I’m thrilled to welcome myself to the site today to reveal the cover of my next contemporary f/f YA romance, Home Field Advantage, which releases June 7, 2022 from Wednesday Books! It’s the story of an aspiring cheer captain, her school’s very unwelcome first female quarterback, and all the forces that stand between them, and I’m so excited to share it with you! Here’s the official copy:
Amber McCloud’s dream is to become cheer captain at the end of the year, but it’s an extra-tall order to be joyful and spirited when the quarterback of your team has been killed in a car accident. For both the team and the squad, watching Robbie get replaced by newcomer Jack Walsh is brutal. And when it turns out Jack is actually short for Jaclyn, all hell breaks loose.
The players refuse to be led by a girl, the cheerleaders are mad about the changes to their traditions, and the fact that Robbie’s been not only replaced but outshined by a QB who wears a sports bra has more than a few Atherton Alligators in a rage. Amber tries for some semblance of unity, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s only got a future on the squad and with her friends if she helps them take Jack down.
Just one problem: Amber and Jack are falling for each other, and if Amber can’t stand up for Jack and figure out how to get everyone to fall in line, her dream may come at the cost of her heart.
Dahlia Adler’s Home Field Advantage is a sparkling romance about fighting for what – or who – you truly want.
And here’s the gorgeous cover, with art by Alex Cabal and design by Kerri Resnick!
Dahlia Adler is an Editor of mathematics by day, LGBTQReads overlord and Buzzfeed book blogger by night, and an author of Young Adult and Romance at every spare moment in between. Her novels include the Radleigh University trilogy, Indie Next pick Cool for the Summer, and Home Field Advantage (Wednesday Books, 2022), and she is the editor of the anthologies His Hideous Heart (a Junior Library Guild selection), That Way Madness Lies, At Midnight (Flatiron Books, 2022), and, with Jennifer Iacopelli, Out of Our League (Feiwel & Friends, 2023). Dahlia lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @MissDahlELama.
Today on the site, I’m thrilled to be revealing the cover of Skye Quinlan’s debut, Forward March, which releases from Page Street on February 1, 2022 and promises to the band geek ace YA of all of our dreams! Take a look:
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.
And now feast your eyes on the festive cover, designed by Laura Benton and illustrated by Alex Cabal!
Can’t wait until February? Good news! We’ve got an excerpt right here, so check it out!
Unless you want your instrumental section to shun you for the entire season, you never start a story with, “This one time at band camp.” It’s an official rule of marching band, one that’s been carved into the missing door of the tuba locker, somewhere between “tie your shoes” and “keep your eyes on the field commander.”
But the door isn’t actually missing from the locker. Mrs. Devereaux ripped it from the hinges after Natalie Portman—no, not that Natalie Portman—had been caught having sex with her boyfriend inside. I still don’t know how they’d fit, even after Nadia and I squeeze inside to test our latest theory.
“Obviously, they took out the tubas.” Nadia’s great at stating the obvious. It’s one of the things I love most about her. What I don’t love is her elbow currently wedged between my ribs. She’s standing on top of a muddy tuba case, her forehead against my temple to avoid hitting the shelf above our heads, the bottom of which is covered in wads of old, still-tacky bubblegum. “But Matt is tall, and Natalie has a bad knee. Maybe they did it on the floor?”
“I don’t know.” I shove my hands against Nadia’s boney shoulders, her bronze skin slick with a sheen of sweat from rehearsal.
“But I’m pretty sure there’s gum in my hair, and I think I smell mold in here.” I tilt my head forward, and my hair snags on some- thing that feels gross and sticky and that I might have to cut out of my curls later. With my back pressed into the far corner of the locker, Nadia pushes against my front, her knee digging painfully into my hip. “No one’s cleaned this locker out for months,” I say glumly. My hair snags again, and I groan; this is why gum is illegal in the band room. “Not since Natalie tainted it. Let me out before I die of something worse than suffocation.”
Nadia snorts and sprays my cheek with spit. Her dark eyes gleam a golden brown like the polished brass of her trumpet, except maybe with a touch more deviance. She’s kissed a few boys in here, too, but she swears that the mechanics are different. I’ve never cared enough to ask how, and I still don’t know why Nadia brought me in here. Bellamy or Evelyn would’ve done this with far more enthusiasm. “Natalie wasn’t the first to get laid in here, you know.”
“No,” I say dryly, wiping off my cheek. “But she’s pregnant and people think it’s cursed.”
“It’s not cursed, Harper, for God’s sake. Natalie poked a hole in the condom.”
Tomayto, tomahto, who cares? I don’t want to be in this locker.
I twist my hips and force Nadia off the tuba case. She slides down with a grumble of protest, then stands in the doorway and narrows her eyes, pondering a new theory. “Let me out, Nadia. It’s hot, you’re sweaty, and I feel gross. I want to take a shower while there’s still hot water in the bathroom, preferably before the color guard takes it over. The mystery of the sex-locker can wait.”
Nadia hops out of the locker and stumbles over a flip-folder with sheet music from next week’s halftime show. She kicks it aside, knowing I’ll slip on the folder’s plastic pages and break my neck if she leaves it there. “Shower after dinner,” Nadia says. As soon as I’m free from the locker, she loops her arm through my elbow. “You promised to help me clean the dorm, and I won’t let you weasel your way out of it again.”
Our dorm is on the south side of campus, tucked behind the empty field where the band practices every afternoon. It isn’t messy, per se; Nadia’s half of our shared bedroom is spotless, not a book out of place or even a shoe left out on the floor. She likes it that way, the sparkling cleanliness that makes my skin crawl. I thrive in the organized chaos that’s my half, my clothes and books and a pencil or three scattered across the stained beige carpet. Everything I have has a place, on the floor, beneath my bed, or on the rotting window- sill, but at least I know where everything is. As organized as Nadia might be, she can never find anything she’s looking for.
And if there’s a week-old slice of pizza that’s still sitting out on my desk, well . . . it’s entirely Nadia’s fault. She shouldn’t have Door-Dashed pizza last weekend.
“The room is starting to smell, and I don’t know how you can even tolerate it with your asthma. Honestly, Harp, you have no self-preservation. If not for me, you’d be—”
Dead. I don’t need the reminder.
If not for Nadia Juliette, I would have died last spring when our boarding school’s cafeteria served seafood for the first time. On top of forgetting both my allergy to fish and my EpiPen, I’d for- gotten to make sure that a piece of shrimp hadn’t swum onto my plate by accident. Nadia had stabbed me in the leg with one of the extra pens she keeps stashed in her backpack for emergencies, hard enough to leave a bruise that lasted for weeks. She never lets me forget it, though it’s usually more of a reminder for me to take care of myself than it is for her to boast about having saved me. It depends on her mood that day.
She has one of my emergency inhalers, too, stuffed into the spe- cial “Harper Bag” she’d made for her backpack after I’d collapsed during band camp sophomore year.
I wouldn’t say I’m forgetful, but Nadia begs to differ. Things just slip my mind.
“Can we not talk about how much I suck at being a human?” I ask, shoving open the back doors of the band room.
A warm blast of stifling, end-of-summer air heats my sun-burnt skin. I breathe in deep and can smell the rain on the wind, can feel the sticky mugginess that plays hell with my lungs and makes my shirt cling to all the wrong parts of me. “Is it supposed to storm tonight?”
The clouds above are an ominous gray and rumble low in answer. Nadia’s smile is sympathetic. “We can blast Demi Lovato if you want?”
“I knew there was a reason we still live together.”
Nadia and I have been rooming together since we were seven, when my mom became the dean of Golden Oaks Academy and Nadia’s father uprooted their family from Indonesia for better job opportunities. We transferred late in the semester, and since there hadn’t been anywhere else to put us, they shoved us both into the smallest room in the dormitories. It was either that or a broom closet. We’ve come a long way since then—now we have the second smallest room on campus. Mom keeps offering to place us in one of the empty suites in the faculty building, but I don’t want any special treatment. Being her daughter already makes me the school pariah. Besides, no one wants to live with their teachers, and Nadia and I have a good system: I keep my chaos contained to my side of the room, and Nadia won’t smother me in my sleep. It works best with a limited amount of space for me to dirty up.
Beyond the faculty parking lot that stretches like an inky sea of black, blistering pavement, our sprawling green practice field is a flurry of stick-spinning motion. The drumline always stays late after rehearsal to practice their crappy cadences. They draw in crowds from all over campus, mostly upperclassmen who clap and cheer and stomp their feet in sync with the snares and bass drums. They’ll beat on their drums for hours, crashing their cymbals until my skull is splitting and I hide beneath a pillow to escape it.
Drums are my absolute least favorite instrument. They’re loud, and our drumline sucks.
Nadia and I trudge through the muddy grass, the blades tram- pled flat from the day’s long hours of high-stepping. The yard lines, painted fresh every morning, are nearly gone from the abuse of slides and crab-walks. They’ll disappear entirely if it rains tonight. But the lines that mark out the end zones are still clear, and the drumline has gathered in the nearest one in a circle. Stick a penta- gram in the middle and they’re a cult.
“Drummers,” Nadia scoffs, the word like acid on her tongue. She tugs on my arm and we give them a wide berth on our way back to the dorm. Zander Bryant purposely beats his mallet through the warped head of his bass drum and cackles. “I can’t believe I dated one freshman year. It’s like all they care about are sticks and mallets and banging on a drum until it breaks.”
I stifle a snort behind my fingers. She says it loud enough that they probably hear her. “That’s not nice, Nadia. That’s like saying that all trumpets are obnoxious and only care about blasting their horns in people’s ears.”
“We are obnoxious, and it’s not my fault that trumpets are naturally loud.”
She’s not even the slightest bit wrong; I’ve never met a trumpeter who wasn’t full of themselves. “Truer words have never been spoken.” Nadia bumps my shoulder and grins at me, her lip gloss from this morning still shining. Or maybe she put more on. She keeps a mirror in her trumpet case. “What do you think they say about people who play the saxophone?” she asks.
My freckled shoulders are the color of a lobster left in the sun for too long, properly baked and overdone. Shrugging them at Nadia makes me wish she had some aloe in the drawstring bag she carries around with her everywhere. “We’re wise.”
Nadia’s hoot of laughter cleaves through the field, and I pretend not to notice the heads that swivel in our direction. “Have you met Michael Briggs? That is absolutely not true.”
“Hey, McKinley! Wait up!”
I whirl around on my heels, a quick “to the rear,” like the call of my name is a command given by Mrs. Devereaux. My shoes twist into the mud with a gross squelching sound, and Nadia squeals as I wrench her around with me. “Christ, Harper, a little warning would be nice!”
A snare drum and harness thud into the grass from inside the drumline’s circle, splattering mud on a set of sparkling blue tenors. A pair of multicolored sticks clack against the snare’s silver rim, and discontent ripples through the drumline in the form of cursing and groans.
Margot Blanchard squeezes between two bass drums, phone in hand as she jogs toward Nadia and me. I don’t have the slight- est idea why Margot would ever want to talk to me, though the drumline doesn’t need her, not with ten other drummers still harnessing their snares. But as their fiery section leader, she’s the only one among them who can keep a steady beat while screaming at the football team on game nights.
I’ve never spoken to her before. Margot transferred here from Canada in the eighth grade because her dad is the ambassador for the Canadian embassy in D.C. I’ve seen them together at fund- raisers, but in the great wide world of politics, my dad doesn’t like Margot’s dad because, apparently, he’s “too damn liberal.”
Nadia raises an eyebrow and nudges me with her elbow. “How do you know Margot?”
“I don’t.” I smile nervously and raise my hand in greeting. “Hi, Margot.”
“Hey.” Margot stops in front of me. She rolls her shoulders and stretches her arms until her spine cracks like a glow stick. Snares are heavy and even though they’re padded, their harnesses look uncomfortable. As little as she is, I don’t know how Margot even carries one. “Look,” she begins, panting to catch her breath. Mar- got has a slight French accent, a pretty lilt I could listen to for days if she were anyone else. “I know that we, uh, don’t really know each other, but . . . do you think we could talk? Just for a minute. It’s important. If you’re busy, I won’t keep you, but we really need to talk.”
I tilt my head and take this opportunity to stare at her. Margot will have to take it out once classes start, but she’s biting on the back of the silver stud pierced through her thin bottom lip. “Talk about what?”
Margot glances at Nadia and shifts her feet in the mud. “Do you mind if we talk alone?”
Nadia bristles, crossing her arms and puffing out her chest like a bird whose feathers have been ruffled. “Anything you want to tell Harper, you can tell me, too. We live together, and I’ll find out anyway.”
“She’s right,” I warn, not unkindly. There’s nothing I keep from Nadia. “What’s up?”
Her sigh is more annoyed than resigned, as if we’ve given her the runaround. Margot drums her fingers against the back of her phone, and I notice her nails are painted black. “Look,” she says again. She turns to face me and ignores Nadia entirely. “I really appreciate that you think my hair is cool and that I rock some lesbian aesthetic, or whatever, but we are never going to work. I’m sorry.”
It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard because it’s something I would never say, especially to Margot Blanchard.
My eyes instinctually dart to the top of her head.
Margot’s curly black hair is shaved on the sides and longer on top than in the back. It compliments her golden-brown skin, the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, and the beauty mark that’s just above her lip. But the longer I look at Margot, the more I realize she’s a walking dress-code violation. Her tattered black shorts are nowhere near the required length of just above the knee. She’s wearing a loose-fitting tank top with some weird indie band logo across the front, one that’s dingy and sweaty and shows off the straps of her bra, and an old red flannel is tied around her waist by the sleeves.
I guess she is some kind of punkish, lesbian stereotype; every- one knows that Margot likes girls. We’ve all seen her kiss plenty at football games. But I’ve never spoken to her before now, and I’ve definitely never told her that I like her hair or her aesthetic. I do kind of like her combat boots, though. They’re cute.
“What on earth are you talking about?”
Margot has the nerve to look guilty, her mouth pinching at the corners. “You’re funny, Harper, and I like talking to you about books. But I think it’s best for both of us if we stop this whole thing right now. I’m moving back to Canada once we graduate, you know? I don’t want to be tied down.”
Nadia’s suspicion is palpable, as if she truly believes I’ve lied to her about knowing Margot. I can feel the heat of my best friend’s glare burning its way through my temple. “Stop what now?” I ask, absently picking at my fingernails. I tear at a cuticle until it bleeds, a nervous tick that I’ve been trying to break for years. “We’ve never even talked before today.”
Margot frowns and glances sidelong at Nadia. “We’ve talked every day for a month, Harper. Since the end of band camp. See, this is why I said we should talk alone, in case you were keeping this a secret. I’m not judging you; I know your dad’s a Republican or whatever, but—”
“Keeping what a secret?” My heart is beating in the back of my throat. I can hear my pulse roaring in my ears as if my head has been shoved underwater, Margot calling out to me from just above the surface with some outlandish accusation. It feels as if I’m being outed to Nadia when there’s nothing to actually “out” me for. I don’t know what Margot is talking about. “I don’t know who you think you’ve been talking to, Margot, but it’s not me. I didn’t even know you knew my name.”
Margot’s frown only deepens. It carves out the dimples in her cheeks. “You really have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
“Not a freakin’ clue.”
Margot unlocks her phone. She taps and scrolls with her thumb. “I’m on Tinder,” she says. I don’t point out the irony that she’s just told me she doesn’t want to be tied down. She turns her phone around to show me and Nadia the screen. It’s cracked. “And apparently it’s news to you, but you’re on Tinder, too.”
“Am I queer enough?” feels like the question that circulates the most around Pride month, and today on the site, M. Dalto and Laynie Bynum, authors of the brand-new Shakespeare reimagining Fair Youth, are here to talk about just that. Before we get to their post, here’s a little more on the book, which released June 7th from Ninestar Press!
Billie tried to make a small town life as a doctor’s fiancée work for her, but the dream of trading in Kentucky for the glitz and glamor of LA and selling her screenplays was too strong to fight. Unfortunately, the devil hides behind every corner in the City of Angels and she finds nothing but cockroach infested hotel rooms and broken dreams.
Everything changes when she meets an enigmatic and illustrious fellow writer named Kit. Struck with attraction and intrigue, Billie begins to question not only her dedication to her past life, but also her own sexuality. Kit comes with amazing connections and Billie’s work is getting more recognition than ever, until a powerful studio executive sets his sights on more than just her screenplays. His infatuation could cost Billie her career and, maybe, one of them their lives.
One of us is outgoing, the other is terribly shy. One is list-oriented and organized, the other is a hot mess with a soft spot for spontaneity. One of us is super open about their sexuality, the other never talks about it publicly.
You know, like a 21st century odd couple, but with queer authors.
Despite our differences, our fear about writing Fair Youth was the exact same – will they think we’re queer enough?
One of us is a blazing bi-sexual married to a man. The other is demi/bi-romantic. So the answer is obvious, right? We’re queer. We’re part of the community. But we’re both also straight-passing and a lot of times that means we get to experience both not being straight enough for the straights, nor queer enough to have our queerness validated by others in the community.
In the time between the first words being typed and the release of this book:
An author was attacked because she’d never vocally admitted to being queer and made to come out when she wasn’t ready.
There was discourse about bisexual main characters not counting as queer unless they ended up with someone of the same gender.
A reviewer of one of our other books DNF’ed it, gave it one star, and blatantly let their homophobia spew out all over Goodreads because we’d dared to make Beauty fall in love with the French maid instead of the Beast.
A gay NYT best selling author was accused of queerbaiting because a bi-sexual female in one of his books has a male partner.
An agent turned us down because the romance didn’t end up queer enough for them. (Spoiler alert: its hella queer)
Another agent turned us down because it was too queer for their tastes.
We were denied a review from a queer review site because our characters don’t end up in same sex relationships.
One of M.’s other bisexual stories was attacked online and accused of “baiting readers into reading hetero stories”
When we started writing, we knew we would have to muster up bravery that we weren’t sure we had. One of us lives in the Deep South, and (at the time) worked at a company that could (and would) fire her if they found out about this book. Bookstore and library signings are often out of the question for small press books, even more so for books with LGBTQ+ themes. Even our own families and friends would be hesitant to show public support for our book, not only because it was queer but also because of the “spice”.
(Side note: why is hetero sex seen as romance, but Sapphic sex is automatically erotica even when its not graphic?)
We prepared ourselves for these things. We just didn’t know that we would have to prepare ourselves to face so much backlash and scrutiny from our own community.
This book started out as something incredibly fun and light. It was an evolution of completely random Twitter DMs while streaming a TNT show about Shakespeare.
What if Shakespeare was alive today?
What if he was a woman?
What if he and Kit Marlowe had a thing? (BTW: Kit Marlowe is the most punk Elizabethan poet and we will fight anyone about it.)
Approximately half way though we came to an inevitable fork in the road. Stay true to the historical figures we were writing or defy all evidence and come up with something completely new. Basically, let Shakespeare live out his queer, happy life with Kit Marlowe and continue to write beautiful poems about him (the version we wish happened IRL) – or send him back to his wife after Kit perishes under mysterious circumstances (the version that happened IRL).
We found our own workaround that did both (you’ll have to read to find out how!) but that’s when the feelings of inadequacy, fear, and judgement really hit.
Because we knew how it had to end. But we also knew that if people didn’t write us off because we weren’t openly in relationships with the same sex, they’d do it because our characters don’t end up in them.
And that’s not even counting the people that were going to write us off completely because–as one review said–“[they] don’t come to retellings for LGBT stories,” or worse, because they’re just blatantly homophobic.
So why didn’t we give up? It would have been so much more comfortable to leave this story on our hard drives and continue on with our lives. But we knew there had to be more people like us out there. People that have felt like Billie does–like she never even considered her sexuality until Kit challenges it. People that have felt like Kit – out and proud but angry that she has to keep fighting against stereotypes and misogyny. People like us who constantly wondered if they’re queer enough.
So please let this guest post serve as a reminder:
You ARE queer enough
You are worthy of love and art
Your life and sexuality are valid
Pick up a copy of Fair Youth
And just so you are wondering if you are still valid even with the gnawing fear inside you, this is the conversation from the two of us when this blog post was done.
M. Dalto: It’s a harsh truth and reality but there it is
Laynie: I think it’s something that a lot of people like us (and our readers) will relate to.
M. Dalto: Are you ready to out yourself to the literary world?
Laynie: No, but that’s why we wrote the post. Because it doesn’t matter if I’m ready. If we want readers to love our characters, I have to be. And Billie and Kit deserve it.
Co-authors, co-owners, and best friends – M. and Laynie combine their strengths to create queer characters with sass in the contemporary and fantasy genres.
When writing alone, M. is most well-known for her The Empire Series works and Laynie for Adeline’s Aria. Together they have published Faust University and Escaping the Grey through EQP and Fair Youth through Ninestar Press .
When they aren’t crafting their own characters, they are the co-owners of Sword and Silk Books, an independent publishing company focused on engaging stories that empower readers.
I have been anticipating this book for about a billion years (like, you truly cannot imagine how closely I have stalked this book on Goodreads to look for a pub date), so I am extremely excited to be revealing the cover today for In the Key of Us by Mariama J. Lockington, a contemporary Middle Grade novel releasing April 26, 2022 from FSG BYR! Here’s the story:
Thirteen-year-old Andi feels stranded after the loss of her mother, the artist, who swept color onto Andi’s blank canvas. When she is accepted to a music camp, Andi finds herself struggling to play her trumpet like used to before her whole world changed. Meanwhile, Zora, a returning camper, is exhausted trying to please her parents, who are determined to make her a flute prodigy even though she secretly has a dancer’s heart.
At Harmony Music Camp, Zora and Andi are the only two Black girls in a sea of mostly white faces. In kayaks and creaky cabins, the two begin to connect, unraveling their loss, insecurities, and hope for the future.
And as they struggle to figure out who they really are, they may just come to realize who they really need: each other. From the author of the critically-acclaimed novel, For Black Girls Like Me, comes a lyrical story about the rush of first love and the power of one life-changing summer.
And here’s the dreamy, beautiful cover, illustrated by Tonya Engel and designed by Mallory Grigg!
And here’s Mariama with three things she wants you to know about In The Key Of Us and this stunning cover:
1. I’ve been a big fan of Tonya Engel’s work ever since I saw her beautiful art on the cover of Kacen Callender’s Hurricane Child. While my publisher worked with Engel on the initial drafts, I did get to give input on the cover along the way. I wanted the cover to convey the way that a Black girl’s skin is radiant during summer and also make it clear that this is a first-love story full of adventure. I think Engel has nailed my vision here and I love that Andi and Zora are holding hands, that they are floating in a kayak and staring into all that the sky has to offer.
2. This book is written in the voices of my two main characters— Andi and Zora, and writing a dual POV story was a huge challenge. Initially, Andi’s voice came to me clearer than Zora’s, but I think that’s because Zora and I share more similarities to one another and it was harder to distance myself from her. In many ways, I was and still am a Zora when it comes to being a perfectionist and not wanting to let people down. As much as I think the trumpet is an amazing instrument, like Zora I grew up playing the flute. Andi in many ways is a mash-up of the kind of girl I wanted to be.
3. In the Key of Us is my ode to Queer, Black girls who love music, art, and the outdoors. It was important to me to write a story about first love, but also about friendship, artistic passion, and what it means to grieve and grow-up. I hope that this book will provide those who find it with validation, a sense of adventure, and permission to make or listen to music often, love themselves fully, and know that even when life gets hard, they are never alone.
Mariama J. Lockington is a transracial adoptee, author, and educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore shortalls and flower leggings every day to school. Her debut middle grade novel For Black Girls Like Me (FSG BYR 2019) is an ALA Notable Middle Grade Book, a Booklist Editors Choice title, a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard title, a Project LIT Book Club 2019-2020 selection, and has earned five starred reviews from Shelf Awareness, Publisher’s Weekly, BookPage, School Library Journal, and Booklist. Mariama’s second middle grade novel In the Key Of Us (FSG BYR) will be out in April of 2022 and her debut YA novel Forever is Now (FSG BYR) is also forthcoming. Mariama calls many places home, but currently lives in Kentucky with her partner and her little sausage dog, Henry. You can find her on Twitter @marilock and on Instagram @forblackgirlslikeme.
Today on the site, I’m excited to have both brains behind the exciting upcoming Toronto Pride-centric YA, When You Get the Chance, coming May 4th from Running Press! Here’s a little more about the book:
As kids, Mark and his cousin Talia spent many happy summers together at the family cottage in Ontario, but a fight between their parents put an end to the annual event. Living on opposite coasts—Mark in Halifax and Talia in Victoria—they haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, Mark and Talia find themselves reunited at the cottage once again, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it.
Mark and Talia are both queer, but they soon realize that’s about all they have in common, other than the fact that they’d both prefer to be in Toronto. Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin, who’s barely been in touch since leaving to spend the summer working at a coffee shop in the Gay Village. Mark, on the other hand, is just looking for some fun, and Toronto Pride seems like the perfect place to find it.
When a series of complications throws everything up in the air, Mark and Talia—with Mark’s little sister Paige in tow—decide to hit the road for Toronto. With a bit of luck, and some help from a series of unexpected new friends, they might just make it to the big city and find what they’re looking for. That is, if they can figure out how to start seeing things through each other’s eyes.
Tom: It’s been almost five years since I woke up to a text from you that said something like “hey Tom, I just had an idea: we should write a big queer Canadian YA novel together!” Obviously I was totally into it, and before long we were brainstorming and sending chapters back and forth. Do you remember what prompted you to reach out in the first place?
Robin: I missed you! You had moved two thousand miles away, and I missed hanging out and talking about writing. Plus I’d just written a non-fiction book about Pride, so I was out in schools and talking with young people, and realizing just how much queer kids and teens wanted to see their lives reflected in the books they were reading. It was really impulsive though- like I had the idea and sent the text about three seconds later!
Tom: One of the things I love most about When You Get the Chance is that the premise of the story grew from the situation we were in when we wrote it. I was on the east coast, you were on the west coast, and we both wished we could meet up somewhere in the middle to hang out. It was basically a no-brainer to echo that in the plot, bringing cousins Talia (your character, from B.C.) and Mark (my character, from Nova Scotia) together for a family funeral in Toronto. Once we had that framework established, I really felt like the rest of the story came together quite naturally – did you feel the same way?
Robin: Yeah, very much so. I think part of that came from the fact that we both think and care deeply about some of the same things: family, friendship, queer community and history, connections and sharing of ideas between older and younger people, the way our communities and language and identities continue to evolve. Once the characters came to life and the story started taking shape, it became clear that those themes were all woven into the book. I know we both have had opportunities to meet with lots of LGBTQ+ youth because of our previous books… Do you feel like those experiences and conversations influenced this story?
Tom: Absolutely. Like you, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to speak with LGBTQ+ youth groups, GSA’s, etc… and one of the things that I’ve been most struck by is how queer and gender non-conforming teens are able to hang out together in big groups, which would have been completely unimaginable when I was in high school. There’s a long – and proud! – tradition of coming out narratives in LGBTQ+ YA, and I will dig in my heels to defend those stories, because they’re really important, but the reality is that more and more they don’t reflect queer teens’ broader experiences. I will never forget visiting a large group of queer teens in Vancouver during Canadian Children’s Book Week, and during the Q&A one teen made a comment about how much they wanted to see more books that show lots of queer kids hanging out together, because that reflected their reality a lot more than a solitary queer teen in a world full of straight people. I described WYGTC and explained that it was on sub, and hopefully someone would pick it up. The group was so excited about it, and in the cab on my way back to my hotel, Eric called to say we had an offer! That was a definite high point in my career.
Robin: I remember that! I was actually at a cabin in the woods when I got the call…in the middle of a week of school visits as part of a book festival. In fact, the way we celebrated the news over the phone, from different parts of the country, fit right in with the way we wrote the book. And now, because of the pandemic, that will also be the way we’re launching it. We had originally hoped to be at Pride events together, in person, this summer- but it seems like those will have to be virtual events. Still, while parades can be canceled, pride itself cannot! Since Pride is a big part of our book, do you want to share something about your experiences at Pride?
Tom: I’ve lived in several different cities across Canada, which means I’ve been lucky enough to experience a bunch of different iterations of Pride. Each of them has developed its own traditions over time, but some aspects of Pride are universal, like the way the culture of a city or town transforms for just a short while into something much more vibrant and queer. At its heart, Pride is about community, and getting caught up in the energy created by so many people who are joyfully celebrating the right to be their truest selves is magical, every single time. What about you, Robin? Any particular Pride moments stand out?
Robin: I’ve been to Pride events in lots of different places too- from the Chicago Dyke March to the small and super friendly Pride celebrations on Salt Spring Island. Toronto Pride will always be special to me, because that is where my very first Pride events were, when I was still in my teens. And of course, I love going to Pride here in Victoria, with my family and community. My kid was just a month old at his first Pride march! In the last few years, I have been really lucky to celebrate with people who are attending their first Pride events, and that has brought me a whole new appreciation for how beautiful and brave and necessary it is. And of course, I love some of the other Pride events in my town as well- especially the Big Gay Dog Walk, which is exactly what it sounds like- lots of queer people meeting up to walk our dogs together!
Tom: I’ve really enjoyed doing this interview, because it played out exactly the same way the book did! I kicked it off and sent it over to you, and we went back and forth until we reached a natural end. On that note, I’m going to pass it back to you for the final word, but first I want to say that everything about this process has been a total pleasure. I value your friendship so much, and getting an opportunity to share this experience together has been a total treat! I can’t wait until we can finally meet again in person – at a Pride event obviously – and share a long overdue hug to celebrate WYGTC!
Robin: Oh, I CANNOT WAIT to celebrate this book with you in person! You are absolutely one of my favorite people and while I wish we lived closer, I am so grateful that we haven’t let the distance come between us. And I was thinking the same thing about this interview—it’s been so much like writing the book together! Condensed and sped up, and with less plot twists– but really fun! I’d write something with you anytime. Just saying…
When You Get the Chance releases May 4th, 2021 from Running Press Kids!
Today on the site I’m excited to be sharing the entire first chapter from Jessica Verdi’s upcoming Follow Your Arrow, which releases from Scholastic on March 2nd and centers on setting biphobia on fire. Or I could just let the publisher describe the book in a slightly classier way:
CeCe Ross is kind of a big deal. She and her girlfriend, Silvie, are social media influencers with zillions of fans and followers, known for their cute outfits and being #relationshipgoals.
So when Silvie breaks up with her, CeCe is devastated. She’s lost her first love, and now she can’t help but wonder if she’ll lose her followers as well.
Things get even messier when CeCe meets Josh, a new boy in town who is very much Not Online. CeCe isn’t surprised to be falling for a guy; she’s always known she’s bi. And Josh is sweet and smart and has excellent taste in donuts… but he has no idea that CeCe is internet-famous. And CeCe sort of wants to keep it that way.
But when CeCe’s secrets catch up to her, she finds herself in the middle of an online storm, where she’ll have to confront the blurriness of public vs. private life, and figure out what it really means to speak her truth.
And here’s the first chapter of Finding Your Arrow!
I study the app post like it’s a Renaissance painting, dissecting and analyzing each detail before tapping the button that will send it out to the world. It took me ten minutes of crafting and deleting and rewriting to land on this combination of words and images and emphasis, but I’m still not sure about it.
Do the all-caps and exclamation points convey the right level of enthusiasm, or does the tone tip over into annoying? And I purposely limited the hashtags to three, because too many and people will just scroll right by instead of putting in the effort to read, but maybe I should have hashtagged #spring and #news too? For discoverability? And the emojis . . . I love emojis, but sometimes I wonder if everyone else in the world is over them and I’m showing how out of touch I am when I use them too much. Not that anyone’s said, “Hey, CeCe, you might want to rethink how many emojis you use” or anything. I just . . . I don’t know. I worry.
“Does this look okay?” I ask Silvie, holding the screen out. We’re lying on the floor in her room—our usual hangout spot. My leg is draped over hers, and we’re both scrolling on our phones—our usual position.
Silvie’s room is spacious, artfully designed, and looks like an #ad. Lots of white furniture, framed photography, and intentional pops of color. We spend most of our time at Silvie’s house, especially on weekends when my mom’s working long hours, or when we have a video to record or a livestream to do, like today. The sleek lines and bright light of her bedroom make for a way more professional backdrop than the chaos of mine.
Silvie skims my post draft in one point five seconds, then glances back at me. “Looks good. Why haven’t you posted it yet?”
“I needed to get it right.”
She rolls her eyes. “Ceece, we go live in”—she checks the time on her own phone—“ten minutes. Just post it; it doesn’t need to be perfect.”
She doesn’t get it. She could post Hey. Live video at 1. Watch it. and get fifty thousand likes and a hundred new followers within minutes. Everyone loves Silvia Castillo Ramírez.
I, on the other hand, have had to work incredibly hard to get people to like me and care about what I have to say.
I hold my breath and tap post. “Okay. Done.” Silvie goes back to scrolling.
When I first joined social media in seventh grade, @Hi_Im_CeCeRoss was a lot different than it is now. Not only my follower count and reach, but the content itself. The few people who actually read my posts probably got a kick out of the twelve-year-old white girl in the Midwest going on epic rants about #gerrymandering and #prisonreform and #healthcarepolicies. But I’d been fighting against my father’s conservative beliefs pretty much since I was old enough to speak. It was not only all I knew; it was who I was. And at first, the app felt like a natural extension of that: a chance to express my views without my dad telling me I was wrong, or that I’d understand when I was older, or that I was embarrassing myself. I didn’t edit, didn’t self-censor, didn’t obsess. I posted whatever was on my mind.
But then my father left.
And everything changed.
Suddenly I didn’t want to be The Girl with All the Opinions anymore, the girl who was so strong-willed, so defiant, it had torn her family apart. I just wanted to be happy, for once. I wanted—needed—a chance to breathe.
When Silvie and I met, she already had a following online—people actually listened to her, looked to her for her thoughts and perspective. Sure, her feed was mainly about stuff like #fashion and #style, but still. She was happy.
So I followed her lead.
For over two years now, I’ve done everything I can to make it look like my life is as shiny and special as Silvie’s. And that’s the thing about social media: You get to decide how people see you. You can become a casual, confident, carefree girl with more friends than she can keep track of and not a single problem to be seen. Every post, each comment, is another stitch in the tapestry of my online world. A heavily filtered selfie here, a post with a potentially controversial opinion edited out before being posted there, and about a zillion tongue-biting, sugary-sweet replies to haters. And honestly, even the haters are tolerable, because #lifestyle influencing might invite eye rolls, but it rarely invites the vitriol that fighting over immigration policies does. It certainly doesn’t lead to shouting matches so intense they make the walls of your house shake. It doesn’t stretch the limits of family, and it doesn’t result in divorce.
“You really need to stop overanalyzing everything,” Silvie says, clicking her phone off, untangling her leg from mine, and standing to stretch. It’s an unseasonably warm day for late March in Cincinnati, but the loss of skin-to-skin contact sends an instant shiver over me. “It’s not good for you.”
That’s where she’s wrong.
Overanalyzing—though I prefer to call it curating—has worked. Silvie may have 1,200,000 followers, but I have 985,000. She might have six sponsorships at the moment, but I have four. We’re both continually featured on Famous Birthdays’s “trending influencers” list.
Life isn’t perfect, the world isn’t perfect, but the time I spend on the app is as close to perfect as I’ve found. It’s my loophole. And I’d like to keep it.
Speaking of, I need to retouch my makeup before we go live. I sit at Silvie’s vanity and uncap the eyeliner I keep at her house, while she comes up behind me and grabs her brush. People often do double takes when they meet my girlfriend in person for the first time, because her combination of blue-green eyes, dark hair, and olive skin is unexpected. But those same people invariably go back for a third and fourth glance. Silvie is truly one of the most beautiful people most of us have ever seen, even online.
I, along with most of the world, am a little more ordinary-looking than Silvie. But in moments like this, studying our side-by-side reflections, it’s not hard to see what our fans see: Silvie and I don’t only look good together; we look like we go together. Our hair is almost the same shade of dark brown—Silvie’s long, mine falling in a blunt bob to just above my chin. And even though Silvie’s seven inches taller than me, we fit. My skin is pale, and my eyes are a basic brown, but I think I have nice eyebrows and shoulders, and my earlobes are just the right shape for earrings. The ones I’m wearing right now are little yellow dangly houses; they were a birthday gift from Silvie last year. Silvie’s wearing the lesbian like whoa T-shirt she got at a thrift store.
She finishes fixing her loose side pony, and I wordlessly hand her a bottle of hand lotion. Whenever she brushes her hair, she likes to rub a tiny bit of lotion into her hands, then gently tamp down the frizzies on the top of her head. After being together for over two years, we know each other’s quirks like they’re our own. “This stuff is the best, isn’t it?” she says as she squeezes a small amount of lotion into her palm and massages her hands together.
“What, the hand cream?” I lean closer to the mirror and dab some of Silvie’s coral-tinted lip gloss onto my lips.
“Yeah, all the Dana & Leslie stuff. It’s insane that they’re not more mainstream.”
“Well, that’s what they have you for.” I give her a smile, then quickly devote my attention to applying a pointless second layer of lip gloss.
Dana & Leslie is the gender-inclusive, organic, cruelty-free skincare brand Silvie’s an ambassador for. I fully support their mission, and the partnership has been great for Silvie, but if I’m being honest, I can’t stand the cloying smell of that lotion. And the face wash dried my skin out.
I’ve been avoiding sharing my opinions on Dana & Leslie with Silvie, because she’s really proud of her collaboration with them, and I don’t want to start a fight or come across as unsupportive. I even purposely left all the products she gave me out in plain view on my bedside table at home just so she would see them when she came over.
But I guess I don’t have her fooled. She’s staring at me, unblinking, in the mirror, clearly waiting for a more emphatic agreement that Dana & Leslie products are, in fact, “the best.”
Silvie and I mastered the art of the face-off long ago, and I have no choice but to allow myself to stare back. I know what she’s thinking, she knows what I’m thinking, and we both know we’re on a moving bus, just a stop or two away from The Argument of the Day.
But we’re only four minutes out from one p.m., so Silvie returns the Dana & Leslie lotion to its home on the vanity and wordlessly finishes her hair.
“Looks nice,” I say gently, an attempt at keeping the atmosphere light.
Silvie and I have always bickered. It used to be a point of pride for me. It proved, I thought, that you can be in a committed, long-term relationship with another person but still have your own thoughts and opinions, likes and dislikes. Like this painting I saw once at a museum of two people forehead to forehead, balancing on a board placed on top of a ball. I remember thinking that, apart from it being a man and a woman in the painting, the depiction could have been me and Silvie. Two individuals, each unique and strong-willed, yet when they’re together, perfectly balanced. Not halves of a whole, but two wholes who do better together than apart.
Lately, though, the board has tipped, and our balance is off. It seems every little thing I’ve said or done these last few days has annoyed Silvie. She hasn’t been smiling as much, hasn’t been finding excuses to touch or hug or kiss me all the time like she used to. The bickering has turned into arguing, and the arguments are taking longer and longer to rebound from.
I know she’s stressed about the prom planning. It’s part of her responsibilities as president of our school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (I’m vice president—our dynamic is nothing if not consistent). Silvie and I had planned to spend this afternoon brainstorming not-cheesy prom theme ideas to bring to our next GSA meeting. We also wanted to put out feelers to @DJRio, a Chicago-based DJ who follows us both on the app, to see if he’d consider DJing our prom. But I can’t help but feel like there’s something else going on with her.
“Just don’t post about it,” she says finally, her tone clipped.
“Post about what?”
“That you don’t like the Dana & Leslie products. It was really nice of them to send extra freebies for you.”
In one second flat, the air in the room goes stale.
“Are you kidding me?” I splutter.
“Since when do I post about stuff like that?”
This makes no sense. I don’t post anything without double- and triple-checking it. I would never do anything to jeopardize Silvie’s career, or the work we both do, or our freaking relationship.
She knows that. But all she says is “Just saying.”
“Right, okay.” I mimic the action of typing on my phone and pretend to read aloud. “Hey, just thought you’d all like to know that Dana & Leslie, the company my girlfriend, Silvia Castillo Ramírez, is an ambassador for, is overpriced garbage and I don’t know why anyone would ever want to use the stuff. ’K’ byeeee!”
I wait for her to apologize. Laugh at the ridiculousness of it. She doesn’t. She simply picks up her phone again and asks, her voice flat, “Ready to go live?”
NO, I’m not ready to go live, I want to retort. You’re being a brat and really unfair and we need to talk about this.
But it’s one o’clock. We have work to do.
I check my teeth in the reflective, silvery material of my phone case, and nod. Without further discussion, we sit on Silvie’s bed. Our bodies inch closer together and our smiles appear. Silvie hits the go live button.
“Hey, everyone!” I say, giving a little wave as the screen projects our images back to us.
“Happy Saturday!” Silvie says.
“And happy spring!” I add. Today is March 20, the official first day of spring. I love spring. The hours of sunlight stretch longer, you can wear dresses without tights underneath, and avocados are in season again.
“Oh yeah! Spring break is only three weeks away!” Silvie says. “I’m going to Mexico to visit my grandparents, and we have plans to spend a few days at the beach. I cannot wait.”
“Bring me back a seashell?” I squeeze her hand, and she laughs.
“I’ll bring you a hundred seashells, babe.” She looks at me with hearts in her eyes, and I take my first real breath since the lotion debacle. We’re back at equilibrium, I think with no small measure of relief. It was just bickering, not fighting. She’s not mad at me. Everything’s fine.
“We have lots to share today, so let’s get to it, shall we?” Silvie says.
“Yes, let’s!” I slide a sealed brown box across the bed into the camera frame and grab scissors from Silvie’s nightstand. “This package just arrived this morning from an awesome new company called Benevolence.” Silvie holds the camera steady as I slice the packing tape open. Our followers love a good #unboxing vid, and I have to admit, I do too. There’s something inherently relatable about the feeling you get when a new package arrives on your doorstep, the little thrill that zips through you as you open it up, eager for its secrets to be revealed. Will the item inside match your expectations? Will it fit? Will it be the right color? Or maybe it’s a gift from someone, and you have no idea what you’ll find beneath the cardboard box flaps.
Silvie and I don’t have an official commission-based or pay-for-posts arrangement with Benevolence, but companies often send us free stuff in the hopes that we’ll share the products on our app accounts. We almost always do. Once or twice we decided not to because the company that sent the stuff was well-known for supporting politicians whose values didn’t align with our own, but that doesn’t happen often.
I remove the packing materials and extract the pieces of clothing one by one, holding them up for the camera. Scrunchy blue socks. A soft tank top in a red-and-white geometric pattern. A forest-green cropped-length hoodie. A pair of mustard-yellow short-shorts with white polka dots.
“Oooh, give me those!” Silvie says, propping the phone up on her nightstand so she’s free to duck out of frame and try the shorts on.
I keep talking, keep describing the clothes to our over 70,000 real-time viewers. “This stuff is super cute,” I say honestly. “And the best part is it’s all eco-friendly.” I take the little information card out of the box and read aloud. “Benevolence clothing is made from one hundred percent hemp, which requires fewer chemicals and much less water than cotton to produce.”
I have a captive audience—I could totally take this opportunity to talk more about the importance of choosing carbon-neutral and sustainable products when buying new, but I don’t. Environmental efforts are considered political, and I make sure to keep politics far away from my content. “Everything is so soft!” I say instead, sliding the fabric of the tank top between my thumb and pointer finger. “I bet this would look great under a pair of overalls.”
Silvie pops back into the shot, doing a spin and showing off the shorts, which fit her perfectly, surprising literally no one. Her legs are so long that shorts always look good on her. The girl is like a freaking mannequin.
“These shorts are mine now, thank youuu,” she says with an adorable gleam in her eye.
“You look amazing, babe,” I tell her, and she grins.
She picks up the phone again and leaps onto the bed beside me, bouncing us both. “Okay! Ready for the other big news?”
“Yes!” I say eagerly, though of course I already know what she’s about to say.
“June is a little over two months away, and you know what June is?” She grins at me.
“June is Pride month!” I reply.
“Yup! Each year, throughout the month of June, Pride parades and celebrations are held in cities across the world.” Silvie’s facing the camera again. “And . . .”
She pauses for dramatic effect, and I do a little drumroll sound. “CeCe and I have been asked to lead this year’s march on Cincinnati! We’re going to be the grand marshals at our hometown Pride parade on June fifth!” She sends up a confetti filter over our faces.
“Not only that,” I add, “but we’ve been asked to give a speech at the pre-march rally!”
Talk about #goals. By its nature, this event will be slightly more political than our usual thing, which is a little scary. But I’ve worked so hard to get people to like me, and this invite is proof that I’ve made it. People want to hear me and Silvie speak. They care what we have to say. Even just the idea of that is a dream for me. How could I say no? And besides, Silvie and I will be doing it together, standing side by side, addressing a crowd full of allies with a speech we both wrote.
Silvie gives our now 78,000 real-time viewers a few more details and sets a countdown clock on her app profile. “We still have some time before the event, obviously,” she says, “but mark your calendars if you live in the Cincinnati area! We want to meet as many of you as we can!”
We end the live session the same way we always do: I throw an arm around her and kiss her on the cheek. Sometimes Silvie kisses me in these moments, and sometimes I kiss her. But it’s always on the cheek, and always right before we sign off.
The feed stops.
“Hey, I’m sorry about earlier . . .” I begin lightly, riding the high from our announcement, but Silvie pulls away.
And just like that, the energy bleeds from the room, seeping under the door and through the air conditioner vents.
She’d only been pretending everything was normal during the live feed; I see that now. I should have seen it earlier, but I wanted everything to be fine so badly that I chose to pretend her way-too-fast mood shift was real.
Silently, Silvie adds the video to her stories stream and tags me, then starts scrolling mindlessly, her eyes affixed to the screen.
“What’s wrong?” I ask after a moment. It comes out whinier than I’d planned. I want to add, Don’t make me guess. Just talk to me—we’ll figure it out. I love you. But I don’t say anything more.
She shakes her head. “Forget it.”
“Forget what?” I honestly don’t even know what we’re talking about anymore.
“Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“But I do want to talk about it.” I need answers. Clarity.
Silvie doesn’t say anything. She’s still looking down at her phone, scrolling so quickly I know she’s not actually absorbing the posts.
“I’m sorry I don’t like the Dana & Leslie stuff, okay?” I continue. “But is that a requirement? That we have to like all the same things?”
“Of course not.”
“So what, then?”
“I don’t know,” she mumbles after a beat. Still not looking at me. Still avoiding me.
“You do know,” I press, starting to feel like I’m asking for her to yell at me. “Something is on your mind, Silvie. Just tell me.”
“I don’t want to!” she finally blurts, clicking her phone off and dropping it onto her bedspread. “Stop pushing me!”
I gape at her. “Pushing you? I’m not pushing you! I’m trying to catch up to wherever it is you are. You keep snapping at me. I just want to know what I did to make you so mad at me.”
“I’m not mad at you,” she says. “I already said I wasn’t mad at you. Jeez, CeCe.”
“Well, you didn’t say that, actually,” I half shout. “But how about I’m mad at you now?”
She has the audacity to look shocked at that. “For what?”
“Silvie, you just accused me of planning to trash-talk both you and an entire company online. For literally zero reason. Don’t you know me at all?”
“I didn’t mean that, all right?” Her chest rises and falls with a shuddering breath. “Can you just let it go? Please?”
Let it go. I’ve gotten really good at letting things go over the years. I know how to put my feelings aside for the sake of keeping the peace. I know how to shut up and smile when all I want to do is scream. I just didn’t think Silvie would ever request that of me. “No.” My voice comes out on a strange waver, as if I’m battling to stay upright on a tightrope. “I think I deserve an explanation.”
The seconds pass.
Eventually she nods, like she’s decided to give in.
I wait, anticipating some semblance of an explanation.
But that’s not what I get. Out of nowhere, Silvie pitches forward and kisses me. It’s not what I was expecting, but, hey, I can roll with this. I immediately slide closer, kissing her back. We’ve done this countless times; I know the give of her lips, the curves of her face, the taste of her lavender tea obsession so well they’ve become a part of me.
But this kiss . . . It’s different.
Oddly, it reminds me of our very first one, when we were younger and pent up with not only those unbearable, impossible-to-articulate feelings of unexplored need, but also that added layer that all queer kids have to deal with. That feeling of something akin to delicious danger. Of everything feeling so freaking right for once, even with all the people telling you it’s wrong.
This kiss isn’t that, exactly. But it is just as loaded. And it stops as suddenly as it began.
Silvie pulls back, putting her palms out to carve some distance between us.
“We need to talk, Ceece,” she whispers, picking at the stitching of the bedspread. Her lips are still pink and the tiniest bit swollen from our kiss.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do,” I insist.
“I really wasn’t planning on doing this today,” she continues, almost to herself.
My stomach grows cold. “Doing what?”
She turns her phone over, so the screen is facedown, and she finally, finally looks at me fully. Her meaning is crystal clear in her eyes.
Need to talk. Wasn’t planning on doing this.
I suddenly feel woozy, like I’ve been pitched headfirst over a precipice. I leap off the bed just to feel the sturdy floor beneath my feet.
“No.” Only after the word is out there in the room do I realize I’m the one who whispered it.
JESSICA VERDI is the author of And She Was, My Life After Now, The Summer I Wasn’t Me, and What You Left Behind. She is a graduate of The New School’s MFA in Writing for Children program and lives in New York. You can find her online at jessicaverdi.com.
We’re honored to have Jay Coles on the site today, revealing the cover of his sophomore novel, Things We Couldn’t Say, which releases from Scholastic on September 21st, 2021! (Preorder links down below!) Here’s the story:
There’s always been a hole in Gio’s life. Not because he’s into both guys and girls. Not because his father has some drinking issues. Not because his friends are always bringing him their drama. No, the hole in Gio’s life takes the shape of his birth mom, who left Gio, his brother, and his father when Gio was nine years old. For eight years, he never heard a word from her … and now, just as he’s started to get his life together, she’s back.
It’s hard for Gio to know what to do. Can he forgive her like she wants to be forgiven? Or should he tell her she lost her chance to be in his life? Complicating things further, Gio’s started to hang out with David, a new guy on the basketball team. Are they friends? More than friends? At first, Gio’s not sure … especially because he’s not sure what he wants from anyone right now.
There are no easy answers to love – whether it’s family love or friend love or romantic love. In Things We Couldn’t Say, Jay Coles shows us a guy trying to navigate love in all its ambiguity — hoping at the other end he’ll be able to figure out who is and who he should be.
And here’s the beautiful cover, designed by Baily Crawford and accompanied by a few words from the author!
I’m so very, very excited for the world to see the cover for Things We Couldn’t Say and for the world to eventually read what’s inside it! I’m a huge fan of James Baldwin and how he writes about the unique intersections and complexities of Blackness and queerness, racism and homophobia. I’ve always wanted to write a book attempting to explore that, too. I was and (continue to be) inspired by Mr. Baldwin. In fact, two of the main characters in Things We Couldn’t Say are named after the two main characters in Mr. Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room.
During the process of writing this book, I faced trials of many kinds: crippling anxiety, depression, family conflicts. Together, we faced horrific racial injustices and a global pandemic, among other things. Throughout all of this, I felt burnt out, broken, beaten down, defeated, and thought I’d lost my way, my voice. I thought I couldn’t write anymore. But I kept thinking about what this book might mean to a Black kid and QPOC all over the world. This story sort of demanded that I write it. And I’m so, so thrilled that I did. This book saved me in so many ways. It helped me fight. It helped me process the things I couldn’t say. It made me brave. At the very least, I hope this book inspires you to be brave to talk about all the things you couldn’t say before!
24-year-old Jay Coles is a graduate of Vincennes University and Ball State University. When he’s not writing diverse books, he’s advocating for them, teaching middle school students, and composing for various music publishers. His acclaimed debut novel Tyler Johnson Was Here is based on true events in his life and inspired by police brutality in America. He resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.
You may know In at the Deep End by Kate Davies as “Queer Bridget Jones,” and it definitely has those elements, but my deep love for this book about a woman realizing her sexual identity as a lesbian and embarking upon her first relationship with another woman is in its depiction of a toxic relationship that pushes all her boundaries. Don’t dive into the deep end of this one (sorry, I had to) without being aware that’s the true heart of the book, but for anyone else who struggles with toxicity in relationships and may need an eye-opener, I hope you love this one as much as I did!
Julia hasn’t had sex in three years. Her roommate has a boyfriend—and their sex noises are audible through the walls, maybe even throughout the neighborhood. Not to mention, she’s treading water in a dead-end job, her know-it-all therapist gives her advice she doesn’t ask for, and the men she is surrounded by are, to be polite, subpar. Enough is enough.
So when Julia gets invited to a warehouse party in a part of town where “trendy people who have lots of sex might go on a Friday night”—she readily accepts. Whom she meets there, however, is surprising: a conceptual artist, also a woman.
Julia’s sexual awakening begins; her new lesbian life, as she coins it, is exhilarating. She finds her tribe at queer swing dancing classes, and guided by her new lover Sam, she soon discovers London’s gay bars and BDSM clubs, and . . . the complexities of polyamory. Soon it becomes clear that Sam needs to call the shots, and Julia’s newfound liberation comes to bear a suspicious resemblance to entrapment . . .
I’m so thrilled to have Nicole Melleby back on the site today, especially after reading the wonderful In the Role of Brie Hutchens…, their new heartwarming, adorable, romantic, and soap opera-centric Middle Grade contemporary set at a Catholic School, releasing today from Algonquin Books! Come check out a little more about the book, which made me cry and relive my love for As the World Turns:
Introducing Brie Hutchens: soap opera super fan, aspiring actor, and so-so student at her small Catholic school. Brie has big plans for eighth grade. She’s going to be the star of the school play and convince her parents to let her go to the performing arts high school. But when Brie’s mom walks in on her accidentally looking at some possibly inappropriate photos of her favorite actress, Brie panics and blurts out that she’s been chosen to crown the Mary statue during her school’s May Crowning ceremony. Brie’s mom is distracted with pride—but Brie’s in big trouble: she has not been chosen. No one has. Worse, Brie has almost no chance to get the job, which always goes to a top student.
Desperate to make her lie become truth, Brie turns to Kennedy, the girl everyone expects to crown Mary. But sometimes just looking at Kennedy gives Brie butterflies. Juggling her confusing feelings with the rapidly approaching May Crowning, not to mention her hilarious non-star turn in the school play, Brie navigates truth and lies, expectations and identity, and how to—finally—make her mother really see her as she is.
To understand why I wrote my second book, In the Role of Brie Hutchens… you need to know two things about me.
One: I went to Catholic school.
From kindergarten through 8th grade, I was a St. Mary’s Saint. For high school, I was a Mater Dei Seraph.
(We didn’t know what a Seraph was at first either.)
I wore a school uniform. My only two detentions were actually because of that uniform. One because my skirt was rolled too short (we all rolled our skirts; you only got caught if it was less than two inches from your fingertips.) Two because I had a gray shirt on under my blouse instead of a white one.
Yeah, I know.
This was also a school that banned Harry Potter because JK Rowling was a satanist.
The girls wore boxers under their skirts, to keep the guys from looking up them as we climbed the stairs. Senior year, we got to wear pants…as a privilege. Those privileges could be taken away.
They often were threatened to be taken away.
We went to church every week, which was only exciting because on those days, we came back from mass to shortened class periods. There was only so much the teachers could do in twenty minutes.
Sometimes we cut class and hung out in the chapel. You couldn’t get in trouble if you got caught. Not if you said you just needed a moment with Jesus.
I wonder if they thought I needed that many moments with Jesus. They probably wish I took those moments for real now.
Health class consisted of our gym teacher yelling ABSTAIN at us. In class, in the hallways, at school dances.
We didn’t abstain.
We didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding of everything we were doing.
I didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding of everything I was feeling.
How could I even begin to explore my sexuality behind walls where they didn’t tell me it was possible?
The second thing you need to know about me is that I. LOVE. Soap Operas.
As a writer, I know what storyline tropes to avoid.
As a soap fan, I know what storyline tropes I absolutely goddamn ADORE.
There’s just something magical about discovering that two characters are pregnant at the same time.
Why? Because there’s definitely a baby swap coming.
If there’s a wedding planned during sweeps month?
It’s definitely going to go up in flames. (And not always metaphorical ones.)
If a beloved character dies? Or a classic villain?
Well, don’t worry too much. They’ll probably be back. Resurrected from the dead, recast with a new actor. (Lots of plastic surgery.)
There’s something so enjoyable about the narration over an old character with a new face, “The role of so and so is now being played by…” as the storyline itself doesn’t miss a single beat.
There’s something awe inspiring (something breathtaking) about a character, in the middle of the afternoon, in broad daylight, on a show that you watch with your mom (that so many moms watch) saying, “Mom, I’m gay.”
My mom was my 8th grade teacher at that Catholic school.
We drove home together at the end of the day.
We turned on our soaps when we got home.
We watched them together.
We watched as Erica Kane’s daughter (Erica Fricken Kane!!) said the words, “I’m gay.”
What you should know is that I didn’t come out to my own mom until much (much) later.
I felt seen that afternoon, anyway.
In the first printing of In the Role of Brie Hutchens… there’s an error in my acknowledgements. A mistake happened as mistakes tend to do, and the last paragraph of those acknowledgements were left out.
In those acknowledgements I thanked Agnes Nixon. For writing those characters. For creating Bianca and writing that storyline where that brave young woman came out to her mom, Erica Kane.
What you should know is that Agnes Nixon made me feel less alone. Agnes Nixon made me feel seen.
I can only hope that, for some reader, somewhere, In the Role of Brie Hutchens… can do the same.
Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. Her debut novel, HURRICANE SEASON, was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. When she’s not writing, Nicole can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea.