Category Archives: lgbt issues

Queer Lit, New Zines, and More LGBT Market Musing

So I received my first official review for the new Tributaries e-book, and it was four stars! But interestingly, it was one of those positive reviews that seem to lack…positivity? The reviewer wasn’t mean or discouraging, but her review had a tone of bemusement to it. Like she didn’t inherently “get” the book, and I don’t mean “get” as in a surface understanding, but “get” as in…she just didn’t get it! Apparently the reviewer (who was very kind to read my work when it was clearly something she wouldn’t have read had I not asked her to) was confused by the “lesbian romance” aspect of my story. She said the main characters, Nyx and Elmiryn, made her think of Frodo and Samwise from the Lord of the Rings, two close but otherwise “platonic” friends. I sent her an email thanking her for her honesty, but also included a tongue in cheek YouTube link of the (in)famous TBS LotR spot that poked fun at Frodo and Sam’s relationship.

I can’t really say that it’s because she was “straight” that she didn’t get my work. I’ve received emails from straight readers, some of them women, who remarked on how much they enjoy Eikasia (the name of my fantasy series) and how they’re surprised at how much they relate to Elmiryn and Nyx as people. Not lesbians. PEOPLE!

Fancy that!

So then I wondered, “Was the reviewer somehow expecting more…gayness? Was my story not alternative enough? Did she expect the characters to hem and haw about their homosexuality? For them to go through a ‘coming out’ process? Or did she think lesbian women would have been more romantically aggressive?” Because (with all due respect to the reviewer) I was equally confused by her perception that the story lacked a real sense of lesbian romance. Numerous times, Elmiryn propositions Nyx. Numerous times, Nyx displays a fascination and attraction toward Elmiryn’s body. They are close and physically intimate in a way that two women who only met each other wouldn’t typically allow so soon (if at all).

But the reviewer didn’t see how the characters could be gay! She even felt like the kiss at the end of the book was a surprise. I could only laugh, I was so bewildered.

Which then got me thinking (and worrying) that perhaps I’m at a further disadvantage than I had previously believed. Tributaries is a romance story, and the growing relationship does play an important role in the plot, but the romance is secondary to the fantasy adventure. I actually feel apprehensive telling potential lesbian readers about my book, because I don’t want to lie and say there’s RAGIN’ SEX in it (that doesn’t come for at least two more books, ha!) but I wonder if I don’t say that will they be interested at all?

Recently on this blog, I discussed a very small market for LGBT books and a severe lack of support for lesbian fiction. But maybe the problem is more than that for me? Maybe, it is isn’t just a lack of lesbian fiction, but a lack of queer lit. I don’t want to get too attached to terms, as people seem to have different ideas of what to call these small niche markets, but in this case, I’m talking about stories that just so happen to have central LGBTQIA characters in ordinary stories. Stories where the main focus isn’t how gay or alternative the protagonist is, how they struggle with their identity, or how they struggle with society’s perception of their identity.

To reiterate: We’re talking stories where the characters just so happen to be LGBTQIA. Queer Lit. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Say it with me: QUEER LIT!

And I realize now that I’ve been writing in an even smaller niche than I could have imagined. Nearly ALL of my writing to this day (Eikasia, Kliff’s Edge, and Akumu Love Panic!) fits into this curious little sub-genre. And why is it a sub-genre? Why, when the queer characters in these stories are having the same kind of adventures as such famous characters as Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Buffy Summers? How can we make queer lit not a sub-genre of a sub-genre? By publishing more queer lit stories! The problem? Many publishers aren’t interested, and that includes many LGBT publishers.

Then I heard on Twitter of this really cool, amazing project. Vitality!

Vitality Magazine is meant to be a Queer Lit zine that focuses on stories with gay characters. Not erotic vignettes. Not coming-out-stories. Not dramas focusing on the struggle of the gay identity. Just…stories. Such a publication is VITAL in proving to publishers (and even readers) that Queer Lit is worthwhile. That it can be enjoyed by a universal audience if people just gave it a chance.

The goals of Vitality Magazine, as listed on their website–

The heart of Vitality can be broken up into five parts:

  • Positive portrayal of queerness
  • Casual integration of queerness into the lives of our characters
  • Interesting works of art and writing
  • Quality works of art and writing
  • Diversity is wonderful

So pardon the long introduction, but I wanted to share why I think this thing is (personally) so important. Why I pledged $100 to help get this magazine out to the world. And I hope that you support it too, for all that I’ve said. They are currently accepting submissions for their first issue early 2015, and entries must be sent by December 15th. They are accepting fiction, art, poetry, and comics!

If you still aren’t sold, you can give Vitality’s minizine a shot. It’s essentially a sample of what they intend to do!

Visit Vitality Magazine’s Kickstarter campaign!

Visit their official website!

And while you’re at it…

Please check out my new lesbian fantasy romance novel, Tributaries, on Smashwords!

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Moar Spirit!

Photo on 10-16-14 at 8.25 PM #2

Photo on 10-16-14 at 8.24 PM

I braved the mess that is my garage to retrieve my Bi-Pride flag. I mean, come on. It’s Spirit Day!

#SpiritDay2014

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I Need Diverse Games – Because seriously, I just do.

If you’re not on Twitter, then you are missing out on a growing movement called #INeedDiverseGames. You can search for the hashtag on Twitter, or see my Storify tweet highlights here.

Writing about this topic feels tiring for me. It’s tiring because I feel so weary of the insensitivity that those who oppose the call for diversity in games exhibit. I can’t deny that our side has some holier-than-thou members who get a tad unfair in their quest for equal representation. But the arguments against are just willfully ignorant much of the time. When close-minded jerks like Youtuber TheInternetAristocrat snidely tell me that I should quit whining and make my own games…well, first of all, many of us (including myself) already TRY to make our own content across all kinds of media, including games. We just get rejected by executives and publishers because they’re too afraid to support us. And when we go indie? We struggle to be seen at all, and even get accused by fundamentalist gamers as not “producing real games” like Gone Home was so unfairly told.

We aren’t trying to hijack the gaming industry. Do you want your cishet white guy protagonist, and your tired misogynist plot-lines? Sure! Go ahead! But many of us want games we can relate to as well, and we shouldn’t be mocked or threatened by individuals who refuse to see things from our perspective. And by “our”, I mean women, people of color, LGBT, people of various faiths, and so so much more. I don’t hate white people. I don’t hate video games. I love video games. That’s why I want to see them excel. Video games have shown that they can and are an art form, and studies have shown a growing diversity among its consumers. Game developers should be encouraging that growth, not ignoring it.

As a hispanic bisexual woman, I would like to see more games produced that show positive examples of women in central roles, LGBT characters who aren’t vilified or caricatured, and PoCs that achieve more than speaking like stereotypes and engaging in acts of crime.

As I said on Twitter, I want the video game industry to be something that broadens my son’s view of the world, not narrows it.

If you feel the same way, please check out this hashtag stream on Twitter. Talk about it on your blogs. Hell, reblog this post. Because we need a change. And soon.

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Let’s Get Together! – The Unfortunate Disconnection in the LGBT Fiction World

Since opening up my fantasy novel, Tributaries, to pre-orders, I’ve noticed something that both surprises me and disheartens me at the same time. When I made the decision to write for the LGBT community and its allies, I realized that I would have to face the challenge of connecting with a very niche and (at times) remote audience. In the super-abundant world we live in now, where getting your voice heard is hard enough in a cishet market, I’ve learned that LGBT fiction just plain has it rough. Marketers still have no idea what to do with these kinds of stories. Do you lump them all together under romance? But then what about those stories that are more fantasy/adventure/thriller/sci-fi/etc? Do you list those under the specific genres without mentioning the LGBT aspects? Ah, but the reviewers! What if they complain on their blogs and customer reviews that they felt tricked when the protagonist fell in love with someone of the same sex? Well what about just attaching ‘romance’ to the primary genre, and hoping for the best?

It’s all just one hot mess.

It isn’t unusual for brick-and-mortar stores to lack any self-identifying LGBT work, either. A sad fact, as I’ve read a number of LGBT books that are every bit as good as some of the nonsense that gets on the best seller lists.

But this isn’t the disheartening surprise I alluded to earlier. I’ve known the reality of scarce LGBT outlets for years. No, what surprised me was specifically the lack of support and structure for lesbian fiction. Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried hunting down LGBT blogs who I hope could connect me with my target audience, only to find myself disappointed when the site clarifies that they are actually only interested in m/m fiction. Uh, say what? Why the heck would you use the full acronym if you’re only interested in a single aspect of it?? You see, the fact is that m/m fiction has a much bigger community of support than f/f. (Don’t even get me started on bi and trans…)

It’s not that I haven’t found lesbian sites dedicated to writing or reviewing lesbian fiction. I have. But half of the sites I found were defunct. Then the remaining active sites were sadly narrow in scope (i.e. erotica only, print books only, fan fiction only, paranormal romance only, books with positive reviews of 2 or more only, etc…) And on social networks? I primarily use Twitter for my social marketing (it’s about all I have energy for–though I dabble in Tumblr) and I can’t seem to find any of the les fic authors anywhere. A quick google search also proved that there doesn’t seem to be an LGBT group of writers out there interested in supporting and signal boosting each other. You’d think the LGBT community of readers would have come up with a hashtag or a retweet group to help promote what is already a neglected corner of the market. Something like #LGBTrds or #LGBTbks. Something! Anything! Erotica, paranormal romance, dark fantasy, and horror fiction are doing it, why the hell can’t we? I even tried searching blog hops (which are basically author events on blogs featuring interviews, free books, cover reveals, etc.) and the last LGBT blog hops were last summer! That was over a year ago now! The one LGBT fiction blog hop that I could find that was held this year was actually ended prematurely and shut down for good. Yeah. It apparently went down for lack of participation. Not encouraging.

Now I know what you might be thinking: But Illise, if you hate it so much, why don’t you do something to change it? MarkTheShaw did it with #IndieBooksBeSeen on Twitter and Tumblr, didn’t he?

Simply put, no one gives a fuck about me. I don’t have the status or the connections to set something like this in motion. I suppose I could try to contact someone who DOES have these things to help me, but let’s just all refer back to my first point regarding the lack of fucks people give me, then infer what the result would be.

Okay. I had my little tantrum. I can’t have been the first LGBT writer to have thought along these lines, and I bet those who came before just learned to deal with it. You find a way to make it work, or you don’t. I’ve been promoting my work on a number of Indie Author hashtag communities, and it’s not like I’m not getting some help. The people on #IAN1, #IARTG, #IndieBooksBeSeen, #IndieAuthor, and #ASMSG are wonderful folks! But the point isn’t just to blast your work out to a random audience. It’s to target your efforts so that the people most likely to want to read your work hear about it at all. That’s really the major issue. LGBT fiction feels like a grain of sand lost in an indifferent ocean when marketing to a general audience. You can’t use #LGBT on Twitter either, because dear god, that stream moves waaaay too fast and is inundated with LGBT political and entertainment news.

As LGBT authors, our little slice of the literary world is tough and challenging in a market that already has plenty of obstacles to overcome. But it could be so much better if we could pool our readers together and support one another, especially since most LGBT authors are signed with small press or are self-publishers. It isn’t as if anyone is looking out for us little guys.

If, after reading this post, you feel that I am in error, then please enlighten me! I want to be proven wrong, even a tiny bit. But if you’re in agreement, why not share your thoughts on why the LGBT author community is so disconnected. Do you agree that lesbian fiction is not as well off as gay fiction? Just to be clear, a lack of readers is not the issue. That’s more a marketing challenge, anyway. But why do LGBT authors seem so disinterested in connecting with each other?

Oh, and if you ARE a LGBT author, please please please connect with me. I love RTing LGBT fiction on Twitter! I’m @cajeck. Send me a DM and I’ll add you to the LGBT author list I’m trying to form. 🙂

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The Result

(This is a follow-up to my “Elmiryn’s Wisdom” post a few days ago)

So Kliff’s Edge was accepted to the listing, though the site owner’s reasons still held that gender and sex were inseparable, and their acceptance of the story was hinged on the fact that they believed readers would view May’s gender identity as a woman, despite the character’s personal views.

A listing is a listing, though I don’t agree with the reasons behind it. I can only hope that the readers have a better understanding of May’s identity.

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Elmiryn’s Wisdom…Wait, What?

For those of you who read my free online serial, Eikasia, you’re very familiar with one of the main characters: Elmiryn!

She’s arrogant, brash, and has (what one reader called) a controversial sense of humor.

But if there is one thing that Elmiryn is not, that’s stupid. She may not be the most book smart, that’s for her co-star, Nyx, to brag. No, what Elle has got is an ability to see outside of the box. Now what she does with that knowledge isn’t always tactful, but there’s a reason she was a dragoon captain. Dragoons took on the dangerous missions, the suicidal missions. But she survived every time without a scratch. Why? Because she observes things most can’t even bring themselves to, and it’s that kind of thinking that led her to her surprisingly pragmatic quote in Eikasia’s very first chapter (which she then repeated numerous times throughout the Eikasia epic):

“You can’t shame me for working off my  prejudices–everyone on this world needs a way to react to something new and mysterious if they wanna keep from getting overwhelmed.”

Elmiryn is aware of her own prejudices, and she’s prepared to shed these views if she’s presented a convincing alternative. She will not let others shame her for failing to see what she could not have seen before.

Which sort of brings me, finally, to what I really wanted to talk about today.

As you guys know, I’ve been trying to promote Kliff’s Edge (which you should check out btw!) with tweets, posts, and other tactics. Well, as I’ve stated numerous times on my Twitter account, this is for a school project, and the more response I get, the better results I’ll be able to use for my class final a little over a week from now. Though it would take time to get the approvals (or rejections) I decided to submit Kliff’s Edge to different directories and listings that I thought might accept the series. One of these was an LGBT website (I won’t say which) that has listed my other works in the past.

Now…the funny thing was, I anticipated a certain level of doubt about Kliff’s Edge, because May, the main character, is genderqueer (AKA trigender). That means that in all areas of her life, whether at work, at school, on the toilet, or having sex with another person, she never considers herself a man OR a woman. This is gender identity, and science has shown that sexual orientation and gender are two different things in the human brain. This is a fact that can be seen with transexuals as well. For instance, a person born a man but who wishes to be a woman may still prefer women through the transitioning process (effectively making their orientation, lesbian). Many cisgenders do not know this can happen. I think the LGBT community has progressed in terms of understanding transexuals, but many trans still report discrimination within the community about such things. So given all of this knowledge, I was totally aware that there could be some resistance to the idea of Kliff’s Edge fitting in this LGBT directory.

The response I got? Still surprised me. A lot. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten used to speaking to people who understand that gender identity and orientation are two different things, but to hear this from a fellow LGBT person was just…wow! It was just a harsh reminder that sometimes we’re not all on the same page.

…And that’s okay! So long as we change.

The response from the listing owner was basically expressing concerns over my attempt to place May in the “lesbian” category because she doesn’t see herself as a woman. They asked what she considered herself when with a sexual partner. They said that lesbian readers had expectations when perusing their lesbian listings and so if May was thinking (read behaving) as a man too much, they would be alienated.

In as non-threatening and patient a tone I could manage, I proceeded to type out my response, explaining that gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing. That May is not trans. She was born with female genitalia and she likes it. She does not “sometimes” thinks she’s a man or a woman. She’s just May. Trigender. Genderqueer.

I then went on to provide examples of how looking or behaving masculine was not a foreign thing in the lesbian community, as not all butches are trans. That androgynous women, whether more masculine or more feminine, had a place too.

See, what the site owner was doing was seeing gender roles and biological sex as inseparable things. As they saw it, May saying she’s not a woman was denying her sex, and therefor (psychologically) she could not be a lesbian.

I’ve already sent my response to the site owner, and I hope that they accept Kliff’s Edge to their listing, but if not? I’ll be…disappointed, but not angry. The entire time I wrote my response email, I was thinking of Elmiryn, and her view on prejudices. Some people simply do not encounter things like genderqueer, and so they don’t know all the facts about them, or that they are a diverse subgroup all their own. Hell can you blame them? I remember feeling isolated in my hometown in California, and I lived 2 hours from San Francisco! People get exposed to different things in different ways at different times of their lives. I even remember a time I got irritated with my husband for thinking all transexuals were gay. It was simple naivety on his part. It’s only now that I realize that was unfair to get upset with him. He’d never heard of the things I’d heard of. And that’s why dialogue is important…with everybody. (Of course, when a person still chooses to disregard facts when presented a series of conclusive arguments, it’s safe to call them an asshole. You just can’t give up on the first try!)

I’d end this by saying, if only we had more Elmiryn’s in the world, but who wants to deal with so many bad drunks?

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