Tag Archives: Retelling

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

I’m thrilled to be revealing the cover of a YA debut I’ve been highly anticipating, Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron, which releases from Bloomsbury on July 7, 2020! Of course, you may better know this book from its perfectly succinct deal announcement, which described it as “queer black girls team up to overthrow the patriarchy in the former kingdom of Cinderella,” but here’s a fuller picture of the story:

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

And here’s its beautiful cover, designed by Manzi Jackson!

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

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Black Forest Photography

Kalynn Bayron is a debut author and classically trained vocalist. She grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. When she’s not writing you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theater, watching scary movies, and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family.

New Release Spotlight: Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

I really couldn’t not feature a book that’s a genderbent King Arthur legend with a queer female Arthur (aka Ari) in an f/f romance, a gay teenaged Merlin, a nonbinary Lamorak who uses they/them pronouns, and so on and so forth, by two of the best names queer YA has to offer. (Full disclosure but really it’s more like bragging: I did moderate their NYC launch, and it was fabulous.) This book is wildly fun and inclusive and I’m so excited it’s the first in a series. Get thee to it!

Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy (26th)

Once & Future (Once & Future, #1)I’ve been chased my whole life. As an illegal immigrant in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Books of Wonder (signed)

7 New March eBooks for Under $5

All links are Amazon affiliate. All income goes back into the site.

Smoke & Mirrors by Vesper St. Clair (Historical m/m Romance) – $2.99

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan (Historical f/f Romance) – $2.99

An Unheard Song by Laura Ambrose (Contemporary f/f Romance) – $2.99

Outside Looking In by A.J. Truman (Contemporary m/m Romance) – $3.99

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett (f/f Shakespeare Retelling) – $3.99

American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera (Contemporary m/m Romance) – $3.99

Anyone But You by Chelsea M. Cameron (Contemporary f/f Romance) – $4.99

New Releases: March 2019

The Fever King by Victoria Lee (1st)

The Fever King (Feverwake, #1)In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

The Last 8 by Laura Pohl (5th)

The Last 8 (The Last 8, #1)A high-stakes survival story about eight teenagers who outlive an alien attack—perfect for fans of The 5th Wave 

Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it.

When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.

Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

After the Eclipse by Fran Dorricott (5th)

After the EclipseA stunning psychological thriller about loss, sisterhood, and the evil that men do, for readers of Ruth Ware and S.K. Tremeyne

Two solar eclipses. Two missing girls.

Sixteen years ago a little girl was abducted during the darkness of a solar eclipse while her older sister Cassie was supposed to be watching her. She was never seen again. When a local girl goes missing just before the next big eclipse, Cassie – who has returned to her home town to care for her ailing grandmother – suspects the disappearance is connected to her sister: that whoever took Olive is still out there. But she needs to find a way to prove it, and time is running out.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen (5th)

40274696A transgender reporter’s narrative tour through the surprisingly vibrant queer communities sprouting up in red states, offering a vision of a stronger, more humane America.

Ten years ago, Samantha Allen was a suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary. Now she’s a senior Daily Beast reporter happily married to another woman. A lot in her life has changed, but what hasn’t changed is her deep love of Red State America, and of queer people who stay in so-called “flyover country” rather than moving to the liberal coasts.

In Real Queer America, Allen takes us on a cross-country road-trip stretching all the way from Provo, Utah to the Rio Grande Valley to the Bible Belt to the Deep South. Her motto for the trip: “Something gay every day.” Making pit stops at drag shows, political rallies, and hubs of queer life across the heartland, she introduces us to scores of extraordinary LGBT people working for change, from the first openly transgender mayor in Texas history to the manager of the only queer night club in Bloomington, Indiana, and many more.

Capturing profound cultural shifts underway in unexpected places and revealing a national network of chosen family fighting for a better world, Real Queer America is a treasure trove of uplifting stories and a much-needed source of hope and inspiration in these divided times.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Alice Payne Rides by Kate Heartfield (5th)

39332603This is the second book in the Alice Payne series

After abducting Arthur of Brittany from his own time in 1203, thereby creating the mystery that partly prompted the visit in the first place, Alice and her team discover that they have inadvertently brought the smallpox virus back to 1780 with them.

Searching for a future vaccine, Prudence finds that the various factions in the future time war intend to use the crisis to their own advantage.

Can the team prevent an international pandemic across time, and put history back on its tracks? At least until the next battle in the time war…

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino (5th)


By day, Mary Ballard is lady’s maid to Charlotte Walden, wealthy and accomplished belle of New York City high society. Mary loves Charlotte with an obsessive passion that goes beyond a servant’s devotion, but Charlotte would never trust Mary again if she knew the truth about her devoted servant’s past. Because Mary’s fate is linked to that of her mistress, one of the most sought-after debutantes in New York, Mary’s future seems secure—if she can keep her own secrets…

But on her nights off, Mary sheds her persona as prim and proper lady’s maid to reveal her true self—Irish exile Maire O’Farren—and finds release from her frustration in New York’s gritty underworld—in the arms of a prostitute and as drinking companion to a decidedly motley crew consisting of a barkeeper and members of a dangerous secret society.

Meanwhile, Charlotte has a secret of her own—she’s having an affair with a stable groom, unaware that her lover is actually Mary’s own brother. When the truth of both women’s double lives begins to unravel, Mary is left to face the consequences. Forced to choose between loyalty to her brother and loyalty to Charlotte, between society’s respect and true freedom, Mary finally learns that her fate lies in her hands alone.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Proud ed. by Juno Dawson (7th)

A stirring, bold and moving anthology of stories and poetry by top LGBTQ+ YA authors and new talent, giving their unique responses to the broad theme of pride. Each story has an illustration by an artist identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Compiled by Juno Dawson, author of THIS BOOK IS GAY and CLEAN.

A celebration of LGBTQ+ talent, PROUD is a thought-provoking, funny, emotional read.

Contributors: Steve Antony, Dean Atta, Kate Alizadeh, Fox Benwell, Alex Bertie, Caroline Bird, Fatti Burke, Tanya Byrne, Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Frank Duffy, Simon James Green, Leo Greenfield, Saffa Khan, Karen Lawler, David Levithan, Priyanka Meenakshi, Alice Oseman, Michael Lee Richardson, David Roberts, Cynthia So, Kay Staples, Jessica Vallance, Kristen Van Dam and Kameron White.

Buy it: Amazon UK | Waterstones | Book Depository

Besotted by Melissa Duclos (12th)

Besotted is the ballad of Sasha and Liz, American expats in Shanghai. Both have moved abroad to escape—Sasha from her father’s disapproval, Liz from the predictability of her hometown. When they move in together, Sasha falls in love, but the sudden attention from a charming architect threatens the relationship. Meanwhile, Liz struggles to be both a good girlfriend to Sasha and a good friend to Sam, her Shanghainese language partner who needs more from her than grammar lessons. For fans of Prague by Arthur Phillips and The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee, Besotted is an expat novel that explores what it means to love someone while running away from yourself.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

The Summer of Dead Birds by Ali Liebegott (12th)

In a chronicle of mourning and survival, Ali Liebegott wallows in loneliness and overassigns meaning to everyday circumstance, clinging to an aging dog and obsessing over dead birds. But these unpretentious vignettes are laced with compassion, as she learns to balance the sting of death with the tender strangeness of life.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

 

Squad by Mariah MacCarthy (12th)

SquadThis darkly comic debut novel by an award-winning playwright is like Mean Girls meets Heathers with a splash of Bring it On.

Jenna Watson is a cheerleader. But it’s not some Hollywood crap. Cheerleaders are not every guy’s fantasy; they are not the “popular girls” or the “mean girls” of Marsen High School. They’re too busy for that. They’re literally just some human females trying to live their lives and do a perfect toe touch. But that all changed after Raejean stopped talking to Jenna and started hanging out with Meghan Finnegan. Jenna stopped getting invited out with the rest of the squad and she couldn’t tell if it was on purpose or if it was all in her head.

At times heartbreaking, at others hilarious, Squad follows Jenna through her attempts to get revenge on Raejean and invent a new post-cheer life for herself through LARPING (live action role-playing) and a relationship with a trans guy that feels like love—but isn’t. In the, end Jenna discovers that who she is is not defined by which squad she’s in.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable (12th)

Mads is pretty happy with her life. She goes to church with her family, and minor league baseball games with her dad. She goofs off with her best friend Cat, and has thus far managed to avoid getting kissed by Adam, the boy next door. It’s everything she hoped high school would be… until all of a sudden, it’s not.

Her dad is hiding something big—so big it could tear her family apart. And that’s just the beginning of her problems: Mads is starting to figure out that she doesn’t want to kiss Adam… because the only person she wants to kiss is Cat.

Kiss Number 8, a graphic novel from writer Colleen AF Venable and illustrator Ellen T. Crenshaw, is a layered, funny, sharp-edged story of teen sexuality and family secrets.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

The Widening Gyre by Michael R. Johnston (14th)

Eight hundred years ago, the Zhen Empire discovered a broken human colony ship drifting in the fringes of their space. The Zhen gave the humans a place to live and folded them into their Empire as a client state. But it hasn’t been easy. Not all Zhen were eager to welcome another species into their Empire, and humans have faced persecution. For hundreds of years, human languages and history were outlawed subjects, as the Zhen tried to mold humans into their image. Earth and the cultures it nourished for millennia are forgotten, little more than legends.

One of the first humans to be allowed to serve in the Zhen military, Tajen Hunt became a war hero at the Battle of Elkari, the only human to be named an official Hero of the Empire. He was given command of a task force, and sent to do the Empire’s bidding in their war with the enigmatic Tabrans. But when he failed in a crucial mission, causing the deaths of millions of people, he resigned in disgrace and faded into life on the fringes as a lone independent pilot.

When Tajen discovers his brother, Daav, has been killed by agents of the Empire, he, his niece, and their newly-hired crew set out to finish his brother’s quest: to find Earth, the legendary homeworld of humanity. What they discover will shatter 800 years of peace in the Empire, and start a war that could be the end of the human race.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Flame Tree Publishing

The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum (19th)

The Weight of the StarsRyann Bird dreams of traveling across the stars. But a career in space isn’t an option for a girl who lives in a trailer park on the wrong side of town. So Ryann becomes her circumstances and settles for acting out and skipping school to hang out with her delinquent friends.

One day she meets Alexandria: a furious loner who spurns Ryann’s offer of friendship. After a horrific accident leaves Alexandria with a broken arm, the two misfits are brought together despite themselves—and Ryann learns her secret: Alexandria’s mother is an astronaut who volunteered for a one-way trip to the edge of the solar system.

Every night without fail, Alexandria waits to catch radio signals from her mother. And its up to Ryann to lift her onto the roof day after day until the silence between them grows into friendship, and eventually something more . . .

In K. Ancrum’s signature poetic style, this slow-burn romance will have you savoring every page.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Video Games Have Always Been Queer by Bonnie Ruberg (19th)

While popular discussions about queerness in video games often focus on big-name, mainstream games that feature LGBTQ characters, like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, Bonnie Ruberg pushes the concept of queerness in games beyond a matter of representation, exploring how video games can be played, interpreted, and designed queerly, whether or not they include overtly LGBTQ content. Video Games Have Always Been Queer argues that the medium of video games itself can—and should—be read queerly. 

In the first book dedicated to bridging game studies and queer theory, Ruberg resists the common, reductive narrative that games are only now becoming more diverse. Revealing what reading D. A. Miller can bring to the popular 2007 video game Portal, or what Eve Sedgwick offers Pong, Ruberg models the ways game worlds offer players the opportunity to explore queer experience, affect, and desire. As players attempt to ‘pass’ in Octodad or explore the pleasure of failure in Burnout: Revenge, Ruberg asserts that, even within a dominant gaming culture that has proved to be openly hostile to those perceived as different, queer people have always belonged in video games—because video games have, in fact, always been queer.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore (19th)

Divine justice is written in blood.

Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.

Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.

Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale (19th)

Small Town HeartsRule #1 – Never fall for a summer boy. 

Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.

And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had – to never fall for a summer boy?

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Anyone But You by Chelsea M. Cameron (19th)

Things are going great for Sutton Kay, or at least they were. Her yoga studio is doing well, she’s living with her best friend, and she just got two kittens named Mocha and Cappuccino. Sure, she doesn’t have a girlfriend, but her life is full and busy.

Then her building is sold and the new landlord turns out to be the woman putting in a gym downstairs who doesn’t seem to understand the concepts “courtesy” and “don’t be rude to your tenants.” Sutton can’t get a read on Tuesday Grímsdóttir, but she can appreciate her muscles. Seriously, Tuesday is ripped. Not that that has anything to do with anything since she’s too surly to have a conversation with, and won’t stop pissing Sutton off.

Sutton’s life gets interesting after she dares Tuesday to make it through one yoga class, and then Tuesday gives Sutton the same dare. Soon enough they’re spending time working out together and when the sweat starts flowing, the sparks start flying. How is it possible to be so attracted to a person you can barely stand?

But when someone from Tuesday’s past shows up and Sutton sees a whole new side of Tuesday, will she change her mind about her grumpy landlord? Can she?

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Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington (19th)

In the city of Houston – a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America – the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence. And discovering he likes boys.

Around him, others live and thrive and die in Houston’s myriad neighborhoods: a young woman whose affair detonates across an apartment complex, a ragtag baseball team, a group of young hustlers, hurricane survivors, a local drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing, a reluctant chupacabra.

Bryan Washington’s brilliant, viscerally drawn world vibrates with energy, wit, and the infinite longing of people searching for home. With soulful insight into what makes a community, a family, and a life, Lot explores trust and love in all its unsparing and unsteady forms.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T’kira Madden (19th)

Acclaimed literary essayist T Kira Madden’s raw and redemptive debut memoir is about coming of age and reckoning with desire as a queer, biracial teenager amidst the fierce contradictions of Boca Raton, Florida, a place where she found cult-like privilege, shocking racial disparities, rampant white-collar crime, and powerfully destructive standards of beauty hiding in plain sight.

As a child, Madden lived a life of extravagance, from her exclusive private school to her equestrian trophies and designer shoe-brand name. But under the surface was a wild instability. The only child of parents continually battling drug and alcohol addictions, Madden confronted her environment alone. Facing a culture of assault and objectification, she found lifelines in the desperately loving friendships of fatherless girls.

With unflinching honesty and lyrical prose, spanning from 1960s Hawai’i to the present-day struggle of a young woman mourning the loss of a father while unearthing truths that reframe her reality, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is equal parts eulogy and love letter. It’s a story about trauma and forgiveness, about families of blood and affinity, both lost and found, unmade and rebuilt, crooked and beautiful.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy (26th)

Once & Future (Once & Future, #1)I’ve been chased my whole life. As an illegal immigrant in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Books of Wonder (signed preorder)

Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve (26th)

Out of SalemWhen genderqueer fourteen-year-old Z Chilworth wakes from death after a car crash that killed their parents and sisters, they have to adjust quickly to their new status as a zombie. Always a talented witch, Z can now barely perform magic and is rapidly decaying. Faced with rejection from their remaining family members and old friends, Z moves in with Mrs. Dunnigan, an elderly witch, and befriends Aysel, a loud would-be-goth classmate who is, like Z, a loner. As Z struggles to find a way to repair the broken magical seal holding their body together, Aysel fears that her classmates will discover her status as an unregistered werewolf. When a local psychiatrist is murdered in an apparent werewolf attack, the town of Salem, Oregon, becomes even more hostile to monsters, and Z and Aysel are driven together in an attempt to survive a place where most people wish that neither of them existed.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett (26th)

With Miranda in Milan, debut author Katharine Duckett reimagines the consequences of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, casting Miranda into a Milanese pit of vipers and building a queer love story that lifts off the page in whirlwinds of feeling.

After the tempest, after the reunion, after her father drowned his books, Miranda was meant to enter a brave new world. Naples awaited her, and Ferdinand, and a throne. Instead she finds herself in Milan, in her father’s castle, surrounded by hostile servants who treat her like a ghost. Whispers cling to her like spiderwebs, whispers that carry her dead mother’s name. And though he promised to give away his power, Milan is once again contorting around Prospero’s dark arts.

With only Dorothea, her sole companion and confidant to aid her, Miranda must cut through the mystery and find the truth about her father, her mother, and herself.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon

Fave Five: Queer Fantasy with Dragons

Inkmistress by Audrey Coulthurst

Seraphina and Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

The Second Mango by Shira Glassman

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

Rainbow heart

Getting Your Art Out Into The World: A Guest Post By Estella Mirai

Today’s the release date of The Stars May Rise & Fall, a queer retelling of The Phantom of the Opera set in Tokyo, written by the lovely Estella Mirai. But this is a book that almost didn’t happen, and after years of publishing hardship, it’s a day of bittersweet triumph that it did, so check out the story behind the story, and of course, the story itself!

Teru came to Tokyo with dreams of making it big in the glam-metal visual kei scene, but three SMRFcover.jpgyears later, all he has to show for it is a head of hot pink hair and some skill with an eyeliner pencil. He may look the part, but he doesn’t sound it, and constant bickering among his bandmates has him worried about his future. When he finds a mysterious business card in his bag, he’s willing to take any help he can get.

Help comes in the form of Rei, a crippled, disfigured composer whose own career was ended by an accident before it had really begun. With Teru’s voice and looks, and Rei’s money and songwriting skills, both of their dreams seem about to come true – but a forbidden kiss and a late-night confession threaten to tear it all apart. Now Teru, who has spent most of his life denying his attraction to men, and Rei, who vowed long ago never to love again, must reconcile their feelings with their careers – and with their carefully constructed ideas of themselves.

THE STARS MAY RISE AND FALL is an M/M retelling of Phantom of the Opera, set in Tokyo at the turn of the millennium. It comes with a healthy dose of angst and a dollop of nostalgia, as well as an age-difference romance, a physically disabled love interest, and memorable characters who will stay with you long after the pages are closed.

Buy It: Amazon

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Today is the day I become a published author. Today is the day the book of my heart is officially out in the world.

That is 100% a cause for celebration, and I’m definitely going to pop open the champagne tonight. But a part of me will probably always feel a little sad for this book, for not coming into the world the way it almost did.

I’m not ashamed to admit that self-publishing wasn’t my first choice. It wasn’t really my second choice either. It is, however a choice that ultimately feels right, and maybe somewhat fated. So I’d like to talk a little bit about the story behind the story… how my book fought its way through a string of bad luck and the author’s anxiety to find a place (I hope!) on your Kindle.

I actually started writing The Stars May Rise and Fall with the intent to publish it as fanfiction in 2005. I’d been a fan of Phantom of the Opera in its various incarnations for over a decade, but when the movie version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical came out, my fandom, along with many other people’s, was rekindled, and I found a little group of fans, many of whom wrote and read fanfiction. The idea, and early versions of the first few chapters, were born.

I ended up putting the story aside, unfinished. There were a couple of reasons for this—pregnancy brain (it’s a thing!), for one, and the fact that I’d started writing with no idea what the ending would be, or even if it would be a happy one or not. Every once in awhile I’d remember the characters and wish I’d been able to give them the story they deserved. But I was busy with family and work and paying bills, and didn’t really come back to it until 2013. At that point, I was pretty sure that what I had wasn’t really a fanfic anymore. The people who had been the most enthusiastic about those early chapters had been a very specific section of our little fandom group (namely, the queer one), and I didn’t really think that the target audience was necessarily limited only to people who already liked other, very different, versions of the Phantom story. So I came back to it with a more general audience in mind, came up with an ending that finally felt right, and found a beta reader.

She loved it.

That remains one of the biggest validations I have EVER had as a writer. This total stranger, whose own book was so awesome it had me as nervous over her feedback as I was excited about doing my half of the swap, loved it and GOT it and… suggested that I query literary agents, as she was about to do. She also became one of my very best friends, but that’s a different story. 😉

I really hadn’t considered getting this book PUBLISHED published until that point. I thought I’d put it on Amazon or Wattpad, send the link to my little group of Phantom fans from eight years earlier, and hope other people stumbled upon it, too. But this total stranger had LOVED it. And while I knew it was a hard sell, I thought it might have a chance. So I sent out my first ten queries to agents, and got my very first request less than 24 hours later.

I got lots of requests. I also got lots of rejections. Eventually I cut the unwieldy 102,000 word draft I started querying with down to about 78,000 (it stands at around 88,000 now), and completely rewrote the beginning. But it was still a gay love story that wasn’t YA, but also wasn’t erotic. It was still a book with a 21-year-old main character back when New Adult was still big-ish… but it wasn’t set at college. I queried it as several different genres and categories. A lot of agents said nice things, but it took awhile to find someone who thought she could sell it.

Long story short, I DID eventually find an agent for this book, and we revised it together and were about to send it out to publishers… when my agent announced that she was leaving agenting. I was devastated. She had been one of my biggest allies, and no one else at her agency wanted to take on my book… so I was back in the trenches.

Another long story short, I found ANOTHER agent, and maybe half a year later, we had an offer of publication from a small but reputable press, which had nice covers, returnable paperbacks, and did have at least some bookstore and library distribution. It wasn’t going to make me the next Rowling, but again, I knew my book was a hard sell, and they were offering the most important things I wanted and couldn’t do on my own. All that was left was to alert the other publishers and see if we got any other offers. My agent let the others know that an offer was on the table.

About a week later, I got a text: SUPER HUGE PUBLISHER WHOSE NAME EVEN NON-BOOK PEOPLE KNOW is calling me RIGHT NOW!”

I’m not going to name the publisher, but to analogize another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, it felt very much like poor Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard getting her call from Paramount.

Unlike Norma’s call, this one was actually an offer. Unfortunately, it was not the offer that Googling the editor’s past huge deals (bad choice, past me) had me trying very hard (and failing) not to hope for. Other than name value, they were offering less than the small press was, so we turned them down, and my agent began negotiating the contract with the small press. I was happy, of course, to be selling my book… but in a sense, getting that particular offer from an editor who I knew had gotten life-changing deals for other debut authors hurt more than any form rejection (even though I know the decision was likely not hers, or not hers alone).

Still, I liked the small press, and while my 12-hour-long conviction that I’d Made It Big™ was over, at least I was finally going to be published!

… but.

That small press was Samhain. And as you might already know, Samhain shut down, without much notice, with tons of pending titles in the works. My agent texted me “Saw the news about Samhain…” at 6 a.m. I got the details from Twitter. I’m still not sure if I’m glad or devastated that it was before the contract was signed… on the one hand, there were no legal complications, but I never even got to announce my deal.

It’s hard to explain how I felt at that point except to say I was… broken. This book had come so close, so many times, and this was how it was going to end? My agent offered to send it out again, or to see if the other publisher was still interested… but I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I was broken. I asked my agent to officially pull it from any publishers who hadn’t responded, and left the agency (for reasons not addressed here… my agent and I had different ideas about my overall career direction that came out during the submission process, but did not arise because of it), vowing to come back big with book 2.

Book 2 had LOTS of interest from agents… and none from publishers. And I was still broken. I would get feedback from my new agent, and where I had been so excited about revisions with the first book, every semi-major suggestion for the second felt like hitting a wall. I agreed with the feedback, but couldn’t see how to apply it. In the end, the thought of completely rewriting Book 2 (because it really did need a complete rewrite) made me feel sick. Never say never, but at least at the time, I didn’t love that book enough to write it from scratch a second time.

I was also just trapped in a negative spiral. I wanted to be happy for my friends’ successes, to be excited to read new books and to start writing something new, too. But it was getting harder and harder, and I didn’t like the bitter, angry person I was in danger of becoming.

So I stepped back. I cut back on reading. I quit Twitter, kept in touch with only the very closest of my writer friends. It was hard, but I think it was necessary. And it helped. I kept writing, but I stopped trying to get published, and after about a year, I started to enjoy it again.

And a couple of things happened that made me realize I still needed to publish this book.

The first was that I got back into fanfiction, in a different fandom, under a different name. The response I got, even as a total unknown, was positive, and helped me to feel confident about my writing in a way that I hadn’t in years.

A part of it also had to do with general anxiety over the global political climate, climate change, and everything else that’s going on these days. If the world were to end, in whatever sense, tomorrow, and I never got this book into the hands of readers, I’d regret it. I knew that by self-publishing, I’d be immediately pushing some readers and reviewers away. But if I put it out there at a reasonable price, there’s at least a CHANCE that someone will read it and love it. If it sits on my hard drive forever, that number is guaranteed to be zero. I started to think that it was better to take a chance, to reach even one reader, rather than lamenting that it would never reach millions. My gay glam rock Phantom retelling is hardly a masterful political treatise. But it might bring a few hours of enjoyment and escape to even one person who needs it in this messed-up world, and that would make it all worth it.

Then, I came up with a pen name. This probably sounds silly, but one of the biggest reasons I didn’t self-publish ages ago is because I didn’t have a pen name I loved. I’m basically Chidi from The Good Place, and not being able to choose was literally freaking me out. When the perfect name came to me, it felt like a sign.

And then I went back and read the book, and two things struck me. First, I still loved it. Yes, there will always be things I’m not completely happy with… but after thirteen years, I still love these characters. I am immensely proud of certain scenes and lines. I wanted this book to be my debut, and I am glad that it is.

And second… there’s a lot in this book, which I wrote before I ever considered publishing, that has to do with the idea of getting your art out into the world. My characters deal with losing members of their creative team, the way I lost my first agent and then my would-be publisher. They deal with the pride and jealousy and anger and joy that all come crashing in together when someone you love succeeds where you’ve f—not quite succeeded yet. And they debate (or, well, fight over) the pros and cons of a traditional record deal vs. going it alone.

I wrote a good three drafts of this book before I even started to learn about publishing. I had those ideas in me all along.

And one of the biggest themes of this story is that there’s always a way to get your work out there—that things don’t always turn out the way you want or expect, and that you might end up playing a different instrument, on a different stage, with different people to support you. But you can still do it. Your work can still touch people. My book itself was telling me to publish it. So I followed my heart, and I did.

I’d be lying if I said it’s all been easy. Self-publishing is hard work. And I probably should have saved up a little more money to do things like NetGalley, and done a little more research before I dived in. I guess those will just be lessons I’ll have to take on to whatever I publish next.

But the good has been amazingly good. I can’t begin to describe the chills I got when I saw my cover art, or when I saw my book on Amazon and Goodreads. So many people have been encouraging and welcoming—people I knew from my first foray into publishing, and people I’m meeting for the first time.  And most importantly, the world is finally getting to meet Teru and Rei.

And that’s really all I ever wanted to do. The story of my heart is in your hands, world. I hope you love it half as much as I do.

***

EstellaAvatarEstella Mirai lives just outside of Tokyo with her human family and a very spoiled lap cat. When she isn’t reading or writing, she works in editing and translation—which means that 99% percent of her day is usually words. In her minimal free time, she enjoys watching musicals, cooking (badly), and slaughtering power ballads at karaoke. 

The Stars May Rise and Fall is her first novel.

New Releases: December 2018

Reciprocity by Sean M. Locke (1st)

All Kaeri Hawen wants is a peaceful life in the Lower Terrace. No more collecting debts. No more breaking kneecaps.

But then the Boss’s loose cannon of a son massacres a dozen rival gangsters with a single pull of the trigger. Kaeri’s quiet retirement is off the menu—for now. If she wants out of her life of crime, she’ll have to stop Kasper and his devilish weapon first.

Maria Cantabile is a clever young noblewoman with a knack for tinkering and a devastating right cross. She’s descended into the Lower Terrace to retrieve two precious possessions: her delinquent little sister, and the stolen prototype of her reciprocating repeater carbine.

Kaeri knows just where to find both—the girl and the gun sit in Kasper’s greedy, bloodied hands.

The deadly noblewoman and the gold-hearted gangster will have to work together to stop a city-wide bloodbath. They’ll have to break their own rules, and betray their own families. They’ll have to risk falling in love. Do they have what it takes to save the Lower Terrace, and save each other?

Buy it: Amazon

Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks by Nathan Burgoine (11th)

Being the kid abducted by crazy old Ms. Easton when he was four permanently set Cole’s status to freak. At seventeen, his exit plan is simple: make it through the last few weeks of high school with his grades up and his head down.

When he pushes through the front door of the school and finds himself eighty kilometers away holding the door of a museum he was just thinking about, Cole faces facts: he’s either crazier than old Ms. Easton, or he just teleported.

Now every door is an accident waiting to happen—especially when Cole thinks about Malik, who, it turns out, has a glass door on his shower. When he starts seeing the same creepy people over his shoulder, no matter how far he’s gone, crushes become the least of his worries. They want him to stop, and they’ll go to any length to make it happen.

Cole is running out of luck, excuses, and places to hide.

Time for a new exit plan.

Buy it: Bold Strokes Books

The Lights by Carrie Pack (11th)

It’s winter break and Molly Monroe is content to enjoy her town’s annual Festival of Lights with her girlfriend Chelsea at her side. But almost immediately after the lights go up, the town’s children begin to act strangely, especially Molly’s own brother, Roger. When their next-door neighbors are killed in a grisly double homicide, Molly begins to suspect the incidents are linked. Now she must convince her parents and the rest of the town to take down the Christmas lights before everyone gets killed.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon* Kobo* iTunes

The Stars May Rise and Fall by Estella Mirai (11th)

Teru came to Tokyo with dreams of making it big in the glam-metal visual kei scene, but three years later, all he has to show for it is a head of hot pink hair and some skill with an eyeliner pencil. He may look the part, but he doesn’t sound it, and constant bickering among his bandmates has him worried about his future. When he finds a mysterious business card in his bag, he’s willing to take any help he can get.

Help comes in the form of Rei, a crippled, disfigured composer whose own career was ended by an accident before it had really begun. With Teru’s voice and looks, and Rei’s money and songwriting skills, both of their dreams seem about to come true – but a forbidden kiss and a late-night confession threaten to tear it all apart. Now Teru, who has spent most of his life denying his attraction to men, and Rei, who vowed long ago never to love again, must reconcile their feelings with their careers – and with their carefully constructed ideas of themselves.

Buy it: Amazon

The Disasters by M.K. England (18th)

32469736Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours.

But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.

On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.

They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.

Buy it: B&N * AmazonOver the Moon (signed) * IndieBound

New Releases: November 2018

The Best Bad Things by Katrina Carrasco (6th)

Alma Rosales is on the hunt for stolen opium. Trained in espionage by the Pinkerton’s Detective Agency—but dismissed for bad behavior and a penchant for going undercover as a man—Alma now works for Delphine Beaumond, her former lover and the seductive mastermind of a West Coast smuggling ring.

When product goes missing at their Washington Territory outpost, Alma is offered a promotion if she can track the thief and recover the drugs. In disguise as the scrappy dockworker Jack Camp, this should be easy—once she muscles her way into the organization and wins the trust of the local boss and his boys, all while keeping them from uncovering her secrets. Her identity is not all she’s hiding: At the same time she’s searching for the missing opium, Alma is sending coded dispatches to the Pinkerton’s agents detailing the smuggling ring’s operations.

As the sailors tell it, Port Townsend is just five miles from hell. Which suits Alma fine. It’s the perfect setting for her game of aliases and double-crosses. But it’s getting harder and harder to keep her cover stories straight. And to know who to trust. One wrong move and she could be unmasked: as a woman, as a traitor, or as a spy.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

This is What it Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow (6th)

It doesn’t matter what the prize for the Sun City Originals contest is this year.

Who cares that’s it’s fifteen grand? Who cares about a gig opening for one of the greatest bands to ever play this town?

Not Dia, that’s for sure. Because Dia knows that without a band, she hasn’t got a shot at winning Sun City. Because ever since Hanna’s drinking took over her life, Dia and Jules haven’t been in it. And ever since Hanna left — well, there hasn’t been a band.

It used to be the three of them, Dia, Jules, and Hanna, messing around and making music and planning for the future. But that was then, and this is now — and now means a baby, a failed relationship, a stint in rehab, all kinds of off beats that have interrupted the rhythm of their friendship. No contest can change that. Right?

But like the lyrics of a song you used to play on repeat, there’s no forgetting a best friend. And for Dia, Jules, and Hanna, this impossible challenge — to ignore the past, in order to jumpstart the future — will only become possible if they finally make peace with the girls they once were, and the girls they are finally letting themselves be.

Rebecca Barrow’s tender story of friendship, music, and ferocious love asks — what will you fight for, if not yourself?

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (6th)

34433755Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

TW: violence and sexual abuse.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Illusions by Madeline J. Reynolds (6th)

IllusionsDear Thomas,
I know you’re angry. It’s true, I was sent to expose your mentor as a fraud illusionist, and instead I have put your secret in jeopardy. I fear I have even put your life in jeopardy. For that I can only beg your forgiveness. I’ve fallen for you. You know I have. And I never wanted to create a rift between us, but if it means protecting you from those who wish you dead―I’ll do it. I’ll do anything to keep you safe, whatever the sacrifice. Please forgive me for all I’ve done and what I’m about to do next. I promise, it’s one magic trick no one will ever see coming.
Love, Saverio

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion by Lynn O’Connacht (6th)

The Ice Princess's Fair IllusionAll Marian wants is for society to accept that she’s just not interested in… whatever society thinks she ought to be interested in. A princess with a reputation for insults and snide remarks, she’s afraid to show anyone who she would be if people would let her. In a fit of temper at her refusal to marry, her father creates her worst nightmare: she is to be wed to the first beggar who arrives at the gates.

Edel was visiting purely for diplomatic reasons, aiming to ensure her daughter inherits a strong and peaceful kingdom. She sees something in Marian that is achingly familiar and when Edel hears the king’s proclamation, only one thing is on her mind: to protect Marian from the fate that had befallen Edel herself.

Their lives threaded together by magic, Edel and Marian will have to find their way in the world in this queerplatonic, sapphic verse novel retelling of King Thrushbeard.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Jilted by Lilah Suzanne (8th)

Carter’s fiancé is in love with someone else. Link has just been left at the altar. After bonding over mutual heartbreak at the would-be reception’s open bar, Link and Carter pass out in the honeymoon suite—and are mistaken for the happy newlywed couple the next morning. Reluctant to deal with the fallout from their breakups, they embark on an exciting week of fake honeymooning, during which Carter starts to have real feelings for Link. A genderqueer artist who lives life by their own rules, Link inspires Carter to build a new future. Against the eclectic and electric backdrop of New Orleans, Carter and Link have to decide if a second chance at love is in the cards, or if they’re only meant to be sidelined in someone else’s story.

Buy It: Amazon * Interlude Press

Sugar & Ice by Brooklyn Wallace (11th)

One ice queen, one sweetheart, one last chance at happily ever after.

Gwendolyn Crawford is Superwoman personified. She runs her ex’s senatorial campaign while battling gossip rags, sleazy opponents, and her self-righteous former father-in-law. She does the job well, and as far as she’s concerned, that’s all she needs. Besides, there’s no time for romance. Not even when a pair of bright eyes catch hers at the highly exclusive Rose club.

Jacklyn Dunn is stuck in a rut. After a devastating stress fracture ended her WNBA career, she’s mostly been dodging her agent and binging TV. Then she meets Gwen and starts to wonder if there’s more to life than wishes and regrets.

There’s no denying the sparks between them. Jackie thrills in melting Gwen’s ice queen heart, and Gwen is instantly hooked on Jackie’s sweetness. But romance isn’t easy for two women in the spotlight. Stress, tabloids, and their own fears threaten to shake the foundation of their budding relationship. After years of building up walls, the two must open themselves up to love—and to getting hurt—to find what truly makes them happy.

Buy it: Amazon

Pulp by Robin Talley (13th)

32970644In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.

Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.

In this novel told in dual narratives, New York Times-bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words. A stunning story of bravery, love, how far we’ve come and how much farther we have to go.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Lana and Lilly Wachowski by Cáel M. Keegan (15th)

Lana and Lilly Wachowski have redefined the technically and topically possible while joyfully defying audience expectations. Visionary films like The Matrix trilogy and Cloud Atlas have made them the world’s most influential transgender media producers, and their coming out retroactively put trans* aesthetics at the very center of popular American culture.

Cáel M. Keegan views the Wachowskis’ films as an approach to trans* experience that maps a transgender journey and the promise we might learn “to sense beyond the limits of the given world.” Keegan reveals how the filmmakers take up the relationship between identity and coding (be it computers or genes), inheritance and belonging, and how transgender becoming connects to a utopian vision of a post-racial order. Along the way, he theorizes a trans* aesthetic that explores the plasticity of cinema to create new social worlds, new temporalities, and new sensory inputs and outputs. Film comes to disrupt, rearrange, and evolve the cinematic exchange with the senses in the same manner that trans* disrupts, rearranges, and evolves discrete genders and sexes.

Buy it: Amazon * UI Press

Gunsmoke and Glamour by Hillary Monahan (20th)

Marshall Clayton Jensen’s job is to fix things for the people too weird for the government to touch—witches, fairies, monsters. When Clay finds himself on the receiving end of a witch’s curse following a breakup from the love of his life, a fairy named Cora, Clay enlists the help of his best friend Doc Irene and his ex-girlfriend’s promiscuous sister Adelaide to search for a cure before time runs out

Buy it: Amazon | B&N

Runebreaker by Alex R. Kahler (27th)

37486950This is the second book in the Runebinder Chronicles

Magic is sin.

Aidan desires only one thing: to rule. Arrogant, headstrong and driven by the element of Fire, he will stop at nothing to bring the evil Howls that destroyed Scotland to their knees. But Fire is a treacherous element, and the very magic that brought him to power could burn his world to ash.

Especially with the blood of his fellow Hunters on his hands.

Driven by a bloodlust he can’t control and dark whispers that may not be entirely in his head, he and his magic-eschewing friend Kianna will do whatever it takes to liberate their broken world. Even at the risk of confronting the Church. Even at the risk of losing his humanity.

But power isn’t the only thing on Aidan’s mind. He’s falling for the intoxicating Tomas, an Incubus who offers everything Aidan desires. For a price.

And if that price burns the world down, well… Aidan is used to playing with Fire

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi (27th)

The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.

She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Digging Deep and Writing Through Fear: a Guest Post by Aliette de Bodard

Today on the site I’m delighted to welcome Aliette de Bodard, whose The Vanishers’ Palace, “A dark Beauty and the Beast retelling, where they are both women and the Beast is a dragon,” releases tomorrow!  But before we get to her post, I’m gonna have to show off this book, because it could not look more awesome:

In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

Preorder it

And here’s the post!

Some books are terrifying to write.

In the Vanishers’ Palace didn’t start out as this. It was 2017, and due to rather a lot of stressors in my personal life, writing had stopped being fun or being fulfilling. I was skating pretty close to burnout. To prevent a really ugly crash, I put my contractual obligations on the backburner, and decided to write for fun.

I wanted a book about escape, one I could sink into for comfort: something that would take the Vietnamese legends of my childhood, the awe-inspiring dragons that lived in underwater palaces and the poor scholars who fell in love with them, and merge them with a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that would engage with the problematic issue of lack of consent when one falls in love with one’s jailer. I would write a book in which an impoverished scholar fell in love with the dragon to whom she’d been indentured. I would make it casually, normatively queer, because I was tired of being punched in the face by media in which bi or lesbian characters in a relationship with another woman died as a matter of course. I wanted a fun and fluffy f/f romance with strong supporting female and non-binary characters.

What I wrote instead felt, in many ways, like opening my chest and putting my heart’s blood on the page. I hadn’t expected this to turn out so personal. As I wrote this, I dug into old tales and old images that meant so much to me as a child: a dragon rising from the heart of the river, a scholar piecing together words that turned out to be magical spells, a library that held all the books of the world and one had only to ask… I wrote into my universe the darkness inherent in fairytales, but also that of history: the world of In the Vanishers’ Palace isn’t ruined by climate warming, but by colonial masters who tear it apart for fun and then leave when everything is ashes, never caring what happens to their former servants.

But I also ended up pushing on things that bled: on questions of who is allowed happiness, who is allowed escape and comfort, who is allowed stories. As I wrote, my treacherous brain kept whispering to me that I was wrong, that people like my geeky lesbian Vietnamese scholar or my honourable, duty-bound bi dragon spirit couldn’t possibly be the centre of a decent narration, or have a relationship with a happy ending. That a fantasy book had to be about violence rather than the breaking of the cycle; that discussions of consent were too weighty and too fraught; and that a book set in a post-colonial, ruined world couldn’t possibly hold out hope.

It wasn’t the first time this had happened: when I wrote my Vietnamese domestic space opera On a Red Station, Drifting, I had similar feelings (and a similar root cause of digging deep into personal meaningful things, and pushing back against my brain’s ideas of acceptable narratives). I knew, to some extent, how to fight them, but it left me exhausted and drained. And when In the Vanishers’ Palace was rejected, it felt (for the first time in many, many years) life-shattering in a way that I couldn’t quite articulate: I only realised afterwards that it was because the book was so personal, and the writing of it so challenging.

Fortunately, my friends came to my rescue. They’d read the book (sometimes in multiple versions), and they were sure to remind me of their enthusiasm, and of what it had meant to them. They offered me their support as I navigated through the process of publishing it. And I remembered the lessons I’d learnt as a writer: that there is no correlation between the quality of a book and how I feel about it. That all writing is an act of letting go, and that books go out in the world to be read and become the readers’ as much as the writer’s. That it’s natural to be scared, but that it’s no reason to hide a manuscript.

Once upon a time, I wrote a book and I dug deep into my own self, and it was terrifying. But it’s ok, because I remembered how to write through fear, and because I remembered how to let go–and most of all, because my friends are fabulous and have my back, and that makes it all way less terrifying.

***

Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and two British Science Fiction Association Awards. She is the author of the Dominion of the Fallen series, set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which comprises The House of Shattered Wings (2015 British Science Fiction Association Award, Locus Award finalist), and its standalone sequel The House of Binding Thorns (Ace/Gollancz, 2017 European Science Fiction Society Achievement Award, Locus award finalist). She lives in Paris.

Retelling Dracula Without Vampires: a Guest Post by Thrall Co-Author Avon Gale

Well, I’d say this is one of the coolest books I’ve heard about in a while: Thrall is a modern take on Dracula that’s both f/f and m/m, co-authored by powerhouse queer-romance authors Avon Gale and Roan Parrish. In this version, there are no vampires, and the authors are here to talk about why. But first, here’s the info on the book, which released last week!

***

Happy couple Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra have begun to garner national attention for their quirky New Orleans true-crime podcast, Shadowcast. When Lucy’s brother Harker disappears while researching the popular new dating app Thrall, they’re thrown into a real-life mystery. Aided by their social media expert, Arthur, and Harker’s professor, Van Helsing, they follow the trail, hoping to find Harker before it’s too late.

When their investigation crosses the path of a possible serial killer, the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur. And as they race against the app’s countdown clock, so does the line between friendship and love. What starts as a flirtatious rivalry between computer-savvy Arthur and techno-averse Van Helsing becomes much more, and Mina and Lucy’s relationship is tested in the fires of social media.

As they get down to the wire, the group discovers that nothing on their screens is as it seems—including their enemy.

Buy it: Amazon * Books2Read (All other vendors)

***

And now, here’s the post by co-author Avon Gale!

One of the first things you might notice about Thrall, the modern-day take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula that I co-wrote with Roan Parrish, is that there aren’t any vampires. “How can you have a re-telling of Dracula without…Dracula?” you might ask. Aren’t vampires central to the whole story?

When Roan and I first talked about writing Thrall, one thing we wanted to do was think about the underlying themes of vampirism in the original novel, and what Dracula, as a character, represented to contemporary audiences. Then, we wanted to examine those themes and figure out what their modern equivalents would be, and how to work those into a retelling that would resonate with modern readers. To us, a good re-telling of a classic story functions both as a call-back to the original source material, and as an entertaining and complete story. Dracula has become such a common part of our cultural lexicon that we knew this wouldn’t be easy. If “the blood is the life”, as Stoker writes, and the vampire is the taker of blood that is sometimes freely given and sometimes taken without consent…what’s a good, modern translation of that concept?

We bandied about a lot of ideas, but eventually, we settled on information – and the gathering and usage thereof– as our preferred analogy. Thrall, the dating application (and our Dracula) is an insidious little application that is easily passed from person-to-person via downloads and smart phones, and it’s something that you put a lot of energy into even if you don’t want to. Thrall, as we designed it in the book, takes your information and your “bad dates” and promises to use both to find you the perfect partner….meaning you’re a bit in thrall to the potential, and willing to return again and again and willingly give up your emotional and physical energy for the chance at everlasting happiness. Just like Dracula lured his victims with the promise of life eternal, only to…well, you know what vampires do. And just like a vampire needs blood to survive, Thrall can’t function without the continual input of sweet, sweet personal information.  And the usage to which it is put isn’t always in our best interests, just like Dracula wasn’t always using that blood to romance Mina. Or Jonathan.

There’s also an aspect of social media as both a source of captivation and engagement, and we hope that, too, resonates with modern audiences. Lucy keeps counts of her Twitter followers, just like in the book she keeps track of her suitors. Social media is definitely something that both requires energy and gives it back, though not always in ways we might want – or need.

Setting the book in New Orleans was also a fun way to pay homage to the original; like turn-of-the-century London, it is a city caught between both the past and the present/future.  I have a wonderful memory of walking down the rain-misted streets with Roan in August of 2016, when I helped her move from New Orleans to Philly, and we first talked about the book and what we wanted to do. We even visited the Lafayette Cemetery (also because we’re both huge fans of The Witching Hour by Anne Rice) a location that makes more than one appearance in Thrall.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the plot, because it’s a mystery and no one likes to be spoiled! But we’re hopeful that you’ll enjoy our take on vampirism and what such a concept might look like in modern day, and how we’ve conveyed that through a similar format to the original. Like Dracula, Thrall is epistolary, told entirely through text messages, chats, emails and tweets. Just like the main characters in Stoker’s story find themselves caught up in a strange, alternate reality they never dreamed existed…so, too, do ours. But I’ll stop there before I spoil it!

This book is definitely a departure for both Roan and myself, and it’s one reason why we had so much fun writing it (and the reason for several three-plus hour long phone calls!). Adapting something that was technically a gothic horror into a modern-day romance was definitely a challenge, but we’re both pleased with the result and hope you’ll have fun reading it. We tried to make it accessible for those who both have read the original and those who have not, though there are many geeky references to Stoker’s book and we would LOVE to hear from readers who spot them!

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Avon Gale was once the mayor on Foursquare of Jazzercise and Lollicup, which should tell you all you need to know about her as a person. She likes road trips, rock concerts, drinking Kentucky bourbon, JRPGs and yelling at hockey. She’s a displaced southerner living in a liberal midwestern college town, and she never gets tired of people and their stories — either real or the ones she makes up in her head.

Avon is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan at Handspun Literary Agency.

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