Category Archives: Writing

The Hunt is Coming

Tis the season for many things, and one of those things is the Fall Young Adult Scavenger Hunt!

This year, the hunt will run from October 1 to October 6!

Oct 1, noon PST: The hunt begins!

Oct 6, noon PST: The Hunt ends—winners selected.

Oct 8: Winners Announced!

There are four fantastic teams to follow this year. To check out all the books, you can browse this handy Goodreads list to get a feel for the stories and authors on the various teams. I’m Team Purple this time around!

If you’ve never taken part in the hunt and are interested in the rules, visit the official YASH website here. Below are also a few quick links that might help you navigate your first hunting trip or just give you a quick refresher course before the fun is underway!

How to Hunt | When You’re Stuck | Official Entry Form | Prize List

Get ready to win some very cool prizes!

Coming Up Aces: Pet Peeves

Brianna asks: What are your biggest pet peeves with bad asexual rep? Or, what are some of the most common, hurtful things we should be vigilant to avoid when writing ace characters?


Answer: While there are a number of answers to this question, I have to preface everything that follows with this—I am speaking from my experience, and I won’t hit all the points. What hurts me and the people I know is not necessarily a universal wound the entire ace community shares.

In my initial post for Coming Up Aces, I talked a little bit about this, but from a different angle. That post contained a list of everything asexuality is not, essentially a list of common misconceptions and myths. When looking for pet peeves and issues that will cause significant pain when an author gets them wrong, start there. These are common mistakes that are talked about a lot. Getting them wrong in your representation means you didn’t do much homework, probably didn’t talk to anyone who identifies on the asexual spectrum, and are probably looking for “diversity points” more than anything else. Don’t do that. People can tell, and they will call you out for it.

So let’s start there. My biggest pet peeve is authors who don’t take the time to research the experiences they’re trying to represent. You don’t have to include marginalized characters in your book. Honestly. You don’t. If you’re not going to take the time to read what others have written about their own experiences, interview people with questions specific to the needs of your story, and then find readers who can review your manuscript for accidental errors or poorly phrased statements, please do not include us in your book. Don’t include anyone different from you if you’re not going to put in the effort to do it right.

More specifically, it hurts when authors use asexuality as a trick or a smokescreen. Sounds ridiculous, right? It’s not. The first “example” of an on-page asexual I ever found did this. The character (meaning, the author) claimed to be asexual to push off advances from an admirer. He wasn’t asexual or even questioning—something he admitted later in the book—he was a virgin who had spent so much of his life isolated that he was terrified of intimacy. Do not do this. The noise I made when I first saw “asexual” used in print was ridiculous. I was so happy! That quickly faded as I picked up on where the author actually intended to go with this character. By the time we reached the end where the so-called “asexual” character had been “fixed” with sex and admitted he was never really ace to begin with, my heart hurt. I almost never return books, but you better believe I got rid of that one. It seems small, but the ace community doesn’t have much representation to claim. Even one character using asexuality as a ruse hurts. For a lot of readers, it was probably the first time they’d ever encountered the term, and now it seems like something people make up, a lie they use to cover up fear. That kind of belief (or disbelief as the case may be) is excruciating to face in real life. Having it reinforced by fiction helps no one.

Another huge issue is the misconception that sexual attraction and sexual action are the same thing. I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone. Romantically, yes, but it was never anything deeper than that. I’ve had sex, though, and the experience was enjoyable, even if I participated more for the emotional connection and to please my partner. That’s me, though, and my libido is nearly as non-existent as my level of sexual attraction. Others on the asexual spectrum have a much higher libido and enjoy sex frequently. Yes, there are those on the asexual spectrum who are sex repulsed (or even touch repulsed) and will never have intercourse with anyone, but that’s not a universal fact. All of these experiences are valid, but when writing an asexual character who enjoys sex, pay attention to the distinction between libido and attraction. Wanting sex is not the same as wanting another person sexually.

Since we’re on the subject of sex, there’s a big difference between portraying sex as an act that “flips a switch and fixes someone” and an individual who has been questioning where they fall on the asexuality spectrum and eventually discovers that demisexual is a more accurate label than asexual. There is nothing broken in someone who identifies as asexual, and therefore, there’s nothing to fix. However, new experiences can absolutely change someone’s understanding of themselves and make them reevaluate things they previously thought they understood. Tread carefully is you want to write this sort of arc and you’re not coming from a place of personal experience. It would be incredibly easy to accidently get this story wrong, even with the best of intentions.

I could keep going for a long time, digging into a lot of different mistakes and misinterpretations that can do a lot of harm to the asexual community. For today, though, I’m going to close this off with trauma. It’s a touchy subject for a lot of reasons—as well it should be—but it’s an experience a lot of people outside the ace community conflate with our experience. There is a pervasive belief that assault or trauma is the “cause” of asexuality. It’s not. It can be a contributing factor for many—I know my own assault and an emotionally abusive marriage had a huge impact on my perception of relationships—but there is no “cause” of asexuality. It’s not a condition any more than homosexuality or bisexuality is. If your character has a trauma in their past, be careful of how you tie it to their orientation. It can absolutely make them more leery of taking chances on new people or new relationships, and it can change their comfort level with touch and types of touch, but their innate orientation is a different story. Survivors of assault should be treated with far more respect than that kind of assumption grants them.

Like I mentioned before, there are so many more myths, mistakes, and misconceptions that bother me and hurt the community at large, and I could probably write a book on the subject, but these are some of the most common I’ve seen. They’re also incredibly easy to avoid if the proper research is done. Hopefully, this will offer a place to start for those willing to take the time and do it right.

Coming Up Aces: The Forgotten Orientation

The Forgotten Orientation

Recently, I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. It was a family trip, but not one I had a hand in planning, so it was either luck or fate, not foresight, that allowed me to be in Halifax the same day as their Pride Parade. I was delighted, and I steered my family into attending with me. Luckily, that wasn’t much of a struggle.

So we went, and it was wonderful.

The public’s involvement at every level was fantastic, and both the participants and the crowd were full of energy! Businesses, churches, college groups, volunteer organizations, military service members, city employees, and even the Prime Minister himself marched down the streets of Halifax. I was especially delighted to see a massive group from HalCon, most of whom were in full cosplay. The rainbow flag was flown with joy and, yes, pride, by hundreds of people, and I was mostly exuberant to be part of the experience.

Mostly.

You see, I don’t usually handle crowds well, so I’d never been to a Pride festival before. In preparation for the day, I’d picked out one of my favorite shirts—a long-sleeve gray shirt that says NAH along the front in all caps. Each letter is a color from the asexual flag. It’s adorable. I love it. Since this was my first Pride event, I intended to rep my orientation as much as possible. What I was even more excited about, though, was the possibility of seeing other people doing the same thing. I desperately hoped to meet people who understood and/or shared my experience.

Although I searched the parade for my colors in outfits or flags or floats, I only found it twice. Two flags, both of them on floats that included almost every recognizable set of colors I’ve ever seen. On one of those floats there was one girl who noticed my shirt and grinned at me, giving me a thumbs up. She wasn’t dressed in ace-spec colors, but we still had that moment of connection, that “Oh, hey! Look! Someone else is here!” moment. Then she was gone and I was left searching for something that never showed up. Even on signs and banners, the A in LGBTQIAP+ always got dropped. Most of the time, the letter list never made it past T.

So basically, two flags and a smile is all I got from a parade that took over an hour to pass me by.

It’s not nothing, but I couldn’t keep from feeling disappointed. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that this is exactly why the small but steadily growing asexual community is shouting so loud for representation. I couldn’t keep from remembering how many stories I’ve heard—or how many times I’ve seen for myself—how unwelcome ace-spec individuals are across the board, both in queer spaces and in cishet ones. I couldn’t stop wishing I’d seen a local group marching for awareness, and I couldn’t stop wondering why they hadn’t—because they didn’t think they needed to or because they didn’t think they’d be welcome?

Is this level of ace representation close to the norm for Prides? Maybe there’s usually more. Maybe there’s less. I don’t know for sure, but I know where I’m hoping “normal” falls.

What I do know is that I’m going to struggle against my own discomfort with crowds and events to be more involved in local Pride parades and events. I’ve also seen why it’s so important to keep talking about ace-spec issues online. There, I’m friends with dozens of fellow aces and can talk to people who understand, but that world doesn’t reflect reality yet. It’ll take a long while yet for that to happen, but I for one am definitely willing to put in the work to help get us there.

An Interview on YA Cafe!

Today, I was lucky enough to be interviewed on The YA Cafe podcast with Laura Moe! It was a great conversation about Island of Exiles, writing, asexuality, death rituals, speculative fiction, the popularity of dystopia, and more. Not necessarily in that order.

You can listen to the hour-long podcast here!

Thank you, Laura, for a great conversation!

Coming Up Aces: Asexuality as Armor

Question: Hi! I’m an ace author who is currently writing a fantasy novel with an ace main character. This is my first time writing an ace character, and to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m doing it right. My character uses her asexuality as an armour of sorts, and is somewhat repulsed by sex, yet still willing to use her femininity to her advantage when she needs to. Is this ok? I feel like I’m projecting my own feelings as an ace woman into my character, but I don’t know whether these are personal to me or whether they are ‘typical’ ace traits.

Answer: To begin with, it’s impossible to say definitively whether or not something is okay. “Typical” is also impossible to define. Like “normal,” it doesn’t exist. Experiences, and how people interpret and/or react to those experiences, vary as much as DNA. In those on the asexual spectrum, there definitely seem to be shared moments (feeling out of place or broken at least once, confusion over celebrity crushes, the “aha!” moment when asexuality is discovered), but those moments can have very different impacts on the people living them.

No group is a monolith.

When people discuss diversity, they often talk about “lanes.” Specifically, there is often the question of whether or not people should stay within their lanes when writing. The inherent problem with this analogy is that it takes a whole group’s experience and then contains it within a single lane. This is not only impossible to do (for more reasons than the one I mentioned in the first paragraph), it is damaging to our understanding of both characters and the lives of those people these characters are meant to represent.

No group can fit in a single lane. It’d have to be something more like a superhighway, a massive one with almost twenty lanes and multiple on and off ramps and express lanes. Within any group, experiences and reactions to those experiences differ. Within any group, some individuals are going to disagree about what their “true” experience is like and what accurate representation “should” look like. Sometimes, even if an author writes a story that exactly mirrors and mimics their own life experience, someone somewhere will think they got it wrong. 

As for the scenario you presented, I think it will very heavily depend on your presentation of the character, the situations you put her in, and how both she and the other characters react to those situations. A character who uses her asexuality as “armour” is not inherently problematic—I’ve done exactly this before—but there could be problems in how you describe the feeling, in how the other characters react, or in how the world perceives asexuality in general. There could be problems with the characters reasons for using this as armor, too, especially if those reasons in any way come back to the character hating themselves for this aspect of their personalities.

Everyone needs armor sometimes, and we can use different physical things or personality traits to serve that purpose. I’ve seen people use clothes, jokes, physical appearance, insults, and, yes, orientation as a distraction from some other part of themselves or as a way to distance themselves from others. It happens.

The same logic applies to someone “willing to use her femininity to her advantage” while still being “repulsed by sex.” The combination of these traits in one person is far from impossible, but executing them in a believable and respectful way could get tricky. Keep in mind, too, that readers will be inside the character’s head as they make decisions, and in the descriptions and reasonings an author uses there is the potential for harm. Proceed as the story demands, but do so with care, conscientiousness, and caution.

One thing I do want to mention on that last point, and that I hope to talk about later in greater detail in another post, is that speculative fiction is a vehicle for hope. You can carry our current prejudices and ideologies over into a sci-fi or fantasy world, but you also have the opportunity to create a world without them. Make sure, whichever side of that coin you choose, you are making the choice consciously. Books can be a powerful tool for normalization. I encourage authors to use that tool when they can.

Coming Up Aces: Historical Asexuality

Caitlin says: I’m ace, and I’m writing a book that features ace girls in love during the French Revolution. My problem is this: I’ve read a lot about how important it is to use the actual word of the sexual orientation in question on the page, especially in YA, as it might introduce teens to words they might need. However, “asexuality” as a word wasn’t coined until about 30 years after this book takes place, and then only in the sense of plants and asexual reproduction, not people. If this was a contemporary I’d put it all over the place very happily, but this seems different.

I know I’m probably using more words that aren’t period appropriate – though I’ll weed some out in edits, I’m sure – but should I skirt around historical accuracy and just use the word? It feels a bit clinical and out of place to me, but am I just being weird? I’d love some further thoughts from other people on this!


Erica says: To start with, thank you for asking this question! This is a subject I’ve been meaning to research in more depth for a while now, and this was the perfect nudge to push me in that direction.

Before we start, a reminder to readers just in case they (like me) couldn’t remember specifically: The French Revolution occurred between 1789 and 1799, and it definitely precedes any known public acknowledgement of asexual spectrum identities. At least any that have been translated into English.

Now, let’s cover the words we do know and when they were first used. 

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, asexual as a biological description meaning “having no sex or sexual system” was coined in 1829. It wasn’t first applied to human orientation until Mangus Hirschfeld used it in a pamphlet called Sappho und Sokrates that he wrote in 1896 (the original is in German, but you can read translations of some of the relevant sections here). Hirschfeld used it to mean “wanting [lacking] sexuality, being of or referring to neither sex.” Before that though, there was something else.

The term anaphroditous appears in the The New Sydenham Society’s lexicon, printed in 1879, and it means “not enjoying physical love; impotent” (pg. 205), but it may have first appeared before that date. However, according to sources the Online Etymology Dictionary pulls from, anaphrodisiac (“diminishing the sexual appetite”) was first used in 1823. Basically, it’s an antonym of aphrodisiac, so it seems to be more of a description for food or other things rather than people. The entry does list anaphrodisia, anaphroditic, and anaphroditous as related words, but there’s no entries for those specifically, and so it’s hard to know if any of those forms existed prior to that time. Anaphroditous certainly appeared before its inclusion in the Sydenham Society’s book, though.

So, great. Words acknowledging the existence of people who aren’t interested in sex are WAY, WAY, WAY older than most of the world realizes. Since there’s no concrete evidence (that I could find) saying when the related forms of anaphrodisia were first used, it’s believable to stretch it back in verbal use if not written another couple of decades. However, would the general population in 1823 know what anaphroditous meant? Possibly, but probably not unless you’re writing about people who are highly educated, well-traveled, and open to schools of thought about human psychology and sexuality that most of society didn’t acknowledge. 

Just because someone doesn’t know the word “asexual” or “anaphroditous” doesn’t mean asexual spectrum orientations didn’t exist. Actions, behavior, and beliefs matter, and all of those can be shown on a page. If the ace-spectrum character is a viewpoint narrator in first person or close third, you also have direct thoughts to contribute to the full picture of the character’s personality and opinions. And also their attractions (or lack thereof).

Even without a historically accurate word, there are still comparisons and descriptions that can be used—as long as they don’t rely on inaccurate metaphors. Calling your ace-spec character a priest, for example, draws an incorrect parallel between celibacy and asexuality. However, constructing a scene in which the ace-spec character gets hit on and then explains that they’ve never been attracted to anyone is a good idea. How the character interacts with the world and how an author describes them will also greatly depend on where the character falls on any number of spectrums. How do they feel about casual touch? Intimate touch? Sexual touch? Do they experience aesthetic or romantic attraction? Are they neurodiverse? Are they a minority in their society in a way additional to their orientation? All these factors and many more influence an individual’s opinions on and interactions with sex and society. They’re also crucial aspects of the character, especially if they’re a major player in the story.

If the character does have sex at some point in the story (an action which in no way invalidates their asexuality), a verbal statement concerning their lack of attraction will clue the reader in to their asexuality. As long as that idea is also repeated after the sexual encounter—otherwise, most readers will assume attraction between the sexually intimate partners and then assume orientation based on the stated gender of the partners. Honestly, without a word to use, the lack of attraction will need to be repeated several times in a variety of ways (thought, behavior, and dialogue) to reinforce the concept in the audience’s mind. As we know well by now, characters tend to be interpreted as straight until forcefully proven otherwise. And characters coded too casually (like Dumbledore, for example) don’t work when you’re trying to add representation.

An alternative is invention. If a historically accurate word doesn’t exist, create one with a basis in the language of the period. As a reader, I’d find it believable that a word once used in conversation but rarely written down would fall away and be forgotten. It happens. This applies to science-fiction or fantasy worlds as well. In my novel Island of Exiles, for example, I created the word ushimo to replace asexual. As long as the created word is explained the first time and then repeated throughout, it could conceivably be a stand-in for the language we use today.

A final possibility is the addition of an author’s note. These aren’t uncommon, especially in historicals. If there’s something you want to be sure readers understand, adding an explanation on the etymology of asexual could reinforce the idea in readers’ heads. And also introduce people to the current terminology. That’s a necessity if awareness and acceptance is going to spread.

Mostly, writing a character in a time “before” asexuality (no such thing!) is about the three Rs—repetition, respect, and representation. Represent your character’s actions and thought respectfully and repeatedly (with situational variation, of course). If you do these things, and get sensitivity readers to help you catch mistakes, you will succeed more often than not.

Have a question? Great! Submit it here for the ongoing Coming Up Aces Q&A.

It’s a STAR!

It’s hard to believe, but Kirkus not only loved Island of Exiles, they gave it a STARRED REVIEW! Look at all the wonderful things they said about my wonderful book baby!

KIRKUS REVIEW

Cameron (Assassins: Nemesis, 2017, etc.) tells a YA fantasy tale about a “nyshin”—a warrior, mage, and hunter—on a desert island rife with danger.

Khya is no stranger to hardship. Life on the island of Shiara is inhospitable at best, and as a nyshin, these burdens fall especially heavily on her. Nevertheless, she’s always been able to depend on her clan and the fact that everyone in it works for the good of the many. But everything changes when they threaten to take from her the one thing she can’t give up: her brother, Yorri. Her worries are understandable as her sibling approaches a rite of passage that will determine the course of his life, but the greatest dangers facing her are ones that she can’t even imagine. As storms rage across the island and enemies probe the clan’s borders, a conspiracy begins to unfold that will test everything Khya has ever known. Not knowing who to trust, she must rely on strange bedfellows: Sanii, a member of the servant class and the love of Yorri’s life; and Tessen, Khya’s sometime-friend, sometime-archrival, and possibly something more. But most of all, she must depend on herself, casting aside faith, duty, and honor for the strength of love and family. Readers won’t be able to put this book down, as the excitement begins from the first page and only grows from there. Cameron expertly blends worldbuilding and intriguing characters with page-turning action scenes and a story that builds in tension and complexity. The novel’s commitment to diversity adds new dimensions to the story, as the cast is entirely nonwhite, and the clan recognizes nonbinary gender identities and complex sexual orientations. The lexicon of unique terms and concepts may be intimidating to some readers, but the vocabulary adds fantastic texture to the world without distracting from the plot. This is rare gem of a book that has a lot to offer readers, including magic, action, and intrigue on the edge of a knife.

A fresh, original series starter, bolstered by a dynamic protagonist and a welcome sense of depth.

We’re at the three week mark, y’all!

We’re inching ever closer to the Island Of Exiles release day! Only three weeks left now

My first countdown thread was all about  why I’m so excited to be releasing a fantasy novel.

Next, I talked about how one character became the anchor for my worldbuilding & revisions.

My third thread delved into how desire, kinks, power dynamics, and monogamy are perceived in Itagami.

I talked about magic last week and how it’s woven into the fabric of Itagamin society.

Today we jump back to sex and society, specifically orientation, gender, family, polyamory, and normalization.

While the word “bisexual” isn’t used in the book, I make it clear in character actions that this is a common and accepted orientation. It is, in fact, the most commonly claimed orientation in the clan. The whole spectrum of orientations exists, but bi or pan is “normal.” I make a point of the characters’ sexuality in the book partially to prove a point–that an accepting society can exist.

It’s strange to me that there are people who think accepting–NOT just tolerating–others’ choices would destroy the world. Normalization of acceptance has to happen to combat this, and currently, the easiest method is proof of concept media.

What do I mean by “proof of concept media”? Books, movies, TV, music, & art displaying cities & societies NOT destroyed by difference. Sagen sy Itagami isn’t a utopia by any means, but Island Of Exiles is definitely a proof of concept novel.
No one is ever shamed for their sexuality or their libido. Teased by their friends, sure. Taunted or mocked? Nope.

There is no word for slut or whore in Itagamin. There isn’t even a word for promiscuous. On the other hand, no one is ever laughed at or bullied for NOT having sex either. Ushimo is their word for asexuality.

All this is taught AND practiced. Children learn it alongside a very important reminder: Attraction is instinct. Action is a choice.

Consent is a crucial concept in this culture; you’re not allowed to even casually touch someone else without it. There are backstory reasons for the strictness of this societal law, but I never get a chance to go into them in the book. I can tell you it’s a separate story from the why behind the shape of families within Itagami, specifically the LACK of any family unit.

To explain that, I have to start with babies. Actually, I have to start with the making of babies.

Procreation is majorly restricted in Itagamin society. Pregnancies have to be pre-approved, partially due to population size concerns. It’s an isolated island with a southern Nevada-like landscape. Droughts could decimate a clan too large to sustain itself. Originally, it was partially due to of this restriction that the leaders of Itagami allowed & encouraged both bisexuality & polyamory. It was in NO way because of this restriction or population control that Itagamin leaders decimated the family unit. The saying about needing a village to raise a child? It’s taken pretty literally in Sagen sy Itagami.

When a baby is born, the parents go back to work and the baby is brought to one of the city’s four nurseries. Some parents keep track of their blood-born child’s progress, others don’t. Neither course is considered “right.” The nurseries are watched over by yonin caretakers. At age 5, kids move into a dormitory and begin their training.

One point of interest? Although citizens can’t escape their class once they reach adulthood, all children are considered equal. Children, no matter who their parents are, are given completely equal training and opportunities. Kids are trained with all weapons and then allowed to pick one they become expert at. They’re also taught the theories of magic. Everyone is taught theory so they’ll recognize it when they develop theirs. So they’ll know what to do when their own power appears. Also, the caretakers, teachers, training masters, and eventual commanding officers usually don’t know who a citizen’s parents are.

All children belong to the clan. Not everyone deals directly with the city’s youngest residents, but all are invested in the next generation. Every citizen in the clan would die to protect the city’s children.

At 16, everyone faces the herynshi, an incredibly difficult trial that determines the rest of their lives. The skill with weapons and magic they display in the herynshi is how the leaders place them in one of the three citizen classes.The classes are–

Nyshin: Warrior mages; leaders/fighters
Ahdo: Guardian mages; city guards/soldiers
Yonin: Non-mages; service/farming/mining

Sometimes romantic/sexual bonds form within training classes, but it’s more common for deeper bonds to form between citizens. Once placed, citizens can’t escape their class, but within it, relationship possibilities are both open and encouraged.

As I mentioned in a previous thread, marriage is rare in Itagami. Most people enter & leave relationships as needs change. Often there isn’t an official “relationship” at all. A fair number of Itagamin citizens choose to keep to short-term encounters instead. The most important thing is the safety of the whole clan, so it tends to create a city-wide bond rather than individual ones.

“The safety of the clan comes before our lives” is a mantra drilled into Itagamin children basically from birth. They take it seriously.

What I love about this society is how, within a class, it’s VERY equal. Excepting of procreation, there are no gender roles. There are three sexes–male, female, and ebet. Positions of power are relatively evenly spread between all three. Relationships between any combination of sexes–or any number of people–raises exactly zero eyebrows. Only someone’s skill with weapons and their prowess with magic impact their social standing.

All of these details were added on purpose. I worked hard to create a society that’s equal in a lot of ways our culture isn’t. Basically, all this talk is a lot of detail mainly to say one thing: Shiara isn’t exactly an island you’d want to live on, but I tried to make Itagami a society you’d want to live in despite that.

Buy it from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Books-A-Million | IndieBound

Add this book on Goodreads.

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My friends are awesome!

Best book mail is best! I’m so happy to have this lovely from A. R. Kahler on my shelf now. Also, be jealous because Alex writes the best inscriptions. ? I’m so proud of my amazing friend!

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You can land on Shiara in five weeks!

Five Weeks. FIVE. That’s one month plus one week. Hardly any time at all!

This week I’m talking about relationship dynamics. Specifically, how & why Khya and Tessen’s came to be not quite vanilla.

Short answer? It’s Kate Brauning​’s fault. The long answer is similar, yet a bit more complicated.

I wish I still had a link to Kate’s tweet, but it was something like, We must portray YA relationships as diversely as we do adult. Then she went on to say, (approximately) “For example, not all teens are entirely vanilla, but we give them no mirror.”

I said, “You’re okay with that? Because I can ABSOLUTELY do a D/s dynamic. Really, they’re already there. I just need to bring it out.“

Basically, Kate was all, “Yes. Good. Go.”

Knowing going in that my editor wouldn’t give me an “are we sure this is appropriate for teens” speech was a relief. It also gave me the freedom to explore the characters at a deeper level and take a new look at what sexuality meant in Itagami.

Desire (or a lack thereof) and the specific form that feeling takes is a very fraught topic in contemporary society. Dangerously so. The island of Shiara and the city of Sagen sy Itagami gave me a chance to erase a lot of the expectations and “rules” of desire. Although orientation is included in the “rules” (more to come another week), here I’m referring more to preferences, kinks, & fetishes.
Our culture makes a lot of value judgments on an individual’s behavior, ESPECIALLY in regards to sex.

In Itagami, the only rules are 1- CONSENT, 2- no irreparable harm, & 3- don’t let sex distract you from work.

That’s it.

Well, okay. There are a few more rules, but none regarding the HOW of desire or sex.

Although all of it is very minor, I mention or imply a lot of facets of sexuality in Island Of Exiles. Exhibitionism, voyeurism, masochism, and power dynamics all come up somewhere in some way in this book. For Khya and Tessen, though, control, power, trust, and surrender are all key components to their relationship. They both need something from the other, and a lot of the buildup with them is admitting those needs and trusting the other to meet them. Communication–verbal & non-verbal–is crucial in relationships, but especially in ones where power in the sexual relationship isn’t equal.

There are books (which shall remain unnamed) that portray these kinds of relationships in a VERY dangerous way. What I wanted to show is it’s not only okay to want things outside of the normal. It’s okay to talk about them. It’s okay to ask for them. What Khya and Tessen eventually illustrate (fair warning, they’re a sloooooow burn) is how everyone has different needs. Part of what makes relationships strong (ANY, not just romantic and/or sexual ones) is finding someone who needs what you can provide. Another important point, however, is recognizing your own needs and desires and accepting them.

How in the world is anyone supposed to do that if they never see a relationship that ticks their mental boxes in any form of media?

Like all other levels of diversity and representation, relationship dynamics and differing desires are so important. Dynamics, preferences, kinks, and fetishes are ESPECIALLY important for YA authors to consider and include. For most, the teen years is when they begin to discover arousal and desire. Or their lack thereof. If anything, portraying relationships outside the center of the bell curve is MORE important in YA than in adult. Puberty and adolescence and young adulthood are confusing enough. Why make it harder for anyone when we can provide a map?

What I hope is that Khya & Tessen–& the other pairings in the series–introduce teens to concepts about relationships they don’t often see.

In Itagami, monogamy isn’t societally expected. Polyamory is perfectly acceptable. Bisexuality is the normalized orientation. In Itagami, marriage–called a sumai bond in the book–is rare, but when that vow is made it is soul-deep and unbreakable. In Itagami, those who don’t have a sumai bond often move between romantic and/or sexual relationships as their needs change. In Itagami, “normal” has an entirely different set of definitions and expectations than what we’re used to, and I loved creating those rules. In Itagami, the how and why of what happens between two or more people isn’t something anyone else has a right to comment on. Not to say gossip doesn’t happen–it absolutely does–but the judgment and the interference I’ve seen happen in life doesn’t. Mostly.

Hopefully, all of this will be commonplace one day, but it’s not there yet. Especially in young adult fiction.

Khya & Tessen are snarky, strong, and incredibly fun to write. They’re also steamy as hell when they get together. Soon (sooner than I’m ready for, honestly), you’ll get to meet them for yourself!

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