poignant that I watched P.S. Burn This
Letter Please on the day Heritage of Pride announced they were cancelling
all Pride events in NYC. Sad news, to be
sure, but Michael Seligman and Jennifer Tiexieria’s excellent documentary about
a circle of drag queens in 1950s New York City demonstrates that Pride was a
year-round state of mind even before the Stonewall Riots. Inspired by a box of letters discovered in a Los
Angeles storage unit, the filmmakers have crafted a vibrant, colorful
experience made up of patched together elements—it’s something like a handmade
costume, appropriate given the subject matter.
Animated script written over floral backgrounds, accompanied by dynamic voiceovers by the likes of Cole Escola and Adam Faison, bring the letters to life. (Credit designer and animator Grant Nellessen.) Filled with vintage slang that evokes the time, the letters are the heart and soul of the movie—and punctuated with eminently quotable dialogue. “Just a demented note to say hello.” “I never felt so cunty. And Mary, I love it.”
The documentary is enhanced by some equally compelling interviews with some of the letter writers and their contemporaries. Particularly dynamic is Claude Diaz, who’s hilarious in his recollections of life as a drag queen but also thoughtful and introspective—at one point he’s utterly overwhelmed with emotion and sadness for a time forever lost. There’s also insightful commentary by authors and historians like Esther Newton, who comments on fascinating dynamics like those at Club 82, a Manhattan nightclub where straights—including such luminaries as Warren Beatty, Natalie Wood, and the Kennedys—came to see drag queens perform. She characterizes it as “performance by stigmatized people for normals.” The stigma and adversity faced by drag queens is explored throughout the film. One participant describes them as being “revered and reviled” for representing both what people loved and loathed about being gay. Robert Bouvard expresses his distaste for the term “drag queen” itself, preferring “female mimic” or “female impersonator,” though conceding that drag queen is now commonplace and has a function if “it means you can understand what I’m talking about.”
The scene introducing the club is emblematic of the skill with which directors Seligman and Tiexieria have crafted their film—the pair use great tricks to bring to life what it was like to descend the long staircase into this hidden world. They vividly convey many aspects of queer life in the 50s—“trick hotels,” for instance, were rooms rented so that queens could change away from the judgmental eyes of family and friends. Along the way there are some surprising twists and turns, like a high-end wig heist Diaz and a friend pulled at the Metropolitan Opera House and the experience of Terry Noel, whose transition and surgery were provided free of charge thanks to a co-owner of Club 82. Noel also provides an eloquent and heartfelt explanation of transition: “To me it’s not mutilation, it’s rearrangement. So I can live my life as I wish.”
P.S. Burn This Letter Please concludes with a nod to the broader LGBTQ rights movement and an acknowledgement of the pioneering role these subjects inadvertently played while simply living their lives; it’s a bit rushed, perhaps, but important to note. There are also postscripts about each of the writers—including a surprising and fun revelation about “Daphne”’s identity—and the identity of who they were all writing to. The movie is a vivid and vital testimony—and a profoundly meaningful slice of gay history.
The Tribeca Film Festival was
postponed, but films have been made available for members of press and industry.
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by the writer of Wonder Woman and Midnighter, Steve Orlando, as they discuss the queer fantasy of Netflix’s Hollywood, the new title for Venom 2, and celebrate Russian Doll co-creator, Leslye Headland, developing a new Star Wars series for Disney+ as our Strong Female Character of the Week.
• DC announces they’re expanding their Digital First and Essential Reads • Doctor Aphra audiobook, based on Star Wars comic, is coming out in July • AFTERSHOCK continuing production and development while other companies pause
The conversion therapy movement, spearheaded by the national organization Exodus International, is a bizarre and upsetting phenomenon ripe for demystification. That insight arrives in the form of Pray Away, a well-made documentary from director Kristine Solakis. It brings together both survivors and leaders of the movement, as well as an “ex-trans” individual, Jeffrey McCall, who puts a human face on its continued existence.
As the film traces the rise of Exodus from the 70s into the 80s and 90s, I’m reminded of the absurd aspects: prominent “ex-gay” John Paulk, for instance, speaks with a very effeminate voice in all his archived appearances, despite his new life with an “ex-lesbian” wife, Anne, and children. Exodus vice-president Randy Thomas, too, is very effeminate, and I remember thinking of these men, essentially, as villainous jokes, especially after Paulk was photographed leaving a Washington, D.C. gay bar in 1998 and claimed he went in only to use the bathroom. (Sure, Jan.) Watching both men in Pray Away, though, it’s impossible not to have empathy for their experience, especially after they realized all the harm they had caused. Thomas’ “come to Jesus” moment came when he watched news reports of the LGBT community mourning the passage of California’s Prop 8 in 2008 and he was confronted with the question “how could I do this to my community?”
The subjects are integral to the success of the movie. In addition to Paulk and Thomas, we meet Yvette Cantu Schneider, formerly of the notorious Family Research Council and now GLAAD’s official spokesperson against conversion therapy, and Julie Rodgers, a survivor who was forced into conversion therapy from age sixteen into her mid-twenties. Rodgers is the movie’s most compelling subject, and is able to explain why conversion therapy made sense to her even as she remembers the pain of engaging in self-harm and being pressured to speak publicly about her rape as part of her “public testimony.” Schneider, sifting through mountains of archival video tapes, observes that they bring back painful memories, yet she doesn’t want to discard them and forget where she came from. A conversation arranged by journalist Lisa Ling brings together Rodgers, Exodus leader Alan Chambers, and conversion therapy survivors for a confrontational exchange that one participant describes as “the most intense group therapy session ever.” It’s a turning point for Julie, who recalls “I realized I was sitting on the wrong side of the room.” It’s also the beginning of the end for Exodus, which announced it was dissolving in 2013.
Meanwhile, smaller organizations carry on the torch; the sweet, soft-spoken McCall starts up the “Freedom March” via Facebook and participates in a prayer group that feels like nothing less than a gay house party. It’s obvious that the young people attending are finding camaraderie with each other as queer people even as they profess to be leaving “the LGBT lifestyle.” In one insightful moment, McCall receives a call from a woman whose child has come out as trans; her feelings of confusion and grief are understandable, and Jeffrey is sympathetic while reinforcing her aversion to accepting the news. The inclusion of Jeffrey is a major asset to the movie, and humanizes those who continue the movement while demonstrating that we have a long way to go in ending the harmful practice.
Pray Away, made by a largely female crew including producers Jessica Devaney and Anya Rous, editor Carla Gutierrez, and director of photography Melissa Langer, is a significant and illuminating piece of history and activism.
The Tribeca Film Festival was
postponed, but films have been made available for members of the press.
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Geeks OUT President, Nic Gitau, as they discuss our first look at all the thirst traps in the new Dune movie, DCUniverse’s Harley Quinn revealing Clayface to be queer, and celebrate the trailer for Peacock’s Angelyne as our Strong Female Character of the Week.
KEVIN: SDCC has been canceled for 2020 NIC: First look at Dune reboot
DOWN AND NERDY
KEVIN:Zombieland 2, What We Do in the Shadows, Killing Eve, Pennyworth NIC: The Secret Commonwealth (Book 2 in the follow up trilogy to His Dark Materials), Telling Lies
• Disney moves Soul & Raya and the Last Dragon back due to COVID-19 • Artemis Fowl coming to Disney+ June 12th • Marvel meets with John Krasinski about possible future project(s) • Fandango plans streaming festival to support movie theatre employees • Boom! Studios inks development deal with Netflix • New trailer for musical remake of Valley Girl
Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit, “Move over, Nancy Drew – there’s a new sleuth in town! Inspired by the beloved comic series, Goldie Vance is ready to sleuth her way through never-before-seen mysteries in this original novel series by Lilliam Rivera featuring 16 full-color comic pages!“
Geeks OUT’s own Michele Kirichanskaya got the opportunity to chat with author Lilliam Rivera about her involvement in the Goldie Vance universe and more!
How did you get involved with the Goldie Vance universe? Did someone from BOOM! Studios reach out to you? Were you a reader of the comics prior to signing onto Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit? Who pitched the idea for the story?
I remember when Goldie Vance comics first appeared back in 2016. I wasn’t well versed in the world but I was definitely a fan of Hope Larson’s work and the lovable Goldie Vance character. When I was approached by Little, Brown for Young Readers about their joint project with Boom! Studios, I was totally game for it. They allowed me full reign to come up with the story idea and it’s been a blast work with both Boom! and Little, Brown.
Prior to this book, you had already written critically acclaimed stories of your own, including The Education of Margot Sanchez and Dealing in Dreams. What was the process like writing a story with an already established universe? What elements felt different or the same versus your usual mode of writing?
Not only was I stepping into a well-created world, it was also my first venture into writing a middle grade. I was definitely a little nervous. I immersed myself in reading everything I could about Goldie Vance and that time period the comics are set in. If you think about it, I’m writing historical fiction middle grade novel so I had to make sure I did research but it was fun learning about the late 1950s culture, the music and fashion. I loved all of it.
What are some of your favorite parts about the Goldie Vance comics and characters?
Goldie is such a go-getter. She doesn’t let anything stop her from solving a case. I love that energy. I need that energy! Her family and friends also just want her to succeed. It was a very different vibe from my usual teenage angst fair I write about in my young adult novels.
Would you be interested in writing novels for any other established universes, i.e. other comics or television/movie projects?
I definitely love exploring other worlds. It’s a challenge I love to take. I’ve written comic books before and I’m currently working on a secret graphic novel so writing for television/movie is inevitable.
Hypothetically speaking, if the characters of your books could interact with characters from any other literary universe, where would they be from?
It would be pretty amazing if Goldie Vance can find herself somehow working alongside literacy’s famous detectives like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple or Sir Anthony Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. They probably wouldn’t know what to do with Goldie because she’s all sunshine and determination!
As a writer, what advice would you give to others, especially diverse writers, who are just starting on on their journey?
My one advice is to finish your projects. I think most people give up before the miracle happens. To consistently write in spite of so many obstacles is the true test. I’m a writer not because of my prose. I’m a writer because I refuse to give up and I know my voice is needed. You have to believe that.
Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ comics or books you would recommend to the readers of Geeks Out?
There are so many great novels and comics out there but I would love to recommend Gabby Rivera’s (No relation to me!) new comics b.b. free, Adam Silvera’s young adult novels, and Hurricane Child by Kacen Callendar.
Remember that episode of The Twilight Zone where the bombs fall and the world ends, leaving one man and all the books he could ever read? Well whatever you do don’t drop your glasses because it’s true, there really is time now. As a brief aside, I do want to make it clear that things are really hard right now, I know people are suffering, and it isn’t my intention to be crass or flippant when it comes to talking about the coronavirus. I’ve personally been in quarantine for about a month now, and I have a tremendous amount to be grateful for, but this isn’t something any of us have experienced before, and some days are better than others. Everyone is doing what they can, and for a lot of us that just means keeping ourselves inside for the time being. To that end, I’ve curated a list that I hope will include something for everyone, and that might fill your days with more reading and less worrying.
While it may not be about the exact thing the world is going through right now, this 2015 GN about mysteriously parentless children in the small town of Alexandria does touch on several themes which feel more universal than ever at the moment. Isolated, with little knowledge of the outside world, and a sort of vague hope that things will go back to normal eventually, Suburbia’s characters are left to fend for themselves. The mystery of their circumstances, and the lives they build inside their own special society, are all at once nostalgic, heartbreaking, and a little bit enchanting. Be prepared to read it twice, as the last page might just make you want to jump right back to the beginning.
Immediately after watching the premier of Syfy’s Vagrant Queen, based on the Vault Comics series, you’ll want to go back to the sprawling, madcap sci-fi romp that revealed writer and co-creator Magdalene Visaggio as a force to be reckoned with. The setting of Kim & Kim is developed with so much genuine joy, the pages practically giggle with delight. With three volumes ready to read right now, it’s a goofy, fun time that lures you in with badass space queers and eyeliner powered necromancy before blindsiding you with heavy feelings and characters with an immense amount of depth.
Okay, just to get this out of the way, none of Walden’s books are to be missed. I chose this one in particular to be on this list for two reasons. One, it is her most recent published work, and two, I assume you’ve already been told to read On a Sunbeam (which you can read for free on the internet right now if you haven’t, or heck even if you have). Are You Listening is a soft and quiet story, given an amount of room to breathe that is, while not unprecedented in comics, certainly quite uncommon. Emotions hang in the air across its pages, waiting for you to digest them at your own pace. Trauma, family, and sexuality are explored so carefully and thoughtfully, you almost don’t notice the terrifying surrealism building in the background. This is one of those books that will have you flipping back and rereading scenes over and over with each new piece of information you get.
Previously published under the title Science Tales, this non-fiction graphic novel is a great read for any season, but particularly valuable at a time like now, when misinformation is both deliberately and unintentionally spread like, well, a virus. Cunningham unpacks the history behind several scientific topics, and the misinformation surrounding them. Subjects like vaccines and climate change can seem impossible to argue about with those that dismiss them. And even if you agree with the science you may not fully understand it. How to Fake a Moon Landing lays these and many more issues out in a way that is clear, easy to understand, and most importantly, evidence based.
Feeling trapped? Need an escape? Sounds like you might identify somewhat with the plight of Emma, Norman, and all the other kids living in Grace Field House. These children are living a relatively pampered life, never really bothered by the fact they’re not allowed to see or go beyond the grounds of the orphanage. That is until they accidentally learn the true purpose of Grace Field House, to harvest and sell humanely raised meat. Oh, it’s not the same as what you’re feeling, surely. We haven’t been asked to stay indoors for any secret, sinister purpose, regardless of the rants your neighbors keep posting on Nextdoor. But it is very understandable that you might be feeling frustrated at our circumstances. So I offer you, as an outlet for that anger, a story of betrayal and heartache and terror and loss.
When the first issue was released in 2016, much attention was given to the behind-the-scenes, multimedia experience of the book’s tie-in app. And yes, it was very unique and interesting, no doubt, but removed from that completely, Surgeon X is a truly phenomenal, intriguing, and prescient series. London in the grips of fascism and class divide, a promise to “Make Britain Strong Again,” nationwide protests as the wealthy hoard life saving medicine. So yeah, one or two real world parallels there. The main plot of this comic, edited just so you know by Vertigo and Berger Books legend Karen Berger, follows a new kind of masked vigilante, Dr. Rosa Scott. Choosing to turn her back on a cruel and broken healthcare system, Rosa goes underground to perform illegal medical care, saving lives that her hospital and government have deemed unnecessary.
Okay, yes, I hear you. These are starting to hit a bit close to home. So maybe you want something that feels a little less here and now? Sparrowhawk follows Artemesia, illegitimate daughter of an absent navy father. After her classic fairy tale wicked stepmother decides to make her useful to the family by marrying her off, Artemesia finds herself displaced to the kill-or-be-killed world of the fae. Frankly, I wish I had more time to dive into this one specific series. Though its release went a bit under the radar at the time, it was in my humble opinion, right alongside Crowded as one of the best new titles of 2018. A whimsical, Labyrinth-like adventure, memorable characters, elegant victorian dresses, nightmarish creatures, heaps of blood, plus colors and letters that elevate every single panel to a perfect example of comics at their absolute best.
While we’re on the subject of fantasy escapism, let’s take a hard turn into space. Cosmoknights overflows with love and hope and sincerity. A heartwarming tale of a mechanic searching for her runaway princess, with generous helpings of gladiatorial sci-fi sports and super-spy intrigue! Templer’s world bursts with color and wonder, from the cyberpunk alleyways to the grand, romantic architecture of space coliseums. Also worth noting are her big, bold onomatopoeias, like musical, laser light shows sprawled out across the pages. But what is most special about this series is that it centers lesbian characters of all shapes, shades, and sizes, and thoroughly explores the dynamics of many kinds of relations between women, be it friendship, mentoring, or sapphic love.
With racist rhetoric filling up twitter, causing arguments with your family, and dripping from the mouths of public officials, there is a powerful catharsis in reading a story by the writer of American Born Chinese and the artists of Gwenpool, where Superman, icon of icons and the original socialist agitator, just beats the ever living snot out of some cowardly, hooded bigots. Based on the classic radio drama, in which fictional journalist Clark Kent blew actual, real life Klan secrets wide open, this retelling for modern readers of all ages combines classic heroic action with the timeless struggles of American immigrants.
Illustrated by Jon Berg, Melissa Duffy, Vicky Leta, and V. Gagnon
What is it exactly that lands this recent graphic memoir by The Plain Janes and Shade, the Changing Girl writer, Cecil Castellucci on this list? Frankly, just the fact that I will use any excuse to talk about it. Girl On Film’s autobiographical narrative is laid out brilliantly, flashing between several periods of life and growth, and a present day conversation between the author and her father about the fragility of memory. While that sounds like a lot, it’s made very easy to follow by the different artists representing each time frame. An unflinchingly personal story that explores how we form perceptions.
Edited by Matt Miner, Eric Palicki, and Tyler Chin-Tanner
Written and Illustrated by Various
It cannot be overstated how important it is, now more than ever, to see the future as something to look forward to, something that is worth fighting for. That is what motivated the curation of this anthology by A Wave Blue World, which features more than twenty pieces of utopian fiction by dozens of creators, including Nadia Shammas (Corpus), Eliot Rahal (Cult Classic), Liana Kangas (She Said Destroy), Eryk Donovan (Eugenic), and many more. Each of the short stories explores something different. Different people, different futures, different obstacles to overcome, but all deliver some much needed hope.
Illustrated by Emily Pearson, Jessi Jordan, Chris Shehan, Isaac Goodheart, and Phillip Sevy
Colored by Marissa Louise and Stelladia
Lettered by Jim Campbell
I’m sure there is a certain expectation that a list like this will make a zombie apocalypse pitstop. But I have resisted obvious choices like The Walking Dead or I Am A Hero, not because they are bad stories, but because the last thing we need right now is end times, macho, wish fulfilment. So instead I’ll direct your attention to a lonelier apocalypse. One that is held together by the people delivering essential goods, not gun toting, wannabe superheroes. The Wilds reads like Annihilation meets Death Stranding meets our exact current situation, set in an America devastated by plague and broken up into city states. With that in mind, I do not recommend it because I want you to stress yourself out even more over current events, but because it is a gripping tale of survival and queer love in a time of hopelessness that is all but guaranteed to resonate with every single person reading this list. The haunting and surreally beautiful depiction of horror futurism presented in this series makes the world we face today seem, if bleak, survivable.
With the recent passing of Rush drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart, it’s a good time for both hardcore fans and those with little or no prior knowledge of the band to connect more deeply with their body of work. A worthwhile look into not only the creative process of world famous rockstars, but of artists in general. Particularly valuable insight comes from direct input by guitarist Alex Lifeson and producer Terry Brown. And if you really want to do a Rush comic deep dive you can follow this one up with the graphic adaptations of concept albums 2112 and Clockwork Angels. Of course, they’re both out of print so you may have to settle for just getting blazed and listening to both albums cover to cover while vividly imagining the scenes for yourself. No wrong answers here folks, please just listen to Rush.
Alright, I know what you’re thinking. Twenty-some recommendations in and no sex? You’re stuck inside, pent up both figuratively and literally, and you want some smut. Or maybe that’s not your thing, which is totally cool, but I know at least some of you are just skimming this list looking for something tawdry and lurid. Now, it may go without saying, but I’m gonna emphasize that Alfie is very much not for everyone. The series is, like most pornography, pretty graphic. If you are not an adult, or if you are at all uncomfortable with sexual content, do not read it. For the rest of you, a simple google search will direct you to the homepage of this erotic fantasy webcomic. Beyond it’s very, very sexy artwork, Alfie is a surprisingly touching story about repression, shame, and self-exploration. The characters and relationships it explores are complex, and the emotions heartfelt. And with thirteen chapters and nearly nine hundred pages currently available, it should occupy a good chunk of your time.
Okay, so I’m definitely cheating a bit here, as a deck of cards can hardly be considered a comic. But if we allow ourselves to stretch our definitions just a bit, a tarot deck does indeed juxtapose panel-like images in a row to communicate ideas, so every reading one does can be considered their own personal comic strip. And whether you view tarot as a mystic act of reaching out, a practical tool for working through emotions, or just a fun thing to toy around with, you’re unlikely to find a better time to try it out for yourself then your days spent cooped up inside. With these gorgeously illustrated cards, comic artist Lisa Sterle (Submerged, Dead Beats) has reinterpreted classic archetypes to create an assortment of diverse and inclusive images which reflect modern technology, fashion, and society. Sterle has also written extremely thoughtful and thorough descriptions for interpreting each card. If you find yourself interested, or even a bit curious, you’re sure to find this lovingly crafted assortment of art and insight to be engaging, delightful, and perhaps even beneficial to your mental health.
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by J.W. Crump, as they discuss how broadcast TV is changing due to the pandemic, the new-to-Netflix Code 8, initial thoughts on Quibi, and celebrate the first look at Rupaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race in This Week in Queer.
KEVIN: Broadcast networks scramble to fill their schedules J.W.: All Rise first drama series to record in quarantine
DOWN AND NERDY
KEVIN:Birds of Prey, Code 8, Charmed, Ducktales J.W.: Animal Crossing, One Day at a Time, Schitt’s Creek
In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Michelle Micor, as they discuss the internet phenomenon that is Netflix’s Tiger King, the new convention coming to your home, and celebrate DuckTales introducing Violet’s dads in This Week in Queer.
KEVIN: Marvel adjusts entire movie slate and officially announces Captain Marvel 2 MICHELLE: HomeCon is coming to your home next week
DOWN AND NERDY
KEVIN:Ma, Locke & Key, Tiger King, Amazing Stories, Vagrant Queen MICHELLE: Iron Man 3, Batwoman, Animal Crossing, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Once a manager trainer from the outskirts of Atlanta Georgia, Julian Winters (He/Him) is now an acclaimed author of queer YA fiction, including his debut book involving soccer and boys crushing on other boys, Running with Schools. A lovely writer, with a heart of gold and wonderful sense of humor, Julian Winters strives to write intersectional queer literature, focusing on LGBTQ+ characters with multifaceted identities. Now coming out with his latest book, How to Be Remy Cameron, Geeks OUT had the privilege and opportunity to sit down with Winters for an interview.
When and how did you first realize you wanted to become an author?
I first realized I wanted to be an author, not just a writer, probably…it was later on in life. I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think there was any actual space for me in the author community being black and being queer and writing the stories I wanted to write. It was later on when I started writing fanfiction and people actually started saying “Oh, my gosh. This is really good. You have really great stuff.” And I was like, “oh wow, this is not just me sitting at a computer for hours, dreaming stuff up,” this is like a real thing. And so that’s when I realized I could maybe do this, but it took a lot of pushing from like friends because otherwise I was just content doing fanfiction and that would have been the end of it.
It’s funny about that. I actually wrote an article about how fanfiction is so important to the queer community because we kind of like get to deconstruct and reconstruct like something that’s in the cannon, and tailor it to our audience.
Exactly! That is exactly what it is, because these are things that are already deemed what’s acceptable, the cannon that’s already created for these characters and what not. And so, us being able to take something that’s considered “acceptable” and actually making it out own, and making it about us, makes us in a way feel accepted. But I think it’s such a great leap. I encourage people all the time, if you’re nervous about writing, nervous about the things that you write, write fanfiction. Because you’ll find not only an opportunity to kind of build off the stuff that’s already there, but you also find this great supportive community. Like the fandom community is amazing. Amazing.
It can have its trolls.
Yeah. Like with any great thing in life it has its downfalls, but I still have so many friends from fandom who read my books, and it’s awesome.
Awesome. I personally think there are some fan-fiction writers who write better than actual published authors.
This… listen, I don’t want to get into trouble,
but there are many a fanfiction writers that I have encouraged to take it to another level where they can actually profit off of what they do. They are some tremendous writers, but they’re also very comfortable in that sense of community, and sometimes it’s very hard to step of it. Like it was very nerve-wrecking for me to step out of this community that had already built around me, and step into a whole other world where people did not know me, and you kind of have to…it’s that whole starting over, like high school or any kind of thing where you’re moving from a place you’ve always called home. It’s always that starting over things that’s like, “oh, wow. Let me just stay where I’m like comfortable.”
Are there any LGBTQ+ authors or themed books that have inspired you or your own work?
Yes, I will say there are definitely ones that inspire me. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. That book is life-changing in so many ways and I turn to it all the time. When I’m in a reading slump I go to it. When I need some kind of creative energy I go to it because I think it’s just so masterfully done in the way that he makes everything so simplistic, but it’s so deep and there’s so much emotion behind it, and I absolutely love it. So I definitely turn to that one for inspiration. Anything Becky Albertalli writes, I swear… I just feel like she understands my inner-geek. She understands my inner-romantic. She understands who I am… I don’t know, so I enjoy everything, and at the end of the day I just feel good reading her books. So stuff by her. One of my biggest inspirations right now is Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. Oh, I will never stop talking about that book. It is simply amazing in all the different layers and things that it tackles without feeling like it’s an overwhelmingly messaged book.
It’s not didactic.
It’s not at all. It’s just so good and so human and at times so soft, but at times so complicated, which I love because it shows that you can be both, you don’t have to be one or the other. So these are my big ones right now.
If the characters of your book, Running with Lions, could interact with characters from any other fictional universe, which characters would they be and where would they be from?
Oh gosh. They would interact with the kids from Shady Creek in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Only because I think the team would get along with their soccer team, obviously. I don’t know if they would be rivals or if they would just be friends and what not, but I love Bram, so I would love for any chance for Sebastian or Amir to interact with him. I love Garrett, too. He’s just like the biggest dude-bro, but also like deep too. And so I love that. He’s comes across as like this guy who you’re like “you’re just a stereotypical jock” kind of thing, but you find out like Leah in Leah on the Offbeat that he’s actually a lot deeper than that. He’s actually a really cool person. So I definitely like them to interact with them.
Which characters from your Remy Cameron book? Who would they interact with?
Oh gosh. Who would Remy interact with? This is a great question because I have to think about it. If anything, I think Remy would interact with… you know there’s a book called Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. I think Remy would interact well with that universe in the sense that book is so much about music and friendship and you know, kind of defying the odds, and also kind of like defying labels put on all those characters. Because it is the best book when you want a book that defies every label possible when it comes to you know what a jock is, or what popular is, or relationships and stuff like that. So I think Remy would definitely interact very well with that.
I’d also love to see Remy interact with Starr from The Hate U Give because I love Starr period and I think Remy enjoy being around her because they both share the same kind of sentiment where they’re in-between worlds in the sense that, you know, Starr goes to this posh private school.
A very white, posh private school.
Yes, a very white, posh private school. But she also has this home life that is completely different from that. And Remy is in, at that point, where he recognizes that he goes to this school where he’s one of five black kids in the entire school, and so at times he’s at odds with, “Oh ok, I love the same things that some of them do, but they also don’t share a lot of the background or challenges that I have to go through.” And so I’d just love for him to be around her, because she was just so inspirational. Even through everything she had to go through through that book, she was still just so inspirational in the sense that she was Starr the whole way through. It’s just a great evolution.
Got it. I actually was asking this question because I noticed you’re a fan of Quinn Dreaming by TJ Ryan.
Oh gosh! That’s a great one. I didn’t think of that one.
And I imagined them interacting with Sorrell and Quinn.
I think, and I know TJ Ryan very well, they’re awesome.
They did fan art of Running with Lions.
Yes, they did fan art of Running with Lions. I love TJ. And I didn’t think of that. I think that Amir and Sebastian should definitely hang out with Quinn and Sorrell. It would be fantastic.
Just sports fans. Fellow bisexuals.
Yeah. Fellow sports fans. Fellow bisexuals. Fellow great time people. Like they just generally have a great time. So I can’t believe I forgot about that. But read Quinn Dreaming the web-comic, it’s awesome.
Recently, many prominent athletes have come out and are playing openly in interactional competitions, such as Gus Kentworthy and Adam Rippon at the Korean Winter Olympics. Do you believe this increased level of visibility has begun to affect everyday lives of other LGBTQ+ youth and athletes?
Yes. I am so grateful for them. I’m grateful for the people who have come out in soccer, people who have come out in rugby recently. I believe there have been some swimming or diving people who have come out also. I think what they’re doing is beyond brave because the sports world has never really been accepting of any kind of LGBTQ person.
Or plus anyone who’s like non-white or able-bodied.
Exactly. Exactly, and I think there’s a lot of barriers to break through there. But I think what they’re doing is awesome. There is a blog that I follow happily called Outsports that has actual high school or college athletes who get to tell their own coming out story, written by them. And it’s so inspiring to see how many times they quote these athletes, and say you know they helped me to be able to say to my teammates, “Hey, this is who I am. I hope that you still accept me.” And the stories are just so joyful because the teammates are accepting, the coaches are accepting, the community, the parents, the family. It’s awesome how much they stand behind these athletes because they recognize you’re still gifted at the sport you’re playing, and that’s the part that should be the deciding factor of whether whether or not you’re on a team or that you’re competing. It should have nothing to do with your sexuality. It should have nothing to do with your gender. And so seeing that is just so gratifying. But knowing that these prominent, popular athletes are out there competing and still saying, “Hey, this is who I am,” it’s amazing to me.
Yeah, I think so, too.
In previous interviews you had mentioned that you integrated personal details/ elements from your own life and personality into your protagonist, Sebastian. Can you expand on this?
Yes. Um, wow. This is a fun question. It’s always fun when you get to go deep into your own self. So for Sebastian, I struggled severely in high school with what I was going to do after high school. Because I was so content with my friends and club organizations that I was a part of, and that’s where I was happiest, and I didn’t know what I was going to do after high school.
In fact, I actually picked my college based on what my best friend chose. And biggest mistake in the world because that college was great for her. It was not great for me. But that’s just the element that I was in, and that’s definitely what Sebastian goes through in the book is facing that challenge of who are you outside of your friends, outside of your comfort zones, and things like that. Another thing I wrote that was very personal was Sebastian’s body issues. You know, while everyone else is around like saying, “Oh, you’re perfect. You’re healthy. You’re in shape,” and this and that, he was not comfortable throughout the book with who he was physically. And that’s something I struggle with even now is who I think I am in other people’s eyes physically and who I see in the mirror kind of thing. And so writing that was challenging, but I think it was so important because it’s not often depicted that males have issues with their body and representation like that and I needed to have that in there. And I needed to show it’s ok to say to someone, “Hey, I have this issue,” and get healthy outlets to kind of help you work through that. And so, those were the two major things I wrote about there about Sebastian that was very personal, very much me in Sebastian.
Yeah, and you included a lot of personal stuff with Remy, too.
Oh right, well Remy is super personal, and when I have to start really talking about that I think I’m really going to have to work my way through my way of how I’m going to talk about that. But a lot of Remy’s things is issues with identity. He goes through issues with whether he’s feels black enough, he goes through issues with whether he’s too gay. A lot of these issues that I think aren’t discussed that we face throughout the world, being a person of color, or being somebody whose sexual identity is other than straight, being, you know, who we present ourselves to others, it’s a lot and I wrote it all throughout Remy. Like through the whole book. But with Sebastian, it was a bit easier because there were certain sections that I tackled these things, but with Remy it’s like throughout the book that I’m just exposing parts of myself to show people that this is just not like an isolated incident, and that you’re not alone in this, and you know there’s a place where you kind of can let these things out.
Prominent queer and African-American poet, Audre Lorde wrote, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Within your book many characters have intersectional identities, which include issues related to mental health, religious identity, race/ethnicity, queerness, and more. How did you handle capturing the intersectionality among your characters? Do you have any advice for other writers specifically on how to handle this topic?
I think one of the things you have to draw from is the world that you live in, and fortunately for me I live in a world where I’m friends with or I associate with people who have so many different intersectional identities, so I’m able to kind of pull from that and show a space that it exists, it happens. I myself have intersectional identities, so it is in a way easy for me to be able to say “Ok, I can write this because I live it” kind of thing. It’s always based on my own experience kind of thing.
But I also suggest if you want to write these things and you’re not from that identity, you’re not from that world: one, research, obviously, but there’s only so much Google’s going to tell you, ok. Get to know people, talk to people. For Remy, I actually sat down and interviewed friends, and said, “talk to me about the things that you face. Talk to me about the joys that you have, you know, with your intersectionalized identities, but also talk to me about the struggles that you have.” I seek out sensitivity readers all the time because it’s like, yeah I want to write about these things. I want to expose it. I want people to see and live these joys, and also see the problems that they face. But I also want to get accurate. I want it to be honest. I want it to be authentic, so I always suggest you get sensitivity readers, even if it’s something you’re just the least bit unsure of. Ask a friend from that identity and say, “hey can you just read this over for me and let me know does this sound ok, does it sound stereotypical, does it sound like it’s contrived, things like that I always suggest. But yeah, just get to know people. Like this world is brimming with fantastic, amazing people. Just talk to them, and don’t talk to them in a way that’s just like, I want to know about this part of you, where are you from, what language do you speak, things like that, or what are the struggles you face.
Just get to know them as people vs. identity.
Exactly. And then you’ll kind of see the parts of their humanity that are so much like you, but the parts that aren’t, that maybe you didn’t think of, “oh wow, I didn’t realize this person might face this,” as you know, this part of their identity that I don’t actually face and I’m thinking “well no one else faces,” because we all sometimes live in our own heads that these are our own struggles and no one else faces them. Or these are own own struggles and everyone faces them. So I definitely suggest like those things: research, sensitivity reader, get to know people.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d also like to share with us?
Oh gosh, I love this question. Ok, so I am a part of an anthology that comes out next year. There was an anthology that came out two years ago called All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages by Saundra Mitchell, and the next edition of the anthology is called All Out Now: Queer We Go Again, which I love, and it’s a group of contemporary stories, and so I have a short story in there that I’m super excited about because it was so much fun to write about a father-son relationship and the ways… because oftentimes in the queer community it’s either one way or the other with the parents. It’s either they’re supper accepting or they’re super not accepting. And it was fun to kind of write about how the layers of sometimes a parent-child relationship, it’s a bit different, you know, in the ways that each of them deal with the coming-out process. So I’m super excited about that one.
I can’t wait to read it.
And then I’m working on another book… when I say working I mean thinking a lot about it. (Laughs) It is going to be a book about teens trying to go to a comic con convention, but of course, you know conventions are not cheap, and so they kind of have to find a way to go to the convention without actually having passes to get in. Super queer. It’s going to be very comic book geeky, which that’s me whole-heartedly, so I’m going to explore that, and I’m also going to explore the lack of representation that we have throughout, you know, graphic novels, comic books, and what not when it comes to queer representation. Which is super like good for me to talk about because for so long I just accepted, you know, “ok, well these are just comic books, these are just superheroes, these are just villains, and that’s how it needs to be,” and whatever, but I’m happy to talk about that. And then with any book of mine it’s going to be a quirky little rom-com on the side, which I hope has a plot twist that people aren’t expecting, but the way I’m writing I’m sure they’re going to figure it out pretty soon, pretty early in the book.
No, it’s great. It actually sounds like Queens of Geek.
Listen, let me quick shout out to Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde. Let me shout out Geekerella by Ashley Poston. Let me also shout out Death Prefers Blondes, which is a great heist book. Immoral Code is another great heist book and I drew from those books on kind of how to combine the elements of the geeky comic book kind of stuff and also the “let’s break into something we’re not supposed to be at” kind of thing.
I wholeheartedly love that.
Which means that I can mess it up. (Laughs)
So ad-lib question number nine, since the premier of Love, Simon, there’s been more of a push for LGBT movies, especially towards teen-oriented movies, so which books, which YA books, would you love to see adapted into their own movie?
Oh, you would hit me with this one. Let’s see. Listen, to be honest with you and I know Becky has talked about it in a sense that it’s not in her control and she doesn’t necessarily know if she wants to have it, but I would love for Leah on the Offbeat to get made into a movie, because I love Leah and relate so deeply to Leah. I think it’s happening, but I don’t know if it’s got confirmation, but Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Obviously I want that to become a movie. I think that would be such great representation. I think the story’s important. I think it would do such great things for teens. I would also love to see Darius the Great Is Not Okay get made into a movie because I love that book. There’s two others. One is Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee. We need to see a teen superhero movie with queer characters. And that book is so diverse in sexuality and gender, in identity. It’s perfect. And I’d also love to see a book called Noah Can’t Even by Simon James Green. I just need a rom-com where the main character is a compete klutz, gets it all wrong, misinterprets everything, and we can just laugh out loud because there’s so many great teen movies where you just laugh out loud, but none from a queer perspective.