AUTHOR: Tori Curtis
RELEASE DATE: September 16th, 2016
I’m Tori Curtis, and last year I published my debut f/f fantasy novel, Eelgrass. It’s a coming of age story about selkies, a beautiful (and terrifying) mermaid, and how brave you have to be to protect your friends.
In Eelgrass, a lesbian reimagining of Irish folktales, Efa and Bettan spend their days roving the sea and shore. The other selkies in their village say it will soon be time for them to settle down and find husbands. Then Bettan disappears into a rainstorm. Despite the other villagers’ reassurances, Efa can’t shake the certainty her friend’s been taken.
To rescue Bettan, she must leave behind the shallow waters of her home and find the fishwives. These half-human fish seduce men with song and devour them with sharp teeth. She doesn’t expect to find Ninka, an outrageous young woman who makes her feel giddy and who might be the key to unlocking her own courage.
Today, I have an interview about coming out stories and writing LGBT fiction. Let’s get to it!
Q1: What is Eelgrass about?
I’d known that I wanted to write about selkies and mermaids, and their complementary mythology, for years by the time I started Eelgrass. I was spending a lot of time on Tumblr as discussions of mermaids – specifically the vicious, fishy types who killed men – were going viral. At the same time, I grew up with selkie myths – these beautiful women who were stolen away from their homes so that they could belong to men.
I sometimes joke that Eelgrass is a thinly-veiled account of my high school experience. Adolescence is, maybe by definition, traumatic, but for me it was really a time of discovering that it’s not always possible to protect your friends. I grew up with a lot of fantasies, both stories and ideas like “if you talk to an adult, they can make things better.” Finding out that they couldn’t, in the form of friends living with dangerous relationships and unsafe homes, was horrible for all of us.
In a lot of ways, Eelgrass is a simplified version of that narrative. When Bettan disappears into the night, it’s obvious – to her best friend Efa, at least – that she wouldn’t have left if she’d had a choice. That makes it easier, from Efa’s perspective, to go save her. But along the way, she has to examine the narratives she’s told herself, and find a way to work through the mythology to save her best friend.
Q2: You’ve said, “Despite my best efforts, Eelgrass is a coming-out novel.” What did you mean by that?
I was really excited, when I first started writing Eelgrass, to write a story where the main character’s sexual orientation wasn’t a big deal. Efa would go on this grand adventure, she’d fall in love with a beautiful fishy monster, and the monster would be a girl.
I wanted that because it’s really important to me, when it’s possible, to write stories that are fun to read, that don’t unnecessarily force us to relive the kinds of issues that we have to deal with in our everyday lives. In order to accomplish that, I wanted Efa to know that she was a lesbian when the book opened.
Then the political reality of what I was writing hit me. Eelgrass is ultimately a novel about rape culture, which, in our world, is inseparable from the idea that heterosexuality is normal. If I made it so that Efa, who has more or less accepted the world around her, was an out-and-proud lesbian at the beginning, I’d have to change the dynamics of the world so that it was unrecognizable to us.
So I reconsidered, and realized that I wasn’t really trying to avoid a coming-out story. I just wanted a story where it was never a question of whether “a lesbian” might be an inherently bad thing for Efa to be. (Now, dating a mythological monster with claws…)
Q3: Will Eelgrass’s sequel also be a coming-out story?
Not exactly! The sequel to Eelgrass starts about two decades after the end of the first book, and follows on Ronan, who is bisexual and in a long-term relationship. He and his partner still have to come out to a lot of people, and spend a lot of time discerning and navigating their identities. I don’t think it’s always, or maybe even often, the case that the first sexual and gender identities that feel “right” to you always stay that way.
I came out as a lesbian when I was ten, and I was completely certain of it – the feelings I felt for the other girls in my life eclipsed anything else I could imagine. Then I struggled with my identity for years before I settled on “bisexual.” On the other side, my wife spent a lot of time contemplating before she decided that “lesbian” was the right word for her. We’ve both supported each other, and many other friends, through times when we were questioning. The sequel to Eelgrass isn’t about coming out as in, “What am I, and how can I communicate that to everyone?” so much as it is about “How does our relationship need to evolve with our shifting understandings of ourselves?”
Q4:Why do you think coming-out narratives are so prominent in LGBT stories? Is that a bad thing?
I think some of this is logistical, and some of it’s just a matter of probability. We’re all assumed to be straight and cis. Even if we’re lucky enough to be in places or relationships where that isn’t the case, we’re going to come up against that presumption of heterosexual cisgender status fairly regularly.
In some ways, I think this is actually stronger for fictional characters. If I meet someone new, I’m aware of the chance that they might be LGBT. But because of the way that fiction has been constrained, from the Hays Code to queer-coded villains to queerbaiting in fandom, I’m going to have a hard time believing that a fictional character might be LGBT until they jump up and down waving a sign.
So while LGBT people have to come out to themselves and to the people around them (which can already be exhausting), LGBT characters have to come out in three ways: to themselves, to the characters around them, and to the audience. There’s a real risk that if your character doesn’t stand up and say “hi, I’m Betty the Bisexual,” people might miss it. Even LGBT readers. And that risk is higher with identities that aren’t as easily or commonly represented. If you made a biopic of my life, you’d have a hard time finding a way to include my attraction to men unless I stopped to say, “Wait, I’m actually bisexual!”
To the extent that stories about coming out make that clear, and are universally identifiable, I don’t have a problem with them. I think they have a huge place in LGBT fiction. But I also worry that when our narratives tend to focus on coming out, it traps us at the very beginning of LGBT stories.
Q5: What other kinds of narratives would you like to see more of?
I think one of the most important things that we can do as marginalized writers is to create many possible futures. To put it bluntly, that sucks, because I think the more privileged you are, the less likely you are to sit around saying “hmm, what messages are marginalized kids taking from my books?” And I know a lot of people feel like they deserve to write what feels true to them, and not worry about the readers.
But I can’t write anything without thinking about what happens if some ten-year-old or fourteen-year-old or twenty-year-old is reading my book and recognizes themselves in it when they don’t have anything else. I’ve always had stories like that, even though the details have changed. That’s why we read. And it’s why it’s important to me that we emphasize in LGBT literature that you get to have whole, real, full lives.
I’d love to see more mentoring. (I’m always going on about this, but it’s true.) I’d love to see more friendships and bonding between LGBT people, both across-identities and within them. I want to see more extended and chosen family, I want to see more LGBT adults who have healthy familial or student/teacher relationships with children. LGBT elders and romance novel tropes reworked for LGBT settings. Stories where LGBT characters show up and come out and keep going.
You can get a copy of Eelgrass here: link
Visit my website at toricurtiswrites.com
Or follow me on twitter @tcurtfish
And Sapphic Book Club is going to be reading Eelgrass for November 2017, so I hope you get the chance to be a part of that.
Big thanks to Tori Curtis for reaching out to me to be part of this blog tour! Happy One Year book-anniversary!
Much love to all of you,