In the first two months of 2017, I close out one series and immediately launch a new one. I can’t wait for both of these very different books to be out in the world!
Via:: Tumblr to WordPress
In the first two months of 2017, I close out one series and immediately launch a new one. I can’t wait for both of these very different books to be out in the world!
Via:: Tumblr to WordPress
How do you know you’re working with amazing people? They send you a freaking ornament with your book cover on it! Thank you SO MUCH, @bethany.robison! I’m actually excited to put up my Christmas tree now. ?
Via:: Tumblr to WordPress
In a way, the world Shiara occupies began back in 2008. I was fresh out of college, and I wanted to write a fantasy novel. That turns out to be hard to accomplish without an actual story idea, so I followed advice I found on Holly Lisle’s site and started with a map instead. I drew an elaborate world (seriously, I taped multiple pieces of graph paper together just to give myself space), arbitrarily assigned sociopolitical boundaries, and then began trying to explain both.
The story I came up with then isn’t the one you’re going to read in February, but the universe is.
Jump forward to 2014 and I decide to try a true fantasy novel again. I wanted to create something harsh and different and beautiful, so I plopped my characters in an Arizona/New Mexico-like desert and surrounded them with enemies and animals that could kill them. It was about twins and the perceptions of mercy in an aggression based society and a lot of other things.
This, also, is not the book you’re going to read in February, but it’s closer. I kept the setting, the enemies, and the animals. My narrator stayed, but changed her name, and her twin brother became a younger one. The character who remained almost exactly the same is Tessen. Somehow his character, one I didn’t plan for at all in the original version of the story, became the linchpin of this book, anchoring everyone and everything else as it all shifted around him. This isn’t his story, it’s Khya’s, but his footprints and fingerprints are all over the final version of Island of Exiles.
Readers likely won’t ever see the level of his influence. Tessen’s okay with that, but it’s why I’m so happy that the first excerpt I can share with you from the book introduces you to him! So read on and meet him for yourself. <3
I breathe the briny air and try to consider the options objectively. As objectively as I ever can when my brother is involved.
Yorri was the first person to tell me that one day I’d be kaigo, just like our blood-parents, serving the Miriseh and earning high honors in Ryogo. I’d flicked him on the shoulder and said “Of course I will be,” but his faith had been what convinced me I was right.
Yorri gets so excited he stumbles over his own words when he’s explaining how he solved some new, impossible puzzle. He devotes himself with frightening fervor to anything that ensnares his arrow-quick mind, but sometimes needs reminding that the rest of the world exists.
Forget objectivity. It’s worth the risk.
I am going to keep him safe, just like I always have.
“You’re going to be late for the vigil if you stand here staring into nothing for much longer, Khya.”
I tense, keeping my eyes on the angry, dark, blue white-capped waves. I’d heard the footsteps approaching, but several people had come and gone already and left me alone.
Tessen, however, never was able to keep his thoughts inside his head.
“I won’t be late.” I answer without looking at him until he moves into my peripheral vision.
He leans against the wall to the left of me, his forearms crossed on the ledge and his head tilted up. With his arms folded on the ledge and his body held slightly away from the wall, I can make out the lines of muscle under layers of cloth, all of it hard-earned—though I probably won’t ever admit that to him. I don’t look directly at him, but I turn my head enough to get a better look at his face.
He’s taller than me, so looking down on him like this is strange. Seeing him without the hood and atakafu we always wear on duty is stranger. I don’t think I’ve seen his whole face since he became nyshin over a year ago.
His thick eyebrows sit low over his deep-set eyes and the line of his nose is straight, because somehow he was always quick enough in training to avoid all but the most glancing blows to his face. The setting sun highlights the red in his terra-cotta skin and makes his oddly pale eyes flash. Usually they’re limestone gray, but now they’re paler than ever and gleaming almost as bright as the sunlight off the ocean.
“Shouldn’t you be off training? Or guarding something?” I ask before he speaks.
“I am.” He smirks at me. “I’m guarding the mad nyshin girl who’s decided to perch on the walls and imitate a mykyn bird.”
“I’m not planning on attempting flight.” I wave my hand at him, trying to brush him off. “You can go, Nyshin-ten.”
His lips purse; I hide a smile. It was delightful discovering exactly how annoyed he got when I called him by his class and rank instead of his name. The flash of aggravation disappears quickly, replaced by his more usual sardonic smile. “Should I guess what has you lost in your own head the night of a vigil?”
“No. I don’t have that much time.”
“Then I won’t guess. Only your brother puts that look on your face.”
I look at him, expecting to see mockery in his eyes. There isn’t any. He looks almost…serious?
“You’re worried about his herynshi. Unless he’s in trouble again? It’s been a while. He’s overdue.”
“It’s been a while because he doesn’t have to deal with people who point out his every mistake anymore. Like you.” Gritting my teeth, I bend to brace my hand on the ledge and jump down to where Tessen stands. At six feet, he’s only an inch or two taller than me. Our eyes are nearly level when I square off against him. “You’re one of the reasons he ever got in trouble in the first place.”
“And you spent years trying to make him invisible.” Tessen’s lips thin, and the muscles in his jaw clench for a moment. “Even before you found your wards, you shielded him from everything. What he can do now that you’re not there to monitor his every move should be all the proof you need.”
“He would have died if I hadn’t protected him.” Nothing will ever convince me it was wrong to keep him alive. “You can’t seriously be suggesting I should have let that happen?”
“No, that isn’t— You don’t even know what he’s capable of! How long has it been since you’ve seen him fight? It’s been—” He steps back, his lips pressed tight and his hands held away from his weapons. “Bellows, Khya. I didn’t come here to fight with you. This isn’t how this was supposed to go.”
I blink. “What?” Tessen backing away from an argument? This has to be a trick. “How what was supposed to go?”
He shakes his head, a small smile quirking up the corners of his mouth. “I only came to ask if you’d dance with me tonight at the celebration.”
He can’t be serious…but there’s not a single sign that he isn’t being sincere.
I drop my gaze to hide the confusion that has to show on my face. My focus catches on the pendant gleaming against the undyed cloth of his tunic—a two-inch iron disc etched with crossed zeeka swords. Blood and rot, I hate seeing that around his neck. The zeeka is the symbol of the kaigo; the pendant is a symbol of their students.
Tessen is wearing the kaigo-sei pendant that should have been mine.
Out of the whole clan, the Miriseh and the kaigo only choose one nyshin-ten per year. His blood-mother, Neeva, is on the kaigo council. Being named a kaigo-sei isn’t a guarantee of advancement, but it is a sign that the leaders of the clan are keeping an eye on you. The kaigo-sei are given extra training and have to face additional tests of magic, skill, and leadership. Not every nyshin named a kaigo-sei student becomes a council member, but no one who isn’t a kaigo-sei will ever become one. I can still earn one—and I will, sooner rather than later—but it seems like they’re already grooming Tessen to take Kaigo Neeva’s place one day.
Rot take him, it was supposed to be me.
Swallowing the fruitless envy building in my chest, I raise my eyes to meet Tessen’s again. “I don’t make promises I don’t intend to keep.”
“But that’s not a no, so I’ll ask again tonight.” He smiles, inclines his head, and then walks away whistling. I hate that sound, and I’m almost positive he knows that.
This project has been years in the making, and I’m thrilled to finally have a cover this stunning to show the world. More soon on this one (honestly, I probably won’t shut up about it until well past the release date), but for now, I’ll be over here staring at the pretty for a while.
The cover reveal for #IslandOfExiles is TOMORROW! ?
Via:: Tumblr to WordPress
Even after I discovered the asexual spectrum in 2014, it took me over a year and a half to call myself asexual. I changed my identifiers at least three times in that period, and each change was one notch further from the point where the asexual and allosexual spectrums meet.
I have incredibly mixed feelings about labels. As an author and a lover of books, I believe words have power, and I believe finding a word to describe you—or simply some small aspect of you—can be a life-changing moment.
Labels can help us clarify our own thoughts, they can validate our feelings and/or experiences, and they help us find others like us. However, labels tend to be seen as rigid, fixed, either/or definitions of a person. According to the wider consensus, you’re this or that, but rarely both. Labels come with sets of expectations, stigmas, and qualifications, and it’s these plus the seeming rigidity of it all, that makes accepting a label—even an accurate one—a struggle sometimes.
Which is exactly what happened to me.
As I’ve mentioned several other places, I was married. It ended for a lot of reasons, but a major factor was our sexualities. I didn’t have the language I needed to have this conversation with him at the time, but I’m almost certain my ex-husband was about as far on the libido and sexuality spectrums as he could be from me. Bi-hypersexual if I had to guess. Being found sexually attractive and desirable by his partner (i.e. me) was crucial to his happiness. I loved him, but I didn’t want him. Or anyone. Not naked and in bed.
Despite knowing I’d never even been sexually attracted to the man I married—and did love; for a while, at least—when I placed myself on the ace spectrum several years later, I still chose heteromantic and demisexual as my identifiers. They felt safer. More “normal.” It was as though all I needed was to meet “the right person” and then I’d be able have a “normal” relationship one day. I wasn’t admitting it to myself, but there was a strong fear of deviating too far from social expectations, and so I picked the identity closest to what everyone else seemed to experience and told myself it was right.
But it wasn’t.
Like a healing wound or a loose tooth, I couldn’t stop poking at the label. Slowly, I accepted the difference between romantic and sexual attraction, and I admitted the truth of my feelings for my ex to myself: I’d loved him once, but I’d wanted to jump his bones never. The times I did initiate sexual intimacy were about an emotional pull—or the emotional blackmail he was fond of using.
Graysexual, then. Maybe I was heteromantic graysexual. It still left the door open for “normal” one day, even if I couldn’t begin to guess what random set of circumstances would have to occur for me to finally and suddenly feel sexual desire for the first time.
Still, I couldn’t stop poking. I thought back on my life and honestly looked at my history with crushes and attraction and romance.
In elementary school, everyone carried around Teen Beat to pour over. They crushed hard on Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Devon Sawa. I barely knew who these people were and stared in utter confusion as another girl in my class repeatedly kissed a picture of JTT. Why? What was the point?
Through elementary and the end of middle school, I knew people had crushes, so I said I did too, but mine never felt the way they talked about theirs. Watching people kiss in movies made me uncomfortable to the point of squirmy. Sex scenes? I closed my eyes until they ended. There were no posters of bands or celebrities on my walls. I didn’t fantasize about kissing the boy I liked during recess, I just wanted someone to like me best. When someone did make it clear they liked me, though, I had no idea how to react or what to do. I became awkward and panicky until they went away.
I started dating in high school, but every relationship I had was because of someone else’s persistence. Especially the one with my future ex-husband. I discovered cuddling with someone I liked was phenomenal. Kissing was pretty great. Beyond that? Everything was only okay. I didn’t mind it, but I never wanted it. Never.
Finally, more than a year and a half after first discovering the term, I claimed asexual.
It’s not an easy label to claim in a society with such harsh double standards for sex. Especially for women. We’re not supposed to be sexually independent or promiscuous, but when a person expresses interest in us sexually, we’re expected to respond. Enthusiastically. To not want sex (of any type) at all? It’s seen as more deviant and unnatural than almost any kink or fetish I have ever heard of. Asexuality is dismissed as a nonexistent orientation. It’s seen as a smokescreen for past trauma and lingering fear. It’s laughed off as religious fundamentalism. It’s treated with cloying concern and proof of some kind medical or psychological problem that can be fixed. And needs to be fixed.
I knew all of this, which is why it took me so long to espouse the label most suited for my identity. I knew claiming asexual would come with all of these judgments and social expectations, and it took me a long time to be ready for that. Because we view labels (and not solely ones for orientation) as fixed, defining points of focus, they’re often the first thing to fall back on when describing someone, so claiming a label often means accepting the culture and ideology surrounding it. Or accepting the constant battle against them.
For me, identifying as asexual meant stepping up to protest the dismissal and misperception of the orientation. I use the stories I create and the characters I populate them with. I use the essays I write. I use the panels I have the chance to speak on. I educate and spread awareness of the truth—or, rather, of the idea that there is no “truth.” All there can be is experience in its infinite variety, and all we share are moments of overlap where we can look at someone else with wide eyes and say “You too?”
There’s no one way someone is as an asexual, and there’s no one path to embracing the label. Mine was long and had a lot of stops and wrong turns. Others might be able to jump in and immediately attach to the term closest to their heart. The point is how important it is for the community at large to allow for this exploration.
As we become more educated and aware of how different our experiences and perceptions of the world can be, giving each other safe spaces to work through their identities and figure out their brains is crucial. What I hope initiatives like Ace Awareness Week will do is give people the language they need to have this conversation—either with themselves or their family and community—and allow them the space they need to set aside the expectations of the label and look at its core. That’s where the comfort lies, and that’s where the rest of us who’ve already made this journey are waiting to welcome them.
Entries are simple, and you can enter daily. To win the grand prize, you must live in the US, however, both second and third prize are open internationally. The caveat for international winners is these books won’t be signed; I’ll be ordering them through Book Depository or sending you an ebook through Amazon.
Another note? This is the FIRST time I’ve ever given away one of my incredibly limited paper ARCs of Island of Exiles! Very few of these printed copies exist, so enter to win a signed, limited edition copy of my upcoming fantasy novel.
To enter, check out the form below! One of the entries is to leave a comment on this post answering a question: When and how did you first hear learn about asexuality?
Flying over the Southwest is like flying over Shiara. ?
Via:: Tumblr to WordPress
Look what came today! It’s a book! Island of Exiles is a real thing, and there’s only a few more months until it’ll be a book that you guys can read too!
Via:: Tumblr to WordPress
A while back, the wonderful Michael Waters asked if he could include me in a piece he was doing for the B&N Teen Blog about diverse authors in young adult who were writing diverse books. His questions were wonderfully thoughtful and concentrated on my experiences growing up asexual and how that orientation has impacted both my life and my writing.
As I usually do when someone asks me to write something, I gave him WAY too much material. After the article released, I dumped the extra content here to come back and edit into a post later. Apparently, it’s later now.
Asexual. It’s a word that is usually first encountered—at least for my generation—in biology class. In that context, it refers to any organism that reproduces by splitting. Like amoeba.
That’s not I’m talking about when I use the word asexual.
Definitionally speaking, asexuality is an orientation in which an individual does not experience sexual attraction to anyone regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, or aesthetic appeal. Or even their wonderful personality.
What it means socially and contextually is a lot harder to pin down. For me, it’s a hyper-awareness of innuendo and oversexualization. It’s an extreme discomfort when someone calls me hot or even, sometimes, beautiful. It’s also the hope that one day I’ll be able to say “I’m asexual” without the explanation that always follows now.
Because I am asexual. More specifically, I identify as heteromantic-asexual.
Deciding on that label has been a winding, partially obstructed mental path (and explaining it could be it’s own post), and it took me through most of the ace spectrum identities. Since 2014, I’ve called myself demisexual and graysexual, but asexual really does fit best.
I wish I’d grown up knowing the term, because looking back at my life, it’s clear that this has always been a huge part of who I am. It never happened. I was twenty-nine before I first heard “asexual” outside the context of amoebic reproduction. By that age, I’d already been married and divorced. My lack of interest in sex had been a huge factor in the dissolution of that relationship. And the emotional manipulation and abuse I suffered through most of it.
For almost thirty years, I assumed I was straight but broken. How could I not? The only options I knew existed were straight, bisexual, or gay. I had no interest in kissing girls, so that knocked two of the three options out. I didn’t mind the thought of kissing boys (though I don’t think I’ll ever know how much of that is naturally me and how much of that is social conditioning), so straight was the only box left for me to check. “None of the above” was never offered.
Because I never had any explanation or understanding of why I didn’t want sex the way that the rest of society seemed to, and the way my ex-husband definitely did, the only answer I could come up with to the question “Why don’t you want me?” was “Because something is wrong with me.” It was a belief that developed over the course of years, and it was reinforced by my ex, by the media, and, inadvertently, my friends.
During my marriage, because I couldn’t explain the way my mind worked in a way that made sense to my ex, he used that against me, guilting me deeper into a sense of self-loathing I’m still in the process of shedding.
He would ask questions like: What’s wrong? Why don’t you want me? Don’t you love me?
He’d say things like: If you loved me, you’d do this for me. You won’t tell me the truth, so you must not trust me. This would make sense if you’d been raped or something. If you won’t give me what I want, I’ll go find it somewhere else.
Blaming me for his cheating was easy for him to do and, by the time that began happening, the relationship had been so twisted for so long that it was easy for me to accept. There was nothing in society or the media to tell me that he wasn’t right, so obviously it was my fault.
Trying to force myself into compliance only made things worse, causing depression and anxiety and self-esteem issues I’m still trying to get over years after my divorce was finalized.
After the divorce, I tried one more time. Because I still thought straight was the only option I had. The relationship was better, but the same lack of interest in sex from my side of the relationship happened again; I still didn’t have any explanation for it except “There’s something wrong with me.”
When that relationship came to a natural conclusion, I didn’t look for anything new. There was an incredibly strong fear burrowing inside my head that I wouldn’t ever be able to make anyone happy because I’d never be able to give them what everyone but me so obviously needed. If what had happened in my marriage and the only other long-term relationship I attempted was just going to happen again, it wasn’t worth it. So I stopped trying.
But I still didn’t understand why I was so fundamentally different from the rest of the world.
The thing is, for someone to find out who they are, there needs to be a safe space for them to try things on—personalities, clothes, genders, sexualities, jobs, tastes—without the pressure of someone else’s expectations. I think one of the reasons it takes us so long to discover and become comfortable with who we are is so few of those spaces exist. Humans are social creatures, and we’re programmed to bond with others. For the most part, we want to please the tribe we’ve been born into or chosen, and sometimes the only way we can see to do that is to change or deny some aspect of ourselves.
And that’s why, even if I had heard of asexuality at a young age, I don’t know that I would’ve embraced it. I was somewhat socially isolated as a kid, different in small ways that seemed to make a huge difference. To discover back then that there was a true, significant difference between me and everyone else? I might have grabbed that and espoused it immediately, or I might have held it at a distance as I tried to follow the path everyone else was walking. It’s hard to know.
When I did finally find asexuality on a list of sexualities and gender identities, the loudest thought in my head was, “Holy hell. I’m not the only one. I’m not broken.”
It didn’t magically fix everything, and fully integrating the concept into my identity in a meaningful way has taken time—that’s an ongoing process—but it’s helped so much in understanding myself and determining what I need to be content. It’s helped me figure out what kind of compromises I’m willing to make if I ever find someone I want to be in a relationship with. It’s given me something almost like a shield I can hold up against the world when it tries to tell me that what I feel (or don’t feel, more often) is something that needs to be fixed.
Discovering asexuality has given me back a tiny spark of hope that one day I’ll find a romantic relationship that includes only the physical element I’m comfortable with, but actually finding that partner in a sex-obsessed world is…daunting to say the least.
The first person I told about asexuality warned me to make sure I wasn’t reacting out of fear and writing off something I actually, secretly wanted. It was several months before I mentioned it to anyone else and, partially because of the previous reaction—that “well, really…are you sure?” feeling I got from the conversation—this time I couched the whole conversation in the terms of “this is just a theory, and I’m not really sure, but it kind of fits, so I don’t know.”
The doubt of my initial conversation became a trend. In fact, the theme of a lot of “coming out” discussions has been something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that! That sounds so sad. Here, let me see how I can fix that for you. Have you tried ______?” In almost every case the words aren’t intended to hurtful, but that doesn’t make it okay.
Unless someone is already familiar with the asexual spectrum, confusion and disbelief are usually the predominate reaction to coming out ace. People don’t seem to know how to react to an absence of something. “You’ll change your mind when you meet the right person,” is an incredibly common response. Others include:
“You don’t know what you’re missing!”
“Are you sure your partner knew what they were doing?”
“Were you abused in the past? Maybe it’s just fear.”
“So, what? You’re a prude? Or just celibate?”
“You’re asexual? You can’t be! You’re not a virgin!”
“Wow, so you actually expect to find a guy who doesn’t want sex? Good luck with that one.”
The erasure and the disdain in these micro-aggressions (although some of them feel like straight-up aggressions to me sometimes) is frustrating. The feeling that the person I’m talking to believes they know my mind and my emotional experience of the world better than I do is sickening. What’s even worse is that the people asking these questions are usually the same people who don’t understand why asexuals are currently making so much noise about the fact that we exist.
Pretty much the only conversations I’ve had about asexuality that haven’t been somewhere on the scale between doubtful and disdainful have been with people who are already involved in the MOGAI (marginalized orientations, gender alignments, and identities) community. However, even in that sphere there can be pushback. Some people still try to claim that the A in LGBTQIA stands for allies. In the recent past, notable gay rights activists have literally laughed at the asexual awareness movement saying, “You have the asexuals marching for the right to not do anything. Which is hilarious! Like, you don’t need to march for that right, you just need to stay home and not do anything.” (Dan Savage, 2011, (A)Sexuality documentary)
What they don’t realize is that we’re not fighting for rights, we’re fighting for recognition.
Dating back to the Middle Ages, non-consummation of marriage has been perceived as an insult to the sacramental union and grounds for divorce. Today, a couple who doesn’t have sex would have an almost impossible time convincing the INS that their relationship is valid and real. This is the society we’re born into, so, you’re wrong.
We do need to march. Not because we’re fighting for the right to get married or even the right to “do nothing,” but because we’re fighting to be acknowledged, to have our existence validated and accepted. We’re marching and making noise and calling people out on their erasure because we want asexuality to be recognized as an orientation, not classified as a disorder.
And it has been. People see a “missing” sex drive as practically inhuman. “It’s a bit like people saying they never have an appetite for food. Sex is a natural drive, as natural as the drive for sustenance and water to survive. It’s a little difficult to judge these folks as normal.” (Dr. Leonard R. Derogatis as quoted in an article in the New York Times on June 9, 2005). Starting with the DSM-III, a notable lack of sexual desire has been considered a psychological disorder by the psychological community. It’s begun to shift away from that, the most recent DSM offering clarification that could protect ace-spectrum individuals from inaccurate diagnoses, but that doesn’t mean the perception has changed enough to counteract the stigma.
Not yet, but we’re working on it.
All we want people to see is that we are just as normal as anyone else on the planet, partially because there’s no such thing as normal. This isn’t a religious thing, and it’s not at all like abstinence or celibacy. We’re not trying to convert you. Go ahead and do your thing, whatever that is. We’ll be over here playing Scrabble or watching Netflix with only the literal chill, not the innuendo laden kind.
That is what we’re marching for. That is why we’re standing on our chairs with our hands wildly waving above our heads. That is why American Apparel’s erasure of the A infuriates us so much. We want to be seen. We want to be heard. We want the next generation of asexual children to grow up without the “What’s wrong with me?” question playing on loop in their minds. We want people to acknowledge our experiences as valid and real and not broken, and we want kids growing up today to be able to see asexuality on the list of available sexual spectrum check boxes.
What we’re fighting for and making noise about is the right to exist. So please stop erasing us.
My books that feature ace characters (as of this post):
I’ve read thousands of books in the course of my life, yet until I really went searching for it, I’ve only seen the word “asexual” used to describe someone’s orientation once. And that author used it wrong. It’s doubtful that any of my books will be about asexuality, but I want everything I write to include the concept. I went three decades without encountering the word, and so I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to someone else. If I can help someone who’s never heard of asexuality be a little more understanding when someone in their lives claims a spot on the spectrum, wonderful. If I can introduce this identity to someone who’s struggling to understand themselves, even better.