Category Archives: Guest post

Queer Cauldron: Mixing it All Together for LGBTQ+ Stories, a Guest Post by Author Courtney Lanning

Please welcome Courtney Lanning to the site today, to discuss writing queer casts for queer stories, including in her recent release, Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl! Here’s a little more about the book:

Roxie is a sweet trans girl who just wants to spend the rest of her summer vacation playing music with her friends in their band. Living in a southern college town like Fayetteville has its challenges. Dan is a shop wizard who would give anything to escape the store he’s been trapped in for a century under the watchful eyes of a witch and a talking fox.

Their paths converge when Roxie is given the ability to travel into dreams and tasked with fighting off nightmares.

Unbeknownst to Dan and Roxie, other dream walkers are searching for an enchanted key, and if they find it, they’ll plunge the entire city into a living nightmare. The shop wizard and pixie dream girl will have to team up to stop them, facing their own nightmares along the way.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

It does my heart good to see so many queer stories being published this year. LGBTQ+ literature is going strong, and I hope it’ll just continue to snowball into 2022 and beyond.

Some of my favorite titles I’ve pounced on this year include The River Has Teeth and The Lost Girls (big sucker for ya lesbian fantasy novels). And while I can’t speak for authors like Erica Waters and Sonia Hartl, I can speak for myself as a queer author in terms of what’s driving my own LGBTQ+ writing.

My debut fantasy novel, Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl, released on the last day of Pride Month, and it follows the adventures of a trans girl who is given the ability to travel into dreams.

When I was writing the book, all I could think to myself was I just don’t see enough transgender representation in the fantasy genre. Fortunately, Riverdale Avenue Books gave me an opportunity to help address that.

As I wrote chapter after chapter of Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl, I found myself reaching into a cauldron of queer material that inspired me, not only growing up, but over the last decade of my writing.

Anime is something I’ve enjoyed watching ever since I was a little girl, and Sailor Moon was the first one I saw. I spent several years wanting to grow up to be a magical girl like Usagi and the other Sailor Scouts. But this anime also had a queer twist, introducing Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus as gay lovers in the third season.

It’s no secret that I took a bit of influence from Sailor Moon when I created the character of Roxie. I wanted to accomplish a few different things with Roxie’s character, primarily establishing her as a magical girl of my making and giving transgender readers a hero of their own to cheer for and reflect on.

When it came to overall themes of Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl, I also found myself borrowing a bit from the cartoon Steven Universe, both in moments of levity and silliness with my characters and placing an importance on mental health care, which is something the show brings up repeatedly for most of its characters.

In chapter two, where Roxie first appears, she goes to see her therapist. It’s one of the first things she does, and I wanted to establish that as a normal part of her life. Given the discrimination and mistreatment transgender women face externally and the dysphoria that can eat away at them on the inside, I knew it was important to show Roxie taking steps to deal with her trauma and normalize addressing it.

Of course, I also had literature to pull out of my queer cauldron and mix into Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl. My favorite author is Holly Black, and not long after coming out, my wife suggested I read her Tithe trilogy. So, I did, and quickly fell in love with those stories. To this day, they sit very first in line on the top level of my bookshelf.

Black showed me how important it was to have other queer characters throughout your novels, and throughout her books about faeries, she establishes not just queer characters but a magical world of Faerie where beings just are what they are with regards to gender and sexual identity. Nobody is treated badly for having an identity outside of the cis-het “norm.” In Black’s world of faerie, characters are treated horribly for other reasons, but that’s a different essay entirely.

So I knew I couldn’t just have a transgender protagonist and assume that was all the representation my story needed. So in Roxie’s tight friend group I introduced Tessa, a queer girl who plays guitar and drives a beat up old van she uses to transport all the band equipment.

In book two, The Ozarks Druid (coming out next year), I include other LGBTQ+ characters, like the protagonist, Aoife, a bisexual girl in a relationship with a drama student named Abigail. And there are more in books three and four. I intend to include a plurality of LGBTQ+ characters throughout my Boston Mountain Magic series. Black’s subsequent works like The Darkest Part of the Forest and the Folk of the Air series helped show me how important that is.

But I suspect most queer authors have their own rainbow cauldrons and brews they use to craft queer stories like I do. It’s my hope publishers will continue to seek out those authors and their queer cauldrons because the world needs all of it.

***

Courtney Lanning is a journalist in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She’s earned a master’s degree in multimedia journalism. When she’s not writing, Lanning is probably watching a movie, playing video games, reading or out running. Her debut novel, Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl, released at the end of June 2021. She can be found on Twitter under @SapphicCourtney or on Facebook under Courtney Lanning – Author.

What’s In A Name? On Writing Jewish Families In Queer Romance, a Guest Post: by Unwritten Rules Author KD Casey

Today on the site, we’re welcoming KD Casey, author of the upcoming Jewish m/m sports romance Unwritten Rules, which releases October 12, 2021 from Carina Press. KD’s here to talk about writing queer Jewish rep, but first, here’s the story behind the book:

Zach Glasser has put up with a lot for the sport he loves. Endless days on the road, playing half-decent baseball in front of half-full stadiums and endless nights alone, pretending this is the life he’s always wanted.

The thing is, it could have been everything he ever wanted—if only he’d had the guts to tell his family, tell the club, that he was in love with his teammate Eugenio Morales. Well, ex-teammate now. When Zach wouldn’t—couldn’t—come out, Eugenio made the devastating choice to move on, demanding a trade away from Oakland. Away from Zach.

Three years and countless regrets later, Zach still can’t get Eugenio out of his head. Or his heart. And when they both get selected to play in the league’s All-Star Classic, those feelings and that chemistry come roaring back.

Zach wants a second chance. Eugenio wants a relationship he doesn’t have to hide. Maybe it’s finally time they both get what they want.

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

And here’s the post!

I have a confession to make as an author: I hate naming characters.

My first drafts are littered with placeholders, brackets, a healthy amount of [name here], and an unhealthy amount of whining to critique partners. Because names are decisions. They reflect characters’ birthplaces, ethnicities, the era in which they live, and socioeconomic class. 

Unwritten Rules, which comes out in October, started as a Gchat conversation with a friend. It’s a conversation I’ve returned to a number of times throughout the editing process, specifically to reflect on the evolution of the book’s main characters, and by extension, their families and histories. 

Both main characters began their lives as placeholder names, as unmade decisions. To get from idle conversation to 100,000 word novel, I needed a (small) push. At my request, my friend provided the following list of names: Zach, Cal, Evan, Mario, Yehuda, Andy, Eugenio, Mike. Each of these signify different things about characters. One can imagine the background and experience of someone named Yehuda differs fairly significantly from someone named Cal

Two of these names eventually became the main characters of Unwritten Rules. The book follows Zach Glasser, a professional baseball player, who unexpectedly reunites with Eugenio Morales, who’s his ex-teammate—and ex-boyfriend.

Along with the decision about names came a lot of information about Zach and Eugenio as histories and backgrounds beyond former partners. Eugenio’s family is from Venezuela, and immigrated to the United States in the late ‘80s. (A few people have asked me how Eugenio is pronounced. Here’s an interview with Eugenio Suárez, a Venezualen infielder on the Cincinnati Reds, where the interviewer says his name a number of times.)

Zach’s name is specifically Ashkenazi Jewish because the character (like me!) comes from a Ashkenazi Jewish family. I didn’t set out to write a Jewish book, but once I decided on Zach’s name, I “knew” a lot about him.

His grandmother immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. His mother drinks tea in a Russian Jewish way: with sugar between her teeth and from a glass mug, not a ceramic one. The book also has a sprinkling of Yiddish, discussions of a ketubah, and an emotionally significant babka. 

In naming Zach, I also realized I was writing a queer Jewish baseball book that would, necessarily, focus on Zach’s relationship with his family. His major conflict was being torn between his family’s wishes for him and professional baseball’s “unwritten rules,” the set of dictates that governs, and limits, players’ lives on and off the field. 

There aren’t a huge number of romance novels, particularly queer, non-YA romance novels, written by Jewish authors about Jewish families. They do exist: Shira Glassman and Jennet Alexander write them. Corey Alexander, alehém hashalóm, wrote them. But they are relatively few in number compared with the vastness (the wonderful vastness!) that is genre romance. 

In general—and this is not limited to works by Jewish authors—I’ve seen queerness with Judaism portrayed in one of two ways: unconditional acceptance or religiously-based intolerance. Both of these are valid, possible experiences, but they aren’t the only experiences. I wanted to write a book where the main character feels the very real Jewish pressures to get married and have a family, but that those pressures come from love and survival rather than bigotry.

Readers, both Jewish and not, come in with their own notions of what Jewish families are like. These notions derive from both personal experience and media depiction, be it realistic or reductive. To be clear, there are pressures: Academically, professionally, romantically. That we should get married. To a doctor. A Nice Jewish Boy or Girl who can love us and keep us. 

These pressures don’t arise from nowhere. If you’ve experienced generational displacement, then it makes sense to pursue professions that are employable regardless of location. Therefore, marrying a doctor isn’t born of some grasping financial instinct but an acknowledgement of trauma and of history. 

So how to portray a family whose love, and anxieties are both valid and limiting? Another early decision I made (spoilers!) is that Zach’s relationship with his family not only survived the book but was deepened and strengthened throughout it. As a queer person, I understand why people write about familial homophobia and rejection. It’s unfortunately a real thing that occurs. If novels are about emotional catharsis, there is a certain satisfaction for a reader when a character stands up to their awful, homophobic family. 

But I’m always left wondering—what then? Whose house do they go to on Rosh Hashanah? Who do they call on Passover when their pesadich (kosher for Passover) cake turns out closer to fudge? Where will they get gossip about their second cousin’s wife’s sister? It’s hard for me to balance the romance requirement of an optimistic ending (in addition to a central love story) with the notion of estrangement. That when a fictional character—for legitimate and understandable reasons—closes that door, what happens the next day? The next year? 

If romance is a genre of hope, then that happy ending had to extend beyond Zach and Eugenio’s eventual reconciliation to Zach’s relationship with his family and his sense of Jewishness. Those were the hardest parts to write. Because Zach’s family is in many ways my own, not in a literal sense, but in a sense of having gone through similar considerations and compromises. 

Without tipping (more) into spoilers, I wanted his family not to be overbearing, uncompromising stereotypes, but real people with real dreams and fears for their child. His mother, in particular, could have easily become the villain of the book: The inflexible, haranguing Jewish woman who is often the only representation we get in media. I wanted her to be sometimes those things and sometimes not those things. More pressingly, I wanted Zach, as her child, to come to see and understand her as much as she comes to see and understand him.

Writing about your own people, your own culture, is often a conversation with stereotypes. Those stereotypes can be challenged or reconstructed, but they are lurking, present, in readers’ assumptions—and my own assumptions. Writing this book became about acknowledging and challenging those assumptions, and about treating characters with care.   

Zach’s mother isn’t based on my own mother, but on the distance I see between the stereotypes about Jewish parents and the realities of actually having them. (Also, Mom, if you’re reading this, I asked you not to read the book because of [redacted], [redacted], and please don’t tell the rabbi about this one, [redacted].)

In writing a Jewish family, I wanted them to be imperfect, and loving, and whole. I wanted to show the work it takes on Zach’s part and his family’s part to provide that optimistic ending, one that’s messy but ultimately hopeful. It was a journey I didn’t expect to go on, but I’m glad I did. And hope you join me for it. 

KD Casey (https://linktr.ee/KDCaseyWrites) is a romance writer and baseball enthusiast living in the Washington, DC area. Her debut novel UNWRITTEN RULES will be published by Carina Press in October 2021 and is available for preorder.

Getting Younger: a Guest Post by The Midnight Man Author Kevin Klehr

Today on the site, we’re welcoming Kevin Klehr, author of The Midnight Man, which just released on August 30th from Ninestar Press! Before Kevin gets to talking about finding yourself as you get older, let’s get a glimpse of his speculative romance:

Stanley is almost fifty. He hates his job, has an overbearing mother, and is in a failed relationship. Then he meets Asher, the man of his dreams, literally in his dreams.

Asher is young, captivating, and confident about his future—everything Stanley is not. So, Asher gives Stan a gift. The chance to be an extra five years younger each time they meet.

Some of their adventures are whimsical. A few are challenging. Others are totally surreal. All are designed to bring Stan closer to the moment his joyful childhood turned to tears.

But when they fall in love, Stan knows he can’t live in Asher’s dreamworld. Yet he is haunted by Asher’s invitation to “slip into eternal sleep.”

Buy it: Ninestar Press

And here’s the post!

We all do it. Some are ready for it while others avoid it all cost. But there is no fountain of youth. We all get older.

The tragedy of aging is when you feel like your life hasn’t begun. That’s the dilemma Stanley faces in my new novel, The Midnight Man.

Stan is in a failed relationship, he hates his job, and he has an overbearing mother. But soon he’ll be facing his fiftieth birthday, and this is not how he planned his life to be at this stage.

When this manuscript was accepted by my publisher, my editor emailed saying she liked what the story ‘had to say about the good and bad aspects of getting older.’ And even though she was obviously referring to my book, it was the first time I realised that was the underlying theme of this work.

When I came up with the concept, I was listening to Kate Bush’s haunting track, ‘Man With the Child In His Eyes’, a song about a mystical lover who appears when the songwriter goes to sleep. 

But this is one of my novels. The plotline can’t just be about an ethereal romance.

Stan’s midnight visitor is Asher, a twenty-one-year-old who appears in his dreams. Asher offers Stan a gift. Every time they meet for their night-time adventures, Stanley is another five years younger than the last time they met.

This is how ageing is examined in the story. Stan gets to be himself at an age he once was, while bizarre dreamlike scenarios happen. He reflects without actually reliving moments of his life. He remembers what youth feels like as Asher organises whimsical, or sometimes challenging, scenarios for Stanley to face.

Sometime in the past six months I realised all my books feature a love story. Odd, I thought, because I’ve only written two books you could call Romance. The Midnight Man, like many of my novels, is Urban Fantasy, Magic Realism, Speculative Fiction or whatever you’d like to brand it. But it doesn’t mean our two heroes don’t fall for each other as Stan becomes younger.

In the end, this work is about taking control of your life, and sometimes it takes a special someone to help you do it.

***

Kevin lives with his husband, Warren, in their humble apartment (affectionately named Sabrina), in Australia’s own ‘Emerald City,’ Sydney.

His tall tales explore unrequited love in the theatre district of the Afterlife, romance between a dreamer and a realist, and a dystopian city addicted to social media.

His first novel, Drama Queens with Love Scenes, spawned a secondary character named Guy. Many readers argue that Guy, the insecure gay angel, is the star of the Actors and Angels book series. His popularity surprised the author. The third in this series, Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes, scored a Rainbow Award (judged by fans of queer fiction) for Best Gay Alternative Universe/Reality novel.

So, with his fictional guardian angel guiding him, Kevin hopes to bring more whimsical tales of love, life and friendship to his readers.

Website: www.kevinklehr.com

Guest Post: by On Home Author Becca Spence Dobias

Today on the site we welcome Becca Spence Dobias, author of On Home (releasing August 24th), to talk about writing queer lit against the backdrop of a hometown you fear won’t accept it and weighing the claim of #ownvoices against the potential resulting hostility. First, here’s a little more about On Home:

When tragedy strikes, Cassidy, a cam girl living in Southern California, must return to the small West Virginia town she left behind. Cassidy likes her job getting naked for men on camera, though she prefers sex with women. She never came out to her family or friends back in her home state―not about her sexuality and certainly not about her sex work. Now, she must figure out how to hold on to the life she’s built for herself while picking up the pieces of her fractured family.

As Cassidy’s story unfolds, we glimpse into the lives of the strong, complicated women who came before her: Jane, the sheltered daughter of farmers, escapes West Virginia for Washington, DC to work as a Government Girl for the FBI during World War II, until a fateful mistake threatens her future. Paloma, a Fulbright Scholar, journeys to newly Westernized Prague―only to fall for an idealistic but safe man from West Virginia.

Though worlds and generations apart, all three search for meaning as they face impending motherhood and the pull to return home to rural Appalachia.

Preorder: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

And here’s the post!

In the first draft of my novel, On Home, my character’s sexuality was ambiguous. I left her relationship open-ended, telling myself it could be read as a very close friendship, though early readers all told me they read it as romantic. I didn’t mention this aspect of the book at all when I crowdfunded it through Inkshares, as I didn’t want to turn off potential supporters. Now I’m preparing to launch a full-on #ownvoices queer book and am reflecting on the journey.

I grew up in a small town in rural West Virginia where very few queer people were out. In my high school, there was a token lesbian and a token gay guy, but everyone else was closeted—and with good reason—the two out teens were harassed constantly. Even without being out, anyone “weird” was called “faggot”—beaten up, made fun of, attacked in the hallways. It made sense, that as someone who was unsure of her sexuality, it was safer to follow what felt like the dominant part of it and pursue guys. A girlfriend and I flirted, talking about our fantasies, but it never felt like something we would actually pursue. It really didn’t even feel within the realm of possibility in the place and time where we grew up.

When I moved to North Carolina for college, my eyes began to open as I met more queer folks. I was so naive that when I found out a friend was a lesbian, I stared at her stunned for a moment and asked, “Like a full lesbian?”

“A full lesbian,” she confirmed, laughing at me. I was both impressed and intimidated.

Though I still only dated men, I experimented with women. My first time with a woman, I reflected that it was like “cake frosting”—almost too sweet and good. I hadn’t experienced sex purely for the physical pleasure of it before; I’d always been too wrapped up in my own head about what the sex meant.

I couldn’t shake my internalized homophobia though. I was fine with other people being queer, but it still felt embarrassing when I was thinking or talking about myself. It didn’t help that my first experiment with coming out went poorly.

I’d graduated college and signed on as an AmeriCorps VISTA. At our end of the year celebration, I was enjoying dinner and drinks with other VISTA volunteers from across California, where I’d moved. We were in California, we were all progressive. I felt comfortable and tipsy enough to share that I “wasn’t exactly straight.” The supervisor, a man in his fifties, was also tipsy. “Yeah!” He exclaimed, and gave me a high five. It felt gross and objectifying. He liked the idea of hot lesbians. I didn’t want anyone else to think of me as a sexual person, so I didn’t talk about it for a long time, especially not with people from home, who I wanted to see me as a successful hometown girl—accomplished, smart, definitely not sexual.

Still, at the suggestion of my editors, I made the next drafts’ relationship explicitly romantic. It felt truer this way—less wishy washy. Literature is often a kind of wish fullfilment. If we don’t have things in real life, it can be nice to read about them and in a way, live them vicariously. Writing is like this sometimes, too. I don’t wish for my life to be different. I am happy I ended up with the partner I have and in the place where I am. I have a happy marriage, friends, a wonderful community, and a beautiful loving home. But by writing On Home, and fully embracing West Virginia and a sapphic relationship, I’m able to have those too, in a different way—a way that will forever be precious to me. Once I embraced my book’s queerness, it became more than a book; it was a different way my life could have gone, wrapped into a neat package that I can keep with me, like a stone in my pocket.

Still, I was determined it not be marketed or labeled a “queer book.” I told myself this was about keeping my audience broad, but looking back, it was about my own insecurities about my sexuality. I would keep my distance from it—I’d be an ally, but certainly not someone who had sexual desires or preferences myself. As an adult—a bi woman in a heterosexual marriage—it was easy to continue to pass as straight. I still had work to do—external and internal. 

Soon after, writers began to come under scrutiny for writing queer literature without being visibly queer, and I wondered again if I should come out. I fretted about what calling it an #ownvoices book would mean for my hometown in West Virginia, who had rallied around me to crowdfund the book without knowing it was queer at all. The decision felt like a pull between authenticity in the book community or scandalizing the people I grew up with. I hemmed. I hawed. I chose authenticity.

Finally, I came out in a book launch video for Pride month. No one seemed shocked or surprised. I was nervous it might alienate some of my audience, and perhaps it still will, when the book comes out, but I’m no longer hindered by this fear.

Now my book’s queerness is one of its main marketing points. My hometown has been supportive, or at least quiet about this move. Though I’ve received homophobic comments on Facebook ads, they’ve been from strangers.

Though the #OwnVoices movement is (rightly) under scrutiny for this exact reason—it’s intrusive, sometimes harmfully so, in my case, and my novel’s, it was a gift. The book’s story is the one it was meant to be, and I’m more my authentic self too. We will both find our people.

***

Becca Spence Dobias grew up in West Virginia and now lives in Southern California with her husband and two children. On Home is her first novel.

Reading and Writing Dark LGBTQ Fiction: a Guest Post by Breeder Author Honni van Rijswijk

Today on the site we’re welcoming Honni van Rijswijk, author of dystopian thriller Breeder, which just released on Tuesday from Blackstone publishing! Honni’s here to talk about the writing process for their novel, the “dark/bleak” elements that dominate it, and why such fiction can be kinda cheering, actually, regarding both their queer sexuality and nonbinary identity. But before we get to that, here’s a little more on the book:

Will Meadows is a seemingly average fifteen-year-old Westie, who lives and works in Zone F, the run-down outermost ring of the Corporation. In the future state of the Corp, a person’s value comes down to productivity: the right actions win units, the wrong ones lose them. If Will is unlucky and goes into unit debt, there’s only one place to go: the Rator. But for Zone F Breeders, things are much worse–they’re born into debt and can only accrue units through reproduction.

Every day in Zone F is a struggle, especially for Will who is fighting against time for access to an illegal medical drug, Crystal 8. Under the cover of night, Will travels to the Gray Zone, where life is less regulated and drugs–and people–are exchanged for gold. There, Will meets Rob, a corrupt member of the Corporation running a Breeder smuggling operation. Will also meets Alex, another teen whom he quickly recognizes as a Breeder in disguise.

Suddenly, Will has an illicit job and money, access to Crystal, and a real friend. As the pair grows closer, Alex shares her secret: she is part of the Response, an uprising to overthrow the Corporation. Caught up in the new friendship, Will and Alex become careless as the two covertly travel into Zone B for a day of adventure. Nothing goes as planned and Will’s greatest fear is realized. Will his true identity be revealed?

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N

***

And here’s the post!

My novel Breeder is set in a bleak world. It takes place after a catastrophic environmental apocalypse, where an avaricious corporation has taken control of all resources, and treats all people (except its shareholders) as resources to be used and then discarded. Part of its violence involves the ways it controls people through rigid gender norms–boys/men are only used for labor, and girls/women are only used for reproduction. The main character, a 15-year-old called Will, has to navigate this extreme world and readers witness Will doing so in ways that are often ethically problematic. Why did I want to set up this world, as an author, and what do we gain, as readers, from bleak possibilities and morally gray characters?

I’ve always been drawn to “dark” novels and films–horror, sci-fi, and extreme realism. As readers, we gain a lot from these bleak worlds. Samara Morgan, the vengeful ghost/demon in the horror story THE RING helps us understand the brutal possibilities of the mother/daughter relationship. Serena Joy’s callous upholding of religious and gender norms in The Handmaid’s Tale reveals white women’s complicity in historical oppression. The devastating realist trauma represented in Stone Butch Blues brings home the violence experienced by gender queer people. As a nonbinary person brought up as a girl, I’ve experienced violence based on gender identity and sexuality, and I needed these dark tales as catharsis, recognition and articulation. It has always been a relief to me to see violence I’ve experienced told back to me as stories. Why is this the case? Because these bleak tales offer frameworks of recognition from places that sometimes haven’t been recognised before. They provide us a language of trauma, and also languages of responsibility and accountability–once we have these languages, we can recognise and speak to each other, we can speak back to power. These stories provide ways to call for justice, through the frameworks of revenge, tragedy and revolution.

In Breeder, the main character, Will, is nonbinary, trying to navigate a world that refuses any possibility of gender fluidity and, indeed, any lived experience outside that of being a productive cog within the Corporation. I wanted to explore this extreme world as a way to explore our current world–where we’re absolutely facing environmental collapse, hyper-capitalism and conservative backlash on reproductive freedom as well as LGBTQI rights. Through the character of Will, I wanted to explore what a young person at the intersections of these crisis might do. Will is at the bottom of the class order in the Corp; they are nonbinary, assigned AFAB, and they have no legacy Units. Structurally, everything is against them. I wanted to explore what moral choices a character might make in that situation–will they conform or will they rebel? Will they create alliances with other excluded people, or will they try to make the best of their difficult situation? In Breeder, I set up extreme versions of choices that I, and many LGBTQI people, have had to make throughout our lives. We might not always agree with the choices that Will makes, but hopefully people can empathise with why Will might make these choices. For me, as both a reader and a writer, it’s only in these extreme and bleak worlds that I see versions of my own experience reflected and so I will always seek them out!

***

Want your own copy of Breeder? The author is giving away two copies, and yes, this giveaway is international! Just comment below with what kind of fiction you gravitate toward for comfort and/or catharsis and we’ll pick two winners on Friday, July 23rd!

Honni van Rijswijk is a writer, lawyer, and academic. Breeder is their debut novel. Their fiction has appeared in Southerly and was short-listed for Zoetrope: All-Story. They are a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney, where their research focuses on intersections between law, technology, and culture. They live in Sydney, Australia, with their partner and daughter.

Writing Fiction From Loss: a Guest Post by A New Life Author Randi Triant

Today on the site, please welcome Randi Triant, author of the recently released A New Life, to talk about writing fiction from loss. First, here’s more on the book:

58231463. sy475 Where her sister’s life ends, hers begins.

Tibbie Dyer, an impulsive, forty-three-year-old journalist, fears there is more to the story when Sandy, her gay, older sister, drowns in a boating accident off Cape Cod. As Tibbie hunts down the four survivors, she must confront her own sexuality and strained relationship with Sandy as she finds out whether it was an accident or murder. Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the secrets behind what happened, but also in the damaged lives of everyone else involved.

Luke Blackmore, Sandy’s sexually harassing boss and the boat’s owner, remains at the Manhattan publishing company where Sandy worked. But Penelope Blackmore, Luke’s manipulative daughter and ex-vice president, has fled mysteriously to a deserted mill town with Hayden Pierce, Sandy’s photographer ex-girlfriend. Myles Small, the publisher’s former graphic designer, with his bad stammer and coke habit, is barely surviving in a rundown train boxcar near the accident scene. One by one, Tibbie ferrets out what these survivors are hiding until the shocking conclusion of what it costs her to learn the truth about her sister—and herself.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

***

And here’s the post!

No one can survive life without tragedy. Some of us even get more than our fair share. Thirty-four years ago, I got mine. I answered my telephone to be told that my eldest brother had died in a boating accident in upstate New York. He drowned, but there were five survivors. I knew at once it would be the defining moment of my life. Yet, how to write about it?

I needed distance before I put pen to paper, so I waited a few years before I wrote a memoir piece about it and my ensuing insomnia and fear of water called “Swimming to Sleep.” It was published in a glossy literary magazine out of the South and was a finalist in a literary competition. I thought that was the end of it.

But it wasn’t.

The fact that there were survivors kept me up at night. My brother had died trying to swim for help when the boat capsized. I began to wonder how the five survivors were able to go on with their lives in the aftermath. What those lives were like.

Then, I realized I wanted to write a story about that. About the what if. That’s the question that fiction (as opposed to memoir) deals with. What if I found those survivors? What would I do then? I didn’t want to do it myself, but I could imagine someone—a fictional character—doing it. My recently released LGBTQ mystery, A New Life, does just that. Tibbie Dyer, an impulsive, forty-three-year-old journalist, fears there is more to the story when Sandy, her gay, older sister, drowns in a boating accident off Cape Cod. As Tibbie hunts down the four survivors, she must confront her own sexuality and strained relationship with Sandy as she finds out whether it was an accident or murder.

I began by asking the question that writers ask themselves when they start a story: That happens and then what? And then? Unlike my own relationship with my brother, I decided that Tibbie’s relationship with Sandy would be fractured for years before the accident, after Sandy came out as a lesbian. But I didn’t want to write a coming out story. Or did I?

At first, I was more interested in delving into the question of how we deal with loss so differently from each other, especially if we are estranged from the person we lose. After someone we love dies, some of us return to our lives, bevering away, within a few days. Others take years, even decades to fully enter life again. Some of us dull the pain of loss with alcohol and drugs. Others decide to train for a marathon. All of that is fodder for characters in fiction.

And what about fictionalizing the different types of guilt we feel after someone we know (or love) dies, especially after an accident? From “I should’ve told her how much I loved her” to “I wish we hadn’t had that argument the last time I saw her.” The different shades of guilt can be as plentiful as our good memories. All of this is to say that loss can be incredibly rich material for developing a character.

I always begin my novels or short stories by writing out character sketches. I want to know not only my characters’ favorite color, but also what motivates them. What has wounded them in the past. What they love. What they fear. Who or what they’ve lost. As I began writing such sketches for Tibbie and Sandy and the other four characters in what would become A New Life, I kept asking myself these questions:  How did Sandy’s death change them? What do they feel guilty about in connection with the accident? Because that’s what loss is: gut-wrenching change and guilt.

By the time I finished Tibbie’s sketch, however, I realized I’d been wrong: this was indeed her coming out story, fraught with guilt from her estrangement from her sister. I’d never come out to my brother. I thought I’d have plenty of time for that, but I wouldn’t. As a character, however, Tibbie doesn’t stand in for the me that never was. Her journey discovering her sexuality is all her own.

In the end, the persistent question of “what if” propelled the story along. What if Tibbie tracked everyone down? Would she have any kind of resolution that would allow her to go on without her sister, with her new life? Decades after my brother died, I have at least an imagined answer.

***

Randi Triant is the author of the novels The Treehouse, selected as an AfterEllen.com ultimate summer read, and A New Life. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals and magazines, including two anthologies of writing about HIV/AIDS, Art & Understanding: Literature from the First Twenty Years of A & U and Fingernails Across the Blackboard: Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDS from the Black Diaspora. She lives with her wife in Massachusetts.

Queer Enough: a Guest Post by Fair Youth Authors M. Dalto and Laynie Bynum

“Am I queer enough?” feels like the question that circulates the most around Pride month, and today on the site, M. Dalto and Laynie Bynum, authors of the brand-new Shakespeare reimagining Fair Youth, are here to talk about just that. Before we get to their post, here’s a little more on the book, which released June 7th from Ninestar Press!

Cover by Natasha Snow

Billie tried to make a small town life as a doctor’s fiancée work for her, but the dream of trading in Kentucky for the glitz and glamor of LA and selling her screenplays was too strong to fight. Unfortunately, the devil hides behind every corner in the City of Angels and she finds nothing but cockroach infested hotel rooms and broken dreams.

Everything changes when she meets an enigmatic and illustrious fellow writer named Kit. Struck with attraction and intrigue, Billie begins to question not only her dedication to her past life, but also her own sexuality. Kit comes with amazing connections and Billie’s work is getting more recognition than ever, until a powerful studio executive sets his sights on more than just her screenplays. His infatuation could cost Billie her career and, maybe, one of them their lives.

Buy it: Ninestar Press | Amazon

And here’s the post!

One of us is outgoing, the other is terribly shy. One is list-oriented and organized, the other is a hot mess with a soft spot for spontaneity. One of us is super open about their sexuality, the other never talks about it publicly.

You know, like a 21st century odd couple, but with queer authors.

Despite our differences, our fear about writing Fair Youth was the exact same – will they think we’re queer enough?

One of us is a blazing bi-sexual married to a man. The other is demi/bi-romantic. So the answer is obvious, right? We’re queer. We’re part of the community. But we’re both also straight-passing and a lot of times that means we get to experience both not being straight enough for the straights, nor queer enough to have our queerness validated by others in the community.

In the time between the first words being typed and the release of this book:

  • An author was attacked because she’d never vocally admitted to being queer and made to come out when she wasn’t ready.
  • There was discourse about bisexual main characters not counting as queer unless they ended up with someone of the same gender.
  • A reviewer of one of our other books DNF’ed it, gave it one star, and blatantly let their homophobia spew out all over Goodreads because we’d dared to make Beauty fall in love with the French maid instead of the Beast.
  • A gay NYT best selling author was accused of queerbaiting because a bi-sexual female in one of his books has a male partner.
  • An agent turned us down because the romance didn’t end up queer enough for them. (Spoiler alert: its hella queer)
  • Another agent turned us down because it was too queer for their tastes.
  • We were denied a review from a queer review site because our characters don’t end up in same sex relationships.
  • One of M.’s other bisexual stories was attacked online and accused of “baiting readers into reading hetero stories”

When we started writing, we knew we would have to muster up bravery that we weren’t sure we had. One of us lives in the Deep South, and (at the time) worked at a company that could (and would) fire her if they found out about this book. Bookstore and library signings are often out of the question for small press books, even more so for books with LGBTQ+ themes. Even our own families and friends would be hesitant to show public support for our book, not only because it was queer but also because of the “spice”.

(Side note: why is hetero sex seen as romance, but Sapphic sex is automatically erotica even when its not graphic?)

We prepared ourselves for these things. We just didn’t know that we would have to prepare ourselves to face so much backlash and scrutiny from our own community.

This book started out as something incredibly fun and light. It was an evolution of completely random Twitter DMs while streaming a TNT show about Shakespeare.

What if Shakespeare was alive today?
What if he was a woman?

What if he and Kit Marlowe had a thing?
(BTW: Kit Marlowe is the most punk Elizabethan poet and we will fight anyone about it.)

Approximately half way though we came to an inevitable fork in the road. Stay true to the historical figures we were writing or defy all evidence and come up with something completely new. Basically, let Shakespeare live out his queer, happy life with Kit Marlowe and continue to write beautiful poems about him (the version we wish happened IRL) – or send him back to his wife after Kit perishes under mysterious circumstances (the version that happened IRL).

We found our own workaround that did both (you’ll have to read to find out how!) but that’s when the feelings of inadequacy, fear, and judgement really hit.

Because we knew how it had to end. But we also knew that if people didn’t write us off because we weren’t openly in relationships with the same sex, they’d do it because our characters don’t end up in them.

And that’s not even counting the people that were going to write us off completely because–as one review said–“[they] don’t come to retellings for LGBT stories,” or worse, because they’re just blatantly homophobic.

So why didn’t we give up? It would have been so much more comfortable to leave this story on our hard drives and continue on with our lives. But we knew there had to be more people like us out there. People that have felt like Billie does–like she never even considered her sexuality until Kit challenges it. People that have felt like Kit – out and proud but angry that she has to keep fighting against stereotypes and misogyny. People like us who constantly wondered if they’re queer enough.

So please let this guest post serve as a reminder:

  • You ARE queer enough
  • You belong
  • You are worthy of love and art
  • Your life and sexuality are valid
  • Pick up a copy of Fair Youth

And just so you are wondering if you are still valid even with the gnawing fear inside you, this is the conversation from the two of us when this blog post was done.

M. Dalto: It’s a harsh truth and reality but there it is

Laynie: I think it’s something that a lot of people like us (and our readers) will relate to.

M. Dalto: Are you ready to out yourself to the literary world?

Laynie: No, but that’s why we wrote the post. Because it doesn’t matter if I’m ready. If we want readers to love our characters, I have to be. And Billie and Kit deserve it.

***

Co-authors, co-owners, and best friends – M. and Laynie combine their strengths to create queer characters with sass in the contemporary and fantasy genres.

When writing alone, M. is most well-known for her The Empire Series works and Laynie for Adeline’s Aria. Together they have published Faust University and Escaping the Grey through EQP and Fair Youth through Ninestar Press .

When they aren’t crafting their own characters, they are the co-owners of Sword and Silk Books, an independent publishing company focused on engaging stories that empower readers.

Finding My Sexuality Through Pop Culture: a Guest Post by It Goes Like This Author Miel Moreland

If you’ve heard me do a lot of gushing about recent YA release It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland, you know how thrilled I am to have this post. And if you haven’t, please allow me to mention that It Goes Like This is a fabulous multi-POV contemporary that’s perfect for fans of music-centric fiction, friendship-centric fiction, fandom, and oral histories. It’s the closest to Daisy Jones and the Six vibes you’re gonna get in queer YA right now, and there’s Jewish, bisexual, pansexual, and nonbinary rep among others. So what I’m saying is, go check it out immediately. Here, let me help you:

Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph used to think their friendship was unbreakable. After all, they’ve been though a lot together, including the astronomical rise of Moonlight Overthrow, the world-famous queer pop band they formed in middle school, never expecting to headline anything bigger than the county fair.

But after a sudden falling out leads to the dissolution of the teens’ band, their friendship, and Eva and Celeste’s starry-eyed romance, nothing is the same. Gina and Celeste step further into the spotlight, Steph disappears completely, and Eva, heartbroken, takes refuge as a songwriter and secret online fangirl…of her own band. That is, until a storm devastates their hometown, bringing the four ex-best-friends back together. As they prepare for one last show, they’ll discover whether growing up always means growing apart.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

And now, here’s Miel Moreland on finding her sexuality through pop culture!

It’s a little cringey to admit now, but the first pop-ish song that made me tear up was “Same Love.” I can remember the moment I first heard it: I was driving home after my internship, sweltering in the business casual clothes I wasn’t yet comfortable in, stuck on 494 but enjoying the Twin Cities radio stations I’d missed during my first year of college in California. At the end of the second verse, Macklemore sings, “No freedom ’til we’re equal / Damn right I support it.” That’s when I was overcome.

It was 2013. A constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage had been rejected by Minnesotan voters the previous fall (including myself, the very first bubble I filled in on my very first ballot), and legalization had been passed in the spring.

I didn’t know I was bi, yet. In high school, I’d attended a Matthew Shepherd vigil with the drama club; I’d participated in Day of Silence, nervous but determined; I’d hidden books about queer history under my bed. I’d even had out queer friends. But that wasn’t me.

Singing along to “Same Love” that summer let me be loud about my support, even if just for myself. I’d spent the whole of my teenage years paranoid people would think I was gay, but there was no one in the car with me to get the so-called wrong impression from my impassioned sing-along.

By the next summer, the featured singer on “Same Love,” Mary Lambert, had a major record deal of her own, and this time my commute embraced her single, “Secrets.” At first, I skipped singing along to a few key lines: “I can’t think straight / I’m so gay.” I wasn’t, so I didn’t feel those were my lyrics to sing. It would be inappropriate, right? Appropriative. But… I was alone in the car. And sometimes, I tried on those lyrics. I sang and I smiled and I laughed a little, a performance I was creating for myself, to minimize where those lyrics lodged a little too authentically in my heart.

If my life and coming out journey were a clear, linear narrative, this is the point at which I’d embrace Tegan and Sara. I’d have to wait a few more years for Hayley Kiyoko and Halsey, but out queer artists already existed in 2014—just rarely in pure pop music.

Despite what writing a music book might imply, I’ve never been a broad listener. I have only ever really needed Taylor Swift. In the fall of 2014, she released “Welcome to New York.” This singer I’d been listening to since middle school, whose original “Picture to Burn” included the revenge line “I’ll tell mine you’re gay,” now sang, “you can want who you want / boys and boys and girls and girls.” And again, I was loud, and again, I was grateful.

Pop music gave me a way to feel happy and whole about queerness, without a requirement to interrogate my own identity before I was ready. And fandom, including fandoms focused on straight artists’ pop music, helped me become ready. In the fandom spaces in which I found myself, queerness was the norm. It was both assumed and celebrated in a way I couldn’t access offline, not yet.

It was in these spaces that I learned how to claim queerness in songs that weren’t necessarily written with us in mind. Being able to sing myself—my whole self—into the kind of music I already loved opened up new avenues of joy. I didn’t change the music I listened to; I just changed how I listened to music. In the words of One Direction, it’s looking at a song straight on and deciding “I’ll make this feel like home.”

These days, there’s significantly more discussion of the ways artists’ “support” can sometimes feel more like a marketing ploy for superficial allyship cookies than true respect and meaningful engagement with the relevant communities. In It Goes Like This, Moonlight Overthrow (the characters’ band) wins the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and one of the characters reflects that, for once, queer people got to win for themselves. It’s a small, narrative subtweet at Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the “Same Love” duo who won Best New Artist on the heels of their debut studio album. To be sure, the other singles from The Heist were commercial hits as well, but it was “Same Love” that was nominated for Song of the Year, and “Same Love” they performed at the ceremony.

My senior year of college, when I was writing the music- and fandom-centric short stories that would eventually lead me to It Goes Like This, I was officially, secretly, questioning. One night, second semester, I started thinking about Mary Lambert and the hook she’d provided for “Same Love.” I’d never heard the full song of hers that grew out of it, so I turned to YouTube and searched for “She Keeps Me Warm.”

You can’t realize you’re bi because of a Mary Lambert music video, I told myself, before pressing play. That would be cliché.

But music had been there for me every other step of the way, and it makes sense that it was there for me at this moment, too. Dancing me toward an embrace with my identity.

It’s been years now since I’ve heard “Same Love.” I’ve traded Macklemore for Mary Lambert and Harry Styles for Halsey. I’m still here queering Taylor’s lyrics, of course, but I’ve also been to a Tegan and Sara concert.

There’s no grand conclusion here about listening to out queer musicians over straight ones or about the genres in which queer artists tend to thrive at different moments in music history. I created Moonlight Overthrow because it was a band I wish I’d had access to in high school, and I wrote It Goes Like This as a thank-you to the music and fandoms that helped me along my way. Music and me, it’s a love story. And I say yes.

***

(c) Lisbeth Osuna Chacon

Miel Moreland was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With time spent in California and France, she has a Midwestern heart but wandering feet. When not making pop music references and celebrating fandom, she is likely to be found drinking hot chocolate and making spreadsheets. She currently resides in Boston. “It Goes Like This” is her debut novel. For more info, please visit: https://www.mielmoreland.com/

Happy Mother’s Day! A Mini-Story by Love in the Wild Author Katy Tanis

In celebration of Mother’s Day, which is this Sunday in the US, I’m delighted to have Katy Tanis, author and illustrator of board book Love in the Wild, on the site today to share a mini illustrated story about queer family in the wild!

First, a little more about Love in the Wild, which released on January 26, 2021:

The sweet rhyming text in Mudpuppy’s Love in the Wild Board Book highlights the many different types of love that can be found in the animal kingdom! This colorful celebration of love is based on scientists’ observations of same-sex couples, adoption, non-binary gender expression and more. Author-illustrator Katy Tanis is currently earning a MA in Biology from Miami University of Ohio. Her graduate work, partnering with the Wildlife Conservation Society, explores the promotion of conservation biology through art.

Bookshop | AmazonBarnes & Noble | Waterstones

And here’s the mini-story!

Children’s books often show animals living in nuclear family units of one male, one female and their offspring, even when it is not a reflection of that species’ actual behavior. While it’s possible that authors and illustrators try to draw parallels to a human child’s family, it’s not an accurate representation of modern human families, either.

Bear families are frequently featured in children’s books. However, a heterosexual bear pair raising young doesn’t happen in the wild. In fact, mother brown bears view male bears as such a threat, they will move closer to human territories to avoid them. (Both males and females view humans as a threat). Grizzly bear* female pairs, on the other hand,  co-parent and raise their young together. About ⅕ of female grizzly bears are thought to participate in same-sex bonding or co-parenting at some point during their life. Cubs view both mothers as their parents. The non-biological mother sometimes nurses the young and may adopt the cubs if her partner dies. About 9% of grizzly bear cubs are raised by 2 or more mothers.

Adult bears do not share hibernating dens. But bonded females have delayed hibernation to spend more time with their partner (and her offspring if she has some), sleeping together outside their dens until hibernation can be delayed no longer. While most bears keep a significant distance between hibernation dens, bonded pairs have been known to move away from their preferred den sites to den closer to their partner.

When we write about animal families for kids, why not look at the actual animal’s behavior for inspiration? Sharing real stories about different species will better reflect the diversity of love, family, and parenting in the human species. For more stories about wild families check out my new book LOVE IN THE WILD published by MUDPUPPY.

*Grizzly bears are North American subspecies of the brown bear.

Sources:

Bagemihl, Bruce. Biological Exuberance. (Stonewall Inn Editions) St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2000.

Learn, Joshua R. (2016). Mama Bears Use Humans To Keep Their Cubs Safe. Retrieved 17 March 2021, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/mama-bears-use-humans-keep-their-cubs-safe-180959575/

***

WHERE TO FIND KATY TANIS ONLINE: 

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

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

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

Cover design by Lance Buckley.

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

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

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

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

Buy The Stagsblood Prince

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

(c) Daisy Cobb

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

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