Steps to Being a Modern Gentleman: A Rebuttal

chantal-loves-vintage-paul-newman-2After being confused, appalled and annoyed by the various items on this list I determined to write my own guide to being a gentleman. After all, as a romance reader I am well versed in what it takes to turn the average guy from a typical dude into a dreamboat.

  1. A gentleman never denigrates an entire people and the place where they live. A true gentleman knows that every people and place have something to offer the world and critiquing Puerto Rico on a public list is in poor taste and ungentlemanly behavior. Lizzie Bennet would be appalled!
  2. A gentleman does not kiss and tell. Can unsnap a bra with one hand? Wow your date with that skill, not the internet.
  3. A gentleman is as at ease in jeans and a t-shirt as he is in a tweed suit. Gentlemanly behavior is not limited to a well-dressed moment.  A gentleman wears his swimsuit and sandals with the same confidence he would exhibit when wearing an Armani.
  4. A gentleman is friendly with those who choose to wear lavender socks and realizes that those that do can also be gentlemen. Perhaps I am wrong – I sincerely hope I am – but this seemed like a slam against Nathan Lane’s character in The Bird Cage (who wore pinkish purple socks) and also against gay men in general. For shame!
  5. A gentleman turns his mobile off during a date (unless he has a sick mother). A gentleman knows that a vibrating pocket is as annoying as a shrill ring. Unless he is a cardiovascular surgeon or in some other way needed for a possible emergency he turns the phone off while at a social event. And he never ever says, “Hang on a minute,” while he checks his phone instead of being present in the moment.
  6. A gentleman carries groceries or other heavy bags for those in need. A gentleman never saves his good manners for those whom he wishes to impress. He always offers help to those he sees in need.
  7. A gentleman doesn’t need to be reminded to end a relationship face to face. A gentleman gives all the people in his life the benefit of face to face conversations and confrontations when discussing a difficult issue.
  8. A gentleman sincerely enjoys pets and children. Knowing that these are groups who can spot a phony a mile away, a gentleman knows how to unwind enough to be the kind of companion a dog or a child can genuinely be happy to see. He never employs tricks when with either group as he knows this is the opening line to a story which ends with his humiliation.
  9. A gentleman never judges another’s dietary habits. Whether a friend is embracing a low-carb lifestyle or has chosen to go vegan a gentleman is supportive of their choice.
  10. A gentleman knows that gentlemanly behavior is not a skill set but a question of proper behaviors. A true gentleman might not be able to ride a horse or sail a boat and he may never encounter a gamekeeper. He will however walk whatever path he is on with generosity, goodwill toward all, a kind nature, decent table manners and the ability to laugh at himself.

In conclusion I’ll leave with you what one of our staff members said, ” a gentleman is not going to be such a class-conscious, denigrating, elitist knobhead that he’d feel the need to promulgate that narrow kind of value in a stupid tweedy magazine, where, let’s face it, he’s preaching to the choir until it gets picked up by media outlets. ”

So what do you think – what constitutes a gentleman?

–Maggie Boyd

Posted in Heroes, Maggie AAR | 14 Comments

31 Awesome Queer Romances You Should Read

Queer-Romance-Month-2015I owe Alexis Hall a huge favor. I thought it would be lovley if we ended our Queer Romance Month Friday series with a list of LGBTQ+ books everyone should read. I also had this thought this past Tuesday night. I then asked Alexis if he could pull together something. I might have mentioned the number 25. Rather than tell me I was tardy and unreasonable, Alexis said, “Sure.” The man’s a gem.

So thanks Alexis (and I know he didn’t mention his book Glitterland on this list which is my favorite male/male romance ever) and thanks to all the authors who contributed this month. AAR is proud to be part of Queer Romance Month and we couldn’t have done it without you!

Before we begin, we are the ground rules.

  1. I hate top lists. So this isn’t one. It does not represent the best of anything. I claim no authority here. It’s just a list of queer romances I love and want to share with you in whatever order they floated into my head.
  2. I know some of these people. I admire a lot of them.
  3. Some of these books will be published by Riptide Publishing. I am also published by Riptide Publishing.
  4. Dabney asked me for 25 books but since this to wrap up Queer Romance Month and there are 31 days in October I over-spilled.

And now, to the books:

1. The Sublime and Spirited Voyage of the Original Sin by Colette Moody

Lesbian pirates. Thank you and goodnight.

2. Chaneling Morpheus by Jordan Castillo Price

JCP is the reigning sovereign of m/m speculative fiction. I could honestly have recc’ed you anything she’s ever written. I’ve chose vampires because it’s Halloween. Sexy, edgy, full of very human monsters.

3. Off Campus by Amy Jo Cousins

Beautiful writing, intricate characterisation, deep, compassionate story-telling. This book kicks off one of my favourite NA series.

4. How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by JC Lillis

This book is insanely happy-making. A coming of age story, a poignant romance and a shameless celebration of complete and joyous nerdery.

5. The Reluctant Berserker by Alex Beecroft

An exquisitely written and slow-burning love story set in Saxon England.  Meticulously researched, with a side order of deconstructed masculinity. Perfect.

6. Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Very sweet and sexy NA about two very different young women finding each other and finding themselves.

7. The Rifter by Ginn Hale

Epically imaginative and breathtakingly brilliant. Some of the best SFF (science fiction fantasy) I’ve ever read – and I was an SFF reader before I came to romance, so I don’t say that lightly.

8. Mark of Cain by Kate Sherwood

An Anglican priest slowly begins to fall for the man who murdered his brother: an ambitious and complex story of guilt and redemption, love and faith.

9. A Fashionable Indulgence by KJ Charles

Queerness, politics and fabulous waistcoats: the m/m Regency romance you’ve always wanted.

10. Pearl by Kelly Rand

A coming of age story set in the 1920s about a small town girl and the transman who opens her eyes to a world of hope and possibility. Evocative, gorgeous, exquisite.

11. Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell

A NY-set love story between a Puerto Rican teacher and his Italian-American best friend. Gritty, real, and unexpectedly romantic.

12. Adaptation by Malinda Lo

So … kind of like the X-files if the X-files was YA, had a gloriously diverse cast and involved a bisexual love triangle.

13. Santuario by GB Gordon

A sci-fi western: excellent world-building, intricate plotting and a subtle, slow burning romance. Unusual and haunting and special.

14. Business Makes Strange Bedfellows by EE Ottoman

A lesbian gothic horror set in 19th century New York City. The book is dedicated to women who are unafraid to be both the heroes and the villains. There’s a romance between a re-animator and a vampire.  There are fights. Top hats are worn. Delightful.

15. Tales, Claimings and Other Alien Artifacts by Lyn Gala

If someone had told me I would one day go around sincerely recommending a kinky SF m/m story about a submissive human and a lizard-alien with a prehensile tail I would’ve made a face like this: O_O. However, this is genuinely lovely. Particularly recommended to readers who are sick of dominants they wouldn’t trust to open a tin of beans.

16. Bound To Be A Groom by Megan Mulry

Like m/m? Like f/f? What about m/m/f? And m/m/f/f? Megan Mulry, err, does it all in this exuberant pansexual, polyamorous Regency romp.

17. Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson

Two young men, a road trip. Grief and truth, love and friendship, external and internal journeys. What I love in Erickson’s writing is her talent for portraying relationships between people who not only love and desire each other but like each other too.

18. Hammer and Bone by Kirby Crow

Not really romance but I can’t not recommend this a stunning collection of queer spec fic shorts. These are 90% cocoa solid dark. But they are brilliant and I am evangelical about them. Read them slowly. Savour them.

19. Dead Ringer by Sam Schooler and Heidi Belleau

Praise the lord for a sex worker who is not required to be redeemed from their job by love. This is a multi-layered, emotionally complex and occasionally surprising reworking of the ol’ prostitute-falls-for-client trope. Beautifully done.

20. The Devil Lancer by Astrid Amara

A paranormal–historical about the Crimean War. Bleak, powerful and vivid. With an unexpectedly tender romance considering one of them is literally possessed.

21. To Summon Nightmares by JK Pendragon

I do love an “I appear to have inherited a creepy old house in the country” plot. The horror/suspense elements contrast beautifully with the gentleness of the love story. The transgender protagonist is written with care, compassion and authenticity, and allowed to both vulnerable and heroic.

22. Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane

Amy Lane has two modes. The first is “yo dawg, I heard you like angst, so I put angst in your angst so you can angst while you angst.” The second is “I will melt you like fondue.” This is that. And I don’t even like Xmas stories. I hate them. But this is a ridiculously lovely friends-to-lovers romance that is full of hope and just … goddamn niceness that still somehow manages never to cross the line into sticky or maudlin.

23. The Dark Wife by Sara Diemer

To describe this a YA lesbian re-telling of the Persephone myth is to undersell the depth and detail that has gone into it. Essentially it takes story about loss of power and not only queers the living hell out of it but turns into a tale of female agency. Also Hades … Hades is *fans self*.

24. The Two Gentleman of Altona by JA Rock & Lisa Henry

Madcap mystery and romance between a burned-out agent and a Shakespeare-quoting conman. I’m warning you now, you’ll want to read all three in the Playing the Fool series.

25. Waiting in the Wings by Melissa Brayden

This is definitely one for theatre nerds (especially musical theatre nerds *cough*) but the dialogue is crackly as anything and the characters are easy to root for and relate to.

26. Loving Jay by Renae Kaye

On the surface this is a simple story of a man being dragged out the closet by the flamboyant fellow he’s falling for. But Kaye writes with real warmth and affection for her characters and her setting (Australia!) while exploring themes of family, masculinity and identity with perception and compassion.

27. Life After Joe by Harper Fox

Harper Fox is one of my favourite writers. I cannot do her justice in a paragraph. Read anything of hers and I promise you’ll love it. I chose Life After Joe simply because it was my first (and you always remember your first): heart-breaking, hopeful, exquisitely written.

28. In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish

Snarky city boy meets gentle giant in move to small town: stylish and full of heart, as unabashedly tender and neurotic as its protagonists.

29. The Midnight Hunt by LL Rand

This is Radclyffe’s urban fantasy series. Think lesbian Anita Blake with more ass kicking and less gratuitous sex. Bring it.

30. Catalysts by Kris Ripper

A straight boy, his gay dom and the gay dom’s boyfriend. And their friends. An unusual kinky love story that pushes the boundaries of sexuality, gender, and relationships themselves.

31. A Forbidden Rumspringa by Keira Andrews

A gay Amish romance. Yes, you read that right. This is a beautifully written and tender romance that neither diminishes the value of community nor the value of freedom. Delicate and complicated, sweet and painful – it stayed with me long after I’d finished reading.


Alexis Hall is the author of ten queer romances. His most recent book is For Real: A Spires Story.


Posted in Books with Buzz, Guest Posts, Romance | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Someday My Print Will Come Back

romance-novel-book-pile-fictionandflowers-wordpress-com-chick-litI bought my first eBook in 1999. Back then, eBook publishing was like a frontier. Most publishers e-mailed the books to you, and the process wasn’t automated, so if you bought something on the weekend, you’d have to wait a day or two to get your e-mail. Sometimes they were even sent as RTF files! Discussions about eBooks would always start with someone saying something like “I don’t read eBooks because I hate reading on my computer screen” and “I’ll never read eBooks because only people who can’t get a contract are published in that format.” OK, some people still believe those things, but most of us have gotten over those hurdles. Still, we’ve found new ones, or new ones have been shoved in place. Then there’s the biggest barrier of all — sometimes I just want to touch a blasted paper copy. Sometimes the paper copy is cheaper, or looks cooler, or is easier to read. Or sometimes there is no eBook edition!

Our central nervous systems have something called a blood-brain barrier. Sometimes I think mine also has a Kindle-brain barrier, and that some books will only enter by brain through a paper trail. Although I read the first two Hunger Games in eBook format, for some reason, I couldn’t get into the third one, Mockingjay. The final movie is coming up, and I really wanted to catch up. (How else will I know what parts they screwed up?( Then I started leafing through the large type edition of the third one in a bookstore, and the sucker pulled me in. I bought it and read it, in just a few days. Maybe it’s the distraction factor. When I’m reading something on a Kindle, there is always something else on that Kindle. (Oh, I’d better move that new book into the New Adult category. Wait, did I remember go get the new Joanna Wylde motorcycle club book I wanted? Hey, did I finish reading that ghost story?…) When I read Mockingjay in paper, there was only Mockingjay. Sucker that I am, I even bought matching large type editions of the first two and am now re-reading the first one. Maybe some books just need to be read a certain way. For years, I tried to read Lord Foul’s Bane. I finally managed it by taking a worn, used paperback to the beach and reading it, dog-earing the pages, getting sand in it, and dinging it up even more. I also can’t imagine reading certain old school romances on a Kindle because part of the fun of reading those books is slamming them on the floor now and then and walking away. That’s much more satisfying with an old mass market paperback. On the other hand, if I’m reading a print book and suddenly realize I want to read something else, I can’t just push a button on it and go to the next book. So it’s not a perfect world. It’s a hybrid world.

So keep those things in mind when you read about a recent article in the New York Times warning that eBook sales have slowed, and even fallen, and that print sales are on the rise. Are some readers giving up on eBooks? Are others not even giving the format a chance? Are customers reading in both formats? It’s just as likely that this article doesn’t have all the numbers, or isn’t interpreting them correctly. Maybe readers are going back to paper because they can buy the paper book at a discount on-line or even at the grocery store, and they’d rather do that than pay full price (or more) for the eBook. Maybe publishers are trying everything they can to corral readers back into print books. Maybe the article isn’t looking at all the numbers. Is it including all the people who pay, say, $2.99 or $3.99 for a new motorcycle club romance, or billionaire romance, yet would balk at paying $15 or more for the same title? It doesn’t look that way. As the article itself says, “It is also possible that a growing number of people are still buying and reading e-books, just not from traditional publishers. The declining e-book sales reported by publishers do not account for the millions of readers who have migrated to cheap and plentiful self-published e-books, which often cost less than a dollar.” (OK, we all know that $2.99 and $3.99 are the more common price points now, but articles on eBooks often lag behind the times.) AAR’s readers also had fun with this topic on our boards. Earlier this summer, as mentioned at AAR, eBook subscription service Scribd tried to control costs by cutting back on romance titles. Scribd’s rival, Oyster, announced in September that they were shutting down. Some experts see those issues as a sign that the eBook market is in trouble. This proves that many of those experts don’t know much about eBooks. I’m sure I’m not the only reader who tried Scribd and gave up because I hated reading in their iPad app. Others gave up because they didn’t like the idea of borrowing titles and not owning them. But no, to the experts, the problems at Scribd and Oyster must mean that people are “giving up” on eBooks, rather than giving up on a format they don’t like.

Are people going back to paper books? Or like me, did they never leave to begin with? I love my ereaders, and have for years. They’re a great way to carry tons (literally) of books around at once. Also, just as digital music stores have made it easier for me to find that weird band the local music store doesn’t carry, eBooks offer me a way to get copies of books I can’t otherwise find. From classic romances I haven’t seen in stores for years, to long out-of-print classics such as Varney the Vampire, eBooks have helped me find new ways to spend my money. On the other hand, when I started seriously getting into music again, I realized that local record store is a great place to have. Why pay $9.99 for a download that might get lost  in a hardware crash when I can buy the CD for less, with a better copy of the artwork, lyrics, and liner notes, and better sound? When a band I like arranged for a signing in a Baltimore record store, I bought their new album in CD so that they could sign the booklet even though I also bought the download. Now I have a signed copy, and some cool memories. Of a guitarist with very blue eyes. Ahem.

Even when they don’t have autograph sessions, bookstores are still just as tempting. As long as the print copy doesn’t look as if it was printed in microfiche (that reference surely ages me), I might consider buying it, depending on various factors: whether there is an eBook edition (can’t buy one if it doesn’t exist); the price of the eBook edition; whether I might want to lend it to someone who doesn’t have an ereader; how nice the print copy looks; my mood; my storage space; the binding of the print edition; and the alignment of the planets. And once again, what about prices? Even the local independent bookstore can lure me in with lots of great discounts. (I’m lookin’ at you, Greetings and Readings!)

Also, some publishers are being very clever (blast them!) and putting together print copies that look great or feel so wonderful that you might think “Well maybe just this once…” I pulled a new YA book, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, off the shelf at a local bookstore. I was thinking of getting the eBook edition, which is under eight dollars. Then I realized the red throne on the cover is done in some kind of soft velvet. Darn it, now I went the hardcover because it feels so nice. YA paranormal Diary of a Haunting has lots of full-page black and white illustrations that would look … blah… on my Nook or Kindle. Also, while I don’t mind taking my Kindle into the sauna at the YMCA, I draw the line at taking it into the bathtub. On the other hand, I don’t mind taking a cheap paper copy there. No, I’m not going to take a bath with my signed, numbered edition of a book. But that trade paperback edition will be very welcome. That print edition will also never run out of juice, won’t accidentally flip to the next chapter (unless it’s windy), and can be lent to someone else. Also, I can buy paper copies at anywhere from the comfy Barnes & Noble where they make the best Frappuccinos and already know what I prefer, to nifty indie stores to used book stores. Not to mention this place I’ve heard about where you can borrow scads of books for free, even if they’re not available in eBook editions. Some place called a … library.

I’m not the only one who sometimes heads for the stacks. AAR’s Lee Brewer says, The first place I go to read books is the library, which fortunately has an extensive range of paper and eBooks.  Most times the library will order the book in paper and eBook (and many times audio).  My preference is always paper.  If they only order eBooks, I’ll borrow that version.  I do buy a LOT of eBooks but mostly UK chick lit/women’s fiction authors that are available through Amazon US.  Otherwise, I stock up on UK books when I visit London or order from”

On the other hand, Maggie Boyd points out that some great books have come out only as eBooks lately — Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin; Radiance by Grace Draven; Dark Horse Michelle Diener. Also,  authors like Lisa Clark O’Neill, Melinda Leigh and Kendra Elliot publish in eBook editions. Maggie prefers paper, but she’s run out of space. On the other hand, if the eBook edition is more than $9.99, she’ll switch to paper. At least that way she can trade it in if it’s bad.

But paper hasn’t lured everyone back in. Mary Skelton prefers eBooks, for two main reasons — she can change the font size and reduce eyestrain, and she gets her books right away. A far cry from the olden days of eBooks, where orders that late on Friday night often weren’t fulfilled until Monday afternoon. Paper books might be here to stay, but eBooks have made leaps and bounds since 1999.

“If I never read another real book, I’d be perfectly happy,” says Dabney. “I read about five to ten books a week and I move between books as I read. My Kindle (and phone, iPad, and laptop) allow me to read whatever I want whenever I want. Plus I adore the dictionary/Wikipedia links in the Kindle program. My family also often reads together so having eBooks available to everyone at the same time is the bomb.”

Caz says, “I admit that when ebooks first came about, my reaction was along the lines of ‘great – but I will always prefer an actual book.’ Hah.  How wrong I was.” She got her first Kindle for Christmas several years ago and hasn’t looked back since. The Kindle has coincided with her current reading needs, from finally having more time to read and getting more into reading romance. She also enjoyed being able to carry more than one book at a time, “and not having to leave books with half-naked people on the cover lying about.” She has been converted so thoroughly that for the last few years, the only “dead tree” books she bought were second-hand copies of books not available electronically, such as old Signet and Zebra regencies from the 80s and 90s. “

My house is crammed to the brim with dead-trees anyway, so the Kindle was a fantastic addition to the household in that it meant never having to put up another bookshelf! (Like we have space for one, anyway!)”

Heh. I know that feeling. I do appreciate not having to cram as many paperbacks onto those shelves now. Also, going somewhere is more fun because I don’t have to decide which books to take — I can take my Kindle and always have something to read, and if I want to take a print book, I can take that one special book I might happen to be reading. No more canvas bags filled with twenty paperbacks, none of which turned out to be the one I wanted to read.

–Anne M. Marble

Posted in Anne Marble, Books, E-books, Reading | Tagged , | 25 Comments

Why You Can’t Set a Wax Play Scene on Shabbos

And other things I learned while writing a BDSM erotic romance set in an Orthodox Jewish Community

A Guest Post by Tamsen Parker

(Ms. Parker is giving away a signed copy of Craving Flight. To be entered in a drawing for the novel, leave a comment.)

Tzipporah is the heroine in Craving Flight, the BDSM erotic romance novella I wrote for the Goodreads’ BDSM group’s story prompt writing event. She’s a university professor who also happens to be a Ba’alat Teshuva: a woman who was born Jewish but wasn’t raised that way and later becomes observant. The hero Elan is the neighborhood butcher and has been raised as an Orthodox Jew.

In order to adhere to community norms, they agree to something I might call marriage of convenience lite. And from there, well, they have to get to know each other. Inside the bedroom and out.

The first thing you need to know is that I’m a huge dork. Like, huge. My particular flavor of nerdery is the social sciences. I have an undergrad degree in sociology and a master’s in urban planning. If I had my way, I’d stay in school forever. Sadly, Mr. Parker doesn’t approve of being married to a perpetual student.

So I became a writer instead. For which I get to learn about things that interest me all the time for my job.

When I saw the original prompt for this story, I needed someone to write it. But one of my primary rules as an author is to write the books I want to read, and I desperately wanted to read this story. Mostly, I don’t hesitate, but for this I felt entirely ill-equipped. As someone who grew up nominally Christian and is faithless enough as an adult that my child believes places of worship are where you go to decorate gingerbread houses and cookies during the town holiday fair, Orthodox Judaism is entirely out of the realm of my experience.

So I asked on social media if there was anyone who was Orthodox and who wrote kink. Unfortunately, the Venn diagram of authors I know looked like this:

Screenshot 2015-10-25 17.22.31

But all was not lost. I do have a friend who is Orthodox Jewish, and a romance author in her own right *blows kisses to the lovely and generous KK Hendin*. Before I claimed the prompt, I told her that I had a story I wanted to tell, but I’d need some help because my characters were Orthodox Jewish, a culture I knew little about. She graciously agreed to beta read my manuscript for cultural purposes, and then I really had no excuses.

So I claimed the prompt and went to work, first heading to my local library. There are tons of fantastic books about Orthodox Jewish culture out there. If you’re at all curious, I’d encourage you to find some that appeal to you and read them.

Two books formed the bedrock of my knowledge for constructing this story. Becoming Frum is an academic treatise on how people becoming observant acquire language (remember how I told you I was a dork? I wasn’t kidding. This was an utterly fascinating read for me) and What Do You Mean You Can’t Eat in My Home? The latter is a much more accessible kind of How-To Guide for how people who are becoming observant can smooth what can be a difficult transition with their (less-observant) families.

These books not only provided background information on the heroine I was writing, but they also shaped the story I was telling. They helped me understand what some of the conflicts a person, particularly a woman, in Tzipporah’s situation would face and how the community she so desperately wants to be a part of would treat her.

For many of the other details in the story, the internet is a wonderful place. There are tons of websites devoted to keeping kosher, the intricacies of being niddah, how to maintain tznius (dressing modestly), and pretty much anything else you’d ever want to know about Orthodox culture. So in addition to my usual research habits (hair bondage, the best kind of candles for wax play, etc.), I visited a slew of Jewish educational websites.

My internet usage is questionable at the best of times, but I suspect anyone checking my search history for the couple of months I was working on this story would have been downright perplexed.

Which leads me to the title of this post. Writing not just a romance set in an Orthodox community, but a romance involving BDSM in an Orthodox community, presented its own special challenges. It was easy in the sense that within certain boundaries (between a married couple and not while the wife is niddah), Orthodox Judaism is very sex-positive. I did however have to delay sending my first draft to KK because I’d set a hot wax scene during Shabbos which is not cool. Not because of any specific objection to kink in the Orthodox faith, but because you’re not permitted to light or blow out candles during the Sabbath. Luckily, it was easy enough to shift that scene to the following night.

I also had to remind myself while I was writing that not everyone was going to be as enthralled by my research as I was. Readers were promised an erotic romance, and I wanted to give them one—not just a PhD dissertation with some kink thrown in. Which meant I had to pick and choose the details to include so as to paint an accurate picture but not overwhelm with minutiae.

Over and over again, I thought of the title of a workshop that had been offered. (Please forgive me for not remembering where or the presenter. If anyone knows, please leave a note in the comments because I owe them a debt of gratitude!) It was called “Your research is showing!” and I can’t tell you how many times I muttered that to myself as I deleted a line about Elan and Tzipporah’s ketubah (marriage contract) or the use of a blech (a covering used on stoves during Shabbos), among other things.

If the world were a perfect place, I would’ve had more time to do research and write a longer piece, if only to squeeze in some more of unique things about Orthodox culture without overwhelming the romance between Elan and Tzipporah. For many readers, the cultural setting was the most fascinating part of the book, and I for one would love to see more frum romance.

All in all, I had a wonderful, challenging time writing this novella. I got to indulge my research nerd side to learn about an ancient and beautiful culture, and was incredibly fortunate to have someone who was willing to double-check my story for inaccuracies and misunderstandings. I literally couldn’t have done this without her.

Tamsen Parker is a stay-at-home mom by day, erotic romance writer by naptime. She lives with her family outside of Boston, where she tweets too much, sleeps too little and is always in the middle of a book. Aside from good food, sweet rieslings and gin cocktails, she has a fondness for monograms and subway maps. She should really start drinking coffee. You can find out more about her and her books at

Posted in Books with Buzz, Guest Posts, Romance reading | Tagged , | 14 Comments

On “Say Yes to the Dress”

Say-Yes-to-the-Dress-350x230I’ve watched almost no reality TV. I watched the finals of the first four seasons of American Idol, some scenes from the two Survivor seasons my niece’s husband was on, and the episodes of The Voice when a kid who went to school with my twins performed. I’ve never seen a cooking show, a home show, or a this family is completely crazy show.

Today, as part of an assignment for a journalism class I’m taking, I’m going watch two episodes of Say Yes to the Dress and live blog as I do. (Live blogging means I’ll be writing in real time as the show runs.) I picked this show because a wedding is so often part of the HEA we love in romance. I’ve read descriptions of hundreds of wedding dresses in the books but other than planning my own (I wore an altered version of my grandmother’s dress.) and going with my sister when she picked out hers, I’ve never been privy to the process.

As I began to prepare for this blog, I tried to recall memorable romance novel dresses. Do any come to mind to you? (published at 2:45)

While waiting for the show to start, I searched our site for wedding dress. Lots of hits came up but none were in reviews. My most recent memory of a wedding dress in a book was in Sonali Dev’s The Bollywood Bride. (Sonali and I talked about the fabulous saris in the book in this interview.) (published at 2:58)

And, OK, the show has begun. I can tell that the show’s set in Manhattan because they just showed a shot of a sign for 42nd Street and of course there’s only one of those in the US, right?

Today’s show is about Melissa who has worked at the boutique for the past year. I’m a little confused why she’d have a show about choosing a dress–hasn’t she figured that out by now? She plans to spend 10K or more on her dress. She says she wants a dress by Panina. (That turned out to be Pnina Tornai.)

Melissa apparently has an “incredible body” and so she looks great–they say–in the first dress. That dress looked very very puffy to me and had a huge–the size of a toddler–bow on the side.

OK, so maybe the show follows two brides? Now’s there’s a woman named Stella whose Greek family is there with her. Her dad wants her to wear a dress that makes her look like a Greek god. Athena? 2ac20ca2-956a-4efb-a248-b96872838879_560_420

This confuses me. (published at 3:07)

I wonder who watches this show? Women of all ages? The ads have been for the Peanuts movie, Sketchers shoes, The Mattress Store, and a slim line of Depends.  (published at 3:12)

Dress Two for Melissa looks great on her but she says it’s not how she pictured herself as a bride.

Switch to Stella, the Greek bride, who is now wearing “an avant garde wedding dress” that has a crazy crazy back. Her sister said it looked like a mullet: Work in the front and party at the back. The dress was rejected quickly. Stella now loves Dress Three and now there is a theme. Stella’s family and the bridal consultant differ in opinions. And, for whatever reason, Stella can’t pick a dress she likes unless her rather bitchy sister likes it too. Poor Stella. If she were a romance heroine, she’d straighten her shoulders and tell her sister, “Sis, this is my day and I need to pick my own dress.” and the sister would realized she was just jealous and the wedding would happen and the sister would drown her sorrows and end up sleeping with the groom’s best friend–he’s a fireman?–and a new romance would begin. (published at 3:18)

Melissa is trying on her third dress which cost 26K. 26K!!!!! It’s quite a dress–very fitted through the hips and then a huge skirt made up of a bunch of roses. Melissa loves this dress and, despite that it’s 16K more than her budget (if I were her groom to-be, I’d worry about this). Melissa can, however, get the employee discount which they don’t tell us what it is. If it’s 50% off, which I doubt, it would be 13K which is, I guess, better.

Now there’s a third bride who is marrying a guy named Ralph in a hotel in Fort Lauderdale I used to drive by when I went to work.

And, we’re back to Stella. So, the wedding consultant has decided the answer to the family/Stella problem is to let the family pick Stella’s dress. I now feel really sorry for Stella. (published 3:23)

I had no idea there were so many reality shows. This is the TLC channel. I’ve seen ads for a show about a very overweight woman’s love life, a show about a family with seven kids, a show called Sister Wives–is this about sisters who marry brothers?– and a show about a coach.

And we’re back with Carly, the bride who is there just for her fitting. This is another dress with a huge bottom. Is that the look this year? Carly and her mom are in an argument over whether or not Carly should wear a veil. Again, it seems weird to me that the bride isn’t the decider.

Stella is trying on a dress her family picked out for her. Stella loves it because it makes her family so happy.  The bridal consultant just said “Family knows best.” And Stella said “Yes.” This one only costs 2600. That seems wildly reasonable. The dress makes Stella look a big dumpy if you ask me, but Stella says she’s happy. I want to send her Jill Shalvis books.

Carly overruled her mom about the veil, though. So, that’s one sane bride out of three.

And that’s the first show. The appeal of this is still escaping me. (published at 3:29)

We’re in the bridal salon on 42nd Street. There are three bride here who don’t have an opinion on what they want. The first girl named Farrah who has brought five women to help her. She wants to look as perfect as possible. Her friends say Farrah is very picky. Farrah says her price range in 2K. She’s marrying groom Jose who she loves because “he can put up with me.” The bridal consultants find Farrah a challenge because all she says is what she doesn’t like.

So, we’re now with Stephanie who knows just what she wants. Stephanie has brought her mother and her mother in law to be. Brave woman. Stephanie’s price point is between 3K and 5K. She’s paying for her own dress. She wants to look “vintage glam.” Stephanie is first trying on a dress she loves parts of but just doesn’t know. Apparently Stephanie has a dream dress but isn’t sure it’s right for her so she’s trying on other dresses. If this theme of helplessness in the face of the dress choice is a constant on the show, the show would drive me crazy. (published 3:37)

Stephanie is now trying on what she hopes was is the dress of her dreams. It’s not. She says it makes her feel matronly. It’s not the dress.

Farrah is decisive–she’s yet to try on a single dress because she hates them all. She’s a tough candidate. They talk her into trying on a dress she dislikes. She says it looks too wedding like. I like Farrah. She shows her friends Dress One just because why? She tries on Dress Two which she doesn’t think is “ugly.” Her friends like it sorta.

Stephanie is now trying on other dresses. Dress Three has a skirt made of feathers with a very embellished bodice. First Stephanie loves it. Then, she wonders if it’s too much and starts crying. Crying! I think I misunderstood the point of this show. I thought it would be to show viewers brides they’d be happy for. Now I think it’s to show brides we can feel superior to. Not only are most of these women unable to think for themselves, they’re spending a small fortune to do so.  (published 3:48)

We’re back to Stephanie and her tears. Her friends tell her it’s the perfect dress for her. Stephanie says yes to the dress which is 5300. We’re done with her which makes me glad.

Now we have a bride with Leila who is from Alaska. She’s gay! There are two brides. Stephanie says they’ve come to NYC to marry because they can’t in Alaska. (This show must be from several years ago.) Only Leila is trying on wedding dresses. Leila’s first dress was hideous and rejected by all. Dress Two is also a no-go.

And here’s Farrah whose look the wedding consultant feels he’s gotten. Will Farrah agree? The camera pans away. And it’s an ad for Sister Wives which is apparently a show about a polygamist family. Isn’t that illegal? How can there be a show? (published 3:54)

Farrah likes this dress somewhat. Her lack of enthusiasm is noticeable. Her friends are thrilled–they are ready to move on. Farrah is buying this dress because it will be easy to accessorize. Huh.

Leila still doesn’t have a dress. (Is it weird that Leila is a bride but not Stephanie?) Leila finds a dress she loves. They show her and Stephanie getting married at the Empire State Building. Stephanie looks glam in a tux. Out of all the brides I watched today, Leila, the is the only one who picked her dress without significant input from others. Maybe it’s more a right of passage for straight brides to have an entourage who weigh in? (published at 4:03)

And I’m done. Say Yes to the Dress didn’t do a thing for me. I’m all for marriage and happy brides but on this show the emphasis on an expensive dress makes getting married seem so commercial. Is there a reality show that is genuinely romantic?

I did go back and find the pictures of some of the brides. These two episodes were from Season Eight in 2012.

(I spelled Lela’s name wrong!)

Lela and Stephanie.


Stephanie (of the feathered dress)


Farrah (without her accessories)


Stella (Would Athena wear this?)say-yes-802-stella-aronis-1

Melissa (this is the dress but not her)


I think all the brides would have been better served by Jenny, the wedding dress designer in Kristan Higgin’s latest If You Only Knew. Certainly I enjoyed reading that book more than I enjoyed this show!

Posted in Dabney AAR, Television | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Queer Romance: Where Do We Go From Here?

Queer-Romance-Month-2015For our final QRM-themed piece for the AAR blog, Alexis Hall is  joined by Roan Parrish, EE Ottoman and Santino Hassell. They’re going to be talk about where they think the genre is and where they hope it’s going.


AJH: Thank you for joining me, folks. Another year, another QRM. It feels kind of exciting to be in the second year, but it also makes me a bit meditative about the place of LGBTQ+ romance within romance, as well as the nature of the LGBTQ+ romance community itself.

RP: Well, and *is* it even one community?

SH: It’s as much of one as the LGBTQ+ community is in general. A group of people who are minorities in terms of their sexualities and identities, and who get lumped together even though they may have totally different perspectives and ideals.

EE: Yes, I’m not sure it is one community. Or maybe it’s not useful to think of it as one community.

AJH: This is true. QRM got started in an attempt to bridge the gap a between het and LGBTQ+ romance. To draw people together in a queer-prioritising space, instead of waiting quietly on the sidelines of the mainstream. I guess I wonder if we’re any closer to that. Or if, as EE says, it’s even useful to think in those terms.

EE: I think prioritizing the LGBTQ romance perspective in the conversation between het romance and LGBTQ romance is a really good and necessary thing. But there are a lot of differences between the letters in LGBTQ romance–some of those letters have louder voices in some cases.

AJH: I do see the LGBTQ+ romance genre and community as kind of being in flux in the moment. The tension seems to be mainly around m/m (as the genre used to be) and LGBTQ+ (as I hope it’s becoming). I think we’re all just trying to work how m/m and LGBTQ+ fit together, or even if they do. I mean, it can’t just be a re-branding exercise.

RP: I also think that “community” is a word that carries with it a lot of weight when talking about, say queer community. And that is a very different weight than what we mean when we talk about a community of readers, or even a community of writers. So it’s complicated to try and juggle both ideas of community at the same time. As readers—or writers—we may think of community as something defined by taste, or leisure, or pleasure. And those things are measured really differently than we might measure queer community that we, say, turn to for support or political camaraderie.

SH: In terms of how M/M or LGBTQ+ romance fits into romance as a whole, I would say in the past year there’s been significantly more crossover even though it’s still baby steps. But I’ve noticed more press coverage, larger romance blogs including books outside of M/F, and I’ve seen more conversation regarding the lack of diversity and how that needs to change. It’s a marked difference from a couple of years ago when most if not all non M/F romance was about white cis gay men, and people were very vocally saying that’s all they wanted.

AJH: I personally find the crossover thing really exciting and hopeful. Even just a couple of years ago you had m/m (or queer) writers and you had het writers and they were totally separate. But the more people who are writing romances across the whole spectrum, the more it seems to dissolve those sort of barriers. I would much prefer love and romance to be seen as universal, rather than genitally defined.

RP: Yeah, that seems true (and positive!). Also, though, folks seem to be hungry for stories across the spectrum of queerness that aren’t romances in the way that that genre has been typically defined. Which also seems positive to me, and not unrelated. Because the more nuance authors are bringing to those stories and characters the more visible the ways that being a genre that cohered around het love stories shaped our expectations of it are becoming. So, I’m really interested to see a community of what is, ostensibly, romance readers, actually calling for something that looks a bit less like the romance genre we’ve seen in the past and more like something … well, I don’t know yet. We haven’t, by and large, gone very far at the moment—I mean, genre’s entrenched and change is slow—but folks do seem to have feelers up for stories that are asking different questions of romance.

EE: I don’t know, I still struggle with genre expectation though because, as much as I’m all for the genre changing to be queerer or more diverse, it still feels like there is this framework that doesn’t change and that can sometimes stand in the way of me telling the stories I want about queer and trans people. Related to this the m/m “model” I guess for lack of a better term has set up its own expectations of what “queer” or LGBTQ romance is. I also think that this isn’t just about readers. Writers and publishers have expectations too. If you write a story with two male identified characters it’s supposed to look a certain way, and follow a certain format and sometimes that’s not in line with my experience of being queer and being trans.

AJH: I can see that. The ironic thing is that central tenets of what a romance is (and is supposed to be) are broad and flexible and accessible: focus on a relationship, optimistic ending (with the couple meaningfully together). I feel, with both my queer person and my romance writer/reader hats on, engaged and included by that. The struggle and the frustration arises when people in different contexts interpret what those things mean in different ways. I mean, for a lot of people HEA = marriage because, for better or worse (d’you see what I did thar) that’s what we’re culturally told a committed/lasting/worthwhile relationship looks like.

SH: I agree with that. You will still see many people who DO want the HEA with the marriage at the end, (we may have a lot more of that now that the US has finally achieved marriage equality) and readers who are very particular about how they think a relationship should be, and who they want to read about, but I’ve seen talk on social media about readers expanding their “comfort zones” and buying books they wouldn’t have ever tried before, and that makes me optimistic for the future.

RP: The thing about genre, though, to go back to what EE was saying before, is that it has the power to re-shape what’s placed within it. So, placing two male-identified characters in a story that is marketed under the banner of romance really does the work of making a reader expect certain things about them—supplies cues that the author doesn’t necessarily write. So, in a way, the genre has a power that is greater than the author’s. And authors have to contend with that. And, sometimes, if we want to do different work than the genre allows, we have to actively push against it.

EE: From my perspective, it goes beyond the HEA to the way the genre can be very specific about how romance is written. I mean I think m/m is set up to be about normatively attractive, young, cisgender able white dudes so you end up trying to get a disabled trans man’s experience into this format that’s not made for them. So if I’m writing about two trans men together, do I call it m/m and maybe run contrary to the expectations people have of m/m. Or do I call it trans romance and m/m is one diverse book down. But then it brings up the issue of thinking of some books as worthwhile because of “diversity”. It’s very complicated.

AJH: You can say that again. I do get the sense that such rigid expectations are changing with either the separation or the evolution from m/m to LGBTQ+. It seems to reflect similar patterns and shifts in het as well, as the types of romances that are being written (and the types of people they are written about) continues to diversify across the whole romance genre. While I wish this stuff was happening faster and more dramatically in queer, I do find this sense of the genre’s broadening (or potentially broadening) horizon quite exciting. Maybe we could wrap up by talking a bit about what we’d like to see more of in the future.

SH: I’d definitely like to see more diversity in terms of who the characters are, their backgrounds, and where they live. Give me the LGBTQ characters from Brazil or Hong Kong or Egypt.

EE: More focus on the less represented letters in GLBTQ. I really think trans romance needs presses that are focused on/prioritize those stories. Plus trans lesbian stories and bi trans women stories! yay! I’d love to see more asexual romance, queer romance, explicit bi romance that’s all about the threesome, more polyamory in romance. I mean all this stuff is already being written. We just need more, and we need it made a priority, especially by publishers. I would really like to see more GLBTQ presses that don’t come out of the m/m community honestly.

RP: I’d love to see more SFF and horror and mystery and all the things intersecting with romance plots. I’d also be really curious to see what changes in style and form might be possible with online and self publishing. Different kinds of series and multiple visions for any one story … collaborations. It does seem like there is a lot of desire right now for more. Just more. In many different directions. Which is exciting, because … you know, we can do that. Right?

AJH: Omg, all this stuff sounds so exciting. Bring me all of this. Bring it now! I think, for me, I would like to see a move away from m/m as erotica. Err, I quite like erotica, but I don’t like the idea that because it’s queer, it HAS to be erotic or kinky or edgy or whatever. I would like more swoonily tender and romantic stories about queer people who are recognisable to me. Rather than pure fantasy figures that feel neither about me or for me.


Roan Parrish loves bonfires, winter beaches, and minor chord harmonies. She will self-tattoo at the drop of a hat.

EE Ottoman grew up in the woods, farmlands and mountains of upstate New York. They started writing as soon as they learned how. They’ve been writing fiction since they were in their early teens. Ottoman went to Earlham College and graduated with a degree in history. They went on to pick up a graduate degree in history as well. Ottoman started publishing in 2011 and have continued to do that. Ottoman is an outspoken advocate for fiction featuring trans characters. Ottoman identifies as a queer, nonbinary, trans dude and is actively trying to change the world.

Santino writes romance heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of NYC, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

Alexis Hall is alive and on social media.

Posted in Guest Posts | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

TBR Challenge – Keep Me in Suspense

perfectstranger I’ve been looking forward to this month’s TBR prompt for a while. Even though I read fairly widely across romance, historical romance and romantic suspense remain my first loves. And I’ve been dying to read some rom susp for a while now. With The Perfect Stranger, I at least got the suspense end of that equation. In this 2014 release, Wendy Corsi Staub explores the darker side of blogdom.

I’ve been online officially since 2003, and I’ve seen many a dustup come and go. I’ve also seen reports of folks being stalked and other creepy behaviors. Even so, the online blog world can often feel like a safe and cozy place. Staub’s book isn’t a perfect read in terms of feeling suspenseful and thrilling, but she does raise interesting questions for the reader. I found it impossible to leave this book without wondering how much of what bloggers put online is real or how well we can really know someone we’ve only met online or how much we really want to trust people. To her credit, the author doesn’t give easy answers to these questions. As readers will see in this book, some folks aren’t at all who they present themselves to be while others are at least somewhat more genuine and their friendships as a result seem to only deepen when they finally meet in person.

So, what’s the general plot? The book centers on a group of female bloggers who have all bonded over their experiences dealing with breast cancer. They cover a range of ages and backgrounds from Landry, a SAHM and wife of a successful Alabama attorney to Elena, a young and single teacher from New England to Kay, a prison guard from the Midwest who left her job due to illness and who struggles with loneliness as she truly has no one left in the world. These ladies, along with a few others, all befriended one another online and the book opens as they learn of the sudden death of Meredith, a blogger to whom they all felt close.
Continue reading

Posted in Caz AAR, Lynn AAR, Romance reading | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Revel with a Cause: The Outback Bachelor Ball

When Karina Bliss, Joan Kilby and Sarah Mayberry got together to write a series of linked novellas, they knew they wanted to do something in the Outback, and they knew they wanted to find some place where all their stories could start. If that “some place” could also be fun, colorful and uniquely Australian, all the better. Joan suggested a bachelor and spinster ball, and within minutes The Outback Bachelor Ball trilogy was up and running.

Since B & S balls might be a new concept for some, the writers thought it might be fun to share a bit of Outback lore to get readers in the mood. Without further ado, here’s Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About B & S Balls But Were Afraid To Ask:

As Aussie as kangaroos and koalas, or Hugh Jackman and Crocodile Dundee, the Bachelor and Spinster Ball (B&S) is an Australian icon. Sixty-odd years ago B&S balls were a way for isolated country girls and guys to meet a potential marriage partner.

Nowadays, the balls are more about meeting new people, catching up with old friends, and having fun. Basically it’s a giant party, with several hundred to a thousand people. Attendees aren’t just farmers. You’ll find anyone who lives and works in the country there, from schoolteachers to plumbers to truckers.

The balls are characterized by live music, dancing and drinking. People often drive for hundreds of miles in their utes  to the ball. The dress code ranges from fancy gowns to casual clothes to costumes. The only hold-over rule from the old days is that men wear a black tie. Women wear cowboy boots beneath their dresses because of the dirt and to protect their feet.

Some things you might see, or do, at a B&S ball: Whip cracking, arm wrestling, circle driving, drinking beer out of your cowboy boot, get covered in food dye, dancing till the wee hours, wrestling in jelly (women),naked butt contest (men), revving your ute engine (unsurprisingly, appeals mostly to male.)

Must haves: Full esky, swag, boots, white shirt and black tie, a love of Bundy and a party-hardy attitude.  This song by the Sunny Cowgirls says it all really.

Sophisticated versions of the B&S ball do exist, like the one our heroes and heroines attend. No food dye, no wet T-shirts or naked butts, responsible service of alcohol. Just a whole lot of good-natured, country fun.

Bachelor and Spinster balls perform a useful and important function in rural Australian society. Volunteers from the local community organize these not-for-profits events. Any money left over after the band, security, food and beverages, venue, etc., are paid for go to charity, local service or sporting clubs, community groups or scholarships.

And who knows, after the dust settles, the food dye washes off and you sober up, you just might be lucky enough to find you’ve met the guy or gal of your dreams.

The Outback Bachelor Ball trilogy is Win Me by Joan Kilby, Woo Me by Karina Bliss, and Wait For Me by Sarah Mayberry. The series releases on October 20th.




Glossary of Australian terms:

Speed hump –  speed bump
Esky – A cooler. Ideally filled with grog.
Grog – alcohol. Mostly beer or Bundy
Bundy – Bundaberg rum. Another Aussie outback icon.
Swag – combination tent and sleeping bag. Sleep on the ground or in the back of your ute.
Ute – short for utility truck. Is a trayback vehicle. At a B&S ball utes are used in circle work.
Circle work – two or more utes driving in tighter and tighter circles, often ending in a collision
Stubby holder – can cozy – neoprene sleeve for keep beer bottles cold. Named after the individual sized bottle, known as a stubby (short for stubby bottle!)
Mad as a cut snake – crazy
Feeling a bit crook – feeling sick
Flat out like a lizard drinking – very busy
Kangaroo loose in the top paddock – mentally deranged
No worries/No drama – everything’s cool, not a problem
Up at sparrow’s fart – awake at the crack of dawn
Root-fest – orgy
Root-in-a-ute – sexual relations in a truck


Posted in Guest Posts | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Queer Romance Week: A Queer Fantasy Roundup

Queer-Romance-Month-2015Every Friday in October, AAR will run a guest post as part of our participation in Queer Romance Month. Today Ginn Hale, Nicole Kimberling, Astrid Amara and Langley Hyde are here to discuss queer fantasy romance. This piece is hosted by Alexis Hall.


AH: So a sense I get from some readers and a lot of publishers, honestly, is that ‘queer romance’ predominantly means contemporary. Have you encountered this as well and what would be your response to it?

GH: I think that tends to happen because contemporary romances are often the easiest to categorize, recognize, and generally speaking most broadly accessible stories. Readers don’t have to puzzle out the rules or norms of a whole new world, or try to empathize with fantastical characters and weird situations. Also it’s much clearer when an author addresses real-world issues in contemporary fiction. So, I think it makes sense that contemporary stories would be the first that come to mind.

LH: Agreed. I find that across the board the public has a strong idea of what constitutes a romance: contemporary, two romantic leads, often a more “vulnerable” p.o.v. character, an unattached love interest, an escalation, a monogamous HEA. If a story deviates from these popular norms, it then needs additional labeling so that readers can know what they’re picking up (if it’s a threesome, or BDSM, or even, let’s get crazy here, science fiction).

GH: Yeah, when authors cover a great deal of territory in their stories pinning them down into just one genre gets complicated. I tend to think of my books as “fantasy novels featuring LGBTQ characters and strong romantic throughlines”,  but that’s just because that’s one of the easiest ways to sum up most of the elements in the books. It sort of cracks me up to imagine that entire phrase being a label on a bookshelf.

LH: That’s what it ultimately comes down to. Where does a bookseller put this book, so that a reader can find what they’re looking for? I know that personally I wasn’t sure how my book would be received. Would it be considered primarily steampunk? Or mostly queer romance? Both aspects seemed equally important to me. In the end, it seemed to depend on reader perceptions.

GH: Right, the romantic element is a huge part of Highfell Grimoires but the way it’s woven together within a steampunk plot and magical world make it something of a disservice to slot the book in just one category. I see the same synthesis of genres in Astrid’s and Nicole’s books –be it historical elements, mystery or humor—there is always more going on in them than can easily fit in a single genre or even two. But I think that’s part of what makes them great fiction.

LH: There’s an element of guesswork done by publishers and booksellers when they compact a huge novel with all of these complex elements down into one phrase that says, “Look here to find what you like.” When the reader flips the book over, they’ll receive additional cues on the blurb: a sassy girl detective, hired by a dark and mysterious femme fatale to recover a demon-cursed family heirloom, etc., that hint at tone and content. The reader opens the book to see of the enticing blurb matches the first few paragraphs. If so, they buy. If genre is done well, it’s like a matchmaking service for books.

LH: Basically, what I am saying is that “queer romance” does typically mean “contemporary queer romance” because it’s a shorthand category, built, like the other categories, on reader perceptions/expectations so that readers can find what they like.

NK: I think you ladies have pretty much covered this one from the marketing perspective–LOL. The only thing that I would add is that “fantasy” and “contemporary” are both really just sorts of settings where a romance plot or subplot may occur, right? And then what makes it queer is the identity of the protagonist. To me the most amazing novels are the ones that can kind of infuse a queer sensibility into more than the character aspect of the novel.

NK: Fantasy is the perfect genre to do this in, IMHO, because the author is able to exaggerate or amplify certain aspects of reality to push the prose into a more thematically resonant direction.

GH: Yeah, I’d say that world building offers science fiction and fantasy authors a distinct advantage when it comes to integrating characterization, theme and setting. Though it also puts the onus on us to deliver stories wherein LGBTQ characters aren’t limited to just exploring their sexualities, nor are they stripped of them. I think Nicole did a great job of that with that in her novella Cherries Worth Getting. The protagonist is gay but that isn’t a point of conflict. His relationship with a transgoblin co-worker however is… Well, that and a series of gruesome otherworldly murders. :) So it makes for a really layered read.

AA: I think the others covered this topic really well, but I’d simply add that, for me, the fantasy or speculative fiction component of the story is always first, then the romance, so I never associated queer romance specifically with contemporary… mostly because that’s where my personal taste lies.

AH: This is really fascinating. World building is, obviously, pretty central to all fantasy novels – but can you tell us a bit more about the freedoms and the challenges of world building within a specifically queer context?

LH: For me, that comes into play as I slowly build in cultural norms. I have to ask myself how minorities (sexual, ethnic, other) are viewed by the perceived majority, what that means for social hierarchy, economic structure, stereotypes, and then how these impact a character’s psychology given their personality traits. This does not necessarily have to be negative. It also sounds very complex, and it can be, but as long as a writer uses a dollop of compassion and common sense, this evolution can occur throughout a novel in an organic and nuanced away (or, at least I hope it does in my writing).

LH: That said, I struggle extremely with including in my work bigotry, prejudice, social inequality, exploitation, and injustice. In many cultures, people find ways to discriminate against one another and create privilege for or within their own groups; a book lacking those elements of human nature would hardly, in my opinion, be complete. But that said, I do not believe bigotry and prejudice are inevitable. I do not want to depict them as such. I want to have novels where there is a better way.

LH: I really admire Ginn Hale’s Rifter for negotiating these factors with such nuance and delicacy. The Rifter includes some extremely hard topics to talk about: bigotry against ethnic groups (the blond Easterners), perceived miscegenation (Fikiri), the criminalization of sexuality outside the cultural norm (the burnings on the Holy Road, priests’ sexuality), the disparate impact culture has on individuals (Ravishan’s sexual secretiveness vs the stable boy’s open promiscuity), plus more than I can list here–AND it does all this while advancing a sweeping, action-filled portal story with time travel, witchcraft, romance, political intrigue, godhood, rebellions, and the founding of a new era.

GH: You are totally making me blush. :)

AA: Well one of the freedoms clearly is the ability to establish what kind of society you wish to create and how various sexual orientations are treated within that society. You can create a world where homophobia doesn’t exist, as many do, and this can serve as a metaphor for what a world without bigotry would look like. You can also choose to mirror society’s issues in your fantastical world as a way to shed light on the challenges and serve as a metaphor for what people struggle with every day in the real world. Ultimately I think it comes down to what kind of novel are you trying to write.

One review of my novel Song of the Navigator expressed disappointment that I portrayed a world where racism was still in existence, where poor, Spanish-speaking farmers were being unfairly oppressed by large non-Spanish speaking corporate powers. I  found the comment was really interesting, because I hadn’t even thought of portraying a future world without the evils of racism, homophobia, sexism, class prejudice. To imagine a future without these things seemed too fantastical… and yet it was totally within the realm of expectation to have carbon dioxide breathing humans. :)

Basically, I see each novel I write as shining a light on a certain aspect of my own society, either good or bad. The fantasy component allows me to get melodramatic and creative and expressive, but the story has to tell another story besides the fantasy plot and the romance.

GH: Yeah, completely agree. I’d  like to imagine that in the real world we are heading–maybe slowly– towards a future of equality and mutual respect for all humanity. But in the realms of fiction, conflict is extremely important, not just because it drives the plot and motivates characters but because it is the means to explore all those problems that we haven’t worked out here in our flawed real world.

GH: That doesn’t mean that every fantasy world has to embody our conflicts in the same manner. Queer characters shouldn’t only be locked in battle over their sexualities any more than characters of color should only appear in stories centering on racism. I’m a lesbian but LGBTQ equality isn’t the only issue that concerns me; women’s rights, immigration, racial profiling, health care, and the environment–to list just a few issues– are very important to me.

LH: I think those are very good points, Ginn.

GH: Most really awesome fantasy stories layer the conflicts of their worlds and characters–like Astrid’s Song of the Navigator– so that they reflect the sort of complex challenges we all face… and of course there’s also that little joy of getting to solve those problems, if only for imaginary characters in a fantasy world. :)

GH: {I don’t know if this is exactly the place to mention this but} I feel pretty strongly that it is important for authors to break away from the tradition of penning unhappy endings for LGBTQ protagonists. I don’t care how many “feels” authors thinks it may give their readers or if the motivation is some well meaning attempt to “show the human cost of bigotry”. The LGBTQ community does NOT need another story wherein we fail, die, are murdered, turn evil, or end up alone and desolate forever. Not one more.

And particularly not in fantasy worlds! If you can conjure up realms of fire breathing dragons, faster than light travel, or wizards transforming energy and matter with the wave of a stick, then go ahead and imagine queer characters triumphing in their own adventures and romances. (Gets down off soapbox. )

NK: That was a nice soapbox speech, Ginn. I concur. But for myself, I’m not sure I’ve ever specifically built a fantasy world in a queer context. I think that might be because I find the most world-building inspiration in taking the mundane and pushing it so far that it becomes extreme–absurd even. I suppose in an earlier time gay marriage could have qualified as a mundane thing that had been made extreme by allowing homosexuals to participate in it. But we’ve moved beyond that now.

AH: Just to focus in a bit on you as writers, what is it about fantasy-romance draws and inspires you? How would you define your core story?

AA: As I said above, I’m drawn to the melodramatic potential of the fantasy genre, the ability to tell a story that’s bigger and brighter than everyday life, but still addresses the same core challenges we all face in the real world.

As far as my “core” story, I’m mostly fascinated with the evolution of morals. I like seeing a character evolve a standpoint or opinion over the course of the story – whether it be judgement in terms of one’s class, an understanding of one’s place in the world, or one’s role in a particular organization or movement.

NK: Basically I love love stories. It’s genuinely difficult for me to imagine writing a narrative where a character does not seek love–and even harder for me to withhold the gift of love from characters I create. So am I sentimental? Sure. But even the most cursory survey of actual human beings in my acquaintance reveals a fundamental and pervasive drive toward seeking substantial sexual companionship. So when I create fictional characters–in contemporary or in fantastical settings–I want to be able to use what I know about people to help lend a greater degree of verisimilitude overall.

Regarding my core story–it’s all about beginning at a mundane point and pushing the characters and narrative into what I like to think of as the “extreme next logical step.” Kind of like how in the film Brazil, bureaucratic paperwork became the primary instrument of fascist tyranny. And I really enjoy the reverse as well, bringing the bizarre into the banal, such as the idea of a book group comprised entirely of werewolves reading men’s movement books like Robert Bly’s Iron John and then having their next club read be something like, Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With Wolves.

GH: I really enjoy the freedom that fantasy gives me to reframe issues and accepted social norms. Sometimes a subject–religion, sexual identity, race– is so strongly associated with certain values that it’s difficult to explore without encountering “knee-jerk” reactions that stop any exchange of ideas right away. Often science fiction and fantasy can offer a new perspective that allows authors and readers alike to explore their beliefs–and maybe even have a good time doing it.

GH: I think the core of most my stories revolves around characters who are, in one way or another, outsiders in their own cultures. I suppose it serves as a means to reflect both upon the dominant societies but also upon those forces in conflict with them… Or maybe my core story is just about people falling in love and kicking down doors and I’m overthinking it. :)

LH: Honestly? I tried to write literary fiction in college, mostly because that was what was taught and what people expected me to write. I hated it, and I failed. I’d start out writing a literary short story, and before I knew it, the ordinary seeming hitchhiker would turn-out to be a shapeshifting dragon in disguise, seeking her stolen, jeweled wings along the I-5. I can’t help writing fantasy. It’s how my mind seems to work. I think it’s because fantasy offers so much to a writer–the unparalleled ability to build metaphor throughout a world and a work, the development of a world in and of itself, intense characters facing up against astounding odds… A fantasy novel can be more real than life is true, and it can be significantly more beautiful.

I think I’m still discovering what I write about, as I’m relatively fresh to writing as a professional. Every story has the potential to let me discover and explore something new–it’s thrilling–and that’s part of why I write.

But I do have themes that are important to me as a human being and that will continue to be a factor in my work, probably for many years to come. Class stratification comes immediately to mind. Negotiating gender identity. Rebelling against power structures, social standards, or family expectations. The value and power of knowledge, and the love of learning and excellence for its own sake. Sexuality features in my writing, as romance is such a driving and motivating force for so many people. Including in my novels complex, flawed, and interesting LGBTQIA characters will always be a priority for me.

All that sounds very heavy, and maybe it is, but I actually want my stories to feel very light when they’re read. I want the stories that I write to be fun, and romantic, because romance is fun, and I want them to be funny, and clever, and to have heart-thumping excitement. Basically, I just want to write good books.

AH: I should probably let you wonderful people go – but before I do, what books would you recommend to readers wanting to explore the world of queer fantasy romance?

AA: Well I guess since I can’t again recommend Ginn Hale or Langley Hyde (ha!) I’ll recommend C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince series. I found it an engrossing story.

NK: Apart from the Blind Eye Books stories that I buy? :)  I really enjoyed Jess Farraday’s The Left Hand of Justice. (That one is from Bold Strokes.)

GH: I would certainly recommend all the authors here! (Astrid Amara, Nicole Kimberling Langley Hyde and Alexis Hall, who has so kindly provided questions and kept us–me– from  wandering off topic.)

There’s also Jess Farraday,  Jordan L. Hawk, K.J. Charles, Megan Derr, Jordan Castillo Price, Lou Harper, and Catherine Lundoff.

Malinda Lo, Lynn Flewelling, Melissa Scott, Tenia D. Johnson, Josh Lanyon, and Jim Grimsley all have at least one title that mixes queer romance with a touch of fantasy or vice versa.

And there are many, many more than I could possibly list here; Likely many I haven’t even discovered yet and others still being written!

AH: Thank you all for joining me. That was amazing!


Nicole Kimberling lives in Bellingham, Washington with her wife, Dawn Kimberling, two bad cats as well as a wide and diverse variety of invasive and noxious weeds. Her first novel, Turnskin, won the Lambda Literary Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. She is also the author of the Bellingham Mystery Series and editor for Blind Eye Books.

After living in New York, Oxford, London, and Friedrichshafen, the old zeppelin-manufacturing center of Germany, Langley Hyde has settled in the Pacific Northwest. Her debut novel, Highfell Grimoires, was given a starred review by Publishers Weekly and named a Best Book of 2014 in the category of SF/Fantasy/Horror.

Ginn Hale lives with her lovely wife and indolent cats in the Pacific Northwest. She spends the many rainy days tinkering with devices and words. Her first novel, Wicked Gentlemen, won the Spectrum Award for best novel. Her most recent publications include the Lord of the White Hell, Champion of the Scarlet Wolf and The Rifter trilogy: The Shattered Gates, The Holy Road, and His Sacred Bones. Her novella Things Unseen and Deadly appears in the Irregulars Anthology, while Swift and the Black Dog appears in Charmed and Dangerous.

Astrid Amara is the author of numerous contemporary, sci-fi/fantasy, and holiday romance novels all featuring gay protagonists. She lives in Bellingham, Washington with a husband, three dogs, three goats, and a horse. When she’s not writing she works for The Man or engages in her favorite hobbies: eating, sleeping, and sleeping longer.


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When Names Are a No-Go

A few years ago I picked up a well-reviewed historical – I can’t remember the title anymore but I think it was a Western – and DNFed the book. There was nothing wrong with the book, stylistically or content-wise, but I didn’t even make it past the second chapter. The reason? The name of the hero and the heroine were the exact same name as the name of my husband and his sister. And they were going to have sex.

I also rejected an erotic novel which seemed, to me, to be starring my father-in-law.

I thought of this when, in a recent purge of my keeper shelf, I picked up two books I had owned since before I had children. This time, I do remember the titles, but I’m going to keep them to myself for privacy reasons. Both books were second-chance romances in which the heroes had been previously married, with a child. In each book, the hero’s child had died. And in each book, the dead child had the same name as my child.

I’m able to read romances with names I’m related to when those names are really common. I have relatives named Nick, but I also know people named Nick, and I’ve seen movies and read books about Nicks, and consequently I don’t have a very strong association with Nick. An author can kill a Nick, write a sex scene with a Nick, or make Nick a horrible skanky villain and I won’t twitch. I’m also okay with the formal version of names. My family has a William, and Williams turn up in romances occasionally, but I only call our William Billy. I’ve never seen a Billy as a romance hero. I can read Richard, Robert, and Edward with no reaction since I know mine as Rick, Bob, and Ed. And fortunately, a lot of my female relatives have names specific to time periods (Judy from the 1940s-50s, Tiffany from the 1980s) which are not much in use as romance novel settings.

What about you? Do you have name dealbreakers? Do you avoid sex scenes starring certain names or name combinations, or can you immerse yourself in the book enough to suspend disbelief? What about death, torture, and so forth? If that happens to a name you know, does it feel worse to you than a name you only associate with that character?

Caroline Russomanno


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