I’m fucking terrified to write this book.
But I realize I’ve been terrified to write a lot of books.
…lets start at the beginning.
Back in August of 2017, I had A Book pop into my head. It’s not often an entire new series comes up and says HEY YOU SHOULD WRITE ME. I’m embarrassed to say how it happened, but I will say it began with an old iPod and a very old playlist taking me back to looking at a writing project that is now over a decade old.
Safe to say, I disliked most of it, but I liked what teenage me was trying to do with a system of magic and the notion of presumed truths. The next morning I had Demon Girl and Cursed Boy; the story of two fairly fucked up people from very fucked up backgrounds who practice old American folk magic set in the rural and impoverished Ozarks in Arkansas.
This started out as just A Notion of a book, An Idea with a growing list of things I will need to research. I told myself I’d give it a go at researching over winter if I had time, but that at most I wouldn’t start writing it for a year (it simply needs THAT MUCH research). However, the characters keep being chatty, so I’ve been writing little notes here and there, so I don’t forget them.
And in doing so what started as a “man I hope this isn’t too annoyingly cishet” book has become a novel about gender queer characters who confront gender norms (they tell the gender norms to go fuck themselves) and a character who is probably the closest thing to me I have ever written. I realized last night that my little fledgling of a rural fantasy YA series had become an Own Voices novel.
At first I was proud. And then I was sufficiently terrified.
Everything I’ve ever written has instances of me and shit that I’ve been through. But a large part of it was so distanced from reality that I didn’t even know I was doing it at the time until I looked back at it years later. My second finished novel was me coping with the fact that my brother might die. My third is me dealing with our terrifyingly over-sexualixed society, feminism, and classism. But you have to squint, and I mean really squint, to catch any of that.
There are lines in this little fledgling book (I outline often in dialogue, I know it’s weird, just…roll with it) that are word for word what has been spoken to me. And that’s just eerie and scary. Something no one ever tells you about writing your first Own Voices novel: it is the most terrifying thing on the planet. Because why would anyone care about my story of battling gender norms and realizing I want to turn them into paste? Of how it’s okay to go after your dreams, even if they have nothing at all to doing with making lots of money? Why would anyone want to read that?
I know, I know, this isn’t Just That Story. It’s also about monsters and folk magic and maybe a cult in disguise. Which on its own is fascinating as fuck. But a character who deals with the same gender stuff and life goal stuff that I battle on a regular basis? Surely not.
It hit me the day I had A Moment on Twitter–promptly called The Time Sue Flung Themselves On The Floor and Screamed “No!” Many Times, Nearly Throwing Her Laptop And Her Phone–that I’ve been afraid to write every Big Thing I’ve ever written. I was afraid when I wrote the first draft of Fury and the Vendetta that no one would be okay with a mentally ill lead character. I was so nervous when I wrote Sigil of Azazel that I would get crazy Christians damning me to hell for proposing the Bible as post-war propaganda. And I’m still afraid of getting kick back for being Not Male and writing a series about queer male spies.
The shit you’re most afraid to write is exactly the thing you should be writing. Because when it boils down to it, what I’m most afraid of is the kind of impact my stories would have, but that’s just it–you’re here to make an impact. That’s what art is for.
So I guess what I’m getting at is, I’ve always been afraid to tell stories. I’ll probably never stop being afraid of telling stories. And so, though Cursed Boy and Demon Girl is going to probably make me cry a few times to tell, I’m going to tell it. I’ll tell it through Cursed Boy snarling and swearing and generally telling people and their gender ideals to go fuck themselves, and Demon Girl discovering that who you were born as in no means determines who you are; you declare that for yourself.