Interview with Author Eliot Schrefer

Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times bestselling author, has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature, and has won the Green Earth Book Award and the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award for Children’s Literature. His novels include the Lost Rainforest series, EndangeredThreatenedRescuedOrphaned, and two books in the Spirit Animals series. He lives in New York City, is on the faculty of the Hamline University and Fairleigh Dickinson University MFA in creative writing programs, and reviews books for USA Today. His latest novel, The Darkness Outside Us, is available now. I had the opportunity to interview Eliot, which you can read below.

First of all, congratulations on your newest book, The Darkness Outside Us! Could you tell us in your own words what the book is about?

Hi, and thanks for having me! THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US is about two young astronauts who are sent on a perilous rescue mission to rescue the first settler of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. They soon find out that their mission is not at all what they were told, and that they will be on this ship for much longer than they expected. These two adversaries must come to rely on each other—and maybe (definitely) fall in love!

Where did the inspiration for this book come from? Were you influenced by any authors or media (i.e. film/shows/ music/etc) while writing it?

There’s this 90s movie with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, called What Lies Beneath. While I was watching it I hatched a gonzo theory about what was going on, which wound up not being true at all. THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US is my go at writing the plot twist my mind came up with, only with two boys in outer space.

How do you come to realize you wanted to be a writer? What drew you to the field, especially the Young Adult medium?

I was at dinner with friends in my early 20s, and I said “obviously if we all had lots of time and money, we’d be novelists. My friends all said “no way, ugh.” I’d actually just revealed myself, to myself. I had so many inner voices saying that you couldn’t possibly succeed at such a thing that I hadn’t let myself make a real go of it. 

As for YA, I actually wrote a piece for the New York Times about my transition to YA from adult writing, and how it made me a better writer! Short version: I learned to focus on telling a good story instead of trying to impress my peers. 

What books or voices do you think The Darkness Outside Us stands in conversation with, especially those regarding similar Gays in Space themes?

I really enjoyed Shaun David Hutchinson’s A COMPLICATED LOVE STORY SET IN SPACE. We start with very similar openings—two boys wake up on a spaceship, not sure why they’re there—and then go in totally opposite directions with it. It’s like a queer sci-fi YA experiment on the butterfly effect.

What advice would you give to other aspiring queer writers?

There is a bloom in publishing queer books, especially in the YA and middle-grade space. That’s absolutely wonderful. Along with it will come pressure to write books that focus on queerness, that take it as the theme and plot of your book. I love those books, but remember you are a writer who has permission to write widely, just like straight writers do.  

Are there any other projects you are incubating or working on and at liberty to discuss?

Yes! I’m in edits for a non-fiction YA book called QUEER DUCKS. It’s about the explosion of research over the last 20 years into same-sex sexual behavior in animals. I’m profiling 12 animal species, looking at how they embody queer identities and desires, and what that means for the eye-roll-y conservative arguments about the “unnaturalness” of queer behavior. 

What’s an interview question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked?

Why are you so dashingly handsome?

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

There are so many. To name just one, I absolutely adored Malinda Lo’s LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB, which came out earlier this year. Lo can make an entire scene turn on a small gesture, a precise image… she’s such a major talent. 

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Be Gay Do Fashion Crimes

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 super-sized return of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin is joined by Tea Berry-Blue, as they discuss Cruella and it’s potential sequel, get excited for an Okoye series coming to Disney+, and get ready for queer wrath month with Marvel’s upcoming Inferno series in This Week in Queer.

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN:  The Eisner nominations were announced and disappointing in a number of areas
TEA: First episode from Disney+ confirms Loki is gender fluid

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: The Quiet Place part 2, The Conjuring 3, Cruella, Legendary, Pose
TEA: Cozy Grove, Raya is now free on Disney+

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

Disney+ announces Black Panther spinoff series following Okoye

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

Marvel announces Krakoa will burn in queer rage in Inferno limited series

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for Space Jam: A New Legacy

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• The voice cast for DC’s League of Super-Pets announced
• WB decides Blue Beetle movie & others to premiere exclusively on HBO Max
• New trailer for the Fear Street trilogy coming to Netflix
• New trailer for Free Guy
• New trailer for Reminiscence
• Disney is developing a sequel to Cruella
• Issa Rae cast as Spider-Woman in Spider-Verse sequel

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TV

• New teaser for Masters of the Universe: Revelation 
• First sneak peak at The Sandman
• New trailer for the Gossip Girl reboot/revival
• First look at Batwing in the Batwoman season finale
• Jameela Jamil cast as Titania in She-Hulk
• New trailer for Monsters at Work
• FX announces that Y: The Last Man will premiere Sept. 13
• First trailer for Cuphead
• Teaser for season 2 of The Witcher

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COMIC BOOKS

• DC announces Aquaman: The Beginning limited series starring Jackson Hyde 
• In the first time in 48 years, the Pulitzer refuses to issue an award for Editorial Cartoon

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Loki
• TEA: Hunter B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku)

Interview With Author C. L. Clark

C.L. Clark graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, FIYAH, PodCastle and Uncanny. You can follow her on Twitter @c_l_clark. I had the chance to interview her, which you can read below.

First of all, congratulations on your new book, The Unbroken. In your own words, could you tell us what the story is about?

Thank you! The Unbroken is about finding your place in unjust systems, and defining loyalty (and family) on your own terms. 

Where did the inspiration for The Unbroken come from? Were there any sources you drew from for inspiration while writing this story?

My inspiration for The Unbroken came from three different things hitting me all at the same time–I was studying the colonial relationship between France and North Africa, post-colonial literary theory, and violent women in fantasy. That lit the spark and then I kept drawing from European and American imperialism more broadly as I thought about what I wanted to address in epic fantasy narratives.

How did you come to find yourself becoming an author? What would you say lead you on this journey?

I always wanted to be one. I’ve loved reading since I was really young; both my grandmothers were teachers, so that helped. Writing lets you become a lot of different things, a lot like acting (I also wanted to be an actor), and so it was really just an extension of playing pretend. Now I can put the things I want to enact on the page into more sophisticated language, but it’s pretty much the same thing–I’m writing what I want to see in the world, even if they never happen.

As a queer writer yourself, have there ever been instances where your experiences bleed into your writing? Have you ever seen yourself in a book and if not what would you want to see?

Oh, I’m sure they do, as I write about women who desire other women and queer people. I’ve seen bits of pieces of myself in a couple of books–I think of Gaela and Hal, from Tessa Gratton’s Queens of Innis Lear and Lady Hotspur respectively, and Tavi from Sofia Samatar’s Winged Histories. Still, wanting to see myself in fiction is a big reason Touraine from The Unbroken is a butch woman of color who likes other women, who embraces big muscles and rough physicality and even violence in ways that I haven’t seen for women in SFF.

One of the many things that stands out about The Unbroken is the fact that it is a fantasy inspired by a North African setting? Can you tell us about your motivation in writing this, as well as exploring the cultural and historical context that went into developing this story?

Well, to expand a bit more on what I said above, I was really motivated to dissect the notion of empires in science fiction and fantasy. Many authors use Europe as the base-inspiration for their worlds, and there are the ‘enemy hordes’–often people of color–or there are places with exotic artifacts that heroes have to retrieve. So I wanted to dig a little deeper into that. The cultural and historical context of colonialism, of imperialism…well, that’s everywhere around us. As a Black American, I live it. You can see it in climate injustice, in the (lack of) global vaccination dispersion, in the fight for Palestine. And on a more individual level, people in diasporic communities and previously-colonized places are often dealing with the same questions of identity and ambition that Touraine and others in The Unbroken deal with. People with power, or even just substantial financial and racial privilege, have to decide where their interests lie, too–and when their support is a true alliance or just something that makes you feel good while you get what you want, just like Luca does.

What’s one question you haven’t been asked but wish you were?

I recently got to ask some other Orbit authors what book changed how they understood the craft of writing–something that made them go “oh, you can do that?!” But I didn’t get to answer it myself, so here’s mine: The Fifth Season. I’d never read anything that manipulated point of views or structure so well–and to such painfully beautiful effect! If you haven’t read it, do, and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve even dissected and have a name for the phenomenon, but I haven’t tried to do anything like it myself.

What advice would you give to other writers starting out on their own journeys?

Take the time. Don’t rush the novels, don’t rush the queries. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking it has to be done now, now, now, and that you have to breakout immediately. A rushed product doesn’t help anyone. Content yourself with the words and the telling the stories you want to tell as honestly as you can. That’s the only thing that’s guaranteed–happiness in your own work.

Oh, and study what you read.

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

Definitely working on books two and three in the Magic of the Lost trilogy. Touraine and Luca aren’t done yet. And I edited a queer anthology that should be out later this year with Neon Hemlock Press called We’re Here, a Best Of for queer SFF.

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

I’d definitely recommend all of the stories in the We’re Here anthology! They’re a collection of some of my favorite stories from 2020, and some of them are available online, like R.B. Lemberg’s “The Weight of Khalem.” Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire is a new favorite, and along with The Traitor Baru Cormorant…let’s just say The Unbroken is very much in conversation with them and discussions of empire.

DC Pride Anthology Available Now!

The hotly anticipated DC Pride #1 anthology is finally available! This celebration of DC Comics’ LGBTQIA+ characters and creators means a great deal to all of us at Geeks OUT and was unimaginable just a few shorts years ago. It also fills us with pride to see so many familiar faces of creators that we at Geeks OUT have been fans of for years and who have been honored guests of ours at Flame Con; some going back to the very first one!

Your local comic shop may be carrying it, but if you don’t have a shop near by there are plenty of places you could order a physical copy of this comics anthology including Midtown Comics or Things From Another World.

Can’t wait that long and need to read it RIGHT NOW!? Well you can on ComiXology!

Please considering picking up and supporting this comic. If we show up for this kind of content, they’ll make more for all of us.

More on DC Pride #1 below from DC Comics solicitations.

“DC celebrates Pride Month with nine all-new stories starring fan-favorite LGBTQIA+ characters Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Midnighter, Extraño, Batwoman, Aqualad, Alan Scott, Obsidian, Future State Flash, Renee Montoya, Pied Piper, and many more!”

Interview with Author H. E. Edgmon

H.E. Edgmon (he/they) is a high school and college dropout, a militant queer, and an author of books both irreverent and radicalizing. His stories will always center the perspective of Indigenous people, trans people, and survivors of trauma. At present, he’s probably biting off more than he can chew, emulating the aesthetic of Dwayne from The Lost Boys (1987), and living out the found family trope in Brooklyn. Online, he can most often be found on Twitter @heedgmon. His debut novel, The Witch King, is available now. I had the opportunity to interview him about his new novel, which you can read below.

First of all, at what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be an author? What drew you to this medium of Young Adult literature?

As soon as I realized it was possible to be an author, that’s what I wanted to be. I was always incredibly escapist as a child. I didn’t like my life—I felt like I’d been born into the wrong world, with the wrong people, or overall the wrong set of circumstances. So, I made up new versions of reality in my head. I lived almost entirely in my own imagination. And that’s probably what draws me to writing for teens, now. The YA age is when I needed these stories the most.

What were the first stories to draw you in and what kind of stories inspire you today?

There are some really beautifully done and important contemporary stories out there, but fantasy has my heart and always will. I grew up on things like the Dragonlance Chronicles. Sprawling new worlds filled with magic, found families going on epic adventures, and seemingly no limitations on what could happen. These are still the kind of stories I want more of, though now I want them gayer.

Which is to say, I guess, that I like reading books that feel like D&D campaigns.

Where did the inspiration for The Witch King come from? Was there any media (i.e. books, films, music, etc.) that influenced you while writing it?

You’ll actually find a lot of popular fanfic tropes in TWK. At the time I wrote it, I was reading way more fanfiction than traditionally published books, and I honestly really like the way that influences the writing. Also, Halsey’s entire discography is basically Wyatt’s inner monologue.

Your debut novel tackles a lot of serious issues related to mental health and trauma? What was it like writing that into fiction, and what advice might you have for writers who might want to tackle that in their own work from a safe distance?

I wrote this book while I was actively unpacking a lot of my own trauma in therapy, and that probably comes as no big surprise to anyone who’s read it. It offered a space for me to explore my feelings and come to realizations about experiences I wasn’t ready to consciously acknowledge as my own. Looking back, actually, I realize I wrote a lot of myself into Wyatt that I didn’t even recognize as me when I first wrote it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have advice about tackling these issues from a “safe distance.” Because it didn’t feel like a safe distance. Working through trauma on the page was uncomfortable and vulnerable, in the end, and it forced me to start working on myself in ways I’d been inadvertently putting off for years.

I absolutely encourage people not to hold back in their writing. But also be prepared. Once you open up that door, there’s probably no going back through it. Whether you’re ready or not.

As an ace reader, one of my favorite parts about the book was the strong relationship between Wyatt and his best friend, Briar? Was centering platonic relationships as important as romantic relationships always a goal of yours, and could you call their relationship a queerplatonic partnership?

Yes! As someone on the ace and aro spectrums, who has practiced non-monogamy for over a decade, it’s always been important to me that there is no relationship hierarchy in my work. (IE—romantic relationships are not inherently considered more important than friendships.) Wyatt and Briar are soulmates. She’s the most important person in his life, and probably always will be. Now, that doesn’t mean their relationship is perfect, or even always healthy. They’re both children with a lot of growing up to do, and Wyatt specifically has a lot of issues to work through, at the start and end of the book. But this is a queerplatonic relationship, absolutely.

As a trans author of indigenous (Seminole) descent, you had discussed a bit online about the need for more trans and indigenous/ Native American representation? Could you take about your personal connection to that and what you wish to see in the world of literature/media?

I wish our identities weren’t considered niche interests.

We’ve seen a rise in trans protagonists lately, but, the vast majority of the time, they’re written into stories where their transness is the driving force of the plot. Contemporary “issue” books, if you will. These stories are important, and necessary, and can be incredibly powerful and life changing for many people. But they’re not the kind of stories I was interested in reading as a teen, and they’re not what I want to write today.

Meanwhile, Native protagonists are rarely allowed to exist in fantasy unless their ancestry is plot-relevant—if the story draws on Indigenous mythologies or traditions, for example. And again, these stories are important and necessary and I don’t want to minimize them at all. But it does make me sad they’re (almost) the only Native rep we get in this space, because so much of the knowledge needed to accurately write those stories has been lost due to colonization.

With both trans and Native rep, I wish we saw more stories about characters who just were these things, whose choices and thoughts and feelings were informed by these things, but whose stories didn’t have to be all about them.

Within The Witch King, you discuss something that’s still rare to talk about, which is parenthood for trans people? What made you decide to talk about this, and has your own experiences as a parent affected your writing process?

The fact that I was pregnant when I wrote this probably had something to do with it. Oof. You know, everyone’s going to read this and realize how 75% of my writing process was just projecting. Ah well.

On the other hand, pregnant or not, it was always important for me to confront the idea of biological realities for trans people. Something that we hear a lot from transphobes is that we can’t change our biologies, no amount of surgery will make us another sex, etc. And I wanted to look directly at that line of thinking, make eye contact with it, and say, “Okay, and? He’s still a boy.” Wyatt could carry Emyr’s children, if he wanted to. That doesn’t change anything about who he is.

Besides the much anticipated sequel to The Witch King, do you have any more ideas in mind you feel free to talk about?

I would really love to write in both the middle grade and adult spaces, in addition to continuing my work in YA. And I definitely have plans to do all of that—just none I can talk about right now!

What advice would you have to give to authors, especially debut ones like yourself?

This sounds really counter-intuitive, because publishing is an industry that demands so much of us in so many ways, but I highly encourage authors to find something they love more than writing. Something they know will always be there. Because this business is full of highs and lows, dramatic ones, and when your entire life revolves around it, the lows can be soul-crushing. It has been invaluable for me to be able to walk away from my computer, set aside my work for a while, and go do something else that brings me joy.

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

There’s a book called Hell Followed With Us that’s coming out next summer, from debut author Andrew Joseph White. It’s a YA post-apocalyptic horror with a trans main character, and it’s as beautiful as it is horrifying. I cannot stress enough how badly you all need to add it to your TBRs and preorder as soon as it’s available.

Interview with Writer Chad Lucas

Chad Lucas has been in love with words since he attempted his first novel on a typewriter in the sixth grade. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, communications advisor, freelance writer, part-time journalism instructor, and parenting columnist. A proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville, he lives with his family near Halifax, Nova Scotia. He enjoys coaching basketball and is rarely far from a cup of tea. Thanks a Lot, Universe is his debut novel. I had the opportunity to interview him, which you can read below.

First of all, congratulations on your debut. Could you tell us in your own books what your debut book, Thanks A Lot, Universe, is about?

Thank you, Michele! Thanks A Lot, Universe is about two seventh-grade boys, and it’s told in alternating chapters from each of their perspectives. Brian has always been anxious, but things get worse when he and his brother are placed in foster care. Ezra notices Brian pulling away and wants to help, but he worries his friends might figure out he has a crush on Brian. But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra takes the leap and reaches out. Both boys must decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. If they can be brave, they might find the best in themselves—and each other. 

What books inspired you growing up? What books inspire you now?

I was a huge Gordon Korman fan growing up. His books made me laugh so much. I also loved a lot of kidlit classics—Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, the Chronicles of Narnia. But what I rarely saw in those books were kids who looked like me. So now I draw a lot of inspiration from kidlit writers like Jason Reynolds, Lamar Giles, and Julian Winters, to name just a few. I also admire Rebecca Stead and Laura Ruby, who are both so inventive but also gifted at crafting great characters. 

How did you find yourself coming to write this story? What drew you to writing in general?

I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been lucky enough to make a living with my words, first as a journalist and later in communications. But fiction was always my first love. For this book, I had Brian’s character and general story arc in mind for years. I tried to write it in different ways that just didn’t click until I realized that Ezra needed his own storyline too, and I wove the two together. 

The field of LGBTQ+ Middle-Grade literature is slowly, but steadily growing? What are your thoughts on the medium as it stands, and can you name any titles that stand out to you?

It does feel like LGBTQ+ Middle Grade books are becoming more common, though when you look at how much Middle Grade has grown overall lately, there’s definitely room for more. For me, Eric Bell’s Alan Cole is Not a Coward and the sequel, Alan Cole Doesn’t Dance, were really influential—and I was lucky enough to work with Eric as a mentor on Thanks a Lot, Universe. I also love The Best at It by Maulik Pancholy and Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker. One great thing about both of those stories is that the main characters’ sexuality isn’t the sole focus; it’s just part of who they are. Stories that help middle graders explore their identities are certainly important, but I’d also love to see—and write—more Middle Grade books where kids are just queer as a matter of fact.

Though the book is not autobiographical, you have stated in various interviews that it does explore issues you went through in junior high as well, such as anxiety, discovering queerness at an early age, and so on. Would you say fiction is a safe medium for authors to explore their own lives and issues?

I can’t speak for everyone, but that’s certainly been the case for me. I grew up in a conservative evangelical environment, and I knew by junior high that I wasn’t straight but I was well into adulthood before I could comfortably call myself queer. Writing a kid like Ezra, who accepts himself in a way that I couldn’t at that age, was liberating in ways I didn’t expect. I heard a great quote from A.S. King in a podcast recently where she said she asked teenagers in her writing workshop, “What makes you angry right now?” I love that. Not that all writing must be driven by anger, but the heart of that advice is to dig into the things that matter most to you. I think doing that can be both a healthy outlet and the source of our best work.

Out of all the age groups to write for, the Middle-Age can be one of the trickiest to write for as the audience is both vulnerable and particular as middle-graders? What drew you to writing Middle-Grade, as opposed to other age groups?

I really like middle graders! I’m a parent, I’ve coached a lot of kids between 10-13 in basketball, and they make me laugh all the time. One of my favorite events from my book launch week was a virtual school visit with two seventh grade classes. They asked such great questions, and I had a blast. I find it such a fun age to write for as well. Kids that age are discovering themselves, they’re starting to tackle big ideas and decide what they’re passionate about, and books can be part of that journey. 

Besides your writing, what are some things you would want your readers to know about you personally?

Three things about me:

  1. I’m Canadian, and it pains me every time I have to surrender the ‘u’ in words like “favourite” and “colour” to make my American publisher happy. (I still love you though, Abrams!) 
  2. I love the beach and I’m not sure I could handle living too far from the ocean. 
  3. I play the piano, and my latest pandemic project is learning Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

What advice would you have to give to authors, especially other QPOC authors?

Write the stories that feel truest to you, in the way that feels truest to write them. Publishing is a strange and fickle beast, and all we really have control over in this industry is how we write. And feel free to write stories that are full of joy. Serious topics will always have their place—there are certainly some in my book—but queer kids of color also deserve to see characters like themselves solving mysteries and learning magic and doing things that other kids in books get to do. I don’t know who first coined this phrase, but I believe that joy is an act of resistance. 

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

I’m in the editing stage on my next book, due out next spring. It’s quite different from my debut—a Black boy moves to a mostly white small town and stumbles across some spooky things happening behind the scenes. I’m looking forward to saying more about it soon!

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

I think anyone who likes Thanks a Lot, Universe will also enjoy Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow, which releases on June 8. It has a whole cast of queer characters, found family, and roller coasters! And Meow or Never by Jazz Taylor is also a sweet Middle Grade story about dealing with anxiety and facing a first crush.