You may remember Lindsay Smith from one of my favorite bi YA thrillers, A Darkly Beating Heartor her excellent queer historical story in A Tyranny of Petticoats. Well, now she’s back with something entirely different but still wildly queer, and we get to reveal the cover! The Shadow War is a new YA fantasy releasing on October 13th from Philomel/Penguin, and it’s pitched as Inglorious Basterds meets Stranger Things, which !!! Here’s the official blurb:
World War II is raging, and five teens are looking to make a mark. Daniel and Rebeka seek revenge against the Nazis who slaughtered their family; Simone is determined to fight back against the oppressors who ruined her life and corrupted her girlfriend; Phillip aims to prove that he’s better than his worst mistakes; and Liam is searching for a way to control the portal to the shadow world he’s uncovered, and the monsters that live within it–before the Nazi regime can do the same. When the five meet, and begrudgingly team up, in the forests of Germany, none of them knows what their future might hold.
As they race against time, war, and enemies from both this world and another, Liam, Daniel, Rebeka, Phillip, and Simone know that all they can count on is their own determination and will to survive. With their world turned upside down, and the shadow realm looming ominously large–and threateningly close–the course of history and the very fate of humanity rest in their hands. Still, the most important question remains: Will they be able to save it?
And here’s the electrifying cover, designed by Kristie Radwilowicz!
Fires raged, purple and blue and savage, flowing like liquid through the trees. The sky glowed with unnatural light against a swallowing gulp of darkness. And in the distance, a column of flaming stones soared skyward—a pillar. Shadows circled it like giant bats, impossibly long wings scraping against one another in their jagged dance.
Daniel shrank back, pulse racing. What had happened to his world, his life? The wings beat louder, threatening to drown out his thoughts. “What have you done to me?”
“To you? Not a damn thing. In fact, I think we might be able to help each other.”
Daniel turned toward him. Liam smiled so easily, as if his earlier black rage had never happened. He’d said the rules were different here, without explaining, yet, where here was.
Liam appeared to be in total control. He was confident—calm, even—despite the strangeness surrounding them. He was just an ordinary college student, a little disheveled, though nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a hot bath. His tweed jacket, his satchel, his tidy leather loafers—nothing about him hinted he could unleash hell from his palm.
But Daniel was used to monsters that wore the plainest faces.
In the distance, something howled, slavering and cruel.
“What is this place?” Daniel asked again, though he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know the answer.
“This,” Liam said, “is how we’re going to win the war.”
Lindsay Smith is the author of Sekret and other novels for young adults. She writes for Serial Box’s Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood, Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, and The Witch Who Came In From the Cold. She has also written for comics, RPGs, and more. She lives in Washington, DC, where she works in international cybersecurity.
I’m so thrilled to have Kevin Craig on the site today to reveal the cover of his sophomore novel (and first with Duet Books), The Camino Club, which releases on October 6th! Here’s the story:
After getting in trouble with the law, a group of wayward teens from diverse backgrounds are given an ultimatum: serve time in juvenile detention for their crimes, or walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Spain over the summer holidays with a pair of court-appointed counselor guides. Although unlikely friends, they all try to make the best of their situation. The pilgrims grow closer on their journey, but when and if they reach the Cathedral in Santiago, will they each find what they’re looking for and come out of the walk ready to conquer the shattered worlds they left behind?
And here’s the beautiful cover designed by C.B. Messer!
We’ve been lost for over an hour. The way Claire is so chill about it, I’m beginning to think she doesn’t much care. She might have had something to do with us taking the wrong turns in the first place.
We were only a city block or so ahead of Meagan. Every once in a while I would slow our pace down so she was always able to catch glimpses of us. And Manny and Greg walked just slightly ahead of us. They sped up, and as soon as we lost sight of them, bam. Everything fell apart.
The rain didn’t help. We’re soaked through. At least it’s stopped. Hopefully it stays this way. I need to either dry off or find my way back to the path before I go mad. I can’t be wet and lost.
But here we are, drenched, on this quiet street with no peregrinos anywhere in sight. We have lost our way. And I kept letting Claire lead me in the wrong direction, because I had assumed she was trying to find her way back to the yellow arrows.
Clearly, not a good idea. Not an arrow in sight. I should have just kept walking with Manny and Greg. Even Gil disappeared back at the albergue after he realized Claire finally had a new walking partner.
I think last night may have been a one off, though. She seemed nice enough at the time, but I think today’s Claire may have gone rogue. I’m almost positive. Maybe she’s possessed by Cacabelos Jesus.
“I give up,” I say, stopping in front of a small grocery. “I’m asking for directions.”
“No, don’t. It’s more fun this way. Can’t we just wander around and figure things out for ourselves. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“You know what I think,” I say before heading inside. “I think you want to be lost. I think you did this to us on purpose. I don’t want to be drawn into any of your plans to screw this up. You’re sabotaging me.”
I turn and walk into the small grocery. I let the door close on Claire, shutting down her ability to respond. I hope they can point me in the right direction. I don’t care if she follows me or not. I’d rather she didn’t.
I have my phone out, getting directions from the lady behind the counter, when Claire finally enters the store. We’re struggling through the language barrier, but the woman understands Camino and is able to show me on Google Maps where it is I have to go to get back on the path. Claire stands behind me, skulking noisily. After I have the directions, I buy a couple apples that happen to sit in a basket on the counter.
I turn to Claire and give her a dirty look as I put one of the apples into a side pocket in my backpack. I bite into the other and say, “Come on. Let’s go.” I hold up my phone to show her I know where I’m going.
“Nah,” she says. She pops a handful of Skittles. It was cute at first, but those little candies are beginning to annoy me. “I think I’ll sit this one out.”
“What does that even mean?”
Claire heads for the door without saying another word. I thank the woman behind the counter again before I leave. She says Buen Camino and I wave as I leave her store.
“What is your problem?” I ask Claire as I catch up to her. She just shrugs and keeps walking, in the opposite direction we need to go in order to get back to the yellow arrows. “Come on, Claire. You’re going the wrong way. You can’t just get lost in Spain. Are you nuts, girl? What is wrong with you? I thought we bonded last night. I thought—”
“Oh, what?” She pivots, cutting me off mid-sentence. “You think because we spent half an hour together we’re best friends now? What about the day before that? Or on the plane? You know, when you didn’t say two words to me?”
“I just want to get back to the Camino, Claire. I don’t want to fight with you.”
“What are you even in for, anyway?” she says. She walks over to where I stand waiting for her.
“You don’t want to know.”
Kevin Craig is a playwright, poet, and short story writer who lives in Toronto with their husband, Michael. An author of six published novels, Kevin’s books include Pride Must Be a Place (MuseItUp Publishing, 2018) and Burn Baby Burn Baby (independently published, 2014). Kevin was a founding member of the Ontario Writers’ Conference Board of Directors, and sat on the Writers’ Community of Durham Region’s (WCDR) Board of Directors as Membership Coordinator. Website: https://ktcraig.com/
Today on the site, I’m thrilled to have Rachael Allen, whose upcoming young adult contemporary, The Summer of Impossibilities, releases May 12 from Abrams! We’ve got an exclusive excerpt from the story, so check out the blurb and dig in! (And pssst: keep scrolling for your chance to win an advanced copy!)
Skyler, Ellie, Scarlett and Amelia Grace are forced to spend the summer at the lake house where their moms became best friends.
One can’t wait.
One would rather gnaw off her own arm than hang out with a bunch of strangers just so their moms can drink too much wine and sing Journey two o’clock in the morning.
Two are sisters.
Three are currently feuding with their mothers.
One almost sets her crush on fire with a flaming marshmallow.
Two steal the boat for a midnight joyride that goes horribly, awkwardly wrong.
One of them is hiding how bad her joint pain has gotten.
All of them are hiding something.
One falls in love with a boy she thought she despised.
Two fall in love with each other.
None of them are the same at the end of the summer.
I WAS HOPING SHE WOULD BE THE FIRST PERSON I saw. Only, now that I’m here, I have no idea what to do. I know what she was thinking about doing with that knife—it’s why I stopped dead in the doorway, so she’d have a chance to put it down and paste a smile on her face before my mom could see around my body. But maybe I would have stopped dead no matter what. There’s something about seeing her in person after so many emails that makes me forget how to breathe.
“Scarlett, hi.” Mom gives her a hug. “You’ve gotten so tall.”
She’s definitely taller than I imagined she would be, but I’m only five foot four, so everyone is tall. She’s even more beautiful than in her pictures, all long red hair and curves and freckles. But somehow different. Edgier or sexier.
I stay on the other side of the room. If I get too close to her, will she know? I feel like my mom would know.
“Is Adeline around?” Mom asks, brows furrowed with concern.
“She’s upstairs.” Scarlett bites her lip, and I have to look out the window. “I think she’s not doing so well. Can you check on her?”
“Of course.” Mom squeezes her shoulder and leaves immediately. There’s something about the way she walks out of the room—her steps are so purposeful. I almost don’t recognize her for a second.
Skyler bounds in just as Mom is leaving. She grins at me, but her eyes are red.
“Amelia Grace!” she squeals, giving me a big, bouncy hug. “I haven’t seen you in forever! You look just like your pictures on Insta!”
And then it feels like it would be weird for Scarlett and me not to hug after I’ve just hugged her sister, and she must be feeling the same way because she takes a couple steps toward me too. Her shirt is wet in patches, and so is her hair.
“Are you okay?” I ask. It’s a general are you okay, but buried underneath is a very specific are you okay? Because back when things were really bad, with the girls at school and the cutting, she used to email me every day. But that was three years ago, before our emails trickled to every few weeks and then every few months. A part of me wants to pick back up right where we left off, but—
“I’m fine,” she says.
She hugs me, and it isn’t a big or bouncy one like Skyler’s, and it’s over too quickly, and it doesn’t answer any of my questions. I guess I thought we meant more to each other than that.
There’s the sound of another car pulling up outside, and Skyler runs out of the room to meet them, her chestnut ponytail swinging behind her. Scarlett takes exactly one step closer. She lowers her voice and says in a whisper that’s just for me, “I’m really glad you’re here.”
My heart squeezes in my chest, and I almost choke on my own spit. “Me too.”
The kitchen gets really quiet. I can hear Skyler outside, greeting the new arrivals with some unintelligible bubbliness. A trickle of water from the faucet goes drip- drip- dripping down the sink.
“I should, um, go upstairs and change.” She gestures to her shirt.
“Right. See you.” See you? Of course, I’ll see her. We are living in the same dang house for the summer.
Her footsteps echo up the stairs, and I feel like I’m on the cusp of realizing some great truth. Then my phone dings in my pocket. Carrie? I type in my password. Nah, just a bunch of social media updates. Including one from Carrie. It’s a photo of a book she’s reading—she posts those a lot—with a tiny caption.
So, she does have her phone. Well, maybe she doesn’t know what to say or maybe she’s feeling really bad about things or maybe she wishes it never happened and she never wants to see me again but she’s too sweet to tell me.
What if you just promised you wouldn’t kiss any more girls or go on dates or anything?
Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal to promise that after all. If Carrie doesn’t want to talk to me, I mean, I don’t know anyone else in Ranburne who might be interested. And Scarlett, well. She’s in a relationship. I know this. She has emailed me about this. I have pretended to be happy for her on multiple occasions.
I could email Pastor Chris—he’s our youth minister, the one I was going to be serving with. See about being a junior youth minister when I come back in the fall, maybe sooner. I could promise him, like Abby said. I only have one more year of high school anyway. And it wouldn’t be changing who I am so much as it would just be . . . waiting.
Sometimes I imagine what life will be like on the other side and all the shapes my life could take, but mostly I’m scared to even think about it. Because if I do, all the possible futures start to shift like a kaleidoscope, each one falling into place, forming a single dream. I want to marry a sweet girl who I’m in love with. And I want us to have kids; I don’t even know how many. Two? Three? Seven plus a menagerie of pets? I don’t even know how the baby- having part would work exactly, but who cares as long as they’re ours? And she and I will walk down the street holding hands and we’ll sit together in church on Sundays, each holding up one half of the same hymnal.
That’s about where the future starts to fall apart. Because I already know I’ll never be able to have all those things at the same time.
I realize I’m still staring at the stairs, so I go outside, because I don’t want to seem like I’m creeping around Scarlett’s kitchen waiting for her. Skyler is dancing circles around a woman I recognize as my aunt Seema, and her daughter, Ellie. I remember playing with her brother, Zakir, when I was little. I haven’t seen them since Mom married Jay and moved to Tennessee. We stopped seeing all the aunts after that.
I walk up to the group of them, everyone talking at once. I say hi to Ellie, who is impossibly gorgeous and who gives me a hesitant side- hug like she isn’t sure what else to do.
Seema beams at me. “Amelia Grace, love, you look beautiful.”
I smile and allow myself to be scrunched into a hug. I remember that about her from when I was little—she gives the best hugs.
A tan SUV pulls up next to us. There’s not exactly a driveway, more just a dirt road that makes a circle in front of the house. A tall, Latinx woman with golden brown skin and glossy hair gets out. She has a piercing through one eyebrow and a flower tucked behind one ear. Definitely Val.
“I’m here, and I have everything we need!” she hollers. She pulls out a cardboard box from the passenger seat. “My ‘fasten seatbelt’ alarm has been going off since the liquor store. You know it’s a good day when you have enough alcohol in your seat that your car thinks it’s a person.”
She sets down the box so she can give Seema a hug. It’s like watching family members get reunited at the airport.
“How are you, Seema?”
“Good.” Seema smiles slyly. “I’m good. Because I have everything we need.”
“Wh—? Excuse me? I have wine, whiskey, bourbon, and tequila. I’m not sure there’s anything else a person could need.”
Seema swings a wrinkled brown paper bag. If she has weed in there, just, I don’t know, shoot me dead. I am so not prepared for this.
“Every kind of Cadbury you can imagine from when I visited my mother in Canada.”
Val clutches her heart. “You brought Cadbury? Did you bring—”
“Coconut cashew? Yes, five bars of it, one of which I instructed Ellie to write your name on in Sharpie.”
“God bless you.”
I used to think Cadbury was just those eggs you get at Easter, but it turns out Canada has a whole new level of chocolate going on. I remember I would totally freak out every time a care package from Aunt Seema came in the mail.
“Is that whole bag really filled with chocolate?” I ask.
Seema smiles. “About three kilograms.”
“I love it when you talk metric to me,” says Val, and Seema cackles.
And then it’s like they both remember why they’re here at exactly the same time.
“I am going to kill Jimmy Gable,” says Aunt Val.
“You’ll have to arm wrestle me for it, jaan, because I’m going to kill him first.”
I stare up at the blue house with the white wraparound porch, where my mom is no doubt holding my aunt Adeline like she’s trying to put her back together. Scarlett stands in the second window from the left, looking down at the lawn. The way the light hits her makes her look like a ghost. She’s never even talked about liking a girl, so I know she’ll probably never feel the same way, but the things I’m feeling, they’re so big, it doesn’t even matter. I look at her, and I feel lucky just to feel this way.
The great truth finally takes shape inside my head: If I was ever thinking about doing what they want, of going back to the way I was before and locking away the part of me that likes girls and hiding the key until college—seeing her makes me realize that is no longer an option.
* * *
And here’s more from Rachael!
In addition to giving away ARC’s of THE SUMMER OF IMPOSSIBILITIES, I thought it would be fun to do a giveaway where each of the girls in the book gives away her favorite YA book, and next up is an Amelia Grace giveaway and exclusive excerpt with LGBTQ Reads!
About Amelia Grace
Amelia Grace (Nickname: Ames)
Loves: interior design, kindness, being a junior youth minister, friends that feel like family
Favorite YA book: HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters
Why: Remy is earnest and kind, and he’s confused about how to define himself because he’s a lot of different things – adopted, black, gay, a brother, a best friend. For Amelia Grace, being inside Remy’s head feels like talking to an old friend. It feels like everything. Especially because it’s really rare to find a book that talks about being LGBTQ+ and about religion. Also, Julian Winters is the absolute best at turning high school stereotypes upside down and he’s funny as hell. Like, catch-you-off-guard sly and witty. Please go read this book immediately.
Giveaway includes (open internationally!):
1 signed ARC of The Summer of Impossibilities
1 signed copy of HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters
Giveaway note: As a rule, LGBTQ Reads doesn’t host giveaways because they are kind of a lot to deal with. Please note that this giveaway is 100% my (Rachael’s) responsibility, and if you have any questions or concerns, please take them up with me and not LGBTQ Reads. Thanks for being awesome!
* * *
Rachael Allen is a scientist by day and kidlit author by night. She is the winner of the 2019 Georgia Young Adult Author of the Year award, and her books include17 First Kisses, The Revenge Playbook, and A Taxonomy of Love, which was a Junior Library Guild selection and a 2018 Books All Young Georgians Should Read. Her next novel, The Summer of Impossibilities, is out May 12, 2020 (Abrams/Amulet). Rachael lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband, two children, and two dire wolves.
Rachael’s books have been published internationally in German, Spanish, French, and Polish. She is represented by Susan Hawk of Upstart Crow Literary.
Visit Rachael on Twitter: @rachael_allen and Instagram: @rachael.stewartallen
Today on the site, we’ve got some extra fun in the form of character portrait and excerpt reveals from one of my absolute favorite upcoming releases, Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen! The book releases on April 21 from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan, but you can get to know its stars now! (And, a fun note: you can also come see me and Kelly talking about said book at Books of Wonder this summer in NYC on Thursday, June 18th at 6:00 p.m., so save the date!)
Here’s a little more info on Late to the Party:
Seventeen is nothing like Codi Teller imagined.
She’s never crashed a party, never stayed out too late. She’s never even been kissed. And it’s not just because she’s gay. It’s because she and her two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, spend more time in her basement watching Netflix than engaging with the outside world.
So when Maritza and JaKory suggest crashing a party, Codi is highly skeptical. Those parties aren’t for kids like them. They’re for cool kids. Straight kids.
But then Codi stumbles upon one of those cool kids, Ricky, kissing another boy in the dark, and an unexpected friendship is formed. In return for never talking about that kiss, Ricky takes Codi under his wing and draws her into a wild summer filled with late nights, new experiences, and one really cute girl named Lydia.
The only problem? Codi never tells Maritza or JaKory about any of it.
And here are the portraits and excerpts! All portraits in this post have been done by Rima Salloum, a good friend of the author’s.
Codi Teller – the protagonist and narrator, a quiet artist who is questioning her wallflower status
You know how adults are always talking about teenagers? When I was in fourth grade, my family drove past a house that had been rolled with toilet paper, and my dad shook his head and chuckled Teenagers under his breath. My mom griped about Teenagers every June, when dark figures hung over the monkey bars of the clubhouse playground long after closing hours, but she never actually seemed mad; she seemed wistful. And then there’s all those shows and movies, the ones where thirty-year-old actors pretend to be high schoolers, and they go on dates and drive their fast cars and dance at crazy house parties where their fellow Teenagers swing from chandeliers and barf into synthetic tree stands. You grow up with these ideas about Teenagers, about their wild, vibrant, dramatic lives of breaking rules and making out and Being Alive, and you know that it’s your destiny to become one of them someday, but suddenly you’re seventeen and you’re watching people cannonball into a swimming pool in the pouring rain, and you realize you still haven’t become a real Teenager, and maybe you never will.
Maritza Vargas – Codi’s best friend, a headstrong dancer who is determined to expand her social world
Maritza leaned forward, an urgent energy about her. “Listen to me,” she said. “Last night we picked up your little brother from a date, something none of us have ever experienced, and we watched him almost kiss a girl for the first time, something I’ve been wanting to do for ages. Didn’t that feel as shitty for you as it did for me? I’m tired of feeling like I’m missing out. We keep hanging out just the three of us, doing the same shit we always do, watching bad movies we’ve already seen . . .” She clasped her hands in front of her and steeled herself. “We need to try something different, meet people who are different. It’s like Einstein said: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.”
JaKory Green – Codi’s other best friend, a hopeless idealist trying to push beyond his anxiety
“Did you feel horrible yesterday, too?” JaKory asked.
I looked up from the colors I was mixing. “The worst I’ve felt in a long time.”
JaKory was silent. Then he screwed up his mouth and said, “I went home and wrote a poem about it.”
I smiled wryly. “’Course you did.”
“There was one line I really liked. ‘My youth is infinite but my fears are intimate.’”
I mixed my orange and yellow paints. Such bursts of color, such vibrant promises, like the infinite youth JaKory spoke of. And yet those intimate fears loomed larger.
“I’m scared, too,” I admitted. “Scared of . . . I don’t even know what.”
“I’m so pissed at myself,” JaKory whispered. “I always knew I was different . . . black, nerdy, queer… but that’s not why I’m missing out. It’s because I’m standing in my own way.”
Ricky Flint – the closeted football player who takes Codi under his wing and introduces her to a new social group
After a while, we ended up along the river. Ricky parked with his truck facing the water, and we kicked our feet up on the dash, slurping the last of the ice cream from the bottoms of our cups.
“So what do you and Maritza and JaKory do when you hang out?” Ricky asked. “Is it anything like this?”
I told him. I kept checking his expression the whole time, worrying that I was boring him, but he had this open look on his face that made me feel like he cared what I had to say. When I’d said enough, I asked him, “What about your friends? What’s your favorite thing about them?”
He looked out over the river. A whole minute must have passed, but he didn’t seem pressed to come up with the answer right away. Finally, he started nodding to himself and said, “That I feel like I could have met them in kindergarten.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t meet most of my friends until high school, but every single one of them is someone I could have met on the kindergarten playground—it’s natural and easy, nothing held against each other. Remember how easy it was to make friends at that age?”
Lydia Kaufman – Codi’s crush who is trying to be brave during her last summer before college
She bit her lip, a secret grin on her face. “What’s your favorite color?”
I laughed unexpectedly. “That’s what you want to follow up with?”
I smiled, my hands in my lap now, all thought of the painting abandoned. “It changes all the time. Right now it’s violet.”
“I love that.”
“Green,” she said right away.
I nodded, unsurprised. “Like your eyes.”
She laughed. “Not for that reason.”
“The first house my family lived in was green. Like a pastel shade, you know? And anytime a friend’s mom would drop me off, we’d turn on my street and I’d say, ‘My house is the green one.’ I didn’t know how to count the mailbox numbers but I knew my house was green, and I loved it.”
My heart expanded inside me. In that moment I felt like it was okay to be exactly who I was, because she was being exactly who she was, and that must have meant something. I absorbed it all: her eyes, her secrets, her space in the world.
The only thing I managed to say was, “I like knowing that.”
“I like knowing that you know it.”
Kelly Quindlen is the author of the young adult novels Late to the Party and Her Name in the Sky. A graduate of Vanderbilt University and a former teacher, Kelly has had the joy of speaking to PFLAG groups and high school GSAs. She currently serves on the leadership board of a non-profit for Catholic parents with LGBT children. She lives in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter @kellyquindlen.
Today on the site, I’m thrilled to have Stephanie Burgis, whose upcoming f/f fantasy romance novella, Moontangled, releases February 3rd from Five Fathoms Press and is set in her Harwood Spellbook series! We’ve got an exclusive excerpt from the story, so come see what it’s all about and then enjoy a sneak peek!
Take one ambitious politician and one determined magician with wildly different aims for their next meeting.
Add a secret betrothal, a family scandal, and a heaping of dangerous fey magic in an enchanted wood…and watch the sparks fly!
For just one moonlit, memorable night, Thornfell College of Magic has flung open its doors, inviting guests from around the nation to an outdoor ball intended to introduce the first-ever class of women magicians to society…but one magician and one invited guest have far more pressing goals of their own for the night.
Quietly brilliant Juliana Banks is determined to win back the affections of her secret fiancée, rising politician Caroline Fennell, who has become inexplicably distant. If Juliana needs to use magic to get her stubborn fiancée to pay her attention…well, then, as the top student in her class, she is more than ready to take on that challenge!
Unbeknownst to Juliana, though, Caroline plans to nobly sacrifice their betrothal for Juliana’s own sake – and no one has ever accused iron-willed Caroline Fennell of being easy to deter from any goal.
Their path to mutual happiness may seem tangled beyond repair…but when they enter the fey-ruled woods that border Thornfell College, these two determined women will find all of their plans upended in a night of unexpected and magical possibilities.
Golden lights glimmered across the grass, lighting a sparkling path through the moonlight. Juliana, waiting with the others in the enspelled blackness of the garden beyond, held her breath as she watched Thornfell’s great doors open wide. Light streamed out from the foyer, and guests streamed out with it in a chattering, glittering crowd.
Of course she’d never glimpse Caroline among so many others and from this distance—
She’d know that haughty head-tilt anywhere—and oh, that easy, confident glide, like a panther prowling across the grass. There was only one thing missing: the usual laughing, vibrant circle of friends and admirers that followed Caroline Fennell to every social event of note.
Her breath escaped in a sigh of pure relief. It would be so much easier to tempt her fiancée discreetly into the shadows without any close observers keeping watch on them. Was that—could that be why Caroline had come alone to a party, for once? If she, too, was hoping for convenient privacy…
Warmth blossomed in Juliana’s chest.
Behind her, Sujana whispered, “Ready…and…now!”
Magical fireworks showered above the grass beyond as the garden blazed into triumphant, golden life at the end of their path, a brightly-lit stage before the vast, dark woods that hulked beyond. An invisible symphony of strings, flutes, and drums filled the warm air, while victorious scenes from the nation’s past stretched across the night sky, flashing from one famous triumph to another in dazzling succession.
The crowd came to a gasping, breathless halt, every head tipping back to take in each glittering, vivid detail…
Every head except for one.
Caroline’s gaze fixed on Juliana across all the space between them—and held, as if no one and nothing else existed.
It was exactly the way she had looked at her that very first evening years ago, when the famous Miss Fennell had arrived as an invited guest to one of Juliana’s aunt’s crowded Winter Solstice house parties…and had looked straight through all the rising politicians and hopeful gentleman mages to where Juliana had stood in the shadows, hiding every passionate truth about herself for her own safety.
Caroline had seen her from the very beginning…and when Caroline looked at her like that, Juliana could almost believe that she really was as strong and as beautiful as Caroline claimed, no matter what her own aunt and father had always told her to the contrary.
She had vowed never to think about them again. She was free now, she was surrounded by friends, and Caroline still wanted her after all. The joy and relief of that was inexpressible.
She barely held herself back as the fireworks ended and Miss Harwood stepped into place between the visitors and the brightly-lit garden.
“Welcome to Thornfell College of Magic,” said their headmistress. “You are all invited to walk the garden paths—and, of course, join the dance!”
The lighted path across the grass shot outward at her words, until it formed a massive, golden dancefloor. Glasses of elven wine floated in mid-air at the sidelines, waiting.
The music shifted into a jaunty new tune. Miss Harwood reached for her tall, lean husband to lead the dance. Juliana’s fellow students surged forwards to join them—
And Juliana held Caroline’s gaze as she shifted, deliberately, out from among all of her friends to slip into the shadows.
She didn’t have to wait for long.
“Is it safe to steal a moment in private?” Caroline’s words ghosted through the darkness, sending shivers down the back of Juliana’s neck.
“This way,” Juliana whispered, and led Caroline into the woods.
Stephanie Burgis grew up in Michigan but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. She writes wildly romantic historical fantasy for adults and fun adventure fantasy novels for kids, including Snowspelled and Thornbound (also in the Harwood Spellbook series) and The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. You can find out more and read excerpts from all of her books on her website.
I am delighted to have Xan West back on the site today to reveal the cover of their newest Romance, which just happens to take place during Chanukah! Eight Kinky Nights is a kinky polyamorous f/f Romance releasing just in time for the holiday on December 16, 2019, and includes friends to lovers, roommates to lovers, kink lessons, seasoned romance and getting your groove back tropes, and polyamorous, gray ace, pansexual, Jewish, fat, autistic, and disabled representation. (More details in the tags.) Here’s the official blurb, with content warnings located here:Newly divorced stone butch Jordan moves into her friend Leah’s spare room, ready, at 49, to take on a new job and finally explore kink and polyamory. But moving to NYC during the holidays sends grief crashing through her, and Jordan realizes that when she isn’t solely focused on caring for others, her own feelings are unavoidable. Including her feelings for Leah.
51-year-old queer femme Leah, an experienced submissive kink educator who owns a sex shop, has recently come to terms with being gray ace and is trying to rework her life and relationships to honor that.
Leah has a brainstorm to help them both: she offers Jordan eight kink lessons, one for each night of Chanukah, to help Jordan find her feet as a novice dominant, and to create a structured space where Leah can work on more deeply honoring her own consent, now that she knows she’s gray ace.
She’d planned to keep it casual, but instead the experience opens cracks in the armor Leah’s been using to keep people at a distance and keep herself safe. Now she needs to grapple with the trauma that’s been impacting her life for years.
Can these two autistic queers find ways to cope with the changes they are making in their lives and support each other, as they build something new they hadn’t thought was possible?
And here’s the warm, lovely, kinky cover, illustrated by Hannah Zayit!
But wait, there’s more! Here’s an excerpt!
“So I had this idea and I wanted to see what you thought about it,” Leah said.
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“I was thinking about Chanukah, and had this idea for a present for you. You said you wanted to learn how to be a good dominant. I thought I could give you lessons, as your present. One lesson per night of Chanukah.”
Jordan felt her eyes go wide. She really had not been expecting that. “But, I thought you didn’t want to, so you told Iris to do it.” She hadn’t even decided to say that, had just blurted it out. It probably came out wrong. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.”
“No, no it’s fine. I just want to make sure I understand what you meant. You thought I was rejecting you?”
“Well. Yeah. I mean, I’m used to it. You never took me to kink things. You didn’t really want me to go to your class. You seemed all weird after the party.”
“Oh, fuck. I’ve made a mess of this. I’m sorry. I didn’t take you to kink things because I was trying to be respectful of your vanilla-ness. Now that I know you’re kinky…I think I’ve been playing catch-up. I don’t change how I think of things very fast, you know that about me. So…I’ve acted all weird, not because I’m rejecting you, but because I’m awkward with change.”
“That’s the only thing that’s going on? Nothing else is making this weird?” Jordan wanted to be sure.
“Well, I think that’s the main thing that’s going on.”
“Uh huh.” Jordan knew there was something else.
“There’s this other thing I’ve been dealing with, and I’m still figuring out how to handle it. It might’ve had some splash over.”
“Okay. Do you want to tell me about it?”
“I’m not sure I have the words. But yeah I would, maybe. Though not right this minute.”
“Okay. So you really want to give me kink lessons? I don’t want you to feel obligated.”
“Yes, I really want to.”
“That would actually be great. It was okay getting stuff for my toybag with Iris, and I like her and everything, but if you were up for teaching me, I think that would feel…safer, if that makes sense?”
“Yeah, I get that. We have such a deep friendship, it could make a safer place to learn.”
Jordan nodded. “I trust you, and it feels better learning from another autistic person, honestly. You won’t expect me to learn in an allistic way.”
Leah grinned at her. “I definitely will not expect that. I didn’t even consider that aspect of this.”
“It feels like a big deal, for me anyway. I haven’t had the best learning experiences. You know that, you saw how hard college was for me.”
“Yep, I remember. So I was thinking about eight lessons, one per night, though eight nights in a row might be too much, so they can always be postponed.”
“How would you feel about a structure where I do some teaching, then we do a short scene where you get to practice what we covered? And then we could do follow-up, if you have questions or want feedback.”
“So a bit like where Iris taught me some safety stuff about clips, and then I got to try it out?”
“Yeah, but a bit more formal than that. I might even make a handout for the lesson, and it would be a bit longer, probably. Not quite so quick and dirty.”
“I do better if I get to practice, and a handout would help me, actually. I also get things better if you can lead me to realizing them myself, and help me connect to other things I know.”
“Okay, I can work with that. So it sounds like this is something you want to do, then?”
Jordan took several slow breaths and held the idea for a few moments, just to be sure. “Yes. This is a really wonderful present, Leah.”
“I want to be sure it doesn’t fuck things up with our friendship. You mean so much to me, Jordan. I don’t want this to ruin what we have. So we need to keep it strictly about learning, okay?” Leah’s voice was raw.
“I don’t want us to ruin what we have, either. It’s been thirty years, darlin’. We made it this far; I really think we’ll be okay. Our friendship might change, might have new layers to it, move slightly differently. But then, that’s already started, and it seems okay so far, yes?”
Leah nodded. “I might need you to reassure me about this,” she whispered, closing her eyes.
“I can do that. We have a solid foundation. I truly believe that. We’re just adding new aspects to what we already have. Sex, kink, romance…none of that is more important than friendship.” Jordan watched Leah’s face carefully to see how she reacted to the fact that she’d snuck the word romance in there. A small tentative smile grew on Leah’s face, like she was rolling the words around in her head, wanting to believe in them. She definitely didn’t seem to object to the word. Jordan would just leave it there, for now.
Eight Kinky Nights is available for preorder from Gumroad and Amazon and releases December 16, 2019!
Xan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, an autistic queer fat Jewish genderqueer writer with multiple disabilities who spends a lot of time on Twitter.
Xan’s erotica has been published widely, including in the Best S/M Erotica series, the Best Gay Erotica series, and the Best Lesbian Erotica series. Xan’s story “Trying Submission,” won the 2018 National Leather Association John Preston Short Fiction Award. Their collection of queer kink erotica, Show Yourself to Me, will be rereleased soon.
After over 15 years of writing and publishing queer kink erotica short stories, Xan has begun to also write longer form queer kink romance. Their recent work still centers kinky, trans and non-binary, fat, disabled, queer trauma survivors. It leans more towards centering Jewish characters, ace and aro spec characters, autistic characters, and polyamorous networks. Xan has two other queer kink romances currently available: Nine of Swords, Reversed and Their Troublesome Crush.
Today on the site we have an excerpt from A Broken Winter by Kale Night, an adult dystopian with an all-queer main cast releasing from NineStar Press on November 25th! Here’s the blurb:
General Auryn Tyrus is tired of serving an emperor who turns political dissidents into expensive steak and claims to have swallowed Ankari’s sun. He is fed up with pretending not to know Emperor Haken is buying biological weapons and collecting taxes for a war that doesn’t exist. Auryn’s role in the entire mirage leads him to drastic choices, but unexpected news halts his plans. Seven-year-old Keita Kaneko, the son of a former lover, is captured by the emperor’s special forces. Auryn secretly intervenes and spares Keita from execution.
Keita changes everything. Instead of feeling helpless and oppressed by a self-proclaimed living god, Auryn works to expose the emperor as a fraud. But he knows exactly what will happen if he’s discovered, and the extent of Emperor Haken’s lies is worse than anticipated. If Auryn expects anyone to believe the truth, he’s going to need proof. And a lot of help.
“Before you go in, there’s something you should know. Your roommate is a bit eccentric. Last guy he shared a room with had to be taken away in a straitjacket.”
“Thanks for the warning, but I’m sure I can handle it.” Auryn’s curiosity overrode any concern. He’d heard Reisen Kaneko could be difficult—stubborn and highly irrational—but this was what he’d trained for. He was ready.
Auryn opened the door. An overhead sprinkler was triggered, soaking everything. Reisen sat in the middle of it all, wearing a white lab coat. Dark, circular sunglasses shielded his eyes from view. Red hair stuck to him in wet tendrils. A large pair of white headphones crowned his head.
Auryn stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. Reisen didn’t appear to notice he had company. He approached cautiously, making no sudden movements.
“What are you listening to?” He wasn’t sure if Reisen could hear him.
Reisen glanced up. “Ludwig Van Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy.’ It sounds like something the God of Rain would listen to at high volume to ward off a panic attack, attempting to anchor in a sea of anxiety, exhaling thunder and inhaling lighting.”
“I’m not familiar with it.”
“I didn’t expect you to be. I have the only copy.”
Auryn was already soaked, water pooling at his feet. “My name is Colonel Auryn Tyrus. I’m the new chaplain.”
“Dr. Reisen Kaneko. Pleasure to meet you, Colonel Tyrus. Does our darling emperor think you’ll be a good influence? Help keep me on my best behaviour?”
“His Holiness knows you’d never stray far from the Light. This was the only bunk available.”
“How convenient.” Reisen removed his headphones, offering them. “Want to listen?”
Auryn put the headphones on, sceptical. “I never thought of gods as having a use for music.”
“How else would you expect them to maintain their sanity?” Reisen let the song play for several minutes, then paused it to inform Auryn, “This is my favourite part.”
The song was appropriately named. He’d never heard anything so joyful. It wasn’t anything like the music Emperor Haken allowed to play on the radio—all boring, one-dimensional noise devoid of personality. Mostly bland piano arrangements with an occasional harp accompaniment. This was triumphant yet vulnerable, encapsulating a range of human emotion over the span of numerous carefully crafted notes. He wanted to listen over and over again. Fortunately, Reisen was happy to share.
Reisen’s generous, considerate nature vexed him. Reisen was eccentric, not crazy. Honest, not a pathological manipulator. Humble, not arrogant. Worst of all, he was easy to get along with. Too easy.
It made his mission much harder than anticipated.
“You’re lucky they let you grow your hair so long. Doesn’t it get in the way?” asked Auryn.
Auryn and Reisen sat in their room, drinking tea in the dark. It was late at night, long after everyone was supposed to be asleep.
“Sometimes,” replied Reisen, lighting a cigarette. “But I’ve had long hair as long as I can remember. I hate cutting it. Feels too much like self-mutilation.”
“For your sake, I hope no one takes issue with it.”
“My mother punched someone who told her it was inappropriate for a young man to look like a little girl. Anger management wasn’t her strong suit.”
Auryn took a swig of tea, peering over the rim of the cup to watch Reisen’s cigarette cling to the corner of his mouth, trying not to stare. His gaze lingered too long on the man’s features, compulsively tracing them, memorising them like flight formulas. “I don’t remember my parents.” Sometimes he ransacked his memory for any trace of life before arriving at the orphanage. He never found anything but isolated crumbs—someone with rough hands, skin dry and cracked, the nauseating smell of rotten meat. The urge to shed his skin. A woman in a green sweater, her face blurred by time, sleeves too long.
“Orphanage kid, eh? What was it like being raised by the government?”
“Everything revolved around discipline and duty. Doing what’s best for Terasyn, not for ourselves.”
Reisen shook his head. “A fine sentiment for programming robots. Raising children, not so much.”
“It was okay. Every now and then Emperor Haken stopped by. I used to play games with Prince Elia.”
“Did they involve pulling intestines out of someone’s rectum?” Auryn stared at Reisen in horror. To speak of a member of the royal family in such a way was heresy. Reisen grinned crookedly. “Sorry. Elia is a creep.”
“Mortals are in no position to criticise the divine.”
“I can see why they let you run the chapel, Colonel.” Reisen confused him in every way imaginable. “But I’m afraid I disagree. Mortals are obligated to criticise the divine. To question everything. Otherwise we’re no better than sheep.”
“We’re not qualified to think for ourselves,” countered Auryn. “We don’t know what’s best for us. We are no better than sheep, and we can’t afford to reject the guidance of a competent shepherd.”
“Abused sheep have warped ideas of what constitutes a competent shepherd.”
Auryn watched Reisen’s blasphemous lips move, excited and cursed. He wanted to kiss him, even if it meant damnation, losing everything. “Come with me to the chapel. Pray with me. The gods will give you strength.”
“No, thanks, Chaplain. I’m good.”
Auryn sighed in frustration, standing. “It’s late, anyway. We should sleep.” Idle minds produced dangerous thoughts. They crawled back into their bunks. Auryn closed his eyes, trying to get comfortable, tense all over. “Reisen… Did you really drive your last roommate crazy?”
“Nah. You’re giving me way more credit than I deserve. He wigged out on his own. I’m just a convenient scapegoat. General Mordha doesn’t like me much, I’m afraid. Maybe it’s the hair.”
* * *
Kale currently resides outside a small town in northern Alberta, where she works in a library. She’s an avid reader with an English degree from the University of Calgary. In her spare time Kale loves playing video games, making chain maille, watching anime, and cultivating a steadily expanding bonsai collection.
Today on the site I’m excited to welcome Nino Cipri, author of the brand-new Homesick, which just released from Dzanc Books on Tuesday! It’s a short story collection that spans speculative, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, with all sorts of queer/trans rep, including queer, bisexual, lesbian, gay, transfeminine, transmasculine, nonbinary, and bigender. Here’s the official blurb:
Dark, irreverent, and truly innovative, the nine speculative stories in Homesick meditate on the theme of home and our estrangement from it, and what happens when the familiar suddenly shifts into the uncanny. In stories that foreground queer relationships and transgender or nonbinary characters, Cipri delivers the origin story for a superhero team comprised of murdered girls; a housecleaner discovering an impossible ocean in her least-favorite clients’ house; a man haunted by keys that appear suddenly in his throat; and a team of scientists and activists discovering the remains of a long-extinct species of intelligent weasels. Nino Cipri’s debut collection announces the arrival of a brilliant and wonderfully unpredictable writer with a gift for turning the short story on its ear.
We’re celebrating the release with an excerpt from the novella “Before We Disperse Like Star Stuff,” which you can learn more about here:
Three years ago, Damian Flores, Min-Ji Hong, and Ray Walker made the discovery of a lifetime: the fossilized remains of a long-dead species of intelligent weasels, who had a developed language and writing system. Their find helped redefine ideas of sentience and saved parts of Pine Ridge from natural gas extraction. Three years later, however, Damian can’t shake the suspicion that he’s a sellout, Min can’t find a post-doc fellowship despite co-discovering a non-human language, and Ray is languishing in boredom in a small Kansas college town. When an opportunity to film a documentary about their discovery arises, the three former friends must reckon with secrets, drunken apologies, baby otters, and the bullshit colonial underpinnings of archeology.
(Rep notes for anyone curious: Damian is Latinx, transmasculine, and queer. Min is a transwoman and Korean-American. Ray Walker is Lakota and bisexual. )
And here’s the excerpt!
Ray’s flat Midwest accent always made Damian think of hollow logs rolling down a hill. It was unmistakable and weirdly attractive.
“I was hoping to talk to you,” Damian answered. Ray had grown his hair out and wore it tied back in a messy bun, wavy tendrils escaping in the wind. Damian instinctively wanted to tuck them back behind Ray’s ears.
“Hell of a drive from New York City, just for a conversation,” Ray said. “Why didn’t you call?”
“You changed your number.”
Ray rolled his eyes. “Min still has my number. You could have gotten it from her.”
He hadn’t even thought of that. Why were Min and Ray still talking to each other and not to him? He was the connection between them, the common denominator. He’d assumed that they’d all lost touch at the same time, after he’d announced his book deal and they looked at him with betrayal instead of excitement. “I’ve got a proposition for you,” he said to Ray. “I figured you’d be less likely to turn me down in person.”
Ray huffed—not quite a scoff, but too annoyed to be a laugh. “Good to know you’re still a manipulative shit.”
“I guess I deserve that,” Damian said quietly. He absolutely deserved that. Even now, he was calculating how much hurt to allow into his voice and vigorously hating himself for it. He wanted to be a good person, but he wanted to do good work more. This documentary was good—ergo: all was fair.
“Come on,” Ray said. “Step into my office.”
His office was, of course, his truck, and if the sight of it had been a punch to the gut, stepping into it was like getting reverse-suplexed into the past. Same threadbare fabric on the seats. Same clatter of coffee cups rolling around the footwell. Same dusty dashboard, with the word BUTTS etched into the leather near the passenger window—a gift from one of Ray’s nephews. Ray had attempted to turn it into the word BURTS, supposedly in honor of Reynolds and Kwouk, but with meager success.
It was horrible. Damian only liked the past when it was a minimum of six hundred years old.
“The good old Buttsmobile,” he said.
“It’s the Burtsmobile, damn it,” Ray muttered. “What’s your proposition?”
“The Smithsonian wants to make a documentary about ossicarminis.”
“Adapt your book, you mean?”
“Not just the book,” Damian said. “They optioned it as an actual documentary about ossicarminis, finding and identifying them, the whole thing with NEOCO.” He wasn’t going to go into the Space Weasels. He could only have one crisis of conscience at a time.
“And what happened after? Our falling out? Or only the part of the story that makes you look good?” Ray asked. He’d always been blunt. Damian used to like that about him.
“Is that what you call it?” Damian asked, honestly interested. “A falling out?”
Ray shrugged. “That’s what other people call it when they’re trying to ask me what happened.”
“Falling out,” Damian said again, testing the words. Like it was natural law, rather than two stubborn assholes roleplaying an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
“I told them I wouldn’t do it without you and Min,” Damian said. It wasn’t quite a lie; assuring Annika that Ray and Min would definitely sign onto the project was basically the same thing. “The two of you are the story. More than me. I just got lucky by falling in a cave.”
“Ossicarminis is the story,” Ray said. “I—I don’t—”
Damian waited him out, toying with the iron pendant his mother had made him in a smithing class.
“I don’t want to rehash the whole thing, man,” Ray said eventually. A nice blush was spreading across his cheek. “Not what happened between us. That stays off camera and in the past.”
“I am one hundred percent okay with that,” Damian said, and knew it was a lie as soon as he said it. He had fallen into a fast, consumptive love with this nerdy asshole and his terrible khakis, his probably lethal caffeine habit, and his utter disinterest in being tactful. Their so-called falling out hadn’t changed that. He had planned on avoiding Ray forever, but he’d come around to the idea that this could be his second chance. That’s why he’d actually driven to this godforsaken prairie infested with Elvis-themed restaurants. They’d wanted the same thing, after all: to spread the word about ossicarminis, to make people understand the gravity of this discovery. They had disagreed loudly and angrily on how to do that, and Ray had dumped him.
And then he’d grown out his hair, which just seemed unfair.
“You grew out your hair,” Damian said, like the lovesick dumbass he was.
Ray ran a self-conscious hand over it. “I told myself I would when I got tenure. When they couldn’t fire me for looking ‘unprofessional.’” The word dripped with sarcasm. “Not sure if that meant too gay or too Indian. The chair never specified. Both, probably.”
The familiarity was a physical ache; Damian thought of the feeling of taking off his binder after a day of wear, stretching his shoulders back after hunching them for hours. It was unfair, it was exquisite, and it felt like pressing hard on a bruise that he’d successfully ignored for the past year and a half.
“So?” he asked. “Documentary?”
Nino Cipri is a queer and trans/nonbinary writer, editor, and educator. They are a graduate of the 2014 Clarion Writers’ Workshop, and earned their MFA in fiction from the University of Kansas in 2019. Their fiction collection Homesick won the Dzanc Short Story Collection award, and their novella Finna–about queer heartbreak, low-wage work, and wormholes–will be published by Tor.com in 2020. A multidisciplinary artist, Nino has also written plays, screenplays, and radio features; performed as a dancer, actor, and puppeteer; and worked as a stagehand, bookseller, bike mechanic, and labor organizer.
One time, an angry person on the internet called Nino a verbal terrorist, which was pretty funny.
Happy National Coming Out Day! What better way to celebrate than with a cover reveal for a coming out story that must be on your radar for 2020??
Nicole Melleby is no stranger to the site, and should certainly be no stranger to any fans of queer MG, with Hurricane Season now behind her and several more coming up, including the beauty whose cover we’re revealing today: In the Role of Brie Hutchens…, which releases from Algonquin on April 21! Here’s the official copy for the book:
Introducing Brie Hutchens: soap opera super fan, aspiring actor, and so-so student at her small Catholic school. Brie has big plans for eighth grade. She’s going to be the star of the school play and convince her parents to let her go to the performing arts high school. But when Brie’s mom walks in on her accidentally looking at some possibly inappropriate photos of her favorite actress, Brie panics and blurts out that she’s been chosen to crown the Mary statue during her school’s May Crowning ceremony. Brie’s mom is distracted with pride—but Brie’s in big trouble: she has not been chosen. No one has, yet. Worse, Brie has almost no chance to get the job, which always goes to a top student.
Desperate to make her lie become truth, Brie turns to Kennedy, the girl everyone expects to crown Mary. But sometimes just looking at Kennedy gives Brie butterflies. Juggling her confusing feelings with the rapidly approaching May Crowning, not to mention her hilarious non-star turn in the school play, Brie navigates truth and lies, expectations and identity, and how to—finally—make her mother really see her as she is.
And here’s the rainbowtastic cover, with art by Stephanie Singleton, design by Carla Weise, and hand lettering by Maeve Norton!
Can’t wait to dive in? Good news: you don’t have to! We’ve got the first chapter right here:
Brie was almost positive her mom didn’t like her.
That wasn’t to say her mom didn’t love her. But Brie had a hard time believing that she liked her. For example, Brie didn’t think she was the type of girl her mom would point at and go “Now that is a good girl” if they met elsewhere. Someone like Kennedy Bishop, on the other hand, was the quintessential good girl. Everyone’s mom liked Kennedy Bishop.
Kennedy was destined to be the eighth grader chosen to crown Mary at Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s annual celebratory mass in the spring. Brie wouldn’t have cared which of her classmates was chosen—really, she wouldn’t have—if it hadn’t been for Kelly Monaco’s boobs.
Look, first of all, Kelly Monaco was Brie’s favorite soap opera star, and she also had really great hair. Even Brie’s mom thought so. They’d had an entire conversation about it while watching General Hospital together. “Kelly Monaco has really great hair,” her mom had said.
“She has really great everything,” Brie had responded— immediately turning red. Her mom hadn’t noticed.
Later Brie Googled photos of Kelly Monaco’s really great hair. How was she supposed to know Kelly had done Playboy photos and that they would be the first thing to pop up? Really it was her mom’s fault, since she had brought up Kelly Monaco’s hair to begin with, and honestly Brie kept looking at the photos only because she was curious.
Well, curious . . . and maybe a little flustered.
Of course that flustered moment was when her mom decided to waltz into her room, carrying Brie’s laundry and lecturing her about the need to unfold socks before throwing them in the hamper. Brie’s backpack was strewn on the floor, and—miracle of miracles—her mom tripped over it, stum- bling just enough to shift her eyes away from Brie’s computer screen. Brie—flushed and about to burst into flame—caught sight of her religion book as it slipped out of her bag. A statue of Mary with her arms outstretched beckoned from the cover. That was the moment Brie practically shouted, “I’m going to crown Mary!”
At the time it seemed like divine intervention.
Her mom was delighted. Brie closed her browser. Crisis averted.
Well, at least that crisis. The bigger problem was she hadn’t been chosen to crown Mary. No one had. The selec- tion wouldn’t happen for weeks, because, needless to say, the May Crowning was in May. The students of Our Lady of Perpetual Help still had fourteen weeks of regular masses to prepare for the eighth-grade event.
It was a big deal in Catholic school, or at least at Brie’s. May was the month they honored and celebrated the Mother of God by holding a special church mass during school and inviting the rest of the parishioners to attend. The eighth- grade students got all dressed up—out of their uniforms and into their Sunday best—and the rest of the school gathered in the church to watch as the chosen one went up on the altar and put a crown made of flowers on the Mary statue’s head. Since Brie had gone to OLPH since kindergarten, she’d sat through eight May Crowning masses. Now she would need to do more than sit through the ninth.
Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. When she’s not writing, she can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea.
Today on the site we have an excerpt from Crier’s War by Nina Varela, a YA fantasy with a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers f/f romance set against a political backdrop that just released on October 1! First, check out the book:
Like all Automae, Crier was made to be perfect. Her design was created and approved by her father, the sovereign King Hesod of Rabu. However, when her new fiancé presents her with proof that there is a flaw in her design—one that shows she has the very human trait of passion—she worries it will lead to her downfall. For years, Ayla has been quietly plotting her revenge, after being born into subjugation. In Rabu, humans are inferior to Automae and considered second-class citizens. Hesod took Ayla’s family, so she intends to take his—by killing Crier.
Then, one fateful night, Ayla ends up saving Crier’s life instead. Out of gratitude or curiosity, Crier requests Ayla as her new handmaiden. And though Ayla tells herself she only accepted the position to infiltrate her enemies, she starts to realize that Crier is nothing like she previously believed. But as humans and Automae are on the brink of war, Ayla and Crier’s relationship may be a catalyst for a battle that could end all of civilization.
Benjy opened his mouth to say something else, but Rowan cut him off. “Stars and skies, birdy,” she said, her brown eyes lit up in the sunlight. She looked less like a sparrow and more like . . . like a warrior, fierce and brilliant and flush with hope. Like the warrior she had been in past uprisings; like the warrior she would be again. The revolutionary, the leader. “Ayla, my love,” she said. “This is incredible, this is—this is the best chance we’ve had in years. You can be our eyes and ears on the inside, love. Stationed right at the heart of the spider’s nest, imagine that. And—personal handmaiden to Lady Crier? Gods, it’s like they want a coup.”
“So you think I should use my position,” said Ayla, unable to keep the triumph out of her voice, even as she saw Benjy’s scowl deepen. “You think I should be a mole.”
“Yes,” said Rowan. “Yes, gods, of course. Though”—here her voice changed a little, grew harder—“it will be dangerous. Ayla, you have to focus on the Scyre. He’s the one with knowledge about the Iron Heart. Maybe he’s even got a map of the Aderos Mountains, or of the trade routes, a ledger of all the heartstone traders, something, anything. Whatever you can find, it’ll be valuable.” She grinned, sharp and bright, and cupped Ayla’s face in both hands, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “You clever girl. Oh, you clever, fearsome girl.”
Ayla grinned back, but her mind was already spinning. Was it possible? Was there a chance that Scyre Kinok really did have a map of the Aderos Mountains—a map that could lead them to the Iron Heart itself?
If he did . . .
No more white dresses hanging over the marketplace like ghosts.
Because humans wouldn’t have to kill Automae to set themselves free. The Automae would die, all at once. During Ayla’s first year working under Sovereign Hesod, the orchards had nearly been wiped out by an infestation of locusts. It was an unusually hot spring: the kind of spring where the end of winter felt less like a rebirth, like shaking the weight of snow off your shoulders and emerging lighter for it, and more like a slow descent into boiling water. The air was thick and wet as steam. Sometimes it ached even to breathe. When the locusts came, settling over the orchards like a living, buzzing shadow, even they seemed a little exhausted by the heat. They ate slowly: first the budding fruits, then the blossoms, then the leaves. They ate nonstop for days. All the servants were panicking, because no one knew what to do about the loss of the fruit harvest. And what happened when the locusts stripped the fruit trees bare? Would they fly away, or would they just migrate to the gardens? The fields of barley and sea lavender? Would the entire year’s crop be devoured?
It was Nessa—the head servant—who saved them. Nessa who got the idea to spray the locusts with clouds of poisoned water. It wouldn’t hurt the trees—and besides, most of them were already naked and dead-looking—but it began to kill the locusts the second it touched their shiny green skin.
Within a single day, the trees were empty. The dirt below their branches was littered with millions of dead, silent locusts, their bodies piled ankle-deep. Ayla was one of the servants assigned to clearing them away. Barefoot, she waded through the orchards, filling her basket over and over again with corpses and then loading the baskets onto a cart, dragging the cart out to the bluffs, tossing the contents of each basket over the edge and into the waiting sea. The locusts’ tiny iridescent wings caught the sunlight as they fell; with each basket, Ayla felt like she was pouring out a cascade of glittering gemstones.
One day’s work and all the locusts were dead; the orchards were saved.
That was what would happen if the Iron Heart was destroyed, if the Automae were deprived of heartstone dust. One day’s work. A living shadow lifted.
Ayla blinked. Realized Rowan was still watching her, waiting for her response. Benjy wasn’t looking at either of them. He was staring at the dirt floor, jaw working.
“I’m going to work for Lady Crier,” said Ayla. “I’m going to spy on the Scyre and learn everything I can about the Iron Heart.”
“What about your revenge?” Benjy mumbled.
“I won’t be rash,” she promised. There was no point in telling Benjy that the fire in her hadn’t diminished—had grown, even. This killing fire inside her—he didn’t need to know just how long and cruel it had been burning. Just how charred and scarred she was. Somewhere in the back of her mind, her brother’s voice echoed. Act only when the odds are on your side, Ayla. Gamble with bread and coins, not your life. “I swear to you, Benjy,” she said. “I won’t do anything to Hesod or Crier until I’ve found enough information to destroy the Iron Heart. I won’t let my revenge compromise the Revolution.”
Rowan patted her cheek, beaming. “That’s my girl.”
And even though her eyes were still watering from the terrible stench of the latrines, even though the idea of serving Crier disgusted her, even though part of her wasn’t sure she’d be able to find any information on the Heart at all . . . For the first time since that day, Ayla had a plan. Not just the nebulous, half-formed notion of I want to hurt Hesod. I want to take away his family like he took away mine. But a real plan. Something so much bigger than Crier, Hesod, Kinok, even herself. It felt like—like this was what she was meant to do.
Her heart was lit up with something quick and hot. A lightning storm inside her.
Somewhere along the line, she’d forgotten how it felt to begin.
Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.