ICYMI, Shakespeare reimaginings are my jam, so I’m thrilled to be revealing the cover for Lauren Emily Whalen’s Take Her Down, a queer YA Julius Caesar retelling set at a cutthroat magnet school that releases on the Ides of March! (That’s March 15, 2022, although if you preorder from Bold Strokes Books, you can get it in your hands two weeks early!)
In this queer YA retelling of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, stakes at Augustus Magnet School are cutthroat, scheming is creative, and loyalty is ever-changing.
Overnight, Bronwyn St. James goes from junior class queen to daughter of an imprisoned felon, and she lands in the care of her aunt and younger cousin Cass, a competitive cheerleader who Bronwyn barely knows. Life gets worse when her ex-best friend, the always-cool Jude Cuthbert, ostracizes Bronwyn from the queer social elite for dating a boy, Porter Kendrick.
Bronwyn and Jude are both running for student body president, and that means war. But after Bronwyn, Porter, and Cass share a video of Jude in a compromising position, Jude suddenly goes missing. No one has seen her for weeks and it might be all Bronwyn’s fault.
Will Jude ever be found? Or will Bronwyn finally have to reckon with what she’s won―and what she’s lost?
Content Advisory: Depictions of sexual assault.
And here’s the on-point cover, done by Inkspiral Design!
Lauren Emily Whalen is the author of three books for young adults, including TWO WINTERS, a queer YA reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, available everywhere September 14. Lauren is a freelance writer, professional performer, and very amateur aerialist who is an unabashed devotee of the Bard. She lives in Chicago with her cat, Versace, and an apartment full of books. Say hello at laurenemilywrites.com.
“Am I queer enough?” feels like the question that circulates the most around Pride month, and today on the site, M. Dalto and Laynie Bynum, authors of the brand-new Shakespeare reimagining Fair Youth, are here to talk about just that. Before we get to their post, here’s a little more on the book, which released June 7th from Ninestar Press!
Billie tried to make a small town life as a doctor’s fiancée work for her, but the dream of trading in Kentucky for the glitz and glamor of LA and selling her screenplays was too strong to fight. Unfortunately, the devil hides behind every corner in the City of Angels and she finds nothing but cockroach infested hotel rooms and broken dreams.
Everything changes when she meets an enigmatic and illustrious fellow writer named Kit. Struck with attraction and intrigue, Billie begins to question not only her dedication to her past life, but also her own sexuality. Kit comes with amazing connections and Billie’s work is getting more recognition than ever, until a powerful studio executive sets his sights on more than just her screenplays. His infatuation could cost Billie her career and, maybe, one of them their lives.
One of us is outgoing, the other is terribly shy. One is list-oriented and organized, the other is a hot mess with a soft spot for spontaneity. One of us is super open about their sexuality, the other never talks about it publicly.
You know, like a 21st century odd couple, but with queer authors.
Despite our differences, our fear about writing Fair Youth was the exact same – will they think we’re queer enough?
One of us is a blazing bi-sexual married to a man. The other is demi/bi-romantic. So the answer is obvious, right? We’re queer. We’re part of the community. But we’re both also straight-passing and a lot of times that means we get to experience both not being straight enough for the straights, nor queer enough to have our queerness validated by others in the community.
In the time between the first words being typed and the release of this book:
An author was attacked because she’d never vocally admitted to being queer and made to come out when she wasn’t ready.
There was discourse about bisexual main characters not counting as queer unless they ended up with someone of the same gender.
A reviewer of one of our other books DNF’ed it, gave it one star, and blatantly let their homophobia spew out all over Goodreads because we’d dared to make Beauty fall in love with the French maid instead of the Beast.
A gay NYT best selling author was accused of queerbaiting because a bi-sexual female in one of his books has a male partner.
An agent turned us down because the romance didn’t end up queer enough for them. (Spoiler alert: its hella queer)
Another agent turned us down because it was too queer for their tastes.
We were denied a review from a queer review site because our characters don’t end up in same sex relationships.
One of M.’s other bisexual stories was attacked online and accused of “baiting readers into reading hetero stories”
When we started writing, we knew we would have to muster up bravery that we weren’t sure we had. One of us lives in the Deep South, and (at the time) worked at a company that could (and would) fire her if they found out about this book. Bookstore and library signings are often out of the question for small press books, even more so for books with LGBTQ+ themes. Even our own families and friends would be hesitant to show public support for our book, not only because it was queer but also because of the “spice”.
(Side note: why is hetero sex seen as romance, but Sapphic sex is automatically erotica even when its not graphic?)
We prepared ourselves for these things. We just didn’t know that we would have to prepare ourselves to face so much backlash and scrutiny from our own community.
This book started out as something incredibly fun and light. It was an evolution of completely random Twitter DMs while streaming a TNT show about Shakespeare.
What if Shakespeare was alive today?
What if he was a woman?
What if he and Kit Marlowe had a thing? (BTW: Kit Marlowe is the most punk Elizabethan poet and we will fight anyone about it.)
Approximately half way though we came to an inevitable fork in the road. Stay true to the historical figures we were writing or defy all evidence and come up with something completely new. Basically, let Shakespeare live out his queer, happy life with Kit Marlowe and continue to write beautiful poems about him (the version we wish happened IRL) – or send him back to his wife after Kit perishes under mysterious circumstances (the version that happened IRL).
We found our own workaround that did both (you’ll have to read to find out how!) but that’s when the feelings of inadequacy, fear, and judgement really hit.
Because we knew how it had to end. But we also knew that if people didn’t write us off because we weren’t openly in relationships with the same sex, they’d do it because our characters don’t end up in them.
And that’s not even counting the people that were going to write us off completely because–as one review said–“[they] don’t come to retellings for LGBT stories,” or worse, because they’re just blatantly homophobic.
So why didn’t we give up? It would have been so much more comfortable to leave this story on our hard drives and continue on with our lives. But we knew there had to be more people like us out there. People that have felt like Billie does–like she never even considered her sexuality until Kit challenges it. People that have felt like Kit – out and proud but angry that she has to keep fighting against stereotypes and misogyny. People like us who constantly wondered if they’re queer enough.
So please let this guest post serve as a reminder:
You ARE queer enough
You are worthy of love and art
Your life and sexuality are valid
Pick up a copy of Fair Youth
And just so you are wondering if you are still valid even with the gnawing fear inside you, this is the conversation from the two of us when this blog post was done.
M. Dalto: It’s a harsh truth and reality but there it is
Laynie: I think it’s something that a lot of people like us (and our readers) will relate to.
M. Dalto: Are you ready to out yourself to the literary world?
Laynie: No, but that’s why we wrote the post. Because it doesn’t matter if I’m ready. If we want readers to love our characters, I have to be. And Billie and Kit deserve it.
Co-authors, co-owners, and best friends – M. and Laynie combine their strengths to create queer characters with sass in the contemporary and fantasy genres.
When writing alone, M. is most well-known for her The Empire Series works and Laynie for Adeline’s Aria. Together they have published Faust University and Escaping the Grey through EQP and Fair Youth through Ninestar Press .
When they aren’t crafting their own characters, they are the co-owners of Sword and Silk Books, an independent publishing company focused on engaging stories that empower readers.