Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Mourning Dove by R.R. Campbell

Today on the site, we’re welcome the cover reveal of R.R. Campbell’s Mourning Dove, the second book in the sci-fi EMPATHY series, releasing on April 29, 2019, from Ninestar Press! Come check it out:

MourningDove-Slider

In the aftermath of the calamitous Human/Etech research study, Chandra and Kyra struggle to reclaim the life they shared in a pre-EMPATHY world, while Ty, armed with knowledge of EMPATHY’s programming language, seeks revenge on the Halmans for the harm that’s befallen his friends.

As a North American Union investigation into the happenings on the compound looms, a grief-stricken Peter works to resurrect the memory of his mother from a harvested nanochip, and Heather scrambles to keep her family—and their company—together. Alistair, having abandoned the family business, plots to save his hide and that of his wife while she strives to stay one step ahead of a husband she has no reason to trust.

Far to the north amid civil unrest, a recently retired Rénald Dupont investigates the disappearance of his friend and former colleague, Meredith, despite grave threats from an increasingly skittish North American Union government.

As old and new foes emerge, spouse is further pit against spouse, brother against sister, and governments against their people. In the end, all must choose between attempts to reclaim the past or surrender to the inevitable, an intractable world of their own creation.

Mourning Dove is an evocative, sweeping symphony of love, revenge, and desperation in cacophonous times. It is the second installment in r. r. campbell’s epic EMPATHY sci-fi saga.

And now the cover, designed by Natasha Snow! 

MourningDove Final

Mourning Dove is out April 29, 2019 from Ninestar Press

Pre-order now! (Use code PREORDER for 30% off at checkout)

Haven’t read book one in the series, Imminent Dawn? You can learn more about it below!

43196570Art-school dropout Chandra would do anything to apologize for her role in her wife’s coma—including enroll in the first round of human trials for an internet-access brain implant.

At first, the secretive research compound is paradise, the perfect place to distract Chandra from her grief. But as she soon learns, the facility is more prison than resort, with its doctors, support staff, and her fellow patients all bent on hatching plots of their own, no matter how invested they might seem in helping her communicate with her wife.

Making matters worse, a dark wave of uncertainty crashes down on the compound, forcing Chandra to become an unlikely but pivotal player in conspiracies stretching from the highest levels of the North American Union government to the lowest dredges of its shadowy hacking collectives.

To save herself and her wife, Chandra and her newfound friends from the study will have to overcome the scheming of a ruthless tech magnate, the naïveté of an advancement-hungry administrative assistant, and the relentless pursuits of an investigative journalist, all of whom are determined to outpace the others in their own quests to resurrect lost love, cover their tracks, and uncover the truth.

A twistedly delightful clockwork of intrigue and suspense, EMPATHY: Imminent Dawn is an electrifying sci-fi debut from author r. r. campbell.

Buy links for Imminent Dawn (EMPATHY #1): Amazon | Barnes & Noble | NineStar Press | Kobo | Smashwords
 
 

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Want to request an ARC or participate in the Mourning Dove blog tour? Click here!
 
Preorder link for Mourning Dove  (Use code PREORDER at checkout for 30% off!)
 
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Better Know an Author: K. Ancrum

It’s a new month, and that means hanging out with a new author, in this case the positively brilliant K. Ancrum, whom you might know from her incredibly intense and beautiful debut, The Wicker King, or from her tender and alternately heartbreaking and heartwarming sophomore, The Weight of the Stars, which releases on March 19! Whether you’re already a fan or you’re about to become one who just doesn’t know it yet, come along and meet her!

First of all, congrats on the upcoming release! For those who haven’t been lucky enough to read The Weight of the Stars ahead of time, what would you like them to know about it?

Its a tender love story about two girls standing in the wreckage of their parent’s circumstances who find a way to learn how to face the same circumstances “harder better faster stronger”.  If you’ve seen the movie Interstellar, its like… if the movie was about Murph growing up, but from the perspective of another girl who thought she was super hot. I wrote this book because I wanted to make a soft and precious love story for the huge HUGE turn out that the WLW community had for The Wicker King. I really hope I did them justice with this one.

Of course, The Weight of the Stars isn’t your first queer YA, as you debuted with your fabulous and wildly intense and thoughtful The Wicker King, which is so much about co-dependency and mental health at its heart. What drove writing that book for you, and who do you really hope finds it?

Like many authors who write about difficult contemporary circumstances, I wrote The Wicker King from a lot of personal experience. I really wanted to explore the nuance between Jack’s colorful display of physical illness and the dramatic and incredibly realistic portrayal of August’s descent into mental illness. That sliver of a line between August’s experience with Jack and how readers processed August as a child who desperately needed help and whether or not they would recognize that he did was very personal to me. That aside though, I really hope that it finds teenagers who have noticed a friend struggling, adults who are in positions of power who need that extra push to intervene when something doesn’t seem quite right with the teens in their lives and, and I haven’t mentioned this at all before but: I also hope that older MLM find the book because a significant amount of my older MLM readers have said that August’s struggle with his orientation really resonated with them in a specific and very gentle way. And I think that’s very precious ,so I hope more older MLM find The Wicker King.

One thing that’s great about your website is that you’re really into sharing information on your publishing journey with your readers, which I love. What do you think are the most important bits from yours for other aspiring authors to know? And what’s been your favorite moment of the journey so far?

There are still posts there from when I almost gave up writing The Wicker King, or was struggling with whether I wanted the book to be explicitly Bi because I was afraid it wouldn’t sell. Mostly because I wound up pushing through both of those insecurities to find myself where I am now. But looking back: reading the plaintive cries of a younger me, the soft worries and requests for help, is such an encouraging thing. It really makes me want to pull myself up and march towards an uncertain future.

I think my favorite moment of the process is reading all of my edits. I have had the incredible luck to have had two a hilarious and great agents and 3 hilarious and great editors. I love flipping through the pages of my book and seeing comments like “Oh my god”  at the chaotic things my characters are doing. There is this one scene in particular in The Weight of the Stars, where the MC spontaneously realizes that she’s had a crush on her love interest the whole time and she has a full on hysteria fit about being really gay for her in a car, and one of my editors wrote that she screeched through reading the scene and I remember reading that comment and laughing so hard.

I really really love the team that helped me build both The Weight of the Stars and The Wicker King and hope I can continue working with them as long as possible.

In The Weight of the Stars, we get some really wonderful aspects of queer representation that aren’t often found in YA. What felt really important to you to have in this story, and why?

I ride or die for found families. Found families are such a huge part of western queer culture and modern western queer history that its an honor to continue the tradition of their representation. Mostly-LGBTQ friend groups providing familial love and support, shoulders to cry on, homes to crash in, food to eat and physical affection is so pure, so precious and so important.

I also feel like there is a yawning chasm of butch characters in F/F. The Weight of the Stars gives you Soft Butch with Alexandria and Butch with Ryann, for people who are familiar with those terms and with those identities. F/F is already rare and tends to sell less than M/M (for a multitude of reasons), so this isn’t meant to be divisive. But a majority of F/F is not about butch girls and I wanted to build this love story between two butch girls that is ten times softer and more gentle than anyone would imagine a story about butch love could be. I wanted tenderness that prickles tears at the corner of your eyes and soft yearning that you’d usually associate with Virginia Woolf, but I wanted it for a giant muscle girl.

Your books feel so…rare, I guess is the word? There’s something about the way you write that’s so special and so different but still feels like part of the same unusual universe. What’s a K. Ancrum book to you? What do you think will always show up in your work in some way?

This is such a cool question! First, I think my format is probably a huge part of that. I’m “known” for telling instead of showing, largely because I have something else big to show instead (example: August telling the reader that he’s well, while he shows the reader that he is Not, Ryann telling the readers she has no family, and then showing the readers that she has a close family made of friends. ). I also kind of format my books more like movies, they’re intended to be read straight through and the pacing  and format reflects that. There is also an immediacy in the way I write romance. I write like the words “I love you” are pushing at the inside of the teeth of my characters, and I think that really resonates with a decent amount of readers (thank goodness haha).

I think the thing that will always show up in my work is tenderness in the relationships between my characters and physical affection. I like my characters to show care through touch, even if its hard for them to use their words to express it. Teenagers have a very particular and rare relationship with touch, especially because they are in that transitional stage where familial touch and platonic touch start moving to make room for sexual touch. And they often explore the boundaries of that in a way that adults and children do not (example: when I was in HS, I had a friend who would often do the hair of the other girls and it was a very familial touch moment that I can never imagine her repeating as an adult) There is a tenderness to that that I think makes my books feel kind of quaint and strangely realistic in ways that a lot of people are unable to put their finger on.

Important question as relevant to The Weight of the Stars: What’s your very favorite space-related fact? 

I am OBSESSED with The Golden Record. Just…. we really did that! We really made a record of all of humanity’s Greats and sent it out to space to be found by anyone or anything to try and make them love us! Make them want to understand us! Make them listen to our music and hear the sounds of our woods, our fields, our seas! and then we gave them a map so they can find us, and by god isn’t that the pinnacle of humanity? The desperate craving to be loved? The desperate curiosity towards the beyond? The desperate humbleness of our offering, but given with earnestness nonetheless?  That hopeless sort of Human Hope we fling in every direction, reckless and violent to the end? Our endless chasm of “Maybe… Please?” and “Look at us!” and “Look for us!”

We sent it in the 1970s it still flies, endless in the black. As singular and lonely as we are.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aR6oV8kJKf4

What other queer YA are you reading lately that you’ve loved? Anything you’re especially looking forward to?

This is a nightmare answer but I’m currently just reading tons and tons of fan fiction. I’m learning a lot about portraying the intricacies of desire in a thousand delicate ways, and learning how people tend to view courtship when they’re at their most self-indulgent, most secret, most private. Fan fiction is written in the dead of night in the dark for your friends or because your heart says that you Must. I want to access that flavor for my work, from a learning perspective.

As for books I’m looking forward to: I’m so freakin’ hype about Wilder Girls and The Last 8. I’m also super pumped for His Hideous Heart, the anthology you have coming out. I love EAP and the prickly way he writes and I’m excited to see what you all made of him. (Blogger’s Note: Thank you!)

What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ representation you remember in media, for better or for worse?

This is going to sound really crazy, but when I was 8, I read a romance novel that included an intersex major character. I remember reading descriptions of her and her body like I was looking into the face of god. I had literally never heard of anything that was so perfect and so beautiful. I don’t remember what the book was called or anything about it, but I remember her lover saying something to her about how “she was made up of many pieces of many pretty things” and melting. Just, filled to the brim with a hunger for that sort of acceptance and for being cherished exactly as I was (which was a bi child).

I’m working on a cool novel about a train heist and another novel about possession!

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K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in Andersonville and writes books at work when no one is looking.

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

Queer Identity: a Guest Post by A Fall in Autumn Author Michael Williams

Please welcome to the site today Michael Williams, author of gay sci-fi detective novel A Fall in Autumn, which just released in January. He’s here today discussing Queer Identity vs. Queer Behavior, and how that conversation is relevant to his work. So before we get to the post, here’s the book info:

WELCOME TO THE LAST OF THE GREAT FLYING CITIES

It’s 9172, YE (Year of the Empire), and the future has forgotten its past.

Soaring miles over the Earth, Autumn, the sole surviving flying city, is filled to the brim with the manifold forms of humankind: from Human Plus “floor models” to the oppressed and disfranchised underclasses doing their dirty work and every imaginable variation between.

Valerius Bakhoum is a washed-up private eye and street hustler scraping by in Autumn. Late on his rent, fetishized and reviled for his imperfect genetics, stuck in the quicksand of his own heritage, Valerius is trying desperately to wrap up his too-short life when a mythical relic of humanity’s fog-shrouded past walks in and hires him to do one last job. What starts out as Valerius just taking a stranger’s money quickly turns into the biggest and most dangerous mystery he’s ever tried to crack – and Valerius is running out of time to solve it.

Now Autumn’s abandoned history – and the monsters and heroes that adorn it – are emerging from the shadows to threaten the few remaining things Valerius holds dear. Can the burned-out detective navigate the labyrinth of lies and maze of blind faith around him to save the City of Autumn from its greatest myth and deadliest threat as he navigates his feelings for his newest client, the handsome golem Alejandro?

Buy it on Amazon

And here’s the post!

Valerius Bakhoum, the narrator and protagonist of my new far-future sci fi detective novel A Fall in Autumn, is what’s called an Artie: an Artisanal Human. His mom and dad made him the old-fashioned way, which is unusual in the far-future world I strive to depict. Most people are some sort of “plus,” designed to be perfect from the start and given the benefit of routine genetic tuneups and treatments to stay that way, or they’re uplifted animals, given just enough sentience and a purpose-built design to do a specific set of tasks. Unlike them, Valerius grew up on a reservation for unmodified humanity. Kept away from specific technologies, constantly told they were special and important in a way others were not, they were treated like the Svalbard seed bank for human DNA. Their culture keeps them there just in case the geneticists of that time manage to royally screw things up and, like a writer after a bad cut and paste job, need to restore from an earlier backup.

Valerius is also gay, and disreputable, and a former street hustler, and a runaway, but I really wanted his experience as an Artie to speak to that first one. I wanted to depict the queer experience as an identity and not necessarily as a set of behaviors.

They say “write what you know,” right? They’re wrong, but they say it, and I certainly drew on some aspects of my own experience when working on this novel. I grew up in a remote part of Appalachia surrounded by real instances of all the bad stereotypes.  Racism, misogyny, and homophobia abounded. From a very early age I knew I would have to get out and go elsewhere to make a life, and I did just that. It didn’t matter that they told me it was about what queer people do. I knew I had already transgressed by virtue of who I was. I wanted to talk in a very explicit way about that sense of being the semi-invisible other. I wanted that alienation – and the drive to find a place he can call home – literally written into his DNA.

That’s the thing about our culture’s growing awareness of identity, right? Queerness isn’t something we do, though it may light the path to one or another set of actions. There’s no sexual activity threshold we have to meet or exceed to be queer, as the aces among us have been trying to tell us for years. Being queer isn’t like getting a driver’s license or sitting the bar: no study guide, no test to pass, no lab results to confirm. I have friends who are bisexual and have only had experiences with a single gender. Their bisexuality is still valid because it’s who they are, not a curriculum vitae. We just are queer, and we know it deep in ourselves, and in my experience that has shaped absolutely every interaction and relationship I’ve had in my life.

The society of A Fall in Autumn is in theory an egalitarian one offering full citizenship and equality under the law to all the many forms humanity has come to take. In practice, though, it’s plagued with the same inequalities in privilege, access, political clout, and financial resources as ours. Mannies – human-animal hybrids – are kept essentially as slaves. Plusses get all the goodies. And everyone can spot Valerius as an Artie the second they see him. He has laugh lines. His hair is starting to gray. He has an old scar on his face. In Valerius’ world, normal people never have those problems. Everything about him pisses someone else off, and everywhere Valerius goes he is fetishized or reviled – or both. It doesn’t matter to them who he is. It matters to them what he is. The ones who love him have pigeonholed Arties as admirably quaint, like the genetic equivalent of evangelical virgins, with purity rings and chastity pledges and the sort of doe-eyed wholesomeness that describes the butt of a gag out of an old Looney Tunes cartoon. They’d like to freeze him in amber, like Jurassic Park in reverse, to keep him pure forever. The ones who hate him think Valerius is less than they are and way too big for his britches. Why do Arties get to live in their own place and have religious types coo and fawn over them? And why is Valerius wasting all that privilege and goodwill by running around out in the regular world with the rest of the herd? What’s a living religious relic doing working cheating-boyfriend cases for the sorts of clients who can afford to pay but not much?

As queer people, I firmly believe we’re in the same position. Look at the way our society treats us: they pass transphobic “bathroom bills” while they revive Queer Eye and Will & Grace. They have an idea of what we’re about, what our experiences may be, but that idea is something they received from a source other than us and is entirely about our outer lives rather than our inner ones. They pick up these opinions and pass them around, often without the benefit of actually knowing any of us. When they find out about us – when we share with them this most basic element of who we are, of our outlook on the world, the medium by which we receive ever relationship of ever type for the rest of our lives from the moment we realize it about ourselves – it changes us in their minds. Sometimes that change is welcome, sometimes not. Some of them would sentence us to literal death for the sin of tempting them to freedom; others to a life behind the bars of social expectation in a prison of forever being the Gay Best Friend & Neighbor. Neither take has a lot of room in it for the social and spiritual clutter of being a person who’s alive.

The ‘phobes will always try to emphasize that dichotomy between identity and action, of course, to justify themselves, but they’ll do so on the other side of it. From the Briggs Initiative to HB2, they’ll say they hate us because they believe we’re predators. I have a theory, though, and it explains why we don’t have to do anything at all other than make a cameo in their fevered imaginations.

They’re scared of our willingness to question the script we were given, to assert that who we are is something different from what we were told we could be. It points out their own failure to do the same. We and they all heard the same stories growing up, that there was one acceptable identity, one pre-approved future, and we waved that off and decided we could do better for ourselves.

What if things could have been better for them, too?

That is what they really fear. Our existence confirms other paths were available to them all along – other ways of living, other ways of thinking about themselves, other ways of relating to their own desires, their own bodies, their own presentation – and some of them will never forgive us for that.

That freedom and power of spirit is our greatest strength, though, and we should never forget that. Those bisexual friends who’ve always and only had relations and encounters with a single sex? By coming out, even if only to a few friends, even if only to themselves, they have made the world a little bit freer. Their queer children will thank them. Their queer hearts will beat longer and stronger unchained from fear.

By being true to ourselves we become beacons in the darkness leading others to their own truths about their own identities. And there are people for whom Valerius has been that, too. One of my publisher’s editors referred to Valerius as “tragic,” but to me his story is uplifting. Valerius knew who he was and what he wanted to be, and he took all the risks in the world to chase it.

Is there any better standard for success?

Does any other form of victory really matter?

***

Michael G. Williams writes wry horror: stories of monsters, macabre humor, and subverted expectations. He is the author of two series for Falstaff Books: The Withrow Chronicles, including Perishables (2012 Laine Cunningham Award), Tooth & Nail, Deal with the Devil, Attempted Immortality, and Nobody Gets Out Alive; a new series in The Shadow Council Archives featuring one of San Francisco’s most beloved figures, SERVANT/SOVEREIGN; and the science fiction noir A Fall in Autumn. Michael also writes short stories and contributes to tabletop RPG development. Michael strives to present the humor and humanity at the heart of horror and mystery.

Michael is also an avid podcaster, activist, reader, runner, and gaymer, and is a brother in St. Anthony Hall and Mu Beta Psi. He lives in Durham, NC, with his husband, two cats, two dogs, and more and better friends than he probably deserves.

Backlist Book of the Month: Ascension by Jacqueline Konayagi

I know, I know, I’m terrible about putting SFF titles in this space, especially ones that aren’t YA, because the truth is, it’s just out of my genre reading zone. But, it’s obviously in many readers’, so I’m just gonna go ahead and put this one out there since A) I see it recommended all the time by people I trust, B) I constantly end up recommending it to people asking for polyam rep, and C) it’s really hard to argue with the greatness of a Black lesbian MC in space who also happens to have a chronic illness and is a sky surgeon. Tick your reading boxes? Then check out Ascension by Jacqueline Konayagi!

Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego . . . and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything–even destroying planets–to get their hands on her.

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

New Release Spotlight: The Disasters by M.K. England

OK, so I’m a liiiittle slow this month to get up the New Release Spotlight, but actually, it’s kind of perfect timing, since this wildly fun YA space romp actually releases today! The Disasters is about a ragtag team of space academy rejects forced to team up to stop attacks and expose some major shadiness, and if you love fun and banter-y friend groups, I can pretty much guarantee this bi MC-helmed debut will be your jam.

Hotshot 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:

SIGNED COPIES
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound
Amazon
Book Depository
Indigo
Aussie Edition

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

Brave New Worlds: The Identity Possibilities of Speculative Fiction, a Guest Post by Leigh Hellman

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.

Buy it: Amazon

And here’s the post!

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 Author PhotoLEIGH 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.