In Kiersi Burkhart’s queer, inclusive fantasy novel, Castle of Lies, power-hungry Thelia plans to stake her claim by marrying Bayled, heir to the kingdom’s throne. But an elf invasion changes everything, trapping Thelia, her cousin Parsifal, and Princess Corene inside the castle. Elf warrior Sapphire may be the only one who can help them, but can Sapphire’s motives be trusted? And even inside the castle’s walls they’re not truly safe, as a long-dormant magic stirs, threatening the safety of not just those taking sheltering, but the entire kingdom.
To celebrate the release of her new book, Burkhart shares the story of how fan fiction lit her way.
I think a lot of girls who were children at the same time I was can relate to feeling like most fantasy wasn’t really…made for us. It was flush with adventure and war and dragons—but usually only with men as heroes. There was certainly not much romance, and definitely no queer romance. It’s hard to love books while never feeling seen by them—or being a part of them. It makes you wonder if what you feel and think and want is maybe invalid, or unacceptable. That’s the power of books, for better or worse.
When I was ten, I was introduced to my first real anime show. Most of what was imported to America then was shounen, aka, intended for teen boys. Which was fine—those were still stories I loved and watched from beginning to end. But many of them I ultimately found unsatisfying. I think the best example for me is Dragon Ball Z. When this show came on TV, I was perfectly ripe for something with huge battle sequences and magic weapons and aliens with tails. But creator Akira Toriyama, as it turns out…was terrified of writing romance!
As a result, there’s a bizarre sequence of events in which two characters who end a season at total odds with each other suddenly, at the beginning of the next season, have an infant. Excuse me?! What happened?
That question, “what happened,” led me to the wide world of fan fiction. There were vast opportunities to fill in enticing gaps in time, to take characters and worlds I loved and alter them to suit my interests. And sure enough, entire online communities of people out there were doing the same thing.
It was the beginning of something very critical to my development as a writer. I’d go so far as to say that while wholly original, Castle of Lies is—in some form—fan fiction. It synthesizes a genre I love with tropes and archetypes I love into something in which a younger me would have felt…included. Something by which I would’ve been seen and understood.
I spent about a decade writing fan fiction for series I loved, building into them the things I felt were missing. Lots of women secondary characters as heroes. Lots of bisexual people, definitely. Lots of romance and sex. And lots of interspecies relationships, because I guess that’s a thing I’m into! It was an infinite playground—not to mention the reception my stories received. I received hundreds of reviews where people gushed. Where I’d convinced them that my wild, weird little idea was believable. And often they felt seen by it, too!
I tried occasionally to write something original, but I didn’t have the skill or confidence to plan an entire novel with my own world and characters. So I used my favorite series as launching points for stories that would, eventually, reach novel length—and longer. And that was just the training that led me to writing original young adult novels today.
I definitely feel I owe the writer I am now to the freedom fan fiction gave me to try things on, to experiment, to learn what I liked and what I was good at. To fail and start over and then, maybe, succeed. And to give a voice to parts of myself I’d thought were unacceptable and find that actually, there was an audience out there for what I had to say. I just had to find them.
Castle of Lies is on sale now.