Everything Leads to You: YA novel with f/f and friendship in the world of set design

The only reason I can’t say I read Everything Leads to You in one sitting is that my spouse will be home in a half hour so I had to put the chicken in the oven. (Yes, my Ashkenazi is showing.) This is the kind of wonderful book that I read greedily, simultaneously ecstatic that it exists and bitter that I can never really go back and fix the fact that it didn’t when I was 16 and fairly isolated in my girl-liking. Emi’s liking girls is so normalized in this book. I’m jealous! But at the heart, I’m truly happy that no more generations of little girls will ever have to live their adolescence in a world without books like this.

It has a really interesting plot and setting — the lead, Emi, works in set design out in Hollywood, and she goes to an estate sale with her best friend to look for fun stuff to use in movie sets. Instead, the two of them find A MYSTERIOUS LETTER, of the good old fashioned family secrets kind, and they go on a quest to fulfill the wishes of the dead movie star who wrote it. Isn’t that neat? Honestly, if other people’s posts about this book had mentioned a plot like this I feel like I would have picked it up earlier.

Someone told me only this past weekend that one of the things they liked about my Mango book is that the two lead girls don’t form the f/f couple. Well, if you like your f/f to have a side of very well-rounded platonic friendship, this book will make you happy, too. Both of the girls in “the couple” (because yes, there’s a happy f/f ending; I consider those kinds of spoilers necessary and healthy in a world where many, many books and movies don’t give that to us) have solid best-friendships that I could believe in. So people whose answer to femslash is “you’re devaluing friendship!” can just stuff it. WE have friends, TOO, and this book shows both kinds of relationship coexisting seamlessly.

I’m going to try to say this in a non-spoilery way, but: toward the end, the love interest’s best friend doles out a speech that was perfect, right on time, and right on target. I was cheering for him while feeling a lot of other things very deeply.

By the way, the heroine is biracial, if that makes you want to read the book more. I’m mentioning it here since it takes half the book to get to that part, and since the cover most likely shows the white love interest. The heroine also has two loving, pretty neat parents, for anyone who’s looking for that in a YA.

Edited to add something I forgot: Emi talking about how movies are filmed out of order so sometimes you end up filming the happy ending first. That way, you wind up enjoying the pain of the sad or upsetting parts:

You already know that everything will turn out okay, so when it’s time for the earlier, harrowing scenes, you can get swept up in them safely. You can let them wreck you and allow the wrecking to feel good.

So, this is meaningful for me because I totally catch myself doing this with my own characters. I can enjoy a certain painful period in their past because I know everything works out, and I’ve written three books past the painful part. Anyway, I’d never seen it so perfectly described. Well done :)

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“The Artist and the Devil”: my m/m romance short story

Originally published in Vitality’s mini-zine in October 2014, The Artist and the Devil is now available for 99¢ from Amazon Kindle! Both leads are men in their 40’s, and it’s of special interest to those of us with an interest in fighting biphobia.

Noah has an uncomplicated life–he teaches art at a high school, then sketches outside all afternoon until he gets hungry and has to go home, and finally spends the night grading papers. His life is thrown into confusion when he encounters a mysterious burly businessman one day in the park. Noah keeps finding clues that the man is Satan–and the worst part is, he’s growing more attracted to him every day.

This story was professionally edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft and the Vitality staff, and has a nifty little cover by Jane Dominguez:

artist_devil-tie-FLAT-3

Yum, facial hair….

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Prince loves prince! “The Rules of Ever After”, a well-constructed gay fairy tale romp

I feel like I keep inventing microgenres and subgenres within fantasy, because of the way my own books don’t sort neatly into the existing ones. What I write is not, for the most part, “epic fantasy”, in that I don’t always deal in multi-kingdom political struggles or stories that span months, but I still write fairy-tales. So I decided to take a cue from the mystery world and call them “cozy fantasy.” Well, if I’m cozy fantasy, The Rules of Ever After is “fantasy humor.”

This already is a genre, populated by Terry Pratchett and the Shrek movies, so if you like either of those, I think you’ll be thrilled with this one. It has their lighthearted tone and hilarious anachronistic details (sketcharazzi? They’re exactly what they sound like, armed with charcoal and pads of paper) but also their complex nail-biting epic plots and their layer of sincerity in its approach to character relationships. There were also elements that reminded me of Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms, in that many of the characters felt trapped by their role in the fairy-tale universe, and part of their character growth involved learning to expand that role to fit their own personal unique desired happiness.

Okay, enough AP English blather. What’s this book about? At the heart, it’s about two gay princes, who have chemistry from their first scene together (that’s important, with a fictional romance! The key to writing good romance is to make the reader want something before you give it to them. That first bit is not as easy as that second bit.) But it’s also about friendship, adventure, fighting against usurping throne-stealers all over the place, and an ensemble cast that includes more than one woman! (Hear that? There are multiple female leads on the good-guy side.) Plus, the plot took a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t expect, and sometimes the author psyched me out by leading me down a path of a fantasy trope and then saying “nope! I’m cooler than that.”

I also have to give Brewer props for one of the most awesome uses of Checkov’s Gun I’ve ever seen. I’m a HUGE sucker for Checkov’s Gun. I don’t know why; I’ve always been that way. I’ve been known to slap my space bar to pause a movie just so I can squee around the room for a few seconds when I realize a TV episode has done that. So when it happened in this book I literally put the book down and squee’d to the cat.

Brewer, in the voice of one of his princes, shows what it’s honestly like to be queer in today’s changing social climate:

Daniel wasn’t sure what his future would bring. Life as the whispered-about secret lover of the king. Life as the uneasily accepted consort of the king. Life ruling upon the throne beside the king and beloved by the citizens. Daniel didn’t care, as long as his life included Philip.

Some other little notes I enjoyed for personal reasons: when one prince’s friend rushes up to both princes and says “Your Highness!” and then has to explain which one he meant, it reminded me of my mom saying “Honey” and both me and my stepdad saying “Which one?” (Welcome to the South. The writer is Southern, too, so it’s possible he got the idea from that.) I also loved the way the birthday fairies, each responsible for royal children born on their assigned day of the week, have somewhat Germanic names. (Mitta is the Wednesday fairy from Mittwoch, for example.) My origins are half from Germany so it’s nice to see that stuff in English-language fantasy, which is often very “fake Welsh” or at least somewhat UK-ish in general. (I mean, they come by it honestly. They’ve given us JKR and JRRT. And Lewis.)

This book is flippant, but expertly crafted and full of truths. As one of the princes tells the other in the middle of a scene straight out of Roald Dahl: “Come on, Daniel, surrender to the ridiculous!”

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Lesbian fiction in WWII England: “A Wartime Love” by Shiralyn Lee

It’s a relief to be able to read a good, “old-fashioned” novel that’s neither sexually explicit nor specifically aimed at young adults — just a regular, grownup book about suffering bravely through war together and coming out into the sunshine on the other side, like the plenty of books straight people have like this — only, about two women in love instead. (I don’t have anything against sex, but there are lots of straight books without it so it’s nice to have the reminder that our stories don’t NEED a sex scene to be worthwhile.)

A Wartime Love is so full of “What it was like for the British during the period of German attacks in WWII” details that it can almost be read just on that level by itself–what it was like to have young men to worry about overseas, or to have American soldiers hanging around, or to have your workplace completely destroyed in the middle of your job, as well as more minor but no less evocative details like faking a Christmas turkey with sausage in the shape of a turkey and parsnips for legs, or milk bottles still standing in place on the stoop when the building they’d been delivered to was bombed to rubble. Anyway, I’m sure there are a bazillion “what we endured” books like this, but this one has HAPPY LESBIANS so it’s special and different.

So, yeah, you can safely read this if you only pick up f/f novels if they have a HEA. They’re gonna be okay. Even the brief moment of sisterly revulsion goes away really fast, just push forward when you get to it because it goes in an unexpected direction that really made a lot of sense.

There are definitely upsetting bits, though: TW for pregnancy loss and pregnancy in general, and for, well, the kind of death and destruction you’d expect for a book in this setting. But the girls are okay; I honestly wouldn’t have read it without that assurance :P

And the bits where it’s just them, together, being emotional rang REALLY true and felt exactly like what that feels like. :)

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Coming 2016: The Olive Conspiracy, fantasy about lesbians and a dragon fighting an international plot

What if the biggest threat to the kingdom you lead with your wife by your side…
….might be your straight-girl crush from when you were 16?

Announcing the next adventure of nerdy Jewish cutie Queen Shulamit and her family-of-choice, The Olive Conspiracy from Prizm Books (due out in 2016.) Favorite it on Goodreads here!

When Ezra tries to blackmail Chef Yael about being trans, she throws him out of her restaurant and immediately reports him to the queen. But when police find Ezra stabbed to death, Queen Shulamit realizes he may have also tried to extort someone more dangerous than a feisty old lady.

Shulamit’s royal investigation leads her to an international terrorist plot to destroy her country’s economy–and worse, her first love, Crown Princess Carolina of Imbrio, may be involved. This is a love story between wives, between queen and country, and between farmers and the crops they grow.

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“If Only For One Nite” – uplifting Black gay fiction from the late 90’s

I found If Only For One Nite by James Earl Hardy by accident while wandering the shelves at my local library, and since I’m interested in reading 1. LGBT lit and 2. romance that isn’t about well-to-do white Protestants, I eagerly grabbed it and checked it out.

I was instantly hooked on the gossipy, blunt voice of the narrator, spilling the beans about all his former classmates and how they’ve changed in the ten years between graduation and the present setting, his high school reunion. I also loved his gleeful hyperbole when talking about anything sexual or romantic, the words practically coming off the page and dancing around the room waving ribbons at me. Hardy, by the way, is not the least bit interested in appeasing the white gaze, and there’s a great line where his narrator tells a white former classmate who used to be racist and is now married to a Black woman and thinks he’s God’s Greatest White Ally: “Just because you’re sleeping with one of us doesn’t mean you’re sleeping with all of us.”

While I was reading the book, I kept tweeting about it as if it was a “romance”, especially moved by writing like:

He washed me — not whiter than snow (I have always refused to sing that hymn in church for reasons I’m sure I don’t have to explain) but with a melanin sun.

However, at final consideration, it isn’t “a romance” in the traditional sense, but a journey. Mitchell starts and ends the story — spoilers — in a stable, loving relationship with another man, so if you’re like me and prefer your queer narratives to be hopeful, you’re safe here. But the bulk of the story is the complex, thorough, and incredibly familiar story of how he was seduced in high school by his coach. The seduction is both physical and emotional, both affectionate and lusty–a complete head trip.

It’s hard to know what to say about this other than that it’s very good, but I do want to make the point that alongside the men who will see themselves in this book, I think many women will find it validating as well. Mitchell says all the right things at the end, during the inevitable confrontation, and the final pages of the book pack a punch that had me wide-eyed and impressed.

I’m definitely going to read more by Hardy because I really like his style.

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“Under the Lights” – teens make friends, girl gets the girl, in new YA novel about Hollywood stars

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler is a great book that kept my interest so intently that at one point, I was even literally reading it at red lights! Adler has an easy to follow, captivating writing style that doesn’t leave you skimming or going “when does it get to the thing” because even the background, not-plot-yet scenes are interesting.

The story skips back and forth between Josh, who starts off as a thoroughly awful person who is yet somehow fun to read — on Twitter I compared the experience to breaking dishes on purpose — and Vanessa, whose Korean-American home life reminded me of aspects of Jewish culture. Adler has some skill, by the way, to make me hate Josh instantly yet NOT want him to suffer at the hands of his sadistic mother. I actually brought up at dinner, “Why don’t I want the Bad Plot Thing to happen to this guy?”

I was tickled and grinning when I realized that the girl who entered the story with snarky one-liner was NOT just a walk-on but Vanessa’s eventual love interest. This book did a great job at portraying the nervous excitement of one’s first f/f relationship. I also loved the detail about Brianna’s soft body and curvy little tummy because those are things I like in women as well, and I think there’s not enough modeling in literature of what female attraction to other women’s bodies looks like. It is normal and should be celebrated.

Here’s a list of some more positives:
-Story with a good plot, and unexpected events, besides just the romance and character development stuff
-Bi love interest who doesn’t fall into any of the negative bi tropes
-The bi girl isn’t the confused one (hey, plenty of us are confused, but it’s nice to see someone who isn’t, because plenty of people think bisexuality IS confusion)
-The way Vanessa chooses to publicly come out is pretty awesome and perfect
-It was a great authorial choice to have so much padding/happy chapters after the more complex, emotional scenes at the climax, so you as a reader have time to coast and celebrate with the characters she’s made you love after 200+ pages.
-I love the fact that Vanessa has a girlfriend and a best girl friend! Hey, look, people who think f/f fiction destroys platonic representation: a gay girl with a Friend, Also! Oh, and the friendship she has with JOSH was cool.
-Spoiler: I enjoyed watching Josh’s redemption. It rang true and reading about his escape made me feel just as free and light as Vanessa coming out did.

I didn’t really enjoy the “I can’t do this unless you’re honest and out” scenes, but they absolutely 100% belonged in the book and other books like it–that’s just my personal preference because I was guilty of being that closeted person once upon a time and I guess I don’t like thinking about what effect that was having on my (now) spouse at the time.

So anyway, it’s a f/f story with a happy ending, no lesbians sleep with men, no lesbians die, and some well-written young characters get out from under their parents’ thumbs.

Note: there’s another book that comes before this one, but I didn’t read the first one and understood everything perfectly. If what brings you to Daylight Falls is the f/f, go ahead and just start with this one!

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