#LoveOzYA Q&A with Michael Earp for EVERYTHING UNDER THE MOON
Michael Earp is a non-binary writer and bookseller living in Naarm (Melbourne, Australia), the editor of Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories and contributor to Underdog: #LoveOzYA Short Stories. They have a teaching degree and a Masters in children’s literature and have worked between bookselling and publishing for twenty years as a children’s literature specialist. Their role managing The Little Bookroom saw them named ABA Bookseller of the year in 2021. Their writing has also appeared in Archer, The Age, PopMatters, The Victorian Writer and Aurealis.
#LoveOzYA’s Dayna Smith caught up with Michael about their next anthology, Everything Under The Moon: Fairy tales in a queerer light, which is being released October, 2023.
Tell us about Everything Under the Moon.
It’s about many things because it’s short stories. The premise was that I love fairytales and after editing Kindred, which was a celebration of Australian young adult short stories, I wanted to queer fairytales. So I made a wishlist of who I would ask and set about asking them and that’s how it all came about. Basically it’s taking traditional fairytales and looking at them through a queer lens and critiquing the heteronormative world in which they were formed.
How does an anthology come together? Do you assemble the team of authors first or do you pitch the idea first or is it a mix?
It’s a little bit of both and this one was a slightly different process to Kindred. Basically I came up with a long list of who I would like and tried to make that as diverse as possible, tried to make sure I was hearing from as many different perspectives as I could. Then, in the case of Everything Under the Moon, it was my agent who was pitching the idea to publishers and so, in order to have something to pitch, we actually asked a couple of my wishlist authors if they would be willing to write a story for it. Or, be involved, firstly, and then if they were willing to write a story before there was a contract on the table so that we had something to pitch.
I was very lucky to have Lily Wilkinson and Gary Lonesborough offer to write their stories before we even had a contract and so, with my story and those other two, we were able to say, “This is what the idea is, here are the three stories that we already have, here is our wishlist who we would like to make up the rest”. The good thing about doing it that way was that it also left room for the publisher to suggest people if they had a strong preference for someone they’d like to include in such a project.
Everything Under the Moon contains a few American authors – Alexandra Villasante, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Megan Spooner (most commonly seen, on Australian shores anyway, writing with Amie Kaufman), Amber McBride, and Abdi Nazemian. What made you decide to include them?
I’ll be honest, most of those people I already knew personally or I just absolutely adore their books, whether I knew them personally or not. So I approached them. A lot of it is me blind calling, effectively. Hunting down author websites and writing to them saying “hi, you don’t know me from a bar of soap, but I am an editor from Australia and I edited this anthology [Kindred] and now I’m doing this one and I thought you’d be great for it”.
Not everyone that I approached that way was available – I had a number of others that I also reached out to. Some were initially interested but then their schedules with their own books got in the way, so we had a few changes to the list throughout the process. But it was very deliberate to go beyond Australian authors because the whole point of re-telling fairytales is to get as wide a range of perspectives as possible and yes, I could have easily filled this with Australians and I would have had no qualms doing that, but I really wanted voices from other countries and I really wanted the originating fairytales to come from a variety of places.
Yes, I really liked The Cherry Blossom Queen and the Japanese influence in that story.
Yes because that’s a traditional Japanese fairytale and the thing about Maggie’s retelling is that she’s stuck pretty close to the traditional style of telling the story, but modernised what is being told and I thought that was a really interesting take on retelling.
Some of the stories had clear references to very famous Western fairytales – Lili Wilkinson’s If the Shoe Fits clearly references Cinderella, for example, but others did not. It made me go back to your foreword and saw that your intention had been for the authors to question fairytales and their legacy, to queer them up in multiple senses. Can you tell us more about this idea?
This is partly what motivates me to edit anthologies. I love giving a seemingly specific, that is actually a very broad, brief. I don’t want authors to feel too curtailed when they’re writing for something. I really want to hear their perspectives and so simply told them to queer a fairytale.
The only thing I really said was that I was trying to steer away from simply making it two princesses or two princes and keeping everything else the same in the story. I really wanted them to critique the society that created these stories and therefore, how has the worldview changed and how would we, as storytellers now, tell a similar tale perhaps, but from a very different viewpoint?
For example, my story in there, not many people know Donkeyskin as the originating text and so it’s interesting for them to go into it without knowing the reference, but one of the things I was actively critiquing is that in Donkeyskin, the prince looks through a keyhole, hence the title of the club in my story, and sees the princess dressed up in her finery and falls madly in lust or love. I mean, I think it’s just lusting after someone if you glimpse them through a keyhole!
At that time, the princess is living her days as a farmhand and so everyone refers to her as Donkeyskin and she’s gross and no-one wants anything to do with her, but when she’s beautiful, everyone wants her. So I was critiquing that notion of why couldn’t someone fall for the poor person as well? Why is it only wealth that is attractive? And so, even though I’m playing with sexuality and gender and bisexuality in my story, but I really wanted to also pick apart social hierarchies and it’s not just the beautiful wealthy people who have it all.
Ah, I see. I read your story and I didn’t know Donkeyskin at all so when I read I, it got me thinking about the fairytale of falling in love. I saw it without that layered nuance so that’s really interesting to know the layers.
For my retelling, I actively also sought to make it an everyday story that could be contemporary fiction, the experience of anyone living their early 20s or late teens, going to clubs and meeting people, it could be anyone.
I liked that about Lili’s story, of her take on The Bachelor, that it’s the modern fairytale. That we have this idea of a bachelor and these 12 beautiful women that come on to this show. I thought that was a real nice way of challenging some of our modern fairytale retellings.
Yes and critiquing that in showing just how farcical that set-up is at the same time that it’s really politically charged, in Lili’s story too. It’s so clever.
Tell me about the editing process. Did you get any stories back that had gone off in a direction that you really hadn’t intended?
No, I wouldn’t say that because I think there’s a lot of room in my editing style. I don’t want to turn their stories into my vision. It’s always got to fit the project, yes, but the point is to get other people’s perspectives. I really liked the tension between finding out which story they planned to retell and then me reading the first draft because I’m like, “here’s all the ways I would do that particular story”, but then I get theirs and I’m like, “ooh, I wouldn’t
have thought of that at all! This is great!”
I loved being surprised by what was submitted over and over. I think sometimes there was a little bit of working out, there’s lot of questioning “OK, this is how you’ve queered it. We just want to make sure what’s being said in the subtext, that everyone’s on the same page and we’re not accidentally saying things with subtext that we don’t want to be saying”. But there’s nothing alarming in any of the stories that were submitted. I love that whole process of working with authors and getting a project like this under way.
It sounds like you have some ideas for other anthologies?
Oh yes, just constantly. I’m always thinking about what I could do next and I also have to keep telling myself, “no more anthologies, Michael!” Between getting ready for this one to come out, I’m currently co-editing another anthology with Alison Evans that’s coming out next year. We’re not talking about it in a public way yet but we’re certainly working on it.
And then I’ve also been asked to edit another one for a small regional Victorian queer writer’s festival. So I have three on the go at the minute and they’re all a lot of work. And I would really like to try something else as well. Have a book with only my name on the cover, maybe, one day.
I did have 1 final question, which was really me playing around a bit. I read on your website that you’re powered by tea. Being a bit of a tea fan myself, this got me thinking about which teas I would pair with which stories. Have you thought about this yourself?
No, because I pretty much drink Yorkshire all the time. Yorkshire is my go-to brand. I love it. I do drink herbal teas and other types of tea from time to time, but not frequently enough to have thoughts about it. But now I feel the gauntlet has been thrown and I’ll spend the next week thinking about which teas go with which stories!
I’ve think I’ve done about 4 stories. For your story, my first thought was chai – referencing the cinnamon scrolls – but I think something like hibiscus and raspberry because it’s fun and bright pink. If other tea drinkers want to come forward with suggestions, we could come up with a whole menu of teas to pair with the stories.
Yep, let’s do it. We’ll crowdsource the teas and I’ll do a blog post about each story and their tea. That would be great!
Everything Under the Moon comes out 10 October 2023. Grab a copy – that hardcopy is gorgeous.
It’s illustrated by Kit Fox. She was 19 when she did all of these illustrations. I love the fact that a teenager illustrated a book for teenagers. She just did such a fantastic job and all the gold on the cover. It is a thing of beauty. The publisher and I wanted it to feel like one of those keepsake-y fairytale collections, but queer!
Dayna’s Incomplete Tea Pairing Menu:
If the Shoe Fits – Lili Wikinson
Turkish Delight (black tea with rose petals and vanilla) – a reference to The Bachelor’s infamous roses.
The Instant I Died – Gary Loneborough
This is quite a dark tragic story, so I wanted something dark and smoky. I’d pair with Russian Caravan or Lord Grey tea, which are smoky black teas.
The Cherry Blossom Queen – Maggie Tokuda-Hall
For me, this has to put with a green tea. Maybe something like Buddha’s Tears.
Let Down your H.A.I.R – Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman
I couldn’t pick a tea. Maybe because I’ve been too influenced by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Arthur Dent’s eternal quest for a good cup of tea!
Fairest of All – Will Kostakis
This story has total Maleficient vibes and she always makes me think of licorice, so I’d pair this with Licorice Legs.
Morsel – Helena Fox
It also needs something a bit dark and nuanced. I came to Gingerbread tea – also because of the Hansel and Gretal reference.
The Keyhole – Michael Earp
Something light and fruity. I would pair it with Hisbiscus and Raspberry or Strawberry, Raspberry and Loganberry tea – something fruity and bright pink.