How Judith Butler Inspired My Alien Bone Dragons

They call me “the gay dragon lady.”

SunDragon[The]FSIt’s an accurate nickname. All five books in The Sun Dragon Series feature protagonists who are LGBTQI, and several of them happen to be half-human, half-dragon people. See, that’s my thing: I write young adult novels with LGBTQI protagonists that are, for the most part, centered on the fantasy journey or epic battle instead of the fact that the character is LGBTQI.

I didn’t intend to write young adult books about gay dragons; I didn’t intend to write young adult novels at all. But when I visited a group of LGBTQI youth at Rainbow Room, a program through Planned Parenthood, to talk about being an author, they told me over and over again that there was no fiction on the shelves that represented them. That told a story first, and happened to have an LGBTQI main character as the protagonist at the same time.

So I wrote them one.

And another.

And a five book series.

starsongfinIt wasn’t until Starsong, the third book in The Sun Dragon Series, that I realized just how much my degree in Women’s Studies was influencing my work. Starsong takes place on Draman, an alien planet filled with intersex people (though they do not learn that word until they visit Earth) who are forced to pick a gender at age ten as part of their naming ceremony. Same-gender relationships are banned, so the decision also affects who the person can love from that point forward.

Could there be a better example of gender as a social construct?

During my time at George Washington University, I was enthralled, as most women’s studies majors are, by Judith Butler. I had never thought of gender as a performance, as something to be subverted. But years later, as I watched the chapters of Starsong flood the blank pages in front of me, I realized just how much Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter had affected me.

And Dramanian society gets subverted pretty quickly. One child, Skelly, refuses to pick a robe, throwing all of the Dramanian royals into an uproar and forcing Sara Lee, maid to the Princess, to help them flee the planet. Here is an excerpt from that moment:

Soon, the last child took the floor. Nothing about the shoes, the shape of the clothing beneath, or even the facial features gave him or her away, and after years of ceremonies, I was an expert. Finally challenged, I sat up in my seat and watched this one with interest. Their eyes were an intense green, extremely rare for the darker complexion of Dramanians. There was a focus in every movement of the limbs, a calculation not often found in children, though the limbs of this child were much smaller and daintier than their age would suggest.

“Red or black, dear?” the master of ceremonies prompted. The hour was late, and our guests had not yet had dessert. After that there would be dancing, and I was sure Aduerto would insist on parading me around the room on his arm.

“Neither.”

The rest of the book is told through Nimue’s, Sara Lee’s, and Skelly’s perspective, and intertwines with the other books in the series through a battle with evil robots from the second book and a time jump back to the first.

Even though the circumstances in the beginning of Starsong were intentional, please don’t think that I go into every book with a theoretical agenda. I typically like to set things up and then watch them fall as they will, following the characters as complex individuals who make their own decisions more than following any specific plot I’ve cooked up. I am just as shocked as the reader when someone dies, or when someone falls in love with the wrong sibling. Some writers outline their stories, but I’m not one of them. Even in Starsong, the question of gender performance is never exactly answered, and later, in books like Luminosity, gender performance will again play a large role in the identity of the main character.

In my opinion, my role as an author of fiction is not to make those decisions for the reader. It’s not to preach, or to further an agenda, or to say what’s right or wrong. It’s to make the reader think, for a few hundred pages, in a new way. To ask themselves a new question, and to determine the answer on their own.

Cairo in WhiteWhen my first adult novel, Cairo in White, came out shortly after I graduated from the writing program at Johns Hopkins University, a very socially conservative reader emailed me to say that the story of an Egyptian lesbian who is forced to marry her lover’s brother had changed her mind about the topic of gay marriage. No one should be separated if they are in love, she’d decided, and my book had been the thing to change her mind.

It had forced her to think, for a few hundred pages, in a new way.

I hope the same thing happens with Starsong. I hope it asks the right questions rather than gives the right answers, and that it helps readers see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Especially when those eyes are in the head of a really cool bone dragon.

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Find Starsong on the Harmony Ink website, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

 

Cover Reveal for Caden’s Comet!

I am absolutely IN LOVE with this the book cover for Caden’s Comet: Book Four in The Sun Dragon Series. Stef Masciandaro does incredible work!

CometFINISH (1)

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Long ago, in the days before King Roland, the four dragon kingdoms—Ice, Sun, Earth, and Bone—battled for dominion over the bountiful planet Earth. Prince Grian, a young dragon, hid aboard a Sun Dragon ship, traveled to Earth, and met Caden, an Earth Dragon who’d run away from his village. Despite falling in love, destiny’s plans for them turned cruel, and both perished in the war.

The Artists who created the universe could not let this tragic loss of true love go unpunished. They wiped out the race of Sun Dragons, exiled the Bone Dragons to Draman, and banished the Ice Dragons to the North Pole, safely away from the Earth Dragons. Only the rebirth of Grian and Caden could break the curse. One day, the return of their love would usher in an age of peace and prosperity for all dragons.

But when Prince Grian is reborn, he finds reuniting with his soulmate on Earth will be no easy feat. As he searches for his lost love, the Earth Dragon Protection Society, or EDPS, searches for him, ready to kill him when they find him. If Grian can elude the EDPS, he might find that the true love he once had isn’t guaranteed to bloom a second time.

COMING JULY 2017!

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If you haven’t read The Sun Dragon: Book One in The Sun Dragon Series yet, comment below with your email address (preferably in a safe format, for example annabellejayauthor (at) gmail dot com) for a chance to win a copy of the ebook! 

Introducing the “Who Are You Wearing?” Blog Series

About the Series

In the “Who Are You Wearing?” blog series, a bunch of wonderful authors will guest post about what their characters are wearing in a scene of their choice, as well as insider information on why they chose those outfits and how they characterize their protagonist or antagonist. Check back here soon for the schedule of author posts!

For Authors

Your “Who Are You Wearing” blog post should be between 300-1200 words and include 1) a description of your character’s outfit and 2) the reasons behind why you chose those clothes. You can post a section from the book if you’d like, and sneak peeks are always appreciated! Please send the post (as a Word doc), a short third person bio, the back cover blurb and cover (if the book is already published), a picture of yourself, and any links you’d like me to include to annabellejayauthor (at) gmail dot com.

 

“Who Are You Wearing?”: Skye Allen

the-songbird-thief-coverLee Crawford is an awkward teenage girl. She’s a lot like me at age 15. Her standard uniform is a men’s Army coat, old boots and jeans. She doesn’t wear any makeup to speak of. Her day-to-day look says “It’s none of your business if I’m a boy or a girl. Back off.” But Lee is also a singer, and she can’t be so invisible when people are listening. That means dressing up for her part-time job singing at funerals, but it also means letting people see her real self once in a while. That’s one of her big dilemmas.

Lee’s story is about voice, as a metaphor and as a real thing. Specifically the voice of a young woman who’s gone through severe trauma. The Songbird Thief is a fantasy, so Lee has to literally wrestle with the magic power of her singing voice and learn how to control it. But it’s also about how Lee expresses herself — to strangers, to the people she loves, and to the people she fears. Survivors of family violence often find themselves examining how the past informs their choices in the present. It’s a step toward breaking the grip of the abuse. That’s also a major question for Lee.

When we first meet Lee, she’s convinced that she is going to turn out to be a bad person because she is half Winter Fey. Those are the evil fairies — or at any rate, they’re much readier to slit your throat than the Summer Fey are. Lee doesn’t think she has a choice about ending up just like them: capricious, cruel, with no morals at all.

But fashion. On her way to coming out of her shell, Lee also gains a healthy dollop of physical confidence — something I love to witness as a writer, since I adored shy Lee so much from the second I met her. She travels to the Winter and the Summer Realms, and in each place, they dress her up in fey clothes. They’re trying to flatter her; their ultimate goal is to harness her singing voice for their own use. But those fine outfits also give us a glimpse into how Lee secretly sees herself.

In the scene I wanted to share with you here, Lee is at a Winter Fey party. The fey are dangerous, but they’re also powerfully seductive, and being dressed by them opens a few doors in Lee’s mind that had been closed until now.

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Excerpt from The Songbird Thief:

“No, I have to go home,” I say to the wall of silver-draped girls who have me trapped. I may not have a strong idea of where “home” is right now, but I definitely do not want to stay here. A girl with deep green skin brushes my mouth with her fingers, as if to say Stay. I shiver when she touches me and the shiver takes me by surprise, like my body is running away without my brain into some unfamiliar country. It’s a good-feeling shiver, but it scares me not to be in control. “I have to go,” I say again, and her mouth widens into dimples and she shakes her head.

There’s no escape anyway. I look around at the brown and teak and pale faces, and someone’s silver eyes smile at me out of a face painted with blue leaves. I feel the tug and press of fingers, the whoosh of cool air, the rustle of fabric, and when the fey girls pull away, my thrift-store dress is gone. In its place are a silver top and midnight blue trousers made of heavy silk twill that pools around my ankles, where they’re tucked into low suede boots. Around my hips is a leather belt with a row of silver rings in place of a buckle. It all fits the way my own clothes never do, not too loose in the chest or too short everywhere. I feel vulnerable, conscious of the snug fit over my hips and the low top leaving more skin bare than I’m used to, but I feel a rush of rock-star feeling too. I sway to watch the fabric bell out around my knees, and I hear laughter. One of the girls who dressed me holds up a silver-rimmed mirror, and I see that they’ve made up my face too. Where all I had on was lip balm before, now I have the smoky eyelids and dewy lips of a model. I look like a girl—a real girl, not a flagpole dressed in a man’s coat from the Army-Navy Surplus store. Even my hair is lying in glossy curls, not its usual fuzzy cap of neglect.

The silver girls stop smoothing down my hair and now they’re tugging at my arms, but I can’t go with them wherever they’re trying to take me. I want to leave. The girl with green skin gives me an appreciative look from boots to hairline, and her breath blows on my ear as she kisses my cheek, and I feel that shiver of pleasure again in parts of my body I’m not used to being conscious of when anyone’s there. Then she grasps my shoulders and spins me around to face the crowd.

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Synopsis:

Where’s the harm in a little petty theft now and then? Fifteen-year-old Lee is about to find out. Lee has a gift—the ability to use her songs to enchant prospective victims, making them easy to rob—but it isn’t without a price. The source of this mysterious ability is revealed when Lee comes to San Francisco, fleeing her stepfather’s abuse: she is half fey. This knowledge puts a strain on Lee’s relationship with her friend and secret crush, Sonja, since Sonja thinks entanglements with the fey only lead to trouble. As her adventure takes her deeper into the intrigues of the Faerie Realm, Lee discovers her power has the potential for more than fun and profit. Some would use it for evil, and only Lee can decide if there’s good to be found in her songs.

Bio: skye-allen-photo

Skye Allen is the author of a YA LGBTQ+ urban fantasy novel, Pretty Peg. Her short fiction has appeared in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal and Of Dragons and Magic and her poetry in Insomnia and Sinister Wisdom. She is also a musician and occasionally performs around the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her wife, their cat and a flock of chickens. The Songbird Thief is her second novel.

Buy the book on Harmony Ink’s website, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, and contact Syke on facebook, twitter, or through her website