Never Have I Ever

Currently Reading: Darling Rose Gold, by Stephanie Wrobel

Non-Binary New Release

Just a quick heads up before I jump into the theme of today’s post: non-binary poet Danez Smith’s newest title dropped on January 21st, and although I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, I hope that all of you will! It’s called Homie, and it’s a mixtape-styled collection that celebrates Black love, while lamenting the harm done to Black people.

Arospec Awareness Week!

Happy Aromantic Spectrum Awareness week! Over the past few months, I’ve been embracing my arospec identity for the first time. This is my first Arospec Awareness Week, and I wanted to remind everyone about the Aromantic and Asexual Characters Database! It’s always linked in my resources page, and it’s the best way that I know of to find great books by and about arospec folks.

FOLD Reading Challenge: Caribbean Author

If yall are reading along with the FOLD 2020 Reading Challenge, then you know that we are on month two, and this month’s challenge is to read a book by a Caribbean author. Truth be told, this is an area where I have serious gaps in my knowledge, but I put together a quick list of authors to check out this February…

  • Marlon James
  • Afua Cooper
  • Jamaica Kincaid
  • Roxane Gay
  • Ben Philippe
  • Ibi Zoboi
  • Claire Adam
  • Lilliam Riviera
  • Candice Carty-Williams
  • Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Zalika Reid-Benta
  • Nicole Dennis-Benn
  • Ann Dávila Cardinal
  • Maika and Maritza Moulite

…and last, but not least, non-binary author Kacen Callendar. If you take a look at some of the works by these authors, there really should be something for everyone, and that speaks to the sheer breadth of cultural and literary diversity that bursts forth from this region of the world.

Wet’suwet’en Strong

A drawing of the hereditary chiefs, with text that says "The hereditary chiefs say NO to all pipelines".
Art by Christi Belcourt

I see part of the work of this blog is lifting up marginalized voices, including those of the Indigenous community. For that reason, I want to issue a short solidarity statement from this platform, even though it is small. I am so humbled by the Wet’suwet’en land protectors and the incredible work that they are doing. So proud of all they are achieving. If you are not doing everything you could be to support them, you should make better choices.

Today’s Post

It’s a long one, so I’m going to jump right in! I’m so excited today to be featuring two spooky titles by LGBTQ2S+ authors; one from a small indie press, and one that was crowd funded. They both also have gorgeous covers.

I wanted to do something fun and creative with this one, so rather than focusing too much on the texts themselves, I’ve asked some of the rad authors of these works to share a bit about themselves, a teaser of their writing, and play a good old fashioned round of the classic adolescent party game, Never Have I Ever. Snuggle down, and pour yourself the beverage of your choice. Never have I ever made poor choices playing this game…

In Restless Dreams, by Wren Handman

In Restless Dreams is the perfect indie book for fans of The Hazel Wood duology, by Melissa Albertalli, or Holly Black’s Cruel Prince series. Written by an openly queer author, this book has so many elements I love in an urban fairy tale… careful handling of mental health issues, a MC who finds herself suddenly wealthy, a fancy prep school, and – of course – a little trickster magic. With this beautiful cover, it’s practically impossible to resist, and I’m thrilled to feature this title in this space.

Wren Handman

About the Author

Wren Handman is a novelist, fiction writer, and screenwriter. She’s written three novels: Last Cut (Lorimer Ltd 2012), Command the Tides (Omnific 2015), and In Restless Dreams, which was originally self-published and has now been released from Parliament House Press. Wren was pleased to be part of the team that wrote The Switch, a comedy about trans life in Vancouver. Her next book, Wire Wings, comes out with Parliament House on June 23rd, 2020. Follow her blog, or on Twitter.

Never Have I Ever…

For this post, Wren and I brainstormed, and she came up with an awesome idea… to have her main characters from In Restless Dreams play a good, old fashioned game of Never Have I Ever. Please enjoy this casual preview of Wren’s charming characters from her newly released novel, and, peripherally, the first fiction that I’ve ever had the pleasure of hosting on this blog!

“Never have I ever…been in a situation like this.” It might not be in the spirit of the game, but it’s true. I’m just a normal girl from Topaz Lake, Nevada. Or I was, until I moved to New York to live with my disgustingly rich Christmas-and-birthdays Dad. Now I’m just a disgusting rich girl from New York, New York. Which, in my neighbourhood, is sadly also normal.


Then again, I’m currently sitting in Fairy, which is about as far from normal as you can get. Yup, that Fairy. Magical world just a step away from our own. There’s a campfire, sort of, but the fire burns hot blue and dancing purple, and the sparks that drift away from the wood flicker and live on like tiny stars. On the other side of the enchanting flames are two people who make my heart beat faster, and I’m not sure if it’s from fear…or something else entirely.


One of them brings his drink to his lips and takes a long, deep gulp. His eyes are dancing with light of their own, and it’s the only brightness about him. The rest of him is nothing but shadow, from the living shadow-grey mass of his hair down to the pitch shadow-black of his skin. I don’t know his name, so I’ve taken to calling him Stranger.


“You really shouldn’t have been in a situation like this before,” the third person says to Stranger, chiding. “Interacting with humans is a breach of the Accord.” Royan is the embodiment of a young girl’s fantasy of a knight on horseback. Blond wavy hair, eyes an emerald that humans just don’t have, chiselled jaw that could cut his marble abs. I mean, I can’t see his abs, I’m just imagining them. I mean, I’m not imagining them! I’m just saying. He’s hot.


Stranger just shrugs at the hostility. He’s not afraid of the Knight. “I said like this, not exactly this. It’s your turn, Knight.”


“Never have I ever…been a Commoner.”


“No targeted ones,” I object. “It has to be something that could hit both of us.”


“I didn’t take you for a cheater,” Stranger teases.


“I was not cheating. I merely misunderstood the rules,” Royan says, though I’m not sure I believe him. “Never have I ever…eaten a hamburger.”


I laugh and take a drink. They tell you not to eat or drink in Fairy, in all the stories, but Stranger promised the drink wouldn’t hurt me, and I believe him. There’s something about him that just makes you feel safe. Maybe it’s his smile.


Stranger drinks, too, and Royan looks at him with narrowed eyes but doesn’t say anything.


“Never have I ever had a threeway,” Stranger says without missing a beat.


I snort out an awkward laugh, very unladylike, and no one drinks.


“Oh, wait.” Stranger rubs his head. “Sorry, no. That’s no good. Oh! I’ve got a better one, anyway. Never have I ever fallen for a mysterious stranger.”


They both look at me as my cheeks burn red hot. I don’t care if it’s cheating, there’s no way I am drinking! “You’re both giving yourself way too much credit,” I say, knocking my cup against the log I’m sitting on to show I’m not bringing it to my lips. “Never have I ever met royalty.”


They both drink, though Stranger shakes his head at me. “I feel like that’s cheating.”


I grin. “Or is it just playing smart?”


“Never have I ever kissed two people in the same night,” Royan says.


Stranger and I both drink, and when our eyes meet I giggle. “New Year’s Eve,” I explain. “You?”


“Madcap love affair with a forest nymph and its estranged troll lover,” he says, and I can’t tell if he’s joking. I guess being more than a thousand years old, you’re bound to have had some pretty wild experiences. But not Royan. I look at him when he isn’t looking, watching the light play across his cheekbones. He always seems sad, when you catch him unaware like there’s something he can’t quite let go of.


“Your turn,” I remind Stranger, who drums his fingers against his lips.


“Never have I ever…ridden on an airplane.”


I drink, not calling him out even though I think that techncially counts as targeted. They don’t have airplanes in Fairy.


“Do the sky bison of the Northern Mountains count?” Royan asks.


“Oh, yes, definitely,” Stranger says, and Royan shrugs and drinks.


“Never have I ever stayed awake more than thirty hours,” I say.


Royan looks confused, and Stranger shrugs. “Time sort of…works differently here. It’s narrative.”


“Time is narrative? What does that even mean?”


“It means that it moves more quickly when you are between important moments,” Royan explains.

“So technically, we experience very little non-meaningful time.”


“So that’s a no for both of us,” Stranger says with a grin.


“I think I should get a re-ask,” I complain, but I’m smiling, and neither of them takes me seriously.


“Never have I ever lost a fight,” Royan says. Stranger and I both drink, laughing, but this time we don’t share the stories behind it. I notice we have more in common than I expected, and once again I wish I knew his story. Who is it, really, behind the laughter and the mystery?


“Never have I ever started a fight,” Stranger says, and Royan and I both quickly drink. I’m not proud of my temper, but it’s there, all right. Sometimes I make bad choices.


“Never have I ever been in love,” I blurt out, before I can stop myself. I watch them both closely.

Royan smiles, softly, and takes a drink like he’s thinking about something pleasant from a long time ago. Stranger drinks, too, but he hesitates before he does, and the drink is quick, almost angry. It’s the exact opposite reaction to what I was expecting. Stranger, with his laughter and his promises of the truth; and Royan, with his honor and his uptight attitude.


They both have such huge lives beyond me. And there’s still so much I don’t know.


It isn’t anyone’s turn, but I drink anyway. Maybe I just need a drink. Or maybe my turn wasn’t as true as I thought it was…

Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology

I could not believe it when I saw the Kickstarter for Unspeakable, a collection of creepy and transgressive queer gothic tales. Is there anything more on brand for this blog?! I’m so excited to be part of the tour of this collection of stories, and to feature a few of the authors in this space. There are four trans and/or non-binary writers who contributed to Unspeakable, and today, I’m pleased that you get to know a little bit about three of them here.

The cover of Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology, which features a skeleton wearing a flower crown and collar on a rainbow backdrop.

Meet Red!

Claire Hamilton Russell, aka Red

Claire Hamilton Russell lives in Glasgow, Scotland and is usually known as Red. They are one of life’s natural Disaster Bisexuals, hence why they are genderqueer/genderfluid/nonbinary, because choosing anything as solid as a distinct single gender identity is clearly antithetical to them. They are disabled and neurodiverse, and have a grand ambition to eventually cover all their various mobility devices in cool geeky stickers.

A former worker with disabled children and young people, refugees and torture survivors, they had to give up full time work due to chronic illness and now spend their time blogging about disability and LGBT+ rights issues, writing, embroidering, playing or running tabletop roleplay, LARPing with mobility aids and listening to podcasts. They are currently developing a podcast on Scotland’s lesser-known industrial and post-industrial history with their wonderful husband, Mark, occasionally hindered by their beloved Staffie, Jasmine.

Let Down: Teaser!

A tower, lit up at night, reaching into the clouds.
Photo by Victor Malyushev on Unsplash.

“Let Down” is a darker, nastier, and queering take on the Rapunzel faerytale. The Lady Melisandre is trapped in an isolated tower under a horrifying curse decades after rejecting a proposal from a very incel prince. She has long since given up on rescue, but it turns out the patriarchal mindset can leave some unexpected loopholes in curses.

Never Have I Ever…

Zip-lined across the River Clyde (I haven’t, sadly)
Left Europe (I haven’t, and I’ve taken the Flight Free pledge)
Gone on a rollercoaster (I haven’t – I have POTS so it would be distinctly unfun)
Petted a wolf (I have, and I’ll do it again at every possible opportunity)

Meet Avery!

Avery Kit Malone

Avery Kit Malone is a long shadow in a dark hallway. He is a researcher in psychology, as well as a writer of dark, and often weird and surreal, fiction. His work appears or is forthcoming in Aphotic Realm, The Gateway Review, Pseudopod, and other venues. You can call to him across the void: @dead_scholar

Doctor Barlowe’s Mirror: Teaser!

A person's face, partially obscured, wearing a headscarf and reflected in a mirror.
Photo by Rendiansyah Nugroho on Unsplash.

In “Doctor Barlowe’s Mirror,” an inventor creates a strange device that conjures the image of a perfect version of oneself. This vision is not, however, all that it appears to be. As the doctor’s assistant discovers, something unsettling lurks within that handsome visage the longer he looks…

Never Have I Ever…

I have never owned a pet rabbit.
I’ve never gone swimming in the sea (or anywhere else. I can’t swim).
I’ve never been bitten by a centipede. As far as I know…
I have driven across the United States alone in my car more than once. Once, I took a wrong turn during a snowstorm and ended up driving through a national forest. Road conditions were fairly poor, and I was quite alone there, but sight of the sun coming muted through the fog between these giant evergreens, snow blanketing the ground beneath them and everywhere else, was lovely, in a lonely kinda way. I’ll never forget it.

Meet Jen!

Jen Glifort

Jen Glifort (she/they) is a nonbinary writer and editor living in Connecticut. When she’s not writing, she’s usually playing trumpet, losing at Overwatch, or giving presentations about robots in media for pop culture conventions. She can be found on Twitter!

Taylor Hall: Teaser!

A manor house in a foggy evening.
Photo by Ján Jakub Naništa on Unsplash

Taylor Hall has always been a sanctuary to Kit Taylor—a place to hide away when the world felt overwhelming. But when Kit develops feelings for a new roommate, the ancient family manor is all too happy to intervene, digging up emotions Kit would rather keep hidden.

Never Have I Ever…

One thing I have done: Gotten caught trespassing on a graffiti-covered abandoned highway.
Three things I haven’t done: Taken a cruise to visit the US Virgin Islands. Sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” at karaoke. Been drunk at Disney World.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

A book with a spine on its spine.

Queery Me This

Currently Reading: Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

News

I have a couple of neat resources to share this week, but before I do that, I want to pop in a quick personal note. One of my colleagues at the Rights Factory, Cecilia Lyra, announced her new two-book deal this week! CeCe is a multicultural author originally from Brazil, now living in Canada. She is a brilliant feminist with a background in law, and I love working with her. Her novel The Sunset Sisters was previously published in Germany under the title Sisters for a Summer, where it was a #1 bestseller. The Sunset Sisters will be available digitally in English through Bookouture/Hachette in June! I can’t wait to read her books! If you want to read The Sunset Sisters, please consider pre-ordering an affordable digital copy! If you do so, it will be of most benefit to CeCe, and it will positively influence Amazon’s algorithms – something we should all want to do to support deserving authors.

CeCe Lyra, author of the Sunset Sisters.

Resources

For those of you who have been following the violence toward trans people recently perpetrated by the Toronto Public Library, I want to share THREE resources. The first is an informative thread written by trans Indigenous author Gwen Benaway, linked below, who breaks down 191 pages of internal Emails from the TPL released in a freedom of information request regarding the violent incidents.

The second is a great article by Toronto-based journalist Michael Rancic, who writes about the incident to date, as well as TRANScend TRANSform, the related teach-in that happened last week. If you, like me, weren’t able to attend this event in person (don’t worry – there were over 200 attendees!), the third resource is the high-quality video recording of the event, which was hosted by the bookshop where I work. Shoutout to Anju Gogia from Another Story, and Kai Cheng Thom, for putting in the legwork to make this happen, and to get both a live video stream, and this high quality version, online.

I have also updated my own Links and Resources page with a compilation of all of the information that I have posted about the incidents surrounding transphobia at the TPL for quick reference.

On a lighter note, ReQueered Tales, a re-publisher of post-Stonewall pre-2000 queer literature, posted this great Canadian LGBTQ2S+ history resource: unearthed 1970’s interviews with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera from CBC Radio.

Last, but not least, Lee and Low Books released the results of their recent Diversity in Publishing survey this past week… and guess what? Surprising no one, we’re still super white. Check out the full blog post here.

Guest Post from Rhynn Bowlick-Evans

Given my recent forays into the publishing business, I’ve been thinking so much about the process of writing and publishing a book for the trade market. This post delves into Rhynn Bowlick-Evans’ intensely personal experience of querying an agent for publication… and ultimately deciding instead to turn their back on the process.

Queery Me This, by Rhynn Bowlick-Evans

I did a lot of research when I started querying a couple years back. I had spreadsheets galore, bookmarked articles with click-batey titles about how to write the perfect pitch, meticulously prepared sample pages, and a deep, oppressive sense of longing.

You see, everything had really gone to shit. My family was crumbling. Posturing as cishet was becoming too exhausting, but my queerness scared me. I’d just finished grad school, which had completely destroyed me. I was stranded on the East Coast with no community, no connections, and no career prospects.

Writing was the light at the end of the tunnel, and as my characters helped pull me back into the real world, I wondered if they might do the same for others who were struggling. Thus, I did what I felt was the only logical thing at the time: I began the disheartening process of querying.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Swing and a Miss

I say it was disheartening, because the things I was searching for were not anything that literary agents could or should replicate.

I knew my word count was too high for a YA Fantasy manuscript. My fantasy of manners-esque style and florid prose didn’t necessarily pitch well, without a high-stakes hook. And yet, knowing this, I queried anyway. My manuscript was #OwnVoices—there was queerness throughout the manuscript that I wasn’t ready to call my own, though, and I couldn’t bring myself to type out the words I was abused, this is my story, which meant it was hard to explain why I should be telling this story, and why others should bother to listen.

At a certain point, the shiny new luster of querying started to wear off. Some of the agents I was lusting after made a questionable tweet (or six), and as I began to follow authors who were represented, it quickly became apparent that being agented was not the be-all, end-all fix. Many still worked day-jobs, and a handful were brutally honest about what it meant to not be the agency’s golden child. And beyond the realities of publishing lay uncomfortable truths about my sense of self—I could not pitch this book without owning the parts of it that belonged to me. And yet, to own those parts—to stand up and say I am hurt, I am queer felt like handing over my trauma a la some twitsted sort of currency to buy marketability, and I was expected to do it in pursuit of love I should’ve been seeking elsewhere.

Authors absolutely must be asking why they’ve chosen to query. Why do they want to be represented? Why do they want to be published, and more than that, why is this method of publishing right for them and their story?

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Here’s the Deal

I got some fantastic feedback from my time querying. I also realized that I was waiting for someone to give me permission to be excited about my work.

At some point, I got it into my head that I needed to earn my own enthusiasm. That, with enough collective approval, I could cash in and start gushing about my project. And let me tell you, friends, it is exhausting, waiting to be excited about something you’re so passionate about.

In a lot of respects, querying was a way of searching for affection that my community wasn’t giving. It was the first step to building a collective that better reflected my interests and passions, that would get excited about the things I loved. And, too, I think the agent search was really a quest to lend some legitimacy to a project even I wasn’t taking seriously at the time—as much time and effort as I put into my manuscript, I still saw it as a cry for help from a desperate person.

Most of my querying was waiting for someone to hand my manuscript back to me and say, Your feelings are so valid, darling, so valid in fact that we must share them with the world. This—and I cannot emphasize this enough—is not an agent’s job.

I wanted someone to tell me that it was all going to be okay. That it was okay that my manuscript was front-loaded with the queer, masc characters like me. It was okay, writing about how difficult it was to maintain connections with people post-trauma, and too, that it was okay to craft a family on paper like the one I wanted in my real life. And above all this, I wanted someone to tell me it was okay to love that manuscript. Because that manuscript still feels like me, and it’s okay to love me. I am loveable.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Contracted Advance

I’ve seen a lot of people saying how 2020 is the year they write what they want. The distinction between marketable and good can, at times, be quite vast, and so it’s good to be aware that the story you love may not be a story that’s selling well right now.

I made a promise to myself, when I started writing. An internal contract that I would write what I needed to, and that this project would never be for anyone but myself. I broke this contract, querying.

I didn’t want to traditionally publish. There’s a lot of reasons why, some practical (retaining rights and control), others, not (I’m impatient and wanted to publish faster than a trad publishing timeline allowed). The most important reason, though, was that trad publishing could not give me self-love. It could not make me come to terms with myself. And it didn’t really matter which publishing avenues I was exploring—if I couldn’t find self-acceptance, it would be a miserable journey, no matter the path.

Intrinsic appreciation of the craft was something that I had to nurture. It’s a balance between writing for yourself and still being able to work with readers and editors, all while retaining confidence in your work. And really, it comes back the the interminable question every good writer should be asking, the one thing we all must wonder to spin the narratives: but why?

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

Feature Interview with Author Chana Porter

Currently Reading: In Restless Dreams, by Wren Handman

On Being a Lit Agency Intern

I think I’m confident enough in my new position to announce publicly now that at the beginning of this year, I accepted an offer from Toronto-based literary agency The Rights Factory for a six-month contract as a literary intern and assistant. Although it means that I am suddenly very busy, and my TBR has grown three sizes this holiday season, I couldn’t be more overjoyed. It’s my first foray into working in the publishing business from starting out as a bookseller over two years ago… and it’s something that I’ve wanted and hoped for a lot.

I’m also completing doctoral studies in critical social work right now, but my role in that field has been in research for the past several years, and my main source of income (despite my bookshop job!) has been as a freelance researcher. My hope, as I slowly finish my PhD, is to put all the skills I’ve gathered over my years as a counsellor, researcher, bookseller, and blogger to cumulative use to help support authors (my actual heroes tbh) in their careers, and play my part in producing some really good books.

Over the next six months, I’ll make periodic updates about my internship, and everything that I’m learning. One of the resources that’s been incredibly helpful to me in my new role has been listening to as much of the Print Run Podcast as I can over the past few weeks. When I got asked to manage some of the TRF agents’ schedules for the upcoming London Book Fair? I was so glad that I’d listened to the Print Run episode that Laura and Erik did about their experiences there last year. I would have been so in the dark otherwise. Shoutout to them, for producing such great content for new professionals in the industry.

2020 Reading Challenge Update

I wrote in my 2019 year in review post that one of the reading challenges I’ll be doing this year is the FOLD Reading Challenge, hosted by the Festival of Literary Diversity. I’m thrilled to be on the planning committee for the festival this year, and to be contributing to this challenge! My picks will be featured on the FOLD blog in October, but I’ll be participating all year long. If you decide to participate, give me a shout, I’d love to follow your progress.

This month’s picks are from Audible, the sponsor of the challenge, and the theme is audiobooks by an Indigenous author. I think that this is a genius challenge, because although Indigenous literature is really having a good cultural moment right now, I don’t think that Indigenous lit is where most people’s instincts take them when they consider audiobooks, unless that is the primary way that they consume written media. From my experiences in the bookshop where I work, I think it’s a common misconception that Indigenous literature is necessarily heavy, political, and serious – and often, historical. Although I would contend that a lot of Indigenous literature is powerful, there are lots of Indigenous books that would just make the commute to work a little more pleasant (I know that’s when I consume most of my audiobooks).

If you’re looking for a super engaging Indigenous title to listen to, I would suggest…

  • the suspense-packed Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice, a chilling post-apocalyptic speculative novel.
  • Louise Erdrich’s family-friendly middle grade alternative to Little House on the Prairie, The Birchbark House
  • the fever dream of an audio experience that is queer Indigenous throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth
  • Cherie Dimaline’s multiple award-winning YA sci fi novel, The Marrow Thieves

…which should all be available for free through the Libby app using your local library card, or you can support your local independent bookstore (or mine! Another Story, in Toronto) by purchasing them through Libro.fm.

The Seep, by Chana Porter

The cover of the book The Seep, by Chana Porter. Hands reach out from flowers and what appear to be bones on a black background.

I closed out my 2019 reading year with Chana Porter’s debut novel, The Seep, a gently unsettling dystopian speculative featuring a trans woman protagonist. The world is so ready for genre books featuring trans MCs, yall! I read this book a couple of weeks after losing one of my dogs to cancer, and I had been struggling with reading after such an emotional experience. This book was the perfect distraction, and strangely, the perfect balm for my grief and complicated emotions around loss in this disaster capitalist world.

The Seep is about the arrival of a benevolent alien presence on earth, who slowly becomes dominant through their desire to heal humanity. It is unique and precious, while managing to poetically move through several impactful themes, including things like identity, racism, cultural appropriation, art, transformation, rebirth, death, and the end of the world as we know it. I was rapt while reading it, and I was so honoured that author Chana Porter was willing to chat with me about her work. She was so sweet and generous to talk to, and I’m happy to be able to share some of our conversation here.

Feature Interview: Chana Porter on Writing Outside Your Identity, Mentorship, Gender, and Bears

A stylized photo of Chana Porter, looking upward, arm reaching up. Theatre curtains frame the image. The background is foliage with flowers.
Photo by Peter Bellamy for the Playwright Portrait Project.

Note: All of the photography featured throughout this post is curated from artists on Unsplash, and reflects the themes of Chana Porter’s novel The Seep.

emmy: The Seep totally bowled me over. I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to give it some extra exposure and tell people how much I loved it. I’d love to hear more about why you chose to write your main character, Trina, as you did. It’s obvious that all the aspects of her identity play key roles in the messages of the book. Still, it takes a lot of work, research, and care to write skillfully outside of your own experience, and I think that you achieved that. What was that like, and what were your reasons for making that choice?

Chana: When I began writing The Seep, it was an epic novel with shifting multiple points of view. Trina and her journey was a major aspect of the narrative, but she was one of 3 or so main characters. As I worked, it eventually became clear that Trina’s story was the most heartfelt and compelling. I shaved off the other plot lines and focused on her. (The UK edition of The Seep will have the boy from the Compound’s point of view included as a bonus short story, which is fun for me. I cut a lot of things that I loved!)

I wanted to write a butch trans woman character for a lot of thoughtful metaphorical reasons, which I will get into, but first and foremost, I wrote the kind of character I wanted to spend time with. She has a kind of swagger. She’s a bit of a brooder. She’s tender and passionate and a little gruff.

So Trina is a trans woman, and a butch woman. Her gender identity is distinct from her gender expression. Being a woman is not about wearing lipstick (no shade on lipstick, I like lipstick). That was the first thing I wanted to celebrate in the creation of her character. Secondly, gender identity is meaningful to Trina, and she is wary of the way people use The Seep to change their faces like they were changing outfits. I also liked the idea of people giving Trina guff for being so old-fashioned because she doesn’t want to modify her body. I wanted to show that she felt in alignment with her gender, in both expression and identification, and didn’t need to change anything. I also wanted to show that she didn’t want or need to “look cis” now that it was possible with the wave of a Seep wand.

A monarch butterfly partially emerged from a chrysalis.
Photo by Bankim Desai on Unsplash.

Trina is also Jewish and Native American.Years ago, N.K. Jemisin gave a lecture one summer at The Octavia Project, a free science fiction summer camp I helped create, where she described how when the European colonizers came to our shores, the diseases and violence that they brought to Indigenous peoples were the equivalent of an apocalypse. She cautioned our teens that when writing about apocalypse, don’t lose sight that many groups of people have experienced something similar already.

I think this is also true when writing about utopia, particularly because The Seep wishes to heal all wounds. We must witness and value past trauma. We also must acknowledge and celebrate what was here before, and is still here.

A feminine figure crouches in some foliage, face partially obscured by shadows.
Photo by Tiko Giorgadze on Unsplash

One of Trina’s surnames is Oneka, which is a Mohegan name. This aspect I crafted from research. The Mohegans are based in central southern Connecticut. In early drafts, it was made clear that Trina and Deeba used to live together in Brooklyn, so I first narrowed it down graphically. Then I located her ancestry there because tribal leadership for the Mohegan people is often passed through the maternal line, and they are known for their deep knowledge of herbal medicine, as well as hunting and fishing technologies. I liked the idea of Trina as an artist and healer, coming from a beautiful and specific tradition, which is very much alive today.

As for the Jewish aspect, my family is partially from Pale of Settlement. It used to be part of Russia, now it’s Lithuania, and the Jewish culture that thrived there is gone. It is a place that no longer exists. I was also interested in this– what happens when a place loses its memory? My character YD explores this idea further. But everyone is grappling with something that was meaningful to them which is now gone. Pina the Bear is no longer really a bear. There is a grief and loss there too.

A set of disembodied arms reaches out from behind some foliage, embracing it.
Photo by Will Cornfield on Unsplash

emmy: You mentioned working with Rachel Pollack as your thesis advisor. Was The Seep a product of your MFA and your work with Rachel? I’m curious what the conversations that you had with her were like, what that process was like for you. What advice might you give other authors who are involved in or seeking mentorship around writing inclusive and diverse work?

Chana: I went to Goddard College specifically to work with Rachel Pollack (great low-residency MFA program, highly recommend). I first learned about her in my study of tarot and Kabbalah, as she’s an expert in both. Then I stared reading her novels, and I knew I had to learn from her. Everyone, GO READ RACHEL POLLACK! A very different version of The Seep was my thesis. It was her metaphysical scholarship and fraught, spiritual science fiction that drew me to her, but of course the way she writes about gender is part of that draw. So it was fortuitous that Rachel is an older trans lesbian (a tryke, as she lovingly puts it), like Trina. But also, because my book takes place in the future, Trina’s character is more my peer in age than Rachel’s, and grew up in a different conversation about gender than Rachel did. I remember writing an early scene (that didn’t make it into the final book) where Trina and Deeba first meet and fall in love. Rachel wrote this comment in the margin, something like, Oh my, if only it could be like this. Rachel blazed the trail for us. We had a lot of rich conversations about identity. She also made me get more specific about anything spiritual, so it wouldn’t read like wishy-washy mumbo-gumbo.

A black and white image of a newborn baby, arms and fingers outstretched.
Photo by Alex Hockett on Unsplash

I am a queer person who is in community with a lot of trans and GNC people (I identify as a bisexual woman ray of light ☺️). And because of my own questions around gender and identity, I’ve been reading people like Kate Bornstein and Judith Butler (or trying to) from when I was a wee thing. Two of my dearest friends, who were also deep readers of early drafts of The Seep during the 7 years I was writing it, actually transitioned during that time period. I couldn’t have known that two of my closest friends and trusted readers would transition while I was writing this book. But also, it makes sense. Because part of why we found each other and loved each other was because we were all gender outlaws. It was a long conversation we were all having together, for many years.

emmy: I’d love to talk more about your own process with gender, if that’s something you’d be comfortable sharing a bit more about, both with me and with the blog. I know it’s a complex question! The ways that people choose to identify and the ways that people see their genders sometimes feel very different to me. Language and identity and the ways that they are co-constituted or not can get messy. There are lots of ways that people expand their gender conceptualization and gender expression that exist sort of outside of these labels that get thrown around all the time. If you wanted to talk a little bit about your thoughts on your own process with thinking about gender, I’d love to make space for that, and would be interested in hearing more.

A pale, slightly monochromatic feminine figure stands against a backdrop of very large foliage.
Photo by Tiko Giorgadze on Unsplash

Chana: Okay, I will try to distill down a major conversation of my life into a few short paragraphs! From when I was very little child I thought I was not a girl. I heard the word “hermaphrodite”, which we now call intersex, before I heard the word lesbian, and I thought that this was my big secret. I imagined that I was slowly turning into a boy, and that everyone would be very upset. Partially, I was drawn to the work of Rachel Pollack because she writes about the archetype of the golden hermaphrodite in world religions. I’m very compelled by an all encompassing gender, a totality of gender. That feels more whole to me– angelic, in fact. I have written several plays for theater that explore these ideas. Most people I am attracted to are gender outlaws in some form or fashion. I present as a woman, and I use she/her pronouns. I experimented with using ‘they’ in a few contexts and it did not bring me any comfort. When I feel too pinned down to one identity, I feel trapped. I have been a wife. I’m now a sort of step parent— my partner has two young children. One of them called me ChanaDad on a whim, and I LOVED it. I do not feel like a man– I am not a man. But I don’t want to be anyone’s mother. ChanaDad gives me a freedom that I like.

I like getting femmed up, in a dress and lipstick, and going out to dinner. This always feels like a kind of performance, a costume. And I enjoy it. But when those trappings become a uniform, I feel oppressed. Likewise, I dated a woman in college who would not let me shave my legs. I loved having hairy legs (I don’t have demure body hair), but one day I mentioned wanting to be smooth for a while again. She was livid. I didn’t have the words at the time, but I wanted to say something like, Hey, I stopped shaving because I don’t like being told how I need to look to be accepted. It’s not my problem if my body offends or confounds you. It’s my body. What could be more personal than that?

An image of a white person with red lipstick, snake eye contacts, and green scales airbrushed onto their cheek. Their hair is bright yellow and long, wrapped around their neck in a braid.
Photo by MAFFITI / Merily on Unsplash

I have never understood or identified with most things we are told women should want– but is this gender? Or is it patriarchy? I love the feminine, and I wish to enlarge and embrace it, rather than belittle or reject it. Did I identify with male characters more as a young reader because they were written to be witty, mysterious, and interesting? If I had Trina to read as a younger person, I think I would have fantasized about being this swaggering butch. Not being Jordan Catalano or Brandon Walsh, which I did instead. I actually think that there are as many gender identities as there are people. But I’m traveling through the world as a cis woman, and I want to own that identity, with its myriad privileges and traumas.

emmy: A final question. I just loved Pina. By far my favourite character in the book, and as someone who’s on the autism spectrum, I found the ways that Pina talks and the role that she plays so relatable and charming. I would love to hear more about her. Why did you make her a bear? What role did she play for you? Is her affect intentional, or was it just a creative choice? Whatever you feel like sharing about her, I’d love to hear about it.

An image of a bear looking upward beyond the camera.
Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unsplash.

Chana: I’m so glad you loved Pina and that her speech spoke to you— she is also my favorite. I’m also a person who stutters, and for this reason the cadence of my speaking voice is particular. So I also relate to Pina, in this way.

I CANNOT wait for the audiobook to come out– I can’t wait to see what Shakina Nayfack (who is so brilliant) does with Pina (and YD)!

I created a bear character because of Rachel Pollack, that genius. In an early draft, I had a human character transform into an animal (a dolphin, actually). Rachel’s note was something like– why is this so human centric? What would happen if an animal, say a bear, was transformed by The Seep? I tried it a few ways– I wrote a version where Pina was a human with a bear consciousness, which was fun to write, and then I rewrote her as a bear because I visually enjoyed that more. She is actually a little bit like my grandmother– she wants to feed you, she’s no-nonsense, she is very sweet but sometimes sounds mean. She slams a plate down, and it means I love you.

The cover of Temporary Agency, by Rachel Pollack. Depicts people walking through the streets with giant heads wearing ornate helmets on posts in the middle of the roads.

I wanted to say thank you so much to Chana Porters for this rich and thoughtful interview, and also offer a couple of recommendations on her behalf at the end of this post. Unfortunately, Chana’s plays have yet to be published, but fans of The Seep should make Temporary Agency by Rachel Pollack the next book on their TBR!

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

How I Learned I Love Thrillers

Currently Reading: Privilege, by Mary Adkins

News

CW: violence against trans women, transphobia, murder

I don’t normally share trans news that’s not book-related, however because this story is local and has touched my community, I want to post a short note that on December 22nd, a local trans woman and activist for trans rights, Julie Berman, was murdered in Toronto. Coming on the heels of transphobic violence being allowed to take place at Toronto Public Libraries, this death feels particularly poignant to me personally as I knew Berman through my work with Re:searching for LGBTQ2S+ Health. One of my colleagues recently described her as smart and sarcastic, beautiful and hilarious.

Selfie of Julie Berman.
Julie Berman

If you are in Toronto, please also keep in mind that the bookshop where I work, Another Story, is co-sponsoring an upcoming teach-in for trans allies featuring incredible trans women speakers Kai Cheng Thom and Gwen Benaway. Click on the image below for details.

A poster for TRANScend/TRANSform. Click the image for the Facebook event.

One last note is that the Emerging Writers reading series in Toronto (recently voted the best reading series in the city) is hosting a trans and non-binary writers event in March. The deadline to submit has been extended to January 22nd! If you are Toronto local or adjacent, and you have not published a book, get in there!

A tweet from @ewreading about their upcoming trans and non-binary Emerging Writers reading event.

Karen McManus and How I Learned I Love Thrillers

In late 2018 and early 2019, I was doing a lot of long distance driving. And I mean long distance. I routinely made the trek from Toronto to Denver, which takes a pretty steady two days on the road, with, in my case, an overnight in Des Moines, Iowa. What that drive means for me, especially when I do it alone or with my dogs, is a lot of audiobooks. I’ve become a Libby expert over the past few years, and I usually listen to most of them at 2x normal speed, especially when I’m on the road and trying to avoid drowsiness.

I have an audiobook routine. A few weeks before the trip, I’ll sit down with Libby, and put a selection of books on hold. Because I know I’ll be listening to the books straight through, I typically pick a type of book that’s a little different than what I might pick were I to spend a couple of days or weeks with a luxurious hardback. I pick things that are a little lighter, a little faster paced, sometimes things that seem extra engaging.

In January of 2019, I was making the drive back to Toronto, and it was a snowy one. It ended up taking me an extra day, because I got caught in a whiteout a few hours outside of London, and one of my dogs was injured. My brain was super foggy, and I had to be on my toes in the nasty weather. I decided to listen to a book that I’d seen on the shop shelves at Another Story, the indie in Toronto where I work. It had caught my eyes a couple of times, and I’d never read a YA thriller as an adult, so I figured it would probably keep me interested, and it would be good research for our teen, educator, and caregiver customers. The book was One of Us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus.

The cover of One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, which shows four teens' photos, each with the face covered in lined paper. The title is written in red marker across the photos.

This book was McManus’ debut novel. A bunch of things about it surprised me. It felt raw. It felt more graphic than I had expected for a book written for teens. It felt just a little bit kitschy, in a way that I couldn’t decide if I liked or not. And also? It totally had me hooked. I listened to the whole thing. I wasn’t the only one who liked McManus’ work. At the end of 2019, this title had spent 100 weeks on the NYT bestseller list.

A tweet from Karen McManus, celebrating the 100th week on the NYT Bestseller List for One of Us is Lying.

I had a rough 2019, as so many people did. About halfway through the year, after going through a lot of ups and downs with my psychiatric disabilities, some of my personal struggles had come to a head, and I was having trouble focusing on anything – least of all, books. I looked back at what I had read throughout the year, and I thought back to McManus’ book, and I thought… she has another title, right? I listened to it on audio again, and truth be told? I liked it a lot more than her first book.

The cover of Two Can Keep A Secret, which is reminiscent of the cover of One of Us is Lying.

I originally thought that this was the sequel to One of Us is Lying, but it quickly became obvious that I was mistaken. I stuck with it, and was pleasantly surprised. I had been reading a lot of spooky stories and YA horror through the first half of 2019, and the amusement park in a small town setting struck a gothic chord with me that high school detention had missed in McManus’ first book. The characters were richer, and the story took more twists and turns.

As 2019 progressed, I decided to embrace the small joys that I was experiencing. I leaned hard in whenever something made me happy. I collected Pokémon cards and started playing PoGo after the release of the nostalgic and charming Detective Pikachu. My partner and I bought an ice cream maker, and a book called *Incredible Vegan Ice Cream* by Deena Jalal, and we made (and ate) so much inexpensive ice cream. And when I realized that teen thrillers were the kinds of books that I could read quickly, and that would suck me in and distract me from the rest of the world? Well.

I read a bunch of them. Some of them speculative, and others just good old fashioned thrillers. I don’t really read books written by white cis men very often, so most of them had female authors… and the best ones had tonnes of plot twists. I started reading adult thrillers, with a particular interest in queer, feminist, domestic, psychological, and gothic novels. And soon, I realized that, whatever it says about me… murder is my comfort read.

These realizations completely changed and shaped my reading for the rest of the year. From realizing that this unsettling genre was my wheelhouse, my TBR swelled, I burned through so many fantastic and entertaining reads, I processed emotions, I made friends, and I discovered new authors who I had never considered picking up before.

During the #VillainAThon, a Halloween reading challenge I participated in this year, I crossed paths with Jennifer Donaldson and L. E. Flynn on Twitter, after being positively blown away by their books. They are both incredibly skilled female writers, and a pleasure to know. At the time, Flynn recommended Kara Thomas’ books to me, which I got from the library as quickly as I could, and gobbled them up. I’m so excited for Thomas’ book The Cheerleaders, which was the last hold to arrive, and for Flynn’s forthcoming title, All Eyes on Her.

I also discovered some mainstream adult authors who I honestly never thought I would enjoy. I admit, I’d seen these women on the shelves at the bookstore where I work, and I had written them off as likely too normative for my tastes. What can I say? Sometimes I just call it wrong. In the last few months of 2019, I have read three of Liane Moriarty’s books, and two of Ruth Ware’s, and I guarantee that the rest of the titles that these two authors have produced are high up on my list for 2020 reading. Not that they need my endorsement, but Big Little Lies, and in particular The Death of Mrs. Westaway were fantastic, and the latter quickly made it onto my favourites’ list.

So… that brings me back to Karen McManus. I was lucky enough to get an ARC of One of Us is Next, the actual sequel to One of Us is Lying, by @PenguinTeenCA earlier this year. Looking at McManus’ progression from her debut to her third book, the difference is staggering. This sequel takes place among the younger siblings and friends of the cast of her first book – a more diverse, nuanced cast, and a story that’s more tangled and engaging than before. It’s not surprising that McManus is now an international and NYT bestselling author, with yet another book on the docket following the January release of One of Us is Next. And I have her to thank for not only shaping my reading this past year, but also to opening my mind to a whole genre of literature that reflects my experiences and emotions in unexpected ways.

The cover of One of Us is Next, also reminiscent of McManus' previous books.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

A strip of film showing images of screaming faces and ghostly figures.

2019 In Review

Currently Reading: Keystone, by Katie Delahanty

News!

Get ready for your TBRs to balloon for the new year! Fellow trans blogger Corey Alexander brings you all the titles published in late 2019 with trans and/or non-binary authors. My top pick from this list are Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi, which I previewed earlier this year, and I’m most looking forward to Beyond the Black Door, by A. M. Strickland, which is on my TBR!

In response to the recent transphobic events at the Toronto Public Library, local independent bookstores are coming together to support trans writers and activists by co-hosting a teach-in at the 519 Community Centre on January 23rd. The store where I work is one of the organizers, so if you’re nearby, please come out and support the local trans and non-binary community.

Re-Introduction

When I first started this blog, one year ago, I wrote an introductory post, which gives a little bit of a window into what I’m about as far as my literary life is concerned. Because this blog and my reading in general is fairly politicized, and I believe that the personal is political, I’d like to offer a bit more information about myself that might give context to some of the 🔥hot takes🔥 that I post in this space.

A selfie of me in the bookshop where I work. I have medium complexion white skin, pink curly hair that is shaved on the right side and has dark roots, clear plastic frame glasses, and no makeup. I'm wearing a black tank top and a grey sports bra, and tattoos are visible on my shoulders. Bookshelves are visible in the background.
Me! 2019.

These are the facts about me that my Twitter bio won’t tell you!

  • Although legally I have to, I don’t capitalize my name. It’s emmy!
  • I’ve been (as) vegan (as possible, depending on where I was living) for more than 20 years! That said, I am firmly in solidarity with Indigenous and other marginalized people who cannot or do not engage with that life – especially (but not limited to) the Indigenous people who sustain their communities through the seal hunt and the deer harvest at Short Hills.
  • I’m a social work researcher, mostly focusing on LGBTQ2S+ health, and wellbeing of working dogs in therapeutic environments. In my previous life, I went to college for circus arts, and spent nearly a decade performing and coaching at a professional level. My specialities were juggling and group acrobatics.
  • I grew up in Newfoundland, an island off the east coast of Canada, in the North Atlantic. The island is the occupied territory of the Innu, the Mi’kmaq, and the Beothuk, who were victims of genocide. My family in Newfoundland can be traced back at least 7 generations on the maternal side, and we are white colonizers. I was raised in a house with my mom, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother, just the four of us most of the time.
  • J’ai appris le français quand j’étais très jeune, et j’ai vécu la grosse majorité de ma vie l’en parlant comme langue principale, alors que je me considère comme francophone.
  • My hobbies, when I have the time and energy, include film photography, snail mail (I collect postcards), roller skating, embroidery, cooking, and recently I’ve started playing video games occasionally. Oh! I also like to read!
  • I share my life with a lot of pets! Right now, that includes living primarily with an eleven year old retired racing greyhound, two formerly feral maine coon cats, and one five month old (by the time this gets posted!) deaf Dalmatian puppy. Their names are Boom, Whisper, Willow, and Pavot (pronounced pav-oh, it’s French for “poppy”, as in poppyseed). You can find them on Insta!
  • I’m polyamorous and have two relationships with genderqueer trans folks. My partner lives in Toronto, and I have a theyfriend and Denver. I am questing for a word that accurately describes “polyamorous but in no way seeking new romantic relationships,” because my life is as populated as I can handle it being.
  • I have diagnosed psychiatric disabilities and chronic illness, both of which are hormone-related (PMDD, chronic major depression, general and social anxiety, and PCOS). It’s also likely that I am on the autism spectrum, and I have most of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder, although these are both more or less undiagnosed.
  • Other alphabet soup diagnoses that play a big role in my life through the people I love are PTSD and DID.
  • I have a very small social circle, and most of my close friends are relationships that I primarily nurture online, in large part because I have am neuroatypical and have a disorganized anxious attachment style.
  • I love bees and kākāpō, but I have a lot of favourite animals.
  • Recently, I have been trying to come up with the books that I would take with me if I was going to be indefinitely stranded on a desert island, and so far, I think they would be The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende; The Tea Dragon Festival, by Katie O’Neill; Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi; Our Homesick Songs, by Emma Hooper; Gingerbread, by Helen Oyeyemi; and Not Quite Narwhal, by Jessie Sima.

2019 By the Numbers

All these numbers are current as of December 20, 2019.
My 2018 In Review can be seen here!

How many books I read in 2017: 41
How many books I read in 2018: 57
How many books I read in 2019: 124
First book read: One of Us is Lying, Karen McManus
Last book read: Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty
Average length: 287 pages

Books by POC: 52
POC MC: 43
Male authors: 33
Female authors: 160
Non-binary and/or authors: 5
Queer authors: 46
Queer MC: 45

Middle Grade: 18
YA: 74
Adult: 101
Graphic: 5
Short story or anthology: 1
Non-fiction: 37
Memoir: 9
Lit Fic: 55
Poetry: 3
SFF: 46
Thriller: 28
Horror: 18

Purchases: 26
Library: 60
ARC: 105

Digital: 108
Print: 50
Audio: 36

½ Star Books: 3
⭐️ Books: 21
⭐️ ½ Books: 0
⭐️⭐️ Books: 27
⭐️⭐️ ½ Books: 9
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Books: 24
⭐️⭐️⭐️ ½ Books: 28
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Books: 26
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ½ Books: 9
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Books: 41

January: 8
February: 11
March: 6
April: 11
May: 14
June: 16
July: 11
August: 11
September: 17
October: 7
November: 6
December: 6

Reading challenges I participated in: #VillainAThon

DNF: 68
Currently reading (unfinished in 2019): Keystone, Katie Delahanty; The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Ruth Ware; Amanda Greenleaf, Ed Kavanagh
Favourite books of the year: Little Apocalypse, Katherine Sparrow; The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang; The Wise and the Wicked, Rebecca Podos; Wilder Girls, Rory Power; Pilu of the Woods, Mai K. Nguyen; Pet, Akwaeke Emezi; In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado; The Tea Dragon Festival, Katie O’Neill; The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black; I Know You Remember, Jennifer Donaldson; Your House Will Pay, Steph Cha; We Unleash the Merciless Storm, Tehlor Kay Mejia; The Seep, Chana Porter
Favourite picture books released this year (not otherwise included in stats above): My Footprints, Bao Yi; Stormy, by Guojing; No Room for a Pup, Laurel Molk and Liz Suneby; It Feels Good to Be Yourself, Theresa Thorn and Noah Grigni; King Mouse, Cary Fagan and Dena Seiferling; Princess Puffybottom… and Darryl, Susin Nielsen and Olivia Chen Mueller, Truman, Jean Reidy; Ping, Ani Castillo; The Cyclops Witch and the Heebie-Jeebies, Kyle Sullivan and Derek Sullivan, The Scarecrow, Beth Ferry and the Fan Brothers; The Rabbit Listened, Cori Doerrfeld

Upcoming in 2020

So far, I have three 2020 plans. First: to integrate the reading challenge that my online book community, the Rogue Book Coven, is hosting for next year! Just to be clear, I had no hand at all in creating this – but I’m really glad for the work of some of our other members, who put this majestic thing together. If you want to read along with us, find us on various social media platforms at #CovenBookChallenge throughout 2020! POI for anyone who decides to follow along: we use the octopus emoji (sometimes, gratuitously) to mean hugs!

Second, to my actual delight and pleasure, I recently joined the planning team for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), held in Brampton each May. As such, I’m looking forward to curating and participating in the FOLD reading challenge in 2020 as well. The challenges aren’t 100% finalized yet, but you can check out past challenges here.

Last but not least, following a tweet from Esmé Weijun Wang, I committed to reading two Big, Long, Old Russian Books. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, and The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This is legitimately the challenge that I’m most worried about so… wish me luck?

Most Anticipated of (Early) 2019

Wondering what you can look forward to me chatting about next year? In January, I’m going to be previewing Karen McManus’ upcoming sequel to One of Us is Lying, the bestselling YA thriller, and chatting with author Chana Porter about gender and her Jewish Indigenous trans MC in The Seep, her unsettling and heartwarming dystopian alien invasion literary horror novel.

Some other Winter 2020 releases that I’m excited about reading? Non-binary Latinx author Anna-Marie McLemore’s new YA fantasy, Dark and Deepest Red, is a spooky modern fairy tale that spans generations. It drops on January 14th, and it’s right in my wheelhouse. I’m also looking forward to The Truants, by Kate Weinberg. It’s a thriller, and I’m curious to see if this NA is another millennial-appealing book in the vein of Such a Fun Age and Normal People, which I read earlier this year.

Kacen Callendar is the non-binary author of Hurricane Child, my favourite middle grade book of all time, and their next book, King and the Dragonflies, comes out this February. I’ll also definitely be checking out The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly, by Meredith Tate. It’s a spooky YA thriller, and my own teenage heart is stoked that this book has a musical, geeky protag, as a former band geek myself.

There are two final February releases I’m hoping to get to. I’m all about fancy school dramas, and Privilege by Mary Adkins is a feminist NA that deals with themes around sexual assault on a college campus. Since the #MeToo movement began, books with similar themes have definitely become more visible, and I’m hoping that Privilege will have something unique to offer. Finally, with some skepticism, I’m eyeing A Woman Like Her: The Short Life of Qandeel Baloch. This is Sanam Maher’s debut book, however she works as a journalist in Karachi, Pakistan. Without knowing a great deal about Baloch’s story, I’m hoping that Maher will have handled her story with sensitivity and respect.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

Sign off image - an open book with a bright green glowing eye in the centre and several small eyes around it.

Badass Illegal Funtimes!

Currently Reading: The Seep, by Chana Porter.

News

Before I jump into this week’s post, I want to do a quick shoutout to Gemma Hickey, fellow non-binary Newfoundlander, whose new book just hit shelves in time for holiday shopping.

The cover of Almost Feral, by Gemma Hickey, which shows a tree-lined highway disappearing into the distance against a cloudy grey sky.
The cover of Almost Feral.

From Breakwater Books, Almost Feral chronicles Hickey’s literal and figurative journeys – across the island, on foot, but also to the realization that they are transgender. There are so few visible non-binary folks from my little island that this book has been on my radar for a while. I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, but I suspect it would be a great read for the Eat, Pray, Love crowd.

For more book recommendations for your holiday shopping, feel free to check out the holiday gift list from Another Story, the bookshop where I work! I contributed to this list, curated by our staff every year. Simply click on the image below to view it, and if you choose to purchase a book on the list, please consider supporting your local indie, and/or dropping a tip in my ko-fi.

A collage of five cover images, and a caption that reads Another Story Bookshop 2019 Holiday Gift List. The covers are, In the Dream House, Frying Plantain, I Hope We Choose Love, Pet, and Nibi's Water Song.

Quick Personal Note

This has been a wild ride, but I have two personal notes to make this week. First, this is the ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY POST for Books Beyond Binaries. This project has become so near and dear to me, and I never imagined that I would enjoy it this much. I wanted to say thank you to everyone who’s supported the blog, and me, and trans and non-binary literature this year. If you are reading this, you have no idea what it means to me to have your support.

Relatedly, I had to say goodbye to one of my beloved dogs this weekend. This post may be a little more scattered than usual. I appreciate your understanding!

Dinner Date, affectionately known as D. August 1 2008 – December 7 2019.

New from M. K. England: Spellhacker!

Two books laying in some festive foliage. Underneath, a hardback of The Disasters, a space helmet on a pink background. On top, an ARC of Spellhacker, a purple galaxy print cover with sparkly gold text.
Spellhacker and The Disasters, by M. K. England.

Readers may know queer author and librarian M. K. England from her queer YA space opera debut, The Disasters, which came out in 2018. I am thrilled that today’s post is part of the blog tour for England’s sophomore novel, Spellhacker! This new book is the story of a heist gone wrong in a futuristic world with magic, starring a girl named Diz who is basically a cactus secretly filled with marshmallow. Diz is joined by her non-binary childhood friend Remi (who she is definitely not dating), her fierce bestie Ania, and her dad-friend Jaesin.

For this post, I asked England to tell me a bit more about our heroine: Diz.

So, here’s the thing about Diz from SPELLHACKER: There’s the person she thinks she is, and the person she actually is. She is a champion self-liar. She’s a Hufflepuff who thinks she’s a Slytherin, a cactus secretly filled with marshmallow. It makes taking personality quizzes on behalf of Diz kind of challenging, because… am I taking this as the more self-aware Diz at the end of the book, as the angry, oblivious Diz at the beginning of the book, or as the author who knows her true heart? Take a look at the results and see what you think. 🙂

M. K. England

First off, let’s start with something basic… we asked Diz, What Dog Breed Are You?

Diz’s result in the What Dog Breed Are You quiz: Mutt!

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the most informative result. Being a mixed breed dog gives you all kinds of advantages in the evolutionary lottery, but there aren’t a lot of specific characteristics we can pin down from that: You’re a renegade, an artist, and you will not be confined to any sort of box. You have tons of real-life experience that makes you a great dinner-party guest with tons of stories. Plus, you are cute in that “je ne sais quoi” kind of way. Luckily, our collective Twitter feeds have been flooded with Which Three Disney Characters Are You? results!

Diz’s result in the Which Three Disney Characters Are You a Combo Of?

In this quiz, we learn SO MUCH MORE. Diz got some big personalities on this one – Megara, a young woman enslaved by Hades in Disney’s Hercules, Disgust, from Inside Out, and ice princess Elsa, from Frozen. Fierce and feminine, Diz definitely doesn’t want to be messed with: You’re sarcastic, opinionated, and fiercely independent. You blaze your own path and don’t let the rules of society dictate how you live your life. Although you boast about your tough exterior, you actually have a very sensitive heart and fall in love easily.

Diz’s result in the Which Type of Explorer Are You quiz: You’re a climber!

Next, we asked what kind of explorer Diz would be. Our lovable but formidable heroine aptly got “climber”: Brave like a rock climber, you’re a natural risk taker. Climbers scale rocks and mountainsides for fun. Like these daredevils, you never say no to a good challenge of any kind. Friends rely on you to take adventures to new heights!

Since England’s previous book was set in space, and Spellhacker is more of a fantasy, I had to ask Diz – did she feel more like an alien or an Earthling? Turns out, England’s new MC may have a little disaster in her yet…

Diz’s result in the Are You More of an Earthling or an Alien Quiz: Alien!

If you weren’t born among the stars, you certainly should live there now. Since you likely came to us from afar, you embody a vibrant spirit of curiosity, wonder, and exploration. Never relinquish your love of space, alien friend!

Last, but not least, it would be a total travesty to have a queer as heck book, and not ask of the MC, What Kind of Rainbow Are You?!

Your rainbow is intensely shaded green, red, and black.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What is says about you: You are an intelligent person. You appreciate mystery. You may meet people who are afraid of you. You get bored easily and want friends who will keep up with you.

Find the colors of your rainbow at spacefem.com.

This one gets Diz spot on: You are an intelligent person. You appreciate mystery. You may meet people who are afraid of you. You get bored easily and want friends who will keep up with you.

…of course, it was too tempting to read all of Diz’s results, and not wonder what mine would be. Would I be able to keep up with this badass? Dear reader, definitely not. This pug polar explorer with a greyed out rainbow is firmly rooted to the earth. And my Disney characters? Predictable: Alice in Wonderland, Sully from Monsters Inc., and Peter Pan. Lighthearted, confusing, cozy adventures only, for me. I’m glad that I can at least live vicariously through Diz in Spellhackers!

England is hosting a HUGE pre-order campaign for this book, which officially launches on January 21, 2020, with HarperTeen. If there are fans of Marie Lu, Space Unicorn Blues, or Nicky Drayden on your holiday gift list or if you read and loved Alex Harrow’s Empire of Light earlier in 2019, you should definitely get in on this, and get all the rad Spellhacker swag – a bookmark, stickers, a signed bookplate, a postcard, and some additional digital goodies are all on the table for this one.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

A badge that reads Spellhacker Launch Crew member.

Trans-Affirming Picture Books 2019

Currently Reading: Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir.

Several months ago, I wrote a post that was a roundup of picture books from 2018 that were – if not explicitly trans-celebratory – trans-affirming. I decided to do the same thing to close out this year, with some of my favourites from 2019.

Here’s the thing: I have the best complaint this year. I tried to do the same thing with this list as I did with my 2018 list, and go broad – including lots of books that were not QT explicit, but that could still be considered affirming (see: my favourite picture book of all time, Not Quite Narwhal, by Jessie Sima). And there were too many. I had to narrow this list a lot. And this post is long.

The books I chose are an assortment from board books to child-friendly graphic novels. Some have trans characters, while others have themes of celebrating difference or gender non-conformity, and some are books that are naturally gender-neutral. Either way, they are all fantastic reads that any young person (QT or not) would be happy to have in their collection.

My Shape is Sam, by Amanda Jackson, and illustrated by Lydia Nichols, tells the story of a character named Sam in a binary world. While circles and squares have distinct roles in this world, Sam longs to be a circle, although he is a square. This book is an affirming exploration of identity and non-conformity, through a simple, geometric story.

I was charmed by A Little Bit Different, by Claire Alexander. It’s a simple and whimsical story about not fitting in, and eventually finding your place and being celebrated. Likely not coincidentally, the colours in this book are rainbow-themed, which makes it a nice under-the-radar Pride book.

You Are New by Lucy Knisley is the perfect gift for new parents of infants, or very young children. This book is written entirely in the second person, and the illustrations are diverse, making it a great gender-neutral choice that’s hard to fault.

What Riley Wore, by Elana K. Arnold, and illustrated by Linda Davick, has an explicitly gender-creative main character in Riley, whose story explores self-expression through clothing. This book is a great companion book to Harriet Gets Carried Away, by Jessie Sima, and a perfect choice for any kid who loves to be creative through fashion.

Mary Wears What She Wants, by Keith Negley, is based on the true story of Mary Edwards Walker, a 19th century doctor who defied the gender stereotypes of her time, and faced incarceration because of the risks that she took. A historical trailblazer, this book is great for showing kids what can be accomplished when we don’t allow social expectations to define us.

A perfect contemporary companion to Mary Wears What She Wants, Patricia Toht and and Lorian Tu-Dean’s Dress Like a Girl is the story of a group of girls at a sleepover party who explore resisting gender stereotypes through what it means to bend the rules of dressing like a girl. Although this book is highly gendered, it’s a great book to encourage gender creativity.

2019 was a good year for rainbow-themed books – and finally some that aren’t written exclusively by white men! The first that I’ll write about is The Rainbow Flag: Bright, Bold, and Beautiful, by Michelle Fisher and illustrated by Kat Kuang. This book tells the story of the creation of the first Pride flag in 1978.

I am super excited about Ho’onani: Hula Warrior, by author Heather Gale, who currently lives in my Canadian local of Toronto, and illustrator Mika Song. Gale grew up in New Zealand, and Song was raised in Manila, Philippines and Honolulu, Hawai’i. This book tells the story of Ho’onani Kamai, a gender non-conforming hula dancer, who dreams of leading the all-male hula group at her school. Ho’onani is an explicitly non-binary main character, and the book is an exploration of empowerment through traditional culture.

This is the year for LGBTQ2S+ board books, in my opinion. In 2019, we got rad books for the youngest readers, like My Two Moms and Me and My Two Dads and Me by Michael Joosten and illustrated by Izack Zenou… and countless others. I actually started a list, but there are genuinely too many to be exhaustive here. There are a few that I found to be specifically trans-affirming in a way that’s accessible, however, and I’ve included them here. The first is Pride Colors, by Canadian author Robin Stevenson, is a board book for young readers introducing the colours of the Pride flag, and affirming the freedom of children to always be who they want to be.

Cover of I Promise.

I Promise is written by the incredible Catherine Hernandez, whose previous picture book, M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book is one of my favourites. Hernandez is of Filipino, Spanish, Chinese and Indian heritage, and she is married into the Navajo Nation. She is one of the locals who I have occasion to see on stage pretty regularly, and I am a huge admirer. She recently performed burlesque at my shop’s Toronto launch of Cherie Dimaline’s new novel, Empire of Wild. The illustrator of I Promise is trans artist Syrus Marcus Ware, who is also a core team member of Black Lives Matter Toronto.

I had the honour to be present for the launch of I Promise at the Toronto indie where I work, Another Story bookshop. The event was rush-moved to our store from the Toronto Public Library, since Hernandez and Ware were among the authors supporting the trans community in Toronto as they spoke out against the transphobic hate speech event that was held there and supported by the City Librarian, Vickery Bowles (I wrote about this in a previous post). The launch featured Fluffy and Fay, local drag queen story time celebrities.

Hernandez’ reading of I Promise was engaging and charming, and had all of the kids in the room joining in and listening rapt. This is a book that I would recommend to any child, since its primary subject matter is non-nuclear families, which is particularly affirming to LGBTQ2S+ folks who are part of or have built families that are rarely reflected in children’s literature. It’s also illustrated by a trans artist, who is great role model for trans kids who aspire to careers in the arts one day.

When Aidan Became a Brother is an #OwnVoices picture book by trans masculine author and librarian Kyle Lukoff, and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, that tells the story of a young trans boy who is becoming a sibling for the first time. It’s a beautifully illustrated diverse book, and while it is nuanced, there’s no overt villain. It’s a refreshing take on a trans narrative, penned by an insider author.

There is nothing specifically trans-affirming in Incredible You by Rhys Brisenden and Nathan Reed, except that the book is centred on self-affirmation and positivity. I decided to include it here because it’s a fun book that could resonate with any child, and it’s a vibrant feast for the eyes. For someone looking for a bit more of a general inclusive read, this would be an uplifting, safe pick.

I Am Not a Fox by Karina Wolf and illustrated by Chuck Groenink is one of my favourite trans and/or non-binary affirming books of the year. It tells the story, through charming and adorable illustrations, of Luca, who looks like a fox, but acts like a dog. To no one’s surprise, this book has been compared to Not Quite Narwhal, by Jessie Sima – my all-time favourite picture book – because both books remind readers that you don’t need to choose to be just one thing in order to find your place in the world. Also? This book is cute AF, has a charming feminine protagonist, and is great for animal lovers big or small.

Another one of my favourites this year, and the second #OwnVoices picture book on this list, is It Feels Good to Be Yourself, illustrated by non-binary artist Noah Grigni, and written by parenting writer and podcaster Theresa Thorn. The art in this book is breathtaking, and there is fantastic diverse representation throughout. The book is part story, part educational, and explains many concepts of gender in accessible, age-appropriate ways, without leaning heavily on binary stereotypes in either the text or artwork. This is a fantastic primer for any kid or parent to learn how to talk about gender, how to explore gender, and how to have affirming and creative conversations about gender. If I had to pick one picture book this year to put in every classroom and every home, it would be this one.

Sarah Hoffman, Ian Hoffman, and Chris Case are back in 2019 with Jacob’s Room to Choose, the follow up to their 2014 title, Jacob’s New Dress. In this new title, Jacob and a new friend, Sophie, tackle the dreaded issues of gendered school washrooms, prejudice, and self-expression.

Sam!, written by Dani Gabriel and illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo, feels like a bit of a throwback to me, but it’s always nice to see that there are more explicit trans stories on the shelves as time goes on. This book is similar to I Am Jazz, in that it tells the coming out story of a trans youth, and it is based on a true story. In Sam!, the MC is trans masculine.

Local author Ishta Mercurio, who wrote the recent picture book Small World, turned me on to Ogilvy as a trans-affirming story. This story, from Deborah Underwood and illustrated by T. L. McBeth, is about a bunny named Ogilvy who moves to a new town, where activities are gender-prescribed. As the pub copy reveals, Ogilvy shows readers that the clothes don’t make the bunny, and embraces all the fun things there are to do. This story is useful for deconstructing gendered expectations, as well as affirming for non-binary kids.

Rainbow: A First Book of Pride, by Michelle Genhart and illustrated by Anne Passchier, and GayBCs, by M. L. Webb, are two more board books that came out this year. Rainbow focuses specifically on LGBTQ2S+ families, and would be most appropriate during the Pride season or for a child who is part of a family who identifies as such, and the GayBCs are an accessible exploration of the LGBTQ2S+ lexicon through the alphabet – including words such as “non-binary”!

Our Rainbow, from Little Bee Books in partnership with GLAAD, is perhaps my favourite 2019 board book, because not only is it a book that’s age-accessible, it’s also the first book that I’ve seen that features the updated Pride flag that includes Black and Brown stripes. If I had to pick one board book for new QT parents or a young child, this would be it. The story is a simple, colourful exploration of the flag, each colour has a different artist who worked on the illustrations, and the book has an interesting geometric design (the board itself is in the shape of the waving flag).

For slightly older readers, Not Yet a Yeti by Lou Treleaven and illustrated by Tony Neal is funny, trendy, and symbolically affirming of the trans experience, particularly for young people undergoing or wanting to learn about medical transition. In this rainbow-themed book with flashy illustrations, a family of yetis has a child who doesn’t wish to grow up to be a yeti, but rather chooses to grow up to be a unicorn. Affirmed by his family, the young yeti becomes a unicorn, and finds a fulfilling role in the social ecosystem! It’s a lighthearted, uplifting story, and it will make young readers laugh.

A final board book put out in 2019, An ABC of Equality introduces young readers to social justice concepts, including LGBTQ2S+ inclusion, in an age-appropriate way. Written by Chana Ginelle Ewing and illustrated by Paulina Morgan, this one doesn’t pull any punches, and is perfect for early activists – plus it has on the page representation of diversity in physical ability.

And last, but absolutely not least, Except When They Don’t by Laura Gehl and illustrated by Joshua Heinsz is colourful, and rhyming, and super engaging! This is another book in partnership with GLAAD, and it focuses explicitly on deconstructing gendered stereotypes about toys and play. This would be a great fit with other books in this list, like Ogilvy, or favourites from last lear, like Jamie is Jamie, by Afsaneh Moradian, and illustrated by Maria Bogade.

Cover of Let Me Out.

I would be remiss to not mention Let Me Out! A pop-out about coming out., by Omid Razavi. This Kickstarted pop-up book is super rad. The art is absolutely incredible, and the book has on the page representation of many different parts of the LGBTQ2S+ community. Although it may seem most applicable to a queer “coming out”, this book should really be in the hands of all young people.

For some reason, it’s incredibly difficult to find videos and images of this book in its finished state. The book’s website has an FAQ and a few computer-generated images of the cutouts inside the book, but it doesn’t do the finished product justice. This is a great tool to open conversations about sharing information about identity. The only aspect of this book that doesn’t resonate with me personally is that one of the main characters appears representative of drag culture, and that’s not something that I find helpful to me. That said, it does mean that much of the book is colourful, spirited, and glitter-filled!

Cover of Phoenix Goes to School.

There was one book that was published in 2018 that I missed in my wrap-up list from last year, and that I came across when compiling this list. I would be remiss not to write about Phoenix Goes to School, by Michelle and Phoenix Finch, and illustrated by Sharon Davey. Written with input from Phoenix, this story is about a gender non-conforming youth going to school and having conversations about gender for the first time. It is intended to support trans readers aged 3 and up who are navigating worries about being bullied.

I know that graphic novels and picture books are not the same thing. However, for readers who are taking the first steps from picture books to reading more complex texts (usually chapter books), graphic novels can be a great stepping stone. They can also be great for older readers who love illustrated work. These two graphic novels are two of my favourite books this year, and they are 100% child-appropriate. They would make great read aloud choices, or books for a group of readers at different levels to share.

Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen tells the story of Willow, a character who is not explicitly gendered, as they learn to navigate complex emotions, while at the same time developing a relationship with Pilu, a tree spirit who is lost in the woods near where Willow lives. The illustrations in this book are unique and detailed, both cute and incredibly evocative. This story feels heavily steeped in nature, and I found it intensely relatable as an adult reader. Everyone should read it. It’s charming AF.

I was so excited for the release of Katie O’Neill’s The Tea Dragon Festival, sequel to The Tea Dragon Society, and it did not disappoint. If I’m being completely honest, I actually like this second volume better than the original story. There is skillful on the page representation of disability, Deaf culture, and gender and racial diversity. The prowess, humility, and gentleness, with which O’Neill delivers on representation in these whimsical and transportive stories, sets a high standard for other authors and artists.

Logo for the Launch Crew of MK England's upcoming book, Spell Hacker.

If you enjoyed reading these recommendations, and would like some of your own, head on over to my contact page, and send me a message! I love giving recs and readers’ advisory, and have lots of experience from my work as a bookseller.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.