Not A Romance

Anyone in romancelandia knows that RWA has a stinky track record when it comes to diverse romance of many different varieties. (Or if you don’t, you probably could do some reading to get yourself up to date.)

Racism, homosexual hate, bisexual hate, and so many other forms of dislike and hatred that it’s exhausting to think about much less try to list them all.

I almost canceled my RWA membership this year after hearing how some of my marginalized author siblings were treated last year at the conference.

I ended up renewing it after reading a release they made about a commitment to fixing the problems. I did it because I want to be able to enter my Bloodbound (my most recent release, also polyamorous, also with autistic leads, also kinky) in the RITA next year. I don’t expect to win that either, it’s for the experience. It might final, that one is excellent enough that The Ripped Bodice chose it for display, and it’s more mainstream.

I had entered my Hugo Nominated Ilavani in the RITA awards contest for 2017. I never expected to final, that’s not why I entered.

I entered my story because I believe in it, and I have a bit of a hesitancy about putting myself and my work forward. Entering my book in a blind-judge contest was a good test of that for me.

It actually surprised me that it got some high scores, it got more high than low (lowest and highest scores are thrown out). I’ll be the first to admit that the science-fantasy aspect of Ilavani is not going to be close to everyone’s taste, nor will be the kink or the genetic engineering, or the queer content.

Going forward there are spoilers for Ilavani.

It did absolutely surprise me that one of the judges marked it very low and said it wasn’t a romance.

Whut??

Everyone who enters the RITA has to judge the first round of books. (That was another reason I entered, for the experience of it.)

We have to answer these three questions and give a numerical score of something like 9.6 or 2.7.

Is the love story the main focus of the book?

Is the resolution of the romance emotionally satisfying and optimistic?

Does the entry fall within the category description?

Now for the spoilers.

Is the love story the main focus of the book?

Ilavani is a polyamorous romance with queer, mixed-race, autistic leads. Here’s the blurb (and the links to places you can learn more about it if you’re interested).

The first installment in a long-running, science fantasy series based in a queer, pagan, polyamorous, universe.

3800 years in the future.

Maëlcolm is a skilled BDSM trainer, a spy, and unfortunately, a prince.

Cameron is Maël’s older brother, titular heir to their father’s kingdom and in love with his enby bodyguard, Li.

Kat is a slave. A genetically modified being created for one purpose, and one alone. To please her masters in bed.

Los is a gifted Companion, the only thing that makes him happier than practicing his calling is loving Maël, the one man Los can’t have an official relationship with.

If Maël doesn’t give up his calling and do as the Ard Righ demands, his family loses everything.

If Cam doesn’t do what he needs to do to become worthy of the throne by the Ard Righ’s stringent standards, their family may be executed.

If Kat, autistic, touch-averse, and afraid, chooses to fight her fate, she’ll die.

When an artificial intelligence named ‘the high king’ is at the helm, the cost to human hearts may be impossible to bear.

You can buy it here, it’s serialized due to length, there are five volumes in all.

You can read the first chapter here if you’re so inclined.

Back to my point.

The two princes must save their father’s kingdom, that’s the underpinning plot of the book, which every book needs, something to drive the characters. The focus (what the story is really about) is the two polyamorous romances going on in the book, and more specifically, the formation of the younger brother’s polyamorous relationship.

Cam, the elder brother, is in love with his enby bodyguard Li. Xie can’t give him the only thing he needs, an heir. This is the tension between them, their thing to overcome. Cam falls in love with one of his breeding partners, this is another part of their journey, and a rather romantic one. I show some of the problems polyamorous relationships can have in their story.

The main character is obvious to whoever reads it. Mael is the younger brother, the one who was always indulged because he was the lucky number 13. In Ilavani he has to face the fact that due to political assassination, he’s now in direct line for the throne and it’s a race with his beloved brother Cam to see who can reproduce first. Whoever does, wears the crown, and Mael doesn’t want the crown. He’s autistic and fears he wouldn’t do well with it.

It’s a HORRIBLE time for the gray-aromantic Mael to fall in love. But that’s exactly what he does.

He falls in love with his last BDSM student, Kat, an indentured servant and a recent import to their planet. Falling in love with her makes Mael realize that he’s BEEN in love with his first student and lover Los for decades. (These peeps are pretty long-lived, they’re basically genetically created elves.)

The *entire* character journey for Mael, Kat and Los is about love. It’s about working through the problems and choices they’re confronted with by each of them being in love with the other. So please, someone explain to me exactly how this polyamorous M/M/F relationship isn’t the main focus of the book?

Did the judge even read it? My guess is that they didn’t, or they let a personal prejudice against polyamorous relationships or queer relationships get in the way of a fair score. If that’s the case then RWA *really* needs to investigate that judge and ask for explanations, which is part of the agreement we all signed when we entered our books.

I have massive issues with Christianity, and fade-to-black romances bore me to tears, (I got more than my share of both of those for my judging packet) but I still rated all the books I was sent fairly based on the laid out rules of the contest.

Given that I am not the only person whose book with a marginalized aspect or relationship structure scored low and got a *not a romance* tag, (see here, and here) I think RWA needs to take a close look.

Polyamory is the open, honest ability to love more than one person. This is my *life*. I *live* polyamory.

It’s something a lot of people live, it’s something we’re crying out for representation in our favorite genres of romance and erotic romance.

Someone who can’t accept that, who would call anything BUT a heteronormative, monogamous white man with white woman book NOT A ROMANCE… well, maybe they shouldn’t be judging a contest like the RITA?

If more than one of the five judges had said ‘not a romance’ maybe I’d question as to whether I did my job as an author well enough with that book. But the other four judges ranked it middle of the road or very high and all of them said yes to the questions.

Is the resolution of the romance emotionally satisfying and optimistic?

Ilavani is the first book of a trilogy. It’s still a romance. Each installment is going to (and in the case of Ilavani does) have an HEA (happily ever after) or an HEFN (happily enough for now). Those are the requirements of the genre. A book cannot be billed as a romance without having that. It’d be something like romantic suspense or fantasy with a strong romantic subplot, but it wouldn’t be a romance.

Romance *has* to have that HEA or HEFN. Ilavani does. At the end of Ilavani Mael begs Kat to accept him as he is, a prince, with this horrible burden he has around his neck (spoiler). He asks her to spend her life with him, he frees her. How is that *not* emotionally satisfying? How is it *not* optimistic? Kat is even plotting how to make sure the guys’ relationship stays strong. So it’s not even because the polyamorous aspect isn’t complete. It’s complete enough *for now*.

Does the entry fall within the category description?

The category class I entered for Ilavani was erotic romance. Ilavani is *the* most erotic piece I’ve ever written. It has so much character driven sex in it people have written to me to tell me it’s their favorite bedroom aide d’amour and it’s saved two marriages (that I know of).

Erotic. Check!

Romance… it’s all about the characters, Mael, Kat, Los, Cam, Li, and Mai. These are the two intertwined polyamorous relationships. This is a family of choice. This isn’t erotica (I have no problem with erotica, erotica is awesome, but it’s defined as *the sexual journey of the characters* NOT the *emotional journey of the characters*. Erotic romance is the latter. My book is about the emotional journey, of people falling in love when they shouldn’t while they are trying to save their kingdom as they know it. (While graphically boinking one another’s brains out in various kinky fashions.)

My book is definitely erotic romance.

I question the veracity of this judge’s answers. If it were just me, I wouldn’t make a stink, but with several other authors that I know of getting poor scores and/or the ‘not a romance’ tag for race or for polyamory, or for bisexuality… well. I think we can see the actual problem isn’t that our stories aren’t romances.

The actual problem is something far darker and much more disgusting.

It’s bigotry.

 

 

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New Book Review: DARKLING by Brooklyn Ray

Queer, Paranormal Romance, Novella, Translit

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Pub date January 8, 2018

BLURB:

Port Lewis, a coastal town perched on the Washington cliffs, is surrounded by dense woods, and is home to quaint coffee shops, a movie theater, a few bars, two churches, the local college, and witches, of course.

Ryder is a witch with two secrets—one about his blood and the other about his heart. Keeping the secrets hasn’t been a problem, until a tarot reading with his best friend, Liam Montgomery, who happens to be one of his secrets, starts a chain of events that can’t be undone.

Dark magic runs through Ryder’s veins. The cards have prophesized a magical catastrophe that could shake the foundation of Ryder’s life, and a vicious partnership with the one person he doesn’t want to risk.

Magic and secrets both come at a cost, and Ryder must figure out what he’s willing to pay to become who he truly is.

REVIEW:

I received an ARC of this book via the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

I loved it so much.

I fell absolutely in love with the main character, Ryder. My gods, did I ever fall fast for him. Almost everything was perfect about this novella, characterization, pacing, the plot driving the sex… so much is so perfect and I’ll definitely be looking for more work by this author.

Content warning for blood exchange, cutting, and animal death. SPOILER: The last is okay, promise, he comes back.)

Things I loved:

The author didn’t screw up my faith: I’m a witch, both by bloodline/tradition and by choice of faith, and I can’t tell you the number of books and stories I’ve read/seen that get it wrong, harmfully wrong, sometimes. (Stop and think about it, how many books and shows use a pentacle for a fast an easy way of saying something is evil? When it’s actually the exact opposite?) This book deals heavily in the occult, paganism, magic and the author got it RIGHT! I grinned several times seeing my faith depicted well in the pages of this book.

On page consent: This is a HUGE plus for me, and I often mark a book lower in the stars department if it’s not there. If your characters are having sex, you have to write consent or indicate a conversation has happened that shows consent has been clearly, ideally verbally if physically possible, given. (NO EXCEPTIONS other than dubcon in a first-person PoV when you’re IN the character’s head and you, as the reader, KNOW they want it. Writing consent on the page and demanding it be there in our love stories is how we break down rape culture, you have to have it on the page.) Consent is sexy. It’s there in this book. I loved that.

The writing: By now, if you follow my reviews, you know that I’m extremely picky about writing. I have no issue what-so-ever with DNFing (Do Not Finish) a book. There are millions of books out there, my time is precious and I don’t read what I don’t at least like. Being an editor in my day-job means I’m INCREDIBLY picky about writing skill.

The use of language is rich, but not over the top. The description is AMAZING, I could smell the coffee and feel the mist on my skin, feel the cat’s fur and really get into the sex scenes. (Lolz, they did their job, put it like that.)

Ray has an excellent ability to write evocatively, and that is one of my favorite things in reading. If an author can transport me into their world for a few hours? I’m there. As I’ve come to expect from NineStar Press titles, the editing is top notch. I think I caught one homonym error in 33k plus words. That’s it.

On page representation of a non-binary character who uses they/them pronouns. It’s a secondary character, and there’re only a few lines, but the way the gender-neutral language is presented as a matter of course and automatically accepted is amazing. I loved it.

Trans masc main character: The character’s gender, even with graphic sex, is handled so smoothly and beautifully that YES, YES, YES. I rarely see trans romance written this well. I’m so grateful there’s more and more of it that I can get into my greedy little paws. Mirror books (the books I can see myself in) are so hard to find, and so very precious. I also really enjoyed it that the story wasn’t even remotely ABOUT him being trans. He’s trans, it’s fact, the story is about something else (and wow, what an amazing ride it was)!

On page rep of a bi/pansexual guy: I read the love-interest character, Liam as being bi, which makes him a bi guy with on page rep, another thing that I loved a lot. I can’t pinpoint a line that made me think he is bi, and it’s possible he’s gay instead, but either way, he’s wonderful. (I have a huge crush on Liam, too.)

It’s dark: The younger the characters, the darker the book has to be to rope me in. This book would technically fall under New Adult (the main characters are in their early 20s) and it’s extremely dark and delicious. I adored it.

It’s deliciously sexy: Yes, I’m ace (asexual) but I’m also autochorisexual, so I LOVE to read/write about sex. There’s a lot of hot, plot-driven, slightly kinky sex in Darkling. More please!

Things I had a problem with (and why this is a four-point-five-star review instead of a five-star, the writing and story are definitely five-star quality, even in my VERY persnickety opinion.

No safe sex discussion: I’m a former sexuality educator, I’m kinky, pansexual, polyamorous, and I write both erotic romance and erotica.

I had to dock a fantastic story with excellent writing half a review star because there was NO discussion of safe sex anywhere. Nothing about contraception (Ryder uses what I believe are testosterone shots, but it’s not discussed with Liam as anything other than a painful shot, and trans men can still become pregnant on testosterone therapy.)

There is nothing about STD protection, they don’t use condoms, or dams, or finger cots, so yeah. It lost half a star on this point alone, because that stuff is IMPORTANT.

When we write sex, we need to keep things like this in mind. The first place a LOT of people first encounter sex, (safe sex, consensual sex, kinky sex, ANY sex) is in written form. We as authors have a responsibility to be aware of that. We ALL need to be writing safe sex into stories that need it. The lack of discussion completely threw me out of enjoying the story.

Which stories need it? All of them. Unless there is an on-page reason for it not to be needed (IE: Some SFF stories have species that are immune to STDs/are sterile) if that’s stated somewhere, fine, safe sex talk not needed.

Historical and fairy-tale retelling fantasy type stories have a LITTLE wiggle room on this, but it should still be there because our ancestors knew about STDs, avoided them as much as we do, and condoms and sheaths were invented well before the 18th century, we have some records saying they went back to Egyptian times. So I’d still like to see it in historical.

In a contemporary book of ANY kind, there needs to be a safe sex discussion ON PAGE, or there needs to be mention that a safe sex discussion HAS OCCURRED between the lovers. In speculative fiction like paranormal? You could probably even come up with a reason it wouldn’t be needed, but then the reason needs to be stated.

Now. In Darkling, the two main characters have been friends for two years, so maybe they knew one another’s status, but *I* don’t discuss that with my friends as a matter of course, it just doesn’t come up, and the way the relationship is presented (friends to lovers) makes me disbelieve that they would’ve known. GETTING TESTED IS SEXY, have your characters talk about it.

I still really loved the book and I do HIGHLY recommend it. 🙂

SCORES

Readability: 5/5 star-1586412_1920 I’ve been ill, so haven’t been as easily beguiled by reading as I usually would have been with a book of this caliber. I fell in love with Ryder by the end of chapter one, and usually, I would’ve ripped through this book in a sitting. Instead, I lapped it up slowly, like good chocolate. It’s excellent.

ARCS: 5/5 star-1586412_1920 Story arc, plot arc, relationship arc, they’re all believable, well written and wonderful, my only complaint is that I wish the story had been longer! I hope the author has more to come.

Craft: 4/5 star-1586412_1920 Fantastic, evocative writing. Excellent editing, on par with other NineStar Press titles. Pacing was perfect, the plot drove the sex (something that not all erotic romance can boast of) and the only issue I had was lack of on-page STD/contraception discussion (with no spec fic/SFF reason to preclude its necessity).

Do give this book a read, it’s well worth the purchase price. A coffee costs more.

Buy from the publisher if you’re buying an e-copy, the author and publisher get more money that way, meaning they can keep bringing you more amazing books.

Amazon

Goodreads

Cover Reveal! THIRSTY by Mia Hopkins

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Thank you, Kaelan, for having me as a guest on your blog today. I’m happy to reveal the cover of Thirsty, a contemporary romance and the first book in my Eastside Brewery series about formerly incarcerated gangsters who sever their gang ties and open the first craft brewery in East Los Angeles. Thirsty will be released in March of next year.
THIRSTY

An Eastside Brewery Book

Publisher: Loveswept

Release Date: March 13, 2018

PRE-ORDER LINK (all retailers)
books2read.com/thirsty

ABOUT MIA HOPKINS

Award-winning author Mia Hopkins writes lush romances starring fun, sexy characters who love to get down and dirty. She’s a sucker for working class heroes, brainy heroines and wisecracking best friends. She lives in Los Angeles with her roguish husband and waggish dog.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Newsletter

Aro/Ace

girl-1773907_1920-1

Narrated version here

I’m an Ace/Aro writer, so I should write words about this, yeah?

I want to. The emotions are there.

ouch-147868_1280.png

Yet it’s an incredibly un-fucking-comfy thing to talk about.

Some threads.

Mine

and others

 

Wait, wait, I know what you may be thinking, Kae, you write different stripes of romance, don’t’cha?

 

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Yup.

In short, it’s because I’m

Autochorissexual

 

 

 

Some definitions for Asexuality, which has far less scientific research than it needs.

Wiki Asexuality

Asexuality.org

The excerpts from this TIME book blurb (so much YES, for me, personally on this one)

I dislike the format, but the INFO is good here, PSYCH TODAY, OUR BODIES OURSELVES

Aromantic Wiki

Finding fiction words are so much easier for me than discussing anything resembling my real life. But. Here goes.

My first kiss… I was 12,

dolphin-1974975_1920.jpga reasonable enough age for the time and place, it excited me as a milestone… cause I’d been reading ’70s era romance (If you haven’t, don’t, it’s a feminist, racist nightmare). But it didn’t excite me, if you get my drift.

Between my monthly visits to the book mobile (lol, yeah, I’m old enough that the internet didn’t exist and to get books we went to the traveling library on wheels instead of the actual library because we lived too far away) the only things I had to read were either mom’s romance, dad’s dry as fuck civil war histories or the Encyclopedia Brittanica… wait, Oxford Dictionary, book-1850739_1920which I’d read by the time I’d turned 9.

 

While I really enjoyed reading (page by page, I’m totally serious) the Encyclopedia Brittanica, library-488678_1920and the Dictionary, and the thesaurus too, come to think of it (what? I was a special kind of kid) and I enjoyed reading the romance… it left some rather strange ideas in my head.

Things like, well… of course, you’ll like and want to have sex.

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I just can’t get over the expression on the deer’s face. It’s hilarious! But that said, yeah, it’s kind of how I feel about this overwhelming assumption that 99.9% of society has that well… OF COURSE… you’ll like and want to have sex, love and romantic relationships, I mean, who DOESN’T???? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

owl-158411_1280Um. Me?

Lot’s of people LIKE me?

Backing up a little, I tend to use the terms gray-ace, gray-aro or gray-aroace, though words are tricksy things. Most of the time, I’m pretty sure I’m demisexual, which is a sub-set of asexuality. I use the other terms more often than demisexual because it’s slightly more recognizable, and it’s not incorrect. Just not as specific.

So for me, personally, given the right emotional connection to someone, I can and do enjoy sex.

TMI? Just wait.

Did you know that Merriam-Webster as of the time I’m writing this post doesn’t have an accurate definition of aromantic or asexual as per human sexual identification? They have the biological term, they have ‘lacking sexual relationship’ (which really isn’t accurate for many of us), and nothing that I can find under aromantic. There’s been rather a lot of public outcry on this of late, and I’m hoping they change it… but, shrugs.

You can check their current responses here…

To put it bluntly. It’s erasure. Even though I’ve only understood that there IS an actual definition for my life experiences in regards to sex… for, maybe a bit over a year or so?

I’m getting sick of being erased.

impossible-701686_1280

 

 

 

 

 

 

And it’s everywhere.

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Popular TV

Music

Watercooler talk

Social media

Novels, especially romance novels (which, I really love to read and write, because while I don’t feel romantically inclined in real life, within the pages of fiction, it’s really nice.)

Our families, our world, it’s everywhere. An asexual or aromantic can’t go or do or see anything without being reminded that we’re different. That the rest of the world… if it doesn’t actively think we’re wrong, or that there’s something wrong WITH us…

they forget about us. YOU, forget about us.

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It’s in all the little patterns of speech that we hear, from the time we’re little… the micro-aggressions.

Just a few that come to my mind…

You’ll want a husband someday.

Well of COURSE you’ll want sex/romance, it’s, it’s… normal!

It’s just a phase you’re going through because you broke up with someone, plenty of fish in the sea.

I think I was maybe 11 when my mom and one of her cousins were visiting while we kids played, they were listening to a song with one of the lyrics as ‘love makes the world go round’… I honestly didn’t understand it, and when I expressed that I’d be quite happy without a relationship, my family laughed at me. Uproariously.

Except, I could be. Now don’t get your panties in a wad, that’d be uncomfortable. Yes, I’m married to a man I’ve loved for over 19 years. Yes, I’m quite happy that fate thwapped me upside the head with a board and I actually did fall in love with someone.

But I wasn’t looking for it, and it came as a HUGE shock when it lightning-880154_1280happened. I was single, wasn’t really interested in romance, like, not at all. I just didn’t get it.heart-1976653_1280(never really have been interested in romance in any way other than fiction), or in sex. Sex with people just didn’t seem to do it for me, and it never had until I met my husband. I tried so many things, thinking that maybe this time, it’d work and I’d feel ‘normal’. (I’ve really learned to loathe the word normal… just saying.)

Lol, that makes me sound like I had relationships with non-humans. Nope, not that either.

Asexuals/aromantics can still feel sexual impulses, we can still desire orgasm and masturbation… depending on where exactly you fall under the umbrella of asexuality. umbrella-1986924_1920.jpgSo… yeah, books and toys. I’ll stop there cause this is really going too far with the TMI.

But it’s important that if you don’t know about asexuality that you know we’re all people, and we all express in different ways.

dancing-156041_1280.pngThere are asexuals/aromantics who don’t want sex ever, and who don’t feel sexual desire AT ALL. And that’s okay.

There are asexuals/aromantics who are interested in romantic fiction and have toy collections to rival the stag shop. And that’s okay.

deer-1982416_1280  Oops, wrong stag. (Not really, I just think I’m hilarious.)

There are asexuals/aromantics who want to live in an intimate relationship which doesn’t include sex. And that’s okay, too.

There are aromantics who ONLY want sex, no relationship, nothing… I mean… look at the existence of the Tinder app for proof of that. And that’s okay, too.

There are all kinds of asexuality and aromanticism, and we’ve existed from the dawn of time.

evolution-296584_1280.pngWe aren’t new. What is newer are words to express who and what we are, how we feel. Ways that we can identify, to ourselves and to others.

Words that everyone needs to know and understand.

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‘Cause, even as an adult with more than a little understanding of life, it still hurts to be utterly erased by everything around you.

 

 

rodeo-720779_1280The assumption that just because I find a girl or a guy gorgeous that I’d want to ride-that-ride.

 

 

 

 

That I’ll be ‘complete’ only if I’m in a loving/sexual relationship.

eyeball-155174_1280Seriously??

That I’m wrong or abnormal because I’m not passionately searching for relationships and sex and all the other things that seem to make up a lot of society. (We’re polyamorous, so being married doesn’t preclude that for us.) wedding-443600_1280

You know, when I was a kid, reading those terrible romances (okay, they weren’t ALL terrible, but a lot of them really were.)love-164338_1280.jpg

It would’ve been amazing to see asexuality mentioned… anywhere.

It would’ve been eye opening to see the massive amount of diversity that exists just under the ‘asexual’ umbrella, so that I’d know I wasn’t made wrong.

It would’ve been thrilling, downright awesome to read about a demi-sexual girl or boy during my formative years when I was being pressured by my then boyfriend, who I didn’t love, to have sex. I detailed more about that here…

That’s why we as adults need to be always growing and learning about… well, everything really, but especially this, we’re raising the next generation of asexuals and aromantics now.child-817369_1920.jpg

I, for one, want them to see themselves everywhere, so they know they aren’t alone. That they aren’t broken. If we’re not doing that in our fiction, our music, our social media, the way we speak, our television…

Then we’re helping them feel broken…

In fact. We’re breaking them.

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