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Daphne Birkmyer Author Interview

Maiden Voyage follows the twins as their guardian tries to keep them safe among Marcela’s gender affirming surgery and Amadeus’s future in Alaska’s fishing industry. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

Maiden Voyage, the third book in the COMFREY, WYOMING series, finds the twins standing on the cusp of adulthood. At last Marcela Crow has the body she has been seeking since early childhood. Amadeus has always been his sister’s protector and advocate, but after her surgery he feels the loss of the little boy he learned to walk with and talk with—the little boy who once looked so very much like him. Unsure of the role he now plays in Marcela’s life, disillusioned with college and struggling with the illness that claimed his mother, Amadeus leaves Wyoming and family and strikes out on his own.

For Marcela’s story, I relied heavily on a family friend, assigned female at birth, who advocated for his authentic self from a very young age. Like Marcela, he had the support of a loving family, but it couldn’t protect him from painful bullying in school. He is now a successful young man living in another part of the country, where he can maintain his privacy and get on with the business of living. His experience in school was why I deemed it crucial for Heidi, the twins’ guardian, to move the family to Comfrey, where no one would know the children were born identical, and where Marcela would be accepted as a girl.

I had rich sources of experience to call upon for Amadeus’s journey north and his immersion in Alaska’s fishing industry. A woman who travels the Alaskan Canadian highway annually with her dog shared pictures, diaries and anecdotes of her trips with me. Another person, who has worked on fishing boats in Bristol Bay and the Bering Sea for years, spent many hours sharing his experiences and answering my questions. I was so grateful I named my fishing captain after him.

I am also indebted to a college friend, who witnessed and described the gruesome accident that ended the life of one of my characters at sea. For much of his career, my friend worked as a marine scientist monitoring fishing vessels in Alaskan and Arctic waters. He often worked with Inuit observers and remains a passionate advocate for Indigenous fishing rights.

Marcela and Amadeus are intriguing and well-defined characters. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

As babies, the twins’ physical appearance, personalities and precocity were derived from a very special little boy, who joined our family for a time. He is still at the edge of my consciousness when I write about the twins, but his influence has waned as the twins have matured and taken on lives of their own.

Despite being born physically identical, Amadeus and Marcela are essentially yin and yang, opposite but interconnected forces bound by a fierce loyalty. Where Marcela is academic, grounded and artistic, Amadeus is impulsive, competitive and intimately connected to the natural world.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

People who can communicate with the dead have always intrigued me. Three very different characters in my series maintain strong ties with departed loved ones. Heidi, the twins’ guardian, continues to commune with her deceased child. Beppe, an Italian winemaker and one of the twins’ honorary uncles, hears his grandfather’s voice as he walks his vineyards at dusk. Amadeus is aware of his mother, Nara, in the wind and the sea.     

Despite my dive into metaphysics, however, a scientific current thrums in the background of my books, the legacy of my years of teaching science. In Maiden Voyage, that current includes the genetics of Sphynx cats, the mating rituals of elk and the effect of climate change on the distribution of fish in Arctic waters. 

Another theme in Maiden Voyage is the importance of representation—LBGTQ representation, and racial representation. I am blessed to be part of a racially and gender diverse family. I hope my complex and relatable characters capture readers who may be unfamiliar with the LBGTQ community. Heidi’s cousin, Karl, and his Italian husband, Beppe, have provided her with emotional support for years. They are the strong, loyal men she turned to when she lost her baby to genetic disease in Birds of a Feather, the first book of the series. In Maiden Voyage, Karl comes to San Francisco to support Heidi after Marcela’s surgery. Beppe is the person Amadeus seeks for comfort after he suffers trauma at sea.

My trans character was introduced in the series as a young child, to make her less threatening to those who believe they have never met a transgender person. I wanted readers to bond with Marcela. I wanted them to not merely tolerate her, but to truly appreciate her, her wit, her talent and her integrity.     

To peel back a layer of white privilege, I included a young black man in Maiden Voyage to illustrate the danger and stress of driving while black. My sons are black, my nephews are black, and on my most recent trip to Wyoming for research, I drove with a black friend. The hyper-scrutiny is real, and the hyper-vigilance a person feels under that scrutiny is exhausting. My black character drives from San Francisco to Wyoming alone, always on edge, always with a feeling of dread that he’ll disappear into what he perceives as a wasteland, and never be heard of again.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?                   

Black Sheep, Black Sheep, Book Four of the COMFREY, WYOMING series, will be released in 2023. People from Pennsylvania, California and the Philippines join the citizens of Comfrey, and at long last, that endangered and highly venomous Midget Faded Rattlesnake alluded to in the first three books, has a significant part to play.   

Author Links: GoodReads | Website

Maiden Voyage, Book Three of Daphne Birkmyer’s COMFREY, WYOMING series, finds twins, Amadeus and Marcela, on very different paths to self-discovery. As their guardian, Heidi Crow, attempts to weave a safety net as original and complex as the twins themselves, she prays it will hold through Marcela’s gender affirming surgery and Amadeus’s uncertain future in Alaska’s lucrative and dangerous fishing industry.

A richly diverse cast, including a Shakespeare-quoting street basketball player and a Chinese purveyor of pu-erh tea, joins characters already beloved by readers of the series in this transcendent tale of nontraditional family and steadfast friends. 
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