Better Know an Author: Erica Cameron

Welcome to Better Know an Author, a feature title I stole from Colbert Report because I miss it so, which will introduce you to a fabulous author of LGBTQIAP+ books every month! This month, the spotlight is on Erica Cameron, who’s got a whole lot of books on the shelf and in the pipeline, adding some much-needed rainbow representation to the YA canon. Come say hi!

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Which of your books have LGBTQIAP+ representation, and can you tell us a little about them?

All four of my series have at least some representation. Laguna includes the least, and my upcoming fantasy might arguably include the most—based both on the world and the individual characters.

In Laguna Tides, Kody, one of the secondary characters in the first two books, is demisexual. His orientation is hinted at in the first two books and will be confirmed in book three. He’ll also get his own story told in book four.

In Dream War Saga, though there isn’t any rep in Sing Sweet Nightingale (the one thing I now regret about that book is how straight and white it is, no matter how true that demographic is to the setting), I introduce a lot of queer characters in the second book, Deadly Sweet Lies. Julian and Nadette—my two narrators—are asexual and lesbian respectively, and both of those are confirmed on page. There are other queer spectrum characters in the book, but only Nadette’s love interest has their orientation confirmed.

For the Assassins books, rep is all over the board and—over the course of both books—not confined to orientation. Asexual, bisexual, gay, panromantic demisexual, gender fluid, and intersex. Most of this is confirmed with labels on the page, but some is implied when we’re talking about the minor characters.

In the fantasy series coming in February, The Ryogan Chronicles, the story starts on the island of Shiara and focuses on a culture with a bisexual-as-normal outlook on orientations. I do also have asexual rep in the book as well as an established third gender. Also, as a point of interest, there isn’t a single white character in this series. At all.

Your next book is the first in a series all about assassins—what kind of hands-on research does that entail?

Far less than I wanted to! I did get the chance to go to the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, and that was a lot of fun. It’s unfortunately one of the few museums in DC that isn’t free because it’s privately run, but it has some great interactive features. Like a vent you can actually crawl through! I had hoped to be able to take lessons at a gun range with various weapons (I’d probably be very bad at it, but I still wanted to have the experience), but time and money got in my way. Aside from that, though, a ton of research went into this book, none of it concentrated on any one thing. Hacking, security systems, weapons, spy technology, homemade bombs, the reality behind truth serum—basically, if there is such a thing as a government watch list based on search history alone, I’m on it because of this book.

What’s a particularly conscious choice you’ve made in your representation?

Well, more of it, definitely. I come from a place of privilege, and even though I’ve grown up in an area that forced me to be aware of that privilege in certain ways, I was still ignorant of many aspects of that same privilege when I wrote Sing Sweet Nightingale. Yes, the book is set in a very small town in northern New York that is based loosely on the town my father grew up in, and yes, that town is still to this day predominately white and straight and incredibly insulated from the reality of the world, but I didn’t have to recreate it so exactly. I could have made it a more realistic—more representative—version of the same place. With each book since then, as I learn more and more about respectful inclusion, the representation in the stories expands. Hopefully it will continue to do so.

That being said, incidental diversity is very different from a story about some aspect of the diverse experience. I will do my best to include as many non-white, non-straight, non-cisgender characters as possible—with a somewhat selfish focus on making sure every one of my series includes an asexual-spectrum character—but I will likely never ever tell a story about what it is like to be non-white, non-straight, or non-cisgender. Even if I were to attempt writing a book about what it’s like to be a white, cisgender female, heteromantic asexual, I’d still be nervous. And that’s writing exactly from my experience. I don’t have the gall to try telling someone else’s story. Not in that way.

You’re an ardent advocate for asexual representation in media, and a frequent user of the #DontErasetheAces hashtag. What are some things allosexual people, especially authors, can keep in mind in order not to contribute to ace erasure?

That, just like in the bisexual community, erasure happens. All of the time. The recent uproar over American Apparel’s pride month tote bag is just the most recent example, but it’s a perfect one. And it’s ridiculous that even a full year after GLAAD publicly stated that A is for Asexual, Agender, & Aromantic, we’re still having the same argument.

Erasure is also one of the reasons I prefer MOGAI—marginalized orientations, gender alignments, and intersex—instead of LGBTQIAP+. First, it’s easier to say, but more importantly, it never changes. Letters, and therefore people, don’t get dropped. With an acronym as long as LGBTQIAP+, the end almost always disappears. A lot of people who aren’t deeply involved in the community have a hard time remembering any of the letters past Q, and have an even harder time remembering what those extra letters stand for. The belief that A is for ally is still pretty pervasive. It’s also one of the few letters that stands in for multiple sections of the community—asexual, aromantic, and agender—so even when the A is included in LGBTQIAP+, people don’t always agree on who is being represented.

What can authors do? Incorporate characters who fall on the asexual spectrum, even if they’re secondary characters. Give them full lives and interests outside of sexual relationships and give us the word in black and white. Make readers go look it up if they don’t know what it is, but don’t give them any wiggle room on interpretation. Don’t leave it implied. Find a way to work the word into the text, whether it’s demisexual, graysexual, asexual, or any other orientation under the ace umbrella. The solidity of that kind of representation is so important right now. Awareness is key to changing the way asexuality is viewed by the world.

What’s something you still dream of contributing to YA lit? (Can be as general or as specific as you like!)

At least one book that lives a lot longer than I do. It’s literally impossible for me to know if this will happen, but I sincerely hope that it does.

What’s the first ace representation you saw in any medium that really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

I wish I could remember the name of the book…so I could warn people away from it. Unfortunately, since I returned it right away, and I didn’t write the title down anywhere, I don’t have it. This story, while otherwise interesting, had a main character (we’ll call him Bill) who told the second (let’s call him Ted) that he was asexual. It was the first time I remembered ever seen a character say that in a book, and definitely the first time since I had discovered the orientation for myself. The noise I made upon seeing that in print was basically inhuman. But then the story continued. It was clear very quickly that Bill was not asexual. Bill was afraid of intimacy for various (very real) reasons, a virgin, and mistrustful of Ted. Due to all of those factors, Bill basically lied to Ted about being asexual. He used it as a stalling technique to give himself time to think.

It was the first representation of my orientation I saw, and it was used as a trick to keep someone else at bay. It was a lie. Bill was “fixed” with sex. It was awful.

It also strengthened my resolve to include as many different aces as I could in my own books.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

The way the community rallies. Whether it’s to promote a new story that is exceptional or to protect an author being harassed or to call out discrimination or awful representation when it’s presented as “good enough,” this community—especially in YA—is a beast. In the best way. It’s the dragon in a fantasy story that will curl up with the human who raised it and smilingly burn a would-be assailant to a stick of over-charred meat. I love the support I’ve seen and that I’ve gotten from this community, and I’m so happy to continue contributing to it.

What are your favorite LGBTQIAP+ reads, and which ones are you most looking forward to?

The first I ever remember reading was in Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series. I was thrilled because Daja—who already reminded me of my best friend at the time—became even more of an accurate representation for my friend after she started crushing on girls. Sadly, it took a long time after that before I found any sort of representation that wasn’t a snarky, fashion-conscious Gay Best Friend character.

Recent years have made me so happy. I fell in love with books like Martyr by Alex Kahler (which is being relaunched in brilliant new form soon!) and None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio. I get to be champions of books like 27 Hours by Tristina Wright and bounce in anticipation of books like Timekeeper by Tara Sim, Marion by Ella Lyons, and Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst. This is a very exciting time to be part of the YA community and I can’t wait to see what the next few years will look like!

Where can people find more of your work on asexuality?

The first time I really wrote in detail about my asexuality was on DiversifYA in a great interview I did after meeting Marieke Nijkamp at RT 2015, but the piece I am pointing everyone to right now is the essay I recently wrote. Don’t Erase the Aces is a very personal story about my late discovery of asexuality and what not having access to that label meant in my life. On my site there is also an Asexuality Awareness page with useful links to both things I have written and outside sites with valid and valuable information. I am hoping to do a lot more in the future (I’ve applied for a TED Talk, so here’s hoping that happens). Honestly, I will likely spend the rest of my life talking about this, and I’m very okay with that.

Erica’s next book, Assassins: Discord, releases on September 5!
Buy it from: Riptide/Triton | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book DepositoryBooks-A-Million | IndieBound |

TBRainbow Alert #4

For those of you who feel like you’ve already read every LGBTQIAP+ book in existence, not to worry – there’s plenty still to come! Every TBRainbow Alert will have a mix of five LGBTQIAP+ titles to make sure are on your radar, along with three reasons why you should know them. If you missed the earlier alerts, you can check out those titles here. And now, the final TBRainbow Alert for 2016!

Title: Cherry (August 16)
Author: Lindsey Rosin
Genre/Category: Contemporary YA
Rainbow details: one of four MCs is bi
Why put it on your radar?
1. It really is a YA version of American Pie for girls
2. The friendships and honestly and awkwardness and all of that is so killer
3. This is the kind of book that has only just started getting queer POVs (see Tumbling by Caela Carter, Winning by Lara Deloza) and it’s so, so great. The romance is adorable and it has multiple on-page sex scenes between girls and even that elusive discussion about what constitutes sex between girls.

Title: Keeping Her Secret (August 23)
Author: Sarah Nicolas
Genre/Category: Contemporary YA Romance
Rainbow details: f/f
Why put it on your radar?
1. Contemporary f/f YA Romance! Sorry, is that not an auto-add for you somehow?
2. This seems like a book with kissing. I am a fan of such things.
3. You can read a delightful excerpt from it here!

Title: Bad Boy (December 6)
Author: Elliot Wake
Genre/Category: Contemporary
Rainbow details: trans male MC
Why put it on your radar?
1. Trans lit by trans authors is super rare and desperately needed, even more so by trans guys
2. Contains characters from author’s earlier works, so if you’ve been looking to see what they’re up to…
3. Wake has a solid track record of having books with the only rep of their kind on brick-and-mortar shelves.

Title: Overexposed (September 20)
Author: Megan Erickson
Genre/Category: Contemporary NA Romance
Rainbow details: m/m, LI is demisexual
Why put it on your radar?
1. Demisexuality on the page! Demisexuality on the page!
2. I love this series of Erickson’s, so it’s all instabuy to me.
3. Appalachian Trail setting and recurrence of a familiar character from Out of Frame

Title: Interborough (October 24)
Author: Santino Hassell
Genre/Category: Contemporary Romance
Rainbow details: m/m, one MC is bi
Why put it on your radar?
1. Contains the same characters as Sunset Park, which ordinarily wouldn’t be my thing, except…I’ve read Sunset Park. Yes. I will take another book of them, thanks. (And of course, if that is your kind of thing, this is a dream come true.)
2. I love this series of Hassell’s, so it’s all instabuy to me. (And yes, if that looks familiar above, you may be not at all surprised to learn their coauthored series is also instabuy to me. #sorrynotsorry)
3. On-page rep in m/m romance other than Gay is tough to find, so I love this series in particular for having bisexual Raymond, among others.

Goodbye, Bad Bi: The Lose-Lose Situation of Bisexual YA, a Guest Post by Casey Lawrence

You may recall Casey Lawrence from her recent cover reveal for Order in the Court. Now she’s back to talk about the tricky business of writing bisexual YA. Without further ado, Casey Lawrence!

Young Adult literature is often characterized by discovery, by firsts. First crush, first kiss, first loss, first love. YA is a genre that helps generations of teens find their place in this world and discover who they are in it. For this reason, it is extremely important that YA novels reflect their demographic; most of the readers in dire need of that help are young members LGBTQ+ community.

For young queer teens, the world can be a scary place. YA books can be an escape, but also a mirror: for many queer teens, their first taste of what it might be like to actually be queer comes from the media’s representation of queerness.

LGBTQ+ YA is a growing market. More and more authors are taking the leap to publish stories with diverse characters. My own book series, The Survivor’s Club, has a bisexual teenage protagonist. Today I’m going to outline a major problem I’ve encountered with writing a bisexual character: it’s a lose-lose situation.

Because YA usually has some kind of romantic element to it, authors writing bisexual characters need to make a choice: who does your bisexual character “end up” with? (Since I write bi girls, I’m going to use bi girls as examples, but the same goes for bi boys.) If your bi girl ends up with a boy, your character gets accused of being “basically straight,” “bad [queer] representation,” or “reinforcement of compulsory heterosexuality.” If your bi girl ends up with a girl, she ends up having to be representation for all wlw (women who love women). She’s “basically a lesbian.” Either way, the character’s bisexuality is somehow “negated” by their relationship status. Sure, in Chapter One she’s a Bi Girl, but by the end she’s Basically Gay or Basically Straight—in either case, thinking this way is Bisexual Erasure.

Bi characters in m/f relationships are “bad representation” because they’re basically straight.

Who one is in a relationship with does not define one’s sexuality. A bisexual woman married to a man is not straight. A bisexual man who has only dated men is not gay. In both cases, these people are bisexual—both in real life, and on paper.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts lately about how having a bi character enter an m/f relationship somehow invalidates their queerness. Bi women suddenly must have their wlw cards revoked because they love men, which makes about as much sense as saying a person can’t enjoy both chocolate and vanilla ice cream. For bisexual women in particular, this idea reinforces the patriarchal idea that men can fundamentally change a woman’s identity.

Here’s a conversation I recently had:

Them: You mostly date men, right?

Me: Yeah, so?

Them: So you’re mostly straight, then.

Me: I’m bisexual.

Them: Oh I know, but I mean, you’re not 50/50. You’re more on the straight side. More straight than gay.

Bisexuality is not the condition of being half-gay and half-straight. A bisexual person is entirely bisexual, not fractions of other things. When a bi person of one gender dates a person of another gender, their sexuality doesn’t change, in the same way that being single doesn’t make a person asexual until they start their next relationship. The number of relationships one’s had with different genders do not fill in a pie chart that somehow can determine the percentage of their queerness—they’re bisexual, completely, irrespective of their relationship status.

But heterosexual relationships already act as representation for bi people in m/f relationships, don’t they?

Nope. Bisexual people in relationships with people of a different gender can have a very different dynamic with their partner than a heterosexual couple. They face different challenges, one of which may be being told that they’re basically straight because of who their partner is. A lot of real bi girls do end up with guys and they deserve better than to be told that relationships that look like theirs are the “disappointing” option, or “not real queer representation.” It’s not fair that they aren’t allowed to have representation of how to conduct their lives in different-gender relationships because of how those relationships are perceived.

These assumptions have real world consequences. People say things like “Bisexuals in het relationships don’t belong at Pride.” This is equivalent to parents accepting their bisexual children only as long as they date the opposite sex. Why is the latter abhorrent but the first tolerable in the LGBTQ+ community? Accepting someone as long as they act like you is not okay. Conditional acceptance is never okay. This is true of the LGBTQ+ community as well as outside of it. Both of those statements are example of biphobia. They make it seem as if a bisexual person can “choose” to be gay or straight—rather than being bisexual, which is a sexuality in and of itself.

Can’t you just let your bi character have both an m/f AND an f/f relationship over the course of a book/series?

Sure I could. But that leads to a whole ‘nother conundrum: which relationship gets the HEA (happily ever after)? No matter which order I choose, there are going to be complaints. This is where the lose-lose situation comes into effect:

If my bi girl dates another girl only to later date a boy, I run the risk of implying that her bi-ness was just a phase or an experiment. I’ll get all those accusations about bad representation outlined above; my bi girl can’t end up with a boy, because then readers will think she’s straight (no matter how many times she tells the world she’s bisexual).

If my bi girl dates a boy first and then dates a girl, it reinforces the idea that bisexuality is a “stepping stone” identity on the way to declaring oneself a True Homosexual. This is more prevalent in m/m stories, but holds true for female characters as well. Bisexuality is considered by some people a way of keeping one foot in the closet.

Why does that happen?

There’s something called the One Drop rule when it comes to m/m romance: one m/m attraction or relationship is enough to call a male character gay, despite having been in m/f relationships in the past. One drop in an ocean is enough for that male character to be considered queer, negating an entire history of attraction. For bisexual female characters (and real bisexual women!), the opposite is true. Often, any evidence of opposite-sex inclinations is cause for exclusion from wlw spaces.

Bisexual men are assumed to be gay and performing bisexuality in order to cling to heteropatriarchy’s idea of masculinity, while bisexual women are assumed to be straight and performing bisexuality for heterosexual male attention. Thus bisexual women are in the unique situation of being “too gay” or heterosexual spaces, but “too straight” for queer ones, creating a need for bisexual women’s spaces, whereas bisexual men are, for the most part, welcomed into gay spaces with open arms—assuming they consider to “perform” their queerness. The same holds true with literature.

Romantic or sexual relationships with men are seen as bad representation for wlw because it appears to adhere to the patriarchy, or compulsory heterosexuality. One reasons why gay men do not feel betrayal toward bisexuals in “het” relationships to the same degree or in the same way as lesbians do is that to them, bisexual women in relationships with men are choosing to adhere to the heteropatriarchy, despite the capacity not to.

Can’t you just write a bisexual character in a polyamorous relationship then? Why does she have to choose?

Ah, now wouldn’t that just be the perfect solution! Many bisexual people are also poly. But the thing is, most bisexual people aren’t. Writing bisexual characters as poly  unfortunately enforces the stereotypes that bisexual people are greedy, can’t be satisfied by one person, are promiscuous, more likely to cheat… the list goes on. If everyone wrote bisexual characters into poly relationships, bisexual monogamists (of which there are many) would be left completely without representation or a voice.

Bisexuality and polyamory are different things. The first is a sexuality—to whom one is attracted—and the second is a relationship style—how one performs their sexuality in the context of a relationship. A person or character can be both bi and poly, but not everyone who is bi is also poly, just like everyone who is a pianist is not also left handed. I’m sure there are left handed pianists, as one certainly doesn’t negate the other, but one does not necessarily mean the other. They are completely separate.

So while I’d be excited to read (or write) a bisexual/poly romance, that’s not going to work with every character, just like it wouldn’t work for every bisexual person.

So why can’t you just write your characters as individuals making personal choices? Why do they have to represent all bisexual people?

And there’s the real reason for the lose-lose situation: since there are so few bisexual characters, every bi character that makes it to the published page is suddenly expected to be representation for all bi people. Gay people want bisexual representation that is “queer enough” to fit onto the existing LGBTQ+ shelf at the library, straight people want to see bi people that look like them or someone they could date / have dated, and bi people—well, we all just want to see ourselves on the page. With so few examples, it’s no wonder that no one is satisfied. There aren’t enough bi characters to go around.

What’s the solution, then? Is it hopeless?

Hopeless? No! Of course not. The only thing to do is to keep writing bisexual characters. Bi characters who end up falling for someone of the same sex. Bi characters who get their HEA with a member of the opposite sex. Bi characters who love nonbinary characters. Bi characters who are also trans. Bi characters who date trans characters. Bi characters who are in polyamorous relationships with people of different genders. Poly bi characters who date multiple people of one gender. Bi characters who end up heartbroken. Bi characters who end up alone, but happy. And, most of all, bisexual characters who proudly say “I’m bisexual,” no matter who their partner(s) is.

The only thing we need less of is stereotypes. If we create enough unique bisexual characters and stories, hopefully we can beat this lose-lose system. Each and every bisexual person is different, with different preferences and experiences. Why should bisexual characters be any different?

Casey Lawrence is a 21-year-old Canadian university student completing an undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature. She is a published author of LGBT Young Adult fiction through Harmony Ink Press and has been actively involved in LGBT activism in her community since she co-founded the Gay-Straight Alliance at her high school. Her first novel Out of Order is available through all major online book retailers and its sequel, Order in the Court is currently available for preorder.

Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Cover Reveal: The Powers of Callaire by Saruuh Kelsey!

Today on the site, please welcome Saruuh Kelsey, revealing the cover of her upcoming f/f romance (starring a homoromantic asexual character), The Powers of Callaire! Here’s the summary:

Yasmin’s girlfriend is dead, but she will stop at nothing to bring Fray back. Even if that means going to the Otherland and making a bargain with the Ruler of All Souls. If Yasmin finds Pluto’s lost power, they’ll return Fray’s soul to her body.

Yasmin’s search takes her, and two of her friends, from Bucharest to France to Wales, and exposes a horrifying secret with Venus, Yasmin’s mother, at the heart of it. With a murderous, fiery god and the incarnation of death in her way, Yasmin will have to compromise her morals and harness the Legendary power in her veins. If she fails, Fray’s soul will be lost forever.

Aaaaand here’s the beautiful cover!

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The Powers of Callaire is available for pre-order here, and this week the first two books are free!

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SARUUH KELSEY lives in Yorkshire, in a house halfway between the countryside and the city with an absurd amount of books and craft supplies. She’s the author of The Legend Mirror and Lux Guardians series. Find her online at saruuhkelsey.co.uk or follow her on twitter at @saruuhkelsey.

Fave Five: LGBTQ YA with East Asian Female MCs

Huntress by Malinda Lo (B, Chinese)

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (L, Korean)

Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace (B, Chinese)

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (L, Chinese)

A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (B, Japanese)

Bonus: out in 2017 – It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (L, Japanese)

Double bonus: graphic novel – Skim by Mariko Tamaki (Q, Japanese)

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Cover Reveal: Keeping Her Secret by Sarah Nicolas

Happy cover reveal day to Sarah Nicolas! Today on the site, we’re revealing the cover for her upcoming f/f YA Romance, Keeping Her Secret, and sharing an excerpt from it, too! The book comes out from Entangled on August 22nd (just 19 days!) and judging by this blurb, you’re not gonna wanna miss it…

Two girls. One kiss.

The last person Riya Johnson expected to run into at her new summer camp is Courtney Chastain—her childhood best friend and the girl who broke her heart after a secret, mind-blowing, life-altering kiss. She definitely didn’t expect to be sharing a bunk bed with her for four long weeks.

Courtney has what every girl wants—she’s beautiful, rich, and the object of every boy’s desire at Camp Pine Ridge. Too bad none of them make her feel an iota of what Riya’s kiss did all those years ago. But Courtney needs to uphold appearances at all costs—even if it means instigating an all-out prank war with Riya as her main target.

Neither girl can stop thinking about the other…but that doesn’t mean they can give up past hurts and take a chance on a future together.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains drinking, sexual situations, and a fairy-tale romance sure to make your heart melt.

And now, the adorable cover…

KeepingHerSecret

Want more? (Of course you do.) Check out this excerpt!

Courtney laughed. “You are so adorable sometimes.”

Riya swiveled her head again to find Courtney staring at her. Riya’s previous heartbeat-slowing efforts proved immediately futile. Her pulse thundered through her entire body.

Adorable. That was a good thing, right? It was like cute, but better. Or she could mean adorable like a six-year-old asking too many questions at Thanksgiving.

“What are you thinking?” Courtney’s eyes opened and closed ever so slowly, giving her a sexy, sultry expression. “I can see your brain turning behind those ochre eyes of yours.”

Riya caught herself staring at Courtney’s lips. This time, she didn’t look away. “What do you mean by adorable?”

Courtney bit her lip as a smile slid across her face. If Riya didn’t know better, she’d think Courtney was teasing her. “Cute. Charming. Endearing.” Her left eyebrow shot up in a suggestive gesture. “Kissable.”

The word struck her like a flash of lightning. Riya’s entire cardiovascular system froze for a second, before jump-starting into double-time. “Courtney,” she warned. “Don’t do this.”

“What?” Courtney asked, her voice dripping with faux innocence. “This?” She reached a hand over and stroked a single finger from Riya’s knee, up to her hemline. A line of fire flared across its path.

“You are drunk,” Riya reminded her. She’s drunk; she doesn’t know what she’s doing, Riya reminded herself.

Courtney turned onto her side, tucking one arm under her head. “And I told you”—she raised her other arm and trailed two pink-polished fingernails up the length of Riya’s arm with the lightest touch—”alcohol makes me honest.”

The air Riya pulled into her lungs felt as thick as pancake syrup. Her hands fisted the material of her shorts as she resisted the urge to return Courtney’s caress. “You haven’t spoken to me in public except to mock me.”

“Talking to you frightens me,” Courtney said. “My brother was right about that at least.”

Her brother? How much did he know? Neck aching, Riya rolled over on her side to face Courtney. “What are you scared of?” Riya asked. “Why do I scare you?”

Courtney’s fingertips traced up from Riya’s shoulder, across the heartbeat pulsing in her throat, ghosting across her jawline before tickling her lips. Riya couldn’t have moved if she wanted to—and as long as Courtney touched her, she definitely didn’t want to.

Courtney whispered her answer. “That what I felt that day in the tree wasn’t a fluke.”

Riya wasn’t asthmatic, but she swore she was on the verge of an asthma attack. Or a heart attack. She’d daydreamed about this, imagined this scene in her head a hundred times, knowing it could never happen.

“That I’m not broken,” Courtney added, so quietly Riya could barely make the words out.

Confusion cleared her mind for a second. “How would talking to me prove you’re not broken?”

“I date a lot of guys.” Courtney pulled her hand back from Riya’s face but immediately grabbed Riya’s hand. “I kiss a lot of guys.”

Riya knew she should, but she didn’t pull her hand away. Courtney’s fingers felt so warm, impossibly soft. Courtney’s pale skin made her seem even darker, and the contrast made Courtney’s hand practically glow in the dim light. Riya made a vague sound of agreement. “So I’ve heard.”

Courtney closed her eyes, her mascara-coated lashes fanning out against her pale cheeks. She squeezed Riya’s hand, as if to say, Stay with me. I have a point. After a long, slow breath, Courtney said, “I feel nothing. None of the boys. No jitters, no sparks, no butterflies, none of the things you’re supposed to feel.” She opened her eyes. “None of the things I felt when…” Courtney trailed off, closing her eyes again.

Riya believed there were moments in every person’s life, turning points that permanently altered their path. If this was one of those moments, she needed to be absolutely sure. Riya could hardly dare to hope the rest of the sentence. But she needed to know. “None of the things you felt when I kissed you.”

Preorder Keeping her Secret here!

sarah_nicolasSarah Nicolas is a recovering mechanical engineer, library event planner, and author. She lives in Orlando with a 60-lb mutt who thinks he’s a chihuahua. Sarah writes YA novels as Sarah Nicolas and romance under the name Aria Kane. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing volleyball or drinking wine. She is a contributor for Book Riot and at YAtopia.

Author Website: www.sarahnicolas.com
Author Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/sarah_nicolas
Author Facebook: www.facebook.com/authorSarahNicolas
Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8328543.Sarah_Nicolas
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TBRainbow Alert #3

For those of you who feel like you’ve already read every LGBTQIAP+ book in existence, not to worry – there’s plenty still to come! Every TBRainbow Alert will have a mix of five LGBTQIAP+ titles to make sure are on your radar, along with three reasons why you should know them. If you missed the earlier alerts, you can check out those titles here. And now, a few more coming up in 2016!

Title: Tattoo Atlas (October 18)
Author: Tim Floreen
Genre/Category: YA Near-Futuristic Thriller
Rainbow details: gaaaaay
Why put it on your radar?
1. Well, I it got on mine because Shaun David Hutchinson effusively recommended it, which is a pretty good reason.
2. The first three words of the blurb are “A teenage sociopath,” which, honestly, is about all it takes to get me to read something.
3. I was promised kissing. We were all promised kissing. Let’s read kissing.

Title: Looking for Group (August 29)
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Category: Contemporary Romance
Rainbow details: m/m
Why put it on your radar?
1. Hi, this is Alexis Hall, author of For Real? That little book that just won a RITA?
2. Nerd books are my crack, and I know I’m not alone. I’m not even into gaming but somehow gaming romances are just the best.
3.
It’s reportedly fairly light on the romance aspects, so if you’ve been looking for that (as I know many of you have), you can feel safe about picking this one up!

Title: Beast (October 11)
Author: Brie Spangler
Genre/Category: Contemporary YA
Rainbow details: trans LI
Why put it on your radar?
1. Trans romance in YA! Yeah, needless to say, those are not common, even with a cishet MC. (And I personally like that the MC is decidedly straight rather than further reinforcing that only queer people date trans people.)
2. It’s an interesting look at dysphoria all around and the many different ways it manifests.
3. Retelling alert! Beast is actually a Contemp YA Beauty and the Beast, with the exceedingly large, hirsuite MC as the Beast and the LI as Beauty.

Title: The Other Boy (September 20)
Author: M.G. Hennessey
Genre/Category: Contemporary MG
Rainbow details: Trans boy MC
Why put it on your radar?
1. Not to be predictable, but…it’s a trans boy MG, which is practically nonexistent. (And it’s really heartening not to see a deadname in the title or blurb, besides.)
2. The main character, Shane, is already out to his family and on hormones, which is something we’re only just starting to get in YA, but really did not have in MG.
3. Has a supportive parent and a therapist. Bless.

Title: Labyrinth Lost (September 6)
Author: Zoraida Cordova
Genre/Category: YA Fantasy
Rainbow details: bi female MC
Why put it on your radar?
1. Bi girl of color! Bi girl of color! And there’s an interracial f/f romance where neither character is white.
2. This book is so vividly drawn, it feels like a Brooklyn Brujas version of Alice in Wonderland.
3. So. Much. Cultural infusion. And it is awesome.

Backlist Book of the Month: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Two things that are seriously rare in LGBTQIAP+ YA are intersectionally diverse books and lighter contemporary with happy endings, especially for queer girls. In her sophomore novel, the awesome Sara Farizan brings both, making this a Must Read of the highest order.
20312458High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.

Buy it: Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Powell’s * IndieBound * Workman

Fave Five: YA with South Asian MCs

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee (B, Vietnamese-Chinese)

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (T, Pakistani)

Vanished and Avenged by E.E. Cooper (B, Indian)

A Love That Disturbs by Medeia Sharif (L, Pakistani)

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (Q, Indian)

 Rainbow heart

SoRo: Three Ways Socially Conscious Romance Can Change the World (A Guest Post by Karelia Stetz-Waters)

Please welcome to the site today author Karelia Stetz-Waters, whose newest release, a Contemporary Romance entitled For Good (Book #2 in her Out in Portland series), just released on July 5th! Just before we get to her post, check out a little more info on the book:

Stetz-Waters_For Good

In this too-small, dusty town, brand-new district attorney Kristen Brock knows she’ll never fit in. Still, the job will look great on her résumé—if she can just keep her head down and play by the rules. Because in a town run by a self-serving, powerful family, the last thing Kristen needs is trouble . . . but one kiss from the beautiful ex-rodeo queen Marydale Rae turns her world upside down. And Marydale is definitely trouble.

Marydale didn’t intend to hide her past from Kristen, but the prospect of a friend who doesn’t know she spent time in prison is too tempting to pass up. Add in the passionate night they share, and Marydale never wants Kristen to know the truth. But small towns don’t keep secrets, and the powerful Holten clan is determined to destroy anything and anyone who makes Marydale happy.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * iBooks

And now, Karelia, on Three Ways Socially Conscious Romance Can Change the World:

I see you Romeo…shaking that ass! Wait. That’s now how the line goes. My Shakespeare’s getting rusty now that I’ve plunged into the world of genre fiction. Romance, no less.

One of my academic colleagues told me she hoped I’d be able to get back to writing meaningful literature. “Karelia, you’re so talented…” she trailed off mournfully. I think it was a compliment. I didn’t bring up the nonlinear, staccato, trans-generational epic poem she’d been agonizing over [but not actually writing] for ten years. Why be mean?

I loved writing my first romance novel, a lesbian version of You’ve Got Mail in which I challenged myself to employ the old Harlequin Romance sex equation: a sex scene within the first fifty pages and then every seventy-five pages after that. And I got to do some crazy research for my most recent release, a kind of Orange Is the New Black: Parole Edition, about a paroled felon and a district attorney who fall in love. The result is a fast-paced, poolside read, that’s cheaper than a mocha Frappuccino and just as easy to consume.

I’m not ashamed.

My colleagues in the greater world of the academy have yet to recognize romance as a meaningful literary art form, but romance is the language of hope. And it sells. People read romance. And I believe a well-written, socially conscious romance (my wife coined the term “so-ro”) can do three powerful things to change the world.

SoRo Gives the LBGTQ+ Community a Vision of Happiness

I spoke on the plenary panel at the Gay Romance NW Conference last year. Someone posed the question: can romance novels have tragic endings? The consensus was no. “…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” That is the contract.

Romance imagines happiness. It paints a picture. It draws a map. With violence and prejudice still part of the LBGTQ+ community’s experience, we need those portraits. And, yes, of course, we need artists to bear witness to suffering and injustice, but we simultaneously need to surround ourselves with pictures of health and hope.

I recently watched Jane McGonigal’s TED talk “Gaming Can Make a Better World.” In it, she mentions one special trait possessed by gamers; they believe in epic wins, wins so great, so sweeping they change everything. True love is an epic win. Believe!

SoRo Breaks Down Gender Stereotypes

And I think romance, when done well, can do more than just comfort and uplift our community. LBGTQ+ romance is gaining a following among heterosexual readers. When I ask straight readers why, the answer is almost unanimous. They want to see love without gender roles.

I recently started a blog called “Ask the Girls: Lesbian Love for Straight Couples.” The premise is this: excepting the fact that it took me and my wife fifteen years to be legally married, our marriage is easier than our heterosexual friends’ marriages. My wife and I may have absorbed all the same gender stereotypes, but we don’t live by them. We can’t. Taking out the trash may be the man’s job, but if we wait around for a man to do it, we’ll be waiting a long time.

SoRo Teaches Compassion

Finally, let me step out of my role as blogger and back into my comfortable, everyday English-professor clothes. The quiz is closed book, closed notes, no Wikipedia:

Who were the Montagues and Capulets and why were they feuding?

You don’t remember, do you? With Juliet’s hair loose across her shoulders and Romeo’s voice rising up through the filtered moonlight, we don’t care. They could be Republicans and Democrats, Muslims and Christians, “East End boys and West End girls.Love takes our differences and casts them in the gentle twilight travelers crave, that soft glow that erases what we’ve been taught to loathe and lets us view the world as it is, imperfect and beautiful.

When else are we more open to the beauty of the stranger than in romantic love? We love our family, our neighborhood, our children, but they are a kaleidoscope of ourselves. A lover is the other. And through love we come to see without criticism, to make the stranger’s plight our own.

While researching my latest release, For Good, I attended a poetry reading at a maximum security prison. I was ushered through several security checkpoints and into a bleak, all-purpose room. I assumed the incarcerated men would look like monsters. But they offered me cookies, and they read their poems. Most clutched their poems to their chests, reading with their eyes down and their voices flat, earnest, and nervous. They looked like my students. I couldn’t see their sins.

And I’m not about to say that I’d like them released in my neighborhood, but I did see a part of their story that was never in the newspaper. That vision inspired the way I wrote about Marydale Rae, the paroled felon in For Good. I hope that it will inspire my readers to pause, at least for one poolside moment, and consider the greater societal issues that underlie the book.

In Conclusion

Romance has been called the backbone of the publishing industry. We have reach. We have market share. We can paint a picture of hope for our people. We can teach love that defies gender roles. And if we are careful with the way we portray the “other,” and avoid the stereotypes that have, admittedly, plagued this genre in its previous incarnations, romance can teach compassion for the stranger, for the wanderer who arrives at our door in tatters.

Isn’t that who we all are in that tremulous moment when we first feel love?

~*~*~

Karelia Stetz-Waters My wife recently dubbed my writing “so-ro,” short for romance with a social conscience. I guess that’s what I do. Whether I’m exploring the problems of gentrification or the evils of human trafficking, every book I write has a lesbian romance at its heart and a social issue in mind. They’re the kind of books that read like fun, lazy-Saturday page-turners and yet leave your unexpectedly enlightened. That’s two for the price of one and way more fun that keeping up with the news.

When I’m not writing, I’m being inspired by my amazing community college students and hanging out with my lovely wife and my charming spuglette (that’s a technical term for spaniel-pug mix). I’m a fan of snakes, corn mazes, popular science books on neurology, and any roadside attraction that purports to have the world’s largest ball of twine.

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Queering up your shelf, one rec at a time!