Disability Pride Month 2022

As Disability Pride Month comes to an end, we here at Geeks OUT would like to take this opportunity to highlight a number of interviews conducted by our own Michele Kirichanskaya featuring people within the community.

Additionally, Michele would like to recommend books within the community including Deaf Utopia: A Memoir―and a Love Letter to a Way of Life, True Biz: A Novel, and The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me.

Interview with Author Sarah Katz
Interview with Authors Kathryn Ormsbee & Molly Brooks
Interview with Author Natalia Sylvester
Interview With Author Amelia Loken
Interview with Courtney & Royce of The Ace Couple Podcast
Interview with Author Natasha Ngan
Interview With Writer And Editor Suzanne Walker
Interview With A. J. Sass, Author of Ana on the Edge

Interview with Author Rebecca Burgess

Rebecca Burgess is a comic artist and illustrator working in the UK, creating award winning published and small press work. Along with drawing comics for their day job, Rebecca also loves drawing webcomics in their free time. Being autistic, they are particularly passionate about bringing more autistic characters into comics and stories! Outside of drawing comics and cuddling their cat, Rebecca also loves playing RPGs with friends, going on deep dives into history and growing vegetables in their humble Bristol garden.

I had the opportunity to interview Rebecca, 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! I’m an illustrator and comic artist- I’m a little too obsessed with comics, I draw them both for a living and in my spare time too, and spend half my time reading other people’s comics haha

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?

I got into comics back when I was a kid in the late 90s/early 2000s- thanks to Pokemon blowing up, Japanese comics became really big over here in the UK and really drew me in more than any comics I had read before. In comparison to the UK comics of the time that were solely focused on gag strips or self contained sci-fi aimed at ‘boys’, manga had long running story lines, cinematic pacing and a wider range of genres/characters! When I was 14 I started selling small press comics and through that found the even wider range of art styles and genres that came out of indie and web comics! Back then these kind of comics appealed to me because they were telling stories and themes I hadn’t seen any where else, and I’d say this is why comics still inspire me the most today too.

How would you describe your creative background/ artistic education?

I have a Uni degree in ‘sequential illustration’ (basically comics lol), but to be honest the course was a bit of a mess for various reasons and I generally got more out of it socially than I did in terms of artistic development.

For me personally I would say I learned the most from the small press comic world. Way back before modern social media, all the small press/indie artists in the UK would use the same few forums to make friends and learn from each other. We would critique each other’s work, discuss/share published comics and give each other tips on new sources for printers or conventions. I learned how to develop my art through these friends, and as my older friends managed to get into the publishing world I then learned how to get into comics professionally too!

As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

In terms of overall inspiration, I think it changes over time depending on what I’m interested in. My drive to create comics generally comes from wanting to explore various things going on in my life!

Artistically, I have a few favorite artists that have really stuck with me in how I do comics. I love how Osamu Tezuka applies very cartoony/exaggerated expressions to big, serious stories. It’s a style that many people don’t get on with lol And I know some people don’t ‘get it’ with my art either. But after reading Buddha I realized that when an expression is exaggerated it just adds to the emotion of a moment or the personality of a character in those very serious moments and makes you care more, so I’ve always kept that.

Kaoru Mori’s style of pacing also has a huge influence- she effectively uses panel layouts that create very cinematic pacing. They look deceptively simple but flow beautifully. I admire comics with inventive and elaborate page layouts hugely, but for me nothing beats a comic where the layout is clear, simple and easy to read. If someone was able to eat through my comics within a couple of hours and all in one go, then I know that I’ve executed it well!

My other big influence is Posy Simmonds- she started as a satirical cartoonist and moved that style into long form stories. This makes her artwork and characters incredibly observational. She captures the variety both in how people look and how they move and act. I like to try to keep that attention to differences in body language in my own work! Posy Simmonds is also very loose and free in how she tells stories, she changes the medium and style a lot even within a single comic depending on what is working for the story. This has taught me to be more free in my process too  (over the years, as I get braver doing that haha).

What inspired you to write about your own experiences in How to Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual? Was there any conflict in how personal you allowed yourself to be with this story, particularly in regards to asexuality or mental health?

When the subject of asexuality comes up, alot of people both in real life and online say things like ‘Why do you need to make this into a big thing when its literally doing nothing?’ or ‘Its a sign that there’s something wrong with you, you should go to a doctor to see how to fix it’. I thought if I put the topic into a memoir, it would help asexuality seem more ‘human’ to people who dont see it as human, and more ‘relatable’ to people who think its about people just being over the top.

There was a lot of conflict over how personal to be. It was quite scary bringing the mental health aspect more into reality via the comic, its something I find hard to talk about in general. I also worried about shaping too much how other people in the comic were viewed (theres always more than one side to each story after all!). In that case though I was very careful to keep it all about me, change names and ask permission if I could from those who were featured more prominently in the comic.

Regards asexuality I was scared that even after the story was published people would respond as they often do by saying I’m being over the top. Thankfully I’ve only had positive comments about the comic, mostly from other ace people saying how nice it was to find something they could relate to! I’ve also had a few really nice messages from non-ace people saying they understand the experience better now which is especially nice!

What are some of your favorite parts of the illustration/ creative writing process? What do you feel are some of the most challenging or frustrating?

I like the ‘thumbnail/planning’ stage best- for me that’s the part where I basically write the comic, as I don’t generally write a script. It involves scribbling down interactions between characters and coming up with fun plot ideas, and then stitching that together into tiny thumbnail sketches where you can see the entire comic in front of you before its made. I also really like the ‘inking/line art’ stage. It’s very relaxing because its almost like drawing but without having to think too hard as you’ve already done the hard part in the sketch stage.

For me the hardest part of a comic is perspective and interior backgrounds. I still haven’t mastered either of these things and I also find them a little boring compared to drawing outside scenery or drawing characters- but they are often essential to telling a story and setting a scene, sometimes you just have to trudge through the things you find boring even when you’re being creative!

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want people to know about you?

I’m super interested in everything, it changes on a regular basis and always with the same intensity haha. Right now I’ve joined a Show Choir where we are singing musical numbers, and as spring comes round my yearly obsession with growing vegetables and flowers will return (I especially have a natural knack for growing good tomatoes!!)

As of now, are you currently working on any ideas or projects that you are at liberty to speak about?

I’ve been doing a few comics that are more focused on autism, another personal topic to me as I’m autistic!

I’ve been working on a graphic novel that’s coming out in September called ‘Speak Up!’- this is a comic about an autistic kid who is leading a double life. At school she’s treated certain ways because of how people assume her to be. But online she is a singer/songwriter who is going viral, and there she’s able to express herself more easily. Also in terms of lgbtq themes, one of Speak Up’s main characters is non binary (and very fashion-minded, I had a lot of fun coming up with various outfits for them haha)

I’m also making a webcomic called ‘The Pauper’s Prince’ that you can read online for free! With this comic I was watching Bridgerton last year and thought about how I want to see a light hearted regency style fantasy romance that looks like my own relationship with my girlfriend- I love regency dramas but they’re always with straight couples haha. The two main characters form a gay-asexual relationship, and one of the main characters is autistic too, so it deals with how that kind of romance might look. Being a drama there are various relationships in it, most of them lgbtq in various ways to keep with the theme!

In comparison to How To Be Ace, both of these comics are pure fiction and really focused on making fun, light hearted stories with these themes rather than tackling the hardships that come in real life.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Learn to be okay with not being perfect, and to be okay with having ‘off days’. This is a very hard hurdle to get over, but once you do it helps in multiple ways- You improve more quickly because you learn to make mistakes and move on from them. If you’re looking to do art for a job, you will find it easier to maintain healthy boundaries and not overwork yourself/work long hours in order to make something ‘perfect’ (trust me the people paying you will not notice either way!) Most importantly, art becomes fun and a source of self expression, as opposed to a source of anxiety and pressure.

What is something you find enlightening or joyful about being asexual or being in the ace community?

Many people find this surprising, but I have found the asexual community to be extremely sex positive, and I’m really proud of that! I think this primarily comes from asexuality being so invisible, that asexuals have had to put quite a lot of work into researching sexuality in general in order to prove to themselves and other people that their experiences are ‘real’. We end up dissecting things like sexuality, kink, attraction, and libido a lot in order to better understand our under-researched experiences. So for me at least, I have found that I am often much more educated on sex in general than most non-asexual people I know!

I also think a lot of the concepts ace people are familiar with, such as the Split Attraction model or the different kinds of relationships you can have with partners, would really benefit everyone as a whole no matter what sexuality they are- so to me the asexual community has been contributing to sex positivity in a really meaningful way!

Finally, what LGBTQ books/comics (or comics in general) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

My favorite asexual themed comic is ‘Shades of A’ (this is for 18+ only because of the themes). Its funny and cute, depicts perfectly the pressures of being ace and how you navigate relationships with someone who isn’t ace, and talks about the intersection between kink and asexuality- a topic that isn’t talked about enough or widely understood!

Buuza!! Is my current favourite lgbtq small press comic. Pretty much all of the characters are lgbtq in some way, and the creator is passionate about sharing their Central Asian/Middle Eastern culture within the comic, which gives it (for me, as a westerner) a fresh perspective in many ways in its story style and setting.

In terms of traditionally published comics I think my current favorite is ‘The Witch Boy’- beautiful artwork and so nicely paced, the themes are great and spun into a fantasy setting so that many different people will be able to relate to it in different ways.

Interview with Graphic Novelist Harmony Becker

Harmony Becker was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the illustrator of George Takei’s graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy. She currently lives in Mexico City. Their first solo graphic novel, Himawari House, was published in Fall 2021 by First Second.

I had the opportunity to interview Harmony, which you can read below.

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

Hi! Thank you so much for having me. My name is Harmony Becker, I’m a graphic novelist and artist from Ohio, currently living in Mexico City. I grew up in a multicultural family, which has strongly influenced the direction and themes of my work. I love learning languages, dancing, and music.

How did you find yourself getting into comics? What drew you to the medium?

I started reading comics as a kid, browsing the aisles of the library looking to see myself reflected. There was something so irresistibly charming about the sparkly eyes and round, appealing designs of shoujo manga that got me completely addicted. 

As a cartoonist, you are well-known for your work illustrating They Called Us Enemy, a graphic novel co-created with George Takei. What was it like working on this project, as well as collaborating with such a famous Japanese-American LGBTQ+ icon like Takei?

It was intense! It was my first professional comics job, I didn’t even have a university degree and had just spent the last five or so years waitressing and drawing on the side, and to come from that to suddenly being next to George Takei on stage in front of thousands of people was a very extreme change. 

I wasn’t involved in the script writing process at all, so I didn’t actually interact much with George besides during our feedback sessions when I would show him the progress I had made. That being said, he’s a very passionate and warm person, and I was always impressed by his presence when we did events together in person. 

As a person from a multilingual home, I was touched by the way you played with language in your most recent work, Himawari House. What inspired this project and how did you navigate showcasing all the languages in Himawari House (including dialects, accents, and syntax) when creating dialogue between the characters and between the reader and the page?

I wanted to do a longform comic, and I wanted to start right away without having to do a lot of research beforehand, so I brainstormed about what I knew a lot about and could write about for a long time. I landed on the language learning experience, since that’s something that has greatly influenced my life. 

I knew that I wanted to have every language show up on the page. Reading manga in English I always used to try to translate it back to the original in my head, and I suppose I must have imagined that there are other readers like me who would appreciate having them both side by side like that. There is always a lot that gets lost in translation, and while the English subtitles increase throughout the book as the characters become more fluent, I also wanted to have the option of the readers themselves to potentially have that same experience–to be able to learn the languages in the book and eventually get to the point that they understood what the characters are saying even without the subtitles. 

I got a lot of help with the languages, I think there were maybe up to ten different people who were editing and checking the dialogue. I really owe a lot to those editors and my friends who I roped into helping me! 

As an artist, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

My number one inspiration has always been Studio Ghibli. Beyond the artistic level, I think throughout my life I’ve been very strongly influenced by the philosophy behind their movies–the tension between nature and humans, the ambivalence or total lack of antagonistic characters, that sort of thing. The work that inspired Himawari House the most strongly, however, was definitely Honey and Clover by Umino Chica. It taught me to romanticize my own life and see the humor and beauty in what sometimes seemed to be the most pathetic things about myself. These days I’ve been reading a lot of Igarashi Daisuke–Children of the Sea, Witches, Little Forest. There’s a very grounded spirituality that he explores, this sort of reverence and terror before how much we don’t know. I love that so much. 

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

I suppose I’ll ask myself: What would you be doing with your life if you weren’t an artist? 

I would love to be some kind of naturalist, to do work with nature or animals. I think it’s the most urgent and necessary type of work, to restore our relationship with the natural world and to work to preserve it. 

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

I have a couple of comic projects in the works that haven’t been announced yet, but other than that, I’ve been working on the very early stages of a movie script. I’ve also been doing a lot of painting lately. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Pay attention to the world around you, and to yourself. Don’t wait for someone else’s approval to make work, or even your own approval. You learn by making work that you don’t like. Make time to play, to make work without putting a lot of pressure on the result. 

Finally, what books/comics (LGBTQ+ or otherwise) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Witches by Igarashi Daisuke was my favorite read this year. For people who liked Himawari House, I would recommend Satoko and Nada, it explores similar themes of cross-cultural friendship and discovery. Harukaze no Etranger and Dokyuusei are two really lovely LGBTQ+ comics that I enjoyed.                                             

Interview with YouTuber The Asexual Goddess

The Asexual Goddess is a YouTuber who makes content centered around Aromantic, Asexual and Agender topics as well as a wide range of other LGBTQIA+ topics.

I had the opportunity for an interview with The Asexual Goddess, which you can read below.

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

My name is Kimberly Butler (she/they) also known as the Asexual Goddess on YouTube and Twitter. I create content and try to advocate for my identity as well as other Aromatic and Asexual identities. I especially speak on racial issues within the LGBTQIA+ community and I am currently working on a new channel called Bisexual Files where I unpack my own internal Biphobia in hopes that it can help others understand Internal Biphobia on a deeper level. I am 21, I live in Chicago and I love Anime and Comics and Damian Wayne is obviously the best Robin.

As a person on the aromantic-asexual spectrum, how did you find yourself discovering this part of your identity?

I found myself discovering this part of myself online like most Aces do. I remember seeing videos from Amelia Ace at the time and reading information on different identities (Like I still do for fun now) and thinking that the AroAce labels fit me to a T.

I also had to sit with myself and ask myself how I truly felt about a lot of things, how I reacted to certain things (being nonchalant with breakups, feeling like I was playing a ROLE in most relationships, etc) that led me to discover my identity.

How did you find yourself getting into asexual advocacy? Did anything or anyone in particular inspire you?

I found myself getting into Ace activism because I saw a lack of ace representation on sites like YouTube at the time. We didn’t have the greats like Yasmin Benoit with her pushing fashion boundaries for Aces and Women, Marshall with his activism and love of sweets, or Ace Dad and his sensational informational Tik Toks. 

Besides your work online, what do you like to do in your free time?

I love to draw and read comic books. You can probably find me in one of Chicago’s many comic book stores. I also love to read fictional YA books when I get the chance, play horror or superhero video games occasionally.

What are some things about asexuality you would want people to take away from this interview?

That Asexuality is wide and vast. Asexuals can be on either ends of the spectrum or right smack in the middle. I want to bring light to that so anyone outside of the Asexual  Spectrum will choose their words more carefully when they come across Aces who “don’t act Asexual” or what they think Asexuals are supposed to act like from what society has imposed on us. I am a very touchy feely person and people always assume it means I’m being sexual and that’s not true all the time but certain factors (being black and presenting myself as feminine sometimes) causes people to think everything I do implies I’m automatically attracted to someone (And that even confuses ME!)

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

What’s it like being Ace/Aroflux?

I would say it’s pretty odd because we have this ability to be on both ends of the spectrum and for people who can relate to me it feels like when you act on your alloromanticism or allosexuality you either aren’t Ace enough. I am currently dating someone, and I think the first thing I thought was ‘oh my gosh, does this mean I’m not Ace/Aro? But we as a community just need to speak about the different identities that include alloromanticism without being toxic when a person’s Aro/Ace identity doesn’t look how you think it should.

For someone new to the ace community, what resources would you recommend checking out?

TAAP does an amazing job with being diverse and getting as many Aro/Ace voices out there and it’s very enlightening to see. Asexual Outreach also is a great organization to check out for Aro/Ace support.

What are some ways you would recommend for someone hoping to celebrate or advocate for their own aceness?

To celebrate: I would say look at more media with celebrated Aro Ace characters, Hazbin Hotel’s Alastor (Vivenne Medrano aka Vivziepop)  is a fan favorite among the Hazbin Fandom which is a nice surprise seeing people are so convinced AroAce characters can’t hold a candle to Allo characters. Going off that seeing characters that are Demisexual like Quinn, and Asexual like Griff from Ashley Nichols upcoming show FarFetched really will amp you up seeing Quinn and Griff are main characters in the show.

To advocate: I would say spread the word on different Ace identities, help people understand that Ace/Aro people are LGBTQIA+ and deserve a spot at the table. Find local groups you can engage with. Find books from people of different backgrounds in the Ace community and listen to the differences between each Ace/Aro experience.

Who are some ace/queer activists you would recommend others to know about?

I would recommend them to check out Marshall Blount AKA GentleAceGiant, Yasmin Benoit is doing amazing things for the community, Sherronda  J Brown (gender negative on Twitter). Ace Dad has some great Tik Toks about Aro/Ace content, Queer as Cat has some great Youtube Videos you all should check out. I LOVE the Ace Couple for their advocacy they’re amazing on spreading the word and helping be vocal about topics of racism, sexism, and disabilities. Ashante the Artist has spoken a few times on Asexuality but her content is also great for unpacking daily life with various topics.

What LGBTQIA+ media (i.e. books/ television/etc.) would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I would say look into Youtubers like the ones I listed throughout this article. There are some amazing books by Claire Kann about Aro/Ace LGBTQIA+ black women. Watch The Owl House by Dana Terrace (There’s a canon Aro possibly Ace character and the main lead is a Bisexual girl with a Lesbian girlfriend on Disney? I know!). Check out Jaiden Animations new video about their AroAce identity (and their other videos). We also have amazing Ace comic artists Aro and Aces, Aro Comics (aro_comics on Instagram).

Interview with Author Francesca May

Francesca May grew up in the middle of England where she spent her childhood devouring fantasy books and brewing potions in her back garden. She currently lives in Derby with her family, three giant dogs, and two black cats. By day she works as a bookseller at Waterstones. By night she accidentally kills every house plant she touches and writes novels about gothic mansions, witchcraft, and queer love. She also writes psychological thrillers and gothic suspense as Fran Dorricott. You can find her on Twitter @franwritesstuff.

I had the opportunity to interview Francesca, which you can read below.

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

Hi, and thank you! I’m Francesca May, the author of Wild and Wicked Things. I’m an expert bookseller for Waterstones by day, where I run the YA, SFF, crime, manga and graphic novel sections, and by night I spend far too much time taking photos of my pets, killing my plants (oops) and writing stories about gothic mansions, witchcraft, and queer love.

Where did the inspiration for your book, Wild and Wicked Things, come from?

I love writing fantasy books, but I hadn’t had the nerve to try to publish one until WAWT. The idea came from a silly prompt on Twitter, when somebody asked “What is the book you wish you’d written?” I thought about the answer to that question for far longer than I should have and finally settled on The Great Gatsby. It’s a book that had a profound impact on me when I first read it, and which has impacted me every time since, especially with its themes of reinvention and discovery. Plus, I adore morally grey characters. But I knew my version of Gatsby would be… well, not very Gatsby-like at all. It would have to be genderbent, and sapphic, and I would want it to be speculative fiction—which in my book nearly always means witches. And I guess you could say that Annie and Emmeline’s story just grew from there, really!

What are some things readers can expect from the book?

I like to describe WAWT as a creeping, gothic tale of first love, inner darkness, and what it means to be powerful. It’s slow-burn in more than just the romance, with strong themes of belonging, coming of age, and found family. It’s a book full to the brim with morally grey characters—and I mean that, because like in The Great Gatsby not one of these characters is 100% (or even 50% if we’re being honest) nice or good. There’s my take on an Only One Bed scene, badass ladies in suits, dark magic and a healthy dose of murder. Yay!

How did you get into writing, and what drew you to writing fiction and historical fantasy specifically?

Honestly I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, but I started taking it seriously as an early teen, right around the time I learned about the existence of NaNoWriMo. What started out as a fairly isolated hobby became something I was encouraged to take seriously, while still finding incredibly fun and rewarding. After that I was truly hooked! As for writing historical fantasy, I think in some ways it comes from a melding of two of my favourite kinds of fiction. I love historical fiction, the way it can so effortlessly (it seems as a reader) transport you to places you have only ever wondered about. Historical fiction often truly succeeds in invoking the sounds, the smells, the desires of a time and people that are so like us, and also not at all. And fantasy is a further extension of this. I love the way that historical fiction comes with its own set of challenges for the characters, and in a fantasy world this is often dialed up to 100. Plus, on a writerly level, I just love the aesthetic of historical fiction. Those clothes! Those old-fashioned customs! They’re so elaborate and fun to adapt.

It would seem that a bit of historical research has gone into this book. How would you describe the researching process and how it intertwined with the actual writing of this book? Also, why World War I?

The process was actually a lot of fun! The 1920s are a time period I’ve been interested in for a long time because of the growth in female independence and the wealth structure in different places after the war. I think there’s a lot of fiction that focuses on the impact of the Second World War, but in the UK especially WW1 had a huge impact, societally and economically, as well as emotionally. There’s quite a difference in the way that Americans felt during that period and the way the Brits felt, largely because the war led to more British deaths than American ones, and I wanted to explore what a Gatsby-type world, with a prohibition, might look like from a British perspective. The Jazz Age was unlike any period that had gone before and that wildness that we often know and see in film and TV wasn’t the reality for a lot of people, so I found it really interesting to splice together the New Age with the Old Age, as it were. Of course I did a lot of non-fiction reading, and read a lot of fiction that was written by British and American authors in the 1920s before I started to write—and then obviously gave everything my own fantasy spin when I began my drafting.

What inspires you as an author in general? What helps you keep motivated to finish a book?

I think the main thing that inspires me to finish projects is just the feeling of having a complete book. I write primarily for myself, so the fact that I could sit down at the end and read what I’ve written is a great motivator for me. But I also have a group of really supportive friends who read snippets (or whole novels sometimes) and cheer me on endlessly. Inspiration, I find, can come from anywhere. I find it in music, in other books, in television and movies or just from talking to friends, listening to the customers I have in the book shop. Most of my ideas stem from a “what if…?” idea that lodges itself in my brain and just won’t let go.

How would you describe your writing process?

Messy! Haha. I tend to write first drafts very fast, and then edit slow, so the drafting process can sometimes take as little as four weeks. I tend to burn through my ideas really fast, desperate to get my thoughts on paper in chronological order as fast as possible, and then I go back through much more slowly, layering in details about world, character etc. I know some writers prefer the editing process, but for me drafting is my favourite part. There’s no pressure for the book to shine yet, it just gets to be a story I’m telling myself—which is why I got into writing in the first place.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do or research in your free time?

Because I spend a lot of my non-writing time bookselling I still use a lot of my free time to read. It’s my main hobby! But outside of the book industry it’s mostly activities like walking, swimming, anything to give my brain a break or to encourage plot ideas to come unstuck, and the rest of the time I’m usually looking after the hoard of animals I have. Right now we have two newfoundland dogs and three cats, so it can be a bit of a handful! But a very fluffy, lovely handful.

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

Ooh this is a tough one! One question I get asked a lot is “who is your favourite character in Wild and Wicked Things?” and, honestly, I would also like to talk about my least favourite character. Bea. Bea is Annie’s childhood best friend who has since moved to Crow Island with her very rich new husband—and honestly, if readers don’t dislike Bea by the end of the novel then I have not done my job properly! She is selfish, oblivious, and focused on nothing but achieving her own frivolous goals… but she’s also scared, vulnerable, and has been affected very badly by the hand she’s been dealt in life. Her naivete in the past has caused her a lot of problems, made her wish for autonomy over herself and her life, and that means she was also one of the most challenging characters to write. Bea doesn’t mean to hurt other people, but she also has reached the point where she has been hurt so repeatedly by her own poor decisions that she doesn’t much have the capacity to care if she hurts others as long as she perceives that she’s helping herself. In a lot of ways she’s like Daisy in The Great Gatsby—primarily out for number one—but of course the path to reach this point is a complex one.

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

My biggest piece of advice to aspiring authors is always “if you can do nothing else, think of nothing else, if writing feels like it is in your blood, then you are a writer”. And I don’t mean that writing should always overtake the other things in your life, but if you always come back to writing, then you are a writer, and the first step to a career in writing (if that’s what you want) is treating yourself seriously. I say don’t use the phrase ‘aspiring writer’ because if you write, then you are already a writer! Giving yourself permission to take the writing seriously, to invest time and effort and resources in that writing, is the best way to a career in it. My second-most important piece of advice is “make as many writer friends as you can”. Friendships within the writing community are invaluable. We learn from each other, we support each other, and that makes a sometimes isolating thing so much less lonely.

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

Yes! As Francesca May I am currently working on my next fantasy novel, which will be coming out with Orbit in 2023. It’s a fun blend of Stepford Wives meets The Witches of Eastwick, in which a young woman returns to a small Cornish town where she spent summers with her aunt growing up to find the town, and its inhabitants (including the girl she used to know very well) subtly changed—and now everything is far too perfect… Spooky stuff! I’m having such a blast writing this pastel-goth witch book and I can’t wait to share it with everybody.

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

A book I absolutely adored recently if you like queer fantasy is Malice by Heather Walter. It’s basically Sleeping Beauty but what if the villain gets the girl? So good! Other LGBTQ+ books I loved recently are Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club (historical YA), Margaret Owen’s Little Thieves (YA fantasy), Emily Danforth’s Plain Bad Heroines (adult gothic fiction), and Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne (adult epic fantasy). We’re in such a golden age of LGBTQ+ fiction right now and there is so much amazing stuff out there, the bookseller in me could go on for hours!

Interview with Author Sarah Katz

Sarah Katz is the author of Country of Glass (Gallaudet University Press, May 2022). She holds an MFA in creative writing from American University. Her poems appear in Bear Review, District Lit, Hole in the Head Review, Redivider, RHINO, Right Hand Pointing, Rogue Agent, the So to Speak blog, The Shallow Ends, and Wordgathering, among others. Her essays and articles have appeared in The Atlantic, Business Insider, The Guardian, OZY, The Nation, The New York Times, The Rumpus, Scientific American, Slate, The Washington Post, and other publications. Sarah is Poetry Editor of The Deaf Poets Society, an online journal that features work by writers and artists with disabilities. 

I had the opportunity to interview Sarah, which you can read below.

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

I’m a writer living in Northern Virginia. I write creative nonfiction, journalism, and poetry. I mostly cover disability rights issues, and I’ve written for publications like The New York Times, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and others. 

I’m also deaf. I have a cochlear implant in my left ear and a hearing aid in my right ear. In addition to writing, I enjoy reading poetry and memoir, walking around my neighborhood, and watching TV shows like “The Americans” and “Better Call Saul” with my husband Jonathan. 

How would you describe your book, Country of Glass? What was the inspiration for this project?

Country of Glass deals with a variety of subject matter, including deaf identity, illness, injury, war, and alienation, among others. More specifically, it’s an exploration of the precariousness of everyday life. It wasn’t a book I set out to write—I was just writing poems on themes that interest me, and it turned out that there was an overarching theme to them. 

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to poetry?

I first fell in love with poetry when I was around five years old. I was exposed to a lot of poetry in speech therapy, and I began writing poetry when I was around eight or nine years old. At that age, I knew I was going to be a writer. I was slipping poems under my English teacher’s door every morning before school began.

At the time, I was reading a lot of children’s poetry. Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky wrote humorous verse full of rhythm and rhyme. I was probably drawn to the musicality and imagery of their work.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/ most difficult parts of the creative process for you?

When it comes to poetry, I would describe my writing process as sporadic. It’s probably not a great strategy, but I only write when inspired. Lately, I haven’t been very engaged with my poetic side, and I probably won’t be for a long time. But I know that at some point I’ll return to it.

Being a writer of multiple genres works for me. When I’m not inspired by poetry, I’m writing nonfiction or journalism. 

My favorite part of the creative process is when I’ve found the subject matter that I want to write about, I’ve come up with an outline, and I’m just about to begin. That moment feels pregnant with possibility. 

The most difficult part of the creative process is definitely feeling uninspired. There are stretches of time when I’m not writing, and it feels like failure. But I have tried to treat these stretches as fallow seasons. 

At any point during your life have you found media (i.e. books, film/television, etc.) in which you could see yourself reflected or relating to in terms of personal representation?

In 2019, I watched This Close, a TV show featuring actors Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman, which has come closest to resembling my life experience as a deaf woman. Like I do, Kate, a public relations professional (played by Shoshannah) speaks verbally in addition to signing. She also has a hearing partner, like me. She struggles in hearing situations, and he struggles in deaf situations. It’s the only show that I’ve watched that shows the diversity of the deaf experience.

As someone who is part of the d/Deaf/HOH community, disability seems to be strong element of your work. Had you always intended to cover this part of your identity within your writing, or was it simply a happy accident?

I began writing about deafness and disability because it’s what I know, and because it’s not written about enough. There are only a handful of people writing about disability.

What’s something about deafness you might want someone to take away from this interview?

When you’re deaf, you often mishear or misunderstand, which leads to interesting insights that hearing people don’t have. That insight is where all good writing begins.

What advice would you give for other writers/poets?

Lean into your obsessions. Try to find different entry points into them and write about them as much as possible.

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

I’m currently working on a memoir-in-essays on life with deafness. It’s about the different aspects—learning as a deaf person, coping with abuse, mental illness, etc. I expect to be working on it for a long while.

Finally, are there any books, particularly poetry books or books showing disability/Deaf rep, you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I recommend True Biz, a novel by Sara Novic, which wonderfully portrays the diversity of the D/deaf experience, and Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism, a memoir by Elsa Sjunneson that also explores the representation of disability in books and movies. I also recently enjoyed A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome by Ariel Henley and Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig, and I’m looking forward to John Lee Clark’s poetry collection, How to Communicate. And of course, Ilya Kaminsky’s poetry collection Deaf Republic is a huge gift.

Interview with Author Alex Temblador

Alex Temblador is the Mixed Latine award-winning author of Half Outlaw and Secrets of the Casa Rosada, which received numerous industry accolades including Kirkus Reviews’ Best of YA Books 2018 and the 2019 NACCS Tejas Foco Young Adult Fiction Award. She is a contributor to Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican in America and Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology, and a travel, arts, and culture writer with pieces appearing in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and National Geographic, among many other publications. She lives near Dallas, Texas.

I had the opportunity to interview Alex, which you can read below.

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

Thank you – I’m so glad to chat with Geeks Out. My name is Alex and I’m the award-winning author of Secrets of the Casa Rosada and a brand-new novel called Half Outlaw. I grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas, but after moving between three other states, I made my way back to the Lone Star state and currently live and write in a 102-year-old haunted house that I bought in Dallas in 2020. Other fun fact: I’m half Mexican, half white, but I identify as Mixed or Mixed Latine. 

What can you tell us about your book, Half Outlaw? Where did the inspiration for this book come from?

Back in 2013, I was sitting between my uncle and my grandfather on the couch at a Thanksgiving celebration. My uncle turned to me and said, “You know I’m an outlaw, right?” I said, “Sure.” He then replied, “That makes you half outlaw.” It was the coolest phrase I’d ever heard, even if it didn’t really make much sense as to why he was saying it or what he meant. But it reminded me of how people always ask, “What are you?” when they’re trying to inquire about my ethnicity. Growing up, I used to say, “half Mexican” or “half Mexican, half white.” The phrase “half outlaw” reminded me of that and I thought – what makes someone a half outlaw? A story about a Mixed woman and her outlaw family unfolded from there. 

In terms of what Half Outlaw is about… it’s a road trip novel with magical realism elements and a structure that jumps between the 1970s and 1990. It follows Raqi (pronounced like ‘Rocky’), a half-Mexican, half white lawyer who must go on a cross-country motorcycle ride in honor of the white uncle, Dodge, who raised her after her parents died. Dodge had a substance abuse problem and raised Raqi within the community of his one-percenter motorcycle club called the Lawless. (Only one-percent of motorcycle clubs are involved in illegal activities, according to the FBI. Hence the term, ‘one-percenter.’ The fictional club in the novel, the Lawless, sell drugs and guns.) Raqi hadn’t talked to Dodge in 10 years, but she agrees to go on the motorcycle ride in exchange for the contact information of her Mexican grandfather, whom she didn’t know existed. 

As readers follow Raqi on this road trip where she meets some interesting people, I introduce chapters from Raqi’s past, so you get the full sense of what it was like for her to be raised in a violent, abusive, racist, and neglectful environment and how this trip affects her perspective of her past and person. Half Outlaw is a thrilling ride, but it can get pretty dark at times. Although the idea for Half Outlaw sparked in 2013, I wrote the full draft in 2017 when I was trying to deal with how the white side of my family behaved when Trump was elected and how that impacted me as a Mixed person of color. 

Readers might find themselves uncomfortable at times, or even pulled in different emotional directions while reading the book. This was intentional. I tried to take feelings that I’ve had as a Mixed woman in different situations – whether it’s been among my family, friends, school, or career – and put them in the story. 

What drew you to writing, particularly fiction and travel writing, which seems to be major elements of your writing journey?

I’ve always loved fiction. As a child, I read voraciously, especially books that let me explore different parts of my personality that I wasn’t sure how to express outwardly. I loved going on adventures as a woman warrior, a queen, a witch, or a historical figure who had insurmountable obstacles in their way. 

When I decided to pursue writing, I always had the intention to become a full-time novelist one day. After receiving my MFA in Creative Writing, I lived in Los Angeles writing subtitles and captions for TV and film, and then moved to Dallas a year later to become a freelance writer. One of my first gigs was with a TripAdvisor-owned outlet that doesn’t exist anymore. Within this job, my love for traveling expanded and I discovered that I could specialize in travel writing – so that’s what I did. My travel writing career has taken me to so many beautiful places like Thailand, Japan, Serbia, Bonaire, Mexico, Belize, Switzerland, Germany, and many more. 

I think it’s pretty awesome that I’ve been able to marry my travel and fiction writing into Half Outlaw, which is, in a way, a fictional travel narrative as Raqi travels between California and Arkansas throughout the book. 

How would you describe your general writing process?

When I’m working on a new novel, I typically write for 20 minutes as soon as I wake up. If I want to write more later in the day, then I’ll write more. However, it’s not something I make myself do. Once the first draft is complete, I let it sit for a few weeks and then pick it back up and start editing on the computer. When that’s complete, I edit it by hand, and then again on the computer before sharing it with a beta reader or my literary agent. 

For me, the most important part of the writing process is the editing phase. Writing the first draft is necessary but it’s in the shaping of the story through editing that I find the most joy and excitement.  

What drew you to writing? Were there any books or authors who you believe inspired you and/or influenced your own personal style?

Although I write some non-fiction, I’ve found that writing fiction has allowed me to process my emotions and my experiences in a way that feels safe to me. That’s ultimately what drew me to writing. It was a safe space to ask questions, work through my trauma, and tell stories that I hope will benefit the people who read them.  

I would say that I was influenced by a wide range of women of color writers like Amy Tan, Sandra Cisneros, Isabel Allende, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Louise Erdrich. However, it was Ana Castillo and her novel, So Far From God, that impacted me in a significant way as a writer. I can recall reading the first page of the book and having this connective moment between my heart and mind that said, “This is it. This is what I’ve been trying to write.” I hadn’t realized that I was looking for a writing language until I recognized it in Ana Castillo’s style of magical realism. If you compare our work, I think our writing styles differ greatly, but her novel was the catalyst to me exploring the magical realism genre and learning about how it’s connected to my Mexican identity. Everything came full circle when Ana Castillo blurbed Half Outlaw. I was beyond honored. 

Half Outlaw is a magical realism novel, and it’s something you’ll notice in the first sentence of the book. It may be a little jarring if you don’t read a lot of magical realism, but you grow used to it very quickly and find that it plays a role in Raqi’s perspective of the world and the trauma she’s endured. 

What advice would you have to give to any aspiring writers?

Write the story that you want to write, rather than the story you think is going to be sold or something that is ‘highbrow’ with flowery language and winding sentences. Trends in the publishing industry are so fickle and you can’t really predict what will be “hot” next. For instance, books that you read today were bought two years ago, so those trends have already come and gone. Don’t waste your time trying to write to a trend. 

Even more importantly, don’t try to write in a style that doesn’t come to you naturally. I think that’s the biggest mistake that writers make when they first start writing. They try to write like their favorite authors or writers and when it isn’t the same, they get disappointed, spiral out, and quit writing. Write what comes naturally. You’ll find more success and joy in this approach. 

On a last note: put most of your effort toward editing. Half Outlaw has gone through a countless number of edits, thanks to feedback I received from two beta readers, my literary agent, my publishing editor, and an in-house publishing editor. No book is well written in the first draft. Editing is the key. 

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

Your main character, Raqi Warren, is Mixed, and it’s something that you discuss in the Acknowledgements. How does her identity play into the story and why is it important?

Raqi is half-Mexican, half white, just as I am, and like me, she identifies as “Mixed.” People who are Mixed may identify as biracial, multiracial, or as “half-x and half-x.” It’s entirely up to the Mixed person to choose their personal identifier and this should be respected by others. 

I like to explain what it means to be Mixed, because despite this identity being one of the fastest growing populations in the U.S., we still don’t see a lot of fiction that features main characters who are Mixed. I didn’t grow up reading books where the characters were Mixed like me. It wasn’t until graduate school that I read short stories and books by Mixed authors with Mixed characters – and only because I went searching for it (these stories weren’t assigned to me to read). Today, I’m sorry to say, that Mixed representation in fiction is still considerably low, and most books with Mixed characters aren’t even written by Mixed authors. 

I wrote this book to work through the experiences that I’ve had as a Mixed woman in a world that was designed for monoracial (single race) and monoethnic (single ethnicity) peoples. For Half Outlaw specifically, I wanted to focus on the impact that monoracial family members have on Mixed family members. 

In Half Outlaw, you’ll see how Raqi navigated growing up in an all-white community as a Mixed girl with brown skin. While her “family” loved her, they also caused her harm in a variety of ways from using slurs in reference to people of color to speaking negatively about Mexicans and Mexican Americans. This is something I’ve experienced in my own life and with my own family, and I hoped that by writing this book, more Mixed people feel seen and understood. I also hope that family and friends of Mixed people can gain some insight into their relationships and behavior through Raqi’s story. 

Are there any other projects you are currently working on that you feel free to speak about?

I have two books in the works – another adult fiction novel that examines themes of sexism in mythology, motherhood, and loneliness, and a non-fiction book that I hope will be beneficial to creative writers. I’m trying to conceptualize a new novel idea but it’s in the very beginning stages of the outline and free writing process. I don’t know if it’ll end up being the next novel I write. I tend to write out a few ideas that come to me and then put half of them aside when I discover that the story doesn’t have legs. However, this idea has been brewing for well over a year in my mind and a few things have recently come together that make me think it’s the next story I need to tell. All I’ll say about this new novel idea is that it’ll have a cemetery, a slight love story, and examine the politics of women’s bodies. 

What books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

I could suggest book titles or authors, but I’d rather persuade you to read authors who have a different identity than you – whether that differing identity be in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, religion, culture, class, etc. As readers, I think we get too comfortable reading books where we feel ‘at home’ or ‘seen’ or books that let us escape from our day-to-day life. While those books are necessary and may be good for our mental health, I think the best things we can do for ourselves is to read stories from perspectives that don’t align with our own. 

In reading books by authors who have different identities than us, we may feel uncomfortable at times, however, that’s a small thing in comparison to the benefits we receive. In learning about a different identity, perspective, or life experience, we develop empathy and understanding for people who have different life experiences than us – and that is something that can go a long way in our society and personal lives. 

Header Photo Credit Shelbie Monkres

Interview with Author Will Taylor

Will Taylor (he/they) is a reader, writer, and honeybee fan. He lives in the heart of downtown Seattle surrounded by all the seagulls and not quite too many teacups. When not writing he can be found searching for the perfect bakery, talking to trees in parks, and completely losing his cool when he meets longhaired dachshunds. His books include Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort; Maggie & Abby and the Shipwreck Treehouse; and Slimed (as Liam Gray). Catch That Dog! and The Language of Seabirds coming 2022. 

I had the opportunity to interview Will, which you can read below.

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

Hi hi! Feeling star-struck to get to be here! I’m Will (or Liam sometimes when I feel like living the other half of my name). I am gay, biromantic, gray ace, and enby, or, as a teacher friend once dubbed me, multidisciplinary queer. I’m a dual US/UK citizen, though I’ve lived around Seattle my whole life and don’t get to visit my family over there nearly enough.

I write mostly Middle Grade, but I’ve got several picture books doing the editor rounds and am piecing together a super gay murder-mystery-musical-romcom which I’m crossing all my fingers will turn into my first YA. (Let me tell you I am daunted, but if it comes together it’ll be so fun.)

How would you describe your upcoming book, The Language of Seabirds? Where did the inspiration for the story come from and where did you come up with the beautiful title?

The Language of Seabirds is the book of my heart, and also a real departure for me. My first four books are all silly, bouncy romps full of pillow forts and ghost mooses and evil slime and dogs who think they’re people. Seabirds is a contemporary romance about the first big feelings of love, and how the time and place where they arise (in this case summer on the Oregon coast) gets woven into our hearts. My own first big feelings happened in fifth grade and were immediately drowned out by shame and the fear that someone would be able to tell I liked a boy. I wanted Seabirds to be a book where the good feelings win, and where a kid who’s not super certain of anything yet gets to just feel and celebrate and be.

And hey, thanks for the kind words about the title! It came to me as I was lying on the couch eating mac and cheese and watching cooking shows on Netflix. (My natural habitat.) A Danish chef was saying something about “the alphabet of Nordic cuisine,” and all in a flash I saw a boy watching another boy running along a beach in my mind, with birds wheeling and crying overhead. The title showed up in the same moment, just there suddenly, and as I got into writing the book I discovered that the language of seabirds is actually a code the two boys come up with, a way to say what neither of them is quite ready to say out loud yet in the big noisy world. I feel like I can’t take any credit for the title; it definitely felt like a gift!

How did you get into writing, and what drew you to Middle Grade fiction specifically?

I was that kid who preferred the library to the playground, so the love of books and stories was always there. I started writing in seventh grade when a fabulous English teacher liked a poem I wrote and encouraged me to keep going, and I was lucky enough to get more fabulous English teachers in high school who pushed me to work hard at it and grow. I stepped away from writing for a decade or so after college as I bounced around trying to find my place in the world, but when nothing else seemed to fit I came back to it, found I still loved it, and got to work.

As for Middle Grade, oof, that’s a big answer. I guess at a core level my heart is still eleven years old, and the sheer magic and wonder I remember books giving me access to at that age has never gone away.

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

I cannot express how excited I am to see this field finally expanding! I wrote Seabirds because it was the exact book I needed as a kid. Not to sound all own-horn-tooty, but speaking as someone who didn’t feel safe enough to come out until after college, I guarantee my life would have been different if I’d had access to this book in fifth grade. With every LGBTQ+ Middle Grade book added to the shelves another kid in our community gets a mirror to see themselves and feel good about who they are and who they’re on their way to becoming.

I’ll save my book recommendations for the question at the end, but I have to shout out absolute legend Kacen Callender here, who has 100% led the way with LGBTQ+ Middle Grade. Their work is extraordinary, and I’ll remember the first time I read Hurricane Child for the rest of my life.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite things about writing?

Once my agent has approved one of the endless ideas I send him (*blows kisses to Brent Taylor at Triada US*) I usually spend a few weeks getting all the themes and arcs and characters in place. I’m definitely a plotter; I write best knowing where I’m going and trusting that I’ve already done the heavy lifting to make sure it will all work. After that I tend to set up a checklist system so I have a certain doable amount to get done every day, which builds into a positive sense of momentum—another thing that’s essential to me doing my best. Writing’s hard enough without feeling like I’m behind all the time!

I should say it’s taken several books to figure out how I like to write, and I’m sure it will change along with me in the future.

Favorite things about writing: I love the way scenes and pages stack together and accumulate. Putting words into a blank space is such an act of faith, and it’s always magical to see the threads you’ve laid down start to weave together, to see the characters learn and change, and to be able to channel your own emotions into something other people can experience.

Were there any stories or authors that inspired or touched you growing up?

Oh, so many. I think the ones that really stand out in my brain are the ones about strange, overlooked kids being summoned by mysterious forces to worlds where they are powerful and needed. (Strong resonances for LGBTQ+ kids in that archetype for sure!) Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising was huge for me, as was A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. So You Want to Be a Wizard, by Diane Duane; Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson; A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond; the Redwall series by Brian Jacques; everything by Rosemary Sutcliff, especially The Eagle of the Ninth and The Shining Company… so, so many.

Besides being a writer, what are some things you would like others to know about you? 

Ha ha, oh nooo, this is like filling out a dating profile! I’m sorry but I’m honestly so boring! I spend the vast majority of my time reading kidlit, writing kidlit, comparing movies and TV shows to kidlit, talking about kidlit, or hanging out with kidlit friends. I like to bake, is that cool? I have a degree in sacred architecture… I’m blind in one eye… I collect teacups…

I guess it might be worth sharing that if I weren’t a writer I’d want to be a garden designer, and that I did static trapeze for a good chunk of my twenties. Somewhere there’s a video of me doing a solo performance as a merman to Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid in a blond wig and teal lycra. I’m sure it will resurface at some completely embarrassing time.

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

Ooo, okay: What one person alive today would you want to have lunch with if you could?

With absolutely zero hesitation, Kate Bush. I was introduced to her music at a very young age by my British family, and it’s irreversibly woven into my creative DNA and imagination. I don’t know of any other artist who describes so perfectly the world I’m always writing toward. If I could write a book that had one-tenth of the intimacy and grandeur of her songs I would be happy forever. It was Kate Bush who taught me that it’s possible to be both deeply romantic and fiercely independent, and I’d give a lot to eat tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with her.

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

Read! Read as much as you can, and as widely. The more you read the more your imagination has to work with. You’ll know what you like and don’t like, what works in story and what doesn’t, and what kinds of people and experiences you’re genuinely interested in exploring.

The second half of that, of course, is write! Write as much as you can. Above all, finish projects, even if they stay as rough drafts. Give yourself first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to go from a blank page to the words The End. Build those pathways in your brain, reinforcing that this is what you love and want to do, and with every piece or project you complete it will be that little bit easier to embark on the next one.

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

Well, there’s that ridiculous YA idea I mentioned before, but at the moment I’m on the third draft of what I hope will be my next Middle Grade: a 12th-century historical escape adventure full of castles and frozen rivers and swords and stolen jewels. 

I’ve also got another Scholastic book coming out the month before Seabirds, a silly, heart-achy, overlooked-girl-and-her-doggo-best-friend story called Catch That Dog! It’s based on the real-life dognapping scandal of Masterpiece, the toy poodle who helped set off the poodle craze of the 1950s. There’s no sweeping summer romance in this one, but there are a whole heap of feelings, well-earned comeuppance for nasty grownups, and hopefully plenty of laughs. Think Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie crossed with Christopher Guest’s movie Best in Show, all set in fabulous small-town New Jersey. I’m really proud of this book, actually. Preorders welcome! Comes out April 5!

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

Okay, seriously, I could do another three pages of answers here, so I’ll try to limit myself to my absolute top faves. Everything by Kacen Callender, obviously, also Alex Gino and Adib Khorram.  I loved This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer, Almost Flying by Jake Maia Arlow, Thanks a Lot Universe by Chad Lucas, Between Perfect & Real by Ray Stoeve, Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian, The Remarkable Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake, Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell, The Insiders by Mark Oshiro, Runebinder by Alex Kahler, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, Camp by L.C. Rosen, and argh I’m going to have to make myself stop!

Oh! One big resource I want to recommend is LGBTQreads.com, run by the fabulous Dahlia Adler who also makes sure LGBTQ+ books get plenty of love on Buzzfeed. She’s curated a stunning and incredibly searchable list of books that encompass the whole spectrum of our community, and it’s always growing as our options on the shelf grow. Dahlia is a total champion, and so is her site. And of course so is Geeks Out! All the very biggest thanks for having me today! It’s been a dream!

Header Photo Credit Joshua Huston

Interview with Author & Stylist LaTonya Yvette

LaTonya Yvette was born in Brooklyn, New York with three brothers and one sister. It is the same place she now calls home with her daughter, River and her son Oak. She began her career as a stylist, where she often helped women and new mothers dress for their changing bodies and roles. LaTonya attended college for a BA in writing and literature, and later left to focus on motherhood and forge a path between her expanding worlds and roles. 

I had the opportunity to interview LaTonya, which you can read below.

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

I’m a writer, author, and mother of two amazing kiddos. I also have had a lifestyle blog, LY for over 10 years that I spent a lot of time writing about HAIR! The Hair Book is my first children’s book and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be on this journey with Amanda.

What can you tell us about your book, The Hair Book? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

The Hair Book was born out of a lot of discussions on hair in my own family (I have an afro, my son Oak says he has poofy hair and River said she has curly hair). Hair, the story of it, the many layers of it, and the beauty and acceptance of it has been part of our growing process as a family. And just like our board book, looking in the mirror, touching it, feeling amazing about it, accepting it, and telling people, to not touch it, has been part of that too! As my children get older, these messages when they were young have been part of who they are, and I can see the benefits of instilling these messages at such a young age. And to that end, it was so important to teach young children (that are not our own) about acceptance, diversity, and ultimately, love.

How would you describe the creative process? What are some of your favorite things about writing/ illustrating?

I’m currently writing a bigger adult book (my second) and writing this children’s book was a complete joy and relief. It’s such a different process. Instead of trying to wrap a story with many words (an adult book) with the kids book you’re trying to simplify, engage, and inspire with as few as possible—which is a task in and of its own!

What are some of your favorite examples of picture books growing up and now?

My children and I have been reading a lot of my favorites as they’ve gotten older. But lately, we have been picking up Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold again because of her show at The New Museum. It’s still such a powerfully gorgeous book that with each detailed illustration pulls the reader in.

For those curious about the process behind a picture book, how would you describe the process?

I’ll leave that all to the master of it, Amanda. But I will say it’s more tedious than I assumed. Every little thing matters, needs to be reviewed, revised, and watched.

What goes into writing one and collaborating with an artist/writer to translate into The Hair Book?

I would say it takes a lot of care. You have to care about the artist, you have to care about the writer, you have to care about the reader and you have to care about the message!

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

What do you think kids and babies will say when they see the mirror in the back of the board book?


What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers/illustrators, especially picture book writers?

Keep going

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

I’m currently editing my third book, Stand In My Window: Meditations on Home and How We Make It with Dial Press (2023) and renting The Mae House, a rental project and a BIPOC Rest as Residency project in upstate, New York

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

We love Ada Twist Scientist in this house, I also love Amanda’s other children’s book, Yummy Yummy Yuck, when we want a good cuddle cry, Ida Always, Amazing Grace.