Monthly Archives: August 2012

By Any Other Name: What Do You Call a Love Story for Two Women?

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This is Violetta Vane introducing my good friend Ruth Diaz. She’s got some fascinating things to say about writing lesbian relationships in romance. 

Like Ruth, I also come from a background that’s more science fiction and fantasy than romance. I miss reading women-centered stories, so I take frequent breaks from m/m and go back to non-romance, or mmf or m/f erotic romance. I also write secondary women characters, including lesbians, in my m/m romance… but I haven’t really read much lesbian romance. I’m happy to report that The Superheroes Union: Dynama was an awesome place to start. It’s got a tight, exciting plot and wonderfully three-dimensional characters I really cared about. Here’s Ruth to talk about it some more.


The Superheroes Union: Dynama is the best story I never expected to write.

Romance is very new to me–I grew up on science fiction and fantasy, and the couple of times a friend loaned me a romance she thought I’d like, the writing was dreadful. So I just assumed all romances were dreadful. It’s only in the last two or three years that I discovered well-written romances, and that yes, I can write romances that really interest me.

When I decided I was going to try my hand at writing romance, I decided to start with a framework I was already comfortable with: space opera. I think I was four or five chapters into my space opera romance when I read the words “superhero romance” together somewhere. They seemed so at odds with each other, I couldn’t imagine how on earth you would write that.

And then my character Annmarie spoke up out of nowhere and gave me the critical line for a superhero love story.

I always intended to write non-mainstream relationships in my romances. But I also began writing romance in an effort to make some amount of money from my writing, however small, and from what I could tell, romances about two women weren’t terribly commercial. From that point of view, I should have back-burnered it. But TJ and Annmarie’s love story wanted to be told, even though it was nothing I could have expected to write.

Now, in the midst of promoting its release, I find I’m in the same position again, only this time, with regards to marketing. Since I never expected to be writing this story, I had no background in how to label it. A romance between two men would be labeled M/M. A romance involving three people might be MFM, MMF, MFF, or any other variety of lettered labels which seemed less about people than they were about body parts. But I was learning romance marketing from scratch, so I obligingly labeled my story F/F.

Come to find out, F/F isn’t romance written for queer women. The helpful write up on the blog I was approaching for review said F/F is targeted at straight women and bi-curious women. I imagine it would be even more likely aimed at men, except that men are less likely to read romance in the first place. The Superheroes Union: Dynama should be properly labeled “lesbian romance.” Of course, I had already sent out a couple dozen requests with the label F/F. Oops.

Well, sometimes we learn the hard way.

In the end, I don’t really look at my unexpected story as any of those labels. I look at it and I see a love story. It happens to be a love story between two people, as opposed to three or four or more. It happens to be a love story between two people who are female-bodied and femme-identified. It happens to be a love story between two women who are queer and comfortable with that, whose parents cared far more about their daughters’ superhero status then their sexual orientations.

The Superheroes Union: Dynama is not an “issue” piece. It’s just a love story, by any other name.


DynamaWhat if your evil ex really was evil?

TJ Gutierrez used to be a superhero. But after the birth of her twins seven years ago, she hung up the yellow spandex. Until the day her archenemy and ex-husband, Singularity, breaks out of prison. When it becomes clear he’s after the kids, she’s forced to call the nanny helpline—and once again become…Dynama!

Annmarie Smith doesn’t have a superpower. She saves the world by keeping kids safe while their parents fight evil. She temporarily moves in with TJ, and the way the magnetic mama puts family first captures Annmarie’s respect, and maybe her heart—even though she knows better than to fall for a superhero. Still, it’s hard to resist their wicked chemistry. Kapow!

But they can only hide from the world for so long. When Singularity’s quest for custody puts the kids’ lives in danger, can the two women conquer the evil villain and save TJ’s family—all before their first date?

The Superheroes Union: Dynama is available from Carina Press. You can read an excerpt here, and enter a giveaway here.

Carina Press store | Amazon.com | BarnesandNoble.com


Ruth Diaz writes genre romances about non-mainstream relationships. She hides a number of publications in a different genre under another name, but The Superheroes Union: Dynama is her first romance publication. For more information, you can subscribe to her blog, like her on Facebook, or follow @RuthDiazWrites on Twitter (where she is most active and, well, opinionated).

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The Kiss of Death

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It’s dark outside, but the sweat still prickles along my hairline and runs in slimy drops down my back, somehow avoiding the expensive running clothing which is supposed to keep me dry and cool in any weather. The temperature hasn’t dropped any for all that the sun went down.

It’s not the safest thing to be out in the park this time of night, but I’ve done it for years and nothing’s happened to me yet. I guess it’s harder to hit a moving target.

I thought it was gone, but the feeling comes back- I’m being followed. It’s been like this for the last few nights.

I step up the pace a bit and check over my shoulder, but the path is empty. I’m approaching the forested bit, but that’s not where the feeling is coming from. Just as I reach the trees I blank out. My vision goes white and fuzzy, and there’s this strange buzz in my ears.

When I come to I’m back near the entrance to the park. I’m still sweaty like I’ve been running. There’s still someone behind me. I look, but I can’t see anyone. My house is on the other side. I need to get there.

I try another route.

The air is thick and muggy- it sticks to my lungs, and I have to push harder to move it in and out. Maybe I’m panicking just a little.

At the little kid playground I blank out again. This time there are things moving in the whiteness. Shapes. But, they move too fast for me to see them beyond the fact that they’re human-shaped. Sort of.

I’m back at the beginning of the park.

Now I’m fucking scared.

I run.

It doesn’t matter what direction. It happens every time.

 

Out of the blur a hand catches my arm.

I can’t breathe, for all that I’m blowing air like a bellows. I have no strength to fight, but I try.

The hand is attached to an arm, and a face. I pull him out of the haze of white into the darkness of the park. He steps away from my punch easily, watching me with his dark eyes. He has a large frame, but a thin face, like he doesn’t get much exercise. He’s pale in the way that people are who avoid the sun. A tattoo peeks out under the edge of his dark t-shirt. Except for his blindingly pale skin he nearly melts into the darkness.

This must be my stalker.

I try to punch him again, but I’m so tired.

He holds up his hands and backs up a step.

“Can we just talk for a second?” He says. He sounds annoyed.

I’m the one who should be annoyed. Actually, I’m angry.

“Why?” I can manage the one word in between gasps for air.

“Wouldn’t you like to stop running for a bit and catch your breath?”

That sounds reasonable. I guess. And running doesn’t seem to be working. I let my silence speak for itself while  my lungs catch up with my legs.

“Only if you tell me what’s going on here.”

He smiles in an embarrassed way, and he glances down at his shoes. He shrugs.

“I’m not very good at this part.”

I let him stew in it for a bit, because I’m still angry. It’s better than being scared.

“Right,” he mutters, and then looks up at me. “There’s no good way to say it, because obviously you’ve missed out on the fact.”

He pauses.

“I’m sorry to have to be the one to inform you, but you’re dead.”

I shove him hard enough to knock him over. He disappears into the haze, which sweeps out to drown me .

And I’m back at the entrance to the park.

The feeling like I’m being followed comes back, but this time I wait.

The guys shows up, like I thought he might. He steps out of blinding whiteness, and I hear what sounds like traffic noises distorted down a long tunnel. It disappears with the light. That’s when I notice that there’s no noise anywhere here. It’s dead silent.

Dead.

Before he can open his mouth to say anything I bleat it out. Like a child.

“I just want to go home.”

Really, I want my life back, but if I can just get home I’m pretty sure I can figure the rest of it out.

“Are you sure?”

Why does he sound so relieved?

“Yeah.  Is it going to be hard or something?”

“You’re stuck in the darkness. I’m here to help you get free.”

That… seems to be true enough.

“Who are you, anyway?”

“Ethan Chandler.”

“And you’re here to help me… why?”

I can’t stop the anger from leaking into my voice a little here.

He doesn’t quite, but something that looks a little like a smile catches at the corners of his mouth. It makes him look a little less scary. A little more human.

“Not exactly out of the goodness of my heart. I’d rather be at home myself. But, you don’t turn down a direct order from Death.”

There goes my budding feelings for him.

“You’re saying that the Grim Reaper told you to hunt me down and tell me that I’m dead.”

The park is getting darker around me. It feels like walls closing in.

“Not you specifically, but people like you; anyone who is trapped, and maybe a little difficult to find.”

I glance around.

“And, what if I don’t go with you?”

“How long can you keep running?”

That’s not really a question.

“Okay.”

My voice is really small.  And the air is thick again. Panic. I start to talk a little fast.

“I don’t know how it happened, though. You would think you’d notice something like that.”

Now he does smile. A bit.

“Maybe it’s better this way.”

He takes a step toward me, and I hold my ground.

“How does this work? You’re sending me home, right?”

It’s a little confusing, and it’s getting hard to see.

He puts his hand over my eyes.

“She’s usually the one to do this,” he says. “But in instances like this I’ll have to do.”

 

His lips are warm and soft against mine.

 

 

*****

 

Author’s note:

I’m terrible at coming up with names for stories. If you can think up a better one, please tell me.

Gender Stratification by Surprise

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When Rachel and I set out to write Emerald Fire, our novel from Torquere Press, we wanted to create a culture where male romantic parings aren’t just plausible, but part of the fabric of the society. In order to do that, we considered the age of piracy and the founding of the colonies on Australia, and extrapolated from there. In the process, however, we created a gender-stratified society by accident.

As a feminist, this intrigues me. I used to (and still do, in my heart-of-hearts) spell women with a y – “womyn” – and argue that there is such a thing as a patriarchy. Though some of my ideas of gender relations have mellowed with maturity, not all of them have. It still makes my blood boil that the posters required by the Labor Department in my former employer’s break room stated that in the state of Illinois, women earn $0.71 for every $1.00 a man earns. The fact that this tidbit is posted on a sanitized publication of the government like Minimum Wage requirements and paid time off just makes me ill. It’s not like the gender wars are over; they’ve just gone subterranean, at least for me.

On Persis, we created a class of worker we call “Keepers,” who fulfill the general duties of homecaring traditionally associated with “women’s work”: laundry, cooking, sewing, and tidying. Over the generations, each of the Keeps specialized in certain areas such as music, a particular art, etc. Keepers are only men; women go into the Guilds.

As we developed the world, both for Emerald Keep and for subsequent novels, we continued to focus on the men – mostly because those are our main characters, since the stories are M/M romance. But one day, we woke up and realized that, in effect, we’ve created a strictly stratified society in which men fulfill certain roles that women, by cultural tradition, do not.

Horrors! I immediately found myself wanting to write a novel of a female character who sneaks into a Keep to become a Keeper, or something similar. Rachel got into it too and we developed a character who runs off to become a Hunter and hires her own Keeper, but in a Contract with no intimacy involved. One day, she falls ill and the Keeper receives a shock when he finds out his male Contract is, in fact, not. We may or may not write this story as-is, or we might change it up and vary how we handle it. But I never expected to one day have to gender-bust in my own world that I created myself!

What surprises have you found, if you’re a writer, in your own writing; or as a reader, in your favorite novels?


My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora
Knoontime Knitting: Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Ravelry
Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
Team Blogs: Nightlight | The Writers Retreat Blog | Beyond the Veil | LGBT Fantasy Fans and Writers

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Press.
Watch for Taking a Chance, part of the Charity Sips 2012 Series from Torquere Press, benefitting NOH8.

The Immortal Bisexual in Fantasy Fiction

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The Kinsey scale was developed in 1948 as part of Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking sexology studies. The concept is simple. Human sexuality is not divided into an either/or field with opposing teams, but laid out along a spectrum. 0 is for someone who prefers exclusively heterosexual relationships; 6 is for exclusively homosexual. Someone who’s a 1 or a 5 might never identify as bisexual; someone who’s a 3 is more likely to do so. Another important aspect of the Kinsey scale is that a person’s number can change over the course of a lifetime.

This doesn’t mean that sexuality is “just a choice,” as some reactionaries would have it. It simply leaves room for the incredible plasticity of the human mind. Switching from a 6 to a 0, or the other way around? Not going to happen. But sliding from a 0 to a 1, or a 5 to a 4? That’s a different story.

I buy it. I’d give myself a steady 0-point-something. Aside from a teenage encounter that resulted in fail!sex, plus a long-term crush on Michelle Rodriguez (unrequited and likely to remain so), I’m so close to purely heterosexual that identifying as anything other would be pointless and unethical. Might as well round down.

The Kinsey scale also reflects the reality of many self-identified bisexuals and pansexuals who are not equally attracted to both genders. And, of course, sexual attraction informs, but does not 100% determine, the actual relationships people end up having. Someone might be mostly attracted to their own gender, for example, but end up having relationships with mostly the opposite gender due to homophobic pressure. Or they might be mostly attracted to the opposite gender, but end up in a same-gender relationship because love struck out of the blue, and lasted.

If people keep using “playing for the other team” as the dominant metaphor of sexuality, bisexuals are doomed to be the sneaks, the cheaters, the traitors, which is absolutely not fair, and also just plain stupid. If we have to use a game metaphor, can’t it be something like hopscotch? Or even better, a game where everybody wins?

One fascinating extension of the Kinsey scale concept leads us to the trope of the immortal bisexual. There’s a fair amount of these in fantasy fiction. I think they appeal partly on a logical level. Since the immortal being lives so long, and is too powerful to be subject to restrictions of any human homophobic society, wouldn’t they sort of… slide to number 3 after a while, out of curiosity, if nothing else? Once you throw other fantasy tropes into the narrative mix, like gender-switching and reincarnation, the slide to the middle seems even more likely, because outer gendered bodies become less important than the (possibly ungendered) mind or soul.

I’ll list a few examples, and there are more at the TV Tropes page. Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, is the story of a young man in the Elizabethan age who lives forever, changing genders and lovers with the centuries as he or she passes through history. It was made into a wonderful movie starring Tilda Swinton. Then we have Anne Rice’s vampires, who are pretty much all bisexual. Bo from the television series Lost Girl. Tanith Lee’s Lords of Darkness.

My personal favorite is Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, a Time Agent from the 51st century, when Everyone is Bisexual. In the Whoniverse, the 51st century is like an individual slide-to-the-middle writ large.

Although Jack Harkness was “omnisexual” from his origin story, he does get made immortal through quasi-magical means, and is then trapped in Earth’s past. The conflict between his 51st-century sexuality and our more codified version is crucial to the character and his stories. He has enough power that he defies the rules. “You people and your quaint little categories,” he says, with a sigh and a roll of his eyes.

Apollo and Hyacinthus

Immortal bisexuals also have a long pre-Kinsey history. The Greek and Roman gods were pretty bisexual. Zeus had a huge number of female conquests (not many were consensual, so the word is appropriate)—Europa, Io, Semele, Callisto, Leto are just a few—but then there was Ganymede. According to Wikipedia, Apollo the sun god counted roughly 60 women, 13 men, which gives him a score of 1.07 on the Kinsey scale.

Using our present-day sexual metaphors—either opposing teams or scales—is anachronistic (though fun) since the ancient Greeks and Romans had a much different conception of sexuality. Their myths have reached far, influencing European and Anglophone stories for millennia. Now we reinterpret them, changing the past in light of the future.

It would be irresponsible, however, not to mention that the trope of the immortal bisexual has some stereotypical implications for real-world bisexual people. The immortal bisexual is often powerful and amoral, like the Greek gods, caring little for “petty human” concepts like, well, consent. In real life, bisexuals are stereotyped as sexually voracious, incapable of restraining themselves, depraved, chronically unfaithful. The Immortal Bisexual is clearly fictional and fantastic in origin, but the trope borders on that of the Evil Bisexual…

When I wrote the epic Celtic urban fantasy The Druid Stone with my cowriter Heidi, it was almost a given that we’d have an immortal bisexual. And we do. King Finnbheara is a real (mythical) figure from Irish folklore, known, like the Greek gods, for abducting women. Our take on him is archetypal inhuman IB: capricious, powerful, amoral, very sexual. He’s evil according to human standards, but he’s not human—his psychology is purposefully alien. And he was incredibly fun to write. He’s also not the only antagonist in the story.

We do have human people “on the scale” to balance things out. Our hero Sean, in the beginning of the story, identifies as straight, but he’s moved higher in number by the end. And even in the beginning, he knows he’s not the “average” straight man, because of certain aspects of his past, which readers will know about if they read his prequel story, “Cruce de Caminos” (Otherwise, you’ll get the backstory anyway, about halfway into The Druid Stone, and I’m sorry for being so mysterious!). We conceived of Sean as someone who hovers around a 1. Someone who might identify either as straight or bisexual depending on a lot of different complicated factors.

The Druid Stone is out August 6th from Carina Press

But Cormac, our modern-day druid-slash-paranormal-investigator, is gay and has always identified as gay. He’s had at least one brief relationship with a woman in the far past, isn’t conflicted about it, and doesn’t plan on doing it again. He’s the opposite of confused. Sean isa little confused about his sexuality, but he’s younger, at a very confusing stage of life, and also under a lot of stress… including a magical curse! His confusion isn’t intrinsic to bisexuality; it comes from the outside, from external forces. And he has the mental resources to find clarity, as well. It’s part of his journey, not all of it.

Sexual attraction and love are changeable things. Sometimes frighteningly changeable. The person we thought we’d be in love with for the rest of our lives when we were sixteen, we might barely remember by twenty. Perhaps figures like the immortal bisexual incarnate some of that fear and also help work through it. I think we’re attracted to the idea of limitlessness, of power over sexuality, of the ability to make our own rules. There’s nothing so fantastic that it doesn’t have some connection to our magically complicated, lived reality.

~~~

Do you have a favorite immortal bisexual, either hero(ine) or villain? Or are you just interested in one of the ones I listed? Leave yours in a comment along with your email or a Twitter/FB contact link, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of The Druid Stone. The winner will be announced at the end of our blog tour on August 27th. (ETA: the drawing is for an eBook in your choice of format)

Speaking of World Building in M/M Fantasy

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This post is regrettably late because I spent the day driving and then running errands, so I apologize for that.

I read the earlier post here on world building and was given permission to foist upon thee some recs from M/M fiction (or mainstream fiction that I feel fits the category) that I thought display excellent world building with M/M elements strongly in mind. Preferences vary widely of course, so if you read one of these of these and hate it and wonder what the hell kind of sugar I put on my cereal in the morning, I apologize :3 (and the special sugar goes in the coffee, not on the cereal).

Whatever other flaws these books may or may not have, the world building is excellent. I’ve only listed five here, but I’m always happy to babble incessantly about others should anyone so desire.

 

MORDRED by Douglas Clegg

This one admittedly plays loose and fast with historical accuracy, but that’s always been permissible with legends like King Arthur. It’s an awesome book, and it will always remain one of my top favorites. The world building was beautiful, I loved it. I so wish the man would publish the rest of them. I wish LT3 was a big enough house I could coax him to me, but alas, I must wait. If you want a solid mix of history & fantasy, and a truly interesting story then read this.

A BOOK OF TONGUES by Gemma Files

This book, this series so far, is just amazing. You don’t get better world building than this. It’s wild west meets Mayans meets magic and a whole lot of things go seriously wrong. Chess is one of the best, most creative characters I’ve ever read. But the world building, my god. It’s stunning and just beautiful to read. Westerns are so much cooler when they’re full of magic and crazyMayan gods destroying everything.

THE ETERNAL DUNGEON by Dusk Peterson

I’m not sure I can ever express how much I love this book. It takes really hard subject matter, and a character that in most books would be the major villain, and makes you love every single word. It’s about a prison that tortures prisoners to save them, and that is such an over-simplification of this book (books, really). If you want oh my god world building, read this. The stuff the author pulls off never ceases to amaze me, because in the hands of so many others it would have failed or been contrived. I adore this book, for the world building and the chars.

SHADOW HUNT by Luisa Prieto and Jayson Taylor

The magic in this book is marvelous, and the government intrigues are very well done. The demons, the city. All of it. I haven’t read it in forever, but it’s a book I’ve read several times. Right from the start the magic system grabbed me, and the world as a whole just kept pulling me in. The sacrifices, the demon elements, love it love it.

THE DEVIL’S FIRE by Sara Bell

I have not read this book in years, but I distinctly remember it because it was the first time that a book took the arranged marriage premise and executed it beautifully in an m/m setting. Even nowadays, I do not see it done often or believably (which is too bad, because it’s a fun premise and I’d like to see it done well more often). I’ve been sad that more books in this verse did not emerge, because I would have neglected the my work to read them.

 

And that is what I have for now ^__^ I hope those who read enjoy, and that everyone is having a good week and looking forward to a fantastic weekend!

Holding The Left Hand of Darkness

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Holding The Left Hand of Darkness

 

With our last post, we disgruntled some readers by taking examples from mainstream fantasy rather than LGBT fantasy and you may be thinking that I’ve done it again. It’s probably true, because The Left Hand of Darkness, or LHD as I’ll call it for short, is not an LGBT book. But it is a Q book. Or at least, it has been, for me, the only book I have ever read that gave me a glimpse of what life would be like in a society where people were more like me.

This is a personal reminiscence, because this is a book very personal to me. It’s taken me a long time to work out what exactly it is that I am, because neither of those things are very high profile – I am genderqueer and I am asexual (though het romantic). These things took a long time to figure out because in my day (yes, I am that old) and in my suburban culture we didn’t have words for any of that stuff. I’ve mostly identified as ‘weird’ and ‘frigid’.

So intellectually I had no idea why, when I read this book first, twenty or so years ago, it hit me like a breath of paradise. It hit me like finding out I had somewhere where I was home. I still haven’t read another book that did the same thing (though some of my love for Sherlock Holmes comes down to recognising him as a fellow ace. Oh, I hate it when they give him a girlfriend!)

Anyway, scene setting aside, let’s talk about the book: Read the rest of this entry