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Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live: Sacha Lamb on Inspirations & Influences

“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.

Tomorrow, we publish the sixth and final short story in our Gods and Monsters season: Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live by Sacha Lamb. Today, we are thrilled to welcome Sacha to the blog to talk about his inspirations and influences behind the story.

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Give a warm welcome to Sacha, folks!

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The pieces that make up the story Avi Cantor has Six Months to Live came together over the course of a single four-hour car ride on Thanksgiving weekend of 2016, but some of them had been hiding in my notebooks for years before that.

What really inspired this story was a Thanksgiving weekend of binge-reading YA novels with trans boy characters, most importantly Anna-Marie McLemore’s excellent When the Moon was Ours and Jennifer Mason-Black’s Devil and the Bluebird. When the Moon was Ours is just all-around a great story, but I particularly like that the trans lead, Sam, doesn’t yet know what he wants to do about medical transition, which is a really important thing for kids to see who either don’t feel entirely confident about, or don’t have access to medical transition. I was touched really deeply by Sam’s narrative as someone who hasn’t been able to take any medical steps for gender affirmation. Devil and the Bluebird features, albeit briefly, one of my favorite fictional trans boys—and the only gay one I’ve encountered so far outside of my own work.

Having spent my weekend with these stories, I wanted to explore some of the feelings that I got from them. The sweet, dreamlike romance of When the Moon was Ours, I thought, but with gay trans leads, and also using the emotional atmosphere from Bluebird, which is heavy on “cold” and “loneliness.” Those feelings I combined with some earlier story-setup ideas that I had in my notebooks. In one scene written in 2008(!) I had a teenage boy and an adult woman sitting in a cafe in the middle of the night, with snow outside. One of them was a demon. That became one of the key scenes in Avi Cantor, and introduced the fairytale element that I originally didn’t know the story was going to have. Once I’d decided that my trans boys romance was also going to be fantastical, I added another scrap from my notebooks, the premise that “a psychic kid accidentally predicts the death of a classmate.” Although originally I’d thought of that concept from the point of view of the psychic, I decided to switch it to the classmate who is dying, since the emotional weight of the idea seemed heavier on his side.

And there I had the bones of the story: Avi is going to die (through some mysterious magic), Ian predicted it and accidentally told other people, and the boys’ budding romance is interrupted when Avi finds out that it was Ian who started the rumor that’s been the favorite joke of kids who are bullying Avi at school. The emotional atmosphere of the story hinges on the ideas of cold/warmth, loneliness/togetherness, fear/safety and touch starvation/affection, the contrast between, and eventual coming together of, Ian’s warm, comfortable world and Avi’s cold, isolated one.

It’s a story about recovering from depression, and a story about finding community, but it’s more about the process than about any kind of end-point. At the end of the story, Avi is still struggling with some things, still hiding some things—but he’s doing much, much better than he was at the beginning. I really wanted to show that process, to write a story about love and friendship that can be healing without presenting them as an instant solution. There is a magic fix that happens—but it doesn’t fix everything, and even the magic takes effort. That element of the story very much comes from my own experiences recovering from major depression and suicidal ideation. I have been in the cold, lonely place where Avi begins the story, and I have come a long way, but there are certainly still days when it’s hard to remember that I’m not alone anymore. Recovering from depression is really, really hard, and it’s never finished.

For Avi, whose depression is linked closely to his sense of hopelessness in regard to coming out and transitioning, being trans is also terribly difficult, and the process of coming out and transitioning is a long one that he’s barely begun by the end of the story. At the same time, though, transness is what brings Avi together with Ian, and through Ian he gains not only a boyfriend but also a new loving, queer family, the beginnings of a new relationship with his own mother, and the knowledge that there is magic in the world—not only the kind of magic that hurts, but the kind that heals, too.

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“Sacha Lamb is a part-time librarian, part-time goat-herder, and part-time writer of queer Jewish magic realism for teens. As a teenager, Sacha loved YA fantasy, but never felt represented in it as a gay, transgender reader. Now a graduate student in library science, Sacha is dedicated to creating stories for other kids who need to know that they are magic. Sacha can be found online @mosslamb on Twitter.”

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