Queer Book Club: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

Call Down the Hawk coverThis is the first in a new trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater, set in the same world as the Raven Cycle and featuring some of the same characters, particularly Ronan and Adam. Whereas the Raven Cycle focused around a group of school friends uncovering a supernatural mystery, the new trilogy focuses on the world of dreamers like Ronan, who can bring back objects from their dreams and, on the other side, people who believe them to be a serious threat to the world. The action is set after Ronan and Adam have left school and Adam has begun college, so whilst the Raven Cycle was solidly YA, this novel is at the upper end of YA, edging into adult. Genre-wise, the story sits somewhere between paranormal and fantasy.

If you read my Raven Cycle review, you’ll see I’m quite the frothing fan boy of the first series, so I was excited to get my hands on this new book. The new story has a different feel to it: the world is harsher, the stakes are higher, the action is more violent and the future feels bleak. There’s more compromise than hope as Adam, Ronan, and Ronan’s older brother, Declan, negotiate their way around living adult lives with the dangers dreaming can bring. There are new characters: Jordan Hennessey, an art forger, and the copies of herself she repeatedly dreams and brings back in a nightmare she can’t escape; Carmen Farooq-Lane, a member of a shadowy extra-governmental organisation tasked with taking out dreamers, who they believe will end the world. I particularly enjoyed Hennessy and Jordan, her first copy who she gifted with her first name, and Hennessy’s interactions with Ronan. Carmen Farooq-Lane is harder to like, but her character also shows the most growth in the space of this book and I could see her coming to a confrontation with her fellow hunters in the future.

I’ve seen Stiefvater come in for some criticism in the past for her characters being overwhelming white, and some additionally felt the Asian character in the fourth book was mishandled. Jordan Hennessy is black and Carmen Farooq-Lane is POC. It’s not really for me to say whether she succeeds with these characters, but the cast of characters feels more racially diverse than the Raven Cycle, so I’ll be interested to see reactions to them. Hennessy is also bi or pan which, although only referenced, is cool.

As an Adam/Ronan fan, it was a joy to see their story continue. Their relationship was such a lovely surprise in the Raven Cycle – one of the rare times in my life where I’ve thought I was reading a het-only story and been pleasantly surprised by an apparently incidental homoerotic vibe actually blossoming into something. Their story lines generally represent the darker elements of the original series, so it’s no surprise this shift in focus has led to a darker book. Ronan’s dreaming is explored in much more detail in this story, including the limits it places on his life. Ronan becomes trapped both by the need to dream and the need to be close to the West Virginian ley line that seems connected to him and his dreaming. We see Adam go off to college and try to reconcile the poverty and violence of his past with what he hopes will be a brighter future. The greater exploration of Declan’s life and motivations was another rewarding aspect to this story, with glimpses into the shady underworld their dreamer father frequented.

Then there’s the mysterious Bryde, an apparently powerful dreamer who haunts Ronan’s dreams, whose name is whispered with excitement in the occult underworld.

There was plenty here to pull me in, from Stiefvater’s well written, complex, morally nuanced characters, to the mysteries of the overall story arc, from Bryde to the impending dream apocalypse. I love how the dream magic is written and how everything is edged with danger. Stiefvater’s prose isn’t perfect, but it’s alive and enthralling and I found myself drawn into this story in a way that doesn’t happen all that often. The first half of the story is fairly slow in pace, in a similar way to early Raven Cycle books, but I found enough in the establishing of characters and plot to keep me involved and the slower start made for a richer story. My only criticism was that occasionally Hennessy’s Britishism sounded slightly off to my British ear. And that “crumbs” as a favourite curse word has already been claimed by Danger Mouse sidekick, Penfold, in the British children’s cartoon series, which was slightly distracting. These were minor points, though, in an overall extremely rewarding read.

As a rule, I’m not generally a fan of series where the books don’t have some sort of self-contained narrative arc, and this one very much ends on a cliffhanger, but having read the first series, I knew what to expect and know it’s worth coming along for the ride.

I think this story would probably make sense without reading the Raven Cycle. There’s enough background information fed in and enough that’s new to this trilogy that it works as its own thing. But I’m not going to be the one to recommend you don’t.

All My Fiction Publicly Visible on Medium

I’ve not been writing a whole lot of shorter work recently, as I’ve been focusing more on longer projects, but I’ve decided to make all my work on Medium publicly visible.

You can find my stories and poetry on my profile here: https://medium.com/@ambrosehall

Or you can access it through this collated list I’ve made: https://medium.com/@ambrosehall/a-collection-of-curious-things-475cb2d8d8cc . There’s a mixture of genres and subject matter, so this might be the easiest way to navigate.

I hope you enjoy reading my stories.

Interview with writer M.D. Neu

Writer M.D. Neu joined me to talk about his upcoming novella, The Reunion, and writing gay fiction.

MDNeu pic

You have a novella, The Reunion, coming out later this month – a creepy tale for October. Tell me about your story.

The Reunion came about several years ago based on a larger game some friends and I played.  After the game ended I decided to write a reunion with a majority of the characters coming together one last time. The story takes place twenty years after the events of the game and was only meant to be a final goodbye.

Originally the story started out as a small 3000 word short that I got accepted to TallTaleTV.com (you can hear the short here: http://talltaletv.com/?s=The+Reunion ) but as I played with it over time the story got larger and more detailed.  I continued to work the story expanding and changing the characters.  Also, I added some new elements to round out what happens and make it creepier.  The one thing I never changed was the paranormal and ‘creepy’ aspect. In fact I amped it up. When the novella comes out on Oct 23rd (thank you to NineStar Press for accepting the story) it will be a full 21,000-word short story. You can pre-order it here: https://ninestarpress.com/product/the-reunion/ . I’m proud of the final product and I hope folks enjoy it.

Here is the summary of the story:

It’s been twenty years since the quiet Midwestern town of Lakeview was struck by tragedy.  But every year on the anniversary of the event Teddy returns home for ‘The Reunion’. Lakeview, like Teddy, has secrets and not all mysteries should come to light.

TheReunion cover

You have a passion for speculative and paranormal fiction with gay characters. Is representation a big motivating factor for your writing?

As a gay man who grew up with little queer representation in media I wanted to change that as a writer.  When I was a kid if you saw a gay character on TV or in the movies they were always there for shock value (remember the lesbian kiss on Roseanne, or Ellen coming out on her show, the media and people went nuts) or they were tragic characters (Philadelphia ring any bells) or campy fun.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love campy.  I love over the top gay. I love Drag Queens.  I love, as Harvey Fierstein once said, ‘Sissies’.  And I love the beautiful gays we see on TV now. But that isn’t only who we are.  We’re everyone.  We’re everywhere.  We’re from every walk of life, and I wanted… no I needed to show that in my writing.

In ‘The Reunion’ the main character, Teddy, dresses in drag and he lived with his partner, Lane.  They have a son, Nate, as well. Teddy is also a hairstylist. Did I hit some stereotypes, yes, but what I want people to know is that wasn’t the intent.  Teddy is based on two people from my life, a friend who passed away (hairstylist and drag performer) and my mom who also passed away (she was a hairstylist).  That is where Teddy comes from so he may be a bit of a stereotype, but for me that’s okay because I’m honoring two important people in my life.

Also, in this story I wanted to introduce a trans character. Issues of acceptance are so important these days that I absolutely wanted to include a member of the trans community and I hope I do her justice.

Lastly, why I think representation is so important is I remember reading Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with a Vampire’ in the 80s  (the book came out in the 70s) and for it’s time the gay undertones were very much there.  However, it was never mentioned and it kind of hurt, because I got to see two men raising a daughter.  Sure it was all shades of messed up, but think about it, had anyone every done anything like that before in a high profile wildly successful novel. I don’t think so.

Sorry, I know I got on a bit of soapbox, but your question was important and I wanted to really explain things.

Do you have any recommendations of things you’ve enjoyed reading that have done this well?

I mentioned Interview with a Vampire. I think did a good job for its time.  There is a lot of new stuff coming out that I think approaches the subject well, however, a lot of it is romance and erotica, which is great, but for me I want to read things that aren’t romance or erotica. I want adventure and to be frightened.  I don’t mind aspects of romance, but I don’t want that to be the focus. There is another author I know. JP Jackson’s new book, Daimonion, is excellent. The queer undertones are there and it’s not a romance, which makes it a nice change.  I’m sure there are tons of others, I’m just not thinking of any at the moment.

Like me, you’re a fan of vampires and I think you have a vampire book coming up too. What’s appealing about vampires for you?

Oh, my gosh I love vampires. Yes. My debut novel, The Calling, is all about vampires, as well as a nerdy shy, not very attractive gay man.  It comes out Jan 1st 2018.

For me vampires represent the fringe of society.  Some can pass as ‘normal’, but they don’t fit in and they never will.  Vampires had to learn to work within the confines of society, but because they are different they have to live in the shadows and hide.  Throughout history they’ve always been there, but for most people they have no clue.  Vampires either hide or fit in and hide that way.  You see where I’m going with this, right? Vampires are the perfect metaphor for queer society.  The other thing about vampires I find so appealing is, of course, they are sexy as hell (well at least mine are).

What are your biggest writing influences?

My biggest writing influences, wow I have a lot.  I love Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, Harvey Fierstein, Anne Rice and Kim Stanley Robinson. All these people have shown us various worlds that I find exciting and appealing.  I can only hope that my works can stand in their company.

Thank you for having me.

M.D. Neu is a LGBTQA Fiction Writer with a love for writing and travel. Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California), he’s always been fascinated with what could be. Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man, he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society, M.D. Neu decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing, wanting to tell good stories that reflected our diverse world.

 When M.D. Neu isn’t writing, he works for a non-profit and travels with his biggest supporter and his harshest critic, Eric his husband of eighteen plus years.

 Links:

www.mdneu.com

https://twitter.com/Writer_MDNeu

https://www.facebook.com/mdneuauthor

Queer Book Club: Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones by Torrey Peters

Infect Your Friends coverSpeculative fiction novella. In the future, everyone will be trans—that’s Lexi’s plan. With the help of her scientist friend, Raleen, she finds a way to shut down human hormone production, so that everyone has to make the choice trans people make. It’s both a revenge fantasy and a satirical ‘what if?’

The story is told in fragments by Lexi’s Patient Zero (who I don’t think is ever named). The narrative hops about in time, before and after ground zero of Lexi’s disease. It’s a quick read, but packs one hell of a lot into a small space.

I really love this. It’s funny, subversive, full of complexity and anger and frustration and satire and biting social observation about trans women, they way they treat each other and the way other people treat them. The style is fluid, dynamic and accessible—it was a joy to read. I don’t want to say too much more, because the story is compact, and I don’t want to spoiler.

I read in an interview with Torrey Peters that she’s made a point of not getting to hung up on traditional publishing conventions. There are a couple of tense shifts that threw me, but really, not a big deal.

Just, yeah, wow. I wish there were more books like this. One of my reading resolutions for 2017 is to read more spec fic with trans characters, and another is to read more subversive trans fiction. The world does not abound with books like this. This ticks all my boxes.

You can download an ebook copy from the author’s website, for a donation (or for free) here: http://www.torreypeters.com/ It’s also available in paperback.

Flash Fiction: Fraternising

Here’s some grubby Northern sci-fi for you.

helix-nebula

It was a small, grey, scrawny thing, slumped in the corner of my dad’s shed on a pile of compost bags. It stared up at us with those giant saucer eyes they have. I felt a pang. It was like looking at a puppy in a pound, only ten times worse; like looking at a super-puppy.

                “What the hell have you done, Jimmy?” Sam said, as he caught sight of the alien.

“I was out picking snails for my mam,” I said, “down the alleys out back of the club. Then I see it just ambling along like. And I had the sack already.”

“Jesus, Jimmy. We should phone the council… or the government. You’ve seen the posters.”

“Don’t you want to see for yourself what it feels like?”

Sam narrowed his eyes at me, then his whole expression changed and his mouth fell open.

                I crouched down and watched it watching me. The government had put up posters with warnings, and adverts on the telly giving out scares about the risks of “fraternising.” That’s what they called it. But the rumours on the street said different. Most said these aliens were harmless. More than that, word was their touch was like the best drug you’ve ever had, and with no side-effects. So when I’d seen the little grey fella walking along, I took my chance. I’d brought him down to the shed on my dad’s allotment. No one really came here since the rift opened, and my dad got conscripted. It was the safest place I could think of.

                Sam crouched down next to me. “How’s it done?”

“I think you just touch its hand.”

“You first then.”

“Too bloody right.” My stomach churned, but I didn’t want to show my nerves.

The alien was still staring at me. I put my hand up, palm facing towards it, and I hoped Sam didn’t notice me shaking. His eyes were still on the alien, nearly as wide and round as the creature’s.

                Slowly, the alien held its hand up, mirroring mine.

“Shit,” said Sam under his breath. He said it really slowly, stretching out the middle. “This is it.”

I moved my hand towards the alien’s hand, and then we touched.

                A wave of blue enveloped everything. The deepest blue, like the UV lighting in the club, but ten times as deep. It hummed with depth, but I couldn’t feel the humming. I couldn’t feel a thing. The blue was me and I was the blue. For a moment, I felt completely at peace. And then it hit me like a wave made of pain. Not physical pain. I still couldn’t feel my body. Sorrow, sadness, fear, and hurt pulsed through my consciousness. I wanted to cry out, but I didn’t have a throat to make the noise or a mouth to shape the sound.

                A second wave came, this one of loneliness. I realised how we’d connected. Could it feel what I felt? I saw myself like an onion being peeled, layer after layer, until, in the middle, the core, black and rotten, spreading decay, like something on my dad’s compost heap. Something selfish, using, corrupting. I didn’t want to feel its pain. I didn’t want it to see my rottenness. I pulled away with some part of myself, and willed myself out of that place.

                The blue disappeared. I was sprawled on the floor of the shed, looking up at the wooden roof with its damp stains and mould patches where it hadn’t dried out from the winter. I struggled to stand, limbs all at the wrong angle. The alien was curled up in the corner, its knees pulled up to its too-big-head, its skinny arms wrapped around its legs, its face hidden.

                “You all right?” Sam asked. Now he was staring at me.

“Come on,” I said to the creature. I crouched in front of it again, gesturing for it to get out of the corner. I didn’t dare touch it. I just knelt there and waited. It probably couldn’t understand me, anyway.

                Finally, it raised its head to the side, one big eye peering over its arm.

I gestured with my hand again. “Come on.”

I moved out the way, shoving into Sam as I did. I’d forgotten he was still crouched there.

“What are you playing at?” he asked as he fell on his arse. “Watch it.”

I didn’t care about him. I just wanted to let the thing go, and it wasn’t going to come out of the corner with me blocking its way. I pushed the door open, then stood back and waited.

“Go on,” I said. “Get going.”

“What the hell are you doing?” Sam shouted, picking himself up. “What about my go?”

“You don’t get a go,” I said. I couldn’t be arsed explaining. No. I couldn’t explain. He wouldn’t understand. I wasn’t sure I did. I just couldn’t keep it here anymore.

“What’s your problem?” he asked.

“I’m letting it go.”

Slowly, the alien uncurled itself from its ball.

“But …” Sam began. He didn’t bother finishing. The creature ran past us and shot out the door as fast as its skinny little legs could carry it.

                I stepped outside.

“I wanted to see what it was like,” Sam said. He just sounded confused now.

The sun was setting over the backs of the houses, spilling orange light across the rows of red bricks and the alleyways, the washing out on lines in back yards, the half-dug allotments, some going to weed since the conscription came. It reflected off windows, making the houses look like they were on fire, and leaving me twice as cold. Fizzing away like a great electric eye, the rift’s blue light warred against the orange flood. I couldn’t see any sign of the creature.

“You’ll have to find your own,” I said. “But if I was you, I wouldn’t bother.”