Category Archives: Better Know an Author

Better Know an Author: Hillary Monahan aka Eva Darrows aka Thea de Salle

Well, I think it’s clear from the headline that we’re ending the year with an author who wears a whole lot of hats, and I’m very grateful at how many of them are queer ones! You may know Hillary/Eva/Thea from YA (including her New York Times-bestselling Mary), or from fantasy, or from her brand-new Western, or contemporary romance…or you might not, in which case, settle in and better know an author who’s really three!

First things first, I think we’ve gotta break down those pen names. Could you tell us what, for you, defines Hillary Monahan vs. Eva Darrows vs. Thea De Salle, and give us a little intro into the queer books written by each one?

It’s confusing and somewhat irritating, I know, so I’m really grateful to my audience for name hopping with me. I PROMISE THERE’S A METHOD TO MY MADNESS, THOUGH.  Hillary Monahan is my horror slanted and/or adult stuff. My YA horrors have been fairly straight to this point because, frankly, horror is violent and I’ve seen enough violence aimed at queer folk I was wary of contributing to that paradigm. There’s a careful balance to be struck, I think, particularly where the trope says sassy gay friends almost always get murdered.  You’ll see more queer YA horror coming from me (look to my Havisham retelling with PRH next year) but I’ve been cautious. I think I have a better grasp on what to do and what not to do now, but it’s taken a bit to get here.

On the adult side, Snake Eyes is an adult, horror slanted urban fantasy about Tanis, a half lamia, who is involved in a turf war with the Gorgons down in the Everglades. Tanis is queer and expecting a child with her girlfriend, Naree. Their relationship is the heart and soul and spine of the book, and I’ve called it my queerest book yet. It’s got an all female cast who live and love and bleed together, and it has a soft spot in my stable. My new Western fantasy is called Gunsmoke & Glamour and I have described it as Sherlock and Watson in the old west, running from murderous witches, only Sherlock is a sarcastic half fairy marshal named Clayton, and Watson is a trans lady doctor named Irene.

Eva Darrows is my snarky, feminist stuff, more apt to slant on the humor side. Dead Little Mean Girl had lesbian moms, and is a story about a fat, nerdy girl named Emma who didn’t look past the veneer of her dead step sister to see why, maybe, Quinn had some toxic personality quirks.  Belly Up is finished and due out in spring 2019, about a questioning teen, Serendipity, who gets pregnant after a one night stand. Her best friend is a gray ace girl named Devi, and two of her other friends at school are Morgan, a trans girl, and her girlfriend Erin.

Thea de Salle is my romance pen name. Two of those books featured queer characters in Sol, in book one (The King of Bourbon Street), who’s blatantly bisexual and paired up with a fat heiress named Arianna. I felt like bisexual males were the unicorns of romance.  Book two is about Maddy, who identifies as pansexual, pairing up with a big ginger Texan named Darren, both of them navigating PTSD and anxiety together.

You are a serious genre maven, too! Contemporary Romance, Urban Fantasy, Horror…what genre feels closest to your heart, and what haven’t you hit that you still really want to?

I’d probably say horror. I’m a gloom cookie. Always have been, always will be. What my pattern seems to be is “write a dark book, write something else to recover from it.”  But the constant is the scary stuff.  I grew up with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark pretty much sewn to my palm, and that forayed well into Christopher Pike before Stephen King.

As for what I want to do, fantasy. Period. I have two rattling around in my bean right now that I hope to get onto the page sooner rather than later, one centering Arthurian legend and a very queer Morgan le Fey, one with a patriarchy versus a matriarchy divided country with pansexual sex priestesses at the center.

Gunsmoke & Glamour is your newest release, out just a couple of weeks ago with Fireside Fiction. Can we please discuss that cover??

YES. YES, WE CAN.  As a fat author, I have struggled—oh, have I struggled—to see myself and people like me properly represented on my covers.  I’ve either had my characters fattish but not too fat or completely thin washed.  I mentioned this to the publisher at Fireside, and, at the same time, I fretted about Irene (being a trans woman) getting her labels erased.  Pablo’s answer was brilliant; he hired a trans artist of color who understood the representation struggle, who looked at the material and produced something really special.  I’m in love with it and hope other publishers take note.

I was lucky enough to get an early read of Belly Up, which releases April 30, 2019, and the way you have Serendipity kind of questioning her bisexuality in the background is really interesting. Was that a ground-up decision about her character, or something that came out about her as you were writing?

I wasn’t super specific by design. Our teen years are often (not always, but often) exploratory years, and I don’t just mean sexually.  When I was coming around to my labels, I fumbled my way through the discovery process.  It’s like trying on jeans—when you get the wrong fit, you’re uncomfortable all day, but find the perfect pair?  Wow, awesome.  That said, the thing that landed me solidly in keeping with her “questioning, probably bisexual, but not sure yet” ID was the relationship with Devi.  I love that pairing, a lot, and I realized halfway through that if Leaf hadn’t happened, Sara would have been more than content just being with Devi for the foreseeable.  In fact, I think if Devi hadn’t been straight, they could have been a thing.  Alas, Devi isn’t into girls, and Sara knew that and respected that.  Accepting that sometimes your crush just isn’t into you doesn’t have to be traumatizing.

In addition to writing bi and pan main characters, you also have queer parents in your most recent Eva Darrows YA novel, Dead Little Mean GirlAs a queer adult, what’s it like writing queer adults into your teen fiction?

On top of my girlfriend’s teenaged son living with me and requiring frequent step-momming, I’m the child of a queer adult, so basically, I apply my own experiences to the parents in my books. My father is a queer man who married his husband back when Vermont was the only state legally recognizing same sex pairings. I grew up within the culture, know firsthand that love is the primary marker of success in being a family. It’s cathartic, honestly, to be able to “show” that on the page when there are so many detractors out there who try to imply otherwise.

Following you on Twitter is always an adventure, as you’re definitely one of the more outspoken authors on my timeline. What are topics that really suck you in, and what do you wish we discussed more?

This is the nicest way of saying I tweet too much ever. But you’re absolutely right. I’ve grown up in a family that put a lot of stock in not tolerating bullshit. Of course that’s a sliding scale for everyone depending on politics and experiences, but my brand is to go hard about fatness, queerness, mental illness, Romani rights, and the rights of sex assault victims. There are other subjects that can get me going, but those are my lane and I’ll defend others sharing my labels because not everyone has a platform—or the spoons–to take on this stuff. They’re hard subjects. It comes down to a baseline philosophy that it’s not actually hard to be decent, but people can’t be decent if they don’t know how they’re being indecent in the first place. If me telling someone that gypsy is a racial slur prevents them from saying the word in the future, I’ll take the lumps that go with being outspoken.

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

For better: that I think we’re seeing more of the umbrella represented than ever before. It’s slow, but the progress is there. Queer people of color, bisexual people, trans people, ace and aro people, intersex people are getting more attention in trad pub than I’ve seen before. That leads into a bit of the for worse, though, which is this high is coming because diversity is “trendy” right now. I hate that notion, by the way—the world is diverse so the art should be, too—but I feel like there’s a push because of marketing buzz not because pushing marginalized people is the right thing to do because they have valuable contributions to media.

Ultimately, I’ll take it, whatever the reasoning, because it topples the princes of queer YA thing, wherein all queer folk should be happy to be represented by handsome white allocis queer boys. Their stories are important, too, but not at the expense of everyone else. And there’s a lot of everyone else.

YA I know, but adult fantasy is a bit of weak spot for me, so I’m always psyched for recs by people who really know it. What are your favorite queer fantasy recs beyond YA? (Of course, I’m curious about your YA faves too!)

I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory and I’m absolutely dying to get into the novella sequel, Stone Mad. Bear writes queerness without making it angsty, in a fantasy setting, and I appreciate that. Sometimes, matter of fact queerness is a huge breath of fresh air; I know every one of my decisions isn’t informed by my sexuality. Some, definitely, but not all, and I think Bear navigates those waters really well.

Frankly this is a totally appropriate place to put a plug in for the Tor.com column by Liz Bourke Sleeps With Monsters. Liz is a queer woman who spends a lot of her time reccing and reviewing LGBTQIA+ fantasy fiction, so if you need a good, solid voice to check out, for vetted and intelligent suggestions, you can’t beat her in a lot of ways.

As an author who seems to push boundaries a little more with each book, what’s something you still feel like you’d still have to work up to, although it’s definitely on your “to do someday” list?

Poly and/or open relationships is on my to-do list. I know a lot of people who are quietly or not-so-quietly poly and/or in open relationships, who don’t get to see themselves in fiction beyond work that presents those lifestyles as toxic dramafests or as some deviant, sexually charged thing. That’s not the reality for many people, and I’d like to shine a spotlight there, to challenge a society that pushes monogamy as “the only acceptable way.”

I am just gonna leave this blanket open for you: Queer fat rep. Thoughts, recs, loves, hates, etc. GO.

Two people queer folk should be following on Twitter for queer fic recs on the adult side are definitely @bogiperson, who tirelessly advocates for the umbrella, and @TGStoneButch who not only gives fantastic queer recs, but also advocates for trans, fat, and disability rights.  I put Bogi and Corey’s picks high on  my reading rec lists for reasons. They are A+ humans with fantastic insight.

What’s next for you?

Edits and contract books, mostly. This fall saw Gunsmoke & Glamour out through Fireside Fiction and my debut duology, MARY, rereleased through Disney Hyperion. Eva Darrows has BELLY UP out in spring 2019, and my next PRH book, a YA horror about Miss Havisham, is out in spring of 2020.  Once I get all of that stuff cleaned up? I’m hoping to knock out one of the aforementioned fantasy novels (co-written with my bestie Lauren Roy) and work on a Thea De Salle title.  Busy, busy, busy.

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Better Know an Author: Rebecca Barrow

New month, new author to fall for! If you’re not already familiar with Rebecca Barrow, please allow me to help you fix your life. She’s a contemporary YA author whose sophomore novel, This is What it Feels Like, releases on November 6, and if you’re a fan of authors like Emery Lord, Nina LaCour, and Katie Cotugno, I guarantee you wanna check her books out!

Let’s jump right in to your new release, which you already know I’m obsessed with. What’s This is What it Feels Like all about, and can you particularly tell us about Jules and her romance?

So This is What it Feels Like is about three former friends-and-bandmates who get back together to try to win fifteen grand and have to work through the past that tore them apart in order to succeed. Jules’ story is really about what happens when she meets a sweet, fun new girl and has to deal with the relationship Expectations vs Reality thing she has going on. She’s a super romantic and her last (first) relationship didn’t really work out well. And a big part of her character is this quiet fear she has that she won’t ever get to be in a happy, ideal relationship with another girl. I originally wrote her getting back with the ex and dealing with all the drama of their relationship again, but there came a point when I thought—why am I giving her this unhappiness? Why can’t she meet someone who gets her and write her getting to explore happiness and her shifting perception of that notion? So, I did.

We see a lot of the “gay best friend” in YA, but I think Rose in You Don’t Know Me But I Know You might’ve been the first bi best friend I’ve seen in YA, though it’s definitely been a growing trend since. She’s such a great character, too; what about her really spoke to you?

First of all, thank you because I know some people really don’t like her but I love her, mess and all! I didn’t set out to write The Bi Best Friend; when I first started writing Rose, the book was dual POV and she had her own thing going on. So really she got shifted into that role as I found the heart of the story and stripped back to just Audrey’s POV. But writing Rose was one of those moments that I know plenty of authors have had, where you write a queer character because you’re just SUCH a good ally! and then you stop and realise that ohhhh wait no okay it’s all clear now. So I guess what spoke to me about her was…myself?! I wrote her bisexuality not realising that it was also my bisexuality. And she’s similar to Jules in that she’s very certain of her sexuality and also very afraid that any relationship she gets into is going to go terribly. I guess..am I just writing my own fears again?! Possibly! It was definitely enjoyable to write a girl who’s so sharp and spiky but not a stereotype.

You’re a very interesting case of being a British author who publishes in the US, despite there being a reasonably thriving UK YA scene, and sort of a queer UK YA subscene. How did you come to the choice to publish this way, and what differences do you notice in the different publishing communities?

I didn’t intentionally set out to publish in the US; it was just a kind of unfolding of events that now I think works in my favour. I do write books set in the US, because I was raised on US media and I loved USYA and it was just what I started out writing. Then as I became more knowledgeable about publishing, and as the push for increased diversity has happened—well, as much as the US still has far to go, the UK has even farther. Specifically for the books I write, with black and sometimes queer girls whose stories don’t revolve around black pain and who are somewhat outside the stereotypical/publishing-approved narrative, it can be hard to find a place for them, especially in the UK. So while in the beginning it wasn’t a move I made specifically because of what I write, it is now something I definitely think is in my best interests and that I wouldn’t take back.

The UK scene is complex because while there are marginalised authors putting out great UKYA books and a very enthusiastic community of people supporting them, it also feelsto me, at leastoverall still quite stuck in the past. So a lot of the books that are really successful here have that old school children’s lit feel of magic and mysteries, and younger protagonists, and some of the older and more diverse books don’t reach the heights they really should. Then there’s another odd thing in that in the UK, in the past, we didn’t have YA as suchit was more of a children’s/teenage divide. So if you were to pick up a book in the teenage section, it could be something dark and gritty with an 18yo MC, or it could just as easily be a fun adventure story with a 13yo MC. And as YA has exploded, what’s really happened is that successful USYA is being brought over here and kind of flooding the space. In terms of diverse fiction, then, what often happens is people will point to the success of a USYA title in the UK, but not really register that we’re still not supporting diverse UK talent enough. Which kind of comes back to the question of why I publish in the US—it’s all a bit of a self-perpetuating cycle: USYA gets brought over, UKYA isn’t bought, UK authors seek to publish in the US, their US-published books get brought over, support still isn’t there…and rinse and repeat. It’s very complicated and as far as I can see, the answer really is for UK publishing to step up and buy/nurture/support works by marginalised UK authors. Until that happens, this cycle will continue.

But I do want to shout out a few people doing great work—Stripes puts out great diverse books and brings in unknown talents to write in their anthologies, several of whom now have solo deals. Knights Of is a new publisher focused on diverse lit—they just put out Jason Reynolds’ For Every One. And there are so many individuals working hard—we just really need the machine of publishing and a lot of the book-buying public to step up, too.

In the future I would love love LOVE to be published in the UK as well as the US, and hopefully find a space for my books.

Black girls barely get their due in YA as a whole, let alone in queer YA, but you’ve now had two beautiful books—one queer, one not—with Black leads and gorgeous covers that feature them. What has that experience been like, and do you have any tips for authors who’d like to follow in your lead but feel shut out by the publishing industry?

I can honestly say that I’d never considered my own identity so much as I did once I got my deal. It felt like all of a sudden it MEANT so much more and there were so many questions to answer and things people wanted justified and realising how much my identity was truly going to play into this career I was just starting out on…it was overwhelming. What’s kind of funny and kind of embarrassing is that in the beginning of my writing journey, I didn’t think too much about writing black characters. Like many POC authors I defaulted to writing white characters, and then by the time I wrote what became my debut and wrote my first black lead, it wasn’t a calculated move on my part—I hadn’t had some awakening and realised what I wanted to write. I just thought—hey, what if this girl was black? And it was only once I had sold that I really began to understand how lucky I was to have sold a black girl book and what I was up against. Now I write my black girls—more often than not queer, now, too—as a kind of defiance, and honestly, I’d encourage anyone wanting to take a similar path as me to do the same. Writing marginalised characters means dealing with aggressions both micro and macro from people across the industry, and facing an even steeper climb to success. In hindsight, I’m glad I wasn’t fully aware of how hard it would be because maybe I wouldn’t have gotten this far—but I want anyone reading who dreams of selling characters with black, queer leads to know it is possible and it feels amazing and my rage only serves to fuel my writing nowadays. So let your anger fuel you, too.

And since you mentioned my gorgeous covers (the first by Sarah Creech and and the second by Michelle Taormina) which are such a positive in the whole experience, I should say something else positive too—because it’s not all terrible, of course not. There is no better feeling than someone saying “that girl looks like me”, someone reading and saying “this character is black the same way I am”, knowing that at least one person out there is going to see themselves in your words. And selfishly, for myself—these are the books I wish I had read as a teenager: complex black girls, queer girls, living their lives.

You might have the most similar taste in contemporary YA to me of anyone else in bookworld, so of course, I have to mine your brain for some recs here. What are your favorite queer books (YA or not) that you’d love to see find more readers?

I absolutely love The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz, perfect for anyone struggling with love of creating and love of someone close to you. I know she’s not exactly underrated but it’s my opinion that Nina LaCour is not nearly as widely read as she should be so Everything Leads to You and We Are Okay for sure. How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake spoke to me so much, Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta is the queer theatre mystery of my dreams, Like Water by Rebecca Podos is so magical. And to round it out, a book I read on your rec!  A Good Idea by Cristina Moracho. (Blogger’s Note: I love every single one of these books, to the shock of no one.)

What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ experience you saw onscreen or in a book that really resonated with you?

You know, I’ve only really started to find queer media I connect to in the last couple of years, even though I’ve seen a decent amount over the years (I mean hello I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy for the past century). So really the first was Emi in Everything Leads to You, as a queer, artistic, mixed race black girl.

I know you’re a tattoo person, which is something I always find immensely fascinating. Have you gotten tattoos for your books, and if not, what would you get if you did?

Right now I have one book tattoo, for You Don’t Know Me But I Know You. It’s not really specific to the book but one of my favourite artists does these heart-and-hairgrip tattoos and I thought it would be a perfect representation of Audrey and Rose. I’m still thinking about what to get for This is What it Feels Like…I feel music-based is a touch too on the nose, so maybe something baked goods-themed? I’m open to suggestions!

What’s up next for you?

Nothing official yet but I hope to be bringing you more queer girls of colour soon, perhaps dusted with a little more darkness this time.

***

Rebecca Barrow writes stories about girls and all the wonders they can be. A lipstick obsessive with the ability to quote the entirety of Mean Girls, she lives in England, where it rains a considerable amount more than in the fictional worlds of her characters. She collects tattoos, cats, and more books than she could ever possibly read.

Better Know an Author: Sara Farizan

I am such a fangirl of Sara Farizan as both an author and a human that it delights me to bring her to LGBTQReads and pick her brain about her awesome work, queer media, and, most importantly, basketball. Please welcome her to the site!

You’ve been up to so much this year, I don’t even know where to begin. Clearly you’re a go-to get for anthologies, as you’ve got stories in three this year. Can you tell us a little bit about your contributions to The Radical Element, All Out, and, most recently, Fresh Ink

Being invited to be a part of those anthologies was a blessing and I’m so grateful to have been asked. They really helped me out of a slump when I felt like I couldn’t write anything or I was too bogged down with my novel. All of the editors, Jessica Spotswood, Saundra Mitchell, and Lamar Giles were all incredibly helpful and I was very happy that they thought of me.

My story in All Out (“It’s The End of the World As We Know It”) is set on New Year’s Eve of 1999 and two estranged best friends spend New Year’s Eve together and are anxious about the Y2K bug that was though to wreak havoc at that time. My story for The Radical Element (“Take Me With U”) was set in 1984 and is about a young girl from Tehran who is staying with her uncle’s family in Boston. She bears a striking resemblance to Apollonia from Purple Rain and joins an all-girl band called the Ovarian Cysters. My story in Fresh Ink (“Why I Learned to Cook”) is about a young girl named Yasi who has a close relationship with her grandmother and wants to introduce her to her girlfriend over a meal she has learned to cook from her grandmother.

Last month saw the release of your first novel since Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. Can you tell us a little bit about it, and how it feels to be writing from such a different POV from your other work?

I’ve written about a great kid named Bijan who has had a pretty low-key profile at his prep school. He suddenly finds himself in the spotlight as a basketball star and there are some people who are not happy with all of his newfound stardom so he becomes the target of prejudice. I had a tough go with this book because I knew there would be an audience however large or small whereas my other two books were written in graduate school and may have never seen the light of day. Readers will be able to tell whether Bijan reads as authentic. I think initially I was trying to make him perfect when I had to remind myself that he’s a teenager and should make mistakes.

You broke into YA with books about queer girls at a time when we were seeing so, so little. What was it like publishing it then, and what are your thoughts on it and how the landscape has changed?

I didn’t really have any idea what I was getting into and I still have a lot to learn. I think I was naïve, but that was sometimes a good thing because I just wrote what was in my heart. I am hopeful and encouraged by all the new books and voices we are seeing, especially from own voices authors who can speak to queer experiences. Could there be room for more? Absolutely. I think we’ve seen LGBTQA books get more support, but that doesn’t mean okay well that’s enough. You’ve had your moment.

Another obviously notable aspect of your work is that you write some of the very few queer girls in YA who have culturally intersectional identities. What has the response to your girls been like, particularly from your represented readers?

What has been a wonderful thing in meeting readers of my work is that they are all so different from each other. There have been readers of different ages, gender identities, races and that’s been very gratifying.

There was one time where a reader met me at a conference and she said she had given my book to her friend who was of an Eastern background and struggling with coming out to her family. I asked how old her friend was and she said she was in her forties and still grappling with her sexuality. I started crying.

On the flip side, with cultural context being such an inextricable component of your work, especially in your debut, how have you found connecting with readers who might not grasp all of its implications? I feel like writing “ownvoices realistic fiction” before that phrase was really a thing is perhaps a uniquely difficult thing that doesn’t get enough airtime.

I constantly worry that people may think the one perspective I have in my work is the only perspective because they may not have read other narratives about the characters I write about. I also worry that the characters I do write about who represent real people don’t feel that I am doing it the right way. There is a lot of pressure to represent an under represented group well and to make sure you are doing things perfectly when there is no way to be perfect. My hope is that more own voices books make their way into the world so that people are not always given three dimensional depictions can have some depth, as well as having different perspectives from characters of similar background.

You’re such a strong proponent of supporting films of queer work in addition to the written word. What are some of your favorites and most anticipated, and what’s your dream casting for your own novels/stories?

I loved Miseducation of Cameron Post and feel it should have as much Oscar buzz as Call Me By Your Name. The book is one of my favorite books of all time and I enjoyed the adaptation very much. I’ve been a huge fan of the director Desiree Akhavan since her film Appropriate Behavior and am excited for her show The Bisexual. I’m also a fan of films by Angela Robinson like D.E.B.S. and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Pariah by Dee Rees was a revelation. I was so happy when Moonlight won best picture at the Oscars.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a film or TV version of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel.  I think it’d be fun. I’ve never let myself think about it for too long but if it were to happen I’d want there to be Persian actors playing Persian parts.

What’s your earliest memory of queer representation in media, for better or for worse?

I think seeing Pedro in the Real World on MTV comes to mind. I remember liking him so much but I had to sneak in episodes at my grandma’s place because my house didn’t have cable. This isn’t the earliest memory, but one storyline/scene that was very emotion for me was Evan Rachel Wood having a secret girlfriend on Once and Again. It had a huge impact on me seeing her character Jessie grapple with her feelings. It was so well acted and I never really tuned into that show until that episode where Jessie kisses Katie was banned in a few states.

Very important, for my own personal curiosity: fave NBA player of all time and why? 

Pick one? That’s tough. Reggie Miller appears in my new book as a commentator in the main character’s head, but I know how you feel about Reggie Miller as a Knicks fan. (Blogger’s Note: She does know. It is not positively. *hisses*) I think the best Celtic of all time is Bill Russell but obviously I wasn’t around when he was winning all those championships. When I was a kid I was obsessed with Shaq and Penny Hardaway even though they played for the Magic.

I will highlight one player I liked so much when he was on the Celtics and that’s Brandon Bass. He was not an all-star, but when he played on the Celtics he came to work and he was consistent. He plays in China now, but I wish him all the best.

What can you share about whatever you’re working on now? And do we have any chance at getting a queer-girl basketball player someday? Asking for a friend. Of yours. Who is me 😉

Winky face! I have a story coming out in the anthology Hungry Hearts which is coming out summer of 2019 from Simon Pulse. I think fans of Tell Me Again will like that one as it’s very Sapphic and sweet. I am not sure what’s next after that, but I hope people still want to read my stuff. I’m very grateful to everyone who has read my books and stories. It means a lot.

***

Sara Farizan, the daughter of Iranian immigrants, was born in Massachusetts. She is an MFA graduate of Lesley University and holds a BA in film and media studies from American University. Sara grew up feeling different in her private high school, not only because of her ethnicity, but also because of her liking girls romantically, her lack of excitement in science and math, and her love of writing plays and short stories. So she came out of the closet in college, realized math and science weren’t so bad (but were not for her), and decided she wanted to be a writer. Sara has been a Hollywood intern, a waitress, a comic book/record store employee, an art magazine blogger, a marketing temp, and an after-school teacher, but above all else she has always been a writer. Sara lives near Boston, loves Kurosawa films, eighties R&B, and graphic novels, and thinks all kids are awesome. She is the acclaimed author of If You Could Be Mine, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, and Here to Stay.

Better Know an Author: Fox Benwell

New month, new author to meet! And today is a very special day to meet Fox Benwell, because he has a story in the all-#ownvoices disability anthology, Unbroken, edited by Marieke Nijkamp, which releases today!  So let’s get right to it!

It’s September 2018, and that means two things: 1) you have a new short story out and 2) it’s been a year since your incredibly unique f/f YA novel set in South Africa, Kaleidoscope Song, released. Newest things first: What can you share with us about your contribution to Unbroken?

“A Play in Many Parts” is…sort of a Faustus retelling. Or a number of retellings all tangled together and on the page at onceIt’s a love letter to (Marlowe’s version of) the play, and to theatre itself…a tale of bargaining for one more curtain call, whoever you are.

And your narrator is a cane-using enby with chronic pain, dodgy joints, fatigue, and wild love for crafting stories that change people.

For those who aren’t familiar with Kaleidoscope Song, can you tell us a little about it? 

Set in Khayelitsha, Kaleidoscope Song is a tale of first loves (both musical and human), of growing up queer in a sometimes-hostile environment, and of the power that lies in figuring out how to use your voice.

Both of your YA novels, The Last Leaves Falling and Kaleidoscope Song, are set in foreign countries (Japan and South Africa respectively). What draws you to writing about locations beyond your home nation of the UK, and what are your favorite ways to research them?

Honestly, while I’m intensely proud of those books in and of themselves, the world – and publishing – has shifted since I wrote those stories. Everything I’m working on at the moment is much closer to home, and I’d rather concede the floor to own-voices representation, for now.

That said, if you’re going to write other places (or experiences) than your own, research and respect in equal measure are the key. And not just for obvious facts: seeking out the stories and art and food and music and film (and hey, did I mention stories?) of those places and people is a good start to understanding someone else’s perspective, in addition to where your story might lie.

Music is really at the heart of Kaleidoscope Song, which of course means I must ask: what are you listening to and loving right now, and what are your forever favorites?

Oh my godddd, have you heard Grace Petrie’s new album, Queer as Folk? The entire thing is a roller coaster of queer feels. But I’ve had Black Tie on loop for a fortnight and it’s still making me cry. It’s big and hopeful and a little bit heartbreaking, and I love it.

And I’m working on a winter-and-music story right now, which means lots of not-so-Christmassy Christmas music is sneaking its way into my work playlists. Stuff like In Terra Pax, and old, obscure carols and folk songs.

Both The Last Leaves Falling and obviously Unbroken center around disability, as does your academic research. What are your thoughts on the state of disability rep in YA right now, both queer and otherwise? 

How long have you got? No, seriously, my academic thesis will be 80k, and it’s not nearly enough. 😉

We have a tendency to use disability as a (tragic and/or inspirational) plot point, and to fall back on notions of intelligence, ability and beauty of measures of worth or humanity. Sometimes this is big and obvious. Sometimes it’s subtle, in subplots and casual language, but it’s nearly always there.

There are, of course, some excellent books with equally excellent representation! But on the whole we need, quite simply, to do better.

There are some excellent people working on that, and it takes time, and changing societal perceptions of us isn’t always going to be an easy sell. But we must, because right now we’re doing a massive disservice to readers, disabled or otherwise: they deserve better. Consistently. Emphatically. Better.

What are your favorite representations of disability in queer YA, and what would you still love to see?

Everyone should read Unbroken, obviously: so much intersectional fabulousness in those pages.

Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension is totally badass. Rivers’ Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts may be bleak in a lot of ways, but I love it anyway, for the things that it explores. Hannah Moskowitz’s A History of Glitter and Blood is just…so deep and twisty and full of layers.

And I know this is sort of sidestepping the YA thing, but if you’re interested in the intersection of queerness and disability, you should read everything that Kayla Whaley ever writes.

As for what I’d love to see: I had to go back to my shelves to answer this, because my first instinctive answers were all one or the other – queer, or disabled – which clearly means there’s not enough of us multiply-marginalised folks on the shelves yet. We shouldn’t have to think for answers.

You transitioned between books 1 and 2, which came complete with a name change to the fantastic Fox. What was the process of changing your authorial name like, and what advice would you give to authors pondering doing the same?

It was terrifying. And then not nearly as terrifying as I had imagined: I’d somehow expected more pushback than I got. And sure, sometimes there’s a disconnect between books under one name and the next (which eventually will fade, if books go into the next reprints) but it’s worth it. It’s worth it for that first time you see your real name right there on a cover (I did not get that feeling the first time around, under my old name, at all). It’s worth it for not wincing every time somebody talks to you, or every time you sign a book. It’s worth it, because somewhere out there is another kid just like us, for whom it means everything to see that they could live that out-and-proud life, too.

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

Uhhh. I think I discovered Boys don’t Cry and Priscilla in the same week O_o.

And 13-year-old me accidentally found the gay erotica shelves in his Borders bookstore and somehow found the guts to buy (and hide) an anthology of ‘fairies and fantasy beasts’ stories. I don’t remember story details, but I do remember the magically right feeling of gender and attraction not being fixed points.

What are you working on these days?

I just finished copyedits for another geeky (D&D/ bathroom rights) story, coming soon, in Stripes’ anthology, Proud

And amongst my current WIPs you’ll find a pregnant trans boy building his kid a new, better world, a story of winter-song and deep dark voices, ace-spectrum rep and QPRs, transitioning, anxiety, neurodivergence, and chronic pain. And also pirates. Because we will populate your shelves with our adventures.

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Fox Benwell is a perpetual student of the world, a writer, adventurer, and wannabe-knight, who holds degrees in international education and writing for young people, and believes in the power of both to change the world. His in-progress PhD research examines disability in current YA fiction.

He is the author of the critically acclaimed The Last Leaves Falling, and Kaleidoscope Song.

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.

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!

***
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!

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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!

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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

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