As someone who loves obsessing over pop culture, I welcome anything that gives me more of my favorite stories. So I adore retellings. Objectively the best movie based on a classic book is Clueless, this is simply a fact. However my favorite is She’s the Man, inspired by Twelfth Night because I am lame.
Here are some contemporary YA books that are based on classics. For the queer offerings, there’s The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake and Ruinsong by Julia Ember in this list.
In an effort to introduce people to the One More Thing Series and get more reviews, I occasionally make the book One Little Word free. I don’t know if this is a good segue or just a really obvious way of saying that One Little Word is free right now. The sale lasts through Thursday.
I’m super proud of myself for the title because the ‘one little word’ is ‘free’ but it’s also the title of the book, so it works on multiple levels. Because author. I’m good at wording.
Even though there is no possible way I could regret this, I am going to chose a scene at random. Hey, I don’t regret it! So in this excerpt, Luke needed to pretend to date Ryan For Reasons and now he no longer needs a fake boyfriend, so all his problems are solved and everything is right with the world. Right? Not exactly…
I was single and ready to mingle. Wow, that sounded incredibly lame. I would never say that out loud.
I couldn’t keep a grin off my face as I walked down the halls. Maybe a few people shot me weird looks, but who cared? I had a lot to smile about. Namely, I no longer had a boyfriend! What a weird sentence. At least for me, a straight guy.
Dealing with Ryan these days had gotten… wait, he wasn’t a bad guy. For a snarky jerk, he was nice. I liked him. Platonically! Not romantically because I was straight. Some other guy will go crazy for him and those weirdly nice legs of his. Just not a straight guy like me.
When a series of zany mishaps leaves our brave hero Ryan without clothes, he must bravely hide and hope nobody sees his naked ass. While hiding on a farm with a pretty boy nearby, there are so many potential pitfalls the young hero must avoid. This scene is from the free YA LGBTQ book When We Were Strangers.
The following scene is an example of that moment in love stories where your enemy will one day turn into your love interest, so you hate them but must grudgingly admit their hotness.
Just when I began relaxing in my relatively secluded hiding spot, I wasn’t alone anymore. Most people were still right over there. Except for Luke Chambers. His evil hotness was right here, so close to me, only separated by a thin thing that separated us. I cursed him. I cursed you, Luke Chambers. Hopefully not out loud because we were close enough for him to hear me speak.
Which meant I was stuck.
Fuck. Fuck me. Fuck Luke. Fuck me and Luke, but in what order? Nope, there could be no fucking of anyone. Not while I was naked and about to be discovered at any moment. Because I couldn’t be excited when he caught me. And also, Luke was evil. Hot, yes, but things that start with ‘f’ could never happen with him, including but not limited to friendship.
There were noises as Luke worked. I peeked out and there was all his hotness. I got distracted watching his muscles work as he lifted things, all strong and sexy like. His bronze skin glistened with sweat, begging to be licked. He ran a hand through his blonde hair, and I swear it happened in slow motion as my eyes zoomed in on every tempting, appealing detail.
AH! I ducked back into my hiding spot as he looked around, muttering something about leaving his water bottle somewhere else.
“So freaking hot,” he said. Yes, yes he was. “Might be the hottest day yet.” Oh, he meant the weather. Not himself. Yeah, would be weird if he just talked to no one about how hot he was whenever he was alone. Though, real talk, if I looked like him? I would do that all the time. The air would need to know how gorgeous I was.
“Hotter than fucking hell,” he muttered next. How would he know? Guess he’d visited hell before. Maybe it was where he lived. Yep. Because in case it wasn’t clear, he was the devil.
Thought I’d share this list of books to read during lockdown/quarantine. A few seem gay friendly like Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry and They Called Us Enemy by George Takei.
Here is a story about a loner who may want to be less alone. So Lydia takes a break from her busy schedule of hating everything and makes a new friend. This comes from When We Were Strangers, which is the free introduction to the characters in the One More Thing Series. This post is the introduction to the introduction. Or something.
This image perfectly sums up Lydia. And you can read this scene or the whole story at anytime because it is free. In case you missed any of the times I said free, I’m going to say free again. Free!
What a beautiful summer day. With fresh air, flowers blooming, and sunshine shining down… everything was super annoying. I hated days like today. I hated most things, but I especially hated today.
Despite protests, I somehow ended up at a church picnic with my family on the other end of the park. I could only survive a few minutes of everybody praising the lord for this ‘blessed’ day and being offered potato salad from people way too intense about potato salad. Naturally, I fled.
In the back corner of the park, there lied a neglected area where public space met someone’s private, unkempt property. Sitting on top of the backrest of a hard as hell bench, I smoked a cigarette in solitude.
Hard to say what was more isolating: being alone in a crowd or being free and almost wanting to go back because maybe terrible company would be less lonely than no company. If being alone wasn’t good, and being with people wasn’t good, then how did I win?
Suddenly, I wasn’t alone.
“Does being such a cliché ever bother you?” a voice asked. The speaker stepped into view, a girl with burgundy hair, wearing a light blue shirt.
“Excuse me?” I responded coolly, steadying myself by resting my free hand on the concrete slab doubling as my seat, though I gave no other indication she startled me.
“Bad girl in black smoking by herself,” she elaborated, small smile on her lips. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, 10/10 on the aesthetic. I can feel the angst even from a distance, but it’s a little obvious, isn’t it?”
“Who are you?” I kept asking my own questions instead of acknowledging hers.
“Alicia Phillips, we go to the same school.”
“I believe you.” If I wanted to know my peers better, I… nope, I couldn’t even finish the thought.
She forced a laugh, smile turning tense. “You have no idea who I am, do you? It’s fine.” The confidence she possessed to speak to me so boldly evaporated as if it never existed.
I raised a hand, indicating she should stay while I considered her. I… she… huh.
Studying her, her blue shirt displayed a small white logo near the right sleeve, part of a uniform for a counselor at a summer camp near the outskirts of town. She wore khaki pants with her hair tied back in a ponytail. Her skin had more color than my vampiric whiteness, her figure fuller and curvier. It was hard to place her because she might look different during the school year.
Alicia Phillips. She wasn’t afraid to give me attitude, yet she acted embarrassed when I failed to recognize her. A girl both at home and uncomfortable in her own skin. Capable of brief moments of bravery… like when in front of an audience.
“I recognize you,” I realized. “You’re in plays, right? Plays are… cool.” Plays weren’t cool, but I was trying to be polite. Rudeness was more satisfying when it was earned.
“Wow, you couldn’t sound even the slightest bit convincing, could you?” she asked in that gently teasing manner she kept addressing me with.
I should put her in her place, eviscerate her. It may make me feel better. Because I was confident, scary Lydia Smith, the badass in black clothes. People wanted to know more about me but weren’t stupid enough to come ask. I was unapproachable. Nobody talked to me like she did. I would be annoyed, but curiosity won out.
“Wanna help me be less of a cliché?” I asked.
“Huh? You’re not suggesting a makeover, are you?” Never. Wordlessly, I held up the pack of cigarettes in an offer. “Oh, smoke with you?” She neither accepted or refused, talking to herself as she continued, “Peer pressure. This is, I’m being pressured by a peer. Holy afterschool special, Batman.”
Hopeless theater weirdos were the last thing I needed, people who didn’t know how to talk without a script, so I wasn’t charmed. I laughed anyway. “You’re strange.”
“Yeah, well.” She met my eyes, held her head higher. Impressive. “I’m a proud drama kid, and my best friend is a bad influence on me.”
When a new cover got made for One Little Word, I showed it off on my mailing list. I did not remember to post it on my blog, which I only discovered when I couldn’t find the cover in my images. Oops. Better late than never?
Quick summary: A jock screws up and must depend on the one guy who hates him while they try to sell the ruse of their secret fake relationship, which is getting less secret and fake with each passing day. This involves lots of hand holding, which brings us to the cover:
This isn’t the first time I’ve had an illustrated cover made, but it’s the first time I knew I was getting an illustrated cover. Technically, their heights should be reversed as the guy in pink is taller, which I keep telling myself doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Also, maybe he’s slouching or they’re standing on uneven ground.
Anyway, I also wanted to share an excerpt from the book. I did not know which part to share, so I decided to use one of my favorite scenes. In it, Ryan and Luke are at a grade school fair, and they are turning every game they play into a competition.
As this bit has two lines I love, that’s probably part of why I enjoy it so much. Especially since these lines, in my opinion, don’t make for great quotes and are hard to appreciate out of context, so I unfortunately haven’t made image quotes with them. If you want to guess the lines I love, go ahead. I’ll tell you after the scene.
LUKE STARED DOWN MY GRINNING FORM, his arms crossed against his chest, a reverse of our earlier position. Except his arms were more impressive with muscles bulging and straining against the material of his shirt.
I teased him to avoid the distraction. “Now you’re the sore loser.”
He wasn’t impressed with my victory. “Cakewalks are entirely luck based.”
“There was no rule there had to be skill involved.”
The possibility of him winning sweet treats kept him from complaining when I selected the cakewalk. Maybe I had good karma stored up because I always won cakewalks. I held a cake wrapped in plastic in my hands, funfetti with white frosting and sprinkles. Luke wanted me to pick brownies instead; he was so weird. Funfetti was the best.
“You’re at least sharing that cake with me,” he argued.
Luke had given me a root beer when he won the ring toss, an unexpectedly sweet gesture. He wanted to bribe me into the dunk tank, so the present wasn’t sweet. The nice part was how he remembered my beverage of choice. I may share my dessert, but he didn’t need to know that yet.
We did basically every event, jostling and trash talking each other at the slightest opportunity. Things that weren’t even really a competition we turned into one, like the duck pond. Except we got into an argument about what constituted winning, getting a duck with a higher number attached or drawing a duck that earned two candies instead of one.
We had time for one more game before heading back to our booth. The objective for our last game was to knock down cans with beanbags. This was another activity where Luke had an advantage, but Alicia was manning the booth for community service credit, so maybe she would help me out.
She stared at us incredulously when we stepped up to her table. “Isn’t this game a little too easy for you?”
Luke nodded. “For me, but I have to give Ryan a fighting chance.”
“Tell that to the duck pond, jackass,” I fired at him hotly.
“I won the duck pond,” he argued immediately. “Not you.”
Before we could get into it further, Alicia held up her hand. “Yeah, this and the duck pond are for kindergarteners. You know that, right?”
We looked around. The cans were regular empty pop cans, and the beanbags were at least half their size, so it did seem pretty simple. Unless you were five and could barely aim. And the kids in this line were especially young and all of them had parents holding their hands. The adults behind us watched us with exasperation.
The little competitive bubble Luke and I were in burst. It had been so easy to get absorbed in trying to beat him, everything else faded into the background.
“Oh, I guess we shouldn’t do this one then,” Luke said, sounding as silly as I felt.
“No, don’t let that stop you,” Alicia told us. “By all means, play the angriest game of Can Knock-Down the world has ever seen.” Her sarcasm skills were almost as good as mine.
We retreated from her booth as she laughed at us for being giant children. Damn, I wished I hadn’t drunk the root beer Luke gave me. I could have chucked it at her.
While our competition was intense, it had almost been fun. I hadn’t minded being in Luke’s presence then. I’d stopped keeping score at one point, only wanting to beat him so he wouldn’t be as smug.
Plus, maybe he had this ridiculous pout whenever he lost that I wanted to kiss away. Ugh. Being attracted to someone I hated was difficult. I’d feel the urge to punch him one moment and want to shut him up with my tongue in his mouth the next.
“I’m not getting in the dunk tank again,” Luke declared when we got back to our booth. His artificially orange skin looked like a bad spray tan. Yet even orange, he was still hot.
I couldn’t pull off that look so well. “What if I promise not to accidentally dunk you?” I offered.
“That doesn’t stop everyone else who tries to hit the bullseye.”
I smiled. “I may be able to help with that too.”
“I knew it!” He rounded on me in anger. “You’re such a cheater!”
“Do you want to cry about it, or do you want me to rig the game?”
He stopped and paused. Then he decided, “Definitely, definitely rig it.”
–The rest of the story is available here. My favorite lines are ‘Tell that to the duck pond, jackass,’ and ‘By all means, play the angriest game of Can Knock-Down the world has ever seen.’
Welcome to my dilemma, already in progress. I have a free story calledWhen We Were Strangers, which is part of a series that already had around five books when I wrote it. So I think of it as a prequel because I wrote it later and it comes first chronologically. But I feel weird calling it a prequel because its listed first since it’s free and serves as an intro to the series. Being a writer is hard.
For three out of the four stories in this pre-story, I based them on anecdotes from the series. Which I had a lot of fun with. Ryan’s story is called ‘The Most Embarrassing Moment of Ryan’s Life (so far)” and it comes from One Little Problem. The gang is playing Never Have I Ever, and Ryan has to put a finger down.
“Never have I ever gone streaking,” she said instead.
Ryan put a finger down.
“Up is down, black is white,” I deadpanned. “My whole life is a lie, nothing makes sense.” I focused on teasing him so I wouldn’t imagine him naked.
“Not a big deal,” he started.
“Don’t sell yourself short, babe,” I teased.
“As cute as this is,” Zach said, though his voice implied it wasn’t very cute. “Let’s not build this story up as if it’s anything other than a series of increasingly zany situations that ended with Ryan losing his clothes, getting locked out of somewhere, and running around like a chicken with its head cut off, until he found clothes or a sheet or a big leaf.”
Ryan pouted at Zach, so it was totally something like that. “This was, like, the one thing I got to put my finger down for! You took all the fun out of it.”
Zach’s version of events is pretty close to the real thing. Here’s a scene.
When I fell into the water trough, the day was going great. Since most of my thoughts trended sarcastic, I should be clear. That wasn’t sarcasm, it was a true statement. Falling into barn animal water was excellent, because even as I heard the splash and my mouth flooded with gross water, I understood there were much worse things on this farm I could have fallen into.
Then some normal stuff happened. Like taking a shower to get clean. The owners of the farm had really fancy soap in their bathroom. My skin was so soft and smelled like daffodils! Not the manliest scent but a ton better than animal spit.
When putting on clothes after my shower, I ran into an unexpected obstacle… there weren’t any clothes where I was told there would be clothes. Then things got less normal and more terrible. I went to search for clothes, clad in only a towel, part of which was stuck in the bathroom door. I just didn’t know the last thing until I heard voices, the bathroom door wouldn’t open, and I ran to hide in the opposite direction of where the voices came from. During this, I lost the towel.
There was some panic, a lot of panic, and somehow I ended up outside. Who could say who was to blame for this development? I couldn’t say for certain it was my fault because I had no clue how I ended up here. It all happened so fast! The door I exited locked behind me. I planned to try a different door—
OH MY GOD. PEOPLE WERE COMING OUTSIDE. And then I was hiding in a barn.
For my One More Thing series, I wrote a free prequel called When We Were Strangers as an introduction to the characters. I don’t think I promoted it much on social media, so I’m finally doing that. Even though it technically takes place during the summer and this is the winter. I’m really selling this, aren’t I? I hope you have enjoyed this summary of everything I did wrong, now here is the book!
Okay, this is a scene from Ryan’s story, and I would explain, but it’s pretty self explanatory.
Have you ever found yourself standing buck naked in a wheatfield in broad daylight? Only there wasn’t any wheat. Or if there was, it was in seed form, so you were basically out in the open where anyone could see you. Has this ever happened to anyone else? Of course it has. It probably happened all the time and was so relatable.
Man, if only I could say it wasn’t every day I ended up locked out while wearing no clothes, but it occurred way more than I was comfortable with. Once. It happened once times. This time, in fact. And it was once more time than I ever wanted.
Ha-ha. Just kidding. I wasn’t naked. Nope. Not at all. Who was naked? Me?!?! No way. I wasn’t naked, you were naked! Oh my god, don’t panic. RYAN, STAY CALM. DON’T PANIC. PLEASE SAVE ME BATMAN, SUPERMAN, OR RYAN REYNOLDS. HEY, HE STOLE MY NAME. No, he had it first since he was older than me.
Ahem. Okay. As I wasn’t in the best headspace for narration, I would come back later. Hopefully when I was calmer and wearing pants.
–the rest of the story is available here for free.
Taking readers to new worlds is one of the pleasures of literature, but being transported to different lands from the comfort of one’s couch has become especially important in these times. Here’s a virtual travel guide of YA books that spans the globe. All you need is your imagination and a good book to immerse yourself in a new culture. I used the Buzzfeed list by Dahlia Adler to narrow the list down for those who want their globe trotting exploration to include queer characters.
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming—especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.
Key elements: mental health, coming of age, friendship, self confidence, bi POC, immigration, religion
Since he was thirteen, Caleb has always known he’s gay. Now a college freshman, he falls in love for the first time. If it’s true that love conquers all, then will Caleb finally find the courage to reveal his secret?
Saoirse doesn’t see the point in igniting any romantic sparks if she’s bound to burn out. But after a chance encounter at an end-of-term house party, Saoirse is about to break her own rules. For a girl with one blue freckle, an irresistible sense of mischief, and a passion for rom-coms.
Key elements: romantic comedy, WLW, humor, dementia, best friends, angst
Five girls, five tickets overseas. It’s exactly what they all need after the final slog of high school. But when Kit’s suddenly forced to drop out, Liza’s left with three girls she barely knows.
There’s Mai, committed only to partying. There’s Tam, who already has her doubts about leaving her sick father behind. And there’s Olivia, so miserable about screwing up exams she’s not even sure she wants to get out of bed, let alone on a plane. Meanwhile Kit’s stuck working double shifts to pay off a debt, wondering if she’ll ever get it together.
Key elements: road trip, friendship, multiple main characters, standalone, coming of age, WLW
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Key elements: rivals, Muslim characters, WLW, cultural appropriation, bi POC, sisterhood, enemies to lovers
What would you do if you had to spend the next 15 days with your lifelong crush?
Felipe’s mom informs him that Caio, the neighbor kid from apartment 57, will be spending the next 15 days with them while his parents are on vacation. Felipe is distraught because A) he’s had a crush on Caio since, well, forever, and B) Felipe has a list of body image insecurities and absolutely NO idea how he’s going to entertain his neighbor for two full weeks.
Key elements: body issues, self esteem, Latnix, coming of age, sweet, pop culture
American expat Aubrey has only two weeks left in Europe before she leaves for college, and she’s nowhere near ready. Good thing she and her best friend, Rae, have planned one last group trip across the continent. From Paris to Prague, they’re going to explore famous museums, sip champagne in fancy restaurants, and eat as many croissants as possible with their friends Clara, Jonah, and Gabe.
Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.
But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart.
Key elements: WLW, arranged marriage, abuse, standalone, social issues, emotional
Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.
Key elements: some LGBT representation, politics, Filipino characters, death, drugs, mystery
Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.
When a night out gets cancelled early due to a drunk friend, two boyfriends discuss what to do next in this scene.
The drive had been close to an hour both ways. We hadn’t spent that much time in the club, not even close. Only a few songs. Lydia would have to learn to pace herself. I didn’t give that advice in the silence of the ride back home. There was just the radio playing softly and soothing noises from Alicia.
Our first double date wasn’t a huge success. But that was the good thing about having first experiences: it took away the nerves and things could only get better.
Despite very little quality time with my boyfriend and too much time with an annoying drunk girl, I was optimistic. Alicia was fine to drive when we got back to Luke’s house, and we said goodbye and then Luke and I headed inside to change while we discussed ways to salvage our night.
“Ice cream?” he suggested.
That wasn’t a terrible idea and we already ate earlier, but I only asked, “You think I’m a cheap date?”
“That French place we went to before?” he suggested. Oh god.
“Don’t even joke about that,” I warned.
“You started it.”
“Okay, ice cream is fine.” Was this night better or worse than the French food date? They were both bad in different ways.
Luke saw me thinking unpleasant thoughts. “Hey, it’s not that bad,” he told me gently. I sent him a very unimpressed look. “Alright,” he amended. “It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t you and me that ruined anything. It’s totally Lydia’s fault.”
I thought about that. “Yeah, that makes me feel better.”
He shook his head. “Because you’re a terrible person.”
“I am getting all the toppings and three scoops,” I told him seriously.
Luke scoffed. “You won’t even eat that.”
“That’s not the ice cream I’m getting to eat.” I smiled sweetly. “It’s the one I’m getting to spite you.”
“Okay, now you’re the one ruining it,” he said but with a smile.