LGBT Queens Book Night!

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I’m really happy to be featured in this year’s LGBT Queens Book Night next Wednesday, November 15th at Queens Pride House in Jackson Heights. The annual event showcases local authors who have recently published fiction, poetry or non-fiction, and brings together writers and readers in the LGBT community.

I’ll be joined by Russell Ricard, author of The Truth About Goodbye, and a resident of Forest Hills. Fun Fact: we’re both married with cats. (Not married to cats; that was supposed to be a play on ‘married with children’).

So what can you expect if you come out to the event? Unbridled literary mayhem. All right, that’s probably promising a bit more than we can deliver. But from past events, I can tell you that it’s a great, laid-back, homegrown event that gets a fairly equal number of writers and fans who are enthusiastic about LGBT literature as well as local pride. Did you know best-selling author Robin Cook grew up in Queens? And Patricia Highsmith. I won’t mention the borough’s most notorious offspring because we’re not exactly proud of him, nor does he qualify as literary. (ugh)

The panel will be moderated by community activist Demetrius Bagley and you can RSVP, see directions, a little more info over at the Facebook event page. I’ll be reading from The Sim Ru Prophecy and talking about the Werecat series and the role of LGBT writers in the era of resistance, among other things. I hope you can check it out!

An introduction to gay fantasy

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I’m often asked for fantasy recommendations, particularly on the gay fiction-side. That, combined with my love of the genre inspired me to tackle the project of putting together a list of titles as a departure point for readers looking for good quality portrayals of gay characters.

I could probably write an entire article on disclaimers about this list—the sea of titles to choose from, the subjective nature of singling out certain books, and the like. I actually kind of hate “best of” and “top ten” lists. They’re a bit disingenuous, so unnecessarily declarative, I think, and when I see them in magazines or blogs, I tend to be naturally cynical.

So, what should you take away from my little curated list? I guess just some ideas about what to check out if you’re new to gay fantasy, or even if you’re a huge fan and like comparing notes. I’m sure I missed some stellar books that aren’t on my radar. Feel free to let me know about those!

Disclaimer #2: These books are heavily skewed toward my reading (and writing) preferences, which are fantasy of the epic, historical, and/or magical sort, and more G than LBTQAI. I included one urban fantasy/superhero title, but that’s it for contemporary or urban/paranormal fiction; and there’s only one sci fi title. Some of the titles have lesbian, bi, and trans characters. None represent Ace, Aro or Intersex. I called this “an intro to gay fantasy” because I don’t purport to have the literary cred to throw out recs across the queer spectrum, though I think there’s decent representation in terms of race/ethnicity.

Maybe I’ll work on updating the list for the future with more fantasy sub-genres. I really have to be in the right mood to read dystopian and futuristic sci fi. I make no promises.

Last, I thought it was important to include why I thought each title was noteworthy, beyond my subjective appraisal since if I was in fact teaching a course on gay fantasy, that kind of thing would be important. You’ll see that down below. I also should mention I was intentional in choosing a diverse range of titles in terms of when they were written, the types of characters, themes, as well as #OwnVoices.

In a nutshell, #OwnVoices is a movement to uplift titles about marginalized groups, which are written by members of those marginalized groups, in order to combat historic and ongoing barriers for marginalized authors. I’ve written more about #OwnVoices previously if you care to learn more, and/or, check out this handy Q&A written by #OwnVoices creator Corinne Duyvis.

And away we go!

[12/9/2017 E.T.A. Chaz Brenchley’s Tower of the King’s Daughter]

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Publisher: ACE

Year: 1969

Themes: Futuristic, science fiction, alien races, hermaphrodite/bisexuality, non-binary gender

Rationale for inclusion: Multi-awards: Hugo, Nebula; widely regarded as a groundbreaking and seminal work in SFF (see: reference); portrayal of bisexuality and reconstruction of gender

My quickie review: This won’t be the first or last rec list to begin with Ursula Le Guin. She is a prolific and critically-acclaimed author who brought critical commentary on the construction of gender to the genre and opened doors for female authors. Of course, she’s also brilliant. The Left Hand of Darkness imagines an alien race that is neither male nor female, and undergoes a reproductive cycle (kemmer) during which they develop male/female genitalia temporarily and arbitrarily, resulting in many sexual combinations over the lifetime, including fairly universal pregnancy and ‘motherhood.’ That was a pretty wild and innovative concept for 1969, and though the story is seen through the eyes of a biologically male human Genly who is visiting this ‘ambisexual’ planet on a diplomatic mission (and also happens to be described as ‘dark-skinned’), the depth of development of the differently gendered world is extraordinary and engrossing. It is also a story that is interesting to look at in context. Le Guin has acknowledged that some of her own heterosexist bias crept in while imagining sexual preferences as well as ‘defaulting’ to an association between masculinity and authority/political power.

 

Tales of Neveryon by Samuel R. Delaney

Publisher: Bantam

Year: 1979

Themes: Ancient world, slavery/exploitation, gender roles, social justice, sexuality

Rationale for inclusion: Multi-award finalist: Locus, Prometheus, National Book Award; Groundbreaking for its time in terms of gay content; Critically acclaimed (see: Editorial reviews from Amazon page); #OwnVoices: Delaney is a black, gay man and the main characters of Neveryon are principally brown-skinned people, including a “gay” protagonist (see: reference)

My quickie review: Tales of Neveryon is a loosely-knit, rotating collection of narratives about people living in a pre-historic world that has hints of ancient Mesopotamia and Africa. My mind was blown when I discovered the book. It’s utterly immersive and brilliantly subversive. Hard to encapsulate the plot, but the principal character Gorgik is orphaned by war, fated to work in a mining settlement as a slave, and educated about the methods and immorality of the elite, ruling class when he is taken into an imperial court through chance circumstances. The scale of the world and its histories are epic, though it’s not precisely epic fantasy. Delaney plays the role of both philosopher and storyteller via parable-style vignettes that shed light on the human condition, from the inhumanity of slavery, patriarchy/gender roles, and even the origins of sexual kink (there’s a thread on sub/dom relations, which is more cerebral than erotic). Gorgik and his lover Small Sarg lead a revolution, earning the right to be called fiction’s first gay power couple.

 

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

Publisher: Arbor House Publishing (originally, later Tor and Spectra)

Year: 1987

Themes: Regency era inspiration, swordfights/dueling, gay and bisexual relationships

Rationale for inclusion: Critically acclaimed (see: Editorial Reviews from Amazon page); Groundbreaking for its time in terms of gay content; Fan favorite (see: Listopia)

My quickie review: One of the most highly praised examples of “MM fantasy romance.”  Though I would not lump Swordspoint in with modern “MM.” The story has dark romantic elements, but there’s much more going on beyond the sexual and romantic lives of the characters. The setting itself is strange and subtly textured. It has an “almost” quality – familiar in its portrayal of greedy ‘haves’ and squalid ‘have-nots,’ a mannerly Regency Era world where grievances are settled by duels and people dress for tea. Yet there’s just enough queerness, and unique geography, to make you realize this isn’t Oxfordshire in the 18th century. The story centers on St. Vier, an expert swordsman with a host of wealthy patrons vying for his services, or to destroy him, in order to settle their petty feuds. Just about everyone is morally suspect, which makes for great drama and characters you love to hate. Kushner accomplishes quite a lot in this story of excess, greed, vanity and exploitation, including an unexpectedly compelling gay love story.

 

Tower of the King’s Daughter by Chaz Brenchley

Publisher: Ace

Year: 1998

Themes: Knights/Crusaders, Arabic folklore, religious persecution, magic, gay relationships

Rationale for inclusion: British Fantasy Award; Critically acclaimed (Starburst, Locus Magazine)

My quickie review: I only read this second book in Brenchley’s Outremer series as sadly, the series is out of print, and some confusion between the British and American editions led me to the Tower first. But I highly recommend it if you can get your hands on a copy from the library. The story takes inspiration from the Crusades, set in a desert kingdom where righteous ‘Ransomers’ clash with the native Sharai who have the gift of an arcane magic. A central POV character is the young, gay squire Marron, who is finding his place in the world amid his religiously fanatical countrymen, a band of insurgents with fantastical powers, and his master Sieur Anton D’Escrivey, who shares his persecuted gay identity. Brenchley’s writing is an engaging blend of quiet, introspective characterization and vivid action scenes.

 

 

Kirith Kirin by Jim Grimsley

Publisher: Meisha Merlin

Year: 2000

Themes: Elemental magic, coming of age, gay relationships

Rationale for inclusion: Multi-awards: Lambda Literary Foundation (winner), Gaylactic Spectrum (finalist); #OwnVoices: author is an openly gay man and the main characters are gay (see: reference).

My quickie review: Grimsley’s approach to fantasy is earthy, atmospheric and mystical, and reminded me a bit of Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea. He is also extremely meticulous. The story is a nearly day-to-day account of the magician Jessex’s apprenticeship and the eventual mastery of his powers. There’s not a lot of sword and sorcery as that’s not the story’s style. Jessex is kind and gentle and fights the battles that he must through a complex command of magic involving sacred songs and the manipulation of time and space. The book is at least equally a love story (Jessex and the titular Kirith Kirin) and a coming-of-age adventure. I thought the romantic storyline was sweet, surprising and accessible.

 

Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg

Publisher: Alyson Books

Year: 2006

Themes: Arthurian legend, magic, coming of age, gay relationships

Rationale for inclusion: Critically acclaimed (see: Editorial reviews on Amazon page); Somewhat of a ‘cult favorite’ from a popular horror author; #OwnVoices: author is an openly gay man and the main character is a young gay man (see: reference).

My quickie review: Where Samuel Delaney blew me away with how provocative gay fantasy can be, Douglas Clegg’s retelling of the King Arthur legend blew me away with how fabulously subversive gay fantasy can be. Here, Clegg takes a despised character from a beloved canon, and tells his story in an inexorably sympathetic way. I think of it as a particularly noteworthy achievement in that traditional Arthurian legend is so stridently heterocentric. Evil, fey Mordred has been the inspiration for countless tales of queer villains, the archetypical foil to the righteous, sword-wielding, damsel-in-distress loving hero, repeated ad finitum in SFF. Clegg’s story is more than just a skewering of that narrative. It is a poignant story of a boy alienated from the human world because of his strange magical abilities and alienated from his own magical kin because of his queerness. And he has an affair with Lancelot. Read this book now!

 

Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

Publisher: Blind Eye Books

Year: 2007

Themes: Demons, persecution, mystery/crime, steampunk, gay romance

Rationale for inclusion: Gaylactic Spectrum award; Fan favorite (see: Listopia).

My quickie review: An immensely dark tale premised on the existence of an ancient demon race whose descendants are persecuted and exploited by an authoritarian, religious fanatic regime. That may sound rather “on the nose” for an imaginative gay fantasy allegory, but this is quite a sophisticated novel that doesn’t veer into sentimentality or preachiness. Bellamai, who has demon blood, must team up with Captain William Harper who is tracking down a serial murderer and needs an expert who can help him navigate the seedy underground, aptly called Hell’s Below. There’s a complicated romance between the two men and lots of action, suspense and creepy atmosphere along the way.

 

Hero by Perry Moore

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Year: 2007

Themes: Superheroes, coming of age, coming out

Rationale for inclusion: Multi-awards: Lambda Literary Foundation Award winner, Gaylactic Spectrum finalist, Inky Awards finalist; Groundbreaking portrayal of gay superhero in teen literature; #Ownvoices: author (deceased) was a gay man and the main character is a gay youth (see: reference)

My quickie review: I’m coming out as a fantasy reader who is not a comic geek, which explains the paltry number of superhero titles on my list. What drew me to read Hero was the story behind the story. Perry Moore was a crusader for fair treatment of LGBTs in comics and SFF, and beyond the book he wrote, his outspoken, tenacious advocacy opened doors for LGBT superheroes in the industry. The book is lovely. Closeted teen Thom Creed is trying to stay below the radar in a homophobic, working class town, and living with a gruff, single dad who was disabled by an accident. When Thom discovers he has magical abilities, he reluctantly and secretly joins ‘the League.’ There’s a boy he’s crushing on, but their encounters are always bittersweet near misses, along with lots of comic in-jokes and a simmering battle with the bad guys in the background.

 

The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan

Publisher: Gollancz (originally, later Del Rey)

Year: 2008

Themes: Sword and sorcery, slavery, persecution (including persecution of gays), gay relationships

Rationale for inclusion: Gaylactic Spectrum award; Commercially successful ‘crossover’ to mainstream SFF

My quickie review: Fantasy does not get much darker than The Steel Remains, so if you’re looking for an uplifting, gay-themed story and/or are squeamish about graphic violence including rape and sexualized torture, this is not the book for you. In fact, I vacillated about including The Steel Remains on my list because the two principal gay characters’ queerness is largely a source of hardship, persecution, and tragedy, a problematic treatment you can find far and wide in SFF. Still, two of the three rotating protagonists are unabashedly gay: Ringil, an emotionally and physically hardened male warrior, and Archeth, a tightly-wrapped, female dignitary of a mystical race, and the fact that their stories are front-and-center in a ‘popular’ market epic fantasy is something of an achievement for sure. The two must navigate a corrupt, war-torn world, which may be further unraveling by the return of an ancient race of magical demons. The writing is terrific, and the constant sense of danger makes the book a page-turner.

 

 

Ash by Malinda Lo

Publisher: Little Brown

Year: 2009

Themes: Retold fairytale; Medieval setting; fairies; lesbian relationships

Rationale for inclusion: Multi-award nominee: Lambda Literary Awards, Gaylactic Spectrum, William C. Morris for Début Young Adult fiction; Critically acclaimed (see: Editorial reviews on Amazon page); Commercially successful; #OwnVoices: author is an Asian, lesbian woman and the main character is a young lesbian (see: reference).

My quickie review: The tagline is: “Cinderella retold,” but this is quite a freshly imagined tale that charms the reader with its subtlety and eloquence. Lo pays tribute to the original source in clever ways: her use of language (the titular heroine Ash) and gender-swapped characters (a fairy godfather; a female “woodsman”), and the world and characters are much more complex than the good vs. evil conventions of classical fairytales. A convincing portrayal of an orphaned girl’s very high stakes struggle to live in an unsparing, feudal country with dangers arising from tradition as well as an intriguing, hidden magical world.

 

The Way of Thorn and Thunder by Daniel Heath Justice

Publisher: University of New Mexico Press

Year: 2011

Themes: Indigenous folklore/mythology, elemental magic, fantasy creatures and fantasy ‘races,’ war, persecution, two-spirit, gay relationships

Rationale for inclusion: Portrayal of people of color in fantasy; #OwnVoices: author is a Native, gay man and many of the characters are Native and non-heteronormative (see: reference).

My quickie review: This full-on Indigenous fantasy epic spans years and many miles in an engrossing story of a pre-historic America filled with magic and fantasy races and more political themes of cultural exploitation and extermination. Told through the rotating and intersecting journeys of ‘Kyn-folk’ characters, it is the story of the struggle to protect the ‘Everland’ from Men who would exploit and enslave its people and its sacred lands. Same-sex relationships and non-traditional gender roles among the ‘Kyn’ are portrayed matter-of-fact, and there’s a two-spirt character, a tribal healer, who is partnered with a male chief. As an allegory for the real, current and historical atrocities against Amerindian peoples, it is one of the most compelling heroic fantasies I’ve read.

 

 

The Sorcerer of Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

Publisher: Tor

Year: 2015

Themes: Demigods, sorcerers, African-inspired setting, gay relationships, fantasy creatures

Rationale for inclusion: Crawford award; Portrayal of people of color in fantasy; #OwnVoices: author is a black, gay man and the principal characters are black, gay men (see: reference)

My quickie review: A fantasy adventure strong on style and literary “voice.” The main character Demane and his love interest the Captain are demigods. Demane is also a sorcerer with a magical ability to heal. Different from traditional fantasy, we don’t see much of what that means on the page, and the spare storyline is an expedition into the wild to kill a lion-like beast called the junkiere. What you do get is lyrical passages and effective dialogue that grounds the reader in a wondrous world of Wilson’s imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The City of Seven Gods featured at Adelphi University’s Authors and Artists Exhibit

I’m really happy to have one of my titles included in Adelphi University’s annual Authors and Artists Exhibit. Each year, the university invites members of the school community to share their published work in a reception and a display. The reception was last Thursday, and the exhibit is running through the month of October at the Ruth Harley University Center Gallery. You can see a full list of works on display here.

The exhibit also includes short videos of authors talking about their books. Here’s my video on The City of Seven Gods.

Andrew Peters

Uploaded by Zubin Grogg on 2017-10-05.

 

 

In celebration of Banned Books Week

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Banned Book Week Banner

Banner from East Branch of Dayton Metro Public Library System, labeled as public domain

It’s the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, September 24th through 30th, and I often do a post here in support of the cause.

From ALA’s website:

“Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

The United States has an unfortunate history of book burnings and other efforts to ban and censor books that present ‘controversial’ topics, often defined as such by religious institutions. According to the ALA, one of the top reasons for books being challenged – requested to be removed – in library systems is the portrayal of sexuality, particularly in childrens and young adult books that contain LGBT characters.

For example, the top ten challenged books of 2016 include five books with LGBT content, including two books about transgender kids (I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and George by Alex Gino).

Here’s a cool video that shows all ten of those books:

Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016

Think books aren’t banned today? Think again. These are the Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016, compiled by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). Learn more about book challenges and censorship trends in the 2017 State of America’s Libraries Report at bit.ly/soal-2017.

Access to LGBT books has both personal and political significance to me. As a young reader, in my late teens, I pretty much desperately searched for books to help me understand my attraction to other guys. I wondered if there was something wrong with me, if it was even possible to live my life as gay. I knew no one who was gay. The little bit I knew about gay people was from overheard jokes, based on stereotypes. Gay men were effeminate, buffoons. And I caught some information from the news, which occasionally covered the AIDS epidemic, a frightening image of what it meant to be gay.

I wasn’t out, and I certainly wasn’t courageous enough to ask a librarian to point me in the right direction. So I quietly and surrepticiously searched the libary catalogue system for words like “homosexuality” and “gay.” In those days, LGBT books tended to be shelved in discreet, back or upper level areas of the stacks. It might have helped on one hand for the books I was looking for to be more visible, to help me understand that I had nothing to be ashamed about. Though at the time, it was helpful for me to be able to sneak into a desolate area of the library, grab a book, hide myself in a cubby, and read without anyone knowing what I was reading. In college, I got a little bolder and actually took some of those books out of the library, though I kept them hidden in my bedroom.

That was back in the late 1980s, and the books I found were either clinical books that were fairly equivocal about the nature of homosexuality – a perversion or a natural place on the spectrum of homosexuality – or they were gritty books about gay subculture and the sex trade (books by William S. Burroughs and Paul T. Rogers’ Saul’s Book, which have been banned or challenged over the years). In most ways, they were pretty far aloft of my experience of myself and the world, but they showed that gay people existed, a fairly mind-blowing discovery for a younger me, and comforting. If I hadn’t found those books, I don’t think I would have shaken off the anxiety and depression that was killing me. A few years later, I embarked on living an honest life as a gay man.

Nowadays, it’s gratifying to see many libraries acquiring a diverse collection of LGBT books, from childrens, young adult, adult fiction and nonfiction, and a variety of genres. I don’t mean to denigrate William Burroughs, but it’s pretty nice that young LGBTs aren’t limited to his body of work as a sole point of reference!  And libraries now have LGBT books mixed in with their popular collections and childrens/young adult collections. Some of them even create displays for Pride Month and National Coming Out Day.

From talking to LGBT kids, which was my principal métier as a social worker, I can attest to the fact that many young people can access LGBT-themed books more easily today. They’re coming out younger, with greater confidence and with family support, and some describe LGBT literature as fairly normalized in their schools and libraries, and/or are comfortable with advocating for better representation of LGBTs. Some have parents who take the lead in that regard, and not infrequently, when I meet new acquaintances, readers and other writers, they ask me where to find my books because they have a son or niece or a neighbor’s kid who is gay.

Still, there are some LGBTs who have described their experiences as similar to my own — wanting to read books with characters like themselves but needing to do so privately because they’re not quite comfortable being “out.” And, particularly in socially-conservative rural and suburban areas, it’s not so easy for them to find LGBT books.

That’s why Banned Books Week remains necessary. It reminds us that the progress we have made is both fragile and not fully realized when you look across the country, and wider across the globe. As recently as last year, This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, a young adult graphic novel with LGBT characters, was removed from libraries in Minnesota and Florida through challenges.  The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom tracks book challenges and finds that 10% of them lead to the removal of a book. That might not sound like a lot, but in each community where censorship occurs, it affects many thousands of people, in addition to perpetuating the view that portrayals of sexuality, particularly LGBTs, are unnatural and unsafe for young people.

You can support the freedom to read by raising awareness of Banned Books Week, and books that are targeted themselves. Here’s a handy resource page from ALA and an infographic that shows the scope of the problem:

 

 

Flash Freebie: Get Werecat #4 for free!

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Just a quick note to let you know that for a limited time, my publisher as dropped the price for The Sim Ru Prophecy to $0.00 at Amazon.

From September 21 – 24, you can download the book for free!

It’s a special promotion for the last few days when the e-book is retailing at the Kindle store exclusively. So the other news is that starting September 25th, you can buy Werecat #4 at all the e-book retailers like iTunes, BN.com, and Kobo.