Category Archives: Guest post

Mental Illness and Happily Ever After: a Guest Post by Taylor Brooke

My name is Taylor Brooke and I have Dissociative Dysthymia.

I sound like I’m standing in front of an empty chair at a narcotics anonymous meeting and I’m about to share my story. Granted, I’ve done that before, too. But this is much different and there isn’t really another way to begin. I’m a twenty-six-year-old Queer girl living in Central Oregon. I write books about magic and heartache, blurred lines and wanting. Recently, I wrote a book about all these things stirred up like cake batter, sprinkled with parts of me that I hadn’t fully realized until the story finished baking, was topped with icing and ready to eat.

Fortitude Smashed is a contemporary romance. It’s a little bit science fiction, and a little bit literary. Underneath the contemporary romance, science fiction and literary, there’s a quiet, selfish sub-plot that showed itself after I piled a piece onto a plate. I didn’t realize that the sprinkles of me that I’d tossed into the book would present themselves as brightly as they did.

I have Dissociative Dysthymia, and so does the main character, Aiden Maar.

But this is Contemporary Romance. Queer, mentally ill main characters don’t get to fall in love, and if they do, they don’t get to keep it.

Except they do. We do.

After years of exposure to eerily distinct, boxed-in narratives describing mentally ill, Queer characters as problems to be solved, riddles to be answered, and ugly wounds to be healed, I anticipated that this book would never be published. It wasn’t neat. Aiden wasn’t miraculously healed after he fell in love, his anxiety didn’t vanish, his depression wasn’t erased, but he was loved. He got to love back, too.

It was inconceivable. A character, like me, that I had written into a book about soulmates, was given a messy, deserved, heartfelt happy ending. He was given a chance.

Fortitude Smashed 900px FRONTBecause we deserve to be given a chance. I hadn’t written Fortitude Smashed as a how-to or a fantasy, because it’s neither. It’s a contemporary romance – realistic, raw, a little bruised. It’s the happy ever after most Queer, mentally ill folks don’t get to see in their favorite romance books.

Aiden doesn’t get better, because there isn’t anything wrong with him.

Honestly, coming to that realization after I finished my first read through of the book was jarring to say the least. I didn’t set out to dismantle my own thought process, but I did, somehow. It’s easy to discredit ourselves, to say we don’t deserve this or that when it comes to dating, love, friendship and so on. But we do.

Happy ever after doesn’t equal the eradication of mental illness, it simply involves the communication, patience and understanding that comes with loving a mentally ill person.

We deserve love. We deserve soulmate tropes and coffee shop meet-cutes, college fling storylines and fake dating clichés. There’s room for mentally ill characters to be front and center, and to be given the same beautiful, funny, heart wrenching, warm love stories that neurotypical characters are repeatedly gifted.

Fortitude Smashed did get picked up by an amazing publisher, even though I thought it wouldn’t. No one asked me to change Aiden. He got to be himself, flawed, wonderful, manic, wanted and scarred. He got to fall in love and keep it.

We all do. We just have to be brave enough to know it, or strong enough to allow ourselves the chance to believe in it. Fate, soulmates, romance, cute dates and lifelong friendship – we get it all. Even us.

Especially us.

Buy Fortitude Smashed at:

Barnes & Noble * Interlude PressAmazon * Book Depository

Add it on Goodreads

After fleshing out a multitude of fantastical creatures as a special effects makeup artist, Taylor Brooke turned her imagination back to her true love—books. When she’s not nestled in a blanket typing away on her laptop, she’s traveling, hiking or reading. She writes Queer books for teens and adults. Her debut, Fortitude Smashed, will be published by Interlude Press in September 2017. Follow her on Twitter at @taysalion.

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5 SFF Stories Similar to Every Heart A Doorway, Featuring Asexual characters: a Guest Post by Claudie Arseneault & Lynn O’Connacht

I am so psyched today to bring you this guest post by asexuality authors and advocates Claudie Arseneault and Lynn O’Connacht, bringing some stellar recs for ace SFF. They’ve got plenty of wisdom on the subject between the two of them, so I’m just gonna tiptoe off and let them take it away! (But not before reminding you that you can obviously also find great ace stories by supporting these two authors; links to their websites are in their bios at the end of the post!)

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On August 11, 2017, Every Heart a Doorway, the most visible traditionally published story with explicit asexual representation won the Hugo Awards for Best Novella and, with it, a clean sweep of SFF’s most prestigious awards. Yet the discussions we’ve seen surrounding asexual representation in fiction since Every Heart a Doorway was published usually seem to ignore many great stories with asexual representation. There is so much more out there, and a lot of what’s out there is ownvoices.

Asexual indie and short story writers have been producing a wealth of stories involving ace spectrum characters for years now, and it’s always a pleasure to share their work. These are talented folks who tend to go unnoticed, but their stories are varied and gut-wrenching. We can only hope that the light shined on asexual representation by Every Heart a Doorway will reach other deserving authors.

As ace spectrum readers and indie author the idea that there are only a handful of books that include characters on the asexual spectrum out there hurts so much. True, there aren’t anywhere near as many as we would like, but there’s so much more out there than these discussions suggest. We’ve selected just five stories that we feel are similar to Every Heart a Doorway not just because they feature ace-spec characters, but also because we feel that the story has some overlap with narrative elements in McGuire’s novella. All of the authors on this list are ownvoices and somewhere on the asexual spectrum. We hope you’ll enjoy the books!

Nkásht íí by Darcie Little Badger is a short story rather than a novel or a novella, but if you’re looking for something that captures that sense of eeriness and creepiness that’s at the core of Every Heart a Doorway‘s mystery plot, you’ll love this. The story follows two Lipan Apache friends as they try to unravel the mystery behind a car crash, and the family a man lost in it. Josie, the narrator, is aromantic and asexual. If you wanted a more in-depth look at a ‘death world’ like Nancy visited, Nkásht íí also has you covered. It’s deliciously scary and invites rereading to gather more of what’s happening in the text.

The Traitor’s Tunnel by C.M. Spivey may seem like a strange book to recommend to readers of Every Heart a Doorway, as its heart is more caper-heist than gruesome mystery, but readers will find that the mystery Theo gets drawn into by his sister has some very dark undertones. Together, he and Bridget will have to discover who is the traitor who’s been abducting orphan children from the streets and why. Readers looking for a panromantic asexual lead in an established and adorable relationship will love the representation in this book. (Blogger’s Note: You can read an excerpt of The Traitor’s Tunnel here!)

Good Angel by A.M. Blaushild is a great pick if you were disappointed by the way Every Heart a Doorway stopped following Nancy’s attempts to adapt to life in our realm and make friends at school. In Good Angel, Iofiel is a newly created angel who goes off to university to become a guardian angel, but after deciding to help an imp with his studies, she finds herself unsure of her place in the world. Good Angel is the first novel in a humorous duology, and features a curious angel who isn’t quite sure where she fits onto the spectrums of asexuality and aromanticism. It features classes, studying and making friends with people who the environment of the school finds… a little less than ideal.

Stake Sauce by RoAnna Sylver is an urban fantasy webserial/novel and will appeal to readers of McGuire’s work in general. Like, Every Heart a Doorway it’s got several unexpected twists (which we won’t spoil, of course!). Jude is a demiromantic asexual former firefighter with PTSD, and no one believes him when he insists there are vampires about until he meets Pixie, an adorable punk vampire who needs help with bigger, meaner vampires. In turns weird, dark, and delightfully hopeful, Stake Sauce contains one secret ingredient… love. No, really!

The Stake Sauce webserial runs on Patreon and the full story will be released as an ebook on October 31, 2017.

Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari is a YA science fiction novel with two protagonists on the asexual spectrum. Nadin is asexual and sex-repulsed and Isaak is demisexual. We recommend this one for its at-times punch-in-the-gut representation of asexuality, and because much like Every Heart a Doorway it features teens trying to solve a mystery (a Mars archeology one!) and two distinct worlds, so if you enjoyed the idea of portal fantasy set forth this explores such a narrative in more depth. Nadin and Isaak are worlds and years apart, but when Isaak finds an ancient coin, they’ll have to work together to save both their planets.

And there you have it. Five stories that feature asexual characters just as prominently as Every Heart a Doorway does and that also have narrative overlap for you to enjoy. These aren’t all the asexual stories out there by a long shot. If you’d like a larger range of options or more detailed information on the representation in the stories we mentioned, check out Claudie’s database of asexual and aromantic characters in SFF. If you’d like non-SFF recommendations (or recs for games and tv/film as well) as well, there’s also Fuck Yeah Asexual’s database here. Happy reading!

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Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic-spectrum writer hailing from the very-French Québec City. Her stories focus on non-romantic relationships and often feature large queer casts. The latest, City of Strife, is the first of a political fantasy trilogy released in February. Find out more on her website!

Lynn O’Connacht has an MA in English literature and creative writing, but wouldn’t call herself an authority on either. She currently resides on the European continent and her idiom and spelling are, despite her best efforts, geographically confused, poor things. Her latest book is a companion collection to her asexual retelling of The Little Mermaid, Sea Foam and Silence. Find out more on her website!

Venturess Author Betsy Cornwell Talks Polyamory and Inspiration

In honor of her new release, Venturess, the sequel to Mechanica, Betsy Cornwell is on the blog today to talk about what inspired its polyamory!

My new book, Venturess, is about three friends who are in love with each other, whose love makes them a family. It was important to me not to define that love in an explicitly romantic or sexual way, because those particular elements aren’t part of every intense, loving relationship, or of every family unit.

Someone asked me in a recent interview if I based any of my characters on people from my life, and I said no – the people I know definitely inform my characters, but I don’t tend to base them on one single source.

But there was a time when I fell in love with three people at once . . .

I spent the summer I turned seventeen living with a host family in the south of France.

Life was good.

I mean, life in Royan was good, with the language immersion and the food and the sunflower fields and a cooking class taught by an actual giant-mustachioed French chef and . . . OK, yes, all of that was really great. But it’s not what makes that summer stand out with so much warmth and affection in my memory.

During orientation, I met three other students named Olivia, Sasha, and Hannah, and we were best friends by the end of the day. It was probably the closest thing to love at first sight that I’ve ever felt – maybe love at first conversation?

We were all very different people. Olivia was fiery and sarcastic, lived in Manhattan when she wasn’t at boarding school, and wanted to be a filmmaker. Sasha, the only boy, was obsessed with economics and lived in Hong Kong, where he attended a glamorous-sounding international school. Hannah was from Texas and had spent probably the most time travelling of any of us, and she was a devout Christian who loved to read. I loved books too, I’d been  Christian most of my life but was recently and bitterly disillusioned, and I’d lived what suddenly seemed like a very sheltered and boring existence in rural New England.

I don’t really remember what we talked about that first day, only that it made us all laugh so much our sides hurt. We quickly absconded to a nearby cafe to continue reveling in our enjoyment of each other. Every moment that we weren’t in class or with our host families, we spent together. We went to French movies that we struggled to understand and American ones with subtitles. We ordered ice cream dishes with liqueur toppings that made us feel madly rebellious (maybe we were all a little sheltered). We wandered the Royan boardwalk and sat on the beach late into the night, talking about anything and everything.

I loved these people. I adored them.

By the end of the program we had a collective nickname: KOSH, for each of our initials. (I hated being called Betsy when I was younger, and I’d rebranded myself as Kat for the summer because I thought it would make me cooler. Shockingly, I was still the same person – although through O,S, and H’s eyes, I started to like myself a little more.)

When the summer ended, we left France and went back to our respective corners of the world.

I didn’t see them again for ten years.

In 2015, we decided to reunite in New York City on 4th of July weekend. I was teaching writing at a summer camp in Pennsylvania that year, and I remember feeling slightly terrified as I took the train up to Penn Station. We’d been some kind of soul mates when we were teenagers, but would we be able to connect again now?

I didn’t need to worry. Whatever magic was there before lit right up again when one of us asked if anyone still spoke French – and everyone burst out laughing. We roamed around the city all weekend finding bookstores and French food and semi-affordable Broadway tickets, and once more talking later into the night than was really wise, especially since we were now grown-ups with jobs and things to get back to.

Olivia works for a production company in L.A. Sasha is an economist in Ontario.  Hannah is a teacher and librarian in Texas. I live in Ireland and write books. Three of us are married (not to each other).

Maybe it’s a cop-out to claim this intense friendship as inspiration for the intentionally queer family dynamics in Venturess. I’m a bisexual cis woman married to a cis man, and I don’t consider myself polyamorous. I don’t want to lay claim to something that isn’t mine – and yet that’s a kind of self-shaming that I’ve often felt as a bisexual person, worrying that I’m “not queer enough” for the community. I write a lot about liminality, partly because so much of the love that I’ve experienced falls into those funny in-between places that are not easy to describe.

Still, the relationships in Venturess felt very close to home, close to my heart, as I wrote them. When Nick begins sleeping in the same bed with her friends Fin and Caro, and wakes up feeling more at home than she ever has before, I know that feeling. The four of us slept together (in the same-bed sense) in France. We all carried with us the acute loneliness that I think only teenagers feel, and in our love for each other we were able to alleviate it, for a little while. We were each other’s family that summer, and our love will always be part of who I am.

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Buy Venturess: Amazon * B&N * Books-a-Million * Hudson * IndieBound * Powell’s * Target

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Betsy Cornwell is the New York Times best-selling author of Tides,
Mechanica, and Venturess. She graduated from Smith College and was a columnist and editor at Teen Ink before receiving an MFA in creative writing from Notre Dame, where she also taught fiction. After grad school, she ran away to Ireland to live with the fairies, and she now resides in a small cottage on the west coast with her horse-trainer spouse. To learn more, visit her at www.betsycornwell.com, on Twitter at @Betsy_Cornwell, and on Instagram at @BetsyCornwell.

New Releases in Manga Featuring Queer Women: an Ongoing Yuri Series by Jaylee James

It’s no secret to anyone who reads this site that while I aim to have recommendations for all readers of LGBTQIAP+ lit, I, like I’d venture to guess all readers, only a few areas I’d consider to be my expertise. Thankfully, every now and again, someone steps up to fill in the gaps and share their knowledge on an area that’s essentially a black hole for me, and today I’m grateful to have Jaylee James doing just that on Yuri! (And yes, as the title indicates, this will not be er only post on the subject!) 

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Yuri is anime, manga, and other Japanese media involving a romantic or sexual relationship between two women. It’s the female version of yaoi, which depicts relationships between men.

In the past year, there has been an influx of yuri manga being translated into English. Whereas before, yuri recommendation lists included basically the same four series, or stretched the idea of yuri to include series like Lucky Star and K-On that focus on the relationships between female friends, or was included in the list because of heavy subtext but no actual canonical romantic relationship between the characters (such as Madoka).

But recently, there is a much wider variety of stories to choose from, and the series are ongoing, with books coming out every couple of months. We’re currently being spoiled with yuri manga, and it’s amazing.

Here are five ongoing manga series that center the experiences of queer women (and one bonus standalone)!

Bloom Into You by Nakatani Nio

First two volumes available in English from Seven Seas, with volume three coming out September 2017.

Yuu is a first-year student who is roped into volunteering for the student council. While there, she meets Nanami, an older student who possesses a lot of traits Yuu admires, especially the ability to turn down potential suitors with ease. She tells Yuu that “no one’s love confession has ever made her heart-pound.” Yuu sees a kindred spirit in Nanami, since Yuu has never experienced romantic feelings for someone, and is worried she never will, though she desperately wants to.

However, as soon as Yuu confesses this, Nanami shares her own confession – Yuu is the only person she’s ever met who does give her romantic feelings.

The two work to navigate their friendship and Nanami’s one-sided romantic feelings. The story is told with beautiful art, in an almost cinematic style. The mood of the story is slow, languid, and gives you a chance to feel deeply what the characters are going through amid lovely, detailed background settings.

Content warning: A character “steal kisses” against the others’ wishes, and later apologizes and they talk about it. Yuu’s feelings about her lack of romantic feelings tend to dip negatively, with insecurity, worry, and a desire to change, though the tone of the story was not (to me, an alloromantic person) forcing a judgment call on her.

Note: Since this is manga, identity labels are never used (and it’s important to remember not all cultures share Western identity labels) but a number of things Yuu says in the series sound very similar to feelings expressed by my aromantic friends, and aro-spec readers might relate to this story.

Kiss and White Lily for my Dearest Girl by Canno

First two volumes available in English from Yen Press, with volume three coming out August 2017.

This series is about a group of classmates at an all-girl’s school who all have feelings for each other. There are many different pairings with a wide variety of dynamics, and no one questions it. (This series reminds me of Strawberry Panic, in that way – a sort of utopia where all the girls are into other girls.)

Because of the number of characters and couples, it reads more like a series of interconnected short stories. Each couple has their own relationship troubles and dynamic. There’s a pair of rivals who develop romantic feelings for each other, a track star and the girl she works hard for, and an older student about to graduate high school and the two younger students who love her. There are single-page one shots between the chapters focusing on background characters and their own attractions and relationships.

The scope of this series means there will be something for everyone, though it can be difficult to tell the characters apart or remember them all, since they all wear the same uniform, have similar faces, and only their hair distinguishes the characters from one another.

Content warning: The first volume depicts a “stolen kiss” without the other girl’s consent, and many of the relationships have elements of manipulation or emotionally dependent dynamics.

Citrus by Saburouta

Five volumes available in English from Seven Seas, with the next one available August 2017.

Citrus is the story of two girls whose parents just married each other, and they are suddenly stepsisters. The bulk of this series is tropey porn, putting the girls into situations that strain the reader’s ability to suspend belief (Mom asking two teenage girls who met last week to share a bath because they’re “sisters” now, for instance).

But amidst the fanservice and overdone sexual scenes is a story about Mei, a closed-off girl in a lot of pain, and her new step-sister Yuzu, the only person who has made an effort to understand her. This series is nonstop drama, tropes, stereotypes, and steamy scenes.

Content warning: Constant consent issues, with Mei pushing Yuzu’s boundaries and taking out her painful feelings on Yuzu by forcing sexual situations on her – kissing, groping, and removing clothing.

After Hours by Yuhta Nishio

First volume available from Viz Media. Since the second volume was just released in Japan July 2017, details about when it will be released in English are still to come.

Unlike the rest of the manga on this list, After Hours is not about high school students. It’s such a refreshing change to read yuri about adult women (in this case, one is in her twenties, the other her thirties). A lot of common manga tropes are left out of this story – shame about sex, excessive bashfulness, internalized homophobia (“but we’re both girls!!”). There’s not even any fan service, and the kissing is vocally consented to.

While the two characters have a sexual relationship, the story focuses on everything else going on in their lives. Emi just got out of college but has no idea what she’s doing in life or what she wants. Kei is finding a way to pursue her passions as hard as she can, and inviting Emi to join in.

The art is cinematic and the story is well-done, with funny moments and characters you can get behind. This is a unique addition to the current yuri offerings in English, and it deserves a lot more attention than I’ve seen it given.

Content warning: Depictions of alcohol and drunkenness in club scenes, as well as a friendship that could be read as emotionally abusive.

Kase-San Series by Hiromi Takashima

First two volumes available in English from Seven Seas, beginning with “Kase-San and Morning Glories,” with volume three coming out September 2017.

In one word, the Kase-San series is adorable. It follows the relationship between Yamada, a sweet, clumsy girl in the gardening club, and Kase, a popular track star who Yamada describes repeatedly as “much cooler than any boy.” They meet when Yamada catches Kase watering the flowers she’s planted, and from then on, Yamada is head-over-heels for the sports star.

The tagline for the second volume is “We’re girlfriends… now what?” and it’s the perfect descriptor for the series, as the two work out the details of how they fit together when they’re such different people. Riddled with lighthearted humor, honest feelings, and sweet moments between the girls, the series is nonstop fluff. Takashima allows her characters to be shy and innocent in their affections while also acknowledging they’re sexually attracted to each other.

Overall, Kase-San is tooth-rotting fluff that will have you full of warm fuzzies, giggling the whole way through the series.

Content warning: None 😊

BONUS: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata

A short standalone volume available in English from Seven Seas, released June 2017.

While not strictly yuri, My Lesbian Experience is a graphic memoir about the author’s mental health struggles and recovery, her discovery and acceptance that she was a lesbian, and her experience hiring a female escort for her first sexual experience.

This is a raw, honest look at the author’s personal life. Nagata is open about her binge eating, wanting to die, and being so depressed she couldn’t leave her bed. It’s also a great portrayal of recovery – finding the few things in life you enjoy and letting them save you from drowning. For the author, those things were manga… and seeing a female sex worker.

My Lesbian Experience is very real, and also really funny. The author lets us laugh with her at how awkward she was, how frustrated life made her, and eventually, how healthy and stable she got to be.

Content warning: eating disorders, trichotillomania, self-harm, suicidal ideation, depression, and possibly also dissociation and emotional abuse by parents. Also touches on outdated psychological theories about the causes of homosexuality.

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Jaylee James is a demi-bisexual, bigender writer and editor from Kansas City with purple hair. Er main projects are Spectrum Lit, which publishes LGBTQ+ flash fiction, and Polycule, a true story blog about er polyamorous dating adventures. When not writing, e spends far too much time on twitter (@thewritingj), cuddling er dogs, and dating the entire metro area. More of er work can be found at JayleeJames.com.

 

Emi Louise Croucher Talks The Butterfly on Fire, a Novel of Being Transgender Before Transitioning

Here at LGBTQReads, we aim to provide a spot where authors of books that rarely get promo space can discuss their books, whether already published or upcoming. The Butterfly on Fire by E.L. Croucher is a case of the former, having been self-published on May 2, 2017, and to talk about it, she’s written a guest post in the form of a self-interview.

Before we get to that, here’s some more on the book:

The Butterfly on Fire is the story of three different lives, each linked together by a tragic, unchanging truth.

Eric is growing up and realising how different he is to those around him. How much longer can he hide from himself?

Beam is trying to balance work and romance like everyone else living in London. When embarking on such a journey, anything could happen.

Fubuki is Queen of a magnificent world known as Macha Land, but finds herself struggling to maintain the peace after an innocent man mysteriously dies at one of her Songshows. Will her utopia last with death at her doorstep?

Buy it: Amazon US * Amazon UK

And now, the interview!

Tell us a little bit about the book to start with.

 I describe it as a fantasy / contemporary fiction novel, because there is a clearly defined fantasy narrative, whilst the others are a modern-day, fiction narrative. It follows three lives through certain challenges, like most novels, but it all comes together in a twist that (hopefully) the reader won’t expect.

Now tell us a bit about yourself.

 I’m a 25 year old woman working in London. I grew up in here, but also worked and studied in Japan for a while. I’m actually a Japanese translator by day, indie novelist by night. I started writing The Butterfly on Fire because I had something important to say, and I wanted to write about it. I am a part of the LGBT community, and so the main theme of the novel is about that, basically. At first I never even imagined I would finish a complete draft, but step by step I kept at it, and here I am.

So, is the book basically just about you?

Yes and no. Certain scenes and parts of the storyline are based on what has happened in my life. Even some characters are based on real people. But it is no way just an auto-biographical novel. Thanks also to my editor, it’s developed into its very own little world. Literally in the fantasy chapters. Each character has been developed to how I wanted them, so it’s not as simple as it being ‘about me’.

What made you think of the three narrative based structure?

Without giving too much away, it kind of developed itself. I had three ‘voices’ that I wanted to represent. Each one of those affiliates to a part of a person. One being the body, one about the mind and the fantasy chapters are the soul. It all just grew from there, really

Who is your favourite character within the novel?

Really? Am I allowed to even choose as the author? Although, I can imagine most authors would choose their protagonist, but for me that would be slightly strange as it’s based on me. So in fact, I would go with the love interest of the fantasy chapters. Prince Hikaru. Hikaru means light in Japanese, so he’s a real stereotypical, male ‘hero’ character. What I’ve also tried to do though, is modernise the out-dated hero / heroine narrative, and play with what it means to be a ‘hero’ when your lover is a powerful, magical Queen.

Would you have done anything differently, now it’s all finished?

I think anyone would. But generally in life I try and live in the moment and not look back on what I could have done. Sure, some chapters are probably more exciting than others. Some characters could have been developed more. All I am confident in is that the novel tells the message that I want to tell extremely clearly. You wouldn’t be able to read it fully and not see what I’m trying to bring to the table. For me, that is the most important thing. I’m happy with that.

What was the most difficult part of creating the novel?

I think finishing the first draft is where most people give up. Once I had a full blown draft with chapters and everything I felt like half the battle was done. Going into editing with E Goulding was such an exciting step, and it made it all so much more real. It began to come alive with each chapter we went through together. It was so worth completing the first draft to get to that stage.

Who do you feel the book is meant for?

It’s an LGBT novel, so the community and all of its lovely people. As an extension to that, I think the parents and siblings of an LGBT person would be able to relate to it as well. To be honest, any person that loves an empowering story and a bit of a tear jerky would love The Butterfly on Fire. That is parallel to a wonderfully different fantasy narrative that really bounces off of the modern fiction element. Anyone that likes LGBT stories and fantasy then, perhaps?

What other influences helped towards writing TBOF?

Japan was a huge one. There are elements of the Japanese culture and language scattered neatly throughout The Butterfly on Fire. Queen Fubuki does some of her spells in Japanese. The main characters of the modern-day, fictional narrative go for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Japan has been a powerful and consistent part of my life, so it would naturally be the same in a novel that I create.

Wiccanism is another one. I have always been a spiritual person, since I was young. I have tried to stay faithful to the lore and add a sense of realism to the fantasy side of things by having real Wiccan terminology and acts.

Lastly, I would be a liar if I said my previous boyfriends and fiancés didn’t play their part as well! Lol!

How is the publishing process going so far?

So far it’s been a whirlwind of excitement! We are getting some fantastic reviews on our Amazon page, as people are starting to naturally finish the book now. It’s early days because its only been two months since self-publishing The Butterfly on Fire, but we are off to a great start! I couldn’t be happier!

Tell us in 10 words why you think people should read this novel?

It will change how you view a certain minority (hopefully).

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E L Croucher is a 25 year old YA novel writer. She is currently living in London, England. The Butterfly on Fire was inspired by her LGBT background and love of the Japanese language and culture. She always dreamt of becoming an author and started working on publishable material since taking A level English.

After starting to learn Japanese when she was 16 she entered SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) and attended Waseda in Tokyo, Japan on her year abroad. Eventually, after returning home to Kent, England, she started The Butterfly on Fire.

5 Queer Romance Novels that Center on Art: a Guest Post by Roan Parrish

Today on the site we have Roan Parrish with her own Fave Five of sorts, recommending queer romance novels that center on art to celebrate the release of her own such novel, Heart of the Steal, which is out today!

Responsible, disciplined William Fox channeled his love for art and his faith in the rules into being an FBI Art Crimes agent. Right and wrong, justice and injustice—the differences are clear, and Will has spent his career drawing a line between them. Maybe his convictions have cost him relationships, but he’s not willing to compromise what he knows is right. Until the night he meets Amory Vaughn.

As the head of his family’s philanthropic foundation, Vaughn knows very well that being rich and powerful can get him almost anything he wants. And when he meets endearingly grumpy and slightly awkward William Fox, he wants him more than he’s wanted anything. Vaughn is used to being desired for his name and his money, but Will doesn’t care about either.

When Vaughn falls back on old habits and attempts to impress Will by stealing a painting Will admires, their nascent bond blows up in his face. But Vaughn isn’t willing to give up on the glimpse of passion he saw the night he took Will apart. Before Will knows it, he’s falling for the man he should have arrested, and Vaughn has to realize that some things can’t be bought or stolen. Love has to be given freely. But can a man who lives by the rules, and a man who thinks the rules don’t apply to him, ever see eye to eye?

Heart of the Steal is a standalone romance with a happy ending. It features a Southern gentleman who thinks he’s always right, a buttoned-up FBI agent who secretly likes his buttons unbuttoned, and wall sex. And desk sex. And picnic blanket sex.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * iBooks

Will Fox and Amory Vaughn might be on opposite sides of the law—Will stops art thieves, and Vaughn is one. But they share a deep love of art, even if they appreciate in different ways.

I love books that focus on art, music, dance—using one medium (writing) to describe other types of art always fascinates me. Here are my top five recs for queer romance novels that center on art.

  1. Shatterproof, by Xen Sanders

Grey Jean-Marcelin paints vibrant scenes of Haitian life and portrayals of his vodou faith, but now the color has been drained from everything and Grey wants to die. When EMT Saint saves Grey from a suicide attempt, their lives become linked together by more than coincidence. Saint is a fae, who survives by draining the life from his lovers, and since Grey wants to die anyway, it seems like a perfect arrangement. Grey can paint his last works and Saint can gain power. But when they’re finally faced with the reality of losing each other, they both have to reevaluate what they need. Shatterproof is a sad, gorgeous book, and Sanders’ prose is a perfect fit for the subject matter: lyrical, lush, and elegiac.

  1. Roads series, Garrett Leigh

Ash is a tattoo artist, newly arrived in Chicago from Philadelphia, where he lived on the streets—the same place he created huge chalk drawings. He spends most of his time drawing in his sketchbook—memories, dreams, tattoo ideas, his roommate, Pete. Pete is an EMT who is slowly drawn to the mystery of shy Ash. As they become close friends, and then lovers and partners, the secrets to Ash’s past (and Ash and Pete’s future) emerge from the drawings of Ash’s memories. This is one of my favorite series, period. Leigh renders Ash’s mental landscape with such dreamy, elliptical prose that he remains mysterious even as we get to know him through Pete’s more down-to-earth observations.

  1. The Glass House, Suki Fleet

Teenager Sasha is lonely, self-destructive, and has a wall around him that’s fairy tale high. He collects broken glass and uses it to make sculptures that are as beautiful as they are made to cut. Shy Thomas is drawn to Sasha, and little by little the two begin to trust one another, each seeing complementary qualities in the other. I love Fleet’s prose and the way it echoes the way she uses glass in The Glass House as something broken and full of potential, fragile and strong. This is a quiet, beautiful book about the ways that people speak to us sometimes in languages we didn’t know we knew.

  1. Rough Canvas, Joey W. Hill (Rough Canvas is technically the sixth book in Hill’s otherwise m/f Nature of Desire series, but can be read as a standalone.)

Rough canvas begins in media res, with the backstory of rural North Carolina painter Thomas and flashy New York City art agent Marcus unfolding slowly. When his father dies, Thomas was forced to move home to North Carolina to help his mother and siblings run the family store, leaving behind his burgeoning art career, and his lover Marcus. Thomas is miserable there, his guts twisted up without Marcus, his art, or feeling like he can be himself. When Marcus comes to North Carolina to find him, and try to begin their relationship again, Thomas falls easily back under Marcus’ spell. But while he knows what he wants, his sense of duty is stronger than his desire, and they both have to fight to start over again. Rough Canvas is an uncompromising book, and I love that about it. Neither character is easy to like all the time—Marcus is brittle and exacting; Thomas is longsuffering with a bit of a martyr complex—and yet through art, they worship one another, and the relationship that grows out of the ashes of those imperfections is beautiful.

  1. Bellingham Mysteries, Nicole Kimberling

This series of six mystery novellas features Peter Fontaine, a newspaper reporter in Bellingham, Washington, who finds himself at the center of the murder investigation of a local artist. Also caught up in the investigation is reclusive artist Nick Olson, with whom Peter begins a relationship. Each novella features a different art-related mystery. I haven’t read these yet, but they come highly recommended by a friend with excellent taste, so I cannot wait to dive in. Art-related mysteries, amateur sleuthing, the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive artist? It’s all my favorite things.

Coming Out Catholic, a Guest Post by Alex Dunkin

Today on the site, please welcome Alex Dunkin, author of Coming Out Catholic, to talk about his experiences growing up gay and Catholic and how he’s reconciled the two.

25652102Religion has been part of my life ever since I can remember. The meaning of the role religion has played has changed over time, from the fun community activity it was in my childhood, to the complete rejection of all faith I went through in early adulthood, and now returning to a curiosity about how religion operates in my own and others’ lives. Coming Out Catholic is the culmination of years of research, self-exploration and acceptance. It started as a simple question: Does being gay mean having to give up other aspects of my life and identity, most notably faith? Answering that question also became for me a release of all the frustration of trying to understand and reconcile Catholicism’s stance on homosexuality (rather than solely the Bible’s position on it).

The quick and easy answer to that question is that it doesn’t mean that at all. You can be Catholic and gay. One of these identities does not need to be sacrificed for the other to survive.

Some may be (and are) upset by this concept, and insist that it contradicts the Bible. But the Bible has been re-translated and re-released many times, and those translations are influenced by the social and political climate of the day, and so changes get introduced that differ from the original text. Some of these changes are necessary, to retain relevance across cultural differences and to reflect the development of civilization across the millennia. But many of these changes are politically charged, to promote the views of those in power, and even to undermine the rights of minorities.

This leaves the issue of how to apply the (often outdated) social views of previous generations represented in the Bible  to modern society open to debate and a diverse range of interpretations.

Alongside all these arguments about Bible interpretations, another aspect of religion thrives: the faith. Faith is what allows quarrels over translations and literal meanings to fade away and shifts the focus of religion towards community, acceptance, family, and forgiveness. Faith is not found in quotable passages selectively pulled to further an argument, but in the community of people and their ability to support each other and allow everyone to live openly, without fear.

It is this approach to faith that reached out to me, and caused me to examine how some people used Bible passages according to their own agenda to reject and demonise the daily lived experiences of myself and countless others. Faith means using the Bible as a philosophical and spiritual guide, not a tool to segregate and belittle others, or as rules to control them out of fear of condemnation or the wrath of God.

Coming Out Catholic has allowed me to explore and express my curiosity and how it interacted with my research into the Bible. It was a pleasure to develop and once again find acceptance within my sense of faith without having to compromise my integrity as an openly gay man.

Buy Coming Out CatholicAmazon * Booktopia

Alex is an author, researcher and reviewer based in Adelaide, South Australia. He is the author of Homebody and Coming Out Catholic. More author information can be found at alexdunkin.com/about

 

 

On Section 28 and Its Effect on Queer Lit, a Guest Post by Kathleen Jowitt

On the site today we have Kathleen Jowitt, the author of Speak Its Name, the first self-published book ever to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. (More on that below.) In honor of Pride Month, Kathleen is here to share a piece of queer lit history, namely the British rule of Section 28, and how that affected the publication path of Speak Its Name. Before we get to that, a little more on the book itself:

A new year at the University of Stancester, and Lydia Hawkins is trying to balance the demands of her studies with her responsibilities as an officer for the Christian Fellowship. Her mission: to make sure all the Christians in her hall stay on the straight and narrow, and to convert the remaining residents if possible. To pass her second year. And to ensure a certain secret stays very secret indeed.

When she encounters the eccentric, ecumenical student household at 27 Alma Road, Lydia is forced to expand her assumptions about who’s a Christian to include radical Quaker activist Becky, bells-and-smells bus-spotter Peter, and out (bisexual) and proud (Methodist) Colette. As the year unfolds, Lydia discovers that there are more ways to be Christian – and more ways to be herself – than she had ever imagined.

Then a disgruntled member of the Catholic Society starts asking whether the Christian Fellowship is really as Christian as it claims to be, and Lydia finds herself at the centre of a row that will reach far beyond the campus. Speak Its Name explores what happens when faith, love and politics mix and explode.

Buy it: Amazon (US) * Amazon (UK) * Lulu (paperback) * Lulu (ebook)

And now, here’s Kathleen:

My first novel has just become the first self-published book ever to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. This is an annual award presented to the best first novel by an author under the age of 35.

Speak Its Name is the story of an evangelical Christian, and closeted lesbian, trying to navigate the troubled waters of university politics. The judges called it “An original, closely-observed, funny and often touching story with an unusual setting and a keen understanding of the interactions between members of small communities.”

I’m thrilled, of course, and I’m very proud to be the first self-published author on that shortlist. It’s pretty amazing to have the quality of my work affirmed in such an unarguable manner.

But I can’t help wondering… if history had been different, might there have been a route into conventional publishing, a route that wasn’t closed off to me and my book? What would have things been like, if it hadn’t been for Section 28?

Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act is notorious in British LGBT history. It stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

It came into effect in 1988, three years before I started primary school, and was repealed in 2003, just as I’d begun my first year at university. The whole of my school career, therefore, was overshadowed by this silence. I can only imagine what my life would have been like if I’d heard the word ‘bisexual’ before I turned eighteen.

Because Section 28 was assumed to apply to the school library as much as it did to biology or citizenship classes, it stunted a whole branch of LGBT teen literature. If a library (a public library or a school library – both would fall under the Local Government Act) couldn’t be expected to buy a book, then a publisher couldn’t be expected to publish it.

As a result, the long, honourable tradition in the United States of America stretching from Nancy Garden to David Levithan and beyond, just doesn’t exist in British publishing. Jacqueline Wilson, who’s tackled issues from adoption to eating disorders, homelessness to mental illness, doesn’t address homosexuality in any sort of depth until 2007.

The one book with any sort of LGBT theme that I can remember getting into my school library was Dare, Truth or Promise – by New Zealand author Paula Boock. The only Nancy Garden was, ironically enough, The Year They Burned The Books.

That meant that, when I wrote Speak Its Name, nobody knew quite what to do with it. Even though Section 28 had been gone for the best part of a decade, the genre that my novel would have slotted into had never recovered.

So I published it myself. And, while my shortlisting shows that this was absolutely the right decision and I don’t regret it for a second, I can’t help but be a little bit wistful. Not for my book, but for all the other books, the ones that never made it to print because “nobody would publish them'” because “nobody would buy them'” because of Section 28. The ones that my fifteen-year-old self would have loved to read.

*****

Kathleen Jowitt was born in Winchester, UK, and grew up deep in the Welsh Marches and, subsequently, on the Isle of Wight. After completing her undergraduate degree in English Literature at the University of Exeter she moved to Guildford and found herself working for a major trade union. She now lives in Cambridge, works in London, and writes on the train.

Can A Story Be Too Diverse? a Guest Post by Felix Yz author Lisa Bunker

Today on the site, we welcome Lisa Bunker, author of the just-released-yesterday Felix Yz! This Middle Grade debut features a gay protagonist, several other characters under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, and a whole lot more. Here’s the info:

28525367When Felix Yz was three years old, a hyperintelligent fourth-dimensional being became fused inside him after one of his father’s science experiments went terribly wrong. The creature is friendly, but Felix—now thirteen—won’t be able to grow to adulthood while they’re still melded together. So a risky Procedure is planned to separate them . . . but it may end up killing them both instead.

This book is Felix’s secret blog, a chronicle of the days leading up to the Procedure. Some days it’s business as usual—time with his close-knit family, run-ins with a bully at school, anxiety about his crush. But life becomes more out of the ordinary with the arrival of an Estonian chess Grandmaster, the revelation of family secrets, and a train-hopping journey. When it all might be over in a few days, what matters most?

IndieBound (find Felix through your local indie bookseller)
Penguin Random House (Hardcover, ebook, audiobook)
Barnes and Noble (Hard cover, Nook book, audiobook)
Amazon (Hard cover, Kindle edition, audiobook)
Felix on Goodreads

And here to talk more about the publication of the book is Lisa Bunker!

In the leadup to the publication of Felix, when I started getting reader reviews based on advance copies, one reviewer remarked that there were too many LGBTQ+ characters in the book. The queerness-density strained credulity, she said. (This comment about a story of a boy melded with a fourth-dimensional being.) There have been other similar remarks too, from other quarters.

Hm. Interesting.

Identity is not The Point of Felix. This is a coming-of-age novel about love, death, and family. It’s a story about a young human grappling with mortality.

That said, it is also true that among various other plot threads this young human has a crush, and as it happens both he and the crush were assigned male at birth. Likewise, Felix has a quirky supportive grandparent, and one of the quirks is that this grandparent switches off regularly between the names Vera and Vern (and uses veir own gender-neutral pronouns – vo ven veir). Also likewise, in the course of the novel, Felix’s mom navigates a love triangle, and as it happens the two love interests are one of each gender. Etc.

I approached the character design for Felix in a spirit of gleeful experimentation/play – just how many of these characters can I give at least one letter? You know, just to see how it reads? Turns out, most of them, and I love how it reads. But, each identity is no more than a facet, and not the most important facet, of the character in question. Not the preachy teachy Point; just lots of identities.

But, too many?

No. Dear reader-reviewer and other skeptics, upon reflection (and I have thought a lot about this), I feel the need to push back respectfully here. There are not too many queer characters in Felix. But I’m fascinated about why you might think so.

Consider: I recently read and was blown away by Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. Quite apart from the ripped-from-the-headlines story and the clean, powerful writing, what a fantastic submersion into the rich variety of contemporary African-American life in its many manifestations – family and friend-groups and church and more. And there are plenty of other books in which all or almost all of the characters are from the same race, nationality, or religion. Such books seem within the norm, and they’re valuable and important and great fun to read.

So why not also books full of queer folk? Why so many books with one or two tokeny LGBTQ+ characters, but no more than some implied limit seems to allow? Well, perhaps it is not yet generally understood that queer folk also form community and have culture.

There are plenty of families like Felix’s. Mine, for example: I’m a trans woman in a committed relationship with another woman, and one of my two children is genderfluid. (My poor son – the token cis-het member of the family.) And there are many other clusters in my circle of acquaintance – friend groups, group houses, families of choice, community meeting places and flashpoints, both in the real world and online. We rainbow umbrella people are a misunderstood and often maligned sector of humanity, and part of our response to that is to seek and find each other. We join together for solace and strength. We have community and culture too.

Can you imagine anyone saying a book had too many Hispanic characters? Too many Jewish characters? Too many refugee characters? Me neither, thankfully, at least other than at the farther fringes of public discourse. But, it still seems reasonable to some people to say “too many LGBTQ+ characters.”

I aim to do what I can to rectify that. What started out as something of a writerly lark in Felix has evolved into a sense of mission. Moving forward, I aim to work toward a world in which no number of queer characters is too many. And I hope my books and others like mine will both give LGBTQ+ readers a much-needed chance to see their worlds celebrated in fiction, and also invite the general reading public to visit those worlds and perhaps discover, once again, the common bedrock of humanity that unites us all.

The story I’m working on now is about a trans girl with a troubled past and advanced coder/hacker skills who solves cyber-crimes with the help of her genderqueer best friend and her cool Lesbian aunties, while attempting to survive adolescence and middle school. Onward!

Lisa BunkerBefore setting up shop as a full-time author and trans activist, Lisa Bunker had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting, most recently as Program Director of the community radio station in Portland, Maine. Besides Maine she has made homes in New Mexico, southern California, Seattle, and the Florida panhandle. She currently lives in Exeter, New Hampshire with her partner and her cat. She has two grown children. When not writing she reads, plays piano, knits, takes long walks, does yoga, and studies languages. @LisaBunker on Twitter; author website at www.lisabunker.net.

Writing a Queer Main Character in M/F Romance, a Guest Post by Roan Parrish

Please welcome to LGBTQReads Roan Parrish, whose very first m/f Romance, Small Change, just released yesterday! Here’s a little more on the book:

Ginger Holtzman has fought for everything she’s ever had—the success of her tattoo shop, respect in the industry, her upcoming art show. Tough and independent, she has taking-no-crap down to an art form. Good thing too, since keeping her shop afloat, taking care of her friends, and scrambling to finish her paintings doesn’t leave time for anything else. Which … is for the best, because then she doesn’t notice how lonely she is. She’ll get through it all on her own, just like she always does.

Christopher Lucen opened a coffee and sandwich joint in South Philly because he wants to be part of a community after years of running from place to place, searching for something he could never quite name. Now, he relishes the familiarity of knowing what his customers want, and giving it to them. But what he really wants now is love.

When they meet, Christopher is smitten, but Ginger … isn’t quite so sure. Christopher’s gorgeous, and kind, and their opposites-attract chemistry is off the charts. But hot sex is one thing—truly falling for someone? Terrifying. When her world starts to crumble around her, Ginger has to face the fact that this fight can only be won by being vulnerable—this fight, she can’t win on her own.

Add it on Goodreads * Buy it on Amazon

And now, here’s Roan!

Writing a Queer Main Character in M/F Romance

25687508Ginger Holtzman started out as a secondary character in In the Middle of Somewhere, an m/m romance. She was the main character Daniel’s best friend, and through his eyes, we saw her romance with Christopher begin to play out in the background. One of the things I heard most from readers was that they wanted Ginger to get her own story. And although I never explicitly said Ginger was queer in In the Middle of Somewhere, she always was in my head. I knew that part of her backstory with Daniel was that they had been part of the same community of queer artists and musicians back in Philadelphia. But because the person she started dating was a dude, there was no explicit signifier of her queerness in In the Middle of Somewhere.

When I started writing Small Change, then, one of the things that mattered most to me was that Ginger’s queerness be legible while she was falling in love with a straight man.

The long history of the romance genre sets up the expectation that m/f romance = heterosexual romance. Not because there isn’t room on the page for characters to have complex desires, but because genres are structured by rules that are assumed unless they are explicitly negated.

Now we have a much more diverse spectrum of desires represented in romance than we did twenty years ago. But from a publishing perspective, the fact that queer romance is a genre in its own standing actually underscores the separation between queer romance and m/f romance. Even though m/f and queerness are not at all mutually exclusive, there is still comparatively little representations of queerness on the pages of m/f romance, and very little expectation of it.

So it was very important to me that Ginger’s romance with Christopher not erase her queerness. Indeed, her queerness is important in everything from her past dating experiences, to her business practices, to her politics. But I also didn’t want queer legibility to be The Struggle of Ginger and Christopher’s relationship. That is, I didn’t want queerness to be a stumbling block to love, and I didn’t want it to be something that Ginger needed to educate Christopher about in order for them to have a relationship. I wanted it to be a part of their love because it’s a part of Ginger.

For this to work, Christopher’s character had to be someone who knew what the hell was going on, because Ginger would never be attracted to a dude who was clueless about politics or queerness or social justice. That is, this book takes place in a world where queerness is visible, for all involved. Christopher wonders if Ginger dates men when they first meet, and wants to find out because he’s attracted to her, and this interaction is pretty indicative of their attitudes:

Christopher asks, “Do you date men?”

Ginger, self deprecating as always, answers, “Uh, yeah. Well, I mean, not very successfully, but yes, in theory.”

And that’s what’s important: who Ginger would, in theory, be interested in, not the idea that who is currently dating is a barometer of her identity.

*****

b&w author picRoan Parrish is the author of the Middle of Somewhere series. Her debut m/f novel, Small Change, is out now.