By Sarah Davin
The new novel, Once & Future, by Montpelier-based authors Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, takes the legend of King Arthur and launches it into an adventure that embraces science fiction. This crossover novel, meant for both a teen and adult audience, centers on the character of Ari Helix, an illegal immigrant from an Arab planet who finds the sword, Excalibur, and begins her destiny to become the next King Arthur.
One aspect of this book that distinguishes it is its multiple authors. In addition to both being graduates of Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), McCarthy and Capetta are partners in life and in writing. McCarthy has written four young adult novels and teaches classes at VCFA in writing for children and young adults. Capetta has also written four young adult novels. Together, they co-founded the Rainbow Writers Workshop and Rainbow Boxes, a charitable initiative that has sent LGBTQ+ fiction to libraries across the country.
The initial concept for the book came from McCarthy, who dreamed of reading a version of the legend with a girl lead. “I can’t remember a time before I wanted to read about a girl King Arthur. I kind of always thought it would just happen and waited for someone to write it. Maybe there are some out there, but I’ve never heard of them,” they continued. “Amy Rose was always telling me, ‘You should write it,’ and eventually I said ‘I will if you will write it with me.’” Capetta added, “I always say that I was a fan of this book before I got to be involved in writing it. That was really fun because I wanted Cori to turn this project into a reality.”
Initially, the writing centered on the two main characters of Ari and Merlin, with McCarthy focusing on the point of view of Ari and Capetta focusing on Merlin for the first draft. As the writing process progressed, those lines blurred with McCarthy and Capetta trusting each other with changes and edits. McCarthy explained, “After the first draft, it becomes less clear cut. We actually do whole rounds of revision where one of us is reading the whole thing. We have a very strict policy of not using ‘Track Changes.’ So, we change each other’s work. We add things. We cut things out. There’s a lot of trust.”
Science fiction and superhero movies are having their time in the spotlight—a trend that has not escaped the notice of the two self-proclaimed nerds. While some writers would choose to avoid the high levels of action, magic, and explosions, Once & Future is overflowing with spaceships and sword fights.
“I’m really proud of this book,” said McCarthy. “We set out to write what we were calling a blockbuster. We set out to write something commercial on purpose. That’s not what a lot of authors want to say. We set out to write something big and shiny and ‘J. J. Abrams’ for our teenage readers to get excited about.”
Within the structure of an action and adventure story, McCarthy and Capetta introduce their readers to characters with identities not frequently represented in mainstream fiction. A few examples include Ari and her adoptive brother Kay’s two space captain moms; Lamarack, a black, gender-fluid character; and Guinevere, Ari’s love interest. McCarthy remarked, “On a personal note, this was the first non-binary trans character I got to write, and I am a non-binary transperson, so it was really exciting. We were putting our toes in the water with using a character who uses they/them pronouns and seeing what the reactions would be to that. So far, they’ve been overwhelmingly positive.”
Capetta and McCarthy support future authors who want to include LGBTQ+ characters and offered some advice to fellow LGBTQ+ writers. Capetta encouraged, “If you’re a queer writer, hoping to write queer characters, I say just go for it. Don’t hold yourself back. Don’t be afraid about the market. Don’t be afraid that there’s nothing like your book out there or if there is something a little bit like your book out there. We need so many more stories about queer people of all kinds, of all stripes of the rainbow.” Capetta also stressed that it’s important for writers who don’t identify as LGBTQ+ to consider including LGBTQ+ characters, suggesting that they may not be the main characters, but it’s great to have queer characters exist in your world.
While Once & Future may be a light-hearted fantasy story, it also reflects real LGBTQ+ experiences that the mainstream book market has largely overlooked. “I think a lot of people will say there are so many queer characters [in the novel]. We’re just writing our everyday. Our lives are built around really awesome queer people, so it doesn’t feel like a stretch at all to write that into a book,” Capetta expressed. The authors mentioned that some of the characters in the book are influenced by real friends and LGBTQ+ people in their lives. Most importantly, their book is meant for readers of all stripes.
Capetta affirmed, “Queer books are for everyone. A book with a straight or cis character is for everyone. It should be the same. An adventure story is an adventure story.”