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Cady Juarez talks to us about reality, fantasy and her visual narrative book, Cadence’s Castle

Cadence’s Castle reflects Cadence’s day-to-day realizations and struggles of growing up in Missouri with two mothers, Mom and Jackie, all thoughtfully recorded in Cadence’s personal journal. At  first Cadence, a naïve teen, seems absorbed in her own fantasy, escaping her everyday bullies by building castles and creating characters with her best friend Hallee. With the support and love of her mother and Jackie, a supposed roommate, Cadence believes that her family is normal; however, unable to escape the consistent bullying from her peers, she soon uncovers the real reason behind her classmates’ jeering.

Similar to the author’s experiences, Cadence battles with the fact that she is growing up in a world that refuses to accept her parents and their identity. Cadence artfully dodges the truth of her victimization—her parents’ sexual orientation— and constantly finds herself stuck in the closet with them, refusing to believe that her mother would mislead her. When faced with her mother’s darkest secret, the world Cadence had built begins to crumble, and Cadence’s biggest fear is realized. Armed with the truth, Cadence learns to accept her mother’s identity and face her everyday bullies.

We got a chance to discuss Cady Juarez’s story, Cadence’s Castle as well as fantasy, reality, and some of the stuff that happens in-between. When you’ve finished the interview, be sure to check out the documentary she did for the project here.

Your stories cover a lot of ground. From myth to magic to the pains and delights of being human. I’m curious about the fantasy and myth part because it’s resonating in a world that feels increasingly dangerous. You mentioned to me earlier that you’re fascinated with the difference between fantasy vs reality. What do you mean?

So I’ve spent my whole life evading the real world and escaping into books, video games, you name it. I developed a world I could escape to at a young age. It prevented me from being present when I was bullied or when my mothers’ sexual orientation came in to question.

I’ve always been fascinated by the open world and exploration of fantasy. It is a world that can do anything, and even the most weak individual can be a hero. For me, growing up, that was extraordinarily relateable. In some sense, that became my reality. And from there on, I knew I wanted to tell stories that involved high fantasy but had a connection to reality. I felt, even though the two are binaries, they effect and feed into one another and always make for great stories.

I think we often escape into our own fantasies, and our ultimate goal is to make it a reality. That’s what’s this dream program has offered to me and helped me realize.

So you see fantasy as an ideal that we want to bring into our real lives. What does that mean to you as someone who wants to tell stories?

In my mind, the two are just like good and evil. They go hand-in-hand, and one can’t exist without the other.

In terms of storytelling, I think this viewpoint is essential and effective. Fantasy can be whimsical, sure, but it can also be chaotic and dark. We can imagine things that seem impossible to overcome–a perfect example is Sauron from Lord of the Rings. By bending reality, I can exaggerate these characters and bring them to life in a more heinous way. The opposite is true as well, of course.

For my storytelling, I want things to be relateable. I have found fantasy to be almost more so than reality. That might just be me. I try to stress themes/morals in my stories that resided in my heart as a kid. Fantasy allows me to bring them out in creative and exotic ways, while also being exciting. I love discovering new worlds and things. Fantasy gives you that perfect glimpse, and those are the stories that made me keep reading.

Do you think Fantasy is almost like a prism that we can see the world through? In other words, can the stuff of the imagination be planted into whatever we’re experiencing and guide our reality?

So, that’s interesting. In my Undergrad I spent a lot of time researching and writing a dissertation for the Freudian dreamworld and it’s connection to reality. I believe fantasy operates in a similar way, that is–fantasy often depicts our deepest desires and fixations.

It was quite fitting that the dissertation I wrote dealt with JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. There is a lot of symbolism in fantasy tropes–The great Mother archetype, a hero’s journey, etc., that embodies our darkest wants and desires.

So without further sounding like an English major, which I previously was…in terms of my storytelling, I like to pick up on cliches. I think fantasy depicts cliches in a more interesting and exciting way, which is why I choose that genre. We all want to be the conquering hero, the dragon slayer, and the king of the realm. All of those things equate to that career we’ve always wanted or the thesis we finally finished.

I believe the job of fantasy is masking reality and transporting the audience to an exciting romantic world. It makes the real world seem a little more boring, or at least I felt this way as a child. What I realize now is that fantasy ideas can relate to my real world situations. For instance, in my thesis, Cadence’s Castle, Cadence is able to equate her bully to an angry troll. She can visualize her home as a castle made of stone, keeping away any darkness such as bullies, school, and broken friendships. In this way, yes, fantasy is a coping mechanism. It is a way to “see the world,” as you’ve said, and very much a drive for Cadence.

Fantasy is honestly a fun way to mask hard issues like bullying, coming out, or even dealing with identity, and it’s an even better way to address those tough issues to a child.

You’re dealing with some very real issues in your story, which many people will relate to. What are your hopes and dreams for Cadence’s Castle?

Cadence’s Castle started off as a personal project; it was both painful and cathartic to relive and capture moments in my life that I had buried. I think, in the current political realm, the story really captures LGBT concerns and behaviors. It really speaks to me, because I have lived as the daughter of a gay mother–I lived with bullies constantly calling me a lesbian. I wanted to be honest in my work, and depict a true-to-life situation. I wanted every character to struggle with different things, but they are all brought together through Cadence’s voice and drawings.

My hope is that this book speaks to people universally. I hope it is relateable to young teens, LGBT adults, and children being bullied because of their “differences.” My dream is for Cadence’s Castle to be published and make its way into anyone’s hands. I believe that Cadence’s story could touch a lot of lives, and I believe Cadence addresses things that need to be talked about with children, whether that’s bullying, defining LGBT, and how to address adult issues to children.

This is something that is effecting my community in Kansas City. Since the start and end of Cadence’s Castle many gay friends have come to me and thanked me for my book and documentary. It’s a hard thing, to open up to your children about who you really are, and parts of the gay community in KC have told me they struggle with that. They don’t want their children being bullied for who they are, and, honestly, I think I that’s something I’d love to address for an even younger audience.

A story for younger readers sounds like it would be really helpful. Do you have a story you’re waiting to tell for younger kids, or is it stewing?

I have an idea, thanks to some friends. My mother’s two gay friends just got married in DC and they are considering adoption. They asked if I could make a children’s book that would explain sexual orientation and how to come out to your children. So, essentially, telling your child that being gay is acceptable.

I’ve liked that idea a lot. I don’t think I’m done with Cadence yet either, so maybe I’ll tie the two together somehow.

That sounds like a fantastic idea! Please keep us posted on your projects, Cady. We know you’ll have a lot of exciting news for us sooner than later. Be sure to watch the Cadence’s Castle documentary, which dives into the history of the project in a very personal way.