Tag Archives: Unwritten Rules

What’s In A Name? On Writing Jewish Families In Queer Romance, a Guest Post: by Unwritten Rules Author KD Casey

Today on the site, we’re welcoming KD Casey, author of the upcoming Jewish m/m sports romance Unwritten Rules, which releases October 12, 2021 from Carina Press. KD’s here to talk about writing queer Jewish rep, but first, here’s the story behind the book:

Zach Glasser has put up with a lot for the sport he loves. Endless days on the road, playing half-decent baseball in front of half-full stadiums and endless nights alone, pretending this is the life he’s always wanted.

The thing is, it could have been everything he ever wanted—if only he’d had the guts to tell his family, tell the club, that he was in love with his teammate Eugenio Morales. Well, ex-teammate now. When Zach wouldn’t—couldn’t—come out, Eugenio made the devastating choice to move on, demanding a trade away from Oakland. Away from Zach.

Three years and countless regrets later, Zach still can’t get Eugenio out of his head. Or his heart. And when they both get selected to play in the league’s All-Star Classic, those feelings and that chemistry come roaring back.

Zach wants a second chance. Eugenio wants a relationship he doesn’t have to hide. Maybe it’s finally time they both get what they want.

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And here’s the post!

I have a confession to make as an author: I hate naming characters.

My first drafts are littered with placeholders, brackets, a healthy amount of [name here], and an unhealthy amount of whining to critique partners. Because names are decisions. They reflect characters’ birthplaces, ethnicities, the era in which they live, and socioeconomic class. 

Unwritten Rules, which comes out in October, started as a Gchat conversation with a friend. It’s a conversation I’ve returned to a number of times throughout the editing process, specifically to reflect on the evolution of the book’s main characters, and by extension, their families and histories. 

Both main characters began their lives as placeholder names, as unmade decisions. To get from idle conversation to 100,000 word novel, I needed a (small) push. At my request, my friend provided the following list of names: Zach, Cal, Evan, Mario, Yehuda, Andy, Eugenio, Mike. Each of these signify different things about characters. One can imagine the background and experience of someone named Yehuda differs fairly significantly from someone named Cal

Two of these names eventually became the main characters of Unwritten Rules. The book follows Zach Glasser, a professional baseball player, who unexpectedly reunites with Eugenio Morales, who’s his ex-teammate—and ex-boyfriend.

Along with the decision about names came a lot of information about Zach and Eugenio as histories and backgrounds beyond former partners. Eugenio’s family is from Venezuela, and immigrated to the United States in the late ‘80s. (A few people have asked me how Eugenio is pronounced. Here’s an interview with Eugenio Suárez, a Venezualen infielder on the Cincinnati Reds, where the interviewer says his name a number of times.)

Zach’s name is specifically Ashkenazi Jewish because the character (like me!) comes from a Ashkenazi Jewish family. I didn’t set out to write a Jewish book, but once I decided on Zach’s name, I “knew” a lot about him.

His grandmother immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. His mother drinks tea in a Russian Jewish way: with sugar between her teeth and from a glass mug, not a ceramic one. The book also has a sprinkling of Yiddish, discussions of a ketubah, and an emotionally significant babka. 

In naming Zach, I also realized I was writing a queer Jewish baseball book that would, necessarily, focus on Zach’s relationship with his family. His major conflict was being torn between his family’s wishes for him and professional baseball’s “unwritten rules,” the set of dictates that governs, and limits, players’ lives on and off the field. 

There aren’t a huge number of romance novels, particularly queer, non-YA romance novels, written by Jewish authors about Jewish families. They do exist: Shira Glassman and Jennet Alexander write them. Corey Alexander, alehém hashalóm, wrote them. But they are relatively few in number compared with the vastness (the wonderful vastness!) that is genre romance. 

In general—and this is not limited to works by Jewish authors—I’ve seen queerness with Judaism portrayed in one of two ways: unconditional acceptance or religiously-based intolerance. Both of these are valid, possible experiences, but they aren’t the only experiences. I wanted to write a book where the main character feels the very real Jewish pressures to get married and have a family, but that those pressures come from love and survival rather than bigotry.

Readers, both Jewish and not, come in with their own notions of what Jewish families are like. These notions derive from both personal experience and media depiction, be it realistic or reductive. To be clear, there are pressures: Academically, professionally, romantically. That we should get married. To a doctor. A Nice Jewish Boy or Girl who can love us and keep us. 

These pressures don’t arise from nowhere. If you’ve experienced generational displacement, then it makes sense to pursue professions that are employable regardless of location. Therefore, marrying a doctor isn’t born of some grasping financial instinct but an acknowledgement of trauma and of history. 

So how to portray a family whose love, and anxieties are both valid and limiting? Another early decision I made (spoilers!) is that Zach’s relationship with his family not only survived the book but was deepened and strengthened throughout it. As a queer person, I understand why people write about familial homophobia and rejection. It’s unfortunately a real thing that occurs. If novels are about emotional catharsis, there is a certain satisfaction for a reader when a character stands up to their awful, homophobic family. 

But I’m always left wondering—what then? Whose house do they go to on Rosh Hashanah? Who do they call on Passover when their pesadich (kosher for Passover) cake turns out closer to fudge? Where will they get gossip about their second cousin’s wife’s sister? It’s hard for me to balance the romance requirement of an optimistic ending (in addition to a central love story) with the notion of estrangement. That when a fictional character—for legitimate and understandable reasons—closes that door, what happens the next day? The next year? 

If romance is a genre of hope, then that happy ending had to extend beyond Zach and Eugenio’s eventual reconciliation to Zach’s relationship with his family and his sense of Jewishness. Those were the hardest parts to write. Because Zach’s family is in many ways my own, not in a literal sense, but in a sense of having gone through similar considerations and compromises. 

Without tipping (more) into spoilers, I wanted his family not to be overbearing, uncompromising stereotypes, but real people with real dreams and fears for their child. His mother, in particular, could have easily become the villain of the book: The inflexible, haranguing Jewish woman who is often the only representation we get in media. I wanted her to be sometimes those things and sometimes not those things. More pressingly, I wanted Zach, as her child, to come to see and understand her as much as she comes to see and understand him.

Writing about your own people, your own culture, is often a conversation with stereotypes. Those stereotypes can be challenged or reconstructed, but they are lurking, present, in readers’ assumptions—and my own assumptions. Writing this book became about acknowledging and challenging those assumptions, and about treating characters with care.   

Zach’s mother isn’t based on my own mother, but on the distance I see between the stereotypes about Jewish parents and the realities of actually having them. (Also, Mom, if you’re reading this, I asked you not to read the book because of [redacted], [redacted], and please don’t tell the rabbi about this one, [redacted].)

In writing a Jewish family, I wanted them to be imperfect, and loving, and whole. I wanted to show the work it takes on Zach’s part and his family’s part to provide that optimistic ending, one that’s messy but ultimately hopeful. It was a journey I didn’t expect to go on, but I’m glad I did. And hope you join me for it. 

KD Casey (https://linktr.ee/KDCaseyWrites) is a romance writer and baseball enthusiast living in the Washington, DC area. Her debut novel UNWRITTEN RULES will be published by Carina Press in October 2021 and is available for preorder.

March 2021 Deal Announcements

Adult Fiction

Lambda finalist author of Camp Lev AC Rosen’s LAVENDER HOUSE, pitched as Knives Out meets Carol, following a police inspector in 1950s San Francisco, who after being caught in a raid on a gay bar and fired, is hired by a mysterious widow to investigate a death at a wealthy household with more than a few secrets to hide, to Kristin Sevick at Forge, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Joy Tutela at David Black Literary Agency.

Charlotte Anne Hamilton’s LITTLE LOSS OF INNOCENCE, in which a Scottish woman travels to America on the Titanic and unexpectedly falls for the exhilarating woman she has to share a cabin with, to Jen Bouvier at Entangled Embrace, for publication in summer 2021 (world).

Author of the Out in Portland series Karelia Stetz-Water‘s ADULTS ONLY, about a director of feminist adult films and her newly hired personal assistant who is looking for a change; as the two women sort out their past relationships and professional challenges, they find themselves falling for each other, to Madeleine Colavita at Forever Yours, by Jane Dystel at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (NA).

University of Wisconsin-Madison MFA graduate Kathryn Harlan‘s FRUITING BODIES, comprising mostly queer, often genre-bending stories ranging from the fantastical to the Gothic to the eerily realistic, seeking to answer the call for a new age of storytelling in the face of insufficient myths and fairy tales, to Jill Bialosky at Norton, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Meredith Kaffel Simonoff at DeFiore and Company (NA).

K.D. Casey’s UNWRITTEN RULES, a contemporary male/male romance in which a struggling Jewish catcher and his superstar ex-boyfriend work to reconcile after they unexpectedly reunite at the MLB all-star game, to Stephanie Doig at Carina Press, in a nice deal, by Deidre Knight at The Knight Agency (world English).

Verity Lowell’s MEET ME IN MADRID, an #OwnVoices BIPOC f/f romantic comedy, in which a museum courier is unexpectedly reunited with her grad school crush, an art historian who provides shelter in a Spanish blizzard, and then ends up chasing her back to the States to try to solve the two-body problem of long distance life, love, and work, to Kerri Buckley at Carina Press Adores, for publication in November 2021, by Jessica Alvarez at BookEnds.

Electric Literature associate editor Alyssa Songsiridej’s LITTLE RABBIT, about a queer writer’s unexpectedly intense involvement with an older choreographer; a book about power, desire, and patronage, to Callie Garnett at Bloomsbury, in a good deal, at auction, by Kate Johnson at MacKenzie Wolf (NA).

Sid Karger’s BEST MEN, pitched as a gay spin on Bridesmaids or My Best Friend’s Wedding, about a man who thinks he has everything figured out, until his best friend announces her engagement, forcing him to navigate his shared wedding party duties with the groom’s charming, infuriating, and (really, really) hot gay brother, and not make his best friend’s wedding all about himself, to Cindy Hwang at Berkley, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Daniel Lazar at Writers House (NA).

Author of LET’S TALK ABOUT LOVE Claire Kann’s THE ROMANTIC AGENDA, her debut adult rom-com, about a young, Black, ace woman who decides to finally let her best friend know she is in love with him during a romantic weekend trip that goes awry, to Kristine Swartz at Berkley, in a good deal, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2022, by Carrie Pestritto at Laura Dail Literary Agency (world).

R.A. Frumkin’s CONFIDENCE, a humorous takedown of the American Dream, featuring two con men, lifelong friends and sometimes lovers, who attempt to pull off a major global scheme on the scale of Theranos or Herbalife, pitched in the vein of Succession meets Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series; and BUGSY, a collection of transgressive, radical, and darkly humorous stories that are considerations of mental illness, sexuality, and Kimye, to Zachary Knoll at Simon & Schuster, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Ross Harris at Stuart Krichevsky Agency (world).

British Eritrean Ethiopian author of SILENCE IS MY MOTHER TONGUE and THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE Sulaiman Addonia’s THE SEERS, exploring an Eritrean unaccompanied minor refugee’s first weeks in London, giving a glimpse into the U.K. asylum system and what it does to the mental health of young refugees, and how the intergenerational history of colonization affects intimate relationships; also detailing the sexual conquests of young queer African immigrants in London, who are fluid, trans and androgynous, to Fiona McCrae and Steve Woodward at Graywolf, in a nice deal, in an exclusive submission, for publication in spring 2023, by Jessica Craig at Craig Literary (NA).

TJ Alexander’s CHEF’S KISS, an #OwnVoices LGBTQ+ rom-com starring a type-A pastry chef whose professional goals are interrupted by not only a career transition, but the introduction of her wildly attractive nonbinary kitchen manager, who happens to be undergoing a transition of their own, to Lara Jones at Emily Bestler Books, in a good deal, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, for publication in summer 2022, by Larissa Melo Pienkowski at Jill Grinberg Literary Management (world).

Poet and co-editor of COLONIZE THIS: YOUNG WOMEN OF COLOR ON TODAY’S FEMINISM Bushra Rehman‘s ROSES IN THE MOUTH OF A LION, about female friendships and queer love within a Pakistani community in Corona, Queens, pitched as combining the structure of Sandra Cisneros’s A House on Mango Street with the lyricism of Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, to Caroline Bleeke at Flatiron Books, in a pre-empt, for publication in summer 2022, by Ayesha Pande at Ayesha Pande Literary (world).

Sondi Warner‘s debut LEAD ME ASTRAY, a LGBTQIA+ paranormal, polyamorous romance following a newly dead medium who can see her ghost and a P.I. werewolf who band together to solve the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death, all while falling for each other, to Deanna McFadden at Wattpad, in a nice deal, for publication in winter 2022 (world).

New Yorker fiction contributor Taymour Soomro’s OTHER NAMES FOR LOVE, on legacy, queerness, and violence in Pakistan, about a young man whose sexual and intellectual awakening in the feudal lands leads to an estrangement from his family and a difficult reunion after several decades, to Mitzi Angel at Farrar, Straus, at auction, by Adam Eaglin at The Cheney Agency, on behalf of Natasha Fairweather at Rogers, Coleridge & White (NA).

Tara Sim’s THE CITY OF DUSK, the first in an adult epic fantasy trilogy, in which the four heirs of four noble houses, each gifted with a divine power, must form a tenuous alliance to keep their kingdom from descending into a realm-shattering war, to Priyanka Krishnan at Orbit, in a three-book deal, for publication in spring of 2022, by Victoria Marini at Irene Goodman Agency (world).

Juno Dawson’s HER MAJESTY’S ROYAL COVEN, about a covert supernatural government department established by Queen Elizabeth I, as their oracle foretells the genocide of all witches, and conflict over how to tackle the prophecy threatens to tear apart a group of lifelong friends; exploring gender, feminism, the patriarchy, and the corrupting nature of power, to Margaux Weisman at Penguin, at auction, in a three-book deal, by Alyssa Reuben and Katelyn Dougherty at Paradigm, on behalf of Sallyanne Sweeney at MMB Creative (NA).

Children’s Fiction

Young Adult Fiction

Author of THE HENNA WARS and HANI AND ISHU’S GUIDE TO FAKE DATING Adiba Jaigirdar’s DONUT FALL FALL IN LOVE, about a Bangladeshi Irish girl still healing from a breakup with her ex-girlfriend, and who can think of nothing batter than to win the Junior Irish Baking Show, a Great British Bake Off-style reality competition; even if it means competing against her ex and another contestant that she may be falling for, to Foyinsi Adegbonmire at Feiwel and Friends, for publication in spring 2023, by Uwe Stender at TriadaUS Literary Agency (NA).

SURRENDER YOUR SONS author Adam Sass‘s THE 99 BOYFRIENDS OF MICAH SUMMERS, in which an artsy teen who posts sketches of his imaginary boyfriends to Instagram finally has a meet cute with the much-anticipated Boy 100, but when it turns into a missed connection, he embarks on a Prince Charming-like quest throughout Chicago to find true love, to Kelsey Murphy at Philomel, in a six-figure deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in fall 2022 and fall 2023, by Chelsea Eberly at Greenhouse Literary Agency on behalf of Dovetail Fiction/Working Partners and Eric Smith at P.S. Literary Agency (NA).

Sonora Reyes’s debut THE LESBIANA’S GUIDE TO CATHOLIC SCHOOL, following a 16-year-old who has just started at a new Catholic school after being outed by her ex-best friend and crush at her old school; her new goals: make her mom proud, keep her brother out of trouble, and most importantly, don’t fall in love, but that’s not easy when the only openly queer girl at school is so funny, cute, and seems like she might be interested, to Alessandra Balzer at Balzer & Bray, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2022, by Alexandra Levick at Writers House (NA).

Author of THE HENNA WARS and HANI AND ISHU’S GUIDE TO FAKE DATING Adiba Jaigirdar’s A MILLION TO ONE, a high-stakes romantic heist novel set on the Titanic, in which four girls team up to steal a priceless jewel-encrusted book, to Claudia Gabel at Harper Children’s, for publication in spring 2022, by Uwe Stender at TriadaUS Literary Agency (world).

Leslie Vedder’s debut THE BONE SPINDLE, an #OwnVoices LGBTQ fantasy pitched as a gender-flipped retelling of Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones, in which a cursed treasure hunter and an axe-wielding huntswoman must team up in the treasure hunt of a lifetime to save a lost prince, to Arianne Lewin at Putnam Children’s, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2022, by Carrie Hannigan and Ellen Goff at HG Literary (NA).

Non-Fiction

Advocate for LGBTQ+ issues and gun violence prevention, and survivor of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting Brandon Wolf’s SAFE SPACE, recounting how the support of the greater Orlando community inspired him towards activism in the wake of that tragic night, and exploring the struggles he faced to find a sense of belonging, the resiliency required to maintain it in an increasingly chaotic and fearful world, and the essential role that community has in effecting positive social change during times of crisis, to Selena James at Little A, in a pre-empt, by Jud Laghi at Jud Laghi Agency (world).

Lambda Literary Fellow Lamya H’s MARYAM IS A DYKE, a memoir in essays about her experience as a queer hijabi Muslim immigrant seeking to make sense of herself, her faith, and her place in the world through the lens of radical, lyrical interpretations of the Quran, to Katy Nishimoto at Dial, at auction, by Julia Kardon at HG Literary (NA).

Author of the 2021 PEN Open Book Award finalist and NAACP Image Award-nominated poetry collection UN-AMERICAN, and literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Hafizah Geter’s THE BLACK PERIOD: ON PERSONHOOD, RACE & ORIGIN, a genre-bending memoir that explores how the origin stories we inherit can be remade by delving into the author’s personal and political experiences with Blackness, queerness, Islamophobia, shame, and grief as they cross continents from Nigeria and Gambia to the U.S., to Jamia Wilson at Random House, at auction, by Ayesha Pande at Ayesha Pande Literary (NA).