I Met My Wife Because of Sailor Moon: Or, Why Stories With Queer Characters Really Fucking Matter

Entry for Anime News Network's Sailor Moon ContestSo, picture me as a gangly, passionate young teenager. Really obsessed with dead poets and graveyards, spends obscene amounts of time in the woods furiously scribbling Really! Dramatic! stories into a notebook. Oh, yeah. I was obviously the archetype of a Really Weird Writer(TM) from birth. Now picture me as that gangly teenager as utterly closed off from the world because of a super conservative Christian upbringing and homeschooling.

Now picture the fact that, at the age of fifteen, I’d never heard of being gay.

“That’s impossible,” you say, but sadly, gentle reader, it is not. Super! Conservative! Christian! Upbringing! can really mess you up in all sorts of terrible ways, but first and foremost, I didn’t even know I existed. You see, I’d had feelings for girls since I was very small. At religious school put on by my church, the little girls were making the Kens and Barbies kiss, and I was making the Barbies kiss. When I was a little older and the religious school girls were talking about boys…I was staring at the girls and praying desperately that they wouldn’t notice that I never talked about boys. That I was hopelessly, dreamily infatuated with them, instead.

I was terrified that, somehow, someone would see inside my head and realize that I was a complete abomination. I felt, utterly, that there was no one in the entire world like me–a girl who liked girls? How the hell would that even work? It was impossible. Obviously I was a total mistake. (Sit with that for a minute. In 1999, I thought I was a mistake because I believed that there was no one else in the world like me because I’d never heard of being gay. Super! Conservative! Christian! Upbringing! that includes that kind of blanket brainwashing and withholding of knowledge really needs to stop.) I contemplated suicide for awhile because there was no place in the world where I fit.

And then…Sailor Moon happened.

Television stations began to show this really weird, colorful cartoon. I was drawn, immediately, to all of the pastels (and, honestly, all the pretty ladies). I loved that they were strong. That they could save themselves. I figured out what times that show came on, and I watched it with my little sister, and a guarded fierceness that I had for nothing else. This was my show. My passion. There was just something about it. It was perfect.

A little comic book shop in our teeny, tiny town had an order form for a Sailor Moon book. I saved up my dollars, and I sent away for the book, counting down the days until it would arrive impatiently. I wanted to learn everything I could about this anime. What the hell was anime? What the hell was Sailor Moon based on? I wanted to learn everything, so like the true writer/bibliophile that I am, I knew I could find the information in the book.

The day that book arrived was the day that changed my life forever.

I tore into the wrapping and read it cover to cover. To my shock, there weren’t just the sailor senshi I’d already seen! There were more.

And then my heart stopped beating as I came to one paragraph. You guys? I still remember how it went.

hm_hold (1)Haruka and Michiru share a special romantic bond.

I looked at the pictures very carefully of both of these characters. I studied the pronouns to make absolutely certain that I wasn’t missing anything.  But no.  Two girls.  In a relationship.  Together.

I went upstairs to my bedroom, clutching the book to my chest, and I sat on my bed and sobbed.

I…existed.

A few months later, we got the internet. The blessed, holy internet. And I began, immediately, to obsess about Sailor Moon on it. I learned web design, graphic design and coding so that I could build shrines online to my favorite characters: YOU GUESSED IT! Haruka and Michiru.

And I began to meet people like me. People who would later become my lifelong friends (friends I still have and love to this day, over fifteen years later), people who built and ran a very geeky, wonderful, creative obsession: Sailor Moon fan shrines.

And then I met this one girl.

Her name was Jenn.

She was pretty cool on the internet. She made the most beautiful layouts, and her sites were funny, charming, perfectly written. I started to converse with her, because–lo and behold–we had our favorite characters in common.

Time passed. Our friendship grew. And one night, when I was nineteen years old, I sent her a letter that would change everything. Again.

I’m falling in love with you. I don’t even know if you’re gay. You love Haruka and Michiru, too…so maybe you are? I’m sorry if you’re not.  God, I hope you are. I love you.

And the rest is history.

SPARKLE WEDDING! <3
Photo of us, on our wedding day, by the illustrious Vasilion Photography. <3

 

Sailor Moon changed my life forever. It made me realize that there were other people like me. That I wasn’t an abomination. That I was normal. That, because these characters who were like me were happy, maybe I deserved happiness, too.

Because of Sailor Moon I met my wife.

Sailor Moon gave me the courage to tell her I was falling in love with her. Sailor Moon was the code, the blessed sign, that made me realize what she might be. That she might be falling in love with me, too.

Because of Sailor Moon, I was no longer invisible. I was, perhaps, a heroine, too. Or maybe I could be…because there were people like me who were. So why couldn’t I be, too?

Fast forward to this year. Unless you’ve been living under a Dark Kingdom boulder, you know that Sailor Moon is making a big comeback. We couldn’t be more thrilled, and we’ve been following along with the re-release of the anime on Hulu, and have been counting down the days until the new Sailor Moon Crystal show is released. We’ve also been following along with Viz, the company making this all possible, and their updates.

And we found out that they were sponsoring a “What Does Sailor Moon Mean to You?” contest.

Obviously, we entered. We entered with the photo at the very beginning of this post. We told this story of how Sailor Moon changed our lives, gave us acceptance of ourselves, gave us the ability to find true love.

And, yesterday, the first wave of finalists was announced.

Whether we’re finalists or not doesn’t really matter, by the way. We loved entering and sharing our story. But the best part of this whole damn thing is reading what other Moonies have to say.

You know what an overwhelming resonant theme is?

Sailor Moon gave me the strength to accept my queerness. Made me believe that I could be strong and courageous, too. Sailor Moon made me believe that I was worth something because Sailor Moon made me not invisible.

I was shocked and staggered by how many people were saying the same thing I had. That, because of Sailor Moon, they’d realized who they were, they realized that they weren’t worthless because they were invisible. Sailor Moon made them feel visible.

Sailor Moon made them feel seen.

There is this entire generation of people out there, people around my and Jenn’s age, who have been irrevocably changed and altered by a single show. A single show who told us that we were important enough to have a story written about us. A single show who saved me from thinking I was worthless. A single show who made a lot of other people realize that they were worth something, too.

A single show did this.

A common theme or argument I run into with my YA work (all of my stories have a heroine who loves girls as the main character), is the question: “why does a lesbian main character matter?”

And this is what I say to that, every time:

Because a lesbian character saved my life. Because a lesbian character made me feel seen.

And there is an entire host of people out there who can say the exact same thing.

Because I was seen, I wanted to live. I wanted to create. I wanted to perpetuate the stories that had saved my life.

Every single person that that anime saved has gone on to irrevocably change and alter the world.

Because of two girls who were in love.

Who told us, by their very existence, that being a heroine or a hero wasn’t just for straight people anymore.

And that simple truth changed our lives forever.

Saved us. And transformed us.

104
Thank you, Sailor Moon (Naoko Takeuchi <3), for everything.

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#WeNeedDiverseBooks, So Let's Support the Ones We Already Have so More Can Exist

There’s been a tag going around on Twitter for the past few days, called #WeNeedDiverseBooks, about the lack of diverse characters (queer/POC/disabled/poly/etc.), and how we need these diverse characters in our fiction.

It seems unfair for me to say that I’m not a big fan of viral social media campaigns like this. It’s not to say that I don’t think they serve a purpose: I know that a lot of queer teens right now, for example, are breathing a little sigh of relief and are really fucking happy that a ton of people are coming out in support saying they want more queer fiction. And, obviously, for the people unaware of the problem that we need diverse characters, it’s nice to have this talked about.

But the root of my discomfort with the tag is that a lot of people are saying over and over again that we need diverse characters. The problem with that is that publishers and authors don’t operate on a “this would be really wonderful to have, why don’t we have it?” model. They operate on sales.

There’s a reason that only ten percent of YA last year had a POC lead and there were only sixteen LGBT YA books published by major publishers last year. Publishers respond to sales, pure and simple. Authors write things that they think publishers might possibly want to publish. The cycle continues.

And it can be broken by a very simple action:

Read and buy and ask your library to get copies of YA books that contain diverse characters. Talk about the books as much, if not more than you would a YA that has a straight, white, able-bodied lead.

I would love, love, love for this tag to evolve into really positive actions in this industry. I would love to see more diverse books published. I would love for publishers to not tell me that American kids wouldn’t read the type of books I write, no matter how well written they are (which they did).

We can change this. You and I can change this. If this tag moves you, go out and buy a diverse book. If you don’t have funds, ask your library to get a copy of a diverse book. The only way the publishing industry will change is if we put our money or our actions (or both) where our mouths are:

Let’s make a difference and read and celebrate and talk about diverse books and support the hell out of them. And the world will change. For the better.

Comment with a diverse book that you can buy/ask your library system to get if they don’t have it.

Read Ascension by J. Koyanagi about a queer POC who’s a really fucking good sky surgeon. Read The Hierophant by Madeline Claire Franklin, with a lesbian POC who is one of the best characters I’ve ever read. Read Seven by Jennifer Diemer, about two women who save themselves and fall in love. Read Ash by Malinda Lo about a girl who finds the courage to live her own fairy tale. Read Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen about the bravery to love someone. Read the the Urban Wolf series by Naomi Clark, about strength and lesbian werewolves and love.

Ask your library to get copies of Project Unicorn and Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin and Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.

Talk about your favorite diverse book using the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and everywhere else you can think of.

Because we really fucking need diverse books. And we can make this happen together.

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You Need to Read This Book: GHOST CITY by Madeline Claire Franklin

I love the magic of words, I utterly love and am bewitched by what they can do, what they are capable of. When I read a story, I’m not just reading for the characters, the plot, how it makes me feel…I’m reading for the richness of language a lot of stories contain. I consume these stories, devour them, and find that I am irrevocably changed by them.

Ghost City by Madeline Claire Franklin, released today, is an irrevocably changing kind of book.

It’s a lot of things. A post-apocalyptic survival story, a post-apocalyptic love story, a survivor story, a story of strength and hope and courage. Kiddo, the main character, is one of the strongest and most amazing girl heroines I’ve ever read.

But here’s the crux of it–you’ve probably read a lot of post-apocalyptic stories, but you’ve never read one like this. The language is absurdly beautiful, succulent and rich and profound. The characters fight not against zombies and viruses, but against a crushing sense of dread, that they must fix their world, and they don’t know how. There’s so much to this story, including the twist, that blew my mind, and inspired me utterly. There’s a lot to this beautiful book, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. If you love beautiful language, if you love strong heroines, if you love a strange, enchanting, bewitching kind of book, you should read Ghost City. <3

Here's the blurb:

Kiddo survives—it’s what she does best. And since the world ended, staying alive is a useful skill to have.

She and her found-sister, Princess, have created a home for themselves in the forest, and a refuge for the other children who survived the end. Hunting animals, harvesting herbs, treating wounds—this is what Kiddo remembers of her life Before, and little else.

But the young man they call the Saver claims to remember everything, even when the rest of the children who survived cannot. He speaks of what came Before when he leads the survivors to his island city, making promises of abundance and hope. But even the Saver’s memories can’t explain the wrongness of their world. They can’t explain why ghosts stream through the woods every night under the same full moon, or why there is a fire in the Burning End of the city that has blazed, unchanged, for nearly a decade.

Regardless of what the others believe, Kiddo knows one thing for certain: the city is going to sink someday. She can’t explain it—not without remembering. And since the world came to an end, taking memories and lives in equal measure, remembering is the one hardship Kiddo has not been forced to endure.

But the city wants Kiddo to remember: at the heart of the fire in the Burning End is a story that only Kiddo can tell—and only Kiddo can finish.

Get it on Amazon!

Get it on Smashwords!

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Project Unicorn: Volume 2 Release Day!

We are excited to announce that PROJECT UNICORN, VOLUME TWO is available now!

Find it on:
Amazon.com (for Kindle)
Barnes & Noble (for Nook)
Smashwords (for all other eReaders + online reading)
– Createspace (link coming soon!)

- eReader edition on Etsy (all proceeds to authors)
Signed paperback on Etsy, PLUS free eReader edition! (all proceeds to authors)

PROJECT UNICORN, VOLUME TWO is a collection of thirty young adult short stories featuring lesbian heroines. As ghosts and robots, mermaids and werewolves, the characters in this extensive and varied collection battle monsters and inner demons, stand up to bullies, wield magic, fall in love, and take action to claim their lives–and their stories–as their own.

Written by wife-and-wife authors Jennifer Diemer and Sarah Diemer, this volume of stories, with genres ranging from science fiction and fantasy to the paranormal, is part of Project Unicorn, a fiction project that seeks to address the near nonexistence of lesbian main characters in young adult fiction by giving them their own stories. PROJECT UNICORN, VOLUME TWO contains these full three collections of Project Unicorn stories: Artificial Hearts, Myth, Magic and Glitter and Winged Things.

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Project Unicorn: Volume 2 Cover Reveal!

We’re ushering in this bright, shining new year with the release, on January 14th, of the second volume of our Project Unicorn stories, which will be available in both ebook and print formats:

Project Unicorn: Volume 2 collects thirty short stories from the following three, previously released collections: Myth, Magic & Glitter; Artificial Hearts; and Winged Things.  Its release marks the halfway point for Project Unicorn: 60 stories have been released, and 60 more are to come!

We are so excited to release this volume–and look forward to releasing more Project Unicorn stories (and volumes) in the future! Our plan this year is to share Project Unicorn stories here at our blog on an occasional, unscheduled basis, until, eventually, we’ve completed the project and reached our original goal of twelve collections, or four volumes–120 young adult, genre stories featuring lesbian heroines!

We cherish your feedback and kind words and are so grateful to you for wanting these stories; thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all of your support!

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Magic: THE DARK WIFE Gets a Sequel, and This Year is Gonna Be Rainbows

So much changed for me in 2013. It was the most transformative year of my life, and I feel, in this first magical day of the new year, that I am a completely different person, looking ahead at the possibility of what these twelve bright months holds. 2013 housed family tragedies (A LOT OF THEM), sadness and illness (without insurance!), heartache and the kind of fires that temper swords. In the end, I am a different woman, a changed woman, but as much as there was sorrow and sadness in this past year, it made me stronger, brighter, more courageous than ever before. And I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.

I have so much to tell you. Important things. So let’s start at the very beginning…

- I no longer have an agent

In September, my agent and I amicably parted ways, as her role in the agency was evolving. She was an amazing lady, and I adored her and our relationship together, but I’m also excited to see how my publishing will evolve in 2014. I’d held back a lot of work as my agent and I discussed what we were going to do with it, which means I have a couple of books already written and ready to be put out into the world. At this time I’ve decided that I’m going to self publish the bulk of what I have, as I have a lot of work that I want to put out there (and because my self-published presence has not been as robust as I’d like because so much had to be done behind the scenes). This does not mean that I don’t want an agent!  If you’re an agent who’s passionate about getting LGBTQ literature out into the YA world, I’d love to talk with you! But for right now, this means that…

- 2014 is going to be a rainbow year!

I have quite a few books already finished and ready to go, and some that just need a light edit. This means that while you didn’t see a lot from me in 2013, you’re going to be seeing a lot from me in the months to come.  I have big plans to release several books this year!  There are stand-alone novels coming, some I’ve been excited about and teasing you with for ages! There’s also going to be a great new series coming…a pre-apocalyptic love story, if you’d believe it. ;D But that ALSO means that…

- The Myth Makers will finally be continued

My very first novel, the lesbian YA retelling of the Persephone myth, The Dark Wife, was always going to be the first book in a series of myth retellings, all with lesbian heroines. I’ve teased you with mentions of the other projects for almost three years now, but I can promise you this: 2014 is going to be the year The Myth Makers continues. And it starts with…

- The sequel to The Dark Wife

When I finished The Dark Wife, something was nagging at the back of my heart. I felt very much that this was not the end to Persephone and Hades’ story. They are going to show up in other books in The Myth Makers series, but that’s not what I felt. I felt something bigger. Greater. I joked around with Jenn a couple of times that I was going to write a story of Persephone at the end of the world with a robot arm. Because she’s my wife, and a sainted creature, she would always laugh at that absolutely ridiculous joke.

But I did want to write a sequel. Just not one involving robot arms. XD And it kept tugging at me, this idea, and growing in me…

And this past month, I knew the story I had to tell. It came to me much the same way The Dark Wife had. It was late at night. I was in bed, almost fast asleep…and the story slammed into my head and heart. I had to get up (even though it was three o’clock in the morning), run to the writing room, our black cat quickly on my heels, and for the next three hours, I wrote the outline for the story, Emily Dickinson (said black cat) purring in my lap until the wee hours of the morning, while the world slept and the myth unfurled before me on the page, ink dripping from its skin.

The Dark Wife is getting a sequel. Three years after The Dark Wife‘s release, I have started work on its second book: The Dark Dream.

What can I tell you about The Dark Dream? That the strength of a goddess is tested. That a god, once vanquished, craves revenge. That love is neverending.

That love takes us to the darkest places. And saves us.

I am overjoyed beyond belief to be sharing this with you.

- In the meantime…

Sign up for our newsletter if you’re excited about the coming months! Project Unicorn, Volume 2 is going to be our release for January, and I’ll reveal the cover for that (and details about where Project Unicorn is heading!) very soon. I’m so excited about this coming year.

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Ladies in Comics: A Guest Post by Hannah Smart, Comic Book Artist and Author

The second in our series of posts from feminist or queer guest authors and artists is by artist/author Hannah Smart.  Hannah is only sixteen years old, and already has an amazing career going.  I fell head over heels in love with Hannah’s comic Icarus (a feminist comic featuring a flawed and awesome superheroine–IT IS SO GOOD, YOU GUYS), and can’t wait to see more from this impressive artist.  <3

~*~

Salutations, all! To those of you reading this through the screen of your laptop, desk computer, iPod, iPad, iPhone, tablet, or experiencing this on your holodeck (if this survives to the 24th century), I thank you for taking the time to read this. Before I delve into a long stuffy rant, however, I would like to thank the wonderfully talented and generous Sarah and Jennifer Diemer for inviting me to do a guest post on Muse Rising. They have encouraged me a lot, and are fantastic people, but then again, if you’re here, you already know that.

For the majority of you who probably don’t know me, my name is Hannah Smart. I am a sixteen-year-old science fiction, gothic horror, and comic book enthusiast, and I have previously self-published a sci-fi novel, Corona through Amazon. My first and foremost love will always remain writing: novels, short stories, whatever, I like ‘em all! However, I have also grown to relish the thrill of sitting inactive at my desk for hours, meticulously laboring with my laptop and a Wacom tablet over the appearance of a 72 dpi image in Photoshop. Believe it or not, it really is a rush.

Quite recently, I have completed my first full-length graphic novel, entitled Icarus: Creatures of Darkness. The Icarus title follows the dark adventures of Etha Fidalgo, a 20-something superheroine trying to find her way in the dismal city of Damocles and rescue her missing sister. This is intended to be the first volume of a four issue series, and work on the second one (called Icarus: Scar Tissue) is already underway.

Here is the description of Creatures of Darkness:

In a world where death, tragedy, and demons plague the shadows, anything seems possible. And when Etha Fidalgo’s little sister, Elle, disappears, she takes it upon herself to find her. However, along the way, Etha encounters misanthropes and villains who threaten to further disrupt life in the destitute city of Damocles. In order to rescue her sister and save her home, Etha becomes the vigilante Icarus, armed with only a wingpack, her fists, and her mind. But will this be enough for Etha to defeat the Deadly Warpaint, a masked criminal who takes scare tactics to the next level?

So there you go. There’s Icarus in a nutshell. But then again, a nutshell isn’t very big, is it?

What can I say? After spending what seems like an eternity drawing out these pages, learning who these characters are, I cannot help but become attached. Icarus is a very female-power comic, as it only features one definitive male character in the entire 50 pages of the strip (and that isn’t until the very end). Part of it is that I honestly feel that females are easier to draw, and another part of it is that, being a girl, I can connect to female characters more easily. I wanted to create characters that I would want to be, personas that I could channel in times of hardship, and look fondly back upon in times of euphoria. But not only did I want to write a tough, pretty, cool character; I wanted to write one who was flawed.

Creatures of Darkness is only the surface. The in-progress Scar Tissue will give you a bit more of a glance at Etha’s personal life, and her increasing isolation from her friends and family as she becomes more and more Icarus, and less and less Etha Fidalgo. Etha is someone who isn’t afraid to do what is necessary to dish out arse-kicking justice. She doesn’t bend to anyone: the law, men, even her friends at times. Her biggest struggle isn’t with the bad guys; it’s with herself.

As the overall story-arc progresses (while Creatures of Darkness was the test drive, I really do have a grand conclusion and inter-series plot in mind), I hope to eventually show the readers that all heroes have their issues, their dark side, and that the villains can have the capacity for goodness as well. But let us not get hasty; some of these characters are yet to be introduced. That, and this may take a while, as I am working on this during my spare time on weekends when I’m not doing homework or working on a new book idea. Bear with me.  :)

I have spent an estimated 250 hours slaving away at this. I will be the first to admit to you, it was a learning experience; the illustrations near the end are definitely better than those in the beginning. While Creatures of Darkness has its fair share of inconsistencies and quirks, it was a labor of love, and I promise you that #2 will be even better (if only I had begun storyboarding before I was halfway done with Creatures of Darkness!). Although writing is my passion, and I feel more comfortable within the realms of a novel, this has been a fun, challenging ride. For those of you who have read this far, I thank you. And once more, a HUUUUGGE thanks to Sarah and Jennifer Diemer for everything!

ICARUS: CREATURES OF DARKNESS can be purchased through Amazon. The collection includes the 50 page comic, and 20 pages of bonus material! So indie comic book enthusiasts, get your copy now!

For more artwork, and to read Creatures of Darkness and the in-progress Scar Tissue for free online, check out my art website: www.majorzerogravity.deviantart.com or my blog at http://hannahsmartauthor.blogspot.com/.

(OH, AND A TIP: Listen to “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John while reading Creatures of Darkness.  :) )

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