Guest Post by Victoria Elliott: Why We Need Diverse Book Covers

Someone like you belongs on a book cover, but, depending on who you are, it’s appalling how hard you are to find. My wife and I have launched an Indiegogo campaign, We Need Diverse Book Covers, to change that..

A few years ago, the #weneeddiversebooks campaign launched to advocate for improved diversity in children’s literature. This was followed by #weneeddiverseromance with a similar aim for romance fiction. (Both are great. Check them out.) Our IndieGoGo campaign will start with improving the covers of our books, but we’re hoping it does much more than that and ripples outward. We need diversity in what we read, but we also need diversity in the images that we see.

When we started writing and self-publishing lesbian fiction under the pen name Elizabeth Andre, it was like exhaling after holding our breaths for too long. Finally, after years of writing for somebody else’s markets, we were able to write the diverse stories we always wanted to and publish them for the people that we always knew wanted them. They just weren’t of interest to traditional publishers. Since we started self-publishing in 2014, we’ve written about 65-year old lesbians—one Caucasian, one Asian-American—who have sex and fall in love on a cruise. We’ve written about two thirty-something African-American lesbians who cross class lines to find true love. We’ve written about lesbians with disabilities, and we’ve just started a story about a big beautiful woman who, yes, falls in love. Our novels about lesbian ghost hunters are due out in the fall. We also write diverse gay male fiction under the pen names Kendall Morgan and Danielle Summers.

We can do the writing. We have years of writing experience and a wall full of writing awards. We have a dynamite editor. We can layout and produce the books. It’s the covers that haven’t always done our stories or our characters justice. More often than not, we’ve been stymied in our search through stock photo libraries for the wide range of people we write about. This means that, instead of sexy couples, we have photos of sexy individuals or objects suggestive of the story within but not truly reflective of it, not truly reflective of you.

When you don’t see yourself reflected, it’s like you don’t exist. You know you do, but you can feel invisible. We know how that feels. Or maybe there are images that are like you, but they are so distorted that you feel ugly. We need images that reflect how sexy our characters are, that reflect how sexy you are.

And diversity needs to be defined broadly. It’s not just black and white, literally. The diversity we are working toward includes diversity by race, ethnicity, body type, body size, disability, ability, and gender. I have no doubt that we’ll be adding to this list.

It’s an economic injustice that authors who write about white heterosexual couples can go to just about any photo library and for a modest fee download images that look like their characters. We have to go to greater effort and pay more for images, and we will because everyone involved in this project will be paid fairly.

Consider being a part of our Indiegogo campaign in some way. Share it on social media. Blog about it. Talk about it. Contribute. Perks include signed and advance copies of our books as well as opportunities to be the star of our next romance story. Sign up to be one of our models.

You belong on a book cover, too, and you can help make book covers more diverse.

Shira Glassman reviews “Né łe” by Darcie Little Badger (from Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time)

If I told you there was a short story where two women of color fall in love in outer space, surrounded by puppies, you’d go out and buy it right away, right? No, you’d invent a time machine and go back in time and buy it five minutes before you started reading this review. That’s how badly you want cute f/f in space WITH PUPPIES.

“Né łe” by Darcie Little Badger was my favorite story in the Indigenous LGBT SFF anthology Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time, which incidentally includes at least two other f/f pieces, so if you only read f/f it’s still very much worth it. Forty chihuahuas (and one husky!) need care when the dog stasis on the transport to Mars malfunctions and they all wake up, so the crew wakes one of the human passengers, an Apache veterinarian on her way to the Martian colony to start over after a breakup.
Since she needs to stay conscious and take care of the dogs, over the remaining months of  the voyage she grows closer with the pilot, who turns out to be not only Navajo but also another lesbian. They weather the ups and downs of space travel and astronomical doggie care together, and the protagonist has a decision to make once they reach Mars. It’s well-written and easy to follow, with–and you know this is always a priority with me with SFF–approachable worldbuilding.
The world needs truckloads more stories like this one, where not only folks in the LGBT umbrella but also marginalized ethnicities (or ability levels, or marginalized faiths) get to have fluffy and imaginative adventures in space, underwater, or in magical faraway kingdoms. Thank you for this one.

Tierney reviews Consequences by Sarah Libero


[Trigger warning for sexual assault.]

When Emily, a systems analyst, meets Kay, a detective, at their Maine police station, both feel an instant connection: Emily is all too happy to provide her expertise on Kay’s investigation of a drug gang, and she begins questioning her twenty-five-year marriage to her husband, Tom. Then when Tom is killed in a suspicious car accident, Kay takes the case–and her relationship with Emily deepens. As they untangle a complex web of crimes, the two become more and more entangled in each other’s lives. Consequences is a fast-paced romance, with plenty of external cop drama to keep things moving.

Emily and Kay are perfectly likable characters–but their characteristics and character development seems to take a backseat to the novel’s intricate plot twists, and Consequences suffers somewhat for that. For example, the novel opens with Emily getting attacked and sexually assaulted by a stranger, decades prior to the novel’s main events. Ostensibly this prelude serves to explain why she married Tom, instead of pursuing her nascent attraction to women (she states later in the novel that she married him because he helped her feel safe after the attack), but the event’s inclusion and explicitness feel weird and out of place, because it operates as a graphic plot point rather than a traumatic event that Emily works through and that contributes to her character development in some way.

*spoilers in this paragraph* I half expected Emily’s attacker to be somehow involved in the drug-smuggling ring, because everything else in the novel seems to tie back to this investigation, and every other issue in the novel is neatly tied up with a bow when this case is solved. It turns out that Tom was run off the road by one of the drug dealers in the ring, because he had found out about their illegal activities and had incriminating pictures on his phone. And even minor plot points end up leading back to the drug gang: it turns out that the worst player on the station’s poorly-ranked softball team is a crooked cop who was messing with evidence on behalf of the criminals–so with him gone, the team will be on the up and up! It all seemed a little too convenient for each and every obstacle faced by the characters to connect back to the drug investigation. *end spoilers*

Despite all the plot’s dramatic twists, turns, and reveals, I did find myself rooting for Emily and Kay. Their romance had great chemistry–and their first sex scene showcases some pretty great modeling of consent. Read Consequences if you like your romances with a heaping helping of mystery and suspense.

Guest Lesbrarian Lindy Pratch reviews One in Every Crowd by Ivan E. Coyote

Ivan E. Coyote’s autobiographical stories are especially chosen for a teen audience in the collection One in Every Crowd. I was pleased to encounter many of my favourites from previous collections. In the same way that I like listening to some songs over and over, it’s nice to read a good story more than once. I don’t usually allow myself this pleasure, since I don’t often reread books. (Mostly because there are too many new books to get to.)

“No Bikini” — about not being trusted with a two-piece bathing suit as a child — is in here. So is “The Red Sock Circle Dance” — about a friend’s child who started crossdressing when he was still a toddler. There are also three more stories about this boy, Francis, and it’s nice to see him get older through Coyote’s eyes. In “Imagine a Pair of Boots,” Coyote talks about gender pronouns, saying she doesn’t have a preference because neither one fits her: “she pinches a little and he slips off me too easily.”

Coyote writes about her childhood in Whitehorse, Yukon, and about her current home in Vancouver. Many of the newer pieces are about Coyote’s storytelling performances in schools across Canada. Her anti-bullying message is so important, as she explains in “As Good as We Can Make It”:

Bullies grow up — their behaviour gets modified and sometimes their language gets slicked over with education — and they become the political, financial, and social arbiters of life as we know it. I bet you any money that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a bully in school, and don’t we all wish now that someone had nipped him in the bud before it was too late for Canada.
(Yes, I certainly do.) Coyote speaks directly to young butches later on in the same essay. “Do not cave into the pressure from the queer community to fit in, either. Make your own decisions, and trust your own heart. Being butch is not just a bus stop on the highway to transitioning.”

Twenty years ago, I sang in Edmonton Vocal Minority, a gay and lesbian community choir. One of the other altos always wore a dress shirt and skinny tie. She was a little more than 5 feet tall and totally butch. During a break in rehearsal one day, when she complained that customers at the electronic store where she worked always called her “sir,” one of the other lesbians suggested that it might be because she wore men’s clothing. The petite butch was rightfully indignant: “They’re not men’s clothes, they are my clothes.”

Gender nonconformists are teachers, whether they choose that role or not. Coyote’s storytelling has an educational element, no matter what age her audience happens to be. Best of all, she is genuinely warm and funny, whether on the page or in person. I’m looking forward to hearing her again at the Vancouver Writers Fest in October 2012.

The young person illustrated on the cover of One in Every Crowd looks both tough and vulnerable against a background of school lockers; someone who is beginning to grow callouses from daily verbal abuse. Someone who may, or may not, live to survive high school. The art is by Elisha Lim, who also did the cover forPersistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (which is on my TBR pile). Lim obviously has a thing for butches; one of her recent creations is a graphic novel, 100 Butches. Images from 100 Butches can be viewed here, and isn’t it delightful?

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Find more of Lindy Pratch’s reviews at her book blog, Lindy Reads and Reviews!

Guest Lesbrarian Lindy Pratch reviews Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

Five adults left a wedding reception in rural Wisconsin very late one night in 1983. Stoned, drunk or sleepy, none of them were in any shape for driving. Their car struck and killed a child and her death stayed with them for years. In Carry the One, Carol Anshaw explores the connections between human beings: siblings, parents, married couples, lovers and offspring, as well as fellow participants in a tragic event.

Alice, sister of the bride (Carmen), and Maude, sister of the groom (Matt), discovered a passion for each other on the night of the wedding. “All through the night Alice had tried to break down the elements of Maude, then add her up, but she kept getting lost in the higher math, the exponential blur.”

Later, arithmetic comes up again when Alice speaks of the connection between all of them who were in the car that night: “Because of the accident, we’re not just separate numbers. When you add us up, you always have to carry the one.”

“In a deep recess, an inchoate space where thoughts tumble around, smoky and unformed, Alice’s biggest fear was that she and Maude and the accident were tied in an elaborate knot — that her true punishment for what happened that night would be God, or the gods, or the cosmos giving her Maude, then taking her away.”

The strong bond between Alice and her sister, Carmen is wonderfully portrayed, as is the way they cope with Nick, their junkie of a brother.

“Their alliance was deep, formed in the trenches of childhood where they were each other’s landsmen, comrades in strategy and survival, in warding off the contempt of their parents, and in protecting their brother. These positions had been set up early and were not subject to realignment. So Alice and Carmen always approached each other carefully, with respect — minor diplomats, one from an arctic, the other from an equatorial nation, attempting to understand each other’s customs, participate in each other’s holidays.”

Twenty-five years pass over the course of the story. It’s like a trip down memory lane. For example, Nick wore a thrift shop wedding dress to Carmen’s wedding. (His sisters called him “the backup bride.”) I used to share a house in the early 80s with three other dykes and two gay men, one of whom (David) liked to wear a wedding dress that he found at a charity shop. Our friend k.d. lang later wore that very same dress to collect a Juno award for Most Promising Female Vocalist. But I digress.

I also love that Carmen and Alice are both big readers. At one point, Carmen drops in to find Alice reading stacks of cheesy dyke novels from the forties and fifties:

“The covers had a sinister tone, usually represented by a woman in a black or red slip. ‘They’re all great,’ she told Carmen. ‘They’re like Greek tragedies. Everyone gets horribly punished in the end. Or they hang themselves with a belt over the steam pipe.’
‘But weren’t these somebody’s real, tortured life once?’ Carmen said.
‘Well, sure, but now they’re more like folktales. Hardships of our ancestors. Like Lincoln walking ten miles to school every day through the snow. That sort of thing, only in bars.'”

Nick’s girlfriend, Olivia, was the one driving when they left the wedding. She was negligent in many things, including her job as a letter carrier. On the night of the accident, her trunk was full of undelivered mail. I was a postal worker from 1983 to 1989, so that is another reason that Anshaw hooked me from the start.

Beautiful language, great characters and a moving plot; it all adds up to a superb book.

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Guest Lesbrarian post by Wendy!

A Gay in the Life of Melinda Finch is a new e-book that is now available on the Amazon Kindle and for general download at Smashwords.

The story is set in downtown Toronto. The main protagonist is Melinda Finch, a woman in her early thirties who can’t win when it comes to relationships. She also has a dead-end job at a small magazine company.

The interesting thing about this book is that Melinda is a heterosexual woman, but by an unexpected twist of fate her boss promotes her to become his new lesbian love advice columnist. He is convinced she is homosexual. Melinda takes the job and must go undercover as a lesbian to try to write a convincing column. Along the way, she meets other lesbians and the result is a zany and hilarious romp of a novel with a surprisingly poignant ending about love.

This novel is a humorous and enjoyable read. The characters are quirky and unpredictable and they grow throughout the span of the book. My favourite character was Bitchy (you’ll have to read it to find out what I’m talking about). In addition, there was good conflict and tension between the characters which added to the plot. Melinda comes off as a pathetic character at some points in the novel, but you just can’t help loving her because she is so zany and funny.

I definitely recommend this book.

Melinda also has a love advice/journal blog at: http://agayinthelifeofmelindafinch.blogspot.com/

Guest reviewed by Wendy, a member of the author’s writing group! Thanks, Wendy!

Kristi reviews Jukebox by Gina Noelle Daggett

Harper Alessi is the little rich girl being raised by her grandparents in Arizona; Grace Dunlop is the precocious English-born debutante. Fast friends from age eleven, Grace and Harper grow even closer as they get older. What’s love got to do with it? Everything.

This is Harper’s story–her story of meeting Grace for the first time in 1984 during tennis camp and of going to private school in Arizona, raised more by her grandparents than her world-traveling parents. Her world revolves around Grace, and most of the time she doesn’t even realize it. Harper knows she loves Grace, and as they pursue college and summer trips together, they finally admit their love for each other. Yet it is a love in denial: of course they love each other, of course they are intimate, but that doesn’t mean they are lesbians!

Or does it? As Harper slowly comes into her own identity, she finally admits the truth of her love. Can she and Grace take that final step to truly be together, or will their own privileged circumstances keep them apart?

Sometimes when a story features rich kid characters, it is hard to get in the mood. The privilege of Grace and Harper’s early years really sets the tone of most of the story. The money, the private school, the lack of financial issues in college, the summer trips abroad. It both scrapes at my nerves with the sense of entitlement that all the characters seem to have from the beginning and makes the story that much more believable when conflicts arise with Grace’s mother and boyfriend, and surrounding Grace’s trust fund.

While the start of Jukebox deals with the back story from their childhood to the fateful evening that Harper declares her love and identity to Grace, the second half of it is set twelve years later, in 2005, as both Harper and Grace deal with the choices and feelings of the past. For me, this was the hardest part of the book to connect with. While some of the underlying feelings are completely believable (who hasn’t pined for a lost love?), the way that Daggett set up and broke various plot lines and characters in the story were rather hard to read without rolling my eyes. I also struggled to feel any empathy for Grace. She reminded me of those brash, assuming men in the Harlequin romances that turn the woman inside out and then say, “Hey, guess what, even though I shredded your heart and disappeared for twelve years, I do love you!” Um, no thank you.

On the plus side, I did connect to Harper’s struggle with her love for Grace and denial of her sexual identity. I also enjoyed Daggett’s scene-setting throughout the years. As a girl of the 80s who loves a working jukebox, that was a big draw for me. It was the songs in the jukebox that let Harper first express herself, from “Lost In Your Eyes” to “I Hate Everything About You.” Chapters are not numbered, instead they are titled with expressive songs through the years. Any woman who has made a mix tape for her love will enjoy the weaving of music through the book.

Gina Noelle Daggett was a 2011 Golden Circle Literary Award finalist as a debut author for Jukebox.

Guest post by Ed Karovski Jr: Celebrating pride with humor

As the GLBT community prepares for annual pride celebrations worldwide, this year Simon & Schuster has proudly released the e-book edition of “A Funny Time to Be Gay: Hilarious Gay & Lesbian Comedy Routines from Trailblazers to Today’s Headliners” by Ed Karvoski Jr.

One of the more than 30 humorists spotlighted in the book is Lynda Montgomery, who grew up in a small town in Canada. “My hometown was so small that I was all alone in the Gay Pride Parade,” she says. “I was grand marshal, I was security and I was Dyke on Bike. By the time I peddled my Schwinn across town, I was too tired to even go to the festival!”
Michael Dane also recalls a memorable pride experience. “I was in my first Pride Parade, on the bisexual float,” he says. “You might have seen it — a lavishly decorated fence on wheels.”
The pride celebration is only one of many topics covered in “A Funny Time to Be Gay.” Robin Greenspan, for example, tells her audience that her Neighborhood Watch Group is a joke: “My neighbors watch my home, but not when I want them to. A guy could be climbing over my backyard fence with a CD player and two speakers strapped to his head in broad daylight, and nobody would see anything. But the one time I want to French kiss the Federal Express gal on my own front lawn, they’re out with camcorders!”
According to Greenspan, “Straight people might not get jokes about a Gay Pride Parade, but they’ll understand wanting to French kiss someone they find attractive. Then they can relate with me.”
Among the other openly gay and lesbian comics featured in “A Funny Time to Be Gay” are Tom Ammiano, Judy Carter, Kate Clinton, Sabrina Matthews, Bob Smith, Jason Stuart, Robin Tyler, Suzanne Westenhoefer and Danny Williams.
“The entertainment industry’s closet door has been set ajar by these comics,” notes author Karvoski. “And their time has come — fashionably late, of course!” 
HBO’s “Real Time” host Bill Maher provided a cover quote: “The sex may be safe, but the comedy isn’t. This is the kind of funny, bias-bashing book that all — gay and straight — should be reading.”
Learn more about the book and the author at http://www.EdKarvoskiJr-Author.com.
Find dates and information for local pride events worldwide at http://www.interpride.org.

Guest Lesbrarian Orange Sorbet reviews Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

I know I will be judged for this, but Jodi Picoult is one of my favourite writers. She may not be a favourite of the critics, sure, but she has a huge fanbase nonetheless because people like stories that are plucked from the headlines. Stories that are relevant, stories that matter. Picoult has covered the death penalty (Change of Heart), “test-tube babies” (My Sister’s Keeper), school shootings (Nineteen Minutes), date rape (The Tenth Circle), so on and so forth – so it was really only a matter of time till she came to write about LGB issues.

The trouble with beginnings is that they have to end
Never thought I’d be the girl who said, “Remember when?”

Sing You Home tells the story of Zoe and Max Baxter, an ordinary couple trying for a baby. Their marriage eventually dissolves from the stress, and Zoe finds her way into the arms of another woman, Vanessa, while Max finds solace in an evangelical church that is – surprise! – strongly anti-gay.

There is a lot of ground covered in this book; you could probably label the overarching themes as “religion” and “sexuality” but the heart of the book lies in the finer issues: later-in-life lesbianism, fertility & birth, embryos vs. “pre-born children,” parental/familial support (or lack thereof), religious media grandstanding… the list goes on. It makes for a very compelling read to see how everything comes into play in the lives of the 3 main characters, and Picoult’s skill lies in making us feel for the real, ordinary people at the centre of this maelstrom who never asked for any of it. At the same time, I did also feel that the book was somewhat rushed and touch-and-go at some points, especially when compared to the much slower pace her other novels take. (Then again, this does tie in with the U-Haul lesbian stereotype.)

Picoult does her best to present all sides of the argument fairly, and I did enjoy reading the religious side of things because like anyone else, I am more receptive to words delivered non-threateningly on paper than yelled in my face, even if those words on paper talk about people in the book yelling things in other characters’ faces. The sheer amount of hostility in the Real World would make anyone hesitant to step out from their comfortable bubbles among like-minded folk so it’s always good to have more balanced reads. However, have no doubt that Picoult is firmly in the bleeding-heart liberal camp. Some of her pro-LGB arguments are delivered with the subtlety of a train wreck, and it is immediately apparent that the book slants this way. It might be easy enough for you to figure out how the book ends, but as with any other Picoult book in which plot twists greet you at every bend, don’t presume to know how it’ll get there.

Big Brother’s in my living room, offering critiques
Pastor yells and tells me I should turn the other cheek
Census taker says there is no label for my sin
Doctor’s office will not let me be the next of kin
It’s a different drummer, but still the same old song
What part of this ordinary life is wrong?

I am not a poster child, I am not a cause
I won’t be a scapegoat while you rewrite the laws
I know what makes a family, I don’t need it defined
What’s missing in your life
That makes you take away from mine?

My favourite part of the book is definitely the accompanying original soundtrack written by Picoult’s friend Ellen Wilber, available for download online. (The italicised bits in this review are lyrics and not text excerpts.) Before getting to Sing You Home, I’d read Melissa Etheridge’s The Truth Is…: My Life in Love and Music and thought that that book would be so much better with a soundtrack (for obvious reasons) – and then the next book I chose just so happened to have one! It may sound like a queer concept (pun intended), but Zoe is a music therapist in the book and so the songs actually blend in really well with the text as you follow her journey. You won’t miss out on anything if you choose to give them a pass, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that.

Every life has a soundtrack.

There is a tune that makes me think of the summer I spent rubbing baby oil on my stomach in pursuit of the perfect tan. There’s another that reminds me of tagging along with my father on Sunday mornings to pick up the New York Times. There’s the song that reminds me of using fake ID to get into a nightclub; and the one that brings back my cousin Isobel’s sweet sixteen, where I played Seven Minutes in Heaven with a boy whose breath smelled like tomato soup.

If you ask me, music is the language of memory.

Sing You Home isn’t the most powerful piece of LGBT literature – I’m sorry to say this, but at points it does become pretty clear that it’s written by a straight writer and a couple of tropes I thought were long dead were rehashed in the book – but it’s a good read and, I believe, an important one. Why? Picoult is a popular, respected mainstream writer. People who may have otherwise steered far, far away from these issues will be drawn to this book just because this #1 New York Times bestselling author wrote it, and she deals with it with more sensitivity and respect than I could have ever asked for.

It only seems appropriate then that I end with this: thank you, Jodi Picoult.

We wouldn’t have a future
If I never had a past
You may not be my first love
But you’re gonna be my last

Thank you so much for the review, Orange Sorbet! You can find Orange Sorbet’s blog here, and the original post of this review here.

If you’d like to submit a guest lesbrarian review to the Lesbrary, click here!