Tag Archives: sf romance

On writing (cisgender male) gay romance and Strong Female Characters

image by Jason Chan

image by Jason Chan

I just got the novel edits for Labyrinthian (my tropey gay retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur IN SPAAAAACE), which is a tad overwhelming – there is much work to be done, though most of it is cosmetic – but also exciting, because I love this book and I’m looking forward to getting it in tip-top shape for its release this coming January. My editor is a lovely person and graciously takes the time to make sure I know what she really likes – which always feels good – and she mentioned that she appreciated how many of the women in Labyrinthian are in positions of power and protection. That was very conscious on my part, because I try very hard to make my stuff rich in terms of diversity and positive representation, but it reminded me of a dilemma I ran into more than once while I was writing the book itself. It’s an interesting one, and it’s one I’ve had to deal with before. I suppose a lot of people who write this kind of gay romance have done so.

My two protagonists/kissy-face participants, Taur and Theseus, are cisgender men. The story is – at least in significant part – the story of their relationship, so they’re both very much the center of the book, and they are the only POV characters. Which means that Labyrinthian, simply by virtue of what it’s about, is going to be very male-focused. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing all of the time, but looking at the structure of my book and the characters in it, I realized that – given how much I care about making my SF diverse and also feminist – I needed to make sure they weren’t the only ones getting significant screen-time, and that they weren’t the only characters with depth.

So I made a lot of my other characters women. Most of my other major secondary characters are women. Phae, Theseus’s ex, is a queer woman of color. And yes, these women are physically strong, self-reliant, smart, competent, sexually independent. Yet all of those things have been used by writers to argue for their work being feminist, leading to the trope of the Strong Female Character.

And the problem with the Strong Female Character is that she’s a cardboard cut-out. She’s there to do a thing, not be a person with all the strengths and weaknessness and complexities that a person has. She might be able to beat you up, but odds are she won’t hold your interest. And in her way, she’s just as sexist a construct as the fainting flower who exists purely to be rescued by the dudely hero. She’s still there to be a Female Character, not a character who’s female.

What makes a strong character? It’s not physical strength. It’s not even necessarily attractive attributes. Consider, oh, 90% of the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire – most of them are at least sort of terrible people who have done many terrible things, and they lie and cheat and stab each other in the back, and some of them are outright cowards, but a lot of them are interesting. They’re strong characters because – at their best – they feel real.

An actual strong female character is real. I’ve seen it reframed as “strong character, female” and I like that a lot.

So I was putting the women in Labyrinthian in important, powerful positions, because I wanted them front and center as much as possible. But I knew that wasn’t going to be enough. I had to make Phae interesting, and I had to do it on her own terms. And I had to pack as much character development for her as I could into a story where she’s not the focus. I had to do the same for the others who show up, some of whom aren’t there for long. I had to at least try. I owed it to them, and I owed it to myself.

I’m not sure if I was entirely successful – I think I did all right, but I’ve learned that readers are very often better judges of that than authors are – but I hope I did. I love the women in Labyrinthian just as much as I love Taur and Theseus, and I hope that love comes through. I hope you enjoy them, even the ones you only meet briefly. I know they’re looking forward to meeting you.

Book news (spoiler alert: there will be one)

I’ve been wanting to share this news officially for a few days, and now I can: my queer science fiction romance novel Labyrinthian, which some of you may recall me talking about before, is going to be released (probably) in December actually now it looks like later in January by Samhain Publishing.

Yay.

A little bit about it, for those just joining us: A few years ago I got it into my head that it might be fun to write about the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, only in the distant future in space. It seemed like a cool idea, but I wasn’t equipped to do anything with it at the time, so it went on the back-burner. Years later, I found myself with some downtime between writing the sequel to Crowflight and rewriting the sequel to Line and Orbit, and I wanted to do something lighter and more fun than I had up to that point.

So I reached back into my dusty idea filing cabinets and pulled that one out. Less than two months later, it was a complete book draft.

(One of the morals of this story, by the way, is try to never completely abandon an idea. If you can’t make it work at one point in time, that doesn’t mean it won’t work at some other point. A good idea now will probably still be a good idea five years from now. )

So what’s Labyrinthian? Per above, it’s an SFnal retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur, where the Minotaur is a genetically engineered supersoldier on the run from his creators and Theseus is the bounty hunter hired to capture him. Predictably, everything goes sideways, and running and shooting and makeouts ensue. Along the way they pick up Theseus’s ex-girlfriend Phae, who doesn’t think all that much of Theseus but has a weakness for hard luck stories and is good with a gun.

It’s set in the same universe as Line and Orbit, concurrent to the few weeks between that book and its sequel. The characters are not the same, and it takes place on the galactic frontier, so the actual setting is also quite different in some ways. The content itself is also different: it’s much more of a straight-up (haha) romance-adventure than Line and Orbit was, and it’s much less epic. Like I said, I wanted to have fun and do some lighter fare, so for the most part that’s what it is. That said, there are some deeper themes – guilt, self-acceptance, and the power of family being a few.

I think it’s a fun book. If you pick it up, I hope you enjoy.

Watch for more news as more news occurs.

So hey let’s talk about romance for a sec

Because I think it’s appropriate at this juncture.

Warning: This might be whiny, though I’m also trying to talk about what I see as a persistent and troubling issue in how genres are marketed and how Feelings in SF are seen by some. Skip if none of that sounds appealing.

A day or so on Tumblr I saw a post making the rounds wherein someone was begging for reqs for non-romance genre fiction that nevertheless had a romantic sub-plot (queer in nature). Like any good self-serving author I was tempted to jump in with HEY I HAVE THIS BOOK CALLED LINE AND ORBIT THAT FITS THE BILL MAYBE YOU MIGHT WANT TO CHECK IT OUT OKAY PEACE

I didn’t, partly because it seemed like it might be obnoxious, but also because Line and Orbit is a science fantasy/space opera novel that is both categorized and marketed as gay romance, and it would look like I was effing lying.

I find myself in this position a lot when it comes to trying to get more mainstream SF-crowd attention for this book, the position of feeling like I need to say LOOK IT’S NOT ACTUALLY ROMANCE DON’T GET SCARED WAIT WHERE ARE YOU GOING COME BACK. I hate the idea of saying that, partly because, while the romantic relationship between Adam Yuga and Lochlan d’Bideshi is not really the primary focus of the book, it is nevertheless very, very important, and it probably is fair to categorize it as SF romance. But I also hate saying it because it makes me feel like I’m complicit in the disparaging of romance as a genre, which – let’s face it – tends to be misogynist in a really gross way as well as being silly and baseless, especially coming from SF&F, a genre wherein no one should be putting on airs.

But either way, I do feel like – I could be completely wrong about this – I’m fighting a general probable reaction of “oh, romance, that just doesn’t sound like it’s for me.”

I also feel like I’m fighting a less general but nevertheless very existent reaction of EW LADYFEELINGS IN MY SF but you know what basically fuck those people. They aren’t my audience and I don’t want them. There’s plenty of stuff out there for them.

The thing is, I’ve read books recently that were every bit as heavy on the romance as Line and Orbit, but were marketed as SF, and I do feel like those books have an easier time of it in terms of attracting attention from that crowd. Which, duh, marketing counts for a lot and ends up meaning that certain things are on people’s radar and certain things just aren’t, and that’s mostly fine. I’m also aware that sometimes people just don’t like a book, and that’s fine too; I do not mean to suggest that I think that PEOPLE AREN’T READING MY THING BECAUSE SEXISM. But at the end of the day, I still feel like I’m in an uncomfortable authorial position brought about by relationships within genre that are intensely problematic and also unlikely to change anytime soon.

This is all to say: I wish lines between genres weren’t so damn robust sometimes. I wish it didn’t get really, really sexist. I wish I was less clumsy at promotion. I wish I had a million dollars and a pile of kittens.

But I do hope that writing these kinds of books might, in a tiny little way, help. There should be a place for romance in science fiction and fantasy (and also vice versa, because I also get the sense that a lot of romance readers – rightly – feel very unwelcome in SF and don’t tend to go there), and really I think the two are natural partners – it’s there already. There should be absolutely no shame in it. And people shouldn’t be afraid of writing it or talking about it or liking it or just checking it out sometimes.

Line and Orbit sequel news!

The news is that I’m rewriting it. Almost completely. Not going back through and changing some scenes around, not making some major adjustments. I mean I’m scrapping what I have and starting almost entirely from scratch. With the exception LineandOrbitof one subplot, and a few characters, it’s going to be a totally different book.

There are a number of reasons why I’m doing this. Some of it is that, on further consideration, there are  a number of aspects of Fall and Rising as the current version stands that simply don’t work as well as they could. I took on a lot in that book, and I’m not confident that I pulled all of it off as well as I might have. I’m not averse to failure, even in public, but it’s something that I also see no reason not to avoid if at all possible. A lot of Fall and Rising is uncomfortable, and I’m not convinced that all of it is uncomfortable in a good way.

Another reason is money. I want to sell this book and I want to get paid.

I haven’t had any luck finding a publisher for it as it is. This is a problem, and the problem is compounded by the fact that it’s a sequel, not a standalone novel. It’s also much bleaker than Line and Orbit, and while I love and value my bleak writing – my short fiction can be just brutal a lot of the time – I’m not sure that bleak is the right tone for this series. I don’t believe that sequels have to perfectly match their predecessors in tone, but I also don’t believe that they should be vastly different.

So while I dearly love Fall and Rising and while I’ve very proud of huge chunks of it, it’s going into the proverbial drawer and something else is happening. I view this as a learning experience. I don’t think it was a mistake, and I don’t think the effort I put into it was wasted. It just isn’t going to be what I thought it was.

The takeaway is that this never stops being an educational process.

So, as of right now, here are the things (I think) I know about this new version of the next chapter of Line and Orbit:

  • The focus is back on Adam and Lochlan. I love Eva and Kyle, and I think they’ll be showing up in a major way, but Adam and Lochlan were among the primary things that people seemed to fall in love with in the first book, and I think it makes sense to stick with them. That means that this is back to being primarily “M/M” (scare quotes because I am still not 100% comfortable with that categorical marker). There are a number of reasons why I think this is a Good Thing on the whole.
  • It’s not going to be as goddamn bleak. I think a lot of bad things will still happen, but not nearly to the degree that they were happening in the first version of the book.
  • Spoiler alert: For those of you who’ve read my story in Hellebore and Rue, you may see some familiar faces. I’m really pleased about this, and I’m happy that I’m doing this rewrite if only because I get to circle back around in that way.
  • Nkiruka, the would-be replacement for Ixchel, is still in the game.
  • The villain remains the same guy with  the same characterization. Because I love his perfect face.
  • It does essentially the same job as the first version. That is, setting up the third and final book in the series, in essentially the same way. We end at basically the same place, we’re just getting there by a very different route.

So that’s where things currently stand. I’ve started work on it and I don’t expect to blast through it nearly as fast as Labyrinthian (which takes place in the same ‘verse so will hopefully act as an appetite whettener), so we’re ideally talking a finished MS by the end of January at the latest. I’m also supposed to be writing Rookwar, the third book in the Casting the Bones trilogy, so Fall and Rising may get pushed back depending on what my priorities end up being. Oh, yeah, I’m also theoretically writing a doctoral dissertation. So there’s that.

Anyway, for those who are interested, them’s the haps.

More Line and Orbit outtakes: An interlude with Kae and Leila

Here, for your reading enjoyment, is another one of the bits of Line and Orbit that was cut from the final version of the book. It was one of the casualties of our many cuts for length, and ended up going because it doesn’t do a huge amount to LineandOrbitadvance the plot. However, what it does do is present a sweet little slice of life at home with Kae and Leila, and also builds their characters a bit. Additionally, it brings to light something about Kae’s character that, without this scene, actually doesn’t get revealed until later in the book.

It made me sad to have to cut it. But hey, here it is for free. Hope you enjoy.

A note on chronology: This scene originally came at the end of chapter 9, after Lochlan has taken Adam to meet with the Council and Adam has had his first awkward meeting with Ixchel. There are no majorly important spoilers to speak of unless you count Kae’s character thing, but the scene also won’t make the maximum amount of sense if you haven’t read the book.

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Line and Orbit: The deleted scenes! In which Lochlan makes a new friend.

Some of you may – or may not – be aware that Line and Orbit used to be quite a lot longer. Specifically, it was almost an entire book’s length longer. A great deal LineandOrbitwas cut, some of which we loved, and it seems a shame to think those bits might never see the light of day in any form.

So something that I and my co-author will be doing in the next month or so is pulling out some of the scenes that were cut from the final edit of Line and Orbit, dusting them off a bit, and posting them here for your reading pleasure.

The scene below is actually a huge chunk of what was chapter three, before chapter three became the segment that introduces us to Lochlan and Ixchel. It should be understood to take place directly after the scene in which Ixchel reads Lochlan’s future. It’s significant in that it’s actually the scene that was originally supposed to introduce readers to Kae and Leila, whereas in the final cut Kae and Leila are introduced only after Adam arrives on Ashwina.

It also features Lochlan being his cocky, promiscuous self. And Kae’s full, glorious name.

For those concerned: There are no major spoilers for the plot itself. If you haven’t read or haven’t finished reading, do not fear. Enjoy.

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Line and Orbit’s Lochlan and Adam: Super-exclusive and totally for actual real interview

As work on the Line and Orbit sequel continues, I thought it might be appropriate to check on the previous book’s two main characters. Between Line and Orbit and its sequel, a lot of time has passed, there’s a bunch of catching up to do, and anyway I miss them both. So I managed to get hold of them and sit them down for a short chat… Which Lochlan of course entirely highjacked and stripped of any decorum or meaningful substance it might have had.

He’s basically a jerk. See for yourself, after the cut.

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