The Geeks OUT Podcast: Secret Life of DC Super-Pets

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 fellow Flame Con organizer and teacher, Sara, as they discuss the new trailer for DC’s League of Super-Pets, gag at the $billions Disney is spending on content next year, and celebrate the Grammy nom for “Agatha All Along” for our Strong Female Character of the Week.

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN: According to new report Disney to spend over $30 billion on new content

SARA:  The Belle premiere at ANYC

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Encanto, Star Trek: Discovery, Batwoman, Hawkeye, 4400
SARA: Sondheim Palooza, Spider-man rewatch, Animal Crossing DLC

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

WandaVision gets Grammy nomination for Agatha All Along

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

New teaser for season 2 of Euphoria

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New teaser for The Book of Boba Fett

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• New trailer for DC League of Super-Pets
• HBO Max accidentally uploads censored version of Birds of Prey
• First part of Jurassic World: Dominion released
• New teaser for One Piece Film: Red 

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TV

• New trailer for From
• New trailer for Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street
• New trailer for Santa Inc
• New Opening sequence for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 6
• Netflix releasing Coming Out Colton doc series this week
• Netflix renews Arcane for season 2

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COMIC BOOKS

• Marvel cancels Luke Cage: City of Fire miniseries by Ho Che Anderson
• Netflix developing series based on Nocterra comic

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SHILF

• KEVIN: FMK Peter Parker
• SARA: FMK Peter Parker

Interview with Author Katherine Battersby

Feature Photo Credit To John W. MacDonald

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi – thanks for hosting me on your gorgeous, queer, colourful blog! I am a fangirl of comic books, ice cream, mischief, tea and travel. I am also the author and illustrator of a whole bunch of quirky picture books, like TROUBLE and PERFECT PIGEONS, and I also now get to make my very own comic books (CRANKY CHICKEN is my first!). I grew up by the beach in Australia and now live by the mountains in Canada. I can be found most days either making books, reading books or sharing books with my three year old (and occasionally even my dog).

How would you describe your latest book, Cranky Chicken? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

CRANKY CHICKEN is a humorous comic book / graphic novel about a very cranky chicken who accidentally saves the life of a super excitable worm. Worm decides they are going to be BFFs – Best Feathered Friends. The book follows their quirky and unlikely friendship across three mini stories.

As for where the idea came from, well … would you believe I’m scared of chickens? Because all chickens are cranky chickens (I was chased by a lot of chickens in my youth). Then one day, during one of my author school visits, I met this tiny girl who was a huge fan of chickens. She told me, “They’re not scary – they’re hilarious!” I couldn’t stop thinking about her, so I decided to spend some more time drawing chickens. CRANKY CHICKEN is what emerged. It turns out we were both right – chickens are cranky and hilarious.

The story itself is inspired by the mischief my best friend and I used to get up to as kids. She was an extrovert who was an only child, so she was always turning up on my doorstep just like Worm – full of excitement and ready to play. Whereas I was an introvert who was part of a big blended family. I never had any time to myself, so I could be a bit of a cranky chicken. Even now we often laugh at how different and yet similar we are. Chicken and Worm are a lot like that, too.

Reading Cranky Chicken, I loved the relationship between the two different personalities, Chicken and Worm. What was it like writing their relationship together?

Chicken was the first character who turned up in my brain and she burst onto the page with that unwavering unibrow. It was clear right from the beginning that she was going to be spectacularly cranky. But she only truly became alive to me when she met Worm. I always find characters most intriguing when you see them in contrast with someone else. When they have someone to react to and bounce off of. So as soon as the two were together on the page, I got a pretty immediate sense of who they were and how, despite their differences (and possibly because of them) they are perfect for each other. I love mismatched friendship tales – maybe because I feel like all my friendships are slightly mismatched. Maybe that’s what friendship is? With my very closest friends I share deep core principles, but there is always so much about us that is different, too (and often quite opposite!). It’s these differences that allow us to challenge each other and provide alternate perspectives and allows for great conversations. Chicken and Worm are just like this, and they are always learning together. These characters are so vivid to me they almost write themselves. They are such a joy to work with.

What would you say are some of your favorite craft elements to work on?

I do love the craft of writing and illustration. All the little decisions and ideas and skills and thoughts that add up to make the magic that is a book. I love talking about it, learning it, teaching it, practising it. I love it all! I think my favourite might be whatever I feel my current weakness is, because I do love a good challenge. Before writing CRANKY CHICKEN, my weakness was dialogue. As soon as I admitted this to myself, my brain threw me the idea for CRANKY CHICKEN. My brain is cheeky like that – of course it went and threw me a dialogue only concept when I felt that was my weakness. So I studied and learned and challenged myself to be better, and I hope I did Chicken and Worm proud!

Could you describe your illustration background in some detail? Like how you got into art and what your art education was like?

As a kid, I always turned to drawing when I was moved by something. It was my way of trying to make sense of a complex world. I loved art all through school and was always known as ‘the girl who draws’. That said, drawing never came as naturally to me as writing. I felt like I could call myself a writer but I was never quite as confident in my art. So when it came to university and deciding what I was going to do with my life, I was too scared to follow my secret goals as an artist and chose something else.

I studied occupational therapy, having always been drawn to working with people (specifically children), and went on to specialise as a paediatric counsellor. I worked in this field for about ten years and I can see now, looking back, that I was kind of becoming a specialist in the hearts and minds of children (something that is really useful now that I make books for kids!). At some point I realised working as an OT wasn’t fulfilling me in quite the way I’d hoped and I turned back to art in my spare time. A friend pointed out that all the art I was making (and the stories I was writing) was clearly for children’s books, which was news to me. Once this was said out loud it was like a door opened up inside me that I didn’t even know was there and very quickly I realised that this was my calling. 

After that I did everything I could to make it a reality. I read everything about becoming a children’s book author / illustrator I could find online, attended workshops, wrote and wrote and wrote and drew until my hand was sore. At some point I realised that I needed some formal education in the arts if I was going to break into illustration professionally. There were no illustration degrees where I was living at the time, but there was a great Arts School and an equivalent to a Graphic Design degree. So I enrolled in that (part time as I continued to work) and basically used my electives to pick and choose and create the degree I was hoping for. I managed to make nearly every one of my assignments into some kind of kids book! My first published children’s book, Squish Rabbit, came from a character I designed for one of those assignments.

For those curious about what goes into making a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? 

For me, the thinking part of storytelling always takes the longest. An idea stays in my head anywhere from six months to several years before I commit anything to paper. This is because it takes that long for an idea to become rich enough to be worth working with – I need to consider it from every angle, watch the characters move and talk and react to each other, consider all the different possibilities and start building the world of the story. Then, eventually, I start making notes and doing some character sketches. Typically I work with the words first, developing the script over time. I let the characters talk to me and flesh out the story bit by bit, letting in unroll in my mind and then on paper. After that I break up the manuscript into pages, figuring out where the page turns will be and how to pace the story across an entire book. Through all this I will also be developing the visual style for the book – playing with how the characters will look, the colour palette and building the visual world. Next comes storyboarding, where I do quick rough sketches of each page, working with the classic comic book panels and challenging myself to come up with fresh perspectives and to match the illustrations to the developing emotions of the narrative. I also have to rough out how the speech will look on the page, fitting it into all the speech bubbles (in CRANKY CHICKEN I use a font I created based on my handwriting). After this I rough out which colours I will use on each page, making sure there’s good variation across the book and that the colours match the mood of each spread. Then comes the final art – doing all the line work and colouring. And then I sleep.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

I LOVE this question. I haven’t had the chance to talk about gender representation in comic books yet, which is something I’m really passionate about. As a young reader I loved comic books and grew up surrounded by ones my parents collected on their travels – Asterix and Obelix, Tin Tin, Footrot Flats (a New Zealand comic) and The Far Side. But at some point in my teens I realised all the comic books I had access to were written and illustrated by men (and featured all male leads). Of course this has changed a lot over time, but it’s still quite a male dominated industry. This only made me want to make my own comic books even more. As soon as I stumbled across Chicken, I knew she’d be my perfect lead – she’s spectacularly cranky and somehow more loveable for it, plus she’s got this admirable confidence that comes from being pretty comfortable with who she. I wanted to put her front and centre in a book that joys in all her cantankerous ways (we so rarely celebrate female grumps in stories, which is another reason I fell in love with Chicken as a character). All that said, I never use gender to shape a character, but rather allow my characters just to be exactly who they are. Chicken identifies as female, Worm is more gender fluid (which is something I can relate to and is how worms actually present in nature) but both play with different gender norms throughout the book – play is something I enjoy a lot in gender expression. Interestingly, because the entire book is in first person speech there’s no pronouns and therefore few gender signifiers in the book, and I’ve found about 90% of reviews automatically assume both characters are male. It’s a shame that male is still our default – not that I blame individuals, this is a long entrenched societal norm. But I’d love to be a small part of the change! 

What advice might you have to give to other aspiring creatives?

Well … try not to listen to too much advice! Or at least, figure out what works for you and only listen to that. There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there and it can often steer people wrong. I think the best thing you can do is read lots of great books, watch lots of great films, engage with all the art you’re drawn to, do all the things that bring you joy and then write and write and write (or draw and draw and draw). Play with the ideas that fascinate you, as opposed to the ones you think you should pursue. So there’s my advice, which I also advised you not to listen to, so do with it what you will.

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

Yes – so much more crankiness! I have just finished proofing all the final illustrations for CRANKY CHICKEN 2 and last week I handed in the final manuscript for book 3 (phew!). While waiting for feedback from my editor I have a little time to work on a couple of picture book manuscripts I have knocking around my mind. One I’m currently storyboarding and the other one I’m still writing (it’s currently with my critique partners for feedback). I also have a newer idea for a middle grade graphic novel which I’m currently collecting ideas for and world building. I always have many stories on the go, all in various stages of development. My brain is very active and needs to be kept busy.

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

I could spend my life just reading graphic novels and comic books and have so many I’ve loved. Here are just a few that are on my desk currently…

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag, Snapdragon by Kat Leyh, Treasure in the Lake by Jason Pamment, The Daughters of Ys by M.T Anderson and Jo Rioux

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Spider-Man No More Teasers

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 Jon Herzog, as they catch up on what we missed while Kevin was on his honeymoon, highlight their favorite announcements from Disney+ Day, and celebrate the trailer for the queer holiday movie Single All The Way in This Week in Queer.

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN & JON:  Highlights from Disney+ Day

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Superman: Son of Kal-El, Disney World
JON: The Stand (the book NOT the trash CBS show), Critical Role: Exandria Unlimited & Season 3

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

New trailer for Turning Red

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

New trailer for Single All The Way

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• New trailer for Nightmare Alley
• New trailer for Don’t Look Up
• HBO Max is doing a 20th Anniversary Harry Potter Special without JK Rowling

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TV

• New teaser for And Just Like That
• First look at the new Poison Ivy in Batwoman
• NBC renews La Brea for a second season
• First look at South Park: Post COVID special
• New teaser for the Halo live-action series
• New teaser for Pam & Tommy
• New trailer for a Solar Opposites Holiday Special
• Trivial Pursuit game show in development hosted by LeVar Burton
• Starz orders a revival of Party Down

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VIDEO GAMES

• Xbox reconsidering relationship with Activision Blizzard
• First look at WB’s MultiVersus

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Poison Ivy
• JON: Adult Kyle from South Park

Interview with Writer David Valdes

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I write books and plays, teach writing and theater, and am a single dad to a teenager. I’m a gay Cuban-American, so a lot of my work foregrounds queer and intersectional stories. My geek side is fed by any hooky sci-fi and all things speculative—I love seeing elements of our world but spun into time- or space-travel, magical or impossible events, and futuristic what-if scenarios.

Congratulations on your upcoming book, Spin Me Right Round! Could you tell us what it’s about and where the idea for the book came from?

Spin Me Right Round is kind of the love child of Back to the Future and Love Simon. My daughter and I were watching season three of Stranger Things together and she found the 80’s stuff really cool and funky, and it was fun for me to re-see my own past through new eyes. I had the idea of Spin Me Right Round almost immediately—Back to the Future was my favorite movie in the mid-80’s. The first draft of the book came so fast, it was done in eight weeks. (I had no idea how many drafts lay ahead!)

What sparked your interest in Young Adult fiction?

I’m around teenagers all the time, not only my daughter and her friends, but 18-year-olds—I teach freshmen at Tufts and Boston Conservatory. Their voices and their ideas fill the air I’m in.

What were some of the first queer books you read and connected to, as well as those that paved your own interest in storytelling?

I found the The Boys on the Rock by John Fox in Mr. Paperback in Maine and was shocked that it said it was a gay novel right on the back cover—and the front has a shirtless gay kid sunbathing on a rock. I bought it and then hid it inside the lining of my coat so that I could sneak it into my house unseen. I only read it at night after my mom was asleep. It was illuminating—gay sex did not work how I imagined—and a little sad, because a rom com it is not. But it was the first time I read a queer story with queer hero, one whose life and loves were treated seriously. 

For many queer authors, fiction is a medium in which they can explore their own truths vicariously, reimagining queer youths that they themselves didn’t get to have. Was there anything like this in the motivation for writing Spin Me Right Round?

I set Spin Me Right Round on a campus very much like the religious boarding school I went to. Whereas I was completely closeted in high school (apologies to my girlfriends Cindi, Jill, and Colleen), my protagonist Luis is out out out. It was fun mashing up worlds, with the guy I couldn’t be sharing space with the guy I was.  

Spin Me Right Round centers a queer Latinx (Cuban-American) protagonist. Could you tell us about some elements of this character you’re excited for others to see in the book?

Luis is a lot – he can be too full of himself but he also can be hilarious. I liked the idea of seeing what happens when somebody so sure of his place in the world ends up in another world.

The book allowed me to create a community as diverse and inclusive as the ones I’ve found in real life but are so absent from popular media. Chaz’s life is populated with kids of color, his best friend is nonbinary, and the important adults in his life are Black and Latina. I’m excited to have a book that defies the pattern of four white boys on bikes with one Black friend and a girl; in this book, the kids of color are the leads; girls and women are core to his life.

On your website it mentions you have quite a background in theater. Could you talk about that a little here and what pulled you towards that direction?

The first play I ever saw was when I was 9. I was really poor and my family never went to the theater. Someone invited me to a local community theater production of the Fantasticks – and I was hooked by the magic they made with simple props and lighting. I started writing skits in high school and plays in college. Now I’ve written 25 plays and one musical—and I still love the magic of it.

As an author, what advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Rejection is not personal. You have to write, submit, keep writing, and keep submitting. You can’t ever know what a reader’s day or week or year were like before they got your manuscript. You don’t know what pressures their business is under. So many factors beyond you are controlling the outcome. So let it go. 

In both playwriting and fiction, I’ve had rejections that actually led to opportunities months or years later—people who saw my work and didn’t publish or produce it, but who filed away in mind that they wanted to work with me someday when the time was right. I never knew they were thinking of this until they finally reappeared. It’s a good reminder that no one can champion work you haven’t written and submitted.

What’s something you haven’t done as a writer that you’d like to do?

I’d love to be in a writer’s room for TV, helping make stories queerer and more focused on people of color; I’d especially like to work on genre projects in comedy or thrillers, not just topical and issue-focused fare.

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest sources of inspiration and creativity?

In my life, my daughter, naturally; Spin Me Right Round wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for time shared with her. In writing or the arts, James Baldwin has always been a touchstone, with his queer and non-homogeneous worldview. Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban is one of the most impactful books in terms of my sense of what and how to write. In general, I get inspiration from exposure to all modes of storytelling: hearing people talk about their lives, reading an unusual news story, or watching a great TV show or a movie – any good story can inspire me to make my own.

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

I just turned in a second book for Bloomsbury about the romantic lives of three kids whose actual identities don’t match their online personas very well—and what happens when real and virtual worlds come together.  I’m hoping to be in submission soon with an adult novel about the aftermath of a queer kid’s disappearance in a small town. And I’ve just started writing a fun project I can’t say much about but would be the most me a YA novel could possibly be.

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

Back when I was coming out, I read a lot of Adrienne Rich poetry and was really into Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, as well as all the Baldwin stuff. More recently, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong really floored me. In Young Adult, I’d say check out Kacen Callender and Adam Silvera

Interview with Author Ash Van Otterloo

Ash Van Otterloo was born and raised in the Appalachian foothills, then made their home for seventeen years as an adult in Eastern Tennessee.

They currently reside in the PNW with their best friend and four wild forest gremlins. Ash is the author of CATTYWAMPUS & A TOUCH OF RUCKUS! (Watch for new announcements soon)

Whether or not their house is haunted is a topic for gossip among their neighbors. The ones, at least, that the ghosts haven’t monched yet! You can learn more about Ash at ashvanotterloo.com.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure! I’m Alder (Ash) Van Otterloo, my pronouns are they/he, I was born in Charlotte, NC, and grew up in North AL/GA/East TN. I’ve always loved expressing myself through language, though I got a later start in my author journey. I’m trans and nonbinary/agender, queer, a parent, a lover of nature and hiking, a lifelong learner, and I write middle grade books with a hint of spookiness and varying degrees of magical reaslism. I also work as a creative writing tutor and freelance editor. 

What can you tell us about your newest story, A Touch of Ruckus? Where did the inspiration for this book come from? Also, nice title by the way!

(Thanks!) A Touch of Ruckus is the story of Tennessee Lancaster, a girl who uses her secret gift (she calls it her ‘superburden’) of psychometry to learn her family members’ difficult secrets and play peacemaker to their constant bickering. She tries escaping the drama to visit her beloved grandmother inside an old growth forest, but there her gift does something new—it awakens a ghost from an old watch who starts haunting her! Her new friend Fox talks her into looking for ghosts on purpose, and soon, they’re both in over their heads. The ghosts have secrets to tell about the Lancaster family, and keeping the peace is not an option!

The story has cozy Halloween vibes, heart-in-your-throat haunting scenes, a tenderhearted nonbinary crush, themes of communication and the importance of mental health awareness…and SO MANY CORVIDS!

As a writer, what drew you to writing fiction/ fantasy, especially that intended for younger audiences?

I adore that fantasy allows young readers to explore their fears and feelings in a way that’s every bit as colorful, adventurous, intense, and fantastical as the strong emotions they’re experiencing at that age. Everything’s new, a little bit scary, and unpredictable! Fantasy can match those big feelings, stride for stride, and serve as a safe mirror—sometimes even a dress rehearsal—for the new experiences of growing up, but in a low-risk, high-empathy way. I really love that. Outrageous stories about struggling characters are affirming, and they say, “No, you’re not too much. Your enthusiasm, interests, anger, and sadness aren’t too big. Your fears aren’t, either. It’s okay that you have them, and you can learn to navigate them.” 

Were there any books that touched you or inspired you growing up? 

You know, I didn’t realize the pattern as a young reader, but I was consistently drawn to stories about community outsiders who overcame difficulties in communication or culture to find beautiful niches in the world to thrive as their truest selves. I loved Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe, The Borrowers, Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web, the Pevensie children, and Beetle from The Midwife’s Apprentice

They were all often displaced or varying degrees of misunderstood yet managed to fight for their character arcs that included compassion, healing, and a desire to bring goodness to the communities that hadn’t embraced them at first. I think those notes of hopeful, Promethean fierceness really stuck with me, and carry over into my own writing. 

Also, what magic systems/worlds/ characters drew your attention then and now?

When I was young, I was so drawn to anything mysterious and weird! I loved cryptids, local ghost stories and legends, and anything that explored possibilities just beyond the realm of everyday life. That hasn’t changed much, though I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for old stories and archetypes, too, and seeing how we’re still using the patterns from legends and fairy tales today. I really enjoy trying to find new ways to explore older-than-dirt themes, because it makes me feel like I’m adding a useful link to a long chain of storytelling. 

Your first published book, Cattywampus (also another nice title as well) features a variety of queer characters, including a character that is intersex (which is still rarely seen in middle grade literature). What drew you to writing about this subject, and do you feel you draw on your own experiences as a queer Appalachian non-binary person while writing in general?

Writing Katybird was a unique undertaking! I needed to familiarize myself not only with many firsthand perspectives of others and the concrete details of what it means to androgen insensitive (Katy’s specific intersex experience), but I also had to become quite clear on how Katy’s experiences and mine intersected or diverged! 

Being nonbinary like me (which has to do with the cultural construct of gender) is different from being intersex (which is a distinct, physical experience). Many people who are intersex are also trans/nonbinary, while others identify strongly with their gender assigned at birth. I decided to write Katy’s character because many people from my home region view both gender and sex as attached purely to a very binary categorization of humanity based on physical sex characteristics—you’re “one or the other”—when this is simply not true. There’s so much variety encompassed in the human experience that falls outside the rigid physical and gender binary! In fact, there are as many intersex people in the world as there are naturally redheaded people! (For more information and a much better explanation of what it means to be intersex, please visit https://interactadvocates.org !) 

Tangible traits are sometimes a bit easier for folks to wrap their minds around, I think, especially for people who are resistant to new information. Careful, thoughtful education and inclusion can go a long way in stretching out people’s ability to perceive the world beyond their own very basic binary understanding. Both physical sex and experience of one’s own gender can defy categorization, and that’s a wonderful, normal, and beautiful part of reality. This is what I hoped to convey to readers. 

In a more general sense, Katy’s arc speaks to anyone who feels misunderstood or undervalued within their home culture, and encourages them to recognize their uniqueness as an crucial and precious gift to the community around them. 

While steadily growing, queer rural/ Appalachian life in literature is still underrepresented. What does it mean to you personally bringing this to the page?

Because queer folks have always existed (and will continue to exist!) in Appalachia and rural areas, I want to be careful when expressing my gratitude for the opportunity to write queer rural middle grade books. In one sense, I count myself humbly lucky to live in a moment in history where the stories are being valued and embraced in the publishing world, because wow, what a happenstance and privilege is that after all that waiting? But it’s not that those queer stories haven’t always deserved space—they absolutely have. So we’re not overly beholden to anyone for this. I view this moment more as a creative partnership that I’m grateful to take part in, as we begin to collaboratively bring balance to imbalance. The world needs queer perspectives, wisdom, beauty, and imperfections, just like it needs every other voice—and it’s lucky to have us. 

I do feel a strong sense of responsibility to write with excellence and honesty, and to do everything I can do hold the door open for more queer writers, especially those writing from intersections of racial diversity, neurodivergence, disability, and fellow trans writers, whose voices are still underrepresented from the region. It takes hundreds of queer rural stories from all different perspectives, walks, genres, interests, and styles to form a beautiful, lush body of work that any young queer person can visit and find themselves present. That’s the dream, ultimately. 

What are some of your favorite parts of the writing process? What are some of the hardest/ most frustrating for you?

I enjoy writing conflict and dialogue! Somewhat related, I love creating relationships between characters with opposing life philosophies, which is my favorite relationship dynamic in real life too. It’s so much fun to see characters challenge one another’s small beliefs just by being themselves, or gently nudging one another toward new understandings through love or opposition. Dreaming up odd couples then setting them free on the page blisses me out like nothing else. 

The most frustrating part of writing is absolutely navigating my own attention span, hands down. I’d write for days on end if my focus would let me! I’m a roamer, and I like to tinker with lots of different hobbies. But in some ways, this really drives me to try and hold my own attention with plot twists and compelling emotional arcs, so it probably works out best for readers in the end. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Fight the urge to compare your writing to your favorite authors, and instead keep an open mind about what sort of writer you might be. Try lots of different stories and voices, and make sure you’re bringing your own heart and emotional experiences to the table. There’s only one you!

Aside from writing, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

Weirdness of every sort makes my soul happy. I adore nature, especially plants, entomology, and mycology! I have a lot of tattoos, a ball python named Sophie Adder (Ghibli/snake pun), three cats, an old dog, and some really amazing kids who I’m lucky to raise. 

What’s your greatest fear? 

Clowns, hands down. The creepy ones are fine; they’re straightforward. It’s the cheerful ones you have to watch for. What do they want from us? It can’t be good.  

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

I’m currently working on a contemporary MG about a 12yo whose mother is suffering from an addiction problem and mental health issues, which the MC compensates for by performing well in school and winning the approval of authority figures. When the mom ends up in rehab, the main character stays with an estranged aunt who runs a close-knit community garden, where they encounter kind, supportive new neighbors (many of whom are elderly, disabled, and/or queer). A mysterious Shadow begins following the MC, challenging their old rules for survival, and slowly the MC begins forming their own identity, separate from meeting their mother’s needs. 

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

I really strongly recommend fellow queer middle grade authors who debuted and sophomored in 2020/2021! We poured so much time and skill into our novels, and despite running into parent after parent looking for great MG books with queer representation, there’s a huge disconnect between the books and potential readers due to pandemic/lack of buzz. And, unfortunately, like everyone, authors are tied to a capitalist system in order for their books to reach young readers. 

If we want amazing queer rep in kidlit, we have to bolster demand via purchase of the big wave of queer MG books which happened to coincide with the pandemic. (Hie thee to bookshop.org!)

Authors Nicole Melleby, Kacen Callender, Kit Rosewater, A.J. Sass, Jules Machias, Jazz Taylor, Schuyler Bailar, and Kyle Lukoff are just a few of my favorites! I’ve also had the privilege of reading Sir Callie and the Champions of Helston (fall 2022) by Esme Symes-Smith, which is excellent. 

Interview With Cartoonists Whit Taylor & Kazimir Lee

Whit Taylor is an Ignatz Award-winning cartoonist, editor, and writer from New Jersey. She has authored many comics, including the graphic novel Ghost Stories, and is a regular contributor to the Nib.

Kazimir Lee is an animator, cartoonist, and illustrator, who has lived for almost equal amounts of time in Malaysia, the UK, and the US, now residing in Brooklyn, New York.

About the Book Harriet Tubman:Towards Freedom Harriet Tubman did something exceptionally courageous: She escaped slavery. Then she did something impossible: She went back. She underwent some thirteen missions to rescue around seventy enslaved people, using and expanding a network of abolitionists that became known as the Underground Railroad. She spent her life as an activist, speaking out for Black people and women’s suffrage. 

This modern account of her trip to save her brothers is detailed and authentic. Illustrated with care for the historical record, it offers insight into the life and mind of Tubman, displaying her as a woman with an unshakable desire to break the chains of an unjust society. It is a perfect anti-racist narrative for our times and deepens an understanding of just what freedom means to those who must fight for it.

How did you come to find yourself working in comics? What would you say attracted you to the medium in the first place?

Whit: I’ve been a comics reader and drawer since I was little, but didn’t start seriously making comics until my mid/late 20s. I started self-publishing, attending comics shows, and found a community in the indie comics world. In recent years, I’ve also become a freelance comics editor and contributing editor at The Nib.  I’ve always been attracted to the versatility of comics storytelling and enjoy both making my own comics and collaborating with others, such as Kaz. I like to make all sorts of comics: memoir, non-fiction (comics journalism/historical/educational), and some fiction. 

K: I was attracted by the freedom of this medium! I loved working in animation, but it was so time consuming that I found myself becoming too deeply focused on producing marketable, profitable content rather than work that spoke to me. CCS (The Center for Cartoon Studies) really shook up my expectations and pointed me in the right direction. There has always been something deeply DIY about cartooning, and I consider that one of its greatest strengths. Also Batman.

Whit Taylor

Who would you say are some of your favorite artistic influences? 

Whit: It’s hard to narrow it down because there are plenty, but off the top of my head, Lynda Barry and MariNaomi come to mind.

K: Jereme Sorese, Kevin Czap, Blue Delliquanti, Liz Suburbia, Marika and Jillian Tamaki and Joe Sacco are all giants. I would be blessed to be half the artist any of them are.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creators?

Whit: Make the work that’s in line with your values and interests.  Invest in your creative community. Realize that everyone has a different career path and that building it can take time. Don’t be ashamed to have a day job or other source of income…in this industry it’s not the exception, but the norm.

K: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Collaboration is fertile. Find time to experiment. Try your best to learn from your peers. Be accountable to your community, and to yourself.

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

Whit: What changes in the comics industry would you most like to see? Right now, my top answers would be more publishing opportunities for adult graphic novels (which I think is starting to happen, thankfully), more support for new parents in the industry (as a new mom, making art can be particularly challenging), and some sort of viable path towards a cartoonist/comics industry union.

K: What TV shows are consuming your free time right now and why?

Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to speak about?

Whit: I’m currently working on The Greater Good, a public health policy/history graphic novel which will be drawn by Joyce Rice and published by First Second in 2023. I have a public health degree, and having worked in health education before moving to comics, this is a dream project. I’m also drawing the fourth issue of my minicomic series Fizzle, published by Radiator Comics. 

K: I’m working on a YA graphic novel for Iron Circus, and it will be the first large work I’ve ever written and drawn on my own! Scary. I’m also producing a comic about healthcare reform in collaboration with James Sturm for CCS- it’s done in the format of an animal-filled children’s picture book (even though it’s for kids and adults alike) and it was a fun departure from my regular style!

Kazimir Lee

In regard to queer media, what LGBTQ+ media would you say you’ve been drawn to in the past, especially that in regards to your own specific experiences and identities?

K: It’s embarrassing since I feel like I’m too old for this, but Steven Universe has been really formative in what I think queer media (especially in the Young Adult side of things) is capable of. Kim Petras and Remy Boydell are always pushing boundaries. There’s this queerpunk band, Shh! Diam that always blows my mind. The poetry of Zefyr Lisowki and the comics by Bisakh Som are a huge inspiration. We’re sort of living in a queer creator golden age, although I wish everyone was paid more.

As someone who has lived within Malaysia, the UK, and the US, would you say you’ve experienced or seen certain variations in terms of queer culture and expression? If so, would you describe them?

K: I didn’t really get to grow up in Malaysia, but whenever I go back it’s amazing to see queer culture bloom in what can be a really hostile environment. It reminds me of the importance of queer survival, and how that’s tied up with solidarity and accountability. Kuala Lumpur’s scene is smaller and more intimate than New York’s (where I live now.). It’s not as if there’s no drama, but I feel like we have to watch out for each other. It reminds me that we don’t have the privilege to treat others as disposable.

As someone who has illustrated comics about sex positivity, immigration rights, etc., what would you say inspires your inspirations? Has activism through art always been something you’ve been drawn to (no pun intended)? 

K: I am much less of an activist now, since I’m working for my green card. That makes breaking the law much more theoretical, and much less actual. I miss marching, but I feel like I am experiencing activism vicariously through my friends, family and community. Writing about it from the sidelines can be amazing, but also sort of frustrating at times. I call it Anarcho-FOMO.

Do you have any comics/books to recommend for the readers of Geeks OUT?

Whit: These recent reads come to mind: Dog Biscuits by Alex Graham (self-published), Guantanamo Voices by Sarah Mirk (Abrams), and I Never Promised you a Rose Garden by Mannie Murphy (Fantagraphics).

K: This One Summer is a brilliant read. Anything by Tillie Walden or Robyn Brooke Smith, they’re both geniuses. Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia is one of my fave comics ever, it’s deeply haunting and very “punk”. Jeremy Sorese has a book coming out called ‘The Short While‘, it’s a queer sci-fi thriller, and while I haven’t read it yet, I’m sure it will be brilliant!

Interview with Author Chloe Gong

Chloe Gong is the New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights and its sequel, Our Violent Ends. She is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she double-majored in English and international relations. Born in Shanghai and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Chloe is now located in New York pretending to be a real adult. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok under @TheChloeGong.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hello! It’s such a pleasure to be here. I’m Chloe Gong, the author of These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends, which is a Romeo and Juliet retelling duology set in 1920s Shanghai. I’m originally from Auckland, New Zealand and I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania this year, so now I’m a full-time author hopping along in New York City.

Where did you get your start in creative writing? What pulled you to fiction?

I started way, way back, writing my first novel when I was 13! I gave writing a go because books and stories were a form of entertainment and escapism for me, especially because I always complained that I was soooooo bored in suburban Auckland. There were only so many times that my mum could take me to the library in a week, and once I tore through my book pile, I turned to writing stories instead of reading them. Creative writing was this outlet to create worlds for myself—I didn’t even think of myself as a writer until much later in high school.

Where did the impetus to write These Violent Delights come from, besides the obvious Shakespearean source?

I wanted to write a blood feud story mashed with the setting of 1920s Shanghai, so the Shakespearean source genuinely did come later! I was fascinated with the aesthetic of the 20s and Shanghai in the 20s in particular because my parents always talked about it as the city’s golden era in modern history. Then I did some research of my own and learned about the lawlessness and the gangster rule and everything being a result of imperialism after the Opium Wars, and it was just such a fascinating world that I wanted to work with it in fiction.

As an author who wrote These Violent Delights while studying in college, how did you balance your schedule between your classes and writing? Would you say your academic studies have influenced your creative projects?

It was hard! I had to do a lot of planning in advance, looking at my semester as a whole and pinning down which days I had assignments due so that it wasn’t clashing with my book deadlines. I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but it was certainly a lot of intense calendar-managing to make sure I was keeping a good balance. My academic studies influenced what I wrote for sure! Or rather, I would take classes in the sort of things I was interested in anyway, but my Russian Lit professor did get some very bizarre emails from me about duels and how people fought them in history.

How would you describe your crafting style, i.e plotting, pantsing, something in between, or something else entirely? How would you describe your typical writing routine?

I’m a very thorough plotter! I need things outlined before I can dive in, otherwise I find that I flounder a little. My outlines tend to look like Draft Zero too, and by that I mean I dump out everything I’ve imagined in the scene: the sequence of events, the dialogue, the character’s feelings, my behind-the-scenes craft work etc etc. By then, Draft One is the pretty prose run and I can focus on my language because the other heavy lifting has been done.

What’s your favorite cultural (film, book, etc.) adaption of a Shakespearean work, Romeo and Juliet and otherwise? Are you interested in writing any new stories based off the Bard’s work?

I really love the Baz Luhrmann adaptation of Romeo + Juliet. I think I’m going to stay in the Shakespearean retellings niche for some time, there’s definitely a lot to work with! I’ve written an Antony and Cleopatra retelling too, but that’s all I’ll say for now…

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters featured in your books?

We have the darling Marshall Seo who is out as queer, described to have a Cheshire cat smile because he’ll be a ray of sunshine if you’re on his good side but he won’t hesitate to smack around anyone on his bad side. He has a budding romance with Benedikt Montagov, who is more hesitant toward embracing his identity because he’s an intense thinker and feeler living in his own head so much. And of course one of my favorite characters to write is Kathleen Lang—she’s a trans girl who is fiercely devoted to her family and will do everything in her power to protect them. I somehow accidentally gave her a line from Taylor Swift’s mirrorball before Taylor Swift even released mirrorball.

The central conflict is between the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, Chinese and Russian groups respectively. What was the process like for you, writing about a culture that you were already familiar with versus one that you weren’t?

Most of the cultures I wrote about in These Violent Delights I’m actually quite familiar with! I included these groups because of Shanghai’s true history and I’m in Shanghai often (at least, in our pre-pandemic days), where the remnants of the 1920s immigrant groups are still around in what I hear about from my relatives or in the shops and areas I go to. I did a bit more nosing around on Russian words as opposed to Chinese words I already knew, but ultimately I just approached all cultures with a lot of respect and wrote on what I’ve researched and soaked in about Shanghai. In general, I actually read more translated Russian literature than I read translated Chinese literature!

In various interviews, you’ve discussed how intense the research process was behind writing These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends? Could you describe that for us?

I flipped through soooo many textbooks. I spent a lot of time very early in the process only absorbing information so that I could properly imagine the world as it was in history. That meant it came a lot easier once I was working on Our Violent Ends or on the spin-off duology that’s coming after that, because I already had the base work from all my heavy researching pre-These Violent Delights. 

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

If I could fight any animal which one would I fight—and I would answer a salmon fish. I don’t know why, I just think it would be kind of funny.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

To keep writing and writing! Craft can only develop with practice—it’s truly impossible to get something right off the bat or in one go. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t happen immediately as you want it to, and don’t buy into people who say they can teach you something fast. Writing is something that gets honed with time and effort.

Are there any other projects or ideas you are currently nursing and would be at liberty to say?

In Fall 2022, I have a spin-off duology coming! Set after the events of Our Violent Ends, Foul Lady Fortune follows a character who we’ve already met in the previous duology, but we can’t reveal who until Our Violent Ends is out so that we’re not spoiling anything! But I always pitch Foul Lady Fortune as a political C-Drama meets a Marvel movie as it’s about two fake married spies infiltrating a corporate workplace to uncover an imperialist scheme, and I’m very excited to reveal more eventually.

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

Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie is releasing February 2022 and it’s described as a coming-of-age/coming-out story as Ophelia navigates the end of high school and contemporary lovers absolutely have to scramble to pick it up. And for SFF lovers, Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta is the most wild ride of found family and giant mechas in truly the best possible way so read it before the sequel Godslayers releases in June 2022!

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Saved by the Reboot

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 the new trailer for season 2 of the Saved by the Bell revival/reboot, cheer on the workers at Image who organized the Comic Book Workers United union, and breakdown our feelings about the new trailer for The Power of the Dog in This Week in Queer.

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BIG OPENING

KEVIN:  Image Comic workers form Comic Book Workers United union
WILL: New trailer for season 2 of Saved by the Bell revival

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DOWN AND NERDY

KEVIN: The Eternals, Night Teeth, Stargirl, Y: The Last Man, Heavy Metal Special
WILL: Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Wellington Paranormal

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STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER

Looks like Gal Gadot is playing Evil Queen in live-action Snow White

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THIS WEEK IN QUEER

New trailer for The Power of the Dog

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CLIP OF THE WEEK

New look at new Scream movie

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THE WEEK IN GEEK

MOVIES

• New trailer for Morbius
• Chris Pratt voicing Garfield in new animated movie
• New trailer for Swan Song
• New trailer for 8-Bit Christmas
• New trailer for Moonfall
• Trailer for animated documentary Flee

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TV

• Fox is bringing back Joe Millionaire
• Daniel Dae Kim joins live-action Avatar series
• New teaser for season 4 of Stranger Things
• New teaser for Station Eleven
• First look at Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas
• New trailer for The Book of Boba Fett
• Gael García Bernal cast as lead in Marvel’s Disney+ 2022 Halloween special
• Emilio Estevez not returning to The Mighty Ducks series due to vaccine mandate ** **Update: Emiiio Estevez clarifies his leaving is due to creative differences not vaccine mandate

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COMIC BOOKS

• Marvel surprise releases new Infinity Comic staring Hulking & Wiccan

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SHILF

• KEVIN: Tim Drake
• WILL: Jonathan Kent

Interview with Paige McKenzie and Nancy Ohlin

Paige McKenzie is a millennial hyphenate: a New York Times bestselling author, YouTuber, actor, influencer, creator, artist, and producer. Her first book series, the Haunting of Sunshine Girl, was on the New York Times bestseller list for over a month. Paige is constantly creating. Her Etsy shop, the Homebody Guild, is full of her art and designs, and she is always updating it with new creations. Paige also interacts daily with her Sunshiners across a variety of media including YouTube (where she has over half a million subscribers), Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Paige is a founding member of Coat Tale Productions, with three projects in active development. Paige lives in Portland, Oregon, with the love of her life, a seven-pound Chihuahua named Pongo. 

Nancy Ohlin was born in Tokyo and moved to the United States when she was nine. She has written, ghostwritten, or collaborated on over one hundred fiction and nonfiction books for children, teens, and adults, including her YA novels Consent, Beauty, and Always, Forever (Simon & Schuster). Most recently, she collaborated with Paige on The Sacrifice of Sunshine Girl (Hachette Books), Quvenzhané Wallis on the Shai and Emmie chapter book series (Simon & Schuster), and Chloe Lukasiak on her memoir Girl on Pointe: Chloe’s Guide to Taking on the World (Bloomsbury). 

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?

NANCY: Thank you for inviting us! So I was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to the U.S. with my mom and my little brother when I was nine. English is my second language. I’ve written or ghostwritten over a hundred books for teens, kids, and adults. These days, I live in Ithaca, New York, where my husband is a law professor and dean. Our son, Chris, is a classical pianist and lives in Chicago with his partner John, and our daughter, Clara, is a 7th grader and future bestselling author. Our family includes many cats who have all perfected the art of adorable Zoom-bombing. In my spare time, I read, cook, do yoga, play board games, and watch a lot of TV (and cute cat videos, of course!).

PAIGE: Hi there! I am a New York Times bestselling author, YouTuber, actor, influencer, creator, artist, and producer. I am constantly creating in my art studio. ​I have an Etsy shop (The Homebody Guild) with rugs, clothing, earrings. and much more! I spend most of my time being creative and snuggling my 10-pound chihuahua, Pongo. 

Could you tell us what your series, B*Witch is about? Also, how did you come up with the awesome name?

B*Witch is about two covens of teen witches, one “good” and one “bad” (those distinctions get very blurry over time) who have to work together to solve the mystery of a sister witch’s untimely death. In the world of B*Witch, witchcraft is against the law, so our witches have to practice in secret. On top of this, anti-magic hate groups are on the rise, adding to the drama and danger. There’s also a 19TH-century witch-hunter who may still be alive, although it’s unclear whose side he is on; is he with the hate groups, or is he with the witches? 

The sequel, Witch Rising, picks up where B*Witch left off, with the stakes (and peril) being even higher. There’s also a lot of complicated romantic stuff going on amongst our witches: Iris and Torrence fight over Greta’s affections; Ridley can’t get over her crush on a dead girl; Div (who happens to have a “more than friends” history with Greta) and Mira fake-date two members of the anti-magic hate group; and Binx has feelings for someone who may be a valuable ally or a very dangerous enemy … or a little of both.

The name, B*Witch, was a collaborative lightbulb moment by us and our (amazing) literary agent, Mollie Glick. The asterisk was meant to evoke the contemporary vibe of the books and was also a nod to Binx, who is a cyber-witch.

How did you two come to work together on a book series? Did you know each other prior to writing together?

We did not know each other prior to writing together, although we were definitely fans of each other’s work! Our first project together was The Sacrifice of Sunshine Girl, the third book in the Haunting of Sunshine Girl trilogy. Mollie introduced the two of us and brought us together for this book. Afterwards, we were like, “that was so much fun, let’s write something else together!” So we brainstormed ideas by Skype—Paige is West Coast, and Nancy is East Coast. We almost immediately said “A BOOK ABOUT WITCHES!” to each other, and the rest is history.

Nancy Ohlin

How did you both find yourselves getting into writing? What drew you to the Young Adult genre?

PAIGE: I have always loved YA and still pretty much exclusively read YA. My path to writing was very untraditional. My YouTube series, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, has over half a million subscribers, and I have always told stories on that platform. I was approached to do a book about my life but that didn’t feel like me, so I wrote a novel instead, The Haunting of Sunshine Girl, and thus the trilogy was born. And now, B*Witch and Witch Rising!

NANCY: I’d wanted to be a writer ever since I was little. I started out writing poetry at age thirteen, continued with poetry through high school and college, and then shifted to fiction, very tentatively, in my twenties … tentatively because poems are (generally) short and fiction is (generally) longer and involves plots and characterization and other hard stuff that I’d never studied in school. I got into kidlit when I was hired for my first ghostwriting project, for a popular girls’ mystery series; an editor friend gave me the opportunity to “audition” for the job, and I got it! Working on those books, I realized how much I liked writing from a young POV. That led to more ghostwriting gigs for various early grade, middle grade, and YA series, and eventually, to writing my own original stories for those age groups. 

Of those age groups, I find YA the most rewarding, and the most challenging, to write. Being a teenager is so intense and complicated (understatement!), and creating teen characters, telling their stories, is equally so. I also draw from my own experiences as a teenager—my teen years were not awesome—and that’s a scary place to go. Scary but necessary … two words that kind of sum up writing for me.

Aside from B*Witch, what are some other witchy universes you love or draw inspiration from?

NANCY: I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Willow and her girlfriend, Tara, are two of my favorite fictional witches. I’m also a fan of Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch books. My passion for witchy things started at a young age; when I was a kid growing up in Japan, I was obsessed with a super-popular anime character named Sally the Witch. Oh, and did I mention that I love Wanda a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch from the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Beyond specifically witchy worlds … while writing the B*Witch books, I drew inspiration from folklore and mythology from different cultures. Also poetry, feminism, and herbology … and of course, the stories and experiences of people who represent the LGBTQ+, BIPOC, AAPI, and other marginalized communities. 

PAIGE: I LOVE Practical Magic with a burning passion … the house, the characters … oh, it is just everything! I also love Stardust and, really, any universe Neil Gaiman creates. And I grew up in the 90’s, so the Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus are queens!

Out of the main characters in your series, who do you find yourself relating the most to?

PAIGE: This question is always the hardest for Nancy and me! I would say Binx because of her sassy nature, and Iris because of her emotions and anxiety, which I certainly suffer from!

NANCY: I think there is a part of me in all of the characters! My top three would probably be: Binx, because she is Japanese American; Iris, because of what Paige said; and Greta, because she loves cats and nature and is very nurturing. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer website, could you talk a bit about the queer representation/themes we can see in the book?

B*Witch and Witch Rising are very much about a (fictional) marginalized group—witches who live in a place where witchcraft is illegal—and for us echo experiences that LGBTQ+ and members of other marginalized groups may experience in the real world. We have several queer characters in the series: Greta, Div, and Aysha are bi; Iris is a lesbian; and Ridley is trans. And as we mentioned earlier, the books include several non-cis-het romances.

What advice would you have for aspiring writers? 

Read lots. Keep a journal. Draw inspiration from everything around you. Remember that a first draft is just that—a first draft—and it’s important just to get the words down; you can rearrange them later. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or take creative risks. Be kind to yourself while writing, and also remember to take care of yourself when you’re not writing; it can be easy to lose track of Life with a capital L when you’re staring at your computer screen and trying to make brilliant words happen.

Paige McKenzie

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)? 

Question: Books are usually published a year or more after an author finishes the manuscript. How do you get excited about a just-published book you wrote ages ago when you’ve already moved on to other books, other projects?

Answer: Writing a book can be intense and consuming. The two of us have been known to walk around our respective houses speaking in our characters’ voices, to get the dialogue right; we’ve also been known to cry (and cry and cry) while writing emotionally difficult scenes. So once B*Witch and Witch Rising were done and delivered to the publisher, that “all-in” commitment had to be put behind us so we could move onto new ideas, new stories.

So it can be hard to get our heads back into a newly published book, like Witch Rising which just came out, when the creative experience that went into it happened long ago. But. When we recently revisited Witch Rising to talk about it with readers and to prepare for book events, we were drawn back into the intensity of its creation, the all-consuming vortex, all over again. We remembered how much we loved our characters. We cried at the same emotionally difficult scenes. It’s truly a wonder and a blessing to be able to pick up our book and relive its magic again. And again. And again.

Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to talk about? 

NANCY: I’m currently working on a middle grade novel about a Japanese American girl growing up in Ohio. It’s kind of funny, kind of dark, and definitely very real. It deals with fitting in, friendships, family, racism, and #MeToo. And Star Trek. And cats. 

The pandemic year has been a weird one for me in terms of creativity. On the one hand, I’m so focused on staying safe, keeping my family safe, and worrying about the world, that I don’t have a lot of mental and emotional energy left over for writing. On the other hand, writing is the one place where I have the freedom to imagine different, better worlds. Also, there’s something comforting about writing (and reading and watching) stories about characters whose problems are ultimately solve-able and manageable. 

PAIGE: I am constantly working on things, whether it is a rug in the studio or an interview for Geeks OUT! Currently I am putting myself through school, with only about a year left. And I am trying to get more detail in my rugs, so wish me luck! 

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

There are so many wonderful LGBTQ+ books and authors that we could name! Definitely at the top of our list would be books by: Phoebe North, Katherine Locke, Alex London, C. B. Lee, Adib Khorram, Tessa Sharpe, NoNieqa Ramos, Bennett Madison, Robin Talley, Eliot Schrefer, and Bill Konigsberg. 

Interview with Author Kit Rosewater

Kit Rosewater has a master’s degree in children’s literature from Hollins University. The Derby Daredevils was her debut book series, illustrated by Sophie Escabasse, with three volumes currently available. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your series, The Derby Daredevils?

Thank you so much for having me on the blog! I am a queer, cis children’s book author and I use she/her pronouns. I currently live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but a few years back I lived in Austin, Texas and got the idea to write a middle grade series about a quirky junior roller derby team based in downtown Austin. That idea eventually grew into THE DERBY DAREDEVILS!

Where did the inspiration for The Derby Daredevils come from? Do you yourself have any personal connections to the sport of roller derby?

When I first moved to Austin, I quickly dove into the roller derby scene. I loved the chaotic energy and open acceptance in that world. I attended a lot of bouts (official roller derby games) and then started to get into the sport as a referee. I trained as a referee with a New Mexico team when we moved, but had to drop out due to health issues before our league got into the main bout season. I will never stop being a humongous roller derby fan. 

What inspired you to get into writing for younger audiences? Were there any writers or books that made you think “I want to do this, too someday”?

Oh gosh! I’ve wanted to write for children for as long as I can remember… basically since I was a kid. The books I read when I was eight, nine, ten—those are the books that have stayed with me the rest of my life. I was obsessed with Louis Sachar’s HOLES and E.L. Konigsburg’s THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. Around that time, my mother quit her job as a paralegal to write a children’s book manuscript, and I thought that was super brave and inspiring. I knew I wanted to do that too someday. 

On your website page, it says you’ve had some education in Children’s Literature. Could you discuss that a bit in detail?

You know, I was vocal about loving children’s books from the get go, but for some reason when I was in high school and college I lost my nerve when it came to creative writing. I was afraid someone would come along and tell me my writing was bad and then my one major dream would go up in smoke. So when it came time to hop into graduate school, I decided to take a critical analysis track and study children’s books as a scholar. And honestly I am so glad I did! Investigating themes and trends in the canon of children’s literature has made me a better writer, but even more importantly, it helped me discover a long history of radical queer themes in children’s books. I feel very close to this category of literature as both a queer writer, but also as a young queer reader. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer website, could you talk a bit about the queer representation/themes we can see in your books?

Absolutely! One of my main objectives with THE DERBY DAREDEVILS has been to create a setting and cast of characters that normalize and celebrate queerness. The books feature queer role models—a funny and loving trans dad in one, a great non-binary friend and mentor in another. The books also feature a young queer relationship, or really more of a queer crush that at least one character develops. It was important to me to not have the queer aspect be a source of tension in the narrative, but to simply exist and be visible to the reader. I think in a lot of ways I’m writing stories I wish I had access to as a kid when I was trying to figure myself out.

What advice would you have to give for aspiring writers, particularly for writing sports and other physical activities? 

My advice to all writers is to keep learning and not give up. If you learn something new with each story you write, then no words are ever wasted. To sports or action writers in particular, my best writing advice is to tackle action scenes with lots of interiority. By this I mean that it’s important to really get into the heads of your characters, and allow the reader see and smell and taste and feel what it’s like to be in the middle of action rather than watching it from the side. Sometimes I’ll be working on stretching a two-minute long derby jam into four pages of text, and in order to keep things engaging for the reader, that means I need to get into the head space of what my characters are thinking and how they’re communicating and the way they’re interpreting the action going on around them.  

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)? 

I’ve been really lucky over the past couple of years, as young readers in particular have asked me some stupendous questions. Once a student asked me if I tested out all the Daredevils’ moves myself before putting them in stories. The answer is complicated, because technically I’m not supposed to be on wheels body-checking people left and right at the roller rink. But nearly every Daredevils move or play is something I did with my friends and cousins as a kid. There’s a move where the Daredevils join hands around their team’s jammer and squawk like birds to ward off the other team. I actually did that move in a flag football game! Turns out it was completely illegal, but it’s one of my favorite memories. 

In addition to being a writer, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I love reptiles, especially snakes! I had a pink albino corn snake when I was a teenager and I named her Dina after Alice’s cat in ALICE IN WONDERLAND. My hero when I was young was Steve Irwin, a nature conservationist based in Australia who would go out and catch animals and give them loving little pats while explaining their importance to the ecosystem. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d want to be snuggling sloths and helping animals and the environment. 

Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to talk about? 

I am working on a couple of other projects, though I can’t talk about any in too much depth right now. I will say that I am definitely still writing books for young people and I am definitely still writing books that feature sports. ☺ 

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

There are so many great authors out there!!! For middle grade I highly recommend A.J. Sass’s ANA ON THE EDGE and Ash Van Otterloo’s CATTYWAMPUS. In the young adult world, Brian D. Kennedy has a hilarious and swoony queer debut coming out next summer titled A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY