“To put it simply, Harris was late to school on the first day of the seventh grade because something he saw in the abandoned lot at the end of his street changed his life forever…”
These are the opening lines of Magical Princess Harriet, an exciting new Young Adult fantasy novel about a transgender middle schooler to whom the angels of Heaven have given the daunting task of defending her town from the forces of darkness. Magical Princess Harriet has its origins in my strangely visceral response to a 2010 article published in the Jewish Review of Books titled “Why There Is No Jewish Narnia.” While the author made some good points, as a fan of fantasy fiction and an enthusiastic convert to Judaism my response was, “Well why isn’t there a Jewish Narnia?” And so not too long after that (in the grand scheme of things) I began working on the project that would eventually become this book. I wanted to write a fantasy novel which would not only be steeped in Jewish tradition, but would also reflect the Jewish community I knew and loved – a vibrant, passionate, inclusive community made up of quirky individuals united by their shared desire to make the world a better place.
So What's It About?
Magical Princess Harriet begins when Harris Baumgartner – an outwardly unremarkable middle school boy trying hard to ignore the voice inside him telling him he was never meant to be a boy in the first place – is walking to school. When he stops to investigate a flicker of movement in the supposedly abandoned construction site at the end of his street, he encounters an Angel named Nuriel who tells him that he has been granted the titled of “Princess” and is now responsible for dealing with the monsters that have taken up residence in Harris’s school. Together with his friends Francis and Aiden, Harris (soon to be Harriet) will need every ounce of courage, compassion and intelligence she can muster if she is to outwit the devious Nephilim and come to terms with her conflicted feelings about her own gender.
I feel like Magical Princess Harriet very much a book whose time has come. There is a serious lack of books for young people out there that deal with transgender characters as anything other than a “social issue” to be educated about. In Magical Princess Harriet, I wanted to write an engaging story that deals with gender dysphoria and transition the way actual transgender people experience them – as just one facet among others in a rich, complicated, and interesting life. Harriet’s process of coming to terms with her own gender identity is an important part of her story, but it’s only one part. The same thing applies to Harriet’s best friend Francis who, despite the fact that she happens to be autistic, refuses to let that fact limit what she can do or get in the way of making connections with the people she loves. Harriet and her friends’ struggles with their identities influence them but don’t completely define who they are or what they can accomplish in life, and that’s something I see as both true to life and an important lesson we should all learn.
Sounds Interesting! Can I Read Some Of It?
Thought you'd never ask! You can download a PDF sample of the first chapter of the book here. Enjoy!
Also, I recorded myself reading that chapter, so you can listen if you want:
Meet the Kids:
a.k.a. Harris Baumgartner
Favorite Song: Florence + the Machine, “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”
Harriet is a good natured kid whose constant embarrassment and severe anxiety have not managed to sour her fundamentally sweet temperament. Her mother and father split up some time ago under somewhat mysterious circumstances, and Harriet and her mother have been living on their own ever since. For at least a year now Harriet has been struggling with persistent feelings that there is something fundamentally wrong with her, something to do with the fact that she isn’t very happy being a boy. These feelings have been growing in intensity lately, to the point that she often can’t bring herself to look at her own face in the mirror. Harriet loves walking around by herself, exploring parts of town nobody pays attention to. She also likes playing video games online with her friend Francis.
Favorite Song: Owl City, "Fireflies"
Francis was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) when she was six, and ever since then she’s been pushing back against others’ low opinions about what a girl like her can hope to achieve in life. Obsessed with architecture, she has an inherent gift for understanding spatial relationships, which serves the kids in good stead in the labyrinthine corridors of Arborington Middle School, where the ordinary rules of space and geometry often don’t seem to apply. Francis has been friends with Harriet for years, ever since they met in Hebrew school.
a.k.a. Bat Boy, Dracula, Prince of Darkness, “that freak who always wears black”
Favorite Song: The Cure, “Pictures of You”
Aiden has the dubious distinction of being Arborington Middle School’s only goth. The fact that he’s so obsessed with a subculture that largely went out of fashion sometime in the 1990’s is partially explained by his strong relationship with his older sister, who is a huge fan of industrial metal. Aiden has spent most of his young life being tormented by his peers because of his taste in fashion and because of his weird older sister, and this has given him a somewhat cynical outlook which is nevertheless balanced by his fundamentally friendly nature. Harriet and Francis are the first real friends he’s had since he was very young, and he is intensely loyal toward them.
Meet the Nephilim:
a.k.a. “my idiot brother”
Favorite Song: The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy For the Devil”
As Kasadya’s younger brother, Azrael is the member of his family with the least authority. Resentful of being bossed around by his mother and older sister, he often takes out his frustrations on human kids, whom he loves to torment an manipulate with his angelic powers. Whereas Kasadya seems to relish her budding enmity with Princess Harriet, Azrael genuinely can’t stand the girl, and he is just waiting for the opportunity to do her genuine harm.
a.k.a. “my psycho sister”
Favorite Song: Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, “I Hate Myself For Loving You”
The favored child of her and Azrael’s mother, Kasadya has been raised to think of herself as an epic villain of story and fable. Her rather dramatic nature and domineering personality make her well-suited to this role, but at times she feels stifled by living under her mother’s constant supervision. She dreams of one day meeting a dashing hero who will truly challenge her villainous mettle.
So Where Did These Awesome Character Sketches Come From?
Well they certainly don't come from me! I have contracted with brilliant artist by the name of Magda Zwierzchowska to produce a cover and interior illustrations for the book. You can check out some of her work here on her DeviantArt page.
Budget (a.k.a. How the Sausage Gets Made):
Here are the projected costs associated with this project:
- ISBN and barcodes: $395.00
- Illustrations: $525
- Publishing Costs (IngramSpark print-on-demand): $49
- Cost of fulfillment of backer rewards: $1,300 (note that this is very much a moving target since the cost of fulfillment goes up with each backer who pledges at a level eligible for receiving a reward)
- Miscellaneous marketing costs and Kickstarter fees: $331
NOTE: The dollar amounts of these stretch goals have been adjusted downward after analysis suggested that the hardcover edition would not be as expensive to produce as initially estimated.
- $3,600 – Magical Princess Harriet will be released in a hardback edition in addition to the paperback edition and the ebook. Anyone pledging at the $50 or greater level will have the option of substituting the hardback edition for the paperback copy included in their pledge reward.
- $5,000 – Magical Princess Harriet will also be released as an audiobook (recorded by yours truly) in addition to the ebook, paperback, and hardcover editions. Recognizing that accessibility is important and that not everyone can benefit from a book printed on paper, I would really like to be able to make this happen regardless of how many donations I receive. Reaching this level however will provide me with enough financial leeway to be able to take the time to record and release the audiobook as soon as possible after the release of the physical book. Once we hit this goal anyone who has pledged enough to receive a physical copy of the book will receive a copy of the audiobook for free as a personal thank-you from me. For a sample of what this would sound like, check out the audio recording above.
- $6,001+ – Who knows? I honestly don’t know what I’d do with myself if this Kickstarter makes this much money. I’ve had this crazy idea in my head of coming out with a Magical Princess Harriet siddur (Jewish prayerbook) filled with doodles and notes from Harriet and the rest of the cast. We’ll just have to see.
This book certainly isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Harriet and her friends. At the very least I have ideas for two more books after this, and beyond that… Who knows?
Risks and challenges
First of all, let me admit that this is my first ever project on Kickstarter. I realize that this means that there is a lot of room for mistakes and oversights, and so I have been very careful in doing my research about how to run a successful campaign.
Realistically however there is very little chance of things falling through, provided that this project is successfully funded. The book is in the final stages of completion, my illustrator (Magda Zwierzchowska) is hard at work on the cover and interior illustrations, and I have worked out a detailed plan for all aspects of preparing this book for print-on-demand publication. Provided that this campaign is a success, Magical Princess Harriet should be available for purchase sometime early next year.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)