Category Archives: Guest post

Why Oscar Wilde, or: How Oscar Returned To My Life and Helped Me Write My First YA Novel, a Guest Post by R. Zimora Linmark

It’s tough to be a fan of queer lit or queer anything, really, and not admire the late, great Oscar Wilde. Today on the site I’m excited to introduce YA debut R. Zamora Linmark, who wrote an entire book based in that admiration, which releases today! Check out how Oscar Wilde influenced not just the main character of this novel, but the author himself, right after you check out The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart!

hi-res The Importance of Being Wilde at HeartWords have always been more than enough for Ken Z, but when he meets Ran at the mall food court, everything changes. Beautiful, mysterious Ran opens the door to a number of firsts for Ken: first kiss, first love. But as quickly as he enters Ken’s life, Ran disappears, and Ken Z is left wondering: Why love at all, if this is where it leads?

Letting it end there would be tragic. So, with the help of his best friends, the comfort of his haikus and lists, and even strange, surreal appearances by his hero, Oscar Wilde, Ken will find that love is worth more than the price of heartbreak.

Buy it:  Amazon | B&N| Indiebound

And here’s the guest post! (tw: suicide, bullying, abuse)

After reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in Mrs. Pang’s British Literature class, my admiration for the inimitable Oscar was cemented, earning him (and Dorian Gray) a in my growing altar of heroes, alongside The Smiths, David Bowie, Judy Blume, Donna Summer, and Holden Caulfield. I remember going to school, toting Oscar’s scandalous novel as if it were a sacred text. Dorian Gray was my new god dressed in a bowler’s hat and tweed suits. He was hip, devilish—a hedonist who made the seven deadly sins sexy. He flirted with danger, was a disciple of both male and female beauty, and sought pleasures to its murderous ends. I was a high school senior in Hawaii at the time. The year was 1986. My two friends and I sported punk/New Wave haircuts. We were a trio of anarchists-in-progress, “non-conformists”, as one of our teachers dubbed us because we spoke our minds and dared to be ourselves. One friend wore safety pins for earrings. Another had an Annabella-Lwin Bow-Wow-Wow-inspired mohawk, while I had bangs long enough to shield me from the hostile eyes of the world. We went to school dressed up like mods from 1950s or psychedelic hippies from the 60s, our wardrobe courtesy of Mother Rice, Goodwill, and Salvation Army thrift stores. We put on clothes that, to borrow Oscar Wilde’s term, were tailored for “bunburyists”—adventurous rebels who dressed up with impeccable style as themselves – or their alter egos. We listened to The Cure, Sex Pistols, The Cramps, Violent Femmes, The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, and Dead Can Dance, punk and New Wave bands who sang of doom and anarchy, love and disaster, death and loneliness. This was the decade when everyone either identified as “bi” or was soon-to-be, for it was the safest and closest to coming out. A guy could make out with as many guys as he wanted to, so long as he was open to the possibility of one day making out with the opposite sex.

Across the Boulevard of Rebel Hearts were morality-driven censors and conservatives like Mrs. Pang, who had purposefully left out Oscar’s magnetic and, at times, scandalous personality that made him larger than Art. Thank god I had friends and club-dancing partners like Shirley who worked as a bookseller at Jelly’s Comics & Records—the hippest and coolest store in Hawaii. She was the one who filled me in on the intrigue-ridden life of the dandy playwright known for his witty sayings as much as for his comedies; quoting him became a trend among the artsy-fartsy wannabe’s, like wearing trench coat in a ninety-degree weather. From Shirley, I also learned that Oscar was married with two sons. That he had carried on a volatile relationship with a younger man, the handsome Lord Alfred Douglas, a.k.a. “Bosie.” That he was persecuted and imprisoned for engaging in sexual acts with other men. His personal history was enough to pique my curiosity, for prior to Oscar, I didn’t know any writers who were gay, famous or not. It was very comforting, mind-blowing, that there existed a writer who was highly visible and very vocal about his love for the same sex. I wasn’t so alone anymore. I had someone to read—a role model to look up to, if not emulate. It gave me a feeling of security and self-affirmation akin to a few years later, when I first got my hands on Dangerous Music, a collection of prose and poetry by Jessica Hagedorn who, like myself, was from the Philippines and migrated to the United States in her teens. It was very empowering and inspiring: to know that there were writers from my immediate community who were only a library or a bookstore away. Reading them was like reuniting with long-lost friends, comrades, extended family members.

After The Picture of Dorian Gray, I read Oscar’s masterpiece “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Then his fairy tales. Then The Wit and Wisdom of Oscar Wilde. As a graduation gift, Shirley gave me an Oscar Wilde journal with a cover of Oscar wearing his trademark accessory: a green carnation in his buttonhole coat; below his headshot was one of his gazillion immortal quotes: “I have nothing to declare except my genius.” I even wore an Oscar T-shirt, a gift from a friend who’d purchased it during a family vacation to Chicago. I wore that shirt as if I was wearing a work of Art. I wore it until Oscar’s face faded and the collar, stretched. It was my sartorial way of coming out.

In 1988, when I was a junior at the University of Hawaii, majoring in Lit and Creative Writing, Richard Ellman’s much-awaited biography of Oscar was published. I lugged that doorstopper around campus as if I had all the time in the world to read a 700-page book, in addition to Milton’s Paradise Lost and James Joyce’s Ulysses. I never got a chance to read it in its entirety; I think I went as far as the first hundred pages because I was too busy preparing an itinerary for my next uncertain life.

Fast Forward to 2010.

I picked up Ellman’s biography again. This time, I was determined to read it from cover to cover. I placed myself under self-imposed house arrest. Reading it renewed my relationship with Oscar, and revived heartbreaking memories of my teenage years.

From Ellman’s extensively-researched biography, I uncovered more surprises about my Renaissance man and early literary hero. Oscar was not only a poet, playwright, and an essayist, but was also a leading member of an aesthetic movement that espoused an artificial, yet beautiful lifestyle. To Oscar and his cohort of elegantly-dressed dandies, life was already shallow and meaningless, so might as well be stylish and beautiful. A man of flamboyant taste in fashion, Oscar wore what he preached: “Be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” He was both. He was also a speed-reader who spewed wit at a lightning speed, wrote fairy tales, was chief editor of a women’s magazine, fought for prison reform, and traveled around the United States, delivering lectures, including to coal miners in Colorado where he gave a discourse on Italian Renaissance sculptor Cellini.

During his infamous trials, his wife and children fled the country to avoid public shaming and, shortly after Oscar’s conviction, had changed their name to “Holland.” Oscar was not afraid to defend himself and others who shared his love that “dared not speak its name.” And for this, he was vilified, ostracized, and persecuted by the very same people who lined up to see his plays and celebrated his brilliance. In the end, he was sentenced to prison to two years with hard labor, then, upon release, left for Paris where homosexuality was more tolerated. What I didn’t know until then was that Oscar was also a victim of bullying and multiple forms of abuse—from a classmate in Oxford, to Bosie’s father, to Bosie himself. Bosie’s father was so incensed by Oscar’s and Bosie’s relationship that he threatened to disown his son and publicly humiliated Oscar by calling him a “sodomite.” Oscar, at the insistence of Bosie, struck back, with a libel suit that quickly backfired. Forced to dismiss his suit, Oscar now had to defend himself not only from Bosie’s father but from a bloodthirsty public who wanted him convicted for “gross indecency.” Bosie, who had a temper as explosive as his father, abused Oscar. He constantly picked fights with Oscar, taunting him, tormenting him, when he was not spending Oscar’s money from royalties from his plays. I found it odd, however, that Oscar didn’t fight back, or ended the volatile relationship. He tried but he was too forgiving. Why? Why did a genius like Oscar who had everything—fame, fortune, a supportive family—allow someone to control, manipulate, and take him away from what he loved the most—his two sons and his writing? And even after he was released from prison, why did he, now an outcast in Paris, take Bosie back, as if two years in prison weren’t hell enough? Was it madness? Obsession? Despair? Questions like these gnawed at me. It forced me to re-evaluate my relationship with my role model. It made me rethink of my definition of a hero. Did it now mean separating the genius from the deeply-flawed man who tormented himself over love?

Around the same time that I was engrossed with Oscar’s larger-than-Art life, teens across America were committing suicides. Four of them took place in September, just days apart from each other. Racially different, these teens had one commonality: they were victims of bullying because they were gay, openly or closeted. Damn if you do, damn if you don’t. Two had hung themselves, one on the rafters of the family barn, the other from a tree branch. The third shot himself in the head, while the fourth jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge. Of the four, three died instantly, but one hung on for ten days, on life support. Their ages ranged from thirteen to Freshmen in college. Unable to keep fighting, these lone warriors decided to end a struggle that once held meaning. Their tragic deaths made headline news, went viral on the Internet, played in a loop on CNN, grazed the cover of People magazine. CBS produced a special segment on bullying-related deaths; they were among the main features, which included an eleven-year-old who killed himself because he was bullied for being short. I was enraged, yet in awe of their guts. My heart broke. I felt hopeless, was helpless. I wanted to punch the world in the face. It brought me back to that time in the 80s when the AIDS virus was killing thousands of people, and boys my age who knew they were gay were so terrified to come out, to love ourselves and others, because of the stigma it bore, and the fear and anxiety that we were next in the toe tag line.

A year later—more teen suicides. One of them was Jamey Rodemeyer who, on September 18, 2011, had hung himself. An openly gay activist who fought homophobia via YouTube videos he helped thousands who, like him, were victims of bullying. He was a fan of Lady Gaga who paid tribute to him at her concerts. She called him her “little monster.” In his videos, he reassured his viewers that things would get better, so hang on—advice that he believed in and lived by, until the bullying got too unbearable. He was fourteen
years old. So what happens when you, as a role model for others, feel defeated? Where and who do you go to refuel and help you extend your faith in, and love for, yourself and others? What happens when love and hope are overpowered by hatred and cruelty?

Reading about a literary genius who was persecuted over a century ago, and the suicides of American kids simultaneously was no accident. It was a loud blast call to action. I had no choice but to let rage fuel the words. I knew right there and then that the only way to deal with the violence and hatred and unbearable sadness that were metastasizing across the country like stage-4 cancer was to write about it. A book for young adults. It would be my way of remembering and honoring them for their courage to look hatred in the eye because they dared to be themselves. It would also be my small offering of hope that, though the book might not save lives, it could, perhaps, delay the tragedy, lessen the pain. I had never written a book for young adults, or with a targeted audience in mind, for that matter. It was new, terrifying, even constricting (or what I thought of then as constricting). It would be like writing my very first book. And to an extent, it was. Like my first novel Rolling The R’s, it was an invitation to create and dare myself. And to double the dare: I chose a subject matter that courted clichés the most. It would be
about love. Love of sorts. Love between two boys. Love among outcasts who, tired of being alone and picked on, create their own trio-of-a-community where they do not need the approval of the majority because, in their small world, belonging is not defined by numbers but by that shared space where they can thrive as individuals, voice their differences while continuing to encourage and strengthen each other. To them, this is how empowerment begins. And in this small community of three outcasts, Oscar, their literary hero, would play a role in shaping their minds, dropping in on them as he used to drop into mine. What better hero, flaws and all, than this larger-than-Art figure to guide seventeen-year-olds through the rocky pathways of this difficult world? A man of endless wit who never stopped preaching about love, despite the hatred and cruelty of many who had wished him misfortune? A fantabulous individual who, tragic as the last chapter of his life was, believed until the very end that “The world had shut its gates, but the door of Love remains open”? Who else but the indomitable Oscar Wilde?

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R Zamora Linmark (Credit Desiree Solomon)R. Zamora Linmark is the author of The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart, his first novel for young adults from Delacorte/Random House. He has also published two novels, Rolling the R’s which he’d adapted for the stage, and Leche, as well as four poetry collections, most recently, Pop Vérité, all from Hanging Loose Press. He lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Baguio, Philippines.

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Finding My Identity Through Poetry: a Guest Post by Lenee Hendricks

Today on the site I’m excited to welcome poet Lenee Hendricks, author of Radiant Souls, to discuss how she found her identity through poetry! Check out the Sapphic book here and then read on for more Lenee words!

RS4Radiant Souls is a collection of poetry which speaks of healing, identity, self-love, and relationships. It contains pieces inclusive of gender neutral language and tells of sapphic experiences. In this collection, Lenee H. explores finding the strength and beauty within oneself, and celebrating the people in our lives.

Buy on Amazon | Add to Goodreads

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Finding My Identity Through Poetry

When I began writing poetry, I never expected it to become so important to me. I knew next to nothing about the publishing world and was coming straight from having dropped my college classes, ready to delve into writing. During my middle and high school years I had planned to become a nurse. My own interest in medicine and science was real, but the direction of my life was often dictated by my desire to please my parents. Conscious or not, I let who I was and who I would become be controlled by everything but what I truly felt and wanted.

I was freshly entered into the exciting new age of twelve when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. This was nearly two months following the sudden and traumatic loss of my older brother in a car accident. I don’t think I ever really had the chance to grow into myself. Just as I was about to enter those teen years of becoming your own person and beginning to rebel a little, hungering for that taste of adulthood, I was faced with an onslaught of stresses and harsh reality. The weight of issues belonging to adulthood were tossed into my lap. I suppose I got that taste most kids yearn for, just not the flavor they usually imagine.

Having family death and sickness enter my sphere at such a young age caused me to want to be mature. I felt the need to be grown up and so, I parroted adults around me. I adopted the beliefs I thought seemed solid and trustworthy, I tried to act older than I was. In many ways, I naturally was more mature than I should have been, but I was still mimicking. And it only worsened as my stresses increased. My mother continued to battle cancer, she had a mastectomy but then it showed up in her sternum and, despite undergoing radiation, it would only continue to spread. My dad had a brain injury which caused severe amnesia and a permanent personality shift. My sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. One thing stacked on top of another, and all I wanted was to make everyone else happy.

I erased myself and turned into a mirror of expectations, both what was placed upon me by others, and a lot of which I was reflecting onto myself. I spent my life like this until I graduated high school in 2017. This was a time I should have been coming into my own, deciding what I wanted to do with my life and exploring who I was. But, instead, I was soon preparing for my mom’s death. I was homeschooled and somehow, this brave, stubborn woman managed to continue teaching me even through the ups and downs of her health. She was certainly pushing me to plan my future, to think ahead. But I was already steeped so deeply into wrapping up my identity into what I thought would please her.

I didn’t really stop until months after she passed that October. I spent so long caring for her, nursing her, wanting to make her happy. It was strange for it all to be gone so quickly. All at once I had no excuse to not examine myself, to not be who and what I wanted. I think it took about a month longer before I began figuring out who I was. The following Thanksgiving, I let myself say the word “fuck” and appalled my siblings who viewed me as “the good kid.” As funny as that is and sounds, looking back it really was so telling of how much I hid myself away and suppressed my growth.

It was some time into the first months of 2018 when I began to think about sexuality. I was raised in an extremely conservative, Christian household. Certainly, I had long been feeling differently about the LGBTQ+ community than everyone around me. I felt so uncomfortable with the knee jerk reactions and derogatory language tossed their way. But there was a curiosity in me which I tried to ignore, a need to say, “gay is okay.” It took me several months before I finally realized, if I was telling everyone else they could have faith and be LGBTQ+ then, why couldn’t I say that about myself?

This was the first step in a long journey of self-discovery.

It wasn’t much later until I figured out rather than my fingers cramping from sticking people with needles, I wanted them to ache from typing. I wanted to be an author. So much of my desire to become a nurse was tied to my mom’s health and feeling like I had to stick to this plan I made when I was thirteen. Yet, during all of those years I was constantly pursuing creative writing in my free time. And even through those years of casual writing, I often found myself pushing the limits of my upbringing, bit by bit, through fiction. It took even longer to let go of the voices telling me I had to go to college to please everyone else, but I finally dropped my classes (a week before they began, might I add). Then, I dove straight into figuring out what I wanted to write.

I settled with poetry; I had written a few things here and there. I thought it would be a simple way to dip my toe into the writing world and get my name out there. What I thought was going to be a quick little project, turned into a journey of finding my voice and beliefs. Cosmic Phases was my debut collection and as I wrote it, I found myself able to freely express the parts of me I had kept hidden. I put my political views in words, I wrote about equality, healing from sexual abuse, speaking up about anxiety and depression…I figured out me. While I was still closeted and had to carefully craft my words about love or attraction, I was still able to express myself more than I ever had before.

After months of marketing and selling that book, and accidentally coming out to my dad as bisexual (thanks dental anesthesia!!), I began Radiant Souls. I had over a year of growth, learning I am a feminist, I really do know I have white privilege, and yes, I am a queer mess. As I wrote this collection, I was able to freely speak of my sapphic experiences, and I began using gender neutral language for many pieces. Perhaps, it was fitting not long after wrapping up this project I realized I was gender fluid.

This time, when I listed my book into Amazon categories, I put Radiant Souls in the LGBT Poetry section. In and of itself that was an incredible step. But during the course of my pre-order campaign and following the release, I saw my title go to the top of the LGBT Poetry releases. Some days, I still can’t believe that’s something which actually happened. To think just earlier this year, I would have been mortified to even clearly write about being attracted to women.

Looking back, there was so much I never had the courage to say out loud but was able to put into Cosmic Phases. Since publishing it, I have been able to speak out more boldly on LGBTQ+ issues, feminism, racial equality, and everything else that would make my conservative uncle shake his head in disapproval. Radiant Souls is only another step in my process of growth. Everyone says writing is a form of self-expression, and it is, but I think it is also a tool of discovering the parts of us we never realized we ever needed to express. Writing freed me. Poetry has been a method of healing and liberation I can only hope reflects back to those who read it. I can look at my poetry and finally see a mirror I have crafted to show nothing but myself, what I believe, and who I am.

DSC_0002Lenee H. is the author of Cosmic Phases and Radiant Souls. Drawing upon her experiences and observations of the world, she seeks to inspire others in their journeys of healing and growth. When she isn’t writing, she’s failing to keep her cats out of trouble.

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 

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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.

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

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And here’s the post!

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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!

***

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!

***

Tom Ryan Headshot Close Up (small).jpg
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!)

***

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.