Throughout the month of July, the team here at Just Love will be elevating and highlighting trans authors and books! Our Trans Book Month has some incredible guest posts and recommendation lists so far, and we encourage you to check them out. Today we’re thrilled to have author Anna-Marie McLemore on the site, to talk about her books When the Moon Was Ours and Wild Beauty.
Before we begin the interview, I want to include the gorgeous dedication at the start of When the Moon Was Ours:
To the boys who get called girls,
the girls who get called boys,
and those who live outside these words.
To those called names
and those searching for names of their own.
To those who live on the edges,
and in the spaces in between.
I wish for you every light in the sky.
I’m so excited to be joined today by author Anna-Marie McLemore, author of When the Moon Was Ours and upcoming release Wild Beauty. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Anna-Marie.
Wild Beauty is your third book, coming out (on October 3). How did you get started in writing? Were you always writing down ideas?
I’ve always loved stories, but it was slow for me to become a reader. In the book community we have a high standard for what a reader is, because people read so many books. But I was a slow reader, so I didn’t think I was one. It’s amazing, identity-wise, what we call ourselves. I was always a book-lover, but I didn’t start out writing at, like, age five. I came to it later. I was already a story-lover, but it wasn’t until my early 20s that I started really writing.
What prompted you to start writing these stories down? Did you just decide one day that you had a story to tell, or were you challenged to do so?
I had some teachers in high school who saw what I wrote for class assignments, and told me, “I know there’s more here. I know there’s more to you.” Eventually the echo of their voices got to me. I followed that spark, but didn’t tell people at first.
How do you describe a book like When the Moon Was Ours? I’ve seen it shelved under a variety of genres—urban fantasy, magical realism, young adult…
I consider it magical realism. That’s where my heart is, as an author, and also coming from the heritage I do. But it’s interesting because magical realism isn’t really a genre; it’s a description. It’s a literary world-view. So it also falls under the Sci-fi/Fantasy umbrella. Magical realism is the heart of it, but it wouldn’t be wrong to call it Speculative Fiction or Urban Fantasy.
Since you briefly touched on heritage, can you talk about how magical realism is a Latinx subgenre.
Absolutely. Magical realism is a tradition that has to do with community and oppression and resisting oppression. It’s roots are very strongly Latinx. [Side-note: Anna-Marie explained to me the decision to use ‘Latinx’ instead of ‘Latina/o’, as it eliminates the gender binary and is more inclusive.]
Your books have some fantastic queer representation—a transgender character in When the Moon Was Ours, bisexual characters in Wild Beauty—is that something that came naturally, or was it a purposeful decision to include this representation?
It did and it didn’t come naturally. It came from my heart as a story-teller, but at the same time I felt like I needed permission to tell those stories. I wanted to see these kinds of stories on bookshelves, and I had a lot of conversations with people in my life, at my publisher, who said, “Yes, you can write these stories.”
Can you talk a little about the Latinx mythology that you pull into your books? Especially in Wild Beauty, the Nomeolvides family seems rooted in myth and story. Were these stories that you grew up hearing, that you incorporated into your novels?
Some of it are stories that are pretty universal in Mexican-American tradition, like La Llorona in When the Moon Was Ours. And some of it is more invented, or inspired by stories I heard growing up—regional stories from the towns and regions where my family is from. For the latter, I don’t retell them the way I heard them. They don’t feel like my stories to tell, so I change them. I draw inspiration, but I change them so as not to tell my family’s myths and traditions.
When the Moon Was Ours is a gorgeous book, and one of my favorites that I read this year. But I was intrigued by your decision to include sex in a young adult novel. I know that’s a divisive subject, but I thought it really fit with the characters and the story.
I went back and forth on that a lot. I took some of it out, added it back in. But I wanted to show that kind of love, and sex between two characters in a way that was affirming, that had joy in it. That showed that it was worth being seen and explored. I feel like we’ve grown more accepting of heterosexual sex in YA, whereas there’s still a barrier around queer sex in YA.
I thought it felt natural to the story. It was my own fears that made me pull back.
And my husband is a trans man, so to tell myself that this couldn’t be in a book was, in a way, like saying that our kind of love couldn’t be in books.
Did you get to do any fun or interesting research while writing When the Moon Was Ours?
A lot of lunar geology!
I also wanted to make sure I did a respectful job—and an authentic job—of writing Sam’s heritage. So the process of talking with friends and critique partners, making sure his heritage really shown through. I got to read a lot of South Asian fairy tales. I love reading fairy tales, so that was great.
Wild Beauty almost feels like reading poetry. One of the scenes I love the most is right at the beginning, where all of the girls sacrifice the things that mean the most to them to protect Bay and their love for her.
I actually ended up going back to add that scene later. Bay was originally there as a friend to the cousins, but then the role grew and took on a bigger presence. So that scene was written much later.
What’s your favorite non-spoilery scene in the book?
Actually that’s one of my favorites!
Part of why I loved writing that scene was because I loved the idea of a queer non-binary girl being a heartthrob that all of these cousins love at the same time. So I enjoyed getting to portray the shape of their love, and the different forms it took.
That’s a theme throughout your books—that love takes on so many different forms. Love is friendship and family, and also these deep, almost queerplatonic, relationships. And it seems like these kinds of love, outside of just cut-and-dry romance, are less common in books.
I think one of the most magical things about reading is when you encounter that kind of relationship, and you’re like, “Oh, that feels like me and my best friends!” or “That feels like my cousins!” And obviously fiction is fiction, but these stories draw on our own spirits, and how we relate to one another. Seeing relationships that feel familiar, relationships in different forms.
“The way he loved her was his, even if she wasn’t.” – When the Moon was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore
A few quick lightning-round questions:
What’s the last book or TV show you saw with queer content?
I just re-watched Imagine Me and You [Netflix]. It’s like a lesbian chick-flick, a sweet kind of story. I hadn’t seen it in a long time, and it’s about how their relationship develops from friendship into something more. It made me think about the range of queer romantic stories that are coming out.
What’s the last book that you read and loved, the one you can’t stop talking about.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear. It’s a great title! Really incredible book about what happens after a sexual assault. It was a really hard read for me, but this main character gets a lot of support from her friends and family, so it was also a very hopeful read.
What’s your ideal place to read?
Outside in the sunshine! We have some great parks near where I live.
Coffee or tea?
You can’t do both! It’s an ‘or’ question!
*laughs* Okay… I drink more tea, so we’ll go with that.
My answer is “caffeine”.
That’s fair. *laughs*
Describe Wild Beauty in one or two sentences—pitch it to a reader:
I describe Wild Beauty as my “bisexual queer Latina girls” book, and my “murderous enchanted gardens” book.
That’s a great description! I’d buy it just based on that.
Anything that you have in the works right now that you can share?
I’m really excited to be working on my 2018 release, called Blanca & Roja, and that is going to be a queer and Latinx ‘Snow White’ and ‘Rose Red’ meets ‘Swan Lake’.
I can’t wait!
Thank you so much for meeting with me today, it was a pleasure.
ANNA-MARIE MCLEMORE was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and grew up in a Mexican-American family. She attended University of Southern California on a Trustee Scholarship. A Lambda Literary Fellow, she has had work featured by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, CRATE Literary Magazine’s cratelit, Camera Obscura’s Bridge the Gap Series, and The Portland Review. She is the author of The Weight of Feathers, When the Moon Was Ours, and Wild Beauty. She lives in Sacramento, California.
When the Moon Was Ours
To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.
For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.
The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.