Category Archives: Guest post

Wish Fulfillment in Queer Lit: a Guest Post by Queen of Ieflaria Author Effie Calvin

thI’m so pleased to welcome Effie Calvin, author of The Queen of Ieflaria, to the site today to discuss wish fulfillment in queer lit! I know it’s a topic that garners lots of discussion, so once you’ve checked out her novel, check out the post below it!

Princess Esofi of Rhodia and Crown Prince Albion of Ieflaria have been betrothed since they were children but have never met. At age seventeen, Esofi’s journey to Ieflaria is not for the wedding she always expected but instead to offer condolences on the death of her would-be husband.

But Ieflaria is desperately in need of help from Rhodia for their dragon problem, so Esofi is offered a new betrothal to Prince Albion’s younger sister, the new Crown Princess Adale. But Adale has no plans of taking the throne, leaving Esofi with more to battle than fire-breathing beasts.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

I live for wish fulfillment. Specifically, I live for queer wish fulfillment. This isn’t a guilty pleasure thing, this is something I am honestly and openly passionate about. I think wish fulfillment is a positive thing that we should embrace! And I believe that there are so many unique possibilities for inclusive world-building in speculative fiction.

I love to see writers proudly inserting their own identities into stories where there’s often a kneejerk reaction of “but people like you don’t belong here!” Minorities of all kinds have been made to feel unwelcome in sci fi and fantasy. Ironically, these genres are the best places for authors to easily build worlds that reject bigotry at a fundamental level.

When I was a kid, I used books to escape into worlds better than the one around me. Adventure, prophesy, evil empires, magical beasts; all those things appealed to who I am. And yet, I was never fortunate enough to stumble upon one of those rare few where the main character wasn’t heterosexual. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken me until college to come out!

When I finally did begin to embrace my identity, I told myself that I needed to come to terms with the fact that people like me were never the heroes of the stories I loved. At best, they were quirky sidekicks probably destined for an early death. At worst they were monsters, Hays Code throwbacks that embodied every negative stereotype about queer people. But usually they just plain didn’t exist.

I knew I wanted to be an author, so I wrote a couple of books, always about heterosexual girls having adventures and getting the boy at the end. None of them sold. Exhausted and frustrated, I decided I was going to write something for me, something unashamedly gay. I remembered playing Skyrim, how I’d married Ysolda and adopted two girls and lived in a giant house and nobody cared. I knew there were games that opted not to implement homophobia in their fantasy worlds. Why not do the same in a book?

I’d only been reading traditionally published novels up until that point, so I didn’t know of any books that treated queer relationships as unremarkable. But I had read fantasy novels that didn’t have sexism, where women could own their own property or be warriors or mages or whatever. If worlds without sexism could exist, why not worlds without homophobia?

At the time, I’d only been reading traditionally published novels, so this was not a concept I’d ever encountered in the wild. Nevertheless, in February 2015, I began a story about a princess betrothed to another princess. I didn’t care if it didn’t make sense. I didn’t care if it was stupid. It was the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to see myself in a fairy tale setting.

And yet, as I began to design the world, I realized just how much of my preconceived notions of what “normalcy” was were influencing my writing. My concept wasn’t nonsensical. It was just…different. New. I was subverting every toxic trope I’d ever internalized about queer people and, by extension, about myself. It was freeing. I was letting myself exist without excuse or explanation, just as I do in the real world.

And that’s the wonderful thing about speculative fiction. We can design worlds where taboos against different sexualities or gender identities (or any other sort of identity) simply do not exist. And there’s countless ways to do it. Millions of worlds, millions of possibilities. We can be ourselves without suffering.

When creating a setting like this, one will inevitably come across readers whose suspension of disbelief stops short at the inclusion of minorities. Dragons, fairies, elves, space aliens, faster-than-light travel, sleeping off gut wounds = okay. Queer people or women or people of color living free of any traces of oppression? Now that’s a bridge too far.

The argument, in this case, tends to be that dragons, fairies, etc, belong in these genres, whereas queer people stick out as anachronistic. I’ve even seen this argued in non-earth settings. I’ve even seen it argued for my own work, which was designed specifically to be a queer utopia with no connection to our real world!

For the sake of argument, let’s say that queer people in fantasy settings is anachronistic. It’s not, but let’s just pretend that it is. The thing is, a lot of what we think of as ‘historical’ or staples of the genre is anachronistic. The reason that we fail to recognize the anachronisms is because we have grown up with them. Even if we know intellectually that Vikings never wore horned helmets, we don’t balk at the sight of them in fiction because we’re accustomed to them. In that vein, I see the objection to any kind of minorities in fiction as nothing more than an appeal to tradition. Just because we’ve always done it a certain way doesn’t mean we have to carry on like that.

But honestly, I’m not terribly invested in arguing with people who think I don’t deserve to exist in my own fantasy. I have things to do and chocolate to eat. It is my belief that people who don’t want to see queer characters in fiction don’t object to it for any scientific or historical reasons, regardless of what they claim. They don’t want to see queer characters in fiction because they do not want to see queer characters, period. Why should I waste my time trying to connect with someone like that when I could be spending it making my readers happy?

Is bigotry a fundamental and inescapable aspect of humanity? There’s no real way to know for certain, but I’d like to think it’s not. And even if it is, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with occasionally wanting to slip into a world where that isn’t the case. In a time where the world seems bleaker than ever, I like my storytelling to be optimistic.

Stories where queer characters have to struggle to overcome bigotry are extremely important and valuable, and I definitely don’t think authors should stop writing them. But I’m so glad to see so many writers coming forward with queer genre fiction. These were the stories I needed when I was younger. By writing them, I hope I can make the world a better place for those who come after me.

***

Effie Calvin is a lesbian librarian from the Philadelphia area. Her favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy of all kinds. When she isn’t writing books, she can usually be found taking pictures of her extremely spoiled cat. Her debut novel was released in February 2018 from Nine Star Press, and the sequel was released in November 2018. Her third book, The Queen of Rhodia, has an expected publication date of May 2019.

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Getting Your Art Out Into The World: A Guest Post By Estella Mirai

Today’s the release date of The Stars May Rise & Fall, a queer retelling of The Phantom of the Opera set in Tokyo, written by the lovely Estella Mirai. But this is a book that almost didn’t happen, and after years of publishing hardship, it’s a day of bittersweet triumph that it did, so check out the story behind the story, and of course, the story itself!

Teru came to Tokyo with dreams of making it big in the glam-metal visual kei scene, but three SMRFcover.jpgyears later, all he has to show for it is a head of hot pink hair and some skill with an eyeliner pencil. He may look the part, but he doesn’t sound it, and constant bickering among his bandmates has him worried about his future. When he finds a mysterious business card in his bag, he’s willing to take any help he can get.

Help comes in the form of Rei, a crippled, disfigured composer whose own career was ended by an accident before it had really begun. With Teru’s voice and looks, and Rei’s money and songwriting skills, both of their dreams seem about to come true – but a forbidden kiss and a late-night confession threaten to tear it all apart. Now Teru, who has spent most of his life denying his attraction to men, and Rei, who vowed long ago never to love again, must reconcile their feelings with their careers – and with their carefully constructed ideas of themselves.

THE STARS MAY RISE AND FALL is an M/M retelling of Phantom of the Opera, set in Tokyo at the turn of the millennium. It comes with a healthy dose of angst and a dollop of nostalgia, as well as an age-difference romance, a physically disabled love interest, and memorable characters who will stay with you long after the pages are closed.

Buy It: Amazon

***

Today is the day I become a published author. Today is the day the book of my heart is officially out in the world.

That is 100% a cause for celebration, and I’m definitely going to pop open the champagne tonight. But a part of me will probably always feel a little sad for this book, for not coming into the world the way it almost did.

I’m not ashamed to admit that self-publishing wasn’t my first choice. It wasn’t really my second choice either. It is, however a choice that ultimately feels right, and maybe somewhat fated. So I’d like to talk a little bit about the story behind the story… how my book fought its way through a string of bad luck and the author’s anxiety to find a place (I hope!) on your Kindle.

I actually started writing The Stars May Rise and Fall with the intent to publish it as fanfiction in 2005. I’d been a fan of Phantom of the Opera in its various incarnations for over a decade, but when the movie version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical came out, my fandom, along with many other people’s, was rekindled, and I found a little group of fans, many of whom wrote and read fanfiction. The idea, and early versions of the first few chapters, were born.

I ended up putting the story aside, unfinished. There were a couple of reasons for this—pregnancy brain (it’s a thing!), for one, and the fact that I’d started writing with no idea what the ending would be, or even if it would be a happy one or not. Every once in awhile I’d remember the characters and wish I’d been able to give them the story they deserved. But I was busy with family and work and paying bills, and didn’t really come back to it until 2013. At that point, I was pretty sure that what I had wasn’t really a fanfic anymore. The people who had been the most enthusiastic about those early chapters had been a very specific section of our little fandom group (namely, the queer one), and I didn’t really think that the target audience was necessarily limited only to people who already liked other, very different, versions of the Phantom story. So I came back to it with a more general audience in mind, came up with an ending that finally felt right, and found a beta reader.

She loved it.

That remains one of the biggest validations I have EVER had as a writer. This total stranger, whose own book was so awesome it had me as nervous over her feedback as I was excited about doing my half of the swap, loved it and GOT it and… suggested that I query literary agents, as she was about to do. She also became one of my very best friends, but that’s a different story. 😉

I really hadn’t considered getting this book PUBLISHED published until that point. I thought I’d put it on Amazon or Wattpad, send the link to my little group of Phantom fans from eight years earlier, and hope other people stumbled upon it, too. But this total stranger had LOVED it. And while I knew it was a hard sell, I thought it might have a chance. So I sent out my first ten queries to agents, and got my very first request less than 24 hours later.

I got lots of requests. I also got lots of rejections. Eventually I cut the unwieldy 102,000 word draft I started querying with down to about 78,000 (it stands at around 88,000 now), and completely rewrote the beginning. But it was still a gay love story that wasn’t YA, but also wasn’t erotic. It was still a book with a 21-year-old main character back when New Adult was still big-ish… but it wasn’t set at college. I queried it as several different genres and categories. A lot of agents said nice things, but it took awhile to find someone who thought she could sell it.

Long story short, I DID eventually find an agent for this book, and we revised it together and were about to send it out to publishers… when my agent announced that she was leaving agenting. I was devastated. She had been one of my biggest allies, and no one else at her agency wanted to take on my book… so I was back in the trenches.

Another long story short, I found ANOTHER agent, and maybe half a year later, we had an offer of publication from a small but reputable press, which had nice covers, returnable paperbacks, and did have at least some bookstore and library distribution. It wasn’t going to make me the next Rowling, but again, I knew my book was a hard sell, and they were offering the most important things I wanted and couldn’t do on my own. All that was left was to alert the other publishers and see if we got any other offers. My agent let the others know that an offer was on the table.

About a week later, I got a text: SUPER HUGE PUBLISHER WHOSE NAME EVEN NON-BOOK PEOPLE KNOW is calling me RIGHT NOW!”

I’m not going to name the publisher, but to analogize another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, it felt very much like poor Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard getting her call from Paramount.

Unlike Norma’s call, this one was actually an offer. Unfortunately, it was not the offer that Googling the editor’s past huge deals (bad choice, past me) had me trying very hard (and failing) not to hope for. Other than name value, they were offering less than the small press was, so we turned them down, and my agent began negotiating the contract with the small press. I was happy, of course, to be selling my book… but in a sense, getting that particular offer from an editor who I knew had gotten life-changing deals for other debut authors hurt more than any form rejection (even though I know the decision was likely not hers, or not hers alone).

Still, I liked the small press, and while my 12-hour-long conviction that I’d Made It Big™ was over, at least I was finally going to be published!

… but.

That small press was Samhain. And as you might already know, Samhain shut down, without much notice, with tons of pending titles in the works. My agent texted me “Saw the news about Samhain…” at 6 a.m. I got the details from Twitter. I’m still not sure if I’m glad or devastated that it was before the contract was signed… on the one hand, there were no legal complications, but I never even got to announce my deal.

It’s hard to explain how I felt at that point except to say I was… broken. This book had come so close, so many times, and this was how it was going to end? My agent offered to send it out again, or to see if the other publisher was still interested… but I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I was broken. I asked my agent to officially pull it from any publishers who hadn’t responded, and left the agency (for reasons not addressed here… my agent and I had different ideas about my overall career direction that came out during the submission process, but did not arise because of it), vowing to come back big with book 2.

Book 2 had LOTS of interest from agents… and none from publishers. And I was still broken. I would get feedback from my new agent, and where I had been so excited about revisions with the first book, every semi-major suggestion for the second felt like hitting a wall. I agreed with the feedback, but couldn’t see how to apply it. In the end, the thought of completely rewriting Book 2 (because it really did need a complete rewrite) made me feel sick. Never say never, but at least at the time, I didn’t love that book enough to write it from scratch a second time.

I was also just trapped in a negative spiral. I wanted to be happy for my friends’ successes, to be excited to read new books and to start writing something new, too. But it was getting harder and harder, and I didn’t like the bitter, angry person I was in danger of becoming.

So I stepped back. I cut back on reading. I quit Twitter, kept in touch with only the very closest of my writer friends. It was hard, but I think it was necessary. And it helped. I kept writing, but I stopped trying to get published, and after about a year, I started to enjoy it again.

And a couple of things happened that made me realize I still needed to publish this book.

The first was that I got back into fanfiction, in a different fandom, under a different name. The response I got, even as a total unknown, was positive, and helped me to feel confident about my writing in a way that I hadn’t in years.

A part of it also had to do with general anxiety over the global political climate, climate change, and everything else that’s going on these days. If the world were to end, in whatever sense, tomorrow, and I never got this book into the hands of readers, I’d regret it. I knew that by self-publishing, I’d be immediately pushing some readers and reviewers away. But if I put it out there at a reasonable price, there’s at least a CHANCE that someone will read it and love it. If it sits on my hard drive forever, that number is guaranteed to be zero. I started to think that it was better to take a chance, to reach even one reader, rather than lamenting that it would never reach millions. My gay glam rock Phantom retelling is hardly a masterful political treatise. But it might bring a few hours of enjoyment and escape to even one person who needs it in this messed-up world, and that would make it all worth it.

Then, I came up with a pen name. This probably sounds silly, but one of the biggest reasons I didn’t self-publish ages ago is because I didn’t have a pen name I loved. I’m basically Chidi from The Good Place, and not being able to choose was literally freaking me out. When the perfect name came to me, it felt like a sign.

And then I went back and read the book, and two things struck me. First, I still loved it. Yes, there will always be things I’m not completely happy with… but after thirteen years, I still love these characters. I am immensely proud of certain scenes and lines. I wanted this book to be my debut, and I am glad that it is.

And second… there’s a lot in this book, which I wrote before I ever considered publishing, that has to do with the idea of getting your art out into the world. My characters deal with losing members of their creative team, the way I lost my first agent and then my would-be publisher. They deal with the pride and jealousy and anger and joy that all come crashing in together when someone you love succeeds where you’ve f—not quite succeeded yet. And they debate (or, well, fight over) the pros and cons of a traditional record deal vs. going it alone.

I wrote a good three drafts of this book before I even started to learn about publishing. I had those ideas in me all along.

And one of the biggest themes of this story is that there’s always a way to get your work out there—that things don’t always turn out the way you want or expect, and that you might end up playing a different instrument, on a different stage, with different people to support you. But you can still do it. Your work can still touch people. My book itself was telling me to publish it. So I followed my heart, and I did.

I’d be lying if I said it’s all been easy. Self-publishing is hard work. And I probably should have saved up a little more money to do things like NetGalley, and done a little more research before I dived in. I guess those will just be lessons I’ll have to take on to whatever I publish next.

But the good has been amazingly good. I can’t begin to describe the chills I got when I saw my cover art, or when I saw my book on Amazon and Goodreads. So many people have been encouraging and welcoming—people I knew from my first foray into publishing, and people I’m meeting for the first time.  And most importantly, the world is finally getting to meet Teru and Rei.

And that’s really all I ever wanted to do. The story of my heart is in your hands, world. I hope you love it half as much as I do.

***

EstellaAvatarEstella Mirai lives just outside of Tokyo with her human family and a very spoiled lap cat. When she isn’t reading or writing, she works in editing and translation—which means that 99% percent of her day is usually words. In her minimal free time, she enjoys watching musicals, cooking (badly), and slaughtering power ballads at karaoke. 

The Stars May Rise and Fall is her first novel.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Keeping It Together by S.A. Winters

KeepingItTogether.jpgSian should be tucked in bed when she meets Alisha Hart—beautiful, talented, and the star of a band that’s on its way up.

Alisha doesn’t have to worry about curfews or homework or overprotective parents; in fact, she doesn’t seem to care about rules at all. She makes her own, and lives life her way—something Sian can only dream of, and which draws her helplessly to Alisha.

But love is complicated, and if there’s such a thing as fate, it seems dead set against them.

Amazon * Amazon UK * Less Than Three

***

I want to talk today about the upcoming re-release of a story I wrote a few years back. Keeping it Together is a novella originally published as part of Less Than Three’s Rocking Hard anthology. The original call was for stories about rock stars. Alisha is the frontwoman for a rock band heading for good things. She meets Sian, a 19-year-old college girl, after a gig in some dive bar. For Sian, this is her first relationship, the first time she’s felt this way about someone else, and it’s something of a surprise to her that that someone is female. But the promise of something real, something wonderful comes with the fear of her parents finding out about it.

Below is an extract from the book, and the chance to get your own copy for free.

Enjoy.

***

Alisha was lounging against the old smoker’s shelter, disused since the college faculty had stopped students from smoking on site. She wore a pair of dark denim jeans that clung to her figure and a dark green t-shirt. An unlit cigarette was tucked behind one ear, and her hands were shoved deep in her pockets.

Sian paused, watching her for a moment, drinking in the sight of her. Alisha was beautiful, with her cropped dark hair, pointed chin and well defined cheekbones. Her arms showed beneath the short sleeves of her top, muscle cording her upper arms like she lifted weights at the gym instead of dieting to keep herself slim. But, more than that, there was an art to everything she did—the way she stood, slouching against the shelter, the way she lifted her hand to brush her hair back from her face, the way she turned to look straight at Sian, a mischievous grin spreading across her face.

Alisha raised one hand in greeting, and Sian gave a small wave back, stepping off the kerb into the road, toward the patch of gravel and grass where Alisha waited.

“Coffee?” Alisha asked, her tone hopeful. “I could do with some.”

“Why? Just crawled out of bed?” Sian teased as they began to walk towards the gates.

“Yes, actually. Specially to see you, so some gratitude would be nice.”

Sian gave a slight curtsy. “I am most honoured, my lady.”

Alisha chuckled, and it made Sian’s heart skip, a smile she couldn’t hold back working onto her face. Sian wasn’t used to being the one to make people laugh, but now that she was, she found she liked it, and she especially liked the way it lit up Alisha’s face, made her eyes glitter like precious gems in the sunlight, teeth showing as she smiled.

 

Enter to win a copy of KEEPING IT TOGETHER here

***

S. A. Winters is a British writer with a penchant for the gothic. When they aren’t writing, they like to listen to heavy metal, watch horror films, or piss off down the pub, sometimes all at once.

S. A. Winters most enjoys writing paranormal, but likes to play with other genres from time to time and has been known to dabble in contemporary, steampunk and historical.

You can keep up with S. A. Winters through their twitter account (https://twitter.com/WintersSA) or their website (https://sawinters.com/).

 

Brave New Worlds: The Identity Possibilities of Speculative Fiction, a Guest Post by Leigh Hellman

Please welcome to the site today Leigh Hellman, author of Orbit, a cyberpunk sci-fi which released on September 18th and features pansexual and a-spec characters! They’re here to discuss identity in Speculative Fiction, but before we get to the post, let’s take a glance at the book:

Ciaan Gennett isn’t green, despite the brand of light hair that betrays her heritage: an Earth mother. A mother she remembers but doesn’t know, who left one day and never came back. Ciaan’s as metal as her home planet—cold and hard and full of so many cracks she’s trying to ignore that she doesn’t have time to wonder about questions that don’t get answers.

After one too many run-ins with the law, Ciaan finds herself sentenced to probation at a port facility and given an ultimatum: Prove that your potential is worth believing in. With help from her best friend Tidoris, Ciaan stays away from trouble—and trouble stays away from her. But when a routine refueling turns into a revelation, Ciaan and Tidoris find themselves forced into an alliance with an Earth captain of questionable morality and his stoic, artificially-grown first officer. Their escalating resistance against bureaucratic cover-ups begins unraveling a history of human monstrosity and an ugly truth that Ciaan isn’t so sure she wants to discover.

Now they all must decide how far they are willing to dig into humanity’s dark desperation—and what they are willing to do about what digs back.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

Speculative fiction in its many iterations—sci-fi, fantasy, horror, supernatural, and all the sub-categories therein—has fascinated both readers and writers alike for centuries. For all the stratifications between “literary” and “genre” work, fiction as a tool for deconstructing and remaking our world has long been wielded; from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (considered to be the first science fiction novel) to the global phenomenon of fantasy epics like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, speculative fiction has proven itself to be a critical and popular mainstay.

So, what is it about the genre that inspires so widely? Well, in a broad sense, speculative fiction provides a framework wherein to imagine alternatives to our current reality—whether historically, futuristically, or running concurrent to our modern world. Crucial and ever-present issues like race, gender, sexuality, marginalization, and justice can be explored in proxy universes that are free from the constraints of (inherently biased) realism—or universes can be structured specifically to delve into certain aspects of these and similar issues, building parallels and contrasts for readers to consider as they think about the core themes of the story.

But for creators looking to tell these types of tales, there are often barriers that crop up during world-building—especially when it comes to entirely new fantasy worlds and/or futuristic settings—that have to do with what our baseline assumptions are going into a project. For example: in a fantasy setting that has no connection or reference to our universe, what are the assumptions behind structuring racist hierarchies that mirror Western, Eurocentric ones in their history of white supremacy? Or: in a future-set sci-fi world, does it make sense to have characters imposing the rigid sexual and gender binarism on each other (as though the dynamism of LGBTQ identities hasn’t been constantly evolving, even within the past decade or so)? If the story is meant to carry that type of metaphor and purposeful social commentary, that’s one thing—but what if it’s not? Why not build a world where the rules are different, or at least consider why you—as the creator—are not doing that?

I asked myself these questions throughout the process of writing Orbit, my debut new-adult speculative fiction novel, particularly as I was trying to solidify gender and sexuality identities in my near-future setting. Since the story takes place in a speculative future of our current world, it wouldn’t make sense to erase and/or ignore our history of LGBTQ identities and movements—but likewise, it didn’t feel authentic to me that this culture would conceptualize and label gender and sexuality in the exact same terms as we do now. Understanding sexuality as an identity marker rather than an activity-based habit was introduced into mainstream theory less than 200 years ago and the vocabulary of identities remains in constant flux across years, let alone decades and generations. The language of identifiers doesn’t just go in and out of popular fashion; the meanings of the words themselves can and do shift through denigration, reclamation, and basic linguistic evolutions. What LGBTQ people called themselves a century ago isn’t what we call ourselves now, and the cultural discussions around the LGBTQ experiences happen at different octaves with each new social milestone. The verbal identifiers therefore become the most obvious distinction, but the deeper and more complex developments come from the re-forming of socio-cultural norms and beliefs surrounding gender and sexuality.

So that idea—what does the culture that I’m world-building believe about gender and sexuality, and how many of those beliefs do I have to take from our current culture?—became a foundational stone for me. I could keep the same, or similar-enough, rhetoric and identities to signal a familiar cultural framework for the story, and more easily categorize my characters for representation tallies. But that felt disingenuous to how I was coming to understand this world I was building and to how I myself conceptualize gender and sexuality—which is to say, fluidly and running along multiple spectrums. In a culture where the most significant identity markers are pseudo-species (p-person, Earth human, Artificial)—and also taking into account the current growing acceptance of gender and sexuality diversity (not to say that acceptance is universal or equally-distributed, because it isn’t)—it made sense to me that LGBTQ identities would be both more prevalent and less explicitly stated. I tried to demonstrate that (in a story with no explicit romantic or sexual plots) in two subtle ways: 1) a main character’s casual reference to a side character being “alternative” before moving on in the conversation, and 2) ongoing and completely normalized flirting and intimacy between all of the four main characters (two implied cismen, one implied ciswoman, and one explicitly non-binary person). Rather than being read as pushing some kind of non-normative (non-heterosexual) environment that audiences could infer as an exception rather than the rule, I hoped to present this as-is—a world where intimacy and attraction manifest naturally across these spectrums, without needing to make any “no homo” caveats for my characters.

One of the most difficult concerns that I struggled with in this world-building choice was the nagging doubt that I was making a “safe” trade-off, that I was closeting my characters by not explicitly labeling them in our current cultural terminology. Is there still value in representation if it shares an experience but not a name? Honestly, I can’t say for certain one way or the other; what I do know is that my characters are not closeted. There were never moments that I edited to be more coded, nor were there relationships that I played up or down because I felt like that was what would be expected of them. All of my characters are authentic—and that extends to their genders and sexualities. The fluidity—the messiness—of human identities, the fact that for all our boxing and re-boxing we still seep out around the edges, is what fascinates me as a creator. The slippages between binaries—gay or straight, cis or trans, male or female, ace/aro or allo—are not mistakes; they are who we are. We’re reflected in those coloring-outside-the-lines moments, and we are forged in the fires of the struggle for answers that may never be as neat as we want them to be. That’s how I chose to speculate in Orbit, fully aware that there were a thousand different ways I could have gone and that each of them—if they’d been thoughtfully executed—would’ve been worth reimagining.

These uncertainties plague the codified racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other systemic oppressions that are woven into our reality and then parroted back in fiction—if fictional perpetuation of these histories is not mandatory, is it necessary? And beyond that, how can we push for less restricted reimaginings without being hurtful and dismissive of the very real effects of these systems on (our, our readers, and our fellow human beings’) lives?

I don’t have all the complicated and messy answers—nor do I pretend to be an expert in any of this—but I believe that some guidance may lie in our commitment as writers to more nuanced world-building, with ongoing consideration for our (intended and unintended) implications as well as continued self-education and challenging of our internalized –isms. Just as my identity as a queer and non-binary person cannot be erased from my writing, neither can my whiteness or any of the other intersecting systemic privileges that I carry with me. But rather than be complacent with them—rather than say that these define what stories I tell—I try to push back and be purposeful in my narrative and world-building choices.

What is genuine for your characters and the reality they inhabit will always be more compelling than stock settings that rely solely on “but that’s just how it is” deflections. Not every story needs to be a meta deconstruction, nor should most stories be expected to be. But I think that not digging back at those impulses as both readers and writers—to fall back on stereotypes to fill out new worlds, to call out authentic interpretations of an identity experience that differs from your own, to cling to the belief that these systems that we were raised in are always immutable and universal—wastes the full “speculative” potential of our beautiful and vibrantly diverse literary nook in this wide and, all too often, rigidly unforgiving real world.

***

Leigh Hellman Author PhotoLEIGH HELLMAN is a queer/asexual and genderqueer writer, originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, and a graduate of the MA Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After gaining the ever-lucrative BA in English, they spent five years living and teaching in South Korea before returning to their native Midwest.

Leigh’s short fiction and creative nonfiction work has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, VIDA Review, and Fulbright Korea Infusion Magazine. Their critical and journalistic work has been featured in the American Book Review, the Gwangju News magazine, and the Windy City Times.

Their first novel, Orbit, is a new adult speculative fiction story now available through Snowy Wings Publishing. They also have a historical fantasy piece included in the SWP anthology, Magic at Midnight.

Leigh is a strong advocate for full-day breakfast menus, all varieties of dark chocolate, building a wardrobe based primarily on bad puns, and bathing in the tears of their enemies.

Love is Not a Cure: a Guest Post by Jude Sierra

Today on the site I’m pleased to welcome Jude Sierra, author of A Tiny Piece of Something Greater, to talk about a common but harmful trope in literature: love as a cure for mental illness. Before we get to the post, here’s the info on the book:

37830506Reid Watsford has a lot of secrets and a past he can’t quite escape. While staying at his grandmother’s condo in Key Largo, he signs up for introductory dive classes, where he meets Joaquim Oliveira, a Brazilian dive instructor with wanderlust. Driven by an instant, magnetic pull, what could have been just a hookup quickly deepens. As their relationship evolves, they must learn to navigate the challenges of Reid’s mental illness on their own and with each other.

And here’s the post!

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There’s a popular trope I see in media. Movies, books, and television shows often depict falling in love or starting a relationship as a catalyst for fixing or curing someone with mental illness. The burdens or struggles of a character’s illness cease in the light of love. This is a dangerously misleading and painful narrative to perpetuate for many reasons, including the implication that there’s “fixing” to be done. It implies that someone with mental illness cannot be loved as they are, setting up false and damaging expectations. It requires an alteration to an aspect of who we are to be worthy of love. As someone with mental illness who sought out stories with mentally ill characters for years, this trope really drove home several key ideas. Love never “fixed” or “cured” me. Even in love and loved, nothing went away. I constantly searched for myself in stories and walked away feeling more hopeless and broken. Love hadn’t changed what couldn’t be changed.

I was nineteen when I met my husband. It was my sophomore year of college and while I knew I was struggling, there was nothing about that struggle that felt unusual. I’d been low before. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed. In my entire, perfectionist, over-achieving life, I actually came close to failing classes. I called in “sick” to work so often I almost lost my job.

But I’d been worse. I wasn’t self-harming. I wasn’t in an abusive relationship anymore.

On our one year anniversary, I remember turning to him and saying, “This has been the best year of my life.” It had; perhaps because feeling bad felt so normal that my bar for “bad” was set at a different level than that of others. What I remembered most that year was the way I was loved, the kindness and care, the sweetness we shared. Being loved like that was a completely new experience for me.

But when I said that, he cried. He tried to explain, but it was something I never really understood until years later, once I’d begun to understand the scope of my mental illness, and once I began working on recovery. That year was a test for him in a way I wasn’t able to appreciate; watching my depression, watching me navigate a strained relationship with my parents, watching me struggle with absolutely no self-esteem and very little self-worth.

We’ve been together for almost 17 years now, and in that time, we’ve seen and been through a lot. We were together for years before I confessed that I self-harmed, before I ever confessed to having suicidal ideations, and before I ever articulated what my highs and lows felt like. He loved me unconditionally through years when I suffered in silence; I never doubted that love, and it never altered basic truths about who I am. There was no way that any amount of love between us or from him that could have prevented the eventual mental breakdown I had in the wake of a serious postpartum depression.

In many ways, Reid’s story in A Tiny Piece of Something Greater is my own. While I was in long term psychiatric care I worked with a team of professionals in order to find a diagnosis, cyclothemia, a rare mental illness that can be very hard to articulate and see. I learned skills and how to fight, actively, for my own wellness. After I came home my husband and I had to learn to reorient and rework every aspect of our relationship.

There were many lessons and takeaways I can mine from these experiences, one which is very, very important to me. Love is not a cure.

When I first imagined Reid’s story I committed to writing a book about what it is like to live with mental illness, to work recovery, to relearn living, and also, to fall in love, I knew that writing about falling in love would be the fun part. But personally, one of the biggest draws to this story was the idea of exploring what it means to stay in love in these circumstances. In my own experience, navigating a mood disorder such a cyclothemia involves being attuned to subtle cues that my moods are going to swing or are unstable. As someone who works their wellness and recovery the way that I do (constant practice, willingness and strength) it can be chafing or irritating when others try to tell me what they’re seeing or perceiving. It feel like they don’t trust me to know what’s best. But the truth is that sometimes I cannot see the forest for the trees, and the tension these situations cause are very real.

These are moments I wanted to highlight for Reid and Joaquim. The reality of being in love in these situations is that there will be tensions and struggle, and that finding the right person—even the perfect person—for you won’t make those things go away. On the flip side, writing characters who cared for each other so much, for whom falling in love was so beautiful, that writing them learning and struggling to communicate was its own joy. A Tiny Piece of Something Greater was a balancing act: I tried my hardest to represent as accurately as possible the experience of everyday mental illness, but also, the realistic power of love.

A Tiny Piece of Something Greater is a love story, true, but it’s also a story about a boy learning to thrive and manage a new life and recovery. Falling in love with Joaquim enriches Reid’s life just as much as falling for Reid enriches Joaquim’s life. Their love story is just beginning. What A Tiny Piece of Something Greater tries to achieve is a depiction of the first steps of many that people in a loving relationship must take.

Seventeen years into my own relationship, I can look back at this life my husband and I have made made and understand that what we have is a love story and a relationship I am proud of. When I look back at my own life, what I see is a story about surviving my mental illness and right now, absolutely thriving. And that thriving? Our love is a part of that narrative, but isn’t responsible for it. It is not what my wellness hinges on. The most important factor in my wellness is me. In this book, it’s Reid. I can’t say enough about how wonderful it was to write Reid and Joaquim’s love story; but separately, how much it means to me to have written this story that reflects an honest truth. Love doesn’t cure or fix; it supports. It supplements. It enriches.

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IMG_3575Jude Sierra is a Latinx poet, author, academic and mother working toward her PhD in Writing and Rhetoric, looking at the intersections of Queer, Feminist and Pop Culture Studies. She also works as an LGBTQAI+ book reviewer for From Top to Bottom Reviews. Her novels include HushWhat it Takes, and Idlewild, a contemporary LGBT romance set in Detroit’s renaissance, which was named a Best Book of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. Her most recent novel, A Tiny Piece of Something Greater was released in May of 2018.

Tropes Are Made to be Broken (A Little): a Guest Post by Jilted Author Lilah Suzanne

I am so thrilled to have Lilah Suzanne on the site today with a guest post celebrating the release of Jilted, a fake-marriage rom com starring a bisexual cis male MC and a nonbinary LI! Before we get to the post about breaking down tropes, here’s a little more on the book:

Carter’s fiancé is in love with someone else. Link has just been left at the altar. After bonding over mutual heartbreak at the would-be reception’s open bar, Link and Carter pass out in the honeymoon suite—and are mistaken for the happy newlywed couple the next morning. Reluctant to deal with the fallout from their breakups, they embark on an exciting two weeks of fake honeymooning, during which Carter starts to have real feelings for Link. Against the eclectic and electric backdrop of New Orleans, Carter and Link have to decide if a second chance at love is in the cards, or if they’re only meant to be sidelined in someone else’s story.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

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Tropes are important in romance novels; they serve as guiding light for readers who like certain things and want to know what they’re getting into, and also beneficial for writers as tropes are the pillars on which a story is built. But that doesn’t mean they should be sacrosanct.

I have a few random talents that are not only mostly useless, but also very unlikely to impress anyone at a party. I have great free throw form, which would be useful if I weren’t just a smidge over five feet tall. I have a knack for finding things—unless I’m the one who lost them in the first place. I’m also particularly skilled at untying knots. I remember sitting it front of my mom’s jewelry box as a kid, methodically working all the tiny knots out her necklace chains, finding all of the intricate ways the strands wound over around and through, eventually tugging them free. The key, I’ve discovered, is taking the time to understand the knots, the structure of them; you can’t pull at them too hard nor can you blindly yank at the tangled stands hoping something will come loose. Finesse. Respect. Patience. Also, yes this is how children entertained themselves pre-smartphones.

To go with the obvious metaphor here, I treat tropes in my writing the same way I did with those knotted necklace chains. I’m not looking to break beloved tropes apart completely or discard them in frustration. I’m more interested in pulling at the strands, seeing what I can untangle from the knot and make a trope my own. This is not because I think there’s something wrong with them, in fact, I love tropes. I find them fascinating. And I spend so much time taking them apart because I don’t have a smart phone. Kidding! I totally have one. I do it because it’s interesting and satisfying and, I think, forces me to be more thoughtful about my stories and characters as I’m creating them.

For the uninitiated: tropes are essentially commonly seen themes or devices in any given media  type, or as TV Tropes, a wealth of delicious tropeyness, puts it: a storytelling shortcut of situations the audience will presumably recognize. In other words, a thing you see so often that it becomes A Thing. In romance novels, we love our forbidden love, enemies to lovers and friends to lovers. We’re crazy about our sexy billionaires, royal romances, sports romances, historical romance, bad boys/girls, opposites attract, love triangles, and fake relationships. And since I cut my proverbial writing teeth in fan-fiction, I’m also partial to tropes like coffeeshop/bakery romances, forced bed sharing (oh no there’s only one bed what will happen?) soulmates, and mutual pining, and I am sucker for a good domestic PWP fluff story. Now, who’s gonna find me a fluffy historical friends-to-lovers coffeeshop story? I’m waiting…

Of course, as much as we love tropes, they can be overdone. There has to be some suspense in a story. So, yes, there is bed sharing, but they didn’t get together after that? What if it was the opening salvo of two characters realizing they had work to do on themselves instead of on a relationship? What if it was just a desperate, momentary craving for companionship and not the beginning of something? What if it was? There’s space to play within a trope. Not dismantling it, just looking closely and tugging a few strands loose. Maybe it’s because of my time in fandom, where the entire point is to play within someone else’s boundaries, or maybe it’s because of my few useless talents (I’m also pretty okay at baking!) but whatever the reason I’m glad it’s made me stretch a bit as a writer.

We all love tropes because they’re comforting—which is probably the same reason I liked to go through my mom’s jewelry box—and in romance novels that’s doubly true. Romances themselves are comforting; full of swoony love interests and happy endings for all, and in fan fiction, too, where we can imagine a thousand different ways for the same two people to fall in love. And these days especially we can all use a little more warm and fuzzy—or hot and sexy—comfort.

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Lilah Suzanne is the author of Amazon bestseller Broken Records, part of the Spotlight series along with Burning Tracks and Blended Notes. Lilah also authored Spice, the novellas Pivot & Slip and After the Sunset, and the short story “Halfway Home,” which was featured in the holiday anthology If the Fates Allow. A writer from a young age, Lilah resides in North Carolina and mostly enjoys staying indoors, though sometimes ventures out for concerts, museum visits, and quiet walks in the woods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preorder it

And here’s the post!

Some books are terrifying to write.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy it: Amazon * Books2Read (All other vendors)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s the post!

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow. They live and work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which isn’t nearly as boring as most people think.

Anna grew up in the wilds of suburban Philadelphia before returning to their ancestral homelands in Western Pennsylvania. As a child they were heartily disappointed to discover that they couldn’t grow up to be what they wanted (a boy, a cat, a dragon), so they settled on being themself whenever possible, which may be a combination of a boy, a cat, and a dragon. Or perhaps a girl, a knight, and a writer. Depends on whom you ask. They do have a penchant for colorful ties and may be hording a small collection of cufflinks.They can be easily plied with coffee.

Anna has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where they fell in with a roving band of romance writers and never looked back. They also have a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University.

Anna uses they/them pronouns and prefers Mx. Zabo as an honorific.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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