As a well-documented fan of music coming out of PNW in the 90s, I’m so thrilled to revealing the cover on the site today for Shine of the Ever by Claire Rudy Foster, a collection of short stories that “explores what binds a community of queer and trans people as they negotiate love, screwing up and learning to forgive themselves for being young and sometimes foolish.” The stories feature a whole rainbow of representation, including people who identify as queer, bisexual, gay, lesbian, binary transgender, non-binary transgender, polyamorous, asexual, pansexual, and genderfluid.
NOW, is there any better format for mashing the best things together like a mix tape?? And that’s what makes this cover, designed by C.B. Messer, so perfect!
Shine of the Ever comes out on November 5th, 2019 from Interlude Press
But wait, there’s more! In addition to the cover, we have an exclusive excerpt from the short story that gave the collection its name, “Shine of the Ever”!
We spent most of the winter in and around my apartment, which overlooked a boring section of southeast Belmont, before the cafes and PNW-inspired restaurants moved in. My rent back then was five-hundred-fifty dollars a month. It had hardwood floors, a bedroom, pocket doors, and a view of Mount Tabor. My neighbors were older people who had been there since the 1980s. I was the youngest person in the building, young enough that I was the only one who didn’t have a player for the tapes the other tenants swapped in the laundry room “library.” I only had a binder of CDs. I didn’t buy a lot of music, because at the time the rent I paid was considered kind of high. Since then, it has more than tripled. I’m pretty sure my old neighbors are all out in the Numbers now. I’m just saying. I don’t live there anymore. Nobody I know does, but there’s never a vacancy. Explain how that works. Where the hell do all these new people come from? At least the weather hasn’t changed. That winter with Ada, it mostly rained, but one day snow piled like popcorn in the gutters, and on another morning a white fog, so muffling that we couldn’t even see the mattress company storefront across the street.
We were a we, an actual couple. We did relationship things. Ada went to her classes at Portland State, and I went to my library job, but we always met up at the end of the day. She didn’t want to spend time with anyone else, and I wasn’t bored yet, so it worked. She served me free beers when she picked up shifts at the Crow Bar. When school got too busy, she quit, and started bringing over a bottle of whiskey a couple times a month.
She didn’t want me to ever feel deprived or like I was missing out, she said. She didn’t want me to have a reason to go anywhere but home.
We went to places that are other places now. We shared beers at Blue Monk, which was a bar and music venue where you could hear actual good hip-hop and jazz musicians who didn’t play that gooey, elevator shit. The Blue Monk is called something else, and there’s a line out front with a doorman and a velvet rope. The people waiting are all dressed up. Lines were never a thing, back then. I associate never waiting with that time of my life, because the timing was always just magically perfect. Anything you wanted, you could have right then: brunch, beer, a turn in the horseshoe pit. Delayed gratification didn’t exist, when I was twenty-three.
Ada and I kissed in bars that are too clean for me now and too expensive. It’s bizarre, when I go back now and try to approximate the proportions of the places I used to know so well. I went to one of my old dives a few years after it closed, and only the ceiling was the same. Pipes and drywall, peeling paint, that was all. Everything else, from the lighting to the tinted mirrors over each booth, was styled. The weird thing was, the place was styled to look like Old Portland. My Portland. They spent a fortune trying to do it too. The matching frosted globes that hung from the exposed rafters would run at least four hundred apiece. A matched set in such good condition must have cost a mint. The tables were tropical salvage. I had that feeling I was in a movie set of my own living room, where every object looked exactly like my personal possession, but nicer, cleaner, and more appealing. I hate it. These designers put in a lot of effort to make things seem natural, but I think the only people who believe it are the ones who never saw the original. They don’t understand that this isn’t Portland anymore: it’s Portlandia. A theme park of the places we used to love.
If you have no point of reference, you are very easy to fool.
Claire Rudy Foster is a queer, trans single parent in recovery. Their short story collection, I’ve Never Done This Before, was published to warm acclaim in 2016. With four Pushcart Prize nominations, Claire’s writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, and many other journals. Their nonfiction work has reached millions of readers in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Narratively, among others. Claire lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.
It’s Reverb‘s release day, and I’m thrilled to welcome Anna Zabo back to the site to celebrate! Reverb is the third book in the Twisted Wishes series, and it stars a pansexual cis woman named Mish and a queer trans guy named David who just happens to be her bodyguard through a stalking incident. Here’s the official book info:
Twisted Wishes bass player Mish Sullivan is a rock goddess—gorgeous, sexy and comfortable in the spotlight. With fame comes unwanted attention, though: a stalker is desperate to get close. Mish can fend for herself, just as she always has. But after an attack lands her in the hospital, the band reacts, sticking her with a bodyguard she doesn’t need or want.
David Altet has an instant connection with Mish. A certified badass, this ex-army martial arts expert can take down a man twice his size. But nothing—not living as a trans man, not his intensive military training—prepared him for the challenge of Mish. Sex with her is a distraction neither of them can afford, yet the hot, kink-filled nights keep coming.
When Mish’s stalker ups his game, David must make a choice—lover or bodyguard. He’d rather have Mish alive than in his bed. But Mish wants David, and no one, especially not a stalker, will force her to give him up.
When I set out to write David in Reverb, I knew two things for sure: I would not be dead-naming David, and his being trans wouldn’t be the focus of the story.
I wanted to write about a trans guy being a guy and getting his HEA without wallowing in trans trauma before we got to that HEA, as if the only reason trans people have HEAs is if they go through some unbelievable crap and the one lone golden cis person pops out to save them from misery.
There’s a lot more and varied and beautiful trans experiences other than that!
Yes, there are microaggressions and little moments that grate when you’re trans, and some of those things made it into Reverb. There are also moments of humor and just…moments of being trans. Those are aspects I tried to include in the novel.
I did not want to focus on trans pain. I didn’t want to write a story about understanding trans people from a cis point of view. There are enough of those books out there already.
So if you’re going into Reverb wanting some great moment of angst about David being trans…there isn’t any. It’s not an issue. It’s really about Mish and David and touring with the band and the awful stalker who won’t leave Mish alone.
Personally, what I would like to see more of are books about trans joy. About the settled nature of living the life you want to live. About the happiness of gender euphoria. About life being life with all its foibles and fun and sadness too, but not have that coupled with being trans. About growing older as a trans person. That’s what I want to see more of in trans romance. The conflict of a romance not centering around being trans.
We don’t center romances around the trauma of being cis or how hard it is for a trans person to come to accept that their partner is cis. It seems counterproductive to expect every story with a trans main character to follow that pattern, too.
I’d also like more non-binary main characters in romance. Not every person falls into a gender binary. And, I’d love to see more romances about trans people falling for trans people. And older trans characters! David is forty-three in Reverb because I’m in my forties. And you can still be sexy, badass, and trans in your forties.
Basically, I believe we need more stories about trans love and trans joy, not just trans survival. Not just trans acceptance. Trans people deserve to see themselves in books as happy, joyful, fulfilled human beings at all ages.
Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow. They live and work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which isn’t nearly as boring as most people think.
Anna grew up in the wilds of suburban Philadelphia before returning to their ancestral homelands in Western Pennsylvania. They can be easily plied with coffee.
Anna has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where they fell in with a roving band of romance writers and never looked back. They also have a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University.
Anna uses they/them pronouns and prefers Mx. Zabo as an honorific.
Today on the site we’re revealing yet another super cute cover by Xan West, this one for Their Troublesome Crush, the contemporary polyam trans m/cis f Romance novella that kicks off the Kink & Showtunes series with its release on April 16, 2019! Here’s the blurb:
In this queer polyamorous m/f romance novella, two metamours realize they have crushes on each other while planning their shared partner’s birthday party together. Ernest, a Jewish autistic demiromantic queer fat trans man submissive, and Nora, a Jewish disabled queer fat femme cis woman switch, have to contend with an age gap, a desire not to mess up their lovely polyamorous dynamic as metamours, the fact that Ernest has never been attracted to a cis person before, and the reality that they are romantically attracted to each other, all while planning their dominant’s birthday party and trying to do a really good job.
(An illustrated cover featuring a fat brunette cane-using woman in a cupcake-printed dress holding hands with a fat redheaded trans man in jeans and an open plaid shirt in front of a bakery display case full of cupcakes.)
Ernest had the best idea for Daddy’s birthday and he couldn’t wait to share it with Nora. When would she get here? He was so excited that his hands were fluttery, and he was bouncing a little. They were going to throw Gideon an amazing birthday party, and Gideon was going to ruffle his hair and call him a good boy, and cup Nora’s cheek and give her that sweet smile he had just for her, and he would tell them both they did a good job. There was nothing better than doing a good job.
Ernest was getting ahead of himself, he knew, but he couldn’t help it. He always got giddy at the beginning of tasks; this was their first joint task doing service for Gideon as metamours, and that was exciting, and Ernest was rather bouncy in general, anyway. Luckily, Nora was more grounded and moved slowly and deliberately, so they would balance each other out, he thought. Ernest had this image in his head, of himself tugging on Daddy’s hand, racing forward, unruly short red curls going every which way, and Nora holding Gideon’s other hand, moving slow and steady, gazing up at him like he hung the moon, her tight dark curls framing her face in a somewhat controlled cloud. Maybe there was a song in that, he thought, the two rhythms dancing around the melody, balancing it. His fingers moved on his thighs, building the rhythms, as his head started to fill with the melody. Then these two women sat right next to him, talking loudly about the bat mitzvah they were planning, and he lost the song altogether. He should have sat in the corner.
Ernest moved to the corner table, which was quieter, thankfully, but he couldn’t get the song back, so he sketched out the idea in his notebook and turned his attention back to the party planning. There were a ton of cupcake shops in NYC, but Nora favored this one on the Lower East Side; they were meeting there so Ernest could try them out. He still wasn’t sure cupcakes were the right choice. They would be perfect for his own birthday, but perhaps Gideon would want something more dignified. He had his eye on a pie shop in Brooklyn. But it made sense to at least try the cupcakes, didn’t it? How could he resist a chance to try cupcakes?
Maybe they should get a half dozen and sample. It would give him a chance to take leftovers home and see what Daddy thought. But he knew Nora was diabetic and that made it thorny to fill the table with cupcakes. What if it was a mean thing to do, since she probably could only have a few bites? At least, that was what she generally did with desserts, when they had gotten them in the past. They always shared so she could have a taste but not mess up her blood sugar. But maybe it wasn’t right for him to not ask just because she was diabetic? He didn’t want to act like he was in charge of her food choices. He thought it through, considering it from a few angles, trying to figure out what would be the most considerate and the least intrusive and the most respectful of her autonomy, his brain filling with these spiraling thoughts that contradicted each other, until he remembered what Jax had said to him once: “People think they are being so caring when they comment on what you eat, when you’re a fat diabetic. They don’t see the way our food choices are constantly scrutinized and judged, the way we’re so often blamed for having diabetes, how we have unhelpful non-consensual help pushed on us all the time. What I really need is to be left alone…unless I ask for information or help.”
Well, that cleared things up. He would do the sampler thing and try a few flavors, and let her do what made sense for her. Ernest got enough shit from the world as a mid-sized fat not-really-passing-most-of-the-time trans guy, for eating sweets in public…it seemed likely that as a larger fat diabetic femme cis woman, she got a whole lot more. He definitely didn’t want to add to that. Once he connected those ideas, a whole bunch more slotted into place, as he thought about unhelpful non-consensual help, and all the ways it messed things up, about the ways that kind of help interacted with ableism and fat oppression and misogyny. He started mapping it out in his notebook, connecting the dots for himself. Writing it, mapping it, helped make it stick when there was a gap in a pattern like this, like it was reinforcing a piece of the puzzle that had been missing but was now in place. He didn’t want to lose this piece again.
Ernest traced the pattern he’d drawn in his notebook, and felt his brain ready itself for a leap to another connection, just as he heard his name being said in a husky musical voice that held tones of humor, like perhaps she’d already said it a few times and he’d missed that. So he looked up, and Nora was there, taking off her adorable raincoat, which was bright pink and had white polka dots. She was wearing purple tights and a short black dress. Her dress had cupcakes on it! Nora managed to look both powerful and cute at the same time; it was something about how her clothes suited her pear-shaped fatness perfectly, and something about how she held herself. Her face was flushed, she was smiling, and her chin-length dark brown hair was all wild frizzy curls today. So was his own hair, come to think of it. He actually had a curl in the center of his fucking forehead, which of course put his mother’s voice in his head, exactly where he did not want her. He dug his nails into his thigh to try to get rid of her and focus on the present.
“You were in your own world,” she said.
He ducked his head. “Um, yeah. I do that.”
“I do it too, when I’m writing. My world is a pretty good place to spend time in.”
He smiled. His world was pretty great too. “I know what you mean. My world is a lot better than most places in NYC. Maybe you could tell me about your world sometime?”
“You want to hear about the world I’m writing, the novel I’m working on?”
“Yes, please,” he said firmly. He definitely wanted to hear about that.
“Hmm. That rates a please, does it?”
Ernest blinked, trying to figure out what she meant. Was he not supposed to say please? Was he not supposed to want to hear about her world? He didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded.
She was still standing over the table, though she’d draped her raincoat over her chair, and moved closer to him, so it wasn’t that she was going to leave. Was he supposed to be standing too? She made him nervous, looking down at him, standing so close. His heart was racing. Why did he like being around her so much if she made him nervous like this?
“Come on,” Nora said, and her hand appeared. He was supposed to take it, he knew. But they hadn’t ever touched, so it was a shock to be suddenly faced with it. Did he want to take her hand? After a moment the answer came: yes. So he stood up, and took it. She tugged him over to the display case of all the cupcakes, and then stood next to him, reaching over his body to point out her favorite flavors, closer than she had ever stood before. It made him a bit dizzy, but not in a scary way. It was like being filled with bubbles; he was unsteady, almost floating, definitely not firmly planted on the ground.
He dug his boots into the floor, not wanting to fall, as her voice filled him up, talking about why she loved these particular flavors. The scent of sugar and butter was so strong in this part of the shop. But that wasn’t all he smelled. Her raincoat had a hood but he didn’t think she’d been wearing it, because her hair, which was so close it had brushed his face, smelled like rain. He closed his eyes for a moment and breathed in, concentrating on the smell of rain. He’d always loved the rain, would stand outside in it every chance he got, savoring the sensation of it on his skin. There was nothing like spinning in the rain. He’d tried spinning in the shower but it wasn’t the same. “Singin’ in the Rain” came into his head, and he hummed it, knowing that he couldn’t sing, not in a bakery, even though he wanted to. Humming would have to do.
Xan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, an autistic queer fat Jewish genderqueer writer and community activist with multiple disabilities who spends a lot of time on Twitter.
Xan’s erotica has been published widely, including in the Best S/M Erotica series, the Best Gay Erotica series, and the Best Lesbian Erotica series. Xan’s story “First Time Since”, won honorable mention for the 2008 National Leather Association John Preston Short Fiction Award. Their collection of queer kink erotica, Show Yourself to Me, is out from Go Deeper Press.
After over 15 years of writing and publishing queer kink erotica short stories, Xan has begun to also write longer form queer kink romance. Their recent work still centers kinky, trans and non-binary, fat, disabled, queer trauma survivors. It leans more towards centering Jewish characters, ace and aro spec characters, autistic characters, and polyamorous networks. Xan has been working on a queer kinky polyamorous romance novel, Shocking Violet, for the last four years, and hopes to finish a draft very soon! You can find details and excerpts on their website, and sign up for their newsletter to get updates.
Today on the site we have the cover reveal of Temper: Deference by Lila Mina, the first book in an adult polyam paranormal romance series with BDSM themes.
Short-tempered Lana Martin is a workaholic consultant based in Tokyo. Not one to turn down a challenge, she accepts the indecent proposal of her abrasive martial arts’ instructor to become his submissive in a dynamic that tests her resilience.
Spreading like wildfire, their affair lights up another blaze, this time between Lana and Honda’s wife, the sophisticated socialite Yuki. Fearless, Lana embraces what her two masters offer her.
Yet, unbeknown to her, their powerful desire rouses dark powers who waited for decades to claim their prizes. Lana must confront the enemy eating her from within, while pulling back Honda from the edge of madness. Yuki’s unwavering strength keeps them sane – but for how long?
Yuki stopped by the reading room on their way out. “Goshujin sama, we are leaving. We will be at Chicago’s Soul, have a nice evening.”
Lana was already in the genkan and didn’t hear his reply. “Will there be any gig tonight?” she asked as they climbed into the taxi.
“There are always several live acts. At this hour, we might still catch a couple. Afterward, DJs take over the place.” Yuki took Lana’s hand and squeezed it. “Now, let’s make good use of tonight to get to know each other better. I intend to make you drink enough champagne to have you spill out your life story, sweetling,” she chuckled.
Lana’s smile turned forced. She would have to control her intake because she wasn’t ready for this. “Hm, I’ll make sure you don’t spike my drink, then. Who knows what would happen to me? I could wake up in your bed and not remember anything, or something just as terrible,” she smirked.
Yuki’s laugh sent new butterflies to Lana’s stomach, but nice one this time. Honda sama, you idiot, why can’t you be content with such a queen at your side…
Yuki leaned toward her ear, warm breath sending shivers along her spine. “Now I regret not having ordered a limousine with a privacy screen. It would be bad press to give this grandpa a good show; and we wouldn’t hear the end of it.”
Lana closed her eyes and stifled a moan. “Let’s wait a bit longer,” she whispered.
“Don’t worry, neko chan, our VIP lounge is a separate room with full privacy.” Both women shared a steamy look filled with promises before falling back into a comfortable silence while their taxi brought them to Shibuya district.
The exclusive nightclub Chicago’s Soul occupied a four-stories high building. Hundreds of patrons waited in line, but Yuki brought them without hesitation to the VIP entrance. She didn’t even have to show her member card for the doors to open wide. Two hostesses brought them to their lounge. Lana discovered a spacious room, all in burgundy, red, and black tones, with large sofas. A bay window offered a perfect view of the dance-floor and scene, two floors below.
“Champagne?” Yuki asked, offering Lana a flute.
After a toast, Lana pointed at the jazz band performing. “Do you mind if we go downstairs to listen? It’s been ages since I had the chance to enjoy live jazz and I’d love to be closer than this.”
“Of course! There’s a table booked for us. This band is so good, they come back every year from Chicago, and the crowds love them. Come on, let’s go.” Yuki grabbed Lana’s hand and led them to the flight of stairs.
As soon as they sat at the table, only a few meters away from the scene, Lana found herself lost in the amazing performance of the band. The saxophonist was gifted, and his music stirred a whirlpool of emotions flushing her cheeks and making her hands shake. Warm fingers squeezed her wrist.
“I wish you could see the look on your face and those sparkles in your eyes, sweetling. I am so happy we came here tonight. It was high time you enjoyed something pleasurable and easy,” Yuki said in her ear.
Tears blurred Lana’s sight, and she pressed her companion’s hand back. “I didn’t think I needed it, but it seems like I truly did. Thank you, Yuki sama.”
They remained at their table for about one hour, savoring a fresh bottle of champagne until the concert came to an end. Like everyone else, they jumped on their feet for a standing ovation.
“Dancing time!” Yuki exclaimed. “Do you want to go back to our lounge, or shall we stay here and join the crowd when there is some movement going on?”
“Why don’t we remain here for a while? I’m dying to hear how, you, the eldest daughter of a fearsome industry tycoon, get to open the doors of the most exclusive nightclubs in stride?”
Yuki laughed; she massaged Lana’s thigh under the table, and let her fingers crawl up, sending electric shocks to her companion’s core. “Well, you see, while my father has given me the same education as my brothers, to his eternal frustration, he’s never been able to curb my endless search for personal freedom. My desire to explore my drives and be truthful to myself. My mother understood it and helped me, enabling many of my wildest choices–including my love for partying. My father was mad at us, but he never knew how to hold a grudge against her for long.” She caressed Lana’s cheek and took a shaky breath. “You would have loved her, and she would have definitely loved you.” Emotions thickened her voice.
Not caring about the crowd surrounding them, Lana leaned forward to kiss Yuki’s neck. Her lover cupped her cheek, pressed her lips and swept her tongue against hers, demanding entrance. Their deep kiss left them panting.
“Come on, let’s dance,” Yuki said huskily. “Show me what all this extra harsh training is about, sweetling.”
Lana gave her a dazzling smile and led her by the hand to the center of the dance floor. Soon, they were lost to the outside world, letting the fast beat and loud music take over their bodies, sweat drenching their backs. Lana’s desire for her companion built up fast, and she had to remind herself they weren’t alone. The fire in Yuki’s eyes told her a similar story when she grabbed Lana’s waist for a highly charged sensual dance.
“So neko chan, do you see anyone here who catches your eyes, whom you find… interesting?” Yuki purred in Lana’s ear.
Lana squeezed Yuki’s arm around her waist. “Yes, indeed. Lucky me, I’m in her arms,” she replied, beaming.
“So smooth and sweet.” Yuki replied with a large smile. “Now, don’t forget, you’re allowed to look… and more.”
Lana chuckled and shook her head. “As if I could have the energy or even the need to search for someone else with the two of you in my life. Right now, I am quite complete and content, oku sama.”
Yuki remained silent for a while, continuing her complex dance moves, and leading Lana through them. “Intimacy is such a serious thing for you. Why not try the fun side of it? How about finding out if any of those beautiful young ladies wants to come upstairs with us?”
Lana smiled against the smooth and damp skin of her lover, cupping her cheek. “I envy you so much for knowing who you are and for this freedom you’ve found. Please oku sama. Go ahead, ask one of them out, don’t mind me, you don’t need my blessing. Maybe one day I’ll get there, but right now, this is impossible.”
Yuki’s eyes flashed. They stopped dancing and found themselves in a bubble, surrounded by hundreds of dancers. Lana didn’t blink under the searching gaze of her companion.
“Of course not, I’m not ditching you! Hm… don’t take me wrong, but the two of you are so similar. All these years, goshujin sama gave me complete leeway, but when he met you, only then did he grant himself some self-indulgence. He chose you.”
Lana winced. “Ah, this must be hard for you–” A slender finger on her lips cut her off.
“No, it’s not. I’ve already told you why. And it’s such a blessing it’s you, and that I find myself drowning in your personality, care and your other delicious skills. He couldn’t have chosen better,” Yuki added with a warm smile before resuming dancing.
Lana followed suit but had to look away to hide her trouble. Chosen… always this word.
She exhaled to let go of her tension; her eyes found the VIP area on the second floor and fell on the last man she’d expected to see. Honda.
“Oh!” She came again to a stop, shocked. “I can’t believe it. He’s here, just outside the VIP room, by the stairs!”
Yuki didn’t even glance up or lose a beat. “Yes, he’s been there for fifteen minutes or so, watching us.”
“Did you expect him?”
“No, it’s the second or third time in the past ten years he’s come here. He dislikes the noise and such crowds. Maybe the picture of you in this amazing dress I sent him earlier did the trick,” Yuki teased.
Lana burst out laughing, her unease evaporating, replaced by the wicked pleasure to make jokes at his expense with the only other person who would get it.
“Oh my, this and the video of your incredible hip move I sent him!” Both women whooped in laughter. “All right, it’s nasty of us to give him such a nosebleed.”
Yuki snorted. “A nosebleed and something else, which must be bothering him a lot right now. We can always blame it on the alcohol, and if he complains, the door of my bedroom will be locked next week.”
Lana chuckled. “This is your prerogative.”
Something serious flickered again in Yuki’s eyes, and the older woman grabbed both hands of her companion. “Lana san, it’s yours as well. Let me be clear here. If you don’t want to join him when he asks you to, you don’t have to. You’re in his service, yes, but not at his service. Whatever role we play, whatever pledge of obedience you made. Your limits aren’t only there for when you’re already in action. They also apply before starting anything. If you want to give him the cold shoulder for one week or one month, it’s fine, as long as you are clear and forthcoming.”
Lana inhaled deeply. “My problem is not having to go to him when I don’t want to. Rather, the issue is, I always want to. Even now, even though we’re together, and I want you and would like to do so many naughty things to you on the spot…” They shared a knowing smile. “Knowing he’s here, I…” She blushed and looked away.
“You want to climb the stairs and join him,” Yuki purred in her ear, once again against Lana’s hip and chest.
“Yes!” Lana exclaimed, exasperated. “I’m mad at myself for being so weak when it comes to him, in particular when this is supposed to be our night.”
Yuki grabbed her neck and pulled her in for another deep kiss. “It is, sweetling. But this is also supposed to be a fun and relaxing time. The choice is yours: you can go up to him, stay with me, take me up with you, or leave us here and get back home.”
Lana groaned, tugged by many contradictions, and threw another look at the VIP space. What she saw made her frown and burst her self-pity bubble. “Yuki sama, there are several women around goshujin sama, vying for his attention.”
Yuki gave her a voracious smile but still, didn’t glance upstairs. “Oh, I’m sure there are, glittering moths drawn to a dark, brooding flame leaving them panting and all kinds of bothered. Don’t fret. He’s not going to spare them one glance.”
“Really? They’re so beautiful. It would be hard not to react, at least a little bit.”
Yuki went behind Lana and molded herself against her back. “Oh yes, they’re so lovely they make my eyes hurt and my mouth water, but he doesn’t work like this. They could be Miss Japan and jump him straight naked, he wouldn’t touch them. None of them would last even one minute with him, and he can’t even be bothered. Even I can’t always follow. Only you seem able to manage him at his highest degree. But perhaps it’s because this is not about fun but fight for the two of you, isn’t it?”
Once again, Lana turned silent and squeezed Yuki’s hand. Her words hit their marks with frightening accuracy, but it was also a relief to hear this truth expressed so plainly. Yuki nibbled her lover’s sweaty neck. “Come on now, let’s go upstairs, and rescue him from such unbearable harassment.”
An avid reader of thrillers, science-fiction, horror and romance, I have been writing for nearly 25 years. Lila Mina is one of my pen names.
I live in Japan. The rich and beautiful traditions, the amazing nature and the long history of this country are a constant source of creative inspiration. I am a firm believer in cross-genre literature. Life is too complex, too rich and surprising to limit stories to one genre. I love blending them to create powerful characters, emotional plots and exciting stories that hopefully will stay a long time with my readers. My stories feature multiracial couples and sometimes menage who come together, bound by love and passion, to fight against forces bent on taking them apart.
I’m very excited to have Alex Harrow on the site today, revealing the cover of their upcoming adult sci-fi best described as “gay Firefly with magic,” Empire of Light! (See tags for more information on rep and content warnings.)
Check it out:
Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.
Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.
To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As the revolution gains traction, Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one moment and kiss him the next. But Aris slips further away from Damian, and as Aris’ control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on.
With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.
And here’s the cover, designed by rock star Natasha Snow!
Gorgeous, isn’t it?? But wait, there’s more! Stay tuned (for another .03 seconds for an exclusive excerpt from Empire of Light by Alex Harrow) that begins…now!
SHOOTINGS WITH A CHANCE OF EXPLOSIONS
Funny how I always had to be the guy who ended up with a gun to his head.
“I thought you said this was going to be easy,” Aris said somewhere to my right. His voice was thick, the words choked out past the gun shoved underneath his jaw. The two Reds who kept us pinned were all broad shoulders and raw muscle. Huge white guys. Buzz cuts. Built like fucking tanks. In the low light of a fading sunset spilling into the empty warehouse, their leather coats gleamed like congealing blood.
The run had started out simple enough: get in, dump the cargo—a couple dozen barrels of diesel and some tech we’d snatched off a derailed train—and get the hell out. The place’d been abandoned for years, just another slouching ruin on the outskirts of Low Side. The perfect hiding spot to stash away things you didn’t want the Watch to find, while waiting for the highest bidder to jump the gun. A surefire way to some quick and easy cash and still get to my real job for the night.
Standing there with my face mashed against the crumbling brick wall, a gun barrel against my skull, it looked more like a surefire way straight to a cell in the Finger of Light.
If we were lucky.
The guy above me looked more than happy to put a bullet into my brain pan and chalk both Aris and I up as “casualties, resisting arrest.” The Watch, safeguards of the Empire, the Consolidated Nations at their best. To protect and serve. Right.
Not like I could just tell our dear upstanding Reds to go ahead and stick their guns and handcuffs up their asses, because we kind of were on the same team. I might be running the Empire’s off-the-books hits for extra cash, but officially, I didn’t exist.
Blurting out that I was on their boss’ payroll wouldn’t get me anything but a bullet to the head and my body dumped into the East River. Talk about employment perks.
That’s what I got for double-booking myself. Fucking Murphy’s Law.
And worse, I’d dragged Aris into it.
“Guess Jay was sugarcoating it just a little bit when she said there might be slight complications.”
Someone ratted us out. No way the Watch had just shown up here, far from their usual patrol routes, without any reason. The whole thing’d been a sting from the get-go, and once I found out who’d set us up—
My fingers twitched for my Colt. My Colt that lay cold and useless about five feet away from me. Slim chance I’d be able to shoot both Reds before one of them got to either Aris or me, but I might get lucky and get the drop on one of them. Especially if I could piss him off enough he got stupid. At the very least I could distract them from Aris.
“You know, I kind of need to be somewhere. And I’d really appreciate a little more leg room here,” I said and squirmed under the Red’s grip.
Honestly, by now I probably should’ve memorized some of the regulars’ names or something. To me they all looked the same. All fists ready to punch and guns ready to fire; neatly wrapped in black uniforms and their trademark red coats. Not like this was the first time either. By now, the Watch should really issue us a punch card for frequent visits, maybe something with a rewards program.
Alex Harrow is a genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual author of queer science fiction and fantasy. Alex’ pronouns are they/them. When not writing queerness with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices, misused apostrophes, and anyone under the delusion that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.
A German immigrant, Alex has always been drawn to language and stories. They began to write when they realized that the best guarantee to see more books with queer characters was to create them. Alex cares deeply about social justice and wants to see diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists, in more than the stereotypical coming out story.
Alex currently lives in Utah with their equally geeky wife, outnumbered by three adorable feline overlords, and what could not possibly be too many books.
Today we welcome two LGBTQReads newbies to the site: R.M. Sayan, author of the upcoming historical slow-burn m/m fantasy novella Silenci with Less Than Three Press, and their interview subject, Lin Darrow, author of LGBTQ+ webcomics Shaderunners and Captain Imani, as well as the novella Pyre at the Eyreholme Trust!
First of all, the clichéd questions: how did you start writing?
Oh, that’s an interesting question, actually, because I don’t really remember when I started writing. I feel like I’ve always really liked to jot down stories and draw, and the different types of storytelling. I think that I read the Hobbit when I was in sixth grade in school, and that was the first time I discovered fantasy literature, and I think that that was my niche, that was the genre that I was really drawn to. So I think that reading The Hobbit was the first time I thought ‘oh I could write a story’, specifically in novel form, so I started out writing little myths and short stories and novel-oriented thing and moved on to comics later. It’s funny, I feel like I always have written, but The Hobbit was the first time I thought ‘I could write a book’, or ‘I could write a story that looks like this’, that isn’t just my scribblings or making up stories for my sister as we played or something like that.
That’s so cool! When I read The Hobbit, I was honestly a little intimidated by it. It didn’t happen with you?
No, I mean, I understand why you would feel that way because it’s really… intense, and Tolkien is dense in general. I remember trying to read Lord of the Rings in sixth grade and I struggled through it, it’s quite the challenge, but I think it was more that this was the first fantasy thing that I had ever read. It was the genre that got me excited, because there’s so much possibility with fantasy, we keep discovering more and more and there’s so many great fantasy writers today.
That’s true, I feel like fantasy is reaching a new peak. So, aside from Tolkien, who do you think are your top influences?
That’s a really great question! When I was younger I read a lot of Clamp manga, so I feel like even if I don’t read them anymore I can still feel their influence, mainly because they were the first creators that I followed that were publishing content that could be called queer content and queer fantasy comics. It was a really big revelation to me, the idea that you could have things like normalized queerness in stories, that queer fiction didn’t just have to be about the coming out narrative, that it could be like a post-apocalyptic drama or a fluffy fantasy story, and that was really influential for me. I read a lot of Frank L. Baum, Wizard of Oz, I read a lot of the Oz books, so a lot of my fantasy growing up was kind of older fantasy. I really love Peter S. Beagle, and then I got into a lot of Victorian fiction, because it’s like fiction from another era.
Like gothic stuff?
Yes! Any gothic stuff I really got into in a big way, like Northanger Abbey, Ann Radcliffe, who I love, I think she’s so fun; Mary Shelley I love, Frankenstein is such a great book. So I kinda fell into all this historical fantasy that I really loved, and I remember —I don’t remember the name of this series— but I remember really loving this one series called something like The Jewel Princess Saga? It was like, every book was a different Jewel Princess, and you got like a little necklace with the book, and I just remember liking that specifically because it was very feminine, very girly fantasy, as opposed to like… Tolkien is very male-oriented, something that I don’t love about him, there’s not too many girls or not-men in general in Tolkien. That was kind of like finding fantasy that was unabashedly girly that was really fun.
So, this is another clichéd question, but, why do you write so many LGBT characters? Not because I’m not LGBT or anything, but because every author has different motivation. What’s yours?
Huh, you know what, it’s funny because it’s not something that I really think about, it’s just something I do naturally. I think my motivation is just that I like it! I think that there’s so many missed opportunities and so many genres that queer people still don’t really exist in in a big way? And if we do, we’re like side characters or we’re… I always really hate in stories where there’s a queer character and they give them a generic partner, who is like perfect and isn’t really involved in the plot in a main way? I feel like we don’t really get those epic romances or those epic stories that really center around us. And I feel like every time I start to write a character, it’s always just more interesting to me, what would it be like if this person was queer? Because I feel like we’re just in these stories a lot, I write a lot of noir fiction and it’s traditionally been a very straight dude genre. I think for me what’s kind of exciting about fantasy mashups and genre mashups is like taking those things back and reclaiming them and saying I’m gonna take what I like from this genre, but I’m gonna leave out these ‘straight dude vibes’ or the aggressively masculine stereotypical-macho vibes, and I’m gonna remake it into something that fits my world a little better. So I don’t know that I have a singular motivation, it’s basically just that I like writing about queer people, it’s what comes naturally to me.
That’s fair, because it’s like they’re trying to portray one world and they don’t realize that world involves our world, so it’s like… hey, what’s up?
Yeah! I think it’s a fair question in a lot of ways, because we’re always in this tradition like, the queer story has to justify itself, or there needs to be a reason. I think I like writing things where there’s no reason, they just are!
I get you! So how do you sit down and write these things? Do you actually sit down, or do you write standing up or running around or… [laughs] What’s your creative process, basically?
Oh, that’s a fun question! I find that I have a really simple trick, which is when I’m writing something and I need to finish it, I just have a file open on my computer and I never close it. So wherever I am, if I’m at work, or if I’m home lying on the couch, or if I’m out at a café, I always have it with me so I’m writing a little bit at a time. Unless I have a really firm deadline for something —which is usually for comic stuff, not for book stuff— I kind of write everywhere. My main trick is just not closing the document so it’s there and I keep pressure on myself to finish it. And that’s been a really little trick but it’s helped me a lot to finish stuff, which I think it’s always the biggest challenge for any writer.
I completely understand— I actually do the same thing!
Yeah! Do you find it useful to do that?
I do, actually! I have several desktops for different projects, so like this desktop is for my comic, this one is for my novel, et cetera
Oh great! It’s a trick that’s helped me a lot, I stole it from a friend who told me to do that.
It carries from writer to writer, I see! So—Pyre! Wow. I really liked the universe, how did you come up with it?
The first time I came up with this universe was for a comic for an anthology called Tabula Idem, which was a queer tarot card anthology that was really fun. I wanted to do something with magic, because Shaderunners doesn’t have magic in it really, there are elements that are fantastical but magic isn’t a thing. So I wanted to kind of take— I really like noir fiction, and I feel like it’s this genre that is not super popular, which sucks because it’s so much fun. I feel like it’s not that popular because nobody has updated it in a while. So I really wanted to do something that had that noir style, because I’m really used to writing in that style now for Shaderunners, it has a very noir style and language. I really like that gritty, weird linguistic style that the 1920s has. I think Pyre is a lot more 1940s, but the language doesn’t change that much, also because I throw a lot of my own idioms in when I write. So I really wanted to do something noir but that was a little more magic than Shaderunners. My comic artist Alex [Assan], I just said ‘can I do a noir and make it just magic gangsters?’ And she was like ‘do whatever you want, man!’ So that was the first time we did it, and we were pitching to a comic anthology that wanted us to pitch for particular cards, so we pitched for the Temperance card (that’s why the city is called Temperance city). I thought it would be funny to have this story about all of these gangsters that cannot chill at all being a part of a city called Temperance![laughs] So that first one was about characters that actually get named in Pyre: Ursula Heart and Constance Merino, or ‘Conman’. So that was about their kind of romance, about fixing a turf war that had been riled up by this fire gang that was trying to get in on their turf. I wrote Pyre about that fire gang, so the Temperance comic is kind of a little prequel.
Where can I find that anthology?
I’m sure it’s around! Well, I wrote Pyre in response for another call for an anthology that Less Than Three was putting on, about tricksters. I was like, ‘I don’t know how well this fits, but I’m having so much fun with this universe!’ So I wrote a short story—that eventually became Pyre—and they got back to me and said ‘this doesn’t really fit the anthology, but we wanna publish it as a book’. They gave me some time to expand it a little, so technically Pyre is still a novella —if I was gonna write another full-length romance novel, it would be a lot longer— but that was the story of how that happened. They said—rightly, I think— that it did not fit the anthology, but they were very interested in publishing as a book, and that was very fun for me too.
So, I was reading Pyre, and I saw that some magics seemed to be deemed more lethal, or more dangerous, or more heavily regulated. Is there a hierarchy?
It’s funny, I think I have some pages written that are like a follow-up to Pyre that I don’t know if I’ll ever pursue, it depends on how fast I’m able to finish it because I have my day job too. There’s a hierarchy in terms of— one thing that really interests me that doesn’t sound super exciting but is for me, is the infrastructure, how a world that had magic that was normalized would deal with the fact that magic is potentially really destructive. I’m always really interested in stories where the antagonists or the people in power have logical motivations for the way that they exert their power, but the actual reality of them exerting that power is actually not fair, or it ends up being oppressive or prejudiced in some way. So I really thought that it was an interesting conflict where you had a world where you have to do something to regulate magic that can burn down a building, but in doing so, what’s the effect on the humans for whom this is a part of who they are. I really like conflicts where you can see both sides, or they’re irresolvable in some way, I think that the characters in Pyre don’t want there to be any laws, but for me personally, I don’t know if that’s ever gonna be achievable in the world, because that’s also ignoring the fact that no, you need to regulate people with extreme power. So I think the hierarchy tends to be, first magic that can cause death or great bodily harm, then the second is magic that can enable people to commit white-collar crimes— I think the ink magic is strictly regulated because there’s so much opportunity to commit things like fraud or counterfeit, which they do in the story [laughs]. So I think that definitely goes, 1) bodily harm, 2) things that would allow you to enrich yourself illegally, and then— I think about things in terms of series even if I don’t complete them, and the second book in the series if I do pursue it is going to be water and lightning, with a different set of characters falling in love and having adventures.
Those two would have an interesting dynamic!
Yeah! I thought so too, and I also really like playing with the expectations of what people with these elemental powers would have in terms of like… Ink magic isn’t necessarily something that’s super exciting on paper but I just thought there was so much I could do with it. So yeah, the next one is gonna be water and lightning and I think water would also be pretty intense, because you can flood things with it.
A little bit like waterbending? By any chance, was this influenced by Avatar: The Last Airbender or Avatar: The Legend of Korra?
Yes! Very much so, in the sense that I really like magic where it’s not just snapping your fingers and something happens, I really love the idea that in Avatar you’re seeing what they’re doing, and it’s very built into the fabric of that show, the idea that it’s the motion of your body that it’s allowing you to move and manipulate these things. I really wanted the magic to feel grounded, and not just “snap your fingers and it’s done”! I wanted it to be like a relationship that these people have with the elements. I think Eli has a relationship with ink where he can feel it moving and he moves with it. I do feel like that was an influence in the sense that I really like magic that is grounded and connected to the person and not just this things that happens independently that they’re controlling, I wanted it to feel like a relationship between element and person.
It does feel like that, because Eli is very… attached? To ink, and you can feel it! So, anyways, the big project… Shaderunners! How did you come up with it? Was it collaborative, or did you come up with it yourself?
It wasn’t collaborative initially, because the way that Shaderunners got started initially was, I wrote a book, which was the first book that I ever finished, called Fenton’s Red. I wrote it and Alex read it because we were friends, we had met online through various fandoms, and she really liked it and started drawing fan art for it, so eventually we became close enough, and we both loved the same comics, and we wanted to do a comic, and so it felt like a natural progression to do something from the Fenton’s Red universe, because we both knew it really well. She was so generous with her time, in terms of drawing me fan art and talking to me about the characters… It was really our first collaboration in the sense that she was kind of an editor where I would be like “oh I’m working on this scene and trying to figure this out” and she would know the characters so well that she could be like, “well, Ezra would do this, don’t you think? And this feels out of character for him”. It was really great to have someone motivating me who knew the characters well and who I could talk things out with and the characters became so much more full and complex after having to throw ideas at her and having her push me back on them. So I finished the book, and that’s sitting on a shelf still, I really want to go back and rewrite it and send it out to some agents, but it’s all about finding the time. But in the meantime we wanted to do a comic because we really like working together, and I love her art so I really wanted to do something that could make the most out of both of our talents instead of just her always being involved in mine, and so it just made sense to make something in that universe, so we ended up doing what I guess is kind of a prequel to Fenton’s Red, because Fenton’s Red takes place after the fallout at the end of Shaderunners, with a female main character and a different set. Dom and Ezra are in it!
Oh! Older, I guess.
Yes, older, and some of the other characters are as well, but Dom and Ezra were the two first ones that… Alex really likes them, so I ended up giving them a lot more to do in the story because Alex likes them so much, and so it made sense that we would do a story about them and the other characters who were involved in their part of the book. So it kind of came out of that; her being a great friend and reading my book and having thoughts about it and being a naturally good editor, and me loving her art I guess and wanting to do something that would give her… it’s not totally accurate to say that I was giving her something because, she gives me so much, but I really wanted to work together with her and not have it be one way anymore, which was really great.
So, I really like the Shaderunners universe, I saw some of Alex’s tweets that said, basically (I’m gonna paraphrase) that pansexuality is the norm and gender fluidity is widely accepted. I’m a bit of a sociology fan, so, how does that work? Because it’s really different from our world. So how do gender and sex work in Shaderunners?
I think that, when I was thinking about how the world would function, in terms of infrastructure, I think the world generally operates on a “no questions asked” policy, in the sense that nobody really asks, “what are you?” or “what’s your label?” And I don’t think that’s necessarily a perfect system either, I really don’t want to depict Shaderunners as a utopia. I think that there’s labels in our world that have their function, but I think in the Shaderunners world, it’s more like, in this culture nobody has ever asked what you are in terms of gender or interest, you’re assumed pansexual by default and if you have preferences within that then it’s just called having preferences in the same way that you might have a preference for dark hair. In terms of gender, there’s a system that I had that I’ve never really articulated in the universe where, if someone doesn’t use he or she, if they use a different pronoun—which some people do in the universe too—if you’re not sure of someone’s pronouns you just default to your own when talking about them. In that sense, what I was hoping to do with that—and it’s really not something I’ve articulated in the universe, so it’s originally from the book, really— what I was hoping to do with that was to say, as a gesture of sympathy, “whatever your pronouns is or whatever your identity is, I’m connecting to you through mine”. I think that the way that it works is that nobody really cares too much about the particulars, they just assume that you are what you are and you’ll tell them if it matters. Again, I don’t think it’s a perfect system and I’m not trying to represent a utopian society in Shaderunners with respect to gender, but I mainly just wanted to depict a society that didn’t have to relegate its queer characters to the “queer struggle” narrative. Like, I can have a genderfluid or a bigender character in a story and I don’t have to justify how they came to that realization about themselves, I don’t have to justify how they bumped up against the status quo, they just are who they are and people don’t question it and just adapt, once they get to know them better and they take a route, once Ivo says like, this is who I am, it’s kind of not a conversation. I think the way that it works really is that people don’t expect you to identify one way or another and in doing so people muddle along, if that makes sense.
Of course! It kind of reminds me of when I took Art History and they told me that in Ancient Greece there was no term for “art” so if it was like that, art wasn’t art as we know it, it was just another job. It reminds me of what you’re telling me; if there’s no labels, it’s not necessarily a thing that deserves to be labeled.
If you look at the idea of who you are, who you are interested in romantically or sexually, the idea that that’s a part of your identity, it’s kind of a new idea, historically! I’m a Victorianist by day, so you’re getting some of my day job background here. We just have to say that queer people have always existed, but the way that we talk about sexual identity, as something that is a part of who you are and not just something that you feel or do, it’s kind of a new idea still. It’s something that they articulated really strongly for the first time in the Victorian era, which is still eh compared to other time periods, so it is kind of a newer idea. For me, thinking about the Shaderunners universe, it was just, “well okay what if we never really had a society that placed the heterosexual relationship at the core of it?” What if just evolved so that it was kind of equal in that sense, and in doing so, because it has always been a part of their society, they don’t need to ask for labels because it doesn’t matter. In the same way that it doesn’t matter like… why street you were born on, it’s never really gonna matter. I feel like I’ve said this like three times already, but I’m really not necessarily trying to say that that’s better, I’m just trying to imagine a world where nobody has ever had to think about whether or not they need labels, because it’s not something that makes sense to label the world, because everyone has grown up with it being “normal”. So that was the universe that I was trying to create.
I really like how it turned out! So, Shaderunners, do you consider it your main project?
Yeah, right now I think it’s definitely the most public-facing project. I think it’s the one that has been running the longest, and it’s probably the main one that I would point to. I feel like I always have other projects on the go, like I always want to finish the rewrite of Fenton’s Red, and there’s a sci-fi book that I really want to write, about an alien and a jazz pianist. I really want to finish it one day, it’s a sci-fi noir, because I can’t write anything but noir. [laughs] So yeah, there are a lot of things I want to do, but I think Shaderunners is my main for now.
The couples you write—in Shaderunners, in Pyre, in everything, actually—they have really good chemistry, both the developing couples and the established ones. What are your rules or tips for writing great romance?
For me, it comes down to characters that are lacking something and find it in the other person; not in the sense that they’re defined by the other person, but I think that, writing Eli and Duke, I really like moments where it’s characters realizing that they love the same thing, or that there is something about this person that articulates something that they’ve never heard before but they felt. Some kind of recognition that “this person have what I have been longing for”, and I really like tying that into plot and world. Thinking about Eli and Duke, I think the reason they are so in love is because they both have the same kind of passion for what they do, but in Eli it’s so locked away and in Duke it’s so overt and all over the place and it’s not locked away at all, and I really liked having that kind of combination; they are so different on paper but there’s this one thing that they are absolutely on the same page about, which is that they both love being magic. They’re both passionate about being allowed to be who they are. It’s the combination of feeling like they are so different on paper, but realizing that at heart there is this key thing they both have in common. I really like that contrast of outward differences but internal similarity, I think that’s always something that I’m drawn to. Characters that really badly want things—really I think it’s the key to making good characters—and then the romance comes with what characters so badly want, they’re either at odds with the other or are exactly in alignment with the other. So I think the key to writing good romance is writing good characters with complex wants and needs, and then throwing them into interesting conflicts or alignments with the other characters.
When we were talking about Shaderunners you were telling me about how in tune you were with Alex, and I kind of envy that, because I’ve never been one for teamwork myself! How do you do it? How do you work in team so smoothly and so productively?
I think I’m very lucky to have found someone like Alex, who I found I have a really good working chemistry with. I think it’s nice for us because we both have our own lanes, like sometimes I’ll comment on the art if I feel like an emotional scene could be different or something like that, but ultimately she has the final say over the art, and I have the final say over the writing. Sometimes she’ll say “oh I think this line could be stronger”, and I think we know each other well enough now that sometimes she’ll send me back a chapter and she’ll be like “you could write this better”, and I’ll be like, “I know!” [laughs] But I think the way that we have found that works really well is that we both recognize and appreciate the other’s authority on the other side of the fence, where she’s in charge of the art and I know that, and I’m in charge of the writing and she knows that. But we’re both also very invested in the other side. I’m not an artist, but I draw a little, so I have some language about art, and she edits me all the time, she’s such a great editor. She has a lot of thoughts on things like story structure. I think that what works really well for us is that we both work on things kind of independently but we’re always talking about and getting feedback on our stuff, we’re very aware that we have a common goal, so it never feels like criticism, it’s more like “what about this, or this”, and we talk and say “this instead of this”. So I think that having that mutual passion but also respecting each other’s authority over the individual parts is really the key to our partnership, and it has been working really well for over ten years now.
Ten years? That’s a long time! I think this is the last question I’m gonna make, it’s a bit of a whim… What’s the image on your twitter cover? I recognize Alex’s style, but did I miss an important announcement? Is it a secret?
Actually, that’s from Fenton’s Red! Alex used to draw me fan art for it all the time, and so for my birthday —I think last year?— she drew me a mock cover for Fenton’s Red! That’s the main character from Fenton’s Red. The main plot of that story is that —I don’t wanna spoil Shaderunners too much, this is post-Shaderunners— it’s about a girl who lives in the country and she finds the color red for the first time in a bottle, and it accidentally stains her hand red, because she pours it out on her hand like “what is this?” It’s about her trying to hide it but also discover where it came from, and so her story intersects with the history of the Shaderunners and that way she’s trying to figure out “what is this? I’ve never seen color before!” So yeah, that’s the mock cover for Fenton’s red that I just put up because I loved it.
I am so looking forward to whenever you publish it!
I’m gonna publish it in some form somehow! If it doesn’t get published traditionally I’m just gonna build a website and publish it digitally. We’ll see, it’ll make itself known eventually, I’m in the process of rewriting it, but in the meantime it’s really fun to explore, I feel like Fenton’s Red has made me able to explore Dom and Ezra and Easton and Ivo and Satinder in the Shaderunners universe, so I think it’ll be a better book than it was when I finished it because of that. We’ll see!
That’s gonna be great! Well, that’s all my questions for now. Thank you for the interview!
R. M. Sayan is a writer, sometimes illustrator, amateur photographer, avid tabletop gamer, studious filmmaker, tattoo aficionado, and a constant work in progress. Often referred to as just ‘Robb’, they can often be found ranting about assorted fandoms on twitter, swooning over their beautiful partner, and being overdramatic. They like to dabble in many genres, from historical fiction to urban fantasy, from dystopian sci-fi to weird west, but always sneaking queerness somewhere in there. Robb’s debut novella, Silenci, is coming soon in May 2019!
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 & Glamouris 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.
Please welcome to the site today Leigh Hellman, author of Orbit, a cyberpunk sci-fi which released on September 18th and features pansexual and a-spec characters! They’re here to discuss identity in Speculative Fiction, but before we get to the post, let’s take a glance at the book:
Ciaan Gennett isn’t green, despite the brand of light hair that betrays her heritage: an Earth mother. A mother she remembers but doesn’t know, who left one day and never came back. Ciaan’s as metal as her home planet—cold and hard and full of so many cracks she’s trying to ignore that she doesn’t have time to wonder about questions that don’t get answers.
After one too many run-ins with the law, Ciaan finds herself sentenced to probation at a port facility and given an ultimatum: Prove that your potential is worth believing in. With help from her best friend Tidoris, Ciaan stays away from trouble—and trouble stays away from her. But when a routine refueling turns into a revelation, Ciaan and Tidoris find themselves forced into an alliance with an Earth captain of questionable morality and his stoic, artificially-grown first officer. Their escalating resistance against bureaucratic cover-ups begins unraveling a history of human monstrosity and an ugly truth that Ciaan isn’t so sure she wants to discover.
Now they all must decide how far they are willing to dig into humanity’s dark desperation—and what they are willing to do about what digs back.
Speculative fiction in its many iterations—sci-fi, fantasy, horror, supernatural, and all the sub-categories therein—has fascinated both readers and writers alike for centuries. For all the stratifications between “literary” and “genre” work, fiction as a tool for deconstructing and remaking our world has long been wielded; from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (considered to be the first science fiction novel) to the global phenomenon of fantasy epics like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, speculative fiction has proven itself to be a critical and popular mainstay.
So, what is it about the genre that inspires so widely? Well, in a broad sense, speculative fiction provides a framework wherein to imagine alternatives to our current reality—whether historically, futuristically, or running concurrent to our modern world. Crucial and ever-present issues like race, gender, sexuality, marginalization, and justice can be explored in proxy universes that are free from the constraints of (inherently biased) realism—or universes can be structured specifically to delve into certain aspects of these and similar issues, building parallels and contrasts for readers to consider as they think about the core themes of the story.
But for creators looking to tell these types of tales, there are often barriers that crop up during world-building—especially when it comes to entirely new fantasy worlds and/or futuristic settings—that have to do with what our baseline assumptions are going into a project. For example: in a fantasy setting that has no connection or reference to our universe, what are the assumptions behind structuring racist hierarchies that mirror Western, Eurocentric ones in their history of white supremacy? Or: in a future-set sci-fi world, does it make sense to have characters imposing the rigid sexual and gender binarism on each other (as though the dynamism of LGBTQ identities hasn’t been constantly evolving, even within the past decade or so)? If the story is meant to carry that type of metaphor and purposeful social commentary, that’s one thing—but what if it’s not? Why not build a world where the rules are different, or at least consider why you—as the creator—are not doing that?
I asked myself these questions throughout the process of writing Orbit, my debut new-adult speculative fiction novel, particularly as I was trying to solidify gender and sexuality identities in my near-future setting. Since the story takes place in a speculative future of our current world, it wouldn’t make sense to erase and/or ignore our history of LGBTQ identities and movements—but likewise, it didn’t feel authentic to me that this culture would conceptualize and label gender and sexuality in the exact same terms as we do now. Understanding sexuality as an identity marker rather than an activity-based habit was introduced into mainstream theory less than 200 years ago and the vocabulary of identities remains in constant flux across years, let alone decades and generations. The language of identifiers doesn’t just go in and out of popular fashion; the meanings of the words themselves can and do shift through denigration, reclamation, and basic linguistic evolutions. What LGBTQ people called themselves a century ago isn’t what we call ourselves now, and the cultural discussions around the LGBTQ experiences happen at different octaves with each new social milestone. The verbal identifiers therefore become the most obvious distinction, but the deeper and more complex developments come from the re-forming of socio-cultural norms and beliefs surrounding gender and sexuality.
So that idea—what does the culture that I’m world-building believe about gender and sexuality, and how many of those beliefs do I have to take from our current culture?—became a foundational stone for me. I could keep the same, or similar-enough, rhetoric and identities to signal a familiar cultural framework for the story, and more easily categorize my characters for representation tallies. But that felt disingenuous to how I was coming to understand this world I was building and to how I myself conceptualize gender and sexuality—which is to say, fluidly and running along multiple spectrums. In a culture where the most significant identity markers are pseudo-species (p-person, Earth human, Artificial)—and also taking into account the current growing acceptance of gender and sexuality diversity (not to say that acceptance is universal or equally-distributed, because it isn’t)—it made sense to me that LGBTQ identities would be both more prevalent and less explicitly stated. I tried to demonstrate that (in a story with no explicit romantic or sexual plots) in two subtle ways: 1) a main character’s casual reference to a side character being “alternative” before moving on in the conversation, and 2) ongoing and completely normalized flirting and intimacy between all of the four main characters (two implied cismen, one implied ciswoman, and one explicitly non-binary person). Rather than being read as pushing some kind of non-normative (non-heterosexual) environment that audiences could infer as an exception rather than the rule, I hoped to present this as-is—a world where intimacy and attraction manifest naturally across these spectrums, without needing to make any “no homo” caveats for my characters.
One of the most difficult concerns that I struggled with in this world-building choice was the nagging doubt that I was making a “safe” trade-off, that I was closeting my characters by not explicitly labeling them in our current cultural terminology. Is there still value in representation if it shares an experience but not a name? Honestly, I can’t say for certain one way or the other; what I do know is that my characters are not closeted. There were never moments that I edited to be more coded, nor were there relationships that I played up or down because I felt like that was what would be expected of them. All of my characters are authentic—and that extends to their genders and sexualities. The fluidity—the messiness—of human identities, the fact that for all our boxing and re-boxing we still seep out around the edges, is what fascinates me as a creator. The slippages between binaries—gay or straight, cis or trans, male or female, ace/aro or allo—are not mistakes; they are who we are. We’re reflected in those coloring-outside-the-lines moments, and we are forged in the fires of the struggle for answers that may never be as neat as we want them to be. That’s how I chose to speculate in Orbit, fully aware that there were a thousand different ways I could have gone and that each of them—if they’d been thoughtfully executed—would’ve been worth reimagining.
These uncertainties plague the codified racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other systemic oppressions that are woven into our reality and then parroted back in fiction—if fictional perpetuation of these histories is not mandatory, is it necessary? And beyond that, how can we push for less restricted reimaginings without being hurtful and dismissive of the very real effects of these systems on (our, our readers, and our fellow human beings’) lives?
I don’t have all the complicated and messy answers—nor do I pretend to be an expert in any of this—but I believe that some guidance may lie in our commitment as writers to more nuanced world-building, with ongoing consideration for our (intended and unintended) implications as well as continued self-education and challenging of our internalized –isms. Just as my identity as a queer and non-binary person cannot be erased from my writing, neither can my whiteness or any of the other intersecting systemic privileges that I carry with me. But rather than be complacent with them—rather than say that these define what stories I tell—I try to push back and be purposeful in my narrative and world-building choices.
What is genuine for your characters and the reality they inhabit will always be more compelling than stock settings that rely solely on “but that’s just how it is” deflections. Not every story needs to be a meta deconstruction, nor should most stories be expected to be. But I think that not digging back at those impulses as both readers and writers—to fall back on stereotypes to fill out new worlds, to call out authentic interpretations of an identity experience that differs from your own, to cling to the belief that these systems that we were raised in are always immutable and universal—wastes the full “speculative” potential of our beautiful and vibrantly diverse literary nook in this wide and, all too often, rigidly unforgiving real world.
LEIGH HELLMAN is a queer/asexual and genderqueer writer, originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, and a graduate of the MA Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After gaining the ever-lucrative BA in English, they spent five years living and teaching in South Korea before returning to their native Midwest.
Leigh’s short fiction and creative nonfiction work has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, VIDA Review, and Fulbright Korea Infusion Magazine. Their critical and journalistic work has been featured in the American Book Review, the Gwangju News magazine, and the Windy City Times.
Their first novel, Orbit, is a new adult speculative fiction story now available through Snowy Wings Publishing. They also have a historical fantasy piece included in the SWP anthology, Magic at Midnight.
Leigh is a strong advocate for full-day breakfast menus, all varieties of dark chocolate, building a wardrobe based primarily on bad puns, and bathing in the tears of their enemies.
When novelist Manuel Ortigosa learns that his husband, Álvaro, has been killed in a car crash, it comes as a devastating shock. It won’t be the last. He’s now arrived in Galicia. It’s where Álvaro died. It’s where the case has already been quickly closed as a tragic accident. It’s also where Álvaro hid his secrets.
The man to whom Manuel was married for fifteen years was not the unassuming man he knew.
Álvaro’s trail leads Manuel deep into one of Spain’s most powerful and guarded families. Behind the walls of their forbidding estate, Manuel is nothing but an unwelcome and dangerous intruder. Then he finds two allies: a stubbornly suspicious police lieutenant and Álvaro’s old friend—and private confessor—from seminary school. Together they’re collecting the pieces of Álvaro’s past, his double life, and his mysterious death.
But in the shadows of nobility and privilege, Manuel is about to unravel a web of corruption and deception that could be as fatal a trap for him as it was for the man he loved.
Cover to be revealed on the site on September 5th!
June Bana might post nearly daily makeup looks that gain thousands of likes but Real Life June has built a wall behind which she exists with her two cats.
But with messy feelings getting in a way of an early hermit life, June begins to realize that she wants more. She wants model/actress, Sunshine Reincarnated Selena Clarke. It doesn’t hurt that Selena is amazing with cats and quiets down June’s anxiety to bearable levels.
June is given the choice of facing her anxieties about relationships to gain not only a girlfriend but also a better understanding of how far she’d go for love.
But would she take it? Would she leave her comfort zone for something softer?
Contemporary fluffy piece where one homebody and one extrovert make one hell of a love story.
Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.
Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.
The book is a collection of 25 first-hand accounts by women telling their stories on their own terms. This is a much-needed collection as there is very little work published about lives of LGBTQi communities in Africa. The stories challenge the stereotypes of what we assume is lesbian, bisexual, gay and trans in Nigeria and offers a raw, first-hand look into the lives and realities of those who are queer. The narrators range from those who knew they were gay from an early age to those who discovered same-sex attraction later in life. These engaging and groundbreaking narratives include stories of first time love and curiosity, navigating same-sex feelings and spirituality, growing up gender non-conforming and overcoming family and society’s expectations. What does it mean to be a queer Nigerian? How does one embrace the label of ‘woman’? While some tell of self-acceptance, others talk of building a home in the midst of the anti-same sex marriage law.
The book is edited by three women in Nigeria. Azeenarh Mohammed is a trained lawyer and a queer, feminist, holistic security trainer. She is active in the Nigerian queer women’s movement and has written on queerness and technology for publications such as This is Africa and Premium TimesNG. Chitra Nagarajan is an activist, researcher and writer. She has spent the last 15 years working on human rights and peace building and is involved in feminist, anti-racist, anti-fundamentalist and queer movements. She currently lives and works in Maiduguri. Rafeeat Aliyu has a BA in Marketing and works in communication and research. She is particularly interested in sex and sexuality in both modern and historical Nigeria.
Long ago, a village made a bargain with the devil: to ensure their prosperity, when the Slaughter Moon rises, the village must sacrifice a young man into the depths of the Devil’s Forest.
Only this year, the Slaughter Moon has risen early.
Bound by duty, secrets, and the love they share for one another, Mairwen, a spirited witch; Rhun, the expected saint; and Arthur, a restless outcast, will each have a role to play as the devil demands a body to fill the bargain. But the devil these friends find is not the one they expect, and the lies they uncover will turn their town—and their hearts—inside out.
Matchmaking? Check. Surfing? Check. Falling in love? As if.
Sunny, striking, and satisfied with her life in paradise, Theodosia Sullivan sees no need for marriage. She does, however, relish serving as matchmaker for everyone who crosses her path. As the manager of her family’s surf shop in Hanalei Bay, that includes locals and tourists alike.
One person she won’t be playing Cupid for is the equally happy bachelorette down the street. Baker Kini ʻŌpūnui has been the owner of Queen’s Sweet Shop since her parents passed away and her younger brother married Theo’s older sister and moved to Oahu. Kini’s ready smile, haupia shortbread, and lilikoi malasadas are staples of Hanalei’s main street.
However, Theo’s matchmaking machinations and social scheming soon become less charming—even hazardous—to everyone involved. And when she fails to heed Kini’s warnings about her meddling, she may be more successful than she ever intended. Theo has to face the prospect of Kini ending up with someone else, just as she realizes she’s loved Kini all along.
By day, Natalie Marshall is the Thorns Ladies’ Social Club’s perfect concierge: resourceful, observant, immaculate. But she turns her phone off when the night concierge arrives, and then she’s Nat: the raunchy lead singer of Vertical Smile—notorious for lewd lyrics and sexually-charged performances.
Rebecca Horvath isn’t used to asking twice—for anything. As the scion of one of Hollywood’s most powerful film dynasties, she’s waited on, pampered, fawned over—spoiled. So when she asks the cute front person of her favorite queer punk band to be her date to a charity auction, she isn’t expecting the whispered “no,” or for the singer to disappear without even thanking her for the martini.
For Natalie, two worlds colliding spells professional catastrophe–her on-stage antics definitely violate the club employees’ standards clause. For it to be Bex Horvath—a perennial gossip-pages feature—who discovers her secret is terrifying.
When the focus of a criminal investigation at work brings Nat’s double life to the attention of her employer, everything spins out of control. Bex is there to prove there’s more to this party girl than meets the eye. Nat might have to trust her with her secrets, but her heart? That’s off limits.
Twisted Wishes lead guitarist Dominic “Domino” Bradley is an animal onstage. But behind his tight leather pants and skull-crusher boots lies a different man entirely, one who needs his stage persona not only to perform, but to have the anonymity he craves. A self-imposed exile makes it impossible to get close to anyone outside the band, so he’s forced to get his sexual fix through a few hot nights with a stranger.
When computer programmer Adrian Doran meets Dominic, he’s drawn to the other man’s quiet voice and shy smile. But after a few dirty, demanding nights exploring Dominic’s need to be dominated, Adrian wants more than a casual distraction. He has no idea he’s fallen for Domino Grinder—the outlandish, larger-than-life rock god.
Dominic is reluctant to trust Adrian with his true identity. But when the truth is revealed prematurely, Dominic is forced to reevaluate both his need for Adrian and everything he believes about himself.
The people of Uztar have long looked to the sky with hope and wonder. Nothing in their world is more revered than the birds of prey and no one more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists.
Brysen strives to be a great
falconer–while his twin sister, Kylee, rejects her ancient gifts for the sport and wishes to be free of falconry. She’s nearly made it out, too, but a war is rolling toward their home in the Six Villages, and no bird or falconer will be safe.
Together the twins must journey into the treacherous mountains to trap the Ghost Eagle, the greatest of the Uztari birds and a solitary killer. Brysen goes for the boy he loves and the glory he’s long craved, and Kylee to atone for her past and to protect her brother’s future. But both are hunted by those who seek one thing: power.
A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader. The first book in a new trilogy from the acclaimed Heidi Heilig blends traditional storytelling with ephemera for a lush, page-turning tale of escape and rebellion. For a Muse of Fire will captivate fans of Sabaa Tahir, Leigh Bardugo, and Renée Ahdieh.
Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick—a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood. But the old ways are forbidden ever since the colonial army conquered their country, so Jetta must never show, never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away.