Legendborn + Legendmaking

In this two-part episode, “Legendborn + Legendmaking,” bestselling author and Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe award recipient Tracy Deonn discusses her fantasy novel Legendborn. Created in light of Deonn’s understanding of folklore, magic, and the fantasy genre as political, the novel blends the fantastical and the contemporary to address grief, race, and the tension between complicated histories and the present. With host Melody Hunter Pillion, Deonn addresses the complex and tragic truths in genealogical study, the parallel stories and experiences that can arise on a college campus, the mythology of the South, and the joy in eating a pineapple popsicle.

About Tracy

Tracy Deonn is the New York Times and Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe Award winning author of Legendborn, and a second-generation fangirl. She grew up in central North Carolina, where she devoured fantasy books and Southern food in equal measure. Tracy is a contributor in the 40th Anniversary The Empire Strikes Back anthology, From a Certain Point of View from Del Rey/Star Wars books. In addition to being a featured expert in the 2019 Star Wars fandom SyFy Channel docu-series Looking for Leia, Tracy was also a co-writer and consulting producer. Her nonfiction essay about growing up Black and geeky, Black Girl, Becoming, was published in the 2018 anthology, Our Stories, Our Voices.

Tracy successfully persuaded her Master’s committee at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to allow her to write both her thesis paper and a fully-produced, award-winning play about Superman, West African myths, and secret identities. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication and performance studies from UNC, Tracy worked in live theater, video game production, and K–12 education. As an instructor, Tracy taught theater to middle and undergraduate students, and creative and academic writing at the university level. When she’s not writing, Tracy speaks on panels at science fiction and fantasy conventions, reads fanfic, arranges puppy playdates, and keeps an eye out for ginger-flavored everything.

Legendborn + Legendmaking

Part I

Jaqueline Sizing: To my right, students stand in a long line on the red bricks surrounding the Old Well. Waiting for a sip, and good luck, on the first day of classes. Beyond them, the grounds are dotted with old-growth trees, low bushes, and a Confederate statue facing north.

Ivana Devine: My mind tosses up images from last night like dark, confusing confetti. I want to tell Alice what I witnessed, but would she believe I saw a golden-eyed boy who uses magic to hypnotize students and a girl who carries a bow and arrow in her back pocket?

Melody Hunter-Pillion: What a way to set a scene, and that scene is right here on the UNC campus. This is Southern Futures, I'm your host, Melody Hunter-Pillion with the Center for the Study of the American South. You just heard the voices of UNC Chapel Hill students reading from the New York Times bestselling novel Legendborn. With a plot set on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.

This new young adult fantasy novel is one of the hottest works and its genre, and in the literary world. The author, Tracy Deonn, is an UNC alumna. She recently received the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe New Talent Author Award from the American Library Association's Book and Media Awards. And Tracy, who has worked in live theater, video game production, K-12 education, as well as university level instruction joins us right now on Southern Futures.

Tracy, congratulations on your book's success.

Tracy Deonn: Thank you. It's been a wild ride. Thank you for having me.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: Of course, and thank you for being here. Tracy, you bring King Arthur's court to Chapel Hill, and a right onto the UNC campus in a really magical way with Legendborn. It's both a grand, medieval experience and at the same time and authentic picture of Chapel Hill right now.

So, what prompted you to blend the imagery of Merlin and the medieval knights of the round table with today's UNC campus, which is a setting, as we know, with its own history and power dynamics in the South, what prompted this?

Tracy Deonn: To answer that I'll back up just a little bit because it's interesting. King Arthur and the round table, I've been a fan, sort of had that sense of those stories growing up. But it actually didn't start with Arthur, where I started with this book was my own personal history. And I think that's the thing that actually resonates long-term with Legendborn is that there's such a personal story in it.

And it started with my own experience of losing my mother at a young age, not long after I graduated from UNC, and then finding out that she had lost her own mother, like literally within three months of my age, and that the same pattern had gone back even a further generation with my Grandmother. And as a science fiction/fantasy writer, as a storyteller, I was like, what is that? This is an incredible pattern, that's tragic in my matrilineal line. Where did it come from, what could explain it? There is no real answer, but I'm a writer, so I wrote one. And so, the vision of a 16-year-old girl who needed to understand what happened to her mother at a different age in her life, but needed to go on a quest. And a journey to find out what happened and that there was a magical explanation at the end of it is sort of where Legendborn started.

But as an academic, as someone who's thinking more widely about the work that work does in the world, right? I was thinking about how unfortunate it is that my own genealogical study, if I were to embark on it, would probably come up against the wall of enslavement, the way that so many African-Americans find when they go back a certain number of generations. And that this pattern that I'm looking back on for myself, I wouldn't necessarily even be able to find all of the names involved if I kept going, if I wanted to see if it went back to my great, great, great, great. And so, this idea that some people's lives and losses are lost to history, in this case through violence and oppression and other systems, and the other stories get to just live on for years and years and generations, it just sort of wrestled around in my mind as this strange way to live. That there's millions of people who, for whom they can't go back.

Growing up in North Carolina, there would be coursework as elementary and middle school, like, tell where your family came from, and this assumption that there was a European origin. And so, students could come to class and be like my family, way back when, they came from France or they came from Scotland. And for the Black American students, this was just this horrifying, sort of traumatic, school assignment that white instructors never really thought about how painful that was.

And then I thought, you know, history and legends are interesting because the difference between a legend and a myth is that a legend typically has a kernel of truth or there's a historicity that we as a community have agreed to give to that story. And so, possibly there's an orchard or original Arthur out there, 1500 years ago, and we have as a global community, because different people have taken this story, decided to create, you know, thousands and thousands and thousands of words, millions of words around this person that may or may not have existed and all of the people around him.

And I just remember thinking, this is wild, that there is this possible person who may not have existed. Historians, medievalists generally are like he wasn't there, there was a guy maybe.  But we have this whole body of work called Arthuriana, a canon around someone who may have not existed, and yet I'm asking a question that is maybe four generations back. And so that sort of dichotomy. Is really where I started coming up with, well, what if I talked about Arthur and brought that sort of weight of history into the discussion? Because I think it's important that we see that some things are given the weight of human attention and primacy of storytelling, and other things get sort of lost, and people just live with that, walking around with their history being gone.

And to me, to get to your question, that's how I got to UNC, because as a student here, that is in the air. That question of whose stories do we memorialize and whose stories get lost. And even as a UNC student, I remember thinking my experience of walking around campus and understanding that this campus was built by enslaved people is not the story you tell on the campus tour, but it is the experience of so many black students. And we don't talk about what that feels like to be going into buildings that are named after people who would have owned me, certainly would not have been happy that I was there, certainly would have not been happy that I got paid to be there, because I got a scholarship, you know, like all this stuff.

And it's a weird sort of experience to be in space where history is called upon all the time and invoked as a source of pride, which is really so much true for UNC - the first public school graduate students, and with good reason. But then certain other histories just remain completely lost. And so that question that I had about personal history, myself with Arthur, was echoed in my experience of being at UNC. And I think it's the tension that's there even to this day, that there are two histories about this campus.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: And you bring that tension to this book. You really, I think shake up the canon - that literary canon, that sort of prioritizes, as you said, certain stories, elevates particular voices. But in your novel, your protagonist, Bree, she is a young African-American. Like you, she's a North Carolina native. She struggling with loss, with her mother's suspicious death and circumstances that are totally beyond her control, but she's also really powerful and she comes to find that out.

Tell us about this character, Bree and how she faces hurdles while rooted in this really very particular place that you've said it in. And that you've explained, right? The tensions in this place.

Tracy Deonn: I love this question because one of the things that I realize and that a lot of other Black authors who are writing genres or science fiction fantasy realized is that we have an additional level of what my friend Bethany C Morrow calls world-building about identity.

So, like blackness becomes a world-building aspect that you have to weave into, really contemporary stories as well. So, if the Black author is writing a black protagonist, but we understand or did in traditional publishing our primary audience, no matter just by sheer numbers, are probably white readers.

Particularly in my case, YA young adult readers, then I'm like, well, okay. But blackness is a part of this character’s experience, and I'm going to be weaving that in. And with that comes a set of skills and a set of experiences and tools that not every reader is going to be able to understand.

And one of the skillsets, one of the toolboxes that I am most adamant about making sure people understand is when you are a Black person in a primarily white space, the survival skills that you have to come up with in order to persist and succeed and excel in that space, they're not nothing.  We all have to sort of learn it on our own. Sometimes you get tips and tricks from elders or mentors or people who, you know, who can talk you through it. But often we have to just figure that out on the fly. And so, Bree's, a lot of Bree's growth experience is figuring out what it means to be the only Black girl in white space, particularly in an institutional space.

It's not a skillset that I love that Black people have developed. I wouldn't say that, but I am proud of the navigational ability and the flexibility and really the effort it takes.  That is a badge of, a badge of certain sort of honor to be able to survive and excel in those spaces, because it's not all its hostile territory in a lot of cases, whether it's somebody asking why you're there. Bree gets that. Why, how'd you get here, you know, was that an experience of affirmative action is this sort of assumption a couple of times, and I had that exact experience. I made sure that every instance of microaggression that Bree experiences in this book was drawn from my personal experience.

I could talk to you about, you know, magical swords all day. I made those up. We could have a whole hour talking about monsters, but I'd never wanted the microaggressions and the contemporary challenges that the character faced to be called fictional. So, I made sure they were all from my life and I definitely had someone at a country club that I was visiting with a friend who was like, well, how'd you get into UNC? It must've been, you know, it was almost word for word dialogue in the book. It must've been, you know, need-based right. And I was like, who asked that of a stranger? But he felt like he could.

And I remember I just wanted to fight. I was like, I am about to start screaming, but like, no, actually I'm really smart. And so, they paid me to be here is what I wanted to say. But you can't always say that you have to weigh your response and decide, okay, is this the battle I want to fight today? Am I going to have to be here tomorrow? Am I going to have to be here for the next semester? Is this person in my working group? Like there's all these sorts of variables that I think people have to face. And so, I wanted Bree to be able to grow and also experience those challenges as another layer of antagonism in the book.

So, novels often have three layers. There's internal antagonism, stuff that you put up for yourself that blocks you from what you want. External antagonists, that's a villain. And then societal antagonist, and the societal sort of layer of antagonism that Bree is facing, when she just wants to find out what happened to her mom. She's not there to fight for justice for racial equality, that she's 16-year-old girl who wants to know what happened to her mom. But as we experience often as people of color, by POC, the societal antagonism will get in our way.

I don't wake up trying to advocate for my blackness. I just want to go to the grocery store, but then someone there is racist. And so, then I have to deal with it, you know, like it's that experience of like, okay, I didn't wake up Black Tracy today, but there are going to be people in my day who will remind me of it without my consent. And then I have to reposition and reorient myself to them.

So really, that's a long-winded answer, but like, I really wanted to bring that process to the fore, and show it as a, as a layer of antagonism. It's not just the bad guy who's rubbing his hands in the corner. It is everyday people, its friends, it's authority figures, people who are, who are poking at you and challenging your existence and making your actual mission in life, whether or not, that's to do your job, take a class, you know, whatever, making that harder.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: So, one of the things it's about fantasy, our producer, Mark Meyer noted this, is that fantasy and sci-fi had been used as vehicles to critique social issues and you bring some of those issues to the forefront in your novel. But how does your novel reframe and spark truth telling conversations?

Tracy Deonn: I think it does this in a few ways, but the way that first comes to mind with that question is that it challenges the genre. We're talking about science fiction and fantasy and what it's been used to do. You know, I will say I'm in a lineage of Black American, especially writers who've been using genre, like I think about Octavia Butler, and I think about Kindred, which she even called a grim fantasy, I believe, even though she's mostly a science fiction author, right. So, I come from a lineage of people who have done this, but I also think that today's fantasy, the fantasy you were talking about, sort of the European based Lord of the rings and you know, that type of thing.

Even Harry Potter, you know, from she who shall not be named, you know, all that, I think that what those stories do is often they show us biases, but via these, like stand-in races and racisms. So, you might have, you know, Tolkien's a little bit tricky cause the orcs were just straight up racist, right? But I don't think he knew that. But there are other times when you'll see a fantasy book when it's like, well, you know, everything would be great except this group of purple skin people are completely oppressed and they need to, you know, triumph.

And so, people will make claims. And I don't think they're completely wrong, but I think that there's an opportunity still there that fantasy and science fiction, when they have these examples of the people, you know, the magic users who are oppressed or the people from that land who used magic differently or whatever, they have blue eyes. And that means that 1they're, you know, they must be sacrificed. Like there's all sorts of storylines that come up in this genre and these genres where there's someone who's oppressed, and then there has to be a triumph. When you look at, you know, the hunger games or any of those dystopian novels, people were divided up into groups and the groups were oppressed.

My thing, and what I think Legendborn is trying to do, is say like, okay, we have plenty of that for real now here. In the context in which you are reading this book likely, I don't know where everyone's reading this book, someone's reading in space, maybe, I don't know. But in the context in which the average person is reading this book, there's plenty of real examples of real oppression that happen around them.

And so, if I was going to write a contemporary fantasy book, and even if I wasn't, I really felt like it was important that we tell the truth about what oppression looks like. And there are people in my book who have magical abilities, and the Merlins are a little bit second class citizens, and their magical origin and their abilities make them sort of in a servant position, but they're not enslaved. But they are treated poorly. But there's also Black people who are treated poorly because Black people get treated poorly in a white supremacist society. So, you know, it was important for me to tell the whole truth, you know, in particularly, we can't just hope that people would infer what we mean around injustice. If we, you know, paint that injustice on a different type of creature or person. We also need to wrestle with what that looks like today.

And so, it was very important to me at every turn that I challenged the sub-genre of contemporary fantasy and said like, you know, I want to be like 2.0 3.0 version of what this is, which is let's actually talk about what's really happening. Science fiction and fantasy is always political. I mean, most things, everything's really political. But like science fiction and fantasy is notorious for being political and having viewpoints that are about freedom, resistance, exploration, all these things. But it can't, I can't as a Black person, as a reader, I can't erase the fact that there are true echoes of that in my life and my readers. I know the readers that I'm speaking to understand that too.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: So, since we're talking about connecting with readers, you're a writer, but you're a reader as well. You love reading. So, we are now in the reading corner for the podcast, and we want to know if there is a particular writer who inspires you or, we know you're a profess second generation fan girl. And so, is there a work of fantasy or even another genre that you returned to again and again, and if you would read a short passage for us. Who did you choose?

Tracy Deonn: So, I will tell you that the person that I choose is someone that I discovered only last year, and it's Zadie Smith. It's creative nonfiction piece.

I took a creative non-fiction course, actually, and this came up and I will tell you that I sort of forgot, I think, how moving creative nonfiction can be. And this essay is, is about joy. So, let me just pull it up and

Melody Hunter-Pillion: Tracy, while you're pulling that up, I might mention, and you met her briefly right before we started the podcast. Ivana Devine is one of our students and that is her specialty. That's what she's studying now in the English department at UNC. Creative non-fiction, that's her thing.

Tracy Deonn: CNF as apparently people call it, in the MFA world. I did not know. But yeah, Zadie Smith has just incredible of like voice. And the reason that I chose this is because it, it was the essay that reminded me how working through one self's, one's memories, is a way to tell a story about universal truth. And that's really what Joy does. So, I'll just read the beginning of it.  I will tell you whatever you think the essay is by the end of this excerpt, it's not, you got to keep reading, so go find it.

But this was, I think it was originally in the New York review of books, Joy by Zadie Smith.

It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy, but maybe everybody does this very easily all the time. And only I am confused. A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure arrived at by the same road. You simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience, and if you asked me if I wanted more joyful experiences in my life, I wouldn't be at all sure I did, exactly, because it proves such a difficult emotion to manage. It's not at all obvious to me how we should make an accommodation between joy and the rest of our everyday lives.

Perhaps the first thing to say is that I experience at least a little pleasure every day. I wonder if this is more than the usual amount. It was the same, even in childhood, when most people are miserable. I don't think this is because so many wonderful things happen to me, but rather than the small things go a long way. I seem to get more than the ordinary satisfaction out of food.

For example, any old food, an egg sandwich from one of those grimy food vans in Washington Square has a genuine power to turn my day around. Whatever is put in front of me, food wise, we'll usually get a five-star review. You think that people would like to cook for or eat with me. In fact, I'm told it's boring. Where there is no discernment, there can be no awareness of expertise or gratitude for special effort. Don't say that was delicious, my husband mourns, you say everything's delicious. But it was delicious. It drives him crazy all day long. I can look forward to a Popsicle. The persistent anxiety that fills the rest of my life is calmed for as long as I have the flavor of something good in my mouth.

And though it's true that when the flavor is finished, the anxiety returned, we do not have so many reliable sources of pleasure in this life as to turn our nose up at one that is so readily available, especially here in America. A pineapple Popsicle, even the great anxiety of writing can be stilled for the eight minutes it takes to eat a pineapple Popsicle.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: I love that and I want to read the rest of it. So, I will go look it up and read the rest of that, Joy by Zadie Smith.

That'll do it for this episode of Southern futures. The great news is our conversation with Tracy continues. It's presented in two parts. So please join us for our next episode to hear more from the fabulous Tracy Deonn, author of fantasy novel Legendborn, published by Simon and Schuster.

For Executive Producer Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery, Producer and Sound Editor Mark Meyer, and Associate Producers Jackie Sizing and Ivana Devine, I’m Melody Hunter-Pillion. Southern Futures is a podcast powered by The Southern Futures initiative, a new collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences, UNC Libraries, The Center for the Study of the American South and other units of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Southern Futures, Reimagine the American South.

Part II

Melody Hunter-Pillion: Welcome to Southern Futures, I'm your host, Melody Hunter-Pillion with the Center for the Study of the American South. In this episode, we continue our chat with Tracy Deonn, UNC alumna, and author of the New York Times bestselling novel Legendborn. If you haven't heard the first part of this two-part episode, go back and give it a listen.

Tracy has been a real treat to speak with, and I know you're going to love what she has to say about putting a modern and Southern twist on an Arthurian legend. Plus, the setting for the novel is the UNC campus and locations you'll recognize around Chapel Hill. As we get back into the conversation and the mood of this fantasy novel, let's listen to an excerpt from Legendborn read by our associate producer and current UNC student Ivana Devine

Ivana Devine: The sky is a bright Carolina blue overhead, and the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, part green lawn, part wooded preserve, is probably the most beautiful graveyard ever. It feels like a hidden park, a respite away from the throngs of students bent over their phones on the way to class, professors chatting on the way to the campus coffee shop.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: Tracy you bring local history sharply into view with the use of the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, which as a public historian, I can really appreciate that you're using this opportunity to reveal some lesser-known history. But this is also an important scene for action in your novel Legendborn. Why the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery?

Tracy Deonn: Well, one reason I had to include it just as a former student at UNC is just, at least for me, I don't know what it's like now, but when I was there the cemetery was a place you walked through to get from one place to another. It was a place you could gather in, you know, there's a gazebo or at least there was, I hope it's still there. Is the gazebo still there.

There is a gazebo where you could, you could meet friends, for a little lunch or, you know, it's not far from the pit and the union. I remember we'd meet up and we were going to some party in some dorm somewhere, and that would be a good place for people to meet, in this sort of center-ish of campus. So, to me, my first few years at UNC, it was a community space. In a way, like we found ways to use it. It wasn't necessarily for me like a Holy ground space, or a place where I needed to be particularly subdued. It felt like a place where I could go and be joyful or I could go and be on my phone or I could whatever.

But, you know, as I got older and distanced myself from the actual campus walking experience and thinking about the map and thinking about what it was and knowing that other universities don't all have cemeteries so close.  I started doing more reading about it and I heard about the study that was done several years ago, by, I think it was Chapel Hill Preservation Society or something like that, to uncover all of the unmarked graves of primarily African-American people, workers, enslaved folks, servants. I reached out to Dr. Hillary Green, who's a history graduate from UNC as well, and does these amazing sort of alternative walking tours about, you know, sort of hidden histories around the slave trade in some of these Southern schools, and start talking to her about it.

I realized that this space, there are a lot of different perspectives on it and the perspective that you would not get, and that I did not get walking around, was exactly how it echoed systems of oppression today, that you're literally walking on ground that is mirroring, you know, issues of segregation and except in this case, it's tracking over like 200 years, right? So, you can track even through who was buried, when, where, how UNC, and the government, and the town of Chapel Hill were really treating certain types of people over time. And now there's more, there's markers, I mean, the landscape has even changing because of what we've learned.

That there are people who've tried to make efforts to make sure we don't step on certain places, but you know, the football game parking story from the eighties, that's real. It was really important for me to put that in because it's so jarring and I've had readers reach out to me and say, did that really happen? I'm like, yes. Yes, and yes, it did. So, it was important for me because it was a really convenient sort of locus center to show the wide stretch of how people of color, and particularly Black people, have been treated on this campus over time.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: You were able to bring together past, present and future looking ahead, by introducing different characters and again, in your specific settings, like the cemetery, campus buildings, monuments. Why is this thread of time in history important in this overall message, or I should say narrative, for Legendborn?

Tracy Deonn: I mean, I'm the type of person who I feel very strongly that, you know, history just sort of walks around with us. We're not, you know, we are in history now as a stream. I don't think we; you can talk about the present and the future, but like we're all connected to history. We're creating it as we speak, and that it still has material effects on people today. So, it was really important for me to. Be able to talk about that.

But also, Carolina is a space - if anyone's listening who hasn't been there, please go in the spring if it's safe to do so, but that campus, you're walking through history as you walk around. And as you're talking about narratives, the narrative around the institution of Carolina will not let you forget that, right? Like how often are we hearing about oldest public school, Hinton James? You know, which Governor slash President slash whatever used to go here.

You know, the oldest old, you know, di phi, like you're sort of immersed as soon as you were a student here with all of the weight of history that is supporting this institution, how long it is, what it means to the state, and to the country even. Because Carolina, I mean, Old East. It's the oldest public residential building. It's just on campus and it's still in use, you know? So, I feel like that history is alive, is very much part of the Carolina sort of ethos or mythos, even. So, it was important for me to bring that forward and say, okay, but some histories aren't, and let's, if we're going to, like that’s my wish to Carolina, if I could walk up to the entire institution as a physical thing and just walk up and be like, okay, but say at all, though. Like, it's not just Hinton James, it's not just Old East, it's all of it. There's a lot of history here that you have the resources to elevate, but we don't.

Jaqueline Sizing: I don't cry for my mother's death or for myself. I cry because these strangers in the hospital, the nurse, the doctor, the police officer, don't know my mother, and yet they were closest to her when she died. And when your people die, you have to listen to strangers speak your nightmare into existence.

I listened to these people I don't know use the past tense about my mother. The person who brought me into this world and created my present. They’re past tensing my heart, my whole beating, bleeding, torn heart, right in front of me. It is a violation.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: Tracy, death is a theme in your novel. Your characters, they really allow us to explore grief and its relation to memory. If you could, explain the strong connection that you've built between memory and grief and your use of sensory cues to really bring that connection out.

Tracy Deonn: Yeah, I think a lot of that actually comes from just personal experience. My personal experience of grief was not dissimilar to the journey that Bree is on in terms of the emotional internal arc, and in terms of, you know, working with traumatic grief, complex grief, that wasn't diagnosed till later for me and even, you know, forms of PTSD.

So, all of that is in there.  In my experience, what’s difficult about that. And what I think people don't often talk about with grief is how quickly grief itself, this sort of whoosh wave of it, can be triggered through senses. It’s just, you know, the way that I think our society talks about grief, it just feels like people are sad for a while or something, but it's so many things. It's so many complicated layers of emotions, and even really good things become good in a different way. You know, I remember thinking like this glass of wine is really good. It was like six bucks. It wasn't really good, but like the idea of it, the flavor that, you know, even a positive thing when you're sad like that, it just feels like my body was more aware of it.

A really good laugh felt different, you know, when I was coming out of grief than it would have before. I would have taken it for granted. So, I think, it's really important to highlight that experience. That was another one of my missions, was just so that type of grief, which is actually extremely common, gets a little airtime.

You know, I remember talking to a friend who said, she lost her father and she was fine for, you know, once sort of the acute situation resolved itself and she processed it. She was okay, and then she went to a grocery store and saw like one brand of cereal that he used to have and just the idea of it and the smell of it just took her straight back and she felt like she had gone back to day one, you know? And that's, that's a really, it's a hard way to live, I think, when you don't know that other people are feeling that way too.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: I think it is your ability to tap into what grief is, or the experience of that, that's so authentic. That makes this book, this novel really authentic. Regardless of genre, right, it connects with the reader in this way.

How has the success been for you? I mean, how are you sort of taking it? Has it become like a huge surprise or what has this been like for you to experience this type of success with this book?

Tracy Deonn: It's been, like I said, a wild ride. You dream and you hope that people will sort of pick up what you're putting down as an artist, no matter what the medium, you know, like I hope they get what I'm trying to do here is this sort of like vibe that you get at, that we all have at some point in a project, and you can't control that. And so, when people have come back to me, what I've found most fascinating is that by and large, the people who are coming back to say something positive are picking out the things of the book that I also love the most. And so that probably has been the most interesting.

And whether that's critical, you know, sort of critical reviews or, readers, middle schoolers, parents, librarians, like I've just had people come back and just say like, it's, you know, I love this, I love this, love this. And then the thing that unifies everyone is Bree. They're just like, I love Bree. I would go to war for her.  I would follow her, you know, if I ever needed to go to battle, I would work with her, like all this sort of the sense of allegiance and support and love for this character who feels very personal.  That's really been the most intense thing.

Other than that, I don't think you can, you can plan for stuff like last year, like 2020. I think my book would have done well in any other circumstance, but there's something really intense about last year in the conversations people were having and the places people wanted to go.  There's a, I've heard people say, and I agree, that people want to escape right now, but they also don't. Like, they want escapism, but they also need to be able to come back to reality because we can't escape it. So, they really, you need to have one hand or one foot in both worlds. And I love that Legendborn was there for people who needed that.

They wanted to have substantive real, sort of like, challenges to think about, but also be able to escape and have fun, and the book does both. So, I don't know. It's just, I'm trying to take it in stride. I'm trying to also remind myself that it, you know, this book is a little bit like me scooping my heart onto the page and figuring out how to sustain that in a career. You know, like, I don’t know if I can do that every book, I don't know that I should.  But I also don't know how not to at this point. So that's probably my biggest challenge personally.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: Well, it seems like the timing was just right for the book and certainly I think folks want to see more of Bree for sure.

Tracy Deonn: Yeah. Yes. Well, book two is underway, so they will be getting more Bree.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: Any messages for the folks in Chapel Hill?

Tracy Deonn: You know, just take heart. I was down on Franklin street last year and I saw how many businesses were not there. And just like I felt, I felt for the community, like some of the staples that have been there for a long time are not, and just take heart, Chapel Hill will still be there on the other side, for sure. Come back stronger.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: Tracy. We do like to wrap up each episode by asking our guests, how they reimagine the South, because this is about Southern Futures. You beat us to the punch because you've already, re-imagined the South in this novel, in the most unique way. So instead, I'm going to ask you why should writers, artists, really all of us re-imagine the South, what it can be?

Tracy Deonn: I mean, I feel like my answer is completely driven by the runoff elections that we had in January of 2021, and what people saw was possible in Georgia and what Stacey Abrams proved to be possible and Stacey Abrams and other organizers. I think that the South has such levels of complexity, and what has been exported from the South in terms of imagery, and talent, and stories, and culture can very easily get funneled into certain directions that are politically useful for people. And I find that there's so much more than that, and that the South has its own mythology, and this is a mythology that's getting challenged right now in a lot of spaces in the last year or two with other monuments and other discussions about who it is we elevate and talk about. Building renamings, I mean, all of these things are the South actively reimagining itself, and looking back at its narrative and myth and saying, is that really the myth that we, that represents what happened and also who we are now.

So yeah, I feel like that's my that's my answer is that, you know, we need to re-imagine it because the South never was portrayed, I think, with the layer of complexity that we are now seeing has always had.

Melody Hunter-Pillion: Tracy Dion. We want to thank you for both spending time with us today and for sharing this wonderful novel, which you're building Southern Futures yourself.  Your young adult fantasy novel again is Legendborn. That's written by Tracy Deon and published by Simon and Schuster. Enjoy the read folks and join us for our next episode of Southern Futures.

For Executive Producer Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery, Producer and Sound Editor Mark Meyer, and Associate Producers Jackie Sizing and Ivana Devine, I’m Melody Hunter-Pillion. Southern Futures is a podcast powered by The Southern Futures initiative, a new collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences, UNC Libraries, The Center for the Study of the American South and other units of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Southern Futures, Reimagine the American South.