The Song of Achilles with Christina Bagni

Hello!

Today we meet Christina Bagni and we’re talking about the book that saved her life The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Christina is an editor, host of Classics and Chill, and the author of the YA novel My Only Real Friend is the Easter Bunny at the Mall.

For Christina, The Song of Achilles not only helped her to process a painful past relationship, but it also put her on a path to host a podcast based on the novel’s source The Iliad, as well as to her write her own YA novel.

Connect with Christina

To connect to Christina’s website, social media, her novel, and Classics and Chill, visit: linktr.ee/christinabagni

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To purchase The Song of Achilles visit: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9780062060624

To purchase My Only Real Friend is the Easter Bunny at the Mall visit: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9781738767786

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Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Stephen D., Stephen Flamm, Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.
Permission to use clips from Classics and Chill provided by Christina Bagni.
Music and SFX credits: visit thiqueerbook.com/music

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Transcript

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: Hey everyone. My name is J.P. Der Boghossian. I’m the founder of the Queer Armenian Library, an essayist, and a Lambda Literary Fellow, and your listening to the podcast that asks LGBTQ guests: What’s the queer book that saved your life?

And what does saved mean? It can mean a lot of different things, perhaps it’s a book that helped you understand your identity, or it helped you reclaim your coming out story, or, maybe, like today, the book that saved your life helped you process the fall out of a relationship, while launching you onto a new creative journey.

These are the books that help us live authentically, in our truth, and steer us to find our place in the world. And I want you to read them. Because the books we talk about the show, and maybe the one in this very episode? It might just be what you need to be reading right now.

Welcome to This Queer Book Saved My Life.

[theme music ends]

[dramatic and cinematic orchestra music]

Male voice (reading from The Iliad): Never again old man, let me catch sight of you by the hollow ships. Not loitering now, not slinking back tomorrow. The girl! I won’t give up the girl! Long before that, old age will over take her in my house, far from her fatherlands, forced to share my bed.

[laughs] Ew. What a creep.

[continuing] Now go! Don’t tempt my wrath and you may depart alive.

Christina Bagni (reading from The Iliad): The old man was terrified. He obeyed the order, turning, trailing away in silence down the shore where the battle lines of breakers crashed and dragged. And moving off to a safe distance, over and over, the old Priest prayed to Lord Apollo. “Hear me Apollo! God of the Silver Bow! Lord and the power of tornadoes, God of the plague. Now! Now! Bring my prayer to pass. Pay the Danaans back. Your arrows for my tears.”

[music and reading fades]

J.P. Der Boghossian: Whew! That is from the YouTube channel Classics and Chill. Part audio book, part English lesson, and part book club, Classics and Chill is a video podcast where English major Christina Bagni guides a bunch of her friends through some of the greatest works of literature. In full disclosure, I added the dramatic soundtrack. I couldn’t help myself. What we heard there was from their reading of The Iliad. And, The Iliad is the basis of the book we will discuss today. Being a 4,000 year old epic about the Trojan War, it has a lot of story lines, but the one we care about today is about Achilles. His part in that war, and his relationship to the young prince Patroclus. And our guest today is Christina Bagni!

Christina Bagni: I’m an author primarily. My first debut novel just came out, My Only Real Friend is the Easter Bunny at the Mall. I’m a book editor, that’s my day job. Yes, I host the Classics and Chill podcast, which actually is because of Song of Achilles, which we’ll get to that. And I also tutor young people young and old people, really, everybody who wants to be a better creative writer. And so I have a lot of clients working on their own stories, everything from memoirs to a really fun pirate novel, which I’m very much in love with.

J.P. Der Boghossian: So, here’s Part I of our story today: Us Against the World. For Christina, the book that saved her life is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, was an unexpected Christmas Present.

Christina: My ex-partner bought it for me for Christmas. I actually wanted Circe, which was Madeline Miller’s second book that came out; but, no one could get their hands on it. It was really popular. And so they decided to say, okay well I got you The Song of Achilles. I hope you’re not too upset. It was like, “oh you know, I’m sure it’s great.” And it quickly became my favorite book. I read it so quickly. I think I read the latter half in just an afternoon. It’s so good, so powerful, and romantic, and beautiful.

It is, like you said, about Achilles and the Trojan War, and I went in knowing nothing about Achilles and the Trojan War. It’s funny to think back now, but when I was in college, I actually purposefully didn’t take the course that I knew would make me read The Iliad, because I didn’t want to read it. And now I hosted a podcast about the Iliad. My favorite book is The Iliad. My whole life is about this thing that I forced myself not to do.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Here’s my conversation with Christina.

J.P. Der Boghossian: And when you read it that first time, there was some clarity for you, right? And because you were working as a student, you were doing student teaching at the time, correct?

Christina Bagni: Yes, I was trying to become an English teacher and was in a master’s program to get my degree in teaching. Yeah, I was covering some another teacher’s maternity leave. So I was taking like taking over her class while she was on maternity leave. And I read this book and I was like, this is a book I wish I had when I was these kids’ ages in high school. I wish I had this wonderful queer story. I’m sure people say this on here all the time, seeing yourself in prints is so powerful. And I thought, I have to put more energy into this. And I’m already writing, but this has to be what I do. And so I ended up leaving teaching, I got a job working in book editing, and so now all of my time and energy is spent making stories that I feel really passionate about, that I think will help people and make them feel things, like this book made me feel things.

And this is like what shifted my writing from this book was a shift into more serious topics. Growing up when I was writing, I was doing superhero stories and stories that take place in ancient Egypt and time travel and all these really fun things that were just meaningless at the end of the day, the way I was doing them. Not that there can’t be a powerful story about that, but this had that fun setting but also was so serious and like dramatic and emotional and I was, I realized that you can tell a powerful story through writing, which is silly that I didn’t know it by then, but that really kind of opened my eyes to it.

J.P. Der Boghossian: People do talk a lot about representation, and I don’t want to minimize that at all because it is everything, right? When we read these books for the first time and we’re able to like find language that we can finally use, right? To describe our experiences, or we see something reflected on the page and go, oh, thank God, I’m not alone, right? Or to kind of see back and say, I wish I would have had this book when I was a kid. And I’ve had several of those in my own life, right? That I’ve read that I’m like, oh wow, different person or maybe didn’t need as much therapy as I ended up doing if I would have had this particular book. But I’m curious for you what were you reading in the Song of Achilles that was particularly resonating for a young Christina like if young Christina had read this like what were those things that were happening in the book that were resonating?

Christina Bagni: I think primarily a queer relationship that wasn’t about coming out and that’s it. When I was younger there were queer relationships. They were rare in media. I mean not in real life obviously, but in media they were rare and they were often about coming out to your parents who don’t want you to be gay. And I had seen that so many times and I was like, I get it, you know, I want something else. I want them to be happy and also to do anything else besides just discover that they’re gay and then have a problem with that. And in this book they do have some issues with it. You know, some people don’t accept it, whatever. You know, this is something that Madeleine could have talked more if she was here about this, but the Greeks, the ancient Greeks had a different view of sexuality than we do now. It wasn’t super accepting and progressive, but it was definitely different. And it’s unique to see this portrayal of how the view of sexuality has changed over time and what was acceptable and what wasn’t, because it’s different than how we assume. Some people think that gay people were invented in the 60s, you know, and that’s just not the case.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Mm-hmm. So if you don’t mind, could you share a little bit about your own coming out story?

Christina Bagni: I knew I was bisexual in high school. I was in theater and we actually, we did Angels in America senior year, which was really beautiful. But even before that, I knew, and I was around a lot of queer people in theater. And I came out to my boyfriend at the time and was very nervous, but he was just like, oh yeah, totally like, cool, that’s hot. I’m like, yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Oh. Oh wow!

Christina Bagni: Yeah, all right. Well, yeah. Well, I mean, at least you said cool, you know, at least you’re, I guess, okay with it. But I then went to college at Emerson College in Boston, which was a very accepting place, very artsy, and lots of queer people. My roommate was queer, and so we bonded over that, and that was very accepting. I didn’t start coming out to my family until recently. I came out to my mom, like, last year. So, yeah.

And it was really just, the partner I was with who gave me this book was identifying as male, assigned male at birth, and then just a couple years later, a couple years ago, came out as non-binary. So for a long time, I figured I won’t take the risk until I have to, you know? Like if I break up and start dating a woman, then you know we’ll deal with it when it comes. But when my partner came out as non-binary, I was like, well, here we go. Uh, we gotta do it. So, um, I’m glad that happened because my mom was accepting, I knew she would be. And, um, now I just feel much more open and yeah, just myself. And now that my book is about a lesbian, the book that I wrote, uh, much less of a shock to people, I think, that it’s, um, about that. And I just feel so much happier that I can write about these things without like a fear of that.

J.P. Der Boghossian: It’s so nice to hear. I think we get this narrative of you have to come out immediately and coming out solves everything. And I think it’s important to share stories of, we do it on our own time. And when it feels right for us to do that. And so thank you for sharing about that.

I think that you had said in some pre-show emails about how the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, and am I pronouncing that right, Patroclus?

Christina Bagni: I hope so, because that’s how I say it. Hahaha.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Okay. That you saw, because you came back and read it another time recently, and you were seeing something of your relationship reflected in what was happening with Achilles and Patroclus. Could you share more about that?

Christina Bagni: Yeah, definitely. So I’ve read this a few times, and the most recent time was after my breakup with my non-binary ex-partner. We were together for seven years, right out of high school and on. So really most of my adult life, I had been with this person, and we were awesome together for so much of it. At least that’s how it felt. And when I read this the first time, I saw us reflected in the good parts.

Achilles and Patroclus. Like us against the world, like we get each other in life and death like just forever, like just us against the world, partners in crime. And that made the ending, which is tragic, you know, spoilers for a 4,000 year old story, but we don’t get out of there alive, but it made the ending all the more tragic, imagining losing my other half, really, like part of my soul.

quote in the book is, he is half of my soul, as the poets say, and it felt that way in my relationship. But things fell apart, as they often do. We moved in together for the first time and just realized that like, without something to blame, without us going to different colleges and us going to different countries on study abroad and all this long distance and then living with our parents, without something in the way

we still weren’t working, like we still had problems. And what I started, that was really difficult for me to deal with because we were perfect. We were Achilles and Patroclus, like we never had any issues. And for that to not be true anymore was like reality shattering. And so that took a lot of just therapy and growth to realize that I’m…

I have a life outside of them and I can survive without them. Like, even before when I would consider, you know, is this right for me? I would shut it down immediately. Like no, this is right. This has to be right. You know, like we can’t lose everything. We can’t, we can’t lose everything. That’s what it felt like, that I would lose everything if we broke up. And that, you know, it felt that way initially. But

Over time I realized like I am still myself. I still have my friends, my family, my personality, my hobbies, my interests, and I’m okay. And over time I’m better. And so, and I think they are better too. Really, I think that in the end, we were kind of holding ourselves back from different things because we had to live together and one of us couldn’t move away if the other one has this and like we…

It was, it was, became a quicksand, like trap. And just what I realized later is what’s called codependency. We were just way too connected with each other. And now I’m in a much healthier partnership. And while of course, you know, I would be devastated if it fell apart, I know that I would survive. And that’s something that the characters in Song of Achilles don’t have. They…

Initially from the beginning they fall together and they’re completely codependent completely in love and the main character who was not Like you said a superhero Just seems to lose himself in Achilles Petroclus is just like Achilles is my life everything for Achilles. I would die for Achilles. I live for Achilles eventually, he does die for Achilles and Achilles is left without anything his whole life is over and

just they’re in this war and he just stops trying and eventually dies. And in the book it says, you know, he died with a smile on his face because he had nothing left to live for. And like the first time I read that, I thought that’s so romantic and so realistic. That’s how I would do it basically. And now I realized like, gosh, that’s, that’s terrible. Like they have, they should have had something outside of each other to live for, to be healthy.

They were in war in a terrible situation, so that’s one thing. But I think to learn from that would just be, you need to have something beyond your partner in life to be happy.

J.P. Der Boghossian: You were saying that you kind of felt that you and your partner, for something to blame, what did that mean for like something to blame? Like, was that keeping you together like that us versus the world?

Christina Bagni: I think what it was is it gave us, it justified, I can’t remember how to phrase this, we didn’t, we knew that there were problems in our relationship, but it could always be blamed on, oh well, we’re both in college, we’re in different colleges, it’s the distance to blame. And I think that could probably be.

If I were to sit down with Achilles and Patroclus with the therapist present, I could probably work that out with them too. Like, there’s problems in their relationship. Everything in each other’s life is the other person, but they can blame it on the war and the prophecies and the parents that don’t like them being together. All these different things. I do wonder if you stripped all of that away and if you gave them a happy ending, if they would be okay with that, or if they would fall apart like my partner and I did once there’s nothing else.

You know, bugging them, is that enough? Is just the other person enough to keep you happy? And I don’t know if that would be.

J.P. Der Boghossian: You don’t know if that would have been true for Achilles and Patroclus?

Christina Bagni: I would like to think it would because, you know, I love them. But, uh, I think that it wouldn’t be. It certainly wasn’t for me. I mean, if I were to go back in time, I thought I had the perfect relationship. Like, nothing was wrong. Until it was. Like, until we fell apart.

[music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: Part II of our story in 30 seconds. But first, through our Bookshop we are offering The Song of Achilles to you on sale and we also have Christina’s YA novel My Only Real Friend is the Easter Bunny at the Mall, also on sale. Through our partnership with Bookshop.org, we have new releases, current bestsellers, the books we feature on the podcast, and the most anticipated LGBTQ books. Almost all of our titles are on sale right now. Get started at Bookshop.org slash shop slash this queer book. Follow the links in the show notes or on our website.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Part II of our story: The face behind the Easter bunny’s mask

[plucky orchestra music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: I always ask guests what became possible for them to do because of the book that saved their life? Well, for Christina, what happened after reading The Song of Achilles included a YouTube channel and writing a YA novel about a kleptomaniac who befriends the Easter Bunny. But, first, the YouTube Channel.

Christina Bagni: My YouTube channel exists because of this novel. So I read this and I fell in love with it and I thought, well, I’ve got to read the Iliad. I’m sure it’s better if I know the story that this is based on. So I did. And I loved it. And then COVID happened and no one was working and everybody started a podcast. And so I, I basically called up all my friends and I was like, are you interested in doing a podcast where I get to keep teaching English literature, which is something I love, and you guys get to learn classic books. And so I forced them all to read the Iliad with me on YouTube. And it was great. It was so much fun. I’m sure, you know, I didn’t do fantastic because I was kind of still learning it as I was going, but it was completely just because I read this book.

And there’s an episode in one of our episodes where I basically forced them to read the song of Achilles as well. And I’m like, time to do it. This is your supplemental material. It’s so good. And they all fell in love with that as well. I make all my friends read this book. So good. But yeah, after The Iliad we went on, we did Dante’s Inferno. Right now we’re going through Romeo and Juliet.

And we do little short stories, Edgar Allan Poe and stuff, a lot of stuff that is taught in high school English classes. And so I’m hoping that, you know, teachers and students can use that to help them out if they’re struggling with something.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Here, with another soundtrack I’ve edited into is, is a clip from Classics and Chill’s series on The Iliad.

[tense and mournful cinematic music]

Christina Bagni (teaching and then reading from The Iliad): So, we’re on to Patroclus fights and dies.

Male voice: Spoiler.

Christina Bagni: Spoiler.

Other male voice: Spoiler!

[laughter]

Christina Bagni: In older stories what was appropriate in Greek storytelling was not the plot arc that we see now. But more of a pyramid. So they wanted the moment of climax to be in the middle of the story, more or less. This is kind of it. Because after this moment, it’s all down hill from there. Like, if it ramps up to Patroclus dying and when dies: we’re in the endgame.

[reads from The Iliad] And Patroclus charged to the enemy, fired for the kill. Three times he charged with the headlong speed of Aries, screaming his savage cry. And three times he killed nine men. Then at the fourth assault, Patroclus like something super human, then Patroclus, the end of life came blazing up before you. Yes, the Lord Apollo met you there in the heat of battle. The God. The Terror. Patroclus never saw him coming, moving across the deadly route shrouded in thick mist. And on he came against him, and looming behind him now, slammed his broad shoulders and back with the God’s flat hand.

And his eyes spun as Apollo knocked the helmet off his head. And under his horse’s hooves it tumbled, clattering on with its four forged horns, and its hollow blank eyes, and its plumes were all smeared in the bloody dust.

[pausing to explain the text] So the helmet of Achilles fell off Patroclus and Apollo knocked it off.

[reading again from The Iliad] Patroclus stunned by the spear and the God’s crushing blow, was weaving back to his own thronging comrades, trying to escape death. Hector, waiting, watching the greathearted Patroclus trying to stagger free. Seeing him wounded there, with the sharp bronze, he came rushing into him, right across the line, and rammed his spear shaft home.

[ending her part of the reading] Now you have Patroclus’ last words.

Male voice reading Patroclus’ lines: Hector! Now is your time to glory to the skies. Now the victory is yours. Take it to heart I heard you. You too, you won’t live long yourself. I swear. Already I see them looming up beside you: death and the strong force of fate to bring down at the hands of Achaeas’ great royal son: Achilles!

Christina (mournful): His last word is Achilles.

[music swells and then fades]

J.P. Der Boghossian: That’s what I love about it is watching these like raw reactions to the text, like wrestling with the text, finding what they love, what your friends love, right, in the text and reading it out loud. And I just think that it provides an amazing model for how folks can begin to engage, right, you guide them in such a fun way. And it’s just, I really adore it. Where did the title come from?

Christina Bagni: It came from the phrase “Netflix and Chill,” which is not what it means at all. But I liked how it sounded and, you know, we’re not doing Netflix, but we’re doing classics and we’re chilling.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Ha ha! Definitely, definitely. So you read this novel, The Song of Achilles, and you have this epiphany. Maybe not an epiphany, but like this moment of clarity that I need to be writing. Share more about that.

Christina Bagni: Yeah, I’ve always been writing. I started writing when I was 12 years old. Like I said, superhero stories, silly, like just fun action-packed adventures. And this book and also when I was a teenager I read John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Those two books both like spurred me forward. Like I need to write and then I need to write stories that are going to impact other people the way that these books impact me. And I want to just…

make people cry, I guess. And my favorite stories are ones that have levity and entertainment, but also do have that emotional aspect to it. And one of my other passions is mental health and helping people with their mental health issues. And so I kind of combined all of that into my writing. And that’s what my New York book… knew her book, my only book.

That’s what my book’s about. My only real friend is The Easter Bunny at the mall is about, you know, a queer girl coming to terms with her sexuality and her mom, her mother’s death, her own mental health struggles, all through like this absurdist situation where she befriends the man who is playing the Easter Bunny at the mall photos set.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Where did you come up with the idea for that? I love the premise, I love it.

Christina Bagni: Oh, thank you. Funny enough, the same partner that bought me Song of Achilles was head elf at the Santa set at a mall.

So one year, so I got to go in with them one time and I met Santa, I went backstage, I met this guy who runs all of the Santa and Easter bunny sets. And I was talking to him for a little while and he said, oh yeah, so Santa has to look like Santa. We hire these old white guys with big real beards, but the Easter bunny can be anybody because they have these big masks on, you can’t see them. And he said, now the Easter bunny, but well most of Santas are retired because they’re older guys, but the Easter bunny suit is heavy and hot and also it’s in the middle of March and April. So we need somebody who can sit in this heavy hot awful suit for eight hours a day for two months and then not work with us anymore because it’s just a gig. So what ends up happening is they hire a lot of guys with face tattoos because it’s hard to get a job with face tattoos but if you’re an Easter bunny no one sees your face. Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Oh wow… That’s wild.

Christina Bagni: And I thought this was so funny because all of these parents and like grandmothers have photos of their kids with Easter bunnies on their fridges and these guys all have face tattoos and they don’t know. Yeah, so I wanted to, yeah, so I wanted to explore this guy’s story. And so I made up this story. I figure he’s an ex-con, he’s an ex-drug dealer, he’s trying to clean up his act, he’s gonna use the money from being an Easter bunny to get facial tattoo removal and he’s just like totally like turning over a new leaf and he’s such a like a gentle giant kind of character who just becomes her best friend and very unexpected. You know, not everything is what it seems, the world is more nuanced, that’s like a big theme in the book and he’s kind of the first hint that you know the world isn’t so black and white. A guy can look very scary but be a sweetheart and we go from there.

J.P. Der Boghossian: How do you see, if at all, the song of Achilles showing up in your novel?

Christina Bagni: There is a queer relationship and it does start off on the wrong foot. Our main character is a kleptomaniac and she’s stealing from basically a victorious secret. She ends up getting in a relationship with the person she stole from, a person who works at this store, and that comes out over time. And eventually she’s, you know, they get in this big fight because the main character Moe

says you know it doesn’t affect you it affects this big business why are you upset and the her girlfriend is like i got in trouble for this you know i could have gotten fired you can’t do this to me uh so they break up over that and i think it is it’s

It’s similar in that it’s Moe’s first queer relationship, her first relationship period, and she thinks it’s beautiful, perfect, awesome, nothing could go wrong. She projects a lot onto her girlfriend and thinks that she will also be this, like, anti-capitalist, I hate everything, stealing is cool kind of personality, but she’s not. And they both kind of end up…

there’s a kind of ambiguous ending to it, but certainly by the end, they end up helping each other grow in those directions. And so Moe realizes, maybe I shouldn’t steal, maybe a basic lesson, but maybe this is hurting people in a way I don’t realize. And Elise kind of realizes, maybe my world view is a little too black and white as well. And I’m thinking, you know.

I’m thinking too black and white on this situation from my end. And so they both kind of realized that the world has more nuance through that. Maybe the ending that I hoped for Achilles and Patroclus that they could see beyond just like this person is my life into something bigger.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I love that. I love that you tackle some pretty heavy themes and you’re mentioning using levity. What advice would you have for writers who are trying to handle such big themes in their own work?

Christina Bagni: It’s important work to talk about big themes. I write for a young adult audience, and that, because young adults deal with everything, adults deal with, like teenagers deal with grief and coming out and first relationships and trauma and all kinds of things. But young adults and adults also have a whole life. Like, there’s a quote by

I don’t know who, but it was, you know, it’s World War II, everything’s terrible, people are dying, but I still have to do my laundry. And that’s true. Like you know, the world can be falling apart, but you still have to do the day to day things. And if you know, I’ve, even when I was breaking up with my partner, when I’m going through terrible times, I still find moments where I’m laughing at absurdity. And those kinds of moments can pull you through and help you. And personally, I think that you need

light to see the darkness, you need darkness to see the light, you know, light creates shadow and you need both in something for it to be powerful. Some of my favorite stories have both. My favorite tv show is Bojack Horseman. It’s really hard. Yeah, it’s so good, but you, you know, it’s people with silly animal heads, but they talk about depression in the most realistic, like, punch you in the face kind of way.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Oh yes.

Christina Bagni: It’s hard to get people into it because the first couple episodes are so silly and dumb. But then, by episode 8, he’s not being forgiven by his friend who has cancer. And it’s like, wow, how do you deal with that? And I just think that’s the best way to get through these things. Yeah. You can easily go too far into drama, and if you don’t have any levity, it’s not going to stick. It’s just going to feel like too much.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. I like the idea of working through something and having, I don’t necessarily wanna call it like a happy ending, you know? But I feel like a lot of queer media, whether it’s TV or film or novels or non-fiction, really kind of adopted, I guess, how do I wanna say that? I feel like the straights we’re so like queerness is bad and anybody who’s queer has to die by the end of the book or the end of the film. And I kind of feel like that got ingrained in queer artists and queer writers. And I don’t know if you feel the same way, but it kind of also feels like it’s not serious unless there’s a tragedy right at the end if the couple is not together because they can’t be together. And I get so frustrated by that sometimes. And so I love that you’re thinking of, and maybe not necessarily in this novel, but the idea of thinking through a different ending for Achilles and Patroclus, right, and what that can look like for folks. So thank you for doing that work.

Christina Bagni: Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I- we need some happy endings. Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Right? Like I’m to the point now where I’m like, I’m just gonna write an anthology of short stories called Happy Endings Only. No one take that title. But yeah, I think it’s, cause it’s something that we don’t necessarily get. And I’m not talking about like.

Christina Bagni: I like it!

J.P. Der Boghossian: I guess what’s resonating for me, and I don’t know if you can see that right now, is that it’s not necessarily, you know, I’m thinking of like a happy ending, like you know, puppies and rainbows, even though I think we deserve those too. But the idea that you can work through things, right, to keep on going. And I think that’s just really important to model that for folks.

Christina Bagni: Yeah, definitely. My biggest thing that I’ve been working on in that book was, you know, things are not black and white and it’s things aren’t perfect. You know, I realized that in my relationship, like even something that seems perfect isn’t. And there’s always depth to be explored and that’s reality. But a happy ending doesn’t mean that it is perfect. It means it is, you know, there is growth, something has happened.

And we’re not all dead, I guess. Yeah, we’re alive.

J.P. Der Boghossian: That is growth in itself though, isn’t it? We’re not all dead or broken up right at the end of the book.

You were talking about earlier, which is so important, of wanting to write the books that we could have had when we were teenagers. As you were writing your book, did you find yourself thinking of younger Christina and kind of writing to her as a target audience?

Christina Bagni: Yeah, I mean I definitely wanted more queer representation when I was a teenager. And queer representation like we were just talking about where it’s not just about coming out, it’s not just about dying. It’s another story. They’re queer but they also do other stuff. And you know as a woman I also wanted that more when I was a kid. Like I wanted people who were women but also they did other things too. They weren’t just like the chick in the group, who was “girl.” And like when I was a kid in the 2000s, there were like girl media with girls, but a lot like the most common, the most um, the most famous cartoons for instance were like SpongeBob, that’s a boy, Jimmy Neutron and Timmy Turner, like boy, and that’s just the default. So I definitely wanted, I want to write books about girls and women, being girls and women.

And because I feel like I didn’t have that. And I especially wanted to write about queer women, just being queer and women and doing other things too. And beyond that though, the mental health aspect, you know, the book is told through a series of letters to the character’s therapist, and she’s just trying to work through what happened, this big tragedy, you know, this big hullabaloo that she just went through, and why, why she’s in prison, because she starts the book, saying, yeah, bet you didn’t think this would all end with me getting arrested, but here we are.

Using kind of like this humor to like shield how terrible everything was that just happened and trying to work through that with my therapist. I went to therapy in high school, but I definitely didn’t do it correctly. Like I was hiding things, I was trying to look smart and good and correct and like a victim really. I didn’t want to look ugly and wrong and bad to my therapist. But you kind of have to sometimes to heal and you have to be honest and sometimes we do bad things but that’s okay and you know you have to be honest about that to move through it.

[pensive music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: Christina has finished a new manuscript, which is a modernized feminist retelling of Medusa. You may recall that Zeus raped Medusa, and then Athena punished Medusa by giving her snakes for hair. But, after learning the Ancient Greeks believed snakes were healing, Christina is re-telling that story that Athena has protected Medusa with these snakes, and they give her strength and power and courage. Or, as Christina says, I’m giving Medusa the story that she deserves.

If you want to connect with Christina, visit her linktree, which has all the links to her website, novel, YouTube Channel, and more. It’s linktr.ee/christinabagni. We’ve included it in the show notes and on our website.

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: That’s our show for today. I’ll see you back here in two weeks for our next new episode.

I’ll be talking with Adrineh Der Boghossian about the book that saved her life: Princess Freak by Nancy Agabian. A special conversation as I’ve never met another person with the same Armenian last name as mine outside of my family! And it’s a wild full circle moment, as you may recall Nancy was our first guest on our podcast, but now, we’ll be talking about the life-saving features one of her own books had for our guest Adrineh.

Our podcast is executive produced by Jim Pounds. Our associate producers are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kafer, Nicole Olilla, Joe Parrazo, Bill Shea, and Sean Smith. Our Patreon subscribers are Steven D, Steven Flam, Thomas Mckna, and Gary Nygaard.

Permission to use clips from Classics and Chill provided by Christina Bagni.

Our soundtrack and sound effects are provided through royalty-free licenses. Please visit thisgearbook.com slash music for track names and artists.

We’re on social media, you can find us on Facebook, Bluesky, or on Instagram, but we’re no longer on Twitter. As always, you can connect with us through our website, thisqueerbook.com, and if you want to be on the show, fill out the form on the home page.

And until our next episode, see you queers and allies in the bookstores!

[theme music ends]