Well, I think it’s clear from the headline that we’re ending the year with an author who wears a whole lot of hats, and I’m very grateful at how many of them are queer ones! You may know Hillary/Eva/Thea from YA (including her New York Times-bestselling Mary), or from fantasy, or from her brand-new Western, or contemporary romance…or you might not, in which case, settle in and better know an author who’s really three!
First things first, I think we’ve gotta break down those pen names. Could you tell us what, for you, defines Hillary Monahan vs. Eva Darrows vs. Thea De Salle, and give us a little intro into the queer books written by each one?
It’s confusing and somewhat irritating, I know, so I’m really grateful to my audience for name hopping with me. I PROMISE THERE’S A METHOD TO MY MADNESS, THOUGH. Hillary Monahan is my horror slanted and/or adult stuff. My YA horrors have been fairly straight to this point because, frankly, horror is violent and I’ve seen enough violence aimed at queer folk I was wary of contributing to that paradigm. There’s a careful balance to be struck, I think, particularly where the trope says sassy gay friends almost always get murdered. You’ll see more queer YA horror coming from me (look to my Havisham retelling with PRH next year) but I’ve been cautious. I think I have a better grasp on what to do and what not to do now, but it’s taken a bit to get here.
On the adult side, Snake Eyes is an adult, horror slanted urban fantasy about Tanis, a half lamia, who is involved in a turf war with the Gorgons down in the Everglades. Tanis is queer and expecting a child with her girlfriend, Naree. Their relationship is the heart and soul and spine of the book, and I’ve called it my queerest book yet. It’s got an all female cast who live and love and bleed together, and it has a soft spot in my stable. My new Western fantasy is called Gunsmoke & Glamour and I have described it as Sherlock and Watson in the old west, running from murderous witches, only Sherlock is a sarcastic half fairy marshal named Clayton, and Watson is a trans lady doctor named Irene.
Eva Darrows is my snarky, feminist stuff, more apt to slant on the humor side. Dead Little Mean Girl had lesbian moms, and is a story about a fat, nerdy girl named Emma who didn’t look past the veneer of her dead step sister to see why, maybe, Quinn had some toxic personality quirks. Belly Up is finished and due out in spring 2019, about a questioning teen, Serendipity, who gets pregnant after a one night stand. Her best friend is a gray ace girl named Devi, and two of her other friends at school are Morgan, a trans girl, and her girlfriend Erin.
Thea de Salle is my romance pen name. Two of those books featured queer characters in Sol, in book one (The King of Bourbon Street), who’s blatantly bisexual and paired up with a fat heiress named Arianna. I felt like bisexual males were the unicorns of romance. Book two is about Maddy, who identifies as pansexual, pairing up with a big ginger Texan named Darren, both of them navigating PTSD and anxiety together.
You are a serious genre maven, too! Contemporary Romance, Urban Fantasy, Horror…what genre feels closest to your heart, and what haven’t you hit that you still really want to?
I’d probably say horror. I’m a gloom cookie. Always have been, always will be. What my pattern seems to be is “write a dark book, write something else to recover from it.” But the constant is the scary stuff. I grew up with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark pretty much sewn to my palm, and that forayed well into Christopher Pike before Stephen King.
As for what I want to do, fantasy. Period. I have two rattling around in my bean right now that I hope to get onto the page sooner rather than later, one centering Arthurian legend and a very queer Morgan le Fey, one with a patriarchy versus a matriarchy divided country with pansexual sex priestesses at the center.
Gunsmoke & Glamour is your newest release, out just a couple of weeks ago with Fireside Fiction. Can we please discuss that cover??
YES. YES, WE CAN. As a fat author, I have struggled—oh, have I struggled—to see myself and people like me properly represented on my covers. I’ve either had my characters fattish but not too fat or completely thin washed. I mentioned this to the publisher at Fireside, and, at the same time, I fretted about Irene (being a trans woman) getting her labels erased. Pablo’s answer was brilliant; he hired a trans artist of color who understood the representation struggle, who looked at the material and produced something really special. I’m in love with it and hope other publishers take note.
I was lucky enough to get an early read of Belly Up, which releases April 30, 2019, and the way you have Serendipity kind of questioning her bisexuality in the background is really interesting. Was that a ground-up decision about her character, or something that came out about her as you were writing?
I wasn’t super specific by design. Our teen years are often (not always, but often) exploratory years, and I don’t just mean sexually. When I was coming around to my labels, I fumbled my way through the discovery process. It’s like trying on jeans—when you get the wrong fit, you’re uncomfortable all day, but find the perfect pair? Wow, awesome. That said, the thing that landed me solidly in keeping with her “questioning, probably bisexual, but not sure yet” ID was the relationship with Devi. I love that pairing, a lot, and I realized halfway through that if Leaf hadn’t happened, Sara would have been more than content just being with Devi for the foreseeable. In fact, I think if Devi hadn’t been straight, they could have been a thing. Alas, Devi isn’t into girls, and Sara knew that and respected that. Accepting that sometimes your crush just isn’t into you doesn’t have to be traumatizing.
In addition to writing bi and pan main characters, you also have queer parents in your most recent Eva Darrows YA novel, Dead Little Mean Girl. As a queer adult, what’s it like writing queer adults into your teen fiction?
On top of my girlfriend’s teenaged son living with me and requiring frequent step-momming, I’m the child of a queer adult, so basically, I apply my own experiences to the parents in my books. My father is a queer man who married his husband back when Vermont was the only state legally recognizing same sex pairings. I grew up within the culture, know firsthand that love is the primary marker of success in being a family. It’s cathartic, honestly, to be able to “show” that on the page when there are so many detractors out there who try to imply otherwise.
Following you on Twitter is always an adventure, as you’re definitely one of the more outspoken authors on my timeline. What are topics that really suck you in, and what do you wish we discussed more?
This is the nicest way of saying I tweet too much ever. But you’re absolutely right. I’ve grown up in a family that put a lot of stock in not tolerating bullshit. Of course that’s a sliding scale for everyone depending on politics and experiences, but my brand is to go hard about fatness, queerness, mental illness, Romani rights, and the rights of sex assault victims. There are other subjects that can get me going, but those are my lane and I’ll defend others sharing my labels because not everyone has a platform—or the spoons–to take on this stuff. They’re hard subjects. It comes down to a baseline philosophy that it’s not actually hard to be decent, but people can’t be decent if they don’t know how they’re being indecent in the first place. If me telling someone that gypsy is a racial slur prevents them from saying the word in the future, I’ll take the lumps that go with being outspoken.
What’s something that’s really stuck with you in LGBTQIAP+ lit, for better or for worse?
For better: that I think we’re seeing more of the umbrella represented than ever before. It’s slow, but the progress is there. Queer people of color, bisexual people, trans people, ace and aro people, intersex people are getting more attention in trad pub than I’ve seen before. That leads into a bit of the for worse, though, which is this high is coming because diversity is “trendy” right now. I hate that notion, by the way—the world is diverse so the art should be, too—but I feel like there’s a push because of marketing buzz not because pushing marginalized people is the right thing to do because they have valuable contributions to media.
Ultimately, I’ll take it, whatever the reasoning, because it topples the princes of queer YA thing, wherein all queer folk should be happy to be represented by handsome white allocis queer boys. Their stories are important, too, but not at the expense of everyone else. And there’s a lot of everyone else.
YA I know, but adult fantasy is a bit of weak spot for me, so I’m always psyched for recs by people who really know it. What are your favorite queer fantasy recs beyond YA? (Of course, I’m curious about your YA faves too!)
I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory and I’m absolutely dying to get into the novella sequel, Stone Mad. Bear writes queerness without making it angsty, in a fantasy setting, and I appreciate that. Sometimes, matter of fact queerness is a huge breath of fresh air; I know every one of my decisions isn’t informed by my sexuality. Some, definitely, but not all, and I think Bear navigates those waters really well.
Frankly this is a totally appropriate place to put a plug in for the Tor.com column by Liz Bourke Sleeps With Monsters. Liz is a queer woman who spends a lot of her time reccing and reviewing LGBTQIA+ fantasy fiction, so if you need a good, solid voice to check out, for vetted and intelligent suggestions, you can’t beat her in a lot of ways.
As an author who seems to push boundaries a little more with each book, what’s something you still feel like you’d still have to work up to, although it’s definitely on your “to do someday” list?
Poly and/or open relationships is on my to-do list. I know a lot of people who are quietly or not-so-quietly poly and/or in open relationships, who don’t get to see themselves in fiction beyond work that presents those lifestyles as toxic dramafests or as some deviant, sexually charged thing. That’s not the reality for many people, and I’d like to shine a spotlight there, to challenge a society that pushes monogamy as “the only acceptable way.”
I am just gonna leave this blanket open for you: Queer fat rep. Thoughts, recs, loves, hates, etc. GO.
Two people queer folk should be following on Twitter for queer fic recs on the adult side are definitely @bogiperson, who tirelessly advocates for the umbrella, and @TGStoneButch who not only gives fantastic queer recs, but also advocates for trans, fat, and disability rights. I put Bogi and Corey’s picks high on my reading rec lists for reasons. They are A+ humans with fantastic insight.
What’s next for you?
Edits and contract books, mostly. This fall saw Gunsmoke & Glamour out through Fireside Fiction and my debut duology, MARY, rereleased through Disney Hyperion. Eva Darrows has BELLY UP out in spring 2019, and my next PRH book, a YA horror about Miss Havisham, is out in spring of 2020. Once I get all of that stuff cleaned up? I’m hoping to knock out one of the aforementioned fantasy novels (co-written with my bestie Lauren Roy) and work on a Thea De Salle title. Busy, busy, busy.