Category Archives: Guest post

Making Familiar Ideas Fresh: a Guest Post by Deathly Desires Author Chris Bedell

Today we’re welcoming Chris Bedell to the site to discuss his recently released YA paranormal romance, Deathly Desires, which came out this month from Deep Hearts! Here’s a little more about the book:

I know what you did last spring…

When 17-year-old Cody’s unrequited crush, Mason, is killed by his friend Veronica, he helps her successfully cover up the murder. That is until the start of their Junior Year, when everyone involved receives a menacing note from someone who knows what they did.

The blackmail about Mason’s death quickly escalates to stalking, arson, and attempted murder. Cody and his friends must discover who found them out before they get killed themselves. And fast.

Noah has an altogether different secret. He’s a grim reaper, escorting people to the afterlife when they die. When his path collides with Cody, a spark soon forms between them. But whether they can make their relationship work is a different question. If Cody and Noah want a real chance at love, they’re going to have to be honest with each other about everything they’ve been hiding from the world.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

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And here’s the guest post!

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The idea that there are only so many stories to tell is one problem writers grapple with. However, the issue shouldn’t deter authors from writing. Putting a fresh twist on familiar ideas is possible. And that’s what I tried doing with my YA Paranormal Romance novel DEATHLY DESIRES, which was published by Deep Hearts YA on November 14, 2019.

Genre mashup is one way to breathe life into writing. The idea applies to DEATHLY DESIRES because of how I combine the Paranormal Romance genre with a Thriller. By itself, Paranormal Romance might generate fatigue because of the market becoming saturated after TWILIGHT.

I didn’t let that hurdle stop me, though. Paranormal Romance and Thriller books might seem different, but I made it work. 17-year-old Cody—one of my two POV characters—dating a grim reaper helps my plot. Noah is connected to the book’s main mystery even though the link might not seem obvious at first. My novel is therefore always building tension with both the romance and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” dilemma.

And within the Paranormal Romance and Thriller elements, I tried to add something slightly different to each. For the Paranormal Romance aspect that meant I didn’t wanna have werewolves, witches, and vampires be the focus. I’ll always love a good book about werewolves, witches, and vampires, but I didn’t have anything new to add.

So, I decided on grim reapers. Grim reapers don’t seem to have been covered much in pop culture like werewolves, witches, and vampires (at least to my knowledge). I still wanted to be careful with the human/non-human relationship, though. A relationship between a human and non-human wouldn’t be perfect, yet I didn’t wanna have it be Cody and Noah can’t together because it would be complicated or because of Cody’s father and friends don’t approve. I therefore decided on a compromise. Cody can build his relationship with Noah, yet sense something is off about Noah. That choice worked with DEATHLY DESIRES because Noah’s mysteriousness adds to the novel’s general mystery. Yet the irony is Noah is harmless. Noah isn’t the villain and respects humans (Noah was a human until he stopped aging at 17, and still looks like his 17-year-old self).

The Thriller genre elements of DEATHLY DESIRES also needed sprucing up. Cody and his friends Veronica and Brandon are dealing with their “I Know What You Did Last Summer” problem. But I didn’t wanna write teens who appeared shallowed. I don’t wanna give away too much, but I added mitigating factors to their situation so readers can understand why Cody, Veronica, and Brandon behave the way they do even if readers might not agree with their choices. The absentee parent is another idea I pivoted. Cody has a strained relationship with his father, but Cody realizes he must confide in his father about how him and his friends are the victims of a revenge game. Cody tries chatting with his father about said problem, yet his father rebuffs him. That occurrence provides a twist—I wanted to flip the situation. A parent usually might try getting their child to confide in them about a problem. But that’s not so with DEATHLY DESIRES. Cody’s father proves useless, so Cody therefore risks honesty for nothing.

The above ideas are just several examples to show how twisting familiar ideas doesn’t have to be complicated, but I hope they help. But above all, write the story you wanna write (within reason). Sometimes the projects authors are most passionate about are their most creative books, and that enthusiasm will hopefully come across on the page and make readers become engrossed in the novel.

Hunting for Sasquatch: Have You Heard of the Pope Lick Goat Man? (a Guest Post by Monster of the Week author F.T. Lukens)

I mean, that headline is probably already the best thing I’ll read today, but once you read that, how can you not go on to read about F.T. Lukens’s delightful research exploits when writing her The Rules series, including the recently released Monster of the Week, which just came out from Duet Books on October 15? Obviously, you must read more, so first, check out the book, and let’s just keep weirding out from there!

46766039._sy475_Spring semester of Bridger Whitt’s senior year of high school is looking great. He has the perfect boyfriend, a stellar best friend, and an acceptance letter to college. He also has this incredible job as an assistant to Pavel Chudinov, an intermediary tasked with helping cryptids navigate the modern world. His days are filled with kisses, laughs, pixies, and the occasional unicorn. Life is awesome. But as graduation draws near, Bridger’s perfect life begins to unravel. Uncertainties about his future surface, his estranged dad shows up out of nowhere, and, perhaps worst of all, a monster-hunting television show arrives in town to investigate the series of strange events from last fall. The show’s intrepid host will not be deterred, and Bridger finds himself trapped in a game of cat and mouse that could very well put the myth world at risk. Again.

Buy it: Amazon (Affiliate) | B&N | IndieBound (Affiliate)

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And now here’s the guest post from author F.T. Lukens!

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Most writers have joked about being on a government watch list due to the things we research when writing a novel. Myself, as well as many of my author friends, have talked, tweeted, and written about what our defense would be when we are carted away. “No, really, officer, I needed to know the best way to hide a body for my novel! I swear!” (To be completely accurate and honest this was not the last thing I googled for my current work in progress. That honor goes to ‘best way to administer a cure in the case of a pandemic resulting in space zombies.’) I’m sure, if you follow any authors on Twitter, you’ve seen a similar sentiment.

When writing The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic and the sequel, Monster of the Week, I had the absolute pleasure of researching the weirdest, hilarious, most grotesque, horrifying, yet quaint aspects of North American folklore ever. I now have the best answer for the inevitable audience question of “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever researched for a book?” My answer can be any number of local cryptids and folklore, but for the foreseeable future my favorite is ‘The Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp’ solely for the pure joy and lyricism of the name. Well, that, and the story is amazing. Seriously. There’s even a local festival dedicated to the Lizard Man in South Carolina, and that’s a festival I want to visit.

We’ve all heard of Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, The Jersey Devil, and the Mothman (And if you haven’t, how? At least two of these have roller coasters named after them.) Along with a few others, those are the big names in cryptozoology, and take up their fair share of the public consciousness when it comes to weird creatures. But have you heard of the Pope Lick Goat Man? How about the Beast of Bray Road? Or the Fouke County Monster? The Richmond Vampire? The Ozark Howler? No? You’re missing out, my friends.

Peppered across North America are hundreds of local cryptids rooted in the myth and traditions of small towns and big cities from coast to coast. I’ve read all about goat men (shockingly, there’s more than one) who sometimes lure unsuspecting victims onto railroad tracks by song, and other times, chase them with axes. I’ve read about massive animals with glowing red eyes and dark, shaggy fur, that run as fast as cars on all fours, have the curled horns of a ram on their heads, and bugle like elks but look like bears. I’ve read about ghost lights (a ton of places have a local floating light. Check yours out today!), vampires in big cities, werewolves in Wisconsin, giant salamanders in California, blood-sucking big cats in North Carolina, even lake monsters in New York. I’ve jumped at sounds when walking my dog after reading a few of the more sinister accounts of terrifying things that bump in the night. I’ve laughed with my brother about some of the random creatures who lurk on lonely roads and haunt deserted seashores. (We have our own cryptid story about giant migrating crabs on Ocracoke Island. It’s hilarious, and well worth the fifteen minutes it takes us to recount it between laughs.) The point, and there is one, is that the more I researched, the more I realized that cryptids are everywhere.

While Wikipedia is a resource my middle-schooler is not allowed to cite in a research paper, it’s a great starting place for your very own cryptid research adventure. In a mere few hours, you too can fall down a rabbit hole of clicks, and find yourself using the way back machine to read a geocities page that has a first-hand account of how someone’s cousin’s best friend’s aunt’s son happened to overhear a story when having lunch at the little diner down on third (you know the one with the chicken wings to die for), about a creature that stood on its furred hind legs, had the chest of a man but the head of a dog, and howled. After, you can watch a video on YouTube of shaky cam footage, or a video on the top ten weird things in your neighborhood.

Call me quirky, and some people do, but I love a good cryptid story, especially ones that spawn festivals. Here in western North Carolina, there’s an annual Bigfoot festival, complete with a 5k called—wait for it—The Bigfoot Chase. I’m in love. The thought makes me want to find out what other races are out there based on cryptids. Is there Ogopogo swim? A skunk ape triathlon?

Whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, there’s a lot of weird and wonderful out there to explore, either in the relative safety of your own home via your computer or one of many monster hunting TV shows on various streaming platforms. You may even venture into your own community. If you do and you happen to come across something strange, please stay safe, take video footage and immediately upload it to the cloud in case you drop your phone during your hasty escape, and in the case of giant migrating crabs, try not to hit them with your car.

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F.T. Lukens is an award-winning author of young adult fiction who holds degrees in Psychology and English Literature. A cryptid enthusiast, F.T. loves folklore and myths, specifically the weird and wonderful creatures of North America. She also enjoys sci-fi and fantasy television shows, superhero movies, and writing. F.T. lives in the mountains of North Carolina, a perfect area for sasquatch sightings, with her husband, three kids, and three cats.

Her novel, The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic, won several awards, including the 2017 Foreword INDIES Gold Award for Young Adult Fiction and the 2017 IPBA Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Best Teen Fiction.

Writing Bisexual Characters—By Accident: a Guest Post by Author Nem Rowan

Today we’re welcoming to the site author Nem Rowan, author of Witcheskin and Rough Sleepers, genre mashups of horror, urban fantasy, and romance with trans and queer representation set in the UK that make for perfect reads for this time of year! The books are being rereleased following the closing of Less Than Three Press, so the author is here to give them a boost and talk about how bisexuality unexpectedly found its way into his stories!

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My two books, Witcheskin and Rough Sleepers, recently received a re-release through JMS Books after the closing down of Less Than Three Press, and both have transgender representation in them. What I didn’t plan for when I wrote these books was the representation of bisexuality! Rough Sleepers was one of the finalists in the Bi Writers Association’s 2018 Annual Book Awards for the Romance genre, and this made me consider how and why I seem to write in bisexual characters, sometimes without even meaning to.

I am a transgender man, and this makes a large impact on the kind of characters I write and the way I write about them. Being trans means I sometimes approach certain fictional situations in a different way to how a cis-gendered writer might, taking into consideration the character’s self-esteem, physical presentation and anatomy. When you write trans characters as a trans author, a little part of yourself always makes it into the story, whether it’s in something the character says or does—such as coping strategies for living in a world that can be quite hostile at times—to the reasons for the clothes they wear. But, whether a writer is trans or not, a part of yourself is always there in the writing, and I suppose I didn’t consider that my sexuality would have such a far-reaching, yet subtle, influence on what I wrote as well.

Just a little warning that there are spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read my books!

In Witcheskin, the character Wenda and her husband Evan were in a poly relationship with the main villain of the story, Geraint. At the time of writing, I never considered that this would actually mean—as they were in an equal triad—that both Evan and Geraint were bisexual. It’s never explicitly written in the book, but I had always considered Maredudd, the love interest and secondary main character, to be bisexual, in that his character is heavily inspired by water, and the fluidity of water. It was not a far stretch for me to imagine Maredudd dating a man, a woman, or anyone really, and perhaps that is why he is so ready and willing to accept Owen. Maredudd has no boundaries and lives a free, sometimes wandering, life. Why wouldn’t his sexuality be like that too?

Moving on to Rough Sleepers, the categorisation of the main character’s sexuality became complicated when it came to defining its place in publishing. Leon is bigender, and (s)he switches between male and female frequently throughout the book. Leon’s sexuality is hard for him/her to define, and even harder for me to define, even though it’s clear that Leon is chronically attracted to masculinity. Ceri, on the other hand, had his sexuality pre-planned for me, since he appears as Geraint in the first book, and after dating Wenda for a time, then goes on to be in a relationship with Leon. Even Mecky, one of the other main characters, leans heavily into bisexuality, as she is attracted to both masculinity and femininity, and seems to take particular interest in gender transformation. I never planned any of these things when I wrote the book; I just wrote it.

My third, currently unreleased, novel The Things We Hide At Home, which hopefully will be getting the release it deserves through JMS Books, is the first book I’ve ever written with a strictly gay male/male romance, and I’m not entirely sure why it ended up that way. The main character, Tenny, is a trans male who is also gay, and is quite different to Owen in how he navigates the world. Perhaps when I wrote this novel, I was going through a particularly gay phase myself. Bisexuality, at least for me and the bisexual people I know, seems to fluctuate in waves, and is never a static block of 50% masculine, 50% feminine.

I think when authors allow their characters to evolve completely organically, by simply guiding them along the vague path chosen by the plot line, they sometimes end up choosing their own sexualities. When I create characters, their sexuality is the last thing I think about. At times, their default sexuality just happens to be bisexual, even if I don’t realise it, and it opens them up to choosing their loves in sometimes totally unexpected ways. Only later, when they have established a solid personality and romance do I then decide what to do about their sexuality, and even then it may just be a small note jotted on a pad somewhere.

Likewise, I’m not saying it’s wrong to pre-plan your character’s sexuality. That’s an impossible thing to refrain from if the story is deeply entwined with that aspect of the character, for example, in a coming out story, or a book based on someone’s life experiences. But, that’s just not my writing style! I think it’s wonderful that writers will actively choose to make their characters LGBTQ+ because it’s important to get that work out there, to the people whose lives we are representing, to the people who need it the most. It could be that my books, and other authors’ books, are found by accident while searching, by someone who needed to see themselves in a main character, being brave and finding their place in the world, because that makes all the difference when you feel isolated and alone.

I feel that bisexuality is sometimes under-represented, and I’d love to see it written about more and more in the LGBTQ+ fiction world. It doesn’t necessarily mean having a gay couple at the forefront—it could have a male and a female in what appears to be a heterosexual relationship, but if one or both of them is bisexual, it’s still queer. We can’t, as a community, do bisexual people a disservice by dictating who they fall in love with, whether it’s gay or straight or anything else, because then we risk becoming the oppressors we’ve fought against all these years.

Bisexuality isn’t greed or indecision; it’s just another sexuality colour in the rainbow.

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Nem Rowan lives in Sweden with his wife and their girlfriend. He loves reading non-fiction and is fascinated by True Crime and unsolved mysteries, especially missing persons cases and serial killers. Nem is also well-read in mythology and folk tales, particularly British and European folklore. He is a huge fan of Horror movies and Retrowave music.

Nem started writing when he was 11 years old and since then, he’s never looked back. Romance has always been his favourite genre after inheriting a box of Mills & Boon novels from his grandma, but being a Horror fan, there is always some way for him to work in a bit of that to make sure things don’t get too mushy.

https://nemrowan.com
https://instagram.com/nemrowan
https://twitter.com/MrNemRowan

Your Weapon of Choice: a Guest Post by Master of Restless Shadows Author Ginn Hale

Today on the site we’re welcome back Ginn Hale, whose fantasy Master of Restless Shadows, part of the Cadeleonian world (but kicking off its own new series) releases today! It’s full of espionage and other courtly intrigue, not to mention magic, witches, and romance. Here are the details:

Freshly graduated Master Physician Narsi Lif-Tahm has left his home in Anacleto and journeyed to the imposing royal capitol of Cieloalta intent upon keeping the youthful oath he made to a troubled writer. But in the decade since Narsi gave his pledge, Atreau Vediya, has grown from an anonymous delinquent to a man renowned for penning bawdy operas and engaging in scandalous affairs.

What Narsi―and most of the larger world―cannot know is the secret role Atreau plays as spymaster for the Duke of Rauma.

After the Cadeleonian royal bishop launches an unprovoked attack against the witches in neighboring Labara, Atreau will require every resource he can lay his hands upon to avert a war. A physician is exactly what he needs. But with a relentless assassin hunting the city and ancient magic waking, Atreau fears that his actions could cost more than his own honor. The price of peace could be his friends’ lives.

Buy it: Blind Eye Books | Amazon | Smashwords

And here’s the guest post on making choices in the world of weaponry in Epic Fantasy, complete with fabulous exclusive art from cover designer Zaya Feli!

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Epic fantasy is full of weapons. Swords are particularly common. Some are imbued with specific and significant cultural meaning, such as Excalibur or Kusanagi-no-tsurugi. Others, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gurthang or Sikanda from The Never Ending Story are magical to the point of sentience, while others are simply notable for their history, quality or the use they are put to, such as Mr. Smee’s Johnny Corkscrew in Peter Pan—so named because of the way the sailor twists the blade in the wound after stabbing his opponent.

But it’s not just magical, mythical, or infamous weapons that convey information about the their world and the person wielding them. After all swords, spears, bows, guns, etc. are real tools with real histories. Everything about them—from how they’re made, how they’re adorned and who can carry them—has been shaped by particular places and times in human history.

To me as an author, this means that who I arm and how I choose to arm them can serve the story.  Even when the choice of weapon might seem little more than costume to a reader, often much more thought has gone into the matter.

When I began writing my Cadeleonians series—Lord of the White Hell, Champion of the Scarlet Wolf and Master of Restless Shadows—I called on personal experience, and a passing familiarity with the history of weapon to arm my protagonists and also to personalize how and why they fight.

Since the series begins inside a military academy, it only made sense to employ weapon preference and fighting styles to characterize the students and to add depth to their duels. (Not to mention the ambushes and battles they would later be involved in.)

Slim and smart, Kiram Kir-Zaki is far more interested in his mechanical studies than swordplay, so he relies on tactics more than strength. He also hails from a different culture than his sword-swinging Cadeleonian classmates, so his weapon of choice is a bow, which offers him the advantage of distance. Archery allows him to hunt birds, while his classmates gripe about winter rations of cabbage stew. His inventiveness also means that he eventually crafts his own unique weapons to defend himself and his family of choice.

His roommate Javier on the other hand is an excellent swordsman, but because his instructors believed he’s cursed he’s forced to undergo a regime of religious penance that leaves him physically weak. This leads to his decision to forgo both shields and longer, heavier swords, as just carrying them would exhaust him. Instead he relies on a light rapier—not unlike an early épée. Of course stepping into a dueling ring armed with such a fragile-looking sword broadcasts his vulnerability. Javier’s solution is to play up his weakness—expending the minimum of his strength to elude his opponents and hold them at bay all while lulling them into overconfidence. Then, having conserved his strength and lured his opponent into the range of his shorter, lighter weapon he strikes his winning blow.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is their friend Elezar, who possesses exceptional strength and reach. He comfortably wields a longer, much heavier sword; one that readily tears through the armored enemies he faces on the battlefield. Since the majority of his fighting is done while mounted I imagine him armed with something between an estoc and a broadsword. On foot, his weapon of choice is probably something like a bastard sword, (likely a hand-me-down and quite out of fashion, but comfortable to him and a reminder of the people he’s left behind when he journeys to other lands.) That said, Elezar has also won his way through couple predicaments by employing a woodcutter’s maul—ouch!—and his coin purse.

Master of Restless Shadows introduces a new character: Sabella, who is a professional fighter. But unlike the nobles who schooled at the Sagrada Academy, Sabella’s battles are fought in dueling rings of sword houses and serve as entertainment for gamblers and the general public. Her weapon is a civilian sword, a rapier. It’s easily sheathed and unsheathed in close quarters and meant for combat on city streets against unarmored opponents. Like Sabella herself, a rapier is agile and deadly. It’s also something a rarity for any woman to possess, as sumptuary laws would normally bar a Cadeleonian woman from wearing a sword. (Though my books are fantastical, sumptuary laws aren’t. They were and are still used to suppress gender and class freedom. Fascinating historical figures like as Mary Frith (aka Molly Cutpurse) and the extraordinary duelist, La Chevalier d’Eon number among the many people who struggled to live authentically under such laws.)  But since I took my initial inspiration from the real life figure of duelist and opera singer Julie D’Aubigny in creating Sabella, I allowed her to win a special dispensation to dress in men’s clothes—which includes her beloved rapier.

Master of Restless Shadows also introduces Delfia who, like Sabella, has been expertly trained in combat since childhood. But since she and her brother are assassins, it would hardly do for her to flout sumptuary laws or strut through the capitol with a rapier at her hip. Instead she carries a fighting knife, which her decorative sheath and full skirt help to disguise as a mere belt knife. And, of course, she also employs poison. Being smaller and less menacing in demeanor doesn’t make her less deadly. It does however mean that her greatest weapon is the element of surprise. (As in, ‘Surprise! That tiny jab from a lace needle was loaded with poison!’)

Ariz

And last but not (I hope) least is Delfia’s brother, Ariz. He puts me in mind of a quote attributed to Confucius: Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance. In his guise as an instructor of fencing and dance, Ariz often plays down his facility for swordplay. But his grace, balance and speed as a dancer really ought to betray him, particularly when it comes to sword dancing. (Most sword dances actually began as forms of military exercise and training, so that ought to be a give away right there.) However Ariz presents himself and his personal weapons in the most lackluster manner possible. Instead of using the eye-catching effect of bluing to bring out the splendor of his heavy rapier and dagger, Ariz’s weapons are russeted or browned. This chemical process renders the flats of the blades a dull black-brown. At a glance his drawn dagger can appear to still be sheathed.

This detail, is a small one but to me it is central to Ariz’s characterization. Not only does it display just how he fights and survives but it serves as a metaphor for the man himself. That’s not too shabby of a feat for a homely sword with a deadly point to pull off.

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Ginn Hale lives with her lovely wife in the Pacific Northwest. She spends the many cloudy days observing plants and fungi. She whiles away the rainy evenings writing fantasy and science-fiction featuring LGBTQ protagonists. Her first novel, Wicked Gentlemen, won the Spectrum Award for best novel. She is also a Lambda Literary Award finalist and Rainbow Award winner.

Her most recent publications include the Lord of the White Hell, Champion of the Scarlet Wolf and The Rifter Trilogy: The Shattered Gates, The Holy Road, His Sacred Bones.

She can be reached through her website: www.ginnhale.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Her Instagram account, however, is largely a collection of botanical photos…so, be warned.

Coming Out as a Harry Potter Fan (oh yeah and as trans): a Guest Post by Sorted Author Jackson Bird

I’m thrilled to welcome to the site today advocate, YouTuber, and now author Jackson Bird, whose memoir, Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place, releases today from Tiller Press! Here’s a little more on both the book and the author:

When Jackson Bird was twenty-five, he came out as transgender to his friends, family, and anyone in the world with an internet connection. Assigned female at birth and having been raised a girl, he often wondered if he should have been born a boy. Jackson didn’t share this thought with anyone because he didn’t think he could share it with anyone. Growing up in Texas in the 1990s, he had no transgender role models. He barely remembers meeting anyone who was openly gay, let alone being taught that transgender people existed outside of punchlines.

Today, Jackson is a writer, YouTuber, and LGBTQ+ advocate living openly and happily as a transgender man. So how did he get here? In this remarkable, educational, and uplifting memoir, Jackson chronicles the ups and downs of growing up gender confused. Illuminated by journal entries spanning childhood to adolescence to today, he candidly recalls the challenges he faced while trying to sort out his gender and sexuality, and worrying about how to interact with the world. With warmth and wit, Jackson also recounts how he navigated the many obstacles and quirks of his transition––like figuring out how to have a chest binder delivered to his NYU dorm room and having an emotional breakdown at a Harry Potter fan convention. From his first shot of testosterone to his eventual top surgery, Jackson lets you in on every part of his journey—taking the time to explain trans terminology and little-known facts about gender and identity along the way. Through his captivating prose, Bird not only sheds light on the many facets of a transgender life, but also demonstrates the power and beauty in being yourself, even when you’re not sure who “yourself” is.

Part memoir, part educational guide, Sorted is a frank, humorous narrative of growing up with some unintended baggage.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

And here’s the guest post by author Jackson Bird!

If you’re into Harry Potter, you might notice a subtle play on words in the title of my debut book Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place. Referencing the Hogwarts Sorting Hat was a purposeful nod to the series and community that has played such a huge role in my life––and in the lives of so many of us from the Potter Generation. But growing up, I never wanted people to know how big of a Harry Potter fan I really was. In middle school, I didn’t want to hear my classmates’ parroting their youth pastors and saying I would surely go to hell for reading books on witchcraft (which always baffled me because did that mean they actually believed in witchcraft?). In high school, when other students started attending the midnight Harry Potter movie releases as a social affair, I didn’t want them to know that I had been following every production detail of the film for years on fansites because it wasn’t cool to care that much. In college, when I had started volunteering for a Harry Potter-themed nonprofit and attending wizard rock shows on the weekends, everyone else had collectively decided it was time to move on. Harry Potter was for kids.

Sometime in between my fifth year of working professionally for the Harry Potter Alliance and penning a peer-reviewed case study of the organization, I mostly stopped caring what people thought. Harry Potter had played too big a role in my life to deny that huge part of me any longer. After years of insisting on having professional-sounding job titles like Communications Director so people would know that my day job wasn’t merely a fan club, I decided, eff it, and asked during a promotion to be called the Director of Wizard-Muggle Relations. It was 2017. The world was a dumpster fire and I had more important things to care about than people assuming my job wasn’t serious enough. I was ready to own the fact that my career had thus far consisted mostly of attending nerdy conventions and training fans to become leaders in their local communities.

But when I first set out to complete my memoir, I reverted to my adolescent ways and originally downplayed the influence of Harry Potter on my life. I didn’t mention first discovering the series as a nine year old or skipping class in sixth grade to go see the earliest showing in my town of the first movie. Wizard rock shows became punk shows. Harry Potter fan conferences were just conferences and my involvement with the Harry Potter Alliance was given my usual sanitized rebranding as merely a nonprofit focusing on civic engagement.

As the public announcement of my book got closer and closer, however, and I still hadn’t settled on a title that worked for the book, I found myself in a frantic brainstorming session with fellow guests and staff at the Granger Leadership Academy (GLA) in Philadelphia. GLA is the Harry Potter Alliance’s intergenerational leadership conference where Potter fans and more convene for a weekend of activist training, keynote talks, and lots of fandom-tinged girl power.

I camped out in the staff room where I recruited anyone who walked through the door to join my title brainstorm in between their other (more important) tasks. We threw out lots of titles like Written in Transition, Not Your Father’s Masculinity, Not Another Trans Memoir, and Hatching Him: The Jackson Bird Story (followed by its sequels Hard Boiled: My Life as an Influencer and Over Easy: How I Quit the Big City and Started a Farm).

I wrote down every single one of them, even the jokes, in my Notes app in case they could spark some inspiration later. At one point my friend Katie, possibly inspired by the magical vibes of the conference and the simultaneous conversation happening on the other side of the staff room about primary and secondary Hogwarts houses, recommended Sorted––a nod to both Hogwarts house sorting and being sorted into a gender. I chuckled and immediately vetoed it, not even adding it to the Notes doc. I was not going to make a corny Harry Potter joke the title of my debut book.

The conference ended and I took the bus back home to New York City with 131 possible titles and feeling no closer to making a decision than I had been before. As I sat on my sofa that night, tossing around various combinations of titles and subtitles, the word “sorted” came back to me. Away from the Hermione Granger-inspired environment I’d just been living in for the past three days, it didn’t seem so corny. In fact, as I realized the many different connotations of the word and started picturing cover design concepts, it seemed enticing. With an explanatory subtitle, it could be perfect.

I realized it would require some explanation though and if it were to really work it would need to be baked thematically throughout the book, which meant possibly adding in more stories about Harry Potter. Once again, I found myself confronted by my insecurities around being known as a Harry Potter fan.

There’s no shame in being a fan of Harry Potter, but I think I’d always been embarrassed by just how big a fan I really was. In high school, I listened to fan-made Harry Potter podcasts on the bus ride to school (back in the day when you had to manually download podcasts and burn them onto CDs to listen to portably if you didn’t have an iPod yet). In the evenings, I procrastinated on homework by reading fanfiction. I knew every bit of Harry Potter-related news several days before anyone else was talking about it because I religiously followed the fan sites that got exclusive press releases from Warner Bros. and Scholastic. I wasn’t just a casual fan. I lived and breathed Harry Potter.

A hug that went a beat too long in the Prisoner of Azkaban movie led me to Remus/Sirius fanfiction and the first stirrings of my queer sexuality. When my depression and gender dysphoria overtook my ability to make meaningful friendships in college, the online fan community stepped in to give me a social outlet and friends who didn’t care what I wore or if I sometimes put my foot in my mouth too much. As I entered real post-college adulthood, my older co-workers at the HPA modeled how to be responsible, creative, loving adults. And at twenty-five, when I knew I had to come out as transgender and begin transitioning, the Harry Potter fan community erupted in an outpouring of support––just like I always knew they would.

How could I not include all of that in a memoir about growing up and discovering myself? Harry Potter––the books, the fan-made creations, and the fans themselves––had been there every step of the way.

Maybe some people will still think its childish. Some will tell me to read another book. Surely others will simply continue to be uninterested in the Boy Who Lived and the community that’s been built around him, but similar critiques could be made about any other major aspects of mine or any other person’s life. I may have been loath to admit how inextricably tied I am to the Wizarding World in the past for fear it would make me uncool (as if that and not my deep knowledge of Elizabethan theater or increasing inability to understand pop culture as I age would be the primary thing to make me uncool), but I know now that I can’t deny it. Just as it’s impossible to tell what kind of person I might’ve been had I not been trans, I honestly don’t know who I’d be if a certain bespectacled boy wizard hadn’t entered my life twenty years ago. So, I guess what I’m saying is, your royalty check will be in the mail soon, Mrs. Rowling.

(JK! Books belong to their readers and fan creations are totally Fair Use, but thank you for writing the original series and inspiring us all for generations to come)

***

Jackson Bird is a YouTube creator and LGBTQ+ advocate dedicated to demystifying the transgender experience. His TED Talk “How to talk (and listen) to transgender people” has been viewed over a million times. Jackson is a recipient of the GLAAD Rising Star Digital Innovator Award and lives in New York City. You can follow him online @JackIsNotABird.

Inside an Anthology: The (Other) F Word ed. by Angie Manfredi

I’m so thrilled to be featuring this groundbreaking anthology on the site today, along with eleven notes by queer contributors on their entries! The representation in this book is so wonderfully varied, and it’s great to have so many authors here to talk about it! So here’s The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce ed. by the fabulous Angie Manfredi.

Chubby. Curvy. Fluffy. Plus-size. Thick. Fat. The time has come for fat people to tell their own stories. The (Other) F Word combines personal essays, prose, poetry, fashion tips, and art to create a relatable and attractive guide about body image and body positivity. This YA crossover anthology is meant for people of all sizes who desire to be seen and heard in a culture consumed by a narrow definition of beauty. By combining the talents of renowned fat YA and middle-grade authors, as well as fat influencers and creators, The (Other) F Word offers teen readers and activists of all ages a guide for navigating our world with confidence and courage.

Buy It: B&N | Amazon | Indiebound

Mason Deaver, “A Body Like Mine”

“I’ve always had a weird relationship with clothes. I feel like it’s something that a lot of fat trans people deal with. Already clothing and fashion is hard to navigate when you’re fat, this industry doesn’t like you, it doesn’t want to see you be fashionable. It also wants to make you pay extra for daring to have a body. But when you’re trans on top of all of that? It can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. It’s so much harder to find clothing as a fat trans person, clothing that can literally save your life, or make you feel like the person you truly are.

Clothing is a life-line for both of us, for fat people, and for trans people. It has the magic to make us feel like our real selves, to be more confident in who we are. I’d never seen anything talk about this connection, ever, so I wanted to say my piece. Because it’s a hard world to navigate, and I want teenagers dealing with the same feelings to know that they aren’t alone with them.”

***

S. Qiouyi Lu, “Fat, And”

I wrote “Fat, And” because I’ve often been frustrated by fat spaces that focus on fatness to the exclusion of other identities and experiences. As not only a fat person, but a nonbinary person of color, I wanted to represent the complexity of a multilayered identity: Each layer influences the others and is inextricable from the whole. I hope I can inspire people to see themselves as a whole instead of a collection of parts, especially considering how often we’re forced to turn our bodies into parts (my stomach, my arms, my legs, etc.) in a body-negative culture.

***

Jess Walton, “Losing My Religion”

As a teenager, I came out and found a beautiful, vibrant community that accepted and celebrated me as a bisexual person. Having that community around me helped me stand up to hateful bigotry over the years.

I did not find disability and fat pride and community until my thirties, so ableism and anti-fatness have had a lot more time to do me harm. I wrote ‘Losing my Religion’ because joining Weight Watchers as a teenager was formative and extremely damaging to the way I felt about myself. It led to an adulthood focused on weight loss and ‘fixing’ my body. I was so ashamed of the way I looked – I felt undesirable and unloveable. Every time I managed to lose weight, I would be congratulated and told how good I looked, which reinforced the idea that I needed to lose weight, and that fat bodies were bad, failed bodies. For me, disability and fat pride are closely linked. They’re both about saying my body is not a failed body. I can be proud of who I am instead of ashamed. I can reject those who hate the fat and disabled parts of me, just as I reject those who hate the queer part of me.

I also wrote ‘Losing My Religion’ because Weight Watchers still exists, and is still doing serious harm to fat people, including kids. In fact, they’re targeting kids and teens with their kurbo app. They can try rebranding themselves as ‘Wellness that Works’, but I’ll always see them for what they are – a harmful, predatory, profit driven cult.

I’m honoured to be a part of this anthology; it’s one of the books I really needed as a fat, queer, disabled teen. I’m so, so relieved that it exists in the world now.

***

Alex Gino, “Body Sovereignty: This Fat Trans Flesh is Mine”

I have the right to change my transgender body. I do not have an obligation to change my fat body. Body sovereignty, the idea that I am the decision-maker over my very self, holds these two statements in balance. It’s also the idea at the heart of my essay Body Sovereignty: This Fat, Trans Flesh is Mine. Like the title, this piece mixes a touch of radical body theory with a practical look at how transgender and fat bodies are treated, and why it’s so important to claim and reclaim control over how and whether our bodies are altered. There’s even a little chart! I can only imagine the hard roads I could have skipped down a little more easily if someone had slipped an essay like this, as part of a book like this, into my hands when I was a teen, and I’m delighted to be able to do that for others, especially for fat queer, trans, and nonbinary youth.

***

Jiji Knight, “Brighter Than Starlight”

This book is everything I wish I had when I was growing up fat and struggling to answer the the question “What is normal?”

No one ever assures you that yes! You are the norm. Your body is the norm. Body positivity is still such a foreign movement to some people – hell – most people. The very concept that fat people are reclaiming the word ‘fat’ and celebrating their curves, their bodies, is exhilarating.

I am fat. I am bisexual. I am an artist. And I am proud to have been a part of such a wonderful amalgamation of beautiful contributors.

***

Miguel M. Morales, “50 Tips from a Fat and Fabulous Elder”

The pieces I submitted to the anthology revealed themselves as I walked in the park near my home in Kansas. I wanted to build up stamina for all the walking I’d be doing on an upcoming trip to Hawai’i. I’d never been that far from home and I wanted to do, see, and taste so much. I also wanted to make sure I didn’t push my body too hard all at once. My secret unspoken goal was to hike Diamond Head.

At the park, I listened to music to help me set a pace for the hike. That’s when I noticed changes in my body’s movement; in its rhythm. I noticed the beauty of nature’s largeness and how society celebrates this grandeur yet blames ours on weakness. I wondered if we amused the trees by hastily moving on a circular path going nowhere, trying to get smaller while we admired their size.

I found my relationship my clothes began to change. Instead of tugging at my shirts desperate for them to hang loose on me, I allowed them to caress my curves. Instead of pulling up my shorts constantly afraid I’d display plumber’s crack, I allowed them to gently settle and rest comfortably on my hips without a worry.

I thought about the anthology and advice I’d want to share. Things my oldness and my queerness and my brownness has taught me about being fat. I remembered those who’ve helped me learn not only to operate this body but to love it.

I’m thrilled this anthology features four of my pieces. I’m eager to write more about intersectional fatness.

Oh, I did hike Diamond Head. I got passed up on the trail by some elderly people and some children, but it was amazing. I was amazing. You should have seen me.

***

Laina Spencer, “To All the Pizzas I’ve Loved Before”

Funnily enough, I don’t normally write non-fiction, but when Angie approached me about writing as essay for The (Other) F Word, I was so excited that I couldn’t say no. I kept thinking about myself as a teenager, and what it would have meant to read something like this. And because I’m always thinking about books and representation, and especially YA books, that’s what I decided to write about that.

And as someone who’s aroace, I wanted to talk about how I don’t necessarily relate to certain narratives, and how it feels sometimes to be aroace in fat spaces, and vice versa. Hopefully I did that pretty well!

***

Hillary Monahan, “Fatness & Horror: The Match Made in Not Heaven”

“When Angie asked me to talk about fatness in my genre of choice–horror–I was delighted. It was something I’d ranted and railed about in my private circles for years.  How can we exist in a world, take up space in the world, people the world and be either completely absent from stories OR be “punished” for our fatness by making comedic, convenient victim fodder?  I want none of that–as a fat fan and as a fat creator.”

***

“Write Something Fat” by Sarah Hollowell

When I wrote my first book in high school, it never occurred to me that my characters could be anything other than skinny. I didn’t understand then how much damage I was internalizing from a lack of positive representation – not just feeling bad about myself, but erasing myself at every opportunity.

I wasn’t just erasing my fatness. Finding out that bisexuality existed as an option was an amazing, freeing moment in my life. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, but most of the reactions I got were that it was a phase or I was trying to be trendy. I also went to a high school in southern Indiana in the early 2000s – not a lot of out-and-proud queer people there! It was mostly me, my gay best friend, the girl who was my first kiss, the one other out gay kid, and the ones we suspected were closeted.

I wasn’t seeing queer people like me in the media, I wasn’t seeing them in my life, and even well-meaning people around me seemed to think I’d grow out of it. I didn’t write a queer story until I was in college. I was erasing myself, again.

“Write Something Fat” is about giving myself permission to not erase myself. I wrote it to the teenage version of me, but I also wrote it to the current version of me who wonders if now I write too many fat bisexual girls.

But here’s the thing: If other authors can write dozens of books about straight skinny characters, then I can sure as hell write as many as I want about the fat queer ones. And you can, too.

***

Jon Higgins, Ed.D., “Black, Fat, Fem: The Weight of a Queen”

As soon as I heard about this anthology, the fat 16 year old queer kid inside of me jumped for joy. After reaching out and learning that my work had been accepted, I not only felt validated, but that my work and journey would in turn help someone who might really need the reassurance that they are seen and valued.

Working on this project reminded me that I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams. I am fat, Black and queer and I am leaving behind seeds of my experiences to help other people grow. What’s even more riveting is knowing that I, in my own way, got to share a narrative that is often overlooked and undervalued in my own voice and in my own experience.

Working on this project reminded me of why I began writing in the first place. Why I felt the need to continue to remind others that their lives and their experiences need to be heard and more, that these stories will be the ones that change the lives of those who need it most. I am so grateful for the opportunity and I can’t wait for the world to engage in the greater context of this book and it’s many chapters of knowledge, hope and resistance.

***

“You Are Loved” by Ady Del Valle

I wrote the chapter “You Are Loved” because these are words we don’t get told often but also words we don’t tell ourselves often. I wanted to be able to write something real and meaningful for this amazing and inspiring book, while relating it to myself ans what I do in the industry to do mt part. “You Are Loved” is a chapter of self-love with fashion or without, no matter your size or how you identify you are worthy in more ways the one. The “Other” F Word: A Celebration of the Fat and Fierce is a book that will speak to so many in many ways that we all can relate to, its real words form real people. I hope my chapter and the book as whole helps and inspires anyone who flips through the pages no matter who they are and give them motivation to love who they are as they are.

***

Angie Manfredi is a librarian and writer who owns every season of Law and Order on DVD and sends over 150 handwritten Valentines every year. She has spent the last 11 years working directly with children and teens of all ages in a public library and now works in library consulting on all things youth services. Angie is fat and not sorry about it. She is a passionate advocate for literacy, diversity, and decolonizing the discourse surrounding children’s literature. Her latest book is The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce.

How “In the Way of All Flesh” Got Gay: Death, Desire and Self Discovery

Please welcome Caitlin Alise Donovan to the site today to talk about In the Way of All Flesh, a paranormal f/f YA releasing on September 1, and how a book that didn’t begin queer sure ended up that way! First up, here’s a little more on the book:

donovanbookGloomy teenager Manee Srikwan wears long sleeves and keeps her hands to herself for a good reason–whenever she touches a person for the first time, she sees a vision of how they will die. Manee’s weird powers cause those around her nothing but misery and she’s long resigned herself to a life of loneliness. But her vivacious classmate, Stephanie Pierce, changes all that. She smashes through every wall Manee puts up and overturns every expectation. Much to Manee’s shock, Stephanie believes her about her powers. What’s more, she insists they can stop the deaths Manee sees from happening. When the two of them are together, it feels like they can do anything.

As the girls grow closer, Manee’s feelings for Stephanie blossom into love. She yearns to be more intimate but is anxious about breaking her all-important “hands-off ” rule. When she finally gives in to temptation, she sees a terrifying future where Stephanie is murdered—and Manee is her killer! Now Manee has a choice to make—will she fight this fate or let it rule her?

Buy It: RegalCrest

And here’s the post by author Caitlin Alise Donovan!

When talking about my book, In the Way of All Flesh, it often gives me a start to recall this was not originally a love story. Queer desire is the beating heart of the narrative and I can’t imagine the book without it, yet that story does exist. Its unfinished and clumsily scribbled in a beat-up journal, but it’s out there somewhere. A part of me longs to lay eyes on this strange, hollow shell of a story, but it’s unlikely I ever will. I wrote that draft when I was in high school, more than a decade ago. That scrappy little journal is lost to the ages.

When I look at things I wrote when I was younger, it jumps out to me that I always told queer stories. My stories were always centered on relationships between women and the token boyfriend for the protagonist was perfunctory at best. So when I got the idea “what if someone could see people’s future deaths and saw they would kill someone they loved?” I just automatically defaulted to the main character being a girl and her loved one being her female “best friend”. I would never for a second have thought to make her loved one a guy.

It never occurred to me to examine why I was so interested in writing intense relationships between women. It never occurred to me to make these characters anything but “best friends”. I was very removed from my own queerness and queerness in general in high school. If you had asked me about “gay subtext” in my stories back then, I would have goggled at you in confusion.

I revisited the idea for In the Way of All Flesh in college years later. By then, I had started to question my orientation and gotten more involved with the queer community. Now I looked at this story of a girl and her best friend and saw something I hadn’t before.

The relationship between the two girls, now called Stephanie and Manee, is intense and fraught. The main conflict of the story is that Manee can’t touch her friend for fear of seeing a gruesome vision of her death. And looking at this, I realized: Stephanie and Manee are obviously in love, aren’t they?

It blew my mind how much this simple idea improved the story; how much everything make sense now. I mean, doesn’t being in love make not being able to touch Stephanie way harder for Manee? Isn’t that more of a conflict, doesn’t her yearning make more sense that way? It was a very “duh” moment, this obviously always needed to be an element in a story, it was the story. You don’t really agonize over not being to touch a “friend”! But I didn’t see this at all when I was fourteen. That’s what heteronormativity will do to you. I’m glad I grew out of it.

Beta readers pointed out to me that there’s also a lot of queer subtext in the fantastical premise. Manee’s issues with physicality and her terror at the thought of touching the girl she loves parallel a young queer woman’s struggle with her sexuality. And even though I didn’t do it consciously, there’s lots of queer anxiety wrapped into the dramatic hook of the story.  After all, isn’t the idea that entering a queer relationship is a death sentence (or at the very least a ticket to unhappiness) deeply ingrained in our media and culture? There’s entire lists dedicated to keeping track of all the gratuitous lesbian deaths in media. And Manee finds out a nebulous fate has decreed she’ll literally deliver death to the girl she loves if she crosses that line into a physical relationship. Can she fight that? That’s the question that drives the whole narrative.

It’s wild how this was clearly a queer story from the very beginning, but it took years for that to emerge. And once it did, so many things about the story made sense, retroactively.

But, hey, I guess you could say the same thing about the story’s author.

***

me1-512x453

Caitlin Alise Donovan is a writer, teacher, blogger, poet and, above all, a huge geek for fiction (especially fantasy). Her dream of being an author began in the third grade when she started scribbling down stories about twin detectives and murderous ghosts in stray notebooks. Her passion only grew with age. Now she has a MFA in writing from Queens University in Charlotte and she has been published in several literary journals, including The Great Smokies Review. She has written professionally about fantasy, sci-fi and pop culture for several online companies, such as Epicstream. 

When not creating novels, Caitlin works as an online ESL teacher and does freelance writing through her Patreon. She currently resides in North Carolina with her trouble-making cat.

Website: caitlinalisedonovan.com E-mail: caitlinalisedonovan@gmail.com

 

Why Oscar Wilde, or: How Oscar Returned To My Life and Helped Me Write My First YA Novel, a Guest Post by R. Zimora Linmark

It’s tough to be a fan of queer lit or queer anything, really, and not admire the late, great Oscar Wilde. Today on the site I’m excited to introduce YA debut R. Zamora Linmark, who wrote an entire book based in that admiration, which releases today! Check out how Oscar Wilde influenced not just the main character of this novel, but the author himself, right after you check out The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart!

hi-res The Importance of Being Wilde at HeartWords have always been more than enough for Ken Z, but when he meets Ran at the mall food court, everything changes. Beautiful, mysterious Ran opens the door to a number of firsts for Ken: first kiss, first love. But as quickly as he enters Ken’s life, Ran disappears, and Ken Z is left wondering: Why love at all, if this is where it leads?

Letting it end there would be tragic. So, with the help of his best friends, the comfort of his haikus and lists, and even strange, surreal appearances by his hero, Oscar Wilde, Ken will find that love is worth more than the price of heartbreak.

Buy it:  Amazon | B&N| Indiebound

And here’s the guest post! (tw: suicide, bullying, abuse)

After reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in Mrs. Pang’s British Literature class, my admiration for the inimitable Oscar was cemented, earning him (and Dorian Gray) a in my growing altar of heroes, alongside The Smiths, David Bowie, Judy Blume, Donna Summer, and Holden Caulfield. I remember going to school, toting Oscar’s scandalous novel as if it were a sacred text. Dorian Gray was my new god dressed in a bowler’s hat and tweed suits. He was hip, devilish—a hedonist who made the seven deadly sins sexy. He flirted with danger, was a disciple of both male and female beauty, and sought pleasures to its murderous ends. I was a high school senior in Hawaii at the time. The year was 1986. My two friends and I sported punk/New Wave haircuts. We were a trio of anarchists-in-progress, “non-conformists”, as one of our teachers dubbed us because we spoke our minds and dared to be ourselves. One friend wore safety pins for earrings. Another had an Annabella-Lwin Bow-Wow-Wow-inspired mohawk, while I had bangs long enough to shield me from the hostile eyes of the world. We went to school dressed up like mods from 1950s or psychedelic hippies from the 60s, our wardrobe courtesy of Mother Rice, Goodwill, and Salvation Army thrift stores. We put on clothes that, to borrow Oscar Wilde’s term, were tailored for “bunburyists”—adventurous rebels who dressed up with impeccable style as themselves – or their alter egos. We listened to The Cure, Sex Pistols, The Cramps, Violent Femmes, The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, and Dead Can Dance, punk and New Wave bands who sang of doom and anarchy, love and disaster, death and loneliness. This was the decade when everyone either identified as “bi” or was soon-to-be, for it was the safest and closest to coming out. A guy could make out with as many guys as he wanted to, so long as he was open to the possibility of one day making out with the opposite sex.

Across the Boulevard of Rebel Hearts were morality-driven censors and conservatives like Mrs. Pang, who had purposefully left out Oscar’s magnetic and, at times, scandalous personality that made him larger than Art. Thank god I had friends and club-dancing partners like Shirley who worked as a bookseller at Jelly’s Comics & Records—the hippest and coolest store in Hawaii. She was the one who filled me in on the intrigue-ridden life of the dandy playwright known for his witty sayings as much as for his comedies; quoting him became a trend among the artsy-fartsy wannabe’s, like wearing trench coat in a ninety-degree weather. From Shirley, I also learned that Oscar was married with two sons. That he had carried on a volatile relationship with a younger man, the handsome Lord Alfred Douglas, a.k.a. “Bosie.” That he was persecuted and imprisoned for engaging in sexual acts with other men. His personal history was enough to pique my curiosity, for prior to Oscar, I didn’t know any writers who were gay, famous or not. It was very comforting, mind-blowing, that there existed a writer who was highly visible and very vocal about his love for the same sex. I wasn’t so alone anymore. I had someone to read—a role model to look up to, if not emulate. It gave me a feeling of security and self-affirmation akin to a few years later, when I first got my hands on Dangerous Music, a collection of prose and poetry by Jessica Hagedorn who, like myself, was from the Philippines and migrated to the United States in her teens. It was very empowering and inspiring: to know that there were writers from my immediate community who were only a library or a bookstore away. Reading them was like reuniting with long-lost friends, comrades, extended family members.

After The Picture of Dorian Gray, I read Oscar’s masterpiece “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Then his fairy tales. Then The Wit and Wisdom of Oscar Wilde. As a graduation gift, Shirley gave me an Oscar Wilde journal with a cover of Oscar wearing his trademark accessory: a green carnation in his buttonhole coat; below his headshot was one of his gazillion immortal quotes: “I have nothing to declare except my genius.” I even wore an Oscar T-shirt, a gift from a friend who’d purchased it during a family vacation to Chicago. I wore that shirt as if I was wearing a work of Art. I wore it until Oscar’s face faded and the collar, stretched. It was my sartorial way of coming out.

In 1988, when I was a junior at the University of Hawaii, majoring in Lit and Creative Writing, Richard Ellman’s much-awaited biography of Oscar was published. I lugged that doorstopper around campus as if I had all the time in the world to read a 700-page book, in addition to Milton’s Paradise Lost and James Joyce’s Ulysses. I never got a chance to read it in its entirety; I think I went as far as the first hundred pages because I was too busy preparing an itinerary for my next uncertain life.

Fast Forward to 2010.

I picked up Ellman’s biography again. This time, I was determined to read it from cover to cover. I placed myself under self-imposed house arrest. Reading it renewed my relationship with Oscar, and revived heartbreaking memories of my teenage years.

From Ellman’s extensively-researched biography, I uncovered more surprises about my Renaissance man and early literary hero. Oscar was not only a poet, playwright, and an essayist, but was also a leading member of an aesthetic movement that espoused an artificial, yet beautiful lifestyle. To Oscar and his cohort of elegantly-dressed dandies, life was already shallow and meaningless, so might as well be stylish and beautiful. A man of flamboyant taste in fashion, Oscar wore what he preached: “Be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” He was both. He was also a speed-reader who spewed wit at a lightning speed, wrote fairy tales, was chief editor of a women’s magazine, fought for prison reform, and traveled around the United States, delivering lectures, including to coal miners in Colorado where he gave a discourse on Italian Renaissance sculptor Cellini.

During his infamous trials, his wife and children fled the country to avoid public shaming and, shortly after Oscar’s conviction, had changed their name to “Holland.” Oscar was not afraid to defend himself and others who shared his love that “dared not speak its name.” And for this, he was vilified, ostracized, and persecuted by the very same people who lined up to see his plays and celebrated his brilliance. In the end, he was sentenced to prison to two years with hard labor, then, upon release, left for Paris where homosexuality was more tolerated. What I didn’t know until then was that Oscar was also a victim of bullying and multiple forms of abuse—from a classmate in Oxford, to Bosie’s father, to Bosie himself. Bosie’s father was so incensed by Oscar’s and Bosie’s relationship that he threatened to disown his son and publicly humiliated Oscar by calling him a “sodomite.” Oscar, at the insistence of Bosie, struck back, with a libel suit that quickly backfired. Forced to dismiss his suit, Oscar now had to defend himself not only from Bosie’s father but from a bloodthirsty public who wanted him convicted for “gross indecency.” Bosie, who had a temper as explosive as his father, abused Oscar. He constantly picked fights with Oscar, taunting him, tormenting him, when he was not spending Oscar’s money from royalties from his plays. I found it odd, however, that Oscar didn’t fight back, or ended the volatile relationship. He tried but he was too forgiving. Why? Why did a genius like Oscar who had everything—fame, fortune, a supportive family—allow someone to control, manipulate, and take him away from what he loved the most—his two sons and his writing? And even after he was released from prison, why did he, now an outcast in Paris, take Bosie back, as if two years in prison weren’t hell enough? Was it madness? Obsession? Despair? Questions like these gnawed at me. It forced me to re-evaluate my relationship with my role model. It made me rethink of my definition of a hero. Did it now mean separating the genius from the deeply-flawed man who tormented himself over love?

Around the same time that I was engrossed with Oscar’s larger-than-Art life, teens across America were committing suicides. Four of them took place in September, just days apart from each other. Racially different, these teens had one commonality: they were victims of bullying because they were gay, openly or closeted. Damn if you do, damn if you don’t. Two had hung themselves, one on the rafters of the family barn, the other from a tree branch. The third shot himself in the head, while the fourth jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge. Of the four, three died instantly, but one hung on for ten days, on life support. Their ages ranged from thirteen to Freshmen in college. Unable to keep fighting, these lone warriors decided to end a struggle that once held meaning. Their tragic deaths made headline news, went viral on the Internet, played in a loop on CNN, grazed the cover of People magazine. CBS produced a special segment on bullying-related deaths; they were among the main features, which included an eleven-year-old who killed himself because he was bullied for being short. I was enraged, yet in awe of their guts. My heart broke. I felt hopeless, was helpless. I wanted to punch the world in the face. It brought me back to that time in the 80s when the AIDS virus was killing thousands of people, and boys my age who knew they were gay were so terrified to come out, to love ourselves and others, because of the stigma it bore, and the fear and anxiety that we were next in the toe tag line.

A year later—more teen suicides. One of them was Jamey Rodemeyer who, on September 18, 2011, had hung himself. An openly gay activist who fought homophobia via YouTube videos he helped thousands who, like him, were victims of bullying. He was a fan of Lady Gaga who paid tribute to him at her concerts. She called him her “little monster.” In his videos, he reassured his viewers that things would get better, so hang on—advice that he believed in and lived by, until the bullying got too unbearable. He was fourteen
years old. So what happens when you, as a role model for others, feel defeated? Where and who do you go to refuel and help you extend your faith in, and love for, yourself and others? What happens when love and hope are overpowered by hatred and cruelty?

Reading about a literary genius who was persecuted over a century ago, and the suicides of American kids simultaneously was no accident. It was a loud blast call to action. I had no choice but to let rage fuel the words. I knew right there and then that the only way to deal with the violence and hatred and unbearable sadness that were metastasizing across the country like stage-4 cancer was to write about it. A book for young adults. It would be my way of remembering and honoring them for their courage to look hatred in the eye because they dared to be themselves. It would also be my small offering of hope that, though the book might not save lives, it could, perhaps, delay the tragedy, lessen the pain. I had never written a book for young adults, or with a targeted audience in mind, for that matter. It was new, terrifying, even constricting (or what I thought of then as constricting). It would be like writing my very first book. And to an extent, it was. Like my first novel Rolling The R’s, it was an invitation to create and dare myself. And to double the dare: I chose a subject matter that courted clichés the most. It would be
about love. Love of sorts. Love between two boys. Love among outcasts who, tired of being alone and picked on, create their own trio-of-a-community where they do not need the approval of the majority because, in their small world, belonging is not defined by numbers but by that shared space where they can thrive as individuals, voice their differences while continuing to encourage and strengthen each other. To them, this is how empowerment begins. And in this small community of three outcasts, Oscar, their literary hero, would play a role in shaping their minds, dropping in on them as he used to drop into mine. What better hero, flaws and all, than this larger-than-Art figure to guide seventeen-year-olds through the rocky pathways of this difficult world? A man of endless wit who never stopped preaching about love, despite the hatred and cruelty of many who had wished him misfortune? A fantabulous individual who, tragic as the last chapter of his life was, believed until the very end that “The world had shut its gates, but the door of Love remains open”? Who else but the indomitable Oscar Wilde?

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R Zamora Linmark (Credit Desiree Solomon)R. Zamora Linmark is the author of The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart, his first novel for young adults from Delacorte/Random House. He has also published two novels, Rolling the R’s which he’d adapted for the stage, and Leche, as well as four poetry collections, most recently, Pop Vérité, all from Hanging Loose Press. He lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Baguio, Philippines.

Finding My Identity Through Poetry: a Guest Post by Lenee Hendricks

Today on the site I’m excited to welcome poet Lenee Hendricks, author of Radiant Souls, to discuss how she found her identity through poetry! Check out the Sapphic book here and then read on for more Lenee words!

RS4Radiant Souls is a collection of poetry which speaks of healing, identity, self-love, and relationships. It contains pieces inclusive of gender neutral language and tells of sapphic experiences. In this collection, Lenee H. explores finding the strength and beauty within oneself, and celebrating the people in our lives.

Buy on Amazon | Add to Goodreads

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Finding My Identity Through Poetry

When I began writing poetry, I never expected it to become so important to me. I knew next to nothing about the publishing world and was coming straight from having dropped my college classes, ready to delve into writing. During my middle and high school years I had planned to become a nurse. My own interest in medicine and science was real, but the direction of my life was often dictated by my desire to please my parents. Conscious or not, I let who I was and who I would become be controlled by everything but what I truly felt and wanted.

I was freshly entered into the exciting new age of twelve when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. This was nearly two months following the sudden and traumatic loss of my older brother in a car accident. I don’t think I ever really had the chance to grow into myself. Just as I was about to enter those teen years of becoming your own person and beginning to rebel a little, hungering for that taste of adulthood, I was faced with an onslaught of stresses and harsh reality. The weight of issues belonging to adulthood were tossed into my lap. I suppose I got that taste most kids yearn for, just not the flavor they usually imagine.

Having family death and sickness enter my sphere at such a young age caused me to want to be mature. I felt the need to be grown up and so, I parroted adults around me. I adopted the beliefs I thought seemed solid and trustworthy, I tried to act older than I was. In many ways, I naturally was more mature than I should have been, but I was still mimicking. And it only worsened as my stresses increased. My mother continued to battle cancer, she had a mastectomy but then it showed up in her sternum and, despite undergoing radiation, it would only continue to spread. My dad had a brain injury which caused severe amnesia and a permanent personality shift. My sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. One thing stacked on top of another, and all I wanted was to make everyone else happy.

I erased myself and turned into a mirror of expectations, both what was placed upon me by others, and a lot of which I was reflecting onto myself. I spent my life like this until I graduated high school in 2017. This was a time I should have been coming into my own, deciding what I wanted to do with my life and exploring who I was. But, instead, I was soon preparing for my mom’s death. I was homeschooled and somehow, this brave, stubborn woman managed to continue teaching me even through the ups and downs of her health. She was certainly pushing me to plan my future, to think ahead. But I was already steeped so deeply into wrapping up my identity into what I thought would please her.

I didn’t really stop until months after she passed that October. I spent so long caring for her, nursing her, wanting to make her happy. It was strange for it all to be gone so quickly. All at once I had no excuse to not examine myself, to not be who and what I wanted. I think it took about a month longer before I began figuring out who I was. The following Thanksgiving, I let myself say the word “fuck” and appalled my siblings who viewed me as “the good kid.” As funny as that is and sounds, looking back it really was so telling of how much I hid myself away and suppressed my growth.

It was some time into the first months of 2018 when I began to think about sexuality. I was raised in an extremely conservative, Christian household. Certainly, I had long been feeling differently about the LGBTQ+ community than everyone around me. I felt so uncomfortable with the knee jerk reactions and derogatory language tossed their way. But there was a curiosity in me which I tried to ignore, a need to say, “gay is okay.” It took me several months before I finally realized, if I was telling everyone else they could have faith and be LGBTQ+ then, why couldn’t I say that about myself?

This was the first step in a long journey of self-discovery.

It wasn’t much later until I figured out rather than my fingers cramping from sticking people with needles, I wanted them to ache from typing. I wanted to be an author. So much of my desire to become a nurse was tied to my mom’s health and feeling like I had to stick to this plan I made when I was thirteen. Yet, during all of those years I was constantly pursuing creative writing in my free time. And even through those years of casual writing, I often found myself pushing the limits of my upbringing, bit by bit, through fiction. It took even longer to let go of the voices telling me I had to go to college to please everyone else, but I finally dropped my classes (a week before they began, might I add). Then, I dove straight into figuring out what I wanted to write.

I settled with poetry; I had written a few things here and there. I thought it would be a simple way to dip my toe into the writing world and get my name out there. What I thought was going to be a quick little project, turned into a journey of finding my voice and beliefs. Cosmic Phases was my debut collection and as I wrote it, I found myself able to freely express the parts of me I had kept hidden. I put my political views in words, I wrote about equality, healing from sexual abuse, speaking up about anxiety and depression…I figured out me. While I was still closeted and had to carefully craft my words about love or attraction, I was still able to express myself more than I ever had before.

After months of marketing and selling that book, and accidentally coming out to my dad as bisexual (thanks dental anesthesia!!), I began Radiant Souls. I had over a year of growth, learning I am a feminist, I really do know I have white privilege, and yes, I am a queer mess. As I wrote this collection, I was able to freely speak of my sapphic experiences, and I began using gender neutral language for many pieces. Perhaps, it was fitting not long after wrapping up this project I realized I was gender fluid.

This time, when I listed my book into Amazon categories, I put Radiant Souls in the LGBT Poetry section. In and of itself that was an incredible step. But during the course of my pre-order campaign and following the release, I saw my title go to the top of the LGBT Poetry releases. Some days, I still can’t believe that’s something which actually happened. To think just earlier this year, I would have been mortified to even clearly write about being attracted to women.

Looking back, there was so much I never had the courage to say out loud but was able to put into Cosmic Phases. Since publishing it, I have been able to speak out more boldly on LGBTQ+ issues, feminism, racial equality, and everything else that would make my conservative uncle shake his head in disapproval. Radiant Souls is only another step in my process of growth. Everyone says writing is a form of self-expression, and it is, but I think it is also a tool of discovering the parts of us we never realized we ever needed to express. Writing freed me. Poetry has been a method of healing and liberation I can only hope reflects back to those who read it. I can look at my poetry and finally see a mirror I have crafted to show nothing but myself, what I believe, and who I am.

DSC_0002Lenee H. is the author of Cosmic Phases and Radiant Souls. Drawing upon her experiences and observations of the world, she seeks to inspire others in their journeys of healing and growth. When she isn’t writing, she’s failing to keep her cats out of trouble.

Reclaiming By Erasing: A Guest Post By Lest I Know Your Weakness Author Taylor Ramage

Please welcome author Taylor Ramage to the site today to talk about erasure and her recently released poetry collection, Lest I Know Your Weakness. Before we get into the post, here’s a note from the author on the book’s actual crafting:

I made this poetry collection by taking words, phrases, and letters from the 1872 novella Carmilla and reorganizing them into poems. That’s what erasure or blackout poetry is in a nutshell–transforming the content of an existing text into something new.
Although Carmilla does have undeniable lesbian representation, it was still written in 1872 by a white man and has a tragic ending like we’ve seen on some mainstream TV shows that kill off their wlw characters. But creating erasure poetry from this old text allows Laura and Carmilla’s narrative to be reclaimed and redeemed, even though it’s certainly still angsty. It’s another form of adaptation, much like the webseries “Carmilla,” only I’ve created new meanings from the original text provided on the page. I think this ability to apply a very contemporary form of poetry to old texts can result in reclaimed narratives for all kinds of marginalizations.

How cool is that?? So now, let’s get to the book and to the post!

43748490A twisted love story told in alternating poetic snapshots. 
Intrigue, tension, darkness, beauty–Carmilla and Laura experience it all as they traverse the ups and downs of their relationship through poetic dialogue. Love is alluring and terrifying.

Buy It: Amazon | B&N 

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Erasure is often something that happens to us, especially if we embody marginalized identities. History, culture, someone standing in front of us, or even we ourselves will not recognize a part of our humanity, ignore our contributions, or categorize us with labels that wilt the nuances of our beings. Erasure imposes. It takes away in an instant and across a lifetime.

But what if, in one sliver of life, we could harness the power of erasure to reclaim the narratives handed to us?

This is the potential of erasure poetry, a poetic form in which you start with an existing text, then pull out words, phrases, and letters until you’re left with a poem. I used this form to create my new poetry collection Lest I Know Your Weakness. I crafted poems from the text of Carmilla, a novella written in 1872 and one of the first vampire books to exist in English literature. This story is both undeniably gay and undeniably written by a white man in a culture whose sensibilities had to align the sapphic with the grotesque and the horrific. Laura and Carmilla’s relationship is deep, eerie, strange, and haunting throughout the book, yet the frame narrative around it presents it as unnatural and tragic. Poor, innocent Laura got whisked away by this seductive monster!

And of course, the monster dies in the end.

I don’t need to repeat the litany of wlw couples who don’t get happy endings due to death or some other tragedy. That narrative runs deep in history and culture as shown with old books like Carmilla. Yet the beauty about that book being published in 1872 is that now it’s in the public domain.

This means anyone can do whatever they want with the text without any copyright restrictions. It’s why we have the Carmilla web series that adapts the story into a contemporary college setting and reclaims it from the tragic spectacle it originally was.

I’ve done something similar with my poems. Now, the original words of the book are reorganized and reframed into poems that alternate between Laura and Carmilla’s perspectives. I approached this old text with the entire context of my life and sensibilities, and chose what to take and form into a new(ish) story.

I did set some limits for the sake of following a form. For instance, I took screenshots of the text to give myself “pages” that restricted the words I could pull from for any given poem or idea. The sentence or two I got from each page became entire poems or stanzas that I later grouped together.

While I engaged with the old language of this book and pulled out what appealed to me, I also harnessed the power of erasure to reclaim the narrative of this couple. It can be strange, angsty, and a tad spooky. But it doesn’t have to be yet another tragic queer story.

The potential for applying such a contemporary form of poetry like this to old texts creates endless opportunities for people with marginalizations of all kinds to recenter stories written about them. A Native American poet could create erasure poems from Lewis and Clark’s journals, or a black poet could make poetry from texts written about abolition during the Civil War. In fact, Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith has written erasure poems from texts like the Declaration of Independence, evoking this very concept of reclaiming the past.

Erasure poetry allows us to actively engage with ideas of the past while creating new meanings from them. The public domain is filled with thousands of old stories. Source material is bountiful and waiting to be erased.

UntitledTaylor Ramage is the author of two poetry collections, Forgive Us Our Trespasses and Lest I Know Your Weakness. She also writes fantasy, enjoys stories in all forms, and leads an active, healthy lifestyle. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorRamage and Tumblr at taylorrama.tumblr.com. You can also catch her writing updates on her WordPress blog.