Meet Five Authors from An Unexpected Party

Article | Issue: Nov 2023

From fantastical realms to real-world struggles, An Unexpected Party is an anthology that champions queer identity by challenging stereotypes and exploring the many facets of identity.

Written with heart and honesty, these stories take queer protagonists outside the box of young adult romance and centre them at the heart of stories that involve magic, paranormal beings and adventure.

Good Reading for Young Adults chatted to five of the contributing authors.

 

MEET LIN BLYTHE

 

Lin Blythe authorTell us a little about the inspiration for your story in An Unexpected Party.

Vampires are one of my favourite fantastical creatures and I read a lot of sci-fi. So it’s not surprising that one day my brain went: what if vampires were made, not born? The idea that vampires are humans genetically engineered to survive space, came shortly afterwards.

As a white-passing Eurasian, asexual, aromantic and autistic person, many aspects of my identity are invisible. I gave that sense of invisibility to my protagonist, who is a stowaway vampire trying to blend in amongst humans. She has to decide how much she trusts her newfound family and how she interacts with this new world.

What would most you like the YA audience to know about you?

I want YA audiences to know that I think you’re cool. I think it’s so cool that I meet teenagers nowadays who identify as ace and/or aro. The queer community does not have as many elders as it should due to bigot motivated violence. While those people can never be replaced, I have hope that our generation (gen z) can forge a new world better than the one we were born in.

What makes books like An Unexpected Party important?

An Unexpected Party is part of what I hope is a new wave of intersectional writing, which is incredibly important. I have seen a few anthologies from intersectional authors but in so-called Australia, a queer YA sci-fi fantasy collection is new. Many queer and culturally diverse folk like me grew up with little representation, and found more comfort in other unreal worlds.

I also have hope that the stories in this anthology will help more young readers realise that so many parts of life are social constructs: marriage, family, who we love and how we love. This anthology has allowed the writers to imagine our queer selves might exist in other worlds, and imagination is critical to changing these constructs. But it’s not enough for people like me to write these stories in a vacuum. Our stories need to be shared so they can change minds and inspire action. That is why books like this matter: An Unexpected Party is a small but crucial piece in the work to dismantle heteronormativity and all other oppressive social hierarchies.

What makes genres such fantasy and speculative fiction attractive to you as a writer and as a reader?

Ursula K Le Guin, wrote in Why are Americans Afraid of Dragons? (1974) ‘It is by such statements as ‘Once upon a time there was a dragon’ or ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’ – it is by such beautiful non-facts that we fantastic human beings may arrive, in our peculiar fashion, at the truth. I find that speculative and fantasy can go deeper into politics, people and environments than anything set in the real world, simply because genre does not have the same constraints as reality.

As an aroace person, I also feel safer reading and writing speculative fiction. I am free to read and write about dragons, aliens and robots, and unlikely to run into or be expected to write romantic or sexual relationships.

Read the short story – The Vampire and the Aunty

 

MEET AIDAN

 

Aidan Demmers authorTell us a little about the inspiration for your story in An Unexpected Party.

Growing up trans, and seeing the representation of trans people in movies and other media – particularly in relation to romance, where we’re often shown as predators and/or tricksters – left me with a very complicated relationship with myself and my body, especially when I’m being seen as an object of love or desire.

All those years of being taught that I was fundamentally disgusting and unlovable clashed with the reality that I did have people who loved me. This led to me, as a teenager, forming two conceptions of myself to deal with the cognitive dissonance: an outer ‘shell’ that was normal and conventionally attractive, which everybody else saw, and an inner, hidden ‘reality’ that was ugly and monstrous and pathetic. That’s what gave me the inspiration for Shellshocked.

Then, I wanted to explore the ‘mortifying ordeal’ of that ugly, monstrous, pathetic inner self being seen, and being loved – inspired, of course, by Tim Kreider’s fantastic 2013 article ‘I Know What You Think of Me’ for the New York Times.

What makes genres such fantasy and speculative fiction attractive to you as a writer and as a reader?

My story follows the romantic relationship between two characters. One, Sanjana, is ‘literally’ a trans woman, in that her real gender doesn’t match what the world arbitrarily assigned to her. However, it’s through the perspective of the other, Nancy, that I explore the ‘metaphorical’ experience of being trans. Although Nancy isn’t trans in the ‘literal’ sense – she isn’t even human – I use her experiences to explore topics that are too close to me, too visceral, too massive, to write about without the distance of metaphor.

This is a large reason for my love of speculative fiction. It allows us to examine human experiences by separating them from ourselves and making them alien (sometimes literally!).

What makes books like An Unexpected Party important?

I believe it’s especially important that anthologies like An Unexpected Party, where trans and queer characters are shown being loved – whether in a romantic, familial, or platonic sense – exist. It’s important for both the authors and the readers, and I hope that it can help convince us all, even just a little bit, that we’re worthy of love and community exactly as we are.

Read the short story – Shellshocked by Aidan Demmers

 

MEET ALEXANDER TE POHE

 

Alexander Te Pohe authorWhat would most you like the YA audience to know about you?

I grew up loving animated princess movies, Ghibli films, and adventure stories such as Beauty and the Beast (1991), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), and Merlin (1998). For The Swan King I tapped into my love of fantasy and romance and wrote a fairytale-ish story using my own queer and angsty lens.

Growing up, did you feel that you were represented in a positive framework in Australian literature and what do you think needs to change for a more inclusive environment?

 To be honest, I didn’t read much Australian fiction when I was younger. The first time I remember reading anything ‘Australian’ was in high school. It was one of the ‘Lockie Leonard’ books by Tim Winton. Most of the other books I read were international literature. At that time, I didn’t think about representation so I can’t say for sure how I felt – being ‘represented’ just wasn’t an option.

In terms of what needs to change, I feel like this ground has been raked over many times before. So many people have spoken to this subject and in ways that I can not. Maybe, instead of making authors speak about inclusivity, action should be taken. Making ‘inclusivity’ a thing that organisations do well, and not just as a speaking point or in a way that’s brief, tokenistic, or narrow, would be great. To quote Taika Waititi: ‘you…broke it – you fix it.’

What makes genres such fantasy and speculative fiction attractive to you as a writer and as a reader?

I think fantasy and speculative fiction generally can be fun, thoughtful, and super interesting. It’s exciting to see authors play with ideas and riff out new and interesting worlds. I read She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan last year and that blew my mind and destroyed me. When fantasy and speculative fiction books reach out and drag you along for the ride, however joyful or painful, that can really leave a lasting impression.

As an author, I like writing in this space whether it be fiction or poetry. Spinning a new story, fleshing out the world, and the characters, imagining the possibilities, is pretty cool. Plus, if things get boring, I can always throw in a dragon, vampire or a magical assassin.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I hope everyone who reads An Unexpected Party has a grand, gay time.

Read the short story – The Swan King by Alexander Te Pohe

 

 

MEET ALISTAIR OTT

 

Alistair Ott authorTell us a little about the inspiration for your story in An Unexpected Party.

Our Time, Our Home was inspired in part by my time spent on country with my family. We would camp and my Ngama would tell us Dreamtime stories about our families Moiety; my favourite being about the Crow and the Galahs.

I was always a day dreamer, and I would explore the bush and imagine adventures with Crow. Whenever I hear Crow cawing, I feel close to my family, despite them now living so far away. Sleep’s grief and isolation, running away from home and trying to find their place on land, was a reflection of my own grief as a teen when my father died.

I also isolated myself away from family and felt alone and strange, like I didn’t fit in anywhere.

Like Sleep, I got support and have come out stronger and more connected to myself, family, culture, and communities like never before.

What would you most like the YA audience to know about you?

I am a proud Wiradjuri, queer, trans fulla. My intersecting identities make me stronger. There is so much joy and love in my life, through my family, my found family, my friends, my loved ones. We deserve stories about us, by us, and for us. In a world that seems obsessed with our trauma and grief, we deserve stories of joy. Storytelling is in my blood, I hope I can continue to write stories of queer blak joy and inspire others to write their own.

What makes books like An Unexpected Party important?

Books like An Unexpected party give queer writers, new and emerging writers, a platform to be heard. It gives readers a space that belongs to them. Growing up I never read any stories featuring protagonists like me, Aboriginal characters, queer characters, transgender characters; we always seemed to be the butt of a joke, or a tragic death, or an addict, the abuser or the abused, or we just didn’t exist. An Unexpected Party creates a world for us to exist, to be the fantastic heroes (or exciting villains) of our own stories. The don’t have to follow anyone’s narrative about our lives but instead curate our own narratives.

What makes genres such as fantasy and speculative fiction attractive to you as a writer and as a reader?

I was a pretty lonely kid, and so I spent a lot of time reading. I loved magickal adventures and spooky stories. When I first started exploring my gender identity and sexuality I didn’t feel like I could talk about it, so I searched for stories about people like me. I felt strange and alien, and so stories about the fantastical and unexplored seemed so welcoming for someone like me. I could write worlds where I fit in, and so I did. I now see how influential and important these stories can be, how valuable they are for affirming my communities. How exciting!

Read the short story – Our Time, Our Home by Alistair Ott

 

MEET LIAN LOW

 

Lian Low author

Tell us a little about the inspiration for your story in An Unexpected Party.

Naager is an anagram of ‘negara’ which means ‘country’ in Malay, and symbolically represents Malaysia. The story is a delicate balance in exploring one’s roots and love of a country that perpetuates state-sanctioned discrimination and hatred against the queer community.

‘Negara’ was inspired by a Malaysian-Australian artist who performed a popular Malay song ‘Balik Kampung’ at a weekly Melbourne drag king & queer performance night in early 2000s.

We became friends not long after this event. Many years later when we lived in different states, we crossed paths again, at a queer night called Rainbow Rojak in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was surreal and unexpected, and led me to incorporate time travel as a storytelling device which is also inspired by Octavia E Butler’s Kindred.

What would most you like the YA audience to know about you?

I migrated with family at 14 in 1991, the year when Australia’s legal fiction of terra nullius was still current. As a teenager, I was painfully shy, and even though I excelled in English, I was placed in English as a Second Language (ESL/EAL). Schoolwork was boring, but the camaraderie in class gave me emotional resilience against the racism my EAL/ESL classmates and I experienced.

At school, I struggled with my gender and sexuality, because I didn’t have the language to know myself. But I journaled prolifically to process my feelings. By the end of high school, I transformed my journal ramblings into a monologue and won the youth section of a short play comp where I had a reading at the Victorian Arts Centre.

Growing up, did you feel that you were represented in a positive framework in Australian literature and what do you think needs to change for a more inclusive environment?

Despite having an extraordinary wealth of literature from First Nation, African diaspora, Asian diaspora and people of colour authors in Australia, I don’t think this is represented in schools. I think there’s still gatekeeping around the perception of classics or canons of literature, which centres a white person’s narrative.

I was talking to a friend recently whose father is an English teacher. It seems that the school is still teaching Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird, and he was challenging this inclusion but was met by resistance from a younger generation of teachers. How are we to know ourselves as a society if our literary imaginary continues to merit white American, English and European authors as classics without any critical analysis?

What makes books like An Unexpected Party important?

Books like An Unexpected Party are important because here are bold queer, trans and gender diverse fiction told by lived experience authors who are white, people of colour and First Nation. Here are stories that are not heteronormative and cisnormative, where characters are not the side-kicks, or othered and represented problematically.

When younger, I was told that I had to choose between writing an Asian-Australian story or a queer story, that I could not do both. In An Unexpected Party, I’ve found a beautiful home to tell a story that is close to my heart, that is about my truth.

Read the short story – Negara by Lian Low

 

Download teachers’ resources for An Unexpected Party

Author: Seth Malacari

Category: Children's, Teenage & educational

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Fremantle Press

ISBN: 9781760992699

RRP: $19.99

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