It’s finally here! It’s my “Gay Firefly with Magic” adult science fiction debut, Empire of Light’s official book birthday and part of me still can’t believe that this day is actually here and that there are real, actual copies of this thing I wrote out in the world, and people are sending me pictures of it in the wild, along with live-reading updates, and awesome reviews. This is a thing, you all! And it feels pretty fucking fantastic.

But I also wanted to talk a little bit about some of the things that happened on the way to getting this book into everyone’s hands, because so often we celebrate the successes without mentioning all the other shit that happened along the way of publication. So, here are some of the ingredients that helped make this book:

Writing out of spite:

I started writing this book when I honestly didn’t see a lot of queer books written by queer folk with queer protagonists (and antagonists, and supporting characters…basically queer EVERYONE) out there. I started writing Empire of Light at a time when I got The Look whenever I mentioned I wrote a book with queer main characters, felt distinctly unsafe as a queer person at conventions, and can’t count the times that I was flatly told I shouldn’t write what I write or that it would never sell. I’m really, really glad this has changed and that as I kept going, I not only found SO MANY more queer books (and fantastic authors to support!) but an amazing community that has my undying love because of how magically badass they all are.

Writing through extended breaks:

Part of the reason it took this many years for this book to finally see the light of day is because I absolutely had to take breaks. I first started writing seriously after I had immigrated to the U.S. and survived one of the most toxic and dangerous times of my life and in many ways finding writing and the community with it, finding a purpose and something that drove me, absolutely saved me—while also bringing snarky, sweary, and twisty af characters to life. My writing journey definitely took a few hard stops, like when I took extended breaks to let a manuscript sit, or when I had to take nearly two years off because I was finishing my teaching degree, studied full-time, worked as a student teacher, and held a full-time job because there was just me and somehow I had to eat and keep a roof over my and my cats’ head. And yes, extended breaks suck. This one certainly did and I honestly thought I had broken myself and my writing with it for a while. But I got back into it, not the least because people kept pushing me, cheering me on, and demanding I keep doing this thing. So, to those of you who never gave up on me, thank you can’t adequately describe the words I have for what you did for me.

The Emo-Coaster that is Publishing:

When I first started to write serious and learn about the publishing process, I thought that all I had to do was get an agent, who would sell my book, and I’d be set. Yeah, I was a naive baby writer, but hey, we all start somewhere. The truth is that a) publishing moves at a rather glacial pace (until it does not), b) there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all model (when is there ever?), and c) sometimes you can do everything right and things still go to hell. Empire of Light took me years to write into a readable version, more years to edit and finally scrape together the courage to query, and then, after nearly a year in the query-trenches, when I finally was in that magical place where I had to choose between three agents who wanted to represent me, things still didn’t quite pan out. My agent was lovely and I loved working with her. I got a handful of very complimentary rejections, and yes, if anything is harder than querying, it’s being on submission, but ultimately my agent couldn’t continue working due to health reasons and we parted ways. That was a bit of a rock bottom moment for me that honestly stalled my writing something fierce and I thought this book was pretty much dead, since big publishers had seen it. But then I went out and submitted it to smaller presses who didn’t require an agent and negotiated my own deal with NineStar Press, who have been absolutely lovely to work with.

So, yeah, this book took one hell of a winding road to get to where it is now and looking back, there are certainly things I could have done better. But, you know what? There are so many things I learned while writing, editing, querying, and working with my publisher, that I wouldn’t want to trade in for the world, because every little bit that went into this book is learned experience, is treasured memories, is a hoard of armaments and things I’ll know to do better, or differently, or to continue learning about for the next one. Because there will always be a next one.

But today, it’s the book birthday of my very first. And damn if that isn’t something.

Happy reading!


Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As Aris slips away from Damian and his control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on. Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one minute and kiss him the next.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.

2018 Roundup: The Inside-Out Shit-Sandwich

If I had to sum up 2018 in one GIF, this would probably be it:

Ryan Reynolds Holy Fucking Shit! GIF by tenor

Ryan Reynolds Holy Fucking Shit! GIF by tenor

And yes, that covers pretty much both the good and the bad. Still, you’re still here, and so am I, and that’s definitely something to celebrate, given how this year went. I was thinking about what the best way to do a roundup of the wild rollercoaster that 2018 has been would be, and after much deliberation settled on the Shit Sandwich. You know, the idea that when giving feedback, you layer the bad between slices of good, so that you don’t come across as a totally pretentious asshole who is out to ruin nice things for everybody (seriously, don’t be that person.)

Anyway, 2018 was a bit more like an Inside-Out Shit-Sandwich, or, as one of my best friends likes to call it…kind of yummy-yucky. Here’s your rundown:

This is me pre-morphine, which MAY have been my first ever experience with strong pain killers. I could SMELL the color red. And yes, I did text the whole experience to my CPs, because RESEARCH!

This is me pre-morphine, which MAY have been my first ever experience with strong pain killers. I could SMELL the color red. And yes, I did text the whole experience to my CPs, because RESEARCH!

Health-wise, 2018 tried to kill me. Unfortunately, it did take that one a little too literally, because what started out with my first-ever stint at a U.S. emergency room (thank the gods for health insurance, I could actually afford it) with suspected chronic gallbladder malfunction. This—surprise!—actually turned out to be the most massive of massive blood clots in my lower right abdomen, stretching from my major abdominal vein into my leg, and into my renal vein, where it most likely killed off my right kidney (which we named Aqualad, the Shitty Kidney as a result). Bonus shitty points for not figuring this out until 7 MONTHS LATER after my back was killing me and I thought I’d literally broken myself chasing editing deadlines. Spoiler: if you have intense lower back pain AND THEN your right leg swells up and feels like a balloon about to pop, you MIGHT just have a massive blood clot at your hands. And no, Alex, you won’t be able to drive yourself to the doctor’s office, because you’re not fine. Not even a little bit. Thanks to my lovely wife, Tori, my good friend and critique partner extraordinaire, Kendra, who did the driving that day, and everyone else who’s stuck with me through this ordeal, which resulted in my doctor making this face O_O, then rushing me to the ER, followed by an overnight hospital stay where surgery was a very definite option that we fortunately didn’t have to resort to (it would have been major and super scary). It took me the next three months to be able to move and walk without pain again, and I have to say, this shit definitely changed my perspective (and served as accidental research for my MC in Empire of Light, who becomes a cane-user, so I guess there’s always that.)

Anyway, I made it through that, will definitely be on medication for the rest of my life, and am rocking some super stylish compression socks (I want them to make some with unicorns, but in the meantime, I’m partial to argyle and rainbow stripes).

Of course, while I was recuperating physically, my mental health decided to have its “Hold my Beer!” moment and send me into one of the worst depressive spirals I’ve had since 2012. Fortunately we figured out a way to get things back on track with meds and self-care. Oh, and then there was the bit where I got SHINGLES. Yeah…2018 was A Year in terms of health. Let’s not keep going with this, shall we? Anyway, let this be your reminder to hydrate, take your meds, and move as much as you can, lovelies, because this shit is scary.

Okay, time for some GOOD, yeah?

Well, actually, it started with some bad, since 2018 also was the year I parted ways with my now former agent, due to her health making her unable to continue agenting. I’m not going to go super into detail here, but let it be said that one of the things all those blog posts and Twitter threads about agenting often don’t cover is what to do when you have to take that painful step of leaving your agent because things aren’t working out. It’s hard. And definitely took me some time to adjust. And yes, I’m going to query again in 2019. It’s cool, I have a battle plan and am super grateful for all of my publishing and author friends who continuously cheer me on and didn’t let me wallow too much, because onward!

These lovely rainbow roses were sent to me by my lovely Speculator CPs!

These lovely rainbow roses were sent to me by my lovely Speculator CPs!

Speaking of onward, I signed not one, but TWO publishing contracts in 2018, and I couldn’t be happier. In April, I signed my publishing contract for my debut queer science fiction novel, Empire of Light, with NineStar Press. It’s been one hell of a journey to get there. Definitely a rollercoaster worth of ups and downs, and tight twists, but 2019 will be my debut year as a queer SFF author and I couldn’t be more grateful to Rae, Sam, and the rest of the NineStar Team, who have since introduced me to so many fantastic authors I am happy to call friends.

And that’s not all! I also signed a contract to contribute to BEHIND THE SUN, ABOVE THE MOON, a queer anthology full of stories featuring trans and nonbinary characters written by trans and nonbinary creators, which will release with NineStar Press in 2020. I am beyond thrilled to be included in this and so happy this is happening. Watch this space, and subscribe to my newsletter for updates on all the shiny queer story-shaped things!

Hi! Same name, new pronouns! Thanks to everyone who uses them and corrects others when they don’t. I couldn’t do this without you all!

Hi! Same name, new pronouns! Thanks to everyone who uses them and corrects others when they don’t. I couldn’t do this without you all!

The biggest personal change in 2018 was definitely coming out as nonbinary in March of this year. Frankly, it was probably one of the most terrifying things I have ever done, especially as someone who constantly questions their own value and validity. But it’s also been incredibly empowering and just so liberating to finally get this off my chest and no longer keep my gender identity to myself like it’s something to hide and pretend doesn’t exist.

I cannot thank everyone enough for their support along my journey, especially those of you who remind others that yes, my pronouns are they/them, and to use them, especially when I’m too tired to constantly remind others. My enby journey and figuring out what exactly all of this meant to me, definitely shaped a large part of this year and still continues doing so, because guess what? I might be in my 30s, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t figured it all out yet. Far from it, really.

Coming out to my principal was absolutely terrifying, because I generally kept my queerness very much under wraps when I first started teaching. Only in recent years, I’ve started to feel comfortable enough to be “me” more and more in the classroom. Being a queer teacher, never mind a nonbinary one in a super conservative state where still so many honestly don’t even know what to do with you, is…a lot. It’s still a lot, and probably will continue being a lot, because things change glacially, but they are changing. Also, yes, my students adapted to my “new” title of Mx. without much issue. They are still working on the they/them, along with many others, but its the ones who do get it—and correct others when they overhear them misgendering me—that make my heart so incredibly full and make doing this over and over again easier. Thank you.

Yay for Goodreads keeping track of all of my reading! Over 47k pages across 158 books! Not bad!

Yay for Goodreads keeping track of all of my reading! Over 47k pages across 158 books! Not bad!

Finally, my year in books. Honestly, it’s been a GOOD year for reading, and I’m beyond thrilled with how many queer books I read in 2018. Honestly, a majority of the 158 books I read were queer, many by queer authors of color. I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many talented and hard-working authors who tell the kinds of queer stories I’ve always wanted to read. Thank you. All of you. Especially on the hard days. They’re worth it. Your stories are worth it.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention some of my favorite books of 2018, so here you go:

Favorite Science Fiction: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

I adored this book so much. Lady astronauts. Alternate history that asks so many questions that make this such a fantastic genre. Also, the audiobooks are narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal herself and are outstanding.

Favorite Graphic Novel: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

I’ve talked about this one before, but seriously, if you need a happy read that subtly explores queerness for kids of all ages, READ THIS BOOK. You won’t regret it. Thank you to Ren, who sent this to me when I was really struggling with depression. This book meant a lot to me.

Favorite Romance: His Cocky Cellist by Cole McCade

This was originally recommended to me because I wanted to learn more about well-written content warnings, but Cole McCade’s work quickly hooked me (also, he’s a generally awesome human to boot). I loved how this book explored D/s dynamics in conjunction with sex work, and definitely want to read more like this.

Favorite Series: Port Lewis Witches by Brooklyn Ray

This series focuses on a coven of queer witches in the Pacific Northwest and I simply adore the characters. The first in the series, Darkling, hooked me with a trans main character, who wants to kiss his best friend, incredibly well-written sex scenes, and all the dark magic. I’m so excited that there will be more of this!

Favorite Fantasy: The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

I got to JY Yang’s Tensorate series kind of late, but ever since I dove into their intricately-built universe full of nonbinary characters, political intrigue, and self-discovery, I couldn’t get enough of it. Another recommendation for the audio format since it includes the first three novellas in the series and is so very well done.

Favorite YA: Dreadnought by April Daniels

Two words: Trans Superheroes. This book hooked me from page one and I found it both incredibly relatable and it also kicked me right in the feels (CWs for transphobia though since there is a LOT of heavy content in this book that is much more than a superhero story).

Anyway, that’s it for the bookish and health-related updates of 2018. It’s definitely been a messy, but also incredibly important year for me. I’ve learned a lot, last but not least, to listen to my body a little more and be kinder to myself (it’s harder than it should be), but most of all I’m just really, really grateful for everyone who’s been along for this wild ride.

Thank you to each and every one of you. You made this shit-sandwich of a year actually really fucking awesome in the end. <3

Agent Interview with Jennifer Johnson-Blalock

Johnson-Blalock HeadshotToday I am interviewing Jennifer Johnson-Blalock of the Liza Dawson Agency. Jennifer joined the Liza Dawson Agency in 2015 after having worked as an agent's assistant at Trident Media Group and interning at LDA. Jennifer presents prescriptive and narrative nonfiction as well as memoirs. She is seeking writers with strong platforms with unique stories to explore larger issues. In fiction, Jennifer is looking for upmarket commercial fiction including thrillers and mysteries, women's fiction, contemporary romance, young adult, and middle grade. Find out more about Jennifer Johnson-Blalock here and check out her Manuscript Wishlist.

Alex: As an agent you probably get flooded with queries. What is one thing that makes a query really stand out to you?

Jennifer: At this point, I've put so much of myself and my taste out in the world--on my website, MSWL, Twitter, interviews like this one, that I think it's very easy to target what I'm looking for. I'm always drawn to queries that open with the specific reason why the writer is querying me.

To expand on that, honesty works for me. I've had queries say, "I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for because of X, but I thought this would appeal to you because of Y." That's completely fair and definitely gets my attention. And maybe you're not sure if your book is right for me, but you like one of my client's books or my tweets about The Bachelor--it's great to note that, too. Just something that demonstrates you've put thought into your decision to query.

In the query itself, you may have seen I'm a big fan of comp titles. I have some advice on those here. But telling me what your book is like will really help me to understand it, and if it's a comp I enjoyed, I'll usually want to see more.

Alex: You probably get pitched at conferences and workshops all the time. What advice would you give authors when it comes to pitching in person? What is something that would make this process more helpful to you?

Jennifer: My main piece of advice is just to remember that the agent you're meeting with is a human--we're also nervous and excited and overstimulated and tired. Figure out what you want to say, and practice your pitch, but know that I'm not sitting across the table judging you. I'm hoping you have something I want to see. And if you don't, I'm really most concerned with making sure the process is helpful for YOU, the writer. Particularly if it's a longer (10-15 minute) pitch session, come prepared with questions about the industry, the query process, etc. Some agents, including myself, are even willing to take a quick look at your query letter and provide feedback in these sessions. We really want our meeting to be beneficial!

Alex: What jumped out to me on your Manuscript Wish List is that in nonfiction you are looking for unique stories that explore larger issues. What are some issues you are especially interested and wish would pop into your inbox?

Jennifer: Honestly, I'm interested in so many things. If you look at my profile on the Liza Dawson Associates website, you'll see my interests range from the arts to psychology and sociology to law to liberal politics. I think more important than the topic for me is the form. I get a lot of memoir queries, and that's just a tough sell these days without a huge platform. What I love are stories that incorporate personal anecdotes but then go beyond them to investigate the bigger story and craft a more narrative tale. For instance, I read a proposal recently for a memoir that was lovely, but it would be a million times more marketable if it were blown up, and the author talked to other people in similar situations, people of influence in the field, etc. I really want books that take a personal story and then go beyond it.

Alex: As a feminist, what are some feminist issues that you feel are currently underrepresented in both fiction and nonfiction?

Jennifer: With fiction especially, I think there's a definite lack of choices being portrayed. Most books I read and receive queries for are about women who are married with kids or are trying to be married with kids. And it's rare that a woman becomes pregnant and doesn't have the baby--other options often aren't even considered. I'd really love to see a broader range of lifestyles.

And even with the more conventional paths, it would be interesting to see those framed as choices that are given real consideration--Why do I want to marry this person? Why do I want to stay with him (or her--there could definitely be more diversity in women's fiction)? What will I be giving up by having children? Why are children more important to me than work? I think more and more women are examining their choices at a conscious level, and I want to see that reflected in books.

With both fiction and nonfiction, I think intersectionality is always needed. Feminism should empower all women, not just the white and privileged, and more books that reflect different feminist perspectives can only help the conversation and the movement to evolve.

Alex: When it comes to recent feminist literature, I absolutely love Kameron Hurley's collection of essays, THE GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION. What is one of your favorite recent reads that explores feminism?

Jennifer: YAY for Kameron Hurley, a completely amazing LDA client!

I'm in the midst of reading two books that I absolutely love, which is perhaps why I'm reading them very slowly. The first is Rebecca Traister's ALL THE SINGLE LADIES. I think it's a brilliant example of my above point about personal stories that explore larger issues, and it's really just ringing true for me in terms of conversations I've had with friends recently while also adding historical depth. I'm also loving SELFISH, SHALLOW, AND SELF-ABSORBED: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum. It's so thoughtful, and it's a decision that I'm personally grappling with and one that I think deserves more consideration in literature.

Alex: Building an effective author platform is crucial for nonfiction and fiction authors alike. What do you feel is the most important when authors work on building their platform. What advice do you have for authors as they work to establish their brand?

Jennifer: To start, I think the question is slightly different for nonfiction and fiction authors. I expect a nonfiction author to have an established brand before she approaches me. Does she have a substantial social media following, a newsletter with a large subscription rate, a popular blog? Or does she have regular speaking engagements or teach courses--has she established herself as an authority in her field? Those are the questions publishers will be asking before they sign a nonfiction project.

With fiction, a platform before publication isn't an imperative, but it's certainly a bonus. I think it's smart to have a basic author website so that when people Google you, something you control comes up. Twitter is a wonderful way to connect with both readers and other writers and people in the publishing community. A basic author Facebook page is beneficial. Beyond that, I think it depends on what you're writing and what platforms you're comfortable with. A DIY writer should probably have a strong Pinterest presence. Tumblr may be more important for YA writers than adult writers. Do what makes sense for you and your work, but yes, there should be a way for writers to connect with you!

Alex: And finally, something completely unrelated to publishing, if you could have any superpower, what would it be? Mine would be time-turning, because 24 hours just aren't enough hours in a day.

Jennifer: I've thought about this a lot to be honest, and I'd go with teleportation. I LOVE to travel--I have a seriously hard time staying in one place, really--but the actual getting from place to place part is the worst. If I could teleport, I would 100% be having dinner in the south of France tonight.

Thank you, Jennifer for being here today! As always, cheers and happy writing!