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!