Today on the site we’re welcoming Honni van Rijswijk, author of dystopian thriller Breeder, which just released on Tuesday from Blackstone publishing! Honni’s here to talk about the writing process for their novel, the “dark/bleak” elements that dominate it, and why such fiction can be kinda cheering, actually, regarding both their queer sexuality and nonbinary identity. But before we get to that, here’s a little more on the book:
Will Meadows is a seemingly average fifteen-year-old Westie, who lives and works in Zone F, the run-down outermost ring of the Corporation. In the future state of the Corp, a person’s value comes down to productivity: the right actions win units, the wrong ones lose them. If Will is unlucky and goes into unit debt, there’s only one place to go: the Rator. But for Zone F Breeders, things are much worse–they’re born into debt and can only accrue units through reproduction.
Every day in Zone F is a struggle, especially for Will who is fighting against time for access to an illegal medical drug, Crystal 8. Under the cover of night, Will travels to the Gray Zone, where life is less regulated and drugs–and people–are exchanged for gold. There, Will meets Rob, a corrupt member of the Corporation running a Breeder smuggling operation. Will also meets Alex, another teen whom he quickly recognizes as a Breeder in disguise.
Suddenly, Will has an illicit job and money, access to Crystal, and a real friend. As the pair grows closer, Alex shares her secret: she is part of the Response, an uprising to overthrow the Corporation. Caught up in the new friendship, Will and Alex become careless as the two covertly travel into Zone B for a day of adventure. Nothing goes as planned and Will’s greatest fear is realized. Will his true identity be revealed?
My novel Breeder is set in a bleak world. It takes place after a catastrophic environmental apocalypse, where an avaricious corporation has taken control of all resources, and treats all people (except its shareholders) as resources to be used and then discarded. Part of its violence involves the ways it controls people through rigid gender norms–boys/men are only used for labor, and girls/women are only used for reproduction. The main character, a 15-year-old called Will, has to navigate this extreme world and readers witness Will doing so in ways that are often ethically problematic. Why did I want to set up this world, as an author, and what do we gain, as readers, from bleak possibilities and morally gray characters?
I’ve always been drawn to “dark” novels and films–horror, sci-fi, and extreme realism. As readers, we gain a lot from these bleak worlds. Samara Morgan, the vengeful ghost/demon in the horror story THE RING helps us understand the brutal possibilities of the mother/daughter relationship. Serena Joy’s callous upholding of religious and gender norms in The Handmaid’s Tale reveals white women’s complicity in historical oppression. The devastating realist trauma represented in Stone Butch Blues brings home the violence experienced by gender queer people. As a nonbinary person brought up as a girl, I’ve experienced violence based on gender identity and sexuality, and I needed these dark tales as catharsis, recognition and articulation. It has always been a relief to me to see violence I’ve experienced told back to me as stories. Why is this the case? Because these bleak tales offer frameworks of recognition from places that sometimes haven’t been recognised before. They provide us a language of trauma, and also languages of responsibility and accountability–once we have these languages, we can recognise and speak to each other, we can speak back to power. These stories provide ways to call for justice, through the frameworks of revenge, tragedy and revolution.
In Breeder, the main character, Will, is nonbinary, trying to navigate a world that refuses any possibility of gender fluidity and, indeed, any lived experience outside that of being a productive cog within the Corporation. I wanted to explore this extreme world as a way to explore our current world–where we’re absolutely facing environmental collapse, hyper-capitalism and conservative backlash on reproductive freedom as well as LGBTQI rights. Through the character of Will, I wanted to explore what a young person at the intersections of these crisis might do. Will is at the bottom of the class order in the Corp; they are nonbinary, assigned AFAB, and they have no legacy Units. Structurally, everything is against them. I wanted to explore what moral choices a character might make in that situation–will they conform or will they rebel? Will they create alliances with other excluded people, or will they try to make the best of their difficult situation? In Breeder, I set up extreme versions of choices that I, and many LGBTQI people, have had to make throughout our lives. We might not always agree with the choices that Will makes, but hopefully people can empathise with why Will might make these choices. For me, as both a reader and a writer, it’s only in these extreme and bleak worlds that I see versions of my own experience reflected and so I will always seek them out!
Want your own copy of Breeder? The author is giving away two copies, and yes, this giveaway is international! Just comment below with what kind of fiction you gravitate toward for comfort and/or catharsis and we’ll pick two winners on Friday, July 23rd!
Honni van Rijswijk is a writer, lawyer, and academic. Breeder is their debut novel. Their fiction has appeared in Southerly and was short-listed for Zoetrope: All-Story. They are a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney, where their research focuses on intersections between law, technology, and culture. They live in Sydney, Australia, with their partner and daughter.
Today on the site, please welcome Randi Triant, author of the recently released A New Life, to talk about writing fiction from loss. First, here’s more on the book:
Where her sister’s life ends, hers begins.
Tibbie Dyer, an impulsive, forty-three-year-old journalist, fears there is more to the story when Sandy, her gay, older sister, drowns in a boating accident off Cape Cod. As Tibbie hunts down the four survivors, she must confront her own sexuality and strained relationship with Sandy as she finds out whether it was an accident or murder. Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the secrets behind what happened, but also in the damaged lives of everyone else involved.
Luke Blackmore, Sandy’s sexually harassing boss and the boat’s owner, remains at the Manhattan publishing company where Sandy worked. But Penelope Blackmore, Luke’s manipulative daughter and ex-vice president, has fled mysteriously to a deserted mill town with Hayden Pierce, Sandy’s photographer ex-girlfriend. Myles Small, the publisher’s former graphic designer, with his bad stammer and coke habit, is barely surviving in a rundown train boxcar near the accident scene. One by one, Tibbie ferrets out what these survivors are hiding until the shocking conclusion of what it costs her to learn the truth about her sister—and herself.
No one can survive life without tragedy. Some of us even get more than our fair share. Thirty-four years ago, I got mine. I answered my telephone to be told that my eldest brother had died in a boating accident in upstate New York. He drowned, but there were five survivors. I knew at once it would be the defining moment of my life. Yet, how to write about it?
I needed distance before I put pen to paper, so I waited a few years before I wrote a memoir piece about it and my ensuing insomnia and fear of water called “Swimming to Sleep.” It was published in a glossy literary magazine out of the South and was a finalist in a literary competition. I thought that was the end of it.
But it wasn’t.
The fact that there were survivors kept me up at night. My brother had died trying to swim for help when the boat capsized. I began to wonder how the five survivors were able to go on with their lives in the aftermath. What those lives were like.
Then, I realized I wanted to write a story about that. About the what if. That’s the question that fiction (as opposed to memoir) deals with. What if I found those survivors? What would I do then? I didn’t want to do it myself, but I could imagine someone—a fictional character—doing it. My recently released LGBTQ mystery, A New Life, does just that. Tibbie Dyer, an impulsive, forty-three-year-old journalist, fears there is more to the story when Sandy, her gay, older sister, drowns in a boating accident off Cape Cod. As Tibbie hunts down the four survivors, she must confront her own sexuality and strained relationship with Sandy as she finds out whether it was an accident or murder.
I began by asking the question that writers ask themselves when they start a story: That happens and then what? And then? Unlike my own relationship with my brother, I decided that Tibbie’s relationship with Sandy would be fractured for years before the accident, after Sandy came out as a lesbian. But I didn’t want to write a coming out story. Or did I?
At first, I was more interested in delving into the question of how we deal with loss so differently from each other, especially if we are estranged from the person we lose. After someone we love dies, some of us return to our lives, bevering away, within a few days. Others take years, even decades to fully enter life again. Some of us dull the pain of loss with alcohol and drugs. Others decide to train for a marathon. All of that is fodder for characters in fiction.
And what about fictionalizing the different types of guilt we feel after someone we know (or love) dies, especially after an accident? From “I should’ve told her how much I loved her” to “I wish we hadn’t had that argument the last time I saw her.” The different shades of guilt can be as plentiful as our good memories. All of this is to say that loss can be incredibly rich material for developing a character.
I always begin my novels or short stories by writing out character sketches. I want to know not only my characters’ favorite color, but also what motivates them. What has wounded them in the past. What they love. What they fear. Who or what they’ve lost. As I began writing such sketches for Tibbie and Sandy and the other four characters in what would become A New Life, I kept asking myself these questions: How did Sandy’s death change them? What do they feel guilty about in connection with the accident? Because that’s what loss is: gut-wrenching change and guilt.
By the time I finished Tibbie’s sketch, however, I realized I’d been wrong: this was indeed her coming out story, fraught with guilt from her estrangement from her sister. I’d never come out to my brother. I thought I’d have plenty of time for that, but I wouldn’t. As a character, however, Tibbie doesn’t stand in for the me that never was. Her journey discovering her sexuality is all her own.
In the end, the persistent question of “what if” propelled the story along. What if Tibbie tracked everyone down? Would she have any kind of resolution that would allow her to go on without her sister, with her new life? Decades after my brother died, I have at least an imagined answer.
Randi Triant is the author of the novels The Treehouse, selected as an AfterEllen.com ultimate summer read, and A New Life. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals and magazines, including two anthologies of writing about HIV/AIDS, Art & Understanding: Literature from the First Twenty Years of A & U and Fingernails Across the Blackboard: Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDS from the Black Diaspora. She lives with her wife in Massachusetts.
“Am I queer enough?” feels like the question that circulates the most around Pride month, and today on the site, M. Dalto and Laynie Bynum, authors of the brand-new Shakespeare reimagining Fair Youth, are here to talk about just that. Before we get to their post, here’s a little more on the book, which released June 7th from Ninestar Press!
Billie tried to make a small town life as a doctor’s fiancée work for her, but the dream of trading in Kentucky for the glitz and glamor of LA and selling her screenplays was too strong to fight. Unfortunately, the devil hides behind every corner in the City of Angels and she finds nothing but cockroach infested hotel rooms and broken dreams.
Everything changes when she meets an enigmatic and illustrious fellow writer named Kit. Struck with attraction and intrigue, Billie begins to question not only her dedication to her past life, but also her own sexuality. Kit comes with amazing connections and Billie’s work is getting more recognition than ever, until a powerful studio executive sets his sights on more than just her screenplays. His infatuation could cost Billie her career and, maybe, one of them their lives.
One of us is outgoing, the other is terribly shy. One is list-oriented and organized, the other is a hot mess with a soft spot for spontaneity. One of us is super open about their sexuality, the other never talks about it publicly.
You know, like a 21st century odd couple, but with queer authors.
Despite our differences, our fear about writing Fair Youth was the exact same – will they think we’re queer enough?
One of us is a blazing bi-sexual married to a man. The other is demi/bi-romantic. So the answer is obvious, right? We’re queer. We’re part of the community. But we’re both also straight-passing and a lot of times that means we get to experience both not being straight enough for the straights, nor queer enough to have our queerness validated by others in the community.
In the time between the first words being typed and the release of this book:
An author was attacked because she’d never vocally admitted to being queer and made to come out when she wasn’t ready.
There was discourse about bisexual main characters not counting as queer unless they ended up with someone of the same gender.
A reviewer of one of our other books DNF’ed it, gave it one star, and blatantly let their homophobia spew out all over Goodreads because we’d dared to make Beauty fall in love with the French maid instead of the Beast.
A gay NYT best selling author was accused of queerbaiting because a bi-sexual female in one of his books has a male partner.
An agent turned us down because the romance didn’t end up queer enough for them. (Spoiler alert: its hella queer)
Another agent turned us down because it was too queer for their tastes.
We were denied a review from a queer review site because our characters don’t end up in same sex relationships.
One of M.’s other bisexual stories was attacked online and accused of “baiting readers into reading hetero stories”
When we started writing, we knew we would have to muster up bravery that we weren’t sure we had. One of us lives in the Deep South, and (at the time) worked at a company that could (and would) fire her if they found out about this book. Bookstore and library signings are often out of the question for small press books, even more so for books with LGBTQ+ themes. Even our own families and friends would be hesitant to show public support for our book, not only because it was queer but also because of the “spice”.
(Side note: why is hetero sex seen as romance, but Sapphic sex is automatically erotica even when its not graphic?)
We prepared ourselves for these things. We just didn’t know that we would have to prepare ourselves to face so much backlash and scrutiny from our own community.
This book started out as something incredibly fun and light. It was an evolution of completely random Twitter DMs while streaming a TNT show about Shakespeare.
What if Shakespeare was alive today?
What if he was a woman?
What if he and Kit Marlowe had a thing? (BTW: Kit Marlowe is the most punk Elizabethan poet and we will fight anyone about it.)
Approximately half way though we came to an inevitable fork in the road. Stay true to the historical figures we were writing or defy all evidence and come up with something completely new. Basically, let Shakespeare live out his queer, happy life with Kit Marlowe and continue to write beautiful poems about him (the version we wish happened IRL) – or send him back to his wife after Kit perishes under mysterious circumstances (the version that happened IRL).
We found our own workaround that did both (you’ll have to read to find out how!) but that’s when the feelings of inadequacy, fear, and judgement really hit.
Because we knew how it had to end. But we also knew that if people didn’t write us off because we weren’t openly in relationships with the same sex, they’d do it because our characters don’t end up in them.
And that’s not even counting the people that were going to write us off completely because–as one review said–“[they] don’t come to retellings for LGBT stories,” or worse, because they’re just blatantly homophobic.
So why didn’t we give up? It would have been so much more comfortable to leave this story on our hard drives and continue on with our lives. But we knew there had to be more people like us out there. People that have felt like Billie does–like she never even considered her sexuality until Kit challenges it. People that have felt like Kit – out and proud but angry that she has to keep fighting against stereotypes and misogyny. People like us who constantly wondered if they’re queer enough.
So please let this guest post serve as a reminder:
You ARE queer enough
You are worthy of love and art
Your life and sexuality are valid
Pick up a copy of Fair Youth
And just so you are wondering if you are still valid even with the gnawing fear inside you, this is the conversation from the two of us when this blog post was done.
M. Dalto: It’s a harsh truth and reality but there it is
Laynie: I think it’s something that a lot of people like us (and our readers) will relate to.
M. Dalto: Are you ready to out yourself to the literary world?
Laynie: No, but that’s why we wrote the post. Because it doesn’t matter if I’m ready. If we want readers to love our characters, I have to be. And Billie and Kit deserve it.
Co-authors, co-owners, and best friends – M. and Laynie combine their strengths to create queer characters with sass in the contemporary and fantasy genres.
When writing alone, M. is most well-known for her The Empire Series works and Laynie for Adeline’s Aria. Together they have published Faust University and Escaping the Grey through EQP and Fair Youth through Ninestar Press .
When they aren’t crafting their own characters, they are the co-owners of Sword and Silk Books, an independent publishing company focused on engaging stories that empower readers.
If you’ve heard me do a lot of gushing about recent YA release It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland, you know how thrilled I am to have this post. And if you haven’t, please allow me to mention that It Goes Like This is a fabulous multi-POV contemporary that’s perfect for fans of music-centric fiction, friendship-centric fiction, fandom, and oral histories. It’s the closest to Daisy Jones and the Six vibes you’re gonna get in queer YA right now, and there’s Jewish, bisexual, pansexual, and nonbinary rep among others. So what I’m saying is, go check it out immediately. Here, let me help you:
Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph used to think their friendship was unbreakable. After all, they’ve been though a lot together, including the astronomical rise of Moonlight Overthrow, the world-famous queer pop band they formed in middle school, never expecting to headline anything bigger than the county fair.
But after a sudden falling out leads to the dissolution of the teens’ band, their friendship, and Eva and Celeste’s starry-eyed romance, nothing is the same. Gina and Celeste step further into the spotlight, Steph disappears completely, and Eva, heartbroken, takes refuge as a songwriter and secret online fangirl…of her own band. That is, until a storm devastates their hometown, bringing the four ex-best-friends back together. As they prepare for one last show, they’ll discover whether growing up always means growing apart.
And now, here’s Miel Moreland on finding her sexuality through pop culture!
It’s a little cringey to admit now, but the first pop-ish song that made me tear up was “Same Love.” I can remember the moment I first heard it: I was driving home after my internship, sweltering in the business casual clothes I wasn’t yet comfortable in, stuck on 494 but enjoying the Twin Cities radio stations I’d missed during my first year of college in California. At the end of the second verse, Macklemore sings, “No freedom ’til we’re equal / Damn right I support it.” That’s when I was overcome.
It was 2013. A constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage had been rejected by Minnesotan voters the previous fall (including myself, the very first bubble I filled in on my very first ballot), and legalization had been passed in the spring.
I didn’t know I was bi, yet. In high school, I’d attended a Matthew Shepherd vigil with the drama club; I’d participated in Day of Silence, nervous but determined; I’d hidden books about queer history under my bed. I’d even had out queer friends. But that wasn’t me.
Singing along to “Same Love” that summer let me be loud about my support, even if just for myself. I’d spent the whole of my teenage years paranoid people would think I was gay, but there was no one in the car with me to get the so-called wrong impression from my impassioned sing-along.
By the next summer, the featured singer on “Same Love,” Mary Lambert, had a major record deal of her own, and this time my commute embraced her single, “Secrets.” At first, I skipped singing along to a few key lines: “I can’t think straight / I’m so gay.” I wasn’t, so I didn’t feel those were my lyrics to sing. It would be inappropriate, right? Appropriative. But… I was alone in the car. And sometimes, I tried on those lyrics. I sang and I smiled and I laughed a little, a performance I was creating for myself, to minimize where those lyrics lodged a little too authentically in my heart.
If my life and coming out journey were a clear, linear narrative, this is the point at which I’d embrace Tegan and Sara. I’d have to wait a few more years for Hayley Kiyoko and Halsey, but out queer artists already existed in 2014—just rarely in pure pop music.
Despite what writing a music book might imply, I’ve never been a broad listener. I have only ever really needed Taylor Swift. In the fall of 2014, she released “Welcome to New York.” This singer I’d been listening to since middle school, whose original “Picture to Burn” included the revenge line “I’ll tell mine you’re gay,” now sang, “you can want who you want / boys and boys and girls and girls.” And again, I was loud, and again, I was grateful.
Pop music gave me a way to feel happy and whole about queerness, without a requirement to interrogate my own identity before I was ready. And fandom, including fandoms focused on straight artists’ pop music, helped me become ready. In the fandom spaces in which I found myself, queerness was the norm. It was both assumed and celebrated in a way I couldn’t access offline, not yet.
It was in these spaces that I learned how to claim queerness in songs that weren’t necessarily written with us in mind. Being able to sing myself—my whole self—into the kind of music I already loved opened up new avenues of joy. I didn’t change the music I listened to; I just changed how I listened to music. In the words of One Direction, it’s looking at a song straight on and deciding “I’ll make this feel like home.”
These days, there’s significantly more discussion of the ways artists’ “support” can sometimes feel more like a marketing ploy for superficial allyship cookies than true respect and meaningful engagement with the relevant communities. In It Goes Like This, Moonlight Overthrow (the characters’ band) wins the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and one of the characters reflects that, for once, queer people got to win for themselves. It’s a small, narrative subtweet at Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the “Same Love” duo who won Best New Artist on the heels of their debut studio album. To be sure, the other singles from The Heist were commercial hits as well, but it was “Same Love” that was nominated for Song of the Year, and “Same Love” they performed at the ceremony.
My senior year of college, when I was writing the music- and fandom-centric short stories that would eventually lead me to It Goes Like This, I was officially, secretly, questioning. One night, second semester, I started thinking about Mary Lambert and the hook she’d provided for “Same Love.” I’d never heard the full song of hers that grew out of it, so I turned to YouTube and searched for “She Keeps Me Warm.”
You can’t realize you’re bi because of a Mary Lambert music video, I told myself, before pressing play. That would be cliché.
But music had been there for me every other step of the way, and it makes sense that it was there for me at this moment, too. Dancing me toward an embrace with my identity.
It’s been years now since I’ve heard “Same Love.” I’ve traded Macklemore for Mary Lambert and Harry Styles for Halsey. I’m still here queering Taylor’s lyrics, of course, but I’ve also been to a Tegan and Sara concert.
There’s no grand conclusion here about listening to out queer musicians over straight ones or about the genres in which queer artists tend to thrive at different moments in music history. I created Moonlight Overthrow because it was a band I wish I’d had access to in high school, and I wrote It Goes Like This as a thank-you to the music and fandoms that helped me along my way. Music and me, it’s a love story. And I say yes.
Miel Moreland was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With time spent in California and France, she has a Midwestern heart but wandering feet. When not making pop music references and celebrating fandom, she is likely to be found drinking hot chocolate and making spreadsheets. She currently resides in Boston. “It Goes Like This” is her debut novel. For more info, please visit: https://www.mielmoreland.com/
In celebration of Mother’s Day, which is this Sunday in the US, I’m delighted to have Katy Tanis, author and illustrator of board book Love in the Wild, on the site today to share a mini illustrated story about queer family in the wild!
First, a little more about Love in the Wild, which released on January 26, 2021:
The sweet rhyming text in Mudpuppy’s Love in the Wild Board Book highlights the many different types of love that can be found in the animal kingdom! This colorful celebration of love is based on scientists’ observations of same-sex couples, adoption, non-binary gender expression and more. Author-illustrator Katy Tanis is currently earning a MA in Biology from Miami University of Ohio. Her graduate work, partnering with the Wildlife Conservation Society, explores the promotion of conservation biology through art.
Children’s books often show animals living in nuclear family units of one male, one female and their offspring, even when it is not a reflection of that species’ actual behavior. While it’s possible that authors and illustrators try to draw parallels to a human child’s family, it’s not an accurate representation of modern human families, either.
Bear families are frequently featured in children’s books. However, a heterosexual bear pair raising young doesn’t happen in the wild. In fact, mother brown bears view male bears as such a threat, they will move closer to human territories to avoid them. (Both males and females view humans as a threat). Grizzly bear* female pairs, on the other hand, co-parent and raise their young together. About ⅕ of female grizzly bears are thought to participate in same-sex bonding or co-parenting at some point during their life. Cubs view both mothers as their parents. The non-biological mother sometimes nurses the young and may adopt the cubs if her partner dies. About 9% of grizzly bear cubs are raised by 2 or more mothers.
Adult bears do not share hibernating dens. But bonded females have delayed hibernation to spend more time with their partner (and her offspring if she has some), sleeping together outside their dens until hibernation can be delayed no longer. While most bears keep a significant distance between hibernation dens, bonded pairs have been known to move away from their preferred den sites to den closer to their partner.
When we write about animal families for kids, why not look at the actual animal’s behavior for inspiration? Sharing real stories about different species will better reflect the diversity of love, family, and parenting in the human species. For more stories about wild families check out my new book LOVE IN THE WILD published by MUDPUPPY.
*Grizzly bears are North American subspecies of the brown bear.
Bagemihl, Bruce. Biological Exuberance. (Stonewall Inn Editions) St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2000.
I’m asked often for fiction that deals with recovery, and I haven’t had many recs to offer; it’s not rep to take lightly. So when Gideon E. Wood approached me with a guest post about exactly that, tied to the release of his brand-new fantasy, The Stagsblood Prince, I jumped at it, and I hope you love it as much as I do.
Before we get to the post, here’s a little more about The Stagsblood Prince, a gay fantasy epic trilogy opener set in a homophobia-free world:
Tel, handsome crown prince of Feigh, has negotiated an end to the war between his country and the strange queendom of Omela. He looks forward to an easy reign of wild parties and wilder men. The deities have other ideas, however, in this gay fantasy novel of transformation, redemption, and love.
When his father dies suddenly, Tel is outmaneuvered by his brother, losing the throne. Tel’s faith prohibits him from raising his sword and spilling blood, so he accepts the humiliation, working to temper his brother’s baser impulses. But the new king’s reign takes a dark turn, and his collaborators begin to round up undesirables, including those with a magic called the stagsblood.
Tel must decide: Flee or fight? Running means abandoning his people to his brother’s evil whims. Standing his ground means the sin of total war. He has no army and only a few allies—and his magical secret.
Caip, his closest friend and protector, brings military experience and blunt advice. Her right hand, Dar, is the picture of loyalty. Tough, battle-scarred Bin doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And Vared, a mysterious singer-turned-diplomat from Omela, speaks the truth to Tel in ways no one else can.
White. American. Cisgender. Male. Gay. Queer, in my more festive moments. Writer. Progressive. Cat dad. Frequent smirker. Fallen vegan. I suppose I could sit here for hours bullet-pointing my identity. With enough thought, I could get incredibly granular about it. It might even be fun. But there’s one aspect of my identity—one bullet point—before which I put all others: I’m a person in addiction recovery. If I want to be a shade more clinical about it (and why not?), I’m a person with substance use disorder in sustained remission. Fancy!
My understanding of how addiction works (booze and powder cocaine, primarily, if you must know) forces me to—mindfully and regularly—own my recovery before any other aspect of my identity. I drank-and-used myself into homelessness and suicidality, so it is quite literally a matter of life and death for me. So, more than I ponder my race and what it means, more than I ponder my nationality and what it means, more than I ponder even my dude-on-dudeness and what it means, I must ponder my addiction and what it means. This approach has served me well over the last (oh, my gods!) decade, so I have no interest in switching it up. I don’t want to drink. I don’t want to use. I don’t want to die.
When you think about our expanding string of letters (LGBTQ+ is not really an acronym, let alone LGBTQQIP2SAA+…don’t get me started), I’d ask you to imagine a superscript lowercase r—for recovering or recovery available—attached to each. We’re here. We’re queer (or whathaveyou). Even within our community, we are not yet used to it. I find this shocking.
If we take a few minutes to consider it, most of us will intuitively understand that substance use disorder runs rampant through our private and public LGBTQ+ spaces. If your own anecdotal evidence fails to convince you (and good on ya for that, really), rest assured: the research has been done. Among others, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) acknowledge significantly higher rates of substance use disorder in the LGBTQ+ population. The reasons for this prevalence are probably self-evident: trauma, rejection, domestic strife, stigma, the risk of assault, and so on. And it’s not only addiction. These factors seem to increase risk for all manner of mental or behavioral health difficulties for us. Sadly, the science has also found serious gaps in treatment and support services for our community.
Most of us already believe representation matters. Again, the evidence is there, both anecdotally and in the research. Visibility improves our physical and mental safety, along with our feelings of wellbeing. Whatever our place in our long string of letters, our stories are not told frequently enough. In recent years, we have seen improvement on that front. We are raising our voices, finally. And some are learning to listen.
But where’s my lowercase r? Where’s the representation of queer addiction and—even more importantly, I’d argue—queer recovery? Both our guts and our sociology tell us we should be seeing those stories more than we do. We should be hearing those voices begin to rise. They are there, if we really search and listen, but they are few and far between. When I do encounter them, they tend to be in memoir or narrative nonfiction, and usually depictions of folks in the thick of it. What about after the thick of it? Especially in fiction. And I’m sorry, but I was a mess for a really long time, then I walked into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and all was well does not cut this particular mustard. As we say in recovery circles, we don’t wander into the dark heart of the wilderness for twenty years and then find ourselves safe and comfy at home the moment after we’ve realized we’re lost. It takes time. It takes work. It’s a hike. (Incidentally, I’m sure these stories are out there somewhere, so get in touch! I anxiously await your recs.)
I write fantasy with LGBTQ+ characters. When planning my debut, The Stagsblood Prince, I knew I wanted my main character to represent not just queerness but queerness in motion from active addiction to sustained recovery. Fantasy may not seem like a natural fit for such storytelling, but like all other human foibles and frailties, addiction and recovery are highlighted and brought into crisp relief when placed before a fantastical backdrop of myth and magic.
In fact, the genre may be more suited than most to lift these stories up. I had my own path to putting down substances and my own path to not picking those substances back up for a long while now. There are as many of these roadways as there are people in recovery. My approach may not work for you. We’ve found no silver bullets in the mountain of strategies, but plenty of overlap. Commonalities—shared principles—can be found among the many and varied recovery schools of thought.
Prince Tel of The Stagsblood Prince cannot walk into a Twelve Step meeting or secular support group. Such spaces do not exist in his world. He can’t Zoom with his therapist. There is no Zoom. There are no therapists. He has no psychopharmacology of which to avail himself. Inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, hospitalization? Nope.
What, then, can Prince Tel do? He can learn to practice the principles of treatment and recovery which keep millions of people (the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services says it’s about 23.5 million in the US alone) away from substances here on non-fantasy earth. Tel can tend to his physical, mental, and spiritual health in myriad ways. He can foster habitual gratitude. He can strive for honesty in all matters. He can lessen his burdens by sharing his struggles with others. He can interrogate himself and uncover the flawed thinking at the heart of his troubles. Most importantly, he can learn to ask for help when he needs it. And he’ll need it! He’s got love to find and a world in need of saving.
First and foremost, I hope The Stagsblood Prince entertains. As I see it, that’s my job. In my wilder dreams, though, at least one of you will see yourself represented in Tel and his journey. If you’re finding your use of alcohol or other substances problematic today, maybe you’ll see that recovery is possible. Believe me, the aforementioned asking for help stuff is powerful medicine. (SAMHSA and NIDA are good starting points for resources. My inbox is also always open.) If you’re already on the road, maybe Tel will keep you walking for a while.
We’re here. We’re queer. We are more likely to find ourselves in addiction. We are just as likely as anyone to recover. It’s well past time to get used to it.
Gideon E. Wood writes gay fantasy fiction. He has been proudly clean and sober since 2011. Second chances and transformation are at the heart of his work. Gideon lives in New England with his cat but thinks it’s important you know he isn’t a cat person.
Fun fact: one of the last things I did before the pandemic hit was have lunch with this author, so you can say I’ve been looking forward to this book for a loooong time. Maxine Kaplan’s Wench releases today from Amulet/Abrams, and here’s the story:
Tanya has worked at her tavern since she was able to see over the bar. She broke up her first fight at 11. By the time she was a teenager she knew everything about the place, and she could run it with her eyes closed. She’d never let anyone—whether it be a drunkard or a captain of the queen’s guard—take advantage of her. But when her guardian dies, she might lose it all: the bar, her home, her purpose in life. So she heads out on a quest to petition the queen to keep the tavern in her name—dodging unscrupulous guards, a band of thieves, and a powerful, enchanted feather that seems drawn to her. Fast-paced, magical, and unapologetically feminist, Wench is epic fantasy like you’ve never seen it before.
And here’s Maxine, with a guest post that’s very close to my heart about finding herself through writing Wench and its bi main character!
I started writing Wench with a clear and deeply-held agenda: There would be no romance.
It’s not something I talked about a lot. When I talked about the book, I talked about my simultaneous love for and frustration with classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy; I talked about how I wanted to flesh out fantasy archetypes with humor and humanity; and I mostly talked about my titular tavern wench, Tanya, and how I’d never seen that ubiquitous non-playable background character get to have her own adventure, or even a name most of the time. What I didn’t say was that I was determined to get Tanya through one (1) whole entire epic quest without the interference or influence of a love interest.
I thought of it as a secret mission. I knew how much readers, and especially readers of YA fantasy, expected at least a glimmer of romantic or sexual tension, and I didn’t want to turn them off before they even cracked the spine. But it was that very expectation of romance that bothered me. I hated the expectation that a girl couldn’t have an epic adventure without falling in love along the way. I cringed at the idea of Tanya achieving self-discovery and actualization through the medium of who she wanted to kiss. It felt wrong to me—even anti-feminist. I loathed the idea that something I wrote could reinforce the message that young people receive every day that says: You are nothing and no one until somebody wants to make out with you.
Tanya was going on a quest to win back her tavern. The world I had devised and the story engine I had built didn’t need any romance to make it go. And I was determined that I wouldn’t shoe-horn in a romance (and especially not a love triangle) just to fit the market—because Tanya deserved better, damn it!
And then Tanya taught me that I was wrong. Because, despite my clear intentions to the contrary, two characters showed up who would just not stop having chemistry with Tanya. One was a boy and he was very much within my own crush wheelhouse historically speaking: smart, funny, and angry. I think I just liked writing him and, slowly, he and Tanya fell into chemistry, like real people do. It was quiet, but it was on the page. I couldn’t deny it.
The other was a girl and nothing in my own writing has ever surprised me more.
This girl was always part of the story, for sure. She had been in my outline from go. I knew she was a happy-go-lucky rogue; a thief who loved violence and smiled a lot. So that’s how I wrote her and, without my even having to try, she and hyper-competent, independent, snarky Tanya smacked into each other with the electricity of a lightning storm. Writing good sexual tension—satisfying, believable tension–is hard to do. I know it is, because I’ve tried to do it. But with these two, I didn’t have to try. I didn’t even think about it, not once. It just was.
It got to the point that my strict avoidance of any mention of romance was rendering the story legitimately confusing for any reader. That’s how clear the chemistry between these two was—the completely unplanned, unlooked for, and even unwanted chemistry. But however inadvertent the romance between the two girls was, I eventually had to own up to a simple fact: I wrote it, so I was invested in it.
I grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s as a cis female. It was a time when calling oneself bisexual had a lot of cultural connotations that I was frankly uncomfortable with. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I had a lot of internalized biphobia. I remember being “scared” that I might be attracted to girls—because, sometimes, I was. But I was also attracted to guys. I had no confusion on that score, so I quietly filed all the moments of attraction to girls away in a mental folder labeled “anomalies” and got on with my life as a straight woman.
That was a mistake. That was short-sighted. I wish that, when I was Tanya’s age, I had paid better attention to who and what I actually was: queer. And the thing is? I think that if I had been Tanya’s age today, in 2021, I wouldn’t have had that problem. Because I would have had books like the ones LGBTQReads writes about every day.
And that’s how I came around on romance in my YA. Wench is a book, at its heart, about found families and finding community, which in and of itself, is a process hardwired to identity. You can’t find where you belong without knowing who you are. And you can’t find out who you are by shutting down, or shutting out, the voices in your head telling you who you want. A good book romance isn’t about finding a partner; it’s about a character learning more about themselves, and, sometimes, a romance—whether it’s successful, disastrous, or unrequited— can help with that process. It can be a means to an end as much as it can be its own happily ever after.
The romance I found in Wench helped me remember who I was. It reminded me to honor what has always been true about me. And there’s nothing anti-feminist about that.
Maxine Kaplan is a private investigator and writer. Her books are The Accidental Bad Girl and Wench. She lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY, where she caters to the whims of her dim, but soulful cat. Follow her on Twitter @maxinegkaplan.
I am delighted to welcome Reverie author Ryan La Sala to the site today to celebrate the publication of his dazzling new contemporary YA romance, Be Dazzled, which just released from Sourcebooks Fire yesterday! Before we get to Ryan’s absolutely hilarious and marvelously on-point post, here’s a little more about the book:
Raffy has a passion for bedazzling. Not just bedazzling, but sewing, stitching, draping, pattern making–for creation. He’s always chosen his art over everything–and everyone–else and is determined to make his mark at this year’s biggest cosplay competition. If he can wow there, it could lead to sponsorship, then art school, and finally earning real respect for his work. There’s only one small problem… Raffy’s ex-boyfriend, Luca, is his main competition.
Raffy tried to make it work with Luca. They almost made the perfect team last year after serendipitously meeting in the rhinestone aisle at the local craft store–or at least Raffy thought they did. But Luca’s insecurities and Raffy’s insistence on crafting perfection caused their relationship to crash and burn. Now, Raffy is after the perfect comeback, one that Luca can’t ruin.
But when Raffy is forced to partner with Luca on his most ambitious build yet, he’ll have to juggle unresolved feelings for the boy who broke his heart, and his own intense self-doubt, to get everything he’s ever wanted: choosing his art, his way.
And here’s Ryan’s post, an unofficial ranking of queer villains! Take it away, Ryan!
As persistent as the fatiguingly masculine stalwart hero is the trope of their devious counterbalance—the bad guy who is effeminate, dramatic, and sassy. Wickedly fashionable. Prone to monologues. And, of course, queer-coded to hell. That’s right! Today, we’re talking about the Queer Villain.
A lot, and I mean a LOT, has been written about queer villainy. Its toxic recurrence as lazy storytelling shorthand in narrative arts, its destructive repercussions on the psyche of queer youth, and so on. That’s all good and well and important, but I’d like to take a brief break from the discourse to approach the subject from a different point of view—one of glorious appreciation.
You see, I love queer villains. I practically am one myself, what with all the velvet capes and cackling behind large paper fans. Growing up, I saw these characters not as destructive stereotypes but as answers to the question society kept asking little gay me: How will you survive a society that won’t accept you? What does an intolerant world deserve?
Queer villains answer this in their every action and inevitable yet fabulous failure, and I often root for them. When you understand a villain as queer, a lot of what they do to undermine the status quo starts to make a lot more sense. And so here I go with my unofficial ranking of my top queer villains.
1. HIM (The Powerpuff Girls) — The undeniably BEST queer villain is, of course, HIM. Flamboyant, powerful, and constantly high-kicking in thigh-high spiked heels, HIM is an aspiration in red, a demonic Santa Claus in satanic satin. My personal hero, and the tippity top of my queer, villainous Christmas tree.
2. Ursula (The Little Mermaid) — This is a no-brainer. Ursula is quite literally based on Divine the drag queen. Because of her, for years, I begged my dad to buy me a birdbath (which is what I thought Ursula’s cauldron looked like) so I, too, could trick pretty girls into depending on me for bad boy advice and potions. And never have I forgotten the importance of body language, ha!
3. The Grinch (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas) — I think the Grinch is queer. I really do. Disagree? Well then, riddle me this: Have you ever seen a straight person stitch together an entire costume just to center themselves at a holiday party? That’s what I thought. Oh, and let’s not forget the emblematic image of the Grinch plucking bobbles from a Christmas tree using those long, furry fingers. That wrist looks preeetty limp to my little gay eye.
4. Mystique (X-Men) — Mystique is canonically queer, but who needs the canon when you are quite literally the icon of shapeshifting disguises, gender fluidity, and a swept-back hairdo dyed lesbian crisis red? Plus, she has the one power every little gay boy is drawn to: absurd flexibility and a fighting style that incorporates senseless gymnastics.
5. Azula (Avatar: The Last Airbender) — Reading Azula as queer was a personal choice right up until she decided to give herself asymmetrical bangs. Then it was canon.
6. Bugs Bunny — Stylish, annoying, and cross-dressing for theatrical antics, Bugs was an early model for the infinite ways we, as queer people, may outsmart and belittle those who invade our spaces in the name of the hunt. Was Bugs petty? Yes. Iconically so. And that’s why they’re on this list.
7. Team Rocket — Messy, dramatic, and constantly in costume, Team Rocket is the queer found family we all make fun of but are actually a part of. I mean, Jessie’s mullet defies gravity, and James never misses a chance to get into drag. And the gayest thing of all? They take orders from their cat.
8. Rita Repulsa — Is Rita queer? I have no idea. Do I unflinchingly embrace the daydream in which she’s my lesbian aunt who brings her roommate over for holiday meals and buys me Sailor Moon action figures even though my parents insist I’ll grow out of my “doll phase” soon? Absolutely.
9. Jafar (Aladdin) — Jafar is adored, yet I still believe he’s deserving of more credit for all he’s done for queer villainy. We need to talk about the wingtip eyeliner. And the perplexingly eccentric choice to imprison Jasmine in a kitschy hourglass. And the fact that the moment he got ultimate power, he gave himself a beefy chest and black acrylic nails. I would make all those choices too.
10. The Trunchbull (Matilda) — Olympian, educator, chocolate lover. The range of this butch icon goes on and on, much like the children she catapults into the sky. Somehow, that feels a little gay too. I’m still not sure why.
11. Yzma & Kronk (The Emperor’s New Groove) — This duo is everything a queer duo should be. Fashionably costumed, theatrically incompetent, and rife with miscommunications that get people turned into llamas.
12. Lady Deathstrike (X-Men) — If you were in the theater with me when I saw Lady Deathstrike bare her indestructible nails, you watched my life change. Sure, she probably is not queer herself, but there is nothing gayer than using your adamantium manicure to skewer Hugh Jackman. Quote me on that.
13. Cheryl Blossom (Riverdale) — I knew Cheryl was queer from episode one. I’ve never known a straight person to combine ambition, charisma, and tartan skirts so well. And, spoiler alert: Cheryl has since been treated to a lesbian love story on Riverdale, and I’m happy for her.
14. Gaston — Bi. Bi as hell. If Gaston isn’t bisexual, explain the brandishing pectorals furred in hair. Explain the flourish of pride when he sings “I use antlers in all of my decorating.” Explain how he instantly knew how to use that gay little hand mirror to telephone our hound-face hottie, the Beast? I have talked to Gaston on Grindr, and he is not nice. But he is queer.
15. Shego (Kim Possible) — I don’t know if you know this, but Shego, the very cool and very bored nemesis of Kim Possible, received her powers when she was exposed to…a rainbow-hued comet. So. There you have it.
16. Barbara Covett (Notes on a Scandal) — Okay, here we have a literal queer villain. I won’t say much because you need to hear it all from Barbara yourself. Her acidic wit, her shrewd fixation on Cate Blanchett, and the fact that she is unrelentingly writing to you through a diary should be all you need to know to seek out the movie Notes on a Scandal or the book it’s based on by Zoë Heller. I highly recommend both.
17. SpongeBob SquarePants (SpongeBob SquarePants) — Don’t laugh. Don’t you dare laugh. It is absolutely undeniable that SpongeBob is chaotic evil. He ruins everything, compulsively. And anyone who pretends their nose is a piccolo in their theme song? And lives in a pineapple? SpongeBob may just be the scariest person on this list.
18. Scar (The Lion King) — Big goth kitty with a smoky eye and a large following kept in line by witty retorts they have no hope of understanding? And the affected accent? We never see Scar with a love interest, but I have more than enough evidence to fortify my head canon in which Scar summers in Andalucía with another male lion named Marc.
19. Skeletor (Masters of the Universe) — Look no further than Skeletor’s fashion if you’re wondering why he’s on this list. A harness…with a hood? A loin cloth….over briefs? Knee-high boots…with a sensible heel? This sort of describes everyone in the Masters of the Universe universe, which is all the more reason for me to keep on believing Skeletor is my eventual final form.
20. Jareth (The Labyrinth) — What can be said about Jareth that hasn’t already been said by David Bowie’s prominent pelvis presented to a crowd of puppets? It’s offensive to even ask me to explain Jareth’s inclusion.
21. Dr. Frank-N-Furter (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) — I’m shivering with antici…patory fear that adding Dr. Frank-N-Furter to this list is going to get me in trouble. But I must! There’s a lot to overlook, yes, but if it means I get to appreciate a sissy in STEM who pulls off a lab coat and pearls, it will have all been worth it.
22. Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) — There is a STRONG case for Maleficent’s queerness. Firstly, her best friend is a bird. Second, I’ve never seen a straight person successfully pull off purple and neon green. And lastly, I truly cannot think of anything gayer than showing up to a straight baby shower bearing the gift of curses and then the curse itself is along the lines of “I’m going to give your child a fascination with old-timey sewing machines.”
23. Every other Disney villain — I have a hard time thinking of a single Disney villain that isn’t, in my gay little head, super queer.
24. Every villain from Sailor Moon — That’s right. All of them. Even the weekly monsters. I can’t quite explain why, but there’s something SO self-explanatorily queer about a monstrous, sexy vacuum lady. And the sexy pegasus carousel man. And the fact that every person in Sailor Moon, except for the sailor scouts themselves, gets to use dark magic while wearing couture.
25. Sinister (X-Men) — Often overlooked but absolutely deserving of a spot on this list is Sinister, a baddie who wears a cape made out of ribbons and hasn’t quite found the right foundation to match their icy undertones. And if you want to know Sinister’s power, they themselves will tell you that it’s “overthrowing tyrants and being absolutely fabulous.”
26. Xerxes (300) – When I first saw Xerxes, I had no idea what to think other than “this movie is about the wrong person.” I like the whole hero journey, but if given the choice between a buff guy with airbrushed abs versus a person who shows up to war wearing every accessory they own? I’m going with the warlord who just pillaged Claire’s. Sorry.
27. Snow Miser (The Year Without Santa Claus) — Anyone who makes you watch a whole dance number before agreeing to help you is, by definition, a queer hero, but technically, Snow Miser is kinda bad. I guess. But the little hat! The gleeful pride in being “too much!” We should be encouraging this.
Ryan La Sala writes about surreal things happening to queer people. He is the author behind the riotously imaginative Reverie, and the brilliantly constructed Be Dazzled, both of which made the Kids’ Indie Next List. He has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Tor.com, and one time Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race called him cute! Ryan is also the co-host the Celebrity Book Club Podcast, and a frequent speaker at events/conferences. When not writing, Ryan does arts and crafts and, if he’s lucky, he sometimes remembers to film his escapades for his long-suffering YouTube channel subscribers.
Today on the site I’m delighted to welcome Kellie Doherty, author of the recently released romantic fantasy Curling Vines and Crimson Trades! She’s here to talk abut the importance of writing (and reading) fantasy during a pandemic! Which, you know, just happens to be what we’ve got going on in the world right now.
Take it away, Kellie!
You know that little meme of the dog drinking tea and sitting in a burning room while saying “everything is fine”—yeah, we’re all that little dog. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on our lives and stress levels through the roof, it really does seem like everything is on fire, and quite frankly, everything hasn’t been fine. Shifting to telework, closing our bubbles, kids homeschooling, isolation, jobs lost, lives lost, constant worry…this year has been hellish, and the whole world will be overjoyed to see 2020 get yeeted on New Year’s Eve. Thankfully a vaccine is finally on the horizon but even then, it’ll take time for things to get back to “normal.” Suffice it to say, it’s been…a year.
But you know what kept me going throughout this historic and horrifying time?
Yup, that’s right.
When the world was (and in most cases, still is) falling apart at the seams, fantasy was a great escape for me. Writing about glowing eyes and rust-orange swords became the thing I gravitated toward when the COVID cases hit too close to home or when the news shouted about limited hospital beds. Reading about dragons and journeys and the friends found along the way became the blanket I tucked myself under when the world was too scary, too stressful, too…everything this year.
To put it simply, fantasy became my Important Thing. While other people were baking sourdough bread to relieve stress, I was frantically working on my fantasy book Curling Vines & Crimson Trades, joining my character as one single moment changed her whole life and set her on an adventure filled with magic, mayhem, and mythological beasts. A journey that would alter her irrevocably. While my friends were playing games about island adventures with animal villagers or committing spaceship murder rampages (both still speculative escapism, by the way), I dove deep into reading Priory of the Orange and found myself tugged along with the characters and tugged out of the real world for a while.
Because that’s what fantasy does. It helps us escape. That’s why it’s so important. While I’m mostly talking about writing and reading fantasy here, there’s also a whole horde of other fantasy-type “escapes” like television, movies, podcasts, games, and other artistic expressions that falls into this category as well. Fantasy has permeated our society in the best way and for me, it’s become the perfect way to disconnect from the horror of the year. Why? Because it ticks literally all the boxes of what we can’t do right now during the pandemic.
We can’t travel. We can’t see our friends the way we want to. We can’t frequent our usual coffee shop haunts. We can’t live our lives the way we’ve become accustomed to.
But because I read fantasy stories and I write fantasy novels, I can! Kind of, anyway.
I can go on long journeys and see new things—cities, wonders of nature, ancient ruins. I can experience adventure and come across magical creatures, meeting new people and cultures along the way. I can sit in a tavern with some favorite characters. I can create swords infused with moonlight magic or make healers who can cure the sick with a single touch. I can live a normal (to their world) life with the characters of the story. And I really appreciate that.
Fantasy stories also have an “adventure thrust upon the characters” kind of feel where the characters lives are turned upside down, and they must navigate rough waters. The characters are broken and bruised and might’ve even lost friends or family along the way, and they’ve been transformed by their adventures. But they survived. I appreciate that too, now more than ever.
What I really enjoy, is that no matter if the real world is sunshine and daisies or if it’s falling to pieces, no matter where I am in my own headspace, fantasy takes me someplace else every single time. And don’t even get me started on the nostalgia factor of reading childhood favorites! Writing fantasy is also my way of analyzing what’s happening in the real world and pinning down what really matters in the end—family and friends. (Annnnd it’s also a lot of fun for me, too!)
So wherever you are, pick up a fantastical novel you’ve been wanting to read or try your hand at penning that flash fiction piece niggling your mind. Step into another world for a while to decompress from ours. I know you’ll enjoy the adventure!
About the Book
Rare goods trader Orenda Silverstone leads a happy life with her wife and friends. She’s an Elu—a race whose crafting is centered on protection—but her power is broken. Now, her sword is her strength. When her wife gets kidnapped and Orenda has to use her trading skills to complete some nearly impossible tasks to get her back, a good sword arm won’t be enough. Orenda’s time is rapidly coming to a close. She needs help.
But she’s been forced into silence. Two sun goddess worshippers, twins Lan and Lyra, decide to join Orenda’s quest in order to guard one of the rarer items to its destination. Orenda’s not sure she can turn her back on either one, but with no other options, she competes against the sunrises to complete her tasks before her wife is killed.
Then, the unthinkable happens. Orenda’s best friend, Jax, tries to kill her.
Between racing against the coming dawns and battles at every turn, Orenda’s list now seems insurmountable. No longer certain of who is friend or foe, she must come up with a plan to save them all before the sun rises on her wife’s final day.
Kellie Doherty is a queer science fiction and fantasy author who lives in Eagle River, Alaska. When she noticed that there wasn’t much positive queer representation in the science fiction and fantasy realms, she decided to create her own! Kellie’s work has been published in Image OutWrite 2019, Astral Waters Review, Life (as it) Happens, and Impact, among others. Her adult sci-fi debut novel—Finding Hekate—came out in April 2016 from Desert Palm Press and the sequel—Losing Hold—came out in April 2017. She’s currently working on a five-book adult fantasy series. The first book Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties released in March 2019 from Desert Palm Press and won a 2019 Rainbow Award. The second book Curling Vines & Crimson Trades is launching later this year! An excerpt from Curling Vines won first place in an Alaska Writers Guild Fiction contest in 2020.
I’m so excited to welcome A Curse of Roses author Diana Pinguicha back to the site today to celebrate the release of her debut, and to discuss the delicious food in it! The f/f YA fantasy just released yesterday from Entangled Teen, and if you click on the title above, you can check out the first two chapters right here on LGBTQReads. Already read and loved them? Then read on to learn about its culinary delights!
Disclaimer: I love food. I’ve always loved cooking, and baking, and some of my best memories are with my grandma Nini, who was an out-of-this-world cook. I still think she had some sort of magic in her, because every dish she touched came out delicious. She was also notoriously bad about writing down her recipes, because, well… she didn’t follow any, not really. Portuguese people don’t do measuring cups, or instructions when cooking—we just throw stuff in with confidence and whatever happens, happens.
And, in true grandmother fashion, she’d feed me until I dropped. Much to my mom’s chagrin, since I was obese as a child, and whenever I went to my nana’s I’d come back much heavier than when she dropped me off. I believe Nana’s overfeeding came from the fact that she, much like the rest of my family, starved during the dictatorship, and once she had access to food, she saw no reason not to overindulge. There would be times when I’d cry because I wasn’t supposed to be eating so much. But my nana always made me feel at ease about my weight and appetite. She said, “Fat isn’t ugly, and you’re always so happy when you eat. So eat!”
That was another aspect of her that I thought was magical. She cared only for my happiness. She was the only one who never judged me for being “a difficult kid” and would always be kind to me, even when I wasn’t kind to myself. She was also the only person who would let me just be. If I wanted to be left alone in a corner to read, or play video games, she’d let me. If I wanted to hijack the kitchen to make desserts (which she did not like to make) she’d let me. Really, I don’t have enough words to express how much I love her and miss her, and how utterly good she was.
Now that my nana has passed, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to replicate what she’d serve me. The taste is still vivid in my memories, and if I close my eyes, I can remember what her chickpea stew tasted like, her ensopado, her migas. More than anything, I wanted to honor the memories of the food she made me, and because A CURSE OF ROSES takes place in Alentejo, it was the perfect opportunity to highlight the gastronomy of my home region. I’ve mentioned above that people from my family largely starved during the dictatorship, and it’s true for a lot of Alentejo and other interior regions. The way Alentejanos had of making their food last was to add the stale bread they had lying around, and for that reason, a lot of our dishes include it. And since Isabel of Aragon’s miracle involved turning bread into roses—which was another great excuse to go all-in on Alentejo cuisine.
During my research, I also found that many Alentejo dishes have their origin with the Moors. The chickpea stew my nana made? A variation of what is now the Moroccan Harira. The broas? They’re a variation of the Arabic ghoribas. The Encharcada? It’s a variant of Qalb El Louz. The Almendrados? They’re remarkably like the Mlouwza. Which, at a time when people are trying to erase our Moor past, seemed very important for me to include.
So, the gastronomy in ACOR? It’s everything I grew up eating.
There’s açorda (which I stylized as assorda, since medieval serigraphy didn’t have the ç), which is an inexpensive dish that fed my family many a times, and that we make together every Christmas Eve at 3 am. All you need for it is garlic, cilantro, olive oil, stale bread, eggs, and boiling water. Eggs aren’t really mandatory, though. And, if you’re feeling fancy, you can add some fish such as cod.
The chickpea stew (Cozido de Grão), which is made with chickpeas, and a lot of other vegetables, such as kale, carrots, and so on. It’s also usually cooked with meat, and my grandma did it with pork. When I was younger and had textural issues with all the different veggies, she’d also pass it through an immersion blender so I could eat it, and whenever my parents told her not to, she’d just give them a smile and say, “It’s two minutes of my time, and if this helps her eat better, I’m doing it.”
Pork is another big player in Alentejo gastronomy. I mention the slaughter season in ACOR, and it’s another thing I’ve lived with. Every February, my grandparents would slaughter a pig, and the neighbors would help them with several cuts, sausages, and so on. No part of the pig went to waste—not even the blood, which is used in some dishes and sausages. The things we made with a single pork would last us almost an entire year, and in older times, the chouriço, and the toucinho, and all that, would be used as something to trade for. It was also not uncommon to have a pig the entire neighborhood took care of, and then divided come slaughter. I do not miss that part of the year, and I haven’t eaten pork in over a decade—but it plays a huge part in our gastronomy, and so, I included it.
Then there is Migas, which is literally bread you throw into a pan, and then water until it breaks up. Some people will also add the fat that’s leftover from cooking the pork—but again, I don’t eat pork, so I actually use regular water and fry it in a bit of olive oil and garlic.
Conventual sweets also make an appearance. There’s Rala Bread (Pão de Rala), which is essentially, flour, sugar, and eggs. There are also Gadanhas, native to my hometown of Estremoz, and they’re based on eggs and almonds.
There’s another aspect I had to consider, and that was what kind of food would be available to you depending on social class. Commoners would be mostly vegetarian, save for the aforementioned pork days and the occasional chicken, or some animal they hunted, as commoners were allowed to hunt in their Lords’ lands in times where food was scarce. Hunting was also another way my family had to feed themselves during the dictatorship (and they kept ferrets solely for the purpose of hunting rabbits!) Meanwhile, the nobility would be gorging on everything, from wine and meats. Sweetwater fish are also part of Alentejo gastronomy, like the boga and the bordalo—fish that are slowly disappearing because of the pollution in our rivers.
There were other dishes I wanted to include, but couldn’t due to the fact that the ingredients were not native to Europe, and could not be realistically delivered. The Tomato Soup (Sopas de Tomate) was one, as were the pumpkin Dreams (Sonhos), and the Ensopado (because it requires potatoes), and the tomatada (that’s when you cook in a delicious tomato sauce—my nana learned to make that especially for me). I also could not include cod-based dishes, which was a shame, but alas. Hopefully there will be other books set in more modern times, where I can highlight those as well.
And I hope this blog post has piqued your curiosity in our humble Alentejo food! I promise it’s as delicious as it sounds!
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Born in the sunny lands of Portugal, Diana grew up in Estremoz, and now lives in Lisbon with two extremely fluffy cats and one amazing bearded dragon. A Computer Engineer graduate from Instituto Superior Técnico, she has worked in award-winning educational video games, but writing is where her heart always belonged. When she’s not working on her books, she can be found painting, immersed in books or video games, or walking around with her dragon.