DMac Interviews Briana Lawrence, author of “I Am Magical”!

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MagnifiqueNOIR: I am Magical by Briana Lawrence is a black, queer, magical girl adventure that readers can’t stop raving about! Bree Danvers is a plus-size heroine ready to save her city from monsters along with her team, in this gorgeous novel perfect for fans of Sailor Moon.

After reading I am Magical (review here!) I decided to reach out to her on twitter! She was gracious enough to answer my questions and talk about her book, as well as what it’s like to be a black, geeky woman.

Let’s give Briana a nice warm welcome to our wonderful blog!

I saw your Wonder Woman dress/cosplay and it was gorgeous! How do you choose what to cosplay? How long does it take you to get your outfits together?

I basically pick whatever character my fangirl heart falls in love with. Sometimes, I’ll cosplay their outfit as is, but other times I’ll design an alternate version of their costume to a style I like (such as the Wonder Woman you mentioned). My partner’s the one who makes all the costumes, I just show her the design and pout until she says yes, lol! The time it takes varies on what else she has going on and how complicated the outfit is. Wonder Woman didn’t take as long because she’s made quite a few ball gowns in her day, but something like my latest cosplay (Carmen from Persona 5) took longer because the outfit is so bonkers!

Cosplay Picture Provided by Briana

How does your cosplay influence your writing?

Cosplay really helped me put myself out there more. A lot of people think I’m extremely social because when I’m at a con, I’m running around doing panels, promoting my work, and being a fangirl. In reality I’m pretty quiet and keep to myself, like, if you ever come over to my house I’m in pajamas, hair a mess, and marathoning My Hero Academia or something. Cosplay helps me step out of my comfort zone, though, and I love it. It helps with my writing when it comes to promoting it and talking about my work. Years ago, I never would’ve done panels, book readings, or any of that stuff, but something about embodying a character I love (in a style I create) really helps me, and that confidence has leaked into my real life.

That may be why Cosmic Green/Bree ended up being a cosplayer, lol.

So forgive me for having to ask this but I only watched Sailor Moon and I am clueless about other animes and most video games… What influences did you draw from to write the Magical Girls?

Sailor Moon for sure! I was actually rewatching it while writing the book. Just the whole magical girl genre in general. The transformation sequences, the attacks, just all of it is from that genre. I basically wanted to create a coming of age story with black, queer girls, just with superpowers. That’s basically what that genre is: coming of age stories but with a heroic twist. A lot of genres in anime, video games, and comic books are like that, to be honest. Teenage heroes out to save the world, and by doing so, they grow and find their inner strength.

Granted, in my book, they’re college-aged, but that’s because college is where I came out, so that’s where I wanted to tell this story for the girls.

*Battle art done by Radiant Grey and Musetap Studios.

It was really cool that all of the magical girls had really different points of view and interests. Were they based on anyone you know or did you draw things from elsewhere?

A lot of it is based on me personally. Galactic Purple/Marianna being plus-size and loving to shop. Cosmic Green/Bree being a giant nerd. Radical Rainbow/Lonnie being SO out about her sexuality. Those are all parts of me. Some friend influence slipped in, of course, like Galactic Purple being ace was inspired by a friend who had come out around the time I was conceptualizing the book, or Cosmic Green’s love of being nude, lol.

The side characters are definitely based on friends and family. Golden Blaze is my mom, straight up, fiery hair color and all. Kayla doing burlesque is based on a friend who does burlesque. Even Lonnie’s grandmother is loosely based on my mom, who really did wear the Iowa State University shirt ALL the time while I was in college there! And, of course, Ella is a character from my friend’s comic, which is previewed at the end of my book.

Art by NamiOki

When reading the book I was thinking that Galactic Purple was ace so I’m glad to get that confirmation. Are you planning on expanding on this in future Magical Girls books?  There seem to be so few ace books for people to enjoy so it was awesome to see that representation here.

Yep yep! The rest of the series is going to have a lot of her exploring her sexuality and coming to terms with who she is: especially in terms of being ace. She kinda will have to get out of her own head, thinking that a relationship means physical intimacy and that it’s ok if that isn’t a part of it. She has strong feelings for Dana that goes beyond her feelings for her other friends, and just because she doesn’t want any physical intimacy doesn’t mean that she can’t have no intimacy at all. I think that’s a common misconception with asexuality. Just because you’re ace doesn’t mean you lack the ability to feel things.

Lonnie’s characterization really struck a chord in me. When a certain character calls her man-like or an angry black woman it really hurt to read. Each character had their own battle to fight in terms of sexuality or family or, like in Lonnie’s case, racism/stereotypes. How did you decide what to add in and what character should deal with what?

This is gonna be a long answer, so here we go!

Originally, the book was gonna be a simple, cute magical girl story that didn’t get too serious, but Lonnie (cuz characters talk to you) said, “I don’t wanna be a magical girl.”

I asked her why and she said, “Cuz I don’t want any handouts, I wanna be strong on my own.”

So I kinda sat and thought about it. Lonnie’s a kickboxer, she’s in a really physical, aggressive sport, so I knew she’d face some heat. She’s muscular and dark skinned so I really wanted to address that notion of being “like a man” when you’re a woman who’s physically fit, especially when you’re a black woman, especially if you have darker skin. There’s already ugly thoughts toward dark skinned women, so that combined with her being a fighter meant that she’d have to face some backlash. I remember Serena Williams, for example, being called “manly” because she’s physically fit and good at her sport. But when she got married to someone outside of her race, the tone changed, like she’d betrayed her people, yet those same people had dogged her out for years, you know?

Then there’s the “angry black woman” trope. Trust me, Lonnie is angry, and she has every right to be. But we (black women) get called “angry” without anyone considering how we reached that point. The kicker? Society benefits from that “anger” all the time. So many movements started with black women being angry about the way things were: Stonewall, #OscarsSoWhite, #MeToo, so many people benefit from the steps we take… but our emotions get boiled down to “angry” while people champion the things we started (oftentimes, without acknowledgement of our involvement).

The weird thing is that there’s also phrases like “you hit like a girl” if you aren’t strong enough, or if you falter it’s because you’re a woman. This leads to Lonnie not wanting to accept any kind of help. At all. She thinks that accepting any kind of help makes her weak when in reality we usually work as a unit, a team, and help each other out: just like the girls in my book. I think it’s important to be representing these ideas through a black girl, more importantly, I think it’s important to see her struggle AND succeed. We are so much more than the struggle, so that’s why after all of that you get to see Lonnie as she really is: a fun girl who crushes on other girls, who yells back at the TV when watching her reality shows, and who sings the praises of her grandma’s cooking.

Marianna’s issue spoke to me immediately because fat shaming is something I’ve dealt with, but I didn’t want that to be her main deal. There’s way too many times when fat girl characters ONLY deal with their weight, so when it happens in the book she’s pretty, “Meh,” about it. It’s not like the comments don’t hurt (because they do), but you reach a point where they kinda roll off of you, and really, Mari’s got other things to worry about, like balancing her magical girl life with school and her growing feelings for her best friend. She’s my ace magical girl, and there’s a lot of assumptions on what that means, which is something Marianna has to face head-on.

This is something I had to overcome while writing this. I went in assuming that ace meant she wouldn’t be interested in any kind of romantic relationship, but through watching my other ace friends (and talking to them/having them read over Marianna’s parts) I realized that wow… I was way off-base! I think when you’re writing for someone who’s background you aren’t familiar with, research is important, and that’s what I did with Marianna. I think her story changed the most because it went from her friend (Dana) having a one-sided crush to Marianna being like, “Wait… I… like this girl? Can I like this girl?” There’s also some stuff going on with Marianna’s mom, mostly because I wanted the girls to have different kinds of parents, and I wanted their parents to be a part of the big picture.

Bree’s situation came out of nowhere! I was trying to figure out what to do in regards of monsters they face, and my nephew posted something about how toxic the idea of women “smiling more” is. I decided to put that in the story. Bree’s followed home by a man who can’t take no for an answer and he turns into a literal monster. When my partner was reading through the first draft, she said that I should show more of the aftermath of the situation. What’s Bree feeling? Because it’s not just the asshole guys spouting out that “smile more” mantra, we can easily fall into it, too. So Bree does wonder if she should’ve been nicer, even questions the clothes she wears since she does like revealing outfits. She also assumes that her mother is gonna blame her because her mother is extremely religious. She also fears coming out to her mom because of her religion. Religion and homosexuality is a huge thing, especially in the black community. I don’t want to spoil how it goes down for Bree, but that is something she has to face.

*Art done by Briana Lawrence.

I really liked your break down of each of your characters because one of my favorite parts of the book was that anyone could read about these characters and find something in common with at least one of them. Are you going to be adding more characters to the next book or was the group in this one going to be the core?

Ooooh, good question! In the next book you’ll learn a lot more about Prism Pink, for sure, and I hope to have more interactions with side characters. At some point you’ll get to know more about the previous team, too! Blaze hasn’t said much about them, but she will soon!

This is a follow up to how you broke down my question about Lonnie and the girls’ personal demons: I appreciated how you tied in both gender and race to your explanation of the Magical Girls and their struggles. How important was it for you to show that intersectionality and give examples of how black females would have different experiences (even amongst themselves)?

Extremely important! I really want more works that highlight intersectionality. I remember, when I was coming out, I actually thought queerness was a white thing. It sounds bizarre as hell, but it was 2001, and I couldn’t think of any black, queer people I could point to for that, “See, I’m just like that,” moment. So for a while I thought that black people just weren’t queer. It’s important to have that kind of representation, POSITIVE representation, at that. I don’t want our stories to just be tragic. I don’t want the only queer voices to be from white folks, I don’t want white to be seen as the “everyone” all the time. The community is full of all kinds of folks who should be represented and treated with just as much respect as white queer folks.

It’s also important to show that black women are not a monolith. We can be fun. We can be serious. We can be plus size. We can be queer. We are just as diverse as every other group. There is no one type of black woman.

I was poking around on Twitter and saw a lot of black authors/creators talking about how they don’t want their race to be the primary focus of interviews/talking about their work. What are some things you think people outside a race/culture/sexuality can balance asking about how that central part of them influences them without making it central to the interview? 

Ask the same kinds of questions you’d ask any author. It’s ok to ask us questions based on race/culture/sexuality, but also ask us the other questions you’d ask anyone. Like in this interview, you asked me about cosplay. You clearly looked into who I am beyond being a black, queer author, because cosplay is also a huge part of my life. Same with like, asking about the obvious Sailor Moon influences. It’s not that the cultural questions aren’t relevant, because let’s face it, they are, it’s just kinda exhausting when that’s all the interview is. Feel free to ask the same “what’s your writing process/influences/favorite writing drink” questions, too. I actually get kinda bummed out when I don’t get any fun questions like that. I wanna talk about the coffee creamer I use and the movies I’m into!

And! Because you brought it up now I HAVE to ask: what is your favorite drink to have while writing?

LOL! Either coffee with an obscene amount of cream and sugar, or hot chocolate. I will drink hot chocolate in the summer.

What advice can you give to someone who maybe doesn’t feel like they belong but wants to get involved in conventions or cosplay?

Focus on the reasons why you want to cosplay or go to a con. You, most likely, want to cosplay because you like the character, and you want to go to the con to have fun. Focus on those things. Don’t worry so much about what other people might say. Let’s be honest, there’s always the chance that someone isn’t gonna like what you do. That’s not just a cosplay thing. That’s a life thing. And just like life, you should focus on what you want to do, not what others might say about you.

What question have you always wanted to give an answer to but haven’t been asked?

“What’s something you can’t even deal with?” The answer is heights, spiders, snakes, mushrooms, and horror movies/video games (to a certain extent, don’t expect me to turn off the lights and do anything alone).

Where can we follow your work?
Cosplay Facebook
Book Facebook

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