Category Archives: Guest post

Digging Deep and Writing Through Fear: a Guest Post by Aliette de Bodard

Today on the site I’m delighted to welcome Aliette de Bodard, whose The Vanishers’ Palace, “A dark Beauty and the Beast retelling, where they are both women and the Beast is a dragon,” releases tomorrow!  But before we get to her post, I’m gonna have to show off this book, because it could not look more awesome:

In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

Preorder it

And here’s the post!

Some books are terrifying to write.

In the Vanishers’ Palace didn’t start out as this. It was 2017, and due to rather a lot of stressors in my personal life, writing had stopped being fun or being fulfilling. I was skating pretty close to burnout. To prevent a really ugly crash, I put my contractual obligations on the backburner, and decided to write for fun.

I wanted a book about escape, one I could sink into for comfort: something that would take the Vietnamese legends of my childhood, the awe-inspiring dragons that lived in underwater palaces and the poor scholars who fell in love with them, and merge them with a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that would engage with the problematic issue of lack of consent when one falls in love with one’s jailer. I would write a book in which an impoverished scholar fell in love with the dragon to whom she’d been indentured. I would make it casually, normatively queer, because I was tired of being punched in the face by media in which bi or lesbian characters in a relationship with another woman died as a matter of course. I wanted a fun and fluffy f/f romance with strong supporting female and non-binary characters.

What I wrote instead felt, in many ways, like opening my chest and putting my heart’s blood on the page. I hadn’t expected this to turn out so personal. As I wrote this, I dug into old tales and old images that meant so much to me as a child: a dragon rising from the heart of the river, a scholar piecing together words that turned out to be magical spells, a library that held all the books of the world and one had only to ask… I wrote into my universe the darkness inherent in fairytales, but also that of history: the world of In the Vanishers’ Palace isn’t ruined by climate warming, but by colonial masters who tear it apart for fun and then leave when everything is ashes, never caring what happens to their former servants.

But I also ended up pushing on things that bled: on questions of who is allowed happiness, who is allowed escape and comfort, who is allowed stories. As I wrote, my treacherous brain kept whispering to me that I was wrong, that people like my geeky lesbian Vietnamese scholar or my honourable, duty-bound bi dragon spirit couldn’t possibly be the centre of a decent narration, or have a relationship with a happy ending. That a fantasy book had to be about violence rather than the breaking of the cycle; that discussions of consent were too weighty and too fraught; and that a book set in a post-colonial, ruined world couldn’t possibly hold out hope.

It wasn’t the first time this had happened: when I wrote my Vietnamese domestic space opera On a Red Station, Drifting, I had similar feelings (and a similar root cause of digging deep into personal meaningful things, and pushing back against my brain’s ideas of acceptable narratives). I knew, to some extent, how to fight them, but it left me exhausted and drained. And when In the Vanishers’ Palace was rejected, it felt (for the first time in many, many years) life-shattering in a way that I couldn’t quite articulate: I only realised afterwards that it was because the book was so personal, and the writing of it so challenging.

Fortunately, my friends came to my rescue. They’d read the book (sometimes in multiple versions), and they were sure to remind me of their enthusiasm, and of what it had meant to them. They offered me their support as I navigated through the process of publishing it. And I remembered the lessons I’d learnt as a writer: that there is no correlation between the quality of a book and how I feel about it. That all writing is an act of letting go, and that books go out in the world to be read and become the readers’ as much as the writer’s. That it’s natural to be scared, but that it’s no reason to hide a manuscript.

Once upon a time, I wrote a book and I dug deep into my own self, and it was terrifying. But it’s ok, because I remembered how to write through fear, and because I remembered how to let go–and most of all, because my friends are fabulous and have my back, and that makes it all way less terrifying.

***

Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is the author of the Dominion of the Fallen series, set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings (2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, Locus Award finalist), and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz, 2017 European Science Fiction Society Achievement Award, Locus award finalist). She lives in Paris.

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Retelling Dracula Without Vampires: a Guest Post by Thrall Co-Author Avon Gale

Well, I’d say this is one of the coolest books I’ve heard about in a while: Thrall is a modern take on Dracula that’s both f/f and m/m, co-authored by powerhouse queer-romance authors Avon Gale and Roan Parrish. In this version, there are no vampires, and the authors are here to talk about why. But first, here’s the info on the book, which released last week!

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Happy couple Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra have begun to garner national attention for their quirky New Orleans true-crime podcast, Shadowcast. When Lucy’s brother Harker disappears while researching the popular new dating app Thrall, they’re thrown into a real-life mystery. Aided by their social media expert, Arthur, and Harker’s professor, Van Helsing, they follow the trail, hoping to find Harker before it’s too late.

When their investigation crosses the path of a possible serial killer, the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur. And as they race against the app’s countdown clock, so does the line between friendship and love. What starts as a flirtatious rivalry between computer-savvy Arthur and techno-averse Van Helsing becomes much more, and Mina and Lucy’s relationship is tested in the fires of social media.

As they get down to the wire, the group discovers that nothing on their screens is as it seems—including their enemy.

Buy it: Amazon * Books2Read (All other vendors)

***

And now, here’s the post by co-author Avon Gale!

One of the first things you might notice about Thrall, the modern-day take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula that I co-wrote with Roan Parrish, is that there aren’t any vampires. “How can you have a re-telling of Dracula without…Dracula?” you might ask. Aren’t vampires central to the whole story?

When Roan and I first talked about writing Thrall, one thing we wanted to do was think about the underlying themes of vampirism in the original novel, and what Dracula, as a character, represented to contemporary audiences. Then, we wanted to examine those themes and figure out what their modern equivalents would be, and how to work those into a retelling that would resonate with modern readers. To us, a good re-telling of a classic story functions both as a call-back to the original source material, and as an entertaining and complete story. Dracula has become such a common part of our cultural lexicon that we knew this wouldn’t be easy. If “the blood is the life”, as Stoker writes, and the vampire is the taker of blood that is sometimes freely given and sometimes taken without consent…what’s a good, modern translation of that concept?

We bandied about a lot of ideas, but eventually, we settled on information – and the gathering and usage thereof– as our preferred analogy. Thrall, the dating application (and our Dracula) is an insidious little application that is easily passed from person-to-person via downloads and smart phones, and it’s something that you put a lot of energy into even if you don’t want to. Thrall, as we designed it in the book, takes your information and your “bad dates” and promises to use both to find you the perfect partner….meaning you’re a bit in thrall to the potential, and willing to return again and again and willingly give up your emotional and physical energy for the chance at everlasting happiness. Just like Dracula lured his victims with the promise of life eternal, only to…well, you know what vampires do. And just like a vampire needs blood to survive, Thrall can’t function without the continual input of sweet, sweet personal information.  And the usage to which it is put isn’t always in our best interests, just like Dracula wasn’t always using that blood to romance Mina. Or Jonathan.

There’s also an aspect of social media as both a source of captivation and engagement, and we hope that, too, resonates with modern audiences. Lucy keeps counts of her Twitter followers, just like in the book she keeps track of her suitors. Social media is definitely something that both requires energy and gives it back, though not always in ways we might want – or need.

Setting the book in New Orleans was also a fun way to pay homage to the original; like turn-of-the-century London, it is a city caught between both the past and the present/future.  I have a wonderful memory of walking down the rain-misted streets with Roan in August of 2016, when I helped her move from New Orleans to Philly, and we first talked about the book and what we wanted to do. We even visited the Lafayette Cemetery (also because we’re both huge fans of The Witching Hour by Anne Rice) a location that makes more than one appearance in Thrall.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot, because it’s a mystery and no one likes to be spoiled! But we’re hopeful that you’ll enjoy our take on vampirism and what such a concept might look like in modern day, and how we’ve conveyed that through a similar format to the original. Like Dracula, Thrall is epistolary, told entirely through text messages, chats, emails and tweets. Just like the main characters in Stoker’s story find themselves caught up in a strange, alternate reality they never dreamed existed…so, too, do ours. But I’ll stop there before I spoil it!

This book is definitely a departure for both Roan and myself, and it’s one reason why we had so much fun writing it (and the reason for several three-plus hour long phone calls!). Adapting something that was technically a gothic horror into a modern-day romance was definitely a challenge, but we’re both pleased with the result and hope you’ll have fun reading it. We tried to make it accessible for those who both have read the original and those who have not, though there are many geeky references to Stoker’s book and we would LOVE to hear from readers who spot them!

***

Avon Gale was once the mayor on Foursquare of Jazzercise and Lollicup, which should tell you all you need to know about her as a person. She likes road trips, rock concerts, drinking Kentucky bourbon, JRPGs and yelling at hockey. She’s a displaced southerner living in a liberal midwestern college town, and she never gets tired of people and their stories — either real or the ones she makes up in her head.

Avon is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan at Handspun Literary Agency.

Connect with Avon: Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Instagram | Website

Why Write Kinky?: a Guest Post by Counterpoint Author Anna Zabo

I’m thrilled to once again have Anna Zabo on the site to celebrate their newest release, Counterpoint, the second book in the Twisted Wishes series, which came out on September 24! (For more on the first, see here.) They’re here to talk about writing kink, and while I’m sure everyone’s eager to get to that, let’s check out their new release first 😉

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Twisted Wishes lead guitarist Dominic “Domino” Bradley is an animal onstage. But behind his tight leather pants and skull-crusher boots lies a different man entirely, one who needs his stage persona not only to perform, but to have the anonymity he craves. A self-imposed exile makes it impossible to get close to anyone outside the band, so he’s forced to get his sexual fix through a few hot nights with a stranger.

When computer programmer Adrian Doran meets Dominic, he’s drawn to the other man’s quiet voice and shy smile. But after a few dirty, demanding nights exploring Dominic’s need to be dominated, Adrian wants more than a casual distraction. He has no idea he’s fallen for Domino Grinder—the outlandish, larger-than-life rock god.

Dominic is reluctant to trust Adrian with his true identity. But when the truth is revealed prematurely, Dominic is forced to reevaluate both his need for Adrian and everything he believes about himself.

CW: Quirks and Warnings: Contains D/s and bondage. Also discusses anxiety and depicts a panic attack.

Buy it: Carina / Amazon / B&N / iBooks / Google Play / Kobo / universal link

And here’s the post!

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I do have to admit that at one point in my career, I worried that I would become labeled as only a BDSM romance author. I have written romance without BDSM, but even in those, there are moments of kinkiness or explorations of power dynamics, so after a while I realized I was just going to have to embrace the kink and the label, to some extent. Not every novel I write is going to have kink, but it’s probably safe to assume that many will.

There’s just something about kink that I find fascinating, especially when paired with romance. Kink doesn’t have to be paired with romance. In real-life settings, it often isn’t. Heck, kink doesn’t have to be paired with sex. It’s a pleasure in its own right and doesn’t have to be anything but that.

However, I think one of the reasons I enjoy exploring kink in novels is that it take a certain amount of trust and understanding between partners. It’s a deep experience—for all parties involved. And that trust, that understanding—for me—ties into the kind of trust and understanding I like to see in romantic partners (or platonic partners in the case of aromantic folks). The caution, care, consent, and thoughtfulness that goes into good kink is the same sort of caution, care, consent, and thoughtfulness I want to see in—well all relationships, really.

There’s also a vulnerability in kink that feeds well into the vulnerability of opening your heart or soul to another human being. Again, it’s that deep trust that the other person (or persons) will not harm you as you pursue this mutual attraction to see where it leads. And then there’s the comfort of finding someone compatible with you, whether it’s because they finish your sentences, love rollercoasters, or the beach, are really great, or happen to love tying you up. It’s cherishing those moments of intense connection—the ones that take your breath away.

Kink also is its own kind of privacy and intimate connection, even if there are other people watching, because at a certain point, all that exists for the participants is each other and that connection. Could be pain, could be submission, could be bondage. But it exists because of the people involved and is this strong focus between them and to them. Its a little hard to describe in abstract.

And maybe that’s why I enjoy writing kink so much, because it gives me a chance to describe those feelings and emotions and connections to people. And in a romance novel, you’re already describing the intense connection between partners. Kink is just another element of that. And if it provides a little understanding as to why people might choose kink in their life, all the better.

***

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. As a child they were heartily disappointed to discover that they couldn’t grow up to be what they wanted (a boy, a cat, a dragon), so they settled on being themself whenever possible, which may be a combination of a boy, a cat, and a dragon. Or perhaps a girl, a knight, and a writer. Depends on whom you ask. They do have a penchant for colorful ties and may be hording a small collection of cufflinks.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.

Guest Post: Black Wings Beating Author Alex London on the Rise of Queer YA SFF

It’s fabulous to have Alex London back on the site today, talking about the rise of queer YA SFF to celebrate the launch of his incredible new gay YA fantasy, Black Wings Beating!

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I don’t write portal fantasy, but I know that every book is a doorway to another world, and for queer teens, for a long time, the other worlds our fantasy books took us into were shockingly straight places. Fantasy authors—with a few exceptions—it seemed, could imagine vast histories and geographies, monsters and magic that defied the real world’s paltry science, yet could not imagine a place for queer people.

When I published my first sci-fi YA novel (Proxy, 2013), the imaginative fiction space in mainstream YA didn’t have a lot of queer heroes in it. There was Perry Moore’s superhero coming-out story, Hero, and there was Malinda Lo’s f/f Cinderella retelling in Ash and Huntress. Coda by Emma Trevayne came out around the same time as Proxy, but the bi main character’s identity slipped ‘under the gaydar’ in a lot of descriptions of the book. At that point you also had some amazing secondary characters in Cassandra Claire’s Mortal Instruments series, and in Holly Black’s Tithe; but main characters were still in short supply. Mercedes Lackey had written The Last Herald Mage series in the late 80s, which had a gay male lead, but I hadn’t heard of it at the time. It wasn’t enough for the books to exist; they were very rarely promoted and discovering them was deeply difficult.

These days, my TBR YA Fantasy bookstack with queer main characters is bigger than I ever could’ve imagined it becoming, and bigger than I can even keep up with reading. You’ve got super heroes and urban fantasies, dystopias and steampunks, alternate histories, high fantasy, fairy-tales and space operas.  And yes, portal fantasies. And they are getting more attention in a crowded young adult marketplace than they ever have before (still not enough, but so much more…). Publishers have stepped up and sought out and promoted queer YA fantasy.

And yet the same barriers to discovery exist as have always existed. Some schools and libraries are reluctant to promote books that have overt queer content. Some libraries are forbidden from promoting the books, as a recent decision by the library system in Washington County, Utah showed. Queer books exist and keep getting better, but unless they find champions in their communities, they will not find the readers who need them. Most queer teens aren’t following Kirkus Reviews or Buzzfeed booklists.

I’ve been lucky. Librarians championed my first queer YA novel and placed it on a few state lists and my publisher promoted it the same way they would have promoted most other books at the time. They didn’t advertise the queer aspect very much, because they wanted the book to find its way into the mainstream sci-fi readership. In 2013, that was a gamble. In 2018, the queer hero of my first fantasy novel is being touted in every press release from the publisher because, in five short years, the publishing business has come to see that a gay hero does not limit a book to just a gay audience. The book is receiving the kind of publisher support I couldn’t have dreamed of in the past. The comp titles they’ve told me for Black Wings Beating aren’t just queer novels. They are the mainstream epic fantasies that I love, that I’ve always longed to see queer characters star in. And readers of all kinds have shown that they will judge an imaginative novel by the depth of its world-building, by the pacing of its plot, and the richness of its storytelling. A book can’t survive on queer readers alone, and straight readers are showing themselves more than happy to root for a wide array of queer heroes in their fantasy reads, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

There are still challenges, of course. We’re still at the point where the success or failure of every queer fantasy novel impacts the chances of every other, where the hits open the door wider for those that come next, but the books that fail to find their audience make it a little harder for the next ones to get the marketing budgets they might need. But the trends are going in the right direction.

Readers have more queers heroes in fantasy than ever before and doors are opening for authors and for stories that weren’t open in the past. As those doors open, we’re finding amazing new worlds on the other side and those worlds are queer indeed.

***

Alex London is the beloved author of the middle-grade series, Tides of War, Dog Tags, and The Wild Ones and the young adult novel Proxy, which was an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and was included in their 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the TAYSHAS Reading List selection, among many other state reading lists. His upcoming novel, Black Wings Beating, is an LGBTQ+ epic fantasy about legendary birds, first love, and family ties. Connect with him on Twitter @ca_london.

 

Guest Post: Erin Ptah on Leif & Thorn and How You Can Help Get it to Print!

As you probably know from following this site, Erin Ptah has been a wonderful friend of LGBTQReads, providing us with killer webcomic recommendations. And so today, we’re here to support her, and specifically her Kickstarter for Leif & Thorn!

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Hey everyone — I’m taking a quick break from recommending other people’s webcomics to talk about one of mine. The strip is Leif & Thorn, and it’s on Kickstarter right now raising funds for a full-color print collection of Volume 1.

To preorder a copy, visit kickstart.leifandthorn.com — or read on for more!

After Thorn Estragon killed a dragon, he and his team of knights expected to be put on a low-stress assignment to recover. Instead they’re sent to guard the embassy of neighboring Sønheim. (There’s a prophecy involved. He doesn’t know that part.)

As foreign countries go, Sønheim is extremely foreign. Different magic, strange food, everyone has pale skin (especially the vampires), and a lot of the labor is handled by indentured servants. Like Leif. He’s a gardener at the Embassy when Thorn arrives.

Thorn doesn’t speak Leif’s language too well at first, but he’s about to find a lot of reasons to learn.

These two are the heart of a broad ensemble of lovable characters, all facing their own struggles to communicate across cultural boundaries, deal with traumas and scars, use magic for practical solutions, and pick the perfect song for karaoke night.

In this volume: the party with the vampires, the hostage situation at the aquarium, the multi-species rescue effort after the mine collapse, and that incident with the tentacles.

For teens and up. (Don’t give it to small children — it includes adult topics like graphic violence, PTSD flashbacks, stalking, and health insurance.)


The rep!

Leif & Thorn takes place on a non-Earth fantasy planet, so there’s no 1:1 portrayal of real-world ethnicities. Even the culturally-constructed concepts of identity don’t exactly map to ours. (Because I’m the kind of nerd who enjoys working out these things.)

But here’s an approximate summary:

Leif is bi/pan (his language doesn’t have separate words for the two). He comes from a snowy pole-spanning empire, with a culture heavily influenced by Sweden and Norway. He’s bilingual in sign language. And he’s internalized a lot of rhetoric about his country being the greatest in the world…in spite of economic inequality so bad that he’s become an indentured servant, working off a mysterious debt.

Thorn prefers men (that’s a translation of the appropriate word in his language). His native country is a temperate superpower, with influences from all kinds of cultures that aren’t “medieval or Renaissance Western Europe”, and his specific ethnic group reads as fantasy-Jewish. He deals with dragon-related PTSD throughout the story, plus some mobility issues from magical burn scars that will never fully heal.

For a snapshot of the diversity of the rest of the cast in this volume, check out the funding page.

There are other identities and issues that unfold in later storylines, too! (For more on that, check out the comic online.)

But as you might’ve picked up in my webcomic reviews, I feel strongly about representation being visible in the story. So I’m only selling you Volume 1 based on things that explicitly come up within its pages.


Why Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website, where people can band together to fund the production of things they like.

It’s widely used by comic creators who want to bring their work to print. A serious print run of a big fancy full-color book can cost a lot — but if you offer pre-orders on Kickstarter, you can raise all the funding upfront.

Backer options for Leif & Thorn Volume 1 include not just the book, but a whole range of tiers, each one with more incentives than the last. There’s something for every level of interest, from to “can’t afford the whole book, but I want to help make this happen” to “do you accept firstborn children??” (Answer: no, I don’t think PayPal can convert those.)

But here’s the important thing: Kickstarter fundraising is all-or-nothing.

If we reach our predetermined funding goal by the deadline — in this case, when the clock strikes midnight on October 17 — everyone gets their rewards! If not, all the backers keep their money, and the creator has to try again.

I’ve set a modest goal, covering a short print run. We shouldn’t have any trouble getting that far. And if you happen to drop by later in the campaign and see that it’s fully-funded, that’s the perfect time to jump in — because once we’re covered for the minimum run of books, all the extra funding can go into printing even more.

Click to back Leif & Thorn Volume 1 on Kickstarter now!


Erin Ptah likes cats, magical girls, time travel, casual representation, and webcomics. She’s the artist behind But I’m A Cat Person (it has four print volumes; you can just buy them) and Leif & Thorn (it’s the one to preorder here!). Say hi on Twitter at @ErinPtah.

Guest Recs From Erin Ptah: More Webcomics With Major Nonbinary Characters

Welcome back to Erin Ptah, with another round of webcomic recs!

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Before we dive into this post, an important note: I have a Kickstarter to print Leif & Thorn Volume 1 launching on September 17. Watch the site, and mark your calendars!

And now, back to recs for other people’s comics.

This whole series of posts started, almost a year ago now, with a set of recs for webcomics with major nonbinary characters. At the time, I didn’t have enough recs to break that category into sub-themes.

Now I have more recs! But…I don’t have enough new recs to break those into sub-themes. So here we go again.

Today’s theme: Even MORE webcomics with major nonbinary characters!


sample-lasthalloween

(1) The Last Halloween by Abby Howard

The story of Mona and her unusual friends, who must work together to defend humanity from countless horrific monstrosities! Perhaps they will succeed, and humanity will prevail as it always has. Or perhaps this will be… The Last Halloween.

Horror with funny parts, ongoing. There’s a parallel world of monsters, one for every human, and the Phagocyte — the figure who normally keeps the worlds in balance — just died without a replacement. On Halloween, naturally.

Separately, there are a bunch of your typical horror-movie creatures secretly hanging out on Earth. Vampires, mummies, that sort of thing. A group of kids from this team meets up with Mona, a ten-year-old human who is 100% done with everything, and they set out (very unwillingly, in Mona’s case) on a quest to find a replacement Phagocyte before the whole human race goes extinct.

As of the beginning of the story, Mona is being raised by a single nonbinary Parent. They get separated from Mona pretty early on, and end up forming their own mini-team-up with another parent, one of the monster kids’ vampire dad. (Also, there’s definitely a spark between them.)

The art style is perfectly fitted to the story. Expressive characters, creepy detailed backgrounds, classy monster designs, lots of areas of solid black that frequently close in around the panels. The black-and-white lineart also mutes the ick factor when things get bloody — which does happen, but this series is much more interested in being Gorey than gory.


sample-stoopgallants

(2) The Stoop-Gallants by M.J. Alexander and W.W. Rose

There’s not much that goes on in the village of Lefthand Goat Way and the surrounding areas – unless you count some wholly accidental necromancy, a wizard who came by their powers thanks to a clerical error, a depressed villain with a chinchilla…

Fantasy comedy, ongoing. This one resists summaries — it jumps around between a bunch of groups, showcasing characters from different species, magic levels, social classes, moral alignments, mortality, and so on.

It’s in this rec post on account of Flea, the wizard-due-to-clerical-error, who we meet on the way to a magical Consortium with their pet teacup manticore. (They explain that, in the big city, tiny designer manticores are bred as pets for rich people who eventually get bored and dump the animals in the sewers.) They get help from Alta, a renowned dragonslayer with an anxiety disorder who speaks in high-fantasy argot when she’s nervous, and Marigold, the squire whose duties include translating for her and whose hobbies apparently include magical Candy Crush.

And all that happens after several chapters with Ru, who accidentally summoned a revenant — turns out his own blood counted as “virgin” by necromancy standards, because none of his sexual experiences, with men or women, involved PIV. His housemate Mica asks for help from the local evil wizard, who she made friends with, because she ran out of books to read when she’s bedridden with a flare-up and he’s the only local with a library.

With this much good stuff you’d think a comic would have to run out of steam at some point, right? But this one just…keeps going. It keeps dropping into new scenes and character groups, in between building up ongoing conflicts with the familiar ones, and the writing is funny and entertaining enough that you can roll with it.

Bonus notes: The artist has a great eye for expressions and body language. I’m very into the developing f/f romance. And the various critters are adorable.


sample-broken

(3) broken by Yubria

broken is about a fairie general and his army struggling to protect their city-state after an alchemical anomaly brought eldritch monsters into their dimension. Warning: this comic contains graphic violence, horror, and flashing images.

Horror-drama, ongoing. To fight off a set of encroaching horrors, this high-tech fairie society has basically gone in the military-dystopia direction. Their tactics include using homunculi, genderless artificial lifeforms that do whatever task they’re assigned; and constructs, the dead bodies of corrupted citizens of neighboring countries, which can be puppeted into dangerous situations while all the living people stay at a safe distance.

Lots of scenes make great use of animated gifs to enhance the fear, tension, and creepiness. There’s a wonderful use of color overall, too — the details of fairie wings alone add so much worldbuilding and atmosphere.

Our main character is Huvrye (hoov-rai), a homunculus general who never aspired to lead murderous offense-as-the-best-defense campaigns, but he’s really good at it so it’s what he’s stuck with. Things get weird when his construct starts behaving unusually in the middle of a battle. It’s supposed to be corrupted past the point of recovery — it’s not supposed to have reactions.

In the middle of the post-apocalyptic worldbuilding, the emotional hook here is the story of a heartwarming friendship growing between two people, in a society that really doesn’t want them to be people…and will enforce that with military-grade weaponry if it has to.


sample-courtofroses

(4) Court of Roses by Kelsey Peterson

Meet the members of the (someday) legendary bardic troupe, the Court of Roses!

Fantasy comedy, ongoing. Merlow the Rose is a half-elf bard traveling the world. The good news: he has both musical and magical talent, including the power to charm his way out of tense situations. The bad news: he plays the bagpipes.

In spite of this drawback, he spends the first couple of chapters picking up new friends: Diana the friendly human, Nocturne the unnerving infernal, Sven the goliath who plays war drums, and Feliks the energetic one-gnome band. (Feliks is nonbinary. Also, though so far everybody’s single, Diana has mentioned being into the ladies, while Merlow is into anyone.)

Great expressions in the art, snappy one-liners in the writing, and building shenanigans in the plot. This is laying all the right groundwork to be one of those series that starts out funny, and will eventually build to being epic-without-ever-ceasing-to-be-funny.


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(5) Small Blessings by Danie

The escapades of a house-spirit in an old apartment building.

Fantasy fluff, ongoing. Adorable domestic adventures with the itty-bitty Alasdair (about the size of a Borrower, also magic). Doing little repairs! Shooing away spirits of corruption! Tidying up giant objects! Reading books taller than they are!

Some of the mini spirits go by “they,” inclusing Alasdair and an unnamed houseplant spirit. Others include Malcolm, who uses “he”, and Plish, a tiny aquarium mermaid who gets referred to as both “they” and “she” depending on the post.

Early on Alasdair makes friends with Alicia, the human resident of one of the apartments, who shares her books with them. She’s also the one who warns them that the building is slated to be torn down. So there’s a bit of ongoing plot, but don’t expect it to move fast — this comic is mostly a vehicle for lovingly-rendered cute scenes with tiny people.


Erin Ptah likes cats, magical girls, time travel, crossdressing, and webcomics. She’s the artist behind But I’m A Cat Person (where Timothy/Camellia is finally out of the bigender work closet) and Leif & Thorn (featuring nonbinary knights, guards, and secret agents). Say hi on Twitter at @ErinPtah.

Guest Recs From Erin Ptah: LGBQ+ Webcomics With No Romance

Hey everyone, check it out, I managed to finish another webcomic reclist before Pride Month ends. (As a guest-poster, I don’t know if it’ll be published before Pride Month ends, but I want y’all to appreciate the effort anyway.) (Blogger’s Note: WELL, I messed this up tremendously, so in fact, while Erin did turn it in during Pride Month, uhhh…well.)

At this point I’ve recced a lot of strips about wlw/mlm characters who have active romances — some that develop over the course of the series, some that were in place when it started. Which makes sense, since that’s the most obvious way to establish and celebrate a character’s queerness. That said…you don’t stop being queer when you aren’t dating.

So I pulled together a bunch of comics featuring characters without romantic storylines, whose sexual orientations are indicated in other ways. And the rest of the writing makes it clear that it’s not authorial bias against same-sex relationships. These people are just frankly way too busy with other things right now.

Today’s theme: Webcomics with LGBQ+ characters who don’t have romances!

(Note that, if it’s an ongoing series, I’m not guaranteeing they won’t be paired off at some point down the road. Or saying it would be a bad thing if they did! Just reccing the comics based on the current state of the archives.)


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(1) Sleepless Domain by Mary Cagle

Sleepless Domain is a comic about an isolated city in the middle of a dangerous world filled with monsters. During the day, the city is perfectly safe. At night, however, the populace locks themselves inside as the city streets fill with monsters. The only ones who can combat these creatures are very special girls with the power to transform into Magical Girls!

Dark mahou shoujo, ongoing. In this world magical girls are widely-known (every costume upgrade gets gushed-over in the media), institutionally supported (they have special schools to accommodate the way they’re usually up all night fighting monsters!), and highly marketable (especially if your team has a branding manager).

But the monsters are serious, and can be fatal to a girl who lets her guard down. After a tragedy in the early chapters, the story focuses on the survivors’ struggle to deal with the grief and adapt to their changed lives.

In the face of all the other problems our heroines are dealing with, it’s refreshing that their world is so LGBTQ-friendly. There’s an unselfconsciously cuddly f/f couple in the supporting cast, and nobody finds it confusing or remarkable when a trans girl awakens as a mahou shoujo.

None of the main characters are dating, and most of their orientations could still be anything, but one was finally confirmed to have a fellow magical-girl ex. Plenty of readers already shipped her with her co-star, and that sure didn’t hurt. I do like the ship, and I can see canon going there at some point in the future…but not the near future. At this point I wouldn’t even describe their interactions as shipteasing. It’s all about friendship and recovery.


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(2) Forward by Mason “Tailsteak” Williams

Lee lives alone, and spends most of their time watching episodes of Martian cartoons and rating them out of five stars. They have no job, and necessities like food and clothing are delivered to their apartment and prepared by various devices that Lee either rents or owns. Like most people who have been given everything they say they want, Lee is miserable.

Sci-fi, ongoing. Lee is some form of transfeminine — I hesitate to use any specific present-day labels, because this future is a “post-bio-gender setting” in which most people use they/them pronouns anyway. Into their isolated life barges Zoa, a multipurpose companionship-bot (“Legally, I’m a vending machine”) whose primary function involves blowjobs.

Lee isn’t interested in buying sex. (Although they’re not upset or dysphoric at the topic, in case you were worried.) What they really crave is genuine social interaction, which Zoa also turns out to be pretty good at, in its own special way.

So now they’re…friends, sort of? And making plans to do more friendship-things in the future. Maybe even leaving Lee’s apartment and trying to interact with the rest of society. I can’t wait.

The art is solid, but this is one of those strips I would read if it was all done in stick figures, because the writing for the dialogue is great. Clever and snappy, funny and relatable, and every once in a while it’ll punch you in the heart out of nowhere.

I’ll also throw in a qualified rec for the artist’s previous comic, Leftover Soup. There are a lot of elements that I wouldn’t blame anyone for avoiding — most notably, the deaths of two young black men, as well as one pet hamster. But if the rough parts aren’t dealbreakers for you, the good parts are very good. And it has some of the only main-character polyamory webcomic representation I can think of: a five-person unit involving two mostly-gay guys, two bi/pan women, and one straight guy, as written by a poly/pan author.


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(3) Widdershins by Kate Ashwin

Widdershins is a series of Victorian-era adventure stories, set in the fictional town of Widdershins, West Yorkshire- England’s magical epicentre, home to bounty hunters, failed wizards, stage magicians, and more, besides.

Fantasy adventure, ongoing. Powerful and deadly spirits keep getting summoned, causing intricate havoc, and then being desummoned by mismatched groups of lovable oddballs. The first few stories seem like disconnected adventures in the same general universe, but eventually the groups start meeting each other, and have to unravel the villains’ shared backstory in order to bind them all for real.

And if the general description doesn’t hook you, try this: One of the mismatched groups consists of amazing cooks from all throughout history, who got swalloved out of their home eras and transported to the same time period by an evil magical hotel.

The world seems to have period-typical homophobia on a cultural level — all the socially-acknowledged romances, certainly all the marriages, are m/f. Still, on a personal level, none of the main characters seem to bat an eye at same-sex attractions or romances among their friends. The actual couples of all gender combinations are pretty backgrounded; most of the main cast is busy with other things. I won’t spoil you for which of the women (more than one!) turn out to have ex-girlfriends.

Bonus: one of the characters is described as asexual, and nobody has a problem with that either. And in the time travel storyline, the author makes it explicit that full marriage equality is in this world’s future.

…so you can probably guess which arc is my favorite. That said, the writing is funny and engaging across-the-board, all the stories are well-paced, and all the characters are wonderful.


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(4) Magical How by Eurika Yusin Gho

Gabe and Booker are just two normal college guys, sharing an apartment and failing spectacularly at love. But one day, a talking golf ball named Hal lands in their lives and offers them magical powers…and despite it being a terrible idea, Gabe signs up immediately! Now he must don the admittedly flattering dress of a Magical and fight for love and justice, while Booker, blinded by the sparkles, wants nothing to do with any of this.

Magical-boy drama, ongoing. At first Gabe is fighting basic monsters-of-the-day, but then he gets taken under the wing of a team of higher-level magical boys with ulterior motives, and the plot starts developing layers. Although the artist never loses sight of her self-professed motivation, “I just want to draw cute boys in skirts.”

The non-magical roommate, Booker, is gay — which we know partly because he has a T-shirt that says so. We’ve gotten hints about a troubled romantic past, which makes it unsurprising that he’s avoided any love interests in the present.

A lot of the fandom ships him with Gabe based on odd-couple chemistry, but the author doesn’t seem to…and frankly, neither do I. In spite of the pink-on-pink aesthetic and overflowing enthusiasm of a standard mahou-shoujo protagonist, Gabe has a surprising amount of unlikeability. I’m hoping the plot will involve him growing and maturing, not even into a worthy boyfriend, just into a better roommate.


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(5) The Suburban Jungle by John “The Gneech” Robey

The original The Suburban Jungle (Starring Tiffany Tiger) is a furry slice-of-life/romantic-comedy/bad-sf webcomic created by The Gneech, which ran from February 1999 – November 2009.

Furry comedy, complete. Tiffany Tiger is a model/actress who has a small-time career in New San Angeles, and would like to make it bigger. A warmhearted mix of showbiz-industry jokes (minor characters include Jerry Springer-Spaniel and Weird Al Hamstervic), family shenanigans, romantic misadventures, and the occasional interdimensional conspiracy.

Fair warning, this one does spend a lot of time on the straight characters’ love lives — mostly Tiffany’s string of relationships and her half-sister’s dating-to-marriage arc. It’s not a “no time for romance” strip overall. It’s just that there’s only one major gay character — Tiffany’s manager, Drezzer — never gets a serious romantic storyline despite being shamelessly flirty.

But it doesn’t come across like the artist thinks less of queer couples (there’s at least one same-sex romance in the background cast), and Drezzer isn’t portrayed as some kind of lonely tragic cautionary tale. He has a group of friends he cares about, an enjoyable job that he’s good at, and a happy and fulfilling life in general. He just happens not to have a partner at the moment. And that’s okay.

(I do know there are more queer characters, with and without romances, in the ongoing sequel comic, Rough Housing. Haven’t read enough of it to go into detail. It’s set in the same universe, but follows the next generation of characters, and I don’t know if they mention any details on Drezzer’s future in particular.)


Erin Ptah likes cats, magical girls, time travel, crossdressing, and webcomics. She’s the artist behind But I’m A Cat Person and Leif & Thorn, both of which have several unattached queer characters in the main casts. Say hi on Twitter at @ErinPtah.

Why My First Novel Couldn’t Be Anything But #ownvoices: a Guest Post by Naomi Tajedler

Today on the site we have guest post from Naomi Tajedler, author of the recently released Concerto in Chroma Major. Naomi’s here to talk about her book’s being #ownvoices, which, for those who don’t know, is a term that was coined by author Corinne Duyvis to refer to work written by an author who shares the marginalized identity (or identities) of their main character.

Before we get to the post, here’s some info on the book:

Alexandra Graff, a Californian living in Paris, is a stained-glass artist whose synesthesia gifts her with the ability to see sounds in the form of colors. When she is commissioned to create glass panels for the new Philharmonie, she forms a special bond with the intriguing Halina Piotrowski, a famous Polish pianist. As their relationship develops, Alexandra shows Halina the beautiful images her music inspires. But when it comes to a lasting future together, will Halina’s fear of roots and commitment stand in the way?

Buy it!

And here’s the post!

***

Like many xennial authors, my first creative writing came in the form of fanfiction. This medium turned out to be exactly what I needed to figure out what I wanted to read, what I wanted to write, and how to create my own characters. More importantly, it gave me the courage to write the stories I felt needed to be told, to express the voices I needed to be heard.

It’s at this starting point in my career as an author that I turned to YA. Not only did an opportunity to take this leap into original fiction came in the shape of an anthology (at Duet Books, Interlude Press’ YA imprint), but I felt like the very first time I wanted to write a story all of my own, I needed to write it for Past Me. For the teenager I used to be. For her insecurities, for her doubts, for her pains, for what she didn’t know but unconsciously set her apart from her peers.

Fourteen-year old me needed a story telling her that no matter what, if she stayed true to herself, the people around her would still love her. Thus What The Heart Wants was born.

The story of a young girl who discovers that Straight may not be her norm was a story I could have used at Noam’s age. I could also have used the story of someone who doesn’t fit “normal” beauty standards and yet is loved and crushed on. I could also have used, at some point in my development as a woman who is still questioning herself, the story of someone who refuses to date simply because it is “expected” of her.

Writing Noam’s coming of age story came to me pretty naturally, because my teenage self, back when I wrote it, was bursting at the seams to come back into my life, with all the strength, rage and loudmouth adulthood had tamed into silence.

Writing this short story unlocked the door I had unconsciously closed on my plot bunnies. Stories I had told myself, funny and adventurous. Stories I had daydreamed about while studying and / or working.

Then the time came to think about what would be next, and I decided that I needed to write, well, for me now. For the adult I had become in spite of, or thanks to, the heartbreaks and pains.

Writing Concerto in Chroma Major took me a while, because a short story is not a novel, and writing for adults is not the same challenge as writing for young adults, obviously.

Parallelly to writing this story is when I started therapy, and some sessions were dedicated to that process. Unconsciously, a lot of it infused this story, which is why it cannot suit a young adult audience. It’s not that young adults cannot deal with darker themes, not at all. There are challenges, ideas, we face in Life later on and an insight that demands years to step back from the situation and look at it differently to accept someone else’s point of view.

Through the story, I realized that I projected a lot of who I am into my characters: Halina has my independence, my wanderlust, my love for art; Alexandra has my synesthesia, my fatness, my views on Judaism and how to be Jewish, my romantic identity. She also represents the woman I aim to be: more confident in myself and my body, more at ease with herself and her pursuit of romance, more comfortable with confrontations too.

Concerto in Chroma Major is #ownvoices in many ways. Through it, I express my voice as a fat, bisexual, Jewish woman, all communities that need more representation from within.

No one can claim to speak for an entire community, but I do know that my voice is one representation within a more global picture.

***

Born and raised in Paris, France, Naomi Tajedler learned to love art from the womb when her father played guitar to her pregnant mother. Her love for books led her to a Bachelor of Arts in Book Restoration and Conservation, followed by a Master’s Degree in Art market  management. Her first short story, “What The Heart Wants”, was published in Summer Love (2015), an LGBTQ Young Adult collection by Duet Books. When not writing, Naomi can be found sharing body positive tips on social media and trying recipes out on her loved ones.

Twitter handle: @Naomi_Tajedler

How Gender Stereotyping Inspired Teddy’s Favorite Toy: a Guest Post by Christian Trimmer

If you’re somehow involved in the kidlit publishing world, you’ve almost definitely heard of Christian Trimmer, Editorial Director of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. But he’s also an author, most recently of the picture book Teddy’s Favorite Toy, about a little boy whose favorite toy is a doll. He’s here today to talk about the personal experience that inspired the book and the growing conversation about gender nonconformity.

But first, here’s the book, which released in February and is illustrated by Madeline Valentine:

A mom goes to great lengths to rescue her son’s favorite doll in this delightful tribute to treasured toys—and mothers.

Teddy has a lot of cool toys. But his very favorite doll has the best manners, the sickest fighting skills, and a fierce sense of style.

Then one morning, something truly awful happens. And there’s only one woman fierce enough to save the day. Can Teddy’s mom reunite Teddy with his favorite toy?

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * IndieBound

***

I have a vivid memory from my childhood. I’m five years old, lying in my parents’ bed alone. It’s close to bedtime; my mother is somewhere in the apartment, and my father has yet to return home from work. I am sucking my thumb, an activity that my mom has strictly forbidden but that I just cannot keep from doing (again, I’m five). Suddenly, my dad is in the doorframe of the room, and I instinctively pop my thumb out of my mouth. I know my dad doesn’t really care about the thumb-sucking, but if he tells my mom, I will be yelled at. He gently walks over and kneels in front of me, and as if he knows what I’m thinking, he says, “Let’s make a deal. I won’t say anything about you sucking your thumb as long as you cut out all the girl stuff.”

The “girl stuff.” He means me putting on my mom’s skirts and lipstick and sticking tennis balls in my shirt. He’s talking about my play preferences, particularly my favorite toy, a Wonder Woman doll inspired by the TV series starring Lynda Carter, a doll I just happen to have tucked in beside me. I instantly feel shame, and I give him a nod of ascent. Yes, Dad, I will try to behave less like a girl. (If I have a cornerstone memory, this might be it.) I remember coming home from kindergarten soon thereafter to find her gone, my mom informing me that she had thrown the doll away because one of its legs had broken off. In my mind, I scream, “But I don’t care about the leg—I still love her!”

Though I try to keep my promise to my dad, I fail. But I learn to keep my preferences hidden. I only play with Wonder Woman when I’m alone. I look forward to playdates away from my home, particularly with Muriel, who is French and has all of the Strawberry Shortcake dolls and is happy to share them with a boy. When I play superheroes with the other kids in the neighborhood, I whisper my chosen character—Wonder Woman, naturally—to my brother and him alone. As I get older, I start to collect more gender-appropriate toys: the Masters of the Universe and Thundercats. Teela and Cheetara are my favorites, but it is easy enough to keep that hidden among their all-dude colleagues.

Still, I’m not behaving the way a boy should. I’m teased at school. I try to be what they want me to be and fail again, and the layers of shame are getting deeper. I’m given mixed messages from my mom: “Don’t let their teasing bother you, they’re just jealous. But you better not be gay.” I am gay, and I don’t talk about it in front of her for years to make sure she feels comfortable. That approach—put others comfort before your own—becomes second nature in most of my relationships, personal and professional. It is exhausting.

I just wanted to play with a doll!

Years later, I write a picture book called Teddy’s Favorite Toy about a kid and his favorite doll and their awesome adventures. His mother doesn’t care that he loves this doll—she celebrates it. As I’m working on the manuscript, Target announces that it will stop labeling toys for boys and girls. On the day we announce the deal, Mattel runs a Barbie commercial featuring a boy for the first time. The outrage that accompanies both events is muted by the overwhelming support.

There’s a growing conversation about gender nonconformity. (That’s what I was doing back in the early 1980s—gender nonconforming. I much prefer that expression to “sissy.”) Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article called “Breaking Gender Stereotypes in the Toy Box,” which concluded, “Children are actively seeking clues about what their gender identities mean; toys and play should give them space, not narrow their choices.” Last summer, the Times published an article about “How to Raise a Feminist Son,” which included this very valuable lesson: Let him be himself. Though progress has been made in breaking down gender stereotypes for children, the barriers remain strong, particularly for boys. Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology and gender studies, in a CNN article titled “Why Girls Can Be Boyish but Boys Can’t Be Girlish,” noted, “Women have changed what it means to be a woman and embrace a much larger human canvas. Men are still painting on half the canvas.”

Though I was raised in an era that shunned and shamed its effeminate boys, I found a way to move past traditional ideas of masculinity, to use more of the canvas. Therapy absolutely helped, as did an intelligent, open-minded circle of friends. Living in New York City made everything seem possible—I highly recommend it. Being gay, the ultimate affront to traditional masculinity, revealed to me the limitations put on straight men in terms of the careers they are “allowed” to pursue and the way they approach relationships. I highly recommend it.

I have friends with small children, and it’s amazing to see how gentle and encouraging they are with them. I hope that for every child—that they get to be themselves and experience the world without limits. I wrote Teddy’s Favorite Toy  for all the little kids who maybe like things they’re not supposed to. I wrote it for the parents who allow their kids to explore the world unfettered. Most of all, I wrote it for five-year-old me, who was made to feel ashamed for loving a doll.

***

Christian Trimmer is a children’s book editor and writer. He is the author of Simon’s New BedMimi and Shu in I’ll Race You!Teddy’s Favorite Toy, and Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his partner. Learn more about him, his books, and lots of other things at ChristianTrimmer.com.

Neither Author-Illustrator Airlie Anderson on Creating a Genderfluid Picture Book: a Guest Post

Please welcome author-illustrator Airlie Anderson to the site today to discuss how her picture book, Neither, which has a genderfluid main character, came to be!

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NeitherGrowing up, my sisters and I were lucky enough to have picture books all around us. We each had our own little bookshelf with our favorites stacked inside, and sometimes we got them signed at our local bookshop. (I think I was around eleven when Chris Van Allsburg signed my copies of The Polar Express and Jumanji. I told him I wanted to be an author-illustrator, and he told me I could do it, and to keep at it. I was starstruck.) Our parents never took our picture books away or told us they were “too young” as we got older, and I still haven’t stopped reading or collecting them. I’ve been a picture book reader my whole life, and I’ve been scribbling pictures and stories for just as long.

A few years ago, I had a dream about a multi-hued character with several different animal qualities. When I woke up I thought, “that’s a book idea and it’ll be called Neither.” I don’t usually envision a cover or a title before the book is even written, but that’s what happened with this story. I drew a lot of little Neither doodles and words in my sketchbook in a coffee shop to keep the idea going, then sat down in my studio to really work on it. One day I started scribbling in the early afternoon, and when I looked up again, it was dark outside. It was a “flow” experience, a rare one in which I got totally lost. I love those. They can’t be forced or brought on artificially.

It wasn’t until months later, when I thought back on the dream about the multi-hued character, the sketching that came after, and all the other influences that crossed my path while writing Neither, that I realized something important: around the time I had the initial dream, I had been teaching art classes to an inspiring group of middle schoolers. One of them had been identifying as female, and over the course of the next year, transitioned to identifying as male. The idea of questioning something as ingrained in our society as gender made me think of my characters and story in a new light. My student’s fluidity opened my mind to many different modes of representation and expression.

He also happened to be a creative sketcher, freely scribbling beautiful creatures and characters that made the rest of the class say “how did you do that!” with smiles on their faces (and sometimes their heads on desks, playfully flabbergasted). His ability with art was another inspiring piece of the puzzle—self-expression seemed to flow from him in a way that we should all hope to achieve. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, this student has a remarkable effect on the creation of Neither, who seemed to almost spontaneously generate in my mind. All I had to do was stand aside and let the character hatch.

It wasn’t the only thing that hatched during the making of this book, though. Right when my editor, designer, and I were getting into the heart of Neither, I gave birth to my first baby. I’d known the timing of these things would align, and we could have delayed the book process a bit, but I figured I would just power through. Art school had prepared me for everything, right? And when my husband and I first started to settle in at home with the baby, I thought, “Hey! I still feel like myself!” But in retrospect, I was swirling into a mysterious new world. A terrifyingly cute (there needs to be a word for this) being had come into our lives, and his newborn expressions and proportions somehow worked their way into the book. The new parent sleep deprivation haze removed a lot of my inhibitions, especially concerning the weirdness of the characters. There’s one spread that features the creatures of The Land of All, including a skateboarding narwhal wearing a scarf. I can tell you with confidence that this creature would never have popped into my head if I hadn’t been in a hallucinatory state of mind.

Once I finalized the pencil sketches for all the spreads, it was time for my favorite part of the process, the icing on the cake: painting! By that time, the baby was starting to have a regular(ish) sleeping pattern, so I knew I had a certain chunk of time to work on Neither each night. My chef husband would make snacks for me if I was still working when he got home from the restaurant. Much tea was consumed. (Tip: you’re not in the zone until you almost dip your brush in your tea.) I would set up my paints and palette, turn on NPR or my music, and enjoy the feeling of the paint gliding over the paper. The backgrounds of this book are simple but contain a lot of doodly details, which gave me a meditative feeling as I worked to create a world for the characters and for our readers. As author-illustrator James Marshall once said: “A picture book becomes a whole world if it’s done properly.”

In Neither, the world is “The Land of This and That,” a place where every creature fits squarely into one of two distinct teams: Yellow or blue. Bird or bunny. One or the other. But Neither is a green bird-bunny, or bunny-bird. A birdunny? A bunnird? It’s both. It’s neither. This book is about being in between, about not fitting into a typical category. When I wrote it, I hoped that it wouldn’t end up being tied to any single metaphor, but that each reader would interpret it in their own unique way. People have told me they think the story is about race, gender, social weirdness, or being an outsider. The thing they all agree on, however, is that it’s about inclusion and acceptance.

I try to make books for everyone, but particularly for very young readers, children who need a jumping-off place to start talking about being different, feeling awkward, finding a special spot in the world. Someday my son may experience exclusion or pressure to make a choice one way or the other, when it’s his in-betweenness that should be celebrated. My hope is that a little green bird-bunny’s in-betweenness will resonate with him and with others, and that they will each take comfort in knowing that The Land of All is out there.

Neither is available now!

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * IndieBound 

***

Airlie Anderson_Author PhotoAirlie Anderson is the author and illustrator of Cat’s Colors, Momo and Snap Are Not Friends, and numerous other books for children. She is also the recipient of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, the Independent Publishers Book Award, and the Practical Preschool Award. She grew up in California, graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, and now lives in New Jersey.