My Favorite Bit: Jessi Honard and Marie Parks Talk About UNRELENTING

Jessi Honard and Marie Parks are joining us today to talk about their novel, Unrelenting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A glowing symbol painted on a crumbling wall.
Sentient smoke that chokes and burns.
An ancient magic, long hidden from the world.

Bridget’s most important job has always been protecting her younger sister, Dahlia. But as adults, their relationship has become strained.

Then, Dahlia vanishes.

Nine months later, everyone has given up hope. Everyone except Bridget, who launches her own amateur investigation.

The search leads Bridget to something far more sinister than a typical missing persons case—a carefully-guarded plot tied to powerful, age-old magic.

To uncover the truth of what happened to her sister, Bridget must confront this dangerous world, even if it means putting her own life on the line.

What’s their favorite bit?

JESSI HONARD & MARIE PARKS

We didn’t set out to write a queer novel. But the more we think about it, the queerer we realize Unrelenting is. (And we don’t just mean the fact that it has an asexual main character and bisexual and homosexual secondary characters.)

The story seed for Unrelenting was a collaboratively-written fantasy romance. We based it on what we believed, at the time, relationships were supposed to look and feel like—that is to say, heteronormative. But the story fell flat.

Now, there’s nothing inherently flat about heterosexual romance stories, at all! But we’d unknowingly rooted ours in a narrative that didn’t reflect our own lived experiences or identities. Instead, it reflected what we’d been taught to perceive as “normal.” Because we’d lacked exposure to diverse representations of sexuality and romance in the books and media we grew up on, we had no idea why the relationships in our own book were off.

We had enough sense as writers to know our story needed an overhaul, though. So we tore it down to the studs and rebuilt it around an emotional connection we understood: sisterhood. Neither of us grew up with sisters, but we’ve always cared for each other so deeply, we might as well be. In fact, we’ve been asked multiple times if we are siblings! It felt good to write about a platonic, familial relationship built on deep love and trust, with no requirement for romance or physical intimacy.

As we rewrote the story around Bridget’s search for her missing sister, Dahlia, we also reconstructed the novel’s magic system, central character arcs, worldbuilding, plot points, and tension. In addition, we invented the character of James, a friend who joins Bridget in her quest.

The feedback from our writing critique groups was overwhelmingly positive. But one repeating comment had us scratching our head: Everyone kept waiting for Bridget and James to fall in love. 

We’d written other relationships onto the page at this point, but we’d never imagined those two would be in a romantic or sexual relationship. That made us think we were telling the story poorly. We wondered what we were writing that made everyone assume Bridget and James would get together. But no matter how much we finessed our storytelling to make their platonic relationship clear, we kept getting the same feedback. 

And that’s when we realized it wasn’t us or our writing that was pushing this assumption; it was society. Not only is heterosexuality normalized and queerness not, but sexuality (or allosexuality) is also normalized while asexuality is not. (The excellent book, Ace by Angela Chen, discusses compulsory sexuality and propelled our epiphany.)

This led us to realize that we’d subconsciously coded Bridget as an asexual character, all along. That’s why her original hetero romance plot was so flat. We just hadn’t allowed ourselves to see Bridget’s sexuality because, well, *gestures around at all the allonormativity everywhere.*

Next, we asked ourselves, “Should we explicitly call out Bridget’s asexuality within the text?” We decided that, yes, we wanted to.

Because it felt right for this book, and because representation matters.

If we, as avid readers, had exposure to queer characters earlier in our lives, it might not have taken us both well into adulthood to figure out that we each belong under the queer umbrella—specifically, within the asexual spectrum. We might have made different decisions about what we wanted out of our lives and chosen different paths. Most importantly, we might have experienced more self-acceptance, self-assurance, and self-love.

So with all of that in mind, our favorite bit of Unrelenting is this scene:

Bridget turned to James. On the plane to Cleveland, she couldn’t imagine accepting help from anyone. But he had been there for her every step of the way.

She reached out and took his hand. “I couldn’t be doing this without you.”

He hitched a shoulder as if to say it was no big deal, holding her gaze a long moment. A flush crept up his neck, and he cleared his throat. “Maybe once this is all over, we could celebrate? Maybe, um, dinner?”

Oh. Her own cheeks felt hot, and she pulled her hand away. “Sure. Maybe we could grab a pizza with some friends.”

His anxious smile crumbled. He gave a valiant thumbs up. “Yeah. Sounds great.”

Regret settled deep in her gut, familiar and bitter. “It’s not you, okay?”

“Okay.”

She pushed aside the familiar flip of her stomach to say, “I promise it’s not you. I’m asexual. Dating has never gone well for me.”

Understanding flashed across his expression. “That’s… thanks for telling me. Bridget, I support you. And I’m really glad we’ve gotten to know one another. I hope we can stay friends.”

It was a relief his smile didn’t carry any trace of pity. She reached over and gave James a quick, but firm, hug. “Thank you. Me too.”

James treats Bridget’s coming out as a complete non-issue. He offers his support, the story moves on, and Bridget doesn’t get forced into a heteronormative or allonormative love story that isn’t right for her.

The world needs more asexual representation in literature, as well as more education on the relationship (or potential lack thereof) between sexual attraction and romantic attraction. What better way to do it than wrapped in an exciting story that ultimately speaks to a far broader spectrum of love?

LINKS:

Unrelenting Universal Book Link

Website

Jessi’s Twitter

Marie’s Twitter

BIO:

Jessi Honard and Marie Parks are best friends, hiking and camping buddies, and unabashed nerds. They’ve been co-writing speculative fiction since 2009. Jessi and Marie both believe in the power of found families, a theme that emerges in their solo and joint writing projects, along with identity, trust, and belonging.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Jessi currently lives in the Bay Area of California with her partner, Taormina, and her very opinionated cat, Obsidian. Marie lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her spunky chihuahua rescues, Maya and Mitchell.

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