By Joseph Myers, Theater and Books Editor
Fairytales are a staple in childhood, but what are the ramifications in the lack of character diversity? Writer Greg McGoon changes the landscape of traditional fairytales with in the book, “The Royal Heart,: featuring the world’s first transgender character. McGoon just released his newest book, “Traveling the Twisting Troubling Tanglelows’ Trail,” which tackles anxiety caused by negative thoughts. Washington Square News spoke with McGoon to discuss his decisions in writing these books.
WSN: “The Royal Heart” is the first fairytale featuring a transgender character. What inspired you to write this story?
Greg McGoon: I’ve always loved Fairy tales since I was very young. I grew up with Disney and as I grew older explored the original fairy tales stories from which many of them came from as well as others that haven’t been “Disneyfied” I finally found the confidence to finally create a fairy tale, after releasing my first children’s book last year, and writing a couple others. My way to bring a little bit of that magic back into my life.
I first started writing a fairy tale with a gay prince, and the fact that the character was gay had no impact on the story. He existed in this kingdom as a gay man. And I wanted to create a story worthy of the character I had in mind. Overwhelmed with possibilities; I put it aside because I was overthinking.
Determined to create a fairy tale, I returned to the foundation, “Once upon a time,” and explored where that would take me. Self-worth and expression is central to all the stories I have written so far. That needed to be included. Fairy tales often have moments of transformation, whether it’s going rags to gowns, or fins to legs, and so on. That’s when it became clear. What if the transformation was for personal growth and recognition? Uniting mind, body and spirit, and recognizing the beauty in that.
However, this book goes beyond gender identity. It’s more than a story of a prince becoming a princess. It is a story of a teenager embracing their true self. A story about leadership. This book is an added voice for acceptance. And given the classic fairy tale book style, I hope it is able to reach a broader audience. I want everyone to feel like they can have their own “Once upon a time.”
WSN: The topic of gender transition is one that often comes with tension, but there was not much conflict in this story. What was your motivation behind this creative choice?
GM: My overall outlook on life. I struggle to understand what motivates a person to object, question, judge another person’s identity. Moreover, the societal preoccupation with people wanting to tell you who you are, rather than let you live who you are. It is beyond destructive. And I think introducing that to children, this idea of embracing a person’s true self and heart, allows for love to grow. In this story, the conflict comes from within. Adolescence is challenging, constant discovery and changes, and the strength comes when you start to listen and acknowledge these moments.
How can individual’s happiness be a point of tension. Gender transition is for an individual reconciling gender identity with gender expression to embrace their true self and happiness. What does it accomplish to fight and argue over that?
This was not a creative choice as much as it is my realty for how I think. Why create conflict out of a expression of personal acceptance.
WSN: Did you have any difficulty publishing such a progressive story in the children’s literature genre?
GM: I did not even take that into consideration. I was speaking with children’s author, with over 20 years of experience, who looked over my stories. Of all the stories I showed her, she urged me to develop The Royal Heart first, even though it was the 4th story she looked over in what I presented. At the time of writing it, I wasn’t thinking about publishing a book. I was thinking about sharing a story. And that is what I did, and it evolved from there, and thankfully the message of love and acceptance resonated as strongly as it did. She believed in the message and the overall approach to how I addressed the topic and sentiment of the story. Having her on my side, I took her recommendation to release it myself. I didn’t allow for any publisher pushback, because I believed in what I wrote. After its release, a smaller publisher picked it up based on the immediate positive response. And now I am working with them on my upcoming books as well.
WSN: What do you hope to come from the publishing of this story?
GM: Children, whether they identify with the main character or not, can enjoy this book. For non-transgender children it is still valuable for them to read and experience this story in case they encounter a trans man, woman, gender nonconformist. This story can be stepping stone in opening that discussion if necessary.
Anyone who is personally struggling to reveal a part of themselves can relate to this story. This fantastical moment of transformation aside, letting yourself be free from the burden of denial is powerful for anyone.
WSN: In your latest book, “Traveling the Twisting Troubling Tanglelows’ Trail”, negative thoughts are personified through the character of the Tanglelows. How did you come up with this concept?
GM: My personal despair and bitterness. I’m partially joking. However, I was in a rather mentally destructive place at the time this came to be, which once again became a frequent occurrence. I wanted to understand why I was miserable. I wanted some tangible reason to justify it all. My mind felt like a tangled mess of chaos, and nothing seemed to be distinguishable. I only write if I’m emotionally invested or connected to what I have to say. Everything in this book is a lesson I work through myself. Each page in the Tanglelows has a lesson or reflection for children to challenge themselves and think about what they might be feeling. The Tanglelows keep me going during my moments of darkness.
Having experience working with children, I wanted to create something with sense of playfulness that could resonate with them. A way for the children to talk and work through any troubling thoughts they may have.
I hope this book is shared with children, teens, and even adults, and be openly discussed, so they can begin to understand their own Tanglelows. I wish I had something like this as a child. It takes into consideration how our mind has the ability to enhance the daily struggles of life. To overcome these obstacles we need to take time to understand ourselves. Constantly sticking on some “happy” band-aid only goes so far.
WSN: How did you apply your studies in Psychology to creating “Traveling the Twisting Troubling Tanglelows’ Trail”?
GM: When I wrote this a year and a half ago, I was not consciously applying psychology. The story came to me in a moment of inspiration fueled by my more less-favorable emotions. However, I find psychology and human nature fascinating. The level of complexity involved in understanding emotions and human interaction, or understanding this increase virtual interaction and relationship building. Studying Psychology certainly helped me become more self-aware, and I think that was essential in writing the Tanglelows. It starts for me with the acknowledgment of all negative thoughts I had. Only when I was able to do so, I could start to uncover where they evolved from. As the book says: It may not be easy; it may be a task, “What is the point you simply might ask?” That is the beauty for you to discover. “What is the first thing you will uncover?”
And much of what I uncovered was painful. The beauty, however, came from that release, because the more I tried to suppress my feelings the more damage I was doing. How to maintain your feelings once they are exposed is an entire other topic of discussion, which is touched on in this book a bit as well. For me it’s about recognition and processing to find a balance, because there is no one answer that can work for all. Ask the question, don’t let fear prevent you from finding your answers.
WSN: As a writer for children, what are some the goals that you hope to accomplish with your writing?
GM: At the core of all my stories is self-recognition. Nowadays, younger and younger children are increasingly aware of this virtual world, and it is easy to hide behind social media, If they don’t understand themselves first, they can easily be lost into a vacuum of uncertainty. This is a rather heavy topic that can often lead children to shy away from discussion. I want to create books and stories, that challenge children to think, reflect, and recognize. It is never too early to teach children about acceptance. We all live on the same planet. In order to function in a healthy manner, we must start embracing the spectrum of lives and experiences in order move past fear or disgust and recognize the part of ourselves that wants to be fully accepted. If children live in fear of acceptance then society is failing.
Love exists all over, unfortunately hate can be louder and easily found. If children feel safe, and have the ability to live with the freedom to discover the world and themselves, then love and acceptance can thrive. And we have the power to address that with children, before this fear solidifies and inhibits their growth. We can encourage them to speak, and most importantly welcome their voice as it develops. I hope that my books can be shared with children, and provide comfort.