A Taster of “Other People’s Butterflies”

I decided to post a taster of my novel Other People’s Butterflies today. It’s a YA contemporary with an aromantic-asexual protagonist, and the plot is a little bit Harriet the Spy and a little bit Gossip Girl. If you like this snippet, the whole book is available here in paperback and eBook form.

In this chapter, Gwen (the protagonist) is hanging out with her childhood friend Ethan, who wants to be “more than friends”. Which is kind of a stressful situation when you’re an aro-ace teenager who doesn’t know she’s aro-ace yet…

***

With Mum and Dad gone, me and Ethan settle down on the sofa to watch the second Captain America movie. We sit close together, but not touching, and pass the bag of Doritos back and forth, getting orange dust all over our fingers. I wonder, for the third or fourth time, why I don’t feel the slightest fluttering of desire for Chris Evans. The guy is all muscles and eyelashes, which must be a killer combination because Martine and Angie both fancy the pants off him and they usually have different types.

“If you could have any superpower, what would you pick?” says Ethan.

I chew this over. A few weeks ago, I would have picked invisibility in a heartbeat – all the better for spying. Now, I think I’d still choose it, but for slightly different reasons. It’d be good for avoiding trouble.

“I’d probably pick invisibility.”

“And sneak into the boys’ changing rooms?”

“Why would I waste a superpower on that? It’s not exactly difficult to see naked people, they’re all over the internet.”

“Yes, I’m aware.” Ethan’s voice is dry and a corner of his mouth quirks into a knowing smile. Time to get the subject back on track.

“So, what would you pick?” I ask.

“Shape-shifting.”

“Really? I thought you’d pick flying.”

“I could shape-shift into a bird.”

“What about invisibility?”

“I could shape-shift into a table and no-one would know I was there.”

“Super-strength?”

“Boring.”

“Mind control?”

“Only manipulators pick mind control.”

I’m giggling now, feeling more relaxed than I have in ages. I love the way his brain works, and I think about telling him this but decide not to, in case it sounds creepy. Too intimate, complimenting someone on their thought processes. Safer to stick with external stuff like clothes and hair.

To compensate for not being able to say the stupid shit I want to say, I cuddle up to him and rest my head on his shoulder. He’s warm, and surprisingly comfortable, and all the drama of the past few weeks fades away into insignificance. All is right with the world, until-

“Gwen, you’re kind of giving me some mixed signals here.”

“Hm?” He turns his head to look down at me but I can’t see him properly; our faces are too close together. I pull away from him. “What do you mean?”

“The last conversation we had, you basically said that you didn’t want to go out. Then you invite me over to watch a film and you’re kind of … coming on to me.”

“What the hell? How am I coming on to you?” My voices rises in irritation, but then I remember Mum and Dad upstairs and hush myself up quickly.

“By being all cuddly!”

“I haven’t done anything to you that I wouldn’t do to a female friend or my bloody parents!”

“You know it’s different when you’re with a bloke. I just wish you’d be more clear with me, like, can’t you just tell me what you want?”

Well, fuck. What do I want, exactly? “Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”

A pause. Ethan doesn’t answer the big questions flippantly, but neither does he leave them unanswered. “I want more.”

“Like, more of this? To spend more time with me? Watch more movies together and have more conversations that seem really childish but are actually kind of thought-provoking?”

“Well, yes, all of that.”

“I want that too.” My eyes are stinging, because I wish more than anything that we could leave the conversation there. “But I don’t think you really want more. I think you want different.”

Ethan says nothing for a long moment. I turn back to the TV, where there is a big fight scene going on. Slick and choreographed and brutal. My stomach aches.

“When you said the friend zone is the only zone you have,” says Ethan, “was that just an excuse so I wouldn’t feel bad, or did you mean it?”

“I meant it.”

“I don’t get it. Do your parents not want you having boyfriends yet?”

“No, that’s not it.”

“Do you maybe … do you maybe like girls? Because you know that’s totally okay, right, you know I’d understand.”

“No, I don’t like girls. And you know what, I’m starting to not like you either. Why can’t you just leave it alone?”

Oh crap. Puffer-fish mode. I’ve gone all spiky so he can’t get to me.

“Maybe I should go.”

“Yeah, maybe you should.”

“Fine, then.”

He stands up slowly, then walks towards the door of the living room slowly, like he’s expecting me to stop him. I could stop him, but what then? He wants one of two things from me:

1) A girlfriend-boyfriend relationship, or

2) An explanation as to why he can’t have that.

I can’t give him either of those things, so I say nothing and let him leave.

What to Expect When Writing an “Own Voices” Story

There’s so much debate, hand-wringing, and general fuss about the phrase “own voices” that it’s easy to forget how simple and vital the central concept is. The phrase was coined by the writer Corinne Duyvis to refer to an author from a marginalised or underrepresented group, writing about their own experiences or from their own perspective.

This is a very natural thing for writers to do. We’re constantly being told to “write what you know”, and writers from a marginalised or underrepresented group have added motivation. We’re often virtually invisible in fiction. And if we’re not invisible, we’re stereotyped and misrepresented by authors who don’t share or understand our identities.

So why not tell our stories? Well, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s easy. My YA novel Other People’s Butterflies is own voices, because the main character is aromantic-asexual, and so am I. The process of writing and publishing it has been strange, emotional, awkward, and liberating.

I’d like to share my experience of writing an own voices story, and help other writers know what to expect if they decide to do the same. I’m aware that experiences can vary wildly, so if you’ve written own voices work and had a completely different experience, please feel free to share in the comments.

Step 1: Feeling very, very naked

Writing about your own experiences puts you in a vulnerable position. You can fictionalise all you like, but it’s still your own thoughts, feelings, and perhaps life events going onto the page. This can leave you feeling very exposed.

Here’s the part where someone tells me to stop being a pussy. Because this is what writers are supposed to do, right? We use our own experiences to create stories. But when writing own voices, you’re writing about experiences that most readers won’t have had. You’re risking judgement, mockery, or the reader saying “Eh, this isn’t relatable to me, so I’ll just read something else.”

You may also be writing about parts of yourself you’ve struggled to come to terms with (a common experience for queer writers) or experiences that made you feel shitty about yourself. It can be emotionally draining.

My advice to anyone struggling with this is to remember the following things:

  • You are in control, and can share as much or as little of yourself as feels right. You owe your reader a good story and nothing else.
  • You don’t have to write in a linear fashion. If you’re struggling with a particularly dark or difficult scene, write something for a happier part of the book and go back to the difficult scene later.
  • Engage with your community. Remember that your experiences aren’t abnormal, and you aren’t alone.

Step 2: Under pressure

Writing an own voices story can be a high-pressure experience. Are you supposed to provide representation for everyone in your community? What if your representation is too simplistic? Or inadvertently promotes stereotypes? Or is just plain crappy?

My advice here is simple (some would say too simple): Reject that pressure. You can’t possibly represent everyone in a diverse community. Everyone wants a different type of representation – some want it to be wholesome and optimistic, others want it to be complex and challenging – and you can’t please them all.

Write your own story in your own style, and ignore the people who tell you it ought to be a different story in a different style. Personally, I’ve written about an aro-ace girl who makes mistakes, does bad things, and still ends up okay. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I also know that some people are looking for exactly that.

Step 3: Am I “own voices” enough?

Writers have a lot to worry about while crafting a story. Is it engaging enough? Believable enough? Funny enough? But if you’re writing own voices, you may also find yourself worrying if it’s authentic enough.

Other People’s Butterflies is a novel, not a memoir. My protagonist shares my sexual/romantic orientation, but our experiences differ in multiple ways. This is the case for most own voices authors, and it can cause anxiety when there’s so much pressure to write “lived experience”.

Also, identity can be really f*cking complicated. Just ask anyone who is mixed race, has an “invisible” disability, or is in the + part of LGBT+. This can cause confusion and worry about claiming your own identity.

My advice is to be honest with yourself. Do feel you can write authentically about this topic? If there are gaps in your knowledge or experience, can you find out what you need to know in a way that supports others and doesn’t exploit them?

Step 4: Potential bullshit from publishers, agents, etc.

Lots of publishers and agents are looking for own voices work. Some (including my publisher, Art Over Chaos) go about this in a responsible way, by advertising their desire for own voices stories and striving to create an inclusive environment. Others engage in identity policing.

Rather than trusting that a story is own voices if the author says it is, they will ask intrusive questions, pressure queer authors into outing themselves, and generally demand proof of identity.

I understand why publishers do this. There are, unfortunately, some shameless con artists out there, who will do things like pretend to be a different race in an attempt to get their writing published.

Nobody wants to be taken advantage of by unethical people, but identity policing disadvantages writers in difficult or dangerous situations who are unable to be completely open about their identity. You know who it doesn’t disadvantage? Con artists. They will always find a way around it.

If you’re not comfortable with identity policing, just try to avoid publishers who engage in it. Don’t answer questions that violate your privacy or dignity. Trust your instincts and prioritise your own safety, security and wellbeing.

Step 5: Celebrate!

Despite all the difficulties of creating an own voices work, rest assured that you are doing something worthwhile. You are creating something that will make people feel seen and understood. Be proud.

Thanks for reading this longer-than-usual post. If you have any experience of writing own voices stories (even if it’s something you’re just beginning to consider) I’d love to hear about it. And if you’re a reader, please share your favourite own voices books!

“Other People’s Butterflies” Release Day!!!

Today’s the day. My YA novel Other People’s Butterflies is now out in the world. It’s available to buy in paperback and eBook forms, and if you have Kindle Unlimited it won’t cost you a penny. Here’s the UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1735937525 and here’s the US one: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1735937525

Looks pretty. But what’s it all about?

How do I know it’s any good?

Well, the signs are promising! It has a couple of reviews on Goodreads and they are both five star, hellz yes! Here’s one of the reviews:

“This book has everything: gossip, mystery, an espionage sub plot, and some lovable backyard hens. Gwen Foster is a force of nature and seeing the world through her eyes is a pleasure. OPB showcases a point of view that is seldom talked about and brings it front and center. I imagine this book will be the “right book” for many readers to come.”

Thank you Kierstin Shea! If you’re wondering what she means by “a point of view that is seldom talked about”, I imagine she’s referring to the fact that the protagonist is asexual and aromantic. If you’re still looking for Pride month reads…

Trigger warnings

So, I’m frankly a bit clueless about trigger warnings, and when/where they’re helpful. I got the Amazon description for the book all sorted out, and then realised that the Amazon description is probably the best place to include trigger warnings – whoops. In the meantime, I’ll post them here for anyone who needs them:

TW – sexual assault

TW – animal death

Getting a bit emotional!

I started this blog three years ago, having tried and failed to publish my first novel. But persistence wins the day, and all I can say to struggling writers is don’t give up! There are many roads to publication, and it’s often just a matter of finding the right one.

Speaking of which, I can thoroughly recommend Art Over Chaos publishing, who have been so supportive throughout the publication process. They publish novels, novellas and poetry, and are particularly interested in #OwnVoices writing and diverse books. If this sounds like a good fit for you, keep them on your radar.

If you decide to read Other People’s Butterflies, don’t be shy about sharing what you thought. Feedback is fab, and reviews are particularly useful as they can increase sales and act as a kind of “matchmaking” service, showing readers whether or not a book is right for them.

I’m also more than happy to chat about my experiences of indie publishing with any writers who are interested. Much love to the writing and reading community on WordPress, you are all fabulous!

Readers and Reviewers Wanted!

My debut novel Other People’s Butterflies is being published next month *hyperventilates* and I’m looking for book lovers to read and review! If you would like to receive an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) in exchange for an honest review of the book on your blog or other social media platform, please fill out this short form.

What is Other People’s Butterflies like?

My novel is a contemporary YA with an aromantic-asexual protagonist, so the most obvious comparison that springs to mind is Alice Oseman’s Loveless. However, I think the plot is more Harriet the Spy meets Gossip Girl. You may be interested in it if:

  • You enjoy contemporary YA.
  • You enjoy contemporary YA with some 1940s spy stuff smuggled inside it.
  • You are interested in books with LGBTQIA characters and themes.
  • You like books about friendship, self-discovery, and the messiness of growing up.

Why are reviews so important?

For a debut author – especially an indie author like me – reviews are priceless. They can build credibility and increase sales, and also provide valuable insight into what readers want. Since this is my first published novel (hopefully the first of many) it’s important to know what readers are enjoying and what I need to work on.

So, if you fancy helping out a debut author and think that Other People’s Butterflies might be your sort of book, please fill out this form to enjoy a sneaky peek before everyone else!

Other People’s Butterflies – Introducing the Characters

(I’m updating this because I forgot to include a rather crucial character!)

It’s now less than two months until the planned release date of my YA novel Other People’s Butterflies. I’m more or less done with editing and you know what? I still don’t hate this book! Usually, editing has me shaking my head and muttering “Who wrote this shit? Oh, right.” But despite my insecurities, I’m really excited to get this novel out into the world.

This is partly thanks to my excellent editor, who was kind enough to point out things he likes as well as things that need fixing. But it’s partly because I just love these characters. Maybe it’s big-headed to say that, because I created them, but I can’t help it. I have a lot of affection for them and I want readers to meet them.

So I’m doing a quick post to introduce my main characters, and I also want to hear about yours. Who are the star players in your WIP? What makes them loveable, hateable, or love-to-hateable? Introduce them in the comments!

Gwen (the protagonist)

  • Easily bored
  • Wants to understand everything
  • Understands very little
  • Makes questionable decisions
  • Aro-ace as hell, but doesn’t know aro-ace is a thing

Martine (Gwen’s bestie)

  • Shy
  • Always smiling (it’s a defence mechanism)
  • Will read every historical romance ever written
  • A dreamer
  • Overprotected

Angie (also Gwen’s bestie)

  • A tomboy
  • Boy-crazy
  • Won’t wear clothes without pockets
  • Pockets are always full of sweets and/or condoms
  • Good at sports

Ethan (a childhood friend who reappears and complicates everything)

  • Total nerd. Owns it.
  • Seventeen, and owns more toys and games than most seven-year-olds
  • Speaks slowly, which makes some people think he is stupid
  • Definitely not stupid
  • Wants to be “more than friends”

Lana Barrington (Gwen’s girl-crush)

  • Fictional (I know they’re all fictional, but she is extra fictional)
  • Badass spy
  • Very glam
  • Good people skills
  • Doesn’t like people

More Exciting Writing News

Okay, I have an announcement to make. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have already seen me flipping out about it but for those of you who don’t,

Drumroll please…

I’m getting a novel published hooray hooray hooray!

My YA Contemporary novel Other People’s Butterflies is going to be published by Art Over Chaos publishing in 2021, and will be available as both an ebook and an actual book, made of paper!

So, what is Other People’s Butterflies all about?

Seventeen-year-old Gwen Foster’s first kiss is a mistake for many reasons. Mostly because it costs her the friendship of her two best mates, Martine and Angie. Feeling lonely and bored without them, she becomes obsessed with an old spy novel and develops a very unethical hobby.

Spying on her classmates and collecting the gossip she unearths on her phone is fun at first, and might even help her understand all the romantic drama that’s mystified her since she was eleven. But things go south when her phone disappears and a mysterious social media presence called “MimiKnowsStuff” starts spilling everyone’s secrets.

Now Gwen must make the transition from amateur spy to amateur detective, figure out how to get her phone back and put a stop to Mimi’s mischief. As if that weren’t enough to deal with, her childhood friend Ethan has reappeared, and decided he wants to be “more than friends”.

In a nutshell, it’s Harriet the Spy meets Gossip Girl, with an aro-ace protagonist. I’ll post more info when I’m closer to publication, but any questions are welcome!