Four Haunting Halloween Reads

Halloween is not the first, nor the last, holiday to be derailed by the pandemic this year. Kids won’t plague the streets in search of sugary treats, and festivities might only involve a party of one, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to revel in a devilish spirit. Grab yourself a cup of hot cider, some fun-size candies, and a cozy blanket to settle in with these spooky reads for an evening of fun and fear.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Prepare yourself for a dive into psychological horror. This collection of short stories is a fantastical, mind-bending journey. “Especially Heinous” will disturb you and have you questioning every episode of Law & Order: SVU you have ever watched. “The Inventory” chills you with its human intimacy at the end of the world. In all of her stories, Machado haunts the mind with realism and myths. They will make you feel powerful. They will make you feel lost.

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

Perhaps the most unsettling books on this list, The Merry Spinster will keep you up at night, and not for the reasons you expect. Ortberg’s short stories are dark retellings of children’s stories, fairy tales, and folk tales. While the horror in each story is overwhelmingly present, the dissection of gender roles and the feminist twists on classics are what keep your brain churning at night. A princess is someone’s male daughter. A character is given the option to be the husband or the wife. The stories within the collection leave you with more questions than answers. Some people are put off by the lack of concrete concepts, but I believe that the vagueness of it all is entirely the point. The Merry Spinster is an exploration of identities, not a declaration of one.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Hauntingly dreamy, Claire Legrand’s latest standalone novel is a ferocious, femme-forward horror story. Everything about the island of Sawkill Rock is perfect: rolling pastures are punctuated with sleek horses, the dark sea crashes up to meet picturesque cliffs, rich people populate the island in their opulent houses. Everything is great except for the legends of an insidious monster roaming the land—oh, and the decades of missing girls. Three girls are tangled together on a journey to transform their fears into power as they unravel the mystery of what exactly haunts Sawkill Rock and what happened to all of those missing girls. What pleases me most, in addition to the lesbian romantic representation, is the asexual romance. Ace-rep is not something commonly found in popular novels. I was delighted for people to have a chance to feel seen and represented in mainstream young adult fiction.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Let me just sum it up for you: lesbian necromancers in space. This book is my personal favorite on the list. I don’t know how Tamsyn Muir did it, but she has crafted a masterpiece of skeletons, swordplay, and mystique. Harrowhark (Harrow) Nonagesimus, heir to the Ninth House, is invited to the First House of the Emperor to participate in a series of tests of wit and skill. If she and the other heirs survive, they will have a chance to become powerful immortal servants of the Resurrection. None of this will be possible for Harrow without her reluctant cavalier, Gideon. Determined to escape the Ninth House forever and leave Harrow to rot underground with her skeletons, Gideon is roped into Harrow’s trials with the promise of eventual freedom. As the two of them explore the haunted gothic mansion of the First House, deadly secrets spill out and a mystery unfolds. The great news is that if you pick this book up today you don’t even need to wait for the sequel, which arrived on shelves August 2020.

Reaching Queer Readers

The LGBTQ community has historically functioned outside of mainstream culture, but now it is slowly becoming more visible. This is also reflected in the publishing industry: we are slowly starting to see more queer themes and characters in books, especially in young adult fiction. However, the LGBTQ community is still an untapped audience for many large publishers and independent presses. By excluding this group from their marketing and promotion strategies, publishers lose out on a valuable and loyal audience. I am going to share three ways the publishing industry can include and support the LGBTQ community in marketing, promotion, or book development and explain why that is valuable to any press.

In some ways, the LGBTQ community is still largely untapped in terms of promotion and marketing in the publishing industry. Authors and publishers need to make it a point to be more inclusive when thinking about target audiences. The LGBTQ community is most often left out of any marketing or promotion plans for books because it has always been a counterculture. It’s only recently that we have started to see targeted ads for our community in any industry. According to Meg Boeni, “The gay community [is] also perceived to be very loyal to companies that advertise to them and that are seen to ‘support’ the gay community.” Representation and inclusion are powerful. We all know that most of the time, a press’s brand matters little when it comes to selling books. However, becoming more active in the LGBTQ community sends the message that your publishing house can be trusted. That trust and familiarity translates into revenue and an audience that will continue to buy your books.

A second way to appeal to the LGBTQ community is to use what Boeni calls “secret codes.” She writes that “throughout history, the queer community has developed a rich range of symbols and even created its own languages to communicate safely.” Nowadays, the LGBTQ community still has secret codes; however, they function differently because the world is, generally, a little safer for us. These secret codes have just become the vernacular and social fabric of our community. An example of a secret code would be the use of inclusive and gender-neutral language. Learning more about the LGBTQ community and the social challenges it continues to face is the best way to tap into these codes.

A third way that publishers can be more inclusive of LGBTQ audiences is by including or integrating an LGBTQ option into a program or promotion that is already up and running. For example, Gertrude Press is a small queer press that publishes a fiction journal here in Portland, Oregon. Gertrude is a great example of how a press of any size can be more inclusive of queer themes and readers. In addition to publishing queer fiction and artwork, Gertrude has its own book-subscription service called Gertie Book Club. The book club is a quarterly book box that includes two queer books.

A book-subscription service that includes books that have been handpicked by your staff is a great way to promote and support LGBTQ culture and identity. Other presses, queer affiliated or not, can also adopt these practices. Even a small press could implement a book-subscription service that could have a different theme each quarter. By including LGBTQ options, the press could develop a reputation for being diverse and inclusive, which is always a good thing. The press would also become familiar to the community.

The LGBTQ community is a traditionally neglected audience, and presses should be more inclusive of this audience when marketing or promoting books. By becoming educated on this problem and taking steps to correct it, publishers can increase not only their audience but also their social capital and revenue.

Know Better, Do Better: Editing for Authenticity in Our Spring YA Title

Ooligan Press is proud to announce our upcoming title The Names We Take, which will debut May 19, 2020. Written by Washingtonian first-time author Trace Kerr, this young adult postapocalyptic novel follows Pip, a tough seventeen-year-old girl, in the wake of a devastating plague. After swearing an oath to never leave anyone behind, Pip takes the twelve-year-old Iris under her wing. A tragedy forces the girls to navigate the shattered remains of Spokane and its outlying areas, where they meet a third girl, the headstrong Fly. As Pip, Iris, and Fly negotiate their identities and relationships, their circumstances grow more dangerous. Pip quickly learns two things: first, that never leaving anyone behind is easier said than done; and second, that her friendships are the key to finding meaning in life beyond survival.

The Names We Take faces down its darker elements—including violence, bigotry, and abuse—with both unflinching realism and hope. Importantly, it portrays the struggles of two main characters who fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. Because these identities do not exist as a monolith, and also because this is a book intended for a YA audience, Ooligan chose to incorporate authenticity readers (sometimes called sensitivity readers) into the editorial process.

Authenticity readers are specialized editors who often step in when authors are writing characters whose identities and experiences they do not personally share. These readers check for inaccuracies, unconscious biases, and insensitive language, and they usually have personal experience related to the identities of the manuscript’s characters or to the events that transpire in the manuscript. Because there is no one way to relate to a given identity or experience, best practices generally dictate that books with sensitive material require multiple authenticity readers. For this process to be effective, editors and authors must be receptive to the feedback they receive.

Part of the beauty of working with a collaborative press like Ooligan means that, in addition to the three people who performed formal authenticity reads, Ooligan was able to solicit the opinions of press members who were not on the team for The Names We Take but who were still willing to point out potential sensitivity issues in the manuscript without doing formal sensitivity edits.

Many of us at Ooligan—including the book’s author—had never experienced an authenticity read before this one. As a learning experience, it was invaluable. This process has also sparked a lot of important conversations about how the press will structure its editorial timeline moving forward. Beginning as early as the acquisitions process (when books often undergo developmental edits), the press will now consider whether or not a book requires authenticity readers, at what point in the editorial process these readers will be brought in, and how to synthesize the authenticity edits in the most effective, efficient way. It’s a responsibility the press takes seriously. The work of authenticity readers has thoroughly enriched The Names We Take in content, voice, and message, and we know the same will be true for many future books—at Ooligan and beyond.

We look forward to sharing The Names We Take with you soon! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for further updates.

Into the Queerosphere: Resources for Finding Your Next LGBTQ Read

To anyone that’s been paying attention to recent trends in young adult (YA) over the last four or five years, the line-up of books slated for 2019 is both timely and highly anticipated. With the push for diversity in literature and media still going as strong as ever (perhaps even stronger than ever), it seems that publishers have finally started to seriously answer the call. Young adult (and middle grade) lists are heavy with POC leads, and the number of books about LGBTQ characters has doubled since the last few publishing seasons (and that’s just looking at books coming out—pun intended—between January and April! The list for May through June is even longer!). This is extra important when you consider that as recently as 2012, just over 1 percent of YA books had any LGBTQ content at all.

Personally, I’m delighted by this statistic, not only because I’m excited to read all the sweet, sweet diversity of POC and LGTBQ content (especially when they happen in the same book), but also because the mere existence of these books confirms a tangible change in the publishing industry. Publishing is a notoriously (and glacially) slow process, so it’s exciting to finally see the response of publishers to the public outcry for more diverse representation, which has been an ongoing social conversation since, well, forever. Or so it feels.

Of particular interest to me are books that feature protagonists who identify as part of the gorgeous rainbow spectrum that is the LGBTQ community. Not only is 2019 chock-full of queer content, but it’s also filling in some gaps in representation from years before, with a happy increase in trans characters compared to the almost nonexistent quantity from 2018, as well as another welcome increase in aro/ace characters. It is, in short, going to be a blissful year of reading for book-loving queers and queer-loving readers.

Still, with of all this new content (on top of all of the great and fabulous content from the last few years), how is a reader supposed to find the books they’re truly interested in without reading the back cover copy of a million books? Fortunately for everyone, there are several great places to start looking for all this good queer content.

Databases of Books with LGBTQ Characters and Themes

  • Rainbow Books List: An annual list created by the Rainbow List Committee of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association presented as a “bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content,” catered to kids aged birth to eighteen.
  • LGBTQ Reads: Perhaps the most comprehensive database, LGBTQ Reads has lists for everything. They’ve broken down the LGBTQ diaspora into genre and then subdivided it several times over for unique searchability. The YA section is broken down by subgenre, pairing, setting, state/province, trope/theme, and YAs with queer parents.
  • YA Pride: (Previously Gay YA) This organization has compiled a series of masterlists organized alphabetically by author. They have lists for seven broad categories within LGBTQ representation: gay, lesbian, bisexual/pansexual/polysexual, transgender (including nonbinary identities), intersex, asexual, and aromantic.

Preliminary Reading Lists for 2019 (Please enjoy the irony of me making a list of lists)

“Straight” from the Source

Great news for anyone with unpublished LGBTQ content! There are many publishers that cater specifically to LGBTQ authors and books with LGBTQ characters and themes. Below are five of said publishers. Another more comprehensive list lives here.

  • Bella Books: The largest lesbian-owned press publishing books written by, for, and about women who love women.
  • Bold Strokes Books: Accepting general and genre fiction, BSB offers a wide selection of LGBTQ content in every conceivable genre and subgenre.
  • Dreamspinner Press: Publishes gay male romances that end in gay or gay polyamorous relationships.
  • Interlude Press: Publishes well-crafted LGBTQ-focused titles ranging from short stories to novels and encourages submissions from authors of all backgrounds.
  • Riptide Publishing: Has three distinct imprints, including Riptide Publishing (adult genre fiction with a romantic or erotic focus), Triton Books (YA genre and literary fiction), and Anglerfish Press (literary fiction with little to no romantic or erotic focus).