by Andrew J. Peters
I don’t know how I got into writing fantasy exactly. I certainly didn’t follow the popular advice: write what you know. My books tend to involve ancient world settings and characters from myth. Not much from my everyday experience to draw on there.
I guess it’s been a matter of what feeds my creative soul. I like earthy mysticism and imagining what it would have been like to live in an ancient time. My writing takes me through a lot of research, and when I read books about ancient history and myth, sparks ignite in my brain for stories that could have or should have happened if someone had taken the time to write about them.
Sci fi/fantasy author S.P. Somtow was famously credited with saying: “Fantasy is the most intelligent, precise, and accurate means of arriving at the truth.” That’s a wonderfully provocative statement about a genre that is often criticized as not being “real” literature because it’s too imaginative, too far flung from contemporary human experiences.
I believe that fantasy can reveal truths about our lives, and it can do so just as elegantly as any other genre. But up until quite recently, fantasy hasn’t revealed much truth with respect to LGBT young people. Its authors typically portray LGBTs as sideline characters, if they include us at all, which is a truth perhaps for some heterosexuals who see us as part of the scenery: colorful but not especially important to the issues they confront in their daily lives.
The truth is: LGBT teenagers can overcome a haunting past and discover amazing, world-changing talents just like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. The truth is: LGBT teens can stand up to an unbreakable tyranny and lead the way to justice just like Suzanne Collins’ Katniss Everdeen.
The truth is LGBT young adults are heroes in small and epic ways every day.
I’ve always endeavored to write stories that expand the varieties of “truth” in fantasy. Growing up, I was starved for books that would show me that a young gay man could make something of himself in the world.
Fantasy enables us to sneak away from reality for a while and enter an adventure where unexpected heroes triumph and hard work pays off in the end. Fantasy is more than escapism. Through its ability to exhilarate and reach into that hopeful place inside the reader, it shows that any one of us can be a hero, which is arguably the most important truth of all.
The hero in my latest release Banished Sons of Poseidon is a sixteen-year-old boy named Damianos. He goes by Dam for short, which is suggestive of the “damned” life he was dealt, an evacuee to the underworld after the flood that buried Atlantis. He’s also on the margins of both aristocratic and peasant society. A disgraced priest with a reputation for getting played by aristocratic boys, he’s pretty much on the outs with everyone. Drawing on his will to persevere in spite of whatever the gods or mortals throw at him, Dam leads an unthinkable adventure that is the only way to save the people he loves. It’s also the only way to deliver his countrymen from a cold, barren world, which is a huge test of his character given his past mistreatment by his peers.
You don’t have to travel to a fantastical world to find stories about LGBT heroes, although as a fantasy author, I do wish that more readers would. For this guest post on GayYA, I thought I’d share some recent real-life heroes who inspire me in and out of my writing life. They’re young people who in their own way have slayed dragons or outwitted cruel wizards or survived dystopias right in their own backyards.
Sean Warren, a high school junior from Phoenix, Arizona, who recently came out as gay in the traditionally homophobic culture of high school football.
Harmony Santana, a young transgender actress, who got her first film role while living in a New York City foster care residence and garnered an Independent Spirit Best Supporting Actress nomination.
Subhi Nahas, a young, gay Syrian refugee, who addressed the United Nations Security Council to raise awareness of LGBT persecution in Islamic military states.
Evan Young, a high school valedictorian from Colorado, who triumphed over censorship to come out as gay to his classmates and their families during his graduation address.
Jay Abang, a young, lesbian human rights activist in Uganda, who courageously stands against a government that seeks to imprison and put to death LGBTs.
Those real-life stories are an inspiration board for my writing. Somehow, fantasy always captures my imagination when I write about LGBT young adults, so my heroes end up in otherworldly settings, not always infused with magical abilities, but leading lives that are at least on the surface pretty different from those of modern young adults.
I still think fantasy can resonate in critical ways. When we live vicariously through a hero’s adventure, we can discover our inner truths. We may not have supernatural abilities or magical relics, but by stepping into a fantasy hero’s shoes for a while, we are reminded of the values and the characteristics that help us overcome the challenges that we face: self-belief, facing down our fears, and the undeniable virtue of being true to who we are.
Andrew J. Peters is the author of the Werecat series and two books for young adults: The Seventh Pleiade and Banished Sons of Poseidon. He grew up in Buffalo, New York, studied psychology at Cornell University, and has spent most of his career as a social worker and an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. A lifelong writer, Andrew has been a contributing writer at The Good Men Project, YA Highway, Reading Teen, Dear Teen Me, GayYA, and La Bloga among other media. Andrew lives in New York City with his partner Genaro and their cat Chloë. For more about him and his books, visit his website.