Interview with Dahlia Adler

Dahlia Adler is an editor of mathematics by day, the overlord of LGBTQReads by night, and a Young Adult author at every spare moment in between. She is the editor of several anthologies and the author of seven novels, including Cool for the Summer. She lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books. I had the opportunity to interview her which you can read below.

As a person who wears multiple hats in the literary community/publishing industry and as an author/editor/book blogger and more, how do you maintain a balance between all of those responsibilities as well as work/life balance?

Not well! I mean, I’m sort of kidding, but the truth is that when you love so much about what you do, it can be really hard not to overload yourself, or least that’s true for me. Probably the most balancing thing is that because I observe Jewish Sabbath, I’m completely offline from Friday night through Saturday night, which means nothing but family, food, and reading. 

I also try as much as I can to be absolutely done with things by 5 p.m. I might do social media stuff or beta read with a baby sleeping on me, but thanks to both my husband and me working from home during the pandemic, we actually get to do family dinner pretty often. This does mean a lot of pressure to back things in during my workdays and Sundays, and I’m learning hard lessons this year about there just not being any way to pull more than 24 hours into a day. 

As a bisexual writer, you have discussed the importance of canon bi representation to combat biphobia/erasure as well as provide validation for those who are questioning. Could you speak a little more on this?

Bisexual books have been so heavily gatekept for so long, and even when we started to finally get some actual bi rep, it always had to be the “perfect” kind of bi who never leaned into any stereotypes. But anyone who’s actually gone through the process of questioning as a bi person knows that it comes with a lot of messiness and complexity, and those stereotypes exist for a reason; they’re just not who a whole person is. I think telling people they can’t ever have conflicting feelings or wonder “what if?” or experiment to see where your heart and head are at because it’s “bad representation” is not only invalidating but harmful. I embrace the messy. And I love the other bi books that embrace the messy. 

Your latest book, Cool for the Summer, features a bisexual Jewish main character. Did this story feel in any way personal to you and what are your thoughts on queer/Jewish representation in the YA world today?

It’s definitely personal to me, although Lara’s experience with Judaism isn’t reflective of mine, being that I’m considerably more affiliated and observance. Truthfully, Jasmine’s Judaism, despite being further from my background with her being Syrian, is a little closer. But I’m grateful to have been able to show two of the million ways to be both queer and Jewish, and I love how much more queer Jewish lit we’re seeing, and queer religious lit in general where those two aspects of a person don’t have to clash. I think that’s one of the most important directions YA can take, and I’m really excited to see more of it. 

Aside from Demi Lovato, whose song obviously inspired the title for your latest book, what other musical artists have inspired you? Which singers or songs would be the go-to on any of your characters’ (previous or new) Spotify playlist?

I tend to write girls with some fire to them, so I love artists like Hole and Halestorm and Garbage and The Pretty Reckless. Lara is a little softer than my usual, so Cool for the Summer is more Demi and Taylor Swift—the song “Betty,” which I obviously hadn’t heard until my book was already done, is a shockingly dead ringer for the story. 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet and wish you were asked (and your answer to that question)?

What would you put in a book box dedicated to Cool for the Summer? Random, I know, but it’s a really fun thing to fantasize about! Obviously heart-shaped sunglasses, and a packet of coffee, because Lara’s a barista. An art print by one of the illustrators behind Lara and Jasmine’s mutual favorite graphic novels, probably Wendy Xu because I’m obsessed with Mooncakes which means so are they. A cheesy little souvenir from the Outer Banks—I personally have a flip-flop-shaped magnet with real sand inside. A mini bi pride flag. And sparkly peach body lotion, for Reasons. 

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

A few! I’m currently revising my next f/f YA novel, which is tentatively titled Home Field Advantage and hopefully coming out in Summer 2022 from Wednesday Books—it’s a dual-POV Romance between an aspiring cheer captain and her high school’s very unwelcome first female quarterback. I’m also editing my next anthology, At the Stroke of Midnight, which is a collection of fairytale retellings releasing in Fall 2022 from Flatiron Books—my third anthology with them. And in the background, I’m also treating myself to writing a Chanukah rom-com novella I’ll probably ultimately self-publish. 

What advice would you give for writers who are stepping into their own creativity?

Don’t get in your own way. That means don’t shoot down your own idea for sounding too similar to something out there—I sold a bi YA Grease to the imprint that published a gay YA Grease!—don’t edit into oblivion as you go as an excuse not to finish your draft, and don’t tell yourself you suck; there’ll be enough people eager to do that for you in publishing. You’ve gotta be your own cheerleader and advocate, especially if you’re going to ask people to spend their time and money on your books. 

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ stories you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Oof, so many. It’s an incredible time for LGBTQ+ lit in all categories, which is so new. I definitely haven’t read as many of this year’s titles as I should, but a few that feel like perfect Geeks OUT reads are It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland, about a one-time all-queer, all-girl band that blew up when they were in high school and then fell apart, and their potential reunion despite all the bad feelings, a painful romance, new lives, and one of the members no longer identifying as a girl; Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee, which has so many fun romance tropes and a rare main character who’s already confidently out as trans, plus a love interest who’s still working through gender identity and trying out different pronouns; Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan, which is a take on Romeo & Juliet with beautiful mental health rep and set in the world of comics; and a great riff on Empire Records but with a bookstore and a super queer cast, The Summer of Everything by Julian Winters.

The Geeks OUT Podcast: MCU Phase 4 the Memories

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Will Choy, as they discuss Marvel announcing dates and titles for Phase 4, DC’s new Progressive Pride logo, and get excited for #LokiWednesdays in our Clip of the Week. 

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN:  Marvel releases announcing Phase 4 movies and dates
WILL: New trailer for Fast & Furious 9 looks back at the saga

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Tenet, Pose, Legendary
WILL: Together Together, Infinity Train, Destiny 2

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

Adult Swim announces Tuca & Bertie’s return June 13

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

DC Comics unveils new Progressive DC Pride logo

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New teaser for Loki which will now premiere Wednesdays starting 6/9

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• Warner Bros. states that their Black Superman won’t be part of DCEU
• New trailer for Awake
• New trailer for A Quiet Place Part II
• The movie Infinite will now stream exclusively on Paramount+ in June
• ViacomCBS announces Paramount+ will debut a new movie a week in 2022

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TV

• Two regulars won’t be joining The Flash next season
• The CW renews Stargirl & Kung Fu
• New trailer for Halston
• New teaser for season 4 of Stranger Things
• New teaser for Heels
• ABC renews Big Sky for another season
• NBC orders another spinoff of Law & Order: For the Defense
• New trailer for season 5 of Rick & Morty
• New teaser for Pause with Sam Jay
• New teaser for the Rugrats revival
• Ali Wong joins the cast of Paper Girls

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VIDEO GAMES

• CEO’s at CD Projekt behind Cyberpunk 2077 still got huge bonuses

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SHILF

• KEVIN: The Utopian
• WILL: Colossus

Interview with Alyssa Zaczek

Alyssa Zaczek grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, where she spent her childhood writing stories about nervy girls and slowly amassing a landslide of books beneath her bed. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Playwriting, which she uses to justify her love of banter. When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, curating vintage clothing and making her partner laugh. She currently lives in St. Cloud, Minnesota, with said partner and their four animals. MARTIN MCLEAN, MIDDLE SCHOOL QUEEN is her debut novel. I had the opportunity to interview her, which you can read below.

First of all, how did you come into writing? What draws you in most about the craft, be it middle grade or other genres?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I only began to explore it seriously when I merged it with my love of theatre in college and majored in Playwriting. Interestingly, coming back to prose in adulthood, I’ve found that the aspects which draw me in the most are also the most theatrical aspects — the ways language can be used to reveal or conceal elements of character, the way a story can set a scene and keep you there, fully immersed in that world. Writing middle grade in particular, I’ve found a great deal of joy in exploring those difficult emotions of that age and expressing them in ways that feel true. It’s a wonderful age group to write for, because it is so inherently full of tension — these kids are not quite as “grown-up” as high-schoolers, but they’re also not exactly “children” any more — and tension makes for dynamic, emotionally rich stories! 

Where did the inspiration for your debut novel, Martin McLean, Middle School Queen, come from? Was there some impetus for writing queer middle grade book as a queer writer yourself?

When I began to consider writing my first novel, I knew immediately that I wanted it to be middle grade. Middle school was a deeply formative — but also deeply difficult — time for me, and I think it’s a season of life where we tend to feel lonely, and stories can be an incredible comfort in loneliness. I also knew I wanted it to incorporate the performing arts in some way, because discovering theatre in my middle school years was so pivotal for me, but I didn’t want to limit myself strictly to theatre. Drag, which is so inherently theatrical already, seemed like a perfect fit, both for its inextricable ties to the queer community as well as its joyful exploration of self. 

I identify now as a queer person, but in middle school, I wasn’t even aware that there was a spectrum of queerness. As far as I knew, there was gay and straight, and that was it. None of the books I had access to at that time had queer protagonists, and if a queer character did appear, they were always a supporting character and always either the butt of the joke or a caricature of  an ultra-femme gay man. When I began to explore my queerness as an adult, I reflected often on how differently my experience as a young, questioning person would have been if I’d been exposed to books with queer protagonists — particularly ones that were diverse and complex,  who questioned and lingered in that uncertainty. That was a huge driving factor in creating Martin as a character and as a narrative. I wanted to show kids that not only is it okay to be different, it’s okay to not be sure where you fit in. 

Martin McLean, Middle School Queen centers an Afro-Cuban-American queer boy. What concerns did you have with writing a character outside of your own identities, including consulting sensitivity readers?

As a white cis woman, I knew that writing a BIPOC protagonist outside of my own gender identity would be hugely sensitive, and I wanted to approach those aspects of Martin’s identity as a listener, not a speaker. The BIPOC experience, the Afro-Cuban experience, the mixed-race experience, the queer man experience — these are all well outside my own lived experience, so I knew going in that I wanted to do a great deal of listening to others who have lived those experiences.

Martin’s Afro-Cuban identity was inspired by the roots of drag; drag was built by Black and Latinx queer men, and I felt that having anything other than a POC at the center of this story would be doing a disservice to the institution of drag. His father being Irish-American is a nod to my own roots, but from a story standpoint, Martin’s mixed background serves to highlight that sense of not really fitting in anywhere — having one foot in one world, and one foot in another. Choosing an Afro-Cuban background was also a conscious choice. I’d noticed that in popular queer media, the queens that received the most attention and the most opportunities were almost always Black, white or white-passing, while queens from Latinx backgrounds were pushed aside, teased for their accents, etc. It never sat well with me, so I wanted Martin to offer some positive representation for young Latinx queens.

But therein lies the question I asked myself repeatedly in the writing and publishing of MARTIN: As a white woman, can I even offer that kind of representation? Would it be accurate and authentic? The answer is no — not without a lot of help. Knowing that, I was passionate about finding sensitivity readers, paying them for their work and expertise, actively listening to their feedback and making changes accordingly. I was humbled and blessed to have been able to do exactly that. We worked with sensitivity readers on every single diverse identity in this book. I was honored to listen to their feedback — from the Spanish language and Cuban turns-of-phrase throughout the book to the mechanics of Violet’s motorized wheelchair — to make this book something I’m proud to put in the hands of readers. 

With the emergence of younger drag artists and more queer middle grade fiction, it seems like there’s more exploration of queer identity in all-ages audiences. What are your thoughts on the current state of LGBTQ+ literature and how do you think we can do better?

I’m delighted to see young people feeling the validation and safety they need to express themselves with curiosity and joy, and that there are more queer stories on the shelves than ever before to reflect their experiences. As a young reader, I don’t think I could have fathomed that queer literature would move into the mainstream the way it has even in the last 5 years or so. 

Personally, I’m excited by queer literature that very mindfully moves past the coming-out narrative. MARTIN was specifically written to be an exploration narrative, not a coming-out narrative, because I felt — and still feel — that the questioning phase of queerness is one not yet richly explored in our books for young people. I also love books that are moving past queer pain and into queer joy. In 2021 and beyond, I’d love to see more books with queer characters at the center of a story that is not driven by their queerness — that is to say, more books about queer people simply living their extraordinary lives! I’d also like to see publishing steer away from queer retellings and start putting some significant resources behind original stories by queer authors. Don’t get me wrong — I love a retelling, especially a queer one, and I think examining classic literature through a queer lens is both important and just plain fun to read! — but the fact remains that queer people are good for more than simply stepping into stories already validated by history. Ultimately, my feeling is that true equality is only achieved when queer readers can see themselves represented in the same depth and breadth of literature as straight readers — so I’m excited to see more original queer narratives emerge across every genre and age group! 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet or wish you were asked?

So far, I’ve not been asked why I chose to have Martin’s two competitions turn out the way they do. [In the interest of keeping things spoiler-free, I’ll stay vague as to what those outcomes are, but if you know, you know!] I’d love to talk about why I made those decisions. 

Learning to cope with failure was a massive part of my middle- and high-school experiences. I’m naturally ambitious and competitive, and I threw myself into theatre and the speech team in a big way. Experiencing failure — bombed auditions, coming this close to landing a role, not placing at a competition — was extremely hard for me, but eventually I learned how to process it without derailing my mental and emotional health. Middle school is a time where a lot of kids experience their first significant failure, be it a low grade on a test or a lost championship game, so it was important to me to show that, even with all his talent, preparation, support, ambition and positive attitude, Martin could still fail. But — and this is the most important part — he learns from it, and doesn’t let it crush him. That’s a huge lesson at that age. 

Hypothetically speaking, if the characters of your books or you yourself could interact with characters from any other fictional universe, where would they be from?

Martin would definitely want to hang out with the Marvel heroes, that’s completely his jam. I could see him really enjoying time with Miles Morales, or the Tom Holland iteration of Peter Parker. Carmen would want to be thrown into the world of a musical — maybe Prom Night or something classic, like Grease. I could see Pickle in the world of Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, as all the characters on that show are very erudite and clever, just like him. 

Are there any projects you are currently working on or project ideas you are currently nursing and are at liberty to speak about?

My next middle grade project, which I’m working on currently, is a dark fantasy retelling of Peter Pan that transforms Peter into a monstrous antagonist and sends Wendy on a quest through Neverland’s creepy shadow world to rescue her little brother with the help of Captain Hook and her flying pirates. 

It is very different from MARTIN, and intentionally so. Authors, especially in the middle grade and YA spaces, are often told that it’s best to find their particular niche, but I have interests coming out the wazoo! I couldn’t possibly pick a single age range or genre to write in, so I’m quite happy to write whatever tugs at my mind and my heart at that moment in time. I hope that you’ll see many different kinds of novels from me in the future, especially in middle grade and YA. 

What advice would you give for writers who want to attempt to write middle grade or just in general?

The hardest part about writing is getting started. If you have a story that’s been nagging at you to get out, or even just an inkling that you’d like to write a novel, start! Start today! Start right now! 

After that? Listen to what interests you. If you don’t feel like you know what you might like to write about, make a list of your favorite books, TV shows and movies. Then look at each title and ask yourself: What exactly about this do I like? What makes it interesting to me? Write those things down, too. Soon enough, you’ll have a list of story elements that could help inspire your first (or second, or third, or thirty-third) novel. 

Finally, don’t listen to the people who insist “real writers” write every day. That’s a privileged, nonsense point of view. It doesn’t matter if you write every day — it only matters that you write. Whenever you write, you’re a “real writer,” and you don’t stop being one just because you’ve walked away from your laptop or notebook for a while. I promise, your words will still be there when you get back. Take your own time and run your own race. 

Finally, what books would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I read James Howe’s THE MISFITS when I was in middle school, and it was a major influence on MARTIN all these years later. There are now several books in the series, and I love them for their frank, empathetic approach to difficult issues, like Joe’s queerness or Addie’s insecurities. 

Other recent middle grade books I love that fans of MARTIN will enjoy, too, include the ALAN COLE books by Eric Bell and the BETTER NATE THAN EVER series by Tim Federle, STAR-CROSSED by Barbara Dee, LILY AND DUNKIN by Donna Gephart, and IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS by Nicole Melleby.

For young lovers of graphic novels, I recommend NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson, THE DEEP & DARK BLUE by Niki Smith, THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY by Katie O’Neill and LUMBERJANES by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson. For grown-up graphic novel lovers, SAGA by Brian K. Vaughan makes my heart sing.

Interview with Ashley Shuttleworth

Ashley Shuttleworth is a young adult fantasy author with a degree in English literature and a slight obsession with The Legend of Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy. They currently live in Ontario, Canada, with their cat named Zack and a growing collection of cosplay swords. I had the opportunity to interview Ashley which you can read below.

When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer? What were some of the first stories that grabbed your attention and inspired you?

I knew I enjoyed writing from a very early age. I spent much of my childhood writing fan fictions for the shows and video games and books I loved, filled so many notebooks with handwritten chapters (because back then, I was more into writing scenes than full complete stories) and eventually took to online communities to post the fanfic I wrote. Some of the first books I can ever remember adoring were The Bailey School Kids books (I love my paranormal mystery novels) and the Artemis Fowl series, which played a huge role in developing my fascination with faeries. A little later on, I discovered Holly Black’s MODERN FAERIE TALES and I was hooked.

Where did the inspiration for your debut novel, A Dark and Hollow Star, come from?

A DARK AND HOLLOW STAR was influenced by a number of things—my university studies in English Lit and Ancient Greek and Roman history/mythology; my love for video games like Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda; books I enjoyed reading such as THE STAR TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi and DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor and CITY OF BONES series by Cassandra Clare. I’m also heavily influenced by music and shows and day to day things in my personal life, but I think the biggest inspiration for ADAHS was the lack of LGBTQ+ representation I had growing up, and my desire to be the change I wanted to see in the world. I just wanted to write a book full of different identities, all being accepted and represented in a casual, normal way while at the same time, leaving nothing ambiguous.

Your book, A Dark and Hollow Star, is a queer urban fantasy that touches upon fairy mythology. Are there any urban fantasy authors/stories you looked to for inspiration while writing this project?

Well I was definitely inspired by Cassandra Clare’s CITY OF BONES and Holly Black’s MODERN FAERIE TALES (particularly VALIANT, my favourite) when it comes to who I probably have to thank for my fascination with urban fantasy. But honestly it was probably FINAL FANTASY XV that I looked to the most for crafting my particular world, an expansive world of its own that blended high fantasy with urban fantasy in a really neat way. I like to try and balance reading fiction with “research” for my projects though, so I did pick up a few books on European folklore and the science of alchemy. 

As a queer author, what were some of the LGBTQ+ stories that first caught your attention? What kind of stories did you feel were missing or lacking and did this inspire you as a writer today?

ASH by Malinda Lo stands out to me as one of the first LGBTQ+ books with a queer MC to really grab my attention. A fairy-tale retelling of Cinderella, at the time of reading this I hadn’t come across too many traditionally published works that were both Young Adult and fantasy in genre, that depicted main characters doing and going through the same sort of fantastical and every-day things you’d encounter in books about allocishet characters. Growing up, there really wasn’t all that much available to me that had openly queer characters with meaningful development, going on grand adventures, falling in love, and exploring magical settings. It definitely inspired what I write now, my desire to put more content into the world like what I found in ASH.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet and wish you were asked (and your answer to that question)?

Well, I’ve never been asked which author I would choose to do a panel/event with, if I could pick from anyone—and I’d have to say I would love to do one with Laini Taylor. Her books have been a pretty big inspiration to me and I really admire her talent. It would be fun (and also intimidating) to get to chat craft with her.

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and could tell us about?

I do have a few things on the go right now, a couple that are just private tinkerings I hope to unleash on my agent, and then the public, one day soon. For now, I’m currently working on the second installment in the HOLLOW STAR story, where I get to expand on the characters introduced in the first, as well as bring a new play or two into the mix whom I hope people will enjoy.

What advice would you give for writers who are navigating writing and publishing?

The best advice I can give is to find your community—other writers to keep you company and share in this experience with you—and honestly just to keep writing. The road to publication can be a difficult journey at times. It never goes the way anyone expects it to, and set-backs can become discouraging the more of them you encounter. But if authoring books is something you genuinely want to do, first and foremost you just have to write that book. It’s okay if it isn’t perfect, if you need to edit it multiple times, find beta-readers and critique partners to help you catch what you miss on your own—it’s okay even if that story ultimately gets shelved and you have to start a new one. It’s all experience that will lead you to the story you need to tell, but nothing else is worth worrying about without that first draft to work with. So just keep going, learn how to drown out the impostor syndrome (which never really goes away, I have to say, but it does get easier to manage with writing friends as support, and time) and focus on things one step at a time.

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ stories you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

There are so many incredible LGBTQ+ books coming out this year—definitely buy and read as many as you can! But a few that I’m personally VERY excited for:

SWEET & BITTER MAGIC by Adrienne Tooley (out now)

IN THE RAVENOUS DARK by A. M. Strickland (May 18th 2021)

THE WITCH KING by H. E. Edgemon (June 1st 2021)

ACE OF SPADES by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (June 1st 2021)

GEARBREAKERS by Zoe Hana Mikuta (June 29th 2021)

IRON WIDOW by Xiran Jay Zhao (September 21st 2021)

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Gaga for the Hellfire Gala

The Geeks OUT Podcast

Opinions, reviews, incisive discussions of queer geek ideas in pop culture, and the particularly cutting brand of shade that you can only get from a couple of queer geeks all in highly digestible weekly doses.

In this week’s episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Geeks OUT President Nic Gitau, as they discuss some of the new lewks released for the Hellfire Gala, check out the new trailer for Special, and celebrate our first look of Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel for our Strong Female Character of the Week. 

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN:  New trailer for Luca though it won’t be queer
NIC: New teaser for West Side Story remake

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Things Heard & Seen, For All Mankind, Invincible
NIC: Shadow & Bone, Made for Love, Dickinson, The Magic Fish

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

We got our first look at Ms. Marvel in costume

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

Marvel releases 64 designs coming to the Hellfire Gala

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for season 2 of Special

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• October sees the return of DC Fandome
• New teaser for Viva
• New Play Something shuffle feature now available on Netflix

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TV

• New trailer for Hacks
• First promo look at The CW Pilot for Naomi
• Several CW shows on break won’t return until mid-late summer
• Finn Wittrock joins new Green Lantern series as Guy Gardner
• Fox developing adult cartoon Bedrock, a follow up to The Flintstones
• New teaser for Nine Perfect Strangers
• New trailer for Sweet Tooth

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VIDEO GAMES

• Game developers will now get a bigger cut of profits from Microsoft 
• Nintendo updates Super Mario Party to allow online play

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Colossus
• NIC: Falcon… no Winter Soldier… no Falcon…