Fiction is a space where we can pick up our swords — metal or laser — and take up arms against the forces of evil alongside our trustee steeds or intergalactic troupes. Limits are nonexistent in the written worlds we chose to escape to. We can become anyone, but at the core of those characters, we secretly hope to find a small part of ourselves — a small proof that we have something in common with the heroes we idolize.
Stories have deeper impacts when their characters act and think like we do — and love like we love. As LGBT identities and stories gain more attention, representation in fiction has continued to grow as well. Queer author TJ Klune takes this idea and runs with it by putting LGBT characters center stage in his fiction.
TJ Klune has a number of books for both youth and young adults that explore LGBTQ characters and relationships across many genres of fiction. From the Tales of Verania series, which follows a quirky wizard and his colorful (and crude) collection of mythical creatures as he fights evil across the kingdom to the small town coffee shop romance ‘How To Be A Normal Person,’ Klune showcases queer identities from a number of diverse lenses.
“When I was 16, 17 years old, what I would have to read … if there were queer characters in fiction they were tragic side characters, and they didn’t get the same happy ending everyone else got,” Klune said.
That is not the case in many of Klune’s books, which span a number of genres across adult as well as young adult fiction that explore a myriad of identities. This representation, Klune believes, is important to those who typically do not see characters like them in any media — and is especially crucial in young adult fiction.
“If there is a kid out there who wants to be able to read about someone like him in a book, it's going to come this day and age,” Klune said. “Young Adult is at the forefront of promoting and pushing LGBTQ characters, and I think that is the way it is going to stay because young kids can see themselves in these characters.”
Exposure to queer characters is helping young adults come to terms with their own identities while also helping parents better understand their children.
“I get a lot [of mail] from parents,” Klune said. “A few weeks ago I got an email from a straight father, his son had given him a copy of my book ‘How to Be A Normal Person,’ and he wanted to have his father read it so that he could understand him and his asexuality. His father wrote to me thanking me for helping him to understand his son better.”
He continued, “It touched me to know that parents are reading these books with their kids, and its giving them a better understanding.”
While Klune’s books have their fair share of drama and tragedy, the queer characters that populate them are not tragic side characters like the ones found in more traditional fiction. The main characters are gay and get their happily ever after. Supporting characters are gay, lesbian, asexual and more — and each of them is complex, loveable (and in the case of villains, satisfyingly despicable) beyond their sexualities. Klune aims to write good characters who tell great stories, and they just happen to be gay.
With each of his stories, Klune is reclaiming the fantastical space traditionally populated — even dominated — by heterosexual romance. The results are tales of wizards, werewolves, angels, dragons, large kingdoms and small towns in Oregon, each different but each affirming that queer people do get a happy ending.
“I think [representation] is only going to grow. Especially in this political climate that we find ourselves in, we have a lot of straight white men who are speaking for us in our government and I think that you’re going to find voices of the marginalized — persons of color, queer people — are going to have to become louder and louder and louder and I think that we can do that in part through our fiction,” Klune said.
Klune is moving from indie publishing to larger scale publication, signing with top five publisher MacMillan for an adult queer romance book, as well as, a young adult queer superhero trilogy, bringing his fiction to a larger audience.
“I am over the moon, of course, that MacMillan/Tor has put great faith in my books,” Klune wrote. “I think that they understand the importance of positive representation, especially in the YA community. And I have seen [that representation] more and more in other books/media companies, though I still think it's slow going.”
Before he transitions to traditional publishing, however, Klune is self-publishing his written take on a 90’s action movie with his book “The Bones Beneath My Skin.”
Klune grew up in a small conservative town in the 90’s, and remembered his own struggles as a queer 15 to 16-year-old, but also remembered the nineties to be an especially confusing time for everyone.
“The 90’s were just a weird weird time for everybody, and I wanted to explore that from a queer perspective while also blowing shit up,” Klune said.
Whether self-publishing or printing books on a larger scale, Klune will continue to tell stories of queer heroes and triumph. Queer characters — and the queer authors who write them — tell the stories of the LGBT community in ways we’ve never seen. And those stories are only going to grow and continue to gain traction.
“Queer people aren’t going away,” Klune said. “We’ve been here just as long as everyone else and we aren’t going anywhere. With the advent of social media and our reach across the world, our voices are only going to get louder. There are people that aren’t going to like that … but as long as we continue to speak our truths, I think that our voices are going to be heard.”