Bradley Graeme is pretty much perfect. He’s a star football player, manages his OCD well (enough), and comes out on top in all his classes . . . except the ones he shares with his ex-best friend, Celine.
Celine Bangura is conspiracy-theory-obsessed. Social media followers eat up her takes on everything from UFOs to holiday overconsumption–yet, she’s still not cool enough for the popular kids’ table. Which is why Brad abandoned her for the in-crowd years ago. (At least, that’s how Celine sees it.)
These days, there’s nothing between them other than petty insults and academic rivalry. So when Celine signs up for a survival course in the woods, she’s surprised to find Brad right beside her.
Forced to work as a team for the chance to win a grand prize, these two teens must trudge through not just mud and dirt but their messy past. And as this adventure brings them closer together, they begin to remember the good bits of their history. But has too much time passed . . . or just enough to spark a whole new kind of relationship?
What’s that? One of your favorite queer YA novelists is now writing adult f/f romance? She sure is! Love at First Set by Jennifer Dugan releases from Avon on May 23, 2023, and we’ve got the first look! Here’s the story:
This irresistible adult debut from beloved YA author Jennifer Dugan is a queer romcom for fans of Delilah Green Doesn’t Care and Written in the Stars, in which a woman gives a drunken bathroom pep talk to a hot stranger, only to find out it’s the bride-to-be she has convinced to leave her fiancé the night before the wedding.
The gym is Lizzie’s life—it’s her passion, her job, and the only place that’s ever felt like home. Unfortunately, her bosses consider her a glorified check-in girl at best, and the gym punching bag at worst.
When their son, Lizzie’s best friend James, begs her to be his plus one at his perfect sister Cara’s wedding, things go wrong immediately, culminating in Lizzie giving a drunken pep talk to a hot stranger in the women’s bathroom—except that stranger is actually the bride-to-be, and Lizzie has accidentally convinced her to ditch her groom.
Now, newly directionless Cara is on a quest to find herself, and Lizzie—desperate to make sure her bosses never find out her role in this disaster—gets strong-armed by James into “entertaining” her. Cara doesn’t have to know it’s a setup; it’ll just be a quick fling before she sobers up and goes back to her real life. After all, how could someone like Cara fall for someone like Lizzie, with no career and no future?
But the more Lizzie gets to know Cara, the more she likes her, and the more is on the line if any of her rapidly multiplying secrets get out. Because now it’s not just Lizzie’s job and entire future on the line, but also the girl of her dreams.
And here’s the delightfully flirty cover by Monika Roe!
Jennifer Dugan is the author of the young adult novels Some Girls Do, Melt With You, Verona Comics, and Hot Dog Girl, as well as the graphic novel Coven. She lives in upstate New York with her family and two beloved, yet terrible, cats. Love at First Set is her first adult novel.
Love light Sapphic YA romance? Love queer holiday romance? Excited to see a book mesh the two and be resplendent with nerdery? It’s got enemies-to-lovers! It’s got Jewish rep! It’s cozy and funny and basically exactly what you want to read as the fall turns to winter, and I loved it so much I blurbed it, so I’ll throw that in here too, because why not: “With wit and chemistry that crackle like a roaring fire, the warmth and sweetness of gourmet hot cocoa, and the surprising softness of a gentle snowfall, How to Excavate a Heart truly gave me the romantic winter break of my dreams. You’ll want to savor every word, and then run and recommend it to everyone you know.” (Let the record show I am not usually so annoyingly flowery with blurbs, but like, the perfect winter vibes are so strong, it was beyond my control!) Anyway, it’s out now from HarperTeen, so go get it!
It all starts when Shani runs into May. Like, literally. With her mom’s Subaru.
Attempted vehicular manslaughter was not part of Shani’s plan. She was supposed to be focusing on her monthlong paleoichthyology internship. She was going to spend all her time thinking about dead fish and not at all about how she was unceremoniously dumped days before winter break.
It could be going better.
But when a dog-walking gig puts her back in May’s path, the fossils she’s meant to be diligently studying are pushed to the side—along with the breakup.
Then they’re snowed in together on Christmas Eve. As things start to feel more serious, though, Shani’s hurt over her ex-girlfriend’s rejection comes rushing back. Is she ready to try a committed relationship again, or is she okay with this just being a passing winter fling?
Today on the site we have Honeymoon for One author Rachel Bowdler, talking about the importance of queer characters in festive romance fiction! But before we get to the post, here’s a little more info on Honeymoon for One, which released yesterday from Embla/Bonnier Books UK in ebook and audio!
A cancelled engagement. A non-refundable honeymoon. A Christmas Robin will never forget.
Robin Ellis has had a year she’d like to forget. She’s tired, overworked and most definitely not ready to spend the holidays with her rowdy family in Manchester. So when she discovers she forgot to cancel her honeymoon she sees this as the perfect opportunity to get away; it’s time to relax and embrace adventure!
The last thing she expects is to clash with standoffish ski instructor Neve. But despite their rocky start these two unlikely people can’t help but fall for each other under the starry Canadian skies.
They know that holiday romances don’t last, and Robin has had her heart broken one too many times before, but can they overcome the distance between them and find a happily ever after together?
Despite the growing number of LGBTQ+ books being published in recent years, it’s sometimes difficult to find the words ‘queer’ and ‘festive romance’ in the same sentence — or ‘inclusive’ in general. You only have to browse holiday romance titles to see many variations of similar books and movies, most of which entail a romance between a city woman and a small-town man, or vice versa, who find a love of Christmas (and each other — insert ‘awws’ here) together. I enjoy cosy Hallmark-esque stories as much as anyone (you’ll find the Christmas24 channel turned on from November 1st in my house) but, as a queer person, I can’t pretend as though it isn’t a little bit disheartening to see the lack of diversity in this genre. Before we get into it, let’s talk about why we love festive romance.
My favourite thing about the genre is the sense of magic that comes with the winter season. Both the magical, snowy, fairy-lit backdrop of the setting and the sense of togetherness that comes with celebrating only bolsters the already uplifting romance. We get a happy ending, but now there are pretty lights everywhere, lots of cinnamon-spiced baked goods, and there is white stuff falling from the sky too! What more could you ask for?
Really, then, when it comes down to it, what makes the genre special is the added sense of joy: the joy of community and family, the joy of decorating, the joy of getting to wear big coats and jumpers, the possibility of a ‘Christmas miracle’ and of course, presents!
So why is it important to go beyond the average white heterosexual cisgender couple who are always very cute but never very queer? Because, to put it simply, queer people deserve to feel the same joy that straight people have always been granted without question. I read the Vintage anthology 100 Queer Poems by Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan recently, and McMillan’s introduction, which discusses his own experience with queer works, included a line I can’t get out of my head: ‘I saw for the first time that who I was might be worthy of poetry, worthy of literature.’ This is important for queer readers of any genre — that sense of seeing yourself in another character, another book, another piece of art. Being told ‘this is for you, because you deserve to be seen and heard!’
With romance especially, when we are given queer characters, we’re told that we’re worthy of our happy endings. We’re worthy of love. We’re worthy of cheerful stories, not just the traumatic ones that are usually spotlighted in mass media. Even now, when you search for sapphic films, the majority of the ones you’ll find are historical pieces — as though we still exist in that hidden, restricted, uncomfortable space, unable to break into the open. When you think of more recent times, Happiest Season (2020) featuring Kristen Stewart comes to mind: a wonderful, hilarious movie, but the main character is outed without consent and the entire plot focuses on Harper being in the closet, not yet comfortable to be herself or be romantic with her partner in front of her family. Which, of course, will always be an important story to tell, but when are we allowed to just be?
That’s why I wrote Honeymoon For One, and that’s why we desperately need even more queer festive romance books, now and always. Because straight couples have never needed to earn the right to a happy ending, and neither should we. Our holidays should be joyful. We should feel included in the most wonderful time of the year — yet in so many subtle ways, we aren’t, and that lack of representation only causes more confusion and loneliness for those still figuring themselves out. Our sexuality does not have to be an obstacle or a cause for conflict. It can, and should, be celebrated.
The queer festive romance genre is one big ‘hi, you deserve to be kissed under the mistletoe, too!’ to our community. A warm hug. A sign that our stories don’t always have to be sad ones, and that we’re entitled to the same wonderful romance and joy that straight people have always been allowed freely. The power of a happy ending should never be exclusive to one group of people. I truly hope that we get more of that in the coming years, and I’m so grateful to authors who have already spread that message to their readers.
Rachel Bowdler is a freelance writer, editor, and sometimes photographer from the UK. She spends most of her time away with the faeries. When she is not putting off writing by scrolling through Twitter and binge-watching sitcoms, you can find her walking her dog, painting, and passionately crying about her favourite fictional characters. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @RachelBowdler.
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.
Kathleen Jowitt is back on the site today, revealing an excerpt of her upcoming contemporary f/f litfic novel The Real World, which releases on November 2nd! Here’s the story:
Colette is trying to finish her PhD and trying not to think about what happens next. Her girlfriend wants to get married – but she also wants to become a vicar, and she can’t do both. Her ex-girlfriend never wanted to get married, but apparently she does now. Her supervisor is more interested in his TV career than in what she’s up to, and, of the two people she could talk to about any of this, one’s two hundred miles away, and the other one’s dead.
‘So,’ Lydia said when Rowan had left and they were standing out on the pavement, ‘since you brought up the subject of whatever God has lined up for us in 2017, bring it on, I thought I should let you know. I’ve decided.’
Colette had been expecting this, but it still landed hard. She took a breath in. ‘You’re going to do it. You’re going to do the whole “become a vicar” thing.’
Lydia smiled, and then tamed the smile. ‘I’m going to see how far I get, at least.’
‘OK,’ Colette said, very carefully. ‘So tell me what happens next.’
‘I talk to Marcus.’
Colette tucked her hand into Lydia’s elbow, with an obscure sense of having yielded ground. ‘Haven’t you been talking to him for the last year?’
Lydia nodded, smiling once again. ‘Yes. I mean, I follow up on that conversation we had before Christmas. I tell him that he’s right, it’s time to go for it.’
That seemed logical enough. ‘And then what does Marcus do about it?’
‘He passes me on to the DDO, who’ll probably give me another very long reading list.’
They turned right at the bottom of the hill to walk north-east along the riverbank. The water glittered in the thin sunlight. There was nothing between them and the breeze now. ‘Remind me who the DDO is?’
‘Diocesan Director of Ordinands. And then, if I’ve successfully jumped through all the hoops in between, they send me on a BAP.’
‘That’s the residential thing with all the interviews,’ Colette said triumphantly. ‘I remember Peter doing it.’ Twice. She added, ‘I don’t remember what it stands for, though.’
‘Bishop’s Advisory Panel.’
‘Nothing to do with bread products, then.’
‘In one sense.’ Lydia’s voice was brittle. ‘In another, it has everything to do with them.’
‘I suppose it does.’
They walked on in silence for a little while. Colette allowed herself to think that if it all went to plan and Lydia ended up in a vicarage then at least that would solve the problem of rent. Underneath that she was aware of mingled exhilaration and apprehension, and was not sure whether they belonged to herself or to Lydia.
‘If I get through that, then there’s three years of theological college, then there’s a curacy.’ Colette knew all this, but she let Lydia run through it once again. ‘One year as a deacon, then two as a priest. On the ground, serving people, loving people.’
‘Six years, then.’ It felt like a lifetime.
‘The next few months will be like what I’ve just done, but more so, going deeper. Talking more. Then I get to the BAP and it’s going to be hell.’
Colette nodded. ‘I told you the same thing when I started my PhD.’ She meant it as a warning, and she suspected that Lydia knew this. It was all very well to talk about following your passion (she had never used those words herself, but plenty of other people had used them on her behalf), but the cost had been more than she had anticipated; more, perhaps, than she had had at her disposal.
Lydia said, ‘And you were right.’ Her tone was gracefully neutral.
Colette considered how best to put it into words. ‘I said that, and I didn’t know what hell was like. Now I do.’
Lydia elaborated: ‘It might or might not be hell, and I have to do it either way.’
‘I know.’ She bit her lip. ‘I wish you didn’t.’
‘I think that’s how I would have felt about your PhD, if I’d known what it was going to be like for you.’
Colette tried not to let her surprise show. Lydia had never been anything other than supportive, up until now. ‘Fair’s fair, then?’ She raised her eyebrows.
‘I’ve been enjoying it up to now. I still am. It’s just… all got real. And the further I get into it, the more of myself I invest. And what if I’m wrong? What if they don’t want me? What if I’m not wrong and they still don’t want me?’
‘What indeed?’ It was probably not the most helpful response.
Lydia answered her own question. ‘I suppose I just keep on at the council until I work out what else to do.’
She found herself wishing that they had talked about it before. It was not really Lydia’s fault that they had not: Colette had, out of a combination of delicacy and cowardice, evaded the subject except insofar as it affected their lives on an immediate and practical level. ‘And what about me? Doesn’t my presence in your life throw a very large spanner into the works before you’ve even started?’
‘Marcus says no.’ Lydia did not sound convinced. ‘They’ll see past you.’
Colette said, with all the sarcasm that she could muster, ‘How gracious of them. I can hear Peter singing Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God at this very minute. Have you talked to him about it?’
‘Kind of. Bits of it.’ Lydia frowned. ‘He sort of gets it, and he sort of doesn’t.’
Colette wished that she had been more specific. ‘Because he’s already got through the process? Or because you’re gay, and he’s not?’
‘Yes. He gets the deep-down existential worry about, you know, who are you, if it turns out that you aren’t who you thought you were.’
‘Well, I would hope so,’ Colette said, remembering the fallout from the first time Peter had gone for selection, and been turned down.
Lydia nodded. ‘Yes. More than I hope I ever will, though I think he might be beginning to forget what that feels like. Because of course that is who he is. But… OK, he knows that I might be turned down for the wrong reasons, and he’s very ready to get angry about it on my behalf, but I don’t think he quite understands how much it’s been weighing me down even up to this point. How often I’ve said to myself that I won’t do it after all because of that.’
‘Well, yes, but the whole process…?’
‘Oh, yes, that.’ Lydia laughed. ‘He knows about that.’
‘And the… wanting to do it at all?’ Which was, Colette thought, the hardest thing of all to understand. She took her hand back, suddenly needing space.
Lydia nodded. ‘He wouldn’t have gone through the whole thing twice if he didn’t, would he?’
Children’s shrieks and laughter drifted across the river from the public gardens. ‘Where did it start?’ Colette asked, hurrying to get the words out before she lost her nerve. ‘When did you know?’
Lydia met Colette’s eye, and glanced away again. ‘The answer to that one changes every time I talk to Marcus.’
‘As far back as your church in Hastings?’
A self-deprecating smile. ‘Looking back that far, I can see it coming. Well, there was Sunday school, and holiday club, and the band. But no, that obviously wasn’t going to go anywhere. I was a bit too female.’
‘What about when you were a hall officer for Fellowship? Same thing?’
‘Yes, same thing. Still too female. And too gay.’ Lydia hesitated. ‘I think that I really began to understand when Becky died.’
Colette was silent: shocked, and impatient with herself for being shocked.
After a little while, Lydia said quietly, ‘There was nothing I could do. Nothing that anybody could do. Nothing that I could say to make anything better. Nothing that I could say that wouldn’t have been offensively trite. And yet there we all were, having to live in that house where she wasn’t any more. You and Will and Georgia, all devastated in your own different ways. And all I could do was to be there. Which in itself sounds offensively trite, now.’
‘You were there,’ Colette said, low, not entirely trusting herself.
Lydia glanced at her, judging, Colette supposed, how much further it was safe to go. ‘I think that up until that point I’d always thought, you know, it wasn’t as bad as all that, you could pray harder and things would look better. That God would give you strength. But when Becky… well, that was when I realised that no, it was exactly as awful as it looked, and I was still called to be there. At the foot of the cross, you know? I was more use to you than I was to Will or Georgia, I expect, but at least I was some use to somebody.’
Colette was not sure that she could bear much more of this line of thinking. She returned to the present. ‘What does it feel like?’ she asked.
‘Sometimes it feels like restlessness, like I know I’m not doing what I’m meant to be doing.’ She broke into a smile. ‘And sometimes it’s like this certainty at the back of my mind that this is what I’m going to do next, and when I’m not thinking about it then that’s what I think I’m going to do. Like, if I get asked the where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years question, then the answer that first comes to mind is well of course I’ll be a minister.’
‘The way your parents assume that of course you’re going to university, and so you do, too?’
‘Your parents, maybe. But yes, a bit like that. But more –’ She broke off, thought for a moment, and continued: ‘Did you ever have a moment of revelation, when it occurred to you that no straight person would worry as much as you were worrying about whether they might be queer?’
‘Oh. Yes. About three weeks after I started going out with Jess, actually.’ After two terms’ worth of a miserable crush on the Head Boy followed by the world-expanding experience of that unlikely relationship, it had been a liberating realisation for her. Judging by Lydia’s face, her feelings were more mixed. ‘So is that what it’s like?’
‘I think that’s what’s going on. Like, if God wasn’t calling me – to something,’ she added hastily – ‘then I wouldn’t spend so much time thinking about whether or not I was being called. Unless it’s, what’s it called when you think so much about something that you keep seeing it everywhere?’
‘Yes. That. But it doesn’t feel… I mean, it does feel…’ She shook her head. ‘Well, I did turn out to be gay. And so I think there probably is something going on, and it feels just as huge and important and impossible.’ Her face changed. ‘And then I think about it and I remember all the reasons why it might not be going to happen, and there’s this immense sadness about the whole thing. And – this is going to sound weird –’
‘It doesn’t feel like it’s all my sadness. Because I’m not sad at all, really. I like my job and I love you and I have a church where I feel like myself, and things are honestly really good. It’s like someone’s sad on my behalf, and sometimes I can hardly bear it.’
Colette looked behind them, then ahead, and put her right hand into Lydia’s pocket to take her left one. ‘And yet you keep going with it.’
Lydia’s expression was heartbreakingly earnest. ‘Of course I do. Because it’s an active kind of sadness; it’s quite close to anger; it keeps bubbling up through the cracks, and I know that if the answer is no then it’ll find something else to do, but I’ve got to follow it as far as it’s… navigable, I suppose.’ She laughed. ‘Good grief. What a tortured metaphor.’
‘I think I get the idea.’
‘And then, sometimes, when I think, yes, this is going to happen, I just get this amazing sense of peace, of rightness. The first time I spoke to Benjy about it. The time I admitted to Felicity that yes, she was onto something.’ She paused for a moment. ‘And today.’
Kathleen Jowitt writes contemporary literary fiction exploring themes of identity, redemption, integrity, and politics. Her work has been shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize and the Selfies Award, and her debut novel, Speak Its Name, was the first ever self-published book to receive a Betty Trask Award. She lives in Ely, UK.
Today on the site, we’re thrilled to welcome author Lilah Suzanne to celebrate the release of their newest, a contemporary f/f Romance called Tack & Jibe that releases from Interlude Press today. Here’s a little more on the book!
Raised on a small island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Willa Rogers has a picture-perfect nautical life: hanging out at the beach with her friends, living in a cozy seaside cottage, working at a sailing store, and running a hugely popular sailing Instagram. It’s so convincing that her overzealous online followers register her to compete in the High Seas, a televised national sailing championship.
Too bad Willa doesn’t actually know how to sail.
Desperate to protect her carefully curated life, Willa tracks down four-time High Seas champion Lane Cordova, and begs her for a crash course in sailing before the race begins. But Lane’s mastery of the water is matched only by Willa’s ineptitude—and her growing crush on Lane isn’t helping matters. When the competition threatens to go awry and take her idealized life with it, Willa has to figure out if she can save her reputation from sinking while taking a chance on love.
The shopping center when you first come into town features a gas station-slash-Italian grocery store, an eyebrow threading studio that is also, somehow, a U-haul rental center, and next to that, a vape store. This a town that was put on the map in the 1800s thanks to a railroad stop and a natural spring that locals claimed had healing powers— a spring that has since dried up and a train depot that is now a brewery. The rows of brick buildings branded with historical marker placards are occupied by shiny new stores: a juice bar, a coffee roaster, an artisanal chocolate cafe, even more breweries. There’s a new library; an expanded town hall; and a newly-opened art center. The art center, with its white-washed facade and picture windows, sits in the center of downtown, around the corner and across the street from a gun store that boasts over 6,000 guns in stock. It’s a complicated place; a town in flux, but from what to what I’m not quite sure. A rural small-town turned suburban enclave for certain, but just as transplants from colder places north of the Mason-Dixon bring more progressive views, an undercurrent of conformity remains.
The suburbs, like much of the South, is not a place to make waves.
It’s fitting, I suppose, that the first story I’ve set in North Carolina is about a character who struggles with the desire to be someone else, somewhere else. Someone who feels as if they must contort and misrepresent themselves in an effort to fit in and who, in a pretty straightforward metaphor for wanting to get the heck out of dodge, dreams of literally sailing away and never coming back. And yet.
And yet, there’s this tug of home. This is the place that’s shaped them. That’s shaped me. Isn’t this odd little town part of who I am? Won’t it always be? Could I really leave, even if I wanted to? Do I want to? Wherever you go there you are… This is the push-pull at the center of Tack & Jibe, a story that asks a lot of questions about authenticity and truth and finding yourself when you aren’t in a place–literally or metaphorically–to explore that fully.
In truth, I didn’t even realize I was writing these themes in Tack & Jibe until I was well into the editorial process. It was one of those oh, that’s what I was working through here, moments. I am several books and short stories in to a writing career and just now am I writing about the state where I’ve spent most of my life. Just now am I really exploring the complicated relationship I have to home and self and identity and loving a place that doesn’t always love me back. Why? Maybe I just needed time. Maybe I needed to write about other things first. Maybe I just didn’t feel like it. Maybe, like Willa and Lane in Tack & Jibe, I needed to know I could leave if I wanted to. And maybe I do, even if it’s only in a story. But maybe I don’t.
This is what I love about North Carolina: The accent, the sweet tea, the barbeque, the mild winters, the pine forests, the mountains, the beaches, the way people smile and say, “hey!” and genuinely welcome you to their home and heart even when they don’t know you all that well, not really. How people surprise you by being open and loving when you’ve come expect the opposite. Here’s what I don’t love: How change is still slow to come and hard-fought, the gut punch of realizing you don’t belong somewhere after all, knowing there are parts of you that you have to hide, knowing you aren’t safe, knowing that if they knew really knew you, they wouldn’t welcome you into their home and heart. Not really.
I don’t have answers to any of the questions or conflicts I ask in the book nor do I in real life. Like the town I currently reside in, perhaps I’m in flux. I’ve left home before and I probably will again. For now I’m here because, well, because I am. I’m happy though, and in the book, Willa ends up happy. But Tack & Jibe is a rare story where I didn’t neatly wrap up all the loose ends, which troubled me at first until I realized there exists the possibility of multiple happily-ever-afters unspooling from the place where the story finishes. For a lot of us, a sense of home and a sense of who we are is complicated. And for me, for Willa, for Lane, for a lot of people, it probably always will be. Ultimately, that’s what the story is really about. Well, that and sailing.
And romance, of course.
Lilah Suzanne is a queer author of bestselling and award-winning romantic fiction. Their 2018 novel Jilted was named a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and a Foreword INDIES Award, and won a Bisexual Book Award for romantic fiction. Their critically acclaimed Spotlight series included the Amazon #1 bestseller Broken Records, along with Burning Tracks and Blended Notes. Lilah also authored the romantic comedy Spice, the novellas Pivot & Slip and After the Sunset, and the short story Halfway Home, from the holiday anthology If the Fates Allow. A writer from a young age, Lilah resides in North Carolina and mostly enjoys staying indoors, though sometimes ventures out for concerts, museum visits, and quiet walks in the woods.
I’m really thrilled to have Katrina Jackson back on the site today for this beautiful essay on finding queer Black love in literature. I asked her to write it after seeing her Twitter threads about it, and I’m so grateful that she did. You can see more about Kat and her books here, but frankly, I’m antsy to get to the post, so, onward!
I didn’t start reading romance with any kind of intention until I was an adult, but I have loved love stories my entire life, especially Black love stories. There was something about seeing movies with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee and realizing that they had spent decades sharing their passion for art and activism with one another, that made my heart swell. It still does. I’ve also always loved queer love stories for as long as I can remember, even when I didn’t understand that I loved queer love stories for the same reasons I loved Black love stories: I was searching for depictions of love that reflected pieces of myself. I was searching for something that felt like a little slice of me on the big and small screens.
The first DVD I bought was The Color Purple. It was one of those old-school DVDs where the movie was split between two discs with those cheap plastic covers. I cherished that DVD, because once it was mine, I could watch that scene of Celie and Shug’s tentative kiss – with the juke joint providing a muffled backdrop – whenever I wanted. And I wanted to watch it over and over and over again. I felt similarly engrossed, years later as I watched the climax of Moonlight. I was a puddle of happy, relieved tears as the tumult of Chiron’s life culminates in this hardened, resilient man sitting across a diner table, staring at his childhood love with softness and warmth in his eyes. These two scenes, among so many others, spoke to that quietest part of my heart and the longing many of us hold to look at someone we love and feel fully and completely seen and loved for all that we are.
I turned to romance books while getting my master’s degree. I was in the depths of one of the worst depressive episodes of my adult life. Every day I received messages from professors and other students, that I did not belong, and I dreamt about abandoning the program and running home to the places and people who loved me. I didn’t leave, but I did start reading romance. Finding love stories that centered people who looked like me made the world feel much less alone and allowed me to start down a years-long road to fully identifying as bisexual, even though I’ve always known that I wasn’t straight. It took a little work to find queer stories with Black people, but once I found one, I found more and more and more.
The point I’m trying to make is that I have looked for Black queer love stories for most of my life and I have found them! They have buoyed me when I was at my lowest, when life seemed bleak and when looking at the news made my entire body hurt so much that I spent days in bed mourning.
So you can imagine how much it hurt when, in the midst of the most recent cluster of stories about American police officers killing Black people like Tony McDade and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, I saw bookish twitter accounts – some I follow, some I don’t – begin recommending books by Black authors that refused to recognize the full breadth of Black life and humanity. Romance accounts, specifically, were so cavalier in their lists that many recommended books by non-Black authors who wrote Black characters, sometimes problematically, because they didn’t read much romance by Black authors, but refused to cede space to reviewers and readers who did. Across the board, I watched romance outlets, writers, reviewers and readers, recommend books that focused on white characters, books filled with anti-Black stereotypes, and on top of all that many patently ignored queer Black authors and books with queer Black characters.
While I don’t particularly agree with recommending fiction in a moment where people need to confront the depths of their anti-blackness and begin to consider the realities of global white supremacy, watching romance readers who imagined themselves as supportive of diversity, erase (queer) Black people (authors and characters) dug deep in my chest. It sent the message that people like me and the characters I write don’t actually matter, even while people were putting the hashtag in their bios. It was an erasure that struck a painful chord because it reminded me that the people and stories I love – who are the center of my life – are so easily forgotten and ignored.
I love Black people. I love queer Black people and QPOC. They don’t just matter to me, they are precious. I would not be alive today without them. I would not be writing without them. And I would not have the solace of these stories on the days when I still can’t get out of bed because everything hurts. At least with the stories that Black authors have written, my heart doesn’t have to hurt nearly as much, because it is so full of love for queer Black people.
Unfortunately, even when I’m depressed, I have a near obsessive desire to catalog books, so I took to twitter to begin a thread of queer romance written by Black authors. I began with books I love by authors I respect and appreciate and asked for recommendations. What I found in this process was instructive in many ways. I made a few caveats for recommendations that might have seemed random at the time but were not. I asked that the author identify as Black, since I’d seen so many outlets recommending non-Black authors. It mattered to me that if the response to Black murder was to uplift Black authors, that those authors better be Black and stand firm in their blackness. I wanted to focus specifically on adult romance because the YA book community had rallied their recommendations firmly behind Black authors (trans, cis, queer and het). It was exciting to watch and frustrating to compare to the adult romance community.
The other critical requirement was that the books feature Black characters and all the love interests should be Black or other people of color. Again, this was not arbitrary. Romance, like other literary genres, is steeped in white supremacist narratives. It is not just that so many traditionally published romance authors are white, it is that the foundation of the genre is based on whiteness as the norm. The tropes and story structures and even the Happily Ever After (the only requirement of romance literature) have been defined by a white default, even when some of the characters are people of color.
The proliferation of romance stories (traditionally published, indie and self-pub) that peddle in anti-Black, homophobic, transphobic, racist and xenophobic stereotypes is alarming, but not new. What feels new are the ways in which so many of these books are classified as “diverse” and “inclusive” even when they are not. So when I asked that all the recommendations focus on Black and POC characters, it was because I wanted to create a list of queer romances that rejected the white supremacist narrative in romance that centers whiteness, that demands white love interests and requires a translation of queer love between characters of color for white audiences. I wanted to find books by Black authors who, hopefully, wrote for readers of color.
What I found in this process was a mixed bag, as much of life is. On the downside, I found that I spent hours of my day clarifying fairly clear instructions, asking readers to verify that the authors and characters were Black and POC. I found that some people were disinterested in the idea of queer Black people and QPOC loving one another. I found that readers, writers and reviewers – many who jumped at the chance to make recommendation lists themselves – had become comfortable ignoring blackness. They considered it incidental or a box to check on the list of diversity brownie points. They were perfectly fine to tokenize Black authors and characters but were never challenged to consider why.
But the other, far better, thing I discovered was the wealth of queer romance written by Black authors. There was Black Romance and IR, polyamorous, m/m, and even the apparently elusive f/f romance. There were so many bisexual and pansexual characters! I found contemporary and historical and paranormal and urban. Certainly, there is room to grow in many areas, for instance so far there is only one trans Black romance recommendation (noted below) and ace spectrum representation is similarly lacking. In this moment, I choose to celebrate that the few books we have exist, but I hope for more.
There were many highs and lows in this process. I won’t pretend that I didn’t often wish I hadn’t decided to field the barrage of twitter notifications in a moment when I really should have given myself peace and quiet. Self-care is a thing I’m working on, especially now. But for all the new books and authors I and others discovered, I’ve decided that the exercise was worth it.
Below are a sample of books that emerged in the conversation, some I’ve read, some I’ve moved up my TBR and some I’m waiting impatiently to be released. These are books that remind me of the things that were true at the beginning of this all. I love being Black with every cell in my body. This is not incidental to me. And queer Black people are still PRECIOUS and CRUCIAL to my life and well-being.
For even more recommendations put together by Katrina, check out this list on Goodreads! (Blogger’s Note: Please do not add to this list anything that does not fit the above-stated requirements or I may do a murder.)
Katrina is a college professor by day who writes romances by weekend when her cats allow. She writes high heat, diverse and mostly queer erotic romances and erotica. She also likes sleep, salt-and-pepper beards, and sunshine.
She’s super active on twitter. Follow her: @katrinajax
*All links are affiliate, bringing a small percentage of each purchase back to the site (Amz = Amazon | Bks = Bookshop)
Clever, funny, romantic, and empowering, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson (Scholastic, June 1) is just so much of what makes both Contemporary YA and YA Romance great. (And yes, it is an f/f Romance!) The second I finished reading it I wanted to pass my ARC around like candy, and while maybe that kind of sharing isn’t the best idea these days, I definitely recommend getting your hands on your own as soon as you can!
Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.
But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.
The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?