Interview with Author Keah Brown

Keah Brown is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. She is the creator of #DisabledAndCute, and her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire UK, and The New York Times, among other publications. Her debut essay collection The Pretty One (Atria Books) was published in 2019, and her writing has appeared in the anthologies Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong and You Are Your Best Thing, edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown. 

I had the opportunity to interview Keah, 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 am a journalist, author, screenwriter, and studying actress. I love to tell stories, that’s the Throughline of the work that I do. I’m also a person who loves concerts, cheesecake, Drew Barrymore, and Paramore. 

I am also a person who thinks that joy is revolutionary and now more than ever we deserve things that make us want to get through each day.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Sam’s Super Seats? What was the inspiration for this story?

Sam’s Super Seats is one of my dreams come true. It tells the story of Sam, this adorable little girl with Cerebral palsy, who goes back to school shopping with her mom and her two best friends. While at the mall, she learns the importance of comfort and rest and listening to her body.

The inspiration for the story was me writing a story that I would’ve loved as a child. Growing up I didn’t see any books for children featuring stories of little black girls with any disability let alone mine, cerebral palsy.  So, in many ways, this book is my way of giving little Black girls and children of all races with disabilities a slice of representation I never had. The dream could only be a reality because of the fantastic work of the team at Kokila, penguin kids, and my amazing illustrator, Sharee Miller. 

What drew you to storytelling, and what drew you to children’s literature specifically? 

I have been storytelling in some way since I was a child. The stories were not always good because we have to start somewhere right?  For me, there is magic to Storytelling the ability to be lost in someone else’s world for a while, to give our sometimes racing brains a break. I was an early reader, I loved and still do love reading books and I knew from a very early age that if I ever had the chance to tell stories of my own, to potentially give readers a chance to give what was given to me, to share in the magic I was going to jump on it. I am very grateful that I get to do this for a living and hopefully people enjoy the magic that I create too.

 One of the most Virgo things about me is that I have a ten-year plan document on my computer. Writing a children’s book has always been on that list. When my editor from Kokila, Sydnee, reached out to me with The idea of creating a children’s book after she’d read and thankfully enjoyed The Pretty One, I leapt at the chance. As an early reader books were my Safe Haven and I wanted to be able to give that specifically to children one day I’m just so glad that that day is here. 

As the writer of The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me, what drew you to writing non-fiction?

The thing that is most interesting is that fiction is my first love, I will always have a soft spot for fiction. However, with The Pretty One, I had the opportunity to write about things that I didn’t really have the opportunity to write about in my one-off essays or interviews, or articles as a journalist. With The Pretty One, I was able to talk about things like music, grief, family, platonic love, my love for TV and film, and more in a more in-depth way because I had the page space. 

As a Black, disabled, queer author much of your writing has been highly personal in regards to describing your specific experiences and identities. How would you say you balance creative drive (and career needs) versus preserving your own vulnerability? 

Well, with each piece of writing I think about craft. What is the way that I want to tell the story, and why do I want to tell the story? and What lends itself to the story and what doesn’t? The way that I preserve my own vulnerability is with the recognition that I don’t have to share everything with everyone. In my work, especially in my nonfiction work, I share what serves the story and the things that are just for me are simply just for me. My non-fiction work is highly personal but it is not the whole of me. Early on in my career, I was sharing everything, letting it all hang out, and then after some advice from a few prominent writers that I deeply admire and trust, I learned that I didn’t have to give everything away in order to get a byline in the first place. Now I’m in a place in my career where if I do write something that’s non-fiction, like The Pretty One or an essay, I let craft also dictate when, how, and why I tell a personal story. Sometimes I think it’s easy for people to forget that even when we’re telling stories of our own lives that takes effort and it’s not just like a diary entry on the page. 

How would you describe your general writing process? What are some of your favorite/most challenging parts for you?

My general writing process depends on the thing I’m writing. If I am writing a book I outline first. Outlining is not my favorite thing but it is a necessary piece of the process, especially in writing longer works. If I am working on an essay or a story for an anthology, I usually skip the outline and just start writing. When I am co-writing something like the musical that I am currently cowriting, we outlined extensively for weeks because it is also a longer work. On the off chance that I’m writing something like a poem, that usually happens at like 3 AM so there’s no outlining involved in that process either. However, I cannot write at all without music. So, regardless of genre, Music has to be playing while I write and it has to be songs that I know.

My favorite part about writing is truly creating worlds and people that others can get lost in, that even if I need to I can get lost in. Sometimes we all need to step away from the real world for awhile. So, when I’m writing, my favorite part is knowing that I enjoy the story that I’m creating and letting the worry about if anyone else will fall away at least until it’s over.

The challenging part of the writing process is knowing that there are just going to be some days where nothing comes and to give myself grace on those days and to not feel like a failure because I didn’t write anything good that week or that day.

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

Music, movies, and TV is one of my greatest sources of inspiration. One of the coolest things about being creative is seeing different genres create and being inspired to create in your own because of it.

As far as people, Roxane Gay, Ashley C. Ford, Issa Rae, Shonda Rhimes, Andie J. Christopher, Jasmine Guillory, and Samantha Irby. 

Aside from your work as a writer, what would you want readers to know about you?

I want readers to know that I absolutely love getting to tell stories and then I want to tell stories via film and television as well. I want readers to know that I do not take them for granted and that I’m grateful that they exist at all. 

I am simply your average disabled black girl who loves love and a happy ending. 🙂

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers? 

There will be days when it feels impossible to write and days where nothing good comes but try and remember that even your favorite writers have those days. Don’t give up on yourself or your story. Sometimes, will spend a day writing and none of it will make the final product but that’s also a part of the process. 

Let your first draft be bad, it’s supposed to be bad. First drafts are just about getting words on the page. It does not have to be perfect, rid yourself of the idea that everything has to be going perfectly well or that you have to write the next great thing in order to start writing. Just start writing

Are there any projects you are working on or thinking about that you are able to discuss?

Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, I am co-writing a musical about two twin sisters who are out looking for adventure, I am dipping my toes into the film and TV space, and I’ve got a young adult book coming out next spring.  I also am continuing to take acting classes and I plan to draft out what will be book number four toward the end of the year.

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

Interview with Author Pavlos C. Hunt

Pavlos C. Hunt is a New York CIty based author and poet. You can follow him on Twitter as well as Instagram. I had the opportunity to interview Pavlos, 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 at Geeks OUT, it’s an honor! I am Pavlos C. Hunt, author of Little Beach, Little Bitch, a queer poetry collection that explores the themes of love, loss, and hope, through the lens of a queer immigrant. I was born and raised in Nicosia, Cyprus, and I moved to New York ten years ago to pursue my creative dreams. I’ve worked in TV, theater and book publishing, but my dream is to get to a place where I can wake up and write until the sunset.    

How did you find yourself drawn to the art of poetry and storytelling? 

It started as a need to understand myself better. Every poem has a part of me, something I once felt, or something I once was. The same goes to my characters in fiction. They are all a reflection of me to some extent.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Little Beach, Little Bitch? What inspired this project?

Little Beach, Little Bitch started ten years before I was even aware of it. I was in the army in Cyprus back then, hiding my sexuality, and finding escape in the poetry of Walt Whitman, drafting my own poems at the watch tower to kill time. When I moved to New York, I thought everything would suddenly be wonderful in my life, but I was naïve, and I threw myself into bad relationships. Again, I used poetry to navigate all that. A few months ago, I was packing to move apartments, and I opened a box with more than a hundred notebooks in it. I read every single page, realizing that my entire life story was in there, and I decided to do a selection together and see where it takes me. 

As a queer author of Cyprus descent, do you believe your background has influenced your poetry or writing in any way?

The older I get, the more I understand the depth of the connection I have with my motherland. Certain cultural aspects are engraved in me, so my point of view in life is always filtered by my experiences growing up in Cyprus. Even after ten years, I still feel like an outsider in New York. I don’t know if I belong here. There is a poem in Little Beach, Little Bitch about Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus and my birthplace, and there are a few other poems with references to my heritage and the topography of Cyprus.   

For many years I resented Cyprus, because I was in the closet there, and I saw New York as my gay sanctuary. I didn’t come out to my parents until last year, at 27 years old, and it’s only now that by being my authentic self, I have completely transformed my relationship with Cyprus in a positive way.  

How would you describe your writing process? Is there anything you do to help yourself in terms of motivation or creativity?

I revisit my work a lot. I edit and I re-write sometimes for years; it’s an endless process. However, a few of the poems in Little Beach, Little Bitch flew out me so naturally that I kept them intact since their inception. I stay motivated because I want to improve myself. I know my limitations, and I notice my improvement with every new piece of writing. I can only hope that by keeping at it, I’ll one day write something great. I believe that when a good poem touches your soul, it can transform your understanding of the entire world. And if I can do that even just for one person, then it’s worth it to me. 

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

I observe how human relationships change through time. I lost friends I thought I’d had forever, and that was a catalyst in my writing. The queer community and culture are also an inspiration to me, and I try to find the connections and the nuances, and how the queer experience expands and how it diverges. In terms of people that inspire me, Cavafy was an archetype for me and my poetry. He has a poem about running away to a new city in hopes of change, but ultimately bringing yourself with you, which means it’s all just the same. That poem sums up my life. I also love reading lyrics to songs without the music, as if they were poems. 

What are some of your favorite parts of writing? What do you feel are some of the most challenging?

It’s cathartic. As I mentioned above, my favorite part of writing is that it helps me understand myself and the people around me. The most challenging part to me is finding an audience and making them relate to something so personal. All the logistics that come after the creative process is a challenge to me as well, but I made a conscious decision recently to let go, put myself out there, and trust the process. 

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

I love drag shows. I even tried to be a drag queen in the past, but I didn’t commit to it. Doing drag takes a tremendous amount of time, and so does writing, so it wasn’t a viable option for me. I couldn’t give my heart to that craft. The drag queens that I love have a wildfire inside of them. I’m thinking of Pixie Aventura and Jasmine Rice now.

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

I think it’s fun when people talk about what superpower they’d like to have. I’m obsessed with everything magical. I hope to write fantasy one day, if I can bring my voice to the genre. So, the answer to that question for me would be teleportation, so I can close my eyes and, in a blink, appear in Cyprus and then back to New York. I’m just terrified of planes, and I always have to take two of them to get home. 

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

I wrote a screenplay called MISS MYKONOS about a teenager that goes to the island of Mykonos with his grandmother and competes in a drag queen pageant with her help. It’s a light comedy; very different in style and aesthetic from Little Beach, Little Bitch, but still very queer. I am also writing a novel loosely based on my sexual experiences in New York City. The themes are very similar to my poetry, but the novel has a love story that carries the plot. It’s the journey of an innocent soul slowly getting broken into pieces by all the wrong people he lets in his life. In the end, there’s not much to give to the one he loves. Lastly, I also write lyrics for musicians, and I would love for people to check out another queer artist named Louis Bluehart who has some very fun songs out on Spotify and all other music platforms. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

I don’t think I have accumulated a lot of wisdom yet, but what really helped me stay creative was giving up the idea of perfection or originality, and just embracing every step of the way. Personally, I’m not sure if I have natural talent in writing, but I thought, “It’ll get better if I keep doing it, anyway.” 

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

I already mentioned classics like Cavafy and Walt Whitman. Another book that I loved recently is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I also want to read A Previous Life by Edmund White and Memorial by Bryan Washington. 

Interview with Author Sunyi Dean

Sunyi Dean (sun-yee deen) is an autistic author of fantasy fiction. Originally born in the States and raised in Hong Kong, she now lives in Yorkshire with her children. When not reading, running, falling over in yoga, or rolling d20s, she sometimes escapes the city to wildswim in lonely dales.

Her short stories have featured in The Best of British Scifi Anthology, Prole, FFO, Tor Dot Com, etc., and her debut novel, THE BOOK EATERS, will be published 2 Aug 2022 by Tor (USA), and 18 Aug 2022 by Harper Voyager (UK). Available at all good bookstores, in ebook, hardback, and audio.

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

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! What can you tell us about your book, The Book Eaters? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Inspiration came from many places! I love the ethical dilemma of vampires as creatures who must do terrible things to stay alive. Every culture, for as long as we’ve had written records, has legends about vampiric creatures of some kind, and I find that quite eerie, too. (I don’t love their cheesy Dracula-based reputation, but that’s easy to side step in one’s own writing.) 

I’m also interested in how we consume media, how it affects us, and what it says about our society’s psychology. All of those things folded together, gradually, into this book. 

How do you believe your neurodivergence affects your writing and worldview as an author?

In Chinese, ‘autism’ sometimes translates to ‘loneliness disease’ or ‘closed-self’ disease. Those are terrible, ableist terms in many ways, but there’s a grain of truth to them as well. Autistic life is often lonely, sometimes very narrow, and usually more inward-looking; autistic people are deeply self-reflective thinkers. 

Devon is not written as autistic, because I am not really sure what autism versus neurotypicalism would even look like in book eaters. But she, and many of my other characters in various stories, do tend to be isolated, reflective, sometimes lonely, and placed at the fringe of society. 

What inspired you to get into writing, particularly speculative fiction? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

Truthfully, it was actually book reviewers who inspired me to try writing. I love reading in-depth reviews which deconstruct a novel and engage with what the author was trying to do or explore. In particular, I remember reading a 5k-word essay about a classic sci fi novel and thinking, How cool would it be to write something which inspired 5,000 words of discussion from someone else? 

I write because I want to connect, to be heard, and to have conversations with folks through text, and the complexity of speculative fiction (as opposed to other genres) allows so much freedom in stories. 

As someone who is obviously inspired by fairytales, why do you think you yourself and other readers keep being drawn to these older stories?

Fairytales are a highly accessible “bare bones” medium that speak to cultural experience. They are safe ways to explore and work through things that we, as a society, collectively fear or don’t understand. 

A classic example is the mythology surrounding werewolves, and their use in talking about domestic violence. The language we have today for talking about domestic violence is very specific and detailed, but hundreds of years ago, that wasn’t the case. People instead relied on stories to process very complex experiences and common fears.

Fairytales were never meant to be something we aspire to. They were always intended to be something we talk about.

How would you describe your writing routine?

There is no routine, only chaos and prayers to the elder gods. Occasionally deadlines and panic. 

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What are some of the most challenging?

I’m in the camp of people who despise drafting and adore editing. I love having written, but don’t enjoy it while I’m actually doing it. A bit like running: I love finishing a run, but I swear and snarl through the actual experience. 

What advice would you have for aspiring writers?

Writing is hard, and publishing (where self, trad, or hybrid) is harder. Be kind to yourself, especially if no one else is kind to you. 

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

‘What is your favorite whisky at the moment’, you say? Well, so glad you asked! 😉 Seaweed and Aeons and Digging and Fire, cask strength. 

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

I’m working on a few projects! One is a historical fantasy set in Hong Kong, featuring ghosts. Another is a near-future, retro-sci fi, set in rural Texas. Both are novels, both are early stages. 

I would also like to complete my half-finished novella, revamp an older book, and start making notes on 2-3 other books beyond that. 

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

Do check out The Final Strife by Saara El Arifi, a glorious and bloody epic fantasy with a queernormative society and a sapphic lead MC. Came out June 2022! 

Recently, I have also loved Hench by Natalie Walschots (competent bi MC), Nophek Gloss trilogy by Essa Hansen (acespec MC with genderfluid characters), and Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (sapphic leads again.)

Interview with Author Holly Black

Holly Black is the #1 New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of speculative and fantasy novels, short stories, and comics. She has sold over 26 million books worldwide, and her work has been translated into over 30 languages and adapted for film. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret library. Book of Night is her adult fiction debut.

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

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

Sure, I’m Holly Black; I’m originally from New Jersey and now living in Massachusetts, and I write contemporary fantasy, often involving mythic or folkloric beings, with a melancholy bent. I love cons, heists, twists and surprises.

How would you describe your writing process?

I think I’ve tried it all – outlining, fast drafting, note cards, whiteboard, three act structure, five act structure, reading the entrails of goats. But none of it has made the drafting process less agonizing! Recently I’ve tried skeleton drafting and found that useful – at least I can get my mistakes over with quickly and get on to the revising stage, which is where I feel I can actually begin to make the mess of the draft into a book.

Can you remember any of the stories or authors who inspired you growing up? Who or what inspires you now?

As a teenager and in my early twenties, I lucked into finding books that inspired me – Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, in particular, which I continue to think of as a perfect book. That was also when I came to read Tanith Lee, with her delicious prose, and also Anne Rice, whose Interview with the Vampire was my bedside reading all through eighth grade.

From my childhood, one of the most important books in molding my writing was Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s illustrated book, Faeries. The art is extraordinary and a little frightening. And along with that, there’s a lot of somewhat brutal folkloric accounts. I came back to that book again and again as a kid, and I love it as much as an adult.

Since the beginning of your career, you’ve been known for dabbling in urban fantasy. What draws you in about the fusion of everyday mundane reality and the supernatural?

I love the way that in contemporary fantasy, it seems possible that if you were to look out of the corner of your eye, or turn the right (or wrong) way down a street, you might stumble on magic.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Book of Night? What can readers expect?

Book of Night is about Charlie Hall. She’s spent half her life stealing secrets from shadow magicians, and is now trying to get out of the game. She’s hoping to settle down with her shadowless (and possibly soulless) boyfriend, Vince, and resist the pull toward her worst impulses. But when her past comes back to threaten everything she’s built, she discovers she’s not the only one with a complicated history or dark desires.

Unlike your previous work, which consisted of books for younger or young adult readers, Book of Night is considered to be adult fantasy. Was the writing process for this book in any way different from your previous books?

It was – and I can’t really say why. I wrote and deleted more from this book than any I have written previously, including at least a dozen first chapters. I was on a writing retreat with Kelly Link, and I’d give her a new chapter each morning and then delete it at night, only to give her another the next day. She found the whole thing very puzzling! But I love the world and the magic and the characters a lot, perhaps the more for having had such a hard time finding them.

Asking for a friend, but where did the idea for your stories, the queer favorite, Valiant. come from? 

I am so surprised that’s the one you’re asking about and not Darkest Part of the Forest or Ironside, but Valiant was my favorite of my books for a long time. The story came out of my younger sister’s struggle with addiction and her overdose, as well as being a Beauty and the Beast retelling.

If the characters of Book of Night could interact with any characters from other fictional worlds, what characters would they be and why?

Odette, the dominatrix owner of Rapture, where Charlie tends bar, would be a great dinner companion for Catwoman. They could compare latex outfits. 🙂

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

My biggest advice is to write for your reader self, not your writer self. Think about the kinds of books you like to read, the characters in books you like to read about, and write for that person – you!

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

I am currently working on another YA novel set in the Faerie world. I hope to be able to talk about it very soon. 

Finally, are there any LGBTQ+ and / or fantasy books/ authors that you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

In terms of YA books, I would highly recommend Charlie Jane Anders’ Victories Greater Than Death, which is the space opera I have been waiting for. Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club is fantastic and has won all of the awards, but I also have a special place in my heart for her Cinderella retelling, Ash. Recently, I read Eliot Schrefer’s The Darkness Outside Us and Aiden Thomas’s Cemetery Boys, both of which I loved. Also recommend Alex London’s Black Wings Beating, which has a fascinating magic system. And Emily Skrutskie’s Bonds of Brass, which was a lot of fun.

And back when I was writing my first book, one of my critique partners, Steve Berman, was writing a teen ghost story entitled Vintage, which was recently re-released with a new cover and updated text. Re-reading it, I was reminded of its unique mix of horror and romance.

In terms of adult books, my friends group passed around Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, which we all were obsessed over. I’ve always loved Stina Leicht’s books, so I was excited to get my hands on Persephone Station. Carmen Machado’s work is both lovely and urgent. And of course, my recommendation for Swordspoint always stands.

Interview with Author Adam Sass

ADAM SASS began writing books in Sharpie on the backs of Starbucks pastry bags. (He’s sorry it distracted him from making your latte.) His award-winning debut, SURRENDER YOU SONS, was featured in Teen Vogue and the Savage Lovecast and was named a best book of 2020 by Kirkus. THE 99 BOYFRIENDS OF MICAH SUMMERS is his forthcoming novel from Viking. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband and dachshunds.

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

I’m dachshund-obsessed. I’ve got two little ones—Marty and Malibu—with my husband. We just moved back to LA after spending the first year of the pandemic in North Carolina with family. LA is our forever home, though. Something in the air out here just clicks with us. We’re not ourselves when we live anywhere else!

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

I actually started my writing career in movies and TV, so I shifted out of screenplays and into novels when I started reading YA (shout out to Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle!) and fell in love with the imagination and story possibilities I was seeing. Also, I first started writing in the years I was a barista at my local Barnes & Noble. I’d scribble ideas on the backs of pastry bags as I looked out on the bookshelves, imagining my books in there one day.

Were there any stories (queer or otherwise) that you read or watched growing up that had touched you or felt relatable in any way? What stories feel relatable to you today?

Like most queer people my age, I had to find my queerness elsewhere growing up. Buffy was obviously core, queer-friendly media. Christopher Rice’s books were really important to me in high school. These days, I love seeing queer characters have darker edges to them, even in an unflattering light. I think The Other Two is maybe doing that the best right now.

How would you describe your writing routine or process? What are some of the enjoyable, hardest, and strangest parts of the process?

It’s not just about writing, you have to think as well. A hard and strange part of that process means showing your loved ones that seemingly irrelevant activities are feeding the creative process. For instance, I often do a puzzle while thinking through a story structure problem. 

Your debut novel, Surrender Your Sons, was hailed as a gay thriller novel, dealing with horror, conversion camps, and queer survival. What draws you into to horror and what it been like writing this, including some of the realities of our world, distorted or reflected through the lens of fiction?

Horror helps us express our worst anxieties, and for me, the most therapeutic way to express mine is dig deep inside my terrified heart and spit out what I find there. Surrender Your Sons depicts several cruel people and puts many innocent people through unimaginable horrors, so that was difficult to put down on the page. However, the light in the dark is that I always gave these characters dignity and agency, and sometimes, they got big victories. My favorite part of Surrender Your Sons is the characters and the bonds between my queer teen campers. Writing them, letting them have laughs and sweet moments and kick-ass scenes where they worked together gave me all the joy I needed to survive writing the dark scenes. Surrender Your Sons shows that love and hope can never be killed, not even when everyone and everything seems to be against you.

Unfortunately, censorship of queer books is on the rise, which seems to be a topic you’re pretty passionate about. What are some ways as readers we can fight against us, and what is your take on what representation in books means to you?

Authors can only put the book out—that’s all we can do. Readers and parents hold the power in a way that even librarians and teachers don’t (because their employment is at stake, and they’re frequently a cudgel in this war). Readers and parents must email, call, text, show up in person to voice their support for challenged books and for diverse reads in general. They must do it often and loudly, because the other side never runs out of energy trying to pull us out.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Treat your work like you’re starting a small business, or an Etsy shop. Writing is not a job, a job has health benefits, 401k, and paid time off. You will not have that. Ever. You’ll have to give yourself that, and the way you do it is to understand you are a salesperson. Small businesses take years to take off and require you to put in more money than you get back. For a while! This is the first year where my business has turned a profit, but it took years to get to that point. Don’t despair that you don’t have the respect of a square job. You’re building something else!

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

I’m a theme park fanatic. I collect books about Imagineers and often use their physical space storytelling techniques in my written work.

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

Who is my favorite character I’ve ever written, and without a doubt, it’s Marcos Carrillo from Surrender Your Sons. I miss writing him and his goodness so much.

Can you tell us about any new projects or ideas you are nurturing and at liberty to discuss?

My second book, a YA romcom called The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers, comes out in September! It’s about a queer boy who draws his crushes (and imagines his life with them) before putting them away. When he decides to finally ask one of them out—Boy 100—he has a great connection, but they’re cruelly separated by fate, so he embarks on a quest to find his mystery boyfriend!

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

Jason-June’s Out of the Blue, Dan Aleman’s Indivisible, Andrew Joseph White’s Hell Followed With Us, and in Spring 2023, keep your eyes out for Terry Benton-Walker’s Blood Debts! All of these show different ways to be queer, different types of queerness, and have us at the center of stories that have little to do with being queer.

Interview with Author Alexandra Rowland

Alexandra Rowland is the author of several fantasy books, including A Conspiracy Of Truths, A Choir Of Lies, and Some by Virtue Fall, as well as a co-host of the Hugo Award nominated podcast Be the Serpent, all sternly supervised by their feline quality control manager. They hold a degree in world literature, mythology, and folklore from Truman State University. 

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

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

Hi, thanks for having me!

I’m Alexandra Rowland (they/them), and I’m a very queer fantasy novelist writing very queer fantasy novels, all set in the same expansive worldI have a degree in world literature, mythology, and folklore, which definitely informs the sort of stories I tell and the ways in which I tell them. I’m also the person who coined the word “hopepunk”, and a four-time Hugo Award nominee as a co-host of the podcast Be the Serpent, which discusses tropes in literature/media and particularly the role of fanfiction in the broader literary conversation.

Please link to this article, *NOT* the Vox one:

What inspired you to get into writing, particularly romance and speculative fiction? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

When I was eight years old, a friend of my parents said to me, “Wow, you really love reading, I bet you’ll be a great writer someday!”—whereupon I, outraged and affronted at the very suggestion, told her in no uncertain terms that I hated writing and that I would never be a writer. (So that’s clearly going well, LOL.) If I had realized at the time that the little stories I made up in my head or wrote down in my diary totally counted as writing, I might have had a different answer—because I’d been doing that for as long as I can remember.

Likewise, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love speculative fiction. My parents were both geeks, and my dad in particular really loved fantasy, so I grew up with those books being read to me or readily accessible around the house. My dad was also a bit… voluble, shall we say, especially once he got going on topics he was interested in (of which there were many), so oral storytelling was a great part of my childhood as well.

In terms of specific authors who have shaped me, I’ve probably been most influenced by (in no particular order) Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Lois McMaster Bujold… And, of course, KJ Charles for the enormous epiphany that I did like romance novels, it’s just that I needed to be reading queer romance novels, not straight ones.

What’s probably been most influential on me, though, is two decades of reading fanfiction. Now, there are still a lot of people who turn up their noses at fanfic and who might be sneering and scoffing at the mere mention of the fact that it’s been that influential on me. But the truth stands! Fanfiction is a part of the broader literary conversation, and there is absolutely no better school for teaching you how to do incisive literary criticism through the medium of really, really deep character work—and, as it happens, characters have always been what I am most interested in.

Reading fanfiction also taught me a great deal about how writing can be a joyfully self-indulgent thing, that self-indulgence and your own personal pursuit of what delights you is not something shameful or embarrassing. There is a strong tendency in our culture to assume that things that make you happy are also things that make you weak or worthy of scorn—why? Why make such an effort to conceal the things that bring us simple, uncomplicated joy? Why spend so much energy trying to convince people that we’re aloof and disinterested and without human feelings? Why perpetuate that toxic bullshit?

Self-indulgence and the personal pursuit of joy was a hugely influential thing with this book in particular, whiiiich… seems to lead us to the next question!

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, A Taste Of Gold And Iron? What inspired this story?

There’s two ways to answer that!

First, the surface-level answer: A Taste of Gold and Iron is about an Exquisitely Beautiful Prince and his Hyper-Disciplined Stoic Bodyguard investigating some counterfeited coins—and then they fall in love! It’s got heartfelt oaths of fealty, erotic handholding, and a scene where they wash each other’s hair and talk about ethics. If you’re looking for big, epic, swoopy action scenes and multi-kingdom battle sequences, this might not be the book for you, honestly! But if you are looking for lots of deep, intimate character work and all the quiet, soft moments of two characters realizing their first impressions of each other might have been wrong, and then doing the work on themselves to grow as people, come closer together, and have extravagant feelings, then this is definitely the book for you. Also a little magic system, as a treat.

On a deeper level: A Taste of Gold and Iron came about because back in 2017 or so, I was mulling on some of my favorite tropes in fiction—and, in particular, my personal hands-down favorite, the Benevolent Liege/Devoted Vassal romance (which is a specific aspect of a broader category, the classic Courtly Love trope). Then I had that grouchy thought, as so many writers do, that nobody had yet written that trope in precisely the way I wanted to read it, so I had to do it myself. (I have taken to calling it “Fealty+Feelings”.)

This was unusually deliberate in comparison to my general writing process—I started from a place of “I’m going to write this favorite trope of mine in exactly the way I would want to read it,” and then it was sort of a natural progression to, “Okay, what other tropes do I also love which would underpin and support the main one to best effect?” and thence with increasing giddiness to, “What if I just cram as many things as I like into one book?”, and then further to, “Now let’s dig in even deeper to interrogate some of those tropes and unpack them, so that they’re complex, intentional, meaningful building-blocks of story.” (For example: “Kissing to avert suspicion” is a great trope—why do I like it? What makes it so appealing? What’s the realistic, logical aftermath? How would two people navigate that, when there are so many other factors in play?)

But then, that’s the sort of thing that I really, really love—not just going through the motions to recreate a trope as if I’m following a script or a recipe, but also interrogating what underpins it. It’s the difference between “In making bread, we must knead the dough for ten minutes” and “In making bread, first we must understand how gluten is formed and what the act of kneading does to the end product.”

The entire writing process was like that—not just finding the things I liked best, but asking myself questions about why I liked them, and then about what could be tweaked or emphasized to make me like it even more. It was an exercise in the exploration of my own delight, and long before I ever sold the book, I used to tell people that I’d already gotten paid in joy, just from the time that I got to spend with this story and these characters.

This novel is said to be set in a world inspired by the Ottoman Empire. Did any particular kind of research go into making the world you created?

To be specific, it is only this particular kingdom of the world which is inspired like the Ottoman Empire! In terms of research, much of it was of the “read seven Wikipedia articles, glean two or three interesting pieces of information, and extrapolate outwards from there” variety. I’m not trying to replicate the Ottoman Empire (But Make It Fantasy), but rather create a new setting that has enough of the the flavor, the vibes, the texture—whatever you want to call it—that someone with a working knowledge of that period/area of history would find it comfortably familiar and hospitable.

For research on general flavor/vibes/texture, one of my favorite methods is to watch foreign movies or TV shows (ie: in this case, I watched several dozen hours a Turkish period drama, Magnificent Century, as well as a couple other Turkish shows). The key thing I’m looking for with things like this is, again, not to do an empty recreation, but to catch really visceral details of everyday life (like how and what they eat, or what the architecture looks like, or how people move when they’re wearing the clothes), but also, more importantly, how a story oriented to an in-group audience chooses to depict itself: What is the implicit scaffolding that the story is leaning on? What does it frame as romantic or epic or scandalous? What does it consider so normal and mundane as to not require any explanation whatsoever, and what does it go out of its way to inform the audience about?

The one thing I did borrow directly from the Ottomans is the governmental structure, particularly in regards to the janissary corps and bureaucracy—in particular, the fact that their soldiers and ministers were “recruited” as children and provided with years of education and elite training, after which they were appointed to government office and could potentially rise to be the second most powerful person in the empire after the sultan himself. Of course, the Ottomans, being an empire, were doing this “recruitment” in usually non-consensual ways (as empires so often do), by which I mean “forcibly taking children from their parents and enslaving them.”

While obviously I strictly avoided replicating that particular aspect, I did find it interesting to think about a system of governance that relies so heavily on investing time and money into educating the next generation of ministers, soldiers, bodyguards, and other servants of the Crown, especially when juxtaposed against the book’s themes of the ethics of power (both theoretically and in practice), and specifically the question: “If a vassal owes his loyalty to his liege, what does his liege owe in return to him?” We currently live in a society where we can expect to be actively and carelessly exploited by anyone who is in power over us—we regard that as no more than the mundane cost of earning a paycheck! So asking questions about power and responsibility and what fealty really means is a juicy subject.

What can we expect from the main characters of A Taste Of Gold And Iron?

[slaps the roof of Kadou and Evemer] These good boys can hold so many feelings!

Kadou is Exquisitely Beautiful, the prince of the richest nation in the world, very tenderhearted, and lightly traumatized. He is pretty much permanently worried about whether he is taking care of his people sufficiently, or whether he is inadvertently causing harm. Part of this is due to the fact that he has one hell of an unmedicated anxiety disorder; part of it is just very real philosophical concerns about the ethical expectations and responsibilities of his position.

Evemer is Beefy and Stoic. He has shoulders like a hero out of legend, an extremely rigid and unyielding sense of right and wrong, a tendency to be quite harshly judgmental of others’ shortcomings in the privacy of his own mind (or so he thinks). He has never failed at anything in his life. Hell, he’s rarely even felt ill-prepared for a challenge. (Spoilers: He is very ill-prepared for dealing with Kadou.)

They both have big, big feelings about responsibility, obligation, duty, and serving something greater than themselves.

Evemer: [wistful sigh] My most romantic fantasy is that I will one day be able to dedicate myself to the service of a worthy lord, throw my whole self into his service, and then maybe… just maybe…. save his life and die tragically in his arms, in the rain, while he cries on my face. Like in an epic poem.

Kadou: ??????? UM… Sorry, but why does this so-called romantic fantasy involve you dying? Can we revisit that???? Because that’s one of my dealbreakers.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you find to be some of the most challenging?

I love writing beginnings, unusual worldbuilding, vividly emotional scenes, introspective characters, and tangents about fantasy economics. I love characters that are complex, by which I mean “capable of accessing a broad range of feelings”—I don’t really enjoy books where everyone seems to feel only one thing in a sustained note the whole way through the story, so I don’t write books like that. I like it when characters have the capacity for a variety of different emotions, where they might get a chance to be funny, or tease a friend, or feel insecure, affectionate, fascinated, bored… All the things people feel.

The most challenging part of a book for me is the middle, particularly just before and during the “darkest right before the dawn” part. You know, the bit when the main characters are facing setbacks and feeling disheartened and discouraged and all seems lost. I haven’t yet quite figured out how to dodge that, partially because the temptation to write all the juicy emotions of a character being really sad is nearly irresistible (love those vivid emotions!). But that section always makes me grind to a halt and lose a lot of momentum, and it’s not nearly as much fun as other bits.

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

I haven’t the foggiest idea how to answer this question, so I have chosen to willfully interpret it as a request for Three Quirky Facts About Me:

1. I grew up on a sailboat in the Bahamas.

2. My superpower is to intuitively Perceive when someone is on the asexual spectrum and hasn’t twigged to it yet (this is kind of ironic because it took me until age 28 to grasp that I was not “just really picky”, that was in fact demisexuality I was experiencing).

3. I’ve done every fiber art you can name, and some that you can’t

What advice would you have for aspiring writers?

From a craft perspective: Ask questions. Always. About everything. Especially when you think you understand something innately and effortlessly, ask questions about it. Push yourself to think deeper and go a step farther. When you think you’ve walked all the way to the end of Understanding a thing, turn around and walk back to the other end and interrogate it all again from a slightly different perspective. Your whole job is to see something in the world that nobody else sees and to then tell people about it, so don’t ever accept the obvious answer without turning it around and peeking underneath to see what’s there.

From a career perspective: I know it feels icky to think of writing as a business, but getting out of that mindset is an essential part of protecting yourself, giving your work the best chance that it has, and slowly encouraging this industry away from the ways that it so egregiously everybody working within it. You can still be an artist when you’re all alone in a room with the manuscript, but having a business brain is invaluable.

Additionally, whether you decide to go for traditional publishing, indie publishing, or hybrid, take some time to look at the ways other people are doing it—on both sides of the aisle. Learn the tricks and tools the other side has, and see if any of them are useful and applicable for you and your situation.

Most importantly: Be a cockroach. This is a hard career, and for most people, it takes a lot of time to see results from the effort and time you’ve invested. Be a cockroach! Refuse to be squished, survive the nuclear winter, spread your cockroachy dominion across the earth when all others have perished—ok, this analogy is getting away from me a bit, but you get the picture. This game isn’t over until you decide you don’t want to play anymore.

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

Q: Favorite line of the book?

A: Hard choice, it’s between “I got you this door” or “Oh, fuck, I think I just got religion.” You’ll laugh about this later, I promise. 😉

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

Yes! I’ve branched out into hybrid publishing this year (that is, a blend of both traditional publishing and indie publishing), and I’ve been releasing a novella series called The Seven Gods (of which the first book is Some By Virtue Fall), and it is chock full of disaster lesbians, fantasy-Shakespearean theater intrigue, dapper fancy hats, and arson. Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on another installment of that series—The Light of Ystrac’s Wood, a small spinoff about a secondary character who will be quite important in book two of the series—which due to be released in early May.

I’m also hard at work for another book for Tordotcom, and while I can’t quite tell you any solid details yet, I’ll give you a fun clue: One of the Three Quirky Facts I gave you earlier will be, ah, relevant. 😉

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

Victoria Goddard’s The Hands of the Emperor, ALWAYS—if A Taste of Gold and Iron sounds good to you, this one will probably also appeal! It is about a god-emperor who doesn’t want to be emperor and his incomparable secretary, and together they institute Universal Basic Income, have a deeply romantic friendship/queerplatonic relationship, yearn at each other from across a room because there is a taboo against touching the emperor, and… eventually… hold hands. GASP. Scandalous, I know. (Lots of queer rep throughout the series—the two main characters of this one are bisexual (the emperor) and somewhere on the ace/demisexual spectrum (the secretary).

I’ve also recently loved Seducing the Sorcerer by Lee Welch and The Bachelor’s Valet by Arden Powell, which are both M/M romance novels. And for authors in general, I’m always delighted to boost Tasha Suri, Jenn Lyons, Freya Marske, Everina Maxwell, Alexis Hall, AJ Demas, and Cat Sebastian!

Interview with author Tessa Gratton

Tessa Gratton is genderfluid and hangry. She is the author of The Queens of Innis Lear and Lady Hotspur, as well as several YA series and short stories which have been translated into twenty-two languages. Her most recent YA novels are Strange Grace and Night Shine, as well as the forthcoming Chaos and Flame. Though she has traveled all over the world, she currently lives alongside the Kansas prairie with her wife. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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

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

Hi! I’m thrilled to be here. I’m Tessa Gratton, author of several SFF books in both young adult and adult categories. Most recently the adult fantasies The Queens of Innis Lear and Lady Hotspur, magical, queer retellings of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Henry IV part i.  My YA tends to be quiet, weird, and queer, like Strange Grace, a dark fairy tale about a town that sacrifices a boy to the devil every seven years and the three teens who decide to change the rules. My work has been translated into twenty-two territories, which makes my basement a real international library. I live on the edge of the Kansas prairie with my wife right now, but have lived on two other continents at different points of my life.

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to the Young Adult medium and speculative fiction?

I’ve been a writer for all of my life, though I didn’t realize I wanted to be an author until I was in college. Then in graduate school I was having a really rough time—it was 2004, we were deep in the Iraq war, and my dad was part of the 3/25 Marines battalion. I was struggling with my family because of my queerness and just starting to pull apart my understanding of gender and how I relate to it. I also didn’t get along with my graduate cohort or professors. School and politics and culture wars were wearing down on me, and I realized that if I stayed on my path and went into politics, probably feminist lobbying, I’d just lose myself. So I had to step back and look at what I wanted, and decide how I could do it without giving up my integrity. I wanted to challenge privilege and make the world better, and I realized that what made me that way besides how my parents raised me to question everything, were the books I read as a teenager.  The SFF books.

I realized I could write the stories I’d always loved reading and writing for fun, and write them for and about teens. That was a way to do the work I needed to do. I’ve diversified into adult, but my heart is and always will be in kidlit. Teens are out there choosing who they’re doing to be, struggling with authority and fighting every day. I like to write for those kids, to give them stories about choice and love and longing to make the world better. And monsters and kissing, of course.

How would you describe your latest book, Moon Dark Smile? What inspired the story?

Moon Dark Smile is a genderqueer YA fantasy about a lonely heir to the throne and the dangerous great demon she kidnaps for a road trip through spirit-infested rainforests and volcanos ruled by ancient sorcerers in order to find a way to free themselves from the magical injustice that has been the foundation of their empire for generations—and maybe discover who they truly want to be, to the world, to each other, and even to themselves. 

In the book before Moon Dark Smile, titled Night Shine, one of the main characters is Kirin Dark-Smile, the Prince Who is Also a Maiden. He ascends to the throne, and makes a lot of changes to the court and how his people think about him and gender. I wanted to write the story of his daughter, both because the great demon of the palace was a loose thread from Night Shine, but also because I’m interested in intergenerational activism. In how change changes. Kirin changes a lot, but mostly cultural and personal, not much that is structural. Those structure flaws are the ones his daughter Raliel, the MC of Moon Dark Smile, sees. The conflict of the book comes from consequences of the personal and political choices that Kirin and his friends make in Night Shine. It’s very possible to read Moon Dark Smile as a stand-alone, because Raliel and Moon’s story is their own, but taken as a duology the two books tell a more complete story.

Were there any stories (queer or otherwise) that you read or watched growing up that had touched you or felt relatable in any way? What stories draw you in today?

My favorite books when I was a young teen were Jurassic Park, The Vampire Lestat, Swordspoint, and the entirety of Robin McKinley’s works. I loved JP for how freaking cool it was, and I was a huge dinosaur nerd so the idea of it inspired me to really tear open my imagination. All of Anne Rice’s books felt queer to me, even when they were not overtly—especially the vampire books and the Mayrfair witches. There was something about the relationships and transformations that made me believe in queerness even before I realized that’s what I was getting from Lestat (and his awesome, oft-forgotten mother). Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint is about a bisexual swordsman in a fantasy world and his wild queer lover—it’s the first book I read that was overtly queer, and weird, dangerous, and wonderful. And it had a happy ending! I’ve been lucky enough to work with Ellen as an adult and meeting her was incredible. Robin McKinley is a hero of mine, because of how she has always maintained her voice and vision in her novels—they are crafted delicately and center relationships and a hero who is coming into their own. They’re perfect fairy tales.

I can’t ignore the influence Vanyel Ashkeveron, the gay wizard in Mercedes Lackey’ Valdemar series, had on me. I was obsessed with him, and with the unapologetic way those books depicted gayness. It was part of the fantasy culture, and Vanyel was not only so gay, he was the most powerful wizard. It was possible to be both! That blew me away as a kid. I didn’t hold on to Vanyel as long as the others, I think because at the end of the day it was a tragedy. Beautiful, meaningful, but still awfully sad. I needed that when I was figuring out who I was, but once I got it in myself better, once I had tasted a little bit of queer joy, I wanted that more than I wanted the catharsis of tragedy.

These days I watch a lot more television than I used to, and it’s very balanced with my reading. I am drawn to stories about relationships and magic, and always have been. My favorite current shows are The Untamed, a Chinese drama based on a xianxia boy love web novel filled with rival families and betrayal and dark magic and very soft queers, and Star Trek: Discovery, which not only has some of the best writing and acting on TV today, but just keeps getting more and more and more gay! That’s fitting, because the first time I saw myself really on TV was in Jadzia Dax, from Deep Space Nine. She was absolutely canonically genderqueer in the late 1990s. The way the show used her alien species to be overtly queer blew my mind—it normalized genderqueerness in a way that, honestly, I still barely can find on TV. Unless it’s on ST: Disco.

Did you draw on any resources for inspiration while writing, i.e. books, movies, music, etc.? Where do you draw inspiration or creativity in general?

In general I draw inspiration from my daily life—from nature and exercise and my wife and family. I draw it from music that makes me feel a certain way, or from shows and books that make me ask questions and wonder how I would do it, and what I am desperate to add to that conversation. For Moon Dark Smile I listened to a lot of dreamy music, piano and strings, some dramatic soundtracks like Sunshine. I wanted the world to feel like Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke and I listened to those soundtracks and watched interviews with Hiyao Miyazaki to remind myself that I could still create when burned out or stressed (I wrote the whole book from proposal to finished draft during the pandemic). I read a thousand fanfics about two specific characters to be inspired by how a relationship can be inherently the same, inherently satisfying, even if the circumstances and entire world changes every time. To break myself out of the habits that were no longer serving me.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Follow your curiosity. Learn everything you can about whatever you want. Write, but write anything. Just keep doing it, and redoing it. Go on adventures when it’s relatively safe, whether it’s to a neighboring river or the other side of the world. Don’t be afraid to take the occasional risk, as long as you aren’t risking others. Talk to people who aren’t your neighbors or family or friends. Then listen to them. Read books in translation. Read books that have been popular for hundreds of years or just a few in other countries. Read whatever sparks joy. Practice being yourself, then practice still when who you are changes.

Can you tell us about any new projects or ideas you are nurturing and at liberty to discuss?

I am deeply excited to say that I wrote a Star War! It’s called Path of Deceit and it comes out in November. I can’t tell you anything else about it, except there are queer characters filling out that galaxy far, far away.

Next March I have another book I co-wrote with my friend Justina Ireland called Chaos and Flame. It’s an enemies-to-lovers romance fantasy book with dangerous prophecies, mad princes, velociraptors and kraken, lots of sword fights, assassination attempts, ancient magic and, of course, kissing.

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

Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation and the sequel, which are about what might have happened if the zombie apocalypse started during the Civil War.

Adib Khorram’s Kiss & Tell, about the gay member of a popular boy band.

Natalie C Parker’s Seafire trilogy, and her upcoming middle grade debut The Devouring Wolf, about some queer kids who also happen to be werewolves in Kansas.

A few incredible adult queer SFF books:

Shelly Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun

Martha Wells’s Raksura series

Of course Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner and the other books in that series, especially Tremontaine, which I also worked on for a few stories. Everybody is some flavor of queer, and it was glorious to work on, and I hope even better to read.

Interview with “Chaotic Witch Aunt” Frankie Castanea

Frankie Castanea has been a practicing neopagan and eclectic folk witch for seven years. They are more commonly known as “Chaotic Witch Aunt” on the internet, where they run a tarot reading business and host classes on divination, protection, and deity work.

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

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

Thank you so much for having me! My name is Frankie Castanea and I am a content creator, author, and folk witch.

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

I created “Spells for Change” as a book created for those interested in the practice of witchcraft, as well as those who are starting their journey with witchcraft as beginners. I wanted to create a book that was accessible and easy to understand for all different levels as readers, as well as create a resource for a lot of foundational topics. If someone knew they were interested in witchcraft as a practice, but had no idea where to begin – that is what “Spells for Change” is for. I was inspired to write “Spells for Change” due to limited resources on witchcraft when I began my journey with my practice – I namely had some badly researched online resources and authors that wrote primarily about Wiccan practices.

How did you find yourself getting into writing and magic? 

My dad jokes that I became interested in writing when he dropped a book on my head when I was a baby, but in all reality I’ve been writing since I was a kid and writing anything I could think of. I still have stacks of notebooks filled to the brim. Magic came a little later when I felt pulled to researching animal symbolism, especially as I was receiving particular animals when I asked for a “sign” from the universe. Learning about animal symbolism pulled me into ideas associated with Wicca, deities, and more, and from there I continued learning and started my practice.

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

As a writer, I always found my strongest creative influences within nature, my own experiences, and the experiences of others. I enjoy reading nonfiction and fiction alike, especially other witchcraft writers like Juliet Diaz, as well as non-witchy authors such as Madeline Miller and Joan Didion.

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

I always loved the idea of being asked what my creative process was like. Especially as a witch, I feel like bringing in creativity is such a personal process for each writer and witch, and I feel as though there’s always inspiration to be gained from learning the creative processes of other writers and witches – as well as hoping to inspire other writers and witches by sharing my own. While I don’t wake up at a specific time and write for straight hours like other well known authors, I do create very specific playlists for phases of my writing – creation/brainstorming, in-the-process-of-writing, and even editing. I pair this with a few choice crystals (sodalite and clear quartz are my favorites), and an incense or herbal bundle to burn with specific associations to memory and creativity. I tend to write for as long as it feels natural, and if I experience specific bumps or places with writer’s block I do my best to give myself space away from the project before returning.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

My best advice to other creatives is to follow what makes you feel passionate. Passion is the match that creates the fire of creativity, and I honestly believe that following your heart and what you are truly passionate about leads to success.

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

At the moment, I am brainstorming a second book! While it’s still in its early stages, I plan to bring in ideas like budget witchcraft, folk magic, and working with plant and animal allies.

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

For those interested in witchcraft, I always recommend Juliet Diaz, author of “Plant Witchery” as well as “The Altar Within”, as well as “Grovedaughter Witchery” by Bree NicGarran and “Of Blood and Bones” by Kate Freuler. For those interested in witchcraft or just looking for a good book to read, “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer continues to be a book full of lessons that I continuously return to again and again.

Interview with Cher Martinetti

Cher Martinetti is an author, writer, and founder of SYFY’s FANGRRLS, the female-centric genre vertical that ran from 2016-2020. She co-hosted & executive produced its flagship podcast Strong Female Characters. Cher has also frequently written, developed & appeared in various videos for SYFY, including the 20 Women to Watch in 2020 special during Women’s History Month. She’s the creator, executive producer, and former cohost of the popular podcast The Churn—the official post-show wrap-up podcast of the critically acclaimed space opera The Expanse. Cher’s hosted panels at ATX festival, New York Comic Con and San Diego Comic Con, & has interviewed celebrities on the live stage for ECCC, C2E2, & NYCC. Her work has also been seen on Cracked, Playboy, Death & Taxes, Uproxx, and

I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Cher, which you can read below.

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

Thanks! And I can try. I was the founder and EIC of SYFY Fangrrls, which ran from 2016-2020. We were a multi-platform vertical under SYFY’s digital site and focused on celebrating female, non-binary & LGBTQ+ creators and fans within the geek space. Right now, I’m working on what I hope to be my next book and mostly hanging out with my three rescue dogs, Grover, Rizzo and Fozzie. 

How did Pop Culture Pioneers come to be? Did someone reach out to you about the project or did you generate the idea on your own?

We (Fangrrls) had a flagship podcast called Strong Female Characters, which I hosted with two of my editors, Preeti Chhibber – who is now a full-time author and has probably written like 20 more books since I started this sentence – and Courtney Enlow. I had come up with the idea for us to do a special project for Women’s History Month called Forgotten Women of Genre where we would tell the story of a different woman within the geek space whose work was vastly under celebrated or just ignored. Britny Pirelli, my now editor at Running Press, reached out because she had heard the podcast and thought it would be a great concept for a book.

How did you get your start in pop culture journalism? What drew you to this field?

I always wanted to be a writer and was given an opportunity to write for IFC’s now defunct “blog”. From there, some of it was luck and some of it was me deciding “I’m going to do this thing” and then being relentless in figuring out how to do said thing. I quit my job at the time and decided I was going all-in on freelancing, which pretty much everyone told me I was crazy to do. I think I was drawn to pop-culture just because, for me, it was something I naturally kept up with. I can’t say I specifically dreamt of being a pop-culture journalist, because I didn’t really know that was a thing. I just knew I wanted to write and could write about this stuff. But in the beginning, I would’ve written almost anything anyone paid me to write. Writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do.

What have been your favorite fandoms to cover, and who are some female characters/ content creators you currently admire?

Oof, this is a tricky question because some fandoms can get a bit…intense, and not always in the best way. I think any time you find fans that genuinely love something and have these personal and meaningful connections to a story or character, that’s the best. It may not even be a property or franchise that I’m very knowledgeable or active in, but that fan’s pure joy and appreciation is such a special thing to witness. The Expanse has a group of fans that are lovely, called the Screaming Firehawks. Wynonna Earp probably has one of the most fun fandoms I’ve ever witnessed. I’m sure there are more, but those two just pop into my head because I was obviously more exposed to or aware of them because they were both SYFY shows. 

As for female characters, I will always and forever love Leia Organa more than anyone. She is definitely my main girl. Miss Piggy is also an icon. And I love me some Kara Thrace, flaws and all. For female creators, there are just so many! A good start is every woman mentioned in my book.

I had recently started reading your book and it reminded me of another pop culture centered book called The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, which discussed the almost forgotten legacy of Milicent Patrick, the creator of the creature from the movie Creature from the Black Lagoon, as well as the legacy of female erasure from genre fiction. Why do you think so many people find it so hard to believe that women are interested in genre fiction, even when so many of us have innovated the damn field?

Mallory O’Meara did a great job with that book, and we actually referred to it in an episode we did on Milicent for our Forgotten Women of Genre podcast. 

I mean, to be totally honest, it’s not just that women are interested in genre fiction, they oftentimes were the ones at the forefront. I think in the last decade or so, it’s become a lot harder to hide information from people, for better or for worse. It was a lot easier to rewrite or whitewash history when people didn’t have the ease of access that the internet affords them. There’s that saying about the history of events being written by the winners, and just that expression encapsulates why people believe all sorts of stuff. When one group of people have “conquered” or named themselves the leaders of a thing, they basically just tell everyone their version of how it came to be. 

Many would argue that pop culture isn’t that important a subject to discuss, serving merely as shallow entertainment. What would you say is the significance or function of pop culture in our culture?

I would say that is bullshit, because everything is part of pop-culture. And pop-culture reflects and often parallels the bigger issues happening in society, which I try to show examples of in my book. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to break into your field, or hoping to write a book of their own one day?

Everyone’s journey is totally different. I’m a high-school drop-out, I didn’t go to journalism school, and I didn’t become a professional writer until my late 30s. Being a writer was always my dream, but it took me a minute to really go for it. I honestly think I wouldn’t have been ready if I tried to accomplish any of this earlier. But that’s me. The best advice I can give is know yourself, know your limits, have a good support system, and nothing happens nearly as quickly as people may make it seem. Also, prepare to fall often and get back up even more. And have a day job. Don’t judge yourself or your trajectory based on other peoples, or even what you see them posting on social media. Do work you’re proud of, do work you enjoy, and try to work with people that make you laugh and whose work you admire. It makes you a better writer and editor. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer pop culture site, could you tell us about some of the queer figures featured in your book?

There’s several of them. Joanna Russ, Alice Bradley-Sheldon, Alison Bechdel, Rachel Pollack, to name a few. Some people may already recognize or know those names, but more people should know them and their work.

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

Not that I can divulge at the moment. 

What LGBTQ+ books/media would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Truthfully, I would want to know what the readers recommend to me! I’m always on the lookout for new, cool stuff. I feel like I’ve lost my mojo a bit since Fangrrls closed down, so bring it on!

Interview with Namesake Creators Megan And Isabelle

When she was a child, Megan commandeered scrap paper and markers to create family “newspapers.” She learned to read at age 3 by reading out loud from the T.V. Guide. When a relative wasn’t convinced, she was handed pages from the New York Times to read. Her family is still trying to figure out where she gets her writing ability from.

Megan is a 2002 graduate of the University of Alabama, where she was a member of the Million Dollar Band and served on staff at the Crimson White. Upon graduation, she embarked on a newspaper career that took her from Alabama to the border of Tennessee and Virginia, up to Maine, across the country to Arizona and back east to Pennsylvania.

Megan is a journalist for Patriot-News, where she is a data reporter, podcast producer, and social media manager. She lives in (the real) Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, with her imported British husband, her cats and many books – and has yet to find any malicious clanks lurking in her house.

Isabelle Melançon is a French-Canadian artist born in 1985. She grew up in a family of book and comic-lovers. She reads manga, European comics and American comics and has been drawing ever since she could lift a pencil. She used to want to be a dragon-riding knight, then envisioned a career change as a fantasy writer at the age of 10.

Since then, Isabelle has been drawing her way through school, which included doodling on lockers, and graduated from the University of Ottawa with a visual arts and administration double-major. Isabelle has a few published graphic novels and art exhibits under her belt. Namesake is her first long-term project.

Isabelle’s drawing style is heavily influenced by American and Japanese animation, as well as older Victorian and French illustration work, creating a fluid yet detailed mix.

She is madly in love with fairy tales and literature and enjoys playing with the classics in her comic and written works.

I had the opportunity to interview both Isa and Meg, which you can read below.

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

Isa: I’m Isabelle, I have been working on the webcomic Namesake for over a decade with Megan! We both take care of the writing, and do the art. I also work on other webcomic projects such as the comedy webcomic Crow Time, and an upcoming comic called Trinket, which is a magical girl story, with artist Inês Bravo. I work as an editor and in artist management, mainly at the webcomic focused publishers Hiveworks & Slipshine. I drink a lot of tea, have two cats, and identify as bi, genderfluid and ace!

Meg: I’m Megan, and I have been working with Isa on Namesake for over a decade! Like Isa said, we both do the writing and Isa does the art. I do the lettering and book design, as well as maintain the business end of our partnership. Outside of the comics I do with Isa, I do lettering for other comics as well. I am a journalist for Patriot-News, where I handle social media, podcast producing, and data reporting. I run Hivemill, the store for Hiveworks, as well as do book design for Hiveworks. Like Isa, I also have two cats. I identify as she/her and demisexual.

How did your webcomic, Namesake, come to be? Where did the inspiration for the project come from?

Isa: I think it came from a very aspirational place. At the time, webcomics that were huge fantasy epics were starting to pop up, like Gunnerkrigg Court, The Meek and Girl Genius. Megan and I were bathed in the light of incredibly creative fandoms on the platform where we met – Livejournal. I was always drawing very loose pencil comics inspired by fandoms we liked, and scraps of adventurous ideas we both longed to see in media. At some point, Megan was like, yeah, you should be drawing this. And my reply was basically, ok, but I’m taking you with me. Essentially, it was the idea that we could make something we felt was overlooked and unique at the time, a comic serial built around women in fantasy, and we didn’t need to wait for a large publisher to notice us, we could just dive in and make our world. We were both complete newbies at making comics professionally and to the English comic community. Me, especially, since I was still mastering English as a language.

This happened, as stated above, quite a while ago. When we met stuff like Patreon and Kickstarter, tools that are now considered essential to webcomics, didn’t exist yet.

Since then, there’s been a huge boom in comics both online and offline. Print publishers are making way more graphic novels than ever before, collective publishers such as Hiveworks came to be, and platforms such as Webtoons and Tapas were introduced to the English market. I have an abundance of favorite comics and authors online now, our dream of an abundance of unique comics came true. It’s nice to see this happening, after doing Namesake for so long. We went from this mindset of “we need to do this because it doesn’t exist” to “we are part of a massive collective of (queer) creators” and that’s a unique experience. 

Meg: The comic content itself came from a love of fairy tales, such as the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. The earliest form of Namesake is a fandom parody comic that ran on Livejournal.

How did the two come to know each other and work together creatively? How would you describe the collaboration process?

Isa: We met in fandoms, like many people do online. Collaborating came easily. I’m very flexible by nature and Megan was already used to collaborating with people professionally, being a journalist. The flow of how we collaborate is very much a conversation and even happens in the form of a discord chat nowadays. Usually we do a chapter outline, then I pencil the comic in sequences of 4 pages, which I then share with Megan, and we discuss them! 

Meg: It is an unusual process, but one that has worked well for us. One of my favorite stories about that is when we worked on the Womanthology anthology. It was the first one we did together, and we had a proper editor. We worked in our normal process of discussing pages over Isa’s sketches. And the editor wanted to see an actual script, despite us having completed sketches with dialogue. So, I wound up writing a Marvel-style script based on our sketched pages just to make the editor happy.

Isa is so great at coming up with the overall plot, and I am our details person. 

Who are some of your favorite characters to draw/write?

Isa: There’s a lot of characters that are fun to draw because they are very appealing, design wise. But I think my favorite to draw right now (and write) is probably the lead, Emma. I’m just a sucker for strong hero energy. I love how she moves on a page; I love how she thinks, I love to draw her monster forms when she changes, it’s all great.

I also really like drawing animals and weird creatures right now, a lot.

Meg: I have always felt close to Elaine, and I really enjoy writing for her. I also really, really love writing for Jack. His sense of humor and optimism is fantastic, and my favorite romance in the series is actually the one between Jack and Penta. I also enjoy writing Warrick in peak snarky mode, as well as Agha and Hercilia from the Oz arc. We’ll be seeing those two again soon, which is great, because I really love writing those two.

Considering Namesake is based on several fairytales and classic children’s book stories, what would you say are some of your personal favorites?

Isa: My all-time favorites are Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid, Diamonds and Toads, and Prunella, to toss an obscure one in. I plan to tackle all of these in individual comics one day. I do think Cinderella is my number one because it’s so simple, efficient, and emotional. There are versions of Cinderella in every country dating far back. For as long as we’ve had jerks and classes, we’ve had Cinderella stories.

Meg: My favorite fairy tale is Thumbelina, and I was thrilled when we got to visit her world in Namesake. I have always enjoyed stories of little people wandering around a larger human world, like Thumbelina and the Borrowers. I blame watching way too much of the Smurfs when I was a child! My other favorite fairy tales are The Wild Swans, Momotaro from Japan, The Red Shoes, and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Lots of Andersen in there, because that’s what I grew up reading. My mom passed down her copy of Andersen’s fairy tales to me.

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

Isa: There are a few comics I always re-read when I feel stuck. Namely, the manga Gunnm (translated and adapted into Battle Angel Alita for USA audiences), the 70’s comic Elfquest, Sandman, the works of Clamp and Rumiko Takashi as a whole, Full Metal Alchemist, Berserk, Please save my Earth, and Sailor Moon. I don’t think they’ve all aged gracefully, but they still bring me a lot, emotionally, as inspirations. The Italian comic Sky Doll had a big influence on how I draw when I discovered it as a young artist, as does the work of webcomic artists Petra Erika Nordlund and Emily Carroll.

I’m focusing my response on what inspires me when I’m feeling stuck because, I’ll be honest, my inspiration list is long and updated daily with new favorites. I consume comics and novels obsessively. Right now, in the newbie category, Ascendance of a Bookworm is a big one, as well as the webcomic Obelisk and the Korean webtoon I Dream of Health, Wealth, and a Long Life. The manga series Kusuriya no Hitorigoto and Sousou no Frieren currently live on my desk and the recently printed webcomic Hooky book two is something I’m excitedly waiting for. I’m probably as much of a comic reader as I am a creator. 

Meg: My love of history directly comes from being given a set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series when I was a child. I was heavily influenced regarding storytelling structures by J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5, and I still love re-watching this series. I find something new to appreciate, even 25 years after I first watched it. My biggest influence in writing dialogue is the In Death mystery series by J.D. Robb. I love the huge cast of still-growing characters and the banter they have with each other.

Rumiko Takahashi was the first manga artist I read, and her work got me into comics as a whole. If I need inspiration for writing, I actually turn to my favorite romance novel writers these days. Tessa Dare, Lisa Kleypas, Cat Sebastian, Courtney Milan and Eva Leigh all write lovely, witty dialogue. 

Why did you find yourself exploring/reconstructing the specific stories you do and why do you think as writers and readers we keep getting drawn to fairytales when making new stories?

Isa: Fairy tales are the building blocks of story and symbolism. Fairy tales and folk tales are an international story type that has existed forever. It’s so much the building blocks of story that the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales exists. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically an ancient TV tropes composed by Finnish folklorists. 

Fairy tales have a rich imagery and a power that is undeniable. People have built media empires on the back of fairy tales. Peter Pan as a play has kept a children’s hospital financed for decades. Everyone remembers the illustrations of the first folklore picture book they have held. Loving fairy tales to a point where you work with them is just accepting that you’re enthralled by a fairy queen. That’s just your life now. However, I don’t think fairy tales should be used in modern stories without thinking about them critically, learning about their origin and using them in a transformative way. 

There’s always this underlying idea of beauty and riches tied to goodness in fairy tales which is complete rubbish when taken as is. Andersen wrote objectively queer fairy tales, but a lot of interpretations ignore that. There’s also a bucketload of patriarchy and outdated representation in a lot of fairy tales that you must make sure to shed. Peter Dinklage recently expressed concern regarding the representation of little people in Snow White and a lot of people pushed back, seeing it as him messing with the classics. But if you have imagination, removing what is rotten in your inspiration is a fun challenge. Fairy tales are good to use, fun to research, and an amazing way to create a world that feels magical but real, because deep down we all know the fairy tale rules. But they aren’t perfect. Using them without reflection is not ideal.

Meg: I have always been a fan of the “what if?” plot? What if you took a single element and just tweaked it slightly? How does this change the universe? I really love alternate reality stories. An example of this in Namesake is right at the very beginning with Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell. After Dodgson died, his family decided it was in their best interest to censor his diaries. So they cut a lot out, including the pages in the diary discussing the split with the Liddell family. It’s led to so much speculation. I decided it was perfect for Namesake. In our story, the cut pages deal with Alice’s first Wonderland trip.

You’ve both been working on Namesake since 2010, so over a decade now! Do you see the story coming to a close anytime soon?

Isa: We are in the final arc of the story, which is the fun adventure one. I did have to slow down production to accommodate health concerns, so we’ll probably still be at it for a while. Namesake did get called a “classic older webcomic” on tiktok so I assume that’s my cue to take however many years I need to finish.

Meg: We have been working on it for so long that it’s hard to imagine not working on it. No matter how busy I’ve gotten, working on Namesake has been a comfort to me.

Considering all the changes (both in art style and narrative) this comic has gone through since its inception, how do you feel yourselves have changed creatively or personally since then?

Isa: Well, we both grew from young adults to being in our late 30’s to 40’s, so I’d say we’ve changed a lot, across the board. Our approach to Namesake itself has not changed much – the themes we had initially are still themes we care about greatly, and the fairy tale adventure inspiration keeps the story timeless. We have gotten better at telling the story – our touch is more subtle, our approach to characters gentler. Scenes are more balanced, and our goals have oriented towards including more joy. I would say the main change is general improvements as storytellers and more happiness making our work than ever.

Meg: I agree with Isa. We especially wanted to write a healthy relationship being at the core of our center romance in the series. Really, both center romances. I know personally that I have gained a lot of self-confidence doing this series.

What are some of your favorite elements of the webcomic/graphic novel medium? What craft elements/techniques stand out to you the most?

Isa: I really like designing a page (and inking it). I still work traditionally so page design is fun to do. I like to think my paneling is pretty good.

Meg: I learned how to do lettering and book design when I worked as a newspaper designer, and I always loved that work. I really enjoy the process of book design and lettering panels. There is something magical about fonts and how using the right one can determine the entire mood of your work.

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

Isa: I’m not sure! People ask me questions all the time, as an editor. I never really think about un-asked questions. I suppose I’d love there to be more discussion about working traditionally in contemporary comics. It’s getting rarer, especially with traditional paper comics adapting poorly to scroll-down comic formats. I’m not the type of person who has disdain for digital art and tools. Digital comics are gorgeous, and digital tools are very useful and I use them myself often. But I do think we are losing something important if nobody inks comics traditionally. It would be nice to have more tutorials and general attention for them. Inking challenges are a big help to that, I love those! 

Meg: I love that you asked this, because I ask it myself as a journalist! I can’t really think of anything off the top of my head.

Are there any other projects you are working on or thinking about that you can discuss?

Isa: I’d just like to encourage folks to follow me on Instagram to read my short Crow Time comics, and to follow Inês for future Trinket news! We do have other comics in the works – we really want to draw an adaptation of Carmilla. But due to health issues I’m mainly focused on Namesake, Crow Time, and Trinket for now!

Meg: What she said! Right now, my main focus is supporting Isa.


What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Isa: Always take at least one day off per week, even if someone is on fire. No matter where you are in the industry; print, studio, webcomic, webtoon, successful or beginner, you’re always in a situation where it’s easy to accept overwork as part of your life, especially if it’s being pushed on you by success or deadlines. A lot of people expect that when you reach a certain level of success, you can relax. But there’s a pressure to perform that comes with success, even tiny success, and this idea that if you don’t capitalize on it fast enough, you’ll lose it. There’s never a stage where you “make it” hard enough that you can relax. There are always more deadlines and demands. Take your rest when you need it, not when you earn it. This is the hardest thing to do as an artist – I’m not even successful at it, at all. But the consequences of overwork are numerous, so even if you fail, you should always try to incorporate rest time in your work week.

Meg: Turn off any sort of anonymous commenting, whether it be on Tumblr, in the comments section of your comic, or any other social media. There are so many people trolling out there because they know they upset you. They are specifically looking for a response from you, and it rewards them when you grant it. Don’t let them get to you. Don’t be afraid to block or mute someone. Heavily curate your experience. My Twitter feed is largely romance novels, comic artists, and cats. Your mental well-being is so important. Have a safe support team that you can vent to. Don’t be afraid to get off social media entirely. It all plays into what Isa said as well about taking time off. That especially includes social media.

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

Isa: Ooh, Yoru to Umi is superb, I wish more people would read it! It’s only available in French, I’m afraid. The webcomic Kiss it Goodbye by Ticcy is adorable and will be in print soon as well! These are the two I’m into right now! I like cute ones!

On Hiveworks the webcomics Vainglorious, Tiger Tiger, Speak of the Devil and Obelisk have good gay energy that I love! Please also check out Brimstones and Roses on Webtoons. It has nice bi rep!

Meg: Hi, let me tell you about my immense love of Letters for Lucardo. I love that series so much, and I also love Check, Please! as well. If you like romance novels, read the works of Cat Sebastian, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue, Alyssa Cole’s How to Find a Princess, and The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite. One thing that is on my to-read list is A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall, which features a trans heroine. I’m waiting for my copy to come in through the library!