GeekGirlCon Blog

Finding Diversity in the Content I Consume: Romance Novels

A young woman, Elizabeth Bennett, reads a book as she is walking outside on a sunny day. She is clearly enjoying the book.
Lizzy Bennett knows a good romance novel when she’s in one, I mean, reads one!
Image Courtesy of Giphy

One of the best pleasures in life is curling up with a good book. I love to read just about anything, but some of my favorite reading content comes in the form of mass market romance novels. I know what you’re thinking. You mean those cheezy paperbacks from the grocery store that have a shirtless muscle-head and a fawning woman on them? Well, essentially yes, and I can tell you why. They are fun and easy to read and they offer an amusing escape from reality for a little while. Who doesn’t love to be swept away by a good love story?

With all the changes going on in the world, it has prompted me to take a closer look at the content I consume and who is generating that content. When I look at romance novels, I see a traditionally white female cisgender space, which is no accident. These books have always been marketed to that specific audience, and the statistics can prove it. Eighty-four percent of romance readers identify as female, mostly between the ages of eighteen to fifty-four. Eighty-one percent of readers are white. 

The romance novel industry is a billion dollar industry, making up twenty-nine percent of the fiction market. People may laugh off romance novels as trashy or worthless, but there is serious money to be made in the genre. 

With the popularity of self publishing, consumers have more agency than ever in deciding what types of content they wish to see. It has never been easier for authors of all kinds to put their work out in the world to be found by like-minded people craving the types of content they are creating. This is the time that we need to make room for other points of view. The content is out there, and we need to find it and support it.

With this idea in mind, and a nudge in the right direction from one of my current favorite romance authors, I decided to indulge in something new and different.

Unmasked Heart by Vanessa Riley

Cover art for Unmasked Heart by Vanessa Riley.  A young woman with dark hair stands in Regency Era clothing, holding a white domino mask.
Cover art for Unmasked Heart by Vanessa Riley
Image pulled from Amazon

I’m a person who likes to start at the beginning, Unmasked Heart was a natural starting point for me. Riley self-published the book in 2015, and it is the first novel in her Challenge of the Souls series. Like many people, I’m usually strapped for time, so I chose to purchase this book from Audible so I could listen to it while doing chores.

Synopsis (with only a few spoilers)

Gaia Telfair is a quiet, unassuming young lady who has always felt like an outsider in her family. She is treated differently by her father and feels that she looks nothing like her siblings. One day, her father reveals to her, in a rather cruel way, that Gaia is the product of an affair her mother had with a African man who was getting an education in England. Having been raised to fit in with “good English society,” Gaia is shocked by the revelation. She struggles with her new identity, and is desperate to find a place where she can be happy and really belong.

William St. Landon, The Duke of Cheshire and a widower with a young special needs daughter, runs to his family’s country estate to escape a looming scandal. He is being blackmailed over his late wife’s infidelity, and he is being pressured back into marriage by his annoyingly persistent cousin. All William wants is what is best for his mute daughter. He hears through the locals that Miss Telfair is gifted with special needs children, having instructed her autistic little brother with great success, and he is determined to have her teach his daughter.

William begins an unlikely friendship with Gaia, and eventually proposes a marriage of convenience. Will Gaia tell William about the circumstances of her birth? Can William uncover his blackmailer? I’m not gonna ruin it for you! You’ll need to read the book yourself!

My Take on the Book

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Riley does a great job of painting a Brontë-esque portrait of Regency Era British society, and she doesn’t shy away from topics such as slavery, racism, and how special needs children were treated at the time. I found the take refreshing and honest, which is something we need right now. I’m tired of books that don’t paint an accurate picture of the past, and this one gets a big thumbs up from me.

The characters are endearing and believable in their motivations. The pacing was decent and the plot was full of action. Honestly, I think that the biggest thing I disliked about the book didn’t even have anything to do with the actual content. I got the audiobook, and I have to say that the narrator was awful. I kept getting hung up on the fact that she constantly pronounced the word mulatto as mew-LAtto, and it was distracting. The audio quality was also sub-par. This is currently Riley’s only work to be available on audiobook, and I sincerely hope that any other works made into audiobooks can get a little more love.

I will definitely be reading more of Riley’s books. Much of her content is available on Amazon Kindle, either for free or for less than a dollar. I find that a small price to pay to support a BIPOC author that I enjoy. These stories deserve to be told. I’m willing to put my money where my mouth (or keyboard) is and show the romance novel industry that there is a desire for diverse content. 

A young cartoon Muslim girl is avidly reading a book.
She can’t wait to share this one with the book club!
Image courtesy of Giphy

Rebecca Anglesey
“Rock On!”

Geek About Town: Quarantine Edition

Events looks pretty different these days than they ever have before. We’re hanging out with friends over Zoom and avoiding public spaces we used to love (oh how I miss you, concerts and movie theaters!). We’re tuning in to an endless stream of Instagram lives (may I recommend Ziwe Fumudoh’s genius live show on Thursdays and also every IGTV Sonya Renee Taylor has ever made?!). And, of course, many of us are protesting against anti-Black racism and police brutality, and spending our nights speed-dialing our electeds (P.S. here’s a cool tool to find your reps!)

So it’s no surprise that our most recent round up of upcoming events looks a little different than normal too. From virtual talks to drive in movies, check out our full Geek About Town events calendar to find out about all of the online (or physically-distanced in-person) events coming up that may just help you feel a little bit better about the strange, sad, confusing, and exhausting times we’re living in.

A real quarantine mood. [Image description: A black and white gif of Demi Lovato singing the song “Let It Snow” from Frozen. The lyrics “a kingdom of isolation it looks like I’m the queen” are overlaid on the image. Source: Giphy]

Here’s a sneak peek at a few of the upcoming events I’m most excited for:

Until we can meet again in person, here’s to doing our best to stay safe, well, entertained, and informed during quarantine!

Hanna Hupp
“Rock On!”

Do Black Lives Matter in Watched Neighborhoods?

"Neighborhood watch by neighbors who care sponsored by Fairfax County Police Department" Source: Wikimedia Commons

I live in a sleepy Seattle neighborhood that’s known for its historic, small-town charm and strong sense of community. Renting is the exception, not the norm, and many of my neighbors have been here for decades. I once described where I live to someone in the area, and he responded with, “Oh! You mean the rental unit?”

My neighborhood is also dotted with Neighborhood Crime Watch signs, a fact I was only peripherally aware of until a few weeks ago.

Caitlin Foskey
“Rock On!”

How to Express Yourself Through Zine-Making

Post by guest contributor Lucy Kagan.

When you walk down the Artist Alley at GeekGirl Con, if you’re looking for them, you may find a TON of different self-published or small-press books. Many of them call themselves zines, but the content, format, and presentation from one to the other might be wildly different. I know that’s part of what makes me so excited to stumble upon each new zine I find: the feeling of discovery, excitement at finding something totally unique, and the way that each creator’s individuality comes across so clearly to show me a new perspective on something I had never thought about before. 

So, how do you define a zine, and what makes it such a perfect medium for self expression? Pronounced “zeen” as it is short for “magazine,” the name gives us a clue: a zine is a small press publication, popularly thought to have less than 1,000 copies produced (it’s the low quantity that makes it small press!), but more typically having even 100 or less copies made. 

It’s hard to imagine someone from the 1940s saying the word “fanzine,” but it actually goes back at least that far! It’s worth mentioning that self-published papers have been a way for marginalized groups to share their truths since the invention of the printing press, but fast forward to the early 1900s, and amateur printing was becoming a phenomenon. The term “fanzine” arose from science fiction fan material being created, and artist groups like the Dadaists, who you may remember from art history, gave these publications the visual style they can be identified by. It’s not surprising speculative fiction has always been pioneering, even in zines!

There’s a lot more I could say about early SF fanzines, but I’ll just mention that the first TV-inspired fanzine was about Star Trek, and it was called Spockanalia. (…Okay, I can’t just leave it there, I have to say that Star Trek fans also created some of the first slash fics through zines, and if that doesn’t spark your interest in history, I don’t know what to tell you.)

Throughout the ‘70s, science fiction focused zines were also standing up to do what small press had always done before: representing voices of marginalized people. Probably the best familiarity fans might have with zine culture from this time is through the 1990s riot grrrl scene: women who continued to be marginalized found a voice in punk culture, and were able to reach a wider audience through zines and small press when larger publishing houses were gatekeepers to the means to publish traditionally. The DIY nature of punk culture gave a lot of aesthetic influence to zines at that time, identifiable by the photo-copied-and-stapled approach, and you can still see plenty of that today.

Nowadays when I go to a con, I see incoming fans and their excitement for zines, but also their confusion. “I thought a zine was when a bunch of artists each do an illustration on a theme or fandom, and compile it into a book,” or “I thought a zine was like an ashcan*, really low budget and DIY.”

*Ashcans are usually specifically comics, typically low-grade prototypes for promotional use.

GeekGirlCon
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An Update About GeekGirlCon 2020 & Introducing GeekGirlCONLINE

To the GeekGirlCon community,

To best support the safety and comfort of our attendees, contributors, and staff, we are postponing GeekGirlCon until 2021. Though this is a disappointing reality, the health of the GeekGirlCon community is, and will always be, our top priority. We’ll be back up and running to celebrate our tenth anniversary in person next year, and we’ll announce dates and other updates as soon as we’re able.

In the meantime, we have some exciting news to share. In the absence of a physical convention this fall, we’re going digital with a new event debuting this fall: GeekGirlCONLINE

While we’re still in the early stages of planning this event, we’re so excited to continue our journey and find new ways to connect with our community in an ever-changing world. We’re excited to celebrate a very geeky, jam-packed month with you this upcoming October. Stay tuned for updates about how to participate in GeekGirlCONLINE in the coming weeks!

We’re busy planning both GeekGirlCONLINE as well as our 10th Anniversary Celebration for 2021. Our team will reach out directly to passholders and programming applicants as follows:

ATTENDEES

If you already purchased passes for GeekGirlCon ‘20, we’ll be offering refunds. Alternatively, if you’re able, you can consider your pass purchase a 501(c)(3) donation to GeekGirlCon. We’ll be emailing passholders directly with more information on these options, and here’s an exhaustive FAQ for your reference.

CONTRIBUTORS AND EXHIBITORS

Our team will be reaching out to you individually with updated information about your applications and options moving forward.

Thank you for your support. We’re so proud of our community for remaining steadfast and resilient. We’ll see you online this fall, and back in the heart of downtown Seattle in the years to come.

Stay healthy, safe, and we’ll see you soon.
The GeekGirlCon Family

Indigo Boock
“Rock On!”

LGBTQIA+ Staff Round-Up for Pride: Queer Media We Love

We’re currently living through one of the weirdest and darkest and most stressful times most of us have ever experienced–you don’t need me to tell you that. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how much we need to continue fostering our communities if we’re going to survive with our mental health and relationships and sense of hope intact. Thinking about good queer media, and sharing it with y’all, is only one tiny part of that work, but it’s a part I can do today, just in time to honor the end of Pride. Read on to hear what some of our LGBTQIA+ GeekGirlCon staffers love about their favorite queer media, take care of yourselves and each other, and then let’s get back to showing up for Black lives and queer liberation.

Look at this beautiful piece Tina Burns, our Twitter Social Media Specialist, made earlier this month! [Image Description: Watercolor Pride flag with the word “Love” written in cursive on it.] Source: Tina Burns

Teal Christensen
“Rock On!”

#GeekGirlTalk: Felix Ever After

Who We Are Vaguely and in Terms Only of the Media We Seek Out Most Often:

Teal (roman type!)
Literally any teen TV show, YA, women’s and feminist media, everything Star Trek

Hanna (italics, baby!)
Reality TV, memoirs, romance novels, anything British, any podcast ever

I think both Hanna and I have been craving some really good, really queer YA recently. When I started hearing about Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender online, I knew it was likely to be just that. The story follows a 17-year-old Black trans kid named Felix as he muddles his way through a summer program he’s completing at the private arts high school he attends in New York. A few important throughlines of the story are that Felix doesn’t know what to make for his senior portfolio (which he’ll submit in his college applications), he’s questioning whether there’s more to his trans and queer identities than he’d previously thought, and he feels a lot of anxiety about the fact that he’s never been in love and what that might mean about him. It’s serious YA stuff, and serious queer stuff, and that’s the exact arena I’m most interested in. But, before I dive into what I was thinking while reading, Hanna, what did you think of Felix?

So, for the first 30 or so pages of Felix, I was really afraid that I wouldn’t love it. (Which, of course, wouldn’t have ultimately mattered so much; as a white cis queer woman, my personal opinion on the book is irrelevant as long as it connects with the communities represented within it–namely, Black trans people). I was frustrated by the Felix’s friends (with the exception of Ezra and, eventually, Leah), and I was worried that the multifaceted and intense transphobia that Felix experiences early on meant that the book would reinforce a narrative in which trans people are always the subjects of violence and are never allowed joy. Ultimately, though, I loved this book. It was so complex, emotional, and full of such realistic depictions of friendship, love, family, and identity. A few things in particular stood out to me: the fact that the quasi love triangle in the book actually worked (!?), the beauty of Felix’s search for an identifier that felt right to him (which felt so believable to the experience of a teen who’s just, like, “It’s a great thing that I have Google to help me figure this out,”) and the way that art (and artist’s block) helps Felix connect with himself and understand what he really wants out of life (spoiler alert: getting in to Brown isn’t going to solve anyone’s problems). Teal, I would love to also talk about the fact that this is an #OwnVoices book–something that is, of course, crucial for so many reasons.

[Image Description: Cover art for Felix Ever After. There’s an illustration of a Black kid with short wavy brown hair. He has a low-cut grayish tank top. You can see some tattoos on his arms and parts of his top-surgery scars on his chest. Around him and on his head there are doodles of flowers and yellow paint smears. The background is an orange-red.] Source: Goodreads

Yes! Okay, so #OwnVoices, though y’all likely already know, means exactly what it sounds like: It’s a way to describe books that are written by authors who share the identities of their main, POV characters. This is a hugely important thing in all fiction, but particularly in books for and about kids and teens where so much of the plot revolves around a coming-of-age and/or emotional journey for the main character. In terms of this book and the intersection between the characters’ experiences and my own, I’ve been thinking a lot about #OwnVoices and how it’s being utilitzed by queer writers for their queer characters.

Something that we talk a lot about, Hanna, is the fact that queer writers (who are writing queer characters) in any genre, but notably in YA since its popular iteration is relatively new, have to do a lot of work that cishet writers don’t. There is context about queerness that needs explaining, tropes that need dismantling and reworking. In so many ways, the fact that queer writers are getting long-overdue attention (though it’s still fractional compared to what’s owed) while the concept of #OwnVoices is being widely discussed is pivotal because it gives more genre-defining authority to actual queer writers. And I think Felix is a perfect example of this process and what it can mean for queer YA as more big publishing houses start paying attention to these stories. 

I think that this is one of the aspects of this book that makes it so specifically perfect for young adults/teens (even though, of course, YA books are for everyone) and so specifically perfect for this particular time period. Callender does so much work in this book to explore identity terminology, to explain and illustrate the many forms that transphobia can take, to affirm a multiplicity of identities and specificity of experience, to discuss the joys and limitations of Pride™. Sometimes, it feels like a lot of exposition, a lot of work to get the book’s audience on the same page. But in some ways, that also feels like a necessary strategy for right now–especially when Black trans people still face such disproportionate levels of violence, and when there is such pervasive ignorance and misinformation about trans and nonbinary identities. Teal, what do you feel about the approach that Callender takes? Did it work for you? What are the upsides and the limitations of having to do so much more explaining that white cishet writers?

I think the upsides of this approach are monumental in that Felix, and other books like it, will give so much to their readers. Like, just as a point of reference, Hanna and I, two white adult people who have had a lot of safety and validation in exploring our queerness, need this book much differently than I imagine queer kids of color might. And the fact that we have people like Callender who are putting in so much work to get these stories out in the world is so heartening. This is the kind of art that I want to support with my attention and my money (and my blogging lolol). 

Also, despite everything I just said, I also found so many moments in Felix, especially the parts where he’s thinking about his queerness, to so intensely give me the feeling of, Wow, this is why we need queer people to write queer sh**. Hanna pulled this perfect quote to give you an example of Callender’s real triumph in this process:

 “I was hurt this summer, hurt more than I thought I ever could be. It could’ve been easy to say I was hurt because I’m trans, because someone singled me out for my identity, but there’s something weird about that—something off, about suggesting that my identity is the thing that brought me any sort of pain. It’s the opposite. Being trans brings me love. It brings me happiness. It gives me power. It makes me feel like I’m a god. I wouldn’t change myself for anything.”

One other/final thing I’ll say is that I’m just so excited about how the quote unquote genre of queer YA will continue to evolve as more queer writers publish new stories. We’re going to get so much good and real and hopeful depictions of queer people and relationships. And we’re going to get our own tropes and our own genre conventions, and it’s basically the only thing I’m excited for. 

On that note, let’s continue this conversation and celebrate Pride by sharing reviews and recommendations for more YA written by queer BIPOC on Twitter. You can find me @TealChristensen and Hanna @HuppTwoThree. 

Teal Christensen
“Rock On!”

Book Preview: Rainy Days by G. Empty

The world can be relentless. It can be scary, daunting, and seemingly endless. Right now whenever I turn on the news I’m filled with an acute sense of dread and fear. Anxiety that I’m not doing enough, or that I know too little. I try to educate myself and listen, because something is happening. Something is churning and it feels like change.

Racial injustice is a burning plague in this country—throughout the world. The black community has been mistreated and forced to endure centuries of systematic abuse and discrimination. Their pain and suffering are real, and we should all be listening to their cries of anger and frustration.

We all have something to learn from their stories.

In his novel Rainy Days, G. Empty paints the image of a dreary, apocalyptic cityscape. Although the narrative is rooted in rich, intoxicating fantasy, the fight and hardship of his diverse cast of characters are very real and incredibly relevant. G. brilliantly illustrates the plight of the black community as they stand up against their oppressors. You’ll wince beneath the weight of their pain and cheer when they succeed.

Listen and learn, because as G. carefully highlights: everyone has rainy days.

Anime inspired by black culture. That was my first impression of Rainy Days by G. Empty. The story is quirky and fun, coated in a blithe exterior and reminiscent of your favorite 1990s cartoon. It’s filled with caricatures and slang—I can hear a jazzy rift play whenever a character angrily beats on a door or stalks down the hall. Dipped in a sepia-toned pool and handed a weapon to fight, it’s comparable to Cowboy Bebop with just a pinch more Hitchcockian-noir.

It was a joy to read, and once you breach the surface—hell, it goes so much deeper. It’s devastating.

“Oddly enough, no one mourned the pigs.”

Rainy Days

For someone who very publicly claims that he isn’t a writer but a storyteller, G.—an 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards medalist in Urban Fiction—constantly wowed me with his crushing play on words. There’s an earnestness in his tone that isn’t so easy to find in big-house publishing. I was immediately drawn to G. and his story during our initial introduction. His charisma is endearing, and Rainy Days is his heartbeat.

Indigo Boock
“Rock On!”

Sub vs. Dub: How Do You Watch Your Anime?

Kirishima fights Tetsutetsu in a My Hero Academia school festival match!
Kirishima and Tetsutetsu, both with similar quirks, fight each other in an evenly powered match!
Image courtesy of Giphy

To lovers of all things Japanese, it is the age old question: Is subtitled anime better than its English dubbed counterpart? Or vice versa? In the past, many audiences had little choice but to watch whatever form was available to them, but as the internet improved and streaming services have begun to offer a veritable buffet of media choices, we are essentially able to pick whatever form of media consumption we choose. Each form has its pros and cons, and it is only fair to explore them both.

Subtitles Offer a More Authentic Experience

Subs, or subtitled anime with the original Japanese voice acting, would definitely be the best choice if you are looking for a pure anime experience. Even when the story is set in fantasy or non-Japanese contexts, anime is rife with Japanese social norms, body language, and cultural references. Watching the anime in the original Japanese helps to connect some of these small yet significant nuances, which allows for a well-rounded cultural experience.

Often, when watching the dub (where English or another language is superimposed on the animation instead of the Japanese), it becomes clear that there are just some things that don’t translate well out of Japanese to other languages. For example, the use of honorifics. Anime gets much of its charm from emotional connections between characters, which can be initially gleaned from the honorifics used between them. Terms such as san, chan, and sama all signal different relationships and levels of familiarity, or lack thereof.

Rebecca Anglesey
“Rock On!”

How You Can Support The #BlackLivesMatter Movement

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the resources our team has been relying on to educate ourselves and take action. This is a working list and will be edited as more resources are brought to our attention.

Take Action

Petition:

Contact officials and representatives to demand action and accountability:

  • Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (612-673-2100)
  • Minneapolis District Attorney (612-348-5550)
  • Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (jenny.durkan@seattle.gov)
  • Washington State Governor Jay Inslee (here and here)
  • Seattle Police Department/Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best (206-648-8797 or opa@seattle.gov)
  • File an employee complaint to the Seattle Police Department (here)
  • Senator Patty Murray (here)
  • Senator Maria Cantwell (here)

Donate


Follow Black Activists & Creators


Educate Yourselves

#BlackLivesMatter

GeekGirlCon
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