Voice, Lists, Existing, and Being Heard

I didn’t want to have a discussion today, and I couldn’t help myself from expressing a bit of exhausted frustration about the discussion… and then ended up having the discussion. Again. My own fault.

But, it occurred to me I’ve had this conversation enough that it might be worth putting my thoughts down in once place. I talk about ownvoice a lot, but from this particular angle, I’m not sure I’ve discussed it here, so here we go.


Today’s attempt at a not-discussion happened when a fellow author noted there was one one gay author on a blog shared which was listed as a kind of a beginner’s guide to reading Gay Fantasy. Now, reaction to this was actually pretty soft (I’ve seen much, much worse) and generally open, and the discussion more-or-less went okay thereafter.

But the response that brings the exhaustion every time did show up: “Does that mean as a straight woman I should only write straight women?” and then, as a chaser, “People write about serial killers without being real serial killers. Authors do research.”

And, exhale.

That’s not what’s being said. What’s being brought to the attention is that, once again, a marginalized voice is left outside, rather than being in the position of existing and being heard.

Okay, so let’s break things down a bit.


I don’t think it’s over-the-top to at least note when a list of titles about a marginalized group doesn’t hit even a half-way point with content created by those implicitly in the group.

This issue manifests in a lot of ways that silence voices, and can be as internal as it is external. This also isn’t restricted to the identities of the authors, either. I’ve lost count of the number of “LGBTQ Pride Readings Lists!” that have zero T or B or Q content, maybe one or two L titles, and then the rest is solid G all the way, baby. There’s a fairly easy fix there: Don’t call it what it isn’t.

Ditto how much an author chooses to boost the signal of other authors. If the books read and recommended by an author never (or only rarely) seem to include a gay man, but an author writes gay male characters and suggests lots of other non-gay-male authors far, far more often? Those are choices.

There’s a great phrase I see repeated in many activist circles: “nothing about us without us.” It doesn’t mean exclusion of those not in the group, it means inclusion of those within the group, to make sure the voice of the group isn’t lost among the (likely good) intent of those outside it.

I’ve seen this discussion play out so many times, including recently in autism groups, where so many top-ten or recommended reading lists so often don’t actually include any (or many) authors or experts in question from within the group itself.

So I Can Only Write Straight Women, Then?

Okay, this is such a loaded topic, so to start: I’m not saying only queer men should write queer men. I need that to be clear. There are brilliant non-queer-men writing queer-men stories out there. I love seeing them get the recognition of a tale well told.

That said, do I think it’s important to make sure that the voice of a marginalized people is heard? Of course I do. There’s always danger the authenticity of the voice will suffer if the majority of stories about a living, breathing people aren’t written by them or with them.

To bring this to a specifically M/M place, recently on an online chat the question was posed: What does M/M mean to you? In other words, when someone says M/M, what do you think of?

These were my answers:

  • I generally assume if it’s called m/m that it’s not going to be queer in a “life as I live it as a queer” way.
  • I assume it’s far less likely to be an #ownvoice writing gay/bi/queer men. The world will be more rosy and sunshine.
  • Higher likelihood of the two men in question being the only queer representation in the book. They’ll exist in a queer vacuum. No other queer friends. Or, if there are other queer friends, it will all be half of future pairs in a series.
  • Rarely (if ever) will there be more than gay/bi men. No queer women, no trans characters.
  • Their relationship will likely be quite heteronormative in the sense of a closed pair, monogamy, wanting kids, etc.
  • I’ll also expect to find a high focus placed on penetrative anal sex (and especially someone’s anal virginity). And value placed on it, too, as a kind of declaration of true love.

None of these are necessarily bad things per sé, just what I’ve come to expect as a reader when reading books labeled “m/m.” And they don’t ring authentic to my queer life. But if books that follow these trends are the only books appearing on a list labeled “gay,” and there’s not a single book on the list where, for example, the queer men have other gay and lesbian and bi and trans friends?

That list is missing how many gay people exist. Something I know to expect to find in gay men’s #ownvoice books. All my queer characters have queer friends. As a queer person? That’s my reality.

But you’d never know it—or learn it—from some lists out there.

I’m Not a Vampire Either, But I Write Those


See? Vampire.

Fair enough. So do I. But vampires aren’t a real, living and breathing marginalized group of people. Queer people are. So if you write a queer character (and, yes, even a queer vampire), and you are not using your voice, and you get something wrong, you need to learn. Be open to criticism. And own it.

Also? Non-real things like Vampires can definitely do harm, too. If your good army of elves are all light skinned, sparkly, and have blond hair and the evil army of orcs are all black skinned and ugly? Take a second to think about that. This carries across to shifters, to aliens, to dragons, to whatever you create. If you create an alien race in a far-flung future where same-sex couples are the norm for that culture, and you have your space-faring humans rattled by that, you’ve written a future where queerness hasn’t progressed pretty much at all. Or, conversely, if you write a future where “queer doesn’t matter” but the only couples you ever actually see on page are straight or gay men, then what, exactly, happened to the lesbians?

Writing stuff that doesn’t exist doesn’t get an author off the hook for how they write (or don’t write) living, breathing cultures. I’m not a serial killer either, but if all the serial killers I write are bisexual, and none of the other characters are bisexual? I still do harm.

An author still needs to do research.


Of course authors research. That’s part of the job. Writing a police procedural? You’re likely going to check in with some cops, right? And when an author screws something up, they’ll often make a little note about it on a blog, or joke about it at a Con, and then moving forward they’ll try not to make the same mistake again. Which is great.

And, for some reason, seems not to happen anywhere as smoothly when we’re talking about the representation of queer people.

Now, there’s tonnes of information out there from queer #ownvoices. I try to do that myself, right here in blogs like this. Research is more or less accessible, even without being particularly intrusive (but, hey, I do love respectful questions that don’t assume I’m at the beck and call of an author, and love answering them). An author has a decent chance of writing something with queer characters that doesn’t foul out if they do the homework, sure.

But. (Huge but).

If a living, breathing group cries foul? That’s when it’s time to stop and listen. Because we’re fallible as writers. We’ll screw up. We’ll do some harm without intending to. And that sucks, because harm wasn’t intended, but harm is still done, and the lack of intent comes second to the harm.

It’s my go-to example, but: Gay-For-You. There’s a strong, loud voice from bi and pan readers decrying Gay-For-You plots that erase them. After doing even a modicum of research, you will know that. Thereafter? You can’t unknow that. If you continue to write Gay-For-You stories with that kind of erasure? Now you’re choosing to willfully do some harm.

Ditto dead-naming trans characters (especially in the damn blurb), burying your gays, referring to HIV status as clean/dirty, etc, etc, etc. We are real people, and whether or not an author likes it, if they choose to write in our voice, they are representing us.

Just on Gay-For-You I have seen people fly completely off the handle saying it doesn’t matter, that the m/m Gay-For-You books aren’t for bi people, and that bi and pan people shouldn’t be upset, they’re over-reacting, that they just shouldn’t read them, and on and on.

When I was a kid, my “first time seeing me” reading moment was a gay character in a story. He died. And it was presented very much as an “of course he died, he was gay.” The class all nodded their heads. I sat there trying not to react, learning that I was probably going to die because I was gay.

People outside a marginalized group don’t get to decide what harms those within it.

So, Now What?

That’s totally up to each individual. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do so much as I’m trying to explain why my eyebrow creeps up when lists of books about a group of people don’t include any authors from that group. It translates across the board, of course: I don’t think anyone would think it unfair to criticize a list of “the best women detectives” books that had not a single woman author on the list, or “the best black fiction” that didn’t include more than one black author. It seems like basic stuff to me, like inviting five white men to sit on a panel to discuss the wage gap.

It would never fly. It shouldn’t. So when it happens, in list form or otherwise, this is why there’s pushback. Why the discussion happens.

But maybe I should try to turn this into some sort of advice?


If an author is writing a character that isn’t their voice as the primary voice from a living breathing culture? They’re taking a risk. As long as they know that? By all means, go where the muse leads, but prepare for feedback and be prepared to be graceful in the eye of unexpected feedback especially. And, I honestly think the author should stop and really ask themselves why they want to write that character.

For me? My experience never seeing myself in fiction is why I choose to write what I write, and why I try to focus on reading and boosting #ownvoices. I absolutely work to write diversity into my worlds, yes, but I also don’t generally write a main voice that’s not at least somewhat mine.

Again: that’s my choice. No one else has to do the same. But I’d rather boost an ace #ownvoice than write an ace main character. Ace supporting characters? I’m absolutely writing them. But I’d never try to be the next ace voice. Because I’m not ace. The same way I try to boost and suggest awesome lesbian and bi and trans authors out there writing amazing books, but also include awesome lesbian and bi and trans characters in my stories. I can write a world that supports all my queer allies without taking the mic from their hands.



I am not having a good writing month. You can usually tell that’s happening when you see my “Writing Wednesday” posts vanish, because I can’t bring myself to hold myself publicly accountable when I’ve had negative word-counts and I’m behind schedule and it’s just depressing, not motivating. If something is anti-motivating? I don’t do it. I’m not down with “you must write every day or you’re not a writer” as advice specifically because I know not every writer (yours truly included) can work that way, so all that kind of advice does is crush potential writers.

So. Why am I bringing this up right now? Well, I’ve got two weeks left on my deadlines and I believe I’m going to make it, but I’m struggling every single day. It’s uphill. It’s not coming easily. I’m in a terrible headspace—I don’t even know why I’m in a terrible headspace—and as such there couldn’t have been better timing for what just happened this morning.

I got validation.

Now, I don’t think authors (or artists in general) talk enough about how much validation matters, and maybe it’s just me with my own fragile ego, but if I can be blunt? Creating without validation sucks. It’s like emptying a bucket and only having a dripping pipe to refill it with.

Empty praise isn’t validation, by the way. Someone saying “I liked it,” does zilch. Someone gushing about how they connected with something is fantastic, and that does help refill the bucket. Best, though, is someone talking about how they connected with a piece, asking questions, talking about it, but also offering some constructive feedback about how the piece could be even stronger? That’s engagement and that’s so very validating. It refills my bucket like you wouldn’t believe.

Do I sound needy? I don’t mean to. It’s more I’m trying to say when you put something creative out into the world, no matter how much it’s for the “art” or how many times you say, “I don’t care if no one ever touches this, I needed to create it,” the reality is—for me, at least—it’s a little bit soul-crushing when creativity is met with crickets.

And that’s part of why I struggle so much with writing novels. I’m not a fast writer (by many standards) and as such, I can put together a novel a year (he says, eyeing the looming deadline with frayed nerves). That’s a whole year working on something in a bubble. It’s draining to me. Short fiction isn’t like that at all—I can have a piece ready for feedback within a week (or even a weekend, sometimes, when lightning strikes), and then I have an opportunity to refill that damn bucket.

Novels nearly drain it dry.

This is why I try to keep on top of writing short fiction at the same time, as it’s an opportunity to—hopefully—garner reminders that I can do this thing I’m doing. And today I got a big one.

The last time I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, I was out in the first round, but the feedback I received was pretty good, and I was happy with what I wrote. When I entered this year, I was even happier with what I wrote, but very nervous: it was very, very queer. Like, a retelling of Pinocchio queer, including hooking him up with Candlewick.  I was pretty sure I’d be out in the first round again, but the feedback from the judges was so solid last year that I looked forward to it anyway.

The way the contest works this year was this: each group was given a genre (my group was ‘fairy tale’), an object (‘a ticket stub’) and a location (‘an abandoned railroad car’), and they’ve got a strictly limited word count to tell a story with. The top fifteen entries in each category are given points, first place getting 15 points, second place getting 14 points, and so on, all the way down. Everyone moves on to the second round—this was another reason I signed up again, as it meant double the feedback—and the points from both rounds are added together to see who moves on thereafter.

This morning I got the update that the stories had been judged, and…

Screenshot 2017-09-14 06.33.34

And there’s me, in first place in group 68, out of thirty-one entrants.

Validation, folks? It’s a great, great thing. Even if they did call me Jonathan instead of ‘Nathan.

New Release: Renewal

QSF Renewal-Print

QSF has a new book out, the latest in their series of flash fiction anthologies:

Re.new.al (noun)

1) Resuming an activity after an interruption, or
2) Extending a contract, subscription or license, or
3) Replacing or repairing something that is worn out, run-down, or broken, or
4) Rebirth after death.

Four definitions to spark inspiration, a limitless number of stories to be conceived. Only 110 made the cut.

Thrilling to hopeful, Renewal features 300-word speculative fiction ficlets about sexual and gender minorities to entice readers.

Welcome to Renewal.

Mischief Corner Books (info only) | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Goodreads

Renewal Banner


Because these stories are only 300 words each, we’re not supplying long excerpts, but here are the first lines of several of the stories. Enjoy!

“Griselda pulled the weeds from between the rows of Valerianella locusta plants in the garden, careful not to disturb the buds that would grow into the babies that were her only real income-producing crop.” —The Witches’ Garden, by Rie Sheridan Rose

“I didn’t know how truly the world was in trouble until I went journeying to look for Anisette’s bluebonnets.” —Bluebonnets, by Emily Horner

“The ship’s drive malfunctioned at the worst possible time.” —The Return, by Andrea Speed

“Before we continue, there’s a rather macabre fact about me I should share.” —Rejuvenation, by Christine Wright

“When I died they buried me at the bottom of the garden and returned to the fields.” —Below the Hill, by Matthew Bright

“The world is ending and I can’t look away from your eyes.” —Sunrise, by Brigitte Winter

““Losing one’s superpowers to your arch nemesis sucks donkey nuts, I tell ya. And trust me when I say I suck a lot of them.” —Rainbow Powers, by Dustin Karpovich

“The day I was born again was damp, rainy—a good day for rebirth, all things considered.” —The Birthing Pod, by Michelle Browne

“Intwir’s twelve eyes roved over the container, taking in the cracked outer lock and the elasticated fabric stretched tightly over its exterior.” —In a Bind, by S R Jones

“‘You’ve reached Androgyne HelpLine. Press one to start service. Press two to interrupt or cancel service. Press three—’” —Auto-Renew, by Ginger Streusel

“The doctor tells me that my wife is dying, but I already know.” —I Will Be Your Shelter, by Carey Ford Compton

“‘San Francisco was the first to go dark, followed by Los Angeles.’” —When Light Left, by Lex Chase

“My fingers lingered on the synthetic skin, trailing soft patterns across my work.” —Miss You, by Stephanie Shaffer

Included Authors

‘Nathan Burgoine
A.M. Leibowitz
A.M. Soto
Abby Bartle
Aidee Ladnier
Alexis Woods
Andi Deacon
Andrea Felber Seligman
Andrea Speed
Andrea Stanet
Anne McPherson
Bey Deckard
Brigitte Winter
Carey Ford Compton
Carol Holland March
Carrie Pack
Catherine Lundoff
CB Lee
Christine Wright
Colton Aalto
Daniel Mitton
Dustin Blottenberger
Dustin Karpovich
E R Zhang
E.J. Russell
E.W. Murks
Ell Schulman
Ellery Jude
Eloreen Moon
Elsa M León
Emily Horner
Eric Alan Westfall
F.T. Lukens
Fenrir Cerebellion
Foster Bridget Cassidy
Ginger Streusel
Hannah Henry
Irene Preston
J. Alan Veerkamp
J. P. Egry
J. Summerset
J.S. Fields
Jaap Boekestein
Jackie Keswick
Jana Denardo
Jeff Baker
Jenn Burke
Joe Baumann
John Moralee
Jon Keys
Jude Dunn
K.C. Faelan
Kelly Haworth
Kiterie Aine
Kristen Lee
L M Somerton
L. Brian Carroll
L.M. Brown
L.V. Lloyd
Laurie Treacy
Leigh M. Lorien
Lex Chase
Lia Harding
Lin Kelly
Lloyd A. Meeker
Lyda Morehouse
M.D. Grimm
Martha J. Allard
Mary E. Lowd
Matt Doyle
Matthew Bright
Mia Koutras
Michelle Browne
Milo Owen
Mindy Leana Shuman
Naomi Tajedler
Natsuya Uesugi
Nephy Hart
Nicole Dennis
Ofelia Gränd
Patricia Scott
Paul Stevens
PW Covington
R R Angell
R.L. Merrill
Rebecca Cohen
Redfern Jon Barrett
Reni Kieffer
Richard Amos
RL Mosswood
Robyn Walker
Rory Ni Coileain
Rose Blackthorn
Ross Common
S R Jones
Sacchi Green
Sarah Einstein
Shilo Quetchenbach
Siri Paulson
Soren Summers
Stephanie Shaffer
Steve Fuson
Tam Ames
Terry Poole
Tray Ellis
Vivien Dean
Wendy Rathbone
Xenia Melzer
Zen DiPietro
Zev de Valera

Matches 7 – Memory


This week’s matches all come through the lens of memory, which I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately thanks to a few projects coming near to their completion and my awareness of just how little I truly can rely on my notes to myself. I write things like, “Include [X] here,” with no helpful reminders of what I meant by [X]. So. Yeah. Memory.

If this is your first visit to my prompts (or ‘matches’) it’s in honour of a book called The Writer’s Book of Matches. It has 1,001 little prompts that are designed to give you something to work with. I often flip through it when I’m in the mood to just write without a specific focus. The book has three kinds of prompts: A single line of dialog; a scenario or situation; and assignment prompts where the book lists a series of three characters all reacting to a particular moment/event, and since I first got it, I’ve been noting my own prompts to myself the same way.

If you ever find success or just fiddle around with any of these ‘matches,’ please do let me know!

  • After an accident, a man stops dreaming. Instead of dreaming, he somehow starts to dream the life of the father he never knew, as his father was living it at the same age, one day each night. His father died not much older than he is now, however, and he starts to wonder what will happen when he dreams the death.
  • “You might not remember me, but believe me: I remember you. Now, if you want to live, you’re going to listen very, very carefully to what I’m about to ask you.”
  • After making a new—and happy—life for himself post-amnesia, a man who was found unconscious after a disaster is contacted by someone who claims to be his estranged child.
  • An amateur art collector with tetrachromancy notices a pattern in a famous artist’s paintings that seem to be a message telling the untold story of what happened to the artist and the woman the artist loved.
  • In an attempt to monitor neurological activity in comatose patients, a doctor and an engineer accidentally invent a way to record—and play back—memories. The engineer’s wife is a police officer, who immediately sees the value in her spouse’s invention for solving crime. Write the scene from the point of view of the three characters: The police officer, who has a case she’s working on where a comatose patient using the device might be able to lead her to the attempted murderer; the engineer, who wants to balance the police officer’s desire for justice and their marriage with the knowledge of how this technology could end up in the wrong hands so very easily; the doctor, who is absolutely against what he sees as a truly invasive mistake.

See you next week, and by all means, drop any prompts of your own in the comments!

They Both Die at the End, by Adam Silvera

coverBefore I say anything else about the book—I was lucky enough to get an ARC, along with what seems like a few hundred others—I want to say, clearly and primarily: I loved this. It was clever, and had feeling, and had me, to my core, resonating with the queerness of it all.

I also want to say that I don’t normally add my voice when there’s a massive release. I try really hard to shout about the titles that don’t have massive campaigns attached to them from big-five publishers with hundreds of ARCs and promos, as they don’t really need my help.

But I loved this so much.

Okay, now to the meat of it. This is spec fic (albeit contemporary) YA, so I want to talk about that a bit. It’s no surprise Silvera includes queerness in a spec fic world, because duh, but every time we’re included in a world that isn’t ours, it’s a reminder—and a celebration—that we do exist in this real one. Spec fic has long been a playground for queer writers, but so often when the writer isn’t queer, we just sort of vanish. Like, if the future has no queers, or this world has no queers, it’s rare anyone really notices, but as a queer reader there’s an obviousness to it that rubs painfully.

Now, in this world, the spec fic element is one thing: the technology (unexplained) exists so that is known what day you will die, with one day’s notice. Not how. Not exactly when. Just, the phone will ring, and the clock is ticking. Some time before midnight? You end. This is almost like a reversal of This is How You Die, and I couldn’t help but keep thinking about those stories at the same time. The fallout of this technology is all along a contemporary, real-world version of what Silvera imagines would come from this technology, and as far as I could tell, it was tone-perfect. People follow the social media of those running out their last-day clock. There are shows. Deals. Public scrutiny. Judgement. Matching services. It’s brilliant. In weaving in occasional POVs from other characters from the outside-in was a great way to display this interconnectivity of the fallout of the knowledge of death-days.

The characters? Puerto Rican Mateo, and Cuban-American Rufus, were done with great strokes. I believed them, liked them (and got annoyed at them), enjoyed their sometimes frantic, and sometimes lackadaisical pace through their last day. I’ve noted a few reviews said the pacing seemed to shift for them, and some of the down spots seemed a bit slow, and while I agree the pacing did slow, it made sense to me and never removed me from the narrative. From an emotional point of view, human beings can’t run on all-out all-the-time. Even in the midst of a crisis, we eventually adjust. Our brains can’t do 100% panic and sustain it. So I really quite found the “breaks” to feel organic, and I liked how—even on the last day of their life—they might just want to stop for a bit, eat some good food, and breathe. Also, it drew broader strokes around the characters families and cultures and added weight to the reality that life was ending for these two, but not for all the lives they were touching.

But, as I said before, it was more than that. I rooted for them in a queer way that I might have trouble explaining, but goes back to what I said about it resonating on a queer level.

So let me try.

The whole framing of the “seize the day” narrative around these queer kids was so spot-on. They had a day. One day. And in that day, they had some choices to make about how and what they would allow themselves to be, and most of those choices were about whether or not they would be themselves. It’s frankly a perfect analogy of a queer life reduced to a twenty-four hour period. This is every day as a queer person: a loop of choices about where, when, and how you can position yourself to be yourself. The notion of so many people watching them live this last day just added all the more authenticity to the allegory for me. When I’m existing in a queer space, like my own home, or Pride, or a queer club, being me is effortless. I can relax. I can be. But the moment others are watching—and boy, how people watched Mateo and Rufus—the more decisions have to be made. Is this a safe spot to touch my husband, or kiss him, or to even say the word “husband” or “queer” or in any other way out myself? Or is this a moment where the smarter and safer thing—even though it’s the diminishing thing—is to not touch, not kiss, not say, not be out, not be me.

These kids? They live all of that in one day. They choose, moment by moment, whether or not to be themselves, and that’s the brilliance of They Both Die at the End to me: Even with just one day? They know how important that is, and show the whole damn world.

Signing Tomorrow at Chapters Rideau

Hey folks! For those of you celebrating Pride this week here in Ottawa, I’ll be at Chapters Rideau tomorrow, from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, with copies of all my books, including Light, which not so coincidentally takes place during Pride Week here in Ottawa.

Tweet - Light

There’s also a really big and friendly dog, and a somewhat dismissive cat with mismatched eyes.

If you’re nearby, I’d love see you. Drop in and say hello. I’d love to see you.