Growing up, I was always a weird kid. If you’re neurodivergent, you won’t find this nearly as odd, but for those of you without autism or ADHD rewriting the brain script, you know the kids. I loved Ancient Egypt as a tiny child. I was obsessed and would pour over the pictures in my uncle’s books and prattle back the names of gods and pharaohs. Then the obsession switched to dinosaurs, and little Kara dreamed of being an archaeologist or a paleontologist. Since then, I’ve had many obsessions/passions, some weirder than others. For a while, I was very into Sherlock Holmes (the original books and the Basil Rathbone movies from the early 40s), anatomy and diseases (with a brief foray into poisons), Phantom of the Opera, Vincent Price, and I’m sure there have been many micro-obsessions along the way. When I get into something, I get into it hard.
At some point, adults assume you will grow out of the weird shit you like or you become a closeted weirdo. I’ve never exactly been good at hiding things or being subtle, so as much as I tried to hold the weirdness inside of me, it always trickled out. When you’re a weird person, it can be hard because you know you are one bout of public weirdness away from people thinking you’re a total pariah, so there’s a constant pressure to perform normalcy. As a queer, nonbinary person, normalcy is already a very flimsy word, but there is the eventual expectation that you will put away your black hoodie with skull print and don a blouse and slacks and let your weirdness die in an unmarked beige grave.
In graduate school when I was in my early to mid-twenties, I tried to be more normal. I wanted to be taken seriously, to be seen as professional, and on some level I was. At the same time, normal people still seemed to sense the underlying not and I was growing more miserable. By the time I graduated and started teaching, I was sailing into burnout. Trying to maintain my job, my writing, and my mask of normality was exhausting and something had to give. Writing caved first, but writing is how I maintain my sanity on a more regular basis. So I needed to get that back and employment is necessary, so I let normalcy finally slip from my fingers.
After roughly three years of letting that mask slip, I can safely say that I highly recommend it. In that time, I have embraced the fact that I am nonbinary and feel better about my body, my clothes, my persona, etc. I enjoy teaching more because I don’t feel the need to project something stiff and lofty. I can just be Professor Jorgensen who is a bit strange and quirky, but that’s what makes a good creative writing professor. I feel like a warmer person, a happier person, and a person who is, generally, more fun to be around because I’m not sitting there like a shaken soda bottle ready to explode. And the people who are put off by the real me are people I don’t particularly want to be around. If you see me referring to people are “normies” on Twitter, I mean people who are enforcers of normality who give you the wtf face for deviating at all. The normies can stuff it because I’m having a grand time and creatively, mentally, and emotionally profiting from my newfound enjoyment of life.
On top of all that, I feel like my creativity has flourished, especially once I started finding more Gothic/weird artists and authors on social media. It had been drilled into me that I would grow out of my love of black and bright colors, and that skulls and anatomical hearts are icky and to be ignored. But that’s what I love. At heart, I am a little autistic science Goth who loves learning about diseases and anatomy and how that all fits into the larger picture of humanity (those degrees in English and biology still come in handy). Now that I’ve started embracing my favorite things and consuming them in larger quantities, I can see a change in my art. I’m more excited about my stories, I connect better with my characters, and I know there’s an audience for it because I have found equally strange people online.
That’s probably the best part, finding others who seem to like me even more now that I’ve stopped hiding the strangeness. People who like my pics of bejeweled skeletons from German catacombs or are eagerly anticipating The Reanimator’s Heart because Oliver sounds adorable. People who like me for me is really all I’ve ever wanted, and in the past, I thought muting who I am would do that when instead it put me in the path of people who wanted to mute that side even more or would absolutely hate the real me. By showing who I really am online and in real life, it scares off the weak and lures in those who find my eccentricities charming. My partner always has, even if he doesn’t fully understand them, but it’s nice to have people who also like those things as I do.
The point of this really is, if you’ve been hiding your strangeness or a fondness for something out of the ordinary, this is your sign to let it out and enjoy it. Holding it in will hurt you in the end, and you might be cutting yourself off from some great friends or even art that can’t happen until you embrace who you are.
Weird has a second definition besides strange. Weird’s archaic definition is destiny or fate (wyrd in Old Saxon, Old German, etc.). I like to think of it as embracing my destiny. I am destined to be a strange person who likes strange things. I am destined to be a queer, nonbinary person. Some of us are fated to be weirdos, and that’s a good thing because we appreciate and see what others don’t.
If you’re someone out there who feels out of place or that you have always been a bit different from everyone else, embrace your weird. Embrace who you are and hold tight to it. Doing that gives you that special spark, that bit of green fire that will help you attract those who will love you for you and scare away those who would seek to change you. I, for one, plan to be hella weird from now on.
As I mentioned in my recent post, I want 2022 to be a year of getting my shit together. I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but I have been taking a course on the HB90 method, which is a way to keep yourself organized, plan future goals, and get your life in order. The course was made by a fellow writer, so I’m hopeful it’ll help me to get back on track. While I’m doing the behind the scenes work, I wanted to give you a little preview of what I am working on and hope to publish in the coming year.
Now, a little disclaimer that I cannot control many factors, so I don’t have full release dates yet. Assume longer projects will come out in the second half of 2022.
The Reanimator’s Heart
The Reanimator’s Heart is an off-shoot of the Paranormal Society Romances, so it still takes place in the same time period as Kinship and Kindness and many scenes are at the New York Paranormal Society. The reason I chose to create a spin-off is because this will be sort of equal parts paranormal mystery and M/M romance.
The Reanimator’s Heart is like Pushing Up Daisys meets Penny Dreadful. There are definitely some darker, scarier moments in this story, so if you like Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins or KJ Charles’ Magpie Lord stories, this is probably up your alley.
Oliver Barlow is the Paranormal Society’s resident coroner and necromancer. Oliver does his best to keep his powers hidden, but when he finds the man he’s had a crush on for years dead, he accidentally revives the charming Felipe Galvan. But Felipe refuses to go back to being dead until they find out who murdered him. Oliver and Felipe soon find themselves entangled with a murderous cabal that wants to bring something horrid from the great beyond.
TROUSERS AND TROUBLE (Paranormal Society Romance #2)
Trousers and Trouble is the sequel/prequel to Kinship and Kindness. This story follows Bennett from when he leaves his uncle’s home, arrives in Brooklyn, and meets his best friends, Ruth and Rory. I know the series title says, “romance,” but let’s stretch this to mean platonic friendships and self-love. This is really a story of Bennett discovering who he is and a community where he is accepted for who he is (on several levels).
As with Kinship and Kindness, there will be magic, shifters, but this story has three transgender main characters. Ruth and Rory will eventually each have their own books in the series.
Between drag balls, performances at the Stratford Theater, and days spent at the Paranormal Society, Rory and Ruth are living their best, bachelor lives in Brooklyn. That is until a teenager on the run from his old life stumbles into their path. While parenting had never been in the cards, Ruth and Rory know what they need to do, and they soon become Bennett’s fairy godmothers as they help him become the person he was always meant to be. But sometimes the past sinks in its teeth and refuses to let go. When Bennett’s family comes knocking, Ruth and Rory will stop at nothing to keep their new friend safe.
My next book in a brand new queer paranormal historical series, Kinship and Kindness, comes out July 31st, and to celebrate and whet your appetites, I have posted chapter one below. You can preorder Kinship and Kindness, on all major ebook platforms and paperbacks will be coming later.
Let me know what you think and stay tuned for more soon.
Preparing for the Annual Delegation of American Werewolves for the first time on his own should have been exciting, but Theo Bisclavret’s eyes glazed over as Mr. Rosier droned on about the growing list of half-finished tasks he had to accomplish. Every werewolf in Grand Chien had been abuzz about the imminent arrival of delegation members from all over the United States, but after facilitating the preparations for three weeks in his father’s stead, Theo just wanted it to be over or for his father to return from England, whichever came first. It had been an endless parade of lists from various members of their international governing body, Les Meutes, each trying to make sure he had everything in order, as if he hadn’t attended nearly every werewolf event his father had organized in the last fifteen years. Tension creeped up Theo’s neck and into his jaw, but as he rolled his shoulders and tried to breathe out the nagging pain, his eyes shot up as his sister pointedly cleared her throat on the other side of the room. He raised his gaze to find Rosier looking at him with a grey eyebrows raised as if waiting for an answer.
Theo slowly straightened in his chair, keeping his face neutral and his back straight as he often saw his father do. “Could you please repeat the question? I thought I heard something outside.” His wolf surfaced, searching for a sound, but Theo gently shoved it down.
“I said, do you know when the Rougarou will return?”
That was what they were all wondering. “Our father has assured us that he will return in ample time to meet with the delegations. When we have a specific date of arrival, we will let everyone know.”
Rosier looked over his shoulder at Eudora, but she kept her head down over her portable desk. When Rosier turned back to him, Theo leveled a look at him that would quash any further questions. With a tightening of his lips and a final admonishment to send him the final preparations post haste, Rosier took his bowler from the edge of the desk and departed. The moment the door closed behind him, Theo deflated and let the chair beneath him languidly spin before swiveling back to his sister. Eudora pursed her lips and shrugged. Tucking a wayward brown curl behind her ear, she sat on the edge of the desk and reread the notes she had taken.
On the far wall, the calendar hung mockingly across from the desk. Theo counted back the weeks and scrubbed a hand over his face. “I can’t believe Pa’s been away three weeks already.”
“Yup,” Eudora replied flatly, her brows furrowing at the interruption.
“And you’re certain the last telegram came six days ago?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Yes.”
“Do you think something’s wrong? It isn’t like him to be away for so long.”
“I’m sure everything’s fine. Maybe they have bad weather and he can’t leave. I’m sure it snows in England.”
“Yeah.” Theo sat back. He wished he knew where his sister had put the letters she had read to him over the past few weeks during dinner. Reading them might put his mind at ease, but he hadn’t thought to ask. It seemed pointless to demand them now. “Do you think Wesley is all right?”
Eudora’s face tightened a fraction before brightening with a placating smile. “You are such a mother hen, Theo. Wesley is fine. He’s a Pinkerton. He can hold his own. Hopefully Pa can talk him into coming back sooner than later. Then, you won’t have to keep up this charade.”
Guilt rose in Theo’s gut so fast he felt ill. Being the future Rougarou had been his dream for so long that, even though it was impossible and had been for some time, he still felt as if he had failed. He had failed himself, he had failed Pa, he had failed the packs if Wesley or Eudora couldn’t take over after Pa stepped down and instability ensued. His wolf’s comforting bulk rubbed against his mind, and he absently flexed his hand as if reaching to touch it. An unexpected warmth closed over his hand. He looked up to find his sister’s acorn brown eyes pinning him with something between affection and sorrow.
“That is what you want, right?”
Theo nodded and inwardly sighed. “You should go back to the house and get some sleep. You’re going on patrol tonight, aren’t you?”
“Yes, mother. And you should, too. You’re burning the candle at both ends.”
“I have a few things left to finish up.”
“I balanced the books and took stock of the linens that came in this morning, so you don’t have to.”
“Oh. Then, I guess I’ll go home with you. I want to put a few baskets of food together for the neighbors before you go out tonight.”
“Just make me a list of names, and I’ll do it. Give them some peaches, would you? I can’t bear to eat another jar of peaches.”
“They’re good for you, and you love peach jam.”
“Used to.” With a smile, Eudora kissed the top of his head and squeezed his shoulder. “Come on, let’s walk home together. I don’t like you walking through the woods alone.”
“Now, who’s the mother hen?” Theo said only to receive a flash of her tongue in response.
Gathering his coat and hat, Theo tried to ignore the pain in the back of his head and the twisting in his stomach. It was probably just worry, but he couldn’t help the feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
Bennett swore as he slapped a mosquito off his cheek. This trip had been nothing but a pain in the ass. He had thought the trip to Louisiana would be a vacation from his life in Brooklyn. For the first time in years, Bennett could sleep without the constant cacophony of city life only a stack of brick away. He could eat in relative peace without the lingering scent of turpentine or oil paint. There would be no fine layer of clay dust on everything or piss-poor piano music playing at all hours, and no raucous lovemaking on the other side of too thin plaster walls.
Instead, Bennett spent three days vomiting everything that passed his lips. Whether he was on the deck overlooking the East Coast rolling below or tucked into his windowless room, bile clawed up his throat and his stomach roiled at the ship’s constant motion. All he had been able to see before dirigible sickness struck was the northern half of New Jersey, and he had already seen that from the ground. Stepping off the dirigible outside of New Orleans, he knew he looked like death. He felt like it and probably smelled liked it. Three drivers had refused to take him to Grand Chien, but this one seemed far more eager to take him than he should have. As the narrow boat tilted beneath him, Bennett clutched the sides but yanked his hands back when he remembered the swamps were supposedly riddled with alligators. Cramps rippled through his calves and arms, but he bit them down with a grimace.
Hoping the young man ferrying him across the swamp didn’t notice, Bennett eyed him with suspicion. The entire journey, he hadn’t shut up for longer than it took to take a breath, and while he was far more willing to ferry an ill passenger than the others, Bennett couldn’t help but be suspicious. He knew he could easily be shanked and dumped into the swamp without a qualm once his pockets were emptied. It happened plenty in Brooklyn.
Bennett squinted at the stars dazzling through the trees as the midnight world began to awake around them. Bats and night birds cried from the tree tops while insects kept a heady buzz in time to an unseen metronome. Despite the noise, the lack of people was disconcerting in a way Bennett hadn’t expected. He was accustomed to constant movement. At all hours he could hear people coming and going from the Ruth’s house. Her numerous boarders and friends never seemed to all sleep at once, and the grocers, suppliers, and newsboys outside had no qualms about waking people up. Years in the city had taught him how to sleep through anything, except silence. Luckily, the ferryman hadn’t stopped talking since they embarked from the landing field.
Bennett pulled at his collar and licked his dry lips. God, he was tired and thirsty. It was painful how badly he wanted some water. The other man probably had a flask of something on him, but Bennett didn’t want to ask. Too much liquid meant he would have to relieve himself eventually, and he didn’t want to think about the logistics of that. He chuckled to himself under his breath. It was ironic to be surrounded by so much water yet be so thirsty. That shouldn’t have been so funny.
“Y’all right?” the ferryman asked.
Bennett swallowed against another surge of dizziness as he turned to face the other man. “Yes, why?”
“You’re a little green around the gills.” Removing the lantern from the bottom of the boat, the ferryman held it aloft. Bennett squinted into the darkness but couldn’t see what he was focusing on. Then, he shuttered the light and opened it again three times; twice slowly and once quickly. When Bennett looked at him quizzically, he added, “I’m letting the patrols know I’m a friend.”
“Oh yeah, the Rougarou’s people patrol the bayou every night.”
“Because the bayou is vast and dark, and people do bad things when they think others can’t see.”
Was that a hint or a threat? Bennett’s ribs struggled against the confines of his girdle at the thought. His normally attuned danger senses felt fuzzy. Bennett tugged at his collar and licked his dry lips as the pirogue pushed through a copse of mangroves to emerge in an open stretch of water that ended in a vast swath of grass. At the shore, a large shed stood near a dock, and behind it, a house emerged through the darkness. While he couldn’t make out much detail, Bennett could tell it wasn’t the grand plantation home he had expected the Rougarou to inhabit. The boat slid smoothly beside the dock and bumped onto the mossy shore.
“This is it?” Bennett asked, ignoring the ticking of a muscle in his leg.
“You said you wanted to be taken to the Rougarou, right?”
“Right. Will anyone be up this time of night?”
“Of course! I wouldn’t have brought you out here otherwise. The house is straight ahead up a ways.”
“Ah.” Fishing into his pocket, Bennett struggled to count out enough money to, hopefully, cover the fare, but as he put his hand out, the younger man pushed it away. “But I—”
“The Bisclavrets are paying me to ferry delegation members to and from the landing field. I’m not to take money from guests, Mr. Reynard.”
“I see. Well then, thank you for your help.”
Hefting his bag onto the grass, Bennett stood to shake the other man’s hand and lurched forward. He clasped his hand in what he hoped felt like a natural handshake even though the earth seemed to pitch beneath his feet. With a tight smile, he turned and took a heavy step onto the shore. His knees buckled beneath him as his vision shrunk to a pinpoint and his body collided with the wet grass.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. If you’re interested, you can preorder a copy at all major ebook retailers.
I know I’ve been going off the grid on here, but there’s a good reason (besides work and life), I’ve been working on a new book: Kinship and Kindness.
Kinship and Kindness is a bit of a spin-off from the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series. It follows Theo Bisclavret, the name might sound familiar because he was mentioned in The Wolf Witch. He is Silas Bisclavret’s son and Wesley’s brother.
The story continues where The Wolf Witch left off, but it’s set in Louisiana and kicks off a new series about paranormal society in America. It’s a m/m romance between a cis man and a trans man, and yes, that is very possible historically (see my previous post about queer historical-romance). Here is the blurb:
Bennett Reynard needs one thing: to speak to the Rougarou about starting a union for shifters in New York City before the delegation arrives. When his dirigible finally lands in Louisiana, he finds the Rougarou is gone and in his stead is his handsome son, Theo, who seems to care for everyone but himself. Hoping he can still petition the Rougarou, Bennett stays only to find he is growing dangerously close to Theo Bisclavret.
Theo Bisclavret thought he had finally come to terms with never being able to take his father’s place as the Rougarou, but with his father stuck in England and a delegation of werewolves arriving in town, Theo’s quiet life is thrown into chaos as he and his sister take over his duties. Assuming his father’s place has salted old wounds, but when a stranger arrives offering to help, Theo knows he can’t say no, even if Mr. Reynard makes him long for things he had sworn off years ago.
As rivals arrive to challenge Theo for power and destroy the life Bennett has built, they know they must face their greatest fears or risk losing all they have fought for. With secrets threatening to topple their worlds, can Theo and Bennett let down their walls before it’s too late?
As promised, here is the cover, done by the wonderful Lou Harper.
In regards to the publication date, it’s currently set on July 1st, but I’m hoping to have it ready by early May. When you set-up a pre-order you cannot push it back if things so south, so I’ve left myself wiggle room and will move the date up (and let everyone know when I do).
Stay tuned because I will be posting an excerpt as we grow closer to publication.
A Delicate Deception takes two anxious messes with less than stellar communication skills and makes them fall in love with some incredibly delightful side characters to sweeten the deal.
Amelia Allenby just wants to be left alone. After a disastrous final season in London where she decided she had had enough, she retires to the country with her ex-governess to escape the demands of society life. All is going according to plan until Amelia runs into a stranger on her walk, a rather handsome stranger who has the gaul to be nice to her. Sydney is not thrilled to be back in town either. After the death of his brother and sister-in-law, he has avoided the old manor until his friend, the Duke of Hereford, summons him back, but he soon realizes the duke is nowhere to be found. Amelia and Sydney try to keep their identities a secret as they become entangled, but soon their attraction becomes too much to ignore.
I received an ARC of A Delicate Deception in exchange for an honest review, but more importantly, I’m a huge Cat Sebastian fan, so I’m already biased before the ARC reaches my inbox.
What I love most about many of Cat Sebastian’s novels is how much is going on inside the heads of her characters, especially as someone with anxiety and a tendency to overthink. Both Sydney and Amelia come off as very real but also different in how their issues manifest. There’s a wonderful balance between Amelia and Sydney in terms of temperament, and Sydney is *chef kiss*. Nothing like a hardworking male love interest with a job and passions, especially in a genre so full of dukes and aristocrats.
The novel is also populated with great side characters, like the Duke of Hereford and Amelia’s ex-governess, Georgiana. It isn’t often that we get a duke who is dealing with a physical disability, and on top of all that, everyone is queer. Despite these being a m/f romance, both Sydney and Amelia are queer, as are Lex and Georgiana. It’s really refreshing to read.
Most importantly, what I think the major takeaway from this book is, is the idea that family is what you make it, as is love, as is marriage. Cat Sebastian purposely challenges the traditional expectations of love and marriage, especially in historical-romance as a genre. A m/f romance that spits in the face of heteronormity and forces the reader to rethink their expectations and forces the characters to do the same, is one worth reading and recommending.
All in all, A Delicate Deception is an enjoyable yet thought provoking romance that looks to challenge expectations as well as what should be considered the norm.
Back in April, I presented a paper at Ithaca College’s feminist pop culture conference From Pippi to Ripley on the issues surrounding the perceived “inaccuracies” in historical romance, especially queer historical romance. Since this issue has reared its ugly head again, I thought I would share my paper with you.
Queer Historical Romance and the Reclamation of Identity and Power
In recent years, as media has become more diverse, from Star Wars to romance novels, critics have claimed that portrayals of marginalized characters are historically inaccurate or done to pander to political correctness. What these critics fail to understand is that historical “accuracy” is often far from accurate. As with all wars, to the victors go the spoils and that includes the historical narrative. The narratives found in modern historical romance novels are by and large white supremacist, Christian, and upholding of colonialist values. Following the expansion of LGBT rights and the acceptance of queer characters in media, queer authors have fought to reclaim the history of those who have come before us, whose voices were lost to puritanical scholars and censors that twisted the public’s perception of the trajectory of LGBT lives. By writing historical romances to fill in the missing gaps in queer history, queer writers strengthen the modern community by asserting a history of sexual and bodily autonomy. Modern queer historical romance novels aren’t meant to be a revisionist history but a re-enlightened one that seeks to capture on the page the people and communities that had previously only lived in the margins of history.
If you’ve ever looked at the reviews of any piece of diverse media, you have come across someone spouting that the diversity present is forced or that it was impossible for a homosexual relationship to be semi-public given the time period. Questions of “realism” and “historical accuracy” have been the greatest hindrance to diverse media, but this begs one to consider what is truly historically accurate. In her essay, “Reclaiming Historical Romance,” Elizabeth Kingston posits that often what we, as readers, consider to be historical fact is actually historical fantasy that has been passed down by previous historians and repeated until it morphed into “fact” (Kingston 1). History has been overwhelmingly written by the “victors” or those who have maintained imperialist or political control. For most of the modern Western world, that has been white, Christian, heterosexual men who have espoused white supremacist views in their writings. As Bronski states in A Queer History of the United States, “The writing and reading of history is always, consciously or not, a political act of interpretation” (xiv).
Until the last few decades, queer history has been relegated to the periphery, and those queer figures who appear in the past are seen as aberrations or were viewed as deviants. The language surrounding queer stories in mass media was tainted by white supremacist political views. Despite a large portion of the queer community, especially in the seventeen to early nineteen hundreds being white, they were viewed by the community at large as going against the white supremacist view of sexual purity. This stems from Puritanical Christian views and was widely adopted after the Second Great Awakening (Bronski 89). To deviate from the heteronormative family structure was to go against the entire structure upon which evangelical and puritanical society was built (10). To many, this would mean that queer populations were nonexistent or were so afraid of persecution that they wouldn’t dare act on their feelings, but this is exactly what white supremacists want us to believe. To make a person who is not like them feel isolated or that they should be ashamed of their differences, is a way to keep them powerless. For if they hide who they are, they are less likely to find others who sympathize or understand their situation.
Developing communities of support and creating public sympathy through shared experience is how marginalized populations gain a foothold on power and social autonomy. In the mid-nineteenth century queer communities began to take root in cities and gained visibility. Due to the anonymity of city life and the ease for single people to find same-sex housing, queer relationships could blossom in relative security. Nowhere were these queer communities more visible than in the arts’ districts. Many places we think of as queer communities now, were the same over a century ago. Greenwich Village, Harlem, and Bloomsbury in London became hubs for the arts, which were often dominated by queer voices. Queer voices were consumed by the masses in vaudeville shows, plays, novels, and the visual arts, but as these voices grew stronger, political institutions stepped in to “protect” the public from what they deemed to be dangerous or deviant behavior in flouting their views of sexual purity and gender norms.
As we can see from the Oscar Wilde’s trial, art could be used as evidence against the creator if it contained homosexual or homoerotic themes, but this didn’t stop authors from publishing “scandalous literature” in America and France. While it was illegal to mail sexually explicit material through the mail, it happened and books regarding sexology and those with homosexual themes were increasingly popular well into the first half of the twentieth century (Bronski 126). History has shown that trying to stop publications is like a game of Whack-a-Mole. It was near impossible to stop people from distributing written material, especially since it was protected by the First Amendment, but the government could stop Hollywood from promoting queer or sexually progressive stories, such as Morocco, which featured the first on-screen lesbian kiss. After the US government threatened to create a censorship board, Hollywood adopted the Hays Code (or the Motion Picture Production Code) and began enforcing it in 1934. Among other things, the Hays Code stated that immorality had to be punished on screen, only “correct standards of life” could be portrayed, sexual behavior could not be shown, and “perverse” behavior could not be shown (“The Hays Code”). All of this combined to make it impossible for queer characters or relationships to be portrayed on screen without heavy coding or a tragic ending. The “bury our gays” trope sprung from this code as those who acted “immorally” according to puritanical Christian beliefs had to be punished and in many cases killed as penance for their behavior. Despite that the Hays Code stopped being enforced in 1968, the damage had been done. The general public had internalized years of anti-queer propaganda to the point that fiction became reality and the myth that queer characters could not have happy lives was solidified in Western culture.
Over the past decade, a new genre of romance has solidified itself as a rapidly expanding subset of historical fiction: queer historical romance. These stories seek to fight against the tide of historical myth that has painted queer relationships formed in the past as impossible or filled with strife. Authors such as KJ Charles, E. E. Ottoman, Joanna Chambers, and Cat Sebastian have sought to not only create works of fiction that uphold the idea that queer characters are entitled to a happy ending but have produced scholarship that upholds that what critics believe is historical fact is truly a political agenda to ignore what doesn’t fit their narrative. The question some of you may be asking is, “Why focus on romance?” Historically, romance as a genre has been treated with disdain by academia because it is portrayed as a genre filled with shirtless men and trope-laden stories about love. Bodice-rippers, as historical romances have often been called, are generally women’s fiction. They are stories written for women by women and act upon the desires and fantasies of women that have largely been ignored by society. The Western canon, despite rising scholars’ best efforts is still largely misogynistic, so the stories that are seen as feminine, such as romances, are shelved as drivel for the masses when in reality, romance strikes at the heart of what oppressed populations truly want: autonomy and power over their own destinies.
In her blog post “Historical Romance: Who Gets the HEA,” KJ Charles explores why readers get hung up on supposed historical accuracy in diverse historical romance. She writes, “And yet there is a powerful strand of opinion that holds that any m/m histrom must reflect the fear of legal persecution,…that marginalised people simply cannot have happy endings,…because history was too cruel” (Charles, “Historical Romance”). We see this on a 2 star review for Cat Sebastian’s A Ruin of a Rake. The reviewer states, “It’s extremely difficult to suspend my disbelief about the relationship between Lord Courteny and Julian Medlock as in 1817, Homosexual relationships were illegal and there were very serious consequences if they had been exposed” (Rodriguez). The reader is correct in that there were sodomy laws on the books in England, but the rate at which people were prosecuted for being in a homosexual relationship is far lower than many modern readers realize. Furthermore we must explore the idea of the legality of something being a hindrance for its occurrence. Gambling, graffiti, and jaywalking are all far more visible than the private lives of two people and are all illegal, yet they occur unpunished with alarming frequency. Readers of historical romance rarely complain that a story is lacking lice, a healthy fear of venereal disease, or the stink of chamber pots, but queer or interracial relationships occurring during earlier historical periods are remarked upon. As Kingston states, “Historical Romance is a shared, collaborative fantasy” that has shut out more people than it has let in (Kingston 4). The greater issue is that the trends within traditional historical romance send the message that “only straight white Christians deserve loving relationships” (4). No matter the amount of privilege the characters have, like Lord Courteny who is titled, rich, and already seen as a rake, it is impossible for certain readers to believe that alone could have afforded him the privacy and social standing to not be prosecuted for sodomy.
A key flaw in historical romance, as a genre, is the definition of a happily ever after disproportionately favors straight, white, cis couples. Generally a happily ever after in romance involves the couple courting, getting engaged, married, and often books end with a pregnancy or hint that a family will follow. For queer historical fiction, there are very few instances where that stereotypical happily ever after is possible. The assumption from romance writers and readers that queer love stories can’t be romances because they don’t follow that formula is inherently homophobic, but the greater question is, do we want that ending? The traditional familial model of date, marry, mate, follows a formula endorsed by the social purity movement. The forefathers of that movement, the Puritans, believed that anything outside of the family unit is forbidden and that to ensure society’s stability, partners must be monogamous and make matches in order to procreate. This “traditional” mode of living has gone relatively unquestioned for centuries, and what queer historical fiction offers is a precedent for more complex social and sexual relationships.
Inherently, the writing of romance stories is the private made public. The lives of those who came before us were often obscured for safety reasons or were written over by scholars who chose to ignore or not see what was truly before them. What romance allows us is to speculate how couples came to be and how they navigated the public and private spheres to find their own version of happily ever after. Queer historical romance deviates from the “norm” out of necessity, but it allows readers to explore how a relationship that doesn’t follow the formula of date, marry, mate was still able to thrive. Further, these stories uphold that women’s lives are not “made whole” by children or a husband to support them. Often, Sapphic historical romance involves women who are working to support themselves through a trade. For male-male couples in historical romance, we see how two individuals can live separate lives and without cohabitation still manage to be a long-term couple.
That isn’t to say that all queer historical works involve monogamy. In KJ Charles’ Band Sinister, we meet a group of friends who are for the most part queer, ranging from gay or bisexual to transgender. Three of the men in their hellfire club have had an ongoing relationship with each other for decades. When Sir Philip becomes involved with his new lover, Guy, he makes certain Guy understands how deeply he feels for his two friends. Philip states, “that may not be the kind of love about which the poets write, nor the kind I feel for you, but it’s still real and true as anything in the world” (Charles, Band Sinister 3010). Queer historical fictions allows for greater exploration of different types of love, especially those that have generally been seen as lesser in modern society. We see this blurring of queer/quasiplatonic relationships in many other queer historical works, including KJ Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series, Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment series, and Cat Sebastian’s A Duke in Disguise.
Within queer romance, we’re given an intimate look at love that defies labels. Queer stories are “places for individual and collective explorations” that allow us to “[understand] the self through the larger fabric of culture and history and relationality” (Royster). Writing inherently requires us to pull from our own experiences and fears, and by writing within a historical setting and with characters who don’t fit our exact specifications, it allows writers to navigate the difficulties of their own world in a controlled environment and through a lens that allows enough distance and difference for exploration. In a way, we get to know “the self as other and the self as same” (Johnson 429). It is often through writing queer romance that people discover their sexuality or gender identity is more complex than originally thought, and for those who know, it allows a deeper exploration of queer identity than is often possible in real life.
Ultimately, writing is a performative act, and through the creation of images, action, and insertion of the self onto the page, the writer has self-actualized a moment in time (Rogerson 3). Much like photography, writing seeks to create and suspend moments. For queer writers, the images created are somewhat speculative since much of queer history has been erased, ignored, or purposefully left off the page for their own protection. By putting the actions and feelings of queer characters in queer relationships on paper, that missing history is being reasserted and physically actualized where there had once been a gap. Just because that moment or those people didn’t truly exist doesn’t really matter. The perception of history is itself as much fantasy as reality, but what is true is that no matter the rules, people have acted upon queer desire and others have been complicit in affording them a peaceful life. In an age of renewed fervor in the social purity movement, queer writers are digging in their heels and reasserting their sexual and bodily autonomy by reweaving the roots of history that were torn asunder decades and centuries past. By writing the past, they cement themselves in the present.
Queer historical romance aims to blow the dust off history by uncovering those who lived in the margins and reassert that history has been far less heteronormative than it has been portrayed to be. In recent years, queer historical romance has grown into a major subgenre of romance novels, and this assertion of sexual autonomy through the written word has come as a counterstrike against the white supremacist ideology dominating politics and romance novels. Despite what detractors might believe, queer relationships have always existed in America, and queer historical romance is not fiction in the way they think. Romance novels are the private made public, and queer historical romance is a reassertion of identity and sexual autonomy, a reminder that, no matter what social purists might say regarding queer relationships or non-heteronormative relationships, they have always existed and will continue to flourish.
Bronski, Michael. A Queer History of the United States. Beacon Press, 2011. ReVisioning American History.
Charles, KJ. Band Sinister. E-book, KJC Books, 2018.
—. “Historical Romance: Who Gets the Happy Ending.” KJ Charles, 10 Oct. 2018, kjcharleswriter.com/2018/10/10/historical-romance-who-gets-hea/?fbclid=IwAR2wHOz1DzIW2gP9IFfRcSRSXS9GQgEjjmcCFbh4cbbm8CYSTv7SDyXQ5s4.
Johnson, E. Patrick. “Queer Epistomeologies: Theorizing the Self from a Writerly Place Called Home.” Biography, vol. 34, no. 4, Summer 2011, pp. 429-46. Academic Search Premier. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.
Hither, Page is a murder-town mystery featuring a spy, a doctor struggling with PTSD, a dead maid, and a socialist, flask-swilling, graveyard inhabiting teenage girl who may be my favorite person in a book ever.
Dr. Sommers wants nothing more than stability and to put the war behind him, but in a country that is still picking up the pieces, that’s hard to do, even harder when his town’s peace is shattered by the death of the town gossip. In comes Leo Page, a spy for the crown whose entire life has been a series of transient identities. Page and Sommers soon team up to discover who killed the gossiping chambermaid and uncover the townspeople’s secrets, but they find more than they bargained for in each other.
First off, I received an ARC of Hither,Page in exchange for an honest review, and secondly, I’m super biased because Cat Sebastian’s books are some of my favorites but if you like romance with mystery and social commentary, then you’ll probably like it as well.
This was one of those books that was so satisfying that I was beyond overjoyed to see that it was part of a series. What I loved about this book is how Sebastian is able to take characters who might be seen as horrid people in other lights and show their humanity and goodness. The characters in Hither, Page are layered, and as you get further in the book, the layers peel away to reveal who they truly are, for better or worse. Sommers is one of those do-gooders who truly only wants the best for others while Page is great at his job as an agent because it is so easy to shed identities when you never really had one. They compliment each other perfectly, stability and flux, and their relationship is a slower burn considering the genre.
The ensemble cast and setting are what really makes this couple shine. There are high stakes in terms of intrigue, but that’s tempered by a sleepy, peaceful country town filled with children and little old ladies who make ginger cookies. To counterbalance the imagery and aftermath of war, there is so much tenderness in this story. The imagery of Christmas decorations and canned soup on a cold night are touches that make this story shine above other historical romances.
Have you ever read something called silkpunk? An infusion of Asian flare with a punch of magic and technology. If not, you need to get your hands on JY Yang’s Tensorate series beginning with The Black Tides of Heaven. In the third book of the series, The Descent of Monsters, Yang takes us further into the world of tensors and strange hybrid creatures.
Part Jurassic Park, part noir-ish crime story, The Descent of Monsters begins where The Red Threads of Fortune leave off but from the point of view of an investigator charged with figuring out why everyone at the Rewar Teng Institute of Experimental Methods was slaughtered and how a naga raptor hybrid escaped. Told through file entries, diaries, letters, and interrogations, it fleshes out not only the mystery of the murders but what happened to Rider’s twin and how it is tied to the institute.
“Get livid.” The Descent of Monsters begins with a call to arms from its readers. Investigator Chuwan has seen the atrocities the government has not only covered up but sponsored and she wants your rage. This call sets the tone for the story, and it’s one of the things I absolutely love about Chuwan. While most of the characters in the Tensorate series have been very human, Chuwan is at times the most relatable. She is angry and fed up and just wants to get to the bottom of what’s going on, especially since the government put her in charge of the investigation figuring she would cave and sweep the evidence under the rug. WRONG. She has the investigative chops and enough moxie to go against the government.
What I love about this series is the slow building of rebellion. With the first book, we get the inner workings of the government from the view of the children of the ruler. Then from the point of view of exiles, and now, we’re getting bits and pieces from an investigation from the government and a detective going rogue. I look forward to seeing what will happen when the fourth book comes out, and hopefully this interesting progression will continue. This is where I should comment more on the format. There are interrogation scripts, files from the investigation, letters, and Chuwan’s diary/memories. If you don’t like that format, you may not like this book, but Chuwan’s voice is strong and has that no-nonsense detective noir vibe. It’s hard not to picture the scenes in dramatic black and white.
One of the things I love about Yang’s books is how effortlessly they create their world. It’s rich in the sights and textures of Asia while still being infused with futuristic technology and magic. Somehow Yang manages to make them live side-by-side without feeling awkward or mismatched. The magic, or tensing, is intricate yet simple at its heart. It makes for an interesting magical system, especially regarding how different characters interact with the slack (the magic in everything). Within their world, queer characters are commonplace, and there is even a coming-of-age ceremony where children choose their gender and name. Other characters appear as nonbinary and/or non-straight, and there is even a brief discussion of pronouns in Descent of Monsters.
If you wished the latest Star Wars trilogy was even more daring, political, and had cooler creatures, you should check out JY Yang’s Tensorate series, beginning with The Black Tides of Heaven. Grab their latest book, The Descent of Monsters, now.
I received an ARC of Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch in exchange for an honest review.
When Lord Thornby was dragged back to his father’s estate, he never imagined he wouldn’t be able to leave. Fearing his sanity is slipping when he can’t move past a seemingly invisible barrier, Thornby worries he has no chance of escaping until John Blake arrives. Masquerading as a guest, Blake has his own mission, to figure out what witchcraft is going on at the estate. When Thornby realizes Blake is the key to his escape, the men team up to fight the forces at play only to discover Thornby is more than he appears.
In the tradition of writers like Jordan L. Hawk and K. J. Charles, Lee Welch takes us on an adventure of magic, romance, and of course queer characters. Don’t mistake my reference to other authors of queer historical-fantasy as saying Welch’s work isn’t original. The magical system is wholly her own. What I loved about it was how it artfully combined the mystique of Victorian beliefs in faeries and paranormal creatures while also aligning with the heavy industrialism of the era. Magic can come in several ways, through faerie folk, demons, and by utilizing commonplace objects. This comes with a set of preconceived notions involving class and misconceptions about magic due to this rigid structure. The interweaving of these aspects of the Victorian Era keep us grounded in a historical reality while expanding it [logically] to contain magical elements.
Thornby and Blake are charming characters, each determined to find their way out of this magical muddle, and while there is a little friction at first, they quickly become a well-oiled team. They have fantastic chemistry, and more importantly, I loved how quirky they both can be. Thornby seems like an eccentric at first, but as the story progresses, his behavior begins to make more sense. With Blake, he is like Thornby’s foil and offsets his emotional and quirky side with a more utilitarian calm.
My only real quibble with this book was at times I found the romance aspects a bit gratuitous. I know that is a convention of the genre, but even for paranormal romance, it felt like a lot. This may have been because I read the book rather quickly and it only felt compressed. The scenes themselves though are written well and varied in terms of emotional and physical intimacy.
If you’re a fan of noblemen in emotional crisis or magic in a unique form, then Salt Magic, Skin Magic should be moved to the top of your to-be-read pile. Grab a copy here, and congrats to Lee Welch on their new release!
If you follow me on Patreon, you may have read my post about Bookcon and how Anna-Marie McLemore’s book signing and ARC giveaway was the ONE event I knew I had to attend. I was elated to find a signed copy of Wild Beauty at Bookcon, which I didn’t realize was signed until I got home (bonus!). After reading Wild Beauty, McLemore has been added to my auto-buy list.
For years, the Nomeolvides women have been trapped on the grounds of La Pradera, growing plants from their hands on the forgotten estate of the Briar family. More mysterious than their magical abilities is that if they step off the land, they die a painful death and those the Nomeolvides love go missing, never to return. Then, a boy in antiquated clothing and covered in dirt appears in the garden. Estrella and the other women wonder if he is a blessing from the garden or a warning, but Fel cannot remember where he came from or who he is. Estrella and her cousins must figure out who Fel was and how to escape the grip of La Prader before it’s too late.
I love Anna-Marie McLemore’s style. It’s an ingenious blend of the normal and surreal where magical flower growing women live along side cotton candy and instant mashed potatoes. Her prose is effortless to read, and her world is rich in texture and beauty. Magical realism is hard for some to deal with because of that intermixing of real and unreal, but if you can suspend your disbelief in this pocket of magic, it’s well worth it.
One of the things I worried about with this book was how it had an obvious aesthetic: flowers. What I mean by that is that some authors beat you to death with repetitive imagery and metaphors. While McLemore makes reference to flowers constantly throughout the story, it is done in such a way that it comes off as varied and artful. She capitalizes upon the sheer number of flowers available to utilize in metaphors and combines them with interesting actions and images. One of the other aspects I love that other readers may miss or think is a fault in the writing is how McLemore makes the Nomeolvides women interchangeable for the most part. Each generation there are five women, and they tend to be names without obvious identities apart from the plants they create. I feel this is done purposely and shows how the outside world sees the women versus how they are easily able to tell each other apart.
The story itself speaks to the impact of history on real people and we often try to sanitize or bury our pasts. This feels very relevant with what is going on in America politically. While McLemore doesn’t explicitly state this, readers should be able to see the parallels and understand why we must dredge up the bloody parts of our history in order to learn from them and grow.
I don’t want to give too much away because this book builds layer upon layer until the story truly unfolds at the end, and I don’t want to spoil that. If this review piqued your interest, you can pick up a copy of Wild Beauty on Amazon or at your local bookstore.