A guest post by Lyssa Chiavari
In 2014, I read a book that wound up changing my life: Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson. Published in 2012, and a loose sequel to 2011’s Ultraviolet, Quicksilver was a unique YA sci-fi novel—not just because of its take on alien contact, but because its heroine, Tori, was asexual. Quicksilver was one of the first YA books to feature an asexual main character. And Tori’s experiences helped me come to terms with something I’d suspected about myself for a long time, but hadn’t been sure about until I was able to walk through a character’s shoes and see how she was like me. Because I am also ace.
When I read Quicksilver, I was still putting the pieces of the story that would wind up becoming The Iamos Trilogy together. I had some general ideas about the direction the story needed to go, but the characters themselves were still enigmas to me. In particular, I was struggling with the character of Nadin, our heroine from the ancient past. But after reading Quicksilver, I realized what was missing from Nadin. What if Nadin was like me? What if she was ace, too?
Once I pulled on that thread, the characters suddenly fell into place. Nadin’s entire story as a character is motivated by the fact that, despite being born in the ruling caste and being destined to become a gerouin, she still felt inadequate, like something was wrong—she didn’t quite fit in. On the outside, by all appearances Nadin seems to be a perfect, model gerouin-to-be. But ace people know the pain of looking like “everyone else,” of seeming to be “normal.” If we keep quiet and pretend, if we go along with society’s expectations of us, nobody will know we’re different. But we know it. We feel it all the time. Connecting the dots that Nadin was ace made the rest of her character make total sense.
After Fourth World was published, I received so much positive feedback from readers who appreciated the asexual representation in the series. Many people saw themselves in Nadin’s story, but I was surprised that even more readers saw themselves in Isaak, our other main character, who is also on the ace spectrum—Isaak is demisexual. I have had so many people write to me and tell me that Isaak’s story made them recognize their own demisexuality, just as Tori’s story in Quicksilver helped me accept my asexuality. It has meant so much to me as an author to know that my writing has helped so many people through both Isaak and Nadin’s stories.
In the last book of the trilogy, One World, which released in October, I expanded the points of view to also include narration from Henry and Tamara, the main characters from Different Worlds (a tie-in novella which takes place between the first two books of the series). This gave me the opportunity to focus on another part of my identity that I longed to see represented in fiction: anxiety. First as a side character and then as a main character, Tamara’s anxiety was noted throughout the series; but as the events of the series escalate and the situation becomes more and more dire, Tamara’s anxiety worsens, and she has to learn to deal with it while navigating world-shattering events. Tamara’s worsening anxiety coincided with my own, which was not as bad when the series began, but grew more severe as time went on, culminating in a very bad patch in 2020. Because Tamara had already been portrayed with anxiety, after what I learned from my own experiences, it was important for me to show how mental health conditions can change depending on circumstances, and to honestly depict how someone can manage these conditions during times of crisis.
I wasn’t sure how readers would react to this subplot, but once again, the response has been overwhelming. Even though the book has only been out a few months, I have gotten multiple emails and messages from readers talking about how important the representation of Tamara’s anxiety was for them, how much it helped them and how seen it made them feel. That’s all I can ask for as a writer, knowing that my words have helped people. It means so much to me that the queer representation and the mental health representation in the series has made such an impact on readers.
My experience writing The Iamos Trilogy has really demonstrated the importance of representation. In all these cases, it started as something I did for myself—first, it helped me process something about myself; then, I hoped it would help others process something about themselves. The reaction from readers has proved to me that this is not off-base. When someone is dealing with something that makes them feel different or alone, showing them that they’re not alone, that there are others like them, and that it’s going to be okay can make a world of difference to readers’ lives.
About the Author
Lyssa Chiavari is an author of inclusive speculative fiction for young adults. Her short fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including the anthologies Magic at Midnight: A YA Fairytale Anthology and Perchance to Dream: Classic Tales from the Bard’s World in New Skins, both which she also edited. Her first published story, “The Choice,” was named one of Ama-gi Magazine’s Best Fiction of 2014. Lyssa lives with her family and way too many animals in the woods of Northwest Oregon. Learn more about her at her website.