Do you like Arthurian legend but wish it was just a bit more… female? Well, girls make better kings in the Once & Future duology by A. R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy! They reimagine the King Arthur legend, but this time with way more girl power and a much more diverse cast! Also, did we mention it’s the future? We virtually sat down with A. R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy to talk legends, time travel, and their amazing love story!
Okay, just for some context for people who might not know, you two met while getting your MFAs and you got engaged at the launch party for Once & Future! Ahem – ADORABLE! What was it like co-authoring these books?
Honestly? It was way too much fun. Writing together felt like the natural next step, since we’d been writing side-by-side for years. We have a lot of the same story loves, too. We both grew up on campy space shows like Firefly and Farscape. We wanted to write inclusive—queer positive!—genre where everyone could experience queer community joy and identity freedom…with space and swords. We were lucky to have a publisher who pushed hard for these books to be marketed for everyone, not just queer teens.
As far as getting engaged(!), here’s the story: The final stop on our launch tour for Once & Future was at our indie, Bear Pond Books. They threw us a Space Prom, inviting the local All Out group. There was music, dancing, and reader’s theater…in which Cory played Ari and A. R. played Gwen, and we acted out their reunion at the tournament where Ari wins a kiss from the queen. Before we stopped acting, Cory broke character and proposed to A. R, surprising them COMPLETELY. One of the queer teens swooned to the floor. It was a joyful, beautiful night.
Where did you get the initial idea for the Once & Future duology?
I, Cory, have always wanted a girl King Arthur. I started looking for those stories in my youth, but they were missing. Even stories about Joan of Arc take away her sword. Girls + swords = redacted. I spent years talking about this, but whenever it came down to writing it, I’d say something like, “Nah, I’m sure Neil Gaiman will do it soon.”
In the meantime, I, A. R., kept saying, “I want this book, you really need to write it.” Eventually, Cory raised the stakes by saying, “I think we need to write it.” I disappeared for an hour, wrote a chapter, Cory wrote the next, and the rest of the book flew out from there. If that sounds like a mythical origin story—it feels like that to us, too.
What was it like reimagining the King Arthur story for space and for a female lead? Were there any parts of the Arthurian legend you had a particularly fun time remixing?
It was refreshing. The setting gave us a new take on the story that was important to the retelling. Cory loved the feel of narratively pulling Excalibur, falling for a magical sword that comes with all the herodom—and all the problems. Our publisher made a hilarious book trailer that speaks to this female sword-empowered joy.
A. R. had a gleeful time with Gwen, namely making our Gweneviere queen of her own Renaissance Faire planet, reclaiming her as a powerhouse in her own right and reimagining her romantic role in the Arthurian love triangle. Gwen has been too maligned by the various tellings and retellings—it was time to give her a real crown.
In book two, Sword in the Stars, we deal with time travel! Real talk: time travel narratives are some of my faves because they are so mind boggling! Did you two struggle at all with the timeline or the brain-bending nature of writing a time-travel story?
Oh, we love time travel too. It’s a real favorite.
As the sequel completes a closed temporal loop (real physics!), it wasn’t as hard as we thought it’d be. There’s even a very important line in the first book that calls out to the ending of the series. (It’s on page 101 of Once & Future!) People often ask if we set out to end the story where we did, and the truth is…we didn’t! We felt our way through the narrative—and also A. R. is quite good at physics.
MERLIN! I love Merlin and I am not the only one! He’s emerged as a fan favorite from the series. Why do you think that is? Who would you pick as YOUR favorite character?
Merlin is such a delight—beloved across many retellings over many epochs. Cory had this idea to take his backward-aging nature, which is canon in many tales, and adapt it to a future-set YA where he’s finally a teenager. It turned out to be a whole new way to talk about the coming-of-age experience that we all love in YA. His playfulness and cross-the-centuries references were way too much fun to craft. The moment he popped into Coachella we rolled on the floor laughing. Legends are weird; good thing Merlin is weirder.
Those are all great reasons to love Merlin, but the truth as to why he’s the fan favorite has other less playful factors. While we were crafting our Rainbow Knights with a variety of gender, sexuality, and race identities, we knew that Merlin—the white, cis gay boy—would be the default favorite. We don’t need to point out why these types always rise to the top…but here we are, society. Still struggling with the same entrenched biases as ever…
Our favorites, you ask?! Cory’s favorite is Lam because of all that nonbinary, confident, calm sexiness. A. R.’s favorite is a tie between Val and Morgana.
What books have you both been reading recently or would recommend?
Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson is an excellent gothic fantasy with a sensitive narrator that overcomes incredible trauma (and it’s got such rich genre humor too!). We love Victories Greater than Death by Charlie Jane Anders for more rollicking YA sci fi filled with queer goodness. Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger is a genre delight and totally original. For readers looking to step into adult speculative fiction, N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became is highly recommended! Cory also wants you to read A.K. Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name, which has that secondary world identity freedom that we’d love to see a lot more of in genre across all age ranges.
What are you two working on now? Any exciting ideas you can share?
We’ve had several solo-written books come out between co-authored projects, but we’ve just started a new epic series together. It’s a truly exciting development that we can’t talk about in detail QUITE yet. But the time is coming. Soon!
And there might be a hint about it hidden in this interview somewhere…
About the Authors
Cory McCarthy (they/he) and A. R. Capetta (all pronouns) are the acclaimed bestselling authors of books for young people. Highlights include: the coauthored Once & Future, an ALA Rainbow List selection and finalist for the New England Book Award; A. R.’s queer genre titles Echo After Echo, The Lost Coast, and The Brilliant Death duology; Cory’s cinematic novels Breaking Sky, Now a Major Motion Picture, and You Were Here. The coauthors met while earning MFAs at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and soon after fell in love. During the release party for Once & Future at their local indie bookstore, they became engaged and were married shortly thereafter. They are riotously happy.