hi cassie :) i've been a fan of the books since 2010 and it's been amazing to see how much they've grown in terms of popularity and audience. I would love to know whether you came up with the idea to write the eldest curses because of how popular Magnus became and the reaction to him or was the idea in your head from the beginning and you decided to finally write it :) also could i be cheeky and ask for a snippet from the lost book of the white preferably featuring Alec....
I was excited to write the story of Magnus and Alec Having An Adventure and Falling More In Love for a very long time, but my ability to do so was limited by the way publishing and distribution worked back in 2005, when I was initially trying to sell City of Bones. There was a lot more resistance to gay characters in YA at that time. A couple of publishers turned the book down because Alec, a gay character, was in it. The Barnes & Noble website page for City of Bones included a review from Commonsense Media where they gave it a content warning for “sexual content” just because of the presence of a gay character even though he never did anything sexual. A lot of big box stores refused to carry the book, and major children’s book clubs passed it over.
I always hoped for systems to change. As the books grew more popular, and as times changed, I was able to include more of Magnus and Alec as the series went on. In fact, their presence in the story and on the page made a big jump starting in CoFA, at which point I received a surge of criticism from those who were upset that I was writing about Magnus and Alec more prominently. I remember having my books pulled from libraries; foreign translators cut scenes with Magnus and Alec in them; once I was standing in the middle of the street about to get into a car to take me to a school where I was going to do a talk about my books when my publicist came up and said we were no longer invited: the school had read about Magnus and Alec and they didn’t want me there. Or often, if I was at a school, I’d be asked not to talk about Magnus and Alec while speaking to the students.
I tried to walk a careful line, including Magnus and Alec (and later, Aline and Helen) as significant and meaningful characters, but still managing to keep schools, libraries, and reading groups from throwing the books out or locking them up where the kids who most needed to read them wouldn’t be able to access them at all.
I held onto the hope that attitudes would continue to shift, to allow for more freedom to write characters who accurately represent the population of the world we live in (and represent my own friends and family, on whom Alec and Helen specifically are based). Hope that I’d be able to expand roles for characters like Magnus and Alec, and over the past twelve years — partly as I’ve carved out my career in a way where I can take the sales hits that sometimes result from major LGBT+ inclusion, and partly because of so many brave writers, readers, editors and publishers who’ve pushed for change — I’ve been able to do so more and more.
When I was writing CoFA, I purposefully left a gap where Magnus and Alec go on vacation, with the idea that someday I could go back and fill in that gap with a story focused on them. For a long time that wasn’t something that companies wanted to buy and publish. I could have self-published the series, but I wanted the books on the shelves in stores, on the “bestsellers” rack with every other book I’ve written, making a statement about how much people want this kind of book and these kind of characters. I chose to write the story now when I did because Simon and Schuster, my publisher, opened Saga Press, an imprint dedicated to expanding what you can do in YA and cross-publishing with adult fantasy/sci fi. It’s Saga that will be publishing The Eldest Curses.
I thought a lot about what to say here because of two things: one, that people don’t like to hear about pushback against writing non-straight characters — it’s depressing (it is), it seems distant, unreal, how can these old systems and thought processes still exist? We’ve had successful books with gay characters in them! We’re done, right? I guess all I can say is that I think there’s a value to illuminating the pushback because it underlines how important it is to keep supporting books with LGBT+ characters because we are not there yet; we’re not where those books are give the same budgets and marketing and push as books with straight casts, and it takes the support of readers and reviewers and bookstore and library buyers to get us there.
I’d also say that I know I’ll get criticism for saying I was careful in my portrayal of Magnus and Alec until I felt like I’d gotten to a place where even if the fact that they were in love, lived together, even had sex was shown or even just implied (as it is in CoFA) it wouldn’t mean the books were locked up in libraries and slapped with warning labels. I guess I can only say it’s hard to navigate a situation where you fear the very kids who need to read about Magnus and Alec won’t be able to. When you meet kids who say “This book saved my life” so many times, and you think “But what if you couldn’t get to it? What if your school wouldn’t carry it, or your library, or your Walmart, which in small towns is sometimes literally the only source of books?) I accept that criticism. We all face hard choices in life and we make complicated decisions we think are for the best, and being criticized for those decisions is part of living and learning.
I guess the only other thing I’d say is whatever shitty things were said to me over the years about Magnus and Alec, they pale in comparison to the shitty things said to writers like Malinda Lo and Scott Tracey who were writing their own lives and experiences in the form of LGB characters on the page — and as Malinda says, their pain at confronting homophobia/biphobia will always be more visceral and personal than mine.
If you go out and buy The Lost Book of the White of course I’ll be thrilled, and a lot of that will be because it’s a way to show publishers that this kind of media and these protagonists are wanted and desired by readers. But I’d be just as thrilled if you picked up any fantasy by an LGB+ writer with LBG+ characters in it. There’s a ton of wonderful stuff and I hope you’ll explore it.