In Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta’s upcoming book “Once & Future” — available March 26 — the forty-second incarnation of King Arthur is traversing planets controlled by a ruthless monopoly organization with the young wizard Merlin, a nontraditional band of knights, and the magic sword Excalibur by her side.
For the first time in the King Arthur cycle, the hero of the story is a female named Ari. The story includes plenty of same-sex romance and gender non-conforming characters, but this is far from the stories of LGBT marginalization that we are used to.
This is a massive magic-woven space odyssey. This is not a gay story, it’s just filled with gay, bisexual and nonbinary characters who are unapologetically themselves.
“We wanted to write a commercial book starring all queer characters, not a niche book,” co-author Cori McCarthy said.
McCarthy and Capetta wanted to write a story with queer teen heroes that didn’t fall prey to the tropes of traditional queer media — they didn’t want to write another gay teen sob story.
“It is good that we have the fun romp elements because unfortunately what queer teenagers do not get a lot of is fun,” Capetta said.
Much of Capetta and McCarthy’s inspiration for writing Young Adult fiction came from their time with a “secret” Gay Straight Alliance. The authors live in rural Michigan — a space largely unaccepting of the LGBT community especially following the 2016 presidential election. They would leave the house to participate in a teen writing group that also doubled as an underground Gay Straight Alliance.
“These kids loved fantasy they loved Sci-Fi and loved these big genre books, and it was so rare that they could bring in characters who were like them,” McCarthy said. “These were the stories they loved, and they did not have them in them in that way.”
McCarthy continued, “We need queer teen heroes to show queer teen kids that they can be the hero of the story – but I feel like they already are that in a lot of ways. I felt like we had an opportunity to show that. To show that these kids already show up and are so brave and are doing so much. We wanted to honor that, and have that impact be a big splash.”
Community is not only a significant element in crafting a story such as “Once & Future,” but the impacts that the story and its characters have on readers develops a much more profound sense of community beyond the pages of the book.
“There is something so significant there, not only seeing yourself in the pages of a book but also seeing yourself out there in the world,” Capetta said.
The community is only growing as more authors contribute to queer fiction — and more publishers support them.
“Now we are finally starting to see publishers taking big leaps and showing up with excitement … in terms of just having a more general approach to putting a book out there,” Capetta said. “Not hiding that they have queer characters but exploring all of the reasons why the book is exciting.”
Audiences are meeting the increasing queer fiction with excitement — and it isn’t just teenagers and young adults who are reading these books, but older people as well.
McCarthy said that they have had a surprising number of older people come up to them saying that they resonated with the characters in their books — not only in their sexuality and gender identities, but in the coming of age narrative that so many in the LGBT community experience so much later in life than their heterosexual peers.
“There are times in the cishet world where there’s an idea that at some point you are grown up and you are done and you are finished, this is what you’re going to be for the rest of your life and that’s that,” Capetta said. “For me at least, and a lot of the queer people I know, I don’t think there’s quite as much expectation to be static — there’s a lot more interest in evolution and paying attention to how your life is changing and how you are changing along with it.”
In other words, we never stop growing and changing — and this is something that the queer community is actively aware of. McCarthy and Capetta along with many other queer authors are telling the stories of growth, evolution and of coming of age in as many ways as they can.
The more authors there are contributing their experiences through story, the more opportunity readers will have to find themselves in the pages of a book, and the more normalized these narratives will become.
“You can put yourself in anything,” McCarthy said. “I don’t identify as a girl, but I wrote Ari, our girl King Arthur. You can put yourself into a variety of characters and enjoy that space because it gives you a chance to investigate who you are.”