Category Archives: Guest post

I Cheated on My Wife and My Husband: a Guest Post by No More Neckties Author Dr. Loren Olson

Today on the site, we have Dr. Loren Olson, author of No More Neckties, a new memoir releasing from Oak Lane Press on May 17th. He’s here to talk about infidelity, healthy relationships, and moving on, but first, here’s more info on the book:

52-2_NoMoreNeckties_frontcover_11-8

In No More Neckties, Dr. Loren Olson, a well-regarded essayist and popular speaker on mental health and LGBTQ issues, flings open the doors on the hard stuff—sex, infidelity, guilt, shame, forgiveness, suicide, and aging—in his candid and inspiring new memoir.  He shares the story of his life and its hard lessons. A practicing psychiatrist and a proud husband and grandfather, Dr. Olson writes about intensely personal events such as tragedy and loss, love and heartbreak, infidelity and betrayal, fear of aging, and never feeling good enough. Nearly everyone, whether they’re gay, straight, bisexual, or something else, can relate to his experiences. No More Neckties reminds each of us the myriad of experiences we encountered at one time or another discovering our own sexuality. His life story is a wonderful memoir of succeeding to be happy over the pain or joy with family, colleagues, and lovers from his unique view.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon

And here’s the post!

I’m an expert on cheating. First, I cheated on my wife and then on my husband. I’m not proud of it. It’s just a fact. Fortunately, both still love me, and I love them.

You may disagree, but I don’t see myself as the cheating kind. We hear, “Once a cheater, always a cheater. Dump him/her,” as if the cheater has a malignant character flaw. But the world isn’t divided into good and bad people. Even good people make mistakes.

We live in a world surrounded by incalculable ways to cheat but where it’s nearly impossible to keep a secret. Many of us will be caught when we cheat.

Should infidelity always be a reason to leave an otherwise healthy relationship? How can you forgive someone who has hurt you so badly? Even if you can forgive, it’s unlikely you’ll forget.

Heterosexual couples have a long tradition of vows of “forsaking all others.” Gay couples lack that tradition. We, in the LGBTQ community, are more comfortable in negotiating the terms of our relationship up front.

When Doug and I got together thirty-five years ago, I loved it when he said, “I’m monogamous. VERY monogamous.” I’d been to enough weddings where they sang, “Oh perfect love” to understand it meant we must find the one person with whom we experience love, romance, emotional intimacy, and sex.

I was forty years old when I met Doug. I was just coming out, but I’d had my share of hookups. Those helped me understand my sexuality, my attractions, my desires. But it wasn’t something I wanted for the rest of my life.

I was in love with Doug and would have promised him anything. I believed that I had found the perfect man. He would meet all my needs and I would meet his. How naïve we were.

Passion in a relationship has a shelf-life of about a year. At first, monogamy was easy. Neither of us understood how vulnerable to cheating we become when we meet the hard stuff in our lives. And we all have hard stuff.

I was never unfaithful to Doug until once when I traveled out of town to a meeting where I was to present some research on men who came out later in life. It didn’t go well. Humiliated and defeated, I slunk out of that presentation to a cocktail hour that followed.

I stood on the fringes of the crowd with no interest in interacting. An attractive younger man also stood on the edges. Then he said, “Let’s get out of here.” To be desired by someone was the perfect antidote to the poisonous earlier experience. Guilt never extinguishes desire.

I reasoned, “Out of town. A one-off. A nameless partner. Unintentional and justifiable.” I needed something, anything, to make me feel better. I didn’t know many facts about him, but facts weren’t necessary or desired. He was who I wanted him to be; I was who he wanted me to be.

I hadn’t been the partner to Doug that I intended to be. I was self-absorbed and had dedicated all my energy to other things. I had treated Doug as a distraction. We’d avoided talking about the hard stuff in our relationship.

Although we value monogamy, we aren’t very good at it. How did Doug and I get to a place where we both felt alone, helpless, and desperate for something to change? We should have recognized how distance had grown between us. Perhaps we expected too much from our relationship from the beginning.

Sex had become routine and predictable. While that created comfort with each other, we both missed the excitement of fresh, unexpected sex with someone new. We need rules, values and ideals, but boundaries in relationships can be both too tight or too loose. Sometimes we need to deconstruct old rules and establish new ones based on what’s possible.

Monogamy is absolute. For some, consensual non-monogamy may be a more realistic option than absolute monogamy. Dan Savage, a relationship and sex columnist, coined the term “monogamish.” He suggests that couples can remain loyal and committed while at the same time experiencing occasional sexual pleasure with others.

Adjustment of the rules requires vigilance and honesty. It may be frightening to talk about a wish to change the rules of a relationship but talking about the hard stuff is what solidifies a relationship.

The damage I did to my relationship with Doug and with my ex-wife had nothing to do with where I put my penis. It came from the lies I used to protect myself. Had Doug and I had those difficult conversations, we might have preserved our trust in each other.

Sometimes we do wrong to get out of difficult situations only to find that we’ve created an even more difficult one. If you are absent in your relationship, an affair isn’t going to make you present.

Doug and I accepted we weren’t perfect, and we couldn’t expect perfection from each other. We had to set aside our feelings of hurt and betrayal and discover a new relationship with each other. The things that drew us together still hold us together. Neither of us has any desire to change that.

***

Loren A. Olson, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist, a gifted storyteller, and the author of No More Neckties and Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight. He shares stories about his late-in-life coming out and the ensuing struggles he had with himself, his family, and his partner so that others feel they are not alone. His life’s mission has been to help people find ways to prevent life’s pains from becoming needless suffering.  For more info, visit https://www.lorenaolson.com.

Writing About Ghosts: a Guest Post by Sanctuary Author Andi C. Buchanan

Please welcome author Andi C. Buchanan to the site today, to talk about writing about ghosts and specifically doing so in their brand-new contemporary fantasy Sanctuary, which released this weekfrom Robot Dinosaur Press! Here’s the story:

Morgan’s home is a sanctuary for ghosts.

The once-grand, now dilapidated old house they live in has become a refuge for their found family—Morgan’s partner Araminta, an artist with excellent dress sense; Theo, a ten-year-old with an excess of energy; quiet telekinesthetic pensioner Denny—as well as the ghosts who live alongside them. All people who once needed sanctuary for their queer, neurodivergent selves.

Now they offer that safety to the dead as well as the living.

When a collection of ghosts trapped in old bottles are delivered to their door, something from the past is unleashed. A man who once collected ghosts – a man who should have died centuries before – suddenly has the house under his control. Morgan must trust their own abilities, and their hard-won sense of self, to save their home, their family, and the woman they love.

Buy it: Books2Read

And here’s the post by author Andi C. Buchanan!

Somehow, I keep writing about ghosts.

In From a Shadow Grave (Paper Road Press, 2019), I took a local ghost story, and imagined the futures a murdered teenager could have had: if she’d survived, if things had changed, or if her ghost had been freed from the road tunnel it haunts.

Now, in Sanctuary (Robot Dinosaur Press, 2022), I tell the story of a queer, neurodivergent found family who live in a haunted house, how they live alongside ghosts.

Both these stories are fundamentally queer at heart, and the link is no accident.

When I was a small child we lived, for a few years, near Shibden Hall in the north of England, a large old house not unlike the setting for Sanctuary. I remember family meet-ups in the gardens, running round on the lawns, hiding behind hedges. We toured the old house at least once, but it was cheaper to access just the gardens. I was in my twenties before I realised the hall’s most famous resident was Anne Lister, often described as the “first modern lesbian”and more recently  inspiration for the Gentleman Jack TV series.

I don’t think it was a history actively concealed from me, so much as an indication that queer people need to look so much harder for their histories, and they can be hard to find even when you’re really close.

Later, my time at school was spent under a law derived from – though stricter than Britain’s Section 28. In practice, the impact of that was to ban any positive mention of queer people in schools. Even though I had some excellent history teachers, there was no chance of queer history making its way into our discussions. We had the infamous picture of the burning of Hirschfield’s library in our textbooks and were told in generic terms that the Nazis burned books they didn’t like.

If ghosts exist then they are a direct connection to our history, one that can’t be legislated away, one that we don’t have to search for. Queer people still need our ghosts.

And then, of course, there’s having to live in communities where death is so common. The threat of being buried or commemorated under the wrong name. The frequent loss of religious beliefs around death – or being told you will be unwelcome in any afterlife you believe in.

I’ve long felt that those of us queer people who are older millenials, born in the early to mid eighties, occupy an almost liminal space in our relationship to queer history and culture; the last ones to experience being entirely shut out from information, and the first to have the experience that we could never be shut out. And sometimes it feels like I’m forever on one side of that boundary and the other doesn’t seem quite real.

And so I write about ghosts. Ghosts that seem to be from a different side of a world that isn’t so far away. Ghosts that are sometimes overtly queer – or were, before death – and sometimes not, but all carry with them the possibility of a link to the past, a sense of connection that resonates for those looking for queer history.

Ghosts are the fleeting glimpse of a history we have the privilege of looking at, but only sometimes, in unexpected places. We can’t guarantee we will always be able to find it. Sometimes it is translucent, distorted – we can see parts of it, but not the whole, have to rely on guesses and assumptions. We have to face up to the inaccuracies our assumptions bring. We can’t promise it will stay. We tell each other what we have seen. Sometimes we are scared. We try not to forget what we have seen.

***

Andi C. Buchanan lives just north of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Winner of a Sir Julius Vogel Award, their genre-blending novella From a Shadow Grave explores a historical murder, the legends surrounding it, and what might have been. Andi’s short fiction has previously been published in Fireside, Cossmass Infinities, Apex, and more. You can find Andi at https://andicbuchanan.org or on twitter @andicbuchanan.

Writing Midlife Butch/Femme Romance: a Guest Post by One More Chance Author Tiffany E. Taylor

Today on the site please welcome Tiffany E. Taylor, who’s here to talk about writing midlife butch/femme romance in her new book, One More Chance, which just published last month! Here’s the book:

Aimée “Jake” Charron is a still-mourning butch who tragically lost her wife long ago. Geneva Raineri is a discouraged femme who’s given up on fairytales and happily-ever-afters. One night, a personal ad written as a joke by Gen triggers an unexpectedly sensual game of online cat-and-mouse between the two.

Jake knows she’s already had one chance at a forever love, but lost it when her wife died. She wants Gen with a desire she’d thought was long dead—but Jake believes expecting to find another great love after you’ve already had one and lost it is a fool’s game.

Gen, however, is determined to prove to Jake that anyone lucky enough to be given another shot at happiness needs to grab it with both hands and never let it go.

As Jake and Gen navigate personal journeys that include heartbreak, self-discovery, passion, and courage, they both discover that risking everything to take one more chance on love might ultimately be their salvation.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

If there’s one thing I consistently hear in the world of sapphic fiction from readers who are part of the butch/femme dynamic, it’s that books focusing on this particular subgenre—specifically novels that cater to the 40+ midlife crowd—are somewhat thin on the ground.

As I assembled my beta team for One More Chance and gave them an overview on what they would be reading, all I heard was, “Yes! It’s about time!” These readers love many different kinds of sapphic fiction, but they say that reading about protagonists in their twenties can be a little bit disconcerting from the perspective of butches and femmes in their forties or fifties (and beyond). Having passed the half century mark myself, I can most certainly relate.

When I was writing the story of Jake and Gen, my then 40-something femme self could completely relate to Gen. She is a professional woman with a formidable education and a powerhouse career—someone with whom I had much more in common than with a 23-year-old barista. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a young barista, my more seasoned femme beta and ARC readers and I were able to connect with Gen on a level that went much deeper for us.

And Jake? There’s a phenomenon in the butch/femme community known as “The Dance”—an expression of queer masculine and feminine gender identity wrapped in a sexuality that feels intense, dramatic, and incredibly romantic. Jake is confident and self-assured, with a sensual maturity that lures Gen to her and makes no bones about the fact that she is the quintessential butch of Gen’s dreams.

Jake is undeniably attracted to Gen, finding a woman desirable for the first time since her wife passed away seven years prior. But how does a butch in her mid-forties even fathom the possibility of starting over again, when the love of her life has been so tragically taken from her? How does she reconcile her almost debilitating loss in the past with her newfound all-consuming desire for Gen in the present—especially when she was positive her romantic life had ended the day her wife died?

For her part, Gen has been so disillusioned by her previous relationships, she has convinced herself that the fantasy butch she’s constructed in her mind is nothing more than a figment of her imagination. Devoting herself exclusively to both her career and the baby daughter she had decided to have on her own, she has no intention of ever falling again for the mythical fairytale of happily-ever-after.

But when a friend posts a sultry personal ad Gen had written as a joke on a butch/femme dating site, Gen is beside herself and vows to ignore any responses she might receive—until Jake responds in the same vein. Gen is captivated by the seductive alpha butch, unable to resist her pull. Their conversation starts with an online cat-and-mouse game—Gen stubbornly informing Jake she will never yield to her, Jake telling Gen there is no way to resist her when she sets out to get what she wants.

When the two finally meet, sparks fly and Jake discovers in Gen the one woman in this world who can help her finally heal from her loss. However, it’s anyone’s guess if Jake will be able to slay her demons and take another chance on love with tender, compassionate Gen. When Jake initially balks, seemingly stuck in her world of pain and sorrow, Gen and her shattered heart tell Jake resolutely, “I can’t live in the past, Jake. I owe Gia the future,” before leaving Jake’s home to return to her own. Her spine of steel, even in the midst of her heartbreak, reflects a middle-aged woman who has seen a great deal of life already, and her reactions reflect that in a way that perhaps a woman of 20-something could not.

There is a happily-ever-after ending to their love story, but it takes a midlife journey through self-discovery and determination—for both Jake and Gen—before they earn their reward. The trek is arduous for them at times, two 40-something queer women who have already experienced the world more deeply than they ever had in their twenties. The risks to them may bigger at this stage of their life games—but they also discover the final gift is much, much sweeter.

This is the first book in a series I’m calling “The Dance”—stand alone 40+ happily-ever-after romances centered within the butch/femme dynamic. I want to explore how those types of queer females think and feel and react from the midpoint of their lives instead of from the time when things felt shinier and new—a later in life time when taking the greatest risks can also lead to reaping the greatest rewards.

As the book description says: Sometimes, risking everything to take one more chance on love might be your salvation.

================

Tiffany E. Taylor writes sensual sapphic romance fiction within the passionate butch/femme dynamic in a variety of genres: action-adventure, contemporary, and paranormal.

Before she became a full-time author, Tiffany was a well-known curly hair specialist. When a severe hemorrhagic stroke put an end to her hairdressing career, she started to write instead. She hopes to be an inspiration for anyone undergoing disability challenges.

She lives with her spouse and their daughter in an idyllic queer-friendly little town on Florida’s west-central coast. The Taylors have been a long-time part of the butch/femme community, about which she writes so passionately.

The New Love Equation, a Guest Post by Silver in the Mist Author Emily Victoria

In honor of Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, I’m thrilled to have Emily Victoria on the site today with a guest post entitled The New Love Equation: Writing Books With a Lot of Love, and Not a Lot of Romance. Emily’s the author of This Golden Flame and the upcoming Silver in the Mist (coming November 1, 2022 from Inkyard Press), both of which are standalone YA fantasies with aroace protags. Before we get to the post, here’s a little more on the upcoming book:

9781335406705_SMP_FC.jpgEight years ago, everything changed for Devlin: Her country was attacked. Her father was killed. And her mother became the Royal Spymistress, retreating into her position away from everyone… even her daughter.

Joining the spy ranks herself, Dev sees her mother only when receiving assignments. She wants more, but she understands the peril their country, Aris, is in. The malevolent magic force of The Mists is swallowing Aris’s edges, their country is vulnerable to another attack from their wealthier neighbor, and the magic casters who protect them from both are burning out.

Dev has known strength and survival her whole life, but with a dangerous new assignment of infiltrating the royal court of their neighbor country Cerena to steal the magic they need, she learns that not all that glitters is weak. And not all stories are true.

Preorder: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

And here’s the post!

It will surprise no one when I say that young adult books as a whole are full of romance. This makes sense. After all, the teen years are a time of exploring new romantic relationships and feelings. However, for me, an aroace teen who wasn’t really interested in any of that who became an aroace writer who still wasn’t interested in any of that, all of the emphasis on romance made it seem as if my stories would never find a place on that young adult shelf at the bookstore.

Reading about couples like Bella and Edward, Tris and Four, or Katniss and Peeta instilled in me the early lesson that no matter how much action, magic, or space exploration were in between the covers of a book, a central romance was still an absolute must for a young adult story.

So, I decided that I too would write a romance. I had written other things I hadn’t ever experienced or even seen, like dragons, or magic, or people getting all stabby with knives, so why not romance too? I managed to sign with my agent with a book that had a central romance. Although it didn’t sell, we even had positive feedback from some editors.

And yet something wasn’t right.

When I dreamed of being a published author, a large part of that was being able to write the stories that I needed when I was young, in order to understand myself and my place in the world. And what was worse, by writing a book with a central romance, I felt like I was playing into the larger societal narrative that romantic relationships were always stronger, more heartfelt, and more important than any other relationships, whether that be platonic or even familial.

Unfortunately, I think this idea does hold true for society. I can’t count how many times I’ve come across an amazing friendship depicted in a book, movie, or TV show that was well-written, complex, and full of feeling, only for someone to come along and say it would be better if the two characters were just making out. Different in an equally good way, sure, but better?

Now, don’t get me wrong. Books with romance are important. This is especially true now that we’re finally seeing shelf space for more diverse romances, including queer romances. It is so vital for queer teens to see their own relationships and identities portrayed in books (and all media), and I hope that we see more and more of these. Even I, an aroace individual, enjoy a good romance. But I also know that family relationships and friendships define the teen years too.

So, when the book that originally went out on submission failed to sell, I made a decision: I wasn’t going to force my characters into a romance. I wanted my stories to highlight friendship and family as the primary relational forces. For the first time in my life, I wrote a character just like me, Karis, who was determined to find the brother she had lost. I paired her with my cinnamon roll automaton, Alix, in my debut novel, This Golden Flame. And though there is a romance between two of the secondary characters in Flame, the relationship between Alix and Karis is a friendship; one that has its complexities, its ups and downs, and one that goes horribly wrong and has to be worked at to be fixed.

(And since I’ve had messages from aro folks who were originally concerned Karis would be forced into a relationship or that her male best friend Dane would try to impose romantic feelings on her, let me assure you: Karis is 100% romance-free in the book)

In my next book, Silver in the Mist, there is no romance whatsoever. Only a spy, who has to decide if she’s willing to risk her whole world for a friend who begins to mean everything to her.

These are the stories I needed when I was a teen. Stories that showed that the family relationships and friendships that were core to my life were just as valid as any romantic relationship. That as first a teen girl and then as a woman, I could be complete without a romantic partner. And I’m so grateful to this industry that has allowed me to write that.

My books don’t have romance. But they have so much love.

And I hope you feel that from them too.

***

Emily Victoria is a Canadian prairie girl who writes young adult science fiction and fantasy. When not word-smithing, she likes walking her over-excitable dog, drinking far too much tea, and crocheting things she no longer has the space to store. Her librarian degree has allowed her to work at a library and take home far too many books.

Writing the Characters of Your Heart: a Guest Post by The Bone Spindle Author Leslie Vedder

Today on the site, I’m thrilled to welcome author Leslie Vedder, whose debut YA fantasy, The Bone Spindle, releases today from Razorbill/Penguin! Leslie’s here to talk about writing the characters of your heart, but first, a little more about the book, billed as Sleeping Beauty Meets Indiana Jones

58082223Fi is a bookish treasure hunter with a knack for ruins and riddles, who definitely doesn’t believe in true love.

Shane is a tough-as-dirt girl warrior from the north who likes cracking skulls, pretty girls, and doing things her own way.

Briar Rose is a prince under a sleeping curse, who’s been waiting a hundred years for the kiss that will wake him.

Cursed princes are nothing but ancient history to Fi–until she pricks her finger on a bone spindle while exploring a long-lost ruin. Now she’s stuck with the spirit of Briar Rose until she and Shane can break the century-old curse on his kingdom.

Dark magic, Witch Hunters, and bad exes all stand in her way–not to mention a mysterious witch who might wind up stealing Shane’s heart, along with whatever else she’s after. But nothing scares Fi more than the possibility of falling in love with Briar Rose.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | IndieBound

And now, here’s the post by Leslie Vedder!

When I was a kid, one of my absolute favorite TV shows was Xena: Warrior Princess. It’s very dated now, and not without its flaws, but it still holds a special place in my heart. Xena was the first woman character I ever saw who felt like a larger-than-life hero to me. She was a badass. She was respected. She had a dark past. Nobody messed with her, and when she swaggered into a shady tavern, bad guys shook in their boots.

But she could also be funny, and loving, and flawed in all the best ways. It was a show full of camp that knew how to be silly and not take itself too seriously.

Xena was almost everything I wanted in a female character. But when it came to her sexuality…it was kind of a letdown.

Xena had an absolute glut of male love interests, and only tongue-in-cheek references to women. The show was absolutely swimming with subtext between Xena and her longtime sidekick Gabriel. But alas, it was an old show, so it could never just go there.

Xena was full of the possibility of queerness—but that’s all it could ever be. A possibility. A character who had been so bold and loud and downright brash about everything else was suddenly reduced to a wink and a nod.

I wanted an openly queer Xena. I don’t think I ever stopped wanting that. And that desire to see a character who got to be just as brash and tough and funny as Xena, but totally queer this time, was a big part of the inspiration for Shane, one of the two main characters of my debut YA fantasy, The Bone Spindle.

The Bone Spindle stars two girl treasure hunting partners, each with their own love story. Fi is a bookish historian who is in an m/f love story, and Shane is the ax-wielding lesbian mercenary of my dreams in an f/f relationship. (Also, she’s my wife’s absolute favorite character!)

Shane grew into so much more than her inception. The moment she exploded onto the page, she had her own voice and humor and desires. She’s got a secret past she’s left behind. A rivalry with a vicious cult of Witch Hunters. A love of gambling (though she’s not that good at it). She’s also loud and brash, and definitely the type to swagger into a tavern and leave bad guys shaking in their boots!

Maybe my favorite thing about Shane is that she’s unapologetically herself at every moment, whether that’s flirting with girls or breaking noses, and definitely when she starts falling head over heels for Red, a mysterious and dangerous Witch. If Shane was born in part from my desire for a queer Xena, then Red must be inspired at least a little by the idea of a queer Catwoman-esque femme fatale. Their love story is probably one I’ve been dreaming of writing for a long time (and I can’t wait to dig into them even more, in the later books of the trilogy!).

Working toward bringing out a first book is a major roller coaster, but one of the high points has definitely been hearing some early readers say they fell in love with Shane. She’s truly the character of my heart.

Queer representation has come a long way since Xena was on the air. There are so many amazing fantasy books and shows coming out these days with queer characters that would have set my teenage heart on fire! And they still mean the world to me right now. If I had a time machine, I would empty my current bookshelf through to my younger self. But in the absence of that, I’m so proud to get to share a character like Shane with today’s readers—and I hope she’ll be exactly what somebody’s looking for.

But I still wouldn’t say no to a totally queer Xena reboot!

***

Leslie Vedder Author Web Size.jpg
© MICHELLE DOTTER

Leslie Vedder (she/her) is a queer ace author who loves fairytale retellings with girl adventurers and heroes! She grew up on fantasy books, anime, fanfiction and the Lord of the Rings movies, and met her true love in high school choir. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in creative writing and currently lives in Colorado with her wife and two spoiled house cats.

​When she’s not reading or writing, you can find her watching anime and sci-fi shows, walking in the woods and pretending they’re enchanted forests, or playing old video games. She always collects all the Skulltulas in Zelda and all the Dalmation puppies in Kingdom Hearts.

Coming Out While Writing: a Guest Post by Names of the Dawn Author C.L. Beaumont

Today on the site we welcome C.L. Beaumont, author of Names of the Dawn, a contemporary m/m romance starring a trans man that released last month from Carnation Books. C.L. discovered his own identity while writing the book, and is here to share more about that experience! But first, the book:

Seasoned Park Ranger Will Avery has found his home in the Denali wilderness, cherishing his solitary routines for the decade leading up to 1991. The trade-off that no one knows of his identity as a transgender man feels worth it for the comforting assurance he finds in the towering glaciers.

Until Will discovers an unexpected passenger in his truck—the visiting wolf biologist everyone in the Park is ecstatic to meet—Nikhil Rajawat.

Nikhil doesn’t return his new colleagues’ fervor. He’s dreamt of Denali for one reason: the pinnacle of his research, and it isn’t anyone’s business that this is the last year he’ll get to chase the wolves. He doesn’t expect to fall for the grisled Ranger who forces him to carry bear spray in the backcountry. Just as Will doesn’t expect to ask Nikhil to share his bed.

But when their dreamlike summer comes to an end, and Nikhil resolutely leaves on a plane bound for India, a devastated Will pretends he didn’t just plead for Nikhil to stay. And one year later, when Nikhil suddenly re-appears in Denali without explanation, Will must decide if Alaska is his solitary refuge—or if perhaps there’s a home somewhere in the world for two.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

Denali was a place of many firsts for me. Almost five years ago, I spent a week there visiting my partner who was working as a seasonal Ranger. Even after years of hiking together, it was the first place I ever backpacked off trail (the mileage of which resulted in me not being able to walk normally for days). It was the first time I encountered a grizzly at close range, and the first (and thankfully, last) time I was ever chased by a moose.

On the train ride back to Fairbanks, trying not to cry over the fact it would be months before I saw my partner again, I leaned hard into the ‘romantic train travel’ aesthetic and started jotting down ideas for a potential story on the back of my park map. Denali had stunned me. I’d always been a nervous person, and yet we had ventured into that bear-infested land with only a compass. I knew it would make an incredible setting for a story: the drama of the changing seasons alongside the comfort of animal migrations, long-traveled routes by the Koyukan people who’d given the mountain its rightful name. The simplicity of life versus death, and the complexity of no certainties once we ventured beyond the sole park road.

And as I wrote, I realized that my Ranger was a trans man.

I had no idea what made me picture my main character in that way. My brief previous experience including a trans character in a story had felt like taking a picture of someone’s life and merely recording it as the writer. This felt like I was in mortal danger of falling into the photograph I was supposed to have taken.

But over the next year, I wrote the entire first draft of Names for the Dawn without even realizing I was transgender. I felt guilt, in fact, for writing from that perspective without it being my own experience. I wondered if I was allowed to write the story of Will Avery, or if I could somehow earn that right. I would have said to anyone who asked that I was a cis woman writing this story of a trans man from the perspective of a queer ally, digging into research so I could do his story justice. What I didn’t admit was that so many of his fears were uncharted whispers I’d been shutting down for twenty-five years, somehow made safer to think about if they were Will’s thoughts instead of my own. How could I have written 100,000 words of a trans man’s inner thoughts and not known?

During my second draft, once I had made the decision to turn the story into a full-on novel, I found myself in an online forum to learn more about what chest binding could have looked like for Will. A week later, my own binder arrived in the mail. Not long after that, I made a spur-of-the-moment appointment after work and cut my hair. Tiny steps that I told myself were aesthetic explorations, nothing more.

By the time I started on my third draft of the novel, I had started seeing a therapist who specialized in gender identity. I had since realized that my confusion was coming from far more than just writing this book, and yet I still feared I had over-identified with my own character, somehow brainwashing myself. It didn’t occur to me then that perhaps this writing process felt so raw and all-consuming because these were thoughts I’d had for long before I ever typed the name Will Avery.

The fourth draft, and I had come out to everyone I knew. I now understood the wave of self-doubt and vulnerability that comes with such a step. After the loneliness of silently questioning, there was now a certain type of loneliness in being seen, even though I was lucky to have supportive people in my life. I found myself thinking back to Denali as I agonized over how to describe the landscape. I had felt that same unique loneliness there among the mountains. Alone, and yet surrounded by vibrant life.

I began my fifth draft just after I started taking testosterone. Again, my entire understanding of the book had shifted. The scenes where Will gives himself his shot didn’t change, but they felt more intimate now, not purely medical. I understood the subtle shame that comes with having to pierce yourself to bring who you are to the surface where everyone can see. I felt I should have been scared of such a seemingly permanent or drastic step, and yet I felt no fear.

A year later, I completed the last major rewrites while recovering from my own top surgery. It was the aspect of Will’s life that had felt the most unbelievable to me when I first wrote it — the fact that someone was allowed to just do that. And there I was, editing passages that I knew were first written by a hand that had absolutely no idea that same operating room was on my own horizon. I added in a scene where Will takes his shirt off outside for the first time. It was perhaps the first detail where it felt like I knew something my own character didn’t, finally allowing myself to be the expert of my own experience.

I struggled for a long time with my decision to continue working on this book. It felt like my earliest drafts were a lie, both to myself and to future readers. Or like maybe I should have moved on from this book a long time ago, treating it as a tool that had helped me when I needed it most. It feels strange now to be in the same category — as the world sees it — as my protagonist.

But as I prepare to send this book out into the world, I look back at the moment I first stepped off the bus into the Denali landscape. That same trust in myself accompanied me to my first therapy session, the first day with my new name tag at work, the day I told the people I love who I really was. It doesn’t feel devastating to recognize that it’s finally time to leave Denali behind. Perhaps these past five years haven’t really been about transitioning while writing a trans character. Rather, they’ve been about how I can write a story of a Ranger in Alaska.

***

C. L. Beaumont received his B.A. in South Asian Linguistics and Art History from the University of California, Berkeley, and now volunteers as a crisis line counselor while he delves into his true love: writing. When he isn’t hiking or checking another National Park off his list, he enjoys devouring crime fiction, cooking new vegetarian recipes, and working on way too many cross stitch projects at once. C. L. Beaumont lives in Montana with his gorgeous partner and their chickens.

 

Love and Death in London 1932: a Guest Post by A Death in Bloomsbury Author David C. Dawson

Please welcome David C. Dawson to the site, author of historical gay mystery A Death in Bloomsbury, which releases today! He’s here to share a little more about how gay men survived in 1930s London, but first, here’s the story, which is the first in a brand-new series:

Everyone has secrets… but some are fatal.

1932, London. Late one December night Simon Sampson stumbles across the body of a woman in an alleyway. Her death is linked to a plot by right-wing extremists to assassinate the King on Christmas Day. Simon resolves to do his patriotic duty and unmask the traitors.
But Simon Sampson lives a double life. Not only is he a highly respected BBC radio announcer, but he’s also a man who loves men, and as such must live a secret life. His investigation risks revealing his other life and with that imprisonment under Britain’s draconian homophobic laws of the time. He faces a stark choice: his loyalty to the King or his freedom.

This is the first in a new series from award-winning author David C. Dawson. A richly atmospheric novel set in the shadowy world of 1930s London, where secrets are commonplace, and no one is quite who they seem.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | Waterstones | Booktopia

And here’s the post!

My latest novel A Death in Bloomsbury is set in the shadowy world of gay life in 1930s London. I wanted to write a book that explore what it was like if you were gay when homosexuality was illegal. The story is a thriller set at Christmas time with gay characters as the main protagonists.

If you were a man in love with another man back in 1932 it was tough. Really tough. In the UK, the anti-gay laws had become strengthened with a new law in 1885. So much so that the new regulations were called a blackmailer’s charter.

Ten years later Oscar Wilde was to fall foul of them.

He was sentenced to two years hard labour, something from which he never fully recovered and died a few years later at the age of just forty-one.

The law was so strict you could be charged if your letters to your lover were discovered. Or if your neighbour reported you for a having a gentleman friend stay over.

And then there was entrapment.

Police would sometimes use their “pretty officers” to hang around known gathering places for gay men. If they were propositioned, the propositioner was promptly arrested.

The penalties for being found guilty of “gross indecency” as it was known were harsh. Two years hard labour meant two years walking on a vertical treadmill for up to six hours a day, climbing the equivalent of fourteen thousand feet. If you were a gentleman like Wilde, unused to physical work, your body was all but destroyed.

So how did gay men avoid prosecution?

In my research I discovered that they were remarkably resourceful. The word gay in those days meant happy and bright. The word homosexual was hardly used. Men who loved other men referred to themselves as being other. Incidentally, the authorities considered it impossible for a woman to love another woman. Lesbians didn’t exist. Women who loved women referred to themselves as Sapphic-leaning.

There were many other euphemisms used in 1930s London. In fact, gay men used an entirely invented language called Polari.

Polari had been used in London’s fish markets, fairgrounds and the theatre. It borrowed words from Romany, London slang and Yiddish. For example legs became lallies and look became vada.

It also created code words by reversing certain words. Hence face became ecaf, shortened to eek. Many gay men worked in the theatre and so adopted the language to be able to talk openly to each other without fear of other people understanding. Two gay men in a pub could admire a handsome new arrival by saying to each other: “Vada the bona lallies on that uomi” meaning “Look at the attractive legs on that man” without anyone knowing.

Gay men also had allies. Through the centuries, straight allies have often helped gay men when they faced oppression. Straight allies are still crucially important today. In 1930s London they would provide safe meeting places for gay men. In A Death in Bloomsbury much of the action centres on a pub called The Fitzroy Tavern. This is an actual pub in the 1930s run by a straight couple. It was known to welcome gay men, as well as “artists, Bohemians and other creative types”. In my book I refer to the pub owner using persuasive techniques to ensure the local police didn’t raid them, and this did actually happen with another similar pub in London.

There was also the famous Lyon’s Corner House on the Strand. This popular restaurant had a whole floor where gay men could meet discreetly, and it became known as The Lily Pond. Of course Soho was the best place to go to meet other men, have a drink and maybe a dance. But you were always at risk of the police raiding the venue. Knowing your escape route in an emergency was crucial.

Straight allies remain vital for gay men up to this day. There are still many parts of the world where being gay is illegal with punishments ranging from a straightforward fine to stoning or death. Our struggle for the right to be who we are, to love who we love will sadly never be over. And it is with the love and support of our straight allies that we can continue that struggle. Thank you to all who have worked to support us.

***

David C. Dawson is an award-winning author, journalist and documentary maker. He writes British-themed thrillers, both contemporary and period. He also writes gay romance. His latest book, A Death in Bloomsbury, was published in November 2021. His first novel, The Necessary Deaths, won an FAPA award in the best suspense/thriller category. It’s the first of three books in the Delingpole Mysteries series. David has also written two gay romances: For the Love of Luke and Heroes in Love. David lives in London, with his boyfriend and two cats. In his spare time, he tours Europe and sings with the London Gay Men’s Chorus. You can find out more about David at his website: http://www.davidcdawson.co.uk

 

The Liberating Politics of Queernorm Fiction: a Guest Post by Where the Rain Cannot Reach Author Adesina Brown

I’m excited to welcome Adesina Brown to the site today, who’s gues-posting on queernorm fiction in honor of their upcoming release, Where the Rain Cannot Reach, which publishes with Atmosphere Press on December 7th! Here’s the story:

Tair has never known what it means to belong. Abandoned at a young age and raised in the all-Elven valley of Mirte, the young Human defines herself by isolation, confined to her small, seemingly trustworthy family.

Abruptly, that family uproots her from Mirte and leads her on an inevitable but treacherous journey to Doman: the previous site of unspeakable Human atrocities and the current home of Dwarvenkind. Though Doman offers Tair new definitions of family and love, it also reveals to her that her very existence is founded in lies. Now, tasked with an awful responsibility to the Humans of Sossoa, Tair must decide where her loyalties lie and, in the process, discover who she wants to be… And who she has always been.

In their debut fantasy novel Where the Rain Cannot Reach, Adesina Brown constructs a world rich with new languages and nuanced considerations of gender and race, ultimately contemplating how, in freeing ourselves from power, we may find true belonging.

Buy it: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N

And here’s the post!

Death is inevitable. We learn this fact when we are young. Our family and friends will all die, and so too will this earth, as well as all the stars and moons and planets that make up the universe. Death does not discriminate, I once thought.

Until I died, or something of the sort. Spiteful and unchecked, cisgender and heterosexual people the world over harass, attack, and kill those in the queer and transgender community. In bearing witness to these deaths, a part of myself dies, too—a part of my irrevocably queer, non-binary self dies. In other words, I have learned that death is particularly inevitable for me, and for queer and trans people like me. Before that death, life is a just a series of unavoidable sexuality- and gender-based discrimination defined by constant fragmenting of self to ensure our safety. Because we are preoccupied with surviving all the hostility we face, we have not had the opportunity, neither the time nor the space, to dream of better worlds where we do not have to simply survive.

Unfortunately, fiction reflects nonfiction; our stories reflect our realities. An early fan of speculative fiction, particularly sci-fi and fantasy, I quickly recognized a pattern: if a character was queer and/or trans, they died a horrible, tragic death. This is known as the “bury your gays” trope. If a queer and/or trans character did not die, they lived otherwise miserable lives surrounded by bigots and non-LGBTQ+ people who eased the pain of such bigotry with placating reminders of allyship and frequent rebukes of society, of which they are apparently not a part. Their advice? Look for and accept only the small joys where you can get them; it’s all we can hope for when the world is so tragically against us. It gets better.

We yearn for more, yet we are told that “more” is an unattainable, naïve dream. I found few refuges in fiction where people like me were not being mocked or harassed for character growth, where our deaths were not fodder for the main characters to reach their final act. And, like any of us, I desperately needed that refuge; I needed representation to demonstrate to me that we all may live in ways that feel complicated and authentic—not simply to live, then, but to thrive, unencumbered by prejudice.

My first refuge, as was the case for many young nerds, was in fanfiction written by other people who sought representation in the same ways I did, who did not want to create more worlds where we were marginalized. Instead, we would be accepted, embraced, even expected in these worlds. We wrote dreams of safety and understanding that centered characters who had already provided us some emotional comfort; we wrote them to be as true as us, despite all the lies we had to tell to protect ourselves.

Thankfully, such a haven of queer and trans happiness did not stop with fanfiction, nor did it truly start there. For decades, many authors have written in the spirit of that dream in what is known as “queernormative” or “queernorm” fiction. Speculative by nature, queernorm fiction imagines worlds in which there is no homophobia nor transphobia and often centers a queer and/or trans main character. In it, queerness and transness is a given, and still it is not central; our identities are not made plot points, nor are they the reason we experience (or inevitably cause) harm. Queernorm fiction intends not to create safe spaces for queer and trans people but to create safe worlds for queer and trans people.

The richness of that dream cannot be exaggerated. Whether it be Kameron Hurley’s Worldbreaker Saga or Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series, or my own novel Where the Rain Cannot Reach, our authors are offering us worlds where gender and sexual diversity is a given, where our visions of gender and sexuality can be morphed into something so thankfully new. Queer and trans characters are not late add-ons to these series, nor do they fall into other tropes that limit queer and trans happiness solely due to our non-normative identities.

When offered the vision of an identity-diverse world, we receive much more than pacifications of fortitude and hope; instead, we are gifted the radical imagination of wider liberation and cannot be satiated with incremental changes. We now know what else is possible. The inherent optimism in queernorm fiction has helped me to cultivate and sustain my dream for radical changes to the way we are treated as marginalized people overall.

And, with that, I am reminded the value of life in ways that cisgender and heterosexual people never have to imagine. When I think on the inevitability of death, I include in that now a hope for a future in which we are all offered the chance to recognize and take joy in our multitudes. For now, as I live, I also write with that dream in mind. I offer myself refuge in worlds of my making, where we are safe in our variance. Our words, our wishes.

***

Where the Rain Cannot Reach is Adesina Brown’s debut novel. To learn more, please visit their website adesinabrown.com.

Queer Cauldron: Mixing it All Together for LGBTQ+ Stories, a Guest Post by Author Courtney Lanning

Please welcome Courtney Lanning to the site today, to discuss writing queer casts for queer stories, including in her recent release, Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl! Here’s a little more about the book:

Roxie is a sweet trans girl who just wants to spend the rest of her summer vacation playing music with her friends in their band. Living in a southern college town like Fayetteville has its challenges. Dan is a shop wizard who would give anything to escape the store he’s been trapped in for a century under the watchful eyes of a witch and a talking fox.

Their paths converge when Roxie is given the ability to travel into dreams and tasked with fighting off nightmares.

Unbeknownst to Dan and Roxie, other dream walkers are searching for an enchanted key, and if they find it, they’ll plunge the entire city into a living nightmare. The shop wizard and pixie dream girl will have to team up to stop them, facing their own nightmares along the way.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

It does my heart good to see so many queer stories being published this year. LGBTQ+ literature is going strong, and I hope it’ll just continue to snowball into 2022 and beyond.

Some of my favorite titles I’ve pounced on this year include The River Has Teeth and The Lost Girls (big sucker for ya lesbian fantasy novels). And while I can’t speak for authors like Erica Waters and Sonia Hartl, I can speak for myself as a queer author in terms of what’s driving my own LGBTQ+ writing.

My debut fantasy novel, Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl, released on the last day of Pride Month, and it follows the adventures of a trans girl who is given the ability to travel into dreams.

When I was writing the book, all I could think to myself was I just don’t see enough transgender representation in the fantasy genre. Fortunately, Riverdale Avenue Books gave me an opportunity to help address that.

As I wrote chapter after chapter of Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl, I found myself reaching into a cauldron of queer material that inspired me, not only growing up, but over the last decade of my writing.

Anime is something I’ve enjoyed watching ever since I was a little girl, and Sailor Moon was the first one I saw. I spent several years wanting to grow up to be a magical girl like Usagi and the other Sailor Scouts. But this anime also had a queer twist, introducing Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus as gay lovers in the third season.

It’s no secret that I took a bit of influence from Sailor Moon when I created the character of Roxie. I wanted to accomplish a few different things with Roxie’s character, primarily establishing her as a magical girl of my making and giving transgender readers a hero of their own to cheer for and reflect on.

When it came to overall themes of Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl, I also found myself borrowing a bit from the cartoon Steven Universe, both in moments of levity and silliness with my characters and placing an importance on mental health care, which is something the show brings up repeatedly for most of its characters.

In chapter two, where Roxie first appears, she goes to see her therapist. It’s one of the first things she does, and I wanted to establish that as a normal part of her life. Given the discrimination and mistreatment transgender women face externally and the dysphoria that can eat away at them on the inside, I knew it was important to show Roxie taking steps to deal with her trauma and normalize addressing it.

Of course, I also had literature to pull out of my queer cauldron and mix into Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl. My favorite author is Holly Black, and not long after coming out, my wife suggested I read her Tithe trilogy. So, I did, and quickly fell in love with those stories. To this day, they sit very first in line on the top level of my bookshelf.

Black showed me how important it was to have other queer characters throughout your novels, and throughout her books about faeries, she establishes not just queer characters but a magical world of Faerie where beings just are what they are with regards to gender and sexual identity. Nobody is treated badly for having an identity outside of the cis-het “norm.” In Black’s world of faerie, characters are treated horribly for other reasons, but that’s a different essay entirely.

So I knew I couldn’t just have a transgender protagonist and assume that was all the representation my story needed. So in Roxie’s tight friend group I introduced Tessa, a queer girl who plays guitar and drives a beat up old van she uses to transport all the band equipment.

In book two, The Ozarks Druid (coming out next year), I include other LGBTQ+ characters, like the protagonist, Aoife, a bisexual girl in a relationship with a drama student named Abigail. And there are more in books three and four. I intend to include a plurality of LGBTQ+ characters throughout my Boston Mountain Magic series. Black’s subsequent works like The Darkest Part of the Forest and the Folk of the Air series helped show me how important that is.

But I suspect most queer authors have their own rainbow cauldrons and brews they use to craft queer stories like I do. It’s my hope publishers will continue to seek out those authors and their queer cauldrons because the world needs all of it.

***

Courtney Lanning is a journalist in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She’s earned a master’s degree in multimedia journalism. When she’s not writing, Lanning is probably watching a movie, playing video games, reading or out running. Her debut novel, Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl, released at the end of June 2021. She can be found on Twitter under @SapphicCourtney or on Facebook under Courtney Lanning – Author.

What’s In A Name? On Writing Jewish Families In Queer Romance, a Guest Post: by Unwritten Rules Author KD Casey

Today on the site, we’re welcoming KD Casey, author of the upcoming Jewish m/m sports romance Unwritten Rules, which releases October 12, 2021 from Carina Press. KD’s here to talk about writing queer Jewish rep, but first, here’s the story behind the book:

Zach Glasser has put up with a lot for the sport he loves. Endless days on the road, playing half-decent baseball in front of half-full stadiums and endless nights alone, pretending this is the life he’s always wanted.

The thing is, it could have been everything he ever wanted—if only he’d had the guts to tell his family, tell the club, that he was in love with his teammate Eugenio Morales. Well, ex-teammate now. When Zach wouldn’t—couldn’t—come out, Eugenio made the devastating choice to move on, demanding a trade away from Oakland. Away from Zach.

Three years and countless regrets later, Zach still can’t get Eugenio out of his head. Or his heart. And when they both get selected to play in the league’s All-Star Classic, those feelings and that chemistry come roaring back.

Zach wants a second chance. Eugenio wants a relationship he doesn’t have to hide. Maybe it’s finally time they both get what they want.

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

And here’s the post!

I have a confession to make as an author: I hate naming characters.

My first drafts are littered with placeholders, brackets, a healthy amount of [name here], and an unhealthy amount of whining to critique partners. Because names are decisions. They reflect characters’ birthplaces, ethnicities, the era in which they live, and socioeconomic class. 

Unwritten Rules, which comes out in October, started as a Gchat conversation with a friend. It’s a conversation I’ve returned to a number of times throughout the editing process, specifically to reflect on the evolution of the book’s main characters, and by extension, their families and histories. 

Both main characters began their lives as placeholder names, as unmade decisions. To get from idle conversation to 100,000 word novel, I needed a (small) push. At my request, my friend provided the following list of names: Zach, Cal, Evan, Mario, Yehuda, Andy, Eugenio, Mike. Each of these signify different things about characters. One can imagine the background and experience of someone named Yehuda differs fairly significantly from someone named Cal

Two of these names eventually became the main characters of Unwritten Rules. The book follows Zach Glasser, a professional baseball player, who unexpectedly reunites with Eugenio Morales, who’s his ex-teammate—and ex-boyfriend.

Along with the decision about names came a lot of information about Zach and Eugenio as histories and backgrounds beyond former partners. Eugenio’s family is from Venezuela, and immigrated to the United States in the late ‘80s. (A few people have asked me how Eugenio is pronounced. Here’s an interview with Eugenio Suárez, a Venezualen infielder on the Cincinnati Reds, where the interviewer says his name a number of times.)

Zach’s name is specifically Ashkenazi Jewish because the character (like me!) comes from a Ashkenazi Jewish family. I didn’t set out to write a Jewish book, but once I decided on Zach’s name, I “knew” a lot about him.

His grandmother immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. His mother drinks tea in a Russian Jewish way: with sugar between her teeth and from a glass mug, not a ceramic one. The book also has a sprinkling of Yiddish, discussions of a ketubah, and an emotionally significant babka. 

In naming Zach, I also realized I was writing a queer Jewish baseball book that would, necessarily, focus on Zach’s relationship with his family. His major conflict was being torn between his family’s wishes for him and professional baseball’s “unwritten rules,” the set of dictates that governs, and limits, players’ lives on and off the field. 

There aren’t a huge number of romance novels, particularly queer, non-YA romance novels, written by Jewish authors about Jewish families. They do exist: Shira Glassman and Jennet Alexander write them. Corey Alexander, alehém hashalóm, wrote them. But they are relatively few in number compared with the vastness (the wonderful vastness!) that is genre romance. 

In general—and this is not limited to works by Jewish authors—I’ve seen queerness with Judaism portrayed in one of two ways: unconditional acceptance or religiously-based intolerance. Both of these are valid, possible experiences, but they aren’t the only experiences. I wanted to write a book where the main character feels the very real Jewish pressures to get married and have a family, but that those pressures come from love and survival rather than bigotry.

Readers, both Jewish and not, come in with their own notions of what Jewish families are like. These notions derive from both personal experience and media depiction, be it realistic or reductive. To be clear, there are pressures: Academically, professionally, romantically. That we should get married. To a doctor. A Nice Jewish Boy or Girl who can love us and keep us. 

These pressures don’t arise from nowhere. If you’ve experienced generational displacement, then it makes sense to pursue professions that are employable regardless of location. Therefore, marrying a doctor isn’t born of some grasping financial instinct but an acknowledgement of trauma and of history. 

So how to portray a family whose love, and anxieties are both valid and limiting? Another early decision I made (spoilers!) is that Zach’s relationship with his family not only survived the book but was deepened and strengthened throughout it. As a queer person, I understand why people write about familial homophobia and rejection. It’s unfortunately a real thing that occurs. If novels are about emotional catharsis, there is a certain satisfaction for a reader when a character stands up to their awful, homophobic family. 

But I’m always left wondering—what then? Whose house do they go to on Rosh Hashanah? Who do they call on Passover when their pesadich (kosher for Passover) cake turns out closer to fudge? Where will they get gossip about their second cousin’s wife’s sister? It’s hard for me to balance the romance requirement of an optimistic ending (in addition to a central love story) with the notion of estrangement. That when a fictional character—for legitimate and understandable reasons—closes that door, what happens the next day? The next year? 

If romance is a genre of hope, then that happy ending had to extend beyond Zach and Eugenio’s eventual reconciliation to Zach’s relationship with his family and his sense of Jewishness. Those were the hardest parts to write. Because Zach’s family is in many ways my own, not in a literal sense, but in a sense of having gone through similar considerations and compromises. 

Without tipping (more) into spoilers, I wanted his family not to be overbearing, uncompromising stereotypes, but real people with real dreams and fears for their child. His mother, in particular, could have easily become the villain of the book: The inflexible, haranguing Jewish woman who is often the only representation we get in media. I wanted her to be sometimes those things and sometimes not those things. More pressingly, I wanted Zach, as her child, to come to see and understand her as much as she comes to see and understand him.

Writing about your own people, your own culture, is often a conversation with stereotypes. Those stereotypes can be challenged or reconstructed, but they are lurking, present, in readers’ assumptions—and my own assumptions. Writing this book became about acknowledging and challenging those assumptions, and about treating characters with care.   

Zach’s mother isn’t based on my own mother, but on the distance I see between the stereotypes about Jewish parents and the realities of actually having them. (Also, Mom, if you’re reading this, I asked you not to read the book because of [redacted], [redacted], and please don’t tell the rabbi about this one, [redacted].)

In writing a Jewish family, I wanted them to be imperfect, and loving, and whole. I wanted to show the work it takes on Zach’s part and his family’s part to provide that optimistic ending, one that’s messy but ultimately hopeful. It was a journey I didn’t expect to go on, but I’m glad I did. And hope you join me for it. 

KD Casey (https://linktr.ee/KDCaseyWrites) is a romance writer and baseball enthusiast living in the Washington, DC area. Her debut novel UNWRITTEN RULES will be published by Carina Press in October 2021 and is available for preorder.