Interview with Author Jennifer Dugan

Jennifer Dugan is an avid YA and comic writer that strives to create the stories that she wishes she had growing up. Her debut novel Hot Dog Girl was released April 30, 2019 from Penguin/Putnam. She is also the author of Verona Comics and the forthcoming novel Some Girls Do. Her latest book, Coven, a queer, paranormal YA graphic novel was released this past September.

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

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

Thank you for having me!

I’m an author from Upstate New York and am about to release my fourth young adult novel, Melt With You. I’m also launching first graphic novel this year, Coven—although I have also written and kickstarted indie comics in the past. I share my house with two cats, a dog, and many, many tropical plants.

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

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to create little stories and comics and hand them out for holiday and birthday presents—in hindsight, I should probably apologize to my brother for that. I’m sure he would have rather had a toy or money, even if he was a good sport about it.

I love young adult fiction. I think I’m drawn to it because there are so many big events, and big feelings, that surround that time of your life. It gives writers a lot of latitude to play. I also think that young adult fiction is really trying to open its doors to more diverse story telling. There is a long way to go, that is undeniable, but it wasn’t too far in the past that I was told by someone in the industry that “queer girls don’t sell,” and now my books are just two of many coming out this year.

What can you tell us about your upcoming books, Melt with You and Coven? Where did the inspiration for these stories come from?

Melt With You is a young adult novel coming out May 17. It is a contemporary rom com that follows two ex-best friends, who had a falling out after a one-night hook up. Now, they’re on a road trip in their parents’ romance themed ice cream truck.

It has all my favorite tropes, including second chance romance, forced proximity, not to mention so, so many ice cream puns. I’m not sure exactly when the idea came in my head, but I had been interested in setting a story in an ice cream truck ever since seeing the video for BLACKPINK & Selena Gomez’s song Ice Cream.

Coven is my young adult graphic novel debut coming out September 6. It is a supernatural, queer, coming of age story about witches, although it is very grounded in its contemporary setting. It tells the story of a teen witch named Emsy who has to leave her California surfer girl life behind when her family decides to return to safety of their coven in Upstate NY after the murder of a coven mate. Emsy has to learn to master and even appreciate her powers… and maybe solve the murder while she’s at it.

This one was actually inspired be a little frog I encountered in real life! It was sitting in a pond near my house that was overgrown with moss and dead branches—it was early fall, and it all felt so wonderfully creepy. I sat on the edge of the pond and watched him for a while, soaking up the spookiness, and as I did a whole scene spun out before me in my head. I quickly went home and plotted the rest of the book. That original scene, and little frog, actually made it to the final draft, so everyone will get to “meet” him when they read.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite (or most frustrating) parts of writing?

Generally, I wait for a scene to pop into my head—like it did when I was watching the frog that day. From there, I start thinking about the people involved in the scene—who are they, what do they like and dislike, which one is the main character (or two, if I’m writing dual POV.) Once I’ve established my main character, I need to find their favorite song, or a song that I think would really resonate with them. That’s one of the main ways I get to know them before drafting. From there, I build an entire playlist for them and start the work of outlining and drafting.

My favorite part is the very early daydreaming stage, when you’re first creating the characters and thinking about the story. It almost feels like dating. I have no clue at first if the idea will stick around to turn into something real… or if it’s just going to ghost me. Either way, it’s still fun. There’s no pressure or deadlines, it’s one of the few times that a story truly is just yours.

I also really love doing developmental edits. By then, I have a pretty firm grasp of my characters, the bones of the story are all there, and I’m just refining. It feels like I get to write fanfic of my own work, and I can’t get enough.

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

In general, I draw inspiration from the world around me. Something as small as seeing a frog in a pond, if it hits at just the right moment, can lead to a new book sitting on in a bookstore someday. With that in mind, I try to approach the world in a very open way and soak up experiences to use as fuel for my work.

Music plays a huge role in my process, as I previously mentioned, but so do movies and other media. When I’m developing a character, I’m constantly thinking about how they would react to a movie or a song, or how they would be interpreting the world. I get to experience as myself, but also a little bonus bit through the character I’m crafting.

Books though, I read just for me. I’m really big on taking time to “refill the well” and for me that often means binge reading a variety of books and comics. I need books like I need air, and I don’t want to be deliberately and consciously thinking of my own craft as I do.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Finish your draft! I know it seems like common sense, but so many people get hung up on endlessly revising openings and early chapters—or are constantly chasing new ideas—that they don’t ever finish! You learn a lot from finishing a draft, even if you don’t ever decide to do anything with it.  

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

I’m an absolute dork, and not necessarily in a cool way. In more of a dress your cat in sweaters and daydream about a beautiful plant you absolutely don’t need because you already have over eighty in your home kind of way. (Yes, eighty!)

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

I like to do book giveaways on my Instagram (@JL_Dugan) and I always have people answer a question for their entry. I recently did a giveaway for advanced reader copies of both Melt With You and Coven. Wanting to combine the themes of each, I asked readers to tell me what type of ice cream their favorite supernatural creature would eat for a treat. The answers were super fun, and I was a little jealous that I’d never been asked that… so I’m delighted to use this space to answer now. My favorite supernatural creature is undoubtedly a werewolf (sorry, witches!) and I feel like they might eat vanilla ice cream with Lucky Charms on top. It’s unclear if werewolves are impacted by chocolate the way dogs and regular wolves are, so I’m thinking they would want to avoid it to be safe. And who wouldn’t love a sugary cereal on top of their ice cream after a long night of chasing bunnies and/or biting people?

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

I have a couple unannounced projects that I am very excited to share more about soon. One of them is a bit different from what people usually expect from me, and I cannot wait to get it out there!

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

I recommend people read all of them! They’re all so good and supporting titles that are out now means that publishers will keep buying them. Some of my favorite authors out now are Kalynn Bayron, Isabel Sterling, Julian Winters, Rory Power, and Dahlia Adler. I cannot recommend any and all of their books enough.

Header Photo Credit Amber Hooper

Interview with Author-Illustrator Lewis Hancox

Lewis Hancox is a writer, illustrator, and filmmaker from North West UK. Mainly known for his online characters British Mum and Prinny Queen, he’s built a committed following and regularly produces viral comedy videos. He has been featured in the Channel 4 series My Transsexual Summer and co-created an ongoing film project about trans people called My Genderation. You can find him on Instagram and TikTok at @lewishancoxfilms, on Twitter at @LewisHancox, and on YouTube at Lewis Hancox. As a longtime fan of cartoons and comics, he’s proud to have created Welcome to St. Hell, his first graphic memoir.

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

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

Thank you for having me! Hi, I’m Lewis Hancox, I’m a comedy creator and author-illustrator of Welcome to St Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure. I grew up in a small, working-class town in North England, which definitely shaped my humorous take on life. I’ve always loved to entertain, so I started making comedy sketches where I play various characters (I’m mostly known as being “British Mum”). The videos unexpectedly went viral which led to an online following! I’m also a filmmaker and co-founded “My Genderation,” an ongoing film project celebrating trans lives.

What can you tell us about your upcoming memoir, Welcome to St. Hell? What inspired you to write this book?

Welcome to St. Hell is my memoir in graphic novel form, all about my life as a trans teenage misfit, growing up in the early noughties. In the first lockdown I was drawing a lot to pass the time and was suddenly inspired to draw my story! I realized the real lack of trans guy representation out there, and just trans stories in general that are told with humour and heart, in a totally non-political way. This isn’t just a transition tale, though. It’s a journey of self-discovery, whilst trying to fit in at a hellish high school, navigate family and friend dramas, cringey crushes and feeling like the only “fridge” (which meant you’d never snogged anyone). Anyone who is or has ever been an awkward teen will relate! And that’s what it’s all about for me, normalizing the trans experience and incidentally educating through entertainment.

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

I’ve been drawing since I could clutch a pen. I remember watching all the Hanna-Barbera cartoons and reading comics like Calvin and Hobbes and dreaming that I could one day be a cartoonist! No matter what career path I’ve focused on, I’ve always been doodling away in my own time. I think I’m a very visual person, so telling stories through images comes more naturally to me than words.

How would you describe your creative process?

As a chronic self-doubter and perfectionist, I tried my best to let go and just have fun illustrating this book. The drawings don’t have to be perfect, in fact the imperfections bring the personality! I draw using my iPad and Apple Pencil, which gives me so much freedom (there would be a huge heap of scrunched up paper in the bin if I drew with an actual pen and paper!) With this book I didn’t overly plan it, I let the memories and ideas flow at their own rate and then sort of stitched the story together afterwards. A lot of the memories I’d buried deep, so I’d be drawing one scene and something important would suddenly resurface that I’d forgotten entirely! It was actually a genuinely therapeutic process for me, to revisit it all with a more positive outlook.

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

I read a lot of graphic novels that are routed in reality but with a surreal twist. I loved the Scott Pilgrim series, that was when I realized comics don’t all have to be about superheroes—they can be about real human things like a character’s love life! I also take inspiration from film and TV, as I kinda see drawing a comic like creating a storyboard for a film. I’m a big fan of Edgar Wright films, they all have that cartoonish vibe. I’d also say just life in general is my inspiration! I like to write about the little, relatable things.

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

This is a hard question because drawing in general is my meditation, I honestly enjoy every part. I like getting playful with perspectives, timings and expressions. I love when I get a really clear vision for a scene in my head, and seeing it come to life on the page. Obviously, I get creative block though, as everyone does. That is super frustrating, and the self-doubt massively kicks in! Sometimes I find structuring the story hard, especially if I’ve got all these clear ideas for scenes but I’m unsure how to make them flow from one to the next. I’m still learning!

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

Something I often think about – if I could click my fingers and be born again NOT trans, would I? There have been times I would’ve said absolutely, yes, please let me be a cisgender man. But, actually, being trans has given me so many unique experiences. I’ve learned to turn the hard times into humour and art, which has brought me amazing opportunities. This journey has ultimately led to me achieving my childhood dream as a comic artist! I’m at peace now with the fact that I’m just a guy like any other, but with a different perspective of life.

Are there any other projects or ideas you’re sitting on and at liberty to speak about?

I can’t say much about this but Welcome to St. Hell definitely won’t be my last graphic novel! I’m also working on some exciting ideas with the My Genderation team, delving more into feature length fictional films. And I’ll be continuing to create my online comedy for as long as people are enjoying that!

What advice might you have to give to aspiring writers?

I would say just never ever give up! I’ve had countless scripts and ideas be rejected in the media world, but, similar to the knock backs in my transition, I just kept going! It still feels unbelievable to me now that I have a book being published with Scholastic. For me, writing about what I know has come the most naturally, so definitely take inspiration from real life (even if that’s in a more subtle way).

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

Here are some awesome graphic novels I’ve read recently that contain LGBTQ characters: I Am Not Okay With This by Charles Forsman, Deadendia by Hamish Steele, Heartstopper by Alice Oseman, Fungirl by Elizabeth Pich, The Girl From The Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag, Kisses For Jet by Joris Bas Baker, and On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden.

Header Photo Credit Jo Gabriel

Interview with Author Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty award-winning books for children, teens, and adults, including Dry, Roxy, the Unwind dystology, the Skinjacker trilogy, Downsiders, and Challenger Deep, which won the National Book Award. Scythe, the first book in his series, Arc of a Scythe, is a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Neal has earned the respect and recognition of the library community; three of his books have been ALA Best Books for Young Adults and all of his books have been consistently well-reviewed. He’s a popular speaker on the IRA/NCTE circuit, and at schools all over the country. He also writes screenplays for motion pictures and television shows. Neal is the father of four, all of whom are talented writers and artists themselves. Visit Neal at

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

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

I’m an author of thought-provoking stories that, while published as young-adult, are intended for adults readers as well. Stories for the teen that is still in all of us! I was born in New York, lived in Mexico City during High School, and spent most of my adult life in Southern California—but now live in Jacksonville, Florida.  But don’t call me “Florida Man”!

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

Gleanings is a collection of stories and novellas within the world of Scythe.  Fans have been clamoring for more, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. When I had written UnBound, which is a collection of stories from the world of Unwind, I found a series of side-tales to be a satisfying way to wrap up that world. I felt this would be a good way to complete the Scythe world, too.

Are there any queer elements in the book we can expect?

Yes – there’s a story about Citra’s younger brother, Ben, who after her (temporary) death, and before she’s found, is chosen to replace her by Scythe Constantine. Ben’s queer, and part of the tale is a love story between him, and another boy he falls in love with. Little does he know that the entire thing is being orchestrated by the sycthedom for a nefarious purpose … There’s also another story that is a bit subversively queer. The two main characters, Alex and Dayne are never identified by gender, and there are no identifying pronouns, so they are entirely gender-neutral. They can be whatever gender the reader wants them to be!

What drew you to storytelling, and what drew you to young adult and speculative fiction specifically?

I’ve always found speculative fiction to be a powerful arena for telling stories of human truth in a larger-than-life setting. It challenges your imagination, your preconceived notions, and hopefully lingers long after you’ve read the last page. As for what got me into writing young adult, that happened when I was a teenager myself. I used to spend my summers working as a counselor at a summer camp and got to be known as the camp storyteller. Then, during the school year, while I was at college, I would write those stories into books. The first two didn’t sell, but the third, The Shadow Club, did, and that’s what got me started in YA.

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

My process is a series of fits and starts. Smooth sailing, punctuated by dry spells, and a lot of figurative head-banging to shake those thoughts loose! I write longhand because I love the connection between mind, hand, and page. Plus, it adds a critical extra step, allowing me to do a complete rewrite when I enter it into the computer. My favorite parts are the emotional moments and the twists that the characters and the readers (and sometimes even I) don’t see coming. The most challenging part is what I call the “connective tissue.” All those bits of the story between all the juicy parts. The sections where not much is happening, but are critical in terms of holding the story together.  

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

My greatest influences would be the authors I loved growing up, from Roald Dahl, to Tolkien, to Douglas Adams, to Kurt Vonnegut. My greatest inspiration comes from the world and the troubles that we all face. I tend to be drawn to hard questions about life and society that don’t have easy answers. I want to find new and interesting ways of posing those hard questions.

One of your books you are most known for, Challenger Deep, addresses the topic of mental health. In previous conversations, you’ve related the idea of a rearview mirror to address perspective, the idea of knowing “something [was] wrong,” when it comes to diagnosis. Would you mind elaborating on this?

Ah! That refers to a very specific real-life instance. Many times, when you’re trying to relate something that many people have never experienced, it’s helpful to find something more accessible. While I was working on Challenger Deep, something interesting happened. I was driving, and getting increasingly anxious. I felt I was losing my ability to drive, my ability to focus, and I had no idea what was wrong. I pulled over to the side of the road, trying to grapple with this sudden sense of anxiety, and noticed something on the floor on the passenger side of the car.  The rearview mirror. It had fallen off before I had gotten into the car, and I hadn’t noticed. All I knew was that something was very wrong, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. I realized that was a good way to relate that terrifying sense of “wrongness” with one’s own mind that someone struggling with mental illness experiences.

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

That I love to swim. I try to swim about a mile three or four times a week. That I love to travel – and in fact, I’m sitting in a pub in Edinburgh, Scotland as I’m writing this, looking out on a rainy Monday afternoon. Being in new and interesting places sparks my creativity, and I get most of my writing done when traveling – which made writing very hard during lockdown when I couldn’t travel. I have four children – my youngest just graduated from college. All are consummate world travelers as well!

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

“Would you please write and direct the feature film of your book?  Because we, as a studio, can’t get our act together and haven’t been able to make it happen. Please, Neal. We trust your instincts. We wouldn’t dream of giving you endless sets of ridiculous notes.  So please, please, could you make the movie? Money is no object.” That’s the question I’d really like to be asked.  

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Write (as opposed to just talking about wanting to write). Rewrite (because nothing’s ever done the first time you write it, and you should never expect it to be). Read (and don’t just read a single genre – read outside of your comfort zone). And persevere (because you probably won’t get your first book, or even your second book published – and that’s not a bad thing. Developing your skill as a writer takes time, and those first projects are crucial stepping stones. Sometimes the worst thing that could happen is for your first book to be published, because it sets you up for thinking that you’ve arrived. You haven’t. You never arrive. You’re always growing, and that needs to be part of your ethos as a writer.)

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

I had the honor of being a judge for the 2020 National Book Awards in the Literature for Young People category. I’m really proud of the books we chose – particularly the long list – because every single book on that list deserved to be on the shortlist, but we had to narrow it down anyway!  Two of the books are by trans authors, and several of the other ones have queer elements as well.  Some of those books have done really well, but others have not gotten the attention they deserve from the marketplace, so I try to bring them attention whenever I can! Those books are:

Kacen Callender, King and the Dragonflies

Traci Chee, We Are Not Free

Evette Dionne, Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box

Eric Gansworth, Apple (Skin to the Core)

Candice Iloh, Every Body Looking

Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scattered

Marcella Pixley, Trowbridge Road

John Rocco, How We Got to the Moon

Gavriel Savit, The Way Back

Aiden Thomas, Cemetery Boys

PS – the other judges and I loved talking books so much that we’ve been in a book club together ever since! 

Header Photo Credit Gabby Gerster

Interview with Illustrator Erica Williams

Erica Williams, also known as HookieDuke, is an illustrator known for their intricate mark-making and illustrations of flora and fauna. Tangled with fantastic and often macabre tones much of their work focuses on the forgotten, endangered, the occult and folklore.

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

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

My name is Erica, I’m an illustrator and creator, also know as HookieDuke. My pronouns are they/them, I have been working as a freelance illustrator for eight years and I am known for my traditional ink, work in music, screen printed posters, and Magic the Gathering. My work features a lot of fine detail, nature imagery, occult and folklore themes, and moody tones. 

I have five cats, an ever growing plant addiction/collection, prefer tea to coffee, and love croissants.

How did you find yourself becoming an artist? What drew you to illustrating?

In junior high, I started drawing in earnest. Not sure what it was exactly that drew me in so much, but I enjoyed it tremendously and it did not require a lot of supplies at the time. It could be done anywhere if I had some paper and pencils. The love and joy didn’t ever go away and learning the language of illustration was enjoyable and never seemed to end or lose the luster. When I decided to try my hand at professional illustration, I began with music posters and working with bands, which allowed me to also explore my love of music more and learn about collaboration more. Drawing aside, I have entertained a long love with fiber art in many forms since I was very small, and enjoy bridging it back into my work as much as possible.

Illustration has so much depth and variety and ingenuity. I’m always excited to see what and how other artists are creating illustration work. 

Could you describe your artistic background in some detail, like what your art education was like?

As a kid I was really interested in fashion design and fiber art, but around junior high I fell in love with drawing. I attended Kansas City Art Institute for a short while before I was no longer able to afford it, moved to Minneapolis, and after a few years was introduced to music posters and decided to try my hand at it. I had been working as a graphic designer since high school, and had worked in the apparel industry for a little while after attending KCAI. The rest of my art education was learned while in the midst of stumbling through building my freelance practice. 

How would you describe your drawing/creative process?

For any particular project I begin with a lot of research, this can be based on a specific prompt or following the thread of an idea until it leads somewhere. When research and the collection of reference material is complete, I usually start to sketch digitally, at this point I refine an idea quite a bit, and it will undergo the most changes until it feels like a strong foundation has been established, sometimes this means finding additional references. When a strong rough sketch has been established, I’ll sit down to transfer my rough digital sketch onto paper with a light box. Here I create light pencil outlines of the main shapes and forms with notes for direction and reference. If the piece is not an ink drawing, this is usually transferring the image to whatever final form it will take, on canvas, fabric, wood, etc. 

When the rough drawing has been transferred to the final surface I’ll begin inking/painting. This is usually the most meditative part of the process and one that I really enjoy. When the line work/paint is complete, I’ll scan the art and digitize it. For ink drawings, color is then added digitally. 

The entire process for making one piece usually takes 20-40 hours. Some smaller pieces can take 6-12 hours, but most of my work seems to be larger and more involved. 

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

Miyazaki, Alphose Mucha, Gustav Klimt, CLAMP (Magnaka), Franklin Booth, fashion, textile design, tattoos, occult studies, folklore and mythology, the beauty of nature, traditional printing techniques, meditation and philosophy. There is such an abundance of what inspires me it is hard to remember it all when prompted sometimes, but these are all things I continually am drawn to.

What are some things you hope to say through your art?

I think more than wanting to say something specific, I am happy to be heard through it. It is always amazing to me to see when something in it resonates with others. I am very much an introvert and getting to share my work and connect with people through it is something really special.

What would you say are some of your favorite fandoms/ pop culture go-tos?

Studio Ghibli is probably my top fandom. I grew up with Miyazaki’s films so they have a deeply special place in my heart, on top of a lot of admiration for what he has done with his art, the way in which he approaches storytelling, and attention to detail it is hard to compete with Ghibli. 

What have been some of your illustrations/projects to date?

I’ve had the pleasure of creating a Magic the Gathering card illustration, as well as a licensed poster for Over the Garden Wall. Some of the bands I have made posters for include Metallica, Tallest Man on Earth, The Mountain Goats, Rise Against, Dave Matthews Band, and Mastodon. In 2019 I designed a collection of Oracles cards for Erin Morgenstern as she released the sequel to The Night CircusThe Starless Sea. 

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

Fielding questions concerning fiber art is something I don’t get asked about frequently. Often when people find out my practice began with and includes fiber work they are surprised. I had to really set aside fiber art while building my illustration practice, but have always tried to maintain working with it a little each year, which now I hope to incorporate more into my current practice. Embroidery, weaving, and tufting are some of my current focuses. 

Are there any projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about? Are there any sorts of projects you would hope to work on?

I have been working on a tarot deck for a bit now that I have been very excited about for a while. Tarot has been a passion of mine for a while and research for the project has been a lot of fun. I hope to self publish through Kickstarter when the art is complete. 

There are a ton of projects I have interest in taking on. Right now I am also really interested in working more with fiber arts.

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Follow what makes you happy. If you spend time on things that do not bring you joy or feel fulfilling you may create more opportunities for the projects you don’t want/won’t enjoy instead of the ones you do. Explore different themes, subjects, and skills. Practice and create things that uplift you in some way. 

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

Personal fan of everything CLAMP (Manga counts right?) 

Almost anything Renee French

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Interview with Author S. K. Ali

S. K. Ali (she/her) is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of several books, including Saints and Misfits, a finalist for the William C. Morris award, winner of the APALA Award and Middle East Book Award, and Love from A to Z, a Today Show‘s “Read with Jenna” Book Club selection. Both novels were critically acclaimed and named best YA books of the year by various media including Entertainment Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Her novel, Misfit in Love, was a People magazine best book of summer 2021. Her books for younger readers include the widely acclaimed middle-grade anthology Once Upon an Eid and the New York Times bestselling picture book, The Proudest Blue. She has a degree in Creative Writing and lives in Toronto with her family, a very vocal cat named Yeti, and a very quiet cat named Mochi.

I have the opportunity to interview S. K. which you can read below.

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

Hi everyone! Professionally, I’m the author of several books for young readers; personally, I’m that friend you may have had (or will have?) in your friends-group who became a mom while still in college and went on to finish her degree while taking that baby to class sometimes (and yes, that baby sometimes interrupted class by making cooing noises but it was all good due to cool 90’s professors!) I now have three children, two cats, and one husband. 

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Love From Mecca to Medina?

Love from Mecca to Medina is about taking a journey you didn’t know you needed – a journey that takes you back to yourself in a way that helps you connect better to the love of your life. But this is not metaphorically speaking; Adam and Zayneb, the two main characters in Love from Mecca to Medina, actually learn hard truths on their physical journey to the center of their faith.  It’s a sequel to Love from A to Z, the book that led to Adam and Zayneb falling in love. 

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

My writing process is staring at a mess of notes, drawings, storyboards, and the indecipherable scribbles I wrote in the middle of the night and then taking all of those pieces and making sense of them via a pretty tight story outlining grid. My most favorite part is when, like a jigsaw, one scribbly note/drawing connects with another scribbly note/drawing and it all makes perfect sense. The worst part is when I wrestle with characters to get them to do what they need to do to move the story along. This may seem unbelievable, but fellow authors will know the painful, sad truth I’m talking about. 

As a Muslim author, how does it feel for you to be writing this type of representation into your books?

It feels glorious – especially to find there’s a great big audience ready to read these stories centering Muslim characters. And that this audience is not only made up of Muslims but people of all diverse backgrounds. Every time I reflect on the fact that these stories I didn’t see growing up about girls like me are now available for all young readers, I tear up.

Besides your work as a writer, what are some things you would want readers to know about you?

I love flowers and plants but I am the worst gardener ever but also, since I was a child, have never stopped trying to be the best gardener ever, like my mom. I’m constantly taking plants to my mom’s house for her to resuscitate and then, when they’re all strapping and blooming again, when I come to pick them up from Intensive Care, they don’t want to leave to come home with me. They prefer the hospital. So, a question: when do you give up on a dream? 

Where would you like to go on a writing retreat? 

I would like to go on a writing retreat at a cottage on a beach that is not deserted but has a few people nearby so I don’t get scared; the people nearby are kind and smiley but not the creepy kind of kind and smiley, just the caring kind.  The distantly caring kind. They will never barge in on me while I’m writing but will wave from far with smiles on their faces whenever they see me emerge from the cottage. Wait, that sounds creepy. But…also, it sounds like the perfect place to write that thriller I’ve always wanted to write. 

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

I’m working on a humorous historical novel with a friend that I absolutely love. We are having so much fun with it and I hope we get to share it with the world.  It makes us laugh out loud and long, and we want readers to do the same!

Header Photo Credit Andrea Stenson

Interview with Author Gale Galligan

Gale Galligan is the creator of the New York Times bestselling Baby-sitters Club graphic novel adaptations of Dawn and the Impossible Three, Kristy’s Big Day, Boy-Crazy Stacey, and Logan Likes Mary Anne! by Ann M. Martin. They are also the creator of Freestyle, an original graphic novel that they both wrote and illustrated. Gale was featured in The Claudia Kishi Club, a documentary now streaming on Netflix. When they aren’t making comics, Gale enjoys knitting, reading, and spending time with their family and adorable pet rabbits. They live in Pearl River, New York.

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

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

Thank you for having me! I’m a graphic novelist named Gale Galligan. I love comics, shrimp chips, and animals. My family adopted a kitten recently, qualifying us for actual menagerie status. The count is now: two rabbits, one elderly leopard gecko, several fish, a toddler, and the aforementioned cat. They’re all very fun to draw.

What inspired you to get into comics, particularly those for younger readers? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

There’s something so special about the stories you can get your hands on as a kid. You read them over and over again and they lodge themselves deep into your brain as a sense memory. Sometimes, they seem so accessible that you can’t help but try to make one for yourself.

What I’m saying is, I was really into Garfield growing up.

I started off drawing my own comics inspired by that, as well as other favorites like Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. My favorite part was sharing them with people and seeing their reactions. As I grew older, I kept finding new stories to fall in love with. I was especially into Animorphs, the Chrestomanci quartet by Diana Wynne Jones, and all of the anime I could get my hands on in the early 2000s.

And I kept drawing the whole time! I drew comics about things that were going on in my life. I drew collaborative stories with my friends. I made a lot of fan comics and posted them online. Comics really were a way for me to connect with people and share big feelings with them, and I think that’s still what drives me today. 

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

I could go on forever but will respect your server space. Here’s a brief list of things I keep coming back to:

The works of Fumi Yoshinaga, particularly What Did You Eat Yesterday? and Flower of Life (sadly long out-of-print). Her storytelling style is so special – it’s gentle, bittersweet, and funny, and her characters always grow so naturally. It seems effortless when she does it. Ugh!!

Everything by Jen Wang. The acting, the panel work, the flow… the feelings! When I’m feeling stuck with my own work, one of the first things I do is pull out Prince and the Dressmaker. “Oh, I want to make comics! Let’s go!!”

My friendsssss. I’m very blessed to know so many incredible people. They’re excited about a billion different things and have all kinds of amazing talents. It’s hard not to come away feeling inspired about something.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Freestyle? What inspired this story?

Freestyle is about an eighth-grade b-boy named Cory Tan who’s been with his dance crew – his best friends – for years. They’re trying to win a big competition together before high school, but their captain is being really controlling and bringing everyone down. When he develops a newfound passion for yo-yo, he starts spending less time with his crew and more with his tutor-slash-friend-slash-yo-yo-mentor, Sunna. Will things come to a breaking point right around the end of the second act? You bet!!

There are a lot of big feelings (my jam), as well as yo-yo, b-boying, and the most gorgeous colors from K Czap. Please look at the book so you can compliment K’s colors, if nothing else.

As for where it came from… there were a few things I knew I wanted to do. I wanted to tell a story about young people navigating all kinds of expectations. I wanted to make something really, really fun and goofy and kinetic. And I wanted to take inspiration from things that bring me joy. Sports anime. Dance movies. The really special feeling of getting really into something and finding people to share that with. Yo-yo really pulls all of that together, and I am saying this very sincerely. It is such an incredible, personal form of expression. People are coming up with their own routines, inventing their own tricks, sharing with their communities – it’s really cool. I absolutely love watching people throw but am still not very good myself, so I’m living vicariously through drawings.

For those curious about the process behind a graphic novel, how would you describe the process? What goes into creating a script and translating that into panels?

The great thing is, there’s no one way to make a graphic novel. You could ask five different people and get five different answers. So here’s mine!

  1. Outline. Once I’ve pulled ideas from the ether, I write them out. The outline is like a short essay about the story I want to make, beginning to end, nothing fancy. Then I take it to my friends, writing group, and editor, get great feedback, return to my cave, and revise until I get something I like (hopefully).
  2. Script. Some people draw their scripts right off the bat. I write mine with words first, just because that’s how my brain happens to organize itself. My script is broken down into pages and panels, and since I’m the one who will also be drawing from this script, I’m writing with Future Me in mind. This can mean that parts are incomprehensible, or that there are fun little notes like “Sorry for the huge crowd, get yourself a treat.”
  3. Thumbnails. This is the visual version of a script. I sketch my pages out very roughly, just to give an idea of where people are, what they’re doing, and where the balloons and panels will go. During this part, I’m focusing on making sure that everything reads clearly. I want every aspect of a page to help guide the reader from balloon to balloon and panel to panel. As I draw, I’ll realize that parts of the written script aren’t working and improvise on the fly, adding panels, cutting dialogue, and splitting pages up as necessary. This is the next thing I send out for feedback – it’s always easier to make edits earlier in the process.
  4. Pencils. Once I have my thumbnails set, I can start really drawing the book. At this stage, I’m going into more detail: what people are wearing, how they’re acting, where I can put the camera, what’s in the background. I’m giving myself all of the information I’ll need for final lineart, and since my memory isn’t great, my pencils end up being fairly detailed. I also lay down rough word balloons at this stage.
  5. Inks. Now that the visual information is laid out, I can focus on drawing effective lines. Inks can convey lighting and add a sense of distance, point the reader’s attention at important parts of a page, add drama, and a billion other things. Once I’ve finished inking the art, I finalize my balloon placement as well.
  6. Actually, this is the part where I’m done. I’ve been fortunate to work with incredible colorists for my graphic novels – Braden Lamb on The Baby-Sitters Club, and K Czap on Freestyle – who really take them to a whole new level. So, when I finish inking, I get to sit back, wait for any edits that might come in, and cheer on the rest of the production team as they make the book into an actual book.

This all happens over the course of several years. Rinse and repeat!

What are some of your favorite parts of the creative process? What do you find to be some of the most frustrating/difficult?

My favorite part is inking because at that point, I’ve done all of the hard brain work already. I get to put on a podcast or TV show I’ve been meaning to catch up on and zone out for hours at a time. It’s very peaceful.

The parts that are most frustrating are the ones where I know a drawing looks wrong but haven’t quite figured out why yet, like a panel with complicated perspective. Or an unusual pose. Or a shoe from behind. Or a horse. Or a spiral staircase. Anyway, I love my job, and at those times I’ll take a little breather, jump ahead, and come back with fresh eyes. That usually helps.

And if not, well, it’s one panel out of thousands. It’s okay to let the shoe be bad sometimes! It’s okay!!!

As a graphic novelist, you are known for your work illustrating a few volumes of The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel series, including starring in a documentary on the series called The Claudia Kishi Club. Could you talk to us about what it meant to you working on this series as well as perhaps your own personal connection as a fan?

I was a huge fan of the BSC growing up! I still remember my first introduction to Claudia. I had to flip back a few pages to reread everything when it slowly occurred to me that she wasn’t white because this was the first time I’d encountered an Asian-American character like myself in a book. I remember having a bunch of complicated feelings all at once. On the one hand, I was delighted that she was there; on the other, I recognized for the first time that I was assuming every new character in a book would be white because that was what I was used to.

So, the series is very memorable for me in that way. I also just sincerely adored the characters and stories. When I was asked if I’d be interested in drawing test pages to continue adapting where Raina Telgemeier left off, I had to go outside and yell at a tree. I’m very grateful that the BSC team placed their trust in me, and that I was able to share something I love so much with a new generation of readers! One of my favorite memories of working on the series is a signing I did with Raina and Ann M. Martin because we got to see people of all different ages who had been affected by this long-lasting series. It’s the coolest thing.

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

I love learning about all the different things that people can get really deeply invested in. Like, I was gifted a subscription to a cheese magazine and think it’s just the greatest. Cheese can take so long to mature, and there are so many different factors involved when it comes to how the cheese will turn out – I love that there are people out there with the passion to keep cheese traditions alive, and that there are people excited about innovating cool new cheeses, and that there are cheesemongers doing their best to share all of those cheeses with everyone! I love that it’s a thing!! Stuff like that. I think that everybody should make zines about whatever they’re into and then send their zines to me. That’s what I want you to know.

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

“Hey, Gale, what would you say if you were going to step on a soapbox for five minutes?”

Well! Let me just… okay… one, two, here we go.

More people should be able to make a long-term living off of comics! It’s unfathomable that there are cartoonists working for huge publishers, putting in absurd amounts of overtime to make tight deadlines, who still can’t make ends meet on that work alone. The number of people who have pushed themselves to the limit, burned out, and had to leave – it’s heartbreaking.

I love comics. I want the art form to continue to grow and flourish. And for that, creators and the publishing teams supporting them must be able to grow and flourish. Good pay, good working conditions, health insurance. Resources and opportunities for aspiring professionals, especially those from underrepresented communities. I want comics to be an open door, and not all of that is about the skill it takes to make a comic, but also about the circumstances that comics are grown in. I think that’s true for basically everything. It’s all connected. It all matters. Let’s keep working to make things better.

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

I’m working on my next original graphic novel! This will also be for middle-grade readers (and older readers of excellent taste), and it’s very loosely inspired by the experiences I had when I moved back to America just in time for 7th grade. I was a dweeby little multiracial Thai-American kid who was super used to international schools, where every one of my friends was from a different country, and all of a sudden every white kid desperately wanted to know “what” I was. So not only did I have to adjust to life in a new place again and suffer through the trials of early puberty and figure out how to actually keep friends now that we wouldn’t be moving anywhere else – but I also had to deal with a sudden identity crisis on top of that. 

That’s all very dramatic, but I promise it’s going to be very over-the-top weird, and silly.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring graphic novelists (both to draw who draw/write, or simply one or the other)?

Make thing! Make thing!! I’d highly recommend making some minicomics. One page, four pages, six pages, eight pages. They’re easy for other people to read and satisfying for you to make. You’ll figure out what methods work for you without having to commit to a full book first, and you’ll be able to share them with people for feedback. (If you’re just a writer or just a drawer: do it all anyway.)

Also, if you have feelings about something… ask yourself why! Why did you like a book? Why did you hate a movie? What would you have done differently? What could you steal for yourself? Taking the time to interrogate your reactions can be so useful for your own craft.

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

I’m writing my response in September, so this is a bit early, buuuut I’m going to go ahead and say every single LGBTQ+ comic available at the Shortbox Comics Fair. It’s a digital event that runs through the whole month of October, so you can literally just go to the website whenever, buy some PDFs, and indulge from the comfort of your own home. If it’s anything like last year, there will be queer comics in abundance, and I will, uhhh, spend less on coffee for a few months.

And then as long as I’m here, I’d also recommend Our Dreams At Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani and Fanlee and Spatzle Make Something Perfect by Pseudonym Jones.

Header Photo Credit Courtney Wingate

Interview with Author Carlyn Greenwald

Carlyn Greenwald writes romantic and thrilling page-turners for teens and adults. A film school graduate and former Hollywood lackey, she now works in publishing. She resides in Los Angeles, mourning ArcLight Cinemas and soaking in the sun with her dogs. You can find her online at @CarlynGreenwald on Twitter and @carlyn_gee on Instagram.

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

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

Thank you for having me! I’m Carlyn Greenwald, and I’m the author of queer adult romcom, Sizzle Reel. Besides that, I also write Adult Thriller, YA Contemporary, and YA Thriller (which will hopefully all have published books to represent them someday) that all generally feature mentally ill, queer Jewish protagonists. I’m a film school graduate and former Hollywood assistant who broke off from that path to get an MFA in Creative Writing at The New School and I’m now the Content Development Coordinator at Cake Creative. There’s a fair amount of tv/film crossover within my new work, and I still write for screen and television on the side. Otherwise, I currently live in LA where I spend most of my time going to movies, doing pop culture and theme park deep dives on YouTube, and spending as much time with dogs as possible.

What can you tell us about your debut novel, Sizzle Reel? What inspired this story?

It was a combination of a creative interest and an emotional moment. I’d started reading more romcoms around 2018-2019, and my Hollywood work at the time led me into seeing the Crazy Rich Asians premiere. It was such a fantastic time that I think I caught a bug for romance and started thinking about what kind of love story I’d potentially want to tell. It was also within the next few weeks that I ended up quitting said Hollywood job and was generally dealing with existential questions surrounding career, sexuality, and general identity stuff. My therapist at the time suggested I channel those feelings into a story and the puzzle pieces just ended up coming together—my love for movies but disillusion with Hollywood, my interest in romcoms, and setting out to write something that unabashedly dealt with the messiness of coming out in one’s 20s but still providing a fun, joyful love story. Although funny enough, I wrote it first as a romcom script and a writing mentor convinced me to turn it into a book. I drafted said book in 10 days and after several rounds of edits and letting it sit, it became Sizzle Reel.

As a writer, what drew you to storytelling, specifically to young adult fiction?

I’ve always been a huge reader since I was a kid, and YA was really where my writing passion started. I was writing novels in middle school but reading up, so the genre always had this huge impact on me. In fact, up until a few years ago, I was focused on YA, but had always been fascinated by the “new adult”/younger adult space. It felt like it had the energy I loved in YA while exploring different themes and felt more relatable to what I was immediately going through. I actually did most of the rewrites for Sizzle Reel while in an MFA program for writing children and young adults, so I’m sure that some of the incredible teachings I found in YA—about the value of characters who make mistakes, pacing, the importance of voice—made its way into my adult work. And my hope is to be able to toggle between the age categories as well. I truly adore them both.

How would you describe your writing process? 

It really depends, and I’ve been adjusting it depending on what my day job looks like, my passion for the project, and what else I’m working on. (As in: when I drafted SR in 10 days, I wasn’t employed at the time and could write a ton every day.) But basically, if I’m really eager to work on a project, I’ll want to write every day and now I mostly work on managing my energy well. Usually, I’ll make reach goals and realistic goals. A realistic would be one chapter written every week, to be divided out among the hours after work and on the weekend. A reach would be to write, say, four or five chapters in a week. The result usually ends up being two to three written per week and I still have time for exercise, socializing, hobbies, and rest. And if I don’t even get one chapter done, then no sweat. So long as I’m making deadlines, it can be as slow or quick as it needs to be.

And then, on a more technical level, my film background has made me a huge fan of outlines. I’ll usually have a couple-paragraph long blurb of the concept, character profiles, and a chapter-by-chapter outline done before I get drafting (maybe I’ll let myself write a chapter for voice with a partial outline, but I need to know where I’m going to sink into a project). Then, I’ll write in two bursts—drafting without stopping until I reach the end of a scene, take a break, then draft the other scene. Sometimes that happens in the same day, sometimes over two days throughout the week. In my ideal world, I write in the morning, but I try to rely on whenever the creativity hits.

What are some of your favorite parts of the creative process? What do you find to be some of the most challenging/frustrating?

My absolute favorite part is the beginning. When I’m taking an idea to a blurb to an outline and get to start drafting those first few chapters. I adore the process of getting to know an MC and seeing what details will come to me before I go to bed or am milling about my daily life. I also think that my first few chapters end up being the most detailed in my mind so the writing tends to be better. It makes it easier for me to fall in love with a project. Plus, there’s nothing like showing a new idea to friends and having them get excited about it too.

As for frustration/challenge, I am not a good reviser. To me, it’s always going to feel like a chore and I always have to psyche myself out to work on them. But, reverse outlines and telling myself that the book will be so much better and I’ll probably get to rewrite something (which kind of feels like drafting) makes the process more palatable. I keep hoping I’ll find some joy in the process, but we’ll see.

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

I hate to admit it, but I definitely think my queer media came more in my young adulthood. But growing up, I loved action-adventure and thriller media. I have this distinct memory of loving like, what are now actually pretty radical animated movies, stuff like The Iron Giant and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Avatar: The Last Airbender remains my favorite story ever told and it was literally The Dark Knight that got me writing novels. YA wise, I was a voracious consumer of 2000s and 2010s YA, where my taste was all over the place—from horror, no one’s heard of to Libba Bray to Sarah Dessen, but my favorites were always these kinds of strange, high concept thrillers. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga-type stuff. I was also an unwavering emo for most of my adolescence, so take with that what you will.

Nowadays, I’m still a very eclectic media consumer. Queer wise, Legend of Korra, She-Ra, Killing Eve, Hannibal, Rocketman, Booksmart, Moonlight. Books-wise, I adore YA thrillers by Courtney Summers and Tess Sharpe and think about Courtney Kae, Allison Cochrun, and Jennifer Dugan romcoms in the YA and Adult space all the time. I think for me, within the context of every genre from darker to lighter, I’m always interested in characters feeling authentic and complex, showcasing different sides of themselves. I adore sweet and escapist romances, but I’m such a sucker for angst and moral ambiguity. (Whether that’s characters just being total messes or you know, murder getting involved.)

As a fellow student of the New School MFA Program, I’m curious about your experiences in the program. Could you describe it and some memorable parts of your experience? 

I am a huge fan of TNS and the program! So in short, you study across age categories within kidlit (picture books, chapter books, middle grade, YA, and we touched on “new adult”/crossover). I think the program really opened my mind to what I was capable of writing. I’d gone in exclusively wanting to write YA and Adult and came out with a whole manuscript written for middle grade and all this knowledge of how storytelling shifts and remains universal across stories for all aged readers. It was truly so freeing and fun to be in a space to explore.

And besides that, the people in the program were incredible. I made lifelong connections, ranging from how I got my job with Dhonielle Clayton, a fellow alum, and all my cohort friends who I still talk to every day and plan to support through every stage of their publishing journeys. Truly some of the warmest, funniest, most insightful and kind people I’ve ever met.

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

Will you ever write a protagonist who isn’t a total disaster—like in an actual irredeemably unlikeable way? No. In fact, if the books published go the exact way I want, the next 3 protagonists will be: vapid, pretentious, and emotionally immature to the point of screaming aren’t you like 30; the grodiest, unorganized, and self-destructive gremlin who is totally fine sleeping with a known asshole and criminal; and a teenage dirtbag who would rather get her entire friend group killed while insulting them the whole time than process an iota of negative emotion. They’re all weird and horny. I adore them all.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers? 

If you want to do traditional publishing, just know that it’s not so black and white as “you have to sell your soul and write something you don’t like to get published” or “the book of your heart will be the one you’re published with.” I’ve had so many books not get agented or die on submission, books that I was really passionate about but may have been considered more niche. I did a lot of experimenting to get where I am now. I was open to projects that weren’t necessarily my IP but I could put my own stamp on them. I found new passions in new genres and age categories. Ultimately, any story you write has the capacity to be a book of your heart and have your stamp on it. So if you have a beloved manuscript you’ve been querying for years and not getting responses on, maybe take a break and try to write something new. Maybe try a genre that you’re curious about. See what tiny elements you need in books for them to feel like your work and to get yourself invested in them. 

For me, I’m truly open to any genre and age category, but I need there to be that emotional complexity (and dare I say, a drop of angst in every book lol), I love bouncy dialogue/banter, having characters think about/explore sexuality in whatever is appropriate for the age category, and then just…I don’t know, all my original work seems to incorporate chain restaurants into the plot for some reason.  All stuff that makes me happy and makes every book feel like mine as I navigate the waters of trying to write commercially enough to sell.

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

Book 2 with Vintage will definitely be a queer rom-com, but I can’t say more than that yet. I have some projects I’m working on, but I don’t think I can discuss them yet. But uncontracted stuff, I’m currently working on a YA Thriller set at a theme park, an Adult Thriller set on a plane, and am always opening my mind to new rom-com ideas. Plus, I have this historical horror feature script I’d love to dive into between deadlines.

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





SOME GIRLS DO (or really anything) by Jennifer Dugan


I’M THE GIRL (or anything) by Courtney Summers

HELL FOLLOWED WITH US by Andrew Joseph White

THE GIRLS I’VE BEEN by Tess Sharpe


ALWAYS THE ALMOST by Edward Underwood

OUT OF CHARACTER by Jenna Miller


DAMNED IF YOU DO by Alex Brown

Interview with Author Kylie Lee Baker

Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her work is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, & Irish) as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a BA in creative writing and Spanish from Emory University and is pursuing a master of library and information science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she plays the cello, watches horror movies, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.

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

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

Thanks so much! I’m an author, archivist, and former librarian from Boston, so I deal with books in all the stages of their life cycles. I write dark, eerie fantasy, often inspired by my own heritage. I love watching horror movies, doing escape rooms, and baking more cookies than one human can possibly eat before they go stale. 

What can you tell us about your debut series, The Keeper of Night duology? What inspired it?

The Keeper of Night duology is about the journey of a half British Grim Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami girl who is kicked out of her home in Victorian England and flees to the Japanese underworld with her younger brother, where she makes a dangerous deal with the Japanese goddess of death in exchange for acceptance. 

It was inspired by a dark Victorian English shows like Penny Dreadful and Black Butler, as well as a desire to explore my own heritage through mythology after reading a Vietnamese mythology-inspired fantasy called Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang. 

What drew you to writing, particularly young adult and speculative fiction? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I filled notebooks with stories as a kid and was lucky enough to have parents and teachers who encouraged it. I always loved speculative fiction because I was captivated by the expansive magical worlds of anime like Fullmetal Alchemist and books like Artemis Fowl as a child and hoped to recreate that feeling of I need to keep reading! that they made me feel in my own work. I actually fell into young adult fiction by coincidence—I started writing my first novel when I was 18, so my characters were also 18. It wasn’t a conscious decision to put myself into a certain marketing category, but I developed an appreciation for it and a good knowledge of the genre after reading YA books my agent recommended. Authors like Melissa Albert, V.E. Schwab, and Neal Shusterman were formative for me when I first started seriously reading YA.

The Keeper of Night duology is said to feature a biracial protagonist, exploring themes of assumed monstrosity through marginalization. What does it mean to you as an writer writing this into your work, especially as a mixed-race author yourself?

It was important to me to offer a take on the “half-magical-creature/half-human” trope in fantasy that is grounded in reality—for people like me, being caught between two worlds isn’t just a fantasy trope. Readers are often willing to empathize with a character who’s white and half unicorn (for example) but not with one who’s half Asian. I wanted to bridge that gap by writing a character who’s two species and also two races in order to really dig into what life is like when you’re constantly told you don’t belong anywhere. 

How would you describe your writing process? What inspires you as a writer?

My writing process is constantly changing as the circumstances of my life change and as I grow more confident in my writing. These days, I like to write a chapter-by-chapter outline that I feel confident in, quickly write a zero draft where I’m allowed to write terribly, do several passes filling in the missing beats, and finally do a line edit once all the pieces are there. I find ideas everywhere I go—in the media I read and watch that makes me think “I love this but I would have done it slightly differently” or in the history I read about. Anything that moves me is inspiration. 

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

There’s a special moment when drafting every book when I think of the perfect way to resolve a thread, or a great plot twist that fits in perfectly with what I’ve already written, and think Yes, this is exactly what the story needs! That’s the best part of writing for me. The most challenging part of writing is probably when I know the story isn’t working but I can’t figure out why—it just feels wrong. Sometimes there’s truly something wrong with the story, and other times I’m just hungry. It’s hard to tell!

One of the hardest parts of writing a book is finishing one. Were there any techniques/ strategies/ advice that help you finish a first draft?

The willingness to write imperfectly as well as giving myself hard deadlines is helpful. I use a word count tracker so I can see a line on a graph going up as my word count increases, which is really motivating for me, personally. 

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 ever asks me to talk about the romance The Keeper of Night, and people tend to make a lot of (often incorrect) assumptions about my intentions in writing such a strange relationship. Without getting too spoiler-y, I’ll say that I love writing about how powerful yet destructive love can be. In this case, how you can think you love someone but really only love the idea of them, what they represent, what they can do for you, rather than respecting them as a complex person. 

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

This is just a different field of my work, but most people don’t know I work in archives and am incredibly nerdy about archival preservation. I love taking care of historical items and making them accessible to a broader audience than just academics. 

What advice might you give to other aspiring writers?

Consume lots of the books and media you love and try to put a finger on what about them moves you, then figure out how you can recreate that feeling in your own work.

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

The first book of my next fantasy duology, THE SCARLET ALCHEMIST, is coming out in Fall 2023. It’s about an orphaned alchemist in an alternate Tang Dynasty China where alchemists have unlocked the secret to eternal life, but only the rich are allowed to buy it. A biracial self-taught alchemist girl has the power to raise the dead, which captures the attention of the royal family and forces her into their inner circle, which is a very dangerous place to be. 

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

There’s so many! Recently I absolutely loved reading Deep in Providence by Riss M. Neilson, Only a Monster by Vanessa Len, and Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert. 

Header Photo Credit Greg Samborski

NYCC Geeks OUT Creator Spotlight – Queers In The Mainstream

Howdy folks! Chris Allo here! For this entry I’m doing a little bit of self promotion! I will be moderating a panel at New York Comic Con entitled “Queers in the Mainstream.” I’ll be talking with artist Phil Jimenez, creator Tana Ford, writer/editor Joe Corallo, creator Amy Reeder, writer Danny Lore, artist editor, Sarah Brunstad, Olivier Coipel and creator Luciano Vecchio about their experiences and career working for top tier companies as queer creators. Info is below, I hope you can make it!

Sunday, October 9th from 12:00PM-1:00PM Room 408

And speaking of Luciano Vecchio, here are a few other panels he’ll be a part of:

Creator Luciano Vecchio

Visual Storytelling Basics for Comic Books

Thursday, October 6, 2022 • 3:15 PM – 4:15 PM

Room 406.1

Crowdfunding Comics!

Friday, October 7, 2022 • 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Room 1C03

Last but not least, please, don’t forget to head over to Pride Lounge where the Geeks OUT folks will be hosting, exhibiting, and representing!

The non-profit organization Geeks OUT, is excited to be part of the Queer Lounge at New York Comic Con this year. We’ll have some amazing programming, trivia, cosplay workshops, limited edition merch available for donations, and more!

Thu, Oct 6 -Sunday Oct 9, 2022 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM

NYCC 2022

Have a great Show!


NYCC Geeks OUT Creator Spotlight – Luciano Vecchio

“Sereno,” by superstar queer creator, Luciano Vecchio!

Luciano Vecchio

Shelbyville, KY — October 3, 2022 — CEX Publishing is proud to announce the introduction of the next great superhero: SERENO! Written and drawn by Argentinean artist Luciano Vecchio, the superstar talent known for his work on Ironheart, Champions, Wiccan & Hulkling, Edge of the Spider-Verse, and Iceman for Marvel Comics and DC Pride, Teen Justice, and Super Sons for DC Comics. SERENO #1 marks the first time the series has been translated into English for an American audience.

SERENO #1 introduces readers to the city of New Teia, where magic and science intertwine by night, and its guardian SERENO! SERENO, the Mystic Master of Light, must defend New Teia from an evil conspiracy set on transforming the city. SERENO must battle an avatar of Paranoia, a shepherd of Nightmares, and a Cult of Hate all while resisting his attraction to the super cat burglar Rufián. 

Sereno #1 /Luciano Vecchio

“SERENO holds a great importance for me, it is the work that made me find my own voice as an author beyond merely drawing for other’s stories,” Vecchio said. “This is my answer not just to who MY Superhero is as a queer creator, but also to what the Superhero narrative genre as a whole and as Modern Myth means for me, and what I mean for it in turn.”

SERENO is a three-issue limited series with a double-sized first issue. Attendees of New York Comic Con will have the opportunity to get an advanced look at SERENO as Vecchio will be appearing at the show, where he will have copies of a special Ashcan version of issue 1 printed specifically for the show.

Sereno #1/ Luciano Vecchio

“I was already familiar with Luciano’s incredible work, but little did I know that his most beautiful and moving project had only been seen outside of the USA. SERENO blew me away with its fresh superhero character and a mind-bending world all wrapped up in a personal and intimate story.” Andy Schmidt, Publisher of CEX Publishing. “It’s like the best Spider-Man stories but with a refreshing new world and higher stakes. I can’t wait for audiences to read it!”

The SERENO #1 Ashcan is available exclusively at Luciano Vecchio’s table at NYCC (Table C4 in Artist Alley). Copies of this limited edition are priced at $10. New York Comic Con takes place October 6-9, 2022, for more information including how to buy tickets, visit

Luciano will be appearing as a guest on the following NYCC panels this week:

Visual Storytelling Basics for Comic Books

Thursday, October 6, 2022 • 3:15 PM – 4:15 PM

Room 406.1

Crowdfunding Comics!

Friday, October 7, 2022 • 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Room 1C03

Queers in the Mainstream

Sunday, October 9, 2022 • 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Room 408

SERENO #1 will feature five covers from Luciano Vecchio and Argentinean digital painter Agustina Manso (Tactile Entertainment, Wacom, Celsys/Graphixly, Dogitia) and will be included as part of the November 2022 Diamond and Lunar Distribution catalogs, for more information, visit

Hope you check it out!




Check out all the covers and first look of SERENO #1, hitting stands February 2023 Shelbyville, KY – October 3, 2022 – CEX Publishing is proud to announce the introduction of the next great superhero: SERENO! Written and drawn by Argentinean artist Luciano Vecchio, the superstar talent known for his work on Ironheart, Champions, Wiccan […]