Interview with Author Anna Meriano

Anna Meriano is a writer, teacher, and former band nerd from Houston, Texas. She was a member of the MOB scatter band at Rice University and earned her MFA in creative writing from the New School in New York. She lives in Houston with her dog Cisco and her husband Ariel. She is also the author of This Is How We Fly and writes about magical pan dulce in the Love Sugar Magic series. You can also find Anna online on Twitter.

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

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

Hi! Thanks for having me! I’m Anna Meriano, I’m an author of middle-grade and young-adult novels including the Love Sugar Magic series and This is How We Fly! In addition to being a book geek and a grammar geek, I’m also a theater and marching band geek. My multicultural heritage can best be described as Tex-Mex, and I work as a reading and writing tutor in Houston. 

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

I’ve been writing books since before I could spell! I always loved to have my parents read to me, and it seemed natural to want to create books when I loved them so much. When I grew old enough to choose my own reading, I went for middle-grade and young-adult books. Those are the books I fell most in love with, and I’m definitely not over that love yet. I think the kid lit community is an exciting and innovative space because we keep our audience in the front of our minds, don’t take ourselves too seriously, and try to imagine how our books will fit into (and shape) the future.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, It Sounds Like This? What inspired the story?

It Sounds Like This is a loose retelling of Snow White set in a contemporary Texas high school marching band one year after a devastating hurricane, where Yasmín, an ambitious flute player, is exiled from her section and has to join the low brass (tuba and baritone) section with seven freshmen boys. The story is definitely inspired by my days in marching band, including plenty of band gossip, music puns, and instrument stereotypes, and on a deeper level, it looks at the effects of toxic friendships versus healing ones.

Like the main character of your book, have you ever had any experience with marching band or music in general, or was this something you had researched for the story?

Both! I was in marching band through high school (and college), but I ended up doing quite a bit of research to write the low brass side of things, and I tried to make sure my recollections lined up with what today’s readers would expect to see. But for the most part, my research was confirming or tweaking details, not starting from scratch. I’m still sad that, because I wrote the majority of this book during 2020, I didn’t get to visit my old band halls or play the tuba myself, but I loved watching YouTube tutorials filmed by high school section leaders and their often goofy section mates. 

Growing up, were there any books or authors that touched you or inspired you as a writer, or made you feel seen? Are there any like that now?

Way too many to choose from, but I do think that for this book, I have to mention Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series, which features a large cast of boys in a school setting and a main character who is incredibly passionate about her field of study. And, as a bonus, Kel has been post-canonically identified as likely ace and aro. 

Modern writers who make me feel seen and extremely excited about the direction of kid lit include Texas authors Jonny Garza Villa (Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun) and Joya Goffney (Confessions of an Alleged Good Girl), and Skye Quinlan, author of Forward March—another ace marching band book! With a sapphic main romance!

As an aspec reader, I’m always excited to see more aspec/queer fiction in the world. Could you talk about your motivation to write this kind of representation, and what queer representation in general means to you?

As an educator in Texas, I’m unfortunately hyper-aware of the way that queer media and queer people are not always supported or even safe. I guess I have a pattern of writing questioning main characters now, and it means a lot to me to leave space for those kids (and adults) who might not have it all figured out yet, who might even be avoiding figuring it all out because of the implicit and explicit threats in the world around them. At the same time, I wouldn’t be writing a truly contemporary book if I didn’t include teenagers who are out and proud, teenagers who have done deep work to understand and love themselves even in the face of those threats. I work with those kids every day, I admire them deeply, and I never want them to doubt that they belong in the world of my books.

I always knew this book would be about friendship, and so it made sense to introduce Bloom, an ace/aro character who has absolutely hyper-fixated on the exact dimensions, boundaries, and possibilities of friendship in order to understand his own feelings, as a foil to Yasmín, who absolutely has not done any of that and is very confused about what she is feeling all the time. 

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

My writing process changes drastically with each book I write, sometimes because I’m learning and growing, and sometimes just because a pandemic shuts down all my coffee shops! I tend to be a chaotic writer, but I have learned to embrace outlines and plotting to make my life easier during revisions, even though it doesn’t come very naturally to me—that’s why I steal my plots from fairy tales! I still write scenes and snippets of dialogue totally out of order, especially when I’m starting a new project and trying to capture the voices of my new characters, which is my favorite part of the process. 

As a fellow student of the New School MFA Program, I’m curious about your experiences in the program. Could you describe it and some of your favorite parts of the program? Would you say it helped you grow as a writer?

Going to the New School was a huge privilege, and I’m very grateful that I had those two years to focus on reading and writing kid lit full time along with so many incredibly talented students and teachers. The workshops and literature seminars absolutely pushed me to do more work on my craft than I would have been motivated to do on my own. The most valuable part of the program for me, though, was absolutely the people I met, who are still my best friends, my collaboration partners, and some of the authors I admire most. Of course, academia is far from a perfect system, and an MFA is not required to be an amazing and successful author! 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read, read, and reread. Consume media of all kinds critically and intentionally to learn what your favorite creators are accomplishing and how they’re doing it. You absolutely don’t have to write every day, but you do have to spend a lot of time writing to get to the end of your stories. Follow a schedule that works for you, however chaotic or consistent it may be, but make sure that you’re putting the time in somewhere. And find the people who will support what you’re doing, because it’s a very hard thing to do alone. 

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

Hmm… This question is really stumping me! I used to have an easy fun fact prepared for this type of question, which is related to the unique sport that’s featured in my first YA novel, This is How We Fly. Unfortunately, that sport that has become a wonderful and supportive community for me and so many of my queer friends is associated with a transphobic children’s authors and franchise, so I can’t comfortably chat about it anymore without a lot of caveats and context. So I guess, if my readers look at my old work and see the ties to that franchise, I would want them to know that I am aware of the harm it does to my trans family, and I am committed to fighting for trans liberation here in Texas and around the world. 

Uh, but if you were hoping for this answer to include more fun facts: I have a small brown dog named Cisco, I like to knit and crochet, and I love taste-testing all the weirdest HEB chip flavors (mixed berry lemonade is my most recent purchase, and I regret nothing).  

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

Anna, who is the fan favorite of the low brass boys, and who was your favorite to write?

I’m so glad you asked! The fan favorite is overwhelmingly Lee (an extremely valid choice), but my personal favorite to write was Elias, particularly the scenes where he, Caleb, and Yasmín are just off in a corner forming their own mini-Mexican group within the section.  

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

Oh no, unfortunately almost all of my projects are up in the air right now, which means that if I talk about them, I’m afraid I’ll jinx them and they’ll never sell… but I have quite a few dream projects I’ve been outlining or starting this year, so hopefully I will have something announceable sometime soon. I’m hoping to go back to middle-grade fantasy for at least one project and try out a few new genre/age combinations as well. 

I am involved in a very exciting (currently untitled but officially sold) anthology of Latinx retellings, for which I’ve written my own version of Pride and Prejudice in space! That was an extremely fun project, and I can’t wait to see what the other authors have created for the anthology!

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


And more specifically, please please read Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa, The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes, A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy, absolutely every book by Anna-Marie McLemore, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson, Forward March by Skye Quinlan, and everything but especially Pet by Akwaeke Emezi.

Interview with Author Jas Hammonds

Jas Hammonds (they/she) was raised in many cities and in between the pages of many books. They have received support for their writing from Lambda Literary, Baldwin for the Arts, the Highlights Foundation, and more. They are also a grateful recipient of a MacDowell James Baldwin Fellowship. Her debut novel, We Deserve Monuments, is available now from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan.

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

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

Thank you so much for having me! My name is Jas (pronounced like Jazz) and I use they/them & she/her pronouns. I’m a writer, flight attendant, and lifelong book lover. I moved around a lot as a kid, but I call New Jersey home for now. I love rainy days, coffee, and jigsaw puzzles.

What can you tell us about your debut novel, We Deserve Monuments? What inspired this story?

We Deserve Monuments is about a 17-year-old named Avery who is uprooted her senior year of high school so her family can care for her terminally ill grandmother, Mama Letty. It’s a contemporary coming-of-age novel, a meditation on generational trauma and racism, a tender love story, as well as a slow-simmer mystery—so a little bit of everything! 

It was inspired by a lot of questions that started brewing when I moved to a new city in 2016. Everything was unfamiliar, and I was lonely. I started thinking about what makes a home. What makes a family? What are some ways to ground yourself in a place that feels like you’ll never belong? Once I began seeking answers for myself, Avery’s story began to emerge. 

Since your book is about monuments, are there any that exist IRL that you feel drawn to? And what figures would you love to see monuments dedicated to if they don’t already exist?

I think my book is less about literal monuments and more about asking the questions of who deserves them and who gets to decide that. Also, challenging what a monument can even look like. Physical places can hold so much more significance than a lone statue, such as that rickety porch swing on your grandma’s front porch that always witnessed conversations filled with love. There are so many everyday people who live extraordinary lives that will never make the pages of history books. I always appreciate people acknowledging the folks in their own lives they want to commemorate.  

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

I think there is something so special about telling stories about people who are on the verge of so much discovery. I remember vividly feeling so eager to explore the world when I was a teenager and figure out who I was “destined” to become. And everything feels so grand and all-encompassing because it’s often happening for the first time—first love, first heartbreak, perhaps first time questioning the things you’ve been taught your entire life. I think these emotions are so intriguing to read and write.

How would you describe your writing process? 

Chaos! As a flight attendant, no two days are ever the same. And I’m often super exhausted after working and writing is the last thing I want to do. So I tend to write on my days off. I write in big spurts, often for hours at a time. Once I get in the groove, it’s hard to stop!

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

I really love editing. I love already knowing my characters thoroughly and being able to finetune what I’m truly trying to say. Drafting is a lot harder for me. I get stuck a lot, and my internalized perfectionism can make it hard to move forward when I know a scene isn’t working. I’m guilty of stalling around the 30-40% mark while drafting and just returning to the beginning to start over instead of pushing through until the end.

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

I grew up reading the Alice McKinley series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Because a new book was released every year, it became a touchstone of my childhood, something to look forward to every spring. I loved reading contemporary stories about girls who were going through the ups and downs of adolescence like I was. First crushes, friendship woes, family dramas. Now, as an adult, young adult contemporary is still one of my go-to genres. Some of my favorite authors are Ashley Woodfolk, Nina LaCour, and Rebecca Barrow.

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

I’ve never been asked what kind of music inspired We Deserve Monuments, and it was one of my biggest influences! Early drafts were heavily influenced by R&B and soul music of the 1950s and 60s—The Supremes, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke. I love making playlists and imagining what kind of music each of my characters would love and listen to. My main character, Avery, is definitely a fan of alternative R&B.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Read! Read widely across age groups and genres. Also, it helps to find a critique partner so you can have someone to read drafts of your work and give feedback. Plus, it’s just nice to have someone in your corner working toward a common dream of becoming published.

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

I’m currently working on edits for my second young adult novel. It’s a story about toxic friendships and the desperate need to be loved for who you are. It’ll hopefully be published in 2024.

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

I have to give flowers to Jacqueline Woodson because I’ve been a fan of her work forever. Some of my other favorite recent favorites are A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo, Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution by Kacen Callender, How to Succeed in Witchcraft by Aislinn Brophy, and the upcoming If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come by Jen. St. Jude. 

Header Photo Credit Kay Ulanday Barrett