Category Archives: Guest post

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

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

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

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

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

Buy It: Amazon | B&N 

***

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

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

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

And of course, the monster dies in the end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Writing On The Road: A Guest Post With Rise Author Ellen Goodlett

I’m delighted to have Ellen Goodlett on the site today to celebrate the release of Rise, the sequel to YA Fantasy Rule! (Yes, one of the three sisters is queer and yes, there’s an f/f relationship!) Ellen did a badass trip around the world that was one of my favorite things ever to follow in the history of Instagram, and she’s here to talk about the process of writing over that year! But first, let’s check out Rise:

41582282Sisters Akeylah, Ren, and Zofi are all a step closer to their dying father’s throne, a step closer to the crown that will allow one of them to rule over Kolonya. But the sisters’ pasts continue to haunt them. Each hides a secret marked with blood and betrayal, and now their blackmailer is holding nothing back. When King Andros discovers the sisters’ traitorous pasts, the consequences will shake the entire kingdom to its core.

As Kolonya’s greatest threat stalks closer and closer, weaving a web of fear and deceit around Ren, Zofi, and Akeylah, even the people they love are under suspicion. If the sisters are going to survive, they’ll have to learn to trust each other above all else and work together, not only to save themselves, but to protect everyone and everything they hold dear.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

***

And here’s the post!

***

I travel for the same reason I read and write books: to escape my world, even if just for a little while, and explore someplace new. So it didn’t surprise my friends and family that at the start of 2017, when I realized I had enough freelance work to write full time, I decided to do it on the road.

I’d signed up for a program called Remote Year, a sort of travel agency-meets-networking organization for location-independent workers like me. Basically, for a monthly fee, Remote Year organizes apartments, office space, and travel to and from a different city each month for a year for you and a whole group of other “digital nomads.”

(Yes, I hate that term too. It sounds so pretentious and weird. But then again, this lifestyle is pretty pretentious and weird, so I guess it fits.)

Before this trip, I thought I’d traveled a lot. But I’d never done it for this long, or with a group this big (Meraki, my travel group, started with 78 people in January 2017, and we ended with 56 in December of that year). I’d also never written full-time, either. I was used to having a 9-5 job and squeezing in writing where I could.

It was a crash course in time management, to say the least.

The first thing I learned was how reliant I had previously been on my work schedule to keep me on a routine. I used to write for 45 minutes on my commute each morning, sneak in an hour at lunch, write for another 45 on my commute home, and if I was on a deadline, keep writing in the evenings once I got there. One would think that with more free hours, I’d be even more productive, but instead I floundered. With nobody watching and no accountability, I’d sleep in later and later, lounging on Twitter for hours at a time or agreeing to go on daytime tours of the cities we were visiting rather than getting my work done.

It actually helped my transition to freelance life to be on the road with so many other “nomads.” Our group had journalists, web developers, video game creators, graphic designers, photographers, business owners, even a perfumer and an architect. Basically any job you can think of that could be done remotely (and some you wouldn’t imagine could be, like the guy who owns a landscaping company).

Nobody else was writing novels, but a decent number had office schedules to stick to, so I wound up copying my friends’ work hours. Admittedly, sometimes I still slept in later than I would’ve liked. But having a coworking space to go to every morning, and knowing there would be other people there, bent over their laptops in their own version of word sprints, motivated me to get my rear in gear.

Starting over fresh in a new city each month also gave me an opportunity to play around with different routines. You know the saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with? I’m starting to think the same is true of different cities, too. In Mexico City, where we started in January, I was a night owl—I worked late in the office, and stayed out even later socializing with my new group, on a frantic quest to try every restaurant we could before the month was up. In Lima, our fourth month, I found it unusually easy to wake up around dawn—something about the sea breeze coaxed me into feeling like a morning person for a change. In Córdoba (Argentina), I cooked for myself most days (also admittedly unusual), and in Kuala Lumpur I did my city-exploring during the daytime and worked part of the night shift with a few friends on strict US office hours (a struggle I didn’t envy in an Asian time zone).

To call the year a whirlwind would be an understatement. During our second month, while we were in Bogotá, I sold my debut novel, Rule. I spent the rest of the year—as we traveled throughout South America, Europe and Southeast Asia before finishing our trip in Kyoto—completing the book.

I also still had to do my freelance work, not to mention get to know the 78 other people in my group and explore each new country. (A month in a place sounds like plenty of time, until you get there and realize that a month barely gives you time to scratch the surface.)

Sometimes I hardly slept. Other times, like when we organized a writing retreat to Bali, I slept 12 hours a day, just grateful for the chance to relax.

Over the course of that year, though, I learned so much about myself. I learned what routines work for me (for example, I’ll never be a true morning person, but I do best waking up around 8am, tackling boring menial tasks first, and writing in the late morning/early afternoons). I learned that when I try to push myself too far, I’ll wind up doing an even worse job. I learned how to listen to my body—when it’s healthy, when it’s hurting, what it’s really craving (usually a giant pile of vegetables I’ve forgotten to feed it while buried headfirst in a deadline).

Since Remote Year, I’ve continued the nomadic lifestyle. I started the year in Bali, then visited Australia for a couple months, before I headed back to the US, hopscotching from LA to Denver to Pittsburgh to visit family and friends along the way, until I reached NYC in time for my book launch.

Coming back, too, has taught me something. For me, it’s easier to make freelance life work abroad.

Basic healthcare (when it’s not for anything super specialized) is more accessible and far more affordable in most other countries I’ve been to (even some the US would call “third world”). The nomadic lifestyle, which looks like a pipe dream on Instagram (never believe the Instas, by the way. Guarantee that for every gorgeous beach pic you see, there’s a trash pile cropped just out of sight), is actually more affordable than my previous life at a full-time salaried publishing job in NYC.

There are different concerns to take into consideration: for example, you don’t want to move into a gentrifying neighborhood, where US expats push locals out of their own backyards, nor do you want to move anywhere you’d become a burden on the local economy rather than a benefit to it. Some countries are safer than others, depending on your marginalizations (we spent a month in Belgrade, where LGBTQ people still face a lot of discrimination—although their new prime minister is an openly gay woman, a hopeful sign things might be changing). And in my writing, while I draw a lot of inspiration from the scenery and from friends I make along the way, I need to be careful not to veer out of my lane (you never want to appropriate another person’s culture, beliefs or traditions—learn about them and appreciate them, but don’t shoehorn them into your own work).

Moving around so frequently can take a toll. It can be easy to lose touch with people at home, or even just with everyday life. It can be isolating, especially when you aren’t traveling en masse in a big group. There are language barriers, new cultural rules and norms to learn everywhere you go.

But at the end of the day, what it boils down to for me is: I’ve met who I am on the road. And right now? She’s my favorite version of me.

***

Ellen Goodlett author photo.jpg

ELLEN GOODLETT is a Pittsburgh native and former New Yorker. She wrote Rule while traveling the world with 78 other digital nomads, living in a different country every month. Rule was her debut novel.

Writing My Way Out of the Closet: A Guest Post by These Witches Don’t Burn Author Isabel Sterling

I have so much love for These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling, a debut contemporary f/f YA fantasy out today, and while you can find some of that love expressed on the back cover in blurb form, I’m extra excited to help celebrate its entrance into the world by hosting this guest post! But first, here’s some more info on the book:

36484081Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

And here’s the post by author Isabel Sterling!

It’s 2015.

I’ve been writing for three years with three completed novels under my belt. The first was a fantasy novel about a girl with two dads and a bisexual best friend. The second was about a closeted lesbian princess. The most recent story followed a young man who was desperately in love with an accused witch, a girl his sister was also falling for.

Close friends, many queer themselves, asked me with knowing expressions, “What’s your deal?”

“I’m very straight,” I’d say, emphasis included. “I’m just a really strong ally for the LGBTQ community.”

They’d shake their heads and ask if I was sure. I insisted there was no hidden reason for my choice of protagonists, but their question planted a seed of doubt in my mind, so small it was almost impossible to see. I convinced myself I couldn’t possibly be queer. I was in my mid-20s. I should know by now, right?

And then in the early part of 2015, the character of Hannah Walsh walked into my life loud, proud, and unabashedly queer. She was already out and in the midst of a painful breakup when she marched into my head, but as I set out to write, I questioned whether I was the right person to tell her story.

Starting in 2014, with the launch of We Need Diverse Books, conversations about diversity in KidLit were becoming more widely discussed in the online book community, spearheaded by writers of color (for whom this was not a new conversation). Reading those discussions forced me to examine why I was writing this particular story and what it meant for me to write a queer point of view character as a straight ally.

I considered reimaging Hannah and making her straight. I was no stranger to rewriting books–it’s a common part of my process, even now–but something in me rebelled against the idea. The prospect of making Hannah straight, of stripping away her queerness, was painful in a way that was terrifying to look at too closely.

Near the midpoint of drafting that novel, I had my first crush on another woman.

It was an intense and sudden crush, but one that I still tried to explain away. These feelings didn’t mean anything, I reasoned, because I liked men. And though I understood the concept of bisexuality, I didn’t feel like it could apply to me. Without realizing it, I had internalized so many biphobic stereotypes that I couldn’t see myself in that identity. I was too boring. Too plain. I didn’t grow up having crushes on my female friends, and I certainly wasn’t the kind of “cool” I associated with the queer women I’d met in college.

And even if I did–maybe, possibly, probably–have a crush on a woman, it was too late. I’d invested too many years proclaiming loudly that I was straight. It seemed impossible to be anything else.

As my first draft of Hannah’s story neared its end, still in the throes of that first crush and in complete denial, I made Hannah fall in love with a boy.

The choice didn’t make sense for her character, but I couldn’t write the ending any other way. Without realizing just how autobiographical the words would become, I poured every bit of the confusion and embarrassment that was swirling inside of me into Hannah. She had been so vocal about being a lesbian, how could anyone possibly understand that something had changed? She was afraid of having her queerness erased. She was afraid of people claiming her relationship with her ex-girlfriend had been a phase.

She was afraid, because I was afraid.

The characters around Hannah reminded her that being bi didn’t mean you liked different genders equally, that it was perfectly valid to like girls way more often than she liked boys. As I wrote, a tiny voice inside whispered that maybe the reverse was true, too. That maybe it’d be okay if I mostly liked guys and only sometimes liked girls. But my fear was louder than that voice, and I pushed it down where I couldn’t hear it anymore. That truth was for other people. Advice I might give to one of my students. It didn’t belong to me.

I finished the draft. I went on with my life. I started reading essays written by bisexual women about their experiences. Until finally, finally, something clicked. Suddenly, I could see all the ways I had written Hannah’s experience as a fun house mirror of my own. I recognized her loud proclamations of her identity. Her reluctance to let that go in the face of attraction to a gender she claimed to have no interest in. The embarrassment I felt so keenly that it physically hurt to realize I had been so wrong for so many years.

When I finally came out to myself, when I finally admitted that I was bisexual and said the words out loud, my entire world shifted. When I stopped fighting the attraction, I was shocked to find how intense those feelings were. Over time, I realized I actually gravitate toward women more than any other gender.

The Hannah you’ll meet in These Witches Don’t Burn is not bisexual (though her love interest is). That particular character arc was more personal confession than anything else, and Hannah remained the out and proud lesbian who first walked into my head in 2015.

Hannah’s identity may have stayed the same, but writing her story changed everything for me.

Isabel Sterling was born and raised in Central NY, surrounded by cornfields. When she wasn’t mixing potions in her backyard, she was lost in a book. Isabel lives with her wife and their furry children, still searching for magic around every corner. These Witches Don’t Burn is her debut novel.

 

Art Imitates Life in Hurricane Season: a Guest Post by Nicole Melleby

I am so psyched to welcome the delightful Nicole Melleby to the site today to talk a little bit about the inspiration for her Middle Grade debut, Hurricane Season, which releases today from Algonquin Young Readers! Before she begins, here’s a little more about the book:

40591956Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.

Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.

Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a stunning novel about a girl struggling to be a kid as pressing adult concerns weigh on her. It’s also about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about coming of age and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story of the healing power of love—and the limits of that power.

Buy it: AmazonB&N | IndieBound

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

***

Last summer, my dad called up their cable service after he had been yelling all day about the Weather Channel not being part of their package anymore to yell some more.

My dad loves the Weather Channel.

For the Christmas after Hurricane Sandy, my brother and I put together a “Hurricane Survival Box” that included cans of soaps, extra batteries, flashlights, and other necessities.

He loved it. He also loved the little portable weather station I gave him for Father’s Day last year. It sits in the living room near the window, and he checks it every morning to see what the temperature is, how fast the wind speeds are.

My dad, for reasons we never quite figured out, loves the weather, and he especially loves Hurricanes.

*

My parents’ house had the best basement when I was growing up. It was finished with carpet and couches, had a bar (not stocked, but that didn’t ruin the novelty) and a TV and a fooseball table. It also was pretty sound proof, so that’s where we spent most of our weekends in high school.

My dad was the parent who, while he respected our privacy, would always poke his head into the basement, “You guys good down there? You need anything?”

A friend of mine once joked, “What would your dad do if I asked for something ridiculous? Like a pie?”

Well, he probably would have asked what kind of pie and then gone out to get it.

*

I grew up in a suburban New Jersey beach town and went to Catholic school and being gay wasn’t something I even had the words to explore, let alone the freedom to. I was in my twenties by the time I was able to come out to myself. I came out to my parents much later.

For me, when I finally came out to my parents, it wasn’t a choice. It was a necessity. I was suffocating in having to hide this part of my life (this huge part of my life—I was seeing someone, and I was neck deep in an MFA program where all my writing was LGBTQ focused) and it reached a point where I didn’t think I could go on much longer in the closet.

It was a Tuesday I finally did it.

I was living at home with my parents still, and both of them were working. I woke up, got dressed, packed a bag, left a handwritten letter (in which I rambled so much I ended up talking about Caitlyn Jenner, because my mom is a Kardashian fan and I thought it would help) and got the heck out of there.

I drove to a friend’s place who lived an hour and a half away. They bought me ice cream and beer.

My mom called later that day. I ignored the call. (And then immediately called back because I knew I had to.) For her part, it was complicated, but she loved me. It took some time, but we’re okay.

As for my dad, I received these texts: 

When I sat down to write Hurricane Season, the one thing I knew going in was that I wanted to capture the feeling that I had reading that text for a middle grade audience. I wanted to have the heart of the story be about a father and daughter, and when the daughter came out to her dad, I wanted it to be a non-issue. He loves her, full stop.

I wrote the entire book around that moment, that feeling.

So, thank you, Dad. For those text messages, and for all of it.

Melleby_Author_Photo.jpgNicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. When she’s not writing, she can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea. HURRICANE SEASON (Algonquin Young Readers) is her debut novel.

 

The Need for Trans Joy: a Guest Post by Anna Zabo

It’s Reverb‘s release day, and I’m thrilled to welcome Anna Zabo back to the site to celebrate! Reverb is the third book in the Twisted Wishes series, and it stars a pansexual cis woman named Mish and a queer trans guy named David who just happens to be her bodyguard through a stalking incident. Here’s the official book info:

Twisted Wishes bass player Mish Sullivan is a rock goddess—gorgeous, sexy and comfortable in the spotlight. With fame comes unwanted attention, though: a stalker is desperate to get close. Mish can fend for herself, just as she always has. But after an attack lands her in the hospital, the band reacts, sticking her with a bodyguard she doesn’t need or want.

David Altet has an instant connection with Mish. A certified badass, this ex-army martial arts expert can take down a man twice his size. But nothing—not living as a trans man, not his intensive military training—prepared him for the challenge of Mish. Sex with her is a distraction neither of them can afford, yet the hot, kink-filled nights keep coming.

When Mish’s stalker ups his game, David must make a choice—lover or bodyguard. He’d rather have Mish alive than in his bed. But Mish wants David, and no one, especially not a stalker, will force her to give him up.

Buy it

And here’s the guest post!

***

When I set out to write David in Reverb, I knew two things for sure: I would not be dead-naming David, and his being trans wouldn’t be the focus of the story.

I wanted to write about a trans guy being a guy and getting his HEA without wallowing in trans trauma before we got to that HEA, as if the only reason trans people have HEAs is if they go through some unbelievable crap and the one lone golden cis person pops out to save them from misery.

There’s a lot more and varied and beautiful trans experiences other than that!

Yes, there are microaggressions and little moments that grate when you’re trans, and some of those things made it into Reverb. There are also moments of humor and just…moments of being trans. Those are aspects I tried to include in the novel.

I did not want to focus on trans pain. I didn’t want to write a story about understanding trans people from a cis point of view. There are enough of those books out there already.

So if you’re going into Reverb wanting some great moment of angst about David being trans…there isn’t any. It’s not an issue. It’s really about Mish and David and touring with the band and the awful stalker who won’t leave Mish alone.

Personally, what I would like to see more of are books about trans joy. About the settled nature of living the life you want to live. About the happiness of gender euphoria. About life being life with all its foibles and fun and sadness too, but not have that coupled with being trans. About growing older as a trans person. That’s what I want to see more of in trans romance. The conflict of a romance not centering around being trans.

We don’t center romances around the trauma of being cis or how hard it is for a trans person to come to accept that their partner is cis. It seems counterproductive to expect every story with a trans main character to follow that pattern, too.

I’d also like more non-binary main characters in romance. Not every person falls into a gender binary. And, I’d love to see more romances about trans people falling for trans people. And older trans characters! David is forty-three in Reverb because I’m in my forties. And you can still be sexy, badass, and trans in your forties.

Basically, I believe we need more stories about trans love and trans joy, not just trans survival. Not just trans acceptance. Trans people deserve to see themselves in books as happy, joyful, fulfilled human beings at all ages.

***

Author photo of Anna Zabo looking very dapper in a bowtie.Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow. They live and work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which isn’t nearly as boring as most people think.

Anna grew up in the wilds of suburban Philadelphia before returning to their ancestral homelands in Western Pennsylvania. They can be easily plied with coffee.

Anna has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where they fell in with a roving band of romance writers and never looked back. They also have a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University.

Anna uses they/them pronouns and prefers Mx. Zabo as an honorific.

How My Hometown Became My Novel’s Setting: a Guest Post by I Knew Him Author Abigail de Niverville

In his senior year of high school, Julian has one goal: be invisible. All he wants is to study hard, play basketball, and pretend he’s straight for one more year. Then, he can run away to university and finally tell the world he’s bisexual. And by “the world,” he means everyone but his mom and best friend. That’s two conversations he never wants to have.

When he’s talked into auditioning for the school’s production of Hamlet, Julian fears that veering off course will lead to assumptions he’s not ready to face. Despite that, he can’t help but feel a connection to this play. His absent father haunts him like a ghost, his ex is being difficult, and he’s overthinking everything. It’s driving him crazy.

The decision to audition leads Julian on an entirely different path. He’s cast as Hamlet, and the boy playing Horatio is unlike anyone Julian has met before. Mysterious and flirtatious, Sky draws Julian in, even though he fears his feelings at the same time. As the two grow closer, Julian begins to let out the secrets he’s never told—the ones that have paralyzed him for years. But what will he do if Sky feels the same way?

Buy it: Books2Read | Amazon | B&N

I didn’t start writing my debut novel I Knew Him with the intention of setting it in a somewhat fictionalized version of my hometown. Riverview, New Brunswick wasn’t a particularly special or memorable place, and growing up I often dreamed of leaving. But as the story developed, I realized how badly I needed to root it there.

I penned the first draft when I was fifteen years old, in 2009. Back then, Canadian content was different than it was now, and the feelings Canadians had about CanCon were different too. I remember being assigned to read a Canadian novel or read a classic novel as part of an English assignment. A lot of people in my class picked to read a classic because, “Canadian books suck.”

In general, that sentiment was prevalent across all Canadian content, from music to TV to books. Canadian content was bad, and we shouldn’t engage in it. But I never really shared that sentiment. There were a lot of Canadian things I enjoyed, and in my teen years, I sought them out. I was trying so hard to understand myself, to find places I was represented. And while there was a lot I didn’t understand, one thing I was certain of was being Canadian. I searched high and low for content that spoke to me, with varying degrees of success.

A lot of the Canadian YA novels I read in high school were barely identifiable as Canadian. Most of the time, the only way I knew something was Canadian was the little maple leaf sticker my local library stuck to book spines. Some of these novels even took place in the states. It was so disheartening to open a book with that little maple leaf sticker only to find it was set somewhere like New England.

When I began to rework the draft for I Knew Him, I realized my setting needed more details. Deciding to follow the age-old advice to “write what you know,” I started adding things I was familiar with, like the pool in the high school, and the river facing town. Soon, the existence of French and English schools found its way in there, and even the beat-up cars people would sell on front lawns made an appearance. I slowly realized that the non-specific setting I was writing about was actually Riverview, so what was stopping me from setting the story there?

Grounding all those little details into a real place felt good, and I hoped that maybe a reader in Eastern Canada would pick up this story, discover its setting, and feel seen. While I don’t live in Riverview anymore, I wanted to write about the place I knew. I wanted to write the story I never got to read in high school, and I wanted it to happen in the place I’d needed it. Even though Riverview could be anywhere, for much of my life it was my whole world. And maybe I needed to acknowledge that.

Now more than ever, I notice Canadians taking more pride in the media produced by Canadians. I read book reviews where someone says “wow! It’s set in Canada! I love that!” I see tweets gushing about the latest episode of Schitt’s Creek or Anne with an E. I’m not sure why that is exactly, but I’m glad for it. I want to see more Canadian stories, I want to see places I know in the media I consume. I want to be part of it. We are such a large country with so much richness, so many settings, and so many stories waiting to be told.

***

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Photo by: Barbara Safran de Niverville

Abigail de Niverville is an author and composer based in Toronto, Ontario. Originally from New Brunswick, Canada, she’s often inspired by the places she frequented there and the experiences she lived. She holds an M.Mus from the University of Toronto and is currently working on new music, as well as new works of fiction.

 

 

 

Exclusive Trailer Reveal: Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan (+ Preorder Giveaway Details!)

I’m so excited to welcome Tom Ryan to the site today to reveal the trailer of Keep This to Yourself, a totally twisted gay YA thriller publishing by Albert Whitman on May 21, 2019! If you love books that keep you guessing all the way til’ the end, enjoy having your mind completely blown by this debut. Here are the details:

It’s been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace.

Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac’s best friend Connor was the murderer’s final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he’s drawn back into the search for the killer—who might not have been a random drifter after all. Now nobody—friends, neighbors, or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case—is beyond suspicion. Sensing that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Connor while scrambling to uncover the truth.

Preorder: Amazon | Amazon Canada| Indiebound | Barnes and Noble | Indigo/ Chapters 

And now, I’ll give Tom the floor so he can reveal the trailer and share all about his awesome preorder giveaway!

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I’m so excited to be here to reveal the book trailer for Keep This to Yourself, along with some exciting details about the pre-order giveaway that we’ve had in the works for the past couple of months. Thank you so much to LGBTQ Reads for giving me the space to scream about this!

Keep This to Yourself has a new release date of May 21st, just over a month away. I’ve been so happy with the early reviews, which included my very first star, from Kirkus! They called Keep This to Yourself “breathtakingly chilling…eerie and wholly immersive…A tightly plotted mystery.”

Pre-order

Anyone who pre-orders by May 20th (US/Canada) will receive a swag package which includes a KTTY bookmark, signed bookplate, and a “Welcome to Camera Cove” postcard. www.keepthistoyourselfbook.com

For weeks I’ve also been teasing details of an extra-special pre-order gift, and I’m thrilled to finally announce details of that today!

First, some background: when I was young I was obsessed with mysteries, from the complete sets of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew that kept me occupied during an extended stay in the children’s wing of my local hospital, to the Agatha Christie classics that I’d inhale during long, lazy summer afternoons.

As a teen, my interests shifted to thrillers; I made my way through the unbearably creepy Lois Duncan mysteries that were stocked in my small town school library, and then moved on to campy, gruesome R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike novels, filled with morally compromised, neon-clad teenagers who invariably found themselves up against unspeakable evils.

Today I still love mysteries and thrillers of all sorts, but when I finally sat down to write one of my own, it was the breathlessly earnest, deliriously creepy teenage thrillers that I’d loved in my youth that were at the front of my mind – with one big difference. In the 80s and 90s, there were no queer teens in the pages of the books that I read, but these days, thankfully, that’s no longer the case. In many ways, Keep This to Yourself is a tip of the hat to the trashy teen thrillers of my high school days, with an LGBTQ twist.

As I discussed marketing plans with the team at Albert Whitman, those garish, saturated, beautiful covers from my youth came back to me, and I had an idea: would it be possible to commission an artist to illustrate a scene from Keep This to Yourself through a vintage lens, an illustration that would pay homage to the classics of the genre, while re-imagining and re-envisioning them to include LGBTQ representation?

To my delight, Albert Whitman loved the idea, and asked me to come up with a list of artists who might fit the bill. I did some digging, and asked twitter for recommendations, and I quickly settled on a fantastic short-list. I’m here to tell you, there is immeasurable queer talent in the world, but at the end of the day one artist was always at the very top of my list…

I am SO thrilled to announce that the absolutely incredible comics artist and illustrator Cat Staggs is creating an original illustration based on a scene from Keep This to Yourself, in the style of the great YA thrillers from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Cat’s vintage aesthetic, the projects that she chooses to work on, and above all her raw talent, genuinely dazzled me from the minute I discovered her work. I’m still pinching myself that she agreed to work on this project. You can explore Cat’s amazing talent at her website: www.catstaggs.com

We’ll be revealing Cat’s artwork very early in May. For those who are interested in pre-ordering, you can find details, including buy links and forms to fill out if you’ve either pre-ordered, or requested a your local library, here: www.keepthistoyourselfbook.com

I’m so excited to reveal Cat’s work in a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s the official book trailer for Keep This to Yourself!

***

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Tom Ryan is the author of several books for young readers. He has been nominated for the White Pine Award, the Stellar Award and the Hackmatack Award, and two of his books were Junior Library Guild selections. Two of his young adult novels, Way to Go and Tag Along, were chosen for the ALA Rainbow List, in 2013 and 2014. He was a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow in Young Adult Fiction. Tom, his husband and their dog currently divide their time between Ontario and Nova Scotia.

 

How Fandom Changed My Life: A Guest Post by The Sun And Moon Beneath The Stars Author K. Parr

Fandom is a huge gateway for a lot of authors, and it’s one that holds a special place in queer reader hearts for providing which literature never used to and may still not. Certainly it was a life changer for K. Parr, the author of today’s guest post, and she’s here to tell us why. (And yes, there’s info on her book, The Sun and the Moon Beneath the Stars, at the end!)

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Fandom culture has been a huge part of my life since high school, when a friend first showed me sites for fanfiction and fan art, and I became hooked. We co-wrote a fanfic together—a mash-up of our favorite things held together by a tenuous plot and far too many in-jokes—and engaged in shipping, a.k.a. obsessing over character romances from our favorite books, shows, Anime, and more.

When I look back at my early fandoms, I can’t help but notice a common thread despite the various mediums: heteronormative relationships. From Harry Potter, I loved Ron/Hermione. From Fruits Basket, I loved Kyo/Tohru. From The Office, I loved Jim/Pam. Jokes about the hobbits being gay in Lord of the Rings made me uncomfortable, and I steered clear of slash pairings even though my friend insisted that Remus/Sirius from Harry Potter were a wonderful couple off-page.

I had a sheltered upbringing, with very little exposure to non-heteronormative relationships. There were none in my school, and the few in my family were among distant relations. I distinctly remember watching Brokeback Mountain with my parents, and they told me to cover my eyes during the gay sex scene. I obeyed, and recall hearing my father say, “That’s just wrong.” I was fifteen.

I don’t think I ever considered LGBT relationships to be a bad thing, only that they were different, apart from me, not my concern. Here’s where fandom changed my mind.

Post-college, I was a person with a wider perspective. Even though I moved back into my parent’s house, I didn’t shy away from trying new things. A college friend recommended I watch Supernatural because of the relationship between two men—a monster hunter and an angel. Intrigued, I binged the show but found myself disappointed that the relationship she mentioned was only in subtext and I had to actively look for it, though I didn’t quite know how.

So I got a Tumblr to help me gain some insight. Oh, Tumblr. You charming repository of art and stories and gifs and analysis, pf fandom love and hate and inspiration and extreme weirdness. I followed Supernatural blogs dedicated to my favorite ship—Dean and Castiel, or Destiel—and from there discovered a new site for fanfiction that didn’t censor explicit content. (I love you, Archive of Our Own!)

I read hundreds of novel’s worth of Destiel fanfiction. I liked countless posts of Destiel art. I reblogged Destiel gifs, and marveled at how fans interpreted the Destiel subtext of each episode. I read gay porn. I watched gay porn. And it was like a light bulb switched on in my brain.

Queer stories were awesome! Because, while I read Destiel stories, other characters had their own relationships in the background, and I quickly moved on from basic iterations of boy meets boy. I learned about BDSM, polyamory, ABO, and transgender issues, and I gained knowledge of tropes I later realized were romance tropes. I’d become a queer romance reader—and a queer romance writer, as I composed over 600,000 words of gay fanfiction.

For years after that, I struggled to read real books instead of fanfiction. I couldn’t seem to find the queer content I wanted. Only recently did I discover the world of LGBT publishing and become one of its authors, once I converted the lessons from my queer fanfiction into original work! I can’t even imagine writing heteronormative pairings ever again.

While I still don’t know how to label myself, I acknowledge my origins and feel comforted that fandom will be there for me with exactly what I want, when I want it (hello hurt/comfort!). Whether it’s fanfiction depicting LGBT characters and romances, online communities like Tumblr that highlight new queer media to explore, or even a support network for folks like me also questioning their sexualities, I have a home. There will always be something to obsess over, and wonderful fans—and fandoms—to lift me up.

***

The Sun and Moon Beneath the Stars

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After being orphaned and forced to work as a palace slave, fifteen-year-old Rasha decides to end her life, but when she plunges a knife into her chest, she doesn’t die. Instead, a strange, icy power possesses her. The last time it took over, someone got hurt, and Rasha can’t let that happen again.

But she’s got bigger problems. Her twin brother is alive, yet held captive by Solaris, a powerful sorcerer. When Rasha runs into Adriana, the selfish princess she once served, they discover Solaris is a common enemy since he destroyed the palace and kidnapped Adriana’s parents.

Together, Rasha and Adriana set out on a rescue mission. Personalities clash and tempers flare, but other feelings surface as well, feelings neither girl could have predicted.

And with the help of a ragtag group of companions, they might just be able to succeed on their quest…until an ancient evil emerges to wreak vengeance on their world.

After being orphaned and forced to work as a palace slave, fifteen-year-old Rasha decides to end her life, but when she plunges a knife into her chest, she doesn’t die. Instead, a strange, icy power possesses her. The last time it took over, someone got hurt, and Rasha can’t let that happen again.

But she’s got bigger problems. Her twin brother is alive, yet held captive by Solaris, a powerful sorcerer. When Rasha runs into Adriana, the selfish princess she once served, they discover Solaris is a common enemy since he destroyed the palace and kidnapped Adriana’s parents.

Together, Rasha and Adriana set out on a rescue mission. Personalities clash and tempers flare, but other feelings surface as well, feelings neither girl could have predicted.

And with the help of a ragtag group of companions, they might just be able to succeed on their quest…until an ancient evil emerges to wreak vengeance on their world.

Buy now: Ninestar Press

K is a writer of multiple genres, including young adult, romance, fantasy, paranormal, and humor, all of which star LGBT characters. She received her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2017. In her spare time, K reads and writes fanfiction, keeps up with way too many TV shows, and dances wildly in her apartment. She currently works as a teen librarian in Rhode Island.

The Power of Found Families in Queer Speculative Fiction: a Guest Post by Empire of Light Author Alex Harrow

You may remember Alex Harrow from their awesome recent cover reveal on LGBTQReads, and today they’re back with one of our favorite topics: found families! In this case, they’re specifically talking about found families in queer spec fic, so I’ll step aside and let Alex take it away, but not before noting that info for their new book, Empire of Light, is at the bottom of the post, so check it out!

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Found families top the list of my favorite tropes ever to write. Probably because to me, like many queer authors and readers, found families will always have a special place in my heart. We all create our own found families for a variety of reasons: whether it’s because we’re far away from our biological family, both physically and/or emotionally, or simply because most of us have that tendency to meet others we just click with and decide, “Yes, you’re my people.”

Found families almost always form by accident instead of by blood and that’s what make them so powerful: there’s choice involved here. That conscious (or maybe in some ways unconscious) choice toward connection and community.

Found families are the ones we’ll happily set the world on fire for or just show up with ice cream and rosé at ungodly hours of the morning. They’re the ones that will totally send an extraction team to get you out of a bad date and might not bother getting out of their PJs to hang out with you.

In fiction, especially queer fiction, just as in life, found families are very much the backbone of queer people. They might be cobbled-together, they might be messy, but that just makes us love them even more, because no one exists in a vacuum.

Which is the second reason why I love found families so much: they’re an excellent remedy for tokenism, because when was the last time you’ve ever seen a queer person in isolation? Yeah, I can’t remember either. Even if you are writing a coming out story, I find it very hard to believe that your main character would be the only one. And let’s not forget that creating found families around our characters give so many opportunities to create characters all across different spectrums of identity, sexuality, and so many intersections thereof. There is so much potential in found families, why not use it?

Speaking of, found families aren’t always clear cut, nor should they be: they can be as messy as any other family and friend groups because everyone is different. So, yes, found families can be excellent character motivation, along with backup and community, but they can also be fantastic sources for conflict. How many of us always get along with our friends and family members? Relationships are in constant flux, and this is such a great way to explore change and growth in them. Just because characters stick together and would go through fire for each other doesn’t necessarily mean they always have to like each other, after all.

As both a reader and an author, I’ve always admired writers who manage to weave complex found families together because they allow readers to identify with so many more characters than just their main characters. Found families can and do absolutely become the backbone of stories, just as they become a backbone of our own lives. But in order to do so, they have to be complex, multi-layered, and yes, often messy, because if everything is smooth sailing, where’s the story and conflict in that?

Finally, let’s not underestimate the ways in which found families create homes, both for characters and for readers, because to many of us, that’s exactly what they are. Found families create a microcosm of belonging and an environment for characters to just be themselves and to so many of us, that feeling right there, is everything. It makes all the other stuff absolutely worth it. That’s why I dedicated Empire of Light to found families everywhere: because of all these reasons and more.

Empire of Light

Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As Aris slips away from Damian and his control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on. Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one minute and kiss him the next.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.

Buy Links:

Alex Harrow is a genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual author of queer science fiction and fantasy. Alex’ pronouns are they/them. When not writing queerness with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices, misused apostrophes, and anyone under the delusion that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.

A German immigrant, Alex has always been drawn to language and stories. They began to write when they realized that the best guarantee to see more books with queer characters was to create them. Alex cares deeply about social justice and wants to see diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists, in more than the stereotypical coming out story.

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexHarrowSFF or visit their website at alexharrow.com.

Fiction, Platonic Relationships, and Common Bonds: an Aromantic Roundtable

Aromantic Awareness Week may be over for 2019, but that doesn’t mean your Aromantic Awareness (or enjoyment of Aromantic fiction) has to be! I’m psyched to welcome to the site today an aromantic roundtable headed by Claudie Arseneault, author of books including City of Strife and Baker Thief and the brains/work behind the incredible Aro Ace Database. Claudie is also one of the editors of Common Bonds, a crowdfunded aromantic spec fic anthology, you definitely don’t wanna miss!

And now, I’ll let Claudie and her roundtable take it away…

Common Bonds is an anthology of speculative fiction with aromantic characters and platonic relationships at its heart. Finding this sort of fiction is a desire I’ve often seen other aromantic people express, and I absolutely share it. There’s an entire genre dedicated to romance, but when it comes to the other forms of bonding like friendships, you often have to rely on your detective skills to find stories centering them. So I teamed up with other awesome editors (C.T. Callahan, B. R. Sanders, and RoAnna Sylver) and we decided to make this a reality.

I obviously have a lot of things to say on the topic, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to say them, but I wanted to pass the mic to other aromantic bookish people not directly involved in the anthology and hear their thoughts on aromanticism, fiction, and platonic relationships. Turns out they had a lot to say, too, and it was awesome! So here we go.

Claudie : Hello and welcome to this aromantic roundtable! Before we get to the meaty discussions, please introduce yourselves a little!

Fadwa: Hi, everyone! My name’s Fadwa (she/her) and I’m a bisexual grayromantic Moroccan Muslim girl. It’s a mouthful haha. I’m a 22 years old perpetually exhausted medical student.

Lynn: Hello! I’m Lynn (she/they) and I’m a demiromantic demisexual author who is very bad at humour. (I was going for something humorous and failed.) Like Fadwa, I’m perpetually exhausted, though not a medical student. I was literature through and through. Also I ramble. You have been warned.

Rosiee: *Waves* I’m Rosiee (she/her), an aromantic grayasexual author, and I’m proposing we all take a nap.

Claudie: Proposition accepted, Rosiee. Let’s start with something fun. What are your favourite platonic relationships in fiction? Do you have any specific examples in mind? Why did those resonate?

Lynn : It’s cheating to say “Anything Cal-from-Isandor-related”, isn’t it? Honestly, these are my fave relationships just because Cal is a cinnamon roll darling. More so, he gets to be a cinnamon roll darling who learns he does not have to sacrifice his happiness for his friends. Like… The first time I saw a platonic relationship in fiction was in M.C.A. Hogarth’s Mindtouch and I love those books very much and I will love Vasiht’h forever, but the further along the setting goes, the more Vasiht’h seems to sacrifice everything he wants to the happiness of his partner and just… Well, with Cal’s narrative we actually have the opposite to some extent because Cal is in a friendship that is abusive, and one of the things he has to learn is that he matters too. I mean, he knows that, but he has some trouble applying it to his friendships. And that resonated a lot with me.

Claudie: Your cheating is accepted, even if it’s a bit awkward that you immediately jumped to my writing. ^^;

Rosiee: I had to think about this question for a whole day, to be honest. I kept trying to narrow my search parameters and think of platonic relationships that weren’t sibling relationships. But the thing is, sibling relationships are some of my favorites. I tend to gravitate toward relationships that I know from the get-go won’t turn romantic, and sibling relationships generally have the smallest chance of turning. Relationships like Anna and Elsa from Frozen, Katara and Sokka from Avatar the Last Airbender, Lada and Radu from And I Darken have always called to me. Maybe it’s because I never had any siblings, myself, but there’s just so much to explore within familial relationships like that, especially when the characters are growing as individuals.

Fadwa: Like Rosiee, I had to give this one a lot of thought looking for platonic relationships other than siblings because sibling dynamics have always been my favorites too see explored in media. In my case, it’s because I have a little sister I’m very close with and love to see my experiences with her mirrored. And even when the dynamic isn’t the same as the one I have with her, I love to see how different those relationships can be from one pair of siblings to another. I actually love Katara and Sokka’s relationship, it’s just so spot on, they get on each others’ nerves but at the end of the day love each other and would do anything for each others happiness and safety.

Rosiee:  I’ve also always had a soft spot for platonic relationships–and really, all types of relationships–that stem from a place of mutual respect. There’s really nothing that keeps my attention more than two nerds recognizing a pieces of themselves in each other and then working together to achieve great things. For example, Zuko and Aang from Avatar the last Airbender come together after a looooong time fighting, and their understanding of each other’s strengths is touching, and ultimately results in powerful friendship! The relationship between Luna Lovegood and Harry Potter, while not without its problems, also shows two people who have experienced great pain in life recognizing it in each other, and feeling less alone. I always felt that relationship was a lot stronger than anyone gave it credit for.

Fadwa: I also have a soft spot for people who bond over similar experiences (generally traumatic) and help each other through them, whether they live said experiences together or meet after the fact. I loved Rin and Kitay from The Poppy War, who become friends very quickly after realizing that both are the outliers at the academy and are each others’ emotional support through their brutal training at the academy and later on a brutal war.

Lynn: Ooooh, yeeees. Rin and Kitay were wonderful! I like how you both picked up on sibling relationships in fiction. I guess I’m the opposite of Rosiee in that. Not that I don’t love familial relationships – I do – but I don’t feel like I was ever drawn to siblings specifically. For me it’s largely cousins. There’s a real difference in relationships between the characters in the Famous Five by Enid Blyton when it comes to the sibling relationships and the cousin ones. I was drawn to those books so much when I was a child and, yeah, the lack of romance was probably a real factor in it.

Claudie: Something really prevalent in both of your answers (Cal learning that he matters too, mutual respect, bonding through similar trauma) is that sense of people treating each other as equals. Any thoughts on platonic relationships that have an inherent power differential, such as mentor/student and parent/child? Do those tend to work less for you, or do they need something different to capture your heart?

Rosiee: Mentor/student relationships can be so powerful and really touching. Jumping off Avatar again, the relationship between Zuko and his uncle, Iroh, always shines for me. Obviously there’s a familial relationship there as well, but the mentorship itself takes on such an important role in Zuko’s personal growth—it’s as much about learning to use his bending power as it is about learning to be a person. Other examples that come to mind are Harry Potter and Remus Lupin, who share so much in terms of grief and history, and Sallot Leon from Mask of Shadows and the other members of the Left Hand–especially in the second book. Sal’s relationships with the other members of the Left Hand are particularly fascinating from the perspective of age, since Sal is much younger than the rest of them, but they all have a shared responsibility.

Lynn: Hmmm… You know, I don’t think I do? But then I think most mentor/student relationships end up with the mentor dead, so… Yeah. (I like my relationships to survive the end of at least the first book. T_T)

Rosiee: One last example, which I’m actually uncertain about, is the teacher/student relationship between Numair and Daine in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet. I found this relationship really interesting and touching for the first few books, but it does take a romantic turn that I hadn’t expected. I’m still very iffy on how much this impacts my feelings about that relationship. The mentor/student relationship, especially when one of them is a teen, should be a promise of a platonic relationship. When they end up turning romantic or sexual, it feels like a betrayal of that promise.

Claudie: I’m with you on that one, Rosiee. There are some mentor relationships I’d really like to see submitted to an always-platonic reader contract. One of the reasons Common Bonds has a platonic focus was the ubiquity of romance within queer lit circles, through call for submissions, lists by romantic pairings, etc., and how little space it left for aromantic people and for the stories surrounding other types of relationships. Can you share your experiences navigating those spaces, both positive and negative? Are there things you’d love to see more of?

Fadwa: I am huge romance reader and fan, which means that for a long time, even if some romances in books didn’t sit well with me, I didn’t really know why or have any negative experiences with the lack of platonic relationships. Then, a couple years back, I came out to myself as aromantic, and that’s when I started truly realizing why certain romances irked me. Sometimes I just did not feel like reading at all, because I knew I was going to be confronted with a romance I did not care for. And my biggest issue is with *forced* romance, meaning romance with no kind of chemistry whatsoever, and that’s there just to fill some kind of quota. I realized that the reason I consume romance books so much is because at least then I am making the conscious choice to read about romantic relationships and that they weren’t just thrown without having a point in the story, because a lot of the time, reading outside of the romance genre, I like the characters that are pushed together a lot better in strictly platonic relationships.

Claudie: Loving characters better in strictly in platonic relationships is the story of my life, honestly.

Lynn: I admit the prevalence of romance wasn’t something I paid much attention to until I started learning more about aromanticism and realised this could be questioned or challenged. Once you notice it you start to see how prevalent those romantic relationships are even, at times, in shows that are explicitly touted as being about friendship.

I’d want to see more awareness of aromanticism in general. Where do we go to tell our stories? The way queer publishers handle it makes it sound like there’s no room for us. There’s always the pressure to add romance. It may not always be the publisher itself, but the general sense of society. Like editors expect it because the audience expects it, which then means the audience expects it because editors do and tada! A vicious cycle has been created and it ends up shutting aros out.

Rosiee: I agree with everything Lynn said–it’s really disheartening and feels exclusionary to see those calls for submissions. Even when they don’t specify a pairing type, if it’s a call for queer submissions or “LGBT+” submissions, I often wonder if the “A” is included in that plus sign. Even organizations like Lambda Literary, who are supposed to be advocates for the community, don’t put the “A” in their acronym.

It’s the same with calls for submission, or even MSWL tweets from agents. It’s the reason why it took me nearly a dozen revisions of my debut to finally put the words “aromantic” and “asexual” on the page. I didn’t feel comfortable doing it until I was given express permission from my editor, who was absolutely wonderful about it. I think gatekeepers honestly don’t realize how much power they have to shape who submits to them. Self-rejection gets easier and easier the longer the world rejects you, and that’s tough to combat sometimes.

Fadwa: There’s also the micro-agressions that are so prevalent and normalized in books. They range from the classic “Just friends” or “More than friends” that I can mostly just ignore to the “What normal person has never experienced romantic attraction” that make me put the book down and never look back. Sometimes navigating media as an aro person can feel like a battlefield and it forces you to “grow a thick skin”. We shouldn’t have to grow a thick skin, we shouldn’t accommodate to things than can be potentially hurtful to us. Publishing and media as a whole should make a greater effort to create a safe space that we can navigate without that fear at the back of our minds of being dehumanized.

Lynn: Oh goodness yes the microaggressions. I honestly find that they bother me more the more I learn, especially when some of the classic ones you mentioned are so easily avoided with the only meaning lost being “friendship is a lesser type of relationship” which… firstly, no, it isn’t. Secondly, why wouldn’t you want to learn how to be more accurate with your language?

Fadwa: And exactly, those sentences not being there never changes anything to the story itself which makes them easily removable so why not just… listen to us for once and remove them?

Claudie: So, beyond publishers and authors making an effort to watch their language, are there any other steps you’d like to see taken? Resources you’d love to have? I’ve had a few publishers change their call for subs to explicitly include deep, meaningful relationships beyond romance in their calls after I pointed out the problem for aro people, but that’s only one element.

Rosiee: Publishers changing the way they describe their calls for submissions is a great step, but it’s very common to see gatekeepers–editors, agents etc.–use exclusive language in their calls for submission, even when they’re attempting to be inclusive. I’ve seen agents and editors call for subs by singling out m/m or f/f as if those two designations encompass all queer experiences. I’d like to see more gatekeepers make an effort to educate themselves about the identities they want to boost.

Lynn: Those are some really good points, Rosiee. I think there’s still a ton of awareness that needs to be raised in general. It’s easy to try to be inclusive of the most visible groups, but that just leaves the less-visible ones in the dust.

Rosiee: It isn’t allyship unless it uplifts us all. I actually recently saw this happen with an agent during a Q&A session. The agent was asked about writing f/f as a non-queer person and–trigger warning for aphobia and bi/panphobia here–the agent said that unless the author has had sex with a woman, she cannot write f/f. The agent’s statement was acephobic to begin with, but it also erases so many other experiences and identities that do not require actions to be valid, since sexuality is about feelings and attraction, not about actions.

Fadwa: That…was kind of jarring to read so thank you for the TW!  at the end of the day, we’re all bound to mess up sometimes, you can’t get it right from the first try but things like this are just… a given. This is basically 101 allyship and at this point we should be past that, we should have the basics nailed down and be working towards how to be better and make publishing (and other industries) a safe space for everyone. So it’s kind of disheartening when we’re still working on the very basics of allyship. Take as an example Valentine’s Day. Being on social media was hard, because everything was so amatonormative and aggressively romance centric. There was so much emphasis on having a romantic partner and the fact that your life is lacking and that “you shouldn’t despair” if you don’t have one. Every other tweet was erasing or invalidating aro people. I wish more people were aware of the fact that there is more to love than romantic love.

Rosiee: That’s a really good point, Fadwa! Valentine’s Day is such a tough day because of the romance centric language used basically everywhere. I also saw a fair bit of arophobia disguised as ace-inclusion.

Claudie: Valentine’s Day is always such a mess. I’m glad we have Aromantic Awareness Week right after to wash some of the aftertaste away.  Do you think your aromanticism impacts the way you develop platonic relationships? How so? In your priorities, the ways you choose to engage or not?

Lynn: Probably? I think it’s more that society’s view impacts it, though. You know that whole thing about how men and women can’t be ‘just friends’? That’s been really strong with some of the friendships I’ve had and I have moments where I’m just not sure if people will misinterpret the fact that I’m a touch-oriented cuddly person. That does not mean I’m into someone romantically (or sexually). It just means I like hugs and show affection through hugs. I can end up with anxiety because I don’t know how people interpret my actions and I worry about them thinking I’ve somehow tried to lead them on. And it sucks when you can’t tell people you love them platonically because the moment they reach ‘love’, they’re already misinterpreting your meaning and nothing else matters. Or possibly that’s just some people getting hung up on failing to understand aromanticism, but it still hurts.

Rosiee: Oof. That’s rough, Lynn. There’s so much communication that can happen through touch, and that anxiety is something I’ve definitely felt before. It’s so hard to know how someone else is reading your actions. I’ve also had a very opposite experience with regard to showing affection, since I’m not generally a very touchy person. I used to be a competitive swing dancer, and that community enforces an extremely allo culture, but also a very touch-centric culture (often conflating physical touch with physical attraction and gosh I could talk about that for paaages). People used to get offended or weirded out if I didn’t want to hug them after we had a fun dance or if I didn’t want to join the big cuddle pile, or didn’t want to go back to someone’s room alone with them for a “drink”. This has often resulted in some… not great insults used against me, and a general impression that I’m not fun. On the contrary, I’m actually a very friendly and outgoing person.

Fadwa: I saw a lot of myself in what Rosiee said, I am naturally a very outgoing and flirty person and not gonna lie, I enjoy flirting but I have been numbered a tease because with that comes the expectation of something either romantic or sexual, whereas to me, nothing means that I want something non-platonic unless I state that’s what I want. I detest the “mixed signals” culture because why would you interpret my words as more than what they are when they mean nothing more than what I actually say. This all has made for some pretty unpleasant, and sometimes traumatizing experiences that turned me into a person who always keeps people at arms’ length out of fear and anxiety that people would get the wrong impression, which goes against my nature of being an outgoing person. I especially love sarcasm and teasing people but that’s like the number one thing that always gets taken the wrong way. I’m always hyper aware of what I say and what I do and go out of my way to tone down my personality, because I’d rather that than live in constant anxiety.

Rosiee: I also find that a lot of people enter into conversations or try to get to know me with a romantic or sexual agenda, and that’s really difficult for me to navigate. I enjoy flirting sometimes, and since I am outgoing, I worry that can be misread. This means I often don’t engage with people, or I’ll sometimes bring up my identities in conversation as a buffer. I want to get better about asserting my boundaries without those qualifications, though, and I hope I can get more comfortable saying what I want and don’t want without feeling like I have to out myself to strangers.

Lynn: Those are both such rough experiences to deal with. I think it’s incredibly telling that I’m neither very flirty nor very outgoing and I still see a lot of myself in what you’re both saying. I actually spend a lot of time online curbing my tendency to sarcasm and personality for the same reason.

Claudie: It seems that it’s not so much how you form relationships that leads to tension or unfortunate experiences, but other people’s expectations of the relationship. That’s part of what I wanted to discuss, after a fashion? I’ve seen a lot of heterosexual colleagues decide whether to spend time with someone based on whether there was potential for a romantic and/or sexual relationship there. I always find it super jarring and demeaning.

Rosiee : Ohhhh yes, Claudie! That’s happened to me and it’s awful! The whole “friendzone” nonsense of people choosing to spend time only on romantic interests is really disheartening, and I’ve lost a lot of so-called friends after they discover I’m not interested in that kind of relationship with them.

Lynn: I’m so sorry you’ve had that happen to you, Rosiee. I think for me it’s why I seem drawn to friendships with people who generally aren’t attracted to people like me? That takes some of the pressure off because we’re both clear on where the relationship can go.

Claudie: The world is an alloromantic mess™. More seriously, and in an hopefully more uplifting topic, what are some real-life platonic relationships that were/are major for you? How do you think fiction could do a better job reflecting those? Or is it doing well?

Lynn: I’d like more friendship break-up stories. Sometimes those are bad and we have very little, if any, tools on how to deal with that compared with romantic break-ups. Fiction could do a much better job reflecting platonic relationships if it just… let them be as powerful and impactful as romantic ones. Ideally, I’d like it to happen without the relationship being likened to that of siblings too. We could do with more sibling relationships in fiction too, but not all platonic relationships are like that and I’d love to see fiction reflect a range of relationship types.

Fadwa: THANK YOU! Not all platonic relationships have to be likened to siblings. It’s not either romance or siblings, there’s such a wide variety of platonic relationships that just *are* and don’t need to be either.

Rosiee: THIS!!! We often treat anyone who isn’t related as potential romantic partners in fiction, and that’s just… not how it works. Friendships are so valuable, and so so powerful, and… I don’t know about the rest of you, but most of my good friends aren’t related to me.

Fadwa: Also, YES to more friendship break-ups!! I went through some very painful ones in my life, and I always felt like my pain was an overreaction because in all the media I consumed (and I consumed a lot), they were never given importance and romantic break-ups were just “the worst kind” whereas in my experience, friendship break-ups can hurt just as much, and more in some cases.

One relationship that has been major and somewhat pivotal in my life is my relationship with my best friend of nine years now. We were inseparable in high school, now life and school have taken us our separate ways -physically- but we’re still as close. There’s one thing to know about me, I’m touch-averse because of trauma, a lot less now than when i was in High school, but when I say that this friendship has been pivotal for me, it’s because this person is the one person I was okay touching me unsolicited for the longest time and we were very tactile at school, always hugging or holding hands or just having our arms around each other and not once has that relationship crossed into romantic or sexual territory and yet a lot of people sexualized it, asking us if we were secretly together, just because we were very affectionate towards each other and didn’t see a point in hiding it. And this is something I want to see more more: normalized affectionate touch in platonic relationships.

Claudie: The sexualization is awful, Fadwa. I get this with my best friend, too. He’s gay, but since we’re a man and a woman hanging out together and obviously very close, we keep getting called a couple.

Rosiee: I would love to see fiction reflect more relationships that aren’t treated like possible romances. There’s so much “shipping” that happens in fiction, where everyone is a possible love-interest, but I would love to see strong friendship-interests as well. And, similarly to Lynn, I’d love to see more friendship break-up stories… and then I’d love to see stories that also tackle repairing a broken friendship. In fiction, we see so many friendships that are just easy and require no work or effort, and those are often eclipsed by new romantic relationships.

One of the most impactful platonic relationships in my life is with a man, and what made this relationship so powerful was a combination of two things: 1. It was clear from the start, in no uncertain terms, that our relationship would never turn sexual or romantic because we had very different worldviews that would never be compatible in a relationship, and 2. We started our relationship off with what I thought was an irreconcilable disagreement, and then worked very hard to repair the wounds from that argument.

Claudie: Thank you so much everyone. This has been an amazing in-depth discussion, and I’m glad you joined us for it. If you haven’t done so at the start, please give us any social media, blogs, book buying links and etc. so we can link back to you properly!

Lynn: Ah, the age-old linking practice. XD [waves] I have a Patreon where I discuss academic papers about asexuality – send me your papers on aromanticism because I will pounce on them so fast lightning looks slow! – and my own writing, which features predominantly ace and aro characters.

Rosiee: Everyone should check out Lynn’s very good novel in verse, THE ICE PRINCESS’S FAIR ILLUSION! I loved it 😉 You can find me over on twitter @rosieethor or check out my work on rosieethor.com. If you like science fantasy featuring an aro/ace protagonist (and some sapphic lady romance too) you can pre-order my debut TARNISHED ARE THE STARS

Fadwa: I blog over on Word Wonders where I advocate for all things diversity in publishing, and am very active on my twitter and bookish instagram.

Claudie: Thank you everyone. And thanks to everyone who read through the roundtable, too! If you find yourself wishing to have more platonic fiction with aromantic characters, don’t forget to back our awesome kickstarter for Common Bonds!