Category Archives: Better Know an Author

Better Know an Author: Kheryn Callender

It’s one thing to debut with a great addition to queer kidlit canon, particularly one that fills a huge gap, and with something beautifully written, no less. It’s another to do it in both Middle Grade and Young Adult in the same damn year. But that’s exactly what this month’s featured author, Kheryn Callender, is doing with their 2018, and trust me when I say you wanna be along for the ride.

You, Kheryn Callender, have had A Year! I’m gonna be greedy and jump ahead to your next release, because lord knows I am dying for everyone else to read the incredibly cute glory of This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story. What can you share about it, and what’s your absolute favorite thing in it?
 
Thank you so much, that really means a lot! In Epic Love Story, Nathan Bird is afraid of letting himself fall in love–to him, happy endings only belong in rom-coms, not in real life–but his resolve against romance is tested when a long-lost childhood best friend, Oliver James, returns to town. Lots of cuteness ensues. 🙂

My absolute favorite thing in the novel? I’m pretty proud of the intersectionality, and seeing brown queer people in love and unapologetically happy. It makes my heart soar whenever I re-read the book, and is a love letter to myself and my QPOC sibs in a lot of ways: we absolutely deserve epic love stories, too.

Labels are conspicuously absent in Epic Love Story, which I imagine was a conscious choice. Is shifting away from labels something you’d like to see more of, or was it more of a “right for your characters” situation?

Glad you caught that! It was definitely a purposeful choice to shift away from labels in the book.

Labels are a source of pride for me, personally, and a way to connect with others who are also queer, trans, and/or nonbinary, for example. But when I’m around my community of QPOC friends and self-made family, we never really talk about labels. It’s understood, and generally unsaid, that one person can be into another regardless of gender identity. If we talk about labels, it’s usually for the sake of non-queer folk around us.

This is Kind of an Epic Love Story is set in a perfect world, where there’s no anti-queer climate for the characters to worry about (or racism, for that matter)—where labels aren’t necessary, because the idea of queer sexuality isn’t groundbreaking. This is what I hope is a perfect escape for QPOC readers, since we already deal with so much homophobia and racism in our every day lives.

Of course, you also released a Middle Grade this year, the wonderful Hurricane Child, which is a standout for so many reasonsa queer girl of color, a Caribbean setting… What has response to the book been like, and who’s your dream reader for it?

The response to Hurricane Child has been amazing. I really never dreamed that it would receive the level of love and support its gotten, which I’m so incredibly grateful for.

My dream reader is ultimately anyone who feels alone and isolated, and reads and feels empowered by Caroline Murphy and her journey to be herself—that she deserves to exist, and deserves to be happy, no matter what. Whenever I need a reminder of that myself, I just take a look at the cover, and that powerful expression on Caroline’s face.

You also somehow managed to be an editor at Little, Brown among all this, which is just wild to me. What drew you to the queer titles you worked on as an editor, and what would you like to see more of?

Well, the main queer title I worked on during my time at LBYR was Ashley Herring Blake’s Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, which to this day remains one of the most beautiful middle grade novels in existence. Ashley is such a talented author, and I know she’ll blow everyone away with her second MG novel, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, which is out in March 2019 (I know, I know, such a long wait…)

As for what I’d like to see more of, I did want to see more queer MG books, and I do think that there’s still such a large gap to fill, but I’ve also been so uplifted by the number of recent queer MG books (such as Jen Petro-Roy’s P.S. I Miss You, Barbara Dee’s Star CrossedOne True Way by Shannon Hitchcock, and more)…

Right now, my focus is on seeing more intersectionality. I’d love to see more queer people of color as main characters, in all sorts of novels—and especially more rom-coms where the only tension is if the main character and love interest are going to make out or not, and where you know there’s going to be a happy ending. Unfortunately, historically, queer folks, and especially queer people of color, haven’t been guaranteed happy endings; it feels revolutionary to me to see stories where we are guaranteed that happily ever after.

As someone who straddled both author and editor positions, and particularly within the same category, what were the biggest challenges and the biggest perks?

The biggest challenge in the end unfortunately did become juggling a little too much, and spreading myself too thin. I wanted to help diversify the industry, so I tried very hard to continue working in publishing, as one of the few black editors in children’s books (and I believe the only black trans editor)… but the work became a little too overwhelming, sadly, and I started to become curious about other potential opportunities (my position at LBYR was my first out of grad school, and I’ve never explored any other fields!), so I decided to leave my position in the end, though I hope to now help other people of color and queer people of color find positions in publishing.

The most difficult part of leaving has been parting with incredible authors I’ve been honored to work with, but I know I had nothing to do with their talent, and that they’ll continue to flourish!

The biggest perk was definitely humility. Seeing the incredible talent of authors I worked with was very grounding in my own work, and a reminder that there are so many wonderful authors with so much extraordinary talent, and that no one author is more important than another, or that no one story is more important than another. I’m determined to keep this mindset as I move forward, in all of the work that I do.

I ordinarily ask people who the characters are in media who’ve resonated with them, but you already had a fantastic Twitter thread back in May about Adam from Degrassi. What was it about that character that really stuck with you and made a difference in your own life?

Adam not only changed my life, but I’m pretty sure he’s saved my life, too. Adam had a problematic ending on the show, but watching his story and journey allowed me to see similarities in him that I’d thought and experienced, but had never been able to put a name to before. Suddenly, everything shifted into place, and a few years later, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m not sure I was living life before–going through the motions, maybe—but now, as people around me say, I’m “glowing.” 🙂

Adam’s absolutely inspired me, and I hope to have a YA with a trans main character named Felix coming out soon!

Lightning round, based on things from This is Kind of an Epic Love Story:

1) Third favorite movie? My favorite movies are all Pixar, and my third favorite happens to be Coco. 🙂
2) Favorite movie character? Chiron, for all that he symbolizes.
3) Favorite writing craft book? Definitely Story by Robert McKee. Technically a film/screenwriting craft book, but novelists can absolutely learn a lot from his plotting advice as well.
4) Favorite Pandora station? While writing Epic Love Story, it was Bon Iver! Now, it’s Sia.
 

And speaking of which, there are some great shoutouts in the book, including ones to authors Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Gabby Rivera. Who are your insta-read authors?

So many! Right now, definitely Sáenz, but also Nina LaCour and David Levithan.

Shifting back to editor life, we’ve spoken before about how you’d love to help more people of color, and specifically Black editors, get involved in publishing. What tips do you have for PoC trying to break into publishing on the business/editorial side?

My biggest piece of advice would be to follow groups like POC in Publishing and We Need Diverse Books on social media for regular tips and job opportunities, and to take advantage of programs like Representation Matters. Reach out to editors for informational interviews, ask questions, be curious and passionate!

What’s something on the topic of queer lit/publishing you wish was talked about more?

I wish intersectionality was discussed a little more. I want to see a lot more queer people of color as main characters, and I want more stories by and featuring queer authors with disabilities, queer authors with different religions, queer authors with different socio-economic statuses, and a mix of all of the above, and more. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

Kheryn Callender is the author of Hurricane Child and This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, and is committed to expanding diversity in children’s books. Kheryn loves playing RPG video games and watching soul-sucking reality TV shows in their free time. They really wish they had a dog.
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Better Know an Author: Brandon L.G. Taylor

If you’re in even the remotest vicinity of queer book Twitter or literary Twitter or any of the good corners of Twitter, really, this month’s author needs no introduction, but I’m gonna give him one anyway.

Brandon L.G. Taylor is one of those literary citizens who makes you feel like you’re getting a little smarter every time you ingest a single one of his mindgrapes. (You know, I realized that sounded gross as soon as I typed it out, but I’m leaving it.) You can find his incredible essays and short fiction all over the internet, but lucky us, there’s so much more to come (thanks to a two-book deal and the fact that he’s a staff writer at Literary Hub anan Associate Editor at Electric Lit, all while studying at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and by the way, he also Sciences) and I’m here to ask about alllll of it. Join us!

Q: I’m so excited to pick your brain on things that I barely know where to begin, but oh, I know a good place: YOUR UPCOMING NOVEL. What can you tell us about it?

A: I have been looking forward to this Q&A for a long time! I’m so thrilled to finally get a chance to do it. As for my novel, it’s called Real Life, and it’s about a queer black PhD student in the Midwest who finds himself grappling with the difficulties of relationships and also with what it means to live a real life. I really wanted to write a campus novel because I love them so much, but I also wanted to address the fact that as a genre, that kind of novel tends to exclude black people and queer people.

Q: You’re so well known for your short stories and essays, I have to admit that seeing you sell a full-length novel was the most delightful surprise. How did you find the experience of writing a novel as compared to shorter forms?

A: I was worried that people would feel like I had played a trick on them given all the slander I’ve made about novels over the years. But I’m so glad that wasn’t the case. Writing Real Life was not too different from writing the stories. I was very strict with myself because I can be lazy and unmotivated. So I was in butt-in-the-chair every day for about five weeks. It’s different, of course, in all the ways that writing a longer form is different from a short form. You have more room for character development and the kinds of details you can use are different. Also, the construction of scenes is different. But I think anyone who has read my stories will definitely not be too surprised by the novel in terms of voice or interest or anything like that. It definitely felt to me like I was writing the sort of novel that only I could write, and also the only kind of novel that I was capable of writing. So expect lots of sweaters and great décor!

Q: Speaking of your short-form work, is there a short story of yours you wish got more eyes on it? An essay? Please share any and all!

A: I think maybe like five people read this essay when it came out, but it’s one I love so so much. It’s an essay about masculinity, wounded art men, and queer desire. I was really trying to grapple with a lot of my own complicity in toxic masculinity which all along I thought I had been subverting.

Q: You put a magnificent amount of yourself on the page, which is something even the most privileged of people struggle with, let alone those most frequently silenced by the margins. Does it get less scary with time? Has the reception to your work surprised you? What’s the best thing you’ve heard in response to it?

A: I think because of some of the trauma in my past, I have a very difficult time with secrecy or withholding things. I don’t like to feel like I’m holding things back or like I’m being elusive. I like to just get things out up front and just say them and put them on the page. I think in many ways my honesty in writing is a coping mechanism because if I write it down and if I’m honest, then no one can tell me that I wasn’t honest? Or that something didn’t happen. So I’ve always tried to be really honest and really truthful, even if that means saying that I don’t know something or remember it or understand why something happened. And I think people respond to that. Because of the nature of my work, it would be a little irresponsible to give details about things people have shared with me in private in response to my work. But someone recently wrote me and said that reading an essay of mine in passing had given them the courage they needed to confront someone they hadn’t previously been able to. And that was just incredible. You know. Having that kind of effect on someone, giving them space to do something they felt the need to do. That to me is the best thing. I’m always trying to hold space for myself and by extension, for others.

Q: YA is where I’m most knowledgeable, so I’m particularly grateful that you’re generous with your literary fiction recs. What are some of your favorite titles you’d really love to see more people reading and discussing?

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A: I’d love if more people read Donald Windham’s Two People, Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, Darryl Pinckney’s Black Deutschland, Nick White’s How to Survive a Summer and his collection Sweet and Low, No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal, and honestly a book that I think everybody needs to be reading right this very moment is Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh.

Q: You’ve spoken about being from the South, and you’re currently living in the Midwest. How would you say your personal settings inform your work? 

A: This is such a fantastic question. I’ve been thinking about it a lot more in the last few months especially. I always struggle to write about the South. It’s really such a difficult place to capture. I’m especially aware of all the different ways people speak there, and as a writer, I feel this tremendous burden to try to capture the breadth of the sonic landscape. It’s just really hard for me because I’m from there and yet have always felt like an outsider so I’m aware of all of the false moves I make when trying to write about the South. And I’m not a born Midwesterner, so I don’t feel comfortable writing about them, but the landscape is so familiar to me now and I don’t have quite the same baggage as with the South. So what I’ve ended up doing is writing about Southern people who find themselves displaced to the Midwest. That to me feels like the one experience I know the most about. It’s always the perspective of the outsider, in a way. And so what I find is that in my work, my characters have a kind of visceral awareness of their surroundings—nature is so important in the South, and also humor and darkness—and yet they’re amongst all of these strange people and their strange Midwestern customs.

Q: I love when your Curious Cat answers pop up on my Twitter timeline. What’s your favorite question you’ve ever gotten over there?

A: Curious Cat is so much fun. It’s WILD. I don’t know if I have a favorite question, but my favorite genre of question is any time someone asks me to dreamcast a Jane Austen adaptation. Because WHAT A TREASURE. There’s one I’ve been sitting for like 6 months about dream casting an adaptation of Middlemarch, and every time I think I’m ready to answer that one, I realize I’m not. It’s quite stressful.

Q: You’re currently a student at Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which I suspect is a great dream of many writers. For those of us who’ve never done any sort of residency, what’s a typical day like?

A: Iowa is…yes, a dream come true, and also kind of boring? Which I know is a tremendous privilege. Essentially, I wake up at noon, drink some coffee, browse Twitter, and then write for a few hours. We don’t have a lot of demands on our time, which is nice. We go to Workshop every Tuesday. And some students have seminars to attend, but really, it’s just hours and hours of you and your own ideas and trying to not bore yourself half to death with your own bad writing. It’s kind of like year-round summer camp. The workshops are sometimes good and sometimes bad, but it’s been a year of really thinking very deeply about what I want to do in my art and how I want to…push it forward or not. It’s a lot of me time. Which isn’t always great.

Q: Swinging back to your book deal, in addition to the novel, you’ve also got a book of short stories coming. What can you share about it? Will it be all new work we’ve never seen before, or are some old favorites creeping in?

A: It’s called Filthy Animals. There will definitely be some old favorites. Expect stories about ballet and open relationships and math nerds and mental illness and caregiving and desire. There are no straight people in any of the stories. And what I hope is that readers feel like they’re finally getting stories about people they’ve always wanted to read about. There are fat queer bodies in the stories. There are black and brown queer people in the stories. They are the center of the stories, not just side characters. I tried to write a book that felt unapologetically interested in the interior lives of people who often aren’t allowed to rise above the level of mere backdrop. And as an artist, I was trying to lay claim to material that is often not seen as the rightful material of black and queer writers. But, at the end of the day, I just wanted to write really elegant stories about the kinds of people I know and love and am curious about.

Q: Where do you feel like queer lit could still strongly use growth? What would you like to see that you haven’t yet? 

A: I think that queer lit could stand to be more interested in the lives of black people and fat people and fat black people. I think that queer lit could be more interested in our lives outside of desirability, if that makes sense. So much of the current discourse is around proving queer worth by virtue of our being desired by normative gazes. And I just think, yes, that is an important narrative to tell, but also, there is more to our lives than just desire and sex. There are more problems. And ultimately, our relationships to one another are so complicated and nuanced, and I really think that queer lit could stand to grow in order to accommodate that complexity. It feels like literary queer novels are novels of malaise and sadness or tremendous violence and more genre novels are novels of speculative futures and evolving body discourse. But I wonder if we aren’t missing the everyday mundane lives of queer people. It feels like there’s more work to be done there, in a mode that isn’t just stately and suburban. So, I guess, my answer to this question is that I think queer lit could become a bit more boring. I’d love to read more novels about fat black queer museum docents in cardigans who do not want to be touched and have meaningful relationships with their best friends. I don’t want to see that kind of story replace current queer narratives. I’d just like to see the range of options expand. There’s room for everyone.

Q: What’s the first queer rep you saw or read that really resonated with you? 

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A: The first queer rep I saw that really resonated with me that I can recall is probably Call Me by Your Name. I read that novel back in 2007 as a recent high school graduate who was just starting to identify as gay, like, in a real, concerted way. It blew me away. It gave me a reason to think that being gay, whatever that meant, could also mean being a person in the world. I hadn’t thought of that before.

Q: What upcoming releases are you most looking forward to?

A: Alexia Arthurs has a short story collection called How to Love a Jamaican which I am very stoked about. David Chariandy’s new novel Brother is also on my list. It’s sure to be beautiful. History of Violence by Édouard Louis, which comes out quite soon. And most of all, Ben Marcus has a new collection of stories called Notes from the Fog this fall which is definitely going to be good and weird.

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brandonljtaylorBrandon Taylor is the associate editor of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading and a staff writer at Literary Hub. His writing has received fellowships from Lambda Literary, Kimbilio Fiction, and the Tin House Summer Writer’s workshop.  He currently lives in Iowa City, where he is a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction. His debut novel is forthcoming from Riverhead Books.

Better Know an Author: Caleb Roehrig

I’m wildly excited for this month’s featured author, who’s written one of my favorite gay YAs ever, which is also one of my favorite mystery/thriller novels ever, and who just released his sophomore novel on April 24. He’s also got some killer (no pun intended) work coming up and one of my favorite accounts on Instagram, so basically, yeah, he’s a good guy to know! Get to know Caleb Roehrig and you’ll become a huge fan too!

New book! New book! I haven’t gotten to read it yet, but by all accounts, White Rabbit is nooo victim of the Sophomore Slump, and you know I’m a massive fan of your debut, Last Seen Leaving. Can you tell us a little about White Rabbit and what it was like to write book 2?

34499210White Rabbit is about a boy named Rufus Holt who has one night to prove his sister is being framed for murder, with no allies to trust or count on but the ex-boyfriend who crushed his heart. The entire story unfolds over the course of about eight hours, and I call it my tribute to Agatha Christie—a murder mystery with a small pool of suspects, all of whom have something to hide.

As for writing Book 2, let me assure you that Second Book Syndrome is no joke! I actually completed a manuscript in between Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit, but was in such a weird head space that I never felt comfortable with it. Once it was done, I shelved the project and started all over again. It was absolutely the right choice; the new story—this one—felt right from the very beginning, and I’m so excited to share it with the world!

You also recently announced a new book called Death Prefers Blondes, which I am so excited about. What can you share about it, and in what ways is it a departure from your previous work?

What I can say about Death Prefers Blondes is this: it’s my take on Hamlet, wherein Hamlet is a rebel heiress and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a pack of kickboxing drag queens. It’s a story I’ve told myself in one form or another since I was a teenager, and in many ways it feels surreal to finally have it captured in a manuscript. I tell everyone my signature content is Murder, Mayhem, & Make-outs, and Blondes has all of that in spades; but otherwise, it’s a huge departure for me. It’s less a whodunit than an action/adventure story, and I’ve never written a character quite like my protagonist, Margo—a wise-cracking, death-defying, face-punching socialite, hell-bent on revenge!

As a thriller master, you’ve got to get yourself into some pretty dark places, and do some really twisted plotting. What are your favorites ways to both get yourself into those modes and pull yourself back out as needed?

This is probably going to be an unsatisfying answer, but once upon a time, I was a professional actor; and as such, I have long experience with finding my way in and out of dark places. Acting is storytelling, of course—conjuring emotions out of words, and communicating that journey to the audience. The difference is that now I get to choose the tale that’s told, and how my reader will enter and exit the more intense scenes. To be honest, getting myself in and out of those frames of mind is easier than you might think; I get a lot of satisfaction when I feel like the mood is working right. In a way, creating misery is perversely rewarding.

Talk to me about your main characters. What do you see as common threads between Caleb Roehrig leads, and in what ways do they differ? How much do their very different romantic situations play into that?

I think my protagonists tend to be sarcastic, self-righteous, and prone to overthinking things. As for their differences, Flynn is definitely more of a joiner, and Rufus is more of A16Tc4VnzSLa proud outcast. In terms of their respective journeys, Rufus has been out for a couple of years before the events White Rabbit, while Flynn is only just embarking on that journey in Last Seen Leaving, which definitely plays into their respective attitudes.

It’s hard to explain how being closeted affects a person, but the best way I can describe it is to say that it’s like living with a ten-second delay. Every word that comes out of your mouth has to clear the censors first, to be sure it won’t give away your secret. A lot of Flynn’s actions and interests are directed by what he thinks will best help him fit in with his friend group; on the flipside, Rufus has had more time to accept and embrace what makes him different, which is, in part, what helps him find his friend group.

As a result, Flynn’s romance is complicated by the fact that he’s put so much time and effort into resisting what he really wants, so that breaking through that shell is a challenge. For Rufus, knowing what he wants isn’t enough—because the boy he wants it with runs in a different social circle, and is going through a difficult journey of his own.

Anyone who doesn’t follow you on Instagram might not know that you take some seriously gorgeous travel photography, and are a hell of a traveler. What are your top 3 travel spots, and what are the top 3 on your travel bucket list? (Also, so everyone can see what I’m talking about, please share a fave travel photo!)

This one is hard! I’ve been a lot of places, but mostly in Europe, because I lived there for four years. That said, I think my top three might be: Venice, Italy; literally anywhere in Norway; and Vevey, Switzerland.

My bucket list includes: Tokyo, Marrakesh, and Rio de Janeiro. And Machu Picchu. And Australia.

As for a fave travel photo, please enjoy the attached snapshot I took of Silvaplana, a town in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, while hiking the Alps!

And as long as we’re discussing travel, if you were going to set a book outside the US, where would it be and why?

Without giving too much away, there’s a sequence in Death Prefers Blondes that takes place in Europe; but as for setting an entire novel outside the US, I definitely have every intention to do so! I was so fortunate to live in Finland for a while, and to get to know that part of the world in an intimate way, and I would love to set a book there. It would mean a lot to me to bring that country alive on the page as a personal love letter.

I would also love to set something in Stockholm. It’s another of my favorite world cities, and I have kind of an affinity for Swedish culture. I’ve been low-key studying the language for the past seven years, which involves reading tons of gritty, Nordic crime fiction, and it’s been making my imagination run wild.

We’ve been seeing some more discussion lately about the importance of queer-guy YA written by queer guys, and as one of my favorite authors bringing #ownvoices gay YA to the canon, what are some books/voices you’d love to see get some more attention? And what milestones would you still like to see hit?

One of my absolute favorite #ownvoices novels is Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me, and I think it deserve more love. It’s a beautifully-written work about some very ugly emotions, and digs its fingers into some situations that are very specific to the gay experience, and which ring with an authenticity that gay readers deserve. I’m also really fond of Tim Floreen’s Willful Machines, Cale Dietrich’s The Love Interest, and Simon Curtis’s Boy Robot, all of which are SciFi/Spec Fic stories with thriller sentimentalities and queer protagonists. I am 110% here for books about kids who navigate their queerness as only one element of a more expansive plot, because that’s how it works in real life, too.

As for milestones I’d like to see hit, well…there are so many. I’d love for more queer writers to hit The List with #OV fiction, of course, but beyond that I would love to see readers really engage with queer art. When we express ourselves in our own words, we communicate truths that can get lost in translation when others tell our stories for us, and sometimes those borrowed narratives deliberately misrepresent the queer experience to appeal to non-queer readers. (I want to add here: writing outside your lane with respect and accuracy is absolutely possible, and I’ve got a list of an incredibly well-done books in that vein to rec as well!)

Honestly, I could talk for ages about this, but to keep it short, I’ll go with this: a milestone I would love to see hit is for #OV gay YA writers to earn awards and recognition based on genre as much as on category. I’d love to see readers abandon their preconceptions and embrace a fuller representation of what queerness is.

Heading back to the root of my fandom, now that you’re a ways away from publication of Last Seen Leaving, what have your takeaways been from the experience, especially with gay YA thrillers being so rare?

My experience has so far been great. It’s funny…I always thought of myself as a thriller writer, because I’ve been telling murder mysteries since long before I ever believed I could sell a book with a gay protagonist. Last Seen Leaving was actually my first attempt at an #OwnVoices novel, and when I first started it, I didn’t actually expect it to go anywhere. So it took me a while to internalize that I’m also a queer lit writer.

I’m really lucky, I think, because with one foot in the genre world and another in the growing field of queer rep for young readers, I get the opportunity to speak on a number of topics that I’m really passionate about. And what’s so great is to know that the gay YA thriller is a growing subcategory right now. I’m not sure where it comes from, but most of the gay men I know love horror movies, and I think—I hope—that more and more OV books are on their way about queer teens fighting monsters and busting crime!

For better or for worse, what’s the earliest LGBTQIAP+ representation you remember reading or seeing onscreen?

I think the very first time that I saw definitively queer rep (something more than subtext) it was in excerpts of Madonna: Truth or Dare, the controversial documentary of the 1991 music tour, Blonde Ambition. I remember these black-and-white clips being played on the news, showing Madonna sitting around with her flamboyant and unapologetically gay back-up dancers, speaking in blunt, provocative terms. Everything featured on the news was heavily censored, of course, but they were there. Madonna was one of the most influential artists in the world at the time, and I’m not sure people can really appreciate what her deliberate and highly visible acceptance of the queer community meant at the time.

Other than Death Prefers Blondes, what’s up next for you? (This is only slightly leading for an HHH plug. Really.)

So, in addition to Death Prefers Blondes, I have a fourth book scheduled with Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, and then I’m contributing a short story to an anthology of Edgar Allen Poe retellings, entitled His Hideous Heart, edited by one Dahlia Adler! (For those keeping score, I’ll be tackling The Pit and the Pendulum.) I’m also contributing to a second anthology, which has not been announced yet, and tweaking an adult fiction project I’ve been working on for a while. So…I think I have a busy year ahead!

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Caleb Roehrig is a writer and television producer originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having also lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Helsinki, Finland, he has a chronic case of wanderlust, and can recommend the best sights to see on a shoestring budget in over thirty countries. A former actor, Roehrig has experience on both sides of the camera, with a résumé that includes appearances on film and TV—as well as seven years in the stranger-than-fiction salt mines of reality television. In the name of earning a paycheck, he has: hung around a frozen cornfield in his underwear, partied with an actual rock-star, chatted with a scandal-plagued politician, and been menaced by a disgruntled ostrich.

Better Know an Author: Ashley Herring Blake

If you’re not already familiar with the work of Ashley Herring Blake, it’s time to get on board, because she’s become a serious force in both queer YA and MG, with one of each out this very season. I snagged her right in between her two 2018 releases (both phenomenal) to ask her about them, her bookselling days and recs, and what’s coming up!

Congrats on your newest release, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World! The world of queer Middle Grade is so small; what was it like getting into it? And what’s your favorite thing about Ivy herself?

Thank you so much! I’m excited to have the book out in the world. Deciding to write a queer middle grade novel was an easy one for me—there are just too few out there and I really wanted to write a book that could be really meaningful for kids at this age. My second YA, How to Make a Wish, was very much the book I needed as a teenager, but Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World is the book I needed at a tween and I just knew I needed to write it. Once it sold though, that was a little scarier, thinking about its reception. Sure, its 2018, but the world is still very much a scary place for queer people and I live in the south. I’ve seen the wrinkled noses and heard the snarky comments first hand. But, really, I think that only proves that we need more queer middle grade books out there. Because if I’m nervous, I know queer kids dealing with identity and questions are terrified. I think my favorite thing about Ivy is drive to explore her feelings. She keeps them a secret from the people in her life, but she lets them all out on paper, and that’s something I never had the courage to do. As a tween, I squashed down any feelings I felt rise up for other girls. In fact, I doubt I even realized I was doing it. It was an unacceptable course for my life, as I saw then, so I didn’t even let it bloom into my heart too much. But Ivy, she lets it in, even if it’s just with herself, and I think that, too, takes a kind of bravery.

You also have an incredible YA coming out on May 15, Girl Made of Stars. You know I’m already obsessed, especially with the fact that it’s really a book that has no easy choices or paths, but it’s also releasing at what feels like a really auspicious time. Can you tell us about the book, and what it feels like to have it published now in particular?

Thanks, I’m excited about Girl Made of Stars too. It was definitely the most emotionally difficult book I’ve ever written. I get this question a lot—about how it’s the perfect time for the book to come out, how timely it is, that it’s a book for the #MeToo movement, and I don’t disagree. But when I wrote it, these conversations and revelations hadn’t exploded quite yet. There was no #MeToo movement. But there were angry, hurt, ignored, strong, brave, scared women and victims dealing with the repercussions of abuse and assault. And you know, it felt just as timely then as it does now. Unfortunately, I don’t think there has ever been a time when a book like this wasn’t timely. When I talk about it, I want to make sure readers get that—yes, we’re talking about this issue a lot right now and hopefully, that will lead to some real self-reflection, policy changes, consequences, healing, and safety for victims. But these stories have always been. These women, these victims have always been trying to tell their truth and heal and feel safe. Girl Made of Stars, I hope, simply adds to an already rich body of YA literature out there that lifts up and reveals these stories.

I of course have to give a shout to your last YA, How to Make a Wish, which, like Girl Made of Stars, features an out-and-proud bi protag and a beautiful queer romance. As you continue to embody “Write the books you want to see on shelves” and maybe even “Write the books you needed as a kid,” what stands out to you as really important to have in both your romances and your representation?

I think the most important thing to me is to just write a damn good character. I love flawed, messy, real characters and, as I do desire to add to the wonderfully growing list of books featuring bisexual protagonists, one of my biggest goals is simply portray that character as a real person. When writing a marginalized character, there’s a pressure to get it perfect, which isn’t fair at all. I know others, particularly women of color writing women of color, experience this pressure on a much larger scale than I do, which is even less fair. Every bad choice my character makes, every errant thought, every mean thing they think or say, I have to second guess it. Because there’s a feeling that my bi character must represent all bi people and if they come across as a certain way, I’m damning everyone. I think this pressure comes from a good place—the desire to do no harm with our characters, which I fully endorse. People are messy, though. So while I am careful that my bi characters do no harm in terms of bi-erasure or bi-phobia or bi-shame, it’s important to me to write characters who make out with people for the wrong reasons and hurt people they love because they’re scared. I want to read about a character I can relate to and that’s the kind I want to write and no one is squeaky clean or perfect, marginalized characters included. I love creating that room, that space, for my girls to eff up and grow.

My feeling about your books is that they really fill in gaps in this really quiet and wonderful way. What are some of the best things you’ve heard from readers about your work?

Some of my favorite emails from readers have come in the short time since Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World has released. I’ve had readers tell me they read it and then came out to their family. I’ve had readers echo my own feelings—that they wish they had this book as a tween and can’t wait to get it into young readers’ hands. Each email reminds me why I do what I do, even when it’s hard. I’ve had a number of readers really connect with Grace’s relationship with her mom in How to Make a Wish, telling me it reflected their own relationship in a way that helped them process it. Those are really special messages as well, as I didn’t have a mom like Grace’s and I’m so honored to those who entrusted their story to me that helped me craft Grace’s fraught relationship with her mom. I’m starting to get some messages about Girl Made of Stars and those are probably the most difficult to read, but also the most important and moving. In short, I’m honored and humbled to get to do what I do.

In addition to being on the author side of a while now, you’ve also spend some time on the other side of the bookstore counter. What did you learn as a bookseller that authors and/or readers might not know about the business?

I loved my time as a bookseller and so wish I could do it again! I just loved being around all the books, you know? I’m not sure if I have any real insider info to pass along, but I will say that it was truly amazing to be able to put the right book into the right person’s hands. Authors, I’m telling you, hug your local bookseller and/or librarian. (I mean, ask first, but if they say yes, give them a squeeze.) Because the work tirelessly, particularly those who work predominantly with kid and teen books, to get you work to the reader who really needs it. In this business, it’s so easy to feel lost among the top-sellers, but being a bookseller really revealed to me that there is place for every book, bestsellers and mid-list alike.

As someone with professional recommendation experience, what are your favorite queer titles to shove in the arms of everyone you know? What upcoming queer titles are you excited about?

Oh, I do love this question. *cracks knuckles* So, my absolutely favorite queer book of the past year was Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay. Many of you have probably read it—and it won the Printz—but it is this quiet, perfect, devastating, lovely book that everyone should read and reread. I also must put an adult queer book that just RUINED me a few months ago, and that’s Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I’m serious, I was just useless for days, crying in my classroom, could’t stop thinking about it. It’s that good. The books I regularly push into people’s arms are Far From You by Tess Sharpe, Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (ahem), Like Water by Rebecca Podos, literally any book by Anna-Marie McLemore, Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta, any book by Caleb Roehrig, and any book by Sara Farizan. There are two books come out soon (or may be out by the time this posts) that I’ve read and am wild about. Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert just might be the most perfect book I’ve ever read. I’m not even kissing. And Kheryn Callender’s Hurricane Child is a queer middle grade that is simply gorgeous and is a must-read. As far as upcoming release, I’m beyond excited for Kheryn Callender’s This is Kind of an Epic Love Story, Jen Wilde’s The Brightsiders, Candice Montgomery’s Home and Away, Anna-Marie McLemore’s Blanca & Roja, Tehlor Kay Mejia’s We Set the Dark on Fire, and Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls.

You have another Middle Grade novel coming in 2019, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James. What can you tell us about it?

Yes! I’m so excited about this book. Sunny actually might be my favorite character I’ve ever written and I can’t wait for you to meet her. So, this book is about Sunny St. James and it opens when she’s about to go into surgery to have a heart transplant. In recovery, her estranged mother shows up, which throws her New Life plan all out of whack. But Sunny is nothing if not determined, so she forges ahead, meeting a new girl named Quinn and the two embark on a Kissing Quest, in which they try and find a boy with whom to share a first kiss. But, in quintessential Ashley fashion, Sunny starts to realize it might not be boys she wants to kiss. All the while, there’s the long-lost mother, a Former Best Friend who is the worst betrayer to ever betray, and free verse poetry. I love it and I hope you do too.

With both queer MG and queer YA under your belt, what are the most notable differences to you in both writing it and publishing it?

You know, every book is different, even if you always stay without the same marketing category and age range, but I will say that it took me a while to find my middle grade voice with Ivy. I wrote the whole book in first person, but couldn’t get away from a YA sound, it was so ingrained, so I changed it to third, which I ended up loving for Ivy. Sunny, however, needed a first person, but by then, I had my feet wet and I was able to create an authentic, unique MG voice for her. Of course, I can’t drop eff bombs in middle grade and I’ve found a tenderness to middle grade, even when the characters are dealing with pretty heavy stuff, that I have just fallen in love with. Publishing wise, it’s interesting, because I’ve definitely found it harder to use my normal social media platforms for middle grade. Of course, there are fewer middle grade aged readers on social media (as it should—I’m not letting my own kids touch it until they’re 30), so I’ve had to let go of a lot of my own promo a bit. I’ve done things, but I’ve definitely found less response (granted, maybe that’s because the book and not the market, ha), but it’s been a bit more challenging to navigate. That being said, I’ve interacted with more librarians and teachers with middle grade, which has just been lovely. I’m hoping to find more places online where I can connect with those who get these books into MG readers’ hands.

Your Middle Grade editor is none other than the unstoppable Kheryn Callender, who also has two books coming out this year, one MG and one YA. What’s it like working with another author on your books?

Ha, yes, I’ve already lauded their two books this year, one I’ve read and one I’m drooling over, so you could definitely say I’m a fan. Honestly, it’s been a dream working with Kheryn. They’re insightful, supportive, wise. They are everything I want in an editor. My agent is also an author, so working with Kheryn in that capacity wasn’t very different. Also, we keep those two things pretty separate. With my reader hat on, Kheryn is an amazing, kickass author and in my author hat, Kheryn is an amazing, kickass editor. I’m honored to work with them.

You have truly been blessed by the cover gods. Who’s behind those gorgeous designs, and how much say did you have in them?

I have been so blessed and have loved each one of my covers. Ivy and Girl Made of Stars have an particularly special place in my heart. Funny, boyhood these book covered were actually designed by the same company, Good Wives & Warriors. My two separate publishers both hired this company totally on their own. They compliment each other pretty well, I think. 🙂

If you can share, what are you working on now?

Ha, good question. I’m finishing up edits on Sunny and ruminating on my next projects. I think I’m just about ready to start drafting my next YA, but that’s really all I can say about it right now. It’s in that fragile “is this the book or isn’t it?” phase. Thanks so much for having me!

***

Preorder Girl Made of Stars at Parnassus Books, B&N, or Amazon!

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and cold weather. She is the author of the young adult novels Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish, and Girl Made of Stars (HMH), as well as the middle grade novel Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World (Little, Brown). You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @ashleyhblake and on the web at www.ashleyherringblake.com.

Better Know an Author: Anna Zabo

Today on the site I’m psyched to be talking to Anna Zabo, brilliant author of m/m romance, who’s recently added Polyam to their repertoire. Please welcome them to talk about their newest release, their infamous Takeover series, and what comes next!

Let’s jump right into your newest release! Polyam romances are one of the most common rec requests on the LGBTQReads Tumblr. What can readers expect from Outside the Lines? And might they see more polyam romance from you in the future?

35528567Outside the Lines is a polyam romance between a married couple, Lydia and Simon, and a gay man, Ian. It’s a polyam V relationship rather than a triad—at least sexually. Ian comes to love Lydia, but he’s not sexually attracted to her. But they all develop bonds with each other and become a family.

I would like to write more polyam romances! I love exploring relationships and families that aren’t seen as often in romance. I probably will eventually write a triad romance, and I would love to write a sprawling queer polyam saga along the lines of Kris Ripper’s Scientific Methods books (meaning with the same found family feel!) but I need to find the right characters and plot for that.

You also sold two new books this year, to Carina, about a queer rock band! What can you share with us about Syncopation?

37648566Oh, I loved writing Syncopation! I’ve wanted to write rock stars for a while and loved the idea of the struggle of an up-and-coming band getting jerked around by their manager and label. I also wanted the book not to be about a band-member coming out to the public. So members of Twisted Wishes, the band in the book, are openly queer.

The main focus of the books is between Ray, the lead singer and composer/song writer, and their new drummer Zavier. Zav also happens to be the guy Ray had a complete crush on in high school and invited to join his band all those years ago. Zavier was bound for Julliard, and said no. But he’s recently quit his job as a timpanist, and he’s come to admire Ray and Twisted wishes, so he auditions for the band.

Ray finds Zavier insufferably sexy and is furious that he’s exactly the drummer the group needs. Zavier admires Ray and the band and seeks out a friendship that eventually turns to something more in unexpected ways for both of them. Ray’s gay. Zavier is pansexual and aromantic, and also kinky. (Zav remains aromantic, despite getting his HEA in his own way on his terms. That was important to me.)

In the interest of making sure everyone’s in the know about your superhot m/m office romances, the Takeover series, can you give us a little background on the universe? Is there a story, setting, or character who’s particularly close to your heart?

The background to Takeover—working in high tech, Michael’s job at a routing company, and that company being bought be another—all came about as a way to give a company like the one I invested eleven years of my life (and that was ultimately bought and closed) the ending I would have liked. Then it grew into something else—a story of Pittsburgh and co-workers and queer people living around one another and supporting each other.

23213982I have a soft spot for all the characters in the Takeover Series, but the character who far and away steals my heart each time is Eli Ovadia, one of the main characters from Just Business. There’s so many layers to him. He’s so shaped by his past, but also fights hard to make sure it doesn’t define him completely. He’s strong, yet surprisingly vulnerable, and he knows this. He’s a Dom and a sadist who absolutely will cry and cuddle with his cat when he’s feeling down. He loves and protects his friends, sometimes at the expense of himself. He has a lot of hope to give, but often keeps none for himself. I could write about Eli for ages.

You rereleased your Paranormal Romance Close Quarter this past August following the closure of Loose Id. How was taking the book on your own? Is there anything you can share about the upcoming sequel?

35534292It was good experience to re-read and edit Close Quarter. The writing held up pretty well, all things considered, and I still love the world-building. Going through the process of working with a cover designer and learning KDP and CreateSpace was eye-opening. I learned that I can do this myself, but I also learned I don’t necessarily want to for every book. There are time benefits to working with publishers.

But I will be putting out the sequel this year. No Quarter Given will focus on just how Silas and Rhys upset the balance of power in the fae community in New York City when they return together. It’ll also be quite a bit about all those things Rhys had been avoiding, including a past lover and the press. As well as the things he’s searching for—who he really is.

One of my favorite things you did this past year was run #RRWTalk, a Twitter chat for writers of queer romance specifically. Why do you think it’s important to discuss queer romance separately, and did anything from those chats particularly stick out to you?

One of the things that stuck out was that there is a section of folks for whom LGBT = m/m and there’s also a section of folks for whom it does NOT. And that there are vibrant important queer stories that need and should be read and written that aren’t m/m. Happy Ever Afters are for everyone under the rainbow.

While we’re on the topic of queer romance, who are your go-to authors within? What books would you love to give a shout, especially if you feel like they’re criminally underread?

I’ve been talking about this series a lot lately, but Kris Ripper’s Scientific Methods series. It’s a kinky, poly sprawling found family series that includes all kinds of queer people. Multi-racial. Different genders, including genderqueer and trans characters. The first book is Catalyst, but I warn you, it’s one that hooks you in and suddenly, it’s a week later and you’ve read all…I think there’s 13 books now… and you look around and you wonder what happened.

Another thing I’ve seen you discuss that I really admire is how your writing helped you realize you’re non-binary. It’s sort of one of my greatest interests, for personal reasons and otherwise, how writing LGBTQA lit can really help people work through both gender and sexuality, and I think we see it a lot more with authors who are AFAB. Any thoughts you’re comfortable discussing?

Huh. This is a hard one for me because I’m not sure I have fully formed thoughts about it. Some are too deeply emotional to put into words. What writing did for me was give me a safe place to peel back my psyche, pluck some aspects out, plunk them in other people, and see what happened. I could explore bits of me in bodies that weren’t the one I was born with, and that was so liberating.

I’m not wholly any one of my characters, but there are aspects of me in all of them.

And by exploring me in others and seeing them live authentically, even if it was in fiction, I learned a lot about me in me, and could start taking steps to live my own life more authentically.

I know this isn’t related to books or whatever, but something I see non-binary people struggling with often is finding great clothing, and you dress dapper as hell. Got any great clothing tips? What’s your favorite thing in your closet?

I think the main thing is to find clothes your comfortable in! I love button-downs and bow-ties. But I know that’s not everyone’s thing.

If you’re just starting to build a wardrobe or are aching to dress in clothes that don’t conform to the gender other people think you are, a good place to start shopping is thrift stores. My first suit came from a thrift store and I bought it in October, because no one looks at you strangely when you buy gender non-conforming clothes near Halloween.

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

Sometimes people want the perfect representation of an identity. Like the perfect trans character or the perfect bisexual or the perfect representation of asexuality. And…people aren’t perfect. There’s no perfect rep. What works for someone as the model trans experience might be nothing like another trans person’s experience. People are messy. Rep is going to be messy too. Sometimes queer people hurt other queer people over rep. I really hope we can allow ourselves to be messy.

Since you’re kicking off the new year for us: what are you really excited about in queer lit coming up in 2018? And where do you hope this year takes you?

One of the books I’m most excited about is Cat Sebastian’s Unmasked by the Marquess. It looks like a regency m/f romance, but it is SO so so sooooo queer. SO queer. As Cat puts it:

“It’s the story of a servant who dresses as a man to impersonate her employer, realizes she doesn’t identify as a woman anymore, and accidentally falls in love with a prickly bisexual aristocrat. Featuring: spectacles, lemon drops, and a kitten.”

I beta read an early draft and I loved it. I cannot wait for it to be unleashed unto the world. My only regret is that I know m/m-only readers will skip this one because one LI isn’t a man and they will miss out on a story that rivals the best m/m I have ever read.

As for where 2018 takes me? Well, I’ll be writing my first non-binary character this year. We’ll see how well I do!

***

headshots-anna-zabo-1Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which isn’t nearly as boring as most people think.

Anna has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where they fell in with a roving band of romance writers and never looked back. They also have a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University.

Website * Goodreads * Twitter * Facebook * Facebook Reader Group

Better Know an Author: M. Hollis

I am super excited to welcome M. Hollis to the site this month, because not only is she an author of some of the cutest f/f Romance out there, but she’s also a huge f/f advocate and blogger and someone you must know if you don’t already!

You have a new novelette out! For those who are new to your work, can you give us a brief summary of A Night at the Mall and what you love about it?

A Night at the Mall is a story about two girls who get stuck in a mall store after it closes. I just love being able to write chick-lit with two girls because this is such a rare thing to find! Writing something that is just pure comedy with an overly excited protagonist that tends to romanticize everything was also a fun change. The prompt I came up with for this story was: What would happen if Elle Woods and Becky Bloom ever met? And then I created my own story from that.

This past September, you released Ripped Pages, an f/f retelling of Rapunzel. What inspired that choice of source material and what retellings (if any) can we expect from you in the future?

I wanted to publish an f/f retelling this year and then I did some research on what retellings were being released lately before I chose Rapunzel. With all these remakes of the classic Disney movies being made, I always end up leaving the movie theaters with this sense of something is missing. And then I watched a live musical of Beauty and the Beast and all I could think about it was how much I wanted a version where Beast is a girl.

The lack of pure romance movies with f/f rep is one of the things that most upsets me these days. I stopped going to the movie theaters and I’m always disappointed when these movies are all indie and I can’t watch it on a big screen. The fact that I may never get to watch a fairytale on a big screen about two women falling in love is just underwhelming.

So all of this inspired me to just write the retelling the way I wanted them to be. The kind of story young people don’t see or read while they are growing up because everything needs to be heteronormative otherwise it’s considered inappropriate.

I’d love to write a part 2 for Ripped Pages about Aurélia, Agnes’ little sister. I have an outline of a Sleeping Beauty retelling for her set 6 years after the first novelette that plays more with magic and the dreaming world. I may write this someday.

Your characters are basically the freaking cutest ever. Which one are you most attached to and why?

I really do feel attached to all the characters I create to the point that I always want to write spin-offs for all of them. Mostly, because they have so much of me and of the people in my life. But if I had to choose I’d say Lily from The Paths We Choose and Val from Ripped Pages are the ones that I feel more attached to right now. Lily because we are extremely similar in personality and in how we deal with our sexuality. And Val because I love her journey of figuring out her sexuality through books and I feel that so many of us can relate to that.

In addition to being an author, you’re also an f/f blogger with Bibliosapphic. What are your favorite books to push over there?

All of them! Because every F/F I read feels like an underrated book no matter what. Every time someone asks me for recommendations I end up sending a long list because they don’t know even half of them.

Some of my favorite books that I rarely see anyone reading or talking about are When Women Were Warriors by Catherine M. Wilson, Dating Sarah Cooper by Siera Maley, Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee, Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon, and Complementary and Acute by Ella Lyons.

What are you still dying to see in f/f lit?

Romcoms. I love romcoms so much and I want to see more of the most cliché love stories ever. Bodyguard falls for the princess, childhood best friends, actress and common girl who need to date in secret, and online dating. But the kind of books you can imagine being turned into movies people watch after a bad day. Stories that don’t overuse the queer pain or miscommunication for 100 pages.

Being based in Brazil, access is obviously a little different than in the US. What’s it like to obtain queer ARCs and books there, as both a reviewer and a reader?

I didn’t know I could get ARCs until last year so this is all very new to me. I remember friends mentioning NetGalley and thinking this was only for US people. So I’d say NetGalley was one of my saviors when it comes to finding ARCs to read. But unfortunately, I only get accepted to read books by small presses. It’s frustrating because I see everyone else reading and mentioning all these awesome new trad books and I know I won’t get to read them for a long time because they are usually too expensive even in ebook format in my currency.

Buying actual queer books in Brazil is one of the hardest things ever. F/F is not being translated here and so far, we mostly have short stories published in Portuguese. I think I can count on my fingers the number of F/F books that got translated in the last years, to be honest. The only books I have in paperback are English books I found randomly in bookstores after doing a lot of research. It’s sad because this lack of access to LGBT+ books is exactly why it took me so long to figure out my sexuality when I was a teenager, and yet, years later the change is still happening so slow. I read incredible F/F books in English and I’m happy I can read them but then I remember that someone out there needs them in Portuguese and they won’t be able to read these books.

I collect my readings pretty much using NetGalley, following authors I love who are always promoting these books and looking at the free section of Amazon and Smashwords to fill my Kindle until the next time I can buy more ebooks.

As a major advocate of f/f, what would you like to see more of in terms of support?

This is going to sound so silly but I wish people actually cared. It’s easy to say F/F is treated badly by readers but then turn around and never read or promote these books. That’s what happens most of the time. People say there are no books out there but they never even Google or look for the people who are working on this kind of literature.

I want to see people making fanart, fanfic, metas, and discussion about these characters. It’s so rare to see this. So many authors who I talk to believe no one would ever buy their books if they wrote stories about women. At the same time that I try my best to encourage them, sometimes I’m also discouraged myself. Because I know how hard it is to make people care or to try to think about why they don’t care. I’m not a person who cares a lot if my books never get into mainstream, but I know for many authors these things matter. They want to be NYT bestsellers or to have their books turned into movies. Why should they not deserve this too? And it can only happen if readers and publishers rally behind them. People need to show that there is an audience willing to pay for these stories.

One of the arguments I see going around all the time is that female characters never have stories written as well as male characters. It gets on my nerves every time. I’m not going to say this doesn’t happen. It does. But usually when they are being written by cis men. I wish people would be more self-aware on what they think it’s acceptable for characters of certain genders to do or not. When it comes to female characters if you make them unlikeable people hate them, if you make them too perfect, they are a Mary Sue. And yet, so many male characters I know fall into these spectrums and they have huge fandoms making loud noise about how amazing they are. Women can’t cry, can’t punch, can’t make mistakes without people judging them as characters.

What I want is to see readers actually buying F/F books, reviewing them on Goodreads and retail websites, making noise about these characters like they do for everyone else. And to stop saying these books don’t exist if they didn’t make a proper research. We are here trying our best to help people find these books and I hope they start paying attention and giving attention to these stories when we talk about them.

What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ representation you remember in media, for better or for worse?

The very first time I saw two girls kissing in media was in All The Things She Said by t.A.T.u, which was definitely not the best and I mostly just remember feeling scared my mom would think I enjoyed watching that.

A lot of the LGBTQIAP+ rep I watched growing up made me feel like this. Uncomfortable and like I was doing something I shouldn’t be doing. No one ever told me this was wrong, but I was aware it wasn’t considered normal.

It took me until I read Ask the Passengers by A.S. King and Far From You by Tess Sharpe around three years ago that I started to feel better about it. I’ll never forget how validating it was to read about two girls having sex in Far From You. It was life-changing to know people could even write this in books. After that, I started researching for any kind of F/F media I could find and couldn’t stop anymore.

What’s next for you?

I’m in two anthologies that are coming out in the first months of 2018. In Queerly Loving Vol. 2 by Queer Pack, you can find my epic fantasy short story The Warrior and the Dragon. It’s about a warrior who seeks justice for her father’s death and ends up finding an unexpected ally. And in Into the Mystic, Vol. 3 by NineStar Press I’m going to publish my first vampire/human short story! I’m very excited about both of these.

I also have a fake dating novella that I’m still looking for a place to publish with. So fingers crossed for that!

M. Hollis could never decide what to do with her life. From the time she was a child, she has changed her ideas for a career hundreds of times. After writing in hidden notebooks during classes and daydreaming during every spare moment of her day, she decided to fully dedicate herself to her stories. When she isn’t scrolling around her social media accounts or reading lots of femslash fanfiction, you’ll find her crying about female characters and baking cookies.

Website: https://mariahollis.wordpress.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6302358.M_Hollis

Twitter: https://twitter.com/_mhollis

Patreon: patreon.com/mhollis

Tumblr: mholliswrites.tumblr.com

Better Know an Author: Malinda Lo

Pretty sure this month’s author needs no introduction to anyone who’s been reading queer lit in the past decade! I’m delighted to welcome Malinda Lo to the site as this month’s featured author, and to discuss her work past and present! Of course, she’s also familiar to many as one of YA’s biggest diversity advocates, and just published a new installment in her famous examination of LGBTQ publishing statistics (looking at 2015-16) that I encourage you to view if you haven’t yet. Now, let’s get to the books! 

Let’s jump right to your new book, A Line in the Dark, which I think has probably pleasantly stunned a whole lot of your fans who might’ve thought they knew what to expect from a Malinda Lo book and now realize they have no clue. What about that story still really felt like You even though it’s outside of SFF?

Maybe the lesbians? 🙂 For me, crime fiction is my first love. I started devouring Nancy Drews when I was six years old and I’ve never looked back. This sounds evil, but murder mysteries are my go-to escape and relaxation reads. So even though I hadn’t written a mystery before A Line in the Dark, I knew how it was supposed to go from everything I’ve read over the years.

You’re definitely one of YA’s most prolific genre jumpers, debuting in fantasy and then moving on to sci-fi, then to a psychological thriller, and next up with historical! What genre(s) do you most see yourself continuing to write in, and why?

Lesbians. Is that a genre? Because I want to see queer women in every single genre there is.

It’s been a few years since your last YA novel, but some YA fans might not realize you’ve also been writing for Tremontaine. For those who aren’t familiar with the serial, what can you share about it and your role in it?

I actually only wrote for Season 1 of Tremontaine. It’s the prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint novels, which are set in a very bisexual place that feels Dangerous Liaisons meets The Three Musketeers. I was a staff writer, working with a bunch of other wonderful writers, and we plotted out the whole season together and then wrote our episodes (we called them episodes but they’re basically novelettes) individually.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that you’re basically the godmother of queer YA SFF, which I imagine is wild considering you debuted less than a decade ago. What was it like to be The Only One for the stretch that you were? What did you recommend to readers who asked, “I read and loved all your books; now what?” 

Wow, yes that is wild. I did not enjoy being the only one! I kept (and still keep) a list of books I’ve read and loved that are about queer women, and that list includes plenty of stuff beyond SFF or YA. In fact, you can see it here: https://www.malindalo.com/recommended-reads/

What would you recommend for your fans now that there are some more options out there?

Audrey Coulthurst’s Of Fire and Stars! I’m biased, but she was in my Lambda Emerging Writers Workshop in 2013 and that’s the book we workshopped. I love it and can’t wait for the follow-up, Inkmistress. Also, C. B. Lee’s Not Your Sidekick and its follow-up, Not Your Villain, which I haven’t read yet but have heard such great things about. C. B. Lee was in my 2017 Lambda workshop and I know she’s a kickass writer so I have no doubt her books also kick ass.

In addition to your novels and the serial, you’ve also got contributions coming up in a bunch of anthologies. What can you share about your stories in All Out and Lift Off?

The short story in All Out was actually the basis for the novel I’m currently writing, which is a historical novel set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1950s. The story is about the moment a girl sees a queer woman and recognizes her as queer — and begins to recognize her own queerness, too. The story for Lift Off is titled “Meet Cute” (and has no relation to the anthology of the same name) and is a light romance about two girls who meet at a comic con.

Of all the work you’ve had in other venues and volumes, what’s your favorite that you wish reached more of your fans?

Oh, good question! I have a very soft spot for my story “The Twelfth Girl,” which is a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” in the anthology Grim (Harlequin Teen). I got an email from a reader recently who read it completely unsuspecting that the story was queer, and she was so excited to discover that I’ve written more things. So I think people are reading it, but maybe not my typical audience. I want my typical readers to know I wrote them another queer fairy tale. And it’s urban fantasy!

In additional to writing, you’ve also been a faculty member at the Lambda Literary Foundation. What’s the experience of working there like, and what should anyone aspiring to be a student there know about it?

It’s a really intense week because you’re spending it living in a dorm with dozens of queer writers. For many writers it might be the first time they’ve been in this kind of environment, so it can be overwhelming, but also very supportive. It’s so rewarding for me to give back to the queer community, and I love to work with queer writers. If you’re a queer writing thinking of applying, I suggest you polish up your best piece of writing and go for it. Don’t self-reject!

Your next book, Last Night at the Telegraph Club, is historical YA set in 1950s San Francisco, and releases in 2019. Anything you can tease us with about it until then? 

Everybody can get a sneak peek at it when All Out is published in 2018!

With all the accomplishments you have under your belt, what at this moment is your proudest? 

Surviving! So many writers from my debut year aren’t publishing anymore. This is a difficult industry, and I’m proud of myself for still being here and still writing. I hope people will enjoy my psychological thriller, and will stick around for all the genres I intend to write in.

***

Malinda Lo is the author of several young adult novels, including A Line in the Dark. Her novel Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, the Andre Norton Award for YA Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and was a Kirkus Best Book for Children and Teens. She has been a three-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.
Malinda’s nonfiction has been published by The New York Times Book Review, NPR, The Huffington Post, The Toast, The Horn Book, and AfterEllen. She lives in Massachusetts with her partner and their dog. Her website is http://www.malindalo.com.
Twitter: @malindalo
Facebook: facebook.com/malindalo
Tumblr: malindalo.tumblr.com
Instagram: @malindalo

Better Know an Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Today on the site we have one of my favorite YA authors, and I know I’m not alone in that regard. Anna-Marie McLemore is a highly decorated author of magical realism, and if you haven’t yet read her stuff, I am so sorry that you have shortchanged yourself on knowing all the lyrical beauty she has to offer. Go fix that immediately! And if you need a little convincing, well, time to get to better know Anna-Marie McLemore.

Let’s jump right out of the gate with your new release, Wild Beauty. Why is this book so special to you, and does it have anything to do with a certain fabulous secondary character?

33158561Wild Beauty is my bi Latina girls and murderous, enchanted gardens book. It’s the story in which I gave myself permission to go all in with the feel and setting of a fairy tale, but with the focus on the kind of girls we often see left out of fairy tales.

But I know what you really what to know, and yes, Dalia does happen to be one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written. 😉 She’s caring but can be brutally honest. She’s giving but also goes after what she wants. And she has secrets she’s keeping even from main character Estrella, the cousin who’s like a sister to her. All the Nomeolvides girls are queer, but Dalia is probably the most fearless in her bi identity.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as floored by a fairly new author’s resume as I was when I was refreshing myself on your accomplishments for a blog post earlier this year. How do you celebrate calls like “You’re on the National Book Award longlist!” and “You got a Stonewall Honor!”? 

So, hypothetically how much would you judge me if I tell you there’s been at least one instance of donning a frilly dress and singing a rousing chorus of “I feel pretty, oh so pretty, I feel pretty, and witty, and GAYYYY!!!” (Blogger’s Note: I would obviously only judge this extremely favorably.)

You have such stunning covers. What part have you played in their process, and is there one that’s especially close to your heart?

I take no credit for the beautiful covers I’ve been lucky to have on my books. My eternal gratitude goes to the designers and art directors who create these incredible works of art, and to my editor, who often has an initial vision for what direction to go in. I’ve adored all my covers, but Wild Beauty does have a special place in my heart because it’s honestly the kind of fairy-tale cover I didn’t think queer Latina girl stories got.

Kinda hard to miss that you are the anthology author to get; in 2018 alone, you have stories in The Radical Element, All Out, and Toil & Trouble. What can you share with us about each of them? 

I’m so excited to be writing for Saundra, Jessica, and Tess! I’ll give you a quick preview of each story:

“Glamour,” forthcoming in The Radical Element: A Latina girl tries to make it as an actress in Golden Age Hollywood, until a family spell throws her together with the scene painter she’s been avoiding since her first picture.

“Roja,” forthcoming in All Out: A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in which Red is legendary outlaw La Carambada, the Wolf is a transgender French soldier, and the woods are the hills of central Mexico in the 1870s.

“Love Spell,” forthcoming in Toil & Trouble: A love witch falls for a deeply religious young man who has a few magical secrets of his own.

If you were creating an anthology, what would the theme be, and who would you have to have on board? 

I would love to edit an anthology of inclusive queer fairy tales that take on not only LGBTQIAP+ identity but also intersectional identity—queer characters of color, queer characters of different faiths, queer characters with disabilities, and more. There are so many brilliant writers I’d love to have on board, but even thinking about asking them to be in my hypothetical anthology makes me nervous. So let’s start here: Would you be in, Dahl? (Blogger’s Note: Hell yes.)

You also have a new book coming out in 2018, called Blanca & Roja, which is sort of a mashup of Snow White, Rose Red and Swan Lake. First of all, that sounds amazing. Second of all, what about these stories in particular called to you to reimagine, and are there others we might see influencing you down the line?

Snow-White & Rose-Red was one of my favorite fairy tales growing up—the two very different sisters, the bear-prince, the frightening magic of the woods near their house. But if I was gonna retell Snow-White & Rose-Red, I knew I wanted to make it Latinx and queer. Sisters Blanca and Roja represent the false duality Latina women so often get cast in. Roja feels backed into being a girl who’s all venom and teeth, and Blanca, as the good girl, is supposed to fall in love with a particular boy. But the boy she actually falls for is nothing like she imagined—he’s genderqueer, he’s proud of his family’s oddness, and he’s as well acquainted with the woods’ frightening magic as she is. I can’t share why without telling spoilers, but I think this boy was the spark who first brought elements of Swan Lake into this book.

All of your books are Magical Realism, which is something that’s specifically found its roots in Latinx oppression. How do you find it serves exploring gender identity and sexual orientation in your work as well?

Magical realism provides a space where gender identity and sexual orientation can be explored in a uniquely Latinx setting, amid the expectations of family, community, and society. It also provides contrasts that are otherworldly but feel very real—a family where love has a terrifying legacy, but where a generation of girls understand each other’s bisexuality; a town that has long-held lore about its swans but doesn’t know quite what to do with a queer girl.

One theme that’s really strong in your work is strong secondary casts of female family. What about that speaks to you and does it have reflection in your own life?

I love exploring the communities that women make—how they lead and follow, how they push against each other, how they speak a common language, a shorthand, but how they also stay distinctly themselves. I grew up around more men than women, and I love them deeply, but so many of my close friends come from households run by women. So does my husband; he’s a trans guy who grew up in a family of mostly women.

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

For a while there, I swear every time there was a queer couple in a series, one or both of them got killed off by book three, and that was the case whether the books were YA or adult. We are fortunately seeing less of that trope. There also wasn’t nearly as much intersectional LGBTQIAP+ lit, and while we still have a long way to go, that is, thankfully, changing.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that your post for Gay YA (now YA Pride) on having sex on the page in When the Moon Was Ours is one of my favorite blog posts of all time (and not just because of the shoutout to me). What else have you found are really important values to you in representation?

28220826Letting queer characters and characters of color have space in their own stories, especially when those characters are being written by authors from our own communities. Characters with marginalized identities need space to grow and evolve in their own stories, they need room for realistic portrayals of the obstacles they face, and they need chances at happy endings.

Is there anything coming up for you that we haven’t covered yet? 

I’m so excited to be hitting the road with the Fierce Reads tour this October during Wild Beauty’s release. I’m also thrilled to get to be at some festivals and conferences this fall; my upcoming schedule just went up on my website (http://author.annamariemclemore.com/p/news-events.html). Very soon I’ll be sharing details about a December event with Lily Anderson in Davis, California, and later this fall I’ll have a little about where I’ll be in 2018.

Thank you so much for having me!

*****

6434877Anna-Marie McLemore (she/her) was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and taught by her family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. She is the author of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris Debut Award, and 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. Her latest is WILD BEAUTY, and BLANCA & ROJA is forthcoming in fall of 2018.

Better Know an Author: C.B. Lee

I am beyond psyched to have this month’s featured author on the site, because ICYMI, I am a pretty tremendous fangirl of Not Your Sidekick, and in case you’re not familiar with C.B. Lee, she’s a seriously kickass human. Not Your Sidekick actually first crossed my radar at the Romantic Times conference in 2016, where every Interlude Press author was also handing out swag for this title; it was clear she was an author they wanted to support! So of course, I had to check it out, and if you haven’t yet read it, please put this series on your to-read list: it’s so much fun, the romance is adorable, the characters and their friendship is great, and the representation is diverse and amazing.

But enough of listening to me babble; please welcome C.B. Lee!

It’s been so much fun seeing how much love and attention Not Your Sidekick has gotten! (See: Gay YA Book Club, WoC in Romance book club, Bisexual Book Awards, Lambda Awards…) What was the coolest part of your publication experience and what was your biggest surprise?

I was so overwhelmed to the response to the book being announced! It was kind of incredible how the original cover reveal with the summary really took offover the first weekend on Tumblr it hit over 5000+ notes and I was just like whoa! I’d looked through the tags and it was really such a response: people were excited Jess was Asian American, people were excited that the romance was between two girls, and I was just stunned and just so happy and grateful.

Publishing Not Your Sidekick has been an amazing journey. I think the readers are the best part of the experience, from meeting readers at book festivals and conventions to readers reaching out to me personally to talk about how much the story resonated with them, whether it was Jess feeling like not quite one or the other in terms of being Chinese-Vietnamese American, to her being the middle child and being overshadowed by her siblings, to being bisexual, and the story in general.

The biggest surprise was just seeing people respond to the novel! I had no idea it would become a thing, and I’m so happy people are enjoying it. I was really honored to be nominated for the Lambda Literary Awards and the Bisexual Book Awards, too!

I am so excited that the gang will be returning for a sequel called Not Your Villain. What can you tell us about it?

 It’s been so much fun to write in Bells’ perspective! Not Your Villain actually starts off a little before the timeline when you meet Jess in the first novel. I’m really excited to finally share what was going on during Not Your Sidekick when Bells kept disappearing on Jess and Emma. We’ll learn all about his superhero origins and more about the inner workings of the Heroes’ League of Heroes, and then we move forward with Bells and his friends as they start off on a mission to find the Resistance and deal with things that they think the adults aren’t prioritizing.

More info on Not Your Villain at my website!

For those who are just finding you now via Not Your Sidekick, can you describe your previous novel, Seven Tears at High Tide, in five words?

Selkies, magic, bisexuals, first love!

You keep some great writing tips on your site. What’s been the best source of craft education for you, and what’s some of your favorite advice?

I think there’s something to learn from everyone, and the Internet is such a great resource. As far as research goes in facts and worldbuilding, it makes it easy to search for anything and learn all about it, from how popular a word was in a historical era and to seasons in countries and anything and everything in between.

As far as craft, I think writing is different for everyone, so writing tips will vary. What will work for some people won’t work for other people, and it’s easy to get disheartened if you see a piece of writing advice, especially if it’s not your style and doesn’t work for you and to see other people swear by it. But as far as any advice goes, I would say to read broadly because there are so many resources, and just pick and choose what works for you. I’ve reblogged and organized a number of different writing posts on my Tumblr, and have also written a few ideas as well, but I don’t think there’s an end-all-be-all of writing advice in terms of craft.

I do have a favorite piece of advice from Erin Bow:

“No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can’t put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.”

This is really reassuring to me, about how your efforts efforts are not wasted. In writing a lot of work goes unseen: first drafts with huge chunks thrown out, paragraphs deleted, characters rebuilt from the ground up. Everything you do, whether it’s writing character bios or imagining them in alternate universes, or writing almost entire drafts one way and having to do it another way,  it’s part of the learning process and just adds to your overall skill and ability as a writer.

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

I think the message of hope is a persistent one I’ve seen across genres, and I think that’s so important. The fact that these novels exist and readers can identify with the characters and say I’m here, I’m seen and just have all kinds of stories is so powerful. And I love that I’m starting to see more and more people who want stories with happy endings, stories that are fluffy and cute, stories where the main conflict has nothing to do with their identity.

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

I have so many favorites! Malinda Lo and Benjamin Alire Saenz are two authors whose works I love, and as far as recent favorites, I really adored FT Luken’s The Rules and Regulations of Mediating Myths and Magic. It’s a hilarious read and has a wonderful bisexual coming-out story as well as wonderfully complex and dynamic friendships and family relationships. (There’s also werewolves and Bigfoot and the end of the world, but it’s wonderful.

A few novels I’m looking forward to this fall include It’s Not Like It’s A Secret by Misa Sugiura, They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera, That Inevitable Victorian Thing by EK Johnston, Fortitude Smashed by Taylor Brooke, and A Line in The Dark by Malinda Lo!

What do you wear, listen to, read, and/or watch when you need to feel a little more like a superhero?

I love movie soundtracksPacific Rim has to be my all time favorite, I always feel ready to take on aliens and get in a giant robot when I listen to it, although it’s usually my writing action soundtrack. Other soundtracks that make me feel like a hero: Wonder Woman, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones.

I also really love my leather lace-up boots. I would definitely go hero-ing in them.

You’ve got a lot of really beautiful representation in Not Your Sidekick, and I’m sure in Seven Tears at High Tide as well. What’s something it’s really important to you to show in your books?

It’s really important to me to show characters from different marginalized communities have adventures and fall in love and just do all the things straight white characters do.

Is your full name a total secret, or will we someday know the meaning behind “CB”? 

Carrie Beatrice!

Any idea what’s up next after Not Your Villain?

The next part of the adventure will be told from Emma’s perspective in Not Your Backup! I can’t say much other than the stakes will be raised! I’m also planning two short novellas within the universe, so look out for those!

Thank you so much for having me on the blog! You can find me at the following:

*****

Preorder Not Your Villain

Interlude PressAmazonBarnes & NobleMysterious GalaxyTarget

C.B. Lee is a bisexual Chinese-Vietnamese American writer who also works in outdoor education in Los Angeles for low-income youth.

NOT YOUR SIDEKICK was a 2017 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist for Best In YA/Children’s Fiction and a 2017 Bisexual Book Awards Finalist in Speculative Fiction. SEVEN TEARS AT HIGH TIDE is the recipient of a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fantasy Romance and also was a finalist for the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards in the YA and Sci-Fi/ Speculative Fiction categories.

CB has been featured at literary events such as the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Lambda Litfest’s Celebrating the Asian American LGBTQ+ Experience at the Chinese American Museum, YALLWEST and Pasadena Litfest as well as a guest at  popular panels and discussions such as DragonCon’s “LGBTQIA in YA” , “BiScifi: Queer Heroes in Science Fiction and More”, “The Craft of Dystopia”,  “Magic and Worldbuilding,”, WonderCon’s “Sisterhood of the Self-Sufficient,” Emerald City Comic Con’s “Diversity in Publishing,” and San Diego Comic Con’s “Super Asian America” and “Into the Fanzone!”

 

Better Know an Author: Robin Stevenson

Today on the site I’m psyched to have the incredibly prolific and wonderful Robin Stevenson! As it happens, I wasn’t the only one with the idea to shine a light on her this time of year; right after I asked Robin if I could interview her for August, a great interview with her went up on Gay YA, so make sure you check that out too! 

You’re such an impressively prolific author, with over 20 books to your name now. How long have you been writing, and can you give us a little rundown on your books with LGBTQ narrators?

I started writing on maternity leave, soon after my son was born— which was thirteen years ago. My first book came out a couple of years later, in 2007. It began as a short story that grew and grew, and ended up as a YA novel called Out of Order. The main character, Sophie, is a sixteen year old girl who dealing with a history of being bullied, struggling with an undiagnosed eating disorder, and caught up in the orbit of a charismatic but troubled new friend. She is bisexual but not yet using this word… she is just beginning to realize she is attracted to girls.

26586455My novel Big Guy came out the next year, and also has a queer narrator—-this time a teenage boy who is in an online relationship with another guy. It was my first hi-lo novel in the Orca Soundings series. (My most recent book in the series came out in 2016, and also has a queer narrator: It’s called Under Threat, and deals with anti-abortion violence. I wanted to write an unambiguously pro-choice novel that shows the cost of anti-abortion fanaticism. The main character, Franny, has a girlfriend called Leah and they are together throughout the novel—the book was an ALA Rainbow list selection.)

In 2009, my YA novel Inferno came out— this one was also an ALA Rainbow list selection, which I was delighted about. The narrator is a queer teenage girl who has recently broken up with a girl with whom she was in a very closeted relationship. When the book begins, she has just cut off all her hair and changed her name from Emily to Dante, and she is about to meet a new group of friends who are going to complicate her life in interesting and challenging ways. Dante seemed to provoke strong reactions; readers either adored her and really related to her, or disliked her intensely! Personally, I adore her.

My newest book also has a queer narrator: It is a mystery/thriller called Blood on the Beach. I co-wrote it with Sarah N. Harvey, who is a senior editor at Orca, and was in fact my editor for a number of my novels and my non-fiction book Pride. Blood on the Beach is told in the alternating voices of two first person narrators: Sarah wrote from Caleb’s point of view, and I wrote from the point of view of Alice, who is bisexual.

Your most recent book, Pride, has received all sorts of award nominations, including a 2017 Stonewall Honor. What was the research experience for that book like?

26586443Pride was my first non-fiction book, and the research and writing process was entirely new to me—so different from fiction. I read a lot, and watched documentaries, and sifted through archival photographs, but I also spoke with so many people about their experiences of Pride. And from activists in Russia and Uganda to 12 year old kids here on the west coast, everyone was so helpful and interested and enthusiastic. People shared their opinions and stories and personal photographs, and read drafts, and gave feedback. It felt like a very collaborative process and one that strengthened my own sense of connection to the LGBTQ community.

Do you have your own personal favorite Pride memory?

I’ve been going to Pride for 30 years so I have accumulated a lot of really great memories; I can’t pick just one! Here are a few that stand out: Going to my first-ever Dyke March with friends in Toronto, back in 1991. Seeing my parents walking in the Pride Parade with PFLAG a few years later. Taking my son to his first Pride when he was only a month old. Speaking about the history of Pride to teens at youth-organized events. Reading at Pride in the Word, which is my favorite literary Pride event ever. And this year, taking my spaniel puppy to Pride Victoria’s Big Gay Dog Walk!

You do the very cool work of writing Hi-Lo books for Orca, which, for those unfamiliar, are “high interest, low reading level” books. How did you specifically get into Hi-Lo, and how does the writing process differ for you from your other books?

2697919I got into it entirely by accident. I’d written a short story for adults, which got way too long—novella length, really, around 15,000 words. It was about a gay teenager who lied his way into a job working as a caregiver in a residence for adults with disabilities, and I had no idea what to do with it. I’d just published by first YA novel with Orca, and I knew they had this series called Soundings that were about that length…and so I thought I’d tweak it a bit and try submitting it for that series. That story became my first hi-lo novel, Big Guy. I have written five books in that series now—they are fun to write, and they are a great writing exercise for me: because the word count is so tight, they force me to consider every word to make sure it is absolutely necessary and to work hard to make each scene serve multiple purposes (eg. developing character, building tension, furthering the plot). My writing process is a bit different for hi-lo…I’m not usually much of an outliner, but– with the exception of that first accidental hi-lo novel, of course– I outline all my hi-lo novels in a fair bit of detail before I begin.

I think hi-lo books reach a lot of kids, for a lot of reasons, and some of my favorite reader emails have come from kids who have read these books. They meet a real need, helping kids to gain confidence and to see themselves as readers—plus they are just fun, quick reads. I also edited hi-lo books for Orca for three years: the Limelights series, which are books about teens in the performing arts. It was very enjoyable work and I learned about everything from stand-up comedy to aerial silks!

I saw on Twitter you’re working on a book now about reproductive justice. Is that your next publication, and what can you tell us about that?

Yes! I am so excited about this. It’s scheduled to be published in spring 2019, in Canada and the US, and it’s aimed at older kids and teens. To be honest, after Pride came out, I wasn’t planning to write another non-fiction book—but the ongoing attack on abortion rights and access in the US is so disturbing, and the current threats to reproductive choice under the current administration are so serious, and there is so much propaganda and misinformation being taught to young people about abortion. And even in Canada, where the landscape with respect to abortion looks quite different than in the US, most kids have no idea of the long battle that was fought to legalize abortion and make it accessible. It seemed like such an important topic for kids to be aware of, and yet there aren’t a lot of kids’ books on the subject. So I proposed this book idea to Orca, and—being awesome—they agreed!

You’re a Canadian author, and I think we in the U.S. often miss a lot of the great titles that come out of Canada, the UK, and Australia that aren’t published here. What are some titles that haven’t crossed the border that you think should be getting way more attention on this side?

One Canadian book that I recently read and was very impressed by was a debut novel by a young author, Arushi Raina. It is called When Morning Comes and it is published by Tradewind Books. The story is set in South Africa and follows the lives of four young people during the student uprisings of 1976; it is well-researched, beautifully written, and very powerful. It was published in Canada in 2016 and has just been published in the US this year—I highly recommend it.

In terms of LGBTQ books more specifically, some Canadian authors whose books I love include Carrie Mac, Ivan Coyote, Tom Ryan, Mariko Tamaki, and M.E. Girard. And author Heather Smith has a new YA novel coming out this spring which includes queer characters… I just read an ARC and absolutely fell in love with it. It is called The Agony of Bun O’Keefe, and I’m very much hoping it will get all the attention it deserves on both sides of the border.

In your interview with Gay YA, you talked about writing the complexities of queer theory to a younger (Middle Grade) audience, and reminding yourself “this isn’t a university text.” What are your favorite texts on it for older audiences, and could you ever see yourself writing one that is a university text?

I love reading about queer history, and have devoured just about everything that’s crossed my path. When it comes to writing, though, my first love is fiction—and I am really looking forward to getting back to working on my middle grade novel, to a YA novel I am co-writing with a friend, and possibly also working on some short fiction for grown-up readers. No university texts in my plans!

According to your bio, you are quite well-traveled! Does that play into any of your books now, and will we see it playing into any in the future?

My partner Cheryl and I have been together 20 years, and we’ve travelled a lot together. One of the most amazing trips we have taken was the year that we spent living aboard a small sailboat and travelling from Lake Ontario, through the barge canals to New York, then down the waterways and offshore to Florida and the Bahamas. Ten years after our journey, I read over all our logbooks and used my memories of the winter we spent sailing in the Bahamas as the basis for my YA novel, A Thousand Shades of Blue. The characters and their story (and all the angst) is fictional, but the route they travel and all of the places they stay are entirely real—as is much of the scene where their boat runs aground on the rocks near Joe Sound on Long Island. It’s probably my favorite of my YA novels because it is so closely connected to so many wonderful memories for me and Cheryl.

I am working on a teen novel now that is mostly set in Australia, a country where I lived for a year as a teen and another year as a young adult– I actually came out as queer while I was living in Australia, aged 21. But most of my novels are set in BC, as this is the place I know and love best.

Please drop your thanks to Robin for dropping by, and make sure you check out
her books!

SushiRiceStudios-1socialmedia-300x300Robin Stevenson is the author of twenty books for kids and teens. Her novels include The World Without Us and The Summer We Saved the Bees, as well as the Silver Birch Award-winner Record Breaker, and the Governor General’s Award finalist, A Thousand Shades of Blue. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia. For more information, visit http://www.robinstevenson.com.