Last year, I saw a Special Issue call for LGBT fantasy fiction.
This was brilliant news for me:
Most of the fiction I write has a fantastical element.
Most of my characters aren’t straight.
Plus, an explicit call felt like a chance to really dig into plots, metaphors and motifs around sexuality and gender. I’ve read a lot around the topic, and I get frustrated by the lag between the complexity that’s possible, and my comparatively rough-hewn writing. This call seemed like a chance to level up – to make my creative explorations more sophisticated.
I had the following exchange with my brain.
ME: So! What have we got? First thought, best thought! Sock it to me.
BRAIN: GAY ELVES.
ME: Oh, come on. I’m not even that interested in elves.
BRAIN: GAY ELVES.
ME: There’s literally no limit on the worlds we could invent. Whole cultures, new ways of living. That’s the point of fantasy. Nobody even has to reproduce the way humans do! What would that do to socio-sexual norms, eh, brain?
BRAIN: GAAAY EEEELVES
And that carried on for weeks.
I couldn’t believe that a genre tag had become a weird clamp on my imagination. Faced with limitless possibilities, I recoiled into the bog of the idea of Proper Fantasy – quasi-mediaeval doorstops with non-human warrior types. This was daft, as a third of the books I read last year were ‘fantasy’ (depending how you categorise vampire erotica) and I know it’s a very broad church. (Last year I read Saladin Ahmed, Mary Anne Mohanraj and Kameron Hurley, none of whom are doing elves). Even the doorstops have variety.
Alright, I thought, gay bloody elves. Bring on the pseudo-celtic posh-boys, let’s see what can be done with them. I heard the harp music, saw the tips of their pointy ears in the mist. But they wouldn’t speak, dance, snog, or develop any independent motivation. They just floated there, hair wafting in an invisible breeze.
So I had to peel my brain away from them.
I wrote this, which has no elves in it*. I clearly couldn’t handle infinite possibility, so I grabbed a fragment of European mediaeval life that fascinates me – travelling players – and spun it sideways.
(And it’s been published by the excellent Expanded Horizons, whose mission is to put out more diverse speculative fiction, and who probably never get gay elves stuck in their heads.)
*May contain traces of elves. Manufactured in a flat where other products contain elf oils and byproducts.