I adored Eitan’s Chord, the queer Chanukah erotica rerelease by Shira Glassman in which an trio of queer women Chanukah fairies (including a butch fairy!) have sex to create the energy to grant the wishes of a sweet trans man/cis woman couple. I was lucky enough to get a chance to ask a few questions of the author!
Q: How would you describe yourself to a new reader just discovering you?
A: I actually think fellow SFF author RB Lemberg described me better than I could ever describe myself: queer Jewish candy. While I do get deep or serious at times — Queen Shulamit coming to terms with the threat to her country’s economy from agricultural sabotage, in The Olive Conspiracy — for the most part my books are intended to be the story version of a comfort food, of one of those super soft blankets that feel like a cat’s belly (I have one from Bed Bath and Beyond with pumpkins on it!), of that song you pull up on YouTube when you need a safe place. My subcategory of fantasy is that I’m very inspired by growing up without a Disney princess to reflect either my sexuality or my people, but I also write contemporary romance.
I also tend to write the kind of romances where other types of relationships are given a lot of weight, too, whether it’s the protagonist’s friend, daughter, grandfather, knitting group, etc. Showing that f/f romance doesn’t inherently threaten f-f friendship is very important to me.
Q: What sparked Eitan’s Chord for you? What made you want to write this particular story?
A: My former publisher published a Christmas-and-Chanukah anthology every December, but one year they made the theme really specific: all submissions had to have something to do with the classifieds. (“Holiday Want Ads” was the anthology title.) I didn’t even think I was going to participate, originally, but then I realized that Craigslist counted. Add to that my frustration with how I make really cute beaded jewelry that hardly ever sells — maybe it’s not that cute! I’ll live — and a thread I accidentally started on Tumblr about Jewish fairies , and you have the origins of “Eitan’s Chord.” Also, I just really like thinking about sapphic fairies and think there should be more of them.
Eitan and Abigail look like what my life looked like at the time I wrote it, so that’s another factor — at the time, I was hungry for representation that looked like my marriage, especially since most of the trans men in romance were featured in m/m stories, not m/f. It may not apply to me anymore but it’s still really good that this is changing with the introduction of more trans m/f books into the world.
Q: Eitan’s Chord is, at its center, a Chanukah story. What do you love most about Chanukah?
A: Snap answer: the moment when a candle finishes burning out and it turns from being this tiny pinpoint of orange glow to suddenly pop now it’s a wisp of gray smoke, reaching up, up, up.
Not so snap answer: my father’s parents were German Jews who escaped in 1938. The last decade of his life he spent working in Germany, and one year he called me during Chanukah and left me a voicemail in which he sang Maoz Tzur in Hebrew and told me he’d lit the menorah in his business-trip apartment. In Munich. For a holiday that’s literally supposed to be about rededication (because of the temple in the story that had gotten messed up), that’s pretty goddamn fierce and amazing.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I appreciate those tiny lights in the dark.
Q: “Which one of the fairies are you?”
A: I’m Dreidl. I freaking want that dress I designed for her. (That doesn’t mean I want to replace her in the sex scene; who went where just kind of went with the flow! But her aesthetic and mood is mine, when I’m okay.)
Q: It’s incredibly rare to find f/f/f stories, and Eitan’s Chord is one of the few out there. Most of your stories center wlw relationships. What do you love about writing wlw?
A: Writing f/f or f/f/f gives me an outlet for my sapphic feelings, especially because I’m single. Also, it’s a way to hold fast against a universe of m/f, m/f, m/f, nothing but m/f, in most of the genres I care about. Jane Austen movies don’t have ladies sharing romantic moments. Operas certainly don’t. Disney princess movies don’t. Big-budget SFF only goes there if it wants to kill us, so I’m happier when we’re not even there. So I write. So I create my own princesses and fairies and superhero girls who want to kiss each other. A lot of us are doing it. They can’t keep us down forever.
Q: We first met on Twitter, talking about stories and fat representation, if I recall. (A subject dear to my heart.) Tell me about your chubby and fat characters, both in Eitan’s Chord, and your other stories.
A: Real life includes people of all different sizes, including my real life, so I find it frustrating and erasing that so frequently there’s a layer of skinnywashing on fiction.
Unless you’re trying to code for something negative about a character, which is harmful and dangerous and reinforces all kinds of awful myths that affect both how fat people feel and how thin people treat fat people.
I just want my writing to reflect the reality I see around me. So we have characters like Esther and Tzuriel, two musicians drawn to each other as they deal with the stress of her violin being stolen and him being suspected of the theft in my fantasy-mystery cozy A Harvest of Ripe Figs. We have Danielle, the chubby femme bombshell artist from Knit One Girl Two who uses her own body as a canvas to decorate when she’s at her absolute lowest.
And here in “Eitan’s Chord” we have Latke, the muscular “derby girl” with big thighs and strength both physical and emotional.
An answer like this wouldn’t be complete without me mentioning two other fat dreamboats from my Mangoverse series: Farzin, the gay math nerd and passionate advocate for worker justice who sweeps the youngest prince off his feet and teaches him all about human rights, and Isaac, the smirky older wizard who fell for the lady knight he trained in combat.
Isaac is one of the dearest to my heart of all my characters, given that he’s based on some of my very first favorite characters and attractions, and also in part on my childhood idea of what dragons were like. (He can turn into one; it’s just one of his unexpected charms.) Most of all, he comes from a desire to take the aesthetic of all the villains I felt tricked into liking — by virtue of the hero belonging to various oppressive groups, or the villain wearing dramatic black clothing and having sexy eyebrows — but then applied to a character it was safe to love.
I should also mention Aviva, the love interest and eventual partner/wife (the words change from book to book because the characters are supposed to be speaking Hebrew, which has the same word for ‘wife’ as ‘woman’) of the Mangoverse’s lesbian protagonist, Queen Shulamit. Aviva is a whimsical, protective, nurturing young palace cook who was the only person to realize the princess wasn’t faking her food problems. She’s the one on the right in this Chanukah scene I commissioned a few years ago from Laya. With her calmness, she makes a good foil for the tightly-wound little queen, her messy bun contrasted with Shulamit’s intricate, never-out-of-place braids symbolic of their differing approach to problems.
Q: I love the idea of fairy roller derby! The second I saw it I asked you to write a sports romance showing me the fairy roller derby team. Which of your other characters might play a sport in a modern AU?
A: Well, Rivka (the lady knight/captain of the guard in my fantasy series) is already pretty athletic in her approach to combat, and a lot of her training and practice is sports-focused. She’d be a definite asset to any derby team, or maybe rugby or boxing. I bet the lead in my 2018 superhero release Cinnamon Blade, Knife in Shining Armor would be really good on a gymnastics team, since she’s a reformed cat burglar and can easily scale a building without any supernatural powers.
If Queen Shulamit from the fantasy series were in a modern AU I imagine her father might have signed her up for tennis lessons, since she grew up wealthy, but she probably gets super distracted and stares off into space thinking about more academic subjects or daydreaming about famous tennis lesbians! (This may or may not be me using her as a self-insert again.)
Q: What do you enjoy about writing erotic fiction? What are the challenges?
A: I feel like writing erotica puts me in an entirely different style than writing everything else, because for me unless you’re only talking about emotions, suddenly there’s this extreme closeup focus on physical actions. I’ve described this out loud to friends as “she wrapped each finger tightly around the steering wheel, feeling the chilly vinyl warm up to her sweaty hands. Feeling each bump of the road beneath her wheels, she scanned the street signs for University of Florida. First, second, third. She had a ways to go.” etc. That would drive me nuts if it wasn’t a sex scene, but in order for a sex scene to Describe All The Things, you need that much detail. So it’s a different headspace.
What do I enjoy? Writing makes it feel real to me.
Q: It’s clear that one of the core things you do in your work is create warm and fluffy Jewish queer stories. Can you tell me why that’s important to you?
A: Ladies who love ladies die on television. Jews get persecuted and die in fiction. Holy crap, let me live!
Look, there’s a lot of literature and filmed media out there, much of it not by queer people or not by Jews, focusing on the worst things that can happen to us. If that’s the majority of what you see, you start believing you’re basically done for. Why would anyone believe us about the inner peace of queerness or the joyous parts of Jewishness if fiction keeps telling the world that only our oppression gets to steer the ship?
Hope. And also truth, because some of that peace and joy is real right now. It’s not just about hope.
Q: What’s up next for you? What stories are you working on?
A: So, in 2018 at some point, the world will meet Cinnamon Blade. She’s the snarky, former bad-girl sidekick on the fictional TV show that the two leads in Knit One Girl Two read fanfic about, but once I finished inventing her, I realized I really wanted to write her — and not just as part of a fake fandom. She’s secular Jewish, best friends since childhood with Captain Werewolf, who’s more observant. Knife in Shining Armor is about how she finally asks out the damsel in distress she keeps rescuing in adventure after adventure — Soledad Castillo, another one of my ultimate-sweetheart awkward nerd heroines. But will they ever get to enjoy an entire romantic evening together if aliens, vampires, etc. keep attacking Miami/Ft. Lauderdale?
The story is very queer, very Jewish, and very Florida. I love to create validating little experiences like that.
Also, since this interview is airing on November 20: on the 22nd, Ylva Publishing’s imprint Queer Pack will print my age-gap historical fantasy romance short “Gifts of Spring” in the first volume of the Queerly Loving anthology. It’s the story of Rosamund, a young and book-smart, street-clueless trans mage who rescues Elias, a cis Jewish acrobat/street performer, from an angry mob. This is the first time I’ve ever set anything in my father’s family’s ancestral Bavaria, so in a way it’s my own little “menorah in the apartment.”
More about Eitan’s Chord:
Fairy magic requires fairy intimacy, so when the three Chanukah fairies—cute butch Latke, enthusiastic party girl Dreidl, and their elegant leader Menorah—decide to help an impoverished young couple, a fairy romp is in order!
Eitan, a trans man, and his cis wife Abigail work retail and live on love in a studio apartment with broken blinds. If only Abigail’s beaded jewelry would sell online, they’d have a little more cash, but nobody’s biting. While they sleep, the fairies bring the miracle they’re looking for.
Bio: Shira Glassman is a bi Jewish violinist living in north Florida. She is best known for her fluffy queer Jewish fantasy series ‘the Mangoverse’, some of whose books have been shortlisted in the Golden Crown and Bi Book Awards, and for the wlw rom-com Knit One Girl Two. Her work draws heavily on her life, loved ones, heritage and upbringing, and French and German opera for inspiration.