Category Archives: Guest post

Emi Louise Croucher Talks The Butterfly on Fire, a Novel of Being Transgender Before Transitioning

Here at LGBTQReads, we aim to provide a spot where authors of books that rarely get promo space can discuss their books, whether already published or upcoming. The Butterfly on Fire by E.L. Croucher is a case of the former, having been self-published on May 2, 2017, and to talk about it, she’s written a guest post in the form of a self-interview.

Before we get to that, here’s some more on the book:

The Butterfly on Fire is the story of three different lives, each linked together by a tragic, unchanging truth.

Eric is growing up and realising how different he is to those around him. How much longer can he hide from himself?

Beam is trying to balance work and romance like everyone else living in London. When embarking on such a journey, anything could happen.

Fubuki is Queen of a magnificent world known as Macha Land, but finds herself struggling to maintain the peace after an innocent man mysteriously dies at one of her Songshows. Will her utopia last with death at her doorstep?

Buy it: Amazon US * Amazon UK

And now, the interview!

Tell us a little bit about the book to start with.

 I describe it as a fantasy / contemporary fiction novel, because there is a clearly defined fantasy narrative, whilst the others are a modern-day, fiction narrative. It follows three lives through certain challenges, like most novels, but it all comes together in a twist that (hopefully) the reader won’t expect.

Now tell us a bit about yourself.

 I’m a 25 year old woman working in London. I grew up in here, but also worked and studied in Japan for a while. I’m actually a Japanese translator by day, indie novelist by night. I started writing The Butterfly on Fire because I had something important to say, and I wanted to write about it. I am a part of the LGBT community, and so the main theme of the novel is about that, basically. At first I never even imagined I would finish a complete draft, but step by step I kept at it, and here I am.

So, is the book basically just about you?

Yes and no. Certain scenes and parts of the storyline are based on what has happened in my life. Even some characters are based on real people. But it is no way just an auto-biographical novel. Thanks also to my editor, it’s developed into its very own little world. Literally in the fantasy chapters. Each character has been developed to how I wanted them, so it’s not as simple as it being ‘about me’.

What made you think of the three narrative based structure?

Without giving too much away, it kind of developed itself. I had three ‘voices’ that I wanted to represent. Each one of those affiliates to a part of a person. One being the body, one about the mind and the fantasy chapters are the soul. It all just grew from there, really

Who is your favourite character within the novel?

Really? Am I allowed to even choose as the author? Although, I can imagine most authors would choose their protagonist, but for me that would be slightly strange as it’s based on me. So in fact, I would go with the love interest of the fantasy chapters. Prince Hikaru. Hikaru means light in Japanese, so he’s a real stereotypical, male ‘hero’ character. What I’ve also tried to do though, is modernise the out-dated hero / heroine narrative, and play with what it means to be a ‘hero’ when your lover is a powerful, magical Queen.

Would you have done anything differently, now it’s all finished?

I think anyone would. But generally in life I try and live in the moment and not look back on what I could have done. Sure, some chapters are probably more exciting than others. Some characters could have been developed more. All I am confident in is that the novel tells the message that I want to tell extremely clearly. You wouldn’t be able to read it fully and not see what I’m trying to bring to the table. For me, that is the most important thing. I’m happy with that.

What was the most difficult part of creating the novel?

I think finishing the first draft is where most people give up. Once I had a full blown draft with chapters and everything I felt like half the battle was done. Going into editing with E Goulding was such an exciting step, and it made it all so much more real. It began to come alive with each chapter we went through together. It was so worth completing the first draft to get to that stage.

Who do you feel the book is meant for?

It’s an LGBT novel, so the community and all of its lovely people. As an extension to that, I think the parents and siblings of an LGBT person would be able to relate to it as well. To be honest, any person that loves an empowering story and a bit of a tear jerky would love The Butterfly on Fire. That is parallel to a wonderfully different fantasy narrative that really bounces off of the modern fiction element. Anyone that likes LGBT stories and fantasy then, perhaps?

What other influences helped towards writing TBOF?

Japan was a huge one. There are elements of the Japanese culture and language scattered neatly throughout The Butterfly on Fire. Queen Fubuki does some of her spells in Japanese. The main characters of the modern-day, fictional narrative go for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Japan has been a powerful and consistent part of my life, so it would naturally be the same in a novel that I create.

Wiccanism is another one. I have always been a spiritual person, since I was young. I have tried to stay faithful to the lore and add a sense of realism to the fantasy side of things by having real Wiccan terminology and acts.

Lastly, I would be a liar if I said my previous boyfriends and fiancés didn’t play their part as well! Lol!

How is the publishing process going so far?

So far it’s been a whirlwind of excitement! We are getting some fantastic reviews on our Amazon page, as people are starting to naturally finish the book now. It’s early days because its only been two months since self-publishing The Butterfly on Fire, but we are off to a great start! I couldn’t be happier!

Tell us in 10 words why you think people should read this novel?

It will change how you view a certain minority (hopefully).

*****

E L Croucher is a 25 year old YA novel writer. She is currently living in London, England. The Butterfly on Fire was inspired by her LGBT background and love of the Japanese language and culture. She always dreamt of becoming an author and started working on publishable material since taking A level English.

After starting to learn Japanese when she was 16 she entered SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) and attended Waseda in Tokyo, Japan on her year abroad. Eventually, after returning home to Kent, England, she started The Butterfly on Fire.

5 Queer Romance Novels that Center on Art: a Guest Post by Roan Parrish

Today on the site we have Roan Parrish with her own Fave Five of sorts, recommending queer romance novels that center on art to celebrate the release of her own such novel, Heart of the Steal, which is out today!

Responsible, disciplined William Fox channeled his love for art and his faith in the rules into being an FBI Art Crimes agent. Right and wrong, justice and injustice—the differences are clear, and Will has spent his career drawing a line between them. Maybe his convictions have cost him relationships, but he’s not willing to compromise what he knows is right. Until the night he meets Amory Vaughn.

As the head of his family’s philanthropic foundation, Vaughn knows very well that being rich and powerful can get him almost anything he wants. And when he meets endearingly grumpy and slightly awkward William Fox, he wants him more than he’s wanted anything. Vaughn is used to being desired for his name and his money, but Will doesn’t care about either.

When Vaughn falls back on old habits and attempts to impress Will by stealing a painting Will admires, their nascent bond blows up in his face. But Vaughn isn’t willing to give up on the glimpse of passion he saw the night he took Will apart. Before Will knows it, he’s falling for the man he should have arrested, and Vaughn has to realize that some things can’t be bought or stolen. Love has to be given freely. But can a man who lives by the rules, and a man who thinks the rules don’t apply to him, ever see eye to eye?

Heart of the Steal is a standalone romance with a happy ending. It features a Southern gentleman who thinks he’s always right, a buttoned-up FBI agent who secretly likes his buttons unbuttoned, and wall sex. And desk sex. And picnic blanket sex.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * iBooks

Will Fox and Amory Vaughn might be on opposite sides of the law—Will stops art thieves, and Vaughn is one. But they share a deep love of art, even if they appreciate in different ways.

I love books that focus on art, music, dance—using one medium (writing) to describe other types of art always fascinates me. Here are my top five recs for queer romance novels that center on art.

  1. Shatterproof, by Xen Sanders

Grey Jean-Marcelin paints vibrant scenes of Haitian life and portrayals of his vodou faith, but now the color has been drained from everything and Grey wants to die. When EMT Saint saves Grey from a suicide attempt, their lives become linked together by more than coincidence. Saint is a fae, who survives by draining the life from his lovers, and since Grey wants to die anyway, it seems like a perfect arrangement. Grey can paint his last works and Saint can gain power. But when they’re finally faced with the reality of losing each other, they both have to reevaluate what they need. Shatterproof is a sad, gorgeous book, and Sanders’ prose is a perfect fit for the subject matter: lyrical, lush, and elegiac.

  1. Roads series, Garrett Leigh

Ash is a tattoo artist, newly arrived in Chicago from Philadelphia, where he lived on the streets—the same place he created huge chalk drawings. He spends most of his time drawing in his sketchbook—memories, dreams, tattoo ideas, his roommate, Pete. Pete is an EMT who is slowly drawn to the mystery of shy Ash. As they become close friends, and then lovers and partners, the secrets to Ash’s past (and Ash and Pete’s future) emerge from the drawings of Ash’s memories. This is one of my favorite series, period. Leigh renders Ash’s mental landscape with such dreamy, elliptical prose that he remains mysterious even as we get to know him through Pete’s more down-to-earth observations.

  1. The Glass House, Suki Fleet

Teenager Sasha is lonely, self-destructive, and has a wall around him that’s fairy tale high. He collects broken glass and uses it to make sculptures that are as beautiful as they are made to cut. Shy Thomas is drawn to Sasha, and little by little the two begin to trust one another, each seeing complementary qualities in the other. I love Fleet’s prose and the way it echoes the way she uses glass in The Glass House as something broken and full of potential, fragile and strong. This is a quiet, beautiful book about the ways that people speak to us sometimes in languages we didn’t know we knew.

  1. Rough Canvas, Joey W. Hill (Rough Canvas is technically the sixth book in Hill’s otherwise m/f Nature of Desire series, but can be read as a standalone.)

Rough canvas begins in media res, with the backstory of rural North Carolina painter Thomas and flashy New York City art agent Marcus unfolding slowly. When his father dies, Thomas was forced to move home to North Carolina to help his mother and siblings run the family store, leaving behind his burgeoning art career, and his lover Marcus. Thomas is miserable there, his guts twisted up without Marcus, his art, or feeling like he can be himself. When Marcus comes to North Carolina to find him, and try to begin their relationship again, Thomas falls easily back under Marcus’ spell. But while he knows what he wants, his sense of duty is stronger than his desire, and they both have to fight to start over again. Rough Canvas is an uncompromising book, and I love that about it. Neither character is easy to like all the time—Marcus is brittle and exacting; Thomas is longsuffering with a bit of a martyr complex—and yet through art, they worship one another, and the relationship that grows out of the ashes of those imperfections is beautiful.

  1. Bellingham Mysteries, Nicole Kimberling

This series of six mystery novellas features Peter Fontaine, a newspaper reporter in Bellingham, Washington, who finds himself at the center of the murder investigation of a local artist. Also caught up in the investigation is reclusive artist Nick Olson, with whom Peter begins a relationship. Each novella features a different art-related mystery. I haven’t read these yet, but they come highly recommended by a friend with excellent taste, so I cannot wait to dive in. Art-related mysteries, amateur sleuthing, the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive artist? It’s all my favorite things.

Coming Out Catholic, a Guest Post by Alex Dunkin

Today on the site, please welcome Alex Dunkin, author of Coming Out Catholic, to talk about his experiences growing up gay and Catholic and how he’s reconciled the two.

25652102Religion has been part of my life ever since I can remember. The meaning of the role religion has played has changed over time, from the fun community activity it was in my childhood, to the complete rejection of all faith I went through in early adulthood, and now returning to a curiosity about how religion operates in my own and others’ lives. Coming Out Catholic is the culmination of years of research, self-exploration and acceptance. It started as a simple question: Does being gay mean having to give up other aspects of my life and identity, most notably faith? Answering that question also became for me a release of all the frustration of trying to understand and reconcile Catholicism’s stance on homosexuality (rather than solely the Bible’s position on it).

The quick and easy answer to that question is that it doesn’t mean that at all. You can be Catholic and gay. One of these identities does not need to be sacrificed for the other to survive.

Some may be (and are) upset by this concept, and insist that it contradicts the Bible. But the Bible has been re-translated and re-released many times, and those translations are influenced by the social and political climate of the day, and so changes get introduced that differ from the original text. Some of these changes are necessary, to retain relevance across cultural differences and to reflect the development of civilization across the millennia. But many of these changes are politically charged, to promote the views of those in power, and even to undermine the rights of minorities.

This leaves the issue of how to apply the (often outdated) social views of previous generations represented in the Bible  to modern society open to debate and a diverse range of interpretations.

Alongside all these arguments about Bible interpretations, another aspect of religion thrives: the faith. Faith is what allows quarrels over translations and literal meanings to fade away and shifts the focus of religion towards community, acceptance, family, and forgiveness. Faith is not found in quotable passages selectively pulled to further an argument, but in the community of people and their ability to support each other and allow everyone to live openly, without fear.

It is this approach to faith that reached out to me, and caused me to examine how some people used Bible passages according to their own agenda to reject and demonise the daily lived experiences of myself and countless others. Faith means using the Bible as a philosophical and spiritual guide, not a tool to segregate and belittle others, or as rules to control them out of fear of condemnation or the wrath of God.

Coming Out Catholic has allowed me to explore and express my curiosity and how it interacted with my research into the Bible. It was a pleasure to develop and once again find acceptance within my sense of faith without having to compromise my integrity as an openly gay man.

Buy Coming Out CatholicAmazon * Booktopia

Alex is an author, researcher and reviewer based in Adelaide, South Australia. He is the author of Homebody and Coming Out Catholic. More author information can be found at alexdunkin.com/about

 

 

On Section 28 and Its Effect on Queer Lit, a Guest Post by Kathleen Jowitt

On the site today we have Kathleen Jowitt, the author of Speak Its Name, the first self-published book ever to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. (More on that below.) In honor of Pride Month, Kathleen is here to share a piece of queer lit history, namely the British rule of Section 28, and how that affected the publication path of Speak Its Name. Before we get to that, a little more on the book itself:

A new year at the University of Stancester, and Lydia Hawkins is trying to balance the demands of her studies with her responsibilities as an officer for the Christian Fellowship. Her mission: to make sure all the Christians in her hall stay on the straight and narrow, and to convert the remaining residents if possible. To pass her second year. And to ensure a certain secret stays very secret indeed.

When she encounters the eccentric, ecumenical student household at 27 Alma Road, Lydia is forced to expand her assumptions about who’s a Christian to include radical Quaker activist Becky, bells-and-smells bus-spotter Peter, and out (bisexual) and proud (Methodist) Colette. As the year unfolds, Lydia discovers that there are more ways to be Christian – and more ways to be herself – than she had ever imagined.

Then a disgruntled member of the Catholic Society starts asking whether the Christian Fellowship is really as Christian as it claims to be, and Lydia finds herself at the centre of a row that will reach far beyond the campus. Speak Its Name explores what happens when faith, love and politics mix and explode.

Buy it: Amazon (US) * Amazon (UK) * Lulu (paperback) * Lulu (ebook)

And now, here’s Kathleen:

My first novel has just become the first self-published book ever to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. This is an annual award presented to the best first novel by an author under the age of 35.

Speak Its Name is the story of an evangelical Christian, and closeted lesbian, trying to navigate the troubled waters of university politics. The judges called it “An original, closely-observed, funny and often touching story with an unusual setting and a keen understanding of the interactions between members of small communities.”

I’m thrilled, of course, and I’m very proud to be the first self-published author on that shortlist. It’s pretty amazing to have the quality of my work affirmed in such an unarguable manner.

But I can’t help wondering… if history had been different, might there have been a route into conventional publishing, a route that wasn’t closed off to me and my book? What would have things been like, if it hadn’t been for Section 28?

Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act is notorious in British LGBT history. It stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

It came into effect in 1988, three years before I started primary school, and was repealed in 2003, just as I’d begun my first year at university. The whole of my school career, therefore, was overshadowed by this silence. I can only imagine what my life would have been like if I’d heard the word ‘bisexual’ before I turned eighteen.

Because Section 28 was assumed to apply to the school library as much as it did to biology or citizenship classes, it stunted a whole branch of LGBT teen literature. If a library (a public library or a school library – both would fall under the Local Government Act) couldn’t be expected to buy a book, then a publisher couldn’t be expected to publish it.

As a result, the long, honourable tradition in the United States of America stretching from Nancy Garden to David Levithan and beyond, just doesn’t exist in British publishing. Jacqueline Wilson, who’s tackled issues from adoption to eating disorders, homelessness to mental illness, doesn’t address homosexuality in any sort of depth until 2007.

The one book with any sort of LGBT theme that I can remember getting into my school library was Dare, Truth or Promise – by New Zealand author Paula Boock. The only Nancy Garden was, ironically enough, The Year They Burned The Books.

That meant that, when I wrote Speak Its Name, nobody knew quite what to do with it. Even though Section 28 had been gone for the best part of a decade, the genre that my novel would have slotted into had never recovered.

So I published it myself. And, while my shortlisting shows that this was absolutely the right decision and I don’t regret it for a second, I can’t help but be a little bit wistful. Not for my book, but for all the other books, the ones that never made it to print because “nobody would publish them'” because “nobody would buy them'” because of Section 28. The ones that my fifteen-year-old self would have loved to read.

*****

Kathleen Jowitt was born in Winchester, UK, and grew up deep in the Welsh Marches and, subsequently, on the Isle of Wight. After completing her undergraduate degree in English Literature at the University of Exeter she moved to Guildford and found herself working for a major trade union. She now lives in Cambridge, works in London, and writes on the train.

Can A Story Be Too Diverse? a Guest Post by Felix Yz author Lisa Bunker

Today on the site, we welcome Lisa Bunker, author of the just-released-yesterday Felix Yz! This Middle Grade debut features a gay protagonist, several other characters under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, and a whole lot more. Here’s the info:

28525367When Felix Yz was three years old, a hyperintelligent fourth-dimensional being became fused inside him after one of his father’s science experiments went terribly wrong. The creature is friendly, but Felix—now thirteen—won’t be able to grow to adulthood while they’re still melded together. So a risky Procedure is planned to separate them . . . but it may end up killing them both instead.

This book is Felix’s secret blog, a chronicle of the days leading up to the Procedure. Some days it’s business as usual—time with his close-knit family, run-ins with a bully at school, anxiety about his crush. But life becomes more out of the ordinary with the arrival of an Estonian chess Grandmaster, the revelation of family secrets, and a train-hopping journey. When it all might be over in a few days, what matters most?

IndieBound (find Felix through your local indie bookseller)
Penguin Random House (Hardcover, ebook, audiobook)
Barnes and Noble (Hard cover, Nook book, audiobook)
Amazon (Hard cover, Kindle edition, audiobook)
Felix on Goodreads

And here to talk more about the publication of the book is Lisa Bunker!

In the leadup to the publication of Felix, when I started getting reader reviews based on advance copies, one reviewer remarked that there were too many LGBTQ+ characters in the book. The queerness-density strained credulity, she said. (This comment about a story of a boy melded with a fourth-dimensional being.) There have been other similar remarks too, from other quarters.

Hm. Interesting.

Identity is not The Point of Felix. This is a coming-of-age novel about love, death, and family. It’s a story about a young human grappling with mortality.

That said, it is also true that among various other plot threads this young human has a crush, and as it happens both he and the crush were assigned male at birth. Likewise, Felix has a quirky supportive grandparent, and one of the quirks is that this grandparent switches off regularly between the names Vera and Vern (and uses veir own gender-neutral pronouns – vo ven veir). Also likewise, in the course of the novel, Felix’s mom navigates a love triangle, and as it happens the two love interests are one of each gender. Etc.

I approached the character design for Felix in a spirit of gleeful experimentation/play – just how many of these characters can I give at least one letter? You know, just to see how it reads? Turns out, most of them, and I love how it reads. But, each identity is no more than a facet, and not the most important facet, of the character in question. Not the preachy teachy Point; just lots of identities.

But, too many?

No. Dear reader-reviewer and other skeptics, upon reflection (and I have thought a lot about this), I feel the need to push back respectfully here. There are not too many queer characters in Felix. But I’m fascinated about why you might think so.

Consider: I recently read and was blown away by Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. Quite apart from the ripped-from-the-headlines story and the clean, powerful writing, what a fantastic submersion into the rich variety of contemporary African-American life in its many manifestations – family and friend-groups and church and more. And there are plenty of other books in which all or almost all of the characters are from the same race, nationality, or religion. Such books seem within the norm, and they’re valuable and important and great fun to read.

So why not also books full of queer folk? Why so many books with one or two tokeny LGBTQ+ characters, but no more than some implied limit seems to allow? Well, perhaps it is not yet generally understood that queer folk also form community and have culture.

There are plenty of families like Felix’s. Mine, for example: I’m a trans woman in a committed relationship with another woman, and one of my two children is genderfluid. (My poor son – the token cis-het member of the family.) And there are many other clusters in my circle of acquaintance – friend groups, group houses, families of choice, community meeting places and flashpoints, both in the real world and online. We rainbow umbrella people are a misunderstood and often maligned sector of humanity, and part of our response to that is to seek and find each other. We join together for solace and strength. We have community and culture too.

Can you imagine anyone saying a book had too many Hispanic characters? Too many Jewish characters? Too many refugee characters? Me neither, thankfully, at least other than at the farther fringes of public discourse. But, it still seems reasonable to some people to say “too many LGBTQ+ characters.”

I aim to do what I can to rectify that. What started out as something of a writerly lark in Felix has evolved into a sense of mission. Moving forward, I aim to work toward a world in which no number of queer characters is too many. And I hope my books and others like mine will both give LGBTQ+ readers a much-needed chance to see their worlds celebrated in fiction, and also invite the general reading public to visit those worlds and perhaps discover, once again, the common bedrock of humanity that unites us all.

The story I’m working on now is about a trans girl with a troubled past and advanced coder/hacker skills who solves cyber-crimes with the help of her genderqueer best friend and her cool Lesbian aunties, while attempting to survive adolescence and middle school. Onward!

Lisa BunkerBefore setting up shop as a full-time author and trans activist, Lisa Bunker had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting, most recently as Program Director of the community radio station in Portland, Maine. Besides Maine she has made homes in New Mexico, southern California, Seattle, and the Florida panhandle. She currently lives in Exeter, New Hampshire with her partner and her cat. She has two grown children. When not writing she reads, plays piano, knits, takes long walks, does yoga, and studies languages. @LisaBunker on Twitter; author website at www.lisabunker.net.

Writing a Queer Main Character in M/F Romance, a Guest Post by Roan Parrish

Please welcome to LGBTQReads Roan Parrish, whose very first m/f Romance, Small Change, just released yesterday! Here’s a little more on the book:

Ginger Holtzman has fought for everything she’s ever had—the success of her tattoo shop, respect in the industry, her upcoming art show. Tough and independent, she has taking-no-crap down to an art form. Good thing too, since keeping her shop afloat, taking care of her friends, and scrambling to finish her paintings doesn’t leave time for anything else. Which … is for the best, because then she doesn’t notice how lonely she is. She’ll get through it all on her own, just like she always does.

Christopher Lucen opened a coffee and sandwich joint in South Philly because he wants to be part of a community after years of running from place to place, searching for something he could never quite name. Now, he relishes the familiarity of knowing what his customers want, and giving it to them. But what he really wants now is love.

When they meet, Christopher is smitten, but Ginger … isn’t quite so sure. Christopher’s gorgeous, and kind, and their opposites-attract chemistry is off the charts. But hot sex is one thing—truly falling for someone? Terrifying. When her world starts to crumble around her, Ginger has to face the fact that this fight can only be won by being vulnerable—this fight, she can’t win on her own.

Add it on Goodreads * Buy it on Amazon

And now, here’s Roan!

Writing a Queer Main Character in M/F Romance

25687508Ginger Holtzman started out as a secondary character in In the Middle of Somewhere, an m/m romance. She was the main character Daniel’s best friend, and through his eyes, we saw her romance with Christopher begin to play out in the background. One of the things I heard most from readers was that they wanted Ginger to get her own story. And although I never explicitly said Ginger was queer in In the Middle of Somewhere, she always was in my head. I knew that part of her backstory with Daniel was that they had been part of the same community of queer artists and musicians back in Philadelphia. But because the person she started dating was a dude, there was no explicit signifier of her queerness in In the Middle of Somewhere.

When I started writing Small Change, then, one of the things that mattered most to me was that Ginger’s queerness be legible while she was falling in love with a straight man.

The long history of the romance genre sets up the expectation that m/f romance = heterosexual romance. Not because there isn’t room on the page for characters to have complex desires, but because genres are structured by rules that are assumed unless they are explicitly negated.

Now we have a much more diverse spectrum of desires represented in romance than we did twenty years ago. But from a publishing perspective, the fact that queer romance is a genre in its own standing actually underscores the separation between queer romance and m/f romance. Even though m/f and queerness are not at all mutually exclusive, there is still comparatively little representations of queerness on the pages of m/f romance, and very little expectation of it.

So it was very important to me that Ginger’s romance with Christopher not erase her queerness. Indeed, her queerness is important in everything from her past dating experiences, to her business practices, to her politics. But I also didn’t want queer legibility to be The Struggle of Ginger and Christopher’s relationship. That is, I didn’t want queerness to be a stumbling block to love, and I didn’t want it to be something that Ginger needed to educate Christopher about in order for them to have a relationship. I wanted it to be a part of their love because it’s a part of Ginger.

For this to work, Christopher’s character had to be someone who knew what the hell was going on, because Ginger would never be attracted to a dude who was clueless about politics or queerness or social justice. That is, this book takes place in a world where queerness is visible, for all involved. Christopher wonders if Ginger dates men when they first meet, and wants to find out because he’s attracted to her, and this interaction is pretty indicative of their attitudes:

Christopher asks, “Do you date men?”

Ginger, self deprecating as always, answers, “Uh, yeah. Well, I mean, not very successfully, but yes, in theory.”

And that’s what’s important: who Ginger would, in theory, be interested in, not the idea that who is currently dating is a barometer of her identity.

*****

b&w author picRoan Parrish is the author of the Middle of Somewhere series. Her debut m/f novel, Small Change, is out now.

Knitting and Florida in Shira Glassman’s Knit One, Girl Two!

So excited to welcome author Shira Glassman to the site, this time with a guest post on her brand-spankin’-new release, Knit One, Girl Two! God, does that cover alone not just make you the happiest person alive?

Small-batch independent yarn dyer Clara Ziegler is eager to brainstorm new color combinations–if only she could come up with ideas she likes as much as last time! When she sees Danielle Solomon’s paintings of Florida wildlife by chance at a neighborhood gallery, she finds her source of inspiration. Outspoken, passionate, and complicated, Danielle herself soon proves even more captivating than her artwork…

Buy it: Amazon

A little note on the content, as provided by the author:

Fluffy Jewish f/f contemporary set in the author’s childhood home of South Florida. This one is rated PG and features a chubby love interest and a brief exploration of the dynamic between people with differing levels of religious observance. (Clara is secular, Danielle goes to temple and keeps “kosher-lite”)

And now, please welcome Shira Glassman!

On the heels of trauma, I spent New Year’s weekend at the home of a dear friend who dyes yarn for a living (Caitlin’s String Theory ColorWorks.) We were instant friends the first time I met her at our university’s knitting club thirteen years ago, and I remain consistently fascinated by her work process – thinking up colors, naming them, watching happy customers turn her shop updates into a feeding frenzy. Reaching out for story ideas to bring me back to writing after a six month drought, I realized the perfect subject was right in front of me.

Self-striping hand dyed yarn, “Cygnus” from String Theory ColorWorks, with assistance from Sesamee

Sock clubs are a staple of the knitting world. Sometimes your treats are a complete surprise, other than the knowledge you already have of the dyer’s style. Sometimes, as with Lorena’s HaldeCraft, the club yarns come in themes—she’s done obscure fairy tales, Star Wars, Farscape, and the next one is based on beloved pets. Sometimes they come with little treats, i.e. “swag”, such as miniature handmade soaps, buttons, or stitch markers (little charms attached to a jump ring that you use to mark off sections in complicated patterns so you know where you are. Think of them as the tape on the stage in a theater.)

But before you can get to any of that, you have to have the ideas. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and in my story Clara finds it in Danielle’s paintings.

The South Florida I’m writing about is the Ft. Lauderdale I grew up in. I brought a closed Jewish deli back to life so that my ladies can go where I can’t anymore. The museum that forms part of their date is not only where I volunteered as a teenager but also where I first realized I liked girls. Everything I love and miss about the southern part of my state, 300 miles away, is in this story. Clara even works in the box office of the theater where I took lessons, attended performances, and played in All-County.

I’ve joked to my friends that a good tag line for this story is “what if the Manic Pixie Dream Girls just dated each other instead?” Danielle’s Going Through Some Things, so beside Clara’s sunny placidity the two of them might resemble the Tragedy and Comedy masks. But sometimes sad people don’t want to be alone, and the people who let us be sad and social at the same time make the world go around.

I’ve given you a fantasy Florida in my Mangoverse books, where there are dragons under the palm trees. Now come see the real one, where there might not be a palace—just the ordinary magic of “…I met this girl….”

Caitlin and I at AnomalyCon 2017. The rainbow pride colorway is her “Trifolium”.

*****

Buy Shira’s books here

Shira Glassman is a bisexual Jewish violinist passionately inspired by German and French opera and Agatha Christie novels. She lives in north central Florida, where the alligators are mostly harmless because they’re too lazy to be bothered.

Strong Connections: 5 Books Where Emotions Came First, a Guest Post by Santino Hassell

If you’ve literally never been to this site or its associated Tumblr before, you might not know that I am a huuuuge fan of Santino Hassell and his fantastic Five Boroughs series of m/m Romances, so, lemme set that record “straight” (heh) – I am a huuuuge fan of Santino Hassell and this wonderfully written, emotional, inclusive, hot-as-hell series, and I’m thrilled to have him on the site today in honor of the release of its fifth book, Concourse. It’s a sexy new friends-to-lovers romance that can be read independently of the earlier books, although I promise you are seriously missing out if you skip over the others.

Here to talk about Concourse and five of his fave friends-to-lovers Romances, please welcome Santino Hassell!

*****

Buy now from Riptide!

It’s no secret that I love the friends-to-lovers trope. In Five Boroughs, my queer romance series set in NYC, mostly every relationship has initially stemmed from friendship or a strong bond. Concourse, my newest standalone novel in the series, is not much different.

Ashton Townsend, a former model loved by the paparazzi falls for his best friend (who also happens to be the son of his former nanny) Valdrin Leka. They’ve supported each other emotionally in a friendship that has spanned over a decade, which gives them a solid foundation to overcome all the barriers I threw at them in the book.

The bedrock of friendship, no matter how long, is the perfect jumping off point for a romance, so here are my top five recs for queer romance novels where a strong connection came first:

Roller Girl by Vanessa North is one of the most uplifting stories I’ve read in a long while. Not just because of the romance itself, but because the characters are surrounded by supportive people. There are already strong friendships built into the story, so when Tina and Joe connect, it’s one of many positive relationships, which is excellent. Once Tina joins Joe’s roller derby team, camaraderie and attraction leads to sex hidden from their teammates, but I’ll let you pick up the book before I tell you more.

Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen is the story of two boys who were raised in a cult. That’s right. A cult. They’ve barely experienced the outside world and the only source of joy in Josh’s small world has always been his best friend, Caleb. He kept his feelings a secret for years until they eventually escape the cult and run away together. It’s only then that their strong friendship blossoms into romance and even then, it’s a very slow burn. Their priority is always preserving their friendship as they get through the difficult transition from cult-world to the real world, together.

Where We Left Off by Roan Parrish is a great tale of a connection that blossomed over a long period of time. We first meet Will and Leo in the first book of the Middle of Somewhere series when Leo is a teenager still figuring out who he wants to be, and Will is the surly ex-boyfriend of one of the main characters. The transition to kid-sorta mentor, to crush-sorta friend, to the third book when Leo is older and wanting to pursue a romantic relationship, is spectacular.

Bend or Break by Amy Jo Cousins is a series full of awesome tales of people who forge strong bonds leading to intense physical and romantic relationships. Off Campus, the first book, will always be my favorite, because of the emotional support Tom and Reese give each other as Tom hides from an infamous scandal and Reese recovers from a traumatic assault. However, The Girl Next Door is a close second. You first meet Steph and Cash in book 1, and you instantly grow to love them both. Steph is a queer confident badass, and Cash is the dudebro you just want to hug because he is so damn sweet and likeable. Pick up this series!

Housemates by Jay Northcote is a series packed full of friends-to-lovers stories. What I really love about this series is that the characters are always wary of messing up their friendships because of the value they place on them. The friendship dynamics of everyone in the house is very realistic, and you come to love all the characters. Again—check out this whole series! You won’t regret it.

*****

Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

http://www.santinohassell.com
Santino@santinohassell.com
http://www.santinohassell.com
http://www.facebook.com/santinohassellbooks
twitter.com/SantinoHassell
http://www.goodreads.com/santino_hassell
http://amazon.com/author/santinohassell

Why There’s No Sex in My Book: a Guest Post by Dianna Gunn, author of Keeper of the Dawn

Why There’s No Sex in my Book

(It’s not the reason you think)

by Dianna Gunn

When a lesbian romance emerged partway through Keeper of the Dawn I found myself faced with a difficult decision: do I include sex?

This was a tough decision for many reasons, but none of them were fear of censorship. I have always believed my fiction should challenge boundaries and that having your book banned is a great marketing tool (seriously, there are entire banned book reading challenges). I also come from a fairly liberal family who won’t disown me if they find out there are lesbians or sex or even lesbian sex in my book.

I also believe it’s important to have sex in YA fiction, and not just the fumbling first time or the regrettable one night stand induced by underage drinking. As a preteen, I learned almost as much about sex from fanfiction as I have learned from sex in the intervening years. This fanfiction—primarily written by older women, at least on the archives I frequented—taught me about enthusiastic consent, about how to please different lovers, and even about various fetishes. I believe YA fiction is an opportunity for us to teach these same lessons to the people who need them most, because they certainly won’t learn it from mainstream porn.

What bothered me was the idea of writing a sex scene between these two specific characters. At first I thought it was mainly because I personally have no interest in sex with women, and the technicalities of writing a lesbian sex scene are rather daunting from my angle. I prepared myself to go out and read more (probably fanfiction, let’s face it) sex scenes between two women, even started looking at lists—

And then I realized it wasn’t about the technicalities at all. It was about my characters, specifically the main character, Lai. I already knew Lai had never been attracted to anyone but Tara (yes, she is named after a Buffy character), but as I continued writing I realized Lai wasn’t attracted to Tara in a sexual way. In fact, Lai is asexual.

I knew Lai for years before I came to this realization, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise. The only reason it took me so long to discover Lai’s asexuality is that when I originally wrote Keeper of the Dawn, I had no idea what asexuality was. It’s a concept that only came into my awareness about two years ago, which is crazy considering that I’ve been hanging out in queer communities since I was 15.

The world Tara and Lai live in has no word for asexuality, but I have worked hard to make it clear that Lai is asexual. I’ve been lucky enough to have a publisher who insisted I make it even clearer instead of trying to suppress this part of her personality.

With or without the label, I hope Keeper of the Dawn will show readers that romantic relationships can be powerful without sex.

*****

ABOUT KEEPER OF THE DAWN

KeeperoftheDawn_FrontCoverSometimes failure is just the beginning.

All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.

From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.

Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.

Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.

Keeper of the Dawn is a tale of new beginnings, second chances, and the endurance of hope.

*****

EXCERPT

Lai practiced until well after dark, ignoring the call for supper. She tore a massive hole into one of the dummies with a training sword in her rage, but it didn’t make her feel better. She had spent most of her life training for this day, and Kaiden ruined it with a few words about their father.

Eventually she gave up and collapsed in a heap on the ground, pulling her knees up to her chest so she could rest her chin on them. She forced herself to breathe deeply, using all her willpower to push the rage into the ground. Bit by bit it drained into the soil around her, dispersing harmlessly.

She sat like that in the clearing until clouds engulfed the stars and rain started pouring, one of the last rains before the dry weeks of summer. Lifting the hood of her robes to cover her head, she rose and hurried towards the temple.

Her left foot caught on something and Lai flew through the air, losing her grip on her sword and landing face first in a puddle. Her nose shattered when it smashed into the tough ground, and when she grabbed it to feel the damage her hand came away covered in equal parts mud and blood. Her stomach churned as she picked herself back up, her whole body aching.

Something sharp pierced her back, tearing into her skin and muscles like sharp fire. She screamed and fell face first to the ground. She caught herself on her forearms, avoiding bashing her head against the rocky path.

Lai’s attacker pulled the knife out of her shoulder. She screamed as warm blood flowed freely down her back, mixing with the rain. Fiery agony filled her body, blurring her vision. She gritted her teeth and flipped over to face her attacker.

She froze at the familiar sight of white robes with golden cuffs. Another initiate. Her hood hid her face completely.

Lai gathered her strength with a deep, ragged breath and reached for her training sword. The initiate kicked Lai in the back then stomped on her wrist, grinding bone under her boot, sending sharp waves of pain up Lai’s arm.

“You understand, it has to be me.”

Lai knew that voice, but she couldn’t focus on it through the pain, couldn’t remember who it was.

The initiate seized a clump of Lai’s hair and yanked her head backwards. She knelt and raised her knife towards Lai’s exposed throat.

Something knocked the initiate into Lai’s back. Black spots appeared at the edges of her vision as agony surged outward from her wound. The other initiate didn’t move, suffocating Lai with her weight. Lai tried to lift herself up with her elbows, but a fresh wave of pain knocked the wind out of her. She col­lapsed onto her stomach and closed her eyes, willing her body to die quickly.

*****

Headshot-TouchedUpDianna Gunn is a freelance writer by day and a fantasy author by night. She blogs about writing, creativity and books athttp://www.thedabbler.ca. You can also follow her on Twitter @DiannaLGunn or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dlgunnauthor/.

 

BUY KEEPER OF THE DAWN

Amazon:
Ebook: http://amzn.to/2nHgqNN
Paperback: http://amzn.to/2o5ZrI6

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/716545
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/keeper-of-the-dawn-2
Google: https://play.google.com/store/search?c=books&q=9781942302476+

Modern Mind, Ancient Heart: a Guest Post by Flying Without a Net author E.M. Ben Shaul

Please welcome E.M. Ben Shaul to the blog today, to talk about the Orthodox Jewish representation in Flying Without a Net, which releases today! As many of you know, I happen to be Orthodox Jewish, so this book and post are of special interest to me, even though I’m kinda lousy about the prayer part. (Though I’m good about the food blessings! And I definitely got a “halachic prenup.” But I digress. You can add the book to your TBR and/or read the blurb here, and buy links are at the end of the post!)

30124943Think about what you did first thing this morning. You probably got up, used the bathroom, got dressed, maybe grabbed something for breakfast. Perhaps you have a favorite coffee shop where you stopped to pick up your usual morning drink. Did you drive to work? Take public transportation? Or maybe you work from home in your pajamas and bunny slippers. Maybe you’re a student with an 8 AM class. (If so, you have my sympathy.)

For most people, their morning routine is completed without really putting much thought to it. But for Orthodox Jews, many of those regular morning tasks come with an extra level of thought, because they each have a blessing or prayer associated with them. When an Orthodox Jew opens their eyes in the morning, they say “Modeh Ani,” a short prayer thanking God for, basically, returning their soul to them so that they could wake up in the morning. Then they get up and go to the bathroom. There’s a blessing for that, too, in which we thank God for keeping the various systems of our bodies working. For men, when they get dressed, there’s a blessing associated with putting on the tallit katan, a four-cornered garment with ritual fringes.

Eating breakfast involves at least one and possibly as many as five (or six, if wine is part of the meal) blessings over the food. Each blessing takes less than 30 seconds to say, but there’s still an extra moment of thought that is necessary. But breakfast has to wait, anyway — first you have to say Shacharit, the morning prayer service. It is preferable to say the prayers with a minyan, a religious quorum, which Orthodox Jews interpret as ten males thirteen years old or above. So not only do you have to be in a proper mindset for prayer, you also have to build time into your schedule for about 45 minutes of prayer before you go to work.

When you stop for your usual cup of coffee, there’s another food-related blessing to say. Again you thank God for creating everything in the world, including your half-caff soy latte. You say so many food blessings in a day that your co-workers no longer worry that you’re talking to your mid-morning snack.

And that’s just the simple stuff.

What if something in the teachings of those ancient rabbis go against your modern lifestyle? What if your modern brain cannot reconcile the ancient beliefs and your modern sensibilities? For example, a lot of the religious traditions assume a male-dominated culture and lifestyle. In the twenty-first century, Modern Orthodox communities are working to balance the traditions established thousands of years ago with the more modern role that women play in day-to-day life. One example of this is the marriage contract. The traditional wedding contract was originally codified in the first century CE and has not changed significantly. By Jewish law, a man can divorce his wife, but there is no way to force him to give her a get, an official document of divorce. Without a get, a woman is considered an agunah, an anchored or chained woman, as she is still anchored or chained to her ex-husband, even if she has been granted a civil divorce. To give more power to the woman, in the 1990s the Orthodox rabbinate instituted the “halachic prenup,” a religiously and civilly valid contract that allows civil courts to punish the ex-husband financially until he grants his ex-wife a get.

In Flying Without a Net, Avi, an Orthodox Jew, is faced with a dilemma. He has recently come out to himself, and he is now starting to explore the idea of dating men and perhaps starting a relationship with another man. However, everything he has been taught by his religious upbringing tells him that acting on his attraction to men is amongst the biggest violations of Torah law possible. Yet his heart knows that he will never be happy following the community norm of marrying a woman. He struggles to find a path that allows him to be true to both his religious beliefs and his yearning for a relationship with Dani, an Israeli who is not religiously observant and who has been out to himself and to others since high school.

Dani cannot fully understand Avi’s struggle, having never been in his position, but he hopes that he and Avi will be able to find a way to be together while Avi stays true to his beliefs.

When faced with a contradiction between one’s religious beliefs and one’s modern reality, it can be very difficult to stay true to both. Many make the difficult choice to leave the religious life behind, knowing that for them it will be impossible to reconcile the two. Some make the opposite choice and retreat from the modern world. But others find a way to live in both worlds. It requires flexibility, and it’s important for everyone facing such a choice to discover where their flexibility ends and what is too important for them to compromise on. For each person this point is different, and therefore one person’s willingness to compromise may be anathema to someone else. So is there a way to blend the ancient and the modern? Everyone has to figure that out for themselves.

*****

 Buy it:

Interlude Press: http://store.interludepress.com/collections/flying-without-a-net-by-e-m-ben-shaul

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2fxy7Ae

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/flying-without-a-net-em-ben-shaul/1123885961?ean=2940153056104

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/flying-without-a-net/id1121128562?mt=11

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/641542

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/flying-without-a-net-3

 

All Romance eBooks: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-flyingwithoutanet-2166406-149.html?referrer=55feb862851f8

 

Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Flying-Without-Net-E-M-Ben-Shaul/9781945053115?ref=grid-view

 

Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/%209781945053115&aff=InterludePress