Queer Quills and Nerdy Thrills: Glimpses Through my Geeky Glasses – “Finna” and “Defekt”

“And so, Doctor Beckett finds themselves leaping from pride to pride, striving to assemble what once went amiss, and hoping each time that their next leap will lead to a fabulous, fully decorated home … or something”

Busy Geek Breakdown (TL;DR):

Get ready for interdimensional excitement as Nino Cipri‘s “Finna” and “Defekt” take you on a geek’s dream journey through the enigmatic corridors of LitenVäld, an Ikea-like store. These novellas artfully blend references to Doctor Who, Star Trek, Sliders, and even an unexpected A-Team twist. With authentic LGBTQ representation and relatable characters, prepare for mind-bending adventures, a dash of Ikea humor, and exploring love, identity, and personal growth. Embrace the power of diversity, queer the geekdom, and celebrate the fusion of LGBTQ themes and geek culture!

***So many Spoiler below……. but read it anyway!!!****

Boldly Going Queer: Exploring LGBTQ Themes in Nino Cipri’s Novellas

Welcome, fellow geeks, to an exhilarating journey into the realms of Nino Cipri’s captivating novellas, “Finna” and “Defekt.” Prepare to be immersed in interdimensional escapades, LGBTQ themes, and a sprinkle of geek culture references, including nods to Star Trek, Doctor Who, and the TV show Sliders. As we navigate the labyrinthine corridors of LitenVäld, reminiscent of Ikea’s puzzling layout, let’s delve into the worlds of time travel and alternate realities and even face the super creepy scenario where the store becomes a hive mind, demanding blood as payment for items.

Geek Culture and Interdimensional Adventures:

In “Finna” and “Defekt,” Cipri pays homage to beloved franchises such as Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Sliders. Imagine Ava, Jules, and Jay as intrepid explorers akin to the Doctor’s adventures in the TARDIS or the Star Trek crew’s encounters with strange new worlds. As they traverse the perplexing corridors of LitenVäld, each turn uncovers a unique reality filled with surprises and challenges. But be prepared to encounter the chilling alternate reality where LitenVäld becomes a hive mind, demanding a macabre form of payment in the form of blood. This eerie scenario adds a layer of horror to the interdimensional adventures, evoking a sense of unease and raising questions about the true nature of LitenVäld.

LGBTQ Themes and Authentic Representation:

Cipri’s novellas prioritize authentic LGBTQ representation, seamlessly weaving queer experiences into the fabric of the stories. Love, friendship, and personal growth are delicately explored, resonating with readers deeply. By embracing diversity and inclusivity, Cipri reminds readers of the importance of representation in speculative fiction, allowing them to see themselves in the pages and fostering empathy and understanding.

And amidst the excitement, be prepared to encounter the super cool moment where the team in “Defekt” transforms into a clone version of The A-Team, each member bringing their unique skills to the table. This unexpected twist injects a punch of nostalgia and humor into the narrative, inviting us to cheer on this misfit crew as they navigate interdimensional chaos.

Our protagonist is Derek, a fiercely loyal employee of LitenVärld. He’s got a living space that’s as cozy as a shipping container at the store’s backlot; believe it or not, he’s never taken a sick day… until he starts coughing up blood out of the blue.

Now, you see, a model employee like Derek shouldn’t need time off, right? But alas, fate has other plans for him. So instead of a well-deserved rest, he’s assigned to a special inventory team for a locked-in night of hunting down defective products. And let me tell you, we’re talking about something other than your ordinary unsatisfactory goods here. Instead, we’ve got toy chests growing pincers and eyestalks—now that’s something you don’t find at your typical IKEA!

But hold on to your seatbelts, folks, ’cause here’s where it gets even weirder. The inventory team consists of four strangers who look and sound (almost) identical to Derek himself. So imagine running into four copies of yourself—talk about a mind-bending experience!
Having five Dereks is an advantage when facing down sentient furniture horrors. But guess what? The real problem might not be the furniture that’s come to life but rather the twisted workings of LitenVärld itself.

Nino Cipri

“Defekt” is not just a spooky and entertaining tale; it’s got layers of compelling themes simmering beneath the surface. I’m always looking for the more profound implications woven into a narrative. The LitenVärld stories are more than wonderfully queer anti-capitalist science fiction—about friendship, connection, and resilience. In “Finna”, it’s all about building a fellowship from the wreckage of a romantic breakup during an unnerving adventure. Now, that’s what I call a leap of faith!

But in “Defekt”, things take a different turn. This novella cranks up the fear factor and takes us on a rollercoaster ride. The story starts with snippets from the “Special Exempt Employee” handbook, which sounds more like an eerie manifesto than a regular work manual. And once Derek finds himself locked inside the store for his special inventory night, buckle up, ’cause it’s gonna be a wild one. From being pursued by a carnivorous, free-roaming toilet to navigating the emergency-red-lit maze of the moveable faux-IKEA labyrinth, it’s a nail-biter, let me tell ya.

But here’s the twist you won’t see coming. After Derek is saved by his clone team, we realize that LitenVärld has decided to kill off the defective merchandise instead of cataloging it. So who’s the real monster now? Dirk, one of the clones, is a real piece of work—a sociopath who revels in violence and power. So the monsters we thought were the threat? Well, they’re just fighting for their own survival. Talk about turning the tables!

Derek’s awakening to resistance and refusal to be a cog in a broken system manifests in a unique and unsettling way—a bleeding, ruptured mouth slashed across his throat. It’s a haunting and vivid description of the pain and defiance within him.

And you know what? It’s not all about the scares. “Defekt” brings in some unexpected desires and connections too. Derek’s encounter with Darkness, where they ask to see and touch his throat, turns into a strangely intimate moment. What was once seen as disgusting becomes oddly appealing. And when he comes face-to-face with an alternate-universe version of himself, he finds comfort in seeing his own supposed defect on someone else’s body. It reminds us that embracing our flaws and rejecting oppressive systems can lead to surprising connections and personal growth.

And let’s remember the burning question: would you hook up with your clone? In “Defekt”, that question serves a purpose. The four clones and Derek’s responses to them delve into our desires, needs, and the complexities of attraction. It’s a glimpse into what we seek in others and our social systems. But it’s not just for kicks—it drives the narrative and highlights the power of forming alliances against oppression.

“Defekt” is a thrilling ride, blending high-tension plot twists with thought-provoking themes. It’s a standalone novella and a worthy companion to “Finna”, expanding on the underlying messages of resistance, collectivism, and the strength of queer identities in challenging the status quo. So, kudos to Nino Cipri for keeping me on the edge of my seat with those spine-tingling moments, especially the eerie inserts from the employee handbook. “Defekt” is a quantum leap into a reality-warping adventure that’s both unsettling and fun.

So grab your imaginary LitenVäld shopping cart, prepare to slide between dimensions, and immerse yourself in the imaginative worlds created by Nino Cipri. Then, it’s time to boldly go queer, celebrating the perfect fusion of LGBTQ themes and geek culture!

Interview with Author Sarah Adler

Sarah Adler writes romantic comedies about lovable weirdos finding their happily-ever-afters. She lives in Maryland with her husband and daughter and spends an inordinate amount of her time yelling at her mischievous cat to stop opening the kitchen cabinets.

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

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

Hello, and thanks so much for having me! I’m Sarah Adler (she/her), and I write romantic comedies out of my mustard yellow home office (and various coffee shops) in beautiful Frederick County, Maryland. I’m also an avid reader, baked goods fanatic, and casual but enthusiastic bird nerd.

What can you tell us about your debut book, Mrs. Nash’s Ashes? What was the inspiration for this story?

Mrs. Nash’s Ashes is the story of a former child actress on a mission to reunite three tablespoons of her elderly best friend’s remains with the woman she fell in love with while serving in World War II. But flights are grounded and she’s forced to drive to Florida with her ex-boyfriend’s grad school rival. Hijinks, of course, ensue.

Back in the fall of 2020, I heard a radio interview with a musician who talked about how, when his mother passed away, he took her ashes on tour with him to sprinkle on every stage he played. I couldn’t stop thinking about that! Like, as a memorial gesture but also just the logistics. Around the same time, I was brainstorming what a modern-day version of the classic screwball comedy, It Happened One Night, might look like. Eventually, those two ideas converged in my head and a story was born.

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

I’ve always been fascinated by people—trying to understand how they work, what makes them tick—and I think romance is an ideal way to explore that. When I make my characters fall in love, I’m basically chucking them into a crucible and testing what they melt down into, and how they’ll re-form. It’s a really fun way to study the human condition. It’s possible to do this with other genres, too, of course. But I’ve also always been very anxious, so the promise of a happily ever after, that everything is going to be okay, is not only incredibly appealing but somewhat necessary for me as both a reader and a writer.

How would you describe your writing process?

When I first have an idea, I make sure that it has not only a premise but also enough of a plot to become a full book. If it doesn’t, I write it down for later and move on to the next one. If it does, I start writing the first few chapters and see how it feels—if the voice is coming naturally, if the characters are forming on the page. Next is a very loose, almost stream-of-consciousness outline that’s 90% dialogue I know I want to use in future scenes, and that guides me as I head toward the middle. By the time I hit the 50,000-word mark, I usually get stuck and miserable for a while, but I’ve done this enough times now that I know it’s temporary. So I take a break, refill my creative well, and eventually dig back in and reach the end. I tend to revise at the line level as I go, so by the time I have the full story on the page, it’s time to get some feedback from my critique partners and/or editor about bigger, structural stuff. Then it’s time to tinker with whatever doesn’t work until it suddenly does.

One of the hardest things about writing a book is finishing one. What strategies or advice might you have to say about accomplishing this?

I’m not a planner. I don’t do a formal outline. I don’t do goal-motivation-conflict charts. That’s not me, not how my brain works. But what I’ve learned is crucial to a manuscript’s success is that I make sure before I get started that I have a plot and not just a premise. It’s really easy to generate premises—the “what if…?” question that sets up the situation—but it’s a lot harder to actually respond to that question with a novel-length answer. Most of the projects I’ve started and abandoned were great premises, which meant I could start, but then there wasn’t a middle or an end to follow it up with. Writing a book is like getting from A to Z, and if you only have an A, well… you might eventually work your way to Z out of sheer luck but it’s not going to be an easy trip.

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

Jennifer Crusie is my favorite romance author of all time, and I turn to her books frequently for both comfort and inspiration. Music is a significant part of my process as well; I tend to listen to certain genres or artists on repeat while drafting and revising. My work is always at least a little influenced by film and television, especially ‘70s and ‘80s sitcoms like M*A*S*H, WKRP in Cincinnati, and Night Court, which are great examples of how to blend humor with heavier topics. And I’m also really inspired by my surroundings, especially the landscape (which is actually kind of ironic now that I think about it, considering I don’t spend a ton of time describing settings in my writing).

There’s also an element of finding inspiration within myself. Each book I write is a semi-subconscious effort to work through some feeling or aspect of my life I haven’t been able to grapple with in real time. What I mean is, I don’t think it was a coincidence that I realized I was bisexual while writing Mrs. Nash’s Ashes, which has a sapphic love story B-plot.

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

I love that feeling of starting a new project and watching the characters come alive on the page. It feels so magical when it’s working well as if the people in my head are real and eager to tell me all about themselves. I also love the moments during the revision process when one new sentence or paragraph suddenly makes everything click into place—extremely satisfying.

Usually, the place I get most frustrated is the middle of the book, when I often feel like I’ve lost the thread of what I’m trying to do. That’s the point where I often have to step away, rest, recalibrate, reread what I’ve written so far, and find my way back into the story.

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

Hmm… I have a master’s degree in history that I’ve never really had an opportunity to use in any formal professional way, and I’ll jump at any excuse to do research. I’m also an atrocious gardener, just absolutely terrible at it, yet I keep trying every year anyway because I’m slow to learn a lesson.

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)?

What’s my favorite Fleetwood Mac song? Wow. That’s impossible to answer, really. But I have a soft spot for “Sara” (even if they did omit the ‘h’).

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

It feels almost cliche at this point but read. Especially when you’re first starting out, it’s the most important thing you can do. Read in your genre. Read outside of your genre. Read old stuff. Read new stuff. Read things you love. Read things you hate. It’s the number one way to improve your craft, understand the market, and make connections. A writer who thinks they can write a good book without ever reading is as absurd, in my opinion, as a chef who thinks they can make good food without ever eating.

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

I can’t say too much except that my second book is currently scheduled for spring 2024, and it’s an enemies-to-lovers romance featuring a fake spirit medium, a goat farmer, and a ghost.

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

I’m a huge fan of Bridget Morrissey’s A Thousand Miles, and I’m excited for her upcoming sapphic romance, That Summer Feeling. Rachel Runya Katz’s Thank You For Sharing is coming out in September and I can attest to its excellence. And Tori Anne Martin’s wlw romcom, This Spells Disaster, is high on my TBR. Outside of the romance genre, C.J. Connor has a queer cozy mystery (a quozy, if you will) pubbing this summer that’s going to be my birthday present to myself.

Header Photo Credit H.D. Kimrey

The Geeks OUT Podcast: Florida & Other Disney Villains


In this all new episode of the Geeks OUT Podcast, Kevin (@Gilligan_McJew on all socials) is joined by Mike Moon (@freemoonman1982), as they discuss Disney versus Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida, feel #queerjoy in the new teaser for the animated movie Nimona coming to Netflix, and talk about what they’re getting Down & Nerdy with in pop culture. 



KEVIN:  In move against DeSantis, Disney cancels moving employees to FL, where a  teacher is under investigation for showing Strange World

MIKE: New teaser for Nimona



KEVIN: Guardians Vol 3, Pearl, Dead Ringers, Citadel, All Stars, Titans, Somebody Somewhere, Riverdale, DC’s Book of Pride

MIKE: Star Trek Comics from IDW, The Other Two, Arcade Kings (comic), Queer Eye S7

Interview with the Manolo & the Unicorn Creative Team

Jackie Azúa Kramer is an award-winning children’s book author whose books include Dorothy & Herbert: An Ordinary Couple and Their Extraordinary Collection of Art, published by Cameron Kids. Her hopes are to write stories that reflect who children see in the mirror and what they see out of their windows. She lives with her family in Long Island, New York. Find her Instagram @jackie_azua_kramer and Twitter @JackieKramer422.

Jonah Kramer is a New York City-based actor, singer, dancer, and now children’s book author. He has traveled as a performer both nationally and internationally. He is delighted to coauthor his first book with his amazing mom. Find him on Instagram @jonahekramer.

Zach Manbeck is a children’s book author and illustrator who loves to create stories that advocate for characters that haven’t yet had a chance to live in books. He lives in Philadelphia. Find him on Instagram @zachmanbeck.

I had the opportunity to interview Jackie, Jonah, and Zach which you can read below.

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

Jackie:: I’m a picture book author and to date, I’ve published about eight books including Manolo & the Unicorn with more releasing in 2023 and 2024. I’m thrilled that between three of my books, they’ve been translated into a total of ten languages. I would describe my writing and books as eclectic, as the inspiration to my stories come from many sources—travel, movies, history, music, art, and the natural world. However, my Latinx cultural roots, experiences, and memories play a big part in my storytelling. In the end, I hope to write stories that meet children where they are and reflects what they see in their mirror, and out their windows.

Jonah: I am a performer and now first-time children’s book author. I have a degree in musical theatre from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and I have worked as a professional actor in regional theatres as well as touring both nationally and internationally.

Zach: I am an author and illustrator from Pennsylvania. Manolo & the Unicorn is the third book I’ve worked on. My other titles You Are Here (Chronicle, May 2022) and Stanley’s Secret (written by John Sullivan, Paula Wiseman Books, Jan 2023) are available now! As an artist, people describe my work as modern vintage—nostalgic, yet fresh. As a writer, I aim to tell stories from a fresh perspective—stories that advocate for characters that haven’t yet had a chance to live in books, and stories sprinkled with lessons that encourage the forming of healthy minds. 

Jackie Kramer

What can you tell us about your most recent project, Manolo & the Unicorn? Where did the inspiration for this story come from? 

Jackie: Manolo & the Unicorn was written with my son, Jonah, and was inspired by a bullying experience he had as a child. I was interested in writing an odd friendship story. But our love of mythology and unicorns pulled the two themes together. We both have acting backgrounds so it was fun to act out scenes we envisioned for the story before drafting a word. The story explores gender identity and believing in oneself wrapped in magical realism and mythology. When I was a child, or even later, when I had my own children, there weren’t any books that explored the theme of gender norms and identity. I feel good knowing that today kids have access to books like Manolo & the Unicorn.

Jonah: I wrote Manolo & the Unicorn with my mom and it was inspired by experiences I had as a child. Growing up I often felt alone or ostracized because my interests didn’t match with what my peers expected of me. An early memory I have is being told that my favorite color couldn’t be the color purple because “purple is for girls.” When I shared some of these experiences with my mom she felt like we could write a meaningful story together. As a kid, I was obsessed with fantastical creatures and would spend hours drawing unicorns, mermaids, fairies, and dragons. So, having our story based in magical realism felt like the perfect fit.

Zach: Visually, my biggest inspiration for the book came from very early Disney concept art by the renowned Mary Blair.  No one can paint magic the way that she did. 

How did you find yourself getting into storytelling, and children’s books? What drew you to the medium? 

Jackie: Since I was a young kid, I was cutting comics out from the Sunday papers and then pasting them onto another sheet of paper with my own story written underneath. I have always loved picture books. I loved to let my imagination step into another world. In addition, the stories helped me to understand the world around me. I started out planning on becoming an actor and trained at NYU, but my life’s journey took me in another direction. Ironically, my experience as an actor has helped me as a writer. In theatre, you have a beginning, middle, and an end with characters and settings. Page turns to me are like the end of a scene in a play, the curtain goes up and comes down. In the end, I felt I had something to say, and I hoped others felt the same way.

Jonah: I actually didn’t expect to get into the medium of children’s books. During the height of the pandemic, the theatre industry was hit extremely hard and I was out of work. My mom asked if I would be interested in writing a story with her based on some of my childhood experiences that I had shared with her. Coming from a theatre background I had already been telling stories, but now I got to tell them through a new medium. So, I kind of fell into the medium of children’s books, but I am so happy and grateful that I did.  

Zach: I think picture books are healing—for myself, and for readers. I create books that I wish I had access to when I was a child. Manolo & the Unicorn would have certainly had a home on my bookshelf. 

Jonah Kramer

How would you describe your creative process? And what went into collaborating with others for Manolo & the Unicorn? 

Jackie: Lots of daydreaming, musing, percolating, long walks, and Swiffering, before I put even one word on paper. Once I have the beginning and end, with the middle a bit fuzzy, I begin to draft the story. Sometimes I have a title that I love and work around that. If you write or illustrate picture books you need to accept and trust that it takes a creative village to make beautiful and meaningful books. I have been fortunate to work with a terrific team at Cameron Kids that had the same vision for Manolo & the Unicorn.

Jonah: Both my mom and I have a background in theatre, so we viewed a lot of the story as if it was a play or a movie. Typically one of us would write a section and then we would act it out for the other person almost as if it were a play. I remember we spent a lot of time trying to capture the nuances of what the first interaction would be between the Unicorn and Manolo. In the research we did on unicorn stories, we found that there is an etiquette and a level of politeness that is required when first meeting a unicorn. We went back and forth trying to find the balance of excitement, trepidation, and wonder that our two characters would be feeling when meeting for the first time. We acted this small moment out so many times. Ultimately most of what we acted out for that moment didn’t make it into the final edit, but it really helped to shape our understanding of the two characters and their relationship.

Zach: When creating Manolo & the Unicorn I spent a lot of time absorbing all of my favorite fairy tales from childhood. From there, judgment-free sketching and painting happens, and if I’m lucky things magically fall into place. The hardest part of creating anything is believing in yourself. I was lucky to have a team of people who really trusted my vision and encouraged me throughout the whole process of making the book. 

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

Jackie: I may have answered this in your first question. I have many, many creative influences like travel, the natural world, my childhood memories, and art. That said, my greatest creative influence is my curiosity. For example, I wrote the nonfiction picture book, Dorothy and Herbert-Ordinary People and their Extraordinary Collection of Art, after watching an amazing documentary about Herbert and Dorothy Vogel. The Vogels amassed one of the largest and priceless collections of modern art in a small, one-bedroom apartment, then donated it all to the National Gallery. I had never written nonfiction before, but I keep myself open to the muse who presents itself in many ways. 

Jonah: My parents loved to share classic movie musicals with me, so I think a lot of my inspiration comes from movies and musicals. I also take a lot of inspiration from queer artists and creators. 

Zach:  As an artist, I have endless influences. Those influences are constantly rotated and revisited based on the nature of the project I’m working on. For Manolo & the Unicorn, Mary Blair was my biggest influence. I fell madly in love with her work my freshman year of college and that love has persisted. Her visual development, specifically for Cinderella and Peter Pan, really inspired me while painting Manolo & the Unicorn.

Zach Manbeck

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

Jackie: I look forward to the fork in the road.

Jonah: I have been fortunate enough to get to explore a few different creative fields. When I was a kid I wanted to be a marine biologist, I ended up studying theatre and becoming an actor, and now I’m a published children’s book author. It’s never too late to explore other passions. You never know where they might take you.

Zach: I prefer to let my work speak for itself. In the age of social media, we have normalized constant updates and open windows into people’s personal lives. As an artist who marches to the beat of his own drum, I deliberately keep my “window” closed. Let your work speak for itself. 

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

Jackie: I have three more books coming out in 2023—We Are One-about our connections to each other and the natural world, Empanadas for Everyone-about a little girl who discovers her community when she makes empanadas, and Boogie in the Bronx, a toe-tapping, dancing and singalong book which features CD audio and video animation. I can’t say too much about it, but my latest WIP is nonfiction and takes the reader far into space.

Jonah: At the moment I don’t have anything that I am working on, but I am really trying to enjoy this moment of having my first book published. It has been so gratifying to see both kids and adults interacting with our story and sharing their excitement about it.

Zach: I currently have two new projects on my desk that are in very early stages.  One is a whimsical dreamy bedtime story and the other is a story about shyness and friendship.  I look forward to sharing more details about them in the future!

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

Jackie:  Do you believe in unicorns?

I do! Magical things exist all around us and happen all the time. All we need do is to tap into our curiosity and believe.

Jonah: What animal would you be for the wild animal parade?

A unicorn, of course!

Zach: What is your favorite part of Manolo & the Unicorn

One of my favorite parts of Manolo & the Unicorn is how I used color to tell the story. Throughout the pages, you will notice a conflict between the colors red and green. Manolo, his Unicorn, and their magic exists in a “green” world. Characters and feelings that question Manolo’s beliefs live in a ‘red’ world. When Manolo’s red-hued classmates let him know that they think unicorns aren’t real, he temporarily shifts from being green to red. However, when he meets his unicorn, he is magically restored to green. A similar color transformation also occurs at the end.

What advice might you have to give to aspiring creatives, to both those interested in making their own picture book? 

Jackie: Join the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators. Read, read, read lots of picture books old and new. Discover books that you love and use them as mentor texts, and to understand what’s being published. Finally, don’t quit. Believe in yourself and understand that a rejection isn’t personal. Rejections are completely subjective.

Jonah: I would say that it’s important to write about things that are genuine and authentic to you. When the subject matter is meaningful to you it makes the writing process that much easier, and I think as a reader you can feel the passion and the love through the writing as a result. It is also important to know your audience and who you are writing for. And for me, I am passionate about bringing more LGBTQ+-themed stories to the table. I know that there are kids out there who would both enjoy and benefit from having stories that reflect their experiences, but there are not enough stories being written for kids who may identify as LGBTQ+. So, I encourage aspiring creatives to find what they are passionate about and to find a need. What stories need to be told? What voices need to be heard?

Zach: Cliché, but don’t give up. My first picture book was sold for six figures after a multi-day auction between several publishers. I was living at home, unemployed, and broke when I got that email. I went into it just hoping one publisher would make me a small offer. Life has a way of surprising us…if you let it!

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

Jackie: There are many I love but here are a few of my favorites, and one written by our multitalented editor, for Manolo & the Unicorn: Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky illustrated by Julie Morstad (Viking, 2020). Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (Versify, 2021), and Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall (Greenwillow, 2015).

Jonah: My favorite book is The Song of Achilles (Ecco, 2012) by Madeline Miller. The book is based on the Greek mythology of Achilles and it is told from the perspective of Patroclus who was Achilles’ closest companion. I love the way Miller takes Greek mythology but tells the story through a writing style that makes Greek mythology easily accessible to young readers. It is truly one of the most beautiful love stories that I have ever read. To be able to read a book that I could relate to as a member of the LGBTQ+ community was so rewarding when for so long we have been (and continue to be) underwritten, undervalued, and unrepresented in most of the media that we consume. I can’t sing enough praises for The Song of Achilles.

Zach: Matthew Forsythe’s Mina (Simon & Schuster, 2022) and Pokko and the Drum (Simon & Schuster, 2019) are my favorites. Matt is an incredible artist, a clever writer, and a wonderful friend. 

Interview with Author Joy Ladin

Joy Ladin is the author of a memoir of gender transition, National Jewish Book Award finalist Through the Door of Life; Lambda Literary and Triangle Award finalist, The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective; and ten books of poetry, including her new collection, Shekhinah Speaks (Selva Oscura Press), National Jewish Book Award winner The Book of Anna, and Lambda Literary Award finalists Transmigration and Impersonation. Her work has been recognized with a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholarship, an American Council of Learned Societies Research Fellowship, and a Hadassah Brandeis Institute Research Fellowship, among other honors.

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

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

Thank you! I grew up white, lower middle class (my father was a social worker), assimilated Jewish, terrified, marginalized, annoying, and hyperverbal (in schoolyard sports, I played announcer) in the 1960s and 70s Rochester, NY. Though I knew nothing about anything, I spoke as though I were an expert on anything I talked about (this continues to be useful as a poet), particularly on Star Trek, which was having its first brief run on our black-and-white TV. When I wrote on freshly painted walls in magic marker, I was punished by not being allowed to watch Star Trek. 

Though I hid my trans identity, it wasn’t safe at home when I was an adolescent, and I more or less left after graduating from high school at 16, though I continued to see my family and get financial support through college. I was very interested in math until a college calc class I took when I was a high school sophomore taught me that, unlike poetry, you couldn’t just make things up in math.

I had started writing what I thought of poetry as soon as I learned to write, took my first writing workshop in junior high school and continued straight through till I graduated as a creative writing and social sciences major from Sarah Lawrence College. Instead of going to graduate school, I decided to focus on writing poetry, supporting my habit with what was at first my only marketable skill, typing. That decision led to ten years as an administrative assistant at The State Bar of California, during which writing piles of poetry, most of which never got published, while writing memos, managing budgets, and thinking about great writers like Kafka who were also office workers. 

I left to get an MFA I hoped would jump-start the career as a poet which, despite my hard work (I wrote constantly) and occasional publications, had remained a daydream. The MFA program I got into – Umass Amherst – didn’t teach me much about writing or help with my career, but it did lead me to what became my second vocation, teaching. I fell in love with teaching during the first class I taught (ironically, on “Man and Woman in Literature”) and never fell out of love with it, though illness forced me to leave the classroom a couple of years ago.

In order to become marketable, as they say, for a tenure-track job in teaching, after I finished the MFA thesis that eventually grew into my first book of poetry, Alternatives to History, I got a Ph.D. in American Literature from Princeton, which, after a few years on the market, helped me land the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English at Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University, the flagship school of modern Orthodox Judaism. I loved the students there, and the university’s support helped me write most of the work I’ve published. But it’s hard to mix openly trans identity with Orthodox Jewish culture, and uncomfortable to be the one and only openly trans person doing the mixing, and, over the twelve years following my gender transition, it got harder and harder to work at Yeshiva University. 

Despite the discomfort, my experiences on the border of contemporary secular and traditional religious culture launched me on what became a third career as a speaker and writer about gender identity, particularly about the intersections and collisions between trans and nonbinary identities and traditional religions. Much of the non-literary work of which I’m proudest wouldn’t have been possible without what I learned – was forced to learn – by teaching in an Orthodox environment, and Yeshiva University’s support enabled me to write dozens of essays, a memoir of gender transition, a book of trans theology, and numerous books of poetry. 

Unfortunately, over those very productive years, I was also getting sicker and sicker from ME/CFS, and in 2021 finally had to go on disability. These days, I’m mostly housebound, though still writing (I’ve just finished a collection of selected essays) and doing speaking events via (what else?) Zoom.

What can you tell us about your most recent book, The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective? What inspired this project?

Actually, my most recent book is Shekhinah Speaks, a collection of poems intended to give voice to the Shekhinah, Jewish mysticism’s name for the immanent, female aspect of the divine. But I couldn’t have written it without first having written The Soul of the Stranger, a book of intimate theology that grew out of a lifetime of thinking about and talking with God. I don’t think it’s unusual for children to have a sense of divine or other presence beyond the human, and from what others have told me that sense is often particularly keen for LGBTQ+ kids and others who, as I did, grow up feeling isolated by their differences from those around them. It wasn’t the easiest relationship – when you’re a lonely child, God is not the kind of companion you are longing for – but I don’t think I would have survived my childhood if I hadn’t felt God there with me. Without God, I wouldn’t have anyone to talk with who didn’t mistake me for the boy I was pretending to be and knew who I really was. 

A lot of children have that sense of God’s presence educated or beaten out of them, or displaced by institutionalized religious ideas, worship, and community. But my family wasn’t religious, and my relationship with God has continued throughout my adult life. Though it took place outside institutionalized Judaism, my relationship with God was still connected to Jewish tradition, primarily through my independent reading of the Hebrew Bible, texts I saw as portraying God as someone who, like me, was isolated and often heartbroken because, like me, God doesn’t have a body that would enable the people God loves to see that God is there. 

I didn’t start publicly talking and writing about my relationship with God until after my gender transition. At first, I did so as part of explaining how I grew up as a trans kid. But to my surprise, many people seemed as interested in the idea of having a personal relationship with God as they were in what I said about trans identity. 

The Soul of the Stranger is a response to that interest, an effort to think through what I learned about God and the portrayal of God in the Bible from experiencing them from a transgender perspective – that is, experiencing them in the context and through the lens of my experiences as a person who doesn’t fit binary gender categories. I wanted the book to demonstrate that, contrary to what many think, trans experience is not opposed to religious experience or even religious tradition, that, as in my life, each could sustain and illuminate the other. I hoped it would help bridge the often bitter gulf between trans and nonbinary and religious communities, help trans and nonbinary people see themselves as inherently entitled to religious traditions, and help people inside and outside religious communities recognize and explore the possibility of having their own relationships with God.

Speaking as a queer Jewish person myself, I know there’s often been some tension between the queer community and the concept of religion. What are your thoughts on this and how would you describe your relationship with Judaism?

I think the opposition between religious traditions and queer identities is too often taken as a given by people in both kinds of communities. There are and have always been deeply religious LGBTQ+ people who adhere to traditional forms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and I have heard many of those people tell me that they feel marginalized on both sides of the divide: marginalized by LGBTQ+ identity in their religious communities, and by their religious identification in queer circles, sometimes so much that they feel they have to “closet” their religious affinities. 

The fact that there are so many people like this shows us that there is no necessary opposition between being traditionally religious and LGBTQ+ identities, that those identities are not, as we often assume, inherently secular and opposed to or incompatible with being traditionally religious. So where does this assumption come from? 

One source is obviously the explicitly phobic elements in religious traditions and their expression and magnification in some contemporary religious communities – elements that have harmed generations of LGBTQ+ people, and driven many of us to reject religion and embrace secularism. But, at least in terms of Judaism, these phobic elements are fragmentary, intermittent, go in and out of mainstream fashion, and center on male homosexuality rather than general opposition to sexual or gender difference. (There’s barely enough awareness of lesbians in Jewish tradition to generate prohibitions, much less hatred.) When I came out as trans at Yeshiva University, there was no general anti-trans discourse in Orthodox Judaism (there is more now), no tradition of hating on trans people. That discourse grew in response to the increasing visibility of trans and other queer people, but, except for homophobia, this is not traditional or central to Jewish tradition.

Another thing that feeds this assumption is the historical fact that our language of sexual and gender difference is secular, a mishmash developed first by scientists (more or less) interested in describing behaviors and biological and psychological types, and more recently by activists interested in asserting and defending individual identities and rights. The assertion of individual identity as the most important aspect of our humanity is indeed a secular idea, a response to both democracy and capitalism, and it stands in opposition (as the early standard-bearers of Enlightenment knew) to not only traditional religions but to traditional modes of community, which tend to define people first in terms of their roles and relations to others and secondarily in terms of individuality. 

But even in those kinds of traditional communities, people are recognized as individuals as well as who they are to others, and even in LGBTQ+ communities, people are recognized in terms of relations to others as well as individual identity. While secular and traditional societies ascribe different priorities to each, both are necessary aspects of both community and humanity. In other words, they are complementary, not contradictory – which makes queer discourses that value only individual identity limiting and damaging in ways that are analogues to the limitations and damage caused by traditional religious discourses that value only whether we fit assigned roles and categories.

Because I grew up in isolation as a trans-Jew, I managed to avoid all of this growing up. Judaism was mine, I was told, because I was born Jewish, and in the absence of teachers who promoted a strong idea of what Judaism was, I made up my own version, a version centered, as I talk about in The Soul of the Stranger, on a relationship with God and reading of the Torah based on my trans experiences of not fitting human categories. I never accepted others’ versions of Judaism, though I have learned a lot from them and participated in them, and so I never experienced a tension between being trans or queer and being a religious (though non-Orthodox) Jew. It can be lonely to have a Judaism made for one – I have never fully felt at home in any Jewish community, and Jewish community central to much of Judaism. But I have accepted that loneliness as the price for practicing a Judaism that fits and embraces both my trans identity and my idiosyncratic relationship with God.

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

I don’t know why I started writing poetry – I just did, even though our family didn’t read or have books of poetry around. Most of my non-school reading was science fiction, one of the few things I could really share with my father, who grew up idolizing Isaac Asimov, a writer who came from a similar background. There were boxes of SF magazines from 40s and 50s in a room in our basement, and I read my way through them, as well as experimenting with then-up-and-coming writers like Harlan Ellison, who I adored for his snarkiness, his anguish, and his overwriting, qualities I shared. 

But aside from a failed (ie, unpublished) fantasy novel, I have always seen poetry, mostly lyric poetry, as the focus of my reading and writing life. The poets in my personal pantheon – the ones who keep teaching me what great poetry is and what poetry can be – include Emily Dickinson, Cesar Vallejo, Pablo Neruda, Basho, and Issa, among others. I have written some narrative poems – it’s something that interests me and that I can at least sometimes do, and my most ambitious literary work is The Book of Anna, a sort of novel made out of the diary entries and poems of a fictional concentration camp survivor trying to make sense of what she has survived. But my interest in storytelling was truly kindled after my gender transition when publicity in the New York Post led to my giving scores of talks about trans identity. At first, most of what I knew about trans identity was my own life story. As I told stories of my growing up hiding my identity, gender transition in middle age, and then creating a life as myself in different ways to different audiences, I learned to love storytelling, to see it as a way of not only communicating but of understanding myself and the profound questions of gender and identity that have shaped me. That love deepened as I wrote my memoir of gender transition, and though I doubt I will ever write prose fiction again, I expect that storytelling will remain central to my teaching, my thinking, and even my spiritual life. 

As a poet and non-fiction writer, how would you describe your creative process within both mediums?

For me, poetry (at least good poetry) either starts somewhere other than my conscious intentions or quickly grows beyond them. A good example of the latter is Shekhinah Speaks, which started with a conscious intention to write in the voice of the Shekhinah, but only became something worth doing when I recognized that what I really wanted was not to masquerade as a divine being, but put words together in ways that would enable divinity to speak through them. The Book of Anna was even less conscious in origin – it began when I heard a voice in my head suggesting I write about Anna, a fictional character I had not yet imagined. (I don’t understand that either.) But most of my poems start just by throwing words on the page and seeing what happens – which is probably why most of my poems end up falling short of poetry. However, when the words I’ve thrown down engage my unconscious imagination and feel like they are coming from or pointing beyond me, that’s when I know a draft might grow into real poetry.

All my non-fiction prose, even my academic writing, also has an element of unconscious impulse and imagination, and the best stuff always goes beyond what I think I know, but for me, that kind of writing always starts with conscious intention. The Soul of the Stranger grew out of my desire to develop a Jewish trans theology based on Biblical texts and informed by my own experience; my memoir of transition, Through the Door of Life, started with the intention of articulating aspects of gender transition that, as far as I could tell, no one had yet written about.  Both of them grew in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I had those intentions, but both of them remained driven by those original conscious intentions in ways that isn’t true of my poetry.

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

Even in my most conscious prose, the part of writing I have always loved most is thinking on paper, free-writing, getting high on the feeling of words and sentences coming together and of new meaning finding its way into the world through me. But I love the feeling of discovery and revelation at every stage in the writing process, including the often difficult process of revision – and I love when I discover something by editing or cutting a sentence. Even though it’s often hard work, and even though that work often leads to writing I end up cutting or abandoning, I love writing. I never want to live without it.

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

I’m not sure what the question would be (good thing I’m not on Jeopardy!), but one of the big shifts in my life as an openly trans – and thus openly queer – person was from seeing myself as a deviation or an exception to humanity, as a problem to be accommodated or explained, to seeing them as simply ways of being human. Rather than assuming, as I did most of my life, that the ways I am different were inherently marginalizing and problematic, I realized that they not only need no justification or defense but that they are sources of insight and wisdom, that they offer me perspective on the common dynamics and challenges of being human. In other words, I started thinking and talking and writing about how what makes me seem different can enable those who see me that way to understand aspects of themselves and their own lives. That shifts the incentives for inclusion of those who seem different. In addition, being something we owe people who have been excluded or marginalized, inclusion becomes a way of expanding our understanding of our own humanity. This shift, I’ve found, reduces resistance to inclusion (self-interest is a more reliable motivator than high ideals), and makes it more likely that people who are seen as different are listened to and valued rather than simply tolerated or treated as virtue-signifying tokens. 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

I don’t know how good a source I am for that kind of advice, since most of my life I received little recognition, and even now, after publishing 12 books, rarely get reviewed or receive mainstream attention. But here are some things I’ve learned that has helped me. 

I don’t need anyone else’s permission or recognition to be a writer – being a writer just (just!) means making writing central to my life. To do that, I need to write what delights and matters and is true to me. I also have to do the hard work of revising my writing so that it delights and matters and is true not only to me but to others. I have to simultaneously be tirelessly committed to the work of writing, and compassionate to myself when my human vulnerability (or just the need to have a life!) get in the way of it. In my life as a writer, I need to strive for greatness (by which I mean, strive for writing that is bigger, better, truer, more honest, smarter, wiser, more insightful than I am) rather than praise or recognition, because when I do that, the work is worth doing no matter what the rest of the world makes of what I write. 

Most importantly: always make writing sure that in addition to working hard, you write for pleasure, that you do writing that just feels good to you, because it’s the pleasure of writing that gets us through the sometimes brutal cycles of revision and rejection and so on.

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

I don’t know how much is interesting about me outside my work. That’s especially true now that my life is circumscribed by illness and disability, but I have always tried to put the best of myself into my writing, and the other aspects of life I value most – loving and being loved, friendship, conversation, reading poetry, trying to be a better, more curious, more understanding, more generous, more grateful person – are pretty common. 

But I do want readers to know that even though, as someone who grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust and the cold war nuclear threat and who obliviously contributed to the cascading catastrophes of climate change, I am afraid of and for humanity, I love our species. I believe that we can learn to stop destroying ourselves and one another, and that our best is still to come.

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

I’m going to leave out the usual (and great) suspects like Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich and Allen Ginsberg, and recommend a couple of less-read authors I admire. In poetry, I strongly recommend the now-neglected W.H. Auden, as well as contemporary poets such as Trace Peterson (and check out her magazine EOAGH for great LGBTQ+ writing), Cam Awkward-Rich, Taylor Johnson, and Chen Chen. In terms of academic writing, I’m a big fan of Talia Bettcher‘s well-thought-out and clearly written philosophical examinations of trans identity and the issues surrounding it. Max Strassfeld‘s work on trans-Talmud is everything I think public scholarship should be, and Finn Enke is a less-known but wonderfully thoughtful and reader-writer on trans history.

Interview with Author Lio Min

Lio Min writes about music, magic, and sadness at the nexus of queer youth culture and metamorphic Asia America. Their culture reporting and fiction have appeared in The FADER, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Nylon, and many other outlets. They live in California.

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

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

At various points in my life, I’ve been a boba barista, mailroom attendant, summer camp teacher, floral clerk, and call center operator. Throughout it all, I’ve reported and written stories all over the internet and a few times for print. The things I most write about are Asian American youth and music. Beating Heart Baby is my first novel.

What can you tell us about your most recent book, Beating Heart Baby? What was the inspiration for this project? And where did the title come from?

BHB is about boys, bands, and Los Angeles—and also internet friendships, anime, viral stardom, historical trauma, and modern Asian America. The summary that I personally feel is most accurate comes from a writer for the Chicago Review of Books, who described it as a story that shows “the violence and ecstasy of what it means to become an artist, to really be seen, both as and beyond a young adult.” My joke/not joke synopsis is, imagine if The Song of Achilles was actually about a song, set in our contemporary world, and ended with something more ambiguous than death.

So. Back in 2018, I worked at a summer camp, primarily with kids aged five to thirteen. There were a couple of kids there who left an impression on me — as an adult, you can too easily build an idea about who kids are and what they want out of life, and lose sight of the wonder and mischief and dangers and desires of childhood as it plays out. (Which, of course, you lived through the whole circus yourself, but at a certain point you begin to slip into the binary thinking of “my” generation versus “other” generations.) So I came into this job thinking I knew about kids and left the job much more tender-hearted about the trials and tribulations inherent in modern childhood. Some of the kids are, based on honed intuition, definitely going to go through “gender stuff” in the future, at a time when that vector of children’s autonomy is more and more surveilled if not outright criminalized. I found myself wondering if/how I could build a vision of the future these kids deserve, one that’s set in “the real world” but imagines what could be as the template for reality. 

Re: the Asian American POV centricity, there are unique cultural frameworks within the multitudes of Asian Americas that I wanted to blow up (as in photography, not explosives) and examine as someone who lives in, critically observes, and conflictingly loves the coalition and histories suggested by the term “Asian American.” Re: the music element, I wanted to play with ideas about ownership, visibility, and identity (as an aesthetic influence but also as a commercial imperative) within the music world, focusing specifically on the increasingly more meteoric journeys that increasingly younger artists have to navigate with infinitely more eyes watching their every creative but also personal move. 

The name of the book comes from a song released in 2004 by the pop-punk band Head Automatica. I liked it a lot when I was a kid; I definitely downloaded it off Mediafire or some site like that and revisited it every so often, usually as a running song. A decade later, one of the editors at my then-job polled the newsroom for their favorite crush songs. That was my contribution, and when years later I tried to figure out what to name the manuscript I couldn’t stop working on, I eventually thought of “Beating Heart Baby” — its relentless pacing and pleading as the singer sounds like he’s about to get crushed by his crush.

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

Growing up, I was an avid reader of pretty much everything. The stuff I wrote in my spare time was also pretty much anything. But once I got to high school, I stopped being encouraged to read widely and was definitely not encouraged to write, period. So for the most part I just didn’t. I eventually found my will to write (or rather, couldn’t keep it muzzled), but it took me well into my twenties to start reading regularly again, and then yet another internal push to start reading literary fiction again, which was a precursor to writing fiction not just for myself, as I’d done as a child, but to be read by other people.

I actually thought I was never going to write fiction as an adult. Then I started experimenting with some short stories and was like, “Okay, that’s it.” Then I had that fateful summer experience and realized that the only way I was going to export all of these ambient influences and ideas out of my brain and into the world, given my limited creative toolbox, was through…sigh…long-form fiction. 

There was an early crossroads for BHB, whether it would be a YA or an “adult” book. What pushed me to choose YA was because the only time in my life when I read like my life depended on it was in childhood, because in some ways my life did depend on the worlds and ideas I only encountered and imagined through reading. And while plenty of adults read YA, there are some people who will only ever be able to (for a variety of reasons) read like their lives depended on it during childhood, and who will only have access to books through portals like teachers and librarians tasked with the job of curating books “for them” specifically. So I made that choice “for them.”

In addition to writing fiction, you are also a pop culture and music journalist. How did you find yourself getting into that line of work? 

I’ve always loved music but I wasn’t allowed to go to shows as a kid, so once I moved from suburban New Jersey to Los Angeles for college, I gorged myself on all of this culture that I’d only been able to admire from a far distance. Through a stroke of divine intervention, the journalism school (of which I was initially not a part) had just started a new digital outlet and was actively soliciting writers. (This is different from most college newspapers as far as I know, in that you normally have to have more samples/experience and formally apply. I did not have to turn in a serious application and sometimes that makes all the difference.) Through another stroke of divine intervention, my editors had no interest in covering music outside of celebrity news, so with their complete blessing/indifference, I took my college press credential and shared use DSLR into LA’s music scene and never looked back.

How did you find that connecting to your work with Beating Heart Baby?

I’m generalizing wildly here, but I think music is the most galvanizing and popular force within modern youth culture. Maybe all culture throughout history, but I can only really go to bat for the “modern youth” modifier. To some extent, the relationship between artists and fans has always had the potential to be downright religious with obvious cult overtones, but these associations are growing stronger and starting younger. Those relationships are then intensified in ways both affirming (as with the markedly more gender/race diverse pool of working musicians creating art on their own terms) and debasing (cult overtones are not good!), all filtered through the distortions of social media. When you combine this with the traditional coming-of-age narrative, specifically the somewhat traditional queer coming-of-age narrative, you have an endlessly replenishing powder keg of conflicts and desires. 

Also, I love describing music through writing, even though it’s a Sisyphean endeavor. You don’t always have the full creative freedom to get weird/go deep with those descriptions in reported work, but in fiction, you have that freedom and in fact must follow it in order to get readers to imagine something that, by virtue of its existence, is impossible to pin down into words alone. 

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

I always tell people that BHB is the novelization of an anime. I grew up reading manga and watching anime, and the intentionality of animation is my single greatest artistic inspiration. As with writing, nothing exists until you place it just so; there are no accidental symbols, no ambient scener and sounds, or improvised moments. Every sunbeam was designed and drawn and its movement over and against someone’s outstretched hand is choreographed in sync with that hand, with the leaves that swirl in the languid late summer breeze— You get the gist. My favorite anime series simultaneously leave nothing and everything to imagination; you sense the impossible world beyond the impossible frame and long to step into it.

So, anime. And then there’s music. As I wrote BHB, I obsessively curated three playlists: one for the events of the book from the protagonist Santi’s POV, one for the events of the book from the protagonist Suwa’s POV, and one from my authorial POV. There are sequences of the book that are beat-by-beat soundtracked by a specific song; for example, the ending of Track 7 is synced with Mitski’s “Geyser.” On a structural level, the moment when the POV switches halfway through the book was my way of pulling off a beat switch; the song that inspired that choice was Frank Ocean’s “Nights.” Pretty much all of my writing is “scored” to, rather than inspired by, what I’m listening to.

And then of course, other writing. Specific to BHB, I meditated on Bryan Washington’s Lot, Cynthia Kadohata’s The Floating World, Andrea Lawlor’s Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, and Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko.

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

I love writing sensory immersion and crescendoing a scene toward a specific action or line. Dialogue is fun to refine; I imagine it as parrying myself until both of “my” weapons have been honed to gleaming.

The most frustrating part of writing is getting not just a first draft down, but connected, which is a bear no matter if I’m reporting a story or writing something personal, and especially gnarly when I’m both the conductor and the train, so to speak. An exquisite corpse is still a corpse… 

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

I did marching band for three years at a big football school and learned all of my music by ear because I couldn’t read/translate the sheet music. (The double-edged sword of perfect pitch.)

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)?

“What, if any anime was the main inspiration for Mugen Glider?” (The fake anime in BHB.)
In terms of imagery/mood, From the New World, specifically this ending credits sequence. In terms of story, the films 5 Centimeters Per Second and Millennium Actress, directed by Makoto Shinkai and Satoshi Kon respectively.

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Live. Both as an imperative and as a person beyond writing. 

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

I’m doing a residency soon wherein I will supposedly be working on Book 2… More generally, I write a monthly-ish column for Catapult called Formation Jukebox, in which I deep dive into songs and relate them back to transness/transitioning, a process I am currently…undergoing? Living? 

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

David Wojnarowicz’s memoir Close to the Knives cleaved me to my core. There’s my writing and like, life and thinking pre-Knives and then post-Knives. I like their books too but I go up for the “other writing” (short stories, essays, criticism, reports) by Bryan Washington, Andrea Long Chu, Alexander Chee (especially this, oh my god), and K-Ming Chang. Anthony Veasna So’s “Baby Yeah.” (RIP.) If it’s a cliché to recommend Ocean Vuong, I don’t want to be original. Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani is a gorgeous and tender manga for those of y’all searching in that world, as is Blue Period by Tsubasa Yamaguchi (which is also about becoming an artist, in this case within the unique ecosystem of fine art). 

Header Photo Credit Bao Ngo

Star Trek (But Make it Gay): DS9

Boldly Representing Rainbow Geeks since Star Date 22766.5 (If you don’t know, now you know)

Disclaimer: This may be the most underrated Star Trek series ever. It was the first to be serial rather than episodic, and it is highly nuanced and political. There were a ridiculous number of episodes I wanted to list, but worked hard to narrow it down. 

Busy Geek Breakdown:

Lifelong Trekkie or never seen a single episode? Check out the following:

Season 3; Episode 18. Season 4; Episode 6.  Season 6, Episode 23. Season 7, Episode 8, Episode 13.

Also, if you just want to see Captain Sisko being a badass, click here.

If you want to see how DS9 crew deals with Time Travel (or want to see Jadzia Dax in a Skant and updo Stanning Kirk), click here.

If you’re a seasoned Trekkie, or are just one of those people who always clicks ‘Jump to the Recipe’ right away — click here.

For total Star Trek Redshirts Provisional Ensigns Red Squad Cadets (and if you’re thinking ‘but the Red Squad was elite!’ yes, I know. But how did that work out for them. Hmmmm? Exactly Just go with it):

DS9 is a science fiction television series that aired from 1993 to 1999. It is set in the Star Trek universe and takes place on a space station called Deep Space Nine, which is located near a stable wormhole that provides access to a distant part of the galaxy.

This overlapped with The Next Generation, as a sequel to The Original Series. There are plenty of crossover episodes, and you’ll definitely see some of your favorite characters.

The main character of the series is Commander Benjamin Sisko (played by Avery Brooks ‘we both went to Indiana University so I guess I’m kind of a big deal by proxy), who is tasked with overseeing the station and maintaining relations with the various alien species that visit it. Sisko is joined by a diverse crew, including his first officer, Major Kira Nerys, the station’s doctor, Julian Bashir, the shapeshifter Odo, the Ferengi bartender Quark, and the human Chief of Operations, Miles O’Brien.

Over the course of the series, the crew of DS9 faces a variety of challenges and conflicts, including battles with the Dominion, a powerful empire from the Gamma Quadrant, and the Cardassians …

no, not them …

Courtesy of makeagif.com

These fun folks. An aggressive alien race (that previously tortured the shit out of Picard) that once occupied the station. They also deal with political intrigue, moral dilemmas, and personal struggles, all while exploring the far reaches of the galaxy and encountering new and fascinating alien civilizations.

It’s worth noting that while these episodes were groundbreaking for their time, they may not be considered entirely inclusive by modern standards, and some may find them problematic.

Overall, these episodes are all important contributions to queer representation in popular culture. And the costumes and makeup only add to the symbolism and power of these stories.

Throughout the series, DS9 tackles complex themes and issues, including war, religion, politics, and social justice. It also features a diverse cast of characters and a strong emphasis on character development and relationships.

Overall, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a rich and engaging science fiction series that explores the depths of the human (and alien) experience, while taking viewers on an unforgettable journey through the final frontier.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) was a trailblazing show in terms of its representation of LGBTQ+ characters. The series tackled themes of identity, acceptance, and love in a way that was ahead of its time. Here are the six best episodes of Star Trek DS9 that feature LGBTQ+ characters, listed in chronological order of air date: (Onward to the numbered list! Yaaass!!!)

6. “Distant Voices” (Season 3, Episode 18)

Aired on April 10, 1995, “Distant Voices” Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) is attacked and rendered unconscious in his own infirmary. When he wakes up, he finds himself aging rapidly and experiencing hallucinations of his friends and colleagues turning against him, as the space station appears to be failing and nearly everyone is dead or gone. As he tries to figure out what’s happening to him, he realizes that his mind is trapped in a telepathic matrix created by the Letheans, a species known for their telepathic abilities. He eventually realizes that he can fight back inside his own mind and takes charge.

So first, I felt old watching this episode because Dr. Bashir makes a huge deal about turning 30. 

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

That aside, It’s not only a great episode about the Tao of Dr. Bashir, embodied in different characters (if a little on the nose at times) but it While Julian Bashir and Garak (Andrew J. Robinson) did not share a romantic relationship, their friendship was still significant for its portrayal of intimacy between two men. In the 1990s, when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was airing, depictions of close male friendships were often limited to stereotypes of toxic masculinity, with emotions and physical touch seen as signs of weakness.

However, Bashir and Garak’s relationship subverted these norms. They shared moments of vulnerability, empathy, and even physical affection, without any implications of romantic or sexual attraction. This representation of a healthy, non-romantic male relationship was rare on television at the time, and it challenged harmful stereotypes of masculinity.

Their relationship also touched on themes of identity and acceptance, as Garak was a Cardassian spy with a complicated past and Bashir struggled with the expectations of being a genetically enhanced human. Their friendship allowed them to navigate their personal challenges and grow as individuals.

Overall, while their relationship may not have been explicitly LGBTQ+, it was still significant for its representation of intimacy and vulnerability between two men, and for subverting harmful stereotypes of masculinity. Of course there’s always Rule 34, so while I haven’t specifically gone searching, I am sure there’s lots of Fan Fiction that imagines their relationship differently . . .

What were we doing? Oh right, the episode. 

Why are they playing tennis in the middle of the station? Why so we can get some much needed exposition, duh!

And of course there’s a very surreal surprise party thrown by a lady in a cat suit with huge hair, and imaginary Garak.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Gayest episode ever? No. But it’s definitely a great example of intimacy, self examination, and finding one’s inner truth and value without all the machismo.

5. “Rejoined” (Season 4, Episode 6)

Aired on October 30, 1995, “Rejoined” is considered one of the most groundbreaking LGBTQ+ episodes in television history. In the episode, Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) meets her former wife, Lenara Kahn (Susanna Thompson). The two women had been married in previous host bodies. The episode’s exploration of love, relationships, and gender identity was a groundbreaking moment for LGBTQ+ representation on television.

Trill society frowns upon rekindling past romantic relationships after a host’s symbiont has been transferred to a new host, to the point where it is effectively a death sentence (as the symbiont will only live as long as the current host does) and the two must navigate the societal taboo against their feelings for each other.

This episode is groundbreaking! It’s one of the first times Star Trek has directly dealt with same-sex relationships, and it’s done in a way that’s respectful and nuanced. Jadzia and Lenara’s relationship is so tender and sweet, and you can really feel the love between them. And when they kiss – honey, I got chills! But what’s really powerful is the way the episode deals with the taboo of their relationship. It’s a metaphor for the way society can try to suppress queer love, but it’s also a message of hope that love will always find a way!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m always here for some queer representation in media, and “Rejoined” delivered. You can really see the tension in Jadzia’s face as she struggles with her feelings for Lenara. We need to see more LGBTQ+ characters on our screens, not just for visibility but to show that love is love, no matter who it’s between.

Now, let’s talk trans rights, because the character of Dax raises some interesting questions about gender and identity. As a Trill, Dax is a symbiont that lives inside a humanoid host. In the episode, she’s reunited with her former female host, Lenara Kahn, and the two rekindle their romantic relationship. The fact that Dax is a symbiont raises interesting questions about the fluidity of gender and identity. The show doesn’t delve too deeply into these themes, but it’s still worth thinking about.

Of course, we can’t forget the forbidden love aspect of the episode. Dax and Lenara’s relationship is forbidden because Trill society frowns upon rekindling a relationship with a former host. It’s a classic Romeo and Juliet story, but with a sci-fi twist. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good forbidden love story? It’s like catnip for drama queens like me!

Now, the sexual tension between Dax and Lenara is thicker than a day time drag queen’s foundation. You can cut it with a knife! And let’s not forget that both Dax and Lenara have had multiple hosts over the years. It’s like an intergalactic version of an ex-spouse reunion! Can you imagine the drama if they got together and started fighting about who gets custody of their former hosts’ memories?

“Rejoined” is a must-watch for any sci-fi or LGBTQ+ fan. It’s a groundbreaking episode that tackled important themes ahead of its time, and it’s still relevant today.

Also, there are some more great moments with CDR Worf in this episode, like when at a cocktail party with a bunch of Trill scientists, they ask what Klingons dream of.

And thanks to a really sweet exchange between Dax and Lanara, we learn a bit about Klingon Fashion.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

And let’s not forget about our dear friend Ben Sisko! As the commander of Deep Space Nine, he’s always there for his crew, no matter what kind of intergalactic drama they’re going through. He’s a true friend, and we could all use a friend like him in our lives.

But as Captain Sisko, he’s got to keep his crew in line! I mean, come on, if Dax and Lenara had gotten caught, it could have meant the end of their careers, or worse! Maybe he needs to have a talk with his first officer about following the rules. Or maybe he needs to loosen up a bit himself! He’s apparently already on a first name basis with many of his subordinate officers. Oh Well.  After all, life is short, and love is a beautiful thing, even if it’s forbidden.

Unfortunately, it’s not always meant to be. Sometimes the pressures of society are too much even for true love. Just heartbreaking.

In any case, “Rejoined” is a classic episode that shows us the power of love, the importance of friendship, and the beauty of a good, juicy sci-fi storyline. So, grab some popcorn, settle in, and get ready for some intergalactic drama!

4. “Profit and Lace” (Season 6, Episode 23)

Aired on May 13, 1998, “Profit and Lace” is a controversial episode that features the character of Quark (Armin Shimerman) having a gender-reassignment surgery in order to impersonate a female member of his species. While the episode has been criticized for its problematic portrayal of gender identity, it was a significant moment for LGBTQ+ representation on television.

Before we dive into the gender and identity themes of “Profit and Lace,” we have to address the elephant in the room: Quark’s problematic behavior at the beginning of the episode. It’s true that the episode starts with Quark engaging in quid pro quo sexual harassment of his star Dabo girl, Leeta. This behavior is creepy, inappropriate, and not at all okay. It’s important to acknowledge that this kind of behavior is not acceptable, and should not be normalized or trivialized.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

Quark apparently skipped every single training that Star Fleet Human Resources had ….

That being said, the episode does not condone Quark’s behavior. In fact, it goes out of its way to show how damaging and hurtful this kind of behavior can be. When Quark is forced to pose as a female, he experiences firsthand the discrimination and harassment that women face in Ferengi society. This experience teaches him empathy and understanding, and he ultimately comes to recognize the harm that his previous behavior has caused.

So, while “Profit and Lace” certainly has its flaws, it’s also a story of growth and redemption. It’s not perfect, but it does offer some interesting commentary on gender and identity, and it’s worth watching for that reason alone.

I initially thought that this was going to be a Bird Cage situation, but to my surprise, Quark undergoes the fastest medical transition ever thanks to Dr. Bashir – and is now Lumba. The surgery does not change her voice, and she has to learn how to walk in heels. Of course the episode begins with Moogi getting the Grand Nagus to ammend the laws so Ferengi women can now wear clothes in public, challenging the traditional gender roles of Ferengi society.

Now, let’s talk about the costumes and makeup. Lumba serves up nothing but executive Ferengi realness!

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

But at the same time, it’s like a commentary on how women are expected to conform to certain beauty standards. And when Quark transforms back into a man at the end of the episode, honey, it’s like a symbol of breaking free from those oppressive gender norms.

Oh, honey, where do I even begin with this one? This episode is a wild ride from start to finish! The gender-swapping plot is played for laughs, but there’s also some serious commentary on gender roles and societal norms. It’s a reminder that gender is a social construct, and that there’s no one right way to be a man or a woman. Ultimately Lumba is able to get the Ferengi Commerce Authority to change their sexist policies. It’s a powerful message of activism, truly owning someone’s struggle, and standing up for what’s right. And let’s not forget about the fabulous costumes and set design – those Ferengi outfits and all of the jewels!

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

And at the end, not only did Lumba save the day, but following another fast medical transition (medicine in the 24th century is awesome!) Quark has gained some perspective and starts speaking respectfully to the Dabo girl from the beginning of the episode, gives her a raise, and even turns down her advances.

Even though parts of this were clearly played for the comic misunderstandings, at the end of the day, there’s very little backlash for Quark – Lumba – Quark, and their Moogi even says “You may not have been much of a son, but you made an amazing daughter”.

3. “The Siege of AR-558” (Season 7, Episode 8)

Aired on November 18, 1998, “The Siege of AR-558” on the surface is not on the surface about LGBT issues, but let me tell you why you’re wrong. (I have opinions!!!!)

This episode is a perfect example of the darkest days of the Dominion Wars, as a few survivors are protecting a communications relay from the Jem’Hadar 

The events of “The Siege of AR-558” remind us that the struggle for equality and justice is ongoing and often painful. The queer community knows all too well what it means to fight against overwhelming odds and suffer profound loss. We have faced violence, oppression, and discrimination throughout our history, from Stonewall to the HIV pandemic, Drag bans, assaults on trans rights and beyond.

But this episode also shows us that change is possible, and that we are stronger when we have co-conspirators rather than passive allies. The crew of Deep Space Nine learned this the hard way, as they were thrust into the front lines of a brutal war and forced to confront the realities of combat. They came to realize that the struggle for justice is not a distant abstract concept, but something that affects real people on the front lines.

This lesson is especially important for allies of the queer community. It’s not enough to simply say that you support us or that you are against discrimination. Real change requires action, and it requires a willingness to fight alongside us. We need co-conspirators who are willing to put themselves on the line and take risks for the sake of justice.

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

On a brighter note, Raymond Cruz makes an appearance who you might know as Tuco from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

2.”Field of Fire” (Season 7, Episode 13)

Aired on February 17, 1999, “Field of Fire” In “Field of Fire,” a murder mystery unfolds on Deep Space Nine when a series of crew members are killed by a seemingly random attacker. Lieutenant Ezri Dax assists in the investigation, which leads to the discovery of a Vulcan officer who survives the slaughter of his crew, and becomes a logic extremist, dealing death to folks who find joy and laughter as he struggles with survivor guilt.

Also, Dax’s old forgotten host is super creepy …

The episode touches on issues of trust, betrayal, and trauma as the characters grapple with the consequences of one’s actions. It also highlights the importance of seeking help and support when dealing with difficult emotions and experiences.

In terms of its relation to the LGBT community, the episode does not have any overt references to LGBT themes or characters. However, the underlying themes of identity, repression, and acceptance could be seen as resonating with the struggles faced by many members of the Queer community. For example, the idea of feeling forced to hide one’s true identity or desires due to societal pressures or expectations is a common experience for many in the Queer community.

The episode’s message of the importance of being true to oneself and seeking help when needed could therefore be seen as relevant and empowering. And ultimately Dax has to rely on multiple aspects of themselves and trust their instincts to solve the murder, while keeping a cool head to ensure that justice is done.

1. “Chimera” (Season 7, Episode 14)

This standout episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine explores themes of identity, belonging, and acceptance. The episode follows the character Odo, a shapeshifter who has always struggled with his place in the galaxy. When Odo is visited by another shapeshifter named Laas, he is excited to meet someone like himself but soon discovers that Laas has a much more militant view of their kind.

Laas believes that shapeshifters should distance themselves from “solids” and not take on their form, which he sees as an act of subservience. Laas also challenges Odo’s decision to remain on Deep Space Nine and serve as a security officer for Starfleet.

As Odo and Laas spend more time together, their relationship becomes increasingly complex. Laas represents a different perspective on what it means to be a shapeshifter, and Odo is forced to confront his beliefs about his identity and place in the galaxy. The episode touches on themes that resonate with the LGBTQ community, particularly the struggle to balance the desire to make others comfortable with the need to be true to oneself, as many on the station are notionally alright with shapeshifters as long as it stays behind closed doors. Quark says this bluntly to Odo.

Wait, wrong shape shifter ….

Wait, not that one either….

Fair Use – this image is copyrighted, but used here under Fair Use guidelines.
Owner/Creator: Paramount Global (was ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures and/or CBS Broadcasting, Inc.)

There we go. Anyway, they attack him, and he retaliates by transforming his arm into a sharp blade to kill one of the Klingons. This sequence adds tension and action to the episode and highlights the complex relationships between different species in the Star Trek universe.

As for the other themes in the episode, it does explore the LGBT community through the relationship between Odo and Laas. Kira initially struggles with jealousy when Odo and Laas join in a link (unique to metamorphs and incredibly intimate), but she ultimately supports him in his journey of self-discovery.

The performances in the episode are excellent, particularly by Rene Auberjonois as Odo and J.G. Hertzler as Laas. The episode raises important questions about the use of violence in political movements and the consequences of such actions, including how the justice system may not be fair to those who defend themselves from violence while the violence itself is ignored. It also explores the theme of acceptance and the importance of embracing diversity. Overall, “Chimera” is a well-crafted and thought-provoking episode worth watching.

She eventually even puts her career at risk to help Odo, but he decides to stay with her and share his whole self with her, surrounding her with fog and brilliant lights in a lovely moment of vulnerability.

Star Trek DS9 was a groundbreaking show when it came to LGBTQ+ representation on television. These six episodes explored themes of identity, acceptance, and love in a way that was ahead of its time. They are a testament to the power of storytelling to break down barriers and promote understanding and acceptance. By listing these episodes in chronological order of air date, we can see how the series gradually evolved and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for LGBTQ+ representation on television.

If you’re a fan of Star Trek DS9, these episodes are a must-watch, not only for their historical significance but also for their powerful storytelling and complex characters. And if you’re not a fan yet, give them a chance and see how this groundbreaking show tackled issues of diversity and inclusion decades before it became mainstream.

Remember, representation matters, and shows like Star Trek DS9 paved the way for a more diverse and inclusive media landscape. We still have a long way to go, but by celebrating and highlighting these important moments in television history, we can continue to move forward and make progress towards a more accepting and compassionate world.

Title Image includes Altered (with permission): Image by https://pixabay.com//?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2749367"

Interview with Author K. L. Cerra

K. L. Cerra uses her writing to explore the complexities—and the darker sides—of relationships. When not writing or seeing clients as a trained marriage and family therapist, Cerra is likely walking her Boston terrier or exploring the local botanical gardens. She lives with her husband in a small beach town outside of Los Angeles.

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

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

Thanks so much for having me! I’m a psychotherapist living in LA with my husband and our feisty Boston terrier. Such Pretty Flowers is my debut novel and I’m so excited for it to come out in early February! 

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

Such Pretty Flowers is about a young woman, Holly, who decides to investigate her brother’s suspicious death. In doing so, she develops a dark obsession with his girlfriend, an alluring florist who seems to have a curious connection with her plants. She also happens to be Holly’s prime suspect. As for my inspiration, I’ve always been fascinated by the power—and danger—of plants. And when I took a trip to Savannah, I was instantly enchanted. Such Pretty Flowers is what happened when I combined these two sources of inspiration. 

As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically gothic thriller fiction?

Although I’ve been writing from as early as I can remember, I didn’t immediately find this genre—it took some experimentation. Back in fourth grade, my friends and I started mimicking our favorite authors (I still have journals filled with some very cringe-worthy Redwall imitations). I played around with writing fantasy as a teenager, then veered more literary in my 20’s, and finally settled into writing gothic thrillers/suspense. I love the spooky ambiance and that looming sense of dread: it’s exactly what I gravitate toward as a reader. 

How would you describe your writing process?

Sadly, I’m not one of those people who has troves of ideas—I really have to think long and hard, matching up interests of mine to come up with a premise. Once I have a seed of an idea that excites me, I start outlining, and then attack drafting scene by scene. I give myself a lot of space to envision a scene before writing it, by taking walks and thinking up specific details to bring it to life.

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I was entranced by Tamora Pierce’s The Song of the Lioness books as a grade schooler. More recently, I connected with Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue, likely because the protagonist, like me, was a woman who struggled in the corporate world before eventually becoming a therapist (I also loved the speculative elements throughout the book). Other books that electrified me because I think they really effectively tapped into some of the dark realities of being a woman: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, The Wives by Tarryn Fisher, and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.

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

I get fired up after reading books that speak to me, like the ones I outlined above. I also like to pull from things that fascinate me in general. For instance, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of being a florist, which I channeled into Such Pretty Flowers. Since my writing is horror-leaning, I definitely pull from my own anxieties. And I can’t leave out my sister—she’s an editor and fellow writer, and we inspire each other and cheer each other on. We’ve just started taking annual writing retreats—our last one was in Salem!—and I’m loving the new tradition. 

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

My absolute favorite part of writing is when I nail down a premise and can’t stop thinking about it. It’s almost like this “pilot light” inside me switches on—there’s this excitement I carry with me all day. I’ll even wake up in the middle of the night thinking about my developing story and characters. It’s addicting! Editing said story can be daunting, however, especially when it comes to the bigger picture, developmental edits. I’m also still adjusting to seeing the public react to my work. Eventually I realized I just had to stop reading reviews (though we’ll see how long that lasts!). 

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

In case it wasn’t obvious, Halloween is my favorite holiday. It’s been that way ever since I was a kid—I got perhaps a bit too into it. In early grade school, I remember attending a friend’s Halloween party dressed as a dead bride. Shout-out to my mom who did the makeup so convincingly it made my friend’s little brother cry. 

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)?

This may be less of a question and more of a confession: even though I’m fascinated by all things botanical, I’m actually incapable of keeping a houseplant alive. (Don’t even ask about succulents).  

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Read voraciously in your genre. Try to find some critique partners whose opinions you trust and respect, and challenge yourself to get comfortable receiving their critical feedback. 

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

My second book is about a modern-day coven operating under the guise of the wedding industry. They are single-minded in their mission to “save” women from losing themselves through marriage/motherhood and . . . it gets pretty dark. At its heart, this book is about the unfair choices and sacrifices women are simply expected to make.

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

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas, House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson, and Such a Pretty Smile by Kristi DeMeesterI devoured them all! 

Header Photo Credit Koman Photography

Interview with Writer & Drag Queen Dan Clay

Dan Clay is a writer and drag queen thrilled to be making his debut as a novelist with Becoming a Queen. Until now, he focused on spreading love and positivity online through his drag persona, “Carrie Dragshaw.” His writing as Carrie has been featured in hundreds of magazines, newspapers, and television shows–from Cosmo to People to Watch What Happens Live–and his TED Talk on being your “whole self” details his first-hand experience with the healing power of drag.

I had a chance to interview Dan, which you can read below.

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

It’s an honor to chat! Thank you so much. I love what you do and the beautiful community you’ve built!

I’m Dan, and I was cruising along in a relatively traditional business career until, long story short, I started doing drag! I’d post pictures and write captions as “Carrie Dragshaw,” and it was such a source of joy for me that it motivated me to explore even more creative pursuits, which led to longer-form writing, which eventually (after a lot of studying and learning!) led to this book. 

What can you tell us about your debut book, Becoming a Queen? What was the inspiration for this book?

The inspiration was two-fold. The first I must warn you is a little heavy! I had this question rattling around in my head. The more life I lived, the more amazed I became at what people can get through. So many lives are hit hard, upended by unexpected pain and heartbreaking tragedy. It’s all around us. How on earth do we get through it? And often with so much love to spare? I wanted to zoom in on someone facing what felt like one of those insurmountable tragedies. And I wanted to try my very best–based on what I know, have experienced, have observed–to help him out of it. 

The second inspiration is much lighter! The biggest surprise of my own life has been the healing power of drag. Maybe there’s something in the wigs, or perhaps it’s just the simple fact that everything gets better when you learn to love your entire self. On the heels of my own enlightenment, I wanted to write a book where LGBTQ identity was not a source of pain, but rather, the spring of salvation. 

Put those two together, and bippity boppity boop, you’ve got Becoming a Queen! 

Since so much of the book revolves around drag, I was wondering what drag as an element personally means to you, and how you would describe your connection to it?

Yes! Well, an unexpected thing happened for me when I started doing drag, which is that I started being more myself. It’s almost ironic that dressing up as a character made me more “me.” But it just pushed me toward authenticity, encouraged me to embrace parts of myself that I was still ashamed of, pushed me toward fuller self-expression (there are confessions “Carrie Dragshaw” makes that I could never dream of making! But they are, in fact, my confessions …) 

And I learned, wow … authenticity can save you from a lot more than shame! It can be the force that propels connection, growth, healing, and most of all, love. Drag, and the authenticity that it compelled in me, has been the source of so much love in my life. 

So in Becoming a Queen, I tried to capture a little bit of that broader role that drag can play. The book—while, yes, it’s a story about drag—is really more about taking masks off than putting them on. Exploring that gnarly truth underneath the masks we all wear, the parts we think make us broken but really allow us to heal.

What’s something you might want readers to take away from this book?

Oh gosh! It’s a beautiful thing to consider. I think a big part of the journey that Mark goes through is about trying to see others as fully as he sees himself. He starts out incredibly interior, and while he certainly doesn’t get to some enlightened state of non-self, he gets on the path. I do believe that striving to give joy is the best way to get it—even if you only make it halfway there—so I’d be delighted if someone took that away from this book!! See others more fully, see the weight that we’re all carrying, the grace that we all deserve. 

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

It really all started with the writing that I did as “Carrie Dragshaw.” I have always been absolutely obsessed and enamored with reading. I worship authors to the point of never even considering that I could be one! I thought books were born in the mind of genius and then dropped, fully formed, from the sky! 

But when the Carrie Dragshaw writing started connecting with people, when people started playing the words back to me or sharing quotes, it was a level of fulfillment that I’d never experienced before. And I knew I absolutely had to at least try to pursue writing in what, to me, is its ultimate form: the novel! 

What drew me to young adult fiction was partly functional … the story that I wanted to tell was of a teenager, and I wanted to tell it from his perspective. But it was also aspirational! I feel so very lucky that I’ve gotten to connect with folks through Carrie Dragshaw, and young adult was really exciting to me because, oh wow, maybe I could try to connect with people who’ve never even seen Sex and the City! Haha. Who don’t even know if they’re a Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, or Samantha. And are maybe at an age where certain doubts and insecurities (that I personally have spent way too much of my life focusing on) haven’t fully set yet. The idea that I could help someone, in some small way, skip faster through some of that fear … that was a very rewarding prospect to me.  

How would you describe your writing process?

A bizarre combination of diligence without structure! 

When I first started attempting longer-form writing, I was very loose and limber with the ambition, but very diligent with the time. I told myself: you have to write every morning. What you write is up to you! But you have to write. And once the story started taking shape, it got a momentum of its own, and I became nothing less than obsessed! I knew there would be a lot of challenges on the way to publication, but I didn’t want something as controllable as “how hard I was willing to work” be the thing standing in the way. 

I’d say the most rewarding part of the process was when I could carve out three full days over a long weekend, or take vacation time and fully immerse in the world of the book. The characters started to feel real then; my world started blending with theirs in this surreal and beautiful way. 

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

Oh gosh, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds! I have always absolutely loved reading. It is still a singular joy! Two particularly profound reading experiences come to mind from the “growing up” days, one I felt “reflected in” and one “touched by.” The first: Where the Red Fern Grows. The week before I read the ending to that book, my absolutely perfect family dog died. This dog was my whole entire little life! And then I read the ending of Where the Red Fern Grows (I assume we all know what happens!) and cried tears I didn’t even know I had. I was not a sobber but I sobbed on the floral couch of my childhood living room. The fact that a book could reflect, deepen, add color to something I was experiencing, help me understand my own emotions better. It was almost shocking! How did the book know? It changed my relationship with reading. Deepened it, for sure, because I felt so very seen

But I’ve also been permanently moved by books where I didn’t necessarily see me in the book, but I grew to understand the world a bit better because of the book. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye remains one of my most profound reading experiences. I read it around my junior year of high school. I have blue eyes, and until reading that book, I hadn’t really thought too much about them. But then I read about Pecola Breedlove, a young girl who wanted nothing more than to “see the world with blue eyes.” It took me a while to understand what she was saying, but once I started to—I shifted. It has done more than perhaps any other individual thing to influence how I look at the world and how I try to interact with it. Pecola Breedlove. One of the greatest teachers I will ever know. 

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

Well, I do feel like every book I’ve ever read is rattling around in my head in some way or another, influencing the words that come out. I have particular heart for writers who bring humor to decidedly unhumorous scenarios. Edward St. Aubyn and the Patrick Melrose novels, Betty Smith in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Kurt Vonnegut, Maya Angelou, Gabriel Garcia Marquez—brilliant, evocative writers who also somehow make us laugh. Dostoevsky in Notes from Underground or Crime and Punishment—both a lot funnier than I thought they would be! This, to me, is the height. 

When I’m writing, I read a lot of poetry and listen to a lot of lyric-driven rap music, because I find the precision of language required in those forms to be particularly inspiring! 

And this sounds silly, but the biggest inspiration is the world!! Perhaps my favorite thing about writing is it makes the world more vivid. For example, when you know that you have to write a description of a tree, you start looking at trees a little more closely. And that has been very rewarding for me. 

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

Connecting one on one with readers is a gift beyond description. Much of what I write is quite personal, and a lot of it revolves around lessons that took me a rather long time to learn. When someone gets it, when it helps them in some way … well, it’s the reward of a lifetime. What a privilege to be a writer! 

On the challenges side, I’d say, really trying to embody an alternate perspective or life experience from your own. I mean, this in some ways is simply the definition of fiction, but it’s not easy! I am me! We are us! What else do we know? Colum McCann has this great little book of writing advice, and he says, “Don’t write what you know, write toward what you want to know.” Your navel contains only lint. He advises you to step out of your own skin. Explore new lands—even if you don’t know if those lands exist yet. I absolutely love that sense of expansiveness, but it’s also a challenge because of course, you want to get it “right.” You want to be true to the experience, the land, the person you’re portraying. So that, to me, is a challenge. But one I embrace with passion and humility! 

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

Well! I have two other formal jobs, one at a climate change nonprofit and one at a branding agency here in New York, and I love both! I think my absolute favorite thing about growing up is realizing that the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” can be more than one thing! I love different elements of the different jobs, and what a joy to get to work on all of these interesting/rewarding challenges.  

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)?

For fear of giving a long-winded answer to a self-created question, I will leave you in the driver’s seat … 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

I would say, be sure to find joy (or some other fulfilling emotion!) in the process. If you’re pursuing publication, it can be a long time coming, and there are so many variables that influence that outcome. But if you can find joy in the process! Well, that no one can take from you! And even finding small, direct ways to connect to people with your writing. This can be the good side of online outlets, social media.  

I made a list for myself, “Ten reasons I love writing that have nothing to do with getting published.” And it kept me going with it when the prospect of getting a book into the world seemed far-fetched to the point of delusional! 

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

Well, Carrie Dragshaw is always prancin’ around! A drag/writing project that I thought might last a couple weeks has now gone on almost seven years! And I can’t imagine stopping. I will be in the retirement home in a tutu. And I’m also in the process of seeing if there’s another book up there. TBD! You’ll find out when I do 🙂 

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

Oh gosh! Millions upon millions! What a gift it is to be a reader. Two that stick out: Maggie Nelson’s The Argonautsthe writing is so precise and fierce and the ideas of self-creation and individual freedom very powerful–and Carmen Machado’s short stories, Her Body and Other Parties—I found them surprising, even startling, and the writing is mysterious and brilliant. Oh, and for something a little back in time, Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is something I revisit quite often! And we’ve talked a lot about writing, and Patricia Highsmith has an amazing book, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, that I found incredibly valuable and would be useful regardless of your genre, as any story needs at least some suspense! 

What a pleasure to be able to chat with you! And thank you for such thoughtful questions. It’s really been a treat! 

Interview with Author & Illustrator Dominic Evans

Dominic Evans (he/they) is a freelance illustrator and merman based in London, from not-so-sunny Bolton, via Narnia. Growing up with a love of Buffy, short shorts, and Starlight Express, Dom, like many others, struggled to fit in at school, in life, and mainly with himself. However, he soon found his voice through his passion for illustration and stories. This led him on a path to illustrate for large brands, stores, clients, and agencies. He currently lives in East London and spends his time immersing himself in a graphic novel or an amazing book and then creating illustrations that he hopes will make your day and make you slay.

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

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

Hi Geeks OUT! Thank you so much for having me on your site, I’m made up. My name is Dom, I’m an illustrator and author and I LOVE drawing and creating art around queer icons. If there’s an iconique moment or person that is slaying, hun, you bet I’ll be drawing them. 

What can you tell us about your latest book, QUEER POWER: Icons, Activists, & Game Changers From Across the Rainbow? What was the inspiration for this project?

QUEER POWER is ultimately, one super big love letter to the LGBTIQA+ community. It’s packed full of illustrated epic humans and information and is all about celebrating queer icons, whether they’re from the red carpet to organizing a local protest to doing their activism through social media. Each of these icons through their visibility and representation are doing something to help advance queer rights and I absolutely love that we managed to give everyone a double page spread and equal billing.

This may sound cringey but my inspiration really was my community. I love seeing queer people go out there and make a change in their respective industries and completely kick-ass. It’s a massive inspiration to me. 

As an author, what drew you to the art of writing/illustrating, specifically non-fiction?

I grew up loving comic books, fashion illustration and educational picture books, so in a weird way, QUEER POWER kind of pulls all of those together. I really enjoy drawing and writing stories but I also love creating art around people and their own personal stories. I’d illustrated and written non-fiction before but this book was so unique and a totally different process pulling together icons, researching them, and then writing about them. 

With non-fiction work especially, I feel at the moment, it’s so crucial to have those books and resources out there for queer youth growing up. It’s something, I especially didn’t have and I really get a buzz seeing so many educational LGBTQIA+ picture books and resources on bookshelves out there and seeing that category expand more and more each year. 

How would you describe your writing process?

I’ve realized over the years working on different projects that I’m very much someone who has to sit down and write all of it in one go. I can’t rest or do anything else until it’s all out of my brain onto a page, so I will hyper-focus on the task until it is done. With QUEER POWER, the writing stage actually came last as I wanted to get the visual language finalized first. I then sat down and wrote it all out, every icon, then went back over them again and again and then sent it to my lovely editor. 

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

There wasn’t really much representation around growing up for me. When I was younger, I definitely felt a huge pull to the X-Men comics and cartoon, as the idea of someone that didn’t fit in saving the world looking fabulous in a catsuit was something I could relate to! Growing older I, like many gays, fell in love with Buffy. As I came out at seventeen, Will & Grace had been airing in the UK for around a year so that really helped me in terms of representation on screen. 

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

I think my greatest creative influence was and will always be comic books and graphic novels. I love that when you look at a comic shelf in a store there are so many stories all being told in a zillion different ways with a zillion different art styles and a zillion different characters. I always turn to comics for any sort of creative boost. They’re my happy place! 

I’d also say fashion illustration and costume. I really enjoy drawing outfits and lewks so QUEER POWER was a dream come true as so all of these icons look so fierce. I took so much pleasure in researching their fits or classic outfits to be worn in the book. 

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

This is such a good question! My favorite part of writing/illustrating is when a plan comes together. Kind of like a really good date – you know, that moment when the text and image have a great chemistry, it’s all looking good and BOOM, you have a cute visual moment and it all makes sense. 

The most frustrating bits are the days where my hands just cannot draw or my head cannot write, or both. That block can be a difficult space to navigate through and it’s times like that, that as a creative, you have to be very kind to yourself and go easy on yourself as if you try to force something, I’ve found personally, it will always end up getting redrawn again. 

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

That I love my sci-fi, my fantasy, my anime and manga. I live for a good comic con! I also love fashion and styling, I worked in the UK for fourteen years in womenswear fashion retail, with the final five in London and three of those being a personal shopper. The stories I could draw and write about those years helping people who were going through various life dramas whilst trying to zip them into a hot pink fitted jumpsuit for their divorce party that evening? SO many. 

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)?

What’s your favourite dinosaur? Because I really like dinosaurs. I don’t want a pet cat or a hamster, I want a feathered Velociraptor, they’re sassy and fierce but also cute and would eat anyone who tried to break into my house so I feel they’re a good investment. I grew up loving Jurassic Park so anything dinosaur-related I love and I don’t get enough dinosaur-related work. If anyone reads this please hire me to draw some dinosaurs, ok thank you! 

What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?

Write for yourself first. You are your own reader and you know a good story or hook when you read it, so write for you. Don’t feed into comparing yourself to others, YOU are your own niche! Never be afraid to experiment and try something different. If it goes wrong, at least you tried it, and if it goes really right, even better! Also, Do Not Disturb and Airplane Mode are the best things ever if you struggle to focus hehe. 

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

At the moment, aside from the exciting QUEER POWER US release, which, has extra pages and new artwork too! Yas! I have some things that, at this stage I can’t speak but trust me, if they do happen, I will SCREAM because they have been years of hard work…

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

Oh wow, I really love questions like this!

Anything by Juno Dawson, Benjamin Dean writes beautiful queer stories, Dean Atta, Dr. Ronx, Jamie Windust, Charlie Craggs. There’s so many amazing queer authors out there and there’s also a great list of them at the back of QUEER POWER.

Header Photo Credit Buck Photography