rj_anderson: (Quicksilver - Cover)
[personal profile] rj_anderson
NOTE: This post was written as part of the November 2012 Carnival of Aces, with the subject of Fiction. It contains some unavoidable plot and characterization SPOILERS for the novels mentioned, so click the cut-tag at your own risk. 

Hi. I'm R.J. Anderson, a Canadian-born, US-published, UK-bestselling author for children and teens whose sixth novel, Quicksilver, is coming out in early 2013. And if you're an asexual reader who loves YA fiction but wishes there were more characters like you, there's someone I'd like you to meet.

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special. Her hair flowed like honey and her eyes were blue as music. She grew up bright and beautiful, with deft fingers, a quick mind, and a charm that impressed everyone she met. Her parents adored her, her teachers praised her, and her schoolmates admired her many talents. Even the oddly shaped birthmark on her upper arm seemed like a sign of some great destiny.

This is not her story.

Unless you count the part where I killed her.

Her name is Tori Beaugrand and she's the maddeningly perfect-seeming girl described in that first paragraph, the girl that Alison, the narrator of Ultraviolet, believes herself to have murdered. But Alison is mistaken about that, and a lot of other assumptions she's made about Tori as well.
"When you came in, I’d just broken up with Brendan because he kept pressuring me to have sex with him. It wasn’t my fault he threw a tantrum like a freaking two-year-old—"
When I wrote Tori speaking those words in Ultraviolet, I wasn't consciously aware of their significance. I just knew that despite the cliches about pretty, popular girls, Tori had only ever dated one boy, and she hadn't enjoyed it much. It wasn't until I sat down to write Quicksilver, the sequel/companion novel where Tori gets to tell her own story in her own words, that I understood the reason why.
“Milo,” I said, “I’m going to tell you something I’ve only ever told one other person. And when I do, I . . . I hope you’ll understand.” Passionately hoped, in fact. Because if he said any of the things Lara had said to me when I told her, it would be hard to forgive him for it.

“I know,” he said. “You’re gay, right?”

“No,” I said. “I’m not sexually attracted to anyone. At all. Ever.”

Before I started writing Tori's story, I had a vague notion about writing a conventional romance for her -- perhaps a story where she falls for the wrong guy only to realize that the right one was there by her side all along. But the more I thought about it, the more wrong and unnatural that idea seemed. I simply couldn't envision Tori being swept away on a tide of sexual attraction for anyone, and I couldn't imagine a single person who would make her feel that way. I went so far as to type out a preliminary scene where Tori meets a cute boy in an electronics store, but Tori flat-out refused to be charmed and the boy just came off as an arrogant, condescending jerk who wouldn't let her shop for the parts she needed. It was a disaster.

And yet I knew that Tori wasn't a cold or unloving person. I knew she was capable of passionate feeling and deep loyalty, and that she wouldn't hesitate to hug a friend in need or offer them a shoulder to cry on. I just couldn't imagine her in any kind of typical romantic or sexual relationship, and I wondered why… until the answer came to me one night as I was on the verge of sleep, and I leaped up and grabbed a pen to jot down the following note:

TORI IS ASEXUAL!!!
Once I'd written those words, I couldn't believe I hadn't figured it out sooner. It made sense of everything I'd ever known about Tori, including all the hints I'd dropped about her relationship with Brendan in Ultraviolet. And it also excited me from a creative standpoint, because I had never read a novel -- YA or otherwise -- with an asexual main character before.

Yet I didn't want the book to be about Tori's asexuality, in an After School Special kind of way. I had far too many resourceful, butt-kicking, stone-cold awesome things I wanted Tori to do in the book for that. Quicksilver, like Ultraviolet, is a psychological thriller with science fiction elements, and there's a lot of action and mystery and suspense going on as Tori fights to make an independent life for herself and escape the people who want to control her. Her being asexual adds a layer of complication and delicacy to her relationships with her parents and her best (male) friend, and explains some of the choices she makes and the struggles she has in getting others to understand her, but it's not the central element in the story.

On the other hand, I also didn't want to fall into the trap of treating asexuality in a careless, superficial way, or allowing the non-ace reader to mistake it for a symptom of Tori's abnormal biology (a key plot point of the story). So I spent a lot of time reading ace blogs and Tumblrs to find out what cliches and myths about asexuals to avoid and if possible, to directly address and counter them. I also made an effort to clarify that Tori's asexuality was not the result of trauma or scientific experimentation or her unusual background, by directly contrasting her with another character with a similar background and experiences who was demonstrably not asexual. As she observes in one of the book's flashback sequences:

And now he was kissing [her], and she was kissing him back. Not a gentle let-me-comfort-you kiss, either. It was the kind of kiss that looked like it was going to end up horizontal, and [he] didn’t seem to have any reservations about going there. So obviously my apathy toward sex wasn’t a [spoiler redacted] Thing, any more than it had been a Chip-in-the-Arm thing. It was just me.
Do I expect that Tori's portrayal is going to satisfy every asexual reader? I'd love it if that were true (I certainly tried my best), but I'm not banking on it. There's a broad range of perspectives on the aromantic - romantic asexual spectrum, and plenty of differences of opinion about what a healthy relationship between an asexual and a sexual person (and there is such a relationship in the story, though no sex is involved) should look like. But I was keeping in mind that most of my audience may not even have heard of asexuality and might have a hard time wrapping their minds around the idea, and I wanted to portray Tori and her non-sexual relationships in a way that would seem sympathetic and satisfying to the majority of readers. Baby steps, as they say.

To me the representation of asexual characters in books is important because it runs counter to modern society's obsession with sex as the be-all and end-all, the warped perception that sex somehow "completes" or "matures" a person (I always loathed this trope when it came up in fantasy novels I read as a kid) and that people who aren't interested in sex and don't make it a regular part of their lives are damaged in some way. With Quicksilver, I wanted to show how the satisfaction that Tori feels when working on a mechanical project, or spending quality time with a trusted friend, is every bit as fulfilling and meaningful to her as good sex is supposed to be for other people, or even more so. She isn't missing out on anything, and she's nobody's object of pity. If my non-asexual readers get that when they read Quicksilver, I'll have done what I set out to accomplish. And if an asexual person can read this book and feel a little less alone, or hand this book to a friend or family member to help them understand -- that would be the best reward that I as an author could wish for.

-- R.J. Anderson, November 2012

 

Quicksilver will be in bookstores mid-to-late February 2013 in North America, early May 2013 in the UK. You can see the cover, read the jacket copy and check out some advance reviews on GoodReads, or preorder the novel via Amazon (US / Can / UK), Chapters Indigo or Book Depository.

Date: 2012-12-01 02:07 pm (UTC)
centrumlumina: (Default)
From: [personal profile] centrumlumina
You have no idea how happy reading this made me.

I've been a huge fan of yours since Knife, and I loved Ultraviolet, both for the book itself and because I've been fascinated by synethesia since I was a kid.

I'm also asexual. Frustratingly, I've never once seen a character who (unambiguously) shared that with me - and if I have, it was definitely not a YA protagonist.

I can't wait to read Quicksilver now - I wish I didn't have to last until May!

Thanks!

Date: 2012-12-01 10:12 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] alinacappella
As an aromantic asexual, I remember the point in my life when I started getting frustrated because I was really into reading, but all the books in the Young Adult section had romance/sex in them. Literature was one of the things that made me start to question if there was something 'wrong' with me, because I couldn't understand why all these characters were interested in something I couldn't understand. It still frustrates me, but I've grown to just realize that things aren't going to change any time soon. It means so much to hear that you put all that time into researching asexuality and the stigmas attached to it as to present it in a respectful way. Your book will be a positive step forward in the asexual-visibility movement. I definitely plan on reading Ultraviolet and then Quicksilver when it comes out. Being able to point to something in a book that validates your identity is something really special, and I've never really been able to do that before, so I look forward to reading this book. :)

Date: 2012-12-02 10:57 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
As an asexual reader I could not be more excited about this. I can't tell you how much it means to me to see an explicitly asexual character, let alone heroine. I haven't (yet!) read any of your books but I'll be running out and purchasing Ultraviolet asap and eagerly awaiting Quicksilver.

Date: 2012-12-04 04:04 am (UTC)
shveta_writes: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shveta_writes
I want this book even more now. I'm thrilled, Rebecca! Eee!

This is so encouraging!

Date: 2012-12-05 02:00 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I was linked to your essay by a friend on tumblr. Wow! This is so encouraging to me, both as someone who identifies as demisexual and as someone writing a YA fantasy novel with an asexual heroine - it gives me hope that publishers will be open to books like this.

(Now all I have to do is finish writing it!!)

I will be picking up these books as soon as I can. Thank you for writing them!

Date: 2012-12-07 08:49 pm (UTC)
kate: Kate Winslet is wryly amused (Default)
From: [personal profile] kate
Thank you so much for this. I have not read your books yet, but I will definitely be buying and reading them now, and looking forward to Quicksilver!

I appreciate the research, thought, and time you've put into this, and am enormously grateful to see an ace character as the heroine of a YA novel. Thank you.

Yay!

Date: 2012-12-08 07:37 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This caught my attention, so I subscribed to your journal. I'm into gender studies, and often write about characters of different sexualities including ace. I like to watch for other folks doing the same. Also I boosted the signal because this is the kind of stuff my readers tend to like.

Re: Yay!

Date: 2012-12-09 04:01 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Here via Ysabet, and also subscribing. I have no idea where I am on the a/sexual a/romantic spectrum -- alexithymia will do that -- but it's more on the a- side these days, and a book like this would probably have done me a lot of good when I was a YA.

Re: Yay!

Date: 2012-12-09 04:10 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
*laugh* Should have read my other message from you before I told you to go encourage the author, and here you are! I'm glad that some of my readers are coming over here. I thought that asexual YA would grab folks. I've seen people wishing for more acefic in [community profile] asexuality.

Re: Yay!

Date: 2012-12-10 05:51 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Having a name for something helps a lot. Amazing what you can find on the Web.

Date: 2012-12-08 08:36 pm (UTC)
avia: A cute cygnet with a happy and blushing expression, drawn in a dramatic cartoon style. (happy cygnet)
From: [personal profile] avia
This makes me so excited. I never heard of your books before, but [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith linked me to this post and now I'm definitely going to read them!

I'm asexual and aromantic and I'm always looking for characters like me in fiction. I'm actually a lot of minorities, and I always struggle to find characters like me, but today it is a little easier to find characters who are autistic or Asian-American. But I've never found any asexual characters before and often, particularly when I read YA, I feel lost in the sea of stories that assume that everyone wants sex and romance.

So, thank you so much!

Date: 2012-12-10 05:36 am (UTC)
avia: A little cygnet monster with big black eyes, rolling around on the floor. (cute baby monster)
From: [personal profile] avia
It definitely does, and thank you!

Date: 2012-12-09 03:54 am (UTC)
raze: A man and a rooster. (Default)
From: [personal profile] raze
I *really* appreciate you writing an asexual character - thank you!

Date: 2012-12-09 09:55 pm (UTC)
tamouse: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tamouse
Also here via [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith -- I am looking forward to this, and aim to hunt up previous books.

I'm a shameless adult who absolutely loves YA fiction. Pleased to make your aquaintance. :)

Date: 2012-12-11 02:29 am (UTC)
tamouse: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tamouse
No, but thank you for the recommendation!

Date: 2012-12-11 04:33 am (UTC)
fayanora: Rinmarugames (Default)
From: [personal profile] fayanora
These books sound cool.

I, too, have a character who is asexual. Like yours, it's just part of who she is. She does develop some kind of romantic feelings for another character, but she just never gets interested in sex. She does want a family, though; she ends up literally making her own family. (In a sort of Frankenstein's monster kind of way.)

Date: 2012-12-18 09:03 pm (UTC)
ebonrune: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ebonrune
I am immensely pleased to find out that there is finally going to be a character to represent at least one facet of asexuality. Kids who will read your books, the ones like Tori and similar, will be able to find out what it took me so much longer to. It is my hope that this begins a new acceptance of asexuality, and that other authors will follow in your carefully crafted footsteps, or even that authors who are asexual will put their own personal knowledge to use for a character of theirs. I will definitely have to pick up these books.

Date: 2013-01-05 09:42 am (UTC)
aceofannwn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aceofannwn
Awesome. I look forward to reading your book.

Date: 2013-05-08 09:16 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I was excited when I heard about this book, and I have not been disappointed. I've just finished it, and the way you handled Tori's asexuality gave me All The Feelings. It's really clear that you did your research, and have neither tokenised or trivialised her orientation. It was I rarely see this aspect of myself in the fiction I read, and you did a good job of making it one aspect of her character instead of a Very Special Book About Asexuality With a Character Who Is Asexual. Thank you.

Date: 2013-08-24 07:57 am (UTC)
aceofannwn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aceofannwn
Hi! I'm currently reading Quicksilver, and apart from all the other ways in which it is awesome (because there are so many!) I think that the way you presented asexuality was an accurate representation of some people's experiences, and it was great to read a novel with an asexual heroine. :)

Date: 2014-05-17 03:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aryky.livejournal.com
Just wanted to let you know, I'm an aromantic asexual who has heard of your books in the past - mentioned very positively - and has been vaguely interested in reading them, but I hadn't heard of this series before. Reading this post actually made me cry, and I am definitely moving all of your books up on your reading list because it's so cool that you wrote this book and I really want to read it.

Thank you so, so much

Date: 2014-07-31 07:18 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] mara_blythe
I seriously second that first comment. I made the choice to come out as asexual early in high school, and I've been wondering whether that was okay ever since. The majority of my classmates have since then taken to shoving in my face every fanfiction they see where someone "fixes" Sherlock Holmes's lack of interest in a romantic relationship, and even my friends have sometimes pointed out that "kissing and f***ing is just how you show how loving you are". I'm actually in a romantic relationship, and we both agree that it's fine to keep it at sweets, cards, and the occasional lupine head-bump gesture.
But a lot of YA novels I've seen seem to brush over that side of a relationship or discard it entirely, and I don't think I've seen any that have a character (main or otherwise) who doesn't want to... erm... you know. It feels like a shallow kind of reassurance, but I'm really happy that there's a heroine who doesn't (um... re: previous sentence).
Anyway, this is getting kinda awkward and rambling, so... I guess I'll just say that I'm really excited to read Quicksilver (once I'm finished reading Ultraviolet), and again, thank you so, so much for... well, listing might start another rant, so... just, thank you.

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