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Courtney Kae's debut novel a perfect Sapphic holiday escape

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Courtney Kae — Photo by Albany Katz
Courtney Kae — Photo by Albany Katz

The holidays are the perfect time for love. As the year comes to a close and the snow flurries wrap us in a blanket of cold, we are more willing to look beyond ourselves, take account of those we appreciate the most, and let romance blossom in the most unlikely of places. At least that's how it is in author Courtney Kae's debut novel, In The Event of Love.

Cover illustration by Monika Roe  

Following the timeless formula of a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie, In The Event of Love tells the story of Morgan, a big-city event planner reeling from a recent tabloid catastrophe, as she heads back to her Christmas-loving small town. Of course, Morgan has a swoony run-in with her high school crush and former best friend, setting up the perfect Sapphic holiday romance.

Finding guidance in the writing world
Although the story resonates with many Queer people, bringing all the warm fuzzy feelings of a classic holiday romance the community often excluded from the genre, it took Kae a long time before they were ready to publish the novel.

"I have been writing for about a decade, and In the Event of Love was the first book where I felt like I was ready to query with and put out in the world," they said. Kae finally felt ready to release their book after connecting with other experienced authors through a mentorship program. "I went through a program called Pitch Wars, which is no longer but was a writing mentorship program that writers could submit to. I was chosen to be mentored by Rachel Lynn Solomon, who originates from Seattle. She's an incredible romance author of Weather Girl and The Ex Talk and the upcoming Business or Pleasure. She's amazing."

Solomon helped Kae with their draft and guided them through the often mucky publication process. "So we worked together for three months to get In The Event of Love ready for the agent's eyes, and then the mentoring period ended with an agent showcase. It was a very different way of entering publishing, but I also gained an incredible community from it, and just the nature of the program got me ready for the deadlines and working with an editor. There were so many highs and lows throughout that period, but I wouldn't change it because of the community and everything I gained. And it was cool to not go through the querying process alone," Kae said.

The program, which helped connect several up-and-coming authors with experienced mentors, gave Kae the confidence to put their story out there. Through their new friendship with Solomon, Kae also learned that there is no 'right' way to be an author.

"I feel like I'm always trying to find my writing process. It changes with the season and the week.

"Unfortunately, I often have to set aside chunks of time, often full weekends, to get into the headspace. I want to be that author that sits down every morning and [can] leisurely punch out a few words a day, but I tend to write in spurts," they said. "I don't think there's any one way to write a novel, whenever you can get the words down. If I do spend too much time away from a manuscript, that's when self-doubt creeps in and I tend to sort of get farther away from the characters' voices, so if I feel that happening it's time to go back."

Where are all the Queers?
Kae first found inspiration for their novel back in 2019 after bingeing on cheesy holiday films with their family. "At the end of 2019, my family was having a rough winter and we coped by just cuddling on the couch and watching holiday movies. They were just a hopeful little bubble that you knew was going to end happily," they explained.

"As a Queer person, I couldn't help but notice, then, there were zero main characters who were Queer in mainstream holiday movies. I mean, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of holiday movies, and there was not one! At least where I was watching, which was like Lifetime, Hallmark, and Netflix. I may have missed some, but it was very difficult to find." This got Kae curious, and they started looking into other mediums to find Queer holiday stories.

"I think one of the first traditionally published [Sapphic] romances was Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur, and I believe that came out in 2020, so that was cool to see because it's a Sapphic romance set over Christmastime and the holidays." Out of thousands of books, movies, and TV shows, Kae was surprised to only find a few options, and eventually they realized that if they wanted to see more, they'd just have to write them.

"I had been a voracious reader of romance, and I had written YA fantasy up until that point, but I just never thought I would have the chance to do romance. When this main character popped into my head and crashed into a tree farm, I knew I had to write her story, and so came In The Event of Love."

Photo by Albany Katz  

"Niche, niche, niche"
When they first started writing In The Event of Love, it was a personal project, one Kae didn't plan on sharing with the world. "It was sort of the story I wanted to read or see on the television at that point, so I just really sank my teeth into it and enjoyed it. I didn't write it with this big feeling that it would sell or get me an agent because it was niche, niche, niche. I felt very much that it was my taste and what I wanted to see represented, and I'm just beyond thrilled and grateful that other people wanted to see it, too. I'm just so grateful for that."

One of the reasons Kae never expected In The Event of Love to sell was because the book does not view Queerness from a heterosexual lens. It's not a tragic story about coming out or a holiday epic of the resilience of the LGBTQ+ community in the face of tragedy. It's just a fun Christmassy novel that happens to be Sapphic.

"I wanted to see Queer community and Queer main characters celebrated in a space that didn't question or challenge their Queerness. Coming out stories are important, and they have their place, and they're needed in the community, or stories of challenges and traumas that we've overcome personally, or as a community. I wanted In the Event of Love to be pure escapism. Because that's what you have in a heterosexual holiday movie or book, it's never examining their straightness or the identity of the characters. I just wanted that sort of escapism for this book," Kae said.

Because Kae intended for In The Event of Love to read like a classic holiday escape, and not a serious look at the intricacies of Queerness, they packed in as many fun romance tropes as they possibly could. "I am trash for so many tropes," Kae said with a laugh. "You know, 'Can you help me reach those buttons for me?' is probably one of my favorites. Only one bed, or any sort of sleeping situation. The second chance is one I love because you get to go back and see the backstory and compare the then to the now. The same thing with friends to lovers. Rivals to lovers [stories] are always great because I love that shift from competing to falling in love. Forearms. Forearms are always great. Yes, rolled up sleeves."

Their favorite tropes — second chances and friends to lovers — are also especially great for writing Queer romances, Kae explained. "I have found that I love childhood friends to lovers or second chances, at least with the two I've written so far. It's been such a joy to incorporate a community. Because I came into my identity later in life or realized my identity a little bit later in life, I always sort of have this sense of loss for the Queer community I didn't have as a teen. I love being able to incorporate that in the memories of my adult characters, just sort of reliving, in a sense, recreating, a community I didn't get to experience. I also love including how love interests came out to each other, or welcomed each other into their truths. That's always a really special and joyful scene for me to write."

Kae doesn't dwell too much on their character's pasts but enjoys the snippets of backstories they can create for them. "They aren't long, but it's always a little bit of a flashback and I love including that and rewriting sort of some of my moments where I've come out and the response hasn't always been what I would hope it would be, so being able to write that in a way that I wish it could be for everybody, it's very joyful, especially in Queer romance."

The joy of the season
While In The Event of Love is pure joy, Kae also hopes readers can take some valuable lessons away from the book as well. "I hope they take away a sense of validation. I hope they take away joy. I hope they feel that it was time well spent and that it filled them up. The resounding point in Morgan's journey is to fully believe and embrace that she is enough, and I hope that is also how readers feel when they read."

Writing their holiday book was a great way for Kae to feel the Christmas spirit all year long. For them, the magic of the season comes from time spent with friends and family. "One of my absolute favorite [traditions] is we have a holiday street nearby that goes all out, and they call it Candy Cane Lane and we walk with our friends and family and drink hot cocoa," they said. The tradition landed an important scene in the book as well. "It's what inspired one of the scenes in In the Event of Love, where Morgan sort of has her realization of what needs to change in her life and her outlook on life. And so I love going there, and there's always like, a lot of people from the studios live on that street, and it's wild, they pull out all the stops, it's cool. It kind of makes you feel like a kid again."

A newer tradition Kae has also come to love is spending time with their adult family. "My family of three and I do a gingerbread house 'competition.' It started when my daughter was little and I would handmake all the gingerbread, handmake the royal icing, and wait for it to dry. Now, we just buy the premade kits and we hot glue them, so it's not fancy or anything, and my husband always wins the competition, but it's always just so fun doing it together," they said with a smile.

Cover illustration by Monika Roe  

Continuing the story of Fern Falls
For those looking to start a new tradition this year, enjoying a Courtney Kae romance could be a great way to get in the holiday spirit. They are wrapping up the final edits on their second novel, and hope to get it out by next year, just in time to snuggle around the fire and continue the adventures of Morgan and her small-town friends in Fern Falls.

"We are wrapping up the larger revisions for, In the Case of Heartbreak which is Fern Falls number two, it follows a major side character from In The Event of Love," Kae revealed. "This is our book about our cinnamon roll of a pastry chef Ben Parish, and he is coming off the heels of a major disaster of a live recording of a baking competition show and he runs off to his family's beach house to sort of lick his wounds, where he finds that his life-long unrequited crush, Adam Reed, is suddenly within reach. So it's this summer romp of a novel, and it is deeply romantic."

Their latest book is a bit of a tone change from the jolly holiday romance, but just as compelling. "It's very intense. In the way that In the Event had that holiday whimsy, I feel like In the Case of Heartbreak goes all the way, to the deepest layers, and it took me lots of rewriting to finally reach the bedrock of Ben's story. Because of that, it will have some bigger trigger warnings for family trauma and childhood neglect and emotional abuse. It goes to some deeper places, but I hope it's handled with care and in a way that readers can see Ben have this really deep healing journey."

As for Kae's future projects, "I think as a Queer creator I can't [not write Queer stories]. Everything I write is going to be Queer," they said. Readers can look forward to more small-town hijinks, romance, and lots of fun as they continue the story of Fern Falls.