Queer Book List Interview

A little while ago, I came across the Queer Book List website, https://queerbooklist.com/. This is a website that provides educational resources about queer literature as well as a list of queer young adult novels arranged by date, so you can look back over the history of queer literature. There is also a section for queer adult books, marked as “coming soon”.

I thought it would be nice to talk to the creator of the site, Chris Morabito, about this project.

Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself.

I’m currently in my second year of grad school, where I am pursuing a Ph.D in English. My research is largely concerned with queer literacy, the ways in which queer characters, particularly adolescents, use reading and writing as a means of both discovering and expressing their gender and sexual identities. The motivation for this research stems from my own coming out experience in high school, where I did not really feel that I had people to turn to, so I turned to books instead.

I’m a certified high school English teacher in the state of New York, but I’m currently teaching introductory English classes at my local public university. Ultimately, my goal is to obtain my Ph.D and teach a variety of queer lit courses. I would also love to find a way to get involved in schools, holding professional development workshops for teachers, events for students, and working on curriculum design. All of these areas combine on my website.

And please introduce your Queer Book List project.

Queer Book List is a lot of different things, and it is constantly evolving. At its core, it is exactly as the name indicates — a list of books that contain queer content. The largest part of the project is a list of queer young adult books organized by year of publication. As I read the books, I also post reviews where I provide a brief overview of the book and reflect on the way in which it reflects queer life. Since I started the project last January, I have expanded it in a number of ways. The first major expansion took the form of a resources tab, where I post anything that I think might be of use to people — such as sample lesson plans, how-to guides, and workshops (More on this below). More recently, I have also included a blog page so that I can share more experiential content, such as reflections on my own queer adolescence and on my teaching practices. Ultimately, I really just want Queer Book List to be a resource for queer adolescents, educators, and anyone else really, to turn to in order to learn more about queer literature and maybe even queerness more generally.

What sort of educational resources are available on your site?

If you visit the resources tab of queerbooklist.com, you will find a variety of resources for all kinds of educators. I have created a number of high school lesson plans for various queer young adult books. The lesson plans incorporate common core standards and include text analysis as well as writing prompts. Accompanying the lesson plans is also a rationale that will hopefully help convince teachers to use these or other similar texts, or that teachers can show to principals to justify teaching these texts. I have also created a sample syllabus for a college course using the same young adult texts that I wrote the lesson plans for. There are How-to guides, where I offer suggestions for how to make a classroom more inclusive and some criteria that I think are important in selecting a queer book to teach if you are only going to teach one. The final type of resource that I have on Queer Book List is a workshop that I recommend teachers use before going into any unit with queer content, as it serves as an introduction to terminology and sociopolitical issues. All of these resources are open for anyone to use and modify to better fit their specific needs.

What made you decide to start this project?

During the first semester of my Ph.D. program, I took a course on children’s and young adult literature. It was during this course that I began to do the research that started Queer Book List. While doing research for an assignment, I realized just how few resources there are out there cataloging queer young adult literature. Knowing that I would need to know a lot about these books for my dissertation, I started trying to read and take notes on as many books as I could find. The idea for Queer Book List simply came from the realization that, since I was already doing this work, I should share it with other people who might benefit from it. Since then, I have continually tried to think of other resources that I believe would be useful for people to find.

Why does queer representation matter to you?

On a personal level, queer representation matters to me because I had very little of it to turn to when I was working towards understanding my sexual identity and coming out. I remember desperately seeking out queer representation wherever I could find it. I began reading queer subplots into everything that I read because I was so desperate to find myself reflected in the books I was reading — even before I knew that was what I was doing and/or looking for. It was not that these resources did not exist, the young adult page on Queer Book List proves that they did, but that I could not find them. That’s why, when I did find them, I was compelled to share what I found.

I know, however, that I was lucky. I had teachers that I could open up to and friends and family to support me — even if they couldn’t understand exactly what it was that I was going through. It is true that there are more mainstream representations of queerness than ever before, but it also remains true that these are not accessible to all, especially for those who cannot access these resources openly. Moreover, queer representation is not only something for queer people. It is something that everyone should be exposed to, because queer people exist everywhere, if not always openly, and this is something that everyone should be aware of. Queer representation is about exposure; it is both about learning of the self and learning of others, and that is why it is so important.

Do you have any criteria for deciding what books should go on your young adult book list?

This is a really interesting question, because it is something that I am still struggling to figure out. What makes a queer young adult book a queer young adult book? Does the character have to be openly queer (at least to themselves)? Does the queer character (open or otherwise) have to be the main protagonist? If you compare the second half of the 20th century to this current first half of the 21st century, the difference between the number of QYA publications is quite stark. During the three decades from 1969 to 1999, no more than thirteen books with any form of queer content were published in a single year, and in fact, the number was often quite lower. Because these numbers were so small, and the need for these books was so great, excluding texts for any reason would have been counterproductive.

Now, however, with more QYA books published in 2018 than the first two decades of QYA combined, narrowing down seems to make more sense. I try to select books where queerness is important to the narrative, either because the protagonist or another main character is queer, or if queerness seems to drive the plot in some way. A gay background character would not be enough of a reason to include a book on my list. Typically books make the list when I find some mention of them being queer. Once I get around to reading the book, I will better gauge if it belongs on the list and review it. I know that this is not a perfect system, but it is a place to start while I work on creating a better one.

What are your plans for the project moving forward?

Moving forward, my main goal is to just keep doing what I’m already doing. As a grad student who is also teaching and tutoring part time, I never feel like I have enough time to even keep up with what is already on the site. I have a pile of books that I have already read but still need to review and post. As of writing this, it is 2019, but my list of queer young adult books is still in 2018, and there are many years where information is incomplete or missing entirely.

One thing that I would really like to work on is the adult literature page. Right now, my biggest problem with it is trying to figure out how to structure it and what books to include, because it would be impossible to create an entirely inclusive list, especially one that is arranged chronologically. The page has been “coming soon” for over a year now, and I would really like to change that

My ideal next step for Queer Book List would be to create some sort of online book club. I would love to, for example, select a book each month and create a space where people can come together and share their ideas about the book or anything else. I don’t think Queer Book List has enough of a following quite yet to make this idea work, but I am hopeful for the future. Other than that, who knows.(?) The project has already expanded in a number of ways that I could not have predicted a year ago, so I’m excited to see what the future brings to the site.

Is there anything people can do to assist this project?

Right now, the biggest way people can help out is by providing me with feedback: what is working well, what can I improve, what would you like to see. I would also greatly appreciate book recommendations, since it is incredibly difficult to track them all down. Of course, the easiest way to assist this project is simply to share it with everyone you know, especially educators.

This is a large project and one that I never feel like I have enough time to fully work on, so I have considered bringing on other people to assist with the site, but I’m not really sure how I would go about this and if I am ready to relinquish complete control over the project. That being said, if you are interested in getting involved or assisting in any way that I mentioned or any way that I have not, please feel free to contact me at Queerbooklist@outlook.com and we can discuss the possibility further.

How can people find out more?

The easiest way to find out more is to follow me on social media. You can find my Facebook page by searching for Queer Book List. My Twitter handle is @Queerbooklist and Instagram is @Queer_Booklist. My Instagram seems to have the most interaction, and therefore I am most active on it, but I try to share on all three whenever there is an update on the website. If there is something specific that you are interested in finding out or learning more about, please feel free to email me at queerbooklist@outlook.com.

Author interview: C B Lee

In this interview, I talk to C B Lee, author of Seven Tears at High Tide and the Sidekick Squad series, about her writing, the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in young adult fiction, and her upcoming books.

You can find out more about C B Lee at her website http://cb-lee.com/

Wolf Unleashed – now available for pre-order

I’m delighted to announce that my latest novel, Wolf Unleashed, is now available for pre-order. This is a book I’m really proud of. I’ve poured a lot of effort and emotion into this book over the past few years and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

Remember: werewolves are people too.

Cover art for Wolf Unleashed

Werewolves are kept as slaves. Exploited to perform dangerous labour, or kept as exotic pets by rich sadists who want a status symbol, werewolves have no rights.

When Crystal’s brother is bitten by a rogue werewolf, her family is advised to think of him as dead. But she refuses to forget him.

Looking for news from within the werewolf community leads her to purchase Thomas, a rebellious werewolf with a string of abusive former owners. Crystal and Thomas must learn to trust each other enough to help solve each other’s problems. Together, they can work to build a movement aimed at bringing rights and justice to all.

This is an urban fantasy, paranormal romance with a difference. It teems with intersectional issues of race, gender, and sexual identity. This is a story of injustice and anger, of love and compassion, of rebellion and hope.

5 Stars – “It was a story that drew me in… I enjoyed how the story developed and how werewolf slavery was tackled by some very brave characters. They took on a fight against a system that needed to be changed, and often it looked like they would be torn apart… I wish there was more of this quality writing out there. A fantastic read!” — Kim Anisi for Readers’ Favorite

Order now

Eastercon Schedule

The schedule for Follycon (the 69th Eastercon) has gone live.

I will be involved in three items:

Transgressive Sexuality panel at 5:30pm on Friday 30th March.

Guardbridge Books Launch Party at 3pm on Saturday 31st March – at which my newest book Wolf Unleashed will officially launch along with Warrior Errant by Harry Elliot.

Atheism and the Representation of Religion in Science Fiction presentation at 3pm on Monday 2nd April. A part of me was hoping for the irony of doing this presentation on Easter Sunday, but it’s probably more tactful of them to arrange it for the Monday.

Three quick reviews

When asked what I want for Christmas or birthdays, I always give my parents a list of books so that they can pick a few items for that list to give me as presents. This means I don’t know precisely what I’m getting, but we can all be sure it will be books I’m interested in reading.

My Christmas book haul this year consisted of three books that had been recommended by others for the queer reading list: In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, Peter Darling by Austin Chant, and Dreadnought by April Daniels. Rather than do a full review of each book, I figured I would do some quick summary reviews here.

In Other Lands (UK link, US link) – I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Those following my Tumblr may have noticed a number of posts commenting on this book as I was reading it. I’m still a little disappointed it didn’t end in a poly relationship between Elliot, Luke and Serene, but never mind, despite that disappointment it was a really good book. Elliot is taken through into a magical land and decides that he doesn’t want anything to do with swords and bows and horrible things like battles. He’d much rather be making peace and meeting mermaids. The problem is that Elliot, after a lifetime of being bullied and abandoned, has no experience of making friends and the abrasive nature he’s cultivated as a defence mechanism is going to drive away the people is really cares about. Elliot’s snark and sarcasm is fun to read, but because as the reader we can see his insecurities, it makes him endearing as a character even as it causes conflict with the people around him.

Peter Darling (UK link, US link) – This was a really interesting take on an old classic. It’s a sequel/retelling of Peter Pan, where Peter and Wendy were the same person. Peter returns to Neverland to avoid being sent to an asylum by parents who don’t understand his insistence that he’s really a boy. Returning as an adult though, he finds that the fun games of his childhood aren’t so fun anymore but Hook is still as interesting as ever. Hook, on the other hand, hasn’t really felt alive since Peter left and his return is awakening memories he’d thought were lost. It’s been a long time since I read Peter Pan, so I’m not sure how many of the ideas about Neverland were taken from the original and how many were created by Chant, but I loved the picture Chant painted of a world shaped by the imaginations of the humans who stumbled into it.

Dreadnought (UK link, US link) – A story that is equal parts coming out story and superhero adventure. Danny’s biggest concern in life is keeping her dad from figuring out she’s trans, but then the world’s most powerful superhero dies right in front of her, giving her his powers and in the same moment transforming her so she has the body she’s always wanted. Now there’s no way to hide that she’s really a girl, and she has to deal with her dad’s fury as well as coming to grips with her new powers. There’s a lot of real emotion in this story in the relationship between Danny and her dad and the book paints a painfully realistic picture of an abusive father, who doesn’t see himself as abusive because he never hits. One of the other things I like is the way Danny experiences sexist microaggresions for the first time (a boy feeling entitled to date her, a stranger on the bus telling her to smile, etc.) in a way she didn’t before her body changed. It’s an interesting way of showing how people are treated differently based on how the world perceives them. But before the dark parts of the book can drag you down too much, it provides fun in the superhero antics and Danny’s relationship with the vigilante Calamity. It’s a perfect balance of serious and light-hearted.

Queer Reading List Giveaway

In 2017, I launched my queer reading list. This is a list of sci-fi and fantasy book recommendations with strong LGBTQ+ representation. You can filter by different representation types to find books that feature characters with specific identities or sexualities.

Each month in 2018, I will be giving away a book of the winner’s choice from the reading list. You can enter the giveaway through the year and at the end of each month, a winner will be chosen at random from that month’s entries and that person will get to choose a book from the list as their prize.

There are two ways to enter this giveway.

  1. Reblog the Tumblr post.
  2. Suggest a new book for the reading list. You can fill out this form to make a recommendation (or this form if you’re an author and want to recommend your own books). The only criteria are that the book is sci-fi or fantasy, there is strong queer representation (i.e. not just a token character in the background), and that you enjoyed reading it.

Each new book recommended counts as a separate entry to the giveaway and you can recommend as many books as you like.

Please check before making a recommendation that the book isn’t already on the list, and please include as much detail as you can about the representation within the book (this makes it easier to correctly categorise them for the filters).

Please also make sure you include a way for me to contact you in the suggestion form – email address or Tumblr username. This contact information will only be used to inform the winner that they’ve won and communicate about their prize.

Queer Reading List Search

I am in the process of updating my queer reading list. The old list is just that – a list. I list science fiction and fantasy books that contain significant queer representation and which I have enjoyed reading.

The new version, I’m hoping will be more useful for people looking for SF&F books that contain queer representation. It’s a bit more visual, with a list of books and their cover images on the left.

Reading list screenshot

Through the use of filters, people can search the list for specific types of representation – e.g. a book with an intersex protagonist, or an asexual major character. The main page shows broad categories for representation.

Reading list screenshot 2

But there are arrows underneath the list that let you scroll through different pages. The other pages focus in on a specific group of representation and let you narrow down the search in more detail.

Reading list screenshot 3

You can find the new version here: http://www.plot-twister.co.uk/queer-reading-list-search/.

It is currently a work in progress, so I would be interested in hearing feedback or ideas for improvement.

I’m also interested in finding contributors to the list. The old list was put together solely by myself, which means new books could get added only at the rate at which I could read them. If I can find more people interested in adding books to the list, then this can becoming something much longer and more useful. If you are interested in adding books to the list, please let me know.

Review: How to Save the World by Tam MacNeil

How to Save the World coverHow to Save the World by Tam MacNeil (UK link, US link), not to be confused with one of the many other books with the same or similar name, is a book that walks the line between fantasy and science fiction. Monsters are rising from the sea and emerging from the forests, death gods who call to the people nearby. Anyone who hears their song is drawn to them and filled with the urge to commit suicide. A man named Cameron runs the company who produces mech – huge metal machines that can fight against these monsters. The mechs are designed to be driven by a human being, but the experience is horrifying. In this world, Alex and Sean are assassins working for Cameron, killing anyone he sends them after. They decide to escape their life by killing Cameron but when the attempt fails, Sean manages to get out and start a new life but Alex is caught and forced inside one of the mechs.

When I first started this book I had my doubts about it. For the first couple of chapters, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to connect with Alex or Sean, who we see committing murders without seeming to care about it. How wrong I was. It didn’t take long for the book to start exploring their history, the way they protect each other, and their desire to have a better life than the one they’re forced to endure. Once the book got going it was very easy to have sympathy for both of them and some parts of the book were absolutely heart-wrenching. I was in tears in places.

The story deals with some very dark themes and difficult issues. There are explorations of rape, child abuse, grooming, suicide, grief, and some scenes that can only be described as torture. These issues are dealt with in a very respectful way and it really tugs on the heart-strings, but it could be a very difficult read for some people because of how real the emotion feels.

The book is definitely driven by the emotion. There is some mystery and a fair amount of action, with the characters working to, as the title says, save the world from the monsters, but really the core of the book is the emotional journey between Sean and Alex.

The relationship between the two main characters is beautifully written. We get to see their history and the background behind their interactions as well as the moments on the page. It works in a very layered way. You can genuinely feel how much they love each other. The interactions with the other characters is great too, and there were some brilliant moments where we get to see the two main characters through the eyes of characters like Mad and Rak. We spend so much of the time in this book inside their heads that it’s interesting to see what they look like from the outside.

The only criticism I have of this book is that it needed a better editor. There were a lot of typos and there were several points where a new chapter or section started with a pronoun and it took me several paragraphs to work out who was the viewpoint character for this bit. A chapter would start with “he” and I would spend a page trying to work out if this was Alex or Sean, only to find out this bit was from Rak’s point of view. I through me out of the story. It’s a shame because otherwise this was a brilliant book.

Very emotional and highly recommended, but do be aware of the fact it tackles issues of rape and abuse. Five stars.

Review: The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer

The Dark Wife - coverThe Dark Wife (UK link, US link) is a retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Persephone. According to most traditional tellings of the story, Hades, the lord of the Underworld, carries off Persephone, daughter of the goddess of the harvest, to force her to be his wife. The gods attempt to rescue her, but because she’s eaten half a pomegranate while in the underworld, she has to live there for half the year, causing her mother to mourn her and thus causing winter.

This retelling has many of those same elements, but delivered with a new perspective and some significant changes. One important change is the fact that the ‘lord’ of the underworld is in fact a lady. Hades is female, and the title ‘lord’ is used by Zeus to mock her. The story also focuses on the idea from myth of Zeus being a rapist who takes what he wants. When Persephone’s lover is raped by Zeus and transformed into a plant, Persephone hates him, and ends up running away to the underworld to escape him, where she falls in love with Hades. Even the pomegranate plays a different role.

The story plays with many of the threads of ancient myths, such as the idea of the Elysium fields as a final resting place for heroes, and the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the underworld, but with a new and refreshing take on these old ideas. I think part of the appeal of the story is the familiarity of these pieces and seeing them fit together in a new way, so I imagine that the story wouldn’t have the same appeal to people who are less familiar with the ancient Greek myths.

As it is, if you enjoy myths and want a story about immortal lesbians, then The Dark Wife is a very enjoyable story. It’s quite short and much of the focus is on the emotional journey rather than any action or adventure, but for fans of romance, I can see it being very much appreciated.

The characters are rounded and developed as people. The story is told from Persephone’s perspective, so we understand her motives and drives throughout the story, but there are a number of other characters who play important parts, including many of the gods, such as Hermes and Athena. The way the gods are portrayed compared to humans is interesting and feels genuine. The author explores how immortality would effect things like love and romance, especially when it’s between a mortal and an immortal. Despite all their powers, the characters in this story feel very human.

Four stars. One for fans of mythology.

Eastercon highlights

Last weekend I was at Eastercon and I wanted to post a few highlights.

Eastercon eggs 2 Eastercon eggs 1First off, I definitely have to mention the Easter egg display the hotel put on in the reception. Absolutely spectacular. They were beautiful. I have no idea how they did the roses on some of the eggs. Every time you walked past, you’d get this waft of chocolate smell so I hope someone was allowed to eat them afterwards.

This year I was on two panels. One was on LGBT to QUILTBAG, talking about queer representation in sci-fi/fantasy and the importance of representing some of the less known aspects of the queer identity (e.g. having characters who are genderqueer, intersex, asexual, and so on). That yielded some really interesting discussions and was fun for us as a panel, and several people came up to me afterwards saying that they found it really interesting as well, which is great.

The second panel was on the Women of Star Wars, in honour of Carrie Fisher. This was fun as well, but the conversation didn’t seem to flow as much as in the first panel. It jumped around a bit, but we still had some great conversations and the people I was on the panel with were all really nice.

I attended quite a lot of sessions, including the explosive opening ceremony. My photos didn’t come out particularly well of this, but we had gerkin light bulbs, jelly baby fireworks, and exploding fire. There was a definite theme around getting food to blow up. It was put on by the Royal Institution who do these sorts of talks and science displays for kids. So if you want to get a science display set up for a school near you, check them out because it was both entertaining and informative.rope braidbraided hair

I attended a hair braiding workshop and decided that the rope braid was significantly nicer to do than a French braid. I really couldn’t get the hang of a French or Dutch braid at all. I felt like I needed three extra hands to make it work. I did get my hair braided as an example of putting it all together so I walked out of there with braids and rosettes in my hair, which was awesome.

Another panel which was awesome enough to deserve a blog post all to itself was the wheelchair martial arts demonstration by comic book artist and fight choreographer Al Davison. I have some videos of that session that I will be posting soon, so watch this space.

Guardbridge booksAs with other conventions, there was a dealers’ room, in which I spent more money than I should on books. A couple of people worth mentioning were the TTA Press, who ran the indie author table. They took some of my books and did the job of selling them over the weekend, which was really great of them. There were a few other authors who were selling their books there and I bought a few of them, so you might be seeing them reviewed on here soon. There was also a table from Guardbridge Books, who I recently signed a publishing contract with. They will soon be publishing an urban fantasy novel of mine, so keep an eye out for that.

I wore my Queen Madalena cosplay again, which earned me thirteen “nice cosplay” tokens. I don’t know if this is a high number or low, but that was all I could cope with before I had to change back into jeans. Next year, I’m going for a more practical cosplay.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. I definitely had fun participating in the panels rather than just watching them, though watching them was fun too. I went to sessions ranging from presentations on the psychology of living in space to flash fiction writing competitions. Definitely a good convention. Tiring, but good.