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Vespry’s sci-fi book explores living on the margin

Lawyer activist puts a lot of herself into the book

HAPPY, EVER & AFTER. M Anne Vespry's protagonist is a fire-breathing dragon unafraid of a little trial by combat. Credit: (Pat Croteau)

Your first day as a lawyer is like being thrown to the wolves, no matter if you’re human or dragon. At least it is, according to local author and real-life lawyer m anne vespry in her new book happy, ever & after, barristers & solicitors.

Vespry was inspired to write the book with her mother thanks in part to a writing challenge that comes out every November called National Novel Writing Month-or NaNoWriMo for short. The idea is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, and both Vespry and her mother thought it would be a good idea. But they could only write about half that much apiece-so why not write one together?

While each wrote their piece more or less independently (posting those pieces to a website where they could read each others contributions and make corrections where necessary), a number of strong themes emerge that carry throughout the novel.

For one, there is a definite queer sensibility that runs through, even in the sections where Vespry says her mother was the principle author. Allegories include magical creatures taking the place of queers who were in hiding under an oppressive regime and of the dual natures of were-creatures- they mean just that little bit more to a queer reader.

“Mom’s cool,” Vespry says with a laugh after describing her mother’s second-hand involvement in the queer community. She was cool not only with Anne’s coming out but later with organizations like PFLAG. That awareness, coupled with her mother’s long-standing work with the United Nations, helped to give her the understanding of the duality that faces many queers in their public and private personas.

Allegorical or not, Vespry also puts a lot of herself in the narrative. “It’s all real,” she says. “It’s a hundred percent accurate. That’s exactly what it’s like-except that you can’t eat people or fly.” Well, at least the parts about the legal profession are true, minus the part about getting brownies to do your files at night. “I haven’t yet managed to find someone who will work for cookies,” Vespry says. “But hey, if there’s anyone out there. It’s a little bit of wish fulfilment, I guess, on that part as well.”

Putting oneself into the narrative is not a new idea, but Vespry imbues the draconic main character, Toby, with that little bit more. For one, Toby is a fairly solitary character, the only dragon in a law firm run by elves and dwarves, and one whose circle of friends are mostly were-creatures and talking marsh-rats.

The reader wonders how much that sense of being an outsider comes from Vespry’s own experience. A lesbian of colour, Vespry often finds herself on the edges of the community, both mainstream and queer. Having come out in Toronto with its plurality of queer communities, Vespry sees Ottawa in a different light.

“Moving to Ottawa, it’s a lot more homogenous,” she says. “In some ways, from my point of view at least, it means that those of us who are less homogenous have less place in it. So that in a lot of ways I’m very much not involved in the queer community in Ottawa. Perhaps at times the echoes of that alienation or loneliness resonate in my writing.”

The sense of alienation extends to her profession. “Whenever I’m at the court house, it’s pretty clear that I may be wearing the same black muumuu as the rest of the lawyers and judges, but the heads that poke out of the black muumuus don’t look like mine. And I’m sure that they don’t call it a black muumuu either. But you suck it up.”

Isolation is perhaps one thing that draws Vespry into the world of science fiction and fantasy-a world she’s been enchanted with since childhood. “It’s always been an escape, a place where someone could go where the rules were different even if it wasn’t necessarily objectively better or not.”

The sense of escape translated into something more than just the removal of herself from the present. “While the main character may be described as six-foot-tall and male, white and straight, I got very adept at looking at doing this little flip in my head. Suddenly, it’s you, and you could go off and have adventures and rescue fair maidens, and live happily ever after.”

Or in the case of her novel, become something else entirely, like a fire-breathing dragon unafraid of a little trial by combat. Happy, Ever & After takes us through some of those journeys of being the outsider with a twist, and helps us to understand a little more of the universality of it all.