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WHERE FOOD MEETS ROMANCE: A Guest Post by Xan West

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Food threads its way through so much of my newly released novelette, Nine of Swords, Reversed. Food as love, cooking as part of service-based submission, food as a sensory experience, feeding yourself as necessity and ongoing difficulty to manage, food as comfort and healing, baking together and shared meals as a way to stay connected, food as an ongoing set of access issues, and a thing daily life winds itself around.

I love food-themed romances dearly, and cannot really imagine writing a romance where food isn’t featured, as it’s one of my own most core love languages. It’s one of the core ways Noam shows love and devotion as a partner and as a submissive.

“They’d made apricot chicken for Shabbos dinner, one of their comfort foods. There was challah, and a casserole of yams, carrots, parsnips, and beets. Earthy and cozy and hearty, with a touch of sweetness. No nightshades, a lovely mix of textures, and all soft enough to not be a bother with my missing teeth. Because every time Noam cooked, they thought of my needs and limitations, the things that made eating hard for me, and the things I loved to eat. It was a plate full of their love, and care, and beautiful service.”

The meal that Noam makes for Shabbos feels very Jewish to me; it’s the food that tastes like home and comfort for Noam, and would for me as well. Challah and root vegetables hit that spot for me pretty much every time. And apricot chicken is the first recipe I made from the first Jewish cookbook I owned. So, part of this meal is about a shared cultural tradition, and a sharing of comfort food together.

No nightshades is about avoiding foods that exacerbate xyr arthritis. The mix of textures is referencing how deeply sensory food is for autistic folks like Dev. In addition to the way that this meal is about Noam showing their love for Dev, and doing exceptionally good service as part of their D/s dynamic with Dev, there is another piece of this that is central: the access intimacy in their relationship. Dev doesn’t need to ask for or explain access issues related to eating for xym, because Noam already knows what they are and attends to them with care. When I write about romantic relationships with disabled MCs, I look for ways to show access intimacy, because for me, it is such an important way that characters connect and love each other. Food is a really great one, because there are so many different places that access and food meet.

A good portion of the ways food appears in Nine of Swords, Reversed are connected to disability and chronic pain. There is a section of the story where the reader witnesses Dev on a high pain day when xe has a lot of brain fog, using the strategies xe has developed to be able to feed xyrself breakfast. This is a moment in the story where we sink into Dev’s daily life as an autistic person with chronic pain, see how xe manages the days when pain doesn’t allow much room for anything but itself. As an autistic spoonie myself, it felt important to show what this kind of day can be like, and to illuminate it through food, as food is central throughout the story in so many other ways.

One of the wonderful things about romances that center food is the way food can be used to illuminate character, show relationship dynamics, root the story in all kinds of specificity. I love reading stories that let food be central. So I thought I would share some of my favorite queer romances that use food in this way.

  • Her Christmas Cookie by Katrina Jackson. This contemporary high heat m/m/f Christmas romance is filled with food moments, from searching for a family cookie recipe that’s been in the family for over 100 years to serving food to homeless folks with queer chosen family to sharing traditional cultural recipes as a marker of familial acceptance.
  • Mangoverse by Shira Glassman. This cozy Jewish fantasy series centers a lesbian queen who has a number of food allergies and her bisexual chef partner that took her allergies seriously before anyone else and always endeavors to find new recipes that her lover can  enjoy, in every book.
  • Counterpoint by Anna Zabo. This contemporary m/m kink romance intertwines D/s and food in delicious ways. From the very start it’s one of the core ways these two characters build their D/s dynamic, by the dominant hand-feeding the submissive.
  • Belly Up by Eva Darrows. This contemporary YA m/f romance between a bi-questioning pregnant teen girl and a demisexual boy has so many food moments that illuminate character, from hilarious family moments to pregnancy food cravings to shared food with her BFF to the hero courting her by cooking for her.
  • A Little Familiar by R Cooper. This fantasy m/genderfluid romance centers a witch and a familiar who have both been pining for each other for years. One of the core ways they come together is by preparing and cooking food together for Samhain.
  • His Quiet Agent by Ada Maria Soto. This contemporary m/m romance centers two spy coworkers, one of whom is autistic, touch averse, and ace, the other who is homoromantic and demisexual. I love the way the MC courts his love interest by noting his food routines and what kinds of foods work for him and cooking him something to eat for lunch that he thinks might appeal. It felt like this really beautiful access intimacy.
  • Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai. This high heat m/f romance between a bisexual woman who runs a cafe and her estranged brother in law who is a secret famous chef has some gorgeous food moments. My favorite is when he makes her the breakfast sandwich of her dreams.
  • Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss. This contemporary f/f NA romance between a lesbian woman and a panromantic ace woman has so many lovely food moments. One of my faves is when they cook together; there is so much care and intimacy in that scene.
  • The Pursuit Of… by Courtney Milan. This historical m/m romance between a deserting British soldier and a Black former slave who meet on the battlefield is gorgeously written and characterized. And so much of who Henry is and how these two characters come together is shown through the most terrible cheese in the world.
  • Whip, Stir and Serve by Caitlyn Frost and Henry Drake. This contemporary kinky m/demigirl erotic romance begins with and is driven by a quest to make cinnamon rolls. That’s how we learn so much about both of the MCs, how they come together, and the central conflict to resolve. The access intimacy in this story is beautiful, and so is the D/s, and we would have none of that without the cinnamon rolls.
  • Foxy Boxing Day by LJ Hamlin. This cute holiday f/f romance short centers a gluten intolerant fox shifter and a disabled werewolf baker who have a meet-cute at the pack’s Boxing Day party over gluten free baked goods!
  • Small Change by Roan Parrish. This contemporary m/f romance between a cinnamon roll hero who runs a sandwich shop and an angry queer tattoo artist heroine who meet over a spilled bagel is one of my most favorite queer romances ever. I love the way he courts her with a different sandwich every day.
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xan westXan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, an autistic queer fat Jewish genderqueer writer and community activist with multiple disabilities who spends a lot of time on Twitter.

Xan’s erotica has been published widely, including in the Best S/M Erotica series, the Best Gay Erotica series, and the Best Lesbian Erotica series. Xan’s story “First Time Since”, won honorable mention for the 2008 National Leather Association John Preston Short Fiction Award. Their collection of queer kink erotica, Show Yourself to Me, is out from Go Deeper Press.

After over 15 years of writing and publishing queer kink erotica short stories, Xan has begun to also write longer form queer kink romance. Their recent work still centers kinky, trans and non-binary, fat, disabled, queer trauma survivors. It leans more towards centering Jewish characters, ace and aro spec characters, autistic characters, and polyamorous networks. Xan has been working on a queer kinky polyamorous romance novel, Shocking Violet, for the last four years, and hopes to finish a draft very soon! You can find details and excerpts on their website, and sign up for their newsletter to get updates. Their Troublesome Crush, a polyamorous kinky queer m/f romance novella about metamours realizing they have a mutual crush on each other as they plan their shared partner’s birthday celebration, is due out in March 2019.

Website: https://xanwest.wordpress.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TGStoneButch
Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/cj-Lub

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NINE OF SWORDS, REVERSEDNine-of-Swords-Reversed-cover

Dev has been with xyr service submissive Noam for seven years and xe loves them very much. Dev and Noam have built a good life together in Noam’s family home in Oakland, where they both can practice their magecraft, celebrate the high holidays in comfort, support each other as their disabilities flare, and where Noam can spend Shabbos with their beloved family ghost.

But Dev’s got a problem: xe has been in so much arthritis pain recently that xe has not been able to shield properly. As an empath, no shielding means Dev cannot safely touch Noam. That has put a strain on their relationship, and it feels like Noam is pulling away from xym. To top it off, Dev has just had an upsetting dream-vision about xyrself and Noam that caused one of the biggest meltdowns xe has had in a while. It’s only with a timely tarot reading and the help of another genderfluid mage that Dev is able to unpack the situation. Can xe figure out how to address the issues in xyr relationship with Noam before everything falls apart?

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