13 Dos and Don’ts for Ace and Aro Panels and Talks

Posted October 10, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments


13 Dos and Don'ts for Ace and Aro Panels and Talks

~1,600 words

This month, I’ve got another free short essay for everyone. Based on my experience discussing asexuality and aromanticism and with encountering ace and aro panels online in various ways (which frequently, to be honest, does not inspire me to want to attend any since they often all seem to replicate the same basic issues), I’ve compiled a general lits of Dos and Don’ts. You can probably apply them to more topics than asexuality and aromanticism and more types of content than talks or panels.

This essay on Patreon. Enjoy!

13 Dos and Don’ts for Ace and Aro Panels and Talks

For the science fiction and fantasy community, summer tends to be award season, and award season means high-profile conventions. While I rarely have the opportunity to attend any, I do always enjoy seeing what gets discussed by looking at the programming. For the past few years, I’ve noticed an uptick on panels discussing asexuality (and through conflation aromanticism) and, I’ll be honest, have only rarely been impressed by what I’ve seen or heard about them.

This year, I ran into a couple that were just actively painful to read through or hear about, so I wanted to compile a brief post on some dos and don’ts to help anyone planning a panel on asexuality and aromanticism present, well, a better panel that will achieve what you set out to do.

So how do you set up a panel about asexuality and aromanticism? What are some of the things to keep in mind when working on creating an inclusive, welcoming panel? Here are some of the dos and don’ts of discussing ace and aro representation.

DO host an Asexuality and Aromanticism 101 panel if that’s what you feel the convention needs. You’ll get complains from aces and aros who are having more advanced discussions, but the truth is that a lot of people still need that 101 discussion and panels at conventions are a great way to introduce asexuality and aromanticism to people. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to present a 101 conversation about asexuality and aromanticism. Just be aware that if you’re going for this kind of conversation, you need to make sure you’re covering the basics properly. If you pay attention to the others dos and don’ts, you’ll end up with a fantastic and informative panel that will allow people who need the introduction to start figuring out more.

DON’T conflate aromanticism and asexuality. Though there’s overlap, these are two different communities and, more importantly, two different orientation spectrums. Asexuality is a sexual orientation; aromanticism is a romantic orientation. These two identities are not interchangeable and if you want to host a panel on asexuality that conflates it with aromanticism, you end up erasing and hurting about half of the people you’re trying to reach. This conflation is extremely common, especially in 101 discussions, and simply making sure you and panellists acknowledge the difference will go a very long way towards creating an inclusive, welcoming panel.

DO include aromanticism in your panel’s title if you want to discuss both asexuality and aromanticism. Relatedly, if a convention uses a system that lets them tag programme items with keywords, please ask them to include aromanticism as a tag. It may seem like a small thing, but simply acknowledging aromanticism as a separate identity this way will put a lot of wary people at ease.

DON’T sandwich aromanticism in between different identities on the asexual spectrum. (Or, vice versa.) These are two different orientations and identities, so please do not present them in such a conflated manner. By presenting the identities this way, even though you’re probably simply listing them in the order you think of them, you’re perpetuating the idea that these terms are interchangeable.

DO organise topics at your comfort level. I started this by saying it’s okay to host introductory panels. It is likewise okay to host ones that are more advanced. And just like there are a lot of people who want to go to the 101 panels to begin learning about asexuality and aromanticism, there are plenty of people who’ll want to see something more advanced. It’s your panel, so if you’ve got a topic you want to discuss, go for it!

DON’T misspell orientations. Yes, that’s happened. Spelling can be a little bit dicey because different communities have different preferences. It isn’t just regional spelling differences (such as ‘grey’ vs ‘gray’), but there are also personal spelling preferences to take into account. If you’re not sure how to spell something, go with the global consensus. For example: it’s spelled “demisexual”, same as every other orientation ending in -sexual, not “demi-sexual” with a hyphen. The latter is still used as a way to discredit demisexuality as an orientation and serves as a red flag to people to suggest that your panel is unsafe for them.

DO let people know if your panel has aces and/or aros on it, if your panellists are comfortable with people knowing this. That last part is crucial. Don’t out your (fellow) panellists, so only do this if you have their permission to mention it. This will really help aces and aros who’ve been hurt by attending panels in the past feel safe attending. Having a panel about asexuality and/or aromanticism with no visible aces or aros on it is… kind of like having a discussion on the state of SFF in Europe filled with panellists from America. Those panellists mean well and they may know a great deal of really interesting information, but you end up silencing the voices you’re trying to uplift.

DON’T erase part of the spectrums in your descriptions. By that I don’t mean “make sure you mention every orientation specifically”, but “acknowledge that asexuality and aromanticism are spectrums”. Both ‘asexual’ and ‘aromantic’ are used as a specific identity on these spectrums and as an umbrella term for that spectrum, so make sure people can tell when you’re using it as an umbrella term! Some orientations (such as greysexuals) get virtually no representation in fiction since the bulk of the representation goes to asexuals and demisexuals. It’s okay if that means your panel leans towards covering more frequently encountered aspects of asexuality or aromanticism. It’s just a matter of acknowledging that the spectrums are wider and larger than your topic covers and making people feel welcome because you acknowledged they exist.

DO look up (and read!) some recent ace and aro representation titles before your panel. If you have the time, try to get a general feel of what ace and aro readers think of it as well. Yes, this is important even if you’re ace and/or aro yourself. Your feelings are not indicative of the community as a whole and understanding where people’s opinions differ from yours will help make your discussion of these books stronger.

DON’T rely on the visibility of a handful of well-known titles to discuss the state of asexual and aromantic representation in fiction. The bulk of ace and aro representation published today is published by small presses and indie authors, so be sure to take a look at those. (Claudie Arseneault’s AroAce Database is a very good starting point.) If you look at small presses and indie releases, you’ll be able to find a fair number of incredibly good books that could use the visibility boost. As a bonus, there is a very high chance that these are authors who are openly ace-spec or aro-spec themselves. Even if you don’t want to look at small presses or indie authors, look beyond the handful that everyone’s heard about. Give yourself half an hour to google titles and I’m sure you’ll find some lesser known mainstream titles to discuss or mention on your panel.

DO try to collect a list of the books you (and your fellow panellists) mention and make it available online. It’s okay if this doesn’t turn out to be an exact match to what was said, but the effort will be incredibly appreciated by readers looking for these books. Not everyone will be able to attend your panel and you can’t rely on having an audience member livetweeting your recommendations for others to find. If you compile a recommendations list yourself, though, and make sure it’s easily found online, you’ll increase the chances that your recommendations will do what you want them to: get people to explore those books.

DON’T go about recommending books that you don’t stand behind because they’re popular and it’s the done thing. People will be able to tell when your recommendations are insincere. If you genuinely hated the representation in a book where seemingly everyone else loved it, it’s okay not to recommend it at all. It’s (probably) also okay to add warnings to someone else’s recommendations so people can make informed choices.

DO trust people to know what will or won’t hurt them. If you’re asexual and/or aromantic and absolutely loved the representation in a book the majority seems to hate, you’re allowed to discuss or recommend it based on your experience. It’s not less valid because it’s different. Just, if you’re in this situation, try to give people all appropriate warnings and caveats, so they can make an informed choice. Don’t rely on others to do that for you.

These last two points really revolve around one key thing to keep in mind when you’re looking for books to discuss or recommend on your panel: Asexuality and aromanticism are not monoliths and what hurt you may be what someone else needs and what you desperately needed may do someone else a great deal of harm. Keep that difference in mind and make sure your audience has the tools to make educated decisions about the books you’re discussing or recommending. You don’t know what will or won’t hurt them. They do.

And that’s it! These 13 points should give you a pretty solid foundation for setting up a talk or a panel on asexuality and/or aromanticism. Keep these points in mind and you’ll be able to cover any topic whilst appealing to people at various levels of understanding of the issues faced by aces and aros. I hope you’ll have fun setting up your talk or panel and, who knows, hopefully one day I’ll get to attend it and congratulate you on an amazing panel!

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Influences on The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

Posted October 5, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in My Work / 0 Comments


The Ice Princess's Fair Illusion Coming November 6th. "Aromantic, we call it. You know that, my sweet. Aromantic and asexual, in fact. If you're going to tell it, tell it loud. Tell it proud. That's why I agreed to do this. I want to hear no more of people like yourself who needed words they never learned because no one believed they were needed." Preorder now: https://www.books2read.com/thrushbeard

It’s been a few days – feels like forever – but I’m back with another short not-a-guest-post essay on The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion! This time it’s about 800 words discussing some of what influenced the story and why it is the way it is.

This essay literally took me ALL DAY to write. I have no idea if it’s good or terrible, but it is done and I’m in too much period-caused pain to care about anything else. (Sorry?)

Here’s the post on Patreon too! (Look, I’m actually remembering to add a link to the specific post now!)

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On Retelling Thrushbeard in The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

Posted October 3, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in My Work / 0 Comments


The Ice Princess's Fair Illusion Coming November 6th. "Aromantic, we call it. You know that, my sweet. Aromantic and asexual, in fact. If you're going to tell it, tell it loud. Tell it proud. That's why I agreed to do this. I want to hear no more of people like yourself who needed words they never learned because no one believed they were needed." Preorder now: https://www.books2read.com/thrushbeard

It’s mini-essay time! Learn about some of my thought processes behind the creation of The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion. I’m a chronic failure at asking people if they want to host me for promo blog tours (um, if you do and like posts like this, hmu?), so I figured I’d host them on my own site instead! I considered Twitter threads, but as of right now those are too scary, so…

On Retelling Thrushbeard in The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

When I set out to write The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. Sure, I had a rough idea. ‘Retell King Thrushbeard, but make it queer and less misogynistic’ is all good and well, but it’s hardly a plot. It took me a fair bit of brainstorming to come up with a plot that would make the fairytale work better for me.

King Thrushbeard is a tale that appeals to me in some ways and just… doesn’t work in others. For one, if it had been a prince who’d refused to marry, we would have had a radically different plot. On the flipside, the domesticity of the tale and the contrast between social classes appeals to me. I just… could do without the whole ‘This proud woman must be humbled through social humiliation and hard physical labour’ aspect of the thing.

It took a fair bit of brainstorming for me to figure out how to retell those aspects of the story in a way that worked for me and I’ll be forever grateful to the friends who listened to me ramble about it and watched me work out the chinks in my mind. But, eventually, I did figure it out.

The story, as a whole, leans more towards misogyny than I’d anticipated or set out to write. I’ve kept the more patriarchal setting, for all that I’ve shifted things to be more inclusive of queer identities in general. I needed that setting, both to keep one of the most striking elements of the original tale and to explore how that element affected Marian.

The whole thing spiralled from there, if I’m honest. Think about it a moment. In the original fairytale, the only character to get a name is King Thrushbeard himself. And, yes, it’s a nickname to mock him, but it’s still more than the princess gets. More, his nickname is the story’s title when fairytales are commonly named after protagonists. There are others, but naming a story solely after the love interest is fairly uncommon and usually involves princes rescuing enchanted damsels. (The Frog Prince is another well-known exception.) The princess’s emotional arc in King Thrushbeard then is a way to cast the story of how he gained his wife and changed her to be what he wanted her to be in a superficially more favourable light.

In the original tale, there is little nuance to the portrayal of the princess and, as said, the story is about Thrushbeard ‘humbling her proud spirit’ and ‘punish her for humiliating him’. (Because nothing says ‘I love you’ like revenge, I guess?) So, in The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion, I had to ensure that whatever else happened, the narrative as a whole was in service of Marian’s narrative arc, not her love interest’s. That means the driving event of the story, her father’s loss of temper, had to be tied strongly to Marian’s arc too. That’s how Marian’s sex-repulsion became the central theme of the story and the driving force behind events. It’s her strong desire not to have sex that sees her become haughty and cruel to the people around her as well as causing her father to lose his temper in public and announce he’ll force her to marry the first beggar at the gate.

That alone, though, isn’t enough to rework the original tale into something less… negative, however. Because the arc the princess in the fairytale experiences is subservient to the arc Thrushbeard goes through, that connection needed to be disrupted as well. One way to do that is to make sure that Edel’s arc, as it pertains to Marian, is supplementary to Marian’s arc. Indeed, Edel originally didn’t set out to marry or gain a spouse. She just decides on impulse that she wants to try and protect someone she correctly guesses is sex-repulsed. At first, Edel’s plan is to divorce Marian once the ruse has done its job even. Thus, The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion, rather than making Marian’s arc subservient to Edel’s, I made sure that Edel’s goal was complementary. (And then I added in a personal goal for Edel because, you know, people often have more than one.)

This approach has allowed me to, in my opinion, reclaim at least the most problematic aspects of the fairytale. Hopefully, readers will agree!

The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion releases November 6th, 2018. Preorder now!

The Ice Princess's Fair Illusion (Fairytale Verses #2) by Lynn E. O'ConnachtAll Marian wants is for society to accept that she’s just not interested in… whatever society thinks she ought to be interested in. A princess with a reputation for insults and snide remarks, she’s afraid to show anyone who she would be if people would let her. In a fit of temper at her refusal to marry, her father creates her worst nightmare: she is to be wed to the first beggar who arrives at the gates.

Edel was visiting purely for diplomatic reasons, aiming to ensure her daughter inherits a strong and peaceful kingdom. She sees something in Marian that is achingly familiar and when Edel hears the king’s proclamation, only one thing is on her mind: to protect Marian from the fate that had befallen Edel herself.

Their lives threaded together by magic, Edel and Marian will have to find their way in the world in this queerplatonic, sapphic verse novel retelling of King Thrushbeard.

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Release and Releases: Fairytale Verses #1

Posted October 2, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in News / 0 Comments


Sea Foam and Silence: The Complete Collection Out Now: She warned of the pain. She did. But no warning can prepare you. Nothing can. One little mermaid sets out to learn about humans and discover what love is, but life is never easy and love rarely looks like you'd expect. Get it now: books2read.com/sfs-boxset

Sea Foam and Silence: The Complete Collection

Sea Foam and Silence: The Complete Collection

Available now

Order the ebook

Eagle-eyed readers have undoubtedly already spotted this, but Sea Foam and Silence and A Harmony of Water and Weald have been republished and are now available in a handydandy two-for-one collection in case you want both and save yourself a bit of money at the same time.

You can still get the books separately if you’re prefer that, though! You can get Sea Foam and Silence here and A Harmony of Water and Weald here.

Complete with the rerelease, they’ve also got cover changes! Mostly notably A Harmony of Water and Weald got an entirely new cover to match Sea Foam and Silence‘s cover. WHOOHOO!

So why do this republication days before/after announcing that you can preorder The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion? The short and frankly very useless answer is this “Because I had to”. The longer answer… Well, that’s why I’m here writing this now! Oooooh. So settle back and I shall explain.

Once upon a time, I wrote a verse novel, Sea Foam and Silence. It was a fairytale retelling and I’d always had a vague idea to turn it into a series. Sea Foam and Silence has a good lead-in to two other queer verse novel retellings in its pages. There’s the story of Asta’s mother (The Six Swans) and the story Asta tells Maris (Beowulf but queerer and with 100% more lesbians – which, btw, if that sounds like your jam, check out Rachel Tonks Hill’s Novis; that’s Beowulf in space with lesbians). But instead of writing those I wound up writing Rapunzel, Rapunzel and, after that, A Harmony of Water and Weald and then The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel has always been a slightly odd duck in my queer verse novel retellings, so that one remains as-is until I sort it out. But The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion is a verse novel that is incredibly and unapologetically queer and I desperately wanted to publish it with The Kraken Collective because I really really wanted to publish something 100% original with them.

But as I was working on The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion I realised more and more than what I had on my hands was a series of standalones, tied together by… Well, I won’t spoil the surprise of future stories when they happen. But it’s very magical and Sea Foam and Silence had already laid the seeds for that narrative quietly threading to the rest of it. (Well, some of the rest of it, no doubt.)

And so, The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion and the Sea Foam and Silence books being not just linked by being queer verse novel retellings or by being set in the same universe, they’re actually linked more closely! Which means that the series as a whole needs to be consistent and in one place.

It needed a new look. It needed to have a unified look that said “This is a series” to anyone who looks at the covers. And it needed to happen at least before the actual release of The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion. I would 100% have waited on setting the preorder if I’d had more time, but alas. Things worked out the way that they did. My brain has been a mess this past September, so announcing this before announcing the preorders or trying to juggle both on the same day? Yeah, that wasn’t happening.

But here we are now! Now you know what’s up with the redesigned covers and the series as a whole. WHOOT! So what’s that series?

That series is… The Fairytale Verses series. The Fairytale Verses all retell a different fairytale in verse and with queer protagonists! You can read them as stand-alone pieces, but there’ll be a meta-narrative running throughout at least some of them.

Currently two (or three) verse novels have been published in the Fairytale Verses:

  • Sea Foam and Silence
  • (A Harmony of Water and Weald)
  • The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

I have (tentative) plans for a fourth verse novel, which will likely be either Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, and after that… who knows. I have very tentative plans to add a retelling of The Frog Prince as well. But that one doesn’t have a cover ready to go for it yet. So… There we go. Depending on how popular the series gets as a whole there are at least six more stories that I definitely want to retell.


Cover Reveal: Life Within Parole Volume 2 by RoAnna Sylver

Posted October 1, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments


Life Within Parole Volume 2 by RoAnna Sylver

Life Within Parole Volume 2 by RoAnna Sylver

Coming October 11th, 2018

Preoder today!

Today I’m helping to spread the unveiling of Life Within Parole Volume 2 by awesome author, and fellow Kraken Collective member, RoAnna Sylver! I’ve already shared the cover above, so let me share the description as well!

Parole is full of danger—and secrets.

The deepest of them make up intricately interconnected stories. Damaged survivors finding each other, stitching their lives together in the harshest of places, forging precious bonds amidst the flames. Gradually growing trust, love, and understanding between found families. But there’s no escaping this place, its deadly realities, or its predators. A brutal capture. A hellish withdrawal and fragile recovery. A harrowing escape. A breakneck sprint across a haunted, poisoned wasteland.

Life and death, trust and betrayal, choking smoke and breaths of fresh air—all of these are just part of life within Parole.

* * *

Volume 2 contains ten new Chameleon Moon short stories, and while many stand alone, they’re best enjoyed between Books 1 and 2.

The book also comes with detailed content warnings at the start of the book, so you can easily look those up before purchasing by using Amazon’s Look Inside function.

Having read a few of the stories already, I can confirm that you definitely want to read this after having read at least the first book in the series, Chameleon Moon, because a lot of these stories will rely on you knowing who the characters are. (They’re still delightful if you have no clue, but trust me. It’ll help.)

I’m really excited to see RoAnna release another volume of these stories. Her Chameleon Moon setting is a big, warm hug. Which I know, I know. Isn’t what you’d expect from a dystopian setting, but these are stories about marginalised people surviving and thriving in a hostile world and it’s glorious.

So go and check it out! And if you haven’t read Chameleon Moon before, go check that out first! I heartily recommend it. <3


Asexual and Aromantic Tropes in Fiction

Posted October 1, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in My Work / 0 Comments


I somehow failed – FAILED – to cross-post this essay here. WHAT. Here you are, though, about 8,500 words (not counting longer quotations, end notes, references or the abstract). This essay was made possible and available thanks to my absolutely lovely Patrons over at Patreon!

One addendum: I since learned that Jahir is canonically allosexual, but have not yet had a chance to revise the essay to address this.


This essay explores the most common tropes affecting the depiction of asexual and aromantic characters in fiction by analysing the similarities and differences in narratives featuring explicit asexual and/or aromantic characters and narratives featuring strongly asexual and/or aromantic coded characters.

The essay also looks briefly at the state of asexual and aromantic representation in mainstream media by studying the way media outlets covered the straightwashing of Jughead Jones in Riverdaleand the way aromanticism and asexuality is conflated both in fiction and by queer publishers, as most current confirmed and deliberate asexual representation is found in printed media.

By looking at the representation in almost 30 narratives, common patterns and trends can be established regarding the state of asexual and aromantic representation in fiction and specific tropes – and their impact and origin – can be identified.

Asexual and Aromantic Tropes in Fiction

Through mirrors one may know themself, and mirrors come in many forms. Through mirrors, too, one can cut oneself badly, and still mirrors come in many forms. They come, for example, in the shape of tropes or stereotypes in narratives. They come in jokes and unexamined ideas presented uncritically.

A trope is, strictly speaking, any literary device that conveys a meaning beyond the literal. Outside of academic circles, however, its meaning is darker and negative. In these circles, a trope is a narrative concept used as a shorthand to convey meaning and ideas that may, at times, have harmful implications.

An example of such a trope is that of the Tragic Queer. The tragic queer trope is a plot device in which a narrative has one or two token queer characters (usually gay or lesbian) whose fate in the narrative is not a happy, and which is commonly in some way serving the arc of the (allocishet) protagonist.

The trope does little for an already vulnerable group of marginalised people. Still often bullied or worse, the tragic queer trope denies queer people a chance to escape into a narrative which shows them a better world, the idea that there is something to live towards, that their life will get better, that they are worthwhile and deserve to be happy.   For, as narratives mirror the world, they can also help shape the world by showing us visions and ideas of a better way, a better future.

Yet tropes and stereotypes are as old as narratives themselves and whenever a new group, especially one with less power than others, is formed within society, tropes and stereotypes are not far behind. Thus it is that we find that asexuality and aromanticism have already seen the formation of tropes and stereotypes in the way that narratives depict them.

In this essay, I will explore the main tropes depicted in books featuring explicit asexual characters as these tropes pertain to the spectrums of asexuality and aromanticism to discuss the patterns and similarities between these depictions. While I have done my best to acknowledge the differences between depictions of asexuality and aromanticism, the two orientations are often conflated in contemporary fiction and some of the tropes pertaining to alloromantic asexuals actively harm aromantic asexuals. These discussions do not lend themselves well to a lack of nuance.

The Ostracised Aro and Ace

The trope of the Ostracised Aro and Ace is one of the most common tropes regarding asexuality and aromanticism. I have previously referred to the trope as the Death-adjacent ace due to the visibility of its fantasy variant. In its broadest sense, the Ostracised Aro and Ace trope shows an aromantic and/or asexual character who is cut of from society in some description. Due its common occurrence as the ending of a novel in science fiction and fantasy, such as the resolution to Clariel (Garth Nix) and You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay (Alyssa Wong), this trope has also been connected to exile. In contemporary romance, it is more likely to occur at the beginning due to romance’s likelihood of featuring the Allo Saviour trope ending the character’s ‘exile’ from society.

However, exile does not, in my opinion, sufficiently cover the extent to which this trope is depicted in fiction. ‘Exile’, at best, implies the possibility that the separation will be lifted, which does not match to the trope’s tendency to present aro and ace characters are literally unable to partake in or return to ‘normal’ amatonormative and allonormative society. The term ‘ostracised’ has no such implications and, as such, is a stronger reflection of the narratives found within and it allows for a greater range of narratives to fall under its banner as different genres have their own specific form of this trope.

These variants are

  • Death-adjacent (fantasy)
  • Robotic (science fiction)
  • Alien (fantasy and science fiction)
  • Socially Isolated (realistic)

In all cases there are two ways in which these variants show themselves: they occur either at the very start of the story and the narrative is about addressing this issue or they occur at the very end of the story and the conclusion of their narrative arc is about creating this trope.

Structurally, these variants are almost identical, with only the Alien Aro or Ace being noticeably different, but they manifest in different ways.

The Death-adjacent Aro or Ace

The Death-adjacent Aro or Ace trope allows writers to make this separation from society literal. After all, what is more removed from life than death? This particular variant of the trope is by far the most well-known and popular, occurring in pretty much every single major publication with a character confirmed to be asexual, aromantic or both.

This variant of the trope is nearly always accompanied with a sense of social exile as the character removes themself, voluntarily or not, from amato- and all-normative society. The origins and the purpose of this trope are to posit asexuality and aromanticism as something that makes it impossible for someone to participate in society or to contribute in a meaningful way. Most damning of all, this trope is found with academic discussions in asexual studies without any examination of the consequences, equating asexuality with narrative stagnation and, well, death.

One of the most well-known examples of this trope is found in Garth Nix’s Clariel, though largely to those who are aware of who Clariel will become. Clariel has been confirmed as aromantic asexual by the author, though the terms are not used within the book itself. Clariel’s romantic and sexual orientations are strongly ace and aro-coded within the narrative itself.

To some, using Clariel as an example of this trope may seem counterintuitive as it would initially seem to fit more neatly within the subtrope of the Socially Isolated Aro or Ace. After all, not only is Clariel herself alive throughout the book, her driving motivation is to leave the society her parents have thrust her into behind and return to a quiet, solitary life as a Borderer in the Great Forest she grew up in. Readers unfamiliar with the series as a whole may not realise that Clariel’s story is the origin story of the undead antagonist Chlorr of the Mask found in the previous three books in the series, as this is not mentioned within the book until Nix confirms it in an author’s note:

Clariel is of course Chlorr of the Mask, who appears at the beginning of Lirael, having been drawn south by the reawakened powers of Orannis. (Nix Author’s Note)

Throughout the book, in addition to Clariel’s general misanthropy, it is made clear to the reader that Clariel is a necromancer. The series also makes it clear that the concept of necromancy itself is not associated solely with aromanticism or asexuality as the story includes several other characters assumed to be alloromantic and/or allosexual other characters who use similar magic to necromancers.

Of them, however, only Clariel ends up becoming an evil undead necromantic antagonist, and that is the key difference that sets Clariel apart. Her depiction falls squarely into the queercoding of villains. As Chlorr of the Mask, she is not simply aromantic and asexual, but she is antagonistic to the good of society and her position within the narrative is put directly opposite that of the heroes. Within Clariel, she is presented as an anti-hero, and one who is lured by the call of the wild. In the epilogue of the book, the reader learns that Clariel’s innate connection to the Charter – a way to order magic and to use it comfortably – has been severed. Likewise, the epilogue ends with Clariel exiled from society, unable to return on pain of death. The spells binding Clariel are said to fade, though not within her human lifetime, and she is told where to find Free Magic, the magic of necromancers and evil. The epilogue strongly implies that this shift towards undeath and evil is the only path open to Clariel.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire features a less strict exile from society. Like Clariel, Nancy spends the entire story wanting to return to a life almost devoid of other people. Like Clariel, Nancy does not feel like she fits in with society as a whole. Unlike Clariel, Nancy chooses exile from her friends and family voluntarily in the end, as she finds the means to return to the Halls of the Dead and resume her life as a statue. In my analysis, In Stillness: The Perception of Asexuality in Seanan McGuire’s “Every Heart a Doorway”, I have discussed this in more depth. Relevant to this essay are the notion that Nancy, the only asexual character in the cast, has gone to a world associated with death. While she is not the only character to have done so – Christopher also having gone to a death world – the descriptions of these worlds are vastly different. Nancy’s world is all about stillness, as her ideal (and current ‘superpower’) is to be utterly motionless, black-and-white (as her disdain for her parents’ choice of clothing demonstrates), and she is rarely shown to have had any friends there (she is only shown to interact with the Lord and Lady of the Dead who treat her more as an object or a pet than a person). Christopher’s world is the opposite

“I went to a country of happy, dancing skeletons who said that one day I’d come back to them and marry their Skeleton Girl,” said Christopher. “So pretty sunshiny, but sort of sunshine by way of Día de los Muertos.” (McGuire Chapter 6)

Though this difference can be attributed to cultural differences, as Nancy is white and Christopher is Latinx and the underworlds they experiences reflect the ideas dominant in their respective cultures, it does not change the fact that there are no other asexual characters in the narrative who dispel the connection that McGuire has made and which is strengthened by the ending in which Nancy dreams of what her life will be like in our world, a life filled with friendship and motion, and deliberately turns her back on it. Nancy’s desire to return to a world of stillness is so strong that she exiles herself from her friends, her family and the world she was born in.

When readers get a brief glimpse of Nancy in Beneath the Sugar Sky, McGuire confirms that Nancy lives a solitary life as a statue, only ‘coming to life’ long enough to aid her friends and because she has the permission of the Lady of the Dead to do so.

Meanwhile, in Alyssa Wong’s You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay Ellis, a heteroromantic-coded asexual, pushes his love interest away and into society for her own good whilst he walks away into the desert. Ellis is introduced to the reader as something other-than-human, associated with death from the very start. Partway through the story he becomes an undead necromancer and, in the end, he walks away from the town he grew up in. The final line, further, strongly implies that it is Ellis’s choice to leave that allows the rain to return to the desert town he once called home.

An association with death is clearly not the only connection these three stories share: all three these narratives end with the protagonist walking away from the society they have lived in their entire lives. All three these narratives see the protagonist choose the realm of death over that of life. All three these narratives focus on how ill-fitting the protagonist is to living in the society as it is sketched out. When it comes to depicting the Death-adjacent Aro or Ace, these are the key features one should look for as they are present in some form. They may look, like in Every Heart a Doorway, as a positive choice, celebrating individuality and staying true to oneself. They may look, like in You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay, as a deliberate choice to celebrate one’s powers. They may look, like in Clariel, as a (potentially) sympathetic anti-heroine who repeatedly makes all the wrong choices for all the right reasons.

But, at their heart, these stories put forth the idea that the aromantic and/or asexual protagonist is something that is not alive.

The Robotic Aro or Ace

The Robotic Aro or Ace is the science fiction variant of this trope. Unlike the Death-adjacent variant of the trope, though, this one has a tendency to focus on finding a way back to or into society than out of it. Its trappings are otherwise similar, however. The aromantic or asexual character in this trope may be either an AI (or a robot or an android, etc) or they may fall in love with the same. The implication in the former is, again, that aromanticism and asexuality are not part of ‘normal’ human experiences and that the aromantic or asexual is not able to engage with some of society’s most basic needs. The latter implies that aromantics and asexuals cannot form close bonds with alloromantic and/or allosexual people and, as such, cannot participate wholly in society. To do so they must discover a substitute.

It must be pointed out that, when it comes to speculative fiction, characters explicitly acknowledged as aromantic and/or asexual are most frequently found in fantasy rather than science fiction. Much of the depiction of asexual and aromantic characters in this genre is done through coding that the creators may not have been aware of or intended.

Such as, for example, Lieutenant Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, though the series was produced well before it was understood that aromanticism and asexuality are specific orientations and identities. The only exception to this is the film Star Trek: Nemesis which was released about a year after David Jay coined the term ‘asexuality’ as a distinct sexual orientation.

Data, however, is a prime example of an aromantic and asexual character, and an aromantic character especially. In the episode In Theory (season 4, episode 25) Data attempts to pursue a romantic relationship with fellow crew member Jenna D’Sora and frequently expresses his confusion regarding romance and romantic love. He has, in fact, had to write a specific program to understand romantic love and tells Jenna that “[with] regard to romantic relationships, there is no real me. I am drawing upon various cultural and literary sources to help define my role”.

In this exchange, Data states, without emotions, that he does not experience romantic feelings. It is a perfect example of one of the main staples of the Robotic Aro or Ace as these depictions rely strongly on the concept of denying asexuals and aromantics the idea of having feelings at all. Throughout the series and the films, Data struggles to understand emotions and longs to experience them, but when he finally does through the means of an emotion chip he also eventually gains the ability to turn his emotions on and off as the situation warrants.

Data’s quest to become more human is also characteristic of the Robotic Aro or Ace as their narratives are often imbued with attempts to make them more human, frequently through their own actions and desires.

In Meredith Katz’s The Cybernetic Tea Shop one of the first comments directed towards Sal, the robotic owner of the tea shop, is “You sure sound human” and it is not long before the reader learns that there is violence against robots precisely because they are not human. Katz’s novella actually features another asexual character, Clara, which helps to counter some of the associations between asexuality, aromanticism and robotics. Further when the novella is in Sal’s perspective her life is described in terms very similar to ones used to describe human lives, but this does not extend to the descriptions found in Clara’s perspective. Clara, an AI technician, has to learn to see past Sal’s existence as a robot to see her, ah, humanity and the most intimate moment in the book deals with Clara reworking Sal’s AI to work better and literally taking Sal apart and rewriting the coding that made Sal the person that she is.

Lovey, from Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a ship’s AI in a relationship with the mechanic, Jenks. While Lovey is not explicitly written as an asexual character, she is explicitly described as being unable to engage in sexual intercourse and, as such, is likely to resonate with asexual readers looking for representation. Chambers’ description of Lovey fits squarely into the idea of a Robotic Aro or Ace and showcases some of the more insidious ways in which this trope manifests itself in fiction.

Early on in the novel, Lovey and Jenks discuss the possibility of getting Lovey an illegal body, so Lovey’s AI isn’t constrained to the ship. Lovey is described as unsure of whether or not she wants a body and when Jenks asks her what kind of body she’d like, she explicitly states that she’s basing her answers on his desires because she isn’t sure what she’d like. Moreover, a little later in the conversation, the reader learns that one of Lovey’s main drives behind getting a body is “Having the ability to be a real companion for [Jenks]. You know, with all the trimmings” (Long Way, p61), implying that their inability to have sex means Lovey isn’t capable of being a real companion to the allosexual Jenks. Further, it ties Lovey’s desires even more strongly to those of the allosexual Jenks. Lovey’s desires when it comes to sex all revolve around pleasing Jenks.

It is, of course, possibly to read the relationship between Jenks and Lovey as a commentary on the commodification of women and the way men in modern society expect women’s beauty standards to conform to what they like. For asexual and aromantic readers, however, it is also a subtle way to reinforce the idea that allosexual desires are more important than their own. While Jenks tries to ensure that Lovey makes choices that will make her happy with herself and that he’s happy with her in any form, the scene’s main point is still that Lovey’s idea of comfort is to model her ideal body onto what Jenks finds attractive and it does not alter that Lovey thinks sex is necessary for her to be a real companion.

Unlike Data, however, both Sal and Lovey have the capacity to feel from the beginning as emotions are part of their AI. Similar to Data, Sal’s body is entirely artificial and requires mechanical knowledge to keep it running smoothly; Lovey’s body is a ship. Also similar to Data, both Sal and Lovey attempt to live her life as close to human as possible, though in Lovey’s case this does not extend to having or actively seeking a human-shaped body. Data, Sal and Lovey form deep, platonic bonds throughout the narrative, though one can usually find some aromisic phrasing in the discussions of romantic love. Lovey also finds herself in a romantic relationship with Jenks, though the narrative posits their inability to have sex as an obstacle to having a ‘real’ relationship.

It is the tendency to emulate emotions that are deemed as universal to humanity that truly characterises the Robotic Aro or Ace. Further, these narratives of exploring human emotions are often aromisic in their nature, casting the romantic relationships as the ideal that finally proves these characters are just as alive and real as the characters of flesh and blood. Romantic attraction is, in these stories, frequently the end goal of the robotic character’s narrative, as is especially strongly evident in The Cybernetic Tea Shop and in The Long Way to Small, Angry Planet.

The Alien Aro Or Ace

Another common variant on this trope is the Alien Aro or Ace. This trope, found in both fantasy and science fiction settings posits the asexual character as some inhuman species with their aromanticism and/or asexuality intrinsically tied, in some way, to this alien species.

It is imperative to bear in mind that the Alien Aro or Ace trope does not go hand in hand with the concept that aromantics and asexuals are incapable of emotions or feelings. They are portrayed as inhuman in the sense that they are, literally, not human. However, it is entirely possible for the Alien Aro or Ace to be portrayed incredibly sympathetically as characters.

The issue with the Alien Aro or Ace trope is down to worldbuilding where aromantic and/or asexual characters only get to exist within a certain, non-human class of beings or where their aromanticism and/or asexuality is somehow biologically determined, tying this variant of the trope tightly to the concept of illness, discussed in more detail during the “It’s Just (Mental) Illness” trope later on in this essay.

A prime example of the Alien Aro or Ace is, of course, Commander Spock from Star Trek: The Original Series, as Vulcans are arguably an aromantic and asexual society as a whole, given how much they repress their emotions and favour logic.

However, for the purposes of this essay a better comparison would be Jahir and Vasiht’h from M.C.A. Hogarth’s Peltedverse and, specifically, the Dreamhealers Saga, which centres on the platonic relationship between these two characters. Jahir is a member of a non-human race known as the Eldritch while Vasiht’h is a Glaseah, a winged centauroid whose race has been genetically engineered to lack hormones and, as a result, are said to lack the capacity for deep emotional feelings, most notably passion of any kind and romantic love.

Throughout the first book, Mindtouch, Vasiht’h spends much of his time worrying about how he can combine his desire to be a therapist with his perceived inability to feel as deeply as his prospective clients. Hogarth makes it clear in the narrative, however, that the stereotype that Glaseah cannot feel deep emotions is exactly that: a stereotype. Vasiht’h is easily the heart of the narrative and is obviously passionate about caring for others even to the detriment of his own health.

Yet the depiction of Vasiht’h as a person is not quite enough to balance the depictions of Glaseah society which is permeated with these ideas. While Glaseah can and do marry, sex does not occur and Glaseah looking to procreate have to apply to the priesthood to do so. While aromanticism and asexuality lies at the core of Glaseahn culture, outside of Jahir, the Glaseah are the only race in the Peltedverse to be presented as aromantic and asexual. In a series that comprises, at the time this is written, 19 novels and one short story collection, only one other non-Glaseahn queerplatonic partnership is alluded at.

Another example would be Aphra Marsh from Ruthanna Emrys’s Winter Tide. Aphra is one of the Deep Ones, described as ‘an amphibious branch of the human race’. While Aphra describes and considers herself and her people as humans, just from a different branch of evolution, the humans in the story by and large do not, an idea that is strengthened when the narrative explores Aphra’s surviving family. The first person narrative is written entirely from Aphra’s perspective, but she comments frequently on the way people respond to her and how they view her.

The Alien Aro or Ace trope differs significantly from the other tropes in this subset because it explicitly acknowledges that asexuals and aromantics are part of a society. It is just, not necessarily, human society as the reader would recognise it which they are a part of. In the example of Winter Tide, the narration walks a fine line between readers’ desire to categorise Aphra as Other the way humans in the book do and the fact that Aphra herself does not do so.

Related to this trope is the idea of using constructed languages (conlang) to refer to the concept of aromanticism or asexuality. This concept is arguably a part of this particular trope, due to the othering nature inherent in using conlang, as opposed to existing real terms, to refer to a specific orientation. Examples of this particular trope include the term ‘ushimo’ from Erica Cameron’s Island of Exiles and ‘elor’ from Sherwood Smith’s Banner of the Damned. Even though in both novels, the characters are explicitly human (and, in the case of Banner of the Damned, also include conlang terms for heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality), the use of a term specific to the made-up society in the story may be perceived by asexual and/or aromantic readers as just as othering as identifying with a character explicitly described as not-human.

Despite this, the Alien Aro or Ace generally avoids the pitfalls of both the Death-adjacent Aro or Ace and the Robotic Aro or Ace by presenting its characters as having the same range of emotions as humans, with the only difference being that they are, physically, not human or that, when they are, their language is clearly not one the reader speaks and the concepts in the novel so alien that they cannot be conveyed using the language the narrative is written in.

The Socially Isolated Aro or Ace

The Socially Isolated Aro or Ace is the variant encountered in more realistic settings, spanning from contemporary to historical and from issue books to romance. Unlike the other two variants, this trope cannot imply that aromantics and asexual people are, inherently, not human because it lacks the shorthand to do so. It cannot rely on the concept of substituting a made-up race for an entire marginalised group.

As such, the Socially Isolated Aro or Ace is more likely to fall into a narrative that explores how they come to integrate with society (often following the broader shape of the Allo Saviour trope) or how these characters can fit into society as a whole. The trope is especially common in romance novels as a romance is all about two characters coming together to form one social unit.

I should note at this point that my own reading preferences leaning heavily towards speculative fiction and when I venture into more realistic novels featuring asexuals and aromantics, I am more likely to pick up something written by an asexual or aromantic authors, such as Claire Kann’s excellent Let’s Talk About Love.

However, even in these stories one can find traces of the Socially Isolated Aro or Ace. In Let’s Talk About Love traces of this trope can be seen in the discussions regarding Alice’s relationship with Feeny and Ryan, both in the way Alice feels like she is losing them to their own romantic relationship and the way they feel like she is abandoning them to follow her romantic relationship with Takumi.

A better example is Aled from Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence. Aled becomes fast friends with Frances as she discovers that he is the star behind a popular podcast that she is a fan of. Aled prefers to remain anonymous, in part because he fears others will think he is weird and in part because his mother is abusive and would make him stop, thinking his passions a waste of time and talent. After Aled’s secret comes out and he starts university, he slowly starts to isolate himself from his friends due to suicidal depression. While Aled does not die, the motif of isolating himself socially from as many people as he can get away with remains. It is only through Frances’ efforts to rebuild a community around Aled that he starts to recover.

While these examples are fewer, it is nonetheless obvious that a key aspect of this trope as a whole is one of social isolation. Each and every one of the examples mentioned to date includes an aromantic or asexual character whose narrative eithers starts with, ends in or, more commonly, revolves around a separation from a community to some degree and the characters’ attempts to address this or to resist addressing it.

The Allo Saviour

When it comes to the depiction of asexuality in fiction, the Allo Saviour trope is by far the most prominent and common. To the best of my knowledge, it was coined by El from the review blog Just Love[1]. In this trope, an allosexual characters (who frequently, if not always, identifies as queer in some other way) informs the asexual character that asexuality exists and is a valid orientation.

In this trope the asexual neither receives nor seeks out support from other asexuals. They may, on rare occasions, be mentioned to do some research based on what the allosexual character has told them, but details will be sparse and the character is highly unlikely to recognise or acknowledge that asexuality is a spectrum. The vision of asexuality presented in this trope is always the strictest definition of an asexual and usually includes conflating asexuality with aromanticism. Aromanticism is never separately acknowledged either.

A broader interpretation of the Allo Saviour trope combines these traits with some similar to the idea of the White Saviour narrative where the privileged and more knowledgeable allosexual is set up as ‘saving’ the asexual or the aromantic from the Ostracised Aro or Ace trope, their ignorance, their feelings of brokenness and the unhappiness at being different without understanding why that come with it. In romance novels it also often sets the allosexual character up as making a great sacrifice for the sake of love, as they are assumed to be giving up something essential to life because they love their partner that much.

Alternatively, and especially when the romance is about a demisexual character, it may also fall into the depiction of Gay For You, a harmful trope which assumes that a character is straight, except for one particular exception. The Gay For You trope is especially harmful to bisexuals, pansexuals and asexuals due to the way it erases their sexualities and forces them to fit into a binary sexual orientation system. For many asexuals there is the added issue that the way Gay For You is presented in fiction just isn’t how asexuality works.

The core of the Allo Saviour trope is easily found, especially in romance. It is present in Far From Home by Lorelie Brown, Overexposed by Megan Erickson, All Note Long by Annabeth Albert, Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp and As Autumn Leaves by Kate Sands among others. Even books like We Awaken by Calista Lynne or The Painted Crown by Megan Derr, which subvert it by having the main character be introduced to the term through another character on the asexual or aromantic spectrum, feature elements of this trope.  It can even be found outside of romance in books like Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver and Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczinski.

However, it is a trope that is often combined with feelings of brokenness of some description and of the way the romantic love interest fixes this. In Far From Home, for example, the main character, Rachel, struggles with an eating disorder and it is through her romantic entanglement with Pari and Pari’s healthier eating habits that Rachel starts to heal.

In All Note Long, Michelin is depicted as being single and deeply in the closet due to his popularity as a country singer. Michelin worries that coming out as gay would ruin his dream career as a country singer. Lucky’s exchange with Michelin epitomises the way this trope is often shown in fiction.

“And he was your only?”

“Ung.” Michelin groaned as Lucky’s thumbs dug into the column of muscles on either side of his spine. “Yeah. Just him. Too . . . risky . . . and . . . I’m weird . . . just not interested a lot of the time.” He had to pause between words as Lucky’s fingers worked their magic to pull the truth out.

“Sweetie, you’re not weird.” Lucky bit lightly at Michelin’s shoulder, the perfect spot where his shoulder met his neck. Electric tingles spread everywhere. “You’re probably demisexual. It’s a legit thing. It means you only get turned on if there are feelings involved.”

“Sounds like a chick thing.” Michelin snorted, even if that was pretty much him in a nutshell. Even his attraction to Lucky had only really blossomed once they’d started talking. Not that he’d ever gone around looking for a label for himself. God, why did everything in his life need a label? (Albert Chapter 14)

In this scene, Lucky is clearly presented as the more knowledgeable person, as Michelin had never even heard of demisexuality before. Further, the trope ignores the existence of asexuality as a spectrum, allowing authors to present the Gay For You trope as demisexuality without further introspection. It always presents what orientation on the asexual spectrum it covers as existing independently of that spectrum as well as giving the reader a bare-bones 101 label followed swiftly by a complaint about labels and their perceived necessity, whilst the use of the label ‘gay’  goes unquestioned and occurs more frequently even within the perspective of the ace-spec character.

Throughout the novel, Michelin’s single life is presented as an obstacle and, indeed, this is part and parcel of this particular trope. All Note Long is one of the more egregious examples since it so strongly links demisexuality to being in the closet and once Michelin has come out of it the label can just be discarded. He now has a romantic love interest who has helped him overcome his social anxiety and he is now an out-and-proud gay country singer.

Michelin never looks up anything about demisexuality. He does not seek out asexual support forums or videos discussing asexuality. His one and only source of information stems from this exchange with Lucky.

It is not common for the Allo Saviour trope to occur without a scene in which an allosexual character tells the ace spectrum character where they fall on the spectrum, but in its broader sense this is a possibility. Despite the name, one can even find the structure of the Allo Saviour trope in narratives that feature two asexual characters, such as in Megan Derr’s The Painted Crown. It still brushes past the concept of the Allo Saviour trope in that, upon hearing Lord Teverem describe his orientation, Istari remarks that his experiences are similar.

Though the trope is inherently broken by the fact that neither Istari nor Teverem are allosexual, the story actually maintains all the hallmarks of the trope. Istari is presented as being more sexually active as Teverem, able to assure Teverem that his feelings are not weird or unusual, more aware of what sexualities exist, and as possessing exactly those skills needed to solve Teverem’s problems. Istari is a trained sharpshooter and covert operations specialist capable of ensuring the safety of Teverem’s adopted children once people learn that Teverem’s son is the heir to a vast estate in a country currently in turmoil because it has no clear line of succession. Except for the fact that Istari is also on the asexual spectrum, it is a perfect example of the Allo Saviour trope in all its steps.

The Painted Crown (and We Awaken) is, however, an outlier when it comes to the inclusion of the Allo Saviour trope when applied to a pairing of two asexual characters. This dynamic does not mean one ace character is more allosexual than the other, of course. The beats are similar enough that they warrant mentioning and a more in-depth discussion of the differences between allo-ace and ace-ace dynamics; the structural similarities within the narrative are simply too strong to ignore entirely.

The Allo Saviour trope is likely to occur when the ace-spec character is considered to be a love interest rather than a lead character, though as can be seen in both Far From Home and All Note Long, it also occurs when the ace-spec character is a definite lead character. Its core is a scene in which the allosexual (or allosexually coded as authors do not always describe a character as explicitly allosexual) character tells the ace-spec character about their sexuality and can expand from that into the allosexual character fixing whatever the narrative deems needs fixing within the ace-spec character’s life. In romance especially the ace term disappears after this scene and the ace-spec character prefers to use allosexual terms to refer to themself[2].

It’s Just (Mental) Illness

This is, in my experience, the most infrequent trope, though it is also one of the most harmful due to the way this trope directly links a character’s asexuality to either a physical or a mental illness. While the full DSM-5 acknowledges the existence of asexuality, it does only if the person self-identifies as asexual and the note is, as of yet, not present within the desk references used by most mental health experts[3]. This is also the trope most likely to be seen in mainstream entertainment.

Pushback against this trope is complicated, however, because some people’s orientation does stem from illness or trauma and this does not make their orientations any less valid or worthy of depiction. This trope, at its most insidious, pits people from various points on the spectrum against one another, using the orientations’ obscurity and dismissal in mainstream understanding to make people denounce others just for a scrap of recognition for their own orientation(s), as was amply demonstrated by the way alloromantic asexuals tossed aromantics under the bus when they spoke up about the straightwashing and erasure of Jughead Jones in Riverdale, the TV adaptation of the Archie comics.

One of the most well-known, notable and harmful examples is found in Better Half (episode 9, season 8 of House, M.D.). In this episode, House encounters a patient and his wife who both profess to being asexual. Though Wilson explicitly describes asexuality as a valid sexual orientation, House scoffs at this and makes a bet with Wilson that he can find a medical reason why both the patient and his wife identify as asexual. House M.D. being what it is, of course House is proven to be right. The patient’s asexuality is due to a tumor and his wife only claimed to be asexual. The tumor is treated and the couple is now able to enjoy a happy, sex-filled ‘normal’ life.

House M.D.’s treatment of asexuality is a bit of an outlier, however. As a trope, the idea that asexuality and (mental) illness are linked is often not as blatant as it was in that episode. A more common variant of this trope is linking asexuality to (mental) illness or trauma less directly.

For example, Nora Sakavic’s The Foxhole Court heavily implies that Neil is asexual due to physical abuse and trauma in his childhood. Sakavic describes Neil’s developing sexuality as follows

Neil saw it in his peripheral vision but kept his gaze on Allison’s face. His skin stung with the memory of his mother’s heavy blows. Life on the run meant no time for friends or relationships, but that didn’t stop Neil from checking out girls as he grew older. His mother’s watchful eye noticed his lingering looks and increasing distraction. Afraid he’d spill their secrets over a childish crush, she beat him like she could kill his hormones with her bare hands. A few years of this violence and Neil finally got the hint: girls were too dangerous to consort with. Allison was beautiful but off-limits. (Sakavic Chapter 6)

Neil clearly links sexual attraction to the physical pain suffered by the abuse of his mother. While there are people who are asexual due to trauma in their past and their experiences are a valid expression of asexuality, when fiction depicts this link it is very often without the compassion or nuance needed to truly portray these experiences.

In The King’s Peace, Jo Walton manages a tight balancing line depicting Sulien’s asexuality. The hints that Sulien was always asexual are few and subtle but present, but it would be exceptionally easy for readers to assume that Sulien’s asexuality is a result of the trauma of being raped in the first chapter, though that is best left to a discussion about how one portrays the survivors of sexual assault and the intersection with asexuality. It is included here because of the ease with which readers can assume that Sulien’s asexuality is a sign of unhealed trauma rather than the intrinsic part of her identity that Walton portrays it as. This trope is a powerful and insidious one, potentially overruling the actual text within the narrative to supply the reader with their own interpretations.

Less obvious examples include novels such as Becca Lusher’s A Courtship of Dragons, in which Mastekh, who clearly has anxiety as well as low self-esteem, is the only character depicted as explicitly demisexual and mentally ill, and M.C.A. Hogarth’s Dreamhealers Saga, Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence, Lorelie Brown’s Far From Home and Annabeth Albert’s All Note Long, which have all been discussed earlier. In C.M. Spivey’s The Traitor’s Tunnel, Theo is the only character who suffers visibly from mental illness (anxiety) and is the only character who is depicted as asexual. In Amelia Faulkner’s Jack of Thorns, Quentin suffers from several mental illnesses, though in fairness allosexual Laurence has his own fair share of problems as he has to deal with addiction. They are, however, fewer than Quentin’s issues (which range from depersonalisation due to childhood trauma to eating disorders).

While it is absolutely not the case that authors should avoid the intersectionality of (mental) illness and asexuality/aromanticism at all costs, this brief selection of titles indicates that there is an overall tendency of authors to write this specific kind of intersectionality and the result of this repetition of links means that it is easy for readers to connect asexuality and aromanticism to mental illness, especially when combined with an Allo Saviour narrative that is all about the asexual character discovering that sex can be enjoyable.

The Celibate Asexual

The Celibate Asexual is a trope that is based largely on a misconception of what asexuality actually is. In modern fiction that explicitly includes an asexual character, this trope is rare. It is most likely to come up in conversations with other characters as they perpetuate the misconception and are corrected or as a part of a narrative’s attempt to include a 101 explanation on what asexuality is and is not.

One is more likely to encounter this particular trope in books that feature ace-coding without any explicit references to asexuality, whether as a comment from the other in an interview or a guest post or an explicit note within the narrative.  In my experience, this particular trope is most frequently found in older narratives as creators who may have wanted to write an asexual character simply did not have the terminology necessary to write an explicitly asexual character and used the closest terms they could to portray these characters.

A good example featuring the Celibate Asexual is Jahir from the previously mentioned Dreamhealers Saga by M.C.A. Hogarth and, more specifically, his role within the wider narrative of the Pelted setting. While the Dreamhealers Saga is focused quite strongly on his developing queerplatonic relationship with Vasiht’h, there are strong hints that Jahir’s asexuality is due to repressing his natural allosexual desires in order to fit in better with the society which raised him. In the course of the Princes’ Game series, Jahir meets his cousin Lisinthir, who proceeds to teach him not to repress his own sexual urges. The narrative is altogether darker as Jahir’s repression is tied, in part, to his desire for BDSM in a sexual relationship.

Another example would be Chandra from Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone. Chandra is engaged to Prince Darvish, against her wishes. Darvish, meanwhile, is attracted to the thief Aaron and the three end up in a polyamorous relationship.

Chandra’s depiction predates the understanding of asexuality as a specific sexual orientation and it is easy to read her as an allosexual who spends a lot of time convincing herself that she is not interested in sex.

Another older examples is Tarma from Mercedes Lackey’s Vows and Honor series as Tarma’s asexuality is explicitly said to result from mandates imposed by her goddess rather than a natural expression of human sexual orientations.

The Celibate Asexual trope, then, is a tricky one to explore. Hogarth’s Jahir is one of the few recent contemporary examples in fiction. It is more likely to occur in stories with ace-coded characters, such as Vulcans in Star Trek, and more likely to occur in stories by authors who are not aware of asexuality as a sexual orientation in its own right.

Aro/Ace Conflation

Though aro/ace conflation is arguably not a trope as such, it occurs often enough that it warrants discussion and inclusion when discussing the topic of tropes due to its prevalence. Out of the 29 titles mentioned so far, only about 3 explicitly included the idea that romantic orientation and sexual orientation are separate from one another and do not necessarily match. If one includes books with presumed alloromantic ace-spec characters that number rises to 14, counting generously. However, of the 12 romance novels mentioned in this essay, where one might expect the split attraction model to be employed, only one acknowledges that the romantic orientation spectrum exists separately from the sexual orientation spectrum.

It is these numbers that see this conflation included in this discussion of tropes. It is by far the most common misconception about asexuality and aromanticism in fiction. Characters are either depicted as aromantic asexual because romantic orientation must match up to sexual orientation or they are depicted as alloromantic asexual with no narrative thought for aromantics and a fair amount of aromisia in its depiction of a romantic relationship as the One True Relationship (that will fix everything) and the only kind of relationship worth having.

A good example of aro/ace conflation can be seen in the writing of Jughead Jones, mentioned earlier. Jughead has been coded as asexual and aromantic since the early Archie comics, though it was not until 2015 that Jughead was confirmed as asexual[1] (though not aromantic) by then-writer Chip Zdarsky in the issue Jughead No. 4. On Twitter, though the tweet has since been deleted, Zdarsky further stated that he viewed Jughead as “ace and probably demi-romantic, but for the purposes of his teenage years, aro” as can be seen in screenshots[4] that still remain.

Jughead is a character who has been consistently coded as aromantic asexual throughout the comics’ 70+ years run. However, when The CW decided to adapt the comics to a tv series and to erase Jughead’s asexuality and his aromanticism, there were countless media articles by alloromantic asexuals discussing why it was all right for Riverdale to erase Jughead’s aromanticism as long as the writers kept his asexuality.

While Riverdale is the most visible example of the way this conflation harms both asexuals and aromantics, it is a fairly common occurance. Alloromantic asexuals are quick to assure alloromantic allosexuals that their romantic attractions mean that they are ‘normal’, implying that aromantics are not. In fiction, these ideas are much harder to spot because much of this issue occurs in the discussions about fiction. Fiction is more likely to create an invisible tear between aromantics and asexuals by its refusal to use the split attraction model to discuss characters’ attractions. This refusal is what allows writers to conflate romantic and sexual attraction.

Fiction generally assumes or implies that there are two types of asexual depending on the type of narrative arc the asexual character is being given. When writing a romantic arc, such as in The Cybernetic Tea Shop or even Kathryn Ormsbee’s Tash Hearts Tolstoy, it is assumed that all asexuals are alloromantic due to the lack of representation and the lack of separating of sexual attraction from romantic attraction suggesting otherwise. However, in narratives that lack this romantic element, such as The Fire’s Stone or The King’s Peace, it is likewise implied that all asexuals are aromantic due to this same lack of nuance and the conflation of romantic and sexual orientations that is the norm for allosexual romance.

This conflation can also be seen in the way authors, especially allosexual authors, discuss their aromantic and/or asexual characters, such as the way Mackenzi Lee and Tristina Wright played coy with confirming the orientations of their characters on Twitter. Mackenzi Lee’s initial response to readers asking about Felicity’s orientations was to state that confirming or denying Felicity’s orientations would constitute spoilers for the as-yet unpublished The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. Lee eventually explained that Felicity is “on the aro/ace spectrum”[5] and strongly suggested that Felicity is questioning her romantic orientation in the course of The Lady’s Guide. Wright, meanwhile, originally discussed 27 Hours’s Braeden as aromantic asexual then said he was only asexual and readers could find out more in the book, presenting the question of whether Braeden is aromantic or not as a marketing ploy.

Another recent example of this conflation comes not from authors, but from publishers. In April 2018, it came to readers’ attention that queer publisher Nine Star Press had conflated the asexual and aromantic orientations on their website whilst separating out demisexuality and ignoring the existence of gray-asexuality entirely. The publisher claims that aromantic and asexual books were grouped together because “[Nine Star Press] are working on growing them & have upcoming books in both”[6], however at the time of this tweet their ‘demisexual’ category had only two books in it and if asexual and aromantic are grouped together into a single category because there are too few books to warrant separate categories it makes no sense to split demisexuality into its own category for two books.

As of April 2018, Harmony Ink Press groups its explicitly asexual romances under ‘lesbian’ and ‘queer-spectrum’ because it has no separate category for either asexual or aromantic protagonists, furthering the idea that only homoromantic asexuals belong in the queer community. This level of conflation of orientations across the entire queer spectrum is rampant within the wider queer communities and requests and pleas for institutions to do better are frequently ignored with placating messages.

For asexuals and aromantics, this erasure helps contribute to the feeling that there is no representation for them out there. When it comes to fiction, the romantic orientation of an asexual character depends entirely on what kind of narrative the writer is telling whereas the romantic orientation of allosexual characters always matches their sexual orientation. What that says about aromanticism and asexuality is beyond the scope of this essay, but when discussing the tropes affecting asexual and aromantic characters in fiction, this cannot be overlooked or overstated, especially since the approach is guaranteed to lose much-needed nuance and representation due to the inherent erasure of romantic attraction being an orientation in its own right.


As this essay demonstrates, there are several core tropes in the depiction of asexual and aromantic characters. These tropes occur regardless of whether the writer/creator knew that asexuality and aromanticism are valid orientations in their own right. Very often, these tropes are based on microaggressions and misconceptions that asexuals and aromantics deal with almost daily.

In general, the depiction of aromantic characters especially leaves much to be desired as these asexual tropes often rely on humanising asexuals at the cost of aromantics, as is most obvious in the aromisic slant of most asexual romances currently available.

These tropes occur in many different narratives. Some may be difficult to avoid, such as the idea of a more knowledgeable character introducing the term to someone else, but others are not necessary, especially given the harm that they can represent to asexual and/or aromantic readers. After all, no one enjoys being told that the character they relate to most is not at all capable of (human) emotions or being told that their equivalent in the story they are reading about is someone who is not even alive.

Yet through recognising and discussing these tropes, asexuality and aromanticism may become better understood and more accepted in society as a whole. If nothing else, looking at the tropes that exist today and what their potential impact is on asexual and aromantic readers will lead to more nuanced and better stories.


Albert, Annabeth. All Note Long. Lyrical Shine, 2016. ebook.

asexualityarchive. Asexuality in the DSM-5. n.d. 20 April 2018. <http://www.asexualityarchive.com/asexuality-in-the-dsm-5/>.

Brown, Lorelie. Far From Home. Riptide Publishing, 2016. ebook.

Cameron, Erica. Island of Exiles. Entangled: Teen, 2017. ebook.

Chambers, Becky. The Long Way to Small, Angry Planet. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015. ebook.

Derr, Megan. The Painted Crown. Less Than Three Press, 2016. ebook.

El. Blog Tour: El chats with Cass Lennox, author of Blank Spaces! (Plus Giveaway!). 14 November 2016. Web Page. 19 April 2018. <https://justlovereviews.com/2016/11/14/tour-blank-spaces-lennox/>.

Emrys, Ruthanna. Winter Tide. New York: Tor.com, 2017. ebook.

Erickson, Megan. Overexposed. Intermix, 2016. ebook.

Faulkner, Amelia. Jack of Thorns. LoveLight Press, 2016. ebook.

Hogarth, M.C.A. Mindtouch. Studio MCAH, 2013. print.

House M.D.: Better Half. Dir. Greg Yaitanes. 2011. TV show.

Huff, Tanya. The Fire’s Stone. DAW, 1990. print.

Kaczinski, Heather. Dare Mighty Things. HarperTeen, 2017. ebook.

Kann, Claire. Let’s Talk About Love. Swoon Reads, 2018. ebook.

Katz, Meredith. The Cybernetic Tea Shop. Less Than Three Press, 2016. ebook.

Lackey, Mercedes. Vows and Honor. Doubleday Direct, 1993. print.

Lee, Mackenzi. Mackenzi Lee on Twitter. 05 October 2017. 4 May 2018. <https://twitter.com/themackenzilee/status/915728314601533440>.

Lusher, Becca. A Courtship of Dragons. Self-published, 2017. ebook.

Lynne, Calista. We Awaken. Harmony Ink Press, 2016. ebook.

McGuire, Seanan. Every Heart a Doorway. New York: Tor.com, 2016. ebook.

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. Sourcebook Fire, 2018. print.

Nine Star Press on Twitter. 28 April 2018. 03 May 2018. <https://twitter.com/ninestarpress/status/990011051625234432>.

Nix, Garth. Clariel. New York: HarperCollins, 2014. ebook.

O’Connacht, Lynn E. In Stillness: The Perception of Asexuality in Seanan McGuire’s “Every Heart a Doorway”. 1 February 2018. 20 April 2018. <https://www.leoconnacht.com/wp/2018/02/in-stillness-the-perception-of-asexuality-in-seanan-mcguires-every-heart-a-doorway/>.

Oseman, Alice. Radio Silence. London: Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2016. ebook.

Sakavic, Nora. The Foxhole Court. Self-published, 2013. ebook.

Sands, Kate. As Autumn Leaves. Harmony Ink Press, 2016. ebook.

Smith, Sherwood. Banner of the Damned. DAW, 2012. ebook.

Spivey, C.M. The Traitor’s Tunnel. Self-published, 2017. ebook.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: In Theory. Dir. Patrick Stewart. Perf. Brent Spiner. 1991. TV show.

Sylver, RoAnna. Chameleon Moon. The Kraken Collective, 2014. print.

“Tumblr.” n.d. Tumblr. screenshot. 03 May 2018. <https://68.media.tumblr.com/f2f8f55883500a4136869a3f472926e8/tumblr_inline_omttfd8jUU1t6ouu6_540.png>.

Walton, Jo. The King’s Peace. Tor Books, 2000. print.

Wong, Alyssa. “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay – Uncanny Magazine.” June 2016. Uncanny Magazine. 04 May 2018. <https://uncannymagazine.com/article/youll-surely-drown-stay/>.

Wright, Tristina. 27 Hours. Entangled: Teen, 2017. ebook.

Zdarsky, Chip. Jughead (2015-) Vol. 1. Archie, 2015. comic.

Works Cited

[1] El. Blog Tour: El chats with Cass Lennox, author of Blank Spaces! (Plus Giveaway!). 14 November 2016. Web Page. 19 April 2018. <https://justlovereviews.com/2016/11/14/tour-blank-spaces-lennox/>.

[2] It is entirely possible for someone to prefer one label over another and to focus on one label over another. The issue here is the consistent way in which narratives erase asexual spectrum identities after using the term once and dismissing it with a complaint about labels in favour of allosexual spectrum identities. Readers are, of course, perfectly within their rights to identify however they wish. Though it would be remiss of me to note the double standards with regard to the treatment of ‘gay’ asexuals and heteroromantic asexuals and aromantic heterosexuals.

[3] asexualityarchive. Asexuality in the DSM-5. n.d. 20 April 2018. <http://www.asexualityarchive.com/asexuality-in-the-dsm-5/>.

[4] “Tumblr.” n.d. Tumblr. screenshot. 03 May 2018. <https://68.media.tumblr.com/f2f8f55883500a4136869a3f472926e8/tumblr_inline_omttfd8jUU1t6ouu6_540.png>.

[5] Lee, Mackenzi. Mackenzi Lee on Twitter. 05 October 2017. 4 May 2018. <https://twitter.com/themackenzilee/status/915728314601533440

[6] Nine Star Press on Twitter. 28 April 2018. 03 May 2018. <https://twitter.com/ninestarpress/status/990011051625234432>.

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October 2018 Goals

Posted October 1, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments


This Month's Goals
I Want to Read:

  • Tone of Voice by Kaia Sønderby
  • The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
  • The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge

I Want to Write:

  • That Darned Essay

I’m ramping things up a little bit after September, mostly because I’m hoping to have my reading abilities back. We’ll see how it goes. It’d be nice to cut deeper into my small physical TBR pile, though. It’d be even nicer if I got so far into it that I could put all the books away and have only ebooks left for the foreseeable future, but that’s not likely to happen. There’s a bit too many of them for that.

Writing-wise, while I’m itching to get back to Demiprincess2 properly, I desperately want to finish that essay I’ve been struggling to work on for the past half a year. OMG! I know! It’s taking me a ridiculous amount of time. I wish I could use “this setting is utterly massive and even cutting discussions down to the absolute bare minimum number of books that I can means I’m reading, at minimum, 7 primary sources just in the fiction department” as an excuse, but I really don’t think that is the issue.

One of the issues is, very definitely, looking this closely at a series I adore and plucking at the ways in which it’s actually failed me, so I can discuss the ways it hasn’t failed me. (Trust me, it makes sense in the essay itself.) So there’s a lot of stuff that I have to unpack just for myself in order to write the best essay possible and that’s all stuff that I… wasn’t expecting to need to do. And I do need to do it. So I have been.

But this month surely. This month I can get a rough draft that I’m actually happy with written up. Right? Wish me luck because I’ve been saying that for the past 6 months now.


September 2018 Round-up

Posted October 1, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments





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Goal Review September 2018

Posted September 30, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Goals / 0 Comments


Last Month's Goal

I Want to Read:

  • A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett

I Want to Write:

  • 5,000 words of fiction

Setting my goals ridiculously low turned out to be a good thing in the end because I actually managed to complete them! Barely, but I did! Well, no. That’s not fair. I barely managed to finish my reading goal because I’ve been in a reading slump and most of what I’ve read this month I had to force myself to read. I sat down yesterday to make my way through the final part of A Slip of the Keyboard and it was a struggle. But I managed!

Writing was far more effective and productive as I ramped up the revisions for Thrushbeard, now in possession of an actual title, an actual cover, an actual release date and pretty much anything else you could think of that a book release could need. Probably. So that goal I kind of blew out of the water. Unless you think rewriting from scratch doesn’t count in which case I still made it because of all the new stuff I added but it isn’t nearly as impressive.

Thanks, month of terribleness. I appreciate the fact that you were terrible and disappointing. But I shall continue to put on a brave face and keep going because, really, what else can I do.


Upcoming Release: The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

Posted September 28, 2018 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in News / 0 Comments


The Ice Princess's Fair Illusion (Fairytale Verses #2) by Lynn E. O'Connacht

The Ice Princess's Fair Illusion (Fairytale Verses #2) by Lynn E. O'Connacht

The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion

Coming November 6th, 2018

Preorder the ebook

All Marian wants is for society to accept that she’s just not interested in… whatever society thinks she ought to be interested in. A princess with a reputation for insults and snide remarks, she’s afraid to show anyone who she would be if people would let her. In a fit of temper at her refusal to marry, her father creates her worst nightmare: she is to be wed to the first beggar who arrives at the gates.

Edel was visiting purely for diplomatic reasons, to see if Marian or her sisters might be a suitable companion for her daughter. She sees something in Marian that is achingly familiar and when Edel hears the king’s proclamation, only one thing is on her mind: to protect Marian from the fate that had befallen Edel herself.

Their lives threaded together by magic, Edel and Marian will have to find their way in the world in this  queerplatonic, sapphic verse novel retelling of King Thrushbeard.

CW: acephobia/acemisia, arophobia/aromisia, sexual assault, brief allusion to self-harm, PTSD, spousal death, parental death, unsupportive parents

Tags: queerplatonic sapphic fairytale retelling, story in free verse, sex-repulsed MC, asexual MC, aromantic MC, young widow remarries, strained mother/daughter relationships, Marian’s father is a jerk, Duke Whatsit is also a jerk and deserves his stint in prison, f/f aromance, banter so much banter all the banter forever, the banter book, seriously this story is All About Cute Post-HEA Banter, cute girls being very cute, marian wants a little lamb, disaster ace, distinguished aro, labelstravaganza, gleefully and unapologetically ace and aro, sapphic AF, queer AF, basically everyone is queer, not recommended if you think ace/aro is not queer, kissing someone against their explicit wishes is assault, King Thrushbeard but sapphic and better, how did Snow White get into this story?, fridged dad, Part 2 is Not Fluffy, Marian gets teased about being sex-repulsed but in a friendly way which she is okay with, also Edel backs off and apologises when she does accidentally go too far, banterbanterbanter, keeping these two on plot is like trying to herd cats, experimental narrative structure, I will take this harmful insult for myself and HIT people with it, (Marian honey that does not mean it didn’t hurt you), if it’s aphobic it gets called out, I was very angry when I wrote most of this, fairy godmother fail, Edel is definitely the sensible one of the two (most of the time)

Oh, yes. It is time, everyone. The Thrushbeard retelling I’ve been sporadically talking about is finally ready to be released and revealed. WHOOT! I’m both super-excited and utterly terrified of publishing this story. It is gleefully and unapologetically ace and aro in a way that none of my books has been to date. And, well, basically, if it’s a negative stereotype you can take a sledgehammer to, I aimed to take a sledgehammer to it.

As I think most people who know me know by now, I’ve read a fair bit of ace fiction and… Well, I won’t beat around the bush. In my experience, those books tend to fail to tackle stereotypes in a way that I’m comfortable with. From dehumanising aroace people in the title to brushing off the trauma of sexual assault to simply… ignoring that certain stereotypes even exist. (Even though they were googleable in 2012 and 2016+ releases certainly have no excuse not to at least be aware of them, but that is a rant for another time.)

When I set out to write this retelling, I knew that I wanted it to be sapphic and I knew that I wanted Marian to be a homoromantic sex-repulsed asexual. So that’s what I did and once I started tackling ace concepts and ideas head-on I found I couldn’t stop. In part this is due to spending large chunks of Pride Month blocking and reporting vocal anti-ace people again.

The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion is one of the angriest books I’ve ever written. Its use of an ace stereotype in the title is 100% intentional and gets explored in the text explicitly. It’s a raw book in places, aimed at capturing and sharing some of the ways in which aces and aros are hurt by a society that won’t make any room for them, even when it claims it’s doing exactly that.

But it’s also a book that is about love and hope and happily ever afters. Because of course I would give Marian and Edel a HEA ending. It just… deals with some bad stuff along the way. It’s a deeply personal book in a lot of ways and I hope you’ll enjoy it!

As mentioned, it’ll be available on November 6th, 2018, but if you’d like to sign up for eARCs before that time, you can do so here.