by Santino Hassell
As someone who spends a lot of time on book social media, I commonly see people saying it’s difficult for them to find queer representation in paranormal and horror novels. There are several reasons for that but I tend to think the common obstacles are as follows:
1) Lack of rep in general in mainstream publishing. Even though non-queer people seem to think we’re all taking over because we may now have a queer hero for every twenty hetero heroes… that’s still only one queer hero among a sea of non-queer characters.
2) The queer representation primarily consisting of cis gay male heroes with little room for the rest of the rainbow.
3) I’ve seen many readers and authors alike state “it’s not out there”, and then being shocked when they receive many recommendations for paranormal and horror books featuring queer characters. This could be people assuming there’s *none* out there due to a lack of mainstream marketing for these novels. At the end of the day, readers are consumers and consumers tend to drift to things that are heavily marketed unless they follow social media accounts where they will receive word-of-mouth recommendations.
4) Writers receiving the advice that “those books won’t sell”, and writing less books with a queer cast. It’s a tricky situation because writers do want to make a living, but I can’t help but think the publishing industry sometimes gas lights writers into thinking queer characters aren’t interesting or relatable to non-queer people when, in reality, often those books aren’t marketed the same as books with hetero casts… so it’s not a comparable situation.
I’ve been reading queer paranormal and SFF for years, starting with Poppy Z Brite’s Drawing Blood and Lost Souls, the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling, Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey, and novels by Anne Rice, Tanya Huff, and many more. I was most satisfied by the slash fandom which took mainstream books and shows and queered them, but since I started writing professionally I’ve started seeking out and supporting published novels with queer characters yet again.
Here’s a list of authors of paranormal and horror novels who helped to draw me away from fandom and helped to feed my rep-hungry soul.
Christopher Rice – Author of The Vines and The Heavens Rise. I’ve been reading Christopher Rice for years, but it was these two novels which helped bring me out of a huge reading slump. The Heavens Rise is about a mysterious parasite that infiltrates the mind of its host and turns them not just evil—downright super human and demonic, whereas The Vines is about an estate in New Orleans which is literally haunted by terrifying vines. Kudos for consistently having queer characters as part of a paranormal or horror novel and not having their plot lines be solely about their identities.
J.R. Ward – Lover at Last. This book is part of the massively popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series—a romance series about a vampire world that exists parallel to the human world. The series has a ton of books, each with M/F pairings, but Lover at Last introduced a M/M couple to the series. I was impressed and thrilled, especially since Ward’s characters tend to remain a part of the plot in later books. I haven’t read further than this one, so don’t quote me on what happens later on, but kudos for bringing a M/M plotline to the mainstream.
Rebekah Weatherspoon – Better Off Red. I love Rebekah Weatherspoon’s writing, and her books always suck me in. Her voice is funny, down to Earth, and she always has plot lines that sound like nothing else I’ve heard of before. Better Off Red is one such book—it’s about a college freshman who seeks to join a sorority only to find out that she is pledging herself to a vampire nest. Oh, and then she falls for the queen. Kudos for awesome rep of queer women in a vampire novel that also deals with college and sorority life. This is the kind of elevator pitch that should have everyone running to read because it’s so unique.
Malinda Lo – Huntress. The world building in this novel is phenomenal. It’s YA, features two young girls who fall for each other, and the kind of hero’s journey that I absolutely sink my teeth into. I wish this book had been around when I was a kid! Kudos for just about everything.
Jordan Castillo Price – Psycop. Price’s Psycop series is often recommended as romance, but it also fits along the lines of queer speculative fiction. The series follows Victor Bayne, a snarky medium with a dark sense of humor, as he falls in love in book 1 and then goes on many paranormal adventures through the rest of the series. I love all of Price’s books, but this one is phenomenal. Kudos for writing about queer partners (romantically and in the cop-sense) who have a healthy relationship and who are constantly battling the paranormal.
Ginn Hale – Rifter series. Like Lo’s Huntress, this series has world building that is just outstanding. It’s more high fantasy than paranormal, but I wanted to include it in this list because it should be mainstream. It should be getting movie deals, if you want my opinion on the matter. It’s about three young people who are transported to another world (dimension? Time?), and are forced to figure out how to survive amid the politics and danger surrounding them. Kudos for being magnificent.
Zoraida Córdova – Labyrinth Lost. Another paranormal YA novel with awesome rep. This one is about a bisexual teen bruja who tries to rid herself of all witchy powers only to experience quite a bit of user error and… sends her family to another dimension. This book just came out and has a movie option in the works. Kudos for being absolutely magnificent and also for bringing bad ass queer and Latinx rep to the big screen!
Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.
Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.
Santino’s next book, Oversight, which is the second book in the Community Series is out NOW on Amazon, B&N, and Riptide Publishing.