Tag Archives: Isabel Sterling

Writing My Way Out of the Closet: A Guest Post by These Witches Don’t Burn Author Isabel Sterling

I have so much love for These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling, a debut contemporary f/f YA fantasy out today, and while you can find some of that love expressed on the back cover in blurb form, I’m extra excited to help celebrate its entrance into the world by hosting this guest post! But first, here’s some more info on the book:

36484081Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

And here’s the post by author Isabel Sterling!

It’s 2015.

I’ve been writing for three years with three completed novels under my belt. The first was a fantasy novel about a girl with two dads and a bisexual best friend. The second was about a closeted lesbian princess. The most recent story followed a young man who was desperately in love with an accused witch, a girl his sister was also falling for.

Close friends, many queer themselves, asked me with knowing expressions, “What’s your deal?”

“I’m very straight,” I’d say, emphasis included. “I’m just a really strong ally for the LGBTQ community.”

They’d shake their heads and ask if I was sure. I insisted there was no hidden reason for my choice of protagonists, but their question planted a seed of doubt in my mind, so small it was almost impossible to see. I convinced myself I couldn’t possibly be queer. I was in my mid-20s. I should know by now, right?

And then in the early part of 2015, the character of Hannah Walsh walked into my life loud, proud, and unabashedly queer. She was already out and in the midst of a painful breakup when she marched into my head, but as I set out to write, I questioned whether I was the right person to tell her story.

Starting in 2014, with the launch of We Need Diverse Books, conversations about diversity in KidLit were becoming more widely discussed in the online book community, spearheaded by writers of color (for whom this was not a new conversation). Reading those discussions forced me to examine why I was writing this particular story and what it meant for me to write a queer point of view character as a straight ally.

I considered reimaging Hannah and making her straight. I was no stranger to rewriting books–it’s a common part of my process, even now–but something in me rebelled against the idea. The prospect of making Hannah straight, of stripping away her queerness, was painful in a way that was terrifying to look at too closely.

Near the midpoint of drafting that novel, I had my first crush on another woman.

It was an intense and sudden crush, but one that I still tried to explain away. These feelings didn’t mean anything, I reasoned, because I liked men. And though I understood the concept of bisexuality, I didn’t feel like it could apply to me. Without realizing it, I had internalized so many biphobic stereotypes that I couldn’t see myself in that identity. I was too boring. Too plain. I didn’t grow up having crushes on my female friends, and I certainly wasn’t the kind of “cool” I associated with the queer women I’d met in college.

And even if I did–maybe, possibly, probably–have a crush on a woman, it was too late. I’d invested too many years proclaiming loudly that I was straight. It seemed impossible to be anything else.

As my first draft of Hannah’s story neared its end, still in the throes of that first crush and in complete denial, I made Hannah fall in love with a boy.

The choice didn’t make sense for her character, but I couldn’t write the ending any other way. Without realizing just how autobiographical the words would become, I poured every bit of the confusion and embarrassment that was swirling inside of me into Hannah. She had been so vocal about being a lesbian, how could anyone possibly understand that something had changed? She was afraid of having her queerness erased. She was afraid of people claiming her relationship with her ex-girlfriend had been a phase.

She was afraid, because I was afraid.

The characters around Hannah reminded her that being bi didn’t mean you liked different genders equally, that it was perfectly valid to like girls way more often than she liked boys. As I wrote, a tiny voice inside whispered that maybe the reverse was true, too. That maybe it’d be okay if I mostly liked guys and only sometimes liked girls. But my fear was louder than that voice, and I pushed it down where I couldn’t hear it anymore. That truth was for other people. Advice I might give to one of my students. It didn’t belong to me.

I finished the draft. I went on with my life. I started reading essays written by bisexual women about their experiences. Until finally, finally, something clicked. Suddenly, I could see all the ways I had written Hannah’s experience as a fun house mirror of my own. I recognized her loud proclamations of her identity. Her reluctance to let that go in the face of attraction to a gender she claimed to have no interest in. The embarrassment I felt so keenly that it physically hurt to realize I had been so wrong for so many years.

When I finally came out to myself, when I finally admitted that I was bisexual and said the words out loud, my entire world shifted. When I stopped fighting the attraction, I was shocked to find how intense those feelings were. Over time, I realized I actually gravitate toward women more than any other gender.

The Hannah you’ll meet in These Witches Don’t Burn is not bisexual (though her love interest is). That particular character arc was more personal confession than anything else, and Hannah remained the out and proud lesbian who first walked into my head in 2015.

Hannah’s identity may have stayed the same, but writing her story changed everything for me.

Isabel Sterling was born and raised in Central NY, surrounded by cornfields. When she wasn’t mixing potions in her backyard, she was lost in a book. Isabel lives with her wife and their furry children, still searching for magic around every corner. These Witches Don’t Burn is her debut novel.

 

Advertisements

New Releases: May 21-28, 2019

The Pursuit of Miss Heartbreak Hotel by Moe Bonneau (21st)

34730238Two teen girls, once best friends but now estranged, share an electric connection that is rekindled—and tested—in their common struggle with identity, sexuality, and the undeniable necessity to confront their emerging selves head-on.

It’s senior year and Lucy Butler has fallen into a comfortable rhythm; she’s captain of the track team, a sarcastic introvert, and the second favorite child at home. She has her life completely planned out: she knows her friends, her future college major, and her crush, the unattainable Ms. Hayes.

But when Lu reconnects with her childhood best friend, Eve, in the girls’ bathroom and comforts her after a pregnancy scare, all attachments to Ms. Hayes fall off. Lu and Eve have a chemistry that’s fierce and undeniable, and pretty soon they’re closer than they have been in years. But is this what former best friends reconnecting feels like, or is it more?

In the chaotic aftermath of graduation, Lu and Eve will have to let everything they knew about love and life go… or risk missing out on their last chance to be carefree teens.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Indiebound

Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan (21st)

38526970It’s been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace.

Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac’s best friend Connor was the murderer’s final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he’s drawn back into the search for the killer—who might not have been a random drifter after all. Now nobody—friends, neighbors, or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case—is beyond suspicion. Sensing that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Connor while scrambling to uncover the truth.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

Amelia Westlake Was Never Here by Erin Gough (21st)

41716926A fiercely funny, queer romantic comedy about two girls who can’t stand each other, but join forces in a grand feminist hoax to expose harassment and inequality at their elite private school.

Harriet Price is the perfect student: wealthy, smart, over-achieving. Will Everhart, on the other hand, is a troublemaker who’s never met an injustice she didn’t fight. When their swim coach’s inappropriate behavior is swept under the rug, the unlikely duo reluctantly team up to expose his misdeeds, pulling provocative pranks and creating the instantly legendary Amelia Westlake–an imaginary student who helps right the many wrongs of their privileged institution. But as tensions burn throughout their school–who is Amelia Westlake?–and between Harriet and Will, how long can they keep their secret? How far will they go to make a difference? And when will they realize they’re falling for each other?

Award-winning author Erin Gough’s Amelia Westlake Was Never Here is a funny, smart, and all-too-timely story of girls fighting back against power and privilege–and finding love while they’re at it.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Indiebound

Going Off Script by Jen Wilde (21st)

39071056A TV writer’s room intern must join forces with her crush to keep her boss from ruining a lesbian character in this diverse contemporary YA romance from the author of Queens of Geek.

Seventeen-year-old Bex is thrilled when she gets an internship on her favorite tv show, Silver Falls. Unfortunately, the internship isn’t quite what she expected… instead of sitting in a crowded writer’s room volleying ideas back and forth, Production Interns are stuck picking up the coffee.

Determined to prove her worth as a writer, Bex drafts her own script and shares it with the head writer―who promptly reworks it and passes it off as his own! Bex is understandably furious, yet…maybe this is just how the industry works? But when they rewrite her proudly lesbian character as straight, that’s the last straw! It’s time for Bex and her crush to fight back.

Jen Wilde’s newest novel is both a fun, diverse love story and a very relevant, modern take on the portrayal of LGBT characters in media.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Indiebound

Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist (21st)

40221949With a touch, Lexi can sense how and when someone will die. Some say it’s a gift. But to Lexi it’s a curse—one that keeps her friendless and alone. All that changes when Lexi foresees the violent death of a young woman, Jane, outside a club. But Jane doesn’t go to the afterlife quietly. Her ghost remains behind, determined to hunt down her murderer, and she needs Lexi’s help. In life, Jane was everything Lexi is not—outgoing, happy, popular. But in death, all Jane wants is revenge. Lexi will do anything to help Jane, to make up for the fact that she didn’t—couldn’t—save Jane’s life, and to keep this beautiful ghost of a girl by her side for as long as possible.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Indiebound

Hold My Hand by Michael Barakiva (21st)

26053762Alek Khederian thinks about his life B.E. and A.E.: Before Ethan and After Ethan. Before Ethan, Alek was just an average Armenian-American kid with a mess of curly dark hair, grades not nearly good enough for his parents, and no idea of who he was or what he wanted. After he got together with Ethan, Alek was a new man. Stylish. Confident. (And even if he wasn’t quite marching in LGBTQ parades), Gay and Out and Proud.

With their six-month anniversary coming up, Alek and Ethan want to do something special to celebrate. Like, really special. Like, the most special thing two people in love can do with one another. But Alek’s not sure he’s ready for that. And then he learns something about Ethan that may not just change their relationship, but end it.

Alek can’t bear the thought of finding out who he’d be P.E.: Post-Ethan. But he also can’t forgive or forget what Ethan did. Luckily, his best friend Becky and madcap Armenain family are there to help him figure out whether it’s time to just let Ethan go, or reach out and hold his hand.

Hold My Hand is a funny, smart, relatable take on the joy and challenges of teenage love, the boundaries of forgiveness, and what it really means to be honest.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Indiebound

Birthday by Meredith Russo (21st)

39863399Boyhood meets The Sun Is Also a Star in this unconventional love story about two teens bonded for life when they are born on the same day at the same time by award-winning author Meredith Russo!

Two kids, Morgan and Eric, are bonded for life after being born on the same day at the same time. We meet them once a year on their shared birthday as they grow and change: as Eric figures out who he is and how he fits into the world, and as Morgan makes the difficult choice to live as her true self. Over the years, they will drift apart, come together, fight, make up, and break up—and ultimately, realize how inextricably they are a part of each other.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Indiebound

Practically Ever After by Isabel Bandeira (21st)

Practically Ever After (Ever After, #3)Ever practical Grace Correa has planned the perfect life.

She has Leia, the perfect girlfriend, amazing friends, is part of Pine Central’s glitterati, and has been accepted into her first-choice university guaranteeing one of the best paying jobs in the country. To Grace, life is an equation where everything can be perfectly calculated to ensure maximum success and the perfect future.

The problem is that life has a funny way of getting in the way of plans.

With high school rushing to an end, Grace’s plans start falling apart. The “piece of cake” final design project is anything but easy, everyone seems to need everything from her, her schedule is a mess, and after a massive fight, all signs say that breaking up with Leia is the practical choice for both of them. Especially since long distance college relationships never seem to last. Except…Grace starts to wonder for the first time in her life if she messed up her calculations.

What can a practical person do when love is the least practical choice?

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Indiebound

Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker (21st)

35431592The critically acclaimed author of Felix Yz crafts a bold, heartfelt story about a trans girl solving a cyber mystery and coming into her own.

Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.

When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school’s website, Zenobia knows she’s the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson (21st)

39348536Critically acclaimed author of We Are the Ants—described as having “hints of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five” (School Library Journal)—opens up about what led to an attempted suicide in his teens, and his path back from the experience.

“I wasn’t depressed because I was gay. I was depressed and gay.”

Shaun David Hutchinson was nineteen. Confused. Struggling to find the vocabulary to understand and accept who he was and how he fit into a community in which he couldn’t see himself. The voice of depression told him that he would never be loved or wanted, while powerful and hurtful messages from society told him that being gay meant love and happiness weren’t for him.

A million moments large and small over the years all came together to convince Shaun that he couldn’t keep going, that he had no future. And so he followed through on trying to make that a reality.

Thankfully Shaun survived, and over time, came to embrace how grateful he is and how to find self-acceptance. In this courageous and deeply honest memoir, Shaun takes readers through the journey of what brought him to the edge, and what has helped him truly believe that it does get better.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

You First by J.C. Lillis (23rd)

YouFirst_FinalWhen sort-of-superhero Levon Ludlow meets Jay Jantzen on a bench beside their college quad, he knows he’s met a kindred spirit. Levon can talk to animals, but only pests and nuisances no one wants to talk to. Jay can manipulate and freeze water, but only thirty-two ounces at a time. They fall in love fast and hard, bonding over their mundane powers and pledging to be content with a small and safe life in Levon’s beloved hometown.

But thirteen years in, Levon knows that small and safe are no longer enough for his partner. Jay’s been on a self-improvement kick, honing and expanding his powers on the sly. And when Jay gets recruited by a super headhunter for a job three thousand miles away, their long-term relationship is tested like never before.

With the dubious advice of some irksome animals—and the help of an unexpected new mentor—Levon tries his hardest to boost his own powers, catch up to Jay, and salvage their bond. But the more he learns about himself, the less clear-cut his choices seem. Can they save their relationship—and if they want different things, should they even try?

An adult comedy-drama from the author of YA novel HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART, this is a bittersweet story about finding love, finding yourself, and fighting for the future you deserve.

Buy it: Amazon

The Wise and the Wicked by Rebecca Podos (28th)

35053988Ruby Chernyavsky has been told the stories since she was a child: The women in her family, once possessed of great magical abilities to remake lives and stave off death itself, were forced to flee their Russian home for America in order to escape the fearful men who sought to destroy them. Such has it always been, Ruby’s been told, for powerful women. Today, these stories seem no more real to Ruby than folktales, except for the smallest bit of power left in their blood: when each of them comes of age, she will have a vision of who she will be when she dies—a destiny as inescapable as it is inevitable. Ruby is no exception, and neither is her mother, although she ran from her fate years ago, abandoning Ruby and her sisters. It’s a fool’s errand, because they all know the truth: there is no escaping one’s Time.

Until Ruby’s great-aunt Polina passes away, and, for the first time, a Chernyavsky’s death does not match her vision. Suddenly, things Ruby never thought she’d be allowed to hope for—life, love, time—seem possible. But as she and her cousin Cece begin to dig into the family’s history to find out whether they, too, can change their fates, they learn that nothing comes without a cost. Especially not hope.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling (28th)

36484081Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (28th)

42837514In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

Fave Five: LGBTQ Witchy YAs

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey

Hocus Pocus & the All-New Sequel by A.W. Jantha

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

Bonus: Many of the stories in the Toil & Trouble anthology edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe are queer! And for Middle Grade, try The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag.

Double Bonus: Check out how many amazing ones are coming in 2019, including The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta, The Mermaid, The Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve, and These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling. Yes, I’ll probably post these again next year.