Coming Out in Prose: Reflections on Pilgrim of the Sky, 10 Years Later

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The truth is, I came out in prose before I came out in person.

My debut novel, Pilgrim of the Sky, published in late 2011, is best described as mythpunk. The main players in the tale are all facets of god analogues–godlings, as they’re called in the book–searching for answers, plotting revenge and mayhem, and of course, falling in love. Maddie Angler, the heroine, begins her tale in Western Massachusetts (where I grew up) but quickly escapes into a mirror world of her own where people she knows and love might look the same, but certainly are not.

There are obvious shades of me in Maddie (her love of art and aesthetics, her penchant for wandering), but fewer than you might think (I’m absolutely not a junk food person and the list of my dating life is barely a footnote long). If I envied her anything it was her ability to escape the world she was born into, and all the pain it had caused her, and her ability to live authentically.

Yes, she begins the story on the hunt for her dead boyfriend… who might not actually be dead. But Maddie’s love life was never just about boyfriends. Her previous relationship, which ended in equal heartbreak, was with a woman. Her alternate world persona and nemesis, Matilda–though pretty terrible on every other level–truly loves one of her frequent conquests, Deborah.

When I wrote the book, the biggest wish fulfillment was that Maddie’s bisexuality was just a part of her. Not a big deal. When she mentions a girlfriend in her past, no one does a double take. It isn’t a plot point. It’s just part of her story.

Reflections of Life, Distorted Mirrors

At the time of publication, I was nearing the end of my second pregnancy. My life was not in a positive place. My sense of self was slowly chipping away. And I was becoming more and more unsettled with myself and my identity.

Listen, I knew that I was attracted to multiple genders when I was young. No question. But keep in mind, I grew up a) religious and b) at a time when “gay” was just barely in the language, let alone the many shades of the rainbow we have now. I thought you were gay or straight. And I wasn’t either. So, clearly I was broken.

Then I fell in love with a man and got married. I had kids. I thought maybe all that stuff would go way.

Besides, I honestly believed that I didn’t count in the queer community, that I was somehow invalid.

Writing Maddie’s story, and then later Joss’s (who is the main narrator of Gods of Londinium, which will be out in December), altered something in me. It’s fairly obvious now, of course, to anyone who reads these stories–and indeed most of my work that’s come out since–what these stories are, and who I really am. (For most people, my coming out a bisexual was about as surprising as announcing I had ADHD… “yes, and?”) For me, the pure act of creation put the last pieces of the puzzle together.

I drew a picture of a world where a woman could live and love and still own her identity–and not get by, but achieve remarkable things. And then I could go there myself. There was no qualification needed, no judgement, no explanation.

Seeing Maddie’s story and writing Joss’s tale showed me my own reality and it was not something I could deny any longer. I needed to see that world to understand my own.

Coming out publicly was still not easy.

I was 33. I had been married for ten years. But claiming that part of myself was part of a continual path I’ve been on to grow as a person, to assemble the pieces of who I am. Life demands a great deal from us, and the fight for identity and space is a real one. I’ve learned to be wildly protective of my time, my space, and my principles. I wouldn’t have been able to even start on that journey forward without taking the first steps toward seeing and honoring myself as I am. As I have always been. As I was meant to be.

Pilgrim of the Sky re-releases September 22, 2022. The new edition contains edits, a new cover, and a scene that bridges the book with Gods of Londinium.


From Pilgrim of the Sky

Yes, yes, Matilda said with a tremble of a laugh. She is rather gorgeous. Are you jealous? You should be. She’s delicious.

Maddie felt longing, desire; she wasn’t sure if it was Matilda’s body responding, or something else, but it felt good. It felt comfortable, it felt right. There was lightness, even in the darkness Matilda wore about her like a cloak. Something more.

You love her, Maddie said.

Maddie could feel Matilda’s presence squirm, wriggling like a worm at the edge of a hook.

No. Just lust.

I know what love feels like. I can feel it through you; you love her. You absolutely do.

Then, Maddie felt a mental shove. Matilda’s presence rose like a wave, pushing Maddie further back in their collective consciousness. She could only feel distantly and watch. Voices were low; she had to strain to listen.

So Matilda was capable of love. And now Maddie knew, and that was something—that was power. It was a power that Matilda would have used against her had she been in the same position. A weakness—or strength—depending on the way she looked at it.

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