Tag Archives: SFF

Better Know an Author: K.A. Doore

I’m so excited to have K.A. Doore on the site as this month’s featured author, because frankly, a lot of the books that make it onto this site are thanks to her working to increase visibility for them, making her one of my favorite authors to follow on Twitter. But in addition to being an A+ advocate for queer books and for queer adult SFF in particular, she is also, of course, an author, who happens to have just released the second book of the Chronicles of Ghadid series. She’s joining us to talk about the books, SFF, discoverability, and more, so take a seat and get to know K.A. Doore!

Congrats on the release of The Impossible Contract! As we all know, the second book, especially of a series, can be a complete nightmare, so what was the process of writing it like and what was the absolute best moment?

43263188Thank you!!

I have to admit I kind of cheated on my second book, in that The Impossible Contract was actually the book I wrote first. It was supposed to be a standalone, but when I was presented with the opportunity to write more in that universe, I jumped on it. I just, maybe, jumped a little backwards.

The Perfect Assassin turned out to be my second book, as well as the first in the series, which was its own specific kind of nightmare. I had to figure out how to write a book that felt like it had always come first, that was in some ways quieter, that laid the foundation of the worldbuilding done in the now second book without overshadowing it, that had its own stakes and characters and all tied up neatly enough to work on its own and also lead into the next book.

Hard, yes? And then do that all in nine months with a newborn.

That was the most difficult part, but that was also the best part. Having the chance to explore the world in greater detail, to dig into the myths and lore I hadn’t had the space to in the now second book, to share the roots of the family and the traditions of their world – I can’t imagine writing the series any differently now.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Chronicles of Ghadid series, how are the books, which have different main protagonists, connected? And can you tell us a little about both Amastan and Thana?

39863314They’re thematically connected, each building upon the others’ answers – and questions – about what it means to be a family, what it means to take a life, and what it means to do the right thing, even when it’s the hardest thing in the world to do. They’re also, ultimately, a story about a city and its people and its history, and how each generation tells its own story about that history, deriving a separate but still valid identity from it.

I’m a historian at heart – if not quite on paper (does a Classics degree count?) – so exploring the ways the history of a people changes and shifts over time and is used for various purposes became the main thread of the story, and why ultimately this series is about the city of Ghadid more than it is about any individual person.

But it is still about Amastan and Thana and their fellow cousins. Those two are opposites in a lot of ways. Amastan is meticulous and highly risk-averse, preferring a quiet afternoon with tea and scrolls to any excitement. Whereas Thana wants to make a name for herself, she wants to stand out from her cousins and become a legend. I love them both and I loved exploring their stories and the way they feed off of each other – mostly for good, occasionally for bad.

The final book in the trilogy, The Unconquered City, releases from Tor on June 16th. What familiar things can established fans expect to see, and what can you say about it that should make clear to readers it’s time to get in on the ground floor?

47902772._sy475_Many familiar faces return in the third book and the story of a city and it’s magic that I’ve been not so subtly hinting at all along comes to a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion. A lot of questions raised about the nature of spirits and what happens to them, as well as what, exactly, it means to be a healer and how that talent developed in a far-flung city like Ghadid are answered as well.

While The Perfect Assassin and The Impossible Contract both work well as standalones, The Unconquered City draws heavily on themes, events, and characters from both. I did have one beta reader go in cold and they still enjoyed the story, but I wouldn’t advise it. TUC is a story about overcoming trauma and resilience and rediscovering hope, a story I needed during a particularly hard time in my own life. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

But it’s also full of fights and magic and conflagrations and angry arguments in jail cells. In a way, it’s more of the same, if under a different light. But it’s also an ending to a trilogy that has been bittersweet and hopeful throughout, and it stays true to both.

It’s no secret I’m not a huge adult SFF reader, so I am undyingly grateful to you for your incredible enthusiasm for queer adult SFF and your championing it all over the place. Where do you find about new queer SFF, and how do you recommend readers stay on top of new books?

My secret is that I’m friends/acquaintances with a lot of awesome queer authors who know other awesome queer authors and are good about tipping me off to forthcoming books. Beyond that, I keep an eye out and read reviews (Tor.com is very good about explicitly saying when a book is queer, thank goodness) and then use lists other people have put together to try and fill in the gaps. Even with all that, I still miss some. I’m only one person and I’m only human, so it’s inevitable.

I would advise readers follow blogs and accounts that are dedicated to spreading the word about queer books – like LGBTQ Reads :), but also Reads Rainbow. A little bit more time intensive, but I’d also advise checking out publisher’s catalogues and reading the advance reviews on those books, since oftentimes reviewers will mention the representation they saw. You will start to notice those reviewers who are very good about spotting queer books in advance, as well as talking about the queer books they’ve noticed. Follow them.

Speaking of incredible enthusiasm for queer adult SFF…what are some of your all-time and recent favorites, and what are you most looking forward to in upcoming titles?

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett comes out March 3, 2020 and is basically lesbian Anastasia on ice. It’s fun and smart and thoughtful and deliciously queernorm and it tackles such lofty topics of power, corruption, dictatorships vs republics, and fetishizing the other in a way that never feels like browbeating. Plus, it’s Bartlett, so you’ve got that exquisite, vivid writing as well and the softest f/f relationship ever.

I also really loved The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht and Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh, two novellas put out by Tor.com this summer, each delicious and well-written, each queer af. The former is gory and sharp, dark as all get out and just as sumptuous, while the latter is… not exactly a happy ending, but a lot softer, a gentle hug of a book with a fierceness at its heart.

In addition to your novels, you also write short fiction, which is wonderfully available on your website with Ao3 tags and all. What is it about short fiction and long-form novels that each speak to you, and what fandom is it that brought you to Ao3?

I have to first admit that I was only ever briefly on Ao3 – I cut my fandom teeth on fanfic.net way back in the day. Sailor Moon was initially what brought me in and taught me the ropes of writing a story that was season-length, aka novel-length, if by ropes you mean writing and rewriting and rewriting the same story but never actually finishing it. While I haven’t written fic for a long time now, I still love that particular art form (and yes, it is an art form) and if I ever have time again, look forward to swimming through comfort-fic.

But novels are where I started and novels are where I stayed. I’ve always naturally gravitated toward longer form, since it gives me more room to layer worldbuilding and play with characters. The pay-off of a particular moment that has been subtly – or not so subtly – foreshadowed for most of a book is one of my favorite things about writing, along with the way characters continue to surprise you, two things I find are much more difficult to do satisfactorily in short form.

Short form is also, in my opinion, a whole lot harder to write than novels. Which is probably why it took me so long to even dip my toe into that particular pool. In fact, I thought I was incapable of writing them up until this year, when I needed to work on something in between edits on The Unconquered City. I wasn’t ready to leave Ghadid, and I didn’t have the brain power to begin building a new and separate world, so I played with shorts. They helped me tie up loose ends and begin to move on from a story and world I’d been immersed in for the better part of five years, as well as realize that maybe, maybe, I could learn to do this short story thing after all.

People often think of SFF as an “escape from reality,” but in truth, it can be some of the best ground for exploring topics such as identity and bigotry (including the internalized kind), as you well know. What do you think it is about working outside the bounds of “reality” that makes such a great setting for discussing some of the hardest parts of our reality, especially in the current political climate?

It’s the ability to imagine a different reality, and in so doing come to realize it can be our reality. I write queernorm worlds – that is, worlds where homophobia isn’t a thing – because being able to imagine a place and time where we don’t have to worry about our identities, where it simply isn’t an issue and society works with us can help us believe that such a reality, or a form of that reality, is obtainable here. And that first step – believing it’s even possible – is how we obtain it.

It’s also, generally, easier for fantasy to take on such large ideas and truths because the reader is having a fun time and often doesn’t realize that their worldview is shifting along the way. A fantasy adventure makes it easier to internalize truths like treat others well, corporations are inherently selfish, and maybe people are just… people. Of course, the flip side of this is that fantasy can propagate harmful stereotypes and ideas just as easily.

If anything, while writing fantasy I’ve realized I have to be a lot more conscious of the ideas and truths floating just beneath the surface of my world and story, of what I’m saying if I make the antagonist a queer woman or the oppressive power structure a matriarchy. If I do make the antagonist a queer woman, then I’d better make sure there are other queer women in the story doing positive things. If I do make the oppressive power structure a matriarchy, then I’d better make it damn clear the oppression is because of humans being humans, not because of their gender.

Fantasy is the most powerful tool we have to imagine a better future, and thereby a better now.

Your kickstarter for the anthology Silk & Steel is seriously killing it! What was the process of putting that together like, and how can people help it come to fruition?

That is all Macey and Django’s doing! They are the architects behind the scenes, setting up the Kickstarter and organizing a literal cat-bag of writers. I just volunteered my services and yelling and the amazing writing community has boosted it from there.

As with all things queer and fiction-related, the best thing any single reader or excited patron can do is yell about it. Share it with your friends. Your coworkers. Your enemies. Being loud and obnoxious about the things you love is in, dontcha know.

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

Does Xena count? Xena should absolutely count, although I don’t think I quite connected the dots until later. But her relationships were all pretty queer and even baby!Kai could read between those lines.

Once the series is over, what’s up next for you?

I have a few things in the works, and they’re all pretty queer, but nothing yet set in stone. I’ve got some potentially big life changes coming up, so no guarantee there will be anything soon, but whatever comes next will continue to be queernorm fantasy. 🙂

***

K.A. Doore grew up in Florida, but has since lived in lush Washington, arid Arizona, and cherry-infused Michigan. While recovering from climate whiplash, she’s raised chickens, learned entirely too much about property assessment, photographed cacti, and now develops online trainings while writing fantasy and wrangling a small child, none of which has anything to do with – or perhaps has everything to do with – her BA in Classics.

The Chronicles of Ghadid is her trilogy debut, beginning with The Perfect Assassin from Tor Books.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Trans-Galactic Bike Ride: Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories of Transgender and Nonbinary Adventurers ed. by Lydia Rogue

I don’t really know how to come up with a cooler name for a collection than Trans-Galactic Bike Ride: Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories of Transgender and Nonbinary Adventurers, but then again, I don’t have to, because someone else did and I get to reveal the cover today! Trans-Galactic Bike Ride: Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories of Transgender and Nonbinary Adventurers is edited by Lydia Rogue and releases January 21, 2021 from Microcosm Publishing, so yes, this is a very advance look, which is pretty awesome! Here are the details on the collection, which includes trans men, trans women, and non-binary folk in a whole array of different sorts of stories:

What would the future look like if we weren’t so hung up on putting people into boxes and instead empowered each other to reach for the stars? Take a ride with us as we explore a future where trans and nonbinary people are the heroes.

In worlds where bicycle rides bring luck, a minotaur needs a bicycle, and werewolves stalk the post-apocalyptic landscape, nobody has time to question gender. Whatever your identity, you’ll enjoy these stories that are both thought-provoking and fun adventures.

Featuring brand-new stories from Hugo, Nebula, and Lambda Literary Award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders, Ava Kelly, Juliet Kemp, Rafi Kleiman, Tucker Lieberman, Nathan Alling Long, Ether Nepenthes, and Nebula-nominated M. Darusha Wehm. Also featuring debut stories from Diana Lane and Marcus Woodman.

And here’s the epic cover, designed by Cecilia Granata!

Preorder here!

Check out Charlie Jane Anders reading “The Visitmothers” live here!

***

Gail Pasternack

Lydia Rogue is a writer and poet living in Portland, Oregon. They write stories and nonfiction that centers trans people, when they’re not writing sappy love poems for their fiancée or wrangling their four rats. You can find them online at lydiarogue.com

Excerpt from Crier’s War by Nina Varela

Today on the site we have an excerpt from Crier’s War by Nina Varela, a YA fantasy with a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers f/f romance set against a political backdrop that just released on October 1! First, check out the book:

Like all Automae, Crier was made to be perfect. Her design was created and approved by her father, the sovereign King Hesod of Rabu. However, when her new fiancé presents her with proof that there is a flaw in her design—one that shows she has the very human trait of passion—she worries it will lead to her downfall.  For years, Ayla has been quietly plotting her revenge, after being born into subjugation. In Rabu, humans are inferior to Automae and considered second-class citizens. Hesod took Ayla’s family, so she intends to take his—by killing Crier.

Then, one fateful night, Ayla ends up saving Crier’s life instead. Out of gratitude or curiosity, Crier requests Ayla as her new handmaiden. And though Ayla tells herself she only accepted the position to infiltrate her enemies, she starts to realize that Crier is nothing like she previously believed.  But as humans and Automae are on the brink of war, Ayla and Crier’s relationship may be a catalyst for a battle that could end all of civilization.

Buy it: B&N | Amazon | Indiebound

And here’s the excerpt!

Benjy opened his mouth to say something else, but Rowan cut him off. “Stars and skies, birdy,” she said, her brown eyes lit up in the sunlight. She looked less like a sparrow and more like . . . like a warrior, fierce and brilliant and flush with hope. Like the warrior she had been in past uprisings; like the warrior she would be again. The revolutionary, the leader. “Ayla, my love,” she said. “This is incredible, this is—this is the best chance we’ve had in years. You can be our eyes and ears on the inside, love. Stationed right at the heart of the spider’s nest, imagine that. And—personal handmaiden to Lady Crier? Gods, it’s like they want a coup.”

“So you think I should use my position,” said Ayla, unable to keep the triumph out of her voice, even as she saw Benjy’s scowl deepen. “You think I should be a mole.”

“Yes,” said Rowan. “Yes, gods, of course. Though”—here her voice changed a little, grew harder—“it will be dangerous. Ayla, you have to focus on the Scyre. He’s the one with knowledge about the Iron Heart. Maybe he’s even got a map of the Aderos Mountains, or of the trade routes, a ledger of all the heartstone traders, something, anything. Whatever you can find, it’ll be valuable.” She grinned, sharp and bright, and cupped Ayla’s face in both hands, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “You clever girl. Oh, you clever, fearsome girl.”

Ayla grinned back, but her mind was already spinning. Was it possible? Was there a chance that Scyre Kinok really did have a map of the Aderos Mountains—a map that could lead them to the Iron Heart itself?

If he did . . .

No more white dresses hanging over the marketplace like ghosts.

Because humans wouldn’t have to kill Automae to set themselves free. The Automae would die, all at once. During Ayla’s first year working under Sovereign Hesod, the orchards had nearly been wiped out by an infestation of locusts. It was an unusually hot spring: the kind of spring where the end of winter felt less like a rebirth, like shaking the weight of snow off your shoulders and emerging lighter for it, and more like a slow descent into boiling water. The air was thick and wet as steam. Sometimes it ached even to breathe. When the locusts came, settling over the orchards like a living, buzzing shadow, even they seemed a little exhausted by the heat. They ate slowly: first the budding fruits, then the blossoms, then the leaves. They ate nonstop for days. All the servants were panicking, because no one knew what to do about the loss of the fruit harvest. And what happened when the locusts stripped the fruit trees bare? Would they fly away, or would they just migrate to the gardens? The fields of barley and sea lavender? Would the entire year’s crop be devoured?

It was Nessa—the head servant—who saved them. Nessa who got the idea to spray the locusts with clouds of poisoned water. It wouldn’t hurt the trees—and besides, most of them were already naked and dead-looking—but it began to kill the locusts the second it touched their shiny green skin.

Within a single day, the trees were empty. The dirt below their branches was littered with millions of dead, silent locusts, their bodies piled ankle-deep. Ayla was one of the servants assigned to clearing them away. Barefoot, she waded through the orchards, filling her basket over and over again with corpses and then loading the baskets onto a cart, dragging the cart out to the bluffs, tossing the contents of each basket over the edge and into the waiting sea. The locusts’ tiny iridescent wings caught the sunlight as they fell; with each basket, Ayla felt like she was pouring out a cascade of glittering gemstones.

One day’s work and all the locusts were dead; the orchards were saved.

That was what would happen if the Iron Heart was destroyed, if the Automae were deprived of heartstone dust. One day’s work. A living shadow lifted.

Ayla blinked. Realized Rowan was still watching her, waiting for her response. Benjy wasn’t looking at either of them. He was staring at the dirt floor, jaw working.

“I’m going to work for Lady Crier,” said Ayla. “I’m going to spy on the Scyre and learn everything I can about the Iron Heart.”

“What about your revenge?” Benjy mumbled.

“I won’t be rash,” she promised. There was no point in telling Benjy that the fire in her hadn’t diminished—had grown, even. This killing fire inside her—he didn’t need to know just how long and cruel it had been burning. Just how charred and scarred she was. Somewhere in the back of her mind, her brother’s voice echoed. Act only when the odds are on your side, Ayla. Gamble with bread and coins, not your life. “I swear to you, Benjy,” she said. “I won’t do anything to Hesod or Crier until I’ve found enough information to destroy the Iron Heart. I won’t let my revenge compromise the Revolution.”

Rowan patted her cheek, beaming. “That’s my girl.”

And even though her eyes were still watering from the terrible stench of the latrines, even though the idea of serving Crier disgusted her, even though part of her wasn’t sure she’d be able to find any information on the Heart at all . . . For the first time since that day, Ayla had a plan. Not just the nebulous, half-formed notion of I want to hurt Hesod. I want to take away his family like he took away mine. But a real plan. Something so much bigger than Crier, Hesod, Kinok, even herself. It felt like—like this was what she was meant to do.

Her heart was lit up with something quick and hot. A lightning storm inside her.

Somewhere along the line, she’d forgotten how it felt to begin.

***

Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.

 

Exclusive Cover Reveal: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

I’m so thrilled to be revealing a truly gorgeous cover and excerpt on the site today for The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, a contemporary fantasy releasing from Tor on March 17, 2020! Here’s the story:

At forty, Linus Baker lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of gifted children in government-sanctioned orphanages. When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management, he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children and their elusive but charming caretaker, Arthur, live. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

And here’s the cover, with art by Chris Sickels/Red Nose Studio (@rednosestudio) and designed by Peter Lutjen!

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

But wait, there’s more! We’ve even got an excerpt—here’s the first chapter of The House in the Cerulean Sea!

 “Oh dear,” Linus Baker said, wiping the sweat from his brow. “This is most unusual.”

That was an understatement. He watched in rapt wonder as an eleven-year-old girl named Daisy levitated blocks of wood high above her head. The blocks spun in slow, concentric circles. Daisy frowned in concentration, the tip of her tongue stuck out between her teeth. It went on for a good minute before the blocks slowly lowered to the floor. Her level of control was astounding.

“I see,” Linus said, furiously scribbling on his pad of paper. They were in the master’s office, a tidy room with government-issued brown carpet and old furniture. The walls were lined with terrible paintings of lemurs in various poses. The master had showed them off proudly, telling Linus painting was her passion, and that if she hadn’t become the master of this specific orphanage, she’d be traveling with a circus as a lemur trainer or even have opened up a gallery to share her artwork with the world. Linus believed the world was better off with the paintings staying in this room, but he kept the thought to himself. He wasn’t there to engage in amateur art criticism. “And how often do you—er, you know? Make things float?”

The master of the orphanage, a squat woman with frizzy hair, stepped forward. “Oh, not often at all,” she said quickly. She wrung her hands, eyes darting back and forth. “Perhaps once or twice . . . a year?”

Linus coughed.

“A month,” the woman amended. “Silly me. I don’t know why I said a year. Slip of the tongue. Yes, once or twice a month. You know how it is. The older the children get, the more they . . . do things.”

“Is that right?” Linus asked Daisy.

“Oh yes,” Daisy said. “Once or twice a month, and no more.” She smiled beatifically at him, and Linus wondered if she’d been coached on her answers before his arrival. It wouldn’t be the first time it’d happened, and he doubted it’d be the last.

“Of course,” Linus said. They waited as his pen continued to scratch along the paper. He could feel their gazes on him, but he kept his focus on his words. Accuracy demanded attention. He was nothing but thorough, and his visit to this particular orphanage had been enlightening, to say the least. He needed to jot down as many details as he could to complete his final report once he returned to the office.

The master fussed over Daisy, pulling her unruly black hair back, fixing it in place with plastic butterfly clips. Daisy was staring forlornly at her blocks on the floor as if she wished they were levitating once more, her bushy eyebrows twitching.

“Do you have control over it?” Linus asked.

Before Daisy could open her mouth, the master said, “Of course she does. We’d never allow her to—”

Linus held up his hand. “I would appreciate, madam, if I could hear from Daisy herself. While I have no doubt you have her best interests in mind, I find that children such as Daisy here tend to be more . . . forthright.”

The master looked to speak again until Linus arched an eyebrow. She sighed as she nodded, taking a step back from Daisy.

After scribbling a final note, Linus capped his pen and set it and the pad of paper back in his briefcase. He stood from his chair and crouched down before Daisy, knees groaning in protest.

Daisy gnawed on her bottom lip, eyes wide. “Daisy? Do you have control over it?”

She nodded slowly. “I think so? I haven’t hurt anyone since I was brought here.” Her mouth twisted down. “Not until Marcus. I don’t like hurting people.”

He could almost believe that. “No one said you did. But sometimes, we can’t always control the . . . gifts we’re given. And it’s not necessarily the fault of those with said gifts.”

That didn’t seem to make her feel better. “Then whose fault is it?”

Linus blinked. “Well, I suppose there are all sorts of factors. Modern research suggests extreme emotional states can trigger instances such as yours. Sadness. Anger. Even happiness. Perhaps you were so happy, you accidentally threw a chair at your friend Marcus?” It was the reason he’d been sent here in the first place. Marcus had been seen in hospital in order to have his tail looked after. It’d been bent at an odd angle, and the hospital had reported it directly to the Department in Charge of Magical Youth as they were required to do. The report triggered an investigation, which was why Linus had been assigned to this particular orphanage.

“Yes,” Daisy said. “That’s exactly it. Marcus made me so happy when he stole my colored pencils that I accidentally threw a chair at him.”

“I see,” Linus said. “Did you apologize?”

She looked down at her blocks again, shuffling her feet. “Yes. And he said he wasn’t mad. He even sharpened my pencils for me before he gave them back. He’s better at it than I am.”

“What a thoughtful thing to do,” Linus said. He thought about reaching out and patting her on the shoulder, but it wasn’t proper. “And I know you didn’t mean him any harm, not really. Perhaps in the future, we will stop and think before we let our emotions get the better of us. How does that sound?”

She nodded furiously. “Oh yes. I promise to stop and think before I throw any more chairs with nothing but the power of my mind.”

Linus sighed. “I don’t think that’s quite what I—”

A bell ran from somewhere deep in the old house.

“Biscuits,” Daisy breathed before running toward the door.

“Only one,” the master called after her. “You don’t want to spoil your supper!”

“I won’t!” Daisy shouted back before slamming the door behind her. Linus could hear the little pitter-patter of her footsteps as she raced down the hall toward the kitchen.

“She will,” the master muttered, slumping down in her chair behind her desk. “She always does.”

“I believe she’s earned it,” Linus said.

She rubbed a hand over her face before eyeing him warily. “Well, that’s it, then. You’ve interviewed all the children. You’ve inspected the house. You’ve seen that Marcus is doing well. And while there was the . . . incident with the chair, Daisy obviously means no harm.”

He believed she was right. Marcus had seemed more interested in having Linus sign his tail cast rather than getting Daisy into any trouble. Linus had balked, telling him it wasn’t his place. Marcus was disappointed, but bounced back almost immediately. Linus marveled—as he sometimes did—how resilient they all were in the face of everything. “Quite.”

“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me what you’re going to write in your report—”

Linus bristled. “Absolutely not. You will be provided with a copy once I’ve filed it, as you know. The contents will be made clear to you then, and not a moment before.”

“Of course,” the master said hastily. “I didn’t mean to suggest that you—”

“I’m glad you see it my way,” Linus said. “And I know DICOMY will certainly be appreciative as well.” He busied himself with this briefcase, rearranging the contents until he was satisfied. He closed it and snapped the locks in place. “Now, unless there is anything else, I’ll take my leave and bid you—”

“The children like you.”

“I like them,” he said. “I wouldn’t do what I do if I didn’t.”

“That’s not always how it is with others like you.” She cleared her throat. “Or, rather, the other caseworkers.”

He looked at the door longingly. He’d been so close to making his escape. Clutching his briefcase in front of him like a shield, he turned back around.

The master rose from her chair and walked around the desk. He took a step back, mostly out of habit. She didn’t come any closer, instead, leaning back against her desk. “We’ve had . . . others,” she said.

“Have you? That’s to be expected, of course, but—”

“They don’t see the children,” she said. “Not for who they are, only for what they’re capable of.”

“They should be given a chance, as all children should. What hope would they have to be adopted if they’re treated as something to be feared?”

The master snorted. “Adopted.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Something I said?”

She shook her head. “No, forgive me. You’re refreshing, in your own way. Your optimism is contagious.”

“I am positively a ray of sunshine,” Linus said flatly. “Now, if there’s nothing else, I can show myself—”

“How is it you can do what you do?” she asked. She blanched as if she couldn’t believe what she’d said.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Work for DICOMY.”

Sweat trickled down the back of his neck into the collar of his shirt. It was awfully warm in the office. For the first time in a long time, he wished he were outside in the rain. “And what’s wrong with DICOMY?”

She hesitated. “I mean no offense.”

“I should hope not.”

“It’s just that . . .” She stood from her desk, arms still folded. “Don’t you wonder?”

“Never,” Linus said promptly. Then, “About what?”

“What happens to a place like this after you file your final report. What becomes of the children.”

“Unless I’m called to return, I expect they continue to live as bright and happy children until they become bright and happy adults.”

“Who are still regulated by the government because of who they are.”

Linus felt backed into a corner. He wasn’t prepared for this. “I don’t work for the Department in Charge of Magical Adults. If you have any concerns in that regard, I suggest you bring it up with DICOMA. I’m focused solely on the well-being of children, nothing more.”

The master smiled sadly. “They never stay as children, Mr. Baker. They always grow up eventually.”

“And they do so using the tools that one such as yourself provides for them should they find themselves aging out of the orphanage without having been adopted.” He took another backward step toward the door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to catch the bus. It’s a rather long trip home, and I don’t want to miss it. Thank you for your hospitality. And again, once the report is filed, you will be sent a copy for your own records. Do let us know if you have any questions.”

“Actually, I do have another—”

“Submit it in writing,” Linus called, already through the door. “I look forward to it.” He shut it behind him, the latch clicking in place. He took a deep breath before exhaling slowly. “Now you’ve gone and done it, old boy. She’ll send you hundreds of questions.”

“I can still hear you,” the master said through the door.

Linus startled before hurrying down the hall.

*****

He was about to leave through the front door when he paused at a bright burst of laughter coming from the kitchen. Against his better judgment, he tiptoed toward the sound. He passed by posters nailed to the walls, the same messages that hung in all the DICOMY-sanctioned orphanages he’d been to. They showed smiling children below such legends as we’re happiest when we listen to those in charge and a quiet child is a healthy child and who needs magic when you have your imagination?

He stuck his head in the kitchen doorway.

There, sitting at a large wooden table, was a group of children.

There was a boy with blue feathers growing from his arms.

There was a girl who cackled like a witch; it was fitting seeing as how that’s what her file said she was.

There was an older girl who could sing so seductively, it brought ships crashing onto the shore. Linus had balked when he’d read that in her report.

There was a selkie, a young boy with a fur pelt resting on his shoulders.

And Daisy and Marcus, of course. Sitting side by side, Daisy exclaiming over his tail cast through a mouthful of biscuit. Marcus grinned at her, his face a field of rusty freckles, tail resting on the table. Linus watched as he asked her if she would draw him another picture on his cast with one of her colored pencils. She agreed immediately. “A flower,” she said. “Or a bug with sharp teeth and stinger.”

“Ooh,” Marcus breathed. “The bug. You have to do the bug.”

Linus left them be, satisfied with what he’d seen.

He made his way to the door once more. He sighed when he realized he’d forgotten his umbrella once again. “Of all the—”

He opened the door and stepped out into the rain to begin the long journey home.

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Excerpt used with permission from Tor Books, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates, (c) 2019 TJ Klune.

***

TJ Klune is an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His debut novel, Bear, Otter, and the Kid, was chosen by Amazon as one of their Top 10 LGBTQ Books published in 2011. Other novels have won him the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Romance and the 2016 the Gold Medal from the Florida Publisher’s Association. Visit him online at TJKluneBooks.com, on Twitter at @tjklune or on Instagram as @tjklunebooks.

How Fandom Changed My Life: A Guest Post by The Sun And Moon Beneath The Stars Author K. Parr

Fandom is a huge gateway for a lot of authors, and it’s one that holds a special place in queer reader hearts for providing which literature never used to and may still not. Certainly it was a life changer for K. Parr, the author of today’s guest post, and she’s here to tell us why. (And yes, there’s info on her book, The Sun and the Moon Beneath the Stars, at the end!)

***

Fandom culture has been a huge part of my life since high school, when a friend first showed me sites for fanfiction and fan art, and I became hooked. We co-wrote a fanfic together—a mash-up of our favorite things held together by a tenuous plot and far too many in-jokes—and engaged in shipping, a.k.a. obsessing over character romances from our favorite books, shows, Anime, and more.

When I look back at my early fandoms, I can’t help but notice a common thread despite the various mediums: heteronormative relationships. From Harry Potter, I loved Ron/Hermione. From Fruits Basket, I loved Kyo/Tohru. From The Office, I loved Jim/Pam. Jokes about the hobbits being gay in Lord of the Rings made me uncomfortable, and I steered clear of slash pairings even though my friend insisted that Remus/Sirius from Harry Potter were a wonderful couple off-page.

I had a sheltered upbringing, with very little exposure to non-heteronormative relationships. There were none in my school, and the few in my family were among distant relations. I distinctly remember watching Brokeback Mountain with my parents, and they told me to cover my eyes during the gay sex scene. I obeyed, and recall hearing my father say, “That’s just wrong.” I was fifteen.

I don’t think I ever considered LGBT relationships to be a bad thing, only that they were different, apart from me, not my concern. Here’s where fandom changed my mind.

Post-college, I was a person with a wider perspective. Even though I moved back into my parent’s house, I didn’t shy away from trying new things. A college friend recommended I watch Supernatural because of the relationship between two men—a monster hunter and an angel. Intrigued, I binged the show but found myself disappointed that the relationship she mentioned was only in subtext and I had to actively look for it, though I didn’t quite know how.

So I got a Tumblr to help me gain some insight. Oh, Tumblr. You charming repository of art and stories and gifs and analysis, pf fandom love and hate and inspiration and extreme weirdness. I followed Supernatural blogs dedicated to my favorite ship—Dean and Castiel, or Destiel—and from there discovered a new site for fanfiction that didn’t censor explicit content. (I love you, Archive of Our Own!)

I read hundreds of novel’s worth of Destiel fanfiction. I liked countless posts of Destiel art. I reblogged Destiel gifs, and marveled at how fans interpreted the Destiel subtext of each episode. I read gay porn. I watched gay porn. And it was like a light bulb switched on in my brain.

Queer stories were awesome! Because, while I read Destiel stories, other characters had their own relationships in the background, and I quickly moved on from basic iterations of boy meets boy. I learned about BDSM, polyamory, ABO, and transgender issues, and I gained knowledge of tropes I later realized were romance tropes. I’d become a queer romance reader—and a queer romance writer, as I composed over 600,000 words of gay fanfiction.

For years after that, I struggled to read real books instead of fanfiction. I couldn’t seem to find the queer content I wanted. Only recently did I discover the world of LGBT publishing and become one of its authors, once I converted the lessons from my queer fanfiction into original work! I can’t even imagine writing heteronormative pairings ever again.

While I still don’t know how to label myself, I acknowledge my origins and feel comforted that fandom will be there for me with exactly what I want, when I want it (hello hurt/comfort!). Whether it’s fanfiction depicting LGBT characters and romances, online communities like Tumblr that highlight new queer media to explore, or even a support network for folks like me also questioning their sexualities, I have a home. There will always be something to obsess over, and wonderful fans—and fandoms—to lift me up.

***

The Sun and Moon Beneath the Stars

TheSunandMoon-f.jpg

After being orphaned and forced to work as a palace slave, fifteen-year-old Rasha decides to end her life, but when she plunges a knife into her chest, she doesn’t die. Instead, a strange, icy power possesses her. The last time it took over, someone got hurt, and Rasha can’t let that happen again.

But she’s got bigger problems. Her twin brother is alive, yet held captive by Solaris, a powerful sorcerer. When Rasha runs into Adriana, the selfish princess she once served, they discover Solaris is a common enemy since he destroyed the palace and kidnapped Adriana’s parents.

Together, Rasha and Adriana set out on a rescue mission. Personalities clash and tempers flare, but other feelings surface as well, feelings neither girl could have predicted.

And with the help of a ragtag group of companions, they might just be able to succeed on their quest…until an ancient evil emerges to wreak vengeance on their world.

After being orphaned and forced to work as a palace slave, fifteen-year-old Rasha decides to end her life, but when she plunges a knife into her chest, she doesn’t die. Instead, a strange, icy power possesses her. The last time it took over, someone got hurt, and Rasha can’t let that happen again.

But she’s got bigger problems. Her twin brother is alive, yet held captive by Solaris, a powerful sorcerer. When Rasha runs into Adriana, the selfish princess she once served, they discover Solaris is a common enemy since he destroyed the palace and kidnapped Adriana’s parents.

Together, Rasha and Adriana set out on a rescue mission. Personalities clash and tempers flare, but other feelings surface as well, feelings neither girl could have predicted.

And with the help of a ragtag group of companions, they might just be able to succeed on their quest…until an ancient evil emerges to wreak vengeance on their world.

Buy now: Ninestar Press

K is a writer of multiple genres, including young adult, romance, fantasy, paranormal, and humor, all of which star LGBT characters. She received her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2017. In her spare time, K reads and writes fanfiction, keeps up with way too many TV shows, and dances wildly in her apartment. She currently works as a teen librarian in Rhode Island.

Fiction, Platonic Relationships, and Common Bonds: an Aromantic Roundtable

Aromantic Awareness Week may be over for 2019, but that doesn’t mean your Aromantic Awareness (or enjoyment of Aromantic fiction) has to be! I’m psyched to welcome to the site today an aromantic roundtable headed by Claudie Arseneault, author of books including City of Strife and Baker Thief and the brains/work behind the incredible Aro Ace Database. Claudie is also one of the editors of Common Bonds, a crowdfunded aromantic spec fic anthology, you definitely don’t wanna miss!

And now, I’ll let Claudie and her roundtable take it away…

Common Bonds is an anthology of speculative fiction with aromantic characters and platonic relationships at its heart. Finding this sort of fiction is a desire I’ve often seen other aromantic people express, and I absolutely share it. There’s an entire genre dedicated to romance, but when it comes to the other forms of bonding like friendships, you often have to rely on your detective skills to find stories centering them. So I teamed up with other awesome editors (C.T. Callahan, B. R. Sanders, and RoAnna Sylver) and we decided to make this a reality.

I obviously have a lot of things to say on the topic, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to say them, but I wanted to pass the mic to other aromantic bookish people not directly involved in the anthology and hear their thoughts on aromanticism, fiction, and platonic relationships. Turns out they had a lot to say, too, and it was awesome! So here we go.

Claudie : Hello and welcome to this aromantic roundtable! Before we get to the meaty discussions, please introduce yourselves a little!

Fadwa: Hi, everyone! My name’s Fadwa (she/her) and I’m a bisexual grayromantic Moroccan Muslim girl. It’s a mouthful haha. I’m a 22 years old perpetually exhausted medical student.

Lynn: Hello! I’m Lynn (she/they) and I’m a demiromantic demisexual author who is very bad at humour. (I was going for something humorous and failed.) Like Fadwa, I’m perpetually exhausted, though not a medical student. I was literature through and through. Also I ramble. You have been warned.

Rosiee: *Waves* I’m Rosiee (she/her), an aromantic grayasexual author, and I’m proposing we all take a nap.

Claudie: Proposition accepted, Rosiee. Let’s start with something fun. What are your favourite platonic relationships in fiction? Do you have any specific examples in mind? Why did those resonate?

Lynn : It’s cheating to say “Anything Cal-from-Isandor-related”, isn’t it? Honestly, these are my fave relationships just because Cal is a cinnamon roll darling. More so, he gets to be a cinnamon roll darling who learns he does not have to sacrifice his happiness for his friends. Like… The first time I saw a platonic relationship in fiction was in M.C.A. Hogarth’s Mindtouch and I love those books very much and I will love Vasiht’h forever, but the further along the setting goes, the more Vasiht’h seems to sacrifice everything he wants to the happiness of his partner and just… Well, with Cal’s narrative we actually have the opposite to some extent because Cal is in a friendship that is abusive, and one of the things he has to learn is that he matters too. I mean, he knows that, but he has some trouble applying it to his friendships. And that resonated a lot with me.

Claudie: Your cheating is accepted, even if it’s a bit awkward that you immediately jumped to my writing. ^^;

Rosiee: I had to think about this question for a whole day, to be honest. I kept trying to narrow my search parameters and think of platonic relationships that weren’t sibling relationships. But the thing is, sibling relationships are some of my favorites. I tend to gravitate toward relationships that I know from the get-go won’t turn romantic, and sibling relationships generally have the smallest chance of turning. Relationships like Anna and Elsa from Frozen, Katara and Sokka from Avatar the Last Airbender, Lada and Radu from And I Darken have always called to me. Maybe it’s because I never had any siblings, myself, but there’s just so much to explore within familial relationships like that, especially when the characters are growing as individuals.

Fadwa: Like Rosiee, I had to give this one a lot of thought looking for platonic relationships other than siblings because sibling dynamics have always been my favorites too see explored in media. In my case, it’s because I have a little sister I’m very close with and love to see my experiences with her mirrored. And even when the dynamic isn’t the same as the one I have with her, I love to see how different those relationships can be from one pair of siblings to another. I actually love Katara and Sokka’s relationship, it’s just so spot on, they get on each others’ nerves but at the end of the day love each other and would do anything for each others happiness and safety.

Rosiee:  I’ve also always had a soft spot for platonic relationships–and really, all types of relationships–that stem from a place of mutual respect. There’s really nothing that keeps my attention more than two nerds recognizing a pieces of themselves in each other and then working together to achieve great things. For example, Zuko and Aang from Avatar the last Airbender come together after a looooong time fighting, and their understanding of each other’s strengths is touching, and ultimately results in powerful friendship! The relationship between Luna Lovegood and Harry Potter, while not without its problems, also shows two people who have experienced great pain in life recognizing it in each other, and feeling less alone. I always felt that relationship was a lot stronger than anyone gave it credit for.

Fadwa: I also have a soft spot for people who bond over similar experiences (generally traumatic) and help each other through them, whether they live said experiences together or meet after the fact. I loved Rin and Kitay from The Poppy War, who become friends very quickly after realizing that both are the outliers at the academy and are each others’ emotional support through their brutal training at the academy and later on a brutal war.

Lynn: Ooooh, yeeees. Rin and Kitay were wonderful! I like how you both picked up on sibling relationships in fiction. I guess I’m the opposite of Rosiee in that. Not that I don’t love familial relationships – I do – but I don’t feel like I was ever drawn to siblings specifically. For me it’s largely cousins. There’s a real difference in relationships between the characters in the Famous Five by Enid Blyton when it comes to the sibling relationships and the cousin ones. I was drawn to those books so much when I was a child and, yeah, the lack of romance was probably a real factor in it.

Claudie: Something really prevalent in both of your answers (Cal learning that he matters too, mutual respect, bonding through similar trauma) is that sense of people treating each other as equals. Any thoughts on platonic relationships that have an inherent power differential, such as mentor/student and parent/child? Do those tend to work less for you, or do they need something different to capture your heart?

Rosiee: Mentor/student relationships can be so powerful and really touching. Jumping off Avatar again, the relationship between Zuko and his uncle, Iroh, always shines for me. Obviously there’s a familial relationship there as well, but the mentorship itself takes on such an important role in Zuko’s personal growth—it’s as much about learning to use his bending power as it is about learning to be a person. Other examples that come to mind are Harry Potter and Remus Lupin, who share so much in terms of grief and history, and Sallot Leon from Mask of Shadows and the other members of the Left Hand–especially in the second book. Sal’s relationships with the other members of the Left Hand are particularly fascinating from the perspective of age, since Sal is much younger than the rest of them, but they all have a shared responsibility.

Lynn: Hmmm… You know, I don’t think I do? But then I think most mentor/student relationships end up with the mentor dead, so… Yeah. (I like my relationships to survive the end of at least the first book. T_T)

Rosiee: One last example, which I’m actually uncertain about, is the teacher/student relationship between Numair and Daine in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet. I found this relationship really interesting and touching for the first few books, but it does take a romantic turn that I hadn’t expected. I’m still very iffy on how much this impacts my feelings about that relationship. The mentor/student relationship, especially when one of them is a teen, should be a promise of a platonic relationship. When they end up turning romantic or sexual, it feels like a betrayal of that promise.

Claudie: I’m with you on that one, Rosiee. There are some mentor relationships I’d really like to see submitted to an always-platonic reader contract. One of the reasons Common Bonds has a platonic focus was the ubiquity of romance within queer lit circles, through call for submissions, lists by romantic pairings, etc., and how little space it left for aromantic people and for the stories surrounding other types of relationships. Can you share your experiences navigating those spaces, both positive and negative? Are there things you’d love to see more of?

Fadwa: I am huge romance reader and fan, which means that for a long time, even if some romances in books didn’t sit well with me, I didn’t really know why or have any negative experiences with the lack of platonic relationships. Then, a couple years back, I came out to myself as aromantic, and that’s when I started truly realizing why certain romances irked me. Sometimes I just did not feel like reading at all, because I knew I was going to be confronted with a romance I did not care for. And my biggest issue is with *forced* romance, meaning romance with no kind of chemistry whatsoever, and that’s there just to fill some kind of quota. I realized that the reason I consume romance books so much is because at least then I am making the conscious choice to read about romantic relationships and that they weren’t just thrown without having a point in the story, because a lot of the time, reading outside of the romance genre, I like the characters that are pushed together a lot better in strictly platonic relationships.

Claudie: Loving characters better in strictly in platonic relationships is the story of my life, honestly.

Lynn: I admit the prevalence of romance wasn’t something I paid much attention to until I started learning more about aromanticism and realised this could be questioned or challenged. Once you notice it you start to see how prevalent those romantic relationships are even, at times, in shows that are explicitly touted as being about friendship.

I’d want to see more awareness of aromanticism in general. Where do we go to tell our stories? The way queer publishers handle it makes it sound like there’s no room for us. There’s always the pressure to add romance. It may not always be the publisher itself, but the general sense of society. Like editors expect it because the audience expects it, which then means the audience expects it because editors do and tada! A vicious cycle has been created and it ends up shutting aros out.

Rosiee: I agree with everything Lynn said–it’s really disheartening and feels exclusionary to see those calls for submissions. Even when they don’t specify a pairing type, if it’s a call for queer submissions or “LGBT+” submissions, I often wonder if the “A” is included in that plus sign. Even organizations like Lambda Literary, who are supposed to be advocates for the community, don’t put the “A” in their acronym.

It’s the same with calls for submission, or even MSWL tweets from agents. It’s the reason why it took me nearly a dozen revisions of my debut to finally put the words “aromantic” and “asexual” on the page. I didn’t feel comfortable doing it until I was given express permission from my editor, who was absolutely wonderful about it. I think gatekeepers honestly don’t realize how much power they have to shape who submits to them. Self-rejection gets easier and easier the longer the world rejects you, and that’s tough to combat sometimes.

Fadwa: There’s also the micro-agressions that are so prevalent and normalized in books. They range from the classic “Just friends” or “More than friends” that I can mostly just ignore to the “What normal person has never experienced romantic attraction” that make me put the book down and never look back. Sometimes navigating media as an aro person can feel like a battlefield and it forces you to “grow a thick skin”. We shouldn’t have to grow a thick skin, we shouldn’t accommodate to things than can be potentially hurtful to us. Publishing and media as a whole should make a greater effort to create a safe space that we can navigate without that fear at the back of our minds of being dehumanized.

Lynn: Oh goodness yes the microaggressions. I honestly find that they bother me more the more I learn, especially when some of the classic ones you mentioned are so easily avoided with the only meaning lost being “friendship is a lesser type of relationship” which… firstly, no, it isn’t. Secondly, why wouldn’t you want to learn how to be more accurate with your language?

Fadwa: And exactly, those sentences not being there never changes anything to the story itself which makes them easily removable so why not just… listen to us for once and remove them?

Claudie: So, beyond publishers and authors making an effort to watch their language, are there any other steps you’d like to see taken? Resources you’d love to have? I’ve had a few publishers change their call for subs to explicitly include deep, meaningful relationships beyond romance in their calls after I pointed out the problem for aro people, but that’s only one element.

Rosiee: Publishers changing the way they describe their calls for submissions is a great step, but it’s very common to see gatekeepers–editors, agents etc.–use exclusive language in their calls for submission, even when they’re attempting to be inclusive. I’ve seen agents and editors call for subs by singling out m/m or f/f as if those two designations encompass all queer experiences. I’d like to see more gatekeepers make an effort to educate themselves about the identities they want to boost.

Lynn: Those are some really good points, Rosiee. I think there’s still a ton of awareness that needs to be raised in general. It’s easy to try to be inclusive of the most visible groups, but that just leaves the less-visible ones in the dust.

Rosiee: It isn’t allyship unless it uplifts us all. I actually recently saw this happen with an agent during a Q&A session. The agent was asked about writing f/f as a non-queer person and–trigger warning for aphobia and bi/panphobia here–the agent said that unless the author has had sex with a woman, she cannot write f/f. The agent’s statement was acephobic to begin with, but it also erases so many other experiences and identities that do not require actions to be valid, since sexuality is about feelings and attraction, not about actions.

Fadwa: That…was kind of jarring to read so thank you for the TW!  at the end of the day, we’re all bound to mess up sometimes, you can’t get it right from the first try but things like this are just… a given. This is basically 101 allyship and at this point we should be past that, we should have the basics nailed down and be working towards how to be better and make publishing (and other industries) a safe space for everyone. So it’s kind of disheartening when we’re still working on the very basics of allyship. Take as an example Valentine’s Day. Being on social media was hard, because everything was so amatonormative and aggressively romance centric. There was so much emphasis on having a romantic partner and the fact that your life is lacking and that “you shouldn’t despair” if you don’t have one. Every other tweet was erasing or invalidating aro people. I wish more people were aware of the fact that there is more to love than romantic love.

Rosiee: That’s a really good point, Fadwa! Valentine’s Day is such a tough day because of the romance centric language used basically everywhere. I also saw a fair bit of arophobia disguised as ace-inclusion.

Claudie: Valentine’s Day is always such a mess. I’m glad we have Aromantic Awareness Week right after to wash some of the aftertaste away.  Do you think your aromanticism impacts the way you develop platonic relationships? How so? In your priorities, the ways you choose to engage or not?

Lynn: Probably? I think it’s more that society’s view impacts it, though. You know that whole thing about how men and women can’t be ‘just friends’? That’s been really strong with some of the friendships I’ve had and I have moments where I’m just not sure if people will misinterpret the fact that I’m a touch-oriented cuddly person. That does not mean I’m into someone romantically (or sexually). It just means I like hugs and show affection through hugs. I can end up with anxiety because I don’t know how people interpret my actions and I worry about them thinking I’ve somehow tried to lead them on. And it sucks when you can’t tell people you love them platonically because the moment they reach ‘love’, they’re already misinterpreting your meaning and nothing else matters. Or possibly that’s just some people getting hung up on failing to understand aromanticism, but it still hurts.

Rosiee: Oof. That’s rough, Lynn. There’s so much communication that can happen through touch, and that anxiety is something I’ve definitely felt before. It’s so hard to know how someone else is reading your actions. I’ve also had a very opposite experience with regard to showing affection, since I’m not generally a very touchy person. I used to be a competitive swing dancer, and that community enforces an extremely allo culture, but also a very touch-centric culture (often conflating physical touch with physical attraction and gosh I could talk about that for paaages). People used to get offended or weirded out if I didn’t want to hug them after we had a fun dance or if I didn’t want to join the big cuddle pile, or didn’t want to go back to someone’s room alone with them for a “drink”. This has often resulted in some… not great insults used against me, and a general impression that I’m not fun. On the contrary, I’m actually a very friendly and outgoing person.

Fadwa: I saw a lot of myself in what Rosiee said, I am naturally a very outgoing and flirty person and not gonna lie, I enjoy flirting but I have been numbered a tease because with that comes the expectation of something either romantic or sexual, whereas to me, nothing means that I want something non-platonic unless I state that’s what I want. I detest the “mixed signals” culture because why would you interpret my words as more than what they are when they mean nothing more than what I actually say. This all has made for some pretty unpleasant, and sometimes traumatizing experiences that turned me into a person who always keeps people at arms’ length out of fear and anxiety that people would get the wrong impression, which goes against my nature of being an outgoing person. I especially love sarcasm and teasing people but that’s like the number one thing that always gets taken the wrong way. I’m always hyper aware of what I say and what I do and go out of my way to tone down my personality, because I’d rather that than live in constant anxiety.

Rosiee: I also find that a lot of people enter into conversations or try to get to know me with a romantic or sexual agenda, and that’s really difficult for me to navigate. I enjoy flirting sometimes, and since I am outgoing, I worry that can be misread. This means I often don’t engage with people, or I’ll sometimes bring up my identities in conversation as a buffer. I want to get better about asserting my boundaries without those qualifications, though, and I hope I can get more comfortable saying what I want and don’t want without feeling like I have to out myself to strangers.

Lynn: Those are both such rough experiences to deal with. I think it’s incredibly telling that I’m neither very flirty nor very outgoing and I still see a lot of myself in what you’re both saying. I actually spend a lot of time online curbing my tendency to sarcasm and personality for the same reason.

Claudie: It seems that it’s not so much how you form relationships that leads to tension or unfortunate experiences, but other people’s expectations of the relationship. That’s part of what I wanted to discuss, after a fashion? I’ve seen a lot of heterosexual colleagues decide whether to spend time with someone based on whether there was potential for a romantic and/or sexual relationship there. I always find it super jarring and demeaning.

Rosiee : Ohhhh yes, Claudie! That’s happened to me and it’s awful! The whole “friendzone” nonsense of people choosing to spend time only on romantic interests is really disheartening, and I’ve lost a lot of so-called friends after they discover I’m not interested in that kind of relationship with them.

Lynn: I’m so sorry you’ve had that happen to you, Rosiee. I think for me it’s why I seem drawn to friendships with people who generally aren’t attracted to people like me? That takes some of the pressure off because we’re both clear on where the relationship can go.

Claudie: The world is an alloromantic mess™. More seriously, and in an hopefully more uplifting topic, what are some real-life platonic relationships that were/are major for you? How do you think fiction could do a better job reflecting those? Or is it doing well?

Lynn: I’d like more friendship break-up stories. Sometimes those are bad and we have very little, if any, tools on how to deal with that compared with romantic break-ups. Fiction could do a much better job reflecting platonic relationships if it just… let them be as powerful and impactful as romantic ones. Ideally, I’d like it to happen without the relationship being likened to that of siblings too. We could do with more sibling relationships in fiction too, but not all platonic relationships are like that and I’d love to see fiction reflect a range of relationship types.

Fadwa: THANK YOU! Not all platonic relationships have to be likened to siblings. It’s not either romance or siblings, there’s such a wide variety of platonic relationships that just *are* and don’t need to be either.

Rosiee: THIS!!! We often treat anyone who isn’t related as potential romantic partners in fiction, and that’s just… not how it works. Friendships are so valuable, and so so powerful, and… I don’t know about the rest of you, but most of my good friends aren’t related to me.

Fadwa: Also, YES to more friendship break-ups!! I went through some very painful ones in my life, and I always felt like my pain was an overreaction because in all the media I consumed (and I consumed a lot), they were never given importance and romantic break-ups were just “the worst kind” whereas in my experience, friendship break-ups can hurt just as much, and more in some cases.

One relationship that has been major and somewhat pivotal in my life is my relationship with my best friend of nine years now. We were inseparable in high school, now life and school have taken us our separate ways -physically- but we’re still as close. There’s one thing to know about me, I’m touch-averse because of trauma, a lot less now than when i was in High school, but when I say that this friendship has been pivotal for me, it’s because this person is the one person I was okay touching me unsolicited for the longest time and we were very tactile at school, always hugging or holding hands or just having our arms around each other and not once has that relationship crossed into romantic or sexual territory and yet a lot of people sexualized it, asking us if we were secretly together, just because we were very affectionate towards each other and didn’t see a point in hiding it. And this is something I want to see more more: normalized affectionate touch in platonic relationships.

Claudie: The sexualization is awful, Fadwa. I get this with my best friend, too. He’s gay, but since we’re a man and a woman hanging out together and obviously very close, we keep getting called a couple.

Rosiee: I would love to see fiction reflect more relationships that aren’t treated like possible romances. There’s so much “shipping” that happens in fiction, where everyone is a possible love-interest, but I would love to see strong friendship-interests as well. And, similarly to Lynn, I’d love to see more friendship break-up stories… and then I’d love to see stories that also tackle repairing a broken friendship. In fiction, we see so many friendships that are just easy and require no work or effort, and those are often eclipsed by new romantic relationships.

One of the most impactful platonic relationships in my life is with a man, and what made this relationship so powerful was a combination of two things: 1. It was clear from the start, in no uncertain terms, that our relationship would never turn sexual or romantic because we had very different worldviews that would never be compatible in a relationship, and 2. We started our relationship off with what I thought was an irreconcilable disagreement, and then worked very hard to repair the wounds from that argument.

Claudie: Thank you so much everyone. This has been an amazing in-depth discussion, and I’m glad you joined us for it. If you haven’t done so at the start, please give us any social media, blogs, book buying links and etc. so we can link back to you properly!

Lynn: Ah, the age-old linking practice. XD [waves] I have a Patreon where I discuss academic papers about asexuality – send me your papers on aromanticism because I will pounce on them so fast lightning looks slow! – and my own writing, which features predominantly ace and aro characters.

Rosiee: Everyone should check out Lynn’s very good novel in verse, THE ICE PRINCESS’S FAIR ILLUSION! I loved it 😉 You can find me over on twitter @rosieethor or check out my work on rosieethor.com. If you like science fantasy featuring an aro/ace protagonist (and some sapphic lady romance too) you can pre-order my debut TARNISHED ARE THE STARS

Fadwa: I blog over on Word Wonders where I advocate for all things diversity in publishing, and am very active on my twitter and bookish instagram.

Claudie: Thank you everyone. And thanks to everyone who read through the roundtable, too! If you find yourself wishing to have more platonic fiction with aromantic characters, don’t forget to back our awesome kickstarter for Common Bonds!

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Empire of Light by Alex Harrow

I’m very excited to have Alex Harrow on the site today, revealing the cover of their upcoming adult sci-fi best described as “gay Firefly with magic,” Empire of Light! (See tags for more information on rep and content warnings.)

Check it out:

Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As the revolution gains traction, Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one moment and kiss him the next. But Aris slips further away from Damian, and as Aris’ control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.

And here’s the cover, designed by  rock star Natasha Snow!

Gorgeous, isn’t it?? But wait, there’s more! Stay tuned (for another .03 seconds for an exclusive excerpt from Empire of Light by Alex Harrow) that begins…now!

ONE

SHOOTINGS WITH A CHANCE OF EXPLOSIONS

Funny how I always had to be the guy who ended up with a gun to his head.

“I thought you said this was going to be easy,” Aris said somewhere to my right. His voice was thick, the words choked out past the gun shoved underneath his jaw. The two Reds who kept us pinned were all broad shoulders and raw muscle. Huge white guys. Buzz cuts. Built like fucking tanks. In the low light of a fading sunset spilling into the empty warehouse, their leather coats gleamed like congealing blood.

The run had started out simple enough: get in, dump the cargo—a couple dozen barrels of diesel and some tech we’d snatched off a derailed train—and get the hell out. The place’d been abandoned for years, just another slouching ruin on the outskirts of Low Side. The perfect hiding spot to stash away things you didn’t want the Watch to find, while waiting for the highest bidder to jump the gun. A surefire way to some quick and easy cash and still get to my real job for the night.

Standing there with my face mashed against the crumbling brick wall, a gun barrel against my skull, it looked more like a surefire way straight to a cell in the Finger of Light.

If we were lucky.

The guy above me looked more than happy to put a bullet into my brain pan and chalk both Aris and I up as “casualties, resisting arrest.” The Watch, safeguards of the Empire, the Consolidated Nations at their best. To protect and serve. Right.

Not like I could just tell our dear upstanding Reds to go ahead and stick their guns and handcuffs up their asses, because we kind of were on the same team. I might be running the Empire’s off-the-books hits for extra cash, but officially, I didn’t exist.

Blurting out that I was on their boss’ payroll wouldn’t get me anything but a bullet to the head and my body dumped into the East River. Talk about employment perks.

That’s what I got for double-booking myself. Fucking Murphy’s Law.

And worse, I’d dragged Aris into it.

“Guess Jay was sugarcoating it just a little bit when she said there might be slight complications.”

Someone ratted us out. No way the Watch had just shown up here, far from their usual patrol routes, without any reason. The whole thing’d been a sting from the get-go, and once I found out who’d set us up—

My fingers twitched for my Colt. My Colt that lay cold and useless about five feet away from me. Slim chance I’d be able to shoot both Reds before one of them got to either Aris or me, but I might get lucky and get the drop on one of them. Especially if I could piss him off enough he got stupid. At the very least I could distract them from Aris.

“You know, I kind of need to be somewhere. And I’d really appreciate a little more leg room here,” I said and squirmed under the Red’s grip.

Honestly, by now I probably should’ve memorized some of the regulars’ names or something. To me they all looked the same. All fists ready to punch and guns ready to fire; neatly wrapped in black uniforms and their trademark red coats. Not like this was the first time either. By now, the Watch should really issue us a punch card for frequent visits, maybe something with a rewards program.

***

Alex Harrow is a genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual author of queer science fiction and fantasy. Alex’ pronouns are they/them. When not writing queerness with a chance of explosions, Alex is a high school English teacher, waging epic battles against comma splices, misused apostrophes, and anyone under the delusion that the singular ‘they’ is grammatically incorrect.

A German immigrant, Alex has always been drawn to language and stories. They began to write when they realized that the best guarantee to see more books with queer characters was to create them. Alex cares deeply about social justice and wants to see diverse characters, including LGBTQ+ protagonists, in more than the stereotypical coming out story.

Alex currently lives in Utah with their equally geeky wife, outnumbered by three adorable feline overlords, and what could not possibly be too many books.

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexHarrowSFF

Also, find them on Facebook, Instagram or Goodreads.

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Life Within Parole: Volume 2 by RoAnna Sylver!

Hey, you know Chameleon Moon, that amazing and wild genre mashup with wonderful relationships and rep that’s kind of a Must Read for SFF and/or Dystopia fans? What if I told you there’s a new volume coming out that contains ten short stories in that world? And that it was coming out soon? And that we have the cover reveal happening today?

GUESS WHAT.

(I mean, come on, you’re not that slow. You can guess.)

ALL OF THAT IS REAL. Life Within Parole: Volume 2 by RoAnna Sylver is coming your way October 11th, but first, we’ve got the cover! And before that we’ve got the blurb! So check it out!

***

Parole is full of danger—and secrets.

The deepest of them make up intricately interconnected stories. Damaged survivors finding each other, stitching their lives together in the harshest of places, forging precious bonds amidst the flames. Gradually growing trust, love, and understanding between found families. But there’s no escaping this place, its deadly realities, or its predators. A brutal capture. A hellish withdrawal and fragile recovery. A harrowing escape. A breakneck sprint across a haunted, poisoned wasteland.

Life and death, trust and betrayal, choking smoke and breaths of fresh air—all of these are just part of life within Parole.

***

And here’s the fabulous cover, designed by none other than RoAnna Sylver!

Buy it:
Gumroad (high-res cover art also available!) – https://gumroad.com/l/xQfHQ
Books2Read Universal Link (Kobo, B&N, etc) – https://www.books2read.com/u/3yD5qB
***
RoAnna Sylver writes unusually hopeful dystopian stories about marginalized heroes actually surviving, triumphing, and rocking really hard. RoAnna is also a singer, blogger, voice actor and artist who lives with family and a small snorking dog, and probably spends too much time playing videogames. The next amazing adventure RoAnna would like is a nap in a pile of bunnies. You can support more books and art directly on Patreon!

Guest Post: Black Wings Beating Author Alex London on the Rise of Queer YA SFF

It’s fabulous to have Alex London back on the site today, talking about the rise of queer YA SFF to celebrate the launch of his incredible new gay YA fantasy, Black Wings Beating!

***

I don’t write portal fantasy, but I know that every book is a doorway to another world, and for queer teens, for a long time, the other worlds our fantasy books took us into were shockingly straight places. Fantasy authors—with a few exceptions—it seemed, could imagine vast histories and geographies, monsters and magic that defied the real world’s paltry science, yet could not imagine a place for queer people.

When I published my first sci-fi YA novel (Proxy, 2013), the imaginative fiction space in mainstream YA didn’t have a lot of queer heroes in it. There was Perry Moore’s superhero coming-out story, Hero, and there was Malinda Lo’s f/f Cinderella retelling in Ash and Huntress. Coda by Emma Trevayne came out around the same time as Proxy, but the bi main character’s identity slipped ‘under the gaydar’ in a lot of descriptions of the book. At that point you also had some amazing secondary characters in Cassandra Claire’s Mortal Instruments series, and in Holly Black’s Tithe; but main characters were still in short supply. Mercedes Lackey had written The Last Herald Mage series in the late 80s, which had a gay male lead, but I hadn’t heard of it at the time. It wasn’t enough for the books to exist; they were very rarely promoted and discovering them was deeply difficult.

These days, my TBR YA Fantasy bookstack with queer main characters is bigger than I ever could’ve imagined it becoming, and bigger than I can even keep up with reading. You’ve got super heroes and urban fantasies, dystopias and steampunks, alternate histories, high fantasy, fairy-tales and space operas.  And yes, portal fantasies. And they are getting more attention in a crowded young adult marketplace than they ever have before (still not enough, but so much more…). Publishers have stepped up and sought out and promoted queer YA fantasy.

And yet the same barriers to discovery exist as have always existed. Some schools and libraries are reluctant to promote books that have overt queer content. Some libraries are forbidden from promoting the books, as a recent decision by the library system in Washington County, Utah showed. Queer books exist and keep getting better, but unless they find champions in their communities, they will not find the readers who need them. Most queer teens aren’t following Kirkus Reviews or Buzzfeed booklists.

I’ve been lucky. Librarians championed my first queer YA novel and placed it on a few state lists and my publisher promoted it the same way they would have promoted most other books at the time. They didn’t advertise the queer aspect very much, because they wanted the book to find its way into the mainstream sci-fi readership. In 2013, that was a gamble. In 2018, the queer hero of my first fantasy novel is being touted in every press release from the publisher because, in five short years, the publishing business has come to see that a gay hero does not limit a book to just a gay audience. The book is receiving the kind of publisher support I couldn’t have dreamed of in the past. The comp titles they’ve told me for Black Wings Beating aren’t just queer novels. They are the mainstream epic fantasies that I love, that I’ve always longed to see queer characters star in. And readers of all kinds have shown that they will judge an imaginative novel by the depth of its world-building, by the pacing of its plot, and the richness of its storytelling. A book can’t survive on queer readers alone, and straight readers are showing themselves more than happy to root for a wide array of queer heroes in their fantasy reads, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

There are still challenges, of course. We’re still at the point where the success or failure of every queer fantasy novel impacts the chances of every other, where the hits open the door wider for those that come next, but the books that fail to find their audience make it a little harder for the next ones to get the marketing budgets they might need. But the trends are going in the right direction.

Readers have more queers heroes in fantasy than ever before and doors are opening for authors and for stories that weren’t open in the past. As those doors open, we’re finding amazing new worlds on the other side and those worlds are queer indeed.

***

Alex London is the beloved author of the middle-grade series, Tides of War, Dog Tags, and The Wild Ones and the young adult novel Proxy, which was an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and was included in their 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the TAYSHAS Reading List selection, among many other state reading lists. His upcoming novel, Black Wings Beating, is an LGBTQ+ epic fantasy about legendary birds, first love, and family ties. Connect with him on Twitter @ca_london.