Have you ever wondered what the 'A' stands for in LGBTQAI+ ? It's not ally (though we do appreciate a good ally!), it's asexual! Asexuality has existed since the dawn of time and, like so many other queer identities, this has been plenty of time for the world to develop a misunderstanding of what it means to be asexual. If you're looking for a great primer on what asexuality is, I suggest checking out this resource from The Trevor Project.
Ace Awareness week is happening now and this demi is celebrating by sharing a series of interviews and book recommendations on ye olde blog. So let's dive in with our first interview: Author Carly Heath! (any of my thoughts are in parenthesis and signed with a --K!)
Carly Heath (she/they) earned her BA from San Francisco State University and her MFA from Chapman University. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Carly teaches design, art, theater, and writing for various colleges and universities. She spends all her time and most of her money tending to a menagerie of rescued farm animals. The Reckless Kind is her first novel.
Question One: When developing your character’s queer identity, how did you decide where to start them on their journey? When you started, did you know you wanted to specifically center ace experiences?
In the case of THE RECKLESS KIND, the starting point for the characters came as initial, tiny ideas: “a family of outsiders” and “kids who feel like outsiders themselves who idolize that strange family.” The realization that Asta was ace, came as I was writing her internal monologue and figuring her out. When she’s describing her relationship with Gunnar I sort of realized “oh Asta’s ace and their relationship is deeply meaningful and platonic.” And as I was writing her, I sort of realized I was ace too and that Asta’s relationship with Gunnar is really, like, the ideal relationship (even though there are imperfect moments—they’re teenagers!—I can visualize where it’s headed as they mature into adults).
Question Two: What books or media helped you to feel confident in your ace identity?
I am absolutely 100% not confident in my ace identity. I am beat down my the heteropatriarchy. I’m a crumpled, trod upon flower struggling to break through the pavement. That said, I’m heartened that authors like Rosiee Thor (TARNISHED ARE THE STARS) exist and I love going back 2000 years to find all the ace characters that existed in mythology before Christianity bulldozed over diverse gender and sexual expression and forced us into the narrative that we’re all allo cis hetero.
Question Three: What aspects of being ace did you feel were the most important to put front and center in your story?
I think showing teens as gleefully childfree characters is really important since our society places so much emphasis on “family” and “reproduction.” So Asta’s “swine son” and the fact that she wants animals not children was really important to me.
(Omg, I loved Asta adopting and fighting for her swine son in The Reckless Kind! --K)
Question Four: What do you think is the most common misunderstanding about being ace and how do you work to counter that narrative?
I think there’s this idea that Ace and Aro people don’t have passion, affection, or lust. Some don’t and that’s cool too! But that diversity of experiences is important. In THE RECKLESS KIND, Asta’s very passionate and affectionate. She does have a moment of lust where she experiments with heterosexuality (but ultimately realizes it’s not for her). In other books I’m writing, there are different experiences: I have a character who isn’t inclined to physical things and is sex repulsed but his allo boyfriend is very supportive and loves everything about him. I also have a character who’s not affectionate at all, but very matter of fact about her lust. I just think its important to represent the whole spectrum of humanity because there’s been this narrative for so long that says if someone’s not sexual, affectionate, romantic, or child-wanting, there’s something wrong with them.
(This was one of my favorite aspects of The Reckless Kind. I really appreciated the nuance and complexity of Asta's character and how she experienced being ace --K)
Question Five: Found family is a common theme in queer books and one that feels especially salient to those centering ace stories–how did you work to portray that and why do you think it resonates with so many queer readers?
THE RECKLESS KIND is a found family story and I think it’s important because so many of us had difficult childhoods and have been treated badly by our families and I think it’s important—especially for young people—to see that, yes, sometimes parents don’t have the best interests of their children in mind, and it’s important to cut off relationships with toxic family members, and you CAN get love and support from people who are more important than your blood relations: your friends.
(ngl, the found family trope is my catnip. I will read anything with this as one of he major themes, it truly resonates with me as a panromantic demisexual and I think a lot of queer people find so much comfort in reading stories where they find their place to belong --K)
Question Six: What ace resources do you recommend to readers to learn more about and better understand the many facets of ace-ness?
LGTBQ Reads is a great place to search for queer books by identity and other elements.
The AroAce Database aims to list every ace or aro character that is known.
Question Seven: What are some of your favorite books featuring ace characters
Tarnished are the Stars by Rosiee Thor! (Same!! --K)
Question Eight: When you started writing, did you already understand where you were on the ace spectrum, or did writing help you to better understand yourself?
No, I think writing my character helped me understand myself better.
Question Nine: What advice do you have for those who are exploring their queerness?
You don’t have to label yourself or even know what you are and your identity is allowed to change, so don’t feel like you have to fit into any box.
Question ten: How do you use your own Ace identity to create characters and/or how do you separate yourself from your characters that also share your identity?
Since THE RECKLESS KIND was my first book, I think the characters were all emerging from different aspects of myself. So, we really aren’t separate. People who know me say things like “yeah, this whole book is definitely you.” The more books I write, the more I’m beginning to explore experiences that are different from my own, so I think that’s just part of the process of developing as a writer. You start by exploring yourself, and then the more books you write, the more you start to explore beyond the boundaries of yourself.
Lightning Round Questions:
1) What’s your personal favorite scene in the book(s) you’ve written (no spoilers!) Be vague or give us a chapter number or page, but tell us why this scene in particular resonates so much with you
There’s a scene where Erlend tries to chop wood, but can’t so he cries. Its so me. I am him. (Can confirm. This is a FANTASTIC chapter --K)
2)If you could write your character into an AU with characters from another book/story, who would you pair them with and what would be the ao3 tags on that fanfic?
Definitely all my characters in Our Flag Meets Death. OFMD comes to Scandinavia. Let’s do it. (OMG YES PLEASE! I'm trying to imagine Stede and Ed learning to drive Gunnar's car. I can also see Stede adopting ponies and trying to keep them on the ship... --K)
3) Can you give fellow writers some advice on how to stay engaged and excited with whatever project they’re working on?
If you’re not engaged/excited about whatever you’re working on, then stop working on it and work on something that does excite you. If you aren’t excited about it, the reader won’t be either.
4)What’s next? Can you give us an emoji based sneak peek at what you’re working on next??
One is a YA Fantasy about a family that’s cursed to transform into animals at some point in their life.
Another is an Adult 1920’s queer romance set during the golden age of commercial illustration. Kind of Gatsby meets Mad Men.
I'm so excited about both of these books, but especially the 1920's queer romance, that hits a sweet spot for me! If you haven't yet read Carly's debut, The Reckless Kind, here's a synopsis:
A genre-defying debut, this queer historical YA centers a wild and reckless trio who fly in the face of small town tradition—full of compassion, love, and determination to live the lives of their choosing.
It’s 1904 on an island just west of Norway, and Asta Hedstrom doesn’t want to marry her odious betrothed, Nils. But her mother believes she should be grateful for the possibility of any domestic future given her single-sided deafness, unconventional appearance, and even stranger notions. Asta would rather spend her life performing in the village theater with her fellow outcasts: her best friend Gunnar Fuglestad and his secret boyfriend, wealthy Erlend Fournier.
But the situation takes a dire turn when Nils lashes out in jealousy—gravely injuring Gunnar. Shunning marriage for good, Asta moves with Gunnar and Erlend to their secluded cabin above town. With few ties left to their families, they have one shot at gaining enough kroner to secure their way of life: win the village’s annual horse race.
Despite Gunnar’s increasing misgivings, Asta and Erlend intend to prove this unheard-of arrangement will succeed. Asta trains as a blacksmith; Erlend cares for recovering Gunnar. But as race day approaches, the villagers’ hateful ignorance only grows stronger. With this year’s competition proving dangerous for the trio, Asta and Erlend soon find they face another equally deadly peril: the possibility of losing Gunnar and their found family forever.
You can get your copy here:
Thanks to Carly for this lovely interview and thank you to my readers for celebrating Ace Awareness Week with me! Go pick up a copy of The Reckless Kind and be sure to leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon. I'll see you tomorrow with another ace-stastic interview!
[Carly Heath's bio, picture, and the synopsis for The Reckless Kind taken from Carly Heath's Press Kit]