Ivelisse Housman is the Puerto Rican-American author of UNSEELIE, a young adult fantasy novel published by Inkyard Press. Her work is inspired by her intersecting identities as a biracial autistic woman. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her high school sweetheart/archnemesis and their two rescue dogs.
I had the opportunity to interview Ivelisse, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you! My name is Ivelisse Housman, and I’m the Puerto Rican-American author of UNSEELIE, a young adult fantasy novel published by Inkyard Press.
What can you tell us about your debut book, Unseelie? What was the inspiration for this story?
I was first inspired to write this story by the theory that changeling mythology was an early description of autistic children. As the story evolved, more elements from fiction and real life got pulled into the book—like my relationship with my own sister, my love of certain fantasy tropes, and the journey of self-acceptance I experienced after my autism diagnosis as a teenager.
As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically young adult and speculative fiction?
I was always a precocious reader, and I probably started reading YA books a little too young, so it’s an age category I’ve loved for over half my life now. I was always drawn to the magical escape of second-world fantasies, so it was only natural that when I started writing, I’d create a little escape of my own. Aside from that, YA as a category is so diverse and interesting, and teen readers are so smart and fun to write for.
The protagonist of Unseelie, Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove, is a neurodivergent (autistic) changeling. While other disability scholars, such as Amanda Leduc have studied the connection between changeling stories and autism, I was wondering how you discovered the link and what made you decide to turn this into a story?
It’s something I randomly stumbled onto online and immediately connected with. I started writing it just for myself, and only did more research into the links between changeling mythology and autism/other disabilities when I realized it could be a whole book. I think a lot of autistic people grow up feeling like we’re from another world, and the idea of putting a positive spin on that feeling within a magical world like the ones I grew up reading was irresistible.
How would you describe your writing process?
It’s different every time! I’m currently trying to find my rhythm writing a book on contract for the sequel to UNSEELIE, which is totally different from how I drafted the first book just for fun. No matter the project, though, I have two rules for myself when writing. First, “You don’t have to write every day!” Especially as a disabled writer, it’s just not reasonable to expect constant output! My second rule is “done is better than perfect.” It’s so hard to ignore the fear of writing something that sucks, but you can fix something that sucks. You can’t fix a blank page!
Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?
I have yet to read a book (besides my own) that represents the intersections of my identity, but I’ve always latched onto any story where I could find part of my experience. I was obsessed with Ella Enchanted (and truly, all of Gail Carson Levine’s books) as a kid. Looking back on it now, I feel like Ella’s internal struggle to best her curse reflected my difficulties to seem “normal,” to be good, not to let my sensory distress or social difficulties show, even when they caused physical pain. More recently, I sobbed reading Amaro Ortiz’s Blazewrath Games because it was so meaningful to see a biracial, diasporic Puerto Rican character fully claim her identity and be accepted by others.
As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?
I have to say Gail Carson Levine again, because her work taught me how to write with a distinctive, conversational voice. Margaret Rogerson’s books are so inspirational as super atmospheric fantasy featuring offbeat main characters. I’m constantly inspired by whatever my favorite book, movie, TV show, or game is at the moment—too many to count! When something is fun and exciting to me, I always want to find a way to incorporate it into my writing.
What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or difficult?
My favorite part of writing is when I forget I’m writing. I love the daydreaming stage, the moodboard stage, the drafting-so-smoothly-it’s-like-watching-a-movie-in-my-head stage. The most difficult (besides writer’s block, obviously) is when I’m trying to revise, and I know I have a problem, but I don’t have solutions for it yet.
Aside from writing, what are some things you would want others to know about you?
I have a degree in graphic design, and I worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for a stationery company for several years and loved it! I’m half Puerto Rican and half Virginian, and I think the two cultures have more similarities than people would expect.
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)?
I’m not sure how it would be worded as a question, but I’ll jump at any reason to talk more about the sisterhood, friendship, and found family aspects of UNSEELIE! It was so important to me that Seelie was accepted for who she is within this little group. She has to learn not only how to let other people in, which is difficult after a lifetime of rejection, but also how to balance advocating for her own needs with making sure she’s considerate of others. It’s difficult for her, but I hope every autistic reader gets the takeaway that they will find the people who love them unconditionally someday. It can be messy and awkward, especially when you’re seventeen, but acceptance is not impossible.
What advice might you have to give for aspiring writers?
I want to emphasize again the need for rest, partly because that’s a message I always need to hear. Work hard, but don’t be so hard on yourself you make yourself miserable. Find what is fun and interesting for you, and write it in the way only you can. Readers will be able to tell the difference.
Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
Currently, I’m up to my ears in the sequel to UNSEELIE! I’m so excited to share what it’s called, what it’s about, and of course another stunningly gorgeous cover illustration by the talented Mona Finden. For now, I’ll say that I think readers will be surprised by the turn Seelie’s story takes, but I hope they hang on for the ride!
Finally, what books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
If you enjoy UNSEELIE, you’ll enjoy FLOWERHEART by Catherine Bakewell for its lovely prose and relatable main character! I’d also recommend THIS VICIOUS GRACE and its upcoming sequel by Emily Thiede. In terms of upcoming books, I can’t wait for Jackie Khalilieh’s autistic YA contemporary SOMETHING MORE and Rebecca Mix’s middle grade debut MOSSHEART.
Header Photo Credit Sam Housman Creative