'A Shore Thing' - Queer Love and Friendship

"A Shore Thing" by Joanna Lowell.

Interested in a queer and trans romance book? Then check out "A Shore Thing" by Joanna Lowell.

What was the inspiration behind your most recent book?

Queer love! I write historical romance, so all my books focus on emotional connection and build toward a happy ending. I love the romance genre, because it’s so optimistic, and because it gives readers so many models of loving relationships — romantic relationships, of course, but also other kinds of relationships, relationships with friends, with community, with being oneself. My new book, "A Shore Thing," is a queer and trans romance that follows an artist and a botanist on a seaside bicycle race around Cornwall in 1888. I wanted to write a book that showed that people have always loved in ways that exceed the so-called “norms.” And I wanted the book to engage with historical realities while also emphasizing joy. The oppressed aren’t ever only oppressed. My partner is a trans historian of trans and queer lives, and he collaborated with me closely, contributing every day to the book’s vision and the research. "A Shore Thing" was a labor of love in a very personal sense. These are precarious times for many queer and trans people in the US, but we’ve also come a long way, in terms of visibility and some basic rights (although those rights are under siege). "A Shore Thing" is a joyous queer and trans love story set in the past, but I hope it contributes to a sense of possibility today and for the future.

When it comes to the literary world, why do you think supporting diverse stories and featuring different types of characters with different backgrounds in novels is so important?

It’s important for so many reasons. Reading diverse stories can nuance our understanding. It can strengthen our empathy. When we read, we think and feel things alongside the characters. We see with new eyes, ask new questions, doubt things we took for granted, make connections we wouldn’t have made otherwise, live whole lives on the page. The real world is incredibly diverse. The literary world should reflect that and publish stories by writers with a wide range of experiences, subject positions, and perspectives. The underrepresentation of writers of color, queer and trans writers, disabled writers, immigrant and international writers, and so on, leads to a diminished and distorted version of reality, and also, an impoverished cultural imaginary. We need stories that describe the world in its fullness, and help us imagine better worlds — true, transformative change depends on it.

What does representation in books mean to you?

I hear “representation” in the sense of, for example, “that book has good queer rep,” meaning queer characters are thoughtfully portrayed on the page, often by a writer who shares that identity or experience. Representation in books has to do with what’s on the page, and also with who’s writing those pages. It’s important to note that there’s no single correct representation of a queer person, or any other kind of person; no identity is a monolith. The publishing industry is still overwhelmingly white and straight, but it’s encouraging, and heart and mind-expanding, to go into libraries and bookstores these days and find books with good and varied representation. Just to use romance as an example, when I started reading the genre as a teen in the mid ‘90s, the used paperbacks I found at the library tent sale invariably told the courtship tale of a straight white couple. I don’t mean to suggest that writers of color and queer writers weren’t writing romance featuring characters who didn’t fit this mold in the ‘90s, because they were, but those books, even if mainstream published, didn’t get broadly marketed, and didn’t end up at my library. The ‘90s novels I encountered showed me a very narrowband of possibility for romance narratives, and for relationships, and reinforced the idea that slender, beautiful, heterosexual, able-bodied Christian white women were the proper protagonists and the most worthy of love. Now writers such as Alyssa Cole, Helen Hoang, KT Hoffman, and Adriana Herrera are pointing the way forward with books that make romance so much bigger and brighter.

Tell us a little more about the book and why you decided to write it, or how the story came to you?

"A Shore Thing" brings two of my favorite side characters from previous books into romantic collision. Kit is a rakish painter, and Muriel is a world-traveling botanist. I’d wanted to tell Kit’s story ever since he appeared in book one, "The Duke Undone." I always saw him as a transmasculine character, even though he wasn’t entirely presenting that way earlier in the series, and my partner and I would talk excitedly about the possibility of him getting his day as a romance hero. I haven’t encountered many mainstream historical romances with trans protagonists, so this was one of those instances of people writing what they want to read. I’d been toying, too, with the idea of writing a Victorian bicycle book. Bicycling all over town was such a formative part of my childhood and young adulthood, which means I’ve had so many extremely gendered, extremely annoying encounters with dudes in bike shops. Gender politics were at the forefront of the bicycle boom at the end of the 19th century, and I knew there was something there I wanted to explore. I realized Kit was the perfect character to put on a bicycle, and "A Shore Thing" was born.

What can fans expect from your book and its story?

It’s a sunny, beachy book that affirms queer love and friendship. Expect bicycles with big fronts wheels. Loutish Victorian bicycle bros. Lots of sapphists. Bathing machines. Steamy scenes.  A steamy scene in a bathing machine! Seagulls.

What's up next for you in the bookish world?

A queer enemies-to-lovers Regency romance with an archeology plot that involves a treasure hunt. I’m a college professor, and with my friend and colleague, an 18th century British fiction specialist, I’ve started co-teaching classes on Jane Austen and Popular Romance. Rereading Jane Austen made me want to give that time period a try. 

Joanna Lowell lives among the fig trees in North Carolina, where she teaches in the English department at Wake Forest University. When she’s not writing historical romance, she writes collections and novels as Joanna Ruocco. Those books include Dan, Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith, The Week, and Field Glass, co-authored with Joanna Howard. Learn more online at www.joannalowell.com.


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