Honestly, I’m not sure what I can say about Reverie that’s going to top the very fact of its containing a drag queen sorceress, but in five words, this is The World’s Gayest Fever Dream, so I hope that helps any reluctant readers over the fence! It also happens to be a B&N book club pick, so bonus points for being able to participate in that after you read! And now, onward to the blurb and buy links!
Reveries are worlds born from a person’s private fantasies, and once they manifest they can only be unraveled by bringing their conflicts to resolution. Reveries have rules and plots, magic and monsters, and one wrong step could twist the entire thing into a lethal, labyrinthine nightmare. Unraveling them is dangerous work, but it’s what Kane and The Others do.
Or did, until one of The Others purged Kane of his memories. But now Kane is back, and solving the mystery of his betrayal is the only way to unite his team and defeat reality’s latest threat: Poesy, a sorceress bent on harvesting the reveries for their pure, imaginative power.
But what use might a drag queen sorceress have with a menagerie of stolen reveries? And should Kane, a boy with no love for a team that betrayed him, fight to stop her, or defect to aid her?
Now, as you may know, dear reader, the whole staff of B&N Teen Blog, including yours truly, was let go with approximately no warning, and I had a bunch of interviews lined up as part of my Get to Know a YA Author series, including one by Ryan La Sala himself! And so, I’m gonna go ahead and continue the delight here so you can Get to Know Ryan La Sala!
Describe your new release in 5 words.
I need at least six.
As this is a book blog, let’s hear three recommendations for favorite queer YAs!
We Set the Dark on Fire – Tehlor Kay Mejia – a gorgeously written, compelling story that I return to again and again. The queerness is central to the plot, and the world is incredibly rendered. I adored.
Black Wings Beating – Alex FREAKING London!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a mind, what an imagination. Proxy was the first book of his that I read, and I would have been a life long fan with just that. But lucky for humanity, he consistently is delivering excellent books. We are so blessed.
The Wise and the Wicked – Rebecca Podos — Wow did I adore this book. It’s creepy, grim, fantastical, and has one of my fav recent romances. I actually didn’t know much going in, and I’m glad. I hope you read it, and love discovering it as much as I did.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing or reading?
Anybody who’s been to my house could answer this: arts and crafts. I have a constant need to create stuff using my hands. Along with drawing, I’ve recently been doing a lot of bedazzling and fabric work. My second book is all about arts and crafts, and specifically cosplay, and it’s directly inspired by my own fascination with using materials to shape an idea into something tangible, cool, and a little magical.
I also go to the gym a lot. Maybe you think that means working out, but it actually means sashaying on a treadmill to Broadway dance numbers, at very high speeds, until a get flung backwards all at once.
Where’s your dream Book Tour stop?
The Vatican. Wouldn’t that be just wild? But the Pope and I haven’t texted in years. So instead I’ll say: DragCon. It’s a massive drag convention organized by RuPaul, and I would love the opportunity to meet many of the queens that inspired me to write Poesy, my own queen in Reverie. It would also give me a chance to talk to young, queer readers, who are the people I’m most interested in reaching with my work.
If you could retell any story as a YA novel, what would it be and why?
I have major aspirations of digging into some of my favorite, old operas and doing YA retellings. In operatic fantasy, there are simply no rules. Just none. It all comes down to the drama, the performance, and the emotion. And I love applying that same production to my books.
That, or CATS, for all the same reasons.
What’s your favorite way to reward yourself for publishing a book?
For any of my achievements, I tend to lean heavy into retail therapy. But not like, “Oh I want this cute sweater” retail therapy. I mean, “decide I’m now a person who cannot bear to sit on a couch that’s not made from crushed velvet” retail therapy. I think it’s because I spend so much time being an anthropomorphic crab person on my way towards publication, what with all the writing and shut-in-tendencies and all that. By the time I actually hit a milestone, I’m ready to husk off my entire self and just reinvent me. And usually the most expedient way to do that is to buy something so bizarre to your everyday life that it feels like an ejection.
What are you working on now?
Between you, me, and the entire internet? A sequel. 🙂
Ryan La Sala grew up in Connecticut, but only physically. Mentally, he spent most of his childhood in the worlds of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess, which perhaps explains all the twirling. He studied Anthropology and Neuroscience at Northeastern University before becoming a project manager specialized in digital tools. He technically lives in New York City, but has actually transcended material reality and only takes up a human shell for special occasions, like brunch, and to watch anime (which is banned on the astral plane). Reverie is Ryan’s debut novel. You can visit him at ryanlasala.com.
Join us on the adventures of young demon hunters, star-crossed Viking lovers, and cyberpunk street artists as we invite you into new worlds where brave heroes with diverse queer identities demonstrate the strength of their hearts and the power of their dreams! Inside this book you’ll find eighteen LGBTQ2SIA+ stories crafted by award-winning international creators. Find your place alongside ace necromancers, glamorous jazz musicians, fey outsiders, friendly monsters, and a superhero still finding his way out of the phone booth.
Spotlighting the work of diverse voices, this collection includes Kieron Gillen (The Wicked + The Divine), Kelly & Nichole Matthews (Lumberjanes/Gotham Academy), Vivian Ng (Legend of Korra: Turf Wars), and many others.
Our stories have heroes who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming, two-spirit, and asexual, from creators who share those identities.
Excerpt from SHOUT OUT: “Show Me Your Teeth” written by Angela Cole, illustrated by Cheryl Young
1. What influenced your style for Show Me Your Teeth, and what parts were the most fun to draw?
Cheryl: I like to think of comics as a fun, enjoyable experience to not only read, but visually enjoy. If I have fun drawing the expressions of the characters as they interact with each other, my hope is the readers will too!
Angela: I’m pretty shy and socially awkward in real life and I appreciate it when someone takes the time to explain things when I make a mistake, especially if it’s about something important to them. I wanted a story where the characters could talk about gender honestly and without judgement. Di makes a mistake but is earnest and wants to understand Kaoru, and Kaoru explains their gender and what it means to them in words I hope someone else can understand, too.
2. Why do monsters and fantasy hold so much appeal for you?
Cheryl: Monsters and fantasy are only a small extension of the world we live in, just adding a little extra fantastical element alongside the real world we face every day. It can mean a lot of things to people, yet also very little. It’s interesting to see people’s interpretations of that and see that we’re not all that much different.
Angela: I think that monsters are the manifestations of our own ignorance of the world and they’re very important in the history of all cultures. They represent the terrible unknowns in every society, whether it be a natural phenomena or a person who is different, and I’ve always had a deep love for the outcasts and misunderstood. Also, I just think they’re pretty neat. I wanted to incorporate monsters from different cultures in this story and it was incredibly difficult to choose which would appear. As for fantasy, there’s so much freedom and possibility in it. Growing up, fantasy was my go-to safe space I would retreat into whenever things got too difficult.
3. Which fictional heroes inspired you as a child?
Cheryl: I didn’t have any as a child, but I really enjoyed playing the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. Just the fantasy RPG role playing aspect of the game along with the storytelling got me really immersed in the world as a player. Consuming various media with fantastical creatures and worlds made me want to create the same thing now in my work.
Angela: Wonder Woman was absolutely the first and remains top. There was also She-Ra, Storm (of Marvel), Elisa Maza from Gargoyles, the unicorn and Molly Grue (The Last Unicorn), and many others I am forgetting. Wonder Woman, Storm, and She-Ra are obvious choices for a young girl, but Elisa was the first biracial character I had seen in something I religiously watched, and she was friends with monsters! The unicorn and Molly are opposite sides of the same coin in the story and I like to say that I wanted to be the unicorn when I was little, but I grew up to understand Molly more.
4. What modern piece of queer media do you wish had been a part of your childhood?
Cheryl: Bisexuality and non binary spectrums being explored, as well as allonormativity being dismantled and more diverse characters being celebrated for just being friends instead of love interests.
Angela:Steven Universe. I grew up in a time bereft of queer media for children and it would have been game-changing to have had something as inclusive and beautifully sincere as Steven Universe.
5. What are you working on now, and where can readers find more of your work?
Cheryl: I’m working on building my universe of Hong Kong and Japanese inspired environments through visual storytelling, found on my twitter (@cysketch)
Angela: I have a spooky comic about a story from my family to be published in the Local Haunts Anthology with beautiful art by Anastasia Longoria! I also have a few pitches in the works.
Today we welcome two LGBTQReads newbies to the site: R.M. Sayan, author of the upcoming historical slow-burn m/m fantasy novella Silenci with Less Than Three Press, and their interview subject, Lin Darrow, author of LGBTQ+ webcomics Shaderunners and Captain Imani, as well as the novella Pyre at the Eyreholme Trust!
First of all, the clichéd questions: how did you start writing?
Oh, that’s an interesting question, actually, because I don’t really remember when I started writing. I feel like I’ve always really liked to jot down stories and draw, and the different types of storytelling. I think that I read the Hobbit when I was in sixth grade in school, and that was the first time I discovered fantasy literature, and I think that that was my niche, that was the genre that I was really drawn to. So I think that reading The Hobbit was the first time I thought ‘oh I could write a story’, specifically in novel form, so I started out writing little myths and short stories and novel-oriented thing and moved on to comics later. It’s funny, I feel like I always have written, but The Hobbit was the first time I thought ‘I could write a book’, or ‘I could write a story that looks like this’, that isn’t just my scribblings or making up stories for my sister as we played or something like that.
That’s so cool! When I read The Hobbit, I was honestly a little intimidated by it. It didn’t happen with you?
No, I mean, I understand why you would feel that way because it’s really… intense, and Tolkien is dense in general. I remember trying to read Lord of the Rings in sixth grade and I struggled through it, it’s quite the challenge, but I think it was more that this was the first fantasy thing that I had ever read. It was the genre that got me excited, because there’s so much possibility with fantasy, we keep discovering more and more and there’s so many great fantasy writers today.
That’s true, I feel like fantasy is reaching a new peak. So, aside from Tolkien, who do you think are your top influences?
That’s a really great question! When I was younger I read a lot of Clamp manga, so I feel like even if I don’t read them anymore I can still feel their influence, mainly because they were the first creators that I followed that were publishing content that could be called queer content and queer fantasy comics. It was a really big revelation to me, the idea that you could have things like normalized queerness in stories, that queer fiction didn’t just have to be about the coming out narrative, that it could be like a post-apocalyptic drama or a fluffy fantasy story, and that was really influential for me. I read a lot of Frank L. Baum, Wizard of Oz, I read a lot of the Oz books, so a lot of my fantasy growing up was kind of older fantasy. I really love Peter S. Beagle, and then I got into a lot of Victorian fiction, because it’s like fiction from another era.
Like gothic stuff?
Yes! Any gothic stuff I really got into in a big way, like Northanger Abbey, Ann Radcliffe, who I love, I think she’s so fun; Mary Shelley I love, Frankenstein is such a great book. So I kinda fell into all this historical fantasy that I really loved, and I remember —I don’t remember the name of this series— but I remember really loving this one series called something like The Jewel Princess Saga? It was like, every book was a different Jewel Princess, and you got like a little necklace with the book, and I just remember liking that specifically because it was very feminine, very girly fantasy, as opposed to like… Tolkien is very male-oriented, something that I don’t love about him, there’s not too many girls or not-men in general in Tolkien. That was kind of like finding fantasy that was unabashedly girly that was really fun.
So, this is another clichéd question, but, why do you write so many LGBT characters? Not because I’m not LGBT or anything, but because every author has different motivation. What’s yours?
Huh, you know what, it’s funny because it’s not something that I really think about, it’s just something I do naturally. I think my motivation is just that I like it! I think that there’s so many missed opportunities and so many genres that queer people still don’t really exist in in a big way? And if we do, we’re like side characters or we’re… I always really hate in stories where there’s a queer character and they give them a generic partner, who is like perfect and isn’t really involved in the plot in a main way? I feel like we don’t really get those epic romances or those epic stories that really center around us. And I feel like every time I start to write a character, it’s always just more interesting to me, what would it be like if this person was queer? Because I feel like we’re just in these stories a lot, I write a lot of noir fiction and it’s traditionally been a very straight dude genre. I think for me what’s kind of exciting about fantasy mashups and genre mashups is like taking those things back and reclaiming them and saying I’m gonna take what I like from this genre, but I’m gonna leave out these ‘straight dude vibes’ or the aggressively masculine stereotypical-macho vibes, and I’m gonna remake it into something that fits my world a little better. So I don’t know that I have a singular motivation, it’s basically just that I like writing about queer people, it’s what comes naturally to me.
That’s fair, because it’s like they’re trying to portray one world and they don’t realize that world involves our world, so it’s like… hey, what’s up?
Yeah! I think it’s a fair question in a lot of ways, because we’re always in this tradition like, the queer story has to justify itself, or there needs to be a reason. I think I like writing things where there’s no reason, they just are!
I get you! So how do you sit down and write these things? Do you actually sit down, or do you write standing up or running around or… [laughs] What’s your creative process, basically?
Oh, that’s a fun question! I find that I have a really simple trick, which is when I’m writing something and I need to finish it, I just have a file open on my computer and I never close it. So wherever I am, if I’m at work, or if I’m home lying on the couch, or if I’m out at a café, I always have it with me so I’m writing a little bit at a time. Unless I have a really firm deadline for something —which is usually for comic stuff, not for book stuff— I kind of write everywhere. My main trick is just not closing the document so it’s there and I keep pressure on myself to finish it. And that’s been a really little trick but it’s helped me a lot to finish stuff, which I think it’s always the biggest challenge for any writer.
I completely understand— I actually do the same thing!
Yeah! Do you find it useful to do that?
I do, actually! I have several desktops for different projects, so like this desktop is for my comic, this one is for my novel, et cetera
Oh great! It’s a trick that’s helped me a lot, I stole it from a friend who told me to do that.
It carries from writer to writer, I see! So—Pyre! Wow. I really liked the universe, how did you come up with it?
The first time I came up with this universe was for a comic for an anthology called Tabula Idem, which was a queer tarot card anthology that was really fun. I wanted to do something with magic, because Shaderunners doesn’t have magic in it really, there are elements that are fantastical but magic isn’t a thing. So I wanted to kind of take— I really like noir fiction, and I feel like it’s this genre that is not super popular, which sucks because it’s so much fun. I feel like it’s not that popular because nobody has updated it in a while. So I really wanted to do something that had that noir style, because I’m really used to writing in that style now for Shaderunners, it has a very noir style and language. I really like that gritty, weird linguistic style that the 1920s has. I think Pyre is a lot more 1940s, but the language doesn’t change that much, also because I throw a lot of my own idioms in when I write. So I really wanted to do something noir but that was a little more magic than Shaderunners. My comic artist Alex [Assan], I just said ‘can I do a noir and make it just magic gangsters?’ And she was like ‘do whatever you want, man!’ So that was the first time we did it, and we were pitching to a comic anthology that wanted us to pitch for particular cards, so we pitched for the Temperance card (that’s why the city is called Temperance city). I thought it would be funny to have this story about all of these gangsters that cannot chill at all being a part of a city called Temperance![laughs] So that first one was about characters that actually get named in Pyre: Ursula Heart and Constance Merino, or ‘Conman’. So that was about their kind of romance, about fixing a turf war that had been riled up by this fire gang that was trying to get in on their turf. I wrote Pyre about that fire gang, so the Temperance comic is kind of a little prequel.
Where can I find that anthology?
I’m sure it’s around! Well, I wrote Pyre in response for another call for an anthology that Less Than Three was putting on, about tricksters. I was like, ‘I don’t know how well this fits, but I’m having so much fun with this universe!’ So I wrote a short story—that eventually became Pyre—and they got back to me and said ‘this doesn’t really fit the anthology, but we wanna publish it as a book’. They gave me some time to expand it a little, so technically Pyre is still a novella —if I was gonna write another full-length romance novel, it would be a lot longer— but that was the story of how that happened. They said—rightly, I think— that it did not fit the anthology, but they were very interested in publishing as a book, and that was very fun for me too.
So, I was reading Pyre, and I saw that some magics seemed to be deemed more lethal, or more dangerous, or more heavily regulated. Is there a hierarchy?
It’s funny, I think I have some pages written that are like a follow-up to Pyre that I don’t know if I’ll ever pursue, it depends on how fast I’m able to finish it because I have my day job too. There’s a hierarchy in terms of— one thing that really interests me that doesn’t sound super exciting but is for me, is the infrastructure, how a world that had magic that was normalized would deal with the fact that magic is potentially really destructive. I’m always really interested in stories where the antagonists or the people in power have logical motivations for the way that they exert their power, but the actual reality of them exerting that power is actually not fair, or it ends up being oppressive or prejudiced in some way. So I really thought that it was an interesting conflict where you had a world where you have to do something to regulate magic that can burn down a building, but in doing so, what’s the effect on the humans for whom this is a part of who they are. I really like conflicts where you can see both sides, or they’re irresolvable in some way, I think that the characters in Pyre don’t want there to be any laws, but for me personally, I don’t know if that’s ever gonna be achievable in the world, because that’s also ignoring the fact that no, you need to regulate people with extreme power. So I think the hierarchy tends to be, first magic that can cause death or great bodily harm, then the second is magic that can enable people to commit white-collar crimes— I think the ink magic is strictly regulated because there’s so much opportunity to commit things like fraud or counterfeit, which they do in the story [laughs]. So I think that definitely goes, 1) bodily harm, 2) things that would allow you to enrich yourself illegally, and then— I think about things in terms of series even if I don’t complete them, and the second book in the series if I do pursue it is going to be water and lightning, with a different set of characters falling in love and having adventures.
Those two would have an interesting dynamic!
Yeah! I thought so too, and I also really like playing with the expectations of what people with these elemental powers would have in terms of like… Ink magic isn’t necessarily something that’s super exciting on paper but I just thought there was so much I could do with it. So yeah, the next one is gonna be water and lightning and I think water would also be pretty intense, because you can flood things with it.
A little bit like waterbending? By any chance, was this influenced by Avatar: The Last Airbender or Avatar: The Legend of Korra?
Yes! Very much so, in the sense that I really like magic where it’s not just snapping your fingers and something happens, I really love the idea that in Avatar you’re seeing what they’re doing, and it’s very built into the fabric of that show, the idea that it’s the motion of your body that it’s allowing you to move and manipulate these things. I really wanted the magic to feel grounded, and not just “snap your fingers and it’s done”! I wanted it to be like a relationship that these people have with the elements. I think Eli has a relationship with ink where he can feel it moving and he moves with it. I do feel like that was an influence in the sense that I really like magic that is grounded and connected to the person and not just this things that happens independently that they’re controlling, I wanted it to feel like a relationship between element and person.
It does feel like that, because Eli is very… attached? To ink, and you can feel it! So, anyways, the big project… Shaderunners! How did you come up with it? Was it collaborative, or did you come up with it yourself?
It wasn’t collaborative initially, because the way that Shaderunners got started initially was, I wrote a book, which was the first book that I ever finished, called Fenton’s Red. I wrote it and Alex read it because we were friends, we had met online through various fandoms, and she really liked it and started drawing fan art for it, so eventually we became close enough, and we both loved the same comics, and we wanted to do a comic, and so it felt like a natural progression to do something from the Fenton’s Red universe, because we both knew it really well. She was so generous with her time, in terms of drawing me fan art and talking to me about the characters… It was really our first collaboration in the sense that she was kind of an editor where I would be like “oh I’m working on this scene and trying to figure this out” and she would know the characters so well that she could be like, “well, Ezra would do this, don’t you think? And this feels out of character for him”. It was really great to have someone motivating me who knew the characters well and who I could talk things out with and the characters became so much more full and complex after having to throw ideas at her and having her push me back on them. So I finished the book, and that’s sitting on a shelf still, I really want to go back and rewrite it and send it out to some agents, but it’s all about finding the time. But in the meantime we wanted to do a comic because we really like working together, and I love her art so I really wanted to do something that could make the most out of both of our talents instead of just her always being involved in mine, and so it just made sense to make something in that universe, so we ended up doing what I guess is kind of a prequel to Fenton’s Red, because Fenton’s Red takes place after the fallout at the end of Shaderunners, with a female main character and a different set. Dom and Ezra are in it!
Oh! Older, I guess.
Yes, older, and some of the other characters are as well, but Dom and Ezra were the two first ones that… Alex really likes them, so I ended up giving them a lot more to do in the story because Alex likes them so much, and so it made sense that we would do a story about them and the other characters who were involved in their part of the book. So it kind of came out of that; her being a great friend and reading my book and having thoughts about it and being a naturally good editor, and me loving her art I guess and wanting to do something that would give her… it’s not totally accurate to say that I was giving her something because, she gives me so much, but I really wanted to work together with her and not have it be one way anymore, which was really great.
So, I really like the Shaderunners universe, I saw some of Alex’s tweets that said, basically (I’m gonna paraphrase) that pansexuality is the norm and gender fluidity is widely accepted. I’m a bit of a sociology fan, so, how does that work? Because it’s really different from our world. So how do gender and sex work in Shaderunners?
I think that, when I was thinking about how the world would function, in terms of infrastructure, I think the world generally operates on a “no questions asked” policy, in the sense that nobody really asks, “what are you?” or “what’s your label?” And I don’t think that’s necessarily a perfect system either, I really don’t want to depict Shaderunners as a utopia. I think that there’s labels in our world that have their function, but I think in the Shaderunners world, it’s more like, in this culture nobody has ever asked what you are in terms of gender or interest, you’re assumed pansexual by default and if you have preferences within that then it’s just called having preferences in the same way that you might have a preference for dark hair. In terms of gender, there’s a system that I had that I’ve never really articulated in the universe where, if someone doesn’t use he or she, if they use a different pronoun—which some people do in the universe too—if you’re not sure of someone’s pronouns you just default to your own when talking about them. In that sense, what I was hoping to do with that—and it’s really not something I’ve articulated in the universe, so it’s originally from the book, really— what I was hoping to do with that was to say, as a gesture of sympathy, “whatever your pronouns is or whatever your identity is, I’m connecting to you through mine”. I think that the way that it works is that nobody really cares too much about the particulars, they just assume that you are what you are and you’ll tell them if it matters. Again, I don’t think it’s a perfect system and I’m not trying to represent a utopian society in Shaderunners with respect to gender, but I mainly just wanted to depict a society that didn’t have to relegate its queer characters to the “queer struggle” narrative. Like, I can have a genderfluid or a bigender character in a story and I don’t have to justify how they came to that realization about themselves, I don’t have to justify how they bumped up against the status quo, they just are who they are and people don’t question it and just adapt, once they get to know them better and they take a route, once Ivo says like, this is who I am, it’s kind of not a conversation. I think the way that it works really is that people don’t expect you to identify one way or another and in doing so people muddle along, if that makes sense.
Of course! It kind of reminds me of when I took Art History and they told me that in Ancient Greece there was no term for “art” so if it was like that, art wasn’t art as we know it, it was just another job. It reminds me of what you’re telling me; if there’s no labels, it’s not necessarily a thing that deserves to be labeled.
If you look at the idea of who you are, who you are interested in romantically or sexually, the idea that that’s a part of your identity, it’s kind of a new idea, historically! I’m a Victorianist by day, so you’re getting some of my day job background here. We just have to say that queer people have always existed, but the way that we talk about sexual identity, as something that is a part of who you are and not just something that you feel or do, it’s kind of a new idea still. It’s something that they articulated really strongly for the first time in the Victorian era, which is still eh compared to other time periods, so it is kind of a newer idea. For me, thinking about the Shaderunners universe, it was just, “well okay what if we never really had a society that placed the heterosexual relationship at the core of it?” What if just evolved so that it was kind of equal in that sense, and in doing so, because it has always been a part of their society, they don’t need to ask for labels because it doesn’t matter. In the same way that it doesn’t matter like… why street you were born on, it’s never really gonna matter. I feel like I’ve said this like three times already, but I’m really not necessarily trying to say that that’s better, I’m just trying to imagine a world where nobody has ever had to think about whether or not they need labels, because it’s not something that makes sense to label the world, because everyone has grown up with it being “normal”. So that was the universe that I was trying to create.
I really like how it turned out! So, Shaderunners, do you consider it your main project?
Yeah, right now I think it’s definitely the most public-facing project. I think it’s the one that has been running the longest, and it’s probably the main one that I would point to. I feel like I always have other projects on the go, like I always want to finish the rewrite of Fenton’s Red, and there’s a sci-fi book that I really want to write, about an alien and a jazz pianist. I really want to finish it one day, it’s a sci-fi noir, because I can’t write anything but noir. [laughs] So yeah, there are a lot of things I want to do, but I think Shaderunners is my main for now.
The couples you write—in Shaderunners, in Pyre, in everything, actually—they have really good chemistry, both the developing couples and the established ones. What are your rules or tips for writing great romance?
For me, it comes down to characters that are lacking something and find it in the other person; not in the sense that they’re defined by the other person, but I think that, writing Eli and Duke, I really like moments where it’s characters realizing that they love the same thing, or that there is something about this person that articulates something that they’ve never heard before but they felt. Some kind of recognition that “this person have what I have been longing for”, and I really like tying that into plot and world. Thinking about Eli and Duke, I think the reason they are so in love is because they both have the same kind of passion for what they do, but in Eli it’s so locked away and in Duke it’s so overt and all over the place and it’s not locked away at all, and I really liked having that kind of combination; they are so different on paper but there’s this one thing that they are absolutely on the same page about, which is that they both love being magic. They’re both passionate about being allowed to be who they are. It’s the combination of feeling like they are so different on paper, but realizing that at heart there is this key thing they both have in common. I really like that contrast of outward differences but internal similarity, I think that’s always something that I’m drawn to. Characters that really badly want things—really I think it’s the key to making good characters—and then the romance comes with what characters so badly want, they’re either at odds with the other or are exactly in alignment with the other. So I think the key to writing good romance is writing good characters with complex wants and needs, and then throwing them into interesting conflicts or alignments with the other characters.
When we were talking about Shaderunners you were telling me about how in tune you were with Alex, and I kind of envy that, because I’ve never been one for teamwork myself! How do you do it? How do you work in team so smoothly and so productively?
I think I’m very lucky to have found someone like Alex, who I found I have a really good working chemistry with. I think it’s nice for us because we both have our own lanes, like sometimes I’ll comment on the art if I feel like an emotional scene could be different or something like that, but ultimately she has the final say over the art, and I have the final say over the writing. Sometimes she’ll say “oh I think this line could be stronger”, and I think we know each other well enough now that sometimes she’ll send me back a chapter and she’ll be like “you could write this better”, and I’ll be like, “I know!” [laughs] But I think the way that we have found that works really well is that we both recognize and appreciate the other’s authority on the other side of the fence, where she’s in charge of the art and I know that, and I’m in charge of the writing and she knows that. But we’re both also very invested in the other side. I’m not an artist, but I draw a little, so I have some language about art, and she edits me all the time, she’s such a great editor. She has a lot of thoughts on things like story structure. I think that what works really well for us is that we both work on things kind of independently but we’re always talking about and getting feedback on our stuff, we’re very aware that we have a common goal, so it never feels like criticism, it’s more like “what about this, or this”, and we talk and say “this instead of this”. So I think that having that mutual passion but also respecting each other’s authority over the individual parts is really the key to our partnership, and it has been working really well for over ten years now.
Ten years? That’s a long time! I think this is the last question I’m gonna make, it’s a bit of a whim… What’s the image on your twitter cover? I recognize Alex’s style, but did I miss an important announcement? Is it a secret?
Actually, that’s from Fenton’s Red! Alex used to draw me fan art for it all the time, and so for my birthday —I think last year?— she drew me a mock cover for Fenton’s Red! That’s the main character from Fenton’s Red. The main plot of that story is that —I don’t wanna spoil Shaderunners too much, this is post-Shaderunners— it’s about a girl who lives in the country and she finds the color red for the first time in a bottle, and it accidentally stains her hand red, because she pours it out on her hand like “what is this?” It’s about her trying to hide it but also discover where it came from, and so her story intersects with the history of the Shaderunners and that way she’s trying to figure out “what is this? I’ve never seen color before!” So yeah, that’s the mock cover for Fenton’s red that I just put up because I loved it.
I am so looking forward to whenever you publish it!
I’m gonna publish it in some form somehow! If it doesn’t get published traditionally I’m just gonna build a website and publish it digitally. We’ll see, it’ll make itself known eventually, I’m in the process of rewriting it, but in the meantime it’s really fun to explore, I feel like Fenton’s Red has made me able to explore Dom and Ezra and Easton and Ivo and Satinder in the Shaderunners universe, so I think it’ll be a better book than it was when I finished it because of that. We’ll see!
That’s gonna be great! Well, that’s all my questions for now. Thank you for the interview!
R. M. Sayan is a writer, sometimes illustrator, amateur photographer, avid tabletop gamer, studious filmmaker, tattoo aficionado, and a constant work in progress. Often referred to as just ‘Robb’, they can often be found ranting about assorted fandoms on twitter, swooning over their beautiful partner, and being overdramatic. They like to dabble in many genres, from historical fiction to urban fantasy, from dystopian sci-fi to weird west, but always sneaking queerness somewhere in there. Robb’s debut novella, Silenci, is coming soon in May 2019!
I am super excited about this matchup today, because rarely do novelists and comic artists cross in this space but today you’ll get to meet both! Julian Winters is the author of the upcoming YA sports romance Running With Lions, releasing from Interlude Press on June 7, and TJ Ryan is the creator of Quinn, Dreaming, a webcomic that, to quote their Tumblr, “follows Charles August Quinn, a dream witch trying to make it to graduation with minimal incident, and failing spectacularly.” Sound like a dream combo? Just wait until you read this interview…
First, let me express how excited I am about this. As a comic book geek, I have always wanted to pick the brain of my favorite artists—now I have the opportunity! Quinn, Dreaming is such an interesting take on magic, sexuality, friendships, crushes, and what things represent. Tell us about how Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” inspired the comic/story.
Thank you so much! I’m really excited too! I had been shuffling around a story of magic and witches in my mind for a while, but there wasn’t any sort of organization that I could create out of those thoughts. I was listening to Fleetwood Mac (as one does) and really focusing on the lyrics. The lines “It’s only me who wants to wrap around your dreams and, have you any dreams you’d like to sell?” were really what started it all. I knew I wanted it to center around a dream witch who sold dreams but also sort of lived in his own.
I’m a really musical person so I get inspired by it constantly.
Can you tell us anything about the companion novel, Citrus Witches?
Citrus Witches was actually the working name for Quinn, Dreaming. It followed Arthur as a main character rather than Quinn, and really strayed far and wide from the story I ended up using for the comic. That draft exists in all its rough glory on AO3 under the Citrus Witches title. Enjoy my old Merlin fanfic too if you decide to go snooping.
The companion novel to it that I’m currently writing takes place in their first year of college and involves a whole new set of adventures, that will set it apart enough from the webcomic so that people who didn’t read it can still enjoy it, and the folks who did follow the comic will get new shenanigans with the same characters.
How far do you plan to take the webcomic?
The plan is to follow Quinn and the crew until the end of senior year. They’ve only just made it to the end of October so still lots more to come!
While I absolutely love the wonderfully awkward romance between the main characters, Quinn and Sorrel, the diverse cast of supporting characters truly lends to creating a well-shaped story. Will there be more of them in the book?
Absolutely! The book actually follows Sorrel as the main character. There’s definitely tons of awkward romance with Quinn, Arthur to lend to his bad ideas, Statice to film it, and Daphne to talk them out of it.
I’m a big fan of epic platonic loves, and Arthur really is that for Sorrel. There’s a lot of him in the story, really existing as a solid part of Sorrel’s life. I spent a lot of time exploring Sorrel’s relationship with his twin sister, Statice, as well.
There’s some fun new people too!
There’s a subplot that looks at trying to “cure” people of magic. Is this a metaphor to anything in real life?
Creating a “cure” for magic in a world where magic exists in everyday life started from a very personal place and spread to something I think is really universal. Growing up bisexual and nonbinary, I always heard “Well have you tried not being this way?” or “You should see a therapist/doctor/psychiatrist, I bet they could fix it” because I grew up in a very small conservative town. But you see it on the news and online and on talk shows all the time. People questioning the validity or the sanity of other people based on something that’s just a part of them.
Magic is just simply a part of these witches. It’s as simple as Quinn having brown eyes or freckles. He’s a dream witch, but now there’s this entire organization that’s dedicated themselves to trying to ‘fix’ that and prove it’s something dangerous. I just felt like it was a storyline that a lot of readers could find themselves relating to.
Okay, I love all the magical components of the story and a few of the dark themes, but let’s talk about all the humor and adorableness—I’m looking at you, Sorrel Seong—that is featured. Also, Quinn has this shy, uncertainty about himself and his powers. It speaks so well to how sometimes people see this admirable quality about us that we often overlook because of self-doubt. Are those the kinds of elements you always try to incorporate into your artwork/writing?
Sorrel is literally and metaphorically the light of my story!
I always try to work self-doubt into at least one character in my story, because it’s such a human trait. I know with my art I’ve often looked at other artists’ work and been hung up on how amazing they all are and how I’ll never compare. Quinn’s sort of a low-level dream witch surrounded by all these powerful witches with ‘cool’ powers, and that leads to him really shrinking in on himself. He learns though that no one else is going to do magic like Quinn does magic, and that his powers can be really beautiful and unique. It’s something we all need to learn about ourselves.
You have a tremendous following, especially from authors. Is this intimidating? Inspiring?
Both! It’s incredible. I would’ve been happy if Quinn, Dreaming had gotten five followers, but it took off and people constantly interact with me about it on Twitter, Tumblr and now on my Patreon. Having so many authors in my corner has been a dream though. You all inspire me with your creativity and your story telling so much. Ultimately, it’s what pushed me to finally start a webcomic in the first place. I’m a librarian—my first big love will always be reading. Knowing that I have these incredible authors that I respect and have welcomed me to come live in their worlds for a while, really pushes me to create something worth hanging out in as well.
You’ve done a lot of amazing artwork for other books—S.J. Goslee’s Whatever, Tara Sim’s Timekeeper series, Becky Albertalli’s Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Are there any books or LGBTQ+ characters you’ve wanted to draw but haven’t yet?
I drew Aiden and Shannon once from Taylor Brooke’s Fortitude Smashed, but I’m itching to draw Daisy and Chelsea from the sequel Curved Horizon. I’m weak for the southern sorority girl and punk princess relationship. I need to do some serious art for the Wicker King by Kayla Ancrum as well, because that book was absolutely beautiful, and it stirred up my imagination from start to finish.
Your artwork is so loveable. The way you capture characters is fun but precise, too. Are there any current webcomics or artists that inspire you?
Check Please! Is always the first webcomic I tell people about. It’s so fun and sucks you right in. I binge read it in a Denny’s while I was in college. I couldn’t leave my booth until I was done. It’s just so good. I’m a huge fan of Noelle Stevenson and her comics Nimona and Lumberjanes. I’ve been reading Rainbow Rowell’s latest work on The Runaways. There’s a webcomic on Patreon called Constellation Grimm by Gibslythe that’s a really amazing fantasy with some of the best art as well.
Outside of Quinn, Dreaming, can you tell us about any other projects you’re working on?
I am currently finishing up writing a book about a Canadian vampire named Steven Pancake. He decides he’s going to make the most of his afterlife and buys himself a canoe. His camping trip goes awry, he meets a broody handsome 17th century Romanian vampire named Nicolae, wacky woodland hijinks ensue! There’s werewolves, aliens, some rednecks, and kissing!
Want more TJ Ryan? Here’s where you can find them:
Julian Winters is a former management trainer who lives in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia and has been crafting fiction since he was a child, creating communities around his hand-drawn “paper people.” He began writing LGBTQ character-driven stories as a teen and developed a devoted fan fiction following. When he isn’t writing or using his sense of humor to entertain his young nephews, Julian enjoys reading, experimental cooking in the kitchen, and watching the only sports he can keep up with: volleyball and soccer. Running with Lions is his first novel.
We’re back today with the second part of the conversation between Amy Spalding (author of The Summer of Jordi Perez) and Britta Lundin, whose Ship It just released yesterday! Here’s the scoop on Ship It and where you can buy it:
Claire is a sixteen-year-old fangirl obsessed with the show Demon Heart. Forest is an actor on Demon Heart who dreams of bigger roles. When the two meet at a local Comic-Con panel, it’s a dream come true for Claire. Until the Q&A, that is, when Forest laughs off Claire’s assertion that his character is gay. Claire is devastated. After all, every last word of her super-popular fanfic revolves around the romance between Forest’s character and his male frenemy. She can’t believe her hero turned out to be a closed-minded jerk. Forest is mostly confused that anyone would think his character is gay. Because he’s not. Definitely not.
Unfortunately for Demon Heart, when the video of the disastrous Q&A goes viral, the producers have a PR nightmare on their hands. In order to help bolster their image within the LGBTQ+ community-as well as with their fans-they hire Claire to join the cast for the rest of their publicity tour. What ensues is a series of colourful Comic-Con clashes between the fans and the show that lead Forest to question his assumptions about sexuality and help Claire come out of her shell. But how far will Claire go to make her ship canon? To what lengths will Forest go to stop her and protect his career? And will Claire ever get the guts to make a move on Tess, the very cute, extremely cool fanartist she keeps running into?
Ship It is your first YA novel – how exciting!! I know that the story was originally a screenplay. How did the journey take it to book form, and what was that whole process like for you?
Yeah! I’m a screenwriter and TV writer (I write on the show Riverdale), so I originally imagined Ship It as a movie, but when the cool people at Freeform Books read the screenplay, they thought it would make a great YA novel. I’ve literally been reading young adult books since, well, BEFORE I was a young adult, so I was stoked for the chance to write a book, even though I had literally never written prose fiction before (aside from fanfic, lol). It’s been scary at times, and other times it’s been, well, really scary. But mostly it’s been a fun, rewarding way to write.
I love that the book is told in two points-of-view. It really gives this great 360 approach to the idea of fandom and what actually goes into a TV show. But what was it like juggling these two POVs, particularly —something that’s always intimidated me —writing from a guy’s perspective??
Ahhh the great unknown: men. Haha, no, I kid. I actually think women can be good at writing men because we’ve been trained from a young age to think about them and consider their feelings, and consume their narratives. So that didn’t intimidate me too much. I come from fandom, and I currently work as a TV writer, so I felt like I was sort of uniquely positioned to write this book with two perspectives, Claire, who operates from inside fandom and Forest, who lives inside the Hollywood machine. I wouldn’t trust that many people to tackle this topic unless they’ve really experienced both sides of the fandom divide.
What are some of your favorite classic ships, and what’s your favorite current ship?
My first ship was Mulder/Scully on THE X-FILES. I discovered the show in 7th grade and loved them hard and quickly. And I remember specifically the day, after reading a hundred Mulder/Scully fics, I stumbled across a Mulder/Krycek fic (Krycek, if you’re not familiar with the show, is another male character) and it was the first time I had read someone writing fic that was a) gay and b) certainly never going to be canon. It was A Moment for young Britta. Since then I’ve had a million favorite ships, but my current one is probably Kat/Adena on The Bold Type. (Bonus: it’s canon!)
I know that when you sold your book that you were just about to begin work writing on the first season of Riverdale, which was your first TV writing gig. Did anything end up changing about Ship It based on actually being in a writers room on an everyday basis?
The broad strokes remained the same, but there are certainly some details that were adjusted based on seeing how the sausage gets made from the inside. I’ve also discussed celebrity, PR, marketing, and TV production with literally dozens of friends in the entertainment industry and a lot of the stories they told me went right in the book. So I’m not saying that Ship It is exactly 100% accurate (there’s still some details that had to be fudged to make the timeline work) but there are a lot of real world details in the book that I hope will be fun for readers to learn about.
One thing I really loved about Ship It is that it does a great job of walking someone inexperienced with fandom, fanfic, convention life, etc., through everything and letting them gain a quick understanding, but it also definitely tackles issues, such as queerbaiting, that are perhaps bigger discussions within fandom right now. How did you juggle keeping the book accessible but making sure hardcore fandom people felt heard and represented as well? (MAGIC??)
Oh, thank you! This was one of my biggest concerns when I started writing. I wanted the book to feel authentic to the fan experience, and so as part of that, Claire uses a lot of slang and inside jokes and jargon that fandom folks will know, but outsiders might not. So I try to balance it out with explanations where possible so that someone who’s coming to the book from outside the fan community will find it approachable. In the first 20 pages, there’s a scene where Claire is explaining what shipping is to her mom. The entire purpose of that scene is to bring people who don’t know anything about fandom up to speed so they can follow the book. It’s helped by the fact that Forest (one of the POV characters, who is an actor being shipped in a gay ship), is also totally new to fandom, so he asks a lot of Fandom 101 questions that the reader may also be asking. The biggest compliment is when friends of mine read it and say, “I didn’t know anything about fandom before I started, and now I feel like I not only understand it, but I respect where they’re coming from.” That’s my goal!
There’s an incredibly sweet queer romance at the heart of this story. What was your favorite part about writing this arc, and how did you make sure it got its attention via only one of the two POVs and with so many other plot points at play? (AGAIN, WAS IT MAGIC?)
Amy, thank you! That was incredibly important to me in writing this book. It’s funny, because there’s also some sexy scenes in the book (nothing too terribly graphic, and most of it is fade-to-black, but it’s hard to write about fanfic and not at least allude to some sexy stuff). I frequently write in public at coffeeshops, and writing the sexy scenes was a very humdrum thing, but writing the first kiss scene had me like, blushing and pulling my hood over my eyes and trying not to let anyone see my screen, haha. I hope that people feel that way reading the scene! The romance isn’t the main plot of the book, it’s more of a subplot, so it doesn’t come up too often in Forest’s POV scenes, but it does get mentioned, and I hope it feels earned when it happens.
What’s next for you? Any spoilers you can reveal?
Riverdale just got picked up for a season three! And that’s super exciting that these stories we’re working on get to continue. On the book side, I never thought I would ever be a YA author, but now that I’ve done it, I kind of rather like it, so maybe you’ll see more from me down the line…
Amy Spalding grew up in St. Louis, but now lives in the better weather of Los Angeles. She has a B.A. in Advertising & Marketing Communications from Webster University, and an M.A. in Media Studies from The New School. Amy studied longform improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.
By day, she manages the digital media team for an indie film advertising agency. By later day and night, Amy writes, performs, and pets as many cats as she can. She is the author of five young adult novels, including her latest, The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles).
Today on the site we’ve got the first of an interview set between authors of two of this year’s most fun YAs, The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in LA) and Ship It! As the former just came out a couple of days ago, this month’s got Ship It author Britta Lundin taking on the role of interviewer so Amy Spalding can share about her lesbian fat girl ode to burgers, art, and fun in LA!
First, here’s the deal with The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in LA):
Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby has stayed focused on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a prized internship at her favorite local boutique, she’s thrilled to take her first step into her dream career. She doesn’t expect to fall for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Abby knows it’s a big no-no to fall for a colleague. She also knows that Jordi documents her whole life in photographs, while Abby would prefer to stay behind the scenes.
Then again, nothing is going as expected this summer. She’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win a paid job at the boutique. She’s somehow managed to befriend Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro type who needs help in a project that involves eating burgers across L.A.’s eastside. Suddenly, she doesn’t feel like a sidekick. Is it possible Abby’s finally in her own story?
But when Jordi’s photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?
Is this just Abby’s summer of fashion? Or will it truly be The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles)?
Britta Lundin: Your books often have queer characters in supporting roles (the parents in The New Guy, the best friend in The Reece Malcolm List), but this is your first book with a queer main character and a queer romance at its heart. What made you want to write this book now?
Amy Spalding: The short version is that when I was working on my fourth book (and second romantic comedy), I thought, while I love writing swoony boys, I am really ready to write a swoony girl. And so my fifth book began to take shape!
The longer story is that, back when I began work, years ago, on The Summer of Jordi Perez, most of the YA books I read about queer characters were pretty sad. There was often ridicule, bullying, a parent throwing someone out of the house or threatening to, saying goodbye to a religion, even getting murdered. Given how hateful our culture still can be to the queer community, I certainly think many of these books are important. But I also thought about what it must be like to be a queer teen growing up today and reading multiple books where a character’s fate was concerning at best, and fatal at worst.
Books don’t only have to be about stark realism; I turn to entertainment for swoons and laughs too. And so I really wanted to write a book where a queer girl could rest assured the worst thing that would happen to the queer main character is she’d maybe say something very embarrassing in front of the girl she’s crushing on.
The great thing is being part of the YA community from before I started writing this book to the present, it’s great to see are more and more queer books that are lighter, that have different kinds of stakes, and that let young queer readers see themselves in all sorts of cool and swoony and exciting situations.
BL: Jordi is honestly (HONESTLY, AMY) one of my favorite book love interests in a long time. Five pages after meeting her, I already felt like I had a crush on her, too. Where did the inspiration for Jordi come from?
AS: This makes me so, so happy to hear. I had so much fun writing Jordi!
For any love interest I write, I definitely need to think they’re swoony too, or I can’t really fully relate to my main character. Plus it’s just fun to invent a swoony person and then figure out how they fit into your story. So, firstly, I just got to basically design someone crushworthy. One of the best parts of this job?
But in writing Jordi, I also wanted to make her someone who was like an of course! to Abby but also a completely unexpected wildcard. On one hand, they care about so many of the same things: art, beauty, creative career aspirations. On the other, Jordi is someone Abby doesn’t fully understand, either. She’s filled her world with people who say everything, whereas Jordi’s someone who keeps things a bit more under wraps. For Abby, who I relate to because I also blurt out way too much, crushing on someone who seems to have so much going on under the surface, is terrifying. So there’s also that aspect to writing love interests – they need to challenge something within the main character. It can’t be too easy!
Also, they always, always must have great hair.
BL: What was the hardest scene to write or the biggest writing challenge in the book?
AS: It was so hard starting this book. I must have written ten different openings, and I was just never really into it. I couldn’t figure out how I could be so psyched to tell this story, and yet so meh about the pages I was actually finishing. I sort of had all the elements there but they weren’t connecting, and I worried I’d never be happy with it. But I still remember VERY CLEARLY that one night I was making dinner, and I had the thought that Abby believed in romance and big stories and yet had decided that none of it was for her, and suddenly that was it. I took a break from the kitchen and wrote the opening, which has actually changed very little since that night. And somehow that was what it took for the rest of the book to come together. But it was months getting to that point.
BL: What makes you excited for LGBTQ books in 2018?
AS: The variety of stories being told! There are so many queer books coming out (har har) in 2018, and they are about so many different kinds of characters! They are in serious books, funny books, spy books, fantasy books, on and on. There is no reason any genre should lack queer characters – queer people are everywhere! And I’m so glad that books, more and more, are reflecting this.
BL: You only get one outfit to wear for the rest of your life — WHAT IS IT?
AS: Oh my god this is TORTURE. But it would likely be my cat dress from Retrolicious – it has realistic cat heads all over it, including one that looks just like my cat The Doctor. I’d wear it with my jean jacket that has so many enamel pins on it that it weighs more than your standard jean jacket, and my oxblood Dr. Martens wingtips. I would also probably wear one of my Tatty Devine necklaces, likely the one that looks like Saturn.
BL: Your book makes me want to eat hamburgers ALL DANG DAY. Where is your favorite place to eat a burger in ALL OF AMERICA?
AS: Is it super basic to say Umami? Because I love Umami so much. Their cheesy tots make me believe in magic and love. I love their Hatch and Manly burgers too, plus they carry the Impossible Burger which is like the best veggie burger out there.
I am also a big fan of Fusion Burgers in Highland Park, which also has some very exciting burgers and sides, as well as very tiny bottles of Diet Coke that are exciting to me!
For fast food, I do adore In-N-Out, even if it is a Southern California cliché. What can I say? Sometimes clichés are true for a reason.
BL: What are you working on next? (If you can tell us!)
AS: My next book is The Last Year of James and Kat. It’s not out until Spring 2020, which is very far away! The book is told in two POVs in alternating timelines of the bestfriendship between two girls, James and Kat, and what happens when senior year brings changes. (This sounds very serious but I promise there are plenty of rom-com moments too! I can also promise it is a queer book as well!)
Britta Lundin is a TV writer, novelist, and comic book writer. She currently writes on the show Riverdale on the CW. Her young adult novel Ship It comes out May 2018 from Freeform Books. A longtime fanfiction reader and writer, she can track her life milestones by what she was shipping at the time. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she now lives with her wife and their lime tree in Los Angeles.
Excited to introduce a brand new monthly feature on LGBTQReads today called Spec Shelf, where Nicole Brinkley of the former Queership blog chats with authors about their queer SFF titles! Take it away, Nicole!
Welcome to Spec Shelf, the little corner of LGBTQ Reads where I talk to authors about their queer science-fiction and fantasy books. Today, we’re peeking into Ashley Poston’s Heart of Iron, one of my favorite books to release so far this year.
Described as “Anastasia in space,” Heart of Iron follows a ragtag group aboard the spaceship the Dossier: Ana, found floating in space as a child; Di, the glitching android found with her; Jax, the pilot from an unknown planet; and Robb, a royal who needs their help.
Together, they’re crossing the galaxy to try to find a spaceship that might not exist—Robb to find his long-lost father and Ana to save Di from his glitches. Ashley’s writing reads like a movie script, as fast-paced and clear as your favorite sci-fi flick. And much like your favorite sci-fi flick, there is undoubtedly a character you will fall in love with. Favorites as a whole seem to be Jax and Di, but the character that earned my heart? The indomitable Captain Siege, pirate leader of the Dossier.
Learn a little bit about Captain Siege and her wife Talle in the excerpt below—and keep reading for an interview between Ashley and me, where we chat about Heart of Iron, asexual representation, queer pirate girls and Hogwarts houses.
At the head of the table, beside the captain, Talle—short and thin, with black hair in a pixie cut and hands so steady she could slit a throat clean while navigating the skyways of Nevaeh—sliced a piece of bread in half with one of the dozen knives from her belt, and buttered it. Siege leaned forward and ate it out of her hand. “Sunshine! That was mine.”
“Ours,” Siege replied, kissing her, and played her hand— three twos. No one called Wicked against the captain. No one ever did. Except Talle.
Talle and Siege had been married longer than Ana had been part of the Dossier. She always wondered how they’d met, but it was a secret—like Siege’s last name.
Di once said that it seemed surprising that two people who were so opposite could fall in love, but he didn’t see that while Siege was the flame, Talle was the shadow. One could not exist without the other.
Ana wished she could explain it. She wondered, often, if he would feel the same about her if he was programmed to have emotions.
Now here’s the interview!
Nicole: Let’s skip the whole shebang about “what is your book about” and “tell me about your characters” and dive straight into the fun stuff.
Ashley: Ugh, do I have to?
Nicole: You knew what you signed up for.
Ashley: Fine, fine, LET’S SKIP ALL THE GOOD PARTS AND GO STRAIGHT TO THE SPOILERS. SO, THE FIRST PERSON TO DIE IS—
Nicole: If you touch my favorite can-opener robot E0S, I’ll never forgive you.
Ashley: I can live with that.
Nicole: There are many incredible characters in Heart of Iron—though our resident tiny robot is likely my favorite—and many incredible character dynamics. Watching relationships shift and grow as the book goes on was one of my favorite bits, especially between Jax and Robb. I know Jax wasn’t even supposed to be a POV character, originally. What was creating their dynamic like?
Ashley: I love character interactions. I think I love writing it because of fanfiction, to be honest. Character studies and all. And I knew going into Heart of Iron, a good chunk of the story would be unremarkable (it’s a “lost royal” trope—we all know how those go), so I wanted to make the characters the story, not the trope itself. And to do that I wanted to make engaging characters. Robb was one of those characters who was an antagonist in one draft, and then a martyr in the next, but he never quite fit very well in any of those roles. He didn’t really come into himself until he met this snarky starship pilot, and then I kind of realized—oh, he’s not any of those things. He’d been screaming at me for so long that I kind of tuned him out, and then when I finally let him go he became this multifaceted character who had lost his father, and who was unsure of his future, and who wanted to do good, but he always seemed to do it wrong.
Nicole: I feel like a lot of modern media—even with all of the steps we’ve made in positive queer representation—still tend to box queer characters into this corner if being That One Thing and not a multifaceted character, especially when written by straight authors. It’s one of the things I love about reading queer SFF—and, of course, fanfiction, which fixes many of the limitations of traditional media.
Ashley: That is really true—and even as a queer woman myself I started to box my characters into one archetype or another. I think, to be honest, it’s a lazy way to earn cookie points. You can have queer rep! But they’re only ONE thing! And it’s fine. I mean, it’s fine. But there came a point in writing Heart of Iron where it wasn’t fine anymore for me. I’ve been writing this book for six years, and during those six years I grew as a person and came into myself, and you can see that through the drafts. Also, I have to add that while I’m a queer woman, I don’t assume to know the trials and tribulations of gay male characters. I had sensitivity readers on Robb and Jax, and their story isn’t about their gayness. That isn’t my story to write. They’re characters who are gay in Heart of Iron—and definitely not the only ones—but their story isn’t about their gayness.
Nicole: And the world of Heart of Iron isn’t one that fixates on their gayness, either. It’s populated by queer characters. Which brings me to my non-robotic favorite character. You know her. You love her. Captain Siege.
Ashley: THE CAPTAIN’S IN THE HOUSSSEEE. I love Captain Siege. And her wife.
Nicole: And her wife Talle! They both play hugely important roles in Heart of Iron, both as Ana’s family unit and as rational heads in a time where all of our POV characters are under extreme emotional duress. How much can you talk about them without completely spoiling your (just-announced!) second book?
Ashley: Well, I can definitely say they’ve seen their fair share of OH MY GODDESS THE WORLD IS ENDING moments, so nothing really surprises them anymore. There will be a lot more about Siege and Talle’s past, how they met, and how that factors into some of the bigger revelations in Heart of Iron.
Nicole: I love nothing more than queer pirate girls.
Ashley: Me, too. I love stories with kickass queer female role models for the main characters. I think that’s important—especially in YA where parents are either dead, MIA, or just not written on the page.
Nicole: That age-old trope—in both anime and YA—really open up the opportunity for teens to explore. It’s much easier without formal adult supervision around. Though Siege does try to reign Ana’s overzealous nature in where she can.
Ashley: Note: she tries. Ana’s like a bottle rocket—she’s going to fly off somewhere, it’s just a matter of where, and there’s no stopping her. I did an event the other day where I had to sort Ana into a Hogwarts House, and I instantly said Gryffindor, but then a friend shouted Slytherin and I was like… OH. She kind of embodies both? She turns, really, from one to the other.
Nicole: Her loyalty to Di could be argued as either a Gryffindor or Slytherin trait—though I think she reveals her true colors as to which House she would belong to as Heart of Iron comes to a close.
Ashley: Yeah, she goes full Hufflepuff—JUST KIDDING. Di’s the only Hufflepuff. Bless him.
Nicole: You mentioned at your launch party that Di is the character you found easiest to write, and I know you put a bit of yourself in Ana as well, though it’s not officially canon in Heart of Iron, in terms of your own queer identity.
Ashley: Well, if we’re talking about things not “officially being canon” then neither Siege nor Talle nor Robb nor Jax are “canon” because they don’t officially state, “HEY, I’M GAY!”
Nicole: Though I would love to see a rainbow flag flown outside the spaceship.
Ashley: HA! Jax would be in charge of the glitter because he’d just like to ruin everyone else’s day. But yeah, the terms for gay/straight/ace don’t exist in the world of Heart of Iron, because there was never a need to put a word to it. I wanted to imagine a world where that was never an issue, where religious reasons didn’t dictate whether you could marry or love someone of the same sex. I guess that’s wish fulfillment on my end, but I think that’s why I love fiction. You can always write the what-ifs, and impossible things are no longer really that impossible.
Nicole: I think that, when using labels in speculative fiction, it can become complicated. You don’t want sexualities to be erased, which is one of my biggest fears when it comes to aces in fantasy—it’s so easy to ignore a character coded as ace as a “shy straight person,” whatever that means—but that wish fulfillment can be incredibly satisfying and allow further headcanons to be developed, especially when you’re like me and think romantic identity is just a series of question marks because gender and sexuality have no impact on who I fall for.
Ashley: Exactly, and one thing I had to wrestle with in writing Heart of Iron. If you don’t say it, or explicitly talk about it, does it exist in speculative fiction? And then there is author intention vs. execution, and I think this is a good place to segue back to Ana’s identity. I, for the most part, fall somewhere on the asexual spectrum. And I wrote Ana to fall somewhere on there, too. (“But Ashley!” someone is bound to say—and this isn’t a spoiler—“There’s kissing!” to which I want to remind everyone that just because you identify as asexual doesn’t mean you are banned from kissing people.)
Nicole: I’m on the ace spectrum and I love kissing and cuddling.
Ashley: Same! I love kissing, and I love holding hands, and being close to someone, and Ana does that a lot. And for me, that was the only way I knew how to put a little of myself into Ana. How I could show her sexuality like I did for Robb and Jax, Siege and Talle. For me, at least, just to see a character love someone so deeply, without some of the more sexual attractions, was important. That was really, really important to me.
Nicole: All of these relationships—Ana and Di, Jax and Robb, Siege and Talle, me and resident can-opener robot E0S—shape the world of Heart of Iron. What fictional relationships shaped your own writing? Oh, yes. We’re talking ships.
Ashley: THERE ARE A LOT OF SHIPS. I am from the land of fandom and fanfics. I love characters with interesting dynamics—I think they make the strongest OTPs, to be honest. And most of my strongest OTPs are not sexually-charged in nature, but come from a place of snarky quips and electric conversation. (Oh hi baby queer Ash, here’s your clue.) Artemis Fowl and Holly Short, for instance, and Howl and Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle. I also really love some non-canon OTPs, too. Yuugi and Yami Yuugi from Yu-Gi-Oh!; Hermione and her own ambition, because we know she wouldn’t settle; Rei and Makoto in Sailor Moon—
Nicole: Oh, Artemis and Holly! One of our first bonding moments as friends was our mutual love of those two—and you and I have similar preferences with romantic non-sexually-charged ships. Let’s wrap this interview up before we write an entire essay: is there anything else you want folks to know about Heart of Iron?
Ashley: Ha! Hmmm, well, let’s see. Heart of Iron is a story about a lost royal princess—yes, that’s true. There’s no disguising that, really (ha!). I never went into Heart of Iron hoping to rewrite the trope. Some people will like it, and some people won’t, and that’s with anything you read, you know? I guess what I’m saying is, I wrote Heart of Iron to explore the characters within the story—Ana and Di and Robb and Jax—and how they interact. I wanted to tell a story of characters coming together, of their complex relationships, of being the good you wish to see in the world, and of being frightened to be that good sometimes. I wanted to write a story about home—about the people that make it, and the people you have to leave behind to find it, and I hope you find your home, too, in the Iron Kingdom.
It doesn’t take a lot of in-depth knowledge to know that intersectionality is lacking in the current LGBTQIAP YA market, but there’s perhaps no gaping hole in it quite as glaring as that of the queer Black teen boy perspective. In the past five* years, to the best of my knowledge, there has only been one YA novel released by a major mainstream publisher with an explicitly** Black male narrator, and if you guessed it was by a white woman, you are correct.
Wanna find one by a Black male author by a major mainstream publisher***? You have to go back to Sunday You Learn How to Box by Bil Wright.
Which was published in the year 2000.
Yes, you read that right: the last YA released by a major mainstream publisher with a queer Black male narrator and written by a Black male author is itself already a teenager.
So, hey, that’s pretty messed up! It might almost make you wonder about the queer Black male authors trying to get their #ownvoices stories published, wouldn’t it.
Good news! Here are four such authors with a whole lot of wisdom, thoughts, and experiences to share.
I’m a 23-year-old writer from Atlanta, Georgia. I went to high school in Geneva, Switzerland, as my mom worked for the UN. I was one of two African-American students in my grade there. There were two or three others in different grades, and that includes my brother. I’ve been to nine countries, six of them in Europe. I went to college at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY where I studied theatre and creative writing. I’m a freelance writer, graphic designer and actor. I’ve worked professionally in journalism and marketing. I’ve also been a security guard and a professional dog walker. I contribute thought pieces on social politics as well as arts & culture to The Huffington Post. I’m an award-winning spoken word poet (and regular poet). I occasionally perform in the poetry cafes in Atlanta. I’m very into fitness and health. I also love rock climbing, camping, and music festivals. I’m obsessed with creepy horror movies—my favorites are Oculus, The Conjuring, and Insidious but NOT The Conjuring 2 and definitely not any of the chapters following the original Insidious. I’m an amateur ukulele player and really into music in general.
A. Leon Walker
A. Leon Walker spends his days assisting library patrons in his small, Midwest town by soothing their daily woes or satisfying their curious appetites. By night, he takes the stage at the historic Croswell Opera House, where he fulfills his personal frustrations and delights. Meanwhile, he’s always conjuring up some new tale for readers of all ages in hopes of someday being shelved among his favorite writers.
Brandon Goode grew up in the small beach town of Melbourne, Florida. He attended Eastern Florida State College and Florida International University. He loves to motivate and inspire others, enjoys traveling, and eats an insanely amount of sushi. Oh, and he is obsessed with all things on the Bravo network.
Kosoko Jackson is the Digital Media Associate for Rock The Vote and manages social media accounts totaling 270K followers. He also moonlights as a paid sensitivity reader for big 5 publishers. Kosoko has taught elementary kids how to read, educated millennials about the power of voting, and held various communications positions in political organizations. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BS in Public Health with a minor in new media communications. He lives in Washington D.C and is represented by Louise Fury at The Bent Agency.
Please introduce yourselves! Who are you, what do you write, and where are you in the publishing journey?
A. Leon: Hello, everyone! Dahlia, thank you so much for this exciting opportunity. This is truly a dream come true. My name is A. Leon Walker (A stands for Anthony), I write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, and am currently unpublished.
Kosoko: Hi! I’m Kosoko Jackson. I write YA novels in every genre, but my bread-and-butter is historical fiction with POC main characters and contemporary novels. I’m currently agented and working with my agent on my debut novel.
Ryan:I’m Ryan Douglass, I write YA horror and thriller and I’m represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency. We’re still working on my manuscript.
Brandon: Hello! My name is Brandon Goode. I’m from Orlando and I write YA Fantasy and poetry. I’m currently working on my second novel and two books of poetry. Outside of writing I can be found eating sushi while watching Degrassi reruns, shopping at the local thrift stores in Orlando, and popping into the Disney Parks when I can.
Between querying, subbing, and self-pubbing, what are you finding to be the greatest obstacles so far? Any constant refrain in responses?
Kosoko: I think querying was the hardest, but that’s more from a personal level. Agents are the first level of gatekeepers and in many situations, you have to, in your writing, query, etc, prove that your story is something that can make it through all the further gauntlets. Sometimes, it’s the real first time you have someone independently say “This is good” or “this is crap” (hopefully no one says THAT). But nonetheless, that’s hard. Many great stories don’t get published, or even get agents because of this—and sometimes you get little feedback from agents you query. Agenting, to me, is harder because it’s very cut-and-dry, with little insight, and felt, often, like stabs in the dark. I do think that sort of diligence builds a good first skin you need to be a creative POC LGBT person, though.
Ryan: Querying was definitely my biggest hurdle. I wrote three manuscripts before writing the one that landed me my agent! But I needed to write the failures to learn who I was as a writer. My rejections were varied while sending out my last manuscript but for the ones before that, I often heard the stories lacked originality (which they did).
Brandon: I think the one thing I have found to be the greatest obstacle so far was spreading the word about my novel. The Secrets of Eden was released in March of this year and I had to do everything on my own since I self-published this novel. So take that and add in the disaster of a year that 2017 has been so far with social issues, and that’s why it’s been a great obstacle. Twitter has been a great tool in spreading the word and getting my novel out there, but of course I feel like more could’ve been done.
A. Leon: Querying used to be my biggest hurdle. These days, drafting seems to be the beast to conquer. It’s one of the reasons I’ve committed to writing a short story collection; for one thing, I’ve dreamed since I was 20 years old and first read Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things of composing my own cohesive collection but it has also proven rather useful in keeping me writing. Due to my day job, the one that pays the bills, I’m blessed to afford a four-day weekend every other week, which I spend writing my stories. I’ve a novel building in the subconscious, which will hit the page when I come to it.
So far, two of my shorts have been rejected. I’ve a third on submission. Fingers daily crossed until I hear back.
Even as we start to see more intersectional YA on shelves, the intersection of Blackness, queerness, and masculinity is probably the rarest in the category, especially by queer Black men. Why do you think that is?
Brandon: I think it’s rare first of all because of the stereotypes to be honest. Black men have so many stereotypes about us, that sometimes the truth is rarely given the time of day by a proper audience. Growing up, I couldn’t really identify with many novels that were on the shelves because the characters weren’t black or gay, and I wish there were more novels. I can only speak for myself, but growing up I was taught to never cry. To always “man up” and be tough.
Masculinity is something that was shoved down my throat by my mother and father. My dad was never really in the picture, but the times I did see him it was the same masculinity hype over and over. Being black and gay and trying to be “masculine” in the eyes of my family was tough and was something that I have shut away in the past. I’ve evolved into the person I’m supposed to be through all of those experiences, but for those who don’t know what it’s like they can’t try to fake it in literature. I honestly think that even within certain corners of the black community, queerness is still a taboo topic. I always found it hypocritical for those within all communities, especially the black community, to turn their nose up at queerness. Everyone in this country, one way or the other, has faced some sort of inequality a time in their life. The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Suffrage, etc. all happened in American history and someone on the other side had to believe in those movements in order for equality to blossom. That same support needs to be given to the LGBTQIAP community. Until these conversations start happening more frequently, allowing those who are growing up or surrounded by it the proper push to share their voice, then those types of YA won’t exist. Even for those who are adults now, until they feel that their voice will be received then those books won’t come.
There’s a moment I remember breaking out of what I thought was a hold on me from being myself, but not everyone is surrounded with love and support being Black and queer. That’s why YA is important to share those stories. That’s why we have to cultivate this platform and provide the necessary support to those who aren’t receiving it.
Ryan: It’s hard to get Black stories in the mainstream publishing sphere and for queer, Black stories it’s even harder. Maybe the industry doesn’t think the stories will sell. On the writers’ side, there’s a strong possibility Black, queer writers are afraid to tell their own stories because they have no examples of their stories on shelves yet. It can feel like compromising your chances of success as a writer to write something there’s no precedent for. I used to think I had to write about straight, white people or I couldn’t be an author. But we won’t know if the stories will sell until we give them a chance, will we? There is also still a lot of pressure on Black men in the community to be masculine and heterosexual. Some Black writers could be closeted and writing about straight characters, which is okay and how I wrote my first two books.
Kosoko: I think, honestly, it’s because of the number of intersections. It’s easy to say “no” in the publishing world. The data is just starting to back the statement that “POC/LGBT stories have a place in our canon”. That’s because of successes like Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, and Nic Stone—and people like Adam Silvera. For each success, it’ll get easier, but there are still many reasons to say no from the publishing side. The whole conversation has to be shifted from “what sold before” to “what is needed now.” YA literature should reflect the times and the need of the youth who read it and as our society becomes more and more intersectional, we need more intersectional literature. That should, in my opinion, be reason enough.
A. Leon: My thoughts on this subject are too voluminous to sum up here; I’ll do my best to keep things brief. While masculinity, in and of itself, bears great privilege in all of society, therefore dominates the literary landscape despite the overwhelming female presence of the YA category and the romance genre (both outsell every single genre in the business, including thrillers—a male-driven genre), add anything to that algorithm other than white or hetero and issues abound. Black male, queer male, black queer male—each requires some deterioration to the male ego before your audience even begins engagement. Because we’ve all met black men, right? We’ve all met queer men? We’ve all met queer black men? Okay, then: we know how they act. There they must stay. Black men, you get to be Native Son and Invisible Man. Queer men, you get to be Boy Meets Boyand A Little Life. Black queer men, you get to be Giovanni’s Room. So when people read, unless you happen to disturb the male algorithm in some way, you don’t really ask yourself questions such as: Where all the black folks at? Where all the black queers at? This, of course, is just the beginning; to ask such questions means you’ve done little more than left the tarmac. Action, particularly on the part of writers and reviewers and critics, is due. Overdue, in my opinion.
Obviously, we’re seeing a tremendous push for diversity from advocates. How much do you feel like that’s making a difference? What actions do you feel would make a difference, and like to see more people engaging in?
Ryan: I feel like it’s making a difference in the types of books the community is paying attention to. For a long time black stories were relegated to the “black section” and gay ones to the “gay section”, et cetera, as if those stories could onIy be appreciated by those groups. I see these stories being normalized now and more people are open to reading them. I would love to see more people engaging in conversations about the content of books by marginalized authors and what is being taught through these narratives. In the YA community it can feel dangerous to admit you don’t know or understand something about an experience outside of your own because you risk being called problematic. But I think what we’re doing in writing books about our experiences is teaching, so it’s normal to learn and discuss a changed perspective. I think we should approach these conversations in open ways.
A. Leon: A greater sense of urgency, in terms of lacking queer voices, couldn’t hurt. Not only black queerness but Muslim queerness & Latin@ queerness & Biracial queerness & Asian queerness & international queerness. More & more & more & more. Variety, depth, nuance. This isn’t just dependent upon writers. It begins with critics & reviewers. We need thinkpieces, Op-Eds, reviews pointing out the absolute absence of diverse queer representation, even (or especially) within books written by white gays. Let’s look at the greater culture for a moment here as an example: Moonlight was the first-ever QUILTBAG+ film to win Best Film at the Academy Awards, although Brokeback Mountain got snubbed. This is significant. But why aren’t we hearing about it in droves? How many more people preferred La La Land because it was the one they saw as opposed to genuinely believing it the superior film? Writers of all forms need to take a closer probing glimpse at this lack, question and force others to question why we’re still stuck on white maleness as the paradigm within an already oppressed community.
Brandon: I think it’s great to have diversity! This world is one giant melting pot, and if there isn’t representation then people are excluded which isn’t right. I think that it’s a great idea, but I want to see more authors of color getting their recognition and their works published and publicized. I feel that authors who aren’t of color get more recognized for “diverse” stories as opposed to those who really should. There should be more LGBTQIAP authors and authors of color getting their moments in the spotlight as well. I think in order to further make a difference, pushing diversity needs to be championed more. I love things like #DVPit, Diverse Book Bloggers, etc. that are opening the doors for diversity, but there should be resources for diverse authors. Diversity isn’t a gimmick and people need to remember that.
Kosoko: Overall, the trends are slowly moving towards more representative societal reflections in literature, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean it’s happening fast enough. Outspoken advocates like Justina Ireland, Dhonielle Clayton & L.L. McKinney have really helped us push the conversation and narrative forward, but I think sometimes that get’s lost in the mix. We think because the conversations are happening on Twitter, and the likes/retweets are high, there’s actual change going on, and there isn’t…not in the way we need.
Nicole Brinkley has a great thread on twitter where she shows the Publisher’s Weekly sales and compares the POC sales to the POC percentage of the US. It’s usually about 66% lower than the percentage of POCs in the US.
If you asked me one way to change that? I’d say we need more POC/LGBT people in publishing. Not just more agents, we need more editors and more POC/LGBT people in all positions. We need these people in the room where it happens (ha, Hamilton), and our presence to be reflective of society. I’d also like to see more POC LGBT writers, writing their own stories. I struggled with that for years–about 3–and though I’m not saying they HAVE TO, or should be forced to, I certainly think there should be a bigger push to have those stories. But that’ll only happen when there is a safety feeling in the YA community…
…and safety in YA is a COMPLETELY different topic.
What’s really important to you in the publishing staff that works with you and your books, especially you work that features queer Black boys?
A. Leon: First and foremost: all my work features queer Black boys. It’s the one subject I cannot avoid, despite how hard (in the early days, especially) I’ve tried. That being said, a deep understanding of the great necessity for wider, deeper, more nuanced representation within queer literature is something publishing staff working with my oeuvre must understand. Otherwise, they’re not going to get it. Most beta readers who’ve not addressed these questions within themselves tend not to sit well with my work. They say things like, “This is good. Really good, in some places. But can’t you write about something other than gay sex?” Or they’ll say, “You don’t believe in writing stories with white guys or straight guys in them, do you?” I need desperately NOT to work with publishing staff who even consider questions like this as valid.
Kosoko: To me, it’s important to find like-minded individuals in the publishing world who understand that the single narrative of POCs, Queers, and that intersection isn’t the only story…and continuing to perpetuate that single story, does more harm than good. It’s important queers of color see a wide range of authentic stories that reflect a wealth of backgrounds. Personally, I’m a queer POC who hasn’t faced the disownment of my family that is so commonly associated with the story of queer POCs. I don’t relate as strongly to that sense of story, but I identify stronger with stories where the character has to struggle with the split identity of self. Someone else will say the reverse. Having publishers and those in the industry who understand, champion, and advocate this is important.
I think it’s also important POCs, and queer POCs, are given the same leeway as our white, straight counterparts. Think about the “quiet” YA novels. That same freedom isn’t often given to queer POCs, and that’s a disservice to the community as a whole.
Brandon: I think allowing the authenticity of an experience or story that you want to incorporate into your novel to stay intact. Being a gay Black male, I have experienced many things from pitfalls to triumphs, heartbreaks and falling in love, and anything else of the like that I can morph into a plot line for a novel to motivate someone is very important to me. I want my voice to be a voice that they can trust, and that comes from being real and vulnerable with my work.
Ryan: It’s so important to me that my work is not sanitized to push an agenda for what queer Black boys (or just Black boys or queer boys) should look like. I think there’s pressure when writing marginalized characters to make them paragons of nobility because a lot of people think victimhood makes someone inherently noble and likable. My characters are imperfect because they’re human. They’re also victims. I don’t want my work censored. The harshness of what happens to my characters is very important to me because it’s realistic, and my work usually has elements of horror to it, so it’s supposed to be uncomfortable. I really don’t want to see that damaged.
There’s been some really incredible success for authors of color in the past couple of years, including Black authors Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, Tomi Adeyemi, and Nicola Yoon. Is there a deal or award or other event that really stuck out to you as being an inspirational kick in the butt?
A. Leon: Two things: N.K. Jemisin winning the Hugo Award two years in a row for her best work to date. She’s the first black author to do so, despite the current wealth of black SF out there right now. So that’s been hugely inspiring! Also, encountering the work of Kai Ashante Wilson, whom everyone should read. Like, right now.
Ryan: Angie Thomas’s 13-house action and Tomi Adeyemi’s 7-figure movie deal were inspirational for me because it appeared publishers were looking for black stories. I also loved seeing Everything, Everything on the big screen because we don’t get to see black teens leading movies very often. I’ve been reading and admiring Jason Reynolds for some time now.
Kosoko: This is small, but being Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everythingas a movie meant a lot to me. Seeing a black girl on a poster, was something I never really saw before unless it was about some gang movie or some violent movie. To see black kids having that kind of inspiration; to be happy, to live their authentic lives, and to take chances and risks for their own happiness? That mean’s a lot to me. When I was younger, seeing something like that on the big screen would have influenced my writing, and been pivotal to becoming an author. I have a feeling it’ll do the same for other kids, and movies like The Hate U Give and Children of Blood and Bone will have similar results. And I’m so excited for that.
I mean, hell—they inspire ME.
What’s the first book you ever remember reading with a queer Black character? What about other media?
Kosoko: This was the question that took me the longest to answer. I don’t think I ever remember reading a queer black character (that may be on me, but also another reflection of the society we live in). TV wise, that’s not the same. I’d like to say Lafayette Reynolds from True Blood was the first I ever saw. And that really meant a lot to me because of how bad ass and genderfluid in some senses he was, which is something I’ve grasped with in some aspects of my life.
A. Leon:The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin. The book with the most significant impact on me was Sorcerer of the Wildeeps and A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson. Sorcerer of the Wildeeps stars a gay black wizard in probably the deepest read about masculinity I’ve ever read; A Taste of Honey is a fantasy romance of epic proportions, addressing queerness of all types and including women in the conversation of masculinity. Obviously, Moonlight was an impactful film; my best friend from high school refers to me as Titus Andromedon (from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt); and there’s a great gay black cop with a beautifully complex perspective in HBO’s Six Feet Under.
Brandon: The first book I read with a queer Black character was If This World Were Mine by E. Lynn Harris. Mr. Harris has many books on my bookshelf because growing up, there really weren’t any other books featuring Black queer characters that I could find or have access to. Thinking back to other media, the one show that sticks out for me is Noah’s Arc from creator Patrik-Ian Polk. It was like the black and gay version of Sex and the City. This show provided me with some of the inspiration I needed to become comfortable in my own skin and to live life to the fullest!
Of the LGBTQIAP YA that exists right now, what book(s) is closest to your heart?
Ryan:More Happy Than Not changed my life and what I thought was possible in LGBTQ fiction. It felt like receiving an undeserved present to have a gay character who was also a character of color and from a lower class background. But it is deserved. Everyone should be able to see themselves. I think that’s the first time I experienced that feeling of immediate connection that straight white people are getting when they read the majority of books.
Brandon: The book that is closest to my heart is Hero by Perry Moore. I read this book my senior year of high school and I have a tradition now of reading it once a year. This book really showed me that we could have YA novels where a gay character was the main character and not supporting. This novel also tackled topics of acceptance, family, loss and it touched me so much that I actually reached out to Perry Moore and had the honor and privilege of interviewing him before he passed away. Because of this experience, this novel became a part of me.
A. Leon:What They Always Tell Usby Martin Wilson. There’s a beautiful relationship at the center of that novel between the main white gay character and his PoC boyfriend. That shower scene makes me want to have sex in the shower, even though I hate sex in the shower. I read that book every year. (Not just for the sexy shower scene.)
What’s your dream conference panel to sit in on? To be on?
Brandon: I would LOVE to sit on a #BlackBoyJoy panel for YA literature. I think it would be neat to sit alongside other black male authors, whether LGBTQIAP or not, and share our stories and successes to inspire the next generation of authors and readers. Adversity is an obstacle that many may feel that they can’t overcome, but showing them that light always triumphs over the darkness will help push them forward in their individual journeys.
Kosoko: I’d LOVE to be on a panel at FlameCon or World Con, especially since World Con 2019 is in Dublin, Ireland—one of my favorite cities in the world—and speaks heavily to my desire to make more LGBT POC YA stories international. It kills 2 birds with one stone. FlameCon would be amazing because it’s so many awesome LGBT creators in one space of all types.
A. Leon: I want to play the 92Y. Roomful of deeply thinking people waiting to hear my deep thoughts. Yeah, that.
Ryan: I’d love to be on a panel with other queer writers of color, any of the wonderful authors I’ve connected with on Twitter, or any of my influences. Neal Shusterman is my biggest influence but if I shared a panel with him I would not be able to talk or breathe.
What’s on your bookish bucket list, i.e. something book/publishing-related you dream of achieving at some point?
Kosoko: I don’t know if one exists but I’d love to sit on a panel/be on the steering committee devoted to POC creators in the creative arts (if there is one—tell me if not; I’d love to work with someone to create it). Conversations and topics are different when they center around POCs—like the POC version of Sirens—and I think that space really is needed. So I’d love to be a part of that, steering committee, etc.
A. Leon: Bestseller. And a whole shelf of books written by me that readers adore, whether they sold well or not. Some prize-winners in there, or at least nominated. Prize of choice: Michael Printz Award. Also, I just want to keep writing and publishing. I wish to leave behind shelves of books across all ages, platforms, techniques.
Ryan: International book tours because I love to travel and talk about myself.
Brandon: One day I hope to have one of my works produced for either television or film. I understand that not everyone enjoys reading, and some prefer watching great stories instead of reading them. So in order to reach that audience, a show or movie would do just that.
Got any words of inspiration for aspiring queer Black authors out there, and/or for your future readers?
Ryan: To queer, Black authors: write your stories. Don’t be afraid to write them. Write boldly and without fear. Include the ugly, the sexy, the awkward, the scary, the honest. We need your vulnerability! Things are changing and people are starting to listen. If you’re not ready to be open about your sexuality, write whatever you want.
To readers: I write what I know and do my best to make a narrative compelling and characters relatable. Everyone’s experience is different but marginalized people are often treated as a monolith and a lot of pressure is put on us to write for the whole community. I hope we can all give writers space to write their individual stories without having to speak for everyone at once. I hope you like my creepy work because it’ll only get creepier.
Brandon: If I could give any words of inspiration it would be, “Love yourself more than anyone else. YOU are the most important person in your life and you and your dreams DO matter. Never give up until you reach the finish line, and even when you do that, drink more water and keep going!”
Kosoko: As a POC you have to work twice as hard as your white counterparts. As someone LGBT, you have to work twice as hard as your straight counterparts. As both? You need to work four times as hard. Don’t let that deter you. The harder the opposition, the more reason for you to keep sweating, keep shedding blood, and most of all—continuing to write.
A. Leon: Read others’ work. Write your work. Be relentless.
*It was actually more than five years ago, as the Stonewall Honored Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz was published in April 2012.
**Proxy and Guardian by Alex London feature a dark-skinned male character one who might absolutely be read as Black, but it is not explicitly stated as such. Ditto Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. And yes, still white authors.
***Of course, it always behooves to support authors who are publishing through other means, so while you wait for these authors to grace your shelves, note that you can already buy The Secrets of Eden by Brandon Goode and check out the work of Craig Laurance Gidney.
Today on the site we’ve got two familiar contributors: Judith Utz, owner and curator of Binge on Books and Open Ink Press, whom you may recognize from this interview, and Kris Ripper, author of more than thirty queer novels (many written about here) with gender and sexuality rep all over the spectra. They’re discussing Ripper’s latest, Kith and Kin, a multi-POV look at family, connection, and perception that releases today from Brain Mill Press:
What does it mean to have a family?
Singer and Lisa Thurman did everything right for their entire childhood. Their mother wanted a perfect life, and they knew how to fit that vision.
Then they grew up. Singer came out of the closet and Lisa joined a cult.
Singer and his partner are adopting a son. Unfortunately, all that practice being the perfect child didn’t prepare Singer to be a merely adequate father. Lisa’s just trying to get through the day. After three years in a cult, it’s almost impossible to leave her bedroom, so redemption is going to have to wait.
What does it mean to be a family?
When their mother shows up and attempts to reclaim the illusion of her perfect family, old lives clash with new ones.
Recovering from perfection is messy, complicated, and fraught, but the riotous clan that rises from the ashes is full of joy—and the best kind of trouble.
A groundbreaking, honest, and provocative novel, Kith and Kin is contemporary family drama that grafts an entirely new species of family tree.
Judith:Ripper, hi! Thanks for joining me on LGBTQReads to celebrate the release of Kith and Kin. Tell me all about this latest book that is “not a romance”.
Kris Ripper: Kith and Kin is a great big family drama. Its code name for a long time was Domestic Rock Opera because it gives the impression of a whole lot happening at once (but no actual rock, sorry).
Whether it’s a romance…I leave genre calls to readers. But if I read this, I wouldn’t read this as A Romance. It does have loads of romantic relationships, all of which end on a positive note!
I come from a huge family of origin, and I built a family of choice. This book is essentially about the intersections between all different forms of family.
Judith: With such a big family, did any of your own experiences infuse Kith and Kin?
Ripper: My experiences infuse everything I write, but I don’t veer autobiographical. Though some of these scenes have been redrafted so many times that they feel like memories. I’ve written six versions of the first scene. The one that’s in the book was written the night before copyedits were due.
Judith: Since you are constantly reworking scenes and drafts, was there anything that was edited out that you wish you could have kept in?
Ripper: Ohhh, good question. Absolutely not, in that the book is stronger without everything I cut. But man, I cut a lot. I cut an entire scene when K&K was in copyedits. I’ll eventually release all of those either on my blog or on Patreon, so if you’re into cut scenes, check that out!
Judith: Can you talk about your creative process. How do the ideas come? How do you process them? How much research goes into a story?
Ripper: HOW ARE ALL OF THOSE ONE QUESTION?
Ideas come from everywhere. The shower and during a run are my favorite places to get them. Or a friend says, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to place a book in a comic book shop?” And then you plan a series in a comic book shop.
I will always have more ideas than I can write. There’s basically a big holding pen in my brain (I picture it as a netted off area of ocean) where all the ideas swim around. Some are bigger than others. Some eat others and get bigger. Some die off. I go fishing and hope I catch something good.
Every story requires some research; some require a metric shit ton of research.
Judith: With all these characters and books percolating in your mind, which of them do you most identify with and why?
Ripper: All of them and none of them, I guess. I know that’s a boring answer, but I don’t write a lot of “this really happened” into my books, even in small ways. People have told me I remind them of Hugh Reynolds in the Scientific Method Universe books, which is kind of hilarious. (Hugh’s an arrogant know-it-all control freak. I can’t say that assessment is inaccurate…)
Judith: Ha! Well, I won’t comment about the veracity of that here but knowing both you and the character? Umm….well….uhhh…on to the next question! Would love to hear about what are the top influences in your writing?
Ripper: Watching people—in bus stations, in coffee shops, on street corners, in grocery stores. Listening to the way people talk to each other. I’ve learned a lot about series storytelling from Lois McMaster Bujold. I love Stephen King and Nicola Griffith and Guy Gavriel Kay. I could lose myself forever in Audre Lorde. I also really love TV, but I haven’t hit anything that made my fingers itch to write lately.
Judith: Speaking of writing lately, who would you most want to write a book with and why?
Ripper: What like, collaborating? Please see “control freak” comment above. I’d be a horrible collaborator. And if I ever did it, I’d want to do it old school, like Peter Straub and Stephen King, trying to trick readers into thinking certain lines belonged to the other author.
Judith: And lastly, after Kith and Kin, what’s up next for Kris Ripper?
Ripper: The next thing I’m super excited to write is the Scientific Method Universe New Year’s book, Let Every New Year Find You. The narrator of that one will be Davey, whom we last saw in Roller Coasters, dumping Will on a sidewalk, and I’m so damn excited to see how he’s doing that my fingers tingle when I think about it.
Also, this is Amy Jo Cousins’ fault. FYI. She’s always been a book rec machine, but I had no idea she could reach into my brain, snap her fingers, and make stories appear.
Kris Ripper lives in the great state of California and hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. Kris shares a converted garage with a toddler, can do two pull-ups in a row, and can write backwards. (No, really.) Kris is genderqueer and prefers the z-based pronouns because they’re freaking sweet. Ze has been writing fiction since ze learned how to write, and boring zir stuffed animals with stories long before that.
Today on LGBTQReads we’ve got a first for the site: a guest interview! Judith Utz, owner and curator of Binge on Books and Open Ink Press, chats with debut author Liz Jacobs about her upcoming New Adult romance duology, beginning with Abroad; her personal experiences as a queer immigrant teen; and what makes this debut so genuine and hard hitting.
First, check out Abroad!
Nick Melnikov doesn’t know where he belongs. He was just a kid when his Russian-Jewish family immigrated to Michigan. Now he’s in London for university, overwhelmed by unexpected memories. Socially anxious, intensely private, and closeted, Nick doesn’t expect to fall in so quickly with a tight-knit group of students from his college, and it’s both exhilarating and scary. Hanging out with them is a roller coaster of serious awkward and incredible longing, especially when the most intimidating of the group, Dex, looks his way.
Dex Cartwell knows exactly who he is: a black queer guy who doesn’t give a toss what anybody thinks of him. He is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, totally in control of his life. Apart, maybe, from the stress of his family’s abrupt move to an affluent, largely white town. And worrying about his younger brother feeling increasingly isolated as a result. And the persistent broken heart he’s been nursing for a while . . .
When Nick and Dex meet, both find themselves intrigued. Countless late-night conversations only sharpen their attraction. But the last thing Nick wants is to face his deepest secret, and the last thing Dex needs is another heartache. Dex has had to fight too hard for his right to be where he is. Nick isn’t even sure where he’s from. So how can either of them tell where this is going?
Here’s a little more info on the book from Judith:
College might seem like the perfect opportunity to let loose and party, to revel in the chance at being alone, adult-free for the very first time in your life. And even though that’s definitely one aspect of the college experience, there are so many more that define it. Growing up, discovering parts of yourself you never knew existed, and ultimately coming of age is the crux of the new adult experience. With a sharp wit and unflinching portrayal of the ups and downs of college life, Liz Jacobs will blast onto the New Adult scene on June 27th with her stellar debut, Abroad. Russian-born, Jewish, and questioning his sexuality, Nick is an American who decides to uproot his life in the States to spend one year of college abroad in the UK. That too-brief-span of time serves to define and change who he will become.
Struggling to understand himself, his identity, and his constantly shifting feelings about his past, Nick discovers that home and identity are not limited to family or even a homeland. He also learns to trust himself and his own needs, and begins finding friendships in the most unlikely of places. Interwoven into this is a fragile love story that may or may not withstand the year. Liz Jacobs’ debut is a sophisticated and refreshing take on the New Adult novel and she caught up with me recently to talk more about this book and what it means to her.
Judith for LGBTQ Reads: Welcome to LGBTQ Reads! Please tell us all about your debut, Abroad.
Liz Jacobs: Abroad is, to me, a romance, and it’s also a story of coming into your own. It’s about identity and how we hide from ourselves and from others. A lot of it is about one’s cultural identity and what happens when “outsider” identities intersect and how. For instance, Nick has always been an outsider in some sense–in Russia, he was a Jew. In America, he’s Russian. And that’s just for starters. For Dex (Nick’s love interest), it’s being black, it’s being queer, it’s being brilliant and having to carve out space for himself because nobody else will do it for him. For his best friend Izzy, it’s a whole journey of self-discovery she doesn’t realize will happen. It’s also very much about that liminal space at the end of college when you know you’re leaving security behind. It’s also about made families, queer spaces, and people uplifting one another.
Judith: So when did you first have the idea to write this story? How many iterations has it been through?
Liz: I always knew I wanted to write something like this story, because immigrating remains one of the most defining moments of my life. I remember being in sixth grade, speaking zero English, and thinking, “how would I write about this?” I think partly because the experience was so viscerally difficult, it felt like I had to get it out or it would rot inside me. But I didn’t know how to tell it, I didn’t know the angle to take, what to do with it, until I realized that I could write a romance. Then, it coalesced super easily. But it was years of trying different approaches in my mind before this came into being. Then I sat down, wrote the first scene, and it just kept going. In terms of iterations, I’d say it’s one and a half, because the story was always this, but in speaking to someone about it, we realized that it was too much story to be contained in one volume. Also, Izzy’s character was elbowing for her own space, so once she got a POV, it really clicked fully.
Judith: Nick’s experience as a queer, Jewish Russian immigrant mirrors your own experience. Would you say that makes this story autobiographical?
Liz Jacobs: Let’s say, it’s “heavily inspired by” my life, though it is definitely its own story, with its own trajectory and conclusions. But I would be lying if I said that Nick’s character and experiences wasn’t based on my own. I wrote him through that lens, and it was important for me because for years, I kept a lot of this stuff inside, either through fear or the conviction that nobody would want to listen, and it has felt really wonderful, actually, to let this story out. So, not fully autobiographical, not entirely fictional.
Judith: Since it is so heavily inspired, did any of your own experiences infuse Nick’s story?
Liz Jacobs: Yes. Actually, the opening scene is lifted directly from my own life, pretty much verbatim. It has stayed with me for over a decade. It’s one of those “I think about this way more than I really should” moments. It was such a strange moment of cognitive dissonance, realizing that the person sitting next to me who presented very much as maternal and nurturing was holding some exceptionally xenophobic and harmful views with no idea that she was hurting me. The rest, I think, are just little touches, and largely fictional.
Judith: Have you always been a writer? What’s the first thing you wrote?
Liz Jacobs: I have been. I honestly can’t remember what the first thing I wrote was, and I have a feeling it’s through a sense of self-preservation (I was thirteen or thereabouts). Actually, I just remembered that I wrote a LOT of self-insert Mary Sue fic on a message board at 14-15. Really, I just haven’t stopped writing. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. It’s always been my constant, I can’t stop myself. Except for when I’m under deadline, and then my brain blocks it for me.
Judith: What’s a question you hope readers ask you about Abroad?
Liz Jacobs: I’m literally scratching my head right now, because I don’t know! I think I’d be excited to get any questions, to be honest, because it means that I’ve engaged the reader, made them think, touched them in some way. Maybe, “hey, did you have any visual inspirations for the characters?” in which case, I will be, like, “heck yeah, I did. Wanna see?”
Judith: Name your top writing influences (authors, books, tv, music, what have you!)
Liz Jacobs: The first name that comes to mind is, honestly, Anne Frank. She was the first person who made me think I, too, could be a writer. She was also a scared Jewish girl whose inner world was so much bigger than the outside world allowed for. Her words made an indelible impact on my life. I’d say another big influence is Jamie O’Neill, author of At Swim, Two Boys. This book blew me away when I read it at 20, and it continues to blow me away now, every time I pick it up for a reread. The way he brings the reader into each scene, how every character has their own voice, the sheer impact of his work–it’s almost magic to me, except better, because it all sprang from his mind. It took him a decade to write this book, and when you’re reading it, you can see why. That level of dedication, to me, is incredible. There’s another writer who few people outside Russia know about (and, actually, not so many in Russia, either) named Frida Vigdorova. Her writing had such a heart, such an intimacy to it, it made me yearn to write as well as she did. I’m still yearning for it.
Music wise, I’d say Tom Waits, being the giant weirdo that he is! Honestly, I feel like if Tom Waits can make a career out of being a (incredibly talented) whackadoo, why can’t I try?
Other than that, it’s hard to say, because I often feel like I’m an inspiration sponge–I just soak everything up and then stuff comes out without me realizing.
Judith: Speaking of writing influences, of all the authors out there, who would you most want to write a book with and why?
Liz Jacobs: The first person who came to mind was Roan Parrish, because I adore her writing and think she’s amazing. Where We Left Off is one of my favorite books of the last, like, several years. (Hi, Roan!) I also have a friend I’ve written with in the past (let’s call her B) and would love to write something new with her. (Hey, B) I love co-writing, and it also scares the bejeezus out of me, because it brings out the biggest control freak AND self-critic in me, but it can so gratifying and so much fun. You never know!
Judith: And lastly, what else have you written? What’s up next?
Liz Jacobs: Abroad: Book Two, of course! The story is very much not done at the end of Book One, and I’m writing Book Two right now and having a lot of fun with it (when I’m not having angst). I’ve got a whole bunch of things on the back burner that may never see the light of day, but I’m having quite a bit of fun with them, too. I’m writing a queer historical romance that is my happy escape place at the moment about the son of an Earl and a gardener. There’s gardening shed naughtiness. I have another project I’m hoping to develop, but I’m actually a bit superstitious, so I don’t want to say anything about it yet. But it’s YA. Intrigued yet?
Debut author Liz Jacobs came over with her family from Russia at the age of 11, as a Jewish refugee. All in all, her life has gotten steadily better since that moment. They settled in an ultra-liberal haven in the middle of New York State, which sort of helped her with the whole “grappling with her sexuality” business.
She has spent a lot of her time flitting from passion project to passion project, but writing remains her constant. She has flown planes, drawn, made jewelry, had an improbable internet encounter before it was cool, and successfully wooed the love of her life in a military-style campaign. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her essay on her family’s experience with immigration.
She currently lives with her wife in Massachusetts, splitting her time between her day job, writing, and watching a veritable boatload of British murder mysteries.