Category Archives: Guest post

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.

***

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.

***

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.

Sensitive Subjects, a Guest Post by Rewritten Author JR Gray

Today on the site, we’re welcoming JR Gray, author of the Unscripted series, whose second book, Rewritten, released on June 4th! He’s here to talk about writing mental health into his newest romance, a slow-burn Hollywood-set friends-to-lovers that’s a direct sequel of Unscripted (so read that one first!), but first, a little more on the book!

Movie star 102: The headlines are never what they seem.

Quellcrist wasn’t new to fame or the effect it had on a relationship. He’d been married in the spotlight for as long as he’d been famous. But that was before Hale. He knew it was going to test him but even he hadn’t known the toll that months apart would take on his fledgling relationship.

Long days of shooting, different time zones, calls every day dwindled to days without calls, and rumors were all over the rags. Through it all Quell had to battle his own worst enemy but he didn’t know how to win against something inside him. Depression ate him whole and pain took over.

There was so much more at stake than losing his boyfriend, he was losing his best friend. His lifeline, the love of his life. Was there any way to come back from the damage done?

Can they rewrite their ending?

Buy it: Amazon | Indiebound

And here’s the post!

The idea for Unscripted started when I was watching a television show, hoping beyond hope that I wasn’t being queerbaited and that I’d get this amazing love story building. We’ve all been there, shipping something on a favorite show but not expecting to ever get a queer ship. How many times have we all had our hopes up and had the creators ruin it for us. I enjoyed the actors so much I started to watch videos of them and I became obsessed with the idea of two actors falling in love while playing a couple on a television show. This led to me obsessively watching videos on people who played couples in movies or television shows and watching their chemistry. Some went on to be couples and others were just good friends.

But what if I could have both? What if I could write a story where the actors had an intense bromance and then fell in love. As soon as I started crafting the characters I was obsessed. I loved them more than I’ve ever loved any of my other characters. One of the reasons was because I put a lot of my experience with depression into Quell. I felt his pain, and his rejection and his loneliness.

The depression topics in Unscripted were something I’d never done before. I knew it was going to be an intense book. Personal experiences are hard. I had no idea how it would be received, which is always a terrifying moment because I know everyone’s experience with depression is different. I was blown away with the reception and how many people took the time to message me privately to tell me they’d never read a book that showed depression the way they’d experienced it. As soon as I started writing Quell I knew he was special.

I wanted to tell a story that showed how people can realize their sexuality later in life as well as work in one of my favorite tropes: friends to lovers. I wanted to build a safe space in the friendship between Quell and Hale. Something that would help bring Quell out of his loneliness and someone to be there through his dark times. I wanted their relationship to be intense and born out of friendship. I knew it was the only way Quell would open up and feel safe.

This was a massive undertaking. But the book poured out of me and I loved it from the beginning. I knew book two would be even more intense and harder to write because Quell would go darker with his and Hale’s time apart but I knew getting to the HEA would be worth it for these two.

***

Gray is a cynical Chicago native, who drinks coffee all day, barely sleeps, and is a little too fashion obsessed. He writes realistic and damaged characters because everyone deserves a happily ever after.

The Joy in Writing Erotic Romance: a Guest Post by Bottle Rocket Author Erin McLellan

Today on the site we’re welcoming Erin McLellan, author of Bottle Rocket, the third book in the So Over the Holidays series, which released on June 15. Bottle Rocket is an erotic contemporary m/f Romance with a bi male MC, and you can read a little more about here before we move on to the guest post!

Freshly single Rosie Holiday is on the hunt for passion and excitement. This leads her to Leo Whittaker—a bad boy who waltzed out of town, and her life, thirteen years ago. Leo isn’t the type to stick around, but Rosie’s not going to let a no-strings opportunity pass her by.

When a business trip sends Leo back to his hometown, the last thing he expects is for his first love to hand him a list of scorching-hot escapades and a deadline. He’s happy to help Rosie discover her bossy side in the bedroom. Or in a fireworks stand. Or at a Fourth of July barbecue.

Their chemistry burns bright and fast, but what tore them apart years ago is still between them. They are polar opposites. A reserved kindergarten teacher and an irreverent artist. A nester and a wanderer. It will take a spark of imagination and a lot of love to keep their second-chance romance from flaming out.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

I write queer contemporary romance, all of which is fairly steamy. But of the eight books I’ve written, the only ones that are erotic romances are the So Over the Holidays series, which includes my most recent release, Bottle Rocket.

Erotic romance is romance in which the emotional conflict and plot hinges on the sexual or erotic journey of the main characters. I like to say that in erotic romance if you remove the sex or intimate scenes, the plot no longer makes sense. It’s integral.

Around two years ago, I decided to write something fluffy. All my books up to that point had been fairly angsty. I love those books, but I needed some joyfulness in my life. I know I wasn’t alone in that feeling. Rom-coms and low-angst books are experiencing a bit of a Renaissance right now in adult romance, and I believe this is due to readers wanting happiness in light of some of the heartbreak in our world. But I can only speak for myself. I needed to write something fun. I needed to write something that made me happy.

Enter erotic romance from stage left.

The So Over the Holiday series came to be because of that need. The books in the series are queer erotic romances in which the main characters embark on erotic journeys that are joyful, fun, kink positive, and life changing. I started by writing a sex-toy-selling bisexual heroine who is brash, sarcastic, and sex positive and a hero who is sweet in the streets but nasty in the sheets (Sasha and Perry from Stocking Stuffers). Then I wrote a gay lingerie-loving hero who is fabulous but a little lost and a pansexual workaholic who is completely enamored by his partner (Benji and William from Candy Hearts).

Bottle Rocket, my new release, follows Rosie Holiday, a reserved kindergarten teacher, on a summer journey of self-actualization. She’s recently divorced and has realized that so many of her interests and hobbies were dictated by her ex. She has no idea who she really is, and this extends to her sex life. She has been missing out and intends to take life by the horns and fix it. In walks the hero, Leo, who is a bisexual erotic artist and absolute bad boy. Even better, Leo and Rosie had a secret love affair thirteen years before, so this is their second chance to reconnect.

Leo offers to help Rosie work through a checklist of sexcapades. Their sexy times ultimately lead her to the realization that she enjoys being dominant and in control in bed. Leo is more than happy to be bossed around. Rosie’s femdom breakthrough is revealed through joy, humor, heart, and kindness.

When I started writing these erotic romances, it was important to me that I approached them with joy and kindness in my heart. It felt radical to me to write these journeys of sexual self-discovery without angst, not because other authors haven’t done it before—they have—but because I hadn’t.

Growing up, I didn’t have much of a sex education (hello, public school in Oklahoma) and didn’t truly understand sex positivity until I was well into adulthood. I’ve had to educate myself, and I’ve made mistakes. I’ve had to discover sex and kink positivity and grow in that understanding on my own. Being an avid romance reader has certainly helped my on my own journey. To me, Bottle Rocket feels like a culmination of that education and the joy I’ve found in that education. I hope to continue to grow, to write sex positive queer romance, to create characters who are joyful in their sexuality, and to find radical happiness in the fluffiness.

I have loved writing heroines who own how much they enjoy sex and sex toys and kink. I have loved writing heroes who are totally in awe of their partners and always game to get a little dirty. I’ve loved writing holidays full of big found families, lots of tropes, silly puns, corny humor, and repurposed clichés. It was more fun than I’ve ever had writing romance.

Lastly, and on a personal note—I finished writing Bottle Rocket in March of 2020. I discuss this in an Author’s Note at the end of the book. I wrote it while dealing with the same grief, anxiety, fear, illness, and isolation that so many of us have felt in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Being able to write Rosie and Leo as they find joy in their kinkiness, sexuality, and compatibility gave me joy when I needed it the most. I hope it brings you joy as well.

***

Erin McLellan is the author of the Farm College, So Over the Holidays, and Storm Chasers series. She enjoys writing happily ever afters that are earthy, emotional, quirky, humorous, and very sexy. Originally from Oklahoma, she currently lives in Alaska and spends her time dreaming up queer contemporary romances set in the Great Plains. She is a lover of chocolate, college sports, antiquing, Dr Pepper, and binge-worthy TV shows.

Why LGBTQ Children’s Books Aren’t Just for LGBTQ Families: a Guest Post by Mighty May Won’t Cry Today Co-Authors Kendra and Claire-Voe Ocampo

Today I’m delighted to welcome to the site Kendra and Claire-Voe Ocampo, the (married!) co-authors of Mighty May Won’t Cry Today, “a story about a determined girl who tries not to shed a tear on her first day of school, but with the help of her two moms learns why it’s OK for her (and adults!) to cry.” Here’s the info on the book, which is illustrated by Erica De Chavez and released on June 1!

Pride and love win in this relatable story celebrating the LGBTQ+ community, kids with same-sex parents, and diversity and inclusion.

This vibrant children’s picture book features May, an imaginative and determined girl who tries not to shed a tear on her first day of school but with the help of her two moms, learns why it’s okay to cry. Young readers will delight in how May cleverly navigates the unexpected, resolves challenges with positivity, and utilizes mindful techniques to work through her emotions and feelings. But when May comes across an insurmountable challenge, will she be able to hold back the tears?

Poetic rhymes, colorful designs and lovable characters elevate the story’s positive message about embracing nontraditional families and being mindful when dealing with emotions like sadness, fear, embarrassment and frustration.

This inclusive book is perfect for gay, lesbian and new parents with preschool kids, toddlers, or babies, as it encourages the future generation to embrace and celebrate the differences and emotions in all of us.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

When we first decided to write and self-publish an LGBTQ children’s picture book featuring two moms and their daughter, it was a no brainer. Every week’s trip back from the library with our daughter, we brought bags full of books—ALL featuring a traditional family structure (mother, father, and child). We are a family of two moms with two daughters. When we went hunting for LGBTQ children’s books, we found only a handful of them available, but they were in short supply and we needed to order through the library database. Even our local bookstores didn’t have much stock or options. It was clear that there needed to be more LGBTQ books available that represented our two mom family.

When we began writing the book and talked to our non-LGBTQ friends, colleagues and community, what we didn’t expect and what surprised us the most was how many of them wanted an LGBTQ book to read to their kids too (especially since they had friends who were two moms!). Time and time again, they talked about how their kids were not exposed to many LGBTQ families and how their books did not show the diversity of families that really exist.

When it came to writing Mighty May Won’t Cry Today, it was important for us to not only show our family structure, but also to show how not-different our lives are from others: to bridge the gap of what might be perceived as “different” and show instead the commonalities. In today’s society we see that it’s more important than ever for books and literature to teach and educate and illuminate the lives and stories of marginalized groups, but not only in terms of how they are different but really what connects all of us.

Mighty May Won’t Cry Today is an “everyday story” about May, an imaginative and determined girl who tries not to shed a tear on her first day of school but with the help of her two moms, learns why it’s okay to cry. We hope our young readers will laugh, smile and cry with May, as they ultimately learn with her how it’s OK to cry: an important lesson for all kids to learn: whether that is from two moms, two dads or any other important person in their lives.

***

L->R: Kendra, Claire-Voe

Claire-Voe and Kendra Ocampo have cried many tears together since falling in love in Boston and getting married in 2014 in New Jersey, just months after same-sex marriage became legal in the state. They’re two moms to two mighty daughters, Xiomara and Violet, who cry often (and that’s okay!) about spilled milk, a wet diaper, or going to school. When they’re not writing, you might find Kendra and Claire-Voe eating Spanish tapas, video gaming, or watching sappy rom-coms which often brings them to tears.

Why I Wrote In the Role of Brie Hutchens…: a Guest Post by Author Nicole Melleby

I’m so thrilled to have Nicole Melleby back on the site today, especially after reading the wonderful In the Role of Brie Hutchens, their new heartwarming, adorable, romantic, and soap opera-centric Middle Grade contemporary set at a Catholic School, releasing today from Algonquin Books! Come check out a little more about the book, which made me cry and relive my love for As the World Turns:

Introducing Brie Hutchens: soap opera super fan, aspiring actor, and so-so student at her small Catholic school. Brie has big plans for eighth grade. She’s going to be the star of the school play and convince her parents to let her go to the performing arts high school. But when Brie’s mom walks in on her accidentally looking at some possibly inappropriate photos of her favorite actress, Brie panics and blurts out that she’s been chosen to crown the Mary statue during her school’s May Crowning ceremony. Brie’s mom is distracted with pride—but Brie’s in big trouble: she has not been chosen. No one has. Worse, Brie has almost no chance to get the job, which always goes to a top student.

Desperate to make her lie become truth, Brie turns to Kennedy, the girl everyone expects to crown Mary. But sometimes just looking at Kennedy gives Brie butterflies. Juggling her confusing feelings with the rapidly approaching May Crowning, not to mention her hilarious non-star turn in the school play, Brie navigates truth and lies, expectations and identity, and how to—finally—make her mother really see her as she is.

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

And here’s the post! Take it away, Nicole!

***

To understand why I wrote my second book, In the Role of Brie Hutchens… you need to know two things about me.

One: I went to Catholic school.

From kindergarten through 8th grade, I was a St. Mary’s Saint. For high school, I was a Mater Dei Seraph.

(We didn’t know what a Seraph was at first either.)

I wore a school uniform. My only two detentions were actually because of that uniform. One because my skirt was rolled too short (we all rolled our skirts; you only got caught if it was less than two inches from your fingertips.) Two because I had a gray shirt on under my blouse instead of a white one.

Yeah, I know.

This was also a school that banned Harry Potter because JK Rowling was a satanist.

The girls wore boxers under their skirts, to keep the guys from looking up them as we climbed the stairs. Senior year, we got to wear pants…as a privilege. Those privileges could be taken away.

They often were threatened to be taken away.

We went to church every week, which was only exciting because on those days, we came back from mass to shortened class periods. There was only so much the teachers could do in twenty minutes.

Sometimes we cut class and hung out in the chapel. You couldn’t get in trouble if you got caught. Not if you said you just needed a moment with Jesus.

I wonder if they thought I needed that many moments with Jesus. They probably wish I took those moments for real now.

Health class consisted of our gym teacher yelling ABSTAIN at us. In class, in the hallways, at school dances.

We didn’t abstain.

We didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding of everything we were doing.

I didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding of everything I was feeling.

How could I even begin to explore my sexuality behind walls where they didn’t tell me it was possible?

The second thing you need to know about me is that I. LOVE. Soap Operas.

As a writer, I know what storyline tropes to avoid.

As a soap fan, I know what storyline tropes I absolutely goddamn ADORE.

There’s just something magical about discovering that two characters are pregnant at the same time.

Why? Because there’s definitely a baby swap coming.

If there’s a wedding planned during sweeps month?

It’s definitely going to go up in flames. (And not always metaphorical ones.)

If a beloved character dies? Or a classic villain?

Well, don’t worry too much. They’ll probably be back. Resurrected from the dead, recast with a new actor. (Lots of plastic surgery.)

There’s something so enjoyable about the narration over an old character with a new face, “The role of so and so is now being played by…” as the storyline itself doesn’t miss a single beat.

There’s something awe inspiring (something breathtaking) about a character, in the middle of the afternoon, in broad daylight, on a show that you watch with your mom (that so many moms watch) saying, “Mom, I’m gay.”

My mom was my 8th grade teacher at that Catholic school.

We drove home together at the end of the day.

We turned on our soaps when we got home.

We watched them together.

We watched as Erica Kane’s daughter (Erica Fricken Kane!!) said the words, “I’m gay.”

What you should know is that I didn’t come out to my own mom until much (much) later.

I felt seen that afternoon, anyway.

In the first printing of In the Role of Brie Hutchens… there’s an error in my acknowledgements. A mistake happened as mistakes tend to do, and the last paragraph of those acknowledgements were left out.

In those acknowledgements I thanked Agnes Nixon. For writing those characters. For creating Bianca and writing that storyline where that brave young woman came out to her mom, Erica Kane.

What you should know is that Agnes Nixon made me feel less alone. Agnes Nixon made me feel seen.

I can only hope that, for some reader, somewhere, In the Role of Brie Hutchens… can do the same.

Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. Her debut novel, HURRICANE SEASON, was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. When she’s not writing, Nicole can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea.

Trans Embodiment: Sexuality in Cis/Trans M/M Romance, a Guest Post by Freedom Author E. Davies

One of the most popular requests on the LGBTQReads Tumblr is for recommendations for m/m trans Romance, and I’m so thrilled to have an author of the world’s newest here to talk about it, and specifically about sexuality in it. Freedom by E. Davies releases today, so let’s take a look at the book and then get right into the author’s guest post!

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. But Henry’s junk does.

Agoraphobe Jaden shouldn’t have let his big brother put a ticket in a blind date raffle for him. He wasn’t expecting to win. And certainly not an overnight trip to the Grand Canyon with a gorgeous stranger—and his total opposite, a hunky wilderness guide.

Henry’s excited to meet a guy he clicks with, having finally finished bottom surgery. He’s been living stealth as the man he is for years, but he’s growing tired of hiding his past. Jaden not only accepts him, he captivates Henry, who resolves to be courageous and vulnerable in the rest of his life.

Back home in Denver, Henry starts to take pride in reconnecting with the trans community, while Jaden pushes himself out of his comfort zone. But freedom always comes at a price. Can they take the plunge into their wide open future together?

Buy it: Amazon 

And here’s the post!

Transition is most visibly about embodiment—but it goes so much further than this simplified explanation. In seeking a better way of physically being, we’re also embarking on a journey of hope. Transition has forced me to believe in who I can be, and to strive to embrace that potential joy, even when those around me didn’t understand; that process has been the most powerful, life-affirming experience of my life.

I’ve been on this journey for over eight years now. A lot has changed, to say the least. And yet, despite massive increases in visibility and public awareness, and the associated risks and opportunities, the progress is uneven. Visibility rarely means education, and it’s hard to find facts on many aspects of transition and trans life. One of those areas is bottom surgery options for trans men, and another is trans men’s sexuality. Where those areas intersect, it’s often impossible to find facts without seeking out one-on-one conversations—which is not always possible or practical.

This is obviously aggravated by the current campaigns to stigmatize trans men’s surgeries. The abuse associated with trans bodies leads to many of us talking only behind closed doors—which is what transphobic factions want, so that they can control the conversation… and in doing so, our very hopes and dreams. Even when you do encounter information, it tends to be dry surgical factsheets that don’t really relate to everyday life. What will it feel like to actually interact with this different body in sex, while getting dressed, or in the bath? These questions tend to get overlooked in favor of the important decisions on surgeons, optimal healing, and so on. When you’re caught up in the required treadmill of waiting, chasing referrals, fighting for your rights, preparing for outcomes, and more, it’s hard to imagine the minutia of the “after”.

That’s where fiction can come in.

For cis authors, trans lives are often most interesting at their most raw: coming out, starting hormones, getting top surgery. But the focus on trans men in earlier stages of their journeys, the comparatively more easily-available information, and persistent myths and stigmas around gay trans men’s sexuality, means that romance featuring trans men tends to place them before or without bottom surgery.

When I started writing trans characters in MM romance, the questions I strove to answer in my fiction were much like those in the rest of my life: What does trans life actually look like after the moments that tend to be in the spotlight?

In answer, I’ve worked to create stories with a variety of trans men: James in Grind is struggling with debt from top surgery and has no interest in the further surgeries currently available, but packs and enjoys frot; Nic in Flaunt has had meta and is both ready to reembrace his femininity, and exploring his options for phallo now; Jake in Forever is boldly toppy, and would like a hysterectomy but wants to bear a child first. Each character tends to subvert some readers’ expectations, and each reflects an equally valid trans life.

In Freedom, I finally wrote a trans character who is post-phallo (all stages), having dated men before and during transition, but who hasn’t hooked up since then. He also has a complicated relationship with transness, having lived stealth for some years and found it liberating at first, only to feel like it began to encroach upon his freedom instead.

The conversations I wrote in Freedom came from a place of wanting to explore this different possible relationship to transness—post-dysphoria, if you like. Post-transition as a concept seems wobblier than it did when I started writing the book, and when I set out on this surgical journey myself. Nowadays, I think my relationship to myself, my past, and my community will keep on evolving for many years to come.

Throughout all my stories, I hope to show that transition is an ongoing process and series of choices, and there is no one-size-fits-all narrative. Above all, I want trans readers to see that romance can find you at any point in this journey; that they—and we—are loveable and loved no matter what. We can be as open and out or as stealth and private as we wish. Trans men are not an obscure fetish, nor are we desired only post-transition, or only desired by certain sexualities or genders, or any of the other myths. I tend to write pairings of cis gay men and trans gay men, simply because they’ve been the most common in my life experience. Even this fact often surprises people! Plenty of cis gay men do date, fuck, love, befriend, and desire trans men. If that simple fact can’t make it to any broader cultural awareness, there’s certainly an uphill battle about the complicated choices we make regarding our bodies.

When I was preparing for lower surgery, the vast majority of people in my life had no idea what was involved, what the options were, or even that it was possible to have a real, satisfying sex life—either before or after surgery! In particular, cis gay culture at the moment seems to have very little idea how to address our existence, and gay fiction often reflects that confusion and uncertainty. Yet trans men have been dating cis gay men (as well as people of all genders and sexualities) for as long as people have been around! Within broader society, there’s very few portrayals of our bodies, whether we opt for bottom surgery or not.

There seems to be an odd dichotomy of thought: either we must desperately desire surgery (leaving no space for those who are happy without it), or we must reject it, as “natural bottoms” (a deeply transphobic concept that is startlingly pervasive). If we do choose surgery, either it’s “the surgery” that grants us, overnight, a cis penis—a misunderstanding that can create painfully dysphoric interactions with friends and lovers. Or, on the other hand, we’re doomed to life with no satisfactory options.

Where’s the room for reality: that our options are broad, our outcomes not always certain but certainly not hopeless, and our lives not necessarily centered on this one narrow aspect of our selves? That the results can be more than satisfactory, and huge strides in techniques have been made, yet outdated myths tend to circulate more widely than fact? That despite this, there are huge strides in advocacy, information, and aftercare that must be made to protect and uplift us?

Better still, where’s the room for fantasy: that we can set aside all our reality for an afternoon and just enjoy a story? That we can have a perfectly wonderful sex life where the differences between our junk and the expectations placed on cis guy’s are minimal, or even celebrated? This is what was so deeply enjoyable about writing Freedom—having Jaden simply accept Henry’s body, embrace the advantages, and focus on learning what makes Henry, specifically, feel good. It’s not a fantasy that’s so far away from real life. In my experience, that’s how relationships tend to work, yet we often aren’t granted this fantasy on the page. Sensual moments are often used for predictable narrative tension, as if we can’t simply exist, fuck, and love it.

Not that there isn’t a place for those stories—trans lives are messy, real, and diverse. Even within Freedom, with my optimistic outlook and aims, there are moments where Henry struggles to remember that his learned habits about his body are outdated now.

Romance books are a tremendous place to explore how our many lives and loves can look. The diversity in trans bodies and lack of education regarding them can throw off readers sometimes. But that very lack of expectation is also an opportunity! Because no person should be expected to enjoy or desire sex, to fit naturally into any role, or to be interested in any particular sex act, gender, or person. Yet too many norms of society are structured around these rigid, artificial ideals.

In rewriting the rules of expectation, trans people can show a path to sexual liberation for all. At the end of the day, sex—between fictional characters or in real life—ought to be about finding what each person involved desires, and looking for the points of intersection where both (or more) can find what they want and need.

One thing’s for certain: sex, sexuality, and transness isn’t neat and tidy, but it is full of hope and possibility. And that’s something that will never grow old.

***

Since 2013, E. Davies has crafted feel-good stories of men in love–stories that are brimming with hope, found families, and realistic guys next door getting their modern fairytale endings. As for hobbies: rescuing bees, dancing badly, traipsing through meadows, and studying photos of cute guys for research totally count, right?

Finding Queer Black Love in Literature: a Guest Post by Katrina Jackson

I’m really thrilled to have Katrina Jackson back on the site today for this beautiful essay on finding queer Black love in literature. I asked her to write it after seeing her Twitter threads about it, and I’m so grateful that she did. You can see more about Kat and her books here, but frankly, I’m antsy to get to the post, so, onward!

***

I didn’t start reading romance with any kind of intention until I was an adult, but I have loved love stories my entire life, especially Black love stories. There was something about seeing movies with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee and realizing that they had spent decades sharing their passion for art and activism with one another, that made my heart swell. It still does. I’ve also always loved queer love stories for as long as I can remember, even when I didn’t understand that I loved queer love stories for the same reasons I loved Black love stories: I was searching for depictions of love that reflected pieces of myself. I was searching for something that felt like a little slice of me on the big and small screens.

The first DVD I bought was The Color Purple. It was one of those old-school DVDs where the movie was split between two discs with those cheap plastic covers. I cherished that DVD, because once it was mine, I could watch that scene of Celie and Shug’s tentative kiss – with the juke joint providing a muffled backdrop – whenever I wanted. And I wanted to watch it over and over and over again. I felt similarly engrossed, years later as I watched the climax of Moonlight. I was a puddle of happy, relieved tears as the tumult of Chiron’s life culminates in this hardened, resilient man sitting across a diner table, staring at his childhood love with softness and warmth in his eyes. These two scenes, among so many others, spoke to that quietest part of my heart and the longing many of us hold to look at someone we love and feel fully and completely seen and loved for all that we are.

I turned to romance books while getting my master’s degree. I was in the depths of one of the worst depressive episodes of my adult life. Every day I received messages from professors and other students, that I did not belong, and I dreamt about abandoning the program and running home to the places and people who loved me. I didn’t leave, but I did start reading romance. Finding love stories that centered people who looked like me made the world feel much less alone and allowed me to start down a years-long road to fully identifying as bisexual, even though I’ve always known that I wasn’t straight. It took a little work to find queer stories with Black people, but once I found one, I found more and more and more.

The point I’m trying to make is that I have looked for Black queer love stories for most of my life and I have found them! They have buoyed me when I was at my lowest, when life seemed bleak and when looking at the news made my entire body hurt so much that I spent days in bed mourning.

So you can imagine how much it hurt when, in the midst of the most recent cluster of stories about American police officers killing Black people like Tony McDade and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, I saw bookish twitter accounts – some I follow, some I don’t – begin recommending books by Black authors that refused to recognize the full breadth of Black life and humanity. Romance accounts, specifically, were so cavalier in their lists that many recommended books by non-Black authors who wrote Black characters, sometimes problematically, because they didn’t read much romance by Black authors, but refused to cede space to reviewers and readers who did. Across the board, I watched romance outlets, writers, reviewers and readers, recommend books that focused on white characters, books filled with anti-Black stereotypes, and on top of all that many patently ignored queer Black authors and books with queer Black characters.

While I don’t particularly agree with recommending fiction in a moment where people need to confront the depths of their anti-blackness and begin to consider the realities of global white supremacy, watching romance readers who imagined themselves as supportive of diversity, erase (queer) Black people (authors and characters) dug deep in my chest. It sent the message that people like me and the characters I write don’t actually matter, even while people were putting the hashtag in their bios. It was an erasure that struck a painful chord because it reminded me that the people and stories I love – who are the center of my life – are so easily forgotten and ignored.

I love Black people. I love queer Black people and QPOC. They don’t just matter to me, they are precious. I would not be alive today without them. I would not be writing without them. And I would not have the solace of these stories on the days when I still can’t get out of bed because everything hurts. At least with the stories that Black authors have written, my heart doesn’t have to hurt nearly as much, because it is so full of love for queer Black people.

Unfortunately, even when I’m depressed, I have a near obsessive desire to catalog books, so I took to twitter to begin a thread of queer romance written by Black authors. I began with books I love by authors I respect and appreciate and asked for recommendations. What I found in this process was instructive in many ways. I made a few caveats for recommendations that might have seemed random at the time but were not. I asked that the author identify as Black, since I’d seen so many outlets recommending non-Black authors. It mattered to me that if the response to Black murder was to uplift Black authors, that those authors better be Black and stand firm in their blackness. I wanted to focus specifically on adult romance because the YA book community had rallied their recommendations firmly behind Black authors (trans, cis, queer and het). It was exciting to watch and frustrating to compare to the adult romance community.

The other critical requirement was that the books feature Black characters and all the love interests should be Black or other people of color. Again, this was not arbitrary. Romance, like other literary genres, is steeped in white supremacist narratives. It is not just that so many traditionally published romance authors are white, it is that the foundation of the genre is based on whiteness as the norm. The tropes and story structures and even the Happily Ever After (the only requirement of romance literature) have been defined by a white default, even when some of the characters are people of color.

The proliferation of romance stories (traditionally published, indie and self-pub) that peddle in anti-Black, homophobic, transphobic, racist and xenophobic stereotypes is alarming, but not new. What feels new are the ways in which so many of these books are classified as “diverse” and “inclusive” even when they are not. So when I asked that all the recommendations focus on Black and POC characters, it was because I wanted to create a list of queer romances that rejected the white supremacist narrative in romance that centers whiteness, that demands white love interests and requires a translation of queer love between characters of color for white audiences. I wanted to find books by Black authors who, hopefully, wrote for readers of color.

What I found in this process was a mixed bag, as much of life is. On the downside, I found that I spent hours of my day clarifying fairly clear instructions, asking readers to verify that the authors and characters were Black and POC. I found that some people were disinterested in the idea of queer Black people and QPOC loving one another. I found that readers, writers and reviewers – many who jumped at the chance to make recommendation lists themselves – had become comfortable ignoring blackness. They considered it incidental or a box to check on the list of diversity brownie points. They were perfectly fine to tokenize Black authors and characters but were never challenged to consider why.

But the other, far better, thing I discovered was the wealth of queer romance written by Black authors. There was Black Romance and IR, polyamorous, m/m, and even the apparently elusive f/f romance. There were so many bisexual and pansexual characters! I found contemporary and historical and paranormal and urban. Certainly, there is room to grow in many areas, for instance so far there is only one trans Black romance recommendation (noted below) and ace spectrum representation is similarly lacking. In this moment, I choose to celebrate that the few books we have exist, but I hope for more.

There were many highs and lows in this process. I won’t pretend that I didn’t often wish I hadn’t decided to field the barrage of twitter notifications in a moment when I really should have given myself peace and quiet. Self-care is a thing I’m working on, especially now. But for all the new books and authors I and others discovered, I’ve decided that the exercise was worth it.

Below are a sample of books that emerged in the conversation, some I’ve read, some I’ve moved up my TBR and some I’m waiting impatiently to be released. These are books that remind me of the things that were true at the beginning of this all. I love being Black with every cell in my body. This is not incidental to me. And queer Black people are still PRECIOUS and CRUCIAL to my life and well-being.

Stud Representation!

Interracial Romance w/QPOC

F/F Romance

M/M Romance

Polyamory FTW!

For even more recommendations put together by Katrina, check out this list on Goodreads! (Blogger’s Note: Please do not add to this list anything that does not fit the above-stated requirements or I may do a murder.)

***

Katrina is a college professor by day who writes romances by weekend when her cats allow. She writes high heat, diverse and mostly queer erotic romances and erotica. She also likes sleep, salt-and-pepper beards, and sunshine.

She’s super active on twitter. Follow her: @katrinajax

*All links are affiliate, bringing a small percentage of each purchase back to the site (Amz = Amazon | Bks = Bookshop)

How Depression is Affecting the LGBTQ Community and How to Prevent It, Especially During Times of Crisis: a Guest Post by Dr. Gregory Charlop, Author of Why Doctors Skip Breakfast

Today on the site we’re pleased to have Dr. Gregory Charlop, who’s here to discuss the very relevant topic of Depression in the LGBTQ community, as both a member of said community and a doctor at a telemedicine wellness clinic. First, here’s a glimpse into his new book:

Why Doctors Skip Breakfast_3DScientists just unlocked the secrets of aging

Thanks to research from Harvard, USC, and MIT, we now understand what causes aging. You’ll discover how to live a long, healthy life free of disability, frailty, and dependence. Learn how to restore your youthful vitality and drive. Tap into energy you never knew you had and start a new business, travel the world, create a charity, and enjoy more time with your favorite hobbies.

In Why Doctors Skip Breakfast, you’ll learn what foods, medicines, lab tests, wearable technology, and supplements you need to feel young and look fantastic. Are you ready to play with your great-grandkids?

The new science of sleep

You know sleep is important, but are you sleeping wrong? Use cutting-edge sleep techniques, melatonin, and wearable technology to boost your work performance, improve your mood, and protect your health. Read critical information about obstructive sleep apnea, a dangerous condition that can suffocate you overnight. There’s a bonus chapter with special sleep strategies designed to improve your athletic performance.

Depression and the Ketamine Revolution

There’s new hope for people suffering from depression. Ketamine and dietary changes can treat depression, even when oral antidepressants and other conventional therapies failed. Find out whether ketamine is right for you.

Designed for elite performers or anyone who wants to stay young, energetic, and happy, Why Doctors Skip Breakfast is your easy to read guidebook for success and radiant health. You climb out of bed at noon, afraid to face the day. Nothing interests you. Today will be like yesterday, and tomorrow looks no better. You feel hopeless and alone. How did you get here?

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

Depression and anxiety harm millions of people each year. The LGBTQ community is particularly at risk for depression and suicide. The coronavirus pandemic just made everything worse. The loss of friends, fear of disease, and economic uncertainty are driving depression and anxiety disorders through the roof. How can you heal when you’re worried about losing your job or dying?

Social distancing threw gasoline on the fire. A major study of Canadians quarantined for the SARS epidemic found that one in three people developed PTSD or depressive symptoms from the isolation. Quarantines keep people from family, friends, therapists, and favorite activities. If you already have depression, the separation can make you feel even worse; alone, helpless, and forgotten.

For many in the LGBTQ community, the coronavirus pandemic is eerily reminiscent of the early days of HIV and AIDS. We remember the panic of a mysterious virus run amok, killing neighbors and isolating communities. This similarity is a brutal reminder of dark days and only serves to increase the emotional and psychological toll we face today.

Thankfully, there are some great resources to help members of the LGBTQ community cope with depression. Let’s review some of the best.

Telemedicine lets folks meet their physicians and therapists virtually, from the comfort of their living rooms. Hop on your couch in your PJs and chat with your mental health professional. Skip the hassle! It saves you from the risk of infection from the clinic and can be a lifeline while physical offices are closed. Some people enjoy the convenience of telemedicine so much, they never want to go back to in-person visits. If you already have a mental health professional, there’s a good chance that they’ll see you online. If you need an online practitioner, sites like Psychology Today and Talkspace will hook you up.

Social connections reduce depression. Humans are social creatures, and many of us suffer when we’re away from other people. Secure social connections improve mental health. Bonds with others reduce the risk of suicide in the LGBTQ community. Since quarantines make in-person meetings more difficult, many people are turning to virtual happy hours. Apps like Zoom and Houseparty make online gatherings fun. Houseparty makes it easy to add friends, and the app features a variety of games that are sure to spice up your tele-party.

A healthy diet is a powerful way to reduce depression and increase energy. A remarkable study found that the Mediterranean diet improved symptoms of depression in as little as three weeks – and the results were long-lasting. Take advantage of online grocery delivery and turn your kitchen into a health spa. If you’d like to try the anti-depressant diet, be sure to eat lots of veggies, nuts, olive oil, and turmeric. And, cut out the sugar!

Moderate exercise is one of your best weapons against depression. Multiple studies prove that exercise reduces anxiety and improves mood. Your best bets are aerobic exercise and mindfulness-promoting activities like tai chi and Qigong. Have trouble exercising on your own? You can form socially distant walking groups. Gather a friend or two and walk or jog together, while remaining 6-10 feet apart. You’ll feel motivated and stay safe. Another option is to find an online personal trainer. They’ll motivate you and watch your form while remaining harmlessly outside of your home.

Crisis hotlines are always available. If you feel severe depression or are contemplating suicide, please contact a specialist. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is free, confidential, and open 24/7. Call them at 800-273-8255. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a great resource and has a 24/7 hotline 800-662-HELP. The Trevor Project has a 24/7 hotline geared towards LGBTQ youth and can be reached at 866-488-7386.

Depression is a devastating illness that can rob you of happiness and hope. Social distancing and fear of the COVID pandemic only compound the problem. If you are depressed or anxious, there’s a lot you can do to reduce the impact of depression and still stay safe from the virus. If you aren’t depressed, please check on your friends, neighbors, and family. They may be suffering in silence and need your help. Together, we will overcome.

Portrait of GREGORY CHARLOP  by Charles Ng | TimeOnFilm.comGregory Charlop, MD is the author of Why Doctors Skip Breakfast: Wellness Tips to Reverse Aging, Treat Depression, and Get a Good Night’s Sleep. He runs a telemedicine wellness clinic based in Beverly Hills, CA. Reach him at www.GregoryCharlopMD.com

Queer Speculative Aotearoa New Zealand: a Guest Post by AJ Fitzwater

Today on the site I’m delighted to welcome author AJ Fitzwater, author of the very queer fantasy short story collection The Voyages of Cinrak The Dapper, which releases today from Queen of Swords Press! Here’s a little more on the book:

Cinrak the Dapper is a keeper of secrets, a righter of wrongs, the saltiest capybara on the sea and a rider of both falling stars and a great glass whale. Join her, her beloveds, the rat Queen Orvilia and the marmot diva Loquolchi, lead soprano of the Theatre Rat-oyal, her loyal cabin kit, Benj the chinchilla, and Agnes, last of the great krakens, as they hunt for treasures of all kinds and find adventures beyond their wildest dreams. Let Sir Julius Vogel Award-winning storyteller A.J. Fitzwater take you on a glorious journey about finding yourself, discovering true love and exploring the greatest secrets of the deep. Also, dapperness.

Buy it!

***

And here’s AJ to talk about queer speculative fiction of Aotearoa New Zealand!

Aotearoa New Zealand may be a small country (current population approx. 4.5 million), but our literary history is unique and strong.

The queer speculative of Aotearoa New Zealand is a niche within a niche. Where it’s come from and where it’s heading (like all star gazers, we have multiple understandings of our past and future) is a cloak woven with the threads of colonialism, indigeneity, race, and marginalization.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s colonial history carries many parallels to other lands claimed by the British Empire. We inherited their hetero-patriarchal religions, laws, and social sensibilities. Like many countries, our queer people were paraded in front of the courts and people as freaks, deviants, and society destroyers. Our history survived in the underground and in enclaves, through activism, oral storytelling and perseverance.

Our queer heroes include Carmen Rupe, a drag artist, activist, sex worker, and club owner who ran a safe space coffee lounge in Wellington back in the 60s and 70s; Georgina Beyer, the first transgender mayor in the world; Richard O’Brien, Rocky Horror creator; and Marilyn Waring, MP, activist, and economist. Since the turn of the century, we’ve had a great crop of MPs working hard on Rainbow Politics, like Louisa Wall, Jan Logie, Chris Carter, Tim Barnett, and Chris Finlayson. Our historic watersheds are the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1986 (a campaign that began back in the 60s) in the midst of the AIDS crisis, the first Hero Parade in 1991, and the passing of Marriage Equality in 2013. Our current legal battles include trans rights in multiple sectors, like inclusive language, employment, health care (standard, gender affirmative, and mental health), prison reform, and gender changes on official documents.

With the weight of history, the rich living cultures of Māori, Pasifika, and multiple cultures and ethnicities, a secular society, a sea-locked geography that often gives us a cut-off dystopian feel, and walking arm-in-arm with those who paved the way, we can begin to understand what’s different about our literature.

Many early century queer authors wrote in the closet, like Frank Sargeson, and we’re still coming to grips with the lost history of suppressed voices. Voices who led the charge into the 21st century include Witi Ihimaera, Renée, and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, often working across multiple disciplines.

So now I’ve given you a little bit of our queer history and landscape, I can talk about who is creating our speculative narratives, the people picking up the threads, reweaving, and sharing a new spread of stories, sensibilities, and hope.

Academic, activist and historian Ngahuia Te Awekotuku has spent more than 50 years immersed in multiple strands of Māori culture and queer rights. Two of her sectors of interest were researching and revising pre-colonial Māori stories of women’s power and sexuality and gender. This produced the great collection Ruahine: Mythic Women (2003, Huia Publishers).

Everyone is gushing about Tamsyn Muir’s lesbian necromancer epic Gideon the Ninth (Tor, 2019), and quite rightly so. Like many local creatives who work on the big publishing stage, she works from an overseas base, but still claims Aotearoa New Zealand as a home.

Working in the YA sector, Karen Healey is the award winning author of Guardian of the Dead (2010, Allen and Unwin), The Shattering (2011, Allen and Unwin), When We Wake (2013, Allen and Unwin) and While We Run (2014, Allen and Unwin), and as a teacher in Christchurch tends to the hearts and souls of the next generation of authors. There’s also up-and-coming poet and YA author Alexander Te Pohe, who created Ruru Reads,  a site for publishing work from PoC and Indigenous people; a great site in it’s time, Alec has now moved on to fully focus on their writing career.

What does Aotearoa New Zealand’s urban fantasy taste like? Check out Rem Wigmore’s The Wind City (2013, Steam Press), which, as it’s title suggests, brings to life all that makes Wellington interesting. Jamie Sands has a flair for romantic fantasy, including The Suburban Book of the Dead (2018, self published), and the Fairyland Romances series (Self Published).

Author and trans rights activist Caitlin Spice has a versatile story telling voice, just as much at home writing dark fantasy and horror in the short story collection The Silver Path (2017, Mungfish Publishing), as co-authoring the fairy tales Promised Land (2017), Maiden Voyage (2018), and Raven Wild (2019), for LGBTQ children.

Writing aromantic Chinese fairy tales is Michelle Kan, including Come Drink With Me (2019), Gold and Jasper (2019), and East Flows the River (2020, Fish and Swallow). Under her Fish and Swallow Productions company, she also creates independent film, documentary, and online content.

Author of The Dawnhounds (2019, Little Hook Press), Sascha Stronach describes the book as “beserk, witchy, LBGTQ+ mycopunk”. If you like weird and cool and gritty, this is the book for you.

Writing across disciplines is Darusha Wehm. A well travelled creative, Darusha does everything from short stories to games to podcasts to interactive fiction to novellas and novels. They’re just as eclectic in their genres, including cyberpunk, future detective, and political sci-fi. Check out Children of Arkadia (2015, Bundoran Press),   The Voyage of the White Cloud (2018, in potentia press), and the Andersson Dexter series.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s speculative scene isn’t just about literature. FafSwag is a collective of indigenous creators, producing ballrooms, dance, costume, theatre, film, and art with a decidedly futurist bent. And creating comics is Jem Yoshioka with the queer romantic sci-fi webcomic Circuits and Veins.

In short fiction, you’ll find author and editor Andi C. Buchanan. Their novella From a Shadow Grave (2019, Paper Road Press) is a ghost story set in Wellington taking an innovative approach to split narratives; their short stories can be found in a variety of venues, including Fireside Magazine, Apex Magazine, and GlitterShip; and they are also the editor of the speculative magazine Capricious.

And there’s me. There’s my short collection The Voyage of Cinrak the Dapper (2020, Queen of Swords Press) about a lesbian capybara pirate and her found family, and my novella No Man’s Land (June 2020, Paper Road Press) about shape shifting land girls in WW2. I’ve also been published in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fireside Fiction, and Shimmer.

This is just a taster of Aotearoa New Zealand’s speculative creative output. Once you look into one, you fall down the rabbit hole of many.

***

AJ Fitzwater lives between the cracks of Christchurch, New Zealand. Their work focuses on feminist and queer themes, and has appeared in venues of repute such as Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Giganotosaurus, GlitterShip, and in various anthologies. They are the author of rodent pirate escapades in The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, and the WW2 land girls shape-shifter novella No Man’s Land. With a background in radio, AJ lends their voice to podcast narrations, including for the Escape Artists universe. They enjoy maintaining a collection of bow ties. A unicorn disguised in a snappy blazer, they tweet @AJFitzwater