By Steve Dunk
Today we’re pleased to welcome Anna-Marie McLemore to the WNDB blog to discuss young adult novel Lakelore, out since March 8, 2022!
Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.
Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it, and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide.
Hi Anna-Marie, thanks so much for talking with We Need Diverse Books about Lakelore! You write from a lived experience as you yourself are neurodivergent, transgender, non-binary, Mexican American, just a wonderfully beautiful convergence of interesting things. Does that make a book like Lakelore easier or harder to write?
Well, in some ways it makes it a more natural starting place because I’m coming from a place that I know, I’m coming from a place that’s home to me. In terms of Lakelore specifically, something that was a little bit challenging was having these two characters that are both non-binary, who both use they/them pronouns and have very different experiences of their gender identities and how they express them. That was something that was that was pretty clear to me, I had pretty clear conceptions of these two characters’ gender identities. Because our gender identities are different even if there are those of us who use the same pronouns, even if there are those of us who are non-binary, our gender identities, our gender presentations, how we live in the world, vary.
Something that was a little bit more challenging was separating the experience of being dyslexic from the experience of having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, because those are two things that are inside my brain at the same time. And I was writing one character, Bastián, who has ADHD and not dyslexia, and another character Lore who has dyslexia and not ADHD. So, that required thinking about these characters, thinking about their different kinds of neurodivergence, and asking myself where they overlap, because there is some overlap. But also how do I make sure that I am treating these two experiences as different in these characters, even though they have not been completely separate experiences for me, because they’re both inside my brain.
In terms of gender and cultural identity, it felt like I was home in terms of identity, but when you get to neurodivergence, I had to sort of look at my own brain in a way that let me observe it and let me observe what experiences am I using to write these characters and what do I need to understand about how brains with ADHD work, about how brains with dyslexia work, so that I can understand how to write these characters from my own lived experiences.
For the most part, the adults in the book, Bastián and Lore’s parents, Dr. Robbins, and Lore’s therapist Amanda, reinforce their strengths rather than weaknesses. They teach them not to denigrate themselves for what they can’t do, but rather appreciate what they can. This is very much in line with people like Dr. John Elder, a Neurodiversity Advocate, who are trying to get people to understand more about neurodiversity.
Talk about how important that is, because to me, it seems absolutely crucial that we learn to accept that those “weaknesses” aren’t defining a person’s self-worth, and that this is someone who has a voice, something to contribute.
So I think a lot of it is about making sure that there is acknowledgement and celebration of diversity within how our brains work, because whether you are neurodivergent or not, your brain is a unique landscape, everyone’s is, so it’s simply embracing and celebrating what is. And also leaving room for the fact that there isn’t a single moment in which you accept how your own brain works. It’s important to have people around you, who accept you and celebrate you no matter who you are, that’s important.
But there also needs to be room for the fact that it’s not like you suddenly have this epiphany and suddenly you can see what’s different about your brain, see your own neurodivergence as something that’s entirely positive. And there is much about it that is positive and that is beautiful, but there are also a lot of things about having a brain that works differently that can make things challenging. And leaving space for the fact that there are going to be challenges, and that there are going to be things that look at in a different way, and approach in a different way, but also in a wonderful way, and leaving room for that range of experiences.
And there are moments in the book where Bastián can see what’s worth celebrating about his own brain, and he knows it in that moment, and he also knows that there will be days when he doesn’t, and that’s okay to.
In the book, it’s jocular but there’s some real truth and benefit to the idea of “gender forecasts,” with the idea that folks identify in all sorts of ways and people just need to get over it. There’s a utility to that, isn’t there?
So this idea of gender forecasts actually came from conversations I had when I was first starting to understand that maybe I was non-binary, and maybe I actually needed to acknowledge that about myself. And one of the first conversations I had with someone about the fact that maybe the pronouns I was using, she/her, were not the ones that felt right for me, I was talking about this idea of being able to tell people, without telling people. Like, this is what I’m going to be today without having to have a conversation about it every single time.
And part of why I was thinking about that before I realized that I was bi-gender is because I had days where I really felt more feminine and I was happy with that, and I also had days where I felt much more masculine, I felt much more like a boy, and that felt right for me. And while alternating between those felt perfectly natural for me, it’s startling sometimes to people in your life, people who maybe don’t fully understand how your gender identity works, how your gender presentation interacts with your gender identity, and I was thinking about this from my place of being someone who is bi-gender. And while I don’t exactly think Lore would identify as bi-gender, they have a pretty wide gender presentation range, while Bastián is trans-masculine, identifies as more masculine presenting. Lore has days where they do what feels right for them, which is a more masculine gender presentation, and what feels right for them other days is a more feminine gender presentation, and everywhere in between.
So this idea of having a range of experience that is going to vary from day to day and how do you live in a way that’s right for you, but also try to communicate what you’re about in a way to people around you, and how much you’re obligated to, how much that’s on you to explain it because we want to be understood. And in my case, I’m willing to talk about my gender identity, but like anything, the willingness to understand it has to be there, and I think that’s so often what we want when we put ourselves out there and are willing to explain things about ourselves, we just want to know that there is the openness and the desire to understand.
And a lot of that came into this book, both about gender presentation and about gender identity, and about neurodivergence. These two characters saying this is what it’s like on the inside of my brain, and the fact that they have overlapped, they have reference points that help them understand each other, but ultimately they are having two different experiences. But they both come wanting to understand each other.
You make the reading experience, in particular the parts about Sebastian’s hormone therapy, not only a very intimate process, but a feasibly and articulately comprehensible one. You give us a very real, a very close-up look at not only how things work biologically but—more importantly—how they feel. An example would be the line, “I can feel every cell in my body shifting into place.”
Some of what I was writing about there is this idea of going in the direction that is right for you, but maybe not being where you want to be yet. It’s like feeling things line up, it’s like feeling certain stars line up in your life, and that sense of alignment with what is right for you, and what is true to you. I think that is part of what makes us feel like we are with ourselves, like we are with ourselves as we want to be and as we were meant to be.
That’s part of what I was writing about with Bastián having that feeling. And at the same time them having to figure out this actual physical process of injections which I can tell you from doing these for my husband; it took a while to wrap my head around how to do that. So this was really the two of us figuring it out together, because I’m the one who has to do it, but I also need help to figure out the process, to actually read the directions, to conceptualize this.
And there are a lot of trans people with neurodivergent brains, so as they are doing this work of living as they truly are, and doing whatever it is that transition looks like for them, it’s also interacting with our brains and how that comes into it, because we can’t separate out different parts of ourselves. So that moment of Bastián’s gender identity and the kind of transition that that feels right for them intersecting with their neurodivergence, that was something that felt very real to write about.
Bastián and Lore are both in different stages of finally having their outward appearance match how they feel inside. “Once you know the right thing, every minute you don’t do it feels wrong.” Talk about this feeling of once you begin this journey of becoming who you were meant to be, it’s very difficult to go back.
Well, there is a going back, and I can say this because I lived as trans-masculine for a while when I was younger, and then I just sort of forgot that it ever happened, I pretended it never happened, and it was not good for me. I don’t recommend meeting yourself that way and knowing yourself that way and then just sort of backing away, but we also do what we need to do to survive. Because as hard as it is to live with how brains work sometimes, our brains are trying to protect us sometimes, by trying to shut us off from trauma, they’re trying to shut us off from things that keep us from being able to go forward. So yeah, you can go back, I just don’t recommend it because it’s hard.
Once you know something about yourself, going in the direction of that, of affirming that, is what’s going to make you feel truest to yourself, what’s going to make you feel like you are in line with who you’re supposed to be. And I think part of how I was thinking when I wrote that particular part of the book is that you often don’t know what your transition is going to look like. As trans people, we don’t always know what that’s going to be, we often aren’t thinking of it, like, as an end point. I think there’s this kind of myth that transition is something you do once and then you’re done, you’re where you’re supposed to be, but it’s a process, and for some of us it’s an ongoing process. It’s a longer process both because of the actual physical realities of it, and because it takes time to figure out what’s right for you.
But once you know, and once you have that sense, then it becomes something that you really need to move towards. I think that’s why sometimes, whether it’s a Trans/non-binary person coming out, or whether it’s a trans person making a decision to do something transition related, it can seem very sudden to the people around them, but usually it’s really not, usually this has been inside us for a while, and we’ve gotten to the point where it’s impossible not to go toward what the light is in us.
I’m such a fan of process, and one of my favorite aspects of this book was learning about Alebrijes, which are very much tied to the narrative here. Could you explain what those are and how they found their way into this story?
Sure, so Alebrijes go back to Pedro Linares, a Mexican artist who created these animals that are pieces of different animals put together. You have the wings going together with fins, and you end up with these with these sorts of mythical animals that have gotten woven into Mexican art. They are a beautiful, highly detailed, highly work intensive art form.
I wanted to write about these because the image of Alebrijes was everywhere; growing up it was something that’s one of those kind of touchstones of, at least, my cultural experience. And I wanted to write about them alongside this idea of different things going together in your brain because that’s sometimes what neurodivergence is, different wires crossing, different things colliding in your brain. For Bastián, it was having both a space for these unexpected elements to come together and also just to be able to do something with their hands. I can speak to being someone with ADHD. I fidget a lot, like I’m doing it right now as we’re talking, I’m playing with one of my glitter jars, which is something I write about in the book.
So Bastián having something that their older brother teaches them about, having something that is culturally important, and having this be something that kind of nods to the fact that different wires are crossing in their brain, different things are colliding in their brain, giving them something they can do with their hands, this was something that felt like a very natural fit for this character.
In the book, Bastián has a revelation about their brother and says, “It’s the glowing center on Antonio, the alchemy not just of giving shape and color to his hardest moments, but of being a man who leaves space for his own heart.” I mean, setting aside the beauty of the language, talk about allowing oneself to be open to even within the Latine community that can sometimes favor a more masculine approach.
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, being Latine and being Latino when I’m a guy, and having role models around me that are going to guide me away from away from toxic masculinity, away from what I might have the instinct to go towards. I love my community, but like every community we have things that we need to contend with, that we need to grapple with, and machismo is one of them.
So having people around me has been important to guide me away from that, so that I’m not doing stupid things. One of the things I’m thinking of is when I threw out my back fairly early in realizing I was a boy because I wanted to prove my manhood by lifting a heavy box, and that’s not good for anybody. So I wanted to write about Bastián having this role model that they just adore, and look up to, and want to be like, and realizing that their brother not only has feelings, but knows he has feelings, and isn’t ashamed of those feelings, and isn’t ashamed of having reminders of those feelings, and reminders of both his good days and bad days. And that’s something that Bastián really needs, especially as they are embracing their masculinity more and more. That’s the kind of connection and the kind of role model that they need.
“I learned to read because of the people who decided I was curious instead of stupid and stubborn, that my brain was wired a little differently instead of wired wrong.” Talk about how important it is having a support system in your life, and is there any advice you have for folks out there who are struggling to find that kind of support? With the understanding that every situation is different.
I don’t know what I would have done without community members that saw that potential in me. And it’s something that’s really hard because until we prioritize having that kind of affirmation for different ways of learning, it’s very hard for anyone growing up with a brain that works differently to find that kind of support. And I think the thing that is safest for us growing up, and that we often do growing up is gravitating towards the people in our lives who get that, who see something in us, who see that potential, who don’t write off what that potential is in us, even if we are having trouble in other aspects, even if we’re hitting a wall in certain aspects.
Because that is something that can be difficult, especially with dyslexia, is that often times we do okay until we hit a certain point in school, and once we hit that point, it can seem to a lot of people looking on that either we’re not trying, or that we’re never going to get it. And those family members, those community members, those teachers, those librarians who watch what we’re going through, and who are there with us, and who see that we’re trying, let us know that they see that we’re trying, and who leave room for those different kinds of ways brains work, they are just everything. And I’m so grateful for the ones that have been in my life, and I’m so grateful for the ones that are in the lives of every kid, whatever the learning style happens to be.
A lot of authors write a book because they enjoy the experience of learning something new, either about a given subject or themselves. Was that the case with Lakelore and if so, what did you learn?
I love doing research, I’m kind of a research nerd, so it takes me a minute to sort of zoom out and think about what I actually wanted to learn about.
Well, I did learn more about not only the history of Alebrijes but also the different incarnations of Alebrijes in Mexican art. I also learned, like, weird things about lakes, which was something I really wanted to do and get right. I’m big on science and I’m kind of like a science nerd in a way that makes its way into almost every book I write in some way.
So while I’m writing about these things that are these sorts of magical occurrences, I’m also writing science that I want to be as accurate as possible. And I think coming from a Latine tradition, coming from a tradition of magical realism, I think of this as a portal fantasy, but it’s also magical realism influenced just because of where I come from in terms of traditions, having the magical alongside the scientific, there’s no conflict there. Coming from the traditions of a cultural viewpoint that I come from, there’s not really a conflict there. You have your undercurrents of magic and you also have lakes that don’t have tides necessarily, but have something that almost resembles tides. So these different types of research, I just kind of love learning about things, it’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process.
For readers who enjoyed Lakelore, what other books or authors would you recommend?
There’s a couple that come to mind, but of course I must say Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. I just love that book and it’s a book that I would love to be able to give to teen me. It’s just one of those books that I’m so grateful exists now, and that even if I would love to hand it to teen me, it was just as meaningful to be able to read as an adult.
Another book I’m thinking of is This is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio, which does this amazing work of capturing what it’s like to have that sort of vibrating sense of anxiety in your brain. So those are those are two that come to mind thinking about gender identity, thinking about neurodivergence.
Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) writes magical realism and fairy tales that are as queer, Latine, and nonbinary as they are. Their books include THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and was the winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; MISS METEOR (co-authored with Tehlor Kay Mejia); DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List selection; and THE MIRROR SEASON, which has recently received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and School Library Journal, and the forthcoming LAKELORE (March 8, 2022) and SELF-MADE BOYS: A GREAT GATSBY REMIX (Fall 2022).
Steve Dunk was born on Vancouver Island, British Columbia and now lives near a lake just outside of Toronto, spending his days obsessing over most things in geek culture, but mostly just trying to drink coffee and read in peace. He’s been blogging for various sites for as long as he can remember, focusing on the big three, movies, books, and music. His reading tastes stick pretty close to Young Adult but occasionally ventures outside enjoying middle grade, new adult, and adult as well. Fantasy, sci-fi, speculative, romance, contemporary…he loves it all. He reviews books and interviews authors on his podcast, Everything is Canon, over at Cinelinx.com with a focus on BIPOC/LGBTQIA+ authors and allyship. He doesn’t like sports, has lots of Star Wars books, and has two dogs. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.