I met Lisa Bunker at a local author event, and as soon as I heard about her books, I knew I had to feature them. She has three books coming out this year, and the first, JOY, TO THE WORLD, co-written by trans activist Kai Shappley, is set to debut on May 9, 2023!
Joy, a twelve-year-old trans girl, just moved to Texas with her mother and older brother. Her family has accepted Joy as the girl she is early in her transition, with little fuss, leaving Joy to explore her love of sports, competition, teamwork, school spirit, and worship. But when she is told she’s off the cheerleading team, Joy wants to fight for her right to cheer. As her battle with the school board picks up momentum, Joy attracts support from kids all around the country . . . she even gets the attention of her hero, trans activist Kai Shappley. Inspired by Kai’s own life, Joy, to the World is a timely story of living life to the fullest, celebrating and centering trans joy, courage, and resilience.
Here are Lisa’s answers to some interview questions:
According to your website bio, before you became a full-time author, you had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting. In what ways, if any, has this background influenced your writing?
I’ve always been a person who seeks self-expression through language, so I don’t think it’s any surprise that I ended up in a job that involved talking to other humans through technology. In those days I was not yet published, which was frustrating, but at least I still had a way to turn wordcraft into viable employment. It kept me going while I continued to hone my writing craft and to hope for my lucky break.
My most recent radio job was as the program director at a community station. In that job I trained well over a thousand volunteers from every walk of life to talk on the radio, and I centered my training around encouraging them to set aside their preconceptions about what someone talking on the radio was supposed to sound like, and just talk like themselves.
Of course I was teaching myself, too, a lesson I needed to learn. I went through gender transition toward the end of my radio career, and now I feel so wonderfully strong and free and able to write in my authentic voice.
Also, I think I do pretty well at writing different voices for different characters in part because I’ve paid so much attention over the years to the ways people actually talk.
It sounds like you have an ear for voices, and I’m so glad you’ve found yours! You co-wrote JOY, TO THE WORLD with youth activist Kai Shappley. What did you enjoy most about this collaboration?
It was such a pleasure to get to know Kai and her mother Kimberly. I interviewed them extensively online and went and visited them for a couple of days in Austin, where they were living at the time. (They have since had to flee Texas because of the increasingly hostile environment there for trans people, especially kids. They are refugees in their own country, and I think that’s a terrible shame.)
Kai struck me as a natural star, and it was fun working with her, but it was getting to know Kimberly that I found most interesting. Kimberly preached for a while in the mom ministry at Joel Osteen’s megachurch in Houston. She was just about as deep into an evangelical Christian life as it is possible to go, and then she had this child who as young as eighteen months began insisting that she was a girl, despite the body she had been born with.
Kimberly tried for a couple of years to force Kai to be a boy, and, as she tells it, was on a path to breaking her child, but then one day she overheard Kai praying to go home to Jesus rather than live one more day as a boy in the world. That shook her, so she started researching online and discovered that there was another way, backed by science, to think about kids and gender. Now she has become a fierce mama bear defending and championing her trans child. Kimberly gives me hope. If she could change her mind, anyone can.
Kai and Kimberly’s journeys are so resonant of what so many people experience, and I also hope that people’s minds can continue to be changed! You have three books total coming out this year–how do you balance writing time and book promotion?
Three books in a year is a little nuts, for sure. Lucky for me they’re all quite different from each other, so that helps clarify the task of getting them all out into the world.
It’s important to note that for two of the books, JOY, TO THE WORLD (Clarion, release date May 9th) and SHE PERSISTED: RACHEL LEVINE (Philomel, June 6th), publishers came looking for me. In both cases, they wanted an established out trans author of books for young readers with significant political experience. (I served two terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.) JOY has a co-author with a significant online following, and the Rachel Levine book is part of an established series with a promotional budget. Of course, I’ll still work social media and send out mailings to my mailing list and have a couple of bookstore events, but other powerful forces are at work on these two, and I take comfort in being part of a team on each.
The third book is ALMOND, QUARTZ, AND FINCH, coming out in November from the small Sacramento-based publisher New Wind. This one is the book of my heart. It’s the high fantasy novel I wish 12-year-old closeted me could have discovered in the stacks of my school library. I wrote it in a retro style, inspired in particular by Ursula LeGuin’s original Earthsea trilogy, and I tried without success to sell it to mainstream publishing for several years before finally opting for a scrappy micro-publisher. It’s my best work to date, and it’s a book I think the world needs, so for that one I’m going to pull out all the promotional stops.
It’s definitely a book the world needs! What are some of your current projects?
Thank you for asking. I have several projects in various stages of development. The one on the front burner at the moment is a book that combines elements of autobiography, told in a quirky parable style, alternating with plain talk about how inadequate the gender binary turns out to be when it comes to describing all of us marvelously kaleidoscopic humans. The working title is THE RAINBOW PLAYGROUND.
I do also have a non-writing project I think is worth mentioning. I’m planning to start a speakers’ bureau for trans and non-binary people. I want to train volunteers to go out in the community and tell their stories, so that the lurid lies that the right-wing media are peddling these days about us won’t be the only trans narratives out there. We have been chosen to be the next imaginary danger that conservative politicians want to alarm everyone about and then promise to save the world from, and we have to fight back against that. We have to show that we are regular humans, no danger to anyone, and worthy to live and love and be loved exactly as we are.
All three of my three books coming out this year all aim to put that message out there, each in their own way. I’m working to teach the world about how much more flexible gender is than we always used to assume, and to protect and support everyone who, like me, doesn’t fit neatly into the old traditional cubbyholes of the gender binary.