beautifully. And of course, I’m happy to declare my love for Otherbound and Under the Lights and Far From You everywhere ❤

What would you still love to see in LGBTQIAP+ lit?

More great ace rep. More characters exploring their gender identity. More queer casts (because we really do flock together). And more intersectionality in terms of race, disability, but also culture and religion. I think we have some fantastic lit out there already, and I’m so excited to see it continue to grow and expand. But there is such a vast spectrum of LGBTQIAP+ experiences, and I’d love to see more, more, more of it.

What advice do you have for teens who come to you for advice on how to come out?

I usually tell them two things. One, be proud of who you are, regardless of what the world tells you. And two, safety first. It’s unfortunately still the case for all of us queer folk that being out can be dangerous, whether it’s because of family, work, or living in a bigoted environment. So while I understand the need to be out – I wouldn’t want anyone to feel like they can’t be who they are and I will support anyone who wants to take that leap – it’s so, so important to start with people you know you can trust and to consider safety nets, support systems, and your own well-being. Because you matter so much.

What are some of your favorite queer-centric things on the Internet?

TWITTER. Okay, but it actually is at that. I practically grew up on the internet. As a baby queer, I found a lot of information and a good part of my community online, through forums, writing groups, and fanfic. But never before to the extent and scope of (my corner of) the queer community of Twitter. These days, I find myself going more private again too, but knowing it’s out there and we’re not alone is invaluable. 

Macarons or stroopwaffels?

…stroopwafel-flavored macarons. 

😀

What’s up next for you?

A story with an ace main character. And I’m *so* excited about it.

CANNOT WAIT. Marieke’s book, This is Where it Ends, is on sale now, and here’s where you can buy it!

Sourcebooks Amazon US The Book Depository
IndieBound Amazon UK iTunes
Books of Wonder Barnes & Noble Target