I am beyond thrilled to announce that To Summon Nightmaresreceived the award for Best Transgender Fiction in the 2015 Rainbow Awards today! This is my first time winning any sort of award for my writing, and I’m so glad it could be for this book, which is so very special to me. ^_^
I don’t have much to say besides a big thank you to all the readers and judges, (I’m so glad you enjoyed my book!) thank you to my fab publishers, Less Than Three Press, and a huge congratulations to all the other winners and runners up, particularly Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz, for their very well deserved awards of Best Transgender Romance and Best Transgender Book for The Burnt Toast B&B.
I also can’t help but hope that one day the pool of transgender fiction will be so large and full of talented authors, I’ll have absolutely no chance whatsoever of winning this kind of award. ^-^ In the meantime, I’m just excited to be part of a growing genre, and to be doing my part to make trans people like myself more visible in all sorts of different stories. And I’m going to savor my win, because this is pretty darn exciting.
Love you all, and hope you’re having a wonderful week!
Hi all! As I’m writing this, Alex Powell is driving down from Prince George to stay the night here, and then tomorrow we are heading down to Seattle for Gay Romance Northwest!
If you haven’t heard of it, GRNW is a convention and book festival open to everyone! On Friday night there will be a reading at the Hugo House, and then on Saturday there will be the conference and panels at the Seattle Public Library, followed by a Bookfest where you can meet authors, pick up swag and buy books. There will also be a bunch of books being given away!
I’m going to be on a panel called Celebrating and Elevating Underrepresented Characters in Queer Romance Fiction. My co-panelist all seem really cool, and I think it’ll be a great discussion! Then I’ll have a table at the bookfest, where I’ll be selling paperbacks. If you want copies of Geek Out, The Fairy Gift, To Summon Nightmares or Ink & Flowers to add to your collection, this is your chance! Also please feel free to come and talk to me, I promise I don’t bite, and I’m reasonably friendly. ^-^ I’ll also probably be furiously tweeting the whole time, so you can follow me @JKPendragon to keep updated on what’s happening.
We’re going to be in Seattle for a few days, so if there’s anything you think I should check out while I’m down there, please let me know in the comments!
Finally, since this post is a little short, I’m going to include and excerpt from Witch, Cat and Cobb, my f/f fantasy novella coming out in October. Please enjoy, and I hope to see you in Seattle this weekend!
I awoke to yelling outside my window. Disconcerted for a moment, I threw the blanket off and tripped over a pile of broken wands, then climbed up onto the tower of books under the windowsill to poke my head out, squinting in the bright sunshine.
It was the witch who was shouting. She was wearing a purple nightgown with the sleeves shoved up and wielding a broomstick at some invisible foe in the garden.
“I said out! You’ve ruined my cabbages with your bloody little swords! Try sticking each other with them sometime!”
“Is everything alright?” I shouted, and the witch looked up at me, her eyes wide and her hair a mess.
“Does it look alright?” she shouted back, and whacked her broom against the ground once more. I could have imagined it, but I thought I heard tiny, high-pitched squealing as she did so. “No!” she yelled at the ground. “I don’t want to hear about property titles!”
I pulled my head back in the window and looked around the room. The cobwebs and clouds of dust that I had kicked up in my scramble to the window would have looked pretty illuminated by the morning light were they not so disgusting. I thought about shouting out the window that the room was filthy, but thought better of it, as the witch obviously had enough on her plate that morning. Instead I hauled myself over to the door and went into the bathroom.
I figured out how to use the facilities by snapping my fingers fairly quickly, and spent a few minutes trying to salvage the mess that was my newly short hair in the mirror before giving up and heading out into the kitchen. The witch was there. She had changed into a very nice black and blue dress and had tamed her hair considerably, and she was currently pouring tea into a small shallow bowl for Fen to drink.
“Good morning,” she said evenly as I entered. “Please, sit. Tea.”
They sounded more like orders than suggestions, so I merely nodded and sat quietly at the table as she poured me a tankard of tea. I looked around at the kitchen, noticing that most of the counters, shelves and even the table we were sitting at had been molded from the same pale-orange clay used to make the walls of the house.
“Did you make this place?” I asked as the witch poured herself a mug of tea and sat across from me.
She nodded. “I’ve never been much of an architect, I’m afraid, but it stays together alright.”
“It’s not very elvish,” I commented.
The witch stared at me over the brim of her cup. Her eyes were a deep purple and her brows sharp and intimidating. “No,” she said. “I suppose it isn’t.”
Fen sneezed into his tea.
“Don’t expect to be the beneficiary of my hospitality for long, cat,” said the witch, giving him a sharp glare before returning her gaze to me. “And I’m not in the business of providing free room and board either. What is it you intend to do with yourself now that you’ve run away from all your responsibilities?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, taking a sip of the tea. It was a rich black blend with a hint of sweetness to it. “I didn’t assume I’d stay away forever. Just until the Saishen Prince is married to someone else.”
“You’re engaged to the elf prince?”
“Yes.” I rested my chin on my fist. “It’s supposedly a long overdue political move. My father was supposed to marry the Saishen princess twenty years ago, but she disappeared.”
“I know that much,” said the witch. She stood, taking the black teapot from the fireplace and pouring a large dollop of it into her cauldron. “I do go into town occasionally. But I haven’t been in a few months, so your engagement must have been fairly recent. Hmm.” She leaned over the cauldron and sniffed, before making a critical face and turning to the table to sift through the herbs.
I took another sip of tea and crossed my arms. “They eventually gave up on the princess, and my father married my mother, and then he died only a few years later. Maybe an alliance between Priia and Saishen just isn’t to be.”
The witch selected what looked like a bay leaf and dropped it into the cauldron, prompting a display of pink and green sparks and a loud bang, followed by a poof of grey smoke. “So dramatic.” She coughed, waving the smoke away with her long sleeves. “So, you expect me to allow you to stay here, free of charge, for however many months it takes them to decide that you are dead and marry the Saishen prince off to someone else. Then what, you’ll return to the castle and marry whatever prince they pick out for you next? What’s so bad about the elf prince?”
“She doesn’t want to marry a prince at all,” said Fen from under the table where he’d taken cover from the smoke. “She’s dreaming of a princess.”
“Shut up, Fen!” I snapped. “She doesn’t have to be a princess.”
“Right,” said Fen. “You would have married that serving girl if she hadn’t run off with the duke.”
I scowled at him. “I liked you better when you didn’t talk.”
“And as for you,” said the witch. “Fen, is it now? Silly name. Who chose it?”
“I did,” I said quietly.
The witch looked stricken for a moment. “Oh. Well, it’s an alright name for a cat, I suppose.” She turned back to Fen. “You want to be human? What will you do for me?” She took a step towards Fen, who cowered under the table.
“What do you expect me to do for you?” he squawked. “I’m a cat! Very little in the way of things cats can do, actually. You’d be surprised.”
“Pest control,” said the witch.
Witch, Cat and Cobb comes out October 14th from Less Than Three Press! You an pre-order it here and save 15%.
Thanks for reading, and hope to see some of you soon!
I know, I should probably wait until I have a release date and a blurb and all that jazz, but I just couldn’t wait to show this off!
Check it out!
Isn’t it amazing?? It’s by Aisha Akeju, who also did the covers for Ink & Flowers, Geek Out and Double Take. I’m so consistently impressed by her skills, especially her uncanny ability to create covers that fit the stories so perfectly. This one is no exception!
With a cover like this, I don’t even feel like I need to explain the story too much. Suffice it to say, there’s magic, elves, a talking cat, and a princess and a witch who fall in love. I’m just so excited for this story, and thrilled with the cover! ^-^
To celebrate, I’m giving away a $15 gift card for LT3’s book market! Leave a comment with your email address by the end of May to win!
Update: Giveaway has ended. Congrats Lore Graham!
Thanks for reading! Oh, I almost forgot, this month I’m Less Than Three Press’s featured author! You can save 20% off all my ebooks using the code PENDRAGON in LT3’s book market! Check out my books here!
Cheers, and don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered!
I wasn’t going to write this post. Originally this was going to be some “How to Review Trans Books” shit, but I reeeally didn’t want to do that for two reasons:
1. I really, professionally, do not want to ever write something that would suggest I have anything to say to reviewers about how they should review my books. I understand that reviews are not for me. I also understand that there is a long history of authors being absolute shit to reviewers, despite the fact that reviewers are pretty much integral to their success. Reviewers should be lifted up on a pedestal by authors, not dragged down and attacked.
2. I had really hoped that the few particularly transphobic reviews out there (not of my books, actually, but of other trans books) were just an anomaly. I wanted to believe that they were just trolls who were being mean or transphobic because they could, and that ignoring them was the best course of action.
But more and more I’m seeing reviews of trans books pop up where the reviewer genuinely seems well-meaning, and doesn’t realise that what they’re saying is something that trans people hear over and over, micro-aggressions that end up being incredibly hurtful at the end of the day. I know that if I was doing or saying something that was hurting someone in that way, I would want them to tell me, and I would hope they were comfortable explaining why.
So I’m gonna talk about it.
I am a genderqueer individual. I was assigned female at birth, and I present largely as female for various reasons (see my post about it here) but I’m not really a girl. Not at all. The way my dysphoria manifests changes from day to day. Some days I can’t stand my body. Some days I just feel vaguely disconnected to it. Sometimes when people call me “miss” or “lady” I get a pang in my stomach, like “no, that’s wrong”. Sometimes I just feel tired. But I always have, deep in my gut, this knowledge that I am not a girl, and I’m not a boy either. I just am.
I dealt with this, the sort of weird to uncomfortable feeling I get from being called “she”, by adopting the pronoun “they.” At first it felt weird to me, and sounded off to my ears. But I wrote up an author bio using it, and immediately felt a sense of relief, because even though it sounded a bit weird, it also allowed me to be perceived, at least by people passing by on the internet, as someone who is not female or male. And that was a big, big deal.
So here’s the thing. I know that gender-neutral pronouns are a bit weird. They’re new, and they take a bit of getting used to. Remember when apple came out with the iPad and everyone laughed, (menstruation is hilarious, you heard it here first) but now people say it all the time without a second thought? New words take a little bit to catch on. But they do, and it’s normal. In this case, it’s desperately needed. We have a whole population of people who don’t identify as male or female, and don’t wish to be gendered in every single sentence used about them. The solution was to come up with new pronouns (and I say “new” but most of these pronouns have been around for decades) or to use the pronoun “they”, which has already been used to refer to someone when you don’t know their gender yet (albeit in a slightly detached way) for a very long time.
If you’re not familiar with the term “micro-aggression” it’s basically a very small, minimally offensive thing that someone says or does that would be fine on it’s own. But when it happens time after time, again and again, it’s like Chinese water torture. It becomes unbearable. That’s why a cis person might laugh off having the wrong pronoun used for them once, but for a trans person who has been having the wrong pronoun used for them their whole life, it becomes an awful, hurtful thing whenever someone does it. Here’s a quote from my book, To Summon Nightmares, that explains it a little bit:
“Well, you’re my little sis—” She cut off with an intake of breath and Cohen flinched violently. Niall who had gone into the kitchen to put the kettle on, glanced at Cohen, looking concerned. It’s okay, Cohen mouthed at him. The line was silent.
“I’m really sorry,” said Halley, sounding wretched. “Cohen, I’m really sorry, okay? I just forgot.”
“I know.” Cohen nodded, trying to breathe. “It’s fine, really Halley. I appreciate that you’re trying.”
“I am trying,” she said. “Really, I am.”
Niall took a step into the living room. “Do you want me to go?” he asked, and Cohen shook his head.
“It’s okay.” Cohen forced a smile into his voice. “You’re my sister, so I can’t be mad at you.”
“Yeah, right.” Halley gave a forced laugh. “Okay, call me tomorrow, kid. You hear me?”
“I will,” he said. “I promise.”
“G’night little brother.”
He hung up the phone, leaning back against the couch and breathing slowly. His tolerance for being misgendered had gone down now that it wasn’t happening all the time. When it had happened all the time, it had just been like a slow burning, unidentifiable sickness. Now every ‘he’ was a relief, and every ‘she’ and ‘sister,’ every mention of his birth name was like a punch to the gut. He hated it.
So we choose a gender-neutral pronoun to avoid the feeling of being misgendered, but all too often a new micro-aggression takes it’s place, in the form of people complaining that our pronouns are too difficult for them. And I understand that it’s a normal reaction to want to talk about how the words are confusing, you don’t know how to use them or how to pronounce them. But trust me, we’ve heard it before, a lot. We know you’re going to have trouble with it, so did we. But it was worth it for us. And if you respect us at all, it’ll be worth it to you too.
The problem that’s come about, particularly with reviews, is that when you’re writing a review for a book, it’s normal to pick apart and critique aspects of the story. The world building didn’t make sense, so-and-so’s character was hard to understand, the made-up language seemed needlessly complex. Those are all valid critiques. The trouble starts when you treat something like gender identity or pronouns as something that the author has similarly “made up” to put into their book. There’s a difference between a world that an author has created from scratch, and a world that actually exists, that the author has researched or lived, and is representing in their book. One is open for debate and critique, and the other is just the way the world is. Complaining that you don’t like it doesn’t really add anything.
And I mean, it’s perfectly acceptable to read a book about, say, a sheep herder, and then say in your review: “I’m actually not a big fan of sheep, and I found it boring and confusing. Your mileage may vary.” But sheep herders don’t hear every day, in a million different little ways, that their profession is stupid and confusing and ridiculous. Or maybe they do. Equal rights for sheep herders?
For me, as a genderqueer person looking for books to read about people like me, it’s really difficult to get on goodreads, find a book that looks promising, and then scroll down to the reviews, just to read a bunch of reviews about how my pronouns are too confusing to be bothered with. And obviously this is a problem that extends beyond and didn’t at all originate with reviews, which is why I didn’t want to make this post all about them. But book reviews seem to one of the spots where the problem is really showing, so I wanted to address it.
Please, if you meet a person who asks you to use gender-neutral pronouns for them, don’t tell them that it’s too difficult for you. If you mess up, don’t go on about how it was because their pronouns are just so complicated, and it’s hard for you to learn how to use them. Just say sorry, and move on. And if you’re reading a book about a genderqueer character, and you don’t want to be bothered with the pronouns, just put the book down and go read something else. Don’t write about how difficult it was for you, or how you felt put off the book by their existence, because genderqueer people are going to see that, and read it.
Yaaay, it’s finally here! It seems like ages ago that I was sitting at work and was randomly hit with the idea: “What if someone started dating what they thought was one person, but they didn’t realise that they were actually seeing twins?” Obviously I couldn’t pass that up! ^-^
I knew almost instantly that the main character was going to be genderqueer, but for a long time I couldn’t quite get the setting right. I kept imagining the characters at a British-style magical academy, and feeling like it just wasn’t quite right. Then I realised that I was viewing the story through my “white person default” glasses, and decided to try switching the setting, and the story immediately came into focus! (Hasani as a blonde white guy? Uh, no. What was I thinking??)
Anyway, here are some of the places where you can purchase Double Take online, either for your e-reader, or to read on your computer:
I had a ton of fun writing this story, and I hope readers will enjoy it! I also want to draw everyone’s attention to the other stories in Less Than Three’s fab Trans Geek Out collection, because I truly believe it had something for everyone! It’s a lovely example of the diversity in the trans community, and how trans people can and should exist in all different types of stories.
I’ll let the fantastic covers speak for themselves, but click through for more info:
Thanks for reading! As always, have a picture of my cat looking impressed. She’s super proud of me for publishing a book. You can tell.
So, with the #weneeddiversebooks movement still going strong, and everyone tweeting about their hopes and desires for #Romance2015, I thought I’d take a minute to take stock of how I’m doing diversity-wise with my books.
I’m doing this both because I want to highlight and promote my books in the hopes of getting them to people who want to read them, but also because I talk a lot of talk about writing diverse fiction, but at this point I don’t feel like my books 100% back me up. I want to see where I’m lacking, and how I can improve going forward.
I also want to encourage my author friends and followers to do this as well, because I want to read and support all your diverse books as well! So, without further adieu, here are My Diverse Books 2015:
None! In fact, I don’t currently have any books published with a female main character. This is something I really hope to remedy in the future, and I currently have two books in the works with female main characters. I’m very excited!
None! But people fall in love later in life too, so I want to write about that as well.
So, most of these lists are pretty sadly short. I especially need to make more of an effort to write female main characters, and more trans characters! And the two can definitely intersect. I also want to write more characters with disabilities, and who aren’t traditionally attractive and/or young.
I’m a little worried about this list though, because I don’t want to make diversity in my stories into something that I can check off and then go back to writing perfect white cis dudes. I want to throw out the idea that those characters are the default, and that everyone else is a special alternative. Writing diverse characters means that every time I come up with a new character, I’m drawing from the complete well of human experiences, and getting a new, unique person every time. It’s not about creating a character and then arbitrarily assigning them a minority. It’s about allowing my characters to be that way in the first place. If I chose human beings at random, and asked them to tell me their stories, I know those lists up there would fill up pretty fast. So I hope that in my writing I can reflect that.
Please let me know in the comments if you think of any other categories to add, and let me know the stories that you would like to see in 2015. Thank you for reading, and I hope everyone has a wonderful new year!
What a question! So much happened this year, not all of it good. I struggled with depression and anxiety, and for a few months I didn’t do any writing or social media, and considered whether or not writing was actually something I wanted to do. In the end I came back to it, of course. Because I didn’t really wanted to quit. I just wasn’t sure if I could do it. I’m still not sure if I can. Being online, putting myself and my work out there, it’s incredibly stressful and hard on me. But it’s also incredibly rewarding and meaningful. So I’m keeping on.
Mental illness is so often invisible. You fight, sometimes every day, just to be at the level of normal that other people take for granted. But I know that I’m not alone in this either, since so many authors struggle with things like depression and social anxiety. For all the drama that goes on in the online publishing community, I still get to feel like I get to have a community of people who understand me and support me, and that’s pretty amazing for me.
Anyway, despite all the down moments, 2014 was still pretty awesome. I feel like I became more confident in myself, especially in my gender identity, and I continued to put myself first and try not to feel guilty for doing what I need to to make myself happy.
I had two books come out this year! Ink & Flowers in June and To Summon Nightmares in November. The positive critical reception to them has been wonderful! Both of them are on a level of quality that I don’t think I could have achieved in years past. I really feel like I’ve improved as an author, and to know that I’m constantly improving and becoming more and more able to tell the stories that I want to tell is really rewarding. I also did a lot of writing this year, and, as a “LGBT author”, I’m making an effort to write more novels that aren’t just cis m/m. I’ve been writing almost exclusively stories with trans characters this year, and I just finished writing my first f/f!
All in all, my life is pretty good. I have a wonderful partner, and a stable job, and a place to live with enough food to eat, and a little bit of money left over. I got to take a couple trips into Vancouver earlier this year, one to see Wicked live, which was totally on my bucket list, and one to go to the Pride Parade! I haven’t been able to make it the last few years, so it was absolutely lovely to be able to go and have that sense of community and support that you don’t really get in a small town.
So, plans for the new year:
Keep on writing! I’ve found that there’s real value in pushing myself to continue, even when I don’t feel like it, although I’m going to have to keep my mental health in mind and take a break if I really need one. I just started a m/m superhero story that I think is going to be fun to write. It insists on being about teenagers though, so when I do finish it, deciding what to do with is going to be a challenge. But I’ll deal with that when I come to it. After that is a blank slate, but I hope to be able to get Skylark Tower and Witch, Cat and Cobb published sometime next year. Double Takeis also coming out in January, which will be a lovely start to the year.
With luck, the bf and I will be able to get a mortgage in the new year and buy our own condo sometime next year! So that’s where the majority of our $$$ will probably be going, although I do want to get another tattoo, since I didn’t get one this year. Oh, and I’ll be travelling south to Seattle to attend the Gay Romance North West convention! My first author convention, and I’ll finally get to meet a bunch of people that I’ve known on the internet for years. I’m one part excited, and one part terrified, with a dash of absolute panic about the whole thing, but I do think it will go well. Which reminds me, I need to get a passport.
Anyway, if this post comes off as a little bit discombobulated, it’s because I’m still recovering from this!
Christmas fondue! It was lovely! See my tumblr for more photos. I also got some wonderful presents, including a freaking awesome Spider-man mug. (My love for Spider-man runs deeeep.)
So here’s hoping everyone had a very merry Christmas, and wishing everyone best of luck in the New Year! Love you all!
So last week I talked about diversity in fiction, and why it’s important to have a variety of stories about diverse characters. Some of those stories should address the issues of privilege and discrimination, but it’s also important to write stories about diverse characters that don’t function solely to expose prejudice, and just show diverse people as the real, rounded individual people they are. And this sentiment is echoed by a lot of people. There’s a great discussion going on online about how important it is to include people of different race, sexual orientation, gender identities and backgrounds in stories. But what I don’t hear discussed often enough, is how it’s not good enough to just insert diverse characters into your story, you have to also be mindful of the narrative of your story, and the way those characters are used in the narrative.
A few examples come to mind of wonderfully written, complex, developed minority characters who were completely betrayed by the narrative of the story.
1. Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I haven’t even seen every season of Buffy (I know, I know) but I’ve heard enough people lamenting Willow’s fate to know what happened. The show’s creators spent years developing an amazing gay character (problematic bi-erasure aside) that people related to and identified with, and then threw everything away by having her turn evil and die, and incredibly common and harmful trope surrounding lesbian characters. (Edit: my apologies, as mentioned in the comments, Willow doesn’t die. Her girlfriend Tara dies, and Willow reacts by “going dark”. Queer characters have a history of being evil and/or dying, and the show hit them both in one fell swoop, which was disappointing after they had done such a good job developing Willow and Tara’s sexualities and relationship.)
2. Daisy Fitzroy from Bioshock: Infinite. The game goes to immense trouble to set up the city of Columbia as a false utopia, where the rich white bourgoisie live in luxury, while the poor black and Irish workers are exploited. One character whom we are led to sympathise with is Daisy, an African American maid who becomes the leader of the inevitable revolution that occurs. For the first half of the game, we are shown just how awful the situation is, and how justified Daisy’s actions are. And then Daisy is abruptly killed by, and her death used as character development for the white, female main character. To add insult to injury, the formerly sympathetic rebel group is then condemned in the narrative, and it is implied that they are nearly or just as bad as the wealthy bourgeoisie because they resorted to violence.
These are all fairly extreme examples, but there are also a million little ways in which minorities can be negatively represented. Female characters constantly falling for and/or being less competent than the male main character. The same female character dying to further the male main character’s character development. And even just plain old stereotypes like gay characters being interested in fashion and black female characters being “strong, independent women.” There’s a seemingly endless trail of pitfalls to avoid when writing diverse characters. And often a narrative tool or trope isn’t inherently bad, but it’s been used so often with regards to a particular minority, that it becomes a harmful stereotype. And of course there’s the simple but dangerously easy pitfall of including diverse characters, but in the end making them less important in the narrative, and ultimately sacrificial to the needs and character development of he majority characters. Like I said, there’s really no foolproof way of avoiding hitting some of these stereotypes, which is why it’s important to accept that when you’re writing about a minority you’re not a part of, you are going to screw up, and behave graciously when you do.
So why do we write these tropes? Why can’t we seem to avoid falling into these pitfalls? Well partially it’s because, like I said, there are just so many of them, you’d need extensive history and study to unearth them all. Although, here is an excellent reference page from tvtropes: Avoiding Unfortunate Implications. (Yes, that’s three external links in one post. Next you know I’ll be writing academic essays and citing my sources.) The other reason is that, unfortunately, we’re steeped in these stereotypes. A lot of the time it’s subconscious, and for a lot of authors, we rely on our subconscious knowledge of stories, plots, and characters to produce our work. I mean, yes, some authors study narrative extensively and produce best-selling books based on a perfected formula. But for a lot of us (myself included) we’re mostly winging it, allowing our experience with stories and our natural creativity to guide us. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories we experienced growing up and are continuing to experience are deeply racist, homophobic and sexist in ways that aren’t always visible on the surface. If we’re not careful, we take these deeply hurtful tropes and insert them into our work, without ever becoming aware that we’re doing it.
I don’t really have any easy tips and tricks or life hacks to help avoid putting harmful stereotypes into your stories. The number one thing is just to be aware, be critical of all the media you consume, and look for patterns that you want to avoid. It’s also really important to listen to people from the minority you’re writing about, and if possible, ask them to beta your work. And be creative, for goodness sake. Don’t use tired old tropes in your writing. Come up with new ones. Subvert the old ones. Have the girl save the guy. Make your main character a person of colour. Make the story revolve around them. In fact, write a book with no white people in it at all! Write something different. And write something real.
Coming January 27th, 2015: Double Take Part of Less Than Three Press’s Trans Geek Out Collection Wordcount: 14,500 Pre-order now for only $1.91 (save 36%!)
Studying magical science at the prestigious Kemet Academy is a privilege and dream come true for Teka, a poor student from D’mt. But focusing on school doesn’t mean xe can’t also admire Hasani, the handsome graduate student overseeing Teka’s work.
Then late one night at the school library, Teka runs Hasani and is completely astonished when the stern, quiet man xe knows by day acts so flirty and casual, it’s like he’s a different person. When the late night encounter leads to dating, Teka can scarcely believe xyr luck.
But the luck plays out when xe discovers why Hasani seems so different between night and day, a discovery that seems to have no resolution except heartache… (Warning: This story contains incest)
I’ve got a lot to say about this. How to organize my thoughts…
So a while ago, a fairly large review site posted a review of a book that was mostly positive. However, at the end of the review, they lamented the fact that the main characters were in an interracial relationship, but that fact wasn’t addressed and explored fully in the book. The reviewer felt that it was impossible for people in an interracial relationship not to receive backlash for it, and that the book should have addressed and included that backlash.
Similarly, another author I follow recently received a review for a short story they wrote in which both of the characters ID as trans. The story is a fairly short, cute romance, but the reviewer thought it was odd that the author didn’t delve deeper into the characters’ past, and their trans identities.
Noticing a trend?
Both reviewers assumed that if the characters belong to a minority, then that fact has to be addressed in the story. For them, the characters identities/race were just sitting there like a big elephant in the room waiting to be addressed, and they felt let down when it never was. Now, if the characters in the books had been white and cis, would they have reacted similarly? Felt let down if the white characters didn’t at some point contemplate their privilege over any non-white characters? Or if the cis characters never stopped to think about when they really realised that they were cis, and all the ways they perform their gender to make sure people know what it is? Probably not.
For most readers, characters who are white, cis and (for readers outside of m/m and f/f) straight, are the default. The invisible norm. They assume that characters are going to be this way unless they have a specific reason to be otherwise. Something that serves the story. The reason for this bias is our culture, and our culture’s stories. Mainstream movies, books, television shows. The vast majority of these stories have main characters who are white, cis and straight. And if they aren’t, you’d better believe that the story revolves around that fact. I read a post a while back that talked about famous, award winning roles by African American actors. The vast majority of them are roles that are based on real people, and real events. Black actors are very rarely allowed to step outside of specifically “black” roles and play characters who’s race isn’t the main point of the movie. (Unless, for some reason, they’re Will Smith.)
So, because of all this, we start to see white, cis, straight people as the “default” and everyone else as the “other”. Which is incredibly faulty logic, but it forms the basis for a lot of discrimination. And this default is no more present than in movies and books with straight, white, cis characters, and in the criticism of stories that feature the “other” without devoting the story to that fact. But when minorities hear criticism like this, what we’re hearing is “there is nothing interesting or important about you besides your struggle and your pain. You are not a full human being, with a life and interests and dreams beyond your struggle. No one wants to hear about you falling in love, or saving the world, or achieving your dreams, unless it is secondary to hearing about your subjugation.” And right now, it kind of feels like no one does.
That’s why it’s so important that stories exist with minority characters that don’t make that fact the main point of the story. And I’m not saying that stories about minorities’ struggles aren’t important. I’ve written them, and they can be incredibly useful in educating the public and changing people’s minds. But so can the stories that just have minority characters in them, for no reason except that those kinds of people exist in real life. We need these stories, and lots of them, so that maybe one day, the “default” will just be human.
I should note, also, that it seems to be much more common for authors to receive backlash for writing a minority character if they belong to that minority. There seems to be this very shitty universal assumption right now that if a white person writes a book about a POC, they’re being forward and brave and breaking stereotypes etc. but when a POC writes a book about someone like themselves, they have an “agenda” and the book needs to be more harshly critiqued. Which is bullshit, but there you go. I sometimes wonder if my decision to make Luke in Ink & Flowers of Chinese descent would have been more harshly criticized if I was Asian-Canadian myself, and I think that yes, it probably would have been. And that’s a problem, and something white authors have to keep in mind.
Getting off track a little here, but this topic is a whole can of worms that I could probably write a million more blog posts about. I’d love to hear people’s opinions in the comments. Have you ever read a book with a minority and felt that it was missing something by not being about their race/gender identity? Do you think “coming out” and “racism” narratives are still important, or that they should be retired for the time being in favour of more books and movies about “incidental minorities”? What are some defaults that you’ve had to unlearn, as a writer or as a reader? Let me know! And thanks for reading!
I’m excited to announce that Ink & Flowers will be available as an audiobook from Less Than Three Presson December 28th! LT3 now has a collection of audiobooks available for download on their website, and from Audible, Amazon and iTunes. Check it out!
About to lose his apartment, and desperate to avoid having to move in with his horrendous relatives, shy art student Luke impulsively agrees to a deal from hell: sex with a man he doesn’t know in exchange for a couch to sleep on.
His new “roommate” Cooper is everything that Luke hates: crude, uncouth, and covered in tattoos, not to mention openly gay. Luke has all but resigned himself to a miserable fate when it turns out Cooper might want something a little different than he expected.
Let’s talk about college. There’s a lot of pressure in life to attend college, especially if you do well in school. People say that you don’t need to study creative writing to be an author, but most of the authors I interact with do have a degree in something, or are studying to get one. I’m always incredibly impressed when someone mentions that they have a degree in something. But I also always feel a bit guilty and uncomfortable. Everyone around me seems to be this accomplished graduate, and here I am, a college drop-out. Is there something wrong with me that I couldn’t finish university? Am I not very smart? Am I lazy, or pathetic? It’s taken me a long time to convince myself that those things aren’t true. There are a lot of factors that contributed to me not enjoying or completing college. It wasn’t for me, and at the end of the day, I have to allow myself to believe that that’s okay. That it doesn’t make me any less important or intelligent. But sometimes it can be hard.
I always expected I would go to college or university. It wasn’t really a question, just something that was in my future. I assume it’s this way for most kids who do fairly well in school. I was smart, I liked reading and writing, I wanted to be an author, but I’d been told from every angle that that wasn’t a valid career goal. I knew I liked writing though, so an English degree seemed like the next logical step for me after graduating.
I was offered a scholarship for the first year of university in my hometown, but I declined it against the wishes of my parents, in favour of moving to a different town and staying with an aunt and uncle while I attended college there. At the time I was closeted, and terrified that my family would find out that I was queer and punish me. I lived in a constant state of stress and terror. I still have anxiety talking about my queerness because I was so terrified that someone might find out. Moving away seemed like a way to relieve stress and escape. Unfortunately, living with my aunt and uncle was even worse, with my aunt becoming extremely controlling and manipulative. Eventually I had no choice but to get away. I rented a basement suite with my partner and got out of there.
Of course then I was suddenly thrust into trying to learn how to care for myself, and save up enough to pay for school, all while knowing that if I somehow ended up with not enough money, I would either be out on the street or have to go back to my family. The idea of having to do so still fills me with incredibly anxiety. So I started working 24-30 hours a week, while still attending school in the next town over, carpooling in every morning and spending 8 hours a day on campus.
If you went to university and had someone paying your tuition and/or living expenses during, I can’t really ask you to understand how incredibly physically and emotionally draining it can be trying to support yourself while also putting yourself through school. You work long hours for minimal pay, only to turn around and give all that money away again so that you can do even more work for free. Maybe some people who are stronger mentally than me might have been able to do it, but I don’t handle stress well. Even now, I have to very carefully limit how much I do, so that I don’t burn out and fall into a dark chasm of depression and exhaustion that is incredibly hard to drag myself out of.
University for me was just one long haze of dark, early mornings, constantly feeling sick to my stomach, trying to force myself to be enthusiastic about the subject matter when all I could think about was how cold and sick I felt, and how much I wanted to sleep forever. I didn’t eat enough, usually just heating up a frozen lunch halfway through the day and then falling into bed when I got home without bothering to cook anything. One of the things my abusive aunt had impressed into me was that it was bad to spend too much money on food, and that buying food from a restaurant, or basically eating anything besides what she chose to feed me was bad. It took me years to get over that and allow myself to spend enough money on food to keep myself properly functioning. Sometimes I had to take the greyhound home and would walk half an hour (in the dark and cold in winter) to the station and stand there in the cold outside the closed station waiting for the bus that was often extremely late. I also often worked late hours at work and had to walk about an hour to get home afterwards, again in the cold. (I know, I sound whiny, but my point isn’t really about how horrible it was so much as how physically exhausting it was, and physical exhaustion for me, is what makes me unable to fight depression.)
In the middle of all this, out of desperation and a need to escape our reality, my partner and I started telling each other stories. When we should have been working on our school work, we hid ourselves away in one of the few pitiful lounge areas at our small community-college-turned-university and told each other sexy, fun stories about magical people and worlds. One of those stories was what would become The Fairy Gift. I told it quickly over a couple of days, and liked it so much that I decided to write an outline of the plot. Then, on a whim, I started writing it. I hadn’t written anything in years, too busy with work, too stressed to imagine anything. But I was inspired. I wrote the Fairy Gift, and then I kept writing, more cute stories, with fairies and magic and sex. They kept me going.
Then, out of sheer dumb luck, I found myself redirected from deviantart to a yaoi website (yaoifix, I think?) and saw an advertisement for Less Than Three Press, and that they were accepting submissions. I clicked through and looked at a few of their books, and thought that The Fairy Gift seemed perfect for them. I decided why not and submitted a horribly edited draft, but they must have seen something they liked in it, because it was accepted for publication. So cool! I was damn excited and even more damn skeptical. I’d had a friend who submitted a piece of poetry for some kind of publication that turned out to be a scam, and I was terrified that this was something similar. I also at the time had this idea that publication was something that only happened to one author in a million and, as I said, I didn’t believe that it was a real career goal. I didn’t realise that I’d been lucky enough to stumble into the publishing revolution that is romance ebooks. So I was skeptical up until the moment I received my first paycheck. Then everything changed for me.
I realised that this was something that I could do and make money off of. It was a real career goal. Suddenly my priorities shifted away from school, away from the dream of a degree with which I would get some nebulous English-related job that I didn’t really want. I wanted to keep writing. I wanted to publish more books. I needed to make writing my priority. I was slowly drowning in schoolwork, losing weight and falling into a depression that it’s taken me years to crawl out of. I ended up dropping out of two of my classes, and barely passing the other two. That summer I came out to my family, over the safety of the internet, and felt a huge weight lifted off me. I was still writing, and I decided to take a “semester off” school.
I haven’t gone back yet.
And I’m better now. Better than I have been for years. School didn’t work for me. Certainly I had the triple handicap of being poor, queer and mentally ill. But also (and it’s incredibly hard for me to say this, because it’s usually such a source of pride for an intellectual) I’m just not in love with learning. I’m in love with creating, and often learning is an important part of that, but it’s not the end goal. I spent so many years as a pretentious asshole, thinking I was better than everyone because I loved to read and was “going places,” and there’s an incredibly strong culture of superiority amongst students and intellectuals that encourages this. But for me it’s really freeing to finally be able to say this: I’m happy working in customer service. I’m satisfied emotionally with a simple life and a non-prestigious job. I’m not strong enough emotionally to push myself to my limits like some people are. I just want to live and support myself, and write and create worlds. Probably I’ll never write a great, thought-provoking classic. But I want to write stories that make people happy, and maybe one day I’ll be able to do it full-time.
And I want to say this to other young people who might be struggling with school: It’s okay. It’s okay if it’s not for you. Everyone might be saying this is what you have to do, but that doesn’t mean it is. If you’re truly happy learning, then that’s wonderful. If you hate it, but you really want that degree and that job, then keep going. But if you can feel yourself dying inside with every essay you write, if you feel like this thing is sucking away your life, then you have permission to stop. If you need to stop to preserve yourself, and your mental well-being, then stop. You can always go back, if you want to. Maybe you’ll want to, and maybe you won’t. If you’re happiest with a simple, low-stress minimum wage job, then there’s no shame in that. If you’re a writer, and you’re doing this because you feel like you’ll never be a great author if you don’t, please know that that’s not true. College isn’t everything. You can still be an amazing, smart, happy person without a college degree. I know I am.
This is long and dense, and I don’t know if anyone will read it. But I do think it’s important, so I’m going to post it anyway. Love you all, and if you read this far, thank you for reading! In thanks, have an advertisement for my book, and then a picture of my cat.
Three years ago, Cohen Brandwein was “Ireland’s Favorite Daughter”, a popular teenage author and internet celebrity. But ever since he came out publicly as trans, the media’s treatment of him has been less than golden, and these days, Cohen is desperate for escape.
When he inherits an old house in the country, Cohen sees it as a perfect opportunity to escape the press and work on his new book. What he doesn’t count on is becoming embroiled in a small town murder mystery and falling for the primary suspect, a man whose reality makes Cohen’s fantasy books seem like child’s play…