Tag Archives: Ace

Asexual Awareness Week Roundtable

Happy Asexual Awareness Week! I’m thrilled to be celebrating it with some great ace authors, who’ve gathered together for a roundtable moderated by author Rosiee Thor! I’ll let them take it away!

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Happy asexual awareness week! I love this week every year–not only is it an affirming celebration of people who share my identity, it’s also a great time to take a look at the growth we’ve seen in ace representation across media. This year has been an amazing year for ace books, so I sat down with a few of my favorite authors writing ace stories to talk about the state of asexual representation and what it means to them as storytellers.

Rosiee: Thank you so much for joining me today for this asexual-spectrum roundtable! I’m excited to chat with you all about ace representation, writing while ace-spec, and the future of asexual fiction. To start us off, could you each introduce yourselves and tell us a little about what you write?

Naseem: I’m psyched to be here; thanks for having us! I’m Naseem Jamnia (they/them), a nonbinary trans gray-ace Persian-Chicagoan currently living in Reno, NV. I write fantasy across the ages, but my debut novella, The Bruising of Qilwa, is adult. It’s about an aroace nonbinary refugee healer who is trying to cure a magical plague in their new home while hiding their blood magic. Heavily inspired by Dragon Age 2, Qilwa introduces my queernormative, Persian-inspired secondary world!

RoAnna: Hi y’all! Really happy and excited to be here, thank you Rosiee! So I’m RoAnna Sylver, a nonbinary gender-weird chronically ill writer/artist/musician/heathen. I write really weird queer SFF books (Chameleon Moon, Stake Sauce), and interactive fiction (Dawnfall from Choice of Games, The Great Batsby upcoming from Tales Fiction). I also have a soft spot for horror, so my next projects lean that way too. Also Naseem, your book sounds legit awesome and I want to check it out for sure. (For many reasons but also ahhh, more love for Dragon Age 2!)

Finn: So happy to have the chance to join in with this! Hi, I’m Finn (they/them), a queer disabled author and medievalist currently living in Cambridge, UK. I write all sorts of genreweird stuff, but my debut, The Butterfly Assassin, is a YA thriller about a traumatised teenage assassin trying and failing to live a normal life in a fictional closed city. And by failing, I mean she kills someone in chapter one. So, you know, doing a great job there. 

Carly: Hi everyone! I’m Carly Heath (she/they) a writer, teacher, Libra and horse girl from the San Francisco Bay Area, currently living on the West Coast of the US. My debut YA novel is The Reckless Kind out now from Soho Teen and out in paperback November 1. Like me, the main character in The Reckless Kind, Asta, is hard of hearing, ace, and wants pigs not babies. I write (mostly historically-set) novels about characters who push back against the restrictions placed on them by society and I hope to inspire teens and young people to question and resist authority in all its forms.

AdriAnne: Hi all! So happy to be here. I’m a queer (panromantic gray-ace demigirl) author (she/they) of queer dark fantasy about monstrous or perceived-to-be-monstrous teens just trying to get by. I live in both Alaska and Spain (I just got back to Spain and am super jetlagged so pardon me if I make no sense), and my books are Beyond the Black Door (with a biromantic ace main character, ace love interest), In The Ravenous Dark (pansexual MC, ace side character), and the forthcoming Court of the Undying Seasons (demigirl pansexual MC, ace SCs), all published with Macmillan.

Rosiee: Yay! I’m so glad you’re all here to chat with me. Let’s jump right into it. Most of us were readers before we became writers, so I’m curious to know about your first experience was with asexual characters. Where did you first see an ace character in fiction? What was it like to see your experience reflected in a book?

RoAnna: Hmm… I believe the first ace character I ever read was either Henry from Viral Airwaves, or Hasryan in City of Strife – both by Claudie Arseneault! And highly recommended for fans of hopeful-dystopian/”solarpunk,” and sweeping fantasy, respectively. And the feeling I got was a sense of combined excitement and relief, if that makes sense? Like “oh wow thank God, someone else gets it/this is real… OH WOW THIS IS REAL!” So, really validating for myself as well. Online community is so important, but there’s also something about seeing yourself on a page, in a story, that’s just so wonderful.

Carly: I did not have anything ace-spec when I was growing up, so I think the any time I was first introduced to an ace character was when I was learning about Greek/Roman mythology and encountered Diana/Artemis who I was obsessed with for quite a while because she was not only a “virgin” goddess, but the goddess of wild animals—which I totally identify with (as someone who regularly befriends the neighborhood raccoons and possums). I was also drawn to horse girl books when I was younger—The Saddle Club and Thoroughbred series—I think because they focused more on the relationships between the characters and their horses rather than on romance.

AdriAnne: I didn’t find any ace-spec books as a kid or teen either, so the first time I came across an ace character was as an adult when I read Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. Not only is the book an amazingly unique take on portal fantasy, but the main character is explicitly ace. I’d only recently discovered my own labels through internet research and AVEN (the Asexual Visibility and Education Network) and it made me feel so seen and not so alone. I can only imagine what it would have felt like to read this book as a teen, which is one of the reasons I wrote Beyond the Black Door–a book basically for teen-me.

Finn: I think the first book I ever read that used the word asexual on page was Quicksilver by RJ Anderson. Although the character’s experiences weren’t particularly similar to mine, since they were fairly specific to her circumstances, it was really validating to see the word in print, when before that I’d only ever seen it on Tumblr and in other online communities. Like, okay, this is a real thing, this is something that people know about. After that one, it would’ve been Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, which has a demisexual character. As someone who really struggled at university, I found that book Extremely Relatable in a lot of ways, possibly more even than Loveless, Oseman’s more recent book that deals much more directly with ace/aro experiences.

Naseem: I actually didn’t realize I was ace-spec (I’m somewhere on the demi/gray side of things) until a few years ago because of the conflation between aromanticism and asexuality. So I don’t honestly know when I first encountered ace characters, since often due to that conflation I didn’t recognize myself in those characters, if that makes sense.

Earlier this year I read We Were Restless Things by Cole Nagamatsu. Besides it being utterly beautiful, one of the main characters is a sex-repulsed ace (not aro), and while I’m sex-neutral, I really loved how Cole grappled with the character’s relationship with sex. Noemi really tries to get over her aversion to sex in order to please her partner, because she cares about her partner, and I thought that was handled with such tenderness and care, especially because these are teens who don’t necessarily have the language of healthy relationships and boundaries yet. 

I also really love Kylee in the Skybound trilogy by Alex London. I was especially drawn to her because for her, it at first feels like a matter of priority rather than identity. Kylee isn’t thinking about romantic or sexual relationships because her brother is, and she needs to make sure they have enough money to put food on the table. It’s not until we get into her relationships with others that we see it’s not just a matter of responsibility but a matter of who she is, but I appreciate someone for whom such relationships just… aren’t on her radar because she has so much on her plate. Honestly, as someone who was constantly crushing on someone while being torn about all the other things I needed to do, it’s really nice to read someone who pieces together this part of herself in the midst of a war and all the other stuff going on.

Rosiee: Phew! My TBR always grows so much during these conversations! Can’t wait to read some of those. AdriAnne, you talked a bit about this, but what about the rest of you–what inspired you to write about ace characters? What has it been like to write ace-affirming books as an ace-spec author?

RoAnna: Really natural, actually – after a while, I realized that I basically write all of my characters (or at least the POV ones) as some flavor of neurodivergent, and many of them a-spec just automatically. Like that’s my brain’s default setting apparently, and it takes a bit of effort to turn it off and go “wait, how do you write sexual attraction again?” (I think a lot of ace writers are actually very good at writing sexual stuff though, because… we often have spent a lot of time pondering it from a unique perspective, ha!) So it’s partly super natural and freeing for me personally, but also the response from ace readers is always incredible, so I’m also very much writing for y’all too. I want everyone to have the feeling I mentioned last question, the “holy crap, I’m in a book!” rush of joy and relief. I obviously can’t speak for/give that to everyone, but I still want them to have it from somewhere.

Finn: I feel that about automatically writing ace characters, RoAnna… I sometimes joke that The Butterfly Assassin is not a queernorm world so much as a singlenorm world, because I accidentally forgot that people, like, have partners, and so almost every character throughout the trilogy is single. Whoops? 

I didn’t really sit down to write An Asexual Assassin Novel, but that element of the book really arose from my frustration with other media, which at the time was full of sexy assassins who (a) never seemed to actually kill anybody and (b) could be distracted from their deadly missions by somebody being a bit hot. I was also frustrated that in order to get dark, complex upper YA stories, it felt like you had to have romance/sex as a major plot element, and if you wanted friendship-focused stories, well, then, back to MG for you. Not that there’s anything wrong with MG, but when I was seventeen or eighteen, I wanted a generous helping of murder and swearing, hold the sex, thanks. So I decided to write an assassin book that was “all murder, no sex”, where platonic relationships were prioritised and not treated as less important or less mature. And where the “emotionless” character wasn’t “humanised” by sexual attraction because… ew. I read too many of those; they always made me feel like an alien or a monster. 

I do worry sometimes that my book is less marketable because of the lack of romance/sex (let’s be real, in marketing terms those are often treated as interchangeable!), but I’ve seen a couple of reviews where people have said they don’t normally like books without romance but didn’t feel like anything was missing from mine because they found the platonic relationships just as fulfilling. So I’m very glad that those people are giving it a chance, and that it’s speaking to them. 

Naseem: Okay, I’m screaming, Finn—I need your book yesterday!!! Like RoAnna and Finn, a lot of my characters nowadays definitely sort of naturally fall under the ace spec. I started writing at a young age, and I look back on those stories and I see the ways in which things were ace but also how I tried so hard for them not to be—there were romantic partners in my stories, but I didn’t know how to grapple with sexual desire because I didn’t understand how that was separate from romantic desire. 

Nowadays, I have to choose to write a main character who experiences sexual attraction and hope that they… come off as realistic?? The novel I’m about to turn into my agent has three POV characters—a demisexual lesbian who suddenly finds herself in love with a boy; an asexual aro-questioning/demi-aro anxious bean (aka the boy) who’s been in love with his best friend but has denied it and Suddenly Now Has A Crush On Someone Else, aka the demisexual lesbian; and aforementioned best friend, an allosexual enby who doesn’t understand the difference between romantic and platonic attraction but doesn’t think they experience romantic attraction, but does want to sleep with the people they care about. (Love triangle that resolves in polyamory, anyone??) Anyway, it’s been a TIME trying to get the aromantic and allosexual components down. Since all of my secondary worlds are queernormative, these conversations in the story happen differently than they do in real life, because the surrounding context is different. But I hope they still hit home. 

AdriAnne: First off, WHEW, I also need The Butterfly Assassin! Anyway, writing an ace character didn’t come naturally to me at first because when I first began to write, I assumed everyone wanted characters who experienced sexual attraction. Realizing who I was and the breadth of possibility out there was eye-opening. (I, too, despite being married, have been baffled by the relationship between attraction and sex for a long while, but just figured I was “weird” and sexual attraction was “normal”–you can see that therapy also helped me.) So while there are many more ace books around now (YAY!), what first inspired me to write ace characters is that I didn’t often see myself reflected on the page. It felt very affirming to write Beyond the Black Door especially, where the MC Kamai is a sex-repulsed ace but also biromantic and interested in romance like I was as a teen. It’s confusing for her, and her journey from confusion and doubt and into wholeness and confidence in herself healed something within me. It was very cathartic. (And YAY for relationship resolutions that involve polyamory and ace folks! I did this in In the Ravenous Dark.)

Carly: The Reckless Kind was a book where I was just learning how to write, so I think it was also a book where I was figuring out my identity through Asta. The first draft was like—I want this girl to have very meaningful, close non-sexual relationships with these boys she loves… and then in later drafts I was realizing “oh, she’s ace” and then now I’m starting to realize “oh, she’s aro.” Like, I think society puts so much pressure on people to believe any type of closeness is sexual or romantic, and in writing and rewriting the book I sort of unpacked a lot of that baggage both in my characters and in myself. The followup books I’ve been writing do feature romances and allo main characters, but I also wanted them to be ace-positive so in many cases they have important relationships with ace characters and their interactions are very affirming. Like I have one character who’s in a romantic relationship with an ace boy and he pushes back against those “it’s not a real relationship if you’re not having sex” sorts of statements. And in the adult romance I’m writing, the main character has a relationship with a woman who’s aro and curious about some types of sex but repulsed by nudity and other types of sex and the conversations they have around those topics and consent are super important. I’d really like to see more characters in media and literature who reflect the reality of the spectrum of human sexuality and nuances of different types of relationships. 

Rosiee: I love how much common ground you all have here! That’s the cool thing about the ace community and identity. But the asexual experience isn’t just one thing–we all experience this identity in different ways. So, what are some ace experiences you’d like to see more of in fiction? 

Naseem: A lot of people conflate being aromantic with being ace, so I’d definitely like to see characters with all kinds of nuanced ace (and other!) identities. Not all asexual people are sex-repulsed, and some asexual people have sexual partners, and I imagine the same can be for aromantic-spec people—so let’s see the range!

RoAnna: Oh wow definitely seconding Naseem here. I want to see all the intersections and interactions between identities – trans aces, aro and allo aces, sex positive and negative and neutral aces, aces of color, disabled and neurodivergent aces – all of them! I also have a special soft spot for polyamorous narratives, and love to see navigation and negotiations there, between both people and identities. This is something I really got into in Stake Sauce Book 2, which is largely about Jude (our gray-ace, demi-aro and disabled/autistic trans guy MC) figuring out his feelings for several partners. Amid the Vampire Drama, he’s also sorting out which attractions are sexual, or romantic, or neither, and how it’s all rolled together with neurodivergence… it was a complicated, cathartic, fascinating, and deeply personal story to write. And also has queerplatonic witchy girlfriends, and cute chubby punk vampire boys, if y’all are into that.

Finn: I’d echo what the others have said about the range of ace attitudes towards romantic and sexual relationships. And I’d definitely like to see more books that explore the overlap between ace, trans, and disabled identities. Like, for me, so many of my feelings about my body are bound up in all of those things, and they can never be fully separated. On a related note, I think it’s also important to explore how things like trauma can impact on our sense of identity and self (and how that doesn’t negate the identity) – this is something I’m exploring a bit in the sequel to The Butterfly Assassin, but there are infinite angles somebody could take on this, looking at how we’re shaped by our experiences. 

I think I’d like to see somebody explore faith and asexuality, too, though it’s not a topic I think I personally could do justice. I’ve left my childhood church behind, but having grown up in an evangelical Christian environment where things like sex were wreathed in shame and guilt, there was a lot I had to process and work through before I could separate my asexuality from that shame and work out how I actually felt, all while also having a gender crisis (which I also felt guilty about). I imagine it would feel quite healing and cathartic to read a book that grappled with that – as long as it did it well!

Naseem: I’m once again screaming that I haven’t read all of your books already, because I need them desperately!! And severely want to echo what Finn said about the intersection of these identities and also trauma—the way I feel about my body is directly tied to both my gender as a nonbinary trans person and the way I inhabit my body as a fat person and someone with a history of eating disorders, among other things.

One thing that’s been frustrating for me is how many fellow aces conflate ace and aro identities. I mean, you identify how you identify, but just within the last few weeks I’ve talked to several people who have ID’d as ace, and when I’m like oh I’m ace too, we talk some more and I realize while they may also be ace, they really are talking about being aro. (Which is 10000% valid!) So more representation that dives into the nuances of these identities can only be a good thing for all of us! People who object to labels don’t, I think, understand the power they can have when we choose those labels for ourselves. It’s partially about finding other like-minded individuals but more about how we learn to describe ourselves.

Carly: I share what you’ve all said about just wanting more diverse representation. The world is full of a multitude of identities and experiences, but for centuries in Western literature only the heteronormative identities got amplified. We need to bring reality back into fiction and the reality is that the heteronormative experience is just one small part of humanity. I’d also just love to see more allos affirming and respecting their ace/aro partners, especially in mainstream media.

AdriAnne: Echoing what others have said, as well! Even within myself I’ve experienced being ace differently. I’ve run the gamut from sex-repulsed as a teen to sex-neutral and sex-positive as an adult, after learning much more about myself and what I find appealing. (I’m one of those aces with a sexual partner.) My gender-feels can also impact how I see sex–and yes, so can trauma, which I’ve experienced as a child and as an adult. So I too would love to see all the ace intersections because no one iteration is “correct” or any one “wrong.” While I’ve written the more common ace/aro combination, I wrote Beyond the Black Door for my teen self when I was sex-repulsed and yet romantic, and have also written a nonbinary, poly, and ace character in In the Ravenous Dark. I would love to see more alloromantic and/or sex-neurtral and sex-positive aces out there, as well as how asexuality intersects with everything from gender to race to trauma to kink to neurodivergent identities and to all other forms of queerness.

Rosiee: Yes to all of that! Here’s to more varied ace experiences in literature going forward–and what about the books that do exist right now? What is a recent read, an upcoming book, or even an old favorite with asexual representation that you wish more people knew about?

RoAnna: An old fave (and auto-rec) is the Mangoverse series by Shira Glassman (starting with The Second Mango) – Rivka is a hetero-romantic demisexual and super-hot masked swordswoman, who gets to protect adorable princesses and also her bf is a dragon (and also super hot in human form). Is the book-crush coming through? Because wow. <3 Also may I say Tarnished Are the Stars? 😀 Because I just… really love Nathaniel still! On the more steamy/erotica side, I will still always rec Nine of Swords, Reversed and Eight Kinky Nights by my dear, always-beloved Corey (as Xan West), for many reasons but primarily their just mindblowingly-inclusive/positive/warm rep for kinky aces, as well as Jewish trans, disabled, fat, queer, so many kinds of people, they’re all welcome here. And an upcoming release that I’m a bit obsessed with is The Story of the Hundred Promises by Neil Cochrane. Lush, wonderful fantasy with so much a-spec, trans, and polyam rep, so much!

Naseem: RoAnna, you keep mentioning books that grow my TBR, and I already have so many books on that pile, so… thanks I think?? At least Tarnished Are The Stars has been on my shelf for a while, since I always try to buy my friends’ books. I want to again point to the books I mentioned above, We Were Restless Things and the Skybound saga, and also The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong, whose main character is a queer ace.

AdriAnne: I will always shout about the aforementioned Every Heart a Doorway and Tarnished are the Stars <3 but a recent read I really loved was What We Devour by Linsey Miller for the ace protag and the deliciously dark relationship therein.

Carly: Seconding what everyone has said about Tarnished Are The Stars. Get it if you want great YA, steampunk style SFF and awesome on-the-page ace discussion. Another favorite which I feel like not enough people know about is The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter  by KJ Charles which is just the sweetest, most-endearing and delightful ace romance between trans music hall singer and a man who’s a fence for notorious criminals. They’re both ace and absolutely adorable to each other. It’s probably my favorite ace romance of all time.

Finn: Doing this roundtable has made me really want to reread Quicksilver and see if it holds up after all these years, because it’s ages since I read it, and it’s not a very well-known one. (It’s a sequel – book one is called Ultraviolet – but I actually read it first, and that was mostly fine.) Unfortunately, my copy is at my parents’ house, and I am not, so I can only rec this with the caveat of me not having read it since about 2013 and I take no responsibility for anything I might have forgotten about it that would make me hesitate if I remembered it. I love VE Schwab’s Vicious and Vengeful, which have ace-spec characters, but I would say those are probably not under the radar these days, since V’s work has taken off so much. I’m super behind on recent releases generally, so I’m excited to add lots more books to my TBR after this!

Rosiee: Aww thanks for the shoutouts, everyone! Now it’s your turn–you’re all amazing authors writing important stories. Tell us one or two things about one of your books that makes your ace heart happy! Plug your work

Carly: If you’ve ever wanted to escape to the mountains with your two best friends and a bunch of adorable animals, The Reckless Kind is the book for you.

AdriAnne: Since Kamai in Beyond the Black Door is my only ace MC thus far, I’ll plug that book even though it’s the oldest! It’s a dark fantasy with a darkly romantic relationship at the center. Kamai is a soulwalker, someone who can explore other people’s souls, and while doing so she discovers a deadly force trying to break into her world–a someone she might be more fascinated with than horrified, and she has to decide where her heart lies. My other books only have ace side characters, but I adore them: Japha in In The Ravenous Dark is nonbinary (they/them), ace, and also poly; and Claudia in my forthcoming Court of the Undying Seasons is aro/ace (and a vampire).

RoAnna: Oh boy, self-promo, everyone’s favorite! (/Big Sarcasm) I’m still trying to get better at this – and it’s important, because I DO have a really cool thing coming up! Chameleon Moon was my first published book, and it features Regan, a very soft and anxious dragon boy (but always green and scaly, not shapeshifting), who has to navigate a dystopian, permanently-burning city full of super-people (all very queer/disabled/polyam), and also his own traumatized brain. In the process he figures out that he’s asexual (and PTSD, and definitely ND too, but I wasn’t consciously writing that yet), and finds healing and strength through found family/queer community – it’s a weird book, but still very important to me, and probably my best-known.

And, FURTHER SELF PLUG – it’ll soon be an audiobook! (With the best narrator ever, Kyle Rocco East, though I’m definitely biased lol). I’m running a Kickstarter that features not only the audiobook, but special edition hardcovers, exclusive art/merch, actual original songs, and So Much More! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/roannasylver/chameleon-moon-the-audiobook I’m ridiculously excited about this, and hope it sounds cool to y’all too! THANK YOU so much again!

Finn: The Butterfly Assassin is always a weird one to plug for queer rep of any kind, because it’s… it’s subtle. Isabel spends most of the book trying very hard not to die, she has got trauma coming out of her ears, and she is absolutely not in a position to be analysing her own sexuality, which means there’s not a lot of on-page discussion of it. Instead, the book’s ace/aro heart comes from the fact that I had dozens of opportunities for the plot to develop in romantic/sexual directions, and decided not to take them, instead foregrounding the various kinds of platonic relationships that Isabel forms. Thus, it is the All Murder, No Sex assassin book that teen me wanted. In the sequel, which comes out in the UK next May, Isabel’s in a much more stable position and she’s safe enough to start exploring her sense of self a bit more. She also finally has people her own age around her, and the result is that we get to see a lot more on-page queerness, which I’m really excited about.

Naseem: The Bruising of Qilwa has been out for about a month (it’s available in World English territories), and the audiobook comes out November 8! The world is queernormative (which also means transnormative), and I’ve got a list of both content notes and rep notes on my website, but the main character is explicitly aroace and nonbinary trans. While it’s a standalone, I’m writing more in this world (the novel I mentioned above is set 40 years after the events of Qilwa), so more to come! Any love for my little book, whether you can afford to pick it up or get it from your local library, is much appreciated!! 

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Carly Heath (she/they) earned her BA from San Francisco State University and her MFA from Chapman University. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Carly teaches design, art, theater, and writing for various colleges and universities. Her debut, The Reckless Kind (Soho Teen) is winner of the 2021-2022 Whippoorwhill Award and has garnered enthusiastic reviews (including a starred review from BCCB) for its nuanced depiction of queer and disabled identities.

Copyright – Jeramie Lu Photography | http://www.JeramieLu.com

Naseem Jamnia is a Persian-Chicagoan, former scientist, and the author of The Bruising of Qilwa (Tachyon Publications). Their work has appeared in The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, The Rumpus, and other venues, and they’ve received fellowships from Bitch Media, Lambda Literary, and Otherwise. Named the inaugural Samuel R. Delany Fellow, Naseem lives in Reno, NV, with their husband, dog, and two cats. Find out more at www.naseemjamnia.com or @jamsternazzy on social media. 

Finn Longman is a queer disabled writer and medievalist, originally from London. With a degree in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic and an MA in Early and Medieval Irish, they spend most of their time having extremely niche opinions on the internet. They write YA and Adult novels, and have a particular interest in genre-bending fiction that explores identity and tests moral boundaries.

A.M. Strickland was a bibliophile who wanted to be an author before she knew what either of those words meant. She shares a home base in Alaska with her spouse, her pugs, and her piles and piles of books. She loves traveling, dancing, tattoos, and writing about monstrous teens. Her books include Beyond the Black Door, In the Ravenous Dark and Court of the Undying Seasons. She uses both she/her and they/them pronouns, and you can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

RoAnna Sylver is the author of the Chameleon Moon and Stake Sauce series, as well as interactive fiction like Dawnfall and The Great Batsby – and passionate about stories that give hope, healing and even fun for LGBQTIA+, disabled and other marginalized people, and thinks we need a lot more. RoAnna is a member of the SFWA as well as a founding member of Kraken Collective Books, and highly recommends you check them out.

Rosiee Thor began their career as a storyteller by demanding to tell their mother bedtime stories instead of the other way around. They spent their childhood reading by flashlight in the closet until they came out as queer. They live in Oregon with a dog, two cats, and an abundance of plants. They are the author of Young Adult novels Tarnished Are The Stars and Fire Becomes Her and the picture book The Meaning of Pride.

November 2021 Deal Announcements

Adult Fiction

Russian poet, artist, and feminist activist Oksana Vasyakina’s WOUND, following a young queer woman on a journey across Russia to Siberia, where she has promised to take her mother’s ashes, woven through with memories of a traumatic and impoverished childhood, experiences of the sublime, her sexual and artistic awakening, and the pains and joys of life as a lesbian in Russia, to Katharina Bielenberg at MacLehose Press, in a nice deal, at auction, by Rachel Clements at Abner Stein on behalf of Marleen Seegers at 2 Seas Agency, for Catapult.

Victoria Lee’s A SHOT IN THE DARK, a contemporary queer romance featuring Elisheva Cohen, a now-sober young artist who returns to New York to study photography after nearly a decade in Los Angeles and has an unforgettable one-night stand with a gorgeous trans man who turns out to be her teacher, the legendary Wyatt Cole, to Shauna Summers at Dell, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary.

Sophie Burnham’s SARGASSA, a queer speculative novel set in contemporary North America in a world where the Roman Empire never fell, following the high-and low-born children of a murdered politician as they are swept up in a revolution and race to find a powerful artifact, to Joshua Demarest at CatStone, by Maria Napolitano at Bookcase Literary Agency (world English).

ACLU-NJ honoree and LGBTQ activist Robyn Gigl’s next two books in her Erin McCabe legal thriller series, featuring a transgender attorney, to John Scognamiglio at Kensington, in a two-book deal, for publication in 2023 and 2024, by Carrie Pestritto at Laura Dail Literary Agency (world).

Author of NYTBR Editors’ Choice THE RECENT EAST Thomas Grattan’s IN TONGUES, a coming-of-age novel set in New York City and Europe in fall 2001, following a gay 24-year-old Midwesterner as he gets swept up in the charm and desires of a powerful older couple, examining issues of social class and queer desire, the pursuit of religious and physical ecstasy, and the complicated relationships between fathers and sons, both biological and chosen, again to Jackson Howard at MCD/FSG, for publication in fall 2023, by Jody Kahn at Brandt & Hochman (world).

Argentinian author Marina Yuszczuk’s THIRST, a queer Gothic vampire novel set in Buenos Aires, following two women in different time periods who confront desire, fear, violence, loneliness, and mortality, pitched as having echoes of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN and for readers of Samanta Schweblin, Carmen Maria Machado, and Samantha Hunt, to Pilar Garcia-Brown in her first acquisition for Dutton, by Elianna Kan at Regal Hoffmann & Associates (world English).

Hell’s Library series author A.J. Hackwith’s HOLLOW ROAD HOME and its sequel, pitched as a queer, millennial AMERICAN GODS, about a fae working at a truck stop in Kansas to hide from her past, until she’s blackmailed by a self-taught magician to guide him and his sister—a girl born with a changing map on her skin—across the strange backroads and forgotten spaces of the gothic American Midwest in search of a powerful treasure, to Miranda Hill at Ace, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2023, by Caitlin McDonald at Donald Maass Literary Agency (world).

Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellow and UMass Amherst MFA/PhD Shastri Akella’s THE SEA ELEPHANTS, a queer bildungsroman set in 1990s India, following a young gay man who, after the sudden death of his sisters, flees his father’s threats to send him to a conversion center by joining a street theater troupe; pitched as reminiscent of THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS in the way it blends the personal and the political to tell an epic story of forbidden love, to Caroline Bleeke at Flatiron Books, in a pre-empt, by Chris Clemans at Janklow & Nesbit (NA).

Author of A TIP FOR THE HANGMAN Allison Epstein’s LET THE DEAD BURY THE DEAD, a historical novel in which the arrival of a mysterious woman at the 19th-century Russian court divides the second son of the tsar and his lover, a captain in the imperial army, when one of them believes her to be a creature out of myth, setting all three on a collision course with revolution, again to Carolyn Williams at Doubleday, in a very nice deal, by Bridget Smith at JABberwocky Literary Agency (NA).

Young Adult Fiction

Author of SWEET & BITTER MAGIC Adrienne Tooley’s THE THIRD DAUGHTER and THE SECOND SON, pitched in the tradition of Three Dark Crowns and Girl, Serpent, Thorn, a dual PoV series featuring a crown under siege, an enchanted well of sadness, a ruthless antiheroine, and a slow-burning romance, to Jessica Anderson at Christy Ottaviano Books, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in summer 2023, by Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (world).

Jenna Miller’s OUT OF CHARACTER, a queer, fat-positive contemporary romance that follows a girl who escapes the stressors of the real world by roleplaying online in secret—but after falling for her roleplay bestie, she must decide if she can be honest about her double life, to Alyssa Miele at Quill Tree, in a two-book deal, for publication in winter 2023, by Michaela Whatnall at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (world).

Author of THE MYTHIC KODA ROSE Jennifer Nissley’s THE RULES OF US, pitched as the intersection between Becky Albertalli and Nina LaCour in a queer YA love story about longtime couple and best friends, who have dated throughout high school only to come out to each other on prom night, challenging their meticulously planned future as they try to disentangle their lives and identities, explore their sexualities, and learn not only a new way to be together, but how to be alone, to Liesa Abrams at Labyrinth Road, for publication in summer 2023, by Danielle Burby at Mad Woman Literary Agency (NA).

University of Cambridge student Sarah Underwood’s LIES WE SING TO THE SEA, pitched as a sapphic, feminist reclamation of the story of the hanged maids in THE ODYSSEY in a YA CIRCE, in which a failed oracle and a vengeful immortal must break the curse on their kingdom by killing its prince, to Stephanie Stein at Harper Teen, in a major deal, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, for publication in winter 2023, by Catherine Cho at Paper Literary (NA).

Dan Clay’s BECOMING A QUEEN, about a teenage boy who turns to drag performance to overcome his grief when tragedy strikes, to Mekisha Telfer at Roaring Brook Press, in a very nice deal, for publication in spring 2023, by Brent Taylor at TriadaUS Literary Agency (world).

LGBTQ+ romance and fantasy author Lauri Starling’s POISON FOREST, pitched as HOUSE OF SALT AND SORROWS meets Holly Black, featuring a mage who joins two teens with powerful abilities to track down the magic-stealing sorcerer who kidnapped her royal ex-girlfriend, braving a cursed forest and a betrayal that leaves them at the sorcerer’s nonexistent mercy, to MaryBeth Dalto-McCarthy at Sword and Silk, for publication in October 2022.

Screenwriter and NYT-bestselling coauthor of FIVE FEET APART and ALL THIS TIME Mikki Daughtry’s untitled lesbian love story, unfolding over two sets of lives, 100 years apart, to Stephanie Pitts at Putnam Children’s, in a pre-empt, for publication in fall 2023, by Liz Parker at Verve Talent & Literary (NA).

Non-Fiction

Men’s Health sex and relationship columnist Zachary Zane’s BOYSLUT: A MEMOIR-MANIFESTO, a series of essays told through a bisexual lens, exploring the author’s coming-of-age in a world riddled with harmful messages about sex and sexuality, moving toward a place of embrace and celebration unencumbered by shame, to Zachary Knoll at Abrams Image, at auction, by Katherine Latshaw at Folio Literary Management (world).

Prince Shakur’s WHEN THEY TELL YOU TO BE GOOD, a memoir that mines the author’s many eras of radicalization and self-realization through examinations of place, childhood, queer identity, and a history of uprisings, to Hanif Abdurraqib at Tin House Books, for publication in October 2022 (NA).

Author of A NIGHT AT THE SWEET GUM HEAD Martin Padgett’s PRIVATE MATTERS, an exploration of the 1986 Supreme Court case Bowers v. Hardwick, which Laurence Tribe lost in the Court’s ruling that allowed Georgia to prosecute private homosexual acts (and which was not overturned until 2003), showing how the case ignited the gay rights movement of the 1980s while upending the life of Michael Hardwick, to Amy Cherry at Norton, in an exclusive submission, for publication in summer 2023, by Beth Marshea at Ladderbird Literary Agency (world English).

Happy Asexual Awareness Week!

Books to Buy Now

This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria

Orphaned and forced to serve her country’s ruling group of scribes, Karis wants nothing more than to find her brother, long ago shipped away. But family bonds don’t matter to the Scriptorium, whose sole focus is unlocking the magic of an ancient automaton army.

In her search for her brother, Karis does the seemingly impossible—she awakens a hidden automaton. Intelligent, with a conscience of his own, Alix has no idea why he was made. Or why his father—their nation’s greatest traitor—once tried to destroy the automatons.

Suddenly, the Scriptorium isn’t just trying to control Karis; it’s hunting her. Together with Alix, Karis must find her brother…and the secret that’s held her country in its power for centuries.

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Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen

54539799. sy475 Caiden’s planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans.

He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.

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The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.

Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.

As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.

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Goddess of the Hunt by Shelby Eileen

A poetry collection about the mythic life of Artemis, Greek Goddess of the hunt. Told through the perspective of Artemis herself with the contributions of a few other Greek Goddesses. This collection reimagines and follows Artemis navigating her lifelong vow of chastity and, rather than suffering through it, owning it as a facet of her aromanticism and asexuality. Immerse yourself in a cultivated tempest of poems illustrating Artemis as a warrior, whose shoulders have known an excessive weight of responsibility, and who always fights to remain her authentic self among people who would change her.

Buy it: Amazon

Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer

Dexter meets This Savage Song in this dark fantasy about a girl who sells magical body parts on the black market — until she’s betrayed.

Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet–her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” Until her mom brings home a live specimen and Nita decides she wants out; dissecting a scared teenage boy is a step too far. But when she decides to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold in his place–because Nita herself isn’t exactly “human.” She has the ability to alter her biology, a talent that is priceless on the black market. Now on the other side of the bars, if she wants to escape, Nita must ask herself if she’s willing to become the worst kind of monster.

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Create My Own Perfection by E.H. Timms

“It’s not every day you get to put the fear of Medusa into a god.”

Emma Stone, medusa, is the groundskeeper for Olson College of Extensive Education, a place where everyone is welcome, from the mythical to the magical. When her selkie best friend loses her skin in Fresher’s week, the race is on to find it before someone uses it against her.

The search brings Emma face to face with her oldest enemy – and forces her to confront the worst nightmares of her past.

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Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Like everyone else she knows, Mallory is an orphan of the corporate war. As a child, she lost her parents, her home, and her entire building in an airstrike. As an adult, she lives in a cramped hotel room with eight other people, all of them working multiple jobs to try to afford water and make ends meet. And the job she’s best at is streaming a popular VR war game. The best part of the game isn’t killing enemy combatants, though—it’s catching in-game glimpses of SpecOps operatives, celebrity supersoldiers grown and owned by Stellaxis, the corporation that runs the America she lives in.

Until a chance encounter with a SpecOps operative in the game leads Mal to a horrifying discovery: the real-life operatives weren’t created by Stellaxis. They were kids, just like her, who lost everything in the war, and were stolen and augmented and tortured into becoming supersoldiers. The world worships them, but the world believes a lie.

The company controls every part of their lives, and defying them puts everything at risk—her water ration, her livelihood, her connectivity, her friends, her life—but she can’t just sit on the knowledge. She has to do something—even if doing something will bring the wrath of the most powerful company in the world down upon her.

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The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl

50638223The Descendants meets Pretty Little Liars in this story of four reimagined fairytale heroines who must uncover connections to their ancient curses and forge their own paths… before it’s too late.

After the mysterious death of their best friend, Ella, Yuki, and Rory are the talk of their elite school, Grimrose Académie. The police ruled Ariane’s death as a suicide, but the trio are determined to find out what really happened.

When Nani Eszes arrives as their newest roommate, it sets into motion a series of events that no one could have predicted. As the girls retrace their friend’s final days, they discover a dark secret about Grimrose—Ariane wasn’t the first dead girl.

They soon learn that all the past murders are connected to ancient fairytale curses…and that their own fates are tied to the stories, dooming the girls to brutal and gruesome endings unless they can break the cycle for good.

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Books to Preorder

A-Okay by Jarad Greene (November 2, 2021)

When Jay starts eighth grade with a few pimples he doesn’t think much of it at first…except to wonder if the embarrassing acne will disappear as quickly as it arrived. But when his acne goes from bad to worse, Jay’s prescribed a powerful medication that comes with some serious side effects. Regardless, he’s convinced it’ll all be worth it if clear skin is on the horizon!

Meanwhile, school isn’t going exactly as planned. All of Jay’s friends are in different classes; he has no one to sit with at lunch; his best friend, Brace, is avoiding him; and–to top it off–Jay doesn’t understand why he doesn’t share the same feelings two of his fellow classmates, a boy named Mark and a girl named Amy, have for him.

Eighth grade can be tough, but Jay has to believe everything’s going to be a-okay…right?

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The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath (November 2, 2021)

It’s 1904 on an island just west of Norway, and Asta Hedstrom doesn’t want to marry her odious betrothed, Nils. But her mother believes she should be grateful for the possibility of any domestic future, given her single-sided deafness, unconventional appearance, and even stranger notions. Asta would rather spend her life performing in the village theater with her fellow outcasts: her best friend Gunnar Fuglestad and his secret boyfriend, wealthy Erlend Fournier.

But the situation takes a dire turn when Nils lashes out in jealousy—gravely injuring Gunnar. Shunning marriage for good, Asta moves with Gunnar and Erlend to their secluded cabin above town. With few ties left to their families, they have one shot at gaining enough kroner to secure their way of life: win the village’s annual horse race.

Despite Gunnar’s increasing misgivings, Asta and Erlend intend to prove this unheard-of arrangement will succeed. Asta trains as a blacksmith; Erlend cares for recovering Gunnar. But as race day approaches, the villagers’ hateful ignorance only grows stronger. With this year’s competition proving dangerous for the trio, Asta and Erlend soon find they face another equally deadly peril: the possibility of losing Gunnar, and their found family, forever.

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A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger (November 9, 2021)

Nina is a Lipan girl in our world. She’s always felt there was something more out there. She still believes in the old stories.

Oli is a cottonmouth kid, from the land of spirits and monsters. Like all cottonmouths, he’s been cast from home. He’s found a new one on the banks of the bottomless lake.

Nina and Oli have no idea the other exists. But a catastrophic event on Earth, and a strange sickness that befalls Oli’s best friend, will drive their worlds together in ways they haven’t been in centuries.

And there are some who will kill to keep them apart.

Darcie Little Badger introduced herself to the world with Elatsoe. In A Snake Falls to Earth, she draws on traditional Lipan Apache storytelling structure to weave another unforgettable tale of monsters, magic, and family. It is not to be missed.

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At the End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp (January 25, 2022)

53403613. sy475 The Hope Juvenile Treatment Center is ironically named. No one has hope for the delinquent teenagers who have been exiled there; the world barely acknowledges that they exist.

Then the guards at Hope start acting strange. And one day…they don’t show up. But when the teens band together to make a break from the facility, they encounter soldiers outside the gates. There’s a rapidly spreading infectious disease outside, and no one can leave their houses or travel without a permit. Which means that they’re stuck at Hope. And this time, no one is watching out for them at all.

As supplies quickly dwindle and a deadly plague tears through their ranks, the group has to decide whom among them they can trust and figure out how they can survive in a world that has never wanted them in the first place.

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Forward March by Skye Quinlan (February 1, 2022)

All Harper McKinley wants is for her dad’s presidential campaign to not interfere with her senior marching band season.

But Harper’s world gets upended when the drumline’s punk-rock section leader, Margot Blanchard, tries to reject her one day after practice. Someone pretending to be Harper on Tinder catfished Margot for a month and now she’s determined to get to know the real Harper.

But the real Harper has a homophobic mother who’s the dean and a father who is running for president on the Republican ticket. With the election at stake, neither of them are happy about Harper’s new friendship with out-and-proud Margot.

As the election draws closer, Harper is forced to figure out if she even likes girls, if she might be asexual, and if it’s worth coming out at all.

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

The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong (March 8, 2022)

Hunted by those who want to study his gravity powers, Jes makes his way to the best place for a mixed-species fugitive to blend in: the pleasure moon where everyone just wants to be lost in the party. It doesn’t take long for him to catch the attention of the crime boss who owns the resort-casino where he lands a circus job, and when the boss gets wind of the bounty on Jes’ head, he makes an offer: do anything and everything asked of him or face vivisection.

With no other options, Jes fulfills the requests: espionage, torture, demolition. But when the boss sets the circus up to take the fall for his about-to-get-busted narcotics operation, Jes and his friends decide to bring the mobster down. And if Jes can also avoid going back to being the prize subject of a scientist who can’t wait to dissect him? Even better.

Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | B&N | Target | Angry Robot

The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann (April 12, 2022)

Thirty, flirty, and asexual Joy is secretly in love with her best friend Malcolm, but she’s never been brave enough to say so. When he unexpectedly announces that he’s met the love of his life—and no, it’s not Joy—she’s heartbroken. Malcolm invites her on a weekend getaway, and Joy decides it’s her last chance to show him exactly what he’s overlooking. But maybe Joy is the one missing something…or someone…and his name is Fox.

Fox sees a kindred spirit in Joy—and decides to help her. He proposes they pretend to fall for each other on the weekend trip to make Malcolm jealous. But spending time with Fox shows Joy what it’s like to not be the third wheel, and there’s no mistaking the way he makes her feel. Could Fox be the romantic partner she’s always deserved?

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | The Ripped Bodice

Arden Grey by Ray Stoeve (April 26, 2022)

58667398Sixteen-year-old Arden Grey is struggling. Her mother has left their family, her father and her younger brother won’t talk about it, and a classmate, Tanner, keeps harassing her about her sexuality—which isn’t even public. (She knows she likes girls romantically, but she thinks she might be asexual.) At least she’s got her love of film photography and her best and only friend, Jamie, to help her cope. Then Jamie, who is trans, starts dating Caroline, and suddenly he isn’t so reliable. Arden’s insecurity about their friendship grows. She starts to wonder if she’s jealous or if Jamie’s relationship with Caroline is somehow unhealthy—and it makes her reconsider how much of her relationship with her absent mom wasn’t okay, too.

Buy it: Amazon | IndieBound

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson (May 10, 2022)

(Lou is demisexual.)

58782872. sy475 Lou has enough confusion in front of her this summer. She’ll be working in her family’s ice cream shack with her newly ex-boyfriend—whose kisses never made her feel desire, only discomfort—and her former best friend, King, who is back in their Canadian prairie town after disappearing three years ago without a word.

But when she gets a letter from her biological father—a man she hoped would stay behind bars for the rest of his life—Lou immediately knows that she cannot meet him, no matter how much he insists.

While King’s friendship makes Lou feel safer and warmer than she would have thought possible, when her family’s business comes under threat, she soon realizes that she can’t ignore her father forever.

Buy it: Amazon | IndieBound

The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia (August 9, 2022)

(Firuz is aroace.)

Firuz-e Jafari is one of the fortunate ones who have emigrated to the Democratic Free State of Qilwa. Firuz has escaped the slaughter of other traditional Sassanid blood-magic practitioners. They have a good job at a free healing clinic in Qilwa; a kindly new employer, Kofi; and a gifted new student, Afsoneh, a troubled orphan refugee.

But Firuz and Kofi have discovered a terrible new disease which leaves mysterious bruises on its victims. The illness is spreading quickly through Qilwa, and there are dangerous accusations of ineptly-performed blood magic.

In order to survive, Firuz must break a deadly cycle of prejudice while finding a fresh start for their both their blood and found family.

Buy it: Amazon | IndieBound

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