confessions of a gay submissive sexelf

I have a new boyfriend.

It’s this guy.

click to embiggen his fabulousness

click to embiggen his fabulousness

Ooh-la-la, amirite? I do like a chap with big … horns.

Actually, in all seriousness, he’s fabulous. I would legit go for him. He’s funny, tender, protective, stands in front of me when people try to kill me. To say nothing of the unabashed prominence of his pillowy manbosoms. He’s also voice-acted with gleeful conviction by – of all people – Freddy Prinz Jr, and being voice-acted with gleeful conviction is just the sort of thing I look for in an imaginary man.

So, yes, the context of this – and I understand some, perhaps all, of you will want to tune out immediately – is that I’ve been playing Dragon Age Inquisition. I can’t really tell if I’m enjoying it – I’m kind of 50 hours in, and mainly I’ve spent it picking flowers. It’s one of those “you, you are the chosen one, the world is ending but first do this eighty six gazillion trivial tasks that could surely be better undertaken by basically anyone else” type games.

Or as it’s otherwise called: an RPG … or roleplaying game.

This post is, uh, long because I got pretty excited talking about my new boyfriend. So, yes, it’s about computer games, romance,, kink, and just about the most wonktastic romance I’ve ever encountered in a game. So considered yourself warned.

Dragon Age Inquisition (being the third game of the Dragon Age series: in short, by-the-numbers grimdark fantasy) is produced by a company that specialises in glossy, cinematic, story-driven RPGs. They’re the sort of games where people talk a lot of about Choice and Agency and Story and Character. And Your Decisions Really Matter and Oh Look At The Moral Grey Area, and blah blah blah.

But there’s also a lot of focus on how you – your character – interacts with the world around, and the people in it. You get a party of interesting misfits who, in practical terms, help you not die in combat, but in story terms stand about the campfire having life stories they want to tell you, passionate opinions on whatever in-game decision you happen to make, so that it feels like you can’t change your socks with Cassandra Disapproving Strongly, and occasionally they want to bang you.

This is weirdly compelling to me.

Because computer gaming is hugely and problematic dominated by men, and we’re very often complete wankers about it, romance is kind of a … shall we … say fringe and rather devalued aspect of games. I mean, yes, there are sex-workers you can sleep with and/or run over in a stolen vehicle, and plenty of motivational wives and girlfriends, who either get murdered in the opening cutscene or wait for you in another castle while you play the game. But unless you move into visual novels or Indie gaming, actual character-driven romance is pretty rare. And if you pay attention (do not pay attention) to the responses of male gamers to the inclusion of romance (let alone queer romance) in games, I think this is largely because romance is perceived as being For Girls (and gays). Whereas real men enjoy guns and cars and saving the world. Or whatever.

If one so desired, there would be plenty of criticism one could direct at Bioware – the company behind Dragon Age (and it’s space opera equivalent Mass Effect). They always makes basically the same game with different curtains. Their portrayal of women, queers and sex in general is occasionally frankly rubbish. But they are at least portraying these things, and with every game, they do it a little better, go a little further. While male gamers shriek and howl about all the gay girly shit polluting the sanctity of the hobby, Bioware has been writing – or at the very least trying to write – adult, engaging stories that engage players in a broad spectrum of activities: yes you can save the world, or doom the world, make bad decisions and good decisions and change the fate of nations, but you can also, y’know, make friends, make enemies, and fall in love. Of course you can totally ignore all that, but I like the fact it’s there. That its considered valuable. As meaningful as … combat or world-shaping decision-making.

The truth is, I’m a huge fan of romance in games. And I don’t think it has to be defended, but, as a matter of fact, it can be: part of the pleasure of a roleplaying game like Dragon Age is creating a character, articulating them in play (albeit in a moderately limited way since you’re choosing from a set of dialogue options) and having the world respond to them. The sort of person someone loves can say an awful lot about who they are. Since there’s only so many ways you can give a player to define their character – appearance, profession, decisions, dialogue – romance simply offers an extra level of customisation in a way.

Although, honestly, I haven’t exactly been lucky in love in Bioware terms. My first lover abandoned me in a huff because I didn’t make him king (he would have made a terrible king, and I didn’t see the point of putting a random dude on the throne when there was a woman already doing a perfectly acceptable job up there) and my second lover committed an act of terrorism that killed a bunch of innocent people, kicking off a massive war. I was honestly kind of bummed on both occasions. By which I mean, outrageously betrayed and heartbroken, and swearing to never trust another virtual man as long as I lived. I understand you can have perfectly successful love affairs in the games – it’s just I, uh, didn’t. But in both cases, actually, I was kind of satisfied by the story arc: in the first game I chose principles over love and in the second … the very fact of my love and support gave my partner such conviction in his cause that … he did something utterly terrible.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a pretty bumpy road. Sex scenes do not look good in video games. Full stop. It’s like an uncanny valley of awkwardness in particularly ill-advised underwear.

dear god. just no.

dear god. just no.

And it’s very easy to make romance feel both inorganic and devoid of any real tension.  It’s often literally mechanised in the sense that you need a certain approval rating before characters will develop romantic feelings for you or respond to romantic overtures, which I think is meant to reflect the idea that you’re more likely to get on with people who a) are like you and b) you are invested in pleasing, but in practice it hinders any sense of a naturally developing accord and becomes this sort of mini-game where all you’re doing is increasing a Likely To Shag score. And while I know these are imaginary people and therefore can’t give meaningful consent, it nevertheless reinforces the unreality of the characters. Since I’m pretty sure in real life if I badgered someone until they eventually slept with me that would … be the very opposite of romantic. It would, in fact, be abuse.

And obviously there has to be some way for you – the player – to signal to the game what and who you’re interested in, and there has to be some internal barrier to achieving that which implies some kind of emotional journey (even if it’s just a number gradually increasing behind the scenes). I think what Dragon Age Inquisition has done better than its predecessors is to distract from that numerical reality. Because there’s such a lot of character engagement, romance does, in fact, feel (if you’re willing to suspend disbelief) organic enough to be surprising. The other thing it has done, which I very much appreciate, is remove the plastic-doll humping, and instead relegate intimacy to dialogue rather than animation. So there’s a lot of pre-and-post sex conversation, which sort of suggests very effectively the type of sex you’d probably be likely to have with a certain character, and how you might feel about it, but everything else is clinches and fade-to-black.  And that’s expressive and specific, and consequently romantic and sexy, in ways the other games haven’t managed to be. I mean, it’s hard to find anything either romantic or sexy when you’re doing cringe face.

It’s also gone further than it has ever before into broad representation. There’s always been queer options in Dragon Age, but they’ve always been, not quite an afterthought, but a side-line. Something you could have if you went looking for it, but not an equal or integral part of the narrative. In Dragon Age 1 characters were either straight or bisexual, except the bisexuality wasn’t really an identity so much as a queer-lite alternative, which only seemed to be there in order to offer queer options in a way that didn’t reduce the options for straight players/characters. This just felt unsatisfying, even more so in Dragon Age 2, where everyone was what you might call operationally bisexual. That is to say, bisexual not in the sense of having any sort of sexual identity, but in the sense that they’d bang the player character regardless of gender. This was even more frustrating because it just made the characters feel hollow (especially since they did kind of have implied sexual identities – the promiscuous pirate queen was blatantly legit-bisexual, and the rebellious mage was clearly gay) – as well as being kind of insulting to bisexuals, since being bisexual is, y’know, a real thing, and isn’t solely about sexual utility for other people.

I need to pause a moment to make this face: >.<

But in Dragon Age Inquisition there’s a broad selection of characters of differing sexualities. There’s a lesbian elf, a gay mage, a bisexual woman, three straight humans, an elf who only does elves, and my gloriously pansexual horny new boyfriend. I’m just sorry Varric the sex-dwarf is still unavailable, since my fingers have been itching to comb through his lustrous chest hair for two games now.

yeah baby yeah

yeah baby yeah

I’m really pleased, as well, that The Iron Bull (that’s my new boyfriend’s name) is bonkable.  There’s been a tendency thus far for romanceability to be the sole province of the conventionally attractive. I played a dwarf in Dragon Age – a very attractive dwarf, by the way, with long dreads, full, sensual lips and a large, noble nose with a scar across it, I would have done me in a heartbeat – and there were a couple of romance options closed off to me solely because I was a dwarf. Which was really annoying because – to give the Dragon Age setting due credit – it treats dwarves pretty seriously. You can totally be a sexy, heroic, awesome dwarf, just as world-savingly capable as a square-jawed human or a pretty-eyed elf. So it made no sense, in that contexts, that the ladies and gentlemen of Thedas wouldn’t be interested in my … uh … axe.

But I love the way The Iron Bull looks: yes he’s not going to be Miss Alabama any time soon, but he totally smoulders.   And his body is amazing – height and muscle and fat and those, uh, nipples – as he charges past me into battle to save my spindly little arse. It’s just really exciting to me that he’s a viable romantic option. And his voice, I’ve mentioned his voice right? He’s also just a fabulous person: sensual, generous, accepting, laconically amused by most things, and utterly and completely badass.

He’s also – and this I was really not expecting – kinky as hell.

And I’m genuinely not sure how I feel about it. Like, on the one hand, it’s refreshing and startling and interesting to see that portrayed in a mainstream computer game.

On the other hand, I really wasn’t intending to play a submissive gay elf.

I actually had trouble with character creation in Dragon Age Inquisition. I usually play a dwarf – the hottest dwarf I can make – but dwarfs can’t be mages, and mages are just mechanically more interesting to play. That left humans and elves. After what felt like eighty seven hours of faffing around with the character creation sliders I abandoned humans altogether as I couldn’t bear the thought of following some square-jawed chump with a bad haircut round for what would be about a hundred hours of gameplay. So I did what I always do when I’m stuck at character creation.

I made an elf who looks like Davie Bowie.

You got rings on your fingers and your hair's hot red

You got rings on your fingers and your hair’s hot red

Before The Iron Bull stole my heart with his nipples, I’d sort of been vaguely intending to romance the gay character – in general support of the principle of having gay characters in games. Except … when I tried to chat him up the dialogue went:

Gay Mage: My, you’re a rather strapping fellow.

David Bowie Elf: You’re rather strapping yourself.

Because clearly David Gaider has no idea how homosexuals talk to each other. I know I don’t live in pseudo-Medieval Europe but I’ve never called anyone strapping in my life. The idea of even using the word strapping to describe another human being makes my toes curl. So that basically killed love for me. Also while there are many words one could possibly apply to David Bowie Elf, strapping is most assuredly not one of them.

So I started flirting outrageously with The Iron Bull instead, although it wasn’t until we killed a dragon together (I think his combat taunt was something like “that’s badass!” as he charged past me to tank the beast) that he finally got the message that I wanted to ride the Bull. Cue a slightly oblique conversation about whether or not I was sure what was I asking for – which, honestly, I wasn’t entirely, I just wanted to bang the guy, it didn’t have to be complicated – followed by a brief, and rather suggestive, animated scene of Bull pinning David Bowie elf’s wrists above his head… and the next thing I know he’s leaving my quarters, telling my advisor that I need my rest.

oh my

oh my

And what the shit just happened to me?

I seek the guy out after some incidental world saving, and we end up having a chat about our, uh, activities. Which is the point at which he gives me a safeword.

Yep. A character in a computer game. Just gave me. A safe word.

“I will never hurt you without your permission. You will always be safe. If you’re ever uncomfortable, if you ever want me to stop, you say katoh and it’s over. No questions asked. You don’t need to be afraid … unless you want to.”

I still don’t quite know how to process that. It’s not like I ever wake up in the morning and think “I’d really like to be a gay submissive elf today” and, well, my tastes are my tastes and those aren’t them … but  it’s so gosh-darned unusual to see non-traditional romantic relationships portrayed in games – or anywhere outside romance novels – that I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to be in one. Also it’s honestly not the worst depiction of BDSM I’ve ever seen. What you actually do together is referenced only obliquely: never explicitly explained or delineated. All the dialogue around it is a little coy, but I think that’s why it works so well. Apparently I’m in a fully consensual power exchange with The Iron Bull – which is tender, loving, intense, and makes me feel good – and I don’t particularly need to know what it specifically entails.

It’s not entirely unproblematic, however. I kind of feel that if the activities in which you’re participating require a safeword, you should get the safeword before you participate in them, not after.  Also there’s an extent to which the game – almost necessarily – has to make some assumptions about what sort of person you are, and what you might be looking for from your interest in particular characters. I’ve never had a game assume I was submissive before, for example, just because I like my men big, and grey, and good in a fight. In fact one might almost assume that my pleasure in ordering burly fellows around a battlefield might imply the very opposite of that. So while I’m okay to go with it, I’m not entirely convinced by ideas the game – partly as a consequence of the limitations of the format – has essentially take for granted i.e. that the only/main reason you’d be into someone like The Iron Bull was if you were a submissive bottom.

There’s also a lot of rhetoric about “this” being “what I need” – which, I think, is meant to tap into the idea that the player character, who has a world to save and a war to stop and the lives of thousands of people in his/her hands, can find safety and freedom from those responsibilities in sexual submission. Which is, y’know, nice and plausible but, at the same time, I’m personally bugged that BDSM rhetoric is always so need-focused. As if people can only quite get their head around the idea that you might wanted to be hurt, or tormented, or restrained, or abased (in ways that felt good to you) because you genuinely just … like it.  And, again, I don’t like the idea that submission is “okay” (or more understandable, less weird, less emasculating/disempowering) if you have tonnes of other responsibilities, like somehow this balances it out. The value of someone’s submission is no less or greater depending on what they do with the rest of their life.

And the romance in general walks this difficult line between genuinely legitimate and played for laughs. Or rather, it tries to be both (and I think, for the most part its) but, while I am absolutely in favour of humour in life, in games, in romance, in sex and also in kinky sex, I think you sometimes have to ask yourself why something is funny, and what ideas it is tapping in / supporting. There’s this scene, for example, where a whole crowd of your advisors walk in on you and react with hilarious shock/repulsion:

I do know this is just a computer game, and I’m waaay overthinking but … there’s a lot I like about this scene. I like the glimpse of The Bull being magnificently stark, ah, bullock naked, and totally unembarrassed about. And I like that fact that nobody is really homophobic about what’s going on. And, obviously, walking in on your boss bonking is always going to mildly disturbing regardless of whoever or whatever he’s doing. It is funny, it is charming, but at the same time there’s definitely the sense that everyone feels you’re a bit weird. I mean Cullen (the blonde prat on the left) is actively sniggering into his hand when Bull mentions that you’re the one who’s been “taking it.” I mean, honestly, is the fact there’s a receptive partner in anal sex still an inherently amusing idea? Are we still really finding this funny? Give me a fucking break.

I mean, it’s kind of adding insult to injury at this point: the game sort of forced me to adopt one type of sexual behaviour in reaction to my interest in a particular character, and now it’s shaming me for that? A lot of the dialogue options you’re offered when the topic of your relationship with Bull comes up are of the embarrassed/bashful/confused variety … and, seriously, fuck that. Even though I didn’t choose to be a gay submissive elf, in practice I apparently am a gay submissive elf so I’m damn well going to be proud of it. So I’ve spent an awful lot of time in this game telling people that Bull and I are together, and we’re serious thank you so very much, and what we do in the bedroom as consensual adults is our business and, yes, actually, I do take it up arse, as is my alienable right as a citizen.

It’s just  … why make these big, bold gestures and then undermine thme with petty micro-aggressions about who is on the bottom? I mean, yes, I guess to a degree it’s realistic: that it’s easy to do the grand things (yes! you should be able to be a queer person in a game! Yes! BDSM is something that deserves representation!) but at the same time miss the small things (having a cock up your arse isn’t funny, kink isn’t weird).

But, don’t get me wrong, I am more than happy – delighted in fact – with what Bioware have been willing to commit to, and what they have achieved with romance in Dragon Age Inquisition. Regardless of the occasional misstep the game is full of moments that support the reality, the validity and the genuine intimacy of kinking it up with The Iron Bull.

One of your party members – my favourite after Bull, actually – is this weird spirit thing called Cole who can sense the thoughts and feelings of others. He’s just an awesome character to wander around with because he says all these random, cryptic poetic things that give you a new way of looking at the world and the people in it: Stuff like: Petals fall open as lips shape words that rhyme. Candlelight softens the edges. Yep, he’s my weird spirit kid. Never go anywhere without him. However, precisely because he’s a weird spirit kid, he has no filter whatsoever and will often announce the personal details of your relationship – or other people’s relationships – to the world at large.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourites because I like the gentleness here and the delicate balance of power it suggests: want and need and give and take and who is control. I think that’s clever, subtle, romantic stuff. Not the usual fare you get in a triple A video game:

Cole: He almost says the word sometimes. Katoh. He tastes it in his mouth, sweet release a breath away, tongue tying it tenderly, like you tie him. But he doesn’t, for you. And for him, because it makes it mean more. A fuller feeling, a brighter burst…

Iron Bull: Yeah. (Coughs) How’s he feel about you saying this in front of everybody?

Inquisitor [me taking the inalienable right as a citizen option, as opposed to the ‘Mortified’ or ‘Pretending this never happened’ option]: I don’t have a problem with it. We’re two consenting adults and I’m not ashamed of what goes on in our bed.

Cole: But not just the bed! Sometimes against the wall… and once on the war table!

Anyway, please excuse me. It seems I’m needed on the war table…

 

 

Posted in Certified Wonktastical, Thinky | 5 Comments

Not your mother’s romance

My latest guilty pleasure is tweets by @eruditeromances.

If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s the bio:

A beacon in the dark. Like Georgette Heyer, but relevant. Probably a parody.

I like that they poke fun at me, because I see myself in some of the tweets. It’s good to laugh at myself sometimes, like when I’m taking myself too seriously. It’s good to remember why I got into this: to tell my stories, to have a good time. Not to write a How To on being a Healthy Human ™. I know this, but somehow, sometimes I forget.

But @eruditeromances is a guilty pleasure because sometimes when I laugh, it’s not at myself. And because the more I read it, the more I hear that voice coming from various sources.

Mostly from other authors, who mock the books I love. But it’s okay, because they’re only doing it to helpfully point out the flaws in what I read and think and am so that I can be better.

I can do without that kind of help in my life.

Whether it comes from a man on Salon.com or a woman who also writes romance. I woke up this morning to a tumblr post telling me it was wrong to use words like devour and claim in a romance, because that’s a sign of an unhealthy relationship.

There should be “body appreciation”, nothing more.

The thing about claiming and devouring is that they’re primal, something our intelligent higher-thought mind knows isn’t accurate but our deeper, animal self still feels. Especially during such an intense, riotous period of time as falling in love. So the question becomes, do I want to portray a relationship at a higher plane, free of those darker, inappropriate impulses? Not really. I want to kick over the rock and look underneath, exposing every need, every desire to possess, every *unhealthy* counterpoint in a relationship.

Words are important. Nuances matter. As writers, we are responsible for choosing them carefully. For some writers that means leaving out words like claim and devour AND THAT’S OKAY. I read their books too…at least, until they say that’s the only way to write. I think I do a greater disservice to scrub the human experience clean of any possible offenses before sharing it. Will it hold up better to scrutiny? Maybe. But it can’t be more honest. And for me, there would be no point in writing. I can do without the kind of help that tells me to lie to make someone else, a stranger, feel more comfortable. I’ve gotten that kind of help my whole life.

Plus, claiming is sexy.

Devouring is sexy.

So is eating out and going down. I’m not going to change that to ‘licking politely’ and ‘going level’ just to satisfy someone else’s standard for a healthy relationship. This is the language that men and women I’ve known use, the language my character would use, and the book is in his and her voice after all.

My characters aren’t healthy people in that context. They are banished to the Island of Misfits where they devour and get devoured, where staking a claim is the only way they know how to want. They also hurt and get hurt, they fight and they bleed, they fuck up and they get fucked. There are millions of stories to tell, millions of characters to write, and these are mine.

The romance genre has gotten knocked for being stupid and trite and OMG SO GIRLY for freaking ever, from both men and women. From people who’ve never read a single romance novel to those who write them. It’s not new. And it’s not actually a help.

I’ve never found it to be very accurate either. The books I’ve read have been smart, meaningful, and edgy as fuck. That’s how I see the romance genre.

Posted in Writing Wonkomance | Leave a comment

Queered Queer Romance and Narratological Geek-Out: A Guest Post by Sarah Frantz Lyons

We’re happy to welcome Riptide editorial director Sarah Frantz Lyons to Wonkomance today to talk about “queered” queer romance. Take it away, Sarah!

———

In my former life as an academic, I was a narratologist. I studied narrative structure, the whys and wherefores of a story’s scaffolding. Why was it put together that way? Why choose that narrator? What were the meanings and consequences of that particular narrative framing? What does it mean for representation of gender and sexuality and class and race and power that a story was, literally, constructed in that particular way?

This is something you can do on a book level (What is with the layers and layers and layers of narrative framing in Jane Eyre?) or on a scene level (Why did Jane Austen’s heroes never say “I love you” in direct dialogue to their heroines during successful proposal scenes? I answer that question in my article in this anthology, but please please please ignore that cover, OMG that cover makes me want to die.)

And as an editor, I use my training as a narratologist more now than I ever did teaching two sections of freshman composition a semester. Now instead of figuring out why a story is told the way it is, I get to figure out how it could be told better, more effectively. I not only get to take a story apart; I get to help put it back together again, in a different, stronger configuration. I love my job. I particularly love my job when I get to work on the kind of books I could have written academic papers about.

Prosperity_200x300Such are Alexis Hall’s Prosperity universe stories. (Disclaimer: I contracted these stories for Riptide. I edited these stories. I adore these stories to tiny bits and pieces.)

Currently, these stories, in publication order, are:

Chronological order in the story universe, however, is:

  • Shackles
  • Squamous with a Chance of Rain
  • Prosperity
  • Cloudy Climes and Starless Skies
  • There Will Be Phlogiston
  • Liberty

Actually, it’s more accurately:

  • First half of internal story told in Cloudy
  • Early parts of Liberty
  • Phlogiston
  • Second half of internal story told in Cloudy
  • Shackles
  • Squamous
  • Prosperity
  • Framing narrative of Cloudy
  • Rest of Liberty

However, reading order is closer to publication order: definitely read Prosperity before any of the Liberty anthology stories. And read Liberty itself last. But the other three Liberty stories can be read in any order. And Phlogiston stands almost entirely alone.

So on the macro-scale, the narratologist in me is bouncing in excitement. There’s an emotional order for the stories that’s utterly different from the chronological order. The framing narrative of Cloudy makes no sense without having read Prosperity, even though almost all of the actual story happens before Prosperity chronologically. But if you read Cloudy first, it’s utterly confusing. If you read it after reading Prosperity, you’ll sob with joy at the end of it. As a reader, you’ll have a completely different relationship to the main character in Phlogiston if you read Cloudy first, than if you read Phlogiston first. What does it all mean?

As a narratologist, I used to examine narrative structure and construction in order to try to understand the social construction of gender in particular. Even more specifically, I examined the way female novelists constructed their male characters—primarily the romantic leads in domestic novels—in order to examine the societal construction of ideal masculinity. But that’s not why I’m excited by the Prosperity universe, not least because Alexis Hall is, obviously, a male author. No, I’m excited by the Prosperity universe because not only are most of the characters queer in some way, but because that queerness is reflected in the narrative structure itself.

So yeah, these stories are queer romance. But they are themselves also queered queer romance. The actual structure of the story mirrors, echoes, reflects, speaks to the queer relationships and queer characters that the stories themselves tell.

How are the very narrative structures of the Prosperity stories themselves queer? Let me count the ways. :-)

Prosperity itself is narrated by Piccadilly: he’s black, he’s sexually omnivorous, he’s a guttersnipe, he’s delightful, he’s sweet and innocent and world-weary and wise and naïve. And although he doesn’t get his happy ending (in this book), as a reader I totally didn’t mind and still count this book 100% a romance. It’s Dil’s book, through and through, but I wasn’t disappointed that he didn’t get his HEA, because he narrated, beautifully, the romance of two other characters who get their HEA, one of whom is the disgraced priest Ruben (drummed out of the priesthood for preaching that God is love, you know), one of whom is Milord, a criminal mastermind. Dil is himself in love with Ruben—has sex with him, even!—and even that wasn’t enough for me to root for anyone other than Ruben and Milord. But Milord is seriously ill with dustlung—a kind of pollution-induced consumption—so even that HEA is compromised. And you don’t even care, because you just know that he’s too stubborn to die. So not only is the narrative structure itself queer—you only see things from Dil’s perspective and romance rules state that that POV character should get the HEA—the HEA the book does give is questionable and it still doesn’t matter. It’s an utterly, perfectly satisfying romance that breaks every single narrative rule it can break to tell its story, and it couldn’t be told any other way.

Shackles is queer because it’s less about the start and growth of a relationship between Ruben and Milord as it is about Ruben peeling away the layers of precisely how unredeemably evil Milord actually is. And still, as a reader, you root for Milord to escape his prison and his death-sentence, even as you come to learn exactly how much he deserves it. Everything you learn in Shackles shows precisely how much Milord doesn’t deserve his HEA, even as you know that he gets his HEA, because (presumably) you’ve read Prosperity already.

Squamous is queer because it’s told by Jane Grey as she descends into madness and heroin addiction, and yet this madwoman is the most reliable narrator you can imagine. Also, it’s an epistolary mashup of Rebecca, The Call of Cthulhu, and—I shit you not—The Sound of Music, and if that’s not queer, I just don’t want to know.

ThereWillBePhlogiston_200x300There Will Be Phlogiston (did I mention it’s FREE?! It’s FREE! 40,000 free words of free awesomesauce and a carnivorous mechanical horse) . . . oh, look at that cover. That cover is all the queer goodness of the story. Shirtless clinches and a (carnivorous mechanical) horse freaking out in the background. Phlogiston is a story about finding oneself by giving oneself away, about finding love in all the wrong places, about everyone deserving love, about a hero who is brought to his knees, not to beg for love, but after he’s already found it. Phlogiston is about drawing the Sedgwickian triangulation of homosocial desire with a bisexual hero, so everyone is not only happy, but fulfilled, in love, and highly sexed. :-)

And Cloudy, oh Cloudy. Cloudy is the connection between all the unconnected parts, the lynchpin of the series, even though it is, itself, the most fragmented of the stories. Cloudy is the story of Byron Kae, a genderqueer aethermancer who is mystically connected to the tall ship Shadowless that flies the kraken-filled skies. The narrative frame (told in deep third from Byron Kae’s perspective) is that Dil asks for Byron Kae’s origin story (told in Byron Kae’s first person perspective). In telling Dil—and the reader—how they came to be an aethermancer, Byron Kae finally seduces Dil, and they both finally get their happy ending together, floating in the skies above Shadowless. The narrative structure is as queer as Byron Kae—not one thing nor the other, literally ranging all over the chronology of the Prosperity universe, not sticking to one time like all the other stories, not sticking to one perspective (going from third to first), and Dil interpolating comments during Byron Kae’s story so that past and present are always combined. Byron Kae seduces Dil with stories-that-are-reality, by narrating their own past, by sharing the intimacy of narrative. And as Dil is seduced, so is the reader. Literally. Or at least, this one is.

LibertyAndOtherStories_200x300And Liberty is about the political and personal toll of imperialism and the arms race, about a man so deeply in the closet he himself doesn’t realize he’s gay and literally can’t yet have a romance—literally, in fact, can’t tell his own story—but who both helps make possible and also prevents the deployment of the steampunk equivalent of the nuclear bomb. You know, no biggie. :-)

And Riptide itself did something that I now realize is a little bit queer. We gave each of the Liberty stories their own cover and we gave the Liberty anthology an additional cover. So each of Shackles, Squamous, Cloudy, and Liberty has two covers. Queerness for everyone! Whee!

Working on these stories made all the parts of me happy: reader, editor, academic. I hope y’all love them too. (And hey, Phlogiston is FREE!)

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AvatarSarah Frantz Lyons is Editorial Director of Riptide Publishing, a queer romance press (ie: a press that publishes queer romance, but yes, the press itself is pretty queer!). She can invariably be found procrastinating on Twitter: @sarahfrantz

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