Nina Varela’s debut YA fantasy novel is packed with danger, betrayal, and an enemies-to-lovers romance that will sweep readers off their feet. Crier’s War takes place 50 years after humans lost the war against the Automae. Crier, an Automae, is preparing for marriage to a war hero when she meets Ayla, a human who begins to change Crier’s view of their world. Here, Varela talks about why she dislikes her novel being called “important” and the need for all types of queer characters and stories on our shelves.
While promoting my debut novel Crier’s War–a lesbian YA fantasy–I’ve been asked to talk about why my book is “important.” There’s a lot to unpack in that one word, something Malinda Lo does in her fantastic essay on the topic of using “important” to refer to books about marginalized characteres. Personally, I don’t want to talk about why my book is important because I don’t think it is. I don’t want it to be. Frankly, I would much prefer my lesbian YA fantasy to be an insignificant drop in the wide, vast ocean of lesbian YA fantasies. One amongst thousands and thousands and thousands.
We’re getting there. So many lesbian YA authors came before me, so many debuted alongside me, and more and more are picked up each year. But we haven’t yet reached that level of market saturation and I want to get there with every type of queerness. I’ve often been asked to discuss the “great LGBTQ+ representation” in the book and it always gives me pause because my book does not actually feature LGBTQ+ representation. It’s pretty much just lesbian and bisexual rep, and while other identities exist in the background, I don’t think that counts as “representation.” There are infinite ways to be queer, so clearly there need to be infinite queer stories.
I want queer authors to write anything and everything they need to write. I have no interest in gatekeeping; I want the full spectrum. I want the coming out books. I want the books about queer suffering. I want on-page catharsis and exploration of trauma. I want the happy books, too: queer joy books, cute romantic comedies, first crush books, fantasies about queer royals and revolutionaries and spaceship captains. Give me all the queer spaceship captains. Most of all I want capital-P Publishing–the people at the very top of the ladder, the people who make the bottom line do-we-buy-this-or-not decisions–to put time and money into the full spectrum. To publish and market and support every type of queer author, every type of queer story. Even if they consider a certain identity too niche, not “relatable” enough for the general public. Queer readers have proven over and over again they are buying. If you build it, they will come.
It boils down to this: We need all types of queer stories because all types of queer people exist. I want the market to be so saturated with queer books that anyone who needs to see themselves in a story—anyone who hasn’t yet seen themselves, hasn’t yet gotten to be the hero—can walk into any bookstore and find a book (or six) about someone who experiences the world like they do. I want every queer author to get the chance to tell their story. To tell people, We exist everywhere. We suffer, we survive, we love. We can be magic, too.
Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. Crier’s War is her first novel.