In this historically accurate period piece, the book follows two childhood best friends, Nora Lee Sutter and Jo Waterman, who struggle with understanding violence, death, femininity, sexuality, and familial secrets in the 1940s and ’50s. Beyond The Screen Door pulls from Robertson’s own experience with contacting spirits and the ancestral line of women in her family who have passed along her gift. The author lures the reader into the era with realistic depictions of a country at war and lacking civil rights for Black and LGBTQ people. Throughout the book, Nora and Jo struggle with many things queer women are all too familiar with.
GO Magazine caught up with Julia to talk about writing queer characters in YA fiction and why she included spirituality and magic as part of her novel.
GO Mag: Why is it important for LGBTQ folks to be the writers of our own narratives and experiences?
Julia Robertson: Historically, there’s so much negativity associated with our community, whether shame or a sense of feeling we have to stay in the closet to stay employed, there just isn’t much positive media about us. Oftentimes lesbian movies or books have a tragic ending, we never get to see the romantic realism straight couples get in media. Young LGBTQ people are bombarded with heterosexual media and older queer people end up living more isolated lives than they should have to. I strongly believe if there was more positive queer media out there, this culture could change.
GM: Beyond The Screen Door follows Nora and Jo throughout their whole childhood and discovery of their sexuality and gender presentation. Why was that important to you?
JR: I feel like there’s a whole part of the lesbian community that doesn’t get a lot of focus or understanding from the world; the androgynous community. There’s so much beauty there, the in-between of gender presentation. With Nora and Jo, I wanted to start at the root so that people who are straight have an understanding of what it’s like to come out to yourself while growing up. It’s hard to find yourself when you don’t see a reflection of you to look up to. I wanted to really delve into that feeling with both the girls.
GM: What would it have meant to you to have stories catered to LGBTQ youth as an avid reader?
JR: Growing up, I was definitely an avid reader and when I was entering adulthood there were like five really well written lesbian novels out there. Of course there were other books with coming out stories but not really where the characters organically existed. Often, those stories didn’t have happy endings. I remember thinking I want to write something that is well written that doesn’t end with death or lack of hope. After I got through the handful of lesbian books out there, I ran out of stuff that I truly wanted to read.
GM: Who do you hope to reach as an author?
JR: Of course I hope to reach young LGBTQ people. However, I hope to also reach a wider audience and not only give people like me something to read. I want people who aren’t a part of the LGBTQ community to read my novels as well. I hope it will open their eyes up to something else, give them some more understanding of our lived experiences. When I was writing Beyond The Screen Door, I was still kind of naive and truly wanted to change the world. Now I hope that my words will reach people on a personal level. Like my mom’s reading group recently read my book and many of these women grew such empathy for our community by reading the narrative of Jo and Nora coming out and growing up together. I loved that!
GM: Do you feel magic and identities as mediums or spiritual beings plays a role in queerness?
JR: Well, my publisher didn’t really want me to include that part of the story at first. They said there was only a small portion of people interested in paranormal topics. However, I’d say a lot of queer women identify with this community as well. I draw so much from real life when I write fiction, so it really made sense for me to include this part of my life. A lot of stories in the book are ones I’ve personally heard or seen, so much so that I would say it would be very difficult for me to not include paranormal stories in my writing. It runs in my family as my grandmother had these same experiences, which is why I dedicated the book to her. She was actually the first spirit I ever saw, but because I never met her in real life I didn’t recognize her at first.
Beyond The Screen Door is available on Amazon now.