Interview with Comics Creator Tab Kimpton

Tab Kimpton is a manchester based queer comic artist with a background in webcomics, crowdfunding and self publishing. His work includes comics such as Minority Monsters- An explorer’s guide to Alphabet Soup Land.  He’s also the co-editor of two PRISM award nominated comic anthologies: Come Together- European Erotic Comics, and Ambrosia- Trans Masc & Non Binary Erotica. You can find his work archived for free on or follow on Twitter

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

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

Hi! I’m Tab Kimpton, I’m a queer anthology editor/publisher and webcomic artist, who started back in 2009 with Khaos Komix, an LGBT+ slice of life comic about eight teenagers. I’ve crowdfunded a book every year for the last 9 years, the most recent being the Anthology Nectar: Trans Femme & Non Binary Erotic Comics.

Outside of comics I’m a cosplayer, pole dance instructor, house renovator, and spend any time I have left over throwing ridiculously themed parties and making food to match.

When did you know you were first interested in making stories, and what drew you specifically to comics?

Some of the first bits of queer media I read were webcomics, and I got into drawing stories because I guess I wanted my friends to be gayer (haha). I feel very privileged to be part of that early 2000s webcomic movement where anyone with a scanner was making stories. It’s a time that’s very nostalgic for me now. (Though now I actually have more queer friends so I have to find other fantasies to write about.)

Among your most famous comics is your Khaos Komix series and Minority Monsters, a collection of stories and vignettes about various members of the LGBTQ+ community? What inspired the two projects, and what have you thought of public reception to them since then?

Khaos Komix is a coming of age story that was written while I was coming of age, and really helped me explore my own self a bit during that time; whereas Minority Monsters is a silly pun-filled series of gag-strips and info about gender and sexuality that plays with my love of Mythology.

monsters came about because I drew a shirt design of “Sir Fabulous the Third, The Bisexual Unicorn” for a comic con, sold out of most of them, and then started thinking “What other mythical monster would live in a land of LGBTQIA creatures? An Alphabet Soup Land if you will…?”

Both of those are intended to be quite approachable and have a general idea of LGBTQ+ topics while attempting to be entertaining at the same time. Educating people without patronising them is a fine line to walk, especially as our understanding of these things is constantly evolving. Khaos Komix has some absolute cringe stuff in it, and Minority Monsters already has phrasing I’d like to change even though it’s only a few years old. 

What does creating diverse stories mean to you as a queer creator?

I think it’s about trying to make stories that people see themselves in, but also training readers in empathy and connection in people they don’t see themselves in. It’s something that feels like we can always do more, but as a single person I am limited. It’s one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed producing anthologies these past few years, as you get some beautiful and genuine stories from world views that get limited time in mainstream publishing.

As an aspec reader, your webcomic, Shades of A, was one of the first stories I got to see centering an asexual character (which I’m so thankful for!) What inspired the story, and what made you interested in representing asexuality?

To be blunt, readers were asking for it! That’s an interesting thing about webcomics- I’m super tuned into reader demands (which can be good or bad depending…). However I try not to see stories as a check box of minorities I can get through, so the challenge was how to do it well, how to make it a bit messy, how to explore stuff people haven’t touched on before, and how to make it entertaining enough that people will actually read it.

It was around the time 50 Shades of Grey was at its most popular, and I like a lot of people were super frustrated about how kink was represented in media. “An Asexual walks into a kink club” sounds like the set up of a joke, but in it was the glimmer of a story about subverting expectations, figuring out compromises with partners without sacrificing your own boundaries, and laughing at characters being awkward when things don’t go to plan.

Out of personal curiosity (no spoilers to those who haven’t read the book), was the ending to Shades of A something you had planned or did it naturally evolve that way?

I’m a nonlinear writer- I tend to get ideas for little scenes or sections that feel particularly juicy, write those all down, attempt to put them in some semblance of order, and then figure out what scenes can connect the dots. This way is possible when you work with more character driven stories, I do not recommend this for writing a murder mystery.

I learnt early on in my failed teenage attempts at comics that it’s very useful to write a full script, or at least an outline, so you know where you’re going before you start drawing and can pepper in all the little details which will add to everything later.

I adore solid, satisfying endings in the media I consume. I think there’s a lot of pressure to keep a webcomic that fans like going for a long time, but I’m more about leaving people wanting more than letting them get sick of you.

How would you describe your writing/illustrating process? What are some of your favorite/ most frustrating parts of both?

Since running anthologies behind the scenes as an editor, I’ve switched my process over from doing a single page from start to finish in one go, to sketching an entire chapter out at a time, then inking, then colouring, then lettering etc. This gives you a chance to fix things that need moving as early as possible and has really helped keep my work a bit more consistent (inside the chapter at least).

The hardest part is the first stage of Thumbnailing (figuring out what panels go where making sure there’s room for the text), as it’s the blank page. My favourite part is also thumbnailling, as I love creating interesting layouts, especially in one shot short stories where I can do something more involved that I know I couldn’t keep up on a full length webcomic.

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

I can tell you the question I don’t want to be asked: How do you identify?

I’m in a ‘between labels’ stage of my life right now and really feeling the pressure to say something easy to consume and understand in a twitter bio. But this stuff is complicated, the ‘true self’ is ever evolving, and while labels are good for finding people like you, if they don’t give you joy don’t box yourself into them. I think we’ve been simplifying things down to make them easier to explain for too long, when it’s actually allies who should be explaining to us why they made the world so weird and rigid in the first place.

What advice would you give for aspiring creators?

Whatever work you’re drawing, find a way to make it fun to do the ‘boring’ stuff, because more often than not the boring stuff is most of the project. It’s nice to focus on the end goal of a book or the comic being finished, but spice up the process with podcasts, music, whatever keeps it enjoyable, or you’ll find getting to work on it will become harder and harder.

Also if you aren’t actually enjoying a story, quitting is still an option. A few years ago I started what would be a 300 page epic, but 50 pages in I was miserable and updates were coming few and far between. I changed projects and have been slamming it out ever since.

I feel like I shouldn’t advise webcomic artists to quit and start a new comic, but seriously if you aren’t enjoying a story find something you’d prefer to draw instead. If you work for yourself and hate your job, have a talk with the boss and figure out what needs to change.

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

We’re about to announce artists shortly for Nether Realms: Sci Fi Non Binary Erotic Comics which I’m working on with my co-editor Neon Caster. Behind the scenes most stories are on the pencils stage, and we’ll be waiting until the book is pretty much all done before launching the kickstarter this summer.

Sci fi has always been at the forefront of exploring gender as a medium so when choosing the theme for this book it was an obvious choice. We did an open call last Autumn to get the widest range of creators we could, asking for stories that either centered a non-binary character, or does something cool with gender.

I’ve mainly worked in fantasy and slice of life comics but this anthology I’m chucking myself in at the deep end by doing a Time Traveller Mecha story with co-artist Luce Northstar.

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

I’d like to recommend some of my favourites from people I’ve worked with in previous anthologies, in no particular order: Niki Smith’s The Deep Dark Blue which takes the ‘girl disguises self as knight’ trope and flips it on its head. Alex Assan’s Shaderunners which is a crime noir webcomic about a greyscale world where prohibition banned colour instead of alcohol. Jade Sarson’s Cafe Suada – the energy in Jade’s work is such an inspiration for my own panelling. Also anything from Quindrie press, which is run by our anthology letterer Eve Greenwood so the polish on them is impeccable.

Interview with Award-Winning Editor Diana M. Pho

Diana M. Pho is a queer Vietnamese-American independent scholar, playwright, and Hugo Award-winning fiction editor. She has over a decade of experience in traditional book publishing, including Tor Books, Publishing, and the Science Fiction Book Club. Diana currently works as Lead Creative Executive for Co-Productions & Partnerships at Realm developing thrilling and innovative audio dramas. Additionally, she has a double Bachelor’s degree in English and Russian Literature from Mount Holyoke College and a Master’s in Performance Studies from New York University. Diana’s academic work includes critical analysis of the role of race in fashion, performance, and the media, in addition to pieces focusing on fan studies and fan communities.

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

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

Salutations, Geeks OUT, and appreciate you having me! I’m a Hugo-winning book editor, podcast producer, playwright, and academic who’s been in and around fandom spaces for much of my working life, and even earlier! 

How would you describe what you do professionally and creatively?

What I’ve done is help creatives tell stories professionally for about 15 years now. I’ve had the pleasure of working across novels, comics, theater, and audio. I strongly believe in the power of language and entertainment. Whether it is working as an editor in prose, a playwright for the stage, or a producer in podcasts, what I’m focused on are exciting, insightful, character-driven tales that make an impact.

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

I was the bookworm who read the kidlit shelves in at the library in alphabetical order—or depending on how cool the cover art was! (Note to authors: young readers DO judge books by their covers!) I was a daydreamer, kind of spacey, and admittedly a nervous and introverted child. I also wrote a lot of fanfiction growing up! Eventually, I got out of my shell more in high school: I edited the literary magazine and the school newspaper. The theater bug bit me, but I did mostly crew work and wrote some plays for the state competition (and won some prizes).  Somehow, by the time I was a junior in college, I got it in my head that I wanted to work on books, and the endgoal was becoming a SFF editor. After a decade in books, I wanted something different and landed in audio at Realm, which luckily checked all of the boxes I was looking for at the time.

I only recently got into podcasts, what do you think is the appeal of this medium? What are some of your favorite examples?

Podcasts are portable stories that you can experience while multitasking. In our busy world, we’re still looking for that little bit of entertainment while commuting, doing housework, working out. I’ve gotten lots of joyful reviews from listeners working the graveyard shift of their job, and how Realm shows keep them company. I know many friends who play YouTube videos or TV shows in the background while they’re doing something else. Podcasts fit that same niche.

Podcasts are also extremely intimate form of storytelling. There’s a level of immediacy and visceral feeling that sound can get in ways prose cannot. The characters of fiction podcasts, especially, can lead you into a soundscape that feels like our real world. Even if that world is a fantasy with dragons or out on a space colony; it’s transportive!

Some of my favorite podcasts play with the format of a talking head show. Welcome to Nightvale is a classic introduction to podcasts that’s a spin on the NPR community radio show. This Sounds Serious is a pitch-perfect comedic reporting mockumentary that is full of unexpected twists. I also love the worldbuilding of The Edge of Sleep, Moonface, and From Now. And of course, my Realm favorites hold a special place in my producing heart: Marigold Breach, Overleaper, Spider King, the Undertow universe, to name a few.

I’m a regular listener of nonfiction and journalistic shows too: Sawbones, Code Switch, The Ezra Klein Show, and of course, The Daily, NPR, and the Journal. I read newspapers but I don’t have broadcast TV at home, so most of my news I pick up via podcasts.

What would you say goes into making a great podcast?

Having a point of view is the most important part: knowing what your show is about and having the confidence, commitment to research, and attentiveness to create a very distinct take on your subject. That counts for fiction as well as nonfiction. Fiction shows must know what they are, what listeners they appeal to, what kind of markets they can reach.

And of course, having a strong production team behind you can be great, but good production doesn’t always mean expensive equipment. It means knowing how to use it well, and to be invested in constantly learning about the craft of production, sound design, acting, etc as much as the words in the script.

As a queer Vietnamese-American creative, were there ever any times in which you saw yourself in pop culture/literature? What would you say representation means to you?

I never saw myself in pop culture exactly, but I will also have a special love for Tina Nguyen, the Vietnamese-American character from the original PBS Ghostwriter series. That’s the first time I’ve seen any Viet people on TV that didn’t have to do with the Paris By Night variety shows my parents watched, or the Vietnam War dramas you see for US audiences. I thought that was very meaningful to me, to see a kid like myself who lived in the shadow of war, but never personally experienced it. But was also just a normal teen girl trying to balance high school problems and solve mysteries with a ghost!

Over the years, there have been more Vietnamese creators of queer art: Ailette de Bodard, Nghi Vo, Ocean Vuong come to mind. I feel so lucky to be living in a time where I get to see these creators bloom.

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

I am a big believer in interdisciplinary work and draw from different creative formats into one giant storytelling toolkit. That’s what made my career exciting; a sense that I’m always learning more ways to express and communicate artistically. So far, it’s been novel writing, playwriting, comics, audio drama… and screenwriting is next on the docket, I think.

At the moment, I’m a big fan of Matthew Salesses’s Craft in the Real World—I’ve read that book a few times and still am learning new takeaways.  I picked up a lot of audio drama tips from KC Wayland’s Bombs Always Beep. Writers who I’m always returning to include Ted Chiang, Walter Mosley, Ekaterina Sedia, N.K. Jemisin, Alexander Chee, Ray Bradbury, Jun Mochizuki, Suzie Lori Parks, Tom Stoppard. I have an undying love for really cheesy supernatural drama and anime. 

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

Find your community, and always pay it forward. Being a creator – especially being a writer – can be a very lonely experience. Being an artist can make you question your ability, your art, your working relationships, everything all the time. It can be hard finding financial support, free creative time, or emotional wherewithal to continue. But knowing you have people who can relate to your experiences – or non-artists who can offer an outside perspective – can really help support a career for the long-term.

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

Things are in the pipeline that people will be hearing about in early 2023 ☺ I can’t wait for the announcements to come!

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

LoL, what is my favorite tea? It’s lavender earl grey. ☺

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

Yay, list time!

Comics: Chronin by Benjamin A. Wilgus, Galaxy: The Prettiest Star by Jadzia Axelrod & Jess Taylor.

Books: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong; The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo, Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia.

Podcasts: Alice isn’t Dead from Nightvale Presents; Elixir from Realm; Soft Voice from QCODE.

TV Shows: the new Interview with the Vampire on AMC.

Interview with Author Adib Khorram

ADIB KHORRAM is the author of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY, which earned the William C. Morris Debut Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature, and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor, as well as a multitude of other honors and accolades. His followup, DARIUS THE GREAT DESERVES BETTER, received three starred reviews, was an Indie Bestseller, and received a Stonewall Honor. His latest novel, KISS & TELL, received four starred reviews. His debut picture book, SEVEN SPECIAL SOMETHINGS: A NOWRUZ STORY was released in 2021. When he isn’t writing, you can find him learning to do a Lutz jump, practicing his handstands, or steeping a cup of oolong. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don’t usually talk about themselves in the third person. You can find him on Twitter (@adibkhorram), or Instagram (@adibkhorram).

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

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

Sure! My oldest fandom is probably Star Trek, followed closely by The Transformers, both of which I was introduced to around second or third grade. As I got older I fell into Marvel (specifically the 90s cartoons) HARD but I fell right back out of Marvel when I realized how expensive collecting comics can get. Like many people, Yuri!!! On ICE was the only thing that got me through the darkest part of 2016, and during the pandemic, I plunged headlong into obsession with The Untamed. Also, I still think Chrono Trigger is the greatest game of all time.

How did you realize you wanted to be a storyteller and what do you think attracted you to young adult fiction?

I don’t think I ever had the conscious realization that I wanted to be one, so much as I accidentally fell into it. I had a dayjob with occasionally intense bursts of hurry-up-and-wait time, where I couldn’t leave but I couldn’t do anything else, I was stuck at my desk or at a computer, and I found myself writing. When I was younger I wrote some fanfiction with my friends, and as I got older I dabbled in playwriting and screenwriting, but novels really felt like the right fit. YA in particular is such a vibrant, exciting space. Adult life can often feel painfully pretentious; YA is visceral and honest.

How would you describe your writing process in general? What inspires you to write and finish writing?

Bold of you to assume I have a process! So far every book has been different. But for the most part, what I try to do is write from about 1:00 to 5:00 PM every weekday, because that’s when I feel most creative, and give myself the weekends off. I’m a pantser by nature but I sometimes try to plot things out if the story seems to require it. Sometimes it works; sometimes not. And my bills inspire me to hit my deadlines! I got laid off from my day job during the pandemic so I’m a full-time writer now.

What are some of your favorite parts of the writing process? What are some of the most difficult or frustrating?

I love, love, love the initial ideation process—when a story starts coalescing in my brain, in random notes scrawled in notebooks or my phone. And I really like revision (usually)—taking something that’s not working and making it better. First drafts, especially beginnings thereof, are always difficult for me. Of all the books I’ve written (both published and unpublished), I can only think of one that I got the right opening on the first try.

Something that many people admire about your work is your honest and touching portrayal of mental health, specifically depression in your first book, Darius the Great is Not Okay. When you first started writing the Darius books was that something you had always wanted to explore or did it just organically evolve that way?

I wouldn’t say I knew it right from the start, but very early on I realized I wanted to explore depression. I started drafting the book in 2015, right when a whole bunch of books involving suicide came out, in ways I felt both romanticized and stigmatized it. I wanted to push back against the narrative that depression (or mental illness) is or should be the defining characteristic of a person, a life, or a story.

When we think of Hollywood’s or any mainstream corporation’s idea of “relatability” their first go-to is the average relatable “Joe” who’s usually a cis white guy of no particular origin. Yet (and this is on a quick personal note) as a queer person coming from another diaspora background reading Darius the Great is Not Okay felt so familiar in the sense of being able to relate to Darius’s struggles to balance different cultures while never feeling quite “enough” in certain ways and always feeling out of place. What are your thoughts on cultural specificity reaching the universal?

This is such an interesting question. On the one hand—the US, where I live, is becoming less and less cisgender and heterosexual and white. And so what was once marginalized is now majoratized. (Spell check informs me that this is not a word, but it’s too late now.) But more to your point, I think there is something special that happens when you showcase a specific experience, even if it’s foreign to a large portion of your audience. For example, literally, no one is a half-Vulcan, and yet Spock continues to be one of the most beloved and related-to characters in modern geekdom. Because even if people can’t relate to his Vulcanness, people can relate to feeling like the other; or to being torn between two cultures; or to having a fraught relationship with one’s father; or to having best friendship laden with homoerotic tension. And so I think Darius draws on that—that through being hyper-specific, different readers can find different ways to relate.

A while back you wrote a children’s book called Seven Special Somethings: A Nowruz Story about Persian/Iranian New Year. I’m curious to hear your thoughts and process behind the book if you wouldn’t mind sharing?

No thoughts, only vibes! To be honest, I owe a lot to my agent, Molly O’Neill, for inspiring this story. She mentioned to me one day that many readers seemed to love the celebration of Nowruz in Darius the Great Is Not Okay, and noted that there wer-en’t many picture books on the subject, and asked if I would be interested in trying my hand at one. What followed was a crash course in the subject (I read over a hundred picture books over the span of about two weeks!), and what I would consider a decent attempt at a first draft. Process-wise, it’s shorter: no matter how you size it up, no matter how much deep thinking goes into the best-crafted picture books, at the end of the day there are less words and that means less physical typing. But what surprised me most about picture book writing was how it related to my screenwriting days: leaving room for a collaborator to interact with the text, embolden it, elevate it.

And, aside from that: children are the toughest audience! I wanted to do right be them. And also make them laugh so they didn’t think I was boring.

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

In my thirties I’ve become a Vinyl Person™ in that I’ve started collecting vinyl records. Some of my favorites are video game soundtracks, Studio Ghibli soundtracks, and of course the discography of Pink Floyd, which for some reason I resonate with, even though it was recently described to me as “dad rock.”

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

I’m always wary of giving advice. Everyone is unique, as a person and as a writer. So instead I tell people: try taking a lot of advice, but on a limited timetable. Try lots of things: where to write, when to write, how to write, how often to write. See what feels good to you. See what sparks joy. And reevaluate often. Every book is different. Sometimes, within a book, every draft is different!

And the one universal piece of advice I give is: don’t let your sense of self come from your writing. You are a full, complete, fabulous human being, whether you never write another word or not. Whether you ever get published or not. 

Can you tell us about your latest book, Kiss & Tell?

Kiss & Tell has had a long journey. From when I first conceived of it in 2014 (when it was concerned with coming out, and murder!!) to 2020 (when it became concerned with the pressures of being out, the performance of queerness for the masses, and what it means to be an ally), my own life changed drastically, both personally and professionally.

As someone who both exists in fandom spaces, and is occasionally the object of those spaces, I’ve become increasingly aware of the way that identity, queer identity in particular, can be commodified and consumed. And I wanted to interrogate that.

And, also, I love boy bands, and music in general. I wrote the book in 2020 and revised it in 2020 and 2021, and writing about concerts and travel when I was cooped up at home was quite a balm.

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

I just announced my next picture book, Bijan Always Wins, about a boy who turns everything in life into a competition to be won—and the toll it takes on his friendships. It’s really cute and I’m so excited for it!

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

I will literally always recommend Julian Winters’ complete bibliography to anyone and everyone who asks. His latest, Right Where I Left You, was luminous: friendship and love and lots of fandom and super-geeky and happy, happy, happy in the way only Julian Winters books are.

Tessa Gratton’s Moon Dark Smile comes out later this year, sequel to Night Shine. I’ve said it before, but if you ever wondered what would happen if you put Spirited Away and a bunch of rainbows into a blender, Night Shine is it. And Moon Dark Smile expands upon that world, introducing even more queerness, and at the end, leaving this beautiful message about how love can transform us in ways we never anticipated.

And my latest bookish obsession is Lio Min’s Beating Heart Baby, which is about music and anime and internet friends and toxic masculinity and the way that as we grapple with our queer selves, our anger can explode outward and hurt the people that we love (and that love us in turn) the most—and that there’s a way back, if we can be honest with each other, offer and accept grace, and always try to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday.

Header Photo Credit Afsoneh Khorram

Interview with Author C. L. Polk

C. L. Polk (they/them) wrote the Hugo-nominated series The Kingston Cycle, including the WFA-winning Witchmark. The Midnight Bargain was a Canada Reads, Nebula, Locus, Ignyte, and WFA finalist. They have worked as a film extra, sold vegetables on the street, and identified exotic insect species for a vast collection of Lepidoptera before settling down to write fantasy novels. Polk lives in Calgary, which is on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Tsuut’ina, the Îyâxe Nakoda Nations, and the Métis Nation (Region 3).

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

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

Hi! I’m C. L. Polk, I write Fantasy, I’ve lost all the big three North American SFF awards, and I’m always late watching the TV show everyone is talking about, and I would love to follow Critical Role but I just never seem to start. I’ve been trying to get a gaming group together for years, and I like to knit.

What can you tell us about your latest book, Even Though I Knew The End? What inspired the story?

I had a whim one day to write a hardboiled detective pulp voice, and I let it percolate in my mind while I did some other things, and one day it sprouted. I didn’t really have a good reason. I wanted to write something voicey; that was all. 

But when it finally came together it did so all at once, and I had to race to finish it. Then it languished for a while, and I picked it up, read it, and thought of something that I could do with the story, so I had the chance to do what a lot of writers don’t get – a good long wait between finishing it and returning as a different kind of writer.

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

My reasons are ordinary. I liked stories, and I wanted to try writing some of my own, and when I did, I found that I liked it, so I kept doing it. And I’ve read a lot of books. All of them have something to do with the reasons why I’m interested in writing and stories. My favorite writer is a tough one to answer. I usually say Tanith Lee, but honestly, it’s a lot wider than that.

How would you describe your writing process, especially that for worldbuilding?

When I worldbuild I just do whatever. I don’t have a system. I follow an enthusiasm, which sparks off more enthusiasms until I hit critical mass and I have to start writing before it all collapses.

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

My favorite is the times when I’m drafting an I hit flow. It’s great. It’s a gift. It’s not like that every day. The most challenging is evading the self-doubt that is in the way of the page.

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

I never have an answer for this. I never expect or hope for someone to ask me the perfect question. I’m not sure it exists. I also don’t think I can control what drives another person’s curiosity. I suppose that’s not an exciting answer but I find accepting this is much less stressful than hoping someone perceives me in a particular way.

Also, asking for a friend, do you have a favorite hot beverage?

I like a lot of hot beverages. I drink coffee pretty often, and I’m particular about its quality. I usually make coffee at home, but when I’m out I look for cafes with excellent beans and well-trained baristas. A good cup of coffee will stop you in your tracks.

And how have you masterfully weaved so many plot threads together, like in Witchmark?

It’s easy. I write characters who want things that aren’t the same as what the other characters want, and then I set them to go about getting it.

More technically, for the interested writers in the group: I use Scrivener. I am a scene-by-scene writer and not a chapter writer. So for each scene, I write a little summary and give it a label, and every label has a color – so if I look at my Scrivener project’s notecards, I can see at a glance which plotlines are getting lost because their colors haven’t shown up in a while.

If you don’t have Scrivener, you can use Google Slides for this as well. But don’t let me gas on about Scrivener because I will be here all day.

And as a writer would you ever be interested in trying out other genres besides fantasy?

I have written science fiction short stories before and I might try a novel at some point. I have written more than one contemporary romance, but never tried to publish one. I like mysteries, but those are easy to include into fantasy stories. I’m also interested in Gothics and domestic thrillers. Honestly, I just like genre.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Write what you believe in. Ignore trends. You have thousands of people who are dying for the kind of thing you’re doing. They are your audience; write for them instead of who you think you should write for.

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

Honestly, that’s it. I like stories, I’ve written a few, I hope you like them. If you want my cheeky comments check out my twitter. I don’t think there’s anything a reader needs to know—if they’re curious, that’s fine, but it’s not necessary.

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

There’s an activity on a subreddit called r/fantasy where they do a bingo card. The idea is that you try to read a book you’ve never read before that fits a given category and fill the square. I think it’s brilliant: one of the best reading guides out there. It’s such a good invitation to explore, so I want to shout out to the bingo card. And I do that because it’s a great way to do what I recommend – go wide. Try stuff. The number of amazing books being published these days is staggering.

Also, I want to shout out to short fiction. There’s piles of it online, free, waiting to be read, and short fiction is fantastic reading. Other magazines are by subscription, and some of them, particularly the print digests, have been around for decades. You can finish a story quickly but short stories have the potential to come along with you for years after.

Header Photo Credit: Mike Tan

Interview with Webcomic Creator Nez

Nez is the webcomic creator of Friends With Benefits and Timeless Eclipse. He is based in New Zealand with an academic background in Animation Storyboarding. His story and art styles vary greatly from humorous and light-hearted, to dark and gritty moments. He works full-time during the day and turns into an elusive creator at night. When taking a break from comic making, he enjoys gaming and reading.

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

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

Hi, and thanks for having me here! I’m a webcomic artist mostly known for Friends With Benefits, a story about an asexual genderfluid person looking for love. It’s a 4-panel slice-of-life webcomic that I posted for fun without any major plans only for it to blow up into what it currently is.

What drew you to storytelling, particularly to the medium of comics? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

I’ve always loved stories as a kid, and I would read and draw almost all the time. Eventually, I started writing fanfiction as a teen and began writing original stories later on. I wanted to share my stories with everyone else, so what better way to do it than comics?

I grew up with Japanese mangas and anime. Neon Genesis Evangelion (Yoshiyuki Sadamoto) and Fullmetal Alchemist (Hiromu Arakawa) are my biggest inspirations and the first ones that sparked me. In one of Fullmetal Alchemist’s behind-the-scenes book, the author showed how the comic was made and as a teen, that was mind-blowing. This was a time when I didn’t have much access to the internet and artist network, so learning about that was a big deal. Aside from mangas, my favourite writer of all time is Stephen King.

As a webcomic artist and illustrator, you are known for your webcomic Friends With Benefits, a story centering a gender-fluid and asexual lead character. As a acespec person myself, I’m curious to hear what was the inspiration for this story?

So, the idea for Friends With Benefits happened during a time when I was figuring out my own orientation and expression. You just haven’t found the right person, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. I’m sure a lot of acespec people have heard that in some form. It was a frustrating time and I created FWB to let out my thoughts through fictional characters. Some aspects of the story stem from personal experiences, some are not. Some are words that I wish someone had said to me. There are scenes that are raw and uncomfortable for people, but I wanted to write it as they are without covering them up because these experiences do happen. For example, Eri’s loneliness and desperation for love.

In a sense, FWB is a comic to express my experiences but rather than an autobiographical comic, I turned it into a creative fiction with its own cast of characters. At first, I wrote the story for myself without any expectations, but the positive reception from so many readers surprised me more than anyone else. The simplistic art style and the title itself is chosen for ironic purposes to contrast the story subject.

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

My favourite part would be the initial idea development followed by storyboards. I have a lot of rough ideas and I enjoy building the characters, the world, and tying the plot together. This part has the most freedom because there are no limits but yourself. You’re free to make the most realistic or absurd story as you like. My second favourite part is the storyboards and layout process. I enjoy playing with camera works to layout the panels for effective visual storytelling. 

The most frustrating part would be how much I must compromise because of time constraints. I create webcomics on the side and in the current market, the expectations for indie creators are kind of insane. You have to post consistently and frequently, and your art and writing have to be top-notch too, and you have to be seen on social media. You’re basically an entire production and marketing team squished into one body. People say to ignore these standards and just do what you want at your own pace, but I believe that I must at least acknowledge this and take part in it until I reach a point where my work can speak for itself. Where is this point? I can’t answer that because this point of success is different for everyone.

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

Specifically for FWB, I drew inspirations from Wonder Cat Kyuu-Chan (Sasami Nitori) and of course, my own experiences. But as a general inspiration, mangas, books, movies, games, and strange ‘what-if’ scenarios I come up with in response to something that happened in real life or fiction. What if the sun turns black one day? What if the hero fails in their journey? What if?

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

I like antiheroes and villain main characters.

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

Q: “Why did you make Eri, the main character of FWB, flawed and unlikable at the start?” A: Because queer people are not flawless. Just because a character is queer doesn’t mean they are the perfect hero. Queer characters can make mistakes, be evil, be kind of a douche. Perfect is boring, embrace the character struggle.

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

Yes. I’m in the process of self-publishing the physical print of Friends With Benefits Vol 1. All the pages will be redrawn and I’m estimating it to be 3 volumes long. The webcomic sequel of FWB will be posted by (I’m assuming) the time this interview is published. Titled Friends With Solitude.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring creatives, particularly those who might want to work on their own webcomics someday?

‘Just start’ is good advice, but it’s not the only advice. Learn the basics of drawing and writing. It’s important to have a good foundation in anatomy, perspective, storytelling, etc. no matter what style you are going for. Start small, build on it. Keep going. Learning is continuous.

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

Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani

Blue Flag by KAITO

Interview with Author Alison Cochrun

Alison Cochrun is a former high school English teacher and a current writer of queer love stories, including her debut novel, The Charm Offensive. She lives outside of Portland, Oregon with her giant dog and a vast collection of brightly colored books.  She controversially believes Evermore is the greatest Christmas album of all time, and she’s probably sitting by a window right now hoping for snow. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @AlisonCochrun.

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

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

Yes! Hello! I’m Alison and my pronouns are she/her. I live outside of Portland, Oregon, and I was a high school English teacher for eleven years, but I’m currently experimenting with writing full-time and seeing how that goes! 

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically romance?

I’ve always been obsessed with happily ever afters in stories. My dad raised me on While You Were Sleeping and Sleepless in Seattle, and I just love the magic and joy that comes with a well-earned happy ending. I also began writing my own stories when I was nine and first started struggling with depression. Fiction became a safe way to explore my emotion when I was too young to fully name them. These two things sort of dovetailed into my passion for writing love stories, but it wasn’t until I discovered the romance genre in 2018, and then read my first queer romance in 2019, that I fully grasped the power of storytelling. 

What can you tell us about your upcoming novel, Kiss Her Once for Me? What was the inspiration for this project? What tropes can we expect?

Kiss Her Once for Me is about a bisexual artist named Ellie who is in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, working as a barista and barely getting by financially. So, naturally, when the wealthy and charming landlord of the coffee shop where she works, Andrew, proposes a fake marriage so he can access his inheritance, she agrees (in exchange for a chunk of the money, of course). But when they agree to spend Christmas at his family’s cabin to maintain the ruse, Ellie discovers Andrew’s sister is the woman she fell in love with last Christmas. It sounds ridiculous, but my inspiration for this book came from the movie While You Were Sleeping, and the fact that Bill Pullman looks like a hot, butch lesbian in it. So, this is my homage to the fake-engagement, sibling love-triangle shenanigans of that movie. You can expect all the classic tropes: only-one-bed, snowed-in, second-chance romance, hurt/comfort, forced proximity, idiots in love. 

Since the protagonist Kiss Her Once for Me is involved in animation, I was wondering if there were any animation projects you yourself personally loved? 

I mean, I love Laika Studios and all of their films, especially Coraline. I reference them in my book in a more negative context, but I am a genuine fan! I also read Heartstopper for the first time in the summer of 2020. It was the first queer graphic novel I’d ever read, and it really ignited my interest in visual storytelling. I now have a large collection of queer graphic novels.

Your debut novel, The Charm Offensive, in addition to being a story about queer people in a dating show, was praised for its mental health and Aspec representation. How did you approach writing these elements into your book?

To be honest, neither of these elements were planned when I had the initial idea for the book. I was intrigued by the idea of writing a story about what would happen if someone like me went on a show like The Bachelor, so I disguised myself as a handsome tech genius with abs and began writing. The first draft of the book literally poured out of me– I wrote seventy-thousand words in six days. And when I awoke from that creative fever dream, I found a story staring up at me that was different than what I expected. I’d written about my own experiences with anxiety and depression, and I’d written about a questioning twenty-eight-year-old coming to understand his queerness, which included being on the asexual spectrum. I had drafted the book so fast, that I couldn’t filter myself. What I wrote was honest and deeply personal, and I was proud of myself for sharing those parts of myself. So, through the revision process, I nurtured those elements of the book. I did a lot of research and worked with beta readers to ensure I was handling those topics as sensitively as possible.  

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in, in terms of personal identity? If not or if so, how do you think this personally affected you as a writer? 

I can’t think of a single story I consumed in adolescence that centered on a queer woman, which definitely impacted my personal identity. I grew up thinking there was only one kind of love story, and it involved heterosexual, neurotypical people. But ironically, I had my “Ring of Keys” moment when I saw the play Fun Home in Portland. The way I felt watching a lesbian coming-of-age story was not a straight girl’s response, and it came at the time in my life when I was finally ready to start questioning my sexuality. 

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

The romance community is such a beautiful, inclusive space, and I take so much inspiration from my fellow authors and the vulnerability they show as writers. Especially Casey McQuiston, Mazey Eddings, Chloe Liese, Jasmine Guillory, Helen Hoang, and Rachel Lynn Solomon. I’m also inspired by the queer media I consume like Our Flag Means Death and A League of Their Own. Finally (and narcissistically), I draw a lot of inspiration from my own life and my conversations with my therapist. 

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

I love when the writing is good– when the words come so quickly and so easily, it feels like I’m nothing more than a conduit for the story. I love when I can get so immersed in the fictional world I’m creating, I write scenes in my sleep. I love when I can sit in front of my computer for five hours and it feels like it’s been five minutes. Writing is frustrating when it’s not good. When it takes an hour to write a single sentence (that I just delete anyway). When I sit in front of my computer for five minutes and it feels like five hours. When every single word is ridiculously hard and none of the pieces are fitting together as they should. I think being a writer is about accepting both sides of writing as part of the process and figuring out how to keep going anyway. 

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

Sometimes, I think there is this illusion that once you get published, everything is easy. The truth is, writing is challenging no matter what stage of the publishing process you’re in, and I would want readers to know that I struggle, too! I don’t have some magical talent, and writing doesn’t come effortlessly to me. But it’s something I love, so I have to find ways to push through the hard times as much as I savor the good ones. 

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

Oh gosh! I feel like I’ve been asked so many good questions. But Kiss Her Once for Me takes place in Portland, Oregon, and features a reference to the famous VooDoo donuts. So I wish someone would ask me: Who makes the actual best donuts in Portland? And I would happily inform you, it’s Angel’s donuts on Alberta. Their blueberry old fashion is the actual love of my life. 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Find a writing community! Find other people who are passionate about writing to share your joys and sorrows with you during the journey. Get on Twitter and find online friends who can beta read for you, and find critique partners whose feedback seems authentic to your voice. Write together and brainstorm together. Writing can be incredibly lonely and isolating, and I didn’t have a community of writing friends when I started. Now, the friends I have are sometimes the only thing keeping me afloat. Don’t try to go at this alone! 

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

My third book was just announced! I call it my “sapphic road trip romcom about death.” Its actual title is Here We Go Again, and it’s about two childhood best friends-turned-rivals who agree to team up to fulfill their former English teacher’s dying wish by driving him across the country. It’s kind of a romdramedy, but I love it and I’m so excited to share it with readers! It comes out spring of 2024.

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

So many! In terms of queer romance, some of my favorite authors are Timothy Janovsky, Ashley Herring Blake, Kosoko Jackson, Alexandria Bellefleur, Talia Hibbert, Anita Kelly, and Casey McQuiston. If you’re looking for more sapphic holiday books, check out IN THE EVENT OF LOVE by Courtney Kae and SEASON OF LOVE by Helena Greer! 

Header Photo Credit Hayley Downing-Fairless

Interview with Author Foz Meadows

Foz Meadows (all pronouns) is a queer Australian author, essayist, reviewer, and poet. She has won two Best Fan Writer awards (a Hugo Award in 2019 and a Ditmar Award in 2017) for yelling on the internet and has also received the Norma K. Hemming Award in 2018 for her queer Shakespearean novella, Coral Bones. Her essays, reviews, poetry, and short fiction have appeared in various venues, including Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, Goblin Fruit, The Huffington Post, and Strange Horizons. Foz currently lives in California with her family. A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is her fifth novel.

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

CW: Discussion Of Abuse And Sexual Assault

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

Thank you for having me! I’m a bi, genderqueer Australian SFF writer currently based in California, though I also lived in the UK for five years. I have a queer portal fantasy duology out with Angry Robot – the first volume, An Accident of Stars, is getting reissued in June! – and my newest book, A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, an m/m fantasy romance, is out from Tor in July.

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

I grew up in a house full of books with parents who wrote for a living, so it’s no surprise that I started making up stories a very young age. I gravitated pretty quickly to all things fantastic and mythological, but I didn’t really figure out my relationship with romance until I was an adult. Hollywood romcoms frustrated the hell out of teenage me, but I loved the romances I saw in Austen and Shakespeare; it wasn’t until I started learning about things like tropes, sexism and heteronormativity that I understood where the disconnect lay and why. I started reading straight romances – some historical, some urban fantasy – because they were what I could access at the time, but what really made the genre click for me was fanfiction, not just because it was overwhelmingly queer, but because the act of seeing tropes labelled and leaned into was a series of lightbulb moments. It was as if I’d been eating a series of desserts, only some of which I enjoyed, and trying to identify which ingredients worked for me by taste alone, and then someone came along and gave me a recipe book. Like, oh, I see now: I like mutual pining, but not if it’s paired with cartoonishly forced miscommunication, which explains why I enjoyed story A, but not story B. And once I’d written enough fanfic of my own to feel confident that I loved writing romance as much as I loved reading it, the next logical step was to pair it with SFF!  

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, A Strange and Stubborn Endurance? What inspired this story?

A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is an arranged marriage romance between Velasin, a gay man from a homophobic culture, and Caethari, a pan man from a queernormative one, that deals with trauma, healing, autonomy and political intrigue. On one level, it’s a purely self-indulgent book: I initially started writing it for fun back in 2015 when I was briefly between deadlines, because it was the kind of thing I wanted to read. But the more I wrote, the more personal it became. I’ve read a lot of great stories about queer people finding love within or despite their bigoted societies, but particularly in the case of queer historicals, I always have a sort of latent ache for the characters, even when they get happy endings, because they still have to navigate prejudice and secrecy in the wider world. And as much as I also love SFF stories with purely queernormative settings, sometimes you want both the grappling with queerness as a necessarily political identity and the happily ever after in a world that accepts you, because that messy combination is, for many of us, the one most true to real life. We might grow up in a homophobic household or just an unhelpfully heteronormative one, figuring ourselves out in any number of ways – fearfully, defiantly, piece by piece, self-destructively or as an act of healing, or perhaps both at once – until we find our place and our people, which might be on the other side of the country, all the way across the world, in the next town over or right where we’ve always been, but seen through new eyes. Even when we become queer revolutionaries, it’s not the first thing that most of us aspire to: we just want to be ourselves, which means first having the freedom to figure out what that means, and so we end up fighting out of necessity and kinship and a basic desire to be treated as people, not because we’re all naturally ornery (though of course, as with any group, some of us are), but because the alternative is abnegation. 

And so I wrote Velasin: a man who grows up hiding his identity, who suddenly finds himself in a nation that accepts his queerness, but under traumatic, emotionally fraught circumstances. There’s all these wider political implications to his marriage that he has to navigate – and those are further explored in the sequel, which I’m currently working on! – but at the same time, he still gets hung up on things like I didn’t realise I could hold my husband’s hand in public, or the whole idea of marriage as I understand it is based on heteronormative gender roles, so what am I meant to do, actually, as a husband’s husband? And meanwhile Caethari, by virtue of having grown up in a different, more accepting context, can’t always get a read on what Velasin is thinking, because he doesn’t have the same hangups. So they have to work to understand one another – and to stay alive, because see above, re: political implications – while also figuring out what’s going on, in a way that both is and isn’t about navigating queerness.           

This book was said to be written with the intention of creating a story that centers queer joy and queer thriving in the wake of trauma. Could you expand on that, please?

To try and answer this question properly, I’m going to talk first about the trauma, and then about the thriving. So, this is a slight spoiler – there’s a trigger warning for it at the start of the book, and it happens very early on, but skip this paragraph if you’d rather go in unprepared – but after Velasin is betrothed, his ex-lover shows up and assaults him; they get caught together, but the act isn’t recognized by the witnesses as rape, and this is how Vel is outed, which is what causes the visiting envoy to say, well, if you don’t like women, that’s fine, you can marry a man instead. Which is obviously horrifically traumatizing for Velasin: not just the rape itself, but the betrayal it represents and the fear it engenders around his marriage. I’ve seen a couple of reviews describe the scene as graphic, and obviously that kind of content will hit everyone differently, but to me, it’s foremost about psychological hurt, not brutalization – a sort of literalised metaphor for cultures of shame and silence around sexuality. In a context where even consensual sex is stigmatized, how do you report an assault? This is a fundamental issue of rape culture, and it applies equally to members of the queer community as to straight cis women. When visible, violent damage is considered the only real “evidence” of assault, a different kind of violence is done to the victim: you weren’t hurt enough where I can see it, so therefore you weren’t hurt at all. And when the relevant authorities are more critical of the victim’s sexual identity than the perpetrator’s motives, there’s no real way to get justice, which is what Vel is dealing with at the start of the book: he can’t say he’s been assaulted, because his queerness is considered the greater crime.   

But then we go from Vel’s homophobic home nation to the queernormative culture next door, and we see what queer thriving can look like. Caethari is a big part of that – not just because of his kindness to Vel, but in the contrast between their lived experiences. Cae has grown up accepted for who he is, able to love and liaise as he pleases, and as such, he has healthier expectations of a world that loves him back. His whole concept of marriage and family is fundamentally different to Vel’s by virtue of not being tied to heteronormativity: his sister and her wife, for instance, are in the process of negotiating paternity for the child they plan to have, and that’s just a normal part of life. So when they first meet, Cae is frustrated that Vel doesn’t seem to want to work with him towards a successful marriage: he has no framework for how alien the notion is to Vel, even without his recent trauma. But once he earns Vel’s trust and the two of them start to cooperate, we see Vel begin to process the differences between how he was raised and the place he is now, and what that means for the person he wants to become. It’s hard to say more about that aspect of things without deeper spoilers, but Vel’s arc is very much intended as a healing one, and I hope I’ve done it justice. 

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

My favourite part of writing is when I get into a groove: I can see everything laid out in my head, the exact trajectory from where I’m picking up the story to a given emotional endpoint, and it all flows out like water poured from a cup. When that happens, it’s the best feeling in the world: any time I break to eat, I’ll be rushing through it, eager to get back to the story, and hours will pass in a flash because I’m genuinely enthralled. By contrast, the most challenging bits are, inevitably, the places where I get stuck. The way my brain works, it’s like I’ve got an underlying instinct for how the story works, but I can’t always access it consciously, so when I start to go the wrong way, the subconscious brain throws up a red flag – “Stop!” – without actually telling me why. So I’ll be sitting at the keyboard thinking, Wait, what’s wrong, why can’t I write this scene? And my brain just goes: Can’t. And so I have to go away and do something else until I figure out what the problem is. 

Link scenes, or what I think of as link scenes, also tend to be a slog, because they’re deceptively tricky: little stretches of description or dialogue that tie everything together and steer the narrative along without actually being emotionally load-bearing. They’re often some of the most quietly important bits in a book, because getting them wrong can leave the reader thinking the story doesn’t make sense – wondering why the characters didn’t communicate properly, for instance, or why a certain action is happening now instead of later, or how the plot logic works – but when you get them right, they’re invisible. 

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

Functionally, I am several raccoons in a trenchcoat, and would describe my general level of online-ness as somewhere between internet poisoned and terminal. I have a nine-year-old son and three cats, and I’ve thus far enjoyed nearly fifteen years of marriage to a professional logician, which is a subgenus of philosopher who does maths about existence. This means I have spent more time in pubs debating nonsense with drunken academics than is strictly healthy, which possibly goes some way towards explaining how and why I’ve spent thirteen years on the cursed bird app without throwing my phone in a lake. Also, I’m a little obsessed with the k-pop group Stray Kids. Their latest album is amazing.

What advice would you have for aspiring writers, especially other queer writers?

Literary trends begin with agency wishlists and end on bookshelves, not the other way around: by all means, take inspiration from what’s being published, but if you’re aiming to capitalize on or be part of the next big thing, look at what agents are collectively interested in acquiring now, not what’s already selling in stores. That being said, I think it’s best to write for yourself first – and that means any version of yourself: the person you were, the person you are, the various people you might become – and for other people second. You also need to remember that it’s impossible to please everybody: that there’s no such thing as the perfect book, only the perfect reader. Which doesn’t mean that it’s pointless to do the research, or to think carefully about whether you’re the best person to tackle a given narrative, or to develop your craft as a writer – all of those things matter. It just means that you have to be judicious about the criticism you accept and the criticism you ignore; to decide whose opinions matter to you, and why, and to carry that energy with you into your dealings with the wider publishing industry. 

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

I can’t really think of a specific question, but I would like to say that the last two years have been really hard for just about everyone. We’re living through a period of intense global trauma, so even if you personally haven’t lost someone to the pandemic or been sick with COVID or struggled to find work, this is your reminder to be kind to yourself, because the constant stress and anxiety have still been impacting us all. 

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

Aside from the sequel to A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, I’ve got two other epic fantasy drafts on the backburner: one is about an apprentice monster vet-slash-zoologist getting embroiled in politics, and the other is an angry sort of murder mystery romance in a setting where mages get their power from being touched by gods. I’m really excited about both of them, and I hope I get to share them with you eventually!  

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

There’s so many awesome queer books out right now, but some standout recent favourites are Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, and the Broken Trust series by Juliette Wade, which begins with Mazes of Power. Check them out! 

Interview with Comics Creator Velinxi

Velinxi is the creator of DPS Only! and the ongoing webcomic Countdown to Countdown. Her greatest passion lies in storytelling through illustrations, which she has been doing for the past few years (with varying stages of success). You can find more of her work on Twitter and Instagram @Velinxi.

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

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

I’m Xiao Tong Kong, better known as Velinxi online! I’m an illustrator and the creator of the webcomics DPS Only!!! And Countdown to Countdown. I also draw an unhealthy amount of fan art on the side.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, DPS Only? ? What inspired the story?

DPS Only!!! is about a teenage girl who’s in love with a competitive FPS game called Xenith Orion, but no one knows about her secret hobby, nor her proficiency at the game. Not even her brother, who’s actually one of the best XO players. However, she’s discovered one day, and is inadvertently drawn to competing in a grand XO tournament in disguise, climbing in notoriety and eventually has to face her brother, fears, and the esports world on stage.

I dropped out of art college in my first year in 2019, it was a pretty confusing time in my life. The only sure comforts in my life at the time was my art, the people around me, and strangely enough- Overwatch League, the competitive esports scene of the FPS Game Overwatch. It’s a lot different these days, but OWL was at its peak around then, and I found the atmosphere absolutely exhilarating. I’ve always been drawn to esports, and I loved keeping up with past esports scenes of games like Smash and League of Legends. However, OWL was the first time I was truly immersed, there wasn’t a stream I didn’t watch with my sister. We bought team merch, engaged with the community and memes, went to meet and greets with players, and watched the first OWL finals in NYC. This atmosphere full of adrenaline, excitement, and frustration shared with my Overwatch friends was the main inspiration for DPS Only!!!

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though, and it still isn’t now. My friends and I encountered rather rampant sexism when we played the game, though to be fair- it wasn’t anything new from any other gaming communities we’ve mingled in. It was really only the help and support from each other as well as our male gamer friends and even strangers that made it tolerable. And then there were controversies sprouting up online regarding sexism in the competitive esports community, even in Overwatch. I won’t bring up specific names, because I don’t want to dig at any old wounds of these players, nor bring them to an uncomfortable spotlight again, but many female players had accusations of cheating thrown at them, and were constantly discouraged and harassed from playing the way that other players wouldn’t. It was strange, in a way. Competitive or casual, it seemed that there would always be people trying to stop women from playing competitive games. It was especially difficult to watch these particular women in the spotlight, with so many eyes on them, trying to prove themselves just as worthy as the male player next to them. It’s a lot better these days, and the gaming community as a whole is making strides to be more inclusive, but there’s always going to be those people that refuse to budge, or arguably worse- which is to pretend that there isn’t or hasn’t been a sexism issue at all. These experiences and issues were another core inspiration to DPS Only!!!

In addition to DPS Only (which started as a webcomic), you are also known for the queer webcomic, Countdown to Countdown. What inspired this story?

CTC first started as a passion project in 2015 when I was a Junior high school student, with absolutely no solid guideline or written plot structure. It was just a mix of everything I liked at the time, video games, movies, random spurts of ideas I’d get at 2 am. It’s hard to pinpoint what was the main inspiration for the comic. I just wanted to write one. However, it wasn’t going anywhere, so I scrapped it in 2018. It’s rebooted now, with a more structured story and sustainable art style in the long run. In a way, it’s inspired by the original 2015, and thus- inspired by what inspired that. It’s a complicated situation, but that’s rather fitting for Countdown to Countdown.

Not only do you draw some pretty gorgeous webcomics, but you are also known for your illustration work, particularly for The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System series, as well as book covers, like Xiran Jay Zhao’s Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor. How would you describe your work and process as an illustrator?

I always start with thumbnails, usually several. I (or my clients) pick one out and I get a more refined sketch. From there, it’s all a normal illustrative process, really. I don’t think my process is anything particularly interesting, it’s just a lot of color corrections, over-painting, and more painting. If I get stuck on colors, poses, or lack any inspiration, I always turn to my bookmarks full of my favorite artists. Seeing other people’s works, with such varied yet beautiful art styles always gets my creative juices flowing.

What drew you to storytelling, particularly to comics? Were there any favorite writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

Shilin and Yuumei are the two artists that come to mind. They were integral to my interest in both art and storytelling when I was in middle school. Years later they still are.

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

Lots of long walks around and inside my house, lots of staring at the wall, outside my window, and lots of sleepless nights trying to come up with something interesting. Of course, just like my art- I also look to other storytellers for inspiration. When it comes to pacing, story paneling, I always look at the comics and mangas on my shelf (Devil’s Candy, Gunnm, and Witch Hat have been my go-to’s for comic paneling these past few years!). For storytelling itself, it’s a hard process of looking inward, and just trying to connect these messy plot-lines and dots I’ve loosely concocted until it forms a cohesive storyline. I also try listening to guides and videos on improving my writing, though I tend to follow these as a springboard, rather than rigid rules. Hello, Future Me on Youtube has some great videos on writing, such as world-building, magic systems, etc.

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

I like writing and drawing out the parts of the story that I created the comic for. I’m sure most writers and artists can understand this. When one creates a story, they usually always have a part or several that they envision first, that beautiful moment that you’re so excited to show off and spend the rest of your time building up to. That’s always been my favorite part. The challenging part is everything in between, honestly. So it’s 80% suffering and 20% payoff. 

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

I’ve been taking up baking and cooking a lot recently. It’s been a good hobby to have, something that doesn’t strain my eyes like drawing, video games, or reading. It’s also just nice to have an activity to do outside of work or thinking hard about my stories, and just letting myself relax. I’d like to think I make really good cheesecake and cinnamon rolls now. 

What advice might you give to other aspiring creatives?

Don’t let your first webcomic be your big magnum opus. Your first story should be experimental, loose, and even nonsensical, just like mine was. You’re going to learn a lot in the process, things that can’t really be taught but must be experienced through trial and error. You must write and draw yourself into corners and fumble, until you can come out of the experience and think to yourself “So that’s what went wrong, so next time I can do this instead”. It’s frustrating because a lot of creatives, especially younger ones, are excited to create their grand story to show to the world- but I highly recommend saving that for later, when you’re more seasoned. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

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

I’m working on my next big project with tapas! I’ve been working at it nonstop for the past year, and I’m so excited for it to be revealed. 

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

Of course! My current favorite LGBTQ+ comics/ authors include:

Amongst Us by Shiling Huang (who also has the ongoing webcomic Carciphona)
Cucumber Quest by GiGi DG
No. 6 written by Atsuko Asano, manga illustrated by Hinoki Kino
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu (which also has wonderful Donghua and Live action adaptations)
Tamen De Gushi by Tan Jiu

I also want to shout out my fellow webcomic friends, who are currently creating massive, amazing webtoons that are unashamedly queer!

Lysandra Vuong, currently writing Covenant
Kris Nguyen, who has written Cape of Spirits

Interview with Author Saundra Mitchell

Saundra Mitchell has been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer, and a layout waxer. She’s dodged trains, endured basic training and hitchhiked from Montana to California. The author of nearly twenty books for tweens and teens, Mitchell’s work includes Edgar Award nominee SHADOWED SUMMER and Indiana Author Award Winner and Lambda Nominee ALL THE THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK. She is the editor of four anthologies for teens, DEFY THE DARK, ALL OUT, OUT NOW, and OUT THERE. She always picks truth; dares are too easy.

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

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

Hi, thank you for inviting me! My name is Saundra Mitchell. I’m the author and editor of more than 20 books for tweens and teens. Three of my anthologies feature all LGBTQIA+ authors, telling stories about queer teens, from the past, present, and future. I’m non-binary; my pronouns are she/her or they/them—use them interchangeably. I’m also technically pan, but that’s a very new word and I’m a slightly older pony, so I mostly just use queer. What’s my gender? Queer. What’s my orientation? Queer.

How did you get into writing? What drew you into the art of storytelling, especially within the realm of Young Adult fiction?

I’ve always written. I still have little books I wrote in Kindergarten about Princess Rose and Princess Penelope. My fourth-grade class let me write the class play, I did creative writing in jr and senior high school. After school, I wrote D&D modules for various magazines, horror stories, paranormal fiction, and lots and lots of fan fiction. I lucked into a position as a screenwriter with Dreaming Tree Films, then wrote teen-oriented movies for them for fifteen years. So, it wasn’t a surprise when my first novel turned out to be YA—I had been practicing for it for a long time! 

What could you tell us about your upcoming anthology, Out There: Into the Queer New Yonder?

I am SO excited about OUT THERE! My agent, Jim McCarthy, and I had a little dream about six years ago: wouldn’t it be amazing to do an all-queer YA anthology? An anthology that was about queer teens, by queer authors, who got to go on adventures and change the world or just get that first kiss? 

I had already done one YA anthology (DEFY THE DARK), so Jim set me loose with the idea. The first anthology, ALL OUT exploded into the world; the reception was beautiful and shocking. 

Funnily enough… in the beginning, Jim and I said, wouldn’t it be fun if Inkyard would let us do three of these, featuring the past, present, AND future? It was crazy daydreaming talk—you don’t get anthology series in YA… except this time, we did! It’s literally a dream come true. 

For each volume, I’ve always had at least two previously unpublished authors—this time, it’s Emma K. Ohland (her first novel, FUNERAL GIRL, comes out in October of ’22!) and *drumroll* Jim McCarthy. Yep, my agent. The series was his idea, and he let me run with it. So, we’re closing it out with his voice on the page, as well.

I’m also excited that I was able to have open submissions for this anthology! That’s how we found the fantastic Ugochi Agoawike and the incomparable Mato S. Steger. Four authors coming into their first major publication with OUT THERE, and a lot more authors who mostly never wrote science fiction before. There are a lot of surprises waiting for readers in this antho!

For those who might be curious, what kind of work goes into an anthology? What advice might you have to give for someone who wants to start a new anthology?

A lot of anthology work is being comfortable with paperwork. You’re going to have a lot of it, because authors are contracted to you—the editor—not the publisher. You’re responsible for your providing their contract, their tax paperwork, and for setting and keeping deadlines, multiplied by the number of authors you have in your anthology. I like to bring myself the pain, so each of the OUTs has had seventeen. Don’t do that to yourself.

The other portion of anthology work is being a good editor. You have to give constructive notes to your authors, and also tailor your editing style to each of them. Every writer has a different process, and you have to honor that as an editor. That’s how you get their best work. So, it’s a lot of paperwork and personalities, but I love it. I love it. It’s (usually) controlled chaos, and I thrive on it!

How would you describe your general writing process?

(Usually) controlled chaos. Ha! Actually, I’m pretty linear and strict with myself. Getting the idea, well, that can come from anywhere. Weird stuff on the Internet, neat things I learn from books, songs I hear. And I usually get voices in my head before I get a story. The characters like to get comfortable and move around on their own before they let me write them. That’s the magical part of my process.

But, once I get started, I’m very strict with myself. I write a thousand words a day, every single day until the book is finished. And sometimes that does mean deleting an epic ton of words and finishing the day in the negative. I figure I throw away about 30k for every 60K book I write. 

Basically, when other people outline, they work out the bugs before they sit down. I work out the bugs as I encounter them. Both methods work. There’s really no wrong way to write a book as long as you get the work done!

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

I think when you read my books, you can definitely feel the foundation created by the books I loved most when I was younger: BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Patterson, IT by Stephen King, SONG OF THE LIONESS by Tamora Pierce, and STRANGER WITH MY FACE by Lois Duncan. 

Every book I write has a theme song, as well. I love music, and I love how it bleeds into me, and then bleeds back out onto the page. 

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

I love those days when I feel like I’ve gone to the place I’m writing when I feel like I’m coming back from the bottom of the ocean when I’m done for the day. I also enjoy picking out names, naming towns, streets, and fake stores (The Red Spot is the gas station/convenience store in all of my books—Mitchell Literary Universe!) 

However, I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate the exposition. The first 20k of a book is a nightmare for me. I like to write from the beginning to the end, no matter what draft level I’m at. And my brain thinks the exposition has to be ABSOLUTELY PERFECT before I can go forward. It’s the foundation of the book! If it’s a bad exposition, the rest of the book will collapse! Anxiety brain! Panic!

Once I get past the first 20k, it’s smooth sailing. But ugh. Exposition. No thank you!

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

This is still about my work, in my opinion. But I want people to know, teens especially, to know that if they don’t have a queer Auntie, I’m their Auntie. Every single one of you are special to me. I’m always going to be on your side. I’m an advocate for LGBTQIA+, BIPoC, disabled, SA survivor, neurodivergent and mental illness causes. 

I have fought with major trade publications to change the way they review books about queer teens, tweens, and children. I fight with editors over racist and micro-aggressive editing suggestions. I fight unjust and unfair laws with my presence, my voice, and my money. Every year, I teach at educator and library conferences, how to integrate our work and to help understand our beautiful patchwork of identities. 

Mostly, I want all teens to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And if you feel alone, drop me a note. I’m your Auntie. 

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

Taylor Swift: Would you like to collaborate on an anthology based on my music, to raise funds for progressive candidates who will take protect and care for our kids not just in Pride month, but all year round?

Saundra Mitchell: YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!

(Is this manifesting?)

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

I mayyyyy be working on a middle grade horror anthology, as well as a book about a house that invites people to itself. More than that, I cannot say! 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives?

Don’t quit. Seriously. That’s the hardest part of this career, remaining resilient when the losses outnumber the wins, even when you’re “successful”. 

And don’t feel like there’s an entrance fee. I’m a high school graduate, and that’s it. I don’t have a BA, I don’t have a Masters, I never attended workshops or conferences—I couldn’t afford them. But what I could afford is paper, pen, envelopes, and stamps. It’s even easier now, with Internet access. 

So, my advice is to KEEP GOING. Because we need all our voices… not just the voices of a select, lucky few.  

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

I am absolutely het over Emma K. Ohland’s FUNERAL GIRL—Georgia’s family owns a mortuary, and she recently found out she can talk to the dead. Another one that I can’t wait to see in hardback is Eric Smith’s novelization of the Broadway musical JAGGED LITTLE PILL. He took on the musical and the controversy around the musical in a really beautiful way. I can’t wait for people to read it. 

I also fell in love with Jake Arlow’s middle grade, ALMOST FLYING, and I am so looking forward to their first YA novel, HOW TO EXCAVATE A HEART this fall! General suggestions? Everything Kalynn Bayron blows my mind; I love her so much. Malinda Lo is absolute goals. And you know what? The dedication for OUT THERE names every single author who has written for the series. There are fifty fantastic LGBTQIA+ authors right there to get you started!