Today we welcome back to the site Ana Mardoll, who’s releasing another fantasy story collection, this one playing on fairytales and titled Cinder the Fireplace Boy and Other Gayly Grimm Tales! The book releases January 4, 2022, and contains Queer, Trans, Nonbinary, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Ace, and Aro rep, so there’s a little something for everyone! Come check it out:
Once upon a time there lived… a beautiful prince who kissed a frog. A cinder-smudged child who hid a secret. A princess who climbed a long braid of golden hair for love. A thumb-sized boy with the courage of a giant. And a valiant little tailor whose wit was as sharp as her needle.
These stories and many more await you in this delightful collection of classic fairy tales, lovingly retold and featuring characters who receive wonderfully queer happily-ever-afters! Let these new takes on the Brothers Grimm warm your heart and nurture your yearning to see yourself reflected in beloved favorites.
Features eight original illustrations by artist Alex Dingley.
Ana Mardoll is a writer, activist, and nonbinary trans boy in love with another trans boy. They live together in Texas with five spoiled cats. Ana’s favorite employment is weaving new tellings of old fairy tales, fashioning beautiful creations to bring comfort on cold nights. Ana is the author of the Earthside series, the Rewoven Tales novels, and many published short stories. (Pronouns: xie/xer) [More bio and pronouns here if you’re curious: http://www.anamardoll.com/p/writings.html]
Honestly, how dare Marie Rutkoski not only write my favorite YA fantasy trilogy of all time, but then go on to write my favorite Sapphic YA fantasy series opener as well? It’s just rude, is what it is. Not sure what I’m talking about? Then get thee to the buy links below and grab yourself a copy of the sharp and clever The Midnight Lie! (Already read and loved it? Good news: sequel The Hollow Heartreleases this month!)
Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colors. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.
Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.
But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.
Today on the site I’m thrilled to be revealing the cover of Rebecca Podos’s extremely Jewish contemporary bi YA fantasy, From Dust, A Flame, which releases from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on February 8, 2022! Here’s the story:
Hannah’s whole life has been spent in motion. Her mother has kept her and her brother, Gabe, on the road for as long as she can remember, leaving a trail of rental homes and faded relationships behind them. No roots, no family but one another, and no explanations.
All of that changes on Hannah’s seventeenth birthday when she wakes up transformed, a pair of golden eyes with knife-slit pupils blinking back at her from the mirror—the first of many such impossible mutations. Promising that she knows someone who can help, her mother leaves Hannah and Gabe behind to find a cure. But as the days turn to weeks and their mother doesn’t return, they realize it’s up to them to find the truth.
What they discover is a family they never knew, and a history more tragic and fantastical than Hannah could have dreamed—one that stretches back to her grandmother’s childhood in Prague under the Nazi occupation, and beyond, into the realm of Jewish mysticism and legend. As the past comes crashing into the present, Hannah must hurry to unearth their family’s secrets—and confront her own hidden legacy in order to break the curse and save the people she loves most, as well as herself.
Rebecca Podos, award-winning author of Like Water, returns with a contemporary fantasy of enduring love, unfathomable loss, and the power of stories to hold us together when it seems that nothing else can.
And here’s the cover, designed by Sarah Kaufman and illustrated by Lisa Sheehan!
Rebecca Podos’ debut novel, THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a B&N Best YA Book of 2016. Her second book, LIKE WATER, won the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Children’s and Young Adult. THE WISE AND THE WICKED, her third novel, was recently released. Forthcoming books include FOOLS IN LOVE (Running Press Kids, 2021), a co-edited YA anthology with Ashley Herring Blake, and FROM DUST, A FLAME (Balzer + Bray, 2022). An agent at the Rees Literary Agency in Boston, she can be found on her website, Rebeccapodos.com.
Today on the site, we’re revealing an excerpt from the upcoming Queen of All by Anya Josephs, an #ownvoices YA fantasy with a plus-size lesbian protagonist releasing from Zenith Press on June 8th. Here’s the story:
Jena lives on her family’s struggling farm and in her beautiful friend Sisi’s shadow. She’s not interested in Sisi’s plans to uncover the Kingdom’s darkest secrets: the suppression of magic, and the crown prince’s systemic murder of those who practice it.
Jena only wants to keep a secret of her own—her changing feelings for Sisi. Yet when a letter arrives summoning Sisi to the royal Midwinter Ball, Jena has no choice but to follow her into a new world of mystery and danger.
Sisi falls into a perilous romance with the very crown prince she despises. Desperate to save her, Jena searches for answers in the halls of the palace and in the ancient texts of its library.
She discovers that the chance to save her friend, and their world, lies in her own ability to bring the magic back and embrace her own power.
And here’s the excerpt!
The most beautiful girl in any of the Four Corners of the Earth kicks me awake in the middle of the night.
Through my half-open eyes and by the light of the moon, I can see her perfectly sculpted face looming over mine. Her ruby-red lips, so entrancing that a passing bard once wrote a lengthy ode in their honor, blow hot air directly up my nose. The bard, for obvious reasons, did not mention the stench of her morning breath. As she begins to wake up, I cough, try to turn over, and fumble for our shared blanket with the intention of pulling it over my head and going back to sleep. It’s gone.
As I reluctantly blink my way awake, our bedroom comes into focus: the white-washed walls, the low rafters, the ladder down into the main room, the trunk where we keep our clothes, and then Sisi, grinning triumphantly, holding the blanket over her head.
“What do you want?”
“And good morning to you too, my beloved cousin,” she says, her dark-rose cheeks dimpling in an extremely winsome fashion. Most people can’t stay mad at beautiful Sisi for long. Luckily, I’ve had plenty of practice. I was still only a baby when Sisi and her brother came to live here, so for fourteen years, she and I have been making each other, and driving each other, mad.
“No, you see, morning happens after the nighttime. Which is what we’re having now. Nighttime. Morning is later.”
“Well technically, it’s after midnight. Thus, good morning.” She smiles at me again.
“And before dawn. Thus, good night.” I make another futile grab for the blanket, but Sisi has a good six inches of height on me and is quicker than I am even when I’m not drowsy from sleep. Defeated, I slump back against the frame of our bed. “Come on, you didn’t just wake me up in the middle of the night so that we could debate the finer points of timekeeping. Are you up to something? You already know I won’t want to be a part of it.”
“Listen.” She points down at the floor of our bedroom. Because we sleep up in the attic, I can just barely hear a low rumble of voices through the floorboards, coming from the main room below. “What are they doing awake at this hour? There must be something interesting going on.” Question and answer, all in one. As usual, I seem to be altogether unnecessary in this conversation Sisi is having with herself.
“Yes. I’m sure the price of grain has gone up fifteen milar a tonne, or something.”
“You have no spirit of adventure,” Sisi accuses.
“Another of my many faults.”
“Fine, then I’ll go by myself, and I shan’t tell you what I find.”
“Have fun. Do try not to get caught,” I advise.
She turns to face me fully, batting her long, dark eyelashes at me. It’s a trick that would certainly work on any of her many admirers among the local boys, but I’m immune to that kind of flattery. “Please, Jena? Sweet cousin, my dearest friend, it’ll be ever so much better if you just come with me.”
“Come where? Down the stairs? It’s not much of a valiant quest, even if I were inclined to be your brave companion.” After a moment’s thought, I add, “And I’m reasonably sure that I’m your only friend.”
But Sisi has no trouble continuing her conversation with herself, with or without input from me. “I’m sure you saw that carriage coming up the drive today?”
“No, it was a horse-drawn carriage!” Now, that’s a decent bit of news, I must admit. People around here use pushcarts, or occasionally mules and donkeys. Horses are unofficially reserved for the Numbered, as anyone without noble blood is unlikely to be able to afford their feed and upkeep. I carefully arrange my expression so Sisi won’t see that she’s caught my interest, but she continues on unabated. “Anyway, Aunt Mae might have said that, but I know for a fact that wasn’t the potter’s lad.”
“So Daren’s finally got himself fired, and the potter’s found someone new. I don’t see why that’s such a big deal.” The potter’s apprentice is famous around town for his clumsiness, and it would be no surprise to anyone if someone more suited to such a delicate profession replaced him. Daren is a good-hearted lad, as Aunt Mae always says, and he does works hard, but he likely breaks more pots carrying them in from the kiln than he sells in one piece. This is especially true when he delivers jugs for the cider press on our farm, since his infatuation with Sisi makes him nervous. Of course, everyone fancies Sisi—he’s not alone in that, just a little more hopeless than most.
“It wasn’t anyone from the potter’s. Nor anyone else from Leasane. It was a man around your father’s age. Better dressed, though, in some sort of gold-and-purple uniform. He gave Uncle Prinn a sheet of paper. I couldn’t quite see what was on it, but it was stamped with a golden seal and I’m sure it’s the Sign of the Three Powers itself. So, I can only assume that your father has been given a message from the Royal Court in the Capital. How often do you think a messenger from the King’s own home rides across half the Earth to seek out an apple farmer? And what could be in such a message?” She looks about ready to faint as she finishes her speech, her cheeks flushed with the effort of having so much to say so quickly.
I have to concede that this is indeed a good point—but I have a few good points of my own to make. “Sounds too good to be true. Which means it probably is. Perhaps this messenger just wanted a cup of cider and directions back to the High Road. If it was anything more than that, we’ll hear about it soon enough. In the meantime, why not go to bed? Or at least lie here and speculate so as to spare ourselves the inevitable results of snooping into what’s none of our business: we sneak out, we get caught, we get beaten, we get sent right back where we started no better off but for sore backsides.”
“You are becoming frightfully dull lately. Ever since that incident on market day—”
“Which was all your fault, I might add, though it was me who took all the blame. Here’s an idea, Jena, let’s not do our chores today! Oh, let’s steal the apple cart and ride it into town! It’ll be fun! We’ll meet boys! We’ll buy candies at the market! We won’t get caught! And when we do get caught, I certainly won’t run away home and pretend never to have left my sewing and not say a word when Jena’s getting thrashed for it!”
“Bruises heal. Unsatisfied curiosity never does.”
“I don’t know, I’m still a little sore—” To be honest, my feelings were hurt worse than my backside. Aunt Mae is strict, but she’d never thrash us so hard that bruises dealt out a week prior would still hurt. What stings isn’t the beating, now, as Sisi points out, healed and mostly forgotten. It’s the fact that I’d gotten one, and Sisi hadn’t. As usual, I get stuck taking all of the blame and the pain with Sisi getting away scot-free, since she’s too pretty and charming for anyone but me to stay angry with.
“A half hour, that’s all. Won’t you give your poor dear cousin, near to you as a sister, your closest kin in affection if not in blood, a half-hour’s worth of your rest, when I would wake a thousand night’s watching for you…”
I roll my eyes, but I must confess, even just to myself, that I do quite want to know what’s going on down in the kitchen. As usual, Sisi is, infuriatingly, right. “Just half an hour?”
“Thirty minutes, to the instant,”she promises, smiling with all the innocence she can muster.
“Shake on it, you scoundrel. I can’t trust you.”
She spits in her hand and offers it to me, and I take it. Sometimes I think Sisi would not have made a very good Lady of a Numbered House, even if her brother had not left the Numbered for his unsuitable marriage with my cousin Merri. Sisi and I shake, and then she yanks me out of the bed by our joined hands.
Today on the site we’re revealing the cover of D.N. Bryn’s Once Stolen, the followup to Our Bloody Pearl, releasing July 27, 2021! Here’s the story:
Ignit rocks fuel the jungle, from the colonists’ fan boats to the livelihoods of the native swamp warriors.
Ignits also fuel the mer-snake Cacao—fuel him with an irresistible desire to filch the glowing stones.
When Cacao botches a theft from a notorious ignit cartel, his chaotic escape leaves him chained to their prisoner: a self-proclaimed hero with a hidden stash of ignits so large, Cacao would never need to steal again. He’s determined to get his hands on it, even if that means guiding her through the mist-laden swamps he’s exiled from, tracked by scheming poachers and a desperate cartel leader.
But the selfish and the self-righteous can only flee together for so long before something snaps…
Return to Our Bloody Pearl’s steampunk-inspired world of merfolk in this fun, fast-paced adventure with a hate-to-love romance, a boat-load of sass, and even more heart.
And here’s the ominous cover, designed by Laya Rose!
Want a little taste of the book? Here’s a brief excerpt!
“How do you know this stuff?” Thais asks.
With a shrug, I lie out along the deck, my tail still twisted up in the driver’s seat. I tug my ignit out of my necklace to rub it before I sign, “I like rocks.”
The gentle lap of the peaceful Murk water vibrates against the side of the boat, small animals romping through the trees around us. Thais stares at me, her expression a crinkled mess. Then her chest shudders violently.
I bolt upright, half-annoyed and—well, fully annoyed, and not the least bit worried that the poison in her veins might be giving her some kind of spasm again. “It’s true. I just like rocks, okay.”
“No—I—” She keeps quaking, and it finally hits me that the vibration might be laughter. “I think it’s funny. You say you just like rocks while wearing a rock necklace, playing with a rock, traveling through the Murk to get more rocks. Your entire life revolves around rocks. Of course you would know so much about ignits.”
“Fuck off, boat shit,” I grumble. “I can love rocks if I want to.”
“I think it’s nice, Cacao.” She brushes her wiry curls back, tucking her feet beneath her legs. “You have something that means a lot to you. Most people go their entire lives and never find a passion like that.” Her hands lower, and she raps out a rhythm against the center seating block. She repeats it three times before her words finally sink in.
“You’re the only one who feels that way.”
Thais pokes me in the shoulder. “Hey now, I never said I approved of your actions. It’s nice—good—that you love something. It’s not nice that your love hurts other people.”
I roll my eyes. “That’s called greed.”
Her cheeks puff out and she shakes her head. “Fungus brain.”
Danny Bryn is a queer, disabled, non-binary speculative fiction author of the liberal Jesus-freak variety. When not writing, they conduct infectious disease surveillance in their hometown of San Diego, where they enjoy basking in the Santa Ana winds, hiking the brush-heavy slopes, and eating too many tacos. Once Stolen is their second book in the These Treacherous Tides universe.
Hello, North African-inspired Sapphic military fantasy with heavy themes of colonialism and rebellion, and welcome to the party of can’t-miss adult SFF out this year. The Unbroken by debut author C.L. Clark is about a soldier who’s been stationed in the very same land from which she was taken and conscripted as a child and the princess of the empire behind it all, who’s determined to take her place as its rightful heir. It’s heartbreaking, maddening, and all kinds of charged, and it releases from Orbit Books on March 23rd!
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.
I’m asked often for fiction that deals with recovery, and I haven’t had many recs to offer; it’s not rep to take lightly. So when Gideon E. Wood approached me with a guest post about exactly that, tied to the release of his brand-new fantasy, The Stagsblood Prince, I jumped at it, and I hope you love it as much as I do.
Before we get to the post, here’s a little more about The Stagsblood Prince, a gay fantasy epic trilogy opener set in a homophobia-free world:
Tel, handsome crown prince of Feigh, has negotiated an end to the war between his country and the strange queendom of Omela. He looks forward to an easy reign of wild parties and wilder men. The deities have other ideas, however, in this gay fantasy novel of transformation, redemption, and love.
When his father dies suddenly, Tel is outmaneuvered by his brother, losing the throne. Tel’s faith prohibits him from raising his sword and spilling blood, so he accepts the humiliation, working to temper his brother’s baser impulses. But the new king’s reign takes a dark turn, and his collaborators begin to round up undesirables, including those with a magic called the stagsblood.
Tel must decide: Flee or fight? Running means abandoning his people to his brother’s evil whims. Standing his ground means the sin of total war. He has no army and only a few allies—and his magical secret.
Caip, his closest friend and protector, brings military experience and blunt advice. Her right hand, Dar, is the picture of loyalty. Tough, battle-scarred Bin doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And Vared, a mysterious singer-turned-diplomat from Omela, speaks the truth to Tel in ways no one else can.
White. American. Cisgender. Male. Gay. Queer, in my more festive moments. Writer. Progressive. Cat dad. Frequent smirker. Fallen vegan. I suppose I could sit here for hours bullet-pointing my identity. With enough thought, I could get incredibly granular about it. It might even be fun. But there’s one aspect of my identity—one bullet point—before which I put all others: I’m a person in addiction recovery. If I want to be a shade more clinical about it (and why not?), I’m a person with substance use disorder in sustained remission. Fancy!
My understanding of how addiction works (booze and powder cocaine, primarily, if you must know) forces me to—mindfully and regularly—own my recovery before any other aspect of my identity. I drank-and-used myself into homelessness and suicidality, so it is quite literally a matter of life and death for me. So, more than I ponder my race and what it means, more than I ponder my nationality and what it means, more than I ponder even my dude-on-dudeness and what it means, I must ponder my addiction and what it means. This approach has served me well over the last (oh, my gods!) decade, so I have no interest in switching it up. I don’t want to drink. I don’t want to use. I don’t want to die.
When you think about our expanding string of letters (LGBTQ+ is not really an acronym, let alone LGBTQQIP2SAA+…don’t get me started), I’d ask you to imagine a superscript lowercase r—for recovering or recovery available—attached to each. We’re here. We’re queer (or whathaveyou). Even within our community, we are not yet used to it. I find this shocking.
If we take a few minutes to consider it, most of us will intuitively understand that substance use disorder runs rampant through our private and public LGBTQ+ spaces. If your own anecdotal evidence fails to convince you (and good on ya for that, really), rest assured: the research has been done. Among others, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) acknowledge significantly higher rates of substance use disorder in the LGBTQ+ population. The reasons for this prevalence are probably self-evident: trauma, rejection, domestic strife, stigma, the risk of assault, and so on. And it’s not only addiction. These factors seem to increase risk for all manner of mental or behavioral health difficulties for us. Sadly, the science has also found serious gaps in treatment and support services for our community.
Most of us already believe representation matters. Again, the evidence is there, both anecdotally and in the research. Visibility improves our physical and mental safety, along with our feelings of wellbeing. Whatever our place in our long string of letters, our stories are not told frequently enough. In recent years, we have seen improvement on that front. We are raising our voices, finally. And some are learning to listen.
But where’s my lowercase r? Where’s the representation of queer addiction and—even more importantly, I’d argue—queer recovery? Both our guts and our sociology tell us we should be seeing those stories more than we do. We should be hearing those voices begin to rise. They are there, if we really search and listen, but they are few and far between. When I do encounter them, they tend to be in memoir or narrative nonfiction, and usually depictions of folks in the thick of it. What about after the thick of it? Especially in fiction. And I’m sorry, but I was a mess for a really long time, then I walked into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and all was well does not cut this particular mustard. As we say in recovery circles, we don’t wander into the dark heart of the wilderness for twenty years and then find ourselves safe and comfy at home the moment after we’ve realized we’re lost. It takes time. It takes work. It’s a hike. (Incidentally, I’m sure these stories are out there somewhere, so get in touch! I anxiously await your recs.)
I write fantasy with LGBTQ+ characters. When planning my debut, The Stagsblood Prince, I knew I wanted my main character to represent not just queerness but queerness in motion from active addiction to sustained recovery. Fantasy may not seem like a natural fit for such storytelling, but like all other human foibles and frailties, addiction and recovery are highlighted and brought into crisp relief when placed before a fantastical backdrop of myth and magic.
In fact, the genre may be more suited than most to lift these stories up. I had my own path to putting down substances and my own path to not picking those substances back up for a long while now. There are as many of these roadways as there are people in recovery. My approach may not work for you. We’ve found no silver bullets in the mountain of strategies, but plenty of overlap. Commonalities—shared principles—can be found among the many and varied recovery schools of thought.
Prince Tel of The Stagsblood Prince cannot walk into a Twelve Step meeting or secular support group. Such spaces do not exist in his world. He can’t Zoom with his therapist. There is no Zoom. There are no therapists. He has no psychopharmacology of which to avail himself. Inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, hospitalization? Nope.
What, then, can Prince Tel do? He can learn to practice the principles of treatment and recovery which keep millions of people (the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services says it’s about 23.5 million in the US alone) away from substances here on non-fantasy earth. Tel can tend to his physical, mental, and spiritual health in myriad ways. He can foster habitual gratitude. He can strive for honesty in all matters. He can lessen his burdens by sharing his struggles with others. He can interrogate himself and uncover the flawed thinking at the heart of his troubles. Most importantly, he can learn to ask for help when he needs it. And he’ll need it! He’s got love to find and a world in need of saving.
First and foremost, I hope The Stagsblood Prince entertains. As I see it, that’s my job. In my wilder dreams, though, at least one of you will see yourself represented in Tel and his journey. If you’re finding your use of alcohol or other substances problematic today, maybe you’ll see that recovery is possible. Believe me, the aforementioned asking for help stuff is powerful medicine. (SAMHSA and NIDA are good starting points for resources. My inbox is also always open.) If you’re already on the road, maybe Tel will keep you walking for a while.
We’re here. We’re queer. We are more likely to find ourselves in addiction. We are just as likely as anyone to recover. It’s well past time to get used to it.
Gideon E. Wood writes gay fantasy fiction. He has been proudly clean and sober since 2011. Second chances and transformation are at the heart of his work. Gideon lives in New England with his cat but thinks it’s important you know he isn’t a cat person.
Fun fact: one of the last things I did before the pandemic hit was have lunch with this author, so you can say I’ve been looking forward to this book for a loooong time. Maxine Kaplan’s Wench releases today from Amulet/Abrams, and here’s the story:
Tanya has worked at her tavern since she was able to see over the bar. She broke up her first fight at 11. By the time she was a teenager she knew everything about the place, and she could run it with her eyes closed. She’d never let anyone—whether it be a drunkard or a captain of the queen’s guard—take advantage of her. But when her guardian dies, she might lose it all: the bar, her home, her purpose in life. So she heads out on a quest to petition the queen to keep the tavern in her name—dodging unscrupulous guards, a band of thieves, and a powerful, enchanted feather that seems drawn to her. Fast-paced, magical, and unapologetically feminist, Wench is epic fantasy like you’ve never seen it before.
And here’s Maxine, with a guest post that’s very close to my heart about finding herself through writing Wench and its bi main character!
I started writing Wench with a clear and deeply-held agenda: There would be no romance.
It’s not something I talked about a lot. When I talked about the book, I talked about my simultaneous love for and frustration with classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy; I talked about how I wanted to flesh out fantasy archetypes with humor and humanity; and I mostly talked about my titular tavern wench, Tanya, and how I’d never seen that ubiquitous non-playable background character get to have her own adventure, or even a name most of the time. What I didn’t say was that I was determined to get Tanya through one (1) whole entire epic quest without the interference or influence of a love interest.
I thought of it as a secret mission. I knew how much readers, and especially readers of YA fantasy, expected at least a glimmer of romantic or sexual tension, and I didn’t want to turn them off before they even cracked the spine. But it was that very expectation of romance that bothered me. I hated the expectation that a girl couldn’t have an epic adventure without falling in love along the way. I cringed at the idea of Tanya achieving self-discovery and actualization through the medium of who she wanted to kiss. It felt wrong to me—even anti-feminist. I loathed the idea that something I wrote could reinforce the message that young people receive every day that says: You are nothing and no one until somebody wants to make out with you.
Tanya was going on a quest to win back her tavern. The world I had devised and the story engine I had built didn’t need any romance to make it go. And I was determined that I wouldn’t shoe-horn in a romance (and especially not a love triangle) just to fit the market—because Tanya deserved better, damn it!
And then Tanya taught me that I was wrong. Because, despite my clear intentions to the contrary, two characters showed up who would just not stop having chemistry with Tanya. One was a boy and he was very much within my own crush wheelhouse historically speaking: smart, funny, and angry. I think I just liked writing him and, slowly, he and Tanya fell into chemistry, like real people do. It was quiet, but it was on the page. I couldn’t deny it.
The other was a girl and nothing in my own writing has ever surprised me more.
This girl was always part of the story, for sure. She had been in my outline from go. I knew she was a happy-go-lucky rogue; a thief who loved violence and smiled a lot. So that’s how I wrote her and, without my even having to try, she and hyper-competent, independent, snarky Tanya smacked into each other with the electricity of a lightning storm. Writing good sexual tension—satisfying, believable tension–is hard to do. I know it is, because I’ve tried to do it. But with these two, I didn’t have to try. I didn’t even think about it, not once. It just was.
It got to the point that my strict avoidance of any mention of romance was rendering the story legitimately confusing for any reader. That’s how clear the chemistry between these two was—the completely unplanned, unlooked for, and even unwanted chemistry. But however inadvertent the romance between the two girls was, I eventually had to own up to a simple fact: I wrote it, so I was invested in it.
I grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s as a cis female. It was a time when calling oneself bisexual had a lot of cultural connotations that I was frankly uncomfortable with. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I had a lot of internalized biphobia. I remember being “scared” that I might be attracted to girls—because, sometimes, I was. But I was also attracted to guys. I had no confusion on that score, so I quietly filed all the moments of attraction to girls away in a mental folder labeled “anomalies” and got on with my life as a straight woman.
That was a mistake. That was short-sighted. I wish that, when I was Tanya’s age, I had paid better attention to who and what I actually was: queer. And the thing is? I think that if I had been Tanya’s age today, in 2021, I wouldn’t have had that problem. Because I would have had books like the ones LGBTQReads writes about every day.
And that’s how I came around on romance in my YA. Wench is a book, at its heart, about found families and finding community, which in and of itself, is a process hardwired to identity. You can’t find where you belong without knowing who you are. And you can’t find out who you are by shutting down, or shutting out, the voices in your head telling you who you want. A good book romance isn’t about finding a partner; it’s about a character learning more about themselves, and, sometimes, a romance—whether it’s successful, disastrous, or unrequited— can help with that process. It can be a means to an end as much as it can be its own happily ever after.
The romance I found in Wench helped me remember who I was. It reminded me to honor what has always been true about me. And there’s nothing anti-feminist about that.
Maxine Kaplan is a private investigator and writer. Her books are The Accidental Bad Girl and Wench. She lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY, where she caters to the whims of her dim, but soulful cat. Follow her on Twitter @maxinegkaplan.
I’m so excited to welcome A Curse of Roses author Diana Pinguicha back to the site today to celebrate the release of her debut, and to discuss the delicious food in it! The f/f YA fantasy just released yesterday from Entangled Teen, and if you click on the title above, you can check out the first two chapters right here on LGBTQReads. Already read and loved them? Then read on to learn about its culinary delights!
Disclaimer: I love food. I’ve always loved cooking, and baking, and some of my best memories are with my grandma Nini, who was an out-of-this-world cook. I still think she had some sort of magic in her, because every dish she touched came out delicious. She was also notoriously bad about writing down her recipes, because, well… she didn’t follow any, not really. Portuguese people don’t do measuring cups, or instructions when cooking—we just throw stuff in with confidence and whatever happens, happens.
And, in true grandmother fashion, she’d feed me until I dropped. Much to my mom’s chagrin, since I was obese as a child, and whenever I went to my nana’s I’d come back much heavier than when she dropped me off. I believe Nana’s overfeeding came from the fact that she, much like the rest of my family, starved during the dictatorship, and once she had access to food, she saw no reason not to overindulge. There would be times when I’d cry because I wasn’t supposed to be eating so much. But my nana always made me feel at ease about my weight and appetite. She said, “Fat isn’t ugly, and you’re always so happy when you eat. So eat!”
That was another aspect of her that I thought was magical. She cared only for my happiness. She was the only one who never judged me for being “a difficult kid” and would always be kind to me, even when I wasn’t kind to myself. She was also the only person who would let me just be. If I wanted to be left alone in a corner to read, or play video games, she’d let me. If I wanted to hijack the kitchen to make desserts (which she did not like to make) she’d let me. Really, I don’t have enough words to express how much I love her and miss her, and how utterly good she was.
Now that my nana has passed, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to replicate what she’d serve me. The taste is still vivid in my memories, and if I close my eyes, I can remember what her chickpea stew tasted like, her ensopado, her migas. More than anything, I wanted to honor the memories of the food she made me, and because A CURSE OF ROSES takes place in Alentejo, it was the perfect opportunity to highlight the gastronomy of my home region. I’ve mentioned above that people from my family largely starved during the dictatorship, and it’s true for a lot of Alentejo and other interior regions. The way Alentejanos had of making their food last was to add the stale bread they had lying around, and for that reason, a lot of our dishes include it. And since Isabel of Aragon’s miracle involved turning bread into roses—which was another great excuse to go all-in on Alentejo cuisine.
During my research, I also found that many Alentejo dishes have their origin with the Moors. The chickpea stew my nana made? A variation of what is now the Moroccan Harira. The broas? They’re a variation of the Arabic ghoribas. The Encharcada? It’s a variant of Qalb El Louz. The Almendrados? They’re remarkably like the Mlouwza. Which, at a time when people are trying to erase our Moor past, seemed very important for me to include.
So, the gastronomy in ACOR? It’s everything I grew up eating.
There’s açorda (which I stylized as assorda, since medieval serigraphy didn’t have the ç), which is an inexpensive dish that fed my family many a times, and that we make together every Christmas Eve at 3 am. All you need for it is garlic, cilantro, olive oil, stale bread, eggs, and boiling water. Eggs aren’t really mandatory, though. And, if you’re feeling fancy, you can add some fish such as cod.
The chickpea stew (Cozido de Grão), which is made with chickpeas, and a lot of other vegetables, such as kale, carrots, and so on. It’s also usually cooked with meat, and my grandma did it with pork. When I was younger and had textural issues with all the different veggies, she’d also pass it through an immersion blender so I could eat it, and whenever my parents told her not to, she’d just give them a smile and say, “It’s two minutes of my time, and if this helps her eat better, I’m doing it.”
Pork is another big player in Alentejo gastronomy. I mention the slaughter season in ACOR, and it’s another thing I’ve lived with. Every February, my grandparents would slaughter a pig, and the neighbors would help them with several cuts, sausages, and so on. No part of the pig went to waste—not even the blood, which is used in some dishes and sausages. The things we made with a single pork would last us almost an entire year, and in older times, the chouriço, and the toucinho, and all that, would be used as something to trade for. It was also not uncommon to have a pig the entire neighborhood took care of, and then divided come slaughter. I do not miss that part of the year, and I haven’t eaten pork in over a decade—but it plays a huge part in our gastronomy, and so, I included it.
Then there is Migas, which is literally bread you throw into a pan, and then water until it breaks up. Some people will also add the fat that’s leftover from cooking the pork—but again, I don’t eat pork, so I actually use regular water and fry it in a bit of olive oil and garlic.
Conventual sweets also make an appearance. There’s Rala Bread (Pão de Rala), which is essentially, flour, sugar, and eggs. There are also Gadanhas, native to my hometown of Estremoz, and they’re based on eggs and almonds.
There’s another aspect I had to consider, and that was what kind of food would be available to you depending on social class. Commoners would be mostly vegetarian, save for the aforementioned pork days and the occasional chicken, or some animal they hunted, as commoners were allowed to hunt in their Lords’ lands in times where food was scarce. Hunting was also another way my family had to feed themselves during the dictatorship (and they kept ferrets solely for the purpose of hunting rabbits!) Meanwhile, the nobility would be gorging on everything, from wine and meats. Sweetwater fish are also part of Alentejo gastronomy, like the boga and the bordalo—fish that are slowly disappearing because of the pollution in our rivers.
There were other dishes I wanted to include, but couldn’t due to the fact that the ingredients were not native to Europe, and could not be realistically delivered. The Tomato Soup (Sopas de Tomate) was one, as were the pumpkin Dreams (Sonhos), and the Ensopado (because it requires potatoes), and the tomatada (that’s when you cook in a delicious tomato sauce—my nana learned to make that especially for me). I also could not include cod-based dishes, which was a shame, but alas. Hopefully there will be other books set in more modern times, where I can highlight those as well.
And I hope this blog post has piqued your curiosity in our humble Alentejo food! I promise it’s as delicious as it sounds!
Check out an excerpt and/or buy A Curse of Roseshere!
Born in the sunny lands of Portugal, Diana grew up in Estremoz, and now lives in Lisbon with two extremely fluffy cats and one amazing bearded dragon. A Computer Engineer graduate from Instituto Superior Técnico, she has worked in award-winning educational video games, but writing is where her heart always belonged. When she’s not working on her books, she can be found painting, immersed in books or video games, or walking around with her dragon.
Today on the site I am so excited to reveal the cover of The Last 8 author Laura Pohl’s first book in her brand new series, The Grimrose Girls! A Beautiful Doom releases from Sourcebooks on August 3rd and features two f/f couples, a demi-bisexual lead, and an aroace lead, and if dark academia and fairytales are your jam, this is your next can’t-miss read. Check out the blurb:
The Descendants meets Pretty Little Liars in this story of four troubled friends, one murdered girl, and a dark fate that may leave them all doomed. Reimagined fairytale heroines must uncover connections to their ancient curses and forge their own paths… before it’s too late.
After the mysterious death of their best friend, Ella, Yuki, and Rory are the talk of their elite school, Grimrose Académie. The police ruled Ariane’s death as a suicide, but the trio are determined to find out what really happened.
When Nani Eszes arrives as their newest roommate, it sets into motion a series of events that no one could have predicted. As the girls retrace their friend’s final days, they discover a dark secret about Grimrose—Ariane wasn’t the first dead girl.
They soon learn that all the past murders are connected to ancient fairytale curses…and that their own fates are tied to the stories, dooming the girls to brutal and gruesome endings unless they can break the cycle for good.
And here’s the iconic cover, designed by Maggie Edkins and Nicole Hower!
But wait, there’s more! We also have the first two chapters: read on!
The first day of school started with a funeral.
This was not, of course, the usual for the Grimrose Académie for Elite Students, whose student body mostly lived to their eighties, and went on to command corporate conglomerates or win Academy Awards, Nobel Prizes and other such trifles. Therefore, everyone was shocked, and whispers were heard in every corner of the castle, from the library tower to the girl’s bathroom on the fifth floor.
The whispers, especially, followed Eleanor Ashworth.
Ella gazed upward self-consciously, tightening her hand on the strap of her bag. “How long do you think this is going to last?”
Eleanor, known to her friends only as Ella, was a small girl of seventeen, with light blond hair cut to her chin and equally light brown eyes, reddened cheeks, freckles all over her face and arms, and clothes that had seen better days. The whispers had followed her before, but never with such commitment.
“A month, if we’re lucky.” Yuki, Ella’s best friend answered, a crease appearing in her ivory forehead.
“We won’t be,” Rory muttered, glaring at a group of younger girls who dared to dart eyes in their direction. “What the hell are you looking at?”
“You do realize that attracts even more attention, right?” Yuki said, raising an eyebrow.
“At least I’ll get a reason to fight,” Rory replied with a satisfied shrug.
The Grimrose Académie was exclusive not only in name, but also in reputation. Its location in Switzerland and the exorbitant prices ensured that only the richest and most powerful were able to attend. It sat on one of Alps’ most beautiful lakes and boasted a giant fairytale-like castle with four towers and white marble, gardens extending beyond the mountains that surrounded them, and a crystalline lake to complete the view.
Studying at Grimrose was a guarantee of your future. When you studied at Grimrose, nothing could ever go wrong.
Except that on the eve of the first day of school, one of the Académie’s most exceptional students had drowned in the lake.
For most students, it meant an uproar. For the Académie, it meant an open line for calling parents reassuring the safety of their children, and keeping the death out of the papers. Drowned in the lake besides the school, alone.
But for Ella, Yuki, and Rory, it wasn’t just another tragedy. Ariane Van Amstel had been their best friend.
Ella avoided the stares and the whispers, knowing all the students wanted to ask her the same questions. Had she been suicidal? Did she know how to swim? Did Ella know she was sad? And why hadn’t Ella helped her?
The last question was the worst, the reminder a sting.. How could she not know if one of her best friends had done the unthinkable? Ariane had been happy, daughter of a rich businessman from Holland and with a bright future ahead of her. Just like everyone in the Académie.
Well, everyone except Eleanor Ashworth.
The worst part about the stares was how they made her feel ashamed, because she ought to have done something. She should have acted. She should have saved her friend, because that’s what friends did.
Ella stepped forward in the cafeteria line, looking at their lonely table in the corner. Everyone else in the cafeteria was lively, friends gathering for the first time in three months, groups coming together with only happiness in their minds. But for them, the table was missing something. Stacie caught her looking wistfully at the popular table, and she gave the smallest nod to her stepsister.
Stacie and Silla, her twin stepsisters, belonged to Grimrose in a way that Ella couldn’t. They paid full tuition. Ella was the scholarship student.
In truth, Stacie and Silla owed their place to Ella. The Académie had personally invited her, but her stepmother ruled that she would go only as long as there had been openings for her two daughters. That had been five years ago. Sharon said if Ella wanted to go to an expensive school, she had to deserve it.
Rory slammed her tray on their table as they settled down. The table felt too big for them now. There was a space where Ariane was supposed to be, at the table she had chosen herself. It felt like a part of her was missing, and Ella could not find anything big enough to hide that absence.
The three girls sat in silence. Ella finished her lunch and opened her bag to pick a pair of knitting needles.
“Knitting already?” Rory asked, chewing with her mouth open.
“This is just…” Ella started. “I promised Ari. Couldn’t finish it because Sharon kept nagging me last week. So now I have to finish it before… before…”
She didn’t finish her sentence, letting out a frustrated breath. Ella knew she was ranting. That she was stuck in a loop. She had to finish her goodbye present. If she didn’t, then…
The good thing was that Ella’s brain could not imagine a consequence worse than the situation they were already in.
“The memorial is this afternoon,” Ella said. “I promised it. I’m doing it. Ella Ashworth doesn’t let her friends down.”
Not even if they were dead, she thought to herself.
Yuki Miyashiro waited for her friends in the garden.
She stood perfectly still as other students passed her, glancing at the tall lonely figure with ivory white skin and dark hair like a raven’s feathers that fell over her shoulders, turning their heads when they met the merciless black eyes.
The memorial was being held in the garden, the only place that could hold all the students, despite being inconveniently close to the lake where Ariane had drowned.
When Rory and Ella showed up, they went in silence together. The gardens were lush and covered in flowers and bright tones of green, the last touches of summer.
“You all right?” Ella asked, and for a moment, Yuki’s stomach twisted in guilt. She should be the one asking the question.
Ella had been her best friend since their first day of school, when Ella had declared Yuki’s shoes were the most beautiful she’d ever seen, and therefore both of them had to be friends. Only later Ella confessed that she didn’t like the shoes that much, but that she found complimenting people was always the best way to make friends.
Yuki wouldn’t know. She didn’t have a lot of friends.
“I’m all right,” Yuki answered, even though it was a lie.
Ella pulled her knitting from her bag. Ella always needed something to do with her hands. She took a deep breath, and Rory glanced at them both.
“You’ve been taking the pills?” Rory asked.
“Yeah,” Ella replied. “Wait, you think I haven’t?”
“That’s not what she said,” Yuki interrupted.
“I’ve been taking them.”
Rory looked at Yuki for reassurance, but Yuki could offer nothing. Ella had been diagnosed with severe OCD and anxiety over a year ago, and it was still an adjustment..
It was a short walk. Every student was wearing their uniform, liberty blue skirts and pants, white shirts and silver ties and periwinkle blue blazers, a crowd of blue descending the path. The rain had stopped but the clouds had stayed, and the sky was gray like the mountaintops. Students started filling the front, but Yuki preferred the back.
Ariane’s parents were standing in the front row. There was no coffin—they would take the body home, sealed up so no one would ever see the bright red flaming head of hair, but there was a picture of her. Yuki avoided Ari’s eyes, and stared at the ground.
Ella had sat down almost immediately on the chair, and Yuki closed her eyes, but there were the whispers, talking of the bloated body, talking of Ariane drowning, her body sinking into the lake, and how they had found her, face up, barely recognizable. Accident. Suicide. Same thing. It didn’t matter. She was dead.
When Reyna Castilla stepped to the pulpit, Yuki was almost glad to hear her stepmother’s voice.
“It’s with great sorrow we are gathered here today,” she started. “One of our most promising students has been taken from us so abruptly. Ariane was a great student, and beloved by all. It’s difficult to describe how terrible her loss…”
Yuki tuned all of it out. Reyna didn’t know Ariane enough to truly understand what it meant to lose her. Her loss was pure, untainted by knowing and loving Ariane.
Yuki’s loss was not pure.
When she looked up, she saw another face in the crowd. Edric, Ariane’s ex-boyfriend. Only one week after he and Ari had broken up, he’d been with someone else. All over each other in the halls.
Yuki wished she could watch him choke.
To calm herself down, she recited the facts of the case to herself.
Ariane did not know how to swim. Ariane would not go near the lake at night. Ariane would not leave without saying goodbye. But there had been no foul play discovered.
Reyna’s eulogy ended, and Ari’s father took over the microphone, giving another thankful speech. All the students in the school were courteous enough to pretend they cared, even though Ariane did not belong with them.
She belonged to us.
Yuki’s heart beat faster in her chest.
The memorial dissolved little after that. Ella got up before any of them could stop her and walked decidedly over to Ariane’s parents. Yuki could almost hear what Ella was saying. She could imagine her words would be firm and kind. A flash of a smile from Ariane’s mother, a hug, Ella handing them the sweater she’d finished.
Someone else approached Yuki, and she turned to see her stepmother.
Reyna rarely looked tired, but today, Yuki could glimpse something raw in her, as if she’d lowered a barrier that wouldn’t be lowered again in the next hundred years.
Reyna didn’t look like she was old enough to be Yuki’s stepmother. Her medium brown skin was flawless, and her rich chocolate brown hair fell in generous waves over her shoulders. She dressed the part of the Headmistress at least, today a dark red dress that was both formal and elegant.
“Walk back with me?” Reyna asked, gesturing to the castle.
Yuki obeyed, as she always did. Perfect posture, walking calmly side by side. Their shoulders never touched. The silence stretched as they climbed.
“How are you doing?” Reyna asked at last, not unkindly.
Yuki did not answer for a moment. She knew what was expected of her. She’d seen the answer in Ella’s hands, in Ella’s gestures, in Ella’s words. She was supposed to be holding up, to accept her loss gracefully, to think of the others.
“Fine,” she answered curtly. “Just fine.”
Reyna paused as they climbed and Yuki was forced to stop her march.
“Yuki, one of your friends just died,” Reyna said. “I’m asking because I know you can’t be all right.”
“Well, I am.”
She spoke the words with such conviction that she almost felt like she could hear them ringing across the gardens, across the leaves and carried by the bird’s wings. I am. I am. I am.
She wouldn’t lose her composure. She was the headmistress’ stepdaughter, after all. Her behavior would always be examined first.
“I’ll ask the police to keep the questions to a minimum,” Reyna said, and Yuki took a deep breath, because she did not lose her composure, because she was always, always, the image of perfect, no matter what happened, and she was not going to lose her cool today. “It’s all routine.”
“I’m just preparing you for what’s to come,” she said. “I don’t want to make this worse for you. I know how hard it must be.”
Except Reyna didn’t know.
She had no idea.
She could never have any idea at all, because Ariane was dead, and it was Yuki’s fault.
Laura Pohl is a Brazilian YA author. She likes writing messages in caps lock, quoting Hamilton and obsessing about Star Wars. When not taking pictures of her dog, she can be found curled up with a fantasy or science-fiction book. She makes her home in São Paulo, where she graduated in Literature. She is the author of THE LAST 8 duology, which won the International Latino Book Awards. Her next novel is A BEAUTIFUL DOOM, which opens the Grimrose Girls duology. Learn more about her on her website (www.onlybylaura.com), and make sure to follow her on twitter, instagram, and pinterest.