Year-end Creation Saga update

And we are back to Friday blogposts! Sorry for the hopping around, friends. I promised that I would update you about Daughter of Madness when I was re-capping my 2017 Resolutions, and here it is, the update you’ve all been waiting for.

Writing this book has been like pulling teeth. I guess that should have been the clue, way back when, that I was not doing something I was happy with, but it took me several months of poring over the draft to realize that I was not going to publish what I’d come up with. It didn’t fit who I’d become as a writer and what I wanted to say. Worse, it didn’t fit together – the characters marched hither and thither without meaning or agency, moving along on some predetermined arc I thought I needed to write to get to an ending that didn’t end up being the ending anyway. It was, in short, a trainwreck. The worst thing I’ve ever written. It lacked the spark that makes even a clumsy story fun. And I didn’t want this book to be a clumsy story. I wanted it to burn going down.

I think it will.

In many ways, the entirety of the Creation Saga is a problematic story. I guess that is true of everybody’s stories. Wrestling with that after years of growth as a human being has been a lot of what made this story hard to write. I still don’t know if I did it justice – I’ll have to wait for my beta readers to get back to me and tell me how palatable it is, and if that is a good thing. But I’ve worked really hard to smooth the edges that needed smoothing and file the others to a point. In the process, I threw out about 2/3 of the book, added 1/3 back with major changes, and another half of that wrote up from scratch, leaving a much shorter but more powerful book. It was something I couldn’t have managed earlier in my writing career, and we’ll see how well I’ve pulled it off this time.

So where are we in the process?

I’ve got a draft, well, a third draft at this point. It’s gone out to beta readers, who will tell me how bad it is. I will then try to make changes as I can, hoping to add some words back in to the total word count. Then I’ll do line edits, a rigorous process that I am NOT looking forward to. The official release is planned for April, to coincide with Roanoke Author Invasion. Hopefully I will have review copies in March.

There’s a lot of work to do still. But I think we’re on track.

Look forward to some fun promotional things in March, and some other cool life updates as we go forward.


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The Last Jedi

I loved this movie. And if you read this, it might spoil it for you. But hopefully you have made it to the movie already. Hopefully you have gotten to experience it, too.

I’ve read a lot of Last Jedi reviews since the movie came out. A lot. And if you’re recall, the day of the release I posted a blogpost about my hopes for the film. I want to start from that point, and talk about my feelings, and talk about some of the reviews that have stuck with me. I want people to understand why this movie left me glowing, why when I woke up the next morning I was still glowing. This movie gave me hope.

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2017 has been a hard year. It’s been a joyful one for me, too, but I’m not blind to what is happening in our world. When Rogue One came out in December of last year, it felt like the movie we needed. That desperate fight in the rising darkness. The resolution of faith, when hope was gone. I don’t think that I was wrong, in that feeling. I wasn’t entirely right, either. Faith and hope and love must all hold hands. I can have Jyn Erso’s faith, bitter and solid and true. I can have Leia’s hope, the bright vision. And I can have Rey’s love. Rey’s arc has always been about love, and this movie shows us that unshakably.

In my blogpost last week, I talked about how closely paralleled and yet how divergent Luke and Rey’s characters are. In the wake of watching The Last Jedi, I can confirm that Rey is the hero we need. Her character arc continues – as she has come to the force, she comes to it with more skills than her mentor managed in his time. These skills, however, are not just the physical skills that I had previously cataloged. They are emotional skills, too. Rey has learned to forgive others, over and over, sometimes to her own detriment. In fact, Rey’s only character flaw may be that she does not always value herself. She looks up to others, first her lost parents, later Han and Luke, and even, a little, to Kylo Ren. Even though none of these people gives her everything that she wants, though, Rey does not blame them for it. She grows. She becomes what she needs.

In this way, her arc parallels Luke’s in the original trilogy. This, I would argue, is intentional. The thing that Rian Johnson and the new writers of Star Wars want to keep, the inescapable thing that makes a Jedi a Jedi, the thing that Anakin never could hold onto, is emotional maturity. And that maturity requires vulnerability. Without being vulnerable, a Jedi cannot care for and protect what she loves.

Nothing else plays out quite like what we expect, however. I agree with Chuck Wendig that this is a lot of what has made this movie divisive. The Force Awakens trades on the familiar. The Last Jedi steps beyond it. But it keeps the heart.

“They want the familiarity. They need nostalgia.

And this movie burns it all down.

A lightning strike setting fire to a sacred tree.”

– Chuck Wendig

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the burning of the sacred tree, the original Jedi temple. Luke intends to burn the past, to let it die as Kylo has tried to do. Their journeys, here, parallel. Luke is tired, he is angry and afraid. His anger and fear are for himself. He has failed. The Jedi will always fail, because they are human, and so there is no point in any of it, not anymore. Luke is lost. He goes to burn the tree as an act of destruction.

Yoda, on the other hand, burns the tree as an act of emancipation. The past cannot die. The path of the Jedi will always exist, because the Force will always exist. Whatever petty symbols of it may remain are crutches. A Master does not need them. This movie keeps the Force at its heart, and burns down the trappings of it.

And yet, at the end, the books, the knowledge of the Force that the temple guarded? They are carried in the Millenium Falcon, safe. Finn finds them, not during battle. He finds them when he is caring for Rose. Rose, who gave herself up to save him, when he had given up on hope and love and let it all go to rage.

Rey’s power to defy the First Order comes from love. Love for her friends, love for the world. When she goes into the cave to face her test, she doesn’t see an enemy. She sees herself. She sees herself, alone, forever. This is her greatest fear, this aloneness. Luke’s fear was to become his father, to fall to the dark side. His fear of the dark side is also what destroys his relationship with his nephew, starting Kylo Ren along his path.

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Rey’s fear is to lose her new family, but she has been alone before. It is a fear she has faced before, a horror she has lived through.  It is no wonder that the dark side does not tempt her as easily. She knows that she has survived her fear. It cannot, therefore, consume her. Luke is horrified when she is pulled into the dark side so easily, because he does not believe that she can withstand temptation. He, after all, could not, not entirely. The dark side has marked his life, forever, it has lost him too much.

Luke’s fear moves the plot of this film just as much as Kylo’s anger and Poe’s pride. Each of them must work through those feelings, because “building that emotional intelligence is the difference between the dark and the light.” Luke succeeds, and finds oneness with the Force. Poe begins his journey by valuing his comrades over the cause. Only Kylo does not embrace that emotional maturity, and in his anger and hatred he writes his own downfall. He is so afraid of Luke, so focused on his hatred, still, of his father and the Millennium Falcon, that he fails to accomplish his goal, effectively losing the final battle to crush the Resistance. He cannot grow without bringing himself into balance, and he shows no signs of doing so, even when Rey offers him a clean slate despite everything.

In the end, The Last Jedi is the truest bit of Star Wars cinema that we have seen since The Return of the Jedi so many years ago. No, it does not look the same. Many things have changed, but hell, there’s a whole galaxy out there. Who would want to stay in the same old orbit? The heart of this story, however, remains. It is the new hope of a new generation.


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Best of 2017

At last, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Here’s my holiday gift to you, and I hope you enjoy! This post is going live for those still looking for last-minute gifts (like me), and there will be no post this Friday in honor of the holiday. Sorry for shaking things up on you folks, but I thought you’d prefer getting this sooner than later.

I read a lot of books in 2017, though perhaps not as many as I would have preferred. My TBR continues to grow much faster than I can strike things off. But nevertheless, I persist in climbing this mountain! Happily, it’s quite enjoyable.

2017 saw a lot of amazing fiction, honestly, no doubt spurred in part by everyone being pissed off and defiant. I loved some of those pieces, but I also got the chance to discover some preciously clever examples of characters subverting hegemony through self-care and care of others, and those stories were honestly some of the most raw and wonderful. So, as always, we’ll do these grouped by form. I’ll pick five of my favorite short stories, a handful of novellas, and five novels (if I can narrow it down that much).

Without further ado:

Short Stories

With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips by Beth Cato

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Beth Cato is an author I’m just now coming around to following, and I look forward to seeing more of her work. I really enjoyed this story, which is on the slightly darker end set in post-war Britain or something very like it.img_3988

Three May Keep a Secret by Carlie St. George

This story has major content warnings, so please be advised. That said, it’s a powerful story about bringing darkness into the light and how our secrets can be deadly, cemented by a lovely, mostly platonic relationship between the two main characters.

The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee

This story was a haunting tale about grief and healing and the nature of death. It also spoke to me about how an entire community can turn on you, but you are forced to live with them. I have complicated feelings about this story, which are the best kind.

Sun, Moon, Dust by Ursula Vernon

Sliding in here at the end of the year is this precious gem of a story that makes me believe in humankind. Honestly everything Ursula Vernon writes makes me feel better. She’s been a huge balm for my soul this year, and inspired me thoroughly as a writer. She also writes as T. Kingfisher, who you’ll see later on this list, and if you want more of her writing I recommend the entirety of Jackalope Wives and Other Stories without reservation.

A Recipe for Magic by Kat Howard and Fran Wilde

This story is another balm to my heart. I am super into kitchen witches and gardeners and anything else bringing magic and power to things domestic and full of love. Please check it out and try not to tear up (happy tears, I promise). It’s up on B&N’s website as part of their new push to publish original fiction.img_3990

 

Honorable mentions to Loneliness Is in Your Blood, The Oiran’s Song, and If We Live to Be Giants. They were all hella good.

Novellas

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

I loved this novella mostly because it felt so real to me. I knew the people that Killjoy described in a way that a lot of characters don’t exactly strike me as real. It’s an urban fantasy, or more appropriately a contemporary fantasy, and it’s an unexpected and delicious story.

Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day by Seanan McGuire

McGuire had several novellas come out this year, and a few books, too. She is super prolific. I picked this one for the list because it was one of my favorites, and also because it’s a great place to start with her work, encapsulating a lot of her reoccurring themes in a standalone text.

Also I have to point out that I read this novella around the same time that I read “You’ll Surely Drown Here if You Stay” by Alyssa Wong, and if you put those two titles together they make a refrain to what could be a bitterly beautiful poem.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

You all know I love Martha Wells, or at least you do if you’ve been reading this blog any length of time. This novella has taken the sff world by storm for its inventive approach to an alien consciousness that nonetheless remains lovable. It was actually a little short for me – I felt like I would have become more emotionally invested given more time in Murderbot’s head – but good news! There are two more planned installments in The Murderbot Diaries to look forward to next year.

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Novels

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

I read the entire Craft Sequence this year, and I cannot recommend it enough. Technically, the book that was published in 2017 is The Ruin of Angels, which is my second favorite book in this series, bumping off Three Parts Dead to take that honor (barely). My favorite, though, is Full Fathom Five. All of Gladstone’s books explore earth-shaking themes with inventive, masterful language and world-building. (What if magic was real and also managed by a bunch of capitalists, for example. Also: what if the stories we told ourselves became sentient?) I recommend these books to everyone I come across. You can read them in order of publication or chronologically (I did order of publication) but just go read them.

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The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Wrapping up The Broken Earth Trilogy is The Stone Sky, a book that lived up to the promise of the series. I can’t say it was uplifting, but it was satisfying.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

I wrote about this book a few weeks ago, and it remains one of my favorites I’ve read this year. I’m very much into American West reimaginings that feature women and people of color. I even did a whole blogpost about this subgenre, which you can check out here. Anyway, check out this book, it’s worth it, and can be read as a standalone or as the first in what I believe is a trilogy.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This book is the only non-speculative fiction title on this list. It’s also the only YA title, I think. It explores similar themes to “Three May Keep a Secret,” mentioned above, so content warnings are necessary. However, this book, too, is about healing, and it was a powerful read for me during this long year when it has seemed like so much darkness has been in the world.

Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher

Surprising no one, another one of T. Kingfisher’s fairytale reimaginings has made my list this year. You will recall “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, above. They happen to be the same person, and all of her stories are amazing. This one tackles Beauty and the Beast, and it’s one of my favorite retellings of that particular tale yet.

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Serials

This isn’t exactly its own category, as I have only one work to mention here. Serial productions seem to be on the up and up at the moment, and I wanted to note one that I think will go a long way towards revolutionizing the genre. Steal the Stars has been a remarkable listen, and it has taught me a lot about what can be done with a serial story. You should check it out.

Essay

The Shape of Darkness as it Overtakes Us by Dimas Ilaw

Essay is not a category I usually include and probably won’t make it in future best-of lists, but I felt like 2017 has been an exceptional year and so we had to make an exception. If you have felt at all hopeless and overwhelmed, I can’t say that this essay will make you feel better. But it will definitely help you to process, I think, just as the author is processing their own grief. And it will help you to step forward, too.


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Star Wars, The Force Awakens

The new Star Wars is out this weekend, and by the time this post goes live I will hopefully be about to watch it. This is a cause for celebration, so your post is a teensy bit early this week so that I can recover Friday.

I cannot tell you how excited I am. Rian Johnson is one of my favorite directors, albeit little known. If you haven’t seen his other stuff, Brick and The Brothers Bloom are both fascinating movies. When someone shouts in the trailer “this is not going to end the way you think it will,” I believe them. Johnson never fails to have a twist in his movies, and I believe that The Last Jedi will be no exception.

Because the movie is so close to release, I’ve been thinking back on The Force Awakens, and, to a lesser extent, on Rogue One. We’ve had decades to watch and rewatch the previous Star Wars movies, even the terror that is the prequels, and come to our conclusions, to carve out a niche in our hearts for the familiar characters of Luke and Leia and Han. Most of us have never watched a Star Wars movie as a standalone, I would imagine. We’ve always known how the plot goes, always seen Luke not just as the whiny farmboy but also as the powerful Jedi who returns balance to the Force. When we watch A New Hope, we are watching it within the context of both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The Force Awakens has no such advantage.

Now we are finally getting the next installment in this new trilogy, a year later. What happens with The Last Jedi will make or break the previous film, as often happens with trilogies. I have faith in Rian Johnson, and in the creative team that is spearheading this reboot, personally. So today I want to take a moment to reflect on the main characters of each trilogy and their parallels. Luke, Leia, and Han, and Rey, Finn, and Poe. Specifically, at Luke and Rey.

Luke and Rey are the strongest and clearest parallels from each party. Both Luke and Rey are orphans. Luke is raised knowing that his aunt and uncle are not his parents, and that they are both dead. He knows, he thinks, who is parents are – his father, a war hero, his mother, a wife. Leia is more concerned with her mother, and remembers her more clearly, but her adoptive family raised her as their own. Finding out about her is not as much of a concern as supporting her new family. She knows who she is.

Luke doesn’t, exactly. He’s a boy, a kid when we meet him, barely on the cusp of manhood. He has ideas about what to do with his life, but they are just dreams. Any shred of knowledge about his father, who, presumably, would not keep him bound to a farm in the middle of a desert, is something he jumps at. But all that said, he has a good life. He is loved, he is fed, and if he is questing he is not doing so out of desperation. It takes the Empire to unmoor him, though if he had had his way he would have gone off and made something of himself at some point. But his adventures, in his head, are bloodless. Until they’re not.

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Rey is a very different character.

Yes, she grows up on a desert planet. Yes, she is an orphan. Yes, she is preternaturally gifted with the Force, just as Luke will be – more so, even. All of those things are true. But that is the end of the similarities between Rey and Luke. Rey does not want to leave Jakku. Like him, she is forced to leave because of the Empire, but she does not want to go. She continues to try to return to Jakku, where her parents might find her. She believes, strongly, that someday she will be found. Rey’s childhood left her when she was less than ten, and she prays every day that it will come find her again.

She lives alone. She does not have enough to eat. She has no family to love her. Luke works hard on the farm, but Rey works harder, and the work she does has no safety net. Scavenging means that her death can come for her at any time, and it will probably wear a familiar face. There is no protection from her competitors. She must rely on herself, on her own fighting skills.

When Luke comes to the Force, his experience is in sharpshooting and mechanics. When Rey comes to the Force, her experience is in self-defense, in infiltration, in survival.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015

I think that the differences between Rey and Luke tell us a lot about what kind of story we are going to get from this trilogy. Luke’s story was always going to be a hero’s journey, the classic kind, farmboy turned king, or, in this case, wizard. Rey’s story is much more complicated. Perhaps that is why it sits uneasily in the mind. There is no true parallel that we can latch onto. What does a woman whose skills are survival become? An assassin, or a spy, or a courtesan. Not a hero, not in our stories.

Perhaps it’s time for that to change.

December is come

It is the end of the year.

Jeez, that’s intimidating. The end of the year. We’ve got not a lot of time to get caught up with our writing progress and start thinking about next year’s goals. Also it’s the time of year when the “Best of” lists are coming out, which means I need to get my thinking cap on and review some of the magical worlds I’ve experienced this year. Look for my own best of list in the next week.

But first, let’s look at what has been accomplished this year. I’ve written a minimum of 60,000 new words of fiction this year, as well as all of my weekly blog posts at about 1,000 words a week. I know I’ve been productive. But have I met the goals I set out to meet? Let’s take a look.

  • To make this marriage thing stick. To get the wedding plans planned and then let it go to be what it will be. To continue to remember that relationships are work and require cherishing just like any other small, precious, hopeful thing. Remember that time I got married? I did that. It was awesome. It’s like getting to know one another again right now in some ways. So much of our lives were on hold for the wedding, and now there’s free brain-power to figure out what’s next. But I think we’re doing pretty well with it, so I’m marking this one off. And I did this, and yea it was done, and it was good.
  • To find us a home and plant it with flowers and fruit and all good things. To experiment with growing sweet potatoes and lemon trees and mangoes, because I can. Okay, the only part of this I’ve done so far is the sweet potatoes. I KNOW YOU’RE OUT THERE, HOUSE!  We’ve got a house! And I live in it! We need to do a lot of landscaping. And I planted some sweet potatoes, but I need to harvest them now that the frost has killed them. Success!
  • To attend all these conferences I’ve signed up for, and most especially to make it to WFC in San Antonio in October. Selfishly, I’m most excited about seeing my family there, but also super jazzed about Martha Wells being the head honcho for this go-round. I survived many of the conferences, and just remembered I still haven’t made reservations for WFC. Oops?  I did it! I so much did it! Wow that was an awesome accomplishment, actually.
  • To finish Daughter of Madness and get it to my readers, sometime this year, no matter that I’m behind. To not feel guilty about that behind-ness. To give you an outline of next steps with this, I need to: finish the rough draft, send it to beta readers and/or an editor for a look, and then do second rewrites as well as deep line edits. I’m also in the process of doing the cover design which will hopefully be finalized this month sometime, so be looking for that! (I am focusing on being excited, so excited, to bring this book to you and not intimidated by all the to do’s that still need doing.) Marking off half of this, which seems appropriate considering the timing. Check out my post from last week for more updates! Okay so, I’ve got a whole separate post on this you’ll get soon. Suffice to say that things are moving. And it is good.
  • To re-issue Child of Brii, taking it back to my original vision for it, before I got caught up in word counts and mess. I sort of did this. The book is back out there, anyway. I feel pretty okay about that. Did I mention I also made a print book of this? 
  • To start something new – either the last Creation Saga book, which I’ve honestly already got about 10,000 words of from cuts from Daughter of Madness, or the Child of Brii prequel I’ve got planned, or maybe both. Ideally I’d get the roughs for both finished this year but realistically it’s probably one or the other. And maybe… Eek, I have not done any of this. Okay so this one is complicated. I am mentally drafting the 3rd Creation Saga book, title TBA around the release of Daughter of Madness, but I can’t really strike it.
  • To start something entirely new – it might happen anyway if I’m being honest, because I’m excited about a great many projects right now. There are octopuses and mermaids and werewolves and princesses and warriors all begging for my attention at the moment, so you’ll know as soon as I do what I pick up next. Marking this off, but don’t consider it over. There’s more new stuff longing for passage through my pen. Yeah, about that more new stuff. I started a new book, and it was neither octopuses nor mermaids to my surprise….but witches. You’ll hear more when it’s time, but I am so excited about this project.
  • To put honest work into querying a project that I have previously referred to as ‘The Zombie Book’. This requires putting together a synopsis, since that’s the last element I’m missing, and updating my agents list for queries. I’d also like to finish the spin-off story from that novel, and hopefully find it a home, or maybe hold onto it until it’s time. I did this part, at least. And it was fun times, my friends. Now to do the rest. I have not gotten much farther on this, but I want to. Mostly DoM rewrites have really bogged down the time I can healthily spend not writing. That and moving. I did accidentally query a whole other project through PitMad, but that didn’t end up going anywhere even though it helped me to clarify some issues with that project.
  • To love and care for those important to me. To visit my brother finally, and to make time to travel with my soon-to-be husbandOh, we traveled. Did we travel. And more to come! And my brother is still cool, and we had many awesome drinks and foods.
  • To never stop believing in myself and my work. To continue to try to find homes for my short stories. To write new ones, as the mood takes me. To write for the sake of writing. This is an ongoing goal, especially the last bit. And it is a hard thing to do, every day. But I love writing, friends.
  • To take care of myself. To make sure I eat well and exercise, which is hard, and that I get enough sleep, which is easier but still doesn’t always happen. To climb some more mountains, and float some more rivers, and spend some time under the stars. I can’t mark this off because I want to do more of it! I climbed so many mountains! Also taking aerial silks has been a great way to meet my fitness goals.
  • To fear less and try harder. Basically, this is an ongoing life lesson, and I’m not afraid to work on it forever.

Man, this was such a huge year. So much got done, and if there are a lot of things that didn’t get done, well, my goals were pretty ambitious honestly. Now it’s time to meditate on what I hope for the future, and come up with a new list for next year!


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Queer representation through romance

Before Thanksgiving I mentioned the “queering beards” panel, which is not what it’s called but how I keep referring to it in my head. It’s got to be the internal rhymes.

Anyway, above is the link to the post last week. Suffice to say for new readers, I went to World Fantasy Convention and got to listen to a lot of cool thoughts about LGBTQIA+ representation from various industry professionals. So here I am, reporting back to you, my readers, who didn’t get to go listen to this awesome conversation.

One of the questions that came up in this panel was about how queer stories are marketed predominantly through romance. Typically, there is an idea that an adult story with a queer main character, of any orientation, needs to have a romantic or sexual subplot as a way to firmly establish their queerness. Audience members also expressed pressure they had felt in young adult and middle grade writing to include a coming out story, often dovetailing with a romantic or sexual plot element. The moderator, Sara Megibow, asked how this had impacted the current panelists and their thoughts on it. The panelists each had different lived experiences which they articulated. One panelist felt that he had been pigeonholed into these projects as a voice actor; another felt that marketing for her books was sometimes difficult because of her publisher’s reputation for romance, when she herself did not write romance. They agreed that this could be problematic for queer authors trying to tell stories that didn’t revolve around romantic or sexual subplots, though they didn’t use those words.

So I raised my hand and asked how they felt it impacted asexual and aromantic representation in books. The panel felt there was an impact, but it felt to me that they didn’t know how to speak to this issue since none of them identified as such. But when a Twitter mutual who is active in the ace and aro communities posted a thread, I was reminded of that conversation and chimed in.

 

We had a great discussion. Honestly, this is one of my favorite things about Twitter, the ability for me to constantly encounter people who have more experience than me and learn about their expertise.

One of the things the panel didn’t really explore in their answer to my question, and one of the things that I didn’t explicitly tease out, is that there is a difference between asexual and aromantic and that difference could result in differing challenges in the publishing industry. Claudie quickly corrected my thinking here, specifying that, while getting asexual stories published was still not easy, it was becoming more common than aromantic stories because romance-focused publishing houses were uninterested in aromanticism. After all, you don’t necessarily need sex to have a romance that can titillate readers.

I urge you to check out our conversation if you would like to. We kind of went in several branching directions, so you may need to flit about from tweet to tweet to find it all. You also might check out some of her work documenting and recommending asexual and aromantic stories. And you could always buy her a coffee.


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