Queer YA Spotlight: The Honeys

I need to be rational, but in the darkness it’s easy to conclude that whatever spell I’ve surfaced from is supernatural. Out in the woods, with nothing but the steam of my own breath and the mournful plea of the loons off the lake, phantoms feel material.

This doesn’t scare me. I don’t fear the dark. I know the dark, and it knows me. Within it, I’m safe from the sun’s lovely illusions. I know what I’ve always known: that the monsters worth fearing are the ones that are dangerous enough to hide in daylight.

Premise: when Mars’ twin sister, Caroline, suddenly dies under horrifying circumstances, he suspects foul play. He suspects most of all that it has something to do with Aspen Summer Academy, the prestigious summer camp Caroline had been attending—the camp Mars had to leave behind after vicious bullying. No one believes Mars when he says so, but there’s something truly eerie about Aspen’s sun-drenched meadows and idyllic log cabins. What dark secrets lie behind the camp’s cheery exterior? What violence is being hidden and excused under the banner of tradition? And… what’s that buzzing sound?

Rainbow rep: a genderfluid protagonist; binary gender roles and expectations played for horror (note: in the book, it’s stated that Mars is fine with any pronouns and shifts between them all the time. For the purposes of this post, I’m following the marketing copy and using he/him)

Content considerations: supernatural body horror; violence and injuries described in gnarly detail; systemic misogyny; toxic masculinity; bullying; implied/off-page sexual violence against side characters

Summer camps seem like a perfect horror setting. To me, personally—a kid prone to homesickness, frequently bullied, and decidedly bad at sports—staying in the middle of the countryside with a bunch of strange children doing outdoor activities for eight weeks already sounds like a nightmare scenario long before Jason Voorhees walks out of the lake with a big knife.

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Teenage misfits, messy emotions and joyous discussions on consent: Heartbreak High

Few settings invite drama, messy emotions and chaos like a high school.

The original 1990s Heartbreak High ran for seven seasons and was broadcast in over 70 countries including the UK, US, Germany, Argentina, Mexico, India and Indonesia. The show followed a cast of students at a multicultural Sydney high school and became an icon of Aussie TV. It stood out as an honest and gritty depiction of teen life, especially compared against the “squeaky clean” visions in other dramas of the time.

Now, a new reboot under showrunner Hannah Carroll Chapman revisits the fictional Hartley High in 2022, dealing with issues and themes relevant to a contemporary audience.

Heartbreak High will find its place alongside series like Netflix’s Sex Education and HBO’s Euphoria exploring the often grimy realities of modern adolescence with style and humour.

But here we have a uniquely Australian take on the current wave of teen dramas.

Read the full review on The Conversation!

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The Cosy Theology of Monk and Robot

We are the work of the Parents.

We do the work of the Children.

Without the use of constructs, you will unravel few mysteries.

Without knowledge of mysteries, your constructs will fail.

Find the strength to pursue both, for these are our prayers.

And to that end, welcome comfort, for without it, you cannot stay strong.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (2022)

Becky Chambers’ novel A Psalm for the Wild-Built, first in the Monk and Robot series, is dedicated to “anyone who could use a break”.

Chambers has been known for writing “cosy sci-fi” even before this book: oriented around humanistic details and personal stakes, and often leaving readers just… feelin’ good. Monk and Robot is my first Chambers series, and I can’t help but feel like that “cosy” label fits. From literally before page 1, comfort, cosiness, and self-care is built into this story. Not only that, but comfort, cosiness, and self-care are built into the story’s world—chiefly shining through in, of all things, its fictional system of religion.

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Short fiction | Coast Roads

A short story of mine has been published in Issue 29 of SWAMP magazine! It’s about found family, complicated childhoods, and long drives. You can read it (and the other entries from this issue) for free here!

***

We’re more than halfway to the beach when Moon asks me, ‘What do you do in the sea?’

I’m focused on the view out the passenger seat window—on the fields that unroll towards the coast like a lush green carpet—so it takes me a moment to register the question. I turn to look at Moon, who’s diligently watching the road as they drive. ‘What do you do?’ I echo.

I keep my voice low. We turned off the music about fifteen minutes ago, when we realised both Evan and Cass had fallen asleep in the back seat. Now it’s just us and the gentle, hot hum of the highway.

I wonder, suddenly, if Moon has just thought of this question, or if they were waiting until we were alone to voice it. Something about that makes my chest bubble.

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“We Do Bones”: August ’22 Roundup

GUESS WHO HANDED THEIR THESIS IN FOR EXAMINATION?

That’s right! It’s me!!

A couple of weeks later than the deadline I announced (that’ll teach me to announce such things publicly, ha) due to some factors outside of my control, but by golly, it’s polished, all its obvious technical and theoretical holes are patched, and its off on its way to my examination panel! 

As you can possibly imagine, things have been a little surreal since I sent my 105,000 word literary behemoth child out into the world to win some hearts and shape some minds. I’ve been trying to I adjust to not always having something to work on, something to research, something to refine, something to do. Now, my non-teaching time is, well, free time, where there isn’t a major project thrumming away in the background waiting for my attention. Yes, I have some other projects I would love to slot into that new empty space. But I’m also going to schedule in a hefty dose of lying down in the sun and doing absolutely nothing.

I’m still writing though, of course. Always always. Let’s look back at what I put out this month:

On the blog

The Queer Art of Not Staying Dead – we all know the Bury Your Gays trope, but here are some fantasy novels that are un-burying their queer protagonists in very satisfying ways.

Queer YA Spotlight: The Monster of Her Age – set in an alternate universe where Australia’s film industry is on par with Hollywood, this is a charming, moving story about grief and horror movies.

On AniFem

Summer 2022 Three-Episode Check-in – how are the new shows going in a season of ghouls and goofs?

Short fiction

Legs – the online literary zine EnbyLife was generous enough to publish a short story of mine! This one’s about the strange rituals associated with doing girlhood “properly”, and how something an annoying teenager says to you in passing can stick in your head forever.

Webbed sites

What does “historical accuracy” even mean, and can we apply these notions to fantasy? As Bernadette breaks down, often this is to do with creating a sense of logic, verisimilitude, and cohesion that makes your made-up world feel like a real place people might live day-to-day.

Listen, I maintain my argument that Rent-a-Girlfriend had potential… which makes it all the more painful that it divebombed into stupidity… which makes it all the more cathartic when other people tear its stagnant, sexist, downright silly narrative to shreds.

I’ve also been really enjoying diving into Mina Le’s backlog of well-researched and nicely-presented videos on various niches of fashion history. What does it mean to “dress rich” and where does that pop cultural image come from? What history and imagery is Lana del Rey drawing on for her carefully-constructed persona and why is it falling apart in the year of our lord 2022? She also has heaps on movie and TV costumes, but I’ve been having fun absorbing these glimpses into aesthetic worlds I wouldn’t normally chat about.

I’ve also been enjoying watching fashion historian Nicole Rudolph put together a… Muppets cosplay. No, really. It’s literally so good. The series starts here! You will learn so much!

“Differences Die at the Door”: A Postmortem of Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop – alright, so NetBop was canned, but getting to the heart of why involves a deeper dive than the memes. In this article, Madeline examines the creative influences behind the original versus the adaptation, revealing key differences that lead to the latter feeling “repugnant in a uniquely American way”.

All the Dangerous Things Ryan La Sala has Done in the Name of Research – author of Reverie, Be Dazzled, and the please-arrive-in-the-mail-soon new release The Honeys, La Sala has engaged with some chaos in the name of “method writing”—from infiltrating a cosplay contest, to urban exploration, to accidentally unveiling a beekeeper’s curse.

The song on repeat this month is a much more mellow vibe than July’s bop. It’s making me crave a visit to the ocean…

And that’s all folks! See you on the flipside.

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Queer YA Spotlight: The Monster of Her Age

‘I think—aside from the adrenaline rush and vicarious feeling of surviving something just like the characters after you’ve watched a scary movie—I think I love horror so much because the whole world can be one big scary place, and especially for women, right?’ Riya carelessly flicks her plait, and brushes stray curls away from her face—something I’m beginning to notice she does when she’s excited. ‘But there’s something freeing about choosing to walk into a dark cinema and be scared. To take control and let yourself be frightened, to give yourself over to it. Because we don’t get a lot of say in what happens to us in the real world and the times we’re scared when we don’t want to be. Because there’s some creep on a train brushing up against you, or some perv at a party who thinks you being wasted is a free pass…’

In my head I think, Or some adults who think fear is entertainment, that your vulnerability is their authentic vision brought to life.

Riya continues, ‘But choosing fear? In a controlled environment, where the stories can push us to think about what we’d do in that situation—especially when most of the time the hero in a horror film is a woman—that’s amazing! That’s powerful.’

Premise: Ellie Marsden’s grandmother is the (in)famous Lottie Lovinger, who made her screen debut as a cricket-bat-wielding, mini-shorts-wearing Final Girl in a ‘70s slasher movie and has been an undisputed scream queen ever since. Once, Ellie wanted to follow in her footsteps, but her one experience as a child actor left her traumatised—and estranged from Lottie, who let the on-set abuse happen. But when Lottie has a stroke, Ellie must return home and reckon with her complicated relationship with the Lovinger family legacy. Was Lottie a heroine, or a monster? Can a person be both at once?

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Short fiction | Legs

The online literary zine EnbyLife was generous enough to publish a short story of mine! This one’s about the strange rituals associated with doing girlhood “properly”, and how something an annoying teenager says to you in passing can stick in your head forever. You can check it out for free here!

***

In preparation for the tattoo, I shaved my legs for the first time in a year.

Technically, I didn’t have to. Only one leg was getting inked, after all. But it was weird to imagine one limb smooth and shiny while its sibling walked beside it, a mirror image save for twelve months’ worth of scruff. Maybe it could have been a statement. Performance art, even! Something something multiple expressions of the self can exist in the same body.

As I stood in the shower washing clumps of shin-fuzz out of a disposable razor, I mentally wrote half an artistic rationale for leaving my left leg hairy. But then I imagined the sensation of the scraggly calf brushing against the perfect smooth one—worse yet, against the tender healing skin of the new tattoo—made an involuntary ‘yurk’ sound out loud in my bathroom, and decided to just do ‘em both.

Afterwards, I ran my hands down my legs, plasticky smooth for the first time in months and months, and tried to figure out whether it felt good or not. Tangibly, texturally? For sure. Velveteen to the touch, still dewy with moisturiser.

Emotionally? Well. That got complicated. A rush of dopamine from patting my own satin-soft shins is inevitably followed, shot and chaser, by a memory: an echo of a giggle that vibrates around my brain.

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The Queer Art of Not Staying Dead

This post contains major spoilers for the end of Gideon the Ninth and the whole of Harrow the Ninth, and minor spoilers for The Dawnhounds.

If I had a ten-cent coin for every New Zealand sci-fi/fantasy novel that killed off its sapphic main character only to bring her back to life through cool worldbuilding and thematically resonant means… well, I’d only have twenty cents, but it’s neat that it’s happened more than once.

We all know the trope—the cliché even—of the tragic queer character. “Bury Your Gays” is part of most people’s fandom lingo even if they’re not familiar with its broader media history. Whether due to censorship regulations, underlying homophobia on the writers’ part, or otherwise well-meaning creatives stumbling into familiar patterns, there’s a long, established literary history of killin’ off the non-heterosexuals. This makes every story that doesn’t do this refreshing, of course. But on a deeper level, it also makes room for stories that engage with this trope through genre fiction: drawing the reader’s eye to the familiar pattern playing out, and then ultimately rejecting it for maximum thematic satisfaction.

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Summer 2022 Three-Episode Check-In

Ghosts, goofs, and girls with guns—let’s see how those new shows are faring a few weeks in, shall we?

Read the full post on AniFem!

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ALEX.exe has Stopped Running: July ’22 Roundup

Well, maybe that’s not quite accurate—at the very least, I’m running on dial-up speed. But I did a lot of writing this month, so let’s take a look back at that shall we?

On AniFem

Anime Feminist’s Recommendations of Spring 2022 – here’s a roundup of the team’s top picks from the past season!

Chatty AF #165: 2022 Spring Wrap-up – and here’s the podcast edition, wherein a tried/sick trio looks back on faves and disappointments.

Extreme Hearts – Episode 1 – a baffling hybrid of sci-fi, sports, and idols.

Parallel World Pharmacy – Episode 1 – an unexpectedly compelling spin on the overdone “zapped into a fantasy world with immense magic powers” trope… let’s hope it gives its female characters more to do in future episodes to really make it shine!

Luminous Witches – Episode 1 – war! What is it good for? Speculative fiction anime starring cool teen girls, that’s what.

Lycoris Recoil – Episode 1 – as we all know, the most effective assassins are sixteen-year-old girls. But will this show play that straight, or offer some social commentary on state violence?

My Isekai Life – Episode 1 – competent but ultimately deeply dull fantasy.

TEPPEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Laughing ’til You Cry – Episode 1 – as you might guess from the number of exclamation points in the title, this series has ENERGY!

When Will Ayumo Make His Move? – Episode 1 – if Kaguya-sama: Love is War is “teens play mindgames and refuse to be honest about their feelings (affectionate)” this is “teens play mindgames and refuse to be honest about their feelings (derogatory)”.

The World of Academia

Over the first weekend of July, I (virtually) attended a conference for the Australian Children’s Literature Association for Research. The vibe was great overall, and I got to sit in on some fascinating discussions about diversity in kidlit and YA from a range of research perspectives. And I presented some of my own! A transcript (and biblio) can be found here.

And don’t forget Patreon!

Yes, even though keep forgetting to link to it, don’t you forget that it’s there! For $2 a month you get early access to all my blog posts, and for $5 you get a little bit of short fiction in your inbox once a month!

Webbed sites

A common complaint lobbed at the shoujo demographic is that “it’s all the same”. Colleen unpacks that assumption here, pointing out that the variety within contemporary shoujo is genuinely impressive… but painfully inaccessible to English-language audiences.

It has become a fact universally acknowledged that Netflix’s new Persuasion adaptation is bad. But why, exactly? As Karolina breaks down here, a lot of it has to do with the treatment of the protagonist, who is denied the character growth that made her story so special by being written as a Modern Snarky Girlboss from minute one.

Willow reviews a manga I’ve been meaning to check out for a while—the delectable Delicious in Dungeon, which focuses on the nitty-gritty details of a fantasy world and all the tasty bits of lore and logistics that might usually get brushed over in favour of a more epic adventure.

Five Great LGBTQ+ Series with Disappointing Anime Adaptations – Vrai laments the various ways these queer stories were let down in the adaptation process, from seemingly random re-ordering of the narrative to production woes to excessive fanservice, and everything in between.

A Neurodiverse Reading of Eizouken‘s Asakusa Midori – Patricia highlights what resonates with her about Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken‘s lovable, atypical, creative main character.

The Forgotten Surprises of Anime VHS Commercials – Anthony takes us on a trip down memory lane into the weird, wild world of early anime advertising, which often took a somewhat shotgun approach.

The song stuck in my head this month is about mad, gay science.

And that’s all for now! Take care and I’ll see you again soon!

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