Why is it so important to be represented in fiction?


22 March 2024
BookTok star Melissa Blair wanted to see characters like her in books - queer, Indigneous – so she wrote them into The Halfling Saga

I was seven when my mom first explained to me that the books I devoured every night didn’t just magically spawn at the back of the classroom. Or the library. Or the bookstore we got to look through whenever we went out of town. The books were written by these magical unheard-of creatures called writers who spent their days walking through their imagination and writing down what they saw.

I knew in that moment I wanted to be a writer and that certainty never faded. As I read more books and my TBR pile turned into a TBR tower, the certainty only grew. But I didn’t just want to write books, I wanted to write books with characters like me.

I dreamed of telling stories where the protagonists were Native instead of blond and blue-eyed. Heroines and heroes who had large families who loved and laughed with abandon and kept ceremony. I wanted to give that little girl sitting at the back of the library with a pile of books beside her the representation she had missed out on.

When I was older and realized that I was queer, my need for representation only expanded. I told myself that every story I created, every book I got to write, would be filled to the brim with Indigenous and queer characters.

And I’ve honored that vow to myself.

In my fantasy romance series, The Halfling Saga, every character can be presumed queer unless otherwise stated. The protagonist, Keera, is a complicated heroine struggling with being forced to contribute to the oppression of her people – the Indigenous people of the continent.

As the story continues, Keera makes her way over to the Treaty of the Faeland where the Fae live mostly undisturbed by the colonizing king. Through her eyes, the reader is shown the differences between how queer characters are treated in the kingdom versus the Faeland. Under the king’s rule, they protect themselves by hiding their queerness away while outside of the kingdom queer characters are allowed to just exist.  

This distinction was important to me as an Indigenous person. So often the queer experience is depicted through a lens of historic and inevitable oppression. Whether the narrative is contemporary or fantasy, the idea that queer people have always been oppressed is accepted as the norm.

But that was not the case on Turtle Island. For the Anishinaabeg, and many other Nations across this continent, queer people were not only openly accepted but celebrated. For us, the idea of a wholly accepting society where queer people are allowed to exist and flourish is not a fantasy. It isn’t some lofty goal we aim to strive for, it is a reality that was taken from us.

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The oppression of queerness is a colonial construct, both in Turtle Island today and in the world of The Halfling Saga. It was important to me to create a story where the connection of that reality and the lived experience of queer people was not left unexplored, but a central focus of the story. I also wanted to show the importance of having Indigenous queer people at the center of their fight for liberation.

In this saga, the rebellion against the crown does not come from the actions of a single chosen one, but a collective of bereaved, queer, and disabled Indigenous characters. These are the people who lead and have led fights for Indigenous liberation across Turtle Island and they are the inspiration for how I build out representation in the stories I write.

On a personal level, I walk through life not as a queer person and a Native person, but as a queer Native. Those identities are braided together and cannot be teased apart. Just as Keera’s queerness cannot be separated from her Halfling identity. This kind of representation is not something that I have read very often in the fantasy genre, and I think it is vital that the stories of queer characters with other marginalized identities are told and centered in fiction and in life.

Our experiences intersect so many areas of change that progress without us, especially in fiction, is not really progress at all. I hope Keera and the wonderful family she has found offers a tiny sliver of new perspective to the readers who enjoy their story.

A Vicious Game by Melissa Blair is published by Union Square & Co and is available here.


Read more about the importance of representation from novelist Lola Akinmade Akerstrom