Tag Archives: YA

Fave Five: Queer-Girl YA Set in Maine

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake (bi f/f)

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (bi f/f)

Style by Chelsea M. Cameron (lesbian f/f)

All the Things We Do in the Dark by Saundra Mitchell (pan f/f)

Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale (bi m/f)

Bonus: For a trans girl MG set in Maine, check out Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker!

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

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

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

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

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

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

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

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Black Forest Photography

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

Backlist Book of the Month: Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria

The policy here for what constitutes “backlist” is that it has to be a year old. So did I literally put Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria into my schedule to promote the very single month it became eligible, even though it’s technically kind of the author’s frontlist? Sure did! Because it is great and underread and has gay, bi, and ace rep and it’s “friends on a quest” which is my favorite kind of contemporary (think Finnikin but gay!) and if you haven’t yet read it, you absolutely should!

In the city of Eldra, people are ruled by ancient prophecies. For centuries, the high council has stayed in power by virtue of the prophecies of the elder seers. After the last infallible prophecy came to pass, growing unrest led to murders and an eventual rebellion that raged for more than a decade.

In the present day, Cassa, the orphaned daughter of rebels, is determined to fight back against the high council, which governs Eldra from behind the walls of the citadel. Her only allies are no-nonsense Alys, easygoing Evander, and perpetually underestimated Newt, and Cassa struggles to come to terms with the legacy of rebellion her dead parents have left her — and the fear that she may be inadequate to shoulder the burden. But by the time Cassa and her friends uncover the mystery of the final infallible prophecy, it may be too late to save the city — or themselves.

Better Know an Author: Rin Chupeco

You’ve been seriously busy these past couple of years! But let’s focus on your newest release first: the fabulous The Never Tilting World, your YA fantasy that released on October 15 and has been billed as Frozen meets Mad Max: Fury Road. What drew you to this story, and were either of those movies in fact inspirations?

I love the aesthetics involved in Mad Max: Fury Road, and wanted to construct a world where those aesthetics would feel right at home. There’s a lot of sparseness to Fury Road that I wanted to emulate, and what strikes me is that the lack of any specific settings never detracted once from the story. In fact, the absence of any concrete locations is what helps propel the story – all Furiosa knows is that she must make it to the mythical Green Place, and is disheartened to find that it’s long gone. For the same reason, both Odessa and Haidee are trying to get to the Great Abyss, the center of Aeon where the worst of the destruction had happened, because they believe there’s something there that will help them figure out how to heal the world. Their hope is what pushes the story forward, too.

TNTW is a little different from Frozen in that, while it’s a story about two sisters, both Haidee and Odessa haven’t even met each other yet. Both begins their travels with an idealized idea of what their sister must have been like, what kind of a family they could have been, and it’s their motivation to try and make the world a better place, because its destruction is what tore them apart in the first place. And it’s a great way to highlight their similarities and their differences with each other before they even meet, so readers get an idea of what kind of relationship they could have as they barrel toward the story’s climax!

There are four characters who really take center stage in The Never Tilting World, including an f/f couple. What one character in the group would you trust to take you to the end of the world, and why?

Right off the bat, it’s not going to be Arjun. We are too similar in personality, which is why I know I can’t trust him for crap. His only advantage is that he’s got a better sense of direction than I do, but we are going to drive each other wild snarking on each other and ignoring all the warning signs and wind up getting eaten by a monster goldfish or something.

Odessa’s a bit too sheltered to understand how the world works at the book’s beginning, and Haidee will be too distracted by the possible automata she could be building en route, and also she will be absent-minded enough to bring helpful inventions to aid on the trip, but not enough food and water. So it’s definitely Lan I’m going to trust, because she’s a responsible leader who is also an excellent healer, scout, fighter, and tracker…. as long as we’re not making the journey on a ship.

You had another work out just before autumn hit, which happened to be in His Hideous Heart, an anthology I know a little bit about. “The Murders in the Rue Apartelle, Boracay” is such a cool and different take on one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous stories, and one you completely made your own, including setting it in the Philippines. Can you share some details about it that are especially meaningful to you?

Boracay was where I, four months pregnant with my first kid, was when Typhoon Haiyan hit. It was one of the first places in the Philippines where it made landfall, and considering that it was a super-typhoon – well, you can only imagine the destruction we saw, and the destruction we barely managed to avoid. Boracay had always been my safe place, in a way – it’s a gorgeous beach, I know how to avoid all the noisy party areas and where to go so it feels like you’ve got the whole place to yourself. That’s where my mind goes when I feel stressed and want to recharge. But that changed a lot after the typhoon, and I started to look at it as a place where bad things could and do happen, even though it’s still one of my most favorite places in the world. Edgar Allan Poe is a huge inspiration to me, and I thought it would be great then to marry a tribute to him with the one place that I know best. Most of the locations in the story are actual places in Boracay, down to the drinking challenges at the bars and the cafe where you can get calamansi cupcakes (although of course, I wish there were eldritches and fairy beer there, too!) One of the murders in my story though, was based on an actual murder of a trans girl by a US marine that made national news (and I can’t really say much else beyond this, because spoilers!).

But wait, there’s more! In just a few months, you have another queer YA fantasy coming, this one with a gay male MC. What can you tell us about Wicked as You Wish?

WICKED AS YOU WISH was seven years in the making, and it’s about a Filipina teen descended from the Filipino mythical heroine Maria Makiling, who winds up helping a young Avalon prince defend his kingdom against the Snow Queen. It’s my “what if fairy tales were real historical events” storyline that I’m really proud of.

My deuteragonist is Alexei Tsarevich, a prince with a HUGE chip on his shoulder, mostly because he’d witnessed his parents’ murder, had to flee his own kingdom when he was five years old, had to watch his kingdom freeze for twelve years, making it inaccessible to all and worrying about any survivors still inside, and had been bouncing from one hiding place to the next, because many governments are searching for him and the powerful spelltech patents his family own. (because yay, capitalism.) To make things worse, he also has a curse where everyone he kisses turns into a frog – excepting Tala, and he cries when he realizes there’s at least one person in the world he couldn’t hurt. He’s kind and loyal and supportive, but he also harbors a lot of survivor’s guilt, and also guilt for many other things he’d had to do to survive. He’d always believed his family’s most powerful weapon, the firebird, had been destroyed decades ago – so when it comes for him on his eighteenth birthday, he now has to deal with suddenly being given the power to change his destiny for the first time in twelve years. Sometimes he does that poorly, and often a little too aggressively to make up for the feelings of vulnerability that had been a constant to him over the years, but I think this is also why I like him very much. Like Lan and also like me, he deals very poorly with trauma, and I wanted to emphasize the different ways people process that, because those ways have happened to me.

One of the most interesting things about watching your career is seeing you thrive thousands of miles away from the so-called center of YA publishing. What’s it like building a career in American publishing from Southeast Asia, and what’s the bookish scene like in the Philippines?

The writing community in the Philippines is a lot similar to the one in the US, I think, albeit in a smaller scale. A big difference though, is that many writers prefer local publishing, which I find personally disheartening. There’s a lot of good stories here waiting for an international audience, but I also think colonial mentality plays a big part in the reluctance. We’re used to looking at the US as something infinitely grander, so we tend to think the works that we do pale in comparison to the works abroad, and that’s not the case at all. This was the mindset I had to unlearn because it’s very prevalent here, but that might also be because I had big dreams and wanted to write for a living, which would not have been possible with the local publishing industry. As odd as it sounds, my name is probably recognizable in the US pub field, but not in my own country. So many people have assumed I’m American simply because I published abroad, and most local panels I’ve done always inevitably wind up with people coming up to me and going “wait what, you’re Filipino?! You’re not visiting from the US, you actually live here?!” There’s a lot of other factors, too (my books are too expensive for many, I don’t look like a typical Filipino and my last name is more of a Chinese-Filipino hybrid, looking down on children / teen books – yes, this isn’t just an American thing – or looking down at books written in English and not in Tagalog) but what IS heartening is the number of writers here who do know me and started querying agents because they saw it was possible. That’s what I want to encourage more of!

What other books do you recommend for queer Southeast Asian rep? What would you still really love to see?

I can’t answer this question without talking about Gail Villanueva and My Fate According to the Butterfly, because I think it gives the best perspective on Filipino culture and issues, primarily the drug war here, and there are some relationships between Sab and important people in her life, including gay supporting characters, that breathe life into her work. America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo is about trying to define your own Filipino-American identity along with also being queer. For other Southeast Asian but not queer-centered, there’s also Hanna Alkaf and her gorgeous poem of a book, The Weight of Our Sky, and I can’t help but tear up just thinking about this. But speaking specifically for Philippine gay rep though – as I mentioned before, that’s the most frustrating part. There’s so many LGBTQ+ books here in the Philippines, many of which try to navigate being gay while at the same time still being Catholic – and often in humorous tones, because Filipinos find a lot of solace in humor – but they’re virtually unavailable to most people outside of the country. There’s Tagalog books written to make people laugh, like Happy Na, Gay Pa (“Not just Happy, But Also Gay”) by Danton Remoto, or something that explores the issue more seriously, like Don’t Tell My Mother by Brigitte Bautista, but as a whole it’s not something people outside of the Philippines can very easily find.

What’s your first recollection of LGBTQIAP+ representation in the media, for better or for worse?

I don’t think there’s been any one specific recollection that I remember, because I grew up with LGBTQ+ prevalent enough in local media. While that sounds like a good thing, considering that the Philippines is a very highly conservative country that doesn’t even have divorce laws yet, much less abortion rights or marriage rights for same-sex couples, it’s also very problematic. You’ll see a lot of gay celebrities and gay representation in TV series, but the mindset seems to be treating them for their entertainment value, not for them as people. You’ll also see problematic depictions of them (the one I remember most clearly as a kid was this movie called Barbie: Maid in the Philippines, which is a pun. A straight cis man pretends to be a female maid because he’s on the run, and gets into hijinxes. It’s like a weird combination of Some Like It Hot and Mrs. Doubtfire. They shot this movie across from my house, and I actually have old pics of toddler me being held by some of the actors, so I remember it well.) So it’s “you can give them rights in movies and other media, but you can’t make that official in law”, which has always been the strangest thing to me. I’ve seen some LGBTQ+ people enforce this opinion even, like “I shouldn’t be given rights because it’s against the Bible and so it can’t be officially legal – but as long as no one’s stopping me personally to be the way I am, it’s fine”. There’s a lot of Catholic guilt to unpack.

I know fandom and gaming are big parts of your life. What in particular are your great loves?

I feel like I’ve been in every major 90s and early 2000s fandom that’s ever been made, from Buffy to Harry Potter to Deadwood to even the really niche ones like Kindred the Embrace or Harvey Birdman. Star Trek is my first and biggest love, but I think the one with the really biggest impact to my life is probably anime, simply because so many people here were into it. Almost everyone in the Philippines with a working TV know what anime is, and we love it. (There was this popular variety program / gag show that has one frequent skit that satirizes televangelist Bible readings, and they used the Voltes V theme song as their ‘religious’ song to open, and it’s hilarious how so many people here can sing it from memory. Heck, we celebrate a Naruto Day.)

Anime was really the gateway drug that opened me up to gender fluidity. Ranma 1/2 in particular was very eye opening, but not necessarily the way I wanted it to be. This is about a martial artist who falls into a cursed spring, and now he turns into a girl when he gets hit with cold water, but turns back into a boy with hot water. The whole plot is about him trying to find a way to undo the curse, and I always wind up mentally screaming at him. Like – “You can TURN into a man or a woman! That’s a BLESSING! Why are you trying to get rid of this blessing?! I would kill for this power!” And that opened doors into understanding deeper definitions of fluidity beyond just the binary, for me. Anime really made me understand the gay parts of me I didn’t realize I had. I was defined by series like Gravitation (which was really gay boy porn for girls and it’s so embarrassing to remember how teen me was so hot for the main character, who was also an angsty brooding traumatized bisexual AUTHOR) and Revolutionary Girl Utena (lesbian swordfighting! personally, I believe Utena walked so that Gideon the Ninth could run). Video games really emphasized that too, particularly with my favorite category, mmorpgs / multiplayer rpg – I could subsume myself into the personality of a male berserker instead of being limited to say, a female healer. I was always the main (male) tank / defense for group runs with friends, for example, and that grew to be my trademark class.

As we stare into the abyss of 2020, what upcoming queer titles are you most excited for?

Is it too early to be super-excited for Harrow the Ninth??? Also, Reverie, The Gravity of Us, and Belle Revolte! I’m still only just starting on amazing 2019 titles as it is, including Crier’s War and Her Royal Highness, just because I’ve been so busy!

author

 

Rin Chupeco wrote obscure manuals for complicated computer programs, talked people out of their money at event shows, and did many other terrible things. She now writes about ghosts and fairy tales but is still sometimes mistaken for a revenant. She was born and raised in the Philippines and, or so the legend goes, still haunts that place to this very day. Find her at rinchupeco.com.

New Release Spotlight: Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett is one of those books that just nails it, from concept to voice to nuance, and Simone is one of the main characters you just can’t forget. She’s handling friendships, a budding romance, questioning her sexuality, and directing the student play, all while managing being HIV-positive and everything that comes with it, including keeping her diagnosis a secret as needed, even under the threat of blackmail. There’s nothing quite like it out there right now so do yourself a favor and pick it up!

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Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.

Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.

Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Exclusive Cover Reveal: The Friend Scheme by Cale Dietrich

Having adored The Love Interest, Cale Dietrich’s first speculative gay YA romance, I’m thrilled to have him on the site today revealing the cover of his long-awaited sophomore novel, The Friend Scheme, which releases from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan on May 26, 2020! Here’s the story:

Part thriller, part romance, The Friend Scheme is another twisty #ownvoices YA novel from Cale Dietrich, author of The Love Interest.

Seventeen-year-old Matt is the son of one of the most powerful criminals in the world – and everyone expects him to follow in his father’s dark footsteps.

But his father’s world has never suited Matt. His desire for a different life grows when, one night, he meets a boy named Jason. Smart, chaotic, and as disinterested in a life of crime as Matt is, the pair quickly become friends. And when Jason comes out to him, Matt thinks they have a shot at becoming more than that, revealing a part of himself he has long repressed out of fear of his father.

As Matt and Jason’s connection grows deeper, Matt grows suspicious of his new friend’s motives. He really does seem like the perfect boy – maybe even too perfect, especially when he starts encouraging Matt to disclose details of his father’s empire. Now Matt must figure out if he can trust his new friend, or his father’s plans for him…and must decide if he can ever do the impossible and come clean about who he really is, and who he is meant to love.

And here’s the impossibly cool cover, designed by Katie Klimowicz with art by Meybis Ruiz Cruz!

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

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Cale Dietrich is a YA devotee, lifelong gamer, and tragic pop punk enthusiast. He was born in Perth, grew up on the Gold Coast, and now lives in Brisbane, Australia.

Exclusive Cover and Excerpt Reveal: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Make way, make way, for the first bigender MC in traditionally published YA! (Or at least that I know of, but I feel pretty good about this.) This is a very exciting cover for me to be revealing in particular because the author is the person who taught me the very time “bigender” lo a bunch of years ago, so I’m thrilled to be showing off the cover of Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert, which releases from Carolrhoda on April 7, 2020 and tells the story of a Russian Jewish bigender teen who discovers they can overhear confessions to their priest uncle and takes it upon themselves to become a “guardian angel.” Here’s the story:

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.

But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

And here’s the brilliantly bi-coded cover, designed by Kimberly Morales!

Preorder: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | Lerner

But wait, there’s more! Want an excerpt? We’ve got you covered with the entire first chapter, so come check it out!
(cw: internalized transphobia)

***

Aleks

The last place I ever thought I’d live was next to a Catholic church.

I stared at the street view on my phone screen. The building I would live in looked pretty normal. You know, two stories, flat roof and brick siding and a fire escape. And the church itself was pretty humble-looking too. Not some huge cathedral with gothic architecture and creepy statues of Jesus getting crucified. At least on the outside.

“The rectory’s actually very comfortable, according to your aunt,” Mom said, knuckles clenched so tightly around the steering wheel that they were blanched. “Very homey, aside from the church office. It’s basically an apartment. The couple of other priests attached to Saint Martha’s live in a separate space, so you’ll have a fair amount of privacy.”

“Yup,” I said, putting my phone away. We’d been over this before.

Mom’s eyes remained locked on the road ahead of her. Not one glance behind. “And the cemetery is right across the street. Your uncle said you’re welcome to treat it like your backyard and use it anytime. Well, almost anytime. No barbeques during a funeral.”

I snorted. “He actually said that?”

“Mm-hmm. He was dead serious, too.”

Damn. What sort of heathen did he take me for? Granted, I hadn’t even seen the guy in years. Not since he went from being an Episcopal priest to a Catholic one. According to my internet research, there are only about two hundred people in the country who’ve gone this route—marry, convert, become a priest—so it was no surprise that Uncle Bryan took his new calling seriously. But you’d think that if he got to keep his wife, he would’ve been allowed to keep a sense of humor too. “What does he think I’d do if someone died? Tie a badminton net up on the statues? Play horseshoes with the American flags?”

Mom chimed in: “Croquet through the headstones, stomping over letters and stuffed animals for the deceased.”

“Damn, Mom. And I thought I was brutal.” I waited for her smile. It never came. She gazed ahead, unblinking. She’d never admit she was hurting, that my decision tore her to bits, but she radiated so much pain I could feel it in my chest.

I sank in my seat. Well, no need to keep riffing about the cemetery. Wasn’t like I was planning to set foot in there anyway. Not because I was afraid or thought cemeteries were eerie, even though they kind of were. They just made me sad. Maybe a little angry. I wasn’t really sure why. Last year, maybe I’d have taken advantage of it with my cosplay group just to get an edgy photo for tons of likes. Something provocative by the inevitable statue of Mary. I’d done that sort of stupid shit a lot, especially with him.

Don’t go there, Aleks, I reminded myself. That part of my life was over. No more trolling, no more CAPSLOCK LOLZ, and definitely no more being an asshole just for a bunch of likes. I was going to pretend that segment of time didn’t exist. I’d always been good at pretending.

Although I should have, I hadn’t deleted my social media accounts. Believe it or not, Mom was the one who convinced me not to do it. She thought that one day I’d get nostalgic and not have anything to look back on. I’d taken her word for it because she’d been in tears as she said it. Figured that came from personal experience, maybe with my aunt. So I just disabled notifications and comments and logged out of everything. I didn’t want to deal with the messages from my friends. Former friends, I mean. Why was past-tense so hard to say? To think?

I didn’t want to deal with the other bullshit either. You know, the “faux trans” or “ugly girl” crap that made me nauseous. I’d dealt with that for years, people refusing to believe my identity was legit, people insisting that I was calling myself bigender for attention. I was done with going to conventions where at least three girls would approach me, asking me if I was a boy or girl and, if I said boy, ask “Are you sure?” about seven times before adding, “because you’re really hot.” And I didn’t know if that was because they were lesbians or because they wanted to make sure I was an effeminate guy because that meant they were still straight. And my friends would laugh, especially him, saying, “Yeah, you’re such a hot guy” while the voice inside said something else:

Imposter.

Where’s your dick at? Huh?

Packed away?

Who does that?

Fake.

Liar.

Loser.

That voice still made me shudder. It crept in like a waiting storm, then suddenly it was there, breaking down my mental walls like a hurricane, destroying everything in its path. It was there way before I got in trouble. And afterward, it never went away. Sometimes the voice sounded just like one of my exes. Ring, ring, ring. Buzzing in my ears. No matter how many times I tried to tune it out, it wouldn’t leave me. No. It became louder. Faster. Pulsed like my heartbeat. Like its own breathing, living thing.

Imposter.

Liar.

Fake.

Louder, louder, LOUDER.

The noise was almost unbearable by the time we pulled up in front of a sign that read SAINT MARTHA ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. Loud enough for me to scrape my nails against my scalp, sliding down to rub my fingers against the back of my neck, getting the tension out. Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut—

“You doing okay, Aleks?” Mom asked, her voice shaking.

Trying to sound convincing, I said, “Yep. I’m good.” After all, this was my idea.

“Because if you’re having second thoughts, we can call this off. I could ask for an emergency leave from work—”

“Mom, we’ve been over this.”

“But—”

“Seriously, don’t.” And then to prove my point, “If you do, I’m going to feel guilty as hell. So don’t. Please.”

She fell silent.

The second I’d told my parents I wasn’t safe, Mom had started looking for transfers. There weren’t any openings. I couldn’t let her quit, not when she’d spent so long building her career, trying to get her twenty years to collect pension. And Dad was stationed in Iraq. It wasn’t like I could say “come home” when he was on active duty.

There were only two options I could think of.

One: Do nothing.

Two: Move in with Aunt Anne Marie and Uncle Bryan while Mom waited for a transfer to go through or until I went to college, whichever came first. I had two more months of summer break before I had to decide where I’d spend my senior year of high school, so it was the perfect time to move.

“You know what kind of people they are, right?” Mom had asked me once she’d regained the ability to speak.

“Yeah, I know,” I’d said, although I was mostly guessing based on offhand comments she and my dad had made. My parents had strong opinions on Catholicism, so strong I used to fear that if I ever met a Catholic, they’d curse me simply for existing. But then I got older. I learned that extremists and shitty people exist everywhere. Sure, some Catholics might be scary, but a person could say that about members of literally any group. I was trying to be a less shitty person myself these days, so I didn’t want to make assumptions about my aunt and uncle. Especially because I wasn’t like anyone else I knew, even in the cosplay communities I’d belonged to.

The last time I’d seen my aunt and uncle, I was little. So little, I didn’t remember how old I’d been. I didn’t know if they had converted to Catholicism yet or if Uncle Bryan was still an Episcopal priest. I did remember being entranced by Aunt Anne Marie’s sewing machine and liking Uncle Bryan’s laugh. But I also remember an argument through the walls and the door slamming. Mom’s sobs: What happened to her?

What happened, I guess, was that she was a good Episcopalian girl who grew up to marry an Episcopal priest, and then gradually both she and her husband got into Catholicism. Fun fact, courtesy of my internet research: Protestant clergy are sometimes allowed to switch teams and become Catholic priests, and if they’re already married, they’re allowed to stay married. I still didn’t get it though. Like, did celibacy laws still apply? In which case, what was the point?

My aunt was a puzzle even without all that. My grandparents on Mom’s side were pretty liberal, always vocal about equality, just cool in general. They died a couple of years ago, but back when I was twelve, after Mom told them about me coming out as bigender, they called to tell us all about joining their local PFLAG group. But Aunt Anne Marie wasn’t like them. I had so many friends who’d broken away from their conservative families as they discovered more inclusive values. I didn’t think I’d met a single person who came from a family as chill as Mom’s and left for Faux News. It was different. Weird.

Living with them still had to be better than what I was running from. Coming here was the safest option, because it was the last place anyone would ever think to look for me.

Mom parked the truck and turned the ignition off. “We’re here.”

The rectory—the priests’ residence—looked just like it had online. Right up against it was another building that I knew was the church. It actually looked like an extension of the same building, except the windows on the church part were more arched and the double doors at the front looked more imposing.

We climbed out of the truck. I approached the building and traced my fingers along the cracks in the brick facade. Up close, it looked nicer than in the pictures. They must have done some renovations recently.

There was some chattering and commotion as people came out the front doors of the church, a few yards away. Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contactbut they went the other direction, oblivious. I exhaled, relieved. For now, I was still invisible. Just the way I wanted.

The front door of the rectory opened. Immediately, I withdrew from the wall, moving to stand next to Mom. An older woman clattered down the steps with an uneven stride, like she was in pain but trying not to limp. Surely that couldn’t be . . .

Mom cleared her throat. “Hey, Annie.”

The old woman corrected her: “Anne Marie. Please.”

I barely kept from gawking as Aunt Anne Marie approached. This didn’t make sense. Aunt Anne Marie wasn’t that much older than Mom. Like a few years. This wrinkly-faced woman looked like she should have been my grandma instead of my aunt.

She embraced Mom stiffly and briefly, like she was being polite even though she couldn’t stand to be near her. Judging from Mom’s expression, the feeling was mutual. Next, she moved to me hugging me for just a second, if even. Like she wasn’t sure it would be welcome. “It’s—it’s good to see you, Alexis.”

A rock formed in the pit of my stomach.

Before I could open my mouth, Mom said, “It’s Aleks today. He and him.”

“It’s fine,” I told Mom quickly. I’d already decided I wouldn’t publicly present as male here. I didn’t know if that counted as going back in the closet or whether it was self-preservation.

Mom frowned. “Pronouns are important.”

“I know, but not today. Okay?” I touched her arm. “It’s fine. I promise.”

Mom frowned but dropped it. Good. Last thing I wanted was super high tension around me before I even moved in. Besides, this was their home. I was a temporary guest. Coming here was my idea. I knew what I was getting into. Sort of.

Aunt Anne Marie didn’t respond to my mother. She looked at me, smiling. It seemed genuine but also strained, like it’d been so long since she smiled it ached. She looked so old. So tired. So thin. Had Uncle Bryan aged that quickly too? “I was worried you’d look more . . .” She trailed off, leaving me to fill in the gap:

Butch? Queer? Covered in glitter with rainbows shooting out of my butt?

Aunt Anne Marie tried again. “I was worried you’d stand out. If you stay like this, you’ll fit right in.”

I exhaled with relief. Good. Fitting right in was exactly what I needed, even if boy-me was going to hate it in about 0.0008 seconds, and probably girl-me too. It didn’t matter how much this place sucked because it would be safe. If I hid inside my skin, I wouldn’t be in direct danger. No one would notice the ugly girl. She was innocuous and easy to ignore, which was perfect, even though sometimes, just sometimes, I wished she wasn’t so ugly.

Here’s the sad part: I never thought she was ugly until people told me again and again that she was. All those school formals, me standing awkwardly by the wall as everyone was asked to dance except me. That kid who threw a tape dispenser at me in class, telling me to put it on my upper lip to rip the mustache off. The classmates who called me an ugly slut for wearing layers of tank tops in winter when, really, I just got overheated and sweated through my clothes. I guess the masochist in me preferred the bullying to the silence I now was seeking. Any attention was better than no attention, or so I’d thought. I knew better now.

How would people here react if they saw two different people with the same face? If I left the house as a girl one day and a boy the very next? Would they think I had a twin? Think it was a costume? Condemn me to hell? Hold signs outside the rectory and shout slurs at me?

I could picture all that so clearly. Images of horrible things happening to me, worst-case disasters, gleefully narrated by “the voice.” No matter how many times I told it to shut up, it was always there. Left ear, right ear, crashing like a turbulent sea.

“This is just temporary,” Mom said to Aunt Anne Marie. Then, almost as an afterthought, “Thank you for doing this.”

Aunt Anne Marie looked at me instead of my mother. “We’re family.” Like she was erasing Mom from existence. The tension was so thick, it was almost visible. Was there ever a time when she and Mom were close? Like when they were children? Had they confided in each other, whispering secrets in the dark? It was hard to imagine. The few times I’d asked Mom about Aunt Anne Marie, she’d said, “I don’t want to talk about her.” I never pressed. My parents had taught me that if someone doesn’t want to talk about something, you should leave them alone. Don’t prod snakes.

“There are going to be a few ground rules,” Aunt Anne Marie said.

“Ground rules?” Mom asked. “You didn’t say anything about ground rules on the phone.”

Aunt Anne Marie turned on my mother. “I haven’t seen you in years. Not a word of communication. When you called me out of the blue, I gladly stepped in. Money doesn’t grow on trees—”

“Fine!” Mom reached in her purse for her wallet. “If you want money—”

“I don’t want your money. I want to get to know my niece. Is that a crime?”

I flinched. From that perspective, she sort of had a point, even though she’d called me “niece” after Mom had requested male pronouns today on my behalf. Although it was hard to swallow, I could forgive it for now. Tons of people made mistakes, misgendering people out of ignorance rather than cruelty. I’d known to expect it here.

I’d never heard the term bigender until I was twelve. Honestly, I can’t remember if I’d ever heard it. One day I woke up and, out of nowhere, said, “I’m bigender.” Everything immediately felt right, like I’d had a massive epiphany. Simultaneously, it made me really . . . lonely. I couldn’t even find much use of the term online. Of course, the internet is full of people who identify outside of the male or female boxes. Genderqueer and genderfluid have floated around in the mainstream for a little while, but those terms never fit me. There’s a lot of crossover in those brackets, a lot of beautiful transition and blending, but for as different as I was, everything was black and white. There was no gray space. I’d wake up in the morning and know whether I was a girl or a boy. Rarely, in the middle of the day, I’d change. When that happened, it wasn’t a gradual shift. More like a light switch. Off on, on off. And almost always, that sudden shift felt bad.

But now wasn’t the time to think about that. Now was the time to play “blend in” and avoid rocking the boat so that I’d stay safe. My aunt and uncle, despite their religious views, were safe. Thou shalt not kill. Maybe I could suggest an addendum: Thou shalt not be a douchebag to thy nephew.

“What are the ground rules?” I asked.

Aunt Anne Marie looked delighted that I was talking to her. “We eat dinner together at six unless your uncle is helping a troubled parishioner.”

I wondered if “troubled” meant a depressed person or a sinner. Or were depressed people automatically considered sinners?

“If he’s late, we wait for him . . .”

Ooh, toxic patriarchy! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

“. . . unless he tells us ahead of time that we should eat without him, which is the case today. He’s helping out with the summer day camp over at the school.” She nodded toward a building across the way: Saint Martha Elementary. “We’ll eat without him. He’s a very busy man.”

I’m sure he is.

“Also,” Aunt Anne Marie said, “do you have a nice dress?”

Definenice dress.”

“Um . . . yeah? I think,” I said cautiously as the voice in my head screamed, It’s a trap. “If not, I could sew one, I guess. Why?”

“You’ll need one for Sundays, when we go to church.”

Mom’s eyes widened. “You can’t make Aleks—”

“Mass is nonnegotiable,” my aunt said. “If Alexis is going to stay here, it’s what we do. Can you imagine a priest’s niece not attending?”

Mom grumbled beneath her breath, “Unfortunately I can imagine a lot of things.”

“Do you want us to help or not?”

Mom glanced at me, like somehow she was failing even though she was trying her absolute hardest.

I touched her arm. “It’s just a dress.”

“It’s more than just a dress.”

She was right, but that wasn’t a problem for today. “Mom, really. It’s okay. I can deal.”

At least for the next few months.

Mom hesitated but then sighed. “No making Aleks say grace before meals or any of that.”

“That’d be her choice.”

I flinched. Was the emphasis on “her” intentional, or was I extra sensitive today?

When Mom called my aunt and uncle to bring up the idea of me staying there temporarily, one of the first things she said was, “Alexis is bigender. That means some of the time, they identify as female and Alexis, and some of the time they identify as male and Aleks. They’re also queer. If either of you make them uncomfortable or spout homophobic, nonbinary-phobic nonsense, I’ll rip out your throat.”

Mom could be a little theatrical sometimes. And by sometimes, I mean all the time. I had to inherit it from someone. I’m sure my aunt and uncle weren’t impressed, but I thought it was pretty damn funny. And it certainly couldn’t have sent a clearer message.

Let me give my aunt the benefit of the doubt just for today. Maybe for the next week, since there would have to be an adjustment. A learning curve.

What if it’s longer than a week? I tried to ignore the nagging worry. What if she uses only female pronouns forever?

Fake trans.

Loser.

Liar.

Aunt Anne Marie continued, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Alexis finds that this is the right path for her.”

Sure. I might also find that I enjoyed bashing my head against concrete.

Aunt Anne Marie looked at her watch. “As I said, your uncle will be working late tonight.” Was he really working late or was he deliberately avoiding Mom?

. . . or me.

 “Let’s get your things to your room, get you settled, and have a little dinner. Okay?” She forced another big smile. “I’m so happy I’ll finally get to know you.”

“Sounds good,” I said, forcing some pep into my voice.

As we walked to the back of the truck, Mom latched to my side. Quietly, she said, “If you need an escape . . .”

“I’ll let you know immediately. I promise.”

“No heroics—”

I embraced my mother, cutting her off. I turned my face against her neck, trying to remember the smell of her perfume and the way her huge hoop earrings jingled. “Thank you,” I whispered. “For letting me do this.”

“I’d do anything to protect you.”

“I know.”

“Is there anything else I should be doing?”

“No, Mom. It’s not you.” It’s them, I thought. It’s their fault.

HIS fault.

“Aleks?” Mom asked, worried.

“I’m fine,” I said instinctively. Then, with the bravest face I could muster, I grabbed the first box.

***

 

 

 

October Book Deal Announcements

Yep, it’s a brand-new feature celebrating book deals! This is a combination of deal announcements that have been submitted through the site and copied from Publisher’s Marketplace and Publishers Weekly, with some minor editing. If you’d like to submit a deal, you can do so here.

Children’s/YA Fiction

Rob Sanders’s BLING BLAINE, about a child who is all about bling and glitter until complaints pour in and bling is banned from school, but then allies come to the rescue, illustrated by Letizia Rizzo, to Christina Pulles formerly at Sterling Children’s, with Eve Adler editing, for publication in fall 2020, by Rubin Pfeffer at Rubin Pfeffer Content for the author, and by Emily Coggins at Astound US for the illustrator (world).

Vicki Lame at Wednesday Books has acquired LGBTQ Reads founder Dahlia Adler’s YA novel, COOL FOR THE SUMMER, about a girl named Lara who finally lands the guy of her dreams, only to have her unexpected(ly female) summer fling transfer to her school for their senior year. Publication is slated for summer 2021; DongWon Song at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency brokered the two-book deal for North American rights.

Author of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE and BURN BABY BURN BABY, and board member of the Ontario Writer’s Conference Kevin Craig’s THE CAMINO CLUB, in which six wayward teens are given an ultimatum after getting in trouble with the law: serve time in juvenile detention for their crimes, or walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Spain; when it becomes clear the long walk isn’t really all that much of an option, they set out on a journey that will either make or break who they are and who they are to become, to Annie Harper at Duet, in a nice deal, in an exclusive submission, for publication in October 2020.
Rights: Mary Jo Courchesne, Gryphon Publishing Consulting

Jess Verdi’s‘s FOLLOW YOUR ARROW, after breaking up with her long-term girlfriend and falling for the new guy in town, an openly queer social media influencer faces blowback from her fans and is forced to define what it means to be bi—to the world, and to herself, to Aimee Friedman at Scholastic, by Kate McKean at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency.

Maggie Tokuda-Hall‘s SQUAD, about a clique of teen girls whose favorite pastime is to get dressed up; go to parties; target entitled, date-rapey bros; turn into wolves; and eat them, illustrated by Lisa Sterle, to Martha Mihalick at Greenwillow, for publication in fall 2021, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (NA).

Alexandra Cooper at HarperTeen has acquired, at auction, Laurel Flores Fantauzzo’s THE HEARTBREAK OF CORAZON TAGUBIO. Cory Tagubio is an outcast at her all-girls Catholic high school. In the wake of an accident, Cory grows close to her history teacher, Ms. Holden, but when the crush turns into something more, Cory is shipped off to her half-brother in the Philippines, leaving her to discover how her family and their country have shaped her past and how they might change her future. Publication is set for winter 2021; Andrea Morrison at Writers House sold world English rights.

Jessica Garrison at Dial has bought, on exclusive submission, Stephanie Oakes’s THE MEADOWS, which centers on a queer girl who has pretended to “reform” following years in a government-sanctioned conversion therapy center, but can’t forget the girl she left behind, and resolves to find her. Publication is set for fall 2021; Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency handled the deal for world rights.

Daniel Ehrenhaft at Soho Teen has bought Carly Heath’s debut YA novel, THE HEATHENS OF MUSKOX HOLLOW. Set in 1904 Norway, the novel follows a trio of queer teens—two boys and their best friend, Asta—who decide to defy the expectations of their rural Scandinavian village by leaving their families, living on their own, and challenging the town’s patriarch in the region’s annual winter horse race. Publication is set for fall 2021; Steven Chudney at the Chudney Agency brokered the deal for North American English rights.

Cassandra Rose Clarke‘s FORGET THIS EVER HAPPENED, queer speculative fiction set in a run-down Southern town where space and time are inconsistent, to Mora Couch at Holiday House, for publication in fall 2020, by Stacia Decker at Dunow, Carlson & Lerner (world).

Diana Pinguicha‘s A MIRACLE OF ROSES, pitched as an f/f #ownvoices retelling of the Portuguese miracle of the same name, where the Princess of Aragon enters a bargain with an Enchanted Moura so she can reverse her gift that turns all the food she touches into flowers, to Lydia Sharp at Entangled Teen, by Travis Pennington at The Knight Agency (world).

Brianna Shrum‘s 13 WAYS TO START A FOREST FIRE, in which a 17-year-old girl is trapped by a freak mudslide and, in order to survive the cruel Rockies in the dead of winter, decides to trust the one boy she knows she shouldn’t, to Nicole Frail at Sky Pony Press, by Steven Salpeter at Curtis Brown.

Deya Muniz’s THE PRINCESS AND THE GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH, in which a lady, a denizen of the Kingdom of Fromage, must disguise herself as a man in order to inherit her father’s estate, but her secret becomes difficult to keep once she falls in love with a royal princess, to Andrea Colvin at Little, Brown Children’s, in a two-book deal, for publication in spring 2021 (world).

Sasha Laurens’s A WICKED MAGIC, the story of two teens and new witches whose friendship comes to an abrupt end when a spell they foolishly cast summons an ancient force that steals one of the girls’ boyfriends; they are then forced to work together with a new friend who is harboring a magical secret of her own to rescue him, to Ruta Rimas at Razorbill, in a nice deal, for publication in fall 2020, by Jennifer Udden at New Leaf Literary & Media (world English). Publication is set for July 27, 2020.

Adult Fiction

Karelia Stetz-Waters‘s untitled book, in which two very different women find themselves running a sex toy shop that one of them inherited and soon fall in love as the business struggles for survival and family obligations threaten to tear them apart, to Madeleine Colavita at Forever Yours, by Jane Dystel at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret (NA).

Juliette Wade’s sci-fi MAZES OF POWER, in which a fever strikes the cavern city of Pelismara, and Tagaret must represent his Family in the competition for Heir to the Throne, but a power struggle and an exploitative brother stand in his way, to Sheila Gilbert at DAW by Kristopher O’Higgins at Scribe Agency (NA). Publication is set for February 4, 2020.

Anbara Salam’s BELLADONNA, a story of friendship and obsession set in the 1950s, following two schoolgirls from Connecticut whose lives are changed forever when they travel to a silent convent in northern Italy to study art for a year, to Amanda Bergeron at Berkley by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management, on behalf of Hattie Grunewald at Blake Friedmann, now at The Blair Partnership (NA). Publication is set for June 9, 2020.

University of Louisiana in Lafayette PhD candidate Caitlin Vance’s THE PAPER GARDEN, a darkly humorous, gothic, and speculative story collection that explores contemporary queer romances, mother-daughter relationships, and mental illness by reimagining fairy tales or myths, to Hasanthika Sirisena at 7.13 Books, for publication in spring 2021.

Director of Creative Writing at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and author of five books Timothy Schaffert‘s THE PERFUME THIEF, about a queer American expat with an infamous past as a thief of rare scents who retires to Paris to become a legitimate perfumer, crafting unique scents scents for the city’s cabaret performers and sex workers, until the Nazis occupy the city and seek her expertise for a sinister purpose, to Margo Shickmanter at Doubleday, in a good deal, for publication in 2021, by Alice Tasman at Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency (world English).

Kristen Arnett‘s SAMSON, a novel of motherhood, expectations, and toxic masculinity within a queer household, and WITH FOXES, a diverse, blackly humorous story collection, to Cal Morgan at Riverhead, in a major deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Serene Hakim at Ayesha Pande Literary (NA).

Adult Non-Fiction

Griffin Poetry Prize winner Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A HISTORY OF MY BRIEF BODY, a meditation on grief, joy, love, and sex at the intersection of indigeneity and queerness, to Eric Obenauf at Two Dollar Radio, by Stephanie Sinclair at Transatlantic Literary Agency (US).

University of Georgia MFA in narrative nonfiction and Lamba Literary fellow Martin Padgett’s MIDNIGHT AT THE OASIS: A DECADE OF DRAG, DRUGS AND DISCO AT THE SWEET GUM HEAD, following the intersecting journeys of drag queen John Greenwell, also known as Rachel Wells, and civil rights activist Bill Smith through the gay rights movement and drag culture in 1970s Atlanta, to Amy Cherry at Norton, in a nice deal, for publication in fall 2021, by Beth Marshea at Ladderbird Literary Agency (NA).

Film/TV

Jacqueline Carey‘s KUSHIEL’S LEGACY series, which spans three epic trilogies set in Terre d’Ange and deals with a remarkable courtesan who saves her nation, the adventures of her adopted son, and ultimately, the trials of Moirin, a descendant of the legendary ruling house, to Lionsgate, with Dan Hadl producing, by Jane Dystel at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.

K.D. Edwards‘s THE LAST SUN, a queer tarot-inspired fantasy, to Escape Artists, by Kim Yau at Paradigm, on behalf of Sara Megibow at kt literary.

Tom Ryan‘s KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF, in which a group of lifelong friends is shattered when a serial killer strikes their small town and claims one of their own; one year later, unable to let go, a teen finds himself investigating new clues, and begins to wonder if he can trust anything, including his feelings for his best friend, the boy who died, optioned by Robert Munic of Pull the Pin Productions and Cheryl Bayer of Living Popups, with Munic and Baker producing, by Kim Yau at Paradigm, on behalf of Eric Smith of P.S. Literary Agency.

Audio

Adiba Jaigirdar‘s THE HENNA WARS, to Emily Parliman at Listening Library, by Brent Taylor at Triada US, on behalf of Uwe Stender.

Fave Five: Ghostly Queer YA

Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace

Now Entering Addamsville by Francesca Zappia

Bonus: If you’ve read Shadowshaper, definitely check out Ghost Girl in the Corner by Daniel José Older, which is a related Sapphic ghostly novella.

Double Bonus: If you like to keep an eye on upcoming titles, definitely make sure Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters (2020) and The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould (2021) are on your radar!

Exclusive Cover Reveal: The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig

I am delighted to welcome Caleb Roehrig back to the site today for an exclusive cover reveal of his upcoming paranormal romance The Fell of Dark, releasing July 14, 2020 from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan and helping usher vampires back into YA!

Caleb himself had some words to say on that, so before we get to the cover you’re all here to see, let’s give the book some context, shall we?

(Okay, fine, I’ll tease it a little first. Happy now?)

But now, for real, is Caleb Roehrig:

***

Ten years ago, I read an interview with a literary agent that said: “Unless your manuscript has vampires, werewolves, or shapeshifters, you can’t get published in YA.” This was actually okay with me. I was part of the original cult following for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I longed to craft stories that had the same blend of thrills, humor, and emotional impact.

I wrote a novel about a girl, bitten and left for dead, who gradually develops abilities and cravings she doesn’t understand. She had a gay best friend that didn’t do much—because it was implicitly understood that gays had to be polite and peripheral if they wished to take up space—and she was caught between the attentions of two gorgeous vampire boys. I intended it as the first in a series of five novels…but, of course, it was never published. By the time I realized vampires were a popular trend, it was already far too late to jump on the bandwagon—a lesson I learned the hard way. But I’d sketched the entire series out, including some dramatic twists I could never quite get out of my head, and privately I hoped that someday I’d get the chance to raise my vampires from their untimely graves.

The Fell of Dark is a book that took a decade to see the light of day. I altered most of the plot and all of the players, the main character changing from a straight girl to a gay boy—because that was the story I had really wanted to tell all along—and I condensed my planned five-part series into a single novel that is stacked to the rafters with thrills, humor, action, pathos, magic, mayhem, and make-outs. This cover by Rich Deas evokes the pulp horror underpinnings of the gritty side of my vampire tale, where the stakes are nothing less than the end of the actual world—while still also managing to convey the cheeky humor and apocalyptic frustrations of a gay teen’s first attempt at romance. It’s perfect, and I can’t wait for readers to dive in.

The only thing August Pfeiffer hates more than algebra is living in a vampire town.

Located at a nexus of mystical energy fields, Fulton Heights is practically an electromagnet for supernatural drama. And when a mysterious (and annoyingly hot) vampire boy arrives with a cryptic warning, Auggie suddenly finds himself at the center of it.

An ancient and terrible power is returning to the earthly realm, and somehow Auggie seems to be the only one who can stop it.

Preorder now!