Tag Archives: Gay

Exclusive Excerpt Reveal: Fire on the Island by Timothy Jay Smith

Today on the site, we’re thrilled to welcome Timothy Jay Smith, whose new thriller, Fire on the Island, releases tomorrow! Timothy, whose The Fourth Courier was a finalist for Best Gay Mystery in the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards was kind enough to provide us with an exclusive excerpt, so check out the blurb and then dig in!

Fire on the Island by Timothy Jay Smith

Fire on the Island is a playful, romantic thriller set in contemporary Greece, with a gay Greek-American FBI agent, who is undercover on the island to investigate a series of mysterious fires. Set against the very real refugee crisis on the beautiful, sun-drenched Greek islands, this novel paints a loving portrait of a community in crisis. As the island residents grapple with declining tourism, poverty, refugees, family feuds, and a crumbling church, an arsonist invades their midst.

Nick Damigos, the FBI agent, arrives on the island just in time to witness the latest fire and save the dog of Lydia, a local cafe owner. Immediately enveloped by the community, Nick finds himself drawn to Takis, a young man who becomes his primary suspect, which is a problem because they’re having an affair. Theirs is not the only complicated romance in the community and Takis isn’t the only suspicious character on the island. The priest is an art forger, the young Albanian in love with Lydia’s daughter harbors a secret, the captain of the coast guard station seems to have his own agenda, and Takis’s sister, who owns a local bar, has a vendetta against the whole village. Nick has to unravel the truth in time to prevent catastrophe, as he comes to terms with his own past trauma. In saving the village, he will go a long way toward saving himself.

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

And here’s the excerpt!

Vassoula woke up in a lonely bed. It had been lonely since Omar disappeared. She couldn’t bring herself to say died or killed himself because she hoped that, despite how gruesomely the skinheads had cut him, he would miraculously come back to her whole again. In that fantasy she envisioned handsome and dancing the syrtaki better than any Greek, a black stubble generously shadowing his cheeks—his cheeks that went missing.

Omar. He had given her a life when he came into hers. Unless she married, she was destined to remain her wretched mother’s handmaiden; and Vassoula would have nothing to do with the local boys, certainly not enough to marry one. She was darker complected than the Vourvouliani, and the boys, starting in their teens, called her Gypsy bitch for not putting out. She was adopted, so they freely assigned to her any origin that they wanted, but Vassoula knew she wasn’t Gypsy. She was Turkish. A nun at the orphanage disliked her for it, and wanted to be rid of her enough not to mention it to prospective parents. Secretly, Vassoula reveled in her Turkishness. She nurtured it because it nurtured her to know she was different from the people who treated her so harshly, abusing her verbally—and otherwise, as some did eventually, before she was liberated from the orphanage’s form of incarceration to become a servant in another.

Ten years of mopping floors later, Omar arrived in Vourvoulos. Movie star handsome with dark moody eyes, clever and Turkish; she had conjured him many times, dreaming only of men like him when she gave pleasure to herself. Beyond that pleasure, she dreamt of a man to free her from servitude, not trade one enslaved situation for another. Instinctively, Omar understood that. His family, too, had suffered from discrimination for being Turkish, or certainly the consequences of it. Only after she moved in with him did he confess that his family had once lived on the island; an extended family, and prosperous when you added up all their land; land too rocky and scrubby for the Greeks to bother with, though their ancient ancestors had been the first to terrace it. It was those stony plots—sometimes no bigger than four strides long and two deep—that Omar’s peasant ancestors had worked, finding them sufficiently fecund to sustain their families.

All that ended with the Exchange, when the diaspora Turks and Greeks were forced to trade places, overnight becoming refugees in their own countries. Omar’s great grandparents left Vourvoulos with little more than their crying fifteen-year-old son—his grandfather—unable to understand why he had to lose all his friends, Greek and Turkish. Once back in Turkey, they’d never recreate their village no matter how much they would miss it, but instead would flee to relatives if they knew their whereabouts, or be shuffled off to temporary camps—as was Omar’s family—while a useless bureaucracy scrambled to do what little it could for the many tens of thousands like them. Omar’s grandfather, having just wished his boyhood Greek friends a forever farewell, had to do the same to his Turkish mates only a few hours later when their boat made its landing in what still stood of Smyrna.

Though the fires that destroyed the legendary city had been put out, a charred smell hung heavily in the air. On the docks, hucksters and shysters descended on the refugees even as government agents shunted them into buses to take them to a camp—equally rife with hucksters and shysters. Thus began decades of poverty inflicted on Omar’s family starting before he was born. All his growing-up years, he heard reminisces of their lost island: its fresh air, azure sea, and wild lavender roses—a sharp contrast to their stuffy apartment in a shanty neighborhood of sprawling Istanbul.

Omar had simply appeared in Vourvoulos one day, not ten Greek words in his head, and soon became the curiosity of the village. Turks rarely visited the tiny village, and still fewer stayed for more than a night or two, but Omar rented a room for a month, letting his landlady know that he would likely keep it longer. He only did the usual things tourists do—hike in the hills, swim in the sea, learn the four-syllable Greek word for thanks—but that didn’t stop rumors from spreading that he was trafficking drugs or might be a white slaver. Certainly, he was up to no good; no Turk ever had been. Omar, though, was undaunted. At once, he was enamored with the mythical lost island of his storied childhood, and equally glad to escape the grinding conditions back home. He had no intention of leaving.

Omar kept it a secret that his family had lived there for generations. If it were known, he worried it would only stir up fears that he had returned to reclaim property or seek revenge, when he wanted neither. He wanted the idyllic life described from afar, not hardscrabble Istanbul, which was becoming more unbearable under the growing power of intolerant imams. By age twenty-five, he’d made the decision not to spend the rest of his life kowtowing to men who dressed their women in sacks, forbade everyone simple pleasures, and governed through fear. Fending off his mother’s relentless efforts to get him married, he waited tables in two restaurants, earning excellent tips because of his extraordinary good looks. By the time he was thirty, he had saved enough money that he wouldn’t arrive in Greece a penniless refugee, but an immigrant able to sustain himself until he found a way to make a living. He’d gambled and he won.

The risks Omar could not have anticipated were the threats posed by Greece’s internal turmoil, especially its Depression-era economy giving rise to a fascist insurgency. Or so Vassoula was mulling over that morning, after rousing herself from her lonely bed to sip coffee on the terrace, perched high over the village with a clear shot of the long beach stretching into the distance until it melded with the coastline. That view had once brought her such joy, not only for its beauty, but for what it represented: her second escape, and the first into an unexpected freedom. Her first escape had been from the orphanage, the second from her adoptive servitude. She had escaped into Omar’s liberating arms, holding her on that terrace through long talks she had never imagined possible; and when they felt like making love outdoors, they did.

She could almost see him again, walking down that long beach, becoming a speck before turning back. He worked hard, he partied hard, he loved hard—and he needed time alone. He needed a time not to talk to anybody, though he talked to himself, gesticulating and working out whatever needed working out. He did that most mornings while other village men gathered in the kafeneios for their first coffee. Initially Vassoula was suspicious of Omar’s need to be alone, and spied on him through the binoculars, watching him approach Poustis Point because it was there that her father loitered; and sometimes it was there where Omar turned back, but not always, not if he was having a particularly troubling conversation with himself. But never once did he disappear out of sight too long to be accused of her father’s sort of sordid absence.

The morning when it happened, their lovemaking had been especially tender. Only the night before, they had decided to have a baby, and made love then, too. When Omar left for his walk, she felt a special longing—a worried hollowness—and took the binoculars from the cupboard. She knew his body language better than her own and easily spotted him.

Omar, distracted by the conversation with himself, approached Poustis Point. She saw the skinheads before he did. Three of them hovering in the rocks, conferring and planning their attack. Turn back! she wanted to shout. Stop talking to yourself and look up! But her voice would never carry that far.

She saw everything that happened.

She even knew what was said because Omar survived to repeat it.

“Do you have a cigarette?” a skinhead asked.

“I am sorry. I do not smoke.”

“Maybe the problem is, your cigarettes are wet.”

Vassoula saw Omar tip his head questioningly.

“I am sorry. I do not understand.”

“Maybe you help your friends swim across.”

“I do not swim here. I walk here.”

“Did you hear that, guys? He walked here.”

“Then he must’ve walked on water,” a second skinhead scoffed. “With his accent, he wasn’t born here.”

The third added, “He’s probably a Turkish cocksucker.”

“Is that why you’re out here? Hoping to get your cock sucked?”

“Probably by a refugee.”

“Or do you suck theirs?”

The skinheads laughed.

Omar sensed he was in trouble. “I don’t understand.”

“Hear that guys? He doesn’t understand. What can we do to make him understand?”

“I go home,” he said, and pointed to the village. “My wife waits for me.”

Vassoula saw him point. Come back! she was screaming inside.

“You should never have left home,” sneered the first skinhead. “None of your filth should’ve.”

“I go back now.”

Omar turned and took a couple of steps.

“Not so fast,” the first skinhead said. When Omar didn’t stop, he barked, “Hey!”

Omar paused.

Just keep walking! Vassoula begged.

“I’m not finished with you.”

Omar faced the skinhead. “My wife waits for me.”

He turned away again.

The skinhead signaled, and his two pals ran up and grabbed him. Omar struggled to defend himself, but together they managed to wrench his arms behind him.

The first skinhead approached him, menacing him with a knife.

Vassoula, seeing it flash in the morning sun, was going mad. Please God, no! No!

He kicked at the skinhead, who laughed, and stepped around him and put the blade to his throat. “Please don’t,” Omar begged.

“Fucking. Faggot. Filth. Feeding the refugees then fucking them. There’s probably some Arab greasing up his asshole waiting for you behind the rocks.”

“My wife is waiting for me.”

“Fucking bitch is going to wish you never came home.”

Vassoula, through the binoculars, couldn’t make out what happened next. She saw the skinhead flick his knife twice, each time tossing something to the seagulls on the beach. Then they released Omar and his hands instinctively covered his face. For a moment, she thought they had cut out his eyes; and later remembering that first thought, she would wonder if it might not have been more merciful than letting him see his own ruined face.

At that moment, though, she wasn’t thinking of anything except saving Omar, and flew out of the house. “HELP! HELP! Omar’s been stabbed! Help!” she never stopped crying as she flung herself down the village path. A dozen people trailed after her, looking past her wild hair to Omar stumbling toward them. For Vassoula, the blood seeping through his fingers glistened so bright red that the rest of the world turned gray.

They stopped, only feet apart. Vassoula could see they hadn’t cut out his eyes, but what the skinheads had done would forever haunt them. Omar would never see anything the same again. He certainly would never be looked at in the same admiring way.

His eyes pleaded for help as he lowered his hands.

Hers expressed horror when he did.

His knees buckled and he collapsed.

Four men ran up and grabbed his arms and legs to haul him cumbersomely back to the village. Another two trotted alongside, stripped of their shirts that they pressed to his slain cheeks to stem the blood. Vassoula stumbled after them, too shocked by what she had seen to believe it possible; and yet there was Omar, being toted in front of her, the tagalong women ululating their distress as if he had already died. He wouldn’t, not then. He would survive to live a freak’s hell.

That morning, longing for Omar, anguish overwhelmed her. Only thirty years old and doomed to be in mourning for the rest of her life. She couldn’t imagine anyone after Omar. When the skinheads cut away his cheeks, they cut out her heart, and when Omar committed suicide, he killed her, too. She sobbed, wanting the life that had been stolen from them, preferring to join him in death than endure a life without him.

The cats, risking her swift kicks, rubbed against Vassoula’s legs to remind her that they wanted to be fed. She stomped her foot to scatter them and went back inside. Opening the kibble bag sent them into a zigzagging frenzy between her feet, and that time she did kick at them. “Go away!” she cried, and hurled kibble at them, which they dodged before darting around to scarf it down. “I hate you! God I hate you!” she screamed while throwing more handfuls at them. Her laughter was seeded with madness as the animals cowered under the furniture to eat the pellets that rolled there.

Takis walked in and saw the kibble on the floor. “I see you fed the cats.”

“They were hungry.”

“They’re always hungry in the morning.”

“What did you eat for breakfast? Cock?”

“Don’t start.”

“You should never have gone to Australia. Look what it turned you into.”

“I was always like this.”

“You’re going to end up just like father, hiding behind rocks to have sex.”

“No I’m not. I’m going back to Australia where I don’t have to hide behind rocks to have sex. Why did you hate him so much? Didn’t you feel sorry for him at all?”

“He was pathetic. He settled for Zeeta because he’d been caught doing something with another man one time. He didn’t try to explain it away as a youthful experiment or some drunken mistake. Or that he’d been seduced against his will. Over one incident, he settled for her, for a nothing life. What kind of man is that?”

“A gay man in Greece,” Takis answered. “Most of them end up unhappily married. Sometimes you forget that he rescued us from the orphanage. They both did.”

“I don’t forget. I only wish they had been different parents.”

He poured kibble into a bowl, which brought the cats running. “They were who they were.”

“Neither one of them had a life, especially him, because of your kind of love.”

“You’re as bad as the rest,” Takis said. “What kind of life could he have had? He was never going to have a relationship with a man. Not a real one.”

“Is Nick the right man for you?”

“Yeah, only he doesn’t live in Melbourne.”

“I didn’t know there were types, only faggots.”

“Okay, he is a faggot, if that’s the word you want to use. He’s also an FBI agent,” Takis boasted.

“FBI?”

“The American police.”

“I know what FBI is.”

“So he’s not a faggot in the way you think.”

“He must be investigating the fires,” Vassoula suggested. “Why else would he be here?”

“He says he’s writing a book.”

“Be careful what you say to him.”

“What are you talking about?”

“He might try to make a connection to you. In fact, he might have come looking for you.”

“Why?”

“Why do you think?”

***

Tim on SantoriniRaised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. En route, he’s found the characters that people his work. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he’s hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-day crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.

Tim brings the same energy to his writing that he brought to a distinguished career, and as a result, he has won top honors for his novels, screenplays and stage plays in numerous prestigious competitions.  Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel, and his screenplay adaptation of it was named Best Indie Script by WriteMovies. His recent novel,  The Fourth Courier, set in Poland, published in 2019 by Arcade Publishing, was critically acclaimed. Previously, he won the Paris Prize for Fiction (now the Paris Literary Prize) for his novel,  A Vision of AngelsKirkus Reviews called  Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012.

Tim was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. His stage play,  How High the Moon, won the prestigious Stanley Drama Award, and his screenplays have won competitions sponsored by the American Screenwriters Association, WriteMovies, Houston WorldFest, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Fresh Voices, StoryPros, and the Hollywood Screenwriting Institute. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.

Inside an Anthology: Unspeakable ed. by Celine Frohn

Today on the site, we’re excited to welcome Celine Frohn, editor of Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology, out now from Nyx Publishing! This speculative collection features a wide range of identities, including gay, lesbian, bi/pan, trans and non-binary, poly, and asexual characters. Check it out here and then learn a little more about the stories that make it up!

Unspeakable contains eighteen Gothic tales with uncanny twists and characters that creep under your skin. Its stories feature sapphic ghosts, terrifying creatures of the sea, and haunted houses concealing their own secrets. Whether you’re looking for your non-binary knight in shining armour or a poly family to murder with, Unspeakable showcases the best contemporary Gothic queer short fiction. Even dark tales deserve their time in the sun.

The anthology contains stories by Claire Hamilton Russell, Ally Kölzow, C. L., Lindsay King-Miller, Avery Kit Malone, Katalina Watt, Jude Reid, S.T. Gibson, Jenna MacDonald, Eliza Temple, Katie Young, Sam Hirst, Ryann Fletcher, Heather Valentine, Jen Glifort, E. Saxey, Anna Moon, and Mason Hawthorne.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Bookshop

***

Leadbitter House” by Mason Hawthorne

The haunted house as a metaphor is something that fascinates me. In “Leadbitter House”, the house is a proxy for the protagonist’s body, the struggles he faces throughout the story reflect a number of struggles that are common to transgender experiences. Elijah is confronted over and over by people who believe that his house must be arranged or decorated or treated in the way that they expect it to be, rather than how Elijah needs it to be, or who express outright disgust at it. The use of body horror elements in this story is another part of the gender narrative that I explore through my work. Often, it isn’t until other people read my writing and say “wow that’s body horror!” that I realise what effect the scenes I develop might have for someone who is not in my head. I try to make the ostensibly gory, horrific elements more about connection and exploration of the body, about intimacy and anxiety connected to bodily experience, in a way that uses the uncanny to interrogate that which is often assumed to be familiar and ‘normal’.

But besides all that, sometimes organ removal is fun!

***

“Laguna and the Engkanto” by Katalina Watt

My story ‘Laguna and the Engkanto’ takes place on a fictional island called Avelina and is inspired by Filipino folklore, specifically the engkanto: a mythical spirit of the environment. The engkanto in my story is genderless and similar to a siren or mermaid, acting as a catalyst for and symbol of sexual awakening. Laguna begins the story with a fear of the sea, and as she becomes more in tune with herself and her body, this transforms into a longing for it.

I wanted to explore the idea of queerness within the prism of a society which is highly spiritual in both the religious and folkloric sense. The characters are living under the shadow of colonialism which has brought, among other things, these new religious ideologies. Within this society and particularly for a young woman, the engkanto represents both sexual agency but also transgressive pleasure, and I wanted to play with the concept of queerness as it relates to these intersections within a culture.

***

“Brideprice” by S.T. Gibson

“Brideprice” is my love letter to the vampire novels and action fantasy movies like Van Helsing that got me through my teens. When I was first coming to terms with my own bisexuality, my desires felt monstrous, so stories of ravenous supernatural creatures pining away after maidens soothed me. I was enamored by the capricious, sensual, mysterious brides of D, who struck me as the perfect mix of maiden and monster, seducer and seducee. I wrote “Brideprice” to give them their own narrative voices, and to play up the queerness inherent in the source text. This undying family is re-imagined as a polyamorous unit of cis and trans men and women who simultaneously desire one another and compete with one another for power.

The Dracula myth is generally told from his perspective, or the perspective of his victims, but not the brides. “Brideprice” is my attempt to give agency back to the brides. This is why Dracula rarely speaks in the story and only exists filtered through the brides’ memories: he’s just the catalyst for their leap into immortality. Whether they’re trying to escape violence, bigotry, or poverty, he’s their dark door into a new world, but they’re the ones seizing agency and making that final choice.

***

“Homesick” by Sam Hirst

Writing has always been a means of exploring and expressing myself from those early days of pre-teen poetry with its paeans to blonde beauties right through the angsty self-repressing tragedies of my teens littered with sapphic ladies dying to save their beloved. Emerging from years of denial about who I was and ignorance about the words that existed to describe myself – asexual, sapphic, queer… I turned to writing to work out my confusions before I even knew what they were. And that’s where ‘Homesick’ comes from. It mixes the Gothic elements I’ve always loved – ghosts – and one of the intriguing riddles associated with – how the afterlife actually works – with an exploration of queer identity that I’ve often felt didn’t fit in any of the existing categories. Ghosts allow you to move away from the physical. Sexual attraction disappears from the world of my story, the way it is absent from my own life. Exploring life after death allowed me to imagine a world lived within sight of your past but not bound or determined by it. My ghosts are homesick because they haven’t found a home yet and my story is about them finding their way there – to the place and the people they belong with. In writing this story, I followed Marion and Sanan through a Gothic world that they made beautiful. It’s a story of hope in the end and I hope people read it that way.

***

“Lady of Letters; or, the Twenty-First Century Homunculus” by Heather Valentine

Lady of Letters came from an idea I’d been toying around with for a while about fake profiles and alternate accounts in the mid-2000s era of early social media. I’d played a few games that were either set in that era or touched on the ideas I was interested in – Cibele takes place in a fake MMORPG, and spoke to my experiences of playing Phantasy Star Universe while having arguments with my soon-to-be-ex high school boyfriend in the private chat; and Simulacra takes the idea of the sentient profile in a far more cosmic horror direction.

Seeing the call for stories for Unspeakable, I realised that the key to exploring these ideas on the page was the Gothic. Taking the genre’s sometimes-features of narratives framed through letters and recordings; the all-encompassing emotions its heightened settings allow its protagonists to have without that teenage shame of feeling too much; the idea of a ghostly romance, but making the spectre a digital one.

I think the way that classic Gothic writing explores and remembers is past is something we can use to explore our own much more recent history, as people and as communities.

***

“Hearteater” by Eliza Temple

Hearteater is a story about a woman who lives alone in a decaying manor house named Scarlet Hall. One dark and stormy night, a stranger named Kat turns up at the house looking for shelter. Lady Scarlet invites her inside, and they grow close, despite each insisting on their own monstrosity.

My initial idea for Hearteater was to explore how Gothic preoccupations with virginity would work when applied to queer sex, but literally none of that made it into the final draft because I got preoccupied by my own issues. Both Lady Scarlet and Kat refer to themselves as monsters throughout the text; they literally are, in the sense of being supernatural and nonhuman, but they also live in a heteronormative society which could consider them monstrous for not being attracted to men. When Kat comes to Scarlet Hall, both women find community in each other—not only are they both lesbians, but their respective supernatural powers complement each other. I wrote Hearteater at a time when I didn’t really have any friends who were also gay women, so the heart of the story is the joy and comfort that comes from finding someone like you, when before you were all alone.

***

“Taylor Hall” by Jen Glifort

I’ve always loved haunted houses—the dilapidated buildings, the secret passages, the unpredictability of a house’s temperament. But what if the house was benevolent, rather than threatening? I wanted to explore what it would be like to live in a haunted house that was devoted to its owner and wanted to help them.

I thought Taylor Hall would be the ideal environment for a character like Kit, who struggles with gender identity and all the insecurity that comes with it. I’ve questioned my own gender identity my whole life, and feel like I’ve only recently started coming to terms with that. In my experience, suppressing those feelings can cause them to express themselves in unexpected ways (although they’ve never resulted in my house misbehaving in the middle of the night). I wanted to see how something like having a crush on a new roommate could bring up those emotions for Kit.

Setting this story in a haunted house gave me a chance to play with the concept of home. I loved the idea of someone who found a loving, nurturing home that caters to their needs while still trying to find a home in themselves.

***

“The Dream Eater” by Anna Moon

What if an asexual person is faced with a succubus or incubus? That was my initial inspiration for “The Dream Eater”, where the ace protagonist, Dan, comes across a genderless entity that drains people’s life force. I wanted to write a story where asexuality and queerness allows the main character to relate to the supernatural in a different (and positive) way, and at the same time show an ace person in a happy relationship with an allosexual person (his girlfriend, Elise). The Gothic, and a threatening presence that looms in the space between dream and reality, seemed like the perfect lens through which to explore sexuality, identity, and what it means to be human.

***

“The Ruin” by E. Saxey

“The Ruin” is a romance, with two guys falling in love through their shared interests: ruined buildings, end-of-the-world fiction, incredibly old poetry. These are also a few of my favourite things. I wanted to explore, through a love story, a nagging doubt I have: are these hobbies actually unsavoury? Is Ruinenlust – so fundamental to the Gothic – also fundamentally dodgy? I can tell myself that I’m interested in how people used to live, or how they’d survive in an apocalypse, but I spend a lot of time (imaginatively) in dark crumbling places. Maybe it’s the continuity of the human experience that delights me, but I suspect it’s the continuity of me, posing solo against the background of all these wonderful ruins.

So while I’m fond of both the characters in “The Ruin”, their relationship isn’t ideal. While the narrator’s interest in the end of the world is purely imaginative, his partner may have a more hands-on approach. Or is that just paranoia?

Exclusive Cover and Excerpt Reveal: The Camino Club by Kevin Craig

I’m so thrilled to have Kevin Craig on the site today to reveal the cover of his sophomore novel (and first with Duet Books), The Camino Club, which releases on October 6th! Here’s the story:

After getting in trouble with the law, a group of wayward teens from diverse backgrounds are given an ultimatum: serve time in juvenile detention for their crimes, or walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Spain over the summer holidays with a pair of court-appointed counselor guides. Although unlikely friends, they all try to make the best of their situation. The pilgrims grow closer on their journey, but when and if they reach the Cathedral in Santiago, will they each find what they’re looking for and come out of the walk ready to conquer the shattered worlds they left behind?

And here’s the beautiful cover designed by C.B. Messer!

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

But wait, there’s more! Here’s an excerpt!

We’ve been lost for over an hour. The way Claire is so chill about it, I’m beginning to think she doesn’t much care. She might have had something to do with us taking the wrong turns in the first place.

We were only a city block or so ahead of Meagan. Every once in a while I would slow our pace down so she was always able to catch glimpses of us. And Manny and Greg walked just slightly ahead of us. They sped up, and as soon as we lost sight of them, bam. Everything fell apart.

The rain didn’t help. We’re soaked through. At least it’s stopped. Hopefully it stays this way. I need to either dry off or find my way back to the path before I go mad. I can’t be wet and lost.

But here we are, drenched, on this quiet street with no peregrinos anywhere in sight. We have lost our way. And I kept letting Claire lead me in the wrong direction, because I had assumed she was trying to find her way back to the yellow arrows.

Clearly, not a good idea. Not an arrow in sight. I should have just kept walking with Manny and Greg. Even Gil disappeared back at the albergue after he realized Claire finally had a new walking partner.

I think last night may have been a one off, though. She seemed nice enough at the time, but I think today’s Claire may have gone rogue. I’m almost positive. Maybe she’s possessed by Cacabelos Jesus.

“I give up,” I say, stopping in front of a small grocery. “I’m asking for directions.”

“No, don’t. It’s more fun this way. Can’t we just wander around and figure things out for ourselves. Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“You know what I think,” I say before heading inside. “I think you want to be lost. I think you did this to us on purpose. I don’t want to be drawn into any of your plans to screw this up. You’re sabotaging me.”

I turn and walk into the small grocery. I let the door close on Claire, shutting down her ability to respond. I hope they can point me in the right direction. I don’t care if she follows me or not. I’d rather she didn’t.

I have my phone out, getting directions from the lady behind the counter, when Claire finally enters the store. We’re struggling through the language barrier, but the woman understands Camino and is able to show me on Google Maps where it is I have to go to get back on the path. Claire stands behind me, skulking noisily. After I have the directions, I buy a couple apples that happen to sit in a basket on the counter.

I turn to Claire and give her a dirty look as I put one of the apples into a side pocket in my backpack. I bite into the other and say, “Come on. Let’s go.” I hold up my phone to show her I know where I’m going.

“Nah,” she says. She pops a handful of Skittles. It was cute at first, but those little candies are beginning to annoy me. “I think I’ll sit this one out.”

“What does that even mean?”

Claire heads for the door without saying another word. I thank the woman behind the counter again before I leave. She says Buen Camino and I wave as I leave her store.

“What is your problem?” I ask Claire as I catch up to her. She just shrugs and keeps walking, in the opposite direction we need to go in order to get back to the yellow arrows. “Come on, Claire. You’re going the wrong way. You can’t just get lost in Spain. Are you nuts, girl? What is wrong with you? I thought we bonded last night. I thought—”

“Oh, what?” She pivots, cutting me off mid-sentence. “You think because we spent half an hour together we’re best friends now? What about the day before that? Or on the plane? You know, when you didn’t say two words to me?”

“I just want to get back to the Camino, Claire. I don’t want to fight with you.”

“What are you even in for, anyway?” she says. She walks over to where I stand waiting for her.

“You don’t want to know.”

***

Kevin Craig is a playwright, poet, and short story writer who lives in Toronto with their husband, Michael. An author of six published novels, Kevin’s books include Pride Must Be a Place (MuseItUp Publishing, 2018) and Burn Baby Burn Baby (independently published, 2014). Kevin was a founding member of the Ontario Writers’ Conference Board of Directors, and sat on the Writers’ Community of Durham Region’s (WCDR) Board of Directors as Membership Coordinator. Website: https://ktcraig.com/

Fave Five: LGBTQ Fiction with Arab MCs

The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar (Syrian)

A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar (Egyptian-Palestinian)

Guapa by Saleem Haddad (Unnamed)

God in Pink by Hassan Namir (Iraqi) 

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat (Palestinian)

Bonus: Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy is set in a fictional universe, but the refugee MC’s background is based on McCarthy’s Lebanese background

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Fave Five: Queer YA with MCs of Iranian/Persian Descent

If You Could Be Mine and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

Darius the Great is Not Okay and Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

How it All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

Bonus: Coming in May, Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust is a bi fantasy based on Persian mythology

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Fave Five: Gay and Lesbian YA Thrillers

For bi YA thrillers, click here.

Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan

All Eyes on Us by Kit Frick

Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown

Swipe Right for Murder by Derek Milman

Bonus: Coming in 2020,  Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass!

 

New Release Spotlight (+Interview!): Reverie by Ryan La Sala

Honestly, I’m not sure what I can say about Reverie that’s going to top the very fact of its containing a drag queen sorceress, but in five words, this is The World’s Gayest Fever Dream, so I hope that helps any reluctant readers over the fence! It also happens to be a B&N book club pick, so bonus points for being able to participate in that after you read! And now, onward to the blurb and buy links!

Reveries are worlds born from a person’s private fantasies, and once they manifest they can only be unraveled by bringing their conflicts to resolution. Reveries have rules and plots, magic and monsters, and one wrong step could twist the entire thing into a lethal, labyrinthine nightmare. Unraveling them is dangerous work, but it’s what Kane and The Others do.

Or did, until one of The Others purged Kane of his memories. But now Kane is back, and solving the mystery of his betrayal is the only way to unite his team and defeat reality’s latest threat: Poesy, a sorceress bent on harvesting the reveries for their pure, imaginative power.

But what use might a drag queen sorceress have with a menagerie of stolen reveries? And should Kane, a boy with no love for a team that betrayed him, fight to stop her, or defect to aid her?

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | Indigo | Book Depository

Now, as you may know, dear reader, the whole staff of B&N Teen Blog, including yours truly, was let go with approximately no warning, and I had a bunch of interviews lined up as part of my Get to Know a YA Author series, including one by Ryan La Sala himself! And so, I’m gonna go ahead and continue the delight here so you can Get to Know Ryan La Sala!

Describe your new release in 5 words.

I need at least six.

As this is a book blog, let’s hear three recommendations for favorite queer YAs!

We Set the Dark on FireTehlor Kay Mejia – a gorgeously written, compelling story that I return to again and again. The queerness is central to the plot, and the world is incredibly rendered. I adored.

Black Wings Beating  – Alex FREAKING London!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a mind, what an imagination. Proxy was the first book of his that I read, and I would have been a life long fan with just that. But lucky for humanity, he consistently is delivering excellent books. We are so blessed.

The Wise and the Wicked – Rebecca Podos — Wow did I adore this book. It’s creepy, grim, fantastical, and has one of my fav recent romances. I actually didn’t know much going in, and I’m glad. I hope you read it, and love discovering it as much as I did.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing or reading?

Anybody who’s been to my house could answer this: arts and crafts. I have a constant need to create stuff using my hands. Along with drawing, I’ve recently been doing a lot of bedazzling and fabric work. My second book is all about arts and crafts, and specifically cosplay, and it’s directly inspired by my own fascination with using materials to shape an idea into something tangible, cool, and a little magical.

I also go to the gym a lot. Maybe you think that means working out, but it actually means sashaying on a treadmill to Broadway dance numbers, at very high speeds, until a get flung backwards all at once.

Where’s your dream Book Tour stop?

The Vatican. Wouldn’t that be just wild? But the Pope and I haven’t texted in years. So instead I’ll say: DragCon. It’s a massive drag convention organized by RuPaul, and I would love the opportunity to meet many of the queens that inspired me to write Poesy, my own queen in Reverie. It would also give me a chance to talk to young, queer readers, who are the people I’m most interested in reaching with my work.

If you could retell any story as a YA novel, what would it be and why?

I have major aspirations of digging into some of my favorite, old operas and doing YA retellings. In operatic fantasy, there are simply no rules. Just none. It all comes down to the drama, the performance, and the emotion. And I love applying that same production to my books.

That, or CATS, for all the same reasons.

What’s your favorite way to reward yourself for publishing a book?

For any of my achievements, I tend to lean heavy into retail therapy. But not like, “Oh I want this cute sweater” retail therapy. I mean, “decide I’m now a person who cannot bear to sit on a couch that’s not made from crushed velvet” retail therapy. I think it’s because I spend so much time being an anthropomorphic crab person on my way towards publication, what with all the writing and shut-in-tendencies and all that. By the time I actually hit a milestone, I’m ready to husk off my entire self and just reinvent me. And usually the most expedient way to do that is to buy something so bizarre to your everyday life that it feels like an ejection.

What are you working on now?

Between you, me, and the entire internet? A sequel. 🙂

(c) Lauren Takakjian

Ryan La Sala grew up in Connecticut, but only physically. Mentally, he spent most of his childhood in the worlds of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess, which perhaps explains all the twirling. He studied Anthropology and Neuroscience at Northeastern University before becoming a project manager specialized in digital tools. He technically lives in New York City, but has actually transcended material reality and only takes up a human shell for special occasions, like brunch, and to watch anime (which is banned on the astral plane). Reverie is Ryan’s debut novel. You can visit him at ryanlasala.com.

New Releases: December 2019

LGBTQReads is an Amazon, IndieBound, and Apple affiliate, which means purchasing through those links will bring a small percentage of income back to the site. Please use them if you have the means!

Collie Jolly by Leigh Landry (1st)

Ashley’s never owned a dog, much less trained one. But she’s not about to let that little detail stop her—especially during the holiday season—from applying for this dog training job. Her new gig is the perfect way to survive the recession while strolling the festive streets of New Orleans with a cute pooch. The biggest challenge? Heeling a growing attraction to her stunning shut-in of a boss.

When her girlfriend died a year ago, Madison found herself overwhelmed by grief and her girlfriend’s rambunctious puppy. Now the dog is an unmanageable, attention-starved reminder of everything Madison has lost. She’s still afraid to face the world, but her vibrant new dog trainer—with the help of a furry sidekick—is determined to bring light, laughter, and Christmas cheer back into Madison’s life.

Buy it: Amazon | iBooks

This Will Kill That by Danielle K. Roux (3rd)

District City is full of monsters. Not the kind that appear particularly vile from the outside. The kind who murder innocent people for no apparent reason. Abandoned houses are haunted by wayward spirits. Leaders of rival Colors clash over the secrets of a brutal past.

After the Plague thinned out the population, Rin Morana figured people would have stopped killing each other. No such luck. Her parents disappeared, and now she is set to take over as the new Lady Morana, head of the Green faction. To be a leader, Rin must contend with her relationship to her rival, Lady Amaya, as well as her own history of violence.

A series of riddles take Amaya Verity out of her isolated room in the Blue compound and into the hidden spaces of the City. Running away from captivity, Amaya takes shelter with Rin at the old Sydis house. There she meets two young men with demons of their own to contend with and abilities to match. Alan who is hiding out from his abusive ex, and Kazuki who might be the only person in the City that remembers the events of the Plague.

As they dig deeper, Amaya and Rin must decide whether to fight monsters or become them.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

Reverie by Ryan La Sala (3rd)

Reveries are worlds born from a person’s private fantasies, and once they manifest they can only be unraveled by bringing their conflicts to resolution. Reveries have rules and plots, magic and monsters, and one wrong step could twist the entire thing into a lethal, labyrinthine nightmare. Unraveling them is dangerous work, but it’s what Kane and The Others do.

Or did, until one of The Others purged Kane of his memories. But now Kane is back, and solving the mystery of his betrayal is the only way to unite his team and defeat reality’s latest threat: Poesy, a sorceress bent on harvesting the reveries for their pure, imaginative power.

But what use might a drag queen sorceress have with a menagerie of stolen reveries? And should Kane, a boy with no love for a team that betrayed him, fight to stop her, or defect to aid her?

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | IndieBound

Runemaker by Alex R. Kahler (3rd)

This is the final book in the Runebinder Chronicles

Tenn thought the spirits wanted him to find his fellow Hunter, Aidan, to win the war against the undead. But with Aidan on the brink of self-destruction and Tenn reeling from his lover’s spite, their fated convergence seems far from promising.

Especially because Aidan no longer appears to be fighting for the living.

With the Dark Lady whispering commands and Tom‡s guiding his hand, Aidan slips deeper into darkness. And while the world rallies for its final battle against the Dark Lady’s minions, Tenn finds himself torn between saving the boy who’s slipping away and fulfilling a prophecy he can’t understand—one that will require him to harness the most powerful magic the world has ever seen: the Sphere of Maya.

And depending on who unleashes its power, that magic could either save humanity…or erase it.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Hot Ice by Elle Spencer, Aurora Rey, and Erin Zak (10th)

In Ice on Wheels by Aurora Rey, all’s fair in love and roller derby. That’s Riley Fauchet’s motto, until a new job lands her at the same company—and on the same team—as her rival Brooke Landry, the frosty jammer for the Big Easy Bruisers.

In Private Equity by Elle Spencer, Cassidy Bennett spends an unexpected evening at a lesbian nightclub with her notoriously reserved and demanding boss, successful venture capitalist Julia Whitmore. After seeing a different side of Julia, Cassidy can’t seem to shake her desire to know more.

In Closed-Door Policy by Erin Zak, going back to college is never easy, but Caroline Stevens is prepared to work hard and change her life for the better. What she’s not prepared for is Dr. Atlanta Morris, her new professor whose tough demeanor is no match for Caroline’s burgeoning confidence.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Eight Kinky Nights by Xan West (16th)

A femme kink expert who recently realized something new about her own sexuality…

Leah, a 51 year old fat Jewish queer femme, is an experienced submissive who recently came to terms with being gray ace and is trying to figure out how to rework her life and relationships in a way that more fully honors her gray aceness: as a kink educator, as a sex shop owner, and as a polyamorous kinky person with multiple ongoing play relationships.

A newly single butch who wants to finally explore her dominance…

Her best friend Jordan, a 49 year old fat disabled Jewish pansexual stone butch with PTSD, is newly divorced, has just gotten an awesome new job, moved to NYC and is subletting a room in Leah’s apartment. After years of vanilla monogamous marriage, Jordan wants to explore kink and polyamory. Jordan devoted her adult life to parenting her younger sister and building a home with her wife, and now she is going after what she wants, which may even include making a move on Leah after all these years.

Eight kink lessons between friends…

Leah offers Jordan eight kink lessons, one for each night of Chanukah, to help Jordan find her feet as a novice dominant, certain that they can keep it friendly and educational. After all, she’s been keeping her kink life casual for years. Why would this be different?

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

The Kill Club by Wendy Heard (17th)

Jazz will stop at nothing to save her brother.

Their foster mother, Carol, has always been fanatical, but with Jazz grown up and out of the house, Carol takes a dangerous turn that threatens thirteen-year-old Joaquin’s life. Over and over, child services fails to intervene, and Joaquin is running out of time.

Then Jazz gets a blocked call from someone offering a solution. There are others like her—people the law has failed. They’ve formed an underground network of “helpers,” each agreeing to eliminate the abuser of another. They’re taking back their power and leaving a trail of bodies throughout Los Angeles—dubbed the Blackbird Killings. If Jazz joins them, they’ll take care of Carol for good.

All she has to do is kill a stranger.

Buy it: Amazon | IndieBound | B&N

Mangos and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera (23rd)

Kiskeya Burgos left the tropical beaches of the Dominican Republic with a lot to prove. As a pastry chef on the come up, when she arrives in Scotland, she has one goal in mind: win the Holiday Baking Challenge. Winning is her opportunity to prove to her family, her former boss, and most importantly herself, she can make it in the culinary world. Kiskeya will stop at nothing to win , that is, if she can keep her eyes on the prize and off her infuriating teammate’s perfect lips.

Sully Morales, home cooking hustler, and self-proclaimed baking brujita lands in Scotland on a quest to find her purpose after spending years as her family’s caregiver. But now, with her home life back on track, it’s time for Sully to get reacquainted with her greatest love, baking. Winning the Holiday Baking Challenge is a no brainer if she can convince her grumpy AF baking partner that they make a great team both in and out of the kitchen before an unexpected betrayal ends their chance to attain culinary competition glory.

Buy it: Amazon

 

 

 

Fave Five: Queer Southeast Asian Fantasy

Note: These are books that all contain strong Southeast Asian elements, which in some cases combine with elements from East Asia as well.

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Wicked as You Wish by Rin Chupeco

The True Queen by Zen Cho

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan