Sarah Remy – writing gender diverse characters

Thank you so much to Sarah for this piece on writing gender diverse characters (and for being so kind about my own work!)

I love adventure stories (especially adventure stories including ferocious tigers). I love creepy paranormal mysteries. I love romance (especially queer romance). And I love, big, sloppy, loyal dogs.

A.L. Lester’s THE FLOWERS OF TIME has each of these things, which made me a Very Happy Reader. ™ But if you sat me down and said, “Sarah, tell us your most favorite thing about this, the third book in Lester’s LOST IN TIME series?” I would reply, without hesitation, “Jones.”

Jones. The non-binary, dog loving, code-breaking, magic-wielding, one-half of our romantic pair. (The other half being Edie, whom I adored as well, especially for her* stubbornness and petticoats). But. JONES. Jones made me laugh, and Jones made me cry. Because I am a non-binary person, and in Jones’ fear that she might somehow be broken, in Jones’ sometimes unrecognition of her face in a mirror, in Jones’ distress over her menstruation and lack of ‘male parts’—

Well. In Jones I saw myself. And for that I’m grateful.

Although publishing is finally beginning to catch up and catch on, finding well-written stories with well-written gender diverse characters can still be difficult. Many of my favorites I have discovered through word of mouth, rather than Big 5 marketing. This may be because I am super picky about how I connect with gender diverse characters, or it may be because there is still a tendency to rely on tropes when writing about a character whose gender identity lies outside the ‘cultural norm’.

I’m not saying that tropes can’t be fun. Nor am I implying that I haven’t fallen into the trope trap myself. As a fantasy author, I’ve written my share of non-binary faeries.

What I am saying is: let’s hold Jones up as an example and try to do better.

“But Sarah,” you may argue, “writing gender diversity can be hard, and frightening. Even as a gender diverse author. Everyone has a different experience. What if I do it wrong?”

We all get it wrong occasionally (see non-binary faeries) but if we’re too afraid to dip a toe then certainly we’ll never get it right. So, here are three helpful tips to keep in mind going forward:

  1. Your character’s gender diversity is 100 percent NOT their defining characteristic. Take Jones. She’s an extremely well-rounded and believable character with passions and fears that have absolutely nothing to do with being non-binary. Which is fantastic. Because so do I!
  2. Gender identity, gender expression, sexuality and physical sex are different things. I didn’t write Jones, so I don’t know all her secrets, so here I’ll use an example from my latest book, EARNEST INK. Hemingway, my MC, is trans masc. He thinks of himself as male (gender identity) he prefers to present himself as male (gender expression) and he’s sexually attracted to any gender (pansexual). He hasn’t yet opted for gender confirming surgery, he is on T, and if you asked him about his physical sex he’d probably punch you in the face because: rude. As a writer, knowing a character’s gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, and physical sex helps to make for more believable, well-rounded character motivation.
  3. Talk to gender diverse people. Educate yourself about experience. Lean on your gender diverse friends and your sensitivity readers. But do so politely. A good example: “Hey, Sarah, I’m writing a non-binary character, but as a gay cis male with zero non-binary experience, I have questions. You seem to be pretty open about discussing your gender. Would you mind weighing in?” Sure thing. Thanks for asking so nicely. Hit me up any time.

*In 1782 there were no they/them pronoun options, so I will refer to Jones as she does herself.

Sarah Remy/Alex Hall is a nonbinary, animal-loving, proud gamer Geek. Their work can be found in a variety of cool places, including HarperVoyager, EDGE and NineStar Press. 

Find Earnest Ink on Goodreads : Buy on Amazon : Sarah/Alex’s website

Today I am at Xtreme Delusions, talking about Jones and Edie’s trip over the mountains.

boxing day and the hunting of the wren

Here in the UK, it’s Boxing Day. In my household it’s a more relaxed Christmas Day, where we eat left-overs and play with our new toys. The name comes from the tradition of giving your servants and tradesmen a ‘Christmas Box’, either food, gifts or cash.

Samuel Pepys talks about contributing to the boys box against Christmas at his shoemaker in 1663:

Thence by coach to my shoemaker’s and paid all there, and gave something to the boys’ box against Christmas.

although he makes no mention of anything relevant on the 26th itself. A few years later, in 1668, he moans about boxes having cost him a lot of money this year.

In 1710, Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, complained:

By the Lord Harry, I shall be undone here with Christmas boxes. The rogues of the coffee-house have raised their tax, every one giving a crown, and I gave mine for shame, besides a great many half-crowns to great men’s porters!

It was pronounced a Bank Holiday day by Queen Victoria in the second half of the nineteenth century, but there’s been an association with alms-giving for centuries before Pepys wrote about it- the 26th is also St Stephen’s Day, the Feast of Stephen as per the carol. St Stephen was the first Christian martyr. He was in charge of handing out alms to the poor and when he got cross with people for not contributing enough, they stoned him to death. So Pepys and Swift got away lightly, really.

On the Isle of Man and in parts of Wales and Ireland- the Celtic edges of Europe- it’s also the day of The Hunting of the Wren. These days no wrens are harmed during the enactment of the ritual, which goes back to pre-Christian solstice celebrations and the story of the Goddess Arianrhod. Ren means King/Queen or Lord/Lady in Welsh, which gives more context to the story.

In my area the traditional Boxing Day hunts still meet with their red coats and their hounds and are countered by now equally traditional saboteurs.

I am curled up by the fire watching Mr AL and Talking Child play Super Mario Odyssey and considering whether to eat more cold roast potatoes.

Happy festive season.

Inheritance of Shadows: a public project

People who read my newsletter will already know that I have a new project in the works.

I am starting an episodic sequel to my short story The Gate that I’m going to make available as a serial for newsletter subscribers. It’s got a working title of Inheritance of Shadows and I’m going to share a piece monthly. The idea is that I share what I write and then when it’s done it will be published as a novel. It feels a bit exposed – I discovery write and half the time I don’t know what my characters are going to do before they do it. It’s a chance for readers to watch a work-in-progress develop as well as getting the next installment every month.

It will be edited as I go along and will hopefully produce a relatively clean draft that I can revise in to a polished novel at the end of the project.

The Gate was only ever intended as a short story introducing my universe and my historical-romance-paranormal-time-travel-suspense Lost in Time series. Although it’s complete in itself I have always had a niggling need to find out what happens next to Matty and Rob, and a very unscientific poll of newsletter readers backed that up.

This is a huge thing for me – I’m very pressed for time generally speaking and actually having a deadline every month-ish is a scary concept on top of all my other commitments. It may not work, but I’m keen to find out if I can manage it.

If you’re interested in following the project, sign up for my newsletter, download your free copy of The Gate and you’re off!

Win copies of Lost In Time and Shadows On The Border

I have Thing happening! A giveaway of five pairs of Lost In Time and Shadows On The Border. You can enter it below and the more you share it, the more chances you have to win. It’s new software I’m experimenting with and it all seems… very straightforward, which is a bit unnerving.

Sign up here to go in the draw! It’s one of those thingummies that the more you share it, the more entries you have.

release date: Shadows On The Border

Shadows On The Border, the sequel to Lost In Time will be published by JMS Books on 9th March.

Shadows follows Alec and Lew as they explore how their nascent relationship works and whether Lew is actually going to be able to stay in the 1920s, in what to him is the past.

We also meet Fenn, who is from beyond the border (Beyond The Border was the working title of this sequel but it didn’t quite fit by the time I’d got to the end). Fenn is searching for an escaped Creature, probably the one that Alec and Lew and their team have been dealing with. Fenn isn’t human. And seems to sit somewhere in between male and female. Alec’s second in command, Sergeant Will Grant, is nevertheless drawn to them and eventually finds himself more invested in Fenn’s mission than that of his own team.

Watch this space for a coming cover reveal and the first part of the story!