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Updated: Sep 1, 2021

For entry number fourteen of our Beneath the Needle Q&A series, we delve into Deadname; Anya Leigh Josephs' incredible contribution to The Needle Drops... Volume One. Beyond this, we talk about the importance of representation in fiction, Dungeons & Dragons, The Jena Cycle... and their adorable pet, Sycorax! Delve in below.

Anya is a dungeon-master for homebrew role-playing games, an addendum to her passion for fiction and theatre

I write widely in a variety of genres and am a member of SFWA. My fiction can be found in Fantasy Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, Mythaxis, The Green Briar Review, the Necronomicon Anthology, and forthcoming in the Broadkill Review. My non-fiction appears in SPARK, SoLaced, Prouud2BeMe, The Huffington Post, and Anti-Heroin Chic. I am also a published poet, in Poets Reading the News, and my plays have been performed by One Song Productions, NOMADS, and Powerhouse Theatre’s Apprentice Company. My debut novel, Queen of All, a fantasy for young adults, is now available.

So, Anya - Deadname highlights the insidious intolerance often found within typical small-town USA: often white, devout Christian communities where ‘alternative’ lifestyles are commonly frowned upon -- or worse. You mentioned that “this short story is a response to the horror of being and perceiving the horror there”. Would you mind expanding on this a little?

Sure! So, as my bio states, I was raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Chapel Hill is a liberal town in North Carolina. It has a low crime rate, the best public schools in the state, a renowned public university, big suburban houses. It is, proverbially, a great place to grow up. That’s what I was told as a kid by parents and teachers.

I… did not find that to be the case. And neither did anyone else I knew who grew up trans, queer, a person of color, a religious minority, disabled, neuroatypical, etc. These kinds of communities often hide behind a façade of tolerance, but they were built on inequality (in the case of those in the American South, quite literally—built atop the stolen land of Native American peoples, by the forced labor of enslaved Africans). Those structures are still there, hiding, and when you’re a kid, trapped there, they’re easy to see, even when everyone around you denies that.


It is extraordinarily refreshing to see one of your focuses as an author is to position characters as protagonists that traditionally would not be deemed the right fit for the role; you discuss this in regards to fat protagonists at length in a fantastic blog post available here. Do you think your interest in crafting fiction could be partially attributed to your frustrations with the lack of readily available representation out there?

Oh, I would absolutely say that’s my biggest interest in crafting fiction, or at least in publishing it! (I’d probably write it just for my own pleasure, otherwise!) Publishing is hard work, and I’m pursuing it largely because I think this kind of representation is important to share with readers.

Not to reiterate what I wrote in the post, but I really do think this is a central paradox in fiction. (Especially the YA fantasy space, but in fiction overall as well!) Most of the readers seeking escape, like I did and I do, are people who have something to escape from—people who, for whatever reason, fit poorly in this world. And yet the protagonists in our magical and heroic narratives, our Harry Potters, our Frodo Bagginses, our Captain Americas, our Kvothes, our Jon Snows, tend to be the kind of people who would be accepted in our world, even if they’re outcasts in their own. This has always seemed to me to be peculiar, and not to make a lot of sense. It’s something I hope to challenge—indirectly in my work for young readers, and more clearly in my work for adults.


You recently finished the first draft of The Jena Cycle Book 2 - could you give a little insight into the process of revisiting and developing your central cast of characters in a sequel vs. the original?

Book 2 doesn’t have too many of the same characters in it, except for Jena, who really stays at the centre of the story. The overall plot of the series is all about how Jena becomes a hero, and Book 2, appropriately enough, is the midpoint of that journey. She’s setting off on her own, outside of the shadow of some of the characters she depends on in Queen of All, and that poses a lot of practical and emotional challenges for her. In the first book, Jena is very much a child, just starting to question what she’s been told all her life. Book 2, in that sense, is her adolescence—figuring things out, making mistakes, and heading enthusiastically down a path that may not always be the right one. It actually wasn’t hard to return to the characters! I feel like I know them so well at this point that it was fun to go back to Jena’s story, after a bit of a break working on other projects.

"She’s setting off on her own, outside of the shadow of some of the characters she depends on in Queen of All, and that poses a lot of practical and emotional challenges for her."

You mention you enjoy Dungeons & Dragons: as a writer, does the idea of being the dungeon master appeal to you at all? Would you ever want to work on developing your own role-playing game, following the same tenets and style as your fiction?

Absolutely! Right now I’m a dungeon master for two campaigns, both home-brew (meaning I write the world and story myself) using the D&D 5E system. I think designing an RPG from scratch would be enormous fun (and hey, if anyone wants to get started on The Jena Cycle game, y’know, rights are available!) I don’t know how good I’d be at balancing the game mechanics, but I love world building and it would be super cool to see players explore a world I created and make it their own!


Theatre is another passion of yours, with a thesis on Shakespeare behind you during your time at the University of California. What live theatre performance have you seen that sticks with you to this day, good or bad?

More than I can recount here, but if I need to name one that has stuck with me for the first time, I’ll say the production of The Tempest I saw at Shakespeare and Company way back in 1999, when they were still at the Mount in Lenox, MA.

I was five years old, and my dad took me to the show. It was my first time ever seeing live theatre, and it’s one of my earliest memories. I remember that there was a real-life tempest, but most of all I still remember the end of the play, when Miranda speaks her famous line, “O brave new world, that hath such people in it.” I can’t say that I fully understood what that meant as a kindergartener, but I understood that it was important, and that moment of resonance with the text has always stuck with me.


Somewhat related: Sycorax is -- honestly -- one of the best names for a cat I’ve come across in a long time. Do you have a photo you could share?

She does have a Shakespearian name! And don’t worry, I take approximately 100 pictures of her an hour, because she is the most exquisitely beautiful being on the planet. (I’m not biased, or anything). Here she is with some books!


You often develop speculative fiction and Queen of All is the first in a YA trilogy - is horror something you’d like to explore in greater depth? What horror fiction would you categorise as ‘must-read’?

I’m definitely more of a fantasy reader and writer than anything else, but I love horror. I’ve written a few horror pieces before (I’m quite proud of “The Bog Body,” which unfortunately I don’t believe is available online but was published in another anthology) and most of my fiction for adults has at least some horrific qualities to it. I love the brightness and hope of YA fantasy, and I also love the darkness of horror. Some of my recent favorite reads in the genre have been Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, Into the Drowning Deep, Tender is the Flesh, and Mexican Gothic.


In three words or less - what can our readers expect from Deadname?

Suburbia: it’s evil.


Thank you for your time, insight, and a story I’m sure our readers will adore, Anya. Deadname will be available this October in The Needle Drops… Volume One.

Find out more about Queen of All and Anya Leigh Josephs' future projects over on their Facebook, Twitter and website.

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