Welcome to another Expanded Universe column where I feature essays from authors and editors of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, as well as from established readers and reviewers. My guest today is Annabelle Jay. If there’s one thing author Annabelle Jay believes with all her heart, it’s that there is no such thing as too many dragons in a book. As a fantasy writer with few other hobbies, she spends every day following her imagination wherever it leads her. A hippie born in the wrong decade, Annabelle has a peace sign tattoo and a penchant for hugging trees. She often gets confused for a student, though she is actually a young professor; when this stops happening, she will probably be very sad.

Annabelle Jay

Annabelle Jay

I sit at my Outwrite Book Festival table, novels spread like yard sale trinkets across the pink plastic table cloth, and try to draw in the crowd. A few curious customers pick up Cairo in White or ask me about my pen name, Annabelle Jay, but no one finds exactly what they’re looking for. Then, when a young man asks me what I’m working on as he already eyes the next booth, I explain that it’s a young adult LGBTQ+ series about gay dragons.

Suddenly, everyone wants my card.

Although I would love to take credit for the idea, the focus of my newest novel, The Sun Dragon, came about as a bit of a joke. I was already writing primarily LGBTQ+ fiction—both under my own name as adult fiction and under my pen name, Annabelle Jay, as young adult fiction—and I was already writing young adult fantasy. I just hadn’t put the two together yet.

My future brother-in-law was the one to come up with the idea, with the help of my dad, in response to a comment I made once that I didn’t know what to write next.

“Why don’t you just put it all together and write about gay dragons?” he said with a laugh.

Of course, they didn’t expect me to take the suggestion seriously. Or to write not just one but five fantasy novels about LGBTQ+ witches, dragons, and demons. Or to, within the series, rewrite the traditional Merlin story as a gay dragon story. Oh, and Romeo and Juliet, too.

Every main character in THE SUN DRAGON SERIES, which features a different protagonist in every book with appearances by characters past, is LGBTQ+. Allanah, the bisexual witch, is the star of the first book, with Mani, a gay half-dragon, following in book two. Later on, as years pass and the dragon races go intergalactic, we even get a queer half-dragon from space.

What appealed to me most about writing LGBTQ+ fantasy was that I could write an exciting adventure, could use spells and magic and epic battles, while also bringing in theories from my college gender studies. Not only would my dragons and witches face evil kings and demons with grudges, but they would inadvertently undermine gender performativity. They would struggle with multiple levels of identity and make social change. Sure, they would do it with magic or a bit of fire, but that wouldn’t change the true meaning of the books.

SFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviewsTHE SUN DRAGON SERIES is also part of my overall efforts to bring more LGBTQ+ characters into mainstream fiction. I often go to talk to classrooms of young adults and LGBTQ+ groups specifically, and the one thing I’ve heard from the very beginning is that they do not have enough to read. They were the ones who first introduced me to Wattpad, and though I think the platform is ingenious, LGBTQ+ fan fiction should not be the only choice these kids have to read a character they can identify with. They should be able to walk into any bookstore and find books with LGBTQ+ protagonists, not just in some section labelled “LGBT Fiction,” but in the whole store.

A huge part of that lack comes from the number one stereotype in LGBTQ+ literature: that LGBTQ+ books are only for LGBTQ+ people.

That is ridiculous.

If I only wanted to read fiction that specifically reflected my personal experiences, I would need a tall stack of books about twenty-seven year old girls from Pennsylvania with blonde hair, blue eyes, and an obsession with her rabbits.

But that’s not the point of fiction. Fiction requires imagination and entertainment; it requires a compelling story, and well-chosen words, and heart. And reading fiction requires empathy, in order to properly put oneself in the shoes of a character who isn’t you—whether that character is an old woman in a nursing home, a homeless man living on the street, or a witch named Allanah.

Which leads me to the final point of fiction, one that I genuinely believe can change the world: education. Not education in any field, but in humanity.

At least, that’s what I have in mind when I put my fingers to the keys.

That and a lot of fire-breathing.

Readers, what kind of characters would you like to see more often in mainstream fiction? One commenter will win one copy of The Sun Dragon.


  • Kate Lechler

    KATE LECHLER, on our staff from May 2014 to January 2017, resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching early British literature at the University of Mississippi, writing fiction, and throwing the tennis ball for her insatiable terrier, Sam. She loves speculative fiction because of what it tells us about our past, present, and future. She particularly enjoys re-imagined fairy tales and myths, fabulism, magical realism, urban fantasy, and the New Weird. Just as in real life, she has no time for melodramatic protagonists with no sense of humor. The movie she quotes most often is Jurassic Park, and the TV show she obsessively re-watches (much to the chagrin of her husband) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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