Category Archives: Guest post

Gimme an R?: Underrepresentation Among the Underrepresented, a Guest Post by Author Gideon E. Wood on Recovery and Addiction

I’m asked often for fiction that deals with recovery, and I haven’t had many recs to offer; it’s not rep to take lightly. So when Gideon E. Wood approached me with a guest post about exactly that, tied to the release of his brand-new fantasy, The Stagsblood Prince, I jumped at it, and I hope you love it as much as I do.

Before we get to the post, here’s a little more about The Stagsblood Prince, a gay fantasy epic trilogy opener set in a homophobia-free world:

Cover design by Lance Buckley.

Tel, handsome crown prince of Feigh, has negotiated an end to the war between his country and the strange queendom of Omela. He looks forward to an easy reign of wild parties and wilder men. The deities have other ideas, however, in this gay fantasy novel of transformation, redemption, and love.

When his father dies suddenly, Tel is outmaneuvered by his brother, losing the throne. Tel’s faith prohibits him from raising his sword and spilling blood, so he accepts the humiliation, working to temper his brother’s baser impulses. But the new king’s reign takes a dark turn, and his collaborators begin to round up undesirables, including those with a magic called the stagsblood.

Tel must decide: Flee or fight? Running means abandoning his people to his brother’s evil whims. Standing his ground means the sin of total war. He has no army and only a few allies—and his magical secret.

Caip, his closest friend and protector, brings military experience and blunt advice. Her right hand, Dar, is the picture of loyalty. Tough, battle-scarred Bin doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And Vared, a mysterious singer-turned-diplomat from Omela, speaks the truth to Tel in ways no one else can.  

Buy The Stagsblood Prince

And here’s the post by author Gideon E. Wood!

White. American. Cisgender. Male. Gay. Queer, in my more festive moments. Writer. Progressive. Cat dad. Frequent smirker. Fallen vegan. I suppose I could sit here for hours bullet-pointing my identity. With enough thought, I could get incredibly granular about it. It might even be fun. But there’s one aspect of my identity—one bullet point—before which I put all others: I’m a person in addiction recovery. If I want to be a shade more clinical about it (and why not?), I’m a person with substance use disorder in sustained remission. Fancy!

My understanding of how addiction works (booze and powder cocaine, primarily, if you must know) forces me to—mindfully and regularly—own my recovery before any other aspect of my identity. I drank-and-used myself into homelessness and suicidality, so it is quite literally a matter of life and death for me. So, more than I ponder my race and what it means, more than I ponder my nationality and what it means, more than I ponder even my dude-on-dudeness and what it means, I must ponder my addiction and what it means. This approach has served me well over the last (oh, my gods!) decade, so I have no interest in switching it up. I don’t want to drink. I don’t want to use. I don’t want to die.

When you think about our expanding string of letters (LGBTQ+ is not really an acronym, let alone LGBTQQIP2SAA+…don’t get me started), I’d ask you to imagine a superscript lowercase r—for recovering or recovery available—attached to each. We’re here. We’re queer (or whathaveyou). Even within our community, we are not yet used to it. I find this shocking.

If we take a few minutes to consider it, most of us will intuitively understand that substance use disorder runs rampant through our private and public LGBTQ+ spaces. If your own anecdotal evidence fails to convince you (and good on ya for that, really), rest assured: the research has been done. Among others, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) acknowledge significantly higher rates of substance use disorder in the LGBTQ+ population. The reasons for this prevalence are probably self-evident: trauma, rejection, domestic strife, stigma, the risk of assault, and so on. And it’s not only addiction. These factors seem to increase risk for all manner of mental or behavioral health difficulties for us.  Sadly, the science has also found serious gaps in treatment and support services for our community.

Most of us already believe representation matters. Again, the evidence is there, both anecdotally and in the research. Visibility improves our physical and mental safety, along with our feelings of wellbeing. Whatever our place in our long string of letters, our stories are not told frequently enough. In recent years, we have seen improvement on that front. We are raising our voices, finally. And some are learning to listen.

But where’s my lowercase r? Where’s the representation of queer addiction and—even more importantly, I’d argue—queer recovery? Both our guts and our sociology tell us we should be seeing those stories more than we do. We should be hearing those voices begin to rise. They are there, if we really search and listen, but they are few and far between. When I do encounter them, they tend to be in memoir or narrative nonfiction, and usually depictions of folks in the thick of it. What about after the thick of it? Especially in fiction. And I’m sorry, but I was a mess for a really long time, then I walked into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and all was well does not cut this particular mustard. As we say in recovery circles, we don’t wander into the dark heart of the wilderness for twenty years and then find ourselves safe and comfy at home the moment after we’ve realized we’re lost. It takes time. It takes work. It’s a hike. (Incidentally, I’m sure these stories are out there somewhere, so get in touch! I anxiously await your recs.)

I write fantasy with LGBTQ+ characters. When planning my debut, The Stagsblood Prince, I knew I wanted my main character to represent not just queerness but queerness in motion from active addiction to sustained recovery. Fantasy may not seem like a natural fit for such storytelling, but like all other human foibles and frailties, addiction and recovery are highlighted and brought into crisp relief when placed before a fantastical backdrop of myth and magic.

In fact, the genre may be more suited than most to lift these stories up. I had my own path to putting down substances and my own path to not picking those substances back up for a long while now. There are as many of these roadways as there are people in recovery. My approach may not work for you. We’ve found no silver bullets in the mountain of strategies, but plenty of overlap. Commonalities—shared principles—can be found among the many and varied recovery schools of thought.

Prince Tel of The Stagsblood Prince cannot walk into a Twelve Step meeting or secular support group. Such spaces do not exist in his world. He can’t Zoom with his therapist. There is no Zoom. There are no therapists. He has no psychopharmacology of which to avail himself. Inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, hospitalization? Nope.

What, then, can Prince Tel do? He can learn to practice the principles of treatment and recovery which keep millions of people (the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services says it’s about 23.5 million in the US alone) away from substances here on non-fantasy earth. Tel can tend to his physical, mental, and spiritual health in myriad ways. He can foster habitual gratitude. He can strive for honesty in all matters. He can lessen his burdens by sharing his struggles with others. He can interrogate himself and uncover the flawed thinking at the heart of his troubles. Most importantly, he can learn to ask for help when he needs it. And he’ll need it! He’s got love to find and a world in need of saving.

First and foremost, I hope The Stagsblood Prince entertains. As I see it, that’s my job. In my wilder dreams, though, at least one of you will see yourself represented in Tel and his journey. If you’re finding your use of alcohol or other substances problematic today, maybe you’ll see that recovery is possible. Believe me, the aforementioned asking for help stuff is powerful medicine. (SAMHSA and NIDA are good starting points for resources. My inbox is also always open.) If you’re already on the road, maybe Tel will keep you walking for a while.

We’re here. We’re queer. We are more likely to find ourselves in addiction. We are just as likely as anyone to recover. It’s well past time to get used to it.

***

(c) Daisy Cobb

Gideon E. Wood writes gay fantasy fiction. He has been proudly clean and sober since 2011. Second chances and transformation are at the heart of his work. Gideon lives in New England with his cat but thinks it’s important you know he isn’t a cat person.

You can find him on social media @gideonewood or email him: gideon@gideonewood.com.

Finding Myself Through Writing Queer Romance, a Guest Post by Wench Author Maxine Kaplan

Fun fact: one of the last things I did before the pandemic hit was have lunch with this author, so you can say I’ve been looking forward to this book for a loooong time. Maxine Kaplan’s Wench releases today from Amulet/Abrams, and here’s the story:

Tanya has worked at her tavern since she was able to see over the bar. She broke up her first fight at 11. By the time she was a teenager she knew everything about the place, and she could run it with her eyes closed. She’d never let anyone—whether it be a drunkard or a captain of the queen’s guard—take advantage of her. But when her guardian dies, she might lose it all: the bar, her home, her purpose in life. So she heads out on a quest to petition the queen to keep the tavern in her name—dodging unscrupulous guards, a band of thieves, and a powerful, enchanted feather that seems drawn to her. Fast-paced, magical, and unapologetically feminist, Wench is epic fantasy like you’ve never seen it before.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

And here’s Maxine, with a guest post that’s very close to my heart about finding herself through writing Wench and its bi main character!

I started writing Wench with a clear and deeply-held agenda: There would be no romance.

It’s not something I talked about a lot. When I talked about the book, I talked about my simultaneous love for and frustration with classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy; I talked about how I wanted to flesh out fantasy archetypes with humor and humanity; and I mostly talked about my titular tavern wench, Tanya, and how I’d never seen that ubiquitous non-playable background character get to have her own adventure, or even a name most of the time. What I didn’t say was that I was determined to get Tanya through one (1) whole entire epic quest without the interference or influence of a love interest.

I thought of it as a secret mission. I knew how much readers, and especially readers of YA fantasy, expected at least a glimmer of romantic or sexual tension, and I didn’t want to turn them off before they even cracked the spine. But it was that very expectation of romance that bothered me. I hated the expectation that a girl couldn’t have an epic adventure without falling in love along the way. I cringed at the idea of Tanya achieving self-discovery and actualization through the medium of who she wanted to kiss. It felt wrong to me—even anti-feminist. I loathed the idea that something I wrote could reinforce the message that young people receive every day that says: You are nothing and no one until somebody wants to make out with you.

Tanya was going on a quest to win back her tavern. The world I had devised and the story engine I had built didn’t need any romance to make it go. And I was determined that I wouldn’t shoe-horn in a romance (and especially not a love triangle) just to fit the market—because Tanya deserved better, damn it!

And then Tanya taught me that I was wrong. Because, despite my clear intentions to the contrary, two characters showed up who would just not stop having chemistry with Tanya. One was a boy and he was very much within my own crush wheelhouse historically speaking: smart, funny, and angry. I think I just liked writing him and, slowly, he and Tanya fell into chemistry, like real people do. It was quiet, but it was on the page. I couldn’t deny it.

The other was a girl and nothing in my own writing has ever surprised me more.

This girl was always part of the story, for sure. She had been in my outline from go. I knew she was a happy-go-lucky rogue; a thief who loved violence and smiled a lot. So that’s how I wrote her and, without my even having to try, she and hyper-competent, independent, snarky Tanya smacked into each other with the electricity of a lightning storm. Writing good sexual tension—satisfying, believable tension–is hard to do. I know it is, because I’ve tried to do it. But with these two, I didn’t have to try. I didn’t even think about it, not once. It just was.

It got to the point that my strict avoidance of any mention of romance was rendering the story legitimately confusing for any reader. That’s how clear the chemistry between these two was—the completely unplanned, unlooked for, and even unwanted chemistry. But however inadvertent the romance between the two girls was, I eventually had to own up to a simple fact: I wrote it, so I was invested in it.

I grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s as a cis female. It was a time when calling oneself bisexual had a lot of cultural connotations that I was frankly uncomfortable with. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I had a lot of internalized biphobia. I remember being “scared” that I might be attracted to girls—because, sometimes, I was. But I was also attracted to guys. I had no confusion on that score, so I quietly filed all the moments of attraction to girls away in a mental folder labeled “anomalies” and got on with my life as a straight woman.

That was a mistake. That was short-sighted. I wish that, when I was Tanya’s age, I had paid better attention to who and what I actually was: queer. And the thing is? I think that if I had been Tanya’s age today, in 2021, I wouldn’t have had that problem. Because I would have had books like the ones LGBTQReads writes about every day.

And that’s how I came around on romance in my YA. Wench is a book, at its heart, about found families and finding community, which in and of itself, is a process hardwired to identity. You can’t find where you belong without knowing who you are. And you can’t find out who you are by shutting down, or shutting out, the voices in your head telling you who you want. A good book romance isn’t about finding a partner; it’s about a character learning more about themselves, and, sometimes, a romance—whether it’s successful, disastrous, or unrequited— can help with that process. It can be a means to an end as much as it can be its own happily ever after.

The romance I found in Wench helped me remember who I was. It reminded me to honor what has always been true about me. And there’s nothing anti-feminist about that.

***

Maxine Kaplan is a private investigator and writer. Her books are The Accidental Bad Girl and Wench. She lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY, where she caters to the whims of her dim, but soulful cat. Follow her on Twitter @maxinegkaplan.

The Unofficial Ranking of Top Queer Villains: a Guest Post by Be Dazzled Author Ryan La Sala

I am delighted to welcome Reverie author Ryan La Sala to the site today to celebrate the publication of his dazzling new contemporary YA romance, Be Dazzled, which just released from Sourcebooks Fire yesterday! Before we get to Ryan’s absolutely hilarious and marvelously on-point post, here’s a little more about the book:

Raffy has a passion for bedazzling. Not just bedazzling, but sewing, stitching, draping, pattern making–for creation. He’s always chosen his art over everything–and everyone–else and is determined to make his mark at this year’s biggest cosplay competition. If he can wow there, it could lead to sponsorship, then art school, and finally earning real respect for his work. There’s only one small problem… Raffy’s ex-boyfriend, Luca, is his main competition.

Raffy tried to make it work with Luca. They almost made the perfect team last year after serendipitously meeting in the rhinestone aisle at the local craft store–or at least Raffy thought they did. But Luca’s insecurities and Raffy’s insistence on crafting perfection caused their relationship to crash and burn. Now, Raffy is after the perfect comeback, one that Luca can’t ruin.

But when Raffy is forced to partner with Luca on his most ambitious build yet, he’ll have to juggle unresolved feelings for the boy who broke his heart, and his own intense self-doubt, to get everything he’s ever wanted: choosing his art, his way.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

***

And here’s Ryan’s post, an unofficial ranking of queer villains! Take it away, Ryan!

***

As persistent as the fatiguingly masculine stalwart hero is the trope of their devious counterbalance—the bad guy who is effeminate, dramatic, and sassy. Wickedly fashionable. Prone to monologues. And, of course, queer-coded to hell. That’s right! Today, we’re talking about the Queer Villain.

A lot, and I mean a LOT, has been written about queer villainy. Its toxic recurrence as lazy storytelling shorthand in narrative arts, its destructive repercussions on the psyche of queer youth, and so on. That’s all good and well and important, but I’d like to take a brief break from the discourse to approach the subject from a different point of view—one of glorious appreciation.

You see, I love queer villains. I practically am one myself, what with all the velvet capes and cackling behind large paper fans. Growing up, I saw these characters not as destructive stereotypes but as answers to the question society kept asking little gay me: How will you survive a society that won’t accept you? What does an intolerant world deserve?

Queer villains answer this in their every action and inevitable yet fabulous failure, and I often root for them. When you understand a villain as queer, a lot of what they do to undermine the status quo starts to make a lot more sense. And so here I go with my unofficial ranking of my top queer villains.

1. HIM (The Powerpuff Girls) — The undeniably BEST queer villain is, of course, HIM. Flamboyant, powerful, and constantly high-kicking in thigh-high spiked heels, HIM is an aspiration in red, a demonic Santa Claus in satanic satin. My personal hero, and the tippity top of my queer, villainous Christmas tree.

2. Ursula (The Little Mermaid) — This is a no-brainer. Ursula is quite literally based on Divine the drag queen. Because of her, for years, I begged my dad to buy me a birdbath (which is what I thought Ursula’s cauldron looked like) so I, too, could trick pretty girls into depending on me for bad boy advice and potions. And never have I forgotten the importance of body language, ha!

3. The Grinch (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas) — I think the Grinch is queer. I really do. Disagree? Well then, riddle me this: Have you ever seen a straight person stitch together an entire costume just to center themselves at a holiday party? That’s what I thought. Oh, and let’s not forget the emblematic image of the Grinch plucking bobbles from a Christmas tree using those long, furry fingers. That wrist looks preeetty limp to my little gay eye.

4. Mystique (X-Men) — Mystique is canonically queer, but who needs the canon when you are quite literally the icon of shapeshifting disguises, gender fluidity, and a swept-back hairdo dyed lesbian crisis red? Plus, she has the one power every little gay boy is drawn to: absurd flexibility and a fighting style that incorporates senseless gymnastics.

5. Azula (Avatar: The Last Airbender) — Reading Azula as queer was a personal choice right up until she decided to give herself asymmetrical bangs. Then it was canon.

6. Bugs Bunny — Stylish, annoying, and cross-dressing for theatrical antics, Bugs was an early model for the infinite ways we, as queer people, may outsmart and belittle those who invade our spaces in the name of the hunt. Was Bugs petty? Yes. Iconically so. And that’s why they’re on this list.

7. Team Rocket — Messy, dramatic, and constantly in costume, Team Rocket is the queer found family we all make fun of but are actually a part of. I mean, Jessie’s mullet defies gravity, and James never misses a chance to get into drag. And the gayest thing of all? They take orders from their cat.

8. Rita Repulsa — Is Rita queer? I have no idea. Do I unflinchingly embrace the daydream in which she’s my lesbian aunt who brings her roommate over for holiday meals and buys me Sailor Moon action figures even though my parents insist I’ll grow out of my “doll phase” soon? Absolutely.

9. Jafar (Aladdin) — Jafar is adored, yet I still believe he’s deserving of more credit for all he’s done for queer villainy. We need to talk about the wingtip eyeliner. And the perplexingly eccentric choice to imprison Jasmine in a kitschy hourglass. And the fact that the moment he got ultimate power, he gave himself a beefy chest and black acrylic nails. I would make all those choices too.

10. The Trunchbull (Matilda) — Olympian, educator, chocolate lover. The range of this butch icon goes on and on, much like the children she catapults into the sky. Somehow, that feels a little gay too. I’m still not sure why.

11. Yzma & Kronk (The Emperor’s New Groove) — This duo is everything a queer duo should be. Fashionably costumed, theatrically incompetent, and rife with miscommunications that get people turned into llamas.

12. Lady Deathstrike (X-Men) — If you were in the theater with me when I saw Lady Deathstrike bare her indestructible nails, you watched my life change. Sure, she probably is not queer herself, but there is nothing gayer than using your adamantium manicure to skewer Hugh Jackman. Quote me on that.

13. Cheryl Blossom (Riverdale) — I knew Cheryl was queer from episode one. I’ve never known a straight person to combine ambition, charisma, and tartan skirts so well. And, spoiler alert: Cheryl has since been treated to a lesbian love story on Riverdale, and I’m happy for her.

14. Gaston — Bi. Bi as hell. If Gaston isn’t bisexual, explain the brandishing pectorals furred in hair. Explain the flourish of pride when he sings “I use antlers in all of my decorating.” Explain how he instantly knew how to use that gay little hand mirror to telephone our hound-face hottie, the Beast? I have talked to Gaston on Grindr, and he is not nice. But he is queer.

15. Shego (Kim Possible) — I don’t know if you know this, but Shego, the very cool and very bored nemesis of Kim Possible, received her powers when she was exposed to…a rainbow-hued comet. So. There you have it.

16. Barbara Covett (Notes on a Scandal) — Okay, here we have a literal queer villain. I won’t say much because you need to hear it all from Barbara yourself. Her acidic wit, her shrewd fixation on Cate Blanchett, and the fact that she is unrelentingly writing to you through a diary should be all you need to know to seek out the movie Notes on a Scandal or the book it’s based on by Zoë Heller. I highly recommend both.

17. SpongeBob SquarePants (SpongeBob SquarePants) — Don’t laugh. Don’t you dare laugh. It is absolutely undeniable that SpongeBob is chaotic evil. He ruins everything, compulsively. And anyone who pretends their nose is a piccolo in their theme song? And lives in a pineapple? SpongeBob may just be the scariest person on this list.

18. Scar (The Lion King) — Big goth kitty with a smoky eye and a large following kept in line by witty retorts they have no hope of understanding? And the affected accent? We never see Scar with a love interest, but I have more than enough evidence to fortify my head canon in which Scar summers in Andalucía with another male lion named Marc.

19. Skeletor (Masters of the Universe) — Look no further than Skeletor’s fashion if you’re wondering why he’s on this list. A harness…with a hood? A loin cloth….over briefs? Knee-high boots…with a sensible heel? This sort of describes everyone in the Masters of the Universe universe, which is all the more reason for me to keep on believing Skeletor is my eventual final form.

20. Jareth (The Labyrinth) — What can be said about Jareth that hasn’t already been said by David Bowie’s prominent pelvis presented to a crowd of puppets? It’s offensive to even ask me to explain Jareth’s inclusion.

21. Dr. Frank-N-Furter (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) — I’m shivering with antici…patory fear that adding Dr. Frank-N-Furter to this list is going to get me in trouble. But I must! There’s a lot to overlook, yes, but if it means I get to appreciate a sissy in STEM who pulls off a lab coat and pearls, it will have all been worth it.

22. Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) — There is a STRONG case for Maleficent’s queerness. Firstly, her best friend is a bird. Second, I’ve never seen a straight person successfully pull off purple and neon green. And lastly, I truly cannot think of anything gayer than showing up to a straight baby shower bearing the gift of curses and then the curse itself is along the lines of “I’m going to give your child a fascination with old-timey sewing machines.”

23. Every other Disney villain — I have a hard time thinking of a single Disney villain that isn’t, in my gay little head, super queer.

24. Every villain from Sailor Moon — That’s right. All of them. Even the weekly monsters. I can’t quite explain why, but there’s something SO self-explanatorily queer about a monstrous, sexy vacuum lady. And the sexy pegasus carousel man. And the fact that every person in Sailor Moon, except for the sailor scouts themselves, gets to use dark magic while wearing couture.

25. Sinister (X-Men) — Often overlooked but absolutely deserving of a spot on this list is Sinister, a baddie who wears a cape made out of ribbons and hasn’t quite found the right foundation to match their icy undertones. And if you want to know Sinister’s power, they themselves will tell you that it’s “overthrowing tyrants and being absolutely fabulous.”

26. Xerxes (300) – When I first saw Xerxes, I had no idea what to think other than “this movie is about the wrong person.” I like the whole hero journey, but if given the choice between a buff guy with airbrushed abs versus a person who shows up to war wearing every accessory they own? I’m going with the warlord who just pillaged Claire’s. Sorry.

27. Snow Miser (The Year Without Santa Claus) — Anyone who makes you watch a whole dance number before agreeing to help you is, by definition, a queer hero, but technically, Snow Miser is kinda bad. I guess. But the little hat! The gleeful pride in being “too much!” We should be encouraging this.

Ryan La Sala writes about surreal things happening to queer people. He is the author behind the riotously imaginative Reverie, and the brilliantly constructed Be Dazzled, both of which made the Kids’ Indie Next List. He has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Tor.com, and one time Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race called him cute! Ryan is also the co-host the Celebrity Book Club Podcast, and a frequent speaker at events/conferences. When not writing, Ryan does arts and crafts and, if he’s lucky, he sometimes remembers to film his escapades for his long-suffering YouTube channel subscribers.

How Writing and Reading Fantasy Got Me Through the Pandemic: a Guest Post by Curling Vines and Crimson Trades Author Kellie Doherty

Today on the site I’m delighted to welcome Kellie Doherty, author of the recently released romantic fantasy Curling Vines and Crimson Trades! She’s here to talk abut the importance of writing (and reading) fantasy during a pandemic! Which, you know, just happens to be what we’ve got going on in the world right now.

Take it away, Kellie!

You know that little meme of the dog drinking tea and sitting in a burning room while saying “everything is fine”—yeah, we’re all that little dog. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on our lives and stress levels through the roof, it really does seem like everything is on fire, and quite frankly, everything hasn’t been fine. Shifting to telework, closing our bubbles, kids homeschooling, isolation, jobs lost, lives lost, constant worry…this year has been hellish, and the whole world will be overjoyed to see 2020 get yeeted on New Year’s Eve. Thankfully a vaccine is finally on the horizon but even then, it’ll take time for things to get back to “normal.” Suffice it to say, it’s been…a year.

But you know what kept me going throughout this historic and horrifying time?

Fantasy.

Yup, that’s right.

When the world was (and in most cases, still is) falling apart at the seams, fantasy was a great escape for me. Writing about glowing eyes and rust-orange swords became the thing I gravitated toward when the COVID cases hit too close to home or when the news shouted about limited hospital beds. Reading about dragons and journeys and the friends found along the way became the blanket I tucked myself under when the world was too scary, too stressful, too…everything this year.

To put it simply, fantasy became my Important Thing. While other people were baking sourdough bread to relieve stress, I was frantically working on my fantasy book Curling Vines & Crimson Trades, joining my character as one single moment changed her whole life and set her on an adventure filled with magic, mayhem, and mythological beasts. A journey that would alter her irrevocably. While my friends were playing games about island adventures with animal villagers or committing spaceship murder rampages (both still speculative escapism, by the way), I dove deep into reading Priory of the Orange and found myself tugged along with the characters and tugged out of the real world for a while.

Because that’s what fantasy does. It helps us escape. That’s why it’s so important. While I’m mostly talking about writing and reading fantasy here, there’s also a whole horde of other fantasy-type “escapes” like television, movies, podcasts, games, and other artistic expressions that falls into this category as well. Fantasy has permeated our society in the best way and for me, it’s become the perfect way to disconnect from the horror of the year. Why? Because it ticks literally all the boxes of what we can’t do right now during the pandemic.

We can’t travel. We can’t see our friends the way we want to. We can’t frequent our usual coffee shop haunts. We can’t live our lives the way we’ve become accustomed to.

But because I read fantasy stories and I write fantasy novels, I can! Kind of, anyway.

I can go on long journeys and see new things—cities, wonders of nature, ancient ruins. I can experience adventure and come across magical creatures, meeting new people and cultures along the way. I can sit in a tavern with some favorite characters. I can create swords infused with moonlight magic or make healers who can cure the sick with a single touch. I can live a normal (to their world) life with the characters of the story. And I really appreciate that.

Fantasy stories also have an “adventure thrust upon the characters” kind of feel where the characters lives are turned upside down, and they must navigate rough waters. The characters are broken and bruised and might’ve even lost friends or family along the way, and they’ve been transformed by their adventures. But they survived. I appreciate that too, now more than ever.

What I really enjoy, is that no matter if the real world is sunshine and daisies or if it’s falling to pieces, no matter where I am in my own headspace, fantasy takes me someplace else every single time. And don’t even get me started on the nostalgia factor of reading childhood favorites! Writing fantasy is also my way of analyzing what’s happening in the real world and pinning down what really matters in the end—family and friends. (Annnnd it’s also a lot of fun for me, too!)

So wherever you are, pick up a fantastical novel you’ve been wanting to read or try your hand at penning that flash fiction piece niggling your mind. Step into another world for a while to decompress from ours. I know you’ll enjoy the adventure!

***

About the Book

Rare goods trader Orenda Silverstone leads a happy life with her wife and friends. She’s an Elu—a race whose crafting is centered on protection—but her power is broken. Now, her sword is her strength. When her wife gets kidnapped and Orenda has to use her trading skills to complete some nearly impossible tasks to get her back, a good sword arm won’t be enough. Orenda’s time is rapidly coming to a close. She needs help.

But she’s been forced into silence. Two sun goddess worshippers, twins Lan and Lyra, decide to join Orenda’s quest in order to guard one of the rarer items to its destination. Orenda’s not sure she can turn her back on either one, but with no other options, she competes against the sunrises to complete her tasks before her wife is killed.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Orenda’s best friend, Jax, tries to kill her.

Between racing against the coming dawns and battles at every turn, Orenda’s list now seems insurmountable. No longer certain of who is friend or foe, she must come up with a plan to save them all before the sun rises on her wife’s final day.

Buy Curling Vines & Crimson Trades here!

***

Kellie Doherty is a queer science fiction and fantasy author who lives in Eagle River, Alaska. When she noticed that there wasn’t much positive queer representation in the science fiction and fantasy realms, she decided to create her own! Kellie’s work has been published in Image OutWrite 2019, Astral Waters Review, Life (as it) Happens, and Impact, among others. Her adult sci-fi debut novel—Finding Hekate—came out in April 2016 from Desert Palm Press and the sequel—Losing Hold—came out in April 2017. She’s currently working on a five-book adult fantasy series. The first book Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties released in March 2019 from Desert Palm Press and won a 2019 Rainbow Award. The second book Curling Vines & Crimson Trades is launching later this year! An excerpt from Curling Vines won first place in an Alaska Writers Guild Fiction contest in 2020.

The Gastronomy of A Curse of Roses: a Guest Post by Diana Pinguicha

I’m so excited to welcome A Curse of Roses author Diana Pinguicha back to the site today to celebrate the release of her debut, and to discuss the delicious food in it! The f/f YA fantasy just released yesterday from Entangled Teen, and if you click on the title above, you can check out the first two chapters right here on LGBTQReads. Already read and loved them? Then read on to learn about its culinary delights!

Disclaimer: I love food. I’ve always loved cooking, and baking, and some of my best memories are with my grandma Nini, who was an out-of-this-world cook. I still think she had some sort of magic in her, because every dish she touched came out delicious. She was also notoriously bad about writing down her recipes, because, well… she didn’t follow any, not really. Portuguese people don’t do measuring cups, or instructions when cooking—we just throw stuff in with confidence and whatever happens, happens.

And, in true grandmother fashion, she’d feed me until I dropped. Much to my mom’s chagrin, since I was obese as a child, and whenever I went to my nana’s I’d come back much heavier than when she dropped me off. I believe Nana’s overfeeding came from the fact that she, much like the rest of my family, starved during the dictatorship, and once she had access to food, she saw no reason not to overindulge. There would be times when I’d cry because I wasn’t supposed to be eating so much. But my nana always made me feel at ease about my weight and appetite. She said, “Fat isn’t ugly, and you’re always so happy when you eat. So eat!”

That was another aspect of her that I thought was magical. She cared only for my happiness. She was the only one who never judged me for being “a difficult kid” and would always be kind to me, even when I wasn’t kind to myself. She was also the only person who would let me just be. If I wanted to be left alone in a corner to read, or play video games, she’d let me. If I wanted to hijack the kitchen to make desserts (which she did not like to make) she’d let me. Really, I don’t have enough words to express how much I love her and miss her, and how utterly good she was.

Now that my nana has passed, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to replicate what she’d serve me. The taste is still vivid in my memories, and if I close my eyes, I can remember what her chickpea stew tasted like, her ensopado, her migas. More than anything, I wanted to honor the memories of the food she made me, and because A CURSE OF ROSES takes place in Alentejo, it was the perfect opportunity to highlight the gastronomy of my home region. I’ve mentioned above that people from my family largely starved during the dictatorship, and it’s true for a lot of Alentejo and other interior regions. The way Alentejanos had of making their food last was to add the stale bread they had lying around, and for that reason, a lot of our dishes include it. And since Isabel of Aragon’s miracle involved turning bread into roses—which was another great excuse to go all-in on Alentejo cuisine.

During my research, I also found that many Alentejo dishes have their origin with the Moors. The chickpea stew my nana made? A variation of what is now the Moroccan Harira. The broas? They’re a variation of the Arabic ghoribas. The Encharcada? It’s a variant of Qalb El Louz. The Almendrados? They’re remarkably like the Mlouwza. Which, at a time when people are trying to erase our Moor past, seemed very important for me to include.

So, the gastronomy in ACOR? It’s everything I grew up eating.

There’s açorda (which I stylized as assorda, since medieval serigraphy didn’t have the ç), which is an inexpensive dish that fed my family many a times, and that we make together every Christmas Eve at 3 am. All you need for it is garlic, cilantro, olive oil, stale bread, eggs, and boiling water. Eggs aren’t really mandatory, though. And, if you’re feeling fancy, you can add some fish such as cod.

Açorda à Alentejana

The chickpea stew (Cozido de Grão), which is made with chickpeas, and a lot of other vegetables, such as kale, carrots, and so on. It’s also usually cooked with meat, and my grandma did it with pork. When I was younger and had textural issues with all the different veggies, she’d also pass it through an immersion blender so I could eat it, and whenever my parents told her not to, she’d just give them a smile and say, “It’s two minutes of my time, and if this helps her eat better, I’m doing it.”

Pork is another big player in Alentejo gastronomy. I mention the slaughter season in ACOR, and it’s another thing I’ve lived with. Every February, my grandparents would slaughter a pig, and the neighbors would help them with several cuts, sausages, and so on. No part of the pig went to waste—not even the blood, which is used in some dishes and sausages. The things we made with a single pork would last us almost an entire year, and in older times, the chouriço, and the toucinho, and all that, would be used as something to trade for. It was also not uncommon to have a pig the entire neighborhood took care of, and then divided come slaughter. I do not miss that part of the year, and I haven’t eaten pork in over a decade—but it plays a huge part in our gastronomy, and so, I included it.

Then there is Migas, which is literally bread you throw into a pan, and then water until it breaks up. Some people will also add the fat that’s leftover from cooking the pork—but again, I don’t eat pork, so I actually use regular water and fry it in a bit of olive oil and garlic.

Conventual sweets also make an appearance. There’s Rala Bread (Pão de Rala), which is essentially, flour, sugar, and eggs. There are also Gadanhas, native to my hometown of Estremoz, and they’re based on eggs and almonds.

There’s another aspect I had to consider, and that was what kind of food would be available to you depending on social class. Commoners would be mostly vegetarian, save for the aforementioned pork days and the occasional chicken, or some animal they hunted, as commoners were allowed to hunt in their Lords’ lands in times where food was scarce. Hunting was also another way my family had to feed themselves during the dictatorship (and they kept ferrets solely for the purpose of hunting rabbits!) Meanwhile, the nobility would be gorging on everything, from wine and meats. Sweetwater fish are also part of Alentejo gastronomy, like the boga and the bordalo—fish that are slowly disappearing because of the pollution in our rivers.

There were other dishes I wanted to include, but couldn’t due to the fact that the ingredients were not native to Europe, and could not be realistically delivered. The Tomato Soup (Sopas de Tomate) was one, as were the pumpkin Dreams (Sonhos), and the Ensopado (because it requires potatoes), and the tomatada (that’s when you cook in a delicious tomato sauce—my nana learned to make that especially for me). I also could not include cod-based dishes, which was a shame, but alas. Hopefully there will be other books set in more modern times, where I can highlight those as well.

And I hope this blog post has piqued your curiosity in our humble Alentejo food! I promise it’s as delicious as it sounds!

***

Check out an excerpt and/or buy A Curse of Roses here!

***

Born in the sunny lands of Portugal, Diana grew up in Estremoz, and now lives in Lisbon with two extremely fluffy cats and one amazing bearded dragon. A Computer Engineer graduate from Instituto Superior Técnico, she has worked in award-winning educational video games, but writing is where her heart always belonged. When she’s not working on her books, she can be found painting, immersed in books or video games, or walking around with her dragon.

Uncertainty as Opportunity: Why It’s Okay To Not Know Everything About Your Identity Right Away, A Guest Post By Ana on the Edge Author A.J. Sass

Today on the site I am so excited to be welcoming A.J. Sass, author of the groundbreaking middle grade contemporary Ana on the Edge, which releases today from Little, Brown Young Readers. Here’s a little more about the book:

For fans of George and Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, a heartfelt coming of age story about a nonbinary character navigating a binary world.

Twelve-year-old Ana-Marie Jin, the reigning US Juvenile figure skating champion, is not a frilly dress kind of kid. So, when Ana learns that next season’s program will be princess themed, doubt forms fast. Still, Ana tries to focus on training and putting together a stellar routine worthy of national success.

Once Ana meets Hayden, a transgender boy new to the rink, thoughts about the princess program and gender identity begin to take center stage. And when Hayden mistakes Ana for a boy, Ana doesn’t correct him and finds comfort in this boyish identity when he’s around. As their friendship develops, Ana realizes that it’s tricky juggling two different identities on one slippery sheet of ice. And with a major competition approaching, Ana must decide whether telling everyone the truth is worth risking years of hard work and sacrifice.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

And here’s the post!

A month after I started hormone replacement therapy, my friends threw me a “T-party” in San Francisco’s Dolores Park. I’d recently come out as trans and chosen a name that has stayed with me to this day: Andrew. And pronouns? He, him, and his, because I’m a guy, obviously.

Hold that thought.

I remember that afternoon well. It was unusually warm for a July in San Francisco, and the outing felt festive, reminiscent of a Pride Month weekend just a few weeks earlier. I was surrounded by friends who’d supported me as I navigated both my social and medical transition. My world felt full of potential. Finally, I could focus on living my life rather than on coming out to everyone and the emotional labor that entailed.

Just the same, I found myself shrugging when a friend jokingly asked if, two injections into my transition, I’d noticed any physical changes yet.

“Not yet,” I’d said. Then, a slight hesitation before I admitted, “honestly, I’m not even sure I feel like a man at this point.”

“Give it time,” my friends who’d been on testosterone (T) longer encouraged me. “It’ll happen, especially when strangers stop misgendering you.”

Their advice was well-meaning and, I suspect, a truth for many folks who’ve pursued this particular avenue of transition. So I waited, and I hoped my feelings would change on a similar trajectory with my body.

They didn’t.

I can’t remember the first time I heard the word nonbinary. Maybe I read an interview online or it came up in a casual conversation. What I do remember is the immediate connection I felt to its definition:

Nonbinary: not relating to, composed of, or involving just two things.

That’s me. I knew instantly.

So why did it take me another four years to decide to discontinue T and even longer to publicly announce my identity? Simple: I didn’t want to be a burden. I’d just come out as a trans man to my friends and family, then had to approach my workplace’s HR department to change my name and pronouns. There was a nagging concern that I’d be inconveniencing people after I’d already asked them to use one new name and set of pronouns.

And what if I realized that different pronouns worked better for me later on? How many times could I come out to people before they got fed up?

By the time I wrote Ana on the Edge, I was more or less comfortable being seen as a man in my public life, even if it didn’t perfectly describe who I am. But, as writing often does when you’re delving into something personal, Ana’s journey to discovering her nonbinary identity brought to the surface feelings and thoughts about my own.

I created an ending to Ana’s story that left things open, one that sent readers the message that, “hey, this kid now knows she’s nonbinary, but she doesn’t have everything figured out yet, and that’s okay.” But it wasn’t until relatively late in the drafting process—after I’d revised the story enough to begin querying agents—that I realized the same logic could be applied to myself.

It was a revelation that allowed me to critically evaluate how I wanted to be seen as an author who plans to continue exploring queer themes in the kidlit space. In a way, Ana, my fictional ‘enby bean’ ice skater, taught me that not knowing everything about myself all at once is not only acceptable but something to embrace. And the individuals who might not be so enthusiastic about having to learn a new set of pronouns? They’re not people worth being concerned about. My identity—an inherent part of who I am as a living, breathing, feeling human being—is not up for debate no matter how often it happens to evolve, nor is it an inconvenience.

Near the end of Ana’s story, she reflects on the decision not to change her pronouns yet: “Uncertainty feels like less of a burden and more of an opportunity.”

I’ve held that line close to me on the lead-up to publication. Because some people know who they are when they’re young, and that’s entirely valid. But for a long time, the only trans narratives I could find in the media exclusively reflected the experience that you either know you’re trans at a young age or else you’re not really trans.

People aren’t static. Our tastes, interests, and even appearances change as we learn more about ourselves over time. Why not the understanding of our internal sense of self, as well? Instead of the shame I’m tempted to feel for inconveniencing people when I learn something new about myself, Ana helped me acknowledge that my identity is my own, even at times when I’ve been uncertain about some aspect of it.

Maybe you were twelve like Ana when you discovered your identity or well into adulthood like I was. Maybe you’re still trying to figure it out now; that’s also perfectly fine. The wonderful thing about identity is it has no expiration date. Sit back, enjoy the journey, and celebrate every new discovery.

Parties (T, tea, or otherwise) are also highly recommended.

***

A. J. Sass is a writer, editor, and occasional mentor. A long-time figure skater, he has passed his U.S. Figure Skating Senior Moves in the Field and Free Skate tests, medaled twice at the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, and currently dabbles in ice dance. When he’s not exploring the world as much as possible, A. J. lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs. Ana on the Edge is his first novel.

Why the Label “All Ages” is Important to Me: a Guest Post by The Dragon of Ynys Author Minerva Cerridwen

Today on the site we’re welcoming Minerva Cerridwen, author of fantasy novella The Dragon of Ynys, “an inclusive fairytale for all ages” starring an aromantic asexual main character (and lesbian and trans side characters) which was rereleased this past September from Atthis Arts. Here’s the blurb:

Every time something goes missing from the village, Sir Violet, the local knight, makes his way to the dragon’s cave and negotiates the item’s return. It’s annoying, but at least the dragon is polite.

But when the dragon hoards a person, that’s a step too far. Sir Violet storms off to the mountainside to escort the baker home, only to find a more complex mystery—a quest that leads him far beyond the cave. Accompanied by the missing baker’s wife and the dragon himself, the dutiful village knight embarks on his greatest adventure yet.

Buy it: Publisher’s website | Smashwords| Amazon | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

And here’s the post!

The Dragon of Ynys is a fairy tale with an aromantic asexual main character, and lesbian and trans supporting characters. And, of course, a dragon!

The story was first published in 2018 with a different publishing house, which unfortunately went out of business last year. After the release of the 2018 edition, sensitivity issues were pointed out to me, mainly regarding trans representation. It was all too clear in the story that I had not completely figured out my genderqueer identity when I first wrote it. Having learned more about the depth of the story’s issues and about myself, I have worked with a new team of editors and sensitivity readers to improve the book before re-publication. The 2020 edition, now published with Atthis Arts, also has a new epilogue, and an afterword about the story’s (and my own) journey towards what it is now.

The Dragon of Ynys is innocent, very clear about the message it wants to send, and the novella-length plot is relatively simple.

You might conclude that sounds like a children’s book. Booksellers would definitely prefer if it was that easy to know on which shelf to put it. And sure, it is suited for children and middle-grade readers, but I think the story will speak to adults just as much. After all, the person for whom I wrote this in the first place was… me.

I was 25 when I wrote the first draft. I hadn’t discovered everything about myself and maybe I still haven’t now, at 29. I wrote the story that I needed to read, about acceptance—not only of others but also myself. Considering some of the phrases I had written into the first version, the tale couldn’t be clear enough in its messages.

When I’m not writing or drawing, I work as a pharmacist. Every day, I meet people who are quite a bit older than me, who share little parts of their worries and thoughts in the context of medical conversations. I hear people try desperately to conform to expectations without stopping to wonder if those things really are what they want to do with their lives. (Of course, sometimes they are, and society simply isn’t making it easy for everyone to achieve those goals.) Still, these chats often make me think that a lot of adults would benefit from reading a story that clearly shows the advantages of listening to different perspectives, to better understand others as well as to learn more about their own true selves. Hearing relatable stories can not only make us feel less alone, but also help us grow the confidence to allow others to get to know the real you. In turn, we learn to truly listen to what those new friends are telling us—and that’s the difficult part. Sometimes we need to challenge everything we’ve ever been taught in order to open our minds. This message of listening combined with acceptance is very present in The Dragon of Ynys.

Of course children’s books can be read and loved at any age—I certainly still enjoy them. But it wouldn’t feel right to me to name only younger readers as the intended audience for my fairy tale, because the adults who influenced me as a child would have needed to hear its messages in order to pass them on to me. Most (queer) people I know who are around my age experience moments of nostalgia where we grab a book that we wish we could have had as a child, or a teenager, or three years ago when we were struggling to make sense of our identity—because the media we had access to when we were younger did not contain any, or barely any, LGBTQIA+ representation, and even if the subject ever came up, the adults we knew might not have acknowledged that this could be us.

I hope that The Dragon of Ynys can be one of those moments of nostalgia and comfort for some of us. Obviously it’s more important that people can find support from their friends, family or community rather than from a book, but I am certain that there are sixty-, seventy-, eighty-year-olds in our current society who might benefit simply from reading that nothing is wrong with them. And it can inspire adults to be those supportive people to the children around them. That’s why it’s so important to me to present this story as a fairy tale for all ages. Really, all.

***

Minerva Cerridwen is a genderqueer aromantic asexual writer and pharmacist from Belgium. She enjoys baking, drawing and handlettering.

Since 2013 she has been writing for Paranatellonta, a project combining photography and flash fiction. Her first published work was the queer fairy tale ‘Match Sticks’ in the Unburied Fables anthology (2016). Her short stories have also appeared in Atthis Arts anthologies Five Minutes at Hotel Stormcove (2019) and Community of Magic Pens (2020).

For updates on her newest projects, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Never Too Late: a Guest Post by Out on the Ice Author Kelly Farmer

Caro Cassidy used to be a legend.

During her career, Caro was one of the best defense players in women’s hockey. These days, she keeps to herself. Her all-girls hockey camp is her life, and she hopes it’ll be her legacy. Sure, her new summer hire is charming and magnetic, but Caro keeps her work and personal life strictly separate.

Amy Schwarzbach lives life out loud.

Amy’s as bright and cheerful as her lavender hair, and she uses her high-profile position in women’s hockey to advocate for the things she believes in. Ten weeks in Chicago coaching a girls’ training camp is the perfect opportunity to mentor the next generation before she goes back to Boston.

Letting love in means putting yourself out there.

When the reticent head coach offers to help Amy get in shape for next season, her starstruck crush on Caro quickly blossoms into real chemistry. As summer comes to an end, neither of them can quite let go of this fling—but Amy can’t afford a distraction, and Caro can’t risk her relationship becoming public and jeopardizing the one thing that’s really hers.

Buy it: Amazon | Apple Books | B&N | Kobo | Google Play

Here’s the post, compliments of Kelly Farmer!

Hi there! I’m Kelly, and I’m bisexual.

Not so long ago, I wouldn’t have said that. Because I didn’t know. See, I discovered this in my early forties. Part of what helped me come to terms with this was writing my debut novel, Out on the Ice. There was some serious life imitating art going on.

I’d been a strong LGBTQIA+ ally forever. Positive representation in media and human rights have always mattered. I cheered on marriage equality with gusto for my friends and loved ones. But never, not once, did I feel anything close to identifying as a member of the community. Never had one of those “experimental phases” in college. So I went along as a straight girl up until 2018.

And then… I watched the United States Women’s National Hockey Team win that nail-biter Olympic gold medal game against Team Canada. It reminded me of the book I wrote years ago that featured a female goaltender. How much I enjoyed being immersed in that world. How I missed writing hockey stories (I was known as the girl who wrote “hockey books” long before it was popular). Sweet news bits came out about U.S. and Canadian female hockey players who, despite the fierce on-ice rivalry, had found love off the ice.

The story seeds started to get planted. Playing the “What if…” game is my favorite part of being a writer. I knew I wanted a story between a retired women’s hockey legend (Caro) and someone out and proud (Amy) to shake up the other’s quiet life. Sort of a melding of my old hockey stories and what I wanted to write about now. Amy declared she was bisexual because there wasn’t a lot of representation out there.

So the story percolated in my head, and something strange happened. I was thinking an awful lot about female/female romances. Reading stories about women athletes falling in love. Googling information about bisexuality. It felt so warm and fuzzy. It felt…right. Little flashes of ideas started coming to life. Not for my book—for myself. I was out for a sunny afternoon walk one day when a single thought popped into my head: What if I’m bisexual?

I remember smiling to myself. And then laughing, Oh my God, it figures. I don’t live life by “ordinary” conventions. Of course I’d fall under the greatly misunderstood bisexual umbrella. I chewed on this for weeks. Months. Did more Googling. More soul-searching. It made a lot of sense. I found guys attractive—that hadn’t changed. But there were some behaviors I’d never thought much about. I’ve always “admired” athletic women. (Haha—I sure admired Megan Rapinoe a lot.) I can’t sit in a chair like a normal person. (What, one leg flung over the side isn’t normal?) I’m always pointing and shooting finger guns at people. And really, Rachel Weisz in The Mummy is so adorable…

It sunk in, and I finally said it out loud to myself: “I’m bisexual.” I was 42. Never too late to live an authentic life! I really dug into book research that doubled as personal research. Learned about bi-erasure that bothered me so much, it became an important topic in Out on the Ice. Going on this journey with Caro and Amy helped me become more comfortable with the idea of finding love with another woman. Why not?

By the time I typed The End, I was really freaking proud. Proud of this book. Proud that I’d come to terms with who I am. And nervous but proud that when I was ready, I’d be able to join the community. It started slow and quiet, a little at a time. Privately to my parents and brother, then in little bits here and there. When I sold Out on the Ice this past February, I knew I wanted to make it known before my book launched. So I did, rather gloriously in social media posts this spring.

I am so, so lucky to be surrounded by fantastically supportive friends and family. I was anxious about coming out, but the one thing that gave me strength was knowing it wouldn’t be a big deal. That’s another thing that got incorporated into my manuscript: coming out stories are so varied. They can be simple, or beautiful, or painful, or just plain awful. I could really tap into the nervousness, the uncertainty, the feeling like you have a big secret, the huge relief once it’s out.

This book will forever hold a special place in my heart. Not only because it’s my debut novel, but it’s also the debut of me in all my bisexual glory. That’s a pretty terrific combination.

* * *

Kelly Farmer (she/her) has been writing romance novels since junior high. In those days, they featured high school quarterbacks named Brad who drove Corvettes and gals with names like Desireé because her own name was rather plain. Her stories since then have ranged from historical and contemporary male/female romances to light women’s fiction to LGBTQ+ romance. One theme remains the same: everyone deserves to have a happy ending.

Kelly was a 2015 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® Finalist in the Contemporary Romance category. She is past president of the Chicago-North Romance Writers and is also a member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

When not writing, she enjoys being outside in nature, quoting from 80’s movies, listening to all kinds of music, and petting every dog she comes in contact with. All of these show up in her books. She also watches a lot of documentaries to satisfy her hunger for random bits of trivia. Kelly lives in the Chicago suburbs, where she swears every winter is her last one there.

To connect with Kelly, talk about Schitt’s Creek and RuPaul’s Drag Race, and share photos of your adorable pets, please head over to:

The Places Behind We Go Together: a Guest Post by Author Abigail de Niverville

I’m excited to welcome Abigail de Niverville to the site today to celebrate the release of her new book, We Go Together! This contemporary m/f YA Romance stars a cis bi girl and trans boy coming back together over a summer, and the author is here to talk about the settings of the book and why they mean so much to her. But first, a little more on the book, out today from NineStar Press!

WeGoTogether-fThe beaches of Grand-Barachois had been Kat’s summer home for years. There, she created her own world with her “summer friends,” full of possibilities and free from expectation. But one summer, everything changed, and she ran from the life she’d created.

Now seventeen and on the brink of attending college, Kat is full of regret. She’s broken a friendship beyond repair, and she’s dated possibly the worst person in the world. Six months after their break-up, he still haunts her nightmares. Confused and scared, she returns to Grand-Barachois to sort out her feelings.

When she arrives, everything is different yet familiar. Some of her friends are right where she left them, while some are nowhere to be found. There are so many things they never got to do, so many words left unsaid.

And then there’s Tristan.

He wasn’t supposed to be there. He was just a guy from Kat’s youth orchestra days. When the two meet again, they become fast friends. Tristan has a few ideas to make this summer the best one yet. Together, they build a master list of all the things Kat and her friends wanted to do but never could. It’s finally time to live their wildest childhood dreams.

But the past won’t let Kat go. And while this may be a summer to remember, there’s so much she wants to forget.

Buy it: NineStar Press

And here’s the post!

When I was little, until I was about ten years old, my family piled into the car, with stuffed animals and bedsheets jammed into every corner, and drove to the family cottage in Shediac, New Brunswick. My grandmother and great-aunt would stay there pretty much the entire season, with a revolving door of family popping in for dinner visits and overnight stays. The cottage was old, with mismatched plates, and furniture that vaguely smelt of must. But even with all its imperfections, it was perfect. Going to the cottage was a magical time every year when real life felt eons away, and time almost stopped and sped at the same time.

When I was twenty-one, my friends and I drove out to a friend’s cottage in Cap-Pelé, in a community a little further than Shediac on the Acadian coast in New Brunswick. We went down a long, dirt road, with various houses and cottages peeking through the trees. It was more rural than Shediac, but just as magical. We sat on the deck and looked down at the beach, so close to us and so far from the world and our responsibilities. My friend mentioned how some people lived here all year, not just in the summer. I thought to myself that would be ideal, to live on this small corner of the coast and forget about life.

A few years later, my mom’s cousin moved to Grand-Barachois, another area along the Acadian coast. She had a beautiful house, fully winterized and a minute’s walk away from the beach. Her street was so quiet, with only a hint of the world beyond coming from the cars moving on the old highway. The sky was vast and blue, and stretched on forever. I thought to myself that it would also be a wonderful place to write a story.

While all three of these places were different, the experience was always the same. I loved coming to that corner of the province. I loved feeling the sand in my toes and smelling the sea air. I loved how these places made time stand still. I loved how cozy they felt, preserved with artefacts from the past—like old TVs and jigsaw puzzled with pieces missing. I knew, one of these days, I wanted to write a book with this setting, and somehow recreate the feeling these places gave me.

When I first began We Go Together, I started with a simple concept: to write a summer novel that took place somewhere along the Acadian coast. I had a character in mind who was in a transitional period of her life, who would be looking both forward and backward in order to piece herself together. The more I wrote, the more it became clear this character had survived a traumatic relationship, and needed to parse what had taken place in a setting that would allow her space to breathe. The beaches in Grand-Barachois felt like the perfect setting. They were peaceful, remote, timeless—but never lonely. A gentle removal from daily life, to ease into acknowledging the darker parts of the past.

In creating a fictionalized version of this setting, I wanted to reflect a world that felt both current and timeless, with mixes of modern and old technology, and modern and old references, too. A place that was both grounded in reality, but also otherworldly. A place where beauty abounded, even when confronted with desolation. A place full of contradictions, much like the main character Kat’s journey towards understanding her past.

There are many aspects of life in New Brunswick that are not ideal. There are reasons I moved away. But there’s so much beauty in that province that I feel compelled to acknowledge in my writing. There are so many little nooks and crannies characters can explore, and so many memories just waiting to be made. This novel covers some of those beautiful places, but there’s always more to discover.

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Abigail de Niverville is an author and composer based in Toronto, Canada. Born on the East Coast of the country, Abigail draws inspiration from her experiences growing up there. She’s especially fond of writing contemporary young adult novels and poetry. Abigail holds and M.Mus from the University of Toronto and writes music in many genres, including classical, pop, and film. She is constantly working on new music projects and drafting story ideas.

Home Again: Why I Finally Set a Novel in My Home State, a Guest Post by Tack & Jibe Author Lilah Suzanne

Today on the site, we’re thrilled to welcome author Lilah Suzanne to celebrate the release of their newest, a contemporary f/f Romance called Tack & Jibe that releases from Interlude Press today. Here’s a little more on the book!

Raised on a small island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Willa Rogers has a picture-perfect nautical life: hanging out at the beach with her friends, living in a cozy seaside cottage, working at a sailing store, and running a hugely popular sailing Instagram. It’s so convincing that her overzealous online followers register her to compete in the High Seas, a televised national sailing championship.

Too bad Willa doesn’t actually know how to sail.

Desperate to protect her carefully curated life, Willa tracks down four-time High Seas champion Lane Cordova, and begs her for a crash course in sailing before the race begins. But Lane’s mastery of the water is matched only by Willa’s ineptitude—and her growing crush on Lane isn’t helping matters. When the competition threatens to go awry and take her idealized life with it, Willa has to figure out if she can save her reputation from sinking while taking a chance on love.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | Bookshop

And here’s the post!

The shopping center when you first come into town features a gas station-slash-Italian grocery store, an eyebrow threading studio that is also, somehow, a U-haul rental center, and next to that, a vape store. This a town that was put on the map in the 1800s thanks to a railroad stop and a natural spring that locals claimed had healing powers— a spring that has since dried up and a train depot that is now a brewery. The rows of brick buildings branded with historical marker placards are occupied by shiny new stores: a juice bar, a coffee roaster, an artisanal chocolate cafe, even more breweries. There’s a new library; an expanded town hall; and a newly-opened art center. The art center, with its white-washed facade and picture windows, sits in the center of downtown, around the corner and across the street from a gun store that boasts over 6,000 guns in stock. It’s a complicated place; a town in flux, but from what to what I’m not quite sure. A rural small-town turned suburban enclave for certain, but just as transplants from colder places north of the Mason-Dixon bring more progressive views, an undercurrent of conformity remains.

The suburbs, like much of the South, is not a place to make waves.

It’s fitting, I suppose, that the first story I’ve set in North Carolina is about a character who struggles with the desire to be someone else, somewhere else. Someone who feels as if they must contort and misrepresent themselves in an effort to fit in and who, in a pretty straightforward metaphor for wanting to get the heck out of dodge, dreams of literally sailing away and never coming back. And yet.

And yet, there’s this tug of home. This is the place that’s shaped them. That’s shaped me. Isn’t this odd little town part of who I am? Won’t it always be? Could I really leave, even if I wanted to? Do I want to? Wherever you go there you are… This is the push-pull at the center of Tack & Jibe, a story that asks a lot of questions about authenticity and truth and finding yourself when you aren’t in a place–literally or metaphorically–to explore that fully.

In truth, I didn’t even realize I was writing these themes in Tack & Jibe until I was well into the editorial process. It was one of those oh, that’s what I was working through here, moments. I am several books and short stories in to a writing career and just now am I writing about the state where I’ve spent most of my life. Just now am I really exploring the complicated relationship I have to home and self and identity and loving a place that doesn’t always love me back. Why? Maybe I just needed time. Maybe I needed to write about other things first. Maybe I just didn’t feel like it. Maybe, like Willa and Lane in Tack & Jibe, I needed to know I could leave if I wanted to. And maybe I do, even if it’s only in a story. But maybe I don’t.

This is what I love about North Carolina: The accent, the sweet tea, the barbeque, the mild winters, the pine forests, the mountains, the beaches, the way people smile and say, “hey!” and genuinely welcome you to their home and heart even when they don’t know you all that well, not really. How people surprise you by being open and loving when you’ve come expect the opposite. Here’s what I don’t love: How change is still slow to come and hard-fought, the gut punch of realizing you don’t belong somewhere after all, knowing there are parts of you that you have to hide, knowing you aren’t safe, knowing that if they knew really knew you, they wouldn’t welcome you into their home and heart. Not really.

I don’t have answers to any of the questions or conflicts I ask in the book nor do I in real life. Like the town I currently reside in, perhaps I’m in flux. I’ve left home before and I probably will again. For now I’m here because, well, because I am. I’m happy though, and in the book, Willa ends up happy. But Tack & Jibe is a rare story where I didn’t neatly wrap up all the loose ends, which troubled me at first until I realized there exists the possibility of multiple happily-ever-afters unspooling from the place where the story finishes. For a lot of us, a sense of home and a sense of who we are is complicated. And for me, for Willa, for Lane, for a lot of people, it probably always will be. Ultimately, that’s what the story is really about. Well, that and sailing.

And romance, of course.

It’s complicated.

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Lilah Suzanne is a queer author of bestselling and award-winning romantic fiction. Their 2018 novel Jilted was named a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and a Foreword INDIES Award, and won a Bisexual Book Award for romantic fiction. Their critically acclaimed Spotlight series included the Amazon #1 bestseller Broken Records, along with Burning Tracks and Blended Notes. Lilah also authored the romantic comedy Spice, the novellas Pivot & Slip and After the Sunset, and the short story Halfway Home, from the holiday anthology If the Fates Allow. A writer from a young age, Lilah resides in North Carolina and mostly enjoys staying indoors, though sometimes ventures out for concerts, museum visits, and quiet walks in the woods.