Victories Greater than Death

I am always humbled by the connections that I get to make with incredible new authors and emerging artists through this platform. Once in a rare while, I also get to connect with authors who I have admired for a long time. This week, I am super excited – and still kind of in disbelief? – that I get to share an interview that I had the pleasure of conducting with the iconic Charlie Jane Anders.

Charlie Jane Anders, photo by Sarah Deragon.

If Charlie Jane Anders is a new name for any of you reading this, buckle in, because you are in for a wild ride. I was excited to get to chat with Charlie Jane about her upcoming YA debut, the first book in a trilogy, Victories Greater Than Death, which comes out TOMORROW with Tor Teen! You still have a little while to pre-order! Run! (And don’t stop running.) This book is (if I’m counting right), Charlie Jane’s ninth novel-length work, but she is prolific and has won an awe-inspiring number of awards for her longer works, but also her short fiction: the Emperor Norton Award, a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, a William H. Crawford Award, a Theodore Sturgeon Award, a Locus Award, and a Lambda Literary Award. Nbd. (Except, VERYbd).

I had the pleasure of reading an early copy of Victories, which was great, because I full-blown squealed when I heard that Charlie Jane was working on a YA project. Although I do love speculative work, for whatever reason I am a reader that struggles with worldbuilding – so, often, YA speculative is much easier for me to wrap my mind around. That said, though, I’m not an Epic Fantasy person… so sometimes, YA speculative that appeals to my interests can be a challenge to find. I was lucky, because (unsurprisingly to me at least) Victories delivered on everything that I wanted it to.

Like I told Charlie Jane before I interviewed her, I’m not usually an intergalactic-war person, but the characters and the voice of this novel were irresistible. Everything about this story is just fun. As an anxious and autistic person, the protagonist’s best friend, a character called Rachael, was highly relatable. Her needs were represented in ways that were charming and challenging and often not well-executed in fiction, and for me, it was a joy to follow her through this story. Still, the real beauty of this book for me was the absolutely bonkers diversity of the characters. The pub copy comps the book to Dr. Who meets Star Wars, and I grew up watching so much monster of the week TV that the levity of the worldbuilding really struck a chord with me as a reader, even though I’m not a science fiction buff. Suffice to say, I would recommend this book up and down to a wide variety of readers, and I’m thrilled that Charlie Jane agreed to chat with me about it in this space. Without further ado…


The cover of VICTORIES GREATER THAN DEATH.

You are becoming – if you’re not there already – a prolific author, and most of your work has speculative elements. This book is a bit of a departure, though, in that it is your first book intended explicitly for young readers. I have two questions about this. First, what came first – the story, or the intention to write for young readers?

I started thinking about writing a young adult book in spring 2016, around the time I quit my day job to write full time. I had been noticing for a while that YA fiction was getting more action-adventure-oriented, like there were more books being published like Warcross or Want or Illuminae. YA seemed to be taking a turn towards being a place where you could do something super fun and exhilarating. So I started to think about what I would like to do in a YA, and immediately started to remember all those times when I was a teenager, when I just wished a spaceship would swoop down out of the sky and come take me away from this planet. That led to imagining the story of a girl who’s actually the clone of an alien hero, and her efforts to reclaim her heritage and seize her destiny. 

Second, did you find it difficult to adapt your writing style to the voicey, confessional tone that is so characteristic of YA works right now (because I felt like you nailed it)?

In terms of the tone, that took a TON of work. I sat down with a huge pile of my fav YA books and paged through them, getting a sense of which were first person and which were third person, and how they worked on a sentence level. It took a ton of trial and error to get Tina’s voice right, and I had to keep coming back to the idea of her being snarky and funny, but not ironic or wry or self-mocking the way adults usually are. And once I handed in a complete draft, I worked a lot with my editor, Miriam Weinberg, to tighten the book and speed up the pace and boost the emotion in a lot of crucial places. 

There is such a wide range of characters in this book, and it has a huge cast. Humans, clones, aliens, teens, and adults, all with very distinct aesthetics, cultures, bodies, identities, etc. Do you have an absolute favourite, or one who you relate to the most? What was the most enjoyable part about creating such a rich and diverse cast?

I had so much fun creating all of these different aliens and creatures. It was a total dream come true, and I spent hours and hours cooking up complicated histories and backstories for the different alien worlds and societies, as well as the galaxy as a whole. And then I also spent hours and hours doing research and talking to people for my human supporting cast, since they come from all over the world. I definitely had different characters on different days, but overall my favorite character probably ended up being Rachael — I love how she just wants to hide away and draw when she’s on an alien ship in the middle of a space battle. 

One of the norms in this book is that the characters consistently introduce themselves with their pronouns, and many of the characters use non-binary pronoun options or no pronouns at all. This isn’t prominent in many books. What was your rationale behind that choice, and did you struggle with it through the editorial process at all? 

I honestly can’t remember how I decided that everyone should introduce themselves with their pronouns. I was just thinking about the fact that all of these aliens are speaking their own languages and it’s being translated into English, and so it made sense to me that a translator could also give you other important information — like someone’s pronoun. And once I started doing it, it just made sense. I made sure to mention that not everybody actually “hears” the pronouns spoken out loud, the way Tina does. It works differently for different people. But this felt like a good way to be introducing a lot of human and alien characters, some of whom might not have genders or other identifiers that a human would be able to figure out at a glance. It also went along with the overall theme of the book, of respecting other people’s identities while you try to figure out your own.  

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

As a literary agent who represents speculative authors across age categories, I am constantly hearing from editors that sci fi in YA is a super tough sell, and that they have trouble getting these works approved by their acquisitions boards. In comparison to your other works, what was the process like finding a home for VICTORIES, and what made you choose to write sci fi for this age group? 

I always hear people say that science fiction is a hard sell in YA as well, but then you look at series like The Hunger Games, Illuminae, Divergent, the aforementioned Warcross, and a bunch of others, and it’s clearly not accurate. That said, I am very nervous about launching a YA science fiction book, just because I’m aware of that widespread misconception, and I’m worried it’ll keep people from offering the book to kids. I think especially right now, it’s super important to get young people (and everyone) fired up about science and exploration and discovery. Luckily, the folks at Tor Teen were super excited to delve into this space-opera universe—and I think the fact that it stands out a bit is not a bad thing. 

If an educator was going to teach your book in a high school or college creative writing class, what do you hope students would take away from that experience? Similarly, what do you wish you could tell educators who are going to choose this book to put in a young reader’s hands?

Wow, I can’t ever think about people teaching my books to creative-writing students, except as an example of what *not* to do. 🙂  In the case of Victories, I hope they’d be interested in the voice, like we talked about before, and the way I use humor and feels to add to the suspense. (Or at least, I hope I do that.) For high-school teachers generally, I would hope they’d talk about the themes of post-colonialism and what it means to be a hero. 

Being a marginalized publishing professional can be super challenging once in a while. You have worked with a few different imprints and editors over the course of your career so far. What has your experience been like working with an agent and an editorial team at a big publishing house? What would you say the most fulfilling part of this process was, and what was the biggest challenge?

I’ve been so lucky with Russ Galen and with everyone at Tor, including Miriam Weinberg and Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Everybody has been incredibly supportive and understanding, and nobody blinked when I said I wanted to include so many queer characters in my space opera universe. The most fulfilling part has probably just been talking to Miriam about the characters and the story and how to make them pop — and the biggest challenge has just been breaking in as a YA author, especially during a time when school visits and other in-person appearances are not possible. 

Last, but not least, when I’m covering a non-Black author, I ask them to recommend a book by a Black author to go alongside their post. Would you mind sharing a rec with me?

Three that I’ve read and loved recently come to mind: The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus, A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow, and Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. 

Victories Greater Than Death comes out on April 13th, 2021 from Tor Teen. If you enjoyed this interview, you can find Charlie Jane Anders on her Hugo Award winning podcast with co-host Annalee Newitz, our opinions are correct.


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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

New Books by Genderqueer Breakouts

In this post, I am super lucky to be able to host A. E. Osworth, author of the breakout adult fiction novel We Are Watching Eliza Bright. This #MeToo era story about harassment in the gaming industry is told multiply and unreliably by users on Reddit, a novel that shatters the concept of form and narration completely. You’ll either love this one or you’ll hate it, but either way, you’ll probably emerge with huge admiration for this author.

But first, I have a guest review from a wonderful friend from my online book community, The Rogue Book Coven, and brilliant reader, Amanda Hamilton. Amanda has graciously penned a review for the highly-anticipated forthcoming title One Last Stop, from Casey McQuiston, whose adult LGBTQ2S+ romcom with crossover appeal, Red, White, and Royal Blue was an overnight sensation in 2019. Does their sapphic sophomore novel meet the high expectations set by the previous novel?

Review: One Last Stop, by Casey McQuiston

By guest contributor Amanda Hamilton

Like so many people, I read and loved Casey McQuiston’s debut bestselling novel, Red, White & Royal Blue last year, so when I had the chance to read an ARC of their upcoming book, One Last Stop, I was over the moon. And I am so happy to report that there is no sophomore slump here.

One Last Stop follows August, newly arrived in New York City, as she settles into her new life, complete with too many roommates and a job at a local diner. It is not the most glamorous life, but for once, it is completely hers. Until she meets Jane, a criminally attractive and charming woman replete with a motorcycle jacket. August and Jane have the ultimate meet-cute on the subway, but Jane doesn’t seem to want to see August outside the station. Because Jane is stuck. Stuck in time, stuck in the station, stuck riding the train over and over. But when the chemistry is this strong and the girl of August’s dreams are right in front of her, what’s a little time loop between friends?

August, Jane and the myriad of characters in One Last Stop’s world are all fully developed, with their own motives, concerns and loves, and it’s a joy to watch them all bloom throughout the course of the novel. Romance novels are often dismissed as predictable and rote, but that is certainly not the case here. Jump into this lovely and surprising with August and Jane – you won’t regret it.

For readers who enjoy One Last Stop, Amanda also recommends The Princess Trap, by Black author Talia Hibbert.


We Are Watching Eliza Bright: Feature Interview with Author A. E. Osworth

In Chapter 10, you give a bit of a gaming history of one of your characters in the book, Lewis. I would love to hear your gaming history! Did you write this book based on a lifelong interest in gaming, are you completely new to the gaming world, or was this just an interesting world for you to explore through fiction

It might come as no surprise that all the characters who have a gaming history (I believe there are three and there were almost more!) just have pieces of my own gaming history. I love video games and board games and table top RPGs (though I do not happen to be very good at most video games—especially if they require a large amount of dexterity-based combat). We were a Nintendo family, and my brother and I spent mornings before school playing the Nintendo 64 (Super Mario! Star Fox!) or, if we’d been dropped off early, Pokemon on our Gameboys. I also played Ultima Online quite a bit in my teen years—until a member of my guild took advantage of my naiveté and slaughtered me in a PVP zone for all my stuff (I had a lot of cool stuff). It wasn’t as much fun after that! Not because I lost all my cool stuff (though that was a bummer) but because it made me feel like my weird little online friendships weren’t meaningful.

Two more gaming-related questions. 1, do you have a favourite game that has kept you busy during the pandemic? 2, what character alignment do you most relate to yourself?

Honestly? Dungeons and Dragons. My household plays a big outdoor game with two other households, all socially distanced and our DM painted a giant battle grid on a bed sheet and hand-stitched cute beanbags to use as “minis.” Right at the beginning of the pandemic, though, it was all Animal Crossing all the time. Could that game’s release have been timed more perfectly? I used to get my avatar all dressed up in pajamas and have them lay in bed, surrounded by aesthetically pleasing digital objects in a world where no one was sick. They closed their eyes and slept soundly while I watched and pretended I felt like that. That sounds a bit sad, now that I say it out. But it is how I spent the early days and it was instrumental.

And that second question—like most folks I talk to, I wish desperately that I were Chaotic Good. When I play said Dungeons and Dragons, that’s usually what I go for. But the reality is that I’m Lawful Good. Which is to say, I am a giant weenie of a rule follower. I don’t make illegal u-turns and I get to airports a full two hours before my flight. I comfort myself only with the knowledge that I am not the worst alignment: Lawful Neutral. Law for the sake of law, rules for the sake of rules. Fuck that alignment!

You use gender neutral pronouns and have written a lot of non-fiction about queerness and technology. Did your experiences of gender and queerness impact the way that you approached writing this book? If so, how?

So when I wrote this book (or at least, the first several drafts of it), I didn’t know I was trans. I could’ve sworn up and down that I was a cis woman, and I wrote a story that centered on one. In that respect, my experience of gender has been with this book throughout. And queerness was always a part of it, too, in the character of Suzanne.

After coming out as trans, I had the opportunity to add and revise the second collective narrator, The Sixsterhood. This queer and trans art commune is inspired by a real group of people and a real place—the former Octagon in San Francisco, as well as other queer communities of which I am a part. That voice is explicitly queer and trans (and there are a lot of in-jokes there that are specifically for my queer and trans folks).

The cover of WE ARE WATCHING ELIZA BRIGHT

One of the things that is super unique about your book is the narrative style. Rather than having a single POV character, your book is narrated by a group of online fans of a popular MMORPG. For me as a reader, it created a sort of distance between me and the titular character, Eliza Bright. As a literary agent, I would say that this is a super risky choice in a competitive literary market. Why did you make that choice, and what do you hope it adds to your story?

I heard it again and again: cut the narrators, just tell the story. So many people in graduate school were of the opinion that I should do away with the book being narrated by Reddit, and they said the same things you’ve just said. I knew they were wrong because the whole point of the book is the Reddit narrator. The point is the antagonistic collective; the point is the parasocial relationship they have with the group of protagonists; the point is the feeling of being watched. I am so very lucky that I found an agent, and then an editor, whose whole mission was not to simply tell me to cut the narrator, but to ask the right questions and make the right comments to help me make the narrator really, really work. And I think it does; I think they do.

In addition to being a novelist, you also do a lot of teaching (you are so busy!). If an educator was going to teach your book in a high school or college creative writing class, what do you hope students would take away from that experience? Similarly, what do you wish you could tell educators who are going to choose this book to put in a young reader’s hands?

I think what I hope students take away depends on what this is being used to teach. If it’s being taught in the context of writing, I hope students try their own collective narrators. It’s really fun to consider how the collective knows what they know, how they share information with each other, whether or not they all agree, what they all sound like as one. There’s so much delight in working with this point of view, and there are so many good examples that all do it drastically differently (The Virgin Suicides, And Then We Came to the End, We Ride Upon Sticks).

If it’s being used to teach current events or internet culture or any number of other things, I hope students are taught the book beside the headlines that inspired it, because in the end I did make it up. The psychological and emotional underpinning of the book is as true as I could render it, but it’s a work of fiction. The narrators’ voices are accurate, but imagined. A good place to start with that is The New York Times’s Everything Is Gamergate.

A. E. Osworth, author of WE ARE WATCHING ELIZA BRIGHT

Being a marginalized publishing professional can be super challenging once in a while. Your book is with a Big 5 publisher – one of the Hachette imprints – and that’s a really big deal! What has your experience been like working with an agent and an editorial team at a big publishing house? What would you say the most fulfilling part of this process was, and what was the biggest challenge?

I have loved nearly every moment of working with my team at Grand Central. Seema Mahanian, my editor, has made this book the very best version of itself that it could possibly be. I was a little nervous that any editor at a Big Five publisher would look at my weirdo narrators and try to tone them down; Seema helped me turn the dial up on the narrators, and it was actually her idea to add the second collective (my beloved Sixsterhood). When I did two sample pages of the Sixsterhood and there were no periods at the end of the sentences, she said bring it on. I have felt not only artistically free, but artistically encouraged to find my very strangest ideas and let them play.

The biggest challenge for me is something that I truly think would be a problem no matter if I was working with a Big Five or not, and that’s the feeling of at-sea-ness that comes from We Are Watching Eliza Bright being my very first foray into publishing a book. The process is really opaque to me—as my book’s launch date approaches, I don’t know what I should be doing or what’s working or what’s not. My agent, Christopher Hermelin, is truly amazing though. And he’s been able to contextualize and guide and clarify for me. That I remain confused at times is a shortcoming of mine and not anyone else’s.

Last, but not least, when I’m covering a non-Black author, I ask them to recommend a book by a Black author to go alongside their post. Would you mind sharing a rec with me?

Oh oh oh! One of my year-mates from my MFA program at The New School (we graduated in 2016!) is publishing something I’m REALLY excited about. Zakiya Dalila Harris’s book The Other Black Girl is coming out in June and I am AMPED.

The cover of THE OTHER BLACK GIRL, by Zakiya Dalila Harris.

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

New year, who dis?

Happy 2021, theydies and gentlethems! A quick personal note to start this post: Books Beyond Binaries may look slightly different this year, in terms of content. Part of the reason for that is because I have recently transitioned my Twitter account to announcements-only for the foreseeable future. I’ve come to accept that posting my updates and checking my mentions through Hootsuite is a lot better for my mental health and time management than reading my feed every day, even if it does mean that I miss out on content sometimes. If you see anything on Twitter that you think should be featured in this space, feel free to tag me or send it my way via DM or the contact page!

Now, on to the good stuff. I’m thrilled that for the first post of a new year, I have some super special content to share. CeCe Lyra has reviewed Susan Mihalic’s novel Dark Horses. This one holds a special place in my heart, because I grew up horseback riding every chance I got, competing, and devouring “horse girl” books. Not only are these coming back in MG and YA literature lately, which is a welcome trend over here, but I am hype for the books coming out for former horse girls turned reading adults.

I am also super excited to welcome an author who I’ve been following for a few years now for his first feature post in this space, Sam J. Miller. I first discovered Sam through his acclaimed YA novel, Destroy All Monsters, which I featured in a post back in 2019. At the time, this poignant and bizarre novel had become a staff favourite at Another Story, the local indie where I worked as a bookseller.

Sam’s fourth novel, The Blade Between, recently dropped, and I’m honoured that he was willing to put together a super cool post for us about some of the research that he did when writing the book. Sam’s books are spooky and fascinating and, in his words, “gay as heck.” If you’re new to his writing, I hope that this post will encourage you to dive in, because you’ve been missing it in your life. I promise.

Review of Susan Mihalic’s DARK HORSES, by Cecilia Lyra

The cover of Dark Horses.

Fifteen-year-old Roan Montgomery is a competitor in the exclusive, high-stakes equestrian world with a goal of becoming an Olympian. She has good reason to think she’ll get there: Roan is talented, hard-working, and genuinely passionate about riding. She’s also pedigreed—her father has several Olympic medals of his own and wrote the book on eventing. It’s no surprise then that he is Roan’s coach, publicist, and agent. What is a surprise: he’s been raping her since she was six years old. A greater surprise still: Roan’s mother knows.

An image of a chestnut horse wearing a harness eating hay.
Photo by Emmy Nordstrom Higdon; Cape Breton, 2011. Taken on Portra 160 VC; Minolta.

To survive (a word Roan would undoubtedly resent), she compartmentalizes. She tells herself it’s not all bad. That staying silent is her choice. That she would rather be complicit than a victim. That what really matters are her riding ambitions. As with all emotions, perhaps a lot of it true, or perhaps all (or none) of it is. But truth in emotions is beside the point. What is the point: Roan’s indomitable, clear-eyed strength. It is this strength that guides her as she struggles to comprehend and navigate her circumstances, not just the conflicting emotions she feels towards her father, but also the role she feels she plays in their relationship. Throughout the novel, we watch Roan’s sense of self grow stronger, which in turn causes her father to tighten his grip on her. This is exacerbated by the fact that Roan’s mother leaves, taking with her what little protection she could offer, and that Roan falls in love with Will, a classmate at her exclusive prep school. Although she is, without a doubt, a victim of abuse, Roan does not come across as a victim. She’s a fighter—has been from page one, and as the story unfolds, we watch her battle with growing fortitude.

Set against the backdrop of competitive riding, DARK HORSES moves along nimbly, with explosive stretches that made my pulse race. Typically, when I’m reading a book that I know I will later review, I make notes as I turn the pages. I jot down my impressions on the narrative flow, themes examined, and characters I meet along the way, pausing to reflect on their fatal flaws (I have a thing about flaws). I’m a natural note-taker and, more to the point, I find it helps with my reviews. I couldn’t do that with this novel. Its pull was all-consuming, like being sucked in by a tidal wave. I had no time—or headspace—to make notes. It’s quite a feat for any novelist, holding a reader’s attention like that. But given the disturbing nature of the subject matter it’s even more impressive.

A black Newfoundland pony, wearing a harness, grazing, seen through a white fence.
Photo by Emmy Nordstrom Higdon; Newfoundland, 2011. Taken on Portra 160 NC; Minolta.

DARK HORSES had everything to be a story of privilege. A poor-little-rich girl narrative with a horsey twist. Instead, it’s an exploration of power, control, and desire as told through the lenses of a girl who refused to be broken. It’s a powerful novel—in more ways than one.


Along with Dark Horses, CeCe recommends readers check out Aftershocks, by skillful Black author Nadia Owusu. It comes out on the 21st of this month.

The cover of Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Feature Post: Author Sam J. Miller on THE BLADE BETWEEN

Hudson is a weird distinctive haunted looking town, and so I had a huge assortment of creepy fascinating spaces at my disposal when I started writing my gentrification ghost story The Blade Between. And while I hope I succeeded in rendering those locations vividly enough on the page, the reality of the city is worth sharing. 

The cover of The Blade Between.

Here are eight of the locations where key events take place, along with a quote from the book describing each. If you’ve already read THE BLADE BETWEEN, I hope they help you compare the space as it really is to the way you imagined it. And if you haven’t read it, I hope they spark your interest enough to want to visit Hudson… even if it’s only on the page. 

A brown brick building against a blue sky with dry greenery in front and bare trees. Text reads, Every building on that block looked like something out of Meet Me in St. Louis, great gingerbread monstrosities of nineteenth-century wealth, ;wide, deep porches and Tiffany glass, ; porticos and gables and other words I never knew before I started researching Hudson home prices - the better to burn them all down.
A bridge covered in faded graffiti over a worn concrete road. Text reads, A set of rusted black trestles carried the train tracks over Power Avenue.
An American diner on the corner of a street, red and white with silver metallic accents. Text reads, The familiar sooty chrome exterior of the Columbia Diner caught my eye, sucked me inside by awakened twenty-year-old instinct - an entire childhood's worth of Saturday morning breakfasts with my dad, on our walk to work at the butcher shop...
A road on a tree-lined street in winter, after the leaves have all fallen. A new-looking house sits on the corner. Text reads, Walking south on Second Street, up the steep block that fell away to a ravine on either side, where the rain still fell from the trees and the air smelled like rot and wilderness, I heard a voice say: Why so glum, glummy?
Twilight, a street with train tracks embedded in it, lined on one side with run-down buildings, and on the other side with parked cars. Text reads, Freight train tracks run right through upper Hudson, along sixth street, right below the park.
An evening sky with a streetlight on in the foreground, over a quiet back alley. Text reads, He puts a brown paper bag on the hood of her car, and stalks off into the alley dark. She hollers at him to wait - even turns on her cell phone's flashlight function and hurries after him - but he's already gone.
A bridge over the Hudson River. The sun shines through the clouds, reflecting off the water. Text reads, I was kneeling on the pedestrian walkway of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Staring down into the same dizzying dark, the same twenty-story fall that swallowed up my mother.
The inside of a library with marble floors and white-painted shelves. Text reads, ...the Hudson Library, which before being a library had been a mental institution and before that a foundlings' home, and both of those establishments had been in need of a cell in the basement for their most recalcitrant occupants.

In addition to The Blade Between, Sam J. Miller (and I!!!) recommends that readers check out A Spectral Hue, by Black author Craig Laurance Gidney. Sam writes: A gorgeous, creepy, rapturous story, told in incredible prose, and if there was any justice it would have already won ALL THE AWARDS. 

The cover of A Spectral Hue.

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Meet A.J. and Ana!

I grew up as a sports-loving tomboy in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and one of my earliest memories is of my toddler body being stuffed into a snowsuit and skates, and thrust onto the ice by my grandfather. I leaned my torso on the seat of a rickety wooden chair that scraped along in front of me as I learned to clop my way around a worn rink and lots of bumpy pond surfaces. When I got steady enough on my feet, being a girl, I was funnelled into figure skating classes, while my masculine peers were shuffled off to hockey. I did local competitions until I was 10, when a knee injury from horseback riding kept me on crutches for a year, and I was relegated to recreational skating for the rest of my days. Still, ice skating has been a huge source of joy in my life, and every winter I still haul my neon purple and pink skate bag, monogrammed with my dead name, out to the rinks in Toronto. I wear knee pads these days.

The cover of The Shiny Skates, by Elizabeth Koda-Callan.

When I first came across A.J. Sass’ book, ANA ON THE EDGE, the first thing that came to mind was one of my 1990s childhood favourites, a book called THE SHINY SKATES, by Elizabeth Koda-Callan. Truly a relic of the 90s (although it was reprinted in 2004 by Workman Publishing), this was part of the Magic Charm books – a series of chapter books that came with charm necklaces for the reader to wear along with their characters. I wore mine religiously.

Around the time that THE SHINY SKATES was released was also when American Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding’s career came to a close due to her possible involvement in a scandalous event in which her skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was assaulted and injured at the rink. Both skaters competed in the 1994 Olympics, where Kerrigan won a silver medal and Harding finished eighth. I still remember how public perception of Tonya Harding and her less feminine presentation on the ice coloured my entire experience of learning how to skate as a young, gender non-conforming athlete. (If you want to learn more about Harding and her story, journalist Sarah Marshall wrote a great piece about her, and later did a two-part podcast episode about her on You’re Wrong About.)

The cover of Ana on the Edge, by A.J. Sass

ANA ON THE EDGE is an #OwnVoices middle grade novel about a non-binary figure skater, written by a non-binary figure skater, and all I can think every time I think about this book is how the world has changed since I was a kid. I can’t even imagine how life-changing it would have been for me to have gotten my hands on this book back in the body-shaming mid-90’s, when I was mortified by how my muscular, chubby body looked in my skin-tight, sequinned figure skating dresses… if Tonya Harding couldn’t pull them off, how could I be expected to? The gentle exploration of gender, identity, and self-perception that is navigated with such charm in ANA ON THE EDGE could have been a balm to my soul back then, as it is now.

I am so honoured that author and figure skater A.J. Sass was so generous and receptive when I reached out to see if they would collaborate on a post for this site about ANA, and my interview with them is below. I would be remiss not to mention that not only is A.J. an autistic author with an interest in neurodivergence representation in fiction, they are a much more accomplished skater than I could ever dream to be! Aside from writing books, A.J. is a US Figure Skating double gold medalist in Moves in the Field and Free Skate, a silver medalist in Ice Dance, and a member of the 2018 national bronze medalist and 2019 national silver medalist Masters synchronized skating team, IceSymmetrics. (Insert my fan face here!) Now living in San Francisco, ANA is their debut novel, and it was released in October, and is available for purchase now!

When I asked A.J. what books by Black authors they would recommend alongside ANA, they struggled to narrow it down to three choices… Kacen Callendar’s KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES (a fan favourite in these parts), THE BLACK FLAMINGO, by Dean Atta, and Kim Johnson’s THIS IS MY AMERICA.

Interview with A.J. Sass, author of ANA ON THE EDGE

A.J. Sass, author of ANA ON THE EDGE.

When I first encountered ANA ON THE EDGE, I was so thrilled for two reasons. One, there isn’t a lot of #OwnVoices non-binary representation for this age group yet, and two, I would have loved a book like this growing up. What do you think your young self would have thought of Ana and of this story?

I definitely didn’t know I was non-binary when I was Ana’s age. In fact, I’m not even sure if the term had been coined yet, officially! What I do know is that I would’ve gravitated toward a book like this on the shelves because I was an avid fan of skating as a kid. I started group class lessons all the way back when I was seven. And I think reading about Ana, a rising star in the sport of figure skating who realizes she* is uncomfortable with some of the gendered aspects within the sport, would have been revelatory for me as someone who always felt a little prickle of discomfort when I encountered similar binary components as a skater.

I can’t know for sure what I would have thought of Ana, or Hayden, her new friend who is a transgender boy, but I suspect that seeing a mirror of my own feelings reflected in someone else would have given me a solid starting point to exploring my identity much earlier in my life.

*Just as a heads up, I’m referring to Ana with female pronouns because Ana hasn’t chosen a new set by the end of the story. Non-binary people use a variety of pronouns, like gender neutral and even male and female pronouns in some instances (e.g., I use he/him and they/them pronouns interchangeably). In Ana’s case, she’s still exploring what feels best for her.

You’ve competed in figure skating, ice dance, and synchronized team skating. How did your own experiences in this artistic sport factor into your work on ANA?

As I mentioned earlier, I started skating when I was a child and I remain active in the sport now. As a kid, my discomfort associated with wearing skating tights and dresses was more of a subconscious undercurrent rather than something I was actively aware of. I think kids today are often more aware that the LGBTQIA+ community exists, even if they don’t know precisely how they fit into it. So I made sure to reflect that in Ana’s narrative, even though it took me until adulthood myself to pinpoint why I was uncomfortable with skating’s gendered components.

One of my favorite memories in the sport is of the friendships I made, and the moments my training-mates and I would goof off in between lessons during practice. Because at its core, skating is a really fun activity, even for kids like Ana who are very serious about their training. An early scene where Ana’s best friend, Tamar, challenges her to perform a cartwheel on ice comes directly from my own experiences. Here’s some proof:

From A.J. Sass’s instagram.

Being a marginalized publishing professional can be super challenging. Your book is with a Big 5 publisher – one of the Hachette imprints – and that’s a really big deal! What has your experience been like working with an agent and an editorial team at a big publishing house on a story featuring a protagonist who is questioning their gender? What would you say the most fulfilling part of this process was, and what was the biggest challenge?

I feel like I’ve been supremely fortunate to work with my agent, Jordan Hamessley, and the entire team at New Leaf, as well as ANA’s publishing team at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Working with Jordan has been wonderful and affirming. An example: When we were preparing to go on submission with ANA, Jordan made sure I was comfortable being out as a non-binary author before pitching me as such to editors. Now that ANA is published, I absolutely see where Jordan was coming from since the vast majority of author panels I’ve been on and interviews I’ve done have referenced my experience of being non-binary in some way. I’m proud to be out and open about who I am, but I definitely appreciate Jordan preparing me to think about how that choice would impact the way people approach questions about me and my book.

My editorial team at Little, Brown has also been fantastic. Even so, working on a story with a non-binary protagonist who hasn’t made a decision to change her pronouns yet by the end of the story presented a challenge for all of us.

About a year ago, right around the time we were finalizing the book summary that would appear on ANA ON THE EDGE’s dust jacket, the use of female pronouns in reference to Ana started feeling off to me. I really couldn’t explain it at first. We’d used female pronouns for the Publishers Weekly announcement when ANA first sold and we used them on internal email communications as well. So why was it bothering me to see them on the inside flap of what would eventually become the book’s dust jacket?

Eventually, I realized my concern was that prospective readers would be unfamiliar with the nuances of Ana’s story and what it even means to be non-binary. I worried that cisgender readers would see those female pronouns and immediately make the assumption that Ana is a girl who decides to become non-binary, rather than a non-binary kid discovering that’s who they’ve always been.

Then I proceeded to worry that my publisher would be annoyed if I asked to change the wording after I’d already approved the final copy. But ultimately, this became one of the most fulfilling aspects of the publishing process for me because my editors were incredibly receptive to my feedback. They were happy to rework the copy so that pronouns aren’t referenced at all on the dust jacket, or marketing and other promotional materials. Now I feel like readers can enter Ana’s world without any misconceptions about gender identity and come to their own conclusions as they immerse themselves in the story.

In this story, you decided to include not only Ana, a non-binary protagonist, but you also introduced readers to Hayden, a transgender boy. Was it important to you to include more than one trans character in this book, or did that just happen organically as you were writing? In addition, how did you make sure that you were doing both of these identities justice in your representation of them in this book?

It was an intentional choice to include two trans characters because I wanted to highlight how no two trans experiences are the same. Hayden’s known who he is for a while by the time he and Ana meet, whereas Ana is just starting to explore the layers of her identity. As I touched on in an earlier answer, I think it can sometimes be a revelation to see an aspect of yourself reflected in someone else. That’s what happens when Ana meets Hayden: Hayden’s identity doesn’t match Ana’s precisely, but she recognizes a shared commonality, one that spurs her to dig deeper and learn more about herself.

In terms of representation, I’ve identified as a transgender man and non-binary at various points in my life. There are parts of my experience with those two identities in the representation of both Hayden and Ana. Since trans experiences can vary greatly from person to person, I also had authenticity readers provide further feedback.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

What is one thing that you would want your readers to know about ANA ON THE EDGE? Similarly, what do you wish you could tell adults who are going to choose this book to put in a young reader’s hands?

My answer here applies to both kids and adults: It’s okay not to have everything figured out about yourself all at once. It’s fine if you do, of course, but I think something I struggled with when I was younger was a concern that I might change my mind later or realize I was wrong about my identity after I’d already come out to my friends and family. I worried about burdening others if I had to come out again and ask them to use a name and set of pronouns that fit me better.

People aren’t static. We are constantly changing and evolving. The same can be true about identity, and there is no shame in coming to a better understanding of yourself, no matter what age you are. I hope Ana’s story helps readers embrace uncertainty and consider it an opportunity to get to know themselves even better.


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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

BREAK OUT THE SCISSORS

Happy Monday, theydies and gentlethems. This week, I’m pleased to share with you a review of Avalon’s Last Knight, an #OwnVoices LGBTQ2S+ novel by trans author Jackson C. Garton. I’m also thrilled to host a guest post from dark fantasy author A. J. Vrana on one of my favourite editorial topics: HOW TO CUT WORDS. Thank you so much for your continued support of this space! If you want to throw a coin to your blogger, my ko-fi is linked at the end of the post.

Review: Avalon’s Last Knight, by Jackson C. Garton

I’m so pleased that author Jackson C. Garton sought me out and shared this book with me, and I owe him a public apology, because it took me forever to finally pick this up. 2020 has been a hard year, and if I had known that I would enjoy this as much as I did, I may not have waited so long. Sorry, fam!

Avalon’s Last Knight from Pride Publishing is loosely categorized as LGBTQ Urban Fantasy, but I think it is more accurately described as an LGBTQ2S+ romance with speculative elements. I’m not usually all about retellings, but Garton managed to skillfully integrate the old and the new in a way that wasn’t distracting from the thrust of the narrative. Set in the rural American south – a rare bird for LGBTQ2S+ fiction – Garton’s book follows Lance and Arthur, high school BFFs turned sweethearts, as they learn to navigate their new relationship, and all the complications that come with it.

With strikingly raw prose reminiscent of the fiction of the Trans Vanguard, Garton expertly weaves thematic aspects of the original tales of Avalon through a diverse and contemporary romance flavoured with a taste of the occult. Emotions right on the surface, this book tackles the complexity of transition, love, and the cultural tension of progressive life in a conservative setting.

My only criticism of this book is that, to my knowledge, the racial representation is not based on lived experience. For me as a reader, it felt as though the diversity aspects were handled sensitively, and this remains a book that I would recommend. As a white reader, I would be interested to see reviews of this title from POC.

When I asked Garton what book he would recommend by a Black author, he suggested Kacen Callendar’s Felix Ever After, which was featured on Santana Reads! I’m thrilled to have been introduced to Avalon’s Last Knight, and I look forward to seeing what Garton comes up with next.


The Baldwin quote above is the banner that I use on my editorial reports for my lit agent clients. It feels appropriate here, because today, I am completely stoked to be hosting one of those clients with a guest post on one of my FAVOURITE editorial topics: how to make deep cuts. There is nothing more satisfying than a manuscript with good economy of language, and no one knows how to achieve that better than A. J. Vrana. Her method is just… *chef’s kiss*. I asked her to write this as much for my nerdy brain as for anyone else’s benefit. I hope you’ll all enjoy as much as I did.

In the meantime, if I haven’t shouted about it enough, A. J. Vrana’s beautiful debut dark fantasy novel is also now available for purchase, if you’d like a book-length example of the kind of results you can get with her editorial methods.

How to Cut Words: Guest Post by A. J. Vrana

There is no shortage of jokes about writers. Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, you’re bound to encounter a quip or two about creative types and their stubborn dedication to their artistic vision. Creative people are sometimes incorrectly stereotyped as being spacey, unmoored, and impractical, much to my personal chagrin. Of course, if that were true, none of us would have succeeded in making a living with our creative work, least of all in a business that is primarily concerned with one thing: making money.

There is no separating creative writing from the publishing industry if, well, you want to be published. While there are many talented, visionary writers out there, navigating the business side of publishing can prove frustrating and alienating for many people. However, if we want our work read, we need to come to terms with the fact that publishing is a business, and businesses will always be concerned with how to maximize their profits. One of the ways they do this is by becoming intimately acquainted with the market. For a book to be publishable, it needs to have commercial potential. It doesn’t matter how breath-taking, eloquent, or poetic your writing is; if it isn’t something a publisher feels they can sell to a market they themselves have carved out through a long history of curated publication and advertisement, there is little hope the manuscript will be acquired by an agent or an editor.

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

One of the often understated facets of marketability is word count. See, when I say, “markets that have been carved out through a history of curated publication,” I’m talking about genre conventions that have slowly but surely become cemented in readers’ understanding of literature, and subsequently inform their expectations. Word count is one of the many markers of how well a work fits within its intended genre. It has implications not only for a publisher’s production costs and returns, but for how the market will actually receive the work.

So, what is an acceptable word count for your next best seller? Well, it depends on the genre. Here are some general figures for popular genres; these can be easily found on the interwebs:

  • Mainstream Romance: 70,000–100,000 words
  • Subgenre Romance: 40,000–100,000 words
  • Science Fiction / Fantasy: 90,000–120,000
  • Historical Fiction: 80,000–100,000
  • Thrillers / Horror / Mysteries / Crime: 70,000–90,000 words
  • Young Adult: 50,000–80,000
  • Middle Grade: 25,000–40,000 words
Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

With the exception of kidlit and SFF, you’ll notice immediately that the upper end of the word count bracket for most genres is 100k. However, I would argue that if you’re a debut author, your SFF should also be around or under 100k. Once you go over this mark, the work becomes an increasingly difficult sell for both agents and publishers.

I myself am a verbose gal. When I wrote the first draft of my debut, a contemporary dark fantasy, it was 135,000 words! I justified this massive word count by convincing myself it was what I needed to tell the story, but I was a DIRTY LIAR. In truth, the long word count reflected several of my weaknesses as a writer: I sucked at pacing. My first 50 pages were way too slow in getting to the action. I overwrote emotions. I spent too much time on scenes that didn’t move the plot forward, and I did so under the guise of ‘character development’. I underestimated how few words I needed to get my point across. After several rounds of substantive edits and several more of line edits, I parred the beast down to 97,000 words. The final manuscript upon publication? 98,300 words. The best part? The major plot beats and structure hadn’t even changed.

But how the heck do you chop a novel’s worth of words out of your manuscript to appease your agent or editor’s pragmatic bones? Well, let me tell you. Here’s how to murder your beloved in three, excruciating steps.

Photo by Angèle Kamp on Unsplash

STEP ONE: Reverse Outline Your Book

The first step to chop-chop-chopping is to get rid of any large chunks of text that are unnecessary to the plot. But how do you know what’s unnecessary to the plot? That three-page meditation on the movement of celestial bodies and their implications for the fate of the family cat provide the reader with such a keen glimpse into your character’s psyche.

To figure out whether your reader will give a rat’s ass about the family cat’s natal chart, try a reverse outline. To do this, make a note of your book’s conclusion, then work your way backwards. What event prompted the ending? What then triggered the event that prompted the ending? Keep working your way backwards until you reach the beginning of your book. The catch? Don’t look at your manuscript when you do it. You, as the author, should be able to backtrack through your entire manuscript and communicate the book’s major inciting events without analyzing the text.

Once you’ve done this, take a look at your manuscript and make note of everything that falls outside of those core events, then ask yourself if those scenes are truly necessary. After reverse outlining your book, you should have a little more distance to judge whether these outliers are really needed. If you aren’t sure, cut and paste them in a separate document and see if the story still works without them. If the answer is ‘yes,’ DELETE DELETE DELETE. I don’t care how much you like it; GET RID OF IT. You won’t notice it after it’s gone, I promise.

One other option is to consolidate chapters that deal with similar events or circumstances. Are there two chapters where your protagonist visits a creepy old man in the woods to get information about a certain mystery? Slap ’em together, delete all the dialogue and prose that isn’t vital for your reader, and maintain the core purpose of both chapters—but in one!

Photo by Alex Gruber on Unsplash

STEP TWO: Economy of Words

This is the more detail-oriented and pain-staking method of cutting words, but people grossly underestimate just how much can be excised with careful line edits. The goal here is to make sure that not a single word is wasted. There is no one method of doing this, but I’ve learned a few tricks that can go a long way.

Contractions. This one took me a while to get used to because I got my start in academic writing, where contractions are a big no-no. However, using contractions in non-academic writing, especially creative writing, can reduce word count significantly. Use Ctrl+F to find common phrases that can be replaced with contractions.

That. Many a time, the word ‘that’ is not really necessary. I was told that I’d have to cut at least 10,000 words from my book. See what I did there?

Sentence Structure. Sometimes, switching up syntax and playing with verb conjugation can spare a word or two per sentence. It may not seem like a lot, but when you have thousands of sentences, it adds up.

For example: He stared at the maskless buffoon and then wondered if humanity was done for.

Alternative: He stared at the maskless buffoon, then wondered if humanity was done for.

Even better alternative: He stared at the maskless buffoon, wondering if humanity was done for.

Now, you don’t want to use the same sentence structure over and over again. Don’t get too nitpicky with this, because sentence variety is more important than cutting a single word per sentence. Don’t forget that you can also change what order your clauses are in. Be conscious of modifiers and subordinate clause placement, as sometimes these can needlessly lengthen sentences.

Example from this very verbose blog: When I wrote the first draft of my debut, a contemporary dark fantasy, it was 135,000 words!

Alternative: The first draft of my contemporary dark fantasy debut was 135,000 words.

Photo by Wajih Ghali on Unsplash

Starting sentences with ‘And’ or ‘But’. This is probably the thing I struggled with most. I loooove starting sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but,’ especially when establishing a character’s voice. Sadly, it’s not necessary most of the time. Occasionally it’s fine if used for emphasis or in dialogue, but try to minimize this as much as possible.

Adjectives and adverbs. Remember when I said I overwrite emotions? Yeah, this. Listen, there is NOTHING wrong with a good adjective or adverb, but when you find yourself piling them on like a grocery list comprised entirely of snack foods, reign yourself in. Pick ONE snack food. Even better—ask yourself if there is a more accurate noun or verb that can replace the adjective + noun or adverb + verb you’re using.

Don’t repeat yourself. Sometimes when we try to communicate something, we spend too many sentences expressing the same sentiment. This is natural, as overwriting is how we explore the best way to get a point across. However, once we’ve done this, it’s a good idea to go back and pick one sentence that best communicates the intended point.

Metaphors > Literal Description. This can be a tough one as it forces you to exercise your poetic brain, but I promise it pays off and makes your writing more interesting. Literal descriptions of settings or a character’s emotional state tend to be quite lengthy, and if you have the attention span of a kitten like I do, they can be kind of boring too. Sometimes, an apt, pithy metaphor can convey all that needs to be conveyed in far fewer words than a very literal description. Don’t be afraid to experiment with similes and metaphors; if it doesn’t work, someone will let you know with their confusion! As with the suggestion about sentence structure, you shouldn’t turn every description into a metaphor, but it can help add some variety!

Example: On the weekends, the sidewalks were crowded with people pushing past one another.

Metaphor: On the weekends, the sidewalks [crowded] like an ant colony.

Photo by Dani Rendina on Unsplash

Don’t start sentences with ‘There was’.  This is best illustrated with an example.

Example: There was a child napping in the shade.

Alternative: A child napped in the shade.

Eliminate the obvious. This is another trick best illustrated with an example:

Example: The sky was grey. The clouds hung low, heavy with unfallen rain.

Alternative: The grey clouds hung low, heavy with unfallen rain.

Since clouds are inherently in the sky, we don’t have to mention the sky and the clouds.

Eliminate absences. One trick to using precise language is to eliminate any mention of things being absent, and instead focusing on what is present instead of the absence. Here’s what I mean:

Example: She stared at her estranged mother and felt nothing. The love was gone.

Alternative: She stared at her estranged mother. The love was gone.

Here, it’s redundant for us to say that someone felt nothing; instead, we can infer that there is an absence by noting that ‘the love was gone’.

Photo by Dani Rendina on Unsplash

STEP THREE: Repeat Step 2.

Seriously. You need to do the line edits like three times, because as you progress through your manuscript, you will grow lazy and let things slip. The first time I finished cutting on a line level, I’d eliminated 3000 words. After my second round, I’d eliminated 6000 words. By my third round, I’d cut a total of 8000 words.

And it was great.


Alex’s recommendation for a book by a Black author to check out is the Binti trilogy, by Nnedi Okorafor. I had the pleasure of hearing Okorafor speak in Denver a couple of years back, and she blew my mind. This book is definitely worth the read!

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

All Eyes on Her

I could not be more excited for today’s post. I am super thrilled to welcome back BBB contributor Jack for another incredible review. This time, Jack writes about a forthcoming LGBTQ2S+ novel, Seven, by Farzana Doctor, an author of colour in my local, Toronto. Then, I am deeply honoured to be hosting a post by another Ontario author, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, whose new YA thriller, All Eyes On Her, comes out later this month. She addresses a super challenging topic in writing, and one that she proves herself to be a master of in her upcoming title that I couldn’t put down: multiple POV.

Before we jump in, I just want to put in a quick plug for an upcoming LGBTQ2S+ contemporary indie press book by my client, author CM Harris. Maiden Leap releases on September 1st, and you can read more about it here!

In addition, as a follow up to last week’s post on chapter books, huge congratulations to Theanne Griffith, Reggie Brown, and their whole team – there are more Magnificent Makers books on the way!

Jack’s Review of Seven, by Farzana Doctor

I have such a fondness for Farzana’s work, which I discovered years ago through our mutual connection to the social work profession. I was super glad when Jack chose this book to check out. Seven comes out later this year, and is available for pre-order now.

Farzana Doctor’s novel Seven is the kind of novel that, like the scent of baked bread wafting over from a bakery, lures you in. In her fourth novel, Seven, Doctor explores themes of personhood, motherhood, and the concept of individuality in a collective community. The novel borrows from Farzana’s Indian ancestry, specifically her Dawoodi Bohra community and carefully braids truth and fiction into a family’s intergenerational story. What begins as an insight into a familial tree takes Sharifa through past and present becoming a story of chosen family and the fortitude of relationships.

Seven, is a layered concoction which reveals itself to its reader in pieces. In the novel, Doctor questions how people define “harm”, challenging the notion of harm and family as mutually exclusive. Doctor represents social justice on the public scale we are familiar with, and through the individual experience which personalizes pain.

Photo by Jill Dimond on Unsplash

CW for this book include sexual violence and gas-lighting. I found enlightenment in the presence of both sexual violence and strategies of healing. I recommend this book to readers in their young adulthood. It is also an insight into the different types of activism and stands one can take.

Farzana Doctor is a Canadian author, activist, and psychotherapist. She is a careful writer whose embroidery of Intergenerational trauma, the politicization of women’s bodies and the human experience, is both brilliant and alluring. What happens when trauma is weaponized as a vehicle of obedience and victims become perpetrators? How can multiple truths co-exist?

During this year’s Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), I had the pleasure of attending the virtual What We found discussion, where she posed thoughtful questions about identity, about writing. The thoughtfulness is evident once again in the configuration of Seven, a novel full of questioning.

The novel begins with Sharifa, a woman who feels broken. Sharifa and her family decide to go to India, where Murtuza (her husband) will be working and Sharifa will be on sabbatical. Sharifa plans on researching her family, specifically Abdoolally’s role as the family’s patriarch, while homeschooling her daughter.  Her daughter, Zee becomes a focal point, reminding Sharifa of herself as a child when she would travel back to India. During her research, Sharifa begins to identify the ways in which people can inflict harm their loved ones. Even though this is a work of fiction, the character of Abdoolally was inspired by Hussonally Dholkawala, Doctor’s great-great grandfather, and the character are based on the very real Dawoodi Bohras’ community.

Photo by Yaopey Yong on Unsplash

In many ways, the novel is an account of the experiences of a cultural transplant with sexual violence, generational trauma and belonging. By showing the varying ways in which trauma shows up for the same experience, Doctor explores the complicated nature of trauma.

In Seven, the reader is given pieces of a puzzle and asked: “what happens if we believe in the wrong thing, the wrong people?” What does healing look like?

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, Author of ALL EYES ON HER

I met Laurie through this blog, when I first wrote about one of her titles, Last Girl Lied To, which I read during the #VillainAThon last year. I could not put this book down. Since then, I’ve learned that Laurie herself is as much of a delight as her books are, as she’s peppered me with recommendations for other un-put-down-able titles over the last several months. I think that I can safely say that we share a passion for messy teenaged femme characters, and I have never been disappointed by a book that she’s suggested for me.

I am honoured to have met Laurie, and to have received an ARC of her forthcoming YA novel, All Eyes On Her to screen read for my bookshop. It was the first book I read in 2020, while I was going through a very difficult time in my life, and it was immersive and escapist and everything I’d hoped. The ending drove me bananas in the best possible way. The last chapter was absolutely delicious, and kept me guessing through the very last page. All Eyes On Her comes out on August 18th, and is available for pre-order now.

More recently, Laurie has achieved incredible success, and as a reader I could not be happier, and as one of her supporters, I am deeply proud. Her adult debut was recently acquired by Simon and Schuster, and optioned for television by AMC. I can’t wait to read this book, and I hope desperately that we’ll all get to watch it come to live as a super bingeable series.

For this post, I am so grateful that Laurie addressed multi-POV writing. As I wrote at the top of this post, she executes it perfectly in All Eyes On Her, and it’s something that takes so much technique, precision, and dedication to master. Thank you so much for this, Laurie, and congratulations for all that is to come!

As is tradition, I asked Laurie to recommend some books by Black authors that readers of this blog should check out alongside All Eyes On Her. Her choices were Some Other Now by Sarah Everett, which releases in early 2021. She also loved Allegedly, by Tiffany D. Jackson, and You Don’t Know Me But I Know You by Rebecca Barrow. 

Voices in a Crowd: Writing Multiple POV

When I started writing All Eyes On Her, I didn’t have a plot or an outline—just a vaguely drawn idea about a boy and a girl who went into the woods, and only the girl came back. The first voice that came to me was the main character Tabitha’s best friend, Elle, and the next thing I knew, Tabby’s sworn enemy needed a say too. Before I knew it, several other characters had emerged from my imagination, all of them with one thing in common: They knew, or had known, Tabitha Cousins, and thus felt qualified to weigh in on her guilt or innocence. To act as a sort of jury, convincing the reader of her true nature.

I drafted the novel in a fast and furious blur. By the time I finished, there were five main point of view characters, each with a different relationship to Tabby and her deceased boyfriend Mark, as well as several peripheral characters with their own chapters. To complicate matters, the story also involved news articles, blog posts, texts, diary entries, and police transcripts. 

I give huge credit to my editors for not balking at the idea of a novel with so many different POV characters and formats. They were fully on board and excited about the concept from the start. I knew the challenges I was facing—to successfully execute the style I wanted the novel to take, each voice had to sound unique, and each character had to provide different information that informed the narrative and moved the plot along. It was in editing and revising that I really learned what worked and what didn’t, and I came up with these tips for anyone else working on (or wanting to start) a multiple POV novel!

Know Your Characters

You need to know your characters no matter how many POV characters you have, or how the story is told. But it’s especially important when you have a cast of characters whose voices each need to sound distinct. Each time I entered a new perspective, I settled into that character’s head, and that informed the voice. I often asked myself, is this something she would say? Is this a reaction she would have? I also challenged myself to memorize each person’s motivations—why he feels this way, and why he thinks the reader needs to be made aware. I aimed to know instinctively how each character would react to a situation, even if it was a situation that wasn’t happening on the page. 

The Why

Ask yourself why a certain character’s POV needs to be included. What does it bring to the story? What information or insight does this person provide that another one can’t? A few side characters with POV chapters in the first draft of All Eyes On Her were cut in revisions, because as fun as they were to write, they weren’t adding any new or crucial information to the narrative.

Try Different Formats

While most of my POV characters have first-person present-tense chapters, I wrote one entirely using a police transcript format. At the time, I wasn’t sure why his story needed to be told this way, but looking back, I can see the reason. I didn’t necessarily want the reader in his head as much as directly outside of it. I wanted to showcase his personality through dialogue and intentionally keep certain thoughts off-limits. Which brings me to the next point…

Hide and Seek

Just because you have multiple characters doesn’t mean you need to give readers their every thought. In fact, it’s more effective when you don’t (especially if you’re writing a thriller where everybody may be a suspect…). Think as much about what you choose not to share as what you do. Give your readers tantalizing little gaps to fill in. Consider why a character may not be saying something, and what that tells readers about him or her. The only thing I love more than an unreliable narrator… unreliable narrators.

The only thing I love more than an unreliable narrator… unreliable narrators.

Show, Don’t Tell

This is solid advice for writing in general, but I find it especially helpful for navigating a multi-POV book. If readers are simply told every thought in a character’s mind, they’ll get bored easily, and you run the risk of one character blending into the next. Show how the character interacts with others. How she walks and talks. What her hobbies are. How she acts at parties. How she behaves around friends versus parents. What her secrets are, and how she conceals them…

Streamline Information

Something to avoid with a large cast of POV characters is each section feeling like an info-dump, or a repetition of information another character already shared. Ideally, you want each character’s next chapter to piggyback off the one before it, ramping up to the climax of the novel. The order needs to be determined by underlying tension, and what comes next to ratchet up that tension. Every author has a different strategy, and there’s no wrong way. Some write all of one character’s chapters before moving into the head of another, and some write mostly in chronological order. For this book, I head-hopped and wrote mostly in order, which I think helped with the pacing, and ensured that every new event built on the one before it to create momentum.

Motivation is Key

Since character arcs are so important, this is a challenge when you have several characters whose stories need to feel compelling on their own, as well as part of a whole. Make sure you always know what each character wants, and what’s standing in the way of them getting it. I also like to keep in mind what each character is hiding, or what they don’t want people to find out. Having character arcs overlap and inform each other is like putting together a (sometimes frustrating, sometimes extremely satisfying) puzzle.

Differentiate Speech and Mannerisms

A trick I employed as I edited All Eyes On Her: If I picked up the manuscript and flipped to a random chapter, would I know whose head I was in within a couple sentences? If the answer was no, I looked at why. Had I fallen into similar phrasing? Made everyone constantly push their hair back behind their ears? Did the dialogue feel familiar? Voice is everything in a book with several of them, so having consistent go-to mannerisms or expressions that feel familiar to a character helps them stand out.

I hope these tips are helpful to anyone writing multiple POV! All in all, try to think of it for what it is… a very fun experience, and a challenge that will improve your writing. If you’re someone who gets bored easily (hi, me) or something doesn’t feel right in your book from just one POV, it might be worth figuring out whose voice to potentially add to the story. Listen to what that character has to say—because it may be quite telling.

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Veronica Mars, But Make It Queer

After taking the longest hiatus from posting that I have taken since I started this blog, coming back feels a little bit like coming home. I love my life as a literary agent, and in these quarantimes I am missing my life as a bookseller, but first and foremost, I’m always a bookworm at heart. I decided to take a step back from posting to make space for Black and BIPOC voices making essential statements during a very difficult political time both for publishing and for all of us who are touched and affected by COVID-19. I don’t want anyone to stop listening to those voices, but I also don’t want to stop making space for LGBTQ2S+ voices in this little space of mine. With that in mind, I would like to extend an ongoing invitation to Black and BIPOC writers who would find it advantageous – reach out to me. This space is yours to use if it’s useful to you. I would always be more than willing to use this platform to host and boost your words and voices if I can.

With that in mind, I have two books that I have personal connections to that I want to mention this week, and I am also all kinds of honoured to be hosting Kylie Schachte, author of You’re Next this week. But first, I want to plug a few of my favourite books by Black authors, for those of you who may not know them yet.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you will know that two of my favourite books of all time are Freshwater, by Akewaeke Emezi, and Hurricane Child, by Kacen Callender – both non-binary authors. Freshwater is an adult literary novel that is like no other book I’ve read before. It’s powerful and otherworldly, at times baffling and at others too relatable. It delves into themes like identity, sexuality, and trauma, and it is a difficult but breathtaking book. Hurricane Child, on the other hand, is an accessible middle grade ghost story about a young, Black, queer girl navigating her first crush. It’s poetic and spooky in all the best ways, and I would recommend it to readers of any age. While I’m at it, I’m going to put in a quick plug for books by a dear friend – Emmy Jackson is a Black author of post-apoc fiction, and their book is literally next on my TBR. We’re working on a top secret project together right now, and they’re one of my favourite people. Check out their books here.

If you’re seeking something more contemporary, I would recommend Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid, which deserves to be the next TV series à la Little Fires Everywhere. I feel like every millennial has known the characters in this book in their own lives, for better or worse, and the ending is deeply satisfying. Helen Oyeyemi is an author who never ceases to amaze me. Gingerbread is my favourite novel of hers, and it’s a twisting, winding, family epic turned fairytale that is all about a sticky, spicy, maybe deadly (??) snack. In non-fiction, I’d check out Haben Girma’s memoir – a book that I don’t think got enough buzz early on, and comes out in paperback later this summer. Haben tells her story of being a deafblind Black woman, and I think it’s essential reading – especially for anyone who can only name one deafblind person in history (Helen Keller).

As for books by Black authors that I have on my TBR that are coming out later this year, there are so many… Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko, is a YA fantasy about having the strength to find your own path. I love innovative true crime memoir, and Natasha Trethewey’s book Memorial Drive that examines the murder of her mother looks fantastic. I’m SO HYPED for Alyssa Cole’s new thriller, When No One is Watching – look out for a review somewhere in the near future, because I snagged an ARC! And in my FAVOURITE genre, YA thriller, Tiffany Jackson will drop Grown later in 2020.

…I’ll stop there for now, but thanks to inspiration from Kylie, I’ve asked everyone who I’m featuring in the blog today to recommend a book by a Black author, so this post is packed with suggestions from some incredible authors in their own right.

New Books to Check Out

While the blog was on hiatus, my agenting partner in crime celebrated her book birthday, for her debut novel The Sunset Sisters! Congratulations, CeCe! I couldn’t be prouder of you. This book is the perfect summer read, and is a great commercial fiction recommendation written by a badass feminist author. Cecilia is a Brazilian woman living in Canada, and I am absolutely honoured to call her my friend.

I asked Cecilia what book by a Black author she’d like to recommend alongside The Sunset Sisters, and she chose her favourite of this year so far – The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett.

Next, I want to give a quick shoutout to A. J. Vrana, one of my #SpineSquad authors, who is celebrating HER book birthday for her debut novel on July 28th. This dark fantasy is based on her South Slavic heritage, and it gave me nightmares. I’ll cop to it! The book that she wants to recommend alongside The Hollow Gods is How Long ’til Black Future Month, by N. K. Jemisin.

We also celebrated the sale of her audio rights to Tantor this past week, so there will be an awesome audiobook forthcoming! Congrats!!

You’re Next, by Kylie Schachte

When I picked up You’re Next earlier this year, I was absolutely gobsmacked. I read it because I had an ARC, and it was an easy go-to… as you all know, murder is my comfort read. What I actually got was a super queer, relatable, emotional story that blew me away. It reminded me of Veronica Mars, but super queer. Book of my HEART. I immediately reached out to Kylie, who is an absolute fucking gem, to tell her what a punchy rollercoaster her book had been for me. I’m thrilled that Kylie was up for writing a post for this space, and even more excited because what she wrote feels like it was pulled straight out of my heart. Thank you so much, Kylie, it’s an honour.

The cover of You’re Next, out July 7th.

You can pre-order You’re Next now, and while you’re at it, Kyle recommended two books by Black authors who share her book birthday: Cinderella is Dead, by Kalynn Bayron, and The Voting Booth, by Brandy Colbert. Here’s your summer challenge from me: order all three. You won’t regret a thing.

Re-Imagining Escapism for a World on Fire: Kyle Schachte

Emmy and I first planned the topic for this post back in March, but I am writing it in June. A month defined by uprisings in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, and more–more lives, more Black people brutally killed, so many that even as I say those names there are many more I’m leaving out. More may be murdered between the moment I write this sentence and the day it is posted. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that the pandemic disproportionally kills Black and brown people, for deliberate, systemic reasons. 

This post is not about how I, as a white woman, feel about those murders, or the general state of racial injustice–the world emphatically does not need that. But to not mention this context would be to entirely miss the point of what I’m about to say. 

My book, YOU’RE NEXT, is the story of Flora Calhoun–a sixteen-year-old girl obsessed with solving the murder of her ex-girlfriend, Ava McQueen. I first started writing the book because I wanted to write something “fun.” I had this idea about a girl detective–a girl who would toss off one-liners like a hardboiled PI from the 40s…right before she went to math class. It would be campy, and sarcastic, and full of things like fight scenes and explosions. People might bring it to the beach, or stay up all night finishing it. 

But from the moment I began writing, I ran into some difficult questions. At the core of any murder mystery is, well, murder. So how do I write a “fun” book, when at the heart of it is a queer Black girl, brutally killed? And any murder mystery must grapple, in some kind of way, with justice–what it means and how it should be served. So how do I write a “fun” book about that, when our own justice system is so broken?

There are phenomenal YA books that tackle topics like these head-on, such as The Hate U Give, or the forthcoming This is My America. These are gorgeous, wrenching books that are desperately needed in YA. But this conversation should not be limited to “issue” books, and it shouldn’t solely be the responsibility of Black and POC creators. Too often, the media we think of as being “commercial” or “fun” (specifically the stuff made by white people) side steps these questions altogether. Those stories take place in some kind of parallel universe, where race, class, gender and the like simply do not exist. 

There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of them is that same question I was asking myself: how do you write something that’s both fun and acknowledges the sad, infuriating realities of the world? Doesn’t that, kind of by definition, make things less fun? 

Well…yeah, in some ways. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that teenagers getting killed is fun. But we should also ask: fun for whom? That fictional parallel reality, absent any acknowledgement of inequality…it was constructed for the comfort of white people. An excuse for us to continue to ignore what we are already ignoring in the real world. Escapism from the issues that barely touch us, and yet make us uncomfortable. A world in which our privilege goes unacknowledged and unchecked. 

When creators respond to these critiques, the answer is often, “It’s not supposed to be that serious,” or, “I don’t want people to have to think that hard.” Mind you, these are often the same people who have developed wholeass magic systems they expect readers to follow, but acknowledging that race…exists…is asking people to think too hard. And that response actually makes a lot of assumptions about readers, and what they will find enjoyable. It assumes a definition of “pleasure” that is, like so many things, oriented around a straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, male gaze. 

Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

But that kind of pleasure can ruin a story for others. I often give up on shows or books because the oversights are so glaring. Is this a world in which no people of color exist? No queer people? Women do not make up 50% of the population? When I consume those kinds of stories, there is no escape. My brain works double time to pick out every issue, every whitewashing, every dogwhistle. 

And anyway, it’s a false choice! We already know for a fact that it is possible to write books that can be both fun and acknowledge systemic injustice…because marginalized writers have been creating those stories for ages. Check out A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, or the upcoming Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas–all joyful and escapist, and yet imbued with the lived experience of marginalization. And we should absolutely be handing the mic to #OwnVoices authors at every opportunity, but that does not absolve us from needing to do better in our own work as well. 

I’ve been thinking about these questions since I started writing YOU’RE NEXT in 2014, but my thoughts started to coalesce a few months ago, when I watched the movie Knives Out. For those who haven’t seen it, the movie is an extremely campy, whimsical romp in the vein of Clue, or The Westing Game. An eccentric millionaire is murdered in a locked room, and a brilliant, ostentatious private investigator is brought in to figure out whodunit. But underneath those fun trappings, the movie is also a pointed rebuke of white privilege. The millionaire in question left his entire fortune to his nurse, Marta–a young Latinx woman whose mother is undocumented–cutting his family out of the will altogether. At first, the white family members treat Marta with saccharine affection (while loudly debating in her presence whether “illegals” should be deported), but when the money gets involved, they turn on her. They threaten her and weaponize her mother’s immigration status–even the “nice,” “liberal” side of the family. 

Now, is Knives Out a nuanced, in-depth portrayal of our broken immigration system, or the ways white people benefit from systemic racism? No. It is zany and bonkers, and exactly what you would want from a movie like that. But it provides just enough context to feel like it lives in our real world, or at least was created by people who are aware not only that these problems exist, but that they shape every story we tell–whether we acknowledge them or not. 

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

“Escapism” shouldn’t mean ignoring hard or painful things completely. Instead, when we acknowledge those issues, we find new narrative possibilities–we can create “escapist” fiction that is in dialogue with the things we are trying to escape. Knives Out is pleasurable–and commercially successful!–not because it pretends that racism and xenophobia don’t exist, but because Marta triumphs over it through her own cleverness and good heart. 

The joy I tried to create in YOU’RE NEXT is a little different. Yes, there’s the fun, high octane stuff–car chases, fight clubs, Noir tropes with a high school twist. But unlike Knives Out, the triumph over injustice at the end isn’t so clean & tidy. In many ways, I think the true pleasure of the book comes not from joy, but from pure, unadulterated rage. 

It is fury that propels Flora, the main character, to act. Anger that fuels her obsession with solving Ava’s murder. She lives in the same world we do, where kids are killed all the time, and the entire system is built to protect the wealthy & privileged. And she’s pissed as hell about it. She would love nothing more than to scream “fuck you” in the face of everyone who doesn’t care, or who looks away…and she kind of does exactly that. 

And the satisfaction of that rage can be its own kind of pleasure, or escape. As I have better educated myself about the injustice of the world around me, I have often been sad…but more often I have been livid. Furious with the world for being such a dark and violent place, furious with other people for not doing anything about it, and furious with myself for not knowing better sooner. And while there is plenty we can do in real life to work towards a better world, my hope is that there is something deeply, primally satisfying about watching a teenage girl–someone whom society has deemed weak, vulnerable, without agency–burn the whole fucking thing to the ground. 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I strove to write a book that is “fun,” but still inhabits a world in which race, class, and injustice actually exist. As an obscenely privileged white woman, I have certainly gotten things wrong, and have much work still to do. But I could not write a book in which a queer, Black teenage girl dies and pretend that her race and sexuality have nothing to do with her death, or the failures of the investigation. I could not write a book in which teenagers participate in an illegal fight club for money, and not acknowledge the class divisions that drove them to such violence. Acknowledging these problems is not a chore, or an obligation. It creates opportunities for newer, more original stories to be told–and, most importantly, to connect with more readers. Because we already have plenty of books that look the other way, and people are hungry for something else.

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

…and we’re back!

My dearly departed laptop.

It was bound to happen some time! Two weeks ago, my beloved Frankenstein of a laptop finally died, and I simply did not have it in me to fight to assemble a blog post. It’s the first time that I’ve missed a planned post since I started this blog, so I’m super happy to be back in action this week with a post that’s super exciting. I’m so pleased to host a review of forthcoming LGBTQ2S+ novel You Exist too Much, by BIPOC author Zaina Arafat, by BBB’s new regular contributor, Jack.

I’m also thrilled to be able to share a guest post from an author for whom I have deep admiration, Isabel Stirling. She is the creator of some FABULOUS queer witches in her YA novel These Witches Don’t Burn, and its upcoming sequel, This Coven Won’t Break! I feel especially attached to celebrating Isabel’s latest book because I celebrated my own birthday on May 3rd, and her book releases on May 19th, so we are Taurus twins! More on that later…

First! I want to share a quick shoutout to AJ Vrana. Her debut novel, The Hollow Gods, comes out with Parliment House Press on July 28th. I participated in the cover reveal for this novel on Twitter, and since then, AJ’s joined the list of authors who I represent as an agent. I’m super proud that The Hollow Gods was reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly this week!

Jack’s Review: You Exist too Much, by Zaina Arafat

Zaina Arafat is an American and Palestinian writer and journalist and teacher. Her debut novel You Exist too Much is a diasporic piece of fiction. The story is told in flashbacks, beginning with the shaming of a twelve-year-old Palestinian girl, whose feelings of not belonging are externalized. It’s a story told in cyclical flashbacks, similarly to how we live life. Geographically, the novel mainly alternates between the US and the Middle East, between New York and Palestine.

This novel explores the meaning of living on the margins, of wanting to fit in a neat category. As an American and Palestinian woman, who has loved both men and women, she exists in the overlapping centre of a Venn diagram. The protagonist exists too much, yet, struggles to occupy space for herself. Arafat explores the pervasiveness of intergenerational trauma, and how it affects one’s identity.

Content warnings in You Exist Too Much include Emotional manipulation and Eating Disorders. While at a retreat, topics including sexual assault (from the perspective of the perpetrator) and substance abuse are mentioned.

When the novel begins, we know that the protagonist is in pain. It is the kind of emotional pain that manifests physically, the pain that makes You Exist too much an accusatory statement. The protagonist attempts to heal by falling in love with others, eventually realizing that one person can’t simultaneously occupy two bodies. We follow the protagonist as she confronts the different ways in which she exists.

This is a novel about existing and occupying space, it’s a novel about visibility and acceptance. The protagonist is presented as out of sync with the world, her live-in girlfriend and her own self. The novel embraces missed connections and opportunity, depicting the fleetingness and intensity of desire. You Exist Too Much is a story about identities and the complexities of attachments. Arafat invites us to question what obsessions, attraction and attachments all have in common.

YA Fantasy

Before I jump into Isabel Sterling’s awesome and creative guest post, I want to talk a little bit about why the publication and popularity of These Witches Don’t Burn and This Coven Won’t Break are such huge accomplishments.

YA fantasy is a hard market in traditional publishing. Looking at the deals made so far in 2020, there have only been 10 acquisitions in children’s (including MG and YA) fantasy, across all imprints, this year. One of them is a Lucasfilm IP property, and one is the next in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, so really, it’s more like 8 deals total for new books in that space, in the span of nearly 5 months. In 2019, there were 11 total deals in that space that were not series continuations. The competition is fire!! And yet, Isabel’s books are doing great.

Also, shoutout to writer KJ Aiello, who helped me out with this post, and asked: does crossover potential (ie, books that could appeal to YA or adult audiences) help fantasy books that are going on submission in traditional publishing? The unfortunate reality is, when a book is submitted to an imprint, you either sub to a YA imprint, or an adult imprint. The only real exceptions to that are SMG, which has St. Martin’s/Wednesday and acquires for both age groups, Tor, which encompasses Tor Teen, and Amazon, which publishes specifically with an eye to YA that is actually written for adult audiences.

BUT. When you see “crossover potential”, “millennial fiction”, “college-aged YA”, these kinds of terms, what they are actually code for, in the industry, is “New Adult”. Publishing’s unspoken secret is that we do publish NA, all the time. It’s just not branded as NA anymore, because the way that that experiment played out like, 5-10 years ago, is that the term has a negative connotation (ie, it just means YA books with erotic content now, basically), so we have to call it something different.

But adult appeal in YA-branded books is actually somewhat essential. A little over 50% of YA readership IS adults, and in addition, YA novels have to appeal to adults because they are often the ones with the purchasing power even if the books’ audiences are younger. Educational wholesale markets are a huge part of that – so not only are publishers aiming to appeal to adult readers of YA, but they’re also aiming to appeal to parents, teachers, and librarians. Fantasy novels aren’t seen to have as much of a place in a classroom setting as some other kinds of novels, partially because of the stigmas that surround all genre works as being seen as less-than compared to more “literary” work. Also, YA as we know it has only existed since the 1970s, so it’s by far the newest category in the traditional publishing industry, and it’s only been seen as legitimate since the late 1980’s, early 1990s.

If you want to learn more about YA books in general, YA fantasy, and on the attitudes toward genre versus literary works in broader publishing, here is some further reading:

  1. How Young Adult Fiction Blossomed With Teenage Culture in America
  2. A Brief History of YA Literature: An Infographic
  3. Home and Away, by Guy Gavriel Kay
  4. The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  5. How Horror Helps Us Overcome Our Fears, by Adam Pottle

This Coven Won’t Break Tarot Reading, by Isabel Sterling

Hello, Readers! Isabel Sterling here. To celebrate the upcoming release of This Coven Won’t Break, emmy suggested a tarot reading for my three main girls, and I thought that sounded like a wonderful idea. I don’t normally let myself think about what happens to my characters after their book is done, so getting to read for Hannah, Morgan, and Gemma was really fun! The cards had some interesting things to say. 

For this reading, I used the Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot Deck. I really enjoy this deck, especially because all of the major love cards are same-gender couples, and there’s racial diversity in there, too. Definitely a step up from many super white, heteronormative traditional decks.

Since This Coven Won’t Break is her story, I started with Hannah.

(Pictured: Seven of Pentacles, Ten of Wands, and The Sun)

In This Coven Won’t Break, Hannah works a lot with the Council, the organization responsible for protecting the three Witch Clans and keeping everyone in line. Hannah plants a lot of seeds with them, so the Seven of Pentacles tells me she’s going to be working to help those efforts grow and bloom. Unfortunately, it looks like Hannah will try to bite off more than she can chew and work harder than she should (Ten of Wands). If she’s not careful, some important things could end up dropped. Luckily, she has Morgan and Gemma to remind her to actually get out and have some fun in the sun, and overall, she has a really awesome summer.

Hannah definitely deserves some rest, relaxation, and brightness in her life. So The Sun card was nice to see. It also looks like she has some babysitting in her future, and perhaps some unexpected twins from Sarah and Rachel? (Who knows! Not me! Like I said, if it didn’t happen in the book, I honestly don’t know.)

Next, let’s take a peek into Morgan’s summer.

(Pictured: Queen of Swords, Two of Cups, and Two of Wands)

Well, without getting into spoilers, Morgan kinda Goes Through It during the course of This Coven Won’t Break. As a result, the Queen of Swords is telling me her mom gets a little over-protective about things. Which, honestly, is reasonable. With the Two of Cups, though, it looks like Morgan still has plenty of time to hang out with Hannah. I see lots of dates at their secret spot in the woods. (And see what I mean about the same-gender couple! I love this deck.) 

With everything that happens to Morgan, the Two of Wands tells me she’s a little nervous about leaving the nest to go to college. She’s just finally putting down roots in Salem and isn’t sure she’s ready to move on and start her “real” life.

Finally, let’s take a look at Gemma’s reading.

(Pictured The Tower, The Empress, and the Ace of Cups)

Well, The Tower is a total spoiler, so I can’t really say much except Gemma’s world turns upside down a bit near the end of the book. The Empress, though, tells me Gem spends much of her summer further honing her interest in all things witchy–tarot cards and crystals and everything. The Empress is often linked to motherly instincts, but in Gemma’s case, I see that as her connection with Hannah’s boss, Lauren, and Gemma getting into with her feminine intuition. 

Finally, it looks like there might be some romance waiting for Gemma with that Ace of Cups. Her crushes in These Witches Don’t Burn didn’t turn out so great, so she definitely deserves a little post-graduation fun. Maybe she can double-date with Hannah and Morgan! 

That’s all the cards had in store for us tonight. I hope you found this fun, and if you haven’t yet, you can order These Witches Don’t Burn here and This Coven Won’t Break over here! Happy reading! 

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Guest Post: Poetry from a Former Skeptic

Currently Reading: A Madness of Sunshine, by Nalini Singh

This week, I am extraordinarily grateful to Beck Andoff, for providing me with a FANTASTIC guest post on a topic that I have neglected in my previous posts: poetry! I don’t read enough poetry, and I certainly don’t give it the coverage it deserves in this blog, so I’m glad that when I asked for a post from a fellow Toronto indie bookseller, this is what I got!

Andoff is somewhat of a local celebrity, and someone who I very much look up to in my local indie bookshop world, who can sometimes be heard sharing their book recommendations on Metro Morning!

Beck is a cheerful, messy queer whose gender could best be described as HIM from Powerpuff Girls. Too much gender for one tired anxious depressive body. Beck manages two locations of Type Books in Toronto, reads a lot of pop culture crit and micro histories, and lives with Bill Pullman the malamute mutt.

I’m honoured to host this guest post and share their poetry recommendations in this space!

From Beck: Queer Poetry

The Gay Agenda is just about getting you to read poetry.

Once upon a time, I loved being that smug 20 year old jerk who dismissed poetry as boring. I was yucking people’s yum left, right, and centre. In the years of bookstore experience I had before I worked at Type, I never ONCE handsold a poetry book.

But then, one day this past fall, The Queers got me. They caught me with the simplest little poem in the teeniest prettiest little book (Sennah Yee’s How Do I Look), and made me realize that poetry could be irreverent and current and kind of ridiculous and still have bite to it. The year since then has been an excited process of discovering just how much of a contrary fool I was to be missing all this for a decade. So here’s a little list of my fledgling queer poetry collection recommendations from someone who hasn’t a fuckin clue how to talk about poetry.

Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway

Wow. Gwen is a trans girl of Anishinaabe and Métis descent (and a hero of the trans/NB/GNC community here in Toronto right now), and this poetry collection ACHES. It’s righteous and exhausted and graceful and very, very real. And tremendously readable for something that deals with some incredibly painful subjects. Take your time with this one, and watch her work forever.

Hera Lindsay Bird by Hera Lindsay Bird

This miserable joyous snarky work by bisexual New Zealander Hera Lindsay Bird fully embraces rooting her pieces in time with frequent absurd references to pop culture, like the poem MONICA… which is about Monica from Friends. She also just has some of the best titles in the game: KEATS IS DEAD SO FUCK ME FROM BEHIND, WILD GEESE BY MARY OLIVER BY HERA LINDSAY BIRD, BRUCE WILLIS YOU ARE THE GHOST.

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Danez Smith is often one of the best things about my twitter newsfeed— their recent (joke) thread about top privilege was a thing of beauty (I caught myself literally saying to someone “it’s funny because it’s true!”). Their poetry’s really tremendous. Not an easy read for me— fragmented and abstract, plays with form— but very worth it. a note on Vaseline is one that burned its way into my heart and brain.

How Do I Look by Sennah Yee

Every one of these itsy-bitsy poems was a precious lil jewel of delight for my soul. Irreverent and goofy and artful and specific. I am endlessly tempted to get the whole of the poem My Type tattooed on my body.

NDN Coping Mechanisms by Billy-Ray Belcourt

Griffin-winning poet. He tangles longing and gay sex and colonization, and his style is an amazing clash of academic and conversational. And he has a poem titled AND SO I ANAL DOUCHE WHILE KESHA’S ‘PRAYING’ PLAYS FROM MY IPHONE ON REPEAT. Come on. My standard for all poetry now is unflinching reference to the realities of queer sex prep, apparently.

Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara

Why had none of my jerk friends never told me Frank O’Hara was queer? Rude. He writes yearning and contentment and wanting to be loved like absolutely no one else, and with precise clarity of language. His poetry often feels like a warm bath. Reading this really makes me wonder if it was fluke that I wasn’t born a white cis gay man writing poetry in the 1960s rather than white genderqueer queer person writing fuck-all at the end of the world.

Full-Metal Indigiqueer by Joshua Whitehead

Easily the most high-concept collection on this list. A Two-spirit Ojibwe Cree storyteller and writer (his novel Jonny Appleseed was visceral and RAW and sexy and heartbreaking), this collection uses a kind of scifi-meets-lore conceit, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

This is a list of poets that have captured me (mostly through my coworker Sasha’s amazing recommendations), but it is also the list of someone who has only been dipping their toe into poetry for less than a year. There’s a huge body of amazing queer poetry out in the world, and the right bookstores and libraries will be able to indoctrinate you better than I have.

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!

Challenging Gender Stereotypes in Diverse KidLit

Currently Reading: Look, by Zan Romanoff

New Look!

If you’re new to my blog, welcome! If you’ve been here before… you’ll notice that I’ve made some layout changes! This is because there are exciting things coming for the blog… recently, I’ve begun working with an artist to put together a branding package for the site, so that it will reflect me and my vibe a little bit more. I’ll share more on that later, as things come together! If you’re really curious, you can visit Ice’s site, and get hyped!

Trans Lit News

I’m excited today to be writing this (belated) post in order to be part of the blog tour for Each Tiny Spark! I’m also celebrating having 1K Twitter followers, and I’m grateful to have this platform to use to share my thoughts about publishing, books, and issues that affect LGBTQ2S+ people. Before I dive in about this newly-released middle grade title, I want to share two links that might be useful. First, I’ve had an ARC of Sissy by Jacob Tobia on my TBR shelf for ages, and I still haven’t managed to get to it. In part, that’s because there are just so many trans memoirs these days – it’s really astonishing. Even though I can’t speak to it, trans journalist Harron Walker wrote a piece about this memoir for Jezebel, that can be found here, called What Can a Trans Memoir Do? In addition, Bookish Heights, written by a UK blogger, has a great post that offers up some recommendations for books with non-binary MCs. This is a great roundup, and has some titles that I have yet to feature in this blog, so check it out (and get ready to explode your TBR…)!

Each Tiny Spark Blog Tour

A banner for the Each Tiny Spark Blog Tour, with that text, and the Penguin logo in the bottom right hand corner. The image on the left shows a girl with light skin and curly red hair, wearing a pink shirt and green coveralls and yellow gloves, holding a welding helmet and a welder. There are small lightning bolts coming out of the welder.

Even though Each Tiny Spark, by Pablo Cartaya, isn’t an LBTQ2S+ title, I was super excited to be invited to be part of the blog tour for this exciting middle grade book. I’d grabbed the ARC for one of the kids in my life a while back, and it’s a title to watch for a number of reasons. First, Cartaya is a seasoned, award-winning, Latinx novelist. Second, this book features a feminine main character who smashes gender stereotypes as bonds with her father working on old cars with him. Third, the book features representation of neurodiversity – something that isn’t explored enough in books for younger audiences.

As part of the blog tour, I got to ask Cartaya about his work directly… and here’s what I wanted to know: I talk a lot about gender on my blog, and one of the things that interested me about Each Tiny Spark was that the main character reconnects with her father through welding – something that I wouldn’t consider a traditionally feminine pursuit, but a skill that really is so useful and so cool for folks who can do it well. I would love to read something from him about why he chose to write about a feminine main character, and what he hopes young readers will take away from the story, both folks from the Latinx community, and folks from outside.

Check out Cartaya’s post below! Each Tiny Spark was released just yesterday, and can be ordered here, or from your local book shop!

Challenging Gender Stereotypes in Diverse KidLit: Pablo Cartaya

A photo of the author, Pablo Cartaya.
Pablo Cartaya, author of Each Tiny Spark

I began writing Each Tiny Spark with a singular scene. I didn’t know exactly where it was going, so I just listened to the voice in my head and wrote down what it told me. What emerged in that first iteration was a twelve-and-a-half-year-old girl welding a piece of metal to a car door while her father looked on quietly. I suppose something subconsciously was telling me to write this story with a female protagonist while her Papi looked on without saying much, but I didn’t understand why at first.

When I finished the manuscript, I realized that I was building a character modelled around my own twelve-year-old daughter. It was my way of trying to understand, respect, and listen to who she is and how she sees the world. There are many layers to this story but at its heart, this is a book about a father and a daughter finding their way back to each other by literally welding a car back together. My books are very personal as are my characters and I hope that readers, both in my Latinx community and beyond feel empowered by their own voices and build on their experiences. With Each Tiny Spark, I realized that first vision of the girl welding a car as her dad looked on quietly was in fact, a hope for my daughter to claim her identity and voice as she navigates the world. Ultimately, I wrote a book with her in mind so when I read it back now, it’s her voice I’m listening to.

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 pets, and pursuing my career as a literary agent!