Project Fierce: Preorder


I combed through my recent entries and realized I’ve neglected to unveil Project Fierce here on the blog.

Project Fierce Chicago is up for pre-order here and you can enjoy 15% off on this beautifully large, richly diverse volume through the afternoon of July 15th.

My story, Castle on a Cloud, was inspired by The Little Matchstick Girl but of course I had to go and give it a happy-ending twist … and a bit of a steampunk makeover along with a few other surprises.

The project benefits LGBTQ homeless youth in Chicago, so you’re not only investing in some quality fiction by a number of talented authors, but the entire proceeds go straight to charity. I finished proofing my galley copy this morning (for my story, I wouldn’t be so hubristic as to go through the whole thing) and you all are in for a treat!

More posts to come, so check back tomorrow and Saturday for news and a chance to win a shiny prize.

Queer Romance Blog Hop: Diversity & Inclusion Version

Welcome to the Queer Romance Blog Hop, where queer writers and readers of queer romance share their thoughts on the genre, as well as a few recommendations for books to read! Everyone participating in this blog hop identifies as queer and also reads and/or writes (or edits, or reviews!) queer romance. For our purposes, queer romance refers to books with:

1. LGBTQ+ main characters
2. In romantic relationships
3. That have a happy ending. (No Brokeback Mountain here, folks!)

I’m Talya, and I’ve been publishing queer fiction through Less Than Three Press for a little over a year now and writing it for much, much longer. I’ve been reading queer fiction since around 1997/1998 back when fiction selection was slim pickings: one shelf, and we were lucky if the bookstore carried even that much. Interestingly enough, that one shelf always seemed to be across, or around the corner from, the Christian non-fiction. I used to work at a Big&Name bookstore and I would trawl the general fiction section while shelving … sometimes you could find gay fiction that way, but it was like searching for Easter eggs. Not only was it difficult, but often you’d find something that was not really to your taste.

It’s been amazing to see how things have really grown and changed over the past decade plus, but at the same time, it seems like there’s still a lot of room for expansion.

1. Let’s start off with the getting-to-know-you stuff: How do you identify and what does that mean to you? Whatever level of detail you’re comfortable with, of course!

I am a bisexual woman, and I’ve been partnered for over ten years with another woman. To a lot of people this would mean I’m a lesbian, as though my sexual preference is tied to the person I’m with rather than who I am. Being with a woman for this long doesn’t make me a lesbian; it makes me monogamous. I think (and research supports) that a lot of bisexuals don’t self-identify because we’re not really well accepted by either straight or queer communities, so we tend to hide who we are in order to make other people more comfortable. It’s easier for someone with a female partner to simply say they’re a lesbian because that’s what most people understand. But I am, and always have been, attracted to people of both male and female genders.

Bisexuality was something that was difficult, at first, for me to come to terms with because there was virtually no representation when I was growing up. You were either straight (the default) or gay (deviant), and I didn’t identify with either. In fact, I fought being associated with the queer community at first because I was attracted to the opposite gender, so that meant I “had” to be straight. It was only once I got deeper into researching sexuality and gender that I started to realize, and admit to myself, that not only was bisexuality an option—it’s been a part of me from a very young age. I simply never had the cultural background to recognize it.

2. What’s your preferred “flavour” of queer romance (e.g. trans*, f/f, m/m, menage with queer characters, etc.) Why?

I don’t have a strong preference for any unless being “in the mood” for one or the other would be expressing a preference at the time. I’ve read and enjoyed all varieties, from trans* fiction, to f/f and m/m, poly in various configurations, and I’d love to read and write a great deal more permutations including and beyond those mentioned above. I enjoy the full spectrum of “queerness,” if you will, and I absolutely delight in finding and reading more than the standard fare. Diversity in fiction is a hugely important issue to me, and it’s reflected in my purchasing habits.

3. Do you write/read/review? Do you think being queer affects your participation or platform in romancelandia?

I write, and I think it’s absolutely affected my participation in romancelandia. For one, I don’t see an overwhelming amount of bisexual or pansexual characters represented. Because that’s a component of my own identity, that’s something that has been reflected in my own writing. Several of my published works include bisexual characters. In one work, the world-building assumes that bisexuality is the default with acceptable preferences to either same or opposite gender. I’ve also tended to include characters that, in my opinion, go against what is generally touted in romancelandia to be the typical gay male main character.

4. What drew you to queer romance?

This seems like a simple question that has a very involved, complicated answer for me! I can’t really boil it down to any one factor. I think at first I had an intense fascination with queer fiction because it was like an entirely new realm of romance opening up to me, and it was something kind of taboo and compelling and embattled. A lot of queer people both exist outside the norm and feel like they are pushed outside it, and I identified with that very strongly and was drawn to it. I was drawn to it for prurient as well as non-prurient reasons. There was a lot of raw sexuality and boundary-pushing in queer fiction, as well as character dynamics, that didn’t exist in the hetero romances I’d read. There was also tragedy—a lot of gay fiction didn’t get happy endings back when I first started reading it, and I wanted happy outcomes for a lot of fictional characters I came to care deeply for. I’m pleased to say the happy ending has come within our grasp and become more plausible, at least. And the happy ending (not to mention the sweet, sweet sexual payoff) is why I favor romance over fiction in general.

5. What do you love about queer romance in general, and/or your specific subgenre?

I love that anything is possible. The sky really is the limit as far as the kinds of characters I write and what kind of people they become, who they love and how they choose to express themselves. There’s always something fresh and new and interesting to write, and new and compelling stories to tell.

6. What’s your pet peeve?

That’s a loaded question. I’m going to assume this is intended to mean what’s my pet peeve about queerness in romancelandia. I would have to say my biggest pet peeve is placing limits on queerness, as though your characters have to meet some marketability checklist before they’re allowed to go forward. Diversity and inclusion is an extremely important issue for me, and I feel like we see a lot of cis* white stereotypically masculine men in queer fiction when the queer community contains a whole lot more than that. I want to see more people from all walks of life.

Conventional wisdom says write what you know; I say the hell with that. Write what’s out there in the world, and if it’s not your personal experience, ask, do research, talk to people, find out more and give an accurate representation of others’ experiences. I want to see and read about more people of color, people with disabilities, people from other countries, people of different sizes and attractiveness indexes, and absolutely more queer people from across the entire spectrum. It’s not only lesbian fiction that is under-represented: it’s genderqueer people, pansexuals, bisexuals, trans* people, and asexuals. Asexuals can be involved in romance too, people!

Basically my pet peeve is lack of representation for more than just a single, narrow slice of what being queer is all about.

(*Cis = people who identify with the gender that corresponds with the sex they present at birth.)

7. What growth would you like to see in the genre, going forward? Any ideas on how to accomplish that?

Absolutely more representation. I think there’s so much room to grow in every direction. We need to start writing for it, but I think publishers need to be encouraged to ask for it as well, maybe by broadening their submission standards, but also with targeted submission calls.

8. Do you seek out other queer authors when you read?

I’m really wide open with my reading preferences. If the author is telling a good story with compelling characters, then I’m there. What I’ve noticed, though, is if I find out that a particular author is queer, I definitely tend to gravitate more toward their work to check it out if I haven’t already, or to continue to support and read it if I already enjoy them. I was so excited to discover Fiona Patton was married to Tanya Huff! I’d really enjoyed her Branion books and that was just icing on the cake for me.

9. How do you feel, in general, about straight peoples’ participation in reading, writing, and reviewing queer romance?

I think it’s great. I’m all for making our experiences more accessible and relatable to straight people. It’s easier for people to become allies if they have something to latch onto and understand. And fiction—telling our stories and sharing how we love—really brings people together in a way like nothing else besides food, in my opinion.

I would never tell people not to read, write, or review queer romance. I might, however, caution people who aren’t queer to keep an open mind about our genre—it’s not always going to be something from their own experience, and they ought to be prepared to be accepting of “otherness.” If a straight person says “that’s not what gay people are like,” or “that’s not what lesbian women are like,” or “there’s no such thing as genderqueer people,” you’re potentially negating other peoples’ lived experiences, and that’s going over the line from participation into imposing and regulating queerness. And that has harmful consequences on both sides.

10. Rec us 3 titles in your chosen subgenre and tell us why you love them.

This is a tough one. Limiting it to only three is really, really hard.

I don’t have a “chosen genre” smaller than queer fiction in general, so I’m going to pick three titles in that wider genre and say why they made the short list.

“Comfort and Joy,” by Jim Grimsley – I come back to this again and again because it says a lot of things about gay relationships that still hold true today, and there’s a clash of privilege, both in terms of class (rich/poor, differing job levels), and ability/disability. It addresses HIV and shows the ways in which people sometimes really have to work at relationships when they may not even be sure that they want to. All this is interwoven into a holiday tale that shows the differences between the two main characters’ very different families, the ways they are welcome and not welcome in both, and how a tentative accord is reached at the end. I also love Jim’s prose. He simply has not written a book I’ve loved as much as this one ever since.

Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite – the author now identifies as trans* and goes by Billy Martin, which I recently discovered when looking for information on whether the author would ever continue the Liquor series. Liquor and its sequels were the first domino that tipped me into a full-blown passion for foodie culture. Poppy’s queer characters were always outstanding in a landscape of literature that had formerly tipped the hat but not really “gone there.” Rickey and G-man were very real to me, and though the novels became progressively darker, they presented a lot of real issues that gay people face in the macho world of the kitchen as well as outside of it and came across in an overall hopeful, functional, lasting way.

Zi Yong and the Collector of Secrets, by E. E. Ottoman. This is the first story of E.E.’s that I’d read that really made me sit up and take notice of their writing. This is a historical, wuxia-style tale that culminates in a relationship between two women, and it was really well done, restrained and artful, and I just loved it. Between enjoying this story so much and beta-reading another ladylove story of theirs that was just fantastic, I started reading other stories of E.E.’s and the topics this author tackles, as well as the broad range of character representation, have ensured I’ll keep following E.E. for as long as they write.

That sums it up for me. If you’ve made it this far, I salute you and hope this post has given you a few things to think about.

Thanks for reading and for following the tour! Be sure to use the links below to check out more great posts from our participants!

Preorder: The Fall Guide

In two weeks, The Fall Guide is available to buy, which means … pre-order is up NOW!

The Fall Guide is my latest novel, and it’s available at a pre-order discount now through Less Than Three Press. Save 15% off from now until the evening of Dec 3rd if you order through the press.

Fall Guide v3 small

    Eric is a popular beauty blogger, and hopes to use the momentum of that to start his own business selling makeup for men—but his first attempt to launch makes it painfully clear he has a lot to learn and a long way to go.

    Unexpected help comes in the form of Devon: Gorgeous, successful, and far too smooth. He is everything Eric would like to be, all the things Eric is starting to fear he’ll never achieve, and the success that Eric is striving for in both his professional and personal life is jeopardized by Devon’s inability to understand that business and pleasure shouldn’t mix, because they can have disastrous results for both.

There are a lot of reasons I can’t wait to share The Fall Guide with you. And if you give me a few days, I’ll be better able to articulate them, but for starters: representation is important to me, and neither Eric nor Devon are your typical gay cis white males. Eric defies gender norms; Devon is biracial. They have a lot of obstacles in their way, including Eric’s boyfriend Martine, Eric’s own pride, and Devon’s intimidating advantages.

More to follow, but I wanted to put the word out that you can pre-order your copy now!

Effeminophobia: Why It Hurts

Yesterday I had the best of intentions to write up a post, but I’ll admit it—I flat-out forgot. Mondays are tough, not only for the start of the work-week, but my particular Mondays don’t see me comfortably settled on the loveseat, post-dinner, until around seven-thirty or so. That’s when I begin to catch up from a long day. The evening seems to whiz past from that point, going through posts and emails, checking in with various peeps, until it’s getting late and, being on the West coast, I’m very much aware that many people are already in bed. So even when it’s early evening for me, my Monday posts are still pretty much night blogging.

Besides, I hear a lot of awesome people were at GRL, so it’s polite to allow a day’s margin post con-hangover. Well, it’s not quite a con, but same effect.

This week’s topic is effeminophobia. There are several things that have led me to this topic, but the primary driver is this: hate and fear have no place in my world. They’re destructive forces. They’re the opposite of everything I believe in, and so far as romance and writing are concerned, they may be in the writer’s toolbox of tricks, but as things to be overcome, something to triumph over, not a status quo to be upheld.

What is effeminophobia?

We’re at the first-ever Gay Romance Northwest, and during the panel on Diversity in Fiction, author Rick Reed looks out at the audience, the vast majority of whom are women (authors and readers), and asks the question: “Why aren’t there more effeminate men in gay fiction?”

For about a second, you could hear a pin drop. But then the tides unleash.

An author is the first to speak up. “We’re told that it’s a stereotype, and we’re not supposed to use stereotypes in our fiction.”

“My editor tells me to take out [effeminate men],” another says. “They edit out behaviors, gestures that can be seen as womanly.”

“We don’t want to see men acting like women. We want to see men with men.”

“I’ve had characters like that, but my editor advises me to take them out.”

Another author relates how she was lambasted for having a character who displayed feminine traits while I’m thinking whether to contribute my own anecdote of being accused by one reviewer of writing Bastian as “a woman in a boy’s body” all because he had the audacity to wear nail polish and eyeliner and display his emotions openly—as well as being an enthusiastic bottom.

“Effeminophobia.” Someone finally voices an underlying cause, the answer to Rick’s question.

“Misogyny,” someone else says. Now we’ve hit on the real reason. There’s an uneasy current in the room. We’re women, writing about men who aren’t supposed to act like women. Because that’s bad. But is it really bad, or have we been conditioned to think it’s bad because there’s a larger force in play?

Effeminophobia is fear of the feminine, or womanliness, and the behaviors, gestures, presentation, and identifying traits that are associated with the female gender. It’s far more pervasive than most realize, and it starts young. And it is not limited to men displaying and reinforcing this phobia, as you might think.

“You shouldn’t play with dolls, you should play with trucks.”

“Those are girl toys! You don’t want to play with little girl’s toys, do you?”

“Don’t give the kid an EZ-Bake oven for his birthday. Do you want him to be a sissy? A BB gun, now that’s a good gift for a boy…”

The Barbie and little pony aisle and the Transformers and action figures beside it. Don’t hit like a girl. Blue is for boys, and pink is for girls. What are you, a pussy? Put some muscle into it—are you a man or are you a princess? Take up a sport, we’ll make a man out of you. No, you can’t wear nail polish, that’s only for girls. The boy with pink shoes whose mother was slammed and vilified on Facebook for being such an unfit parent as to let him wear what he wanted. Another little boy who was assaulted by a stranger in the store because his mother let him wear a bow in his hair. You shouldn’t sign up for ballet, only gays and girls are ballet dancers. Why are you crying, stop being such a girl! Boys wear boy costumes, girls wear girl costumes. You’ve got to do better than that if you don’t want all your friends to think you’re a little bitch, son. You can’t take that job, it’s women’s work. Look, girls can wear suits, but if you’re a guy, wearing a skirt is cross-dressing. Let’s all prank that kid because he screams like a girl!

It goes on…

There are two things all of the above list has in common: implying that everything feminine is unmanly; and planting the seed that anything associated with women or girls is bad and undesirable.

Why is effeminophobia bad for us?

These cultural attitudes are so ingrained and pervasive that they’re often invisible to us, both men and women. They’re accepted as things being the way they are, especially by the older generation for whom gender is a clean division, men versus women. This sets up the false paradigm that men can only dress, behave, present, and talk like men, in a masculine fashion, or they are less than men, other, queer, feminine, bad. This is harmful to all men, gay, straight, bisexual, and trans*, because it sets up the expectation that any and all of these men can only comport themselves a certain way. Anything else, and they’re not considered men. Heaven forbid a man wears makeup and seeks out female partners. Lightning strike the man who makes limp-wristed gestures because he’ll get blasted as a sissy and a gay stereotype in the same breath. And men who overtly display feminine characteristics are subjected to violence, or the threat of violence, on a regular basis. You don’t have to be queer to be gay-bashed, after all.

This is also harmful to women across the same spectrum: lesbian, straight, bisexual, trans*, all of us. Conversely, women who display masculine traits are vilified as bitches, uppity, trying too hard, “thinking they’re the man,” having penis envy. Women who dress or act masculine, especially “butch lesbians,” are subjected to violence and the threat or perpetration of rape on a regular, widespread basis. Women who dress in a manner deemed too revealing, or “slutty,” also run the same risk. Women are told to stick to the kitchen in the same breath they’re told we live in a post-feminist world.
Women have the vote! Women rule the world. As long as you act and behave like a “real woman” or a “modest woman” or a “proper woman,” you’re safe, even as rape and domestic violence statistics beg to differ. Women in politics are subject to a level of scrutiny for the way they dress and act in ways a man would never experience. Women actresses are questioned on their diet and their underwear and other intimate details when men in the same film would never be asked the same things. Women are conditioned, from an early age, on what is feminine and coached that we need to stick to those things otherwise “men won’t want us.” And if you dare to toe the line, there’s a queue of people—men AND women—waiting to put you in your place!

When I was a little girl, I did not like the color pink. I rejected pink in all its forms, from clothes to decorations. If asked what color for anything in particular, my answer from age seven onward was “not pink.” My mother asked me what color I wanted my bedroom, and that was my outright answer. She asked if purple was okay. I thought about it and accepted it, dubiously. It seemed like a compromise. Years later, I still fought this battle—my mom and stepmom would buy me pink shirts, hot chartreuse gloves, magenta scarves, and probably wondered why I never wore them. My mom bought me a fleece robe for Christmas and said defensively when I opened it, “it’s not pink!” (I assure you, it was.)

As an adult, I got into nail polish for a multitude of reasons, one of which was there were more options than various shades of pink. And then I found a pink that I loved. And it was girly. And I embraced it. And I started to realize I, educated and open-minded and conscious of diversity and inclusion as I’d thought I was, had absorbed more than a few misogynistic attitudes of my own. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that gender and sexuality are separate. And however you choose to present, as well as whoever you’re attracted to, is not bad. It simply is. You have the right to exist. You have the right to be who you are, no matter where you are on the spectrum. And you should be represented in fiction.

Not only an author, but as a person, it’s important to recognize there are all kinds of men, from the hypermasculine straight guy who is moved to tears at Evita, to the lisping, girlish-gestured gay boy who can roll up his sleeves and bench press twice his weight.

The lack of tolerance, shutting people down into rigid gender roles, prevents all of us from being our best selves. It keeps us from expressing who we are. It makes us unsafe, misunderstood, leads to bitterness and resentment, as well as withdrawal from the community and each other. It perpetrates violence, verbal and physical. And yes, a lack of safe spaces in fiction for people who present across the entire gender spectrum ties into this lack of tolerance and creates a culture of exclusion in the very places that we feel we should be safe and included.

What’s wrong with effeminophobia? You’re telling effete men of all stripes that they shouldn’t exist. Hell, ‘effete’ by itself has come to have a negative connotation. Isn’t that bad enough by itself?

What can we do about it?

This one is a little harder. A lot of prejudice is disguised as “I like what I like, and you can’t tell me what to like.” At the same time, you can’t make someone read and enjoy your story about an androgynous male beauty blogger any more than I can get into a novel about two hairy bears doing the nasty. (I can’t. I’m sorry. And lovingly dwelling on the hairiness factor and armpit sweat makes me bail faster than you can say ‘furry hole.’) But what we can ask for, nay, expect, is some more tolerance, a little respect, and an attempt at inclusion. I uphold your right to enjoy bears and hairy asses and buff, manly men. Where it becomes a problem is when readers and editors and publishers say those are the only kinds of men, and men in fiction, who should exist.

Tolerance … “I may not agree with what you’re saying, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it.” You don’t need to understand everything about someone who’s different from you to tolerate their existence as their own individual person. Don’t vilify effeminate men or try to erase them from manuscripts where they’re presented. Do avoid portraying them as stereotypes; make sure they’re well-rounded people.

Respect … Abide by the Golden Rule, done one better. Treat effeminate men not as you want to be treated, but as they want to be treated. And if you don’t know what that is, ask.

Inclusion … Make them a part of things. Include them in your worldview. Embrace the fact that effeminate men exist—and they’re not stereotypes—by talking with them, not making fun of them. By giving their stories a try, even if you think it’s not your cup of tea.

Do you have to like it? No. But do effeminate men have the right to exist? Absolutely. Can we be tolerant of them? Gosh, I hope so. And you can show them they’re worthy of respect by including them—in your story, on your reading list (if only to give them a try, or support their existence as side characters), and in your submissions and editing process if you’re a publisher. Above and beyond, we can all raise the level of our playing field if we keep an open mind, avoid outright rejection of portrayal of men that’s maybe a little outside the norm, and celebrate men and women of all kinds without tearing either down.

What You Can Do (Yes, You!) to Grow the Genre, Part Two

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about what you, and everyone, can do to grow the gay fiction genre. And really by gay fiction genre I mean the entire QUILTBAG spectrum. You can visit here for a refresher if you need one, but the upshot is to request gay fiction at your local libraries. Yes, even if you’ve already read or own the titles! If you read and enjoyed it, so much the better–because someone else may, as well.

At the end of that entry, I promised to provide a follow up on what more you, and all of us, can do to keep growing the genre. And like Part One, it is almost too simple to be true.

Buy the books!

When you buy them, you’re showing the publishing companies with your dollars where you want to see more product. Do you love m/m romance? Buy more! Do you love genderqueer fiction? Buy it up when you see it! Looking for titles focused on lady-love, or trans* characters? Fork over that cash! And if you can’t spend your own dollars, ask your library to buy it for you. Put it on your wish list. Or get it with your Amazon gift card or birthday/holiday money or tax return.

Spending your money on something, or getting someone else to spend money, on books, results in the publishers turning right around and investing their dollars in more authors that write for that genre. So if you’re really digging post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction with bisexual heros and strong genderqueer sidekicks and you’re lucky enough to see one, snap it up! (And point me to it, I’d read the hell out of it.)

Okay, that’s going a bit far afield, but more generally: do you support f/f? Buy it! Do you want to see more trans* fiction? There’s an anthology coming out next year–buy it! Do you think we need more literature that’s generally inclusive of the entire spectrum? When you see it, buy it!

Supporting what you want to read with your dollars is only part of the equation, though. Because there’s more you can do to spread the word.

Read the books!

Uh, why do I even have this as a step? Isn’t that a given? You would think so, wouldn’t you! But if you’re anything like me, you have a pile of books on your e-reader and a pile of physical books lurking on that shelf over there. And the one over there. And maybe even the one upstairs in the computer room. What? I’m a book pack rat. I have books I bought years ago that I haven’t even read yet.

Hence me including this step. When you buy those books, read ’em! They’re not doing any good sitting there on the shelf–make the time! (Or skip the extra helpings of Cracked listicles. I may or may not have worked that reference in just because I like the word listicle.)

It’s important to take breaks from tasks, whether you’re a writer, a mom, a stockbroker, or a workaholic of any stripe. Take a half hour out of your evening and pick up a book.

Or heck, leave it in the bathroom for that particular daily trip. Only you and the book will know, and the book gets read regardless.

Review the books!

This is where you put your mouth where your money has been. Because there is, indeed, more you can do to support the genre than simply pouring your dollars into it.

Why rate the books?

So other people will see whether you liked them, and potentially get interested in new authors or books they may like, as well!

Your rates and reviews matter. They provide other readers with information that helps them decide whether they’re going to spend their hard-earned cash on someone’s book. People tend to look at ratings, and they also look at reviews as well.

You don’t have to write an essay. You can write a sentence or two. You can keep it simple, so long as you convey whether you liked a book, and what you liked (or disliked) about it. You can let other readers know whether there was something that should have been warned for, and wasn’t; you can let other readers know if there was something especially delightful, or something that grabbed you and wouldn’t let go.

How can this possibly help? By spreading the word! People find out about new books through word of mouth as much as stalking publishers and authors they enjoy. Why do you think Goodreads connects to Twitter? So you can let other people know about your three, four, or five star reviews, of course. (I’m looking at it optimistically, I like doing that.)

So keep calm. Buy the books. See also: get the library to buy the books. And spread the good word.

Because the more they hear about it, the more everyone hears about what we want to read, the easier it gets to buy it. I don’t think QUILTBAG fiction will ever be mainstream, no, but I do think the industry is getting big enough to give other publishing paradigms a run for their money. There is so much more variety, so many more incredible stories featuring non-straight characters than there was when I was a kid. I love that! But I think we can do better, and there’s a ways to go.

Buy the books.

Read the books! (Duh.)

And spread the good word.

Three simple steps to keep our genre growing in a diverse world that’s seeing the face of publishing change every day!

Nibbles and Drinks, Ocean-scented Air, and Gay Romance Everywhere

Today’s entry was meant to be part two of two for what you can do to grow the gay fiction genre, but I’m deferring it for later. A trip retrospective is long overdue, so here it is! Join me on my rambling re-creation of the journey.

On Friday the 13th, my best friend and I made the four and a half hour drive from our home base in Oregon up to Seattle, Washington. The goal: Gay Romance Northwest, a one-day event presented by Old Growth Northwest and sponsored by a number of gay fiction presses, including my publisher, Less Than Three Press, for whom my friend also works as an editor.

We got off to an erratic start. After planning on leaving around noon, I woke up and decided instead of going into work for four hours, I wanted to take it easy that morning and get on the road sooner. We planned on having dinner with a friend up in Seattle who I haven’t seen in years. Leaving at noon to meet up for a six-thirty dinner would cut it awfully close.

There were also other events and socializing that sprang up around the event on Friday, and I wish I’d kept a closer eye on all the information coming from the group discussions on Goodreads. A four-author reading event took place, books by all the attending authors were sold at the university bookstore, and it sounds like a great time was had by all. Next year I’ll hopefully be more on point!

I’m going to divide this up into the three days of our adventures and try not to get too wordy.


After a quick lunch at Falafel King, our favorite local purveyor of shawerma (the Yemeni owner always corrects my pronounciation, no matter how hard I try), we climbed into my new bb Prius, Calypso, for the long haul. From our home base about an hour and a half south of the border to Seattle itself, we only made one stop, and that was for coffee. At Starbucks. On our way to Seattle. I know.

We arrived around five-ish, hitting a slow crawl of traffic at two points, which really was not bad for a Friday and totaled our journey around four and a half hours. The Hotel Monaco, where we stayed, was very spacious, better than your average Hampton I guess, but after recently staying at L’Hermitage in Vancouver it was obvious it wasn’t as upscale as it wanted you to think. Still, location, location, location. Kitty-corner to the library where the event took place, a stone’s throw from a Starbucks, a bar/restaurant, and any number of great places to eat or hang out, we could not ask for more from the price we paid. (Which made my eyes bulge when I checked out, but that’s another story).

Leaving early was the best of all decisions, because we got there with enough time for each of us to take quick showers to cleanse the sweat of our travels and relax a bit before heading over to the restaurant where we’d arranged to meet my friend.

On the .9 mile walk over, my poor BFF threw her back out. This would be a physical harbinger for her weekend.

Still, we made it to Sitka and Spruce on time, met my friend, and discovered the restaurant had an hour and a half wait. Um…well, we’re in a foodie town, let’s check out our other options. We ended up at Terra Plata on the corner, and merriment was had. I only remembered to tweet a few pics, because we fell on our shared plates like ravening foodies. We had a roasted grape dish with walnuts and blue cheese to start, a risotto that I plated out for the three of us, salmon tartare with house-made chips and a dill puree, and pork belly with an Asian pear slaw. Sooooo good, so yummy. I also had a couple of drinks, including a Seattle Rain Drop that was similar to a lemon drop.



Afterward, I walked and my poor friend limped back to the hotel and we tweeted back and forth with the LT3 ladies, arranging to meet in the Hotel Monaco’s lobby because of mobility reasons. BFF and I had fully expected the LT3 ladies to crash after their long day, and the events they’d gone through, but they met up with us to hang out and have drinks!



Trace, across the street, was maybe trying too hard and the music was a little too loud, but the drinks were great and the company even better. I have to say, for me, meeting LT3’s Meg, Sasha, and Samantha was the high point of a pretty darned awesome weekend. They are gracious, great to hang out with, and I felt like I’d known them for years. Next time I’m in NC to visit the parents and aunt and uncle, I hope they’ll let me crash their doorstep and bring them treats, or something.

After drinks, across the street at Hotel Monaco we made a few drunken tweets, using my phone’s wifi hotspot because the hotel wanted to charge us a daily wifi fee, and fell asleep watching the Food Network.

Day One: totally a success, except for that whole backccident. (Look, Meg, I made a word.)


Although my iPod would not dock with the hotel alarm clock, probably a sign I should upgrade but why would I when the Classic still works, I did get the alarm set and woke at a reasonable hour to get ready. We had plans to meet up with one of Amanda’s Tumblr acquaintances for brunch, then line up (because free books!) before the event and meet my lovely friend from the night before.


Sazerac’s was a great corner restaurant tucked along one side of the Monaco. We went out for Starbucks first, given there was an hour and a half between brunch and getting up and moving, and split a pumpkin croissant while we got our morning caffeine fix. Later, Finn Marlowe and her friend told me they had spotted us and thought we were “their people” but the book on the table was surely too thick to be gay romance. Turns out they were talking about Appetite, my pride and joy. I am long-winded? The pumpkin croissant was delightful and, I’m sure, contributed to my 5+ pound weekend gain.

For brunch, I jumped at the chance to enjoy eggs benedict over griddled corn cakes and thick-cut country ham. Bliss. Everything a vacation brunch should be. I also liked the restaurant’s bottomless coffee.


Across the street, we rendezvoused with friends and rediscovered the LT3 ladies, only for all of us to find there wasn’t much of a place to queue up outside the event location, given the library fire marshall’s code and all. Still, we were at the head of an increasingly long line as more people filtered in. Aside from the fact that the auditorium was roped off and one of the volunteer staff directed us not to block access to the escalators or through-way, there wasn’t much by way of queue management, and people had arrived early–probably for first crack at the free books! The LT3 ladies brought bagsful of stock for the Gay City book drive donation, and headed up the queue. Registration opened slightly past noon, and we poured into the Seattle Library auditorium.

There were some minor bobbles, probably due to communication between the volunteers. The badges were grouped into roughly alphabetical, but not strictly alphabetical, so it took the volunteer some searching to realize my “Andor” badge, which should have been on top, was simply part of the “A” pile. The attendee swag was handed out later, rather than at the door. But the donation drive, free book table, and bookstore table were all clearly visible and easy to access.

After perusing the free book table, we secured excellent seats third row center and settled in to await the opening ceremonies.

Opening ceremonies were some words from Tracy Timmons-Gray, the very capable organizer, and Alexander Haddad, Executive Director of Old Growth Northwest, the event host and organizer. We also had a fabulous keynote from Marlene Harris, which I already expounded upon in an earlier entry. She is the technical services manager for technical and collection services, and spends a vast amount of time reading and reviewing books. She urged us all to return to our communities, recognizing we were from far-flung places, and request the books we want to see at our local libraries. It’s best if authors don’t request their own books, she counseled, as the library will often cotton onto those kinds of requests and they may frown on requests that are clearly a conflict of interest (the author profits off the sales of their book). Friends and fans who live within that library’s community are more than welcome to place requests for the books, but the library does pay attention to usage, and may not purchase more books from that same author if the book isn’t checked out very often.

Following the keynote, the first panel was moderated by the lovely Megan Derr (pronounced “Duhr,” we learned at Trace the night before), and covered the topic of the ins and outs of gay romance with panelists Astrid Amada, Stormy Glenn, Daisy Harris, Ethan Stone, and Anne Tenino. A wide-ranging discussion on topics from the writer perspective ensued, though as an author starting out, I’d have loved to hear more about what it takes to become successful as opposed to getting over first-time jitters and submitting a manuscript. What sort of struggles did the authors have to overcome? What kind of approaches to networking or sitting back to wait and see ended up working for them? All the authors’ answers revolved around clearing the first hurdle, submitting, and not anything beyond that. The answer on reading reviews of their work was interesting, too–the uniform answer was “Don’t, or let your friends vet it first.” Personally I find it useful to read reviews even if I disagree with them. What I am 100% behind: never, ever, ever engage with negative reviews of your own work.

The second panel was Behind the Curtain: Editing, Publishing, and Cover Art, moderated by Tracy Timmons-Gray, the event coordinator, and the panel was composed of editors and cover artists. L.C. Chase, Samantha Derr, Lou Harper, Nicole Kimberling, and Devon Rhodes were in attendance. Some interesting discussions, but my main takeaway was that I was frustrated that questions about diversity of submission got minimalized to “we don’t publish f/f, it doesn’t sell,” and ignoring bisexual and trans*. I am very happy that LT3 accepts the entire queer spectrum. One of the big messages of this panel, beyond an amusing defense of the headless torsos on gay romance covers (truth in advertising, yo!) was for readers to pay attention to house standards, and research their potential publishers before submitting to make sure the publisher and their standards, and their cover artists, will be a good fit.

The third panel was on Diversifying and Evolving the Genre, moderated by Laylah Hunter. Panelists were Heidi Belleau, Kade Boehme, Ginn Hale, Rick R. Reed, and Andrea Speed. This panel contained some of the biggest highs and lows of the event. There were some challenging questions asked, including author Rick Reed turning a question on the audience regarding effeminophobia, or, why do gay romance authors shy away from portrayals of effeminate men? The resounding answer was that authors are either told they’re writing a stereotypical gay man, a woman in a gay man’s body (I won’t use the trans* offensive term that was yelled out), or flat-out told by editors to rein in or alter portrayals of effeminate men. I was warned by my own editor to expect some backlash for my portrayal of a male beauty blogger who wears makeup and is very much into fashion. Yet these men exist, and editing them out or criticizing women for portraying them is rooted in effeminophobia, which many authors traced back to its root cause–misogyny. There’s a dismaying amount of misogyny even in our reader/writer base, where you’d hope and think that we, women and gay men, could be past that.

There were good discussions, but not enough time. Questions about the lack of diversity, limiting queer fiction to male/male, and shutting out lesbians, bisexuals, and trans*, were not fully addressed. There was an overwhelming amount of material and topics to mine, and no shortage of lively discussion.

Afterward, I picked up some titles I’d been eyeing during the breaks, and was pleased to bustle right up to Heidi Belleau to snag an autograph. We went from the Seattle Library to Happy Hour (actually happy three hours) at the Hotel Monaco across the street and ouch, I thought happy hour drinks were supposed to be discounted – these weren’t. Still, I grabbed my rum and coke, filled my plate with an array of delectable nibbles, and sought out my seat.

While it was great to have an author seat at the table, I ended up ditching it (after getting the Irregulars signed by the very personable Astrid Amara), to hang out with my friends and the LT3 pillars of editing and author/tech support, Sam and Sasha.

A few tidbits of feedback from the newbie author perspective–there was very little by way of new author support for Gay Rom NW authors. It seemed tilted a great deal more toward established authors, leaving it completely contingent on me to a) figure out what the expectations were, and b) drum up any interest in me or my books for the event. I’m sure I missed a great deal not being as active as I possibly could on the Goodreads forum, but if there was some kind of handy checklist for attending authors, means of asking for more promotion, or call to action that would have gotten me better involved, I either missed it or believe it’s very much needed. Overall my impression of the event was the famous authors knew what they were doing, and I was there to take notes and try to figure out what to do better next time. Also, the Goodreads forum was somewhat difficult because it was extremely active and hard to keep up with, and it was intimidating because everyone participating was so much bigger and more confident. This little fishy will try to do better for Rainbow Con 2014.

At some point I suppose that means trying to procure self-promoting swag.

Another note–the author/reader ratio seemed very high. If the attendee total was where I remember it, it seemed like authors and writers were at or around half of the total attendees. In my own personal opinion, this can hurt the dynamics of such an event for reasons I won’t expound on, this entry already being too long, but I can’t suggest capping author attendance either because I’m not sure that’s the solution.

Happy Hour involved circulating with authors, nibbles, drinks, and later on there were author readings, unfortunately after most of the crowd had thinned out. There were only a few devotees left by the end of the evening, and for me it was easy to see why–I was starving!! If our dinner reservations hadn’t been until 9, I would have begged for us to leave early, too. The snacks were most welcome, especially healthy options like fruit, but ultimately not enough to sustain me from brunch all the way to a 9 pm dinner. I’d thought about keeping snacks in my purse before leaving, and dismissed the idea as being too food-obsessive. It was a fun event, maybe a little long. Marlene Harris spent some time with our little group, and it was great to sit down and talk video games and book reviews–she reviews a loooooot of them! Tracy Timmons-Gray also checked in, and she looked so exhausted I wanted to wrap a blanket around her. Conversations continued in all directions on subjects ranging from the event and topics from earlier in the day, to all the kinds of things you’d discuss with friends.

Regarding the readings–I was on the fence about whether to do one or not, but it turns out there was either a sign-up for them, or they were invite-only. Another thing I must have missed, not being as active as I should have on the Goodreads group. Either way, I wish that had been a little more clear on the day of. Though I still can’t decide if I would have done it or not, because everyone was doing erotic readings, and mine would have been a UST-laden moment.

Afterward, we went with the Less Than Three ladies and Piper Vaughn and our friends to Benihana where they made us wait, grr, and we were all starving! At last we were all seated, though, and it was a good if somewhat subdued time. By that point, most of us were very tired. When I told Kitty that the chef flips shrimp tails at people, she looked at me with disbelief and asked if I was serious. I grinned at her when, sure enough, the chef flipped some shrimp tails around some of the table’s occupants, including me.

It was a long day, we came away from it with our heads buzzing with information and our bags bursting with swag and new books, and once again fell asleep to the Food Network on television.


A little less exciting–brunch, then homeward bound! One of the notifications on my phone was for discussions from the Goodreads forum, where I discovered there was dim sum and other stuff going on in the area. The Less Than Three ladies had to be airport-bound by three in the morning, and my heart goes out to them. And Amanda and I had to decide if we were going to make our way to Pike’s Place, or get brunch and go.

Turns out Amanda had pulled her leg the night before, on top of her already-out back. So we conferred with friends, and ate at Sazerac’s again before heading out. I had wanted to go to Pike’s Place and hit up a charming French bakery and get some macarons as a souvenir. However, I wasn’t willing to drive there. When we checked out, that was it–we were hitting the highway or bust. So instead, we met up with Kitty, Liz and her husband Alex, and had a really nice brunch. Once again, conversation was excellent and wide-ranging. I wish I could meet up with all of you lovely folks more often!

The trip back was much shorter, about three and a half hours compared to four and a half. We stopped twice, once for a horrible McDonald’s pumpkin spice latte which I ended up throwing out, and then for a late lunch at Panera on the way home. We talked more about the panels we’d attended the day before, and some of the issues we personally experienced with the genre.

It was a good experience. They will be organizing a Gay Romance Northwest 2014 for September 13th, and I will definitely go again. I’ll make sure to utilize all of the resources I can in advance to try and be better prepared. And my utmost gratitude to all of the organizers, sponsors, volunteers, and attendees who made it possible!

What You Can Do (Yes, YOU!) to Grow the Genre: Part One

The first-annual Gay Romance Northwest was convened on September 14th, 2013, and I hope there will be many more. First, because it was amazing to attend a forum of readers and fellow writers in the genre. Second, because so many vibrant ideas came out of its information-packed program.

Our keynote address was delivered by Marlene Harris, who I had the pleasant occasion to speak with during the after-event Happy Hour, and she gave a call to action that I wanted to bring forward and urge each and every one of you to take up. It is surprisingly simple. Even in its simplicity, it can launch a huge ripple effect, and has the potential for amazing long-term results for our genre.

I don’t know about you, but as a reader of gay fiction, when I want to read something in the genre, I typically buy it. Not necessarily because I am flush with cash (ha, ha) but rather because no matter how much I frequent my local library, gay fiction is very much absent from their shelves. I love libraries! I practically grew up in one. I fondly remember the days I’d ride my bicycle halfway across town, check out a thick stack to while away the summer evenings, and do it all again the following week or mere days later, depending on how quickly I devoured them. Whole new words open up through the printed word, and the library was the best way for me, a young person with very scant income, to satisfy my bookish tastes. Parents who were quick to get me back-to-school clothes and supplies didn’t quite see reading material the same way. Combing through the shelves as I grew older and tried to find gay characters, though, was like turning to my oasis getaway and finding it dried up into a desert.

Why don’t we go to our local library for gay literature? Well, they don’t have it. They won’t carry it, you might say.

But did you ask for it?

In the vein of “if you build it, they will come,” when there’s something that you want to read, you can request it from your local library. There are many ways that libraries decide what gets purchased to put on their shelves, and one of them is reader request. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I wish I could check that book out before I buy it–but my library doesn’t have it,” there’s a simple solution. Ask your library to carry it!

Sure, you don’t get the immediate gratification of loading it onto your e-reader or holding it in your hands right away. But if you’re strapped for cash, the wait is probably worth it if you’re able to get the title from your library in the end.

Suggesting books to your library works on two levels. If you’re a gay fiction reader and want to see certain titles at your local library, ask for them. You may see those titles filtering into the library and onto shelves, amount of time dependant on their process. If you’re a gay fiction reader and you love certain titles and want everyone to be able to read them, you can still ask for them! Even if you’ve already enjoyed them yourself, if you spread word far and wide about good books, the audience grows, the books get purchased, and more books get written and published for the whole genre.

At this point it’s important to tip the hat to the role politics plays in your region. “I ask for books I want, and they get them? It’s as simple as that?” Well, that depends on your library. Some libraries like Seattle’s are open to a wide range of content, and more than happy to work with the gay fiction presses to get their books on the shelves and their ebooks on the roster. Others may be more conservative–in those cases, I’d say it’s worth the effort to rally the local community and get several people writing in to suggest the same titles and authors. Though libraries may have different policies, they are all supported by public dollars, and their public has the right to at least ask to have their reading tastes represented.

The two-part call to action boils down to the first of two things that you, yes YOU, can do to expand our genre and make it more successful. Is there something you want to read or have others read? Ask your local library!

As for the other half of my call to action … that’s to be continued, next Monday. Thanks for reading! I’m going to cover the entire weekend in Seattle as soon as I muster up the brainpower–feels like con hangover, probably due in part to the four-hour drive. I’d do it all again. And will, next year.

Pacific Rim was not a romance, and didn’t need to be

Over the weekend, I saw Pacific Rim with my BFF and girlfriend. My anticipation for this movie has been building up for months–basically ever since I saw the first trailer and heard a very familiar, GLaDOS-esque voice for the computer interface. It was, in fact, Ellen McLain, who voiced GLaDOS in the Portal games. (Not a spoiler.)

The rest of this reaction post will contain spoilers.

Also, this post contains my opinions and reactions to the movie. I hate that something so inherent as far as I’m concerned isn’t necessarily obvious, but there you go.

The movie promised Big Damn Monsters, and Big Damn Heroes – by way of Giant Robot. It delivered on that from the outset, and kept delivering right up until the wrap. This movie never promised to be more than a Giant Robots vs Big Damn Monsters movie, yet it delivered so much more.

I’ve already seen some talk about shipping Raleigh Becket and Mako Mori, and to those people I might suggest they’ve entirely missed the point of the movie. It wasn’t a romance. Furthermore, it didn’t need to be a romance. And two people can share a deep, emotional bond and life-threatening experiences that they overcome, together, to subsequently ride a helicopter into the sunset without the vaguest promise of a future romance between them.

Guillermo del Toro did this on purpose, and it’s something that is pretty revolutionary for a summer blockbuster film. And make no mistake about it, this is bred and designed to be a summer blockbuster, and it does it very well. Two hours of giant robots vs monsters is total popcorn fare, and oen of my only complaints was that I wanted more–more Crimson Typhoon, more Cherno Alpha, more Coyote Tango that didn’t even make it into the movie. More Stacker Pentecost, who brings nothing to the drift: no ego, no past, no baggage. More of the Wu triplets, more of the unyielding Russian Kaidonovsky team who held their wall for six years undefeated against all takers. There’s allegedly about an hour of footage that got left on the cutting room floor in del Toro’s drive to pare the movie down to a two-hour release, and I hope beyond hope that we’ll get to see it all.

Before I dive back into the fantastic platonic relationship that del Toro built, and his two leads represented on screen so well, I want to touch on all the high points that the movie realized for me, personally. I went into this movie with such high expectations, such keen anticipation, with each of my friends who saw it before me only whetting that further, once or twice I thought to myself “surely, it can’t live up to all I hope it will be.”

It did. It definitely did. It had everything I wanted and more. Let me break it down.

They epitomized FUCK YEAH MECHA in every regard. The design, the color, the vibrancy, the weapons … the breathtaking scale of them. To me, robots are self-guided, and mecha, or suits, Gundams, whatever you want to call them require pilots. These were mecha being piloted by people, real human beings, and they were epic in scale and completely real in the way they came across onscreen. The excited geek in me who put together a Deathscythe Hell Gundam kit with only Japanese instructions fifteen years ago was completely hyped by all the mecha detail. I didn’t think about how much thought and planning went into the physics of them, the blueprints, the design, mapping out the way they moved–it was up there in all its megaton glory, bringing mecha to live-action life.

I have to acknowledge the two most massive, obvious draws for the film. The kaiju (monsters) really delivered. They were all very different, and each of them were realized to the last detail. Reflecting back on it, you could tell that a lot of production, a lot of thought, went into each one–like any good mecha story, the monsters had distinct traits and characteristics, evocative, individual names that reflected their traits (Knifehead!), different classifications – in this case, they were categorized One through Four, Four being a massive kaiju that dwarfed any that had come before. They movied and attacked in varied ways, and there was a clear evolution in the way they fought and learned over time.

Breathtaking visuals.
If this movie doesn’t receive some kind of Oscar nod for the stunning visual effects, the amazing cinematography, and the strong use of color, it will be a sick Hollywood snub. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time an action and/or sci-fi movie has been passed over for critical acclaim. Pacific Rim was a fully immersing visual experience that, even without 3D, really leapt out of the screen and wrapped you in what was going on.

The female character has the strongest character arc.
There are enough movies depicting the moving journey of the young man overcoming his hardships to triumph in the end. We’ve seen it plenty of times, okay? And though Raleigh Becket has his own share of troubles to work through, in many ways they are an afterthought, a sub-plot, to Mako Mori’s journey. We see her timeline, in scattered pieces, from a helpless child with her heart laid bare to a determined, resourceful person overcoming past trauma and difficult odds to pull out the win.

Mako comes into the movie in the second act, but she dominates it. She does not yield. She carries through and pulls together past the point her mentor is certain may break her, or be her team’s ruin. She isn’t the love interest. She isn’t the prize. She doesn’t exist for the male gaze. She is the hero.

Strong mentor/surrogate parent relationship.

So many times, what we see in Big Damn Action movies is broken relationships, failure to communicate, or child vs. parent because The Parent Is Wrong. Pacific Rim gives us a strong mentor and surrogate parent figure in Stacker Pentecost, and a strong person who has been guided and encouraged to make her own decisions in Mako, yet clearly seeks to follow and emulate the person she holds in such high regard. She doesn’t want to defy Stacker; she wants to prove she can do it. When he draws the line, she respects it. When there is conflict between them, you can see it’s because they’re both trying to do their best by the other person.

In a certain sense the movie relies on familiar tropes to pre-tell the story for us, but those are built upon in the way these characters react and embody them. Throughout the story, Stacker Pentecost and Mako Mori are considerate of each other, they want to do right for each other, and they establish a strong, positive relationship that carries through to the end.

One of the moments in Pacific that is less likely to get any kind of scrutiny is toward the movie’s conclusion, and it’s not subtitled. Mako’s last message to Stacker Pentecost is “先生、愛しています,” or “Sensei, ai shiteimasu.” It’s hard to translate the inflections and unpack the meaning of this phrase for a Western audience, which is why I’m sure del Toro chose not to subtitle it. It was important that she say it, but so many people would misunderstand a flat translation. That translation boils down to “Teacher, I love you,” but it means more than that, in terms of the culture and context. Better people than I will probably tackle this subject, but there are different forms of “I love you” in Japanese, and saying the more serious forms of it to someone is a once in a lifetime occurrence. You can bet that Mako never said such a thing to Stacker before. And it didn’t mean she was in love with him, which a Western audience would assume. She loved him, as a teacher and as a father. But that was the first time she’d ever said it to him because it’s so powerful and understood without words. It was respect, and love, and farewell.

It takes a team.
The entire movie epitomizes team spirit, and the fact that we can’t go it alone and be successful. The Jaegers can’t be piloted alone–it takes two. And this concept shapes and sets up the entire spirit of the movie. There is no lone hero, no one person shouldering the load. The neural handshake requires at least two to drift together and share the burden. Gipsy Danger isn’t successful without the team behind it, however soon we lose that team. The Americans can’t win without all of the world nations banding together. The last Jaeger pilot crew standing is half American, half Japanese. The scientist team is also multi-national, and each of them brought resolution to pieces of the puzzle, without which everything would have failed. The Jaegers needed the scientists as much as the scientists needed the Jaegers for protection. We did it together. It’s an important and powerful and deliberate message.

People of color in command and heroic roles
This is lower down on the list because, frankly, they could have done better. It’s a shame that one POC in a main role, one POC in a major supporting role, and a plethora of Asians in the background (I’m sorry, Wu triplets, but you were in the background) can be seen as “good enough” from a diversity standpoint. You could argue that cis, hetero white men were a minority in the film overall, but they were also the most prominent, visible characters that got the most screen time. We got to see the Wu triplets playing basketball for about five seconds, and going to a valiant death. Wait, now I’m not sure which point I’m arguing.

For all that the movie could have stood improvements from a diversity standpoint (vast, kaiju-sized improvements), it does portray people of color in arguably pivotal roles with (mostly) positive representation. When is the last time you saw someone who wasn’t white commanding the troops, and launching a last stand defense to successfully save the world? Go ahead, think about it. I’ll wait.

It’s an important foothold that I only hope moviemakers can build off of and continue. I’m sick of whiny white guys saving the world and getting “rewarded” with white girls. (Specifically with Shia leBoeuf in mind, here.) And yes, for the record, I am white. Like it should matter when I’m bringing this point.

Science nerds win.
This point is pretty short, because nerds have been gaining a lot of traction in popular culture though there’s still a great deal of misunderstanding and bullying out there for people who are “different” and “other” compared to the expected norm. But in short: the science nerds save the day. They had an entire subplot, and without their efforts, the team and the whole world-saving initiative would have been unsuccessful. (It would have been even cooler if one of the science nerds had been a lady, but hey, we take what we can get.) The science nerds were played for comic relief as always, but they still brought forward some plot-pivotal moments while moving through the typical science nerd tics.

Realistic fights, and real damage.
In war there is a death toll, and Pacific Rim did not sugarcoat it. I saw a factoid regarding Cherno Alpha on one of my many Pacific Rim-diving Tumblr tag searches: the Jaeger cockpit for Cherno Alpha is centrally located. That provides the greatest possible amount of shielding for the Jaeger pilots, but it also means no escape pods. When they fight, they win or they die. When Stacker Pentecost said they held the line for six years, it’s significant. These are tough, all-in Jaeger pilots.

You can’t fight a war without losses. The movie takes place at the end of a long war of attrition, and we get to see the worst of it. People die, Hannibal Chau makes money off war profiteering and scavenging, and the effects of war linger and take their toll on the main characters, especially Raleigh, Mako, and Stacker. A father loses his son. Husband and wife die together fighting. There’s self-sacrifice and blind panic and fatalism. These people aren’t walking away with a few bruises and dusting themselves off to build an awesome new world. The damage is substantial.

Bombast and unabashed spectacle.
Pacific Rim hits all of the notes you’d expect from an over the top, loud, action-packed summer flick, and it hits them well. It’s not reinventing anything, and it knows that, and it uses that, playing off your expectations to show you what you may have seen before, plus a little bit more. It knows what it is, and it revels in it – and maybe you’ll revel in it too, in all its sheer giant-mecha-fighting-monster glory.

Some people are making noises about Pacific Rim ripping off this, that, or the other. This film isn’t trying to be anything it’s not–it knows it’s coming from a rich melange of source material dating back decades. It’s not trying to be new and original. It may be trying to be the biggest and the best so far, and that I’m willing to grant it.

Because it bears repeating: THERE IS NO ROMANCE. And the movie deals with emotions on several levels successfully without a romantic subplot.

From the very first opening frame of Mako’s introduction, she is purposefully portrayed as someone who stands on her own, not as a sex object, and while she starts out in a support role, not as subservient.

Raleigh didn’t see Mako as a woman. He saw her as a person. This is a very important distinction, and one reason that validates the fact that Pacific Romance didn’t have a romance sub-plot. You could quite legitimately say it had a relationship sub-plot, where two people learn a great deal about one another and experience important, life-changing moments.

There’s this moment on the candidate testing floor where Mako accuses Raleigh of holding back. He’s winning all his matches, but it’s clear he over-matches them. He stands straight, looks her in the eye, and basically says the same to her. She’s hand-selected all the candidates who faced him, but she’s holding back her best. She is the best candidate, and it’s something that is quickly proved on the testing floor. Also, I don’t know anything about the ranger training program, but 51 simulations with 51 take-downs, which Mako mentions in a self-effacing manner (which is very Japanese) sounds pretty damned impressive. And Raleigh recognizes that, as well as her all-around competence, immediately.

Another pivotal moment happens in the Jaeger cockpit of Gipsy Danger when Raleigh enters his rebuilt Jaeger for the first time, and I was wondering how Raleigh would handle that moment. He returns to the cockpit from which his brother was torn, while they were drift connected. How can he take the same place he had before? But how can he take the other place, where his brother stood? Raleigh doesn’t even hesitate. He takes his brother’s place, and I believe this is a consciously figurative as well as literal decision. He becomes Mako’s big brother. He accepts the greater responsibility, and the greater risks.

If Raleigh seeks to defend or intercede for Mako it’s not because he sees her as an object of lust. It’s because he sees her as a person worthy of respect, someone who should be granted her choice to fight, or toward the end, because he’s seen someone torn away from him and this time, he’s going to take the fall and send his partner to safety.

On Mako’s side of things, she’s not watching out for him through peepholes because she’s got a crush on him. Raleigh unnerves her, and she wants to observe him. She’s studied him closely enough to choose fighting partners, potential drift matches for him, but he’s maybe different from what she was expecting, though she still believes he’s unpredictable enough that he poses a risk to their all-important mission. There’s a connection there, but it’s not love, it’s drift compatibility. They prove it with such a strong neural handshake, they’re both caught up in reliving their past traumas.

They push past that and save each other, and they save the world. They manage to do it without trying to get into each others’ pants, and thanks be to Guillermo del Toro to have a female lead who doesn’t have to be sexualized in order to do that.

Anyhow, these are all my initial impressions, my first takeaway from my first viewing of the film. There’s so much to see in Pacific Rim it’s impossible to catch it all in a single viewing, so I’ll definitely be hitting the theatre again while it’s still playing on the big screen. And I hope you will too, because FUCK YEAH MECHA. Also, stay for the extra clip embedded in the end credits. Blake Perlman’s song Drift was pretty good, too.