Duck Prints Press is celebrating Shakespeare Day, April 23, 2023 (the Bard’s 459th birthday!) by sharing excerpts and art crops from our anthology And Seek (Not) to Alter Me: Queer Fanworks Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.“ That’s right – we here at DPP love Shakespeare so much that we dedicated our entire second anthology to queerifying one of his plays. Because, really, what higher compliment can we give to a media we adore than to make it extra super-duper queer?
We hope you enjoy these sneak peeks!!
From “I Am For You” by Lucy K. R.
“If I were still a young man”—Leonato’s voice is low, sheltered though they are behind rows of his father’s books—“how would you woo me?”
“Ah,” Don Pedro chuckles, flexing his left hand—always sore from the scar at the meat of his thumb. “If you were a young man, I would have to fight off your suitors with my cane.”
“But you would be young too.” Leonato notes Don Pedro’s empty glass. A better host would fill it, but he’s too busy enjoying Don Pedro’s hand on his thigh, the warmth of his closeness, and the safety of the library. “Where would you even find a cane?”
“I suppose I would borrow one.” Don Pedro’s answer is light with amusement. “Surely some kind elder would lend theirs to such a cause.”
“Would you lend yours today?”
“For love? In a heartbeat.”
Love, he says, so easily. Love, in his rich voice, with the ever-lingering hint of Spain in his words. Love, as if Leonato is not already lost.
From “Hero’s Moon” by Theresa Tanner
“Beatrice? This is…” The boy straightened up, lifting his chin as he held out a hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Beatrice. I’ve heard a ton about you.”
“And I’ve heard absolutely nothing about you,” Beatrice said, staring down her cousin. “Not even a name. And I would shake your hand, but…” She gestured in a way that emphasized her armful of concessions.
“Oh! Right!” Hannah grabbed the Dr. Pepper and a bag of Fritos. “Benedick, she probably bought you stuff too. Grab whatever you want.”
Now it was Beatrice’s turn to freeze. Benedick? The Benedick? “Benedick the Epistler?”
“The one and only!” Hannah put a hand on Benedick’s shoulder, giving him a gentle shove. “Dude. Quit staring like a weirdo and take your introduction gifts from Beatrice. Otherwise, I’m going to choose for you, and I’m going to choose the Reese’s.”
From “An Office Ado” by Aria L. Deair
“Look at them. It’s practically indecent.”
Benedict hid his smile, barely, as Beau scoffed, tossing sandy, too-long hair out of his face. He needed another haircut. His eyes drifted to where Hero leaned into Claudio. “They look happy, Beau.”
“Happiness looks good on everyone,” Beau shot back. “You don’t see everyone else envying them.” He softened and lowered his voice, brushing his shoulder against Benedict’s. “No matter how sickening, they do suit each other.”
“It took Claudio far too long to fess up.” Benedict snorted. He took another sip of the watered-down punch and leaned against the wall of his cubicle. “I was hours away from taking drastic action.”
Beau fought down a smile. “Locking them in a closet?”
“Something like that,” Benedict gave Beau a wink.
Beau sighed again as the couple smiled at each other. “Plans aside, do you know the worst part?”
Benedict raised an eyebrow and lifted his glass in toast to Claudio. “Other than punch that tastes like it once thought about having a flavor?”
From “ASS[U]ME: A Queer Love Story” by K. B. Vimes
“So, how many civilians have you personally killed?” Beatrice asked Ben sweetly; Ben sighed.
“None that I know of.”
“ ‘That you know of.’ Hmmph. I’ve been watching news sources besides America’s, you know. We might’ve been attacked on 9/11, but now we’re invading other countries for no reason.”
Secretly, Ben agreed with her, but he didn’t dare say that. He’d joined because he’d believed it to be a good cause; after two tours he was disillusioned about the whole thing. He’d seen too many things done in the name of Good and Justice that weren’t good or just at all.
“I do what I’m told, ma’am.”
“I’m sure you do. That’s what the soldiers at Auschwitz said, too. When are we going to see you up on charges of treason?”
Hopefully never, Ben wanted to say, tugging at his dress shirt and looking around for an exit. It was bad enough that he was in men’s clothing. He felt naked without the shaping undergarments he normally wore as Bustychick. He scratched at his collar and sighed. Wouldn’t she be surprised if she knew he was at risk of that every day, but for his sexuality rather than for his conduct?
From “Much Ruckus” by R. L. Houck
Claudia brought her hands up to frame Hera’s face. “Culture is important. Family is important. I don’t want to drive a wedge between you and your father, especially not so close to the [wedding].”
Hera stared for a long moment before shrugging and flashing Claudia a cheeky smile. “I think Dad’s going to be a little more concerned with his other child entering into a relationship with a mercenary.”
Stunned, Claudia didn’t resist as she was pushed prone again, and Hera flopped on top of her. “I’m sorry—are you referring to B and Ben?”
“B—your sister? The artificial intelligence program who experiments with gender identity on a daily basis? And Ben, the self-proclaimed, life-long bachelor who’s said on several occasions he doesn’t believe in love? Those two? In a relationship?”
From “Some Sparks That Are Like Wit” by Adrian Harley
“We’re lucky Claudio is a birder,” Hero said, smiling at Claudio and reaching across the table to squeeze his hand. Dating, if anything, had only intensified their sappiness. Unacceptable.
“You say that because you haven’t been coerced into any 5 a.m. treks out of the city,” Ben said.
“Like you have?” said Beatrice.
“I’ll have you know that, in honor of our many years of friendship, I’ve accompanied Claudio on 5 a.m. birding trips not once, but twice,” said Ben, tilting away from Hero and Claudio to give Beatrice his full attention.
“I’m astonished. Truly, you bear such hardships for your friends,” Beatrice said.
“Constantly! When I lose to them at bowling tonight, it’s because I want to protect their delicate egos,” said Ben.
“And for all the things I’ve said about your ego—”
“—I could never describe it as ‘delicate,’ ” said Beatrice. “I’ve launched nuclear missiles at that thing, and it hasn’t budged.”
“We’re in an arms race, and I plan to win,” said Ben.
“I’d normally add a joke about toxic masculinity here, but, well…” Beatrice gestured with her rum and coke to Ben’s whole self: plaid flannel, undercut, and all.
Ben thought, in that moment, But I am a man.
From “Ruckus, Drama, and 2-Metre-Tall Penguins” by Era J. M. Couts
“Why, that’s spoken like an honest drovier: so they sell bullocks. But did you think the King would have served you thus?”
“I pray you, learn your bloody lines before the rehearsal, Bren!” Carlo snapped, throwing his hands in the air, and Jinji mentally cursed. “You’re always forgetting your words! We cannot rehearse like this!”
“If you would just follow the damn script even when I have one word wrong, maybe we could actually rehearse?” Bren crossed his arms defensively over his chest, his freckled nose scrunching as he frowned. Carlo’s eye roll could be seen from the back of the theatre.
Jinji cursed. There were days where he genuinely liked the amateur theatre group he’d joined, but there were others he wondered why he was wasting his time. It was ten past ten, and he could be doing something else. The smartest choice would be to study for the university exam he had in three days. Yet there he was, two weeks away from their play premiere, with his poor soul crying because a) he couldn’t focus on his lines and b) two of their main actors spent the entire rehearsal time bitching at each other like fifteen-year-olds.
From “Dear Don Pedro” by Mikki Madison (writing as M. K. Mads)
Pedro had confessed his feelings to Beatrice their freshman year of college, about three days after she and Benedick had had a doozy of a fight and well before they’d actually started dating. Well, maybe it hadn’t really been a confession; he’d ridden the line between truth and teasing on the chance she turned him down. Which she did, gently and kindly, and in such a way that Pedro never doubted she meant it when she said they’d be better off as friends.
“I would need another boyfriend for the weekdays, because I never see you then,” she’d told him. “I’m lucky to get a glimpse of you even on the weekends.”
Much as the rejection stung, Pedro had accepted it gracefully and set about finding her a boyfriend who would be good for her. Said boyfriend turned out to be Benedick, and the plan to get them together had succeeded beyond Pedro’s wildest dreams.
He’d been happy for them. He still was. Really.
From “Good Men and True” by Juno Caster
Margaret’s chest heaved with a sob. It came as a surprise—she hadn’t thought she had any more tears in her. Dogberry came closer and, after a moment’s hesitation, put a hand on her shoulder. It was heavy and warm, and Margaret felt so brittle and so cold that she hunched over and broke down. Dogberry’s hand moved to cup the back of her head, squashing her half-undone bun, and he held her close while she cried.
“She’s innocent,” she eventually managed. “She’s innocent.”
“I’m sure she is.” Dogberry’s voice rumbled deep in his chest; it felt like his words were reverberating through her. “You know her better than anyone. I’m sure it’s all a miscontraption.”
She couldn’t help herself. A laugh—barely more than a hiccup—escaped her. Dogberry shifted, presumably to glance back at Verges, because next came the gentle correction: “Misconstruction, dear.” Then, to Margaret, just as gently: “Come down with us. We’ll get you some tea, and then I’ll ask Seacoal to drive you home.”
From “A Skirmish of Wit” by Nicole Wilkinson
“Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out,” Madeline whispers, her palm hot against the bared skin of Rae’s hip. “I have a sword, and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Rae chuckles through the lump in her throat. “It won’t come to that. I promise.” She presses her cheek to Madeline’s and looks toward the dais.
Mother looks triumphant, smiling broadly, her hands clasped demurely in front of her. Father has moved closer to her, but there’s nothing in his posture to suggest anger. They’ve assumed she’s made her choice, which means they haven’t figured out the ruse.
Hope swells within her, riding the coattails of her relief.
This is going to work.
From “Can Virtue Hide Itself?” by Lyn Weaver
Hero Messina was also sixteen. She attended a fancy school for rich kids—the kind that let Daddy buy good grades, not the kind that pushed kids into breakdowns. She was also, obviously, a superhero. Even if Ursula hadn’t spotted her grin in the huge photo of her splashed over the school’s website, Hero did a terrible job hiding. The photo linked to the school newspaper, which linked to Hero’s socials. They were full of gorgeous selfies taken mid-flight.
The descriptions said she was standing on tall buildings. Ursula called bullshit. No one could perch on an open-roofed skyscraper while keeping both Town Hall and the observation tower at their back at such a photographic angle. Hero had taken the pic while pretending to crouch, the tower level with her perfectly plucked brows. She was giving the peace sign.
Of course she was giving the peace sign.
“What a loser,” Ursula sighed. “I’ve gotta meet her.”
From “The Journal Of Don Pedro: Or, The Straights Are At It Again” by Nova Mason
Fate has a strange way of things.
Claudio and I have worked on our Benedick, and I have no doubt we will hook his heart to Beatrice’s. But Claudio! My poor Claudio.
I thought my brother uninterested in the well-being of my companions. I was wrong. He told us of Hero’s licentious ways to save my dear Claudio from horns. Antlers, by the sounds of it. I pray that, when we attend to her window tonight, we shall see no man enter.
I do not understand what might drive Hero to such an action. Is Claudio not sufficient? Is he not handsome, and witty, and full of charms? Ah, but the heart and the mind and the humours do not always move in concert. Is it not so that sometimes, when man is full, he continues to eat something appetising? Or, when man has not thirst, he yet drinks wine?
Wine, perhaps, is more likened to love. Tempting to some who like its taste, even when they are not thirsty or have been made mad by its effect. An overabundance can make one sick.
From “Some Cupids” by Nickel J. Keep
Beatrice stood in the doorway of Hero’s room, watching over her beloved cousin. He was curled up and closed off, lying quietly in his bed. His placidity was a stark and alarming contrast to his usual behavior and personality, and it broke Bea’s heart.
“How is he?” Benivida’s voice startled Bea out of her vigil, causing her to jump. “Or is that a stupid question?”
“There are no stupid questions, Beni.” Bea wiped the tears from her face before turning around. “Just a stupid person asking them.”
“I’m not sure I deserve that, but I’ll let it slide.” The taller woman stepped closer to Bea. Her olive skin glowed in the candlelight, and, for a brief moment, Bea allowed herself to stare. Beni frowned as the distance between them diminished. “You’ve been crying.”
“I figured that would be obvious. My cousin is heartbroken, and my heart breaks for him.” She shook her head and turned back to watch over Hero. “The pain he feels, I feel.”
Beni rested her hand on Bea’s shoulder. “Neither of you deserve the hurt you’re feeling. Please, tell me what I can do for you?”
“Is murdering Claudia off the table?”
From “The False Sweet Bait” by Veronica Sloane
Claudio’s estate was outside the city, but I had a good car and the desire to speed. I arrived before the bulk of the fashionably late and parked myself, scandalizing the valet. The estate was the kind that had a fancy name and rose out of the cliff face like a fairy-tale castle. At night, it shone like a golden beacon.
I took my time heading up, refamiliarizing myself of its entrances and exits; all the places a shady character might hide.
So, naturally, I found one.
They stood in the lee of the kitchen door, half-hidden by a jasmine bush. The white flowers bent around them as if to hide their lean form. They were dressed to the nines in a beautiful silk suit the color of the night sky. Cufflinks caught the starlight, and the moon caught the sharp angles of their cheekbones as well as the gleaming, black coif of their hair. All beauty and grace in one Benni Padua.
What an asshole.
“What are you doing here?” I barked, pleased when they fumbled with their fussy little notebook.
From “The Polyamorous ‘Oh’” by Theo Neidlinger
“Hello! How can I… help you?”
Hands tucked into worn, brown overalls. Lightly tanned skin. Long, brown hair that curls into ringlets, tucked behind ears lined with piercings. A soft, earnest smile. Huge, grey eyes with starry, white striations that make Harper itch to paint them.
“I was just looking at your stuff,” they say. They have dimples. Dimples. “You’ve got a nice variety! Is any of it overwintered?”
There’s a long moment where Harper doesn’t even vaguely recall what the term “overwintered” means, her mind hung up on whiskey-colored freckles and how she’d gently dot the canvas to capture them. Then:
“Yes!” Suddenly, her spark of energy is back, flustered and warm, zapping the last-hour-fuzz from her brain. “Some of the kale, and the rapini. It’s cauliflower rapini! Looks a bit funny, but it’s pretty tasty.”
“Well, if you’re recommending it, then I’ll have to try it.” Their head tilts as they deliver a devastating wink. “I’m Cloud. It’s nice to meet you…?”
“It’s nice to meet you too!” Harper says with her sunniest smile. She blinks when Cloud’s smile just widens, showing off adorable buck teeth. “Oh! I’m Harper.”
From “find ourselves unstuck” by nottesilhouette
“Why did you do it?”
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
John shifts awkwardly on his feet, shuffling straight into startled shame at her sharp response. “I’m sorry, Hero. I’ll answer, if you want me to, it’s just—you didn’t ask, and I didn’t want to push my excuses on you. Not you, not after everything. But you weren’t asking, so I thought maybe I’d ask for some answers, if you’re willing.”
Hero leans back against the porch step and squirms as the wood cuts into her back, then ignores the way John’s concern glances over her and winces away.
“Why are you even here?” She doesn’t say it to be mean. The way her voice falls flat and her gaze cuts to the road ahead, she’s sure he wouldn’t know it.
“Same reason I thought you were, I guess. Senior year. College apps are in. What else do I do with my free time?”
Hero’s a good girl, a sweet girl, but no amount of practiced poise can stop the words that spill past her wine-drunk teeth into the cool February night. “Frame girls for cheating to get back at your half-brother?”
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