March 31st marks the 14th annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. Founded by Michigan based trans activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker, Transgender Day of Visibility serves as a day of celebration to give transgender people proper recognition. LGBT organizations including GLSEN and the LGBT Foundation provide additional information and how to get involved.
In an effort to highlight the achievements of trans people, Geeks OUT would like to highlight multiple interviews of trans authors and artists that were conducted by our own Michele Kirichanskaya we’ve linked to below.
A while back yours truly had the opportunity to attend the 25th annual New York International Children’s Film Festival, a program dedicated to celebrating innovative works of cinema for all-ages audiences from around the world, as press. During that time I saw a number of amazing films, both short and full-length, featuring a range from subjects from queer romance, supernatural family dramas, and horror-based coming-of-age narratives. Below are the following films that I had the lucky opportunity to see and would definitely recommend checking out!
Plot: Disney and Pixar’s Turning Red introduces Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang), a confident, dorky 13-year-old torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. Her protective, if not slightly overbearing mother, Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), is never far from her daughter—an unfortunate reality for the teenager. And as if changes to her interests, relationships and body weren’t enough, whenever she gets too excited (which is practically ALWAYS), she “poofs” into a giant red panda! Directed by Academy Award® winner Domee Shi (Pixar short Bao) and produced by Lindsey Collins, Turning Red released on March 11, 2022.
Plot: This whimsical comedy love letter to New York’s essential workers follows a whole class on the last day of school as they scheme to find the perfect partner for their adored bus driver, Ms. Cheryl, and save her from a lonely summer without them.
Plot: Kai is a basketball star, popular kid and all around social media darling. His younger brother yearns to be exactly like him, but it leads to one disappointment after another. After an accident keeps Kai off the court, he finds the true meaning of brotherhood and re-evaluates who his true friends are.
Plot: Prepare yourself for the hallmarks of all the classic genres: I Am What I Am is a buddy film, a road movie, an underdog heartstring-puller, and even a little bit of a romcom. Our hero Gyun is a hard working kid with even harder working parents. While his parents toil away in the big city of Guangzhou, Gyun is left to his own devices in his small village, where he stumbles upon the transfixing Lion Dance Competition. Beneath the extraordinary costume is a powerful girl who gifts him with her stunning headdress and encourages him to pursue his newfound aspirations. Soon, Gyun and his buddies are traversing the enormity of the vast Chinese countryside as their own ragtag troupe. With hard work, athleticism, and a reluctant dance-champ-turned-fishmonger Sifu to coach them, they begin to outwit their competitors by harnessing their perceived weaknesses. The eye-poppingly bold and realistic CG animation that breathes fierce light into this rags to riches story will have you bouncing to the beat of the Lion’s drum.
Plot: Frank and Emmet are two life-long friends and show-business partners who, after weeks of drifting apart, sit together to address head-on the one thing they’ve never talked about: one of them is a puppet.
Plot: With a keen eye for art and a soft-spot for all creatures, Maria’s easily distracted in the eyes of her more practical grandmother. But their relationship shifts when Maria’s grandmother remembers a secret from her own childhood.
Plot: The colorful world of high school, with its cool kids, chaos, and excitement, is just a pale backdrop for Melién. For her, true thrills aren’t found in dances, crushes, or acing exams, but in the mysteries she reads and horror stories she writes that transport her far beyond the tame walls of her bedroom. When she finds that the worlds she can conjure in her sketchbook start to become a little too real, she’ll have to learn to rely on some collective teamwork to slay some demons—of both the fantasy and mean-girl variety—who’ve tagged her ‘the strangest girl in the world.”
Recommended for fans of The Owl House and light horror.
Plot: Charlotte is a testament to the power of art to endure, affront, and thrive, even in the face of impossible circumstances. This beautifully animated saga is based on the life of Charlotte Salomon, an aspiring painter living in Germany during the Nazi rise to power. As hard as it is to gain acceptance to the art academy as a girl, Charlotte’s Jewish background makes achieving her dream even harder, and soon her entire community’s existence is threatened. Eventually she is forced into exile with her difficult, emotionally distant grandparents before finding safe, loving harbor in the South of France. Charlotte’s new host wholeheartedly encourages her artmaking. The result is a decades-spanning, boldly ambitious visual autobiography that confronts the perils of war, a family legacy of mental illness, and dashed dreams. Featuring the voice of Keira Knightley, Charlotte paints the legacy of a little-known artist whose impact lasts long beyond her brief life.
Note: film contains intense moments depicting the reality of World War II Europe, suicide, and sexual content
Note: If you’re interested in checking out more films featured during the festival, here is the link!
After a little break, the Geeks OUT Podcast returns with Kevin and Jon Shutt, as they discuss Jamie Lee Curtis officiating her trans daughter’s wedding in cosplay, the trailers for Roar and Men, and celebrate the queer and ally employees who participated in the #disneywalkout in This Week In Queer.
Will Hernandez is a lifelong artist and a first-time published comic creator/ co-author. Though a passionate storyteller and draftsman, Will is also on an endless journey of discovery, looking to learn more about the world and, in turn, themself. Through ups and downs, they’ve discovered themself to be on the asexual spectrum, growing ever more curious of the role sexuality and gender play in society, and fond of the culture it creates.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?
M: Hello! I’m Molly Muldoon and I’m a demisexual writer and librarian currently based in Portland, Oregon. I have a very good bad cat named Jamie McKitten and spend a good part of my week working at a public library. I’ve also spent most of the past 15 years living all around the world and I’m getting itchy feet again so a new adventure may be on the horizon.
W: HeYYYY, I’m Will! But I’m also going by Billie too. I’m a freelance artist in California and am getting a jump start in comics with the writing of this book!
How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you both to the medium?
M: Friends being into comics is what got me into comics. I had to move home unexpectedly in 2011 and my only friend still in my hometown had become a comic artist. She introduced me to her friends and all of the sudden, everyone I knew made comics! Reading has been my thing ever since I was a little girl so of course I devoured all the comics I got ahold of and that, as they say, was that.
W: As an artist, I’ve been drawing all my life really n mostly taught myself (because I’ve always sucked at paying attention in art classes TwT). And as far as comics go it’s always been an underlying form of communication for me. Whenever I struggled to put things into just words, a little comic could usually help get my points across.
What was the inspiration for A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality, and how did the two of you come together to work on this project about asexuality?
M: After reading the brilliant My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, I sent a pitch for a memoir about growing up ace to Oni. After talks back and forth with editorial, this morphed into a new Quick and Easy Guide. Knowing I needed an awesome partner for this, I actually found Will after he posted some work on the Asexual Artists website and sent their info along to Ari, my then-editor, who reached out.
W: I personally, was reached out to on Twitter one day, was told that OniPress was looking for a comic artist to draw up a little ace book, saw it as an opportunity to put out some good info and begin my journey in punished work n dived right in!
I have to give credit to Molly for most of the writing though, I’m personally not the best at creative writing n’ putting things into a script format to work on for comics. I mostly added my own anecdotes and some input, along with the artwork.
As individuals who both identify on the Asexual spectrum, would you say you’ve seen any media that you felt you related to or represented by in this way? If not, did A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality feel like a response to that?
M: Off the top of my head, I can’t say I can think of anything that feels like great representation. Todd in Bojack Horseman definitely comes close but still wasn’t quite on the ball for me. Honestly, I feel like I’ve seen the best representation in fanfiction. In fact, reading fanfiction is what taught me what demisexuality was and gave me the vocabulary to start learning about myself. The fact that it would have been so easy for me to keep missing the words I needed, though, is a big reason why I’m glad this book exists: as a jumping off point.
W: Honestly, I feel that this book is sorta a response to that, personally at least. There aren’t many characters in media that I’ve seen represented as such aside from a handful, and I think it would be nice to see more out there.
What can readers expect from A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality?
M; This is really Asexuality 101. It’s quick and easy, after all! We try to cover all the basics, to give a real idea of what it’s like to be ace if you’re not and to validate other aces. I tried to write the book I would have wanted to read when I was younger, something that would have helped me, and hopefully we’ve managed that, with some jokes and anecdotes added in.
W: Well, it’s in the name: A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality! I think it’ll make a great introduction to the topic. It won’t answer every question for sure, but it’ll definitely give you a grasp on the overall feeling a lot of aces have.
As a writer, how would you describe your background/ introduction to writing? What would you say are your favorite and (trickiest) parts of the creating process?
M: I’ve always been a big reader, which is the most helpful thing to be if you want to write. Writing was always a hobby for me (I wrote a lot of fanfiction in college) but when I started hanging around other creators, I just kind of fell back into it. When it comes to my favorite part of writing, it would have to be working with a great collaborator. I can’t draw to save my life so to work with a great team to bring it all together is the best. Anyone who’s done a group project before knows, though, it can also be very tricky! That’s why, when you’ve got a good team, there’s nothing you can’t do.
As an artist, how would you describe your background/ introduction to illustration? What would you say are your favorite and (trickiest) parts of the creating process?
W: mM, I’ve mostly taught myself what I know, mostly through personal research online and in libraries growing up. This comic was very much a first trial run of my skills and, tho it was a struggle, since a lot of it took place back in 2020 and I had a lot of family issues going on, I learned a great deal to further streamline my process down the road! As far as most difficult in the process, I’d have to say the initial ideas for what to portray on each panel were the toughest, especially since I didn’t plan as early as I should have to begin with. But time management has been on the list of progress points I’ve been cultivating so.
How would you describe your creative collaboration together on this book?
M: I loved working with Will. Will is such a great partner, always eager and excited about the book with such a positive attitude, it was like getting sunshine via email. I also knew I could trust them with pretty much anything, leaving whole pages as ‘Will’s thoughts here’ and they always delivered! It’s nice to know your partner’s got your back and you’re both super excited about it.
W: I think it was pretty fun! Great to share input on Molly’s work n for her and my editor to provide input on mine! Always nice to work on projects with such great people!
What advice might you have to give to other aspiring creators?
M: The two best things you can do, as an aspiring creator and just as a person, I guess, is to work on your own projects and make friends. Make your comic! Write your script! Draw adorable fan art! Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll only get better at it. And while you’re doing that, make friends with other people doing the same thing. Comics is all about teamwork and people want to work with their friends. Share each other’s work. Make silly jokes. Talk about shows you like. Work on things together and pull each other up.
W: Ok, so the number 1 tip I have for anyone coming fresh into the field, is to alwaYS plan your designs and layouts early! Environments, character designs, thumbnails, storyboards, if you’re in a case where you’re doing all the art yourself, it’s good to be doing that alongside your writer/ co- writer working on the script. Learning to partly be your own manager is a challenge, but it’s well worth the reward when your work finally gets out!
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?
M: Ooooo, that’s hard! I’m not entirely sure how to phrase this as a question but something I wish more people would ask about as beginning comics writers is how to write for your artist. I was friends with comics artists for years before I began writing my own comics and part of the reason it took me so long is that I was terrified I’d become one of the writers they complained about! As a writer, only a couple of people are going to read your script and the main person is your artist, your partner. So talk to them about what works best for them! I’ve worked with artists that like each panel incredibly detailed, saying who is standing next to who and who’s sitting and who’s crossing and all that info. I’ve also worked with artists who say “Yeah, that’s my job. Let me do it.” So I always want to convey how important it is to adapt your style to your partner. See what they need from you and work the way that’s best for them.
W: HMMMmmmm… None that really come to mind honestly…
Are there any other projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?
M: There’s nothing I can chat about yet, unfortunately, but I have a couple of things in early stages that hopefully I’ll get to share more about soon!
W: Currently, I’m just in the market for more creative gigs. Hopefully more comic related stuff cuz, now I have a good deal of foreknowledge to know what I’m jumping into. Aside from that, I’m mostly working on updating my portfolio a little.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
M: Oh, I want to recommend so many! I’m a big reader and I feel like 99% of what I talk to people about is books they should read. For comics, my soul has belonged to Heartstopperby Alice Oseman for quite some time. Book four just came out! Run, don’t walk! As for novels, the first that popped into my head is A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske. It’s the first in a trilogy about Edwardian magical politics and murder mysteries and I’m already eagerly awaiting book two. But everyone should seek me out on the internet and talk books with me!
Amanda DeWitt is an author and librarian, ensuring that she spends as much time around books as possible. She also enjoys Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragon-ing, and also writing, just not whatever it is she really should be writing. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a Masters in Information and Library Science. She lives in Clearwater, Florida with her dogs, cats, and assortment of chickens. Aces Wild: A Heist is her debut novel.
I had the opportunity to interview Amanda, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hey, thanks for having me! My name is Amanda DeWitt and I’m a public librarian and author! So most of my time is spent around books, which I think is a pretty good way to spend it. Aside from books, I love playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends and learning all sorts of different arts and crafts. My favorite genre to read is science fiction/fantasy in any age group, but I also like to read a little bit of everything!
When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young adult fiction?
It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly, but I know I’ve been interested in writing ever since I was a kid. I remember role-playing Warrior Cats on the family computer, being absolutely obsessed with the idea of making my own stories and characters. From there writing became pretty inevitable, because it’s always been something I love to do! When I started getting serious about drafting a novel, I was drawn to young adult fiction because I was a young adult at the time, so it really made sense, but I’ve stuck with it because I love it, and because I feel like the themes you find in young adult fiction are things you can find yourself facing again over a lifetime. In a lot of young adult fiction you’ll find stories about finding out who you are and where you fit in the world, but it’s not something you figure out by a certain age and then remain that way. People grow and change over the course of their entire lives, and I love that when writing young adult fiction it can be stories that anyone can see themselves in and connect to.
What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Aces Wild: A Heist? Where did the inspiration for the book (and the title) come from?
Aces Wild: A Heist follows Jack Shannon as he tries to prove that his mom, a Las Vegas casino mogul, was arrested because she’s being blackmailed by Peter Carlevaro, a rival casino owner who has been obsessed with her for years. Jack recruits the help of his four friends from the information asexual support group that formed after meeting on fandom forums—Remy, Gabe, Georgia, and Lucky—to break into Carlevaro’s inner sanctum and sabotage his nefarious plans. All of which, between a colorful and meddlesome family and online friends meeting in person for the first time, does not go entirely as planned. Especially when a mysterious girl shows up to throw a wrench in Jack’s plan. It’s a fun, heartful, and chaotic little book, and I can’t wait for people to read it!
I actually started with the title, because a book with asexuals and playing cards is too good of a pun to pass up, and Las Vegas is the perfect backdrop. I actually started thinking about it while watching a (not very good, so my mind was wandering) magic show, but the thought of cards = magic quickly evolved into cards = poker. I was a little afraid to write a contemporary book—I’d never done it before, and I wasn’t sure I knew how—but the pieces just all came together. I was definitely hugely inspired by my own friends, many of whom I met online, and I was surprised by how much online friendships became so central to the book. A lot of Aces Wild is about different kinds of love and how equally valuable they are, and I definitely put a lot of love into writing it!
Do you have any personal experience or interest yourself in casino or card games?
My favorite story about this is that I actually learned blackjack in elementary school, from my 4th grade teacher of all people. We used to play blackjack as a class—we were playing for extra time to play outside, and our teacher was playing for extra quiet time. I was totally into it for a summer. I remember teaching it to my friends in Girl Scouts and we’d play sitting on the floor, betting jelly beans. Which is pretty funny in retrospect, but we had a great time. Otherwise, I never gamble—Jack’s high risk/high reward mindset is totally opposite of me. I’m more of a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush kind of person, and I definitely like to keep my money in hand!
As an aspec reader, I’m always excited to see more aspec fiction in the world. Could you talk about your motivation to write this kind of representation, and what representation in general means to you?
My motivation was that I’m also always excited to see more aspec fiction in the world! I first connected to the word asexual through asexual interpreations of fictional chracters (Katniss Everdeen, aroace in my heart forever) and I know how special it can be to see someone like you reflected in the books you’re reading. There’s a sense of validation in seeing characters you can relate to and knowing that your perspective and experiences are things other people feel too. Talking about being ace was always difficult for me, and I considered it a very quiet part of myself, but seeing these characters and narratives be embraced, and being able to write about them myself, has gone a long way in my relationship with myself.
When I first started exploring the idea for Aces Wild: A Heist, I wasn’t really sure what was ‘allowed’ and I was nervous about it. I knew I didn’t want to write a book about asexuality—I didn’t want to write about characters struggling with their asexuality or discovering it, I wanted it to just be another part of them. I wanted them to go on an adventure, while also being asexual! I wanted them to be the main characters, and I wanted there to be more than one of them! It’s what I, as an ace reader, wanted to read, and I hoped that it was something that would resonate with other people, especially aspec readers, too. It was a little nerve-wracking, and sometimes it still is, but seeing how excited people have gotten about it has made it all worth it!
What kind of things can we expect from the characters of Aces Wild: A Heist?
You can expect messy families and goofy friends and just so many characters lying to each other for different reasons. I’ve met some of my best friends online, so it was a lot of fun writing a friend group as chaotic as mine, including stealing bits of their personalities like a raccoon digging through the trash for jokes (I say this with love). With Jack, I wanted a character that has that cool outward confidence and competence of Kaz Brekker, but the insecurities and obstacles of a modern teenager. He’s playing high stakes trying to get his mom out of jail, but he’s also figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. I went for a mix like that for all of the characters—a larger than life kind of exaggeration, but with a grounded center. I want the complexities of Jack’s family life and the relationship between the friend group to be relatable and sincere, but, well, also they’re staging a heist in Las Vegas. Relatable, but also a little more exciting than real life!
How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/ most frustrating parts of the process?
Compared to some people, I think my writing process is pretty straightforward! I always write chronologically and I never skip over scenes or write placeholders—they work for some people, but it just mixes me up if I leave something unwritten. I’m basically allergic to outlining, so the first draft is basically me discovering the characters and the story as it unfolds.
I always joke that my favorite part of the process is whatever I’m not doing at the time, but I think my favorite really is writing the first draft. I tend to start a lot of different ideas, so sometimes it takes a bit to find the one worth writing all the way, but once I do, it’s a lot of fun. First drafts for me are all about potential—I don’t know exactly where the story is going yet, so that means it could go anywhere, and that creative freedom is so exciting. Sometimes editing can be fun too, because it’s a bit like a puzzle where you’re moving around pieces and changing shapes so they all fit together in the best way. Buuut editing can be frustrating too. Now I have to fix all the problems I left for myself while drafting!
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
This was the hardest question! One of my friends joked that I should ask myself ‘did you have fun?’ so y’know what—I DID have fun. This is my first time giving an interview, so I super appreciate the cool new experience! Writing is such an important part of my life, I love talking about the process and it’s awesome to get to talk about my book, even if it’s still a little mind-boggling to think that people are actually going to be reading it. You spend so long writing books, querying them, sending them on submission, and then all that hard work pays off and you’re like whoa, I still have something more to learn!
What advice would you give for aspiring authors?
Love your story, even when you don’t love the process. Once you’ve reached one step—the agent, the book deal, the whatever—it’s tempting to look back at all the steps leading up to it and be like ‘wow all the blood, sweat, and tears shaped me into who I needed to be for this step, the stars have aligned to bring me here right now’. And sometimes that’s true! The timeline of my career hasn’t gone like I daydreamed about, but each setback and disappointment was an important part of the process. But also the process sucks! It’s torture! And it doesn’t so much get easier as it gets hard in new and creative ways.
That’s why it’s so important to love your story, because the story is what it’s all about, and that relationship between author and story is where you’re going to feel fulfilled, even when everything else sucks. Love it when you’re drafting, when you’re editing it, even when you have to set it aside and move on to the next story. Because you’re going to have to read it so, so, so many times.
Are there any other projects you are working on at the moment and at liberty to speak about?
I’m always working on something! The nature of publishing means I don’t know if they’ll ever see the light of day or when, so I’ll keep it tantalizingly vague, but I’ve got a lot of projects at different stages that I’m excited for, and excited that they’re all a bit different from each other. Aces Wild: a heist is my first contemporary, and it taught me how much fun I can have in a contemporary space. I’ve got an asexual romcom that was a lot of fun to work on, and I’m hoping to work on an aromantic romcom sometime in the future too. Right now I’ve been working on a YA scifi, but I’ve got thoughts about trying my hand at adult fantasy in the future too. I love trying out new genres and exploring their possibilities, so you might see just about anything from me in the future!
Finally, what are some LGBTQIA+ books/authors you would recommend to the readers of GeeksOUT?
Courtney Lane (she/her) and Royce (no pronouns/he/they) are a married asexual couple of nearly 8 years who host The Ace Couple podcast where they talk about all things Asexuality. By discussing queer culture and history, they explore the topics of life, love, and sex through an Ace lens. Additionally, Courtney has a YouTube Channel discussing history, hair, disability and asexuality as well as a Patreon featuring video tutorials. You can also visit Courtney’s website, Never Forgotten, which Royce built and manages.
I had the opportunity to interview Courtney and Royce, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?
C: I am an asexual woman of many hats and many maladies. My hats are both literal in the sense that I’m rarely seen without something atop my head (a purple tophat is my signature go-to) and figurative in the sense that I’ve had an exciting variety of odd jobs and hobbies throughout my life. I’ve run my own company, Never Forgotten, for seven years where I make bespoke contemporary hair art and jewelry. Some of my deepest passions include keeping the nearly lost art of hairwork alive, harnessing the sentiment of hair to help get in touch with our most complicated emotions, and exploring mortality as a means of learning how to live our best lives.
R: How do I do this? Hetero-romantic asexual. Agender. Professional programmer. I started learning programming with the intent of getting into the video game industry, but ended up going another route. I mostly work on the parts of software that people interact with, and spend quite a bit of time focusing on user experience and accessibility.
C: As a couple, we’ve been married for almost eight years and we go by “The Ace Couple” online. We live in Kansas City with our two large snakes (Sen and Chihiro), our grumpy rat dog (Quiggley) , our somehow even grumpier opossum (Lenny), and our 30-40 highly acrobatic mice (too fast and flippy to count or name). For fun we often play video games or board games and read books aloud to one another. Occasionally we collaborate on writing D&D adventures and co-DMing for our friends or when schedules don’t align for groups, we take turns DMing for each other.
How would you describe your podcast, The Ace Couple? Could you tell us how this project came to be and how you came to work on it together?
R: Well, we’ve been involved in the public Ace community in varying capacities in recent years. We had also talked about doing so a bit more prominently. The idea about this podcast specifically came from some repeated conversations we’ve had about all of the unhealthy relationships we see presented in media, or unhealthy relationship behaviors we heard casually mentioned by acquaintances, combined with the general lack of representation of Ace relationships.
C: The reason why we thought our voices, specifically, would be valuable was precipitated by the fact that time and time again, we would see young, romantically oriented Aces on online forums who expressed feelings of anxiety or hopelessness. For years, we’ve observed these folks as they desperately seek some kind of confirmation that they can have a fulfilling romantic relationship someday if they so choose. Of course, being in a happy asexual marriage, I wanted to loudly proclaim for everyone searching that yes, this IS possible! Here we are! We are proof!
However, Royce is quite an introvert and a lot less inclined to put themselves out there in a public capacity, so I never imagined that this would actually be something the two of us would do together. The conversation was something like, “wow, if there was another asexual couple like us who started a TikTok, YouTube channel, or a podcast, I bet a lot of people would find it really comforting.” To my surprise, Royce was actually interested in pursuing the idea!
R: We decided that a podcast was something we could both manage and that we would totally do it . . . someday. And then Natalie Wynn of Contrapoints blew up Ace Twitter and we jumped on a microphone with little to no prep and just went for it.
C: And we’ve been going strong ever since, releasing a new episode every week! We explore varying topics of life, love, and sex through an asexual lens with a goal of emphasizing intersectionality. We also try to keep a nice mix of heavy, difficult topics such as ableism and acephobia alongside light-hearted Ace joy like fun anecdotes from our own relationship or positive examples of asexual representation in the media.
And for that matter, how did the two of you meet?
C: I don’t believe in fate…but it was fate.
R: We met online. On a dating site. The full, in depth story is covered in our 3rd episode: Our Asexual Love Story. But the short answer is that it was a wild coincidence on OkCupid.
As a asexual person, how did you find yourself coming into realization of this part of your identity?
R: It happened a bit differently for each of us.
C: I was a teenager when I first thought of the word asexual for myself. I was quite convinced of and comfortable in this identity and never really questioned it, although I did not discuss it openly for a long time. This was mainly because I thought I created this term for my own singular experience and never expected that it was already an established sexual orientation that others around the world also identified as. It was really just a happy accident that the word I determined for myself ended up being the “correct” one afterall.
Then, in adulthood, when I was finally considering coming out and exploring this identity publicly, I saw that despicable episode of House where they proved that anyone who is asexual is either “sick, dead, or lying” when it first premiered ten years ago. It was the first time I had ever heard asexuality being used to mean a human sexual orientation in media and at first I was elated…until I realized where they were headed. While it definitely did give me additional anxieties, I officially started the process of coming out just a few months later.
R: When I was younger, I either didn’t notice anything non-normative enough about myself to really consider anything like this, wasn’t really aware of what “normative” actually was, or attributed discrepancies to some other factor. Anxiety or whatever else. I’m hetero-romantic and am not sex-repusled, so I assumed I was within whatever the standard of hetero-normativity is. Until I actually started dating and trying things. It still took a few years for things to finally settle in. That I was asexual. And even longer than that to start to identify and separate allo-social habits and behaviors.
(Courtney) In addition to having a podcast, you also work as a Victorian Hair Artist and Historian? Can you describe what that profession entails and you came to work in that field?
C: When I was 5 or 6 years old, my grandmother took me to the above-ground cemeteries of New Orleans. At the time, she never imagined that this would spark a life-long interest in the way humans have memorialized their deceased loved ones throughout history. I was already quite immersed in this world of mourning and sentiment when I first learned of Victorian Hairwork. This became my primary research focus, as it made perfect sense to me- not only is this a beautiful work of art to memorialize your loved one, but it is actually made using a literal part of them.
I studied this history for many years before I ever learned how to make it. There was a time when I assumed it was merely a dead artform lost to time and even if it wasn’t, I had no patience to style the hair on my own head, so I probably wouldn’t be very good at it anyway…and how wrong I was!
Seven years ago, I owned a small insurance agency that I hated and I was looking for a change. I decided to take a gamble and sell my agency in order to open my new company Never Forgotten where I would be a full time Victorian Hair Artist (even though most people at the time had never even heard of this artform)!
Now, I make custom pieces of hairwork, both decorative art and wearable jewelry, for clients. I make a wide variety of pieces including mourning tokens, romantic gestures, family trees, baby’s first haircut, cancer survivor mementos with hair lost during treatments, even quite a few items made out of the hair and fur of beloved pets. There are a number of reasons why one might commission me, but the one thing all these pieces have in common is that they are inherently sentimental.
I also lecture about the history behind this artform and, pre-pandemic, I would teach classes on how to perform these once nearly-lost techniques. Since my illness requires an abundance of caution in these times, I am currently only teaching through video tutorials on Patreon, but I look forward to the day when I can resume traveling to teach at colleges and museums once again.
(Courtney) As a disabled person who also identifies as asexual, one can assume you might encounter a number of people who struggle to reconcile the two identities, even people from within the disabled or asexual community. What are your thoughts on this and how would you describe your intersectional experiences?
C: The complications are really twofold. Not only is there a tremendous amount of ableism present in asexuality communities, but there is also a lot of acephobia that comes from disabled spaces. It’s really, well and truly, a double-edged sword. There are very important reasons why both of these communities are so quick to try to distance themselves from one another, but that leaves a lot of people, like myself, in the crossfire.
Disabled people have a long history of being desexualized and infantilized. At its worst, this goes as far as forced sterilization and other forms of eugenics aimed at the disabled population. Over time, this has resulted in a lot of modern disability activism centering around sex, specifically the desire to be recognized as sexual beings.
On the other hand, asexuality as an orientation is widely medicalized and pathologized. There are still medical practitioners who see asexuality as a symptom or an illness that must be fixed. At its most sinister, this can lead Aces to medicinal and/or psychological conversion therapy.
These realities ultimately lead to a lot of harmful discourse such as “we’re disabled, but we’re not asexual” or “we’re asexual, but there’s nothing wrong with our bodies because we’re not sick or disabled” with both sides throwing the other under the bus in an attempt to humanize their respective experiences to an outside audience. This does real harm to people who are living at this intersection.
In my own experience, I have received widespread hate and harassment from the asexual community in the past for speaking out about my experience as a Disabled, Asexual woman. From unfriendly DMs, to piling on in comment sections, and even seeing people in various online forums speculating about my medical history and wondering if the issues I face with my medical professionals are somehow entirely my fault. Time after time I’ve been told that I should not speak about asexuality because I am “Bad Ace Rep” and that by sharing my own lived experience, I am doing a disservice to the entire orientation.
It has only been within the last 6 months, after starting our podcast and doubling down on my intersectional disability and asexuality activism, that I’ve begun to see the tides turning. For the first time in a decade, I feel like my voice is starting to be heard and I sincerely hope that this is the start of a cultural shift for the better from within these communities.
As a couple, both of you identify on the ace spectrum. How do you feel your own respective identities play off each other when talking about asexuality, or simply being together as a couple?
R: We are in different areas of the spectrum, but not in a troubling or incompatible way. Courtney is closer to the sex-repulsed or sex-averse side, and I’m closer to the sex-affirmitive or sex-neutral side.
Having a somewhat broader shared experience definitely helps talk through the various aspects of the whole community.
And for our relationship, yes, our differences have been close enough that it has been pretty easy for us to navigate. But I think the thing that had the single largest impact was having open and honest conversations about expectations, needs, limits, and boundaries.
What are some things for someone who is still new to asexuality/disability identity you would want people to take away from this interview?
C: Well hopefully you take away the opinion that we’re pretty neat along with the desire to check out our podcast sometime to learn more!
Kidding! Mostly…but in all seriousness, take away whatever it is that you find useful. That is all I can hope for consumers of any of our content.
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives or asexuals coming into their identity?
C: I try very hard not to be the advice-giving type, because when others give me advice, I often find that it is unwarranted or irrelevant and there is rarely a one-size-fits-all piece of advice that I think is truly worthwhile for a majority of people. However, since the question is one of identity, there is one thing I’ve learned above all else and it is this: what you do is not who you are.
I grew up dancing and it was such an entrenched passion that I defined my whole being around the idea that “I am a dancer”. I think it’s very natural for artists to do this, but this led to even more heartbreak than was necessary when my body began to further decline and I could not dance as often or in the same way as I used to.
The way in which I built my personality around dancing caused an identity crisis which further complicated matters. Aging, illness, disability, even temporary injury or naturally fluctuating interests can drastically change the activities we’re able to do throughout our lives, and while it’s natural to grieve for the things that you may no longer be able to do, the whole process is much kinder to yourself if you realize early on that what really makes you you is worthy and valuable and it is completely separate from your physical or cognitive abilities and actions.
The same advice could be applied to asexuality for a different, yet improtant reason. All too often, I see questioning asexuals experiencing a sort of imposter syndrome and asking a lot of questions such as “am I still asexual if I (insert sexual act here)…” Asexuality is a matter of attraction, orientation, and your ability to feel at home in the label -nothing more- and no action you can take will be able to take that away.
Aside from your work, what do you enjoy doing in your free time and what are some things you would want others to know about you?
C: Well, I know you said aside from work, but we also do a bit of accessibility consulting together for events and companies. With my lived experience as a disabled woman who has access needs and with Royce’s expertise in web-accessibility, we make a really good team!
R: I always have to have a project of some kind going on.
That includes programming, either for work or as a hobby. I tend to do the video or audio editing for things we work on. Lately, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time writing D&D 5e material. It’s been a nice creative endeavor, since I haven’t worked on video game designs in so long. I also like to have video games, anime, and manga on hand for when I need a break.
Then there’s the occasional spark of interest: making a spot for compost in the backyard and seeing what pops out of it, optimizing the purchase of a household necessity, trying to figure out how to make better coffee, etc.
C: One important aspect of me that isn’t always center-stage these days is that I love to perform in front of live audiences. At one point, I thought that professional dancing was going to be my career path. I have also done quite a bit of acting, sometimes professionally, but most often for fun and on a volunteer basis. Just before the pandemic, you could find me singing in a weekly show at our local Hamburger Mary’s!
My disabilities can sometimes make certain types of performing difficult, but I’ve always found a way to incorporate the performing arts into my life. I was a dance teacher/choreographer for 15 years and I also created and taught a drama curriculum for the arts academy I worked at until I had to quit due to health concerns.
Other professional and/or hobbyist hats I’ve worn throughout my life have been zookeeper, science educator, fencer, bass guitar player/vocals for a metal band and a punk band, stage combat trainer/choreographer, model, wild chicken tamer. I am very proud of my strange and versatile resume, but since I don’t typically like to define myself by the one thing I happen to be doing at that point in time, sometimes I think “Professional Weirdo” is the best title for me, and in fact, it says so on my business card!
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet and wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
C: When was the last time I won a breakdance battle you ask? Thank you, that’s a great question, I would LOVE to tell you…
In 2019, a local entrepreneur friend and I decided that since we don’t get to have traditional company holiday parties, that WE should organize one for all the fellow entrepreneurs and self-employed folks in the KC metro.
The event went off without a hitch and as the night was winding down, a dancer asked the DJ to pose a challenge: anyone who could beat him in a dance off would win $50. I’m sure nobody suspected the cane-using disabled woman who was wearing a heavy, historical ball gown with a full hoop skirt to step forward, but I still to this day wear spandex shorts under all my dresses for this exact scenario, so I kicked off my shoes, threw my hat aside, dropped my crinoline hoops, grabbed the hem of my floor-length gown, and tucked it into my spandex shorts. Sure, I couldn’t walk the next day, or the day after that…but that night? I walked (hobbled) away $50 richer.
Can you tell us about any other projects you two might be working on and at liberty to discuss?
C: Last year, I founded Disabled Ace Day in conjunction with Ace Week as a way to boost the voices of fellow Disabled Aspecs and draw attention to the intersectional issues we face. Ace Week takes place during the last full week of October and as of 2021, Wednesday during Ace Week is our officially designated Disabled Ace Day. We hope to continue growing the event this year and in the future.
Finally, what queer media would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
C: Goodness, what a big question! We’ve got a lot of queer faves, so for the sake of brevity, we’ll keep the list to queer media that we’ve consumed together as a couple and both loved.
Bojack Horseman has our all-time favorite example of asexual representation on TV in the character Todd Chavez.
Nimona, the webcomic-turned-graphic novel, was the first book we ever read aloud together, so it’s definitely got a special place in our hearts even though most of its queerness falls back on coding.
As for video games, we are really fond of the entire Life is Strange franchise. All protagonists at least have the option for a queer plotline, but the real, non-negotiable queer gold is in the prequel DLCs Wavelengths and Before the Storm (which is basically just lesbian punk simulator).
Tell Me Why comes from the creators of Life is Strange where you alternate playing as a pair of identical twins, one of whom is a trans man, as they use their powers of twin telepathy to unpack childhood trauma.
Skye Quinlan (she/they) was born in California during an earthquake and raised in the Midwest, where cornstalks outnumber people. Forward March (Page Street Kids, March 8th, 2022) is her debut novel. When she’s not writing, you can catch her at the nearest metaphysics or craft store, dressed up in cosplay at the nearest convention, or ruining antique furniture with epoxy resin and paint. Skye still lives in the Midwest with her wife, their two dogs, several lizards, a snake, and the occasional little human (their niece). She is represented by Moe Ferrara at BookEnds Literary Agency.
I had the opportunity to interview Skye, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you for having me! My name is Skye Quinlan, and I am the author of Forward March, a queer young adult novel centered around a high school marching band. Most of my free time is spent writing, but I’m also a huge nerd who cosplays with my wife and niece, so you can usually catch me at the nearest anime convention or comic con! I’m also really into gardening, so you can always find me at the nearest plant nursery as well.
When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to young adult fiction?
I’ve been writing since a very young age; I distinctly remember being six or seven years old and letting a friend read the first story I’d ever written, which was a Pokemon fanfic (oof – that’s embarrassing to admit). She got so angry with me for having Pikachu evolve that she stood up on the bus and threw the notebook over the seat at me, screaming something about, “how dare you?!” I’ve been writing ever since, but for a long time, I dabbled in fandom and fanfic, which was already heavily rooted in YA subculture, so making the transition from fanfic to original young adult fiction felt the most natural. I’ve stayed in YA because I love it—I love the books, the authors, the fandom, and it’s something that I want to be a part of.
What can you tell us about your debut novel, Forward March? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
The inspiration for Forward March came from my days as a high school band geek. I played the clarinet for 10 years, and as a teenager, my entire life revolved around marching band—ask anyone who knew me back then, and they’ll tell you that I was the kid who took band way too seriously. I was a menace my senior year when I became section leader, always calling for extra rehearsals and making my clarinets march and play until they were blue in the face. In Forward March, Harper is very much the same way, and I used both her and her story as a way to memorialize my days in band, from some of our old traditions to a few beloved memories spent performing in the rain and snow.
What can we expect from the characters of Forward March?
I’d be lying if I said that my characters weren’t a bit overdramatic, but that is why we love them. From Harper in particular, you can expect to see her journey of self-discovery, which includes coming to the realization that she’s an asexual lesbian with a thing for punk drummer girls in combat boots. You can also expect a dive into complicated family dynamics, friendship break-ups, and miscommunication—my characters are all teeangers, and they’re messy. Very, very messy, and they don’t always make the best decisions.
Like the main character, Harper, have you ever had any experience with marching band or music in general, or was this something you had researched for the book?
Going into Forward March, I was very fortunate in that I didn’t need to do too much research where music and band was concerned—I always knew that my days as a band geek would pay off someday!
As an aspec reader, I’m always excited to see more aspec fiction, especially aspec Sapphic fiction. Could you talk about your motivation to write this kind of representation, and what queer representation in general means to you?
Teenagers are the target audience for Forward March, and as an aspec lesbian author who never saw myself represented in the media until I was in my early twenties, queer representation means everything to me. I want my readers to be able to see themselves represented in my books, and that has always, always been the primary goal for me when it comes to my writing. If I can give my readers what I never had, then I’ve done my job.
How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite (or most frustrating) parts of writing?
My writing process is chaotic, and I think the people who’ve worked with me in publishing would probably agree. I don’t like writing outlines for my books (I tend to deviate from them when I do), and I often edit my work as I go—that’s probably the most frustrating part for me, editing as I go, but mentally, for whatever reason, I have to do it that way. So I’ll write a few paragraphs, open up a new word document, and then keep re-writing those same few paragraphs until I’m satisfied. It’s not the fastest way to write a book, but it works for me. My favorite part, though, is getting to create new characters and then bring them to life on the page. I probably spend more time writing character profiles and creating their backstories than I do writing the actual book.
Did you draw on any specific sources of inspiration while writing your debut novel, Forward March, i.e. books, movies, music, etc.? Where do you draw inspiration or creativity in general?
For Forward March, my biggest inspiration came from my days in marching band. I really wanted to preserve those memories and traditions. In general, I draw a lot of inspiration from music, and you’ll almost always catch me listening to different soundtracks while I’m writing. For each new book I start, I create a different playlist on Spotify, and that’s what I have on while I’m working. For Forward March in particular, I listened to a lot of drum cadences, and I always had on the soundtrack from Drumline.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
The advice that I would give to aspiring writers is this: keep writing. Your story, your voice, and the pieces of yourself that you’ll leave on the page are equal parts important and valid, and you yourself are worthy of a place in this industry. Publishing has a way of making even the best of us doubt ourselves, but the important thing to remember is never, ever give up.
Besides being a writer, what are some things you would want your readers to know about you?
There isn’t much else to know about me other than that I cosplay and love gardening, but let’s see… I crochet, I love crystals and geodes, and I taught myself how to ice skate by watching youtube videos.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but wish you were (and the answer to that question)?
I always wish someone would ask me about my cosplay goals! My very first cosplay was Lexa from The 100, and I would LOVE to re-make that costume and do it again. My wife and I are dying to be Vi and Caitlyn from Arcane, Korra and Asami from ATLA: Legend of Korra, and Adora and Catra from She-Ra. Someday, I would also love to be Loki, because like…Loki.
Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?
I have a few projects that I’m working on, but nothing too concrete right now, so it’s probably best to keep them secret!
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Charlotte Sullivan Wildis the author of the picture books LOVE, VIOLET, illustrated by Charlene Chua (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Jan. 4, 2022), and THE AMAZING IDEA OF YOU, illustrated by Mary Lundquist (Bloomsbury, 2019). She has previously worked as an educator, bookseller, volunteer radio host, and creator of children’s literature events. Originally from frosty Minnesota, she lives wherever her wife is stationed, most recently in San Antonio, Texas and now in Italy!
Charlene Chua has illustrated many things over the years for kids of all ages. Her illustration work has won several awards, while books she has illustrated have been nominated for OLA Forest of Reading,USBBY Outstanding International Books,OLA Best Bets, Shining Willow Award, and Kirkus Best books.
I had the opportunity to interview Charlotte and Charlene, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourselves?
Thanks for hosting us!
CSW: I’m the author of the picture books Love, Violet and The Amazing Idea of You (Lundquist, Bloomsbury, 2019). I’m also a former educator, bookseller, and planner of kidlit events. I adore hiking, singing, and “aunting” (arms loaded with books). Just before Amazing Idea debuted, I became chronically ill with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), a disabling energy disease. I can no longer do most of the things above or leave home much, but through careful pacing, I’ve gradually regained the ability to write. Originally from frosty Minnesota, I now live wherever my wife is stationed, recently in San Antonio, Texas, and now in Italy. You should also know we are proud mama-roosters to The Eggyatrixes, four adorable, opinionated hens.
CC: I mainly illustrate books these days; some of the books I have illustrated are the Amy Wu book series (Kat Zhang, Simon & Schuster) and Pinkie Promises (Elizabeth Warren, Henry Holt & Co.). I mostly spend my time illustrating; when I’m not drawing for work I’m drawing some personal comics or other art stuff.
What can you tell us about your latest book, Love, Violet? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
CSW: Love, Violet is the tender story of a crush between two girls and the courage it takes to share your heart—even when it’s pounding! Better yet,see for yourself!
CSW: Growing up, I never saw stories about the kind of love I experienced. But I was inundated with romantic fairy tales that–let’s be honest (or as we say at my house, “lesbi-honest”)–only promise happy endings to “certain” people. Those tales of love excluded many because of skin or body, ability or culture, harmful gender rules or queerness. But as a kid, I swallowed those poisoned stories whole. I longed for their promise of partnership. Yet, I also worried… would this happen for me? Somehow, I suspected I wasn’t quite right.
I was also surrounded by Evangelical Christian culture, which promoted pretty horrifying pictures of queer people, essentially: we were all male, pedophiles, and/or addicts spiraling toward early death. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this preacher’s kid and people pleaser suppressed her orientation DEEP until her thirties. When it finally clicked (and wow–was it obvious), I was already married and a professor at a religious college. Coming out meant blowing up my world. But in that chaos also came relief. Joy! I made sense! But also, a hard question.
How had I not known this basic thing about myself? Frankly, the question terrified me. Looking back, I recognized queer crushes all the way back to preschool. That was then I realized the full power of those children’s stories to frame reality for me, of what and who were possible, acceptable, or not. My views of gender and sexuality changed dramatically as I matured, toward acceptance and equality. But my own sense of self? It didn’t budge. My identity had crystalized in the 1970s and 80s, in that miasma of Disney and Evangelicalism, when I didn’t yet realize that I could exist. Early stories are so powerful. They kept me in the closet years after I’d rejected the prejudice that created them.
So, I wanted to write a new story. One full of those first-crush thrills, the heart cartwheeling. A story inspired by falling head-over-heels for my spouse one snowy winter. A story about kids, at their level, but in a world in which love is love. People are people. Equal and accepted. A true love story to break the poisoned spell of hate. A story to say to every kid in an unsafe place:
You are not alone. This love, this happy ending is for YOU.
In previous interviews you had discussed what the book meant to you as a queer adult who didn’t grow up with much queer representation. Would you mind speaking about that a bit here and what it means to you to create something like Love, Violet?
CSW: Welcoming Love, Violet feels indescribable. In a way, like reclaiming my childhood. And also, touching history. Standing on a bridge between the brave trouble makers on one side who made my family and this book possible, and the new children on the other, beginning their journeys with affirming stories like this one. It’s like passing on gifts passed to me. Sacred.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the personal responses. One reviewer’s daughter decidedLove, Violet was her favorite book and commenced making valentines back in November! I couldn’t even picture queerness at her age, much less acceptance! And the personal stories people are sharing about their lives, about “ugly” crying, feeling seen–I will treasure this forever.
That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t point to the tsunami of organized attacks on curriculum and books sweeping US schools and libraries right now. The target? Any information or books concerning people of color, queer people, those with disabilities, or any minority identity. The message is not subtle; it is LOUD. Educators’ jobs are being threatened. Children are being shown that THEY are not acceptable. Well, I have strong feelings about this. As should we all. I hope you’ll speak up wherever you live, support all kids, and the weary educators working for ALL their people. To have Love, Violet launching into this storm is a reminder of just how precarious and hard-won change is.
It’s so important to resist this type of cultural violence because it causes real harm. I’ve written about the human cost of queer erasure, specifically, and how it nearly prevented Love, Violet from coming out (“No More Ghosts! A (Queer) Picture Book Love Story” in We Need Diverse Books Blog, 16 Nov. 2021). I also explore how cultural bias affected my creative process HERE and about writing against the cultural grain HERE. Erasure is not new. Or simple. It is the ancient tool of all oppression. Sometimes we use it against ourselves. Right now we need to stand up for each other and against every version of erasure targeting already marginalized groups. The only remedy for this hate is truth. Humanizing stories. And most of all, LOVE.
In this sense, despite a decade of waiting for this book, Love, Violet feels right on time.
Want to help? Find organizations supporting rainbow kids here (scroll down). Also, check out, buy, or share diverse children’s books with kids today!
How did you get into picture books? What pulled you to the medium?
CC: While I didn’t start illustrating intending to be a children’s illustrator, my work has always caught the eye of clients who work with children’s products. I illustrated my first picture book in 2007 I think; but I didn’t specialize in book illustration until 2015 or so. I enjoy working on books, and working with talented authors like Charlotte. It is a great privilege to be entrusted with bringing these special stories to life.
CSW: (Shucks.) You brought Love, Violet to life so beautifully!
I’ve always loved poetry and art, which are the essence of picture books. But I also love music, theater, and film. What these forms share are performance and collaboration. Picture books are a mash-up of all of that. You write a score, a screenplay that, if you’re lucky, a talented artist like Charlene Chua will imagine into a visual narrative. A reader (perhaps the weary parent) performs your script, with the drama of page turns and vocal expression for a live audience. And that audience is just discovering everything for the first time! They are curious, honest, and impatient—so you have to perform! Yet, they can spin a handful of pictures and words into a whole universe. What a collaboration!
Plus? Picture books are inherently designed for togetherness, whether snuggled up at bedtime or circled on carpet squares. They are about sharing something–exploring, feeling and wondering together. It is one of the most powerful experiences we ever have, closeness and a story. How could I not love this form?
How would you describe your writing/ illustrating process? What are some of your favorite things about writing/ illustrating?
CSW: I usually start with daydreaming, gathering odd notes. Once an idea takes on life, I make messy outlines or charts (I describe charting below). Only then do I draft. Next, I revise a bazillion times, chart, revise, seek feedback. When my agent feels a piece is done, she submits it to publishers. If a publisher buys it there are more revisions, but so far, those have been light. Once I see the text and art together (which is thrilling!), I do a final sweep for flow or to cut anything now conveyed in the art.
I love creating! Yet the entire process involves discomfort. Whatever I’m working on isn’t done. So, even when I love something, part of me is always cringing! There is nothing like that final pass on book proofs when every last detail falls into place. It’s kind of like Violet snipping and glittering and “When it was just right, she signed her valentine, Love, Violet.” Ahhh! DONE!
CC: For books, I usually read the manuscript and let it simmer in my head for a while. Then I do character sketches (not that many, compared to some illustrators). I enjoy working out the rough sketches, especially with the text in place. For me, the picture book is meant to be a guided experience, so the placement of the text (and how it’s broken up) affects how the story will be read and interpreted along with the visuals. So I like concepting the artwork around that, and at this stage the art is very rough so it’s possible to imagine how things will work in different ways more easily. Once I have something in place that I like, it’s on the sketches, then later the final artwork. I mostly work digitally but for some books I do use traditional media. Love, Violet was mostly painted in watercolors and color pencil, then edited in Photoshop.
What are some of your favorite elements of writing or art?
CSW: Well, I’m an outlier here. I almost always enter through setting. Stories usually come to me through how they feel in the senses and the heart. Maybe because I’m a poet? (Or very likely ADD?) My antennae are highly over-tuned to everything. Which makes me a terrible sleeper, but maybe a better artist? As I developed Love, Violet, I became obsessed with that wintery atmosphere. Yes, I’m a Minnesota girl. But when I think about it, winter matches those whooshing, upside down feelings of new love. (Also possibly related–seared into my memory is a certain wintry night of my heart flopping, feeling SO ALIVE in my long red coat outside a cafe as a certain gal tugged her wool cap just so, caught my eye with her crooked smirk, the snow swirling through the lamplight, collecting on our eyelashes, salt crackling beneath my red shoe, the scent of damp wool and snow and baking croissants…. Sorry. I need to go make a valentine for my wife—)
Could you describe your artistic/writer background in some detail, like how did you get into art and what your art/literary education was like?
CSW: I loved writing from the beginning. Well, dictating, before I could write–I had a lovely kindergarten teacher, Miss Connors, who called us up to her typewriter to tell stories, which felt important. Whenever possible, I went to creative writing camp or took that community class. Later, I made a living teaching, which left little room for my own work. Eventually, I was able to cut back my load and earn an MFA in Creative Writing at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, which was pure joy! Their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (MFAC) didn’t launch until I was nearly done, but I did nab a few lecture passes, which helped. When I first became interested in picture books, specifically, I didn’t know where to turn. Now writing/ illustrating resources are everywhere. There are infinite ways to train yourself. All of them involve studying form and craft, finding your process, trading feedback, and practice. I’d also include developing confidence in your voice.
CC: I didn’t go to formal art school; I do have a degree in Illustration though the program was somewhat different from typical art school. Most of what I know, I picked up along the way from books (and later, YouTube videos) and just drawing a lot over the years. I did a bit of a design diploma when I was younger, and worked as a designer for some years. While I don’t do graphic design anymore, I think the skills I picked up there were invaluable especially for books – it helps when considering the type on the page, and also makes communication with the art team at the publishers much easier.
What are some of your favorite examples of picture books growing up and now?
CSW: As a kid I loved Tootle about a baby train who leaves the tracks to frolic in a field of buttercups (Gertrude Crampton, illustrated by Tibor Gergely, Golden Press 1945). But when I looked it up just now, I discovered it’s really about Tootle “Learning to Stay on The Tracks No Matter What.” Eventually the villagers fill the field to wave red flags and drive Tootle back to the tracks. WOW. It’s strange. What I remembered from this book is Tootle’s joy in the meadow, the flower garlands. Yet, what I lived out was obedience to all the red flags of gender. I stayed on those tracks, even as my heart longed for buttercups. Coming out felt exactly like finding that field. Books are subtle, powerful things. I hope Love, Violet will wave a GREEN flag to kids, reassuring them that joy comes from authenticity and honest connection.
My favorite books now? Ah, so many! Here are two recent favorites:
– When We Love Someone We Sing to Them / Cuando Amamos Cantamos by Ernesto Javier Martínez, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, is a sweeping “reclamation of the Mexican serenata tradition” as a young boy creates the perfect love song for another boy. And Papi helps. Gorgeous.
– The Most Beautiful Thing, a moving generational story by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Khoa Le (2020), flows like poetry with honest, kid-oriented details and illustrations I get lost in for days!
CC: Growing up… well I have a terrible memory so I really only remember the ones that I still have! One is Emergency Mouse by Bernard Stone and Ralph Steadman. I mostly remember it for the illustrations… as a child I just thought they looked weird and cool. It was only as an adult that I learned that Ralph Steadman’s other more famous work (he is frequently noted for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson)
Currently… there are so many to choose from, I could go on and on. I’ve sorta slowed down on my new picturebook reading due to the pandemic unfortunately; hopefully it’ll be a bit better this year. I think the last picturebook I purchased was a special order from the UK – Nen and the Lonely Fisherman (by Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew, Owlet Press)
For those curious about the process behind a picture book, how would you describe the process? What goes into writing one and collaborating with an artist/writer to translate that into Love, Violet?
CSW: Unless someone is an author-illustrator, the text comes first. After my agent sells a manuscript, the publisher finds the illustrator, who works independently. We don’t communicate directly, which allows illustrators to imagine freely. Yet the art and words still collaborate, like a dance. And from the beginning, I write in anticipation of illustration.
First, the text needs to break easily into a 32- or 40-page book (12-16 spreads). That requires distinct, illustratable beats (which is harder than it sounds), though I don’t decide the page breaks. I also create patterns that an illustrator might translate into visual layouts. For example, to convey Violet’s main problem, I use a mini-story (beginning, middle, end) within the story. Kids aren’t abstract thinkers yet, so they need to see and experience this problem for themselves. Here, I use a set up (“But whenever Mira came near…”), then three quick scene examples to show the problem is ongoing (Mira approaches Violet three times), and a final statement of the problem: “Violet went shy.” But for this simple text to truly spring to life, we need the art, layout, and even page turns to complete the experience.
In this case, Charlene places “But whenever Mira came near…” right before a page-turn to drive the suspense. Next, three spots (surrounded by white space) highlight the dynamic between the girls, yet keep us moving until–BOOM–the hammer drops–“Violet went shy.” The full bleed (no white space) of poor Violet cowering behind that tree overwhelms us with Violet’s despair over her problem. (Heart clutch!) The stronger the emotion, the more I like to pull back the language so the art can SING. (And how!) This is the essence of picture books. The images and text create the meaning together.
CC: The process, at least on the illustrator’s end, is pretty solitary. I get the manuscript, sometimes I go over it with the art director, but not always. I’m just left alone to come up with the art and I quite like it that way. All the art is sent to the art director or designer on the book. I usually get feedback from them several weeks later. To be honest I am not sure when the author sees my art – I leave it up to the publishers to decide how best to liaise with the author. In my opinion it works best this way, as what I get back is usually edits that are concise and actionable (e.g please make the character on this page a bit smaller). Occasionally there are bigger things to fix (usually at the sketch stage), which do take more back and forth between me, the publishing team and the author. It is really rare for me to speak directly with the author during the illustration process. The exception are books that have special visual needs (e.g cultural depictions) that we feel would be better clarified upfront with the author.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
CSW: What’s the most surprisingly hard thing about writing picture books? For me? To get a narrative right, I inevitably must tap deep emotional spaces. It feels vulnerable. “But it’s just a picture book!” you say. Yes. And it must feel True. Alive. With a handful of words. To work, a book must convey something deeply human that transcends age. Even for humor. It’s like one of my favorite childhood picture books,The Monster at the End of This Book (Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin). Our dear Muppet Grover does everything possible to keep us from turning pages BECAUSE THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK! AHH! (Spoiler: it’s just “lovable, furry old Grover”!) Which is true of all my books. To finish, at some point, I must face the monster, the closet, the secret reason I’m writing this book. (Spoiler: The monster is usually ME.)
CC: Oh… there are so many questions I know I wish people would ask me, but right now I’m drawing a blank?
Oh I know! “Do you have a queer slice-of-life comic with adult characters in a modern-fantasy setting?”
Please ask me that because the answer is YES.
CSW: Okay, now you HAVE to tell us more….
CC: Aha… I’m not sure how much more I can say right now. It’s under development and currently only on my Patreon (note: my Patreon is mainly for my comics and non-kidlit artwork). Best I can do is say the comic is something like Nimona meets Heartstopper, but with adult characters.
CSW: You had me at Nimona. But I’ve seen your comics and I am smitten. I want to see these on glossy paper!
What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers/illustrators, especially picture book writers?
CSW: Read picture books aloud with kids as much as possible. How kids react, drift, what they notice is so instructive. It’s important to hear and feel how texts perform. Do they flow? How do the page turns add suspense? Picture books are designed to be read aloud a bazillion times by exhausted adults. Your text needs to stand up to that. Also, study current picture books. Scores, hundreds of them. Type up the text with the page turns. Notice how the voice works, how words don’t describe the pictures; they do more. How the pictures say more than the text.
Every writer is unique, but for me, “charting” picture books has transformed my process. My sketchbook is full of 4X4 story grids, one box per spread (a spread is 2 facing pages). This is actually a method from illustrators. I simply drop into each box an image or a few words to represent the content and layout of the page (say a half spread, or a page with three spots). This allows me to “see” the whole book visually. I can check pacing or focus, cut/ add scenes easily, without the distraction of language. I also chart published books to study them. I chart new ideas before I draft. If a story isn’t working, I chart it to identify the problem or to work out a solution. Charting has shaved months (years) off my process! I wish I’d known this trick when I started Love, Violet back in 2011!
CC: Pretty much what Charlotte said. As an illustrator, I always make a dummy book, even if the first draft is just pretty much stick figures. It helps in the same way charting does, but I find it also helps me figure out what descriptions I can cut out. A lot of things can be ‘described’ by the images so once I have a stick figure in place, I find it easier to trim out unnecessary words.
I should also add that unless you are self publishing, you do not need to look for nor hire an illustrator. The publisher usually chooses AND PAYS the illustrator.
Also – be a nice person? The industry is pretty small, we all want to work with nice people. Be aware of how you use your social media especially; if you want to be an author, then it’s probably not great if the first thing people see is a list of all the books you hated, for example!
Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
CSW: I have a Halloween-ish book on submission about a monster-loving kid and her puppy who discover that mishaps and scary feelings are no match for monster love. Another project just going on submission features a child from a beautiful queer family who finds new ways to cope and connect with a parent while they are away for a long time, something I know TOO much about as a military spouse. As to other projects, here in Italy the fairy tale vibe is STRONG. (Also. Charlene keeps daring me to write a chicken book….)
CC: As far as confirmed projects go, I am working on Amy Wu and the Ribbon Dance (by Kat Zhang, Simon & Schuster), Boys Don’t Fry (by Kimberly Lee, FSG) and an upcoming chapter book series called Hocus and Pocus (by A. R. Capetta, Candlewick).
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
In our final celebration of the 300th episode the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin sits down with the prolific writer, James Tynion IV, as they reflect on the very first Flame Con in 2015. They discuss the many books James has worked on in the 7 years since, how the industry has changed, and what projects he has on the horizon.
*Podcast is available now, video premieres on YouTube (3/11) at 2:30pm.
We’re celebrating the Geeks OUT Podcast’s 300th episode with a look back at the first Flame Con back in 2015 with host Kevin and the hotly in-demand artist, Kevin Wada. They look back at that first year, reflect on how things have changed for both Kevin and the Industry, and discuss some of the projects that he has coming up.
*Podcast is available now, video premieres on YouTube (3/10) at 2:30pm.