The Next Chapter

Catherine Hernandez's latest book is dystopian fiction that feels frighteningly real

The Toronto author wrote Crosshairs, a fictional near-future novel featuring themes of oppression, violence and hope — and a queer Black performer named Kay.
Crosshairs is a book by Catherine Hernandez. (Yeemi Tang, HarperAvenue)

Catherine Hernandez is a Canadian writer, author and playwright. CBC Books named Hernandez a writer to watch in 2017 and her debut novel Scarborough was shortlisted for the 2017 Toronto Book Award, the 2018 Trillium Book Award and the 2018 Edmund White Award for debut fiction.

Her latest book, Crosshairs, is a dystopian novel about a near-future, where a queer Black performer named Kay and his allies join forces against an oppressive Canadian regime that is rounding up those deemed "Other" in concentration camps. 

This regime, called The Boots, forces communities of colour, the disabled and the LGBTQ into labour camps called workhouses in the city. 

Hernandez spoke to Shelagh Rogers about writing Crosshairs.

A dedication to lives lost

"For a lot of us — people who are part of the queer, trans, Black, Indigenous and people of colour community — what we were wondering after the horrible 2016 Orlando nightclub massacre that claimed 49 beautiful lives was, 'Do we need to get guns to protect ourselves?' 

"We already knew that we were unsafe. Being in a visibly queer trans family means that a lot of us don't feel comfortable walking around at night. We don't feel safe with the police presence. A lot of us thought, 'What is the price of fighting back?' and 'What is the price of being passive?'

I truly believe that if we all work hard enough, massacres like that would never, ever happen again. We can see fascism for what it is, name it and end it.

"In creating the novel, I wanted to explore that — the many ways that fascism manifests and the difficult choices we make in the face of war. What we're seeing now, with fascism rising all over the world, is that there are some very difficult choices we have to make about which side we're going to be on in history. 

"Writing this book with hope in mind was difficult, but I wanted to make sure that people understood that hope was the starting point. I truly believe that if we all work hard enough, massacres like that would never, ever happen again. We can see fascism for what it is, name it and end it."

For members of the LGBT community, the shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub hit horribly close to home. It was an attack on one of their safe havens. 4:03

Devoted to drag

"If I was to go into academia, I would probably try to get a PhD in drag! I love the art form so much. Every time I see a show, I leave with $100 less in my pocket, wondering, 'Where did the money go?' It went to all of these amazing performers, who totally deserve this money.

"I love the art form. I love the way that it plays with our perceptions about gender. I wanted Kay to be a drag queen — and feminine — because I wanted him to be a person who obviously, as it says in the novel, cannot wash off his Black skin. He cannot wash off his feminine ways. 

If I was going to create a contrast with the fascist regime, I wanted it to be an art form that's unapologetic, which is definitely drag.

"He is this person that is going to be a target for this fascist regime. If I was going to create a contrast with the fascist regime, I wanted it to be an art form that's unapologetic, which is definitely drag. 

"It's unapologetically subversive. I wanted Kay to be this person who goes into an art form and reclaims his identity."

Scarborough author Catherine Hernandez reveals why she writes. (Originally broadcast on September 17, 2018) 3:02

Generational conflicts

"When it comes to genocidal campaigns, they seemingly appear out of nowhere, reach their climax over several months and then suddenly vanish into this uneasy treaty — ultimately being covered up by the fascist power. 

It's unapologetically subversive. I wanted Kay to be this person who goes into an art form and reclaims his identity.

"But these conflicts actually took generations to build momentum. It's an interesting dichotomy to me. While writing the novel, I wanted to capture that in the life of Kay.

"I tried to capture this dichotomy, where you see Kay, who has already survived a lifetime of transgressions, and then he's faced with the rise of a fascist regime which seeks to end his life. 

"That to me, was just such a discovery.There's something that we ignore, over the course of generations until it finally comes to a head."

Catherine Hernandez's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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