Behind the Scenes of Blanca & Roja with Anna-Marie McLemore

February 22, 2021 | 1:00 PM

Behind the Scenes of Blanca & Roja with Anna-Marie McLemore

By Anna-Marie McLeMore

Swan princesses. Bear princes. Enchanted woods. Transformative spells. Everything I love about Swan Lake and Snow-White & Rose-Red had a mirror image that left me unsettled as a young reader. The binary so often imposed on womenThe subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle messages of colorism in our world. Which characters are given choices, and which are treated as set pieces.

When I started writing a queer, Latinx reimagining of Swan Lake meets Snow-White & Rose-Red, I knew that the way to tell this story was not to ignore those unsettling elements, but to take them apart. To show the impact of that binary and colorism on two Latina sisters. To give my Latina Odette/Snow-White space for rage, and to give my Latina Odile/Rose-Red space for the gentleness the world refuses to see in her. For the prince to have an internal journey as transformative as a boy turning into a bear, and for his brother to have a voice rather than to be an afterthought.

Though the four voices you’ll hear from in Blanca & Roja are fictional, and none of them are exactly me, each has a different piece of my heart. Blanca, a queer Latina girl who thinks she has to be good as an apology for her queerness. Roja, a Latina girl who finds both heartbreak and power in the fact that the world tells her she’s the bad girl. Yearling, a boy adjusting to having a disability. Page, a nonbinary boy claiming the beautiful complexity of his own gender identity.

When I wrote Blanca & RojaI was pretty aware and open about those first two, the ways in which these swan sisters hold parts of me. I was less open about what I had in common with Yearling. And I was aware only in the dimmest, most distance way, of what I had in common with Page.

One of the things I hear most often about this book is that Page, with her alternating pronouns, became a space for readers to consider their own gender identities. It fills up my heart, every single time, more than I know how to tell. It did before I realized I was nonbinary, and it does even more now.

The year after Blanca & Roja came out, I did. I’m nonbinary. My pronouns are they/them. I’m often a boy, sometimes a girl. The fact that I’ve written so many trans and nonbinary characters without knowing I was one is humbling, but I hope it’s also a reminder that so many of us are on the journey of claiming who we are. If you are, Blanca, Roja, Yearling, Page, and I are there with you.


Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Cerceta girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals. They know that one day, they’ll find themselves drawn into a dangerous game to determine which sister will stay a girl and which will be cursed to live as a swan. But when two of their childhood friends become drawn into the game, the curse threatens to decide the fate not just of the sisters, but of all four of them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts for fans of magical realism, gorgeous writing, and sister stories. If you love Blanca & Roja, don't forget to check out Anna-Marie's other books Wild Beauty, Dark and Deepest Red, and their newest novel The Mirror Season, which goes on sale March 16, 2021.