Interview with Jeanne Walker Harvey & Diana Toledano

​​Jeanne Walker Harvey studied literature and psychology at Stanford University and has worn many job hats, ranging from being a roller coaster ride operator to an attorney, a middle school language arts teacher, and a long-time docent for school groups at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She is the author of several books for young readers, including the picture book biographies Dressing up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head, Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas, and Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines. Jeanne lives in Northern California. 

Diana Toledano is an illustrator, writer, and educator. She is also a Pisces who loves children’s books, patterns, and dancing her heart out. Originally from Spain, Diana (pronounced the Spanish way: dee-ah-na) grew up in Madrid where she studied art history and illustration. Now she lives in San Francisco with her husband and two fluffy cats. Her mixed media art seeks to capture the magic of the ordinary. Diana’s product designs, picture books, board books, and chapter books have been published and sold all over the world. Diana also teaches workshops for kids and adults. She enjoys doing school visits and speaking at conferences. 

I had the opportunity to interview Jeanne and Diana, which you can read below.

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

JEANNE: Thanks so much for inviting us to Geeks OUT! I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and your readers about books and writing. I’m living a dream come true by writing children’s books, particularly about creative people. I’m the classic author who majored in English literature. I also studied psychology at Stanford University which I think connects to why I choose to write children’s biographies of intriguing people. I’ve worn a variety of job hats – from roller coaster operator to software licensing attorney to middle school language arts teacher to long-time docent for school groups at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). And I’ve always been writing in my free time ever since I was a little girl.

DIANA: Hola, it’s so nice to be here! I’m Diana Toledano, the illustrator of Dressing Up the Stars. I’m originally from Spain and I immigrated to the US 10 years ago. Now I live in Sacramento with my husband, our baby, and two rescue cats, but I spent a few years in San Francisco before that. I’m a big fan of dancing my heart out, sketching wherever I go, and eating good food. 

What can you tell us about your latest book, Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head? What inspired you to create this book and write about this person?

DIANA: I will leave this one for Jeanne since she is the bright mind behind it.

JEANNE: Haha! Not sure I’ve got a bright mind, but here goes … Dressing Up the Stars is a picture book biography that tells the story of how Edith Head, a shy girl living in remote mining camps, became one of the most legendary costume designers in Hollywood. She always knew she wanted to move to a place full of people and excitement. And even though she didn’t know how to draw or sew costumes, she talked her way into a job sketching costumes for Paramount, the Hollywood movie studio. With talent, perseverance and dedication, she became the first woman to head a major Hollywood movie studio costume department and went on to win eight Academy Awards for best costume design (more than any female has received). I was inspired to write this book because as a girl growing up in Southern California, I would watch on TV the Academy Awards being filmed in nearby Hollywood. My mom and I would look for the easily identifiable Edith Head with her round dark glasses, blunt haircut and stylish gowns she designed for herself. I’ve always loved all those classic movies with wonderful costumes, and I thought she would be a fascinating and inspiring person to feature in a children’s book.

Would you say either of you two have a personal connection to fashion yourselves?

DIANA: For a while when I was a kid, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I drew lots of outfits and paper dolls. And just like Edith, I had a bag with fabric scraps that I used to sew costumes. Unlike Edith, I never dressed up a cactus or a horned toad, but my dolls looked… interesting! Let’s just say that’s not where my talents lay. But I want to believe I’m pretty fashionable. I’ve been told I dress just like my drawings! 

JEANNE: That’s so great to think you dress like your drawings, Diana – that’s lovely.

I too love fashion! Beautifully sewn and creatively designed dresses with gorgeous fabrics fascinate me. I recently visited the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and it was such a delight to see those amazing dresses up close. I sewed a lot of my clothes during high school, including my prom dress, but I never approached the workmanship and flare of true fashion. In researching this Edith head book, I can’t tell you how great it was to watch classic movies featuring Edith Head costumes and study photos and her drawings of her costumes. 

Jeanne Walker Harvey

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

JEANNE: I’ve wanted to write children’s books since I was a girl bringing home piles of books from the library. I dreamed about seeing my name on the cover of a book (which is always a thrill). And children’s books are a perfect fit for me because I love interacting with children at school, library, and bookstore events. I really missed that during the pandemic. In person, there’s always such an energy and joy shared by the children. And inevitably they say something so funny or insightful or charming.

DIANA: I’ve always loved books and dreamt of being a writer and illustrator. Other dreams came and went, but that one stayed. Like Jeanne, I also love interacting with children and I have a background in museum education. So I went from teaching kids in museums and art classes to doing events in bookstores and schools. 

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

DIANA: I grew up in Spain, so the books I remember fondly are not ones readers in the US will recognize. I especially loved books that questioned traditional gender roles or defied authority. Abracadabra, pata de cabra, by Mira Lobe and Javier Vázquez is not a picture book, but it was one of my childhood favorites. In it a wizard and a witch argue about having a baby boy or a baby girl, and they end up having a… I won’t give away the ending, but I highly recommend it! My favorite picture books now are Un regalo del cielo, by Gustavo Martin Garzo & Elena Odriozola, and The Journey by Francesca Sanna. And I love most anything by Isabelle Arsenault, Julie Morstad, Carson Ellis and Beatrice Alemagna.

JEANNE: I was a huge Dr. Seuss fan. I learned to read with Hop on Pop. I loved the craziness of the Dr. Suess illustrations and plots (or non-plots) – I just wanted to jump into those worlds.  And Harold and the Purple Crayon was a favorite of mine. I mean who wouldn’t envy Harold’s magic purple crayon that could draw on the walls and then create one’s adventure out in the world? And now? I have piles and piles of favorite books—too many to list. I’m honestly so amazed at the quality of picture books these days. 

For those curious about the process behind a picture book, how would you describe the process? What goes into writing one and collaborating with an artist/writer to translate that into a book?

JEANNE: I think something that often surprises people is that the author is not the one who chooses the illustrator of a picture book. The art director and editor of the publishing house that purchases the manuscript hires the illustrator. And I believe that’s a perfect arrangement because they are so well-versed in what will be a good fit for the text. I’ve always been extremely pleased with the illustrators that have been chosen for my books. And I absolutely adore the talented Diana Toledano’s illustrations for Dressing Up the Stars. From the moment I saw the first sketch I knew she was the perfect illustrator for this book — she perfectly captures the essence of Edith, not only as a young girl but as a successful costume designer.  Diana’s illustrations have such wonderful whimsy and interesting textures and patterns.

DIANA: Most times illustrators and writers don’t communicate while working on a project together. This allows the illustrator to infuse the story with their own point of view versus trying to translate into drawings what the writer sees in their mind’s eye. But this book was a little different… It was so fun collaborating with Jeanne! She helped me with the research to make sure Edith Head was as real as possible, but she respected my process and my vision for the book.

JEANNE: The creation of a picture book is truly a collaborative effort. I’m so impressed by everyone at Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster for everything they’ve done to create our book, especially the amazing Andrea Welch and Danielle Collins for their insightful editing and gentle guidance. And as always, I’m very appreciative of my agent extraordinaire, Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency, who connects me with the editors and always believes in me (even when it can take a long time and a lot of patience to find the right fit for a book).

DIANA: Yes, there is a big team behind this book! A big shout out to art director Lauren Rille too!

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

DIANA:  I really love finding the right look for each project. To find inspiration I play with art supplies, flip through art books, watch movies and sketch. I keep exploring until my drawing style and color palette match the writer’s voice, the characters and the story. 

JEANNE: I guess I would say I’m someone who first spends a lot of time just steeping myself in the topic. And in my case, the topic is usually some creative/artistic/ interesting/intriguing person. The first challenge is seeing if I can find enough fascinating information about that person to write a book.  I need to find a theme, a throughline, for the story that I feel will hopefully capture the interest and hearts of children. I was excited when I found out that Edith Head grew up in remote mining camps and since she didn’t have nearby playmates she used her imagination instead. She played make believe games, including dressing up her pets, desert animals, and cactus. And then I found out that the nearest town was Searchlight, Nevada. There I had it! The ending of the story could be Edith arriving one star-filled night at the Academy Awards ceremony and waving to the crowds beneath the Hollywood searchlights. And I also was drawn to the double meaning of the word “stars” (both in the sky and the actors in the movies) that reflect Edith’s life and career. I write in the book that “Edith wished she could transform her life. Every night, she stared at the vast sky of sparkling stars. She dreamed of moving far away from the desert.” And she did – to the land of the Hollywood stars.

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

JEANNE: What an interesting question! I would say my mother. She was a Renaissance woman – she painted, read volumes of art books, but also studied science and was constantly inventing gadgets and solutions. She always encouraged my creative interests in writing.

DIANA: Before going to art school, I got a degree in Art History. I’m profoundly inspired by art around the world and all through the ages: cave paintings, Byzantine mosaics, Pre-Columbian art, Medieval illuminated manuscripts, art nouveau buildings, contemporary art, folk art… Being out in the world is also inspiring. Sometimes I draw people’s clothing, or write down a funny interaction I see. Inspiration is everywhere! 

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

JEANNE: I love to dance! I’ve missed taking dance classes, particularly Zumba classes, during the pandemic. So I’m hoping to sign up again soon. 

DIANA: I love teaching. When I’m not working on a book, I’m helping kids and adults access their creativity and learn about children’s books. And like Jeanne, I love dancing! I do a movement meditation practice called 5 Rhythms Dance. 

Diana Toledano

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

DIANA: You could ask “Would you like to come over to my pool?”, the answer would be YES, PLEASE. – I know, it’s silly, but it’s very hot here and all this Pisces can think about is being in the water.

JEANNE: Oh, that’s a fun question! I would ask — who did Edith Head particularly like to design costumes for? Barbara Stanwyck who was also her close friend. In The Lady Eve, Barbara had 25 costumes to highlight her two very different characters as a con artist and as a British aristocrat. As Edith Head said, “What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what they are not.” And I enjoyed learning that in Edith’s final picture, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, she revised a dress design she created for Barbara Stanwyck to be worn by Steve Martin.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives, especially those who may want to write/draw a picture book themselves one day?

JEANNE: Do it! If you have the passion, you’ll find a way. But just like any other endeavor, it does take a lot of time, effort, patience and luck. I submitted manuscripts for years before I was first published. But I love to write so I know I would still be writing even if I hadn’t been published. I highly recommend joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ( which also has local groups throughout the country and world. The organization is the absolute go-to place for information, classes and connections for children’s authors and illustrators. I learned so much from the many classes I’ve taken, conferences I’ve attended, and people I’ve met through SCBWI. 

DIANA: That’s great advice, Jeanne. If money is an issue, you can also check out your local community college. Before the pandemic, I was teaching children’s literature at the City College of San Francisco. The class was perfect for beginners and it is an economical option. I’m sure there are similar classes in most community colleges. I also share free resources and articles with tips on my Illustration Blog.

JEANNE: For aspiring authors, I always suggest typing up the text, including the page breaks, from picture books that particularly impress you. You get a feel of the pacing of a picture book. Remember that the words and illustrations carry equal importance in a picture book. The writer should study what the illustration is conveying that doesn’t also need to be in the text.

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

DIANA: I’m currently finishing up the third book of the POLLY DIAMOND chapter book series, written by Alice Kuipers. It’s a fun project, with a hundred black and white illustrations per book.

JEANNE: I’m always thinking and working on new projects. I often circle back to old ones if I get a new idea or learn more about that person. I do have another picture book biography in the works about a creative person, but I can’t announce the deal yet. But please stay tuned!

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

JEANNE: Since I focus on reviewing new picture book biographies on my blog, True Tales and A Cherry on Top, I’d love to share with the readers of Geeks OUT these picture book biographies, all published in 2022 that I’ll be featuring: Strong (by Rob Kearney and Eric Rossman) introduces readers to Rob Kearney and his journey from an athletic kid trying to find his place to the world’s first openly gay professional strongman. Kind Like Marsha: Learning from LGBTQ+ Leaders (by Sarah Prager and Cheryl Thuesday) celebrates 14 amazing and inspirational LGBTQ+ people throughout history. The Harvey Milk Story (by Kari Krakow) is an inspiring biography of the historic gay activist. I also want to recommend another terrific picture book biography from a few years ago. When You Look Out the Window (by Gayle E. Pitman) tells the story of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, one of San Francisco’s most well-known and politically active lesbian couples. The book shows how one couple’s activism transformed their community — and had ripple effects throughout the world. I particularly like that the book includes a Reading Guide that provides helpful historical context, and a Note to Parents, Caregivers, and Educators about the importance of teaching LGBTQ+ history and culture to children.

DIANA: I have a soft spot for Young Adult books. Sometimes I read and sometimes I listen to audiobooks while I work. Here are a few of my favorites: The Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Marina, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. Unbecoming, by Jenny Downham.

JEANNE: Many thanks again for this wonderful opportunity! I hope your readers get a chance to read and enjoy our Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head. I’d love to hear from them! 

Follow-up Interview with Blue Delliquanti

Blue Delliquanti lives in Minneapolis with a woman, a dog, and a cat. Since 2012, Blue has drawn and serialized the Prism Award-winning science fiction comic O Human Star at Blue is also the co-creator of the graphic novel Meal (with Soleil Ho), published through Iron Circus Comics, and The ‘Stan (with David Axe and Kevin Knodell), published through Dead Reckoning. They love cooking, riding on trains, and reading exciting updates about robots and outer space. You can find them online at @bluedelliquanti.

I had the opportunity to once again interview Blue, which you can read below.

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

I’m a comic artist and writer based out of Minneapolis. From 2012 to 2020 I published an online comic called O Human Star, about an inventor who wakes up in a robot body 16 years after their untimely death (and I’ve been rerunning it at one page per day for the last year and a half). My other well-known work is a graphic novel named Meal – it’s more of a realistic restaurant romance, but it’s just as gay. I also teach comic classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

What can you tell us about your latest graphic novel, Across a Field of Starlight? And what can readers expect from the characters?

Across a Field of Starlight is a young adult space opera that just came out from Random House Graphic. It’s about two teenagers from two very different spacefaring societies who had a chance encounter as kids, and who keep in touch surreptitiously as the galaxy around them gears up for a devastating war. Both Fassen and Lu are nonbinary, but the paths their lives take are very different – Fassen’s training to be a soldier in a scrappy militaristic rebel force, and Lu is doing scientific research for a reclusive, peaceful space commune. It turns out that can make a huge difference in your concept of who you are and what you deserve!

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

I’m personally very interested in the concept of utopia and post-scarcity societies, and how science fiction authors explore them. My favorite prose authors in that genre are Ursula K. Le Guin and Iain M. Banks, if that tells you anything. I also love the spectacle and visuals of the space operas we get in film and comics, but I’m often frustrated by the ideological stances put forward by the creators, or the lack of consideration for what it would be like to be queer in these worlds – or how queerness affects the world. That’s what I set out to try and explore. Visually it was also an opportunity to explore an aesthetic I love very much when it comes to space stuff – the beat-up, brightly colored, 1970s look. That was a big departure from what I had done for O Human Star.

How did you get into comics and storytelling in the first place?

I got majorly interested in comics when I was in middle school. Originally I had thought about going into the field of animation, but as I learned about the amount of teamwork that goes into producing even the smallest bit of animation – and as I pored through everything I could find at my local comic store – I realized that with comics I could create entire worlds and stories on my own. It’s still a lot of effort, since as a comic artist you are simultaneously a writer, a director, a camera operator, a costume designer, and performing a bunch of other creative tasks. But the medium fascinated me. And funnily enough, it’s given me a chance to get closer to my childhood career aspirations, which were all based around outer space.

How would you describe the process of making a comic book?

My work is very character driven, so I will often sketch out characters, explore their potential, and get to know them way before I ever start writing their story. From there, I write an outline that lets me see the entire shape of the story and figure out the conflict and what I want the story to say as a whole. From there, it really depends on if this is a webcomic like OHS, where I’m serializing it page by page online, or if this is a graphic novel for a publisher like AAFOS. For OHS I was entirely on my own time, and I would draw a page completely before moving on to the next one – thumbnail, pencils, inks, colors, and lettering. I would do every step over the course of a week, queue the page on the site, and start all over again. It can’t work like that for graphic novels, which has benefits and drawbacks. I would be working from a complete script and would complete a create step for the entire comic at once, such as pencilling the whole thing or coloring the whole thing. Naturally that also meant I could work on page 52 immediately after page 237 if I wanted, and I think that helps my artwork look more consistent. But once I send my files off to the publisher it’s still another nine months or so before anyone reads it, so I miss that instant feedback I’d get from doing a webcomic.

What are some of your favorite parts of writing/drawing comics? What do you find are the most difficult?

I would say I really enjoy thumbnailing – the small initial sketches where I figure out how to make panels fit on a page and what gives them the most impact. The inking stage can also be relaxing, because by that point I’ve already done the stages that take most of the brain power and I can throw on a movie or audiobook in the background as I put the final lines over my pencils. Coloring is still the biggest challenge for me – I’m really proud of how my colors turned out in AAFOS, but they took so much work to get right!

What’s (another) question no one has asked you yet or that you wish was asked?

Hmm… I guess “what am I reading right now?” I always like hearing about what authors are reading for pleasure or reference or what have you. Right now I happen to be reading a nonfiction book about what childhood might have been like in the Paleolithic – Growing Up In The Ice Age by April Nowell. I’m alternating that with the manga Golden Kamuy by Satoru Noda, which… I’ve never read anything that attempts what it’s attempting. I can’t help but admire how outrageous, absurdly violent, and unironically homoerotic it is. It’s a blast. 

What advice might you have to give to aspiring graphic novelists (both writers and artists)?

Just start drawing and creating your own stories – challenge yourself to draw a short, complete comic so that you get experience planning out and structuring a story beginning to end. Try developing hobbies other than just drawing – it’s a labor-intensive and isolating job sometimes, so find something that lets you socialize and think about things that aren’t just comics. Your other interests can also influence your creative work in ways that will surprise you!

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

I’m currently working on a new comic that I plan to debut in the ShortBox Comics Fair this fall. It’ll be quite different from Across A Field of Starlight in that it’s contemporary fiction and very much for adults, but I’m pretty excited to share it with everyone.

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

So many great queer comics of all genres are being made right now, especially by people I know! I would recommend the works of Otava Heikkilä and Pseudonym Jones – they have such distinct voices and they’re really exploring what the medium of comics can do. Recent releases I recommend include Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens and Displacement by Kiku Hughes, which I think both accomplish that thing I mentioned earlier of exploring the impact of queerness on particular subjects or topics, albeit in very different ways! It really goes to show that there is no LGBTQ+ “genre” – more of a lens you can view everything through.

Interview with Author and Literary Agent Patrice Caldwell

Patrice Caldwell is a graduate of Wellesley College and the founder of People of Color in Publishing—a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of the book publishing industry. Born and raised in Texas, Patrice was a children’s book editor before becoming a literary agent. She’s been named to Forbes’s “30 Under 30” media list, a Publishers Weekly Star Watch honoree, and featured on Bustle’s inaugural “Lit List” as one of ten women changing the book world. Patrice is the editor of two anthologies published by Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope and Eternally Yours: Fifteen Stories of Paranormal Love. Her debut novel, Where Shadows Reign—the first in a YA fantasy duology—will be published by Wednesday Books, an imprint of Macmillan.

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

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

Hi y’all, thanks for having me! I’m Patrice, and I’m the editor of the YA paranormal romance anthology, Eternally Yours, which is out 9/20/22, as well as the YA Black Girl Magic anthology, A Phoenix First Must Burn, (it was published last year, so it’s out now) and the forthcoming novel, Where Shadows Reign. I’m also a literary agent, and a former book editor, so as I often say, I really love books and I’ve seen the industry from many sides!

How would you describe what you do professionally and creatively?

I make books happen! I represent, as a literary agent, a list of bestselling and critically acclaimed and debut authors and illustrators. I love my clients, they’re so talented and dedicated and fun to work with. I was an editor before I was an agent, so as an editor I received books on submission from literary agents, but as a writer, I always really related to and wanted to champion writers even more, so in 2019 I became a literary agent and now I’m the one working with them to develop their work and I sell it to publishers and manage and strategize their careers. When I’m not doing that, I’m talking to myself while at the grocery store (with my headphones on so it seems like I’m on a call haha) to work out plot points, leaving myself voice memos and random notes day and night when inspiration strikes…basically, I’m dreaming of and creating my own stories. I love writing and working with writers, so honestly, I feel like I’m in my dream career every day getting to do both.

What drew you to storytelling, and how did you get into editing and agenting specifically? 

My parents. They were really big about me reading and having books with characters who looked like me from a young age. I had a whole library full of Black characters, by Black authors and illustrators growing up. They’re also HUGE science fiction and fantasy fans, my dad also love theory, my mom loves horror…I grew up listening to him discuss and debate Fanon and Malcolm X and Jean-Paul Sartre with friends and my mom insisting I watch the original Freddy and Jason films (absolutely terrifying), back when Freddy vs. Jason came out. My dad also was a martial artist, and with him, I studied Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art, and so much of that is a story. I was also a theater kid. My life was full of stories and storytelling growing up. It is no surprise that I ended up working in book publishing instead of as a lawyer like my mom hoped (it’s fine, now she brags to truly anyone that her daughter is an author). By the time I entered college, I knew I wanted to tell stories featuring characters who are more like me, and I wanted to help get more of those books by others into the world, too. I did internships with literary agencies, in marketing and publicity…anyplace that would have me, I wrote my first manuscripts, I networked so much, and then I didn’t get a job in publishing after I graduated. So, I worked in a different field for about a year, but I couldn’t get my love of books out of my head. Finally, I got an editorial assistant position and around the same time, I signed with my first literary agent who sold A Phoenix First Must Burn. Now, I’ve been working in this industry and writing under contract for the past few years.

How would you describe your upcoming anthology, Eternally Yours? What was the inspiration for this project?

I. LOVE. Paranormal Romance. HUGE fantasy and science fiction reader growing up, but especially gravitated to all things paranormal, urban fantasy, and gothic. Really anything with vampires, haha. My dad got me hooked on Blade, my mom on Underworld, and then I discovered Anne Rice (so happy we’re getting an Interview tv show soon! I am also a fan of the previous films in her universe, no matter how much Queen of the Damned deviates from the book) and Octavia Butler, got into Laurell K. Hamilton during Anita Blake’s best days (IYKYK), Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series (I’m nervous-excited for the new tv series!) and from there, worlds opened up. 

I mention this in my introduction for Eternally Yours, but what I felt was missing, what I really didn’t develop the words to explain until I got older, was that I wanted more queer characters and more characters of color…in other words, more people like the Black queer woman I am in these worlds. My publisher was in support of that and that’s why Eternally Yours exists…you have an incredibly diverse list of fifteen of today’s bestselling and critically acclaimed authors…I would describe it as THE book I wanted to read growing up (since, at this point, we’ll probably never get a sequel to Sunshine by Robin McKinley). My teen self would be so proud, and I’m so proud of these contributors, they really put in the work to make this anthology amazing.

How would you describe the process of creating an anthology? What goes into picking the contributors?

If you want to really dig into the topic of creating anthologies, I recommend reading this piece by Dahlia Adler (also, buy her books, including her anthology, That Way Madness Lies, it’s all Shakespeare retellings, and I have a story there called “Elsinore” that reimagines Hamlet with a little help from Dracula)

For me, it’s all about working with authors whose work I love and who I know can deliver. Once I figured out the genre (paranormal romance) I got to thinking about authors I’m fans of who want to write paranormal, whose novels either are paranormal or have those elements, and authors who you would never think would write anything paranormal, but I had a feeling they could pull it off. I thank being a former editor for this instinct, I understand writers really well and I pick up on all the things when I read their work. I am so happy with the entire contributor list, but speaking of inspirations, Melissa de la Cruz saying yes meant a ton. I was a HUGE Blue Bloods fan growing up (think Gossip Girl but with angels AND vampires) and, for Eternally Yours, she wrote a short story in the Blue Bloods world. I may have wept tears of joy.

Once everyone was signed on, they sent me pitches of their stories, I—along with the help of the editor at Penguin who acquired this book, Dana Leydig—approved them, they got to drafting and then we gave them notes and they revised again and again and again (thank y’all for putting in the work!!) until we were like, it’s ready to go! 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives/writers? 

Write your stories. As a writer starting out, I looked for others for approval and validation way too much. It led to quite a lot of cooks in the kitchen (my brain) and so my books were that disjointed, they were from me but not truly of me. I reached a point where I was like, okay it’s not working like this, with me listening to feedback from everyone, with me trying to be like all these other writers… what do I want to write, what stories do I need in the world… honestly that changed everything for me, it’s how I came up with the idea of all my published and under contract books. Fight for your stories. 

My dad once told me that I was very talented but had no discipline and he was right. I wasn’t making time for my art. I wasn’t making sacrifices for my art, and that’s not to say artists need to suffer, we don’t, it’s to say that I was doing so many other things, saying yes to so many other things, but I wasn’t saying yes to myself, to my writing, to the very thing that gives me life. I had to get real with myself and say, do you want this, okay focus on this. That sometimes means waking up at 6am and writing. It sometimes means writing before bed, or not going out with friends or hanging with family to get work done. It means setting boundaries and being clear with people about how important my work is to me. Like, I’m on deadline right now and, with few exceptions, I’m not going anywhere until it’s done. 

Try to find your balance, your flow, what works for YOU (not others). Take breaks when you need them. Don’t stress about writing every day, I don’t, and the work gets done—that’s what works for me.

Work on your craft instead of rushing to be published. When I became a better editor, a better reviser, my stories began to shine.

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

Yes! My next project is Where Shadows Reign. It’s the first in a YA fantasy duology. It was originally scheduled to come out this year, but my super supportive publisher moved it back because trying to revise a novel, edit an anthology, be a literary agent, and focus during the start of a pandemic turned out to be a lot to do at the same time (I know, no surprise). We’re setting the pub date, but it’ll likely be late 2023 or 2024, and the book is even stronger due to the extra time. You can add it on Goodreads and follow me on Instagram and Twitter for updates!

The book takes place a year after an epic war between vampires, humans, and the gods that created them both. It follows three characters: a vampire princess who undertakes a journey to bring her best friend back from the underworld; a young seer who only sees death and, for reasons, accompanies the princess; and a fallen angel who is hellbent on awakening her beloved, their world’s first vampire and the most bloodthirsty one who lived, who is entombed in this underworld. 

It’s very gothic and queer and inspired by my love for The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

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

Okay, first, read Eternally Yours and A Phoenix First Must Burn as a large amount of the stories throughout both these anthologies are queer (Phoenix was actually called “delightfully queer” in a rave review), and then read their books!

Second, anything by Mark Oshiro, Sara Holland, Arvin Ahmadi, Dhonielle Clayton, and Adam Silvera. Love these people, couldn’t do what I do without them.

Third, my clients. Check out books by these authors: 

Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner (we may or may not call this book MILF book as its secret title…college senior has a hot hookup, oops it’s her friend’s mom, wait…now, they’re falling in now)

All Boys Aren’t Blue and We Are Not Broken by George M. Johnson

You Should See Me in a Crown and Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson

These Feathered Flames and This Cursed Crown by Alexandra Overy

And for a few publishing next year, but available for preorder now, check out: 

Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker (NOLA set, magical families, estranged siblings, intergenerational curses)

Ravensong by Cayla Fay (war god sisters, Buffy vibes, romance, northeastern gothic)

Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom by Nina Varela (first crush, a journey to a magical other world, perfect for fans of Rick Riordan)

Dear Medusa by Olivia A. Cole (if you loved Shout or The Poet X, you’ll love this!)

Finally, for a book I deeply love. I acquired this when I was an editor! 

Beyond the Ruby Veil and its sequel, Into the Midnight Void by Mara Fitzgerald. It’s a dark queer, hilarious, YA fantasy duology.

Interview with Cartoonist Balazs Lorinczi

Balazs Lorinczi is a comic book creator and illustrator born in Hungary, now living in wonderfully gloomy Scotland.

While he previously worked as an animator, illustrator and did smaller comic book projects, this is his first time creating a full-length graphic novel (but not the last).

When not cursed with a day job he spends all his free time drawing, watching cartoons, and trying to unsuccessfully restrain himself from buying more books.

I had the opportunity to interview Balazs, 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 Balazs. I’m mainly a comic book artist, but I love to draw a lot of different things. I’m originally from Hungary, but I’m living in Scotland now. I used to work in animation for a little bit. I still have a ton of love for the medium but comics is my passion when it comes to working on things.

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

When I was little, (late 80s, 90s) comics were the only truly limitless medium where I felt like anything could happen. Books are great, but comics have a visual element that wowed me! Unlike movies and tv, comics could be with you anywhere. Bored on a train ride? Read a comic! No good show on tv at the moment? Pull out one of your comics! (yes, you can tell I grew up before the internet and streaming services, haha)

It just felt natural to me to try creating my own as well. The beauty of it is that you only need a pencil and some paper to start.

What drew you to storytelling, particularly fantasy?

I guess I just have a tendency to try and do the things I admire. Since I love reading comics, I always wanted to make my own. Ever since I was little, when I got interested in a story, I tried to come up with my own take on it. For some reason, my brain just thinks it’s very important to have my own stories and characters created. It’s an unexplainable urge I’ve had ever since I can remember.

Fantasy just feels cozy to me and I think it has almost limitless potential for storytelling. You can mix it with any genre. You can world-build as much or as little as you like. Even the well-worn tropes still work today (just look at all the DnD-inspired stories out there today, thriving).

Urban fantasy is my personal favorite. It’s grounded and more instantly relatable but spices up the everyday mundanity with magic. 

How would you describe the newest book, Doughnuts and Doom? What inspired the story?

I usually describe it as a magical rom-com. It’s a fun and simple story about finding the strength and courage to achieve your goals, and learning to rely on someone.

I had the basic idea of a cursed doughnut as a funny, little, short comic for a while. Basically the opening confrontation between the two leads, but the characters looked nothing like them. I was struggling to create a full story and narrative out of it, until I decided to make it a rom-com.

The characters are loosely inspired by my everyday experiences: working in fast food, trying to do a band, and also just my love of witches.

Are you a fan of donuts yourself? What other yummy treats do you find yourself drawn towards?

Oh yes, very much so! I also love apple turnovers and cookies too. My sweet tooth will be the downfall of me one day, haha!

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

I have so many artists that inspire me! When I first decided to be serious about drawing, it used to be Mike Mignola, Francis Manapul (people who I still admire). In recent years I’m more drawn to styles like Fran Meneses, ND Stevenson, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Kat Leyh, and my absolute favorite, Max Sarin.

Also, I have to mention Stjepan Sejic’s creator-owned work. If you look at my stuff, we have nothing in common but it was a huge inspiration.

But other than specific artists, I’m constantly inspired by the endless slew of genre fiction I consume. Be it books, comics, movies, or cartoons (a LOT of cartoons in the last couple of years).

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

I like how it’s a medium usually both relying on text and visuals, but it can still be a very subjective experience in the way you absorb the story. It has the visual storytelling and spectacle of a movie but also allows you to meditate over it and use your imagination to a certain extent, like a book.

I really enjoy it when I get absorbed into a comic and just experience reading it like I’m watching a movie. All styles of comics are great and valid, but that’s just my favorite.

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

I only know the questions I’m afraid people will ask me, haha! 

I think the question nobody asked me yet but I wish they did is a surprise even to me. But when someone finally brings it up (whatever it may be) I will say, “You know, I never even thought about this before, but now that you mention it…”

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

I just finished another graphic novel! I’m putting on the final touches, but it’s basically ready to go! It’s a 180-page story and has girls in a band (recurring theme I guess). One is a werewolf and the other is a ghost. It’s a lot of fun and I hope someone decides to publish it!

I also just started working on my third book. It’s gonna be centered around vampires and skateboarding. I already have a new idea I’m trying to develop and it seems like I’m sticking to the urban fantasy, YA, rom-com genre for now. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives, especially those interested in writing their own graphic novel one day?

Don’t write it “one day”. Do it and do it now! Nothing is stopping you! It might take a long time and if that scares you, just start with a short story or start with chapter one and see if it makes you want to go further. You don’t even have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to, but you are more ready than you think you are! And even if you are not, you will be by the time you are on page thirty.

I wrote and drew Doughnuts and Doom while working full time and it was very exhausting. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to everyone, but I think pouring energy into something you love is ultimately a rewarding thing (just make sure to take care of yourself, stretch and hydrate).

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

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Anything from  Kath Leyh and Tillie Walden. Giant Days by John Allison and Max Sarin. Flung Out Of Space and Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer. Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw. And for the more adult readers who want some NSFW but wholesome stories, Sunstone by Stjepan Sejic.

Pretty sure I missed something I will regret later, so just go to your local bookshop and pick up any LGBTQ+ books you find interesting! That’s what I usually do and nine out of ten times I don’t regret it.

Interview with Author Kyle Lukoff

Kyle Lukoff is the author of many books for young readers. His debut middle-grade novel, Too Bright To See, received a Newbery Honor, the Stonewall award, and was a National Book Award finalist. His picture book When Aidan Became A Brother also won the Stonewall, and his book “Call Me Max” has been banned in schools across the country. He has forthcoming books about mermaids, vegetables, death, and lots of other topics. While becoming a writer he worked as a bookseller for ten years, and then nine more years as a school librarian. He hopes you’re having a nice day.

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

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

Thank you! I worked at Barnes and Noble for a decade before becoming a librarian, and now I’m a full-time writer. For years now my whole life has basically been “books” and “gay,” and that becomes more accurate all the time. A lot of my friends have been involved in Geeks OUT over the years.

How did you find yourself getting into children’s literature, both picture books, and middle grade? What drew you to these mediums?

I’ve worked on all different kinds of projects–fiction and non-fiction for adults, short stories, poetry, I just like to write. The first time I seriously tried to get published it was with a young adult manuscript, and when that didn’t go anywhere I decided to try submitting this picture book idea I came up with not long after college, which had been languishing in my inbox for about a decade. I love writing for kids and am really glad that’s where my career ended up, but it seems more like a matter of luck than intention. 

As a writer, you are well-known for your work, When Aidan Became A Brother, one of the first picture books with a trans male lead. What was the inspiration for the story?

A couple of people had asked if I knew of any picture books with a trans boy character, and I was having a hard time thinking of one. The idea of writing one myself was always there, but I was resistant to the idea until this image of a little boy telling us about his room popped into my head. The story unfolded from there, but it took a long time before it became “Aidan.”

What does it mean for you as a writer having created this picture book as a trans man yourself?

I love knowing that when someone says “Can you recommend a picture book about a trans boy?” they can get one by an adult trans man who’s a professional writer. Now, all we need is more! 

For those who are unfamiliar with how a picture book is made (or are hoping to write picture books themselves) how would you describe the process?

Like any writing project, you sit down and come up with the words you need to tell the story you want to tell. Though picture books have more in common with formalist poetry than, say, short stories. Another important point to note is that, unless you are also an illustrator, you will likely have no control over who illustrates it or what it looks like.

What are some of the best ways/resources to learn more about making a picture book?

From Cover to Cover” by KT Horning. I also recommend reading as many picture books as you can, and carefully analyzing how they’re structured. 

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

I am mostly influenced and inspired by the books I dislike, and the books I wish didn’t take up such prominent space on bookstore shelves or on reading lists. I want to supplant them with stories that I think are better, which include (but are certainly not limited to) my own. 

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

So far no one has really asked me about the main character’s mom in “Different Kinds of Fruit,” who I wrote based on many of the queer fat femmes I have been lucky enough to know and love. I just think she’s so cool, and I really wanted Annabelle to look at her mom and think “I hope I look like her when I grow up.” 

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing or learning about in your free time?

I love riding my bike and embarking on complicated cooking experiments. I used to do a lot of jigsaw puzzles, but not so much now that I live with my boyfriend. I still love to read and am always excited when I find a book that makes me feel like a reader again, not a writer half-analyzing the craft. 

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

I can’t talk about the one I am currently working on, but I can be excited about my first board book coming out next summer. It’s called AWAKE, ASLEEP and it’s a very complicated rhyme scheme that will be very easy to read aloud. I also have an epistolary picture book coming out called DEAR ZOE, about how to apologize. That one was hugely challenging and extremely fun. 

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers, especially those who want to create and publish queer narratives, too?

Give up if you want to, and if you can’t give up, don’t. 

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

Ooh I love Leah Johnson, her two YAs are spectacular and she has a middle grade coming out too! I’m also a huge fan of Lev Rosen‘s YA fiction, Lisa Bunker‘s middle grade, everything by Brandy Colbert, and I adored THE WITCH KING by H.E. Edgmon and am excited for the sequel.

Interview with Author Kip Wilson

Kip Wilson is the author of White Rose which won the Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children’s Literature, and the poetry editor of the Young Adult Review Network. She has a PhD in German Literature. She is also the winner of the PEN/New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award, and her work has appeared in several children’s literary magazines. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Find her on Twitter @kiperoo, and on Instagram @kipwilsonwrites.

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

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

Hello! I’m Kip Wilson. I write YA historical novels-in-verse (talk about niche!), and I love reading all sorts of YA. I’m an early-morning swimmer, an early-morning writer, and an early-morning coffee drinker.

Where did the inspiration for your latest book, The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin, come from?

The spark for this story came from the 1930 black-and-white movie, Menschen am Sonntag (“People on Sunday”). It’s a slice-of-life film about young people living in Berlin in the last years before the Nazis came to power. But I also knew that this fascinating glimpse didn’t tell the full story of Berlin at the time—that it was in fact an especially glorious and liberating time for all manner of queer people. So basically, Menschen am Sonntag, but set in a queer club (of which there were many at the time in Berlin).

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

I know a lot of writers always wanted to become a writer, but I wasn’t one of those people who was a writer as a kid or even as a teen. I didn’t start writing fiction until I finished my dissertation for grad school and realized, hey, I like this writing stuff, and now I can write whatever I want. In the end, I write YA historical because that’s what I love best to read.

It would seem that a lot of historical research has went into this book. How would describe the process and how it intertwined with you writing the actual novel?

Thank you for this important question! Everyone who writes historical handles research differently, but I definitely consider it an iterative process. I have to do enough basic research before beginning to write to be able to start the project (basically enough to understand the character and their world). With each subsequent draft, I do more and more research to fill in the details so it feels authentic for the reader—and it really never ends until pass pages for me.

How would you describe your writing process?

Because I write in verse, my process basically consists of creating a very basic outline with important turning points and then creating a list of must-have poems (as simple as “Hilde enters Café Lila and meets Rosa”). I keep adding to the list as new things occur to me, and I write the poems I feel like writing that day. I don’t really pay attention to word count. When I’m drafting, if I write two to five poems, I consider it a good writing day.

Both your novels, White Rose and The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin are novels in verse. What do you think drew you to that medium and were there any novels in verse or poets that influenced you as a writer regarding style?

I actually used to write exclusively in prose, and have drafted about ten (unpublished) books. It was only after a conversation with a couple of verse novelists that I realized that verse might be the right format for White Rose. Once I started drafting it in verse, it just felt right to me—while prose had been a real struggle. Since then, everything else I’ve worked on has been in verse. Some of my greatest influences are Kwame Alexander, Padma Venkatraman, and Margarita Engle—I absolutely love all of their work.

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

No one really asks me if I’ll ever write a contemporary novel! And while I never say never, my response would be, “Probably not.” I do love to read contemporary YA, but my voice and personal interests line up much more with stories from the past.

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

Definitely be open to trying different things! If I had kept working in prose only, I might not even be published today. And that goes for being open to different things in all aspects of writing—format, genre, age category etc. You never know when you’ll stumble upon the magic.

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

I am working on some other projects, but unfortunately I can’t talk about anything else yet (ah, publishing). Hopefully soon!

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

One of my absolute favorite authors is Anna-Marie McLemore. I swoon over everything they write, and I’m sure Geeks Out readers will too! Also, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo is simply stunning. It’s a National Book Award finalist this year, and it was everything I’d hoped for. I also love Nita Tyndall’s work, and cannot wait for their next book (a historical set in Germany).

Interview with Author Melissa Blair

Melissa Blair (she/her/kwe) is an Anishinaabe-kwe of mixed ancestry living in Turtle Island. She splits her time between Treaty 9 in Northern Ontario and the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg in Ottawa, Canada. She has a graduate degree in Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies, loves movies, and hates spoons. Melissa has a BookTok account where she discusses her favorite kinds of books including Indigenous and queer fiction, feminist literature, and non-fiction. A Broken Blade is her first novel.

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

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

Sure – I’m Melissa Blair. I’m 27 Anishinaabekwe, I spend too much money on books and too much time playing board games. I love all forms of storytelling and have a new puppy named Giizhik.

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

I was seven when my mom explained to me that it was someone’s job to write all the books I’d been reading, from that moment on I knew I wanted to tell stories. It started with paper and crayons and has gotten slightly more sophisticated from there. I think speculative fiction has always been something I’m drawn to because its function is to allow another perspective or idea take center focus, as an Indigenous person I’m always comparing Western perspectives with Indigenous ones. 

What can you tell us about your new book, A Broken Blade? Where did the inspiration for this story come from? 

A Broken Blade is the story of Keera who is part Mortal part Elf and also an assassin for the Crown. She is forced to serve the king who conquered the continent and drove her kin into hiding. When the King tasks her with killing the Shadow, a masked enemy who is destabilizing the Crown, Keera realizes that she has a choice to make to stay safe or save her people. 

The inspiration came from reading a lot of books in this subgenre during lockdown. They were so much fun and I enjoyed them, but I kept noticing that all of the stories took place in colonial societies. I had all these questions about what happened to the Indigenous people of those realms, where were they, how were their lands taken from them? Those questions became the foundation of me creating the world of the Halfling Saga. 

A Broken Blade is described as anti-colonial fantasy with indigenous influences. Could you describe what that means?

The story is about Keera who is part Elf and her Elvish kin. As a story it centres the characters Indigenous to the continent and frames the conquering King as the rightful villain. Much of the plot and the impacts on the characters on the story is directly inspired by the history that has happened to my own ancestors – extractive colonialism, establishment of a gendered binary and the weaponization of patriarchy are only a few examples of how the Kingdom of Elverath mirrors our own. A huge part of the series will be uncovering how the Elverin lived before the King came at all and reclaiming that way of life. 

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

I would say readers should assume everyone is queer in some way unless stated otherwise. There are bisexual characters, gay and lesbian characters, asexual characters, and ones who don’t conform to the gender binary the king has established. As the series moves forward, something Keera learns is how differently her kin view and live queerness as compared to the king. The Elverin love freely and always have, and they also conceptualize gender in a very different way than the king and his citizens. Keera begins to uncover that in A Broken Blade but it becomes a much bigger theme in upcoming books. 

What are some things you hope readers take away from this story?

My first hope is that readers have a fun time but recognize the parallels I’m making between this made up world and our own. I also hope readers seek out more Indigenous books, there are so many out there.  

Growing up, were there any books/media that inspired you as a creative and/or that you felt yourself personally reflected in?

My biggest inspiration was the storytelling that happened around me as a kid. Most of it came from my grandma, sometimes my mom or aunties too. Hearing a story around a campfire can really make it come to life and those are some of my most vivid memories. I want to learn how to evoke emotion in that same way. 

I think part of the reason I want to be a storyteller is because I never got to see myself reflected in the media I consumed as a child or teenager. There are so few examples of Indigenous characters in popular stories, and when they do exist, they are often stereotyped and poor portrayals. I think I write out of spite in some ways.  

What does it mean to you creating a story with queer and indigenous influenced representation?

It means a lot. For me it is the ultimate form of self-expression because so much of who I am and how I see the world is in the book. But in many ways it is also a responsibility. We all receive gifts in life, and I’ve been given a brain to create stories where nothing exist before. It’s important to me that those stories reflect my family, my ancestors in some way. Even when I’m writing about mythical creatures on a made-up land. 

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult?

My favorite stages are conception of an idea, plotting, and editing. I find first drafts really exhausting and tend to get through them as quickly as possible. To be honest, second drafts aren’t much fun either. But once I get notes back, I fall in love with the story all over again. There are also days where I do not have the strength to write dialogue and will move on to a scene where that isn’t necessary. 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

You can’t get better at something unless you do it – a lot – and until you get quality feedback on it. Seek out writing partners and friends, share your work, and learn from each other. Every writer has something to teach another, even if neither of you have shared your work publicly. Also if you have an idea that you can’t get out of your head, write it! And when you get to the point where you hate it and you’re convinced it’s the worst story ever told, it isn’t and you needed to keep going.  

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

Currently I’m working on a few projects. The sequel to A Broken Blade is moving through the editing process and will come to readers in 2023. Readers will also be getting a contemporary romance from me later this year. I also have a speculative sci fi story about language and Indigenous sovereignty that I’m very excited about and hope to sell. The best place to stay up to date on those releases is on my socials. 

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

There are so many amazing storytellers! You can’t go wrong with Rebecca Roanhorse, Eden Robinson, Cherie Dimaline, Billy Ray Belcourt, or Richard Wagamese

Interview with Author Samantha San Miguel

Samantha San Miguel grew up barefoot in South Florida. Living in this wild, diverse, and exuberant state taught Samantha a lifelong respect for the natural world with both its dangers and delights. Working there as an adult taught her a love for the colorful personalities that crowd the state’s borders. And leaving it taught her that whether in Florida, Cuba, or anywhere else in the world, you can never be an exile if there’s sunshine in your heart.

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

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

Hi and thank you! I’m Sam. When I’m not writing you can usually find me reading, practicing some kind of sport, or hanging out with my family. I love animals and the outdoors.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Spineless? What was the inspiration for this story?

Set at the turn of the 19th century, Spineless is the story of twelve-year-old aspiring naturalist Algie Emsworth, whose family winters at a remote South Florida hotel. While searching for new species in the surrounding swamps, Algie makes a discovery bigger than he bargained for!

Though the book is set in a different location, the city of St. Augustine furnished both my concept inspirations. While visiting there a few years ago, I was startled to walk around a corner smack dab into a gigantic Spanish renaissance castle just hanging out along the sidewalk. “What is that?” I asked my husband, who was more familiar with the area than I. “Oh, just Flagler College,” he answered. As I delved deeper into the matter, I discovered that the college campus had begun as the flagship of Florida’s grand hotels: elaborate Gilded Age enterprises as architecturally fantastical as they were financially unviable. Their history captured my imagination, and the inkling of a story was born.

My second inspiration was a vintage photograph of the St. Augustine Monster carcass. Florida is rife with cryptozoological lore, and the St. Augustine Monster was a flesh blob that washed up there in the late 1800s. Modern science has since determined it to be a decomposed whale, but at the time people hypothesized it was a gigantic, Jules Verne-esque octopus.

What drew you to storytelling, and what drew you to middle grade specifically?

Some of my earliest memories are of my siblings and I telling stories to each other before falling asleep. As we got older the stories progressed into RPG campaigns in various fandoms, writing and filming our own movies, and for some of us, full-length novels. We never really stopped—these days, my older brother is my critique partner! So storytelling has always been a very natural part of my life.

As for why middle grade, this answer may sound funny but is the unvarnished truth: there’s not a huge adult market for books featuring monstrous creatures and happy endings, and I really love monstrous creatures and happy endings!

Spineless, while historical fiction, was said to be inspired by your experiences living in Florida. Could you elaborate on this and any other personal elements that may have made their way into the book?

When I was a kid, the marine research institute in our area had a fantastic educational program specifically for homeschoolers. They’d show us deep sea submersible footage, bring us aboard their research vessel, and take us out for days exploring various aspects of the ocean and lagoon. One day we might hike to a jetty and learn about worm reefs, the next we might spend hours wriggling through mangroves on our stomachs observing fiddler crabs. If you’ve read Spineless, you can see how those early experiences impacted the book. Another major influence was growing up close to Pelican Island, the first U.S. national wildlife refuge. It was created to protect endangered wading birds, and hearing about the historic struggles between plume hunters and early conservation champions made a big impact on me at an early age.

A few of the talking points of this book in the promotion of this book were the fact of Latinx representation and chronic illness representation, especially with the main character having chronic asthma. Could you discuss a little how you went about writing this and what writing this type of representation meant to you?

My family’s roots are Cuban, and the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. is complicated and sad. It reminds me of Jane Austen’s description of a bad breakup: “Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.” I grew up down the road from my abuelo, who said goodbye to Cuba after Castro took over. Our heritage is a huge part of our family culture and identity, but despite many of us living only a day-trip’s distance away, no one in my family has been able to even visit the island for generations. The closest us younger ones have gotten is seeing the love in our older relatives’ eyes when they talk about it. As a kid, I got used to hearing people (never Cuban Americans) laugh at me when I mentioned I was Hispanic, because I don’t speak fluent Spanish. I wanted to express a little bit of what it felt like, for me at least, growing up as a child of that estrangement. Different century, different war, same sense of exile.

Switching gears to chronic illness rep, I’m a registered nurse by profession and noticed long ago that it was tricky to find thoughtful depictions of characters with physical challenges in children’s media. In most of the instances I saw, either the story revolved around the character’s health issues, or else their disability was essentially cosmetic. For example, in the recent movie The Sea Beast, the first mate has an above-knee prosthetic leg, yet is shown as having superhuman balance on swaying, slippery, and uneven surfaces. I wanted to portray a character who had physical challenges, but without subsuming his identity in his health or ignoring the real risks and roadblocks associated with disability.

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

Here’s my creative process in five easy steps.

Step 1: Think of a concept. Decide it sucks, think of ten more, and pick the least boring one.

Step 2: Wrestle said concept into a one-page synopsis and read it aloud to every friend, family member, or stranger who will stand still long enough, watching like a hawk to see if they betray a gleam of interest.

Step 3: Write a draft. Decide it sucks. Rewrite it.

Step 4: Declare nothing on earth will ever make this story come together. Press onward anyway.

Step 5: Repeat Step 3 five to sixteen times.

I’m happiest once my drafts become a collaborative process between me and my agent or editor/s. The earlier drafts are always a struggle for me when the disconnect between my vision for the book and the messiness on the page is most glaring. There’s always the temptation to give up, but I get through it by gritting my teeth and reminding myself that anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

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

My years working as an acute-care nurse had a huge influence on me as an author because they changed the way I view the world and other people. I’m not afraid to write about characters acting with impossible bravery in dire situations—my patients and coworkers showed me long ago that that kind of bravery isn’t actually impossible.

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

I became a triple amputee in my early thirties after a bout with septic shock. Athletics are a huge part of my life, and I’m a serious paratriathlete. I have separate pairs of prosthetic feet for walking, running, biking, and dancing.

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

Q: How do you manage your time as a mom, writer, and adaptive athlete?

A: I prioritize. I have limited hand function due to nerve damage, so it takes me a longer time to get things done than it used to. Sleep, exercise, family time, and a healthy emotional and spiritual life come first. Writing is the next rung, and I’m also involved with various projects in the disability & accessibility arena. I try to keep everything else as lowkey as possible. For me, this has meant investing a lot of energy upfront into learning how simplify things like meal prep, laundry, scheduling, etc. Doubling up on stuff helps—for example, my husband is my training partner, so we get lots of great quality time working out together.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Think of writing the way you would a sport. Nobody’s born knowing how to do a backflip on a balance beam. Similarly, no one (at least no one I’ve ever met!) is born knowing how to effortlessly manipulate prose, characterization, and long-form narrative structure right off the bat. It takes practice. Read stories you love, read craft books, attend conferences or critique groups if you find those helpful—and if not, don’t. Find a writing buddy to swap stories with. Ask yourself why you write and put it on a sticky note somewhere visible. Don’t chronically sleep deprive yourself in order to fit in writing time—fire up your creative brain by figuring out a different way to fit the writing in. Never underestimate the value of mental white space.

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

Right now I’m finishing up a middle-grade contemporary fantasy. I’m also working on a YA alternate history graphic novel.

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

For tropical steampunk vibes, check out The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois. For a well-rounded protagonist with physical challenges, try Insignificant Events in the Life of A Cactus by Dusti Bowling. To satiate your sea monster cravings, go for The Monster Missions by Laura Martin.

Interview With Author Raymond Luczak

Raymond Luczak (he/him/his) is the author and editor of 29 titles, including Flannelwood: A Novel (Red Hen Press) and Silence Is a Four-Letter Word: On Art & Deafness (Handtype Press). His book once upon a twin: poems (Gallaudet University Press) was a Top Ten U.P. Notable Book of the Year for 2021. His work has appeared in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. An inaugural Zoeglossia Fellow, he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter or through his Facebook page.

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

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

I’m a Deaf gay writer and editor of 29 titles, including my latest book A Quiet Foghorn: More Notes from a Deaf Gay Life (Gallaudet University Press). I lost most of my hearing at the age of eight months due to double pneumonia and a high fever, but this was not detected until I was two-and-a-half years old. After all, I was just number seven in a hearing family of nine children growing up in Ironwood, a small mining town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.). Forbidden to sign, I was outfitted with a rechargeable hearing aid and started on speech therapy immediately. After graduating from high school, I finally learned American Sign Language (ASL) at Gallaudet University.

How would you describe your upcoming book A Quiet Foghorn? What was the inspiration for this project?

When I put together my first essay collection Assembly Required: Notes from a Deaf Gay, I had chosen not to include a number of arts-related pieces that had appeared over the years. This time around I wanted to pull the various threads of my interests—the arts, the political, and the personal—into a single book. By then I had amassed more published pieces, so it made sense to include most of everything this time around.

As a gay D/deaf writer, you write on the intersection of queerness and disability. Was identity something you had always intended to explore within your writing, or was it simply a natural evolution? At any point during your life have you found media (i.e. books, film/television, etc.) in which you could see yourself reflected or relating to in terms of personal representation?

It was not necessarily intentional at first, but it became a necessity once I realized that there weren’t any accurate representations of the Deaf gay experience in literature. It was quite obvious that if no one was doing anything about that, I might as well try my best and write about it. You could say that’s been the story of my career. If I couldn’t find anything similar to my experiences in print, I felt obligated to write about them, starting with my Christopher Street magazine essay (“Notes of a Deaf Gay Writer”) in 1990 and continuing with my editing Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader (Alyson), which turned out to be the very first published title exploring the Deaf LGBTQ experience in the world back in 1993. I haven’t stopped since!

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

Each piece I write rarely starts in the same place. Inspiration can be found anywhere. It’s best if I don’t think about it too much. Just roll with it and see what happens when I write! I like discovering new things in my work after I’ve written the first draft (and rewritten in subsequent drafts) because it’s almost as if I didn’t really know my inner self was thinking while writing! 

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

That silence, particularly when it pertains to the Deaf experience, is a metaphorical cliché that needs to be permanently iced on moratorium. Very few Deaf people have total hearing loss; they can hear some things at certain frequencies and volume, and yet cannot hear other things. Just like there’s a spectrum when it comes to sexual orientation, there too is a spectrum for hearing loss. Reducing Deaf people to just their ears and/or their signing hands regardless of where in the media is incredibly reductive and offensive to the Deaf community. We are not your metaphor. We are so much more vital than that! We are a people, a community.

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

I love to make ice creams and sorbets! 

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

I’d love to have hearing people ask themselves this question: Why do I expect Deaf people to carry the full burden of communication when I interact with them? In other words, hearing people have always expected me to lipread, and they’re too happy to find out that I can speak. And then they get occasionally frustrated if I cannot lipread them well enough, and end up saying, “Never mind,” which ends the conversation. (For the record, even the best lipreader in the world can catch maybe 30% on the lips if they don’t know the context of the conversation.) That line (or variations thereof)—“Never mind”—is extremely demoralizing because I’ve taken sixteen years of speech therapy, but they couldn’t be bothered to try another way to rephrase so I can understand them better? When they say, “Never mind,” they are telling me that their discomfort with the situation is much more important than my desire to fully understand what is going on, and therefore, they are exercising their hearing privilege over me. They do not want to put in the same effort into the conversation that they’ve expected me to do. Communication is a two-way street, and contrary to what the majority would like to believe about us Deaf people, it is not run by hearing people. It is run by both people in the conversation.

What advice would you give for other writers?

Never, never, never give up. Rejection is normal, so you have to learn not to take it personally. I’ve had editors reject my work a few times only to accept this or that piece. (Part of that may be due to luck and/or timing.) It’s more important to keep writing, rewriting, and reading the work of other writers who are better than you so you can improve your craft.

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

2022 has been a very busy year. Two of my full-length poetry collections have appeared in print recently: Lunafly: Poems (Gnashing Teeth), which is filled with queer retellings of Biblical stories, Greek myths, and paganisms, and Chlorophyll: Poems about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Modern History Press), which is a sequel of sorts to my earlier childhood nature poetry collection This Way to the Acorns: Poems (Handtype Press), but this time from an adult’s perspective. These days Rattling Good Yarns Press is finalizing my next novel Widower, 48, Seeks Husband for publication. While the novel covers some 40 years of gay Minneapolis history, the book explores in depth what it means to be a middle-aged gay widower in a community that can be unfortunately lookist and ageist. It’s not necessarily a book for young queer reader; it’s a story written for older gay men who’ve been around the block and then some. The story was partly inspired by my realization and disappointment by how many gay fiction titles often featured young good-looking men on their book covers. Where are all those stories featuring middle-aged gay protagonists? (Andrew Sean Greer’s satirical—and commercially successful—novel Less [Lee Boudreau Books] is definitely an outlier in this regard.) It’s my hope that Widower, 48, Seeks Husband will come out this later this year; if not, definitely next year. As always, I do post from time to time ASL translations of my poems as well as book trailers on my YouTube channel here. []

Finally, are there any books, particularly books about disability/Deafhood, you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Aside from my own collection QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, which I edited for Squares & Rebels, I’d recommend Corbett Joan O’Toole’s Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History (Reclamation Press), Carol Padden’s Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture (Harvard University Press), and Harlan Lane’s When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf (Vintage). One should also check out the documentaries Through Deaf Eyes and Signing Black in America.

Interview with Author Ryan La Sala

Ryan La Sala resides in New York City, but only physically. Escapist to the core, he spends most of his time in the astral planes and only takes up corporeal form for special occasions, like brunch and to watch anime (which is banned on the astral planes).

Ryan is the author behind the bestselling cottagecore horror, The Honeys, the riotously imaginative Reverie, and the brilliantly constructed Be Dazzled. He has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, NPR,, and one-time Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race called him cute. Right in the middle of the road downtown! So. Pretty big deal all around, yes?

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

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

Thanks for having me! I’m Ryan, and I’m best known for writing queer books and wearing short shorts. Thus far, my career as a writer has been all about centering queer characters in stories only they can tell. I’m crafting a new mythology around queerness, one that finds depth, power, and complexity in queer identities. This mission has gotten my books put on many ban lists in the past year, but I’m unfettered. More often than the bans, I see my books showing up on lists created by allies and queer readers and bookclubs to promote books that tell the truth about LGBTQIA+ people, namely that we exist and have our own adventures.  

How would you describe your upcoming book, The Honeys? Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

Everyone wants to be a Honey. They’re the popular girls at the Aspen Summer Academy, and they wield an enchanting power over adults and campers alike. All except Mars Matthias, a geeky, rebellious teen who shows up at the Summer Academy for one reason: to prove the connection between the Honeys and his sister’s recent, horrific death after her brief time as one of them. Mars is genderfluid and therefore exists beyond the traditions of summer camps, specifically their binary structures (Boys and Girls cabins, Battle of the Sexes, etc). But, because of this, Mars is able to slip through the dark in between, closer and closer to the bright, terrifying truth that shines at the center of the Aspen Summer Academy.

The Honeys takes inspiration from the genre of dark academia, but rendered in the bright, lovely pastels of cottagecore, because for queer people it is not just the darkness we must fear, but the monsters that are allowed to hunt us in broad daylight. Inspiration from the natural world also shaped this book, such as the minute ritual of bees. Studying bees, I learned a lot about humanity and found a lens through which to process grief, horror, and revenge. 

How did you get into writing, and what drew you to young adult fiction and speculative fiction specifically?

To be completely candid, I started writing out of spite. As a queer teen, I was perplexed that popular YA novels like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter were devoid of queer people. All the best imaginations of our time, and they couldn’t imagine someone like me? Noting this clear flaw, and driven by spite, I started writing my own stories, and I filled them with queerness. Not just with characters who happened to be gay, but with plots, adventures, and victories that are inherently queer.

That story became my first book, REVERIE, about a queer kid battling a drag queen sorceress for the fate of reality. It’s a dreamy, ambitious book, but beneath the glitz is a serious question: why would you fight to save a reality that marginalizes you? Why not destroy it, and try again? This is the conversation between Kane, a young gay kid discovering his terrifying power, and Poesy, a drag queen who has had to stifle her power too long. Could a straight kid have this adventure? Probably not. Bless the straight kids, really, but they don’t have the range I need to tell the stories I needed as a kid.

I still feel the spite of my youth, but I’ve realized something. Spite is just undressed justice. Justice without her corset on, if you will. My stories might be fantastical, but the impact on our reality is real. My books have been celebrated and banned. I’m doing what I set out to do. I’m using queer magic to revise reality into something that doesn’t just tolerate queer kids but embraces them.

How would you describe your writing process? Would you say it’s changed since you first started as a writer versus now?

You know when you are crossing a busy street in the city, at night, with vehicles parked along it, and before you can even see an oncoming car you first see its reflection sliding towards you? Or the shadows flee from approaching headlights? Or the things seem to glow until suddenly the car bursts from the periphery into your reality? That’s what my process feels like. I know something is coming, and I catch glimpses of it reflected in the world around me, and then suddenly it’s honking at me, and I’m writing as quickly as I can, and before I know it I’m on the other side of the street. The book is written.

I don’t like this process. It’s inconvenient to be arrested like this for however long it takes. And I find it never takes long enough. Reverie took about ten years to actually get published. My second book took a summer to write. The Honeys took a month. My most recent book took 25 days. The car, to extend my earlier metaphor, keeps cutting it closer and closer, so I’m trying to get better at looking around the corners of my mind in anticipation of what’ll try to run me over next. 

What would you say are some of your favorite craft elements to work on? Were there any stories or authors that inspired you as a writer coming into your own?

I adore contrast. The Honeys, for example, exists in the tradition of the Dark Academia novel–it takes place at an institution for the elite, which appears to harbor sinister secrets for the initiated few–but the book is neither dark nor academic. It’s bright and summery, and it’s actually set at a summer camp. The horror is still there, but the reader is forced to face these horrors without any darkness to hide within. That’s on purpose.

Sailor Moon taught me this contrast. Sailor Moon’s beauty and femininity never costs her power; it’s often the source of it. It never saves her from devastation, either. That’s true for a lot of media made for girls, that the gays declare iconic, and it’s had a profound effect on my approach to horror and fantasy. In my books, I love to use lush, lovely writing to explore serious, scary topics. It’s the brightest colors in nature that are often poisonous, after all. 

Since Geeks OUT is a queer pop culture website, how would you describe your own queer and geeky interests? What draws you to fandom and what are some of your favorite fandoms?

I’m a total weeb. I grew up hoarding manga and anime. I loved Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and anything that was magical, dark, and flamboyant. I’m a gamer, too. I love the high-concept JRPGs of late, along with classics like Kingdom Hearts and Zelda.

That said, I kept fandoms at a distance until just recently. Growing up, ‘fandom’ was synonymous with pompous white guys who wanted to quiz me on Star Wars trivia and The Foundation trilogy. Barf. I’m so glad it’s so much more welcoming and diverse now!

My way back into fandom was actually cosplay. Cosplayers are my favorite people in any fandom. They’re the ones who are literally doing the work to participate in the stories we adore, and I love how open-source the community is when it comes to crafting these incredible costumes. My second book, BE DAZZLED, is all about cosplay culture. After writing it, I started to compete in cosplay competitions myself, and actually won Best in Show with a design from the book! I was dressed as HIM from Powerpuff Girls. An iconic sissy villain. 

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

Writing is just an extension of my lifelong obsession with creating stuff. I love to craft costumes and cosplays, I love making gifts for people, and half the stuff in my very cluttered apartment is covered in hot glue, paint, or rhinestones. You know Howl’s bedroom in Howl’s Moving Castle?  aspire to that level of elaborate, eccentric theatricality.

Speaking of theatricality! I come from a musical theater background, and still love to put on shows. I want people to know that I don’t just exist in the backflap of my books. I spend an inordinate amount of time creating content for Twitter, TikTok, Youtube, and live writer events because I love to put on a show and entertain. I hope people search for me after finishing my books!

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

Question: Why honey?

Answer: Because it’s fascinating stuff. The closest thing to actual ambrosia I can think of. Did you know that a teaspoon of honey represents the life’s work of 12 bees? And a jar of honey is created by bees visiting millions of flowers in flights that, if added up, could circumvent the earth? When you taste honey, you’re tasting the concentrated essence of an entire ecosystem, and that to me is a paradox ripe for writing about. You have these tiny, cute insects working to create this miraculous substance that never, ever goes bad, and the act of creating it is what allows all these cycles of life, death, and regeneration.

In short, I think the bee has a lot to teach us humans, who often operate as adamantly individualistic, often until it destroys us. That describes Mars at the start of the book. I wanted him to face something greater than him, something that would force him to connect with the world after the isolating loss of his sister. That something is The Honeys. 

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

If you’re going to say yes to making your dreams a reality, you’re going to have to say no to reality. Reality is not designed to let you write books. Books aren’t obligatory, like jobs or chores or karaoke. For most of us, no one asked. It’s a selfish, intriguing impulse that often gets us started with writing, and it’s usually at odds with a reality that would rather us leave it undisturbed with our dreaming. But I’m telling you to say no to that sense of complacency, and to dream, and to disturb the status quo with your made-up worlds.

What I also mean is: if you’re going to say yes to writing, you’re going to have to say no to something else. The harsh truth is that writing costs time. A lot of it. And no one is going to make that time but you. So, as quickly as you can, learn to say no. Get used to the discomfort of missing out. It sounds grim but it isn’t. It takes bravery to believe in yourself enough to make space and time for your dreams.

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

I recently wrote a book in 24 days and recorded a diary on TikTok that I may or may not need to take down, because I think it’ll be the next book I publish. Here’s what I can share about it: it’s supernatural, it’s horrific, and it takes place in the most beautiful, private homes of New York City. While it’s not a sequel to The Honeys, it feels like a sibling to Mars’s story. It’s darker and hungrier, and the monster within is the kind I know people will have a hard time unseeing if they manage to see it at all before it gets them.

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

Increasingly, I’m talking about the LGBTQ+ books and authors I adore via Twitter and TikTok, so I recommend people follow me if they’re curious! Right now I’m reading and loving THE 99 BOYFRIENDS OF MICAH SUMMERS by Adam Sass. I am also eagerly awaiting books by Aiden Thomas and Julian Winters. My favorite recent read is PET by Aweake Emezi, and I just acquired the prequel, BITTER.