It’s time for another interview with a fellow author of f/f books. Today’s interviewee is Shira Glassman, whose f/f romance Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor is getting great reviews and is praised for its realistic, diverse characters.
Shira is giving away an ebook copy of Cinnamon Blade, so don’t forget to check out the giveaway at the end of this post!
Welcome, Shira. Please tell us a little about Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor.
Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor is a high-heat f/f romance between a snarky superheroine and the sweet, nerdy damsel in distress she keeps rescuing. Blade, alias Erica Horowitz, used to be a jewel and art thief until her best friend from Hebrew school, Captain Werewolf, caught her on the roof of the art museum in Palm Beach. Since she’d been there for him when they were kids, dealing with the whole werewolf thing, he offered her the chance to join him in superhero-ing instead of going to jail, and she accepted. Fast forward through aliens, terrorists, and other monsters and now she and Soledad Castillo are finally ready to act on their feelings for each other. However: those still aliens and other monsters are still out there, and they keep interrupting the love scenes! …the many, many love scenes.
One thing readers may want to know is that this book started out as the imaginary femslash fandom enjoyed by the main characters of my contemporary romance Knit One Girl Two, so it’s almost like reading fanfic of a series that doesn’t exist. But how could I make up a superhero/damsel in distress f/f pairing and then not write it?? It would be like baking rugelach and not eating them!
The title of Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor does a great job at attracting readers’ attention and making them curious. How did you come up with it?
Knife in Shining Armor is supposed to be a play on how Cin’s the “knight in shining armor” to the perpetually harassed Soledad, but “knife” because of the Blade name. I agonized for days over that title, mainly because coming up with a title that comes close to deserving to go next to Knit One Girl Two was not easy. I still feel incredibly lucky that I ever thought of that one. I’ll never forget that moment, in my cover artist’s kitchen; I remember my face suddenly getting as hot as a cast-iron skillet. So that was the pressure I felt trying to name this one! I’m glad you feel that it works. I just wanted it to be clever, and also get across some idea of what’s happening in the story — especially since real superhero movie titles don’t give me much to work with. So I knew it couldn’t be just “Cinnamon Blade” (like “Black Panther” or “Iron Man”) because what is that, a cookbook? A title of a book written by an obscure niche indie author is her first best chance to communicate what’s inside the book.
You’ve been praised for the hot sex scenes in Cinnamon Blade. So what makes a good sex scene? Any tips for writers who struggle with them?
There is no one answer for what makes a good sex scene because everyone who likes sex scenes will have their own unique preferences for them! But I can tell you this. I owe some of the hotness of the CB sex scenes to author Xan West, who worked with me and coached me on turning the scenes I’d already written into more detailed ones by asking me to describe more specific sensations, both physical and emotional, for each one. I am not kidding when I say I actually went off to go amuse myself (yes, that) and took notes because I wanted to be able to fulfill Xan’s instructions and I wasn’t sure I’d have the words unless I thought of them in the moment, and overanalyzed. So, that’s one way.
But honestly, if you are struggling with writing a sex scene it’s okay just to mention a few things and let it be. Nobody said a story that contains, for example, a woman going down on her girlfriend, has to contain the play by play of tongue physics. Don’t think that your sex scenes have to follow a template or be a certain length or anything else.
The tagline on your website describes you as a “Queer Jewish feminist writer.” What role does being queer, being Jewish, and being a feminist play in your writing?
Being queer (specifically: bisexual, but I love the nonspecificity of queer inasmuch as I’ve definitely gone through periods where I’ve considered my label; there were entire years where the only men I was attracted to were a single cis celebrity and my not-out-as-a-man-at-the-time former husband, who is trans, but ultimately I decided that I was still going to identify as bi) means that I’m attracted to different genders of character, which is how I ended up with a fantasy series that stars a lesbian in a happy long term relationship with another woman, that also includes the m/f relationship of two other leads at center stage. That may not be for everyone and that’s okay. (I have other books that don’t have any m/f, such as Knit One and Fearless.) But my ability to enjoy both m/f and f/f in the same story feels like it’s connected to my bisexuality. After all, a m/f story that includes no queer characters is often an unsafe place for a lesbian or bi reader. I’ve read plenty of m/f romances that had homophobic elements or “tragic queer” subplots. Once, I read three m/f romances in the same week and two of them had tragic queer subplots. Yecch!
So yes, I focus on f/f, and sometimes write m/f, and sometimes the m/f involves a trans character. That’s how my queerness plays into my writing.
As far as Jewish… I really enjoy having the ability to tell stories that allow me to celebrate the happier parts of Jewishness. Jewish joy, if you will. Jewish characters who are thriving. That certainly isn’t the larger world’s picture of us, for some rather obvious reasons. It’s easy for that to get internalized and I like being able to counteract that, especially since I have such a positive experience overall.
Feminist: most of my fiction centers around women, for one thing. I love writing about women helping other women, and having agency, and working through things and coming out on top. A Harvest of Ripe Figs, for example, includes the idea that women celebrities don’t have to be pitted against each other. There’s a lot of focus on different types of consent in Cinnamon Blade.
Your stories always include a diverse cast of characters. You write f/f, m/m, m/f, and also nonbinary characters. Your characters come from a variety of ethnical, cultural, and religious backgrounds, and they cover the entire spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ community. For example, Soledad from Cinnamon Blade is a Catholic Costa Rican woman who’s questioning whether she’s a lesbian while Cinnamon is a bisexual, Jewish superheroine. How do you approach writing characters with backgrounds that are very different from your own?
Well, first of all, I have to recognize that if I don’t do my research and get a lot of help, I may make mistakes that I won’t even realize I’m making. For example, Soledad’s original last name, which I’d borrowed from someone at work, one of my Costa Rican friends pointed out was a bad idea because of some regionally specific controversy I never would have known about without recognizing my own need for guidance.
Many people in many groups write blog posts like “6 Asian character tropes we are tired of seeing” or “trans representation I wish I had”, and it’s in my advantage as a writer to read them and absorb them — many different viewpoints, because no one person represents their entire marginalized demographic and disagreements are normal. I have paid sensitivity readers as well. Often they can make suggestions for little details that add the kind of verisimilitude that says, oh, yes, Soledad is actually Costa-Rican-American, and not just “Shira slapped a demographic on a random Latina character.” At least, I hope I’ve achieved something close to that, and I understand if I have not.
And the very best piece of advice I can give is to read works by people within a group. If you are a gentile trying to write a Jewish character without ever reading Jewish literature, take a pause and find some Jewish lit in your favorite genre first. For example.
As for why Costa Rican, or why is Dr. Norman/“Connect the Dots” a beautiful chubby Black woman, or why is Satyr Taiwanese? Because I shamelessly put my friends in my books. Diversity is realistic. So why not just use the diversity from my actual world? So having Costa-Rican-Americans who are special to me is how Cinnamon Blade’s love interest ended up Costa Rican. The Taiwanese woman who helped create Satyr, a half-man, half-qilin wiseass superhero, ended up as the book’s dedication. The music colleague behind Dot Norman inspires me every day by being a total rock star at organization and efficiency.
Diversity exists and is real and if you’re writing a story where the sky is blue and trees are green then making sure your character demographics reflect the real world — or the real world for the specific setting, like having Jewish characters in South Florida — is just a continuation of that realism.
While you are mostly known for your queer fantasy novels such as the Mangoverse series, you have also written contemporary romance stories such as Fearless and Knit One, Girl Two. Can you tell us a little about them?
My contemporary romances so far have all been short meetcutes rather than full length stories like Cinnamon Blade or my Mangoverse books. Fearless stars two women in their forties — I used famous television personalities as my facecasts but I’m probably not allowed to name them! However, the femme, Lana, is “played” in my head by an actress who played a police detective — whose ethnic background is what determined the character being Serbian-American, if that helps identify her, and the dashing butch love interest Melanie was inspired by someone who let’s just say knows her way around cakes. Anyway, it’s about a band mom who is swept off her feet by a music teacher from her daughter’s school while everyone is snowed in together at the All-State hotel. I’ve played violin since I was four, and All-State was always the highlight of my year as an adolescent. It feels really sweet to bring some of that excitement to romance writing. I was often in love at All-State, but it never worked out as beautifully as it does in my story ;-)
Knit One Girl Two is my most popular and most successful story. Clara is a ray of sunshine, a chirpy little Jewish femme lesbian who works in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts box office and dyes yarn as a side “jobby.” She meets Danielle because Danielle’s paintings are going to be the inspiration for her next round of “sock club”, which is a monthly service some indie dyers provide where you pre-pay for a year’s worth of yarn and then get surprised by what fancy offerings they send you. Danielle is a loudmouthed, slightly abrasive bi feminist, also Jewish but actually goes to temple and skips pork in contrast with Clara’s casual secularism, and she’s eager to make friends — and more — with Clara but also dealing with depression, family drama, and heartache. This story is in some ways a love letter to the South Florida of my upbringing — their first meeting is in a real Jewish deli that I wish was still open, and their first kiss is in the science museum where I first realized I liked girls, as a teenaged volunteer. (She had the greenest eyes I have ever seen in my life. …Anyway,)
I was originally intending on writing more contemporary musician romances to go with Fearless but the only other one I’ve got so far is Lioness in Blue, which is high-heat m/f about first and second oboe getting together. The leading lady in this one, Lauren, is bi and was Clara’s first kiss in Knit One; she’s referenced as being “that band girl” that Clara made out with at a bar mitzvah when they were tweens. Also, the kids in Fearless and couple in Knit One are all into the Captain Werewolf fandom that Cinnamon Blade is set in. So, there’s some consistency!
Could you name one thing that is on your personal bucket list?
I know I would have gotten there faster already if I hadn’t let it slide in favor of all my other hobbies, but I’d really like to be able to competently blow a shofar one day. On Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah = literally the “head of the year”) and then again on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement a week and change later, the sound of the shofar is a stirring, thrilling signal of our celebration and contemplation. You’re allowed to use the horn of any kosher animal that isn’t a cow — because of the golden calf story, I believe — but most of the time we use ram or ibex. The one my temple has loaned out to me is a simple little ram’s horn. The technique for playing it is very similar to the way brass instruments are played, other than the lack of mouthpiece. Which is great if you’re a euphonium player like the gentleman who usually does it at my temple, but not so easy for a lifelong violin player like me! Luckily, I somewhat improbably have a number of friends who play low brass, so maybe they can encourage me to indulge this obscure intersection of religion and career.
I heard you’re a bit of a foodie. If you were a food item, what would you be and why?
If I were a food, I’d be a guava rugelach. Rugelach are little rolled-up pastries with filling that feel very familiar from my Ashkenazi (northern European Jewish) background, and the guava filling harkens back to my tropical South Florida upbringing. The smell of fresh guava is a familiar comfort to me and makes me smile. Anyway, guava is not a conventional choice for rugelach filling, and I wish that were easier to find. (My preferred flavor from the readily-available choices is apricot.) But yes, I am definitely a foodie with a passion for interesting proteins and fresh produce.
Other than your own, what are your favorite fantasy novels featuring women-loving women?
I love recommending Heather Rose Jones’ Alpennia series (Daughter of Mystery is the first one and it’s a fully contained story; while the first couple’s adventures do continue in the second book, the second book introduces a new main couple, too, etc.) It frustrates me greatly how much signal boosting is necessary to get the word out about them. Women and other interested people long for costume drama starring lesbians that get a happy ending — and this one has magic and an amazing plot full of political intrigue, too! Maybe now that Gentleman Jack is a thing, someone will pick them up and do a miniseries.
When’s your next book coming out, and what are you working on right now?
In November 2017, an imprint of Ylva released an anthology called Queerly Loving vol. 1. My story in that collection, “Gifts of Spring”, will be republished independently this fall. It’s the story of Rosamund, a naïve young trans woman with magical powers, and Elias, an older cis Jewish man who performs as a street acrobat. She’s lonely and on the run from cranky royalty whose dispute she accidentally wound up involved in, until she saves him from an angry mob. They stroll through a made-up German city in the 1700’s before returning to her inn for naked cuddles. It’s the first time I’ve ever set any fiction in Germany, where my family was from. It’s also a meta discussion of the interaction of “real” magic and stage magic in a fantasy setting, since that fascinates me. In other words, her charms and his circus antics. I plan on opening preorders after the high holidays (in other words, some time before Halloween), with a release in late November.
Where can your readers find out more about you and your books?
Right now, my books are on Amazon and also on Gumroad. The plus side of Gumroad is that they pay the authors far more than Amazon does, for the same cover price. But I realize buying from Amazon is more convenient for most people so I understand if that’s the way people want to go. Socially, I have a twitter I haven’t used in a long time (@shiraglassman) but I’m more frequently on Tumblr and Facebook.
If what you’re after is the official commissioned illustrations for my books, usually you can find it by checking my Tumblr for the tag of the book’s title (in cases like Knit One Girl Two, that would be http://shiraglassman.tumblr.com/tagged/knit-one-girl-two for example ) or checking this tag for images about the Mangoverse fantasy series. It was really important for me to commission all those pictures; growing up surrounded by Disney princess stuff because of living in Florida means that half the appeal to even write them in the first place was to make my own imagery that would fit that aesthetic but include my background and attractions. That’s why the visual component was such a big part of the creative process. If you, too, want to see cutesy cartoonish images of queer Jewish fairy tale life, that’s the first place you should click :)
Shira is giving away an e-book copy of Cinnamon Blade.
Anyone can enter. To be entered into the drawing, leave a comment on this blog post.
Entries close on Thursday, September 5, 2019, 10 a.m. CET, when I’ll draw the winners using a random numbers generator. I’ll notify winners via email. Your email address won’t be used for any other purpose.