SciFiPulse recently caught up with Sassafras Lowrey, author of A Little Queermas Carol, Roving Pack and Lost Boi. Sassafras also holds an MFA from Goddard College in Fiction. Ze has taught creative writing at LitReactor and the NYC Centre For Fiction, are a two time AWP Writer to Writer Mentor, and provides writing coaching to private clients.
In this interview, Sassafras discusses the inspiration behind hir books and why we need interesting portrayals of trans characters.
SFP: Where did the idea to update A Christmas Carol and Peter Pan come from?
Sassafras Lowrey: I have a deep interest in all things related to fairytales and in particular the gritty and darker edges of these sorts of stories and the lessons there that could be applied to modern queer life. These two stories have always stood out to me, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to retell them. With the original Peter Pan I have always been drawn to the brutality of the story, as well as the themes of created family, and world building all of which has always felt incredibly queer.
With “A Christmas Carol” I was thinking a lot about queer joy, and the struggle for it within (some) aspects of community as well as themes of belonging, loss, and queer hauntings and knew that I wanted to explore these themes in a retelling. Leather/BDSM is something closely tied to my understanding of queer culture and identity so conscious, consensual and intentional discussions of power/play is something that felt right at the surface of both of these source texts, and were themes that naturally evolved not as erotica but as lifestyles within the the fabric of the novels as I wrote them..
SFP: What positive portrayals of trans people are there in fiction and what can society learn from them?
Sassafras Lowrey: There are an ever growing number of portrayals of trans people across fiction genres. I think some of the most interesting work continues to happen in the small press and indie publishing worlds, though at the same time we are seeing more and more normalization of representing trans and nonbinary characters even amidst large mainstream publishing houses. Personally I’m less interested in “positive portrayals” than I am in interesting ones. As an author I know some people have found fault with my work because it is gritty, messy, complicated — very much like the queer community that I have known and loved.
I’m not especially interested in writing positive portrayals as much as I am writing complicated portrayals of gender diverse characters and queer worlds. My priority isn’t so much to teach society something about queer lives, but rather to give queer and gender diverse readers an opportunity to see ourselves, our lives, our relationships, our families reflected on the pages of interesting stories.
SFP: Do you think it is still possible for trans and non-binary people to enjoy the Harry Potter books given J. K. Rowling’s comments on trans people?
Sassafras Lowrey: Let me start by saying there is no question that JK Rowling is a TERF. Her transphobia is no longer subtle, hidden or suspected. The way she has conducted herself, and the lies and misinformation she has perpetuated about trans and nonbinary people is inexcusable. Each trans and nonbinary person is going to have a different experience with Rowling’s work and if it can possibly be enjoyed. I cannot and would not speak for anyone in the community.
My personal relationship to Harry Potter is now fraught and complicated. I am still able to enjoy the magic of the series, but I look at it as a piece of art that exists without a creator. Many people have said that Harry Potter belongs to the fans now, and I would put myself in that category and that we will consider the HP world existing without a creator. That said I am extremely cognizant of the way she has weaponized her own characters and the real world implications of that and fully support the bookstores etc. that have removed her books from their shelves.
My dog who has a name partially derived from Harry Potter universe has a large viral Instagram account and I have now removed all references to Harry Potter from it because I’m not able to have a nuanced conversation in that space and people who come across her might not know she has genderqueer and trans parents. Essentially I think we all have to make our own decisions about how we do or don’t continue to engage with those books.
SFP: What are you working on at the moment?
Sassafras Lowrey: After many years out of school I went back to school to pursue a graduate studies and earlier this year I completed my MFA in Fiction with a concentration in Queer Fairytales. I am currently shopping a queer novel loosely based on The Little Mermaid and am also slowly at work on “The Basket” a trilogy based on Alice in Wonderland as well as other fiarytales and nursery rhymes. that was my creative thesis from my masters program.
I’m doing some work based loosely on The Snow Queen which I have had the opportunity to share with students via some virtual school visits this year. I also share new queer fiction work regularly with my Patrons (https://patreon.com/sassafraslowrey). Over the past several years writing about dogs has also become the primary aspect of my work. I have published several books and write about dog training and behavior for publications ranging from The New York Times to leading dog magazines.
SFP: How important is it for genderqueer people to see themselves positively represented?
Sassafras Lowrey: I think it’s essential for every marginalized group including genderqueer people to see ourselves represented in all kinds of created work. In particular, I think it’s important to see diverse representation of the genderqueer community, and work that is created by genderqueer writers for the community as opposed to outsider work created about us.
SFP: What other stories would you like to see updated for LGBTQIA people?
Sassafras Lowrey: Everything? It makes me think of the quote from the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg who once said “When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” I feel the same way about LGBTQIA representation in books — I want all of it to be queer!
SFP: And finally, what other books with trans and non binary protagonists would you recommend?
Sassafras Lowrey: Oh goodness so so many, it’s hard to pick one, or three, or several, but a few just off the top of my head that I really appreciate are:
- Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg
- The Marketplace, Laura Antoniou
- Godspeed Lynne Breedlove
- Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, by Kai Cheng Thom
- Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series
SciFiPulse would like to extend our warmest thanks and best wishes to Sassafras Lowrey for so graciously answering our questions.
Sassafras’ Twitter is @sassafraslowrey