by Annette Mori
Genre: Contemporary LGBT Romance
Bri’s Aunt Olivia is a vet with a thriving practice. She is set in her ways, single and surviving, channeling her emotions into her work and her love of Bri.
Siera has a supportive but silent father, an overpowering helicopter mom, plus her Aunt Deb who adores her.
Despite their individual battles against hurt, prejudice and rejection, can these four women find love against the odds?
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She’d had a horrible day at Walmart. When the group of teenagers walked into the store and snickered as Siera greeted them, she knew that at least one of them would say something mean. Teenagers were especially cruel. High school hadn’t been easy for her, but she had flown under the radar for the most part and had finally graduated. It had been a long, lonely existence.
“I heard Walmart hires all the retards in town. It’s stupid to have greeters, but I guess they figure hiring the handicapped makes them some kind of civic giant. I sure wouldn’t want to greet people at Walmart all day long. How boring,” a young woman said.
“Oh, that’s Siera. I heard her mom made such a huge fuss at the school and threatened to sue if they didn’t allow her precious daughter to attend the regular classes. She never said much in class. It’s sad really. Her parents should have let her go to the special school where she could be with her kind.”
Siera knew that most people assumed she wouldn’t understand when someone was saying something derogatory about her, but she always knew. Her mom had to fight with the school to keep her in the regular classroom. It didn’t matter that she’d proven she could do the work just like everyone else. Each year the new teacher would take one look at her almond-shaped eyes and make the same assumption that every other teacher before them had. When Siera would answer the teachers during roll call, she would notice the slight head nod indicating a verification of their assumptions. No matter how much speech therapy Siera had, there was still a slight slur to her words. Siera hated her thick tongue that she knew was the culprit. Her mother had patiently explained that low muscle tone was a big contributor. That was a frustrating fact that added to her dumpy appearance.
Finally, in her last year of school, a guidance counselor who didn’t have any preconceived notions about Siera’s abilities had encouraged her to apply to Big Bend Community College. Siera loved Miss Moore for that. Besides her mom and aunt, Miss Moore was the first person who ever believed in her.
Siera heard the honking of the geese and looked up to see a frantically waving hand. She turned her head, thinking that the young woman sitting on the bench was waving at someone behind her. She wasn’t. Siera was alone on the gravel path along the lake.
As Siera took a few tentative steps toward the young woman, she noticed her crooked smile and couldn’t help the grin that seized her mouth and made her lips turn up in joy. The young woman looked like her, with almond-shaped eyes and small ears just like Siera’s.
Siera hadn’t been around others like her. Her mom had never acceded to the authorities when they’d wanted to relegate her to the special schools for children with Down syndrome.
Siera knew she had Down syndrome; her mother had explained everything to her when she was a young girl but made sure Siera knew that she shouldn’t let having Down syndrome define who she was or what she could accomplish in life. What her mom didn’t realize was that mainstreaming, while helping to push Siera to reach her potential, had left her isolated and alone in a very scary world.
“Hi,” the young girl called out.
“Hello,” Siera tentatively responded.
“Do you want to feed the geese?”
Siera squinted her eyes and noticed the thick, golden-blonde hair pulled loosely in a ponytail. It was beautiful. She had an urge to touch the soft strands. Siera had always been a tactile child, wanting to touch everything soft and shiny. This young woman’s hair glinted in the sunshine.
“You have beautiful hair,” Siera blurted out.
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I tend to push the envelope sometimes and write about characters who don’t fall within convention. My main characters land decidedly outside of the lesbian leading lady box. I’ve written about: 1) a woman with a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder; 2) a bi-polar woman who brings her nightmares to life; 3) a middle-aged woman who was one hundred pounds overweight and with a visual impairment and; 4) killers who seek their own special brand of justice. This time I’ve deliberately obliterated that envelope and written about two young women with Down Syndrome.
Last year, imagine my surprise when Bella Books accepted my short story for their anthology, Conference Call. I suppose I thought for sure they would reject the manuscript. It was a kind of test balloon for Unconventional Lovers. One of the characters was a middle aged woman with Down Syndrome.
Unconventional Lovers almost did not see the light of day. For that, I was truly saddened. I’d like to share a little of the history, not to shame anyone, because books are like art and people like what they like.
Two years ago, I was coming off the high of my Goldie win for Locked Inside. I had finished Unconventional Lovers and knew before submitting the book it was a huge risk. Our community likes to say they want to read characters that don’t fit the mold. The data I’ve seen does not support this. The reaction from a few betas also confirmed that notion.
I persevered because the book was very important to me. I had the kind of passion for this baby like none other before, including Locked Inside. Every single one of my betas had given the draft an enthusiastic thumbs up. Many stated it was by far the best book I’d ever written and I agreed. I’d sent the draft out to a village (yes I know hyperbole) because I knew it was controversial. Every beta agreed it was well written, but…well…data does not lie and readers are fickle. From a business perspective, there is a pretty good sense this book will not be a hot seller.
A good suggestion came my way. Go back to the drawing board and put more emphasis on the conventional couple. This will make the book a bit more marketable.
I did go back to the drawing board but did not want to diminish the love story between Bri and Siera. I wrote about Siera and Bri to blast away the preconceived notions about people with Down Syndrome. Both of the young women are talented, fully functioning members of society. Both graduated from high school and one goes on to community college. This was an important message to convey.
Instead of diminishing Bri and Siera’s story, I added quite a bit to the other love story. The story now shares top billing. Even with those drafts, the book remains a huge risk. I’m a stubborn little shit. I metaphorically jutted out my chin and dug in to fight for my book to see the light of day.
I worked with Affinity to explore several options: 1) self-publishing; 2) putting the book out for free and donating the proceeds to charity under Stone Soup Community press and; 3) going with the brand new self-publishing arm of Affinity Rainbow Publications. I was elated to find out Affinity was expanding. Staying with Affinity was a strong preference for me. I was not letting this book die on the vine.
A few months later the most glorious news came my way. Affinity wanted to publish Unconventional Lovers regardless of its mass appeal or rather lack of mass appeal. I applaud their decision because let’s face it, this book is a major risk to them and not a solid business decision. I suspect they knew how much this book meant to me and decided it was worth the risk.
I want this book to do well for Affinity who is taking such a chance. They are my heroines in this story. If I’m honest, I also want the book to do well because I’d like nothing better than to prove the data wrong. I say this not because I want to shout I was right all along, but because I have far more faith in our society to recognize love is love. I’d like to think a love story between two young women with Down Syndrome will do well despite all the fancy graphs. Love is not restricted to the beautiful people or the perfect people. Love knows no bounds. Love is not a stingy old man, only doling out small doses to a tiny part of the world. Love is unconventional, unique, and infinite in all its many forms.
Unconventional Lovers may not appeal to everyone. I understand that. I hope the reason is not that people don’t believe individuals with Down Syndrome are entitled to that form of love. I hope everyone knows the kind of love where your partner can’t wait to tear off your clothes and have glorious heart pounding sex with you. Most of us are sexual beings deserving of those wonderful feelings. Sexual intimacy allows us to experience this.
I will continue to shake those trees so the leaves gently fall down around us in a shower of love and acceptance. I hope you will take a chance to let those fall leaves touch your heart and soul.
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