Courtney Lanning Writes About Building the Mirror for Others Through Queer YA
Now more than ever I think readers are looking for books that reflect their image through a central character setting out on a grand adventure. I know that’s certainly been the case for me reading as many wlw young adult fantasy novels as I can get my hands on.
Over the last few months I’ve devoured titles like The River Has Teeth, The Dark Tide, and The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry. And I’m eagerly counting down the days until The Lost Girls finally drops. I’m fortunate LGBTQ+ authors have found avenues of publication to get me (and others like me) these stories.
Being trapped indoors during the pandemic has only increased the appetites of queer readers looking for themselves—or pieces of themselves—in literature.
That reflection in a story, showing a reader’s self in a lead character, is often one of the main reasons folks pick up a story in the first place. And it’s something I tried to be conscious of when I penned my young adult trans fantasy novel, Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl.
It’s beautiful that so many publishers are seeking out #ownvoices content—and even better that readers are demanding those books to purchase. But I still don’t see nearly enough titles that follow the adventures of transgender characters. As a queer author, I wanted to help construct a mirror that trans girls could look into and see themselves reflected in a heroine surrounded by magic, dreams, talking animals, and relatable experiences.
That’s why I wrote Roxie Rivers, a transgender student about to go into her final year of high school and dealing with the pressures that come from living in an American southern town. The novel is set in Fayetteville, and Roxie faces her share of transphobia in a state where lawmakers earlier this year rammed through a slew of anti-transgender bills, the most infamous of which banned gender-affirming treatment for transgender minors.
Seeing Roxie’s adventure through to publication felt like an act of defiance against lawmakers determined to codify transgender erasure. It made me feel even more proud to help construct that mirror for transgender Arkansans to look into and see themselves reflected in my novel.
Like plenty of other kids growing up in the ‘90s, I had the mirror of Sailor Moon to look into and see myself reflected. Seeing as my favorite color was green, my eyes were naturally drawn to Sailor Jupiter, and I wanted to be a magical girl like Makoto.
Those memories growing up spinning around on the playground and imagining my own transformation sequence (hey, the other kids were clenching their fists and screaming as they tried to go Super Saiyan) spurred me to create Roxie. She has a transphobic and abusive father that deadnames her in every text and bullies that make her miserable at school. But she also has a loving mother who moved the Heavens and Earth to create a nurturing space for her daughter. And her two best friends, Jenna and Tessa, are fierce protectors that adore Roxie and even formed a garage band with her.
I know not all transgender folks are lucky enough to have supportive friends or family, so I wanted to give them a chance to experience that through Roxie’s home life. And for the transgender readers who wish their lives could be touched with a little magic, I gave Roxie an epic quest. One day she meets a pixie who grants Roxie the ability to travel into dreams. Her mission? To spend her evenings fighting nightmares and returning sweet dreams to the slumbering souls around her.
And as my series, Boston Mountain Magic, continues, I’m thrilled to work in other LGBTQ+ characters, expanding the mirror so others can see themselves reflected in my story. I’m so fortunate Riverdale Avenue Books took a chance on me, and next year they’ll be publishing book number two in the series: The Ozarks Druid. That title will introduce a bisexual lead named Aoife, and a transgender boy named Ash, who both become series staples going forward. And, of course, Roxie will be part of the adventure as well.
As a queer author, I feel as though it’s part of my responsibility to write stories bringing different gender and sexual identities to the forefront. I’m not hoping for my books to make me rich, just that they make people smile now and again. And maybe even see a bit of themselves in my characters. They’re a little cheesy, sometimes humorous, and always heartfelt. Hopefully, that’s enough for at least a small smile.
If trans folks finish my book and want another mirror to see their reflection with, I always recommend Dreadnought and its sequel, Sovereign, by April Daniels. She’s a transgender author who has created a wonderful queer superhero story, and her books left me breathless with emotion.
For any aspiring queer authors reading this, I hope my publishing journey inspires you to craft your own mirrors for readers, including me. We need ‘em more each day.
Roxie is a sweet trans girl who just wants to spend the rest of her summer vacation playing music with her friends in their band. Living in a southern college town like Fayetteville has its challenges. Dan is a shop wizard who would give anything to escape the store he’s been trapped in for a century under the watchful eyes of a witch and a talking fox.
Their paths converge when Roxie is given the ability to travel into dreams and tasked with fighting off nightmares.
Unbeknownst to Dan and Roxie, other dream walkers are searching for an enchanted key, and if they find it, they’ll plunge the entire city into a living nightmare. The shop wizard and pixie dream girl will have to team up to stop them, facing their own nightmares along the way.
(image: Courtney Lanning, Rivervenue Books, and Alyssa Shotwell.)
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